Second Chances (Woodburn Book 1)

By: Rhea Madison
For J - my one true love.





CHAPTER ONE




“Dammit!”

Ellen slammed her palms against the steering wheel and burst into tears. The day’s weight came crashing down on her head, and she couldn’t stem the tide of her grief and sorrow. Yesterday, she’d had a good life, a happy life, despite its imperfections, and now all she had was a broken heart and a bleak outlook on her future. Her shoulders shook with the force of her weeping, and she let the tears come, unable to outrun them for another moment.

Closing her eyes, she saw it all again, clear as a movie in high definition - the rippling muscles of Mark’s naked back as he thrust into the woman beneath him, echoing moans ringing clear around the room, her own horrified shriek, her vomit in Mark’s prized rose bush. Ellen swiped angrily at her face as the burn of shame and rejection filled her veins, and her heartbeat roared in her ears. Why hadn’t she been enough for him?

Eventually, her sobbing slowed to gradual tears and hiccups before stopping altogether, chased by a weary sigh. A glance in the rear-view mirror showed her face had gone red, eyes puffy. With another curse, she opened the car door and stepped out into the downpour. Sheets of water came down so hard they stung her cheeks and plastered her raven hair to her head within seconds. Pushing it out of her eyes, she sloshed through the puddles on the side of the road, mourning the destruction of her favorite pair of pumps. Perhaps running out the door without so much as changing or grabbing an overnight bag hadn’t been the best idea, but she couldn’t have stayed one second longer.

Ellen didn’t know the first thing about cars, but people always seemed to raise the hood and peer underneath it whenever they broke down on the side of the road, so that was what she did. White smoke poured from the compartment, accompanied by a sickeningly sweet smell. It was overheating. That much she knew, but for the rest of it, she may as well have been trying to decipher hieroglyphics. A glance at her phone showed zero bars, and Ellen screamed out her frustration on the side of a mountain in western North Carolina.

The sky was darkening and rumbling with thunder, and the rain made it difficult to get a feel for her surroundings. She’d driven around in these mountains enough to imagine the scene in her mind’s eye, however. Ellen came from the sleepy town of Milledgeville, Georgia, whose only claims to fame were the now abandoned state mental institution and Georgia College - a small time school with a quaint campus. Her father had loved the mountains, though, and every year, when most of her friends were packing off to Savannah or Myrtle Beach for summer vacations, the Harpers were slogging up to these mountains. As a child, she’d resented it. What child would rather spend her summers in the mountains than at the beach? But when she’d reached adulthood, and after her father had passed away, these mountains had become her escape, her source of comfort. These Blue Ridge Mountains offered her spectacular views to take her mind off her troubles, while also making her feel closer to her dad.

As much as she loved the area, her current surroundings were unfamiliar. Ellen wasn’t sure if she’d taken a wrong road while her mind had been blanked out by pain and fury, or if it was the weather that was clouding her memory now. Either way, she felt cold and alone, soaked to the bone and starving. She had no phone and no clothes, and the last town she’d passed had been close to ten miles back. Walking was out of the question, and who knew how far it would be to the next town?

Her stomach rumbled.

That son of a whore, Mark, and his new... whatever she was, were probably using her dinner reservations right this minute to feast on lobster bisque and Viognier, while she stood, drenched to the bone, in the pouring rain in BFE. Life was really a bitch sometimes. Glancing to where her ruined silk shirt clung to her chest, she was struck with the absurdity of her situation. Laughter, sudden and brash, bubbled out of her chest until she was doubled over with her hands on her knees.

The sound of tires on wet pavement had her straightening up. An old Ford truck, painted cobalt blue and looking fresh from the showroom floor, pulled off the road in front of her car, and she wasn’t sure whether she should be relieved or frightened. She’d seen all those crime dramas about women being abducted from situations such as this. However, what options did she have? With her car not running, and no food, water, or cell service, she had little choice but to trust whoever stepped out of the truck.

Ellen held her breath as the truck door opened and a tall, broad-shouldered man climbed out wearing a pair of dirty, faded jeans and a gray uniform shirt. He stayed by his vehicle, though she didn’t know whether that was because he was impolite or if he was trying to set her mind at ease.

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