She could make it to the trees. She was too far away for him to catch up now.
It started to rain. A soft rain. The kind, somebody had told her, that often came up in Georgia without warning. Beneath her, the ground sloped steeply as the grass grew wet. She slipped, tried to stifle a yelp, but it escaped her lips.
The cop heard her. His light found her. “Stop,” he yelled.
Man, she was having a bad night.
But the rain slowed him down, too. She could hear him grunting and cussing behind her as he struggled down the slippery incline. She reached the bottom and the land became flat again. Almost there. She sprinted across a patch of grass to the first clump of trees. Hesitating, she stopped to catch her breath.
The bright moon cast an eerie glow on the rocks and wild growth. She’d never liked wooded areas. She thought about murders in the forest preserves where she’d grown up. She thought of stories she’d heard about snakes in the Georgia woods. She glanced behind her.
The cop’s light bobbed about halfway down the hill.
No choice. Gritting her teeth, she braced herself and stepped into the tall grass. Her foot went down on a squishy surface of pine straw and matted grass, a twig snapped, but it held. She took another step, reached out and felt tree bark in front of her. She sidestepped and moved around it. The ground was uneven and muddy. The drizzling rain fell against the leaves with a sound like soft cymbals. The air smelled cool and freshly washed. Brush tangled around her shins. Her hair and clothes were wet, but she couldn’t think about that now.
She looked back again, could barely make out the cop. That meant he couldn’t see her, either. She’d done it. She’d escaped. But he’d be hunting her in these woods soon. Probably call out the cavalry, too. Maybe she could make it to the other side. It was part of a subdivision, after all. She couldn’t remember the layout of the forest from her map.
Better move faster. She took a quick step, then another. Found a spot where the trees opened up. She started to sprint. Wrong move. Something caught her foot. Down she went. She tried to catch herself on a tree, but her hand scrapped across its bark. Her palms skidded across the muddy ground.
Damn. She didn’t need this now. What had she’d tripped over? She brushed her hair out of her eyes, hoping she hadn’t landed on a slithering snake.
Then she froze.
Inches away from her face, lay a shape. A familiar shape. She stared at it, her breath coming in snatches. Was she hallucinating? It looked like a kid’s sneaker. Peeking out from a pile of wet twigs and pine straw, like it had been lost there. Or buried. She reached out and whisked away some of the debris covering it.
Her chest tightened. The sneaker had a foot in it.
She got to her knees to sweep off more dirt. An ankle. A sock. A hem of denim. Oh, God. It was a leg. A human leg. She found the other sneaker. She was shaking all over by now.
Her heart choking her throat, she crawled to the side of what she now realized was a mound. Desperately she shoved away the muck and grimy pine straw, the dreck someone had used to…she couldn’t even think it…to bury someone?
Two legs appeared under her hands, clad in a pair of designer jeans. The type hip young girls liked to wear. She kept going and found the bottom hem of a fancy, girlish T-shirt. Then two young hands…tied with thick rope, clasped together as if in prayer. Oh, God. This couldn’t be happening. Tears burned her eyes. She couldn’t stop herself. Madly, she brushed away the rest of the dirt, and at last, the face appeared. Young. Pretty. More than pretty. Beautiful. And perfectly still.
Miranda’s mind reeled. This was the missing girl everyone was talking about. This was Madison. Had to be. But how did she get here?
Her whole body shuddering, she put her hands to her head. She had seen death before, knew the look of a body in a casket. An uncle she barely knew who’d passed away when she was a child, a fallen officer who’d been a buddy of Leon’s, her own mother lying so still in her coffin with her hard, stony face. But she’d never seen death like this.
So close, so stark, so…undeniable.
The air had a dank smell. Long, dark hair lay damp and matted on the ground. Gnats and flies buzzed around the swollen face, glistening with the raindrops that fell on it. Instead of a childlike expression of innocence, there was the whisper of a smile. An air of superiority, as if she had felt far above whoever had left her this way.
But it was the eyes that got her. Open, staring, lifeless. Looking at them, Miranda felt as though a fist had reached inside her chest and yanked out her heart.
She forced her gaze away from the eyes. Her breath caught, as her mind cleared. The girl’s neck. She had to take a look at the girl’s neck.
She crept closer and saw that a wide, white ribbon had been tied around the young girl’s neck. What was that for? She didn’t know, but she had to look under it. She shouldn’t touch it. It was evidence. But she had to know.
Slowly, she reached out with trembling fingers and lifted the soft cloth, moist with the rainwater. Her hands shivered so hard, she could barely slip it down, but somehow she managed.
And then she saw it. The mark on her neck. Dark, round, distinct.
She put the soaking ribbon back in place. Her hands shook violently, shot to her mouth, her head. Her chest felt like it would burst. Tears streamed down her cheeks, mingled with the rain, dropped onto the forest floor.
This was Amy. This was her baby.
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Someone Else's Daughter (A Miranda's Rights Mystery) - Book I
A woman can never make herself too tough, too strong, or too street smart.