I close my eyes and slowly squeeze the trigger. The shot sounds so loud I jump backwards. But the bullet hits its mark, tearing a hole through Mark’s shoulder. With a curse, he falls to the ground. I know I haven’t killed him because he’s making so much noise and trying to scramble to his feet. So I snag the keys from the hook by the back door and run.
He’ll come after me which means I don’t have much time to get a head start. The mud tries to suck my shoes off, but I clench my toes while Mark’s promise bounces around inside my head.
You’ll always be mine.
At the time, I thought it was romantic, but I was only eighteen. What the hell did I know? It didn’t take me long to learn it meant Mark doesn’t take no for an answer. In high school, his determination was a compliment. Nowadays, it would get him arrested…if we didn’t live in a town that worshipped him.
Shaking so hard, I have a hard time jabbing the key in the ignition. Relief floods through me when I can finally start the 2000 Volvo my grandmother got me when I graduated from high school seven years ago.
As I gun the engine, I see Mark’s reflection in my rearview mirror. He’s made it to his feet, and though blood is dripping down the front of his shirt, he’s running after me.
The Volvo kicks up plenty of dust and gravel when I stomp on the accelerator, showering Mark with enough pebbles to bring him to a halt. His loud curses follow me down the old, dirt road where our clapboard home sits. It’s the one his daddy built us once he knew Mark wouldn’t be leaving town anytime soon.
Staying in rural Broomtown, Kentucky definitely hadn’t been my choice. That had been all Mark. After my parents died, I wanted to get as far away as possible to start our lives fresh, but Mark, well, he figured since he was going to be trapped in a dead end job once his dreams of playing football were over, he might as well do it around family.
I keep looking in my mirror to make sure he isn’t following me, and I don’t dare relax until I make it to the highway. Even then, the trembling continues.
Ten miles down the road, I realize I left my purse on the kitchen counter, and I have no money and less than a half a tank of gas. In a car that chugs gas like this one, that isn’t going to get me very far. But anywhere is better than Broomtown with Mark.
A tear trickles down my cheek, and I swipe it away. No more tears. I have cried enough for him. When I was still young and foolish, I thought Mark and I would be together forever. I know now that forever can be a hell of a long time when the love of your life morphs into a raving lunatic.
My heart aches when I think about what we had once. We were the love story everyone dreams about. Me, the head cheerleader, and Mark, the captain of the football team. I still remember the night the Broomtown Broncs won the state championship. No one thought a team from the sticks could win such an important title. Mark had carried me on his shoulder through the cheers and the drums. Then he had to go and do something stupid for a senior prank that changed everything.
I switch on the radio to drown out the memories, but they’ve always been louder. The thump of the wheels hitting pavement releases some of the pressure in my chest, and my shoulders begin to relax. I might not be free of Mark forever, but tonight I wouldn’t have to listen to his drunken complaints.
The Volvo’s lone headlight illuminates the long, winding road ahead then bounces off the side of a white car heading in the opposite direction. I wish I could stop the person, warn them where there going. That road dead-ends in Broomtown. Hopefully, the driver doesn’t have plans to stay long. It’s the kind of place that sucks you in and while you’re there, it drains your soul a little piece at a time until you’re moving in slow motion. Just putting one foot in front of the other.
My hand smells like gun powder, and though I wipe them one at a time on my jeans, the smell won’t go away. I still see the blood, too, even though none of it got on me. There’d been a lot of it, though. If I hadn’t seen Mark get up and walk with my own two eyes, I would be worried I’d killed him.
As much as I want to get away from Mark, I couldn’t kill him. It’s certainly not that I love him anymore, but taking a human life just isn’t in me. Hell, taking any life. Mark and his best friend always made fun of me when I wanted to set the mice free from the traps rather than kill them. Mark had better be glad that’s the type of person I am.
Static replaces the low, monotonous voice of the town’s only radio broadcaster. I switch off the sound, and a flash of blue catches my eye in the rearview. I lift my gaze, and my stomach sinks. A cop is behind me, and the blue lights insist I pull over.
