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“What about him?” I said, taking another gulp of water.

“He seemed really worried about you. You guys are getting along pretty well.”

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, and then raised an eyebrow. “Are you really trying to play matchmaker right now?”

Cooper spit out the bite of sandwich in his mouth and laughed uncontrollably, and Bryce and Joey began to chuckle, too.

I rolled my eyes. “Stop it.”

“It’s okay, Scarlet. You don’t have to be a badass all the time,” Joey said.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.

Bryce handed me his leftover to put in my pack. “Nathan is a good guy. One of the best. Even before all this. You shouldn’t be so hard on him.”

“Am I?” I asked, a little offended. How was I being hard on him? Just because I wasn’t throwing myself at him? Why I was even entertaining this conversation with a bunch of barely pubescent boys was a joke in itself.

Joey smiled. “There’s nothing wrong with being happy, Scarlet.”

“Are you happy, Joey?” As soon as the words passed my lips, I regretted them. The question wiped the smile off Joey’s face, and the others fell silent. “I’m sorry. God, I am so sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay,” Joey said, standing. “We better get going.”

I stood and brushed the dead grass off my clothes. “I guess Nathan is okay.”

Joey’s small smile returned, and he closed one eye tight to help him look at me despite the sun. “You like him, then?”

“A little. I think.”

“I think a lot,” Cooper teased.

“Shut up,” I replied.

“What if something happened to him?” Bryce asked.

I was quiet for a long time, and then finally said, “It would break me.”

We continued until dinnertime. By the time we’d returned to the house, I had downed fourteen, and the boys had taken care of at least ten apiece. We’d stumbled on a herd just before we got to the highway, significantly upping our count for the day.

Ashley nearly tackled Cooper to the floor when we walked into the house, and the rest of us grabbed clean clothes and then found different places to wash up.

I was filthy, covered in sweat, dirt, and the thick, coagulated blood of shufflers. I went out the laundry-room door to the patio on the side of the house and pulled off my shirt, letting it slap to the ground. I used my foot to pull off one tennis shoe, and then did the same with the other before shimmying off my jeans. They were Leah’s, and a bit tight, but my scrub pants weren’t made for an apocalypse, and were shredded by week two.

I pulled the garden hose from its coil and twisted the water spigot. The water came out with a gush just as Nathan came outside. His eyes poured over my body. A month ago, it would have been embarrassing to be standing in front of someone in just a bra and panties, but we lived in a different world, now. In truth, I just felt like one of the guys.

The way Nathan was looking at me in that moment, though, was not like he was just looking at one of the guys. He took the hose from my hand and I bent over, letting him spray my back and hair.

“Looks like a productive trip,” he said.

I stood up and scrubbed my face as he sprayed me with the water, and then used my hands to scrub my arms and legs. “Yep. We came across a herd. Not sure if I can beat my count tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? Scarlet . . .”

I turned to face him. “I understand that you don’t want me to go, but I need to do this.”

“I know,” he said, taking a step toward me. He leaned over to pick up the stack of clean clothes off the rusted-out cooker beside the door where I’d tossed them, and handed them to me. “But I can’t stand staying at the house while you’re out there.” He was just inches from me. Even though it was warm out, my skin was covered in goose bumps. He put one hand on my hip, and the other on my face.

His mouth was just inches from mine, but I put gentle pressure against his chest with my fingertips. “Did you love her?” The question was painfully out of place, but still needed to be asked. I may have far surpassed my days as an insecure adolescent, and we might have been the last of the few people left in the world, but it was still a valid worry to wonder if it was the situation that brought us together or his feelings were genuine. Maybe it didn’t matter.

“Not for a long time, and never like the way I love you.”

Even though I realized that I might feel the same, his words surprised me. He seemed to be waiting for me to return the sentiment, and when I didn’t, he rushed to kiss me, covering the awkward silence in case it led to an awkward exit. I let him pull my bare skin against him. I parted my lips and he wasted no time slipping his tongue inside, searching every part of my mouth. I’d never thought about if he was a good kisser or not, but he was such a good kisser that it both surprised me and made me ache for more.

I walked backward to the back of the house, and he walked with me, never pulling his mouth from mine. He knotted his fingers in the dark, wet strands of my hair, as he pressed my back against the wooden slats of the house. There was no room between us, but I kept pulling him closer and closer to me. My thighs throbbed for the hardness behind his jeans.

I reached down and unbuckled his belt and then unbuttoned his pants, immediately pinching his zipper and tugging it down. Nathan let me go for just a second, took a quick glance around, and then put his thumbs into the waist of his jeans and pushed down just enough.

He reached down and pulled my knee up to his hip, and with the other hand slid over the small bit of fabric covering what he was after. The tip of his skin touched mine, and I instantly moaned in his mouth. I didn’t realize how much I wanted him or how much I missed sex until just that moment.

He steadied himself and then rocked his hips up and forward, pressing himself inside of me. I moaned again. I wasn’t sure if it was just because I’d been without sex in almost a year, or if he just felt that good.

Nathan pulled his mouth away from mine, and then hugged me to him, allowing him to go even deeper inside of me. The leg I stood on was burning, but I ignored it. Nathan slammed harder into me, making my ass bump into the wood behind me. He rocked into me over and over, in the most uncomfortable, amazing position. He licked and bit my earlobe, and I pressed my fingers into his back, and bit my lip to keep from screaming out just how amazing it felt. As my thigh began to feel numb and shake from exhaustion, Nathan pressed his face hard into my neck, and then groaned loudly, pressing into me a couple more times.