But there was no time to rest. Chest heaving with exertion, the tape over his mouth making it hard to breathe, he worked on his right hand, keeping as quiet as possible so as not to attract attention.
Jacko stood a few feet away, staring at the shed.
“I removed all the debris and shrubbery,” Jacko said conversationally. “I don’t want to start a bushfire and alert the authorities, now do I?” He gave a deep chuckle of satisfaction. “And I’ll monitor the fire, make sure it doesn’t break containment lines.”
Nash watched him like a hawk. The other man’s attention was almost completely on the building in front of them, which was good for Nash. The ropes didn’t want to let go of his otherhand, and he nearly gave a grunt of frustration. He had to get free. He had to.
Jacko turned to cast a quick glance back at Nash and he froze, pretending to be slumped against the tree, conceding defeat. Jacko turned back to continue studying the outbuilding. Darkness really was Nash’s friend. Surreptitiously, he drew his knees into his chest and eased his right hand around to find the knots binding his ankles tight.
Jacko walked slowly toward the shed and picked up a small metal can hidden in the darkness by the corner of the door. He began to splash the petrol on the walls, on the door and on the roof.
An all-encompassing dread filled Nash as he watched the other man’s careful deliberation. It was like the weight of the whole world was on his chest, forcing the air from his lungs. He fought the fear, taking two deep breaths through his nose and compelling his fingers to keep working on the knot. For a pro, the gunman had been sloppy with his knots. Perhaps he had so much confidence in his ability to cow them with his threats and his weapon, that he’d overlooked knot-tying 101.
Jacko flicked his wrist, and a match flared in the dark.
A low groan echoed in Nash’s throat.
The match sailed through the air and the petrol erupted in sudden flames. The fire spread at breakneck speed, up the wall and onto the roof.
Oh. Jesus. Skylar. He had to get to her.
At the sight of the flames, his fingers became paralyzed, but the thought of Skylar immediately drove him on.
Jacko stood with his back to Nash. But then he turned and strode over to where Nash sat, propped against the tree. Nash tucked his hands behind his back, hoping that in the darkness,and crazy flicking shadows cast by the flames, the gunman wouldn’t notice his bonds were loose.
“The flames are so beautiful,” Jacko called out. “But I nearly forgot. I want to see your face as you watch your girlfriend die. Watch the hope fade in your eyes.”
He was coming back to gloat, the bastard.
Jacko hunkered down next to Nash and brought his face in close. “How’re you feeling so far, mate?” he asked with an evil edge to his voice.
He had to act quickly, so Jacko didn’t have time to go for his weapon. In a rush, Nash brought both hands around in front and rammed them up into the gunman’s chin. At the same time, he pushed up to standing and shook the last loop of rope from his ankles, as Jacko went sprawling backward into the dust.
He dived on top of Jacko, grabbing a handful of dirt and rubbing it in his eyes, hoping to blind the other man. Jacko bellowed like a wounded bull, but wrapped his arms around Nash’s back, wrestling for control.
They fought like dogs, rolling and scuffling in the dust. Jacko managed to land his knee directly in Nash’s wound and he gave a muffled scream of pain through the duct tape, but he didn’t let go. This was going to be a dirty street fight. There were no gentleman’s rules here, and Nash knew he had his work cut out for him. Jacko was taller and broader than him, and possibly had more brawling experience.
But Nash had a small advantage if he could manage to remain on top, so he locked his legs around Jacko’s waist, grunting with the effort of holding the other man down while he bucked and twisted beneath him. Then he grappled for the weapon strapped to Jacko’s side with his left hand, smashing his right fist repeatedly into the other man’s face, raining down blow after blow.
Suddenly, as if by magic, Nash had the gun grip in his hand. He tugged with all his might and the weapon released from its holster. He checked the safety was off and pointed it at Jacko’s head, expecting the man to stop fighting; to surrender like any normal human being in the same situation. Instead, Jacko snarled and lunged for the gun.
Nash had no choice.
The gun went off; the sound echoing around the clearing, and Jacko collapsed to the ground.
For a moment, Nash sat astride the man, too stunned to move. Had he really just defeated his enemy? Could it have been that easy? He checked for a pulse. Nothing.
The snapping sound of the fire devouring the shed brought him back to the present and to his true goal. To rescue Skylar.
He stood up and jogged toward the burning building, ripping the tape away from his mouth. There was no time to catch his breath. If he didn’t act now, Skylar would die.
The door was completely engulfed. There was no way through it. Flames licked up over the roof, bright orange and almost merry as they consumed the petrol Jacko had poured over the building, working their way inside. The steel walls glowed red with the heat.
Flames rose high into the sky.
Flashbacks of the car crash assaulted his mind. Flames had ignited almost the instant they hit the tree. Nash was disorientated and dazed, not understanding what was happening, at first. Then the flames licked at his legs, and he screamed. But he somehow managed to release his seatbelt and stumble from the car, his trousers on fire, he’d rolled on the ground to put out the flames.