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Spellspeaker’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #2)

Read the first chapter in the second installment of the Beasts of Vegas series.

Spellspeaker’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #2)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2018 Anna Abner

Cover blurb:

Roz Carrera is a witch on the fritz. Thanks to the Coven’s rejection of her application for membership, she’s been denied a proper magical education. Without a mentor, she’s nearly useless in helping her team of vampire hunters. Complicating matters is the hulking shapeshifter she stumbles upon outside Las Vegas who may or may not be a vicious psychopath.

The only creatures shapeshifter Lukas Larsson hates more than vampires are witches. He’s in the Nevada desert to destroy the vampires who murdered his family, but the witch Roz Carrera and her ragtag team sideline him. He can’t allow the very sexy Roz to distract him from his vengeance.

Chapter One

Roz Carrera calculated the chances that the bonfire in the distance was a positive occurrence. Considering the number of vampires in the area, the lateness of the hour, and the sheer size of the flames, the odds weren’t great it was anything other than a clusterfuck.

Connor Beckett leaned forward in the passenger seat. “Trouble ahead,” he said softly, his voice nearly fading under the roar of their modified F-350’s engine. “Ease up, Roz.”

She decelerated slowly. In the darkness, the orange and red flames shone like napalm. Shapes and shadowy figures danced around the fire. When she cranked down her window, an animal—a big one—roared in some cross between rage and pain.

“Vampires?” she questioned, catching Connor’s eye across the bouncy truck seat while his girlfriend Ali Rusenko fidgeted between them.

“I can only hope.” He gave Roz a look that said—keep your guard up. It had been days since they’d even seen an infected. Too long, considering their mission’s sole objective was to find and capture them.

Signs of modern civilization were sparse this far out in rural Nevada. It was the only light for miles. The only village for miles. Nothing but acres and acres of desert, rocky hills, and sagebrush. And anybody who lived anywhere within sight appeared to be circling the bonfire.

“Let’s move real slow on this one,” Connor said. Once she parked the truck a hundred feet from the fire, Connor cracked open his door. “Roz, keep everyone calm until we figure out what’s going on.” He shoved a .44 down the waistband of his jeans and handed a smaller .38 Ruger to Ali. “If anyone breaks away and comes at you—shoot. Don’t hesitate.”

“I’m not shooting anyone.” Ali didn’t even glance at the weapon.

“Just in case.” He forced it into her hands.

Rolling her eyes at the dramatic twosome, Roz stepped out of the truck in form-hugging leggings, flip flops, and a crop top. Connor tossed her a handgun over the hood and she caught it, checked the clip, and flipped the safety off. She rolled her shoulders. Ready.

They approached the fire together.

“The poor thing,” Ali whispered.

To the east of the fire, a full-grown bear writhed on a set of chains, strung between two mobile homes. Roz wasn’t great with species—black, brown, polar, grizzly—but she recognized a bear when she saw one.

Roz would rather have skedaddled, but Ali moved forward. And where Ali went, Connor followed.

And just so Connor didn’t think he was too special, barking orders, Roz said, “Connor, flex your muscles. If one of those freaks makes a run for it I expect you to throw a car at him.”

“Ha, ha. Now get to the magic.”

Except Roz was a witch on the fritz and had been for weeks. The thought of calling her power already had her pulse picking up and her blood pressure spiking. She was so tired of failing, and yet she couldn’t figure out how to succeed.

“I don’t want to leave the bear here to be tortured and killed.” Ali laid a hand on Connor’s sleeve. Though Roz couldn’t see her, she figured the girl was giving Connor her big, sparkly blue eyes. Fucking bleeding hearts. What were they gonna do with a super pissed off bear? They lived in a hotel for crying out loud.

“This isn’t our business,” Roz reminded them both. “I vote for backing out of here. We’re supposed to be hunting vampires, remember? This is local stuff.”

“She’s right,” Connor said, flicking his gaze from the crowd to Ali. “Let’s go.”

“We can’t leave it here to be tortured,” Ali hissed. “You know what they’ll do to it.”

“It’s none of our business,” he hissed back. “Vampires, remember? Not bears.”

“We could put it in the back of the truck,” Ali continued, still staring with moon eyes at Connor. “We’ll set it free in the mountains. It’s the right thing to do.”

Normally, Roz would be in step with Connor, but she wanted to piss him off. She was still stinging from being replaced as the sole female in their group. Oh, how easily she’d been replaced.

Roz sort of hated them right now, their love and their to-the-death loyalty and the happiness in their eyes, and their secret glances, and the passion sparking between them. Because it had been a long time since anyone had looked at her that way.

If Connor wanted to leave, then suddenly Roz felt like staying. “Not that you asked,” she said, shouldering her way between them. “But I say we rescue the bear.”

“Fine,” he snapped. “We’ll rescue the bear.”

Connor sighed as if this was a huge imposition, but Roz saw the sparkle in his eyes. He loved the hunt, whatever the prey. He was itching for a fight. They all were. The last vampire they’d encountered had fought so hard against being captured, they’d killed it by accident. Strange. Cause back in the day they’d have killed it on purpose. But since Ali arrived and changed everything, now they had a no killing policy when it came to the infected.

“But let’s do this quick,” Connor said. “No blood shed. Especially ours.”

“Deal,” Ali said.

A small group of fire enthusiasts broke away from the group and ambled nearer.

Roz took a deep, calming breath and centered her thoughts. “Blessed is my power,” she whispered, breathing in through her nose. “I call upon thee.”

Nothing sparked. No invisible wind, no whirling particles, no zing under her skin.

A barrel-chested older man raised a can of beer and burped hello. “You all tourists?” he asked in the same tone she’d ask a person, You all child molesters?

Connor may have been impersonating a Roman statue, but Roz knew inside he was a jumpy mess. He was calculating. Using his senses. Running plays. Only rarely did anyone get the upper hand on her best friend. He was a freaking warrior.

“Not exactly,” Roz answered. “What’s with the animal?”

“Last night, three people were torn apart in their trailer.” He slurped beer, and then shrugged. “We put out bear traps, and lookie what stepped in one. Must’a escaped from the zoo.”

Under her breath, Roz called her power again. A whisper of magic tickled the tips of her fingers. There was something there in reserves, and she teased it out.

“What are you going to do with it?” Ali asked the man.

“Can’t you see the BBQ we set up?” He guffawed as the bonfire flared over his shoulder.

Right on cue, the animal in question roared an inhuman scream of pure rage with an underlying note of pain. Roz may play the tough girl on a regular basis, but that sound plucked a heartstring. They were going to do horrible things to the beast because it had chosen the wrong food source.

“Join us,” the man said. “There’s plenty for everyone.”

Roz couldn’t imagine how these drunk idiots had wrapped a chain tight around the bear’s throat and trapped it between two mobile homes, but she guessed the steel bear trap eating its left hind leg had something to do with it. Another heartstring twanged.

The beast’s hide shone with blood. Its leg was torn up and broken, and patches of fur were missing.

She disliked frontier justice.

Connor gathered both women into a huddle a few feet away. “Roz, when I signal you, put the bear to sleep. And, Ali, for God’s sake, keep your hand on your weapon.”

They turned back toward the mob circling the fire. “We can take care of your bear problem,” Connor said. “We’ll buy it off you and haul it away.”

This announcement was met with general irritation from the crowd.

Roz pushed her power up and out. “Stay calm,” she hissed, over and over, a never-ending stream of words. So long as she kept speaking, her spell would hold. Perspiration beaded between her breasts and under her arms.

She whispered under her breath, her lips barely parting at all. Knowing in a few minutes, she’d have to throw up a sleeping spell on the bear on top of the calming spell she was currently sweating through. Not that Connor ever considered her power’s parameters. Connor thought it was a piece of cake speaking complex emotional spells, making people do things they didn’t want to do. She wasn’t a machine, goddamn it. She was barely a witch at all, let alone a first class spellspeaker with the ability to alter the world.

“You have enough to do, burying your dead. Let us pay you for the bear.” Under his breath, Connor said, “Roz, get out the money. Hundreds should do it. And put the bear to sleep.”

Sure, sure. Keep the crowd calm, force an enraged animal to close its little peepers, convince a grown man scraps of paper were hundred dollar bills, and anything else that came to mind. No problem.

Her fingers and lips tingled with the power swimming through her.

“Calm, calm, stay calm, go to sleep.” She repeated the spell, her lips working in fast-forward. Her breath hissed between her teeth, the words all running together. Without stuttering a syllable, she pulled three hundred dollars from her pocket. Connor didn’t need to know it was real cash, not magicked money. There was only so much she could do.

Roz hated passing off newspaper as bills, when she could actually juice up her magic to perform the spell. Those were the places she could never go back to. She was giving witches a bad reputation. Not that she cared what the Coven thought of her. Those prissy, holier-than-thou bitches could all roast.

Especially after their latest bullshit. Last week, an envelope had arrived at their suite at the Le Sort Hotel addressed to #Roslyn Carrera. Inside was a cease-and-desist letter from the Coven demanding she stop performing unauthorized magic.

As if.

In the distance, the bear quieted. Roz pushed harder, speaking faster, focusing all her energy on the sleep spell. The beast roared once and sat down, its head, shoulders and chest hanging from the chains. If they weren’t careful, the thing would choke to death before they rescued it. She refocused on the trailer park crowd.

“Holy…”

Roz’s head snapped up. What? Which spell had faded? Who were they coming after first?

She froze.

“No way,” she breathed, her spells forgotten.

The bear wasn’t a bear at all. He was a shifter. A supernatural freak, just like her. And asleep, his conscious mind gave up control and he shifted back to his natural form.

The bear was gone, vanished, and in its place, still strung up between two rusted mobile homes with chains, was a man. A bleeding, unconscious, naked man.

Oops.

Download Spellspeaker’s Prophecy  (Beasts of Vegas #2) now!

