Caloundra, Queensland

Thirty-eight days post-apocalypse

Waves crashed and rolled onto Kings Beach across the road, the white expanse of sand a beautiful thing. The ocean had long since washed away the bulk of the dead bodies and debris. Only the tank remained and each tide buried it deeper.

Angus had abandoned her. Which was probably for the best.

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She couldn’t stand to watch him die too.

The summer sun was blindingly bright, the weather hot and humid, typical for January. Or was it February? She’d lost track of the days.

Natalie breathed in the salty sea air as she huddled behind the curtains. She watched the world from four floors up. The penthouse apartment, because Sean had to have the best. No matter her terrible fear of heights.

Another sucky relationship indicator she’d chosen to ignore.

Sean wasn’t looking so good anymore.

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His body was black and bloated, floating facedown on the surface of the large and lavish lagoon-style pool below. The stench of decay didn’t tend to reach her unless it happened to be a particularly still day. Sean hadn’t believed the reports on the TV and internet. He’d mocked her when she’d filled the bathtub and every other available container with water, shut up the unit and flat-out refused to leave. Sean had wanted to swim some laps, do a little sunbaking. Plus the beautiful blonde from the unit next door had been down there, artfully arranged on a sun-lounge in her teeny, tiny yellow bikini.

It hadn’t ended well for either of them.

Hmm.

What was Angus doing?

Had he gotten away?

She bet he had. He was brave. Smart. Resourceful.

And damn fine-looking. Not that a thirty-two-year-old woman should be checking out a twenty-three-year-old boy, but hey … she might as well get her kicks where she could. Happy thoughts these days were few and far between.

He’d be okay. He’d be fine. She’d know it if something had happened to him. She’d feel it somehow.

Natalie scrubbed away a tear with the back of her hand.

Stupid. Pointless. The resort had become a death trap and she was caught. It was for the best that he’d gone.

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The walkie-talkie sat beside her though, just in case.

So did the bottle of sleeping pills.

One of the infected out in the hallway rattled the door handle. Her breath stuck in her throat and her fingers clutched at the curtain. A pounding started deep inside her skull. They couldn’t get in. Not a chance. She’d barricaded the door with the chunky Asian-style coffee table. Backed it up with a couple of the heavy dining chairs for good luck and prosperity. She was safe.

Safe, but stuck.

Darkness owned the hallway. There was no night or day for the ones trapped in there. For them, every hour was party hour. She’d long since gotten used to getting by on little sleep. The three caught in the pool area below were huddled beneath the sun-lounges, cowering. Infected didn’t like bright light. And they couldn’t climb. She’d watched them try to clamber over the shoulder-high pool fence again and again, snarling and growling in frustration.

Like her, they were stuck.

They too would slowly starve.

She had enough food for a few more days, but after that …

The size of her ass had once been an issue for Sean. He’d helpfully stocked the kitchen cupboard with a variety of diet bars and drinks lest she be tempted to enjoy herself over the Christmas break. She’d been furious. Beyond words.

But without those supplies she wouldn’t have lasted a week.

Angus had been a miracle, magically appearing in the garden on the other side of the pool. He’d spotted her somehow, stuck in the apartment. He’d stood below the cluster of palm trees, arms waving madly and a gorgeous, crazy-ass grin on his face. She’d thought she was alone.

Angus played AFL. He also had a decent throwing arm. He’d demonstrated it by chucking care packages up onto her balcony. Protein bars, bottles of water. The walkie-talkie, wrapped tight in a towel so it didn’t shatter on impact. Lots of batteries, because they ended up talking for hours about everything and anything. His aim wasn’t perfect. One time, he accidentally smashed the glass door of the apartment next to her. Infected had shambled out, emerging from all their various hiding places, alerted by the noise to the possibility of a free meal. Angus could run like a demon, not that he had to. Infected didn’t move fast.

Natalie snuffled, blinked furiously. Crying didn’t help. So why had it become her favourite pastime?

He was gone. A good thing.

Right.

She sucked in a breath.

Except he wasn’t gone.

Suddenly, Angus was right there, below her. Striding into view and marching across the courtyard. Heading straight for the pool gate like he was contemplating a dip in the fetid green waters. There was a pack on his back and a sawn-off shotgun in his hands.

Her heart punched hard.

No, no, no. The noise. They’d swarm him.

Natalie scrambled to her feet and shot out onto the balcony. Too damn scared for the young man below to worry about the vertigo assailing her. Too busy to freeze up in fear. He couldn’t be here. It was too dangerous. “Angus!”

