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Trixie Lyal stumbles upon the scoop of a lifetime when her move to a new town takes a detour into the paranormal world of Apple Hollow. She winds up at the local diner where she meets a handsome local by the name of Orion. Cupid stings her heart but not the headlines as strange happenings stir her curiosity.A quick investigation leads to a long road where she becomes her own headline, and a werewolf. Mob-rule forces her to join the ranks of the town’s residents and her babysitter turns out to be her own handsome Orion. Unfortunately for him, she has plans to escape her scoop and fly the coop. To do that, though, she’ll have to survive the coming wild days of were-people, and her own insatiable lust for a certain devilishly handsome wolf.
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Copyright © 2017 by Mac Flynn
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Continue the adventure
Other series by Mac Flynn
I never wanted, or expected, to be a part of the news, especially in a story I couldn’t publish. But such was my life as a small-town newspaper reporter with seriously badluck.
But first, I had to do a little bitching about my old job as I stumbled upon my new job, and newlife.
“I hate snow. I hate snow. I hatesnow.”
That was my mantra as I eased down the wintry county road. I was alone in my small, beat-up old sedan. It was fifty-thousand miles overdue for a checkup, but the wealth of a newspaper reporter wasn’t exactly counted in dollar amounts. It was more like a calling. An urge to know the truth. A longing to shed light on the facts.
Or that’s the bullshit I kept telling myself as I inched past the two-foot high snowdrifts that stood as sentinels along either side of theroad.
“Why couldn’t they have waited to lay me off some other time? Like July?” I muttered to myself.
It was true. I was unemployed, or rather, in-between jobs. The old job was two-hundred miles behind me, and the new one was a hundred miles and a mountain pass in front ofme.
I glanced out the windshield and sighed. The freak weather storm had been predicted, but I never thought I’d see such weather for early October. The only excuse was the road I found myself on sat somewhere around oxygen-tank elevation.
A flurry of thick, white snowflakes fell from the dark gray sky above me. The whiteness stretched forever, as did the rest of the scenery. I was in a stretch of the country that had few houses and even fewer cities. The hamlets and valleys I’d passed through could have been missed if I blinked. Clumps of small forests and rolling hills pocketed the land to my left. On my right was the constant companion of an ice-filled river with its banks peppered with tall, bare-bone trees occupied by the occasional unfriendly predator bird. Above me the sky showed that there was only an hour left untildark.
“Why couldn’t you have asked them for a little more time?” I scolded myself as I rounded another corner in the countryroad.
‘Them’ was my soon-to-be employer, a newspaper in a far-off city. I would be at the bottom of the totem-pole, a novice reporter in an unfamiliar metropolis. The city I left behind was my hometown, but it had done me wrong by not offering me any job opportunities. My flight from the unemployment line hadn’t been well-received by my mother.
“What do you mean you’re moving?” she’d shrieked after I told her the good news that I’d found ajob.
“They’re the only ones who offered me a job,” I’d pointedout.
“Well, maybe you didn’t look hard enough.”
“Mom, I contacted two dozen. Only three even got back tome.”
“But why that far?” my mom persisted.
“I don’t have much of a choice.”
A hulking shadow jumped into the road ten yards in front of me. I slammed on the brake and the car decided to do a dance across the slick surface of the road. Its rear slid left and right as IT skidded to a stop a few feet from the shadow. My headlights glistened off a bunch of brown, wet fur that covered something that stood on two legs. Yellow eyes glared at me from an elongated face before it turned away and loped across the road to my left. The thing jumped the growing snowdrift and disappeared into the white wilderness.
I leaned back in my seat and clutched at my heart. “Easy there, girl, easy. It’s gone. You’resafe.”
My heart was somewhat soothed. I turned the steering wheel so the car faced forward and inched my way into a straight path. The snowflakes fell faster and the day grew darker as night threatened to scare me silly. It’d have to really try after that terrifying creature scare.
