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Shiloh rolled down the windows of her police cruiser and took a deep breath of the humid air. It was times like this- with the scenery in front of her and the faint taste of salt from the ocean on the breeze-that she missed Savannah. Something about the graceful, beautiful, dangerous city tugged at her and begged her to return, but Shiloh knew she never could.
The light dimmed even further, taking the area from gold to gray, and Shiloh shivered. She knew it was only from the sun dipping behind a cloud. That had nothing to do with her thoughts about Savannah. The timing was coincidence.
Nevertheless she glanced around, suddenly overtaken by an uneasy feeling she was being watched. That the past had finally found her, as she'd always known it would.
She saw nothing. But she rolled up the windows anyway. Better safe than sorry. Or dead.
She hated feeling afraid after all these years, even after being proactive to combat the fear. She'd become a police officer partially so she could be on the offensive- someone who was working to bring justice to the men who had wreaked havoc on her family's lives five years ago-instead of a victim.
At times like this, she felt as if she'd failed. She stole a glance at the sky, wishing God would listen if she asked for His help to overcome this fear. But she'd stopped expecting Him to listen five years ago.
Instead, she focused on the road as the old plantation-style house she'd been assigned to check out came into view. Shiloh knew it must have been white once, but it was dulled now to a phantom gray. It seemed to lean on the columns that had once made the front porch regal and graceful, but now served only to keep the house from falling under the weight it carried. She couldn't help but feel, if the house could talk, it would be able to explain its weary appearance.
As she parked her car and opened her door, Shiloh tried to shake off the melancholy that had overtaken her. The past had stayed where it belonged for five long, empty years. There was no reason to believe that would change today.
She focused on the reason she was here. Widow Hamilton called the police department two or three times a week with concerns. The reason changed, but her calls were consistent. It was a common assumption the motive behind the calls was loneliness.
She wished it was an option to send the police chaplain out to see the widow and offer her some company. Generally, chaplains did more work with the officers themselves, but Widow Hamilton and her paranoia were making it difficult for everyone in the department.
Unfortunately, they didn't have a chaplain at the moment. The former chaplain had worked at the Treasure Point Police Department-probably since Treasure Point was founded back in 1734-until his family had finally convinced him to retire. Shiloh didn't envy whoever tried to take his place. The former chaplain had left enormous shoes to fill, and the people of Treasure Point-while loving and protective of their own-weren't the easiest group to break into. The new chaplain, whoever he was, would have his work cut out for him.
Shiloh knocked on the front door, taking a deep breath to steel herself against whatever problems the widow thought she was having today.
"Mrs. Hamilton? It's Shiloh Evans, from the Treasure Point Police Department. Mrs. Hamilton, are you there? Can you hear me?"
No one answered. Shiloh glanced to the detached garage on the right, to see if there was a car inside, but the door was down. More than likely the woman was out running errands around town. Shiloh was tempted to simply turn around and leave. But even though she was relatively certain there was nothing to the widow's fears, Mrs. Hamilton counted on the police department to take her concerns seriously. With that in mind, Shiloh walked around the side of the house, noting that if the widow was truly concerned about intruders, she'd take care of the overgrown bushes, which would make an ideal hiding place for someone who was up to no good.
"If anyone's there, come out now. Don't make me come in after you." There was only silence-not a single rustle. The quiet should have been comforting. It wasn't. Instead, it added to the tense, charged feeling running up and down her spine. She glared at the bushes as she walked by, narrowing her eyes to make absolutely sure no one was hiding in them. She saw nothing, only the dense green leaves. Still she shivered.
"Keep it together, Evans. You don't want to have to explain that you discharged your weapon because you got spooked by some shrubbery."
When she reached the back of the house, she knocked on the back door. No answer there, either. She peeked in several windows and noted that nothing looked out of place or disturbed. Duty done, Shiloh walked back to her car, eager to continue with her day. And maybe find some decent coffee to make up for the morning she'd had so far.
Shiloh got in her car and was reaching up to turn the key when movement near the passenger seat caught her eye.
She froze and turned her gaze in the direction of whatever had moved. The first thing she noticed was an unfamiliar burlap sack on the floorboard.
The second was the coiled-up form of what looked like a timber rattlesnake.
Her heart pounded as she reached to slowly open her door. She managed to get it almost all the way open without the snake noticing, but the final push caught the rattler's attention and startled it.
