Jake is furious with me.
He doesn’t say anything else about it, but it’s obvious from the way he avoids looking at me and slams the door a little too aggressively when he comes back into the cabin to let us know he’s shoveled a path for him to get his truck back on the road. Chase still hasn’t located the rifle, but he seems satisfied to give up his search if it means getting the hell out of here.
Jake watches me struggling to lift the giant suitcase I’d packed for the trip. It’s true that I probably packed far more than I needed, although considering I really could have been out here for weeks, I don’t think it was so shortsighted. The part that was stupid was not packing extra scarves and hats or at least one damn pair of gloves. I packed a lot, but it was all the wrong stuff. I realize that now.
“Give me that,” Jake finally says as he grabs the luggage from me and throws it over his shoulder easily. Chase ducks his head down, because he’s still struggling with his own luggage. In spite of the time Chase puts in at the gym, Jake is much stronger than he is.
Chase takes the shotgun seat, and I sit in the back. It’s a longer drive than I expected—definitely more than a mile—and we sit in absolute silence. I stare at the back of Jake’s head, remembering when I trimmed his hair for him in the bathroom, and how he’d been so reluctant to remove the patch from his eye.
He finally trusted me to take a look. Then I told him I was leaving anyway.
He’s wrong about it not being safe in the other cabin—I’m sure of it—but I still feel awful about going. I wish I could stay with him. I want to stay behind, possibly spending the entire week in bed. The thought of it makes my whole body tingle, even though I know in my heart it’s something I can’t do. My place isn’t here in the woods. Whatever were to happen between me and Jake would be spectacular, but ultimately temporary.
As badly as I want it, me and Jake are only going to happen in my fantasies.
Jake doesn’t need the map splayed out on Chase’s lap to find his way to the cabin. He knows exactly how to get there, which makes sense given what he told me. His truck struggles a little where the snow is thickest, but after about fifteen minutes, we see a house rising up in the distance.
The other cabin is far larger than Jake’s—at least twice the size. It’s clearly newly built, based on the fresh appearance of the wood. It’s two stories high, and while the roof is caked in snow, it doesn’t look like it might collapse under the weight like Jake’s cabin. It looks warm and welcoming and lovely. I imagine Frette sheets and comforters instead of itchy blankets and sleeping bags.
The only thing that gives me pause for just a split second is the fact that one window, up on the second floor, appears to have a light on.
Why would a light be on in the house? Who is in there? Or perhaps the previous occupants left it on.
“I’ll help you with your bags,” Jake mumbles as he parks the car in front of the cabin.
Chase wordlessly accepts his offer. Jake grabs both our bags and brings them to the front door for us. He drops them at the entrance and flashes me a look that makes my knees wobble.
“Thanks for the ride, Decker,” Chase says. He bares his teeth at Jake in an extremely fake smile. “You could have had a thousand bucks for doing that if you hadn’t been so damn stubborn, you know.”
Jake doesn’t respond. He stares straight ahead.
“Now don’t feel too bad about it.” Chase reaches into his back pocket and pulls out two twenty-dollar bills. “Here’s forty bucks for your troubles. I’m sure you can use it.”
Jake doesn’t reach for the bills. “No, thanks.”
Chase keeps his hand outstretched. “Come on, man. Take it.”
Jake looks like he wants to spit on Chase’s hand. “Keep your money.”
Chase snorts and puts the money back in his wallet. “Fine. Whatever you want. I was just trying to do you a solid. Not like a wanted criminal can hold down a real job.”
Jake stiffens. “Is that all?”
“Yeah.” Chase nods. “You’re dismissed. Go on home to that shithole of yours.”
Jake gives me one last meaningful look before he turns and goes back to his truck. As he starts the engine, I feel the almost irrepressible urge to run after him, screaming at him to wait for me. But like Jake, I’ve got plenty of self-restraint. A lifetime of it.
The right thing to do is to go home.
Chase watches Jake’s truck disappear into the distance, his eyes narrowing. “What an idiot. I can’t believe he wouldn’t take my money.”
He can’t believe it? Because I would have dropped dead of shock if Jake had taken those bills.
“Well,” he says, “it doesn’t much matter either way. The police will be coming to get him soon—probably in the next twenty-four hours.”
