by Linda Howard and Linda Jones
Series: n/a; standalone
Genre: Adult Romantic Suspense
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: March 31, 2020
Danger brings together two guarded hearts in a battle for survival in this irresistible story from New York Times bestselling authors Linda Howard and Linda Jones.
Sela Gordon, the shy owner of a Tennessee general store, finds safety in solitude. But if anyone can pierce her protective shell it’s the handsome, mysterious ex-military man living alone in the wilds of Cove Mountain. For two years, he’s kept his distance—until the day he appears to warn her that a catastrophic solar storm capable of taking down the power grid is coming. Now, Sela must find the courage to become the leader Wears Valley needs.
Bitter experience has taught Ben Jernigan it’s best to look out for number one. For two years the former soldier has lived in a self-imposed exile, using a top-notch security system to keep people away. But he had to let Sela know about the impending threat—and now the quiet and undeniably sexy woman is making it too easy for him to lower his guard.
As panic spreads, Sela and Ben discover that in the dark, cut off from the outside world, there’s no more playing it safe—in life or in love.
Ben Jernigan snapped awake at the first beep of his computer alarm. What felt like a lifetime of training had him moving and on his feet in front of the computer before his conscious caught up with his subconscious. He scrubbed a hand across his face and turned on a lamp as he focused on the information displayed on the computer screen in very tiny print. Swearing under his breath, he enlarged the screen—and then swore out loud.
His cell phone rang no more than ten seconds after he began reading. Very few people had his number and any call coming in at—he glanced at the time on his bedside clock—2:43 A.M. wasn’t a call he’d ignore.
“Yeah,” he said, trying to elevate his tone from growl to something intelligible. The abrupt awakening had adrenaline pouring through his system, tightening his muscles, sharpening his vision, his thought processes racing. He hadn’t been shot at in over two years, but his sympathetic nervous system was still ready for action.
“You reading this?” The voice belonged to Cory Howler, longtime buddy from the military who now worked with the government in a somewhat murky job description that had him in position to know a lot of shit. People who knew shit were invaluable in every organization, no matter how large, or how small.
“Bigger than Carrington.”
“Shit,” Ben said softly. The Carrington Event was a series of powerful coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, in 1859 that had melted telegraph wires and set some telegraph offices on fire. Technology in the nineteenth century had been limited to telegraphs; now the developed world ran on technology, and the damage would be catastrophic. Satellites would be fried, the power grids—most of them, there were a few that had hardened security—would go down, gasoline supplies would vanish because the pipelines would be damaged, food supplies would dry up, and cities would become the sixth level of hell.
Small CMEs that had little or no effect on technology occurred almost daily, but those mild solar storms couldn’t be compared to what was coming.
“What’s the timing?”
“About thirty-six hours from now. We’d have had more lead time but one of the GOES satellites is down for maintenance, or malfunctioned and they don’t want to say so. Bad timing,” Howler said in wry understatement, given the magnitude of the impending disaster. “It’s a series; we’ve seen four so far. The first one will hit the Far East in about twelve hours, but the ones behind it are bigger, wider, and traveling faster. The Middle East and Europe are going down.”
Ben didn’t miss the qualifier “so far.” They expected more than four. The fourth one would hit the Atlantic, which would play hell with any ships at sea, but any CME after that would hit the American continents, making this a worldwide shit-storm. The thing with a series of CMEs was that the first one sort of cleared the way, cosmically speaking, for the ones behind it and they grew in intensity and speed.
“What are your plans?” he asked, because Howler had a family to take care of.
“I’m packing up the wife and kids right now and sending them south. I want them away from the city, and as far south as possible.”
Ben grunted. The farther south they went, the more survivable the winter would be.
“What about you?”
“I’m making preps, but hanging here for another twelve hours or so. Then I’ll meet up with Gen and the kids and we’ll hunker down, try to survive. My guess is close to a year before the grid comes back up.”
That was an optimistic guess, but not completely outlandish. “Will there be a warning?” He didn’t assume there would be, because the government was so screwed up someone could persuade the head honchos that “panic in the streets” was somehow worse than actually making preparations. On the other hand, governments weren’t the only entities who could see this thing coming. Word would get out, but sooner was better than later.
