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Authors: Bonnie R. Paulson

Tags: #ya apocalypse, #ya dystopic, #ya romantic suspense, #ya thriller, #YA survivor fiction, #survivor, #survival, #survival fiction, #end of world

Exchange Rate

BOOK: Exchange Rate
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Exchange Rate

Book #2 of the Worth of Souls series

Table of Contents

Title Page

Captiva Publishing | www.bonnierpaulson.net

Copyright © 2015 Bonnie R. Paulson

Acknowledgements | Jill, Shelley, and Brooklyn – Thanks for your support. This book grew because of you. | Kammie and Connie– Thanks for sticking with me! | Mandie – Thank you... a thousand times... | Survivors – Here we go! Book 2! And thank you for everything. I wouldn’t be writing, if it wasn’t for you.

Captiva Publishing
www.bonnierpaulson.net
Copyright © 2015 Bonnie R. Paulson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Reading is invaluable.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover design by Ashley Byland from Redbird Designs.

Editing by Grammar Smith Editing.

Acknowledgements
Jill, Shelley, and Brooklyn – Thanks for your support. This book grew because of you.
Kammie and Connie– Thanks for sticking with me!
Mandie – Thank you... a thousand times...
Survivors – Here we go! Book 2! And thank you for everything. I wouldn’t be writing, if it wasn’t for you.

C
hapter 1

I’m not sure what I thought would happen when I escaped a group of men intent on selling me for resources. Hoping they’d forget about me, I didn’t tell John and Bodey why Charlie and his group followed us like the most rabid of hyenas.

At least at first.

John’s intuition nailed truth on the head. When he’d cornered me about the man, asking if he was the same one who’d stalked my mom and burned John’s house, I’d nodded, biting back tears. My shame haunted me. We ran from Charlie while seeking John’s family, using valuable energy to constantly look over our shoulders.

Even as John constantly warned us to stay together, his despondency at ever finding his wife and daughter grew. His depression worsened and more often than not he sent Bodey and me out on food hunts and resource scavenges.

“I don’t want to be the lookout this time, Bodey.” I crossed my arms and rolled my eyes toward the ceiling. John had sent us out about an hour before. I liked being alone with Bodey. His accidental touches would sometimes turn purposeful.

Ignoring me, Bodey called from inside the walk-in pantry. “Kelly, do you see anything?”

Usually I complained about it, but that’s just so he’d come out and coerce me into wanting to do it.

I glanced out the window, intent on finding something – anything – to report. We needed to see some action, no matter which direction it came from. Bodey was partial to finding some food or maybe a shoot-out with Charlie and his gang. I waited for the chance to get close to Bodey, almost kiss, then kiss, and then hold hands.

The romance was helping me survive.

Food helped him.

I grinned, thinking about the different things we needed to be happy. He’d never feel about me the way I felt about him, and I didn’t care. He felt for me. Cared more than I could understand.

Caught up in my musings, I almost missed the flicker of movement on the other side of the fence. Almost. The corner of a jacket flashed red.

I jolted upright and whispered, “Bodey, someone’s here. We need to go.” I couldn’t understand why Charlie hadn’t given up. John said he thought Charlie’s gang had died with some soldiers back in Athol a while ago, but John hadn’t stayed to make sure.

Charlie reminded me of a horrible, evil cat – more lives than anyone else around him – and he kept coming back for more. Seriously, what was wrong with the guy? We’d been running for so long, our campsites never lasted more than a day or two.

Settling had become my dream. I didn’t care if things returned to the way they used to be or not. I really would like to just stay in one spot long enough to get used to sleeping in the same spot for more than two nights.

Bodey left the pantry, joining me by the window. He wrapped his arm around my waist. “Are you sure?” He peered outside, like he waited for someone to jump out with a target painted on their chest.

He thought I was trying to get him to come out to me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so tricky. I backed away from potential view. “Yes, they had a red-lined jacket on. We need to get out of here.”

“You’re skittish.” He understood, taking my hand and pulling me toward the garage. “There’s a man-door out the other side. We can hide out there until they’re gone.” He softly tugged me with him. I followed with no resistance.

Whoever I’d glimpsed past the fence wasn’t Charlie. More brazen, Charlie walked like he owned the world and didn’t care who saw him. Like we couldn’t escape him.

But we always got away, even though each time our margin for success grew narrower and narrower. Sometimes, I suspected Bodey purposely tempted a brush with the man who constantly chased after me, like a protective desire to kick some butt.

The person wouldn’t be John either. He wouldn’t run. The jacket had been moving fast, like at a run.

I carefully closed the mudroom door to the abandoned house, shutting us in the garage. Bodey ducked through the man-door on the other side of the shop area, dragging me along. He stopped just outside the doorjamb, leaving me inside the garage. We would search our areas simultaneously while our backs were protected.

Voices carried around the side of the house, deep and male and distinctly familiar. Every time we tried getting away, they were there, like bad déjà vu. They grew louder as the men rounded the house.

Empty paint cans, broken tools, and a torn drop-cloth were piled in the corner. I held my breath, my eyes flicking from side to side as I scanned for an emergency exit. I wasn’t in a movie theatre though, no neon green lights to shine the way. An upended garbage can in the middle of the cement floor testified we weren’t the first ones to search that house.

Bodey glanced around sharply. He didn’t wait for me to join him and instead roughly moved me outside and shoved me inside a small tool shed packed with garden hoes, shovels and other equipment. He climbed in beside me. Closing the door, he backed against the rear wall and gripped my hand in his. Short panting lifted his chest and he glanced my way, grinning.

Grinning! I narrowed my eyes. If my heart ever stopped pounding, I’d make sure to slap him on the shoulder. And if I had room, I’d lean forward and kiss the curve from his lips. Flakes of chipped pain sprinkled his dark jacket.