I turn my head sharply to stare at Chase. “What?”
He rolls his eyes. “Come on, Nat. You think I’m not going to call the police on that guy? He’s a murderer. If we don’t report having seen him, we’re co-conspirators. Or something. It’s our civic duty to report him.” He digs his keys out of his pocket. “Plus he’s an asshole. This will teach him to mess with me.”
That’s right. Chase doesn’t care about a murderer being brought to justice or his civic duty. He’s all about teaching a lesson to anyone who doesn’t do what he says. That’s Chase all over.
I’ve got to warn Jake. I’m convinced he’s been framed, like he told me, but I doubt there will be any justice for him if he’s pissed off an infamous mobster. Except how can I warn him? He doesn’t have a phone. And I couldn’t find his cabin again if my life depended on it.
There’s nothing I can do.
Well, there’s one thing I can do. Chase and I are done for good. There’s no amount of begging that will get me to get back together with him. I don’t even want to lay eyes on him again after this trip.
The inside of the cabin looks like a luxury hotel compared with Jake’s place. I almost die of happiness when I flick the light switch on the wall and the lights turn on. Oh, electricity… how I missed you.
The living area is gorgeous. There are two dark leather sofas, neither of which appear the slightest bit lumpy. There’s a television in the center of the room that’s even larger than my screen at home (and that’s not small—believe me). The kitchen is fully equipped with every appliance I can imagine, and I suspect the pantry doesn’t contain any canned crab.
Chase makes a beeline to the refrigerator and throws it open. He starts rifling through the shelves. “Thank God they’ve got real food here. I thought I was going to starve to death in that place.”
I feel a tiny lump in my throat. “It wasn’t so bad.”
“Are you kidding me?” Chase says into the fridge. He pulls out a bowl of something unidentifiable. “Remember those crab cakes from the can? That was awful. Worst thing I’ve ever tasted.
I’ve made a terrible mistake.
I should have stayed with Jake. I don’t want to be here with Chase another minute. Jake was telling the truth—he would have gotten me home. I don’t know what would have come of him and me, but I know he isn’t a murderer.
But it’s too late. He’s gone. I’ll never see him again, except maybe in the newspapers if he isn’t smart enough to disappear before the police get to him.
I see a phone sitting on the end table next to one of the sofas. The sight of it cheers me slightly. A real phone. I can make a call. I can finally call Drew and let him know that I’m all right. And he can send help for us.
I sit down on the couch and pick up the receiver. I get ready to dial, but I don’t hear anything. No dial tone. I press it to my ear, but there’s no sound.
The phone is dead.
“Chase!” I call into the kitchen. “I think the phones are out!”
He emerges from the kitchen, wiping his hands on his slacks. “That one is, but the one upstairs works.”
“Oh.” I frown at the receiver. “Uh, I guess I’ll go upstairs then.”
Except how does Chase know that? He’s only been down here with me. How would he know the phone works upstairs?
“You know,” Chase says as he wanders in the center of the living room, standing over me, “I saw you two outside.”
I lift my eyes to look at him. “Excuse me?”
“I saw you kissing that Neanderthal.” Chase stares at me with unblinking, hazel eyes that somehow look very dark all of a sudden. “When you moved out of the way of the window, I went outside. I saw everything.”
It feels like a vise is tightening around my chest, and it’s suddenly very hard to breathe. “Oh…”
His eyes are like daggers. “What was it like kissing a shaved ape?”
He clucks his tongue. “Is that all you’ve got to say for yourself, Natalie?”
“Chase,” I manage. “I’m so sorry. But… you and I… we’re broken up, so…”
I expect a protest. How dare I do such a thing under his nose when our relationship isn’t even cold? How dare I humiliate him that way?
But instead of yelling and throwing a tantrum, Chase simply shrugs and says, “I know.”
I blink a few times. “So… you’re okay with it?”
He shrugs. “Of course. Like you said, we broke up.”
“Oh.” My shoulders sag in relief. He’s being so mature about this—it almost makes me regret the fact that we’re breaking up. Well, not really.
He sighs. “It is a shame though, Natalie. I could have made you very happy if you became my wife.” He cocks his head to the side. “Well, maybe not very happy, but I think you would have had a good life. Truly.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small pistol. “Instead, it has to come to this.”