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No Safe Place

Pandemic Book Three

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THEY THOUGHT THEY’D FOUND THEIR SAFE HAVEN, BUT TROUBLE FOUND THEM INSTEAD

NOTE: This book was published in 2019, before the recent pandemic. It is book 3 of 4 in the completed Pandemic series.

After their treacherous trip from Utah to California, Matt, Jessica and their friends can finally take a breath. The Miller’s farm in the San Joaquin Valley seems like the perfect place to create a new home. That is, until they find out what the Emperors are up to.

Not wanting to start a war with the ruthless gang, they decide to stay out of it, but when they come face to face with Emperor Randy, they may not have a choice.

Scroll down to read the first chapter.

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Chapter 1

Jessica

“Thank you,” Jessica said as she accepted a thick slice of freshly baked bread from Sarah Miller. The lovely scent wafted into her nose, making her salivate, but she forced herself to wait until everyone had been served. Even in the apocalypse she could have good manners. A smile tilted her lips at the thought.

She looked at the others in her group—her husband Matt and their kids, Dylan, Kayla and Brooke. Then there was Jeff and Emily, Derrick, Chris and Amy and their two boys, and Paisley and her daughter Serena. They’d only arrived at Frank and Sarah Miller’s house half an hour earlier, but already she felt an overwhelming sense of peace. This place could really become home—if Emily’s aunt and uncle allowed them to stay. Which Jessica was determined to make happen. She had to. They’d been through hell over the last forty-eight hours and she wanted to shield her children from all the ugliness that this new world had foisted upon them. If that was even possible.

How far would she go to make that happen? Three weeks earlier, before the bird flu had killed ninety-five percent of the world’s population, if someone had told her she would shoot a stranger in the foot in the women’s room at a rest stop, she would have thought they’d gone completely insane. Yet that was exactly what had happened just the day before.

Was that woman still alive? The woman had said she was all alone since Jessica’s group had killed the two men she’d been traveling with. Guilt and sorrow pierced Jessica. Yet, she would do it all over again to protect her daughter. With a sudden clarity that shook her to the core, she knew that she would do anything to protect her family. Even kill.

She didn’t want to do that, not at all. But she would.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Matt asked from beside her, and she realized she’d been staring off into space, lost in thought.

Shaking off the dark thoughts, she lifted the bread from the plate with a smile. “Definitely.” She held the bread to her nose and inhaled the heavenly scent before taking a small bite. She wanted to savor every morsel.

“Mmmm,” Brooke murmured from where she sat cross-legged on the concrete patio as she ate her slice. Cleo, Brooke’s German shepherd, lay at her feet, her chin resting on her paws in contentment. Jessica smiled at Brooke. She wasn’t her daughter by birth, but when both of Brooke’s parents had died from the bird flu, she and Matt had taken her in as their own. And they would protect her as their own too.

“This is delicious, Aunt Sarah,” Emily said with a smile. “Thank you.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

A look of regret swept over Sarah’s face. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to bake many more loaves. I’m almost out of flour.”

“We’ll get you more,” Jeff, Emily’s boyfriend, said. He was sitting on the patio, his long legs stretched out in front of him.

Sarah looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Really? And how are you going to do that?”

Jeff chuckled. “There’s gotta be plenty of places we can scavenge.”

Frank, Sarah’s husband, made a scoffing sound. “Only if the Emperors haven’t already taken it.”

Just the mention of the gang who had robbed them of almost everything they had that very day sent a wave of anger and terror cascading over Jessica. She heard grumbles coming from the others and knew they all felt the same.

“I’m sure we can find something,” Emily said.

What if they couldn’t? Jessica and her group included fourteen people, most of them adults or teenagers. They would need a lot of food. If they couldn’t provide for themselves, Frank and Sarah wouldn’t allow them to stay. Where would she and her family go then? It was a dangerous world out there. She had to do whatever she could to keep her family safe.

Without thinking, she leapt to her feet. “Let’s get started.” 

All eyes swiveled in her direction.

