Exchange Rate

By: Bonnie R. Paulson

Book #2 of the Worth of Souls series


Jill, Shelley, and Brooklyn – Thanks for your support. This book grew because of you.

Kammie and Connie– Thanks for sticking with me!

Mandie – Thank you... a thousand times...

Survivors – Here we go! Book 2! And thank you for everything. I wouldn’t be writing, if it wasn’t for you.

Chapter 1

I’m not sure what I thought would happen when I escaped a group of men intent on selling me for resources. Hoping they’d forget about me, I didn’t tell John and Bodey why Charlie and his group followed us like the most rabid of hyenas.

At least at first.

John’s intuition nailed truth on the head. When he’d cornered me about the man, asking if he was the same one who’d stalked my mom and burned John’s house, I’d nodded, biting back tears. My shame haunted me. We ran from Charlie while seeking John’s family, using valuable energy to constantly look over our shoulders.

Even as John constantly warned us to stay together, his despondency at ever finding his wife and daughter grew. His depression worsened and more often than not he sent Bodey and me out on food hunts and resource scavenges.

“I don’t want to be the lookout this time, Bodey.” I crossed my arms and rolled my eyes toward the ceiling. John had sent us out about an hour before. I liked being alone with Bodey. His accidental touches would sometimes turn purposeful.

Ignoring me, Bodey called from inside the walk-in pantry. “Kelly, do you see anything?”

Usually I complained about it, but that’s just so he’d come out and coerce me into wanting to do it.

I glanced out the window, intent on finding something – anything – to report. We needed to see some action, no matter which direction it came from. Bodey was partial to finding some food or maybe a shoot-out with Charlie and his gang. I waited for the chance to get close to Bodey, almost kiss, then kiss, and then hold hands.

The romance was helping me survive.

Food helped him.

I grinned, thinking about the different things we needed to be happy. He’d never feel about me the way I felt about him, and I didn’t care. He felt for me. Cared more than I could understand.

Caught up in my musings, I almost missed the flicker of movement on the other side of the fence. Almost. The corner of a jacket flashed red.

I jolted upright and whispered, “Bodey, someone’s here. We need to go.” I couldn’t understand why Charlie hadn’t given up. John said he thought Charlie’s gang had died with some soldiers back in Athol a while ago, but John hadn’t stayed to make sure.

Charlie reminded me of a horrible, evil cat – more lives than anyone else around him – and he kept coming back for more. Seriously, what was wrong with the guy? We’d been running for so long, our campsites never lasted more than a day or two.

Settling had become my dream. I didn’t care if things returned to the way they used to be or not. I really would like to just stay in one spot long enough to get used to sleeping in the same spot for more than two nights.

Bodey left the pantry, joining me by the window. He wrapped his arm around my waist. “Are you sure?” He peered outside, like he waited for someone to jump out with a target painted on their chest.

He thought I was trying to get him to come out to me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so tricky. I backed away from potential view. “Yes, they had a red-lined jacket on. We need to get out of here.”

“You’re skittish.” He understood, taking my hand and pulling me toward the garage. “There’s a man-door out the other side. We can hide out there until they’re gone.” He softly tugged me with him. I followed with no resistance.

Whoever I’d glimpsed past the fence wasn’t Charlie. More brazen, Charlie walked like he owned the world and didn’t care who saw him. Like we couldn’t escape him.

But we always got away, even though each time our margin for success grew narrower and narrower. Sometimes, I suspected Bodey purposely tempted a brush with the man who constantly chased after me, like a protective desire to kick some butt.

The person wouldn’t be John either. He wouldn’t run. The jacket had been moving fast, like at a run.

I carefully closed the mudroom door to the abandoned house, shutting us in the garage. Bodey ducked through the man-door on the other side of the shop area, dragging me along. He stopped just outside the doorjamb, leaving me inside the garage. We would search our areas simultaneously while our backs were protected.

Voices carried around the side of the house, deep and male and distinctly familiar. Every time we tried getting away, they were there, like bad déjà vu. They grew louder as the men rounded the house.

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