Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What Remains: Wasteland

Though I'm starting to think my brain has become a wasteland. I was doing so well, blogging, then like always, fell off the bandwagon. I'm sure I could recite a number of excuses, but it all boils down to motivation and time. I seem to be lacking in both of these lately. I also seem to do better at getting things done when I have hard deadlines. I know I make it worse for myself by not using what time I do have wisely, but we all have our flaws, I suppose.

Anyway, since way back when I've had my second book in my What Remains series release. Wasteland is the next instalment and looks at another set of larger-than-life men and the lucky lady that makes them take a risk more dangerous than fighting hordes of undead. Only the twist here…she's just as kick-ass as they are. A soldier herself, Emersyn is about to put these men through some hard learning curves, because it'll take more than bulging muscles to impress her.

I'm actually pretty stoked about this book. I think it's a great second addition to my zombie apocalypse reality and honestly, I just really enjoyed writing it. There's something inherently fascinating about creating a world out of your own worst fears. And I'm can't think of anything worse than the prospect of some zombie-like creature as the monster in the closet. Think about it. It's instinctual with humans to not want to be eaten, lol. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution has bred it into us. But this isn't just about getting eaten, as in a shark attack or other kind of animal predation. This thing can turn you into the very creature you despise. You aren't going to become a powerful vampire or werewolf. Nope, you're going to stumble around with chunks of your body falling off trying to eat others. There's just few other horrors that really compare to this…a death that doesn't end.

So…here's the blurb and a quick excerpt. It's currently available at Resplendence Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

One deadly mission—one last glimmer of hope.

After fighting to survive for eighteen months, Emersyn Harlow has become emotionally withdrawn. Hardened by loss, she’s hidden away what’s left of her heart, keeping it under lock and key. While she secretly harbors feelings for members of her recon team, she refuses to act on them—not when she knows the eventual outcome.

Hunter Brown never knew how much he cared for Emersyn until he lost her. Though she’s no more than a breath away from him, her heart is long gone. It’s not until a desperate mission changes the rules of engagement, that Hunter’s willing to throw caution to the wind and make a play for the woman who’s stolen his heart. But he’s not alone. Armed with two other men worthy of her love, Hunter doesn’t plan on losing.

Three men against one might not seem fair—or it might be the perfect combination to finally turn the tides in their favor and prove to Emersyn that what remains is more than an endless wasteland.


Survivor Compound, Northern Colorado—sixty weeks after initial outbreak.

“For the love of god, is there ever going to be a time when we return from a mission and don’t have to give up half our weight in blood just so the good doctor can run a bazillion tests that won’t tell him anything other than that we’re not infected?” Emersyn Harlow tunneled her fingers through her hair, brushing the stray strands that had escaped her ponytail out of her eyes as she crossed the compound, her boots kicking up billows of dust. The distant moon gleamed in the sky, casting a welcomed glow across the compound, the hallowed light making the ragtag atmosphere seem almost peaceful.

Hunter snagged her arm, giving her a slight shove as he shook his head. “What’s wrong, Em? You turning all girlie on me now? Too fragile to spare a vial or two?”

She glared at him, hating the way he dodged the punch she aimed at his chest. She needed a new move—one he wouldn’t expect. “I’m man enough to kick your ass. And it’s not the blood I care about, it’s just…shit. If one of us had gotten infected, does the man seriously believe we’d risk the lives of the entire colony by returning?” She shook her head. “I’d have you put a bullet through my head first.”

Hunter grabbed her this time, stopping her short. “Don’t. Don’t even joke about that. Since Rhys vanished, you and Billy are the only family I have. So just don’t.”

Raw emotion creased Hunter’s forehead, and Emersyn reached up and trailed her thumb along his jaw before she had the good sense to draw her hand back. Family. Just her luck he saw her as the little sister he’d never had, despite the fact she’d saved his ass more than once in the past four years. Through two tours in Afghanistan and a few dozen missions between, she’d hoped she’d shown him she was worthy in more areas than just watching his back. Hell, with the world crumbling around them and death a constant threat nipping at their heels, she’d hoped to gain his heart.

The thought settled hard in her gut, and she looked away before he saw the disappointment mirrored in her eyes. While the man didn’t seem to notice the way her breathing hitched when she was around him or Billy, or how she found endless excuses to hang out with them, even during their down time, Hunter knew her well enough to recognize when something was off. And the last thing she needed was him grilling her about feelings she couldn’t reveal. Not when she knew they weren’t reciprocated. And it wasn’t just him. Billy seemed as equally oblivious to her desires as Hunter. Hell, even Rhys had never picked up on the way she’d taken to all three of them before he’d jumped ship two months ago, simply vanishing without so much as a note. She’d hoped that the changes in acceptable pairing within the compound would allow the four of them to finally discover a relationship beyond the fighting, but the only thing that had changed was her.