“It’s being framed,” Howler said. “Word is we’ll hear something right after daybreak, but I’m betting it might not happen until this afternoon. The morons might think it could be a false alarm and wait until Japan is hammered. You know how it goes.”
He did, unfortunately. “See you on the flip side.”
“Take care, bro.”
Ben ended the call and began pulling on his clothes. He was largely self-sufficient, but there were still things he could do to harden his position, expand his resources, safety measures he could put in place. He had solar panels to protect; his ham radio would be worthless for a while after the CME hit because the atmospherics would be fucked, but he needed to protect some of the components so they’d work when the atmosphere did settle down; he also had to protect his generator and get it topped off with propane, get extra gas for his truck and ATV.
There was no way to get enough gas to last for the duration. This wasn’t going to be a short-term event. Both the corporate side and the government side had had their heads in the sand for decades, opting to do nothing because of the cost and gambling that a catastrophic solar storm wouldn’t hit Earth, at least on their watch. Some of them had just run out of luck. The sun called the shots, and the sun had just lobbed the energy equivalent of thousands of nuclear weapons at them—no explosions, but enormous damage.
The people who were paid to think of events like this and the likely outcomes had predicted that the worldwide mortality rate would be at ninety percent by the end of the first year. Ben didn’t think it would be that bad, because people were more resourceful than government entities gave them credit for being.
There wasn’t much he could do right now, with dawn still hours away. On the other hand, neither could he go back to sleep. He went to the kitchen and made himself some coffee, then checked the thermal signatures on his security setup to see if any bears were wandering around in his yard, or even on the wraparound porch. Bear encounters here in the east Tennessee mountains were a fact of life, and he gave the bears the right of way.
There were a few small signatures, birds and what was probably a raccoon, but nothing bear-sized. He took his can of bear spray, a pistol loaded with shotgun pellets, and his coffee cup out on the porch looking out over the valley. Just because there wasn’t a bear now didn’t mean one wouldn’t come along. Settling in a rocking chair and propping his booted feet on the porch railing, he sipped the coffee and looked out over the twinkling lights of Wears Valley, far below.
He’d lived here almost two years now; a military buddy from this area had steered Ben to the mountains, and though he’d initially thought about maybe building a small cabin tucked away in the mountains, when he’d seen this place he’d put in an immediate offer. It was larger than he’d planned, but the location was ideal, situated high on the side of Cove Mountain. The rudimentary driveway leading up to it was steep, impassable to regular cars, and even most pickup trucks couldn’t make it unless they were jacked high enough to clear the big rock Ben had moved into the middle of the driveway as another deterrent. He could have put a chain across the driveway but then he’d have had to get out and unlock it every time he came and went, and for the most part he’d just be making things tougher on himself. Not many people ventured up here.
He liked being alone. He was more content this way. After years of combat and dealing with bureaucrats who didn’t know their asses from a hole in the ground but were nevertheless in charge of life-and-death decisions concerning him and his men, he was done. He got out, and now he just wanted to be left the hell alone.
That meant he never let down his guard. He had a top-notch security system, monitors, alarms; he was serious about keeping people at a distance. A couple of times some nosy neighbors—or tourists, and he didn’t know the difference because he didn’t know any of his neighbors, if someone who lived over a mile away could be called a “neighbor”—had hiked all the way up here. His motion alarm had alerted him the moment they cleared the curve and set foot on the wide, flat area where his house sat, and he’d stepped out on the porch with his shotgun broken open and draped over his arm. Neither time had he had to say a word; just the sight of a big, muscular man with a dark scowl on his face and a shotgun in his hands was enough to send the trespassers the hell off his property.
Sitting here on his porch in the predawn darkness, listening to the nightbirds, the rustling of the trees, not a soul anywhere around him—this was why he’d moved to the Tennessee mountains. He didn’t have PTSD—no nightmares, no flashbacks, no sweats of terror. Maybe some shrink would tell him that his extreme withdrawal was a form of PTSD, but that’s what shrinks did: come up with diagnoses that justified their jobs. As far as Ben was concerned, anyone sane who had spent years dealing with the bullshit he’d dealt with would react the same way.
