“This is not going backward. This is a new beginning for both of us, and you’re going to love it.” Jacquie Halloway said the words to her little dog with as much conviction as she could muster. The last of her things were stowed in the trunk of her car as she drove toward Granite Falls, the one place she swore she’d never return to.
Eight years ago, she left the small mountain town where she’d grown up, wanting a fresh start free of constant reminders of Chase—her longtime boyfriend who had left without a word, joined the Army, and never returned. She followed her brother to Raleigh, joined the police department, and put all her energy into being the best cop she could be. Her career was her life, and all she needed. Until now.
A little over a month ago, she accepted her brother’s job offer at the Granite Falls Sheriff’s office. Looks like she was following him again, only this time his path was leading her back home.
Surprisingly, she liked being a deputy. The slower pace, the quieter lifestyle, was just what she needed after working homicide in Raleigh for so long. “We are going to love it,” she said again, not sure if she was trying to convince her dog or herself. “There will be plenty for us to do.” She looked at her little seven-pound Chihuahua. “You can chase cows.”
Killer didn’t respond, though Jacquie could swear she rolled her eyes.
“I know, you’re too pampered to muddy your paws.”
The illuminated sign for Rick’s Gas Station lit up the night sky ahead. Jacquie glanced at Killer sitting in the passenger’s seat. “You need to go?”
The chihuahua barked and Jacquie pulled into the gas station and parked next to the pumps. After starting to fill her tank, she led Killer to a grassy area under tall fluorescent lights and waited for her to find the perfect spot to go. While standing there, a man in a dark gray hoodie hurried out of the store, glancing furtively around the parking lot. His eyes widened as he spotted her next to his parked truck. He quickly dipped his head and jumped into the older model blue pickup truck. He gunned the engine and tore out of the parking lot.
What was that about? She wasn’t that close to his truck. He looked like he recognized her, though, he didn’t look familiar. She supposed there were people in town she couldn’t recall but who remembered her, but it had been eight years and he looked too young to have gone to school with her.
Killer finally finished her business. Jacquie scooped her up and deposited her back into the car. In a jog, she headed inside the store. To a normal person there was nothing overly suspicious about the man and his unfriendly behavior, but she’d been on the force long enough to trust the hairs on the back of her neck she called her spidey senses, and right now, they weren’t just standing up, they were doing the Cha-Cha.
Her gaze swept the room as she rushed inside the door, on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. The young male clerk behind the counter was on the phone and there was no one else to be seen. No alarm bells rang. Everything appeared to be in order. She moved toward the bathroom in the back, pushed open the door, and froze.
A female body lay crumpled in a pool of blood on the dirty tiles, her red hair a tangled mess around her head. Jacquie’s heart slammed against her chest. She bolted forward, dialing 911 as she crouched next to the girl.
“Hey!” she yelled for the clerk. “I need help in here!”
Cognizant of the crime scene, she leaned over the victim, tentatively brushing the red hair back from her face, checking for signs of life.
Jacquie grabbed her wrist and checked for a pulse—weak but there.
Her old friend’s sweater was bunched up and soaked with blood. Her stomach sliced open.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency.”
“This is Deputy Halloway from the Granite Falls Sheriff’s department. I have a female victim, knife wound to the stomach on the bathroom floor of Rick’s Gas Station on Route 29. I need EMT and police out here ASAP.” Jacquie hit the speaker button and set the phone on the tile floor, tore off her sweatshirt, and pressed it against the wound, trying to staunch the flow of blood.
“EMTs are on the way,” the operator said.
The clerk poked his head into the bathroom and gave a strangled squeak. “What happened? Will she be okay?”
Jacquie looked up at him. “Help is on the way. Did you see who she came in with?”
The wide-eyed clerk trembled as he shook his head. “She came in alone, but a few minutes later, a guy with a hoodie showed up. Besides you, they were the only customers in tonight.” He glanced nervously behind him around the shop.
“Are there security cameras?” Jacquie continued to apply pressure to the wound as they waited for the paramedics.
“None that are hooked up. They’re just for show. Old man Rick says nothing happens out here anyway. Not like in the cities. Guess he was wrong.” He turned as the sirens finally approached. “I’ll go get them.”
“Sylvia,” Jacquie said over the sudden catch in her throat. “Help is here. You hang on.” Last she saw Sylvia, her old friend had planned to become a school teacher. How had she ended up like this?
The paramedics popped through the doorway. Jacquie moved out of their way and into the hallway. A state trooper came in next and questioned her. She told him everything she’d seen, which wasn’t much. As the sheriff’s deputies arrived, she retold her story, filling them in on where they could find her if they had any more questions.
They wheeled Sylvia into the ambulance and drove away, sirens blaring. Her friend had to make it. Things like this didn’t happen in Granite Falls. At least they didn’t use to. She walked back to her car, where Killer was snoring away, and unhooked the gas nozzle. Another twenty minutes and she would be back home.
Nothing bad was supposed to happen to anyone here.
Too many close calls and late nights in Raleigh were why she came back. She didn’t think this kind of crime would reach a place like Granite Falls. Girls that were cut open like that meant only one thing. Sylvia was a drug mule, and something had gone wrong. She pulled out of the gas station and back onto the highway.
Seeing Sylvia again brought forward too many memories. Sylvia had been in love with Aiden McKenzie, and Jacquie had loved his brother, Chase. The four spent their entire senior year together planning their futures—what they would do once they got out of high school, where they would go to college, what they would do with their lives—until, without warning, the McKenzie brothers joined the Army and left.
Jacquie never heard from Chase again.
A bullet she was lucky enough to dodge.
Headlights shone through her rearview mirror, small at first, but getting larger as the vehicle quickly caught up to her speed. Momentarily blinding her, she tried to adjust the reflection, but it was no use.
The small two-lane highway didn’t leave a lot of maneuvering room. She veered as far to the right as she could, and hoped whoever it was would pass. They didn’t.
Unease whispered in her ear.
“What in the world?”
She glanced between her rearview mirror and the side mirrors, trying to see around the blinding lights to get the make of the car. She hit the speed dial for her brother, Josh, sheriff of Granite Falls.
Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel, her arms stiffening as she punched down the accelerator. There were too many curves on the dark mountain road to be driving at this speed. Killer whined in the passenger seat, cowering into her blankie as the outgoing call rang through the speakers, the pealing sound filling the car and adding to her anxiety.
“Josh,” she said as the call went to voice mail. “I’m twenty minutes outside of town on the Winding River Highway. Someone is trying to run me off the road. Looks like an older pickup truck. Blue. I can’t see the license plate, but I think it’s the same one—”
Her car jerked forward as the truck rammed her bumper. She held tight to the wheel, hit the button to disconnect the line, and punched in 911. Before it could connect, the truck rammed her again, harder this time, sending her fishtailing across the highway. Adrenaline flooded her body and her stomach clenched and flipped like she was on some kind of horrible roller coaster.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
He hit her again.
She screamed as she clutched the steering wheel and urged the car to stay on the road, but the scenery outside the window continued to whirl and spin as she lost control of the car and barreled through the guard rail, the car flipping on its way down the mountain.”