She had no idea how long she had been running. How many times she stumbled over the uneven ground, causing her to nearly fall completely. How many times she kept checking to make sure her clothing was on correctly because she could still feel Thomas Wolffe’s hands on her and smell his breath on her face.
Every so often, the idea of exhaustion set in. Her arm was screaming in fiery tones and her lungs burned as she kept running. Still, she didn’t dare stop. Anytime she considered it, she thought she heard other foot steps, other voices. She was sure of it; she was being followed. Hunted.
Along a turn, she felt her foot catch a root. Her balance was gone. She tired to brace herself, hoping not to land on her broken arm.
Suddenly, she was stopped. A strong arm encircled her waist and drew her close. Another covered her mouth, stopping the yelp springing from the back of her throat. A set of lips brushed her ear. Hot breath, of which she was intimately familiar with spoke in hushed and urgent tones.
“It’s alright, you’re okay,” Lankin whispered. “I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.”
Sydney spun around and threw her arms around his neck. Her right arm cried out in pained protest, but she squeezed as tightly as she could. Over Lankin’s shoulder she could see Tarot watching them. There was a look in his eye suspended between elation at seeing her and fear of what had happened to her.
“Glad we found you, Syd,” he said.
“Me too!” She whispered back. “You have no idea. Are we safe?”
“Relatively speaking,” Lankin said impassively. He was studying Sydney’s broken arm. “This is not set right, you know.”
“Yes,” she replied. “Either from when it was first broken or when I punched Thomas to get away.”
Lankin drew her close and pressed his lips to hers. At first, she was completely shocked; getting kissed, especially with the tender intensity he reserved for when they went to bed together, given the circumstances, hardly seemed right. She started to pull away, but, it was Lankin, she found herself being absorbed, like pine needles and dry leaves in kindling flames. Then, as unexpectedly as it started, he pulled away. There was an expression in his gray eyes she Sydney only rarely saw; that of regret.
“I want you to know how deeply sorry I am…”
The sound of breaking bone echoed across the darkened expanse of Backcountry. White-hot flashes of pain strobed across her vision as she dropped to her knees. Tears streamed from her eyes. A scream raced out of her mouth, but was intercepted by Lankin’s hand.
“It’s alright, you’re okay,” he hissed. “Your arm is set correctly now. The endorphins will start shortly, helping to mitigate the pain.” His eyes moved to Tarot. “Get some painkillers from your first aid kit, Jimmy, and make her a sling."
“Right now, I hate you only slightly less than the Wolffe brothers,” Sydney panted as she stood up.
“Understandable,” Lankin said off-handedly. “But you realize it needed to be done. Perhaps someone else might have cooed at you more, but the result would’ve been the same.”
“You should have warned her, Lankin,” Tarot said, handing Sydney some aspirin.
“Now what?” Sydney asked.
“Jimmy is going to get you back to Marrakech,” Lankin replied. “The Wolffe boys and I need to have a…conversation.”
“What?!? Lankin, are you crazy?!?” Tarot exclaimed. “It’s the Wolffes! They killed Connelly! They almost killed Ira!”
“I know. That’s precisely what I mean to discuss with them. At length.”
“Lazarus, listen to Tarot,” Sydney put in. “There’s three of them!”
“Your advice is duly noted, Just Sydney,” he said wearing an expression of mountain lion stalking its prey. “Don’t worry; I’ll provide them an opportunity to surrender.”