Heartbreak Bay (Stillhouse Lake #5) - Rachel Caine

PROLOGUE

There was something eerily hypnotic about driving at night. The wheel felt warm and almost alive under her hands. She felt alive, for the first time in a long time. Energy jittered through her veins, anticipation like metal pressing on her tongue—so sharp she could taste it. The night was dark, but in the morning everything, everything would be new and wonderful. She could imagine the sunrise washing everything pink and yellow and perfect.

She just had to make it through to the other side. And she could. Morning was within reach, and she was ready.

Thinking of that gave her real peace, for the first time in a long while.

Peace cracked in half when she heard a rustle from the back seat, then a fretful cough, then an intake of breath. She felt a surge of raw, tired fury.

Don’t cry, don’t you dare cry . . .

The first wail was loud enough to shatter glass, and just an instant later came the out-of-tune chorus of the second child. She felt her whole chest collapse under the weight of sheer, brutal frustration. Her eyes blurred with tears, and she wiped them away as she thought, It’s okay, it’s okay, it will all be okay, you know what to do. She reached out with a trembling hand and switched on the radio, turned it up, and forced herself to keep breathing, breathing as the children shrieked. Hush, sweeties, she mouthed, but didn’t say because she couldn’t be heard anyway, and they wouldn’t understand.

Morning was on the way. She tried to imagine the dawn glowing on that black horizon, guiding her into the future. The music would help. It had to help.

She drove into the long, cold tunnel of the night, listening to screams until screams turned to hiccups, then slowly died to fretful, mewling cries, and finally back to silence. She turned the music down and took a left turn from the narrow, lightless road onto another, watching the GPS on her cell phone; it was the only way to navigate out here in the wilderness. Rural Tennessee was as black as the bottom of a well this time of night. No communities to speak of anywhere close; she could just make out a faint glow on her left that would be Norton, most likely. She was up in the sparsely populated foothills—some paranoid compound types hoarding guns, maybe a few old family cabins that hung on by hunting their own food. Nobody to note her passing by.

She’d made this drive a solid, patient routine. Nights and nights and nights like this, always the same schedule. Plenty of rural roads, less-traveled paths. She didn’t mind. The girls were always so difficult to settle, all her neighbors knew that. She’d seen them giving her that look, that can’t you keep them kids quiet look, so many times.

She stared in the rearview mirror at the babies, and felt tears come. Hopeless, helpless, angry tears. I love my kids. I do. This is for the best. Tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow, everything would be right. She just had to hang on to that.

She coasted the car to a gentle stop and rolled the window down. The sound of frogs hit her first: a chorus so loud it felt like a drill in her ear. The road she was on was paved, but only just, and fraying at the edges into sediment and mud. No way to turn around.

It stank out here, in the pit of the night. Murky water and rot. Not clean, like the lakes. This place was pitted with old, stagnant ponds, rank with algae.

Folks stayed away for a reason.

She sat and hummed tunelessly to herself and listened to the night chorus for the longest time. The girls were quiet, and when she looked in the rearview mirror, she saw their angelic little faces relaxed and calm in sleep.

I should just turn around and forget, she thought. But the truth was, if she did, if she drove on home, she’d be out here again—tomorrow, next week, next month. She knew herself too well to think she was going to change that much. The flutter in her stomach, the itch to move on . . . that was so strong now it was just unbearable. Only the driving had helped these past few weeks.

It wouldn’t help much longer.

The flash of headlights in the distance caught her by surprise, and she almost gasped. Then she sighed in relief, because it meant the waiting was done. Now she

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