So I thought I would do a quick little preview of the first couple of pages of REFUGE, soon to be released on Amazon. If you like what you read, please subscribe to the newsletter to get notifications on book release dates!
The car sputtered and died in front of the run-down-looking bar in some middle-of-nowhere town, Montana, USA. The baby had fallen asleep about an hour back, and the engine light had come on about an hour before that. She was trying to make it to Billings to get the car looked at, but she wasn’t going to make it there now. It was closing in on midnight. The rain was coming to an end, but they were stranded here, parked outside of a sleepy bar with a red and blue neon sign flashing OPEN out onto the main street. She could hear the pulsating sound of music from inside the building; the occasional twang of a country tune strained out through an open window in the back.
It had been a dry summer in Montana, and this moisture would be a welcome reprieve from the long stretch of scorching heat. It was the kind of summer where the lawns withered and died, and the ranchers had been hard pressed for hay and water for their livestock. The oppressive heat had been the sole topic of the coffee-shop regulars for weeks, and the leathered, old cattlemen argued over the last time they had experienced that dry of a spring.
As she sat, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel of the broken-down car, her mind wandered back to the beginning of their journey. The little towns were all running together in her desperate attempt to reach the Canadian border. She had escaped in the dead of night, taking a Greyhound to Atlanta. From there, she had pawned what possessions she could, thinking it was a big enough city that she could spread them around so as not to cause any suspicion. She had sold the pearl jewellery set her husband Jackson had given her for their wedding in one store and then a few rings and a diamond necklace in other stores. She never sold enough at once to make her stand out, and she always told a different story about why she needed to sell her jewellery. She had kept her wedding set; people had seemed to be less suspicious of a married woman with a baby.
She still had the ring set – a large 5-carat, princess-cut stone resting on delicate diamond-encrusted intertwining bands. It was very elaborate and not at all her style, and it had all but sealed her fate in her doomed relationship with Jackson. She had never been so relieved to remove its weight and the ties it represented. She had sewn them under a patch into the waistband of her jeans in the same rest stop where she had dyed and cut her once long, blonde hair. The indent on her left hand remained, though less now that she was losing weight. The untanned band of skin stood out in contrast to her otherwise bronzed limb. It was the last remnant she carried from the life she was running from, and the last item of any value that she had kept to pawn. She had thought that once she found somewhere she could stay, she would use the money from selling the rings to put down a deposit and as a cushion while she looked for a job so that they could restart their lives.
The old, silver Civic she was driving had been purchased at a shady, little used-car dealership downtown, from a short man with greasy hair and a stained shirt. Her hands had shook as she completed the cash transaction and falsified the paperwork, but she had managed to get an okay deal. She prayed that it would be enough cash to get her to Canada. She could only hope that she would be safe there. She figured that if he were looking for her, he would only think to look in places that were familiar to her. Her first impulse had been to go back to the ranch, but she hadn’t wanted to risk returning to her childhood home in Arizona. Besides, there was nothing there for her anymore. If she had left alone, she knew that he wouldn’t have come for her. But she had taken their baby, his prodigy, and she wasn’t so sure that he would let him go so easily. She had travelled over 2,000 miles since she had left. Could someone still be following them? She had been so careful, but fear sometimes clouded her mind as she imagined what could happen if she was caught.
She didn’t have time to think about that now, though.
“Look ahead,” she whispered. “Think!”
She couldn’t let her frustration get to her. She yanked the door handle and put her shoulder into the door. Stepping out onto the wet pavement, she gently closed the door behind her so as not to wake the sleeping baby, but it was all she could do to keep from slamming it in frustration. She walked around to the front and popped the hood, then slapped it shut again. What was the point in looking? She couldn’t fix the car even if she knew what the problem was! She growled in frustration and leaned back against the hood. Sweeping back the now shoulder-length, dark hair, she held it, allowing the cool air to flood the back of her neck.
It was closer now to her original hair colour. She had dyed it for years because her husband had preferred it blonde and insisted she kept it that way. She had lost weight since she had been on the road as well, having little funds for food. She spent what she did have on gasoline and keeping the baby fed and in diapers. Her once-curvy form was taking on a longer, leaner look, and her tank top hung a little more loosely than it had at the start of her journey. Wouldn’t my mother-in-law be pleased now, she thought, and almost laughed at the irony.