“Stop letting your imagination get the best of you. There’s nothing out here but snow and crazy old miners. . .” I mumbled to myself. My eyes flickered to the side of the road where the creature had disappeared. “Wish I’d find one of those crazy old miners so they could tell me where the heck Iam.”
My prayers were answered by the sight of a road block on my side of the road. Two vehicles with state trooper markings were parked in front and behind the road block, and the drivers stood together on my end of the block. They both wore the large-brimmed hats and uniforms of old. One of them held up his hand and walked towards me. I slowed to a stop, this time without the dance moves, and stuck my head out my open window.
“Something wrong, officer?” I askedhim.
He walked up to me and smiled. “Sorry to tell you this, miss, but the road’s closed ahead.”
“Closed? Why?” I askedhim.
“This storm might not look like much here, but there’s winds on the top and the snow’s coming down too fast to see,” he explained.
I leaned back and threw up my hands. “Perfect. Just perfect.” A fitting end to a two-thirds completed hellish white roadtrip.
“If you need some place to stay there’s the last town you passed. Apple Hollow,” he suggested. “They’ve got a good motel with clean rooms and you won’t meet a friendlier bunch of people. Tomorrow you might be able to get through. The weather’s a little funny up here. One day we’ll have a blizzard and the next it’ll be all melted.”
I furrowed my brow. “I didn’t see anytown.”
“That’s because it’s set a ways back from the state highway and they don’t really advertise themselves,” he explained. He pointed at the road behind me. “You go back about a mile and take the first plowed road on the right. Go for about ten miles around two corners and you should find the hollow it’sin.”
I sighed and shrugged. “Why not? I’ve got time.” I raised an eyebrow and my eyes flickered to the trooper. “How much time do Ihave?”
He shook his head. “I couldn’t say, but it won’t be today. This is one of the last roads the state plows,” he warnedme.
“Well, thanks for the tip,” I told him. I went to roll up my window, but he put his hand on thesill.
“Just a friendly warning, though, miss. The people in the town are suspicious of gossip hounds, so you might not want to tell them you’re a reporter,” he advisedme.
I frowned and my eyes narrowed. “How’d you know I was a reporter?”
He grinned and pointed at my rear view mirror. A press pass hung from the neck. “It doesn’t take a reporter to see that,” he teased.
I sheepishly smiled and pulled down the pass. “Thanks.”
“Anyway, good luck,” he called to me as he steppedback.
I had no idea how badly I’d needit.
I turned my car around and crept back the mile he advised. My short, light-weight car slipped and slid in the increasingly tall snow drifts that littered the road. The wind picked up and threw the white fluffy stuff across the narrow highway so that I couldn’t see the yellow center-line. The lines on the sides were covered by the drifts from plowingspast.
I crept along the road and was relieved to see the turnoff. The country road was well-plowed compared to the highway, and I steered onto the road with a sigh. The road was barely wide enough for two cars of my size to pass, but I didn’t have any opposing traffic. The road wound as the trooper said. Civilization was left behind and replaced by scattered farmhouses and open fields dotted with the occasional bunch of trees. To my left and some five miles off was a large forest that stretched into a group of peeked mountains. To my far right was another group of craggy mountains. Those were part of the mountain range over which I was unable to pass. That meant the town I headed was cradled between a rock and a hard place.
I weaved around a few corners and watched with increasing concern as the snow drifts piled higher around me. There was a slight tunnel effect, and what with the road being so narrow I felt that any chance at turning around was cutoff.
“Just don’t stop if you hear banjos. . .” I muttered to myself, referencing a theme from an old movie about hillbilly cannibals.
The worst part was that I’d make a great meal. I wasn’t exactly skinny. Some people, trying to be polite, would call me big-boned, but I knew I wasn’t the slimmest Barbie on the block. I was definitely plump, but at least I had the boobs to go with my figure. Everything else was in proportion, too, just a larger proportion than I would have liked.
