Solvang, California - November 2006
Sarah had left her past behind in fear for her own life. It all happened so suddenly. One minute she was happy and felt hope for the future, that included the man she’d fallen in love with. He’d surprised her with a trip to Las Vegas, where they’d got hitched. But it all came crumbling down in a sudden force, that led her to flee the city of Angels to her current location. She’d had no time to contact her new husband about the armed men whom she’d seen raid her house. She had no idea why someone would be after her. All thoughts led her to her job as an FBI agent. She’d lived a lie for a year with Greg, telling him her alias, Sarah Grantham. That’s who she’d married him as and she was happy to continue to live the lie, if it meant keeping him safe from the cruel world she dealt with in her line of work.
Two hours north of the city, her car had broken down and a wave of nausea overcame her. She knelt on the side of the road, vomiting, when a car pulled over. A tall lanky man in his early forties, walked over to her with concern.
“Excuse me, miss, are you okay?”
Sarah looked up at her rescuer, Steve Crawford, and shook her head. Her body was shaking from the emotion of fear and now she felt like death. He picked her up and carried her as if she was only a child and laid her in the passenger seat and took her home. He was the third generation winemaker at the Sunford Winery, just outside of Solvang, California. A retired marine, who had come home to take over the family business after his father’s sudden death from a heart attack. Now he found himself alone again after his wife died from a long battle with breast cancer. That was six months ago. His two sons, Brent and Zac, were only ten years of age and they were left without their mother.
When Sarah awoke, she found herself lying under the covers of a hand made quilt. It had a variety of fabrics lovingly pieced together to make it a bedspread. Two pairs of blue eyes stared back at her as she moved her gaze around the room.
The boys were shy and slid behind the doorframe again. They lifted their heads as they saw their father return.
“I hope my boys haven’t woken you.” Steve entered and sat in a chair he’d placed in the room. “How are you feeling now?”
Sarah pulled herself up to sitting position and was relieved to find herself still in her clothes. To have found herself undressed would have been awkward to say the least. “Better, thanks.”
“I’m Steve Crawford. The owner of Sunford Wineries. These are my two sons, Brent and Zac. They’re ten.” He ushered them into the room. “Say hello to our guest, sons.”
“Hello.” The boys gave her an awkward smile and stood silently beside their father.
“Hello. I’m Sarah.” She furrowed her brow for a moment, trying to remember her surname. What name had she decided to live by? Was it safe to live by Grantham or her married name. She wasn’t sure.
“Do you have a last name, Miss?” Steve studied her while she shuffled in the bed.
Sarah scanned the room, wondering if being there was a mistake. She had intended on driving north to San Fransisco, where her parents live. Heading home seemed the right thing to do. “I can’t stay.” She hesitated, unsure if she could trust them.
Steve Crawford recognised the look in her eyes, that darted towards the door every so often. She’s on the run, he concluded. But from what? “Look, Sarah, there’s no pressure if you don’t want to tell us your surname. But you look like you could do with some rest. We need some help around the house since my wife died. If you would like, you can earn your board with taking care of the house and helping out with my sons. It would be much appreciated.”
Sarah returned her gaze towards the father and thought about his proposition. A new life in a new place where no one knew her. She would be safe here. But she only had to decide whether to live by Grantham or her married name. It was too late to tell them her real name and she wasn’t sure if her real identity had been burned. Instead she nodded and agreed for this chance to rest from running before she decided on what to do.
Solvang, California - February 2015
She shouldn’t have stayed, Sarah told herself. Eight years had been too long for her to settle in the one place. Some men inquired about her, Steve had told her. He’d told them that she was his niece and she had lived with them ever since his wife had died. The house was more like a mansion, with her living in the pool house for her own space. The property for the family living quarters,sat south of the main road and it was cordoned off in a circular shape from the vineyard that surrounded them. Fear grew within her, as she packed up all her essential items and packed two backpacks, one for her and one for her daughter. Molly was seven years old and she reminded her very much of her husband. She had his colouring and cheekiness and Sarah loved Molly more for that fact. She missed Greg over the years but she wasn’t sure if it was safe to return to Los Angeles to look for him. But now her past had caught up with her.