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Shopgirl’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #1)

Read The First Chapter Of My Latest Series (More Coming In 2018)!

The Shopgirl’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #1)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright Anna Abner 2016

Cover Blurb:

Sexy shifters, tortured vampires, and powerful witches fight the evil horde on the Las Vegas Strip…

Ali Rusenko has dangerous secrets she keeps close to her heart. In search of the truth of her past on the glittery Las Vegas Strip, Ali discovers vampires aren’t the most hospitable creatures. If it weren’t for sexy vampire hunter Connor Beckett, she’d be dinner.

Connor rescues Ali, but they just can’t shake the vampires trailing her. Unfortunately, Connor knows exactly how the creatures feel. He can’t let the beautiful stray go, either, because she awakens a part of him he thought would be denied forever. But if Connor’s going to have a real chance to defeat the horde leader, he can’t allow Ali to leave the country without discovering the one secret she refuses to reveal.

Chapter One

“Get down,” Roz hissed, yanking on Connor’s black jacket. A spotlight swept over their heads, and he tasted dry earth as he flattened onto the sand.

“That was too close,” Roz complained.

They skittered like cockroaches across the ground, avoiding a parked Humvee, and staying out of the guards’ eye line. The things they couldn’t avoid at the secret army facility in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Nevada were surveillance cameras on every wall and post. Hence, the need for speed and an electro-magnetic pulse device the size of a suitcase strapped to Connor’s back. If they were caught breaking into Oleksander the Destroyer’s prison, they’d never see daylight again. Sort of the way Oleksander had been in the dark of an army cell for the past twenty years.

Connor Beckett hadn’t known six months ago—a lackluster engineering student at the University of Chicago—that the Seer Ilvane would write down his name and forever link him with the end of the human race.

Connor from Cleveland will release the Destroyer and trigger the apocalypse.

There wasn’t any way to fix the prophecy and save the world except to kill the vampire lord.

“Push the button,” Connor said, nodding at the EMP. Thank the fates for Anton and Natasha, their very generous benefactors from New Zealand and their high-tech toys.

“Pushing the button.” Roz activated the device, and every electric light on the base, hopefully the cameras and security doors too, blinked off. “Now,” she ordered. “Move.”

Light on the balls of his feet, Connor ran for building 2A, which he knew from poring over satellite photos of the installation, was where the army kept the vampires. He hunched over the card reader controlling the prison’s heavy-duty outer door, sweat rolling down the back of his neck. “Please,” he breathed. A single second delay while they stood like a couple of sore thumbs at the gateway to a vampire’s cell on a secret military base could ruin everything.

He hoped for the best and yanked. The immense door swung open on soundless hinges.

“I was only fifty percent sure the EMP was going to work,” Roz admitted as she followed him inside and sealed the door.

There wasn’t supposed to be a guard on duty at two-thirty in the morning. Except there was.

“What the hell?” complained the unlucky soldier.

Engineering classes hadn’t prepared Connor for this situation. He’d psyched himself up for killing the Destroyer, not innocent bystanders. The soldier glaring at him carried a gun on his hip, and he probably knew how to use it better than Connor could operate the high-tech gear his New Zealand backers had sent.

“Both of you get on the floor. Now.” The man pulled his weapon, but he didn’t call for back up. Connor needed it to stay that way.

“Whoa,” Connor exclaimed, his mind coming back online. He stepped in front of Roz as she followed his lead and held up both hands. “I just want to see the vampire. Don’t shoot me. Jesus!” He cracked a goofy smile.

“Yeah,” Roz parroted. “This idiot promised me we wouldn’t get in trouble.”

“Stay where you are.” The soldier wasn’t buying it. “I’m calling my sergeant.”

Plan C. Or was it D? “Sleep spell?” Connor whispered to Roz out of the corner of his mouth.

“Blessed is my power. I call upon thee.” Roz produced a tiny windstorm that pushed and pulled at her dark clothes. “Sleep, sleep, sleep…”

The guard blinked at Connor in bewilderment before his knees buckled and he crashed to the floor, fast asleep.

“Oh, crap.” Roz said, picking up the soldier’s fallen handgun. “I was only about twenty percent sure I could do that.”

“That’s twice as confident as I was,” Connor admitted, relieved he didn’t have to hurt anyone human. With no magic or supernatural abilities of his own, having a witch as a friend had its perks.

Her windstorm died down. “We gotta hurry. My spell won’t last more than a few minutes.”

Satisfied the guard was out cold, Connor turned his full attention on the pair of cell doors at the far side of the room. Each one had a monitor above it, and under each monitor was a name plaque. The first read: Maksim Volk, vampire lieutenant. The second read: Oleksander the Destroyer, vampire lord. But someone had scratched out lord and written douchebag in permanent marker.

“Grenade,” Connor said, holding out one hand. His voice didn’t even waiver, which was weird considering how terrified he was on the inside.

A cold, egg-shaped bomb landed in his palm. Connor opened the sliding hatch in the cell meant for exchanging food and correspondence and peered inside. Volk lay on a cot with his back to the door wearing an unadorned orange jumpsuit. Connor pulled the pin from the grenade and tossed it into the cell. He watched through the slit as the grenade went off, so loud Connor jumped back from the door. Through the smoke, Volk was suddenly under the cot instead of on it.

“Volk’s down,” Connor announced. He swallowed thickly and gestured shakily for the second grenade.

Roz passed it to him, and Connor opened Oleksander’s mail slot. He’d fantasized about killing the Destroyer so many times he wanted to savor it, to take his time and be certain the vampire was dead. But Oleksander wasn’t visible through the small opening.

He’d never murdered anyone before.

Connor’s skin prickled. Was the vampire in there skulking in a corner? Or had the army moved him in the six hours since Roz had sweet-talked a drunken, off-duty soldier for info at Applebee’s?

The poor sot had admitted nobody guarded the vampires anymore because after twenty years of incarceration, torture, and experimentation both were as docile as a pair of kittens. If the army was stupid enough to believe that, fine. Connor assumed Olek and Volk were every inch the cold-blooded psychopaths they’d been before their bloody capture.

Visible or not, Connor tossed the grenade at Olek and waited. There was a gong as the bomb was thrown back at the exit, and it exploded against the door, warping it outward and filling the entire room with white smoke.

The door remained closed, but it was badly disfigured.

There was a moment, staring wide-eyed at the twisted metal, Connor considered backing out. Nothing catastrophic had happened yet. No one was hurt. So what if a few cameras were sizzled? He could pull his friend out of there and go home.

But he didn’t leave. This was Connor’s best chance to kill the Destroyer and negate his prophecy. He had to kill the vampire.

Connor plucked the third and final grenade from Roz’s vest and rolled it through the wasted door of Olek’s cell. Almost immediately, the grenade skidded right back out again.

Connor launched himself at Roz, and the grenade went off before they hit the ground, blowing them horizontally against a wall.

“Oh, shit,” he said, a ringing in his ears and blood in his mouth.

He wasn’t ready to die for a stupid prophecy. To be honest, he hadn’t totally believed the Destroyer would even be in this cell let alone that he had a chance in hell of slaying the vampire.

Connor was a failure. He was unprepared. He should have stayed home.

He rolled, taking weight off a gnarly wound on his left hip and shook Roz’s arm. “Are you okay?”

No answer.

A very aggressive alarm sounded. So much for the EMP. The base had come back to life. Soon, there’d be soldiers everywhere, and Connor didn’t have a good reason for blowing up their super secret vampire prison or a desire to spend time in a matching cell.

Through the haze, a large orange shape appeared carrying a body over one shoulder.

Oleksander the Destroyer.

Looking as spry and psychotic as ever in a prison jumpsuit.

Unable to tear his gaze from the Destroyer’s nearly black eyes and heavily Slavic features, Connor shielded Roz and prepared to be consumed.

“Thank you,” Olek said and then carried a bloody and unconscious Maksim Volk out of the building.

Chills skittered up and down Connor’s battered and bloody limbs. The Destroyer was much more terrifying in person than he’d been in photographs. He was a monster, a devourer of children. And he seemed to think Connor had just done him a favor.

“Roz,” Connor groaned, the world tilting dizzily. “We have to get out of here.” Olek might realize his mistake and double back to kill them both.

“Connor?” Roz sat up, wincing as she took in the warped cell door through a haze of white smoke. “He’s free?”

“Can you run?” he asked rather than admit the truth.

“If I have to.”

They hobbled, Connor gritting his teeth every time his burned leg touched the earth, toward the back fence as scream after tortured scream reached them. Olek was finally free and obviously enjoying himself.

“Halt,” a commanding voice ordered. More soldiers.

“Smoke bomb?” Conner questioned Roz. They had debated whether it was necessary, but he couldn’t remember if she’d packed it.

She pulled a canister from her waistband, tossed the pin, and threw the explosive over her shoulder. Immediately, they were engulfed in a thick, red cloud. Shots were fired, but nothing found a human target.

Like half-dead rabbits escaping the hunt, they slid through a hole in the chain link, and limped across an expanse of sand dotted with sagebrush.

“Get in, and start the engine,” Connor ordered, ripping a camouflage tarp off his baby, a 1973 Ford F-350 pickup. “They might have helicopters.”

The truck roared to life, and he leaped through the passenger door, hanging on for dear life as Roz raced over desert roads toward the lights of the Las Vegas skyline.

No choppers took flight. No Humvees chased them. No further shots were fired. It was like the base had been swallowed up. Olek was making up for lost time and wiping the secret military installation off the map with nothing but his hands and a pair of fangs.

“What happened?” she demanded.

Connor grimaced at the black smudges on her face, the ashes in her hair, and the blood splattered across her top.

The worst thing possible. “I fulfilled my prophecy.”

#

Maksim Volk’s prison cell faded from sight as he was dragged away by his army-issued prison garb.

Someone had thrown a grenade at him. Even now, his eyes burned and his entire left side felt gooey.

