Kit Bardot packed her SUV and headed out of the windy city of Chicago. She needed this break—this mini-vacation. She had planned her own way along the infamous Route 66. How far would she go? It didn’t matter. She had told her boss she was taking a much-needed leave of absence. Nothing had seemed right since her husband unexpectedly died from a brain aneurysm. It had been the two of them for over thirty-five years. And now, she was alone. Getting married late in life left her to build a stable career in marketing. None of that mattered.

The roadways were congested as she eased herself from the hustle and bustle of the city. After almost an hour on the road, she reached the “Mother Road.” It had always been a dream of Jerry’s to drive across the country. Her eyes brimmed with tears as the sun shined brightly through the windshield. Her speed hovered at 55 miles per hour, which was strictly enforced. And that was just fine. She was in no hurry to get nowhere fast.

Mason Wickham had reluctantly sold his cattle farm in Conway, Texas. Approaching the ripe age of seventy, with no wife or children under his wide belt, it left him alone and eager to travel. The tiny Airstream camper hooked on the back of his brand-new Chevy Silverado 2500HD eased along the highway as he drove toward Route 66. His cowboy buddies at the Long Star Bar encouraged his road trip down Memory Lane.

Mason packed up his belongings and saddled his fancy truck to see the sights along the “Mother Road” across the American Old West. Of course, trips were always more enjoyable if they could be shared, but Mason was a lifelong bachelor, leaving little room for socializing with the opposite sex. He learned long ago how devious and selfish certain individuals can be. And so, with a huge bank account, a brand-new truck, and his few belongings, Mason set out on a new adventure called retirement.

Bailey Madden’s hand shook as she tried to shove the key into the ignition. Her left eye began to swell. Zane had hit her for the last time. If she didn’t leave now, she may never leave alive.

Suddenly, there was banging on her window.

“You’re not going anywhere, Bailey, get out of the car—now!” he shouted through the glass.

Bailey tried to start the engine again. It stalled, then finally caught. She lifted her middle finger in response and gunned the car away from her abuser. She had to get away—far away. Somewhere he could not track her down. She would have to change her name because she knew Zane would never give up.

Bailey’s stomach flipped, then flopped. At least she had the insight of taking the large stacks of cash inside Zane’s safe. It took her two months to find out the code. It was only when Zane had drunk almost a whole bottle of whiskey, she was able to extract the information.

The old Toyota Camry stalled as she headed onto the highway. She coasted safely to the berm. After several attempts to restart the vehicle, she gave up and got out to walk the distance to the next exit. Her hands still shook with fear. If Zane decided to follow, he would have her back in no time at all.

With her backpack and duffel bag, she moved swiftly along the highway. Cars sped by, some blaring their horns. She had her cell phone with her, but there was no one to call. She had left her family back in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to follow a pipe dream with a man who told her he could make her a star.

Sadly enough, she believed him and moved to Miami, Florida, where she was trapped with a predator. Zane Brewster was nothing more than a criminal—a dangerous one at that. He was wanted in several states for racketeering and Ponzi schemes, where he stole large sums of cash from unsuspecting clients, leaving devastation behind.

Bailey knew her time was limited unless she got as far away from Florida as she could. As she crossed the barren field toward the next town, Bailey thought about her failure at life. Even though she was only in her twenties, her bad choices left her in precarious situations. A fresh new beginning was what she definitely needed. Determined to amend the past, she moved forward toward her future.

Route 66 was basically deserted. Barren, rocky dry land seemed endless on both sides of the two-lane highway. Kit Bardot cranked up the A/C in her SUV to combat the heat swelling outside. It was early July, and the temperature outside read 102 degrees Fahrenheit. She hummed to a familiar tune she had downloaded the previous day. Even with the roadside attractions few and far between, she enjoyed the peacefulness of the open road. The information and interactive map she had secured from the Internet described various places of interest along the way, as well as stressing the importance of having plenty of water available and keeping the tank full of gas.

Kit’s thoughts wandered to her late husband, Jerry. He had mentioned many times the two of them just leaving and driving Route 66 all the way to its end in California. She used to laugh at his enthusiasm for a trip she knew they would never take together. So, when Jerry passed so suddenly, she vowed to take that trip—for them both.

The town of Westfield had only one car lot. Bailey Madden purchased, with cash, a used Dodge Minivan with low mileage. The salesman was eager as he counted the bills on his worn, wooden desk. He was a plump, greasy-haired man with big green eyes who reminded Bailey of a frog. After the sale, he tried to chat with Bailey, but she would have none of it. Papers signed and keys in hand, she drove from Westfield and traveled north, praying Zane would not find her.

Bailey had heard about “the Main Street of America.” She thought about the idea of traveling Route 66 and disappearing off the grid, where she’d change her identity, leaving no trace of her former life behind, and most importantly, leaving Zane. She trembled as memories raced in her mind of the beatings she sustained by his powerful fist. Never again would she fall prey to such a horrible situation. With that in mind, Bailey decided the best route was Route 66—the endless highway.

Mason Wickham had been traveling almost three days on the historic stretch of Americana history. He had stopped and spent the night at a restored wigwam-shaped motel with bright flashing neon lights that could be seen for miles away. A tiny town called Seligman enticed him to mingle with other visitors and stroll through the unique shops.

People were friendly, which surprised him because he lacked socializing skills. But Mason got the itch to move on. So, he filled up at the old-time Texaco gas station and once again blended into Route 66 and headed west.

Kit Bardot was tired. She had been on the road less than a week and was already missing home—but most of all, Jerry. Her eyes brimmed with tears. She needed a break from the desolate stretches of road. She longed for interaction, even if it was with strangers. Her stomach grumbled as she passed the faded sign:  Tom’s Diner. For a brief moment, she did not see the restaurant sitting way off the main road. In fact, she had to turn around to get off.

A dirt road led to the off-the-road diner. Her SUV spewed dust and dirt as she carefully maneuvered to avoid the ruts. As she pulled up to the vintage building, she noticed its desperate need of paint. But the neon sign blinking in the window begged her to stop. Kit shut off the engine and glanced in her rearview mirror. Her short hair was mussed, her eyes red rimmed from crying. She grabbed a brush from her bag and pulled it quickly through her tangled hair.

