Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 76

“Ten miles, give or take.”

“So Moore it is.”

“We might stumble upon a farmhouse on the way. Then we can call Jeff and the state police. If we don’t, we’ll keep going until we’re out of the county.”

“How will we know?”

He gave me a crooked smile. “That’s a good question. Not too far east of here, the county line juts north. We might think we’re in Moore County while we’re still in Fenton. And the farther north we go, the denser the forest will become.”

“How do you know so much about the county terrain?”

“It’s my jurisdiction. I know the layout of the land, the towns, and the demographics of specific regions.”

“And this area?”

“Mostly farmers on the outskirts of the forest, but there are some meth labs here and there in the more rural parts.”

“I take it that’s bad.”

“The meth cooks might not like it if we trespass on their land. Especially if they figure out who I am.”

“What are the chances we’ll run into them?”

“If we were purposely setting out to find them, probably not likely, but since we’re trying to avoid them, who knows? We haven’t had the greatest luck lately. From the reports I’ve heard, a couple of them are holed up northeast of here, which of course is where we’re heading. The problem is that they sometimes booby trap the borders, so the first sign that we’re trespassing might be if we get caught.”

“Let’s try really hard to avoid them.”

“I agree.”

We continued east for another ten minutes before Mason stopped and held up a hand.

I halted, forcing my lungs to draw in a breath. Muffy bumped into my leg and pressed her body into me, looking up into my face.

“I think I hear something,” he whispered.

I joined him at his side, my ears straining. After a few seconds, I heard shouting.

“They’re in the woods,” he said, looking behind us.

I forced myself to calm down. “What should we do?”

He spun around, taking in the landscape. “We’ve been traveling northeast, but we haven’t been careful. If any of them have tracking experience, they’ll be able to find us once they pick up our path.”

“So now we know what they’re gonna do. What are we gonna do?”

He shook his head with a slight grin. “That’s my girl.”

I returned his smile, amazed by my own gumption.

“Do you hear water?”

I strained to listen and beneath the men’s voices, I could hear the tell-tale gurgle of a creek. “Yeah.”

“It’s coming from ahead. Let’s turn slightly south and then intersect the creek to make it look like we’re going the opposite direction. But we’ll turn north, walking in the creek so we don’t leave tracks.”

“Mason, it’s not even forty degrees outside. You want to walk in water?”

“Rose, I’m open to other ideas if you have them.”

I closed my eyes and exhaled. I didn’t. And I knew that I could not, under any circumstances, allow Daniel Crocker to catch me. “None. Let’s go.”

But I was worried about Muffy. She wouldn’t willingly walk in water and she’d give us away if she walked alongside the creek.

We pushed through a new growth of brush that surrounded the two-foot-wide creek. Mason deliberately tromped down the vegetation on the bank and then stepped into the water, his body stiffening with cold. After he took a moment to recover, he turned to me. “Wait here.” He went several feet down the creek, then got out and stomped on a gathering of bushes before getting back in and turning to trudge toward me. His jeans were wet up to his ankles. “I have no idea if that will work, but it was worth a try.”

He reached a hand toward me and I grabbed it, trying to prepare myself for the shock of stepping into the water, but nothing could make me ready for the icy jolt that shot up my legs.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I nodded and turned to Muffy. “Come on, girl.”

She approached the creek, sniffed the water, then backed up several paces.

“Will she come in?” Mason asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” My voice broke.

He squatted and reached out to her. “Come here, Muffy.”

She slowly inched toward him, her body barely off the ground.

“That’s it,” he said softly, as though he were talking to a small child. “Come here, girl.”

Muffy sniffed his hand and moved closer. Mason scooped her up, opened his coat, and tucked her inside, then zipped his jacket until just her head poked out. Muffy reached up to lick Mason’s chin. He rubbed her snout. “That’s a good girl.”

My chest burned at the sight and I found it difficult to speak past the lump in my throat. “Thank you.”

Mason grabbed my hand. “Well, we couldn’t leave her behind.”

We started to move through the twelve-inch-deep water. Mason took the lead and I followed behind, carefully picking my way along the slippery footing as the water began to get deeper. My legs turned numb as we continued to move through the water, and a couple of times Mason grabbed my arm to right me when I started to slip. Still, the voices were getting louder.

“Mason.”

“I know, I’m looking for somewhere to hide on the other side of the creek, but there’s not as many pine trees here and the others have lost too many leaves to provide cover.”

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