Within the Walls
by Dre Keeton Genre: Paranormal Romance, Dystopian
Perfect opposites in a far from perfect world.
Jackson and Lenah are from two different worlds. Lenah is among the elite in Sundale City. Jackson, on the other hand, is broke, Psycho Infected and has a criminal record growing by the minute. It’s safe to say, in another life, the two would never have crossed paths.
But when Jackson is assigned to work for Lenah in an effort to use his PI abilities for something productive, things get complicated.
As their worlds collide, they realize how much they’ve both suffered and struggled with the darkness the infection brought the world.
But the closer they become, the more dangerous things get. It isn’t just that PI and human relationships are forbidden, but Lenah's powerful fiancé has no intention of letting her go. And as people in the American Walled Cities start disappearing, Jackson and Lenah discover there's something even more sinister at play than her pending nuptials.
“Lenah, get down,” Jackson whispered, but she wasn’t listening to him. She probably didn’t even hear him. She was a deer in the headlights, panicked and afraid before she decided to run.
“Lenah,” Jackson said, anticipating her next move. “Don’t…”
She took off, moving quickly into the direction of the exact danger he wanted them to avoid.
“Shit.” Scrambling to his feet, Jackson moved after her.
Lenah had only made it a short distance ahead of him, and he would have caught her if she hadn’t run smack into the large man waiting at Jackson’s door.
The man grabbed her by the shoulders and lifted her off the ground. “Oh, hello,” he drawled. “Blessings are raining today. Just when I needed a snack.”
He tossed her over his shoulder and held her there as she kicked and screamed, trying to wriggle her way out of his grasp. It was a futile struggle, aside from being the largest man on the planet, he was also PI. She didn’t stand a chance.
Jackson backed up. The man hadn’t seen him yet, and he had plenty of time to hightail it out of the city.
“Goddammit,” he cursed, knowing he couldn’t leave Lenah behind.
Putting everything he had into it, Jackson took off at full PI speed, barreling into the man in a flash of haste and pain. The impact rang through his body, and he was certain he’d just shattered at least a dozen bones as he went down onto the street. It was like hitting a block of cement or a sturdy,
immovable brick wall.
If it hadn’t been for the sneak attack, Jackson would have surely failed. But the man was startled. He spun in a circle, looking for his attacker and stumbled over his own feet. He hit the ground hard, his size working against him as he lost his grip on Lenah.
She quickly rolled away, scrambling to her feet before she took off running again.
“Lenah, wait,” Jackson called out to her, but she wasn’t listening. “Goddammit, Lenah.” He growled in frustration as he prepared to run after her, scraping himself off the ground. But the second he was upright, a hand caught him around the back of his neck and slammed him back down into the pavement.
“Ah,” Jackson cried out, trying to swear, but there wasn’t enough air in his lungs. He wheezed as his chest hit solid ground, cracking nearly every rib inside of his body. Warm blood dripped down his face, and he struggled to breathe, wincing as each inhale created a harsh lightning strike of pain through his
He could feel the sharp edges of broken bones perforating his heart, and it was agonizing. He reached up trying to maneuver the bone into a more comfortable position, but a foot pressed against his back pushing him hard into the pavement.
Blood filled the back of his throat, and he coughed, spewing it across the road. The pressure on his back created a drowning sensation as blood spilled from his lips.
“I got him,” the man pressing him into the ground called out.
He kicked Jackson over and pressed his foot to his stomach, creating a new sensation of pain.
Jackson couldn’t make out his face. His vision was red and blurred as the veins in his eyes seemed to overfill. He closed his eyes and waited. Whatever is to come, will come.
“Jackson, Jackson, Jackson.” Oliver’s voice came in muffled as Jackson’s ears whirred with the rhythm of his struggling heartbeat. “I had hoped you were getting off that bus to bring me my money, or at least hand over that pretty little thing you’re traveling with, but it seems you have a death wish.”
He couldn’t disagree there. Clearly, he had a death wish. Why else would he run head first into danger like he did? Even if he managed to survive it all, recovery would be hell. Good thing survival isn’t likely.
The thought bit at him. He wasn’t afraid to die but to have Oliver, of all people, do it made him cringe. The moron with his name painted on the back of his head is going to kill me. It almost made him want to fight, but the throbbing pain in his head brought him back down to reality.
