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Bo sat on the forest floor, against a tree with his knees drawn up and a long knife in one hand. The banjo was nowhere in sight. Beth motioned toward the woods. I nodded. She slipped away to look for the Supertone while I approached Bo slowly, careful of startling him. Once I was close enough we’d be able to hear each other but just far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to grab me, I came to a halt. He glanced in my direction but didn’t meet my eyes.

“I’ve been calling you,” I said. “How come you don’t call back?”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“Then who should? If there’s someone else who can help you, give me their number. I’ll go pick them up myself.” I took a tentative step closer. “But Justin’s in the hospital and you guys don’t have anybody else. There’s no one else who knows what’s going on. No one who would understand, or even believe it.” Another few slow steps. “It’s just us, Bo. So what are we going to do about this?” And where the hell was the banjo?

“Del needs my help. I’m the only one who can do it.”

I crouched in front of him. “What does he need you to help him with?”

Bo hummed softly. The tune jogged my memory, though it took me a long moment to place it. It was the song I heard during the vision I had when I first plucked the banjo’s strings. The vision that I now believed to be a snapshot of poor, doomed Maggie, running through the woods in an attempt to escape her lover and her fate.

“She was so scared of him.” At first I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud. “I could feel her fear. Not just in my head, either. I could feel it in my body. My muscles tensed up. I couldn’t think straight. I was nauseous. I was so scared of him, I thought I was going to throw up.” My own words hit me and I shook my head. “She was scared. She was so scared, she almost threw up while she was running away from him.” But maybe it wasn’t fear that caused the nausea. Maggie was pregnant when Del killed her, though I didn’t know how far along she’d been. It twisted something inside me, knowing she’d been afraid for her baby as much as for her own life.

“He didn’t show you everything,” Bo said.

I swallowed the sudden lump that rose in my throat. “Did he show you everything?”

Bo ran his thumb over the edge of the knife. Blood welled on his skin, drops rolling down the surface of the blade. “He had to, so I could understand what he needs and why.”

“Tell me what he showed you. Tell me what he needs.”

“It doesn’t work that way.” Bo looked right at me. Something wrong glowed in his eyes, dark and full of need. “I can’t just tell you. I have to show you.”

I shot up so fast that I nearly fell over. “Del showed me enough, thanks.” I backed away from him, not fast, but not slow, either.

“It makes sense.” Bo climbed to his feet, the knife gripped in his bloody hand. “He slowed you down so I could get here first, but he still wanted you here. You have a role to play in this, Nikki. You came here to help us, Justin and me, and to do that you have to help Del, too.”

“The only help Del needs is a road map to Hell.”

A grin that didn’t fit on Bo’s face appeared. “Oh, he agrees with you on that one. But first, he needs something.”

“Whatever it is, I don’t have it.” I turned to run, my feet tangling on undergrowth. Bo grabbed my arm and swung me around, slamming me into the tree. It knocked the breath from me. The world went sidewise and when it righted again, moonlight shone through the tree limbs instead of late afternoon sunshine. My insides shifted and my body was not my own.

Del Mahaffey held a knife to my throat. “I told you not to push me, girl.”

“Don’t do this.” The words echoed in my head, in my own voice and one I didn’t recognize.

The air shimmered between us and Bo stood where I’d just seen Del. “Please help us.” He dropped his hand to his side, the knife slipping from his grasp.

“Fight him, Bo.” I stepped away from the tree, ready to run if I had to. “Whatever it is Del wants, it’s not worth hurting someone or losing yourself.”

“I told you,” Bo said, squeezing his eyes shut. “I told you.”

I took the stun gun out of my pocket and held it at the ready.

“I told you to leave me be.” Bo’s voice twisted and changed into someone else’s by the end of the sentence. He opened his eyes. I saw nothing good there. He raised his arm, pointing at me with the knife. “I told you when we started, I’d never leave my wife.”

“What am I supposed to do about this baby?” Maggie put her hands on her belly, the swell of her growing child barely hidden by a dress two sizes too big. I looked down to see my hand on my stomach, only it wasn’t quite my hand. “Oh, God, what’s happening?” A wave of vertigo hit me and I stumbled but didn’t fall.

“What’s happening is you’re gonna leave town like I told you to.” He stalked closer, moonlight glinting on the edge of the knife. “I don’t care where you go, long as you don’t come back.”

The baby kicked. Jesus Christ, the baby kicked. Maggie glared at Del. “You don’t tell me what to do anymore. And you don’t scare me. This baby’s yours and you’re gonna do right by it, and by me.”

Del rushed at her, slashing the knife. A line of burning pain opened up on my arm and I dropped the stun gun, biting back a scream. “Oh, you’re gonna be afraid, little girl. By the time I’m done, you gonna beg.”

Maggie ran. I ran. I no longer knew the difference. One moment the woods were dappled with sunshine, the next it was dark except for pockets of moonlight. Bo dropped the knife. I saw that happen. But then Del had it in his hand and this cut on my arm hurt like hell and oozed blood that damn sure felt real. And feeling the baby kick? What the hell was that? I’d never been pregnant but I knew instinctively that the sensation I’d felt was a baby kicking.

None of this made any sense. When Maggie demanded to take over, I was too confused to fight. We ran through the forest.

 

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