Catching Hell (Hell Virus #1)

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This book started life as a serial. If you would like to read the first part for free, it’s available here.


The HLV virus, dubbed Hell Virus by the survivors, wiped out ninety percent of the population. Running low on supplies, Alyssa has to leave the safety of her sanctuary to find food. She’s ill-equipped to deal with a SHTF situation, and she’s nearly raped on her first run. A small squad of military men save her and take her in, with the stipulation she becomes a fully functioning member of their team. She wants to learn how to take care of herself, but she also finds herself wanting to take care of ALL the soldiers in creative and unexpected ways. Life without pleasure is pointless, but when she’s already lost everything else, can she risk losing her heart to the group?

This is the bundled collection of the completed serial. Alyssa is learning about her own boundaries, survival, and how to love more than one person. If the idea of a polyamorous relationship with multiple men bothers you, this probably isn’t the series for you. If you enjoy sex with your survival, and you’d like to indulge in the fantasy of having a group of hot military men at your command, you’ll probably enjoy this story. Be aware this is definitely on the steamy side and appropriate for 18+ only. It’s a new adult title and not intended for young’uns.


Chapter One

I hadn’t seen another person in at least two months. It was difficult to keep track of passing time, but I’d found an old calendar in my mom’s sewing room. It was from three years ago, and I knew she’d kept it because she liked the flowers painted on it. The days were probably wrong, but the dates would always be the same, and crossing off a little box was strangely satisfying each night. It was a mark to show I had survived one more day. Who would have imagined life would be like this, that someday I would consider it a victory that I got to put a mark on a calendar box?

I wasn’t entirely certain surviving another day was actually that much of a victory anyway. I had nothing much to live for now that my family was gone. They were taken out in the first wave of the virus, all except my sister. She was there with me when my mother, father, and brother succumbed to the HLV virus.

I couldn’t remember what HLV stood for anymore, but Becky and I had started calling it the Hell Virus. It seemed as appropriate as anything, considering the way it ravaged the people who caught it. It started with a flush that permeated their bodies, along with a high fever that never broke. Their brains cooked in their skulls, and their hands turned into claws as the body stiffened with convulsions they couldn’t control in the last throes of the fever.

Having watched them go through it, Becky and I had concluded they were lucky it was over for them, though we had mourned our family. At least we still had each other. Then.

That was before the second wave, and the last I’d heard from the news—which had been spotty even before then—we could thank an ambitious pharmaceutical company for that development. They had rushed a vaccine to market without proper testing or safety protocols, and because an old congressional act exempted them from repercussions for such actions, they seemed to focus more on profit than on safety. I was sure that someone somewhere had wanted to actually prevent people from getting HLV, but wasn’t naïve enough to think it had been their primary concern. That had been the bottom line, at least according to my dad, and he’d been a smart man about such things.

While the pharmaceutical companies mixed up their death cocktail, doctors tried to unravel the virus itself. They had determined there were three types of people—those whose immune system suppressed it into a dormant state, those who were completely immune, and those who would succumb to infection. The lethality was close to one hundred percent. They had established that by the time the vaccine was available for volunteers to try it.

Neither my sister nor I knew then if we were dormant or immune, but Becky had volunteered to receive the vaccine, while I had refused. My parents had always been skeptical about such things, eyeing with suspicion anything that fueled the corporate machine over the welfare of people. Unfortunately for Becky, she had been selected to receive it, and it had reactivated and mutated the strain that had been dormant in her. That’s how we knew she’d been dormant instead of immune, because the immune people hadn’t caught Hell Virus even in the second wave.

The original strain had been dormant in her immune system, but the vaccine had created a further complication and added a new twist. Not only did she die from high fever, but she bled out in the process. Of course the original strain of the virus, which had been airborne before its mutation and remained so afterward, picked up the adaptation quickly enough, and it didn’t matter if you’d had the vaccine or not. Only some who had originally been immune remained immune to the new and improved Hell Virus.

