Well, she might be able to, but did she want to take the time to find it?
She looked over her shoulder at Andrew, whose head lolled to the side, blood trickling down the side of his face, his hands limp at his sides. If she was a good person, she would reach over to feel if he was still alive, but she needed to get away. If he was dead, well, she was sorry for it, but he had brought this on himself. The things he’d said to her since he’d dragged her into this truck when she’d been trying to get into her car after leaving the gym would ring in her ears the rest of her life.
Hopefully the rest of her life would last a good long time, not the short amount of time he seemed to have planned.
He’d told her she wouldn’t belong to anyone else. He’d warned her. She would belong to him, or no one. He’d make sure of that.
She wasn’t sure what his intention was, exactly, but she’d known if he’d gotten her to his cabin on Round Lake, she wouldn’t have escaped.
She climbed out of the window, dropping ankle deep into the snow. She reached back into the cab. Her coat was gone—she must have dropped in the parking lot of the gym when Andrew surprised her. Her phone was gone. He’d tossed it out of the truck miles back, probably thinking someone would be able to track her location. She found a light knit jacket behind the seat of the truck. That wouldn’t do much against the cold temperatures, much less the wind and snow. But she didn’t have a choice.
One shoe, her gym clothes, a gross limp jacket. Andrew wore a jacket, but she wasn’t going to risk rousing him to take it, if he was still alive.
She had to go.
But where? She was in the middle of nowhere, in a snowstorm.
She knew this road, since they’d driven it to Andrew’s cabin in the past. Cabins were tucked in the trees all around them, and farmhouses in the stretches of land between the lakes. She just had to find one where someone lived.
Staying on the road was risky, if Andrew roused and followed her. She headed off the road toward the tree line. She’d walk along there until she saw another option.
She didn’t know how long she’d been traveling when she skidded to a stop at the edge of the lake, her one shoe drenched and filling with snow. She glanced back and looked at the path she’d left. She’d hoped the falling snow would have covered her footsteps, but because of the trees, the snow wasn’t reaching the ground on her path. It certainly was reaching her, though, soaking through her thin jacket.
In her moment of hesitation, she listened to the…well, the nothing. The falling snow muffled whatever sound might be around, but what she noticed most of all was the darkness. Darkness all around, except for one pale light on the other side of the lake.
Someone’s cabin. This was a lake, so other cabins were likely situated between her and it, but probably empty. She could hide in one, break in. She would hate doing that but she was desperate. But what if the people had turned off power, water, their phone? Would she be that much better off? Her best chance was that light, and she hoped it wasn’t just a porch light or something.
She looked across the lake, considering taking that route. The surface should be frozen enough to walk upon, but she would be in the open and Andrew would see her.
The path she’d left made her vulnerable enough, but she dared not retreat to erase it. She didn’t know how long Andrew would remain unconscious. She couldn’t risk coming out in the open. She was going to stick to the edge of the lake, in the shadows of the trees.
She had never been so cold, and putting one foot in front of the other in her wet sock and slightly less wet gym shoe was hard and painful in the drifts. She was soaked practically to her knees, but she had no other choice. He would kill her if she went back. She was sure of it. She would rather die out here.
The sound of the wolf howling pierced through the sound of her own labored breathing. She stopped short, trying to figure out where the noise had come from. How far away was he? Was he alone, or did he have a pack? Were wolves like the velociraptors in that dinosaur movie, where one let his presence be known as the others moved in for the kill?
Freezing to death was one thing, but being hunted—that was something way different. Heart pounding as adrenaline surged, she moved a little farther out onto the lake, aware she risked being seen, but the snow was not as difficult to trudge through. She picked up a branch, because she knew she needed to hide her tracks, hide the direction she’d gone. She had chosen the lake because she thought Andrew would hunt for her down the road first. The road had more cover, but here at the lake she could see the other cabins.
For all the good that did her.
She looked over her shoulder to see the branch was doing a piss-poor job of hiding her tracks, unlike what she’d seen in the movies, but if it disguised them just a bit, the snow could hide her path and buy her time.
The wolf howled again, and this time he seemed closer. But which direction? To her right? The direction she was heading? On the other side of the lake? She just couldn’t tell, and her terror would not allow her to stop to try to figure it out.
Her next step was lower than expected, and she dropped like a rock. At first, she thought she’d broken through the ice, but no, she was just in a deeper drift, and now she was wet to the waist.
God, she hoped that house was occupied and warm. It certainly didn’t seem to be getting any closer, though the howl of the wolf and the echoes of his companions certainly did. She had to get out of this weather. Her hands were growing numb, and her feet. But frostbite was way better than whatever Andrew had planned for her.
