Madison would meet them.
Emily’s level area near the fence suddenly narrowed, and she clung to the bottom rail to keep moving. Terror swamped her, and she pushed away the memory of clinging to rocks and weeds, screaming for her father. She moved on, one knee in front of the other. The ledge widened, and she paused to catch her breath, her heart pounding.
She glanced behind her, distressed at how short a distance she’d come.
She continued to move, feeling as if an hour had passed. Then she saw Tara.
Her sister was on the ocean side of a giant rock, where the land broadened sufficiently. It was the same rock where their parents had posed for the photo. The space between Tara and the drop-off was narrow. In that spot it was less likely Harlan would see her if he came to the fence.
But not a perfect hiding spot.
Her sister lay as close as possible to the rock. She was very still. Emily scooted closer, “Tara,” she whispered.
Tara’s head lifted. “Emily?” Her voice was weak.
As she reached Tara, Emily took her hand. It was wet and sticky. Shocked, Emily nearly dropped it, and the odor reached her nose. Blood.
In the poor light, she saw that Tara’s pants were glossy with blood.
“Where are you hurt?”
“My side.” Tara’s right hand was clamped against it. “I’m okay.”
“No, you’re not,” Emily said. She slipped off her coat, lifted Tara’s hand, and pressed it against the wound. Her sister gasped but replaced her hand to hold it.
“I want you to help Wendy with Bella,” Tara whispered.
“Not now, Tara.” Emily arranged the coat, her throat tightening.
“Wendy can do it, but I want you and Madison in Bella’s life.”
“Cut it out! You’re not going to die.” Emily gritted her teeth, terrified she was lying.
“Harlan threatened to kill all of you unless I left town.”
“I figured,” Emily whispered, her heart cracking in half.
“When I heard Mom died, I thought he was carrying out his promise. I’ve been terrified ever since—looking over my shoulder nonstop. When my husband died, I believed for months that Harlan had caused the accident.”
“Oh, Tara. Why didn’t you go to the police?”
“I couldn’t trust anyone. Harlan told me there were several people involved.”
“He’ll never stop hunting me,” said Tara. “He met me here because I said I wanted to talk. I brought a gun—I planned to kill him,” she whispered harshly. “I just wanted a life where I wasn’t petrified every day and didn’t worry that he might hurt my daughter.” Tara’s words grew slower and slower. “I chickened out when I had the chance to shoot him first. He shot me, and I shot back.” She laughed almost silently. “Then I dropped the fucking gun but managed to get to the woods. He never planned to talk; he came here to kill me too.”
“Where did you drop the gun?”
“No. You can’t do that!”
“Where did you drop the gun?”
Tara exhaled. “By the swing set. You’ll never make it. He’ll see you.”
“I have to try.”
The female voice came from the trees to his right, and he halted his dash up the road. A light shone in his eyes. He raised a hand to block it. “Madison?”
“Where are the police?” She lowered her light.
“They’re coming. Where’s Emily?”
“She stayed with Tara. We think she was shot—”
“By Harlan?” Zander continued up the road, Madison following.
“Yes! How did you know?”
“His car is at the gate. I think he’s the one who fired at Emily yesterday.”
“He’s going to kill Tara if someone doesn’t stop him.”
“How much farther is it?”
“The parking lot is just around the next bend. He was at the far end, and Emily was headed to find Tara on the ocean side of the fence.”
“Beyond the fence there is a big drop-off, but there’s a little room in some spots. People aren’t supposed to cross the fence—the land’s unstable.”
Emily and Tara are on that side of the fence.
“Go down the road. Tell the deputies coming up that he’s armed, and that me and two other women are here.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Stop him.” He took off at a dead run.
“Stick to the woods!” she yelled after him.
Emily crawled around the swing set, wishing Tara had been more specific about where she dropped the gun. Harlan was now searching in the woods at the far end of the parking lot, cursing and yelling for Tara. Emily frantically brushed her hands over the wood chips, feeling very exposed and silently pleading for the gun to appear. Tara’s hiding place wasn’t too bad, but if he checked along the fence, he’d probably spot her.
