Chapter One

Dare Creek County Correctional Facility

Dare Creek County, North Carolina

 

Williams, move your ass. Mary Jo, an ancient prison guard, jerked Brynn to attention as if she could read her mind about somehow surviving the old concrete hellhole unscathed. She gave Brynn one last shove for good measure, knowing she wouldnt dare protest. She tossed Brynns bag of belongings to her and signaled another guard to open the last locked door. Brynn held her bag full of goods from the canteen with one hand, while the other was tucked firmly behind her back. She knew it was a habit that would die hard, having been forced to walk that way for four years.

Dont come back, Mary Jo said.

Yes, maam. The door buzzed and Brynn stumbled through backward, nervous eyes still on Mary Jo. But as she walked out the final door, she smiled. No one was stopping her; no one was asking her questions or searching her.

She was free.

She pushed out into the press of new summer humidity. But damn, it felt good; free air was definitely different from confined. The bright sun was on her skin, the teasing heavy breeze playing with her hair. This was heaven. She closed her eyes for a moment taking it all in. Then she opened them and looked around.

The fences and the walls seemed enormous, and the grass beyond that, beyond the free road, seemed endless with hills of rolling green for miles. It was far different from the white glow of light she saw through smeared windows, or the fading scent of freshly cut grass as it crept over the walls. Rec time had been on cement, the sun slanting at an angle so you had to huddle in one area if you wanted to feel the rays and get a little vitamin D. A less restrictive cell block wouldve allowed her more freedom. But shed been put where she was the most protected, and though shed hated it, she was alive and unscathed and that was all that mattered.

She held out her arms and inhaled deeply. She could finally breathe without wincing from the smell of mold, body odor, and urine. She could not only breathe in the freshly cut grass, she could reach down and touch it.

Jesus H. Christ, it felt good.

Well, dont just stand there, Mary Jo said from the open door behind her. Go. Theres no loitering here. Her hard face was crinkled with anger. She turned her head and spat tobacco as if Brynn had thoroughly gone and ruined her day.

Youll be back, Mary Jo said. Williamses always come back.

The words stung, but Brynn was used to them. She shrugged it off and bobbed on her anxious feet as a car pulled up along the main road. Large, rusted out, and loud, fumes billowed and the radio was so loud it was eating the speakers causing static. A hand rested on the doorframe holding a cigarette. It raised in a wave.

Brynn took off at a trot, then a jog, then a full-out run. Her jeans were loose from weight loss and her sneakers
had seen better days. Her sister, Bea, was laughing as
Brynn stopped at the car and yanked on her pants to keep them up.

How ya doin, Sissy? Bea asked, knowing she was irritating Brynn with her nickname. She looked her up and down and blew smoke through her nose. Well, youre skinny, but youre alive.

Bea looked like hell herself with skin hanging off bones and dark dents beneath her wide eyes. By the look of her, no one would dare guess she was eight years younger than Brynn. A hard twenty-eight Bea was. And she looked as though shed been drug by a horse through every single damn one of those days in those years. Her pupils told Brynn she was high and so did her laugh. It was loud, high-pitched, and wicked. She planted the cigarette in her mouth and leaned over to open the massive passenger door.

Get in.

Brynn rounded the car, tossed her bag in the back, and climbed in. The door protested when it shut, and Brynn saw the wires hanging from the steering column.

You pinch this car?

Bea shrugged. You said come get you. What did you expect? She threw the car in gear and peeled out. Brynn thought about Mary Jo choking on the smoke and smiled inwardly. Instinctively though, she looked behind them, ready for the law to be right there on their ass. Thankfully, there was no one. She reached over and turned down the radio, preferring to hear the wind rushing at her rather than an old metal band.

What happened to Papaws Ford? Brynn asked. Their grandfather had left them a nice F150 when he passed. Theyd used that truck for everything.

Traded it, she said, blowing out more smoke.

What? For what?

Bea didnt look at her, and Brynn knew whatever she was about to say was a lie.

We had bills to pay. With you put away it hasnt been easy.

Bullshit. All you had to pay for is power, water, and food.

Yeah, well, a lots changed, Sissy. Youve been gone. So dont preach to me. I been doing what I can.

Yeah, and lets not forget why I was locked up.

Bea flicked her cigarette out the window. Dont start with me, Brynn. I didnt ask you to do it.