Her green eyes were suspicious; never again would they be as trusting as they had been when she was a 19-year-old bride only a few years past. A little under weight now, her long arms and legs seemed even more so on her 5’11 frame, and her loose-fitting clothes gave her a dishevelled look. Shaggy, shoulder-length hair was now a dark brunette, and long, slim brows framed in her expressive face, which was now shadowed with caution. Her slightly crooked nose had a dusting of freckles, and her mouth was pursed and turned down in concentration.
Naturally quite fair in complexion, her mother-in-law had insisted on tanning, along with regular manicures, pedicures, waxing, and blow-outs for her hair until she had barely recognized herself. But all those little changes were fading, along with the bruises, with every mile she put behind her. Her lower lip, fuller and wider than her upper one, was caught in her teeth as she tried to reason out her next step. She was no longer their puppet, and she needed to learn to stand on her own two feet and decide what was next.
Her mind would only turn back now though, to the years leading up to this mad dash to freedom. To those on the outside, she had done what was expected by getting married to the high-school sweetheart who had been there for her when she had lost her mother, her only blood relative left in the world. But she had soon found out that people are not always what they seem, and when you get married, you marry into a family – not only the person who stands at the altar and repeats the vows.
Keeping almost constantly in motion had helped her to keep it together so far, but she was suddenly overcome with the enormity of what she was doing. Who does this? she thought to herself. Who just runs away from their life, their home, and their husband? Was she crazy? Some people would certainly think she was. After all, her husband was rich and handsome; a total catch by most standards. What more could a poor girl from the trailer park ask for? Part of her hated herself for what she was doing, but a growing portion was relieved. She was free; free from a life that was so suffocating that some days she had thought she might actually kill herself, just to put an end to it all. Finally, she was free from the constant judgement of his family and to raise her child as her own. She had overcome her own doubts and left. When she had faced her own death with her husband’s hands around her neck, she realized that her son was more important than her own miserable existence. Having him with her had been the driving motivation for her to finally leave.
Putting her trembling hands over her face, she tried to take deep breaths to clear her mind. Half sitting, half leaning on the hood of the broken-down Civic, she tried to think of what she could do next and where they would go, but she couldn’t seem to focus on anything. Lack of sleep and stress were making it harder to concentrate, and all she wanted was to find somewhere to rest. She wished, not for the first time, that she still had her phone. It would have been so handy to be able to search online for local hotels or a bed and breakfast, but she had left the phone behind when she’d fled. She too afraid her husband might be able to track it somehow. She was kicking herself now for not purchasing a new one, but she hadn’t been willing to spend the money on it. Plotting her course had been a bit tricky, but she had stopped at the occasional gas station and snuck quick peeks at the map books on display. Her course wasn’t a huge concern to her anyway, as long as she was headed in a general northern direction. It was more important that she took a roundabout route and kept themselves off any kind of records possible. She paid in cash, gave a false name when necessary, and avoided anywhere she would have to use ID.
Paranoia and fear had ruled her, one fuelling the other, driving her to exhaustion. Even when they stopped, she had been afraid to sleep, sure that at any moment he would appear and return her to his mansion prison. She imagined that he was watching her somehow, monitoring her movements and waiting for the perfect time to catch her unawares. She had convinced herself more than once that she was being followed and taken huge roundabout detours to ensure that no one could know where they were.
Nearing her breaking point now, she could feel the effects of her mental burnout. Every cell of her being begged for rest – if only her brain would allow it. If she slept in her car tonight, she thought she might be able to find someone to help her fix the vehicle tomorrow, so they could be on their way again. She was dreading the thought of sleeping in the car again. Just for once, she wanted to curl up in a comfortable bed. She closed her eyes, breathing in the refreshing scent that rode the air after a rain, hoping that she could clear her mind to be able to sleep. With a jolt, she was brought out of her reflection by the rough scraping sound of cowboy boots on wet pavement.