Footsteps fell right outside the shed. I widened my eyes.

“Have you seen anyone inside?” The deep voice came so close as they walked beside our hiding place. A crack between the door and the wall allowed me a brief view of the men. The dark hair and faded black coat confirmed Charlie’s presence. He wouldn’t change it. I’d never seen it off him.

I swallowed and closed my eyes for a brief second. The scent of stale fertilizer and dirt assailed me.

Charlie got closer and closer, every day. What were we going to do when he caught us? And he would. It was only a matter of
when
at that point.

What if he found us right
then
?

“I saw them go inside, but I had to round to the backyard, so I’m not sure if they’ve left or not.” The second man’s voice trembled, cracking on the last syllable. He couldn’t be much older than Bodey or me. Why was he working for Charlie?

But it made sense. People joined groups so they didn’t have to survive on their own.

Charlie, smooth as silk, reassured him, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure you did your best. This particular girl is... well, let’s just say she owes me a lot and I’m going to collect. I won’t tolerate anything getting in my way.”

I breathed shallowly, meeting Bodey’s eyes as Charlie continued talking about me like I was a traitor to the world.

“Look inside. I’ll check out here and join you in a moment.” He patted the kid’s back. “Just hold them with the gun when you find them, don’t shoot. I want that pleasure, alright?”

“Yes, sir.” The boy disappeared, overly anxious to please his boss.

“No one around front. It’s feasible they made it out the back again.” Another man’s voice startled me. I’d heard him before, but where? The deep timbre had been slurred the last time I’d encountered it. I couldn’t place him. A glimpse of auburn hair above thick shoulders was all I got.

I carefully pulled my fingers from Bodey’s grasp and wiped my moist palms on my pants. Why was I freaking out more than usual? Tension mounted and I wanted to vomit. Something was different about this time.

“Do you realize I’ve been chasing this little... ugh.” Charlie growled. “Longer than I should. How stupid do I look to the men? I need to find her. She owes me. She owes us all.” He shook the wooden picket fence, loose boards rattling in his angry silence.

The boy returned, regretful. “They aren’t in there. I checked everywhere. They might have escaped out the front?” He didn’t know what he was talking about. His half-hearted attempt at a guess had me closing my eyes again.

Charlie sighed. “Thank you for looking.” The rub of metal on leather chilled me.

The sound was one I’d heard more times than I cared to count. Every time John drew his gun from his leather holster to protect us with a warning shot or otherwise, that sound had filled the air.

Bodey reclaimed my hand, shaking his head. He mouthed, “Not us.”

I nodded, understanding his words but unable to accept their meaning. I didn’t want that end for anyone. No one.

The report echoed off the walls of our prison. I dug my knuckles into my lips, silencing the panic the shot spiraled through me. The boy’s body thudded when it fell lifeless to the pathway.

“Don’t bother picking the mess up. We’ll leave it here in case she comes back. Maybe she’ll see I’m serious.” Footsteps marked his travel inside the garage. “Check that shed and then we’ll go out the front. I’d hate to know she was right there the whole time.”

My lips pushed against my fingers as they tried to part. I shot my gaze to Bodey. He shook his head, tensing. Curling his fingers around a garden trowel, Bodey lowered himself into a squat, prepared to lunge.

I couldn’t relax my fingers from a fist. If Bodey didn’t attack when the man opened the door, we’d be found and vulnerable. A moment of clarity provided me with gratitude that we hadn’t tried running out of the fence because we would’ve been found, but another second of anger mixed with my fright. If we hadn’t hidden in the shed, we wouldn’t be close to being found.

The man Charlie left behind sighed. His fingers settled on the handle to the shed – a slight jiggling giving away his actions. He pulled the door toward him and Bodey burst from the opening, knocking the man to the ground.

Lifting the tool, Bodey slammed the handle into the man’s face. Over his shoulder, Bodey called out. “Run, Kelly. Go.” The man pushed at Bodey’s waist, twisting and turning to get out from under him.

Where would I go? Without Bodey? I jerked myself free from the dangling bike handles and leapt to the path beside him. “No! Come on, Bodey.” He had to come with me. I wouldn’t leave him there. I couldn’t survive without him.

Another hit with the tool to the back of the head and Bodey’s opponent stopped struggling.

Jumping up, Bodey grabbed at my jacket, yanking me forward. “I told you to go!” He dropped the tool and we ran from the yard. Our gasps patterned together like a frictional war underscored by the taps and thuds of our boots on the uneven terrain.

The forest line and the cover of the trees had never been more welcome.

Chapter 2

What girl has had to kill someone on the day of her proposal?

Can I see a show of hands? Oh, just me?

I clutched my mug of hard-to-find hot cocoa and stared into the black, white, and red coals. The heat wasn’t enough to lull me toward sleep. The chill had become a bitter friend, keeping me alert even at the latest of nights.

My nerves hadn’t calmed down from the day’s events. Speaking normally hadn’t been an option for a little while as we’d run the entire way back our camp. John had made us pack up everything in less than three minutes and then he’d run us for a few hours to a new location. A new but old spot we’d been to many times. Like a vacation home you visit as often as possible but you can’t live there.

The camp didn’t have anything special to separate it from a campsite before the war. We used the site as a long term emergency go-to, though. I’d asked John if we could call it home once and he’d laughed, replying with, “No, but we can call it Chronic. Our Chronic Camp.”

Our Chronic Camp.

Flickering flames from the fire mesmerized me. When hadn’t I felt so defeated? So turned away from life? The only times I felt alive were during escapes like earlier and when Bodey held me in his arms.

BOOK: Exchange Rate
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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