Falling For A Wolf Box Set: BBW Werewolf Shifter Romance - Mac Flynn - ebook
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The entire Falling For the Wolf series in one complete package!Christina Monet buys her home-away-from-home deep in the woods, and it comes with the perk of a handsome but mysterious stranger. He seems to hold a strange fear over the animals, and when she starts hearing howls in the night she learns he has more secrets than the squirrels have nuts.

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Falling For A Wolf BoxSet

BBW Werewolf Shifter Romance

Mac Flynn

Copyright © 2017 by Mac Flynn

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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Contents

Falling For A Wolf #1

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Falling For A Wolf #2

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Falling For A Wolf #3

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Falling For A Wolf #4

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Falling For A Wolf #5

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Falling For A Wolf #6

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Continue the adventure

Other series by Mac Flynn

1

I hadn’t driven that road in fifteen years. Hell, I hadn’t been driving the car those fifteen years ago, not unless my parents had decided it was time to teach their ten-year old daughter how to drive a stick. Things had changed, I had changed, and more things were going to change.

First, though, my heels clicked on the empty halls. It was the long walk I took once a week to down the hollow corridor to the dungeon-like room. It was there that I would be a slave to my master, a man of little pity but a long whip. He would crack it and orderus-

“Do you have to be so loud?” the man beside me complained. On either side of us were rows of desks and cubicles filled with our fellow employees.

All right, I admit I wasn’t walking to some evil dungeon that held a torture master. Instead I was at my office, or rather my office away from my office. My name is Christina Monet, and I am a website content provider extraordinaire. At least, that was my job description. In layman’s terms I was a blogger, a columnist, a bullshitter, a writer of interesting one-off articles that caught your attention in the blink of an eye and lost it just as fast. I could crank out a column a day if the topic didn’t involve too much research, two if it was in-depth science-y stuff. That was how I made my living, and I wasn’t half-bad at it. I got the clicks and was rewarded with a paycheck. That paycheck was what got me on that old road down memorylane.

First, though, it got me this weekly meeting of the content providers. The man beside me was one of them. I can’t remember his name, so to be accurate and mature I’ll call him Butt-face. Butt-face scowled at the clack of my shoes, but I couldn’t help it. Most days I went around in pajamas and slippers. This weekly submission to the pantriarchy was a real pain in the heels.

“I have a condition that forces me to walk loudly,” I told Butt-face. He sneered, but didn’t bother me further.

We walked down the long hall to the meeting room where our boss, Mr. Whinier, would go over the sales figures and crack his whip to get us motivated. Me and a half dozen others, including Butt-face, walked into the long meeting room with its long meeting table and took our seats. At the head of the table was Whinier. He was about fifty with hair that bespoke Rogaine and a wide, fake smile that scared small children. Me, too, when he got close enough.

At the foot was a giant flat-screen TV. On the screen was another half-dozen smaller screens. Some showed people, and others were black but soon turned on to show more of our fellow employees. I envied those people. They were the special ones, the ones who worked too far from the office to be forced to come into the meeting and only had an occasional face-to-face meeting with the boss. Oh sure, they wore blouses and shirts like the rest of us, but I bet underneath the screen they were naked. Now you know why I enviedthem.

“All right, time for the sales figures,” Mr. Whinier barked.

As he droned on about money, profits, stocks and money, my eyes wandered over to the screen and my mind wandered into a daydream. I imagined myself seated at my desk in my own home, and a causal glance out the window would show me a shimmering lake or green lawn with waving grass. Birds would be chirping on the windowsill and a dog would-

“Miss Monet, pay attention!” Whinier barked.

I jumped and slapped a smile on my face. “Sorry about that, Mr. Whinier.”

“I don’t want apologies, I just want you to pay attention,” he growled.

He went over his numbers, and a long two hours later the meeting was at an end and so were a few of my brain cells. I, with my compatriots, stumbled from the room and out into the harsh artificial light of the long hallway to the elevators. Butt-face came up beside me and sneered. “You’re lucky you make so much money or Whinier would’ve booted your ass out thedoor.”

“He’d boot your ass out the door but it’s too big,” I snappedback.

I eluded his ugly looks and opted for the one route his chubbiness would never travel, the stairs. As I made my way down the many flights I pondered my present situation and decided I really needed a change of scenery, if only to escape having to be face-to-face with Butt-face. Maybe seeing him and the others through a screen would ease the shock of seeing their cheerful, smiling faces everyweek.

With that decided I shuffled into my apartment and plopped myself onto my decrepit couch. The place was the pits and I could have afforded better, but I saved my money and held out for a piece of real estate of my own far from the bustle and hustle of the city. That, and the boardroom.

Then the phone rang. I picked it up and groaned. It was my mom for our weekly chat. My parents lived too far away to visit, so we called each other a lot. I answered it. “Hi, mom.”

“Hello, Chrissy, I was just checking up on you and your week,” my mom’s sweet voice sang over the receiver.

“Ugh,” I groaned.

“That well?” she teased.

“You know a good piece of swamp I can buy so I can get out of these face-to-face meetings?” I askedher.

“There’s always the guest house,” my mom suggested. My parents had a guest house in the backyard I used as my own home before moving to thecity.

I rolled onto my stomach and glared at the arm of the couch. “I was hoping to get a dog someday, and you know Dad’s allergies.” He was allergic to every kind of pet that had fur. Even the sight of a cat or dog on the television made him shudder.

