There's Something in the Woods- Excerpt

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Chapter 3- Welcome to Hell

One didn’t expect to be greeted with news of murder the very moment they arrived in a new town, it added an unpleasant taint to the whole moving experience and Robin Moynihan wasn’t enjoying that experience so far. To him Angel Hollow sounded like a nauseating name full of false promise and clichés. Robin had to admit he had been expecting housewives, fake smiles and pies in the middle of nowhere town, not murder.

The teenager’s eyes rolled up to the fuzzy television in the diner and he felt a prickle of disappointment at finding murder here instead of pies. What kind of a diner didn’t have pie? Apparently the Happy Hello diner, a place both rusty and rustic as demonstrated by the almost fallen o letter outside and the off key bell above the door that needed a good polishing.

“Come on kiddo, we’ve got a lot of unpacking to do,” his mother, Jenna Moynihan, murmured as she flung down a few notes onto the small dish with the receipt in it. She ruffled his dark hair before she stood up from the worn barstool.

“Toilet break first,” she added as she turned to head towards the toilet doors.

Robin frowned as he tried to rub his hair back into place before standing and shoving his hands deep into his jeans’ pockets. His frown deepened as several low-key murmurs directed at his mother came from the navy, leather booths. Damn woman, why couldn’t she dress her age or at least dress like a mother?

Robin sympathised that his mom felt self-conscious and wanted a reminder of her attractiveness, her husband had gone and fucked an eighteen-year-old swimsuit model after all, but in Robin’s opinion dressing provocatively could not be the answer.

“Hey there.” One man stood up to try his luck. He wore a plaid shirt with torn sleeves to advertise his muscular arms and stained jeans held up with a black belt that boasted a large, ornate buckle. “You look new in town,” he offered Jenna a wide grin, “so am I, fancy a tour together?”

Robin thought a curse to whatever deity there might be as he frowned at the man and his woeful cliches. He glimpsed the group seated at the booth the man had stood up from.

Robin’s head tilted down in surprise towards them casting his eyes in shadow and turning them umber.

Three women occupied the booth. Only one of the women seemed vaguely interested in what their companion was doing whilst the others chatted across the table, giggled and played with a deck of cards.

Robin didn’t think he had ever seen women like these before. They were a wild, intriguing collection of vintage clad beauties, wearing crochet waistcoats, fishnet sleeves, suede jackets, tie-die bralets, and tight t-shirts with slogans with a variety of costume jewellery that clinked noisily on the table and jingled as they moved. Over the odour of over-greased, fried food Robin could detect hints of damp pine and evening primroses from their booths, an intriguing perfume that eased the groaning his stomach gave in protest to the burnt bacon rinds he’d swallowed out of hunger.

One of the women glanced up to Robin causing her long mane of copper-blonde hair to swing across her shoulder. She gave him a mocking smile with her coral pink lips before flipping him off with a finger decorated in a variety of rings.

“Maeve don’t be a bitch,” a blonde at the booth chided her.

Robin felt a rush of heat crawl up his neck prompting him to turn away and look to his mother.

To Robin’s disbelief his mother smiled up at the man and had started talking to him.

Robin yanked his hands out of his pockets and stepped up to Jenna.

“Mother time to go,” he grumbled.

“Easy kiddo,” Jenna said as she held her right hand up in protest and sank her kitten heels into the ground.

The man let out a mocking laugh that had Robin bristling as he felt the heat in his neck stretch up to his ears and knew they were turning pink. He had heard that kind of laugh a hundred times over and for some reason the effect it had on him never lessened.

“Mama needs a tour of the town kiddo.” The man grinned at Robin.

“Alright.” Jenna’s gaze for the man cooled. “It is getting late.”

“Come on now, why don’t I buy you a coffee? One stranger to town to another, and the kid can get a cookie. Let’s be nice about it.”

Jenna regarded him with a careful stare, noting that whilst his words sounded pleasant he had changed his stance just a little so that he stood directly in her way.

“We’re fine thanks,” Jenna answered with a frosty politeness.

“Come on, one cup, it might warm you up a little.” As he continued to try and persuade her as a nasty, mocking glint shone in his dark cerulean stare.

“Aw hell your first line was nauseous but that’s even worse,” a man’s voice called out loudly.

The plaid shirted male turned round sharply to glower at the man who had insulted him.

