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To top it off, she’d added a bicycle helmet we’d found in the garage. At least she’d worn her own clothes with it, but I wasn’t sure what we’d do when she started to outgrow them. I’d have to learn how to sew, I guess.

“What’s with the get-up?” I asked Stella, gesturing to her boots and helmet.

“We don’t know what’s out there,” Stella said, like it should be obvious. “I need to be prepared.”

“Can’t argue with that,” I said. “Come on.”

I took her hand when we went out the front door. She hesitated before following me, though, looking around in all directions several times before deciding it was safe. I didn’t hurry her because that was a good habit to have.

The house was pretty isolated, which was another reason I liked it so much. As far as I could tell, it was the only house on the entire lake. The driveway even stretched a quarter of a mile to the road.

The area surrounding the property was fairly wooded, mostly with pine trees but a few maples and oaks stood bare-branched in the mix. Despite the chill, some greenery was poking out here and there, shooting up between melting patches of snow.

We didn’t travel far from the house, because I hadn’t brought anything to defend ourselves with. I didn’t hear any zombies, and the area seemed safe enough. But that didn’t mean it was. I didn’t want to be any farther than a quick dash to safety.

Stella and I took turns looking at the book, and she studied the pictures carefully. We found a few leaves of something that was supposed to edible, but when I tried it, it tasted too bitter to possibly be consumed.

We did manage to find a small cluster of berries. I examined the pictures several times before I tried one, out of fear of accidentally ingesting something poisonous. Nothing happened after I ate a few, so I let Stella try one. I didn’t let her have any more though, until I’d seen how I reacted to them.

I wished Daniels was around. He’d know what to do if we accidentally ate something that could harm us. Hell, he’d probably even know what plants were dangerous, so we wouldn’t even need the book.

That wasn’t the only reason I wished Daniels was around, of course. I missed him a lot, more than I’d expected I would. But he’d been my only companion for six months, and though our relationship was rocky a lot of the time, I truly believed he was a good person. He tried to be rational in an insane world.

Sometimes I found myself going to ask him something or wanting to tell him something, only to remember that he wasn’t here. That he would never be here again.

“Remy,” Stella whispered. Her hand found mine, squeezing tightly onto it.

“What?” I asked, pulling myself from my thoughts.

“Are they zombies?” She pointed to three figures walking on the road at the end of the driveway.

They moved normally, with the fluid movements of humans that zombies were incapable of.

“No, honey, they are not,” I said quietly as I watched them.

There were two men and one woman. The woman had fiery red hair, long curls she hadn’t even attempted to tame. The younger of the two men was wiry, with a grizzled face. He had a scar that stretched out from underneath one eye around to his temple.

But the last guy was a giant of a man. He towered over the other two, with broad shoulders and a bald head that appeared to be twice the size of mine.

Their clothes were ragged and worn, and all three of them carried bags, fat with their possessions. I supposed they didn’t appear all that different from our little group, but my heart beat erratically when I saw them. I couldn’t see any weapons, but I was never sure if I could trust people.

They paused at the end of the driveway, talking among themselves. I held my breath, hoping they would keep walking, bypassing our house completely. But they didn’t. They turned and walked toward the house.

Stella and I were near the edge of the driveway, so they would see us when they got closer. We were somewhat hidden in the trees for now, so we had a chance to run and hide. Or we could step out and introduce ourselves.

I wasn’t sure what the best course of action was, but the three strangers were walking to the house, where Boden, Serg, and Max were playing cards in the basement game room. I couldn’t let people blunder on in them.

“Stay behind me,” I told Stella.

I still held her hand, but I’d moved so I was blocking her with my body. I took a few steps out to the driveway, and she moved with me, hiding behind me.

“Excuse me.” I cleared my throat, and the three people stopped short on the driveway. The smaller man and the woman looked startled, but the giant didn’t have any clear expression. “Can I help you?”

“I don’t know,” the smaller man said, his voice lilting with an accent. I couldn’t place it for certain, but it sounded almost Irish. “Can you help us?”

“Did you need something?” I asked, rephrasing my question.

“Is this your house?” the woman asked, and she at least attempted to sound friendly.

“Yes.” I stood up straighter and tried to sound more confident. “Yes, it is.”

“You live here by yourself then?” the wiry guy asked, smirking a bit, and then gestured to Stella hiding behind me. “You and the little girl, I mean?”

I shook my head. “No. There’s three other guys in the house. Waiting for us.”

His smile fell away, and he exchanged a look with the redhead. I definitely did not like the vibe I was getting from them. I wanted to run to the house away from them, but I feared if I ran, like mad dogs, they would give chase.