The menacing thud of boots echoing her own lighter footsteps drove her on. Kezia didn't know how much longer she'd be able to keep up this punishing pace. Her chest burned like hell, not to mention the stitch in her side, and her legs had taken on the consistency of jelly. She didn't need to glance back over her shoulder to check how close the men were, every thump of those heavy boots told her they were closing in fast.
Hell! She could almost smell their feral scent of sweat and garlic mingled with the traffic fumes left over from the evening rush hour.
She'd been running for what seemed like forever. From the second she'd spotted their very distinctive SUV, with its fancy chrome trim and blacked-out windows, reflected in the glass store front and realized she hadn't shaken them off after all.
How they'd traced her, she had no idea. It had taken her all day to cover roughly five miles, from Tower Bridge to where she was now. After dodging in and out of shops and backtracking over the river Thames, she had no idea of her precise whereabouts. Other than somewhere deep inside a complicated maze of narrow alleyways that ran parallel to streets lined with Victorian terraced houses. Although originally built as artisan's dwellings, these now desirable properties fetched horrendous prices and typified this very fashionable area of south west London.
A car passed across her view not twenty paces ahead and her heart sank. Fuck! Every street that she had to cross gave the thugs another opportunity to box her in with their SUV. She prayed for a clear passage, upped her pace a little and with barely a glance to check for oncoming traffic, sprinted across the tarmac into the narrow gap between the houses opposite.
She raced on, her lungs rasping and rivulets of cold sweat pouring down the valley between her breasts, searching ahead in the gathering dusk for somewhere to hide from the thugs hired by Raul Casaro.
The series of alleyways gave way to a street of more substantial four-storey houses. Kezia hesitated at the junction, her attention momentarily drawn to the lights of a bistro occupying the first floor of the nearest house. A delicious savory aroma wafted up from the basement kitchen; a timely reminder, as if she needed it, that she hadn't eaten today. With hardly a pause for thought, she sprinted down the steps and melted into the shadows below the wrought-iron railings.
Barely a couple of heartbeats later a cloud of dust filled the air as two pairs of feet thudded past just inches from her face followed moments later by the curb-crawling SUV. She flexed her cramped muscles, and concentrated on inhaling and exhaling measured breaths in an attempt to control her hyperventilation and the violent shivering, whether from cold or fear she couldn't decide. Her teeth chattered so hard it felt like she had a sewing machine whirring away inside her head.
A nearby street lamp provided scant light to the small paved area. She took the opportunity to check out the only door but, as she'd suspected, it proved firmly locked. She hesitated to draw attention to her presence by knocking or ringing the bell, so keeping in the shadows she retreated to the niche below the railings to work out a plan of action.
Darkness might be her savior but she couldn't risk staying in this area overnight. She had to keep on the move. The thugs had tracked her progress all the way across London. It therefore seemed unlikely now that they'd give up the hunt until they achieved whatever task Raul had set them. She was just about to venture out of hiding when, with its over-revved engine screaming in protest, the SUV reversed at speed. It stopped level with the steps, belching noxious fumes from a twin exhaust. With her one chance of escape blocked, she clamped a hand over her nose and mouth to avoid choking.
Dammit! Were they getting sharper? Or was she na´ve to imagine that she could fool them with her sudden disappearance.
Doors opened, then slammed and the two thugs approached the wrought-iron railings. She recognized their boots from the distinctive pattern of studs that twinkled like silvery stars even in the poor streetlights.
They're coming to get me.
She made herself as small as possible and squeezed deeper into the narrow gap between the wall and one of the stone pillars supporting the upper storey. With a mumbled Italian oath from one of them, the men stomped down the steps.