Robin stepped around his mom to get a look as well. His eyes widened at the sight of the beige shirt, taupe trousers and slightly askew hat of a lawman in the sheriff’s department.

The cop sat at the counter Robin and Jenna had occupied, a few stools down from the ones they had occupied. He leaned back on his stool to give the man in the dirty jeans a calm, unimpressed stare.

Jenna’s would be suitor hesitated in barking out a response as he took in the uniform. “I was just talking, is that not allowed in this town?”

The cop shrugged in answer. “Bad chat up lines like that should be illegal but luckily for you they’re not. Harassment however, that’s a different story.”

Surprise filled Robin as instead of the expected local drawl an accent Robin couldn’t quite place under-laced the cop’s voice, something he thought might be European but he couldn’t tell for certain. He wondered how and why someone from Europe would choose to come and live here, one brief glimpse of the town and Robin already wanted to turn tail and run.

“I was hardly harassing her,” the irate response came almost instantaneously. “Let me guess,” he added as his bushy brown eyebrows narrowed down, “you’re not a fan of strangers in your small town officer.”

“Hoyt,” the blonde at the table spoke up quietly as she looked up to the man with concern.

The cop started to laugh, shaking his head as he grinned and stood up from the barstool at last.

“Course I like strangers,” he said merrily, “my bonuses depend on this place’s tourism.”

Robin’s gaze slid back to the booth the man had stood up from as he noticed the silence that had fallen there. He saw the females were watching their male companion now whilst the seated male had craned his neck round the booth to look to the cop.

The cop stepped up to the man and flashed him a wide smile. “Look you took your shot and not only was your aim off but the bullet you used was corny as hell.”

The man tilted his head slightly as he tried to puzzle over the cop’s response, unclear on the metaphor.

The cop cocked his head slightly to stare down at the booth and its now quiet, curious occupants.

“Welcome to Angel Hollow.” He flicked the rim of his hat with one finger. “I’m Deputy Lupino, nice to meet you all, hmm.” He paused in his greeting and looked thoughtful for a moment.

The deputy plucked off his hat to expose a thick crop of wavy, sable hair.

“Shoot, what in the hell is that speech Jack always says we need to know. Aww fuc-fudge it.” He corrected his swear hastily and put the hat back on his head as he smiled down at the trio. “I’m supposed to give you some happy little welcome to town speech but I forget it so let’s just say if your friend here sits down I’ll buy you all some nice hot pie with ice-cream and fresh coffee.”

“There’s no pie,” Robin said dully before he could help it.

Deputy Lupino turned away from the booth and his vibrant brown eyes searched questioningly for the person who had interrupted him.

Robin’s ears burned red as he wished for the ground to swallow him up as his mom and the annoying man in the plaid shirt looked to him along with the deputy. He hated being the centre of attention, it had never proved to be good, Robin found it much better to blend in and get passed by.

The deputy smiled as he spied the teenager with his head bowed as he tried to pretend he hadn’t spoke. He turned his attention over to the diner counter, fixing his gaze upon the middle-aged server who topped up coffee in a show of looking busy whilst she clearly listened in on the deputy’s conversation.

“Jill is there really no pie?” Deputy Lupino called over to her.

“No,” the woman’s answer came swiftly without her looking over, “sold the last of it this afternoon, and sure Louie was the one who you know...” She trailed off momentarily, halting in her pouring to stare hard at the counter. “Found those girls, so he’s been off sick, no baking today.”

“Shoot,” Deputy Lupino murmured, “well what do you have?”

“You got eyes Dan, use ’em, whatever’s on display.”

Dan grinned back at the booth and its occupants. “I come for the coffee and stay for the sass,” he joked. He gestured over to the counter with his left hand, turning his head back towards it and the treats contained under glass domes. “Well, brownies, cookies and some sorta,” he hesitated as he looked to a large dome in the centre of the others, “Jill what the hell is that yellow thing supposed to be?”

“Upside down pineapple cake.” Jill she set down the coffee pot and pushed back a cluster of escaped greying-brown hairs that had slipped free from her loose ponytail.

The deputy let out a snicker disguised as a snort. “You expecting Jack?”

Jill looked over to the deputy at last fixing a displeased stare upon him. “Well obviously not after I heard the news,” she said sarcastically.

