I didn’t think answering someone else’s cellphone would change my life. But the stranger with the low, deep voice on the other end of the line tempted me, awakened my body, set me on fire. He was looking for someone else. Instead he found me.
And I found a hot, secret world where I felt alive for the first time.
His name was Dylan, and, strangely, he made me feel safe. Desired. Compelled. Every dark thing he asked me to do, I did. Without question. I longed to meet him, but we were both keeping secrets. And mine were dangerous. If I took the first step, if I got closer to Dylan—emotionally, physically—then I wouldn’t be hiding anymore. I would be exposed, with nothing left to surrender but the truth. And my truth could hurt us both.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to explore a relationship between two people who were lying to each other but telling the truth about the important things. I also wanted them not to meet until late in the book – so everything would have to be over phones and texts. I thought that was a really fun and exciting challenge.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Annie – my heroine just arrived pretty fully formed. She was vulnerable and scared but really trying to be brave. Dylan was a tougher nut to crack. He stayed pretty mysterious until the second book. Which actually worked out pretty well for me while I was writing!
Escape smelled like a thick layer of Febreze over stale cigarette smoke.
I dropped my duffle bag on the patch of linoleum in front of the trailer’s stove and closed the thin metal door behind me. It didn’t latch the first time and I had to slam it.
The whole trailer shook.
I’ll need better locks.
Not that locks had kept me safe before. Locks and sitting very still and being very small had not kept me safe at all.
Everyone minds their own here. They all keep to themselves. That’s what Kevin, the park manager, had said when I put down my cash for the trailer. It’s safe and it’s quiet and we don’t truck with no nonsense.
Safe, quiet, and no nonsense made this little scrap of swamp a perfect place to end my week of helter-skelter traveling. Doubling back, buying a ticket west only to go east. Buses. Trains.
Out in front of my trailer, there was a used car—a POS Toyota with bad brakes and a broken radio. I bought it in Virginia, from a high school football player with dreams the crappy car could not hold, and drove north before heading south again.
But I had to stop somewhere. I couldn’t drive forever.
So, seven days, hundreds of miles to here. To this place that didn’t even show up on a state map of North Carolina.
“Home sweet home,” I sighed, putting my hands on my hips and surveying my new kingdom.
Kevin called it a trailer, but really it was an old RV that had rolled to a stop at the Flowered Manor Trailer Park and Camp Ground and refused to keep going. Someone had taken off the wheels and put the RV up on blocks and maybe that same someone had carefully, lovingly planted the morning glory vines to hide those cement blocks.
The flowers were a nice touch, admirable really in their delusional quality, but didn’t much hide the fact that it was an RV.
A crappy one. In a crappy trailer park so off the beaten path it was practically impossible to find.
Perfect. So, so perfect.
My deep breath shuddered through me and I allowed some of the fear I lived with to lift away, like crows startled from a winter field. Usually I gathered the fear back because fear kept me safe.
Fear was familiar.
But in this crazy little trailer, there was no need.
We don’t truck with no nonsense.
Good, I thought, smiling for the first time in a long time. Bravado making me giddy. Neither do I.
I also didn’t truck with the smell of this place.
It was two steps from the kitchen to the dining area and I leaned over the Formica table and beige banquette seating to pull back the curtains and yank open the windows. A fetid breeze blew through, slipping across my neck and down the collar of my white cotton shirt.
I closed my eyes because I was tired down to my bones and . . . it felt good. The breeze, on my skin . . . it just felt good. Different.
And these days I was in the business of different.
My entire life I’d had long hair against my neck or pulled back in a ponytail so heavy it made my head hurt. My hair was naturally red and curly and thick. So thick.
Mom used to say it was the prettiest thing about me. Which is one of those kinds of compliments that isn’t really a compliment at all, because it leaves so much room for awful to grow up around it. But it was the nicest thing she said about me, so I took it to heart, because she was my mom.
Chopping it off had been a weird relief. Not just from headaches and the heat, but this new butchered hair allowed me to feel the breeze like I never had before. The sun against the nape of my neck was a revelation.
When the wind blew, my short hair lifted and the feeling rippled down my back, like a domino fall of nerve endings.
I liked it. A lot.
The quiet was broken by the distant, muffled sound of a phone ringing.
It wasn’t mine. I’d left my cell in the bottom of a trash can in the Tulsa bus station. The other trailers were close, but not so close that I’d be able to hear a cell phone ringing in a purse. And that’s what it sounded like.
The counters of my small kitchen were empty. The driver and front-seat-passenger captain seats that had been turned to create a little sitting area were both bare.
There were no purses left forgotten by the previous tenant.
I glanced down at the fabric of the bench seats that made up the banquettes.
