Zinnia Loraine barely winced as her car backfired. Again. The poor thing was truly on its last legs. Actually, it was probably past its last legs. Legless. It was crawling at a bare thirty-five miles per hour and that was only because she had promised every external power that existed that if they would just get her to her destination before having her car die, that she would finally live a calm, quiet life.
Away from the cameras.
Away from her adoring fans.
Away from the paparazzi, stalkers, and scandal.
At the last thoughts, her body shuddered. Who knew that as a second-rate opera singer, one could become the target for such scum? She hadn’t. And she was pretty sure her parents hadn’t when they handed her over to her agent at the age of three. Now, twenty-five years later with a full career behind her, all she wanted to do was hide.
Which was why she had a fake name, identity, and if she was honest with the piece of junk she was driving, a sham of a car. There was simply no way a car should be in this bad of shape. But buying a practically dead car had seemed like a good idea. For one thing, she hadn’t wanted to leave a trail. Ken and the agents from the FBI who were in charge of her case had insisted she not leave a trail. Paying cash for a car from someone besides a car dealer had been the only way she knew to do that. Also nobody would expect opera diva Alizine Layton to be driving this piece of scrap. Actually, they wouldn’t be expecting her to drive at all.
And they might be right. While she held a driver’s license, the only car Zinnia had ever driven had been the one for her driver’s test. Other than that, she was used to chauffeur-driven limos. Vehicles that were in much better shape than the one she currently was in.
Looking out the window at what little she could see, she turned the wipers on high to clear off the snow that was accumulating, swearing as they stopped, mid-wipe. Screeching, she pounded on the steering wheel, letting out every swear word she knew in Italian, French, German, and Spanish which alleviated some of her temper. Once her irritation stalled, she practically shrunk as she once again prayed to any deity that might be listening to get her to Corbin’s Bend, Colorado without dying first.
It seemed impossible with the fact that the snow was piling up over the window and she stretched up higher and higher to see over it as the car lessened in speed. Zinnia was sure the beast was going to die and that she would end up a frozen humancicle on the side of the road when suddenly the hill she was on wasn’t a hill. She was on a flat road. A road! Cranking down her window was difficult as the nob was broken off so she had to turn the tiny piece of metal that jutted out of the door to do so, but as soon as it was down far enough, she stuck her head into the pouring snow and squealed at the sign above her head that read Corbin’s Bend.
Now the car could die for all she cared. She had to be close to the community center where she could get her keys and go to her home. Having already signed the papers at her lawyer’s office three weeks ago, her furniture and belongings were to be delivered three days before. Her stuff wasn’t much, but the furniture was new and she really looked forward to collapsing on her new bed and sleeping. Driving from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California to Kansas City, Missouri, wherein each stop she sold one car and bought another one, her final drive felt too long and she had been fighting exhaustion for the last thousand miles.
Driving slowly down the street while blinking the snow out of her eyes, she spotted the huge dome ahead of her. Knowing it had to be the Corbin’s Bend Community Center, she found what she hoped was a parking space – it was hard to tell with all the snow – and pulled in. As she went to roll the window back up, the broken nob wouldn’t budge. Annoyed, she opened the door, got out, and slammed it, knowing the seat would be piled with snow by the time she got back but not really caring. Once she was in her home, she could dump the car for parts. Her new car, purchased under her fake name, would be delivered tomorrow and it was one she was sure would be much better.
The sidewalks had obviously been dug out and from what she could tell, sanded, but the snow fell so fast that there was no way anyone could keep up with it. Spotting the front door ahead of her, she clutched her raincoat around her and ran toward it. It was obvious she would need to buy a winter coat here. Having lived in Portland for a decade, she was more used to torrential rain downpours than snow.
Stepping from the blistering winter weather outside into the warmth of the dome made her moan. The heat instantly sunk into her freezing face and hands and she unzipped her coat, pushing the hood off. As the snow that had piled on top of her head slushed off onto the floor, she looked down in surprise. “Oops.”
“We’re used to it.” The friendly male voice made her turn and look up. A tall, thin man in his early forties stood in the doorway to what appeared to be an office. “Can I help you?” he asked with a smile.
“I’m sorry about the snow,” she said, stomping her feet on the mat. “My name is Zinnia Loraine. I’m moving in today.” Before the words were even out of her mouth, his kind smile grew into a large one, as though she was a long-lost friend he hadn’t seen in a while. In a way she felt guilty as the only individual here in the community that knew her legal name was the head of the housing board, but there was too much riding on anonymity. Nobody knew the name Zinnia Loraine. Her birth name was too easily searched for and matched up with her stage name. If that happened, her quest for safety would be out the window and her stalker might find her.