Chapter 1

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I must have done something terrible in a past life to deserve this kind of punishment. Really terrible. Like clubbed baby seals and knocked down old ladies in the street terrible.

As I stared out the front window at the long, never-ending stretch of highway, I had to fight the overwhelming urge to fling myself out of the moving SUV. The gray strip of blacktop seemed to go on into infinity. Pure, unabashed nothingness. Isolation surrounded by dust, cows, and—

"Was that a tumbleweed?" I demanded.

Eddie stared straight ahead, eyes on the road like a hypnotized zombie. "Uh-huh."

Had we really been in New York just this morning? It didn't seem possible. My six a.m. caffeine injection and everything bagel with shmear from the deli around the corner from my apartment felt like a lifetime ago. Twelve lifetimes.

As a native Manhattanite, Los Angeles was normally as uncivilized as I was willing to get—and that was only for the few short years of film school because my undergrad advisor thought I should "broaden my experience base" before entering the industry.

But even though New York was half-a-continent closer at the moment than when I had been in California, I'd never felt farther away. I had no idea how much nothingness actually filled the country between the two coasts. I'd never been one of those snotty New Yorkers who considered everything between us and L.A. to be nothing more than a flyover state, but I was starting to think maybe they were right.

Did people actually live here?

Dallas hadn't scared me. It was a big city, after all, with shopping and culture and every amenity a die-hard city girl could want. There had been skyscrapers and traffic noise. Grit, pollution, and panderers at busy intersections. A drugstore with ample supply of my more-necessary-than-ever heartburn medicine.

Sure, the attendant at the car rental desk had a thick accent and said y'all a lot—a lot—but that was almost charming. I'd actually thought to myself, Maybe Texas won't be so bad after all.

But this? This was a different world—a different universe.

A couple hundred miles west from one of the busiest airports in the world in one of the largest metro areas in the country, and I might as well have been on the moon.

Was this even the same planet?

"How long since you had signal?" Eddie asked.

I glanced down at my phone, clutched desperately in my fist.

"Half an hour," I replied. "At least."

Since leaving Fort Worth city limits I'd seen more cows than cars and more abandoned tractors than cell towers. Four hours in the car and I hadn't seen a fast food place in the last two. I was starting to forget what drive-thru coffee looked like.

This was literally the middle of nowhere.

Eddie swerved suddenly, sending me shoulder-first into the passenger door of our rental SUV.

"What the hell?" I demanded, pulling myself back upright.

"There was an armadillo in the road."

I stared at him incredulously as I rubbed my bruised arm. "Anarmadillo?"

He made a face.

First a tumbleweed, and now an armadillo? Those had to be against traffic laws or something.

"How much longer?" I whined.

"According to the GPS," he said, "about twenty minutes."

I dropped my head back against the seat. "Thank God."

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