WHAT WE NEED TO REBUILD Is Here!

eBook cover

What We Need to Rebuild is now available!


When Nina wakes in an unfamiliar room with a doctor watching over her, she realizes Paul’s desperate plan worked. She’s alive. Weak and still injured, but alive.

Only Paul isn’t there with her.

Surrounded by strangers she doesn’t trust. Her precious pack with all her possessions, gone. If she wants to find Paul, Nina must gather her strength and find a way to resupply herself.

Or she could stay. She could rest and heal. She could forge new friendships and settle into a way of life that promised structure. A life that seemed far less dangerous than the one she’d be giving up.

But can any place truly be home without Paul?


We’ve reached the conclusion of the story, and the series, my lovely readers. Rest assured that there is a happy ending for Paul and Nina, despite everything I’ve put them through!

When I started this journey almost three years ago, I didn’t know I’d make it this far. I couldn’t have known my first book would be even the modest success it has been, and that I could finish and publish an entire trilogy. I couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement I’ve received from my friends, readers, and fans. Thank you!

For new readers, I’ve also put together a digital complete-series edition, all three books together for a discounted price!

With the business end of things out of the way, it’s time to share the first chapter!


Chapter One – Consciousness

December 7th, 8:17 am – Open Hearts Methodist Church, Louisville, KY

The first thing Nina had to do was get her hands on her backpack.

My hands. My hand. She sighed, closing her eyes and clenching her fist. Dammit.

She wanted to wear her own clothes, not an itchy cloth hospital gown or the two layers of borrowed sweaters which smelled of cedar chips and dust. She forced her eyes open to study herself, her thin body under the thick blanket, her arms laid out on top.

But her eyes skittered away from the empty space on her left side, flicking over the makeshift infirmary instead, darting from one object to another. Stacks of mismatched cardboard boxes balanced precariously atop each other. Each bore swipes of black marker: Christmas ornaments and hymnals and Easter decorations and the vague catch-all donations.

Nina had already spent half an hour distracting herself from the throbbing in her arm by trying to count how many different people had labeled the boxes, according to their handwriting. Everything in the first stack on the left seemed to be from the same time period, marked with bold, blocky capital letters. The neighboring stack began with two boxes at the bottom with the same script, while the rest were written on by different hands. One was childish, with circles instead of dots over the i‘s, and the other flowing and elegant, even in the unforgiving medium of black Sharpie.

Most of the boxes in the third stack had been packed by a fourth person, judging by the nearly illegible scrawl, worthy of a doctor’s prescription pad. The only label Nina could make out was baby clothes. Maybe.

Doctor Ryan was keeping a log of Nina’s treatment. She’d seen the woman making notes, but she hadn’t seen the notes themselves. Maybe the doctor was the one who’d labeled that stack, but maybe not. Nina hadn’t been able to find out if Doctor Ryan was one of the surviving members of the church, or not. Jasmine said the doctor was already here when she and Connor decided to stay, but they weren’t churchgoers themselves. They wouldn’t have known whether she was or not.

Nina couldn’t make another attempt to glean that information, or anything else about the church, because for once, Doctor Ryan wasn’t with her. She’d been hovering since the moment Nina had woken up the day before—or at least, had woken up aware of herself.

The doctor hadn’t enjoyed Nina’s screaming, but she hadn’t been surprised by it, either. It must not have been the first time, just the first time Nina could remember.

She didn’t remember much of anything for the last two weeks. That much, she’d been able to ask straight out—how long she’d been at the church. That, the doctor couldn’t be vague about.

Nina had woken up again to morning sunlight streaming in through two small windows set high in the wall. She’d woken alone, and she hadn’t screamed when she remembered her missing arm.

She was oddly proud of that.

But she couldn’t bring herself to look at where it should have been, where her brain still believed it would be.

Instead, she studied the dusty globe perched on a rickety bookcase, its finial at the North Pole nearly touching the room’s low ceiling. The African continent stared down at her, a patchwork of brightly colored countries. She was too far from it to tell how out-of-date the borders were.

Even if it were brand-new, it would still probably be useless. Did the plague end up spreading everywhere? Is the whole world as devastated as we are?

She had no way of knowing, but she suspected the worst.

Voices from outside distracted her from her contemplation of global disaster. The words were muddled, indistinct through the solid brick wall. A group of feet walked by the windows, a mix of newer boots and tattered ones, dirty and practical. One person—hard to tell if those narrow, pegged jeans belonged to a man or a woman–wore a pair of classic Converse sneakers, royal blue canvas with startlingly white laces.

Nina didn’t see Paul’s familiar camel suede hiking boots.

Where were her boots, her clothes, her pack? None of her things were in the room with her, unless someone stowed them under the bed, where she couldn’t see. Leaning over the side of the bed had made her too dizzy to get a good look.

Paul must have her gear. Why hadn’t he come to see her yet?

If she’d been ill for two weeks, the church probably put Paul to work instead of letting him idle by her side all day, getting in the doctor’s way and doing nothing useful. That’s what people did before, sat with their loved ones at the hospital, but Nina didn’t imagine Paul could get away with it. He’d hate to be away from her while she was ill, but he was both kindhearted and thoroughly practical. He’d work gladly for the church in exchange for the time and supplies they were investing in Nina’s care.

