Morgan’s flip-flop sank into a sludge and she cringed, once again pulling the cell phone out of her pocket to check for reception. Nothing. Not a single bar to be had. Usually rebelling against her mother was fun—not this time apparently.
She turned in a circle as silently as possible. Surrounded by swampland with no cell phone reception was not exactly the kind of post-graduation summer break she’d been hoping for. When her mother suggested Florida, Morgan had been on board, thrilled for a chance to work on her tan. And…fine. She hadn’t been torn up over the chance to have Mom all to herself for once. Ever since the promotion, she’d been fending for herself, throwing dinners together in between homework and applying for internships. Imagine Morgan’s surprise when they’d landed in Key Largo only to be greeted by her mother’s secret boyfriend.
All this time. Morgan’s mother hadn’t been taking work trips.
She’d been getting action on the sly.
Could anyone blame Morgan for bouncing? She wasn’t about to sit around the hotel watching her mother make eyes at a divorced real estate investor. Her intention was to hitch a ride to Miami and use her fake identification to sneak into a couple clubs. To take her mind off how fast her mother moved on from her father. Unfortunately, she’d taken a wrong turn—or seven—and promptly blown the right front tire of her mother’s rental Chrysler.
Right at the edge of the Everglades.
Morgan trudged forward, telling herself for the tenth time that she would run into the advertised gas station sooner or later. The farther she walked, however, the more she began to suspect the sign was either ancient or the gas station had sunk right into the mud, just like her poor flip-flop. The hotel pool, leering businessmen and a virgin piña colada didn’t sound quite so bad right about now.
In her halter top and shorts, bikini top tied underneath, she couldn’t be dressed any more inappropriately to get lost in a freaking jungle. Morgan turned around and scanned the green, sloping trees, trying to remember which way she’d come. Oh, this was bad. Her sense of direction sucked major ass and now daylight was beginning to fade.
Gathering her courage, she cupped both hands around her mouth. “Um…hello? Out there?”
She yelped as a flock of birds broke from behind a mossy rock and scattered into the densely humid atmosphere. That’s when she started to notice other sounds. Creepy ones. Sounds she never heard while tucked away in her Chicago high-rise home. Not even at her dad’s ranch in California…back when she used to visit him. Divorces were the worst. Especially when your parents use you as a bargaining chip. Or leverage.
Shaking off her dark thoughts, Morgan swiped open the flashlight app on her cell and shined it toward the ground. She only had an hour of daylight left. Best not to disappear farther into the swamp. Instead, she would use the flashlight to follow her footprints in the mud back to her car—and call for roadside assistance. The way she should have done in the first place.
Plan in place, Morgan started at a purposeful clip, refusing to speculate on what kind of decomposed plants and nine-million-year-old mud was making its home between her toes. As soon as she got back to the hotel, she wasn’t coming out of the shower for an hour.
A snap to Morgan’s right brought her to a startled halt. What was that? Unlike the hoots, birdcalls and lapping water she’d been hearing, this sounded closer. It shifted the air. And all the other sounds ceased, like someone had hushed them.
Her blood started to thrum in her wrists and neck, the urge to run strong. So strong. Yet at the same time, her body refused to move. Fear tumbled in her belly.
“Hello?” Morgan croaked.
Another snap. This time, it was followed by the dragging of brush on earth. Low. Low to the ground. Dozens of colorful tourist brochures danced in her head. Alligator farms. Tour the everglades. All of those pamphlets had one thing in common. Slithery, green, prehistoric-looking monsters on the front. Even a city girl knew an alligator was approaching now. Where though? Which way did she need to run to escape it? Beginning to shake, she turned in a slow revolution, the fingers of terror sinking into her muscles, locking them up tight.
Morgan’s cell phone flashlight illuminated something so horrifying, she could barely process it. She expected a regular-sized alligator, but twenty yards away was the most enormous, ugliest beast she’d ever seen in her life. Five times her size, its teeth caught the light and she could already feel them sinking into her throat.
“Oh, no. This is bad.” Morgan backed up a few steps and her heel caught on a rock, plunging her to the damp, spongey ground. Her cell phone dropped, stealing the light along with it—and she screamed, scrambling onto her hands and knees. Two seconds. That was all it took for the alligator to reach her. Pain blasted up her right ankle as sharp teeth grazed her.