This week, I'm sharing some excerpts from my latest novel, The Land of the Shadow, the sequel to The End of All Things. I'm currently editing the last volume in the trilogy. It's going to e so hard to say goodbye to these characters, because I've enjoyed every minute I've spent with them. I hope you will too.
“I’m back,” Justin said, and Carly jerked into full wakefulness. He sat down beside her on the bed. She was cold again, but she didn’t want to ask him to hold her. She didn’t want to infect him with whatever this was.
Justin’s eyes were full of concern, his mouth twisted into a hard, pinched line. She wanted to tell him not to worry, but she knew it would be wasted words. She wanted to tell him again she’d be fine, but she wasn’t sure that was true.
“Justin, I need to tell you . . .”
“Oh, Jesus, Carly.” He closed his eyes.
She gripped his forearm. “I have to. Just in case I can’t later.”
“No,” Justin said, and his black eyes flashed like an obsidian blade. “It’s not like that—”
“You don’t know what I have for certain!” she said. “Justin, please?”
“Stop it!” He stood and paced a few feet away, his back to her. She could see how his shoulders heaved as he fought. “You’re going to be—” His voice cracked. “You can’t be anything but okay.”
“I will,” she said. “I will, for you. I promise. If there’s anything left in me, I’ll fight for you. But, Justin, there are some things you just can’t fight, and because of that, I need to tell you . . . please. Just listen to me. That’s all I ask.”
She didn’t think he was going to respond, but he turned and came back to sit by her side. His steps were as stiff as a robot’s, and his face reminded Carly of one of those Japanese Noh theater masks, frozen into one expression. He wouldn’t look at her.
“I know you can’t say it now, but I need you to promise me you won’t shut yourself off.” Carly pulled the blanket higher on her chest and tried not to shiver. It felt as thin as a paper napkin. “Dagny is going to need you. She will always need you, but if I’m not here—”
He jerked his head away with such an abrupt motion, she thought he’d heard a noise, but he kept it turned away from her.
“If I’m not here, she’s going to need you to be here, Justin. Not just in the physical sense, but emotionally as well. And being emotionally alive means you’re going to need love in your life, too.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m not going to—” He buried his hands in his hair and groaned. “Fucking hell, Carly!”
“I need you to know I would want you to,” she said, ignoring him.
“Of course you would,” Justin said, his tone cutting. “Because you have a generous heart, but for God’s sake, Carly, stop this bullshit. You’re not going to die, and I’m certainly not going to get remarried, even if you did. This is it for me, Carly. If you don’t know that by now, you haven’t been paying attention. There is no ‘healing’ and ‘learning to let go’ or ‘learning to love again’ and all that shit. I gave my heart to you. And you’ll still have it, even if your own heart isn’t beating anymore. I gave you my soul. Even if your own soul is gone on to whatever it is you think lies on the other side. I don’t have another heart or soul to give.”
He stood up and began to pace with short, rapid steps. “Look, I love you, okay? The one person I’ve ever loved. The sole exception. I’ve felt loyalty. I’ve felt duty. I’ve felt friendship and respect and even affection. But you’re the only person that . . . you fit me, Carly. You’re the only key to a very complicated lock. I’m not saying this to be grandiose or romantic. I’m saying it because it’s the truth. You are it for me, Carly.
“I’ll take care of our daughter. I’ll always be a loving father to her and see to it that she has what she needs. But let’s dispense of this bullshit notion that I’ll be shopping around for a replacement for you, because it’s not going to happen.”
Carly knew Justin didn’t mean the biting tone he used, but it stung none the less. “I didn’t mean for it to be insulting, Justin.”
He spun around to glare at her. “It is insulting! You’re acting like this—like us—is something that happens every day. Like I could find what I have with you with someone else, and that’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever fucking heard!”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered and dropped her gaze down to the blanket. Her eyes stung, and she blinked hard to try to fight against the tears that threatened. Justin was breathing hard, as though he’d run a marathon. In a moment, he came over to sit beside her again. His fingers came under her chin to lift her face until she met his eyes.
They were shiny. Too shiny. Justin gave her a smile that wobbled. “I thought you were a smart girl.”
She lost the battle against tears. “Oh, Justin, I—”
He pulled her into his arms and held her against him, hard. His heart thumped beneath her cheek, and she could hear the hitch in his breathing.
“Shh,” he said and cupped a hand around her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. I’m sorry.”
After surviving the Infection and a perilous journey through the wasteland that was once the United States, Carly and Justin have found a safe home in the isolated town of Colby.
Even so, balancing the duties of survival and a growing family isn’t easy. As they emerge as leaders, they face difficult questions about justice in a lawless land, basic human rights, and freedom in a world where strength defines worth. More than ever, they have to rely on one another for strength and support during the darkest of times.
The Crisis is far from over. Their fences won’t keep the world out forever, and a new threat is emerging—a gang of predators who see the town as easy pickings. When danger looms over Colby, Carly must decide how far she’ll go to protect those she loves.
It’s a journey down the long and broken road through The Land of the Shadow.
Lissa Bryan is an astronaut, renowned Kabuki actress, Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Iron Chef champion, and scientist who recently discovered the cure for athlete's foot...though only in her head. Real life isn't so interesting, which is why she spends most of her time writing.
She is the author of three other novels, Ghostwriter, The End of All Things, and Under These Restless Skies.