Branches slapped and battered Mari, stinging her arms and face. Her heart thudded against her breastbone as she gasped, dragging thick, sticky air into her lungs. Damn this jungle, and the stupid transporter who’d swindled her out of her weapons. She needed a gun, a blade, anything. Then she’d turn the tables and show what an armed Colombian woman was capable of.
Her breath sawed in and out with each slap of her feet against the slick leaves, twigs, and branches that caught at her pants legs. The last months of her freedom looped through her mind. She’d been so close, having fled Colombia before they’d realized she was gone. She’d sought shelter in rented rooms until the day the Ramirez cartel marched through the streets, leaving destruction in their wake. She knew who sent them—her childhood friend turned worst nightmare. Defying him would enact retribution from the cartel. It was inevitable unless she could manage to escape.
Against all odds, she would. Her life would be her own.
Roots snagged her feet, seemingly determined to capture her. She ran for her life through a dangerous and hostile jungle that teemed with insurgent guerrillas, drug-traffickers, and kidnappers. But none of that mattered. Her options for escape had been limited before and had grown even more so.
A Colombian guerrilla chased her, closing in fast. Wiry, quick, and used to the conditions and terrain, he stood a good chance of outrunning, outmaneuvering, and overtaking her. A new surge of adrenaline pumped through her veins, probably the last of it, so she took advantage of the rush.
The heat sapped her strength. Must make it. Her desperate fingers grabbed roots that stuck out in the slippery, mud-coated incline, as she fought to stay ahead.
Her thighs convulsed, and the stitch in her side threatened to take her down. She sweated by the bucket load, and dehydration was inevitable. She wondered how much longer she could really go at this pace, in this environment. Beautiful but deadly, the jungle had her at a disadvantage. Nausea cramped her stomach. Thick foliage trapped her and slowed her down. Without a machete, she had no choice but to dive through the mass of green, praying for a trail on the other side. Maybe going it alone in the wild wasn’t the best of ideas. But she hadn’t had another means, or anyone to help her.
Cruel fingers scraped along her head, yanking out some hair. Bastard. Her fury spiked, and she whirled around, her arm extended. Using the momentum, she flung her arm against the side of his face. His head snapped back, and he stumbled. Spinning around, she pushed herself to run, to take advantage of the small gain. If he touched her again, she’d make him pay.
She forced her body to move faster, harder. It was more a mental challenge than a physical one, and she could do it. An opening loomed ahead, and she dashed forward. The freedom of movement gave her false hope. She’d pushed too hard and too fast in the heat, and her energy stores were depleted. Her body slowed, and she pressed her mouth into a tight line. I can do this. Even with an iron-willed determination to live, she knew she couldn’t outrun him. The tangled branches and leaves had worked against her. He did too. It wouldn’t be long. He’d be on her in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
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