CW: Adult content, and though there is a perceived threat of SA, none takes place.
“Ready or not, here I come.” A maniacal laugh echoed through the forest surrounding Jamie. He didn’t dare stop and listen for which direction it came from, even if he wanted to.
An unsolicited shiver ran through him, and he pumped his legs faster, narrowly missing a low branch to the face. A late night fog had set in before he’d entered the woods, making it harder to see without the earlier moonlight filtering through the trees. He hadn’t expected it to be so dark and would give anything for the flashlight he’d dropped when he’d started running, but he knew it would reveal his location faster than his noisy tramp through the underbrush.
“You think you can hide from me, pet?” A guttural voice called from behind him.
Blood rushed through his ears almost drowning out the other woodland noises as he jumped over a fallen tree. He stumbled when screeches sounded overhead, and he thought he heard a howl nearby. He scanned the dark looking for any creature not scared off by his noise. Maybe it would be better to be eaten by a wild animal than hunted like one.
If he could make it to the river, he could follow it upstream to a hidden cave in the outcrop he’d discovered while hiking. He would stay there until daylight, then make his way back to his car and leave this place behind. He just had to get his bearings first.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
A snap of a twig nearby had Jamie changing directions. He silently cursed his heavy stride. At five foot five, one would think he’d be light on his feet, but in the dense brush, every step he took sounded like a gunshot blast in his ear. He knew the hunter could hear it, too. An answering chuckle from behind him every few minutes told him so.
His already pounding heart threatened to burst from his chest. He’d prided himself on being fit—he ran five miles every day—but now exhaustion weighed him down and slowed his movements. He depended on the adrenaline rushing through his veins to keep him going, but he was quick to learn even that gave out, eventually.
He had to keep going no matter what. He wasn’t ready for everything to end. He ducked behind a tree to catch his breath, remaining still and listening.
How did he get into this mess? He’d asked himself the same question a hundred times since he’d pulled up to the cabin. If he had it to do all over again, he would never have come here. Now, he may never get to leave.
“Your destination is ahead on your left,” Jamie’s GPS announced.
He inched his Jeep forward, afraid he’d missed a turn somewhere. There was nothing but trees on either side of the vehicle. No lights from the city to guide him, and though it was a clear night, the moon hadn’t risen yet to offer any help.
"It's got to be here," he said to himself.
As he was about to turn around, his headlights swept across the primitive cabin he’d booked for the weekend.
He’d found it online when he’d decided it was time for a mini-vacation. Something different. Work had left him frustrated and tired, the unusually long hours dragging him down. He used to love his job, but lately, he was rethinking his life choices. Like now as he stared at the cabin lit by the car's headlights.
What was he doing? Did he really think he could rough it out here in the middle of nowhere? No cell service, no internet... alone?
The cabin itself looked like it was built before brick and mortar were a thing. It reminded Jamie of the structures he made from the Lincoln Logs he used to play with as a kid. The gaps between the wooden beams looked big enough to let through small animals, and he hoped he didn’t find any unwanted guests. He didn't want to sleep in his car. Maybe the inside was better than the outside.
He cut the engine. The headlights stayed on long enough for him to grab his duffle bag and cooler from the back and make it up the steps. He took his flashlight he’d had sense enough to bring out of the side pocket of his bag and pointed it at the doorknob, inserting the key from the rental office. Given the state of the cabin, he wondered why there were locks at all. He didn’t think it would keep anything out that truly wanted in.
There was no electricity. The place was wired so renters could bring a mobile generator if they had one—which Jamie did not—and it had a gas stove and running water. That was it. He’d thought he wouldn’t need anything else, but now that he was here, he wished he’d at least brought a satellite phone. Not that he had access to one.
Inside was the bare minimum, a bed, table, chairs, sink, and gas stove. At least the bathroom had a door and a shower. He threw his stuff on the table and rummaged around for a gas lantern the agent had said was there.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, he got ready for bed, laying his sleeping bag down on the vinyl-covered mattress on the bed. Not many creature-comforts, but it would do for the night.
