The thought ripped through her, making it hard to breathe. Turning the knob, she eased the door shut, careful not to wake the children who slept peacefully on the other side. Once it was closed, she spun on heel and raced to the stairs. She leapt down them two at a time, grabbing the railing to spin herself down the last few steps and into the hallway beyond.
She flew through the kitchen, the last of the coals still glowing in the stove, and burst into the back yard.
A shadow shifted in front of her.
“You’re late.” His voice dripped with annoyance as the shadows manifested into a tall figure in a black cloak. She could only see his mouth and jaw beneath the hood, pale as moonlight.
She shrugged. “Nightmare,” she said in way of explanation, nodding up toward the twins’ bedroom. His thin lips curled into a smile.
“Of course,” he crooned. “Ever the devoted mother. Have you decided?” He stepped even closer to her, standing so close she could feel his breath ruffle the hair on her head. She took a quick step backward, putting her hands on her hips.
“I refuse.” She spat the words, thrusting her jaw forward and hoping her fear didn’t slip out. Red flashed under the hood of his cloak, his eyes glinting.
“You understand, of course, what this means,” he growled. “A debt is owed.”
“And it will be paid,” she assured him, “but not by my family. Find another way.”
His hand lifted from his side slightly, and she felt invisible fingers brush her hair behind her ear. The shadows swirled around her, blocking out the light until she could see nothing but shades of black and grey.
“Oh,” he whispered into her ear, “I have a way. Two ways, in fact.”
Her heart froze. On instinct, she reached up to grab at his throat, but the darkness scattered around her, leaving only her moonlit yard. He was gone.
“Oh gods,” she whispered, looking up at the bedroom window where her two children lay fast asleep. “What have I done?”