After barely escaping Heath with their lives, Rowan, Kiaya, and Devon are thrilled to have a safe place to live as winter sets in. With plenty of supplies, a group that works together well, and the security of their new home, things are looking up. Even better? The freezing temperatures might have taken care of the zombies once and for all.
Too bad everyone knows that things with Hank are far from over.
Weeks have passed since their altercation with the psycho teen and there’s been no sign of him. It should make Devon feel better. Should help him relax. But with trouble brewing in their group, he can’t help wondering if the kid who tried to kill them all isn’t behind it.
Rowan wants nothing more than to settle into this new life in the least complicated way possible. Not an easy task with the father who abandoned her living so close and the threat of a killer hanging over her. And those aren’t even her biggest concerns.
As the lives of the people in their group become increasingly intertwined, it becomes clear that love, life, and drama are things even a zombie apocalypse can’t erase. With new relationships forming, old ones causing problems, and surprise additions to the group complicating matters even more, there’s plenty to distract the survivors as they wait to see what will happen when the snow melts and zombies are no longer frozen. And if Hank will finally come knocking.
Release date: January 20, 2022
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 366
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Far from Over
Kate L. Mary
White. Everywhere I looked was white. The thick carpet of snow shimmered in the early morning sunlight like crystals, making me squint. The air was crisp and as sharp as a cold blade against my cheeks whenever it slammed into me, causing goose bumps to pop up on every inch of my body despite the multiple layers I wore. It wasn’t just the chilly gusts causing them, though. It was the silence. Other than the howl of the wind as it rushed over the frozen landscape, there was nothing. No distant hum of engines, no thump of someone playing music too loudly, no boom of voices carried on the wind. It made me feel like I was the only person in the world. Like I’d been transported to some horrible alternate universe where I was utterly alone. The undisturbed snow below me only served to emphasize the thought. No footprints or tire tracks, it was as untouched as it had been two days ago when it fell.
Was it odd that the reality of living with zombies was more desirable than one where I was utterly alone? Not really. Everything had changed and we’d all lost so much—our loved ones, our homes, the futures we’d thought we’d have—but we had each other, something that had more than sustained us over the last two months. We weren’t alone. We were a community fighting to find our way through this horror, and for the most part, we were succeeding. More than succeeding, considering how close we’d come to disaster on multiple occasions.
The scrape of footsteps at my back jolted me from my thoughts, and I glanced over my shoulder to find Devon heading my way, hands stuffed in the pockets of the hunter green parka he was bundled in. The fur trimmed hood didn’t suit him in the least, but he looked warm despite his pink nose and cheeks. A puff of steam rose in front of him with each breath, and his footsteps crunched against the snow-covered roof of the hospital, the automatic rifle slung over his shoulder thumping against his thigh with each step he took.
His focus was on the world beyond me, his blue eyes bright in the dazzling sun, and my heart did a little somersault at the sight of him. It always did. Two months had passed since we’d met on Route 66 and six weeks since we’d allowed ourselves to admit how we felt about each other and act on it, and I still felt like a girl with a schoolyard crush whenever he walked into a room. Never could I have imagined something as horrible as the zombie apocalypse would bring me so much— Joy? I wasn’t sure if that was the right word. Most days I didn’t feel anywhere close to joyful, but a sense of rightness that hadn’t been in my life before did seem to hang over me. As if this was where I was meant to be. Zombies and blood and death and gore and all, I’d found my place.
It was a very strange world we were living in.
Devon was still five feet away when his focus switched to me. My heart, which had already been pounding harder, doubled in speed when our eyes met. As if sensing the change, he grinned, and the dimple that I loved so much materialized in his right cheek, softening his severe good looks until he appeared almost boyish. A huge feat, considering the bulging muscles that even the parka couldn’t hide.
“You missed me,” he said, and it wasn’t a question.
I rolled my eyes even as my lips turned up into a smile. “I saw you fifteen minutes ago.”
He stopped with just eight inches of space between us, and his body heat wrapped around me. My cheeks warmed as his gaze held mine, his smile not wavering but his eyes taking on a more serious light as we stared at one another.
“It feels like longer.” His voice was husky. Deep.
It was a tone I’d come to know well. It was serious Devon. The Devon who was weighing the dangers of this world against our odds of survival, something he seemed to do more and more with each passing day. I hated it because it felt like the teasing, light-hearted person I’d met all those weeks ago on Route 66 was slipping away. Almost like he was slowly dying. I didn’t want that because I needed his levity in my life. Needed it so I could cling to something bigger than the dead walking the Earth or the less-than-human people out there who were hellbent on destroying any sliver of goodness that still remained.
“Stop,” I said, reaching up to cup his cheek with my gloved hand. “We’re okay. We haven’t seen a sign of Hank since that night at the school. For all we know, he’s dead.”