So Paul hadn’t been with her the day before when she’d finally come to her senses. Doctor Ryan hadn’t sent for him, either, presumably because she’d been in such a fragile state.

Why isn’t he here now, then?

Footsteps sounded from beyond the door, which opened with a faint creak. Doctor Ryan poked her graying head in and blinked like a barn owl when she saw Nina awake and frowning.

The bewildered expression became a broad smile as she entered the room. “How are you feeling today?”

The genuine warmth in her tone reminded Nina of Sarah, as did her plump build and pale coloring. Doctor Ryan’s hair was longer, twisted into a neat bun at the nape of her neck, and more silver than blonde, but she had the same maternal, caring air.

“Hungry,” Nina answered. “Cranky. Bored.”

“The hungry part, I can do something about.” She tipped her head toward Nina’s IV stand. “That kept you from dehydration, but we could only feed you when you were awake long enough.”

Memories of Paul’s black eye swam up to cloud Nina’s vision as the doctor unhooked her from the drip. The firm pressure on her skin after the needle was withdrawn provided a welcome distraction from wondering what she had done or said in the time she couldn’t remember, and from the pulsing agony in her other arm.

“How’s the pain?” the doctor asked, as if she knew the direction of Nina’s thoughts.

“About the same as yesterday. And it . . .”

Ryan sat down in the chair beside the bed and began to unpin the folded sweater sleeves at the end of Nina’s shortened arm. “It what?”

“It itches.” The itching was more maddening than the pain.

“Taking care of that won’t be as easy as getting you fed, because it’s part of the healing process. But it will fade. In the meantime, you’ll have to learn to ignore it. You can’t go tearin’ at your bandages to scratch the itch.” She unwound the white knob of gauze where Nina’s elbow should have been. The innermost bandages came away stained, watery pink and yellow. “Good. Less seepage than yesterday, and the swelling’s down. Pretty soon we can switch you to a compression bandage, after I take your sutures out. Tomorrow, or the day after.”

The line of stitches curved in a half-circle around the inner edge of her arm. They were neat and small and even, a far cry from her own clumsy needlework on Paul’s skin.

It was easier for Nina to believe her hand and forearm were gone, to forbid her brain from tricking her into still feeling them, when she stared at those tiny black stitches.

They disappeared, though, when the doctor placed the end of a new length of gauze against Nina’s skin. A few silent minutes later, her arm was bandaged neatly, her sweaters refolded and pinned in place.

Ryan stood. “Do you need the bed pan?”

Nina cringed, but she nodded. She’d already tried to get out of bed once and barely managed to sit up without the room spinning. There was no way she could make it to a bathroom—there’s no way there’s a working bathroom anyway, I bet they go outside—so she submitted to the necessary embarrassment. The bed pan didn’t bother her as much as knowing she’d been wearing adult diapers during her illness, when she couldn’t communicate her needs, and knowing the doctor had changed her and cleaned her.

Once that unpleasantness was over and Doctor Ryan returned with the empty, rinsed pan, she returned it to its place on the small table of tools before sitting beside the bed. “Now that you’re awake and aware, we should fill in your medical history, so I can treat you better.”

Nina shifted on the bed, trying to push herself higher on the mountain of pillows propping her up. Sharp pain flared in her arm when she pressed the bandages against the mattress, but she fought through it. “What do you need to know?”

“Any drug allergies? I had to risk the antibiotics to keep you with us, but I haven’t been giving you anything for the pain. Not that we have much, but a few things might help.”

Nina shook her head. “Nothing I’ve run into. But . . . but I don’t want anything that might be addictive. I can’t risk that. If this is as bad as the pain’s going to get, I can tough it out.”

Ryan nodded. “We’ll try you out on something mild, just to help you sleep, if you need it.” She made a note, then rattled off a long list of medical conditions, asking if she or her parents had suffered from any of them. Nina answered as best she could remember until the doctor made one last check mark. Then the doctor cocked her head to the side. “When was your last period?”

“Um . . .” Nina struggled to fix a time frame around the missing days. “It ended right before my arm got broken, about a week before I got here.” She’d been sick three days, or maybe four, before Paul had gone looking for medicine for her. And he’d told her he’d driven three days to get her to the church. “So, three weeks ago?”

“I see. Has your cycle been regular, since the plague? A lot of the women have had issues, going off their birth control unexpectedly.”

A mild way to describe the total collapse of normal health care. “I wasn’t on any, and my period’s always been clockwork, every twenty-nine days.” Nina swallowed past a lump in her throat. “Are you trying to ask me if I could be pregnant?”

Doctor Ryan straightened her shoulders. “You’re not. I couldn’t do the full blood work I’d normally order for a patient before surgery, but every drug store in the city still has pregnancy tests on the shelves. I couldn’t put you under without checking first, not in good conscience.”

“Right, of course. I’m sorry.”

“Did you think you might have been?” Her tone was somewhere between sympathetic and speculative.

