cold hinges screeched when he opened the door, echoing off the snow-laden trees and rending the air with a sound that violated the peace of the wintry day.
She crouched and looked inside the dim interior. Cracked faux-leather seats, blood on the steering wheel where she’d hit her head. But that was all there was. Nothing to indicate where she’d come from, why she’d ended up here. Disappointed once again, she straightened, rubbing her aching back.
John struggled to the back of the car and opened the trunk. A car jack fell into the snow, leaving a deep impression. “It’s not a rental,” he said. She didn’t know how he knew that, but trusted his judgment.
The sun broke through the clouds again and she squinted against the glare.
She yanked on the steering wheel and slammed on the brake. The car went into a skid. The rear end fishtailed, skating sideways. She screamed as the car sideswiped a tree, bounced off it, spun around and began sliding down a steep embankment she hadn’t seen.
Throwing her hands over her face, she screamed again as the car turned end over end.
When she focused, John was standing in front of her, with a worried expression. “What happened?”
“I remembered the crash.”
She shook her head. Why would she remember something so stupid, something that didn’t mean anything?
He must have sensed her frustration. “Don’t worry. It’s a good sign.” He glanced around, his sharp eyes taking in everything and she wondered if he was looking for danger. It seemed strange that danger could inhabit such a peaceful place.
“I’m sorry if I led Suzanne Carmichael to you.”
He swung back to her, his usually expressionless eyes holding surprise. As if he believed her but didn’t want to. “Come on, we better get you inside where it’s warm.” He turned and she followed, but this time he walked beside her, leaving enough distance so their shoulders or arms couldn’t accidentally brush but staying close. “Holly, Hanna, Hope.”
She stumbled, fell to her knees and landed on her hands. Her breath whooshed out of her.
Blood. Blood was everywhere. All over the desk, turning white paper into a splattered mess. Her gaze flew around the room, looking, searching for…
She gasped, her hand flying to her mouth, and rushed forward. He lay on his back on the floor. When she crouched down and grabbed his hand, his eyes opened slowly, filled with pain and regret.
“Hope.” He licked his lips and grimaced.
“Don’t talk,” she said. “Please—”
“Go to Callahan, Hope. He’ll help you. He’ll protect you.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks, mixed with the blood staining his shirt and turning it pink. “No. I need to call—”
He squeezed her hand but the movement lacked strength. He’d always been such a big man, so full of life, humor, love. “Go to Callahan… His address…in the rolodex….take the card… Go, Hope. Don’t let…them follow…”
He closed his eyes, his hand going slack in hers and she knew. She knew.
Slowly the snow seeped into her sweat pants, freezing her kneecaps. She stared at the snow, fully expecting to see blood. Tears raced from her eyes as they had in her vision, and an aching hole opened inside, quickly filling with grief. A soul-wrenching sadness that made her weak.
In the far reaches of her mind, she heard a voice. Someone crouched in front of her, the voice louder, insistent. Hands reached out, hesitated. She lifted her head, her vision blurred from the tears. She opened her mouth but no sound came out.
“You need to get inside,” the voice said. “You’ll freeze out here.”
Callahan. John Callahan. The man she’d been searching for. Not to destroy but for protection. She struggled to stand, the snow beneath her giving way, making her stumble. A far-off noise registered in her mind and she realized she was crying.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. It’s okay.”
She shook her head. It would never be okay. She