Powered by DitDat

2014 Christian Retailers Best Award--Mystery/Suspense

2014 Finalist, ECPA Christian Book Award--Fiction

2014 Finalist, ACFW Carol Award--Suspense

2014 Nominee, Christy Award--Suspense

2014 Finalist, ForeWord Book of the Year--Thriller

2014 Finalist, Inspy Award--Mystery/Thriller


If I’d had any idea what those words would mean to me, to my mother and daughter, I’d have fled California without looking back.

While driving a rural road, Hannah Shire and her aging mother, who suffers 
from dementia, stop to help a man at the scene of a car accident. The man whispers mysterious words in Hannah’s ear. Soon people want to kill Hannah
 and her mother for what they “know.” Even law enforcement may be involved.

The two women must flee for their lives. But how does Hannah hide her
 confused mother? Carol just wants to listen to her pop music, wear her 
favorite purple hat, and go home. And if they turn to Hannah’s 
twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Emily, for help, will she fall into danger
 as well?

Pressed on all sides, Hannah must keep all three generations of women 
in her family alive. Only then does she learn the threat is not just to her
 loved ones, but the entire country …

"A nail-biting thrill ride from start to finish ... a frighteningly true-to-life scenario."
--RT BookReviews

Chapter 1

Copyright 2013 by Brandilyn Collins
Used by permission of B&H Publishing

Sunday, February 24, 2013

“When I was in fifth grade, three kids in my class swore up and down they saw a woman with a baby fly by the window.”

This statement, out of the blue, from my eighty-two-year-old mother.

I glanced at her. She was looking out her car window, veined hands folded in her lap. Her ever-present Annie-Hall-style purple hat sat at a rakish angle on her white head. As usual, she wore no makeup, but her cheeks still tinged a faint peach. That coloring was a source of pride for my mother, as was her perfect eyesight. 

“Interesting. Why do you suppose the kids said that?”

“Because it happened, of course.”

“People don’t fly, Mom.”

“Well, they did that day.”

Here we go.

“Maybe the woman just walked by, and the kids thought she was flying.”

“Our classroom was on the second floor.”

Mom had me there. “Maybe they made it up.”

“Absolutely not! One of them was my good friend, Julie. She was straight as an arrow. Never lied about anything.” Mom’s voice carried that decisive ring that signaled she’d dug in her heels. Happened more and more often these days. Many times I just let it go. But when her words defied logic, something within me wanted to fight the dementia that had begun to nibble at her mind. My mother had always been so independent. If elderly women were supposed to wear red hats, Carol Ray Ballard’s would be purple. If they attended classical concerts, she’d go to a nightclub and dance to every song—by herself.

Of all people, my mother should be able to beat this.

“Okay, maybe they were just mistaken.” I kept my tone light. “Maybe a big bird flew by, and somehow the kids convinced themselves they’d seen flying people.”

Mom sniffed. “Birds so often look like a woman with a baby.”

My heart twinged. Now she’d descended into just plain stubbornness. Why did I insist on pushing her? It was pointless. This life-stealing illness was so powerful. Yet I kept acting as though I could beat it back. I couldn’t. It just came on and on, a slow-rising tide.I was a fixer, but I couldn’t fix this.

I should take cues from my twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Emily. She handled her grandmother far better than I did. Emily was known for speaking her mind and not taking flak from anyone. Yet she was so patient with her “Grand.” So willing to just let the woman be.

“Honestly.” My mother folded her arms and huffed. “Sometimes you act like I’m just stupid.”

“Mom, no! I’ve never thought you’re stupid. Not for a second.”

I negotiated a curve on Tunitas Creek Road, off Highway 1, a little south of Half Moon Bay, California. We’d set out from our weekend at the Ritz Carlton on the ocean to return to our home in San Carlos. Instead of taking the more popular Highway 92 over the hills, I’d taken a detour, choosing to follow the little-used Tunitas up to Skyline, then hook up to 92.

An off-the-cuff decision that would change our lives.

