After learning her father is alive, going with Heath had seemed like a no-brainer to Rowan. Her dad was all she had left, after all. The only remaining piece of the life she'd loved so much. But their reunion doesn't go quite the way she expected it to, and Rowan finds herself alone and uncertain, making her wish she'd taken the time to think things through before making a decision that might cost her so much.
Kiaya has always been logical and resourceful, and she's confident if she and Devon work together, they'll be able to figure out a way to get Rowan back. But there's trouble brewing in the group, making Kiaya question who she can trust. Even worse, she can't help wondering if staying at the school is the right decision at all.
Between the zombies walking the earth, the wildfire that shows no signs of stopping, and dangerous survivors lurking both in town and in their very own halls, it feels like the whole world is out to get them. Still, Kiaya is determined to not only save Rowan, but to also figure out a way to keep everyone she cares about safe.
Release date: December 7, 2020
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 364
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Far from Lost
Kate L. Mary
Watching as the vehicles barrel down the road toward us, dust trailing behind them, I planted my feet and adjusted my grip on my gun. The weight of it in my hand was oddly comforting, which was something I never could have predicted I’d feel. For as long as I could remember, I’d had no control in my life. Even after working my ass off to get a full ride to the University of Phoenix, because my circumstances had always been too precarious to ever really feel like I had a say in what happened. The gun, however, made me feel like I had a say in this world. Even if it was probably only an illusion, I appreciated it.
Rowan was already standing to my right when Devon and Lisa came over to join us, and Doug was on my left. Like me, the others had their weapons raised when the vehicles came to a halt. There were six in all—four trucks pulling trailers and two black SUVs—and tension seemed to ripple through our group as we waited to see what would happen next. I had a difficult time standing still, and I found myself shifting my feet as I waited. Sweat gathered on my palms, forcing me to adjust my grip on the gun once again, but I kept it up and ready. I didn’t like how long it was taking these people to emerge.
As if programmed to perform in unison, all six of the vehicles’ doors were thrown open at the same time. Men and women armed with automatic weapons rushed out, shouting at us, some calling for us to lower our own weapons while others gave more demanding orders.
“Hands up!” a woman yelled, while a man called out, “On the ground. Now!”
The illusion of synchronicity was shattered by the multiple—and conflicting—orders, but it probably would have felt like chaos no matter what. There were too many people with guns up, accompanied by too much yelling. It was like the climax of some action movie in which you just knew one of the characters you’d come to love was going to end up dead—or at least very, very hurt—and it pushed away the earlier security I’d felt at having a gun.
People in our group called out threats, but it was difficult to distinguish a single word because they were talking over each other, and no one seemed to care what the others had to say.
The only order that stood out was Gabe’s. “You better get back in your trucks and drive away.”
It only took one scan of the newly arrived group for me to realize we were outnumbered. Even worse, we were outgunned. Outgunned. It was a word I’d heard many times in my life, but one I never thought I’d experience in the literal sense. Yet, here I was. We’d come to this farm in the middle of nowhere for target practice, bringing only handguns with us even though we had plenty of automatic weapons back at the school. It had been foolish and shortsighted, but I was starting to realize those were the two defining characteristics of this group. Gabe, the leader, was especially prone to making decisions without thinking through all the consequences. He hadn’t wanted women to venture away from the safety of the school’s walls, hadn’t wanted to teach the children how to shoot. I wasn’t foolish enough to think he was stupid, but he was dangerously shortsighted, and it looked as if his thoughtlessness was going to cost us dearly.
It seemed like every one of us tensed when a man stepped forward, separating himself from the rest of the group while at the same time marking himself as the leader. He raised his right hand, and like with the car doors, his people fell silent in perfect synchronization.
Not much about the man stood out other than his broad shoulders, and I couldn’t help thinking he would fit in perfectly with Gabe and his buddies. They looked like a group of testosterone dipped eye-candy, the kind of guys most women my age would have drooled over or whispered about. Like Gabe and his workout friends, the leader of this group was stocky and muscular, but he was very average-looking as well, with buzzed brown hair and nondescript features. In fact, nothing much about him really stood out other than his brown eyes. They were as hard as steel, with an unforgiving glint to them that had my spine stiffening. I’d had my qualms about Gabe, but those concerns were nothing compared to the uneasiness that settled over me when this man’s gaze momentarily locked with mine.
He raised the pistol in his right hand but didn’t aim it at anyone in particular. “Put the weapons down.”
“Not a chance,” Gabe replied in an even tone most people probably would have thought made him seem unconcerned. Not me, though. It was too level, making it sound forced. Fake.
