OK. I know some of you probably felt like throwing fruit at me, and that's OK. I completely understand. But here is the NEW Forbidden No More, and it will be done much more tactfully and organized than before. This story is strictly about Ash and Grant, with the other characters' stories told in The Gift. Ash and Grant will eventually be weaved into that story, as well. Consider this... their "backstory".

CHAPTER ONE

Ashley threw her cigarette to the blacktop and stomped on it, watching while orange fire faded to black ash.

Grant snorted. "One of these days, I'm just going to hose you down when you've got one of those death sticks dangling out of your mouth."

"Bring it on, Baby," Ashley play-flirted with a wink at her younger brother. Younger but taller and far more filled out. Standing at six feet, two inches with bulging biceps, Grant turned some ladies' heads as the two of them strolled toward the Jeep, Grant toting two 5 gallon jugs of purified water.

Their destination: their hideaway in the hills of south-eastern Ohio, near to the West Virginia border. It had taken them nearly a year to get their underground home just the way they wanted it, and they had been stock-piling for the past month, making trips every weekend to drop off their goods.

Luckily neither of them had any "significant others" to tie them down or get in the way, and they'd both said that's how they liked it. She couldn't fully understand Grant's reasoning, though he'd explained that the military had made him too grouchy for a spouse.

Ashley had rolled her eyes at that comment. "Yes, you're such a grouch, Grant." On the contrary, he was one of the sweetest people she knew- when he wasn't teasing the hell out of her. But God only knew what could be going on inside of his mind and heart.

She'd seen him eyeing women, and often made comments about being interested in Miss So and So, but he never made advances, though she knew any sane woman would love to be asked out by a guy like him. Not only was he good looking and helpful, but he was financially secure, thanks to the load of money their Aunt Christine had left them.

The poor lady had lived clear over in England, having married a millionaire who died five years after their marriage, leaving her childless. When her sister, Kelly Lawson, gave birth to two beautiful babies, one a sandy-blonde girl with big, blue eyes, and the other a "towheaded" boy with bright green eyes, Aunt Christine had paid them several visits.

Ashley could still remember her large, pearl earring reflecting a round bit of light as she spoke through red lips: "I just wanted to see for myself that my flesh and blood is healthy and lively," but she never made any attempts to form a deep bond with the children.

Her visits dropped as she struggled with cancer for years, finally succumbing to the illness at age fifty-two, after it spread from her breast to her lymph system and into her brain.

After she died, Ashley had at first refused the money because it just felt- odd seizing the riches of a dead relative. It would have been even harder to accept the money had she been close to her aunt; but her parents had no trouble accepting their share. They were currently living out her mother's dream in a large, country home in Tennessee.

Ashley would have moved with them, but Grant's schooling kept him in Ohio, and he had made it clear that he didn't want the headache of adjusting to a new campus, new professors, new friends, all that "bull shit". Leaving her brother behind was out of the question, especially after enduring his four, worrisome years in the navy. So she'd remained in Ohio, living her life as a hairstylist at a local salon, pretending she was struggling to make ends meet, just like the next person.

She tossed a glance at her brother, giving him the "pouty-lip", to which he responded by knitting his brows. "What are you lookin at me like that for, Woman?"

"Because… I was just thinking. If it wasn't for your dang stubbornness, I would have moved to Tennessee with Mom and Dad."

"It's your choice to stay here," he protested as he turned the Jeep onto route 33.

"Only cause I wuv my little brother." She grinned, and he rolled his eyes.

"Well, I don't love you," he smirked.

"Sure you do. You'd give your life for me in a heartbeat."

"Nah, not really," he teased. "You see, I plan to feed you to the zombies and keep our underground mansion all to myself… and my girlfriends."

She laughed, crossing one long, thin leg over the other. "You don't have any girlfriends."

"Oh, yeah. Damn."

Their laughter mingled with the rush of summer wind which assaulted them through the open windows and sent a spray of sandy-blonde hair flying all around Ashley's head. She pushed the button to raise her window and caught her brother's eyes on her, his short, blonde hair hardly mussed. "Watch the road, Granty."

"Don't call me that," he winced.

She bit back a smart remark and sank into her seat, planning to rest while her brother drove them forty minutes out of Lancaster.

Thank God for Aunt Christine, who's made it possible for us to build this place.

She recalled the day she'd first proposed the shelter to Grant, and had explained all of her reasons for wanting it. He'd looked at her with raised eyebrows, his green eyes gleaming with mischief, and said, "You want to build a safe haven from zombies, huh? Well, it's too late!" He'd then reached across the table, growling and snarling, and she'd released a blood curdling scream. A scream that seemed to ring in her ears for several moments after he'd fallen out of his chair, laughing like he'd just witnessed the funniest damned thing he'd ever seen in his life.

Ok. So her fear wasn't rational. But Ashley, who was not normally a horror buff, had found herself hypnotized by zombie stories, both fascinated and repulsed by them at the same time. What intrigued her the most was trying to decide how the hell she would survive in a world like that, with the hungry dead trapping the living in grocery stores, churches, their homes, theaters, subways- everywhere, multiplying themselves by biting but not devouring other people.

Maybe the army could stop them. Maybe if something like that happened, the areas of outbreak would be quarantined and then nuked. If that was the case, and if it happened near her, she would need a shelter from the fallout. And even if they weren't nuked, she would still need a hiding place, both for her and her family and friends.

