Exposed:My Mountain Man Protector

By: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner

CHAPTER ONE



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Five more seconds and I would’ve been dead.



I closed my lips, inhaled through my nose slowly, and then exhaled. I tried to exhale away the realization that ripped through my head every few minutes, whenever I forgot just why I was driving. I was driving to escape my husband. My husband who wanted to murder me. My husband who, after I saw him shoot a man, had chased me to my car.



I’d gotten in my car with five seconds to spare. Five more seconds and I would’ve been dead.



I glanced at the car screen, feeling my heart fall even though I knew already. No one had texted me. They couldn’t have. I had my phone in airplane mode. I couldn’t have Angelo finding me.



I pressed my foot harder into the gas pedal. Beautiful landscapes rolled past my side window: an evergreen sea of trees, a good-day blue sky. In my back window a sunshine-yellow car gleamed.



And yet all I could feel was fear. I pressed on the gas pedal until I was going 85, which was 10 over the speed limit. Any more and I’d have been a cop magnet; I was driving a red Jaguar, after all.



And if I was stopped and Angelo got called in—or even if I was stopped at all—that would have been it. It all would have been over.



As worry burrowed through me, I inhaled and then exhaled, and then I did it again. But slowing down my breathing wasn’t enough. I had been driving for three days, had put almost 2,000 miles between me and Angelo, and still it wasn’t enough. Even sleeping in the car for three-hour, toss-and-turn-filled nights wasn’t enough.



I checked my back mirror for the millionth time but saw nothing. Even if I drove for the rest of my life, it may not have been long enough. I knew Angelo, and I knew that look that had been in his eye. He was determined, and it had been deadly.



“It’s going to be all right,” I whispered.



I glanced at the screen again, at my expected arrival time: 50 more minutes. Yup. Only an hour or so more and I should be there—Aunt Frieda’s, my last chance. My fingers drummed on the wheel while my mind scanned through the last time I’d talked to Aunt Frieda. What had it been—a year ago? Two? Our phone chat had been the routine “Merry Christmas, thanks for the gifts, have a happy New Year” one. Had I even asked whether she was still living at the same place?



My fingers stopped drumming. Why would I have? My aunt and uncle had lived at that chalet in Aspen my whole life. They’d be there. They had to be. I pressed the screen for some music.



The first song came on, and my heart fell. It was Bob Dylan, his voice twanging and mocking nostalgia at me. Out of all the songs, of course this was the one that had to play. Traitorous tears slid down my face.



“You pathetic idiot,” I murmured to myself, wiping them away.



My husband had just tried to kill me, and I was crying about the song that had been playing the first time we’d met. It hadn’t even been romantic, how at my first real college party the curly-haired, tall man had sidled up beside me and quipped, “Guess which song the Rolling Stones were named after?”



Little did I know as I produced the expected laugh and answer—Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”—that this was already a lie.



It was just last week that I’d stumbled upon the truth. I’d been flipping through some Rolling Stones trivia book, and there it had been: “The Rolling Stones’ name was inspired by ‘Rollin’ Stone’ by Muddy Waters.” That was right, the band Muddy Waters, not Bob Dylan. I’d found out a lot of things last week.



How fitting that the first words between Angelo and me had been a lie; only such a lie of a relationship could have resulted. The real question was: how much of our relationship had been real? How much of our whirlwind romance had been just that—a whirlwind? A mashing together of feeling and fantasy and expectation, so that now that I’d been so unceremoniously dumped back into reality, I had no idea what was fact and what was fiction?



Maybe I’d never know. I blinked back more tears. Exhaled. All I knew now was that the man I’d seen three days ago, the man with the big black gun and the expressionless mask of a face, was not my husband. He was not the man I’d married, who had pulled over on the highway, gotten out of his Mercedes, and held up highway traffic so he could get down on one knee and propose to me.

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