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He was close.
Ava pressed back against the tree trunk, trying to hold her breath but only able to manage it for a moment or two before her lungs gave out, air sawing out and in again desperately against her will. Rough bark rubbed the skin of her palms where she gripped the tree, scraped her cheek as she turned her head to try and catch a glimpse of him.
Darkness mocked her.
Nothing to see. No one to help.
She eyed the entrance to her dorm frantically, the lit doorway calling out like a beacon on the other side of the concrete bridge.
If she could only get there . . .
If she could only get behind that door—lock it fast—she would be safe.
The word echoed through her panicked brain, foreign and twisted.
Could she ever really be safe while he was out there?
“Do it,” she muttered, inhaling sharply as tension rippled through her. “Just go.”
With a shove at the tree, she ran for the bridge, heels clacking loudly on the path as her muscles screamed. She glanced over her shoulder, catching a flicker of movement through the trees.
Ava willed her legs to move faster, arms pumping in desperation—reaching out and pulling at the air, as if she could yank herself forward.
Her breath caught. She could hear him. Footsteps chasing after her.
No—footsteps beside her—now ahead of her.
Where was he?
The better question seemed to be, where wasn’t he?
He surrounded her—harsh breaths and pounding feet—a low, mocking laugh as she leapt from the bridge back onto the path.
Only a few more feet to the door.
She reached out, aching to wrap her fingers around the gleaming brass doorknob.
Then with a blur of movement and a gust of a swirling air, he stood in front of her, blocking the way. Huge, hulking, and shadowed by the darkness, he laughed as she recoiled in fear, falling backward in her haste.
“Did you really think you could escape?” he hissed, reaching toward her.
Fingers ripped the icy ground as she rolled over, trying to crawl away, rocks digging into her knees and her palms, a bit of glass slicing neatly into the meat of her thumb. She winced, lifting it to her mouth to suck the blood, feet kicking back as he grabbed her ankle.
He laughed again, jerking her back with one strong pull and dragging her effortlessly across the ground. He bent down, wrapping a meaty fist around her neck, and she clawed it desperately, unable to breathe.
Lifting Ava off her feet, he glared at her, a flash of light catching his angry, mismatched eyes—one blue, one green.
For a moment, she was almost mesmerized.
Then his lips curled in derision and he squeezed, cutting off the scream curdling in her throat.