Brynn clenched her jaw, wanting to argue, to bite into her, but she held back. She held back just as shed always done. You didnt have to ask. And besides, you bawling like a baby…that was worse than asking.

Bea didnt respond and Brynn didnt push it. Her great-aunt had written a few times warning her of trouble at home. But a part of her had hoped Bea and Billy would get their shit together before she got out. But as usual, that was wishful thinking. And though Brynn had hated being locked up, honestly, it had been nice not having to take care of anyone. Imagine…discovering independence while locked up. Who wouldve thought?

Now she was free and she felt trapped again. Bea was driving her straight back into lock-down on Williams Lane. Brynn sighed and rubbed a suddenly aching temple. Shed kill for a Coke and a Goodys Powder, but it would be a while before a gas station. She settled back in the vinyl seat and stared ahead. Bea was still on drugs, snorting, smoking, maybe even selling. Who knew? Had Brynn going to prison taught her nothing? Hadnt it even scared her a little? It seemed not.

They drove for a long while, out into the country, pastures and rolling hills as far as she could see. Rolls of hay dotting the landscape here and there. But no people. Not a single damn one. She knew it should comfort her after being locked up like rats inside hell, but she felt a little panicked at all the open space. She willed her eyes to close, and as they did, she heard a distant siren. It was far away so she tried not to panic. But her brain fired off and she imagined them coming up behind, running the plate, pulling them over, throwing them up against the car, tightening those cuffs until they bit into their bones.

Slow down, Brynn said, eyes still closed. She could feel Bea slow the car and the siren grow closer. When Beas breathing changed, Brynns eyes flew open.

What is it? she asked, turning in her seat to look behind.

That SUV. Its coming up fast. Too fast.

Brynn saw the black vehicle bearing down behind them. Fuck. She shrunk down in the seat and her heart nearly beat out of her chest. Is it the law, undercover in one of those Tahoes? It could be, but there are no flashing lights in the grill.

Here it comes, Bea said, gripping the wheel.

Brynn peeked over the seat and gasped with fear as the SUV nearly slammed into them. But at the last second, it swerved and flew past at an insane amount of speed. She watched it fly by and swerve back into their lane. Then her attention was behind them once again as the siren, which was incredibly loud now, came up on them going just as fast as the SUV. The police cruiser, lights flashing, siren wailing, was far from interested in their stolen car.

Brynn yelled at Bea Get out of the way!

Bea pulled off the road at full speed, allowing the cruiser to speed on. They watched, amazed and confused as their car bounced in the dirt shoulder. Suddenly, the SUV screeched and turned, facing the cruiser head on. The cruiser slammed to a stop just as shots rang out from the SUV. Pieces of glass flew up from the front of the cruiser, and Brynn could tell it was being hit with gunfire. The officers were trapped inside.

Brynn threw open the door as Bea screeched to a stop. Theyre getting shot!

Brynn, wait!

Bea reached behind the front seat and tossed her a handgun. Brynn didnt think, didnt process, she just lowered herself and ran toward the cruiser. Behind her, she heard Bea fire off a few rounds at the SUV.

Brynn kept moving. She could see two men hanging out the windows of the black vehicle. She fired two shots, hitting their windshield as she came to the back of the police car. She crab-walked up to the passenger door as each shot deafened her, causing her ears to ring. She looked inside and saw a male slumped behind the wheel, bleeding from a wound to the head, and another officer, a female, leaning to the left in the passenger seat. Brynn opened the door and the rounds continued to come from behind, from Bea, but they stopped from the SUV. Brynn tugged on the females wrist. She moaned. Brynn climbed in and released her seat belt. Warm blood seeped into her T-shirt as she pressed against the officer. The woman was hit, somewhere in the upper shoulder area. Brynn reached out and pushed at the male. He didnt move and his shirt was torn with bullet holes.

Shit. Brynn backed out and tugged on the woman again, sliding her from the car. When Brynn saw the blond ponytail and then her face, her mind flashed with recognition. It was Sergeant Vander, the officer who had arrested her for possession four years earlier. She had put Brynn in prison. But it didnt matter. She was shot and needed help. Brynn checked her pulse. Slow but steady. She heard the SUV peel out and speed away. Hoping it was safe, she half carried, half drug Vander back to their car. Bea stood still with her gun at her side.

What are you doing?

We gotta get her to a hospital. Brynn was breathless and now covered in blood. Help me get her into the car.

