Prologue

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The forest had fostered his sanctuary. Now, it welcomed his hell.

Michael crashed through the bracken, thorns ripping at his skin like fingers. Dead leaves kicked up in his wake as he thundered off trail.

He looked around for a place to hide, but the forest laughed at his despair. Wooded trees thinned in all directions, their branches high and unreachable. Dead brush scattered the terrain in lonely spurts. The fall sun lit up the shadowed places, pools of sunlight everywhere.

He would have to run.

Hounds bayed in the distance. Indistinct calls echoed through the trees. The Department of Civil Security was coming fast.

Michael sprinted across the river, knowing the gesture was useless, but praying it would buy him time.

His breath came in ragged stabs. His left knee ached, the muscles around it quivering weakly.

The hounds howled. They were closer now.

Michael scrambled over boulders, scraping his hands against rock. Stone didn't hold scent as well as the trees did. Not that it would help him much. He just needed time.

Time, to get back to a pay phone and make a call to Annabella. He needed her and the baby gone before the DCS came looking for accomplices.

Something big and heavy slammed into him. Michael tumbled down a ravine, teeth and claws scraping against his skin.

The hounds.

He threw his hands up instinctually, his consciousness expanding out of his body. The air around him rippled, almost as if he had dropped a smooth stone into a pond. The ripples snapped outward, hurling across the dog's midsection.

The hound went flying, smashing into a tree several yards away, the force knocking back some of its companions.

Michael stumbled to his feet, his head spinning from vertigo as his consciousness snapped back into place. The hounds were getting to their feet, their masters not far behind.

Cursing, Michael dragged himself into a run, his muscles screaming, his knee shaking.

Gunshots whizzed by him, sending splinters and broken tree hunks spinning through the air. Fatigue made him clumsy. He wove through the trees, tripping over sticks and stones.

Michael collapsed. He tumbled across the forest floor before rolling to a stop. Trembling, he pushed himself up, and his leg gave out.

Blood seeped through the blue of his jeans, a dark stain blossoming against the rough fabric. The seams split down the center of it, revealing muscle and bone. The damn bastards had shot him.

Gritting his teeth, Michael dragged himself across the ground behind a pile of boulders. Faintly, he pressed against the gunshot wound at his thigh. Sticky liquid pooled beneath him. He shivered violently and tasted salt. He felt no pain, not yet. Distantly, Michael wondered if he was going into shock.

Footsteps sounded ahead, the hounds barking madly. He needed to move, but he could not. He didn't want to anyways.

Michael had been running for twenty-four years, his entire life practically, and where had that gotten him? Trapped between a pair of boulders waiting to be shot or imprisoned for what he could do. He was so sick of running, of being afraid. Why wouldn't they just leave him alone?

He leaned his head back against the rock, squeezing his eyes shut. He already knew what was going to happen to him. But what of Annabella?

Michael clenched his fists. He had been so careful. There were identities, thousands of miles, new phones, and new looks between now and their last discovery. They had been safe for over two years. And now he was here, stuck hoping Annabella could get out before it was too late.

"You are under arrest by order of the Department of Civil Security. Come out and put your hands in the air!" a deep voice shouted.

Clicks of guns being cocked echoed through the air. The hounds growled in agreement.

Michael gritted his teeth, rage bubbling beneath his chest. He just needed to make a phone call.

"This is your last warning!"

Michael laughed. "Or what, you'll shoot me?" He maneuvered himself to his feet, leaning heavily against the rock. Fifty gun barrels swiveled to his position.

"I hate to tell you this, but you already got me."

"Hands behind your head," the agent shouted.

Slowly, Michael raised his hands and pushed with his consciousness.

Author's Note:

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