I nearly fly through the roof when Jack suddenly howls, barks, then howls again. He runs to the front door, then back, then in circles. I stand, the hair rising on the back of my neck. “Jack, boy, what is it?” He looks at me and whines, crouching, his tail between his legs. Then he jumps up again and runs toward the door, barking. “Enough!” I go to him and grab the loose skin at his neck, crouching before him as I glance at the silent door. “Shh!” He’s quiet, but on high alert. I’m quiet too, also on high alert. Holding my breath, I listen intently but hear nothing. I rise and that’s when a loud rap on the door pierces the silence, quickly followed by two more. Three heavy, ominous knocks. My heart instantly jumps up in my throat and nearly suffocates me with its wild pounding. No one comes here. Not normally, and most certainly not when the snow is so thick you can’t come unless you are in a tracked vehicle, and they only do that if there’s a medical emergency. If you’re snowed in, you’re snowed in. Who is out there? I swallow nervously and take a step toward the door when three new loud knocks make me jump. I shake my head at my own suspiciousness. Whoever it is, it must be someone who needs help. Covering the remaining distance, I then press down on the handle and try to push the door open, but it’s jammed again. I manage a couple of inches, then a hand grips the edge and suddenly the door flies wide open. I stare at the vision before me. It’s a man: tall, wide, covered in snow from top to toe, and with clothes that are way too thin. Even in the faint light I see how blue his lips are. I open my mouth to ask, I don’t know, maybe what he wants, but then I change my mind. Whoever he is, he is clearly in some kind of emergency. Looking out at the wintery night, then back at the yeti before me, I shake my head in disbelief. “Good God. Come inside!” He doesn’t need to be told twice and takes a step forward, past the threshold. Towering over me, his hulking appearance dominates the room. I swallow hard and reach past him to close the door. The wind fights me and snowflakes whip in my face. I hadn’t realized it had started snowing again, and blowing. Behind me Jack is letting out a high-pitched noise. The door slams closed and I turn back to the man. The top of my head reaches to his shoulder. He is gigantic. He has a big, dirty-blond beard, covered in snow. The snow in his eyelashes has started to melt. I have to crane my neck to meet his eyes. He’s frowning, looking down at me with an unreadable expression as he rakes a hand through his hair and shudders. “Thanks.” His voice is hoarse, a deep baritone that challenges the sudden silence in the house. I still don’t move, cornered in the narrow space between him and the door. A girl alone letting in a stranger is not a clever move, but what choice did I have? Let him freeze to death? “What were you doing out there?” My eyes dart between him and Jack who is lying flat and submissive on the floor, quietly observing me and the frozen stranger. Fine watch dog you are. “I… got lost. My car broke down a few miles down the road and I thought I was heading into Florence, but I must have taken a wrong turn. It started snowing...” His face is impassive with an almost calculating look, his gaze pinning me to the spot with its intensity. “God, you’re soaked! You have like…” I gesture to his chest and legs, “nothing on!” “Yeah. It was stupid.” The beast of a man pulls at the hem of his drenched jacket. Transfixed by the movement of his large calloused hand as he pinches the material, I then give him a thorough once over, shaking my head inwardly. He’s dressed in nothing but a beige cotton jacket and jeans. At least his boots seem reasonable enough. Wracking my brain, I try to think if I have anything that would fit him. I’m pretty sure I don’t, actually. I wince, at a loss at what to do. “Look, come sit in front of the fire at least, let’s get you warmed up.” I nod toward the fireplace and he follows my gaze. He pulls off his boots and sheds the thin jacket. I take it from him. It’s soaked and heavy. Underneath he has a white T-shirt that clings to his torso, equally wet. Mr. Wet T-shirt flies through my mind, very inappropriately. I nearly gape. He’s huge. He’s nothing but muscles. And tattoos. From his wrists up until the fabric of the T-shirt covers it, his arms are covered in intricate patterns. They continue on his thick neck. “Thank you.” His voice is so deep it sends shudders through me. I shake my head as if to rid myself from a spell. He walks toward the couch and I trail behind. That’s when we both freeze and look at the TV. There’s no sound, but the message is crystal clear and can’t be misinterpreted. The man standing three inches from me is on TV, his face taking up the whole screen. The text at the bottom of the screen says: Escaped serial killer Martin Garrett. Everything stills for a moment. My stomach plummets and it feels as if all the bones in my body dissolve. He turns and looks at me, I gasp and take a step back, then I bolt and throw myself inside my little kitchen, slamming the door closed behind me, locking it with violently shaking hands. Oh God, no! No no no no no! I search frantically for something to defend myself with. I pull out a drawer and find my kitchen knife. I hold it up in front of me, panting hard, lightheaded. The handle twists once. “Come on out,” he says in a clipped tone. There’s a short bark in the background and I reel. No! Jack! Please don’t hurt my dog! “I’m calling the police!” I scream. I don’t have my phone, and what could they do anyway? But he can’t know that, can he? The door shudders as something heavy hits it. I scream, and then the wood by the lock breaks into splinters from the next hit and the door flies open. “Don’t touch me!” I yell and hold the knife up between us. He eyes it and holds his hands up. “Put down the knife.” “No!” I have tunnel vision. My mind is spinning and it feels like the world is tilting. “I’m not going to hurt you. Put the knife down.” I laugh hysterically. ”Get away from me!” I hold out the knife straighter, aiming it at him. His gaze hardens and he takes one long stride toward me. One hand goes for my face and as I try to dodge it, his other hand grips my wrist and twists it hard. The bones grind against each other, making me squeal. My fingers lose their grip, I can’t resist his force and the knife clatters to the floor. He kicks it away and grips my other wrist as well. I scream and flail. “Please! No!” “Calm down,” he growls. Then he’s got me. He pins me to the wall, his forearm to my throat. “Don’t ever fucking threaten me,” he snarls, his face an inch from mine. His eyes are a dark green, and seem to turn black as they bore into mine. My pulse beats hard against his skin. All I know is I need to get away or he’ll kill me. I jerk my leg up and knee him in the groin. He turns white and loses his grip. I push at him, but it’s like pushing at a wall. I’ve never laid my hands on anyone that solid before. He grips my arms and pushes me back up against the wall, face first this time. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, girl!” I jerk and twist but I’m almost completely immobilized with his body pressed against mine. Any second now he’ll strangle me. Or rip me to pieces. Maybe rape me. Oh God! I let out a long wail of terror. Mom, I’m sorry!