I pulled my hand away when Devon let out a sigh, telling me the pretend contact wasn’t enough to ease his fears. Yanking the glove off, I shoved it in my pocket. This time when I placed my hand on his cheek, he leaned into it. His skin was cool and scratchy against my palm yet comforting in its familiarity. We were always cold these days. With winter setting in and limited resources at our disposal, we had to conserve as much energy as possible, meaning keeping the heat in the hospital low and resorting to snuggling under blankets. Body heat was the best deterrent against the cold, luckily for Devon and me. In the evenings after the sun had gone down and we were cuddled together in our room, I often found myself feeling bad for anyone who didn’t have the luxury of wrapping themselves around another person. Kiaya and Zara at least had each other, and Randall made sure to keep his niece and nephew warm when the chill got so bad you could feel it in your bones, but there were others who had no one. Matt—who I’d grown used to calling by his first name—Lisa, Doug, and Gabe and all the other guys we met back at the school. Maybe they would eventually resort to banding together for warmth, but I couldn’t imagine it. They were too macho. Even Brian, who I’d come to realize had more than platonic feelings for Gabe.
Devon closed his eyes and turned his face, so his lips were pressed against my palm, and an involuntary sigh broke out of me.
“We can’t take anything for granted,” he said, his lips teasing the sensitive skin on my palm, his warm breath sending tingles through my body.
“I know,” I replied, having to pause so I could swallow the emotion clogging my throat, “but we have to enjoy the calm when we have it. Okay?”
He kept his mouth pressed against my hand when he opened his eyes. For a moment, the intense expression in them hung on, but then, slowly, it morphed into something else, and the old Devon resurfaced. The one I’d met on Route 66 who teased me until I wanted to scream, who had worked hard to get under my skin every chance he got.
“If you insist,” he said.
His dimple reappeared seconds before he grabbed my hips and pulled my body against his. Automatically, my hand moved to the back of his head when his mouth covered mine. His hair was longer than it had been, and it felt like feathers against my skin when I threaded my fingers through it. The kiss was deep from the first second, sending a burst of warmth through my veins. In seconds, though, it became what could only be described as an inferno. My previously cold cheeks flushed, and my blood boiled. My free hand tangled in his jacket as I tried to pull him closer to me even though there wasn’t even a millimeter of space between us. His fingers flexed on my hips as he ground his pelvis against mine and parted my lips with his tongue, gaining access to my mouth.
“Shit.” The curse sounded far away, but the voice was more than familiar at this point in my life. “Can’t you two give it a rest for one day?”
I managed to extract myself from Devon’s grasp just enough that I could see Doug over his shoulder. My ex-boyfriend was heading our way, his brown eyes squinted against the bright sun as he shook his head, a gun grasped in his right hand.
Devon didn’t release his hold on me, but he did resort to moving his face so it was nestled in the crook of my neck, his lips claiming that part of my body since they could no longer devour my mouth.
“Body heat,” he said, and another shiver moved through me at the feel of his stubble against my throat.
Doug’s only response was a grunt.
“Sorry,” I said, although I wasn’t sure what I was apologizing for.
Doug wasn’t really bothered by Devon and me. It was strange how comfortable we’d become with one another, especially considering how much I’d detested him two months ago. Now we were simply two parts of a much bigger group. Two survivors who shared a history that now seemed inconsequential in light of everything else.
“Yeah, well,” Doug said, shaking his head as he let out a snort that sounded more annoyed than the grunt he’d let out a second ago, “it’s not like you’re the only ones.”
I lifted my eyebrows questioningly as I worked to extract myself from Devon’s hold. There were a handful of other couples in the hospital—people who’d been here before us—but it was rare to see anyone making out the way Devon and I had been. Mostly, people were too focused on day-to-day survival to take the time fool around. At least out in the open.
Devon let out an exaggerated sigh when he finally released me, but the twinkle in his eyes let me know it was all for show. It wasn’t like we hadn’t started off the morning wrapped in one another’s arms.
Seeing my questioning look, Doug gave a small shrug and averted his gaze, so he was looking past us, out over the snow-covered parking lot I’d been studying before Devon joined me. “Nothing.”
I studied my former boyfriend, trying to figure out what he was hiding, because he was definitely hiding something. Was someone else hooking up? The way he was avoiding my gaze told me it was someone we knew—someone from our group, probably—and that he was slightly uncomfortable bringing it up.
