Monday, October 27, 2014

First Chapter: Aftermath: Guts and Glory by Tyler Robbins

Aftermath: Guts and Glory
by Tyler Robbins


When the brother he idolized is killed in action in Afghanistan, Kyle Barrett is rocked to his core. With his only confidant gone, Kyle struggles to deal with the loss, while fighting to keep his hidden sexuality a secret from his parents.  If only he didn’t have to face them alone.

Army veteran, Ryder Bishop has returned from his final tour in Iraq, when severe PTSD forces him to seek help through a new counseling program back home in Texas.  Just when Ryder thinks he’s reached the end of his rope, he meets Kyle, and their lives take a remarkable turn.
Can the grieving brother and damaged soldier find the peace they so desperately need? Or will they become statistics when the aftermath of war hits too close to home?

They might have shipped the soldier home, but his demons have come with him.

Be Warned: m/m sex, rimming, food play

Tyler Robbins

Copyright © 2014

Chapter One

Kyle Barrett sat in an abandoned oil field, tightly gripping the wheel of his brother’s ’56 Chevy pick-up, a few miles from the home where he had grown up. He loved this truck, with the custom, midnight blue paint job and newly refurbished leather interior, almost as much as he’d loved his brother.
Tears filled his eyes, and hate filled his heart as he caressed the vinyl dashboard, still glistening from the coat of Armor All protectant he’d applied only the day before.
He’d taken such good care of his brother’s prized possession, making sure every detail was exactly as Wade had wanted, right down to the twenty-inch rims they’d picked out together two weeks before Wade shipped out to Afghanistan. Again.
Kyle caught a glimpse of himself as he adjusted the review mirror, and for a split second, he could have sworn he’d seen his brother staring back. The gleam of Wade’s piercing, baby-blues, a Barrett family signature, had haunted his dreams for a solid week, and it killed Kyle to know he’d never look his brother in the eye again.
That’s what they called it. An improvised explosive device, designed to penetrate steel, rip through flesh, and take out as many soldiers as possible with one blast. Easy to make, especially in a world where illegal weapons were as common as haggling over their price.
The sons of bitches didn’t fight face to face either.
They cowered in holes, lying in wait, watching until the time came to savor the carnage when their deadly traps killed more infidels.
Self-righteous bastards, with their twisted religious beliefs. Beliefs Kyle had given up trying to understand long ago. After all, what sort of god deliberately led his flock to slaughter, or expected such heinous acts to be committed in his name? None Kyle believed in, that was for damn sure.
But then, Kyle hadn’t believed in much of anything for a long time now.
Wade never stood a chance, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t known the possibility existed. He’d lost enough friends, so he knew better. Wade just never thought it would ever happen to him.
Kyle hadn’t either—naïve fools.
Kyle leaned in and hugged the steering wheel as if he’d find comfort in the hard, plastic coated metal. The very wheel his brother had always maneuvered so skillfully, blazing a trail down every back road in the county.
So many of Kyle’s memories revolved around his older brother and the hunk of steel now surrounding him. More memories should have continued to be made … but that had changed. Now, all that remained was a hole in the family plot they’d be filling far too soon.
Kyle’s knuckles flared white as the rage he’d struggled so hard to repress vied for an opportunity to be loosed, a chance to break something, and destroy whatever got in the way of release. The day was coming. Kyle sensed the gnawing in his gut, but for today, he had to keep it in check. He had to honor Wade. He owed his brother that much.
Glaring down at the dashboard, a flicker of light caught his eye. Trapped in the tiny space between the windshield and dash vent, Kyle noticed the silver dollar that had rolled into the crevasse the last time his brother had come home.
Kyle recalled reaching to dig it out, but Wade had told him to leave it, saying not to touch it unless Kyle really needed it.
He remembered clearly what his brother said. “You might not be able to hold it in your hands and touch it, but as long as you know it’s there, no matter what else happens, you’ll always have something.
Wade’s haunting words echoed in Kyle’s ears now, bouncing around like some foreboding premonition Kyle would never be able to understand.