“Passive aggressive, you know Jack’s allergic.” Deputy Lupino lowered his hand and looked back to the still standing man in the plaid shirt. “Well there’s no pie but there are still other things, you sitting down yet?”

The man frowned back at the deputy. “Will you leave us alone if I do?”

“Sure.”

The man returned to his seat slowly, sitting down on it with a loud thump.

Deputy Lupino eyed the booth up again but no one was looking at him anymore, the moment the man had sat the women had returned to talking with one another.

The deputy looked over to Robin and Jenna instead and smiled as Jenna gave him a grateful look.

“What about you two? Would you like the welcome package of coffee and...well not pie but whatever else you’d like from there? Avoid that pineapple thing mind,” he added quietly, “that was made out of spite.”

Robin looked up at the deputy warily, unsure how serious to take the last comment.

“No, thank you,” Jenna anwered politely. “We just finished. Actually, we need to hit the road.”

Deputy Lupino nodded. “Sure, well if you’re sticking around the town and you need anything let me know. I’m Dan by the way, Dan Lupino,” he introduced as his honeyed-brown gaze shone with charm.

“Jenna Moynihan and this is my son Robin. We’re actually moving in to town.”

“Oh, not the usual tourists then,” Dan observed brightly. “Well welcome to Angel Hollow, not sure if there’s a speech for new residents other than visitors.” He looked thoughtful as he scratched at the dark stubble on his chin causing his sleeve to slide up and expose part of a fierce eyed sea serpent tattoo. “No clue,” he lowered the hand and looked to them quizzically, “do you need directions or are you okay?”

“We should be alright.” Jenna gave him another smile of reassurance.

“Glad to hear it, well nice to meet you both and have a good night.” He flicked the rim of his hat again in a gesture of polite dismissal.

“You too.”

Jenna turned away from him, forgetting her need for the toilet as she headed for the single, eggshell blue door that acted as entrance and exit to the diner.

Robin followed after his mother hastily, frowning as they set off the silver bell hanging precariously on the doorframe.

Jenna’s rose pink shaded mouth maintained its small smile as she led the way out to the small, mostly empty parking lot where her beat up Buick sat.

Robin hastened into the clutter filled car, glancing down at his feet once he was in to make sure his terrapin tank remained secure. The animals were still moving, slow and probably startled but still surviving.

“This is gonna be good,” Jenna said optimistically as she turned on the engine.

“Yeah, nothing says welcome to town like multiple murders,” Robin sneered.

Jenna’s smile vanished as she looked over to Robin before taking care to read the street signs. Their house, from what she recalled, should only be ten minutes outside the main town area.

“Give me a break kid,” she said tiredly.

Jenna eased the car out of the parking lot and back onto the main road. She let the speed creep up as little traffic moved on the road to delay her.

“Give me one.” Robin folded his arms and his frown deepened. “I mean why didn’t you say anything to those creeps?”

Jenna sighed as she navigated. “No point starting a fight over nothing, that guy was harmless.”

“Yeah right, if that cop hadn’t been there it would’ve been different- Jesus mom that was a no right turn sign!” Robin’s eyes went wide as his mother made an illegal manoeuvre resulting in a horn blasting at them.

“No need for the blaspheming.”

Jenna swung the wheel sharply before taking another turn to the right, this one legal this time.

“Oh yeah I forgot the invisible sky god might get offended,” Robin mocked rudely.

“Robin don’t start with me,” his mother admonished him sternly as she continued to keep a sharp lookout for sign posts. “New start kiddo, which means a new attitude. New house, new school, new life, let’s be optimistic about it. If you want to be pessimistic blame your shitty father for putting us in this situation,” she added sharply as she let her anger slip into her voice.

Robin didn’t bother with a reply, instead he thought moodily about how statistically the odds of a school without bullies were non-existent. He pondered dryly how past experiences suggested a strong link between his personality and a tendency for verbal and even physical violence in some people.

Robin’s last encounter with bullies at school formed part of the reason for this move, that and running away from his father’s infidelity with a high school student. Robin hadn’t just been beaten by the bullies, no that would have been way too easy, rather it had been a colourful and torturous experience that had seen him in hospital nursing a few cracked and bruised ribs, a broken jaw, and a bloody nose, and then in with a counsellor failing to explain why he couldn’t go back to school. He didn’t think the counsellor would believe the tale of ‘my dad fucked the bully’s girlfriend’. Hell even now Robin doubted the affair was viewed as fact, his father talked too smoothly to be brought down by truth and what evidence existed?

