“We the people, find the defendant: not guilty.”
The courtroom erupted with sound. Some in celebration, some in denial, but I sat there quietly.
This was my first case as lead attorney, and I’d knocked it out of the park. The jury had only deliberated for an hour before they’d returned with their decision. The only decision I’d left them with after the words I wove and the evidence I’d pranced before their eyes. Since the first day of this trial, I knew they’d be putty in my hands.
My lips pulled into a small, tight grin as the judge called for order. She dismissed the case with a bang of her gavel and my lips stretched into a full smile.
I did it.
I packed my things in my brown leather briefcase and stood to face my colleagues.
“Nice work, Montgomery,” John Walsh said as he extended a hand for me to shake. The brittle smile on his face belied his sincerity.
“It was a team effort, John,” I lied.
He’d been expecting me to fail like most of the other men I worked with as junior associates at our law firm. I’d had to work harder, stay later, and take on the most amount of cases to get exactly where that half-wit was standing.
But it had all paid off.
The other lawyers on this case offered their own brand of insincere platitudes and half-hearted hand shakes, and I took them all with a smile. Just like the good southern girl I was.
When I got to the end of the line of lawyers, my defendant was standing there seemingly lost in thought. I cleared my throat, and his dark brown eyes snapped to mine.
“You did it,” he said softly.
My smile returned. I wanted to pump my fist and make a celebratory lap around the courtroom but instead, simply nodded my head.
“I did,” I responded, sick of sharing the win with the other attorneys. I’d done the research. I’d done the interviews and fact checking. I’d been putting in the overtime for the past few months, and damn it, I would take the credit.
“I don’t know how I can ever thank you. You saved my life.”
His words hit me hard, but I recovered quickly. That I’d had such a huge positive effect on this man’s life humbled me.
“I did my job and made sure you weren't charged with something you didn’t do. It’s so tragic that your wife took her own life, but it would have been even worse if you’d gone to prison over it. I’m just glad it all turned out the way we’d hoped.” The way I’d planned all along.
Without warning, Henry launched his short, pudgy frame at me and wrapped his stubby arms around my waist. I’d never been comfortable with displays of affection, and this was no different. My face burned with what I’m sure was a fierce blush as I awkwardly patted his back.
“There, there,” I muttered, hoping I’d placated him enough to get off me.
Henry pulled back with a sniffle, and I pretended to not see the wetness in his eyes.
“It was nice working with you, Henry. Hopefully, our paths won’t cross again professionally.” My attempt at dry humor did its job, and Henry’s face cracked into a small smile.
“Yeah, no offense lady, but I hope so too.”
I gave him another smile and a nod before making my way out of the courtroom, and into the warm North Carolina day.
It was only May, but the air was humid, and the sun was hot. I slipped my suit jacket off my shoulders and folded it over my arm as I made my way to my car.
I zipped across town, making good time in the light midday traffic. When I got to my office building, I rushed inside and over to my office. If I could get out of here in the next thirty minutes, I could make it to my apartment and be on the road before rush hour.
“Heard about your win, Montgomery. Nice work.”
I froze at the voice behind me, but didn’t turn.
“So, are you free Saturday night? There’s this new French Bistro that just opened downtown, and I thought you could accompany me.”
My eyes squeezed closed, and I took a steadying breath before facing him. “Sorry Ben, but I have plans.”
His eyes narrowed, and his lips tightened. “Is that right?”
“Afraid so. I’ve rented a cabin out in Asheville. I’ll be away all weekend.”
“Who are you going with?” He asked with a touch of belligerence.
I straightened my spine and sent him a withering look. “Nobody. This is a solo getaway. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get on the road.”
Ben was one of those guys that thought since I was single, I was fair game. I was not. I didn’t have time to date, and if I did, it wouldn’t be with someone who gave me the creeps like Ben did.
I swiped the rest of what I thought I’d need into my briefcase and stood. Ben still hadn’t moved from his spot, so I had to walk around him to leave my office.
My brisk pace took me through the office, and as I reached out a finger to call an elevator, I heard my name being bellowed from the corner office on my right. I slowly retracted my pointer finger and curled it into a fist. With a deep breath, I spun around and made my way to where my name had been called.
Mr. Hildebrandt was a hefty old man with only small tufts of white hair left on his shiny head and liver spots on his hands. He looked up when I walked in and a rare smile graced his withered face.
“Good work on the Walker case, Montgomery. That’s what we like to see around here.”