It was a beautiful drive on this afternoon in late February. The weather was unseasonably warm and dry, the month known for bringing rain to the Bay Area. Mom and I wore coats, but they were much lighter than usual. We’d both dressed in casual clothes for our trip home, I in jeans and a blue sweatshirt, Mom in her pull-on knit pants and a long-sleeved blouse. Our weekend had done Mom a world of good, or so I’d thought. She’d had fewer episodes of disjointed conversation or misplacing an item. I’d hoped that could last. Maybe I just needed to get her out more. Maybe . . . something.

“Anyway, I’m sure your friends were right, Mom, the woman and baby must have flown.” I tried to keep the defeat from my voice.

Mom made a point of continuing to look out her window. “You don’t really believe me.”

“Yes, I do.”

We rounded another curve, admiring the scenery. I hoped Mom would let the subject drop. The wild pull of the ocean had given way to an open field.  “We should call Emily when we get home. She’ll want to hear—”

“Look!” Mom’s finger jerked toward her side of the road. My gaze flicked to follow her gesture—and landed on a small gray car, gone some distance off the pavement and flipped onto its passenger side. I gasped.

“Oh, dear, there’s a man!” Mom’s voice quivered.

He lay on his back in the grass. Unmoving.

It happened so fast, we’d passed the scene before I could react. My foot hit the brake. I steered our car off the road and onto grass, carving to a halt. Turned off the engine and grabbed out the keys. I couldn’t leave them in the ignition with my mother around. “Mom, you stay here, okay? Don’t move. I’ll run back and check on him.”

I bounded out of my Ford Escort, dropping my keys in the pocket of my coat. Then I remembered my cell phone. I whirled back and opened the rear door to fish it from my purse.

“You think he’s okay?” Mom was turned around in her seat, her face pinched.

“Don’t know, I’ll see.”

My cell phone fell into the same pocket as my keys. I ran toward the man and sank to my knees beside him. He looked to be in his late seventies, his face gray. On more than one occasion a patient in the cardiologist’s office in which I served as receptionist had collapsed in the waiting room. I was used to helping the infirm and elderly. My heart ached for every one of them, even as I snapped into a no-nonsense, medical mode.

“Sir?” I placed the backs of my fingers against the man’s neck and felt a pulse. “Sir, can you hear me?”

His eyes fluttered open. His mouth moved to talk, but no sound came.

“Do you hurt anywhere?” I checked down the length of his body. His legs looked normal, nothing torqued at an odd angle. Had he been thrown from his car? I glanced at the vehicle. The open window of the driver’s side gaped up at the sky. Could he have been thrown out of such a small space? Maybe he climbed out.

The man’s lips tremored. “M-my . . .” He lifted a shaking hand and slid it over his heart.

“Your chest?”

“Unhh.” He winced.

I pulled my phone from my pocket and punched in 911. The man’s hand raised, reaching for my wrist.

“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”

“Auto accident on Tunitas Road, off Highway 1. One victim, male, late seventies. He’s outside the car, lying on his back. Complaining of chest pains. I see no other obvious signs of trauma.”

“Is he breathing?”

“Yes. Trying to talk.”

“All right, stay on the line, please.”

The man’s cold fingers fumbled for me. “Lis . . .”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” I grasped his hand. “Help will be on the way. I’ll stay with you.”

“Nnnn . . .”

“Shh, it’s okay. Let’s have a look at your chest.”

I eased his arm toward the ground and fumbled one-handed with the buttons on his coat. His hand shot up and grabbed mine again. “Lisss!”

His strength startled me. Abject fear etched his face. I stopped all movement.

“Ma’am, ma’am?” The woman’s voice came through my phone.

I held the man’s hand, my eyes on him as I pulled the cell close to my ear. “I’m here.”

“Is he able to move his legs?”

The man’s fingers tightened over mine. “Pleease . . .”

Such fear in his eyes. I’d seen it before in a patient who knew he was dying. Did this man feel that? I tried to give him a reassuring smile, but it came out twisted. “Shh. It’s all right.” Into the phone I said, “I don’t know. When will you get here?”