“No.” It had been weeks since Paul had touched her, and even after he’d known he didn’t have to be careful, he still had been. “No, I didn’t.”

“I can’t say I didn’t wonder, with how you and that man showed up in desperate straits.”

Nina’s skin rose in goosebumps under her hospital gown. “That man”? Why wouldn’t she know his name? “He’s not . . .”

Before she could decide how to finish the question, the doctor broke in. “Nobody got the story out of him before he was gone. We didn’t know what happened to you.”

“Gone?” Nina whispered. No, no, no . . .

Something in Doctor Ryan’s expression softened. “Oh, no, dear, he’s alive. Or at least, he was two weeks ago. Once I shooed him off so I could take care of you, Derek put him in one of the empty rooms over at the motel. The next morning, he was gone. Disappeared without a word. Nobody saw him leave, but the car you came in was gone, too, so he must have packed up before dawn and hit the road.”

Nina opened her mouth, but no words came out. Tears pooled in her eyes, but she didn’t cry. She wouldn’t, not in front of the doctor.

Not in front of anyone, ever again.

She couldn’t hide her shaking, though. “He meant something to you?” Ryan asked.

“A friend.” Nina forced the words out through numb lips. “He was my friend. Or I thought he was.”

Ryan patted Nina’s shoulder. “Some people aren’t made for sitting still. But he got you to us in time, and you’re welcome to stay, even if he didn’t.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll go get some breakfast for you, then.”

Being a doctor must have put her in the middle of all sorts of difficult emotional situations—she knew the value of a tactful retreat. But Nina still didn’t allow herself to cry when she was alone. She turned her face to the windows and stared at the sunlight.

Paul had promised he would never leave her without telling her first. Doctor Ryan hadn’t mentioned a note or a letter or even a verbal message for her. If Paul had meant to leave one, the doctor would be the obvious choice.

Nina had made a promise, too.

How on earth am I going to find him?

Her gear was gone, apparently. Her spare clothing, her food, her small stash of medicine, the flashlight she’d barely had long enough to think of as hers.

Half of her left arm was gone, too. She made herself study what remained, raising it off the bed. Movement of any kind made the throbbing worse, bringing tears back to her eyes, but she lifted her arm and focused on it. The rounded swell of bandages beneath the intricately cabled sweater occupied the space where her elbow used to be. Even after endless minutes of staring straight at it, Nina still thought, if she tried hard enough, she could tell her arm to bend, and it would.

It didn’t.

She could raise it or lower it or wave it in little circles. Those caused a pulling tightness in her shoulder muscles, but the ache was pleasant compared to the throbbing pain.

I’ll do this as much as I can stand, whenever I’m alone. And the doctor will probably have exercises for me to do, even if she wasn’t specialized in physical therapy. That seems like something she’d have to know anyway. I need to get my strength back.

She’d already started over once, and it was the last thing she wanted to do again.

The first thing she’d need to find was a new backpack.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: May 2017!

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I’ll be honest; doing these monthly posts feels a lot less rewarding when I’m not getting anything accomplished.

This month, my family suffered another loss, and coming so quickly after the last one, my motivation has plummeted. I still think about writing, in that vague, far-off way of having ideas that never quite make it to the page. I still think about the things I should be doing, marketing-wise, to get my books to a wider audience, and to give my future books a better chance at succeeding.

But, for the moment, it’s all in the planning stages. Pushing myself to work through emotional turmoil is keeping me on my feet for my day job, but isn’t leaving much energy left for my writing work.

It will get better. It will. It just takes time.

On to this month’s stats. Writing: negligible. Journaling: almost non-existent. Exercise: getting back on track with yoga, basic bodyweight strength work, and even some running. It helps.

Reading: my only success story this month. I finished 13 books, a nice bounce-back from my April slump. I’m now just past halfway through the Dark Tower series, which is one of my major reading goals this year, and I’m working on clearing out more of my acquired-in-2015 shelf, because if I’m going to keep buying secondhand books at an alarming rate, I need to winnow out the duds. (I say this having just spent a Reading Rewards and a birthday coupon at Thriftbooks, with four books already arrived and four more on the way. Book mail rules.)

So, I don’t usually do this, but making lists my go-to organizational tool, and sharing it publicly makes me feel more accountable, at least in theory.

My June writing and writing-adjacent goals:

  1. Finish formatting What We Need to Rebuild and turn it over to my final proof editor for the last pass.
  2. Write the back cover blurb and brainstorm cover concepts to submit to my designer.
  3. Pending his schedule, get the damn book published. (This entirely depends on when he fits me in and how many rounds of changes we go through; if I can’t get completely done in June, I will move mountains to make it happen in July. I thought this book would be out in spring, not summer, but not every plan works out.)
  4. Write down all of the potential plot bunnies currently in my head and evaluate them for a next first-draft project.
  5. Reread my NaNo ’16 novel (that’s #rockstarnovel, to those of you who were following me through its process) and decide how to proceed. I originally intended it to be a standalone, but now I’m not sure. I have serious concept blocking to do if I want to add a second book, or maybe even more. I’m honestly not sure at the moment.
  6. Keep up better with my thrice-weekly blog posts. I’m doing well at Friday’s book review posts, but I’m slacking with Monday/Wednesday. Understandably so, in these circumstances, but I need to get my work ethic back on the rails.