I nodded my head. “Thanks, Mr. Hildebrandt.”
“I know you’re heading out for the long weekend, but I expect you in my office Tuesday morning for an important meeting. Eight AM sharp, got it?”
My palms began to sweat and my stomach erupted in butterflies. This was it, I would finally make senior associate.
I nodded my head again. “I’ll be here.”
“Good, good. Now get out of here. Have a good weekend, Ms. Montgomery.”
He’d put the “Ms.” in front of my name. That was a good sign.
“Thanks Mr. Hildebrandt, you too.”
I closed his office door before practically sprinting to the elevators. I needed to get out of here before someone else called my name or needed something from me.
When I finally stepped back into the bright Carolina sunlight, I let my lips stretch into what felt like the first genuine smile all day. With the windows down, and my music blaring, I drove the fifteen minutes to my apartment on the other side of Raleigh.
The dash clock showed I had about half an hour to get changed, take care of Charlie, and get out of the city before hitting rush hour. I was up the stairs and in the cool darkness of my apartment in record time.
My briefcase was abandoned at the door as I called out, “Where’s my handsome man?”
The black and brown striped tabby cat poked his head out of a bright purple flower-shaped cat tree in the corner. He let loose a joyful meow before stepping onto a giant furry petal and leaping to the floor. Charlie came barreling toward me, smashing into my shins when he couldn’t stop himself in time on the smooth hardwood floor.
I picked him up and scratched his head as I walked toward my bedroom in the back of the apartment. “Boy, I swear, you are the clumsiest cat I’ve ever met.” He responded by rubbing his furry face against my jaw.
“Now while I’m away, I’m countin’ on you to watch this place, all right?”
I walked through the multi-colored strings of beads that hung in the hallway, and into my bedroom. He leapt out of my arms and onto the rainbow zebra-striped bedspread, making himself comfortable in the center of my pillow.
“I’ll only be gone three nights, but I have this nice lady comin’ by every day to check on you. So you’ll have to get along with her, Charlie.”
Turning to my white and turquoise painted dresser, I took off my everyday formal clothes and traded them for a white polo shirt and khaki colored capris. I tugged on a pair of sneakers and faced Charlie.
“I know how you feel about strangers, boy, but this lady’s your meal ticket for the next few days. It would be in your best interest to make friends.” With a glance towards the feline, I saw that I was being ignored, and let out a sigh.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”
My bag was packed, so I shooed Charlie off the bed and out of my room, closing the door behind me. In the kitchen, I made sure he had enough food and water for the day and took a quick look around the apartment. Everything looked neat and tidy and colorful and interesting. Just the way I like it.
“All right Bubba, I’m leavin’.”
Charlie rubbed the length of his body against my leg, and I relented by giving him one more head scratch. With my apartment locked up tight, I got back in the car and pulled up my GPS app. As I typed in the address of the cabin I’d rented, I was interrupted by an incoming phone call. I recognized the area code as being from North Carolina but not local.
“Hi, Elizabeth Montgomery? It’s Mabel, with the house rental.”
“Ah, yes, of course. I was just heading your way now.”
“Oh, perfect! I’m fixin’ to head over there and drop off the key. It’ll be in the box on the doorknob. We could leave the key there all the time, but sometimes we go weeks without a renter, and I just don’t like the thought of leavin’ the key just sittin’ there. I know you need the code to open the box, but they got all kinds of gadgets these days to steal just about anything, don’t they? I don’t trust it. Besides, I can take a look around while I’m there and make sure nothin’s gone wrong. Most of the folks we get are good people, but there’s always a rotten one in the bunch every now and again. Ya know, one time we had a man leave a bunch of needles in the kitchen trash?” She sounded scandalized.
“Maybe he was a diabetic?” I offered.
“Ya know what, honey? That could be true. The man did look...well fed. Ya know, I had a girlfriend who had a diabetes spell, and it took her foot! Poor thing’s hobblin’ around now–”
“Ma’am? What did you say the code was? I want to write it down.” I knew she hadn’t offered it yet, but I needed to get her to stop talking without being rude. There was no surer way to make an enemy in the south than by forgetting your manners.
“Oh, sure, baby. You ready now?”
I rolled my eyes, but smiled. “Sure, ma’am, I’m ready.”
“It’s 0-8-1-3-8-7. Ya got that, now?”
“Yes, ma’am. I got it.”
