Even with three quarters of a moon peeking through a few gray clouds, everything remained as dark and unwelcome as the night around her.
Bethany waved her hand in front of her face and thought the darkness stirred, but decided it was probably an optical illusion.
It still didn't help her see worth a nickel through all these damn trees.
She glanced over her shoulder, grabbed a nearby shrub to keep her balance, and hoped she'd lost Jerry for now.
The type of man she should have been able to trust with her life.
"Bethany." Her heart lurched when she heard her name float through the quiet forest.
"Shit." If she could hear him, he was too close.
Leaves crunched under her hiking boots as she followed the small creek down the steep side of a mountain. Hurrying, she stumbled over a protruding rock, but managed to snag a tree branch to keep from landing face first in the black earth.
Breath coming in short bursts, she glared into the night. Does every damn thing have to be black out here? A chill skittered down her back. Not only did she have to contend with Jerry, but whatever lurked behind every tree and shrub. She didn't know which would be worse--getting mauled by a bear or shot to death by Jerry.
Just keep moving.
Waist-high bushes stopped her progress. After a moment, she tried pushing through again. No go. Somehow she'd ended up turned around and lost the trail.
Jerry called out again, but he sounded farther away.
She wiggled and twisted, but the evil undergrowth held her prisoner.
Damn it, Jerry, why couldn't you be what you pretended to be?
A weekend in a remote cabin was supposed to be a relaxing getaway, if not romantic. God, she hated romance. Especially now that she found herself running for her life.
He'd seemed like such a nice guy at first.
How many times had she heard that on the six o'clock news when they interviewed a murder victim's family? But she'd known Jerry for three months.
Not long enough, apparently.
Had there been signs of his psycho side, but she just hadn't picked up on them? Had she been so desperate for a man in her life that she'd ignored what was right in front of her? Lord, she hoped she wasn't that pathetic.
With a yank, she pulled her shirt lose from the bushes and stumbled back onto the trail.
A huge animal lumbered through the brush next to her.
Please, God, don't let it be something with sharp teeth.
The better to eat you with, my dear.
Why am I thinking about wicked fairy tales in a mess like this?
At least she wasn't wearing red, making herself a great big bull's-eye for whatever stalked her. Jerry included.
Laurel bushes rustled back and forth low to the ground as something moved through them. Or crawled. Like a human.
Would Jerry make that much noise?
She didn't dare move and tried not to breathe until the beast moved away.
Maybe it's just a deer or even Charlie.
"Charlie?" she called softly. Earlier, when she'd heard a gun go off and a painful yelp, she feared Jerry had shot her dog, but she couldn't go looking for her in this darkness without getting lost.
Who're you kidding? You're already hopelessly lost.
Tears stung her eyes, but she forced them back. No time for crying. She needed to get out of this stupid forest. Shoving a strand of hair behind her ear, she took a cautious step forward.
Her foot landed on a dry twig that snapped. The creature she'd heard earlier thrashed through the underbrush with a growl, and disappeared into the night.
Jeez, that was probably a bear. She shuddered as air whooshed from her lungs and her heart hammered hard enough to drive nails.
How am I supposed to find my way out of here?
Follow the creek out.
That's what she'd always heard from people who lived in these mountains. Follow the creek and it'll take you to civilization. She should have remembered that. She used to live out here. Once upon a time.
Hands shaking, she continued down the mountain, slipping on wet leaves and slick rocks, landing on her rear so many times her butt had gone numb. The creek had to take her somewhere. She just hoped not farther into the mountains. In the dark, she couldn't really tell which way the water flowed.
Idiot. You're going downhill. Water doesn't run up hill. "I used to be a freaking country girl. What happened to me?" she muttered.
Just about the time she'd gained some confidence, her feet slipped out from under her. She grabbed a bush, missed, and hit the ground so hard she bit her tongue and whacked her elbow on a sharp rock.
She lay motionless for several minutes and let the tears roll down her cheeks.
You're stronger than this.
In the distance, the loud rumble of a big truck growled through the trees.
"Thank God, I'm near a road." She scrambled to her feet and started running toward the sound. A vine snagged under the toe of her boot and sent her tumbling. Branches smacked her face and tore at her bare arms as she tried to protect her face.
Rolling at a speed she was powerless to stop, she slammed into a rock, cracking ribs, bounced high into the air, came down on another stone, and smacked her arm against it, breaking her wrist.
She screamed, struggled to control her runaway tumble, then sailed into empty space and dropped.