“I miss people trying to kill me with wooden stakes,” he grumbled, squinting to see who or what had a grip on him.

Oleksander the Destroyer.

“Fabulous.” Maks swatted at Olek’s iron-like fist, but only managed to bring his right arm halfway up. Yep, something was definitely wrong with his limbs. Fricking grenades.

Olek hauled him without any gentleness whatsoever across an asphalt parking lot and then roughly over a concrete curb. Maks’ legs, currently numb and useless, had been blown up a bit, it seemed.

Lovely. With a twist and a grunt, Maks freed himself and landed flat on his back.

He sat up to inventory his injuries. His right arm was burned down to bare bone, his left leg was ground beef and cloth, but nothing seemed missing that couldn’t heal. His seventeen-year-old body would regenerate exactly as it had been, leaving him forever looking like a rangy youth.

But the best news he’d received in twenty years? He was a free man.

No matter what happened next, he would never go back into a cell and be anyone’s guinea pig.

Maks crawled on his hands and knees, headed for rocky hills in the distance, and something fragrant tickled his nose. Faint, like a memory. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeper.

Not a memory. Real.

Maks got to his feet despite the pain and stumbled west toward the scent, straining to place it.

“These mortals annoy me,” Olek grumbled as soldiers continued to fire their weapons.

Maks couldn’t care less because he’d finally recognized the scent. Vampires. Lots of rotting vampires under tons of earth. He increased his scuffling and lumbered toward a bare stretch of sand between the outer security fence and the base infirmary. The closer he got, the stronger the smell became.

He ignored the rapport of gunfire and the familiar sounds of Olek feeding messily on human victims to drop to his knees and tear into the earth as the shooting ceased altogether. His right arm was useless so he excavated with his left, scooping and clawing until his fingers were bloody and his nails cracked to the quick.

“Explain yourself,” Olek demanded, appearing behind him.

“Can’t you smell them?” Maks cried.

More specifically, his little bird. He could smell his sweet Katya, and he’d dig until both arms fell off to free her.

“Who?”

“Our people.” His fingers unearthed a trouser leg, and he dug faster.

At last, Olek knelt to help. He wasn’t half blown up and was made stronger from the soldiers he’d gorged on. He was much quicker displacing mounds of dirt.

A body appeared, rapidly followed by another and another. When the army had finished with Olek’s horde, they’d tossed the dried out, skeletal vampires into a mass grave under the base.

His mates. His fellow warriors. At last, he knew they weren’t being kept in a separate facility. They weren’t being tormented and experimented on the way he’d been. No, they’d been used up and thrown out like so much refuse.

Katya among them.

His little bird had been stolen from him so long ago, and yet he pictured her exactly as she’d been two decades earlier, before their capture. Young and beautiful, shy yet passionate. She had set his blood on fire.

Olek uncovered half a dozen more bodies, emaciated corpses, but further down the bodies emerged in pieces. Hands. Feet. Heads.

“No, please.” Maks dug directly at the spot Katya’s scent was strongest. She couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t be.

She was.

Maks lifted a familiar torso, now rotted to pieces, and beside that, a skull with a tuft of strawberry hair still attached.

No.”

The sky collapsed around him, drenching him in shadow. Not possible. She couldn’t be gone. Not the woman who gave his soul life, who gave his wretched existence meaning.

“Sergei, Ilya, and Ivan are beyond saving,” Olek said, picking and choosing bodies from the grave. “But my three best fighters are still strong.”

Lies. Maks didn’t have to look to know Olek’s three brothers Sergei, Ilya, and Ivan were whole and in stasis thanks to their immortality, but Olek had never enjoyed his brothers’ company, not when the four siblings were constantly struggling for control over the vampire horde. But Olek’s three favorite lackeys—Freddie, Dawn, and Lara? They were a different story.

He smelled fresh blood as Olek fed his three acolytes from nearby soldiers’ throats.

Maks didn’t care. His little bird had been cut into pieces. He would never care about anything again.

“How?” He cradled Katya’s head. “We are not animals. We are not experiments.”

Not that the U.S. Army hadn’t tried. For twenty years they’d been cutting imprisoned vampires open, testing their blood, pushing the limits of their mortality. Volk and Olek had been their preferred test subjects, though, and Volk had endured an eternity of pain and agony.

He would repay every second.

“I swear to you,” Olek said as his three warriors rose up around him, “we will make the human race suffer for what they have done. We will burn their world to the ground.”

Olek started to walk away, but Volk didn’t follow. He curled around Katya’s remains and was content to die from the grief splitting him in two.

“We go.” Olek grabbed Maks’ collar and pulled.

Maks scrambled to keep a hold of Katya’s skull, but he was only able to snatch her necklace off her neck, pulling strands of red hair with it before his master tossed him, Freddie, Dawn, and Lara into a Humvee with an unconscious soldier.

If he must live a little longer, then he’d get his revenge.

While they drove out of the base and into the mountains, Maks sank his teeth into the dying soldier’s throat, Katya’s locket clenched in his hand.

Download Shopgirl’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #1) now!

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Enjoy this Free Red Plague Sneak Peek PDF full of excerpts and extras!

<3 Anna

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Panacea (Red Plague #3) Chapter One

Enjoy this free sneak peek of Panacea’s 1st chapter!

Panacea (Red Plague #2)

Copyright 2014 by Anna Abner

Back Cover Blurb:

The red plague has devastated the human race, turning billions of people into zombies with red eyes and an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

No closer to extracting the cure from inside Ben Sawyer, Maya Solomon is ready to give up her quest to cure the zombie virus. But Pollard and Hunny have gone ahead to Washington, DC in search of other survivors. Alone and vulnerable, Maya and Ben begin a final and treacherous journey north in the hope that somehow the secrets locked inside Ben’s blood will finally free the world from the grip of the Red Plague.

Chapter One

I shoved open the door of our borrowed VW Bug and stumbled into several inches of gritty beach sand. Past a craggy dune, the Atlantic Ocean burst upon the shore. Over and over, undaunted. Behind me, Ben curled in the passenger’s seat, his long legs bunched to his chest to fit the cramped interior. He hadn’t woken when I drove hell-bent across fields and marshes to escape Camp Carson. He hadn’t woken when the car stuttered to a stop, empty of fuel, on the Virginia beach. And he didn’t wake as I stood over him, chewing at my bottom lip.

Smart had done more than lie about extracting my dad’s antiserum from Ben’s blood. He’d drugged him. Among other things. He might not wake up, not completely, until morning. Four hours or more.

He needed help, first aid, possibly a doctor, but all he had was me.

I searched up and down the beach. If a pack of quick-footed red zombies, sufferers of the 212R virus, found us, we had no protection except the car. So, not much protection at all.

“I’m going to search the trunk.” He didn’t answer, but talking to someone, anyone, made me feel better. “Okay, Ben?”

He flinched at the sound of my voice. The sedatives he’d been fed hadn’t worn off completely. I grabbed his hand so he’d know he wasn’t alone anymore. Reflexively, he squeezed back, his fingers twining with mine.

In the storage compartment I found a raincoat, but no emergency flares or forgotten bottles of sports drink. Certainly nothing useful. I tossed the coat into the back seat with my gear and then closed the trunk.

“Don’t worry,” I told Ben, “we’ll be fine.”

We probably weren’t going to be fine. Not alone and unprotected.

I turned toward the sound of the surf. “I just need a minute to make a plan.”

The whitecaps looked and sounded exactly the same as they always had. With all the chaos in the world and all the changes that had hammered down upon the human race, it didn’t seem right the ocean kept rolling across the earth, oblivious.

“I’m scared,” I signed at the horizon, my hands stuttering through the motions. Really, really scared.

But the surf kept washing upon the beach in a slow, quiet rhythm. Tempo adagio. Like a hymn. I hummed a counter-beat, and the sad melody I couldn’t shake returned.

Way down here … I disappear.

The water was black as tar with the occasional silver reflection of starlight from overhead. I tried to stay out of the surf, but it was tricky in the dark determining the tide’s reach, and cold salty water splashed over my sneakers.

“Aw, crap.” I didn’t have spare shoes, which only reminded me that my survival knowledge was nil. I knew how to run, hide, and disinfect. That was about it. Because I came from a family of technology loving city folks, not rugged survivalists. For the millionth time I wished my dad hadn’t left to finish his antiserum for 212R. He may not have been able to teach me about hunting or shelter building during the apocalypse, but at least I wouldn’t have spent so much time alone.

But if Dad hadn’t left, he wouldn’t have finished the elixir and Ben would still be a Red. My dad had wanted his work to mean something. To help people. And it had saved Ben.

So, it was worth it. I just wished I had both of them, Ben and Dad.

I glanced over my shoulder, but the compact car was a shadowy shape across the sand. More than anything, I felt alone. For the first time since the plague it wasn’t a pleasant sensation.

Night stretched and lengthened, seeming to last forever.

Where was Pollard?

I shouldn’t have pushed to separate our group. I should have fought to stay together, but I’d been so sure the four of us—Pollard, Juliet, Hunny, and I—would be too visible, too loud, too obvious, breaking into Ben’s locked room. I’d argued to be the only one to pull off the rescue mission.

Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea because everywhere I looked I saw only sand, water, and sky.

Pollard should’ve been on the beach.

But he wasn’t, and I had no way of contacting him. 212R had infected so many people, and so quickly, there was no one left to run water, trash, and electricity services. No GPS, no cell phones. Wherever he was, he was out of my reach.

I walked south, but didn’t catch sight of my friends. Or any human beings at all. Not even a single house or a forgotten beach umbrella. Pivoting, I marched north as far as I felt comfortable. Off in the distance I recognized roofs and a white fence. But that was it. No Pollard, no Hunny, no Juliet, and no sign they’d been anywhere near there.

Thirst drove me back to the car.