“Okay, sweetie. You need anything, you call me, ya got it?”
“Yes, ma’am, I got it,” I repeated. In situations like this, it paid to keep it simple. Taciturn.
“Okay, honey, take care. I’ll talk to ya later.”
“All right, thanks, you too,” I responded and quickly ended the call.
Dang that woman could talk.
I typed in the address and headed toward the highway while the directions finished loading. I had a three hours and forty-three minute drive ahead of me. At a red light, I plugged the aux cord into my phone and selected the new Nicholas Sparks I was reading.
The narration sounded through the speakers, and I dug out my sunglasses with a smile. This long fought for weekend away was just what I needed. The pressure to work harder, be smarter, stay longer than all my male counterparts wore on me. I didn’t let it show, but I felt what the stress was doing to me.
I’d lost a few unnecessary pounds for that reason. Between working through lunch and being so tired after work I sometimes fall asleep before dinner, it was no wonder my clothes were loose. I’d always relished being a curvy girl and unlike most women, wasn’t happy losing those few pounds. Even my honey blonde hair was looking duller.
This weekend I’d promised myself no work, and I think that’s exactly what I needed right now. A few days to read, nap, hike, and take pictures. All the things I used to love doing before my work consumed my life.
Wish I’d known then how much I should have appreciated my blissfully simple life. Wish I could have somehow prepared myself for how this weekend would change everything.
The unpaved road seemed to go on forever before I pulled up to the small wooden cabin I’d be spending the weekend in. I lowered the volume on the audiobook as I rolled to a stop, the incessant crunching of the gravel finally silent. With the windows down, I could hear birds chirping and leaves rustling and not much else. No highway noises or loud planes overhead. It was heaven.
The cabin’s covered front porch had two old rocking chairs, and a set of wind chimes that tinkled with the light breeze. Beyond the porch was a teal colored front door flanked by two large bay windows. The trees surrounding the small home were full of bright green leaves; the ground coated with a thick blanket of old pine needles. The breeze brought the rich pine scent of the forest with it, and I inhaled with a satisfied smile.
I grabbed my things and made my way to the front door, finding the lockbox on the door handle as Mabel had promised. With a wry smile, I spun the dials and removed the key from its depths.
Once inside, I found the downstairs was one large room with a kitchen area off to the side opposite the living room. A beat up, but comfortable looking sofa sat in front of a fireplace of interlocking river rocks. A polished, wooden staircase led to the loft above.
The bedroom upstairs wasn’t large, but plenty big enough for me. A queen sized bed with crisp white sheets and a mountain of pillows dominated the center of the space. Behind it was a wall of windows, the view breathtaking. The Blue Ridge Mountains rose in the distance, the navy, cobalt, and cerulean peaks stretching toward the clear sky above.
I was dying for a good hike, so I changed into a pair of sneakers, looped the strap of my digital camera around my neck, and tucked my phone in my back pocket.
It almost immediately chirped, and I begrudgingly pulled it out. The office was calling.
“Hell no,” I muttered.
When the call went to voicemail, I turned it off and stuffed it back in my pocket.
“Outta’ sight, outta’ mind,” I proclaimed to the dense forest ahead of me.
After just a few minutes of walking, I took a look over my shoulder. The cabin was completely obscured by the thick trees. Thankfully there was only one trail and it would be easy enough to follow back when I was done.
A bright yellow bird flew over my head, and landed on a branch nearby. I quietly picked up my camera, and snapped a picture. The lighting was too dim this deep in the woods, and the bird’s bright colors weren’t showing up like I wanted them to. I turned the flash on, and tried to take another shot, but the bird was gone. In its place was a large black raven. Some think they're bad omens but I don't believe in superstitions, so I took its picture too
I lost track of time as I walked along the trail, admiring the flora and taking pictures of anything I found interesting. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a small blooming meadow at the end of the trail that I realized how late it had gotten. The sun was falling behind the tall trees, and I knew it was time for me to get back before I got stuck out here in the dark.
I turned around to head back the way I’d come, when the unmistakable snapping of a branch sounded from nearby. Whipping back around, I scanned the meadow and tree line around it, but saw no movement. With a shrug, I took off back down the trail.
A few short minutes later, the sun had fallen faster than I’d anticipated and with the heavy canopy above, it had become darker than I was comfortable with. Thankfully, I could still make out the trail, and decided to pick up my pace. Soon I was lightly jogging, narrowly avoiding tree roots and pointy rocks that threatened to trip me.
