Jessie Daniels glanced into the darkened sky and squeezed her eyes tight. Her body rippled as nervous energy sent chills down her spine; filling her with dread. She opened her eyes and lights flickered like fireflies. Jessie couldn’t believe that she had agreed to this crazy idea. She looked down at the man who tightened her harness. He was the exact reason why she had come along.
It was couples night at the Tree Runner Adventure Park. The zip lining course was set high among the trees with running lights casting its soft glow to the ground below. Jessie was challenged to take on this adventure by the handsome young man standing before her. Her heart trembled, and she wasn’t sure if it was because of Kyle Noble’s dashing grin that made her feel faint or that she was about to leap off a platform several feet in the air.
Jessie met Kyle while waiting in line to order her daily Cappuccino at a local coffee shop. He had mentioned that her dryer must have had some say in her fashion choices that morning. When she peeled the soft material from the side of her smock, she was horrified to discover that it was a pair of her panties. Jessie flushed and quickly tucked them into her pocket. After grabbing a seat in the farthest corner of the café, Kyle stood beside her and said, “Dryers do have the worst fashion sense.”
They shared a laugh and glided into a more comfortable conversation. Jessie was taken by him. Kyle not only had a keen sense of humor, but he was a responsible, intelligent, and athletic; a rarity among some of the college boys her age. Since then, it was a whirlwind of cat and mouse as they attempted to plan their first date. Kyle suggested zip lining to which Jessie had never done before. After much conversation, she was willing to venture out of her comfort zone and try something new.
“Are you ready?” Kyle tightened his gloves, grabbed a rope and glanced back at her with his beautiful blue eyes.
“I… I guess,” She said as butterflies danced around inside.
“Look. It’s really simple,” he assured her. “I’ll go first and catch you on the other side. All you have to do is jump and enjoy the ride.”
She felt his enthusiasm as adrenaline coursed through her veins. Kyle stepped off the platform and zipped through the trees. His voice reverberated in the woods as he hollered his way to the next platform. Jessie smiled in spite of her fear, and she took one step closer to the edge. Looking down, she became slightly dizzy as the dim lights played with her perception. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and jumped off the platform.
The rush of warm air filled her lungs, and her body jarred as harness tightened against rope. Jessie felt her body free floating through the humid breeze. She was filled with so much exhilaration that it burst out of her. The thrill was more fun than she could have ever imagined!
Coming up to the next platform, Jessie positioned her feet to grab a secure foothold. Kyle was cheering her on as she quickly approached. Then, her toe caught the edge of the platform, hurling her forward and into Kyle’s arms. Laughter ensued as they steadied each other on their feet. It died down when Kyle’s phone buzzed, and he pulled away to remove it from the armband.
“I am so sorry, but I have to go,” Kyle said as he adjusted his safety clip to climb down the tree.
“Now?!” Jessie cheeks burned with frustration. She had just jumped off a platform for him. How could he abandon her like this? Adjusting her clips, she followed Kyle down the tree. She reached the ground, stepped out of her harness, and ran to his side. Catching her breath, Jessie asked, “What happened back there? Was it something I did?”
Kyle stopped short, causing Jessie to bump up against him. He spun around and grabbed her shoulders before she fell backwards, “I have no choice. Please forgive me. Can we do a rain check?”
“Not without an explanation,” Jessie removed herself from his grasp, and placed her hands on her hips.
Kyle looked around nervously and lowered his hands, “I can’t explain it here. Will you please let me take you home?”
Jessie was not about to let Kyle off that easy and made sure he was fully aware of her annoyance with him as she marched toward the car. Kyle’s jaw tightened as he focused his eyes on the road; picking up speed when he steered the vehicle onto the highway. Jessie tapped her foot on the floorboard allowing her anger to simmer. Kyle took the exit ramp toward Jessie’s home, and she was about to unleash her fury when he pulled into her neighborhood.
“Listen,” he said before she could get a word out. “I really do like you, and I hope that you feel the same way about me. As much as I would like to talk about this, I can’t right now. Would you please give me another chance to make it up to you?”
Jessie glanced over at him and could see that he was tormented by his decision. She realized that no amount of yelling at him was going to change his mind. She softened her resolve and asked, “Why the mystery?”
“All I can say is that I have an emergency I need to take care of tonight,” Kyle turned the car onto Jessie’s street and parked it in front of her house.
How could she be so selfish? She knew all too well the demand that emergency situations can have on one’s life. After all, she was a trauma nurse in training. Maybe giving him the benefit of the doubt would do her some good.
She turned to open her door, and Kyle jumped out of his seat to walk around the vehicle. He grabbed her hand and pulled her into an embrace that caught her off guard. Jessie’s heart fluttered as she reached her arms up around his neck, tickling her fingers along his hairline. He leaned in closer to her when a warm heat whizzed past her ear. She was suddenly shoved back into the car before her lips could touch his. Kyle jumped in after her, pushing her over to the driver’s side.
