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“It did. Yes. At college, the kids thought it was something fun, but growing up like I did, I knew we had to leave immediately,” I tell him that much, not knowing if I’m saying more than I should—if there’s someone on their way here, they are definitely overdue.

Lee reaches out and turns on an LED lantern, and I gasp in surprise.

“Now, this beauty, it needs a good home and I know it can’t replace the one that you said was left back in Seattle, but I’d be pleased to know this was in the hands of someone who would treasure it,” Lee says, indicating the gorgeous bow I saw when the room was illuminated.

“I can’t possibly…” I start to turn it down, but Russ gives me a subtle nudge at the same time Lee’s eyes flash back to my face, looking determined. “Are you sure? It is a work of art; I promise I’ll take good care of it.”

“My brother carved it for me, a long time ago. I think maybe this one holds too many memories for me, so I barely use it and an item that doesn’t fulfill its function is garbage. So, as a thank you for you and your family helping me out, I’d be honored to know you were using it.”

Before reaching for the bow, I quickly hug Lee’s uninjured side and now it’s his turn to gasp in surprise.

“Thank you,” I say, kissing his weathered cheek. “I’ll bring you meat from my first kill with it.”

“Unless it’s a human.” Russ and Lee bust out with that gem at exactly the same moment. “Jinx.”

We all share a laugh when they speak over each other for the second time, and shaking my head at their warped humor, I finally reach for my present.

“I can only spare one string for it, but that should hold you until you can make more,” Lee says, and I smile, pleased that he, correctly, assumes I know how to make them myself. He opens a drawer on his workbench to pull that out and nods his head to the arrows stored below the bow. “Take those as well.”

My eyes widen and I start to step over to Lee to give him another hug, but he holds his good hand up. “Now, now, I told your man here I wouldn’t steal you away from him. No more of that nonsense.”

“I appreciate that,” Russ deadpans and I roll my eyes at the two of them, before smiling down at the bow again.

“I’m going to go show Grandma,” I tell them, carrying my loot out to where Grandma’s sitting in the truck.

Russ follows behind, nodding in appreciation of all the details I point out to him even though he doesn’t have a clue of what I’m talking about.

“What do you two think of me staying up here for a week or so?” Russ asks us after I’ve shown my new treasure off. “Gas is at a premium and those animals will need tending more than every couple of days. He doesn’t seem like the type who’d want a woman washing his back either.”

My jaw drops open and while I want to tell Russ to come back with us, I know that he is needed here. I nod, but the childish side of me is upset at the idea of being separated from him.

“I think that is incredibly thoughtful, Russ,” Grandma says. “Now, you’ll have to get him to agree to it.”

With a nod of his head, Russ reaches down to kiss me and I wrap my arms around him.

“Give me two or three days to work out the schedule with everyone back home and I’ll come stay here with you,” I whisper against his lips.

“I miss you already,” Russ tells me. “So much for not separating, I just can’t think of a better way to do this and Elsbeth shouldn’t drive right now.”

With that she lets out a chuckle, but her eyes aren’t quite focused so it’s easy to see she smoked a bit more than usual. “It was the booze, not the smoke.”

“The green pack is yours,” I tell Russ, indicating the bags I tossed in the truck bed before we headed out. And throw him a wink. “I’ll be sure to bring more underwear and socks for you.”

Chapter 4

Back in November

“Fuck.” Javier swears from beside me, but all I can do is take deep breaths through my mouth and hope I don’t vomit. “Like the world isn’t bad enough right now.”

“Hoss,” Adams calls out from where he’s inspecting the bodies. “Only men and children here. Whoever did this, took the women.”

“Fuck,” Javier says again. “And the hits just keep on coming.”

“Spread out, let’s find their tracks,” I finally say, when I feel I can keep my bile down.

Looking up to the church spire, I signal to our sniper that we’re going to look around.

A similar story starts to take shape with each house that we clear and I turn to Adams after we enter the fourth one, “The bodies, did any of them have coats on? Were they in sleepwear?”