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A corpse slammed into me from the side, the scent putrid and gut wrenching. Brute force sent me flying, and I careened into a crumbling wall.
The job was supposed to be easy, but when you hunt the dead for a living, easy is relative.
I rolled back onto my feet and checked my stun gun. It had less than half a charge, enough to take down a human or a charging mountain lion, but not enough to incapacitate a full-grown Biter with a taste for human flesh.
The stun gun clattered to the floor, and I grabbed for my Bowie knife. The best way to incapacitate a Biter is to jolt them full of 150,000 volts of electricity. Second best is to take out the major joints, knees, elbows, wrists, and ankles. Take out a kneecap and even the most nerve damaged dead man will pay attention. More importantly, without their kneecaps they can’t keep themselves upright to attack.
The pair of dead men I’d been fighting circled warily. Strips of skin were hanging like Christmas ornaments off their faces, but they weren’t completely feral. They still had enough sense to watch out for my knife.
“What’cha. Doing. Little. Girl?” The one on the right growled. “You. Shouldn’t. Be. Here.”
“That’s what I keep telling myself.”
My name’s Gemma Sinclair, I’m twenty-one years old, and I’m a mortuary attendant. Back before the rising that would have meant preparing bodies for viewing and holding the hands of grieving relatives. These days, it means that I hunt dead people for a living. Monsters. Biters. Zombies.
Not that I’d ever use the ‘z-word’ in polite company.
We were in Brush Park; a neighborhood just north of downtown that’s dotted with empty lots and broken mansions built when Detroit was still booming. Empty houses make perfect nests for feral Biters and the neighborhood had been abandoned twelve years ago, shortly after the dead started rising, but now a real estate developer thought he could make some money by putting in new—zombie free—condos.
H&K Development’s folly was my gold rush. I’d been hanging around in the neighborhood for most of the week, kicking undead ass and collecting two hundred fifty dollars in reward money for each Biter I turned over to the police.
Tweedle-Dee—and his buddy Tweedle-Dumber—were the last Biters left conscious in the northwest quadrant. If I took them out then I got a bonus.
My mother would be so proud.
Tweedle-Dee started circling. His eyes were bright with blood lust. His teeth were gnashing together hungrily. “Gonna. Getcha. Little. Girl. Gonna. Getcha.”
“Just keep thinking that.” I edged to the side, putting my back squarely against the wall. My fight or flight instinct was kicking in big time, and the dusty dining room’s wooden door was looking more inviting by the minute.
Unfortunately, nobody hands out bonus checks for running away.
I adjusted my grip on my knife and charged across the creaking floorboards. My knife slashed at Tweedle-Dum, aiming straight for his eyes, even while I pivoted hard onto one leg. A bruised rib screamed as I threw my entire weight behind the move. For a moment, I thought my body might rebel entirely, but then muscle memory took over—I work out at a boxing gym in Southwest on the days when I’m not doing yoga in Midtown—and I brought my booted foot up to kick him solidly in the knee.
Crunch. Bone and cartilage splintered as the Biter faltered and hit the ground. His lips never stopped smacking together. One of his cheeks had rotted away, and I could make out the gnarly edges of his teeth as they chewed at the air. He started to crawl towards my leg.
Clack. Click. His teeth banged together awkwardly.
“Gonna. Getcha. Little. Girl.”
“My father’s the only one who ever called me little girl.” I shoved my boot down on his other knee, grinding his bones into dust. “I hated when he did it too.”
I backed up slightly and took a running start for one last kick. My work boots are heavy leather with wooden soles and steel capped toes—the same safety equipment that workers wear in the plants—but I can be pretty light on my feet when I need to be.
“I hated when he did it too.” I slammed my foot into his head like it was a soccer ball and this was the final game of the season.
Crack. His neck snapped backwards in one easy move. He wouldn’t be biting anyone again without a neck brace and a couple of steel pins.
The Biter rights advocates would give me hell if they found out, but for the moment I didn’t care. I turned to his friend.
Tweedle-Dumber was the one who’d thrown me into the wall. Up until this point, he’d remained quiet. When he opened his mouth, I saw why: the dead man’s tongue was gone along with the entire back of his throat. Most of the rest was black with rot and white with mold.
Unfortunately, his teeth were still intact.
One bite from those teeth and I’d start feeling woozy, a couple of hours later and I’d be dead… fifty-two minutes after that I’d rise again and join the undead legions.
The Biter circled to the right, his gaze never leaving my throat. For a moment, I thought he might be trying to come up with a strategy… and then instinct took over.
