Harlyn bristled under the weight of unknown eyes dissecting her every move. Skin at her nape crawled from the mal intent focused in her direction. From behind the trunk of a spreading oak, she scanned the isolated meadow in search of the unknown threat.
Nothing stirred but shadow arms sprouting budding leaves.
It’d been years since she’d turned the tables on a predator intent on breaking her. Preparation for round two increased self-awareness and steadied the hand resting on her knife’s hilt.
Tonight’s mission to gather evidence had equated to a lark during the light of day. Under a full moon casting splintered shadows through fragmented clouds, the self-assigned task plunged her into doubt and uncertainty. She was an electrician—not a spy.
There! Approaching from the south side.
The dark shadow’s stealthy grace offered no indication of gender or intent. Neither Dylan nor Lonnie should’ve reached the trailer, yet.
They were all supposed to converge after each investigated their respective section of the site. Supplies received in advance had sparked Harlyn’s suspicion of intended theft. Seeing her ex-boyfriend cozying up to the building inspector checking the block foundation had sent up another red flag.
Stealing materials during early phases of construction was common, which necessitated the foremen matching deliveries to the time of need. Lumber had moved up the scale of desirability due to extensive forest fires yet remained less convenient than small tools.
She couldn’t voice her concerns to her supervisor and wouldn’t go to her father without evidence. Hence, she’d enlisted her two friends to help. Each possessed an equal bent toward serving justice.
Their search time had been cut to a fraction by Lonnie’s text before leaving work. She’d found evidence but couldn’t retrieve it with her boss hovering about in the trailer. Evidence retrieval should’ve been a quick and easy mission.
Nothing in Harlyn’s life went according to plan.
The lone figure approached their temporary headquarters and paused at the corner, watching, listening. Size and shape dictated the interloper male, neither indicated intent.
The flowing movement was unique, skilled. It wasn’t Dylan, though he should be close.
Lonnie would hide if she heard someone coming, but this apparition stalked without sound.
It didn’t make sense. A thief would arrive in a vehicle capable of hauling boosted items. She’d heard no engine, seen no lights. If he didn’t intend to steal, what did he want?
Tonight wasn’t a war game acted out during training sessions. There’d be no atta-boy or curt nod for a job well done. Just the simple satisfaction of doing the right thing.
Her heart had never thumped so hard, nor had she needed to wipe her brow. In counterpoint, she retained a level head instead of allowing panic to rule her thoughts. Perhaps that had been her father’s ultimate goal.
Ominous silence reigned like in the eye of a hurricane. How she missed the snow of Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains. Her father’s settling them near the Kofa Wilderness in Arizona sucked. She preferred a wider climate base to Arizona’s heat.
Patches of moon glow gilded wild grasses filling potholes and rutted trails. Trampled paths marked initial workers’ routes in establishing the building’s foundation.
A familiar musky scent jerked her gaze backward in search of the silver-gray fur of a badger. Over the staccato thud of her heartbeat, she listened for the hiss, growl, or snarl indicating an intruder ventured too close to its burrow. Nothing bearing claws lurched forward. It either passed or perhaps was a figment of her imagination, her mind’s way of warning her to retreat.
Visual searching for the uninvited guest revealed nothing. Either his subconscious alerted him to another presence and he’d left, or he’d gained entrance to the trailer.
With no weak light leaking from the interior, maybe it was empty.
I need to see who it is and what he’s after. Maybe another member of the construction crew suspected corrupt dealings.
Halfway to the trailer and caught in a pool of moonlight, Harlyn froze with the sound of shattering glass inside. The intruder hadn’t appeared klutzy. A fight was in progress.
She bolted forward.
This wasn’t the plan. They’d come prepared with cell phones to take photos or make copies of shipping invoices. That’s it.
Knives tucked in her boots wouldn’t help if an adversary carried a gun. The night’s purpose included satisfying persistent suspicions, not engaging in a brawl.
Thirty yards of flat desert separated her from the trailer. She closed the distance in seconds.
Wooden steps made no sound as she gained the small landing and reached for the door.
The handle was cool and turned without a sound. New hinges offered no protest as she quickly inched the door ajar to get her bearings.
It burst wide with a speed and force that knocked her backward. Unable to maintain balance, she stumbled down the steps and landed in a graceless heap at the bottom.
Atop the small landing, the intruder growled. Stray beams of moonlight reflected off the silver blade in his hand. A darker substance dripped from the lower half of the knife.
“You shoulda stayed out of this, brat. Bringing a friend tonight will cost you your life in the end. Now your daddy has to grieve another family member’s death even though I didn’t get personal satisfaction from the first.” Soft words carried deadly intent. The voice, though guttural and barely above a whisper, sounded familiar.
“Who the hell are you?”
Black material covered his face, neck, and hands while a long-sleeved t-shirt hid possible tattoos, common among their work group. He moved forward with familiar ease.
“I’m the collector. Though I didn’t plan on so much wet work tonight. You’ll be coming with me now to your new, albeit, temporary home.”
His dark chuckle reverberated down her spine.
Harlyn’s roll to the side ended in a crouched position even as he landed in fighting stance where she’d sat seconds prior. In her mind, her dad’s warning rang clear. “When facing a knife, run. No matter how good you are, there’s always someone who’s better.”
A low groan filtered through the open door. Lonnie’s thin mewl carried in the still night.
“Why? She’s never done anything to hurt anybody.” Lonnie was her best friend, one of four people who knew about her past.
“Wrong place, wrong time. If you’d have come alone, she’d still be alive and you might’ve survived your next ordeal.” Careful steps carried him sideways to test her response.
“What do you want?” She mirrored his movements to remain in open space.
“You—alive—if feasible. Otherwise, I’ll take you in pieces.”