Kadie Andrews eased her car to a stop when she reached the narrow bridge. She wasn’t afraid of heights, or bridges, but the wooden expanse didn’t look as if it would hold a VW Bug, let alone her SUV. Still, she had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, and now it was dark, and she was lost and very nearly out of gas. Peering through the windshield, she saw what looked like a gas station in the distance.
She had just decided to park the Durango on the side of the road and walk across the bridge when the storm clouds that had been following her for the last few miles decided to release their burden. There was a jagged flash of lightning, a deafening roar of thunder, followed by a sudden deluge.
Walking was out of the question.
With a sigh of resignation, Kadie turned on the windshield wipers, put the SUV in gear, and drove across the bridge as quickly as she dared, praying all the way that the bridge wouldn’t break and dump her in the shallow river below.
When she reached the other side, she headed straight toward the gas station, her sense of unease growing as she drove down what appeared to be the main street. Only there were no lights showing in any of the nearby buildings. No cars on the street. No people in evidence.
The place looked like a ghost town, and she knew all about ghost towns. As a freelance writer and photographer, she had visited ghost towns from Bumble Bee, Arizona, to Vader, Washington. Some were truly ghost towns, with little left but the spirits of those who had once lived there. Some, like Virginia City in Nevada and the city of the same name in Montana, were not really ghost towns. Saloons had been revived and buildings restored, giving people a glimpse of what life in the Old West had been like.
Her most recent adventure had been to Rambler, Wyoming. It had been a difficult trip and not worth the effort, since little remained. But Wyoming was a beautiful place.
Kadie glanced out the side windows of the Durango. If there were any ghosts lingering in this old Wyoming town, she was certain they weren’t the friendly kind.
Pulling into the gas station, Kadie stared in disbelief at the pump. Instead of the modern, automated kind she was used to, this one had to be pumped by hand. She had seen pictures of old pumps like this. They dated from the 1920s. She wasn’t surprised to see a CLOSED sign on the office window. The place looked as if it had been out of business for decades.
Grabbing her cell phone, she flipped it open and punched in the number for the auto club, only to receive the message that there was no service available.
Chewing on the inside of her lower lip, she drove slowly down the main street, hoping she might be able to get a signal at another location.
She passed a quaint two-story hotel built of faded red brick. The lights were out.
The lights were out in every store she passed.
She tried to use her phone several times in different locations with no luck.
Tossing the phone onto the passenger seat, she made a right turn at the next stop sign and found herself in a residential section. The houses were mostly made of wood, set on large lots, well back from the street. Most of them had large front porches and old-fashioned picture windows. A few had cars in the driveway, cars that came from the same era as the gas pump. Every house was dark inside and out.
Pulling up at a stop sign, she glanced down the street, then smacked her hand against her forehead. Of course! The lights were probably out due to the storm.
She made a quick U-turn and drove back to the hotel. The Durango sputtered and died several yards short of her goal. Taking her foot off the gas, she coasted to the curb.
Kadie sat there a moment, reluctant to leave the shelter of the SUV. Rain pounded on the roof and poured down the windshield. No doubt she’d be soaked clear through before she reached the entrance.
She glanced at the hotel again. If the storm had caused the power failure, it was odd that the hotel didn’t have a backup generator, or at least have some candles burning.
Leaning forward, she rested her forehead on the steering wheel and closed her eyes. Maybe she would just sleep in the Durango. She’d done it before.
She jumped a foot when someone tapped on the driver’s side window.
When she looked up, she saw a man peering at her through the glass. For the first time, she wished she had taken her father’s advice and bought a gun to keep in the car. “The way you go gallivantin’ around the country, you might need it someday,” he’d often said.
And now someday had arrived.
“Are you all right?” the stranger asked.
Kadie stared at him, surprised she could hear him so clearly in spite of the rain and the thunder.
“Fine, thank you,” she said. “Except I’m out of gas. Is there a station nearby?”
“Just the one, and it’s out of business.”
Kadie frowned. She’d seen cars in the driveways. Where did they buy gas?
“You’re gonna freeze to death in there,” he said. “There’s a tavern down the street that’s open late. You can warm up inside.”
Kadie shook her head. She wasn’t crazy enough to follow a stranger down a dark street in the middle of the night.
“You’ll be perfectly safe. Cross my heart,” he said, his finger copying his words.
Kadie took a deep breath as she weighed her options. If he meant to do her harm, there was nothing to stop him from breaking into the SUV. And she was cold, and getting colder by the minute. Lightning lanced the clouds. A rumble of thunder shook the car.
“They have hot coffee,” he added.
That did it. Grabbing her purse and the keys, she pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head and unlocked the door.
She was careful not to get too close to him as they walked down the street.
The bar was only half a block from the hotel. Kadie hesitated when the stranger opened the door; then, taking a deep breath, she stepped inside.
Warmth engulfed her. The light from a dozen flickering candles revealed a large room dominated by a bar that ran the length of the back wall. A number of booths lined one side of the room; a dozen small, round tables occupied the other side.
She felt suddenly self-conscious as five men and a woman turned to stare at her.
Ignoring them one and all, she followed her companion to an empty table.
“Here, let me take that,” he said as she shrugged out of her wet jacket.
Kadie murmured her thanks as he draped it over the back of an empty chair, then took the seat across from hers.
A tall, skinny woman who looked almost anorexic approached the table on silent feet.
“Do you want anything besides coffee?” Kadie’s companion asked.