Besides, I might not have noticed the bite of the sand when I was sitting on it, but I sure as hell did now, and it was nasty.
“Stop with the excuses,” I muttered, even as I wondered if dithering was a habit of mine.
I marched into the bathroom. After a quick, hot shower that seemed to uncover a dozen more cuts and bruises, I toweled myself dry, then moved across to the mirror.
It was an odd feeling, seeing a face I knew was mine and yet having no memories to correlate to the fact. The loss was so complete that part of me wondered if I’d ever been in front of a mirror.
My face was lean and angular, with a nose that was almost too big and a mouth that looked prone to dimples. My eyes were the green of a deep ocean, framed by long lashes that were as black as my hair. Under the bright bathroom light, highlights of dark green and blue seemed to play through the black, as if the sea itself had kissed it.
My gaze moved to the massive black-and-purple bruise smeared from my temple to my cheek. Someone had hit me really hard. Hard enough to split my skull open. The bruise, and the almost-healed three-inch gash on my head, proved that. It could also explain why my memory was working in fits and starts.
But what on earth had I done to deserve such treatment?
For the first time since waking on the beach beside Egan, I felt scared. Scared of the past I couldn’t remember, scared of where the future might lead.
Scared of the fury that lay waiting deep inside me.
I rubbed my arms. In the mirror, Egan’s ring gleamed, the rubies afire with life as my hands moved up and down. A shiver ran down my spine. I didn’t like this ring, didn’t like its touch against my skin. It never seemed to warm up, as if its metal soul was as cold and as unforgiving as the waters underneath the arctic ice.
I frowned at the thought, then pushed it away as I headed into the main bedroom. A quick search through the woman’s clothes revealed an inclination toward skimpy and revealing. She was also several inches shorter than me, and the skirts that would have been minuscule on her were positively indecent on me.
I tried several combinations of track pants and tops, but they all clung too tight, making me feel oddly restricted. Eventually, I settled on a loose pair of black pants that fit me more like three-quarter-length shorts, and a blue sweatshirt that showed off plenty of midriff, and left my thieving at that. Anything else she might miss.
I padded down the hall to the kitchen, which turned out to be a combined kitchen-living area. After peering through a curtained window to see if I was still safe and alone, I flicked on the TV, changing the channel until I found the news, then walked across to the fridge. Opening the door revealed a nice selection of drinks, including Coke with lime. Very cool. I grabbed a bottle of that, as well as enough stuff to make a hefty sandwich, then dumped it all on the kitchen counter and began putting it together. I might be able to live for several weeks without food, but I’d grown used to eating every day. . . .
The thought trailed off into nothingness, and I swore softly. With a little more force than necessary, I thumped the top slice of bread onto the sandwich, then squashed it down and cut it. After finding a plate, I grabbed my Coke and walked across to a chair to watch the news. Hell, maybe I’d get lucky and find out what part of the damned country I was in.
“And in overseas news this week,” the anchorman said, his tone one of false charm anchormen the world over seemed trained to use, “scientists from the Loch Ness Research Foundation are today refuting the many monster sightings that have been reported over the last week. Dr. James Marsten had this to say. . . .”
The picture flicked to a craggy-faced, gray-haired man, and something within me stirred. It was something more than recognition. Something stronger.
The type of hate built on a foundation of fear. Years and years of fear.
“As much as I might wish otherwise,” he said, “our findings do not reflect or confirm these so-called sightings. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our sonars and sensors have picked up no unusual movements in the loch. If anything bigger than an eel had swam through these waters, believe me, we would have recorded it.”
The anchor came back, but I didn’t hear anything he said because I was too busy staring at the picture of the scientist frozen on the screen behind him. Fury rose, until my hand was shaking so hard I had to put the bottle of Coke down. He was the cause of all this. And I wished he were dead so badly I could practically taste it.
The sheer depth of what I was feeling was scary, but at least it gave me some sort of starting point. You had to know someone pretty well to hate and fear them that much, and that meant Marsten was someone I had better find out more about.
Other news reports came on, and the anger began to fade. I munched on my sandwich, watching but not learning anything more than the fact that I was definitely in America.
