Prologue

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Prologue

"Just ... why now?" the woman said, holding on to the car door for support. "And please slow down."

The driver made no answer, but the engine growled in a way that made it clear he had stepped on the gas.

"I've never interfered with your work," the woman said. "You know that. But this affects all of us."

"It does," the driver agreed. "In a way you couldn't possibly understand. If I choose not to leave, it will be the end. For not just the people in this car."

"You're right. I don't understand." Resignation in her voice. "Please promise me this won't affect the children."

"In this world, there are no such convenient promises." The man's flat expression didn't change. He pushed the pedal harder once again. "If you were foolish enough not to know that, I would never have married you."

"Stop being a pompous ass," said a voice from the back seat. "And slow down."

"Be silent, boy," the driver said, dark eyes reflecting off the rear view mirror. "N—"

"Look out!"

The driver's eyes shot back toward the road. A moose had climbed the embankment, staring morosely from the center of the lane. A small twist of the wheel, just enough not to lose the rear end, and they were around the left side of the moose and safe.

Or they should have been. A patch of black ice caught the left front tire. Instead of correcting back to the lane, the car slid into the cliff face with a screech, then rebounded off and toward the embankment. It sailed over in a moment of perverse silence, hovering midair like Wile E. Coyote. Then it slammed into the downward slope, bounced, rolled, and skidded on its roof. Directly ahead was a lone tree, standing just a little bit out from the rest of the forest.

Impact.

The wheeze of the engine was terminal; a final cough and it was silent but for the drip of leaking fluids. The scent of motor oil and gasoline was strong, mixing with another metallic tang in the air.

Blood.

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