The desert town of Rattlesnake isn’t a destination. It’s a last resort. Seventeen-year-old Jonah Guthrie’s aunt sold their home in New England and fled to this place to escape the humiliation of his dad’s indictment for embezzlement and subsequent disappearance.
While their late uncle left them a house and a silver mine, the house is a shambles and the mine is defunct. They’re almost out of money, so they have no choice but to stay in Rattlesnake. And then Jonah discovers they’ve inherited something else. Her name is Catherine, and she’s been dead for over a hundred year. Now, she needs his help.
Basketball practice kept the ghost and her pleas for help off his mind, but only while he ran the court and concentrated on passing the ball. It helped him stop thinking about Juliet, too. But he could only count on a couple of worry-free hours every night. As soon as practice ended, he was back to stressing over those two girls in his life who looked like sisters—one dead and one very much alive.
Coach kept them a little later that afternoon, and on the way home, when Gavin dropped him at the turnoff, Jonah broke into a full run. He was late, and the October nights came earlier every week. The cold bit at his face. He and Gavin hadn’t talked much after he spoke with Juliet in the gym, but her words kept nagging at him. What didn’t he understand? That Snake was a psycho? That he might knife anyone he didn’t like? He understood that. What he didn’t get was how she and Gavin believed Juliet’s plan was going to work. Letting him think she was his girl was not going to change him. Snake needed a lesson, and if that didn’t turn him around, he needed a shrink. Or jail. Damn. Why didn’t those two see that?
The sun dipped behind the tallest mountain peak, and in that second, darkness came. Double damn.
He wished Allie hadn’t gone home early with Margaret. He could use her chatter to keep him from getting the creeps when he passed the cemetery.
He was sweating now, his heavy jacket and the backpack of books weighing him down. As he approached the cemetery, headlights flashed on bright and straight at him. He stopped, shielding his eyes with his forearm. From the shadows an engine roared. Tires ground into dirt and the very familiar shape of a Jeep hurtled at him. Jonah leapt to the side of the road and rolled out of the way. He scrambled to his knees, dropping his backpack. The Jeep spun around and tore back in his direction, Snake at the wheel. One person sat in the back, another in the passenger seat. He didn’t have to see more than their black shapes to know they were Snake’s “friends.”
He’d never outrun them, but he sprang out of the way, then sprinted toward the cemetery gate before the Jeep could turn and run at him again. He grabbed the iron lock and wrenched it open. Slamming it shut, he zigzagged his way around the tombstones.
Hiding behind a large monument, Jonah waited, sweat stinging his eyes. He swiped them with the back of his hand and blinked into the headlights that cast iron-bar shadows across the grave stones.
The motor at idle sounded more like an animal than a machine. Jonah quieted his breathing, straining to listen. The Jeep doors opened but didn’t close. The iron gate creaked and footsteps crunched across the gravel. Jonah held his breath. Snake and his crew were getting close, and Jonah guessed Snake was coming with his knife out.
Jonah pressed his back against the cold marble. He didn’t have anything to defend himself with, but he did have surprise on his side. If he took the offensive, he might be able to make it a fair fight by knocking the knife out of Snake’s hand. If he had the weapon, he might scare off the other two. Maybe.
The sound of footsteps stopped and Jonah imagined Snake a few feet away, sniffing the night—a predator—listening, waiting for him to give away his hiding place.
Jonah’s every breath amplified, and he was sure the drum beats of his heart were sending messages all the way to town.
He crouched, ready to spring once any of them took another step. But there was no sound, no movement, only the presence of danger out there in the dark among the tombstones.
The flash of headlights cut through the darkness and came down the road from the direction of their house. The sound of running feet was followed by the creak of the gate and the spin of the Jeep’s tires. Jonah poked his head around the stone monument in time to see the Jeep speed away, no headlights on. In a few seconds Bozo swept past.
“Margaret!” Jonah shouted and ran onto the road, waving his arms, and trying to get her attention. But she wasn’t checking her rearview mirror because she didn’t slow down or stop.
“Damn.” He stopped short and punched the air. He leaned over to catch his breath.
When he could breathe again without his chest heaving, he walked back to gather his backpack and the books that had fallen out. Snake was ratcheting up for the kill. He’d gone from hallway threats, to ugly notes, to trying to run him down. Jonah couldn’t wait to find out what would come into his warped head next.
Jonah had to keep what had happened tonight to himself. Otherwise, Gavin would use it as another reason for Jonah to back off. If Juliet found out, it would only upset her even more. As he jogged home, Jonah thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad having Bozo pick him up after practice. Besides, he didn’t have a choice, did he? Margaret always meant what she said about consequences.