Rhys Cooper is a dead man. Cut off from the world since childhood, he's finally exposed to the lethal virus that wiped out most of the human race. Now his only hope for survival is infection by another strain that might provide immunity. But it's sexually transmitted, and the degradation he feels at submitting to the entire squad of soldiers that rescued him eclipses any potential for pleasure-except with Darius, the squadron's respected, capable leader.
Sergeant Darius Murrell has seen too much death and too little humanity. He's spent a decade putting plague victims out of their misery and escorting survivors to a safe haven he can never enjoy. He'd rather help Rhys live than put him down, so when Rhys can't reconcile himself to doing what's necessary to survive, Darius is forced to save Rhys in spite of himself.
But with each passing day, it looks less and less likely that Rhys can be saved. And that means that Darius might soon have to put a bullet in the head of the one person in years who reminds him of what it means to be human.
|Publisher:||Riptide Publishing, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Amelia C. Gormley, Sarah Frantz
Riptide PublishingCopyright © 2014 Amelia C. Gormley
All rights reserved.
Death smelled like old wooden pews whose varnish and cushions had become saturated with acrid layers of dust. It smelled like mildewing carpet rotting from rain that had leaked through a roof he'd never had the skill or resources to repair. The hymnals had long since been used for tinder, but the musty scent of old books—once so comforting but now vaguely nauseating—remained.
It was dim, too. The dust dancing in the speckled sunlight that filtered through the filthy stained glass windows could more accurately be described as sheets rather than motes. In the absence of any other light, it lent the room a dusky quality that would have been beautiful if Rhys hadn't despised it.
He took all this in during what he knew would be his final heartbeats. He brandished his useless shotgun like a baseball bat and scowled at the splintering door. A revenant started clawing through the hole, and Rhys used its struggle with the shattered timbers to strike the first blow. The moist, sickening crunch of the heavy stock smashing in the bones of the revenant's face was a sound he didn't think he'd forget, assuming he lived to remember. He wanted to puke all over the howling body that fell to the floor, its tangled hair streaming and its grime-caked breasts swinging. Even if it—she—was trying to eat him, she had once been a person.
He wondered if he should ask God for forgiveness while he bashed the still-struggling body into the aisle runner, which was so dark and dingy a red that, in the faint light, it looked like a river of dried blood flowing down the middle of the chapel. He hoped to snap the revenant's spine or pulverize the brain or at least blind it before the other revs that rampaged outside were attracted by the noise. If Father Maurice was to be believed, revenants weren't actually undead, despite the name. He'd said that rumor had only started because everyone had assumed the Rot to be fatal without exception. When the virus had mutated and began turning some of its victims into animals, people had panicked and made up wild claims about zombies. But no, the revs were alive, and if they were alive, they could be killed just about any way a living, breathing person could. They were just strong, insane, and impervious to pain.
Rhys was splattered with blood by the time the revenant stopped thrashing. A drop itched as it chilled and dried on his lip, its weight irritating.
Don't lick. Don't lick. Don't lick.
He supposed it didn't really matter. Even if he managed not to become dinner, he was still a dead man. He had been from the moment he'd breathed the same air as the revenant.
Knowing that made it easier, in a morbidly reassuring way. He had a small knife in his pocket, its faux-ebony handle cracked. It was useless as a weapon but enough to slit his wrists. If he managed to get out of here, he might still die a clean death. If he was smart, he'd do it now, before they got through the door.
But then they might still turn and go after Cadence and Caleb.
His chest heaved and his arms ached as he stared down with dispassionate curiosity at the caved-in face of the rev he'd killed. It was all about priorities. He could see that with a remarkable clarity he'd never had before. First, keep the revs from chasing his sister and nephew. Second, take them out and avoid being eaten. Third, kill himself before the Rot set in or he became a revenant. Knowing what to do had never been so easy.
Now, should he stay and wait, or try to bolt? It was taking the other revs longer than Rhys had anticipated to stampede in. He didn't feel like cowering in the chapel waiting to be eaten, though, so he tried to make a break for it.
