When nobody loves you, you have nothing to lose.
Lily Masters is not getting involved with any fake job scheme covering a sex trafficking operation supposedly cooked up by her stepbrother, prison guard Art Townsend. Hoping to get help at a friend’s place deep in the woods of northern Wisconsin before a blizzard, Lily loses her way. At first, she doesn’t realize how fortunate she is to be found by Cam Taylor, a poetry-spouting former lit professor. Cam has his own reasons to hide while writing a biography of his Civil Rights activist grandparents and accidentally stirs up a cold case murder involving a potential Supreme Court judge. When trouble follows, either of them is the likely target.
Beneath every story is layer upon layer of trust and lies. Who can they believe when things go from surreal to devastating?
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She wrestled with the wheel, white-knuckled as the view beyond the windshield deserved. Power steering locked as the engine coughed one last time and died. Her teeth rattled as they skidded over a county snowplow’s leftover chunks at the edge of the road and bumped into a ditch.
When she stopped quivering, she smacked the dashboard and snarled. Six miles out of town—one short of her goal. Wrenching the door aside enough to squeeze out and survey the situation did not enhance her mood.
Fresh powder mounded tufts of leaves. Rodent nests peeked through fairy rings. The forest was quiet this dark morning, too cold, too early even for birds. Couldn’t be much after four and the snowfall was getting serious. She cocked her head. Hot metal clicked as it cooled. A dead poplar just inside the forest was close enough to drag and camouflage the too-green paint of Art’s vehicle where it peeked above the ditch.
After she arranged the screen around the car, she dusted her hands and rummaged for tools. The front license plate was plowed into the snow and brush, but a few flicks of a pocket screwdriver unlatched the back plate. She’d bury it a few yards in. Little things, maybe, but it still gave her a sense of control.
A short time later, she wrapped herself in a ragged red and black checked wool blanket and hiked across the forest floor, picking up bits of dead, fallen things that once lived high. A shush of snow blowing along dried leaves across crusted ice orchestrated a strange lullaby for the nap she longed to take.
This state of compromised freedom came as a result of a flaw in her natural programming. Running out of gas was something her brother would do, not her. But she had failed to check the tank. Idiot. Crazy thing was, it fit right into his scheme.
Kingston’s cabin was maybe half a mile away through the woods, if she got the direction right. He’d hide her for a while, help her figure out what to do. She had to be close to the turn-off toward the tiny crossroads community of Spruce. She could make it. If she alerted the authorities before Art found her, she might stay alive.
If she wanted to. Brisk air reinvigorated her brain cells, forcing them to work overtime, remembering the bad parts about growing up, and now, trying to do more than run on instinct. A woman like her, born defective, was useless, her father said. She shouldn’t bother trying to get a boyfriend, her mother told her.
But she wasn’t useless and had done well…until lately.
She would figure this out and live.
She had to. For Kenny.
Art would be mad when he realized she’d taken his new Jeep. He didn’t really think she was that stupid, did he? To believe she’d hide out until he could have her declared dead? That he would turn over part of the insurance money so she could start over somewhere else at the age of twenty-eight?
Her breath glittered in the rusty morning light through the swirling powdery flakes. Honeysuckle grabbed her jeans. Hawthorn tore her cheek, tugged back her hood and tangled in her hair, pulling it from the loose bun she’d tied before huddling into her mother’s old coat. She didn’t even pause. The coming storm had been forecast for the past three days, with each prediction adding inches to the snow total.
She hitched the nubby wool higher around her ears, dragging the red plaid fringed blanket into the understory.