She clenched her fists, praying the simple act would stem the emotions threatening to break free as she spared a quick glance at Hunter over her shoulder. “Where’s Billy?”

To his credit, Hunter took the change in topic in stride, giving her another playful shove as they headed for the clinic again. “He muttered something about meeting us there. Said he had to check something out with the doctor first. Who knows? He’s been a bit touchy since we searched that church and barely made it back to the Hummer in one piece. I think those creatures are starting to get to him.”

“Those creatures want to eat us. I’d be more concerned if they weren’t getting to him. God knows they creep me the hell out.”

“Yet you keep coming back, even though I know there’re more than a few groups of guys eyeing you up.” He nudged her as he moved in a bit closer. “Why don’t you hang up the sniper rifle and shack up with a trio? Not a bad deal if you ask me.”

Hurt and anger burned through her veins. Of all the insensitive…

She rounded on him, blocking his way as she palmed his chest, shoving him backward. “If playing June Cleaver times three appeals to you so much, then I suggest you shack up with those men, ‘cause it’ll be a cold day in hell before I do.”

She ran off, ignoring the way he called her name as if she meant more to him than just a comrade. God, how could the man be so damn blind? She’d gone out of her way to make her feelings obvious, yet the jerk couldn’t see past the end of his nose.

Footsteps pounded behind her, but she kept going, reaching the clinic several steps ahead of Hunter. Tears blurred the edges of her vision as she palmed the door handle and shoved the metal slab open, taking a hurried step inside before a set of hands clenched around her shoulders, tossing her sideways. She hit hard, cracking her head against the floor, flickering black spots across her field of view. The scent of blood infused her senses as a series of grunts and growls lit the air.

The familiar sounds sent a spike of fear skittering down her spine as she rolled to her knees, her pistol already drawn and centered on the room. Gunshots popped to life beside her as Hunter unloaded three rounds, striking the bastard pinning him against the wall. The loud reverberation shook some of the shock off, and she reacted, killing two zombies as they raced toward her, their pale limbs outstretched, their mouths gaped open.

The creatures fell in a bloody heap, the dull thud of their bodies hitting the floor ringing through her ears. More dead littered the small room, hints of white bone poking through the shredded flesh. Em put a shaky hand to her mouth as she slowly gained her feet, her gun heavy in her hand. She glanced at Hunter, the bewildered expression on his face only increasing the roiling panic thundering her pulse in her head.

Hunter closed the distance, grabbing her roughly by the shoulders as his gaze swept the length of her body. “Shit! Em. I didn’t mean to toss you so hard, but…fuck! Are you okay?”

She shook her head, brushing off his hands as they moved along her limbs. “What the hell? How did they get inside the compound, let alone into the clinic? We were just outside. Why didn’t they attack us there? How—”

“We can figure that out later. Now look at me and tell me if they touched you.”

She glanced at his face, confused why he was worried about them touching her when nearly a dozen bodies were scattered around the room. “How the fuck could they touch me when you damn near threw me into the far wall? We’ll have to ensure the rest are permanently dead. Shit! How the hell did they get inside?”

Hunter huffed, raising a hand to her face as he gripped her jaw, forcing her to look at him. Droplets of blood covered one cheek, ending in a smear beneath his left eye. Panic churned low in her gut as she watched fear wash in and out of his expression.

She sucked in a shaky breath, trying to pull away to get a better look at him. “Oh god. Hunter. Please tell me you didn’t…that they didn’t…”

She couldn’t finish. Couldn’t get her tongue to form the words. If he’d been bitten…

The hand holding her chin softened. “I’m fine, Em. It’s not my blood. Nothing a shower won’t wash off.”

Relief nearly took her to her knees, and she didn’t fight him when he pulled her into his chest, one strong arm holding her waist. She breathed in his scent—a spicy combination of man and musk. God, what she wouldn’t do to spend the foreseeable future just like this. To have a moment when zombies and death didn’t rule her life. To finally live. The thought burned tears in her eyes, and she had to blink them away when he eased back.

She glanced away, swallowing the pain that clenched her heart. “If you’re fine, then why did you look at me like that?”

“Like what?”

She gazed back at him. “Like you’d just lost your best friend. I’d already told you I was okay.”

