Leigh was only a block and a half from home when she noticed the footsteps echoing her own. At first she didn't think anything of it. This was Kansas. Nothing ever happened here, especially not at five in the morning. Even Dorothy and Toto had to get picked up by a tornado and dropped somewhere else for adventure to come their way.
Of course, this was Kansas City, not some backwater town. There was crime in the city. It was also five o'clock in the morning, and she was a lone woman walking down a dark street that—while a residential area of old houses with families—was also only a couple of blocks from the downtown core where the homeless and druggies tended to concentrate.
A shiver of unease crept up Leigh's spine as she became aware that the footsteps behind her had picked up speed and were drawing nearer. She'd walked this route hundreds of times over the last five years and never once felt uncomfortable . . . and didn't like that she now was. Telling herself to stay calm, she tried to recall what she'd been taught to do in self-defense class, but, of course, now that she needed it, her brain was blanking on her.
Wasn't that always the way?
She felt her muscles begin to tense as the footsteps continued to draw nearer, and feared if she didn't do something soon, it might be too late.
The thought spurred her into action. Changing direction, Leigh cut toward the curb to cross the street, casting a nonchalant glance back as she did, as if looking for traffic. The look didn't reassure her. The person approaching was a man; tall, slender, and dressed in dark clothes. She couldn't see his face, however; it was in shadow, thanks to the hood of his jacket. All she'd managed to do with her quick glance was make herself more uncomfortable, more on edge. More scared.
Acting as if she weren't troubled by his presence, Leigh started across the street, her mind now considering and discarding possibilities of what she should do. A glance around the dark house-lined street ahead told her she was on her own, there wasn't a car or pedestrian to be seen. No help there.
She really should have taken a taxi home, she acknowledged, but had never had a problem before, why should she have thought this morning would be any different? Besides, it was too late for regrets, they weren't going to get her anywhere.
Leigh felt her heart squeeze tight as the footsteps followed her across the street. Now her gaze was sharp as she scanned the houses she passed, searching for any sign of life, trying to deduce which she should approach for help. This was a quiet residential street, the houses in darkness, people having long retired for the night and not yet rising. She appeared to be the only person in this area who worked late and was still up.
Coco's, the restaurant/bar she owned, closed at 3:00 A.M. Well, the bar closed then, the restaurant area closed much earlier. Leigh managed the bar at night. Once the last customer trundled out and the cleaning crew set to work, she retired to her back office to do paperwork; filling out the work schedules, checking time cards, writing up orders, checking the day's receipts, and so on. She was usually done about the same time as the cleaners. Otherwise, she waited for them to finish, saw them out, locked up and headed home . . . always between 5:00 and 5:30 A.M., that dark predawn time when most criminals were tucked in bed.
Just as everyone on this road appeared to be, Leigh thought, her heart sinking. Then she spotted a porch light pop on several houses up. A moment later the front door opened and an older lady in a housecoat appeared. The woman didn't notice her coming up the street, her attention on the German shepherd who slipped past her to pad eagerly down the steps onto the front lawn.
"Waking me up before dawn." The woman's annoyed mutter carried clearly in the near silence. "You should have gone when I took you out for your walk earlier."
Leigh's heart lifted. A safe port in the storm. She could seek shelter from the woman and call the police, or maybe just a taxi. Surely the dog's presence would discourage the man following her from making a nuisance of himself?
She put on a burst of speed and opened her mouth to call out, but that was as far as she got. She never heard the man behind her pick up speed, never realized he'd rushed forward. Suddenly he was there before her, forcing her to an abrupt halt.
The sound of her name made her pause with confusion, then the man shrugged the hood off his head, revealing his face.
"Donny?" She said with surprise, relief coursing through her. Donny Avries had worked the bar at Coco's for a year. He was always eager to please and a hard worker. Milly—Leigh's friend, and her day manager in the restaurant—claimed he had a crush on her and had begged for steady night shifts to be near her, but Leigh thought that was nonsense. They just got along well as friends. She'd been terribly upset when he'd gone missing more than a week ago.
Usually prompt, and often even early for his shift, Donny simply hadn't shown up on Monday night. Leigh had tried calling his apartment, but there'd been no answer. When he hadn't shown up the next night, she'd called again, then grown concerned and called his landlady to have her check on him.
The woman reported that while everything looked fine in his apartment, his cat was obviously hungry and the litter box had been overflowing, suggesting he hadn't been home for a while. While there were no signs that he'd left . . .
Excerpted from Bite Me If You Can by Lynsay Sands Copyright © 2007 by Lynsay Sands. Excerpted by permission.
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