If you’re still with me through all of that, thank you for your support. I’m not the type to splash my personal life all over the public arena, but the kindness and encouragement I’ve gotten from my readers and fellow authors when I have has been nothing but helpful and heartwarming. So this is me saying, I’ve had my wallow, and I needed it, but now it’s time to get back to work.

I’ll see you lovelies tomorrow with this week’s batch of book reviews.

The End of the Year Wrap-Up: 2016!

This has been a roller-coaster of a year for me personally as well as the world at large.

In January, I began my three reading challenges with great vigor and enthusiasm, leading to my Friday book-review posts. I was also slogging through a spat of creative exhaustion trying to finish the first draft of What We Need to Rebuild.

February saw me finishing it and taking a short break before diving into the rewrite for What We Need to Decide.

March is when I made my first profitable sales! Since the release of What We Need to Survive in December 2015, every dollar coming in was chipping away at the cost invested to get it published. I was so proud.

That success was thanks in no small part to #readselfpublished month in April, a Tumblr-spawned movement to support independent authors. I got myself on the circulating list and earned myself some new fans!

In May I finished reworking WWNTD and threw it at my beta readers in June, while I dug into rewriting WWNTR.

In July, I got my first novel on to the shelves at my local library! (Or, rather, I got the process started, it took a few weeks for them to actually become available. But still. I was thrilled.)

I spent most of August doing all the pre-publishing polish for What We Need to Decide, which was released in September. My second novel, hurray!

That’s also when I started finishing my reading challenges. I was done with all three by the end of September. Diligence paid off, but I was dying to read whatever the heck I wanted for a while.

That didn’t stop me from starting a fourth (short) reading challenge in October, Mount TBR, which prodded me to tackle twelve books from my pile that I’d been meaning to read. No problem!

November, of course, was NaNoWriMo, when I got to start a completely new draft of a completely new project. I ditched dystopia for rock stars! I won NaNo without coming anywhere close to finishing my draft.

It’s still not done, and December’s been a busy time for me (as evidenced by my unplanned blogging hiatus, sadly.) I’m back though! Ready to write! Ready to finish this new novel draft and get back to work on WWNTR in the new year after I hear from my betas! Ready to start new (though slightly less strict) reading challenges!

I didn’t do too shabby on the reading, in the end: here’s my year in books! I may set a higher goal in 2017 (150-175 or so) because I have a serious backlog of romance novels on my Kindle, and I can tear through one of those on a day off work, no problem. It’s going to be the read of Reading My Own Damn Books!

I hope everyone has a lovely New Year’s Eve and starts 2017 ready to make themselves and the world better, ready to follow those resolutions and work on those goals, to chase those dreams.

I started my first novel as a resolution to take myself more seriously as a writer, and look where I am now!

WHAT WE NEED TO DECIDE Is Here!

eBook cover

What We Need to Decide is now available!

Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: iBooks :: Kobo

Planning a future is a tricky thing, more difficult than picking the best route off a map–especially when the world lies in ruins.

Paul doesn’t have any doubts about Nina. She chose to follow him, and to love him, more every day. Life on the road will never be easy, but with her by his side, he can do anything.

Nina never hoped for much, before the plague, or after. Having Paul to love, and to love her, was more than she’d expected. No matter what else is wrong, being with him feels right, and she sets aside her armor to let him in.

But when Nina reveals her deepest secrets, Paul realizes the life he hopes to have some day might be out of his reach.

And when Paul shows her his darkest side, the piece of himself he can’t accept, Nina wonders if she’ll lose the man she loves to his own demons.

Will Paul and Nina allow the struggles of their pasts to define their future?

What We Need to Decide continues their story, begun in What We Need to Survive, following them as they face the dangers of a world that isn’t as empty as it seems, and the challenges of forging a strong bond under the worst conditions.


Author’s Note: What We Need to Survive, book #1 in the series, can be read as a standalone novel; What We Need to Decide cannot. And it ends on a cliffhanger, resolved in book #3, What We Need to Rebuild, which will release in 2017. Fair warning, before someone throws their book, phone, or e-reader across the room when they finish reading.

Need to catch up? What We Need to Survive is on sale for $.99 through the end of September!


Chapter One – Destination

October 12th, 6:35 pm – OH-93, south of Oak Hill

Nina sat beside Paul in front of the fire and waited for him to tell her what was on his mind.

She sensed something weighing on him. His distant expression was more than the unfocused gaze of someone staring into the leaping flames. He peered through it, past it, as if trying to see into the future. The slight furrow of his brow meant he didn’t care for whatever chain of events he conjured up.

He’d been quiet all afternoon while they’d foraged for food in Oak Hill. With a solid set of wheels underneath them, they didn’t need to stop in every town to hunt for supplies. But when they’d found a small grocery next to the highway with no obvious signs of damage, Paul had pulled into the parking lot and suggested they investigate.

They’d found a case of energy bars and more honey-roasted peanuts than they could eat in a week. Not that Nina wouldn’t try.

