A Forever Christmas - By Marie Ferrarella
It was the rain that was ultimately responsible.
The rain and fear.
In their own unique way, they were both blinding. The rain came down in sheets, demanding that she pull over, or at the very least drive more slowly.
The sky was close to being as dark as midnight, despite the fact that it was in the middle of the day. But there was nowhere for her to pull over, no town, no gas station. Nothing.
Nothing but exposed space.
And she couldn’t risk being exposed. Even in this storm.
She didn’t know if she was still even in Texas anymore.
All she knew was that she had to keep going, had to put as many miles between her and Jake as she could. There had been murder in his eyes the very last time she’d seen him.
He was coming for her. She could feel it.
She’d raced to her car, soaked before she’d ever reached it. Once inside, her hand shaking so badly it was hard to put the key into the ignition, it took her three tries to get it to turn over. Tearing away from the house, she put her foot all the way down on the gas pedal and drove as fast as she could.
Just drove. The destination didn’t matter. She had to save herself.
It was her own fault.
She shouldn’t have come back. She should have known he’d be watching the house, waiting for her to show up.
The man who was the reason why she’d taken off to begin with. Why she’d changed her name, changed her appearance, changed her life. Changed everything just to get away from him.
And she had.
But when she’d learned, by accident, of her mother’s death, she couldn’t stay away from the funeral. Her heart ached too much not to say goodbye one last time.
She should have realized that his obsession would have had him watching the cemetery, watching the house. She’d thought she was careful, waiting for everyone to leave before she’d paused at the cemetery. Before she’d slipped into the house. She wanted to get the album of pictures her mother had kept. Pictures from a happier time. That, and her mother’s locket, those were the only two things she’d wanted—almost needed—to see her through this awful period.
Securing them would have only taken a few minutes. In and out. But even just a few minutes were too many.
He’d been watching for her.
And the moment she was in the house, he’d closed in. If that floorboard hadn’t squeaked when it had…
But it had and she’d bolted after throwing the jewelry box at him, hitting him squarely in the face. Bolted even as he heaped a barrage of curses at her through his bloodied lips. Curses that were drowned out by the whine of the bullet that tore by her head.
Missing her by inches.
Her heart hammering so hard she was sure it would burst, clutching the album in her arms and the locket chain woven through her fingers, she had thrown herself into her car and drove. Drove like the devil was after her.
Because he was.
She had no idea how long she’d been driving. Time and space all merged into one formless entity. Her gas tank had been full when she’d begun and now the needle was shivering around Empty.
She kept driving.
She hadn’t seen his headlights—or any lights at all—in her rearview mirror for a while now, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t there. She knew Jake, knew how obsessed, how focused, he could be. His superiors thought of it as his dedication. They didn’t know the man beneath the facade. Only she had been exposed to him. Jake would think nothing of turning off his lights and driving without them even in this storm if it meant being able to catch her off guard.
She was tired. Frightened and tired. Maybe death was the answer. If she had been the one who’d died instead of her mother…
No, damn it, she wouldn’t give him this final triumph over her, she wouldn’t, she thought angrily. She wouldn’t let him steal her life from her.
The tree came out of nowhere. It was far too close for her to avoid even if she swerved to the right. She swerved anyway.
She could hear the high-pitched sound coming from her tires. The car was fishtailing, spinning out of control. She vaguely remembered something about driving into the spin even as everything else told her to turn the wheel in the opposite direction.
A scream tore from her lips a second before she hit something. The tree?