“Help’s on the way from Half Moon Bay. Five to ten minutes.”

The man gasped in breaths. “Raaaalll  . . .” His fingers sank into my palm, his determined expression shooting right through me. He must befeeling himself slip away. Did he have a final message for someone? If so, I would move Earth to deliver it.

I knew I was supposed to stay on the phone. Report what vital signs I could. But this panicked man was alone and terrified, and I was all he had.

“I have to put the phone down for a moment,” I told Emergency. I laid it on the grass without waiting for a reply.

“Raalll . . .”

With both hands, I grasped the man’s fingers. Shifted my body so he could see my face more easily. “Ral?”

His head tried to nod. “Ral . . . ee.”


“Unhh.” His nails sank into my skin. “In . . . Ral-leigh.” The last syllable sank like a sigh.

“In Raleigh.”

“Yeah.” Tears sprang to his eyes, as if he couldn’t believe he’d gotten it out. My own eyes watered in response. His emotion rolled off him like fog, wrapping around my shoulders. Making me shiver.

Pain crimped his face. He closed his eyes, a tear running down each temple. “F-find. Please. S-save.”

Find what? “Okay.” I nodded. “I will.”

He looked at me once again, his gaze piercing. “Prom . . .”

“I promise.”

“Im . . . port . . .”

“It’s important?”


“Is he okay?” My mother’s voice drifted from behind me.

Oh, no. I half-turned. “Mom, I wanted you to stay in the car.”

She gazed down at the man, her cheeks red. Her hat was about to slip from her head. “Oh, the poor thing.”

“Mom, please.” Anxiety edged my voice. I couldn’t trust her here. What if she wandered out into the road? I let go of the man’s hand, fumbling around to face Mom, still on my knees. “Please get back to the car.” How long until we saw the ambulance? The police?

“No, I want to help.”

Movement from the man rustled from behind. He grasped the left side of my coat, his fingers plucking at my pocket.

“Mom, listen to me.”

But my mother had no intention of listening. She slipped to the man’s other side and awkwardly lowered herself to the ground. I shuffled back around to face them both. At least Mom was right in front of me.

The man’s hand fell back to his chest. His mouth trembled.

“That’s all right now, you’ll be all right.” Mom’s words crooned. She placed her hands against the man’s cheeks. “‘In God I trust; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ That’s in the Bible, you know.”

He managed a tiny nod, his gaze latching onto my mother’s face as if it were the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

“My daughter works in a big, important doctor’s office. She knows what to do.” Mom leaned closer to him. “She’s a little stubborn sometimes, but you know children.”

No response. The man was struggling to breathe.

“What’s your name?” Mom asked.

“M . . . Morton.”

“Hi, Morton. I’m Carol. This is my daughter, Hannah.”

Morton’s breathing grew worse. That scared me. I snatched up my cell phone. “Hello? You still there?”

“I’m here. What’s happening?”

“It’s getting harder for him to breathe. We need help now.”

A pause. “They’re en route and should be there soon.”

I’d never gotten Morton’s coat unbuttoned. He could have a wound, maybe from hitting the steering wheel. Or what if he was bleeding internally? Having a heart attack? Not that I could stop that. I threw the phone down again. “Morton, I need to look at your chest.” I reached for the top button, but his arms were in the way.

He wound his fingers around Mom’s small wrist. “In . . . Raleigh.”

“In Raleigh?”

“Ye . . .”

She tilted her head. “What’s in Raleigh?”

“K . . .”

Mom frowned at me. “What’s he—”

A siren wailed in the distance. Thank God. I grabbed my phone again. “They’re here, I’m hanging up.” I punched off the call and dropped the cell into my deep pocket.

I smoothed Morton’s hair. “Hear that? Help’s almost here.”

His glassy eyes turned toward mine. The gray in his face drained to white. “Don’t t-t-t . . .” His jaw snapped up and down, uncontrolled, his voice sounding panicked. “Tell.”

“Don’t tell?”

