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Lynn Stapleton gripped the steering wheel of her Lexus and questioned her sanity once more. The approaching hurricane drove gray sheets of rain across the windshield. She narrowed her eyes to see.

It didn’t help that during a phone conversation earlier, Sharee Jergenson had called her crazy. And maybe she was, but not checking on Victoria would be crazier still.

The car’s wipers struggled to handle the downpour. This morning’s weather forecast predicted the storm’s landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast in less than twenty-four hours. With winds up to a hundred miles an hour and torrential rains, Hurricane Bella had caused residents in her condominium to flee even before the evacuation order came.

Lynn’s calls to every shelter within twenty miles had benefited nothing. No one named Victoria was registered at any of them. Anxiety fanned flames throughout her whole body. Why hadn’t Victoria answered her calls or texts? She had bought the homeless woman a prepaid phone—in case the man found her.

Her last option was the tent city in the woods. Lynn made another turn, and the tires sprayed mud and water from the unpaved road. In a minute, the street dead-ended. She brought the car to a stop and sat back, stunned.

The tent city where the homeless lived had almost disappeared. Clothes, shoes, and other items littered the ground along with scattered tree branches. Tents slumped, tangled in the mud; only a few, sheltered by large trees, still stood.

Lynn stared through the lessening rain, eyeing the tents left standing. After a few minutes, she tugged the hood of her rain jacket over her head and threw open the door. The sodden wreckage in front of her spoke of desertion. The feeling of defeat wasn’t one she was used to nor welcomed.

She stepped over branches and circled a downed tent before lifting her head to yell. “Victoria!”

No answer. She walked forward, cupped her hands around her mouth to yell again, but stumbled over something large and soft, something that bulged under another downed tent. Pay attention, girl. What if you sprained your ankle out here?

She looked at the sodden tent. Someone had left more than their temporary home. A blanket, maybe, or clothes or a sleeping bag lay under the bulky material. Her throat tightened just as it had the first time she’d come.

That day, while Sharee chatted with a woman and young teen, Lynn’s comfort in her designer jeans and shirt and her Prada handbag dissolved. She’d eyed the woman’s mismatched clothes and her daughter’s dirty pants and shirt. That might be all they owned. Lynn’s glimpse into the steamy confines of their canvas home had drawn tears she’d released on the way home.

But today, another gust of wind shook rain from the trees, and Lynn tightened the grip on her hood. Perhaps she could salvage something for someone. She leaned down, grabbed the corner of the tent, and tugged it up and back.

Horror shot through her. Her stomach rolled. The sodden canvas pulled free from her hands and slapped down across the hideous thing she’d just seen. She screamed.

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   Splashdown by Linda K. Rodante. On Special today. $0.99 http://amzn.to/1XIEP5t

 

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