The nostalgia of the diner made her smile. As she pushed the door open, a bell jangled from above. The polished black-and-white tiled floors shouted the fifties: round red stools by the counter; high-backed cushioned benches with tables; tiny juke boxes on each table. Music played softly in the background. She felt like she had traveled back in time to an era where life was simple and careful.

A young blonde girl with a ponytail pulled tight behind her head approached Kit.

“Welcome to Tom’s Diner. Would you like to sit at a table or by the counter?” she asked, snapping her gum. Her tight pink blouse and off-white poodle skirt with saddle shoes was the style back then.

“Table, if I may,” replied Kit. She was taken back by how the inside of the diner looked so authentic. She could smell the sizzling food. Her stomach ached. She was hungrier than she thought.

The young server led her to a back booth. Five patrons occupied Tom’s Diner.

“Here’s the menu. What can I get you to drink?” the server asked, flashing her pearly whites.

“How about a root beer float?” asked Kit.

“One root beer float coming up.” The server turned and left her alone to study the menu.

Tom’s Diner served hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, BLT, chicken tenders, and shoestring French fries. Kit licked her lips. It had been a long time since she had eaten a good juicy cheeseburger and hot fries.

The server bounced back with the enormous root beer float topped with whipped cream and a cherry. She placed the long-handled spoon on the square napkin.

“Ready to order?” The girl pulled out a white pad and pencil.

“I would like a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and mayo...and an order of fries, please.” Kit closed the menu to hand it back.

The young woman scribbled on her pad. “I’ll put your order in right away. Tom will have it done in no time.” She snatched the menu and moved quickly through the swinging kitchen doors.

Kit dug into her ice-chilling float. The whipped cream and smooth ice cream melted in her mouth. It was delicious! It cooled her parched throat. She gazed out the window and watched the wind blow tumbleweeds along the dusty parking lot. Tom’s Diner seemed like it welcomed Kit home.

Mason Wickham clipped along the highway. He didn’t understand why the speed limit was low when it was obvious it was traveled by few. In fact, it had been a couple of hours since he’d noticed any other vehicles on Route 66. The sun was slowly setting in the west. A sign flashed by. He thought it read “Tom’s Diner.” He probably should stop and get a bite to eat. It might be a while before he came upon another restaurant.

Before long, he was pulling into the rugged dirt road leading to the diner. A few cars sat in the unpaved lot. The huge arrow flashed and pointed to the open sign in the large glass window.

“Well, I’ll be...” he murmured to himself. He remembered places like this growing up in the fifties, when he was in high school. At that time, his parents lived in the city. It wasn’t until he got older that the family moved out in the country and managed a cattle ranch.

Mason opened the door, and the bell jangled from above. Kit was busy finishing her root beer float when her eyes locked with the tall, handsome cowboy. Mason tipped his hat. Instantly, Kit’s face reddened. She gave a quick smile, then quickly focused on the outside.

The same ponytailed young woman approached Mason. “Howdy...welcome to Tom’s Diner,” she said as if it was rehearsed. “Would you like to sit at the counter or in a booth?” She snapped her gum.

“I’ll sit at that booth,” he replied, pointing to the one directly in front of Kit.

“All right, then,” she said as she led him to the booth.

Mason took his Stetson hat and placed it on the clean table. Now he could look directly at Kit. She glanced back at him and once again held his mesmerizing eyes.

“What can I get you to drink?” asked the server as she handed Mason a menu.

His eyes were still latched onto Kit. “I’ll take whatever she’s drinking,” he replied.

The server glanced at Kit. “It’s a root beer float.” The server brought out her pad and pencil.

“Sounds good to me,” he said. “I’ll take a double cheeseburger and fries. Load it up with onions and mushrooms.” He handed the menu back.

“Coming up,” she said, then turned on her heel to leave.

Mason wasn’t good at socializing, but for some reason women were attracted to the rich bachelor. He wondered why he was compelled to talk to this woman he did not know. Normally he felt awkward, but for some reason he seemed at ease.

“Howdy, ma’am,” he called.

Before Kit could reciprocate, the server came back with her order.

“Here you are...cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and mayo and an order of Tom’s Diner’s famous French fries!” she said, placing the huge plate in front of Kit.

Kit’s eyes widened. “Oh, my. I didn’t realize it would be so big. I’m never going to eat all of this in one sitting,” she exclaimed.

The server snapped her gum. “If you need anything else, just give me a holler,” she said and turned away.

“I guess you get your money’s worth at Tom’s Diner. Take-home, too!” said Mason, with a chuckle.

Kit gave a slight nod. She cut the humongous burger in half. As she took a hefty bite, the juice from the fresh meat leaked down her chin. Instinctively, she grabbed for a napkin to wipe her oily face.

“It’s delicious!” she mumbled.

Mason smiled. He found this woman attractive. And for a brief moment, he thought she blushed when they locked eyes.

Kit chewed her food but kept her eyes on Mason. He was definitely a looker. But why would such a thought enter her mind when she’d just buried her husband? She wiped her face again, in the event she’d missed something before.

Suddenly, Mason got a strange tingling across his chest. He blurted out before he could stop, “Would you like some company, ma’am?” His smile vanished.

Why would he say something like that to a stranger? He didn’t know this woman at all.

Kit stopped chewing her burger and gestured for him to join her.

What was she doing? She didn’t know this stranger. She didn’t know this man at all. Yet she felt she did know him in a strange way.

Shocked by his request, and even more surprised by her response, he grabbed his Stetson and moved to Kit’s booth.

“I’m Mason Wickham,” he said, extending his hand. Kit wiped her hands.

“I’m Kit Bardot. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

As Kit’s slender fingers touched his rough hand, an electrical impulse surged through both their arms into their chests. Several seconds later, they released their grip.

Mason’s mouth twitched. The server came up and served his plate of food. “One double cheeseburger with onions and mushrooms and Tom’s Diner’s famous French fries,” she announced.

“Thank you, young lady. It looks delicious,” he said.

Kit began to eat her burger again, but the tingle lingered.

The two strangers ate in silence, both wondering how they wound up in Tom’s Diner together.

Bailey Madden had been driving nonstop. Her eyes grew tired as she hurried along Route 66. The last few days had been a blur, since she could not even remember how she found the Main Street of America. She wanted to get as much distance between her and Zane as possible, leaving little chance of him ever finding her destination.

