01 Feb Lovesick Sneak Peek
My knuckles turned white as I gripped the steering wheel of my 1992 Honda, a silent mantra in my head.
I won’t slide off the canyon road. I won’t plunge into the icy river below. I won’t die tonight. I won’t slide off the canyon road . . .
“Don’t be so dramatic, Lizbeth,” I muttered. “This is fine. Everything is fine. I’m not panicked. Nope.” My voice broke as the wind slammed snow flurries into my window again. “Not at all!”
No consolation came.
Snow pelted my windshield like a vortex of flying white icicles. Only the illumination of my headlights existed in the darkness of this mountain canyon. I’d never felt so alone or so tired.
The soft scent of baby powder lingered in the car as a sublime reminder. My older sister, Bethany, had just been in labor for over 48 hours before she gave birth to my nephew, Shane. The most adorable, squishy, wrinkled, funny-looking baby had never existed. He was exquisite.
Despite the acquisition of my first nephew, every muscle in my body remained tense. I shouldn’t have left the hospital. Shouldn’t have brushed off the storm. Shouldn’t have arrogantly claimed that I’d driven the mountain pass from Jackson City to Pineville a dozen times in far worse snowfall than this.
Now I crept along toward home in Pineville at twenty miles an hour, but felt as if I didn’t move. Maverick would kill me when he found out I didn’t have winter tires on my car yet. But really, who expected a late November blizzard?
The sub-zero temperature left a delicate swirl of frost along the window edges, despite the heat on maximum. All happy vibes from the hospital faded when my front tire skidded on a patch of black ice. The car jerked to the right, then back.
My heart dropped through my stomach as I let off the gas. The car slid around to the front and whipped back again. By sheer willpower, I managed not to scream as I pumped the brakes and counter-turned.
The Honda headed right for a break in the trees anyway.
The forest was the only barrier to a frothing river at the bottom of a rocky canyon one hundred yards below. Snow had frozen over like a field of pearlescent lacquer. In one second, I comprehended that, if kept on this trajectory, I would plunge right into the canyon.
A burst of cold terror shot through my body when my car vaulted past the trees.
“No!” I screamed. “Stop!”
As if possessed, the car headed down hill between large gaps in the forest. I stomped on my brakes, but the tires skidded on the frozen snow.
My front bumper collided with a rock with a sickening crunch seconds later. A pop rang in my ears as the air bag deployed. The car flipped onto its side with a stomach-turning sensation. The seatbelt strained against my chest as I turned upside down.
Half in a daze, I barely registered the car flipping onto its hood, then back on the passenger side. It remained there for a moment, then two. A burned scent filled my nose as I risked a look down to the snowy ground beneath the passenger door.
“Oh no,” I whimpered.
One move and my body weight would tip us back onto the hood. Would that squish me? Could I wiggle out? What if the seat belt was jammed? I’d freeze here in just an hour. Or it could tip back onto the tires and head right for the river. How far was the canyon wall? Couldn’t be far. The general downward slant meant I was near the edge of a slippery shale slope. Thousands of gallons of water streamed by a couple hundred feet below in white, freezing rapids.
Right now, the odds were precarious either way. The seat belt ground into my shoulder as I drew in a deep breath.
“I’m calm,” I whispered. “I’m calm. I’m fine. This is fine. Everything is fine.”
The car engine had stopped. My headlights illuminated the underside of the snow-laden trees. I tried to shove it into park, but the shift had jammed. My emergency brake had been broken for the last year.
A gust of wind rocked the car. I blinked through the haze from the airbag, barely able to make out a murky darkness ahead. Fractured glass marred the windshield in a spiderweb. My thoughts settled into one snowy focus: I could not fall with the car. And if it fell to the tires, this car was going to fall.
Snow pelted the cracked windshield. A burst of cold brushed across my face. I realized the whistle I heard wasn’t the wind, but my frantic breaths.
“Okay,” I whispered. “I have to remain calm.”
Maybe someone would come help. Could anyone have noticed from the road? Not likely, but I flashed the brights just in case. There was a mild chance someone would see my brake lights. Almost not at all. No other car had been in the canyon with me. Nope, that wasn’t an option then.
Had to get out of this myself.
Panic filled me like a hot tea kettle at the thought. How long would it take them to find me? What if the car washed down river and took my body with it? Bethany might never know what happened. Ellie would always wonder.
The car moaned.
The snow continued to drop, thick and gauzy, while I fingered the seat belt. Maybe I could get free, then jump out once the car landed back on the wheels. But how to undo the seatbelt now without falling to the passenger side?
Well, I had to try.
Moving an inch at a time, I reached for the side of the door. Thankfully, the window rolled down. An icy chill snaked into the car. I froze as the car groaned, inching closer to the ground.
It didn’t matter anymore. Whether or not I moved, this car was going down. If I wanted to live, I had to get myself out. With a sharp breath, I threw my weight against my car door and jammed my hand into the seat belt at the same time. The car shivered. The seatbelt stuck.
I did it again.
The car shrieked this time. With a guttural cry, I slammed my hand into the seatbelt again. It loosened, hissing as it retracted. The movement nudged the car to the side until it slammed back onto the tires.
Blood streaked through my body in a whirl. It thundered in my ears. A scream gathered in my throat, rushing out in a wild shriek even though no one could hear.
Frantic, I threw my body out the window just as the wheels started to roll. The edge of the window cut into my torso as I attempted to scramble free. My left leg didn’t follow. Something hugged the ankle.
The seat belt.
Ice cut into my palms as I grabbed at snow in a poor attempt to extricate the rest of my body. The car inched forward. Grunting, I yanked at my left foot, now wrapped in the seat belt. Rocks slipped beneath the front tires as it crested the edge of the cliff face. It slipped, then shuddered.
“No!” I shouted. “No!”
My body slid forward with the car. Snow froze my fingers as I uselessly grasped for purchase. Any movement just seemed to encourage the car forward Just as the front tires crested the cliff edge, a hand gripped my arm.
With a cry, someone yanked me free. My leg pulled free of the seatbelt and I slammed into a body. A willing pair of strong arms dragged me away. We landed on the ground with an oof.
The crash of the Honda as it slammed down the mountainside followed, ending on a wet crunch. I blinked, suspended in time as I stared at the snow whirling in the spot where it had disappeared. My mind raced, unable to comprehend.
How was I not in that car?
A voice called over the gusting wind. “You all right?”
A pair of bright olive eyes tucked into the hoodie of a parka peered at me. Broad shoulders and a strong hand held onto me.
My breath caught—this time, I wasn’t sure I’d get it back. I knew those eyes. The sprinkling of stubble on a chiseled face. My stomach dropped all the way to the river.
“JJ?” I whispered.
He grabbed my shoulders. “Lizbeth, are you okay?”
What were the odds that JJ Bailey of all people would have saved me? I put a hand on my swimming head as my fingers tingled.
Then everything went black.
Lovesick, the second book in the new Coffee Shop Series, comes out on Valentine’s Day!
It’s available for preorder now at your favorite retailer.
Click here to check out the other books in the series!