All told, between both strains, the losses were projected to be around ninety percent of the population, according to the last newscast before the station went dark. I’d at first assumed a media blackout, but then other stations went offline, and the power grid had failed early the next morning. I remembered it clearly, both because it was the last time the TV functioned and because the power went down two days after Becky died.

My folks hadn’t been preppers, but they had been prepared. They were skeptical of the government’s willingness to be forthcoming and had tried to prepare for any sort of disaster. More than once, I’d heard them discuss the repercussions of an EMP blast or a total financial collapse. I had always been somewhat dismissive of their fears, but I’d never mocked them. My parents raised me to be open-minded, to consider other ways of doing things, and to think for myself. Never just trust anyone and take them at their word, especially if they were in a position of power over you, as corporations and the government were.

With their mindset, they had stockpiled some food and a few weapons. I knew how to use them, and the food had been enough to sustain us for almost nine months, since the country went into lockdown as the virus crept over the nation, and most people voluntarily quarantined themselves in their homes.

My parents and my little brother Jimmy had been gone within the first month after the first wave of the outbreak, but Becky and I had endured for almost another five months together before she got the vaccine.

As I loaded the gun, preparing myself to step outside, I wished my parents had been hardcore peppers with thirty-plus years of food in storage. Unfortunately, they’d been prepared for short-term disaster, never expecting something like the HLV virus. The sad reality was I was on my last case of food, and I didn’t want to wait until I was out. If I went foraging for food when I was weak and hungry, I was likely to end up dead.

As far as I knew, there was no one else alive in my neighborhood. I wasn’t expecting to find a whole lot though, because almost three months ago, a large group on motorcycles had moved through the area, picking things clean. When I first heard their approaching engines, my instinct had been to step outside and flag down someone. I’d lost Becky just two weeks before, and I was already feeling the ache of loneliness and the need to connect with another human being.

Something about the situation held me back though, and instead of going out to greet the arrivals, I had retreated into the subbasement through the trapdoor, hidden by the fake panel of flooring my mom had nailed to it. If you were standing in the main basement, you wouldn’t be able to tell there was a trapdoor leading to the subbasement. That was where Mom and Dad had fashioned their semi-bunker and stored all their supplies.

I hadn’t had time to grab the few things I’d kept upstairs, and I figured they’d be picked clean, and I was right when I emerged hours later, after the sounds of their engines had faded. They messed up the house a bit and stole some things, including my favorite pillow, but the damage could have been far worse. I knew that, because I watched through the periscope in the basement, installed by my father, who had been ex-Navy. I think the idea had started as a joke, but it had proven useful and my only means of following the chaos outside.

I’d seen them ravage the neighborhood and load things into their repurposed U-Hauls. They’d strewn everything about, leaving piles of discarded objects in the streets and people’s yards. They’d made me angry as I witnessed their destruction, but I couldn’t bear to watch it for long. Most of all, I watched the cage.

That had been an awful sight, and if I’d had more weapons and training, I probably would have tried to liberate the four women being held in the cage. It was on a trailer fashioned to the back of a large motorcycle, and they were forced to stand pressed together to fit into the small enclosure. I had a feeling if they’d discovered I was hiding, they would have made room for one more in that cage, so I hadn’t ventured out. I’d stayed quiet and still as they’d pored through my house and took my meager stores upstairs, leaving me nothing. If it weren’t for my parents, I would have had nothing, and I would have ended up in that cage.

I’d been too afraid to leave the house since. I hadn’t even gone outside except at night to bury my waste and try to tend to the garden as best I could in the dark. Without enough water and proper illumination, it was a losing task, and though I knew the food growing there was crucial, I’d finally abandoned it. I was just too afraid to go outside.

Now, things had come to a head. I could put it off for another week, relying on the last of my rations until I was starving, or I could summon some courage and step outside. Surely that gang was long gone, and though I doubted I’d find anything of use in the houses around me, I at least had to try. After that, I’d have to go farther afield, and the idea made me break out in a cold sweat.