His eyes closed in a yes. “Any . . . one.” He gripped Mom’s wrist harder, as if his fingers could force into her what he wanted to say.

I could feel the dire need flowing from him. I knew Mom felt it too. My mother and I glanced at each other, shaken to the core.

Mom began to cry. “Oh, you poor man.” She patted his cheeks, her words spilling out as they did when she was overwhelmed. “Don’t tell anyone—okay, we won’t. We’ll come see you in the hospital, and you can tell us all about it. Help him, Jesus, Jesus. Help this poor soul.”

The siren grew loud. I pushed back on my haunches and saw a fire truck round the corner. It veered off the road a little below us and ground to a stop. The siren died away as two men jumped out. A white sheriff’s department car pulled up behind it. Men from the fire truck gathered equipment kits and ran toward us.

Morton’s eyes popped open. He pierced me with a final look. “Be . . . careful.”

I pushed to my feet. My mother didn’t move. “Mom, you’ll need to step back now so they can work on him.”

She brushed her fingertips across the man’s forehead. His eyes were closed again, pain pinching his face. “I don’t want to leave him.”

“You’ll have to.” I moved around Morton’s head to take her elbows.

The firemen reached us. The first fell to his knees on Morton’s other side and nodded to me. “What can you tell me?” He was already reaching into his kit for equipment.

“He’s still complaining of chest pains. I don’t know much more. His name’s Morton.”

The other fireman ran around to our side.

“Come on, Mom.” I pulled her to her feet. “We have to get out of the way.”

With obvious reluctance she shuffled backward with me. We moved some distance away and huddled together to watch. A breeze picked up, whistling a dirge around the parked vehicles. Mom shivered. I put an arm around her thin shoulders. We couldn’t see Morton’s face anymore. Could only watch the back of the fireman closest to us.

A portly sheriff’s deputy hurried from his car and over to Morton and the first responders. “Ambulance is on its way,” he told them.

“Be careful.” What did Morton mean?

The few other cars on Tunitas Road were slowing down, the drivers rubbernecking. A second sheriff’s department vehicle arrived. The deputy hopped out and waved drivers on.

Mom was sniffing. “I feel so sorry for him.”

I squeezed her shoulder. “Me too.”

“We’ll help him, won’t we.” It wasn’t a question.

“Of course we will.”

“He said Raleigh. North Carolina?”

“I guess. Maybe he’s from there.”

“What’s in Raleigh?”

He had tried to say it. A word starting with a K. Maybe a hard C. “I have no idea.”

“Someone important, he said. I think it’s his daughter.”

“His daughter?” The responders were taking vital signs. One reported findings into a radio. The sheriff’s deputy stood over them, watching. He gave me a quick nod, and I nodded back.

“Yes,” Mom said. “She’s a lost soul. He hasn’t seen her for the longest time. He wants to tell her he loves her.”

“I see.”

“So sad.”


“We’ll have to go to Raleigh and find her. Bring her back to him.”

My throat tightened—for more than one reason. I gave Mom a shaky smile.

“We’ll do that, Hannah, won’t we? He wants us to.”

“Okay, Mom.”

She held onto me, her body small and vulnerable. I hugged her back, resting my chin on the top of her purple hat. The breeze blew harder, and Mom shivered more. I rubbed her arms. “You’re cold. Want to get back in the car?”

“No. Morton might need me.” She stuck her hands in her pockets.

She would be upset all evening. Perhaps pace the house, restless. In the morning she may have forgotten these events. Or not. If the latter, she’d latch on to every detail she could remember. Again and again she’d insist on going to Raleigh—all the way across the country—to find Morton’s daughter. No amount of talking would persuade her that the daughter’s existence had sprung from her own mind. That the woman may well not even exist.

Dorothy, Mom’s caretaker, would have to deal with it while I was at work. I’d face it when I got home.

I hugged Mom harder, wanting to cry for her. For me. For the man we could do so little to help. How horrible this was, to see someone struggle to survive. How fragile, our lives.

“Be careful.”