“Come on, girl, get yourself together. . .” I murmured as I rounded the lastbend.
I slowed the car to a stop and beheld the hollow below me. From the trooper’s description I expected a cluster of houses with a ratty motel. Instead I was greeted by a bowl-shaped depression in which sat two dozen rows of fine houses, most of a great age, and all in perfect square blocks that were evenly spaced. The sidewalks were lined with ancient oaks and maples, and the center street that connected with the road on which I sat was clearly designated as the commercial district. Small shops with clean windows looked out on the main road, and their bright, warm lights invited people inside for the coming holiday season. A large hospital stood in the south, and at the east in the distance was a two-floor brick schoolhouse.
The countryside around the town seemed to blend into the outlying neighborhoods. Yards melded into fields that stretched to the farmhouses, and beyond those was the dark forest. The whole area was covered in a thick layer of white fluff. It was as perfect as a postcard.
“Wow. . .” I whispered.
A harsh wind against the side of the car reminded me I wasn’t in the perfect-picture town, yet. I drove down the gentle hill and into the town. I left behind more than just tire tracks. The harsh wind and flurries were left at the peak of the hill. There must have been some sort of micro-climate caused by the depression.
I looked around. There was hardly a soul in view. The wintry weather kept most people indoors, but a few school-aged kids wandered down the sidewalks in groups, and here and there were some shoppers.
I passed an intersection and got a view of the side streets. To my left and one street down sat a tall brick building with a bell tower. On its right and situated on the corner of the block sat a combination of the police and fire stations.
I found my motel at the end of the main street. It was a group of small buildings shaped into a three-sided square with the office in the left front corner. The sign over the front read Moonlight Motel. There were a few other cars in the plowed parking lot, but I got prime real estate in front of the office. I stepped out and looked around.
The first thing I noticed was how quiet the town was. There wasn’t a single blaring horn, yelling pedestrian, or even a mother shouting for her kids to get the hell inside. The silence wasn’t unnerving, though. It actually felt peaceful. I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of pine trees from the nearby forest, and a hint of diesel from the recently departed plow truck. The smells actually complimented each other.
“Not bad, but I bet not much goes on. . .” I murmured to myself as I shut my door and walked to the officedoor.
The lights were on, and as I stepped inside I noticed an older gentleman behind the desk. He looked up from his paper, a rag with the title of The Daily Brew, and smiled at me. The man folded the paper and met me at thedesk.
“What can I do for you?” he askedme.
“I need a room for the night, or at least until the pass opens,” I toldhim.
“I’d be glad to put up such a lovely young lady,” the man replied as he took a key from a board full of the things and held it out to me. “I think Number Thirteen should do just fine foryou.”
I took the key, but frowned. “Isn’t that a little bit unlucky?” I pointedout.
He chuckled and his eyes crinkled around the corners. “Around here we consider it an especially lucky number.”
“Oh-um, thanks, I guess,” I replied.
He waved away my compliment with his hand. “None of that now. You’ll make an old man blush.”
“Do these rooms have any microwaves or stoves?” I askedhim.
The man shook his head. “Nope, but there’s a good diner just down the way. You won’t find a better home-cookedmeal.”
“I think I’ll try it. What’s its name?” I wondered.
“Spellbinding Food,” he toldme.
I nodded. I remembered seeing that name on one of the long shop windows. “Thanks for theinfo.”
He winked at me. “Don’t mentionit.”
I looked down at the key in my hand. “Do I pay now or later?”
“Oh, no need to worry about payment just yet,” he assuredme.
My eyes flickered up to his smiling face and I frowned. “Whynot?”
There was a twinkle in his eye that I couldn’t read. “Just call it a hunch. Oh, and tell Mab, Troy sent you. She’ll give you a piece of apple pie, or a piece of her mind.” He chuckled at his ownjoke.
I managed a strained smile. “Thanks, I’ll dothat.”
