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One of the worst things you can do while in the woods is not wear shoes. Even though it wasn’t my fault I was barefoot, well partially not my fault, I still regretted not slipping on at least socks when I left the foster home the night I was taken.

I can’t believe that was only yesterday.

The woods were eerie at night, seemingly empty yet I knew that that wasn’t the case. I was loud as I fled over tree stumps and maneuvered around overgrown trees so any sort of creature was way out of my path long before I got there. Still, not seeing any sort of animal besides a few birds was shockingly alarming.

Minutes, maybe an hour, ticked by me as I ran through the woods in an almost straight line, yet it seemed endless. Countless pointy sticks and sharp rocks had jabbed me in my bare soles, slicing into my flesh, but I pursued nonetheless. I could deal with a few minor cuts and bruises if it meant freedom.

A large, wide stream came into view. I paused my movements for a moment, hunching over on my knees to catch my breath. My cheeks were flaming red, the chilly night air doing nothing to cool the burn. My legs already felt sore, and worn out, my energy already depleted. But I knew that I couldn’t stop.

If those guys caught me, I wouldn’t have a second chance at escape. They’d make sure of it.

I resumed my mad dash, briefly dipping my feet in the stream to cross it, before I was bounding through the forest once again.

The trees began to disperse in numbers, and the overgrown grass was more tamed as I trudged forward. There were less ravenous bushes, fewer tree stumps, and suddenly I was out of the thicket.

A row of multiple buildings appeared before me, well the back of the buildings did, and relief immediately filled my chest. I was back in town! The foster home should only be a few streets down, and there I could call for help, since everyone else was probably asleep, considering it was the middle of the night.

Behind me, back in the woods, a lone howl sounded in the night.

My wounded feet painfully padded on the pavement as I dashed onto the empty street. There were zero cars in sight as I continued down the road, and as the street sign came into view, I was able to determine what road I was on.

The foster home was two streets over, and a few turns. I’ve walked this way dozens of times before. I knew the way, but I hoped I’d make it there.

I resumed my earlier pace, but a tad slower, jogging down the road and taking a right. I came across absolutely no one as I ran down each street, and ten painfully long minutes later, the foster house was before me.

Pounding my fists over and over into the wood door, terror filled me as I remained out in the open. And the minute I saw the front door creak open, I crashed into the person opening it, desperately trying to get inside.

“Cleo? Honey what happened -” It was Mrs. Donna, who now pulled me off of her body. She backed up to let me inside, but left the front door wide open.

“- close the door!” I pleaded, tucking myself behind her form.

Cleo.” The minute I heard that deep voice, my entire body shrank in fear.

Kieran was standing in the middle of the street, shirtless, for some reason. Somehow, against all odds, he had managed to catch up to me, and managed to find me nonetheless.

Mrs. Donna slammed the door shut, clicking the lock into place, so I put my arms around her waist from behind, tugging her backwards.

“What’s happening, who is tha-”

I cut her off again, deeming that the facts right now were not important.

“ - call the police, get help, please do something . . .”

She ran into the kitchen, where the house phone was, and my arms fell limply to my sides.

A harsh knock sounded on the front door, making me jump backwards. I joined Mrs. Donna in the kitchen where she was plucking the phone from the charger and turning it on.

“Explain what’s happening, now, Cleo! You go missing for an entire day, and suddenly appear in the middle of the night?”

“These guys, in the woods, cabin . . .” My words were jumbled, frantic, as I tried to fill her in on everything that had happened in the shortest amount of time. The memory of multiple wolf howls popped in my mind, and for some reason, I deemed it was important. “ . . . fleeing, wolves in the woods . . .”

Mrs. Donna ceased all movement, her fingers hovering just over the number keys, just shy of pressing them.

“What did you say?” She asked, her face simmering down into a calmer mood. “What about wolves?”

