Authors: Olivia Starke
“Will my family ever know what happened to me, or will you just dump my body in a shallow grave somewhere like a dog you hit on the road?” Tears pricked her eyes. She tried to swallow around the painful lump lodged in her throat, before brushing away the wetness on her cheeks. She sat down on the floor, giving in to the tide of despair. “I can’t die, not tonight.”
He crossed the room and fell to his knees, pulling her onto his lap, rocking her like a small child—an unexpected comfort from the imposing man. She buried her face in his shirt, letting reality sink in.
“I hate the bastards responsible for this virus,” he said against her hair. “I mean that, Laura. What they’ve done is inexcusable, regardless of the reason.”
Her crying became less desperate, choking sobs finally subsiding to frail whimpers, which did nothing for the pounding headache. Her skull felt ready to explode.
“How did you get this scar?” His finger lightly brushed along her cheek.
“A stray dog attacked me a year ago. He bit my leg and scratched my face.” She shuddered at the memory, up until tonight it’d been her most terrifying.
Damian frowned. “Were you hurt badly?”
“A few stitches. The worst part was the rabies shots I had to have afterward.” She gave a mirthless laugh. “Who knew a rabid human would do me in instead?”
She should push away from him; sitting in his lap felt a bit too comfortable. But his closeness eased the jagged head pain, soothing the fear clawing her insides to shreds. He searched her eyes and a fire lit low within, simmering with his gaze, a distraction she hadn’t anticipated. Her breath hitched.
“Did it hurt?” she asked.
His gaze dropped to her mouth. “Did what hurt?”
She licked her lips. “What they did to you.”
“At first, but you adjust to the changes. Your body has a way of adapting.”
Another question hung on her lips, and it took several tries to force it out. “Is it going to hurt when the virus takes over?”
* * * *
Laura’s probing gaze stirred up a mess and Damian couldn’t be sure the reasons behind what followed. His lips claimed hers, desperate to spare her the sickness to come, anger mixing with the arousal rising in his blood. Laura moaned and he swallowed the sound, his tongue tangling with hers, letting her sweet taste rob him of thought.
He’d avoided any kind of intimacy for much too long, and his cock throbbed. Her arms slid around his neck in invitation while she pressed against him. He dug his fingers within her silky curtain of hair. Her clothing would be little hindrance, and he could have her naked and spread out on the floor within seconds.
“Damian,” she whispered against his lips. Her eyes remained closed, her face taking on the sallow look of sickness, her form growing limp in his arms. A hard kick in the gut, and one he deserved. He released her.
“I don’t feel well.” She shifted out of his lap onto the dusty linoleum floor, folding her arms over her bent knees, resting her forehead on them.
He immediately missed the closeness. Sweat poured down his back from the too thick air even with the storm cooled breeze blowing through the window. Two days had passed since he’d slept and it wore him down. He could go another two days before he crashed, and probably would after he had to shoot Laura in the head.
Bile rose in the back of his throat, and he forced down the bitter taste. He would hit the road hard and bury his conscience in the work. Do his best to forget the spirited blonde next to him, though he knew it’d never work; her blood would always be on his hands. He’d been doomed the moment he’d seen her in the alleyway and lowered his gun. She’d haunt him until the day he died, and maybe he deserved it for his involvement.
He wanted out of the room, needed to be on his Harley finding his next target. Hell, he wanted to be a hundred miles away from the house and Laura. He looked over at her, seated near his side, her head lifted, staring off into space. She seemed lost in thought, or perhaps the fever made it look that way. He knew the symptoms—chills, high fevers, hallucinations, and then seizures before the virus destroyed the last of what made her human.
It was only a matter of hours…
* * * *
I love all of you. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine and in a better place.
Laura stared at the note hastily scribbled with her good hand, before balling it up. She tossed it on the floor next to her wadded up pages of the notebook, nothing she wrote good enough. Her arm had gone completely numb, hanging uselessly at her side. Damian sat nearby, leaning against the wall, his arms balanced on his bent knees, his attention lost in some daydream. Tension marred his perfect features.
Am I really going to die?