“Let me rephrase that.” The newcomer’s lips twitched in a parody of a smile as he turned his gun on our leader. “Put the weapons down and leave, and you’ll get to live.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Devon glance at Rowan. Not that it was anything new. The two hadn’t been able to keep their eyes off each other since the moment they met. Now, though, the expression was all concern.
“What do you want?” Devon called.
“We’re here for the animals,” came the reply.
“Like hell you are,” Brian growled, his tone matching his appearance perfectly. He was like a steel box, all broad and stiff and unyielding, with dark hair and eyes, but pale skin that gave off the impression he rarely went outside.
I’d noticed the trailers right away, but it hadn’t occurred to me what they were for. Livestock. Why, though? That was the first question to pop into my head, but a second quickly followed. How? How had these people known there would be animals here? Yes, there had been animals at this farm before the virus, but Gabe had said he and his men had gathered more, bringing them all here for safe keeping. This man must have somehow known about their presence, because his arrival here seemed much too planned to be coincidence.
Gabe shifted but didn’t step closer to the other man. “I’m going to tell you the same thing you told me the day I showed up at the hospital, Heath. Get your own supplies.”
Heath’s mouth stretched into a wide smile that looked painted on, fake, and for some reason it reminded me of a politician. Staged and for the benefit of others. “That’s what I’m doing.”
I turned the words over in my head as Rowan’s revelation about the hospital came back to me in a rush. Gabe had mentioned a group at the nearby hospital. Was that how these men knew about the animals? Gabe and his men must have made contact at some point or they wouldn’t know about the doctors and nurses being held, which might also explain how these men knew about the livestock. Although it was still far-fetched to think Gabe would have given away where they were keeping the animals. Even he couldn’t be that shortsighted.
I was jolted from my thoughts when, without warning, Rowan tossed her gun to the ground, raised her hands, and stepped forward.
“Rowan.” Devon reached for her, but she dodged him, her focus on Heath.
Heath lifted his brows, curiosity brimming in his brown eyes, but didn’t say a thing.
At my side, Devon shifted, and I could tell he wanted to step forward, wanted to grab Rowan and pull her back. Unfortunately, she was standing between the two groups now, and making a move could put her in danger. Heath’s gun wasn’t pointed at Rowan or Devon, and his stance was relaxed, giving the impression he was positive he and his people would come out on top. The men and women behind him, however, looked ready to explode. They were jumpy, shifting around, eyes wide as they scanned our group. Many had their fingers poised over triggers as if ready to fire at the first sign of trouble. If Devon made a move, it wouldn’t end well, which he must have sensed, because he stayed where he was. His police training was coming in handy yet again.
Rowan raised her arms higher as if wanting everyone to know she wasn’t a threat. “Is there a Dr. Summers at the hospital?”
The reality of what Rowan was doing slammed into me, and I physically jerked from the impact.
Just before arriving at the farm, Gabe had told her about the hospital and the doctors and nurses being held hostage. That was why she was putting herself at risk. Her father had worked there, in the ER. When he’d stopped calling her mom, Rowan had assumed he was dead, but hearing about the group that had taken over the hospital had given her newfound hope. I couldn’t imagine what she thought might come from this situation, though. Then again, maybe she wasn’t thinking at all. I’d only known Rowan for a couple weeks, but it was long enough to witness how impulsive she could be, acting on emotion more than logic half the time. It made her brave, but it also put her at risk more than she needed to be.
“He’s Asian,” Rowan continued. “Has a mustache. Is in his sixties.”
Heath’s smile melted away, leaving an expression that seemed harder than steel. He hadn’t lowered his gun, which was still pointed at Gabe, but his gaze was on Rowan. He seemed to size her up for a few seconds, his expression not changing even as he took her in.
“Who wants to know?” he finally said.
“I’m his daughter. I just want to know if he’s alive.” Rowan took a step closer, and I had to bite down on my bottom lip to keep from calling out to her.
Devon didn’t even try to hold back. “Son of bitch, Rowan. Don’t do this.”
“Rowan,” Doug, her ex-boyfriend, called, the words pleading, “You’re making a mistake. We can figure this out.”
I tore my gaze from the back of Rowan’s head long enough to look Doug over, and like before, I was struck by the nagging suspicion Gabe’s group was more connected to Heath and his people than they were letting on. Doug looked almost scared, and even though he was mostly focused on Rowan, his gaze would occasionally dart to the armed man in front of her. There was genuine fear in his expression. As if he knew what this man was capable of.
