If I die before I wake, pray the Lord my soul to take.
That single sentence kept running on a loop in her brain. She didn’t know why. Even growing up, her faith was iffy at best. Elizabeth struggled now even more. The facts remained. If there was a devil, then there was a God.
There had to be.
Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel as she pushed that last quarter mile into the town she was to meet Jared. The only person on her side in this whole sordid mess. At first Elizabeth was going to stop, but things had changed after she saw the devil in his true form. Her brain couldn’t reconcile the monster that had threatened her with the handsome man that threatened her. Somehow, it seemed less real, and easier to survive this bullshit if he was just that handsome man. The monster was harder to stomach and it felt like a daunting task to escape him.
It was going on the seven-hour mark. Elizabeth had stopped for gas twice, and ate a small bag of chips. This was slowly catching up to her as she nudged the gas pedal to the floor. The road turned from concrete to dirty the closer she got to the small seaside town of Polignano a Mare. Her heart started to pound faster and her knuckles were white as she clenched the wheel. Elizabeth could see the small turnout. She jerked the wheel to the right and the back of the car fishtailed as she kept up her speed and pushed forward. The car quickly righted itself and she released an ugly, loud sob of relief as the quaint two-story building came into view.
It looked like a simple modest home. Its outside walls were a light tan with dark markings that looked like water damage. The grape vines climbed up to the second story windows. They all looked as if they were open. It appeared the home was on a large, expansive property. Miles of grape vines spread out up a hill behind the home and overlooked the glittering blue blanket of liquid paradise to her right.
Elizabeth couldn’t even enjoy the view. Her vision was blurred from her sudden rush of tears. She’d held back the whole way, distracting herself with the one focus.
Get to Jared.
She unclenched her fingers from the steering wheel and slammed her palm against the horn. The loud wail brought forth two monks that seemed to be racing from the back with another person. Elizabeth fought for breath and vision and she saw a young man, around her age come running for the car from the back of the home.
Without further thought, she slammed both her feet on the brakes. The seatbelt locked and momentarily knocked the wind from her. The car pitched sideways and slid until it finally stopped. Elizabeth couldn’t move. Her body seemed to take on a tremor as her forehead pressed against the wheel and she allowed the ugly tears to flow with abandon. She figured she had refrained from breaking down this long, why not have a good cry?
A mixture of relief and sadness poured through her soul and out of her tearducts. She knew deep down that this was only a reprieve. Like he said, he would find her again. She couldn’t hide. Elizabeth simply delayed the inevitable.
The driver door being jerked open distracted her internal musings. She heard panting breaths. Her own and someone else’s. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied the young man crouching next to her. A tentative hand reached out and rested on her knee.
“Bethy?” The masculine whisper held a note of promise that brought her head up and her gaze over to his.
For that moment she stopped breathing. In this minute of despair she felt the corner of her lips curve up at the devastating man gazing back at her with a look of such heart-pounding concern she could die now and know that someone gave a shit.
“Jared,” she sobbed.
Half of his lips quirked up and she released a highly unattractive laugh/sob. Elizabeth’s chest heaved as the odd spasm took over and her trembling fingers reached for the belt.
“Here, I got it,” he whispered.
He was perfect.
He was all man, with longish dark hair that reached his shoulders. The natural waves throughout made him look like he was from a different time. His deep brown eyes were like black pools that reflected her own pain, yet had a hint of playfulness. His jaw was speckled in a few days’ worth of growth. His face, oh that handsome face. He wasn’t chiseled like Asmodeus; no, he was natural, unblemished. His jaw was strong and wide. A boyish charm glowed from him that made her wish for a life she would never have. A life that was easy, where she could date men like him. Where men like him could even break her heart. The white t-shirt he wore hid nothing. He was broad, with muscles that rippled as he reached over her body and released the seat belt.
Jared carefully reached in, sliding an arm under her knees and behind her back, pulling her from the car. She felt all that strength–sinews, muscles, and power–as he tugged her against his chest. Elizabeth nuzzled against his neck and allowed his warm and fresh scent to consume her. She memorised him in that moment. He smelled like fresh air, sweat, and man. He didn’t coat himself in anything fake. He was just–Jared.
Her fingers fisted the front of his shirt and she heard him chuckle.
“Happy to see me, Bethy?” His laughter pierced her heart and she wished with all that she was that she could have him.
Elizabeth knew in that moment. Her heart wouldn’t be allowed his. She couldn’t doom him to this life. She would stay out the month, figure out a way to break this bullshit debt, and give him his life back.
“You have no idea.”
With that she snuggled in closer as he took her into the home.