Brought up in the savage captivity of her unstable grandmother’s rural Pennsylvania home, Mari Calder once yearned for rescue. Now she struggles every day to function as an adult in the confines of normal society. Left with only a foggy recollection of her childhood, she’s consumed with being a dutiful wife to her husband, Ryan, and mother to their two children.
But an unexpected twist of events returns her to that long-forgotten house in the woods. Soon, Mari is greeted with reminders of a past life, the clarified memories only inviting a new level of strangeness into her fragile world. To protect her family, she must find the beautiful, powerful strength hidden in her inner chaos. Because someone is bent on exploiting Mari’s trauma, and as normal and wild begin to blend, a string of devastating truths force Mari to question all she thought she knew.
In the bedroom she and Ryan will share, she finds him already in bed. Surprisingly, Ryan has a notepad and pen, his reading glasses slipped to the end of his nose. He’s scribbling furiously, but he looks up when she comes in and sets it aside.
“I’m beat,” he says. “How about you?”
“Yes. Pretty tired. Lots to do tomorrow.”
He nods, though she knows of course he has no idea what she means or intentions of helping her do any of it. “But this place. Great, huh?”
She sees so clearly in his eyes that he wants her to say yes, but how can she, when she’s not sure it would be the truth? “Ryan…”
Before she can continue, her husband says, “Mari…listen.”
She listens, silent and still.
He runs his fingers over the hair falling over her shoulder, tangling his fingers in it. “I know this isn’t what you’d ever expected. I know this isn’t what you dreamed of.”
He’s wrong about that. Mari has dreamed about coming home. A lot.
“But I want you to know, this is going to be great. I promise. It’s going to be all right. I know it must feel strange—”
“No. Not really.”
It should be weird to be back here after all this time. After how she’s grown and changed. Yet nothing about this house feels strange, and that’s somehow both a comfort and a strain. She can’t explain it to him, not Ryan, who’s lacked for nothing in his life. He thinks deprivation and hardship is being forced to watch the commercials instead of forwarding through them. He would never understand how she feels. She’s not even sure how she feels, herself, just that there is something so familiar about coming back here that it’s almost as though she never left…and she definitely doesn’t want to tell him that.
Ryan looks so relieved, almost like he might cry. “I want you to know how much I love you. You know that, right?”
“I know. I love you, too.” She means it, of course. She has loved Ryan from the first time she saw him. A prince, come to rescue her.
“This is going to be good for us, Mari. I promise you.”
Ryan has broken promises to her before. Mari nods and kisses him. Long and slow. She can feel him reacting, though in truth she’s not sure if she intends to make love to him or if she’s simply seeking the comfort of his mouth.
They make love.
After, Ryan turns out the lights. Beside him, eyes wide open to the dark, Mari listens to the sound of his slow breathing. “Ryan.”
He mutters something that he probably thinks is a full reply.
“How did you find this place? How did you arrange for this?”
He snuffles. She thinks he might be too fast asleep to answer her, but he’s only taking his time. “What do you mean?”
“This house,” she says. “How did you find it? How did you arrange to rent it for the summer? What happened to the people who were living here before?”
“Oh. That. That was easy, babe, don’t you know?” He chuckles sleepily. “No, I guess maybe you didn’t think about it. I had the management company take it off the rental sites. The house came furnished. Not the greatest, but it’s only for a few months.”
“You gave the…?” Mari sits. “I don’t understand.”
“Babe, this house,” her husband says and interrupts himself with half a snore. “My dad was renting it out and when he died, I just kept up the agreement with the listing agency. It’s yours. It still belongs to you.”
The bed shifts and rocks as he turns on his side. Silence. He’s asleep.
Mari blinks. Blinks. Blinks. The sudden, raw and unusual sting of tears forces her to get out of bed and stumble to the bathroom, where she splashes her face with water over and over until she fears she’ll either drown or get washed away down the drain. She stares at her face in the mirror until she recognizes it. It takes a long time.
“Would they have taken you away?” Kendra had asked, and Mari had answered yes.
Yes, someone had come and taken her away. Someone had found her hiding beneath the kitchen table and pulled her out, kicking and screaming and clawing, desperate to get away. Someone had stolen and rescued her at the same time.
And now Ryan’s brought her back.