EDGE OF DEFIANCE
AN EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK
OF THE FIRST CHAPTERS!
EDGE OF COLLAPSE BOOK 5
The EMP stole their way of life.
They've survived the brutal cold and violent enemies, but the danger has never been greater. The militia threatens everything they hold dear.
To survive this battle, Fall Creek will have to sacrifice more than they ever thought possible.
This time, it might be too much...
Gunshots echoed in the distance. Boom! Boom! Boom!
Ghost bolted for Molly’s front door with a fierce growl. His thick white fur stood on end along his spine. The cats hissed and scattered, darting under the sofa and fleeing into the kitchen and hallway.
Sixteen-year-old Quinn Riley jumped to her feet. “Fall Creek is under attack!”
Liam Coleman’s adrenaline spiked. He moved to the front door, M4 at the ready, every sense alert. Samantha Perez and Jose Reynoso, both cops, were right behind him.
Reynoso’s radio crackled again. “Hostiles have overrun—checkpoint beyond the bridge,” Officer Hayes said, his voice breaking into static. “Three militia are dead—fourth managed to warn us—taking heavy gunfire—”
“Copy that,” Reynoso said. “We’re on our way.”
“We can help.” Atticus Bishop turned from his position at the window, holding the modified AK-47 that Liam had given him. “We’ll go with you.”
Reynoso hesitated. “Chief Sheridan won’t like it—”
“He’ll do what it takes to keep Fall Creek safe. You heard Hayes. We may need everyone. Depending on how many there are, it could be too much even for the militia. We need to move!”
Reynoso nodded curtly. “Fine.”
Liam peered through the door’s glass pane. Nothing moved. He glanced back at Hannah. She was on her feet in front of the sofa, little Charlotte Rose tucked against her shoulder with her bad hand, her good hand already reaching for her pistol.
The fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, candles flickering on the bookshelf. Molly’s living room felt cozy and inviting, a lighthouse beacon against the brutal cold, a haven against the enemies lurking just outside.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Another flurry of gunfire echoed outside.
Annette King gasped. Mike Duncan, the owner of the local gas station, looked around nervously, like an attacker might jump out at him any minute. His college-aged son, Jamal, looked on the verge of panic.
Liam scanned the room. A half dozen tense and frightened faces stared back at him— Mike Duncan and his son; Annette King, the former high school principal who now ran the town shelter; Dave Farris, owner of the Fall Creek Inn and Ham radio aficionado; Atticus Bishop, the pastor; and Reynoso and Perez, two Fall Creek police officers.
Quinn, Hannah, and Molly, Quinn’s grandmother, had brought this group together to defy the militia. As much as they might want to fight, the townspeople weren’t ready for this. They weren’t ready to battle the militia or anyone else.
The militia were dangerous. Mattias Sutter and the town superintendent, Rosamond Sinclair, were tyrants hiding behind their savior masks. They would need to be dealt with, but first Liam had to handle this immediate threat.
Liam already had his boots and coat on. He rested his M4 on its sling and slipped on his gloves while Bishop and Reynoso zipped up their parkas. “Hunker down. Keep your eyes open and your weapons close. Wait for a situational report before you even look outside your window.”
“We will,” Dave said. “Thank you for your help. We appreciate it.”
Liam half-shrugged. He didn’t do well with gratitude or compliments. He was a man of action, not pretty words. He wanted to get out there, assess the threat, and neutralize it as soon as possible.
He adjusted his chest rig with the plate carriers he’d confiscated from Desoto, along with two fragmentation grenades, a couple of fresh magazines, his Gerber MK II tactical knife, and the Glock 19.
He turned to Molly and Hannah. “Guard the entrances to the house. Stand watch until I say otherwise. Ghost will help. No one gets near without whistling the code.”
Hannah nodded. “I remember. Happy Birthday.”
“Shoot anything else.”
Molly reached for the Mossberg 500 leaning against the sofa with wrinkled but steady hands. “No one’s getting in my house without an invitation. Not without a few holes punched in ‘em.”
Quinn slung her .22 across her shoulder. She swiped her Windex-blue bangs from her eyes and gave him a fierce stare. “I want to come with you.”
“Absolutely not,” Bishop said.