Another siren approached. Soon an ambulance pulled up, a man and woman jumping out.  Now four voices mingled over their patient, exchanging information. Equipment clinked. What was it like to be Morton, flat on his back on the ground, looking up at unknown faces, his life in their hands?

Another vehicle engine sounded behind me. I turned to see a Channel 7 news van pull off the road.

“Oh, no.” I gaped at the van. “How’d they get here so fast?” They must have been in the area already.

The sheriff’s deputy gazed at a man jumping out of the van, camera up and ready.  A woman followed. Looked like a reporter. The deputy mumbled something under his breath and strode past us in their direction. He threw words at me as he walked by: “Can you stick around until they’re done here?”

“Yes.” I knew he’d want my contact information. But I did not want to end up on the evening news.

The deputy hurried on. “You can only film from where you are,” he called to the reporter and cameraman. “I’ll need you to stay back.”

I glanced at Mom. She hadn’t even turned around, her gaze fixed on Morton. The first responders had moved aside, the paramedics fitting a collar around his neck.

“What are they doing?” Mom sounded protective, as if she couldn’t trust them to help her new friend.

“They can’t move him around very much in case he’s got a spinal cord injury. The collar is to protect his neck.”

“He’s going to live, isn’t he?”

My throat tightened. Morton could be someone’s husband, father, grandfather. “I sure hope so.”

One of the paramedics ran to the ambulance and readied a gurney. Next he carried over a backboard and laid it on the ground. With care they moved Morton onto it. They and the fireman lifted Morton up and began carrying him toward the gurney.

I flicked a look over my shoulder. The Channel 7 camera was filming.

“I want to say good-bye.” Mom pulled away from me before I could stop her. She trundled after the paramedics. “Wait! I want to see him.”

They didn’t stop. I went after her.

“Wait! Please!”

From the corner of my eye, I saw the camera swing toward Mom.

The medics reached the gurney and laid Morton, still on the backboard, upon it. A young-looking man turned to my mother. “Ma’am, we need to go.”

She brushed past him, determined.


Must have been something in Mom’s eyes. The female paramedic gazed at my mother, then shook her head at her colleague. “One second.”

Mom reached Morton’s side and bent over him. I could see his face. His eyes were still closed. Was he even conscious?

“I remember,” she whispered. “We won’t forget.” She patted his head.

I looked to one of the men from the fire truck. “Where are they taking him?”

“Coastside in Moss Beach. It’s the closest hospital.”

“Is he going to make it?”

He bunched his lips. “Don’t know. I don’t like how his breathing sounds.”

“Okay, let’s go.” The female paramedic nudged Mom away. I slipped to my mother’s side and eased her back from the gurney. The paramedics placed Morton into the ambulance and shut the doors.

Mom clutched her hands to her chest, watching. Trembling.

The camera turned from us to the ambulance.

One of the men from the fire truck nodded to me. “Thanks for your help.”

“Sure.” Another breeze kicked up as the ambulance pulled onto the highway and turned back toward the coast. The heady scent of grass and dirt swept over me. I glanced back toward Morton’s small car, still on its side. How crushed it looked. The harbinger of death.

A sudden sense of doom sank talons into me. I wanted to be away from this scene of disaster and the rolling news camera. Safe and quiet in my home with my mother.

“Let’s move back a little from the road, Mom.” I took her elbow.

“Wait. I have to watch him as long as I can.”

We gazed at the back of the ambulance until it disappeared around a corner.

“Okay.” I nudged her arm.

She looked at me, her eyes still shiny with tears. “Can we go home now?” Her lips turned down, forlorn.

“Yes. Soon as we talk to the deputy.”

“What for?”

“He’ll probably want to get our names and phone number, since we were the first witnesses.”

The firemen headed for their truck. The reporter and her cameraman made a beeline for us, microphone in her hand. “Ma’am, did you see the accident?”

I cringed and shook my head.

“Wait now.” The deputy hustled toward them, his hands up. “I need to talk to these folks first.”

“But if we could just ask—”

“You’ll have to wait.”

