Abigail Winthrope jerked her gaze from the countryside and stared blankly at the man who'd spoken to her.
His lips tightened. She could see impatience in his hard gray eyes. Dragging in a deep breath, he released it slowly, as if mentally counting to ten. "You're going to have to get used to responding to that name or you'll be in serious trouble, Ms. Winthrope."
Abby felt her face heat and then, as rapidly as her face had flushed with embarrassment, the blood drained away and she went cold all over. "I'm sorry. I had something on my mind," she muttered.
She could tell from the look he gave her that he didn't believe it for a minute. Anger replaced the fear after a moment. She'd just had her entire life turned upside down--ceased to exist--as the person she'd been since birth become someone else. She was trying to adjust. She knew just as well as he did that her life depended on it. She was no idiot! "What were you saying?"
"Maybe we should go over your background one more time?"
Abby chewed her bottom lip to keep from screaming at him. They'd done nothing since the trial but go over it--weeks of going over and over it until she felt as if they were trying to brainwash her, shatter her hold on her identity, rather than coach her into remembering the new one. "Sure."
He began firing questions at her like a machine gun. Where were you born? What's your mother's name? Where did you go to school? When were you born? Mother's maiden name? Ex-husband's name?
Abby managed to answer each question with barely a blink, and the agent relaxed fractionally. "We're coming up on Ajax."
Abby nodded nonchalantly, but her heart leapt at the announcement and began to beat a little faster tattoo against her chest wall.
It was her new home, her new life and, like her name, she'd had nothing to do with the choices made for her. It wasn't excitement making her heart hammer painfully in her chest. It was dread ... every bit as much fear as she'd faced in the courtroom when she'd testified.
Where was the justice, she thought bitterly, for a witness condemned to life on the run, or death? when the criminal they'd helped put behind bars carried on inside jail as if nothing had happened and would probably go home again before she reached middle age? Granted, it hadn't been that grand a life, but it was hers. She'd put it together. She'd guided her own feet down the path she wanted to take. She'd made her own choices.
She hadn't even chosen to be a federal witness. They'd bullied and threatened her in to it, making promises they knew damned well they couldn't keep, and now she was going to be a school teacher in Bum-Fuck Nowhere, U.S.A., surrounded by strangers. And she couldn't even contact the pathetic number of friends and family she'd had before her life had gone down the toilet.
She'd never felt so completely alone in her life.
It was odd that she could feel that way when she'd actually had so little contact with family members and friends in the past several years, been too caught up in her own life to spare a lot of time or thought for it. And yet, she'd known she could. She'd known they were there in the fringes of her life, going about their own lives, and she could reach out any time she wanted to.
Now she couldn't.
Agent Milner slowed the car, dragging her from her unpleasant thoughts, and she glanced around in time to catch a glimpse of a tall, white sign with fancy lettering and decorative curlicues proclaiming the town. Beneath the town's name was the announcement that it was incorporated--whoohoo!--and the population--which she didn't catch. She didn't need to. Any town that posted their population didn't have much of a population to boast about.
Rounding a bend on the narrow highway they'd been following, Abby saw a smattering of houses and businesses and then a wide banner above the highway, which had become the main street.
Oddly enough, it was named Main Street!
The legend on the banner was an announcement of the town's Harvest Moon Festival.
Now there was something to get worked up about, Abby thought sarcastically.