A helicopter flew overhead and gunfire could be heard as it rained down over the property. Steve yelled to his now eighteen year old sons, to follow him to a safe location. Memories of battles he’d fought for his country returned to his mind as he heard the gunfire. It wasn’t safe to head outside and they had hidden themselves in the basement. But Sarah thought otherwise. She knew that it would only be a matter of time before these men would enter the house and turn it upside down looking for her. She still had no idea who they were or why they wanted her. She checked the clip in her Glock and slipped it into the small of her back.
“Molly. We’ve got to move silently without being seen. Remember what I’ve told you in our escape training?”
Seven year old Molly nodded her head and listened intently to her mother, trying hard to ignore the loud cutting of helicopter blades and gunfire that rained above them. They pulled dark coloured jumpers over their heads and she stood still as her mother inserted dark brown contact lenses into her eyes. She pulled down a dark brown beanie over her head to hide her blonde tresses. With her backpack on, she followed her mother and they crawled outside underneath the tree line. She watched her mother scan the perimeter and plan the best route of escape. She followed her, just as they had planned many times before. She never questioned her mother why they practised their escape, she only had to look into her mother’s eyes and see the fear that she carried with her. She knew it was not her father that her mother feared, but strangers who she had no idea who they were. They had been happy living with the Crawfords, but she knew her mother missed her daddy and she couldn’t wait to meet him. He sounded fun from the stories that her mother had told her about him. She couldn’t wait for the three of them to be a family. But now was not the time to think about him. They had to escape their home for fear of their lives.
They were on their last few metres along a very long line of vines, when the helicopter flew above them and more gunfire rained down on them. They could hear the vines and ground around them patter from the bullets, like it did during a storm. But this was not one storm to be caught up in, as they laid in the dirt under the vine and prayed that their lives would be spared. Sheer pain of hot burning metal seared Sarah’s skin as she was hit in the arm. Blood poured out of the wound and she quickly tore some fabric off her shirt and tied it around the wound to stop the bleeding. The helicopter moved back towards the front of the property and landed. It was now or never, Sarah decided. She broke a branch off the vine and used it to brush over their tracks as she and her daughter ran, crouched down for the Santa Ynez river that bordered the southern edge of the property. She knew that there was a wooded area where they could get lost in once they crossed the river.
Inside the basement, Steve and his sons hid as they heard foreign voices and heavy footsteps above them. Six men trampled through the property in search for the woman. After eight long years, they had finally found her and they weren’t going to allow her to escape this time. They’d returned with full force to ensure that if she tried to escape, they would block all access for her to do so and take her captive. But as they searched through the house, they couldn’t find any signs of the woman or of her ever living there. Photos showed only that of the owner, his sons and dead wife. They found the entrance to the basement and with their guns at the ready, they headed down the stairs. They turned the lights on and found Steve and his sons huddled together in a corner.
“Where’s the woman?” Steve shook his head.
He’d fought with Sarah on what to do, but she was insistent to make a run for it.
“It’s not safe for any of us, if I stay. It’s me they’re after.” She’d admitted to him that she had no idea who they were or why they wanted her. Only that she’d seen armed men raid her house back in Los Angeles when she fled. Steve had asked her about Molly’s father and she’d told him that he had nothing to do with this and that she’d run away without telling him, in hope to protect him. But by staying, she had placed the Crawfords in danger instead.
The man with blond hair, pulled him up onto his feet and held a gun to his temple. “Where is she?”
“I don’t know. She left.” It was the truth, but nothing he would say would appease the man.
Blood spattered onto the walls and surrounding area. Both of Steve’s sons covered their heads as they knew their father had just been slaughtered by this intruder.
“Please don’t hurt us. We don’t know where she is.”
The man who appeared to be the only one who could speak English took pity on the young men, shooting them in the leg and leaving them to bleed out. Brent and Zac cried out in pain, only for their pleas for help to fall on deaf ears. They were left in their father’s blood and in their own pain, locked in the basement. Brent pulled out his cell and turned the torch app on.
“Remember how Sarah showed us to stop the bleeding?” Zac nodded.
Both of them ripped fabric off their shirts and tied a tourniquet over their wounds, although pain shot through their bodies from the action. It would buy them the time till help arrived. Brent dialled 911 and cursed at the no signal response. “They must have killed the cell tower. We need to move away from the blood.”
Both boys knew that there was nothing that either of them could do for their father now. He’d died trying to protect them and Sarah from what evil pursued her. They prayed that Sarah and Molly had managed to escape without being caught or killed.