Catching my breath, I stared in confusion at this woman who has housed me for the last year and so months. She had endlessly supported me in everything I’ve done during my time here, hell, she even gave me a leg-up during the most recent adopting couple. But here she was, phone in hand, as I stood with muddy clothes, bloody feet, and a frantic tone, just watching me.

Why wasn’t she doing anything?

“There were just a few wolves I heard in the woods, I thought they were near me, or something, but it doesn’t matter! Please, call nine-one-one!” Begging, I tugged on her arm that held the phone, urging her to comply.

Then Mrs. Donna said the word that signed my death certificate.

“I think you should go with the man outside.”

Never in my life did I think this sweet and loving woman would suggest I go with a complete stranger, one who kidnapped me, and who may or may not have malicious intentions.

“Are you crazy?” Astonished, I slowly backed away from her.

“Cleo, trust me, honey.” Mrs. Donna began, tucking the house phone into one of the pockets on her robe. She walked around me, heading back to the front door, where Kieran seemingly stood behind. “It’s all going to be okay,” She said, turning the door knob, unlocking it.

That backstabbing, son of a b-

Kieran immediately fled into the house, his eyes searching over everything, before they landed on me. He nodded his thanks to Mrs. Donna before moving at an incredibly fast speed, catching me in his arms before I could even blink.

Just as before, I tried to twist in his ironclad grip, but he held me still. Eventually I wore myself out and I let my body go limp in his arms.

The fight had died inside me. Mrs. Donna turned on me, the only savior I thought I had, so there truly was no escape. He was too strong, too fast, and I was the exact opposite, too weak and too slow to do anything in his presence. The only reason I managed to escape from the cabin in the first place was because they’d left me alone, something that would probably never happen again.

“Are you done now?” Kieran gruffed, seemingly annoyed with my struggling. When I didn’t say anything, he took my body going limp as my answer.

Mrs. Donna still stood at the front door, her hands in the pockets of her robes.

“You can clean her up in the bathroom, if you’d like,” She offered. What were they, were they friends now or something? Was he paying her off to let him take me back? Was Mrs. Donna in the mafia?

onna in the mafia? [haha i joke]

Glancing down at my mud covered clothes and bloody feet, Kieran nodded. He then proceeded to switch my body so I was now horizontal, and one arm was under my back and the other one was under my bent knees.

“There’s one down that hall, only door on the left.”

Mrs. Donna pointed, and Kieran followed as she led.

“Don’t be loud! Alla and the others are sleeping, and I’ll be darned if you two wake them up!” She called after us.

In the bathroom, there were no windows, so the minute Kieran locked the door after us, I knew I was trapped. He set me down on the sink and leaned against the adjacent wall.

“I’m going to try to make this as easy as possible,” He began, looking me up and down. “But that’s up to you. If you make this difficult, then it’ll be difficult.”

He stepped forward, gently placing his hands on either side of my head, angling it towards his towering form.

My eyes were forced to meet his blue ones, and for a moment, I forgot all the events of the past two days. I could only think about how his eyes were the most captivating color I’ve ever seen. How his midnight dark hair complimented his tan skin, how he held my head in his grip with the softest hold.

All I could think about was him.

“Are you going to struggle?” He asked. When I shook my head, loss in a trance, he slightly glared. “Cleo.”

God, the way he said my name made me want to throw caution to the wind. I don’t know how a dangerous stranger could flip my moods so easily. How can I go running from him to wanting to jump on his bones in minutes?

“I’ll be good,” I whispered, clasping my clammy hands together.

He slowly breathed out, a couple of his fingers gliding over the top of my hair. He moved his gaze onto the top of my head, where he gently pulled a leaf out of my locks. Letting it drop to the floor, his fingers ran down the side of my cheeks, feeling over a small streak of dirt.

“I think you need to take a shower,” Kieran decided, removing his hands from me. I remained quiet, not sure on how I felt about that. Did he mean showering by myself, or with his aid? He leaned over the sink I sat on, resting his hands on either side of my legs. “You should’ve never ran,” He mumbled.