He smiled and nodded. “See that you do.” He turned away, paused, and glanced over his shoulder with a wide smile on his face. “Oh, and good luck tonight. I’m sure you’ll needit.”
I backed up and nodded. “Um, yeah, I’m sure Iwill.”
This guy was nuts, but I didn’t have much choice but to follow his advice if I wanted a hot meal. The weather outside was calm, but the snow still fell in sheets of white. The job of the snow plow was fast disappearing, and so was the light. The time was three, and in an hour it would bedark.
“I hope I can find my car tomorrow. . .” I muttered to myself as I pulled my overnight bag out of mycar.
I made myself comfortable in the uncomfortably numbered room, and walked down the street to the diner. Something made me pause halfway down the road. I rounded a corner on one of the streets that intersected with the main road and glanced down at the residential area. The depression around the town forced the houses to be built on higher and higher ground.
Down the street I could see a good-sized hill. A group of kids sledded down the slope and climbed back up for another run. I watched mesmerized as the monkeys raced up the hill like they were high on pixie sticks. Their speed was incredible. They were just as fast going up and comingdown.
I don’t know how, but I must have caught their attention. One of the sledders reached the bottom and froze. They pointed at me and yelled something to their friends. The group scattered like criminals alerted to a cop car, leaving behind their sleds and the echo of their laughter.
I shrugged and walked on. Weirdkids.
The diner was one of those old-fashioned ice cream parlor-type diners with a counter on the right and tables on the left. The floor was decked in large red and white tiles, and the stools were a bright, shiny red. I decided to forgo the stools and stand-alone tables, and went for one of the cushioned booths. My rear was tired from the long drive. It needed a break and some pampering.
I sat down and leaned back. My eyes caught movement at the counter, and my gaze fell on a fiendish-looking feline. I furrowed my brow. I’m sure I hadn’t noticed it earlier. The creature was hard to miss, what with its jet-black fur and piercing yellow eyes. It stared back at me without blinking. Not even its tail or whiskers twitched.
I was never any good at staring contests and decided this one wasn’t worth winning, so I looked away. Movement grabbed my curiosity again and I glanced back at the counter. The cat was gone, but a human woman veered around the counter and walked over tome.
She was middle-aged woman with purple streaks in her long black hair and a wide smile on her face. She wore a white apron over her ample bosom and a long purple dress that draped like a robe down to her ankles. Her wrists were covered in shimmering bracelets that looked awfully real, and an ornate necklace was wrapped around her pale neck. In one hand was a pad, and in the other hand held the pencil.
She looked down and studied me with a sly smile.
“What a treasure the storm has brought us,” she commented.
I managed another of my tense smiles. By the time I got out of this weird town my face was going to be stuck like that. “Yeah. Just a lonely traveler trying to get over thepass.”
Her eyes flashed a strange color, I would have almost called it purple, and her sly smile widened. “But I sense your journey is almostover.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, or mostly. Anyway, what’s on themenu?”
“I think a spaghetti for you, and some garlic bread,” she commented.
I blinked at her and my eyes swept over the diner. “Is this an Italian place?” I wondered.
“For you, yes. Would you like our special sauce on the noodles?” she askedme.
“Um, yeah, I guess.” I did hanker for some pasta. “Andwith-”
“Large meatballs,” she finished forme.
I shrank into my cushioned seat and regarded her with suspicious eyes. “Yeah. How’d youknow?”
She chuckled. The sound sent a shiver down my spine. “You have the eyes of a predator. Would you like anything to drink withthat?”
“Not blood,” I quipped before I could stop myself.
The woman didn’t lose her smile as she wrote a few notes on her pad. “A coke will do, then. Your food will be ready in a few minutes.” She half-turned away from me, paused, and glanced over her shoulder. Her gleaming eyes looked down at me with a teasing look. “And you needn’t worry about the pass. The snow will stop soon enough.”
“The weather report says that?” I askedher.
