Home > Near You (Montana Series #2)

Near You (Montana Series #2)
Author: Mary Burton

PROLOGUE

Anaconda, Montana

Tuesday, August 17

8:40 p.m.

Present Day

Point and shoot.

A cool, moist breeze ruffles my jacket as I raise the Polaroid camera and center the lens on the woman standing at the mountain’s edge. The sun hovers above the horizon, backlighting the range in a soft, buttery auburn light.

The woman’s smile is bright. Blond bangs brush over lively eyes sparkling with excitement as she holds her arms up and juts out her chest like a world champion who has crossed the finish line. Behind her, the city’s boxy low-rise structures, twinkling like gems, are cushioned in the rolling mossy-green foothills of the Anaconda Range.

She is addicted to the attention. But all women like her love it. And in this moment, she has mine.

I should be restless and worried about a random passerby on the trail below. Sunset is a popular time for hikers and mountain bikers. They are attracted to the view as much as the exercise. But I am not worried. In fact, I am oddly calm. This is not my first time, after all, and I have learned from my mistakes. I would not say I am cocky, but I know what I am doing.

“Why don’t you use a cell phone?” She nervously shoves the fringe of hair from her eyes. Her cheeks are an attractive rosy red, though too round for my tastes, and her teeth could use whitening. But she has sex appeal that is hard to ignore.

“I’m old school,” I say. “You know that. I’ve never been a fan of cells.” If anyone is going to be tracked by GPS in these mountains, it will be her, not me.

“But you can’t post those pictures.” She shifts her feet. She is already restless. “Where do you keep all the printed pictures?”

“I have a box.”

“Do you have a lot of pictures?” Hints of jealousy pepper the words.

“Not enough of you.” I snap the first picture as her grin returns, and the machine grinds out an image.

“Can you take an extra one for me, too?” she asks. “Might be fun to tape it to the dashboard of my car. Retro, you know?”

I snap the button again, and the small machine gushes another blank picture. I set it beside the first on rain-soaked soil, watching until I am satisfied my images will work before I reach for her phone.

“Say cheese,” I say, raising it to my face.

“Cheese!” Her grin broadens.

I snap ten digital pictures in one hundredth of the time it will take the two Polaroid images to develop.

“Can I see?” she asks.

“Of course.”

The woman climbs off the rock and nervously burrows her fingers into her pockets. She leans close, and the breeze catches her lavender scent. She reaches for the first Polaroid.

I push her hand away. “All good things come to those who wait.”

Her pout is neither cute nor attractive. “I hate to wait.”

“It won’t be much longer.”

Humoring her vanity suddenly irritates me, but this is going to be her last glimpse of her face, so it seems fair to give her a peek. She leans close but is quickly disappointed the picture has not materialized. She retrieves her phone and scrutinizes the crisp images. The Polaroid slowly reveals a more subdued image of her and the sweeping vista.

She selects her picture and tries to post it. “There’s no service up here.”

“Wait until we get down the mountain.”

She holds up her cell phone and nestles close to me. “Let’s do a selfie.”

“I don’t do selfies.”

Narrow shoulders shrug as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Why not?”

“I just don’t.”

“Weird.”

Her face finally appears on the thick ZINK paper, and I trace the outline of her brow.

She shoves her phone in her back pocket and studies the picture. “Very old school.”

“That’s what I like about it.”

“I think you were born in the wrong time,” she says.

“Why do you say that?”

“You don’t have a cell, and you don’t let me post anything about you.”

“You’re far more interesting than me.”

Air sweeps up the mountainside, ruffling the fluted edges of her shirt. It catches one of the print pictures and carries it over the side of the mountain. I am tempted to chase after it, but I do not have time, and in the growing darkness, I know I will never find it. Frustrated, I quickly pocket the first.

“Let’s get out of here,” she says. “I want to go back to that hamburger joint in town.”

“You just ate there.”

“I’m hungry again.”

My fingers graze the edge of the switchblade tucked in my coat pocket. I palm it, keeping it close to my thigh as she steps toward the rocks and the setting sun’s opulent red-gold light. “Let’s do a selfie with my camera.”

“I don’t like them.”

“Please.”

“Just the one.” She slides close to me, glancing over her shoulder at the rugged landscape and then back at the lens. Sometimes, it feels like I am leading lambs to the slaughter.

As she stares upward, angling her chin into the most flattering angle, my blade flicks open with a well-oiled whoosh as I click the camera button. The distraction holds her attention for a split second before her gaze drops to the glittering blade. Confusion creates a quick disconnect, and then the first flickers of alarm or panic on her face.

“What’s with the knife?” she asks, nervously pushing hair away from her face.

My reassuring smile buys me a few more seconds before I thrust the knife, and the blade catches her directly in her midsection. We stare at each other, inches separating our faces, and time, which is always rushing, decelerates to a stop. Her smile falters. Her breath turns hot and labored. Adrenaline animates her gaze as it dips to the first sticky, warm droplets of blood dampening her shirt. Shock blossoms into panic.

Time starts moving again. I let her phone fall to the ground, pull the knife out, and jab it upward several times. More blood warms my hand and makes the knife handle slick. Readjusting my grip, I shove the blade in to the hilt.

The woman grips my shoulder and tries to push away, but the tip is buried so deep it scrapes the underside of her sternum. “Why?”

“You’re on the list,” I say in a voice husky with emotion.

It is not my intention to be cruel, so I twist the blade swiftly, carving through all the critical vessels and arteries in her gut. I help her step backward toward a sun-bleached orange rock. Her knees bow, and I keep twisting as I support her weight with my other hand. Deadweight or dying weight is heavy, and by the time her bottom grazes the rock on its way toward the dirt, I am breathless.

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