The sunset had almost disappeared behind the mountains. Flashing lights ahead caused her to slow. She was tired and hungry, and she needed to rest, even if it was just for a couple hours. The flashing neon sign read “Tom’s Diner.” Creeping along the dirt road, her second-hand minivan scraped the deep ruts. As she pulled up into the makeshift parking lot, she noticed only two other vehicles.

Bailey pushed open the door, and the bell jangled above. She glanced up, then looked around. For a brief moment, she thought she’d stepped back into the fifties. Bailey was into retro movies, enjoying the past since she had no future.

A young ponytailed woman strolled up to greet Bailey. “Welcome to Tom’s Diner...would you like to sit at the counter or in a booth?” She snapped her gum. It was the same exact server who’d waited on Kit and Mason.

“I’ll take a booth, please,” replied Bailey. She looked over at the couple sitting and talking toward the back of the diner.

The smell of food lingered in the air. Her stomach growled from hunger. Eating snacks while she drove hadn’t curbed her appetite.

“What can I get you to drink?” asked the server.

“What do you have?” asked Bailey. She slid over toward the window. The night sky had blanketed the outside.

“Coke products, floats, coffee, tea...whatever you want,” replied the server.

Bailey hesitated a moment. Coffee would help keep her awake.

“Coffee, please,” responded Bailey.

The server handed her a menu. “One coffee coming up.” The young woman quickly disappeared behind the swinging kitchen doors.

Bailey stifled a yawn. She had to find a place to rest. Her eyes were heavy and tired. The swelling had come down, giving her just a slight lump near her left eye.

“One coffee...cream and sugar?” The server placed the hot liquid on the table. “Are you ready to order?”

Bailey quickly looked over the menu. There wasn’t much of a selection, but she didn’t care.  “I’ll have two hot dogs and an order of fries.” She handed the menu back to the server.

“It’ll be out shortly.” The server once more left her alone.

She could hear the songs that must have been sung back in the fifties and sixties. She loved the nostalgia of the diner. Bailey wondered about the owner named Tom.

Bailey leaned back against the high-cushioned bench. She closed her eyes and thought briefly of Zane. He could have killed her the last time they argued. The gun misfired. She had been lucky. Instead, she became his punching bag. Her ribs still hurt. But at least she was alive. And this time, she got away.

Minutes later, she could hear the clicking of shoes on the polished floor. When she opened her weary eyes, the cook was standing with her plate of food.

“Two hot dogs and an order of our famous French fries,” he said while setting down the plate. “Enjoy your meal. I’m Tom—the owner of Tom’s Diner.” The middle-aged man with dark, curly hair smiled at Bailey. His blue eyes gazed into her green ones. The slight movement in his eyes reaffirmed he had seen the bruise. “You’re safe here.” Even with his short stature and lean frame, he made her feel protected.  “Nothing will happen in Tom’s Diner.”

Bailey could not draw her eyes away from Tom. The large apron stained with grease hung from his narrow hips.

“Now, eat up, or your food will get cold. Nothing tastes worse than cold hot dogs,” said Tom, with a chuckle.

“Bailey,” she quickly replied. “My name is Bailey. It’s nice to meet you, Tom.” She gave a slight nod.

He nodded in return and flashed a sad smile.

She lifted the hot dog to her mouth and took a huge bite. Even though it was just a hot dog, it tasted like a delicacy.

Satisfied, Tom headed back to the kitchen through the swinging doors. Bailey watched him as he strolled back to his work. She did feel safe. As she busily ate her food, she glanced up every now and then to see the couple two booths down smiling at her. The older man gave a slight nod.

Bailey wasn’t sure how to respond. She could not trust anyone right now. Zane could be on the road, hunting her down. She needed to eat, rest, and be on her way across the country until she could drive no more, or until the minivan broke down.

“The little lady looks lost,” said Mason.

Kit glanced Bailey’s way again. “There’s a faint bruise by the side of her left eye,” said Kit in a low voice.

Mason jerked his head back. “You can see that from here? I’m lucky to see her pretty young face,” he said, with a wink.

Kit tapped his hand. “You’re such a joker, Mason.”

The couple chuckled together. It would seem after spending time together, they were at ease with one another.

“Maybe we should go introduce ourselves to the young filly. She may need help.” Mason looked at Kit. She, too, felt the need to inquire about the young woman’s situation.

“Good idea. All she can do is invite us to sit down or tell us to go jump off a bridge,” said Kit as she slid out of the booth.

Mason wasn’t as agile, and it took him a minute or two longer.

Bailey scraped up the last of her French fries and shoved them into her mouth. As she was just about finished, Tom, the cook and owner of the diner, came back out to her table. Mason and Kit stopped abruptly as Tom glided over to his customers.

“Howdy, I’m Tom, the owner of this fine diner.” He stuck out his hand.

Instantly, Kit leaned in to shake it. "I'm Kit Bardot, from Chicago, and this is Mason Wickham, from Conway, Texas.”

Mason tipped his hat.

“Nice to meet you folks,” replied Tom.

Bailey gently wiped her face as she drank the last of her lukewarm coffee.

“I’m Bailey...Bailey Madden, from...” She abruptly stopped.

The three of them looked down at Bailey as she shifted on the cushioned bench.

“I guess I should pay the bill and be on my way,” said Bailey, her heart racing.

“You look awfully tired, Bailey,” said Tom. “I also own a couple of cabins around the back I rent on occasion. I’ll give you a key to Cabin Two. Stay as long as you like. On the house—free of charge.”

Mason and Kit looked at one another.

Mason cleared his throat. “You wouldn’t happen to have two more vacant cabins, would you?”

A smile spread across Tom’s face. “Well, I sure do. You all are welcome to stay as long as you please. You may like it here at Tom’s Diner. It’s a pleasant stop along the way. I’ll go get your keys.” Before Bailey could say another word, he turned and disappeared through the swinging kitchen doors.

“I guess that settles that...he’s right, though, little lady, you do look awful tired,” said Mason.

Bailey felt drained. Her face ached, and so did all of her limbs. The adrenaline rush had finally come to an end after she ate the food. Her eyes felt like sand. It couldn’t hurt to stay at least one night—could it?

“It was nice meeting you, Mason and Kit, was it?” Bailey scooted out from the bench.

“Yes, dear. The names are correct. Would you like to join us for breakfast?” asked Kit.

Bailey looked at the older couple. They seemed harmless. “Sure...why not? What time?” she asked.

“How about nine o’clock?” asked Kit.

Bailey nodded her head.

