“This is going to get ugly fast,” Finn reported.
The big man grunted, keeping his eyes on his woman. She barely stood her ground, swaying like a wind buffeted her.
Daniel didn’t wait for her to throw a leg over the next fence. The man grabbed her about the waist and lifted her over the hip-high wooden palings. Setting her down, he kept a hand on her while following her over.
Doing his best by her. But, had she been in Finn’s care from the start, she wouldn’t have been hurt. He hoped she didn’t have a bad concussion, internal bleeding or bruising.
They moved through a long line of suburban backyards, slowly, steadily gaining ground. The scenery altered little. Children’s swing sets, a soccer ball and line after line of washing. Colors had paled from days and days of exposure.
A motorbike tore up the street in front of them. They changed direction, running alongside the river, as opposed to toward it.
Swimming pools were swamps, with the water turned algae green. They clambered over fences and pushed through bushes and gardens running wild.
They had to cross another street.
“Wait.” Finn stepped up from behind them, leaving Daniel to watch their backs and her.
Up the street an infected stumbled onto the asphalt in the remains of a suit and tie. Its bald head swayed from side to side, coated in dirt and old blood, and blinded by daylight. Gunfire drew it back toward the shops, away for now. Another infected lurched along beside it, a child in the tattered remains of pajamas, joining the chase.
What he wouldn’t give for a silencer. The first time they were forced to shoot would give up their position. “Go.”
Ali jerked to life, crossing the street with Daniel hot on her tail. He wasn’t more than a step away from her, one hand wrapped tight around her arm.
Another bike drew close. It hummed and growled like a hungry animal. A street over, no more.
“We’re being herded,” he said.
“Yeah. We gotta head west,” Daniel said.
“Agreed.” Finn motioned them on, staying at their backs as promised.
They cut through some open-air car parks beneath a block of apartments, climbing the hood of a vehicle when it blocked their way.
Another chorus of moaning came from close by, thankfully behind them. The fire and noise was drawing the infected away.
The ground fell between one line of houses and the next, a sharp decline of more than a story from the top of the fence to the grassy yard below.
“Pass her down to me.” The big guy made the drop then held his hands up for Al.
She gripped the hip-high fence as if a hurricane was causing her havoc, her knuckles white with pressure.
“Al?” Finn stood beside her at the fence and turned her to face him. He pried her hands from the railing and set them on his shoulders instead.
His reaction to the contact was instantaneous. And damn ill timed. His dick stirred, and his heart rate sharpened.
She clutched at his shoulders. In theory, good, neutral territory. He didn’t dare dwel on the scent of her. Getting hard would not earn her trust, and he wanted it. Wanted her to know he would follow through. That she was protected.
“Al? Are you with me?”
She blinked furiously as if she was straining to see him, but her pupils didn’t appear too bad. It was a good sign. “I’m okay.”
She nodded; a bad idea with a concussion. Her fingernails pricked at his skin through his t-shirt as she reasserted her grip. “I did have some painkillers. We, umm … we lost the packs.”
“I’ve got mine. Once we get out of here I’ll get it sorted, alright?”
One hand remained on his shoulder as she stuffed the handgun down the back of her belt.
“Tell me the safety is on, Al.”
“It’s on.” She licked her lips, visibly straightened her shoulders, pulling herself together. His trail of thought ended at her mouth. Her lips. Christ. He had a job to do.
“Ready?” Finn gripped her hips, steering his mind clear of the fact that several of his fingers wrapped around soft, warm skin. But he could deal with that. The warm, female scent of her got him where it hurt. Burying his nose in her neck was right out of the question.
Concentrating was fucking impossible.
His stomach drew tight, his cock swelled in his pants. Not the time to go there.
“Take it slow.” He held her steady as she inched one leg over, then the other. She balanced on the narrow strip of concrete by the toes of her shoes, fingers digging into his shoulders for dear life. “Give me both hands, Al. I’ll lower you down.”
“Okay.” She hesitated. He waited, long minutes that they couldn’t afford.
“I need you to trust me, Al,” he confessed. “Just like you trust him. It’s the only way we’re gonna get through this.”
“Don’t ask for much, do you?”
“Only what’s necessary.”
Her hands slid down from his shoulders, down his arms. It was the trip of a lifetime, charged with meaning despite his best efforts to keep it simple. He wanted her trust for a myriad of reasons, but he needed it to get the job done.
