Into the Fire: Nuclear Dawn, Book 4
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Thirteen American cities devastated by nuclear bombs. Hundreds of thousands of people dead. And a nation descending into chaos.
After fleeing the radioactive ruins of Miami, Dakota and Logan finally reach their destination--a cabin deep in the Everglades, surrounded by a million acres of sawgrass rivers, cypress forests, and gator-infested swampland.
It was supposed to be safe. It's not. Now, Dakota and Logan must fight to save the place that was supposed to save them. It's not only their home, it's their future.
But something much larger and more insidious lurks, waiting and watching, preparing to destroy America for good...
Featuring riveting, edge-of-your-seat action and compelling characters, the acclaimed Nuclear Dawn apocalyptic survival series explores what could happen if terrorists executed a nuclear attack on the United States, told from the perspectives of ordinary people determined to survive.
Perfect for fans of Ryan Schow, Logan Keys, Harley Tate, Bobby Akart, and Grace Hamilton.
*Rated PG-13 for mild language and moderate violence.*
Release date: July 15, 2019
Publisher: Paper Moon Press
Print pages: 336
Content advisory: Rated PG-13 for mild language and moderate violence.
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
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Into the Fire: Nuclear Dawn, Book 4
Dakota Sloane was prepared for battle. She gripped her Sig in one hand, the AR-15 slung over her shoulder, the extra magazines tucked into a pouch at her belt.
“Let’s go,” Logan Garcia said gruffly. He carried his rifle, the Glock 43 tucked into its concealed holster at the small of his back, his combat knife strapped to his belt. “You ready?”
She nodded tightly. She was as ready as she’d ever be.
The group followed Dakota across the road. They hiked into the dense, dark forest with only the two small penlights to see by. Dakota had one; Julio de la Peña, the other.
An owl hooted overhead. Unseen creatures scurried through the leaves.
Anxiety scrabbled up Dakota’s spine. Doing this at night was a terrible idea.
But they had no choice. If Ezra was in trouble, he’d be dead by morning. If anything happened to him, she’d never forgive herself.
They couldn’t wait. They had to reach the cabin tonight.
Ominous shadows crouched all around them. They kept tripping on roots and vines. Mosquitoes whined in their ears. The air smelled dank and damp, peat mixed with rotting vegetation.
Half-jungle, half-swamp, the Everglades was a land of haunting beauty. Wild and foreboding, primordial and ancient—here long before humans, and probably long afterward.
Ezra loved this place. Dakota loved it, too.
This mosquito-infested swamp was the only place in the world that had ever felt like home.
She and the others had escaped the radioactive ruins of Miami in search of the safety she knew she would find here. But now Maddox Cage and the Shepherds were threatening everything she held dear.
Her heartbeat quickened, thumping against her ribs.
She was trekking purely by memory, the cabin in the clearing fixed in her mind: the oak, pine, and cypress forests surrounding it. To the north, a wide expanse of sawgrass and brackish water that turned into a million miles of swampy marshlands.
“What are you looking for?” Logan whispered behind her.
She’d explored these woods dozens of times, but not for two years, and seldom at night. Everything looked different—strange and dangerous.
“Ezra has a buried cache near here. If I can find it, I can orient myself and know exactly where we are. Plus, the cache will have more nine mil ammo, and if we’re lucky, another gun.”
She was searching for a particular live oak tree with the branches locked in a weird, twisting shape that resembled a heart. There were two smaller scrubby pines on either side. The three rocks pushed up against the roots looked natural—unless you knew what to look for…
It was ridiculously hard to see in the dark. Shadows wavered just outside the penlight’s halo. The moon still shone high in the night sky, but the trees blocked most of its light.
Twigs and thorns caught at her clothing. She nearly twisted her ankle on a tree root. The others stumbled behind her, Logan cursing softly.
She paused and glanced behind her, making sure Eden was keeping up.
Behind Logan, Julio trudged next to fifteen-year-old Eden, holding her hand to keep her from tripping. She looked so small and vulnerable. The girl had been through so much already. She needed Dakota by her side.
But Dakota had to lead them. She had to reach Ezra first and make sure he was safe. Then she could tend to Eden’s needs. Until then, Julio was standing in the gap for her.
Her chest tightened. Julio was a good man. Steady and depend‐ able—a loyal friend.
“I’m too out of shape for this,” Julio huffed, but his tone was good natured and self-deprecating. He rubbed his round, middle-aged belly with his free hand. “Too many Cubanos. What I wouldn’t give for a delicious ham and cheese sandwich right now.”
Eden looked up at him and signed something with one hand. It was hard to tell in the shadows, but it looked like she was smiling a little.
“Count me in.” Yu-Jin Park took up the rear, but only slightly. Even with his broken arm, he managed to keep up. “I’ve never been hungrier in my life.”
“We need to stay quiet,” Logan reminded them.
