Liam and Hannah continue their dangerous journey, but their every step is dogged by a deadly adversary. Hunted and exhausted, will they have what it takes to get home?
In Fall Creek, Noah struggles to protect his son and his friends. With the town running out of food and fuel and the cold as brutal as ever, they're forced to make compromises that may place them in even greater danger.
When the country goes dark, ordinary people find themselves facing the end of the world as they know it. With society collapsing before their eyes, they'll have to risk everything to protect their home and the people they love.
Edge of Collapse is a gripping EMP apocalyptic thriller series featuring flawed, complex characters, and heart-in-your-throat action. Don't miss the disaster/survival audiobook series perfect for fans of Ryan Schow, Grace Hamilton, Harley Tate, Jack Hunt, and Boyd Craven.
Note: Rated PG-13 for mild language and moderate violence.
Release date: March 24, 2020
Publisher: Paper Moon Press
Print pages: 358
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Edge of Darkness: Edge of Collapse, Book 3
The monster loomed over Hannah Sheridan, red eyes boring into hers as he reached for her with razor-sharp claws. The monster seized her hand and crushed it, grinding her bones into dust, agony radiating from her fractured fingers, her splintering bones . . .
Pain shattered her into pieces, into shards of herself as she disintegrated into nothing, into anguish and fear and darkness that never ended—“Hannah!”
Hands on her shoulders, shaking her.
Her eyes blinked open. Blind panic spiked through her. She shot up, the knife clenched in her hand slashing toward her assailant, toward the monster.
“No!” she screamed, her voice ragged, fear a frantic thing in her chest.
A hand caught her by the wrist—strong, but not crushing. Not yet. The pain would come. The pain always came.
She writhed, struggling to break free, the knife flashing harmlessly in her caught fingers. Her one attempt at striking back was another failure, just like all the others. Just like everything that had come before.“Hannah!”
No . . . A voice in the deepest part of her. A refusal to give in, to give up.
This was not like before. She was not the same Hannah as before.
Her deformed left hand flailed. She managed to connect with soft flesh: a solid strike to the monster’s nose. A shockwave of pain shot through her mangled fingers.
The monster cursed but barely flinched. He leaned his head back out of her reach. She beat at him anyway, punching uselessly at his arm, his shoulders, her hands weak against hard muscle.
“Hannah! It’s me! It’s Liam.”
She blinked rapidly. The panicky fog in her brain began to clear slowly. She forced herself to count, to return to herself. One, two, three . . .
The monster took shape in front of her. Not a monster, a man.
And not him. Not Pike.
The memories of the last week rushed in—the power outage, her unlocked prison door, the frantic escape through the snow and woods after she’d freed the dog, freed Ghost. Liam Coleman saving her life. CiCi’s cabin, her kindness.
The exhausting, freezing trek to Branch, the town overrun by looters. The library. The battle with Pike. The panicked flight to the barn.
She went limp against the hay. “Liam.”
“That’s what I just said.” He still held her knife hand, his fingers encircling her tiny wrist. He watched her like she was a feral kitten with tiny, needle-sharp teeth that might nip at his fingers. Annoying, but not a real threat. “Can I let you go now?”
He released her hand and rocked back on his heels. He rubbed his nose gingerly. A bit of blood trickled over his lip. “Didn’t expect that. Should’ve. But didn’t.”
Guilt pricked her. “I’m sorry, I—”
“Never apologize for defending yourself. It was a solid hit.” He rose abruptly to his feet. “Time to go.”
In the dimness, she could make out Liam’s tall stature and broad shoulders, his chiseled features and bristle of several days’ worth of chestnut beard shadowing his square jaw.
Those arresting gray-blue eyes that seemed to pin her in place whenever his gaze settled on her.
Everything about him radiated strength, competence, power. A soldier, through and through. He was reticent and aloof. Restless and alert. Shadows behind his eyes.
He’d saved her life multiple times already. She didn’t know much about him, but she knew he was good. After Pike, she never thought she’d trust a man again—but now she did. She trusted Liam Coleman implicitly.
The gray light of dawn slithered through the cracks in the barn and leaked through the half-opened barn doors. The frigid air stung her cheeks and exposed ears.
The hat with earflaps that CiCi had given her had nearly fallen off in the night. She pulled it back over her ears, pushed aside the saddle blankets Liam had found last night, and picked several pieces of straw from her oversized brown coat.
Her gaze swept the shadowed barn. The empty stalls. The old, warping slats of the walls. The piles of hay. Where was—?
“Ghost!” She turned, instinctively reaching for the dog.