“What about a small house nearby? We could help you move in,” she persisted.

I face planted into the couch cushion and my words were muffled by the old fluff. “Mom.”

“All right, all right, no moving in next door to the parents because you want to be your own woman,” my mom agreed. There was a pause and I could imagine her tapping her chin like she always did. “You know, if you’re really looking for something to buy there’s always the cabin near Froggy Pond,” she toldme.

I lifted my head and looked at the receiver like it was nuts. “Froggy Pond?” I repeated.

My mom laughed. “Don’t you remember? It’s what you called the pond near that cabin house we rented when you were ten. You hunted the tadpoles and frogs, and there were so many you ended up nicknaming it FroggyPond.”

My eyes lit up. “You mean that place is for sale?” I recalled a well-built cabin, sturdy enough to be called a house, and a natural spring and pond on the property.

“Yes. Your father saw it listed in the paper a few weeks back. I’m not sure if it’s still for sale, but we almost thought about buying it because the price was so good. The only problem is it’s so secluded, and your father didn’t want to make the two-hour long commute one-way, especially during the winter,” she explained.

Visions of forest cabins danced in my head. My home-away-from-civilization-and-face-to-face-meetings was near at hand. “Could you find me the phone number of the realtor?” I pleaded.

“I suppose, but you have to do something for me in return,” my mom demanded.

My face fell and I sighed. “What isit?”

“You have to come visit us more often.”

I snorted. “I think I can manage that.” I was four hours from them now. Moving would get me half that distance.

To make a short story even shorter, my mom got me the phone number and it turned out it wasn’t the realtor. The phone rang on the other line as I waited breathlessly and with my pitch all ready. I was just looking, not too interested, would the owner go down on the price? All thatjazz.

Someone picked up. “Hello?” came the scratchy voice of an elderlyman.

I turned on my best professional talking voice. “Hi, my name is Christina Monet, and I was calling about the Johnson property. Is it still forsale?”

“That depends on what you were going to use it for. There’s some stuff I want to put in the contract about not developing the area,” the man toldme.

I frowned. “The owner wants to put some stipulations in the contract?” I guessed.

“I am the owner,” Johnson replied.

“Oh! I’m sorry! I thought you were a realtor or something,” I apologized.

“Nope, but what were you planning on doing with the property?” he gruffly askedme.

“I was going to live in the cabin, if it’s still there,” I explained.

“Any plans to build a bigger house?”

“No.”

“Pave theroad?”

“I hopenot.”

“Dig up the pond and be fiddling with the spring?”

“Why would I want to dothat?”

“Yer not the first one to be calling, and a bunch of the others wanted to be messing with the natural look of the place,” he explained.

“To be honest I don’t really have that much money saved up so if I did have something else planned other than fixing up the house I’d have to leave the job to my kids to finish,” I admitted.

“You plan on having kids?” he askedme.

“Uh, maybe some day, but I didn’t think there were that many eligible bachelors up there,” I replied.

He snorted. “Ya might be surprised, but what’d you say yer name was again?”

“Christina Monet.”

“Monet, Monet,” he mumbled. “You related to a Peter Monet?”

I pulled my phone away, blinked at it, then returned it to my ear. “Yes, he’s my dad, but how’d you knowthat?”

“Ya rented the place a few years back?” he questionedme.

“Yes, buthow-”

Johnson chuckled. “Got a memory like a bear trap. Once it’s in there it don’t let go, though I am getting a little rusty.”

It was my turn to snort. “You’ve got a lot better memory thanme.”

“Well, I might and I might not, but you were hoping to get that land, so it’s yers,” he toldme.

I nearly dropped the phone. “It is?” I squeaked.

“Yep. When can ya sign some papers the damn government and that realtor of mine wants filled out?” he askedme.

“But don’t you want to haggle?” I wondered.

“Nope. You’ve got all the right specs for me. Don’t want to change anything and ya know the place already. Can’t beat that,” he explained. “Now you takin’ it or leavin’ it?”

My face broke out in a wide, stupid grin. “I’ll takeit!”

And that was how I got my first piece of real estate.

2

The paperwork took a couple of weeks, but in a month I found myself on the road toward my new home. The cabin lay far in the mountains on a particular one named Big Bear Mountain, and the state road went only to the foot of that mountain. At the foot lay a long stretch of beautiful flat meadow land filled with fields of hay and livestock. It was two months into autumn when I went up to inspect and move into my new abode. It wasn’t the smartest move to buy a property I hadn’t seen in fifteen years, but I figured with enough You-tube self-help videos I could fix the placeup.

I know, I’m an optimistic idiot.

I rolled down my window and slowed my car to smell the fresh scent of the newly cut hay. It was like the smell of cut lawn, but sweeter and stronger. The mooing of cows mixed with the neighing of horses, and here and there an old farmhouse dotted the land with their short gravel driveways leading off the paved highway. I was surprised by how little had changed. It was refreshing to see so many familiar sights without the usual intrusion of modernity or change.

The mountain and my home towered in front of me and I was eager to reach the place before mid-afternoon, but I was low on gas and the last chance to get any was at a small general store at the bottom of the mountain. I pulled the car over, shoved the gas nozzle into the tank, and turned to the general store. It was a single-story, wide-and-deep, log-hewn construction. Gray chink filled the gaps between the twenty-inch wooden thick logs, and large windows looked out on the small gravel parking lot and the highway. The store stood on a tall foundation and steps led up to a porch that wrapped clear around the building. Facing the store you could see a tall chimney peeking out the left side of the roof about halfway along the building. Its filling station consisted of one pump with two nozzles, one for gasoline and the other for diesel. The diesel handle looked more used than the gasoline handle.

