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Megan O'Ryan kept a wary eye on the black sedan staying two cars behind her. She'd noticed the sedan the moment she'd hit the highway, and the driver had kept pace with her all the way into the small town of Crystal Lake.
A nagging itch settled between her shoulder blades. She'd felt the same sensation of being followed just two days ago. Was someone really tailing her?
With an abrupt move, she cranked the steering wheel to the right and pulled into the first vacant parking space on Main Street.
Moments later, the black car passed her by. Wrenching her neck to peer after it, she noticed the driver kept his head averted, but not before she saw the usual dark T-shirt and baseball cap. The tag number was nothing but a blur by the time she switched her attention from the driver to the license plate.
Megan climbed out of her car and stood for a moment, pretending to debate where she should go but really tracking the black car out of the corner of her eye as it pulled into the Gas N Go station located a few blocks north on Main Street.
No way could this be a coincidence. Not again. Not
after experiencing the same thing for the third time in the past week. The cars weren't always the same make or color, but the guy behind the wheel invariably wore dark clothing and a baseball cap tugged low over his eyes.
Megan stifled a surge of alarm as she turned toward Rose's Cafe. She wasn't hungry, but Rose's was always packed with people, especially in the summer with tourists aplenty, and she could at least get a cup of coffee while she tried to figure out why on earth anyone in Crystal Lake would want to follow her. Three months wasn't long enough to have made enemies. Especially considering she'd been holed up in her cabin most of the time, leaving only to go to work and back. She'd spoken to just a handful of people.
Megan! Wait up!
Katie? The young voice was so much like her sister's that she spun toward the sound, her heart hammering wildly in her chest. She blinked against the brightness of the sun to see a lithe young woman with long, silky blond hair walking toward her. Her heart stopped. She couldn't breathe. Hoarsely she called, Katie? Is that you?
Teagan, wait up. Didn't you hear me? The blond-haired girl changed directions, moving toward another girl, this one a petite redhead. The blonde caught up and gave the red-haired girl's shoulder a playful shove. There's no rush. It's not like the guys are going to leave without us.
Not Katie. Her vision blurred as the loss hit with the force of a tsunami, sucking every bit of oxygen from her lungs. Katie hadn't been calling her name because Katie was gone.
Megan blinked, forcing her vision to clear, and watched the girls cross the street heading toward a group of boys who stood waiting on the grassy bank of Crystal Lake. She focused on a scowling boy who held himself aloof, dressed head to toe in black with long dark hair that could have used a comb. He looked like trouble with a capital T. Someone she was tempted to warn the young girls about. Except he wasn't her problem.
Blindly, she turned her attention back toward Rose's Cafe, her stomach tight with nausea, as if she'd been sucker punched.
Katie wouldn't be heading off to her sophomore year at college in the fall, or hanging around with undesirable boys. Katie was dead.
Logically, she knew her younger sister was gone. Yet in that one brief moment when she'd imagined she'd heard Katie calling her name, she'd wanted so badly to believe Katie's death was nothing more than a horrible nightmare.
But it wasn't. Katie was gone.
Her church pastor tried to tell her Katie was in a much better place, but she didn't buy that theory. The real question was why hadn't God stopped her sweet sister from being murdered? Why hadn't he taken her, instead?
Desperately trying to get a grip on her rioting emotions, she paused outside Rose's Cafe and glanced once again toward the Gas N Go station, where the black car had pulled in. There was no sign of the vehicle now. With a frown, she scanned the entire area, including the various businesses.
The black sedan had disappeared.
Or she'd imagined the whole thing, just like she'd imagined she'd heard Katie.
Exhausted and shaken, Megan slumped against the building, putting a hand to her throbbing head, and swallowed hard against another wave of nausea. No. No way. I absolutely refuse to be crazy.
You refuse, huh? A tall man stepped forward, blocking her view of the sun. He stood with his arms crossed over his uniformed chest, looking down at her with an arched brow. So how's that working for
She grimaced, realizing she'd spoken out loud. Wasn't it true that insane people didn't believe they were crazy? Shaking off the bitter fear that plagued her, Megan straightened and belatedly noticed the crisp tan uniform along with the shiny badge pinned to the stranger's chest.
A cop. Great. This was not what she needed in the middle of her nervous breakdown. She strove for a light tone. So far, it's working fine, thanks. Excuse me. She ducked past him, seeking refuge in Rose's Cafe.
She slid onto the only vacant stool at the counter, figuring she wouldn't be there long. The main reason she'd come at all was to get a good look at the guy driving the black car.
What can I get for you, sweetie? Josie, the middle-aged waitress, called all her customers sweetie. Megan suspected Josie thought the term was easier than trying to remember so many names, especially in the height of the tourist season.
A cup of coffee, please. She glanced back in time to see that the cop who'd followed her into the diner had joined another officer in one of the booths that lined the
wall. She turned her attention back to Josie. She wasn't paranoid enough to think he'd followed her inside to keep an eye on her. Cops had to eat too. Cream, no sugar.