I slipped the shotgun over my shoulder and grasped the rifle in my hand. The shotgun was my backup weapon, because it held less ammo, but it was also easier to aim. I had limited experience with the weapons, though my parents had insisted on drilling all us children on the proper use and safety when they first acquired the gun safe and stocked it with a few weapons.

I’d never had much interest in it though, and I hadn’t honed my skills. That was coming back to haunt me, but I didn’t know how to practice now. Target shooting would waste shells and be too loud. It would give away my location in this eerily silent world, only occasionally broken by a pack of raving maniacs on their motorcycles, with their sex slaves in tow.

The weather was pleasantly cool this early in the autumn morning, and I donned a flannel shirt over my jeans and camisole. I expected it to get hotter later on, so I had dressed in layers. I wore a backpack on my back, currently mostly empty, that I was hoping to fill with supplies.

Unfortunately, my supposition about the neighborhood proved correct. I covered three blocks in as many hours, seeing more dead bodies than I wanted to even start to count. It was obvious who’d died during the first wave, and who had died after Hell’s mutation. There was a lot more blood and fresher corpses in the second scenario.

All my scavenging left me was a bag of dog jerky treats I had a vague idea of being able to rehydrate in some water to make a soup base and a dented can with no label. I had acquired it at a different home, but knowing my luck, it would also prove to be dog food of some sort. Maybe I’d luck out, and it would be that fancy cat food that looked almost like real tuna.

I laughed at the thought and jerked, startled at the sound. I hadn’t had any reason to laugh over the last few months, and I hadn’t spoken a word out loud in just as long. I guess I’d gotten in the habit of being silent, trying to remain invisible. In this new world, I had no idea who was a predator, but I didn’t want to be prey.

Feeling defeated, I made my way back to my house, knowing I’d have to venture out the next day, or at least the day after. I couldn’t put it off any longer than that. At the last house I checked, which happened to be my next-door neighbors’ and the home of my ex-boyfriend, who had become an ex long before he’d become a corpse, I found Jeremy’s old dirt bike still in the garage. The keys were on a shelf with hooks in the garage, hanging where they’d always left the house and car keys.

The key for their fancy Mercedes SUV was there as well, and I thought about it briefly, but wasn’t sure what the roads were like. The dirt bike seemed more maneuverable, though loud. Of course, either vehicle would be loud enough to announce my presence. Maybe I should just go on foot, but I wasn’t certain I could reach anywhere I could search and still make it back to my house before dark if I started walking. I wasn’t ready to leave the safety of my home for more than a few hours, let alone an overnight or longer stay. I wasn’t ready for any of this, but I knew I was going to have to toughen up and do it anyway if I wanted to survive.

I took the key with me and closed the garage again, certain the dirt bike wouldn’t be disturbed, but deciding not to leave the key with it just in case. If there was more activity in the neighborhood than I was aware, why make it easy for them to steal my planned scouting vehicle?

I went home and made my way down to the subbasement, where I had moved permanently after the motorcycle gang had come through. I was sleeping on a self-inflating mattress that required a couple of pumps of the foot pump every few days to stay solid. It wasn’t as comfortable as my old bed, but there was no room in the small space to bring down the queen-size from upstairs, and I wasn’t sure I could handle it by myself anyway.

Oh, I could move the mattress, and probably the box springs, but there was no way I could move the heavy frame and headboard set my mom had carved with her own hands. It was one of her first endeavors in carpentry when I was just eight years old, but it was still sturdy and beautiful, as gorgeous as the day she had applied the final layer of stain. She could have sold it for a few thousand dollars, and as her reputation as a woodworker had grown, I was certain she could have gotten even more for it, but it had been a gift to me, and I cherished it. I knew in my heart I’d probably have to leave my house someday, and for good, and the bed was what I’d miss the most.