The click of the nozzle told me my tank had reached its fill on my Subaru and I moved the car to the front of the store beside a truck that looked like it saw better days about twenty years before I was born. The tailgate was missing, there were more dents in its sides than a hockey player after a particularly rough game, and the paint peeled before my eyes. I carefully stepped around the truck, fearing it would fall apart if I brushed against it, and climbed the stairs.

Inside the store a bell rang above the door and I was greeted by the rustic smells of aged wood and dried foodstuff. There were eight aisles filled with canned and dried food, and the walls were covered with shelves of fishing and hunting supplies. Straight ahead opposite the door was the checkout counter, and on the wall behind that was a large collection of antique guns and mounted heads of local animals like black bears and cougars.

Behind the counter stood a woman of about forty, and in front of the counter was a pair of creatures I would describe as woodsman if I wanted to insult woodsman. They were about the same height and each sported a beard that would put Santa to shame. Their long brown hair was slick with grease and pulled into ponytails that ran down their backs. Their clothes were army-gear colored pants with green vests over dark, buttoned shirts. They wore thick, black army boots and were covered in filthy up to theirhips.

Their age was hard to figure out, but I guessed they were in their late thirties. Their similar thin-faced, ragged features with narrow, dark eyes told me they were related. Either they were brothers or there was some incest in the family. I figured they were some of my new neighbors, but I couldn’t get any closer to them because of their smell. It smelled like they’d made love to a skunk who hadn’t appreciated the amorous attention. My experience in the city told me they were hiding something, and the yellowing on their teeth said it wasn’t apples and oranges. They dealt in some strong drugs and partook more than they should.

The woman on the other side of the counter was tense and I imagined she didn’t appreciate the smell any more than I did. “I’m telling you for the fiftieth time I don’t carry that kind of stuff,” she toldthem.

“And ya can’t even get it on that internet thingy?” one of the men drawled. The other chewed on something, and by the black color of his teeth I guessed it was tobacco.

If these were my neighbors, my life living alone in the woods suddenly wasn’t a very goodidea.

“Listen, Clyde. If you want to get some of those hydroponic stuff that’s your business, but I won’t help you along with it,” the woman insisted.

Clyde sneered at her and turned to the other man. “Come on, Clem. Looks like our money ain’t wanted.”

The woman snorted. “I’d like to see what would happen if either of you two you went into town. I’m pretty sure the sheriff was wanting a word with you about some illegal trapping.”

“Maybe we’ll come back or maybe we won’t,” Clyde warned her. The two men turned away from the counter and stomped down the center aisle.

I jumped out of their way into a side aisle and Clyde marched past, but Clem glanced at me and paused. He stopped his chewing and gave me a big, tar-stained grin. “Hello there,” he greeted.

“Clem, stop harassing my customers!” the woman yelled.

Clem’s grin fell off his face and his eyes flickered over to the woman. They weren’t full of sunshine and rainbows. He turned away, cast a rather feral look at me, and followed his relative out the door. I breathed a sigh of relief, and of fresh air. Their odor left withthem.

The woman leaned over the counter and smiled at me. “Sorry you had to see me in my tough mood. I don’t act like that to all my customers.”

A derisive snort came from a far corner of the store. “They got what’s coming to them,” the voice of an old man argued.

The woman looked to her right and scowled at the speaker. “And you weren’t muchhelp.”

“You don’t need any help,” the person argued.

I strode up to the counter and followed the woman’s gaze. In the corner stood a large, potbelly wood stove with the pipe I’d seen outside. Beside the stove sat a man of about sixty-five in a wooden chair. He had a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. In his hand was a pipe he occasionally puffedon.

“My name’s Agnes Arbuckle, and I’m the manager of this store,” the woman introduced herself. She gestured with one hand to the man. “This is my father Abner. He’s the owner.”

Abner bowed his head to me. “Howdy,” he greetedme.

“Hi. I was looking to get some supplies,” I replied.

Agnes scrutinized my appearance. “You must be the girl who bought the part of the old Johnson place near the spring.”

I sheepishly grinned and glanced down at myself. I wore a pair of old jeans and a simple blouse. “Do I look that city-folkish?” I askedher.

She smiled and shook her head. “Nope, but it’s too late in the season for campers and you don’t look the type that any of those snooty folks would be inviting to their big places. That, and Mr. Johnson also phoned and told us he’d sold it to a young girl and she’d be coming upsoon.”

“Snooty people?” I repeated.

The old man took a puff on his pipe and quickly blew a puff of smoke into the air. “Aye. The rich folk couldn’t get a hold of the fine land down in the valley here so they bought up most of the forest on Wolf’s Mountain.”

I furrowed my brow. “Wolf’s Mountain? Where’sthat?”

“That’s what the locals call the mountain where your property is. You can tell how long someone’s been here by what they call the mountain, Big Bear or Wolf, though there hasn’t been a wolf seen up there in a coon’s age,” Agnes explained.

“Those city-folks put them big cabin houses where there used to be some find woods of trees,” Abner continued. “Ruined a lot of good forests making their muddy driveways, too.”

“It’s their land, Dad,” Agnes remindedhim.