Robin kept silent for the rest of the journey until he noticed thirty minutes and most of the street lights had slipped away.

“I thought you said our house was ten minutes out of town,” he pointed out as he eyed the tall trees on either side of the road warily.

“I did,” Jenna replied through gritted teeth.

“Did you get us lost?”

Robin looked at the trees towering on either side of them, glimpsing between their sable black forms to the lighter gaps of shadow. He felt an odd sense of suffocation staring at the trees as if they might soon become enclosed in the forest.

Robin’s head darted forwards to the road with alarm as he tried to discard the feeling of rising dread the trees invoked. A seemingly endless stretch of the trees towered ahead on either side. The pale beams of the car’s headlights offered up a small streak of dark green colour to the edges of pine that the headlights caught on their peripherals, which somehow made the gaps between them all the darker.

The teenager glimpsed something to the left, a shape of blackness that didn’t quite blend into the trees. He watched it with a rising alarm as they started to drift closer to it, his body freezing up as he saw that it moved.

“Hey it’s my first time here cut me some slack,” Jenna grumbled as she slowed the car down as they reached a sign saying ‘You Are Now Leaving Angel Hollow.’

The sudden flash of white of the sign distracted Robin. He looked to it before his dark brown gaze darted back to the trees but he couldn’t see anything other than branches, needles and leaves.

“Well you found the way out of this hellhole, that’s something,” Robin remarked sarcastically as he tried to shake off his fear.

“Helpful Robin, real helpful,” Jenna muttered as she made a U-turn. “Just enjoy the view.”

“I need to pee.”

He filled with an odd sense of relief as his mom turned the car around and scorned himself a little for it as he didn’t want to feel glad for returning to Angel Hollow.

Feeling the sensation of being watched prompted him to glance over his shoulder through the back window of the car. He stared in horror as he saw something that his mind couldn’t quite make sense of. The fading red glow of the car’s back lights made it difficult to detect, it was some tall, dark shape that might be human except in the shadows it had no distinguishing features just an unnerving silhouette.

Robin made himself look forward again, telling himself that somehow it was a trick of the light or maybe it was a human, some late night walker or hunter, or maybe he had misinterpreted a deer on its hind legs.

Jenna frowned and tightened her grip on the steering wheel. She realised she had forgotten to actually take a toilet break or give her son a chance for one in the diner.

“Well maybe the radio will take your mind off it,” Jenna suggested as she flicked it on.

“Police are still waiting for the coroner’s report on the three teenagers found deceased by a popular trail in Piper Woods this morning,” a male newsreader’s voice called out through the speakers. “The trio, still to be identified and thought to be visitors to the town, were discovered by a local jogger. The trail, known locally as Red Maple Road due to its cluster of red maples, is known to have seen its share of violence before, being the site of three unsolved deaths almost ten years ago.”

“Great, you brought us to a town with a serial killer,” Robin complained. He wondered cynically if he would get lucky and get murdered before he had to go to school and get murdered socially.

Jenna changed the station quickly, subjecting the car to some pop rock song instead.

“I’m sure the news is exaggerating as usual,” she said brightly with a tight smile.

The pair slipped into silence for another twenty minutes. During this time Robin fiddled with the radio excessively, needing music to distract him from wondering about that shadowy shape on the road. He condemned each song after a mere ten seconds until Jenna finally turned it off. After this Robin sat still with a cross expression until a familiar building caught his eye.

“There’s the diner again.”

Robin looked at the greasy glass panes with a frown. As he saw the diner the bizarre terror that had crept into him upon seeing the trees slipped away. Here were people, lights and safety.

“Good, you’re getting familiar with our new home already,” Jenna teased.

Another fifteen minutes of driving passed before Jenna finally located their new house.

White washed, wooden and two stories tall, their new home dwelled on a suburban street just on the outskirts of the main town as promised. The front lawn needed a trim, the gutters needed cleaned and the driveway proved to be bumpier than expected but all in all the property seemed decent.

The view showed itself as the real appeal. To the far left a distant backdrop of mountains dominated, mighty behemoths in the dark of the night, they marked the border of the extensive forest park that made Angel Hollow famous.

