Hoof beats sounded loudly behind her as Jamie sped along the unmarked trail. Branches whipped at her face, catching in her hair and slapping at her hat, but she did not slow her reckless gallop through the trees. Only the sound of Zephyr's labored breathing and driving hoof beats could be heard above the pounding of her heartbeat.
Jamie hazarded a glance behind her, knowing that he was almost upon her. His big buckskin ate up the space between them with alarming speed. He was so near now that she could see his face clearly. The man's light, almost colorless, blue eyes were fixed on her with unerring intent.
Desperate fear crawled up her spine, almost choking her with its intensity. For days, she'd eluded him. But today he'd caught her unawares. She'd thought he would still be far behind, since she'd traveled all day and night for two days running. Her lack of sleep must have addled her wits.
She reined the mare quickly to the right, up the steep incline, through a maze of clustered trees. Zephyr was small and fleet, and she squeezed easily through the small spaces, maneuvered through the forest with the agility of a sleek cat. Jamie had to slow her pace a bit, but didn't care. His big brawny horse was much larger than her little Arabian and she knew it would be difficult for them to make it through the thick stands of native cottonwoods and gnarled mesquite.
Jamie could hear the man cursing behind her as he crashed after her. Although the odds were stacked against her, she'd not give up. He would not capture her without a fight. She leaned low over Zephyr's neck, giving the horse her head.
They pounded up the hill, tearing through the trees at a breakneck pace.
Suddenly, a huge weight slammed against her side, strong arms catching her about the waist as she was dragged from her horse. The man lifted her bodily, slinging her down over the saddle in front of him.
Jamie shrieked, struggling with him. She slapped at his grasping hands, her fingers curled into talons. She tried to scratch his face, but he grabbed her hands, holding her wrists together. She kicked and writhed, managing to slide halfway out of the saddle. For a moment, she hung there, suspended as the horse continued to thrash through the brush. Then she was falling. She heard him curse, felt his grip around her waist slip as his weight shifted to slide after her.
Her head struck something on the way down, and she ended up flat on her belly, her face pressed into the moldering leaves littering the ground. His weight struck her in the back, forcing the air from her lungs. Before she knew what had happened, he whipped her over to face him. Grabbing her wrists, he forced them over her head as he straddled her.
"What in the hell are you trying to do, kill us both?" he yelled into her dirt-smeared face.
Jamie gaped at him like a dying fish. Searing pain crawled through her lungs and around her back as she tried to draw a breath, her lips opening and closing in rapid succession. Black spots swam before her eyes before a bright burst of color splintered her vision and she fell into nothingness.