“No,” Liam said.
Quinn scowled. Her eyebrow and lip piercings glinted in the living room firelight. “I can help!”
“We need you here,” Hannah said before she could argue. “You can stand watch at the kitchen door and guard our back.”
Quinn didn’t look any happier, but she didn’t argue.
More gunfire popped outside.
Ghost gave a booming bark and jumped at the door, shaking it on its hinges. On his hind legs, the Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog was as tall as Liam.
“You’ve got to stay here this time, boy,” Hannah said. “Your job is to protect us.”
Tension thrummed through Liam. He was anxious to get to the fight, and even more anxious not to let Hannah out of his sight.
He hated that she lived in Winter Haven with Noah Sheridan, her worthless excuse of a husband. He hated that he couldn’t protect her like he wanted to—like he needed to.
“You sure you’re okay here?” he asked gruffly.
Hannah met his gaze over Charlotte’s small head. She was slender, her features delicate, a sprinkle of freckles sprayed across her cheeks and nose. She was far stronger than she looked.
Her gaze was resolute and unwavering, her green eyes so clear and deep, that if he wasn’t careful, he would fall right in.
His heart clenched like a fist. He’d already fallen in.
“We’ll be fine,” Hannah said. “Go take care of this.”
Charlotte wriggled in Hannah’s arms and made a soft mewling sound. The little green and gray cap he’d hand-knitted himself was pulled over her chocolate brown fringe—her downy hair the same rich shade as her mother’s.
She was so tiny, so breakable. A wave of warmth and affection rushed through him. He cared deeply for Hannah’s baby. Milo, too. He was a tough, brave little kid with his mother’s big heart.
It wasn’t just Hannah he needed to keep safe, but everyone in Fall Creek—this small, rural town tucked into the corner of Southwest Michigan.
He’d just promised these people that he would fight with them, would fight for them. He intended to keep that promise. No one was hurting anyone else on his watch.
Whatever dangers were lurking outside Fall Creek, Liam would make sure they stayed out.
The late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the snow. The sky was blue and cloudless, the temperature in the high twenties.
Liam noticed the weather like he noticed everything, cataloging the details and tucking them away in his mind.
It was a three-minute drive from Molly’s place to the bridge. They rode in the black Ford F150 with “Fall Creek Police Department” spray-painted across the sides. Reynoso drove, with Perez in the passenger seat and Liam and Bishop in the back, windows down, weapons ready.
No one spoke. The engine rumbled, the rickety truck jostling over ruts and ridges in the snow. The sounds of sporadic gunfire grew louder.
Liam watched the buildings and trees on the right side of the road; Bishop took the left. Tense and alert, he scanned the doorways, windows, and rooftops, studying the shadows between the trees.
He gritted his teeth as they passed a few abandoned cars pushed along the side of the road—a likely spot for an ambush. No one jumped out at them. The fighting was up ahead.
“This could get tricky.” Reynoso’s gaze remained straight ahead. He was a former Marine in his forties and built like a tank, short but thick. He handled himself and his weapons with proficiency. A serious guy, all business. “Sutter wants you both dead, doesn’t he?”
“Superintendent Sinclair certainly does,” Bishop said. “She blames us for killing her sons. She believes I killed Julian, though Julian’s demise was an act of God. Gavin Pike deserved to die a hundred times over. She’ll never acknowledge that, though. And Sutter blames us for dispatching the two assassins that Julian sent to murder us.”
The gash in Liam’s ear still stung. Sutter’s former righthand man, Sebastian Desoto, had nicked a chunk from his ear lobe right before Liam drove Desoto’s karambit up his throat and into his brain.
Liam had kept the blade; it was a fine weapon.
Reynoso let out a low whistle. “That sure complicates things. Is this a ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ situation?”
“We don’t know what kind of situation it is yet,” Liam said grimly. “That’s why we need to keep our eyes open and be very, very careful.”
Bishop adjusted his grip on the AK-47 and ran a hand through his afro. Fortunately, he had shed his bright orange parka and was wearing a camouflage hunting jacket over his purple Hawaiian shirt.
The pastor of Crossway Church, Bishop was a huge, burly black man with an eclectic style. He was also affable and relentlessly positive—even after he’d lost his wife and kids in the horrific church massacre.