As for supplies, we were pathetically undergeared. In my backpack I carried my personal belongings, a canteen of water, some snacks, and a couple changes of clean clothes. An extra-long screwdriver. My short sword, a fully functional replica from the Lord of the Rings films that had been my dad’s before the red plague. And the golden-hued guitar Ben had given me.

Definitely not enough to build a secure shelter and hunker down for days.

Depending on the temperature, my water supply might only last twenty-four hours. The same for the snacks.

And with Ben not in his right mind, everything fell to me to do. Except I wasn’t any good at taking care of other people. I was okay at caring for myself, but awful at taking care of others.

I opened the driver’s side door and reached between the seats for my pack and the canteen inside it. Because of the tiny interior I was forced to get very, very close to Ben. I tried not to disturb him, but my ribs brushed his arm. He snapped awake, and I squeaked in surprise, banging my head on the roof of the car.

“Maya?” he exclaimed, and then he scampered out of the car on all fours into the soft sand.

“It’s me,” I confirmed, climbing out and massaging the top of my head.

“What happened?” He used the car to push himself upright.

“We escaped from Camp Carson,” I explained, glossing over the rough parts. Like the fire. The torture chamber. Unstrapping him from a gurney.

He turned in a circle, scanning the area, and then pinned his intense red eyes on me. “Are you okay?”

“I’ve been better.” Muscles and joints I didn’t even know I had ached. I stretched my arms over my head, and my spine crackled like pretzel rods. “How do you feel?”

He was standing and alert, and he had color back in his cheeks. All good signs.

“I’m okay. How far are we from the base?” He squinted down the beach.

“I drove about fifteen miles-an-hour for two hours.” Camp Carson was southwest of Richmond, but after traveling north and east I could no longer picture our location on a map. We definitely weren’t near any big cities. “The car’s out of gas. I haven’t seen or heard anyone.”

“Where’s Pollard? And Hunny?”

I kicked at a clump of grass. “They left a hole for us to go through. I stayed behind to get you. We said we’d go straight east and meet on the beach.”

“Did you go straight east?”

No. I had messed up. I should’ve forced Ben onto his feet and gotten us through the trees the night before, but I’d been so scared I’d wanted to get as far away from Smart as possible. He’d tortured Ben for days in his locked room, and I was scared he would follow us and recapture Ben.

And because of it, we may have lost Pollard and Hunny for good.

“There were woods to the east,” I said. “I drove north until I found beach access. I guess they went a different way.” Or, worse, went back to rescue us. If they had, they could be locked in Ben’s old prison.

“Was there a backup plan?” he asked.

“Meet at the Washington Monument. Pollard thinks there might be people there.”

Ben blew out a long breath. “Have you seen any sign of them at all?”

“I searched while you were sleeping. I walked up and down the beach but I didn’t see anything. Not even a piece of trash blowing in the wind. It’s too dark, but if I turn on a flashlight I might attract trouble.”

“I need some fresh air.”

I bit my tongue to keep from saying, “We’re already outside. How much fresher can the air get?”

But he was determined and wobbled across the sand to the edge of the water. Just as I had done, he inched too close and wet his boots. Except he didn’t jump back like I had. He stood in the surf and let it wash over his feet.

A memory of him strapped to a gurney in Smart’s barracks room flashed in my mind. What had they done to him?

After he’d injected my dad’s antiserum, I’d been so sure the right thing to do was get him to a doctor and pull the answer to reversing the red plague out of his blood. But Smart had lied to me. I’d thought Ben was being cared for by the residents of Camp Carson. But as soon as they’d closed the door on him, they’d started the horror show. They could’ve done anything to him in there. Surgery. Amputation. Complete exsanguination.

One thing they hadn’t done was extract the cure.

“Are you okay?” I asked hesitantly, afraid to spook him. I stepped closer, itching to feel his brow for fever, but I didn’t dare. Not with him so unsteady.

“Stay away from me,” he gasped. ”For God’s sake, Maya, just stay back.”

I moved away so quickly I nearly tripped and fell on my butt in the sand. But I steadied myself and then kept a healthy distance between us.

Ben’s expression was tense as he turned toward the churning surf. “I don’t like being tied up,” he growled. “They tied me up. Do you understand?” He sucked in a ragged breath. “It was like being in lockdown in Dogwood.”

The Dogwood Juvenile Detention Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The one Ben had been sentenced to. The same one my twin brother had been inside when the red plague hit.

Mason had been incarcerated when he was fifteen and ordered to serve time until his eighteenth birthday. A milestone he probably would never make. We didn’t turn eighteen for three more months. If he hadn’t escaped before 212R spread, then he would have been trapped inside the jail when chaos erupted. Theoretically, he could still be inside.

I shivered. “Can you walk?” I asked. Silly question. Ben was in no condition to walk. He could barely stand. “Nix that. I’ll get you some water. You need to drink lots of fluids. Fruit would be nice.” I was babbling like an idiot. We didn’t have fruit. We were lucky to have clean, drinkable water.

“Here.” I tossed the canteen at his feet so he didn’t have to touch me. Or smell me. “Drink.”

Whatever progress he’d made in the last few days seemed lost. He was just as unstable as the first day after injecting the elixir.

“It’s not safe here.” He took a long swallow from my canteen, and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Carefully, he straightened his heavy boots, then the cuffs of his trousers, and then the sleeves of his black T-shirt. Finally, he rearranged his dark hair. “We have to keep moving.”

“No.” One thing was obvious. Some awful stuff had gone down in Smart’s so-called lab and Ben had regressed to near zombie status. “It’s two o’clock in the morning. We should stay here and sleep. At dawn, I’ll forage in the woods.” I glanced at the Atlantic Ocean rolling away from us. “Maybe I can even fish something.”

“You said Pollard is going to Washington, D.C.?” He frowned as if piecing a puzzle together. “Then we have to follow him.”

“What? No.” I advanced a step, and then reversed trajectory. “Sorry. I mean, you need to rest from,” I eyed him up and down, “whatever happened. We don’t have to rush into another trip.” Because I wasn’t even sure if Pollard was in D.C. Or okay. Or alive.

“You came back for me.” There was a growly resolve in his voice. “I will take you to your Pollard.”

“He’s not my anything,” I said quickly. “And you’re not ready to go on another road trip.”

“You should be part of a family, Maya, even if it’s not your own family.”

I huffed a laugh. Where had that come from? “I’m fine by myself,” I assured. “Besides, I had a family. They’re all dead.”

But Ben had stopped listening. “Is D.C. north of here?”

“It has to be.” There was no way I’d passed it during the night.

“Please pack our stuff. I just need another minute.” He plopped onto the sand again, pressing his palms against his eye sockets.

“Headache?” I guessed.

“Mmm.”

I left him in the sand to collect my backpack from the car, as well as my guitar and short sword. By the time I closed the Bug’s door, Ben was back on his feet.

“I’ll follow you.” His pace would be my pace, even if it meant slowing to a crawl.

Without saying a word, he lifted the backpack right off my shoulders and walked up the starlit beach, veering away from the water where the ground was firmer and easier to navigate. I jogged to catch up.

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I Only Have Two Hands

A Short Gallavich (Ian Gallagher + Mickey Milkovich) Fan Fiction

“I Only Have Two Hands”

Ian Gallagher hated the midnight to two a.m. shift at the Kash & Grab liquor store, but a lot of times his boss Kash liked it even less and so Ian often took his place. Kash didn’t care that Ian was sixteen, that he had school in the morning, or that Ian would much rather be sleeping.

Mickey Milkovich poked his head through the back door in a sleeveless, collared shirt with the word SECURITY on the breast patch. “Hey, you,” he called in his thick Chicago accent. “I’m gonna grab a smoke in the alley. Cover for me, will ya’?”

Ian shot the boy he loved a hopelessly romantic look. If it weren’t for Kash’s security cameras trained on him, he’d join Mickey in the alley. Ian shifted against the counter, tugging at his trouser front. It had been a while, and Ian wanted to sneak outside with him. Maybe, when Mickey returned he could find the sweet spot under the counter where he was invisible to the cameras.

Deep in a graphic mental fantasy, Ian flinched when the front doors banged open and an asshole in a ski mask pointed a semi-automatic handgun at Ian’s nose.

“Open the drawer,” he demanded.

Ian stood in the bread aisle, frozen, while Kash fired a bullet into Mickey’s right thigh. Witnessing the young man he was crushing on knocked off his feet, yelling, and bleeding had no effect on Ian. Shock, he must be in shock.

Only when Kash approached Mickey, weapon still drawn, did Ian leap into motion and shield his friend.

Mickey’s thigh bled a lot, and Ian wanted to hug him so badly, to offer some kind of comfort, but Kash stood over his shoulder with the gun, and Mickey would never allow it. The fact that he let Ian touch his wounded leg was enough.

Ian began to shake. He fiddled with the buttons of the cash register, fumbling the mechanism. Ironically, the wannabe criminal on the other side of the counter was steady as a rock.

“There’s not much.” He wadded up about forty dollars—the entire contents. “Only enough for, uh, change until we close.”

Mickey better stay outside and smoke a second cigarette. If he walked in on the robbery, his temper would get him shot. Again.

The robber snatched the cash and shoved it into his pocket. “Fuck you.” He pulled the trigger.

It all seemed to happen at once—the gun popped, pain exploded across Ian’s abdomen, and he flailed into a rack of liquor bottles and cases of cigarettes.

“No,” Ian begged, a little too late.

Full, glass bottles of Crown Royale, Jack Daniels, and Grey Goose rained down upon his head.

Pain blew away as if caught in a stiff wind as darkness descended. Light dimmed. Ian blinked once, and Mickey cupped his face, his hands impossibly warm and rough against his oversensitive skin.

The air stank like alcohol.

Ian tried to ask, What are you doing here? There’s a creep with a gun. He’ll hurt you. But, “Whuyaaa?” was as far as he got.

“Shut up, dummy,” Mickey said, smiling past a sheen across both eyes. “It’ll only make you bleed out faster.”

