Chapter 1

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"Pixie my foot." Taylen scrubbed one hand through her auburn hair before shoving the rearview mirror back into place. She kept a baleful eye on the traffic up ahead.

The haircut was even at least, but it was stupid short. Now she'd be mistaken for a boy even more than she already was. A slight frame was nice for getting into tight places, but not for identifying your gender. Maybe if she had big tits to balance it out it might not be so bad. She shuddered. No thank you to that attention or the backache.

A huge vineyard truck rattled past her going the other direction, its metal containers empty until harvest time next year. This stretch of highway was narrow, just one lane going in each direction with no shoulder for a girl in a little Volkswagen Bug to escape from the monstrous vehicles. Part of the joy of living in California wine country.

The breeze coming through the vent at her feet sent goose bumps racing up her legs. It was autumn now and the days were shorter and colder; the trees losing their leaves in bunches, standing half naked along the road side, their discarded coverings laying strewn about their feet like the carelessly shed clothing of eager lovers.

Her shoulders began to drop as her thoughts drifted to college—it was everything she'd imagined it'd be plus a few dozen papers. She snorted, a half smile on her lips. It was awesome but it was work and Thanksgiving break was just the long weekend she needed. It'd been over a month since she'd been home and her stomach longed for her mother's cooking. A steady stream of good food would fuel her through the painting and paper she had to complete. The photos for the painting were already developed and her canvas was prepped and safely stored in the bonnet of her car. She just had to place the photos and map the painting that would intertwine over and around them. Easy work compared to the paper for Art History but a few homemade brownies would get her through that.

Etta James sang the blues through the radio as the sun set behind the hills to her left, coloring the few clouds in the sky with luminescent oranges and reds. She fingered the tiny gold hoop earring at the top of her right ear. The road curved gently before opening out to rolling hills covered with vineyards whose leaves were transforming into a stunning array of deep golds and burnt reds. No longer near the roads, trees hovered in sparse clusters in the distance, perched atop hills or slipping down their sides. Taylen always loved sunsets and sunrises. They seemed magical times; a time in flux in which one thing merged into the next.

The sun slipped behind the hills and she glanced down as she switched on her headlights. Her eyes flicked back up as the lights clicked on first in the dash, then on the tree ahead of her. Tree!

Taylen swerved right. More trees blocked her path. She flung the steering wheel to the left to avoid another, veering between tree after tree as she careened through a brightly lit forest. Bushes broke and cracked under and against her car creating a cacophony of breaking wood and screeching metal. The car bounced and jarred her to either side, hitting her against the seatbelt with bruising force.

Another tree appeared in her path, this one fallen over. She cursed and stomped on the brakes. The car spun to the left. There was a jarring thump and a loud explosion as a back tire blew. Her windshield cracked as a branch slammed into it. She screamed as another branch shattered her passenger window when the car lurched sideways. A clearing in the trees approached and then it was behind her. A sickening weightless feeling swept through her. She had a moment to take the forest stretching out in all directions from around a large pear-shaped lake, its surface a dark reflective grey sheet. Gravity reclaimed her and her car, and she plunged down towards the lake. Her scream ripped through the air.

The force of her car hitting the water hurled Taylen forward—her forehead struck something hard.

Awareness came back with icy cold fingers as frigid water rushed over her legs and thighs. Dazed, she shook her head and winced in pain. The water lapped at her waist. More water sped through the passenger window, tumbling over itself in its eagerness to be in her car. Fear surged inside her and she jerked at her seatbelt, yanking it out from around her as the water covered her chest and touched her throat with freezing fingers. Taking a breath, she put her head under the water to try opening her door. It wouldn't budge. Panic clutched at her as she took a last gasping, sobbing breath from the roof of the car before it became submerged.

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