He threw himself forward, attacking teeth first. It’s every Biter’s favorite move, and it’s usually effective. I lunged to the side, bringing my arm up to protect my face. His teeth connected with the reinforced arm of my leather jacket and he bit down.
“Damn it,” I shrieked. “Do you know how expensive it is to get leather patched?”
I stepped forward while he tried to figure out why his teeth weren’t doing anything against three layers of cowhide and put my boot through his knee. I repeated the process before pushing him backwards.
Teeth clattered onto the ground around him as he slammed into the hardwood floor.
The two Biters were definitely incapacitated. All I had to do was dial up my cousin Brody and have the police pick up the bodies. I could go home to bed. The Department of Undead Americans would have two new Biters to deal with, and Black Bottom Realty would cut my check, and everything would be cake.
The toothless Biter’s mouth kept opening and closing. He started to pull himself forward on his elbows, trying to get at me.
Crack. For the second time in less than an hour, my boot connected with a Biter’s head. This time his nose caved in. Bone splintered around his eyes. He was still alive—as much as an animated corpse could be alive—but there would be no coming back.
What can I say? I’ve got anger issues.
I slumped back against the nearest wall and pulled out my phone. Brody’s number was third down in my speed dial—right after the office and my mother—and he answered on the second ring.
“Who the fuck is this?”
“Afternoon, cousin.” I grinned.
“Hell, Gemma. Do you know what time it is? It’s seven in the freaking morning!”
Damn. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumber had taken longer to track down than I’d thought. I took a deep breath and my mind started to swim. “What day is it?”
“Not the date.” There was something I was forgetting. “The day. What day is it?”
“Crud.” So much for going home to bed. I had less than three hours before my meeting. It was just enough time to run home, shower, rebandage the cut on my thigh I’d gotten sliding over a metal railing the day before, and get back to the office. If I hurried. “I’ve got a pick up in Brush Park—”
“Call the station. Talk to the sergeant. I’m off duty.”
“I don’t want the sergeant. I want you. These are the last two Biters in my turf, and I want you to be a part of bringing them in. You’re the best.”
“Uh huh, you just want me because I’ll rush your paperwork, so you can get your reward faster.”
“The thought never crossed my mind,” I lied.
Something creaked further in the house.
I held my breath for a moment, waiting. It had to be a mistake. The house was probably just settling—or crumbling—old houses did that sort of thing all the time.
There was another creak, closer this time. Like someone walking across damaged floorboards.
Shit, I wasn’t alone.
“Duty calls.” I gave Brody the address of the house. “They’re in the dining room. See if you can get the paperwork through by tonight. H&K won’t cut a check without proof.”
“Damn it—” He was still swearing when I ended my call and slid the cell phone into my pocket.
I retrieved my stun gun from where it had fallen. It might not be fully charged, but at least it might give me the opening I needed to take the man out… or make a break for the street and call in backup.
The creaking noise had stopped. Whoever—or whatever—it was, had paused outside the dining room’s heavy door. The doorknob rattled, and I sucked in a deep breath.
The door started to open.
Time to kick a little Biter ass.
I vaulted forward across the room—pitting my speed and agility against Biter strength—and ran smack into the sexiest dead man alive.
“Hello Gemma,” he said. “It’s been awhile.”
The last time I’d seen D.S. Thomas Conroy had been two months earlier. The Department of Undead Americans agent had hired me to help him with an investigation. Quick recap: we caught the bad guy, I lost my virginity, and then the world ended.
I crossed my arms in front of my chest. “What are you doing here?”
“Department business. Confidential.” His gaze dropped to take in my dusty jeans, my battered leather jacket, and the sliver of cleavage visible over my sky blue tank top. There was a moment’s pause and his gaze met mine. His forest green eyes twinkled and his kissable lips twitched up into a wicked grin. “You’re looking good.”
“Uh huh.” I braced myself against the zip of heat that buried itself deep in my belly. “It’s the yoga.”
“It suits you.” He grinned. “Did you get my calls?”
“I don’t remember.” He’d called twice. Once right after I’d run out of his hotel room—leaving him with two orders of huevos rancheros and no way of knowing why I’d bolted—and once two weeks later after he’d figured it out. His message had been short and to the point: “Call me. I can explain.”
I hadn’t called.
“I don’t have time for this. I’m late for a meeting.” I pushed past him and hurried out the door.
The undead are stronger than the living, it would have taken nothing for D.S. to hold me there… to make me listen while he explained. Maybe it would make a difference.
Instead, he let me go.