Hunter sighed, toeing the floor as his shoulders slumped ever so slightly. She furrowed her brow, not sure why he seemed so lost when another thought hit her hard.

She glanced at the bodies, searching each face. “Where’s Billy? You said he was meeting us here.”
The look Hunter gave her was answer enough. “That’s what he said. That he was going ahead to check something out.”

His words sounded hollow. Flat. As if speaking them had cost him somehow. The panic she’d felt earlier returned, and she yanked her arm free as she stalked forward, once again searching the dead. When his hand settled on her shoulder she rounded on him, her chest heaving, her breath loud in the stillness.

She pointed at one of the corpses. “That’s the fucking doctor. Something took a huge chunk out of him before he turned and made his way out here then killed everyone else.” She shook her head, turning in a circle. “This is crazy.”

“Easy, Em. You should go. Get backup.”

She glared at him. He’d never asked her to turn tail before, and the simple fact he wanted her to leave meant things were about to get far worse.

She moved into his personal space, hovering her face an inch from his. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing. I have the same information you do, it’s just…” He scrubbed a hand along his jaw, the lines around his eyes more prominent than they’d been just moments before. “These people haven’t been dead for more than ten or fifteen minutes. The blood’s too fresh. None of that makes sense, unless…”

His voice drifted off, the unspoken words hanging like the smell of death in the air. Bile crested her throat, threatening to spew her dinner onto the floor when something grunted in the adjoining room. Her head snapped around as she stared at the closed door, all too aware of what waited behind it. She took a step forward only to have Hunter grab her again.

His chest pressed into her back this time as his arm curled around her waist. “You should leave. Now.”

She shook her head, hating the tears that escaped down her cheek. “No. It can’t be.”

His grip on her waist tightened. “Please, Em. You don’t need to see this. He wouldn’t want—”

“Wouldn’t want what?” She shook her head again, breaking his hold as she spun to face him. “It’s not him. He wouldn’t have returned if he’d known he was infected. It must be another team. Maybe a survivor they pulled in.”


“It’s not Billy!”

Her voice drowned out Hunter’s, the echo of it ringing through her head. After all they’d been through—the missions, the horrors—it simply couldn’t end this way. She clenched her jaw, staring Hunter in the eyes as she backed up, her left hand finding the doorknob. Hunter’s brow furrowed, and he shook his head, but she couldn’t leave. Couldn’t abandon the only men she’d ever cared about, not when the two of them were all she had left. The only glimmer of hope in the wasteland she’d once called home.

She forced herself to swallow, taking a deep breath as she turned the handle and silently swung open the door. Shadows shrouded the room with remnants of glass and debris scattered across the floor. Whatever had happened inside, it’d obviously been one hell of a fight. She reached for her flashlight, her gun aimed at the darkness as she unclipped the unit from her belt, turning it on with a flick of her thumb.

A circle of light appeared amidst the black, the edges blurring into gray. The exam table had been toppled, along with a series of instruments she didn’t recognize. Something scraped off to her right and she angled the beam sideways, illuminating the back of a man’s silhouette. Army fatigues topped by cropped blond hair gleamed in the artificial light, the skin above the man’s collar an eerie shade of gray.

Her stomach dropped, all sense of emotion bleeding into a numbing haze as she watched the man turn, his familiar blue eyes staring blankly at her. Hunter yelled something behind her, but all she could hear was the raspy wheeze of Billy’s breath as he curled his lips into a snarl. He took a step forward, the unnatural motion making his body jerk to the side. She raised her gun, the barrel aimed at his head. He stopped, cocking his head sideways like she’d seen him do a thousand times before as he watched her, his gaze still centered on her.

Her finger compressed the trigger, the metal piece cold against her skin. The report of the gun exploded in the room, the deafening sound echoed by the thud of Billy’s body impacting the far wall before slowly sliding to the floor. Blood traced his path down the wall, pooling beneath him as he slumped over, his gaze finally releasing her as his head tilted forward, his chin falling to his chest.
Emersyn stared at him, her arm still outstretched, her breath lodged tight in her chest. Hunter’s hand settled on her arm again, gently pushing it down. She turned to glare at him only to choke back a sob at the pained look on his face. He stepped closer, offering his arms, but she pushed past him instead, holstering her gun as she glanced at the scene one last time over her shoulder.

“Em. We should talk about this.”

She allowed her gaze to meet his, ignoring the way his eyes pleaded with her. “Nothing left to say.” She took another step away. “Nothing at all.”