A soft thud came from behind, and I once again spun around to scan the dark woods. Something shiny caught my attention, and I bent down to pick up the phone that must have fallen out of my pocket.
“Whew! That woulda’ been bad if I’d lost you out here.”
I dusted off the phone and stuck it in my front pocket this time so I’d be able to feel if it fell out again. Another branch snapped behind me. Knowing it would be useless to try to find the source of the noise with the encroaching darkness, I ignored it and took off again toward the cabin.
I’d gone only a few feet before I heard a low rumbling growl from behind me. My feet froze in place, my heart thudding in my chest. Maybe if I stayed really still and quiet, whatever it was would just walk away? I clenched my fists and did my best to slow my harsh breathing.
After a few moments, I could tell the sound was getting closer, and I inched my way down the trail again. Before long there was more crunching behind me along with the heavy thump of footsteps. I spun around to face it, but nothing was there. After a few minutes of scanning the area and finding nothing, I gave up.
“Well, this was stupid, Elizabeth,” I chastised myself. “It’s probably a harmless deer, and I’m standing here like an idiot,” I huffed before turning toward the cabin again.
The snapping twigs seemed to follow me through the woods as I walked as quickly as I dared in the darkness. I didn’t think it was common for deer to follow humans, but I wasn’t an expert by any means. Pushing those thoughts from my head, I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.
When the deep, menacing growl came again, I stopped in my tracks. Adrenaline pumped furiously through my veins, my chest rising and falling with my rapid breaths. Wracking my brain, I tried to identify what was following me. Were there mountain lions in this part of the country? Bears perhaps?
Maybe it was a human? Humans could growl too, right?
“Hello?” I called.
I listened closely, but heard nothing more, so I turned toward where I remembered the trail being and took off running. Darkness completely obscured the path by now, but I was beyond caring.
Branches scraped along my exposed skin and tugged at my clothing while tree roots made the path treacherous. Finally, one of the roots caught the toe of my sneaker, and I fell forward onto the forest floor, my forehead smashing into something hard.
“Holy friggen’ ouch,” I panted as I tried to regain my bearings.
A soft tickling sensation made me swipe at something at my forehead. When I brought my hand closer there was crimson staining my fingers.
“Okay, no big deal, Elizabeth. Nothing some bacitracin and a bandage can’t fix.”
I rolled over on the damp ground and tried to catch my breath. The wound on my head continued to bleed freely, dripping into my eyes and running down the side of my face, blurring my vision. With a grunt, I pulled myself into a sitting position and surveyed my surroundings.
Trees. All I could see were trees.
“This is no good,” I whispered.
Terror spiked in my veins once more when another deep growl came from close by. I scanned the darkness, but that only made things worse as every shadow became sinister.
Finally, a large, dark mass pulled away from the others, its shape solidifying. My breath caught as it stalked close enough I could make out its features.
Only, I almost wish I hadn’t.
It was a wolf.
A humongous wolf.
And there I was, bleeding, on the forest floor as a giant carnivore headed my way.
I was so screwed.
With shaky movements, I climbed to my feet. A surge of inspiration hit me, and I raised my arms high in the air, yelling as loud as I could.
“HEY! GET OUT OF HERE!” I bellowed. I’d read somewhere that if you made yourself appear bigger and meaner, that you could sometimes scare off a predator.
That tactic was not working.
The wolf made a coughing noise that almost sounded like a raspy chortle as it continued to stalk toward me. Its creepy eyes locked onto the blood still streaking down my face. The beast licked its chops, razor sharp teeth dripping with saliva, and I swear, its eyes gleamed with hunger.
Unfortunately, I was the only thing on the menu.
I frantically scanned through all my options and found them bleak. How was I going to get myself out of this? I had no weapons, I could barely see where I was going, and I’d gotten turned around at some point. Things were not looking good for me.
The wolf stopped advancing only a few feet away and just stood there. My chest heaved as I struggled to calm my breathing. This reminded me I still had my camera around my neck and a plan formed in my head. Maybe not a good plan, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
With slow movements, I grasped the device, letting my pointer finger hover over the shutter button. The wolf bared its teeth, almost as if it was grinning at me, and crouched down, preparing to launch in my direction.
I pressed the button on the camera. The click of the shutter sounded like a gunshot in the quiet woods, and the bright light of the flash momentarily lit up the night. Although the light affected me as well, it seemed to have stunned the wolf for a moment, and I took that opportunity to wheel around and sprint away.
