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“Where are my manners?” The woman laughed lightly. “I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Hayley, that’s Louis,” – she pointed to the wiry guy – “and this big guy here is Bruce.”

“I’m Remy,” I said, because I had to say something back. “And that’s Stella.”

“We’ve been wandering for days,” Hayley said. “And as you can imagine, we’re quite tired. You wouldn’t mind if we stopped and just took a little break here?”

“I …” I started to shake my head. “I don’t think – ”

“We wouldn’t be any bother,” Hayley insisted and took a step toward me. “We have our own food, so we wouldn’t eat yours. We just need a little break, to put our feet up.”

I was wrong about Bruce, the giant standing behind her. I’d thought he didn’t have any expressions, but he was definitely grimacing now as he glared down at me.

“I’ll see,” I said, because I wasn’t sure that I could fight a giant like that on my own. But in the house, with Boden, Serg, and several guns, I thought I might stand a chance. “I have to check with the others.”

I picked up Stella then, putting her on my hip, and I turned to walk quickly to the house. I didn’t look back, but I could hear them following me, Bruce’s heavy steps clomping on the ground.

As soon as I got in the door, I put her down and whispered, “Go to your room and lock the door.”

She raced up the stairs, and I walked farther into the house, wanting to put distance between myself and the weary travellers.

“Boden!” I shouted, hoping he heard the unease in my voice. “Serg!”

Louis whistled when he came inside, eyeing up the rather impressive living room. I’d stepped back, moving deeper into the living room away from them. Bruce made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and a growl, and I have no idea if that was good or not.

“This is some place you got here,” Louis commented.

“And you have all this space just for the couple of you?” Hayley asked.

“Thanks,” I muttered, and Louis took off his backpack and casually tossed it on the sofa. “Boden! We have company!”

“Company?” Boden’s voice wafted up the stairs, and within seconds, I heard footsteps tramping up them.

Boden, Serg, and Max came upstairs, all three of them looking confused. I hadn’t called for Max, and I was hoping that they’d take the hint that I wanted him to wait downstairs. I had no idea what this might turn into, but I was certain that it’d better if Max stayed out of it.

“Oh, company.” Boden’s eyes widened with understanding and surprise when he saw Hayley, Bruce, and Louis standing our living room.

“This is Hayley, Louis, and Bruce,” I said, gesturing to each of them as I said their name.

Max, who always tried to be polite, couldn’t seem to help but gape up at Bruce. I motioned for him, but it took a few seconds for him to notice, since he kept staring.

I hissed his name, and then finally Max saw me and walked over to me. I put my arm around him, pulling him as close to me as I could without looking really weird about it.

“Sorry to just intrude like this,” Hayley said, smiling at Boden. “But we just needed a bit of rest.”

“And you definitely have the room for us,” Louis said as his eyes searched the room. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he was casing the joint.

“No, no, it’s not an intrusion,” Boden said. He glanced quizzically at me, and then turned his attention back to our “guests.” Pushing up the sleeves of his fitted black shirt, he stepped toward them. “It’s always good to help out fellow survivors.”

“We’re glad to hear you say that,” Hayley said. “Some people can be so cruel.”

“And selfish,” Louis added.

“Well, um, we try not to be.” Boden smiled thinly at them. “I’m Sergeant Boden of the US Army.”

“Oh, a soldier?” Hayley attempted to look impressed, but it came across as condescending.

I’d never heard Boden introduce himself as soldier before, so I had a feeling he was trying to intimidate them. Let them know that he knew how to kill, and he would have no hesitation doing it again.

“And this is Private Serg.” Boden gestured over to Serg, who had no army training whatsoever.

“Serg?” Louis snickered at that.

“What Louis means is that that’s an unusual name,” Hayley said, trying to correct her comrade. “Are you Russian?”

“Not that I know of,” Serg replied. “I was born and raised in America. That’s how I, uh, ended up joining the army.”

“There’s not much of an army anymore, though, is there?” Hayley wrinkled her nose. She’d walked over to the couch and rubbed the back of it, almost petting it.

“I mean, it’s really just the two of you, ain’t it?” Louis smirked and gestured between Boden and Serg. “For all intents and purposes, that’s all that’s left of the US Army.”

“You’re right.” Boden put his hands on his hips and glanced back at Serg. “We’re not much of an army.” He turned back to Louis and Hayley, smiling as genuinely as he could. “That’s why it’s great that you’re here. It’s so good to commune with others since there’s so few of us left.”