“Goodnight, then, Bailey,” said Kit, with a smile.

Mason tipped his hat.

Bailey forced a smile, even though it hurt her face. She took the slip of white paper to the cash register. Tom pushed back the kitchen doors.

“Cabin Two for you, Bailey,” he said as he handed her a key card.  “Cabin Three for Kit and Cabin Four for Mason.” Both people extended their hand to collect the appropriate card.

“Who’s in Cabin One, if I may ask?” said Kit.

“, of course!” replied Tom. “I get a few perks for being the owner.” He winked. “Well, you all have a good evening...I’ll be closing the diner soon. If you’d like a snack for your room, ask me now.”

“I’m fine,” replied Kit. “What about you, Mason?”

“Still full from dinner. I guess I’ll go mosey on over to my cabin and freshen up.” He tipped his hat once again.

“Thank you, again, Tom,” said Bailey as she held up the key card.

“My pleasure...stay as long as you like, Bailey. I meant what I’re safe here. Nothing bad will happen to you at Tom’s Diner.”

Bailey’s stomach flipped, then flopped. For a brief moment, she thought Tom had a special glow about him.

She rubbed her tired eyes. “Goodnight, everyone. See you all for breakfast. The diner opens at six.” Tom gave a slight bow, then turned on his heel and left the three of them alone.

“See you at breakfast,” said Bailey as she rushed out the front door, never paying her bill. In fact, neither did Mason or Kit.

“Where did our server go?” asked Kit. She pulled out a twenty-dollar bill from her pocket.

"Now, now...let me,” insisted Mason. He opened his wallet and yanked out a hundred-dollar bill, then laid it next to the register. “That should cover all three meals, plus a tip.”

“Mason...I couldn’t...please, I can pay for myself,” she said.

He held up his hand in protest. “Already done, Kit. Come on, I’ll walk you to your cabin.”

He held out his crooked arm. She gladly interlaced hers with his.

“Why,’re such a gentleman,” said Kit, batting her eyelashes. They both broke out in laughter.

Bailey grabbed her overnight bag out of the minivan. She looked up and down the deserted highway. The bright stars littered the sky above. It was tranquil there. She took a deep breath and smelled the fresh air. Her ribs ached in protest, still sore from the last beating. The headache she had been fighting all day had finally caught up with her. Bailey couldn’t wait to get to her cabin and sleep.

The cabin was cozy and quaint. Its selected style was definitely in the fifties. Reminiscent of times gone by. The bed was full-sized, the quilt a floral pattern. A picture filled with a field of sunflowers hung over the bed. A small round table with two chairs sat near the window overlooking the dusty road. A hot plate, sink, and tiny fridge comprised the kitchen area. Two narrow doors led to a closet and half-bath with a shower stall.

Plenty big for me, thought Bailey.

Minutes later, she jumped in the shower to wash off the grit of the day. As she crawled into bed, she left on the single-bulbed light above the table. Bailey never cared for the dark. Her eyelids grew heavy, and as she turned on her side, she fell fast asleep.

Mason and Kit strolled to their designated cabins. As they stood talking outside of Cabin 3, Kit’s cabin, Mason felt a sudden urge to lean in and kiss this wonderful woman. But he held back. She had told him of her husband’s recent death. It would be inappropriate to do such a thing while Kit was still grieving. He cared and respected her enough not to even approach the idea unless it was Kit herself who reached out.

“Well, I guess it’s goodnight, then, Kit,” said Mason, tipping his hat.

Kit searched the man’s face.

Why did she feel the way she did? She just lost Jerry, and she’s already itching to get close to this stranger.

The attraction was instant.

“Goodnight, Mason. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Kit turned and unlocked her door, then slipped inside. Mason stood for a brief moment, then let out a sigh. He was hoping this night would never end.

Bailey’s dreams were swirls of terrible images. Her face—Zane’s contorted face. Pain. More pain. Running down the highway. Driving down the highway. Bailey tried to wake up to stop the nightmare. Suddenly, she lurched up in the bed. It took her a moment to realize she was not with Zane but in a cabin off Route 66. Sweat lined her brows. Her whole body perspired under the cool sheets.

Quickly throwing on her clothes, she peeked out the curtain. It was still dark outside. Slowly, she unlocked the chain on the door and stepped out into the cool night air. She shivered. The sound of shoes on the wood walkway startled her. She froze as a dark figure stepped into the moonlight. She sagged against the cabin as she realized from the shape it was Tom.

“ everything alright?” he asked while coming closer.

Her legs were about to buckle under her as fear grasped her throat. “ frightened me. I may be someone else, Tom,” she said in almost a whisper.

Tom moved into the dim light from above the cabin door. “I told you, Bailey, no one will hurt you here. I know you’re running from a bad man. You won’t have to worry about him finding you. He’ll meet his own destiny soon.”

Tom pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one, then offered one to Bailey. She shook her head no.

“I don’t smoke,” she said. “How did you know I was running away?”

Tom inhaled, then pushed out the smoke. “The bruise on your face...among other signs. Many people have passed through the diner. Some find the solace they long for. Others escape to a safer realm. I’m just the gatekeeper. I don’t judge. I enable people to find their own way.” Tom flicked the ashes from the cigarette.

“I don’t quite understand, Tom. Gatekeeper for what?” Bailey crossed her arms. The thin pajamas did not fight off the cool desert air.

“Do you believe in a higher power?” asked Tom. He glanced up at the night sky.

“You mean God?” asked Bailey.

Tom hesitated a brief moment before answering. “There are many names.”

“You’re talking in circles, Tom. I’m really tired, so maybe we can continue this conversation tomorrow morning.” Bailey turned to slide her key card.

“Wait, Bailey. Listen to me. I know this might sound ‘out there,’ but the truth is, I was put here to help people like you and Kit and Mason. You all lost your way. I’m here to guide you down the right path.” Tom bent down and put out his smoldering stub.

“I’m just too tired to deal with mind games, Tom. Please...tomorrow, we’ll talk.”

Tom shrugged.

Bailey slipped inside her cabin and gently shut the door. She lay back down on the bed. Her eyes had barely closed when his words seeped into her subconscious.

Mason and Kit arrived at the diner at exactly 9 o’clock. The same young server waited on their table. Both ordered coffee while they waited for Bailey to arrive. They noticed there were a few new faces eating breakfast.

