Her heart flew to her throat.
Meaty hands grabbed hold of her shoulders, and she shrieked as she nearly stumbled into a huge bear of a man wearing a long, black coat, hat, and boots. “Watch where you’re going!” he admonished as she fought back panic. His face too was wet from the rain, his eyes black as coal. “Hey, now, what’s wrong?” he asked, and she realized his expression, at first startled, had turned to one of concern. Six foot two, if he were an inch, and African-American, he peered down at her. “You in some kind of trouble, miss?” And then she saw the white clerical collar peeking out from under his jacket.
“No . . . no . . .” She twisted her head around to the empty street behind her. No one was there. No one, not even a jogger out for a night workout. She swallowed back her fear and cleared her throat. “I’m fine,” she insisted, though her voice sounded weak and high-pitched.
Slowly he released her. “You’re sure? ’Cuz you look like you just saw a ghost.”
“I—I’m sorry. Really. I’m okay.” She was backing up, hoping she didn’t run into someone else.
Dark eyes studied her hard. His eyebrows pulled together and beneath the brim of his hat his forehead creased. “Hey. Wait a minute. Aren’t you that actress everyone’s looking for? Allie . . . oh, man, what’s her name?” He snapped his fingers as if to think.
She turned then and left him staring after her. She headed toward the bright lights of the hospital. He was probably putting two and two together, figuring out who she was, but, thankfully, he was harmless, a man of God.
She’d let herself get scared spitless over nothing. Slowly releasing the breath she hadn’t known she was holding, she dashed through the rain and heard no more footsteps chasing after her. She went past the hospital in search of her car.
The night, aside from a few cars on the street, was still. She’d been foolish, letting her imagination get the better of her. Again. If she wasn’t careful she’d end up back in Mercy Hospital trying to convince Dr. Sherling that she really was sane.
Still, she kept running until she spied her Honda, where she’d left it, parked on the other side of the hospital, closer to the main entrance. Unlocking it on the fly with her key fob, she heard the familiar sound of its beep and saw its lights flash as the locks released. Good. She was breathing hard by now. As she reached the driver’s side, she took a sweeping glance of the back seat, saw it was empty, no bogeyman lying in wait, then slid inside.
Chiding herself for her case of nerves most likely from being a horror film fanatic, she started the car, locked its doors, and tore out of the parking space. She’d call Trent once she was out of the city and she could talk in her normal voice again, once the panic in her bloodstream had totally dissipated. She’d have to cop to the fact that McNary had lured her for God knew what reason on a wild goose chase. She wasn’t looking forward to that.
As she wound her way to the freeway, she passed a coffee shop that was closed for the night. Her headlights reflected on the glass of the storefront and, for just a second, she thought she caught a glimpse of a woman who looked like Allie tucked into the alcove of the doorway. But the woman’s face and upper body were in shadow, only her booted feet and bottom of her jeans really discernible. It was just an image, a thought, probably powered by the fact that she’d been talking about and thinking of her sister all night.
At the next
red light, she slowed and while the Honda idled she stared into the rearview mirror. Had it been Allie?
“Stop it,” she said aloud, but her mind kept circling back.
Had she even seen someone in the doorway?
If so, was it a woman?
And then the shadow moved, a figure slipped from the alcove and stood on the street in the pouring rain.
“Allie,” Cassie mouthed, dumbstruck. She rolled down her window. “Allie!” she yelled.
The light turned green. Behind her, a car was approaching. Fast. The driver laid on his horn, then blinked his lights, nearly blinding her, as a bus heading in the opposite direction rolled through the intersection.
Cassie froze. The bus slowed, exhaust pluming, obscuring the face of the building as the van behind her zoomed past, the driver shaking his head. Once the rig was out of the way, Cassie hit the gas and did a quick and very illegal U-turn.
Overhead, a traffic cam flashed.
Well, it was just too damned bad. So she got a ticket? So what? It didn’t matter if she could just get to Allie!
The bus, not expecting her to be suddenly upon it, rolled into the lane in front of her. Cassie stood on her brakes.
Her car screeched to a halt, sliding on the wet pavement as the lumbering city bus rolled away, gathering steam and belching exhaust.
Her pulse on overdrive, her headache throbbing, Cassie glanced into the shadowy alcove of the doorway to the coffee shop.
It was empty.
The woman who’d been waiting there had vanished.