Skyler looked over at Owen, her best friend and lover, as they drove down the deserted highway toward the mountains of what had used to be Montana before the year of catastrophes. Now it was a wild, untamed land full of good and evil. Mostly evil as far as she was concerned. Once the tornadoes, fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, and diseases had wiped out most of the population of the world, those who were left survived the best they could.
Some managed to hang on to their humanity, but many shed it like a snake skin and preyed on the weak. Since women were scarce in this new world they were living in, they were often bartered and sold like cattle. In the eastern part of the states, black market traders kidnapped women to auction them off to the highest bidder. If you found yourself in their hands, your fate was sure to be bleak. Many women found themselves in brothels that sprang up all over.
She and Owen had managed fairly well living in one of the ruined cities of the east, but things had changed. More traders appeared, making it impossible for a women to be left alone while their men worked to put food on the table. Skyler had narrowly escaped capture by traders on two occasions and spent a good part of the day when Owen was working, hiding in the basement. It was no way to live, and Owen had gotten fed up with everything one day when he arrived home to find men ransacking the house looking for things to sell.
He had gone out the next day and returned with a travel trailer. They packed up what was left of their belongings and headed for the Border Lands. He was convinced they would fare better there than in the city. She knew it was for the best, but his plans scared her. She didn’t know if she could go through with them.
“You’re quiet over there, Skyler. What are you brooding about?”
“Nothing. Just wondering where we’ll end up.”
He let out a long breath and gripped the steering wheel tighter. His knuckles turned white. He knew what she was thinking about. She couldn’t help but worry about it. What he planned wasn’t normal.
“Sky, baby. Everything will work out fine. Just relax for now. It won’t change anything by worrying over it.”
“I can’t stop thinking about it, Owen. You’re talking about sharing me with a complete stranger.”
“He isn’t exactly a complete stranger. I’ve been writing to him for several months.”
“You’ve never met him, Owen. Writing to him doesn’t mean he’s a decent man.” She leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes.
She knew Owen was only doing what he thought was best, but she couldn’t help but be worried about it. Just because he’d heard that it worked out west didn’t mean it was true. Owen had been researching the possibilities for months before the day he had come home to find the men tearing apart their house. It had been the last straw for him. When he came back with the travel trailer, Skyler knew that he had made up his mind. Now she would have to live with it. Could she willingly give herself to another man in order to be safe? She just didn’t know.
Several hours later, Owen pulled off the barren road and pulled out a map she hadn’t known about.
“Where did you get that?”
“I bought it off one of the supply trucks that came through.”
“And you trust it?”
“Skyler. Don’t start.” Owen returned to looking over the map before folding it back up and pulling out on the road again.
Less than thirty minutes later, he turned off the road onto another road, following it until he reached a four-way stop. He turned left and continued down that road another four or five miles before turning right. This road wasn’t in as good a shape as the previous ones. Skyler couldn’t help but wonder if he knew where he was going. She loved him with all of her heart, but times like this, she wasn’t too sure she liked him. She was positive he was getting them lost.
Finally, he stopped at the end of a drive and looked over at her. She could tell by the expression on his face that she wasn’t going to like what she was about to hear.
“We’re here, Skyler.”
“Where is here?” She looked around but only saw tall dying grass and a gravel road ahead of them.
“It’s going to be our new home. This is where Simon lives.”
“I don’t see anything but grass and gravel.” She didn’t look at him because she didn’t want him to see the tears in her eyes.
Skyler felt betrayed. Never mind that Owen was doing what he thought was best for both of them, it still hurt that he would willingly share her with another man—a stranger.
“The house is at the end of the drive. I need you to be strong, Skyler. I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me, too. Do you think I want to admit that I can’t take care of you by myself anymore? This is killing me, but I don’t know what else to do.” Owen sounded close to tears himself.
Skyler swallowed down the bile creeping up her throat and looked over at the man she had fallen in love with nearly ten years ago. So much had happened in the last eight years. He looked almost gaunt now with all the stress he had been under. He looked much older than twenty-nine. At six feet two inches, he towered over her by a good eight or nine inches. His deep blue eyes and light brown hair that reached his collar made him a striking man to look at. There were lines etched into his face that shouldn’t have been there at his young age. He had obviously lost weight in the last couple of years from working so hard, and all the worry heaped on his broad shoulders.
She sighed and reached out for his hand. They were scarred and calloused from working in the cleanup crews in the city. Maybe having another man around would help remove some of the stress from his shoulders. Maybe he was right and everything would be okay. She had to put on a brave front for him. He didn’t need her hysterics along with everything else he was forced to deal with.
He clasped her hand in his, and pulled her closer for a gentle kiss. His lips brushed across hers before he straightened up in the seat and changed gears. They started up the gravel drive toward their new life. She could only hope the man waiting on them would be a good one.