Damnit. With one hand, I direct the car over to the side of the road while I reach for my purse that isn’t on the passenger seat where I always drop it. Then I remember I left the house without anything but my clothes and keys. Double damn.
I hear the squawk of the cop’s radio as he approaches the side of my car. His long, black flashlight taps against the driver’s window, and I sigh, knowing the only way out of this is to tell the truth…well, some of it anyway.
Blinking rapidly against the glare of the light, I press the button to lower my window. My gaze tilts upwards and connects with hazel eyes. A sinfully handsome face causes my breath to stall in my chest. The man standing outside the window of my Volvo is a cop, and I should give him the proper respect, but finding my voice proves impossible.
The darkness doesn’t allow me much of a view, but it’s enough to make my nerves dance. I glance at his full lips and realize they’re moving. He’s talking to me, and I blink several times in an attempt to regroup. My hand fumbles on the seat next to me.
“I-I’m sorry, Officer. I left my purse at home. I do have a driver’s license and insurance, but I was in a hurry. I didn’t even think about it, honestly.” I babble on for a few more seconds until the cop interrupts in deep, throaty bass.
“Have you been drinking?” He shines the flashlight into the interior, and the beam slides over my denim-clad legs before sliding up my thin t-shirt. I hadn’t had the time to grab a coat, and as cold as it is outside, it’s no wonder my outfit looks suspicious. His gaze pierces mine again while he waits for my answer.
I attempt to swallow, but the lump in my throat is the victor. “No, I haven’t.” But I don’t blame him for asking.
“Would you step out of the car, please?” He opens the door and takes a step back to give me room.
Trembling, I follow his command, closing the door behind me so I can lean against the coldness of the steel. A gust of frigid wind lifts the hair off the nape of my neck, and the trembles segue to shivers.
The officer drags his gaze back to the interior of my car before fixing it on me again. He’s staring at me, and I don’t like it. I’ve had just about enough of me treating me like I’m a piece of meat. Of course, now isn’t the time to get defensive. Instead, I return his stare, but I have to look up, way up, to face him. “Do you mind telling me why you stopped me?” I silently congratulate myself on the composed question.
He juts his chin toward the front of the Volvo. “You have a headlight out.”
If only he could see how relieved I am…Something as simple as a headlight, I can deal with. “Oh, that. Yes, I know. I’ve been meaning to fix it, but it just keeps slipping my mind. I’m sorry.” I lift my shoulders in an apologetic manner, but the stern look on the cop’s face remains.
“What’s your name?” The look on his face dares me to lie.
“Emily. Emily Murdoch.” I accept the challenge by using my mother’s maiden name which is also my middle name.
“Where do you live, Miss Murdoch?”
Shit. The last thing I want is for him to know my real name. Living in Broomtown has taught me that cops cannot be trusted. As gorgeous as this one is, I still won’t let my guard down. I paste an easygoing smile on my face and lie again. “Juniper Springs.”
His eyebrows lift, and my heart pounds. Did I say something wrong? Can he tell I’m lying now? “Really?”
I stick to my story, replying with only a stiff nod.
“You mind if I take a look inside your car?”
“Not at all.” I move away from the door and wave my hand as though granting entrance to my minions. What else am I supposed to do? If I said no, he’d have come up with a reason to arrest me. That’s what all cops do.
His concludes his search quickly and straightens to face me. “It’s too dangerous to be driving these dark roads with only one headlight, Miss Murdoch. I suggest you get it fixed first thing tomorrow morning.” He switches off the flashlight. “Drive safely.”
I watch him walk away while my legs threaten to collapse. Once back inside my car, I take in great gulps of air and lean my head back against the rest. But something tells me I shouldn’t be relieved. The cop bought my story too easily. Which probably means he didn’t just find me by accident.
A sick feeling settles in the pit of my stomach. Mark is already on the hunt.