Rayanna folded her shoulders inward, but the bitter night wind thrashed against her bare skin. The chill intensified the quiver in her voice as the knife-wielder inched over the threshold toward her, right hand behind his back. She stammered, “I–it was a camping accident. At least, I think so.”
“What do you mean, you think so?” The officer narrowed his eyes at her, then gestured with his gun at the blouse in Reeve’s grip.
Reeve tossed her the rent garment and reclaimed his spot in the doorway.
As she laced her arms into the sleeves, the tatters of her blouse scraped like barbs over her fresh burns. She grimaced and drew in sharp breaths. “Campfire flames on my arms woke me up. I must’ve hit my head pretty hard.” She clutched the front of her shirt together, then pointed to the wound on her head. “I don’t remember much before that. I was trying to find help, when this psycho brought me into his cabin.”
Reeve stomped forth, brandishing his blade. “I won’t stand fer that varmit’s lip. She’s a low-bellied prowlin’ liar, I tell ya!”
The trooper stepped between them and aimed his gun at the weathered mountaineer. “Stand down, and drop that knife!”
Reeve scowled. “Why should I do that?”
He stiffened and adopted a firm, loud tone. “Because if you don’t, I’ll shoot. Also because I’ve got the badge, and I plan to take one of you to the station in town.”
“Think I’m a-feared of the likes of you, do ya?” He raised his wiry-bearded chin and flashed a craggy sneer. “I’d take you out before your next breath. Take another step and see, boy. Ain’t much concerned with your law, neither.”
“Is that so? You volunteering for a night in a cell?” The trooper rolled his shoulders.
The cabin dweller locked into the lawman’s gaze, but didn’t answer him. Reeve’s jaw shifted, as if he chewed at something. Rayanna backed her way down the creaky steps. Her heels crunched in the brittle grass. In the surrounding thicket of fog-flooded woods, a twig snapped. The hint of a growl rose. As Rayanna flicked her gaze at the unsearchable screen of brush, the sound vanished.
Must’ve imagined it.
The trooper broke their silent stare. “Well, I’d like to wrap this up here. So what’s it gonna be there, fella? Stay home tonight or come try out the cots downtown?”
“Your heart set on takin a captive tonight, eh? Heh-heh. Ain’t that irony for ya.” His gaze aimed beyond the officer, toward the forest. His glance then narrowed at Rayanna before he turned his focus on the officer. “Reckon you best get that critter off my property if you’re gonna take somethin. And don’t take yer time on the way out of them trees, neither.”
“I don’t recommend you threatening an officer, because I can–”
“I’m not threatenin’. I’m a warning ya. There’s hungry thangs out in these parts, boy.” He stabbed a finger toward the dark, tangle of trees behind Rayanna. “Might even make their way into your purty little town if’n they catch your scent and follow it in.”
The wind hissed through through the high boughs. Fog swirled up and dissipated at the edge of his tiny yard, like a fleeting ghost.
“Want to be more specific about that, so I can note it in my report?” The officer widened his stance.
“Don’t give skank-spit about yer report. But you best never set foot out here again.” Reeve clutched the doorknob. “Don’t be pokin’ yer little pistol where it don’t belong.”
With that, the mountaineer slammed his door against them. A bolting thump resounded promptly within it.
As the trooper hustled to her side, Rayanna gazed at the mist-haunted, winding path down the mountainside.
She asked, “Where will you take me?”
The officer ventured into the brush and the shadows swallowed him whole. His deep voice sifted through the titter of underfoot crackles and swishing leaves. “First, we have to make it to my patrol car.”
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***