Blog Tour Extract: Don’t Turn Around – Jessica Barry

Don't Turn Around by Jessica Barry

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

About The Book

Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America. Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

Extract – Chapter 11

I have something a little bit different for you today over on Beverley Has Read. Today I am sharing an extract of Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry as part of the Blog Tour and will be sharing my review on Thursday 15th April which is paperback publication day.

I am thrilled to share Chapter 11 of Don’t Turn Around, you can read the previous chapter over at It Takes A Woman or if you want to read from the beginning, you can find this over at A Little Book Problem.

CLOVIS, NEW MEXICO—
222 MILES TO ALBUQUERQUE

Cait knew a lot of people who didn’t like driving— they hated the road rage and the boredom and the stiff necks and the pins- and needles legs— but she enjoyed it, especially once she was clear of the city and out on the open road. There were times when she would be steering straight on one of these wide Texan roads for hours, staring at the dotted white line leading all the way to the horizon, and a Zen- like calm would come over her. It was the closest she’d come to meditating. She had used one of those apps once— a woman’s voice in her ear, telling her to picture crashing waves or fields of wildflowers— but as hard as she tried, she kept thinking about all the shit she could be doing instead, and eventually, she switched it off and made a to- do list and went to bed.

You could take the girl out of Waco, but you couldn’t make her believe in new- age- wellness horseshit, she guessed.

Out on the road, her mind would empty until it was just the sound of the engine and the feel of the Jeep hurtling forward through space. Sometimes she imagined herself in the car as a single still point in the universe while the rest of the world rushed past. She liked those moments the best, though after a while it started doing weird things to her head, like one of those Magic Eye paintings they ran in the newspaper when she was a kid, and she’d have to squeeze her eyes shut for a second to reset.

Mainly, though, she liked the fact that driving was the only time she was ever truly, genuinely alone. At the bar, she was a sitting duck for whatever lonely soul happened to wander in looking for a drink and a little small talk, and when she wasn’t serving customers, she was laughing politely at the manager’s bad jokes or hassling the barbacks for fresh ice. Even in her cramped one bedroom apartment, she never lost the sense of being surrounded by people. The walls were thin, and every time her neighbors made a smoothie or had sex or went to the bathroom, she could hear it, loud and clear. The sounds of other people’s lives were with her all the time, pushing their way into her head.

In the Jeep, there was silence. It was like floating in her own little bubble, untouchable, even when she was sharing the road with hundreds of other cars. Even now, with Rebecca sitting silently next to her staring out the window, she could almost pretend she was on her own. Almost.

Cait pulled off at the exit for the first town she’d seen since crossing the border into New Mexico, then steered the Jeep through the deserted streets to the glowing blue- and- red smile of an IHOP sign. “Here okay?” she asked, already pulling into a space in a lot that was empty except for a pickup truck and a beat- up El Camino.

When they walked in, the waitress didn’t bother to get up from the stool where she was filling out a crossword puzzle, just pointed at a pile of menus on the greeter stand and told them to sit wherever they wanted. Cait scanned the room, taking in the cook blowing cigarette smoke out through the emergency exit in back and a four- top of shift workers still wearing their high- vis vests. Cait picked a booth by the window and made sure to sit with her back to the wall, so she could keep a lookout.

The waitress eventually came over and took their order— coffee and a slice of cherry pie for Cait, ice water with lemon for Rebecca— and the two of them sat in silence while they waited, the swirl of Muzak filling their heads. The waitress shoved their drinks on the table with a grunt. Not expecting a big tip, then. Cait couldn’t blame her. She knew from her own waitressing days that when you got a table of women, they weren’t usually big tickets— appetizers split four ways and salads- as- mains and single glasses of house white. They tended to split the bill, too, and calculate the tip down to the penny. It wasn’t like serving a table full of men, all dick- swinging and red meat and bottles of Barolo. Not that they’d be serving Barolo in a place like this, but the principle remained. Men wanted to show off for each other, and— if you were lucky— that meant a fat tip for the cute waitress. If you weren’t so lucky, it meant fending off stray hands when you bent over to clear the table.

Cait always tipped big. She’d give the waitress 25 percent, easy, even though the woman hadn’t said a civil word to them yet. She’d do it to prove a point more than anything else. Maybe next time a couple of women walked in here in the middle of the night, the waitress would be a little nicer to them. “Smile, sweetheart. It can’t be that bad.” How many times had she heard that when she was serving tables? Let the smile falter for one second and they were onto her. They thought she owed them that smile. That she should be grateful.

