It began as a typical day…
Fiercely independent bakery owner Kate Halloran likes her life the way it is. Casual sex suits her to a T. Work hard, play hard is Kate’s motto. No strings. No demands. No obligations. The ties that bind chafe. She learned a long time ago that the only person she can depend on is herself—and that’s just fine thank you very much.
Then a fast-acting highly contagious novel virus sweeps the globe, ushering a nationwide lockdown. Violence erupts in the streets. Chaos reigns. With the population decimated, Kate’s self-sufficiency kicks into overdrive as she fears she’s the sole survivor. When the dead awaken, Kate becomes prey. Desperate and hunted, she undertakes a dangerous journey—fleeing to the only refuge she knows.
The sanctuary of Mayfly Hollow isn’t without its perils. Can the other survivors there be trusted? And what about the mysterious cowboy called Teller, who gets under her skin like no man ever has? There’s more to him than meets the eye—she can’t help but wonder how much of his aww shucks routine is genuine. As threats close in on every side, can Kate set aside her complicated past to navigate the new world order?
Kate finished ironing patches on the hole-y knees of jeans. She neatly folded them back into the milk crate and lay the cool iron on top. Opening the door, she put the crate on the porch, catching sight of the gangly man in the flannel shirt she’d seen before. He no longer wore a mask. Clean-shaven and handsome in a nonconventional way, he ambled down the gravel road as if he hadn’t a care in the world, an Australian Shepherd trailing behind. As he came toward the cabin, Kate leaned on the doorjamb and made her expression welcoming.
He stopped at the bottom step, tipping his hat in greeting. The dog mounted the bottom stair but froze and settled on his haunches when the man commanded, “Heel, Ace.”
“You Jamie or Teller?”
His irises were the bluest blue she’d ever seen. They blazed against his suntanned skin. “Teller.”
“I’m Kate Halloran. Connie’s sister.”
“I know. The baker. Stubborn and hard-headed. We’ve heard all about you.” Teller’s grin was lopsided, and he spoke with a lazy drawl. His gaze swept over her, and she blushed.
She narrowed her eyes before answering. “Seth been bitching about me?”
Teller chuckled. “Seth is Seth, but Connie talks about you all the time.”
Kate didn’t say anything for a minute. “Really.”
“It ain’t like that.” He didn’t lose his grin. Putting his hands up, he said, “What I’m wonderin’ is if you’re as great a baker as your sister promises.”
Kate’s mouth quirked. There was something about Teller that drew her in. “You play your cards right and maybe you’ll find out, cowboy.”
He lifted an eyebrow and inserted a thumb in a belt loop on his jeans. “Wanna go for a walk?”
“A walk? My quarantine’s not done yet.”
“Shoot, it will be in the morning anyhow. What difference can twelve hours make? C’mon.” He waited while she slipped into her moccasins. Slamming the cabin door, Kate joined him. Ace wagged his tail, nudging his nose into her hip. Teller said, “You can pet him. He won’t nip.”
Kate shook her head without meeting his eyes. “It’s just—I saw a cat get infected and…”
“Kate.” It was the first time he said her name and she looked up to discover him focused on her. “Chances are fairly good you’re not contagious, right? At some point, you gotta stop giving into fear and live.”
“It’s good to have fear. It keeps you alive,” Kate argued, but she sank to her heels and caressed the dog’s velvety ears. “We really don’t know anything about the virus, though that’s not the primary issue anymore.”
Ace trotted between them as they made their way down the gravel road toward the property’s gated entrance. Kate slanted her head toward the cameras as they passed them.
“I feel like I’m in a George Orwell saga.”
“You get used to ‘em. Your brother-in-law’s got a sophisticated security system set up around this place.”
“Did you know his whole family are hardcore doomsday preppers? They gave Seth and Connie a bunker as a wedding gift when they got married.” She stopped, drooping against a tree, reflective. “I never thought I’d see the day where they may actually need such a thing.”
