CHAPTER THREE

My lips press into a line and I stare at the windshield. “Are you seriously asking me that? How long have you got?” The smartass tone I’m trying for doesn’t quite materialize.  

“Mila, this is important.”

I survived the zombie apocalypse, right? How hard can this be? I swallow and squeeze the wheel. “Define strange.”

He sighs. “I don’t know exactly. Anything that made you think something had changed. Anything that scared you.”

I take a deep breath and swerve around a canoe, of all things. “Yeah, actually. You grabbed me and fucking kissed me. I stab people for that kind of shit, so you’ll want to watch that.”

“I — ” I have to resist the urge to fidget as I wait for him to continue. “Are you serious?”

I roll my eyes, wishing I’d lied. I can’t bring myself to look at him. “No, I just thought it’d be fun to mess with you, cuz you know, we’ve got nothing better to do.”

“Mila, stop the car.”

I unlock my gaze from the road long enough to give him the stink-eye. He’s just staring at me, so I stomp on the brake and throw it into park. I don’t want to cut the engine, but I know we’ve only got so much gas, so I do.

“What?” I snap. Those blue eyes glitter even in the low light. His face is soft, and for some reason it makes me fighting mad.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t remember that.” 

“Well obviously.” I cross my arms over my chest, and I glance in the rearview. All clear on the flesh-eater front. I take a goddamn cleansing breath and slump in the seat. “It’s not a big deal.”

“It might be.”  

My heart is pinballing around in my chest as I glance at him, but he’s lost in thought. 

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I don’t remember kissing you. I don’t remember the fight.”

“‘Massacre’ is the word I’d have gone with.” 

“I think they must be related somehow.”

“Well it’s sure not what I’d have imagined a kiss from you to be like.” I cringe inwardly as I realize that in letting my jaw flap away like I always do when I’m nervous, I’ve communicated a whole other thing than what I intended.

His gaze rivets to my face. “Explain.”

Whispering thanks to dumb luck that there’s not enough light for him to see my cheeks have gone the same shade as his hair, I mutter, “I don’t even know why I said that.”

“Sure you do,” he replies, spearing me with his gaze. “Let’s have it.”

Shouldn’t one of the benefits of the fact almost everyone’s dead—and we might join them at any given moment—be that no one has to deal with awkward shit like this anymore?

“It was hard, okay?” I blurt. “Rough, I mean. You bit me.” He’s staring out the windshield now, which makes me feel a little less like a specimen in a bug collection. “Has it occurred to you that maybe the whole reason you were created was to fight like that? I mean I don’t think anyone fucked with the Vikings.”

“Nothing like that has ever happened before.”

“Maybe there have to be some kind of special conditions. Maybe something in your DNA decided drastic measures were required to even the odds back there.”  

He chews on that a minute, and then his eyes come back to my face. “Okay, that’s not bad. But it doesn’t explain why I kissed you.”

“Maybe it does. Maybe your berserker fever exaggerates your whole personality. I mean, you said yourself your only aspiration in life was to keep me alive.” 

He nods. “A protective impulse can evolve. I can see that. But I bit you.”

I shrug. “Maybe that’s Viking for foreplay. Like the Klingons.”

He is a damn tough customer. Not even the hint of a smile. I’ve just about worked up the courage to warn him I’m not onboard with any evolution of protective impulses, when his eyes go wide and he grabs me and jerks me into his lap — just as a pole slams through the driver-side window. I mentally retract any intention of curbing his enthusiasm for keeping me alive.

“Shit!” I shout helpfully while he fumbles with the door handle. He shoves open the door and wrestles us both onto the asphalt, a hissing flesh-eater slithering after us, skin streaked with blood from diving through the broken window. “Shit!

Levi swings his sword and dumps my knife into my lap. I stare at it, horrified by the realization that I actually forgot I didn’t have it.

Another flesh-eater dives over the hood of the car, snapping me out of it. I roll onto my back, punching at its midsection with my feet, forcing it to somersault over us. Jumping up, I spin and stab before the thing can orient. It’s not dead, but it’s down, and I get a second to assess. Levi’s down too, his flesh-eater straddling his chest, only the sword between them keeping its teeth out of Levi’s face. He’s still too weak to defend himself.  

It goes against my code, but I raise my arm and fling my knife at his attacker. Me and my blade are tight, so it’s a thing I only do if I’m desperate. But I’ve practiced it many times, and the blade sinks right into the flesh-eater’s soft belly. Levi wriggles out from under the squealing thing, finishing it with his sword as he yanks my knife free.

A growl sounds behind me and I spin again. I stagger back as a brown blur flies past us and attaches itself to the flesh-eater.

“Leave it, Franny!”

The order comes from a cloaked figure striding toward us.

“You sinners come on, now! There’ll be more of them soon,” the newcomer — not flesh-eater — calls to us.

The voice is distinctly masculine, but the figure that approaches — concealed neck to foot by what looks like a judge’s robe — appears to be a statuesque black woman. She’s got an updo of dreds a goddess would envy, and lipstick the same color as Levi’s car. As she strides closer, scolding the chocolate-colored pit bull until finally it yelps and bounds to her side, I notice she’s wearing about a hundred rosaries, their crosses swinging beneath her ample bosom.

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