Maddie Timmons turned over in bed for what felt
like the fiftieth time. It had to be past two by now. She refused
to look at the clock and check. Not again.
The room had plunged into darkness hours ago when the sun ducked
behind the mountains outlining the side of her cabin. The cool late
spring air couldn’t penetrate the thick windows near her head.
She knew because she'd installed the laminated safety glass herself
and then made sure the potential entrances stayed locked at all
times. A blaring alarm took care of the rest.
She kicked off the covers and stared at the ceiling. Despite all
the precautions, something made her restless. She couldn’t
put a reason to the feeling. She just knew her insides kept jumping
around, pressing down on her chest and forcing her eyes open every
time they tried to drift shut.
The unease crept up on her that afternoon while she worked the
lunch rush at the cafe. Though in Sweet Home, West Virginia, the
weekday "rush" usually meant about thirty people over
the span of three hours.
She sat up and felt the mattress dip beneath her. Just as her
feet hit the hardwood floor, the banging starting on her front door.
She heard the thud and the faint sound of a male voice calling her
The hour. The frantic attempt to wake her. It all struck her as
Every nerve ending in her body screamed for her to run. She had
a neighbor but the towering trees and dark night would give her
attackers the advantage. And she could not risk getting caught.
She slid her feet into the white sneakers that always sat by her
bed. The knife she kept under her pillow slipped neatly into the
waistband of her pajama shorts. She had to grab her bag and take
That was the plan. Get to safety and then call the number she
memorized for a situation just like this. The same emergency she'd
hoped would never arrive.
She crept across the floor and slipped the handle of her packed
safety bag through her fingers. She listened closely for any sounds
of house penetration. Relief flowed through her when only quiet
She rounded the corner and headed for the small secret opening
to the space under the house. From there she could see the property
and listen for footsteps. Then it was just a practiced run to safety
She froze. The husky whisper sounded louder and deeper than before.
And totally familiar.
She eased the duffel back to the floor in total silence. The mandatory
escape plan ran through her mind but she ignored it. Instead, she
walked down the short hall that lead to the family room. The cabin
consisted of exactly two rooms plus a kitchen and bath. No matter
how careful she was, how shadowed the rooms, she would come into
view from one of the windows in two more steps.
"Maddie?" The knocking grew louder and showed no signs
Her brain pleaded for caution. Every other part of her wanted
to open the door.
With quiet steps, she across the smooth floor and flattened her
stomach against the front door. A quick look through the peephole
confirmed what she already knew. Adam Wallace wanted in.
She hesitated, thinking of all the ways this could be a trap,
but reached for the locks anyway. Metal rattled in her shaking fingers
as she rushed to get the door open.
He stood there, all six-foot-three of him. Sandy blonde hair,
thin wire glasses and shoulders wider than the door frame. He was
her next door neighbor. The chatty, sexy computer nerd with the
linebacker body who moved in and insisted they be friends, all while
she dodged every attempt.
She grabbed the side of the door and carefully blocked his way
into the house, knowing the entire time he could power through if
he really wanted to.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"That's my question."
She had never seen him do this frantic whisper thing. Sure, they'd
only known each other a month but he'd been so even-keeled all that
time. "Adam, I don't-"
He pushed the frames up on his nose. "I heard a noise."
The implication of that statement hit her full force. Blood pounded
in her ears. "What? Where?
"I was watching a movie and thought I heard something crash
over here. I came to make sure you were okay."
As quickly as the adrenaline flooded her senses it receded again.
No need to panic – yet. This likely was about a guy being
lonely and nothing more. Why someone his age would choose to live
out here, all alone, was a constant mystery. That question made
her wary of him, just like she was wary of everyone else. She had
But she did wonder how a man who towered over her and possessed
those impressive arm muscles could look so sweet and comfortably
disheveled at all times. Probably had something to do with the dimple
in his cheek.
But he wasn't smiling now. Energy thrummed off of him as he glanced
all around, barely looking at her.
"So, are you okay?" he asked.
He finally focused his attention on her. The power of those grass
green eyes almost knocked her flat. Intelligence lingered there
and something else. Something she couldn’t pin down. His size
signaled danger but his easygoing manner made her think geek. The
guy was an enigma.
"Can I come in?" he asked.
"No." The answer was automatic. Forget her curiosity
and the hint of attraction. The response was the right one.
Her grip tightened on the door. "It's late."
The frenzied moments faded as his eyebrow inched up. "I came
over to make sure nothing had happened to you."
"And I'm fine, so we're good." She couldn't let him
in physically or emotionally. If he truly heard something, if danger
lingered in the woods surrounding her unwanted adopted home, then
she had to run. Dragging a computer nerd with her would only slow
her down. And the rules were clear: travel alone and light.