He lay behind her in the straw, in the same position as when they’d arrived last night. A Great Pyrenees, Ghost was a huge dog the size of a small pony, one hundred and forty pounds of solid muscle covered in a coat of brilliant white fur.
She pressed her hand to his fluffy side. The slight rise and fall of his ribs reassured her that he was still alive.
She rubbed the fur over his belly. His large paws twitched. He let out a low sound that was half growl, half distressed whine.
Though Liam had cleaned him up and tended to his wound last night, a streak of fresh blood matted the top of his head and left ear. He tilted his head and looked up at her, pain and bewilderment in his beautiful brown eyes.
“I’m sorry, Ghost. I’m so sorry.”
His long plumed tail thumped weakly. He gave another soft whine, sad and almost regretful, like he was apologizing for his inability to leap up and dutifully act as her furry protector.
“I’m going to take care of you this time, okay? Don’t you worry. Just rest. It’s okay.”
Her heart tightened like a fist. She didn’t know what she would do without Ghost. It didn’t matter that she’d only been with him for a week. It felt like years. Ghost was loyal, brave, fearless. A magnificent animal, regal and noble as a king.
They’d been trapped together, held captive by the same man.
Ghost had saved her. And not just from Pike. He’d given her the strength to go on. Reminded her of who she was, what she could be.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “We need to find that vet.”
“You feel okay enough to travel?”
She felt stiff and bruised all over, but she didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
Liam’s penetrating gaze assessed her. “You sure?”
She folded the knife and slipped it into her coat pocket. She wobbled unceremoniously to her feet, holding her basketball-sized belly with her bad hand as if it would help. Movement beneath her hand—the sliding arc of a heel or a tiny fist.
Her gut lurched. She jerked her hand away.
She didn’t know how much time she had left. In her basement prison, she’d used chalk marks on the wall to chart passing time. Five years’ worth.
That didn’t help her know how far along she was. The baby was his. That was all that mattered. She tried to think of it as little as possible. She just wanted it out. It was a part of him, a living tether to her captor that she loathed and resented with every fiber of her being.
“How do you feel?” Liam asked her again, concerned.
She shuffl 㼠羷 ed toward him with a wince, the pain of Pike’s attack the night before making itself known. Bruised ribs. Her right temple pulsed with pain. The skin around her left eye socket swollen, puffy, and tender. But she was up and on her feet.
Her scalp itched, her hair a tangled mess. Her skin had that greasy, unwashed feeling she hated. But her most pressing physical concern lay elsewhere. Her bladder pinched.
“I’ll be okay. But I need to pee.”
Liam stood guard at the door, gripping the wicked AR-15 he’d stolen from the thugs who’d attacked them in Branch. He scanned the snowy fields while she relieved herself outside around the corner, squatting and balancing against the wall. It was cold and miserable.
She did her business as quickly as possible and used the two squares of toilet paper Liam had given her. She didn’t want to think about a time when toilet paper was no longer available. What would people use? Magazines? Corn cobs, like in the old days?
They weren’t just running from a killer. The United States had been attacked. An electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear weapon—at least one, maybe more—detonated high in the atmosphere had fried almost all electronics.
According to CiCi’s contacts on her ham radio, most of the country had gone dark. And not just the power grid but cell phones and most cars, too.
Short and long-haul trucks couldn’t deliver critical supplies to grocery stores, pharmacies, or hospitals. Without the snowplows running, snow drifts had piled dangerously high, effectively cutting off the towns.
Everyone was on their own.
When she returned, Liam gave her a squirt of hand sanitizer, then two granola bars and some water for breakfast. She ate quickly, barely tasting the food. She was hungry, but her focus was on getting Ghost help.
Liam moved gingerly. Dark circles shadowed his eyes. He’d spent the last several nights guarding them. She knew he wouldn’t admit it, but he was weary and hurting. Because of her. Because he’d saved her. “Are you okay?”
His mouth tightened. “You don’t have to worry about me.” She nodded, worried anyway.
Liam pulled his paper map from his pack and studied it for a few minutes. The barn they’d sheltered in was located outside of Newaygo, just south of the border of the Manistee National Forest.
He showed it to her and pointed to a small dot. “I-31, I-196, and I-131 are the interstates that take us south. Highways are a bad idea. Ashland Center and Bridgeton are off the highway but so small they’re unlikely to have a vet’s office. Same with Grant, though it’s right off the highway. Ashland is about ten miles away. It looks like it’s a little larger, large enough to have what we need.”
“What if it’s like Branch?”
