Mean Streak Page 2

“Aren’t you?”

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.”

Last night’s argument was still fresh. Words shouted in anger and resentment seemed to be reverberating off the bedroom walls even now, hours after they’d gone to bed, lying back to back, each nursing hostility that had been simmering for months and had finally come to a boil.

He said, “Do I at least get points for wanting to see you off?”

“That depends.”


“On whether or not you’re hoping to talk me out of going.” He sighed and looked away, and she said, “That’s what I thought.”


“You should have stayed and finished out your day at the office. Because I’m going, Jeff. In fact, even if I hadn’t planned this distance run for tomorrow, I’d still want to take some time for myself. A night spent away from each other will give us a chance to cool off. If the run wears me out, I may stay up there tomorrow night, too.”

“One night or two won’t change my mind. This compulsion of yours—”

“This is where we started last night. I’m not going to rehash the quarrel now.”

Her training schedule for an upcoming marathon had been the subject that sparked the argument, but she feared that more substantive issues had been the underlying basis for it. The marathon wasn’t their problem; the marriage was.

Which is why she wanted so badly to get away and think. “I wrote down the name of the motel where I’ll be tonight.” As they walked past the kitchen bar, she tipped her head down toward the sheet of paper lying on it.

“Call me when you get there. I’ll want to know you made it safely.”

“All right.” She slid on her sunglasses and opened the back door. “Good-bye.”


Poised on the threshold, she turned. He leaned down and brushed his lips across hers. “Be careful.”


“Jeff? Hi. I made it.”

The two-hour drive from Atlanta had left Emory tired, but most of the fatigue was due to stress, not the drive itself. The traffic on northbound Interstate 85 had thinned out considerably about an hour outside the city, when she took the cutoff highway that angled northwest. She’d arrived at her destination before dusk, which had made navigating the unfamiliar town a bit easier. She was already tucked into bed at the motel, but tension still claimed the space between her shoulder blades.

Not wanting to exacerbate it, she’d considered not calling Jeff. Last night’s quarrel had been a skirmish. She sensed a much larger fight in their future. Along every step of the way, she wanted to fight fairly, not peevishly.

Besides, if the shoe had been on the other foot, if he had left on a road trip and didn’t call as promised, she would have been worried about his safety.

“Are you already in bed?” he asked.

“About to turn out the light. I want to get an early start in the morning.”

“How’s the motel?”

“Modest, but clean.”

“I get worried when clean is an itemized amenity.” He paused as though waiting for her to chuckle. When she didn’t, he asked how the drive had been.

“All right.”

“The weather?”

They were reduced to discussing the weather? “Cold. But I planned on that. Once I get started, I’ll warm up fast enough.”

“I still think it’s crazy.”

“I’ve mapped out the course, Jeff. I’ll be fine. Furthermore, I look forward to it.”


It was much colder than she had anticipated.

She realized that the moment she stepped out of her car. Of course the overlook was at a much higher elevation than the town of Drakeland where she’d spent the night. The sun was up, but it was obscured by clouds that shrouded the mountain peaks.

A twenty-mile run up here would be a challenge.

As she went through her stretching routine, she assessed the conditions. Although cold, it was a perfect day for running. There was negligible wind. In the surrounding forest, only the uppermost branches of the trees were stirred by the breeze.

Her breath formed a plume of vapor that fogged up her sunglasses, so she pulled the funnel neck of her running jacket up over her mouth and nose as she consulted her map one final time.

The parking lot accommodated tourists who came for the nearby overlook. It also served as the hub for numerous hiking trails that radiated from it like the spokes of a wheel before branching off into winding paths that crisscrossed the crest of the mountain. The names of the particular trails were printed on arrow-shaped signposts.

She located the trail she’d chosen after carefully reviewing the map of the national park and researching it further online. She welcomed a challenge, but she wasn’t foolhardy. If she wasn’t certain she could make it to her turnaround point and back, she wouldn’t be attempting it. Rather than being daunted by the inhospitable terrain, she was eager to take it on.

She locked her duffel bag in the trunk of her car and buckled on her fanny pack. Then she adjusted her headband, zeroed the timer on her wristwatch, pulled on her gloves, and set out.

Chapter 2

Emory came awake gradually but didn’t open her eyes, fearing that admitting light would make the excruciating headache worse. It had jarred her out of a deep sleep with pains so piercing it was as though a nail gun were being used inside her skull. She was hearing a noise not ordinarily heard in her bedroom, but even her curiosity wasn’t enough to embolden her to lift her eyelids.

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