Read an Excerpt
Monday, 10:56 p.m.
"So. Are we lost?" Taking her eyes off the dark road, Jillian Sorensen glanced over at her sister.
They'd left Cincinnati at eight that morning amid snow flurries, but as they'd traveled south through North Carolina the temperature had climbed into the lower seventies-balmy by Ohio standards-and they'd lowered the convertible top.
Megan studied the road map a bit too intently. "Well?" Jillian prompted.
Jillian tried to capture the strand of hair that had worked loose from her ponytail. Taking a deep breath, she spoke again. "Megan? What's the map say?"
Without looking up, Megan rotated the map beneath the flashlight beam. "Say? Were you expecting it to talk?"
"I figure the chance of it speaking is roughly the same as your being able to read it."
The beginnings of a frown formed on Megan's face. "Keep it up-" "Come on." Jillian felt her already depleted patience hit rock bottom. "After thirteen hours behind the wheel, I want out of this car for more than the few minutes it takes to eat a meal or fill up the gas tank. Getting lost in a national forest isn't on my agenda."
"Then you're not going to like hearing this." Megan gave a slight shrug. A bad sign. "We're on US 17A instead of US 17."
"Doesn't matter," Megan cut her off. "It's no biggie. There should be a shortcut coming up here pretty quickly." In an effort to read the small print, she held the map closer to her face. "It looks like County Road 45."
"Looks like?" Jillian slowed. "Show me."
Just as Megan thrust the map forward, the flashlight flickered and then died. Dropping the map and the light, Megan pointedat the road ahead instead. "There's a sign. Highway 45. Do you see it on the left?"
Jillian made the turn, but then glanced over at her sister. "You're absolutely sure about this?"
"You said that the last time you got us lost."
To keep it from being blown away, Megan shoved the folded map down between her seat and the center console. "We weren't lost."
"That's not what you told that military cop when we ended up in a restricted area."
"That was different." Megan grinned. "He was really cute. And big, tough military types like defenseless women. I got a date out of it, didn't I?"
Jillian wordlessly adjusted her hands on the steering wheel as she tried to think of a good comeback. The guy really had been cute, though. And nice.
"Stop worrying." Megan fumbled with the earbuds for her iPod. "This road takes us back to US 17." She rested her head against the seat and closed her eyes.
"We'll be in Charleston by midnight. You'll get plenty of sleep before the big job interview."
For the briefest of moments, as Jillian glanced over at her adoptive sister, she didn't see the graceful twenty-one-year-old woman sitting beside her now. Instead she saw the eleven-year-old child Megan had been the year Jillian had gotten her driver's license. She recalled how Megan's blond pigtails had bounced in a summer breeze, the way her smile had spread wide, the way her eyes had looked at Jillian with trust and certainty.
Megan had been the first person to trust Jillian, to really trust her. And after nearly seven years in foster care, Jillian had been desperate for approval-even from a child.
The Sorensens, her adopted family, had given Jillian something she'd never expected to have. A sense of safety. Of love. Of being part of something bigger than herself. For the first time in her life, she had felt lucky.
"You're doing it again." Opening one eye, Megan looked at Jillian.
"I'm doing what again?"
"Watching me. As if you think I'm going to fall apart again."
Five weeks ago, less than forty-eight hours after their father's funeral, Megan had come home drunk for what she'd sworn was the first time in her life. Three nights later Jillian had found her passed out on the bathroom floor.
With both parents now dead and no other family, it had been up to Jillian to confront her sister about the drinking.
She'd said some really harsh things that had left their relationship somewhat strained.
"I was not watching you."
Megan turned in her seat. "Yes. You were. And I'm fairly certain that's why you're interviewing with Burroughs, Alderson & Bailey. Because you think I need looking after."
"That's not true. It's a great opportunity."
"Maybe for someone who is interested in practicing corporate law." Megan gave her a sharp look.
Jillian met her gaze briefly. "And your point is?" "For the past year, all you've talked about is going into a family law practice. Helping women and children." Megan straightened in her seat again. "You've been playing big sister for a lot of years, Jilly. Maybe it's time to give it a rest."
"That's not what I'm doing."
"Sure it is. The only reason you're even considering this job is because it's in Charleston. Where I'll be going to medical school."
"Yeah," Jillian agreed dryly. "That's my only incentive for taking a position with a really prestigious firm at a starting salary nearly double what the others are offering." She held a hand up in the air. "And it also has nothing to do with how much I hate Ohio winters."
"I just don't want you taking it because you're worried about me, okay? I know that I've been making some dumb decisions recently, but all that's behind me. I'm perfectly capable of being on my own. I wish you'd believe me."
The plaintive note in Megan's voice deflated Jillian's frustration. "I do believe you. Maybe I'm the one who's not ready to be alone. There, I admitted it. Happy?"