“Alright Robin,” Jenna said chirpily as she turned off the engine and turned to him with a wide smile that he immediately detested, “this is it, new start. Come on kiddo, give me a smile.”

Robin forced a sardonic grin to his face that came as more of a grimace before he hastened out of the car, his terrapin tank clutched tightly in his hands.

“Most boys would’ve been more concerned about bringing a television or game station or hell even porn magazines,” Jenna muttered to herself as she stepped out of the car onto the gravel drive, “but nope, not my son.” She hurried up to the property, unlocked the wooden front door and flickered on the hall light.

Robin rolled his eyes when his mom hit the landing light next and it instantly blew. He took it as a sign.

“Don’t say it kiddo,” Jenna compelled as she seemed to read his mind.

Jenna hit on the kitchen light before retreating back to the car. She returned with one of the heavier boxes and plonked it on the chipped, round, wooden table in the kitchen carelessly. “Nice of them to leave some furniture,” she said appreciatively. “Let’s just get the stuff in, you’ve got a big day tomorrow. I’ll sort everything out tomorrow.”

Robin said nothing, instead he escaped the musty odour that came from a house in need of an airing out and retreated outside. Having the unpleasant reek of the house to compare it to gave Robin a new appreciation for the mountain air that filled the neighbourhood. He took a deep gulp of it before he brought in the duvet, blanket and pillow which had been crumpled in the trunk of the car and headed for the stairs.

He hated that his life had been reduced to what he could squish into his mom’s Buick. She had just wanted to get out of their home and so had Robin. He knew she’d moved money from the joint account she had with his dad to her own account and used that to pay the deposit for this house but he wondered what plan she had for the mortgage. Considering his father was the lawyer Robin wasn’t sure his mom would have a financially successful divorce.

Robin looked up at the ominous darkness woefully as he shrugged off the thought of a divorce and reassured himself that the house was just a cliché. A stair creaked beneath his scuffed white trainers as he started to ascend.

“Light blown, cliché,” he muttered sardonically, “creaking stair, another cliché, dead teenagers, somewhat a cliché but there’s no pie at the diner, the only cliché I wanted and to top it off the place is called Angel Hollow, I hate this place.”

After some fumbling in the darkness and pressing up against the walls and doors he finally found a light switch. A dusty, naked bulb flickered on and gave a low hum as it steadily came to life, showing him a mostly empty room in a harsh, electric white light. Clean and square, it hadn’t much save for a few forgotten or unwanted items sitting in the corner. A small set of three drawers with one drawer missing stood against a wall, and some tattered books and a creepy looking, one eyed teddy bear occupied a corner.

After dumping the blanket, duvet and pillow onto the floor, Robin promptly put the teddy out into the hall before he headed back downstairs for his box of clothes. He returned a couple of minutes later and began to make some form of a bed for himself all while mentally cursing the futility of his situation.

He wondered what plan his mother had for furniture, it wasn’t like they’d packed any of that. Jenna had just been so angry and Robin so scared of future reprisals from the bullies that they’d essentially fled. He wondered if his dad would ever work out where they had gone given its remoteness. Of course if his mom did opt for a divorce then his dad would know, it would all come tumbling out then.

Robin glanced over to his terrapins and envied them for getting to bring their home with them as he missed his bed and night stand. He kicked off his shoes and crawled under the duvet, too cold to give up his jeans and jumper. Depressed and in need of a cheer up, he closed his eyes and let his mind wander to the women in the diner as he visualised all of them except the rude redhead.

----

Riviona Moon awoke to a cool, dark dawn. She tensed upon finding herself in strange settings, her pale grey-brown eyes searching the sapphire shadowed room carefully as she waited for her mind to waken up and remind her where she was. There came the familiar feeling of unfamiliarity, a bed a little stiffer than the last one, the low clunk of a heating system that worked worse than the one in the previous place she had stayed, and shadows cast on the walls that she had not become used to.

Sheriff Tanner’s house, that was it. Jack Tanner the not so native law man here who seemed disappointed with her presence. Well she had become used to being a disappointment but it didn’t mean she had to like it.

The young detective sat upright slowly in the bed as if wary of making her presence known. She detested the darkness of the room, hating that mornings were turning slow now as the strength of the sun started to give way to the power of the harvest moon. Autumn was here, the nights reigned and folklore became a fresh fascination as All Hallow’s Eve started to creep closer. It was Riviona’s least favourite time of year and to have to spend it in a mountain town that depended on the holiday’s tourist crowd made it almost insufferable.