Mickey grasped his hand, and Ian clung to him.

Though Mickey was out of juvie and Ian had seen him a couple times, they hadn’t been together yet. Ian snuck into his yard and scratched at Mickey’s bedroom window until the boy he loved slid it open.

“What the fuck do you want?” Mickey stood on the other side of the glass in nothing but boxer shorts.

Ian chipped paint off the wooden sill with his fingernail. “Did the bullet wound heal right?” he wanted to know. Then, on impulse, “Can I see it?”

“I don’t give a shit what you do.” But Mickey left the window wide open when he climbed back into bed.

Ian slid through the portal, landing gracefully on his feet. “What was juvie like?” he whispered. In the dim light, Mickey’s shape drew him like a magnet.

“Fucked up,” Mickey grunted.

Climbing into bed beside Mickey, Ian peeled the blanket off his lower body for a better look at his bare thigh.

Mickey lay real still, unnaturally still. “Yeah, you can suck me off while you’re down there, too.”

Ian couldn’t remember what the scar looked like, but Mickey tasted like clean skin and salt. It was his first time giving a blowjob, and afterwards he sprawled across Mickey’s chest, happy to doze for a few hours, but the other boy’s elbow caught him sharply in the ribs.

“Get the fuck outta here, asshole.”

Ian shivered as dark spots danced like fairies in his periphery. “Mick?” he slurred.

“I told you to shut up,” Mickey said, trying for levity but the tears in his eyes ruined the effect. “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”

Though Mickey was careful, when he lifted Ian’s upper body onto his lap, it hurt. The lights dimmed once more, and Ian may have passed out for a second because Mickey was shaking him and shouting again.

“Stop,” Ian complained. He blinked the shadows away. God, he was weak. He couldn’t feel his arms anymore, though he suspected his fingers were still locked between Mickey’s.

“The cops’ll be here any minute,” Mickey promised.

Ian gazed down his torso at the bloody wound in his belly. “…dying…” Weird, how it didn’t hurt anymore.

“You’re not fuckin’ dying,” Mickey snapped. “They’re gonna patch you right up.”

Ian blinked, and the world went dark and silent. As quick as flipping off the light switch. Mickey moved his face directly in front of Ian’s nose, jostling him. The floor tilted dangerously off balance, and Ian tumbled through a black hole.

Lights flickered as people in scrubs spoke rapid gibberish across Ian’s torso. His whole body jerked like stepping off a curb in a dream. Someone touched his arm roughly, possessively.

“Mickey?” he mumbled, searching through the haze. It had to be Mickey. No one else grabbed him the same way.

The dugout at night was a quiet, creepy place that smelled a bit like beer and urine.

“Don’t get any weird ideas,” Mickey greeted. He was always angry, always hating someone. It excited Ian, who couldn’t hold a grudge. Being with him was like being in the eye of a storm. Ian never knew, from day to day, if he’d experience Mickey’s fury or his protective side.

“Oh, yeah?” Ian shot back. “About what?”

Mickey grabbed him by the arms and forced him to sit, knees splayed, on the ancient wooden bench. “This doesn’t mean anything.”

His pants and briefs slid down and Mickey buried his face between his thighs before Ian fully appreciated the gesture. Mickey liked getting fucked. He’d never returned the favor before.

Is that all it was? A quid pro quo between fuckbuddies?

But then Mickey palmed his balls, and Ian didn’t give a shit why.

Doors and room numbers floated past, but where was Mickey?

Ian heard the words surgery, chances, and wait. Still no Mickey.

“I’m right here, Ian.” Mickey never called him Ian. He called him shithead, dummy, fucktard, and sometimes Gallagher. Never Ian.

He opened his mouth to call for him again when the walls stopped speeding past and something sharp pricked the back of his hand. He sank down through the gurney, through the floor, through the earth itself.

His age be damned, Ian loved to party. His fake ID gained him entry into every dance club on the south side. Mickey preferred a quiet beer at home. Some pot, maybe. He rarely even visited a bar.

So, between the booze and the pills, Saturday night was veering left fast. An older guy pestered Ian right out the exit door. When he stumbled out of the club and fell somewhere down the street in the literal gutter, he didn’t know what to do. If the creep followed him, he was helpless to fight him off. Ian liked fucking, but he wanted to be conscious for it.

Ian crawled out of the street and slumped against a brick wall, pulling his cellphone.

“Who the fuck is this?” Mickey answered.

“Mick,” he said, his mouth swollen and hard to control. “Come get me.”

“Gallagher?” he asked, sounding astonished. “Where the fuck are you? If this is a dumbass prank…”

“I can’t get up,” he whined. “There’s some creep…”

Mickey’s voice, when next he spoke turned serious. “Tell me where you are.”

“…street,” he breathed. “Club Smash…” His eyes drooped, and the phone must have fallen from his numb fingers because he never caught Mickey’s response.

When Mickey arrived, though, he wasn’t quiet or polite about it. He flung Ian against the sidewalk and kicked him in the ribs.

“Is this your idea of a good time?” he demanded. “Flirting with perverts and passing out on the street?”

Ian started to cry.

“You’re a fuckin’ disappointment,” Mickey swore. “Get up.”

He couldn’t.

Mickey pulled him roughly to his feet and supported him on the walk to his pickup.

“I’m sorry,” Ian whined.

“You scared the shit outta me,” Mickey replied, thrusting him into the truck. “I thought I was gonna find you stabbed and raped, you stupid bastard. Why are you out here alone?”

Ian leaned his head against the cool window glass and closed his eyes. “No one to go with.”

“Next time you wanna party, I’ll go with you,” Mickey said, starting the truck. “You need a fuckin’ chaperone. Might as well be me.”

Ian woke like rising from the depths of the community center pool. First, consciousness returned in pieces before he began to flex his limbs. Finally, his vision cleared enough to recognize the person beside him.

Across the narrow hospital bed, a sleeping Mickey balanced on the very edge, not an inch of him disturbing a single spot on Ian’s body. It looked uncomfortable.

“Mick?” His voice was raw and throaty.

The sound roused the other boy, who whipped his head up.

Their eyes met, and Mickey hovered over him, his face a mask of anxiety and grief. “Can you hear me? Are you awake?”

He nodded because his voice was trash.

Mickey hadn’t tried to touch him yet, not so much as a pat on the shoulder. Probably, he stupidly worried about hurting him.

Ian made the first move, laying his hand on Mickey’s. The touch seemed to revitalize him. Mickey’s features softened, and his chin wobbled.

“Is that really you?” Mickey asked. “’Cause you’ve been opening your eyes now and then, but no one’s home.”

Just how bad was it? “It’s me, Mick,” he promised. “Am I dying?”

“No, shithead. You’re not that lucky.”

Things must be okay if Mickey was insulting him. Ian eased deeper into the thin mattress. “Did I get shot?”

“Shot, yep.” Mickey relaxed, too, curling around him. “And your head got split open.”

“The bottles?” Ian asked, sort of remembering all that liquor bombarding him when he fell into the shelf.

“Mmm-hmm.” Ian shifted positions, and Mickey laid his head on his bicep.

“Were you worried about me?” Ian teased. In truth, Mickey’s shared body heat and the weight of his arm was lulling him back to sleep.

“Hell, no,” Mickey said, one thumb rising to tenderly stroke his cheek. “I just didn’t wanna have to tell Fiona her no-good brother died.”

Ian smiled as his eyes fluttered closed. “I love you,” he murmured.

There was a sharp intake of breath and then silence. Ian withdrew his arm and lifted his head to see into Mickey’s face.

Too soon, Ian thought. He’d fucked up and said it too soon.

Mickey bit his lower lip and then shifted around as if he couldn’t get comfortable. After clearing his throat, he blurted out, “I love you, too. Now, shut up and go back to sleep. You’re supposed to be resting.” As he said it, he pulled Ian’s arm back around his ribs. “Dummy,” he breathed into his chest.

“Douche,” Ian whispered back, resting his cheek against the top of Mickey’s head. The corners of his mouth turned up, and he fell asleep.

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Elixir (Red Plague #1) Chapter One

Enjoy this free sneak peek of Elixir’s 1st chapter!

Elixir (Red Plague #1)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2014 by Anna Abner

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Back Cover Blurb:

The red plague has devastated the human race, turning billions of people into zombies with red eyes and an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

The 212R virus sweeps through the population so quickly a possible cure is left to rot. Seventeen-year-old Maya Solomon may be the only survivor who knows where it is. But to reach the lab in Raleigh, North Carolina she will have to outrun the infected boy tracking her every step and cross into a city swarming with monsters.

Chapter One

A buzzing circular saw woke me five minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. Instant, achy terror consumed me. I scrambled out of bed in my PJs and crouched at the end of the hall, peeking around the corner into the living room beyond the foyer.

“Dad?” I hissed.

He stood, hands on hips, in front of our big screen TV staring at local news.

I sagged against the wall in relief. For a moment I’d thought… But no. We weren’t being attacked by red-eyed plague victims.

Dad hadn’t heard me, but around and between his arms I watched the agitated news anchor struggle through her report.

“If you are in a heavily infected area,” the hollow-eyed brunette read off the teleprompter, “you are instructed to shelter in place. Do not attempt to travel. Roads and highways are impassable, particularly in Raleigh and Charlotte. The safest thing for you to do is stay where you are. Lock your doors and windows and wait for further instruction.”

A tiny hiccup of fright escaped my throat, and Dad whipped his head around. His normally slicked back blond hair was dry and messy as if he hadn’t bothered to comb it at all.

“Maya,” he exclaimed, pasting on a friendly smile. But under the positive facade I could tell he was just as terrified as I was. The world was falling to pieces and we both knew it. “Good morning, baby girl. Did the construction wake you up? I told them not to make noise until after six.”

Baby girl. He hadn’t called me that in two years. Not since Mom’s funeral.