He’d gotten a late start leaving the city, and it was pushing close to midnight. The stress and sleepless nights of the past few months caught up with him, and his eyes grew heavy. He’d wait until tomorrow to check out more of the cabin and surrounding area. He had the weekend to rest and explore, something he desperately needed.
When day broke the next morning, Jamie whipped up the bacon and eggs he’d brought and dressed in his hiking gear, eager to get outside. He packed some protein bars and bottled water before heading out into the warm sun.
Morning dew covered the ground, and a slight breeze rustled the trees. Jamie filled his lungs with the fresh air—something he missed living in the city. The tension left his body with every step he took. He hadn’t been hiking in a long time and didn’t realize how much he’d missed it until now. If this weekend worked out as he hoped, he’d make sure he found the time to come back.
He stuck to the marked trails through the woods and came to a river, where he stopped and took a break. The peacefulness of it all soothed his frayed nerves as he contemplated his life. He knew he needed to make some changes, including his job, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. Numbers had never been his thing. His father was an accountant and pushed his career choice on Jamie. His first love was teaching, and he knew he could use his degree in Accounting to find a teaching job somewhere. He just had to make the decision and do it.
Time got away from him as he relaxed by the river, and he glanced through the trees at the setting sun. If he didn’t head on back now, he’d be stuck finding his way in the dark, and while he was sure he could still make it back, he didn’t relish being out in the woods at night alone.
He soon realized he’d trekked further than he thought when the woods became alive with nighttime sounds, and he struggled to see where to place his feet. He finally recognized the end of the trail and breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t gotten lost. Just as he stepped into the clearing at the cabin, a man rounded the corner, startling Jamie.
The man standing between him and the cabin had at least seven inches on Jamie. His untethered dark hair fluttered in the wind, and a neatly trimmed beard covered his chin. His flannel shirt was open, revealing a dirty white t-shirt underneath. Dark jeans and black hiking boots caked with mud completed the look. Any other time, Jamie would find someone like him attractive—he’d always liked the lumberjack look on men—but something in the man’s wild eyes screamed predator. A chill ran along Jamie’s spine, and his heart skipped a beat as his fight-or-flight instinct kicked in.
“Who are you? Why are you here?” Jamie questioned with false bravado. He was no fighter, and the urge to run away gripped him hard, but he remained still, the man’s animalistic stare keeping him frozen in place.
The man took a step forward, and Jamie took one back. He hated the action immediately, realizing it showed his fear, and the man’s raised eyebrows told Jamie the man knew he scared Jamie.
“I heard someone was out here alone. I came to… check on you. These woods are full of dangerous wildlife and hidden ledges. If a person wasn't familiar with the area, they could fall and get injured, leaving an easy meal for an animal to pick at.”
The man’s words didn’t soothe Jamie. Instead, he grew more frightened. He didn’t see any other cars around, and he knew the nearest cabin was miles down the road. “How did you get here?”
“There are plenty of cabins in these woods, pet. Some of us like to live off the grid.”
“As you can see, I’m fine. You can go.” Jamie’s eyes flicked to his Jeep, and he calculated the steps in his mind, contemplating making a run for it.
The man looked from Jamie to the car. He pulled out Jamie’s keys from his pocket and held them up, giving them a jingle. “Looking for these?”
Jamie gasped, and his pulse skyrocketed. He took a step to the left, and the man mirrored his actions.
“I don’t have any money, nothing of real value with me, but you can have it all. Just go.” He threw his backpack at the man, and it landed at his feet.
“I’m not here for your money. I’m interested in something a little more… fun.” He took another step forward.
Jamie swallowed. “Wh-what kind of fun?”
“I know you’ve been hiking today, exploring the woods. I saw you by the river. I’m sure you came across the many hiding places out there. So, what do you say we play a little game of hide and seek? You hide, and I seek. If you can keep me from finding you until midnight, I’ll walk away and leave you alone.”