Bartending wasn’t as bad. She controlled the alcohol, which meant that she was the most powerful person in the place. If somebody told her to smile, she could tell him to fuck off, and all they could do was laugh it off, because they wanted their liquor. Plus, there was a bar separating her from the customer. She still got the occasional hand reaching over when she bent down to fetch a beer from the fridge, but it was rare.

Cait poured a long stream of sugar into her coffee and stirred it with a spoon. She didn’t normally take it so sweet, but the adrenaline from the fox was long gone and the exhaustion had set in right behind her eyes and she was left feeling like she was swimming in murky pond water.

“I’m sorry you’ve got to drive at this time of night,” Rebecca said, scraping with her fingernail at a spot of syrup that had congealed on the table. “You know, I can drive for a while if you’re getting tired.”

“I’ll be fine once I get some coffee into my system.” There was no way in hell she was letting someone else drive her baby. “I’m basically nocturnal, anyway. This is no big deal.”

“Do you mind it?”

“Being nocturnal?”

Rebecca nodded.

“It’s fine. I’m a bartender, so it’s an occupational hazard.”

“You are? Where?”

“Back in Austin.” Cait took a long pull of coffee.

“There are some nice bars in Austin, I’ve heard.”

“Yeah, well, mine is the kind of bar where the bartenders wear Stetsons and Daisy Dukes. Not exactly the height of sophistication.”

Rebecca looked horrified. “Seriously? That’s so . . . so . . .”

“Gross? Degrading? Yeah, pretty much.”

“Why are you working there?”

“The money’s decent, and my landlord’s pretty attached to getting paid his rent.”

“Oh. Of course. Sorry, I didn’t mean— ”

“It’s fine.” Cait tried not to roll her eyes. Of course this woman would ask her something like that. She’d probably never had to work a day in her life. She’d probably never even set foot in a place like the Dark Horse, or an IHOP, for that matter. She probably assumed the world just ordered itself around her, one long red carpet rolling out in front of her, ready to be stepped on.

When she was growing up, Cait’s family had been the poor ones in the neighborhood. They’d lived in one of the nicer areas in Waco— her father had inherited the house from his own father— and she’d been surrounded by the children of accountants and doctors and oil executives. She could still picture the look on the popular girls’ faces when it was her mom’s turn to host her Girl Scout troop. Mindy had wrinkled her cute little nose when she saw the linoleum kitchen floor and the ancient toaster oven languishing on the countertop. Cait had overheard her telling the other girls that it was a “trash house,” and the girls had all laughed. She’d never heard that term before, but she knew instantly what it meant and that it was probably true. After they’d gone home, her mom had given her a couple of scoops of ice cream and told her not to listen to “those little bitches,” but of course she had, and from then on she felt like she saw everything in her life through Mindy’s eyes. The couch where she’d curl up with her mother and watch old movies suddenly looked tattered, the bedroom her three brothers shared suddenly seemed cramped and sad— no one else in her class had to share a room, never mind a bunk bed— and her mom’s Friday tuna noodle casserole, which had been her favorite, suddenly tasted weird and cheap. Trash food, she would think as she sank her fork into it.

Nine was the year when she discovered that all of the things she’d loved about her life were actually not good enough. She drained her coffee, sediment leaving a bitter trail down her throat, and signaled the waitress for a refill. She mashed her fork into the slice of pie. Now that it was in front of her, she didn’t want it. The cherries were near- fluorescent red and covered in thick, syrupy goop. She pushed her plate away. The coffee would have to be enough to get her through.

She scanned the room. The four- top was still there in the back, the table littered with torn- up sugar packets and half- drunk cups of coffee. She saw one of them pass a flask under the table. She upped the tip she’d leave for the waitress, who had a long shift ahead of her, trying to get those guys out the door.

The cook had come back in from his cigarette break and was now standing at the pass, cell phone in hand. The waitress was at the refill station, taking her sweet time picking up the coffeepot. Cait’s eyes snagged on a man sitting at the counter. She hadn’t noticed him before. Middle- aged. Jeans and T-shirt. Nothing special about him. Still, she felt a seed of unease start to germinate in her stomach. She had to be alert all the time— wasn’t that the motto at Sisters of Service? “Ever watchful, ever vigilant.” When she’d become a driver for them, she’d sat through eight hours of training on an overcast Sunday, where they went over and over the necessary safety precautions. The drivers would be using their own cars— the organization couldn’t afford a fleet— but would be given plates registered to a dummy address in Dallas. They weren’t allowed to tell anyone where they were going or whom they were driving. No cell phones. No photos. No last names. And always, always assume the worst. At the time, she’d thought it was a little excessive, but she’d learned to appreciate the stakes. Especially since the man at the counter had turned to stare at Rebecca.