It turned out to be a mistake. They caught him in the narrow stone corridor, where he didn't have as much room to swing his makeshift club as he'd had in the chapel. He sprinted down the hallway, gasping desperate breaths, trying to reach the outside door that would lead him to the courtyard between the building and the gates. Where he would go after that, he had no idea. The nearest town was a good ten miles away from the monastery nestled in the rolling hills that had once been the vineyards of the Willamette Valley wine country. Aside from a few scattered farmhouses and wineries, there was no place for him to hide.
It was a moot point, anyway. If the others were heading east toward Newberg, he'd have to go west, which meant it would be a lot farther than ten miles to another town. What had once been the city of McMinnville lay in that direction, if he remembered the old map correctly, but he didn't have a prayer of reaching it with revs on his tail, and he didn't dare try to meet up with the others until he lost them.
Besides, Father Maurice and Jacob probably wouldn't wait around to see if he could meet with them. After all, Father Maurice had forced Rhys's mother to give up on waiting for his father at their chosen rendezvous point, seven years ago when his dad had done the same thing Rhys was doing now: using himself as a lure to keep a pack of revs away from his family.
Rhys heard growling behind him and turned to face another pair of revenants. Hadn't there been more? Rhys could swear he'd seen at least four coming through the falling-down gate outside the monastery. These two had fresh blood on their faces, and he could only hope it was from Father Maurice or Jacob.
The pair snarled like rabid dogs and stank to high heaven. Their wild manes reeked of oil and dirt. The revs who had once been men had beards even more ragged than the facial hair that grew in haphazard patches around Rhys's jaw. Clearly hygiene wasn't high on the revenant list of priorities.
Rhys giggled madly. He was losing it. His senses were aflame, singing; his awareness of everything had sharpened to a keen point. His heart raced, and his muscles quivered. In those moments before death, he felt more alive, more vital, than he had in the past seven years. He could almost thank the revenants for smelling so foul because it made his last breaths into something that actually had an impact.
For one instant, he considered not fighting. Let them kill him. Let his final moment of this delicious sensitivity be the excruciating pain of their teeth rending his flesh.
In the end, though, his survival instinct was too strong. He swung his useless shotgun-turned-cudgel with what limited momentum he could muster, knocking the first rev back as a spray of blood erupted from a cut on its brow. Its head snapped back toward him, its eyes narrowing in fury. So human and yet so lacking anything resembling humanity.
The other maddened creature charged him before he had a chance to draw the blood-smeared shotgun back for another blow. It knocked him to the stone floor, driving the breath from his lungs. The club flew out of his hands. He managed a lucky blow to its throat with his elbow, winning himself a moment more of existence as it recoiled, gagging. Then it pressed down on him again, yellowed teeth snapping.
The world exploded in a series of percussive blasts that bounced off the stone walls. A hot spray he thought must be his own blood washed over him. In the next second, everything was eerily silent except for the high-pitched ringing in his ears. The revenant above him was still, its weight crushing him until it was hauled away.
His first thought when he opened his eyes was that his final prayer had been answered. He'd died before the revs could begin to eat him. God appeared before him, stern and mighty enough to justify all the fuss people made about Him. His dark face was concerned in a detached sort of way. That made sense: Rhys had never seen any indication that God actually cared for him. He didn't know why God would be wearing camo fatigues or why He had His holy hair pulled back in a ponytail, but who was Rhys to question the Almighty? Instead, he accepted the proffered hand, and it pulled him to his feet as though he weighed nothing.
Then things got weird. God patted him down in brisk, hurried thumps as He mouthed something. He shouted, and Rhys could almost make out the words through the humming in his ears. It was like trying to listen to someone speak underwater. God ripped Rhys's blood-soaked shirt open. When Rhys stared mutely, unable to answer the questions he couldn't hear, God's expression turned grim and He frowned with merciless pity. He shook His head, and His nearly black eyes went cold. Then He turned away from Rhys to gesture to someone.
