Seventeen-year-old, tenacious-runaway Helena stumbles into Mother Nature’s war on humankind. After falling for Conley- the embodiment of fire and Mother’s deadliest weapon- she must choose: survival and a loveless marriage, or love and imminent death.
Helena trembled as she pressed through the darkness, losing speed as the rain soaked into her gown and turned the dirt beneath her feet into mud. Irregular flashes of lightening illuminated the otherwise obscure night, as she grasped at low tree branches and pulled her way through the mess. The rough wood scraped her delicate hands, and snagged at her long hair which hung in a damp curtain around her shoulders. Her shoes squelched with each step. She tripped when her dress tore on a bush. But she set her jaw and reminded herself why she was running.
“I will choose my path,” Helena murmured. “No one else.”
The echoing of horse hooves sounded somewhere in the distance. Whether they were the horses of strangers that could help her escape, or her father’s horse along with some of the townsmen gaining behind her, she couldn’t tell. Helena forced herself onward and the forest began to thin. The clopping had indeed come from ahead of her. Just beyond the tree line, a wagon was being pulled down a narrow, cobbled road.
“Hello?” she called, almost too exhausted to speak.
The rain muted her weak voice. Clearing her throat, she called out again. A baritone voice shouted a command, and the horses slowed. Helena smiled, albeit a tired one, as she stumbled toward the front of the wagon.
Foolish girl, her mother warned. Did you not listen when I told you of strangers? These could be thieves or godless gypsies! Tread with caution, Angel!
Angel… The sentiment stopped her in her tracks.
Her mother had passed away only a few months ago. Perhaps she wasn’t imagining the warning. Perhaps her mother, from the other side, was indeed there and concerned. Helena shook her head. It was too late now. She must beg for passage from the unknown driver before she was caught. And while he may well be a murderer, and this choice might result in her death, Helena felt it would still be preferable to the fate that awaited her at home.
Reaching the front of the wagon, lit by a single swaying lantern, Helena’s heart sank as her eyes locked with those of the driver. He wore a black cape, with the hood pulled on to avoid the rain, but it did nothing to hide the enormity of his body. His legs bent at odd angles to fit in the seat, and his meaty hands, which held the reins, matched his thick arms and torso. Yet it was the depth of his coal-black eyes that unnerved her for they showed little compassion.
But he stopped.
Taking a deep breath, she said, “Begging your pardon, but I’m in desperate need of your help. If I could only ride with you to the next town, I’d be very grateful.”