The sequel to The End of All Things is almost here! The Land of the Shadow will be released on August 21, but you can pre-order it on Amazon today.


Darkness halted their work. It was too dangerous to cut once the light began to fail, but Justin was feeling rather cheerful about their progress. He and Kaden were exhausted, and their steps were heavy as they trudged the road.

“I told Carly I’d stop by Mrs. Davis’s house to pick up Dagny,” Kaden said.

Justin smiled in approval. “Awesome.” He stopped by the edge of the road and took out his knife to cut some flowers.

“What’s that?” Kaden asked.

Justin looked at the blossoms with a critical eye. “Hell if I know. Little yellow flowers. Daisies or something.”

“No, what’s it for?”


“To make something?”

“No, just to make her smile.” Justin took out his bandana and wrapped the stems before sticking them in his back pocket.

Kaden stared at him as though waiting for the punch line.

“Girls like this kind of shit,” Justin said. “Kind of says you’ve been thinking of them all day, you know.”

Kaden snickered. “Girls want to think you’re thinking about them all the time?”

“When you’ve got the right one, you will be.” Justin started off down the road again.

“What’s it like?” Kaden asked, his voice low. He kicked at the crumbled asphalt.

“What’s what like?”

“Being . . . you know . . . being in love.”

Justin smiled. “It’s like there’s a reason you’re here.”

They walked through the gate and turned onto their street, but Kaden veered away toward the Reverend’s house. “Hey, Kaden?”


“Walk home slow.”

Kaden blinked and then grinned. “Okay.”

Justin ruffled his hair, and Kaden strolled off down the street.

The house smelled like bleach, the smell strongest in the kitchen where Carly was scrubbing the floor. She hadn’t let the baby down to crawl on the tile yet, and he knew she wouldn’t until she gave it a “good cleaning,” treating it like it was the bathroom floor of a gas station or something. Carly came in from the kitchen and was delighted with the flowers. Justin swooped in for a kiss, but she demurred with a laugh when she saw how filthy Justin was.

“Take a shower first!” she said.

“Nope, I can’t wait.” He grabbed her in his arms as she shrieked and peppered kisses all over her cheeks, laughing as she writhed to get away.

“Ew, now we both need a shower!”

“That was the plan.” Justin scooped her up into his arms. He carried her downstairs into their bathroom and deposited her on the sink where he began to unbutton her shirt.

He peeled his own T-shirt over his head and turned to toss it in the hamper. Carly let out a shriek, this one genuine. “What? What is it?”

She was green. “Oh God . . . you have a . . . a . . .”


“A leech!” She recoiled in horror. “On your back! A leech!”

“Oh.” He relaxed. “Christ, you had me scared for a moment.”


He reached back, patting every bit of skin he could reach. “Where is it?”

“Between your shoulder blades.” Carly looked like she was going to gag, and he almost laughed. The girl could shoot and skin an alligator, but a little leech made her pale.

“You’re gonna have to get it,” he told her, and managed to keep a straight face even at her expression of horror.

“I have . . . to pull it off?” she said in a small voice.

“No, pulling it off might make it break in two.”

At that, Carly did gag. Justin had to rub his fist over his lips to hide his involuntary grin. “You need to make him let go. Do you have your Zippo?”

“You want me to set it on fire?”

This was just getting better and better. He bit inside of his lip. “If you burn it, it will let go.”

Her eyebrows had a crumpled ridge between them. “Is there another option?”

“Salt. Salt will burn him and he may let go.”

“It won’t . . . melt like a slug, will it?”

“Nah. Nothing like that.” He’d tortured her enough. “Just get the salt shaker and he’ll plop right off.”

She hopped off the sink, so frazzled he had to remind her to button her shirt before she went up the stairs. He chuckled but used the time to check his hair, and then his sensitive areas, to make sure there were no more surprises lurking.

Carly returned with the salt shaker in hand.

“Salt him good,” Justin said and crouched down so she could reach. She shook the shaker hard over his back, probably emptying the thing. “It . . . oh God!”

“Did it let go?” He looked down and sure enough, saw the leech writhing on the floor. He stomped on it, and she let out a small, “Urk.”

He couldn’t help it—he laughed.

“It’s not funny. You’re bleeding.” She dabbed at the wound with toilet paper. She drew back the soaked wad she’d grabbed, her eyes wide.

“It’s the anticoagulants. It looks worse than it is, I promise.”

“Just as long as you also promise to clean up that squashed leech,” she said. She grabbed another wad of toilet paper and pressed it to the wound. “Do not move your foot until I’ve left the room.”

He laughed again, and it felt great, even though she stuck out her tongue at him before she scurried out the door. He cleaned up the splattered leech and tossed the remains, calling out to her once it was safe. He then got the delightful shared shower he’d been looking forward to, though they stayed under the cold spray no longer than necessary before diving into the bed together to “warm up.” It was the stolen moments like these that Justin was working so hard to protect.

He paused for a moment to look down into her sweet, soft brown eyes. “I love you, Carly,” he said and knew that he didn’t say it like this often enough. He shifted his body over hers, enjoying the sensation of her smooth skin against his own.

“I love you too-ooh! Do that again!”

He was happy to comply.

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