Chapter Two

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I left the safety of my neighborhood. At first, it was just the multiple dead bodies that got to me, especially those trapped in various stages of suffering that were easy to discern from the ways they had fallen. I’d expected to find more people alive, since there should, in theory, be at least ten percent of the population left, but we were in Wyoming, and this part of the state had always had sparse population. Still, it was eerily silent, and I was certain I was alone.

I’m not sure if that’s what made me careless, or if I just didn’t have enough training or skills to really prepare to meet someone else with bad intentions. Whatever the case, I found one of those big box stores an hour-and-a-half into my ride and thankfully pulled into the parking lot.

I started to take a parking spot, and then I laughed at the absurdity of it. I could take my dirt bike inside the store if I wanted. I’d be able to navigate through most of the aisles, and it would make for an easier getaway, should the need arise. It was a little tricky getting through the sliding doors, because they no longer slid since the store had lost power.

I was able to lodge a tire iron I liberated from the open trunk of an abandoned car in the parking lot into the small crack in the door and pry it open with sheer strength. I wanted to stick my tongue out at Mrs. Fleming, the gym teacher who’d mocked me throughout my high school career for being a weakling. I didn’t know if she was alive or dead and was surprisingly upset at the thought of the mean old harridan having been wiped away by the Hell Virus.

Shaking off the melancholy, I proceeded into the store cautiously on my dirt bike. I’d always been good with tools and mechanical things, perhaps inheriting that from my mother, because my father was more cerebral than hands-on, and it didn’t take long to fashion a makeshift cart behind my dirt bike when I stopped in the sporting goods section. I bungee-corded it to the frame and decided it would be sturdy enough for the trip home. I might be able to modify it with road tires that were more appropriate, but that was a task for another day. For now, I simply wanted to get enough supplies to return to my hidey-hole for at least another few weeks.

The store was pretty picked over, though I procured some stale chips, a case of beer that had only nineteen cans—being eighteen, I’d never had a chance to go away to college before the virus struck, so I hadn’t really done much drinking, but I figured the beer might be good for sterilizing things. Any alcohol was, right? And maybe I’d want to get blind, stinking drunk some night and forget all about being alone in this horrible world.

I found a carton of eggs with ten remaining. One was mysteriously gone, and the other one was smashed. I sniffed them experimentally, deciding they might still be good. I knew they could stay preserved in a cool, dark area for up to a month, so what did I have to lose by taking them? I’d certainly know if they were spoiled as soon I started cooking them.

I picked up a few cleaning supplies, slightly amused that those aisles were almost fully stocked. I guessed people didn’t care about being clean in the apocalypse. I knew it was important to try to maintain good sanitation though, so I picked up bleach and other chemicals that my mom and dad would have been horrified to see in their house. They had purchased organic cleaners, but I didn’t see anything like that available here at the big-box store, and I figured even those chemicals had to be better than nothing. I was far more likely to die from eventual starvation, or at the hands of evil people, than I was to get cancer from the cleaning chemicals.

I considered it worth the trip when I found a case of toilet paper. It was the rough, scratchy stuff my mom never would have bought, but it would have to do.

I picked up a few random bits here and there, piecing together enough rations to survive another week. It wasn’t the haul I’d hoped for, but it would have to do.

I needed clean clothes desperately, so that was my next stop. My parents had stored water, but not enough to waste on washing clothes. I couldn’t see wasting that much water when I wasn’t sure how or when I would get more. Instead, I’d taken to wearing my clothes at least three times, until they were disgusting, and tossing them away.

I’d gone through all of my wardrobe, most of Becky’s remaining items, and the rest of my mom’s in the last nine months.

I might be able to squeeze into Jimmy’s things, but he was only thirteen. Granted, he was a large kid before he’d died, and I was on the petite side, but I wasn’t sure about his jeans and other sundries. I’d been saving them as a last resort, since there was no way my dad’s things would fit. He’d been a big bear of a man, on the obese side, with a shaggy beard and a hearty laugh. My eyes burned as I remembered his laugh, wishing I could hear it again.

