Dane Corbett had left Eva Falls in pursuit of dreams. When he is drawn back to the very place from which he ran, he discovers the mayor’s daughter lying in a ditch. She is not the same vibrant woman he left behind, and he wants answers.
The demons of Rachel Ryan’s past cloud her present, yet her carefully built walls of isolation weaken as she is drawn to Dane. She fights the desperate whispers telling her to flee, wanting instead to surrender her fears.
Reaching beyond shame and sorrow, they discover a love that even a deadly vendetta cannot destroy.
“Hey, Rachel, leaving for the night?”
Deputy Wade Jackson rolled by in his squad car. He was a good friend of Rachel’s as well as her best friend’s live-in boyfriend.
Turning the key in the door to The Bookrack Café, Rachel waved and said, “Yes. Long day.” Raindrops hit her in the face. The irritating wetness trailed down her glasses, making it impossible to see through the streaks. She held her hand over the frames, peering at him. The icy rain pelted her skin. “How are you?”
“Could be better. There are flash flood warnings all over the county, and it’s colder than a whore’s titty out here, respectfully of course,” he said with a grin.
She snorted a laugh. “Really, Deputy? Is that the official word from the national weather service, or have you been dipping into Greta’s Alabama vocabulary again?”
Rachel’s bestie, Greta Marshal, was originally from Rainbow City, Alabama. They had bonded after a snow storm burst the water pipes in Greta’s clothing store next to Rachel’s café. Their friendship was sealed over water cleanup and coffee. Greta had a unique grasp of the English language that others blushed over. She was a dear friend, sharing all her secrets and a love of chocolate so deep they’d love to see made into its own food group.
Wade smirked. “I actually tamed her version.”
Translation: Greta’s was probably more vulgar.
Laughing, Rachel shook her head. “I hear ya.” The rain seeped into her wool dress, sticky and uncomfortable, and the cold wind sliced a wicked bitch-slap to her face. “Look, I better head home. Tell her hello for me.”
Wade nodded. “Want me to follow you? I’m serious about the flash flood advisory.” His tone reverted to business with heavy concern.
Rachel shook her head. “No, I’ll be careful.” As she took her first step off the sidewalk, her foot slipped into an unforeseen puddle, and she stumbled into the side of her car. Great, she thought. Her simple dress flats were soaked, and the front of her dress had absorbed a lake-sized pool of water from the hood. She held up a hand. “I’m good.” With another wave, she made it into her car.
Wade honked and drove away.
She started her car, shivering as her teeth rattled, and flipped on the heat. She’d only had this car about two months, but she was thankful she’d traded up because it came complete with heated seats and a GPS. While her ass warmed, she’d never get lost. It was the perfect combination. The radio was full of weather warnings, so she pushed in a CD, ignoring the droll advisories. Rachel had lived here all her life, so she wasn’t worried.
Suddenly, against her will, her thoughts took her captive.
It happened a lot when she was alone, this mental battering. She hated it. Her self-loathing returned and with it, the very reason she hated being alone, why she clamored after human contact so fiercely. If she allowed herself to think, then he came to haunt her.
The Kujo of her past had claws, but she fought it, shutting the memory as quickly as possible. The last thing she needed was to be driving down a rainy, dark road with that nightmare floating through her head. Yet, it was no use. The memory bank opened, flooding her mind in rapid succession.
By her estimation, there were two kinds of victims: one who felt accountable for the mistakes of others or someone like her, someone with a victim badge. In her case, a rape badge.
Eleven years had passed, but she was every bit the victim now that she was then. She had sunk more deeply than she allowed anyone to know.
Shrugging away the memory, she forced herself to feel numb. She tightened her hands on the steering wheel, dragging in a calming breath. The rain continued to hammer her car.
Her phone rang, tying through to the console of her car and cutting off the music. “Hello?”
“Tea Rose? Oh, thank God. Are you okay?” Greta’s frantic voice filled the interior, so clear and filled with concern.
Rachel loved Greta dearly. She was the ideal best friend, calling at odd hours of the day or night. Even her nickname was unusual, relating to how Rachel reminded Greta of her grandmother’s favorite china, delicate and soft.
“Yeah, just heading home,” Rachel said, squinting through the rainy windshield.
Greta huffed. “Why didn’t you come to my house after work? The weather is shit-assed-fucked. We’re under a tornado warning.”
Her offer wasn’t a bad idea, only a little late. “I’ll be fine,” Rachel said. “It’s a normal storm for this time of year.”
“Well, I grew up under threats of tornados too, missy, but I still take precautions.”
“I’m almost to the bridge. Another five minutes, I’ll be home.” Even as she said it, hail the size of quarters pelted her new car with pinging clarity. She reduced her speed, but the force of the ice particles continued to pound as lightning flashed.
“What’s that? God, are you okay?” Greta’s tone was worried.
Rachel laughed nervously. “Keep your hair on, Alabama. It’s only a little hail.”
“Hail? Jesus!” Greta snorted. “You’re probably driving beside the twister as we speak. Didn’t you see the movie?”
“Breathe, Greta. You’re making this worse.”
As Rachel came up over the hill, her eyes widened. The lake had risen since the morning, and three inches of water covered the bridge. She slowed her speed, pressing onward, but she didn’t mention it to Nervous Nelly. She would freak.
“Sorry, Tea Rose. Just stay with me until you get home, okay?”
The line went dead as the front end of the car touched the metal bridge. The music returned, but Rachel quickly shut it off, focusing on her driving. She tried not to panic, easing her car through the water. Not the best idea, obviously, but she kept going, pushing the limits until she reached the other side. She breathed sigh of relief but cringed as lightning flashed again, followed by a sonic boom of thunder.
After the bridge, the road would incline but then descend into a low dip. If she could make it through that, she’d be nearly home.
The phone buzzed but only briefly. She was sure it had been Greta, but the storm had knocked it out again. A measure of panic swarmed her belly in tight knots. She’d made it this far, only minutes remained. She could try calling Greta as soon as she was safely home.
As she rounded the top of the hill and descended downward, she gasped. The road was flooded, and she was smack in the middle. Before she could decide what to do, her brand new car stalled. The rain battered in hard slices with a symphony of wind while the thunder competed for elevating octaves. She was screwed, scared, and alone.
Her decision was instant: seek higher ground. She tossed her glasses on the car seat, knowing they wouldn’t help in the downpour. She was far from a hand wringer—she could do this. She crawled out of her warm car, deciding to hoof it home in this crazy storm.
She walked through the flooded abyss, gasping as icy rain hit her face. “God, this is miserable,” she muttered, treading through the murky puddles.
She stumbled over a rock and fell to the ground. The squishy earth oozed over her hands and knees. She managed to right herself, yet she struggled over the muddy surface. Dress flats were not ideal hiking gear. She grappled with the goopy soil, and she jumped as the sky boomed overhead. The roar of the wind ripped through her skull. Her teeth chattered, and her body ached from the blistering cold. The rain assaulted her, and it was all she could do to stay on two legs with the damp weight of her wool dress plastered to her shivering skin.
She wanted to cry, but she choked down her pity party. She was incensed to keep moving.
Another blast of wind collided with her unstable equilibrium. She slipped, sinking into the muck. Pain exploded in her left temple as it made contact with a rock, neutralizing her ability to think or move. She wanted to get up, but darkness laid out its welcome mat.