It wasn’t that he didn’t know people, or at least know their names. By necessity, he’d met some of the valley residents. People insisted on talking to him, even when he limited his responses to grunts. That was almost the only drawback to the area: Southerners were friendly. They talked to everyone. He didn’t want to be talked to. Once an elderly couple he’d just met had invited him to supper; getting away from old people was almost as hard as escaping an ambush, because they were persistent with their offers of hospitality. He’d felt as if his skin was being peeled away, and all he’d wanted to do was duck and cover.
He hadn’t even met any women he’d been remotely attracted to. Scratch that, his subconscious immediately said. Sela Gordon, the owner of the little general store / gas station on the highway . . . he’d noticed her. For one thing, she was quiet; she didn’t bombard him with questions or try to draw him into conversation. He could go into her store and pick up a few items without feeling as if he were under attack. Maybe she was a little shy, because she didn’t get real talkative with any of her customers. Shy was a bonus; she wasn’t likely to start feeling comfortable around him and start up a conversation.
She was slim, quiet, dark hair and soft brown eyes, just curvy enough to leave no doubt she was female. She didn’t wear a wedding ring—or any rings at all. When she wasn’t looking at him, which was most of the time whenever he was in the store, he’d indulge himself by looking at her, though he was careful not to let her ever catch him at it. That was the only time in the past three years his dick had shown any signs of life.
Brooding, he watched a lone car on the highway far below, its headlight beams crawling from left to right. Okay, so maybe he did have a form of PTSD. A few years ago he’d have been all over Sela Gordon, trying to score; the fact that he’d noticed she didn’t wear a wedding ring said a lot. Still, his reluctant interest couldn’t overcome his much stronger need for solitude.
The people down in the valley were still sleeping peacefully, for the most part. Maybe there were a few who didn’t sleep well and were waiting for dawn the way he was, maybe there was even someone who had a NOAA space storm alarm on their computer the way he did, though he doubted it. Their lives were about to change in drastic ways. His, not so much. His income stream would dry up when the CMEs hit and he stopped writing columns for survivalist magazines; his military pension would accrue until such time as the government and banks were up and running again, but the hard fact was there wouldn’t be any bills he needed to pay because utilities would stop working, and he’d be feeding himself with what he could hunt or grow. As an extra hedge, he had about a year’s worth of freeze-dried food stored in a secure locker under the house, he had canned goods, and he had plenty of ammunition stockpiled to protect his food and property.
If the think tank people were right and only ten percent of the population survived the coming Very Bad Day event, then he intended to be one of the ten percent.
Business had been brisk, for a weekday. Sela Gordon’s grocery store / gas station was located right on Highway 321, so business was usually good anyway. She wouldn’t get rich off the store, but she made a decent living. The gas pumps were out front, in the center of the smallish parking lot. Inside, there were seven rows of shelves filled with basic goods. No one would do their regular grocery shopping here, but if someone in the valley ran out of a few things and didn’t want to go all the way to town, this was where they came. Aunt Carol called it the “toilet paper and Spam” collection, and she wasn’t all that wrong, though there were also chips, and cookies, and a few boxes of cereal, some canned goods, and a small section of staples such as salt and sugar and pepper. One aisle was dedicated to over-the-counter meds, bandages, and feminine products. The small floor-to-ceiling cooler in the back was filled with beer, soft drinks, and juice. She’d carried milk for a while, but it hadn’t sold well enough to justify the necessary space. When it came to pricing, she couldn’t compete with the bigger grocery stores in town, and the dairy sell-by dates came and went too quickly. Now she kept a few packs of powdered milk and some cans of condensed sweetened milk that sold mostly in the summer when people were making homemade ice cream.
Between the locals and the tourists, who either stayed in Wears Valley or passed by on their way to and from Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, she stayed busy enough to make this small venture profitable. She’d never own a private jet or buy her own vacation home, but she did okay, and okay was good enough.