They hadn’t talked much as they scanned the aisles by the beam of Paul’s flashlight. Without the hum of the air conditioners, the electric whine of the fluorescent lights overhead, or the bland pop music playing on the radio, their voices had echoed through the cavernous building.

Though no one would hear them, Paul had whispered, and so had she.

He wasn’t whispering anymore. He was silent, almost brooding.

Nina had needed time to get used to his easy, talkative nature at first—his effortless charm inviting her in, and how he kept trying to be her friend when she couldn’t admit she wanted one. Since they’d gone beyond friendship, she was having equal trouble getting used to his silences. He’d admitted to worrying he talked too much sometimes, or he’d bore her, so he overcompensated by shutting up for hours. And sometimes, he was just tired.

This quiet between them as they sat together at the fire seemed thoughtful.

Emulating Paul’s endless patience with her was a challenge, but Nina wanted to try. She sat beside him without fidgeting or filling the silence with small talk. She was terrible at small talk anyway—if she dove into it, Paul would suspect he was making her anxious.

Instead of demanding he spill his secrets, which tempted her, Nina made herself do something practical, something useful. Diverting her circling thoughts with activity wasn’t new—she’d done it plenty to calm her mind before she and Paul had gotten together.

But she still thought of him as the practical one, the one ready for any eventuality. She had to play catch-up, learning to be as self-reliant and self-assured as he was.

Their spare gear was stored in the back of the pickup truck. They’d already built the fire and eaten dinner, but they hadn’t pitched the tent yet. By the way the western sky was blazing orange and pink, sunset was no more than half an hour away. Nina wasn’t practiced enough at camping to be comfortable setting up the tent by firelight. She lifted it out of the truck bed and scanned the site for the best spot.

When Paul noticed what she was doing, he jumped to his feet to help. Together they cleared a space and put up the tent, a two-person dome barely long enough for Paul to stretch out in. They had one sleeping bag between them, which got unrolled, unzipped, and laid flat to serve as a mattress. Their blankets went on top, though they had no pillows. Nina supposed they could have taken theirs from the house when they left, but neither of them had thought to, and they hadn’t found new ones.

After they finished, Paul plunked himself back down at the fire. Not sure what else to do, Nina joined him. He draped his arm over her shoulders, and she leaned her head against his chest, grateful for the contact. But he was still silent, and she still didn’t know how to ask what was making him so somber.

Before long, she was dozing off.

“You should go to bed,” Paul told her after the third time she jerked her head up to keep from falling completely asleep.

A good idea, but it could be a better one. “Come with?” Nina asked, her voice small and sleepy.

He shook his head, trailing the backs of his fingers over her cheek. “I’ll be in soon.”

Nina’s skin heated from the caress more than from the warmth of the fire. After a few days together on the road, Paul’s casual affection finally felt natural to her. Building that part of their relationship was easier when they were alone together, with no one watching and driving Nina crazy with nerves.

But she sighed when she settled into their thin, inadequate bed, alone and not nearly warm enough without Paul beside her. Summer was giving way to fall, and already the nights were far colder than she thought they’d be. She curled herself tightly, pulled her blanket up to her chin, and tried not to worry. The sudden feeling of distance between her and Paul kept her too tense to sleep. She wanted the warmth of his body and the solid comfort of his presence.

He was only a few feet away, but it felt much farther.

Nina told herself she was overreacting, but it was still new to her, this intimacy of hearts, not just of bodies. Uncertainty ran rampant inside her head—she knew she should find out what was bothering him, but she didn’t know how, not without potentially making the problem worse.

Sometime later she woke, fuzzy-headed and night-blind, without realizing she had fallen asleep. Paul was in the tent. He’d put the fire out, so no light shone through the thin nylon walls, and in the dark, he’d bumped her getting into bed.

She made a complaining noise, and he kissed her hair as he gathered her in his arms. “Sorry, sweetheart. Go back to sleep.”

His heat thawed her chilled joints, and she melted closer to him. When she began to kiss her way up his neck, though, he pulled away.

“Not tonight, okay? It’s late, I think we both need the sleep instead.”

Nina laid her head on his shoulder, determined not to let him know by any sound or change in her breathing how even his gentle rejection stung. Not much, not unbearably, but she hadn’t expected the first time to be so soon. They’d made love in one form or another every night since they’d left, and more than once on a break from traveling during the day.

They were still new to each other, and both of them had been starved for real affection. Nina had a gnawing hunger in her, a craving for him she couldn’t seem to satisfy.

Until tonight, she hadn’t doubted Paul felt the same hunger. For those precious few days they’d had together at the house, it hadn’t mattered whose idea it had been to get naked. But on the road, Paul had been letting Nina make the first move. Either because it was his nature—which Nina didn’t believe, he was too passionate to sit back and wait for her every time—or because he was trying to be sensitive to her past. She remembered the horror in his expression when she’d told him about her time on the road with Darren, before they’d met.

She’d refused to go with Paul, at first, because of it.

Obviously, he remembered too, which made him hesitant.