I ducked and weaved through the trees, hoping to at least make it harder for the wolf to catch me. Maybe it would see me as too much trouble and give up. Or maybe, I just provided it with a fun game of tag.
My breaths were wheezing out of me by now, and my muscles were burning. If I got out of this alive, I promised myself I’d get back into the gym.
With no sounds of pursuit, I figured the wolf had given up, and my only obstacle now would be finding my way back to the cabin in these unfamiliar woods. I slowed my pace to get a look at what was around me but couldn’t see much as blood was still dripping into my eyes, making them sting and blinding me.
The woods were silent except for the pounding of my frantic heart. I did my best to put one foot in front of the other. My eyes on the ground watching for anything that might slow me down.
No sound preceded the attack.
Blazing hot pain engulfed my calf, wrenching an unsolicited scream from deep within my chest. I fell once again to the dirt with the wolf’s teeth still clamped around my leg.
A snarl escaped as it shook its head violently from side to side. Unbelievably, the pain doubled, radiating up my leg and causing me to cry out again.
“Stop! Stop! Get off me!”
A mixture of tears and blood burned my eyes, and I squeezed them tightly shut. Using what little strength I had left, I tried to jerk my leg out of the beast’s impossibly strong jaw, but made no progress. When that didn’t work, I resorted to beating at the creature’s head with my fists, and scratching at its eyes with my short nails.
The wolf didn’t like that and chomped down harder. I knew it had to be close to the bone at this point. Could it bite my leg off? I wouldn’t put it past the giant beast.
Suddenly, the wolf released my leg and trotted away, its shape melting into the shadows. I didn’t wait to find out where it had gone or if it was gone for good. With a whimper, I rolled onto my stomach, and dragged myself forward, my sorry, mangled leg following limply behind me. The pain seemed to get more severe as time went on. It wouldn’t be long before it crippled me completely.
Without warning, two large, strong hands gripped my hips from behind, and dragged me backward. I screamed and flailed against them, but it made no difference.
“There’s no use fighting, princess,” a deep man’s voice whispered from behind me, echoing my fears.
Where the hell had this guy come from? Was the wolf his pet or something? They’d pulled the old “bait and switch” on me, and my head was spinning.
I kicked and thrashed, twisting and turning as I struggled to get away. What did he want with me? Why was he in the middle of the woods at night? How had he found me out here?
“Let me go!” I grunted, my energy waning as the adrenaline petered out of my system.
His hands left my hips, and one of his thick, muscled arms wrapped around my neck. He flexed, and I made an involuntary choking sound. A satisfied chuckle danced across the back of my neck, sending a shiver down my spine. This man was evil. I could feel it. Practically taste it in the surrounding air.
It was painfully obvious I wouldn’t make it out of these woods alive. The best I could hope for was a quick death. Would anyone ever find my body? Would anyone figure out what happened? Or would my murder remain a mystery?
And who would lead the search? My loving parents? That was a joke. That would mean my father would have to pry himself from the golf course, and my mother would have to curb her gallon-a-day wine habit.
My body was running dangerously low on oxygen, and black spots, even darker than the night dotted the edges of my vision. My head felt lighter, and my ears rang with a steady white noise. I would lose consciousness soon and knew I wouldn’t ever regain it.
A final tear leaked from my eye as a large emptiness settled in my chest. The fear and desolation I felt when I thought about dying out here was like a physical weight pressing on my lungs. Or maybe that was the poor organ screaming for the oxygen it'd been denied for too long now.
The last thought I had before the blackness claimed me, was I was leaving this world the same way I’d spent the past decade of my life–alone.
A dull pain in my ribs broke through the blackness I’d succumbed to. Whatever was nudging my side was becoming more insistent. With a groan, I tried to bat it away with my hand, but when I felt the coarse fur and wet nose, the events of the night came rushing back.
With a gasp, I jerked back and tried to wriggle away from the beast that had attacked me. The movement sent fiery agony shooting through my leg, but I refrained from crying out. I realized the pain in my side was the wolf’s nose when it nudged me again, harder this time. The shove rolled me onto my back, and I got a look at my attacker.
Through the blood still streaming from my head and into my eyes, I saw the wolf had brilliant blue eyes instead of dark black.
Was this the same wolf?
It couldn’t be. How could he have changed his eye color?
