Gilly Soloman has been reduced to a mothering machine, taking care of everyone and everything except herself. But the machine has broken down. Burnt out by the endless days of crying children and menial tasks, and exhausted from always putting herself last, Gilly doesn’t immediately consider the consequences when she’s carjacked. With a knife to her throat, her first thought is that she’ll finally get some rest. Someone can save her for a change.
But salvation isn’t so forthcoming. Stranded in a remote, snowbound cabin with this stranger, hours turn to days, days into weeks. As time forges a fragile bond between them, she learns her captor is not the lunatic she first believed, but a human being whose wasted life has been shaped by secrets and tragedy. Yet even as their connection begins to foster trust, Gilly knows she must never forget he’s still a man teetering on the edge. One who just might take her with him.
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“Just let my kids go.” She kept her voice low, not wanting Arwen and Gandy to hear her. “I’ll pull over to the side and you can let them out. Then I’ll do whatever you want.”
Only fifteen minutes had passed. She’d have been home by now, if not for this. The man beside her let out a low, muttered string of curses. The knife hovered so close to her face she didn’t dare even turn her head again to look at him. Ahead of them, nothing but dark, unwinding road.
“Just let my kids go,” Gilly repeated, and he still didn’t answer. Her temper snapped and broke. Shattered. “Damn it, you son of a bitch, let my kids go!”
“I told you to shut up.” He grabbed the back of her neck, held the point of the knife to her neck.
She felt the thin, burning prick of it and shuddered, waiting for him to slice into her. He only poked. No worse than a needle prick, but all it would take was a simple shift of his fingers, and she’d be dead. She’d wreck the car, and they’d all be dead.
Just ahead, lights coming from a large stone farmhouse settled on the very edge of the road illuminated the pavement. A high stone wall separated the driveway from the yard. Though the snow this winter had so far been sporadic, two dirty white piles had been shoveled up against the wall.
Yanking the wheel to the right, Gilly swerved the Suburban into the driveway. Gravel spanged the sides of the car and one large rock hit the windshield hard enough to nick the glass. She slammed on the brakes using both feet and sent the truck sliding toward the thick stone wall and concrete stairs leading to the sidewalk.
Into the slide or away from it? It didn’t matter. The truck was sliding, skidding, and then the grumble of anti-lock brakes shuddered through it. The truck stopped just short of hitting the wall. Gilly’s seatbelt locked against her chest and neck, a line of fire against her skin. The carjacker flew forward in his seat. His head slammed into the windshield and starred the glass before he flew against the side window and back against his seat.
Gilly didn’t waste time to see if the impact had knocked him out. She stabbed the button that automatically rolled her window completely down, and with a movement so fast and fierce it hurt her fingertips, unbuckled her seat belt and whirled over the center console to reach into the back seat. Arwen was crying and Gandy babbling, but Gilly didn’t have time for speech. She reached first to the buckles on both booster seats and flung the freed seat belts with such force the metal hook on one of them smacked the window.
The inside lights had been on when they pulled into the drive, but now the porch lights came on, too. It would be only moments before whoever lived in the house came to the door to see who was in their driveway. Gilly had driven past this house and barn a thousand times, but she’d never met its occupants. Now she was going to trust them with her children.
“No tears, baby.” She pulled Gandy back with her over the center console.
The carjacker groaned. A purpling mark had appeared on his forehead, a starburst with beading blood at the center. More blood dripped from his nose to paint his mouth and chin. His eyes fluttered.
“I love you,” she whispered in Gandy’s sweet little boy ear as she lifted him out the driver’s side window. She heard his cry as he fell to the frozen ground below, but hardened her heart against it. No time, no time for kissing boo-boos. Arwen balked and protested, but Gilly grabbed her daughter by the front of her pink ballerina sweatshirt and yanked her forward.
“I love you, honey.” She heard the man starting to swear. She’d run out of time. “You take Gandy and you run, do you hear me? Run as fast as you can inside the house!”
Gilly shoved her purse strap over Arwen’s shoulder, grateful the bag had been on the floor in the back seat. Wallet. Phone. They’d be able to call Seth. The police. Incoherent thoughts whirled.
Then she shoved her firstborn out the window, noticing the girl wore no shoes. Irritation, irrational and useless, flooded her, because she’d told Arwen to keep her sneakers on, and now her feet would get wet and cold as she ran through the snow.
Gilly had her hand on the door handle when he grabbed her again.
“Bitch!” The man cried from behind her, and she waited for the hot slice of metal against the back of her neck. Time had gone, run away, disappeared. “You’d better drive this motherfucker and drive it fast or I’m going to put this knife in your fucking guts!”
