The thing didn’t make a sound. Dirty fingers clawed at him, trying to reach him.
“Stay back.” He stumbled back through the hatch, falling on his ass as he tried desperately to evade that hand. “Don’t you come up here.”
With a wheezing noise the zombie lunged for him, but got drawn up short. Something held it back. Its left arm stretched out behind it, tethered still to the belt. How the fuck had he not seen it? It had to have been crouched in the shadows. He’d been fucking careless. It growled at him silently, lips stretched wide showing shattered teeth and a gaping hole. The thing had eaten its own tongue.
“Nick, turn away,” shouted Ros.
“Shit. No! Don’t.”
She didn’t listen. Her first bullet punched through the metal a scant half a meter above him, sending sparks flying. His eardrums pounded. The woman was going to fucking kill him. Quickly, he hit the ground, covered his head with his hands. Because the second bullet … holy shit. The zombie dropped like a dead weight behind him. Everything fell quiet, all over. Nothing remained of where its heart had been. Nick’s pants and shoes were splattered with gore.
“It’s dead. You hit it,” he said, stunned.
“Are you hurt?” Roslyn rushed to him, almost tripping over in the process. She was shaking with adrenalin. How she’d managed to hit anything he did not know. He was just thankful she hadn’t hit him.
“No, I’m fine.” He climbed back to his feet. “You did good.”
“You really got him with that second shot.”
“The first was a warning shot,” she said, taking a deep breath. “You needed to cover your face.”
Huh. “That was on purpose?”
She nodded. “I was only five or six meters away. Unlikely I’d mess up and hit you at that range.”
“Oh,” he said. “Good job. But I could have handled it.”
She cocked her head. “It was about to fall on top of you, Nick. I couldn’t just do nothing.”
“No,” he said. “It couldn’t reach me. Its arm had caught on something. It was stuck. Come on, let’s gather this stuff and get out of here.”
He did a more thorough search of the wreck while Roslyn carried some of the boxes to the pickup. Hanging around after firing the shots wasn’t smart. But if they could just secure the food rations and medical supplies, round up the last of the weapons, they’d be doing well. She would be welcomed into Blackstone with open arms. No way could they say no with all this in the offering.
“Nick.” She stood staring at the cockpit hatch, eyes so wide he could only see white.
“It moved.” She pointed at the dead infected, hand trembling.
“Ros, you killed it.”
“Yeah.” She stared at the thing, face deathly white in the low lighting. “I know, but it moved.”
She’d had a long day. Hell, he’d had a long day. They had enough supplies.
He cupped her face in his hands. Her wide eyes didn’t meet his, still trying to watch the infected.
“Let’s find some place safe for the night,” he suggested. “I’ll pick a fight with you and then we can have make-up sex. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
She gave him a pissy look. “I’m serious. It moved.”
“Probably just air escaping.”
“No. I know what I saw.”
Everything was quiet outside. There was nothing to disguise the noise of a fast-approaching vehicle. His heart punched hard. Shit, no. Getting caught in the wreckage wasn’t good. Tires squealed as someone slammed on the brakes. Car doors were thrown open.
“Get down. Stay behind me,” he ordered. Ros pulled her gun from the back of her belt as he chambered a round in his own. They both knelt behind the rows of seats, cornered by the newcomers. Fuck no. This was bad. “I’m serious. Stay back.”
“Hellooo!” a male voice called from outside. “Anybody there?”
Someone else spoke. There were at least two of them. Two people he could handle. And he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them both if they were a threat.
“Hey! Anyone in there?” The voice sounded oddly familiar. But it was the next one that turned him stone cold.
“Pete, you see anything?”
No reply. Of course there was no reply. Pete would be working off signals, keeping silent because silent was smarter. If nothing else, Pete could be a clever bastard. Clever and fucking nasty. Not the sort of person he wanted around Ros. Nick could only hope the pricks were still wary enough of him to make no sudden moves on her. Amongst their group he’d been one of the fastest on the draw and he had never backed down when it mattered. Even Emmet had never directly challenged him.
One time a member of their party had taken exception to him. Not long after New Years, when the plague had well and truly set in and the dead lay rotting on the ground. The bastard had come up on him from behind and attempted to slit his throat. Nick had gutted him and left him to die, eaten alive by infected. The screams had gone on and on. He wasn’t proud of it, but he’d done it. And if it kept Roslyn safe he’d do it again in an instant.