Oliver ripped him up by his shirt, pulling him into a sitting position. He spoke deliberately as he crouched down to meet Jackson’s eyes. “I told you not to screw me, Jackson, and now I’m going to make you suffer.”
Jackson mumbled incoherently, his inclination to be a smartass distorted by the blood bubbling in the back of his throat. He wasn’t going to fight for his life, but he refused to be some cooperative saint. Letting his mouth fill with blood, he spat it into Oliver’s face.
Oliver drew back, and Jackson was suddenly very disappointed that he couldn’t see his face through his blurred sight. He closed his eyes and imagined his disgust, smiling at the imagery even though it hurt like hell.
“Big mistake,” Oliver grumbled before lifting him by the collar of his shirt.
Jackson cried out as he was dragged backward into his shop. He’d never noticed how ragged the edge of his door frame was until he was being hauled over it. It took him a moment before he realized that the frame hadn’t always been that way, but someone had ripped the door off the hinges.
Hey, asshole. I’m going to have to fix that.
“Leave us. Go back to the house and wait for me,” Oliver hollered over his shoulder. Jackson hadn’t realized that Oliver’s henchmen had been watching the ordeal until he addressed them. Fear flooded through him. Why was Oliver sending away his flunkies? What did he plan to do to him?
Oliver tossed him into the hard cement wall and pinned him in place with an elbow to his neck. “Oh, I’m going to enjoy this,” he said, his breath unwelcomingly tickling Jackson’s jaw. “Any last words?”
“F-f-f-ahh-ooo,” Jackson gurgled.
“A pain in the ass till the very end.” Oliver slammed his foot into Jackson’s already broken ribs and slung him across the room.
Brittle remnants of bone broke off inside of Jackson as he choked on more blood. He was going to die in pieces. Oliver laughed, watching him on all fours as he heaved up his insides, panting as he tried to catch his breath.
“Want to see what we found when we were going through your freakshow of a home?” Oliver made his way across the room and grabbed him by the leg.
Jackson shouted in pain as he was suddenly yanked through the office’s back door to the shop’s garage. The sound of his body scraping the cement echoed through the room.
Oliver threw him into the corner next to his toolbox and began rifling through it. Stopping, he pulled out Jackson’s long blade, his favorite blade, the blade that had fed him for years.
“See? Isn’t it nice?” Oliver teased, holding the blade in front of Jackson’s face. “I should cut your head off right here and now with this.” He ran the sharp edge across the side of Jackson’s neck, nicking him just enough to draw blood.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. Jackson steeled himself. “What? Nothing to say about that, smartass?” Oliver scoffed as he threw the blade over his shoulder. “I don’t need a blade. I’m going to rip your head off your shoulders with my bare hands and string you up in the streets.”
Oliver reached out and grabbed Jackson around the throat, lifting his body off the ground until his tiptoes barely scraped the cement. He tightened his grip around Jackson’s neck squeezing until he strangled and struggled against the chokehold.
Oliver gave another throaty laugh as the edges of Jackson’s vision darkened.
Jackson would have rolled his eyes at the panicked, shaking voice if he hadn’t been certain they were on the verge of popping out of his head.
Oliver’s grip on his neck loosened, and he sucked in air, reconsidering how annoyed he was with Lenah for resurfacing. At least he could breathe again. They were both going to die now, but for the moment, he was thankful.
“Oh, hey, pretty girl.” Oliver dropped Jackson onto the hard ground as he stepped away and toward Lenah. Jackson blindly reached out, trying to grab him and hold him back.
Dammit, Lenah. Run! He flattened against the ground, unable to hold himself up.
“You leave here right now, or I’ll have you arrested.” The tremble in Lenah’s voice seemed to have dissipated, and Jackson wanted to groan. She really believed that she had the upper hand, and it irritated Jackson more than anything. “My boyfriend is Declan Meyers, and I’ll have no problem telling him about your violence toward me and my friend,” Lenah insisted.
“Don’t worry, beautiful. I won’t tell your boyfriend about our…” Oliver licked his lips and blew her a kiss. “Connection.” He continued to move toward her, his movements slow and deliberate.
