Authors: Michelle Mills
Love, in a hopeless place.
, Book 1
Two months after a virus took out civilization, Rachel Donnelly is the last living soul in California, as far as she can tell. Until she runs into a Marine sniper, battle-hardened but alive and healthy.
Adam Sanchez would love nothing more than a slamming session of I-can’t-believe-we’re-alive post-apocalyptic sex in the back of his Hummer. But Rachel’s fragility, inexperience—and much younger age—hold him back from exposing her to his raw, aggressive sexuality. If anything, Rachel needs protection. Especially from himself.
As they band together with other survivors to battle feral animals, violent ex-cons, and motorcycle clubs jockeying for power, Rachel grows stronger in mind, body, and spirit—strong enough to give the dangerously sexy Marine what they both crave.
The power of their passion rocks Adam’s world, bringing him to his knees—which, he discovers too late, is the worst possible place to be when danger springs from the shadows.
Warning: Contains a sexy Marine, a tattooed ex-con, a girl who blossoms into a sexually assured young woman, laughter despite the pain, m/f/m ménage, hope, love, and more bad language and violence than are strictly necessary.
Die For You
It took a village to raise this book.
Thank you so much to the ladies (and one man) at Yosemite Romance Writers who took this frightened newbie under their wing. Without you, I would be nowhere.
Love you all.
March 26th, San Diego, sixty-two days post outbreak
Rachel adjusted the heavy, old-fashioned binoculars her dad had owned since she was a kid. The pair he never let anyone touch.
Her chest tightened as she used them anyway, curling her fingers around the unfamiliar weight.
Dad was dead, and she needed them…and…and…that was that, right?
She bit her lip to keep the tears back and cradled the binoculars in her hands. She peered out the front window, past the yellowed landscaping to the mountains of rotted trash that lined the formerly pristine streets of the historic neighborhood she’d grown up in. She panned the area, wishing Dad was here to growl at her for daring to use his precious field glasses. The pair that had been given to him by such and such important person when he was in blah, blah, blah battle in some far off country she’d never bothered to learn the name of.
God, she’d give anything to have him back. Anything. She’d listen to all of his stories. Each one. Without complaint. Hell, she’d record every word he said and transcribe it into his memoir if he’d just promise to never leave.
She took a shaky breath and studied every dark shadow and possible hideout along the street, hoping to find a clue to the state of affairs outside the front door of the house she was hiding in.
And found nothing.
Dumped cars and dead bodies choked the roads and sidewalks. A pillar of smoke rose from a building burning somewhere on the horizon. The streets of San Diego had twisted into a terrifying episode of
Some freak job with a gun could be holed up out there, waiting to attack, and she’d never know until it was too late.
Or there could be no one out there. No one at all. Which was equally as bad.
Her favorite narrative of self-flagellation ran through her mind. Why…why had she gone away to college when she’d grown up in climate-controlled San Diego with many wonderful colleges nearby? It had been beyond her parents’ understanding—but, in the time-honored tradition of the young and stupid—she’d left home to follow a guy. A guy who’d turned out to be an ass. At the time, her move had seemed like such a smart, independent decision. Now, in the midst of so much danger, not so much.
She’d first heard of the devastating Ruyigi Ebola virus while sitting alone in front of the TV—her boyfriend having dumped her for a girl he’d met in Art Appreciation, and her roommate having left to live in some fancy sorority. So, yeah, like usual, she’d been depressingly alone as she’d heard of the virus that would destroy her life.
It started out like many viruses did, chewing through Central Africa with single-minded determination. This was nothing new. CNN reported an international coalition of doctors was on its way to help. She’d barely paid attention to any of this at first, because really, an outbreak seemed to happen every other year. But her fear kicked up a notch when the virus hopped to Europe, then Asia, then to the States. Suddenly, it was all over the news. It was all anyone talked about. Days later, there’d been a few isolated cases in San Francisco…then in San Jose, in Fresno and even in Hollywood. Suddenly, it seemed to be spreading everywhere, fast. And the mortality rate was ninety-nine percent.
Jesus H. Christ. Then she was scared. Everyone was scared.
That was when Mom had called, telling her to come home.
Rachel had thrown her shit together, packed her Honda Civic and left her dorm room at Davis, where everyone else had seemed to be frantically packing up to go home too. She’d driven all day from Northern to Southern California. It had been a harrowing journey, filled with clogged freeways and desperate people.
