Here we go…
Max turned in a circle in the empty room, the sound of crashing hopes reverberating in his ear, rapid and sharp like gunfire, then echoing away. He’d been so sure this was the place, so certain this South Texas ranch was where Rafe had hidden Nina, but there was no one here. There were signs of recent activity—trails in the silty layer of dust on the floor, tire tracks outside that hadn’t been there long enough for the constant south Texas wind to smooth them away, a desk drawer slightly open. The contents inside were free of dust. The drawer had been left open recently.
Rafe must have come here. Why? Obviously this place had been in disuse for a while. What had brought him here? Money? Supplies? Weapons? Was he making contact with someone? What?
There was no evidence that Nina had been in this house. If she’d been here, she would have left a sign for Max to follow, he was sure of it.
Unless… unless she’d decided to go back to Rafe. Unless she’d decided that leaving Rafe wasn’t worth the fight.
The thought was painful in a way Max wasn’t prepared for, in a way that clouded his vision, left him staggering mentally. He blinked hard, shook it off. He couldn’t afford the emotion right now. He had to keep a clear head. He had to do his job. Somehow, he had to bring Nina safely home.
“All right, Rafe,” he muttered, reaching for the handle. “Let’s see what you keep in this drawer…”
A stiff wind caught the horse trailer, the motion causing Nina to stumble and fall hard against the small kitchen counter in the living quarters of the showy fifth-wheel rig. Dishes clattered against the cabinet door—the complimentary set of equestrian-themed enamelware that had come with the expensive trailer. Rafe had surprised her with the purchase. There was a time when he couldn’t surprise her, couldn’t please her enough, when he was courting her, luring her in. She’d mentioned to him that as a kid she was jealous of a girl in school who lived on a quarter horse farm filled with gorgeous show stock. Within a week, there was a show horse, a fancy trailer fully-equipped with living quarters up front, lessons with a trainer at a nearby stable.
There was a time when Rafe seemed like the man who could give her everything she’d never had, growing up. Love, protection, possessions.
And then one night, traffic had delayed the trainer and her on the way home from a show. It was after one A.M. by the time she made it home. Rafe was waiting, back from his business trip early. Furious. Dangerous. Filled with fiery accusations.
He’d hit her for the first time that night. This man who was supposed to nurture her, to protect her…
A friend at work had caught her in the bathroom as Nina was carefully touching up a makeup job on the bruise at work the next day. She’d told Nina she’d been where Nina was, but didn’t seem surprised when Nina wouldn’t admit to it.
“You know,” she said, her eyes meeting Nina’s in the mirror. “After a while, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this the life God made me for?’”
Nina should’ve listened then, but she hadn’t.
She was listening now, though. If she ever got back to Whirlaway Island, she’d never leave that place, or Max again. Max was everything Rafe wasn’t.
On the bed, Nina’s sister groaned, then rolled over and tried to lift herself up. Whatever drugs they’d given her were wearing off. The bump on her head from the man who’d pretended to shoot Claire was nasty, but not deadly. Nina had to get both of them out of here. Now. Before Rafe took them any further into Mexico. He’d moved them three times already, afraid Max and the FBI were on his tail.
“Wh-what are… you do-doing?” Claire’s voice was slow and thick.
“Making plans get us out of here,” Nina answered, then squatted down to open the cabinet doors under the sink. Rafe must have forgotten that the salesman had shown Nina every feature of the trailer.
She knew about the wiring access panel underneath the kitchen sink. She’d already unscrewed it, creating a gaping hole with a gray ribbon of highway speeding under it. She also knew how long the Western Hauler truck could go on a full tank of fuel. “They’ll have to stop for gas soon, and when they do, we’re out of here.” Wetting a washrag in the sink, she moved to the bed and wiped Claire’s forehead and cheeks. “I need for you to wake up now, Claire, okay? Come on. I know it hurts, but we have to be ready.”
Claire nodded, then dragged herself upright and slid her feet off the edge of the bed.
“Do you think you can walk?” Claire had to be able to walk. If Rafe took them deep into Mexico, even Max wouldn’t be able to get them out. Rafe had connections all over Mexico.
Claire nodded, and Nina helped her up. Slowly, one laborious step at a time, they practiced, stumbling down the aisle between the cabinets and the sofa and back, until finally, they sat down on the sofa to wait.
A busload of passengers were slowly making their way from the store back to a ramshackle bus. There was no way Rafe would risk unlocking the trailer door until the bus was gone. Now was their chance.
“It’s time,” she whispered, watching Rafe and and his henchman disappear into the store. “Come on, Sweetie. We’re going.”
Carefully, gingerly, Nina helped her sister through the open access panel, and then climbed through after her, flattening herself against the pavement beside Claire. “There’s no cover around here,” she whispered, tearing a piece of fabric from her dress and clutching it in her hand. “We have to get on that bus. Can you make it?”
Claire nodded, her eyes more alert now, filled with fear. “I’ll make it.”
With one more glance toward the store, they squirmed from under the trailer, climbed to their feet and started running, Claire leaning on Nina, Nina’s heart pumping, her breath coming in rapid bursts, the distance across the parking lot seeming endless.
Halfway to the bus, Nina tossed the piece of filmy fabric torn from her dress, let it sail into the breeze, and watched it tumble away. It skirted the bus and continued on as Nina and Claire reached the steps. In a jumble, they scrambled upward, falling as the bus lurched into motion, ready for departure. Outside, the scrap of fabric tangled in a mesquite tree at the edge of the parking lot. With any luck, Rafe would think they’d bolted into the sandy scrub land, and he would look there first.
“Madre di Dios!” The driver exclaimed, jerking his foot toward the brake.
“Por favor,” Nina whispered, meeting his startled eyes. Please. “Necessita Ajuda.” I need help.
In the moment of hesitation, she felt it—a flash of common humanity, of compassion, a bond. The driver’s foot moved back to the gas and he nodded slowly.
Sighing, Nina collapsed against the stairs, slowly rolling over and looking out the open door.
The little dark-haired girl was standing in front of the truck, her dress hanging off one shoulder, her gaze flashing toward the store, in an instant of indecision. No doubt, she’d been left to watch the vehicle. She would be punished for letting Nina and Claire get away.
Lifting a hand, Nina motioned to her, and the little girl began to run.
This week on the porch, we’re giving away one of our fabulous Book-n-Bling packages, featuring an autographed book and a bling any Belle would find truly delightful! Today’s Question of the day for Book-n-Bling contest entry: It’s a wild adventure as we conclude Whirlaway, escape from Mexico! What’s your favorite-ever adventure scene from a book or movie?
Optionally, leave an email address on your comment or add your Facebook handle, to help us find you, but the winner will be announced here on SBV!
To enter the Book-n-Bling Contest, leave a comment on this blog post (or any of our blog posts this week) answering the question of the day.
here on BelleView on October 30th!
DANDELION SUMMER ON STORE SHELVES NOW!