Maybe Wade had believed the unthinkable had been possible after all. Maybe the thoughtful words had been Wade’s way of preparing Kyle for what lay ahead.
Screw him.
Kyle pounded the seat beside him, his knuckles taking the brunt of the burn from the leather. He doubled his fist and pressed it to his mouth, savoring the slight sting ricocheting down his fingers as his raw, scraped skin made contact with his lips.
None of it made sense. None of it ever would.
Kyle’s cell phone buzzed on the seat beside him. He glanced over, picked it up, and clicked the little red button, rejecting the call.
It was Reesa—again.
He couldn’t talk to her. Not now. What would he say? Hey, I’m sorry my brother’s dead. Hope you get over it soon, and move on with your life?
Theresa Garland and Wade had dated on and off since they were sixteen.
When Wade left for Afghanistan, he’d tried his best to let her down easy, but Reesa wasn’t the type to give up because a few thousand miles separated her from her high school sweetheart. She’d written Wade faithfully, and had made it a point to check in on their mom from time to time. Hell, she’d even come to Thanksgiving dinner and actually brought Wade’s favorite green bean casserole.
Kyle appreciated the gesture, not to mention her great cooking skills, but he couldn’t stand to hear whatever pain might accompany her sweet voice. It would only add to the anger already wrenching Kyle’s insides.
He reached over, popped open the glove compartment, and pulled out a photograph Wade had left along with his insurance and roadside assistance cards. The photo of Kyle, Reesa and Wade, had been taken a few weeks after Wade’s high school graduation, before he’d left for boot camp.
As Kyle stared at the photo now, he remembered a conversation he’d had with Wade a short time later when Wade had come home on leave.
“I don’t know what to do about Reesa, man.” Wade tapped his dog tags against his pursed lips, staring straight ahead. “I tried to get her to move on, but she still kept writing.”
“So, you don’t want to have anything to do with her anymore?”
Wade’s expression contorted. “No. Just the opposite, but it’s not fair. No matter how much I care about her, isn’t it selfish to keep her on the line when I’m half a world away for months at a time?”
Kyle shrugged. “Isn’t it worse to push her away when you feel so strongly about her?”
Wade cocked his head to the side. His gaze zeroed in on whatever had held his attention outside of the truck, but he didn’t reply.
Kyle fidgeted, suddenly feeling uncomfortable with the topic of discussion. “You do feel the same, right?”
Wade sighed and closed his eyes. “Sometimes her letters and just knowing she’s here … praying for me, worrying about me … makes the time fly faster.”
Kyle looked across the dusty field at the “Posted” sign dangling from the fence. How many times had they trespassed onto private property to blow off some steam, break up the monotony? “Maybe it’s like coming here. Signs are posted telling us not to, but we do it anyway because it’s where we’ve always come to get away. Maybe Reesa is your oilfield, that place you can be yourself and forget all the crap. The situation might be dangerous where your heart is concerned, but it feels too right to stay away.”
Wade’s brow creased, and he actually looked surprised. “How the hell did you get so damn smart?”
Kyle blushed, embarrassed by his sappy comparison. He forced a chuckle to play-off his sincere emotions concerning the words he’d said. He understood the need for something to hold on to, something to stifle the fear of his brother’s life being on the line half a world away knowing there was nothing he could do about it. “Not smart, just trying to make sense of it all.”
Wade reached across the truck and squeezed Kyle’s shoulder. “At least I don’t have to worry about you. You have shit figured out just fine.”
Kyle cringed as the memory of Wade’s words echoed in his head. If only he was sure he’d be just fine. The thought of it felt impossible.
He was right not to answer the phone. He couldn’t talk to Reesa right now. Maybe he could later at the funeral, if he absolutely had to.
It was hard enough to look into his parents’ eyes and see the empty void staring back at him. That void only Wade could have filled.
The house had been deafeningly silent for days now, so hanging around hadn’t been very comfortable. People came, brought food, paid their respects, and waited for final arrangements to be made. That hadn’t taken long since all that remained of his brother amounted to a few mementoes consisting of his dog tags, a leather brown journal full of drawings nobody had the balls to skim through yet, and Wade’s wallet with a few charred photos and I.D.
