I jogged out of the kitchen and into the garage. When I hopped in the jeep, Maddox asked, “You get the map?”
“Yeah, it’s in my purse.”
He then threw the gear into reverse, sending us flying backward into the driveway. Just as he spun the steering wheel around to straighten up the Jeep, we faced what could only be Jensen’s coal black Mercedes sedan.
“Oh, shit!” I cried. We didn’t face off for long before an arm came out of the passenger side window and pointed a gun at us.
“Duck!” Maddox ordered, and then we both bent double as far as we could. My stomach muscles constricted in agony.
When the bullet pierced the windshield, it sounded like a canon going off all around us. I screamed, startled from the noise and shards of glass falling down on me. After a few breathless seconds, Maddox questioned, “You okay?”
I jerked my head up and gave myself a quick examination. No cuts or blood. “Yeah,” I squeaked.
“Hold on tight.” Maddox gunned the engine, sending us lunging forward past the Mercedes. My heartbeat accelerated with the Jeep’s engine as one of Jensen’s men got another two shots off. Each crack of the gun caused my body to shudder. Thankfully, the bullets didn’t make it through the Jeeps’ metal frame. The tires squealed out of the driveway, kicking up dirt and dust, and we headed on to the main road of the Lauren Valley Hideaway Subdivision. My chest clenched at the site of my house. I wanted nothing more than the safety of the familiar walls. But Maddox sped right past it and decided to ditch the interstate for the heavily tree-lined, traffic-free backwoods roads.
The Jeep careened on and off the pavement while my fingers formed a death grip on the sides of the seat. The woods melted in a blur of emerald greens, sending my stomach rolling and churning. The houses and cabins dotting the landscape started getting fewer and fewer. Maddox made a sharp right turn hoping to lose Jensen, but they fell in behind us.
“Do you have any idea where you’re going?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” he replied, his knuckles white from his too tight hold on the steering wheel. I glanced over at him, and for the first time, I noticed the sweat trickling down his temple and his hardened set jaw. The strain of keeping his emotions in check was completely visible.
If he didn’t know where he was going, I was clueless. Now we’d gone farther past the real estate developments than I’d ever been, and we were deep, deep into the woods. The road was no longer paved, and we tumbled along the gravel and dirt path. I couldn’t make out any houses—instead it was all trees along with a creek rushing along the right side.
Maddox had careened almost past a dirt trail when he whipped the Jeep through some bushes and back onto the path. A horrible screeching noise along with the sound of whooshing air jolted me in my seat. Frantically, I turned to Maddox.
“Dammit, they shot out the back tires!” He glanced left and right before settling on taking the dirt road to the left.
“What are we going to do now? I mean, we kinda need tires in the middle of a car chase!”
Maddox turned to give me a “Keep your hysterical self calm cause I really can’t take your bullshit now!” look. He sucked in a breath before replying, “As soon as the Jeep stops, we jump out and start running like hell into the woods.”
I widened my eyes as icy fear pricked my skin. Running through the woods while trying to dodge a hail of bullets? Was he crazy? It took me a few seconds to find my voice, and even then I could barely choke out, “That’s it? That’s the plan?”
“Look, as soon as I can get some cover behind a downed tree or something, I’ll start returning fire. I’ve got enough ammunition to buy us some time.”
His plan didn’t seem all that comforting. Sure, he had Army training and had parachuted out of planes, but me? I was a helpless and hopeless ballerina! And I was pretty sure I couldn’t pirouette my way out of this one.
A quick peek in the rear view mirror showed Jensen’s car stuck on the same path. His tires spun, sending clumps of mud flying. They started inching forward at the same time I heard the thumping sound of our tires going completely flat.
“Okay, we’re breaking to the right over that hill.” Maddox instructed as he grabbed up his backpack along with a shiny barreled shotgun. “Go!”
My fingers momentarily fumbled with the door handle. Finally, I threw it open. I barely let my feet hit the ground before I started running, darting over tree limbs and logs while trying my best not to slip and fall.
Maddox appeared at my side, pushing me in front of him so he could act as a human shield. The gesture made me feel a little more confident, and I pushed myself to run faster. I didn’t dare look back, and fear gripped me when I heard Jensen’s car screech out of its mud prison and start speeding towards us.
The next sound I heard was the pop of a pistol. I screamed just before Maddox threw us to the ground. Fortunately we landed next to an upturned oak tree whose massive roots stretched six feet in the air. By now, I was so scared I was shaking so hard my teeth were chattering. “Come on!” Maddox ordered, pulling me forward to crawl behind the tree roots. I covered my head with my hands as Jensen and his men started firing rapidly. It sent clods of dirt raining down on us along with exploding tree bark.
