I looked at my naked wrist and rolled my eyes. How long would it take before I remembered I’d lost my watch during the quake? Trees hid the moonlight, making it too dark to see the rocks that I kept tripping over. Boulders too big to climb kept blocking our way, forcing us to leave the path, and even though Tuggin took the lead to carve our way through the thick bushes, branches continued to yank my hair.
My heels were wicked sore, and my toes cramped from trying to hang on to the shoes. I’d started to limp, but Tuggin didn’t seem to care at all. He was like a machine, keeping up a pace that made my legs throb.
Deep in thought, I didn’t see Tuggin stop and I plowed into him, making him stumble.
“Sorry,” I said.
He chopped his hand in the air to silence me. I peeked around him. A field rolled out ahead of us, and on the other side were, well, more trees. The pack’s straps rubbed my shoulders; I pushed my fingers underneath them so I could massage the sore spots.
Tuggin didn’t look at me when he said, “When you are with me, you do as I do. That means keep up and keep silent, tenya. It is not difficult.”
“My name’s Haley.”
I plunked down on a fallen tree with my chin in my hand. He was the snarkiest guy I’d ever met. Seriously, I was the one being kidnapped. I was the one who held all snarky rights.
"Where are you taking me?" I asked.
"That is not your concern."
My brain flipped through our earlier conversation. “You’re taking me to Eyidora, aren’t you?”
“Eyidora is the fifth globe of the planetary chain. You are already on Eyidora.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right.”
Tuggin glared at me. “Eyidora is home to the Eyids.”
I pulled a twig out of my hair and tossed it over my shoulder. “What are Eyids?”
“Oka-ay,” I murmured. What was that religion that worshipped nature? Wicca? Was he, like, a witch? “If you say so.”
“I’m no astronomer, but I’m pretty sure there’s no such planet called Eyidora in the solar system.”
“Earth’s solar system is the first globe in the planetary chain. You are not in Earth’s solar system. You are on Eyidora.”
“Okay then, let’s just say that I decide to play along with this game and believe I’m on another planet,” I snorted so he knew how stupid I thought they whole idea was, “how’d I get here?”
I was supposed to believe that load of shit? He’d drugged me and dragged me into the forest and now he was feeding me a line about gateways and non-existent planets. What was his game?
“You forgot one important thing.” I paused to swallow the lump that had grown in my throat. “My mom.”
“I know nothing about her.”
“I do, and she’s going to be looking for me.”
Tuggin went back to studying the sky.
“She’s not going to let you get away with this!”
“You passed to Eyidora. All memory of you on Earth has been erased.” He crossed his arms over his chest as he watched me. “Forever.”
I leapt off the log. “Listen to me, you assh—“
“Does it matter?” he interrupted. “She was not your birth mother.”
How’d he know that? My brief frozen moment of surprise melted. “You jerk. It matters to me.” I stomped my foot. “I want to go home.”
“You enjoy inhabiting a globe of metal?”
“Take me home.”
Tuggin considered me for a long time. “I cannot.”
“Look, you don’t want me here, and I don’t want to be here.” I grabbed his arm. “Let me go home and I won’t tell anyone what you did, I promise.”
Tuggin stared at my hand and I snatched it back.
“It is too late. You are not on Earth, and you cannot return there. Ignorant girl,” he muttered.
“You seriously expect me to believe I just got bounced to another planet and that my Mom has forgotten me?”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “I think you’re full of shit.”
Tuggin’s eyebrows shot together briefly before he turned his back on me.
I checked our surroundings. The cave, the cliff, the field…none of these was part of Kent Falls State Park, at least, not the park I knew about. And the major earthquake… “You mean, I’m not dreaming any of this?”
Tuggin whirled, looking like he was about to choke. “You are Haley Allaire, from the fifth globe of Eyidora.”
—on Earth—and my last name’s Roble.” Connecticut
“You were borne Eyidoran; however, fifteen years ago you were conducted through the gateway to Earth. And now you have returned.”
He spoke as though he really believed we were on another planet. Unbelievably, I was beginning to believe him. If I’d been born on Eyidora, maybe Mom was wrong about my parents dying. “Are my birth parents here?”
“They are dead.”
Just like that. No “I’m sorry” or “I hate to tell you this.” I hated him. I wanted to dig those beautiful blue eyes right out of his head, but opted for a good dose of glaring instead. “Do I have any other family here?” I couldn’t believe I was asking the question, as if it was a normal every day occurrence to fall through gateways and land on parallel worlds.