He sneered, opened the door to the belly, and emptied the contents of his pipe into the burning ashes and logs. “Don’t mean they can come in here and put up their No Hunting signs like they’ve always owned the places. Damn interlopers, I say, and bah to them!” He refilled his pipe and clamped his teeth tight on the mouth.

“That attitude is why I’m running the place,” Agnes reminded him. He merely turned away and crossed his arms over his chest. She rolled her eyes and turned back to me. “Though speaking of land, what do you plan on doing with the Johnson place?”

I shrugged. “Probably leave it like it is. I was here fifteen years ago with my folks and thought it was perfectthen.”

Agnes paused and gave me another look-over. “What did you say your name was again?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Christina Monet,” I toldher.

Her eyes widened, and so did her smile. “My gosh, are you that little girl that came here for those few weeks and named the pond up there FroggyPond?”

I blushed and wished I could shrink into my clothes. “That would be me,” I reluctantly confirmed.

Agnes slapped the counter and let out a guffaw. “I remember when you were knee-high to me, and now look at you! A pretty young woman and come back to take that pretty place for your own!” She turned to her father who had an eyebrow raised and gave me with the same careful gaze. “You remember her, dad, the young girl who you practically gave all our candyto.”

His mouth slip into a wide grin and he nodded. “Yep, she was a sneaky one with them big brown eyes. Is that how you wrestled the property from old Johnson?”

I laughed. “No, but he was pretty glad to hear it was going to someone who liked it just the way it was. I think that’s why he sold it tome.”

“Well, you might want to do some changes to the house. It could use a little fixing last I saw it a few years ago,” Agnes advisedme.

I cringed. “Thatbad?”

She laughed and waved off my concerns. “Not so bad you can’t live in it, but the roof is a little leaky and the place could use a woman’s touch. Johnson mostly used it as a hunting lodge so it didn’t get many women up there.”

I turned around at the aisles of stuff. There was a full aisle of cleaning supplies. “So you’re saying I need to buy all your cleaning supplies?” I teased.

“At least the basics, and maybe you need to find yourself a handyman for the roof. I know a good one around where you live,” she added.

I looked back to her and shook my head. “I’m going to try to do as much as I can on my own and go from there. Otherwise how am I going to learn?”

“You’re going to learn the hard way doing that,” Agnes scolded me. “That is, unless you’re one of the few young folks around who know how to fix up places. Swappers, or whatever they call them. You do stuff likethat?”

“No, my line is more in the bullshit variety,” I admitted.

She snorted. “You’ll find plenty to do with that. Lots of folks still farm around here and there’s a lot of selling and buying going on. Of course, there’s always the trading of bullshit, but Dad’s the one who would know more about that thanme.”

“You just don’t know what’s interesting,” Abner argued.

“But anyway, if you need a handyman, I know where to find you one,” Agnes continued.

I smiled. “If I find it’s too much then I’ll go see your handyman. Deal?”

Agnes leaned away from me and shook her head. “All right, but it’s going to be tough. You’ll need all the luck and all the supplies I have here, and then some because I don’t carry any boards.”

“Then I’ll take all the nails you’ve got and a hammer, and start from there,” I toldher.

Agnes nodded at an aisle behind me. “Aisle Three, and you got enough food to last you a few weeks?” she askedme.

“Only about three days. I was going to buy more when I got closer to the house,” I replied as I wandered to the hardware aisle.

She clacked her tongue. “You’ll need at least two weeks. The power goes out up there at least once ayear.”

Abner chuckled. “And no amount of complaining from them fancy new folks has stopped the trees from falling on them lines.”

“Dad, why don’t you behave and go get a few boxes from the back for Miss Monet? She’s going to need a lot of food,” Agnes orderedhim.

He stood and bowed his head, but the grin didn’t slip from his face. “I’ll be back in a jiffy,” he promised, and tottered off around the counter and through the door behind the register.

Agnes stepped around the counter and joined me one aisle down in the foodstuff. There was the clank of cans as she took them off the shelf and set them on the ground. I hoped she didn’t expect me to buy out the store on my little cash. “I hope you don’t mind what Dad’s been saying about the new folks,” she spokeup.

“No. To be honest, I was kind of glad so little had changed along the highway,” I admitted.

“And to be fair not much has changed on the mountain, but Dad doesn’t like it that some of those houses stand on the best hunting ground and the owners won’t allow anyone to even drive down their driveways without being invited,” she explained.

“Well, you two are invited to Froggy Pond whenever you want, no appointment needed,” I toldher.

“You know, Froggy Pond wouldn’t be a bad name for the new place. It’s a sight more accurate than some of the other names for those driveways,” she mused.

I paused in my nail-gathering and glanced over the shelving at her. “What are those?”

She smiled. “Oh, the usual. Grizzly Falls without a water or grizzly, or Fish Lake when it has neither. Those sorts of names.”

I laughed. “Then maybe I should name it FroggyLake.”

She stood and playfully glared at me. “Don’t you dare, Miss Monet.”

“You can call me Chrissy, and I won’t dare,” I promisedher.

Agnes gave a nod and a grin. “Good. Now let’s get you packed and ready for your newhome.”

Abner returned from the back room with cardboard boxes, and we loaded them full of the nails, food, and my new hammer. Agnes rang me up, the price was right, and in a half hour I was back on the road with my two new friends receding in my rear-view mirror. The mountain and my new future lay ahead ofme.