The cold wind cut through the thin jacket, felt like knives in her throat, in her nose. At least it wasn’t too cold to snow, though she had no idea what the temperature was, what the windchill was. She didn’t know how long she could be out here without dying, without losing her feet to frostbite. She just knew it couldn’t be too long.
As she approached the cabin she’d been focusing on, she noticed it was higher than the lake, on a ridge. God, was she going to have to climb a hill once she got across the lake? She looked behind her, and thankfully, she appeared to have come farther than the distance she had yet to travel, and while she could still see part of her path, the snow was obscuring it farther away.
What if…what if Andrew thought she had fallen through the ice? What if, once she reached the other side of the lake, she threw a rock or something to break through the ice, making it look like she’d fallen through? Would he stop looking for her?
If she even had the strength when she reached the other side.
The presence of the wolves still worried her. She wouldn’t be able to hear their footsteps because of her own breathing and the rustle of the branch behind her.
The branch she could barely hold onto anymore. She’d dropped it twice, had to retrace her steps when she realized she no longer was carrying it.
Wasting precious steps, precious time, with no indication the effort was worth it.
Her ears hurt. She wore nothing on her head, no protection, and ears could get frostbite too, right? She did not want to lose her ears. She loosened her hair from its braid to fall against her skin, hoping just the little extra protection would help.
That ridge, the closer she got, was looking higher and higher. She wasn’t going to have the strength. She was going to die here. She only hoped she froze to death before the wolves found her.
She stumbled and went down hard on her knees. The hand that wasn’t holding the branch. The impact knocked her breath from her, and the temptation to stay down, to give up, was nearly overwhelming. She’d never been so tired in her life.
Only her determination that goddamn Andrew was not going to kill her pushed her to her feet again.
She was on the shore. She could feel it now, the unevenness of the ground beneath the snow. The cabin was above her, and, hallelujah, she found a staircase leading up the hill.
She pawed around in the snow until she found a boulder. She pried it free from the mud with fingers that were numb and aching. Lifting it was hard, too, because she felt like her arms were going to snap right off. But she lifted it over her head and heaved it with as much power as she could muster toward the lake, was disappointed when it didn’t crash through the ice, only made an indentation in the snow and bounced away a few feet.
No way would Andrew think she’d fallen through the ice from that feeble attempt. But she didn’t want to dig around for another boulder. She needed to get to shelter.
She dropped the branch when she reached the bottom of the stairs. She had no way to hide her footsteps going up them, her grip on the wooden rails, so she wasn’t going to waste the energy trying. She needed all of her strength to put one foot in front of the other. She fell twice, once because she slipped on a frozen patch and once because she just couldn’t lift her leg high enough. God she was so tired, and everything hurt.
And when she reached the top of the stairs, well, she was still going to have to maneuver a winding uphill path. She slid back more than once, and dropped to all fours to climb the last few feet to the yard.
She stood and looked up at the cabin. No wonder she could see it from across the lake. The place was pretty imposing, like the prow of a ship, the bottom covered with rocks, then a deck over her head, and above that the lovely lighted windows.
She didn’t see a door, so rounded to the side of the house, and yes, there was a porch, with more steps. No cars in the driveway, but she saw a detached garage, so please, God, let the vehicles be inside.
She wasn’t thinking of the wolves anymore, or of Andrew, or even of the cold as she dragged herself up the stairs using the log rails.
When she stood in front of the door, she imagined she could feel the warmth from within. She thought she heard a dog barking through the thick walls, but maybe that was the wolves. She was having trouble focusing.
She suddenly found herself afraid of what was within. Someone who wasn’t expecting her, someone who lived out in the middle of nowhere, who might greet her with a gun.
But she couldn’t survive out here much longer. She didn’t have a choice.
She raised her arm, wrapping her hand in the sleeve of the wet jacket, and banged on the door with her forearm.
The door opened much faster than she expected, and a man filled the door frame.
Her gaze went to the chrome-plated handgun first, not pointed at her, but the tension in the tendons of his wrist let her know he was ready to use it. She stepped back, her hands up in front of her in surrender. Her foot slipped, and he lunged forward, catching her elbow, drawing her toward the door. She grabbed onto the front of his sweater and looked up into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Dark shaggy hair fell forward around his face, a beard shadowing a strong jaw. Her fingers flexed in reaction. He was big, and strong because he was still holding her up, off the ground, so she struggled to get her feet under herself so she had some power, at least.
He guided her up and set her on her feet, but once she was standing, he looked around the exterior of the cabin. The gun, she saw then, was still in his hand.
“Are you alone? Why are you dressed like this?”
Now that she could feel the actual warmth from inside the cabin, she started shivering, her teeth chattering uncontrollably.
Still she managed to say, “I escaped.”