Bea didnt move.

We cant do this, Brynn. Weve already done too much. She walked over and looked at her face. Shit, is that Vander? That bitch put you away, Brynn. Wanted me too. Do you know how much hell shes given me the past few years?

We cant let her die.

Bea turned away. Not our problem. Shes not our problem. We did our best. Now its time to go. Shes on her own. Which is more than shes ever done for us. She looked up and down the road, pacing. What about the other one? I bet its that son of a bitch partner of hers.

I think hes dead.

Shit. She grabbed her head. Shit, shit, shit!

Bea, help me get her in the car.

No. No way. Im done. She tugged on her own hair in frustration. We got a dead cop, Brynn. A fucking dead cop. Youre soaked in blood; we both have guns. What the fuck do you think theyre gonna do to us when they catch us? Give us awards?

Vander moaned again in Brynns arms. The blood was pulsing out of her.

Fine. Stay here. Ill drive her myself. Brynn maneuvered Vander into the backseat and pulled a tank top from her bag of meager possessions. She folded it and pressed it into the wound. Vander winced and made a noise of protest.

Shh, hang tough. Were getting you some help. Brynn was surprised at her own voice. It was calm, soothing. She was nurturing the cop just like she had everyone else in her life.

Bea climbed in behind the wheel, cussing and carrying on. She slammed the door shut.

Im not staying here with a dead cop, she said.

Close the passenger door, Brynn said. Im staying back here to help her. Her mind was made up. Vander was not going to die on her watch. She pressed into the wound and supported her head. Vander stared at her as Bea closed the door and threw the car into gear.

Williams? she asked.

Brynn nodded. Vander tensed and started to panic, but Brynn held her hand and squeezed. Its okay. Were going to the hospital.

Vander licked dry lips and her sky blue eyes focused. My partner…

Shh, everythings okay. Just hang on.

This is crazy, Bea said. God damned crazy.

Just drive. Vander was still watching her.

My dog, she said and then swallowed. Hes home alone. If I dont make it…take care of him. Her breath shuddered, and Brynn stroked her face to calm her.

Hell be fine. Youll be fine, Brynn said. Vander licked her lips again and nodded. A tear slipped down her face. Brynn had never noticed before how incredibly beautiful she was. Almost angelic with white-blond hair and pale eyes.

Thank you, she said.

Try not to worry, Brynn said. Its all okay. Youre safe.

Vander closed her eyes, and Brynn held her hand as Bea sped on.

She gonna make it? Bea asked, eyes looking in the rearview.

If we hurry.

Bea gunned it, and Brynn held Vander in her arms, squeezed her hand, and watched over her as she fought for her life. Brynn did it all without an agenda or a second thought and wondered if she would return to prison the very day she was released. Maybe Mary Jo was right after all.


Chapter Two

Whats her name? Kat Vander turned her head and opened her eyes. There was noise all around her, and she wanted to fall back to peaceful sleep. A sharp pain in her shoulder made her want to cry out, and her chest and abdomen felt as though theyd been punched with brass knuckles. A woman in blue scrubs was holding her hand and touching her face, asking her to focus. She tried to look warm, but Kat could see the deep lying seriousness.

Vander…uh…Sergeant Vander, someone said to her left. Kat moved her eyes to the woman gripping her other hand.

Williams?

Brynn Williams, who was covered in blood, nodded.

What was a Williams girl doing here?

But there was no time to think or remember, for the woman in scrubs was tapping her cheek.

Sergeant, Sergeant, look at me.

Kat did.

Thats it. Focus on me, okay? My name is Harriet. I need you to try and stay awake. Harriet was joined by others dressed similarly, and they moved like bees swarming a hive. Kat realized she was the reason why.

She watched in silence as they stripped her and searched for other wounds. They were talking, shouting, poking, and prodding. Bullets, bullets, bullets. That was all they cared about.

Blood. It was all over her. Blood, they were shouting for it. Blood, it was brought in in a clear bag and hung on a pole. They poked. Blood in to replace blood out.

She wanted to tell them her blood type, but she was too weak to think, to talk. She looked back to Williams who had released her and was backing away. She held her gaze, wanting her to stay. Something about the look in her eyes. A focus, a determination. A will and a deep compassion. She never wouldve expected to see such a look on a Williams. Was she dreaming? Had she passed out? Regardless, she needed that look, those eyes, that tender hand. But someone escorted Williams through the curtain and she vanished.