“DRIVE!” He yelled as he slammed the door shut.
Another bullet pummeled the passenger side of the vehicle, and Jessie screamed. Kyle slammed the car into gear as Jessie floored the gas pedal. Tires squealed against asphalt, and black smoke filled the air. Out of the corner of her eye, two dark figures exited her single story home aiming their weapons. She ducked when they fired off more rounds into the rear of the vehicle; shattering the window.
A pair of headlights from a black SUV appeared in Jessie’s review mirror and slid to a stop. The gunmen jumped inside as Jessie whipped her car around a corner; momentarily losing sight of them. A few twists and turns around a couple more blocks led her to a winding country road.
An overgrown dirt road lay ahead hidden in the brush. It was most often mistaken as a trail, and Jessie knew exactly where it led. She descended from the top of the hill, and the SUV’s lights disappeared behind her. Turning off her own lights, Jessie took a sharp left midway down the hill. Then, she took another sharp right into the trees. She slowed the vehicle down and guided it along the dirt path by moonlight to the river’s edge. Parking the car under the paved bridge, Jessie killed the engine and waited.
“What are you doing?” Kyle whispered as he glanced around anxiously.
“My friends and I use to come here when we wanted to get away from our parent’s watchful eyes,” Jessie shushed him so they could listen for the SUV. The road above continued to twist around trees and hills until it conversed with farmlands on the outskirts of town. It would take their assailants miles before they realized that they had lost Kyle and Jessie. The SUV’s engine roared to life as it drove across the bridge and quieted to a rumble as it continued forward into the distance.
Kyle punched the passenger side door, causing Jessie to jump, “They know you’re with me, and I have put you in danger. We must leave for Ohio, now.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on!” Jessie glared at Kyle until he tossed his hands up in the air.
“I hold a micro SD card that has evidence I had captured with my drone last summer,” Kyle sighed. “I was doing some aerial shots of natural waterways along the Pennsylvania border. I didn’t know it at the time, but my drone caught a man being executed by gunfire out in the woods.”
“You mean the ones who were chasing us?” Jessie’s eyes grew wide.
“Yes,” Kyle rubbed his temple. “They heard my drone and must have followed it and me home. That’s when I reviewed the footage on my laptop.”
Jessie’s hands flew to her cheeks, “Why didn’t you just take the card to the police?”
“I was going to, but those guys knocked on my door,” Kyle dropped his head into his hands and sobbed, “I couldn’t protect her.”
Jessie placed a hand on Kyle’s shoulder, “Protect who, Kyle?”
“My mother,” Kyle twisted his hands and looked out the window. “They shot her when she answered the door. I climbed out of my window and ran as fast as I could for as long as I could.”
Jessie’s head was spinning and she closed her eyes to stop the sensation, “I’m sure if you spoke to the police and gave them the evidence, they would let you go and hunt down the real criminals.”
“I was afraid that they thought I was making it up. And, they did!” Kyle’s face contorted as he remembered the news reports plastering his image and calling him a person of interest.
“How did those guys find you? How did they even know where I live?” Jessie demanded.
“I don’t know. They must have been tailing me and waited for the right time. Did you see where the shots came from?”
Jessie gasped, “They came from my house!”
“They were waiting for us,” Kyle chewed on his lower lip. “Listen, I have a friend back home who alerted me about those guys. He’s ex-military with an arsenal of weapons and lives on 40-acres of wooded land. It’s rigged with trip wire, night cams and all sorts of security. He has offered it to me as a safe haven. We can go tonight, but we’ve got to do it before those guys come back to look for us.”
It was information overload, but there was one more thing that Jessie needed to know, “If you knew all of this was going on, why would you ask me out?”
Kyle flushed and looked down at his hands, “I tried not to, but you were so beautiful and easy to talk to that it was getting harder to find excuses to put you off. I thought it would be safe to try to resume a normal life. Now, I can see that it was immature thinking on my part.”
Jessie struggled with his words. She, too, had taken a liking to him and was persistent in pursuing more than just a friendship. She had flirted relentlessly, and in a way, tonight was her own undoing. How could she just go back home when a couple of crazed buffoons would be waiting for her? Not only did they want to steal away her own life, but they also wanted to take away the very man she had feelings for.
No matter where this would take her, the very thing she needed at this moment was to know how he truly felt about her. Mustering up every ounce of courage she could find, Jessie leaned over and kissed Kyle. She allowed the kiss to linger as he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her to him. She slid her hands through his dark wavy hair and spiraled into an abyss of heightened emotions as her body responded to his touch. She broke away from their embrace, and catching her breath, she leaned back in her seat. Jessie knew what it was that she must do. Tightening her seatbelt, she turned on the ignition and said, “What is your friend’s address?”