Janie. Roslyn had called her Janie.
“Help me!” she begged, running toward him. He stood surrounded by infected and the idiot girl flew at him, slipping and sliding in the gore on the floor. She fell to her knees, her chin cracking on the hard floor. Blood gushed out.
Steel-rimmed Glasses turned back to the girl with a roar of pure relish. It all happened fast, one fuck-up after another. It was insane. One of the handles on Ros’s handbag slid down his shoulder, restricting his movement. Hands down, it had to be his stupidest fucking idea ever to come after it. Like the woman would die without her lip balm or something. She was so getting a spanking for this, her fault or not. Her ass belonged to him.
Nick sucked in a breath through gritted teeth. Time to go home.
The gun was deafeningly loud. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
The back of Steel-rimmed Glasses’s head caved in, face exploding all over the floor. Never again would that thing bother Roslyn. Never.
Janie opened her bloodstained mouth and the sound that came out was mindless, barely human.
He aimed at the closest zombie staggering toward him. Its claw-like hand had gotten too close. No way did he want any of the infected’s body fluids near him. Nick’s boot landed in the thing’s groin and it toppled back, almost taking its friend with it.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Chest shots. Its insides flew apart, intestines and fuck knew what else exposed. His hand shook as he switched targets. Why? Where was the calm? This was nothing he hadn’t done a hundred times since the plague had struck. He squeezed the trigger and nothing. Nada. Out of bullets.
The last one had crept too close. Nick slid his knife from the sheath on his belt. Good God, its breath—hot and foul, disgustingly humid.
He held up the knife and the bright silver blade buried itself in the thing’s throat, the zombie’s own forward momentum doing it in. Blood bubbled up and the thing gurgled, hands groping, reaching for him, hungry still. Nick pulled the blade free and the infected fell at his feet. There was a pool of blood down there. You could almost swim in it. His pistol lay in the center of the mess. He couldn’t even remember dropping it.
Janie waited on the floor, making a weird squeaking noise. His hand might have been shaking but she looked ready to fall apart, her shoulders jerking convulsively. Her face was a mess. Fuck, the sight of blood, the smell of it. It ran off the girl’s split chin. They were drowning in the stuff. She stared at him as if he was every bit as scary as the zombies.
The whites of her eyes were huge.
“A-are they all dead?” she croaked.
Too tired to speak, he just nodded. He squatted and wiped his blade on the pants of the nearest dead infected. The one with its throat sliced open. Ros’s handbag slid down his shoulder and he shoved its straps back up into place.
“Will you stay with me?” Janie asked. Her jittery fingers drew back the skirt of her dress, covered in dried blood. A big, messy wound covered the side of her thigh. A bite wound. Nick just stared. Nothing moved inside him. He felt hollow, all used up. This girl was dead. Living, breathing, talking, and yet already dead.
Fuck. If Roslyn had been here, if he hadn’t taken her away, this could have been her. His head spun and the scene before him blurred for a moment. Not Roslyn, never her. Once he got home she wouldn’t leave his sight ever again.
The girl’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish, eyes big and empty. “I … I—ah …”
“You’re infected?” His voice sounded weird, like he’d packed his ears with cotton-wool.
Hard to tell if she nodded or the shakes moved her head for her.
Janie. That was her name.
Cold and empty spread through him till it swallowed him whole. “Yeah. I’ll stay with you.”
Nick had left her, obviously.
Roslyn huddled deeper into the blanket, her throat scraped raw from crying. She sat in despair on the cold, hard floor beside the bed because she was a fucking idiot. Not so much him this time. Oh, no. It was all her.
She’d trashed the cabin. Stuff was spread everywhere. Her stomach rumbled, but she couldn’t bring herself to eat. What would happen when she’d worked her way through the collection of canned food? And he’d left her stacks of drinking water, but eventually …
The lone butter knife he’d left her trembled in her hand. Her breath misted before her face. She should close up the front patio doors. Get organized for the night. Use up some of the precious store of wood and kindling, break open the last box of matches. Her cheeks felt like parchment, stiff beneath the tracks of her tears.
Because she was an idiot, an idiot who would die slowly and horribly in this butt-ugly pine prison.
She choked on another sob.
Why had he given up so soon? Nick had seemed different, but in the end he’d left too.
