Fila found she couldn’t give up her group of female escorts once she’d attached herself to them. She followed Carla dutifully at a vigorous clip through the long airport corridors, outside around a building, and up an elevator to the AirTrain platform. She felt nearly stripped bare in these western clothes. Confused by all the twists and turns, she pressed herself closer to Carla.
“Where are you going?” she asked, raising her voice to carry over the din. Did she sound like an American? She’d spent her first twelve years in this country, but that seemed very, very long ago.
“Penn Station, then to Washington, D.C. How about you?”
“The same. For a start,” Fila added when Carla raised her eyebrows at the coincidence. “Then I’m going on to the Midwest.”
“Well, follow us. I’ll show you where to get your ticket.”
Surely Carla and her chatty friends were angels in disguise, Fila thought as they helped her navigate each step of the way to secure her ticket and find the AirTrain platform. The five minutes they had to wait for the train was the longest five minutes of her life. She found herself tapping her feet and bouncing on her toes. When Carla cocked her head at her inability to keep still, Fila shrugged. “Sorry, I’m excited to get going.”
“You and me both, although I’d like to stay longer in the city,” Carla said. “We’re all going to D.C. for a weekend bridal shower getaway. Kayla’s getting married in two weeks.”
Kayla, hearing her name, turned around and waggled her fingers at Fila. “Don’t you love my ring?”
“It’s beautiful,” Fila assured her as her heart dipped again. She scanned the area for the three men she knew must be looking for her by now. She would have died if they had managed to deliver her to her husband-to-be. She’d seen a photograph of the young man and he looked like a thug. She’d be nothing more to him than a reward for good behavior, for his patience in moving to an infidel country and waiting there to be of service to his brethren back home. Her flesh crawled to think what life with him would be like. What he might do—to her to and to others.
But the day she learned her destiny—to go to the United States and marry this would-be martyr—she knew her prayers had been answered; fate was giving her one chance to finally break free.
She was taking that chance.
It had almost worked.
“Here it comes,” Kayla cried and with a whoosh the AirTrain pulled into the station. Fila waited impatiently as the doors opened and passengers began to disembark. Another worried glance around the platform told her she was still safe… No.
Ice water poured through her veins.
There they were; three men, dark-haired, soberly dressed. Their faces serious. Angry.
They walked toward her down the platform, peering at each woman in turn. Fila clutched her purse to her chest, turned to her new friends and said, “Should we board?”
“In just a minute,” Carla said. They waited for the last passengers to trickle out and Fila forced herself not to look back over her shoulder at the men searching for her. She must not do anything that caught their attention.
I am just an American girl spending time with my American friends, she thought and tried to laugh at something Kayla said.
Finally, Carla took her arm. “Our turn now.”
With relief Fila allowed her to tug her into the train car and down the aisle. She slid into the seat Carla indicated and the other girls sat down around her. Fila risked a look out the window, but couldn’t see the men anymore. “How long until we leave?”
Another of the girls—Julie, she thought her name was—glanced at her watch. “A couple of minutes, unless there’s a delay.”
A couple of minutes? She’d never last that long.
“Hey, want to hear something cool?” Carla asked. “I just downloaded this new song…”
Fila didn’t hear her next words, for the three men entered the train car and made their way down the center aisle, searching each woman’s face. Fila pressed back in her seat and wished she could crawl beneath it.
“Something wrong?” Carla asked her. She held out a set of earbuds and gestured for Fila to take them. Fila accepted the unfamiliar apparatus and tentatively put each end to her ears. She’d seen many passengers use them during her long trip, so she knew what they were meant for. As soon as she held them up to her ears, the noise from the train car receded, replaced by upbeat contemporary music. Fila, cut off from such things for over a decade, didn’t recognize the song, but the style and beat reminded her of her youth, her years in the United States before they’d journeyed back to her parents’ homeland. Before the shooting that ended her parents’ lives.
Before her nightmare began.
When Cab pulled his old black Chevy into the parking lot of the Burger Shack, he promised himself that tomorrow he would treat himself to a home-cooked meal. With vegetables. Potatoes, at least. He was fully capable of cooking for himself—his mother had made sure of that—but he found it lonely work to do much more than slap a marinated piece of meat on the grill when he was the only one eating.
A diet of burgers and fries wasn’t going to get him far in life, however, and all too often he found himself in one of the fast food joints these days. He could make the rounds of his friends’ houses; Ethan and Autumn, Jamie and Claire, and Rob and Morgan all ate normal meals at home often and always issued him invitations. Still, after the ring fiasco, he figured he’d steer clear of his so-called friends for a few days.
He’d been able to keep a lid on his attraction to Rose up until this point by telling himself she was in love with Jason and always would be. When Rob had slipped the ring on her finger the other day and she’d met his gaze, he’d seen the truth. She was aware of him, not just as a friend, but as something more. She’d reacted to his ring’s presence and what it told her. She belonged with him. He’d bet on that.
So where did that leave them? She was engaged to Jason.
Jason had better get a move on, was Cab’s opinion, or he couldn’t complain if another man stole his girl. Still, he would hold back out of deference to the man’s prior claim. For now.
What would Rose want with a county sheriff anyhow? He worked long hours, got decent pay but nothing special. He was a small-town man through and through. Jason was the kind of flashy guy who caught a woman’s heart and didn’t let go. From what he heard about the North Dakota oil patch, Jason could very well be a rich man in a few years.