With a final lurch, Katrina freed herself from the bushes. Straightening, she stood quietly in the deep shadows, listening. Her hands went automatically to her hair where the bushes had snagged and pulled. She smoothed it the best she could, all the while watching the yard and house for any movement. She checked that her wallet was still in her pocket, and pulled her shirt down over it again.
She waited fully five minutes before moving. Nothing changed. She saw no one, heard nothing. She hesitated. Something just didn't feel right.
Finally she moved along, staying in the shadows, until she reached the edge of the house. Stopping, she listened again. Still she heard nothing.
Katrina hesitated once more. Something was off a half beat. From the time she'd stepped into her yard, a feeling of unease had settled on her. She felt it even stronger now as she gained the steps to the back porch. She had heard nothing, seen nothing, but that persistent prickle of fear was there, raising goose bumps on her flesh.
Katrina stepped into the flower bed next to the stairs and knelt in the dirt, sliding her hand into the dryer vent. Her questing fingers closed on the back door key, and she stood, pausing to listen intently again before brushing briefly at her dirty knees and climbing the steps.
Her porch light was off, and she felt for the lock with her left hand. A fingertip found the key slot, held its place. She guided the key down that finger. When the key tip reached the door, Katrina held her breath. The shaft found the slot, and slid home with hardly a sound. Softly expelling the pent-up air in her lungs, Katrina slowly turned the key, sending grateful prayers skyward that this was not the front door she was trying to open.
As the tumbler fell into place, the click sounded so loudly in her ears she was sure the entire neighborhood heard it. She listened again, unable to shake the feeling of impending trouble.
Silence reigned. At last Katrina grasped the door knob, turning it slowly. Softly, easing the door inward, she stepped through the frame and entered the kitchen; leaving the door ajar, the key still in the lock. The house was dark, but some light filtered in through the windows from the street light in front of the house. She could just see the outline of the doorway leading into the living room.
Her tennis shoes made almost no sound as Katrina softly edged her way to that doorway. Peering in, she tried to see into every corner of the room. It was empty. Then why did she have this creepy feeling?
She shook her head to rid herself of the rising terror within her. The feeling wasn't as strong now as it had been just outside the back door, but Katrina chalked this up to the comfort and safety she had always felt in this home, even though she was just renting it. She sorely wished she could turn on a light, but that would alert anyone who happened to be watching the house.
Katrina moved quietly around the couch to the table she used as a desk. She ran her hand along the books stacked at the back, feeling for the biggest two—a collegiate dictionary and its mate, a thesaurus. Sliding her fingertips between her books, she expected to touch her bank passbook. It wasn't there. She frowned. It should have been there. Her fingertip traced the outside edge of the dictionary. Nothing. Who could have taken it? Who even knew it was there? The answer left her badly frightened.
Panic filled her body, the bile rose in her throat and threatened to choke her. 'Settle down,' she harshly thought to herself, disinclined even to whisper in her own living room. Taking a breath, she held it in, willing her fingers to obey her commands. Praying for all she was worth, Katrina gingerly slipped the tips of her fingers between the thesaurus and the desk diary next to it, further back than she’d just touched. If it wasn't here….
Her fingertip touched the smallish plastic packet for which she was searching. Her breath escaped her aching lungs in a whoosh, glad for the release. She tipped the packet towards her and grasped it in her hand.
Katrina pulled her wallet from her back pocket and unzipped it. She pulled the bank book from the plastic sleeve and stuffed it into the wallet’s currency section, then closed the wallet and slid it back into her pocket, once again hiding it beneath her shirt. It only took a matter of moments to slide the empty plastic packet between the dictionary and thesaurus, in its accustomed place. As she drew another breath, the uneasy feeling descended upon her once more, stronger than before.
Katrina pulled the wallet from her pocket and gazed at it in the soft moonlight. With a sudden, desperate desire to safeguard her ID and bank book, she tucked the wallet down the front of her jeans, allowing her underclothing to hold it securely in place. It would make her look a little weightier, but not much, she thought, and few people would think to look there if they were searching her.
Quietly, Katrina moved from in front of the window, returning to the back door. Some small sound alerted Katrina that she was not alone in the house.
Dear Lord, Charleston was in here, she just knew it! The feeling was prickling the back of her neck, making the hair feel as if it were standing straight out from the nape. Another muffled sound came to her ears. He was in her bedroom. If she could just get to the back door again, she'd be free!
Quickly, she rounded the couch, but in her haste, her toe caught the edge of it, causing her to stumble. Her curse came out in a hoarse whisper as she caught her balance on one knee and a hand. A surprised oath issued from the direction of her bedroom. The sound added wings to her feet and Katrina righted herself and ran towards the back door, regardless of the noise…it was no longer important to be quiet. Speed was uppermost in her mind.
As Katrina reached the back door, she heard her name called from the kitchen doorway. The sound, far from stopping her, gave her an added burst of speed.
Even as she cleared the porch and steps, her mind rejected the thought of finding the spot in the bushes where she'd entered her yard. Her main thought was to put distance between herself and the man in the house.
She rounded the corner, heading for the front of the house and ran smack into a man. Startled, she looked up as his arms closed around her. Even the pale light from the moon could not hide the evil smile on Charleston's face.