Carol said Sela liked her small business because it was safe, and again, she wasn’t wrong.
Taking chances, both personally and professionally, was for people who liked an adrenaline rush. Sela wasn’t one of those people.
A big gray pickup truck, riding high on its chassis, pulled up to one of the gas pumps. She recognized a lot of the locals’ vehicles, including this one. Ben Jernigan didn’t come in all that often, though he did stop for gas now and then, and he’d run in for beer and cereal a time or two—but she recognized him because it was impossible to ignore him. Both the truck and the man were impressive, he more than the truck. He was big, at least a couple of inches over six feet, with muscles that strained the cotton T-shirt he wore. His arms were thick and roped, decorated with a few tattoos, his hands scarred and callused. Usually he was somewhat scruffy, with at least two days’ growth of beard. He almost always wore sunglasses, though he’d slide them up on top of his head whenever he came inside, and his pale green eyes always had a remote, cool expression that cut like a laser. She tried to be friendly with her customers even though she wasn’t an outgoing person, but with him she couldn’t manage even that much. She stayed quiet, like a rabbit hoping the wolf didn’t notice her.
She didn’t like tattoos, but she couldn’t imagine his arms without them. She was vaguely alarmed that she’d given his arms that much thought.
Whenever he came in, her heart pounded hard and fast for at least a few minutes after he’d left. Rabbit, indeed.
She watched as he left the truck and headed for the gas pump, but then he stopped and looked toward the store. Sela quickly glanced down, though she doubted he could see her through the reflection on the glass; she still didn’t want to take the chance that he’d think she was watching him, even though she was. Bold had never been a word used to describe her.
He left the gas pump and started toward the store.
Right on schedule, Sela’s heart started pounding. She concentrated on the invoices on the counter in front of her, even though she wanted to look at him. What woman wouldn’t? She was definitely a woman, even if not a very adventurous one.
The chime sounded, and he walked past her without a word. She wanted to ask him why he hadn’t pumped any gas but had left his truck at the pump, but she didn’t. Only after he’d walked by did she look up, quickly glancing at his muscled back covered by a brown T-shirt, and while she was at it also noticing how well his muscular ass cheeks filled out his jeans. Her cheeks got hot and she returned her attention to the invoices, fiercely focusing on them, or trying to, anyway.
Her thoughts raced, refusing to concentrate on the invoices. He’d picked up one of the baskets on his way in, which was unusual. He never bought much, certainly not so much that he couldn’t carry it in his two big hands.
Damn. Was her mouth watering? It was! The realization flummoxed her. If she was in the market for a man, which she definitely wasn’t, Jernigan would be the last man she considered as an option. Sure, he had the looks, and the muscle. She darted another look at him. Those arms, that ass . . . just wow. But there was something about him that screamed danger, danger, like the screeching robot on that old TV show, and she knew she’d panic if he actually asked her out or even lightly flirted. It was a smart woman who knew when someone was more than she could handle.
Jernigan was usually quick and efficient in his shopping. He knew where everything was and walked straight to it, without fail. Today he seemed to browse, which was out of the ordinary for him. Hmm. He went up one aisle and down the other, then came to the counter with a full basket not to check out but to unload and go back.
Toilet paper. Aspirin. Canned soup. Blueberry Pop-Tarts.
He returned with another full basket, silently unloaded it, and nodded at her. For a fast, heart-stopping moment her gaze met his and that was all it took for the bottom to drop out of her stomach. His eyes were so striking, a predatory pale green, almost pretty in a face that wasn’t pretty at all but was so masculine and intriguing that pretty didn’t matter.
As always, she was the one who looked away. Silently she began picking up cans and scanning them.
She should say something, even if just “hello.” She knew she should. That was what a store clerk did, make the customers feel welcome, and especially so when the clerk was also the owner.
“Is there anything else?” was the best she could manage.
“Thirty bucks in gas.”
He normally just paid for his gas with a credit card, most of the time leaving without coming in. She nodded and keyed the computer to let the pump dispense thirty dollars’ worth of gas.
