“My mom will kill me if she finds out about this, Sam. Camping in a graveyard is just asking for trouble.”
Samantha Beaumont ducked beneath the low limb of a fir tree before glancing over her shoulder at her friend. Moonlight filtered through the forest, casting shadows across the tense set of Darby Kincade’s shoulders.
“Your mom won’t know if you don’t tell her. And, hey, if she does kill you, at least you’ll be in the right place.”
“Ha, ha, you’re a riot.”
“How come you’re so grumpy? Are you afraid of ghosts?”
“Who cares about ghosts? I’m more afraid we’ll get eaten by a bear.” Juliette Shaw’s voice quavered, and she edged closer to Sam. “They won’t even know where to look for our bodies.”
“Don’t be a chicken. Bears are more scared of us than we are of them.”
“Doubtful, seriously doubtful.” Darby slapped at a mosquito.
Sam rolled her eyes and plunged through the thimbleberry bushes. They’d lost the trail a half mile back, but she knew where she was going. The abandoned graveyard—if you could call a handful of toppled headstones a graveyard—was directly below Prophet Point. Even at night, the peak was visible, a dark shadow looming over the town of Ravenswood, nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“We could have simply camped in your backyard if you’re so in love with the idea of sleeping with bugs,” Juliette said. “You didn’t have to drag us all the way up here.”
“Where’s the fun in that? Summer’s been a major bore since school let out. Anyway, Wyatt dared me.”
Darby stopped walking and fisted her hands on her hips. “I should have known there was a reason for this. Your brother’s an idiot.”
“Yep, a complete moron, but you have to admit this is more exciting than a sleepover at one of our houses.” Sam hesitated at a thick stand of pine trees. Maybe they needed to head a little more to the north.
“If you call getting eaten by mosquitoes fun.” Juliette waved her hands in front of her face.
“I have repellent in my backpack.”
“Can we put some on? I don’t want to get covered in bites.”
Sam slid the pack off her shoulders. It hit the ground with a thump. “Good idea. We should have sprayed down before we left the house.”
“What was that?” Darby asked in loud whisper.
Sam’s head snapped up, and her hand clenched around the can of bug repellent. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Shhh, it sounded like voices.”
“I bet it’s Wyatt, trying to scare us,” Juliette whispered.
“Well, it’s working,” Darby whispered back.
A female voice echoed through the night, speaking rapidly like the tinny squawk of a blue jay, rising in pitch. A lower voice answered, more controlled, but something about it sent a shiver down Sam’s spine.
“That isn’t Wyatt,” she said.
“Let’s get out of here.” In the moonlight, Juliette’s eyes were dark pools in her pale face. “I’m scared.”
Sam squared her shoulders. Even if she was a little nervous, she certainly wouldn’t admit it to her best friends. “The lady sounds upset. Maybe they’re lost or something. They’re probably just dumb tourists. There’s a million of them around since summer started.”
“Not our problem,” Darby hissed.
“Let’s take a quick peek to make sure they aren’t in trouble. What if one of them is hurt?”
“I don’t know…”
Ignoring Juliette’s protest, Sam turned and pushed through the underbrush, her heart beating fast. The other girls fell in behind, so close they brushed against her with each step. Through the thinning trees ahead, the flickering flames of a campfire illuminated a tiny clearing. A woman faced in their direction, arms crossed over the chest of a bright pink jacket, hair glowing like a bronze halo in the firelight. A tall man stood with his back to them, wearing a navy blue parka and a knit ski hat. His hands were fisted at his sides. Sam edged behind a big cedar tree and held her breath.
“You waited until we were here, in one of my favorite places, to tell me? You couldn’t have said something before we left home?” The man’s words cracked like a gunshot in the still air.
“I tried, but you wouldn’t listen. You were so excited about this camping trip…” She hunched one shoulder. “Maybe waiting was a mistake.”
“You think?” He kicked a rock, sending it ricocheting off the big stones circling the fire. “Are you going to tell me why you’re dumping me?”
Darby tugged on the back of Sam’s sweatshirt. “Let’s go,” she whispered.
Sam shook her head and pressed her finger to her lips. The drama unfolding at the campfire was better than the soap operas Mrs. Dennison watched while she was folding laundry.
The woman dashed a hand across her eyes, leaving a smear of mascara on her pale cheek. “Our relationship just isn’t working.”
He took a step toward her. “Is there someone else? Is that it?” His voice took on a menacing edge as it rose.
Sam shrunk back against her friends, and Juliette let out a tiny whimper.
“No! I swear I wouldn’t cheat on you.”
“Is it that long haired pussy boy from your study group? He’s always around. I thought he was gay, or I would have—”
The woman choked on a sob. “There isn’t anyone. You have to believe me.”
The man moved forward, his steps slow and purposeful. When he grabbed her arm, she let out a cry.
Blood roared in Sam’s ears. She stepped out from behind the tree.
“Let go of me,” the woman screamed.
“Bitch,” he shouted, giving her a shove.
She fell backward and tripped, arms flailing. Her head hit one of the rocks circling the fire with a sickening thud.
Sam’s stomach rolled.
“Oh God, oh no.” The man knelt at the woman’s side and touched her face. Slowly he stood and backed away. “Shit, shit, shit!”
Juliette was crying, gasping sobs muffled by her hands. Sam stared into her friend’s petrified eyes and opened her mouth. Nothing came out. She tried again, her voice a horse rasp. “Run.”
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