Excerpt – Zombie Wonderland

Nothing says Christmas like droves of the undead…

All Emery wants for Christmas is someone to share it with. It looks like he might finally be getting his wish in Ross, the sexy customer he’s been crushing on for months. But neither of them counted on the zombies, or on being caught in the worst blizzard in half a century. Even with a plan for contending with the zombie hordes, surviving will take a miracle.

It’s not exactly how Emery dreamed of spending Christmas with Ross, but he can’t think of a better way to spend a zombie apocalypse.

Excerpt: Zombie Wonderland

There should be some kind of law against being alone on Christmas. But there I was again, manning the diner on Christmas Eve for the third year in a row. Alone.

Antonio had begged off an hour before, spouting an excuse about how he’d promised his girlfriend he’d be home before midnight that year. I hadn’t seen any point in forcing him to stay. I knew how to make everything on the menu, and it wasn’t as if I was expecting a sudden rush of customers. Not on Christmas Eve, and definitely not in the storm that raged beyond the windows.

It was a veritable blizzard. Not the lazy sort of snowfall with big, fluffy flakes that fluttered prettily to the ground. These snowflakes weren’t flakes at all, but tiny chips of ice that stung the skin and made people huddle in their jackets against the needlelike barrage. They pattered noisily against the windows and door, obscuring my view of the street, loud enough to be annoying—and a bit terrifying, really, when I considered how bad the storm might be when I finally closed up and walked home.

I’d always hated the fact that Jeff wouldn’t just let us close early on holidays. I guess I understood his reasoning—we were the only eating establishment within a solid mile and the train station directly across the street normally provided a steady influx of customers—but on nights like these I doubted whatever meager profits we might bring in were even enough to cover the overhead cost of staying open. But, according to Jeff’s rules, as long as the trains ran, we were open. And since the train schedule never wavered, and probably never would outside of some sort of apocalypse, the diner was staffed from six in the morning to midnight every day of the year.

For the fourth time in fifteen minutes, I looked up at the clock. There was still another hour before I could close, and I’d already scrubbed every surface in the diner three times over. A Christmas movie played on the small television in the corner, but I’d turned the volume down to a murmur. I wasn’t in the mood to listen to other people’s festivity, fake or otherwise. There wouldn’t be any kind of celebration waiting for me back in my dingy studio apartment. No warm smiles of welcome or presents under the tree. I’d be just as alone there as I was at the diner, but the thing was I’d spent all day hoping for something different. It was just my luck that for the first time in three months, he hadn’t shown up. To say that his absence was disappointing would have been a massive understatement.

It made sense, though. Probably he had a family or even a girlfriend. Maybe he’d gone out of town. It’d been stupid of me, I guess, to hope that the holiday wouldn’t change anything. But he’d come in on Thanksgiving, business as usual, and I thought it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine him coming in on Christmas Eve too.

From the first time he’d walked in all those weeks ago, it was always the same. It’d become a routine of sorts, and I knew he stuck to it even on my days off. He came in with a messenger bag, settled down in the farthest booth from the door, placed his order (coffee, black, and sometimes a slice of whatever pie was on special), withdrew a notebook and a mechanical pencil, and wrote until five minutes before closing, only pausing occasionally to stare off into some middle distance before he started up again. Then he packed his belongings, dropped a wad of cash on the table—enough for his bill and an extravagant tip—and left.

There were times when I felt him watching me, and I couldn’t stop myself from glancing in his direction. He never looked guilty or pretended he hadn’t been staring. His eyes, fathomless black, would meet mine for a long moment and then his lids would come down, heavy lashes shading those dark, dark eyes, and a mysterious smile would curl his lips at the corners.

It had taken me three weeks to build up the nerve to ask his name.

“Ross,” he’d said.

I’d smiled, feeling nervous and shy, despite the fact that I’d been serving him for nearly a month already. “I’m Emery.”

His eyes had flicked to the nametag on my shirt, and that small, enigmatic smile made a brief appearance. “I know.”

We hadn’t said much to each other beyond that. I was dying to know what he wrote in that notebook for hours on end, but I never asked. It seemed way too nosy, and I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. I just wanted him keep coming back until I’d gathered enough courage to invite him out to dinner or maybe even some coffee. Just not at the diner.

Judging from the way he looked at me, I thought there might be some interest there. But I was way too familiar with rejection to risk putting myself out there, or opening myself to potential ridicule, without being absolutely sure. That night I would have been happy with nothing more than his silent company, but no doubt he had somewhere better to be than in some crappy diner keeping a lonely waiter company on Christmas Eve.

I glanced at the clock again. Only five minutes had passed. Maybe it was time to reorganize the freezer. Sighing, I turned toward the kitchen. I was halfway there when the door slammed open behind me, the decorative bells jangling wildly.

I spun around, my heart racing, thinking it had to be the wind because no one was crazy enough to be out in that storm. But Ross stood in the doorway, panting roughly. His normally slicked back hair was disheveled, standing up in black spikes all over his head, and there was blood on his throat.

“Oh, my God!” I grabbed a towel from behind the counter and rushed toward him. “Your neck! Are you all right? Come in. Let me—”

“Never mind that.” He stepped into the diner, pulled the door shut and bolted it. “Get your jacket. It’s not safe here. We have to go.”

I blinked up at him. That was the most he’d ever said to me. I hadn’t realized that his voice had such a low-pitched, raspy quality. Coming from those perfectly sculpted lips, it was sexy as hell, and temporarily distracted me from what he was saying.

“Emery,” he said, and I snapped back to attention. “We have to go. Now.”

“Go? But I can’t close up for another forty-five min—”

“None of that matters right now.” His hands gripped my shoulders. “Something is happening. Something awful. And we have to go. There are too many windows here.”

“I—what do you—”

“I’ll explain later. You need to come with me now. Where is your jacket?”

“It’s in the back. But, Ross—”

He released me abruptly and I was left staring at his back as he disappeared through the swinging door into the kitchen. I could feel my eyebrows furrow in confusion. How surreal. Had I fallen asleep on the job? I didn’t remember feeling tired. What did he mean something awful was happening? And how could he expect me to just close the restaurant early? Jeff would kill me. There was a security camera above the register, and there was no doubt in my mind that—

A sudden bang on the glass window behind me made me jump, a distinctly unmasculine yelp escaping before I could stop it. I looked over my shoulder, not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t a shirtless, crazy-looking man with blood foaming from his mouth.

Release Date: December 7, 2011
Word count: 15,400 (approx) / Page count: 29

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