They thought they'd found a refuge.
But the battle for freedom has just begun.
Surrounded by the destruction of humanity, Euan, Nick, and Kira share a haven and a home. Sheltered under layers of steel and cement, they should be safe.
But when their surveillance system detects intruders, Euan and Nick discover the truth - they are not safe at all.
Euan must make a heart-wrenching decision - stay and defend the family he loves or leave to keep the evil from ever reaching their door.
Both options end in his death. But Euan will not allow Nick and Kira's lives to be threatened. The only choice is to sacrifice himself. A price he's willing to pay.
But can he face the consequences of taking the decision away from the ones that trust him the most?
And does he have the strength, knowing that the wrong decision could destroy them all?
If you love tales of post-apocalyptic survival, dystopian adventure, and true heroes, then you should immerse yourself in Fractured Refuge.
A treat for lovers of Sherrilyn Kenyon and Margaret Atwood.
Buy your copy today.
About the Author
From the age of sixteen, Annabelle lived in a youth refuge while she remained committed to her education. She spent two years
within a section of society that most overlook.
Her experiences are the foundations that drive her stories and her characters. They fight for their freedoms, have courage in the
face of adversity and always aspire for greatness.
Annabelle is privileged to live in a small rural town in country New South Wales. She writes to a distinctive Australian backdrop with
its captivating change of seasons. Outside of her love for reading, she spends her time with her husband, son and poodle named
Serendipity. She drinks her Whisky neat and can often be found at the local market hunting for blue cheese and artisan bread.
To find out more, visit Annabelle on her website.
You can also follow Annabelle on:
Read an Excerpt
The room was filled with the pungent scent of fried eggs and coffee. The air was warm. The climate-control system working at full capacity to eradicate the chill from an encroaching winter. Dishes were stacked high, men's socks were squashed in odd corners and a pair of faded pink slippers lay discarded by an open doorway.
Euan lifted a ceramic mug that was glazed with dandelions in colours of gold, green and blue. He took a sip of the scorching beverage and ran his tongue over the burn to his upper lip. The sting was good; the bitter taste of the brew was better.
His gaze wandered. Steel beige walls were covered in artworks. Landscapes painted with muted oils, portraits formulated in lead. Images that captured the essence of life, the allure of the sky, the wonders of the spirit, the magic of dreams. Most made by his reluctant hand.
A single photograph was centred between the amateur drawings. Its position of significance was no accident. Two children grinned at the camera. Their arms were wrapped around each other's shoulder. Smiles as bright as the sunshine filtered through their blond hair and glinted off their identical blue eyes. Two beautiful children, unaware of what their future would hold.
Two beautiful children who were full of hope, full of dreams, full of love and life.
Two beautiful children. One brother, one sister.
As adults, the two children would witness the end of the civilised world.
The mahogany chair groaned under Euan's weight. The hardwood supported his spine as he leant back against the dark timber and stretched his long legs under the coordinating dining table. His bare foot knocked his companion's. They shared a small smile as their skin touched and a spark of fire raced through their nerve endings. Nick bumped his eyebrows suggestively. Euan's lips kicked up higher in response.
The food that he had just consumed nourished his body as effectively as the steel hull of the underground bunker protected those he cherished. Surrounded by strength, wrapped in love, the smile remained on his lips. It was kin to the grin that was emulated by those two children. He relished a moment of untainted satisfaction. A glorious bliss that bloomed in his sternum and radiated out through his muscles and into his limbs, his fingers, his toes.
It was beautiful. This was beautiful.
He sighed, content.
Kira's voice broke the comfortable silence. 'Is that coffee finished?' His hand remained aloft. He held his breath in his lungs. His gaze moved from Nick to focus on the petite blonde woman who sat rigidly on the edge of her seat to his left. The hum of the ventilation system became the only sound in the underground room.
Across from him, Nick reached out and grasped the handle of his mug. His features were tight with trepidation. The muscles around his green eyes were firm as he lifted a twin to Euan's mug from where it rested innocuously in the middle of the mahogany table. His shoulders were tense as he tilted his head to look inside.