“Morning...may I take your order?” asked the gum-chewing server.

Kit and Mason ordered a ham and cheese omelet. Bailey was nowhere to be seen. Tom wandered out into the dining area. He glanced around the diner, then headed to Kit and Mason.

“No Bailey?” he asked them.

They both shrugged their shoulders at the same time.

“She was supposed to meet us at nine o’clock, and as you can see, she’s a no-show,” said Kit. “Maybe she overslept.”

“That poor woman,” said Mason. “You know she’s running.” He sipped his hot cup of java.

Tom nodded in agreement. “She’s lost her way. But I know she’ll find it again.” He wiped his hands on the towel thrown over his shoulder. “I’ve got orders to fill. Enjoy your breakfast.” Tom disappeared once again behind the swinging kitchen doors.

Bailey tossed her bag inside the minivan. She had no intention of meeting the older couple for breakfast or talking to Tom about her personal situation. Bailey didn’t know any of them, so spilling her guts to strangers she’d probably never see again was out of the question.

The minivan turned over with the first crank. She slowly pulled out away from the cabin, then past the diner without stopping. Several minutes later, she was barreling along on Route 66. Her stomach rumbled. Maybe she should have eaten breakfast before hitting the road. But then she would have had to face Tom and the nosy couple.

It’s better this way.

Zane Moore’s pulse elevated. His fully loaded Chevy Suburban flew down the highway. He had been able to track Bailey since she snuck out on him and stole his money. Once he caught up to her, she would pay for what she did to him—maybe even with her life.

Bailey rummaged through her bag on the seat. Luckily, there was no traffic to be seen. As she leaned over to retrieve a water bottle, the minivan abruptly swerved. Bailey tried desperately to yank the vehicle back onto the road—but it was no use. As it hit the rut, the minivan bounced, then slid into the ditch. Instantly, the airbags released, smashing her against the seat.

Bailey could not breathe. Her mind tried to clear. She grappled with the overbearing restraint. Her face throbbed. As she got out of the damaged minivan, she started to sob. Out in the middle of nowhere, with the heat soaring and no cell phone service, Bailey slid down into the dirt. Zane would find her. There was no place to run. She had no way of escape. After she finished crying, she grabbed her bag and started to walk back to Tom’s Diner. She wasn’t sure how many miles it would be. Hopefully, she would make it before dropping over from heat exhaustion.

Zane’s vision clouded. His throat was dry from rushed breathing. He had to find her. No one leaves Zane Moore—no one!

Sweat drenched Bailey’s thin shirt. Her feet burned from the hot asphalt. Bile rose in her throat. For a brief moment, she thought she would vomit. The whole time she was walking, not one car passed her on either side. How was that possible?

As she staggered a few more feet, it was then she saw the car. It was moving fast towards her.


Bailey started to run but tripped and fell face-first into the dirt.

The car pulled off the road. The passenger door flew open, and out stepped a woman.

Without hesitation, she moved quickly toward Bailey.

“Are you alright, Bailey?” she called out.

It was then Bailey realized it was Kit. And the man behind her was Mason—not Zane.

Mason knelt down and lifted Bailey up. She leaned against Kit as they guided her to their car. Bailey was dehydrated. They needed to get her back to Tom’s Diner. Once in the back seat, Bailey let go. She rambled on and on about Zane. His abuse. Keeping her from family and friends. Stealing his money. The list went on and on until she slipped into unconsciousness.

The cool rag felt refreshing. She no longer felt sticky. Her thoughts were brought into focus.


“Bailey...Bailey...can you hear me?” asked a familiar voice. His rough hands were gentle on her skin.

Her eyes opened to see his face. A glow was behind his head, as if he were an angel.

“Is she alright?” asked a female voice. Kit was standing to the side.

“Here’s a bottle of water,” said Mason.

Tom took it from the man. He opened it and put the bottle to Bailey’s lips as she lay on the bed inside her cabin.

“Drink, Bailey, drink. You’re dehydrated.”

She could feel the rim of the bottle against her dry lips. The cool liquid seeped into her mouth. Suddenly, she longed for water. Her eyes opened as she grabbed the plastic bottle out of Tom’s hands.

“She’s back!” shouted Mason. “Yee, doggie!”

Kit chuckled. Tom grinned, then helped Bailey sit up before she choked on the water.

Bailey drank the entire bottle. Mason handed her another. They all watched Bailey as she slugged down another. Her breathing was labored. Slowly, it returned to normal. She wiped her face with the back of her hand.

“Thank you,” she whispered and forced a smile. “I owe you one.”

Now Bailey was sitting upright. Her face burned from the sun. But the tingling in her hands and feet had receded, and the pounding headache had eased.

“What...what happened?” she asked, looking at the faces with smiles.

“I asked Mason and Kit to go find you. I knew you wouldn’t meet them for breakfast. You ran off the road into a ditch. They found you walking and delirious about a mile and a half from the diner,” explained Tom. “The heat can be dangerous.”

Bailey looked between the two. “Why are you both still here?”

Kit glanced at Mason. “We decided to stick around for a while. We’re enjoying each other’s company. Besides, there’s no rush to leave.”

Mason gave a slight nod in agreement.

“We know why you wanted to get away,” said Tom. “You’re afraid Zane Moore is coming after you. I told you before, Bailey, you’re safe here. He’ll never hurt you again. You have to have a little faith.”

Bailey stared deep into the strange man’s eyes. Beautiful blue eyes that calmed her inner soul.

“I should have listened to you, Tom, and stayed put. At least until I know he’s given up on me,” murmured Bailey.

“Let’s get you over to the diner. It’s late afternoon already. How about one of my famous BLT sandwiches?” asked Tom.

Bailey was more thirsty than hungry. “Sure.”

Tom helped Bailey to her feet, and the four of them headed over to the diner. Bailey was a little bit wobbly and leaned on Tom. He felt strong.

As they entered, the tiny bell jangled above the door. Several patrons waiting on their food turned and looked at the group.

“Hello, folks! Bear with me a few more minutes. Your food will be served shortly. I’m Tom, and welcome to Tom’s Diner.”

A few people lifted a hand to wave, then went back to conversing with each other.

“I’ve got this little lady, Tom. Go work your magic,” said Mason while putting his large arm around Bailey’s waist for support.

They slowly made their way to a booth in the back. Once seated, Bailey closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the cushioned seat.