I sighed and took a final swig of Coke to empty the bottle. Watching the news for information had been a long shot, at best, but at least it had given me someplace to start. Though how I was going to find out more information about Marsten without him finding me again . . .
The thought faded. Frustration swirled through me as I picked up my plate and headed back to the kitchen.
Outside, a door slammed, and my heart just about crashed through my chest. I dumped the plate and Coke bottle in the sink, then ran to the nearest window and peered out.
The newlyweds were home.
And a cop had come back with them.
Fear froze me to the spot for too many valuable seconds. But the sound of the key scraping in the lock got my big feet moving, and I ran like hell for the second bedroom.
“Del, did you leave the TV on?” The voice was male, and he spoke in a slow drawl that had me visualizing a cowboy.
“Jack, you saw me turn it off,” a woman answered. “Why?”
“Because it’s now on and there’s a mess all over the kitchen counter.” The man known as Jack paused. “It looks like someone has been in here. You want to call the officer back? He wouldn’t be that far along the beach path yet.”
The bedroom door creaked as I swung it closed. My breath caught in my throat, but I didn’t dare stop to find out if anyone else had heard it. With my heart pounding like a jackhammer, I ran to the window, shimmied my way out, then reached back in to grab the screen.
“You folks got trouble?” a new voice said.
I swore softly and abandoned my attempt to get the screen back in place, scooting instead along the side of the house and around the corner.
Not a moment too soon.
“Window’s open in the second bedroom, and the screen has been pushed out,” the gruff voice said.
“Couldn’t have been the wind,” came the other man’s comment. “I checked them when we first arrived. It was on solid.”
“You want to see if anything has been taken? I’ll look outside.”
I looked about frantically for somewhere close to hide, but there didn’t seem to be much about. I sucked in a breath, then ran like hell for the long grass and the not-so-distant hillside. If I could get over the crest, I’d at least be out of sight. Of course, plowing through the long grass would leave a trail for all to see, but right now, that couldn’t be helped. The last thing I needed was to be caught by a small-town cop.
And I had no idea why I needed to avoid the cops or capture. It was just a feeling. A certainty that capture, in any form, was a very bad thing.
Because of the past. Because of that scientist.
I bit down frustration and tried to concentrate on the here and now. Footsteps began to echo on the wooden patio, so I threw myself down behind the hill and prayed like hell that the grass hid my body.
For too many seconds I didn’t move, hardly even dared to breathe, as I listened to the gentle sounds of the day, waiting for the footsteps that would mean my doom.
When they didn’t immediately come, I carefully shifted and peeked up over the hill. I might not have heard the footsteps, but the damn cop was coming up the hill anyway.
I swore under my breath and wriggled back down the hill. When I’d moved far enough down, I rose and ran. But there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. The thick, regimented strands of pines would have provided excellent cover, but they were just too far away. And the only thing between them and me was a small dam.
It would have to do.
I ran toward it as fast as I could. Quite a few yards out I found a cattle track and followed that thankfully. At least the soil was hard and compacted, and wouldn’t show any footprints. Hopefully, the cop would think I’d simply disappeared rather than suspect I’d hidden in the water.
As I neared the dam, I risked a look over my shoulder at the hilltop. Still no cop. I had time yet, but probably not a whole lot. I shucked off my stolen sweatshirt as I sprinted around the water, throwing it behind the dam’s erosion-rutted shoulder, then did the same with the pants. If luck was on my side, I’d at least have dry clothes to climb into once the cop had left. If not, well, I’d have to find something else to steal.
I dove into the water. It was so damn cold it snatched a gasp from my throat, and the sound seemed to echo across the softer sounds of the day. I swam to the far edge and peered through the reeds and grass at the hillside. The cop had breached the top of the hill and was following my trail down toward the dam.
I took a deep breath and slid under the water. An odd sensation ran across my eyes—it felt for all the world as if some sort of film was being drawn over them. It made me blink, and in that moment I realized I could see under the water. It might have appeared muddy as hell from the surface, but I could see the bottom through the muck, see the water beetles and insect larvae swimming through it. Hell, even the banks and the sky were as clear as could be.
It was probably a pointer to what I was, but it was one I didn’t understand. Nor did I have time to contemplate it, because the cop suddenly walked into sight.
