Her mouth was dry, and she couldn’t think a coherent thought.
“It’s not possible for you to be bad at anything,” he said.
“How can you be so sure?”
“You’re the love of my life, and I know you’ll always be the best for me, for our child, and for our people.” He gripped the back of her neck as he kissed her hard. She tasted herself on his lips, but it didn’t repulse her.
“What about you?” she asked.
“This wasn’t for me. This was for you.” He got up off the sofa, and she let out a squeal as he picked her up. “You can take care of me later.”
10 months later
“How long do we have?” asked Draven.
“No more than twenty minutes until they’re at the gates,” said Luke.
They were on the roof, the highest vantage point of the kingdom. Luke was on his stomach with the binoculars in hand. A horde of men and a few vehicles were heading their way. Draven had never seen such a large, sophisticated group pass through before. They moved boldly, not even attempting to sneak up on them. A trickle of fear left him unsettled. He had a lot to lose.
“We’ll arm all the men. Get the women to safety,” said Draven. “There may be more of them than us, but I’ll die before I let them through the gates.”
Luke lowered the binoculars, glancing up at him. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I like to think positive before assuming they’re coming to destroy us.”
“Has anyone come through here with good intentions before?”
Draven scowled. “That was different. She was running from men like those.”
“Again, you’re assuming they’re the enemy.”
Draven started to climb down from the roof. “Let’s agree to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Get to the weapons locker.”
It had been almost a year since they’d started expanding their walls and growing more crops. They were overflowing with abundance, and he thought things couldn’t get better. Now there was a risk of losing everything. If the large group of vandals pillaged their crops and food stores, they’d be back to square one again. Forced to travel in search of supplies, never knowing if they’d survive one day to the next.
And they could lose a lot more than their crops.
Draven ran a hand through his hair as he walked through the courtyard. Luanna jogged up to him.
“Tell me what’s going on,” she said.
“Nothing to worry about.” He kept walking, trying to ignore her.
“Don’t bullshit me, Draven. You look like you’ve seen a ghost, and Luke’s been on the roof all morning. What’s coming?”
He stared down at her. “Trouble. Looks like two dozen men and vehicles.”
“Shit,” she said.
“Luke’s going to distribute weapons soon. We need to keep the others safe.”
She nodded. “The weapons lockers are the most secure. They’re fortified. We should bring the old and young there.”
“Agreed,” he said. She rushed off, keeping quiet as she passed other people. Luanna had become an asset. When she first arrived with Ashley, he’d wanted her gone. Now Draven couldn’t imagine life without her underfoot. Luke would agree, considering they’d been dating for months.
So much hope had been seeded since Ashley came into his life. Morale was at an all-time high, and their independence had never been stronger thanks to their hard work and planning.
Now everything could be in jeopardy.
He found Ashley in the gardens. She was sewing something. The last thing he wanted to do was make her afraid or insecure. Every fiber of his being wanted to keep her happy and safe.
“What’re you making?” he asked.
She looked up at him, the sunlight making her squint. “We don’t have any baby clothes, so I’m making some myself. It’s not too hard.”
“That’s very industrious.”
Ashley raised an eyebrow. “Industrious?”
Draven shrugged, squatting down to her level. “Where’s the baby?”
Their daughter just turned three months old. Clara was perfectly healthy, and they had no reason to believe she’d be infertile. Humanity would survive. They’d survive.
“Before you came all I worried about was staying alive. Death terrified me because once I was gone, that would be it. You changed all that, gave me something bigger to live for.”
She smiled, her blue eyes bright in the sunlight.
“Thank you for giving me a beautiful daughter,” he said. “For showing me what real love is—”
“Something’s wrong, Draven. What is it?”
“It’s all the truth.”
She set down her sewing, twisting to face him. “I know you better than this. You’re worried about something.”
Was he that easy to read? All he knew was he couldn’t lie to her.
“It’s probably nothing. Luke isn’t even worried.”
“There’s a group of men heading our way. Luanna’s already rounding up the vulnerable as a precaution.”
“I doubt they’re looking for sanctuary then. And you’re worried, which means this could end badly.”
“I won’t let them hurt you or Clara. No way in hell will anyone get their hands on either of you.”