Kat felt them lift and turn her to look for an exit wound in her shoulder.

More words and shouting. She felt cold now and tired. Warmth from somewhere deep was promised to her if she closed her eyes. She did so despite the voices asking her questions and giving her demands. The warmth came, gentle, soothing. The voices faded. Darkness closed in on the image she wanted to keep in her mind. The one of Brynn Williams willing her to live.

 

v

 

Kat, Kat? Kat opened her eyes and winced in pain. Her shoulder felt like it had been knocked out of place. She moaned and tried to speak, but her throat was dry and sore.

Here. A cup of water was pressed into her palm. She took hearty sips through a straw and shifted. She was uncomfortable. Numerous pillows were shoved behind her shoulder, putting her at an odd angle. Had someone mangled her shoulder? Were her bones out of place?

Move the pillows, she managed, wincing again. My damn shoulder hurts like hell.

She closed her eyes as a wave of dizziness overtook her. Nausea beckoned but passed.

Kat, look at me.

Kat opened her eyes. This time she focused. Dave Murphy, a close friend and fellow cop, was sitting by her side along with his wife, Margie. Kats heart pounded. Something was wrong. She only ever saw Margie at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And Murph, he looked scared shitless.

What is it?

Margie patted her leg. Kat looked down and saw that she was covered in a baby blue blanket. Another quick look around to her sides showed that monitors were keeping track of her vitals. She again looked to Murph.

Youve been shot, he said.

Shot? She swallowed hard. Shot?

A woman came in, wearing purple. She pushed buttons on a machine. Its not unusual for her to be confused for a short while after the anesthesia. Dont be alarmed. And then she was gone, breezing through a curtain.

Margie took her hand. Youve just come out of surgery. Cream. Margie always reminded her of cream. Her skin was flawless and soft and shiny. Just like cream. The scent of White Diamonds permeated the air, and Margie pressed lipstick-covered lips together as she fought off tears.

Shot? Her slow mind tried to race, but it was moving through the sluggish marsh of what she could only guess was medication.

In the shoulder, Murph continued. But youre gonna be fine. He offered a smile. You lost a lot of blood, but thankfully, you got here in time.

He adjusted his studious glasses, and Margie tossed her a smile as well. She glanced at them back and forth, studying. They were full of shit. They were trying to protect her. But from what, she didnt know. More pain registered and she checked under the covers, beneath the gown. She was covered in bruises. Looked like she had been beat to hell.

Some of the bullets hit your vest, Murph said.

Jesus, how many? Her heartrate kicked up at the mere thought. Why can’t I remember?

Dont worry about that. Just worry about resting now. Well get you some more pain meds as soon as you speak to your guys. Margie again patted her leg.

They have some questions for you, Murph said. Are you up for it?

Yes, of course. Theyll tell me whats going on. Theyll get me out of here. She tried to kick her legs over the side of the bed, but she was hit with dizziness and pain.

Kat, stop it. Murph was standing, holding her back. Youre very weak.

She closed her eyes to stop the room from spinning.

Murph laughed softly. Stubborn as always. He removed a pillow from behind her shoulder and she sighed with relief. Better?

She nodded.

She wanted to slug him, but she knew she couldnt.

Elevate my arm a little more? she asked.

He did so and she thanked him, opening her eyes to take in the two of them. Both were standing and they looked so Ma and Pa, Margie clutching her designer purse, well made up, and Murph in his camo ball cap and Polo styled shirt. He wiped a tear from beneath his glasses.

They bent and kissed her cheek. Well be right outside.

Okay.

They left through the curtain, and her captain and a few other deputies rushed in. They looked pale with shock and their eyes were wide with panic. Her captain was wiping his brow.

Captain, relax, they say Im okay. He looked like hell. What is going on?

They all kissed her cheek and patted her hand. A few wiped tears.

Fellas, its okay. She searched their eyes and studied their posture. They werent relaxing, and it was obvious everything was not okay.

Captain Bowman gripped her hand. Vander. He cleared his throat. He was flushed so red she was worried he would pop.

Cap, what is it?

You dont remember anything, do you?

She searched her mind. I know I was shot. And suddenly her heart dropped to her stomach. Her partner. Brian Damien. Oh, my God. She clutched her gown at her chest. Damien. Where is he? She could see him, his body jolting with every bullet that hit him. He was trapped behind the wheel. Shed leaned over, tried to pull him down, but bullets tore into her as well, leaving her motionless. As shed felt the hot blood pulse out of her body, shed tried to release his seat belt. But then someone had been there, someone pulling her from the cruiser. A woman.