The snake tensed.
So did Shiloh. She sat there, skin crawling at being inches away from the viper, not knowing if moving would startle it into striking. They sat for several long seconds, Shiloh caught in indecision over what to do until a soft rattle made up her mind.
Not caring where she landed, Shiloh threw herself backward, squeezing her eyes shut and praying she'd be fast enough to make it out before the snake struck.
She hit the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of her, but she kept her head enough to kick the door shut behind her. She stood up, backed warily away from her car and the dangerous reptile, and reached for her radio.
"Unit 807 to dispatch-" Shiloh took a deep breath "-there's a poisonous snake in my vehicle."
She didn't have to wait long for a reply. After a crackle of static, she heard "Unit 807, this is dispatch. We have a car coming your way."
Relief came and then dissipated like liquid on a hot summer day as what had happened fully sank in. The burlap sack on the floor of the car said that snake hadn't ended up there by accident.
Someone was trying to kill her.
Shiloh's car had been de-snaked and examined for evidence, and she'd been cleared for duty. She took a deep breath, trying to relieve the tension that had built as she'd sat by helplessly while other officers investigated the car for evidence-as if there was any she might have missed. Then she'd had to convince the chief that she was fine and more than capable of finishing her shift. Treasure Point was a quiet little town, but that didn't mean that law enforcement could afford to just take the day off. The town had its share of troublemakers.
Like the driver of the truck in front of her that had been practically flying down the road but was now parked on the shoulder. She didn't recognize the vehicle, but anyone going sixty in a 35 mph zone was showing blatant disrespect for the law.
She opened her door and approached the driver's side of the pickup. She reached the window and saw that the man inside was
Talking on a cell phone?
Shiloh mentally counted to ten. Talking on a cell phone while you were being pulled over?
Shiloh shook her head and tapped lightly on the glass.
He waved her off.
She tapped again. Harder.
This time he held up his index finger-the universal one second sign.
One second? Oh, sure, she had the time to wait. It wasn't as if she had areas to patrol, crimes to solve.
Shiloh scanned the area. She didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but the prickly feeling on the back of her neck refused to go away.
She was reaching to tap on the glass-for the third time- when the stranger rolled down his window.
"Sorry about that."
The too-familiar voice registered in her mind a split second before the mossy-green eyes locked with hers. This man was no stranger.
Adam's heart was still pounding from the conversation he'd been having. The former congregation member's depression had been so striking that it had taken Adam's attention off his speedometer. When he'd noticed the lights and sirens behind him, he'd ended the call, leaving her with strict instructions to phone the senior pastor of the church. While pulling over, he'd then called the pastor to brief him on the situation so he could handle it from there.
Guilt had been his primary reaction when he'd realized he'd been speeding. But that feeling, along with every emotion other than shock, vanished as he looked straight into the face of the most gorgeous cop-scratch that-the most gorgeous woman he'd ever seen. Still, even after all these years.
"Shiloh." Memories rushed through him as he said her name out loud. Memories of her laughing, the two of them running together on Tybee Island, racing into the ocean at the end. The feeling of her lips on his.
"Do you know how fast you were going?"
She practically spat the words through gritted teeth. Apparently, seeing him didn't bring back the same set of pleasant memories for her. He thought of their last few weeks together, before she'd left town five years ago: the death of her cousin, Annie; Shiloh's declared intent to someday find the killer; their disagreement over his dad's-her pastor's-stance on women in law enforcement.
Okay, if those were the things she was thinking about, it was no wonder she looked so mad.
"I don't," he answered honestly. All he knew was that it had been too fast. "About the cell phone."
She had already pulled out her notebook and was jotting things down, but she looked up to level him with a glare. "Important call?"
He didn't miss the sarcasm lacing her tone. "Look, Shiloh."
"Officer Evans." Really? She was mad.
"Officer Evans." He forced the words out even though they seemed awfully formal for the woman he'd been planning to marry five years ago. "The phone call honestly was an emergency. Someone was contemplating suicide, and I was afraid to hang up abruptly. And once I did end the call, I needed to phone someone nearby to put him in touch with her. I am sorry."
Her eyes flicked up from her notepad, and she gave a slight nod, though her taut facial muscles didn't relax.
"License and registration, please?"
