Today's Reading

"Hey," he shouted, waving his arms. "You don't belong on this trail!"

If the driver heard him, they gave no indication.

A few yards distant a squat boulder had rolled loose, maybe from the earthquake, and come to rest in the middle of the path. No way to get around it with the bushes crowding the trail on both sides. Maybe the van would smash right into the rock and rip out its undercarriage. That would end the joyride in a hurry, he thought with satisfaction.

Bear was standing, tense and ready. If there was a crash, one simple command and the dog would be the first at the scene ready to pull out a victim, or subdue them, whatever the occasion required.

He hollered again. "Stop!" The last word thundered along the ravine, but it was still not enough to be heard over the engine. He scrambled down the incline, taking a good amount of soil with him, and Bear plunged in at his side, undeterred. He would get the plate number by hook or by crook. He raced on, tracking the van as it joggled over the rough trail, rocks clanging against the sides.

The main road was narrow, steep, bordered on one side by a thick fringe of pine trees. On the other shoulder there was a drop-off that led to a creek, full from the early-November storms.

He was working so hard to keep up the pace he almost missed it when a Jeep surged into view behind the van. The driver goosed the gas pedal, closing in on the van. He gasped.

What was he witnessing? An ambush?

The van was halfway through the turn when the Jeep's bumper thwacked into it. The impact forced it sideways off the road. Von dialed his phone and rapidly outlined the situation for the police.

The van slid faster and faster until the tires caught some resistance from the rocks and flipped over, then righted itself again. With a bone-jarring shudder, it slammed to a stop in the water, the front windshield fracturing. Up above, the Jeep had pulled to the shoulder.

Von finished his call and ran, paralleling the winding slope. Bear legged it at his side, outpacing Von as they trampled down toward the river. The Jeep had stopped, but the driver hadn't gotten out.

Enemy. Clearing the brush, he could see the smashed white metal of the van. His nerves went wire taut as he switched gears from pursuit to rescue.

"Recon," he shouted to Bear, circling his index finger at the sky. The dog immediately headed to high ground where he could get a proper view. If Jeep Guy did exit his vehicle, Bear would be the first to know and to report. If Jeep Guy compounded his error by approaching in a threatening manner or drawing a weapon, he'd meet Bear in a hurry. The dog would handle security. Von's priority was the victim. Charging on, he ignored the pain knifing his knee.

Suck it up, Von. Remember all those deep-water training drills? His brain noted the pertinent details. The ambient temperature was dropping. Water poured in through the broken windshield, water that was likely hovering at thirty degrees. His boots sank into the mud as he plunged ankle deep into the freezing creek. Behind the broken glass a woman blinked at him, eyes huge in her pale face. The shock stopped him cold. Stella?

His former fiancée peered at him through the broken glass, her once long brown hair now cut to the jaw, grazed a freckled cheek and honey-colored eyes he knew were flecked with bits of jade.

Stella Rivers gripped the wheel, looking much younger than her twenty- seven years. Wiping water from her lashes she pressed one palm against the door and shoved. The motion tore through his immobility.

He yanked on the handle to assist, but the door was wedged deep against the bank. Without a shovel, that avenue was inaccessible. Options... The passenger window was tipped toward the sky and he could get her out that way, but the move might aggravate any injuries. He searched the fissures in the windshield. Best to extract where the accident had fortuitously provided a sizable crack He jumped up on the slipper hood of the van.

"Cover your face," he shouted.

Stella curled away and cocooned her head in her arms. He rammed his boot into the broken glass to widen the hole. After three kicks that sent his nerves howling, it gave way. With a circular swipe of his heel he busted away the sharp remnants. He reached in, took her wrist and prepared to assist her from the wreck but she scrambled out under her own steam. Encouraging, unless she was in shock and unable to feel her injuries. That would be textbook Stella. She was the poster child for acting in haste, repenting in leisure. He could hardly believe it was her.

She splashed through the water and waded up the bank. Right behind her, he did the same, shooting a look at Bear. She'd met the dog only once before, and that was from a distance. Bear was alert, not telegraphing concern. The Jeep was now gone. 

Stella sank down onto her knees, huddled into a shivering ball, breathing hard. He'd forgotten how petite she was, how young, ten years his junior. All the questions he'd meant to fire at her got scrambled in his mouth and refused to come out. Brain buzzing, he busied himself pulling off his pack and retrieving a nylon jacket from a waterproof pouch.

Wordlessly, he held it out to her.

This excerpt is from the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Quilt Room Secret by Lisa Jones Baker. 

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