Hes been flown to Charter General, Captain Bowman said. Hes critical.

Kat felt tears nip at her throat. Oh, Jesus.

Hes sustained multiple bullet wounds, one to the head, massive blood loss. They dont know if hes going to make it.

Im so sorry, she said. Its my fault. I couldnt get him down. I couldnt get him down.

Captain Bowman squeezed her hand. Its not your fault. I dont want to hear you blaming yourself. It wont do anyone any good. He wiped a tear and straightened. Christ knows you did your best. All we can do is pray now. Silence hung in the air, and he cleared his throat and carried on. We knew you were in pursuit of a stolen SUV. And from the footage we just viewed of your dash cam, we know they turned on you and opened fire. They ambushed you. Youre damn lucky to be alive.

What we cant see is what was going on behind you, a deputy she knew only as Chaz, said. He spoke softly, serious.

Behind me?

Someone pulled in behind you and returned fire at the SUV. Someone pulled you from your vehicle and brought you here. All we got from the dash cam was an image of an older model Buick speeding away with what appeared to be two females inside. The plates came back stolen.

Kat looked away and scanned her mind. Kind, warm, hazel green eyes came to life. A gentle hand, holding her. A sweet voice, soothing her, telling her it was all okay.

Yes, she said, almost to herself. A woman.

Another deputy, a rookie she didnt know, raced into the room. Captain, we just got the hospital security footage. He handed over an iPad and they gathered around. Captain Bowman looked up at her. Do you know who it was, Vander?

Kat could still see the face and the strands of auburn hair. The blood soaked T-shirt and the loose jeans. She could still see the look on her face. The one willing her to live.

Yes, Kat said. It was Brynn Williams.

The captain and the others continued looking, thumbing through more footage.

This is outside in the emergency drop-off, the rookie deputy said.

Captain Bowman looked up at her in disbelief. Bea Williams as well?

Kat shook her head. Im not sure. I can only remember Brynn.

Captain Bowman brought the iPad to her. He showed her the footage of the old car speeding in, screeching to a stop, and two women pulling her from the car. One, Brynn, helped her inside, while the other, Bea, climbed back in and sped off.

We know Brynn reported the shooting to the staff here at the hospital. She sent rescue, a chopper, after Damien. But she wouldnt give her name, and she left soon after they began tending to you. At this time, were having trouble locating either one.

Apparently, she was just released from lockup today, Chaz said.

Did she say anything to you, Kat? Anything that might help us find her? Captain Bowman asked.

Kats mind was spinning. Just released? Shot at the SUV? Saved her? Sent them for Damien?

I have no idea. I dont know why they were there. Why they…helped.

Captain Bowman sighed, and she could see just how exhausted he was. But she knew his day was far from over. Hed go at it full force for days, they all would, until they found the SUV. We dont either. But with their history and records combined, were concerned they were somehow involved with the SUV.

Which is why we need to find them. Talk to them, Chaz said.

Kat recalled the look, the touch. The soft words. I dont think they were involved. The way…I just dont think they were involved. I dont think theyd risk themselves in helping me or Damien if they were.

The plate on their vehicle came back stolen out of Winston Mills. Maybe we should start there, Chaz said.

Captain Bowman rubbed his forehead. We need to speak to them regardless of your thoughts, Kat. The car they were in was stolen, and neither one is allowed weapons. They need to be brought in.

Kat felt her skin begin to burn at the thought of Brynn getting arrested the day she was released. All because she helped her. But the law was the law. If she could somehow see her, talk to her, she was sure she could work it all out.

Cap, I want to talk to her. She tried to get out of bed, but the bunch of them all protested at once. I want to be the one to bring them in. It should be me.

Your only job right now is to recover. Let us do the rest.

He patted her hand and then nodded to the rest of the crew. Well be in touch. He paused, looked down at his feet, and then back up at her. And, Vander? Im glad youre okay. He left her bedside quickly, followed by the rest of them, and Kat watched helplessly as they went.

As she leaned back and closed her eyes, she, too, wondered why the Williams girls stopped to help. And more importantly, she wondered about the brave and tender way Brynn was with her. Just who was Brynn Williams and where in the world was she now?