“I had to,” Sheepishly, and unapologetically, I softly replied, even if he wasn’t expecting one.

“You would’ve never gotten hurt if you just stayed, if you just let us explain, if you gave us a chance . . .” Kieran’s voice turned into an angry huff, and I felt my body go even stiller.

“I’m sorry.”

He blinked up at me. His blue eyes caught onto me, and for a moment, I caught a glimpse of remorse.

“Are you fine with showering?” He asked. I nodded, and he stepped back from me again. “I’ll leave the room, but I’ll be right outside, so don’t try anything.”

I nodded yet again, since it seemed all I could do in the moment. This tension between us was suffocating, and I couldn’t place on exactly what my body wanted from him. One minute I was clawing through the woods to escape him, and the next, I wanted him to do things to me.

What was wrong with me?

Kieran left the bathroom, closing the door harshly behind him.

Hopping off the sink, I winced as the pain in my feet became noticeable. Tiny cuts and bruises littered the soles of my feet, and I could understand why Kieran would be angry about that.

I peeled the dirty clothes off of me, tossing them to the floor. They weren’t my clothes, they were the ones I had woken up in a few hours prior, but they were nice. It was a shame to see what the woods did to them. I don’t think they’d ever be in good enough condition to wear again.

Washing all the mud, dirt, grime, and minimal blood off in the shower was refreshing. Once I turned off the water and wrapped my wet body in a towel, I realized something.

I didn’t have any other clothes to wear. Not just specifically in this room, but Heather and Derrick ruined all of my clothes. I literally had no other clothes to wear.

I hopped out of the shower and waddled over to the bathroom door. I kept the towel wrapped tightly around my body as I opened the door and peeked my head out.

Kieran was leaning against the nearby wall, and once I opened the door, his eyes snapped to mine. His thick arms were crossed across his chest while an annoyed look was plastered on his face.

“I, uh, don’t have any clothes to change into,” My cheeks were boiling hot as he took in my words. I couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eyes, so I kept them on my bare feet and legs, where the towel wasn’t long enough to cover.

“Yeah, I figured. Where’s your room?” He asked, stepping off of the wall.

“No, like I actually don’t have any clothes to change into.”

“What? You live here, don’t you?”

“Well yes, but -”

“ - so then you have clothes?”

I opened the door a bit wider, my wet hair swinging in front of my face. Stubbornly, I refused to look up at him, even as I heard him step closer to me.

“Well, uh, you see, this other girl at the foster house, we, uh, don’t really get along very well, and she, uh, ruined all of my clothes.”

“How?” His voice was clipped.

“She burned them?” My tone was high pitched, and for some reason, I turned my response into a question. I felt embarrassed, and shameful, of what happened. It was partially my fault, since I could’ve tried to be a bit nicer to Heather, but she was just a grade A bitch and hard to please. But the fact that I had no belongings and had to tell this random, but attractive, stranger suddenly made me want to shrivel up and die.

Kieran didn’t immediately reply, rather he seemed lost in thought.

“I can maybe grab a shirt from my friend, he won’t-”

“No.” He instantly cut me off, taking a step even closer to me. We were inches apart, but I could only look at his shoes, and refused to look any higher. “The older woman back there, she may have some clothes.”

Mrs. Donna did have some extra sweats that I could wear, only they were a few sizes too big. I tied the top of the sweats as best as I could, but they still felt a little loose. The top hug off of me, but it was extremely comfy. She also gave me a pair of socks, so my sore feet would get some relief.

“Do you have any shoes?” Kieran asked me as we both awkwardly stood in the kitchen. Mrs. Donna had gone back to bed, and now we were actually alone.

“I just have one pair, but I was wearing them last night while you guys, uh, you know, and when I woke up, they were off.” I wrapped my arms around my middle, the warm sweats giving me more comfort.

“I can just carry you,” He gruffed, uncrossing his arms from his bare chest.

“The whole way - ?”

But he was already throwing me in his arms, and we were off.

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