“Please,” Rowan said, her voice quavering even though her arms, which were still raised, didn’t tremble in the least. “I need to know.”
This time when Heath’s gaze swept over her, it was slower and more calculated, and every inch of me stiffened. “You don’t look like you could be his daughter.”
A sob burst out of Rowan, making her shoulders shake. “He’s alive, isn’t he?”
“Is he really your dad?” The way Heath continued to evade the question left little doubt in my mind. Rowan’s father was alive and being held at the hospital.
She must have thought the same thing, because she took another step toward Heath.
“Yes, he is. I’m adopted, but he’s my father. Please, I have to know if he’s alive.”
As if coming to some decision, Heath lowered his gun a little. “He’s alive.”
A gasp that was a combination of a relieved sob and a terrified laugh burst out of Rowan, and she was already moving when she said, “Take me to him.”
Tears were streaming down her cheeks, but there was an elation in her expression I’d never seen before. I got it; I really did. I’d done my best to rein in my emotions as we traveled Route 66 from Arizona to Indiana, not wanting to show the people I’d just met how worried I was about my sister. I’d been terrified we’d reach Zara’s house to find her dead—or worse, that she’d be one of the dead. Rowan had been living with the same fear, only her concern had been over her mother because she’d already accepted that her dad had succumbed to the virus. When we’d finally arrived at her house only to discover we were too late, she’d been crushed. She’d thought she was an orphan, had even assumed she’d never get to learn what had really happened to her dad, and I could only imagine how jarring it was to have the hope you’d buried resurrected like this.
Not that it made her actions easier for me to understand as I watched her cross the small space separating her from Heath. She was a person wholly controlled by her emotions. Someone who teared up when they were hurt, angry, scared, and even happy. I was all logic, though. A person who preferred to quietly watch things play out before I made any decisions about how to react. Which was why Rowan’s actions made no sense to me even though I wholeheartedly understood her desire to find her father. There were better ways to do this.
Heath had begun walking forward to meet her, his gun once again up and aimed at us, although not at any one person in particular. Around me, people were calling for Rowan to stop. To rethink what she was doing.
“Rowan,” Devon begged, “there has to be another way.”
“Don’t do this!” Doug called out.
Lisa said something, too, as did a few other people, and I found myself joining in. “This isn’t the way, Rowan.”
She didn’t slow, didn’t even look back. Then she was in front of Heath and he was grabbing her, spinning her around so her back was pressed against his chest. He wrapped his arm around her, and my thoughts immediately went to the self-defense lessons from the other day, but they fizzled out a second later when Heath pressed the barrel of his gun against her temple and her blue eyes grew wide with fear.
“I want all of you in your cars,” he called, and Rowan jerked away from the sound of his voice in her ear. “Now. You will drive off and not look back, and when you’re gone, we are going to load the animals into our trailers. If you do not comply, I will make her pay, and I promise it won’t be pretty, and it won’t be fast.”
Panic swept over me, and a tremble, like a small earthquake, moved through my body. I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which we’d be able to get Devon—and possibly even Doug—to leave, and thinking about what might happen, about the bloodbath that would follow if we refused Heath’s demands, terrified me. Yes, we might be able to take out some of their people, but a lot of us would be hurt or killed in the process. My legs were wobbly and unsteady, and the hand holding my gun—which was aimed at Heath—quivered as I took in the situation. The automatic weapons aimed at us, the tears on Rowan’s cheeks and fear in her eyes, the stiffness in Devon’s body and the hard set of his jaw.
I looked toward Lisa and found her face red with fury, and on my other side, Doug seemed on the verge of attacking. I was still looking around when Devon took a step forward, his gun up and steady and aimed at Heath, his blue eyes shimmering with anger and fear.
Heath pressed the gun’s barrel more firmly against Rowan’s head.
Devon’s jaw tightened. “I’m going to rip you in two.”
“No,” the other man replied, and once again Rowan jerked at the sound of his voice. “You are going to drive away, because if you do not, I’m going to instruct one of my associates to bring me the wire cutters, and then I’m going to remove her pretty little fingers one at a time.”
Rowan let out a small sob.
I was taking the situation in, looking Heath and his people over and trying to decide what to do when Gabe said, “Devon. We have to.”
As if realizing we had no other options, the other people in our group had started moving toward the vehicles, but Devon stayed where he was. He watched Rowan with a tortured expression, and the look in her eyes made it clear she wished she could take back her actions. Maybe this would be a wakeup call for her, something that would teach her not to be so impulsive. Assuming she survived it.
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