Relax? Was he out of his mind? We're gonna end up stuck here overnight—far from civilization, from my family, and from the people who could get us out of here.
No cops anywhere. Just trees. Thick shrubbery. Dirt road.
North? Or south of Manila? The highways and streets looked the same before I fell asleep in the backseat.
Where the heck's Beck and Karlo now?
Darn it! I shouldn't have slept during the drive, but the meds just knocked me out. I just hoped my brother's feeling better.
"Just trying to keep you alive." Axell or "X" glanced at me.
We trudged past another bunch of thick shrubs. "Does anyone know we're out here? In the freakin' wilderness? Why'd you just leave the SUV out there?"
"There's a dirt road to your left. We're not exactly in the depths of the Amazon, if you haven't noticed."
"Appreciate it, Captain Obvious." I glared at the back of his head, imagining jabbing it with my fist. "But I'm not paying you to be a smartass. You're getting paid to take me back home." I took brisk steps to get past him. Everything ached but I'd rather suffer pain than be anywhere near a total stranger. A stranger who might've kidnapped and brought me here into the woods to chop me into pieces, and then cook me for dinner.
"Technically, your dad pays me to do what he told me to do," drawled my companion at the moment. The only one, unfortunately. His monotone said he got offended by my words.
It was the truth, though. It was his job to ensure my safety—actually his only job. He got hired only to keep me alive and safe. That didn't entail mocking my panic after a life-threatening "accident". Like how he said "princess" like it was an insult.
"But why are we... We're just gonna leave it? How're we supposed to go home?" Legs somewhat shaking, I glanced down at the goosebumps on my cold arms. My nape and back felt slick with sweat inside my new designer blouse. Worse: my head ached like someone was drilling a hole inside my skull.
"The engine overheated. You saw the smoke and the bullet holes. I'm not gonna wait for hours on the side of the road for a bloody tow truck." Axell sighed and raked his fingers through his tousled hair. It reached his tensed jaw and looked darker than his beard.
"Seriously. Where's Beck?"
"Like I said, I'm not sure."
"I dropped them off at a crowded area. Must be near a police station. She and Karlo were shooting at the masked guys," he droned on. "She told me to step on it. So here we are."
So it was Beck who told him to drive me somewhere remote? Without her? Odd. Or maybe he's just making up these stories?
I turned to inspect his clothing. No gun underneath his waistband or anything. I also didn't see any hints of a deadly weapon when he walked past me twice. "Masked? You never saw their faces?"
"No. Just their hair and eyes. And the plates." He sounded slightly out of breath now. Axell stayed behind me, limping a little.
Did he injure his leg? When?
"Right now, we stay away from the city."
"Why?" I looked around us. Still no sign of another human being. Jeez.
"Those shitheads who tried to murder you might've local cops on speed dial."
Heck. Some criminals just tried to kill me and my bodyguards. My chest tightened at the graphic images in my head. I didn't want to wrap my mind around the possibility yet: a murderous gang was out to get me. Because of my dad's money? It's the only reason I could think of that sounded more than sensible.
Could this guy be right? I just didn't know what to believe anymore. For now, though, I had to show ambivalence. Fully trusting him with my life might be worse than finding a way out of this wilderness by myself. We just met a few hours ago—I didn't even know his last name.
"I'm not taking any chances." He increased his pace to catch up. What he said still didn't make sense.
Well, right now, nothing did. Would I make it back home alive before sunset? "Just...take me home now."
"Would if I could. Really." The guy in front of me snickered. He was limping towards the narrow dirt road, but brisk-walking. "My ears are already complaining. And we've only been alone for a few hours."
Jerk. "Hey! Slow down! I'm injured."
"Been shot at a couple times I might be bleeding to death now. Yet you're the one who's injured?"
"What? Are you..." My steps halted as my throat and chest tightened.
Was he being serious now?
"You got shot?" I ran after him despite my painful ankles.
I grimaced. "Stop calling me that."
He ignored it and didn't mind as my gaze roamed his upper body. His leather jacket and pants looked wrinkled like my blouse, but... No traces of blood or anything alarming.
"Why?" He grinned as he stared at my face. His beard didn't hide the deep dimples beside his pale lips.
Did my panic and annoyance amuse him? What a weirdo. "I have a name." I touched the sleeve of his dark jacket to check his shoulder and arms.
He grunted and pulled away before I could take it off of him. A round, damp spot showed reddish smudges on his left sleeve.
Crap. It's blood. "What the heck? You're bleeding."
"Just a graze." Axell stared at the dirt road and pulled a face.
"Let me see." I slowly tugged at his sleeve, but he gently pushed my hand away.
"I'll live. Let's just get us some supplies."
"Where?" I backed off and glanced around us again. Just trees and shrubbery everywhere. "We're in the middle of nowhere."
"You like exaggerating everything, don't you?" He chuckled and walked on, leaving me on the side of the dirt road.
"Why is that even funny?"
How could he make fun of our situation?
"We'll stay on this road. Then hitch a ride," he said in a humdrum voice. "Then we'll get us supplies. Food, first aid kit and all that."
It's almost sunset. Where would we spend the night? Was he bullshitting me or what?
"Can't we just call someone?" I groaned. Every step only made my joints ache worse. "Shit. You threw my phone out the window." Almost forgot.
"Mine got shot. So, we're gonna have to find a new one. Like I said, can't take any chances. Those nutters could be using your phone's signal to track us."
Paranoid as I was, too, apparently. But he still seemed calm enough to make rational decisions. Calmer than me, at least.
"Bollocks." The guy sighed. "There should be a payphone 'round here. A mall. Or a store. There should be one out here."
"I don't know their numbers. I mean..." I tsk-ed. "I don't have their phone numbers memorized. Email could work, though. Where the heck are we?"
"Somewhere they wouldn't find easily."
"Great." I rolled my eyes. "Whose idea was it to drive aimlessly into the woods again?" Why did he even think it would do us any good? I wouldn't survive the night if we kept trudging along this aimless dirt road.
It looked perfect for a horror movie. No cars. No people. No lamp posts. Smack in the middle of a forest.
"You should've just taken me straight to a police station. Now we're just stuck in this godforsaken wilderness."
"For the hundredth time: we're not—" The jerk scoffed. "Just keep walking," he muttered beside me. His brows stayed furrowed and looked stuck together. "Princess."
X and I reached the town proper after we limped along the dirt road. We rode a tricycle and paid the driver using my only cash left: 250 pesos."I'm dying..." I groaned amid the searing pain inside my head. Sweat dripped all over my face, neck, and clothes. I could barely breathe now in the middle of this traffic.
We're out of the wilderness now. Busy people rushing along the streets. Noisy cars. Smoke. Impatient motorists everywhere. I was a full-fledged mouth-breather at this point.
Darned sinuses. The only upside? My fever's almost gone. For now. "Where's the police station?"
"We're not going to the cops." Axell held my forearm as we walked past some houses.I scowled. "Why not?"
Was he joking? Or just stupid?
I stopped outside a junk shop. My head drew a blank. My breath hitched as my mind switched to overdrive.
Why not go to the police? I squinted at him. Why would he avoid cops? "Why not?"
"Whoever wants you dead would know some local cops."
"Huh?" I backed away. Why did he sound so certain? "You're serious?"
"Yeah," he sighed before his jaw clenched. "Drug money's still money to these people. Trust me."
Trust him? How? I barely even knew him! And now he expected me to just trust him with my life? I just wanted to go home. See my brother and my dad.
Why wouldn't this jerk just do his job?
Oh shit. Shit! I didn't know anyone out here. I was terrible with directions, and we weren't anywhere near Manila.