“Not every town will be overrun yet. It depends on their distance to population centers and highways, and how quickly the residents catch on to their new reality and do something about it. This entire area is rural. We may get lucky. Caution creates luck.”
“But Ghost needs help.”
He nodded, his expression grim. “I know.”
At least with the snowmobile, they didn’t have to worry about plowed roads or even roads at all. “How much gas do we have left?”
“It’s nearly empty. Only fifteen or twenty miles, I’d guess. We need to refuel. And we need to make a plan.”
He spent the next several minutes outlining potential threats, their list of needs, direction of travel, and what to do if they were attacked.
“I hate using the snowmobile,” he said. “You can hear it from a mile away. It’ll be easy for hostiles to hear us coming, set up a hasty ambush, and pick us off. We can’t hear anything, visibility is poor. It makes it hard to see anything but the most obvious threats. I don’t like it. That being said, speed is our best defense. We’re gonna blow past everything. Keep your eyes peeled for obvious ambushes."
“We’ll have to skirt Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo and stay on the backroads. From my calculations, we’re still a good one hundred and thirty miles from Fall Creek. More with the detours.”
Her heart leapt at the mention of home. She hadn’t grown up in Fall Creek, but the small town nestled in the corner of Southwest Michigan had been her home since she’d married Noah Sheridan eight years ago and began a new life as a wife and a mother.
Memories of arguing, crying, and slammed doors echoed through her mind. It hadn’t gone well. But that didn’t mean she didn’t still love Noah. She barely remembered the reasons they’d argued.
The state of her marriage did nothing to diminish her all- encompassing love for her son, Milo. She thought of the last time she’d seen him at three years old—his big dark eyes, black hair curling around his ears, those chubby cheeks she loved to pinch, the clean baby powder scent of him.
Her compass always pointed home to them. Always.
She slipped her good hand into her coat pocket and felt the compact Ruger American .45. The soothing, comforting heft of it. She’d lost her backpack back at the library, but she still had her weapons.
She’d failed the first time. She was determined not to fail again. Liam had agreed to teach her how to shoot. Next time, she wouldn’t hesitate.
Pike was still out there. Still hunting them. Stalking them like a deadly predator. Dogged, tenacious, undeterred.
Ghost had injured him. But Pike wasn’t a man who gave up easily. He wasn’t a man who gave up at all.
Hannah Sheridan didn’t, either.
“We save Ghost. And then home. I’m ready to go home.”
Watery gray light bled into the sky over the trees as the sun rose in the east.
Liam Coleman’s gloved hands gripped the snowmobile’s handles. The engine roared in his ears and rumbled beneath him. The freezing wind blasted him. Though he was grateful for his helmet to block the worst of it, it also reduced his situational awareness.
Hundreds of stalled vehicles littered the two-lane highway. Too many possibilities for trouble. Too many ways to get pinned down.
Liam avoided the road itself but drove parallel to it along the ridge of a low hill clear of trees. If the woods thickened, he’d be forced back onto the road, but for now, it was faster and safer. He kept one eye on his path ahead and the other constantly scanning the road to the left and right, the treetops, and checking their six.
Hannah rode in front of him, his arms on either side of her tiny figure—slight but for her swollen belly. Ghost rode in the attached trailer behind them.
Liam had spread a few saddle blankets he’d found in the barn beneath the dog and weaved more blankets between the bars, wrapping them with duct tape from his go-bag to keep them in place and block the wind.
It was still no good for a dog, especially not an injured one.
His spine twinged uncomfortably. Hoisting and then carrying the heavy animal across his shoulders had jarred something in his lower back. He wasn’t the same after his time with Delta, when jumping from too many helicopters and planes had crushed a few discs.
He was still incredibly strong and fit. A step or two slower, but he could still get the job done. It just took more out of him now. Cost him more.
The rickety snowmobile jarred the aches and bruises from the battle the night before. He was tired and weary, but he was no stranger to exhaustion.
He knew how to function on only a few hours of sleep a night. He was no stranger to pain, either. He’d been trained to compart- mentalize and dismiss such things.
He worried about what they would find in the next town.
More specifically, what they wouldn’t find.
They were low on potable water and lower on food. A preg- nant woman ate far more than he’d expected. He knew she needed it. They both needed to keep their energy up and main- tain their core body temperature above all else.
They could have built a fire outside the barn and melted snow to drink, but that would’ve taken more time—and might have drawn unwanted attention. They were both anxious to get Ghost to a vet. They needed to find supplies in the next town. Water, food, and gas.
Liam caught sight of something on the road ahead. Something not quite right. His heart rate accelerated.
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