Before she’d hit the grapevine and begun to climb over the mountains into the L.A. basin, she’d gotten her one and only flat tire. She’d pulled to the side of the road out in the middle of nowhere. Not a single person who’d whizzed by offered assistance. When she’d tried calling AAA, the line had been constantly busy. Not a good sign. She’d broken two different fingernails but managed to change that damn tire herself and gotten back on her way. Twelve hours after leaving Davis and running on empty, she’d finally made it home.
Once she’d reached the neighborhood her parents lived in next to Balboa Park, she’d found her mother already sick. Two days later, Dad was sick. Her older sister had come home too, and Rachel had nursed all three of them, praying against all odds they’d recover quickly, waiting for the CDC’s miracle vaccine, which did not
materialize. It had never occurred to her that in a matter of weeks they’d all die—her whole family and her friends would be dead, leaving her alone and scared shitless.
Worst of all—she suspected
was dead. The streets in her neighborhood were empty and quiet. Too quiet. Maybe all the creeps toting guns and stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down had died from the virus. Maybe the soldiers trying to restore order were gone too. Maybe the mobs of people fighting over food shipments were dead. She’d managed the back-breaking work of burying her family by herself in her own backyard and had waited, waited for a miracle to occur.
Two days ago, Rachel had forced herself to go outside and scavenge for supplies but had found only a handful of wobbly and feverish people roaming the streets. The power was still on, hanging by a thread. The TV was fuzz, the cell phones were dead and the internet didn’t work. All those things required people to maintain.
She placed Dad’s binoculars on the window sill as hot tears ran down her cheeks. She sniffed and rubbed the wetness with the back of her hand.
Sudden rage surged through her body. Breaths burst in and out of her chest. She slid her useless smartphone out of her pocket, peeled off the pink protective case and hurled the black rectangle against the wall. It bounced off Mom’s favorite wallpaper and skated across the floor, dented and scratched.
Not good enough.
That cell phone used to be the center of her life, the object she picked up first thing each morning and slept next to at night, her constant link to the outside world. But now, all the damn thing did was freaking sit there, without a ping, a testament to the emptiness around her.
Rachel strode over and dug her heel into the front screen until she heard a satisfying crunch.
She pushed a lock of hair off her sweaty forehead, pulled on her big-girl panties and straightened her back.
Time to do something, even if it’s wrong
She moved toward the garage door, ready to continue organizing her things so she could leave, and paused for a second to think this through. She started counting.
One—yes, there was nothing but death outside the door and inside it was safe and familiar. Okay, this was true.
Two—but how long would it be safe? The overwhelming stench of death was already suffocating, and if she stayed, she’d be amongst millions of bodies as they decomposed.
Three—she needed to get out of town and hole up somewhere else. Somewhere with supplies and away from the city.
Four—she was immune. Immune! That was a big deal. She didn’t need to worry about staying away from anyone who might still be infected.
Rachel grabbed the keys to Mom’s Lexus, the only car with a full tank of gas, and stuffed it with luggage, gallons of water and bags of nonperishable food she’d prepared hours before. Books, flashlight, sleeping bag, a few mementos, pictures of friends and family and a laptop followed in the trunk. And finally, despite the roiling of her stomach and the sweat on her brow, she forced herself to take not only Dad’s binoculars along, but also his loaded revolver and extra ammunition. She wrapped them in a towel and tucked the gun securely under the front passenger seat. Safe and sound. Just in case.
Goal number one was get the heck out of town.
Goal number two… She’d figure that out
she got the heck out of town.
The garage door rumbled open and Rachel tensed. Any freaks still alive in a two-mile radius certainly heard that. Bile rose in her throat as fear of the unknown swept through her mind. She swallowed hard, tapped the gas pedal and inched out of the driveway.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
She crept along the streets, white knuckled, keeping her eyes glued to the landscape. She turned at the edge of Balboa Park, normally her favorite spot in San Diego, now ruined, scarred with littered bodies. A pristine Jacaranda tree stood at the corner, heavy with fluted purple flowers. Under its scenic branches, a man cradled a child in his arms, both lying stiff on a bed of grass.
Good thing she’d brought along a box of tissues. She couldn’t seem to stop crying.
