A sound like the cracking of ice startled Shelby. She slowed down and looked around, again seeing nothing and no one. It was early. The sun hadn’t fully risen, and aside from a few park lamps, visibility was poor. Perhaps what she’d heard had been a rabbit or a squirrel. It was possible. Wasn’t it? When the noise rang out a third time she froze, staring in the direction the sound had come from—a thicket of trees beside her.
“Hello? Is someone there?”
All was still.
Deciding what she’d heard was nothing more than a tree shaking loose snow from its branches, she shrugged it off and again increased her pace.
The male voice was faint and low, her name spoken in a whisper.
“Paul, is that you? What, you’re stalking me now? Where are you hiding? Come out. This isn’t funny.”
There was no reply.
“I’m serious, Paul. There’s nothing left to say. Please. You have to stop this, okay? You need to leave me alone.”
Her instincts kicked in, and she realized the man might have been someone other than Paul. Paul would have presented himself by now, springing out from behind a tree or chucking a snowball in her direction. She slid one of her gloves off and shoved a hand into her pocket, feeling around for the miniature can of mace attached to her keychain. The pepper spray had been a gift from Sloane, her father’s girlfriend. When she’d received it, she laughed, thinking Sloane needed to stop being so paranoid about everything. Besides, she was tough and spirited, capable of taking care of herself. She never thought she’d need it, until today.
Now, gripping it in her hand, she was amazed at how much comfort she felt holding the small canister. She pressed it against her chest, her finger on the trigger. If she needed to use it, she’d be ready.