Chapter One

392K 8.6K 1.7K

I left New Haven late last night with ninety-one dollars and a thrift store suitcase. The cash and everything in my suitcase came from months of hoarding: one dollar, one lipstick, one pair of tights at a time. Nothing that Rhys would notice, though he noticed almost everything. After all this time, I'd finally left him, in secret, at night, while he was out of town. Mission accomplished.

What now? I had no idea.

I drove all night with no destination and ended up on an island off the Maine coast. I wanted to keep going, as if I could swim across the Atlantic Ocean to my dad's flat in London. Instead, I found a coffee shop tucked back into the silvery pine forest and pulled into its gravel lot. Then I sat in my car, clutching the steering wheel, and wished I knew what the hell I was doing.

Inside, at a cluster of tables beside a pastry case, three women gossiped over steaming coffees, and an old man fed pieces of bagel to a scraggly dog. One of the women looked up, her mouth pursing with disdain as she took in the tangled hair falling across the collar of my leather jacket and the mascara smudged under my eyes. I hesitated by the fudge case, my stomach aching, and wondered if I should leave. But even if I wanted to sacrifice part of my ninety-one dollars to another tank of gas, I had nowhere to go. 

A blonde woman in a flowery red apron straightened up from behind the counter, her smile full of delight. "Good morning! What can I get you?"

Taking a deep, resolute breath, I edged forward. "Can I have a coffee, please?" My gaze strayed to the fat cinnamon buns in the pastry case, but they were two dollars too much for me at the moment.  

"It's early in the season for us to have visitors," the woman remarked, filling a cup at a shining coffee urn. "Are you here for the half-marathon?"

"Oh, no, I'm not a runner. Not for exercise, anyway." I didn't mean to say it, and it came out awkward and strained. She glanced curiously at me. She had an open, expressive face, with clear blue eyes behind red cat's-eye glasses. Something about her made me want to ask her for help, but I had no idea where to begin. I never truly believed I'd leave him, so my escape plan never had a Step Two.

"It's so nice to see a new face this time of year," she said lightly. "We get tourists in the summer, but not a lot of people otherwise. Too cold for most folks, I suppose. I'm Claire Larsen, by the way."

"I'm Miranda. Miranda Lewis." It was a struggle to say even my name aloud, and afterwards I felt ashamed, as if I'd imposed on her.

"Such a pleasure to meet you, Miranda." The way Claire said it, her voice full of warmth, I could almost believe her.

The front door jingled. A gust of wind blew cold air and snow across the café floor. This time, all of the other customers fell silent as they looked at the door. The air was tight with tension. I felt a sudden wrench of fear myself, even though Rhys didn't know I had left. He was at a competition in D.C. and wouldn't be home for another two days.

Still, I glanced at the door, my throat dry.

A man stood in the shadowed doorway, but he was much too big to be Rhys. His head nearly touched the doorframe. His shoulders were as broad as barn doors. A wolf pelt and ax would have suited him better than his flannel button down and jeans. 

He walked towards the counter, his heavy work boots thudding on the hardwood floor. Up close, his expression looked even more grim and pensive than it had from a distance, but he had full lips for a man, and his hair was mussed as if he'd just woken up.

"Morning, sweetie!" Claire said.

I glanced from the man to Claire and something clicked: the blond hair, the full mouth. The Viking was not from Valhalla after all. He was the coffee shop owner's son.

Set Me Free [complete]Read this story for FREE!