Everything hurt, inside and out. The first few times she’d lost it she’d picked herself up and told herself not to be such a melodramatic cow. So she couldn’t get away. So she’d tried everything short of amputating her foot. Didn’t mean he’d abandoned her.
Then hours had passed. The sunlight had slid away, leaving her sitting in shadows. Her will to live was at an all-time low.
Why had he given up on her? She beat him in the head with a bottle of booze, and he came back for more. Freak out and reject one little kiss and he called it a day. It made no sense.
Fuck. Just … fuck.
She listened for his voice, his heavy footsteps coming up the ramp. Strained to hear the rattling of the key in the lock and imagined the back door swinging open. His face would appear in the opening. Nick wasn’t handsome, exactly. He had a high forehead, thin lips and a blade-straight nose. His ears were maybe a touch too big, now she came to think of it. His dark eyes were too bright, probably from thinking bad thoughts. He looked like trouble. He was tall and lean and hard as anything she’d ever come across. But he’d been soft to her in lots of ways. Being with him had become a clutter of memories in her head. She couldn’t tell anymore if he’d behaved admirably towards her in the ways that mattered or not.
All she knew was that she didn’t want to die and she didn’t know what the hell to do about it. Even if she gnawed off her foot and got free of the chain, what then? The back door was locked. Every window had been barricaded. She could tie together some sheets and climb down the two- or three-story drop from the front veranda. Her and her one foot, because she’d had to cut off the other one to rid herself of the bloody chain. Guess she’d have to cauterize the stump, Misery-style. The book, not the movie.
Tears flowed freely down her face. Torrents. Rivers.
“Roslyn,” a voice said. “What the fuck … where are you?”
Her vision was too blurred to see. The room appeared a mass of murky shadows.
“Nick?” she hiccupped.
“Shit,” he muttered and crouched before her, a big black-jeaned, black-shirted, black-clad figure of a man. The heel of his hand smoothed over her face, thumb gently wiping away her tears. “What happened?”
She just stared at him, dazed.
“Was there an infected?” he asked.
“No,” she sniffed. Then she sniffled. Then she gave in and wiped her nose on the back of her hand.
With a scowl he grabbed her, hands beneath her arms, towing her out of the pile of blankets she’d bundled around herself. He dragged her onto his lap and held her close. A palm settled on one of her cheeks. His skin felt blessedly cool against her fevered face. “You feel hot.”
She felt awful, truly, deeply awful. And it was all his fault.
“Aren’t you going to talk to me?” he asked.
She swallowed hard. It felt like shoving down broken glass. “No.”
Nick held her tight and she sat there too tired and sore to care. There was no fight left in her. Not right now, anyway. Maybe later.
“I’m sorry I was away so long,” he said.
He smelled good, as if he’d just washed. Tomorrow she’d hate him again, but right now she burrowed in and laid her cheek against his chest. Taking what comfort she could get wherever she could get it. His hand rubbed over her back and the side of his face rested against the top of her head.
“You really went through the place,” he said. “I’ll leave you a note next time. Okay?”
No. Jerk. She sniveled as quietly as she could.
“Come on, Ros. Talk to me. I can’t stand it when you don’t talk to me.” His hand slipped beneath her chin and he tipped his head, studied what had to be her disaster of a face. “Please?”
Her bottom lip trembled. She hated it when that happened. She blinked furiously, fighting back the tears. Trying to win the battle. Instead she lost the war.
“You left me alone,” she blubbered, breaking down for about the hundredth time. She shoved her face into his shirt. If she got snot on it so much the better—he deserved far, far worse.
Nick grunted and grabbed her flailing fist, pulled her tighter against him. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. So sorry.”
His hand smoothed over her hair, stroking her. He let her cry herself out. He murmured stuff to her all the while. How sorry he was. How brave she was. How he didn’t mind she’d trashed the place. He even hummed to her. Some folky-sounding song she didn’t know.
“I hate you,” she said eventually, because it needed saying. And she did hate him, with all her heart.
“I know.” Funny, he didn’t sound the least upset about it.
“I really do.”
“Yes,” said the patronizing, abandoning son of a bitch.
“Never hated anyone as much as I hate you.” Roslyn pulled up his shirt and wiped her face clean on it. As clean as it could get without the benefit of soap and water. Nick made a noise of resignation or something and pulled the black T-shirt off over his head. He held it up to her face, covering her nose.