3

The state highway ended three hundred yards behind the general store, and my little car bumped onto a well-used gravel-and-dirt road. The green, open meadows slipped and morphed into a thick forest of tall, old pines and firs. The trees stood like tall soldiers protecting the secrets of the prickly brush and animals that made small trails through the undergrowth. They cast their shadows over the road and at times created a tunnel effect where all but the slimmest of sky lit up the road above me, but everywhere else was the thick, overreaching branches of the trees.

The road inclined and curved like a snake in front of me. There were no sudden drop-offs on either side, but there was the occasional gully created by a small culvert or natural spring with its ten-foot drop. Tall enough to ruin my day if I went over, but not likely to kill me. There was a little bit of washboard on the road and for most of the corners you couldn’t see what was around the bend. I slowed my speed to a hare faster than a tortoise and kept the car to the extreme right side. Unfortunately, the road didn’t widen with my efforts. Actually, it shrank to the width of a car and a half, or a large truck.

Doubly fortunately, I heard a large truck careen down the mountain just on the other side of the oncoming corner and there happened to be a driveway to my left. Judging by the crunch of its wheels it was big and I was small, and I’d end up looking like the bottom of a box of Captain Crunch cereal.

I stepped on the gas and crept into the driveway just as the truck bumped and ground past me. It was a large four-wheel drive truck with shiny red paint and a kid at the wheel barely able to shave, much less drive. He didn’t look at me at all, but kept driving down the road and disappeared after a second.

I leaned on the wheel and set my head in my hand. My fingers trembled so bad they shook loose my brain. “Easy there, Chrissy. You’re still alive,” I murmured.

I straightened, took a deep breath, and slowly backed out. The road was clear and in a moment I was back on my way. I kept my eyes peeled for driveways and my ears for more maniacal neighbors out to give me a first and final greeting and farewell. Nothing happened, and my slow driving allowed me to see the houses of some of my neighbors.

Agnes hadn’t kidded when she told me the houses took up a lot of the old hunting grounds. They were large, two-floor mansions with full basements and double-door garages. Lawns stretched out over wide, long decks that sometimes wrapped around the house, and sometimes were suspended ten feet above the ground. Pool water shimmered in the mid-afternoon sun and sprinklers watered the thick, luscious green lawns that would have put Martha Stewart to shame. Here and there were parked Ferrari's, side-by-sides, long, pointy speed boats, and even RVs. In the middle of the woods. Yeah, I know, I don’t get it, either.

The farther upward I drove the fewer were the houses and driveways. Eventually the road flattened and turned a little muddy. The trees thinned and the area widened and straightened into a long corridor of natural grass and wildflowers. Potholes were now the norm and I dodged and bumped through them for another hundred yards on the straight road before I saw an old metal cattle gate, originally green but now brown from all the color rusted off. This was it. I’d reached my newhome.

I parked the car a foot in front of the gate, got out and went over to the heavy lock on one side. With my trusty key the lock was vanquished and I opened the gate, or tried to. The gate swung out towards my car. I sighed, closed the gate, backed my car up, and tried it again. The gate swung out and my way was opened. I opted to lock the lock to the gate and leave the gate open. There wasn’t another driveway within two miles and nobody knew I was there.

I walked back to my car and at the door I heard a snap. I froze and my eyes flitted about the area. Nothing came to sight, but plenty of images came to mind. Lots of possibilities of bears, cougars, and maybe even an escape circus lion. I listened for another terrifying crack of a branch, but there was nothing but the sound of-wait, there wasn’t even the sound of birds chirping. The area was completely devoid of the beautiful songs of birds and the scampering of squirrels. It was almost as though the gate was a vortex into a lifeless patch of the world.

I had entered the TwilightZone.

Then I remembered I was just plain old me in a plain old place, and plain old me needed to stop her stupid thoughts and get going before the sun set. There was about two hours left, give or take a tree or mountain top getting in the way of the last rays of light. I hopped into my car and bumped my way down the two ruts that made up the road. The trees crept closer again, and on either side of me was lush vegetation that grew from the marshy ground. Come spring mosquitoes were going to be a problem.

I drove fifty more yards and the road turned to the right. The way opened to a small, familiar meadow, and in front of me stood my own little, one-story cabin-house. The roughly-hewn clapboard siding was darkened with age, and the building had a single peaked roof made with metal sheeting. The foundation was made of cinder blocks, but there was new evidence of concrete to shore up the most cracked of the blocks. There was a small, covered porch with a railing that was reached from the front by five stairs. The front door was a sturdy piece of fir, and a pair of large, rectangular windows sat on either side of it and looked out on theroad.

The road made a loop in front of the house and returned back the way it came. I parked the car and stepped out. It was much the same as I remembered, minus a few chips in the siding and the strained foundation. I glanced behind me at the spot opposite the cabin across the turnaround and saw Froggy Pond. It was a small pond three feet deep at its deepest and with a gurgling spring on its right bank that fed it year-around. On the left the gurgling spring left the pond and resumed its journey down the mountain. The constant flow meant the water was clean, and I looked forward to swimming init.

I chill autumn wind swept past me and reminded me now wasn’t the time for a bathing suit and tanning sun. There was also the eerie silence of the woods, and I hadn’t seen any birds or tree-climbing rodents on my way down the driveway. I grabbed a box of food and hurried up to the cabin. The door was locked, but not for long. I swung open the portal and peeked inside. The front of the cabin-house was the living room on the left and the dining room and kitchen in front and on the right. There was also a large fireplace in the living room on the left wall, and a stone mantel over that. The far back of the house was closed off for the bedroom and bathroom. The floor was made of unfinished wood, the windows were single-pane, and one look at the ceiling told me there’d been some water damage in the near-past.

