I love you. Just hang onto me.
I climb to my feet and pitch forward, willing away the tears in my eyes. It wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t meant to be. Keep moving.
There is no exit anywhere along the gate and I’m wasting time by continuing to look for one. It’s not going to be easy scaling a seven-foot-high gate with a bum ankle, but I’ve got no choice. Walker is coming for me. His men are probably coming for me, too. If I don’t get over the gate and away from this house in under a minute, I’ll be thrown back in my gilded cage.
I find a low-hanging branch on one of the trees near the gate and jump, catching hold of it, swinging my legs up as high as I can and catching the top of the gate. Then I inch my hands higher, higher, higher on the branch, until I can get my knees over the gate, take hold, pull myself over with a groan of effort and hop down onto the sidewalk. The pain in my ankle causes my vision to double momentarily and I stumble, but keep going, running as fast as I can toward the closest parked car.
Hitchhiking is never a good decision, but I have little option.
Please be a woman. Or a kindly old man.
When I reach the passenger side of the car and it turns out to be the latter sitting in the driver’s side, I slump against the vehicle in relief. “Can you give me a ride? Please? Just to the closest train station. O-or bus…”
I trail off when the man smiles at me. Not a nice smile.
He’s looking at something over my shoulder.
I turn and find a gun pointed at my head.
“Well, now,” says the much younger man holding the gun. “What’s a sweet little thing like you doing out here in the dark?”
Behind me, I hear the window roll down. “Out for a jog.”
He cracks a laugh. “Saw you jump over that gate.” His face clears of any humor. “You came from McManus’s and if you’re escaping, sweetheart, I’m guessing it means he wants you back.”
Panic looms heavy and my pulse speeds up. “Mc-who?”
“Get her in the car,” comes the voice behind me.
“No!” I try to make a run for it, but the man holding the gun is fast and he wraps an iron band of an arm around me, throwing open the car door with the other. Trying to shove me inside. But he picked the wrong day to force me into a confined space, because I have had it up to my fucking ears with men trying to lock me up. I twist and kick and punch and bite. I use a foot on the doorframe to prevent him from getting me inside. I fight for my life—and I think I knock his tooth out in the process. Good. Because I am not getting in the car.
The sound of a gunshot jolts my body. Am I shot?
Oh my God, did he shoot me?
I stop struggling and glance down, searching for blood, but I see nothing. And then I’m falling backward, down onto the sidewalk. A body breaks my fall. It belongs to the lifeless man who’d been attempting to get me into the car.
My head whips to the right and I see a figure sprinting down the sidewalk, gun drawn, his expression a mask of rage and denial.
Whether it’s right or wrong, relief buoys me. Joy. He’s here.
I love him and he’s here.
Whatever issues lie between us, I’ll be safe now. I know that for a fact.
A car door slams and the driver returns fire in Walker’s direction.
“No!” I scream. If he’s hurt or worse, I’ll never forgive myself. He might have kidnapped me, but he’s in danger now because of my actions. Without thinking, I crawl around the front bumper of the car and come up behind the shooter. With all of my strength, I push the car door into his back, causing him to misfire.
“Meadow, no!” Walker roars. “Get down. Get down.”
I don’t question him—and that’s a good thing. As soon as the driver recovers, he spins around and aims at me through the open driver’s side window. Time slows down and I can hear my inhale, exhale. He’s about to fire when his body jerks and he falls to his knees, eyes going blank, and lands face down in the street.
In seconds, I’m being lifted into Walker’s arms. Surrounded by his men.
Walker shouts a few orders and then we’re moving, quickly, climbing into the back of an SUV. Tires squeal and…I’ve failed? That’s it? I’ve failed. Even as I acknowledge that, I’m clinging to Walker like he’s a life raft and he’s just rescued me from the middle of the Atlantic. Nothing makes sense.