With a pang, Liam thought of his gregarious twin brother, Lincoln. His dead brother.
“We need to know exactly who is attacking us,” Bishop said.
“You think it’s not just a gang or group of thugs?” Samantha Perez asked, speaking for the first time.
Formerly with the National Guard, she was full-figured and solid, with broad shoulders and muscular arms. Her black hair edged her jawline in a no-nonsense cut. Everything about her exuded toughness and discipline.
“I have a hunch.” Bishop didn’t elaborate further.
Liam narrowed his eyes but kept his gaze on his side of the road. Liam didn’t trust Reynoso or Perez. They were both Fall Creek police officers, co-workers of Noah Sheridan, and under Rosamond Sinclair and the militia’s command.
And yet, Molly had invited them to the meeting to discuss the threat that the militia posed. They appeared on board with pushing the militia out, even if it meant defying their superiors.
“Maybe you both should keep your heads down,” Reynoso said. “Stay outta Sutter’s way.”
“I’m not afraid of Sutter,” Liam said. “And I’m not leaving the fate of the town in their hands.”
Bishop nodded. “My sentiments are the same.”
“We’ll watch your back,” Perez said. “Whatever revenge Sutter wants, he’s not getting it today.”
Reynoso turned left onto Main Street at the gas station and headed south toward the bridge. The sounds of the fighting grew more intense. Gunfire mingled with yelling and shouting. Smoke hung heavy in the air.
Officer Truitt waved them down a block before the bridge leading out of Fall Creek. He was crouched behind the rear of a rusted green pickup truck parked at the curb of the Pizza Palace restaurant.
Reynoso parked on the side of the road behind the pickup and hopped out. Liam, Perez, and Bishop followed. Their boots crunched through the snow. They kept low, crouching as they darted behind Truitt’s truck.
“Sit rep,” Perez said.
Oren Truitt was breathing hard, dense white jets expelling from his chapped lips. He was a young guy in his mid-twenties, one of the reserve cops who’d willingly moved up to full time with no pay, no benefits, and all the risk.
Liam respected the hell out of that.
Truitt scratched at his scruffy beard with one hand and gripped a department-issued shotgun in the other. “Sutter is keeping ten men at the roadblock on Old 31 on the north side of town in case they try to come at us from the opposite side. They drove a snowplow right through the blockade with three trucks behind it. No warning, just bam! They got across the bridge and are attempting to push further into town.”
Liam slid the barrel of his M4 over the hood of the F150. He eased onto his knees, peered over the hood, and scanned the area.
The bridge over Fall Creek was located about fifty yards ahead. At least two dozen militiamen had taken cover behind stalled cars and trucks along either side of the road.
Five were crouched behind Friendly’s Fresh Grown Grocery to the west. More had gone inside and were firing their modified semi-automatics from the south-facing windows.
The bump stocks allowed the semiautomatics to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy. The modified semiautomatics fired more like automatic machine guns, but with poorer accuracy.
At least a dozen dead and wounded men and women lay scattered across the road and around the surrounding buildings—a few were militiamen, but most were the hostiles.
Smoke billowed from an office building to the east, the windows shattered. Near the bridge, two cars were on fire. The militia must have tossed a few of their frag grenades.
The hostiles were located mostly to the south, taking cover behind their vehicles and the concrete barriers of the bridge. Several had infiltrated the outskirts of Main Street and were holed up inside a couple of houses and businesses. The main force appeared to be hunkered down inside Vinson Family Pharmacy across from Friendly’s.
The militia had more men and better fire power, but their fire discipline was poor. They were overconfident and didn’t appear to see the cracks they were leaving in their defenses.
“They keep coming at us,” Truitt said. “They’re relentless. Two more groups are attacking Hummingbird Lane to the southeast and Lemon Road to the southwest. They’re the only egress points into town from the south side. Those are smaller roads, wooded on either side and harder to defend. Whoever these goons are, they must have a map or know the area well.”
“Who are they?” Bishop asked.
“Hell if I know. Sutter and Chief Sheridan don’t know, either. Just regular people from the looks of it. They’ve got shotguns, pistols, a few semi-automatics.”
