Oakley heard the footsteps on the crumbling concrete behind her, and she knew from the even stride it wasn’t a creeper. When he plopped down to the ground Hunter mirrored her position; drawing his knees up to rest his elbows on them. She was under the awning of the gas station, on sentry detail. Hunter was supposed to be sleeping, and she reminded him of that.
He gave an amused laugh. “Yeah. I’ll sleep while my woman’s out here looking out for my ass. That would be something.”
She inhaled, turning to look at him. “What happened in Boulder?”
As an ominous cue the sky overhead erupted in light and booming thunder, the rain falling around the awning and hitting the over-grown grass softly. She wrote it off to a coincidence as he chewed at whatever stick or twig he’d decided to gnaw on. She didn’t know if his reluctance came from not wanting to scare her, or because Boulder held some horrific memories he didn’t want to deal with. But dammit, she wanted to know.
“We found a locked up warehouse, it had never been breached. It was amazing; pallets of bottled water, canned food, all of it non-perishable. We had the truck, we were heading back to Greenwater, it was like fate. Kismet. Even with our guys and everyone at Greenwater it would have lasted years as long as it was handled carefully.” He looked away, pulling the stick out of his mouth. “It was so secure because people had holed up in there, and they died. So by the time we got there, they were turned. Looks like there might have been an internal power struggle that went bad. They had guns, the place was split in half like the fall out made them go their separate ways. An uneasy truce or some shit.” He shook his head. “There were women, a couple of kids. Those creepers had been bitten. All the men had gunshot wounds. Stupid shit that got them all killed; they would have been fine for a good long while.”
Oakley shivered, suddenly finding the mist drifting in from the falling rain very chilling. “People who are stronger will take what other people have,” she reminded him softly.
“Like Hawk,” he finished for her.
When he turned those striking eyes on hers again they were full of regret. “I’m so sorry, Oakley. I am so damn sorry.”
“I know,” she assured him. “It’s not your fault. Memee preferred to keep her flock docile. The ones with me are the ones who knew better. They still tried to keep their skills sharp and stay tough.” She reached out and squeezed his hand. “What else happened in Boulder?”
“The creepers set an ambush for us,” he said, squeezing her hand back. “Locked a group in a room with them where the door locked internally with a dead blot. Key broken off in the other side.” His voice was back to hollow and sounding like he was reciting an old lesson from a school book. “Couldn’t get in. Hinges were even on the inside of that room. It was literally a death trap.” He swallowed hard enough for her to hear. “I can still hear them screaming as they tore them up. We had more on the outside to deal with, but that was a small room. You know how hard it is to maneuver in an enclosed space. And the more people moving around the worse it is. We lost seven guys there.”
“The creepers are getting smart?” She wanted to confirm that he was having the same thought she was.
“I think so.”
“A supply run that Sawyer was on had the same thing happen in a storeroom. Shut themselves in with a couple of her crew. They both died. Tanya and California,” she added softly, feeling like she had to speak their names.
“And that one that grabbed you just yesterday, babe. Hiding behind a tree, remember?”
She nodded. “Right. So … what do we call this?”
Another crash of thunder made them both jump, laughing at their own nervousness. “I think it’s evolution, babe,” Hunter said quietly, eyes easing up to the edge of the awning.
“You should be sleeping,” she pointed out.
“I’ll sleep when you do. Rather be right here.” He took her hand again, and she let him hold it, comfortable and warm. “Are you okay?”
Another crash of thunder, so intense she felt it hit the wall of her chest and shake her teeth in her jaw. “I’m scared. Worried. And in mourning for everyone left behind.”
“I’ll go back and kill Hawk,” he vowed with such vehemence she didn’t recognize his voice.
“Don’t do that,” she insisted. “We’ll find another spot. Start new somewhere else. Maybe in the country. Easier to see what’s coming when you’re surrounded by flat pastures.”
Hawk eyed her for a moment. “I appreciate your optimism, but he’s taken half my men with him. Killed people, would have killed you and probably done worse before that. I can’t abide that.”
“You can and you will,” she replied. “Because I want you around more than I want that asshole not breathing anymore. We have people to take care of here, too. We’re a team, and the smaller the team gets the weaker it is.”
“I hate that people are worse than creepers,” Hunter said suddenly, very softly. “Creepers are supposed to be the bad guys. Not people.”
There was another intense crash of thunder, making them both look up into the dying flares of lightning that went with it. “That’s a hell of a lighting storm,” he muttered.
She slid closer to his side and he immediately put his arm around her, taking away some of the chill. “We’ll find another spot tomorrow,” she said, trying to be positive and take his mind off of bloody retribution. “I like the women we got out of Greenwater. Well, Rainbow’s a weirdo but smart enough to stay on the winning side. She was a little smug in her position as Memee’s assistant. I can already tell she’s had a personality transplant.”
“Good,” he said against the top of her head, planting a kiss there. “These guys are good guys. Wouldn’t have lit out on Hawk otherwise. It’s a rare man that prefers to not take everything he wants by force these days. The weak went into Greenwater. You’ve got the strongest of my crew right here with your girls, babe.”
She wrapped both arms around his middle, giving a sideways hug. “Good. Now let’s enjoy the light show.”