Lenah backed away, probably realizing she was in no position to bargain.
“We’re going to have a good time, sweetheart. Don’t be afraid. I like to play with my food before I eat it,” Oliver taunted. “Y-y-you better not touch me,” Lenah stammered, and Jackson thanked the heavens at least she had enough sense to be afraid. It wouldn’t do her much good now; she’d certainly just signed her death certificate by sticking around, but it was good to know that she had some instincts.
Lenah turned to run and Oliver lunged for her, toppling her to the ground. Crawling on top of her, he pinned her arms over her head and kissed her neck.
“Oh, yes,” he purred, dragging his tongue across her cheek.
Helplessly, Lenah kicked at him, but he was three times her size and superhuman. She was a goner on her own.
Sucking in a breath, Jackson put his weight onto his hands, attempting to lift himself. The impulse to save her was miraculous, magical in the way that it pushed the adrenaline through his body, clearing his sight and making him stronger.
Dragging himself across the room, using his palms and elbows, he picked up a wrench as he closed in on Oliver. He was completely focused on Lenah, giving Jackson the element of surprise.
Oliver leaned in to kiss her, and her eyes went wide before her jaw clamped down on his bottom lip. Blood spurted from his mouth as Oliver reeled backward, letting out a growl of fury.
He yanked his hand back in the same instant that Jackson climbed shakily to his feet.
The sound of the smack he delivered to the side of Lenah’s face sparked a wild rage in Jackson, and he reeled back and swung the wrench down with all of the might left in his body.
It connected with a loud, sickening crack to the back of Oliver’s skull, drawing a stream of blood between the tattooed “Oli” and “ver” scrawled there.
Yelping, Oliver brought his hand to the back of his head, covering his fingertips in blood. “You just can’t wait to die, can you?” he snarled.
Whirling around, he kicked Lenah out of his way as he reached out.
Jackson leaned back, trying to duck him, but he’d used everything he had to help Lenah. His legs gave out from underneath him and he collapsed.
Oliver leaned down for him, dragging him up by his shirt.
Jackson closed his eyes, waiting for death. At least he’d given Lenah a chance to run, even if it was in vain. Oliver would probably sniff her out as soon as he finished ripping him apart.
“Hey, I said stop.”
No, Lenah. Why are you still here?
“Shut up. You’ll have your turn,” Oliver promised.
“No. I said stop.” There was a certainty in Lenah’s tone that puzzled Jackson, and he opened his eyes.
Oliver must have been just as curious because he dropped him to turn and look at her.
“You’re feisty. I like it. I bet you’ll be spicy when I taste you.”
Lenah narrowed her eyes. “I dare you,” she challenged, and Jackson deflated. She was a dead woman; he was sure of it. Smiling, Oliver took a step forward. “Accepted.”
He bared his teeth, and Jackson wracked his brain for any last-ditch effort to save her. He nearly choked when Lenah pulled out her shiny little gun. She didn’t even hesitate as Oliver advanced on her.
Pop! Pop! Two shots fired into Oliver’s chest, and he stumbled backward.
Oh shit! Oliver’s body crashed into him, taking them both down to land hard on the ground.
Get him off me. Get him off me. Jackson frantically tried to push Oliver over, but he was far too weak and the weight on his battered chest left him suffocating.
Lenah barreled toward him. “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. What do I do? Jackson, what do I do?” Lenah dropped to the floor, her eyes wide with terror as Oliver flopped around on top of him. Just roll him, Lenah. Get him off me.
As if she could read his thoughts, she sprang into action, grunting as she pushed Oliver’s weight off of him.
Oh, thank God. Jackson sucked down as much air as his lungs would allow.
He tilted his head, staring at Oliver as the Tethlythane worked through his system. It was probably awful, but he felt joy watching Oliver writhe in pain.
He smiled, or at least he thought he smiled. Darkness collected at the edge of his vision, and he gave in to it. He’d done his part. Lenah was alive, and for the moment, Oliver was out of commission. Everything else was up to the universe.
Dre Keeton is the oldest of three children, a tequila enthusiast, and fueled by plants. One of her favorite things, aside from chatting with her dog, is creating fictional worlds that seem likely. Dre is an avid promoter of diversity in literature and seeks to mirror that in her own work.