Dakota returned to her task. Even at night, the heat was oppressive. She breathed in the dank, familiar scent of moss, peat, and wet leaves. Every passing minute felt like an hour.
Please, please find it…
Finally, her gaze snagged on something familiar.
She rushed forward, fell to her knees, and pushed the stack of three rocks aside. One of the rocks was long and flat, and had three short lines etched into it. It was perfect for digging, chosen by Ezra specifically for that purpose.
The others crowded behind her as she handed Eden the penlight. Eden kept the light trained on the ground where Dakota needed to work. She dug frantically for a few minutes until the rock scraped against something.
She brushed away the dirt, twigs, and leaves, and twisted the top off the five-gallon bucket—one of several Ezra had buried within a few miles of the cabin. This was the closest one on the southwest side of the property.
Ezra always said you couldn’t keep your entire stash in one place. You might be returning home when you surprised an intruder. Maybe you’d be forced to flee without your weapons.
Ezra Burrows always had a backup plan.
Dakota reached in and pulled out a Springfield XD-S pistol wrapped in a Ziplock-type bag with anti-corrosion lining, made specif‐ ically for long-term firearm storage.
She could’ve wept with joy. It was close to the same model as her old gun, the one she’d lost with her bugout bag in the moments after the nuclear blast rained hell down upon Miami.
That was almost three weeks ago, but every day felt like a lifetime. There were two spare magazines for the pistol—both preloaded and wrapped in the protective lining—and a box of 9mm ammo. She handed the box to Logan, who slipped it in his cargo pocket.
She moved aside some packaged protein bars, bottles of water, a small first aid kit, and a tin box she knew contained fire starter tools. She pulled out a folded tactical knife and held it out to Eden. “Take it, just in case. Keep it in your pocket.”
Eden obeyed without protest.
Dakota handed a second, smaller pocketknife to Park. He stuffed it in his pocket with his good hand. The last item she took was a pair of binoculars.
She closed the lid, but didn’t rebury the bucket. It would piss Ezra off—he was fastidious about stuff like that—but there wasn’t time. She’d come back later and take care of it.
Suddenly, it was hard to breathe. It felt like some giant hand squeezed her heart. She hoped he’d be pissed at her. It meant the ornery old bear was still alive.
Dakota climbed to her feet, brushing the dirt off her knees, and slung the binoculars’ strap around her neck. She handed Park the Sig, who returned the Glock to Logan. Dakota kept the XD-S.
“Point and shoot, remember?” she said to Park. Park took it gingerly. “Okay, yeah. Got it.”
“Now you’ve got a gun and a knife. Never bring a knife to a gun fight, they say, but when you need stealth and surprise in close quar‐ ters, it still works.”
Park nodded soberly, his face round and pale in the shadows.
She held her finger to her lips. No more talking. They were close.
Within ten minutes, she’d led them safely through the woods and past a tripwire, the thin wire invisible in the darkness. But she knew it was there.
Ezra didn’t use fishing line. Rather, it was a low-stretch, high-strength cord he’d previously sprayed with a flat, grayish green spray paint to dull the shine and blend in with the foliage.
She suppressed a tight smile. Everything was the same. Just as if she’d never left.
Her heart lifted with a hope she hardly dared believe. Maybe Ezra was safe. Maybe everything would be fine.
When she glimpsed the glint of the fence ahead, she scanned the area for a tree to climb. She gestured for Logan and the others to remain where they were, then swung herself up on the low branch of a live oak.
Swaths of Spanish moss tickled her skin. Tiny bugs crawled up her arm, but she couldn’t brush them away. She grunted, muscles straining, bark scraping against her belly and arms as she clambered into a sitting position, then carefully stood, leaning against the trunk for balance.
Her pulse hammering in her ears, she peered through the binoculars. Ezra’s cabin squatted in the middle of the wide clearing. There was the big shed, the chicken coop, the garden, the well, and the outhouse buildings, with the dock and the fishing boat in the distance.
Ten yards in front of the cabin, Ezra’s familiar pristine 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup sat in the dirt driveway. But two other trucks were parked in the drive. Strange trucks she didn’t recognize.
The front gate was dented, hanging half-open.
Her heart stopped beating and her mouth went dry. Her hands were trembling, but she forced herself to keep looking. To see it all, no matter how terrible.
Three dead bodies littered the driveway. Dark, unmoving blobs in the moonlight. None of them were him—she was sure of it.
Two trucks meant more people. More enemies, more danger.
They were inside. With Ezra.
Her worst fears had come true. The Shepherds were already here.
“What’s the plan?” Logan asked.
They’d turned off their penlights and gathered behind the cover of several large, leafy trees. He scanned the trees around them, his eyes hard and alert. His unkempt black hair curled around his temples, his bronze skin darkened by the tattoos spiraling up both muscled forearms.
He glanced down at her. “We’re not going in half-cocked.”
Dakota nodded tightly. Of course, he was right—though every cell in her body thrummed with a desperate desire to do just that, to turn and run straight to Ezra, shooting anything that got in her way.