He handed her both and waited as she took down the information, then checked the rear of the car to write down his plate numbers and walked back to him. She handed him the yellow ticket along with his documentation. "Here you go." Shiloh turned to her cruiser, not giving him a second glance.
"That's it?" Adam called out the window. "Not going to say hi, fill me in on what you've been up to for five years? Ask why I'm in town?"
The eyes she turned on him flashed fire. And, yeah, he'd provoked her deliberately, but it got to him that seeing him didn't affect her at all.
"Fine. Hi, Adam." She stumbled over his name, as though it hurt her to say it. "I'm a police officer now. What are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you, too," he said calmly. "A police officer, huh? I'm the new pastor for Creekview Church."
"Like father, like son, right?" She shook her head. "Guess I'm not surprised. Welcome to Treasure Point."
Funny, she sounded slightly less than welcoming.
He reached to roll up his window as she walked away, until he caught the words she tossed over her shoulder.
"By the way, your rear left tire is flat. Must've run over a nail."
It figured. He had been so caught up in his conversation that he hadn't noticed. He squeezed his eyes shut, running over his options. He was now more than fifteen minutes late to his meeting. There was no way he had time to change a tire first.
He was stuck. And Shiloh-Officer Evans-was his only option.
He pushed open the truck door, walked to her car and tapped on her window.
She jammed her finger down on the button and glared up at him when the window was fully open. "What?"
Adam smiled what he hoped was his most charming smile. "Any chance you could give me a ride?"
She flung her door wide, narrowly missing hitting him in the leg.
He raised his hands in mock surrender. "You don't have to get upset. I won't be any trouble. And I can let myself in." He headed toward the passenger side until the sound of Shiloh snickering stopped him. "What?"
She reached for the rear door of the patrol car, opened it and motioned to the backseat. "You can ride here."
"You've got to be kidding."
She only raised her eyebrows. "Did you want a ride or not?"
Adam climbed in, thankful that he'd left his dog with a friend in Savannah and made plans to pick him up and bring him to town along with the rest of his belongings in the next day or two. He couldn't imagine how well it would have gone over if he'd had to ask for a ride for both him and the dog, especially since he seemed to rank somewhere near the bottom of Shiloh's "favorite person" list.
He tried not to think about where he was sitting as he took in the scenery, observing the town through the windows.
It looked like every other small town he'd been in along Georgia's coast, but it appeared to be a nice place to live. Anticipation coursed through his veins-hopefully, it would be a good place for his first solo pastoring job. His dad's connections had found the job for him, and Adam wanted to do his best work here-make sure he didn't let God, or his dad, down. He wasn't sure which possibility scared him more.
He looked at Shiloh and noticed she was checking the rearview mirror every few seconds. The tense set of her jaw made it clear that something was wrong. Something more than having her ex-fiancé in the backseat of her cruiser.
Adam looked over his shoulder. An older-model gray sedan was following them.
He glanced at Shiloh, still staring in the rearview, so he turned his head again. The car behind them inched closer.
Shiloh sped up. So did the other car.
Adam turned to the front again, watching Shiloh's face through the clear barrier. Her jaw was set, but there was a glimmer of fear in her eyes.
"Shiloh, what's going on?"
She didn't answer.
He looked up the road ahead of them. If they made it across that bridge, then they'd be in town.
"Do you think they'll back off once we're in town and there are people around?"
"I don't know." The dread he heard in her tone settled deep in his own gut.
A car in the approaching lane sped toward them. Adam tensed. Not likely that was a coincidence.
The bridge loomed closer. They were twenty, maybe thirty, yards away when the car coming at them swerved deliberately into their lane.
Understanding slammed into Adam, made him work to catch his breath.
They were trying to force them into a collision. Were they after Shiloh? And why?
He didn't have time to ask more questions or to figure out anything else. They'd reached critical mass. Adam braced himself for impact, thankful that he was spiritually ready to die-even if he'd have rather put it off for a while-and closed his eyes. Visions of fiery car crashes he'd seen during his chaplain training haunted him. He didn't want that to be his final thought.
So he opened his eyes, took one more look at Shiloh.
Instead of looking resigned, she appeared ready for a fight. Adam's eyes widened as he realized what she was doing.
Shiloh yanked the wheel hard right, and the car clipped the guardrail with their left front side as she avoided the bridge and careened straight toward the last place Adam would have thought would be a good idea. Straight into Hamilton Creek.