An underground shelter was the only thing that made sense. Something that was concealed and tightly locked up so that no one could possibly find it or get in from the outside. The problem was that they would need ventilation shafts, but they'd managed to include those in a nice, discreet manner. The fact that the shelter was located deep inside of a monstrous hill was to their advantage, especially since there was lots of foliage to conceal the shafts. If anything ever blocked them, they might be in trouble, but then it was just a matter of working up the nerve to go above ground and clean them out.

They'd built stone walls around the shafts- walls the undead- hopefully- would never be able to climb. But even if they did climb them, it wasn't likely they'd be able to ease their way down the narrow passages.

She shook her head. Stop thinking like this stuff is real! It's not real!

But plagues and nukes are real, so this shelter was definitely not a waste of time.

She'd always been too neurotic about irrational things, and had gone through a phase as a teenager where she had washed her hands repeatedly, at times until they bled. Grant had been the one to help her break that habit, forcing her hands into mud one day while they were out walking, and then holding her back so that she couldn't run home to wash them.

She'd begged him through screams to release her, kicking and beating on his legs, but he'd held her tightly. "Forget it, Ash!" He'd said. "You're not going to die from this shit, and I'm going to prove it!"

He was younger but always bigger and stronger, which at times had seemed a huge disadvantage, but now she realized what an amazing advantage it was, because she'd overcome her fear after several more "lessons".

OOOO

It was just after one o'clock, and the plump but bright eyed and chatty, middle-aged lady had said that she was on her lunch break and needed to hurry. Ashley by habit had already warmed the curling iron, but, "Would you like your hair dried and curled, or do you need to hurry off to work?" If she left the window open, she'd get a natural hair drying.

"You know," she peeked at her watch as she slid out of the chair, her now much shorter strands of black and gray curling along her jaw line and chin. "I probably should hurry," she said. "Thanks for the good job, Honey."

Honey? Ashley cringed but said nothing as she followed her toward the front cash register. She was the only one covering the small salon at the moment, because one co-worker had called off sick, the other had some kind of domestic trouble this morning (but that was Doris, and Doris always had some sort of drama going on in her life), and her supervisor was currently picking up pizza from one of the shops along the store front. This would be one hell of a long afternoon. Thank God her feet no longer ached from long hours of standing like they used to.

Sirens could be heard as the woman forked over a twenty dollar bill and told Ashley to keep the change. Like she needed it. Smirking, Ashley did as bidden, and watched as the woman made her way through the front glass door, stepping between two cars which reflected bright sunlight off of their shiny hoods. A plume of black smoke was rising in the distance, above and beyond the buildings across the street. Wasn't this what always happened in the zombie stories?

Ashley shuffled to the door, peering both directions along the cement walk, then scanning over the parking lot once more. Nothing. Her customer must have already made it to her car and pulled away, so Ashley returned to her station to sweep up the curls of discarded hair that had landed on the cold, white tile.

Really, she didn't need to do this kind of work, but what would she do with her time if she didn't apply some of her creative energy to-

Another siren, closer this time. She'd decided to head back to the office to flip on the radio, when a blood curdling scream erupted, a scream so shrill that she was surprised the windows hadn't shattered from the resonance. Her broom handle smacked the floor when she once again spun around to find Denise, her supervisor had returned… only the pizza box had hit the cement outside the door, and Denise didn't look like she'd be eating any time soon… at least she wouldn't be eating pizza.

The man leaning over her now inclined and bloody boss was covered with the crimson fluid. Denise pressed her hand to her ruptured throat, eyes bulging in Ashley's direction while one of her outstretched arms pleaded for assistance.

"Oh, my God." Zombies aren't real, and even if they were real, what were the chances that the first sign of outbreak would occur here? In Lancaster, Friggin Ohio, for Pete's sake! This couldn't be real… zombies are not real!

But this "unreal" zombie's milky white eyes had already found Ashley, watching her like a cat watches its prey, crouched down- eye of the tiger- preparing himself for the kill.

Not until the glass shattered did she find herself moving backwards, her eyes glued to what was surely a nightmare. Her frightened legs would not run. Here she was faced with the one, damn thing she knew she couldn't possibly survive, and her legs felt like lead!

As the man inched closer with big chards of glass stuck in his throat and chest, his lips drawn back in a silent snarl, her butt hit something… only it wasn't a sturdy something, and she found herself hurling toward the floor, pain shooting through her left hip as she landed in a mass of dark and gray curls.

"Somebody help me!"

"Ashley, wake up!"

"Help!"

"Ashley!"

Her scream chafed her throat as she smacked a hand away from her shoulder, trembling and glancing around as though she'd been planted on the moon. "What the hell?" she gasped.

"Ashley," Grant sounded irritated. "You and your nightmares. You seriously need to chill out!"

As she gripped her seatbelt, Grant opened his door and leaned into the Jeep to offer her a bright grin. Wiping the hair out of her face, she heaved with her hand over her pounding heart and caught the whimsical wiggle of Grant's brows. "We're here, Baby. And we're all alone. Doesn't that cheer you up?"

Ashley's mouth dropped open. Bursting into laughter, Grant slammed his door.

"Pervert," she muttered.

OOO