She’d already run the gamut of emotions only to end right back at disbelief. Her throat dry, she’d managed to down two more bottles of water. A third sat nearby, but when she’d taken the first drink her stomach had rebelled, making her choke. Damian had paled, giving her the look one gives a corpse in a coffin while he’d thumped her on the back.
“You’ll have muscle spasms in your throat from the rabies virus. Though it’s modified, it’ll carry many of the same symptoms,” he’d explained.
Rabies? Was the goddamn government crazy, who’d mess with such a deadly virus? She hurled the pad of paper across the room.
“What’s wrong?” Damian asked.
“What’s wrong? That’s a stupid question, don’t you think?” She shot him a look daring him to say more.
His nostrils flared, a muscle in his jaw worked. “Four more hours. We have to prepare.”
She went cold. “Prepare?”
“The progression will snowball from here.” His voice dead, he continued to stare at some unseen view.
He’d kissed her with such passion, now he spoke without emotion. How could someone do such a turnabout?
The lousy bastard.
Rage, white hot in intensity, shot through her, her head swimming with it.
“Maybe you’re just stupid, Damian. Stupid for allowing a zombie thing to attack me. I wouldn’t be dying if it wasn’t for you. You deserve this, not me.” Her fists balled at the injustice of it all. “You should die for this.”
She sucked in wheezing breaths, unable to fill her lungs, and fell back on her butt. Her eyes widened, searching a darkened corner of the room, a distorted face appearing from the shadows. It grinned with broken, yellowed teeth, its eyes glowing in the dimness.
She gagged over raw terror.
“Oh my God, I saw something over there.” She scrambled backward. “Damian, one of those things is in here.”
* * * *
Damian glanced around the sparsely furnished room. Other than a few flies and mosquitoes buzzing around them they were alone.
He closed his eyes, the weight of guilt pressing down making it difficult to speak. “We’re alone, Laura. Nobody else is in here.”
The night wore on, and fits of anger mingled with her confusion. Several times he’d had to prevent her from dashing out the door. He paced the confines of the living room, waiting for the last of the madness to run its course. Laura lay on the floor, lashing out toward some unseen attacker, before her breathing became rapid, labored pants. White foam bubbled from her mouth.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, turning away. He’d become disillusioned with the system he’d given his life to shortly after discovering they’d screwed up royally in creating the virus. In a lab he’d watched a man succumb to it, changing into a soulless corpse. It’d been horrific the first time he’d witnessed it. Afterward Headquarters had assigned him to track down an infected woman outside of the facility. It was his duty as a super soldier to clean up their mistakes. Now he wanted nothing more than to see the lab destroyed, something he should’ve done in the first place. He should’ve listened to Doug and Max, two of the doctors from the early days of the project. Their warnings had come to pass, but he’d been a stubborn, misinformed jackass.
Curled in the fetal position, Laura looked like a sick child, fragile and broken. His throat constricted, even though it was ridiculous to have feelings for someone you didn’t know. He was military,
, for Christ’s sake, he knew how to pull a trigger without regret.
Laura rolled onto her back, staring toward the ceiling with glassy eyes. Despite the tremulous hold she had on life, she was already dead.
He existed as a government killing machine—an automaton they’d designed. Nothing more. He’d given his humanity away to the project. He wasn’t much better than the corpses he hunted.
“I’m so sorry this happened to you, baby. You were right,
deserved this, not you.”
His vision blurred when he stared down the barrel, the silencer aimed squarely between her eyes, his heart beating a crazed rhythm in his chest. His finger squeezed ever so slightly on the trigger. Outside a mourning dove called to its mate, a haunting song echoing in the room. He recalled a story from his youth about how a dove would arrive to carry a person’s soul to the afterlife. If he believed in anything but the here and now, in that moment he would’ve thought it true.
Laura’s mouth gaped open, strangled noises escaping her throat, seizures taking her into death throes.