Her fingers, slick with sweat, met his palms. Gripping was a bitch, but he held on tight, easing her down. She hovered above Daniel’s grasp.
The noise came from his six. A footfal heard too late.
Finn released Ali’s fingers, trusting the man.
The bul et lit bloody fire across his shoulder. He swore, dropped and drew his gun from the holster at his side. A second bullet cut through the air his head had just vacated. Too late. The asshole had had his chance.
No time to worry about noise or positions. Training and instincts took over. Finn aimed for the chest, going for the kill shot.
Once, twice, three times and done. He put the shooter down. One of the assholes he had missed at the supermarket, something he really fucking regretted.
His heart hammered loud. Job done.
The body toppled to the ground in a contortion of limbs. Blood-soaked clothes and gun falling from limp hands. Everything seemed slow, his focus tight.
Getting shot was wel overrated. Blood oozed from his shoulder. It fucking hurt. Al wouldn’t be the only one investing in some of the painkillers in his pack.
Finn moved over to the body, pocketing the man’s weapon. He gave him a quick frisk, took anything of use. An expensive-looking pocket knife and some ammunition. A battered Zippo lighter, mostly full. He didn’t have time to search for more.
His pack slumped to one side, the weight of it pulling at him. The strap, torn by the bullet’s passing, had given way.
He dropped the pack over the fence, then followed, awkward and slow.
Daniel pulled Al out of the way.
The fal jarred his wound, and he cursed more than once. Steady pain bore a noxious beat, turning him inside out. He peeled back the neck of his bloody t-shirt. Every nerve in his shoulder screamed bloody murder, but he had only been winged.
It should have been more spectacular for the amount of pain.
“Have you got something we can tie that off with?” Daniel kept an arm around Al, propping her up. Chances weren’t high she would remain upright much longer.
By the sound of the roar, he knew the bikes were closing in fast. How they could tell a firefight over the bedlam was beyond Finn.
Very in keeping with their current shit luck.
“Later.” He tipped his chin at Al and Daniel nodded.
Finn doubted the woman even knew what was going on. She pressed her face into the big guy’s shirt, hands clutching him to keep upright. Without comment Daniel set his shoulder to her middle and up she went, draped over his back in a fireman’s hold.
“Hey.” Startled, her feet kicked out, but Daniel slapped a hand down over her ass.
“Hush, woman. Phase two of the plan?” The big man asked, hand settling on her rear with a final, affectionate pat.
They had found a hovel to hide beneath for the night. Daniel knew it was a hovel. Bone deep. No debate. He lay on his back in the dirt, staring at the shadowy wooden floorboards a bare meter above his head. When he was a kid they’d lived in a similar place. A small two-bedroom cottage with walls so thin they’d shake. His father would stomp about, rattling the panes of glass in the window frames.
The old man loved to intimidate with his size. Prime perfect example of everything Daniel never wanted to be. No, he’d only wanted to protect Ali and he’d ballsed that up royal y. Guilt smothered him like lead-lining. It was amazing he could breathe.
He saw Finn crawling around in the near darkness, patrolling, watching the street. A machine had nothing on the kid as he went about his duty. Daniel didn’t know whether to be jealous or grateful or what. Mostly, he just felt tired. He could feel himself sinking into the ground, wanting to give in to it. A yawn cracked his jaw and he opened his eyes wide, trying to stay with it. They needed to be on the alert. Ramshackle fence palings hung on al sides of the cottage, little protection against anything, should anything manage to find them.
The situation was wel and truly fucked.
His girl was out cold, a lovely load strewn across his chest because he beat the dirt floor, comfort-wise. And because he needed her close. If he were some cynical, sorry son of a bitch, he might have had a moment. He might have figured playing mattress was the most he was good for. There was no sugar coating it, he had failed her. He had lured her out of her hidey-hole, and then been too high on life and love to protect her. It couldn’t happen again. For the last couple of hours he’d been picking their problems apart, trying to come up with a solution.
If Finn hadn’t turned up, then he or both of them would be dead. Or worse, because there was worse. Her trust issues began to make sense. What those fuckers wanted her for would be a living nightmare, guaranteed. His stomach roiled at the thought of them hurting his girl. Scrubbing the inside of his head out to purge those pictures would be a mercy. There weren’t any limits to how far he’d go to keep her from such a fate. He’d do anything.