Rhys caught sight of the woman behind him, who held a shotgun in her hands. A startling streak of white threaded through the thick black braid that hung over her shoulder. Muffled and indistinct, as if from a great distance, the man's words pierced the ringing in Rhys's ears.
"He's not answering. He could already be going catatonic if this wasn't his first exposure. Put him out of his misery. We can't take him with us and risk exposing the others."
"No!" Rhys's shouted reply was muted in his own ears. "I'm not infected! At least I wasn't until—" He gestured to the corpses at his feet and the blood coating his skin.
"Call the others. Tell them to bring water! Soap!" the dark-skinned man shouted to his companion, then whirled on Rhys. "There's a wind pump outside. Is there running water here? Showers?"
Rhys began to sprint before he remembered to nod, dashing up the stairs to the communal bathroom. He didn't even bother to strip before he turned on the shower and stepped under the frigid spray. The man who'd saved him followed only a step behind, tearing away the remnants of Rhys's shirt with a wet snarl, then swiping the rivulets of crimson water away from his lips, which Rhys pressed closed.
"You have soap, son?" The man had to repeat it twice, louder the second time, for Rhys to hear.
Rhys shook his head and closed his eyes for good measure. They'd used the last of their supply of soap years ago. He inhaled only when the need for breath was undeniable, afraid of snorting some of the bloody water up his nose. The man began to scrub him with something harsh and pungent smelling. Rhys startled when unknown hands shredded his ratty jeans like they were tissue paper, not bothering to strip the tight, wet denim down his legs.
Only when someone shut off the water and pronounced him clean did he realize that he was naked in the presence of God knew how many people. Blind and still partially deafened, he'd hardly been aware of others coming into the bathroom.
"He's still been exposed," said a low, female voice behind him. Rhys blinked water out of his eyes to get a better look around. The man who'd washed him still stood in the shower stall with him. His fatigues were soaked, and water beaded on his ebony hair. His dark eyes were pitying. He patted Rhys down again, looking between Rhys's fingers and lifting his arms to peer underneath.
"Guess we'll wait and see, then," he said with an edge to his voice.
He growled. "Don't, Xolani."
She sighed. "Well, there's no harm in taking him with us, at least until he starts to show symptoms. We can keep him isolated, hope for a miracle. There's nothing left here for him anyway."
Rhys pulled away from the strange hands on his body, mustering every ounce of defiance he could, and scowled at the newcomers. "I'm not going anywhere with a bunch of strangers. Where's my sister?"
* * *
Darius had to hand it to the kid. With his shoulder blades visible beneath his skin, ribs jutting out like the bars of a xylophone, and his hazel eyes bulging with shock, he still had fight in him. No sooner had the question left his lips than he pushed past Darius.
"Cady! Cady, are you okay?"
Darius's stomach sank, and Xolani's normally stern expression softened with sympathy. The kid darted out the door before Darius thought to intercept him.
"Where is she? Cady!"
"Keep searching the rooms." Darius stretched his neck to one side, then the other, trying not to growl. "Find me that last rev Jamie reported, and get him some damn clothes!" He took off after the survivor, his long strides carrying him down the stairs where he caught the naked, dripping young man almost out the door. He might as well have been trying to hold an angry badger. The survivor thrashed and flailed, and Darius finally had to push him away when he started scratching and biting. Last fucking thing he needed was for the kid to draw blood.
Not that it mattered.
Suddenly free, the survivor didn't pause but charged the final few steps to the door, against which Darius slammed him, chest first, to eliminate the hazard posed by the kid's teeth and nails.
"Settle down, son. There's still a rev on the loose, and we gotta find it. My scouts reported four. I'd hate to think you fended off those other ones just to run smack into the last."
"My sister might run into it!" The flurry of struggles renewed. "Cady!"
Darius growled to himself and tried to make his tone at least somewhat sympathetic. "There ain't anyone left alive out there."
The thrashing came to a shuddering halt.
"They got away?" The plaintive hope in the kid's voice probably made a whole host of angels somewhere burst into tears.
Darius was no angel, but he didn't want to be an asshole, either. "I'm sorry, son."
