The moon was high, though the canopy of leaves blocked most of the light as Nicole picked her way over the path. She hadn’t heard Amy approaching yet, but that didn’t mean the other woman wasn’t close, it just meant she was quiet. And Patrick was an ever-present feeling somewhere off in the darkness to her right.
Her eyes had adjusted to the night and she watched the terrain ahead for a good breaking point. She passed several large boulders and a few small clearings that appeared to drop off into nowhere, but she didn’t quite have the gall to stop just yet. Once she made her move, that was it. She had to kill Patrick or he’d kill her. The very thought made her heart race and her blood cold.
The trail sloped up, a rise appearing about ten feet ahead that indicated the start of a descent.
Grasping the sharp rock in one hand, she palmed the stick in the other, maintaining her pace even as she psyched up for battle.
This was it. Her chance. When she topped the rise, she’d gain her freedom, one way or the other.
She left the trail to the right, deciding the offensive would give her more of a chance, not that it was good to begin with. She’d rush Patrick, flinging her body at him so she could bash the rock into the base of his skull. Then she’d drive the stick into his neck, and with any luck, he’d bleed out while she watched.
Just ten steps off the trail, he grabbed her from behind, wrapping one hand over her mouth while the opposite arm pinned her body to his at the waist.
“Settle down and stay quiet,” Patrick murmured in her ear. “I can help you.”
It was a trick. It had to be. But Nicole wasn’t strong enough to fight him off - she could barely move pressed up tight against him. Even worse, his heat felt good, and on some level she recognized that casual attraction to him flaring up again.
Sick. It was sick, she was sick, and this whole situation was...fucked up. She stopped struggling, if for no other reason than the hope that he’d let her go. Let her get some distance, and perspective along with it.
His grip eased, and she pulled away, spinning around to face him with the sharp stick held in front of her. It looked like a child’s toy, even to her, but she wouldn’t - couldn’t let it go.
“Why would you help me?” She kept her voice quiet, and glanced over his shoulder to check the trail. Maybe he was just distracting her until Amy ran by.
He took a step closer, and she took one back, earning a throaty chuckle. “Easy,” he said, holding his hands out as if she were a horse to be gentled as he took another step forward. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Nicole stepped away again, her back coming up against the rough bark of a tree. Damn it. He was still advancing, those hands still up and out, his eyes pinning her with a stare she knew she was interpreting wrong. Just like he wanted her to.
When he stood within a foot of her, he reached out with one hand. Slowly. Gently touching the side of her face. Pushing her hair behind one ear. Nicole forced herself not to move, not to turn her head into his heat.
“I like you,” he said, moving closer still. Only a couple inches of air separated them, and she tried hard to hold the panic in, to keep breathing. She remembered what the others had said at the last checkpoint - that Patrick never got to enjoy the spoils afterward like they did. He hadn’t seemed overly upset - and now she knew why.
“You’re going to rape me.” It wasn’t a question, because Nicole felt it deep in her soul. “And then kill me afterward.”
He frowned, his fingers drifting down to caress the side of her neck as he shook his head.
“No, no,” he crooned, his eyes focused on her throat as he traced a design over her pulse point. “I want you, yes. But I don’t need to rape you. You’ll come to me, when you’re ready.” He looked into her eyes again, his lips curved up in a confident smile.
“I just want to help you get away from the others. So you and I can explore this attraction. Don’t bother denying it. I know you feel it too.”
She swallowed, her tongue like cotton in her mouth.
“How?” she managed to ask, her hands gripping the tree trunk behind her to keep from shoving him away. If he was telling the truth, she wanted to see how far he’d go. Maybe she could use his attraction to her advantage.
“Promise to trust me?” He bent down, pressed a light kiss to her lips. It was all she could do not to react, but since killing him didn’t seem possible, cooperating would be the next best thing. Until he tried to touch her, at least.
“Yes,” she whispered, forcing herself to hold that stare. “I promise.”
He kissed her again, a little longer this time, and then finally backed away, giving her space to breathe.
“Come on then. I know a shortcut out.” He held out his hand.
God help her, she took it.
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