Not much considering how full Wade’s life had already been for a twenty-three year old. It was all pretty much bullshit really. The entire life of someone who had died for his country fitting neatly in a small metal container not much larger than a shoebox.
Kyle slipped the gearshift on the steering column into drive and held firmly to the brake with his left foot while bearing down gently on the accelerator with his right. The truck’s revving engine caused it to shake and rumble. The powerful engine screamed for release, much the same way as Kyle’s fury. The back wheels scraped and spun in the loose gravel beneath the truck, and the sound of rocks flying echoed throughout the cab.
Kyle’s heart raced as the engine growled and grumbled until he finally lifted his left foot and let it all go.
The truck instantly pitched to the left and fishtailed, tires scrambling for traction. More gravel flew, and Kyle slammed into the door as the wheel jerked from his hands. He gained control, and held the wheel firmly, dragging it to the left, causing the truck to drive in a tight circle. Kyle pressed on the brake pedal again and floored the accelerator, forcing the vehicle to whirl around in a furious ring of flying dirt and rocks.
Dust shrouded the truck and encased Kyle inside the man-made cloud, temporarily shielding him from the reality of the truth he wished he could hide from forever.
His brother was really gone. Nothing would change that.
Kyle’s heart pounded as he recalled more memories of him and Wade ripping through the field, spinning out, and laughing so hard his ribs had hurt for days. Now though, he ached from the pain of loss, and from endless hours of crying like some sniveling little kid. 
Wade would kick his ass if he knew. He’d tell Kyle to suck it up and be a man. He’d remind him that real men weren’t pussies. They’re supposed to take bad news like they would a punch in the gut: biting down, grinning and bearing it, savoring the burn, and storing it up as fuel to retaliate.
Whom could he fight though? His enemy was on the other side of the world, nameless, faceless murderers, hidden in some desert, oblivious to the aftermath of shattered lives their evil deeds had left in their wake.
Kyle clenched his jaw and let go of the wheel, leaving his fate up to chance.
The truck lunged again, flinging him backward as it righted its path, and barreled across the oilfield toward the abandoned control shed. Seconds ticked like hours as the morning sunlight reflected off the shed’s sheet-metal roof, blinding Kyle, and burning his eyes even through puddles of tears.
He glanced up into the rearview mirror, and once again saw his brother peering back at him with an angry, heated scowl that Kyle translated as disgust, and disappointment.
A rush of panic overcame him. Kyle jammed both feet onto the brake pedal and resumed his death grip on the steering wheel as the truck skidded to a violent, abrupt stop. His head slammed forward, and a stinging pain shot across his lips and front teeth. The sudden metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. He’d busted his lip on the steering wheel.
A deafening silence settled around him as the dust sifted to the ground, clearing the air. Kyle sat back, his heart throbbing in his chest, a heavy ball of air lodged in the back of his throat, and his head swirled with confused thoughts. Had he lost his freakin’ mind? What the hell was he thinking?
He shook his head and swallowed hard before easing his trembling hand to the gearshift and slipping it back into park.
“Not like this, little bro.”
Kyle jumped, startled by the unexpected sound of Wade’s voice resonating beside him. He shot a quick glance toward the empty passenger seat, half expecting to see his brother sitting there.
A cool breeze splashed over him, and Kyle shrugged off the chill. “Wade?”
Kyle dragged in a deep breath to calm his rattled nerves. The shock of the tragedy had finally taken its toll. He was seeing and hearing things now. Gotta get a grip. He needed to find a way to carry on. If not for his own sake, then for his parents. They’d lost so much already. Neither could survive the loss of yet another son. Not now. Not like that.
He sat up, squared his shoulders and exhaled hard, alleviating the tightness in his chest. One way or another he’d get through the next few hours.
There would be plenty of time to grieve later, and even more time to contemplate what he would do next. For today though, he’d put on a brave face, head to the cemetery, and say his goodbyes to the brother he loved and the solider who had given his life for his country.

