Her heart pounded against her breast.
The cold early autumn air stabbed her lungs.
Jesslyn threw herself behind a tree and rolled to her feet behind a large rock. She took several heavy breaths. She checked the magazine on her AR-15.
Five Shots. There are too many.
Bits of rock pelted her as shots rang out in the dark. Taking a deep breath she sprinted from her cover zig-zagging between trees. Wood exploded behind her and she ducked to avoid the splinters. She had to make the cave. She could hold them off if she could just make the cave.
Her legs burned. Jesslyn vaulted over a downed tree and heard the crack of bullets slamming into the trunk behind her.
Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.
She ran. The forest was growing thicker. It would soon be impossible to run. The cave was just beyond that stand of Mountain Laurel she had to get there. Throwing herself behind a large tree as more shots ran out she took several deep breaths. Her lungs ached. Fire skittered up and down her spine and her thighs.
Now or never.
Jesslyn closed her eyes. Her assailants were close. Just beyond the downed tree. Opening her eyes she stepped from her cover and shot three times at the moving darkness.
Spinning she dashed into the Mountain Laurel thicket. Slinging the rifle over her back she threw herself to the ground and belly crawled through the thick branches and grasping twigs. Bullets flew overhead and Jesslyn shimmied under a gnarled section of brush.
Pressing her face into the dirt she fought to slow her breathing and remain still. If she was very lucky, they might not find her here. Hunters could pass deer in broad daylight and never seen them in these thickets. At night, it would be impossible to find her.
Where are mom and dad?
I killed those people. They broke down my door and I killed them. They were surrounding the house. They wanted me alive. They wanted to take me.
Jesslyn pressed her face against the dirt as the Mountain Laurel creaked and the limbs groaned. Someone was coming into her lair. She forced her eyes open, scanning the darkness. The cave was only a short run from here. She was never allowed in but her parents had finger printed her for the access panels. It was a fall back point. In case one of their missions went south they had a safe place to send her, to protect her. It was their mission control.
“Have you found her?”
Jesslyn took a sharp breath as the radio hissed to life.
I know that voice.
He was the shadow man her parents had been chasing for months. She’d heard his voice on a recording that her parents had hastily shut off when they’d seen her. He was behind this.
“Not yet, sir.”
“Find her and bring her back alive. I can’t use her if she’d dead.”
Jesslyn’s blood turned to ice.
Use me. They want to use me against mom and dad.
The branches groaned and she heard the approaching man cursing. He was having the same problem anyone unaccustomed to these bushes did. He wasn’t making himself small.
“See anything Travis?”
A voice shouted.
“Nothing! These damn bushes are too thick!”
Jesslyn eased backward, slowly moving toward the small opening on the cave side of the brush. She paused when he stopped moving. As soon as the men started moving again so did she. It was easy to mask her movements with their inexperienced cacophony. She paused right before the opening.