She gave him a total. He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and withdrew a stack of bills while she finished bagging. There were a lot of bags, and if it had been anyone else she would have offered to help him to his truck, not that he would have any problem at all, but if he were any other man she’d still have offered. She made change, which he stuffed into his front pocket before he gathered all the bags and headed for the door.
Sela breathed out a silent sigh of relief as he reached the door. What was it about him that put her so on edge? She hoped she wasn’t so shallow that it was just his looks. Or his body.
Then he stopped at the door and for a split second she wondered if he was having trouble opening it; she started out from behind the counter, saying, “Let me get that door for you,” but he turned and looked at her and those laser eyes stopped her in her tracks.
“You might want to put a few things back for an emergency, just in case.”
Emergency? Startled, Sela looked out the windows, expecting to see storm clouds or something, but it was a typical September day, the sky blue against the green mountains, the weather still hot, no forecast of a hurricane roaring up the Gulf that would hammer the region with heavy rain. Snow was months away. So—?
“The news hasn’t hit yet,” he continued. His voice was deep, a little rough, as if he didn’t talk much and needed to clear his throat. “But it will, maybe in a few hours, maybe tomorrow, depending on how on the ball those responsible for the alert are.” Small muscles in his neck and jaw clenched a little. “They’re pretty much never on the ball, so—” He shrugged.
She still had no idea what he was talking about. “What news? What kind of alert?” she asked.
“There’s a solar storm headed our way. A CME.”
“Coronal mass ejection.” The words were clipped. “A big one. If it’s as bad as predicted, the power grid will go down.”
“We’ll have a power outage.” They lived in the mountains. Power outages were a fact of life, though their local utility was a good one.
A hint of impatience flared across his expression. He looked as if he already regretted stopping to talk. “A power outage that will likely last for months, if not a year or longer.”
She almost recoiled. And there it was, the big flaw, and one she hadn’t expected. Drink too much, financially irresponsible, smoke too much weed—those were things she saw every day that kept her from accepting what few invitations came her way. This was way out there. He was a survivalist / conspiracy theorist. No fine ass or muscled, tattooed arms or even pretty eyes could make up for that fault.
“Get all the cash you can,” he continued, his reluctance so obvious it was as if he was having to push the words out. “Stock up on staples, canned goods, batteries.” Then he’d evidently had enough because he ended with an impatient, “Just Google it.”
The back door opened and behind them Aunt Carol called out a friendly “Hello.” Jernigan’s gaze flashed to her and evidently that was his cue to leave, two people being one too many, because he pushed through the front door and headed for his truck.
Well, that had been weird.
Carol glanced through the front window as Jernigan stowed his groceries in the truck cab then began pumping his allotment of gas. “Man, I just missed the hottie. I shouldn’t have taken so much time with my hair.” She flicked her fingertips at her short bleached blond locks that were highlighted with a streak of cotton candy pink, and batted her blue eyes. And then she laughed. Carol had a fantastic laugh, rollicking and infectious; she put everything she had into it.
Sela cleared her throat. “He just told me we’re about to get hit with a solar storm that might knock the power out for months.” It sounded just as ridiculous coming out of her mouth as it had coming out of his. And she didn’t refer to him as “the hottie” even though she agreed with the description, because that would only spur Aunt Carol to start prodding her to ask him out, as if she’d ever asked out a man in her life.
Carol made a snorting sound as she retrieved a broom from the utility closet. She helped out at the store on occasion, usually early in the day before Olivia, the fifteen-year-old granddaughter she’d raised from the age of five, got out of school. As she began to sweep, she sighed. “Damn it. Why are all the good-looking men nuts? I should have known he was one of those when he bought that old place on Cove Mountain. Who wants to live in such an isolated place alone? Why? And then he trucked up all those solar panels, and I hear he has a ham radio.” She glanced up at Sela. “Don’t judge me. I’m not a horrible gossip, but people talk. And I listen.”
Sela wasn’t sure when having a ham radio had become a sign of being a nut; she knew at least one other person in the valley who owned one. The thing was, Jernigan had never seemed like a nut to her—the opposite, in fact. He struck her as a man who had dealt with some hard realities.