I cleared the tears away and set about outfitting myself. I had lots of room left in my cart, since there hadn’t been much in the way of food. The clothing section was as picked through as the rest of the store, but I was lucky I wore a smaller size. I could even squeeze into some of the girls’ clothes for things like leggings and pajama pants. All the mediums were gone, and most of the extra-large and plus-size clothes too. There were a few size-large items left, and a lot of small and petite—a lot being subjective and influenced by the store having stocked the sizes to start with.

I was able to fill up my shopping cart the rest of the way before selecting new hiking boots. I’d be doing a lot of walking in the coming days if I was going to have to leave my sanctuary on a regular basis.

It was a foolish thing to do, but I didn’t even think about it. I truly thought I had the place to myself, and it seemed unnecessary to go into the dressing room to change when I was right there by the items I needed. I stripped down, taking off everything, and reached for a package of baby wipes. I’d found a case of those, along with some diapers. I’d left the diapers, having no need of them and assuming someone else might, but I had been ecstatic to find the wipes.

The baby wipe bath wasn’t as clean as the pan bath I let myself have the luxury of twice a week, but it was certainly better than nothing. I felt less grimy, though I couldn’t fool myself into pretending I was clean as I slipped on new socks, new underwear, and a pair of jeans.

I was just about to fasten my bra when arms wrapped around me. I screamed before a hand clamped over my face, cutting off my ability to breathe. I tried to struggle, but the person had taken me by surprise. Person? No, it was definitely a man. I was able to identify that by the fleshy arms around me, and the thick growth of dark hair sprouting from his forearms. The hand was far too large to belong to most women as well, and when the form forced me to the floor, making me bend down with my butt in the air so he could rub himself against me obscenely, there could be no doubt it was a man holding me.

If I could have spoken, I might have been dumb enough to ask him what he wanted, but I knew what he wanted. It was obvious. Like a fucking idiot, I had left my guns in the shopping cart, laying them there while I slipped on clean clothes. It was just a few feet away, but those feet might as well have been miles.

When he started tugging at the new jeans I’d just put on, I realized I was angrier at the idea of him ripping them than I was at him attacking me. It was an irrational response, but it must have been fueled by adrenaline. Somehow, I managed to wedge my elbow free and bring it back, colliding with his cheek. His hand fell away, and I grunted as pain flared up arm, but mine was nothing compared to his curse and shout, indicating I had done more damage to him than myself.

As his hold weakened, I tried to scramble away, but couldn’t quite make it. Instead, I turned over and tried to wedge my feet between us, hoping I could kick him off me with a move similar to the leg presses I’d had do in gym class during the weightlifting unit, when Mrs. Fleming had seemed to take particular joy in torturing me with all the machines at her disposal.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to move any farther than getting my knees against his chest. All that did was open up my thighs to him, allowing him to press his denim-clad dick between my legs. Bile seared my throat, and if I had eaten anything recently, I probably would have been able to vomit all over him. Instead, I simply dry heaved and kept fighting as he put his hand between us.

The creep was clearly intent on removing his penis from his pants and putting it inside me without invitation. At least he was no longer holding my face and blocking my flow of oxygen, so I was able to think more clearly, and I started screaming again. At that point, I didn’t care who came, though I really didn’t expect anyone. I thought it was just me and Mr. Rapist, and I prepared myself for the worst.

I certainly didn’t expect five men in military garb to suddenly appear, surrounding us. For a moment, I thought they must be with the asshole pinning me down, but then one of them, the tallest of the group, who had gleaming ebony skin, a bald head, and thick muscles, leaned down and lifted the scumbag off me, seeming without any effort at all. He tossed him against a shelf, and another one of the five trained his gun on the dirt bag as he stood over him, yelling, “Don’t move, you rapist piece of shit.”

I wanted to be strong and cool, but it isn’t every day you’re nearly raped, and I fell apart. I was embarrassed as tears flowed from my eyes. Strong arms picked me up, holding me against a muscled chest as I cried. In my current state, I was amazed to realize I was burying my face against the hard planes under my face, sniffing appreciatively.