Maybe there was a whole pack of them.
The thought of trying to fight off a whole swarm of murderous wolves knotted my stomach and sent my heart racing.
I couldn’t do this anymore.
I had no more fight left in me.
My body went limp on the damp forest floor.
“I give up,” I told the wolf. My throat ached, and my voice was barely above a whisper. “I’m so tired and cold. I just want this to be over.”
Silently, I said goodbye to all the dreams and goals I’d had. I said goodbye to Charlie–hopefully he’d get adopted by a good family. Angry tears gathered in my eyes as I thought about all the things I’d miss out on. Things I’d always told myself I’d have time for.
This wasn’t fair!
The anger built like a pressure cooker until it boiled over. I glared at the gray wolf again and found him sitting there, watching me with his head cocked to the side.
“What are you waiting for?! If you’re going to eat me, just get it over with!” I rasped. My throat felt like I’d swallowed a box of razor blades, and I’d had enough.
The blue-eyed wolf continued to stare for another few moments before he stood and trotted into the darkness.
“What? Are you going to retrieve your big human friend again?! Can’t finish me off yourself?”
I wasn’t sure why I was taunting the murderous carnivore, but I was beyond caring. If I was going to die, I’d do it kicking and screaming. With a cautious look at my mangled leg, I amended that to just screaming.
A loud crack sounded from where the wolf had disappeared to. Next there was a short series of softer snaps before the woods were quiet again. Strangely quiet.
Moments later, a large, naked man emerged from between the trees, his face shrouded in darkness. He walked slowly and purposefully toward me. With a squeak, I struggled to crawl away from him, my brutalized leg screaming in agony. I don’t know why he hadn’t killed me the first time, but I wasn’t sticking around to give him a second chance.
Like you have a choice, Elizabeth. You can’t even stand.
Helplessness threatened to overtake me once again, but I fought it.
“What do you want?!” I screamed at the man, injuring my throat worse.
He was closer now, and I struggled to keep my eyes above his waist. I would not check out my attacker’s junk. Not that there wasn’t a ton to look at from there up, because there was. Even in the dark, I could see his tanned, chiseled chest and thick arms. Was this Stockholm Syndrome? This wasn’t the time or place to be fantasizing about my attacker.
When his deep voice broke the silence, I forced my eyes from his physique to his face.
“I won't hurt you,” he said softly.
As he came closer, I could make out his facial features. He had a strong, clean shaven jaw and thick, dark eyebrows above what looked like light colored eyes.
Damn, my murderer is beautiful.
“You already did,” I reminded him.
His head shook slowly. “I didn’t, I promise. I just want to help.”
The adrenaline was rapidly leaving my system. My throat felt raw, I had a pounding headache, and my leg was on fire. And I was soaking wet? Had it rained? I smelled horrible.
The man was closer now, and I watched as he cautiously knelt next to me. With my last reserve of energy, I shuffled and squirmed as far away as I could. The movement sent sharp shooting pains up my leg, and I gasped in surprise. How was the pain still getting worse?!
“Shh shh shh,” he soothed. “Take it easy, I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“I didn’t hurt myself, you did,” I hissed, my voice barely above a whisper.
“I promise, I won't hurt you.”
His words sounded good, but how could I trust him? A naked man shows up in the middle of the woods right after I'd been attacked, and I was just supposed to take his word for it? Not likely. But what choice did I have?
"Where are your clothes?" I whispered harshly.
He smiled, but declined to answer.
"May I pick you up?"
The decision was coming dangerously close to not being mine to make anymore as my vision narrowed. The man leaned over me, a lock of his dark hair falling onto his forehead. Now that he was closer, I could clearly see the brilliant color of his eyes. His denim blue gaze met mine, and I felt their pull instantly. I watched as his expression changed from concern to surprise. He reached out a hand and gently swept some sticky hair off my face.
His eyes were tender when he asked, “What’s your name?”
I searched his face frantically for the assurance I was looking for. Soon I’d be unconscious again, and at the mercy of this stranger. Could I trust him not to harm me? I didn’t have much of a choice right now. Besides, there was a kindness in his eyes I couldn’t ignore. After working as a criminal lawyer for so many years, I'm good at knowing the good ones from the bad ones.
“Elizabeth,” I croaked. “Please, help me.”
With that, I closed my eyes and let my body go limp. It was too much work to stay awake when all I wanted to do was sleep. For a decade.