Chapter Three

Get in, Brynn said, screeching to a halt in a used sedan. Notice, this one isnt stolen.

Bea rolled her eyes and threw an Army duffel full of clothes and gear in the back and climbed in.

This is nice, Bea said, rubbing her hand along the soft seat.

It is, so lets keep it that way. Brynn sped away from the old Sunoco gas station overgrown with kudzu. It had always been their go-to spot when theyd needed to meet up and couldnt communicate. Now they were risking it all by driving back down the road that led to the turnoff to their home. But Brynn needed highway access, and the faster they drove, the less likely anyone on their front porch would be able to tell it was them in the blue Buick.

Where the hell are you going? Bea asked, lighting a cigarette. She was sweaty, hands shaking. She tugged hard on the cigarette, inhaling deeply before exhaling, but it seemed to do little to relax her.

Get down, Brynn said, slipping on large shades to hide her face.

Bea sank into the seat and they sped past their road and beyond old farmhouses with people relaxing in their porch swings, waiting for the afternoon storm. No one waved or even looked twice.

Okay, you can sit up. Brynn pulled onto the highway and slowed to just above the speed limit. Bea shook her head, still confused. She knew where they needed to go to hide, and they were going the wrong way.

Brynn, she said, demanding an answer.

Theres something I have to do.

Yeah, what?

Brynn wiped sweat from her own brow and checked the mirrors for the law. The car was a friends, one who owed her many favors. Brynn had called Holly from near the hospital and shed come to get her. Shed also given her clothes and supplies to escape with, not to mention the car.

I made a promise, Brynn said. And as you know, I keep my promises.

Bea made a noise of disapproval. Cops are all over
the family. Searched the property. Billy says they even found the old deer stand. As if wed be dumb enough to hide in that.

Im not surprised. Neither one of them had been able to return home for fear of the police. Brynn had considered just turning herself in, but she didnt trust the police to do anything in her favor, and her fear of returning to prison had won out. Right now, she was just hoping Vander would live, and beyond that, she hoped shed help clear her name. In the meantime, they needed to hide, and Brynn couldnt argue, knowing another charge on Bea would put her away for a long time.

I got rid of the guns, Bea said.

Where did you get them to begin with?

She shrugged. I dont even remember. Robbie or someone.

Great. Robbie was a well-known druggie and, unfortunately, Beas close friend. Theyd known him since he was a kid, raising hell at age nine. Adulthood hadnt changed him a bit.

Brynn gripped the wheel with panic still coursing through her. Blood was beneath her nails and embedded into the lines of her knuckles. Shed only had time enough to change clothes and take a quick rinse under the water. And despite worrying about her family and her sister and running from the law, her mind kept returning to Vander and whether or not she was alive. She could still feel her warm blood, see her delicate blond lashes and pale eyes. There was so much life there in her eyes. Depths she was surprised to see.

She slowed as they approached the lake. She exited and found her way to a neighborhood near the water.

Where the fuck are we going? Bea demanded. She rolled up her window and once again ducked in her seat.

Brynn searched streets, then house numbers. She pulled over near her destination and examined the surroundings. Most people were still at work, and those that werent were inside, hiding from the growing heat and humidity. Unlike in her neighborhood, where windowed air conditioners were weak and kept most on their porch praying for a breeze.

Bea looked around, and her face contorted in anger. She figured out where they were. Small towns kept very little private. And with Beas doings, she probably knew where every cop lived and hung out.

Tell me youre kidding, she said.

Brynn kept watch on the nice home, small in size but decent and on the water. A covered boat was in the driveway, along with a covered Sea-Doo.

Stay here. She popped her door and took a step out.

Bea grabbed her arm. Why the fuck are we at Vanders home?

Brynn shook her off. I told you, I made a promise.

She pushed out of the car, closed the door, and hurried across the street. She jogged to the back of the house where there was a large, elevated redwood deck and a lower level to the house she couldnt have seen from the front. She made her way to the lower level door and checked the knob. It was locked, but the door and knob were old, much like her own basement door. She dug in her back pocket and removed her wallet and a Costco card. She inserted the card into the doorframe at the knob and popped the door. She listened for an alarm. Nothing. Darkness encased her as she entered, along with the smell of grease, paint, and must. Another Sea-Doo sat to her right, guts displayed, with tools and parts surrounding it on wooden workbenches. Another one was covered and farther back in the dark. In front of her, stairs and a door at the top. She tugged on a string and a light bulb popped on.

