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“She’s alive.” Finn had to be over the century mark on churning out the statement. Those words were as hollow as they had been each and every time.

Another nod from the man.

In between searching for Andy and worrying about Al, Finn had done a lot of thinking. Not just about the jealousy between them all lately, but also about Lindsay’s death. Turning over everything he had seen since arriving in town. Second guessing everything because nothing made sense, at least not to him.

“There were extra marks on Lindsay’s neck. Might have been fingerprints. But I’m no expert. I have no proof.” Finn rubbed his hand over the stubble on his jaw. “Why would someone want to kil her?”

Dan stared back at him. “Why would someone want to set up our girl?”

“I don’t know. But quit saying it was your fault.”

Dan said nothing.

Miles and miles of bushland passed them by.

Eventually, a neat line of houses surrounded by hip-high grass and weeds announced the beginning of another town. Erin dropped the speed to negotiate the typical assortment of cars and debris.

Everything was still. The town permanently asleep, already neglected. It wouldn’t be long till it verged on ruin.

She did not end here. She could not be dead.

Houses gave way to a line of shops. Lots of busted glass and dark patches on cement walkways. It was the same story everywhere, death and destruction.

And suddenly he was tired and cold. He realized if she was dead, then he wasn’t certain he wanted to live. He wouldn’t leave Dan on his own, but stil . Fear of commitment had nothing on this. She had ruined him for anyone else. Her prickles and quirks were as potent as her soft touches and tender ways.

She could get all fired up, but he could talk her down, get her under him, get inside her.

“Pony up,” murmured the big man.

There were no signs of a fresh kill nearby; the street was clear. The pick-up pulled up outside a typical country hardware store. The building had probably stood for eighty-odd years. They jumped down off the truck to the clicks of weapons being loaded. The others mil ed about, waiting on him and Dan to make the first move. And Dan did move.

Straight up the sidewalk, long legs striding into the cavern of the store. Finn followed, his blood thick with fear. The place looked wel -raided, rubbish strewn about.

“We’ll head downstairs.” One of the other two guys produced a flashlight and off they went.

Where was she?

“Yel ing isn’t smart,” Santa rumbled. Far too close.

He gave the guy the evil eye but it was true, he wanted to let loose, bring the hick town down around their ears, shouting her name.

Erin headed toward the back door and the street. Santa fel in behind her without further comment.

“I’m going to check out back,” said Finn.

“Yep.” Dan turned on his heel, stalked out the front door.

A noise on the roof had Finn's eyes and ears up. It was a scraping sound, followed by the creak of wooden beams. It wasn’t just the normal stretch and strain of an old building. Something was up there.

“Dan!”

Finn bolted for the side exit, throwing the door open so hard it slammed back against the interior wall. Who cared about noise now?

“Al?” He searched the skyline and the gutter framing the building. “Al, you there?”

The door slammed open once more and Dan joined him on the strip of weeds. “Where? Where is she?”

“Heard something on the roof.”

“The roof?” The big man grinned like someone had flicked all his best switches at once. “She loves roofs and attics. How do we get up there?”

Dan hoofed it down the side of the building with Finn following tight. He nearly ran into the man’s back when he suddenly halted.

“No, no, no.”

Blood and gore splattered the rear parking lot. It was far too familiar a scene. Flies lay thick on the ground. The place stank.

Finn’s words petered out as they both stood and stared. Something nastier replaced the fear and worry that had dogged him through the night. “What do we do if she’s been bitten?”

Daniel gave him a glacial look, his face like a stranger’s. “Then we’re too late. She would have already … she’d have … you know, if she could.”

Finn nodded, the warmth of the morning sun leaching straight out of him. Because yes, she would have killed herself rather than turn.

The building beside him made the same creaking, groaning noise. There she was, climbing down in slow motion. One foot was wedged into a broken window while the other gamely searched out the platform provided by the forklift below.

His lungs swel ed in his chest like his ribs couldn’t hold them. She was alive.

Her fingers were clutching the edge of the roof. If they made a noise, she might startle and fall, but she was not being left to deal on her own.

Finn moved before he was even aware of it. He scaled the piece of machinery, climbing onto its roof, hands reaching for her. She squeaked and kicked back, nearly nailing him in the balls with the heel of her boot. One grimy hand slipped and she flailed in midair, twisting and turning, trying to fight him off.

“Al. Stop.” Finn fisted his hand in the waist of her jeans, throwing the other arm around her thighs to steady her. She hung suspended by one arm, her feet stil a foot or two off the roof of the forklift. “Al, it’s me! Calm down.”

Her other hand gave way and she fell the remaining distance. One foot missed the forklift’s roof, slipped into the abyss between machine and building, and sent them both off balance. His arm had ridden up to her chest, but his hand was stil tight in the back of her jeans, caught nice and snug between them. Al slapped her palms against the side of the building, which stopped them from falling. No way he was letting go now. Not now and not ever.

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