She found a secluded, bushy area and raced to complete her task. Soon she was hurrying back the way she’d come. The dark woods around her pressed against her until she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Anything might be hiding in them. Why did the way back seem to take so much longer than the walk out here? Spooked, Rose picked up the pace, the beam of her flashlight dancing on the ground ahead of her.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the ladder came into view. She scurried up it and back inside, shut the door and leaned against it. Propping the flashlight low on the floor where its light wouldn’t be seen from outside, she opened her duffel bag and searched inside. She shucked off her jacket, pulled on several more layers of clothing, three pairs of socks, and put the jacket on again. She wrapped a scarf around her neck and pulled on a knitted hat. Back in her sleeping bag, she finally began to warm up, but with the hard floor beneath her and the large, dark woods outside, Rose knew she’d be lucky to get a minute of sleep this night.
After much discussion with a ticket agent at the train station and the helpful young couple who stood in line behind her, Fila realized she now needed to turn to a different form of transportation. She duly found herself several hours later ensconced in the comfortable seat of a Greyhound bus heading west for Montana via Wisconsin and Minnesota. She had one transfer in Minneapolis, but she’d been assured that would be a piece of cake. The ride would take almost exactly twenty-four hours. Time to catch up on some sleep.
She woke up when a young woman sat in the empty seat beside her and Fila fought down the panic that threatened to overwhelm her again.
“What station is this?” she asked, jerking upright in her seat.
Fila checked her ticket. Still three hours to go until the transfer in Minneapolis. She settled back in her seat, but sleep eluded her again. Where were Wahid and the others now? Were they still searching for her in New York City, or had they somehow figured out where she’d gone?
She shivered and peeked over to see what her seatmate was doing. The young woman had withdrawn a tablet from her purse and held it on her lap. Fila had seen them everywhere since she landed in New York and she longed to hold one, too. To explore what it could do. The woman was watching a movie, with earbuds in her ears, so Fila couldn’t hear what the actors said. She wished she had a movie to watch. Maybe then the time wouldn’t crawl by so slowly.
As if hearing her thoughts, the woman glanced her way. She smiled, manipulated something on her tablet, paused the movie and removed her earbuds.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Catherine.”
“Fila.” Too late she remembered she was supposed to say Karen. Well, what were the chances of Wahid or the others meeting this Midwestern girl and actually speaking to her?
“Where you headed?”
“Montana. How about you?”
“Fargo, North Dakota,” Catherine said. “I go to college there. Is Montana your home?”
“It’s going to be,” Fila said. A grin twitched the corners of her mouth. For the first time she believed it.
“I love Montana,” Catherine confided. “I want to move there when I’m done with school.” She looked Fila up and down. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-two,” Fila said. Ancient in Afghani years—much too old to be unmarried—but just a child here in the United States.
“Me, too,” Catherine said happily. “I’m in my senior year. What about you?”
“I haven’t been able to go to college yet.”
“Oh.” Catherine seemed confused. “Where are you from? You have an accent I can’t place.”
Fila bit her lip. She wanted to be truthful with this bright, young girl, but she couldn’t afford to leave a trail for the men to find.
“I’m from Syria,” she said, figuring no American could tell the difference. She relaxed when Catherine took her answer on faith.
“Syria,” she said. “Is that near Greece?”
On Saturday morning, Cab stood in the foyer of Carl’s house, ready to head into town to grab some breakfast at Linda’s Diner, when his phone rang. He was in a foul mood, unusual for him, but he’d let himself think that Rose was interested in him, and he’d let himself look forward to their date this morning. Knowing she was with Jason in North Dakota made him itch to strike out at something, and he wasn’t that kind of guy.
“Cab? It’s Rose. We still on for today?”
Cab pulled the phone away from his face, stared at it, then put it back to his ear. “You’re in town?”
“Of course. I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier, though. The last couple of days have been hectic.”
“I figured you’d still be in North Dakota. I heard something about you visiting Jason.”
A pause. “You heard wrong,” she said finally. “So, do you still want to get together?”
“Sure.” Of course. Just as soon as he got his mind wrapped around the fact she was here and wanted to see him. And that she hadn’t gone to see Jason. “Are you at the Cruz ranch?” Had she been there the whole time?
“No.” Rose took a breath. “I’m running some errands. I can swing by your place if you like.”
Well, that was vague. “All right,” he said slowly, deciding whether or not to dig for answers. “You can leave your car here and we’ll head out to the hills together. I know a place where it’s safe to shoot.”
“Great. See you in a bit.” She rang off before he could ask any more questions. Like, why did her friends think she was out of town? And, had she spoken to Jason?
Fifteen minutes later, his doorbell rang and he opened it to find Rose dressed in a pair of jeans, boots, a thick coat, hat, mittens and scarf. She looked a little less tidy than usual and wore no makeup today. Her hair, generally neat as a pin, hung loose around her shoulders in waves. Almost like she’d just rolled out of bed, Cab thought.
“Can I freshen up before we go?” she asked when he waved her in.
“Be my guest.”
She kicked off her boots and he noticed their soles were caked with dirt. “Is it that cold out?” he asked as she unwound her scarf from around her neck.
“I just can’t get warm today,” she said.
“Coming down with something?” She certainly looked tired and when he touched her hand it was icy cold. “Hey, you better warm up for a bit before we go back outside. Come on.” He led her farther into the house, pointed her to the bathroom and went into the kitchen to make her a cup of hot coffee. When she found him there a few minutes later, she hesitated in the doorway. “Have a seat,” he said and waved her to a chair at the table.