Unraveling (After The End #1)

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Until a frantic phone call from a friend with mysterious government ties, Lily thinks her biggest quandary is fixing the problems in her struggling marriage. After she learns the world as they know it is about to end, she has the difficult job of convincing her husband Ethan that it’s really happening. As they scramble to survive the approaching solar event, and prepare for the aftereffects, their marriage remains on a shaky foundation. They face the daunting task of repairing their relationship while trying to live through the apocalypse.

Excerpt

July 27, 2019

Lily had determined she would tell Ethan today. Putting it off for the past two weeks hadn’t helped solve anything, and she couldn’t keep waiting forever. He was bound to notice at some point, even though he hadn’t been home much lately. His startup software company consumed most of his time. She understood that, but still felt neglected.

Maybe that’s why they had been arguing much more frequently the past few months. He was stressed from his new venture, and she was overworked from trying to do the job of three in her editing department after the publisher downsized. All the little things that had seemed trivial before had mushroomed out of proportion lately.

Two weeks ago, getting a positive on her home pregnancy test had brought everything back into perspective. Who cared if she didn’t put the cap on the toothpaste, or he didn’t always put on a new roll of toilet paper, even though the stand with extra rolls was right beside him? None of that mattered. Even the arguing and the time they hadn’t spent together weren’t as important as the pregnancy.

It would be a freaking miracle, if she hadn’t spent her life thinking she couldn’t get pregnant due to treatments for cancer as a child, thus living a life completely incompatible with childrearing. It might be a blessing if she was married to a man who wanted children, not one who had expressed his profound relief upon learning of her sterility when they were dating, long before they’d gotten married nine years ago.

Still, the ringing phone provided a good excuse for her not to finish getting dressed just yet, so she could stop by Ethan’s company on her way to work and have the heart-to-heart she’d hoped to have at home. That didn’t seem likely now, so she’d settled for upsetting their marriage’s equilibrium at his workplace, even having his assistant reserve her a meeting time.

“Hello?” Her stomach twisted in knots as she imagined Ethan on the other end, calling to demand why his own wife would need an appointment. Not that he’d probably even noticed yet.

“Lily?”

She sagged with relief at the sound of her older brother’s best friend’s voice on the other end of the line. Hearing him always brought back memories of Kenny, who’d died in Iraq five years ago. Lily and Damian shared the memories of Kenny and had a special relationship—which was why she had flatly refused to stop talking to him or writing to him when Ethan demanded it during one of their arguments last month.

“How are you, Damian? Where are you?” There was a good chance he wouldn’t be able to tell her that. He and Kenny had both enlisted in the Air Force at the same time, but their career paths had diverged wildly within a couple of years. Her brother had done maintenance on cargo planes, and Damian’s position was a mystery.

“I’m here in Seattle, Lily.” There was a note of urgency in his voice. “I’ve only got two hours, so you have to come right away.”

She frowned. “What? Come where?”

“Just trust me. Pack a bag and meet me at the coordinates I’m emailing you.”

Lily shook her head, bewildered. “You have to tell me something more than that, Damian.”

He sighed, long and hard. “Something bad is coming, Lily. In a matter of hours, you won’t recognize the world around you. Everything will be changed, probably forever, or at least our lifetimes.”

She sank down on the bed, shock making her tremble. There wasn’t a bit of doubt that he was being truthful, if vague. “What is it?”

After a long hesitation, he said, “It’s classified, and I can’t tell you much, but it involves a coronal mass ejection, and some…other things. Government things. Covert black-ops things.”

“How long?” Her lips felt numb, and she wasn’t sure he could understand her.

“Less than a day, for sure.” He sounded scared, which wasn’t at all typical for the stalwart warrior. “I can keep you safe, but only if you come now.”

“All right. I’ll check my email and put the coordinates in my GPS.”

He cursed. “Write them down on paper, Lily. Write down or back up anything important to you now, while you still can. Photos on your hard drive need to be printed. You need tangible documents, not your E-pass. Do you understand?”

She nodded, and then replied, “Yes.” That wasn’t entirely true, but she was getting a clue about how things were going to be in a few hours. “I can be ready to leave my apartment in twenty minutes. It’ll take me another thirty to get to Ethan’s office, and who knows how long to convince him, but we’ll be there in less than two hours.”

Silence lengthened before he responded. His tone was cool. “He’s not invited, Lily.”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“I’ve only got room for one, and you’re my top priority. I have no other family to worry about. Just you.”

Lily frowned. “I can’t go without my husband.”

The sounds of frustrated swearing filled the phone. “You have to, if you want to be sure you’ll survive. I’ll take care of you. You don’t need him.”

“I do. I love Ethan.” Of that, she was absolutely certain, even with all their recent problems.

Damian sighed. “Don’t you know by now how much I love you, Lily? If you’d just waited a bit longer, I could have told you, but I came back, and you were married to him.” He spat out the last word, leaving no doubt his true feelings about her partner.

“You expect me to just leave my husband and become your…what, wife, girlfriend, lover? That’s immoral.” She was still in shock from his revelation, and the realization that Ethan had seen it. He’d insisted Damian wanted her, but she’d shrugged it off.

“None of that shit matters now, Lily. Labels, laws, legal ties. It’s all going to hell. I practically guarantee you’ll be a widow within a couple of months if it bothers you that much.” His voice softened when she gasped. “I don’t want to be cruel, but the reality is this: Come with me now, or you’re going to die. I don’t want that.”

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