“Dad,” I said, twisting my fingers around a long tendril of dark hair. “What is going on?” I had fallen asleep worried about the incredibly fast-moving 212R virus and woken up in a construction zone.

“Oh.” He glanced through the kitchen archway toward the saw noises. “These men are building a survival bunker in the pantry. I think I mentioned it last week. It’s like a panic room, but it won’t require electricity.”

“Why do we need that?” Was I not panicking enough? 212R was infecting densely populated urban areas and, after three days of fever, stripping the diseased of their higher level thinking skills and replacing them with insatiable cravings for raw flesh and blood. Victims were crawling all over the larger cities. We were safe, for the moment, in our suburb. But we might not be for long.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, showing me another fake smile, making me even jumpier. “It’s an insurance policy. Get dressed and we’ll have breakfast.”

I slipped into my bedroom and tugged on my track gear—shorts, tee, and cross-trainers—in record time to catch up to Dad and one of the construction workers at the kitchen island.

Dad pulled stacks of wrapped twenties from his shoulder bag and slid them across the granite counter toward the man.

“It’s more than I told you,” Dad said quietly. “Can you finish before two?”

“No problem, boss.” The man glanced at me. “With the four of us working nonstop it’ll be done in a couple hours.”

“With an independent ventilation system?”

“Exactly like we talked about.”

“Sanitation station?”

“Roger’s putting in the piping now.”

I cleared my throat. “Do you want cereal, Dad? There’s some oatmeal left.”

He flinched as if he’d forgotten I was there. “Baby girl, make whatever you want. I have to go in a minute.”

My belly plummeted. “You’re going to work?”

The television, the small one next to the toaster oven, was tuned to cable news. On the screen was a fuzzy snapshot of an infected man, his face splattered with blood and his eyes a distinct and deep shade of red.

The news anchor said hotly to his guest, “We will not call them the Z word, Professor. They are ill and need our support, not our ridicule.” He choked up, covering his mouth for a moment. “My mother has been sick the last couple days. Her eyes went red last night.” He inhaled a shaky breath. “I won’t stand for that kind of language. Not on this show.”

On the right side of the screen was a cautionary graphic with bullet points. Stay indoors. Conserve energy. Boil water and keep it in sealed containers. Phone calls for emergencies only.

“I’m sorry.” Dad used the remote to turn off the TV. “You don’t need to watch this nonsense. It’s all posturing and fear mongering.”

Well, they had succeeded. I was terrified. “Should I stay home from school?”

“No,” Dad said. “The virus isn’t here yet. The best thing for you to do is go to school, see your friends, run track, just be normal.”

“But the news—“

“It’s bad in the cities,” he agreed, “but we’re not in the city. If 212R is here, it’s new. We have time.”

Up to three days. That’s how long it took the infection to invade a body and take over completely.

“Your lab is in Raleigh,” I reminded him. “It’s not safe there.”

He cupped my face, and though his touch was gentle, his fingers were tense as talons against my cheeks. “A cure exists, Maya, but I have to finish synthesizing the antiserum. If all my staff shows up I can finish it today. I have to go.”

I opened my mouth to argue further. He was one chemist toiling in a Center for Disease Control lab full of scientists and technicians. What difference would his absence make, honestly, in the grand scheme?

“I can put an end to this,” he said, his voice turning husky with emotion. “I can fix everything. I can save them.”

I saw in the set of his jaw and the steel in his spine I was not going to convince him to stay.

My stomach unraveled like an old scarf. “But you’ll come home tonight?”

“Of course.” He backed away, gesturing to the counter by the sink. “On your way to school, will you return Mrs. Kinley’s dish? It’s been sitting here for a week.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry I’m in such a hurry,” he said, collecting his satchel, keys, and cell phone. “The CDC is sending a helicopter to pick me up.”

I walked him to the front door, getting that itchy feeling I used to get when he dropped Mason and I off at day care years ago. I didn’t want him to go.

“Don’t forget,” he said, pausing at the threshold, “wash your hands constantly. Carry sanitizer with you. No shaking hands. No hugs. Eat and drink from sealed containers only.”

“I will, Dad.” I’d heard his cleanliness rules so often, especially in the last few weeks when 212R was all anybody could talk about, I knew them by heart.

“Come home tonight,” I pleaded one last time. Since Mom died and my twin brother Mason went away, Dad was all I had left. “Promise me? No matter how much work you still have to do?”

“I’ll come home. And I’ll bring a generator for the bunker.” He kissed my forehead and drove off in his car.

I had almost forgotten the workers banging away in my kitchen until I shut the front door and came face to face with their crew leader.

“Any little extras you want in there?” he asked, smacking his lips as he studied my hair. “Since your daddy is paying for it. I can throw in carpeting. Would you like that? What about a bulletproof peephole?”

Tucking my hair behind both ears, I edged toward the hallway and my bedroom. “Sounds good. Thanks.”

I twisted my hair into a bun, packed a bag with a change of clothes, my copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets for English class, and my school binder. Before leaving my room I hesitated in the doorway staring, unfocused, at my honey colored guitar. Holding it in my arms, strumming the strings, and feeling the chords’ vibrations in my ribcage was the best part of my day. But it would be a pain to carry it from class to class so I left it behind, promising myself to play it when I got home.

I left the house in a hurry, snatching the baking dish off the kitchen counter on the way out.

Mrs. Kinley opened her front door, but only after I knocked five or six times. And when she did, her hair usually in a sleek ponytail down the back of her neck laid loose and wild.

“Maya, what are you doing out there?” She yanked me inside, slamming the door and locking it behind me. “Are you watching the news? It isn’t safe.”

“Have they closed the schools?” Maybe I wouldn’t have to go after all, no matter what my dad thought.

“Not here. But they did in Raleigh.” Her cat Freckles darted across the room as if she had a ghost on her long fluffy tail. “They’re closing down the whole city. This zombie plague is ridiculous.”

The Z word, the word we weren’t supposed to say.

“Do you know what they just said on TV?” she added. “Reds can’t speak.” Her eyes filled with unshed tears, and she reached for my hand. Her fingers were cold, but strong. “Isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve ever heard? Even if they wanted to communicate, they physically can’t.”

Extricating my hand, I tried to smile reassuringly, but I feared it was more of a sneer. “It’s sad.”

“The saddest,” she said, turning back to the box she was packing on her living room sofa.

“My dad went to work in Raleigh,” I said. “He’s trying to finish a cure.”

“Bless his heart.” Her words were kind, but her eyes were resolute as if she’d already written him off. “Do you want to stay here with me until he gets home?”

“I’m going to school,” I announced bravely, though I felt anything but. “I just wanted to give this back.” I showed her the dish. “Thanks again for the brownies. They were really good.”

“My pleasure.” She pulled me in for a longer and tighter than normal hug, and I rested my chin on her shoulder. Enveloped in Mrs. Kinley’s soft, sweet smelling arms, I missed my mom more than ever. “Be safe. Not even our little corner of the world is immune to all this.” She waved her hand toward the living room to encompass the news on the TV.

“I will.” Readjusting my backpack I crossed her lawn and slid behind the wheel of my car, a rinky-dink coupe my dad had bought for me to practice on.

Palmetto High School was practically deserted. And it wasn’t just students ditching under the threat of plague. Half the teachers were absent and only a handful of subs showed up to cover their classes. Lots of kids crammed into classrooms they wouldn’t normally be in.

But my track coach was right on time and ready to sweat.

“I hope you delicate flowers came to work,” Coach greeted us. “No bird or pig or, I don’t know, raccoon flu is going to stop us, right?”

I glanced to my right at the three other runners who’d shown up to morning practice and nodded woodenly.

“That’s what I love to see.” Coach blew her whistle. “Warm up mile. Let’s go, ladies.”

I took off, quickly outpacing my teammates.

My best event was the one thousand meter. I was fast on a normal day. Maybe the panic and anxiety helped fuel me because I was better than fast. I was a machine in drills, not even caring about the humid, North Carolina air hanging heavy and thick. As I sprinted sweat blossomed, coating me in sticky moisture, but I never slowed down. By the time the first bell rang I was wrung out. I showered in the locker room and hurried to first period.

My history teacher Mr. Coates had the TV on and nobody even pretended to study or finish assignments. We scooted under the television and absorbed live footage from New York and Miami, the hardest hit U.S cities so far.

And North Carolina was right between them.

Infected plague victims, red eyes seeming to glow, swarmed the streets attacking and consuming people. Survivors jammed all major routes of transportation—freeways, train depots, airports.

“Lola Rodriguez had no way of knowing her first floor apartment would be attacked in the middle of the night by a 212R sufferer,” Daniela, a veteran reporter announced to the camera. “Thanks to her quick thinking she not only saved her own life but the lives of three of her neighbors by waking them up and hiding them on a second floor terrace.”

They looped a short video clip of a Red climbing a staircase, getting about halfway up, and toppling over like a toy soldier on a shaky table.

“As we’ve learned in the past few days,” the anchor continued, “212R affects the inner ear. Sufferers will not be able to either rise or descend more than a few feet before feeling uncontrollably dizzy.”

I glanced at the windows. Red eyes, no speech, and an inability to climb. Oh, and an insatiable craving for raw flesh and blood. And they were out there, not that far away, in Raleigh and Charlotte.

The reporter wrapped up her segment. “If there’s one thing to take away from the last hour,” Daniela said, “it is to shelter in place. Please, please, if you are in any of the major plague centers immediately find a safe spot to be for the next few days.” She smiled sadly. “My heart goes out to those suffering, both victims and survivors. If you can hear my voice, stay safe. Stay vigilant. We will get through this.”

The show went to commercial at the same time the bell rang, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

On the way out of the room, even though it was against the rules, I brought my cell out of my bag and texted my dad. “Did you make it to work?”

Seconds ticked by. A minute. I waited in the hall. Just as I was about to put it away and go to my next class I received a text.