Immediately, my mind went to Kiaya. It was no secret that Max had his eye on her—he’d made it pretty clear from the moment they met—but recently I’d gotten the impression that Doug, too, might be vying for her attention. Yes, it all sounded very juvenile, considering what we were going through, but with winter setting in and the weather making it harder to get around, we were suddenly faced with more free time than we’d had before, meaning more time to contemplate the future and how we might rebuild. Or at the very least, how we might distract ourselves. Couples had formed amongst the people we didn’t know that well, but the group I’d traveled across the country with and the one we’d joined at the school had remained separate for the most part. It made sense. We hadn’t been together for that long before coming to the hospital and we’d already formed bonds. Devon, Kiaya, and me with the people we’d picked up along the way, Doug, and the other muscle-bound survivors with one another.
Now, though, I began to wonder if some line hadn’t been crossed when I wasn’t looking.
“Doug,” I said, my eyes narrowing on his face, “what’s going on?”
His shoulders rose and fell, but he didn’t tear his focus from the snow-covered parking lot.
“Doug,” I said, more insistent this time. When he still didn’t respond, I said, “Is this about Kiaya?”
Even asking the question made me feel slimy. She and I hadn’t known one another before traveling across the country together but we’d gotten close since then, and I knew how private she was. If she was hooking up with Max, she wouldn’t want it spread around until she was ready to tell people about it.
When my ex’s gaze darted my way, I could immediately see two things in his eyes. One, it had nothing at all to do with Kiaya, and two, I’d been right. Doug was into her.
“No,” he said, drawing the word out like he was trying to decipher why I’d thought it was her.
I put my hands up. “I don’t know anything. It’s just that you’re acting weird, and I thought it might be because you know how private she is. That’s all.”
He nodded, but I could tell he wasn’t entirely convinced.
“Well,” I prompted when he said nothing.
He sighed. “Lisa and Gabe. I saw her leaving his room this morning.”
That took me by surprise, both because Lisa didn’t seem like the type that would sneak around and because I wasn’t sure why Doug was acting so awkward about it. Did he have the same sense about Brian that I did?
“Oh,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “does anyone else know?”
“You mean does Brian know,” Doug said, and it wasn’t a question.
So, I wasn’t the only one who suspected.
I shrugged in response.
“Brian?” Devon hadn’t said anything until this point, but I could tell by his tone that he had no clue the large man who looked like a cross between Lurch from the Addam’s Family and a villain in a Bond movie was in love with his best friend.
Doug looked down and said nothing.
I focused on Devon. “Haven’t you noticed how attached Brian is to Gabe?”
“They’re friends,” Devon said with a shrug.
Doug let out a little snort.
I pinned Devon with a serious look. “Think about it.”
He did, his mouth scrunching up as he replayed everything that had happened since we met the other group. The way Brian ran to Gabe’s aid whenever there was trouble and how upset he’d been when Heath beat his friend and later stabbed him. Even more compelling were the weeks following the injury. Day after day, Brian sat at Gabe’s bedside as he healed, then when he was finally up and moving around, the two seemed inseparable. More than once Ari and Max made cracks about the situation, calling Brian a shadow, and even resorting to giving him the nickname man’s best friend. To the men, the dedication had seemed funny, but not to me. To me it had been totally obvious what was going on.
I refocused my attention on Doug. “Well?”
His shoulders rose and fell. “Not as far as I know.”
My head bobbed as I thought it through. If Gabe was aware of his friend’s true feelings, it made sense he’d want to keep this new relationship—assuming that was what it was—to himself, but if not, there could be trouble.
“Is Gabe aware of how things really are?”
Again, Doug shrugged. “Who knows? If he is, he’s not saying anything.”
“Do you mean—” Devon broke off almost like he wasn’t sure he’d come to the right conclusion, and he didn’t want to make a fool of himself.
“Brian is in love with Gabe,” I said without even glancing his way.
Devon shook his head and let out a low whistle. “It hadn’t even occurred to me.”
It was a bit surprising because I thought of Devon as an observant person, but it was possible he’d just been too focused on everything else. Survival and getting the hospital ready for winter. Me. Had he been paying attention; it should have been obvious. Meaning Gabe had to know as well.
“Hopefully, it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to either one of them,” I said.
They had to have been down this road before. They’d been friends for years, and Gabe was married before all this. He’d even had kids. By this point, Brian had to be used to his love going unrequited. Still, being in such close quarters was a new thing and very well could cause issues.
“Yeah.” Doug was nodding when he once again turned his gaze to the snowy landscape, and I could tell by the hard set of his jaw that he’d already switched gears. Either he wasn’t concerned about this post-apocalyptic love triangle causing problems or he just didn’t want to think about it. Whichever it was, I was with him for the moment. If there was an issue, we could worry about it later. For now, we had bigger things to focus on.
“How long do you think we have until the snow melts?” I asked, voicing the question on everyone’s mind.
