Edge of Valor: A Post-Apocalyptic EMP Survival Thriller(5)

The evil that plagued this town was not yet extinguished.

She couldn’t picture this man as a human being of flesh and blood, but rather a faceless shadow, a monster made of nightmares.

Another Sinclair rising like a ghost from the ashes, threatening everything she held dear. After all they’d been through, after all they’d endured.

With a wince, Liam rose, one hand pressed to his bandaged side.

“Sit back down,” Evelyn ordered.

“No time,” he said between gritted teeth.

Evelyn clapped her hands. “Okay, that’s enough for now. I have two patients who need their rest.”

“Later,” Liam said. “I can’t rest—”

“Today, you are.” Evelyn raised her voice, her jaw set. She was having none of it. “Give your orders to Bishop, or to Reynoso, or Dave, Annette, or Perez. You have a dozen people waiting at your beck and call.”

“Liam,” Hannah said, her throat tight.

Evelyn had cleaned, restitched, and covered his wound, winding a fresh bandage around his torso, but not before Hannah glimpsed the angry red infection flaring from his injury and creeping outward in vivid scarlet and purple streaks.

She tasted the sour acid of fear in the back of her throat. Evelyn wasn’t exaggerating; in this world without ambulances or hospitals, an out-of-control infection spelled disaster.

Liam kept pushing and pushing. Something had to give. Something would break.

She understood why he’d needed to go after the Brooks and then Quinn, but that didn’t mean she didn’t worry. It didn’t mean the potential consequences were less dire.

For a long moment, he looked at her, emotions warring across his rugged face.

A fierce affection squeezed her chest. He might not own the title, but he was their leader. The one they all depended on.

He knew it and bore the burden willingly. It was a burden he couldn’t shed at will. It was in him, a part of him. He wanted to protect them.

That went both ways. They could take care of him, too.

If he learned to let them—to let her.

As if sensing the tension in the room, Ghost lifted his head and gave a low distressed whine. He cocked his ears and chuffed.

“It’s okay, boy,” Hannah soothed. “We’re all in agreement, now. Aren’t we?”

Bishop stepped forward. “Tell me what to do, brother.”

Subdued, Liam sank back onto the cot, scowling. Surrender wasn’t in his nature. “There’s a map of Michigan in my go-bag. Bring it to me. We need to get ready. Right now, we’re blind and vulnerable. We need to send forward observers north to warn us of what’s coming. The defense of Fall Creek starts now.”


Day One Hundred and Three

Quinn slogged through soggy, half-melted snow. Every movement brought jolts of aches and pains. Her entire body felt bruised.

At the edge of the parking lot, she hesitated. The chilly air pricked her exposed cheeks.

Dense gray clouds roiled across the sky. The temperature hovered in the forties. It was downright balmy after the wind chill in the negative double digits for months on end.

A cold wind whipped at her hair. She wore a coat, her AR-15 slung over her shoulder, one hand thrust in her pocket, fingers closing over her slingshot.

The cuts in her palm throbbed through the bandages, pulsing with her heartbeat, with her grief, regret, and anger.

She wanted to shoot something. Or curl into a ball and weep for a century. Or both.

She stood at the rear of the Crossway Church property. Perched on the corner of Main and Riverside Road, the stone church’s steeple towered above her. Plywood boarded up the shattered stained-glass windows.

Three months ago, she’d staggered from this building drenched in other people’s blood, Milo’s small trembling hand clenched in hers.

Quinn had dragged Milo out of hell itself.

“You can come closer,” a deep voice boomed. “No need to sneak around.”

Quinn flinched. She’d thought she was alone. Some super spy she was.

Several yards from the parking lot, Atticus Bishop knelt beneath a cluster of barren maple trees. Caught in her reverie, she hadn’t noticed his presence.

In front of him, three wooden crosses rose from three mounds of packed dirt—one large, two smaller. Each cross was about three feet tall, constructed of nailed two-by-fours.

Still kneeling, Bishop twisted around to look at her. He hunched his broad shoulders, his face gray with fatigue and sorrow. Two wet tracks traced his cheeks into his bristly beard.

He’d been weeping. Grieving his dead family.

Quinn was a trespasser. She shouldn’t have come.

She swallowed, her mouth dry as a desert. “I wasn’t sneaking.” Though she had. Kind of. “I’ll go—”

“No.” Bishop swiped at his reddened eyes with the back of his arm. His face cleared, and he smiled. “Please. I want you to stay.”

Bishop had never treated her with anything but kindness. She couldn’t say no to him.

She glanced at the crosses again, then nodded numbly.

“Couldn’t keep away, huh?” Bishop meant it as a joke, but it fell flat.

Quinn didn’t know what drew her back to this place, the origin of her nightmares. She had to come, like a moth drawn to a flame.

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