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Under the Woods

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When the world was first overrun by monsters, I thought a botanist like me didn’t stand a change at surviving. Yet here I am months after the preternatural apocalypse, a defenseless woman still alive and kicking and… pruning. Who would have thought that my knowledge of plants would make me valuable to human-hating beings of the night? Being forced to maintain the gardens in their underground kingdom is not ideal, but I’m safer down here than on the surface. Until he shows up. One of my captors’ leaders with looks that can kill and a task for me that will most probably get me killed. I have no choice but to follow him and his unconventional friends deeper into their world, where danger lurks behind every corner and safety is but an illusion. But am I focused on the deadly reality? No, I’m too busy fantasizing about having his muscled arms around me and his silvery lips on mine. Like a honey bee to a flower, I’m drawn to the enigmatic male my life currently depends on. And he just might pose the greatest danger of all. UNDER THE WOODS takes place in the same universe as Amid the Clouds. Both are standalone books but for maximum enjoyment it's recommended to read Amid the Clouds first, as there is an overarching story line :)

Romance / Fantasy
Marian Pattechat
4.8 4 reviews
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

People used to say that human rights were no longer violated in this country. That we were all protected by the law in this modern world we were living in.

They should have specified that law was observed on the surface, not when you were a captive underground.

But I guess I should cut them some slack, since they said this at a time when the world still belonged to humans. When our civilization was not yet decimated by three apocalypses. Third time’s the charm, as they used to say…

Not that I had witnessed the third apocalypse hit. Shortly before my capture, I and my group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse and the subsequent preternatural apocalypse had just started hearing about aliens on the scarce radio transmissions. The extraterrestrials were offering humanity help in the fight against the monsters, be they the living dead, vampires, werewolves, elves, pixies, and whatnot.

We had been considering leaving our hiding place - the university botanic garden in the outskirts - and heading into town where alien ships had been spotted.

Then I had been captured. It had been from the stories of other captives brought underground after me, that I’d learned the extraterrestrials were no saviors. They were a third apocalypse in themselves. To them, humans were no more than lab mice and vessels for their offspring.

From that point of view, I had dodged a bullet by getting deprived of my freedom. Me and all the other humans down here – women only - were fed and protected from the dangers on the surface. A very important fact, given that the only weapon yours truly was capable of using was hand pruners. We weren’t beaten into submission in case someone refused to keep working. We weren’t abused by our cave-dwelling captors.

Then again, we were locked up like prisoners outside of our long working hours. And sentenced to death when disobeying.

No one ever saw the executions. Blood was never spilled in the sacred space of the underground gardens we were confined to. You just saw the rebellious woman get dragged away, never to be seen again. I suspected the executioner used a bow, given our captors’ weapon of choice–

“Down! Knees! Eyes on ground!”

The familiar order, given by the guard in his bad English, made me stop watering the azaleas. I went down on my knees in the muddy soil. I lowered my gaze right away, although I was a tad curious to see who would be inspecting our work in the flower garden so soon after the previous check.

Silence fell. The water flowing out of the cave wall to my left suddenly sounded deafeningly loud.

Then I heard the rustling of clothes. No sound of footsteps on the rock threshold or the grassy ground around the flower patches. No natural sounds like breathing or anything. Just the sound of fabrics moving against each other.

No surprises there. The locals moved like ghosts, never to be seen or heard until it was too late for their victim.

That was exactly what had happened to me. One minute I had been talking with several other survivors at the botanic garden, and the next I had found myself face to face with a being straight out of a fantasy book. The only warning had been rustling of clothes right behind me.

I had turned around to discover an arrow pointed at my heart. I had been too shocked to do anything else but stare at the elf aiming at me.

I pushed that memory to the back of my mind when I heard words being exchanged in Elvish. I had to pay attention to the present, or I might end up executed like all the men at the botanic garden on the night of my capture.

That was when a pair of bare feet passed by me. I kept perfectly still, hands on my bent knees, head lowered. No one thus far had been executed for taking a peek at the guards or quality control personnel, but better safe than sorry.

The feet stopped. They were about to leave my field of vision when they paused in front of another human. Then they headed back, only to stop again.

Right in front of me.

Silence reigned once more. All I could hear was my heart pounding in my chest like a trapped bird. I felt the elf’s eyes boring into me while he simply stood there, not saying a word.

I stared at his feet. Now, I had no foot fetish, but this pair was hard to look away from. It wasn’t because of the striking color: his feet were the polished silver tone of every elf I’d seen thus far. It was because of their shape. Feet as well defined as these, with those delicate toes and pearl-white nails trimmed to perfection, could make any woman jealous.

The feet before me belonged to a man, though, I could tell by their size. And whoever he was, he was no guard or quality control elf. Not with feet as clean as these.

“The flowers,” Mr. Perfect Feet said, finally breaking the silence. “You care for?”

His voice was as melodic as that of any elf I’d met, but his English accent was outstanding compared to theirs.

I drew in a shaky breath and let it out slowly to calm my nerves. “Yes.”

“Since when?”

“Hm... I’m not sure...” My voice trembled, both out of concern that I’d done a mistake with a flower and out of uncertainty what to say. “It’s hard to keep track of time down here.”

That was the truth. The only change in the light came in the form of mysterious glowing crystals on the cave walls being turned on or off. If when the guards led us to our cells was any indication of a day’s end, then my imprisonment had lasted twenty to thirty days, but who knew?

Mr. Perfect Feet asked something in Elvish and a very polite reply sounded from the entrance to the flower garden. I recognized the voice of the senior quality control elf.

“Moon cycle and half,” the newcomer said next, clearly addressing me.

I had been here for a month and a half already? Wow.

“Vegetable garden also in your care.”

That didn’t sound like a question but since silence fell again, I replied, “Yes. I work both here and there.”

I didn’t specify that lately I’d been brought here more often than in the vegetable garden. With more humans being captured to work on the elves’ crops and exotic flowers requiring expert care, I had sort of undergone a work transfer.

And my mother used to say that me studying botany was a recipe for unemployment.

“Rise.” His tone, full not with command but with confidence that I would obey, told me this elf was used to getting what he wanted.

I got up but kept my head down, not daring to look the high-ranking visitor straight in the face. From my new position I could see he was not wearing the green ankle-length dress of a quality control elf. No, this guy wore an ivory-white dress that seemed to flow like liquid down his broad frame. The silver chain belt around his wide waist was just as exquisite.

Mr. Otherworldly Clothing extended an arm, and one long index finger ending in a pointed nail pushed my chin up.

His gentle touch startled me, but not as much as it surprised the other elves in the garden. Their shocked gasps confirmed what other captives had told me: elves found humans disgusting. Being in the presence of one was repulsive enough to them, let alone touching a human.

I gasped myself in the next moment. The new view in front of me was that unexpected.

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