He smelled lightly of sweat and something pungent, like gun oil, but he also smelled clean. When I finally had myself composed enough to look up into his brown eyes, I took in the fact he was noticeably more presentable than I was, and his dark hair was cropped close to his scalp in a scrubby fashion.

I had the strangest urge to run my fingers through it, pausing to linger at the faint hint of gray overtaking the temples. He had to be in his mid-to-late thirties, but I was suddenly wet between the legs, and I somehow kept myself from cuddling against him while arching my pelvis.

Maybe I was starved for human contact, or it was because he was such an attractive man holding me so close, or it might even be a reaction to the violence I’d just endured. Whatever the explanation, I had the sudden impulse to jump on him.

Instead, I forced myself to pull away, and his arms dropped quickly. I realized I was still standing there topless, and heat filled my cheeks. As though aware of what I was thinking, the soldier beside the one who’d lifted me up handed me a bra from the cart, and they all averted their eyes as I slipped it on, followed by a clean T-shirt. When I was dressed, I cleared my throat, and they looked at me again.

All but the prostrate scumbag on the floor, who was kneeling on his knees with his forehead touching the cold tile. I scowled at him. “What do we do about him?”

“There’s no justice system anymore,” said the one who’d held me, his voice deep and gravelly, making my stomach spasm with pleasure that shot farther down into my core. “What do you think we should do with him?”

“Shoot him.” I should have been shocked by the words flowing from my mouth, but I wasn’t. They just felt right. If he’d prey on me, he’d target anyone else who crossed his path as well, either male or female. Anyone he could use to better himself or his situation would be fair game.

I barely finished uttering the words before the one acting as his guard glanced at the one who’d held me, received a nod of permission, and fired his seriously scary-looking rifle. The rapist perv didn’t even have a chance to flinch or beg for mercy. He was just dead.

I nodded my satisfaction and smiled at the one who’d given the order before smiling at the one who’d carried it out. “Thank you.”

“What’s your name, honey?” asked the one who’d picked me up off the floor.

“Alyssa Nolan.” I had the absurd urge to stick out my hand as a form of greeting, but I didn’t. I hadn’t yet reached the age group where that was the norm for meeting new people, and other than a few job interviews for shitty summer jobs I’d done in preparation to save for college, I hadn’t had many formal occasions where I needed to shake someone’s hand. Considering I’d rather fondle other bits of him, I decided it was safer to keep my hands to myself and just nodded at him.

“I’m Captain Shane Morrison, and this is my group.” He pointed to the one standing farthest to my right, a young man a few years older than me, I estimated. “That’s Private Wesley Tate.” Next, he introduced the one standing between himself and Tate. “This is Corporal Maddox Tillman.” He nodded his head to the big black guy. “That’s Lieutenant Jamar Johnson.” He waved to the man who’d shot the attempted rapist. “And Sergeant Han Martinez.”

My eyes widened, and I knew it was silly even as I asked, “Han? Like Han Solo?”

He grinned at me, his approval clear in his brown eyes. “Bingo, Alyssa. My real name’s Alejandro, but I decided to go by Han after I saw the first set of movies as a kid.”

I wrinkled my forehead. “Which first set? The set that actually came first, or the set that came later, but wasn’t nearly as good?”

He winced. “Episode four, baby. My folks started me right. None of the fake first trilogy until later on.”

It was a surreal conversation, but the normality of it was soothing, and the last of my tremors had faded away. I was feeling a little awkward and suddenly shy, though that wasn’t really like me. An inane question popped from my mouth. “Are you guys from around here?”

Shane shook his head. “We’re from farther north and met up along the way from different units.”

For the first time, I realized they wore diverse types of camouflage. I didn’t know anything about military, but assumed that meant they were from separate branches. Or something.

“We’re trying to make it to an area where farming is better, and the locations are more secure. My squad was posted near the Canadian border, but I was the only one who survived the virus. Same story with the others. We banded together and thought Montana might be a good place. It’s supposed to be a preppers’ paradise, so we’re hoping to find a prepper’s setup that survived the Hell Virus.”

