Chapter Three

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In my dream, the cheerful colors in Owen's portrait darkened, until he was as cold and forbidding as shadows on ice. His large hands gripped the sides of the frame, and he pulled himself out of the painting, taking hold of my shoulders. I arched my neck, hoping to feel his breath on my throat.

A shrill electronic beep rang out. Owen turned away. His body shrank and slimmed down, his hair turned from blond to brown, his face became intimately familiar. Rhys—

I woke up with a stifled scream, fighting to escape from the blanket twined around my arms and legs. I was trapped—the air was suffocating me, and Rhys was—

No, I told myself, as, slowly, I recognized the gray fabric on my car's back seat. And the little pile of Shakespeare plays on the floor mat, next to a pair of shiny green flats. My car. My safe space. I was safe.

I'd been sleeping in my back seat most nights for the past three weeks, since I came to Fall Island. I'd gotten the waitressing job at the Widow's Walk, thank the Lord, and had started working as many shifts as I could right away. Since the Widow's Walk was a locals' bar, business was steady enough for a tourist town in its off-season. Every dollar I earned felt like treasure. I still wasn't even close to a month's rent, never mind a first, last, and security deposit. I had to stay at a local motel once or twice a week to shower; otherwise, I washed up in the freezing-cold ocean or the bathroom at work and used extra perfume. But I was happy enough to trade more frequent showers and proper heat for a space that was solely my own.

I dug a compact mirror out of the side door where I'd been storing my makeup and inspected the damage. My eyes looked huge and dark. My long, black hair lay in mats and tangles. But it was all right. I'd fixed myself up from worse.

I washed up with disposable, no-water face cloths and dry shampoo and did my makeup. After I'd combed out my hair carefully, I pulled it back into a ponytail. Then I reached for my wrinkled black work shirt only to remember I had the day off. Too bad. I would rather be at work. Putting my tips in my wallet at the end of every shift, knowing I'd get to keep them instead of handing them over to Rhys, gave me a precious, delighted thrill. And I liked my coworkers, too, and my boss, the Viking's friend, Andy.  

Deciding to keep with my one indulgence on my days off—a visit with Claire, and a coffee—I grabbed my purse. My phone was flashing. The beep in my dream had come from real life.

I stared at the screen, wishing the message would go away. His texts and voicemails made me sick with anxiety and guilt. He'd tried to reach me at least a dozen times every day since I'd left. Sometimes his messages were nice, and sometimes they were cruel. I never knew which to expect.

The one on my screen said: I miss you.

Before that, there were three new texts from late last night.

I love you, Mira.

When are you coming back?

Who the fuck do you think you are, leaving me like this?

I'd planned my escape for months. I'd severed all my ties. I'd known, with a deep, unshakeable conviction, that if I tried to do anything less drastic, he would have talked or threatened me into staying. I could not act on the guilt I felt. I had my life back, to restart from zero, and I would not squander it.

On my walk to Claire's, the damp, cool April air seeped through my leather jacket and curled the ends of my hair. Snow glittered on the pine trees lining the narrow road, and the town was as much of a sleepy gingerbread village as ever. Only the tiny grocery store was open. I smiled and waved at the grocer, Bob, who was standing outside having a cigarette, but he didn't smile back. I ducked my head as I crossed through town. Reaching Claire's frosted parking lot filled me with relief.

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