“Thank you both,” she whispered. She took a deep breath to inhale the cool air from inside the diner.

“We’re just glad we got to you before the buzzards,” said Mason.

“What a horrible thing to say, Mason,” said Kit as she tapped him on the arm.

“Well, it’s true. She could have dropped dead from heat exhaustion. It’s either the buzzards or the coyotes that are drawn to death.” Mason rubbed his shaven face.

Kit rolled her eyes. “Dramatic, wouldn’t you say, Bailey?” she asked in a light voice.

Bailey opened her eyes. Mason was right. She could have died out in the desert. But this kind couple went searching for her because a good man, Tom, insisted. She couldn’t have asked for better friends if she tried.

“When we picked you up, you delved into the whole story about that abusive man, Zane Moore. How he misled you and kept you prisoner, among other horrible things.” Kit shivered.

Bailey looked down at the table. Her eyes brimmed with tears. “I was so naïve and stupid to believe a man I hardly knew. He was so nice and charming at the beginning. And then...and then it was like someone flipped his switch and he became...evil.”

“No one is going to hurt you, little lady, at least not as long as I’m still breathing. A true man cares for a woman. He’s gentle, kind, and considerate of her needs, wants, and desires,” Mason said.

Kit wrapped her arm around his. “Maybe that’s how it used to be, Mason, but nowadays, men don’t care about all that stuff. They only care about what women are good for...and you know what I’m talking about.”

Bailey shifted in her seat. Her headache almost dissipated.

“A good man is hard to find...I have to agree with you, Bailey. There’s not too many out there.” Kit winked at Mason. His face blushed.

Bailey noticed the two people across from her were definitely in love. How that could be possible since they both just met wasn’t hers to contemplate. It was truly wonderful they had found each other. She didn’t know very much about them, except you could see their adoration for one another. Maybe one day she could have that, too.

Before she could say another word, Tom strolled over and placed the biggest BLT sandwich she had ever seen on the table. Her stomach grumbled. She couldn’t remember when she actually ate last.

“Tom’s special of the day. Eat up while it’s hot.” Tom gave a slight bow, then turned on his heel to leave.

The same server who had worked the day before, and the day before that, came back to their table.

“I took the liberty of getting you a cold glass of water and an icy Coke.” She snapped her gum.

“We’ll have two coffees and two huge slices of apple pie,” said Mason. “Please.” He patted Kit’s wrinkled hand.

She leaned her head against his wide shoulder. “You read my mind, Mason.”

The older couple’s eyes locked on one another again.

Bailey ate her sandwich in silence. She was glad she was back in Tom’s Diner. He came back out from the kitchen, carrying a tray of food for other customers.

As Bailey finished her delicious sandwich and gulped down both glasses of liquid, she stifled a belch. Once again, she felt drained. Now that she was full, she wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep. Her eyelids were heavy. She could hear Kit and Mason’s voices far away.

“Bailey...Bailey...come on, I’ll walk you back to your cabin. You should rest,” said Tom as he jostled her awake.

“Thanks for the food, it was good. I’m really tired.”

Tom helped her up.

“Did you need help with the little lady?” asked Mason.

“No, thank you, Mason. We’ll be just fine.”

Kit and Mason gave a slight wave. Tom put his arm around Bailey’s small waist. She leaned against him as they walked together to Cabin 2.

“You get some rest. You’re going to be just fine, Bailey. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Tom swiped the key card and let Bailey in. She plopped down on the bed and instantly fell asleep. He took a blanket from the closet and placed it on top of Bailey, then left, placing the key card on the table.

Minutes later, he was behind the grill, cooking orders. He had to stop Zane Moore in his tracks. Bailey would never be safe until that psychopath was dead.

Zane Moore sped down the empty highway. He had another beer. His rage continued to grow as he thought about Bailey. He had to find her and bring her home. His home. She’d behave once he convinced her how all she needed was him. And if not...she’d be sorry. If he couldn’t have her, then no one could.

Tom flipped the hamburgers on the hot grill. He knew Zane Moore would be coming for Bailey. It wouldn’t be long. But he was ready. This horrible man would not hurt Bailey anymore. His mission was clear. Keep Bailey safe.

Kit and Mason strolled around the cabins. They were too engrossed in each other’s conversation to notice the car pulling into the diner’s parking lot. Very few people stopped at Tom’s Diner.

Zane Moore was hungry. As he pulled into the diner’s parking lot, he wiped the white substance from the bottom of his nose. Glancing around, he noticed the row of cabins behind the diner.

Could Bailey be here in one of the cabins? Hiding?

He had taken a chance by driving Route 66 since he lost track of the GPS planted on her car. The salesman had pointed in the direction she had left in a minivan. But there was no such vehicle in sight. Regardless, he needed to relieve himself and eat.

The bell jingled above the door. Zane looked at the few patrons inside. Bailey was not there. A young server with a ponytail walked up to Zane.

“Welcome to Tom’s Diner. Would you like a booth or to sit at the counter?” she asked, snapping her gum.

Zane wanted to smack the gum out of her mouth.


He pulled out a cigarette. Immediately, the young server stepped back.

“Sir, there’s no smoking inside the diner. You’ll have to go outside.” She turned to leave.

“Wait!” he called while shoving the unlit stick back inside the pack. “I’ll sit by the counter.” He strolled over and swung his leg, then grabbed one of the menus left on the counter.

Daisy, the server, moved slowly toward Zane. He noticed her hesitation. Zane glanced at the menu. Not much to choose from.

What a dump!

“Give me a cheeseburger with the works, and a Coke.” Zane gestured for Daisy to come closer. “Hey...I was looking for a friend of mine who might have passed through here a couple of days ago. A pretty woman, with short, dark hair, on the thin side, driving a minivan. Did someone with that description come through?” Zane pulled out a fifty and slid it toward Daisy.

She looked down at the large bill. “I’ll...I’ll put your order in, sir, and get you your drink. I really don’t pay much attention to the customers—they come and go. Sorry,” said Daisy as she slid the bill back to Zane.

“How about the cook? Can you ask him?” he said as he slid the bill back towards Daisy.

“Tom. His name is Tom. He owns the diner. I’ll get him for you.” Daisy turned on her heel and disappeared behind the swinging kitchen doors.

Zane shook his head.

What kind of place is this?

Once again, he pulled out a cigarette and this time lit the end. A small trail of white smoke swirled from his mouth.