Mom looked on with round eyes. “Are we gonna be on television?”

I shuddered at the thought of such attention. “Not if I can help it.”

The deputy had a few more words with the reporter, then headed our way. The camera followed him. I turned my back to it, shuffling Mom around with me.

“Remember,” Mom whispered. “Don’t tell.”

“Well, I imagine it’s okay to tell law enforcement.”

“No, it isn’t!” Her voice rose with immediate indignation. She grasped my hands. “We promised. We promised Morton!”

“I know, but—”

“Don’t you dare say anything!” Her expression hardened, a precursor to her episodes. My heart stilled. One of my mother’s screaming meltdowns and a rolling TV camera would be a terrible mix.

“Tell me you won’t, Hannah. Tell me you won’t!” She shook a boney finger at me.

“Okay, Mom, okay.” I grabbed her finger and lowered it. Anything to keep this from escalating.

Since she’d come to live with me, that was how I’d learned to live my life.

The deputy came around to stand in front of us. He had broad shoulders, a big neck. Mom shot me a hard look, but said no more. The deputy eyed her. How much had he heard?

He held his beefy hand out to me. “Good afternoon. I’m Deputy Harcroft from the Sheriff’s Department Coastside Patrol. I understand you were first on the scene. You called 911?”

“Yes.” Mom spoke before I could. “My daughter ran to help. His name is Morton. Like the salt.”

Deputy Harcroft’s gaze lingered on Mom’s face, as if assessing her. Then he turned back to me. “Where were you headed when you saw the accident?”

“San Carlos. Where we live.”

“San Carlos? Where were you coming from?”

“The Ritz Carlton.”

“Why didn’t you take Highway 92?”

What was this? “I decided to take a more rural drive.”

“It was lovely,” Mom said. “Until we saw poor Morton.”

Harcroft gazed at her again.

He pulled a small notebook and pen from his shirt pocket. “I need to take your information, if you don’t mind. Your names, what you saw. Won’t take long.”

Tiredness surged through me, and the chilled air scraped my skin. Where had the warmth of the day gone? “Sure. I do hope it’s quick. I’d like to get my mother home as soon as possible.”

“No problem.”

Mom shook her head at me. “I’m fine, Hannah.”

“Do you want to wait in the car, Mom? I can start the engine and turn up the heat.”

“Nothing doing.” She gave me a look that said she had to stay here and keep an eye on me.

The deputy asked our names, address, and phone numbers for home and my work. Then took down the license plate of my car. He wanted to know what we had witnessed. Did we see the crash? Any idea how it happened? I told him what we knew, which wasn’t much. Mom remained quiet. But every now and then she pinched my arm as a reminder—don’t tell.

The deputy frowned, his eyes shifting to Morton’s overturned car. My gaze followed. Not until that moment did it strike me—how strange, this accident. The car was on the side of the road we’d been driving yet was pointed in the opposite direction. Had he been going toward Highway 1 instead of away from it? And why had he wrecked in the first place? I saw no skid marks, nothing that would make him swerve. He hadn’t sounded drunk. Hadn’t smelled drunk. What had happened here?

An uneasy feeling slow-rolled through my limbs.

“Don’t tell anyone . . . Be careful.”

The deputy refocused on me. “Anything Morton told you that we should know? Maybe the name of a family member we can contact?”

“No!” Mom spoke the word with vehemence. The deputy’s eyebrows rose. He looked to me, as if for an explanation.

For a moment I hesitated. Shouldn’t I tell the deputy everything, regardless of my mother’s reaction? My sense of civilian duty said yes. The memory of Morton’s eyes cried no. He’d trusted us, total strangers. He’d warned us. What could drive a man to such desperation?

I tried to smile at the deputy. “My mother’s pretty upset about the whole thing.” I gave him a meaningful look, patting Mom’s arm.

He gazed at her again. “I understand. But I need to make sure you’ve told me everything.” The deputy locked eyes with me.

He had heard something.

“We told you everything.” Mom glared at him.