“Maybe they just got so hungry they joined forces to attack another town for food and supplies,” Reynoso said. “It’s been happening more and more.”
Perez spat into the snow. “Doesn’t matter who they are. They shoot at me, I shoot back.”
“Where’s Noah?” Bishop asked. “Is he in charge? Or Sutter?”
Truitt rolled his eyes. “Who do you think? Sutter’s here directing the main defense. His new second-in-command, James Luther, has the team on Lemon Road. Sutter sent Chief Sheridan to push back a smaller force of about fifteen attackers on Hummingbird.”
“Where do you need us?” Perez asked.
The radio crackled. “This is Beta Team Two. We’re pinned down here! Requesting immediate assistance!”
“That’s Luther’s team,” Truitt said.
Before he could say anything else, Sutter’s voice came over the radio: “Alpha Team One to Beta Two, you’re on your own. Do not retreat. I repeat, do not let them past you!”
“Copy that,” Luther said before ending the transmission. His voice sounded tense, scared.
“Lemon Road will take them right past the high school shelter,” Liam said tightly.
Two hundred unarmed civilians. Women and children. The middle school which shared the same campus served as the distribution center and contained the remaining food supplies for the entire town—which the militia doled out.
“We can’t let them get that far,” Bishop said. “It’ll be a bloodbath.”
“We’ll take Lemon Road,” Liam said. “We’ll reinforce the position and keep them out.”
“I sure as hell could use you two,” Truitt said to Reynoso and Perez. “Hayes needs all three of us at Vinson’s ASAP.”
Truitt dug in his coat pocket and tossed a key fob at Bishop, who released his gun long enough to snatch it. “My double-seater Polaris is parked two blocks back behind Gundy’s Auto Repair. Turn your radios to channel three.”
Liam gestured to Bishop, and they turned and examined their exit strategy. They knelt side by side, straining their ears and eyes, looking for movement or any sign that one of the hostiles might have slipped past the blockade.
The rest of Fall Creek appeared clear. It looked like a ghost town. No movement, no life. Whoever had been out and about had long since fled for cover.
Hannah flitted through his mind. Charlotte and Milo. He pushed his concern down deep. Ending this battle quickly was the best thing that he could do for them.
If the hostiles overran the town, Hannah and everyone else would be in incredible danger. Desperate people consumed by hunger and bloodlust were capable of anything.
His carbine up and pressed against his shoulder, Liam darted behind a laundry mat and skirted the building, his back pressed against the wall. Bishop followed, watching their six. Every minute or so, they paused to watch and listen.
They reached the Polaris without any trouble. They both went for the driver’s seat.
Bishop snorted. He shifted his weapon and held up the key fob. “Twenty bucks says I’m a better driver and you’re the better shot.”
Liam didn’t argue the point. “Cash is almost worthless, you know.”
“But the satisfaction of winning lasts forever.”
“Didn’t know pastors were allowed to gamble.”
Bishop flashed him a tight grin. “Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.”
Liam nodded and angled his chin at the machine. “It’s all yours.”
“What’s the plan?” Bishop asked as he half turned, scanning the windows of Gundy’s Auto Supply on the other side of the parking lot.
“Kephart parallels Lemon. Just past the four-way stop, it should be no more than a half mile through the woods. We should be able to flank them if not encircle them completely.”
Bishop raised his brows. “That’s correct.”
“I’ve been walking the town, studying the maps.”
“Well, color me impressed. Let’s get this done.” Bishop climbed on and Liam followed. They snapped on their helmets and adjusted their gear while watching their surroundings.
Two blocks away, something exploded. Another frag grenade.
“You okay with all this?” Liam asked. “With killing if you have to?”
Bishop was former military, but he was a pastor, now. A man of faith, not a killer.
Bishop seemed plenty competent, and he handled his weapons with proficiency, but some soldiers served years and never killed another human being. Julian Sinclair had died, but not by Bishop’s hand.
They might be wading into deep crap, and Liam needed to know who he was dealing with. A crisis of conscience at the wrong moment could be a death sentence for them both.
The big man twisted around and shot him a wry grin, white teeth flashing beneath his beard. Through his helmet visor, his gaze was sharp and focused. “You don’t need to worry about me, friend. Whatever happens next, I’ve got your back.”