Authors: Susan G. Charles
The Master of the Hunt: A Paranormal Romance
By SusanG Charles
©2013 SusanG Charles
The one thing all humans and animals have in common is a never ending search for love, friendship, companionship and family, as well as a place to feel a part of something. So this book is dedicated to each and every one of us, the world over, and to the many animals, 2 legged, or 4 legged, that constantly yearn to find this most universal of emotions – love!
©2013 by Susan G. Charles
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, including scanning, photocopying or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright holder.
(Twenty Years Ago)
“4… 3… 2… 1… Ready or not, here I come,” Elizabeth shouted in rhythm, uncovering her eyes to inspect the wooded field ahead. It was a wondrous day to escape the valley where she lived with her aunt and uncle, into the forest for a game of Hide-and-Seek. And this was the last game of the day. The sun was fading in the sky and soon it would be time to retreat indoors for supper and all those last minute bedtime rituals. This was a game they’d always played, just the two of them. Two years apart with only a combined age of 18, Elizabeth and Richard were best friends.
She ran as fast as she could through the twilight forest in the hopes of catching him before her uncle called them in. Her uncle would usually signal the day had come to an end by a shrill whistle made with his lips over his teeth, pressing down on two brawny pinky fingers pushed over top of a curled up tongue, and blowing. It was a shrill sound that seemed to travel for miles and one that she would never mistake. Still, Elizabeth hoped they would be able to finish this game before it was brought to an abrupt stop for the night.
It would not be long before she caught her friend, Rick. His name was really Richard but everybody around here called him Rick. She was already on to his tracks, even though he would try to cover them up, or create some type of diversion but terribly fail and get tagged. The wooden heels of his leather boots left a perfect trail for about fifty yards, leading directly into an unexplored part of the forest. Well, not unexplored, it was just an uncharted part of the forest to her.
She stopped at their invisible boundary line and observed her surroundings for the first time. There wasn’t anywhere she was not permitted to go as long as she stayed on the trail their house was on, and this area was not of the right course. In fact, she had never ventured past more than an eye full of the land. After twisting her head in every direction, she glanced to the trees and watched as leaves slowly descended, spinning or swaying all around her, the sun hardly visible through all the many tall trees around her, the sounds of the wilderness compelling her to tighten up her hearing senses to focus on finding that one person in particular.
“Where is he”, she thought to herself with a smile, hoping to hear the slightest footfall, stick crack or leaf rustle somewhere nearby. Was he that foolish to disobey their caretakers orders and travel farther than what was permitted? Elizabeth immediately knew the answer to that particular question before it had fully formed in her mind. “Boys!” she murmured under her breath, with just a hint of aggravation in her voice.
His tracks led into the unknown wild just beyond the path she now stood upon. But wait! Hang on. Okay, now she could see where the tracks really stopped. His tracks had completely vanished after about five steps inside the uncharted new land ahead of her. She thought it was possible that he stepped back over them in reverse and that maybe he was just getting smarter and learned how to cover his tracks now. But she couldn’t just stand there, the sun was fading fast and she was determined to catch him before it was too late.
She turned back to where she had entered the area and couldn’t see the stables, let alone their house. Her uncle would be furious if he knew where she was right now. She could not see anything but woods, with the all too familiar trees closing in on her – she wondered to herself what she might have to do next if she didn’t fine Rick fast. Curiosity killed the cat but what’s wrong with a little adventure? Something about the other side of that imaginary line enthralled her enough to finally raise a foot to make that first step into the unfamiliar woods.
As her foot hit the softness of the Earth’s green mossy hair, the sounds of a snicker was captured by her right ear, jerking her attention to the treetops in that direction. As she was looking upward, a squirrel bounced from one limb to another, disappearing into the nature above her before the sound of a light stomp came from up ahead her, near ground level, and she dropped her sights to see him. He was crouched on one knee and had a flat palm in the grass, with a grin on his face and a childish, boyish glare in his eyes.
Rick’s hair was brown with golden highlights, freshly trimmed and prickly at the ends. He wore a brown leather vest over a white long sleeve button up shirt. His dirty denim jeans were tucked inside his favorite brown buckskin boots. His face was beaded with the first hint of perspiration and his hands were covered in his best work gloves, stained with the soil of many past chores and loads of many long forgotten games played out in the barn and all over their little farm.
Rick must have descended from the trees somehow, but the lowest limbs were more than ten feet above, and he would have definitely hurt himself landing from a drop of that height. But he did it some how, he must have, and in all the Hide-n-Seek games they’ve played before he’s never pulled such a daring stunt with technique of this magnitude. Of course he would sometimes hide in the bushes and skip from tree to tree, cover himself with leaves or throw rocks in opposite directions. But this was an original move for sure. How could any ten year-old complete a ten foot leap without at least one bone being cracked on impact?
Her eyes bugged as she was caught in awe of his incredible accomplishment just now. He didn’t say a word as all these thoughts raced through her mind, but she knew in her heart that this was, indeed, an unusual moment. Just then the shriek of her uncle’s whistle sounded through the last minutes of sundown, and without time to wonder, she rushed toward his echoing whistle with determination still set in her thoughts. She would have to explore this area more later, she thought to herself as she ran toward the house, following the sound of her uncle’s whistle. He had already whistled once – he would have a fit if he had to do it more than twice.
