Cade broke into a hard run.
Kid-skinned boots pounded the forest floor as she weaved between pine and birch, pushed through brush thick enough to swallow a child whole.
Panic tripped reflexes, stretched muscle, drove beyond limits. Briars grabbed her clothes, ripped her face, but she felt no pain. Felt nothing but blood pounding in her ears, breath burning her lungs.
Cade had taken chances she could not afford. She had known the risks going into this. All for nothing now, and now she was done in.
Bolting through a sea of knee-high ferns, she leapt over a rotted log, landed in a stream and soaked her breeches clean through. She skidded over moss-covered rock, hurried up the opposite bank, and cut around a wall of yellow birch.
The approaching sound of Wood Creek took her in the direction she hoped was south. To get lost out here was death, not that it should even matter now. It should not, yet strangely, unforgivably, death no longer seemed a viable solution.
For over a year, it had been the symbol of sweet relief, an end to unjustified suffering. Now the possibility of death brought a stubborn will to live, an inexcusable mask over her immediate fear.
Had she lost him?
Blackflies clouded around her face. What seemed like a mile passed before she allowed herself to stop and listen. Her breath escaped her as heavy as a plow horse’s, yet she heard nothing else. No birds, no wind. No sign of him.
Sweat dripped into her eyes and stung the scratches on her face, but she did not move. She did not dare.
She waited, watched. Nightfall clawed at the forest; dancing shadows which promised only fear.
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