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Authors: Meghan O'Brien

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The Three

BOOK: The Three
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The Three

Alone in rural Indiana with only the clothes on her back, twenty-five-year-old Anna is almost ready to give
up on trying to live in a world that has seen the recent slaughter of her childhood tribe and the murder, only
a year later, of her best friend and only surviving tribe mate. When Anna interrupts an attack on a beautiful
woman lounging by a lake, she is subsequently drawn into the relationship of two other survivors of the
sickness: young, idealistic Elin, who welcomes Anna into their makeshift family with open arms, and her
lover, the older, more jaded Kael, whose dark and brooding nature initially keeps Anna at bay.

While Anna and Elin fall into affectionate interaction that quickly turns romantic -- with Kael's permission--

Anna and Kael have a more difficult time learning to live with one another. Their mutual love for Elin sees
them through a rough start, and soon they develop a tentative, but genuine, friendship.

The threesome is journeying south for the winter season when an unexpected accident leaves Elin
severely injured and unable to defend herself from the constant threat of attack that is a part of their
everyday lives. Making the decision to nurse Elin back to health in the relative safety of a city, Kael and
Anna soon find that tensions rise as their relationship is strained by their concern over Elin's condition and
Kael's resulting emotional distance from Anna.

When Elin is threatened yet again, this time by a group of religious fanatics who believe that a woman's
duty in the post-apocalyptic world is to bear children and work towards repopulating the earth, Kael and
Anna's fragile bond will be tested once again as they find the need to work together to save the woman
they both love.

Chapter One

The only reason Anna knew she was still alive was because her feet hurt so damn much. She limped along through the forest, eyes vacantly on the trees ahead, almost past the point of caring that she could be caught unaware by an attack from either flank. Her feet hurt and she was breathing. She was alive.

And Garrett is dead. This time, it didn’t even slow her pace. She felt empty inside; there was no more hurt left. Garrett is dead and I’m alive. She kicked at the slippery green and yellow leaves beneath her feet.

What the fuck is the point of it all?

She stumbled and winced at the dull pain in her ankle. Almost a week old, the injury still ached. She felt sure it wasn’t broken, but feared it was more serious than she’d first thought. Gritting her teeth, she trudged on. Not that she had anywhere in particular to go. She was walking for the sake of walking, for no other reason than habit.

Less than a quarter mile later, she stopped and sniffed the air. Water. A grin tugged at her lips for the first time in days. She hadn’t stopped to bathe since the fight. Sobering, she ran a hand through her tangled hair and studied the reddish-brown stains that still marred her brown skin. Those guys left me feeling filthy, inside and out.

She shook her head to chase away the memories. All she wanted was a long, lazy soak in a cool lake.

Instinctively cautious, she moved through the woods on quiet feet, attempting stealth despite her injury, blocking out the pain that radiated from her left ankle. She knew that venturing close to a water source would increase the odds of running into people, and the very last thing she wanted to do was see another person.

Not when she wasn’t in any shape to defend herself.

She crept through the thick vegetation until she reached a clearing. Hesitating, she peered past a low branch at a small lake that lay beyond. Spruce trees surrounded the water on all sides, except for a break in the forest across the lake where a wide path was forged. The sun illuminated the surface of the water, and the sparkling blue of it captivated Anna where she stood.

Just as she was about to leave the safety of the trees, she zeroed in on exactly what she hadn’t wanted to see. She was not alone.

An auburn-haired woman lay stretched out on a blanket next to the lake. Anna’s mouth dropped open as she stared at creamy pale skin exposed by a light tank top above snug blue jeans. She was beautiful. Anna glanced anxiously around. What’s a beautiful woman like her doing out here all alone? Doesn’t she know how dangerous that is? Anna took a step backwards. The woman was lucky it was just she who had found her. And she’s lucky the only thing I’m taking from her is a mental snapshot to remind me that, for better or worse, I am still alive.

With that, she turned away, already feeling lighter for having gazed upon the ethereal redhead for a couple of minutes. Sometimes all it took was a little beauty to give her the will to get through another day.

She began to retreat, intent on setting up camp so she could return to bathe later, but she sensed something in the forest with her and stopped in her tracks, listening.

They weren’t alone.

She searched the trees for some hint of the presence she could feel. The redheaded woman by the lake still lay prone, seemingly oblivious to the approaching threat.

Anna bit her lip, torn. She didn’t want the woman to be attacked while she hesitated, but she didn’t know what kind of danger they were facing. Giving away her position might not be a wise move, and more than likely, the redhead knew how to fight. At least I hope so, being foolish enough to get caught sunbathing alone. These guys will be on her so fast…

Anna stopped her train of thought, shuddering. They were men; she was certain of that. She would guess three or four. Stealthy enough to evade all but the barest tickling of her senses, approaching from multiple directions. Darting her eyes from the redhead to the surrounding trees, she shifted her weight cautiously from her good ankle to the bad. The pain made her cringe, and she swallowed hard. What if they have weapons? I don’t even have my baseball bat anymore. What if I can’t defend her? What if I run out there and get captured? Hot tears stung her eyes. I can’t go through that again.

When the moment came, she was still frozen with indecision. She heard the rustling of leaves to the north of her position and spotted the three men creeping along the shore toward the unsuspecting woman. Anna stared at the curve of her lower back, at the swell of her hip. She willed her to lift her head and see the danger, but the woman didn’t stir.