The metal lock on the gate clattered as he pulled it up. Rusty hinges squealed as he kicked the gate open. He stomped into the pool area like some warrior of old and the infected stirred beneath their sun-lounges. A blonde head tangled with dried blood appeared from beneath the green and white striped cushions. The gate clanged shut behind Angus, locking him in.

“Angus! No! Get out of here!”

He didn’t look up, didn’t acknowledge her. His focus stayed total.

The blonde in the dirty yellow bikini struggled to her feet, a low growl emanating from her throat. A middle-aged man with a sunken belly and mangy red boardies followed her.

Angus didn’t pause.

He aimed the gun, pulled the trigger.

Boom!

The deafening blast took out the blonde’s head and splattered the middle-aged man with blood and grey matter. Blinded, the infected male stumbled back, moaning, his hands waving urgently in front of his face. Angus fired again and the man flew backward, landing sprawled across the lounges. Eviscerated.

Oh, hell. God. There was … there was a sickening amount of blood.

Angus looked up at her, victorious. His blue eyes squinted into the midday sun. “Gimme a minute. I’ll climb up.”

She blinked stupidly. He’d done it! He’d actually done it.

“You’re insane.”

His gorgeous face broke into a broad grin and her stomach swan-dived. He was really there. He’d come back for her. She wasn’t alone.

But neither was Angus.

A third infected stumbled out from beneath a nearby picnic table, its bloody mouth snarling. Angus hadn’t seen the thing yet. Its arms were outstretched, reaching for him.

“Behind you!”

Angus spun and the infected fell upon him, taking them both down. His shotgun clattered to the side, out of reach. The two bodies struggled on the ground directly beneath her, four stories down. Angus gripped the thing’s shoulders, wrestling with it, trying to push it off. The infected’s head twisted and jerked, yellow teeth snapping.

“Angus!” She strangled the railing, panic rattling her bones. She was going to wet herself. It was so far down. It was. But she had to help him, had to do something.

But what?

The only weapons she had were a set of steak knives and they weren’t going to cut it.

What to use? There were pot plants. Two of them. Heavy, ugly, ornamental things, cluttering up the balcony.

If she could just lift one.

Her sweaty hands slipped on the glaze, baked hot from the sun. She could do this. Natalie scrubbed her hands on her shorts, drying them. Tried again. Her back strained, shoulders protesting. It was bloody heavy. Slowly, she lifted it. Not dropping it. Not yet.

“Throw him off, Angus! Get him off you!”

There was a flash of blue eyes from below. Angus kept moving, struggling, but she couldn’t see … oh, shit. Angus was strong. He was fast. He could do this. He could. She’d never been big on faith. But she had faith in him.

Angus gave a grunt and a heave and the infected flew backwards. Angus rolled to the side, scrunched up into a ball.

Now.

Natalie pushed the pot off the railing. Gravity took over and it plummeted straight down. The infected was rising slowly from the ground, ready to attack Angus again. The pot smashed into its shoulder and the thing tumbled back onto the pavement, arm dangling crookedly and a low moan coming from its mouth.

Angus wasted no time. He leapt to his feet, grabbed the shotgun and reversed it. Rammed the stock into the thing’s face. Bone splintered and cracked. It didn’t move again.

Thank God.

Other infected had gathered below. They stood rattling the fence, wanting in. The chorus of moaning grew louder by the minute. Angus had a hell of an audience assembling, straining against the barrier, bloody hands reaching out to grab him. The glare of the sun obviously forgotten in their hunger.

“Hurry,” she hissed. Loudly. “Get up here.”

Angus nodded and shoved the shotgun into his pack. Pulled up a deck chair and stepped onto it, stretching, reaching up for the first-floor balcony. He started to climb. He was moving. He was safe. It would all be okay.

But the ground loomed below and blood surged hot inside Natalie’s head, drowning out everything like a bass drum beating loud behind her ears. She staggered back from the railing, legs like water. Throat shut tight and her shoulders up to her ears.

It was so high. The balcony was bad.

Really. Just. Bad.

She stumbled inside, sat her butt back on the thick carpeting before she fell down. Breathing deep. Waiting.

It didn’t take him long to reach her.

Angus’s big hands gripped the bars of the railing and he pulled himself up slowly. The muscles in his arms bunched and strained in ways that took her mind off the height thing. His eyes shone and his teeth were gritted but he gave her a wide, relieved smile when he cleared the top. She grinned back, helpless to resist. If she hadn’t already been sitting she would have hit the floor.

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