I grinned. “That’s what you call it too? That’s what my sister and I always called it,” I added to clarify in light of his confused expression. “I guess the Hell Virus isn’t all that original, but it sort of felt like our own invention.” I was aware of the melancholy bleeding through my tone.

“Is your sister still with you?” asked Jamar.

I shook my head. “She was one of the first to receive the vaccine. Her boyfriend had known the local doctor coordinating the effort, and though she lost him in the first wave of Hell, she still knew the doctor well enough to sign up as a volunteer and be selected.”

Han flinched. “That’s rough shit. Sorry, babe.”

I tried not to take the endearment personally, or read anything into it. He struck me as the flirtatious type, and though I’d been solidly interested in the man who had picked me up off the floor, I now allowed my eyes to really evaluate the form of Alejandro Martinez. My mouth was watering in no time, and my panties were surely a sodden mess by now. I’d have to shed this new pair already and slip on a fresh pair.

First, I’d probably indulge in a rousing round of masturbation. After having my libido turned off for months due to grief and just trying to survive, suddenly sex was all I could think about. And though that was normal, it certainly wasn’t typical of the person I’d been before all this. I couldn’t ever recall finding myself attracted to two men on the same day, within the same hour of meeting them, and wanting to fuck them both.

Fuck. That was funny. I hadn’t ever fucked anyone. I’d had the opportunity, but not the interest. My neighbor-slash-ex-boyfriend would have been happy to fuck, but I hadn’t wanted to with him. It had seemed too soon, and I didn’t want to ruin something that should be special. Now, fuck special. I had a feeling if they whipped out their dicks and offered them, I’d be on my knees sucking in no time and thanking them for it. Who knew the apocalypse would turn me into such a wanton?

I nodded, trying to hide my reaction. “I’m sure we’ve all lost people.” It was all I could say about it, still not able to talk about losing Becky, Jimmy, and my parents. I wasn’t sure I’d ever really want to talk about it. What good would talking do? It certainly wasn’t going to bring them back, and it just brought events back to me, making it that much harder to get through the day so I could cross off that box on my calendar.

Trying to change the subject, I asked, “So you’re here on a supply run as you move through?”

Shane hesitated for a moment. He seemed to be mulling over the situation before giving me an answer. “That’s not entirely accurate. We’ve commandeered a base, and we plan to stay here for the winter. We don’t want to get stuck eating each other in Montana if we can’t find a suitable place to hunker down and get a working farm in order before cold weather hits.”

I grinned at him. “I could see where that is unappealing.” In all honesty, I wouldn’t mind eating them though…at least in a way. “I don’t know what base you’re talking about though. There aren’t any military bases in this part of the state.”

Wesley came over to me, putting his arm around my shoulders like we were old friends. I would have minded, except it felt good to have his hand on my arm, his body pressed against mine. Damn, I was attracted to him too. I was the stereotypical hormonally driven teenage mess right then, going to pieces around some cute guys.

Cute was hardly the word though. These were hardened soldiers, and while they were all attractive in different ways, none of them were what you’d call cute. More like dripping with hotness and masculinity. No wonder my panties were about to combust.

“There are some bases the government hides, hon. They don’t want civvies to know all their secrets.”

I was intrigued by the idea of an underground base, or whatever it was. I assumed it had to be underground, but maybe it was simply masquerading as something more mundane. I was trying to figure that out, wondering where it could be located.

“Can I come with you?” The words escaped my mouth before I could call them back, and I waited for a wave of regret that never came.

I’d known in my heart I was going to have to leave my home, probably sooner rather than later, and permanently, so if I had to, it was sensible to do so now in the company of soldiers who might be able to help me stay alive long enough to learn how to keep myself that way. I anxiously awaited an answer as I stared at the captain, who was clearly the one in charge, though I was certain any formal military organization had fallen apart months ago, along with the rest of the government.

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