Squinting in the bright light, she planted her foot on the bottom step and noise came from the door above. She stopped and made out the pet door just before a dog pushed through, barking. Brynn backed away as the dog ran down the stairs and stopped, barking at her in high pitch. The German shepherd mix was brave but also afraid.

She cooed him and carefully sat on the concrete floor. She looked away from him and waited. Slowly, he quieted and crept toward her. She comforted him and rested her hands at her side, palms up. He stepped to her and pressed his nose to her jeans and then her hand, which caused him to whine. She knew he smelled Vander, and she felt for him. She touched him and he licked her, first her hand and then her face.

She stood and clipped him to a leash she saw on a bench. He followed her back out the door, which she locked behind her.

Good boy. She glanced around quickly, checked his name tag, and moved back to the side of the house where she stopped and looked for people. When she was satisfied, she hurried back to the car, dog in tow.

Bea was cussing before she even got the door open to put him in the back.

A dog? A God damned dog? Brynn, have you lost your mind?

Brynn climbed in and put the car in gear. She drove slowly down the street and found her way back to the entrance of the highway.

If Vander dies, theres no telling how long he would be left in that house.

Bea shook her head. Motherfucker.

No, actually, I think his name is Gunner.

Is he a fucking cop? One of those K-9 dogs? You know, attack on command and sniff out drugs?

Brynn looked at him in the rearview mirror. He was sitting and panting.

I dont know. He is a German shepherd.

Fuck. Bea propped her elbow on the door and rested her head on her fist.

He might be good to have around. You know, alert us to people.

Yeah, and he might tackle me when I light up my
pipe.

Brynn grimaced. Even after I went to prison for you…and not to mention were running from the law…you bring drugs?

I cant live without it. It fucks me up bad to go without. People like you just dont understand. She dug into her pocket. But dont worry. Im getting into downers now. She popped a few pills in her mouth and forced a swallow. This will help calm me down.

My God, how much did you just take?

Relax, Ive got a tolerance now. What I just took, wont even hardly touch me. And its expensive. Which is why I have this. She dug in the other pocket and pulled out a small rubber balloon. She smiled. Know what this is?

Brynn looked away. Fuck off. I dont want to know. And wipe that damn grin off your face. You have no reason to be proud.

Maybe not proud, but this right here, makes me very, very happy. She slipped it back into her pocket and leaned against the seat in a relaxed pose. She closed her eyes. Wake me in a few or when you hit a gas station. I need a Mountain Dew.

Brynn accelerated, anxiety building. She knew what was in the balloon. A good number of women in prison were addicted to it. And the walls of the prison didnt seem to stop them from getting it. Fucking heroin. People were using it instead of the costly pills. Opiates were opiates. People didnt care about the form they came in, just the cost. And now Bea. God damn it. She might as well kiss her good-bye now. Heroin owned you and no one could seem to escape.

How had this happened? She was raised in the same house as Bea and Billy, and while it hadnt been ideal or even close to good, shed never even considered drugs. Not after shed seen what it had done to their parents and other family members. And shed tried her best to raise Bea and Billy well, but it had been difficult with their parents partying before they passed, people in and out all day and night. But she had done her best. It just hadnt been good enough.

And boy, have I paid the price, she said, causing Gunner to perk his ears. Next to her, Bea snored and the quiet allowed her to think of Vander. Giving Bea a careful glance, she plucked the pay as you go phone from her back pocket and dialed information. She connected with the hospital and waited, nerves on edge.

A woman answered with a sweet, deep Southern drawl.

Yes, can I have Sergeant Vanders room, please?

One moment, please.

Brynn heard her typing.

Ill connect you now. Thank you.

Brynn sat straighter. Another woman answered. Brynn hesitated, but only for a moment.

Im calling for Sergeant Vander, she said.

Shes resting and cant take calls.

Resting? So shes okay?

Shes in recovery. Who may I say is calling?

Her sister.

She doesnt have a sister…Who can I say is calling?

Thank you, I just needed to make sure she was okay.

Brynn ended the call, heart racing. She was alive. She made it.

Brynn sighed with relief. Thank God. Now she just had to let her know about her dog. Hopefully, when she called again, she would be able to speak to her. Brynn cleared the call and returned the phone to Beas pocket. She wouldnt understand the phone call or the need to check on Vander. Bea just wasnt made that way.

