Authors: Samantha Horne
I spoke incoherently in her ear what I hoped were soothing words, as she clutched me even tighter, continuing to cry. I noticed her starting to shiver and I knew I needed to get her home, and in to the warmth as a matter of urgency. Suddenly, I heard a howl which sent shivers down my spine. It was a sound unlike any I had heard before, and I became acutely aware of how alone we were in the woods, and what a vulnerable position we were in right now. I looked to my right as I heard a branch snap, and screamed as I saw what must have been a hallucination before my eyes. Stalking towards me was the largest wolf I had ever seen, even on the television, and I started to scuttle backwards, with Anabelle in my arms and prayed that I could keep her safe. The wolf continued stalking towards us, slowly as if eyeing up his prey, and let out a growl causing my heart to stop and dread to fill my stomach. If I’d been by myself, I would have just run and hoped for the best, but I had a five year old child to think about - one who was weak, terrified and needed help quickly. The wolf stopped growling, and I held my breath as I saw him tilt his head to the side slightly, as if hearing something in the distance. I vaguely heard something too, and I struggled not to cry out for help as I heard Jackson’s distinct voice calling his brother, Isaac’s, name.
“Isaac! Come back here!” I heard him shout out, and I prayed that the wolf would run off so that I could call out to Jackson for help, but I was terrified of drawing more attention to myself. Anabelle had stopped crying, bar a few sniffles here and there, and I saw she was also watching the wolf but with no fear in her eyes.
This girl’s a lot braver than I am.
Her eyes lit up as she heard Jackson’s voice, and I squeezed her tightly, hopefully communicating to her to stay silent. I thanked the heavens when the wolf turned, and bounded away, leaving me shaking with fear and clutching a small child who looked a lot better than a mere moment ago, but whose lips were turning blue from the cold. All of a sudden, it was like the adrenaline from the accident in the stream and the run in with the wolf just evaporated, and my vision started to blur as I realised I was a few seconds away from passing out. I was terrified at the thought of leaving Anabelle unprotected, but my body wouldn’t cooperate, and I silently apologised to her as I fell forward and everything went black.
I awoke slowly, and lay in confusion for a few moments as I tried to remember what happened and where I was. Looking around the room, I noticed I was back in my room at the B&B, and the events in the woods came crashing back, causing me to cry out in panic. As I cried out, the door burst open and Jasmine ran in, with tears streaming down her face. She ran over to me, and before I could say anything grabbed hold of me, crushing me in a hug unlike any I had received before. I reached my arms up around her and embraced her back, confused as to why she was crying on my shoulder, but understanding that she needed comforting. She pulled away and held my face with both of her hands, smiling through her tears. How did she still look good with her face red and blotchy from crying?
It’s just not fair.
“You saved our daughter. How can we ever repay you?”
“Oh my god, how is she? Is she okay? I must have passed out, I left her there unprotected!”
“No, no! She’s fine, she’s eating some of her Frozen cupcakes as we speak, happily babbling away about her ‘exciting adventure’ as she calls it.”
I laughed and breathed a huge sigh of relief that she was going to be okay, and no permanent damage had been caused.
“God, I was so scared.” I said, before Jasmine looked at me with compassion in her eyes.
“Me too!” She said, smiling at me and wiping the tears from her cheeks. “She must have run out when I turned my back for a second. The little menace is extremely good at hiding, which has taken years off my life, I can tell you.”
“I didn’t even know she was there, until I heard her scream as she fell in to the water. I jumped in, but it was so close, I almost didn’t reach her in time. She was unconscious but I managed to revive her, god if I’d even been a few minutes longer. I’ve never been more scared in my life!”
Jasmine closed her eyes, as if trying not to imagine the horror of the situation.
“Try not to think about what could have happened, and let’s focus on what did happen. You saved our daughters life. She was scared when we first asked her what happened, but by the end it was like an action story where you were her hero. Apparently, she followed you because you’re her new friend and she just slipped as she was walking down the stream. She doesn’t remember much after that, but she says she woke up to you shaking her and holding her, and now you’re her hero.”
“It’s all my fault.”
“No! No, it’s not your fault that she followed you. I should have gone to check on her once Noah had put her down to sleep, I know what she’s like. My husband is a good tracker, and he wasn’t far behind but I’m so thankful that you spotted her when you did, and she didn’t fall in anywhere else. Jackson was following not far behind, and after finding you unconscious he carried you back here as fast he could.” I felt kind of sad that I had missed being held in Jackson’s strong arms, but then something else came back to me, and I gasped as I remember what else had happened.
“Are you okay?” Jasmine asked, looking at me with concern.
“Did Anabelle tell you about the wolf?”
“Yes! There was a huge wolf, the biggest one I’ve ever seen and it was coming right for us. I know it sounds crazy, I guess you don’t have wolves here but I swear it was real. Something spooked it though, and it ran off. Maybe Anabelle doesn’t remember.”
“Probably.” Jasmine cleared her throat, and started fussing with the blankets around me. “Do you want anything to eat? You need to rest but I can bring you up some of my soup if you like? Presuming that the guys downstairs haven’t eaten it all, of course.”
Trying to put the thoughts of the strange wolf out of my head, I nodded and leaned back against the pillows, exhausted even though I had only just woken up. Jasmine left the room, and I heard her talking to someone just outside the door, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. The door opened again, and my heart rate increased as I saw Jackson walking in to the room. He came to sit on the side of the bed nearest me, and I struggled not to pounce on him when I saw how delicious he looked right then. He’d clearly just come out of the shower, with his hair wet and a fresh scent following him. He really did smell good. He looked at me for a moment, before he reached his hand over to softly stroke the side of my face, causing my heart to beat erratically inside my chest. I swore he could hear every beat, as I struggled to control my body’s reaction to him.