The man had been watching him? And he hadn't noticed? “And… and if you find me?” Jamie hated the nervous tremor in his voice.
A feral grin spread across the man’s face. “It gets lonely out here by myself. You can… keep me company for a while.”
A knot formed in Jamie’s stomach, and sweat dotted his brow. What did he mean by that? “What if I don’t agree?”
“You already know the answer to that, don’t you?” Jamie hadn’t noticed the hunting knife the man withdrew from a leather sheath at his side.
The man ran his thumb along the blade. “So, what’ll it be?”
“How do I know you’ll leave me alone once midnight comes?”
The man shrugged nonchalantly and looked as if he hadn’t just proposed a deadly game for Jamie’s life. “I suppose you’ll just have to trust me.”
Indecision warred within Jamie, but he knew his best chance of survival was to hide. He could never take the man in a fight, and he had no weapons. “O-okay.”
“What a good little pet you are. I’ll even give you a head start, okay? I’ll count to ten before I come after you.”
Jamie’s body shook as his heart sped up.
“Oh, and one more thing.”
“Do you know what I’ll be thinking about while I track you?”
“Wh-what?” Jamie replied, breathless.
“All the ways I’m going to make you mine when I find you. Now run!” the man growled.
Jamie jumped and turned, heading back down the trail, praying he could find a good hiding spot until midnight.
Jamie was already out of breath by the time the man had counted to ten. Now he stumbled in the dark, listening for signs of the river. He might even lose the man if he waded in the water downstream. The last time he’d checked his watch, he’d only been running for an hour. It felt like years, and the further he went, the more tired he became. How was he going to survive two more hours of this? The taunts and suggestive words the man called out only motivated Jamie to keep moving.
“I can’t wait to get my hands on you, pet!"
The faint sound of rushing water reached Jamie's ears, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Almost there.
The fog had finally lifted, and the moon peeked through the branches overhead, giving him some much-needed light. It glistened on the water as he reached the riverbank. He knew the hidden caves were further downstream, so close he could taste freedom. He sludged through the mud, careful not to fall.
He hadn’t heard the hunter in a while, and he didn’t know whether to be relieved or scared. At least when he was talking, Jamie knew where he was.
He spotted the mouth of a cave up ahead and quickened his pace. He carefully climbed up the rocks to the opening and breathed a sigh of relief. If he could make it a few more hours, he’d be home free. That was if the man was telling the truth and would leave him alone once midnight struck. He had to believe he was.
The climb to the cave was short, but he carefully placed each foot on the slick rocks. The last thing he needed was to fall and hit his head. Maybe the game would end if he did, but he wasn’t ready to be done.
As he entered the mouth of the cave, bright light filled the space, and the man from the woods stepped out of the dark with a lantern. The glow cast an eerie light on him, adding to his savage look. “I’ve been waiting for you.” His smile sent Jamie’s heart into overdrive. “Now you’re mine.”
Sunlight seeped in through the cave opening, waking Jamie. He stretched his sore muscles. A strong arm wrapped around his waist and drew him further back until he was spooned against a warm body.
“Mornin’,” said the gruff voice behind him, ruffling his hair.
Jamie yawned and nestled further down into the sleeping bag, the cool air chilling him. “Morning.”
Lips pressed a soft kiss to his hair. “Did you enjoy your primal game of hide and seek pet?”
Arousal flirted on the edge of Jamie’s mind as he remembered last night. “More than you know. Thank you for getting me out of my headspace and fulfilling a fantasy, but I think I have dirt and leaves in places they shouldn’t be.”
Carter chuckled and slid a hand underneath the flannel shirt, the only thing Jamie wore. “Have you thought about what you want to do next time?”
“Hmm. Something with a little less nature in it. I’m thinking I may be a naughty student teasing my hipster professor. It’ll still go with your beard and all.”
Carter’s laughter filled the cave, warming Jamie’s heart. He knew Carter would always take care of him, and there was nowhere he’d rather be than in a cave in the woods with his very own untamed lumberjack.