Extract: Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry
Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America. Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.
But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.
And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…
Read on for an extract from Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry!
Don’t Turn Around
The smell hits her first: burnt rubber and gasoline. Then the pain comes. The roar of blood in her ears, the gurgled strangle of her breath.
She squints out of the splintered windshield. For a split second, she can’t remember where she is. When she does, fear rushes over her, a black, suffocating wave.
And then she hears it: a long, shivering scrape of metal against metal.
She sees a face at the window.
He’s outside, and he’s trying to get in.
322 MILES TO ALBUQUERQUE
Cait kept the engine running.
She’d had the Jeep since college, bought it used the summer before her freshman year with the proceeds of hundreds of hours working retail at Richland Mall, and sometimes it acted up. Normally, she didn’t mind. She relished popping the hood and peering underneath, knowing more times than not that she would be able to fix the problem. Her father had her out in the garage from the time she was six. But at this particular moment, there was no way in hell she would risk the engine stalling.
Outside, there was a glitter of frost on the lawn. The house wasn’t what she was used to, though by now she knew that she should expect anything. Usually, the places were cramped and run- down, cinder block apartment buildings or chipped- stucco bungalows, in neighborhoods where she wouldn’t want to linger after dark.
There was one place about a month ago, on the outskirts of Abilene, that was tucked behind the railroad tracks on Route 20. She drove straight past it the first time, despite the number 22 painted clearly on the side of the mailbox. No way someone lived there, she figured — it wasn’t much more than a shack, and it looked abandoned, the windows boarded up, a rusted-out pickup truck squatting outside, tires long gone. She followed the road another quarter mile, watching for the house, but there was nothing but empty farmland. She double-checked the address: it was right, though she’d known that already. They didn’t make mistakes about things like that back at the office. So she turned around and parked outside the shack, and sure enough, a girl who didn’t look a day over eighteen ran out from behind the house and climbed silently into the Jeep. Cait could still picture the girl’s nervous smile, the long shining braid that fell down her back, the halfmoons of dirt nestled beneath her fingernails.
But this place was different: a McMansion in a modern development, complete with a two-car garage and a light-up reindeer on the lawn. One of the tasteful ones made of wire and tiny white lights, not the inflatable kind her parents used to stick on top of their house back in Waco, two sagging reindeer pulling a bloated Santa across the roof. The house itself was built of red brick and topped with a series of peaked roofs, and there was a small paved path curving up to the imposing front door. Property was cheaper here than in Austin – most places were cheap compared to Austin — but this was definitely the house of someone who wasn’t shy with a few bucks.
It threw her off a little, this house.
Cait scanned the street for any sign of movement. The windows on the houses were squeezed shut, and the only light came from the pretty streetlamps that lined the sidewalk. A child’s red tricycle lay in a driveway, forgotten until tomorrow. She pictured a plump-cheeked toddler riding up and down the sidewalk, legs pumping, little fingers clutching the handlebars, wind rushing past as she sped up, shrieking with joy or terror, or maybe both.
The road had emptied out pretty quickly once she was out of Austin’s sprawl, and soon it was just her and a few fellow travelers driving along the long, flat, endless road. The view didn’t change much, just empty plains stretching out as far as she could see, briefly interrupted by the green of watered lawns and neatly plotted houses that signaled a town.
Eight hours later, and here she was, waiting. She shifted in her seat, scratched an itch, stifled a yawn. She’d need to get coffee once they were on the road. She didn’t want to stop until they were clear of the city.
She checked the clock on the dashboard: 12:10. Pickup had been at midnight, but she’d gotten there a few minutes early, just in case. She’d been waiting for a while now. It happened sometimes. People got nervous, had second thoughts. If they changed their minds, they were meant to give her a signal: flick the lights three times quick, and she’d know they weren’t coming. Two flicks meant there was trouble and she should call the police.
So far that night, there’d been nothing.
She wasn’t worried, at least not yet. She scanned the road again. All quiet in Pleasantville. Every car tucked up in its garage, every person tucked up in bed.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught something. One hand gripped the wheel, the other the gearshift. This could be it. Her heart pounded in her chest.
She watched a possum slinking under a thick hedge and shuddered. She’d grown up with possums, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hate them. They were cute enough as babies, but when they were full-grown, they were mean little suckers. Still, a possum wasn’t going to give her any trouble.
Eyes back on the house. Still dark, still nothing. The clock read 12:15. She’d give it another five. They weren’t meant to linger. Lingering attracted attention. If one of the neighbors happened to get up to use the bathroom and see a beat-up old Jeep parked out front, they’d call the cops quicker than a lightning bug in July. And nobody wanted the cops involved in something like this. You never knew which way they’d swing.
One of the curtains in the house twitched, and a moment later, a light came on downstairs. This was it: now or never. She straightened up in her seat and wiped the mascara smudges from under her eyes.
Get ready. As soon as she gets in the car, you’ve got to go.
A few seconds later, a blond woman wearing a pressed white shirt and khakis emerged. She had a bag slung over her shoulder that looked expensive. Actually, her whole person looked expensive — slick and golden and whistle-clean. Cait watched the woman lock the door behind her, hesitate, check again that it was locked.
Sweat pricked at the small of Cait’s back. Comeoncomeoncomeon.
The woman stole glances at the neighboring houses and hurried down the path.
Cait reached over and swung the passenger door open from the inside. The woman’s face appeared.
“Hi, Rebecca?” Cait made sure to smile when she said the woman’s name. It was important to put them at ease as quickly as possible. The woman nodded and climbed in. Her smell filled the Jeep, cotton and vanilla and sandalwood. “I’m Caitlyn,” she said, though the woman would have known that already. “But you can call me Cait.” The woman nodded again and pulled her bag tight to her lap. “The seat belt comes from the back,” Cait said, and the woman frowned before reaching behind and snapping the belt into the clasp. She stared straight ahead, through the windshield, at the deserted suburban street.
Cait shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb.
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