What was she going to do?
Molly caught her knuckle as she twisted the wrench on a nut that just wouldn’t give. She gritted her teeth as the skin scraped away. She sucked on the skin, the iron tang of blood settling on her tongue.
Questions bounced through her mind as a cold wind blew straight down the collar of her jacket.
Once she got the nut loosened, the dead alternator would lift out. Another hour, and she’d have the new one installed in its place.
And then what?
She’d promised Cord she’d get off his property. He’d been kind, letting her stay the past two nights. She’d repaid him by cooking some of Mama’s favorite meals, though she’d left him to eat in peace, staying in her room and strumming her guitar.
She hadn’t slept other than in snatches. She needed to get the fear under control. She couldn’t keep going like this.
She’d seen a random stranger walking down the street and panicked. A full blown attack, with the shakes and trouble breathing. In front of Cord, who obviously pitied her.
Pitied her, but wasn’t going to invite her to stay.
I’ll never let you go.
I’ll kill anybody you get close to.
Toby’s cutting voice had been bouncing through her brain ever since.
She wasn’t his. Never had been.
But no matter how many times she repeated it to herself, his voice followed her.
She’d found a measure of safety on Cord’s land. It was quiet, peaceful. Maybe she could find someplace like it.
She tried to tell herself she would be fine.
But she didn’t believe it.
Footsteps crunched in the dried grasses, and she startled so badly that she dropped her wrench into the engine with a clang.
She might’ve uttered a cuss word under her breath as she retrieved it.
She shot a glance at Cord, approaching from the house, but he pretended he hadn’t seen her jump like a lunatic.
“Need some help?” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. His flannel shirt was unbuttoned above a T-shirt that clung to his abs.
“No thanks.” She’d fight with this bolt a little more, and then she’d win. She’d do the next step and the next until the engine was rebuilt.
Too bad she didn’t have a manual for how to rebuild her life.
He shifted his feet. Opened his mouth. Shut it again. Then blurted, “Can you come inside for a minute? I wanna talk.”
“What’s there to talk about? I told you I’m getting ready to leave. You’ll have your solitude back.”
He mumbled something under his breath. When she shot him a look, he awarded her a tight smile. It was some improvement over his fierce frowns. What would it take to drag a real smile from him? “Please, will you come inside?”
The nut finally loosened, the tension giving away under the strain in her arm. “Fine,” she said.
It was the work of a few seconds to remove the nut and bolt, and then she lifted out the alternator and set it on the ground beside the truck. An empty spot was left behind in the truck’s engine.
That’s how she felt right now. There was a huge piece missing inside of her. She didn’t know how to get it back.
She wiped her grease-stained hands on a rag as she followed Cord to the house. In the kitchen, he motioned her to sit in one of the kitchen chairs. She crossed her arms and leaned against the counter instead.
He leveled a look on her. “You okay?”
She dropped her gaze to the floor. “I’m fine.”
She wasn’t fine. But he’d already seen her at her worst, and she didn’t want to face his pity again.
She heard the skepticism in the single word. She turned away and started running water at the sink. She scrubbed her hands with the rough green bar of soap left there. And rinsed.
And then he was close behind her, reaching around her to turn off the water. Her body was betraying her again. It was awareness of him at her shoulder—not fear—that made her heart pound.
That and the sickening memory of Toby.
“I want to know what’s going on,” he said. The words emerged heavy, as if they’d cost him.
She squeezed her eyes closed.
He touched her, cupping one hand beneath her elbow.
And when she looked up at him again, something was burning behind his eyes. “I have to know. Did someone hurt you?”
She clutched the edge of the sink. “He tried.”