“I got to ride in a helicopter! Everything good. Working hard. Are you in school?”

“Yes. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

The next three classes went about the same as first period. At lunch I did what I always did, slipped into the band room to play guitar with my friend Guinevere. But Gwen wasn’t there so I stuck a granola bar in my mouth, pulled a student guitar from its case, and plucked a couple notes.

I played an upbeat country pop song on my instrument. The kind of song I loved. Normally.

It rang false. Nothing about the world was light and snappy anymore.

The side door slammed open and Cal poked his head in, his cold, calculating eyes discovering me sitting all by myself. The very sight of him caused a sour fear to spike inside my chest.

On any other day there were enough people in the room to create a buffer between Cal and I, but it was just the two of us.

Apparently, not even the threat of infection and death could suppress his sadistic impulses.

“Hey dork.” He grinned as he produced a chocolate milk grenade and pretended to bite an invisible pin from the top of the container. “Incoming!”

I abandoned the school’s guitar and took off a split second before he threw it overhand, digging my feet into the carpeting and sprinting for the back exit to the soundtrack of his cackling laughter. The warm milk exploded against my hip, splashing me from shoulders to knees in sugary, sticky mess.

I ran hard across the grassy quad and toward the girls’ locker room, not looking back.

“Attention students and staff,” a voice boomed over the loudspeaker. I slid to a stop next to a soda machine and spun, but Cal hadn’t chased me. “You are ordered by the county Sheriff’s department to go directly home at this time and stay there.” A pause. “A 6:00 p.m. curfew will be strictly enforced.” Another pause. “God bless us all.”

The emergency alarm screamed through the halls and pulsed from every classroom.

I hurried for the parking lot, joining the crowd of people headed the same way, and pulled my cell. “School’s canceled,” I texted my dad. “On my way home.”

He didn’t reply right away, but he kept his phone in his office, so if he was busy in the lab it might be a while.

The streets were congested and it took twice as long to get home. I steered my Honda with both hands fisted on the wheel. Twice, I narrowly avoided collisions with cars zigzagging through traffic.

My phone beeped. “Busy,” Dad texted. “Move garage gear into panic room. See you tonight.” I was too worried about dying on the road to stop and answer him.

The work trucks were gone from my driveway when I pulled up.

“Maya!” Mrs. Kinley came off her front porch with Freckles in a carrier. “Is your dad coming to get you?”

“He’s in Raleigh,” I said, “but he’s been texting. He’ll be home tonight.”

“Okay.” She popped the carrier into the backseat of her car. “I’m going to meet my parents in Nashville. You can come with me if you want. I’d love the company and 212R isn’t as bad in the country as it is in the cities.”

“I have to wait for my dad,” I said. “He’s really close to finding a cure.”

She smiled wistfully. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful.”

“Be careful out there,” I said and bolted myself inside my house.

I did what I’d been doing the last two weeks or so after school, as part of my dad’s safety checklist. I stripped to my underwear in the laundry room and immediately took a hot shower in the hall bathroom. Only then did I change into comfy pants and a tank top and inspected our new panic room.

The crew had done a good job. It looked solid. Impenetrable, even. Our old pantry was now a metal cell with a heavy swinging door that sealed from the inside with a wheel crank. I crossed the square of extra soft carpeting and decided I could live there for a few days. As long as my dad was with me.

Speaking of, I texted him again. “Panic room is done. Looks sturdy.”

While I waited for him to reply I made myself a sandwich and turned on the TV.

More bad news. Most of New York City was black and offline.

“The president has declared the entire city of New York a disaster zone,” the reporter said. “The National Guard is on the ground as we speak doing all they can to quarantine plague sufferers and evacuate survivors.” A video flashed on of a giant tank driving down a street choked with cars and people.

I didn’t feel particularly optimistic about the military response. The threat to the city was a microscopic virus, not anything that could be shot or detained.

Done with my snack I followed my dad’s directions. He’d been busy the last few weeks, even busier than I realized. Locked in our garage lay cases of drinking water and canned food, a first-aid kit, a tub of survival gear, and two narrow cots. I spent the afternoon sweeping up after the workers and moving and organizing the supplies into the old pantry.

“If you have a fever,” the news anchor announced, “go immediately to the nearest emergency room.”

I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead. So far so good.

“The best hope we have is to contain the virus,” the reporter continued. “Once infected, though, you can spot a ‘Red,’ as some folks are calling them, by the red color of their eyes. We now have Dr. LaVay from the CDC to tell us more about why and how 212R affects the color of our irises. Doctor?”

I turned off the TV and texted Dad, “Lasagna for dinner? I’ll start at 5.”

While I waited to hear from him I collected my guitar from my room and strummed a song I had written the year before called “Red Shoelaces.”

When the tray of frozen vegetable lasagna was hot and ready at six I served myself and ate in front of the television. Every five minutes or so I checked my cell to see if my dad texted anything and I had missed the beep, but nothing came in.

“Many of the services we take for granted,” the reporter said, “will no longer be available as early as tomorrow morning along the entire eastern seaboard. 212R has spread so quickly, incapacitating so many people, there may not be enough qualified people to run power, water, and sanitation services.”

I set my dinner in the trash and double-checked that all the doors and windows were locked tight and then turned on my phone. No new messages.

“We here at the news desk will keep reporting,” she added, “as long as we can to get you the information you need to stay safe. If the power in your area goes out, don’t panic. Scrolling on the screen right now are the radio channels broadcasting emergency information in your area. So, if you have a battery powered radio in your survival kit get it out and test the batteries.”

Something that sounded like a firecracker popped outside the front door. Then twice more.

Gunfire? I couldn’t be around gunfire. It reminded me of Mason and my mom and the horrible, awful thing that happened two years ago.

I ran to the window, but the street was deserted.

My cell screen was blank. No new messages, no new texts, no missed calls.

“Dad,” I whispered at my phone. “Where are you?”

The power blinked off, draping the house in quiet, purplish dusk.

“Lights went out,” I texted Dad. “What do I do?”

Somebody outside screamed. The living room window shattered. Someone or something in the yard growled like a pissed off panther.

I snatched my guitar, my song diary, and my iPad.

The front door crashed open, and I ran for it, slamming the bunker’s door closed with a resounding clank.

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Antidote (Red Plague #2) Chapter One

Enjoy this free sneak peek of Antidote’s 1st chapter!

Antidote (Red Plague #2)

Copyright 2014 by Anna Abner

Back Cover Blurb:

The red plague has devastated the human race, turning billions of people into zombies with red eyes and an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

The only known cure to the 212R virus is locked inside of Ben Sawyer. To get it out, seventeen-year-old Maya Solomon and a group of survivors will take him on a journey to what may be the last bastion of human civilization, Camp Carson, Virginia.

Chapter One

“Maya!” Pollard made a hard right, the RV bounced over a median, and I held Ben even tighter. “He’s a zombie. Back off.”

“He injected the cure,” I argued. “He’s not a zombie anymore.”

“You don’t know that!”

“He said my name,” I stated, still rocked by the memory of my name on his lips. I’d never heard a red-eyed infected person speak. No one had.

I felt the pulse at his throat and was rewarded with a strong thrumming against the pads of my fingers. Like plucking a bass guitar. His forehead, gritty beneath my palm, radiated heat. The fever had come on fast.

“Do we have Tylenol?” I called out. I didn’t even possess a proper first-aid kit. And there were so many other things that could go wrong.

“Not that I know of,” Pollard answered.

I wasn’t even sure if a fever was normal in a person infected with 212R, the zombie virus. Maybe he’d had one all along.

“I can do this.”

I had never done this. Over winter break I’d volunteered at St. Joseph’s Hospital to make my dad, the chemist with two medical degrees, happy. I had alternated between stocking supplies my manager re-organized after I went home—which was awful—and trailing actual nurses as they did their work—which was awesome. One LPN used to narrate every single thing she did, from inserting IVs to checking blood pressures.

But none of it had prepared me for this.

“Where are we going?” I asked. If we found a hospital or a clinic I might be able to scrounge medical supplies.

“Away from this nightmare,” Pollard said.

Away from the flaming remains of my dad’s CDC lab. Away from anything he’d made or left behind. All that was left of his work coursed through Ben’s veins and nowhere else.

As gently as possible, I unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt and peeled the dark navy fabric away from his skin to inspect the gunshot wound. A dime-sized hole, surrounded by angry swollen flesh, stared back at me.

I replaced his shirt and something like rough paper in his breast pocket, the one over his heart, stalled my fingers.

I pulled out a wallet-sized school photo and immediately dropped it.

“Crap.” Fumbling, I picked it up off the RV’s dirty linoleum floor and stared into my own face.

Mine.

To be certain, I flipped it over and my narrow, jagged signature adorned the back. Last Christmas I’d mailed the photo inside a care package to my brother Mason. It had been addressed to the Dogwood Juvenile Detention Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.

But if I’d mailed it to Mason, how had it ended up in Ben’s shirt?

“Hang on to something,” Pollard called.

I stuffed the pic into my pocket. If Pollard or Hunny asked questions about it, I had no answers, yet.

I tested Ben’s pulse again, this time the one at his wrist, just to be sure it still beat. But my touch jumpstarted a chain reaction. His fingers twitched, and then the tremors spread to his arms and legs.

“Oh, no,” I cried out. His legs spasmed and his head knocked against my belly and thighs. Hard. “Ben? Can you hear me?”

Fear twisted my insides into origami as I held him through full body convulsions. Finally, his muscles quieted. I checked and re-checked his pulse.

“What’s wrong?” Pollard shouted.

“The medicine made him sick.” Understatement. More likely, it had poisoned him and his internal organs were failing.

“You’re not going to die,” I whispered as his seizure faded to a few quivers in his hands. Not with my father’s only remaining elixir in his blood. “I’ll take care of you.” Whatever he needed. A bath. Decent clothes. Soft blankets and a pillow. How long had it been since he’d slept on a pillow? If he needed medicine, I’d find it.