She chuckled, and again I was left with a tingle down my back. “No, young one. Those weathermen are all fools to believe in their machines and graphs. I can’t smell it as well as others, but I can feelit.”
And with that she walked away with my order. That I kind of didn’t quite order myself.
“Smell it. . .?” I murmured.
And that’s when he came into the diner, and mylife.
The man slid into the booth seat opposite me and smiled. He was young and handsome with short, jet-black hair and sparkling blue eyes. His complexion was a little on the pale side, but his body was muscular and in shape. Not rock-solid, but something a girl could snuggle up to without getting poked and prodded byabs.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here. A new arrival?” he askedme.
I snorted. “More like a castaway. The storm on the pass drove mehere.”
“I see. I hope everyone’s made your stay comfortable,” he commented.
I raised an eyebrow. “Are you the mayor?”
He laughed and shook his head. “No, and I wouldn’t want the job. I’m just a simple hunter, a scouter, if you would.”
I blinked at him. “Awhat?”
“I help find lost things in the woods,” he explained.
I glanced out the window at the trees beyond the town. “That must be a pretty lucrative business aroundhere.”
“It has its rewards, but you haven’t answered my question,” he commented.
I turned back to him and raised an eyebrow. “I thought Idid.”
He smiled. “Well, maybe it’s an unanswered one. You see, you haven’t told me yourname.”
“Isn’t it the man who’s supposed to introduce himself first?” I pointedout.
His smile broadened and he held out his hand for a shake. “The name’s John Huntley, but most people just call me Orion.”
I grasped his hand and gave it a shake. “TrixieLyal.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Lyal? That’s an unusualname.”
“Well, it’s the only one I’ve got, so I guess I’ll keep it,” I quipped.
Orion retracted his hand and looked me over. “You ever thought about trading that name in for a newer model?”
I feigned shock. “Mr. Huntley-”
“Orion,” he correctedme.
“-I do believe you are trying to ask me to marry you,” I finished.
“Maybe I am,” he teased. He scooted his gut against the table and lowered his voice. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
I leaned back against the seat and smiled. “Anotherone?”
He grinned. “I could go at this all night if youwant.”
I shuddered. Now I knew how one of my victims in the newspaper industry felt. “Please don’t.”
“Then this’ll be the last one. How’d a beautiful woman like you get to be lost in a place like this?” he wondered. “Most people wait until after the snow storm to gethere.”
“I wish I would’ve been a little more ahead of the snow,” I commented. “But if you mustknow-”
“I must,” he teased.
“-I was on my way to a job on the other side of the mountain. I’m a reporter,” I toldhim.
Some of the humor vanished from his face and he raised an eyebrow. “What kind of reporter?”
I wagged a finger at him. “You said that’d be the last question.”
“Can’t a guy get a free lie every full moon?” he wondered.
“I’m sure you met your quota the day after the last full moon,” I teased. My eyes noticed movement out of the corner on my right, and I looked at the diner counter. The black cat was back. I jerked my thumb towards the counter and its feline inhabitant. “What’s with the cat, anyway?”
Orion followed my gaze and smiled. “Mab? She’s an old fixture around here,” he explained tome.
I furrowed my brow. “Isn’t that the name of the owner of the diner?”
His eyes studied my face. “Who told youthat?”
“There you go with those questions again,” I scoldedhim.
“Let’s just say your question refilled my count by one,” he suggested.
I snorted. “I’ve dealt with politicians who were less slick thanyou.”
“I grease myself every morning, but you still didn’t answer my question,” he remindedme.
I jerked my head in the direction of the motel. “The owner of the motel toldme.”
Orion raised an eyebrow. I was starting to notice a pattern. “Troy?”
“That’s the name he gave me to get me a free slice of apple pie,” I told him. Orion leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. He studied me with an unblinking, and unnerving, stare. “What? Do I have something on myface?”
He smiled and shook his head. “Only a beauty unsurpassed in these parts of the woods, but I think I’m keeping you from yourfood.”
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