“You gotta admire their tenacity.”
“Connie told me Seth’s great-grandfather lost everything in the stock market crash in the late nineteen twenties. Since then, prepping is like religion to his family. I shouldn’t have been so critical of it.” Kate shrugged. “Your accent says you’re not native to New York State.”
He bent to stroke Ace. “I grew up in Texas. Killeen. Once outta high school I got on the rodeo circuit. I traveled all across the states and into Canada in my early twenties. It ain’t an easy life. I decided to throw in the towel when I about ended up paralyzed.”
Teller resumed walking and Kate tagged along. “What brought you here, cowboy?”
He gave her a half-smile over his shoulder. “A girl, what else?”
Laughing, Kate asked, “And where is she?”
“Probably shacked up with one of the guys she cheated on me with. Or dead.” Teller’s tone was nonchalant, but Kate sensed there was a story there. Nosy enough to want details, she kept her mouth zipped, not wishing to pry. He’d confide at his own pace—or not at all. She figured there was a lot more to Teller than met the eye.
They continued down the lane, side-by-side, not speaking. A bluebird flew past. The only sound was the buzzing of insects and Ace panting as he loped good-naturedly beside them.
The sun had begun its descent, telling her it was nearing suppertime.
Teller followed the fence line where it curved. He led her into a densely wooded area where there was no pathway. Kate hesitated. “Where are we going?”
Kate squinted her eyes at Teller suspiciously, waiting for instinct to tell her the right thing to do. No alarm bells clanged. Hmm. I hope I don’t regret this.
A few minutes later, they entered into a small clearing. A brook meandered around a bend until it was out of eyeshot. Teller lowered onto a log positioned on the grass and Kate did the same. The pleasing scent of fabric softener and hay wafted from him. It seemed so innocuous and homey, she instantly loosened up.
Ace scampered to the stream and lapped thirstily. The late afternoon sunshine kissed his freckled coat and glistened on the water as it swirled around moss-covered rocks. They were surrounded by sloping hills densely packed with verdant green pine trees, which gave the glade the intimate ambiance of a secret garden. The air was soft, humid. For a moment, Kate allowed herself the luxury of pretending everything was normal.
“I love it here,” Teller murmured, turning to her, his blue irises like dazzling aquamarines in the sunlight.
An unexpected ember of attraction kindled as Kate studied Teller’s face. “I can see why. Real life seems a million miles away, doesn’t it?” Ace came up to her, his muzzle wet. He gave her a doggy grin and relaxed at her feet. Kate laid a palm on his head.
Teller cleared his throat, and Kate surmised he was building up to something. She fixed him with an expectant look. His manner was sober when he said, “I heard some bizarre things on the radio. The others here dismiss it as rumors, hysteria. You’ve been out there. The blood on the windshield of your van—the missin’ back window. Obviously, you’ve survived some shit. I wanna know what’s goin’ on in the real world.”
Kate bit her lip, frowned, then ran her fingers through her chestnut hair. Where do I even begin? “What do you want to know?”
“All of it.”
She met his eyes. “You sure? You’re not gonna like what I have to say.”
“Tell me everything.”
Crazy cat lady. Fan of the Oxford comma. Author. With degrees in education and psychology, Anne Lucy-Shanley is a novelist based in the American Midwest. An enthusiast of all things written, Anne dabbles in dystopian, young adult, and non-fiction writing. As a believer in happily-ever-afters, contemporary romance remains her favorite genre. Some of Anne’s pastimes include drinking whiskey, sharing dirty memes, and coming up with captivating storylines while soaking in the tub. When not embracing the quiet life with a book and a cat on her lap, she occasionally travels with her husband of twenty years. Anne loves connecting with her readers! Join the fun at her author and reader Facebook group, the Saucy Society, or sign up for Anne’s monthly newsletter, The Saucy Gossip, for updates on her books, giveaways, and reading recommendations delivered straight to your inbox. Visit her at: https://linktr.ee/annelucyshanley