THE CLAIMING (The Chosen Series #1)

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ROAD TRIP

She works hard for the money.
So hard for it, honey.
She works hard for the money.
So you better treat her right.

Singing to myself, I tilt my head to the side doing a final check of my outfit in the mirror. I am satisfied with the tan leather boots, skinny black jeans, and white blouse, but pause when I look at my face. Pulling back the dark blonde mane that is my hair, I blink several times as I take in my pale complexion and tired eyes. Yep, this girl is in desperate need of a holiday!

I lift my wrist and check my smart watch, confirming that I’m still on time. Satisfied, I do a final check of my house, ensuring that the windows and doors are locked, the electricals and any light switches are off, and my plant is now potentially drowned. When everything is in order, I move through the front door, locking it behind me, and make my way to the front porch. Biting my bottom lip and rechecking the time, I smile, my upcoming adventure making me giddy with excitement. I need to make a quick stop at the office to drop off some files, then it’s only another 4 hours until I hit the main town.

Walking down the white wooden steps, I go over everything I need in my head before jumping in my car.

Luggage packed, front door locked, phone, wallet, keys in my bag, hot coffee in the cup holder, and glasses on. CHECK!

I sigh, my body tingling with nervous energy, and press the ignition, putting my car into drive. Waiting for my heating to kick in, I allow my thoughts to drift to my destination. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Spur and the cabin.

Checking my mirrors and making sure I’m clear, I release the brake and make my way into town.

............................................................................................................

Tapping my hands on the steering wheel of my silver Ford Edge, I drive into the parking garage of Protech Industries and pull into my usual spot.

Dusting invisible dirt off my jacket, I take the elevator up to the 5th-floor office of our large building complex and make my way to Erin’s office, laying the files she requested of the L’obscurité acquisition on top of her desk.

“Morning.” I chirp, a massive smile plastered on my face.

“Ava, bitch,” Erin’s husky voice fills the room as she stands. “Congratulations on a job well done. The whole office is buzzing, and thanks for bringing these in.” She exclaims, pointing her red-tipped, manicured fingers toward the pile and grinning. “Anyway, tell me, what are your plans when you arrive and don’t leave anything out.”

Blowing a raspberry at my work colleague and best friend, I shrug.

“Erin, you know my plans; we’ve spoken about this, like several times already,” I chuckle, watching as she plants a hand on her hip and pouts. Humoring her, I tell her the same thing I told her the last 5 or 6 times she asked, “I plan to get to the cabin and sleep, then maybe eat and sleep some more, oh, and did I mention that I plan to sleep?”

“I assume you’ll need to sleep, you know, in-between getting down and dirty with the local delicacies,” Erin suggests raising her dark eyebrows comically. “I mean, that’s what I’d be doing if I was off to a romantic cabin in the woods, surrounded by handsome, rugged mountain men that are looking for just the right woman to sweep them off their feet.”

I choke out a laugh at her response. Most people would think to correct Erin and tell her that it’s the man’s job to sweep a woman off their feet, but I have known her for far too long to see that she meant what she said. Erin is no damsel and, when she sees something she likes, she goes for it.

“You never know,” she continues, “you might meet a tall, dark, and massively hung stranger that’ll knock your socks off, amongst other things!”

Sighing, I shake my head at her. Men are so not in the forefront of my mind. All I want to do is arrive, pay my respects and turn off reality for a while, maybe have a few wines in the process.

After my company won the Bradshaw contract, this trip was planned as my celebration present.

It was perfect timing when I received the email eight months ago from one of my customers, who also happened to be old family friends, offering me the use of their cabin. It was available anytime I wanted.

Now, six months down the track, the Bradshaw project is complete, making many people a lot of money. It’s the perfect time to get away, and only a few days away from the anniversary.

“I mean, Ava, you’re smoking hot; you’re 28, single, successful, and have some pretty decent assets,” Erin emphasizes, pointing to her well-endowed chest, her voice dropping to a lower octave. “You just need to get laid, a nice cock or two, and then the relaxation will come naturally.”

I can’t help but roll my eyes at her response. “Look, Erin, firstly, the cabin is remote NOT romantic, and secondly, if I do happen to meet a nice local, I won’t rule anything out, but no promises.”

“Good, I swear, the only person to visit your vagina in the past few years has been the Grim Reaper, checking to see if it was still alive or ready for collection.”

I laugh again. Erin isn’t that far off the mark. If it weren’t for my little tool chest, I would also wonder if my special place below still had a heartbeat. Thankfully, I can confirm that it’s alive and well. It’s just not that interested in any other third party at the moment.

