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CHAPTER 7

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The crowd at Times Square had yet to erupt into cheers with the stroke of midnight still moments away. Sarah's encounter with Wolf and her escape into Central Park had taken mere minutes, but it seemed much longer.

Sarah accelerated toward the edge of the clearing. She was almost to the safety of the tree line when a whoosh of air diverted her attention from the path ahead. Level with her hip—missing by inches—a dart buried into a cedar. Wolf cursed as she blazed into the thickness of the forest, arms stroking in rhythm with each breath, leaves crunching beneath the blanket of snow.

Twigs peeked above the icy surface, and snapped under her boots as Sarah sliced through the undergrowth. She ducked under the sagging branch of a cedar, clipped a lower section of bristles and triggered an avalanche from higher up in the tree. The largest portion of the icy powder grazed her shoulder, a flash of winter chill rushing down her arm. She thought she had avoided the worst of it, but a loose clump hit the crown of her head and burst into fine dust, filtering through her hair to the back of her neck. The direct hit sent a shuddering wave through her body that flared and dissipated the more she ran, ignoring its effects.

Faster. More speed. She had to get away.

Sarah wasn't comfortable carrying a pistol. She would use a gun if necessary, but she'd rather not. She had never been trained in using a firearm and saw no reason to use one now. Up until this point, she'd lived under her alias without fear or incident for decades. But she wasn't a fool. With the park in reach almost always during her daily life, she had charted out the trails and wooded areas, and hid weapons at various locations, some lethal, some incapacitating, depending on the threat. She knew what she was doing, and she knew where she was going. She would not kill Wolf, but if he pressed her anymore there was no telling what she might do.

One of her more deadly weapons lay fifteen yards from this exact spot.

Sarah zipped by a tree with the initials of two lovers carved into the bark.

She counted to herself, looking for the fourth tree from the engraved marker—one, two, three, four—there. She ran up the trunk, boot treads gaining traction, and vaulted herself up to a limb ten feet off the ground. Like a gymnast, she swung through the air, tucked her feet at the last moment, and hooked the back of her legs on a higher branch. Hanging upside down, Sarah arched her back and sprang her torso upward where she latched onto another limb—a few feet higher—which allowed her to slide her backside into a sitting position.

Wrapped around the branch above her a camouflaged sheath awaited her. The sleeves held three daggers with hunter green handles. She shook off the snow that was stuck to the hardened material, ruffled it, crunching loose the frozen grip that nature had on the small stash of knives. Bracing herself for the chill to come from the cold sheath, she unbuckled the straps and fastened the daggers to her thigh, and listened.

Sarah waited, braving the air that was blowing through the high levels of the trees. Determination aside, she didn't have a desire to freeze like a popsicle. She lowered her neck, attempting to shield her bare skin from the cold. She had no clue how much of a lead she'd gained on Wolf. She was faster than him, no doubt, but he was determined to the insane degree. It all hinged on how long it took him to recover from the kick to the stomach. Not long enough, she realized.

Footfalls thumped, thumped, thumped in the snow.

Sarah sighed, tapping her fingers on the hilt of a dagger. She had hoped he'd lost her scent.

There she went again. He wasn't really a wolf. He couldn't really sniff her out like he was some predator, an alpha male hunting a...no. She had to stop thinking in such crazy circles. Wolf had this effect on everyone he met. People naturally shrank away from his ominous stare and his intimidating presence. Except for Sarah.

He emerged from the gloom of darkness and skidded to a halt, his eyes searching left and right, pondering the path ahead. A wolf...a wolf with a tranquilizer dart gun.

With a hardened look on his face, he made up his mind and charged toward the oak, but stopped a few feet away, the pistol to his side. He knelt down and inspected the ground where Sarah's trail ended. His bare fingers picked up a broken twig, dropped it. He brushed over a fresh footprint at the base of the tree. Glanced around, searching, possibly for additional prints, maybe for motion in the stillness of the night, maybe for a whiff of blood in the air, any sign of her.

"Where are you, Sarah," he said mockingly, like he could tease her and force her hand, coax her out of hiding.

Sarah didn't reply, holding her body as still and quiet as possible. She held her breath, didn't dare move a muscle.

Wolf reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his phone. Sarah forgot about the tracking device he stuck to her when he tackled her past the bridge.

Wolf tapped a finger on the screen, checking an app on the sleek transparent device. On a map, a stationary dot glowed and pulsated bright red. He snorted. He sounded a bit incredulous. Then he looked up as Sarah slid down from the branch and dropped like a lead weight toward his head.

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