We'll Never Tell(3)

By: Jannine Gallant



She jerked the zipper closed with a hard yank and shrugged the pack onto her back. If the man from the campfire was the one who took her journal, he knew all about her and her friends. She let out a shaky breath. She’d wanted to ask one of the other girls to come with her to look for the pack, but Juliette had a ballet class and Darby was helping her mom with some project.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she pushed her way through the undergrowth, following the trail of broken branches they’d left the night before. Her steps slowed as she approached the clearing. In her head, she knew the man was long gone, but her heart thumped painfully, anyway. What if the woman wasn’t dead? What if she was still lying there, bleeding, waiting for someone to help her…

After they’d reached the safety of Sam’s room the night before, they’d argued for hours, debating whether or not to tell someone what they’d seen. Sam wanted to go to the police. Juliette had begged her not to, afraid of what he would do to them if they did. Darby was on the fence, torn between emotion and duty. Finally, she’d sided with Juliette. It had been almost a relief, having the decision taken out of her hands. The three of them pinky swore on their friendship never to say a word.

Sam stopped walking and blinked. This was the right place, wasn’t it? The area looked the same, except there wasn’t a fire pit. Holding her breath, she crossed to the middle of the clearing and pushed at the lumpy earth with the toe of her running shoe. Down under the dirt, she stirred up soggy ashes. Her breath whooshed out.

He’d buried the fire. What else did he bury?

Her legs shook as she hunted through the nearby woods, but all she found was a few blackened rocks scattered in the underbrush. None of them was covered with blood. The man had taken the woman away with him. She’d only been hurt, not dead. Not dead… Not dead… Sam pressed her hands against her face and forced back tears. Bending, she picked up her pack.

The force of the blow knocked her flat. She screamed and rolled.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Off! Get off her, Max.”

The voice penetrated the fog of fear, and Sam slowly opened her eyes. Soft brown spheres stared back from a furry face. Her tense muscles relaxed, and she sagged in relief. The half-grown yellow lab licked her face.

“Gross.” She wiped slobber off her cheek with the back of her hand.

“I said off!”

The dog jerked backward, and Sam pushed herself onto her elbows. Red stained the cheekbones of the boy looking down at her. He had longish dark hair and eyes the color of the sky. Faded jeans and a T-shirt with a rip at the hem covered his lanky frame. Recognition hit her, and she scowled up at him.

“I’m really sorry.” Leaning down, he offered her a hand.

She clasped it, and let him pull her to her feet. “Way to control your dog, Ethan.”

The red in Ethan Thorne’s cheeks deepened. “He’s still a puppy. Did he hurt you?”

Sam brushed off the seat of her shorts and glanced down at her dirt streaked legs. “I’m filthy, not hurt.”

They looked at each other, neither speaking. Ethan was three years her senior—fifteen, the same age as her brother. While the two boys weren’t exactly friends, she’d seen him around often enough. But never this close. Those blue eyes studying her so intently sent a little quiver through her.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You look kind of pale.”

Reality smacked her in the face, and she swayed. For the last five minutes she’d forgotten all about the woman who might or might not be dead, about the man who’d threatened them.

Ethan reached out a hand to steady her. At his feet, the dog whined.

Sam squared her shoulders and felt a hint of regret when he let go of her arm. The back of her neck heated, and she bent to scratch the dog’s ears. “I’m fine.”

“What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

The urge to tell him, to share the burden of knowledge, hit hard. She choked back the words trembling on her lips. “Nothing much. What’re you doing?”

“Trying to train Max.”

Sam’s lips curved as she pushed a limp strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “I’d say he’s a work in progress.”

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