Tyler Robbins will choose one commenter to a free digital copy of Aftermath: Guts and Glory! Leave a comment or question below. Be sure to include your email address.

Monday, October 20, 2014

FIRST CHAPTER: You Taste So Sweet by Erin M. Leaf

You Taste So Sweet
by Erin M. Leaf


When a meteor explodes over Atlanta, infecting the world with a virus that turns people into zombies, Lark knows survival will be difficult. Her roommate and best friend insists that her father and his best friend will come and save them, but Lark isn’t sure if she wants to put her life into the hands of strangers. Unfortunately, when the zombies come, she may have no choice. And when Ben and Dillon break into their dorm in the nick of time, Lark finds herself reevaluating her insistence on independence.

Tragedy brings them together. The fight to survive creates a bond stronger than blood in a few short days. What’s a girl to do when faced with the zombie apocalypse? Does she trust in the two men she knows will keep her alive, or does she strike out on her own?

Be Warned: menage sex (MMF)

You Taste So Sweet

Erin M. Leaf

Copyright © 2014

Chapter One

You Taste So Sweet by Erin M. Leaf: Chapter One
“Olivia, they’re coming up the outside walls!” Lark yelled, gripping the bat in her right hand so tightly she couldn’t feel her fingertips anymore. Her heart beat so hard her head swam, but she refused to let the adrenaline rushing through her system freak her out. She couldn’t afford to let her guard down. Maybe if she lived through this she could have a good cry later, but for now… She glanced out the window, pressing her lips together as the zombies literally climbed up the sheer brick face of the dorm. “Shit! Get the hairspray. We need to burn them.”
Olivia was directly behind her in the room and her best friend was breathing way too fast. If Olivia kept it up, she’d hyperventilate. That would be bad. Lark couldn’t handle the zombies by herself. “Where’s the lighter?” she asked, hoping to distract her roommate enough to calm her down. “Grab it for me, too. No, wait, it’s in my pocket.” She fumbled it out, willing herself to be calm. If she dropped it now, she’d have to duck down to pick it up. She did not want to do that. The zombie below her bared his jagged teeth and she fought down a shudder of revulsion.
“I don’t know where the hairspray is! I can’t find it.”
Lark listened to Olivia rummaging around in the nightstand. “Hurry,” she urged, staring at the rotting face only a floor below her. He sniffed and she swallowed hard. He could smell her. Not good.
Olivia cursed. “We don’t have enough hairspray to do any good. It’s our last bottle. Forget it, just shut the window,” she said, frantic. “We can’t risk it. My dad is coming—”
“Olivia, I swear to God, get the damn hairspray. We don’t have time to argue about this.” Lark held out a hand, not even looking to make sure Olivia listened. She couldn’t take her eyes off the creatures directly below them. They were hideous: grey faces under scraggly hair, chunks of skin missing. Every time she remembered that they were once human, and that some of them might have been her friends, she wanted to vomit.
Focus, Lark. No time to think of that now! she told herself, not for the first time. She adjusted her grip on the bat, making sure she had a good hold. When Olivia slipped the cool bottle of hairspray into her free palm, she tucked the bat under her arm and flicked her lighter on in one smooth motion. “Stand back,” she warned, then leaned out the window, lighting the aerosol. A tongue of flame shot down, catching the last bits of ivy still clinging to the brick. It also caught the three zombies clawing their way up. Their bodies flared, heat rising so fast Lark had to duck back inside before she could tell if she’d got them all. She slammed the window shut, hands shaking.
“Are you okay?” Olivia asked.
“Jesus, Olivia. That was close,” Lark replied, slumping down. “Why didn’t you give me the can sooner?”
“My dad is coming,” Olivia insisted again. “He’ll save us.”
Lark didn’t know what that had to do with anything. She still had to keep the damn zombies from getting in now—they’d almost come up to their freaking window! She eyed her friend tiredly: Olivia’s light brown hair was haphazardly tied back and her fading summer tan didn’t disguise the exhaustion in her face. Her red-rimmed green eyes glanced away apologetically when she saw Lark glaring at her. Lark was fairly certain she looked just as bad. She sighed. Olivia couldn’t change who she was just because the world was ending. She depended on her dad. Lark’s parents were dead so she was a lot more used to taking care of herself than Olivia.
“Even if he’s coming, that doesn’t mean I want to get eaten before he gets here,” Lark offered, shifted the bat back into her hands. No telling how soon she’d need it again.
Olivia gave her a shaky smile. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.” She ran a shaky hand over her hair. “I’m just so tired. We haven’t slept in two days.”
Lark rolled her shoulders, trying to relieve the muscle ache from using the bat. “Doesn’t matter. If we want to live, we stay awake.”