I noticed two switches beside me, touched my finger to one of them, and prayed. My finger flipped the switch and the dingy bulb on the porch lit up. Wrong switch. I tried the other and it flicked on the living room light. The decor of the house was second-hand furniture with early-pre-century hunting memorabilia on the wall. Bear and cougar heads glared back at me, and the deer looked frightened. I stuck my tongue at them, marched into the kitchen and plopped down the box. One down, a half dozen togo.

4

I walked back outside and had one foot on the top step when I heard the soft turn of wheels on the rutted road. A slick red corvette appeared down the driveway and stopped just behind my car. At the wheel was a man in a thick white sweater and dark sunglasses. He had jet-black hair that was too dark to be anything but dyed, and he looked about fifty-five, but wanted people to believe he was forty. His passenger was a woman the same fake age in a white dress that worked as well in the woods as army gear at a dance studio. They stepped out and the woman showed off her matching high-heels. In her hand was a matching white purse in which she stuffed her own black sunglasses.

She flashed me a smile so white I was nearly blinded by the light shining off those pearly teeth. “Hello there. We saw you pass by and thought we’d see if someone had finally managed to wring this lovely pond land from that oldman.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You mean Mr. Johnson?” I guessed.

She waved her hand. “Yes, that man. Wasn’t he atrocious? We read in the paper that he had put the land for sale, but he flatly refused to hear our offer.”

The man walked around the car, put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, and smiled at me. His smile wasn’t so blinding. “You must excuse my wife. She’s still disappointed we couldn’t enlarge our property. You see, we own the lower parcel and had hoped to join the lots,” he explained. He walked up to me and held out his hand. “The name is Vandersnoot. I’m Mark, and this is my wife, Clara.”

I took his hand and gave it a shake. “Christina Monet,” I replied.

“What a lovely name!” Clara commented. She walked up, pushed aside her husband with her thin, pointy hips, and gave my hand a gentle squeeze. “I’m sure we’ll be wonderful friends and neighbors. Unless, of course, you wish to sell us this beautiful land.” She released me and swept her hand over Froggy Pond. “It’s the source of most of the water for our lawn and well, and we so hoped to be able to funnel it through that nasty swamp and into our cistern.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to sell yet,” I told her. Maybe in forty or fifty years.

Clara sighed and shrugged. “Oh well, you can’t blame a woman for trying.”

Mark stepped forward and wrapped an arm around his lovely wife’s thin waist. “We aren’t really here to make you an offer for the land. Why we really followed you was to offer you the usual greeting for a new neighbor, the Welcome Party at our house.”

I cringed. More time spent in Clara’s company was time I could never get back. “I don’t know. I have all this unpacking and cleaningand-”

Clara laughed and waved away my concerns with her slender, well-manicured fingers. “Oh, we don’t expect you to come down today. We need time to plan ourselves, but everything should be ready in threedays.”

“I really appreciate the gesture, but-”

“I won’t take ‘but’ or ‘no’ for an answer, will we, Mark?” Clara insisted.

He smiled and shrugged. “If Miss Monet is busy we shouldn’t-”

Clara scowled at him. “Now don’t go ruining my fun. It’s so dull around here that getting together with the neighbors is the only excitement Ihave.”

“What about the trails?” I suggested.

Clara turned to me with wide eyes and a slightly ajar mouth. “Whateverfor?”

I shrugged. “For walking and exploring?”

She wrinkled her nose. “Oh no, not that. Far too many bugs and wild animals.”

“She might be right about the wild animals,” Mark spoke up. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’ve had some trouble with black bears rummaging through our garbage cans. Sometimes they try to get inside, but our alarm system scares themoff.”

Clara wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered. “Oh, those awful things! It almost wants to make you move back to the city.” Her eyes flickered to her husband, who merely laughed and shook hishead.

“Almost, but not quite,” he replied.

Her shoulders dropped and her arms dropped to her sides. She glared at him before turning a smile on me. “Well, to forget those nasty bears we have parties, and we’ll have your Welcome party in three days because I am parched for some excitement. Say you’ll come and we’ll hurryoff.”

How could I refuse that offer? “Sure, sounds great.” I should have been an actress, or a conman.

Clara clapped her hands together and nearly hopped out of her husband’s grasp. “Wonderful! Our house is the first one down the hill, and dinner starts at six-thirty. Wear your best clothes, no jeans, and don’t worry about the food and drinks. We’ll get everything ready and have everyone just dying to meet you when I tell them what a wonderful person youare.”

“I don’t know if I want you starting lies about me,” I quipped.

Mark barked out a laugh. “Now that’s a refreshing sense of humor. Very honest.”

Clara’s eyes flickered between Mark and me, and I sensed a large green-eyed monster in their depths. “Well, we must be going. We have so many invitations to send out and a catering company to get a hold of.” She grabbed Mark and pulled him back to thecar.

He smiled at her and waved at me. “Be seeingyou!”

I smiled in return and gave them my best princess wave. The strange pair slipped into the car and drove off. I was both relieved and nervous to see them go. Clara tried my patience like the worst editor, but at least her loud voice shut out the quiet that still engulfed my small grove. I grabbed another box from my car and hurried into the house.

