(Ash and Ruin #2)
The world has ended, and hope is the most dangerous thing left.
Battered and bruised after barely escaping San Francisco with their lives, Kat, Dylan, and Blue press north – desperate to reach the possibility of a new home.
But strange, monstrous ravens are tracking the remaining survivors, food is becoming scarce, gasoline is running short, and people are becoming suicidal, making survival almost impossible.
And the Pestas are growing bolder. Somehow, their numbers are growing.
The further north they go, the harder it becomes to ignore the signs that they’ve made a fatal mistake. Kat must face the impossible truth that there is no escape, there is no safe haven, and their worst nightmares don’t come close to their new reality.
Time of Ruin
With a shaking hand, I pull my water bottle from the netted pocket and take a few sips, reluctantly controlling myself from gulping down half of it. Once my mouth is pleasantly wet, I hold the bottle out to Blue and let him take a few sips. I’m happy the mouth is wide so I don’t need to spill any out for him.
The last thing I want to do is to dig through my pack and get out Blue’s bowls and kibble, so I pull out a can of beef stew, my last can of the blessed protein-and-carb packed stuff, and pull the tab to open it. “We’ll share, okay?”
Blue sits on his haunches, back perfectly straight, as he watches me. I know it’s a leftover trick from his first family, but it makes me smile.
“Me first,” I say and point at the ground.
With a short whine, Blue lays on the ground, resting his chin on his paws as he watches me tilt the can to my mouth. Eating only half of the stew isn’t as hard as I thought it would be; my stomach is so tight with worry over leaving Dylan, over the trail of smoke in the distance, and my need to find transportation that I’m not as hungry as I should be. I have to choke down the last bite of mealy potato before I hold the can out for Blue. He has no such difficulty eating the other half of the stew, and in minutes, he’s licking the inside of the can clean.
“Pig,” I tease as I toss the can away. Blue ignores me and lays down to clean his paws.
I let my head fall back against my pack. My eyelids are heavy, and it’s increasingly more difficult to keep my eyes open. I click my tongue for Blue, and he jumps to his feet in an instant. I chuckle and snap my fingers for him to come to my side. With his warm body tucked in close to me, I lay one hand on his back and let sleep pull me under.
I don’t know how much time passes before I’m awoken by a sound that I know neither I nor Blue made. My eyes snap open, and my whole body goes instinctively still. I hold my breath so that I can hear better. Blue shifts under my hand. He picks up his head, his ears perfect triangles as he listens for the unfamiliar noise. I grip the loose skin at his neck and make a tiny noise to keep him quiet.
Somewhere a twig snaps, louder than any shot fired.
Not for the first time, I miss the farmhouse where I found Blue, with its intact walls and locks on every door. I bite the inside of my cheek, wondering if I can get to the edge of the wall and away from here before whoever is walking up the steps comes around the corner.
A dim yellow light creeps across the floor underneath the dresser we’re hiding behind. My heart is choking me, lodged high in my throat, and all I can hear is the beat of my pulse and the rush of my blood.
“Yeah, this is good,” a man’s voice rings out, striking me like a whip.
I’ve missed my chance to run.
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