“I don’t know if I want to live anymore,” came the soft answer.
Anger rushed through her and Lark shot to her feet. “Shut up! Just… No. We are going to live. What would your dad say if he could hear you? Your Uncle Dillon?” She’d never met Olivia’s dad and his best friend, but from what Olivia had told her, they sounded like good people. “How can you even say that?”
Olivia had turned away. “I dunno. My mom’s gone already, and now I think it’s a blessing. It sucked at the time, you know. Her dying.” She glanced over her shoulder at Lark.
Lark did know. Her parents had died in a freak carbon monoxide accident three years ago when she was nineteen. She’d missed a year of college trying to deal with everything. “Yeah, I know, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up, Olivia.”
Olivia lifted a shoulder. “It sure would be easier.” She moved to the window and peered out. “The ivy is still burning.”
Lark bit her lip, trying to figure out what to say. Olivia had always been like this: fine one moment, depressed the next. She’d taken her mother’s death from cancer hard. Even so, Lark didn’t understand why Olivia found it so easy to just let herself disappear. She’d done it before—forgetting to eat. Not getting out of bed. Even after all Lark had been through, she didn’t react like that. Sometimes it made it hard to be Olivia’s friend.
“I hope the building doesn’t catch fire,” Olivia murmured. She was leaning against the windowsill now, as if zombies hadn’t just tried to climb in that very spot.
“Stop it, Olivia. You drive me crazy,” Lark said, using the only weapon she had left to cheer up her friend. She poked her until Olivia laughed.
“Okay, okay. I’ll be good. Give me some of that chocolate,” Olivia said.
Lark dug under the mattress and pulled out their last bar. “This is it, you know.”
Olivia nodded solemnly. “Well, if you hadn’t barricaded the floor, we’d be able to check the vending machines downstairs.
“Oh please, this again? We would’ve died if we hadn’t closed off the doors. We were lucky the dorm was mostly empty because of the football game or we would never have been able to lock ourselves in here.” Lark absently broke the candy bar in half as she remembered dragging heavy furniture out of the lounge to put in front of the stairwell doors. They’d kept themselves alive for four days now. She wasn’t sure how much longer they could last without doing something drastic. She offered Olivia some of the candy and then flopped down on the bed.
“Yeah. Lucky,” Olivia said flatly, nibbling on the chocolate.
Lark rolled her eyes. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was a little older— because twenty-two is so old, she thought sarcastically—or if it was because she’d been fending for herself for so long, but she wasn’t as fatalistic about life as Olivia. She wanted to live. She’d worked her ass off after high school, after her parents died, saving for college. She was older than most of the rest of the students in her year, but she didn’t care. Her parents would have wanted her to do everything she could to have a life. She knew it.
“When was the last time you heard from your dad?” she asked Olivia, trying to distract her friend with something positive.
“Two days ago.”
“Two days ago. Okay,” Lark repeated. “So, he’ll be here really soon. The meteor fell, what, a couple weeks ago?”
“Yeah. If he’s still alive,” Olivia said, predictably.
“You can’t think like that, Olivia. We know a few things: the meteor was as big as the one that hit Russia last year. It broke apart in the atmosphere and managed to infect a large part of the population with…” Here she paused, trying to think of a way to put it. “With something that turns people into zombies, as ridiculous as that sounds.”
“It was ridiculous until it started spreading,” Olivia muttered. “And they started eating people. Then it went from ridiculous to horrible.”
Lark ignored her and kept talking. “Your dad got in touch with you before we lost the phones, and that was only a few days ago. Don’t forget, he’s coming from where? Outside Philadelphia?”
Olivia nodded. “There is no way he’s going to make it. We’re on the other side of the state from there. If he was going to make it, he’d be here already,” she said, contradicting what she’d said just a few minutes ago.
Lark drew breath to sigh again, loud and dramatic so that Olivia would know how aggravated she was, but a loud boom from the hall made her flinch.
“What was that?” Olivia asked, her voice rising. “Oh my God, what was that?” She stood up and wrapped her arms around herself, eyes wide. The chocolate she’d been holding fell to the floor.
Lark pushed herself up from the bed, stuffing the last of the chocolate into her mouth. “I’ll go see,” she mumbled through the sweet treat.
“Oh, God. Be careful, Lark,” Olivia said, going with her to the door. The boom sounded again.
“I think someone’s knocking on the stairwell door,” Lark said, opening their door and peering into the hall. It was dark; only the emergency lighting still worked. The audio-visual armoire she’d dragged in front of the metal door was still secure.