Even so, she still passed the boy, slapping the sleeve of his shirt. “You’re it!” she laughed and picked up the pace before he had the chance to tag her back. Rick turned and chased her toward the house, lowered his brows and flipped her a competitive hand signal to further antagonize her on the course back home. It was more like a race, actually, considering the next game of Hide-and-Seek would be held on pause until the following morning, after the chores were completed and the daily luncheon was held.
Anyone in the area could hear the joyous laughter of them both as they ran, the innocence they exuded and the youth of a boy and girl’s seemingly everlasting friendship and explorations. They laughed and yelled and called out to each other to further egg each other on as they rushed back toward the cabin. He finally caught up to her twenty yards before the clearing. “You didn’t think I would let you cross did you?” he asked in between breaths as they still ran to the house.
She smiled at him in reply. At that very instant a short-lived scream, more like a loud whine or a bird’s final call of the day, arose from somewhere behind her, scaring her into a self-tripping fall. She instinctively grabbed a hold of the boy’s sleeve to help prevent the plunge, taking him down with her as well. After landing atop of her and sharing a brief twinkling of eye contact that could have been their first hint of something more than a friendship developing, he sprung to his feet, swung around to the sound, and reached underneath his shirt to produce a shining dagger.
She had seen the dagger from her place on the ground, jumped to her feet and grabbed his shoulders playfully from behind. She was not frightened any longer. She wanted to see who or what it was that had made the sound, twisting and turning her head in all of the growing nightfall, suddenly feeling protected by the presence of her ally. But he then told her to run, and she did, she ran like the wind while he lagged behind a few steps.
Her uncle’s whistle once more filled the air. This second whistle was the last he would make before he got really angry with the children. And they both knew it. So they sped up their race doing their best to at least get within an eyes view of their home before whistle number three was made. They definitely did not want a third whistle spoiling an otherwise great day. Upon returning home, he told her, “That sound you heard back there – it was nothing… only a hawk’s calling through the night.”
But could it have been more, she wondered to herself? What did Rick mean by all that back there? And how did he know she had heard something? The more she thought about it, the more curious she became about their most recent adventure. But for now, it was time to wash up, eat supper and do a few more last minute things before bedtime. Soon enough she would soon let her curiosity take her on a fantastic adventure as she slept safely in her bed.
Elizabeth Fox had always been a horse lover. In fact, even long before her family bought their first horses, many years ago, she would spend hours and hours looking at pictures of them in every book, newspaper or magazine she could find. Everyone in her family knew that one day she would make a fine horsewoman, and she certainly lived up to that and well surpassed all their expectations.
She worked hard learning all she could about horses and eventually bought her own boarding stable. Needless to say, her uncle was so proud of her and her accomplishments. To top it all off, today was a wonderful winter’s day – and an incredible day to take a ride. She sighed happily as her mare’s hoofs crunched through the dry snow as they headed out once again. It was a perfect winter morning for a trail ride through the snowy forest that lay directly behind her boarding stable.
As usual, she had been the first to arrive at the barn that morning. She and her mare, Braveheart, had managed to tack up and slip out onto the trails long before any of the stable workers arrived to start their morning chores. Elizabeth had ridden these trails easily several hundred times just by herself, but she still enjoyed wandering through each of these meandering paths. She and Braveheart could probably navigate them all blindfolded with one leg tied behind their backs if put to test.
As it were, the winter sun began to rise a bit higher in the cold morning sky, warming the snow. And at that same time an early morning fog began to roll through the woodlands. Absolutely breath taking! Elizabeth loved days like this out on the trails. If only she had thought to have brought her camera along.
Soon the entire forest looked like something out of a dreamy fairytale she remembered from her childhood, or maybe a story in a fairy tale told time and time again. Misty clouds crept through the trees like a stranger in the night and the air hung wet with mist. This was the sort of weather that made you think you could turn around and see a unicorn peeking out from behind a pine at any time. Elizabeth chuckled at her fanciful thinking. Braveheart was the closest thing she would ever see to a unicorn – her beautiful white coat made her an excellent stand in for the mythical creature.
Eventually Elizabeth directed her horse down to the lower path, which would soon lead out of the woods to an open corn field that all the animals seemed to flock to. Perhaps, she thought to herself, visibility would be better in the open there. Elizabeth soon realized her mistake though, as the fog became even heavier about them and made seeing anything around them almost impossible. The clouds of vapor were settling onto the lower ground, making visibility even worse, instead of better. “Bad choice, Elizabeth,” she thought to herself a little bit aggravated.
As the two kept traveling slowly towards the area where the field should be, the fog got so thick Elizabeth couldn’t see more than a foot past Braveheart’s nose. Elizabeth sighed and dismounted her horse at that point. It was time she turned her mare around and headed back to the barn. There was no sense continuing on this way, they couldn’t see anything at all more than a foot ahead of them in any direction, any way. No matter how well anyone knew these trails, it was ridiculously dangerous to ride when you couldn’t see an unexpected animal or obstacle pop up out of no where right in front of you.
So Elizabeth took Braveheart’s lead and they changed direction, heading back in the direction from whence they came. Leading her horse back up the hill, Elizabeth stopped when Braveheart whinnied to another horse in recognition, even though Elizabeth had heard nothing.
“What is it, girl? Do you hear someone you recognize?” Obviously Elizabeth couldn’t see anyone, but she tilted her head, listening intently anyway. Finally there was an answering whinny from somewhere up the path, along with the faint sound of several horses moving, and even that of a few dogs barking off in the distance.