His chin lifted and met Kira's gaze. 'Yes?'
The amiable atmosphere in the room plummeted. Euan let his breath ease out of his chest. He took a cautious sip.
Kira pursed her lips. A furrow deepened between her blonde brows. Her knee began to bounce with the rhythm of exaggerated irritation. The collar of the pale yellow t-shirt she wore was frayed, stretched, warped. Much like the building tension in the room. Euan bit back a sigh.
Her question was directed at Nick. 'And you're just going to leave it there?'
Nick's nervous swallow was audible. His gaze flickered between a growing adversary and an inanimate object. He touched his tongue to his upper lip, raked his fingers through his hair and stared at the lesser of the two threats. His frustration increased, his irritability brewing beneath the surface. Nick's predisposition was to please, to entertain, to love. But every man had his kryptonite. Being trapped underground, waiting for death's scythe to slice his soul from his body would cause even the greatest man to falter. Nick was no deity in that sense.
Neither was Euan. They were simply two men, two men desperate to please a woman deteriorating before their eyes.
Nick's inflection was an insight into his dread. 'No?'
Euan cocked his jaw. He placed his own mug carefully on the table. The tension shifted into distress. He could taste it. The arid bite of anguish that eroded the sweetness he'd felt only moments ago. The switch had been flicked. They could not go back.
Kira's tone was no longer honeyed. The pleasant mask she had locked to her face had dissolved. Her true emotions were now visible. They were stark, bleak and angry.
'Then why is it there?' she asked, her voice and lips tight.
Nick's wary gaze shot to Euan. There was a non-verbal plea for support that flashed in his jade-green depths. Euan conveyed the eminent danger with a glance. Nick clenched his hands into fists in response.
This was it. The inevitable. Euan placed both palms on the table, his fingers outstretched. It was no more than an hour after dawn, and they were already past the point of intervention.
Above the earth, the steel, the concrete the world was waking to another day of dystopian anarchy. Another day of struggle, of fighting off death's claws in an attempt to win against the impossible, even with the knowledge that the battle would begin again with each rise of the sun. It was another day to carry the grief of loss, of solitude, of the burden of a terrible awareness; ninety-five per cent of the world's population had succumbed to a plague.
Another day of an encroaching understanding that along with the masses, the female half of the race were almost extinct, and that in turn, so was the species.
The liability of all meant that with each dawn, the contest with death became tougher to win.
Euan held back a curse. They were not immune to the invading darkness. As he took another deep breath, he waited for the savagery of resentment to overwhelm them.
'I see your lips twitching, Euan. This is not funny.'
Euan nodded solemnly. He kept his features impassive. The maelstrom of hostility that swirled around them was mere moments from combustion. It was most certainly not funny.
'You're right,' he told her. His was tone neutral with no infliction or accusation. 'I'll take the cup to the sink.'
'No you will not. It's Nick's cup, he'll take it to the sink,' she paused for dramatic effect. 'Where it belongs.'
Nick jerked, began to rise to his feet. 'But I only just finished —' 'Don't, Nick —' Euan attempted to intervene, to protect Nick from the stew of emotions that brew around them. It was a braise of viciousness that had nothing to do with the cup, where it sat, or Nick.
But it was too late.
Kira stood. Her entire body was strung tight. She quivered with frustration. Her throat worked as she swallowed the overflow of emotions. The cotton across her breasts stretched tight as she inhaled. The jeans sat snugly on her hips. Nick's cooking had been a boon to them all. Euan's gaze didn't linger on the distraction.
Nick drew in a deep breath. His shoulders relaxed as he made an effort to wrench them from the edge. He sat back down and threw one defined arm over the backrest of his chair. His bare chest beckoned fingers to touch, to linger, but the granite in his eyes warned of reckoning if the thought was exercised. A tight smile stretched across his face as he attempted to diffuse the bomb. 'Baby, sit down. Come over here. I'll put the cup away in a minute.' His smile was forced into a wicked grin. 'When I'm finished with you.'