“I’m going to bang on it,” she said, edging into the hall. She checked both ways, still paranoid that something might have gotten in, but there was no sign of anything. She took a deep breath and walked down to the armoire. It wasn’t far from their door because the floor’s lounge was only a few rooms down from them. When she got to the door, she lifted her bat and banged on the top part, barely visible behind the furniture.
When another boom-boom-boom came from the door, she jumped. She could hear some muffled shouting. “Is anyone there?” she yelled.
“Olivia?” a man’s voice called through the thick metal door.
“Oh my God, I think it’s your dad,” she called to her friend. Her heart had started banging against her ribs again. Zombies didn’t talk. Even if it wasn’t Olivia’s dad, he was human. She had to let him in. “I’m going to move the armoire.”
“Are you sure?” Olivia came out into the hall.
“No, don’t come out here! Stay in the room. Seriously, Olivia. We can’t risk both of us and if it isn’t your dad…” she trailed off, knowing Olivia would understand all the things she didn’t say. Things like: At least you have family and If I die, no one will miss me.
The boom sounded again, a little louder. “Jesus, hold your damn horses,” she muttered under her breath, putting her back against the heavy armoire. She heaved with all her strength. Another boom and then she had the door exposed. She tapped on it with her bat. The returning boom was slightly less frantic. “I’m going to open the door!” she yelled, hoping they could hear her. “Stand back or you’ll get a whack in the head.” She wondered if they’d take her seriously, but it didn’t matter. She couldn’t afford to be weak. If they were zombies, or infected, she’d push them down the stairs with her bat and re-barricade the door, with no regrets.
“Is it them?” Olivia called anxiously.
“I don’t know yet.” Lark put her right foot on the handle, balancing so she would have both hands free if she needed them. This way she could lunge forward and put her weight behind her movement. “Okay, let’s do this,” she murmured. Heart in her throat, she counted to five under her breath. “Stay in the room with the door shut, ok?” she told Olivia. It wasn’t until she heard the door click that she shoved down on the handle, then kicked the stairwell door open. The moment she set eyes on the men in the dim space, she knew they weren’t zombies.
Benedict Greene, Ben to his friends, stared at the ridiculously beautiful woman holding the bat over her head. She had light blond hair cut in funky chunks so that it slid over her shoulders as she moved. Her light grey eyes snapped with bravado and he could tell by the way she held the bat that she wasn’t afraid to use it. The fact that she was tiny didn’t seem to faze her at all. Good lord, she barely comes up to my shoulder, he thought, smiling tentatively at her. She wasn’t a zombie, thank God, but she also she wasn’t his daughter. “Are you Lark?” he asked, knowing his daughter’s roommate had holed up with her. In fact, he was pretty certain the only reason Olivia was still alive was because her roommate had an innate instinct for survival. He’d figured that out after numerous phone conversations with Olivia.
She slowly lowered the bat. “Mr. Greene?”
Benedict stared at her, trying to think. He was so damn tired, and the woman in front of him was so freaking beautiful.
“Mr. Greene is a little formal for the zombie apocalypse, don’t you think?” his best friend Dillon said from behind him, saving him from being a total idiot, like usual.
The woman’s eyes snapped to his best friend and she lifted her eyebrows. “You must be ‘Uncle Dillon,’” she said, the fingers on her bat twitching as if she wanted to use air quotes to emphasize her statement. She refused to let go of the weapon, though. He liked that. She was plucky.
“Call me Ben,” he said, scraping his wits off the ground.
“I’m Lark. Lark Stone, Olivia’s roommate,” she said, stepping back. She looked around, then studied him and Dillon closely.
She must be checking we aren’t infected, Ben thought approvingly.
The moment they’d stepped through the door, she began shoving at a huge entertainment center, trying to get it back across the entrance. She looked like David fighting Goliath. He couldn’t believe she’d managed to move the thing all by herself.
“Leave it off,” he said. “We’ll be heading out again soon enough. Is Olivia okay?” He’d managed to keep it together all through the hellish ride here, but now he wanted to see his daughter. He might have been way too young to have a kid when she was born, and he might not have been able to see her as often as he’d liked when she was growing up because of her mom, but he loved her, regardless. He needed to know Olivia was okay.
She narrowed her eyes at him, but left off shoving at the furniture. “She’s fine. This way.” She pivoted and led the way down the hall.
Ben glanced at Dillon and caught his friend looking at her ass. He shoved at him, giving him a look.
Dillon shrugged, smiling, then turned to scan the hall behind them. Ben was having a hard enough time dealing with his sudden and completely unwanted attraction to his daughter’s friend himself. The last thing he needed was for Dillon to be just as stupid.
