Run. Run. Get up and run.
Doing as her brain commanded, there was a large part of Morgan that expected the teeth to sink in again, deeper this time. Expected to be eaten alive. And a sob rose from her throat, knowing her mother would probably never find a body to bury. Oh God. She was going to get dragged into the nasty-ass swamp and chewed up, wasn’t she? She should have stayed at the hotel and endured the suck-face between her mom and Too-Tan Dan. Instead she’d been impulsive, just like always. Now she’d die as punishment.
But the jaws never clamped down. Morgan ran a few steps before a yell ripped through the air, sending unseen animals scurrying in every direction and abusing her eardrums. Even with her instincts demanding she flee, she couldn’t help looking back over her shoulder. The scene that greeted her eyes skidded her to a stop.
Yeah, a man. A huge one. His size rivaled the alligator—and that insane bulk was being used to wrestle the animal. Successfully. It was hard to tell in the dark, but Morgan actually thought the gator looked scared of the giant. The animal’s little arms flailed as the man flipped it over onto its back, one oversized hand clamping its jaw together so it couldn’t bite.
“No way,” Morgan whispered. “This is better than the Discovery Channel.”
And her ass needed to keep running. Because an alligator was terrifying, but a man that could wrestle one? Even scarier. Not to mention, the man-beast was utterly ripped with muscle—and was shirtless in overalls. Any city girl knew damn well that a shirtless man wearing overalls in a swamp was the beginning to a horror flick. She wasn’t about to be dragged to some shack where skulls of lost travelers lined the rafters and sharp implements dangled over a torture table. Nope. Fuck that noise.
Morgan spun on a heel and booked it, inwardly mourning the loss of her cell phone. She could very well be getting more and most lost, but at least she’d live to fight another day. The pain in her ankle throbbed, but knowing how much worse it could have been, she didn’t dwell.
The sound of footsteps behind Morgan brought the hammer of fear back down with a vengeance. It was the man. Alligators didn’t run—at least she didn’t think so. The footfalls were way too heavy, anyway. Oh God. He was gaining on her. She was fast, but not with a bum ankle. Best to face the threat with cool logic. Maybe she would be the Jamie Lee Curtis of this horror flick and make it out alive.
Morgan stopped and turned, holding her hands out. The man stopped, too, his face buried in the shadows, his acre-wide chest heaving with exertion. Holy shit. Up close, she saw the man was easily six foot seven, covered in chest hair and mud. Maybe even a little of his own blood. Big fists huge at his sides, the veins in his forearms stark in the creeping twilight. Repressed aggression hung on his body, the way heat emanates from a furnace.
If this man wanted, he could force himself on her. With ease.
A cold finger of apprehension trailed down her spine. Crazier things had happened than a weird, no-fatalities encounter in a swamp, though, right? Her only option was to pretend he was a decent human being who had only chased her down to inquire if she’d gotten lost.
“L-look. Thank you for saving me back there. Much appreciated, man. Like. Wow.” Morgan paused to swallow the nerves gathering in her throat. “You didn’t happen to grab my cell phone…” Nothing from the man. Just more shuddering of that massive chest. “Okay, no worries. Could you just point me toward the road?”
His right hand rose, one thick finger pointing at her ankle. He grunted.
Oh God. How far had she walked that the locals didn’t even speak English?
“Um. Yeah, it’s fine. Just a scratch. I’ve done worse shaving my legs.”
She trailed off at that final word, berating herself for drawing attention to her legs. Morgan wasn’t stupid. The odds that a man could come across a helpless female in the swamp—no witnesses for miles—wouldn’t take advantage? Very slim. Her pulse started to dive and skip as a result. No, please. He’s too large. He’ll kill me.
Personalize yourself. Hadn’t she learned a single lesson from all those true crime shows? Talk to him. Make him view you as a human.
“My name is Morgan,” she started to ramble. “I’m eighteen. I’m, like, really into photography and making my own soap and…uh. I’ve been taking voice lessons as long as I can remember because my mother is an ex-opera singer and wanted me to follow in her footsteps, but I’m awful. Really all I want to do is listen to biographies on audiobook and play dumb games on my phone. But I’m going to school in the fall and I’ll be studying under one of the best photography professors in the country and…do you understand anything I’m saying?”