Author:Kylie Scott

He waited while she deliberated.


Daniel sucked in some much-needed oxygen. Why had he held his breath? That was dumb.


Eventually, she blew a strand of hair out of her face, her throat moved, and she gave a bare inch. “Ali.”


“Hi, Ali. I’m Daniel.” He smiled, and like the turning of the tide, about an ocean’s worth of tension eased out of him. “Well, I have a feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


She gave a brief bark of laughter, or perhaps a cough. The house was dusty. It made it hard to tell. “Friends don’t hold friends hostage. General y speaking.”


“Hmm,” he nodded. “Friends also don’t let friends live out their days in a stinking, dark, dusty hole. Or so I’ve heard.”


She pinned her lips tight and turned her head away, making him feel ten types of asshole. Too bad.


There was a message to be delivered here, and he could not afford to fail. He couldn’t face going back to being alone. Could not do it. Boy didn’t that mess with his whole “man as an island ” theory of a lifetime’s making. “Ali, I know things are scary, but barricading yourself in here alone isn’t the answer.”


“Real y?” She glared at him. It was a queenly glare. His girl pulled it off with aplomb, no matter the grime. “Living in a dark, stinking hole got me this far.”


“Granted, but the worst is over. I’m not saying things are a party out there, but they have calmed down.”


“Are you serious?” she asked, her voice highly skeptical.


“Hear me out.” Her brow flinched for a moment, but at least he had her attention. Until she craned her neck and frowned at what his finger was up to mid-torso – the torso in question being hers. His digit was drawing circles around the dip of her bellybutton. Endless circles. They both watched his finger go round and round, dawdling over soft skin in a lingering caress.


He could have sworn the thing had a mind of its own.


“Get. Your. Hand. Off. Me.”


Which, he had to admit, was fair enough. Maybe enough boundaries had been messed with on their first day together.


“Sure, sorry. Didn’t even realize I was … Yeah, never mind.” He moved the hand back to his leg and let his fingers fidget on safer ground. They wouldn’t stop moving, a sure sign of nerves.


“So. Life outside,” he began. A sore subject, to be sure, but he had to sell it. “You realize situated on the edge of the city is a bad place to be? Inner city is thick with infected, but further out here in the ‘burbs you’re going to cross paths with other survivors.”


“Oh, you think?”


“Be nice,” he said. “Now, I’m guessing the people left over are going to be a mix of the lucky, like you and me, and the odd bastard handy with a weapon and happy to do what they need to get by. I’m guessing by now food and water are getting scarce for you. You can’t stay hidden, can you? Not if you don’t want to starve. You also know it’s too dangerous to go out on your own.”


“I’ve done okay.”


“You need someone to watch your back. Can’t do that on your own.”


She tucked in her chin and said nothing.


“I’m not saying you didn’t do good getting in here and staying put through the whole meltdown, but it’s time to move on, Ali. I was thinking of heading south-west, find a nice rural area and set myself up, be self-sufficient.” He would be self-sufficient alright, him and his hand, if she shot him down. More important things were at play here, though, because eventually, she would mess up and be dinner for the hungry horde. The thought made his heart kick over painfully. The infected were growing restless as pickings grew slim, branching out from the thick of the cities.


Soon enough, her little corner of suburbia would be overrun, if her own lack of food and water hadn’t since made her flee.


“I’ll grow my own fruit and vegetables, use solar panels for power. I was a mechanic, so I’ve got a good basic knowledge of al sorts of things. Sky’s the limit.” Daniel nodded, pleased with the sound of it. Plausible, warm and friendly.


Please God, he had to have won her over.


Instead she sighed. And it was long, drawn out and mighty fucking irritated. When women sighed like that it never boded well for anyone involved. “We discussed this.”


“Huh?” He propped himself up on an elbow, bewildered. “No, we didn’t.”


“Fingers.” Ali jerked her chin at the hand currently stroking her thigh, toying with the inner seam of her jeans, generally making itself right at home.


“Sorry … my bad.” He jerked his hand up, then paused. Amongst the dirt and dry stains on her jeans, something caught his attention.


Dread slammed through him. The damage sat directly above her knee, and it was fresh. “You’re bleeding.”


“I’m fine.”


“No. You’re not.” Daniel clenched his teeth and ignored the sick feeling building in his belly. “How did you get it?” When she hesitated a second too long he lost his cool completely, something rumbled in his throat and his voice rose to al new heights. “Now, Ali.