“I need you to trust me,” Nick said, his mouth close to her ear. “No matter what, you trust me. Okay?”
“Trust me, Ros. Please.”
Her pretty face scrunched up, but she nodded. “Alright.”
“Pete, that you?” he called out, his voice echoing through the space. “It’s Nick.”
“Fuck me. We thought you were dead.” Pete chuckled and they heard the sounds of heavy footsteps approaching. “Man, this is great.”
Either they’d shoot him straight up, or he was in with a chance. Hard to tell which, with old friends like these. Justin and Pete had been thrown out of Blackstone at the same time as him, but they’d parted company straight away. More accurately, he’d taken off on them. They were trouble. They’d been in tight with Emmet, their former sergeant. Emmet had been a vicious prick. He’d been the one to decide that they’d do surveillance on Blackstone and attack it when the time was right. Round up the women and dispose of the rest. Emmet had been a fucking psychopath, and that was putting it lightly.
Nick rose to his feet, gun still in hand. If it came to a showdown, he couldn’t beat them both. Plus, Ros might get hurt in the crossfire. There had to be a better way to get out of this.
“Thought you guys were heading north,” Nick said for something to say. He should have known they’d be hanging around Blackstone, still plotting revenge. Not as if they’d have anything else to live for. But he had Ros, and he should have been a fuckload more careful.
“We got bored.” Pete looked the same as always, big and mean. His smile didn’t set Nick at ease in the least. Justin was smaller, but definitely more dangerous. He watched Nick warily, gaze all over his weapon. Let them be careful. That would give Nick more time.
“Who you got with you?” Justin asked. Of course he did. There was no getting out of it.
Slowly, Ros rose to her feet. “Hi.”
“You got yourself a girl? Fuck me.” Pete grinned, gaze glued to the curves of Ros’s breasts. Nick wanted to gouge the fucker’s eyeballs out with his bare hands. Holding back was hard. Thank God she wore a few layers. Eventually, Pete shook his head and laughed. “I mean … sorry. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a woman. I’m Pete, this is Justin.”
“Roslyn,” she said with a brave smile.
Justin just stared at her, setting off every fucking alarm inside Nick’s head. He should have taken her straight to Blackstone. He shouldn’t have fucked around and delayed. She’d have been safe then. The chances of these two letting her get away without blood being shed were non-existent. But that was okay. He was more than happy to kill them for her. Shits like this didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as her. He just had to pick the time right, give her the best chance possible.
“Nice to meet you both,” she said chirpily. Her smile didn’t slip till the end.
Nick slung an arm around her shoulders, pulled her closer. Thankfully, she came, tucking herself in against him. “There’s a stack of food and stuff here.”
“Excellent,” said Pete. “We’ve got a case of rum.”
Nick smiled. “Let’s party.”
Roslyn concentrated on the flames dancing in the fireplace. Let them lull her, distract her from the conversation and the moaning outside. Both were bad. Both sickened her and scared her witless.
They’d picked a squat brick building to hole up in for the night, on account of the tall wire fence that surrounded the property. A collection of broken-down cars filled the front yard. Bodies had been found in a back bedroom. Justin had dragged them outside, poured petrol over them and lit them up, then asked her if she wanted to toast some marshmallows. The creep wasn’t half as funny as he thought he was. He watched her constantly. Her skin felt ready to crawl right off her and slink away somewhere safe.
Pete, on the other hand, took dickhead depravity to new heights. Every second word out of his mouth was a smutty pun. The one saving grace was that he seemed to think she wasn’t bright enough to realize. She tried not to jump every time one of the idiots accidentally brushed up against her in passing.
Meanwhile, Nick did nothing but dart her glances.
Nothing but throw back rum and laugh at their sordid jokes. Swap stories of the good old days. Tricks they’d played. Lies they’d told. Women they’d screwed. Even people they’d killed. She didn’t know him as well as she thought she did. But how well could you get to know someone in the space of a week, special circumstances or no? Every time he opened his mouth it got worse. He kept stealing looks at her and she couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes any longer. They bitched about some place called Blackstone. The name came up time and again. That and someone called Emmet. Apparently his death was much lamented by good old Justin and Pete.