He moved his hand away quickly, grabbing hold of the sheet next to him, as if only just realising what he was doing.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, and his voice once again sent delightful shivers down my spine.
“I feel great, really. I’m just so happy Annabelle is okay. I honestly had no idea she was following behind me.”
“Of course, I know that.” He smiled slightly, and I rejoiced at being the one to finally put a smile on his gorgeous face.
“You were stupid.” He said, and the smile dropped off my face as I reared back in shock at his words. Anger burnt through my veins as I struggled not to slap his face.
“You could have gotten yourself killed. The current in that stream is far too strong, hence why that part of the woods is rarely visited by any of us. The water can be unpredictable, and it was silly of you to jump in there. Did you even think what could have happened?”
“Of course I did! I thought about how if I didn’t jump in the water, a child would die! I thought about how a sweet, innocent child would drown if I didn’t go for it, and there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen! Don’t you dare try and tell me that you wouldn’t have done exactly the same thing.”
“Of course I would have! And I cannot thank you enough for what you did, but I have to tell you how stupid you’ve been. Laura, I’ve only known you for two days but I care about you. My job is to care about every one of my people from this town, and as a guest here you count as one of them. I would give my life up to save my niece, but the thought of anyone else doing it does not sit well with me. It’s hard to explain, but when I came across you lying unconscious in the dirt, with a crying Anabelle at your side, dread filled me as I thought you were dead. Your bravery and courage saved my niece, and for that I am forever in your debt. Just, please try and avoid any life threatening situations in the future.”
I sat there stunned, as that is the most I had ever heard Jackson speak, and his words resonated deep within me. I would never have expected Jackson to admit he was scared, and it actually made him slightly more endearing. Which was dangerous. I was already starting to like him more than I should, and it was a lot easier when he was just annoying and brooding.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
“I would expect nothing less.” He smiled, and for the first time since I had met him, it was a proper smile, reaching his eyes and completely transforming his face. It was like all the troubles I saw in him every day had just been wiped away, and I couldn’t resist smiling in response. It really was infectious.
He started to lean towards me, and I silently cheered at the thought he was going to kiss me. I didn’t bother to try to figure out why I wanted him to kiss me, when he annoyed me so much. I just went with it and couldn’t wait for him to just do it. I leaned forward eagerly, when the door burst open again, causing us both to spring apart as if electrocuted. Jackson jumped up, and looked at whoever had burst in and ruined our moment.
“Isaac, what’s wrong?”
Isaac was slightly out of breath, with worry in his eyes.
“Intruders. We need to go.”
Jackson looked at me, and I swore I could see regret on his face for a moment, before his mask came back on and he returned to his serious self. Without another word, he walked out of the door and I felt a sense of disappointment at how brief the time was when I saw Jackson’s true personality, and I sincerely hoped it was not the last instance I would experience it.
Isaac hovered in the doorway for a moment, and I worried about what he was going to say to me. He had made no secret of the fact that he didn’t like me, and I could only imagine what he must have thought now after the scare with his niece. He coughed slightly, looking nervous for the first time.
“Look, I was wrong okay? Not saying I trust you completely, but you saved Belle’s life, so you’ve gone up massively in my estimations. I’m sorry for how I’ve treated you.” Leaving it at that, he backed out of the room to follow his brother, while I sat there with my jaw open in shock. I never thought I’d see the day when Isaac apologised, so it had been a day of revelations all round. I heard Jasmine coming up the stairs, and smiled at the thought of getting some food, only just realising how hungry I actually was. It’s not until later that I remember Isaac’s strange words, as he mentioned that there were intruders that Jackson needed to attend to. What did he mean by that? And why did I get the feeling that everyone here was hiding a huge secret?
God, would my heart ever stop beating so fast? I didn’t think I could ever be so scared after hearing that Annabelle had disappeared. Turns out that fear could turn in to heart-stopping terror, as soon as I had seen what had happened to Annabelle and Laura in the stream. I had arrived too late to help rescue Annabelle, but thankfully Laura had managed it all by herself. Her bravery and courage shocked me, and my respect for her had grown ten-fold. My heart faltered when I thought about how close we had been to losing Annabelle, and it was the first time her ability to manoeuvre undetected had actually become dangerous. Jasmine had been beside herself, and it had taken every ounce of my strength to persuade Noah to stay behind and look after her, while we went in search of Annabelle. She had only been missing for about 30 minutes, but it had been the longest 30 minutes of my life. When I had come across a crying Annabelle and an unconscious Laura, I had felt my heart drop in to my stomach, and it had taken a good few seconds for me to calm enough to take charge of the situation. That never happened to me. I was used to seeing violence and anger, and had experienced tragedy, so I presumed I was immune to it all by now and would be able to file my feelings away for another time. I hated to admit it, but Laura was affecting me more than was normal. Jasmine had told me that she had spotted a wolf in the woods, but had chalked it down to being in shock and scared. However, I knew by now all about Laura’s inquisitive nature, and I knew she wouldn’t be kept quiet for long. If she stayed in town, I would have to tell her our secret eventually.
The sun was shining and I was bored out of my brain with everyone fussing me, so I decided to take another trip in to town and take a look around. I’d like to say it was because I was interested in getting to know the people and my new home, but to be honest I was being nosy and trying to find out what everyone was hiding from me. The wolf I had seen by the stream kept playing around in my mind, even though I knew that realistically it was all in my head. The wolf had haunted my dreams last night, and I had woken up feeling more confused than before; adamant that the wolf had actually been there. Of course, I could have just asked Annabelle if she’d seen the wolf, but there was something about questioning a child who’d just been through a traumatic experience that just didn’t sit right with me.