Waking disoriented was very…well, disorienting. Where was I? I’d obviously fallen asleep shaped like a pretzel. That was the only thing that could account for the pain in every single muscle in my body.

My neck cricked as I tried to move it, reminding me why I’d given up late nights and heavy drinking long ago.

As I unfolded myself and stretched out my legs, my head flopped to one side to appease the pain in my neck. I couldn’t for the life of me remember why I’d fallen asleep like this.

Oh, yes, Tilly.

My daughter had come home from college last night, a couple of days before the scheduled fall break, with a high temperature. The poor thing had run into the house, dropped her things in the middle of the living room floor, and then went straight to bed. She mumbled, “Hi, Mom,” or something similar as she passed.

As her overprotective, worries-too-much mother, I’d tucked her in and set a glass of water on her nightstand before sitting down outside her door, ready to jump if she needed anything. But then, I’d fallen asleep. I really hadn’t intended to spend the night in the hallway, but it wasn’t often that Tilly was ill. It concerned me.

If she woke up and found out I’d kept watch all night, curled into a ball on the floor, she would give me the look. Usually, mothers were the look connoisseurs, but Tilly had been three the first time I’d seen it. Over the years she’d cultivated that baby—eyes narrowed, mouth pinched—so that now I cringed when I saw it. Plus, she’d pick on me for being a crazy, overprotective mom.

Hey, I owned that title. She was my only child. My whole world. Her independence was a source of pride—and frustration. Despite it, I’d keep her safe, no matter how many labels people threw at me.

I sighed and pushed to my feet as quietly as I could. After the tenth time of going into her room last night to insist she have some soup, she’d shooed me out and said not to come back until the morning. My baby girl was grumpy when she was sick. If she’d just let me take care of her it would’ve been fine.

Apparently, the years hadn’t been as kind to my body as I’d thought. While I remembered being sore when I’d slept outside of my daughter’s door when she was a teen, now it was like my whole body screamed in protest. Every muscle was tight and sore. I rolled my neck as far as I could and rubbed my lower back. Yes, I was crazy. I shouldn’t have stayed so close, but that child was all I had. I’d wanted to be close.

Ugh, after I made sure Tilly was okay, I’d have to pencil in an Epsom salt bath. Maybe even a nap. Naps and baths were my things, preferably one after another. If there was a medal for bath-taking, I’d have a whole wall of trophies. World champion.

Taking a few steps to the living room, I looked at the clock. It was morning, which meant if I checked on my daughter now, I was being reasonable. I’d waited long enough to seem not too overbearing, so I went back and opened her door gently. “Til?” I whispered. “How are you feeling?”

A frown broke across my face when I realized her bed was empty. Panic bubbled up from my belly. I never realized that panic had a taste, but it did. Old mint tea. It was not a pleasant taste.

Where was she? Where could she have gone without me realizing it? Wasn’t she too sick to go anywhere?

I walked into the bedroom and the panic became more potent, like hot lava. The lamp had been knocked over, and the bedside table all askew. Her blankets were mostly off of the bed, and the pillows had been flung to the opposite side of the room, by the dresser. It looked like there had been a fight. A struggle and my daughter was just…nowhere to be found. How? I was pretty darn sure I would’ve heard a fight breaking out.

Tilly was too old to be abducted without making a huge fuss, wasn’t she? That had to be why everything was knocked around.

Plus, I’d been camped outside her door all freaking night! How had I not heard anything?

I stared at the wreckage for a second, then my inner mama bear kicked in, and I raced to the other side of the bed. Once, when she was seven, she’d rolled out of bed, and I’d lost her for about fifty-five seconds until it had occurred to me that she might’ve landed on the other side of the bed where I couldn’t see her.

She’d been there then, but she wasn’t there now.

My inner mama bear was having an inner coronary. I lifted the blanket from her bed, what little was left on it, and checked under it. Once when I’d gone in to wake her for school, she’d been curled into a ball at the wrong end of her bed, tangled in the blanket.

This time, not so much.

My stomach churned. Oh, my God.