Tuggin held my gaze. “Net.”
“What does that mean?”
I wanted to sag back onto the tree, but forced my legs to hold me up. “Why are you kidnapping me?”
Tuggin stared. “I do not understand.”
“It means you’re taking me against my will.”
“We all have obligations that are disagreeable. We must keep moving.”
I wanted to argue, but his hand was resting on his knife.
“After you,” he said politely, nodding toward the field.
My feet felt as heavy as my heart. It seemed as though I’d been dumped on a strange world, all alone and a prisoner of Snarky Boy.
Later that night, Tuggin stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pine trees. I collapsed on the ground, yanked off my shoes, and checked out my feet. There weren’t any blisters, but they were red.
Tuggin picked up a branch and swept fallen pine needles into a pile. When he pulled blankets from his backpack and spread one over the needles I realized he’d made a bed. Did he expect me to sleep with him? Would he hurt me? I tried to swallow, but my throat was dry, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth.
Tuggin dropped onto his bed and ignored me.
A sense of relief loosened my tongue. “We’re sleeping outside?”
“You’re sixty watts short of a light bulb if you think I’m sleeping in the dirt. What if there are snakes?”
Tuggin closed his eyes. “Make do, tenya. And do not think to leave during the night. I shall know if you try.”
I crossed my arms and tapped my foot. Tuggin paid no attention to me.
“Fine.” I picked up his discarded branch and swept up my own pine needles, except that my pile was loaded with pine cones. When I looked up I caught him watching me, but he quickly turned away.
Ignoring Tuggin’s muffled snort, I plucked out the cones and tossed them aside then wrapped myself in the scratchy blankets from my pack and lay down. I tried to stop them—I wanted to stop them—but the tears came anyway. I shoved my face in my blanket, trying to muffle the sound so that Tuggin, the biggest tool on Earth—oh, excuse me, Eyidora—wouldn’t hear.
I couldn’t sleep, though I’d been pretending for at least an hour. I thought Tuggin was asleep; his chest rose in an easy rhythm, with his hands folded on his stomach. I wished I’d paid attention to where he’d hidden his knife.
I rolled up my blanket and tied it to my pack. I’d gone to bed with my shoes on so that I could jet from there at a second’s notice. Carrying my stuff, I tip-toed to the woods, and had gotten to the edge of the clearing when Tuggin spoke.
I froze for a nano-second then dropped my backpack and bolted. Branches slashed my face, I stumbled over roots and rocks, but I sped on, too terrified to do anything more than run. Tuggin tackled me, and I slammed to the ground with a loud grunt.
“Let me go!” I shouted.
He flipped me over, crushing me with his weight, compressing my lungs with his forearm so that I couldn’t grab air.
“I warned you,” Tuggin growled.
I tried to kick him, but he pinned my legs with his own. I sucked in a breath, the strength radiating from his body doing more to crush my resistance than fear. His knife flashed so close to my face the chill of steel paralyzed me.
“You have made a grave error,” he said.
I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the bite of steel to slice my neck. Instead, he hauled me to my feet and dragged me back to camp. I twisted, pulled, dug in my heels, but he was way stronger. Clamping one hand around my wrist, he dug into his pack and pulled out a length of rope.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
Tuggin looped the rope around a tree then started tying it around my wrist.
I jerked back. “I don’t think so.”
He grabbed my wrist, crunching my bones in his grip, and finished tying the rope.
“You can’t tie me up.” I yanked against the rope, and it tightened like a noose.
“Do not struggle,” he said. “The more you resist, the tighter the knot.”
Blood rushed to my head and pounded against my eardrums. Resisting the urge to yank on the rope, I swung at his face with my free hand. Tuggin caught my wrist and shoved me against the tree. His cheek muscles rippled and his nostrils flared.
Fear strangled the breath in my lungs. "Please don't hurt me."
Tuggin lifted his chin with the big breath he inhaled. He slowly exhaled, leaned so close that his breath skimmed my ear. “Then do not tempt me,” he murmured.
He ripped the blankets off my pack and chucked them at my head, then flung himself onto his bed. I slid down the trunk, wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, and pulled my knees to my chest. I whipped up a daydream about Ian to compensate for the lone tear trickling down my neck. I'd bet a single kiss from him could whisk me away to another world. I clenched my teeth. I'd already been taken to another world, and hey--newsflash!--it sucked.