"But the revs were supposed to come after me. I was going to distract them." His voice cracked with desperate confusion. "They were supposed to get me!"
Oh fuck. This was why he hated dealing with survivors. Especially traumatized ones.
Futilely brave, fucking heroic traumatized ones.
"They probably heard the baby cry, and it was all over." As comfort went, Darius was pretty sure it fell short, but he didn't know what else to say. "Revs are predators, and like any predator, they know babies are easy prey. You couldn't have got their attention no matter what you tried."
To the kid's credit, he didn't cry. That would have put the perfect cap on Darius's afternoon. Instead, the boy drew a few quavering breaths and said almost calmly, "Let me go."
Darius sighed. "You don't want to see what's out there, son."
"Darius." Xolani spoke from behind him, and Darius almost jumped. Shit. He'd been so distracted by the kid, he wasn't even watching his six. "Kaleo and Gina are reporting the rev still at large isn't in the building or courtyard. Jamie says Titus is out on his bike. He suspects the last rev ran off from the pack, and Titus gave pursuit. We're still looking for clothes, but for now here's a blanket our survivor can wrap around himself."
Darius reached back to take the scratchy woolen blanket. "If you promise not to bolt, I'll let you loose so you can cover up."
The tips of the kid's ears turned red, and he gave a stiff nod. Darius eased his weight off him and stood back, proffering the blanket. Avoiding Darius's eyes, the survivor wrapped it around himself, then opened the door and dashed out.
"Fuck this noise." Darius threw up his hands in defeat. "It ain't my job to baby the civvies."
He heard Xolani sigh. "The profundity of your compassion makes me weep."
"They teach you those big words in med school?"
"Taught me a few short ones, too. The kind with four letters. Want to hear them?"
"Go saw some bones or something, and get off my ass."
She snorted and brushed past him, following the boy out the door. Growling, Darius went after her.
The survivor was standing before a row of four blood-soaked blankets lying over the victims Darius had seen in the weed-filled courtyard on his way into the monastery. One blanket-covered lump was the size of an adult. Another was only a foot and a half long, and from beneath a third trailed long, tawny hair that was nearly the exact shade of the kid's own. The fourth blanket lay over someone not much smaller than the girl.
For all his professed lack of compassion, Darius sent a mental thank-you to whichever of his people had thought to cover up the mangled bodies. That was probably Joe.
Xolani stopped a few feet from the survivor, giving him space. "You have a name, kid?"
The boy stared down at the lumps with an almost eerie lack of expression, as if he'd simply shut down. "Rhys Cooper." There was no inflection in his voice. He might as well have been a robot.
"Good to meet you, Rhys. I'm Xolani, and the big guy who was manhandling you is Darius."
The kid nodded, not speaking. He didn't even glance her way.
"She was your sister?" Darius wasn't sure what Xolani thought she was doing, prodding him to talk about it like that, but better her than Darius when the bawling began.
The young man nodded again.
Xolani's voice softened. "Was that her baby?"
Another wordless nod.
"Who was the father? The old man? There, under that one?" Xolani's question came a little cautiously. Darius grimaced, aware of what she was really asking. It wouldn't be the first time adolescent siblings cut off from the world had turned to each other when the impulses of puberty took over. It also wouldn't be the first time a patriarch had made a harem of the girls in his group.
Excerpted from Strain by Amelia C. Gormley, Sarah Frantz. Copyright © 2014 Amelia C. Gormley. Excerpted by permission of Riptide Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good read. Good character interactions . Emotional .