Goddamn it. Anna lifted her eyes to the leering men who slunk ever closer. This may be the biggest damn mistake I ever make, but I can’t just leave her to them.

She had taken only two steps when the woman looked up and instantly pushed herself into a crouching position, staring the men down. She glanced backwards, as though considering the possibility of escape, then tipped her head back to let loose a shrill, high-pitched whistle.

The men stopped short no more than twenty feet from her, obviously startled. After a moment, the man in front chuckled.

“Was that supposed to be a warning or a cry for help?” He folded his arms and gave the redhead a condescending look. “Either way, it looks to me like you’re all alone out here.”

Still in a crouch, the woman cocked her head to the side. “I suggest you boys keep moving along.” Her calm, gentle voice raised gooseflesh on Anna’s arms. “You don’t want to cause trouble here, I promise.”

From behind the leader, a stocky, bearded man stepped closer and raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? What’s gonna stop us? You?”

The woman leapt to her feet in a lightning-quick move that made even Anna step back in surprise. She held a slim black object in one hand. “If I have to.”

The leader took an aggressive step forward. “All you have to do, honey, is cooperate with us. Nobody gets hurt that way. I promise.”

The redhead appeared to relax, but Anna watched her slightly widen her stance. She recognized the stillness before the strike and held her breath in anticipation.

“No, thanks.” The woman extended a long, steel baton with the flick of her wrist and delivered a hard strike to the legs of the man leading the pack.

He roared in pain and fell to the ground, clutching his shin.

“Fucking bitch!” the bearded man behind him growled.

He lunged with a large hunting knife in his hand, and his buddy followed. The woman was good, but she struggled against the two larger men. She struck out with her baton, forcing one to jump back to avoid the blow. The other punched her shoulder, and she immediately countered with a fierce strike to his arm. He let go a scream of genuine pain and bent at the waist to cradle the injured limb against his stomach. The bearded man rushed her once more, and she landed a quick, hard punch to the face. He barely hesitated before moving forward again, just as his friend recovered and straightened where he stood.

Anna was weighing her options—go and help finish them off, or let the redhead take care of them on her own—when she saw something that chilled her blood. A fourth man was sneaking up behind the woman with what looked to be a crowbar clutched in his hands. Preoccupied with the other attackers, she seemed unaware of his approach.

Anna burst out of the bushes where she hid. “Hey!” she yelled. “Behind you!”

The redhead turned just in time to duck a violent swing of the crowbar. For a split second, she stared at Anna, wide-eyed, then returned to defending herself. Anna didn’t waste any time. She ran as fast as her injured ankle would allow, stumbling down a small hill overgrown with plants.

“Lucky day, boys.” The fourth man leered at Anna’s approach. “Looks like you won’t have to wait to get your turns.”

Anna’s blood turned to ice at the casual comment. Eyes narrowing, she stalked up to the curly-haired man with a cold smile. She forced away her fear until numbness took over. “You going first?”

The man gave her a soulless grin. “Count on it.”

Anna nodded, buying herself a moment’s grace. She could almost feel fear and adrenaline masking her pain. As she detected a slight lowering of the man’s guard, she feinted left, then delivered a solid kick to his midsection with her right foot. He didn’t see it coming. He bent at the waist and curled his arms around his stomach, gagging at the blow. Anna followed up with a hard strike to his right shoulder that forced him to drop his weapon to the ground.

Busy with thug number four, she glimpsed the first man struggling to his feet, but could not react before he delivered a vicious backhand across the redhead’s face, throwing her off balance. Distracted by the woman’s grunt of pain as she hit the ground, Anna paid dearly for her momentary lapse when a foot kicked out and made contact with her injured left ankle. She screamed in agony and went down beside the redhead, who was already rolling back into a crouching position.

“Stay down!” The bearded man slapped the woman across the face as she rose to her feet.

She stumbled but remained standing, pinning him with cold eyes so in contrast to the innocent beauty of her face. “Stop this now,” she warned. “Walk away or I promise you’ll regret it.”

The man cocked his head. Blood ran down his face from a gash above his eye, and his lip was split, streaming another trail of blood over his chin. He grinned, showing teeth covered in red, and gestured at Anna. “Go ahead and start with this one. I’ll get the other under control.”

Anna’s throat went dry, and she quickly scrabbled backwards, getting to her feet despite the throbbing pain in her ankle. The curly-haired man took a step closer and unbuckled his belt, winding it around his fist.

I’d rather die. Anna set her feet apart in a defensive stance and gave her attacker the most chilling glare she could muster. I’d rather die than get hurt like that again.

The redhead flew back into action, delivering furious punches and kicks against the man’s assault. Anna clenched her fists, ready to fight no matter the pain from her ankle. She was so full of terrified rage that she almost didn’t hear the quiet growl from the trees until after it raised the hairs on the back of her neck.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing with my women?”

The low, dangerous voice floated to them on the late afternoon breeze, easily cutting through the noise of the fight and stopping everyone dead in their tracks. A young man emerged from among the trees without a sound, so close that Anna felt shaken at not having noticed his approach. Dark eyes shone with cold malevolence as he scanned the four men who surrounded them. Anna shivered when the young man’s emotionless gaze swept over her, assessing. She checked the redhead’s reaction to the stranger.

BOOK: The Three
5.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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