Nina huddled against Clare, grateful the creepy man had left them alone and stopped eyeing them in that way that made her skin crawl. Several times he’d spoken to someone on a cell phone in Spanish, idly rubbing the handle of the gun he had holstered at his side as he spoke as if he was just itching to use it. Nina sort of wished she spoke Spanish. But did she really want to know the fate he was planning for them? She snuggled closer to Clare, grateful he had put them in close proximity to each other. At least they had each other, for whatever time they had left.
The man caught her watching him and grinned, revealing a mouthful of brown teeth, a few missing like pickets from a fence. He stood up, said something to the young girl, handed her the gun and walked out of the barn, leaving the door wide open. Nina imagined he was not far away– close enough to hear them if they tried anything. The smell of a lit cigarette blew in through the open door moments later. She sighed deeply, shifted herself into a more comfortable position, and tried to get the young girl’s attention. The girl looked miserable and Nina found herself wondering how she could get her on their side, persuade her to help them somehow. She was so young– far too young to be here, in this situation. The girl looked up and her glance flickered over Clare and Nina briefly, then landed on the beams of the barn, resting there as if the barn’s roof was the most interesting thing she’d ever seen.
“Got any brilliant ideas?” Clare whispered.
“Convince her to stand up for womankind?” Nina quipped.
The two of them both looked at the girl for an instant. “That’s not happening,” Clare said.
“If only she didn’t have that gun,” Nina said. “Then we could rush her. We could overpower her. Take her downtown like Mean Joe Brown.”
Clare looked at Nina with an expression that was part amusement, part concern. “Don’t tell me you’re losing it, Neen.”
Nina mustered a smile. “I’m here for you. Don’t worry. Just trying not to face the situation for what it really is.”
Clare nodded, staring at the open door as though the cavalry was going to ride in at any moment. “I can honestly say I’ve never been in a life or death situation before.”
Nina winced. She had been in several, and now she had dragged her poor, unsuspecting sister into one, a case of guilt by association. “I’m sorry,” she said meekly, dragging her knees up to her chin and resting it there. She looked over at Clare, “If we ever get out of this, I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
Clare smiled and nudged Nina. “Deal. I’m already thinking of one way.”
Nina couldn’t help but grin. “Do I hear the spa calling our name?” For an instant she could envision the two of them laid out on tables, nimble-fingered masseuses coaxing out the very knots that had formed from her recent time crammed in that box.
Clare shook her head. “That sounds nice, sure. But I was thinking more in the way of you promising me that you’ll start trusting Max– and stop letting Rafe have the best parts of your life.”
Nina blinked at her. “I’ve already been thinking along those same lines.”
As if they had summoned him by name, Rafe strode through the door with the familiar swagger in his step. He stopped by the girl and spoke to her in Spanish. The girl smiled and Nina blanched as he picked up a lock of her hair and ran his hand along it. The girl giggled and Rafe looked over at Nina, as if he was expecting a look of jealousy. Instead she only gave him a blank stare. It had to be obvious to anyone that her feelings for Rafe were long dead. She could see the veins pop out on his neck as he dropped the lock of hair and stalked across the barn floor, stooping down to look Nina in the eyes. His breath smelled of whiskey and fine cigars. “You’re dead,” he said. A piece of spittle flew out of his mouth and landed on Nina’s face, but she resisted the urge to wipe it away. He was armed after all.
The greasy looking man came back in and reached for Clare, pulling her to her feet roughly. The two sister’s eyes met. Nina recognized the panic in Clare’s eyes but she tried not to let on that Rafe was getting to her by removing Clare. She hoped Clare could read her thoughts. That she could intuit the amount of love– and fear– she felt at that moment. The man dragged Clare from the barn, saying something to Rafe that she didn’t understand as they left. Whatever he said made Rafe laugh in a way that made Nina’s blood run cold. All she could do was pray, God, please show me what to do. I want to live. I want to see Max again, to have a chance at a normal life.
“One, two, three.” Rafe counted aloud. Then a gunshot rang out as a chilling smile crossed Rafe’s face.
Clare! Nina couldn’t restrain herself. She began to scream Clare’s name. A moment ago her sister was sitting by her side. She was there, talking– and even laughing– with her. Nina had never wanted to go back in time more than she did at that moment: to have one more moment with Clare. She let the tears flow, not caring that Rafe saw.
After a moment she heard him say, his voice husky and falsely tender, “Do you want to live?”
She blinked back at him. She thought of the prayer she’d been praying when she heard the gun go off. I want to live, she’d told God. “Yes,” she said.
“Then come back to me. Be my wife again. Let’s put all of this behind us. Let’s live here. Together. Where no one else can find us.” He winked at her. “You do that, and you’ll get to live. Deal?”
It wasn’t the answer she’d counted on. She thought of something Lucas had said to her recently about God answering prayers– how He rarely answered in ways we expected. Her skin crawled at the thought of living with Rafe as his wife again. And yet, her other option wasn’t exactly desirable. “Ok,” she answered him. She forced herself to look into his eyes. His cold, dark eyes that were nothing like Max’s.
Max. She thought of the moment she’d run away from him. It seemed like a lifetime ago. She’d landed herself in this situation and with God’s help, she’d get out of it. He was a God of second chances, Lucas was always saying. Nina was going to have to believe that, and hope that somehow her husband– her true love– could find her. She heard Rafe’s cronies laughing outside the open barn door. It was going to take a miracle. She thought again of her sister and her stomach rolled inside of her.
“Come on,” Rafe said, pulling her to her feet, oblivious to the range of emotions she was racing through. “I bet you’re hungry. Let’s go inside and have a real meal. Just the two of us.” He put his arm around her and led her out of the barn, towards a main house where dinner– and this strange new life– was waiting for her. Find me, Max, she thought helplessly. Please, find me soon.
Marybeth Whalen and her husband Curt have been married for 20 years and are the parents of six children, ranging in age from college to kindergarten. They live outside Charlotte NC. Marybeth is the author of The Mailbox and her newest novel, She Makes It Look Easy. She spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel. You can find her at www.marybethwhalen.com