“Shit.” Nicole didn’t bother struggling – she knew it was no use. She couldn’t decide whether to be relieved or angry at the turn of events as she swung back and forth, waiting for Patrick to show himself. On the one hand, she’d just lost a round of play, which was good. On the other, the price was a notch cut into her leg and no rest period.
“How’s it hangin’?”
She looked down to see Patrick stroll nonchalantly through the trees, looking up at her as if it were perfectly normal to find a woman in one of his traps. Bastard.
“You tell me,” she called back. “Or better yet, cut me down. I’ve got places to go, things to see. Roads to find.”
He laughed, shaking his head as he walked out of site for a moment. Her prison started to lower, stopping when her body was resting on the ground, but before the sides could fall and release her. She struggled to a sitting position as Patrick came back and stood over her, hunting knife in hand.
“I believe you owe me a notch,” he said, squatting down beside her left leg. “I’ll be quick. Unless…”
She knew he wanted her to ask. “Unless what?”
Patrick ran the tip of his finger over her bare skin, and Nicole could practically hear the viewer numbers climbing. Damn voyeurs.
“Unless you’d rather give me something else of equal value. In flesh, I mean.”
She knew exactly what he meant, and while the whole seduction thing seemed to be working, she wasn’t even close to giving it all up to him yet. Not until she was ready to make her final play.
“Take your notch, Patrick, and let me go. We have two more rounds to play, so let’s play.”
He laughed again, respect in his gaze as he lowered the knife to her calf.
“As you wish, sweetheart.”
She winced as he flicked a half-inch triangular piece of skin out of the side of her leg with the tip of his knife, thankful it was sharp enough that it didn’t hurt much until after it was done. Blood ran down her leg to soak in the dirt, and he handed her a roll of gauze before going back and lowered the net to release her.
She bandaged the wound as well as she could, and then got to her feet, ignoring the pain. When Patrick didn’t reappear, she put the tablet in her pocket and started jogging toward the river. If he followed her, it would be an easy catch, but she knew that wasn’t what he was after. He wanted money, and in this case, money cost drama. Which meant letting things play out as long as he could.
It was only somewhat surprising that the boat was gone by the time she found her way back to the rocky beach where she’d left it. Stopping for a quick drink, she checked the tablet and saw his dot on the other side of the river, headed back upstream.
Nicole had no idea why he’d be moving away from her, but she wasn’t about to let the opportunity go to waste. Taking one more drink, she started moving downstream, following the river but staying back in the trees and out of sight of the banks. Skirting the waterfalls, she kept going down, collecting enough fallen leafy branches along the way to work up a face shield by the time she’d hit the bottom where the river raced by on white-capped rapids.
When she pulled out the tablet to check Patrick’s position again, she rolled her eyes.
His dot on the screen was just behind hers, and she turned to confront him.
She couldn’t hold back a loud gasp as she dropped the tablet and put a hand to her mouth.