Immediately, Tom appeared, wiping his hands on a towel he’d tossed upon his left shoulder. His eyes narrowed at Zane.

“No smoking inside the diner, sir. Please put it out or go outside. It’s against the law,” stated Tom.

Zane held up his hand, then tossed the half-smoked cigarette on the clean, polished floor, smashing it with the tip of his boot.

“Sorry, man. Can’t get used to not smoking inside a restaurant. Did the pretty chick ask you about my friend?” Zane sucked at his teeth.

“How can I help you?” asked Tom. He crossed his arms.

“I guess she didn’t...anyway, I’m looking for a friend of mine. Her name is Bailey Madden. She’s thin...”

Before Zane could continue, Tom held up his hand. “Yes. I know Bailey Madden,” replied Tom.

Zane’s eyes lit up. “You do? Where is she? Is she still here? Did she leave? How long ago?”

Tom shifted on his feet. “Bailey rented a cabin from me.” He waited.

“A cabin? Which one is she in?” Zane stood up quickly.

Tom stepped back. “I cannot divulge any information on my guests,” he replied.

Zane took a step toward Tom. “You listen here, I demand to know which cabin she’s in. If not, I’ll just go kicking down doors until I find that no-good...” His words trailed off into silence.

Tom did not flinch. “As I said, it is against the law to divulge any information on my guests. I can give her a message if you want, and she can contact you if she wants.” Tom turned to leave.

“ need to involve the cops. I get it. Tell her Zane’s here to pick her up and take her home. I’ll be waiting right here.” Zane glanced about the diner. A few people turned to stare. He abruptly sat back down on the stool. “Yup...right here...I’m waiting.”

Tom exited out the back door of the diner and quickly rushed to Cabin 2. In the meantime, Bailey had gotten up to take a shower. She was still tired. A heavy knock on the door startled her.

“Who is it?” she called.

“Tom. Bailey, open up. I need to speak with you immediately.” Tom knocked again.

Bailey stepped to the door and looked through the peephole. Tom was looking behind himself. She unlocked the deadbolt and let Tom in. He came in quickly and shut the door behind him.

“I don’t want you to panic, but Zane Moore is here, looking for you, Bailey.”

Bailey’s jaw dropped. “What...I’ve got to get away!” she murmured as she turned around and started grabbing things.

“Bailey...Bailey...stop!” said Tom in a firm voice. “You’re not going anywhere. I told you, as long as you’re here, he cannot hurt you.”

Bailey’s breathing increased. Suddenly, she collapsed onto the floor and started to cry. “He’s going to kill me,” she sobbed.

Tom knelt down on one knee. “No, Bailey, he is not going to touch you. I will make sure he never hurts another soul.”

Bailey wrapped her arms around Tom’s neck. She could smell a faint scent of aftershave, but mostly the smell of food.

“Go take your shower, Bailey, and then come over to the diner. Don’t be afraid.” Tom stared into her troubled eyes.

“But don’t know how bad it can get. He’ll kill you, too.” Bailey’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“Do you trust me?” he asked. Bailey gave a slight nod. “Take a shower and come to the diner.”

Tom got up and left Bailey. She locked the deadbolt behind him.

Bailey’s shower was quick. She trembled as she got dressed. It took all the courage she had not to run out the door and never look back. But she promised Tom. And she did trust him to protect her against such an evil man.

Tom was flipping hamburgers when Bailey slipped through the back door of the diner. She looked refreshed but shaken.

“I’m glad you decided to stay, Bailey, and face your fears. I’ll be beside you the entire time.”

Tom finished plating the orders and hit the tiny bell on the counter. The ponytailed server came in to deliver the orders.

“You ready?” asked Tom.

“Let’s get this over with,” she replied.

He took her hand in his. A tiny smile crawled across her lips.

The two of them walked through the swinging kitchen doors. Zane looked up as they came into the dining area. His eyes narrowed. Suddenly, he jumped off the stool.

“Zane, let’s take this outside,” demanded Tom.

Zane grumbled and cursed but shoved open the diner door and went outside into the parking lot.

Tom gently tugged Bailey’s arm and led her to face Zane and the evil he represented. Bailey moved reluctantly.

Once outside, Tom stepped in-between Zane and Bailey. Zane paced back and forth. His face was wet with sweat. He stopped and pointed his shaky finger at Bailey.

“You are coming home with me, Bailey!” shouted Zane.

Bailey stumbled backwards, shaking her head no.

“Zane...Bailey does not want to be with you any longer. You need to move on and leave her alone.” Tom took one step forward.

“Who do you think are...her boyfriend? She’s mine. And if I can’t have one can!” Zane pulled out his gun and aimed it at Tom. “But you’re going first,” he said, then pulled the trigger.

Bailey screamed as Zane fired the gun at Tom. Both Zane and Bailey couldn’t believe their eyes. Despite the shot being directly aimed at Tom, he did not waver.

“Zane, I’m asking you to leave before I call the authorities. I don’t think you want to spend a night in jail, do you?” said Tom.

“It can’t be...I shot you in the chest. You should be dead.” Zane lowered his gun.

Bailey stood with her hand covering her mouth.

“Well, obviously, it misfired. Leave now, Zane.” Tom did not move.

Zane glanced around the parking lot. No one noticed the gathering of people from inside the diner. Mason came around the back of Zane to yank the weapon from his hanging hand. Kit was beside Bailey, guiding her away.

Zane did not resist Mason.  He then noticed all the people in the lot. Zane turned to leave, then stopped.

“I’ll never stop, Bailey. Never! You’re mine!” Zane shouted and walked over to his vehicle, then got in and accelerated out of the dusty lot.

Kit and Bailey were inside the diner. She held Kit’s warm hand. “He won’t stop hunting me, Kit.”

Kit forced a smile. “Honey, if I know Tom, that will never happen. You’ve got to have faith.” She patted Bailey’s shaky hand.

Minutes later, the tiny bell jangled above the door. Both women turned to see Tom stroll in, followed by the patrons who went outside to help.

"Zane is gone, Bailey, along with his empty threats. You won’t have to worry about him any longer. I promise you.” Tom smiled.

“You can’t be certain, Tom. Zane could be waiting for me. In the next town, in the next state. I’ll live looking over my shoulder the rest of my life.” Bailey placed her hands on her face and cried.