Is that all? Josie arched an exasperated brow, propping a hand on her plump hip. Sweetie, you picked the middle of the lunch rush to order a measly cup of
Josie obviously wasn't pleased she'd taken a seat that an otherwise paying customer may have occupied. Since Megan wasn't sure her legs could hold her weight if she left, she tried to recall the menu. Ah, I almost forgot. I'll take a grilled chicken sandwich too.
Coming right up. Josie poured her coffee, pushed a container of cream at her, and then disappeared to give her order to the cook.
Megan sipped her coffee, trying not to notice how several of the locals stared at her with obvious suspicion. Since she'd taken over her aunt's property, a small cabin on the north shore of Crystal Lake, her status was barely one step above the tourists, but not by much. She'd moved here from Chicago, and people in the town of Crystal Lake, Wisconsin, seemed to carry a grudge against people from Illinois. She should be used to the sensation of being the unwelcome newcomer by now.
Crystal Lake wasn't a large town, but it was right in the middle of Hope County, which made it the hub of all county activities. The courthouse, the post office and the sheriff's department headquarters, to name a few. Her tiny log cabin was located ten miles outside of town on a very deserted road with an awesome view of the lake, nice and private, the way she preferred. So what if the
general population of Crystal Lake considered her little more than a weird hermit? She didn't care.
Except when she was being followed.
She turned her head to peek at the pair of cops seated behind her. The taller of the two had impossibly broad shoulders and black hair kept military-short, which did nothing to soften his broad, rugged features. His square jaw was strong and firm, but his nose looked as if it may have been broken at one point. He had dark eyes and tanned skin that made his teeth look shockingly white when he smiled. He was definitely attractive, if you appreciated a tall man in uniform. Since the other cop was much older and shorter and had a slight paunch around his middle, she knew it was the taller man who'd overheard her talking to herself outside. With the sun glare in her eyes, she hadn't gotten a very good look at him.
What would he say if she went over to announce she thought she was being followed? Probably not much, since she'd also practically told him she was insane.
So how's that working for you?
Her cheeks burned and she ducked her head, deciding not to bother. There was no point when she hadn't even managed to get a simple license plate number. Once she had something solid to give them, she'd go to the authorities.
She took another sip of her coffee, reveling in the warmth of the mug despite the sunny day outside. A group from the back of the diner passed behind her on their way out. An elbow hit her hard in the back, causing her to spill her coffee down the front of her green blouse.
'Scuse me, a gruff male voice muttered as the group
She clenched her teeth against a wave of annoyance
and dabbed at the stain. A moment later, Josie set her chicken sandwich in front of her.
Need anything else, sweetie? Josie asked, automatically refilling her coffee cup.
No, thanks. She forced a smile and gave up on her blouse. Josie slapped her bill upside down next to her plate and sashayed away to attend to her other customers.
She didn't want to believe the jab to her back had been done on purpose, but she couldn't help but think so. Why she'd become a target, she had no idea. She wasn't hurting anyone. She wasn't even in town very often. She was either in her cabin or working her part-time and rather mundane job of processing DNA samples at the State Crime Lab in Madison.
Obviously, her level of paranoia was already several standard deviations from the mean. Picking at her chicken sandwich, she took only a few bites before pushing her plate away.
Post-traumatic stress disorder. Diagnosed by her psychologist after she'd testified against the serial killer who'd strangled Katie as his last victim. PTSD brought on from being the lead crime scene investigator in a series of murders that included her sister's. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Katie's body lying sprawled on the asphalt with the bright orange hollow-braided rope wrapped around her neck.
The image would haunt her forever.
Her boss had forced her to step back from being the lead investigator, but she'd continued working on the case in the lab until she'd gathered enough evidence to nail the man who'd killed her sister. It was small consolation to know Paul Sherman was serving a life
sentence in a high-security Illinois prison as a result of her work.
Megan sighed and scrubbed a hand over her eyes. She needed to get a grip. She wasn't being followed. The people of Crystal Lake weren't out to get her. And Katie, the sister she'd raised since their parents had died in a tragic car wreck, wasn't ever coming back.
She'd come to Crystal Lake to heal. To take a break. To find herself. Somehow, she needed to get over her loss. Now that the trial was over, she couldn't seem to find something to focus on. She tossed down some cash to cover her tab and Josie's tip before sliding off the stool and heading toward the door.
She really, really didn't want to believe she was going crazy.
Because if that were truly the case, sheer determination might not be enough to prevent the inevitable.
Lucas Torretti watched the petite woman, her shoulder-length red hair glinting brightly in the sun as she left the diner. She was pretty, in a wholesome girl-next-door kind of way. Must be the sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her cute nose. And when she'd looked up at him, her bright eyes had been almost mesmerizing. He caught Frank's gaze and lifted his chin in her direction. Do you know her? Or is she one of the summer tourists?
Deputy Frank Rawson followed Megan's lean figure as she climbed back into her car. Out of the group of guys working for the sheriff's department, Frank was one of the few who didn't begrudge Luke's position as interim sheriff. Mainly because Frank had never wanted the job for himself. Frank was serving the last
two years of his duty before taking a well-earned retirement. Yeah, that's Megan O'Ryan. Moved into the old Dartmouth place. Lucille Dartmouth was her mother's sister.