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Storm (Ashes & Embers #1)

By´╝ÜCarian Cole

Storm (Ashes & Embers #1)
Author: Carian Cole

To my mom, who taught me to chase my dreams, follow my heart, and believe in myself. I miss you every day.

To my husband, Eddie, who has loved me unconditionally since the day we met, has supported all my crazy ideas, listened to my incessant ramblings, and served as my number one muse. I love you with all my heartbeats, forever.

SOMETIMES, WHEN I'M DRIVING ALONE, I go into what I call the 'road coma', where I suddenly become acutely aware that I have no recollection of the past, say, twenty or so miles of driving. I can't remember a darn thing. Not the road, not stopping at stop signs, not what was on the radio . . . it's a total blank. A quick flash of fear will grip me, and I'll think what if I ran someone over and don't even know it? Surely, if I had, I would have experienced a quick bump and thump and snapped out of it.


I blink and clutch the steering wheel, suddenly realizing I am driving on a winding, narrow mountain road that's covered with snow. When I left my house an hour ago, the snow was barely coming down. I glance at the GPS, which hasn't said a word in a long time. The little blue arrow is pointing to what must be nowhere because I don't see a thing up here except for trees and snow. Lots of snow. Realizing I'm driving at dusk without my headlights on, I flick them on and the beams highlight the snow even more. I swallow hard and wonder if the GPS has been talking to me while I was in a road coma and I just ignored it. Michael promised me when I left the house earlier that there was no way I could get lost with this tiny digital device, but now I am having serious doubts.

I grab my cell phone to call him and tell him I am, indeed, very lost, but the phone is in SOS mode. Sighing, I throw it back onto the passenger seat where it bounces and lands on the passenger-side floor. I reach down to grab it, inadvertently turning the wheel and the car starts to slide. Like the spaz I am, I jerk the wheel back and hit the brakes, and the car goes into a total spin. The snow is coming down hard in a zigzag, and all I can see is a spinning white blur as I try to get the car under control. I'm not even sure what side of the road I'm on or if I'm even going in the right direction anymore. The car and I are like a feather in the wind, blowing this way and that, twirling in the gusts until we finally come to a final stop in a ditch, my head bouncing lightly off the steering wheel. I force my eyes open and peer around. No, it wasn't a crash. Not really. It was a rather anti-climactic stop after all the spinning. The car just came to a halt-nose-first off the side of the road. While I am thankful the car isn't totaled with half my head sticking out of the windshield, I am most definitely stuck, tires spinning. Giving up, I turn the car off, not sure it should be running in case I somehow damaged the engine. Cars always seem to blow up on TV shows when they crash into something.

I reach for my cell again, silently praying for a signal, but there's nothing. Zero bars. I try to remember if I passed any houses or gas stations while in my driving-induced stupor, but I can't recall the last time I saw any signs of civilization, which really enforces the fact that I am most likely nowhere near the posh hotel where my marketing and branding seminar is being held this weekend. I am lost and stuck. Lost and stuck. My heart starts to beat faster. Lost and stuck. Stuck and lost. Zero bars.

Okay, Evelyn, stay calm. Deep breaths. Now is not the time to have a panic attack. Get your shit together!

"Hey, you okay?" The pounding of a palm on the window scares the heck out of me. I jump and scream. Sasquatch with a black cowboy hat and a long black coat, his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, is now trying to break into my car.

Oh, my God! Psycho kidnapper murderer in the snowstorm.

"Hello?" he calls, opening the door, causing snow to fall into the car and onto my lap. I cringe away from him, smashing myself against the middle console of the car seat, not sure what he's doing out here in the woods and why he's now trying to get into my car. I sneak a peek at him and see he has a piercing in his eyebrow.

What makes people want to stick strange metal objects into their face?

"Don't touch me!" I scream as he reaches into the car. I wish I had a gun. Or a knife. But all I have is a pack of orange Tic-Tac's, and although I did get one stuck in my throat once, I doubt I could use them as a self-defense weapon right now.

"Okay, lady, just calm down. Did you hit your head?"

Lady? Who's he calling lady? He only looks a little bit older than I am-maybe early thirties. I thought men only called older ladies 'lady'.

"No, I didn't hit my head." Or did I? I reach up and start touching my head. There is a little sore spot and it feels wet. I pull my finger away and examine it. Blood!

"Oh, my God. I think I cracked my skull open!"

"No, you didn't. It's just a little bump."

"It's bleeding!" I rummage around in my purse, pull out a crumpled tissue and blot my head. It's just a tiny bit of blood, but still. Sasquatch watches me with an amused smirk, then reaches out his hand and pushes my long hair away from my forehead.

"You're okay," he says. "Just a tiny bump."

I pull my head away. "Please, don't touch me, and get your head out of my car."

Laughing, he ignores my request and kneels next to the car, resting his arm on the inside of my open door as if we're just hanging out having a chit-chat, instead of sitting on the side of the road-in a blizzard-in a ditch. I'm pretty sure he's insane.

"So . . . what are you doing way out here?" he asks casually.

"My car is stuck," I reply, sniffling. My nose is running from the cold air.

"Yeah, uh . . . I can see that. I meant, where were you headed before yo