Nina wiggled closer. Paul’s arms settled more snugly around her. His heart thumped beneath her cheek, steady and strong, a drum keeping time for the soft drone of the crickets outside.

He didn’t pull away.

Her anger and hurt eased with every reassuring thump in his chest. She could choose to hang onto them, or to let them go. Paul was trying to make her life easier by being undemanding. He was trying to keep her fears contained and quiet her anxieties.

And if he erred on the side of caution, wasn’t it another sign he cared?

With a deep sigh, she let it go, like dropping stones into a pond and watching until they sank out of sight. “Paul?” she whispered. “Are you still awake?”

“Hm?” he murmured, nuzzling her hair with his lips.

“I know you’re too tired to talk now, but something’s bothering you. Will you tell me soon? Because I’m worried about you.”

After a long pause, she wondered if he’d fallen asleep right when she’d finally figured out how to safely phrase her concerns. Then he said, “Not sure I’m ready to talk about it yet, sweetheart. Might be a bad idea.”

She pawed her hands up his body until she found his face, then drew him down to her for a kiss. A soft one, which she hoped he knew wasn’t asking for more. “Then think about it. Because I want to help.”

“All right, sweetheart.” He interrupted himself with a wide yawn. “I can do that.”

If he said anything else, Nina didn’t remember when she woke up in the morning. Early sunlight painted the far side of the tent a brighter shade of green. She rolled over to joke with Paul for letting her sleep past sunrise, but she was alone. Not even a memory of warmth came from his side of the bed.

Nina’s winter coat was draped over her, though, on top of her blanket. Paul must have done it when he woke up, and his care of her made her heart flutter, even if she wanted to be the one taking care of him.

When she emerged from the tent, shoving her hands down the arms of her coat, she found Paul sitting in the cab of the truck with the door still open, his feet on the step. His notebook was spread across his knee as he wrote. He wore his usual layers, shirt and sweater, plus his own winter coat, a rugged denim jacket, surprisingly warm and sturdy. Nina knew because she’d found it for him, delighted at the quilted lining and how it was big enough she’d drown in it. Which meant, she’d hoped, it might actually fit him.

It did, which made her happier than she’d expected to be.

Their coats had been stuffed in the back of the truck with their extra supplies, but the chill in the morning air must have prompted Paul to retrieve them. She hadn’t seen him wearing his yet, but the deep blue color, a few shades darker than his jeans, turned his hair a brighter gold. For a moment, she just stood in front of the tent and marveled at him, her long-legged songwriter with his shaggy hair and beautiful hands and quiet, considerate heart.

She’d had no idea love could feel this way. Maybe she should have tried it sooner.

But it wouldn’t have been with him, so it might have been all wrong.

When Paul lifted his bent head to smile at her, she couldn’t help returning his grin. Faint, dark circles shadowed his eyes, which made Nina wonder how long he’d lain awake the night before wrestling with whatever demons troubled him. But he kept smiling as he set his notebook on the dashboard and stretched out his arms, inviting her to step into them, holding her when she did.

“’Morning,” she said, muffled by his coat.

“Looks like you slept better than I did.” He kissed the top of her head.

She faced him, not sure what to say, and tried to keep the worry out of her expression. She didn’t want to ask again, because he might think she didn’t trust him to tell her when he was ready.

Despite her best efforts, some fraction of her inner turmoil must have lurked in her eyes, enough to crack the edges of his uncertainty. He squeezed her tighter for a moment, tight enough for her ribs to protest, then kissed her forehead before speaking. “I know we planned to avoid big cities,” he began. “And I still think we should. Except . . .”

“Except?” Nina prompted when he broke off, glancing away.

He closed his eyes for a heartbeat before meeting her gaze again. “I want to go home.”

A Sneak Peek at WHAT WE NEED TO DECIDE

eBook cover

What We Need to Decide will be released 9/16/16!

Haven’t read What We Need to Survive yet? The Kindle edition is on sale for $.99 through the end of September!

Also on sale at Barnes & Noble :: Kobo :: iBooks

Now, it’s time for a sneak peek at WWNTD, so here’s the first chapter!


Chapter One – Destination

October 12th, 6:35 pm – OH-93, south of Oak Hill

Nina sat beside Paul in front of the fire and waited for him to tell her what was on his mind.

She sensed something weighing on him. His distant expression was more than the unfocused gaze of someone staring into the leaping flames. He peered through it, past it, as if trying to see into the future. The slight furrow of his brow meant he didn’t care for whatever chain of events he conjured up.

He’d been quiet all afternoon while they’d foraged for food in Oak Hill. With a solid set of wheels underneath them, they didn’t need to stop in every town to hunt for supplies. But when they’d found a small grocery next to the highway with no obvious signs of damage, Paul had pulled into the parking lot and suggested they investigate.

They’d found a case of energy bars and more honey-roasted peanuts than they could eat in a week. Not that Nina wouldn’t try.

They hadn’t talked much as they scanned the aisles by the beam of Paul’s flashlight. Without the hum of the air conditioners, the electric whine of the fluorescent lights overhead, or the bland pop music playing on the radio, their voices had echoed through the cavernous building.

Though no one would hear them, Paul had whispered, and so had she.

