Jenni grabbed Linda’s other arm and whispered something to her in Spanish.

Bill sighed softly and shook his head. “Blanche, we took everything we could use out of your house.”

“Calm down. We told Stephen all about it. We take what we can to maintain the fort wherever we can. You know that.”

“Fuck this,” Linda growled. She pulled away from Katie and Jenni, shaking her head. “I can’t believe I was fooled by that bitch! I’m not doing a damn thing for you ever again!” She stalked off. Curtis fell in behind her, motioning to Bill that he’d calm her down.

Bill shifted his belt up over his belly. “Blanche, you best just let this drop.

You did Linda wrong and everyone knows it. You ain’t making many friends around here.”

“I don’t need friends. I should have left when my sister told me to. I’d be with her, safe and sound, and not dealing with you disgusting hicks.”

Blanche whirled around on her high heels and stalked off.

“Her sister is even worse. I had the displeasure of meeting her more than once.” Katie rubbed her belly, feeling very tired.

“I didn’t vote for her,” Jenni grumbled. “Of course, I never voted, but...”

Bill hooked his thumbs over his belt and looked thoughtful. “She’s trouble. We all know it. It sucks that she scammed Linda like that, but she’s not used to being ordinary folk and taking care of her own needs.

Her money is worthless now and she can’t get anyone to help her keep her place clean. Stephen is even more helpless.”

“I’m not going to feel bad for her,” Katie said in a low voice.

“Don’t expect you to,” Bill answered. “But we need to remember she’s a very unhappy viper. She’s gonna strike out at whoever is closest to her at any given moment.”

“We should make a suggestion box for the Vigilante,” Jenni murmured. “I got a name to shove into it.”

“Jenni, behave.” Katie hooked her fingers through her friend’s and squeezed.

With a sigh, Jenni relaxed her stance and tugged Katie to her feet. “Let’s get out of here.”

Bill’s expression was thoughtful as the two women walked toward the elevators. Finally, with a shrug, he walked on.

“Poor Bill,” Jenni said softly. “He has to deal with all the crazy shit.”

Nerit watched as the small bonfire sparked and blew dark smoke up into the graying sky. Another supply run was done and the storage rooms were restocked. But with that gain, came more loss. As she watched Charlotte burning the blood soaked clothing of some of the returning fort members, she couldn’t help but think of Bob lying out there beside the road. If possible, some fort volunteers would retrieve him and dispose of what remained of his corpse in the landfill. Proper burial was a thing of the past.

“One loss,” Ed said beside her, as if reading her thoughts. “And seven more people to feed and care for.”

“Rune, the long haired one, says he’s moving on after the ice storm. The rest say they want to stay.” Ed was chewing some tobacco he had managed to snag at a convenience store.

Nerit was indulging in another cigarette, grateful the salvage team had brought more boxes. She wasn’t picky about the brand anymore. The cigarettes calmed her nerves and were her one small luxury in this life without Ralph. She missed her husband everyday, but she couldn’t think too long about his death or she began to feel tired and old.

“Lenore snuck back a whole bunch of beauty supplies for Ken,” Ed added after a few beats. “I just looked the other way.”

“I would have, too. People need a few pleasures.”

“I think they’re gonna set up a beauty shop.” Ed’s craggy face broke into a slight smile.

Nerit laughed. “Honestly, I think that may help morale. Life has felt pretty heavy lately.”

In the distance, cold rain was falling in a gray curtain over the hills.

“My boys were hoping I’d ask you out.”

She choked on the smoke billowing out of her lungs. “Oh.”

“I told them that you’re too much of a man for me. That you could probably kick my ass ten ways until Sunday.”

Ed crossed his arms over his chest and planted his feet firmly apart. “I ain’t gonna ask you out, Nerit. I admire you something fierce and yer my friend. Knowing my boys, they’ll be dropping hints like crazy. I thought you should know.”

“That’s fine, Ed. And I am flattered.” Nerit smiled slightly, trying not to think of Ralph and her own adult children. She had hope that her children and grandchildren were still alive in Israel, but hope was all she really had.

“Storm is going to hit hard. Better sound the alarm and get everything tied down.”

“Agreed. Please take care of it,” Nerit said.

Ed stared at her, studying her calm countenance, then nodded. “You got it.”

Nerit continued to stare at the small fire. She was in pain and didn’t want Ed to know it. Her hip and leg were throbbing, and she was afraid to move. There was no way she would show weakness. The people in the fort had elevated her to a legendary status, and she would not disappoint them by appearing fragile.

As he walked away, Nerit relaxed a little.

A few minutes later, Travis joined her. He slid an arm over her shoulder and gave her a light hug. Despite her resolve to be a hard ass, she rested her head on his shoulder for a few seconds. He reminded her so much of her eldest son at times. It was nice to feel comforted.

“One dead. Six permanent new members. And one guy with a bag of grenades passing through,” Nerit answered. “The salvage team managed to get into that gun store in Emorton without bringing the entire town down on them. So we should be set for at least six more months as long as we don’t get hit too hard. More boxed and canned food. Two generators. Fuel. And beauty supplies.”

“Ed said it wasn’t a big thing. He looked the other way.”

Travis shook his head slightly. “Well, it didn’t cause an issue, so we’ll look the other way, too.”

“Bob is still out there,” Nerit said after a long pause.

“I know. I spoke with that new guy, Dale, and he said there are quite a few bodies out there. He said that they came from a rescue station outside of Waco. Two vans made it away when they were overrun. He says the other van got ahead of them and must have had someone inside with a bite. It went off the road and they were swarmed.”

“Ed said there were runners and older zombies. That one area is badly infested thanks to the migration from Hackleburg,” Nerit sighed. The migrating zombies were the result of the fort rescuing survivors under attack by the now defunct bandits. It had been a risk they decided to take.

They had managed to rescue four people, but now the shambling dead were wandering through the hills seeking them out. “I think we should take a break during the bad weather to get our bearings and decide what our next steps are. We’ve been in overdrive, and I think people are worn out and cranky.”

“Why don’t we meet up after the weather clears up? Gather up the council and brainstorm?” Travis tucked his hands into his jacket as he gazed toward the approaching storm.

“I think that would do us a lot of good.” Nerit admired Travis. He was not a natural born leader, but he was doing his best. “Having our attention focused on specific goals may help shake people out of their malaise a little.”

“And we all prefer that to having a horde of zombies show up on our doorstep to get the old blood pumping,” Travis joked.

“Well, this old blood is going in before the sleet gets here,” Nerit said, patting his shoulder. She was relieved when her legs moved without much of a limp.

“See you later, Nerit,” Travis said, giving her a fond smile.

It wasn’t until she was in her room with her old dog snoring in the corner that she realized Travis had been holding her up, giving her hip a rest, until she could move again. Collapsing into a chair, a book in hand, she lightly laughed and shook her head.

Maybe Travis was a better leader than she had given him credit for.

Cracking her romance novel open, she began to read.

Katie stared down at the baby clothes strewn across her bed and felt her heart beat just a little bit faster. Her hand settled against her slightly swollen belly as her gaze slid to Jenni’s anxious face.