She Can Hide (She Can... #4)


by Melinda Leigh

CHAPTER ONE

A whoosh and soft impact jolted Abby’s body. She slid forward. The seat belt caught her and snapped her back. Pain ripped through her temple. What happened? Her vision blurred, and she rubbed her eyes to clear it.

The steering wheel and dashboard came into focus. She was sitting in the front seat of her Subaru sedan. Ice pellets bounced off her windshield. When had it started to sleet? Blinking hard, she stared through the glass. Water splashed over the hood.

Oh my God.

She swiveled her head to get her bearings. A thin sheet of ice edged the opposite bank twenty feet ahead. Water bubbled over rocks down the center of the flow. Behind the car, fifteen feet of water stretched to an inclined embankment. Her car was door-deep in a river.

The Subaru bobbed for a couple of seconds. The front end tilted down, and water swished over the floor mat. This had to be a nightmare. But her personal horror didn’t usually involve water. Abby’s bad dreams were all dark all the time. But a minute ago she’d been in the parking lot of the high school where she taught math. How did she get here?

Water swirled around her feet and seeped through her running shoes. Cold. No, beyond cold. Liquid ice. Shocking pain washed over her ankle and jolted her from her dreamlike state.

This was real.

Terror swept through her confusion and jerked her from numb disbelief into panic. Fear, bitter and acidic, bubbled into her throat. Her lungs pumped like pistons, forcing air in and out at dizzying speed. Tiny dots flashed in her vision. Out the window, water rushed past the car, the surface level with the hood and rising.

The interior closed in on her, claustrophobia overwhelming her senses.

The water was going to rise. She was going to be trapped, and then she was going to drown. She was going to die.

A chunk of ice scraped across the windshield. The noise jolted her.

She had to get out of the car. She fumbled for the seat belt release, the frigid temperature and horror destroying her dexterity. Frantic fingers yanked at the nylon. Her thumb found and depressed the button. The strap loosened and recoiled with a snap. Abby reached for the door handle and pulled, but she couldn’t budge it. Water pressure held the door closed. Until the pressure was equalized…

No! She couldn’t sit here and wait for water to fill the car. She’d drown. She had to get out now. Water inched up the glass. The sense of confinement suffocated her. Her heart catapulted blood through her veins.

The window.

She pressed the lever. Nothing happened.

Oh no. It had to open!

Did electric windows work underwater? The car shifted again, the hood dropping thirty degrees. Sliding forward, Abby braced her upper body on the steering wheel.

Water advanced beyond her calves to her thighs. Two layers of winter running pants were designed to facilitate moisture evaporation, not keep water out. The cold bit into her skin like the teeth of a saw. Pain and numbness spread up her legs and reached for her body with a greedy splash.

Tears leaked down her cheeks, and terror sprinted through her heart as she pressed the window button harder. The glass lowered. Yes! Her flash of relief was cut off by the flow of water. It poured through the opening and washed over her torso in an icy fall. She had an exit, but now the car was flooding even faster.

With a groan, the car tipped as water displaced air and the weight of the engine pulled the vehicle deeper into the eddying river. Abby fell forward as the car went vertical. She lost her grip on the wheel. Her world tilted. Her forehead slammed into the dashboard. Blood spattered, but she felt nothing.

The water rose, swallowing her pelvis and chest in the span of two panting breaths. She twisted her body sideways to fit through the opening, but the force of the water pouring through the window pushed her back into the vehicle.

Frigid liquid enveloped her neck and face. The shock seized her muscles. Her breathing sped up in a reflex to the agonizing cold. She pressed her face to the ceiling to suck in a last lungful of air. But the car dropped again, turning as it sank. Her body tumbled like clothes in a washing machine.

Where was the window?

Disoriented by the car’s shift, she searched with frantic desperation. Freezing water stabbed her eyeballs. In the murky underwater scene, she saw the opening.

There!

Her arms tangled in her heavy wool coat. She shrugged out of it and pushed her shoulders through the opening. Once her hips cleared the window, the current pulled her free. The surface was a bright layer just above the car roof. Lungs burning, she stroked upward, toward the light, away from the darkness below. Her head burst free of the water and she gasped. Oxygen flooded her brain. With the infusion of air into her body, her limbs went from cold to numb to dead weight in an instant.

She could barely move to keep her head above the surface. Dirty water flooded her throat, choking her. She looked for the bank, but the water carried her farther from the vehicle, toward the center of the rapids that bubbled white down the center of the waterway. With one final desperate lunge, she grabbed the bumper of her Subaru protruding from the surface. She’d never make it to shore. She’d escaped the car only to drown anyway.

Acceptance washed over her, as numbing as the temperature, then sadness. Her poor high school students would grieve. Her only friend and fellow teacher, Brooke, and the young neighbor Abby tutored would be devastated. Zeus would be too, for as long as his dog memory would allow. That was it. She hadn’t let many people get close. Her mother was dead, and she hadn’t seen her father in three years, since the last time she’d come close to dying, when he’d made his lack of interest clear.

Loneliness rivaled fear in her heart as the current tugged harder. For the second time, she was facing death alone. But if she could do it over again, would she change?

Could she change?

It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to get another chance. Her frozen fingers faltered, then slipped. The wet metal slid out of her grip. Frigid water closed over her head.

Two hours earlier

Sleet pinged off the police cruiser’s windshield as Ethan slowed to read the number on a rusted mailbox. The painted numerals were too faded to read, but his GPS told him he had the right address. Besides, there wasn’t another farm in sight. Snow-crusted fields stretched out on both sides of the road. On the other side of the flat plateau, the Endless Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania jutted into the sky.

He turned into the driveway. The vehicle bounced down the rutted lane. Weather-beaten to a dull gray, a used-to-be-white farmhouse squatted on the right. Porch boards sagged. The roof dipped. To the left, a cluster of ramshackle sheds leaned at precarious angles. Around the supposed barnyard, six inches of frozen snowpack covered three barbwire enclosures. Combined, the corral areas totaled roughly a quarter acre.