I keep going, straining for the sound of voices.
My violin case feels oddly fragile in my arms. I cling to it, my fingers so tense they ache. The scent of industrial cleaner permeates the air, so cloying and heavy it seems to slick my tongue. I weave around the remains of a gutted photocopier toward where the cubicles are stacked more densely. Maybe they've made a sort of office back there?
But when I clear them, I find myself staring out into more empty space.
And then I see the chair.
It's placed dead center, an anomaly in the gloom. I squint, hard, and make out a small figure seated in the shadows. A child.
"Hello?" I call out.
Sweat prickles along my scalp. I swallow as fear rises with startling speed, sliding noose-like around my neck.
Everything about this is wrong.
All completely wrong.
My breath quickens as I take a few more steps forward.
Enough to see the child for what she is.
A girl. No more than six or seven years old. Arms bound behind her to the chair. Mouth gagged.
Oh my god. No wonder she didn't respond.
I glance at Earpiece-guy, expecting to read horror in his eyes. He merely studies me with interest.
Fear ricochets from my skull to my spine to my legs that turn to Jell-O.
"What is this?" I demand.
"You tell me," says the goon at my side. And then he smiles.
Hunter has one arm behind my head. He strokes a finger along my lower lip.
"Soft," he says, and bends down and bites it.
"Ow!" I cry.
"I didn't really hurt you, did I?" he murmurs playfully.
"Then stop looking so shocked. You are quite delicious, you know." He bites me again, his lips grinning against mine, his strong hand wrapping in my hair and tugging ever so gently.
Damn him; he can make anything feel good.
"Stop," I gasp with a laugh that's almost captured by the nearness of his mouth. "Someone will see."
"Not if they don't look this way."
"Hunter!" I wriggle out from under him and leap to my feet.
He rises to one elbow. "Run if you want, but I'm faster."
His words send a burst of panic mixed with pleasure coursing through my veins.
"Oh yeah?" I take off sprinting down the lawn.
At my back comes the sound of his muscular, six-foot-something frame rapidly closing in.
The long branches of a willow tree sway up ahead. I thrust aside the curtain of leaves and plunge inside. Hunter growls, making me let out a squeal of wild laughter. Then he's spinning me to face him, crowding me up against the thick tree trunk. His feet bracket mine and his eyes flash, making my breath hitch rapidly in my throat.
"I warned you I'd catch you," he says.
"What are you going to do?" I ask, breathless.