It wasn’t the kind of pervy once- over she’d had so often herself and would expect a woman as pretty as Rebecca to get all the time. There was something behind his eyes that went beyond trying to imagine a woman naked. He looked like he wanted to strip her down to the bone.

Cait intercepted his gaze and didn’t smile. That was what she did when guys did things like this: she challenged them. If growing up in a houseful of meathead brothers had taught her anything, it was not to back down from a fight. If they smell weakness on you, you’re a goner.

She kept her eyes locked on him. He had the good sense to look away, but after a couple of beats, his eyes were back on Rebecca. There was something desperate behind them, hungry. It scared the hell out of her.

Calm down, she told herself. Focus. Use your eyes to assess the situation. What do you see?

Okay. No obvious holster. He might be carrying, of course, on the ankle or in the waistband. Could just be a creep not used to seeing a pretty woman. Could be some kind of weirdo with specific ideas about when women should be outside, making a point about them being out here on their own past midnight. Could be that Rebecca reminded him of someone.

Or maybe he knew where they were going and had made it his business to stop them.

Cait looked at Rebecca, still lost in her own thoughts. She hadn’t clocked the guy yet. Good. It meant she would have less time to freak out when Cait made her move. In the dark glass of the window, she could see that the man had turned his body away from them, but also that the mirrored chrome above the pass through to the kitchen allowed him to watch them. She caught his eye in the reflection and felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

Time to go.

Rebecca looked at Cait, and Cait gave her the look. It was the sort of look a woman learns to feel rather than see. Cait flicked her eyes toward the man at the counter and then gave a barely perceptible shake of her head. Rebecca’s face transformed into a mask of raw fear.

“What do you say?” Cait asked, as calmly as she could manage. “Back on the road?”

Rebecca nodded, her eyes still fixed on Cait’s. She was scared— that was obvious— but she was keeping her cool. Cait was impressed. She reached a hand across the table and lightly tapped her wrist.

“Don’t look,” Cait said quietly.

Rebecca nodded. “I’ll get the check,” she said. Her voice was shaking a little but steady.

“No time.” Cait dropped a twenty- dollar bill on the table. No time to wait for change— the waitress really would be getting a good tip. “Ready?”

Rebecca went first, Cait close behind while she kept one eye locked on the man. He didn’t seem to see Cait at all: his gaze was all for Rebecca. He tracked her all the way across the diner, but he didn’t make a move. He just watched. That was worse, in a way. If he tried something here, there would be witnesses. Those guys in the back might decide to play the role of hero. The chef would at least have a knife at hand, and she’d be surprised if there wasn’t a gun tucked under the counter. Place like this, out in the middle of nowhere, people usually didn’t take chances.

Cait glanced out the window at the empty stretch of parking lot. Once they were outside, they’d be on
their own.

The door jangled as Rebecca opened it. The waitress looked up from her crossword and, once she clocked the money lying on their table, gave them a half- hearted wave. Cait couldn’t remember the door jangling earlier. How had she not heard him come in? She’d let her guard down, gotten too comfortable. She’d been sloppy, and now they were going to pay for it.

A step across the threshold and they were outside, the air sharp and cold on their faces, sprinting across the parking lot together. The El Camino was long gone, but the pickup was still there. Other than that, it was empty. The Jeep was on the far side of the lot. Cait berated herself for not parking closer to the building. The tarmac stretched in front of them, endless and black. Cait gripped her keys between her fingers and listened for his footsteps, sure she was about to feel his hands on her throat. She could hear Rebecca’s ragged breath, and the echo of their shoes slapping against the pavement, but the door behind them didn’t chime. He was still inside.

Unless he’d used the back exit.

Just a few more steps.

She hit the unlock button on the key ring and the headlights flashed on.

The two women dove inside and slammed the doors behind them.

Rebecca hit the locks.

Cait threw the Jeep into reverse.

She cast one last glance through the window as they peeled out onto the road. The counter was empty. The man was gone.

If this has whetted your appetite for Don’t Turn Around then you can read the next chapter over at Rachel Read It.

Don’t Turn Around is out now in ebook and is published in paperback on the 15th April when I’ll be back with a review!

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