She leaned on the front counter while she tried to square her instincts with her doubts. What if—? “What if he’s right?” It was an alarming idea, one she hesitated to voice. Immediately she had to fight down a sense of panic, because she couldn’t even imagine what life would be like without electricity for months.
Carol stopped sweeping and leaned on the broom. She wasn’t much wider than that broom, truth be told. She rolled her eyes and made a face. “I still have my Y2K windup radio. You were a kid when the calendar went from 1999 to 2000, so you might not have paid any attention to all the hysteria, but seriously, there were people who thought the same thing would happen when computers tried and failed to make the switch. Banks would collapse. Power plants would go offline. Chaos! Pfft.” She started sweeping again. “Nothing happened. I’d stocked up on enough toilet paper I didn’t have to buy any for a year. And I have a nifty windup radio for emergencies, not that I’ve ever needed it.”
Maybe Carol was right, and nothing would happen.
Then again . . . what if it did? She’d be silly if she acted on the warning of a man she barely knew and nothing happened, but if she didn’t act and his warning was right on target, then she was stupid.
She’d rather be silly than stupid. Silly was embarrassing at worst, while stupid could be deadly. That wasn’t a chance she was willing to take.
She grabbed a shopping basket and started filling it with a few essentials. She wouldn’t clean off the shelves, wouldn’t lock the front door and close for the day, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a few things set back, things that she’d need anyway, even if they weren’t used right away.
While Sela was grabbing some tuna and canned chicken, Carol decided to sweep down the canned meat aisle. After watching her for a few seconds, Carol made another scoffing sound. “If you’re preparing for doomsday, don’t forget to pick up some mayo.”
“I won’t. I’m just getting what we’ll use anyway. If nothing happens, then no big deal. I can put everything back on the shelves.”
She walked up and down the aisles, her mind buzzing. She liked to be organized and controlled, but abruptly she felt neither. Everything around her was the same, but she felt lost. She didn’t know what to do, couldn’t get her mind around the scope of what he’d said could happen, so she concentrated on what he’d actually said. She had some cash, but not enough to get them through a long-term disaster. What good would cash do anyway? But he’d said get cash, so she’d get cash. If the solar storm happened and the grid went down, the way Jernigan said it might, she wouldn’t be able to access her bank. The credit and debit card charges she had in her cash register would be worthless.
“Just for today,” she said in a voice just loud enough for Carol to hear, “we’ll take cash only. Tell everyone the credit card reader is out of order.” She hadn’t taken checks for years, so that wouldn’t be a problem.
“What about the gas pumps?”
She thought about it for a minute. Tourists would be headed for home, if Jernigan was right and an alert went out. At least, she assumed so. She would, if she was away on vacation; she’d burn the highway up getting home. The tourists would need gas. Everyone would need gas. “We’ll leave them, for now.” She didn’t want people who didn’t have enough cash to fill their tanks to end up stranded in her parking lot, or down the road. It was a decent compromise, at least for now. That would change if there really was a warning.
Again she felt a sense of unreality as she tried to deal with the realities of the possible situation. Civilization and culture as she knew it, as everyone knew it, would vanish in an instant. This was too big. There was no way to prepare.
She headed for the cookie aisle. Carol called out, “If anyone else had told you to prepare for Armageddon, would you have taken it seriously? Or are you stocking up for the coming apocalypse because Hottie McStud is the one who told you it was coming?”
“I don’t know,” she said helplessly. “I don’t know that I believe him. It’s just . . . why gamble that he’s wrong?” She took a deep breath. “And it isn’t just me, it’s you and Olivia, too.”
That was what terrified her, she realized. They were family, she and Carol and Olivia, and they didn’t have many other relatives. There were a few scattered cousins, and Olivia’s older brother, Joshua, who was in the military, but here it was just the three of them. If anything happened to Carol or Olivia because she, Sela, hadn’t been prepared enough, she’d never forgive herself.
