The next day temperatures dropped. A steady drizzle soaked the trees and sent water dripping from the long strands of moss.
Harper was on the porch locking up the little cottage when she heard a gruff female voice calling her name. Turning, she saw Myra, her landlady, walking down the short driveway, a hood pulled up against the weather, utility belt pinching her middle.
"I wanted to catch you before you left," she said, wiping rain from her face as she stepped onto the porch. "I would have called but I was around the corner anyway, fixing a loose board on the fence. The damn wind keeps trying to tear down everything I put up."
Myra was no more than five feet tall. She had to be in her sixties, but her straight hair was ink black. She wore a heavy layer of dark pencil around her bright, brown eyes, and Harper had never seen her without a screwdriver.
"What's up?" she asked.
The landlady squinted at her. "Look. You've known this was coming but I've got to get this place fixed up, ready for spring break. I hate to ask you to go, given your situation, but I've got no choice. You understand."
Harper's heart sank. Rents out here would quadruple in the summer. She couldn't begin to afford that. But she couldn't argue. They'd agreed at the start she only had the place until spring.
So, she forced a smile. "Sure, no problem. When do you need the place back?"
"Well, you take good care of it, but it'll need to be painted." The landlady tapped a finger against the white bannister where the paint had begun to flake. "Salt air. Give it enough time, it'd strip the fur off a dog." She paused to think. "If you could be out by the fifteenth, that'd be fine."
The fifteenth of March. That was only three weeks away.
"That's fine," Harper said weakly. "I'll start looking right away."
Myra gave her a fierce look. "You find yourself somewhere safe," she told her. "I promise you this—anyone ever comes looking for you, they'll get nothing out of me."
Harper had told her nothing about why she didn't want her real name on the lease or why she wanted three security locks fitted, but the landlady was convinced she was hiding from a bad relationship.
"I know about rough men," she'd confided when Harper moved in. "He comes after you, let me know. I'll bring my shotgun."
Harper had never set her straight. An angry landlady with a shotgun comes in handy.
Now, Myra straightened her hood and looked up at the sky. "I reckon this rain might settle in for a few days. I better go finish that fence."
Harper followed her as far as the Camaro. Damp from the rain, she slid her scanner in a holder on the dashboard and switched it from the Tybee police channel to the Savannah PD. Turning out onto the main highway, she headed west, windshield wipers thumping steadily, her mind going over the conversation she'd just had.
She didn't know where she was going to live now. She'd never imagined she'd still be trapped in this limbo for so long. Some days, she almost wanted the killer to find her. At least that would be the end of it. Even with the precautions she'd taken she wasn't hard to find. Her name was in the paper every week.
And yet, in all these months, there'd been no sign of him.
With effort, she forced herself to focus on the road ahead. Georgia Highway 80 is a silvery strip of civilization running straight through the wild coastal marshes. The drive in from the island has a kind of apocalyptic beauty—nothing but soft gray-brown salt grass stretching as far as you can see in every direction, disappearing into the mist. It was also a communications black hole. Her scanner didn't work out here. Or her cell phone.
It was only when she neared the city that Harper's scanner burst back into life with a litany of car wrecks and cops warning each other of flooded streets and fallen branches.
Five minutes later, she hit Savannah traffic. The roads narrowed, speeds slowed. Huge old oaks spread their branches overhead. Grand, antebellum mansions gazed down imperiously on the cars crawling beneath them.
Harper let out an unconscious breath as the city's familiar beauty wrapped around her like a hug. She'd been born here. Her mother died here. Savannah was in her blood.
The newspaper's rambling, white office building was on Bay Street, near the river. Harper parked in the crowded lot behind it, and dashed through the rain to the back door. She pushed the button to be let in, waving at the CCTV camera above her head until the lock released and the door swayed open.
The guard at the front desk made a note in his computer as she walked in.
Over the last few months the paper had tightened its security. The editors were taking the threat against her seriously.
"Thanks," Harper told him, running up the wide staircase to the newsroom, where twelve reporters sat at desks scattered across five rows divided by sturdy, white columns. Tall windows let in watery light.
Managing editor Emma Baxter sat in a glass-walled office at the far end. Her head was bent over an open laptop, and her dark, blunt-cut hair swung forward, hiding her face as Harper tapped her knuckles against the glass and pushed the door open without waiting to be invited.