Shrugging off the disquiet of the unfamiliar after a long moment, she continued on down the otherwise empty road.
Her car hiccuped, then jerked.
"Don't you crap out on me now," she said, hitting the dashboard.
But the Jeep was in no mood to listen to her. It spluttered and hiccuped again before going dead.
Managing to guide it to the side of the road, Anahera put it in park, then turned off the engine. Well, at least it wasn't a total disaster.
From here, it would only take her about twenty minutes to walk into Golden Cove. She'd have to leave her two suitcases in the back or maybe not. They had wheels, didn't they? It just seemed appropriate that the angry girl who'd left this town in her dust would return dusty and travel worn.
Fate sure had a sense of humor.
A car engine sounded in the distance, growing increasingly louder. Before she'd left the stark emptiness of New Zealand's West Coast all those years ago, Anahera would've thought nothing of jumping out and flagging down that truck or car or whatever it was.
Despite her childhood and the chill darkness of her fourteenth summer, she'd grown up thinking of this entire wild landscape as safe, those who lived within it all people she knew. But the wider world had hammered it home that no one could be trusted. So she stayed inside her locked vehicle and watched a large SUV approach in her rearview mirror.
It was white, with a bull bar in the front. That wasn't unusual— what was unusual was the distinctive blue-and-yellow-check pattern along its sides, a pattern she could see because the SUV had come to a stop right alongside her, though it stayed far enough away that she could easily open her door should she need to.
The word POLICE was written in solid white letters against a large blue piece of the pattern. Since when, she wondered, did Golden Cove deserve any kind of a police presence? It was too small, the residents relying on the police station in the closest big town, Greymouth, to supply their needs, though "big" was a relative term on the West Coast. Last she'd heard, the population of the entire coast had been hovering around thirty-one thousand.
She cautiously lowered her window as the other driver lowered their passenger-side window so that the two of them could talk. A man. Thirty-something, with a hardness to his jaw and grooves carved into his face, as if he'd seen things he couldn't forget—and they hadn't been good things.
His hair was dark, his skin that light-brownish tone that made it difficult to tell if he was just tanned, or if he had ancestors on her side of the genetic tree. She couldn't see his eyes behind the opaque darkness of his sunglasses, but she imagined they'd be as hard as his jaw. "Everything all right?" he asked.
She noticed that he wasn't in uniform, but then, if he really was stationed in Golden Cove, it wasn't as if any of the locals would report him for breaching protocol. "Car trouble," she answered. "I can walk the rest of the way into town." She had no intention of getting into a vehicle with an unknown man on a deserted road surrounded by dark green native forest and not much else.
"Let me have a look at it." Pulling ahead of her car before she could answer, he got out and she saw immediately that he was a big man: wide shoulders; strong, long legs; equally strong arms. But everything about him was hard, as if he'd been smelted down until all softness was lost.
Gut tight, she raised her window a little farther, but he didn't come around to the door. Instead, he indicated that she should pop open her hood. Figuring she had nothing to lose, Anahera went ahead and did so.
As he disappeared behind it, she tried to imagine what it would be like to walk into the cabin after all this time. She couldn't. All she could see was her last glimpse of it, the floor scrubbed of blood and the ladder taken away to be crushed in a compactor.
The cop looked around the side of the hood. "Try it now."