He didn’t love her, though. He wouldn’t have stayed around as long as he did if it hadn’t been for his job. It was all over and done with now, and she needed to stop crying over him. She was probably dehydrated from all the tears she’d already shed. The only good thing to come out of all of this was that her pride was still intact.
Alec would never know that he had broken her heart. He would feel bad about it if he ever found out, and the last thing she needed or wanted was for him to feel sorry for her.
Tears blurred her vision. She was thoroughly disgusted with herself. “For the love of God, get it together,” she whispered. And stop thinking about him.
She was thirsty and decided to focus on that. She wanted water, but anything cold and icy would do. She increased her pace as she walked along, but slowed when she saw a volunteer riding his bicycle toward her.
She waved to him and asked if he knew of a shortcut to get back to the starting line.
“Didn’t you see the signs? There’s a path that cuts through the park. Just around the curve behind me,” he said. He smiled then. “Lots of the walkers have quit already.”
She didn’t much like his smug, condescending attitude. He’d certainly put her on the defensive. He rode on before she could explain that she wasn’t a quitter. She had planned to walk only two miles, and that’s exactly what she had done. In fact, she’d gone farther.
She shook her head then, for it finally dawned on her that she didn’t need to defend her actions to anyone, and what did she care what the volunteer thought about her? She saw that the biker had stopped again, and she guessed someone else was asking him if there was a shortcut through this maze.
She walked around the corner and spotted a trail angling to the south, but there was another one that branched off it twenty yards ahead. If it didn’t meander, it would take her directly to the parking lot beyond the starting line. She took it, but it didn’t really go anywhere, and she ended up circling halfway back to where she’d started. She tripped over something, looked down, and saw that her shoelace was untied. The stone wall was on her right. A huge oak tree, at least seventy-five years old, butted up against it. Its gigantic branches, covered with leaves, draped down over the wall, and she noticed someone had carved initials in the trunk. She leaned against it, swung her foot up on the edge of the wall, and tied her shoelace, and then straightened and leaned forward to see what was on the other side.
A steep, narrow ravine sloped down a good forty feet to a wooded area with a stream running through it. Jagged rocks jutted out on one side of the drop, but across the stream, there were trees with thick gnarled branches that looked as though they were growing into the side of the hill.
It was drizzling again, and a fine mist was hanging like a puff of smoke between the trees. There wasn’t any breeze, and the air was stifling. It was suddenly so quiet, so still, she felt almost disconnected from the world around her.
Her gaze moved upward. That’s when she saw him. There, standing between the trees was the man in the black running suit. He was directly across the ravine, and he stood as still as a statue. He was waiting for her to find him. She was so shocked to see him there, she flinched. He nearly gave her heart failure. What was he doing?
Surely no more than three or four seconds passed as they stared at each other. His face was completely devoid of any expression. She kept her eyes locked on him as she slowly backed away from the wall. He suddenly tilted his head ever so slightly and shouted something to her. Just one word, she thought, but she couldn’t make it out.
His face changed then, and, oh, God, she suddenly knew who he was and where she had seen him before. Terror crushed down on her. He mouthed the word again, much slower this time, clearly enunciating, and then he motioned with his hand, and she finally understood.
Run. He was telling her to run.
ERIC GAGE ONLY NEEDED A MINUTE ALONE WITH HER. THAT WAS more than enough time to do what he intended. He almost wished she would get away, and yet he knew he couldn’t let her escape. He had to kill her.
Walker Madison had put his sweet, innocent Nina through hell, but Eric wouldn’t make Regan Madison suffer the way his wife had. No, the kill would be quick. And justice would at last be served.
The demon would burn with rage, but it would end today. Eric was determined. It would end with Regan’s death.
Still, he wanted to give her a fighting chance. That was the fair thing to do. Wasn’t that why he hadn’t killed her when she’d been standing at the wall looking at the trees? He’d let a perfect opportunity slip by. She was sweet and innocent like his Nina, and he hoped, before she took her last breath, that he could help her know, help her understand why she had to die. He would tell her, just as he had told Nina, that none of this was her fault.
Run, Regan. Try to save yourself.