They’d suffered enough loss, all of it in the past ten years. Olivia’s parents—Carol’s daughter and her husband—in a senseless car crash. Sela’s own parents of natural causes—a slow cancer and a quick aneurysm—three and five years later. Carol’s husband had died after a heart attack four years ago, less than a year after Sela’s divorce.
She’d lost enough. She would damn well do everything she could to keep what remained of her family safe.
Their lives were so entwined she couldn’t imagine being any other way. They lived in a small subdivision within easy walking distance of the store and each other, in houses that were similar on the outside, though wildly different inside. Sela was a minimalist. Carol never met a knickknack she didn’t like. Most importantly, Carol wasn’t prepared for more than a couple of days without power. She’d decided that she didn’t need a generator, because Sela had one, and if there was a power outage she and Olivia would just stay with Sela until the power came back on. Both houses did have fireplaces, though Carol hadn’t had a real fire in hers in years. That might be about to change.
Suddenly it seemed to Sela that she could take everything in her own store and not have enough for them, not for months. And it wasn’t just Carol and Olivia. What would happen when a friend or neighbor showed up, and they needed something? Her family came first, but it would be damn hard to turn people away. Shit. She stared at the pitiful stash she’d accumulated.
No way was this enough.
She took a deep breath. “Of everyone here in the valley, who would you choose to believe when it comes to surviving a catastrophe?”
The two women stared at each other, and Sela knew they were both picturing their friends and acquaintances, and measuring them against the tough, grim, hard-muscled man whose eyes said he’d seen more than they could ever imagine, or want to imagine.
“Hot Buns Steelbody,” Carol said reluctantly, coining a new term for Jernigan.
They shared another look, then Sela said, “Watch the store for a while.” She put the last of what she’d gathered in the office. “I’m going to town.”
“For what?” Carol asked.
“Smart things we need to do. Call your pharmacy and get refills on all your medications, and I’ll swing by and pick them up.”
“They aren’t due, insurance won’t—” Carol began, then said, “Oh. Forget insurance, we’ll pay for them ourselves. Right? Will pharmacies do that?”
“Don’t see why not, as long as it isn’t narcotics. Call and find out, and let me know.” Sela grabbed her purse out from under the counter and headed for the door, already organizing a list in her head: cash from the bank, more supplies from the grocery store, the prescription refills for Carol, batteries, fuel for the oil lamps—more and more items occurred to her, so many she felt overwhelmed. She couldn’t think of everything, she couldn’t get everything . . . but everything she did get was a small step toward keeping them alive and safe.
Maybe Jernigan was totally wrong, maybe he was nuts, or possibly a decent but gullible guy who’d been given bad information. An image of him flashed to mind. No, scratch “gullible” from any description applying to him. He didn’t strike her as a man who trusted easily.
Someone was always hyping that next Tuesday, or next year, or a date on an ancient calendar, was going to be the end of the world. Knock on wood, so far they’d always been wrong.
That wasn’t Jernigan. He didn’t seem either gullible or nuts. She didn’t know him beyond the most superficial acquaintance, but of all the people she could think of he struck her as the one who would know the most about what was going on in the world beyond Wears Valley.
He had seemed almost reluctant to warn her, but he had, and suddenly she wondered why. Was he telling everyone? Was he doing a Paul Revere, up and down the valley?
“When will you be back?” Carol asked.
“I don’t know for sure, but before Olivia gets off the bus. Hold down the fort.”
About the authors:
LINDA HOWARD is the award-winning author of numerous New York Times bestsellers, including Up Close and Dangerous, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Cover of Night, Killing Time, To Die For, Kiss Me While I Sleep, Cry No More, and Dying to Please. She lives in Gadsden, Alabama with her husband and a golden retriever.
LINDA JONES is the acclaimed USA Today bestselling author of more than seventy novels, including Untouchable, 22 Nights, and Bride by Command. She lives in Huntsville, Alabama.
To celebrate the release of AFTER SUNDOWN by Linda Howard and Linda Jones, we’re giving away a paperback copy of The Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard to two lucky winners!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. Two winners will receive a paperback copy of After Sundown by Linda Howard and Linda Jones. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of HarperCollins. Giveaway ends 4/30/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!