Authors: Tera Shanley
Love in the Time of the Dead
Love in the Time of the Dead, Copyright © 2013 by Tera Shanley
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
1901 Avenue of the Stars, 2nd Floor
Los Angeles, California 90067
First Omnific eBook edition, October 2013
First Omnific trade paperback edition, October 2013
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Love in the Time of the Dead / Tera Shanley – 1st ed
1. Contemporary Romance—Fiction. 2. Zombies—Fiction. 3. Apocalypse—Fiction. 4. Urban Fantasy—Fiction. I. Title
Cover Design by Micha Stone and Amy Brokaw
Interior Book Design by Coreen Montagna
For Anthony, my Beautiful Boy in English.
by darkness, and the dead didn’t remain so for long. The streets had been paved with destruction, and the stubborn searched for the light because they had hope. They searched for the light because they must; because giving in to death wouldn’t relieve the gnawing ache of hunger for something more. There were whispers of a place where the Deads gathered at the water’s edge in the mountains of old. A place where peace could still be found in simple acts of valor and happiness, achieved by the lucky and the determined. The world hadn’t come to an end, just an end as man knew it. But there had to be a balance for the chaos. There had to be asylum from the damned.
The words were written on a mirror in an old, abandoned gas station bathroom in what Laney Landry fervently hoped was bright red lipstick. The last sentence was hurried and scribbled, the letters fusing together to snake into one monstrous word, like the writer had run out of time. Run out of life. At least that was what the pile of bones to the right of the sink suggested. They were picked so clean they didn’t even have an odor. She read it again, and loss clenched inside of her. It was the first page of a book, and it had been so desperately long since she had read one. Since she had read anything with an ounce of hope in the spaces between the lines.
A shadow covered the dusty evening light that filtered through the ceiling-length frosted window beside the bathroom stalls. A lone figure shuffled slowly across the span of it. The man looked huge, but maybe it was just the shadow playing tricks on her. Not one of her team.
She cursed softly and grabbed her backpack. Where there was one, there would soon be others, and she’d be damned if she was dying in some Quickie Mart bathroom out in the middle of nowhere. She sprinted for the door but hesitated as she opened it. The words were stark against the dirty mirror and they stirred in her…something. It had been a while.
“Jarren,” she hissed to her older brother. He and the others rifled through the storage room in search of supplies that had long been picked dry, like the bones in the bathroom. “Time to go. We’ve got Deads, at least one, on the west side of the building.”
“Let’s move,” he whispered, and Mitchell and Guist headed for the door without hesitation. She got stuck behind Mitchell on the way out, which wasn’t all bad. His backside was lovely, but she wouldn’t tell him that in a million years. It would inflate his barely-controlled ego to the size of the gas station in two cocks of a pistol. She allowed a private smile. Best to look and not touch with that one.
The east side of the building was clear for the moment, but the Deads would catch their scent fast enough. Jarren led them to the edge of the woods at a full sprint.
Finding the perfect sleeping tree was an art form many had not had the chance, or time, to master. The deeper they hiked into Colorado territory, the more important it became to track down the clusters of pine trees big enough to hold them. Pines weren’t like oaks or Bradford pears. They offered strong, sturdy trunks that grew straight up into the sky. Their branches were thick and plenty and so thinly spaced on the large ones that they acted as a ladder to safety. For a four-man team of tree climbers, finding a sizeable pine was right up there with finding snickerdoodles. The trick was finding one old enough to hold them in pairs, and young enough to grow branches within reaching distance of the ground.
She pointed silently to the same one Jarren was already eyeing. Mitchell and Guist scurried up a nearby evergreen with the grace and agility of a pair of jungle cats. No doubt she didn’t look like that when she climbed, but they all had a foot of height on her. Valid excuse.
Her fear of heights had ebbed with the appearance of a new, much more debilitating fear, which was waking up to breakfast.
someone else’s breakfast. She gripped the lowest branch while Jarren kept watch. Her brother didn’t offer her a boost, but that was his way. He’d said it a million times before: coddling her wouldn’t turn her into a survivor. As she strapped her harness around the tree trunk and cinched the straps around her torso, Jarren chose a branch in close proximity to hers. Home sweet home and family dinnertime had changed so terribly much in the past few years.
“Let me see it again,” Jarren ordered as he pulled a roll of semi-sanitary bandages from his rough first aid kit.
“It’s fine,” she said around a bite of Spam.
He arched his eyebrows and waited. There really was no use in arguing with him when he got like this. Stubborn ran in the family. She sighed dramatically and lifted her shirt to reveal the day-old stained bandages that hid an impressive wound.
The gauze stuck on each lap, but determined and gentle, he removed it slowly and tucked it into a crevice in the bark. He whistled, long and low.
“Well, it seems to be healing, so there’s that.” Her brother had never been one for flattery.
He shook his head in disbelief for probably the thousandth time in the week since she’d been bitten. This bite from a Dead was the second one she’d received and lived through, and it seemed to be exactly two bites more than any other human soul on the planet had ever survived. Jarren had been right in his childhood taunts. She was a freak.
She winced in pain as he poked and prodded, searching for infection. Deads didn’t just bite. They ripped flesh.
“Well, at least now we know for sure,” he said with a significant look.
Immune. Other than a brutal healing time, she was otherwise unaffected by the bite of a Dead and the rapid infection that tenaciously turned its victims into slobbering, depraved, hunger-crazed zombies.
Her first bite had happened in the year of the outbreak. She and Jarren had been hunting for a small colony and taken by surprise when they ran into a large group of Deads. They got away by the skin of their teeth, but Laney had been bitten on the leg after she lagged behind and fell. The implications of that day would stick with her for as long (or short) as she lived. The Dead had spit out her flesh as if it tasted like hell-fire and then keeled over, convulsing. Jarren had dragged her off to escape, but they both watched in shock as the Dead died his final death.
And then they waited. It only took minutes for a human to turn. So she and Jarren had said their tearful goodbyes and waited for the Dead’s infection to spread through her bloodstream and to her brain. He would kill her after she turned. It was their promise to each other. But minutes turned to hours and then to days, and other than a fever and an impressive scar, she suffered no ill effects.
The bite the week before was only different in that it was on her side instead of her leg. Just as with the last one, the Dead that bit her had perished and she had remained utterly human.
“I keep trying to think of a reason that Dead bit you,” Jarren said. “I mean, no Dead has tried to bite you in two years. They try to kill you, yeah, but they never show any interest in eating or turning you. It’s like you smell bad to them. I swear, it’s like Deads can smell that you’re dangerous or something.”
She scanned the open field in front of them out of habit. The moon wasn’t full, but it offered enough light. A wary fighter was a living fighter. “Well, they smell pretty awful to me, too. It’s like a shrimp in a dirty diaper when they’re close.”