“Seems like our best option is to take them by surprise,” Julio said. “We don’t know how many are in there.”
“How do we get close?” Park asked nervously. “What about the electric fence?”
He pointed at the fence line in front of them, the rusted metal sign that read, “Warning: Electric Shock.”
Dakota shook her head. “It takes too much electricity to actually run the thing. The fencing keeps most of the critters out of the hen house and gardens, and the sign itself scares most would-be trespassers away.”
Park looked dubious. “So…you’re saying it won’t electrocute us to death. You’re absolutely a hundred percent positive on that?”
“I am.” She remembered the first time she’d crossed into Ezra’s property, a wounded Eden in tow, her heart thudding, frantic with fear and blind determination, willing to risk anything to save someone she loved.
Just like now.
“Park?” Julio asked. “What’s wrong?”
Park shook his head, his eyes wide and panicky. He was staring at the Sig in his hand like it might bite him. “This is real. The guns, those dead bodies. This isn’t a roller coaster ride where I scream my head off, but really, I know I’m safe. Anything could happen. Ten minutes from now, I could be dead.”
He clenched and unclenched his good hand at his side, clearly shaken. “I thought I was fearless. I really did. But I’m not.”
“No one is,” Dakota said. “We do it anyway.”
“All this time, I was just play-acting. I had no idea. No freaking clue.”
Dakota pushed back her impatience. His false bravado was slip‐ ping. It was finally real to him. All the skydiving and bungie jumping in the world meant nothing when you were facing down the muzzle of a gun. Well, join the club.
“Harlow was the first person—” He swallowed hard. “The first dead body I ever saw…”
“You’re about to see some more. And if you keep it together, it’ll be their dead bodies, not yours.”
Julio shot her a reproving look. She thought he was going to coddle Park with some it’s all gonna be okay nonsense, but he didn’t. He put a gentle but firm hand on Park’s shoulder. “Don’t overthink it too much. You’ll only psych yourself out.”
Park gave a tremulous nod, his eyes still terrified.
Dakota gritted her teeth. He was going to be worthless in a gunfight. Maybe worse than worthless.
“The plan,” Logan said, drawing them back to the point—how the hell to save Ezra and regain control of the cabin.
Dakota’s mind raced. “We’re coming in perpendicular to the prop‐ erty on the western side. The cabin faces south, with the water behind it, to the north. On this side, there aren’t any trees or other cover close by, other than the shed and the cisterns, but that’s one hundred yards from us and still about fifty yards from the cabin.”
She chewed her lower lip. “We can’t go in guns blazing, not with Ezra inside. The cabin walls are thick concrete, but we might still hit him.”
“So, we sneak in,” Julio said. “Get in close and aim through the windows once we can see inside?”
“We can try,” Logan said, “but that’s a lot of open territory to cover without anybody seeing us. Especially if they have a watch posted.”
She didn’t see a watch, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one. She glassed the property again, searching the darkness, zeroing in on the cabin. The window glowed with a dim light. Shapes were moving inside. One head, then a second one.
“I see two hostiles, but there could be more.”
She felt every passing second like a ticking bomb. The Shepherds were in there, doing who-knew-what to Ezra. Probably torturing him. And if they didn’t get what they wanted, a bullet to the brain.
She couldn’t let that happen.
Dakota handed the binoculars to Logan. “There’s a trapdoor hidden under the small palmetto, the one about fifteen feet or so from the west-facing cabin wall. It goes to a shallow tunnel I can crawl through to get inside the bathroom. There’s another hatch beneath the tile and a bath rug.”
Julio raised his brows.
“I told you he was prepared.” “Or paranoid,” Park muttered.
“Doesn’t seem so paranoid now though, does it?” Her nerves were strung taut. It was hard to breathe properly. “If I can sneak in and surprise them, I can take them out before they know what hit ‘em.”
“Maybe,” Logan said. “Especially if we start firing once you get inside. It’ll distract them, and you can shoot them all in the back like they deserve.”
Dakota gave him a tight smile. “I like that plan.” “Can you provide covering fire?” Logan asked Julio.
Julio squared his shoulders. “I’m no marksman, but I’ve shot a gun before. I’ll do my best.”
“Good. I’ll cover Dakota until she gets to the shed. Then I’ll follow her. Once I’m at the shed, too, then I can cover her while she heads for the trapdoor. If anyone starts shooting at us from the cabin, aim and fire. Just make sure you don’t shoot us in the back.”
Park handed the Sig to Julio. “You’ll be better at this than me.”
She wished they had more than the two AR-15s. She wished they had grenades and night vision goggles. Hell, she wished they had a tank.
“Eden, you and Park stay back here.”
Eden shook her head, starting to sign some furious rebuttal.
“I need to know you’re safe, understand?” She pulled Eden into a quick, fierce hug and murmured into her hair: “Remember, I’ll never leave you. Never, ever.”
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