At Close Range

By: Laura Griffin

CHAPTER 1




Everything about this felt wrong, and Tessa couldn’t believe she was here as they bumped along the gravel road, their headlights cutting through the tunnel of trees. When they reached the clearing, James rolled to a stop and shoved the car into park.

Tessa gazed straight ahead at the moonlight shimmering off the inky lake.

“This okay?” he asked.

“Fine.”

He turned off the music, and she listened to the drone of the cicadas and the guttural croak of bullfrogs outside. An electronic chirp sounded from her purse. Crickets, her sister’s ringtone. Tessa silenced the phone and dropped it into the cup holder.

“Who is it?” he asked.

“No one.”

The car got quiet again and James reached for her, pulling her across the seat and sliding his warm hand under her shirt.

“Wait. Maybe we should talk first.”

“We don’t have much time.” He squeezed her breast.

“James, I mean it.”

He leaned back and sighed. “Talk about what?”

“Us. This.”

His face was shadowed, but still she could see the heat in his eyes as his hand glided up her thigh.

“So talk.” He kissed her neck, and she inhaled the musky scent of his skin—the scent that drew her to him in the most primal way, in a way she’d never been able to resist no matter what the consequences. She responded to this man on a molecular level, with every cell in her body.

He kissed her mouth, softly at first, then harder. He pulled her close, shifting her until she was almost in his lap.

“I can’t stop thinking about you.” His breath was warm against her throat, and whatever she’d wanted to talk about was gone now. He slid his hand over her shirt, deftly popping open the buttons one by one. Then the fabric was off her shoulders, and air wafted over her skin. She reached for his belt buckle.

A sudden flash of light made her jump. She squinted over her shoulder at the blinding white as a car pulled up behind them.

James went rigid. “Damn it, a cop.”

The car’s door opened. She hurriedly pulled her shirt on and darted a look at James.

“Don’t talk,” he said.

A light beamed into the driver’s side, and she shrank back against the door as James buzzed down the window.

“Evening, Officer.”

“This your vehicle, sir?”

“Yes, it is.”

The flashlight beam moved to Tessa’s face, then dipped lower. She tugged the sides of her shirt together and looked away.

“Step out of the car, sir.”

James gave her a warning look and pushed open his door.

She sank down in the seat. Perfect. This was just what they needed. Could they be charged with something? Trespassing? Or public lewdness, maybe? Her cheeks burned and she glanced back at the cop.

Pervert. He probably staked out this lakeside park every weekend and waited for couples to pull in. He probably got a sick thrill from embarrassing people.

Pop! Pop!

The noise rocked the car and she lurched against the window, shrieking. Terror seized her as she gaped at the open door.

He’s shooting. He’s shooting. He’s—

The flashlight shifted. Tessa scrambled for the door handle. She shoved open the door and lunged from the car, landing hard on her hands and knees.

Pop!

The sound reverberated through her brain, her universe. She clawed at the grass and stumbled to her feet. Adrenaline spurted through her veins as she raced for the woods.

He was behind her, right behind her. She sprinted for the cover of the trees, screaming so loud her throat burned.

No one can hear you. You’re all alone.

An icy wave of panic crashed over her, and her cries became a shrill wail. Her heart pounded as she ran and ran, waiting for the bite of a bullet.

Hide, hide, hide!

She plunged into the woods, choking back her screams as she swiped madly at the branches. Thorns tore at her skin, her clothes, but she surged forward. It was dark. So dark. Maybe he wouldn’t see her in the thicket.

He killed James. He killed him killed him killed him. The words flashed through her mind as she swatted at the branches.

She had to get out of here. She had to get help. But she was miles away from anyone, stumbling blindly through the darkness. Branches lashed her cheeks and they were wet with blood or tears or both as she plunged through razor-sharp brush and her breath came in shallow gasps.