It had started two days ago, falling hard and fast and dropping more than ten inches overnight. Not exactly typical for mid-November in southern Ohio, it wasn’t that unusual either since winters here varied. One year we got almost nothing, while the next we could barely catch our breaths between snowfalls. Those of us who were from the area knew it was only a matter of time before it all melted, though. The weather here was a like a rollercoaster. Up one day and down the next, the only thing you could depend on was the fact that it would change. And suddenly. It wasn’t unusual to have a sixty-degree day followed by one that barely made it into the thirties. One thing we did know for certain, however, was that the snow would melt, and soon. Around here, it rarely lasted a week, and more often than not, it was completely gone within forty-eight hours.
Without plows or trucks to salt the roads, it would be a blessing to have the bad weather disappear so quickly if not for one very big detail. The zombies had all but disappeared with the snow. No one had left the hospital to find out why—the snowdrifts and icy roads were a huge deterrent—and the theories were all over the place. The dead were simply having a difficult time getting around, or they’d frozen solid with the drop in temperature. Some unrealistically optimistic people even thought they might have died off for good. I wasn’t that delusional—as much as I wanted it to be true—but I couldn’t help hoping that the cold had actually worked to our advantage.
It was the reason I was on the roof. Yes, I’d signed up to take watch, but I’d done it because in my desperation to know what was going on, I found it impossible to stay inside for long. I wanted— No. I needed to know what had happened to the zombies that had plagued our lives for the last two months.
If it weren’t for the untouched snow, I might have been able to convince myself they were out there. Maybe hiding. Maybe they’d evolved to a state where they knew how to conceal themselves. It was as possible as the dead walking the Earth in the first place, after all. Only the pristine snow blanketing the ground told me that wasn’t the case. Not a single track or footprint was visible as far as the eye could see, meaning they weren’t hiding in hopes of catching us off guard. They weren’t moving at all.
“You think it’s possible?” Doug asked after a moment of silence in which all three of us stared out over the blinding snow. “That they died off, I mean.”
“I can’t imagine the cold would do it if the intense heat out west hadn’t,” Devon replied, but he shrugged to indicate he wasn’t the least bit confident in his answer.
“At the very least, they’re frozen,” I said.
Kiaya had been the first to mention the possibility. She’d brought it up weeks ago, after the first cold snap had set in and we’d seen a group of the dead stumbling and almost falling in the parking lot. She’d noticed they were moving slower and that their actions seemed more labored than usual and had theorized that they might freeze once winter really hit. No, the dead were never all that coordinated, but the cold seemed to make them less able to move around. So much that one had fallen even though there was nothing around that could have tripped it. Since Kiaya was pretty much the smartest person I’d ever met, I’d taken note of it and kept an eye out even when others seemed to have forgotten. It wasn’t until the snow, however, that there was any way to really test her theory. Before it started falling, the temperatures, while cold, had remained in the high thirties. Now they were in the teens.
“You’d think we’d be able to see one or two,” Doug said. “I mean, if they’re frozen, they have to be under the snow. Right?”
He looked from me to Devon as if hoping for confirmation, but neither of us knew what to say. Yes, he was right. But the parking lot was so full of abandoned cars and rotting corpses that there could be hundreds of frozen zombies under the snow, and it would be impossible for us to tell.
“There’s only one way to know for sure,” Devon mumbled, almost like he was talking to himself. “We have to go out there.”
I didn’t disagree. The problem was getting the majority on board with the plan. Most of the survivors living in the hospital thought staying inside until the roads were in better shape was smarter. We were short on resources, after all, and the risk of losing a vehicle was only one of the concerns. If someone had an accident, we would be forced to use some of our medical equipment. Which was now more precious than gold.
“Bill still hasn’t budged?” I asked.
“Majority rules,” Doug replied with a shrug. “He’s determined to keep things as democratic as possible after what happened with Heath.”
Devon snorted in disgust at the mention of the man who’d tried to kill us all.
“This isn’t a democracy anymore, but for arguments sake, let’s say it is.” I tore my attention from the parking lot and focused on the others. “Let’s say nothing has changed. That would mean this is still a free country, which would mean we,” I waved my hand in a circle, indicating the three of us, “have the right to get a group together and go out if we want to. And no one has a right stop us.”
Devon’s lips twitched in a ghost of a smile as he nodded. “That’s an excellent point.”
I turned so I was once again facing the white landscape. “We have to find out what’s going on. It’s the only way to accurately plan for the future, and it’s stupid to let a bunch of people who are too scared to take even the smallest risk stop us.”
Even as I said the words, I couldn’t help wondering where they’d come from. They sounded more like Kiaya than me. She was the secure one. The one who was always certain about what she had to do. Maybe she’d rubbed off on me? Or it was also possible that I’d been forced to grow up even more than I’d realized.
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