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By:Jay Crownover

Chapter 1


I was cold.


Frigid all the way down to my bones. Bones that ached and throbbed under my icy skin from the impact of my sporty little SUV sliding off the winding mountain road and into a nearby ravine. I wasn’t sure how many times the vehicle had flipped over, but I could clearly recall my panic and fear as I frantically turned the steering wheel every direction to try and break the skid and to stop the nightmare that was quickly unfolding in front of my eyes. I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, so winter driving was nothing new to me. I had four-wheel drive and was overly confident that winters in Montana couldn’t be any worse than winters in the Mile High.

I was wrong. Really fucking wrong.

I’d never seen so much snow fall in the span of an hour. Everything was white: the road, the shoulder, the sky, my entire windshield. It was a whiteout in a matter of minutes and when the wind picked up, it was like I was trying to drive through a snow globe someone wouldn’t stop shaking. Montana was also far less populated than Colorado. Even up in the mountains where I was from, you would stumble across a little ski town or spread of ranches every fifty miles or so. Montana wasn’t like that. It was…vast. There were stretches and stretches of road that seemed to lead nowhere and along the way there was nothing but the wildlife and intimidating snowdrifts that warned of what was coming—if only I had paid attention.

The wheels of my SUV hit black ice coming around a particularly nasty switchback. The car started to slide toward the edge of the mountain and I knew there was nothing I could do to regain control, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I did everything I wasn’t supposed to do in that situation: slammed the brakes, jerked the wheel, and closed my eyes as I braced for the inevitable impact. Unfortunately, my SUV had big, knobby snow tires on it, so when I hit the battered guardrail that was supposed to save my life, I bounced off of it and toppled over it like a Ping-Pong ball. The car was upside down and sliding down the embankment with one jarring impact after another. The windshield shattered, covering me in glass, and the metal of the roof groaned and shrieked as the force of it hitting the ground sent it crumpling inwards toward my head. The airbag deployed with enough force that I couldn’t breathe when it hit me right in the nose. My chest jerked against my seatbelt so hard that I screamed when the nylon cut into my shoulder and the side of my neck. I could smell blood and gasoline, but over it all I could smell the acrid scent of my fear.

It was seconds—maybe a minute at the most—but it felt like forever for the car to stop flipping. It ended up on its roof, the still-spinning wheels pointed at the night sky as the engine whined and my breath puffed out in white clouds into the chilly Montana air. I could vaguely make out the trunk of a massive tree that had stopped the crash from taking me all the way down to the bottom of the ravine. Everything was on an angle and my long, dark hair was hanging down in my face as blood rushed to my head, making it difficult to see, or to think straight. I turned my head toward the passenger seat, where my purse and overnight bag had been throughout the drive and wasn’t surprised when the seat came up empty. The car had rolled and rolled. If I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt, I would have been thrown out the same way my things had been.

Groaning as I moved my hand to release the clasp of the seatbelt, I saw stars and searing pain shot through my shoulder and down to my fingertips. Everything was slippery with my blood as I worked to get myself free. I knew I couldn’t stay dangling upside down in a car that could work its way free at any moment and take me with it to the bottom of the mountain.

It was a painstaking task, one that had fire and acid burning along all my nerve endings, but I got the seatbelt off and managed to catch myself before I smashed into the jagged and sharp pieces of the destroyed roof that were sticking up like razor blades. Getting out through the annihilated windshield didn’t go as well. I was having a hard time seeing straight and keeping my balance. My thoughts got heavy and my vision went foggy. I caught my palms on the rough edge where there was still glass and felt my skin break. I also felt the sharp pieces poke through the material of my jeans and dig into my knees, but none of that stopped me. I was nothing if not determined.

In my life, I’d had to be.

Every few months it seemed like I was recovering from one disaster or catastrophe after another. I’d never had anything easy and my life was the opposite of smooth sailing. If you asked my parents, I deserved it for all the trouble I’d caused when I was younger. I didn’t agree. Sure, I’d always been a handful and marched to the beat of my own drum, after fucking the drummer, but when that tune turned sour and led me down a dark path, I’d done everything in my power to clean up my act. I had earned a break, I deserved some peace of mind…but it looked like the universe didn’t agree.