I floated under the water, watching the cop and hoping like hell that being able to see him so plainly was just a weird aberration, and not any sort of indication that the water had magically gone clear.
The cop was a big man—big in an overweight sort of way—but even so, he reminded me a little of a boxer. He moved light, like a man ready for action. His face was on the paunchy side, too, his cheeks veined and nose red. But his blue eyes were sharp and clear, and however out of shape his body might appear, those eyes suggested there was nothing flabby about his mind.
He stood on the bank and stared at the water, then the surrounds. His expression was dour, unhappy, his gaze continually returning to the water. Meaning he probably suspected I was here, and was waiting for me to surface.
How long could I hold my breath? I guess I was about to find out.
He waited, and I waited. After a while, he unclipped the small radio from his belt, pressed a button, and said, “Frank to base.”
The answer was little more than a buzz of sound to my ears. He said, “No, I haven’t had a chance to look for bodies on the beach yet. We’ve got another break-in, this time over at the Dougherty’s cabin.” He paused briefly, listening, then added, “Yeah, it’s the newlyweds. You want to get Mike to bring the dogs out? We got a trail, but it ends at the old dam.”
Great. Someone had not only seen us on the beach, but they’d reported it to the cops. And it was just plain bad luck that I’d been in the cabin when the newlyweds and the cop had arrived back.
“I’m not sure what’s been stolen. The cocky bastard helped himself to a sandwich and some Coca-Cola, though.” He paused, listening. “Yeah, they’re both fine. I’ll write up a list of what’s missing, and wait for Mike. You might want to get young Aaron out here to check out the beach, though. It’s going to be a while before I get the chance.”
He paused again, then grinned. “Yeah, I know the old coot was drinking, but we still gotta check it out.”
He snapped the radio back onto his belt, then glanced at his watch. Seconds passed into minutes. He didn’t move, I didn’t move, and somewhere deep inside, curiosity grew.
Regular people couldn’t hold their breath for this long. I might not be “regular” as humans defined the word, but my lungs weren’t even burning and yet I had to have been under the water for a good five minutes. Even free divers couldn’t stay under water that long, could they?
But I guess that for someone who contemplated swimming oceans, someone who could compare the coldness of a ring to the waters under the arctic ice, floating in dam water like it was a second home might well be easy.
God, why wouldn’t my memories just damn well return? Tell me who I was? What I was?
And why wouldn’t the cop leave?
He stood there for another minute or so, then finally turned around and made his way up the hill. I waited until he’d disappeared from my watery sight, then slowly rose up until my head was free of the murk. I blinked, and that odd sensation happened again. It definitely felt like something was being drawn across my eyes.
A tremor ran through me. I licked my lips, tasting the muck in the water, knowing that if I wanted to, I could name the minute particles that ran across my tongue. Part of me was desperate to remember the reason behind the skill. The rest of me just wanted to get the hell out of here.
When the cop had finally disappeared, I got out of the water, scooped up my clothes, and ran for trees. I had no idea where I was going, but the property’s road seemed to head in the same direction as the line of firs, so maybe the main road was up that way. There had to be a town somewhere close by, because the newlyweds hadn’t been gone all that long before they’d come back.
With a cop who’d actually come to investigate the report of a body on the beach. Which they wouldn’t find, because Egan was long gone, but they would probably discover the blood-soaked sand where he’d lain, and that in itself might be enough to bring out more hunters.
I had to get to Maine.
Had to see my dad before it was too late, and tell him . . .
The thought faded, and I resisted the urge to scream. What was so important that I’d crossed continents and risked the life of a rare friend to tell my dad?
I blinked at the thought, then kicked the soil savagely. And only succeeded in stubbing my toe hard enough to feel like I’d broken it. I cursed and hobbled on.
By the time I hit the trees, my body was a little drier and I was able to dress. I wrung out the remaining water from my hair, and half-wished I had something to tie it back with. It was only just over shoulder length, but that was long enough to be bothersome when running.
I twisted it into a knot instead, knowing it wouldn’t hold long, then continued on my way. Twigs and leaves rustled under my bare feet, and in the shadows of the pines, the day was cool. Insects buzzed lightly, but little else stirred. After a while, the drone of traffic began to invade the peacefulness, and I slowed cautiously.