NOTE: This book contains medium to heavy aspects of BDSM, the m/m breeding kink, and some pretty heavy dub con, bordering on non con (dubious consent, non consent). There is a strong power imbalance between the two main characters, both physically and socially. This book also has mentions of rape and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised. The author would do well to mention some of these things up front before the story starts, so readers know what they're getting into. That being said! Amelia C. Gormley has made a fan out of me in just one book. There are few things I love more than zombie outbreak fiction and character driven stories, and this book is both. Gormley's characters are all brilliantly rounded and developed, and not just the main characters, Rhys and Darius. Well... Father Maurice and Jacob were kind of flat and cartoonishly evil, and I would have liked to see more behind their motivations, but otherwise, superb character development. I loved the supporting cast as much as Rhys and Darius, and I love that Delta Company is made up of several races and orientations. Xolani is Persian, Jamie is a trans man, Darius is black, and Kaleo--I believe--is Samoan. Gormley does a great job of making these traits known without coming out and just saying them in the narration. She uses dialogue, exposition, and description to get these things across. Wonderfully done. I do wish I'd known that this book is basically the second book in the series. Don't get me wrong, it reads alone just fine! Everything was explained, and those explanations were integrated into the story without being too distracting, but I like to read stuff in order. But the few cons I have mentioned did not dampen my enjoyment of this book in the slightest. It's 290 pages on my Nook,. I'm a slow reader and I devoured it in just under a week. Already picked up another book of Gormley's and am eager to start reading it tonight!
Was a little twisty with the mutatuons, explainations, and odd story line. But, it kept my interest and entertained.
Excellent world building and story development in this great M/M post-apocalyptic novel from Gormley. The Strain is a thoughtful and engaging plot around the Delta Company and their commander Darius that discovers a potentially infected young man Rhys. Having to have sex to live could be a difficult proposition for some readers as it feels non-consensual or at best dubiously consensual. I found it to be a great exploration of a relationship that focuses on the power differential between characters. I loved Rhys and liked Darius a lot. I would love to see more novels in this universe as there are other great characters to explore.
Strain is a book that is going to engender very different responses from readers as some will find its numerous sexual encounters off-putting while others will find its storyline unique and thought-provoking. I'm one of those readers who found it a compelling read that was gritty and darkly atmospheric in its handling of morality, compassion, sexuality, amidst a dystopian world where the lines between right and wrong aren't always clear. For the young man Rhys, who's led a very sheltered life because of a virus unleashed on the world, his introduction to a group of genetically enhanced soldiers changes him and his life forever. After being emotionally and physically abused by religious zealots for his sexuality, the sexual abandon that's the only thing that might keep him from getting infected leaves him confused but still drawn to the Unit's leader Darius. Rhys sees a savior and protector in him and wants nothing more than to stay by his side. With the possibility of becoming infected looming, along with the issue of their age difference, and the threat from a traitorous religious zealot, their time together might end before it begins. Rhys is an immensely likable character who deals with pain in a stoic manner and is loyal to a fault. He just wants to be loved and cared for in a world that's broken and this desire is a bright spot amongst the darkness. Darius has become jaded after all the blood, death, and hopelessness he's seen. He's a hardened man not always good at knowing what to say. In Rhys he sees a fighting spirit that's inspiring and reminds him of what he's fighting for. Knowing that the virus might kill Rhys yet has Darius holding back at first but before long the connection he feels for him can't be denied as his possessive nature takes over. In a world where life can end at any time, the feelings they have for each other are the one bright spot and had me rooting for them every step of the way. Ms. Gormley's written a thought-provoking and darkly atmospheric read that's vivid in its world-building and kept me enthralled from the start. The characters are compelling with each unique in their personalities that leaves room for more stories to be told. The sexual interludes are numerous with the reasons for this being cleverly woven into the storyline. Some of the scenes are questionable in the consent so readers who have issues with that are forewarned. No matter what though, the scenes are hot and as Rhys and Darius get closer the scenes take on a more tender vibe. There's a definite villain to the story and he lives up to that title as I felt like booing him every time he came on the scene. With so many good aspects to this story, my only complaint is that it's a bit long with a middle section that dragged. On a whole though, I applaud Ms. Gormley for her cleverly crafted story that seamlessly combined steamy sexual encounters with an intriguing and thought-provoking sci-fi storyline that I long to read more about in the future!
At one point in my life I thought The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was the worst book I had ever read. This one beats it by a mile. It is just plain stupid. Amelia Gormley, get a new job.