Oxygen seemed to be short in the room. It was a struggle to make herself sound collected and only mildly surprised. “Maybe I made him up.”
But Emily was shaking her head again. “Uh-uh. ’Cuz I did see him. He was actually pretty cute. At least, I thought so then.” She grimaced. “All I remember is that he had dark hair and brown eyes and he was dressed kind of scruffy and he seemed alarmed by me.”
“I don’t remember him at all.” I don’t.
Then why am I scared to death? As if...
She didn’t know. Only that this boy meant something.
“Did I tell you his name?”
Emily’s forehead crinkled as she thought. “It would be in the police report. Buck. No.” Her face cleared. “Beck. That was it. You never said a last name, though. Maybe Beck was his last name.”
“You’re right.” Nell made a face. “My mother would have had a cow.”
They talked about other things for a few minutes, and when Hailey excused herself Nell said good-night, too. Although she liked both of these friends, tonight she felt agitated and overwhelmed.
Snow was falling again by the time she and Hailey left, but this time in big wet globs. The walkway and street were already slushy-looking. Emily had apologized because she and Jason had to park in the driveway. The garage, apparently, was full of unpacked stuff; combining separate households meant they had duplicates of lots of household items, plus furniture they hadn’t decided whether to keep or not. “I swear, by next winter,” she had said when they first arrived, “I want an empty garage and a remote control opener.”
Hailey had parked at the curb in front of the house, Nell across the street, having wedged her small car in between two hulking SUVs. Hardly anyone in town drove a car, she’d noticed, never mind one as modest and aging as hers. Four-wheel drive seemed to be a necessity, and she was beginning to see why. Even Hailey hopped into a Subaru Forester. She was already halfway down the block when Nell started across the street, stepping carefully. Even so, icy dampness penetrated to her toes. She really needed new boots.
She was midstreet when she heard the roar of an engine. Somebody was driving way too fast. For an instant, confused, she came to a stop. It was so dark, with the falling snow obscuring porch lights and streetlights. No headlights touched her.
Then she saw it, huge, black and bearing down on her. Fueled by a shot of adrenaline, she tried to run, but her traction wasn’t great in these boots, either, and she slipped and almost went down. It was terror that kept her on her feet and had her running and then throwing herself into the narrow gap between her front bumper and the white SUV she’d parked behind. She hit her shoulder on the way down and ended up splayed on the pavement between vehicles. The monstrous black SUV or pickup or something passed so close she braced herself for the scrape of metal. It didn’t come. What felt like an angry roar receded.
Wet and cold, bruised and probably scraped, she nonetheless scrambled to her knees and then her feet. Instinct drove her to get into her car, lock the doors, get away.
Run, run, run.
But oh, God— Where were her keys? She’d had them clutched in her gloved hand.
Frantic, Nell scrabbled in the wet snow on the pavement, praying they hadn’t slithered beneath one vehicle or another.
She could run back to Emily’s.
No. She wanted her own burrow. Colin.
Her hand closed over the keys and relief poured into her, making her sag. Her shoulder and one knee hurt, but she made it back to the driver’s side of her small Ford, unlocked it and all but fell inside, locking the door immediately.
She drove on automatic pilot, half numb, half terrified. For the first time she realized how well she knew the streets of this town, at least until she reached the outskirts.
Nell was shaking by the time she turned into Colin’s long driveway and finally braked in what had become her parking spot. Lights were still on in his house. Motion-activated lights above the garage came on, too.
Stiff and hurting, her teeth chattering, she got out and limped across the yard to his front porch. She had barely pressed the bell when the door swung open.
“Nell...?” His expression changed. He reached for her, pulling her inside and, after a quick, hard look past her, closed the door behind her. “What happened?” he demanded. “Did you fall down?”
She hugged herself to try to contain the shivers. It was hard to talk with her teeth chattering. “I almost got run over.”
“You had an accident?”
She shook her head. Her teeth clacked like castanets. “I was...I was...crossing the street,” she managed to answer.