"Yeah." Megan's smile returned, easing the remaining tension. She pointed ahead to where their headlights flashed on a sign in the distance. Both women focused on it as they drew closer.
"Next right, Hellhole Bay." Megan read the sign aloud.
"Sounds like a real tourist destination. Should we stop?"
"Maybe on the return trip."
The road took a quick, sharp turn, seeming to narrow. Tall trees on either side pressed up from the pavement, forming a canyon. Jillian watched the moonlight chase after them, its light flooding down like a stage spot through the occasional wide openings in the canopy. Then suddenly the hammock of oaks and pines grew too dense. Too dark.
Because of the surrounding woods, the rhythmic rumble of the engine became louder and the air turned even cooler.
Megan pulled a jacket from behind Jillian's seat. "What do you think about putting up the top?"
Jillian shook her head, then shivered. It wasn't just because of the sudden drop in temperature, though. "To be honest, I'd rather not stop out here." They hadn't passed a single car in the past fifteen minutes.
Megan, who had already shoved one arm into a sleeve, looked up from where she was struggling to locate the second one. "Are you afraid some man is lurking in the woods?" Having found the sleeve opening, she tugged the coat in place. "Just waiting for a car to come along and break down so he can use a machete on the driver and female passenger?"
Her sister's description of a scene from the slasher movie they'd rented two nights ago left Jillian feeling slightly ridiculous. "Actually-" she fought the urge to grin "-I was only worried about the driver."
Folding her arms across her, Megan tried to pretend she was affronted, but Jillian knew better.
"So you're suggesting that you'd just leave me on the side of the road with some crazed killer?"
"I wouldn't even look in the rearview mirror." Megan zipped the jacket. "Okay. You win. Pull over. Given the fact that I haven't stopped shivering since we made that turn back there, I'm willing to risk death."
"It's your neck." Jillian had started to shift her foot off the accelerator and toward the brake when a person-a woman-suddenly exploded from the trees and into the convertible's path.
The woman looked up, frozen in the headlights. Bracing her hands against the dash, Megan screamed. As Jillian stood on the brakes, everything seemed to slow-not just inside her head, but around her, too. It was as if the woman waited at the end of a well-lit tunnel. Pale hair. Pale skin.
But it was the look in her eyes-the calm acceptance of what was about to happen-that shocked Jillian. Did she want to die?
And then, at the last moment, the woman looked over her shoulder, as if searching for some way to escape the inevitable. Jillian jerked the wheel to the right to avoid hitting the woman.
Megan screamed again, the sound catapulting Jillian back into real time as the tires lost traction. The passenger-side tires dropped off the asphalt and immediately ran over something-a log or a rock.
The impact ripped the steering wheel from her hands. By the time she grabbed it again, the car was sliding sideways and she no longer looked out through the windshield where passing tree trunks whizzed by like an unending barcode, but was staring into her sister's panicked eyes.
And then, just as suddenly, the convertible was rocking hard from side to side as it settled on its tires facing back the way they'd just come from. Throwing Jillian and Megan around one last time.
For several seconds both women just stared at each other like zombies. Jillian was the first to move, letting go of the steering wheel. Her shoulder muscles ached. Her left elbow throbbed. She didn't remember being thrown into the door, but knew she must have been.
"Megan?" Jillian's hands sank into her lap. "Are you okay?"
"I'm-I'm good." Megan's voice shook. "Did we-hit her?"
"No." Turning, Jillian gazed out through the windshield. The headlights barely reached the woman. Jillian gasped. She had expected to see the woman standing in the middle of the road, but she wasn't. She was sprawled on the pavement.
Jillian tried to take a deep breath but couldn't. She hadn't hit the woman. She was sure of it. And yet she must have.
She needed to call 911. She needed to get out of the car. Needed to help the woman. Do whatever she could until an ambulance arrived.
Numbly, Jillian searched the center console. Finding her cell phone, she flipped it open.
"No service." Shoving the phone into her pocket, she was shocked to find that she was alone in the car. Megan had already climbed out. By the time Jillian caught up to her sister, Megan was already searching for a pulse.
"I can't feel anything!" Megan shifted her fingers to a new position on the woman's neck.
The woman was somewhere in her twenties-maybe even close to Megan's age. The blue business suit that the blond woman wore was ripped and filthy, and she was barefoot.
Whoever she was, she obviously wasn't a hiker or camper. So what in the hell had she been doing out here at this time of night? In a remote area. All alone and-
Jillian stared down at the woman again, her gaze locking on the woman's wrists. The bruises circling them were dark and uniform. As was the discoloration around the ankles.
The dread and fear that had been pooling low in Jillian's body suddenly poured through her, reaching her lungs, forcing her breathing to go quick and shallow.
Jillian suddenly recalled how the woman had looked over her shoulder at the last moment. Was it possible that she hadn't been looking for a way to avoid being hit? That she'd been expecting to see something coming after her?