The Cowboy's Bride Bet - Holly Rayner

Chapter 1


No! I don't want to die…

My heart clenched in my chest as the bus lurched to a stop, and my eyes popped open.

Please, not yet. Not like this.

The brakes hissed as my heart palpitated, and I forced myself to take slow, steady breaths. I pressed the heels of my hands against my eyes, reminding myself that logically, there was no way Moretti had caught up to me. Even if he knew where I was going, which he didn't, I'd managed to stay one step ahead of him. There was also the advantage of not having a plan; how could he know where I was going if I was making it up as I went?

I guess I dozed off. Glancing around at my fellow riders, I pondered what my next move should be. I haven't had more than a couple hours’ sleep in a single stretch for the last six days.

My hair has been standing on end since St. Louis.

I couldn't stop thinking about how if I hadn't been bent over the water fountain in the hotel lobby, making a wish with a penny, I wouldn't even be here right now. It was pure dumb luck that I’d heard the man in the brown trench coat asking about me. He couldn't have been more than ten yards away when I’d slipped out the revolving door.

Good thing I had all my cash on me. I clenched my teeth. That was too close.

If I wanted to survive this mess somehow, I needed to be more careful.

The twelve people who shared this jaunt of my little road trip stirred to life, lazily gathering their carryon items. My vision blurred as I looked down at my trembling hands. I needed to rest; if I didn’t, I was liable to make a stupid mistake.

I should get a motel. I nodded decisively to myself and grabbed my backpack from under the seat. Just for one night.

Stepping off the bus and into the crisp country air, I hoped the wide-open space would make me feel a little better. But I should have known it wouldn't be that easy. The streetlamp buzzed, illuminating a thick cloud of insects swarming beneath its yellow light. The pressure in my chest was still there, hanging like a lead weight where my heart should be.

Which town is this again?

I looked down at the stub from my bus ticket.

Greenwater, Texas.

Water should never be green, in my opinion. But despite the name, I hoped this place would be far enough out of the way that Moretti's lackeys wouldn't think to look, at least not right away.

Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I trudged off through the mostly empty parking lot. The sound of my sneakers on the sidewalk was the only noise on the otherwise abandoned street. Dark store windows gaped at me from all directions, and I thought about how easy it would be for those guys to roll up in that black sedan, the same one I’d seen outside my apartment before I’d gone on the run.

Two shots in the head, one in the chest. Does a body make a sound when it hits the pavement if there's no one there to hear it?

I shook my head, rubbing my hands together and blowing on them.

The lack of sleep is making my thoughts more and more nonsensical every day.

My frosted breath hung in the air with every exhale. I'd been walking for a good half hour, but I wasn't worried. This was tropical compared to Chicago. If I had to, I could survive the night outside. I just needed to keep my blood pumping. If there was one thing my parents could be proud of, it was the fact that I'm too stubborn to die. Maybe Moretti would eventually figure that out and give up the chase.

My heart sank as I thought about my parents. They were probably worried sick. I'd left my phone at the hotel in St. Louis. I'd ditched my car two days before that in Indianapolis. Now that I'd emptied my savings and taken out the maximum cash advances on both my credit cards, I knew I was living on borrowed time.

The businesses became more spaced out as I soldiered on through the night. An abandoned gas station with boarded-up windows looked like my best option for shelter.

My fingers ached from the chill as I attempted to pry a piece of plywood off one of the broken windows. The wood staples came loose, and I fell back a step, setting