My wish for noise was granted when I heard the first cardboard box on the kitchen counter shake. I paused halfway across the floor and raised an eyebrow at the animated inanimate object. The box shook again, and from the open flaps popped out the head of a squirrel. In its mouth was a cracker.

“Hey!” I yelled atit.

The squirrel squeaked and jumped from the box. I tossed my armful onto the couch and chased after the furry fiend. It clung onto the unfinished wood of the cupboards and climbed to the ceiling. In the far corner of the kitchen was a small, dark hole, and the fiend fled into its sanctuary. I climbed onto the counter and glared at the hole six inches from my face. It looked like an entrance to the small attic between the ceiling and the point of the roof. I heard the squirrel’s claws scramble across the beams and to the far end of the house. The noise stopped, and I heard the faint sound of chewing. The damn thing was mocking me by eating my cracker.

I grabbed a towel used to pad one of the cardboard boxes and stuffed the hole. That would solve another unexpected burglary, but I suspected the evil creature had gotten into the attic through a hole somewhere in the roof. I kept my eyes on the towel and unpacked the rest of my things. The cupboards were bare of everything except a really old looking can of beans. I’d save that for an unruly guest, if I ever had any guests.

My clothes I plopped onto an old, squeaky bed in the bedroom, and I found the bathroom was in need of a woman’s touch, or a demolition. Since I was short on demolition money and high on a woman’s touch I opted to clean the thing. That was how I spent most of what remained of my first afternoon because there was no way I was going to sit down on a toilet that started out black and ended up the usual white porcelain.

I was relieved physically and emotionally when I finished the scouring and scrubbing. It was four o’clock, and the sun was low in the sky. The shadows outside lengthened, and I made sure every bulb and light switch in the house worked. The squirrels hadn’t decided the electrical was a good last supper and everything worked as it should. After being so long in a bathroom, however, I felt cooped up in the small house and opted for a short walk before mother nature shut off her daylight.

I wrapped myself in a warm coat and stepped out on the porch. The air had a hint of the chill of night, but the woods were more alive now than earlier in the afternoon. Birds chirped in the branches, and here and there a chipmunk scurried along tree trunk and limb in their search for food. I couldn’t figure it out except that maybe a union strike had ended and everyone was back on the job. Whatever had made the animals come back to the woods, I was grateful for the company as I stepped off the porch and looked around.

There was the pond ahead of me, but my eyes caught sight of a familiar trail to my right. If my memory served me that led to another clearing like mine, but rather than a house there was a small wood cabin. Settlers had built it two hundred years before, but when I had visited with my folks the place was deserted by all but the forest creatures. The trees had grown up all around it and nestled their branches against its walls and atop its roof. I’d scampered through the door in search of treasures and found a few broken bits of pottery and a fork. I kept and treasured those all these years, and now they lay in one of my boxes awaiting unpacking. They were to be placed in the spot of honor on the mantel.

My heart leapt when I thought of what other treasures I could find in that bare cabin and proudly display on my mantel. I didn’t have any friends to show off the things, but it would still be neat to search and dig up lost treasures. I hurried down the path with my thoughts full of hidden teacups and pitchers.

5

The path itself was surprisingly well-used, and I guessed the hunters and their prey traveled along the trail regularly. No branches tapped my head, and no brush brushed against my coat sleeves as I walked onward. The trail wound its way up a slight incline, and the trees off the path were so thick that I quickly lost sight of my cabin. Onward and upward I went as the day threatened to turn into night. I’d forgotten how far the old settler’s cabin was from mine, and after a half hour and no clearing in sight I paused to assess the situation.

The air was thinner up there, and I doubled over and gasped for the precious life-gas. As I stood there gasping my eyes caught on something stuck to a nearby bush. I grasped the tan, soft object and held it up to the dwindling light. It was a clump of fur like a dog’s, but as soft as a down pillow. It could have come off the dog of a hunter, but the fur had been trapped on was three feet above the ground. The dog must have jumped at something to get its fur stuck thathigh.

There came a faint thwack as metal met wood. I pocketed the fur in my coat jacket and whipped my head from left to right. Nothing on the sides. The noise echoed through the trees again, and I realized it was ahead of me. I tiptoed forward and just around the bend was the meadow I’d been dreaming about with its quaint settler cabin.

Unfortunately, my dreams were dashed when I saw that the area had been cleared of all its trees thirty yards from the cabin. The culprit of this atrocity to my childhood memories was a handsome man of thirty who stood near the path. He wore a thick woolen shirt, boots, and dirty jeans, and his unruly brown hair was short and matched his eyes. Everything would have been perfect but for his long hair and unruly bear. In his hands was the tell-tale ax, and in front of him stood a tree a foot thick, but with a chewed triangle at the base of the trunk where his ax had bitten into its flesh.

At the sight of such carnage my heart sank. My childish dreams were shattered, and all because of this handsome man. This stranger could have been an angel, a god, or other celestial-beings-that-he-was-not. I grudgingly admitted that he was nearly all of those things, but because he had shattered my childhood memories he needed to die. Or have a talking to because I was pretty sure some of this damage was my property.

I balled my hands into fists and marched up to the ax-wielding fiend. Then I remembered he was an ax-wielding fiend and stopped my march five yards from him. “What do you think you’re doing here?” I growled.

He paused in his destruction, shouldered the ax and smiled at me. I swear his teeth shimmered like in those toothpaste commercials. “People generally call this tool an ax, and I use it to clear the land around my cabin,” he toldme.