He wasn’t whispering anymore. He was silent, almost brooding.

Nina had needed time to get used to his easy, talkative nature at first—his effortless charm inviting her in, and how he kept trying to be her friend when she couldn’t admit she wanted one. Since they’d gone beyond friendship, she was having equal trouble getting used to his silences. He’d admitted to worrying he talked too much sometimes, or he’d bore her, so he overcompensated by shutting up for hours. And sometimes, he was just tired.

This quiet between them as they sat together at the fire seemed thoughtful.

Emulating Paul’s endless patience with her was a challenge, but Nina wanted to try. She sat beside him without fidgeting or filling the silence with small talk. She was terrible at small talk anyway—if she dove into it, Paul would suspect he was making her anxious.

Instead of demanding he spill his secrets, which tempted her, Nina made herself do something practical, something useful. Diverting her circling thoughts with activity wasn’t new—she’d done it plenty to calm her mind before she and Paul had gotten together.

But she still thought of him as the practical one, the one ready for any eventuality. She had to play catch-up, learning to be as self-reliant and self-assured as he was.

Their spare gear was stored in the back of the pickup truck. They’d already built the fire and eaten dinner, but they hadn’t pitched the tent yet. By the way the western sky was blazing orange and pink, sunset was no more than half an hour away. Nina wasn’t practiced enough at camping to be comfortable setting up the tent by firelight. She lifted it out of the truck bed and scanned the site for the best spot.

When Paul noticed what she was doing, he jumped to his feet to help. Together they cleared a space and put up the tent, a two-person dome barely long enough for Paul to stretch out in. They had one sleeping bag between them, which got unrolled, unzipped, and laid flat to serve as a mattress. Their blankets went on top, though they had no pillows. Nina supposed they could have taken theirs from the house when they left, but neither of them had thought to, and they hadn’t found new ones.

After they finished, Paul plunked himself back down at the fire. Not sure what else to do, Nina joined him. He draped his arm over her shoulders, and she leaned her head against his chest, grateful for the contact. But he was still silent, and she still didn’t know how to ask what was making him so somber.

Before long, she was dozing off.

“You should go to bed,” Paul told her after the third time she jerked her head up to keep from falling completely asleep.

A good idea, but it could be a better one. “Come with?” Nina asked, her voice small and sleepy.

He shook his head, trailing the backs of his fingers over her cheek. “I’ll be in soon.”

Nina’s skin heated from the caress more than from the warmth of the fire. After a few days together on the road, Paul’s casual affection finally felt natural to her. Building that part of their relationship was easier when they were alone together, with no one watching and driving Nina crazy with nerves.

But she sighed when she settled into their thin, inadequate bed, alone and not nearly warm enough without Paul beside her. Summer was giving way to fall, and already the nights were far colder than she thought they’d be. She curled herself tightly, pulled her blanket up to her chin, and tried not to worry. The sudden feeling of distance between her and Paul kept her too tense to sleep. She wanted the warmth of his body and the solid comfort of his presence.

He was only a few feet away, but it felt much farther.

Nina told herself she was overreacting, but it was still new to her, this intimacy of hearts, not just of bodies. Uncertainty ran rampant inside her head—she knew she should find out what was bothering him, but she didn’t know how, not without potentially making the problem worse.

Sometime later she woke, fuzzy-headed and night-blind, without realizing she had fallen asleep. Paul was in the tent. He’d put the fire out, so no light shone through the thin nylon walls, and in the dark, he’d bumped her getting into bed.

She made a complaining noise, and he kissed her hair as he gathered her in his arms. “Sorry, sweetheart. Go back to sleep.”

His heat thawed her chilled joints, and she melted closer to him. When she began to kiss her way up his neck, though, he pulled away.

“Not tonight, okay? It’s late, I think we both need the sleep instead.”

Nina laid her head on his shoulder, determined not to let him know by any sound or change in her breathing how even his gentle rejection stung. Not much, not unbearably, but she hadn’t expected the first time to be so soon. They’d made love in one form or another every night since they’d left, and more than once on a break from traveling during the day.

They were still new to each other, and both of them had been starved for real affection. Nina had a gnawing hunger in her, a craving for him she couldn’t seem to satisfy.

Until tonight, she hadn’t doubted Paul felt the same hunger. For those precious few days they’d had together at the house, it hadn’t mattered whose idea it had been to get naked. But on the road, Paul had been letting Nina make the first move. Either because it was his nature—which Nina didn’t believe, he was too passionate to sit back and wait for her every time—or because he was trying to be sensitive to her past. She remembered the horror in his expression when she’d told him about her time on the road with Darren, before they’d met.

She’d refused to go with Paul, at first, because of it.

Obviously, he remembered too, which made him hesitant.

Nina wiggled closer. Paul’s arms settled more snugly around her. His heart thumped beneath her cheek, steady and strong, a drum keeping time for the soft drone of the crickets outside.

He didn’t pull away.

Her anger and hurt eased with every reassuring thump in his chest. She could choose to hang onto them, or to let them go. Paul was trying to make her life easier by being undemanding. He was trying to keep her fears contained and quiet her anxieties.

