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.One branch was the size of a baseball bat.After he’d cleaned it off, he had his cudgel—his instrument of punishment and death.Death was the only solution.Once a demon infected a woman, it clung like a parasite until the host died.He swung the branch now, checking the balance.Gave a nice whistling sound, felt heavy in his hand.The impact against her flesh would be satisfying.He glanced toward the east, where the moon had barely cleared the mountains.He would wait until it was high enough to give him light.So he could watch her die.* * *Kallie’d started to drift off when a rustling noise pulled her awake, the tiniest of sounds, but only a fool disregarded anything in the wilderness.Part of her job included keeping her clients safe: seeing they returned from three a.m.bathroom breaks and checking they remained safely in their tents if a bear prowled through camp.With a sigh, she rolled onto her side.Her fire had died down to sullen red coals, but the moon spilled silvery light across the clearing and sparkled on the stream.Near the trail, a shape moved in the shadows.From the size, a bear.Despite Yosemite’s policy of not feeding the wildlife, tourists inevitably did…or didn’t get their food out of reach, so the animals frequently raided campsites.As she unzipped her sleeping bag, she saw it lurch closer.Noisier than normal.She’d watched one bear steal a backpack from beside a camper’s head without making more than a whisper of sound.This one crunched as if…As if it wore boots.When the man stepped into the moonlight and hefted up a piece of wood the size of a baseball bat, terror spilled straight into Kallie’s bloodstream, cold as a mountain glacier.She tried to roll out of the sleeping bag, but it had tangled around her legs.As she frantically shoved at the bag, the man raised his weapon and stormed across the clearing.Her legs wouldn’t come free.Oh God.He stood above her and brought the club down hard and fast.She screamed.His flashlight illuminating the trail, Jake ran, jumping tree trunks and brush that no one had bothered to remove.Next time pick a better-maintained trail, Kallie, he thought.God help him, please let there be a next time.Thor ran ahead of them, his tail straight up, the white tip like a beacon.As the dog disappeared around a curve, Jake picked up the pace.He heard Logan’s harsh breathing behind him, a grunt as Masterson miscalculated a step.Not slowing, Jake flicked his flashlight upward and managed to spot the dog’s dark fur against the black forest.Next dog they got would damned well be white.“Almost there,” Masterson called, just loudly enough for Jake to hear.“Watch for her name.”Suddenly Thor disappeared.A whip of the flashlight revealed no dog.Turning, Jake swept his light along the side and paused at a bunch of scattered white stones that he’d disregarded.Not her name like Masterson had said.Jake sidestepped to keep Logan from plowing into him and asked, “Is this it, Masterson?”“That’s it, and he’s here, dammit.Kallie would never mess up her stones.Where’s the dog?”Logan shone his flash downward.“There.” Thor had already moved down the tiny animal path and stopped to wait.Masterson said in a low voice, “It’s not far.”Jake cocked his head, could hear the soft gurgle of water, and said reluctantly, “Take the lead.” This was Masterson’s territory.The fear gripping his guts hadn’t loosened.All the way up, he’d hoped the bastard had gone somewhere—anywhere—else tonight.An icy hand squeezed his spine.Every instinct yelled that the woman he loved—and he did, dammit—was in danger.He had a second of thinking they should turn off their flashlights, and then a woman’s scream of terror ripped through the quiet night.Kallie frantically rolled.The club aimed at her head caught the edge of her shoulder and slammed into the bag with a muffled thud.Her shoulder flared with agony, and then she kicked free of the bag, scrambling away on hands and feet.From some instinct, she dodged left.The club grazed her thigh, a sharp slap of pain.Go, go, go.She rolled, dodged one blow, shoved up.Before she gained her feet, he struck her hip, knocking her sideways onto her back.Helpless.“Beat the demon out of you.”Stunned by the pain, she stared up.Stocky, barrel chest.Red hair.“I know you,” she gasped.“Andrew?”Andrew attacked me? With a club? “Someone beat that woman to death with a heavy branch.” He’s the killer.“Why…?”“No! Don’t talk!” he shouted and swung.Roll! She heard the thud as he missed her again.He roared in frustration, and then his boot came down on her back and flattened her like roadkill.His weight was too much.Her hands scrabbled in the dirt.She futilely kicked her feet.He wouldn’t miss, wouldn’t miss…As her muscles tensed, anticipating the blow, her hand bumped against something cold—metal.Her fingers closed around the handle of her whittling knife.She ripped it out of the ground and blindly swung up behind her back.The impact hurt her wrist, and he screamed like an animal, the sound terrifying.She gripped tighter and yanked downward against the resistance of jeans and flesh.He staggered sideways, and the weight lifted off her spine.She shoved away, gained her feet, and darted for the trees.Fast.Faster.Dodge left, right, left.Into the shadows.Too dark.She tripped over a log and landed on her hands and knees.Stop.He’d track her by the noise she made.Hunkering down behind a patch of brush, she tried to silence her gasping breath.Her heart hammered so hard she couldn’t hear anything past the pounding of her pulse [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]