Time to Run(8)

By: Marliss Melton

They kept close to the mudflats, moving with such stealth that she could hear fiddler crabs scuttling between the reeds. A blue heron froze on one leg as they glided by.

Sara was just beginning to breathe more easily when they came across a pier and a lone fisherman. He lifted his gaze from a crab pot to greet them.

Chase pulled the bill of his baseball cap down as he nodded back. Plunging his paddle deeper, he whisked them out of the stranger's sight.

It seemed an interminable amount of time before the canoe eased toward a forested shore. The SEAL drove the prow onto land and wedged the paddle into the mud to keep it there. "Hop out," he invited.

Sara clambered out. She held the canoe to keep it from wobbling as Kendal, then Chase followed suit. The bark of a dog drew her gaze to a black Lab sitting in a familiar sports car, parked beneath the trees.

Chase pulled the canoe ashore and flipped it over. "Stand back." With that brief warning, he delivered a swift kick to the underside, leaving a gaping hole. In a brisk, forceful move, he shoved the boat back into the cove, where it started to sink.

"Let's go," he said, heading toward the car. He opened the passenger door and flipped the seat forward. "You'll have to sit with the dog," he said to Kendal. "Back, Jesse."

Kendal dove into the cramped rear seat. "Hey, boy."

As Sara dropped into the front seat, Chase rounded the car to take the wheel. "Buckle up."

With competence and speed that had her holding her breath, he backed them down the rutted track. They came to a clearing, where he reversed direction. And then they took off again.

The dirt track turned into a gravel one before spitting them out into the overflow parking lot. "I used to fish back there," he explained in response to her wondering look.

That was why he knew about the cove, why he'd chosen it as a remote spot to get her into his car without witnesses. She shrank down in her seat, reluctant to be seen by the handful of visitors getting in and out of their vehicles.

Leaving the park, they merged smoothly into the traffic on Shore Drive. Sara sat up straighter and wiped her palms on her shorts.

"Hope you've got everything you need in there," Chase commented, darting a look at her backpack.

"Yes," she said, relieved that she'd planned for the unlikely.

He switched gears. "So, what made you think I'd even show up?" he demanded. The question betrayed an element of self-directed anger.

"I don't know. I just couldn't accept the alternative, I guess."

That answer earned her a conjecturing look.

She glanced back at Kendal. "Oh, honey, you didn't put your seat belt on."

"The dog's sitting on it."

"Jesse, scoot," Chase commanded, and the dog immediately made room.

Mother and son shared a look. The SEAL sure had his dog well trained. Kendal fastened his seat belt with a click.

It was then that the full impact of their departure hit Sara. Mr. Hale, the Boy Scout leader, was probably frantic right now, wondering what had happened to them. The authorities would soon be notified, then Garret. There was no going back now.

"We're not going to stop anywhere, are we?" she asked on a note that betrayed her fear.

"No," he said. Accelerating, he swept them up an exit ramp onto the highway that would lead them north and west, toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond. In just three hours, or so, they'd be in the western half of Virginia, far from the search that would be taking place for them at Seashore State Park. She would breathe a whole lot easier then.

"Do you think that fisherman is going to be a problem?" she asked beneath her breath.

To her deepening concern, Chase didn't answer right away. "He wasn't there when I approached the rendezvous point. If he had been, I would have turned around."

In which case, she never would have known that he'd intended to rescue her, after all.

"Thank you," she murmured, thinking those two words fell woefully short. "I promise you won't... regret it," she added, forcing those words through a tight throat.

She was certain that he'd heard her, but he didn't answer. It was probably too late, and he probably already did.

Chapter Three

For the next four hours, very little was said. The radio kept up a steady barrage of music and advertising. The highway unraveled before them like an endless, asphalt ribbon.

Chasing the sun westward, they arrived, at last, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the cooler clime had already turned the trees to crimson and gold. The setting sun lit the peaks of the mountains in a blaze of color.

"Gotta love the mountains," Chase finally said, breaking the silence.

"Yes," Sara agreed, exhaling a sigh of relief that he was speaking again. With every passing hour, the fear that Garret would catch them diminished, but Chase's brooding presence had kept her from relaxing.