For a drawn-out second the deputy and I faced off. My neck tingled. I didn’t like the feel of any of this. Including the news camera aimed at my back.

I swallowed. “She’s right. We have.”

Harcroft’s eyes lingered on me. Then he looked at his notes. “Okay. I have what I need for now. Appreciate your cooperation. If anything comes up I’ll contact you.”

Relief snagged my breath. “All right. Thank you.”

“What happens to Morton now?” Mom asked. The wind tugged at her hat. She clamped a hand on top of it.

The deputy offered her a tiny smile. “Maybe if you call Coastside Hospital tonight they’ll be able to tell you something.”

Would the hospital do that, since we weren’t family? But the deputy seemed to be trying to reassure Mom, and for that I was grateful. My unease loosened a little.

I lowered my voice. “Is that reporter still behind us?”

His gaze flicked beyond my shoulder. “Yeah.”

“We don’t want to be on camera. We just want to get out of here.”

“That’s fine, you don’t have to talk to her. You’re free to go.”

“Thanks.” I took Mom’s arm. 

She was still shivering but didn’t complain. We headed toward my car—and heard sudden huffing behind us. “Ma’am!”

I turned to see the reporter awkward-jogging in her high heels, cameraman at her side. My hand flew up, my words fast and tinged with panic. “I don’t want to talk.”

The reporter closed the distance between us. Mom’s eyes bounced from me to the reporter, uncertainty in her face. “Come on, Mom.” I nudged her on.

“Look.” The reporter caught up to my side. “Here’s my card. Amanda Crossland. If you have something later you can call me.”

I waved the card away. “No, thanks.”

Amanda fell back, and I urged Mom to the car. She allowed me to open her door and help her inside. I fastened her seat belt.

As I started the engine I glanced out my window. The deputy was watching me. I gave him a quick wave. He nodded back.

I pulled out onto Tunitas Creek Road and headed back toward Highway 1. No more adventuresome drives toward Skyline for me. I just wanted to get home. The trip would take less than thirty minutes.

As we drove off I could feel the deputy’s gaze watching my car. Did he wonder why I wasn’t continuing on the rural road?

Mom was silent. I couldn’t stop reliving the scene. Morton’s desperate eyes. His words and gripping hands. The deputy’s steady gaze. Why had I lied to him? So what if Mom would have gotten upset. I’d lied to law enforcement.

How was Morton right now? Were the paramedics stabilizing him?

Oh, Lord, please help him make it. I’d call the hospital tonight. Beg someone to tell me how he was doing.

Mom sighed. “‘The Lord is near the brokenhearted. He saves those crushed in spirit.’”

I glanced at her. Despite the memory loss, Mom could still quote many Bible verses. And she clung to them, even if most of the time she could no longer tell you what book they were from. “Are you brokenhearted?”

“I’m sad. For Morton.”

“Yes. I’m sad too.”

We turned off Highway 1 onto 92, leaving Half Moon Bay. Passing nurseries and winding into the hills separating the coast from the Bay Area. Soon eucalyptus trees lined the road, their peeled bark an eerie blend of gray and white. Mom drew in a deep breath through her nose. “Smell that? Vicks VapoRub.”

She’d said the same thing when we passed the trees two days ago. “Yup.”

“I used to rub it on your chest when you had a cold. When you were a little girl.”

“I remember.”

Mom sighed. “A daughter’s a very important thing.”

My thoughts flicked to Emily. “You’re right about that.”

Mom made a satisfied noise in her throat. “That’s why we have to find Morton’s daughter for him.”

Oh, boy. One more reason I should have come clean with the deputy. At least I’d have been able to assure Mom they would handle finding Morton’s daughter.

“We’ll start tomorrow.” Mom’s head bobbed up and down.

“I have to work tomorrow.”

She waved dismissive fingers in the air. “Tell the doctor you’re busy.”

“Don’t tell.” Morton’s plea drummed in my head. “Be careful.”

If I’d had any idea what those words would mean to me, to my mother and daughter, I’d have fled California without looking back.

© 2013 Brandilyn Collins
All Rights Reserved