Am I really thinking about putting my hand in there? It looked clean enough, for all its shabbiness, but still . . . disgusting things fell between seat cushions. It was a fact.
The phone rang again and with it the instinct to answer a ringing phone kicked in, and I shoved my hand down into the crease between the top and bottom cushions and then wedged it along sideways, running into nothing, not even cracker crumbs or the odd toy car, until I hit the plastic case of a phone. I pulled it out and glanced at its face.
With a small brush of my thumb, I touched accept.
So small a thing. Really. In the crazy mix of drastic shit I’d been doing this week—answering that phone seemed like nothing.
Just goes to show, I guess.
“Jesus, Megan, where the hell have you been?” a guy said, his voice not angry so much as exasperated. Relieved, almost.
“I’m sorry.” I wedged my hand back into the cushions to see if anything else had slid in there. Money. Money would be nice. “This isn’t Megan.”
Aha! I pulled out three quarters and a nickel.
The guy sighed. The kind of sigh I was terribly used to. The put-out sigh. The angry sigh. The this is your fault sigh.
And I had this visceral reaction, screwed into the marrow of my bones over the last five years, to do everything in my power and some things incredibly outside of my power to appease the anger behind that sigh. To make it all okay.
But those days were officially over.
Sorry, Dylan. No one sighs like that at me. Not anymore. Not ever.
I pulled the phone away from my ear and lifted my thumb to turn it off, but his voice stopped me just before I disconnected the call.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I got no reason to treat you like that. Is Megan there?”
“No.” Okay, I was pulled back in by an apology. Because apologies were nice and they were rare. And this guy sounded sincerely worried. Megan might be his wife. Or girlfriend. His daughter. “She moved out a few days ago. She must have left the phone behind.”
His chuckle was deep and very masculine, and it made me think that I haven’t heard many guys laughing in my life. And that was too bad. It was a nice sound.
“She must have,” he agreed. “Have you moved into the trailer?”
My protective instincts were new and fragile but they were working, and they rose on shaky legs to stop the unthinking answer that came to my lips.
I don’t know this man. I don’t know him at all.
“Just cleaning it,” I said. “I don’t live here.”
“I hope that’s not as bad a job as it sounds.”
“No. It’s fine. Megan must have kept it real clean.” I rolled my eyes at myself.
“What’s your name?”
This is a man. Not a boy. Not a guy. But a man. His voice had a low quality, a rumble and a rasp, like maybe he hadn’t done a lot of talking today. Or maybe he didn’t talk much at all. Or he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day—which shouldn’t sound so good. But it did. He had an accent—something Southern. And despite his apologies he sounded . . . rough.
Something weird was happening to my heartbeat.
“You know mine,” he said.
I nearly closed my eyes as that dark tone sent chills across my back like a cool breeze.
“Dylan,” I said. “It said your name on the phone.”
“Right. Well, I guess you don’t have to—”
“Layla.” The name came out of nowhere. Layla was my cousin, a wild girl I’d only met once but a name I’d heard over and over again in Mom’s warnings and stories of forbearance. “You don’t want to end up like Layla, do you?”
Which was hilarious, because last I’d heard Layla was an extremely popular makeup artist in Hollywood and happy.
So, Mom’s horror stories had worked, and no, I didn’t end up at all like Layla.
But in this new life . . . maybe I’d endeavor to be more like Layla.
Layla had been bold. And confident. Embarrassingly sexy to utterly staid and uptight me. Annie McKay.
“Are you okay?” Dylan asked, pulling me away from thoughts of my cousin.
“What makes you think I’m not?”
“People don’t end up in the Flowered Manor Trailer Park and Camp Ground because everything’s going great in their lives.”
“Tell me about it,” I laughed. The relief of sitting still, letting go of some of that fear I lived with, and the . . . weirdness of this call made me giddy. I felt like a stone kicked downhill. Rolling faster and faster toward something.
This run-down trailer park had the market cornered on last-ditch efforts. Everything and everyone from Kevin to the morning glories out front seemed to be holding on with a white-knuckled intensity.
“You know the brochure did promise modern amenities, but I haven’t caught sight of the spa,” I joked. “And weedy watering holes don’t count.”
There was silence after my words. And I knew silence as well as I knew sighs. The variations, the cold undertones. The hot overtones.
The razor-edged silence that came before You got a smart mouth, girl.
The heavy echoing silence that came before a backhand.
Stupid joke. It was a stupid joke. I am made of stupid jokes.
“You just can’t trust advertising anymore, can you?” he asked.
“Especially when it’s on a bathroom wall in a truck stop.”
We both laughed, and this was officially more fun than I’d had in years.
“Are you safe?” he asked.
The question with its implied concern bit into me, sweeping away my laughter like someone taking his arm over a dinner table, sending plates crashing to the floor. Tears burned in my eyes.
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