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I realize in the flash of another lightning strike that I’m standing not far from another trail, one that branches off to the west. It seems to wander that way, and I think it slopes down. The lightning has picked up now, and I think it might be enough to lessen the effectiveness of Graham’s night vision equipment. He’ll have trouble picking me out in all the flashes.

I go low, hoping that even if he spots me he’ll think I’m a deer, and I make it to the point where the trail begins to curve down. If I can make it to the ridge, it’s possible that Graham’s one of those hide-a-key fools, and I can find a magnetic box in the wheel well that will let me steal the thing and get out of here, find help, find my children. He must have GPS. Maybe a record of where he’s been.

I fall halfway down the trail, slide, and my head slams hard into a jutting boulder. Sparks and stars, and a wave of icy, tingling pain that makes everything strangely soft. I lie for a moment in the cold rain, gasping, spitting out water like a drowning victim. I’m cold. I’m so cold, and I wonder, suddenly, if I’m going to be able to get up. My head feels strange, wrong, and I know it’s bleeding badly. I can feel the warmth running out of me.

No. I’m not dying here. I’m not. I don’t know if Graham is still tracking me; I don’t know anything except that I have to get up, cold or not, hurt or not. I have to get to the ridge and find a way to get help. Somehow. I will fucking shoot one of the Johansens’ prize paintings if I need to, to make my point.

I slip and slide my way to my hands and knees, and I remember that I had a shotgun, but I can’t find it now. It’s gone, pitched into the darkness by my fall, and there’s no way for me to find it now. I still have the pistol, which miraculously hasn’t blown a big, devastating hole in my thigh. I take it out of my pocket and hold it tight as I get up and rest against the boulder. Blood is sheeting down the side of my face in a warm torrent that the rain dilutes almost instantly.

I slither down the trail, grabbing for handholds.

It’s a nightmare that I can’t escape, this descent, and I form the idea that Graham is right behind me, grinning and taunting me. Then Graham morphs into Mel, the Mel behind the Plexiglas at the prison, grinning at me with bloody teeth. It feels eerily true, but when I finally, breathlessly twist around, I find that the next flash of lightning shows me there’s no one on the trail at all.

I’m alone.

And I’m nearly to the ridge.

As I get to the thick undergrowth that marks the place where the forest clears, something makes me stop and crouch down as I stare through the leaves. I’m aware of my heart beating fast, but it also feels sluggish, weary, as if it might take a nap at any moment. I must have lost more blood than I thought, and the cold is making my body work harder and harder. I’m shaking convulsively. It is, I know, the last step before false warmth sets in, and the urge to sleep. I don’t have much time left. I need to get to the truck and get Kyle’s coat. It’ll help me for the next part: the run down the hill. Like it or not, I am going to have to depend on the Johansens for help.

A little flicker of movement by the truck freezes me in place. The rain is lessening a little, though the thick mutter of thunder overhead rolls almost continuously. The easing downpour lets me see a fraction of a curve that shouldn’t be there, braced on the far side of the truck and protected by the solid wall of the engine block. It’s a head, and it’s too big to be Kyle’s. Kyle ran up the hill, not down.

Lancel Graham is lying in wait. He’s taken a classic ambush predator approach. Watching him, I remember the calm, offhand way that Melvin talked about his process in an interview a few years back: he’d crouch in just that spot by a car and wait for the woman to approach, then attack like a praying mantis in an overwhelming rush. It almost always worked.

Graham is a real fanboy. He knows my ex-husband’s habits, his moves, his strategies.

But he doesn’t know me. I survived Melvin.

I’m going to survive this asshole, too.

I’m not far from the original trail we took up the hill, and I work my way carefully around to it. I position myself exactly right.

I hit my mark, and then I hesitate. I’m cold. I’m slow. I’m confused from the head wound. What if this doesn’t work? What if he just shoots me?

No. He’s been hunting me to capture me, not just dispose of a problem. With the night vision he was wearing, he could have cut me in half already. He wants me.

He likes games.

All right, Lance. Let’s play a game.

I come around a tree, limping, moving slowly; I make sure I look just as miserable and ill as I feel, and as I come into the opening right at the trail head, I brace myself and slide down to my knees. Weak. Beaten.

In just the right place.

I don’t look up to see where he is. I just wait, breathing heavily. I try to get up, but not very hard, and then I let myself fall over, left side down in the mud. The pistol’s beneath me, concealed where I’ve rolled forward enough to shade it. It looks like I’m trying to find the strength to rise.

I wait.

I can’t hear him coming over the steady, slowing drum of the rain, but I sense him, almost like a heat source on the edge of my awareness. He’s careful. He circles at a distance. I can dimly see him through my eyelashes, smeared by the rain. He’s got the shotgun. He circles closer. Closer.

And then he’s there.

I see the muddy toes of his boots edge in closer and the hem of his mud-caked jeans. The barrel of the shotgun is aimed not at me but at the ground between the two of us. He can still kill me. It’s a small movement to bring the muzzle up and fire, but he’s enjoying this. He likes seeing me beaten.

“Stupid, stupid woman,” he tells me. “He said you’d fall for this shit.” Graham’s voice hardens. Sharpens. “Get your worthless ass up, and I’ll take you to your kids.”

Random thought: I wonder where Graham’s wife is. I feel an overwhelming surge of pity for his sons, raised by this man. But it’s all fleeting, because underneath that, I feel as cold and hard as the barrel of that shotgun. As much of a weapon.

Because I’m not dying here.

I’m not.

I don’t move much, and I make myself look weak, flailing, like I’m trying to obey him. I move my right hand and lift myself up to my knees, and as I come up I smoothly, calmly raise the gun.

He sees his mistake just before I fire.

It’s precise, where I put the bullet. I don’t go for the head shot, or even for center mass. I go for the nerve plexus in Graham’s right shoulder. He’s a right-hander, like me.

The bullet—a hollow point—goes in exactly where I want it. I can almost see the way it opens up on impact into a flesh-cutting scythe of destruction. It’ll destroy his shoulder, sever nerves, break bones. A shoulder wound isn’t the clean, simple thing they show in the movies and on television; you don’t walk it off. Done right, a shoulder wound can take away use of that arm forever.

And I’ve done it right.

Graham’s cry is short and sharp. He staggers back and tries to bring up the shotgun, and shock would have allowed for that except that I’d destroyed nerve and muscle necessary to make the physics work. He drops it instead and blindly fumbles for it with fingers that are no longer capable of picking it up. He’s hurt, and hurt bad, but one thing about shoulder wounds that the silver screen gets right: it’s probably not fatal.

Not immediately, anyway.

I roll to my feet. I feel warm now. Loose and calm, the way I do at the range. Graham keeps trying to pick up the shotgun until I pull it away, and then he gives me a weird, tired grin. “You fucking bitch,” he says. “You were supposed to be easy.”

“Gina Royal was easy,” I tell him. “Tell me where they are.”

“Fuck you.”

“I let your boy go. I could have killed him.”

That registers a little. I see something move in his expression. It’s just a twitch, but it’s real.

“I’ll let you live if you tell me where my kids are. I don’t want you dead.”

“Fuck. You. They aren’t yours. They’re his. And he wants them back. He needs them. This isn’t about you, Gina.”