Edge of Valor: A Post-Apocalyptic EMP Survival Thriller(6)

The scent of fresh paint was unmistakable in the crisp air. Glancing around, she caught sight of several empty cans clustered outside the side door that led to the recently reopened food pantry, along with a stack of two by fours, a bucket of nails, and a paint-splattered canvas tarp.

Rolls of ragged carpet leaned against the outside wall. Bloodstains had leaked through the carpet backing.

Her gaze flicked away, her heartbeat quickening. She hooked her thumb and pointed behind her. “You’re repairing the church.”

Bishop’s forehead wrinkled. “I couldn’t leave it like that. The house of God, a place of refuge. It felt…desecrated. I’m repairing what I can. The people need a place to worship. To heal. I need it, too.”


“I’m working on plastering the bullet holes. You’re welcome to help if you’d like.”

Her stomach did a sour-sick somersault. She didn’t know about that. Hell, she was pretty sure she never wanted to step inside Crossway again. “Maybe later.”

“I’d like the company. Of course, it’s up to you.”

Much had happened since the massacre. The vivid scenes still echoed in the deepest recesses of her mind—the awful screaming, the rat-a-tat of machine gunfire. The fear like a vise constricting her throat, the taste of terror a copper penny on her tongue.

Ray Shultz and his bulging, half-crazed eyes as he opened fire on the church sanctuary. Billy Carter, psychotic child murderer, killer of Bishop’s family. Octavia, her druggie meth head mother who’d done a single good thing at the end—she’d saved Quinn from Billy.

The slaughter of innocents had set in motion events that had brought the militia, the executions, tyranny, and fear, that had led inexorably to the showdown with Rosamond and the death of Noah.

Quinn met Bishop’s gaze and recognized the shadows of regret and loss in his eyes. He was reliving the same night.

He’d watched them die. The daughters Quinn had failed to save, the wife he couldn’t rescue.

They shared that terrible history. Milo wasn’t old enough to understand the way they did. To live with the nightmares, both sleeping and waking.

Maybe that was why she’d come, driven by the guilt and shame eating at her.

Bishop understood what had happened here. He’d lived it. And he’d loved Noah; he’d lost a friend, too.

Maybe he’d understand about Sutter, too. Why she’d felt driven—compelled—to do what she did. Why she’d had to kill him.

How pain was a thing that burrowed deep inside you. It changed you.

Bishop watched her, head tilted, his jaw working like he wanted to speak but was holding back. Then he turned and faced the crosses.

She stared at the back of his bushy head until her eyes blurred.

It was hard to look at the crosses. So rough and bare. So ugly. They didn’t fit the vibrant people buried beneath them.

Juniper, the tomboy with dirt always under her nails, dressed in jean overalls, her wiry black hair tugged into two buns. And Chloe, sweet, beautiful Chloe. Hers were the cries that still haunted Quinn’s dreams on her worst nights.

She rubbed at her eyebrow ring and looked away. A sharp bitterness welled on her tongue. The wind whistled through the maple trees ringing the parking lot.

This was a mistake. She didn’t know why she’d come, why she’d thought bothering Bishop with her problems would make a difference anyway— A tree caught her eye. A big tall oak with great spreading arms.

Her stomach wrenched. Her breath caught in her throat. Almost against her will, she drifted toward it.

After all these months, the pink and purple construction paper target Chloe and Juniper had designed was long gone. She could almost hear the squealing laughter and delighted cheers as she’d drawn back her slingshot, released, and hit the bull’s eye.

Quinn knelt at the base of the tree, steadying the AR-15 with one hand. Her boots sank into snow-crusted dirt. Pine needles and dead leaves littered the damp ground. The scent of wet earth filled her nostrils.

With a bare hand, she brushed aside a lump of dirty snow and uncovered a small object—the object she knew she’d find.


Day One Hundred and Three

Quinn swallowed around the lump in her throat. She palmed the bright blue marble.

It was a cat’s eye. The watery sunlight brought out the depths of rich cobalt blues. The swirls of white and gray like a tiny planet, something deep and rich and alive.

“That was Chloe’s,” Bishop said.

She turned toward him. He still knelt before the crosses several yards away, his expression pained, but there was kindness in his eyes. Compassion and understanding.

It nearly undid her.

“We—we shot these the night of…the night it happened. Chloe said it was her favorite.”

“She used to sleep with that one beneath her pillow.” Bishop’s voice cracked. “She thought her sister was going to borrow it and forget to give it back.”

“I hit the bullseye with this one. She was going to come back for it, and then we got distracted…” She held it out to him, her throat constricting. “You should have it.”

His eyes went glossy. He blinked. A tear trickled down his brown cheek. “You keep it. She adored you, you know. She would’ve wanted you to have it.”

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