Regan didn’t move. Like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, she froze with terror as she stared in shocked disbelief across the ravine at the crazed man. She didn’t see the gun in his hand until he was lifting it up. He fired twice in rapid succession before she even had time to turn. The first bullet scraped the top of the stone wall and sent bits of rock flying up in her face. One fragment nicked her right cheek. The second bullet ripped a piece of bark off the oak just inches away from her. The noise from the gun blast was horrific and felt like a fist slamming against her eardrums.
She flew into the trees. She dared a quick look back and saw him circling the ravine. He was running so fast he looked like a blur.
She didn’t dare take time to look back again. Faster, faster, she had to run faster.
Her mind couldn’t make sense out of what was happening. She desperately tried to concentrate. She remembered the broken path wound back around to the ravine. She didn’t want to go back that way; she wanted to get to the street, but her sense of direction was all screwed up, and she wasn’t sure which way to turn.
She was running flat out through the trees, staying off the path, her head down as she raced ahead.
He fired again. The bullet grazed her thigh. It burned, but the pain didn’t slow her down. It shocked her, though, that he was that close. She’d thought she’d put some distance between them, yet she could feel him closing in.
She had to run faster. He fired again. The bullet tunneled into the ground in front of her, and a clump of mud splattered her legs. She could feel the scream building in her throat, but she didn’t make a sound as she began to cut back and forth through the trees and the brush so she wouldn’t be such an easy target.
Where in God’s name were all the runners? Was the race over? Had they all gone home? She had the insane urge to look at her watch to find out what time it was. Had she veered that far off the beaten path? Hadn’t anyone heard the gunshots? My God, it sounded like cannon fire to her.
She thought she heard someone shouting her name, but she couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. Had she just imagined it, or had someone really called out to her? Maybe Sophie and Cordie were looking for her. Dear God, she hoped not.
She kept running through the woods, the wild brush scraping her legs. If she could just make it to a street, she could get help. Faster, faster, she chanted. She didn’t have to look behind her to know he was gaining on her. She could hear him crashing through the brush.
No. Wait. The sound wasn’t coming from behind now. She strained to listen. It was difficult to pinpoint exactly where it was because her own heartbeat was roaring in her ears.
Run, run. She had to keep running. There it was again … branches snapping back, but the noise was coming from her right now. Oh, God, he was parallel to her. She understood what he was doing then. He was working his way around to get in front of her.
And then he would stop and wait, and she would turn right into his arms. It was a game to him. All this time she’d thought she was staying ahead of him, outrunning him, and he’d been leisurely toying with her.
She barely slowed as she changed directions. Even in her panic and near hysteria, she was careful not to twist her knee or pivot. She’d drop then, and he’d have her. She leapt over a thorny, dried-up bush and kept going. Then she changed directions again … and again.
Where was everyone? Should she scream in hopes that someone would hear her? No, she shouldn’t do that. Even though she was pretty sure the maniac knew exactly where she was, she couldn’t be positive, and she wasn’t about to give him any help.
She couldn’t keep up this pace much longer. The muscles in her legs were on fire. In another minute or two, they would give out on her and she would collapse.
Oh, God, it was hopeless. No, no, don’t think that way. Don’t give up. Run, just keep running. Her legs were shaking now and burning with pain. The muscle spasm in her calf made her want to cry out, but she kept going. She would not give in. There was too much to live for, and she wasn’t going to let a maniac snatch her future away.
What she needed was a plan to buy her some time. Okay, okay, what could she do? Think … He had a gun. She didn’t. He was obviously in much better shape, and he was stronger. He was also faster.
But she could have one advantage. She could be smarter.
And then it came to her, and she knew exactly what she was going to do. Her plan hinged on her finding her way back to the ravine. She had to keep running. She broke through the bushes onto the path and saw the wall directly ahead of her. Which way should she turn?
The maniac made that decision for her. He was on her left now, and so she ran in the opposite direction. She didn’t dare stay on the open path, though, and so she raced in and out of the trees, keeping the wall in sight.
There. There it was. She could see it up ahead, that huge oak with the branches hanging out over the wall. That had to be the spot she was looking for.
