Rendezvous With Yesterday(3)By: Dianne Duvall
“Just keep in mind that legally we’re only allowed to use lethal force if our own lives are threatened.” He held out a sheathed hunting knife. “Here. Take this.”
Beth took it and stared down at it, uncomprehending. “What do you want me to do with it?” Hadn’t he just razzed her about having too many weapons?
He closed the trunk. “Strap it to your other thigh.”
“Ooookay.” She did, wondering what possible purpose the knife would serve.
“There’s a compass in the handle,” Josh reminded her.
“Keep an eye on it. If we become separated or if something foul goes down, I want you to use it to find your way back to the car and get the hell out of Dodge.”
Beth nodded, knowing she would never leave Josh behind but seeing no point in arguing.
“Okay, let’s get going. Keep your steps quiet. And the moment you feel that pack slowing you down, drop the damned thing.”
Keeping her steps quiet proved to be impossible. Texas still suffered from a severe drought, so the ground beneath their feet bore no grass. Dried and cracked, the heavy clay soil felt as hard as concrete beneath her boots. A thick layer of crisp brown leaves coated it, having fled the parched and dying trees above them. Weeds and saplings struggled to survive, their limbs snapping at the slightest touch.
Beth kept her face impassive, though inwardly she grimaced.
Oppressive heat pressed down on her like a pair of hands on her shoulders, weighting every step. Within minutes, sweat saturated her clothing and dampened her hair. Josh’s, too. The plethora of leaves that crunched beneath their boots left gaping holes in the canopy above, allowing the sun to bombard them at will. And not even the hint of a breeze stirred the few leaves that still clung to brittle branches.
Though Beth worked hard to stay in shape, exercising and lifting weights six days a week just couldn’t combat the effects of the weather. With every step, her backpack felt heavier. Her mouth grew drier. Several times she had to reach back and adjust the shotgun strap to keep it from sliding off when her shoulders slumped with weariness. No complaint crossed her lips, however, as she used the compass to monitor their location.
It felt as though they trekked through the trees for half an hour or more before Josh stopped and held up one hand. Beth halted, then moved forward as quietly as possible until they stood shoulder to shoulder.
Josh dipped his head and whispered in her ear, “The hunting shack should be just through those trees over there, maybe a quarter of a mile ahead. I want you to stay here while I go check it out.”
“No way,” she hissed back. “I’m going with you.”
He shook his head. “I’m not going to try to apprehend them by myself, Beth. I just want to see whether or not Kingsley and Vergoma are there. If they are and it’s just the two of them, I’ll do a little recon, determine the best approach to make, then come back here and we’ll go in and apprehend them together.”
“And if they’re not alone?”
“We’ll have to see if Marc would be willing to come out and back us up since Grant isn’t in town.”
Beth wanted to protest further. But Josh crept forward before she could, amazingly light on his feet considering his height and heavy muscles.
Swearing silently as he disappeared through the brush, she eased the backpack off her shoulders and set it on the ground at her feet.
Minutes crawled by as her heart tapped out a nervous rhythm in her chest. Beth curled her right hand around the grip of her Glock, drawing it from the shoulder holster. She strained to hear any sounds beyond the buzzing of mosquitoes, twittering of birds and chatter of squirrels.
Swatting a mosquito, she mentally castigated Josh for leaving her behind like this to worry instead of—
Gunshots split the air.
Starting violently, she froze, eyes widening, heart racing. Josh!
Several interminable seconds passed before Beth could force her leaden feet to move. Adrenaline surging through her veins, she raced forward in the direction Josh had taken, terrified of what she might find.
Josh. Josh. Josh.
A gnarled tree root reached up and tripped her. But she managed to stay on her feet as she stumbled unexpectedly into a small clearing.