And if he erred on the side of caution, wasn’t it another sign he cared?

With a deep sigh, she let it go, like dropping stones into a pond and watching until they sank out of sight. “Paul?” she whispered. “Are you still awake?”

“Hm?” he murmured, nuzzling her hair with his lips.

“I know you’re too tired to talk now, but something’s bothering you. Will you tell me soon? Because I’m worried about you.”

After a long pause, she wondered if he’d fallen asleep right when she’d finally figured out how to safely phrase her concerns. Then he said, “Not sure I’m ready to talk about it yet, sweetheart. Might be a bad idea.”

She pawed her hands up his body until she found his face, then drew him down to her for a kiss. A soft one, which she hoped he knew wasn’t asking for more. “Then think about it. Because I want to help.”

“All right, sweetheart.” He interrupted himself with a wide yawn. “I can do that.”

If he said anything else, Nina didn’t remember when she woke up in the morning. Early sunlight painted the far side of the tent a brighter shade of green. She rolled over to joke with Paul for letting her sleep past sunrise, but she was alone. Not even a memory of warmth came from his side of the bed.

Nina’s winter coat was draped over her, though, on top of her blanket. Paul must have done it when he woke up, and his care of her made her heart flutter, even if she wanted to be the one taking care of him.

When she emerged from the tent, shoving her hands down the arms of her coat, she found Paul sitting in the cab of the truck with the door still open, his feet on the step. His notebook was spread across his knee as he wrote. He wore his usual layers, shirt and sweater, plus his own winter coat, a rugged denim jacket, surprisingly warm and sturdy. Nina knew because she’d found it for him, delighted at the quilted lining and how it was big enough she’d drown in it. Which meant, she’d hoped, it might actually fit him.

It did, which made her happier than she’d expected to be.

Their coats had been stuffed in the back of the truck with their extra supplies, but the chill in the morning air must have prompted Paul to retrieve them. She hadn’t seen him wearing his yet, but the deep blue color, a few shades darker than his jeans, turned his hair a brighter gold. For a moment, she just stood in front of the tent and marveled at him, her long-legged songwriter with his shaggy hair and beautiful hands and quiet, considerate heart.

She’d had no idea love could feel this way. Maybe she should have tried it sooner.

But it wouldn’t have been with him, so it might have been all wrong.

When Paul lifted his bent head to smile at her, she couldn’t help returning his grin. Faint, dark circles shadowed his eyes, which made Nina wonder how long he’d lain awake the night before wrestling with whatever demons troubled him. But he kept smiling as he set his notebook on the dashboard and stretched out his arms, inviting her to step into them, holding her when she did.

“’Morning,” she said, muffled by his coat.

“Looks like you slept better than I did.” He kissed the top of her head.

She faced him, not sure what to say, and tried to keep the worry out of her expression. She didn’t want to ask again, because he might think she didn’t trust him to tell her when he was ready.

Despite her best efforts, some fraction of her inner turmoil must have lurked in her eyes, enough to crack the edges of his uncertainty. He squeezed her tighter for a moment, tight enough for her ribs to protest, then kissed her forehead before speaking. “I know we planned to avoid big cities,” he began. “And I still think we should. Except . . .”

“Except?” Nina prompted when he broke off, glancing away.

He closed his eyes for a heartbeat before meeting her gaze again. “I want to go home.”

ANNOUNCEMENT: What We Need to Decide

eBook cover

What We Need to Decide will be released 9/16/16!

Planning a future is a tricky thing, more difficult than picking the best route off a map–especially when the world lies in ruins.

Paul doesn’t have any doubts about Nina. She chose to follow him, and to love him, more every day. Life on the road will never be easy, but with her by his side, he can do anything.

Nina never hoped for much, before the plague, or after. Having Paul to love, and to love her, was more than she’d expected. No matter what else is wrong, being with him feels right, and she sets aside her armor to let him in.

But when Nina reveals her deepest secrets, Paul realizes the life he hopes to have some day might be out of his reach.

And when Paul shows her his darkest side, the piece of himself he can’t accept, Nina wonders if she’ll lose the man she loves to his own demons.

Will Paul and Nina allow the struggles of their pasts to define their future?

What We Need to Decide continues their story, begun in What We Need to Survive, following them as they face the dangers of a world that isn’t as empty as it seems, and the challenges of forging a strong bond under the worst conditions.

Haven’t read What We Need to Survive yet? The Kindle edition is on sale for $.99 through the end of September!

Also on sale at Barnes & Noble :: Kobo :: iBooks

(If any site still shows the original $3.99 price, please try again in a day or two–they all update their listings separately, and some may not have gone through yet. I have no control there!)

Progress Report: I Did a Thing

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Guys, I missed a post last week, and I almost missed another today, because I’m too busy working (and also making dinner, but a girl’s gotta eat.)

What am I working on? Formatting What We Need to Decide. The ebook layout is done, and in another day or two (Elena taps her knuckles on her desk) the print layout will be done as well, then it’s cover time! This is happening, people! Book two!

I’ll do my best to put a real post up Wednesday, and of course I’d never miss reviews on Friday.