‘Night, everyone,’ Sharon shouted over her shoulder.
‘You going already, Shaz?’ she heard. She didn’t know which of her friends it was, and she didn’t respond. With her back to them all she raised her hand in the air and waved as she reached the exit. She didn’t want them to see her face – to see the guilt in her eyes and the hot flush of her cheeks.
Sharon was looking forward to being married to Jez – he was the best – but somehow the pressure of it all, the finality, maybe even the predictability, had got to her, and she had persuaded her friends to meet at the club in town. Jez had gone out too, staying with his brother for the night, so there was no one to rush home to.
She had expected to be dancing until dawn with her friends, but when Sharon went to get a drink there was a good-looking bloke she had never seen before leaning against the bar, watching her, and there was no denying that the attention felt good. Usually she would have told him to get lost, but tonight everything seemed different. The music was loud, the beat making her body throb, and the flashing multicoloured lights made the most mundane seem extraordinary. Maybe it was the thought of doing something that she knew was wrong, but she had felt a pulse of excitement as the man’s hand rested on her lower back, hidden from view, and then slowly started to move south.
When she turned to face him he had such hot eyes, asking her an unspoken question. It got a bit heavy – and public – as he moved his head towards hers, his hand behind her neck. But instead of kissing her, he whispered in her ear that they should get away from prying eyes, drive somewhere they could be alone, and a thrill shivered up and down her spine. Sharon agreed, suggesting a local beauty spot – Pennington Flash. There would be no one there at this time of night, and if they went separately nobody need ever know.
There had been weather warnings all day about significant snow overnight followed by a period of sub-zero temperatures. But it hadn’t started yet, so Sharon wasn’t worried as she fumbled around in her bag for her car keys. She had intended to have only a couple of drinks – that was why she had taken the car. Maybe she had gone over a bit, but it would be fine. She felt okay.
On the third attempt Sharon got her key into the ignition, starting the car with a roar, her foot too hard on the accelerator.
I’ll drive slowly, she thought.
Sharon had been on family outings to the Flash throughout her childhood and knew the way backwards, so almost as if on autopilot she managed to negotiate the streets until finally turning off the main road towards the entrance. The first car park would be closed by now, but the main one by the lake didn’t have a gate, and that’s where they had agreed to meet.
The inky darkness of the car park gave Sharon goosebumps, and she took one hand from the steering wheel to rub her other arm briskly. The place was deserted, and if there was a moon it was hidden behind clouds heavy with the promised snow. The bloke hadn’t arrived, but he had said he would give it five minutes after she left so no one would suspect. It only occurred to her briefly that she didn’t know his name. It wasn’t a relationship she was interested in, though, so it hardly mattered.
Driving to the far end of the car park where overhanging trees increased the blackness of the night, she turned her car to face the entrance. She wanted to make sure she would see him before he saw her.
She opened her window a fraction. The night was silent. She closed her eyes and tried to block out images of Jez’s smiling face.
A sound – a rattling noise – startled her. What was that? She switched on her headlights briefly and let out a long breath of relief. The wind had caught a discarded Coke can and was rolling it across the tarmac. She turned her lights off again, but the icy blast of air on her face and the pump of adrenaline seemed to have knocked some sense into her. What the hell was she doing? This was madness. She needed to go, to get out of there.
She reached for the ignition key, but it was too late. There was a new sound – a car engine.
Shit. It’s him.
What if she told him it had been a stupid idea? But what if he didn’t take it well? What if he raped her? She’d heard stories of girls being forced when they realised too late that they had made a mistake. She had to get away before he saw her.
Thanking God that her crappy car had a broken interior light, she quietly opened the door and slithered out, sliding the key into the lock with shaking fingers and turning it quickly. Bending double, Sharon scurried along the path by the edge of the still, black water, out of sight of the approaching car, and crouched behind a low shrub.
It wasn’t until the car turned into the car park that she realised its headlights weren’t on. Why would he do that?
The car circled the tarmac as if the driver was looking for someone, and she knew it could only be her. But then she looked again. The guy had told her to look out for his silver Golf. This car was dark, possibly even black, and much bigger than a Golf. It was someone else.
It didn’t matter who it was. She realised how vulnerable she was – a young woman alone in the early hours of the morning in the middle of nowhere. What an idiot. She had to stay hidden.
The car pulled to a stop directly in front of her old Toyota, and someone got out. She couldn’t make out much because the person was on the far side. Then she saw the beam from a torch. He was approaching her car, the beam searching its interior.
Oh God. Was this some kind of a set-up? Had the man in the club lured her to a deserted location for someone else – maybe more than one?
When he realises the car’s empty, he’s going to come hunting for me.
The man tried the door – thank God she’d locked it – and flashed the light around a bit more. He went back to the front of the car and shone the torch on the number plate. He was noting down her number! Why would he do that?
He walked away from the car and she thought he was leaving, but then he stepped onto the path, shining the torch first away from her and then the other way – towards her.
Sharon crouched as low as she could, dipping her head so her white face wouldn’t show in the beam of light, praying her black coat would keep her hidden. She slipped off her high-heeled shoes and hid them under the bush in case she had to make a run for it.
She heard the crunch of his feet on the gravel.
He was coming.