She tread softly in cotton socks patterned with puppies towards the arched window at the back of the room near to the bed. The window had short, heavy, faded forest green curtains and a set of vertical blinds concealing the view. Riviona drew them back only a little in the middle and felt a sense of déjàvu.

The young woman recalled with a sudden start waking during the night and rushing to the window convinced that something had been howling outside. The view showed the front of the house, a glimpse of Cassie’s glowing garden, Riviona’s abandoned car, and the houses that formed the neighbourhood. When Riviona had glanced out in the evening she had spied upon new arrivals, a woman and a young male intruding to the house across the road with the Sold sign. Riviona had been relieved to see life down there, needing some reassurances that the howls of murder had been in her mind, a nightmare not a reality. Seeing how calm the new arrivals had moved she knew nothing eerie could be calling out there. A few moments more of wary watching had reassured her that they were new tenants not burglars.

This morning the neighbourhood remained caught in slumber. A few birds began to dart amongst the trees and a local cat scurried across the road hoping for a feathered breakfast. All seemed calm and normal. Riviona’s gaze lifted to the impressive backdrop slightly to the right, a view that most of these houses would have a glimpse of from their fronts.

Down the end of the main road and off in the distance were the mountains, shrouded in layers of white mist that turned their own silhouettes ghostly, they were a breathtaking sight. They were also a reminder of the loneliness, this town existed as a small pocket of civilisation surrounded by these silent leviathans.

Riviona pulled back from the window and looked to the bedroom door. She knew she needed out of this room. She headed to the door, pausing once to glance accusingly out of the corner of her eye at the dreamcatcher she’d hung on the wall. Hawk feathers, a jade bead, string and wood, that’s all it was, its web had done little catching for her last night. She opened the door quietly and crept out to the brightly lit hall.

Feeling a little foolish in unfamiliar surroundings, she headed down the stairs with a practised subtlety and entered the living room.

“Good morning.”

The voice had Riviona turning sharply before she could help it. With startled eyes she gazed through the dimness of the morning light to the kitchen area where Jack Tanner sat at the table. He gave her a bright smile as he stood up from the table to expose his red tartan pyjamas.

“Tea or coffee?”

Riviona stared back at Jack with a sudden sense of vulnerability as her arms rose up to cross over her chest in an attempt to hide the sleepy cartoon raccoon decorating her pale blue t-shirt.

Jack stepped over to the counter where a copper kettle sat beside a coffee pot. He glanced over his shoulder to the young woman curiously. To him she was watered down in every way with pale brown hair that almost had a rose tinge to it, fair skin that wasn’t so pleasing as to be considered Snow White’s desirable alabaster and yet lacked a pigment to be considered warm, and grey-brown eyes, an unusual shade that faded almost to colourlessness in the morning light.

“Are you cold?” Jack turned to gesture ahead to the couch that sat against the counter dividing the kitchen and living room. “There’s a blanket there.”

Riviona’s gaze darted to the couch and the blanket resting there, it looked fluffy with a variation of browns forming a design she couldn’t decipher from the way it had been folded up. The throw invoked images of cuddling up before fireplaces during winter, not the type of comfort recognisable to the young detective.

“Not a morning person?” Jack queried jovially.

Riviona’s gaze darted up to him again. “I’ve no preference.”

“And what about tea or coffee, do you have a preference for that? I know you had tea yesterday but is that just for evenings?”

Riviona looked thoughtful for a moment, a memory flitting across her face as her mouth twitched. “I like tea,” she said quietly.

Jack nodded. “So does Cassie, only reason we stock the stuff.” He turned his attention back to the kettle, lifting it and carrying it to the tap to fill it with water.

Riviona lingered in the middle of the living room, still shielding her t-shirt, reluctant to sit with her back to Jack. She searched for a clock and spied one hanging on the mantle above the fireplace, a small one in a round, brass frame. It was ready to turn a quarter past six in the morning. She noted there wasn’t much else to the room’s décor, its central piece was the large, glossy photograph framed on the wall above the fireplace depicting a beaming Cassie and proud faced Jack embracing Matt between them clad in his ranger’s uniform as he held his gold badge up to the camera.

