Lydia Back has problems; a dead end job cataloging artifacts no one wants to see, an office in a dusty basement storage room, and she’s just discovered that her friend is missing. Adding to her frustration is the arrival of a too-charming private investigator who needs her help.
Carter Harris has no problems; he has his own successful business and is enjoying a few days in a scenic southern Ohio town to gather information on a missing professor. But his local contact turns out to be an uncooperative woman who prefers traipsing around in the forest to having a civilized conversation with him.
They begin to uncover the secrets that lurk under the surface of other people’s lives and also discover an inconvenient attraction. When danger looms, both Carter and Lydia realize it will be impossible to survive without each other.
So now they were heading down a narrow township road, trees overhanging the vehicle. The road itself was narrow, graveled asphalt with crumbling edges. It was primitive and he couldn’t imagine trying to drive on it in icy or snowy conditions. Yet again he was glad that he had a rental. His Audi shouldn’t be exposed to such a surface. Back’s face was buried in the county road map and she had resisted his efforts at conversation for the last mile. He decided to try again, the local radio station kept fading in and out due to interference from the hills looming over them and he was bored. Whenever he was bored he made questionable decisions, or so his mother had warned him.
“How are your hands, Back?”
She folded the county map and glanced at him before pulling out one of Dr. Cooper’s maps to look at next.
“They are okay, sore but I’m managing.”
He nodded, he was making progress now. Her nose was back to reading or surveying or viewing the map, whatever you might call it. He had no idea, since interstates and urban areas were his specialty. All this overgrown deserted rural environment was confusing. Back had told him that the Mullins lived on Bent Boot Road and he’d laughed, sure that she was joking. She hadn’t been, and that’s why she had been sulking and silent next to him.
“Give me some background on the Mullins couple, so I am prepared.”
She sighed and looked up at the passing trees. They hadn’t even passed a mailbox, let alone seen another car or house for quite a while. It was creepy.
“He is a retired engineer, so he’s pretty particular about things, and she puts up with it.”
“That’s it, the one sentence definition of them?”
“Sounds like a successful marriage to me.”
She grunted and folded a map. Carter was still bored. Time to make a questionable move.
“So tell me Back, are you seeing anyone?”
She unfurled the map and pulled it up higher so that he couldn’t see her face anymore. Silent, and he was sure she was glowering.
“So, anyone serious, or just casual dates? No one? What’s your type?”
The map rattled violently and she pushed it down on her lap with a grunt, wrinkling it irreversibly. Carter had to repress a grin, he was getting a reaction now.
“Are you going to continue this line of questioning?”
“Criminy Harris, there are far more interesting things to talk about, like the collapse of the Soviet Union and the impact on the future of geopolitical power.”
“Too heavy. Let’s keep it light.”
“I thought we weren’t going to talk about that sort of thing.”
“I’m not asking you about sex, I’m asking you about dating. They aren’t the same thing.”
She shot a foul look his way and leaned her head back on the rest, sighing loudly. “We have one more mile on this road and then we turn. I’ll talk until we need to turn onto Bent Boot Road.” This last sentence was pronounced in a growl. So she was still irritated by his scoffing.
“So, are you seeing anyone?”
“Not that it matters at all, but no, I am not.”
“I guess I haven’t met that special someone.” This reply was in a saccharine tone.
“Do you want to know if I am seeing anyone?”
“Because it is completely irrelevant.”
“Not to me. I like going on dates.” And he liked sex, but he had a sense that she would open the door and leap from the moving car if he mentioned that. Carter had been too busy for either activity the past few months, but prolonged exposure to Lydia Back was stimulating all sorts of impulses.
She groaned and began to roll the map up, making far too much noise in his opinion.
“Fine, tell me all about your fabulous girlfriend and your fabulous life back in Fabulous Columbus. Where they don’t have streets with silly names.”
“At least you admit it is a silly name.”
“It’s not a silly name, you thought it was a silly name. I think it is a fine name, one that the people of Bent Boot are proud of.” She sounded a bit self-righteous.
“The people of Bent Boot?”
“Yes, the People of Bent Boot,” she snarled back.