I peeked through my hands to see Maddox lifting the shotgun to the base to his shoulder. Tentatively, he peered around the tree roots. Closing one eye, he aimed in the direction of the gunfire and then fired two quick rounds before stopping to reload. Just as he finished putting in the ammunition, his right shoulder jerked back, causing him to drop the gun.
“SHIT!” he shouted, his voice echoing over the ridge.
Horror-stricken, my eyes trailed down to his bicep. The arm of his t-shirt had been ripped by a bullet, and blood oozed from his skin. “Oh my God! They shot you!”
“Thanks Captain Obvious,” he grumbled, pressing his hand tighter against the wound to stop the bleeding. “It’s just a nick. Nothing life threatening.” He grimaced as he tried to reach for the shotgun again. “I better try the pistols.”
Bullets continued to whiz over and around our heads. Maddox groaned and spit out a string of expletives as he reached for his bag with the pistol. I warily eyed the shotgun at his feet. Since I wasn’t raised around guns, I’d never shot one before. I had managed to shoot the fake ones in the game-room at Dave and Buster’s, so how hard could it be?
Before Maddox could protest, I snatched up the shotgun. I steadied myself while taking a deep, calming breath. Copying Maddox, I lifted the gun and aimed, honing in on the shorter of Jensen’s thugs. My finger pulled the trigger just as Maddox demanded, “What the hell?”
The next thing I knew an unseen force sent me flying backwards. The gun dropped from my hands, and I started flailing my arms for balance. But it was no use. My back smacked flat onto the ground.
“Oomph,” I muttered, my breath exhaling out in a harsh pant. Okay, so maybe in my adrenaline rush I’d forgotten about the whole guns having kickback. It wouldn’t be something I would easily forget.
Just as my eyes focused on the blue sky above me, Maddox’s face blocked it out. I stared up at him, his expression was one of utter and complete shock. That’s when I noticed raised voices and swearing across the ridge.
“I’ll be damned,” Maddox muttered, tearing his gaze from mine to stare through the trees.
“What?” I croaked, barely able to breathe let alone talk.
“You hit one…you actually freakin’ hit one!”
It took me a minute to process what he was saying. “You mean I…shot a guy?”
“You sure as hell did! You got the short one in the shoulder.” He reached out his right hand—the one not covered in blood. I grabbed it, and he pulled me to my feet. “We need to make a break for it while they’re distracted with him.” He took a shiny, silver gun from his bag. “Start running, and I’ll cover you.”
I stared open-mouthed at him. “With your bummed up arm?”
He rolled his eyes. “Trust me, I can still shoot.”
I doubted it seriously, but what choice did we have? “Fine. But watch out for yourself, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just get the hell out of here!”
I didn’t bother looking over my shoulder before I started sprinting for the ridge. Fear drove me, my breath coming in frantic gasps and pants. But no matter how hard I ran, it felt like I would never reach the trees. At the sound of gunfire, I jolted to a stop. Panic reverberated through me. Oh God, please don’t let Maddox be hurt! Please don’t let Maddox be…dead! I prayed over and over in my mind as I started running again. I jumped over the rocks and fallen limbs before pressing myself behind a tree to wait for Maddox. Just when I thought my heart would pound out of my chest, he hopped over the ridge.
“Lane?” he questioned in a whisper.
“I think they’re about to leave Shorty behind to come after us.” He grabbed my hand and jerked me forward. “We gotta haul ass!”
We started running at top speed. It was like an extreme obstacle course where you had to dodge tree limbs, scale small rock formations, and climb steep hills and ridges. After about fifteen minutes, I began to run out of steam. My legs started feeling rubbery, and my lungs burned with every breath. While Maddox powered on full throttle, I started lagging behind. It didn’t take him long to miss me.
He whirled around. “Would you mind picking up the pace a bit? You do remember we have armed men on our asses, right?”
I scowled at him as I fought to catch my breath. “Excuse me Drill Sergeant,” I gasped, “but in case you haven’t noticed…my legs… aren’t as long as yours!” I huffed. After a few long seconds of glaring at each other and wheezing oxygen in and out, I snapped, “Not to mention, I’ve not spent the last year doing military workouts like you have!”
He smirked. “Right, you’ve been doing ballet instead.”
Choosing to ignore his sarcastic attitude, I bent over and propped my elbows on my knees and finally regulated my breathing. “I think it’s safe to say we lost them awhile back.”
Maddox scanned the tree lined embankment. Then he cocked his head to the right and took in the sounds of nature around us—the squirrels scurrying around in the grass coupled with the bird calls from their perches overhead. When he was satisfied that no one was crashing through the woods, he said, “I think you’re right.”
“What happens now? I mean, do we just keep running?”
“At least until we come to a house or business or something.”
I bit my lip to keep from saying that I was pretty sure we were lost out in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention there was probably a pretty good chance we were going to come up on some toothless hillbillies playing the banjo.
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