“No, you won’t, Bailey. Trust me, and have faith.” Tom pulled Bailey into his arms.

She sniffled back her tears and looked deep into his eyes. A peaceful calm surrounded her being. A slight glow was behind his head.

Why did she keep seeing this strange light?

Mason and Kit stood close. They, too, had that peaceful glow. She tried to rid herself of doubt.

“Please, everyone, take your seats,” said Tom. “Thank you for your support. Now, it’s time to eat!” he said in a cheerful voice.

The few people who still remained applauded and sat down in the booths once again. The ponytailed server snapped her gum and started to take orders.

Mason sat across from Bailey and Kit. “Would you ladies care for a cool, soothing drink?”

“I’d love an iced tea with lemon,” replied Kit. “Bailey, would you like an iced tea, too?”

Bailey barely nodded.

Mason stood up and went up to the counter. The server was jotting down the drink order. Minutes later, the three of them were sipping their fresh iced tea.

“What do you mean you’re staying here?” asked Bailey. The cool drink felt good on her parched throat.

“Well, Mason and I decided we’d stick around a while and help Tom run the place, or I should say the cabins. Mason is good with his hands, and I’m good with the books. Also, I can change hats and clean the cabins,” explained Kit.

“But...aren’t you both on vacation?” asked Bailey.

“I sold my ranch to travel. And now I’m here with Kit.” He winked at Kit.

She blushed. “And I took a leave of absence from work. Yesterday, I called the office and told them I decided to retire and wasn’t coming back. I have what I need right here.”

Mason chuckled. “I’m sure she means me...or should I say, I pray she means me.”

Kit gave a slight nod in agreement.

Bailey looked back and forth between the couple. “I have nowhere to go. Can I stay, too? Do you think Tom could use my help?” asked Bailey.

They both looked at Bailey.

“You have your whole life ahead of you, little lady. You don’t belong here with us, or Tom,” said Mason.

“Mason’s right, my dear. You can start over. You’ve been given a second chance. You just have to keep the faith—look forward, not back.”

“What about Zane?” whispered Bailey.

Tom had wandered over to the booth. He brought with him a plate full of chips. He had caught up on the orders and wanted to talk with Bailey.

“Tom, Bailey is still concerned about Zane. I told her she didn’t have to worry,” said Kit.

“Bailey, Kit is correct. Zane has his own destiny to meet, and it doesn’t include you, thankfully.”

“I thought...I thought I could stay, like Mason and Kit. I could help around here, too,” said Bailey.

Tom shook his head from side to side. “You don’t belong here, Bailey. You belong out there. Living your life to the fullest.”

Kit dug into her pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “This is for you, Bailey. I won’t be needing them.”

Bailey opened her hand as Kit dropped the keys to her SUV into it. “But...but it’s your car.” Bailey’s eyes opened wide at the strange gift.

“No, Bailey—it’s your car now. And then she handed her a set of documents that showed the transfer of title to Bailey. “All legal.” The older woman hugged Bailey.

“How can I thank all of you for what you did for me?” she said, with sad eyes.

“Just keep the faith,” Tom said, with a slight wave, then headed back to the kitchen through the swinging doors.

Zane Moore smacked the steering wheel, cursing under his breath. He had been run out by a cook. The only reason he left was to save face, especially with all the witnesses. But he couldn’t figure out why his gun had misfired. He could have sworn he could smell the sulfur in the air from the discharge of the gun.

As he sped along the highway, he thought of his next move to reclaim his ownership of Bailey. As his speed increased, he raced by someone hitchhiking by the side of the road. Without hesitation, he stomped on the brakes and turned around.  Minutes later, he pulled up next to a tall young man in shorts and a T-shirt with a backpack slung over his shoulders. His athletic shoes were covered in dust.

“Hey man, thanks for stopping,” said the stranger as he leaned into Zane’s vehicle.

“What are you doing out the desert?” asked Zane, eyeing the man before allowing him in.

“Oh man, just following the road to see where it leads me,” said the stranger, with a bright, flashy smile.

“Kind of hot to be walking, don’t you think?” asked Zane.

“Well, man, sometimes you don’t pick your destination...your destiny is preset. Get what I’m saying, man?”

Zane thought maybe the kid had been out in the sun too long.

“Get in. I’ll give you a ride to the next town. It’ll give you a chance to cool off,” said Zane, unlocking the doors.

The young hitchhiker opened the door and plopped down.

“Nice ride, man. Bet it rocked you for big bucks. Did Bailey like your ride?” he asked as he looked out the side window.

Zane sped up. For a moment, he thought the stranger had mentioned Bailey’s name. How did he know her?

“You know my girl, Bailey?” asked Zane as he cranked up the A/C.

The stranger laughed. “I know a lot of people. I know you won’t ever set your eyes on her again. Your destiny doesn’t include such a fine, pretty lady as Bailey.”

Zane remained silent. “Who...who are you?” asked Zane. His stomach ached, and bile rose in his throat.

“You don’t recognize me, Zane. I’m your destiny,” he whispered.

“My destiny?” repeated Zane.

The young man turned to look at Zane. His black eyes peered into Zane’s soul.

Zane’s heart beat against his chest. His palms grew sweaty. He tried to pull his foot back from the gas pedal, but it would not move. In fact, his speed increased.

“Do you know where we are, Zane?” hissed the stranger.

“Route Sixty-six?” replied Zane in a low tone.

“Route Sixty-six! That’s where you started, Zane, but that’s not where you are now, man. No, we’re on El Camino del Diablo, man.”

The road suddenly turned to dust and dirt. The vehicle shuddered from the rough, unpaved road.

“What? I’ve never heard of that before!” exclaimed Zane, trying desperately to control the car.

“Sure, you have, man, this is the Devil’s Highway, and you’re on the road straight to hell!” The unmistaken stranger laughed.

Zane let out a shriek as he tried hard to slow down the vehicle to kick this guy out. But it was too late. Zane had passed the point of no return. And the harder he tried, the faster the car went.

His hands, now so hot, began to melt into the steering wheel. Sweating profusely, his shriveled body merged into the upholstery. As the agonizing pain spread through his molten, blackened soul, darkness surrounded him, suffocating the light — and his last chance at redemption.

About the Author

Alice Baburek

Alice Baburek is an avid reader, determined writer and animal lover. She lives with her partner and four canine companions. Retired and enjoying it, she challenges herself to become an unforgettable emerging voice.