Kira narrowed her eyes further. The blue flashed cobalt fire. 'Don't you try and distract me, Nicholas Sutherland. I've had enough of your diversions.'
Nick laughed spitefully. His own frustrations bubbled towards the surface. 'You've had enough of my distractions, hey?' he mocked. His gaze turned lecherous. 'You don't like me cooking for you? Protecting you? Giving you everything you want?'
The room was saturated with enmity now. It was a weight that was as visceral as a living being. An animal that prowled their sanctuary. It exacerbated their anxieties and discord. It infiltrated the corners and bellowed silent taunts to fuel Kira's heightened vexations. Euan had no power against the beast. Its den lay inside Kira's head, and he was yet to understand how to unlock the cage.
At first, the fragmentation was finite and if he hadn't been confined with her, he may have missed it. But he didn't. Her lush lips hardened. One cheek hollowed as she bit the inside. Her spine straightened, her chin lowered.
It quickly deteriorated. Before them, Kira split fully apart. The limited hold she had on her anger snapped. She threw herself in Nick's direction. Her body ready for attack. Her eyes spat sharpened daggers. Her hands were curled into tiny fists.
Euan launched himself out of his seat. The wooden chair clattered to the floor in his haste. His strength sent the dining table skidding along the taupe carpet. He ignored the spilt liquid, the shards of ceramic, and a startled yelp that came from Nick. His long legs ate up the distance.
He reached her mid-flight.
His large hands caught her, thwarted her trajectory as he gripped her hard biceps and pulled her close.
Her body crashed against his. She was an enraged bundle of sharp elbows, angry claws and snapping teeth.
'Let me go!' she spat. 'I'm going to murder him!'
'Easy, sweetheart,' he crooned, while he turned her in his arms to face him. He captured her wrists against his chest to prevent any further damage to his unclothed skin. 'I know things are difficult. We're all on a knife's edge. I'll deal with Nick. How about you go take a shower?'
Kira wrenched herself from Euan's arms and took the steps needed to avoid his long reach. Her body trembled. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. Her hands were clenched at her side in righteous fury. Crystal glass shredded him to pieces. 'I don't want to take a shower! I don't want to do the dishes. I don't want —' she blushed, despite her anger. 'For Nick to do what he does.'
'Sweetheart —' Euan interjected.
Kira carried on, despite his interruption. 'I want to go outside,' she implored. Desperation laced her voice.
'I know you do. But I can't let that happen,' he told her. His heart cracked at the despair that emanated from her.
'It's been almost two months, Euan,' her voice broke. 'Please? I ... I just need to see the sun.'
Euan swallowed the despondency that swirled inside him. 'It's not safe.'
'You always say that.' she whispered. She turned from him. Her jaw granite as she held her tears at bay.
He did. Because it was true. It wasn't safe, not for him or Nick, but especially not for her. 'I'm sorry, sweetheart.'
She hiccupped. 'No, you're not.'
Euan sighed heavily. Nick moved in his periphery; a look of equal distress marked his features.
His chest was tight. He reached out towards Kira, but she avoided his grasp. 'I am. We are. I'd do anything for you, we both would. You know that. Except let you aboveground.'
Kira's body trembled. It was a vibration that rippled through her from the tangled mass of white-blonde hair to her unpolished toenails. Her voice was hoarse as she held back her emotions 'I'm going to die down here, like this. I need the sun, fresh air.'
Euan swallowed again. A knot formed in his throat from his feelings of inadequacy. 'Maybe soon.'
Kira tilted her head towards the low beige ceiling. Her pale hair fell down her spine. 'Soon isn't soon enough.'
Her anguish was a physical blow to his sternum. He took in a deep breath, let it out slowly. He held out his hand. 'What else can I do for you?'
She shook her head. Her tears escaped her iron hold and dribbled down her temples.
He gave Nick a nod, permission to clean the mess and right the furniture. The man's gaze was solemn. His lips were tight. He moved in silence, and was careful to avoid the woman who emanated so many conflicting emotions. Overwhelming anger, heart-shattering despair ...
This was becoming an impossible stalemate.