I raised an eyebrow and crossed my arms over my chest. “You’re cabin?” I repeated.

“Well, that’s what the deed says,” he replied.

“Well, I have a deed that says this cabin is on my property,” I insisted.

The man leaned his ax against the half-cut tree and clapped his hands together. He offered one of them to me. “You must be the other owner of the Johnson property. My name’s Adam Smith. A pleasure to meetyou.”

I ignored his hand. “What do you mean ‘other owner?’”

Smith dropped his hand, but not his smile. “Mr. Johnson’s land had two parcels. I wanted this one, and he sold the other to you,” he explained.

“How do I know you’re not just a squatter trying to lay claim to my cabin?” I questionedhim.

“If I had a phone I could call up Mr. Johnson, but since reception isn’t that great up here I’ll go get my deed.” He turned away and strode into the cabin. My eyes flickered between the ax and where the man had gone. I pondered running away with his weapon and calling the cops, but he reappeared. In his hand was a folded slip of paper, and he walked over and held the paper out to me. “Here’s my proof.”

I snatched the paper from him and unfolded it. The slip turned out to be a deed exactly like the one I owned that was safely tucked in an unpacked box. There was Mr. Johnson’s shaky signature beside one that read ‘Adam Smith.’ He had an incredibly epic John Hancock, what with its long scrawls and smooth lines. I cursed him a thousand times for having proof of ownership, and another thousand for his beautiful handwriting.

“I guess you’re telling the truth,” I mumbled as I handed the deedback.

He pocketed the deed and held out my hand. “So can we start over on the rightfoot?”

I tucked my arms into one another. “I’m left-footed, so no,” I shot back. His eternal optimism never wavered. He snatched one of my hands from my arm and gave it a hearty shake. “Hey!” I yelped. I jumped back and clutched my injured fingers. He had a hell of a grip. “That’s assault, youknow!”

He laughed and shook his head. “I didn’t, so I’ll have to plead ignorance of thelaw.”

His laughter was almost infectious, but I kept my lips pursed. “Well, it is, so don’t do it again!”

“Why don’t we discuss these latest nuances of the law in my cabin?” He gestured to the old settler’s cabin, and I had to admit he’d fixed it up without ruining the natural aesthetic. The logs had new gray chink between them, and the original door stood once more on shiny new hinges. A stovepipe stuck out the roof and a puff of smoke sailed into thesky.

I turned away back toward the path. “I just remembered I have an important appointment.” Probably with a squirrel gorging himself on my food. I hurried down the path angry and disappointed. Never a good combination for a tired and hungry woman.

“Can I at least have your name?” he called out, but I ignored him and kept on myway.

I know what you’re thinking, that he didn’t deserve the treatment I gave him and how I was a terrible person. Well, after careful consideration I think you’re right, but at that time I was a woman disappointed and careful consideration was a long time in coming. I marched down that path and rammed my foot down one at a time. My hands were jammed in my coat pockets and I glared at every twig and branch wishing they would wither. My mutterings broke the silence aroundme.

“Damn him acting like he didn’t do anything wrong. How could he go and wreck all those trees!”

I paused and frowned. There was that eerie silence again. I turned around and looked for the cute woodland creatures, but like their noises they were gone. Come to think of it, I hadn’t heard any noises in the clearing around Smith’s property. Maybe he was the source of the Twilight Zone phenomena, but I couldn’t see how that was if we only just met. That is, unless he was stalking me without my knowing.

I clutched the neck of my coat in one hand and my eyes flitted around the silent, dark woods. The sun had only thirty minutes to live, and I hoped I had longer. I glanced behind me at the corner around which was this Adam Smith, alias Aspiring-ax-wielding-murderer, but he wasn’t in sight. Still, a girl couldn’t be too careful and I dashed down the trail. My feet pounded the dirt. My heart pounded my chest. I flew across the ground and covered the thirty-minute distance in underten.

I broke from the head of the path and stumbled into my clearing. Relief and exhaustion battled for domination, and exhaustion won. I stumbled to my house, stepped inside, and slammed the door behind me. My back slumped against the door, and I flipped on the switch. The porch light turned on. Wrong switch again. I flicked on the other one and the cabin was illuminated with the bare-bulbed light of the incandescent marvels.

I found my towel in the corner ceiling was still in place and my food in the cabinets was untouched. I used my epic cooking skills to microwave a small pizza and gulp it down in a few bites. The sun set and the interior of the cabin grew noticeably colder, somewhere between too-cold and have-my-toes-dropped-off. I went to work on making a fire in the fireplace, but firemen had nothing to fear from me. Though I had a box of kindling and a stack of dry logs at my disposal, I couldn’t start a fire with a coal from hell itself. The paper wouldn’t light, the logs wouldn’t light. Hell, my lighter wouldn’t light. It was out of fuel. I’d have to make a drive down to the general store or I’d freeze off my assets.

Without fire there was nothing to do but put on a warm set of pajamas and dive beneath the thick pile of blankets I stacked on the bed. I snuggled my pillow and dreamed of warm days swimming in my pond or typing out my latest column on my porch.

6

My sweet dreams were interrupted at a god-awful hour by the bay of a large dog. I sat up and my bleary eyes refused to open. My first thought was one of my apartment neighbors needed to shut their dog up. Then I opened my eyes and remembered where I was. My new thought was that I needed a gun because I didn’t have any neighbors that close and that sure as hell didn’t sound like a chihuahua howling at a fire siren.