She drove and drove and drove and didn’t see a single person alive. Not one. Decomposing bodies were everywhere. Rachel swerved to avoid them in the middle of the road. They were propped in cars, in front yards, in buses, on sidewalks. Military transport vehicles carried nothing but dead soldiers. Bodies littered parks, crosswalks, entrances to buildings. In every nook and cranny—death. She knew if she walked into a building, there would be more. This wasn’t just hundreds of corpses. This was millions and millions of corpses. Stretching out as far as her eye could see, stretching out to…where? Los Angeles? San Francisco?
She curved up the freeway on-ramp, weaving around abandoned automobiles, desperate to get out to the open countryside and put the pedal to the metal. But she didn’t get very far. A pileup blocked all eight lanes on Interstate 5.
“No…” she whimpered. She stumbled out of the car to get a closer look, trying to find a way through. Rachel stood in the absolute silence of a dead city and inspected the mangled mess. Bodies slumped over steering wheels, arms hung out of shattered windows. The network of compacted cars filled the freeway from side to side.
Thinking that everyone might be gone was one thing. Seeing it with her own eyes was another.
She heard a squawk and jumped, heart racing as she noticed a group of carrion birds fighting over a decaying body. She covered her mouth, sick to her stomach.
Oh my God! What is this? A horror movie? It can’t be real!
Disoriented and overwhelmed by the ghastly stench, the catastrophic devastation, she staggered back from the wreckage and looked around, squinting in the early morning light. “They’re all dead,” she said out loud, still processing the horrible truth. “Everyone’s dead, and I’m alone.”
Too numb to cry, she sank to the pavement and put her head in her hands. “Please God, help me,” she prayed.
Adam Sanchez thrived on stressful situations. He actually seemed to think clearer when adrenaline raced through his veins. Case in point—despite the total clusterfuck his life had turned into, he was alive and alert and focused on one objective—getting the hell out of San Diego.
A month ago, he’d come home from Northern Afghanistan to find a city gone mad. Ruyigi was in full swing here too.
The orderly life of a Marine base had devolved into utter chaos. Most personnel went home to their families. But Adam chose to stay. It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go. His parents had died long ago, and he’d never kept up with the rest of his crazy family. He’d never been good at adjusting to civilian life.
Once a Marine, always a Marine.
And anyway, everyone Adam had cared about worked at the base. It was home.
He wasn’t a doctor, but he helped where he could. Marine snipers were useless in this particular situation. He buried countless bodies until there were too many to manage, his hands bloody with torn blisters. He passed out meals to unruly mobs, patrolled the base and occasionally found time to sleep. He worked and worked until he noticed with dread that there weren’t that many people to work with. Finally, it came down to him, a janitor and an admiral who’d returned to base after his wife had passed away.
Yesterday, they’d died too.
He’d given them both a proper burial and then passed out from exhaustion.
Sixteen hours later, he’d woken up and tried one of the radios at the base. Nothing but silence. No one answered. No matter what frequency, civilian or military, he couldn’t get a single live voice to respond anywhere in the country. He couldn’t possibly be the only man left. There was no fucking way. He tossed a mobile tactical unit in the backseat of a Hummer, along with the rest of his supplies and weapons. He wasn’t giving up. No way, no how.
He tried not to examine the death and destruction and instead watched the road ahead. Crashed or abandoned cars blocked many of the streets. Finding his way out of town turned into a puzzle to be solved. When one route was blocked, he used his familiarity with the area to find another way around. Interstate 5 had been clear so far, and the wheels of the Hummer he’d
ate up the miles.
“Son of a bitch,” he yelled and banged the steering wheel. A major pileup of twisted metal loomed in the distance. He slowed to get a better look. Maybe he’d find an alternate route.
His eyes caught movement. “What the…?” A person jumped into a car and slammed the door shut.
Adam punched the brakes, sat a safe distance away and analyzed the situation. Had he seen that or imagined it? No, it was real. The white Lexus wasn’t part of the pileup. The car looked clean and new. And just to confirm his suspicions, the window on the driver’s side door slowly slid up.
A person. A real live person. Someone to talk to.
. Adam frowned and scanned the area. Was this a trap?
The unmistakable sound of a car’s engine shattered the oppressive silence. Rachel jerked her head to see a Hummer approaching like a bird of prey. Panic sliced through her dark fog of depression. She sprinted for the car and threw herself in, her heart pounding hard against her chest. Door shut? Check. Windows closed? Check. She cursed under her breath and prayed she hadn’t been seen.