She stopped in front of a door and knocked three times. When nothing happened, she frowned. “Shit,” she said under her breath. “Olivia?” she called, louder. Still no response. “Jesus Christ, she was just standing there a minute ago.” Lark’s voice was strained as she reached for the knob.
“Fuck,” Ben said, shoving her aside and opening the door. What he saw in the room made his blood run cold.
Lark darted past Olivia’s dad, swinging her bat at the creature latched onto her roommate’s arm. She didn’t cry out, or curse, or do anything except concentrate on obliterating the zombie’s head. The thing was half-burned, and only had one good arm, but his teeth, his fucking teeth were intact and sunk deep into Olivia’s forearm. Lark couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t see anything except the fucker’s mouth stuck to her best friend. The best friend she’d ever had in her entire life, even with the moodiness. She would not let this nightmare creature have Olivia.
“Die motherfucker,” she muttered, swinging again and again. She banged at its face grimly, pointlessly, and then a blade came out of nowhere and sliced through its neck like magic. The zombie’s eyes went white-hot, and then the entire thing vaporized in a flash, leaving the acrid smell of ozone to linger in the room like a shroud. “Fuck,” she said hoarsely.
Olivia fell down, clutching her arm to her chest. Lark dropped her bat and went to her knees next to her. She grabbed her friend’s hand and looked up, tears screwing with her vision. Olivia’s hand was already cold, dammit. Dillon, Olivia’s dad’s best friend held a machete over them, panting. His face was white and he swallowed, hard, as though he needed desperately to throw up.
“Fuck,” Lark said again as reality crashed back into her. She tossed the bat out of the way and leaned over Olivia, ripping at the sheet on her bed. She tied it around Olivia’s upper arm, tourniqueting the wound. In the back of her mind, she knew it was too late, but she couldn’t accept that Olivia was already gone. She just couldn’t.
“Dad,” Olivia said quietly, voice thick.
Lark’s let go of the sheet as her heart broke. She looked at her best friend’s face. Fuck. Olivia knew she was dead. “Olivia, don’t talk. We’ll get you out of here,” she found herself saying, uselessly.
“Dad, I love you,” Olivia said, looking past Lark. Her eyes shifted. “You too, Uncle Dillon.” She gritted her teeth and looked at Lark. “You’re the sister I never had.”
Lark’s face was wet, and she couldn’t see right. She felt Olivia’s dad near her, his body large and warm and she had to stifle the urge not to lean back to feel how alive he was. “You too, Olivia. You too,” she said instead, clutching her friend’s hand. It felt wrong. Cold and corpse-like. The stupid zombie virus worked so fucking fast.
“Dad,” Olivia said again, and then he was even closer to Lark on the floor.
Lark stared at him, trying to decipher the look on his face, then gave up. Nothing could be as horrible as losing a child, she realized.
He reached out, hand shaking, and touched her face. “It’s okay, little Olivia,” he said, and Lark didn’t know how he did it, but he smiled at his daughter. “It’s okay. You go to sleep now.”
Lark sucked in a horrible breath as she realized what he meant. She had a moment to think, oh no, and then she understood. His green eyes, so like Olivia’s, glittered with unshed tears.
“We love you, Olivia,” Dillon said, still standing. He looked behind him quickly, then dropped down and kissed Olivia quickly on the forehead before standing back up.
“Dad, take care of Lark,” Olivia managed, but her skin was already changing.
“No, no, no,” Lark said, gripping Olivia’s hand more tightly. “No—”
“Promise—” Olivia said, eyes filming over. “Dillon, promise—”
Lark looked at him just as he glanced at her. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen such devastation in a man’s eyes, but it didn’t scare her. She understood. She’d felt the same way when her parents died. She felt the same way now, with Olivia on the floor of their dorm, no longer laughing and alive. Above them, Dillon stood sentinel, his face carved from granite. He was just as wrecked as Mr. Greene— no, he said to call him Ben, Lark thought idiotically. She forced herself to let go of Olivia’s hand and back up.
“I promise,” Ben said, voice breaking.
“We promise,” Dillon said, hands clenching on the machete so hard his knuckles went white.
Lark looked back at Olivia. Her friend smiled faintly, then her head lolled to the side. “Oh, no. No,” she murmured as her best friend’s eyes flashed white, then settled into dead grey. She blinked, and faster than she could comprehend, Ben snatched the machete from Dillon’s hands and chopped her head off with one horrible swipe. Olivia’s body flared white-hot, then vanished with a crackle of electricity that had Lark choking. She staggered up, barely making it to the bathroom before she vomited all the chocolate she’d just eaten into the toilet.

Erin Leaf will choose one commenter to receive a $25 Amazon GC! Leave a comment or question below. Be sure to include your email address.