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Storm (Ashes & Embers #1)

By´╝ÜCarian Cole

eart is pounding so hard I feel like I'm going to pass out.

He rests his head against the steering wheel and takes several deep breaths. "I'm sorry for yelling at ya," he finally says, his voice level and calm, but I can see it's a struggle for him. "Are you okay?" He turns to me, and I can see my reflection in his sunglasses.

I nod, afraid to talk. I can't stand to hear the fear in my own voice. He reaches into the back seat and pets his dog. "You okay, Niko?" The dog whimpers and licks his hand. "That's a good boy," he says softly, caressing the dog's head. "You're okay."

He tries to restart the truck, but it's completely dead. I can't believe this; honestly, I just can't.

"Wh-what are we going to do?" I ask, fear settling deep in my stomach at the thought of being stranded out here.

"Well, we're out of cars, so unless you want to walk or ride the dog to my place, we're stuck here."

Terror rises in me like a tidal wave and all-too-familiar irrational anxiety takes over. "What? What do you mean? We have to get out of here. We could freeze or starve, you said so yourself, and-"




"Shh!" he yells, making me jump. "Just calm the hell down, okay? Obviously, both of the cars are fucked. We are still about a mile, maybe more, from my place, and that's way too far to walk in this storm-especially with you wearing those fuck-me pumps."

"Can you give it a rest about my shoes, please?"

"Whatever. The storm will probably stop tonight or sometime tomorrow, so we're gonna have to just stay put until the plow truck comes by, and we'll have to hitch a ride. Until then, we're in luck, because I stopped at the grocery store on the way to my cabin. I think I have enough things we can eat and drink to keep us going until then, as long as it all doesn't freeze."

Keep us going? What does that mean?

" . . . I have a big blanket in the back seat, so we should be able to stay pretty warm. It's really heavy and thick."

I'm a shaking and shivering mess, and I don't know if it's because I'm cold, or scared out of my mind, or maybe both. I want to get out of this truck and away from this guy and his dog right now. I beg myself not to panic, even though I know it's inevitable because I've had panic attacks since I was a little girl, brought on by all sorts of things. Being stuck in a truck in the middle of the woods is definitely a perfect recipe to bring an epic one on.

He reaches across the seat and touches my leg. "Hey, we're gonna be okay. Don't worry." I cross my arms in front of me, hugging myself.

I nod, but I refuse to talk, and he continues. "Okay, so I think we should both sit in the back seat, since there's a lot of room back there and we can put the blanket over us. I think it will help keep us warmer."

"What about the dog?" No way am I going to sit close to that monstrous animal. I wish my cat were with me. Halo is warm, sweet, and would cuddle up on my lap and purr me into a comforting lull.

" . . . have to sit up front. He's got a ton of fur and he's made for the cold, so he'll be fine."

The last thing I want to do is sit in the backseat under a blanket with this longhaired, eye-linered, sunglassed, face-pierced, cowboy hat-wearing dude. What strange Hell have I fallen into?

"Okay, so you climb in back and I'll call Niko up here, and then I'll move back with you, all right? I know he freaks you out, but he's not gonna hurt ya."

I swear under my breath and climb over the seat and into the back, arranging myself as far into a corner as I can while he maneuvers the dog into the front before climbing into the back himself. He holds up a huge, thick fleece blanket, shakes it out, and then lays it over our laps.

"It's got some dog hair on it, but at least it's warm and clean, except for the fur."

I give him a weak smile. "This will work."

The back seat of the extended cab is pretty big, thankfully. I haven't been in a pick-up truck in years, and I don't remember them having these huge backseats. It must be something the newer models have.

"This is nice, very roomy." I have no idea what else to say.

He offers his crooked smile and laughs. "Um, thanks?"

"I'm just trying to make conversation. This is really awkward."

"Yeah, it fuckin' is, in a bad way. But it looks like we're gonna be stuck here for a while, so we're gonna have to be friends for a few days. Maybe we should start with names. What's yours?"

"Evelyn. And you?"

"Storm."

"Storm?" I repeat. "Are you kidding me?" The irony.

"Yeah . . . When my mom showed my dad the ultrasound photo, he said it looked like a bunch of dark storm clouds to him, so they named me Storm."

"It must be weird to have a name you have to explain the meaning of every time you meet someone."

"No, not at all. I like my name. At least it's not fucking boring like Joe, or Michael."

That reminds me of Michael, and I wonder what he's doing. If I don't call him, he's going to start to worry about me. Maybe he'll come looking for me and save me from this fresh Hell.

Storm leans forward and takes off his coat. "This got wet while I went on the tour of the forest for your bags. I think it's best if I just take it off so I don't sit here like a sponge, huh?" He folds it up and puts it on the front seat, and then he removes his hat and pushes his sunglasses on top of his head.

My eyes are mesmerized by him, betraying the rest of me, which is trying to get as far away from him as possible. His hair is dark brown and long, a few inches past his shoulders. On the right side, two thin sections are dyed-one purple, one white. He's wearing a black cable knit sweater with the sleeves pushed up, and I can see tattoos covering both of his arms, from his wrists up to his elbows. The artwork extends beyond the collar of his sweater, up toward his neck. I've never seen anyone who looks like him before, and I'm fascinated, just gawking at him like an

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