Euan's bare feet were silent as he took the few steps to reach her. The physical closeness. The constant vigilance. The ever-present feeling of dread. The anticipation of an early, violent death formed a tension between the three of them that was impossible to escape. It drew tighter every day. It curled and wound its way around already ragged emotions, tempers and anxieties. It was inevitable that they come this point.
In hindsight, Euan was surprised it hadn't combusted sooner.
He stood behind her. Her sweet, unpolluted, natural feminine scent wrapped around him like a familiar blanket. It gave him strength despite the circumstances. His height towered over her petite frame. Her face was still tilted skyward as if she truly relished the sun on her skin. Her eyes were closed, her expressive crystal glass hidden from his probing. Her cheeks were pale, like the rest of her, the bronze hue long lost to the florescent lighting.
'I can't live like this,' she whispered. Her lips trembled.
His gut soured.
Despite her volatility, Kira leant back against his body. He let out a sigh of relief. He wrapped his arms around her upper torso. The heat of her skin warmed his exposed forearms, his bare chest. It nourished him as though it were the eggs he'd consumed that morning. He ignored the fragility of her form and focused on the strength of her heart, the courage that resided in her soul. Her beautiful, precious, resilient soul.
'I know, sweetheart. I'll come up with a solution,' he promised.
He would. Because they could not live like this. Not even him. They were all but trapped underground. They were constantly terrified for their lives, for each other's lives. He tightened his hold on the cherished woman in his arms.
His gaze shifted to Nick. He had finished his task and he now rested his ass over the lip of the kitchen's faux-golden marble-laminate benchtop that ran along the wall. Behind him, the sink showed the remains of their breakfast. The scent of fried onion lingered in the air. His stance was casual, but his knuckles were white where he gripped the edge. When their eyes met, his brow furrowed and the corners of his lips firmed.
Maybe they could orchestrate something during the night. Under the cover of darkness, her sex would be difficult to distinguish. A riot helmet or scarf could conceal the delicate colour of her hair. A protective vest could safeguard the precious heart beneath. Between Nick and himself similarly clothed, she would blend, disappear and become nothing more than another hungry boy, searching for shelter.
His hands moved up her arms. His coarse palms scraped against her soft skin. The tiny hairs stood to attention in his wake. They could do this. If they were careful, if contingency plans were put in place. He could make it happen.
Across the living room, Nick opened his mouth to speak —
— just as the intruder alarm blared ominously throughout their underground home.
The incessant beep sent Euan's protective instincts into overdrive.
His hold tightened around Kira as she stiffened in his arms. He turned her until they faced one another. The anger had cleared from her eyes, and determination took its place. Her jaw was hard and her chin was set. She held all of his focus.
'Could just be another false alarm,' he attempted to reassure her.
It could be. But it was unlikely, and Kira knew it as well as he did.
Her breath brushed his dry lips when she spoke. 'Panic room?'
Euan squeezed her close. Breathed. 'Panic room.'
There it was. The beauty that was her. The phenomenal brilliance of not just a woman, but of Kira. She had stood in the centre of her anger, the eye of her despondency, only to step through the maelstrom for the sake of safety. They were not free from the whirlwind, but in this moment of cataclysm, she set it aside. Euan did too.
Nick had already moved toward the gear that had been strategically set aside for this situation. Their constant alertness, the planning and drills had prepared them for this moment. But the groundwork had not accounted for the racing hearts, the sweaty palms, the escalated rise and fall of their chests. Nick fumbled as he pulled on a thermal shirt. It was inside out.
Euan bent, brushed his lips over Kira's as he spoke. 'You'll be safe down here.'
'You stay safe up there.' Her eyes were still glassy and her cheeks retained the slight flush from her anger. She smelt of salt and determination.
'Always,' he vowed.
On tiptoes, she pressed her lips into his. Her petite curves moulded to his body. The ferocious thunder of her heart beat against the skin of his chest. It solidified the lump in his throat. Instinct took over. He answered her tender kiss with a barbaric claiming.
Excerpted from "Fractured Refuge"
Copyright © 2017 Annabelle McInnes.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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