He lowered his arm and thumped the butt of his gun against his thigh, waiting for the monster to appear. When she became the undead, when she moved to attack him, he’d have the power to destroy her. She deserved one last try to get the best of him. Maybe it wasn’t Laura anymore, but he’d honor the fighting spirit within her. She’d never get past him, but if she took a piece of him in the process he’d have an excuse to end the whole goddamned thing here, in this stinking house. If he ever got infected his duty would be to put a bullet in his own head.
Laura’s body stilled, her eyelids drifting closed.
Her eyes popped wide open, her back arching. She sucked in a breath as if surfacing from deep waters. He turned his body sideways, leveling his gun in dead aim, waiting for the corpse to lunge.
Damian’s heart stopped. He was sure he’d imagined the whisper.
Green eyes blinked up at him, not the glazed eyes of a corpse. “What’s happening?”
His jaw dropped. Nobody survived the virus. The scientists were sure it was one hundred percent fatal.
“Please.” Her hand lifted to him, trembling with the effort. “Tell me, what’s happening?”
He dropped to his knees by her side, shoving his Glock in his back waistband. “Laura, baby, you survived. I don’t know how, but you survived.”
“I’m not dead?” Beads of sweat popped out over her brow, the fever broken.
He smiled broadly, scooping her onto his lap.
“No, you’re very much alive.” He brushed damp strands of hair from her forehead, her citrusy scent mixed with the soured odor of illness.
She gave him a weak grin, closing her eyes. “Good.”
A few moments later she fell into peaceful sleep.
Damian’s heart beat so loudly it droned in his ears. There was no cure for the created virus, yet Laura could very well carry one in her blood. He had to contact his superiors with the hope this nightmare could end. He laid her back on the sleeping bag and grabbed his cellphone.
“Damian,” a female voice greeted.
“I found a survivor of the virus,” Damian blurted out. “I found her when she’d been bitten, and watched her decline. She beat it, Doc.”
Silence dragged on for several long moments.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m positive. I’ve been with her the entire time.”
“Son of a…can you hold on for a minute, Damian.”
Before he could answer, she was gone. He turned his attention to the slow rise and fall of Laura’s chest, a comforting sign of life. The first rays of morning broke through the overcast outside, sending warm shafts of sunlight over the dusty floor.
“Bring her in right away,” Doc said. “Where are you?”
“I’m in Mississippi. When Laura is able to travel I’ll be on my way.”
“No,” the doctor said quickly. “Tell you what, we’ll come to you. We already have a fix on your location. We’ll be there within hours. Stay right where you are, that’s an order.”
The call disconnected before he could reply.
Damian stuffed the cellphone in his front pocket, tapping the heel of his boot on the floor, his heightened survival instincts on full alert. The tone of Doc’s voice had been off. He paced the room, his gut telling him to move on and reassess the situation. In the field a soldier learned to trust his gut. He walked over to Laura and took her in his arms.
“What’s wrong?” she mumbled, looking at him through heavy lidded eyes.
“We’ve got to go,” he said, carrying her through the house and out the back door to the shed. “Can you ride?”
She swayed when set on her feet. He gripped her shoulders, staring into her sleepy eyes.
“Listen, Laura, we need to put some space between us and this house. Can you sit behind me and hang on?”
She nodded. “I think so. I’m really shaky, but I’ll try. What’s going on?”
He didn’t have an answer for her. “I’m not sure, but I think it’s best if we move on.”
He threw his cellphone down then crunched it beneath the heel of his boot before straddling the Fat Boy. He helped her get on the seat behind him and reached in a saddlebag to pull out a couple of helmets. Getting pulled over by a cop for not wearing one wasn’t a hassle he wanted to deal with. The Harley’s engine roared to life. Laura wrapped her arms tight around his waist, and he clutched her laced fingers as added security. A heavy fog sank over the land, devouring the sunlight as they hit the road.
* * * *
Laura’s muscles felt like Jello shots, yet she clung to Damian’s torso, the face plate to the helmet pressed firmly against his broad back. Her life had turned into a B-rated horror movie.
God, her family would be worried sick when she didn’t show up to open the restaurant today. And what of the virus he seemed so frightened of earlier? Other than feeling like she’d been hit by a bus after being mauled by a bear, she felt okay. Nothing in particular screamed