For a few seconds, I couldn’t help but imagine every horrible scenario my mind could conjure. Someone had come in while I was sleeping—through the window, of course, because no way would they have gotten past me—and kidnapped her. Or maybe she, in a feverish hallucination, had wandered out past me, careful to tiptoe so she didn’t wake me and made it outside.

It was possible but unlikely.

I knelt and narrowed my eyes, staring through a squint at the windowsill in her room. The dust hadn’t been disturbed. Not that it said much about my cleaning abilities and no way was it staying that way if I ended up calling law enforcement, but there was enough of a layer of dust that it would have had prints or some other tell-tale sign if someone had entered or exited the house that way.

I stood and surveyed the rest of the room. How else could she have left?

Something wasn’t adding up here. Things weren’t making sense. I’d been dropped into the Twilight Zone.

Was Tilly still here? I didn’t see how she could’ve left. She was too big to fit under her bed now, but…

Almost unreasonably, I crawled to the bed and looked underneath. Holy crap. I jumped back, squealed, then looked again. Nope, I had absolutely not imagined the pair of beady little eyes staring back, reflected by the light in the room.

The courage that came from inside me was new, and probably the reason I reached for whatever was attached to the eyes, rather than beating tracks and calling animal control as a normal person would. There was no reason for me to try to grab it, but yet I did.

As soon as my hand got close, the damned thing bit me. I jerked back, said a swear word I wasn’t very proud of—it was relative to the barnyard and something that would make my mother reach for the soap even now if she’d heard me say it—then squealed, another fine moment in a life full of them.

It leaped out. A rabbit! It was a frikkin’ Bugs frikkin’ Bunny! The jumped-up rat lurched and jerked out of my way, then ran like hell out the door and down the hall.

I gave chase, because what else could I do? There was a rabid bunny in my house, and it bit me. I was going to have to get a rabies shot now. Maybe even tetanus.

Well, one thing was sure. I wasn’t going to let it hang around. Not that I had a great plan for rabbit stew; I just wanted it out of my house. I ran to the front door, barely beating it to the front of the house, and yanked the door open. To my shock, it headed straight for me, then past and outside. As if it knew I was standing there holding the door open just for the rodent. Was a rabbit a rodent? Eh, whatever.

I watched it leave, then slammed the door shut behind it just in case it decided to shoot back inside. “Okay, there was a bunny in my house. A bunny. Not a wolf. Not a bear. It was just a weird, angry, possibly rabid bunny. You’re okay. Everything is okay.” I took a deep calming breath—therapy had done wonders on my psyche—and leaned against the door. I glanced down at the bite on my finger. Savage little beast. My blood was bright red against my hand, but that was nothing to worry about right now, not when my daughter was still missing. If the rabbit was rabid, well, that was another matter. For now, I had to find Tilly.

She hadn’t been rolled under her bed. Nor at the foot of her bed. Since the dust by her window hadn’t been disturbed, the most logical explanation is that she got up and left, going past me.

Where was my phone? I had to try to call Tilly. I needed to make sure she was okay, to ask if she had any idea how a bunny got into her bedroom. Instead of freaking out, I reminded myself she was an adult and likely perfectly fine right now, even if next time I’d remind her to wake me up. Anything rather than just disappearing, leaving me to worry and get bunny-bit.

As the blood rolled down my finger, I sighed. But first I was going to have to care for the bite and make sure it didn’t get infected. The multitasker that I was, I grabbed my cell from the coffee table and made my way to the bathroom while dialing Tilly’s number.

Once inside the bathroom, I put the phone on speaker while cleaning the wound. Dread and fear soured my stomach as the call to Tilly went to voicemail.

I switched over to the app to find her phone. I didn’t usually use this option. It was a bit invasive, even for me. But this was a time that these types of apps were made for. I hit the button to locate her phone, and a few seconds later, followed the sound of the chiming back to Tilly’s bedroom. Her phone was on the ground behind her bedside table.

Crap, crap. She never would’ve left her phone! Where the heck was my daughter?

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