He reached over, yanked the gearshift into reverse and slammed down on her knee. The engine revved. The truck jerked backward. Gravel sprayed. Gilly twisted in her seat, reached for the wheel, struggled for control, fought to keep the truck from hitting the kids. The headlights cast her children in flashes of white as they clutched each other in the snow. The back door opened and a Mennonite woman wearing a flowered dress and a prayer cap planted on her pinned-up hair appeared. Her mouth made a large round “o” of surprise when she saw the truck spinning its wheels and hopping backwards onto the road like a rabbit on acid. When she saw the weeping, screaming children, she clutched her hands together and ran to them, her own feet bare. Gilly would never forget the sight of her children in the rear view mirror as she sped away. She couldn’t see their faces, only their silhouettes, back lit from the porch light. Two small figures holding hands in the dirty, drifted snow.
“Drive!” commanded the man who’d taken over Gilly’s life, and she drove.
It took her at least a mile to realize he hadn’t stabbed her. His slamming hand had bruised her knee, which throbbed, and he still had her tight by the back of the neck, but she wasn’t cut. The truck slid on a patch of black ice and she didn’t fight it. Maybe they’d skid and wreck, end up in a ditch. She couldn’t think beyond what had happened, what was still happening now.
Her babies, left behind.
“Not the way it was supposed to go down. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!”
He repeated the word over and over, like some sort of litany, not a curse. Gilly followed the curves in the road by instinct more than attention. She shuddered at the frigid night air from the open window and kept both hands on the wheel, afraid to let go long enough to close it.
“Damn, my fucking head hurts.”
Blood covered his shirt. He let go of her to reach toward the floor and grab a squashed roll of paper towels. He used a few to dab at the blood. Then he pointed the knife back at her. It shook this time.
“What do you want from me?” Her voice didn’t sound like her own. It sounded far away. She felt far away, not here. Someplace else. Was this really happening?
He snorted into the wad of paper towels. “Just drive. And roll up the fucking window.”
She did as he ordered, then slapped her hand back to the wheel. They’d only gone a few more miles, a few more minutes. Ahead, a traffic light glowed green. She sped through it. Another mile or so, and she’d hit another light. If it was red, what would she do? Stop and throw herself out of the car as she’d thrown her children?
She risked a glance at her abductor. He wasn’t even looking at her. She could do it. But when she got to the light, it didn’t oblige by turning red, or even yellow. Green illuminated the contours of his face as he turned to her.
Now they were on a state road, still deserted and rural despite its fancy number. Gilly concentrated on breathing. In. Out. She refused to faint.
The man’s voice was muffled. “I think you broke my effing nose. Christ, what the hell were you doing?”
Gilly found her voice. Small, this time. Hoarse, but all hers with nothing of anyone else in it at all. “You wouldn’t let me stop to get my kids out.”
He sounded puzzled. “I could’ve cut you. I still could.”
Gilly kept her face toward the road. Her hands on the wheel. These were things that anchored her, the wheel, the road. These were solid things. Real. Not the rest of this, the man on the seat beside her, the children left behind.
“But you didn’t. And I got my kids out.”
He made another muffled snort. The wad of bloody paper towels fell out of his nose, and he made no move to retrieve it. He’d dropped the knife to his knee. Not close to her, but ready. Gilly had no doubt if she made any sudden moves he’d have it up at her face again.
“Well, shit,” he said and lapsed into silence.
Silence. Nothing but the hum of the road under the wheels, the occasional rush of a passing car. Gilly thought of nothing. Could think of nothing but driving.
Her mind had been blank for at least twenty minutes before she noticed, long enough to pass through the last small town and onto the night-darkened highway beyond.When was the last time she’d thought of nothing? Her mind was never silent, never quiet. She didn’t have time to waste on daydreams. There were always too many things to do, to take care of. Her thoughts were always like a hamster on a wheel, running and running without ever getting anywhere.
Tomorrow the dog had a vet appointment. Arwen had kindergarten. Gandy needed new shoes. The floor in the kitchen badly needed a mopping, which she meant to do after paying the last round of bills for the month…and if she had time she wanted to finish reorganizing her closet. And through it all, the knowledge that no matter how many tasks she began, she’d complete none of them without being interrupted. Being demanded of. Being expected to take care of someone else’s needs.
Tonight a man had held her at knifepoint and threatened to take away that tomorrow with its lists and chores and demands. If nothing else, no matter what else happened, how things turned out, Gilly would not have to heave her weary body out of bed and force herself to get through one more day. If she was really unfortunate, and a glance at the twitching young man beside her told her she might be, she might never have to get out of bed again.
The thought didn’t scare her as much as it should have.
He shifted. “You know how to get to Route 80 from here?”
In a brief flash of light from the streetlamp, she saw his forehead had furrowed with concentration. Gilly looked to the road ahead, at the lights of oncoming cars and the lighted exit signs. The man ordered her to take the exit for the interstate, and she did. Then he slumped in his seat, head against the window, and the sound of his tortured breathing filled her ears like the sound of the ocean, constant and steady.
In the silence, uninterrupted with cries and demands, Gilly let her mind fall blank again as she drove on. Her rage and terror had passed, replaced by something quiet and sly.