I wanted to take care of him. Because with my father’s antiserum in his veins, he felt a whole lot like family.

And I didn’t have much family left. My gaze wandered across the interior of the RV from Hunny’s blonde ringlets to the back of Pollard’s head.

Pollard cursed loudly, clipping the rear end of a compact car and sending it spinning away. The RV swayed to the left and I knocked into the mini fridge.

“I noticed the neighborhoods are less crowded than the highways,” he said.

On our two-day trip into downtown Raleigh, we’d stuck to major thoroughfares and been slowed down at every turn. Nothing but streets bottlenecked with abandoned vehicles, packs of red zombies, and overzealous snipers. I glanced down at Ben’s dirty face. He’d be a major hindrance if we were forced to change vehicles, or worse, walk part of the way back to the truck stop.

“Get the map out,” Pollard said. “Please?”

He swerved around debris, and it felt like the RV went up on two wheels for a moment, sending my stomach into a tailspin.

“Hunny,” I called. “It’s in my backpack.” I was afraid to move. Afraid to jostle Ben, even a little bit, and maybe hurt him.

I shifted, positioning his head on my lap, and cupped the side of his face. To keep him still. To reassure myself he was still breathing.

The little girl, ringlets bouncing, leapt over the unconscious Red and rifled through my pack.

“Here,” she said, returning to the front of the RV and handing the paper to Pollard.

“Spread it out,” he said. “I’m not stopping this thing. Not for a single minute. It’s too crazy out there.” To prove his point, he waved at something on the other side of the extra-tall windshield. “You see that pack of zombies? Must be twenty-five of them.” As we passed the pack by bouncing onto the sidewalk, Pollard checked the side mirrors. “And now they’re running after us.” He caught my eye over his shoulder. “We’re gonna get out of here,” he said, his usually pretty blue eyes steely with resolve. “I promise you.”

With the map unfolded and laid out on the dash, he pointed at different sites. “We’re about here.” He glanced up and turned the wheel to avoid a decorative brick wall around someone’s front yard. “We’re going west through the suburbs,” he announced, nodding as if convincing himself as well as us. “Then we’ll turn south and come up on the truck stop from the back.”

“It took two days to get here the first time,” I reminded him.

“It’s not going to take that long.” He smiled reassuringly at me in the rearview mirror. “On a good day I can drive there in twenty minutes. So…”

But since 212R had ravaged the human race, changing over ninety-nine percent of us into flesh-eating monsters, time seemed to pass differently. What had once taken a few minutes now took hours when you factored in the loss of electricity and scavenging for gas and hiding from Reds.

“Just hurry,” I added unnecessarily. “We need a safe place to stop and regroup.” To process the sight of my dad’s empty and looted lab. Or the fire. Or Ben’s injecting what I hoped was the antiserum. Or his saying my name.

Pollard was right. As soon as he passed through the heart of the city, there were fewer parked vehicles, less random debris, fewer Reds. He rolled over streets, driveways, access lanes, and sometimes even sidewalks and front lawns to keep us moving in the right direction.

“Maya?” Hunny climbed out of the passenger seat and stepped tentatively down the narrow walkway between the gas range and the dining table. “I saw snacks in your pack. Can I have some?”

I couldn’t remember what was in there. “Of course.” Then I recalled another helpful item I’d collected along the way. “And grab the baby wipes, will you?”

But she crept as far as Ben’s boot and then hesitated. “What’s wrong with him?”

I wiggled a little, changing positions, but kept his head in my lap. He didn’t react, just continued sleeping against me. “He injected the antiserum to 212R.” At least I hoped it was the antiserum. If it wasn’t, he may have ruined everything by injecting himself with poison.

Hunny scrunched her nose. “What?”

“He took the cure,” I said. “But probably the wrong dose. It’s making him sick.”

Her green eyes traveled up his body from his dirt-caked black boots over his stained blue work clothes to his blood-splattered face. “Are you going to be a zombie now? Because you touched him?”

“No,” I said quickly. “If I haven’t been infected yet, I probably won’t be. Besides,” I added, nodding at the back of Pollard’s head, “he thinks we’re immune.”

“It’s just a theory,” he said, proving he was eavesdropping. “It doesn’t mean you should touch him, Maya.”

“I think it’s a good theory.” It made sense to me. No matter how catastrophic a virus was, there was always a fraction of the population naturally immune.

“What are you going to do with him?” Hunny asked. She nudged his boot with the toe of her tennis shoe and Ben’s leg wobbled, but he didn’t wake up.

“Easy,” I warned. He was a human being, not a toy. “I’m not going to do anything with him. He’ll wake up,” I hope, “and we’ll find out if the antiserum worked.”

She bobbed her head, but I sensed she had something else to say. Finally, she whispered low enough Pollard couldn’t hear, “Maya, I took something.”

My guts clenched. “What did you take?” And from where?

“I’m sorry,” she said in a rush. “I know you told me not to, but it was just sitting there, and it was so cute and little.”

“What did you take?” I pressed. We’d been in a lab where hazardous chemicals were stored. “It could be dangerous.”

“No, it’s not.” She pulled a silver rectangle from her pocket and offered it to me. “Here. Look. It was on your dad’s desk.”

The moment it landed in my palm I knew what it was. Immediately, like turning a faucet, I teared up.

“It’s me and my brother when we were little.”

I opened the small, hinged frame and stared at a pair of black and white portraits, cropped to show just the faces and nothing else. At two, when the pictures had been taken, we’d looked so similar. We both had wispy black hair. The same brown eyes. Only our smiles were different. Mine was smaller, more hesitant. Mason grinned whole-heartedly, showing off tiny baby teeth.

“This is me.” I touched the glass over my pale face, and then my twin brother’s. “This is Mason.”

So much had gone wrong since we’d taken the photos, but in the snapshots we were still young and sweet and the future seemed bright. Maybe that’s why Dad kept it on his desk, even after Mason was incarcerated. Maybe he’d liked to remember his kids before the darkness descended.

I thought of the picture tucked into my pocket. Is that why Ben liked it? Did my face somehow remind him of his life before the plague?

“I’m sorry,” Hunny said again.

I closed the frame and returned it to her. “It’s okay. I’m glad you took it.”

“You should have it.” She tried to give it back. “It’s yours.”

“No.” I shook my head. It hurt too much to look at. “Keep it. You can give it back to me later when you’re done with it.”

She wedged it into her pocket and unzipped my backpack. “Here.” She handed me the wipes and then returned to the passenger’s seat with a box of yogurt-covered raisins.

I scrubbed vigorously at my hands with a moist towelette, rubbing between my fingers and up both wrists. I repeated the process with a second cloth, removing layers of blood, dirt, and grime. No matter how hard I washed, though, I couldn’t remove every mark I’d gathered since the red plague exploded out of South America and then the world. Maybe I’d never be completely clean.

There was so much blood caked on Ben’s hands they looked black, but up his left arm was a fine misting of white paint. Evidence it had been him who’d written me a message on asphalt, and no one else. Proof he was different than most Reds. I reached to clean it off when the RV hit something so big I was weightless for an instant.

“Ladies?” Pollard announced, spinning the giant steering wheel. “We’re almost there.”

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Grandma Abner’s Apocalypse Bread Recipe

By Anna Abner

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 2/3 cup dry milk with 2 cups water (or the equivalent to 2 cups milk)
  • 4 tablespoons egg crystals with 6 tablespoons water (or the equivalent to 2 eggs)
  • 1⁄2 cup warm water
  • 8 tablespoons shortening
  • 7 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions

Step One: Mix wet ingredients in a bowl with a spoon. Add shortening.

Step Two: Slowly add flour and dry ingredients. Mix well.

Step Three: Knead dough by hand until mixed and soft. Sprinkle extra flour on hands and counter as you knead.

Step Four: Raise the dough in a bowl (covered with a cloth) at room temperature for one hour.

Step Five: Grease inside of 13×9 glass baking dish with shortening.

Step Six: Knead dough again by hand until soft.

Step Seven: Separate dough into about 16 balls and roll smooth by hand, arranging them in greased dish.

Step Eight: Raise the dough in the dish (covered with a cloth) for another hour at room temperature.

Step Nine: Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Can be eaten warm or cold. Wrap them up and stuff them into your backpack before you set out on the open road to find other survivors.

When I was writing the Red Plague Series I wanted the survivors to make a food item that was both a little unusual but also reminiscent of home. This is a family recipe that can be found in a 1977 church cookbook of recipes handed down for generations.

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New Release Coming Soon!

Look for The Shapeshifter’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #4) on March 26, 2019!

Markus and Mercy belong together, but when a catastrophe threatens his life and his future, Mercy will do everything to protect her sexy shifter.

<3 Anna

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It’s That Time Of Year Again! :D

Or, NaNoWriMo is here!

November is my favorite month of the year–Fall colors, a chill in the air, pumpkin spice everything, and National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is the one month a year when I raise writing to priority #1 and quit with the excuses. I have to write everyday to “win” NaNo, and you should know I’m very competitive. For at least the last five years I’ve written messy, delightful, creative manuscripts that have become published novels in my Spell of Summoning, Red Plague, and Beasts of Vegas series.

Do you have a novel waiting to be written? Join me for NaNoWriMo this year. It’s free to participate and a community of amazing amateur and professional writers are always there to bounce ideas off of and meet for coffee and plot talks.

This year, I’m taking a break from my Beasts of Vegas series (but don’t worry–I’ll be back with a new sequel next year) and writing the last novel in my Red Plague series. There’s one more story to tell, and I’m going to share Jared and Olivia’s apocalyptic love story. There will be red-eyed monsters, tyrants, edge-of-your-seat adventure, and so many zombies!

I’m going to need your support to get through the next month, so keep checking back, and throw me a heart or two on Instagram (anna.abner).

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<3 Anna

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