“It will be good for you Ava, take the edge off a little. It’s not as if you have to bring them back home with you. Just enjoy your time and don’t turn down an opportunity if it presents itself.” Erin continues, her steel-black eyes pleading.

“Okay, mum, I won’t,” holding my hand over my heart to emphasize, “I promise, but only if YOU promise to keep my office safe from the vultures.”

“Done, but I expect regular updates from you, young lady.”

I shake my head, my curls flying about, and exhale slowly, “Fine, I will message you once I arrive, but don’t get all grumpy if I forget to message you to tell you when I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Ma’am, yes ma’am,” she salutes before checking her diamond-encrusted, stainless steel watch, a gift from one of her many admirers, “Anywho, ciao bitch, get your ass out of here. Otherwise, you won’t arrive until after dark, and DO NOT forget to message!”

“I won’t, mum. Love you.” I chuckle, moving towards her.

I pull her in for an embrace, her arms wrapping around me, giving me an extra hard squeeze. “I’ll miss you, girl,” Erin whispers before releasing me.

“Likewise.”

Not one for pleasantries, Erin turns back to her desk to retrieve her phone, which is vibrating silently. “I gotta take this.”

Nodding, I blow her a kiss and leave the office, my boots clicking on the marble tiles as I walk to the elevator.

............................................................................................................

I take the first exit off the motorway to the town of Black Mountain and tune the radio to a local station and listen to the crackling voice of a female broadcaster.

“No updates on the missing men, but we remain positive that they will be found safely and returned to their loved ones soon.”

Switching over to another station, I stop on The Weeknd’s, Blinding Lights, and make my way into town.

I take in my surroundings and am hit with a wave of nostalgia as I move through the main street, unchanged with time and looking the same way it did the last time I was here. Smiling to myself, I take in the same brightly colored weatherboard shops, positioned between brick and stone buildings, showcasing their ornate black and cast iron signs.

I find an empty car space, park, and step out. Food timme!

Heading to the local butchers, which still has its original bright red and white awning out front, I take in the mountain air, it’s crisp with an undertone of a wood fire, making me tingle with delight. I have always loved the outdoors, the smell of fire and nature.

Five stores later and a car full of fresh produce, I manage to stumble across a quaint little café/bakery called Nan’s, just off the main drag and must be a new addition to this already picturesque town. Sitting out the front on the cobblestone path is a little kids chalkboard displaying the message, ‘Despresso: the feeling you get when you’ve run out of coffee. Get your fix here.’

Chuckling and ready for my caffeine refill, I open the door, nearly bumping into a man with dark brown hair as he exits, the smell of freshly cut grass hitting me. Looking up at the tall figure, I apologize before moving aside and letting him pass. I see him smile in response, dimples forming in his cheeks. My tummy does a little flip. Breaking eye contact, I move inside and immediately smell the aroma of fresh pastries making my tummy rumble.

“What can I get ya, love?” questions a middle-aged woman, whose name, according to the tag pinned to her black apron, is Nora. I smile at the slight Irish lilt to her voice, a tinge of nostalgia hitting me as I make my way over to the black antique-looking register. Erin would love this place.

“Hi,” I replied, moving closer, “large Latte, and whatever I can smell, take-away, please.”

Laughing, her hazel eyes twinkle, “Well, that would be the almond croissants, just came out of the oven.”

Adding freshly ground beans into the machine, Nora continues. “Are you here for the Halloween festival, love, or just passing through?”

“Um,” I pause, seeing no harm in sharing my plans. I’m most likely going to be back here before I go home, “I’m here for the next two weeks staying at a friend’s cabin about 15 mins up the Spur. I don’t know anything about a festival, though.”

“Oh, that wouldn’t be Olivia and Paul’s cabin? They did mention a lovely young lady would be visiting,” she beams, causing me to inwardly groan, forgetting how small this town can be, “oh and the festival is this weekend, the whole town gets involved, it’s quite a lovely event.” Nora adds, passing over my coffee and pastry, “In the meantime, love,” she continues, “might I suggest that if you’re looking for a bite to eat after hours, I’d recommend Brady’s. It’s just on the corner over there. They make a mean burger and are reasonably priced too.”

Remembering the old pub I visited with my parents, I nod, handing over cash.

“Be careful, though, love. The roads up the Spur can be tricky to navigate at night. The last thing a young lady like yourself needs is to be stranded out there,” she warns.

“Will do, thanks,” I reply, taking my coffee and brown paper bag of yummies, before exiting, once again hit by the mountain air.

Making my way back towards my car and thinking over her words, I blink several times and take a deep breath. I know first-hand the dangers of the Spur. I have ten years of nightmares and the scars to show just how BAD those roads can get.

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