Hope was running as fast as her legs would run, her lungs burning with each breath, her legs feeling heavier with each step. She had not eaten in four days, and water was so scarce she knew she had been dehydrated even before daring the escape. Her eyes were seeing doubles, the vision so blurred she wasn’t sure she was even heading in the right direction, but anywhere was better than where she had been.
She attempted a quick look behind her, fairly certain the decrepit cabin was getting smaller, further out of sight. That was a good thing. She needed to get as far away as she could from the maniacs binding her up in that hell hole. She turned forward again, desperation pushing her forward. Before her eyes could see it, her shoulder felt the tree, slamming into it full force, the dizziness making things so much more difficult. The pain radiated down her arms and her back, taking her breath for a moment, but she had to forge on.
She had to get out. She had to be sure her partner from the Task Force was all right, that he had escaped capture. She knew they would be looking for him, too, knowing how important Ian was to her. They would use him as a pawn to get what they wanted, and the thought made her knotted stomach wrench even further.
She knew the department she worked for would be all over her absence, as she had never been late for a day of work in her life, let alone not show up for three. And she knew her partner, who became both her lover and love of her life, would be tracking the perps 24/7 until the case was solved. She just had to survive until he figured it out.
Joining the FBI three short years ago had been a dream come true. She had worked every moment since childhood to earn a place in this elite family. She wanted, moreso she needed to avenge her father, who didn’t come home from work as an accountant one day when she was eight years old. His absence in her life left a huge void, and she never knew why he didn’t return, and her mom hadn’t exactly produced believable excuses.
Hope started studying fervently in middle school, hoping to become a detective capable of cracking the case of her missing father. She continued studying feverishly into high school and later into the academy. She had become a great detective, and she was determined to figure out what happened to her father.
Much to her chagrin as she secretly dug into her father’s case, she slowly uncovered her father’s ties to an international crime ring. She knew he was a good man, and this fact was shocking. She had so many good memories of him playing with her, taking her to the father/daughter dance at school despite having two left feet, and taking videos of her dance recitals, that she couldn’t believe he would be involved with such an awful group.
Last week she had uncovered how her father was coerced into money laundering, and despite her partner’s protests, she pried further into the ordeal, and it landed her here. In a beyond decrepit cabin in the middle of the woods half way up the mountain. The night before she was kidnapped, Ian had proposed. She officially had a fiance, and now she wasn’t sure if she would live to see her own wedding. Her chest knotted and ached. At least running down would be easier than climbing up, she thought to herself, trying to remain optimistic and keep the tears from falling.
She pushed on and tripped over a large root sticking up out of the ground. When she hit the uneven ground, she wasn’t sure she would be able to get up. She pulled her throbbing ankle out of the knot and tried to suppress a scream. Everything hurt. Everything was hard. But she needed to escape. She needed to survive.
She got up on her hands and one knee and tried to drag her wrecked ankle down the hill. It was agonizing, she was dizzy and swaying this way and that. She looked ahead. It was a good seven to ten miles before she reached the fire tower, but it was the closest thing to civilization she could see. Despite her name, she nearly felt hopeless.
She looked up again, determined to continue. She thought she saw a glint of silver coming up the desolate mountain road, and she doubled her effort, hoping she wasn’t starting to hallucinate. The only traffic coming up this rough torn road had to be connected to the crime ring, and she was not about to get caught after her escape so soon. When her hand caught the end of a sharp thorn bush, the pain was too much. It threw her over the threshold, her vision turning a bright white and then fading to black. She lowered herself to the ground, and she prepared to die.
Ian searched the tree line as he and his team ascended the heights of the steep mountain terrain in their combat vehicle. They would park a half mile below the suspected cabin and creep their way up, attempting to locate Hope and her kidnappers before the criminals knew they were coming.
He hadn’t slept for three straight days with nothing but finding Hope on his mind. He had asked her to marry him the night before she disappeared, and they had been so happy. They celebrated with a bottle of wine and promised to sneak off to a cabin in the woods for a weekend, to get away from the pressures of work and the constant ring of their cell phones. His stomach flipped over at this thought. This was not the type of cabin in the woods they had discussed earlier. It was a prison that held the love of his life captive, and he was determined to free her from their slimy hands and back into his arms.
He and the FBI unit dedicated to finding her unloaded the large van, fully armed and equipped to handle whatever lie ahead of them. They started their slow, careful ascent and made their way to the cabin. He used the high power binoculars to peek inside the cabin, but the windows were all covered. He motioned for his team to prepare entry, and after a single massive beat of his heart and burst of adrenaline, he gave the signal. They entered loudly, according to procedure. They secured the cabin, and much to his disappointment his love, his Hope was not there. He fell to his knees, surveying the scene, trying to figure out how he was going to survive this whole ordeal if she hadn’t.
He looked around the room, two men lay flat out on the floor, one badly beaten but still alive and the other piled lifelessly on the ground. If Hope had been here, she definitely didn’t want to stay here. His teammates brought up a necklace from the basement, a necklace he recognized gifting Hope a few months back, and that confirmed that she had been here. They were on the right track. Hopefully she had been the one to hand these two psychopaths their punishments. Maybe she had escaped?
He looked around the room, regaining his determination to stay level headed despite the situation. He saw where they had held her, and his stomach nearly wretched the little bit of food he had forced into his belly back up. Food, just as life in general had been these past few days, was tasteless. He only ate to fuel his body for attack, not desiring or tasting what had been chewed and swallowed. The scene was ugly, but she was no longer here. They searched the house, and he found some writing scrawled on the kitchen wall.
Hope had been alive when she left. She left a message in code that only he would recognize, and he knew that she was making her way down the mountain, aiming for the fire tower to the southwest. He instantly called his team into action, and they carefully scoured the grass outside, looking for where she had made entry.
It wasn’t too difficult, as just a few feet into the tree line the blood stains that were first seen on the deck repeated themselves. Every few feet there was a little splatter, and it was enough to track her more than a half mile down the mountain. The stains picked up in size, and his heart picked up in its beating. He needed to find her before the blood stains ended, before her strong, beautiful body succumbed to the injuries. He picked up his pace as frantically as possible, and soon the blood stains became smears, as she apparently drug a bleeding appendage towards the fire tower.
He called out her name, hoping for a response, and tripped over a large root in the ground. Before he could get up, he caught sight of her leg. It was still, unmoving, and he hurried forward to her.
“Hope! My Hope! I’m here! I’ve got you!” he said as he pulled her limp body into his arms. He alerted his team, and the medic quickly called for a heli and began checking her vitals. He needed her to be alive, he needed to feel her heart beat again, to feel her breath on his, to wrap himself around her warm body. He needed her to survive so that he could survive in this world, too.