She broke through the brush again. Do it. She had to do it. He was coming up fast, but she didn’t think he could see her yet. She wiped her hands down her sides, and with one final burst of speed, she raced down the path and vaulted over the wall.
ERIC REACHED THE PATH AND STOPPED. WHERE WAS SHE? WHICH way had she gone? He tilted his head and listened, but he didn’t hear a sound. She had vanished.
His disappointment was severe. She had turned the chase into a game of hide-and-seek. He couldn’t hear her, but in the distance someone was shouting her name, and whoever he was, Gage thought he was getting closer.
Gage knew he had to hurry. He didn’t have time for this silly game. She was being foolish. She had to know he was going to find her and kill her. Why was she fighting the inevitable?
He could feel his anger gathering inside him, and with it came a tremendous sadness, for he knew that when he did find her, he would be in a rage, and she would suffer his wrath before she drew her last breath. If she didn’t show herself soon, there wouldn’t even be time for him to explain, to help her understand why she had to die.
He realized then he’d made a mistake. He should have killed her right away. He shouldn’t have let her run. But he’d wanted her to feel that she had some say in her fate. His Nina hadn’t known what was coming. She’d been asleep, curled up in a little ball in the passenger seat, using her jacket for a pillow against the window, oblivious of what was happening. The truck flipping and rolling, the cab sliding down the center of the highway with fiery sparks shooting out on both sides like electrified cables, coming closer and closer. It had all happened in an instant, but in his mind’s eye, it had taken an eternity to strike … and destroy their lives forever.
Another shout came from behind, jarring him. He realized then that the sound was fainter than before.
Gage thought he heard the crunch of gravel underfoot. The sound was coming from up the path, and he bolted in that direction. He rounded the curve and stopped. He recognized where he was now. Full circle, he thought. She’d taken him back to the very spot where she had stood when he’d first fired at her. Yes, she’d stood right there next to that old tree.
He had watched her stare down into the ravine, the palms of her hands flat on top of the stone as she leaned over. She’d looked across the ravine … and then she’d found him, waiting so patiently for her to look up and see him standing between the trees. Oh, yes, this was the very same spot.
But where was Regan hiding? He stood perfectly still and listened. He couldn’t hear her. He turned around and looked behind him? Nothing there. Ah … there it was. A hint. He could hear what sounded like rocks cascading down the ravine.
She’d jumped over the wall and was hiding down below. Clever girl, he thought, but not too clever. He rushed to the wall and looked over. Small stones were skipping over the larger ones. She was down there all right, but where?
He thought he saw something move to the right behind some dead, rotting branches. His reaction was instantaneous. He fired twice, hoping to hit her or spook her into showing herself.
The blast from the gunshots reverberated through the trees, and more rocks showered down the incline. He knew the police had heard the noise and would be closing in on him. It was too late to do anything about that now.
He heard someone shout her name again, knew someone was coming. Gage leaned against the wall, turned, and aimed. Then he waited.
ALEC HEARD THE SHOTS AS HIS CAR SKIDDED TO A STOP. He threw the gear into park and didn’t bother to turn the motor off. He was out on the pavement and running, ignoring the crowd and barriers he knocked down as he raced forward.
Behind him, John Wincott’s car, with sirens blaring, careened to a halt in the parking lot.
Alec spotted Sophie and Cordie across the lot at the same instant they saw him. Cordie ran to intercept him while Sophie shouted, “We can’t find Regan. The police won’t let us look for her, and then there were gunshots …”
Alec grabbed Cordie. “Where did you last see her?”
“At the starting line. She was going to walk two miles so that would be a mile on the path and then a mile back.”
A shot sounded, and before Cordie could say another word, Alec’s expression changed and he was gone.
She had never seen that look on anyone’s face before, and it terrified her. She knew that when Alec caught up with whoever was firing those shots, he would kill him.
Alec was crazed. If anything happened to Regan, if he got there too late … if one of those bullets had already struck her down … No, there was still time to get to her. There had to be. The son of a bitch was going to die and die hard. If he touched one hair on her head, Alec would flay him alive.
Where in God’s name was she? Did Gage already have her? Alec shouted Regan’s name.