Ellie Connor burst out of rugged bushland onto a broad expanse of open ground. The gloom from the tail of the storm might protect her for a moment. That and the rain.
She skidded to a stop at the very edge of a cliff, catching a glimpse of wild waves a long way below. Doubled over, hands on her knees, she gulped salty air. Her legs shook from running but the adrenaline coursing through her had kept her moving. Adrenaline and self- preservation. She didn’t want to die. Be killed by him. Most of her blonde hair had escaped its ponytail and she pulled a strand from her dry mouth.
She reached for her backpack but there wasn’t time. It wasn’t safe to stop. Below and to her right was the river mouth, just visible in the near-dark.
Her head shot up.
“I’m here to help you.”
His voice drifted from the trees.
She ran along the side of the cliff, searching for the way down.
A narrow track opened up. Not the one she remembered walking with Gabi last visit, but it would do.
She had to put distance between them.
The ground was mud and loose stones and Ellie’s feet slipped from under her. She cried out as she landed on her elbows and behind.
Tears sprung into her eyes and she rolled against the cliff wall to catch her breath.
Out to sea, a helicopter sped past, its blinking lights mesmerizing Ellie. If only her phone wasn’t smashed into a million pieces some‐ where back in the bush, she would turn on its flashlight. Get their attention with her vague memory of Morse code.
But it passed by and the rain stopped. The wind dropped to almost nothing and the heavy smell of eucalypts and sea spray enveloped her.
Where was he?
Ellie pushed herself to her feet, wincing as she straightened. Blood trickled down her arms and she wiped it away, then cleaned her palms on her shorts. Her legs were filthy, and blood splattered.
This time she was careful of her footing. One step at a time, a hand on the sheer rock face to her side.
At a sharp curve there was a shallow cave. Impossible to see how far back it went, or what might lurk within.
“Are you down there, Ellie?”
Ellie almost jumped into the cave entrance. His voice was closer. Surely, he would hear the hammering of her heart?
“You don’t need to run anymore. I’ve come to help. I can get you to Gabi. You came to see her, didn’t you?”
Don’t you dare say my mother’s name!
Ellie closed her eyes, arms wrapped around her body as bile rose in her throat. She’d fallen into his well-planned trap. Alone, so far from any town. Nobody to turn to, no help.
She opened her eyes and started as a beam of light barely missed her feet.
“Getting a bit over the games, you know. All I ever wanted was to make you happy.”
He was going to kill her, then find Gabi and do the same.
Her fingers and toes were freezing even though the humidity was rising again after the storm.
“Oh, there’s a blood trail. I’ll bring you a bandage, Ellie.”
Pebbles rolled down the path ahead of heavy footsteps. The flash‐light waved from side to side.
“Ellie!” A different voice, echoing from the top of the cliff.
“I’m here. But he’s close by!” Almost sobbing in relief, she stepped onto the path.
Her hunter caught her in his spotlight. “Gotcha, baby.”
Ice clutched her stomach. Her feet wouldn’t move. There was a gun pointed at her.
Again, from the top of the path, “Run! Ellie, run for your life!”
The flashlight turned onto her face. “I wouldn’t do that, not if you ever want to see him alive again. Make a choice, Ellie.”
I need to get to Gabi.
Ellie ducked out of the light and slid her way around the sharp corner.
A shot rang out.