“Mom,” Kayla said with a note of confusion, “we just got here. We’re tired.”

Many heads nodded in agreement. Feeling like she’d overreacted to her own thoughts, Jessica sank back to her seat. Matt slid his hand into hers and gave her a supportive squeeze. 

“Jessica’s right,” Derrick said, which bolstered her. “We should go soon.”

Jeff stood. “I’m ready.”

Looking at the people she now considered family, Jessica smiled.

“I’d like to get my kids settled first,” Amy said with a glance at her two young boys. Six-year-old Jacob was climbing on Chris’s lap, while Aaron, who was nearly two, was slumped against Amy’s shoulder, fast asleep.

“Sit down, Jeff,” Sarah said as a smile blossomed on her lips. “We have enough food for a few days, at least.”

Frank picked up the conversation. “Let’s take the rest of today to get everyone settled.” He glanced meaningfully at Chris and Amy’s boys as well as at Serena, Paisley’s two-year-old daughter, then he swept his gaze over the rest of the group. “You can get acquainted with the property. See how the place is set up. That kind of thing.”

Jeff settled back onto the ground beside Emily and mumbled, “I just want my trailer back.” Emily rested her hand on his arm. He glanced at her with a frown.

Jessica knew how he felt. If she and Matt had their RV, she and Matt and the kids could sleep in it. They’d be self-sufficient instead of relying on Frank and Sarah’s kind hospitality. But it was gone. For good. She had to accept that. But it made her furious.

At least after the Emperors had robbed them blind, they’d let them go without hurting anyone. Randy, their leader, had flat-out said he would let them keep their RV and truck if Jessica and Matt let him have one of their daughters. The suggestion had been disgusting, the memory making Jessica’s stomach churn with fear and loathing. 

Thankfully, Randy had no idea that she and her family and friends were still in the area. With any luck, they’d never see any of the Emperors again. On the other hand, it was less than ten miles north of the Miller’s farm that they’d had their run-in with the gang, so it was a distinct possibility that they would cross paths with Randy or one of his minions eventually.

Jessica desperately hoped that wouldn’t happen.

“What did you have in your trailer?” Frank asked Jeff, pulling Jessica out of her thoughts.

Frowning deeply, Jeff shook his head. “Food, and lots of it. Two tents, four sleeping bags, as well as other camping gear.” His jaw clenched. “And all of my guns.” This last bit he said in a near growl.

“We still have guns,” Chris said with a smirk. “All of the confiscated guns.”

Frank’s eyebrows shot up. “Confiscated guns? What are you talking about?”

Matt recounted what had happened at the inspection station earlier that day. Half-listening, all Jessica could think about was the way that man who worked for the government had slammed Matt’s face into the hood of his truck, breaking his nose. It had been absolutely awful and Jessica had felt completely helpless.

She glanced at Matt, taking in his swollen nose and the bruising around his eyes. It had to be painful but Matt hadn’t complained once.

She and Matt and their family had been at the mercy of those men who had wanted to take every one of their guns in the name of the Governor of California. Maybe Matt shouldn’t have resisted, but Jessica was proud that he had. 

It would have been a lot worse if Jeff hadn’t shown up when he had, shooting the leader of the group point blank. Jeff was definitely an asset to their group. Ex-military, as were Derrick and Chris, he wasn’t afraid to confront bullies. Seemed to relish it, actually.

“Let me take a look at that nose,” Sarah said to Matt.

Jessica remembered that Emily had said her aunt was a nurse. She watched as Sarah examined Matt’s nose before inviting him into the house. A short time later he came back, sporting a bandage across the bridge of his nose.

“Feeling better?” Jessica asked him as he sat beside her.

Half-smiling, he nodded. “As good as anyone can feel after having their nose broken.”

She kissed him on the cheek. “At least it won’t be crooked. Right?”

His shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Hope not. Wouldn’t want to mar this handsome face.”

Jessica laughed, then heard others chuckling. She looked at those around her. Warmth spread throughout her chest. This was her tribe, her family.

Frank stood. “Let me give you the tour.”

* * *

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