Brynn slowed and exited at a gas station. Instead of parking in the pavement lot, she parked in the field behind the building to avoid cameras. She gave Bea a rough shove and climbed out, opening the back door for the dog. He jumped out, happy to go explore. Brynn found him easy to walk. He heeled and listened well. After he finished his business, she returned him to the car, left the air on, and entered the store. She grabbed a Coke and some Advil and found Bea chatting up the cashier. Brynn got the feeling they knew each other.

Brynn put her goods on the counter and nudged Bea aside, giving her a look, letting her know she needed to shut her mouth. Brynn paid for them both and pushed out the door with Bea hot on her tail.

What the hell, Brynn?

Brynn kept walking, wiping fresh sweat from her brow. She climbed in the car and shut the door. Bea followed her with a pinched face.

Hes my friend.

Doesnt matter. The last thing we need is you running your mouth, creating a trail.

Bea scoffed. He wont snitch.

Yeah, right. You better hope not.

Bea cursed and opened her Dew, nearly downing the whole thing. You never believe me.

Brynn didnt answer, just pulled back on the highway. Bea was right. She never believed her, but there were a million reasons why.

The cop lived, Brynn said to test her reaction. Vander.

Bea stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. So?

So, thats good. We did something good. We helped a cop. Saved her life. Come on, Bea, care. Care about someone, something, anything.

Bea belched. What about the other dude?

Brynn closed her eyes for a moment as a new sensation washed over her. Guilt. She shouldve checked him better. I dont know. Im not sure where they took him.

Some place where they work miracles, Bea said. That dude looked seriously fucked up when we drove past him. He looked dead.

Yes. But that didnt mean he was. They shouldve taken him too. But shed been too panicked, afraid. Shed just wanted to get out of there.

Ive never seen so much blood, Bea said. They used him for target practice.

Just shut up. Be quiet, okay?

Bea kicked her feet up on the dash. Grumpy.

Brynn rolled her eyes. Gee, I wonder why. Its been such a fabulous day.

Not my fault you wanted to play hero.

Brynn gripped the wheel, fighting the urge to backhand her. Shed never hit her; that was Uncle Mos job. And hed hit them all plenty enough. Didnt mean she didnt think about smacking her from time to time. Especially when she had attitudes like now.

Bea. Shut up. Now.

Bea laughed but plucked out a cigarette and lit it. It occupied her and kept her from speaking, and Brynn relaxed a little. Gunner barked and Bea covered her ears.

What the fuck?

Lower the window. He doesnt like the smoke.

Hes a dog.

He still has to breathe, and frankly, so do I.

Bea lowered the window and he stopped and settled down. He groaned and Brynn smiled. She had finally found a companion.

Bea leaned back again and fell asleep, lit cigarette in hand. Brynn took it from her and tossed it out the window. She drove in peace for another hour and pulled off into the hills. The car bounced on the dirt roads, but she didnt slow. Gunner stood and she lowered the window for him. He hung his head and tongue out, enjoying the fresh air. Bea continued to snore, and Brynn wondered just what kind of tolerance she had for those pills. She checked her mouth for breathing and was satisfied for the moment.

Another half an hour on the dirt roads led her to the turnoff she needed. The car struggled but made it, and after another twenty minutes, Brynn was driving through overgrown brush off from the trail, until she stopped in front of the old cabin.

She gave Bea another shove, and she grumbled but didnt wake. Brynn left her, opening the door for the dog, who happily ran around. Brynn rounded the cabin, checking windows and what she could see of the roof. It hadnt been cared for in years, but it was still standing. She found a side window broken and pushed it open. A dank, dark smell rushed out at her.

Damn.

She crawled inside and fell to the dusty floor. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but when they did, she found the front door, lifted the heavy slab of wood that served as a lock, and opened it. Light spilled in, and she could see the dust swirling all around her. She coughed and looked at the small living room, tiny kitchen, and single bedroom. Everything was dust coated and ancient.

Childhood memories flooded her, and she couldnt help but warm inside.

Gunner entered and sat, looking up at her.

We got a lot of work to do, boy, she said, glancing out at the car where Bea remained asleep. By the look of her motionless arm and foot hanging out the window, Brynn knew it was less sleep and more passed out. She sighed and patted the dog on the head.

Come on, lets go carry her inside.