Emily would defend her sister until the police arrived. And to do that she needed the gun. Dust from the decomposing wood chips blew in her eyes, and they watered, making her limited vision worse. She crawled back to a place she’d already searched, convinced she’d missed the weapon. Hurriedly, she checked again. No gun.
The pain in her head throbbed. What if Harlan picked it up?
She could be wasting her time.
A figure moved out of the woods, and she dropped to her stomach, holding her breath, her gaze glued to the shape. Harlan strode determinedly to the fence.
He gave up on the woods.
Panic made her stomach churn.
How can I stop him?
Searching around, she spotted the chain that intermittently clanked against a tetherball pole, its ball missing. She checked Harlan. His back was to her. She rose and dashed to the pole, her back hunched, praying he didn’t turn around.
Gripping the cold metal pole, she stretched, straining her arms, rising on tiptoe and reaching for the junction of the chain and pole, hoping it wasn’t a fused attachment. Her fingers found the end, and she blindly explored the final link. One side moved and she pressed it, opening the link, and then she unhooked it from the pole. Relief made her knees weak.
She clutched the chilled chain; it was no match for a gun.
But it was something.
Harlan reached the fence and followed it. He’d find Tara’s hiding spot in a few seconds.
Emily ran silently to the parking lot, her heart in her throat.
Zander took Madison’s advice and veered down the shoulder of the road and into the trees. It slowed him down. He could barely see where to put his feet and tripped a dozen times. The parking lot came into view and he stopped, searching for Harlan.
He must have heard the sirens. Where would he go?
Harlan had to know he was cornered. Dory had told Zander there was only one way in and out of the park.
Unless you went into the ocean.
Would Harlan react like a cornered animal with nothing to lose?
He had been dangerous to start with. Now he might be worse.
No one was in the parking lot. Dory had described green spaces with playground equipment along the wooded side of the lot and then steep ocean cliffs on the other side. He aimed for the ocean side, straining his vision to make out the fence Madison had mentioned.
Emily’s mind was blank, her gaze locked on Harlan’s silhouette as she ran. The cold chain tight in her hands. She had no plan, just determination. And fear.
Harlan stopped and leaned over the fence, his back to Emily.
He spotted Tara.
He said something, but he was facing the ocean, and the wind blew his words away.
Emily drew closer, her racing footsteps silent, and spotted the shape of a gun in his hand.
He stepped on the lower rail of the fence and swung one leg over, his weapon trained on the large boulder coming into Emily’s view. Tara’s rock.
He’ll see me when he lifts his other leg over the fence.
She was sprinting across the parking lot; there was nowhere to hide.
Instead of turning to face her, Harlan sat on the top rail, kept his gun aimed toward the rock, and awkwardly brought his second leg over. He jumped down, his focus on Tara.
His caution was Emily’s advantage.
She leaped to the middle rail, took one step to the top, and launched herself at Harlan’s back. The impact sent him forward, landing on his knees and falling to his chest. Tuning out his shouts, Emily scrambled and got her weight on a knee in the center of his back and wrapped the chain around his neck. Once and then twice.
His hand caught inside the loop at his neck, allowing some breathing room. He flailed his other arm, and his weapon fired twice. Emily’s ears rang, but she ignored the shots, focused on gathering a length of chain in each hand to increase the pressure around his neck. He thrashed, yanking on the chain at his neck and trying to throw her off his back. She pulled, leaning back, the chain too long between his neck and her hands. It was like riding a bucking horse.
Her knee slipped to one side, losing her point of pressure on his back, and he scrambled out from under her, one hand still stuck at his neck. On his hands and knees, he tried to turn to face her.
She hauled back on the chain, and he hacked and choked but swung his weapon backward and fired. A piercing pain bolted up her calf. She leaned back farther, practically on her back to keep the chain taut.