“Kids will be getting up soon. Matty will take Cassie to school first, then we can meet him up at the rangers’ station. I’ll show you where we found them, I expect that’s where you’ll want to start and I need to go over the scene.”

“Right.”

Jack glanced over his shoulder to her again as he reached up to the cupboard for a cup. He cracked a small grin as he saw her defensive stance in the middle of his living room. The woman acted odd, that much seemed clear to Jack but it didn’t concern him, all he wanted to know was whether she was a good detective or not. He had three murdered teenagers to contend with and considering the savagery of their wounds and the display of their bodies they were obviously dealing with a psychopath, he needed competent people on board.

“Milk, sugar? Bag in or not?” Jack fired questions at her as he poured the hot water into the waiting cup.

“Sugar, two spoons and bag out please.”

Jack prepared the cup as requested, lifted it up and carried it over to the woman, cracking a small smile as he saw that she remained standing.

“Take a seat,” he advised. “I could make you something to eat if you want, there’s plenty of bread, cereal too, couple of eggs.”

“No thanks.” Riviona shook her head as she accepted the cup. As its warmth spread to her fingers she realised how cold she felt. She cradled the cup in both hands and raised it up to blow on it softly.

Jack watched quietly as her small mouth blew lightly along the rim of the cup before she lowered it again and hugged it into her chest. He glanced away pointedly as he saw evidence of Riviona’s coldness.

Jack touched his nose with his right hand and murmured, “that blanket’s still there.”

Riviona stared back at him quizzically, surprised as she saw him rubbing at his nose awkwardly before dropping his stare to the floor.

“I’m okay.”

“You look cold.”

Something in Jack’s voice prompted a hint of irritation in the young woman. She glanced about for somewhere to sit the cup, resting it on the counter behind the couch before tugging up the blanket. She bundled it over her shoulders and only when she went to tug it around her front did she suddenly realise what Jack had been alluding to.

Riviona kept her back to Jack for a long minute as she fought to compose herself, tugging the blanket tightly about herself and only then seeing that a wolf pack amongst trees patterned it. She reached for her cup and turned back to Jack at last, ill liking him standing out of her sight.

“Did you sleep well?” he pried calmly as he looked over to her.

Riviona looked up to the sheriff and wondered if it was a loaded question. She had already worked out that he had the downstairs bedroom, the lights were on in the hall for Cassie, and Matt’s steps on the stairs were lighter than Jack’s so she knew it had been Matt heading up to bed and not his father. She didn’t think it possible that if she had made any noise in her slumber that Jack would have heard it.

“I’ve slept worse.”

Jack gave a soft, brief laugh at this. “Cassie struggles, when she was younger I’d have to read her maybe four stories before she’d even try and sleep. She still has a teddy bear.” He glanced at Riviona humorously. “And that’s something I shouldn’t say, right? Making myself an embarrassing dad.”

“Nothing wrong with still having a bear.”

Jack tilted his head slightly as he studied the detective. “You still got yours?”

Riviona raised the cup to blow on it again before she surprised him with an answer. “I forgot to pack him, I had to come here in a hurry,” she joked.

Jack’s blue gaze sparked with humour at this. “Him hmm, well, what’s his name then?”

“Rudy, he’s a raccoon.”

“Vermin,” Jack muttered. He laughed when he saw the look of ire the detective gave him. “Oh dear, is there anything we won’t clash on?”

Riviona took a sip from her cup at last before fixing another stare on Jack. “You make good tea, will we agree on that?”

Jack nodded. “Sure, we will but Cassie won’t, she always says I make it too strong.”

Jack cocked his head slightly and his azure gaze darted up to the ceiling. “Hmm sounds like she’s up, guess I’d better start on the breakfast, not often I’m here to make it.”

Riviona stared over at the sheriff wondering what he had heard until there was a metallic clunk in the ceiling as someone turned on the shower upstairs putting the pipes to work. She pondered how Jack knew Cassie caused the noise and not Matt but figured that was maybe the routine.

“It’s going to be pancakes,” Jack advised as he headed back to the kitchen, “Cassie loves them, particularly with syrup and blueberries. How do you like them?”

“With honey when I’m having them.”

“Well you’re having them and luckily for you we’ve got honey, Matt likes it on his porridge.”

Riviona turned and followed after Jack, one hand holding the cup of tea whilst the other held the blanket in place.

“What can I help with?” she queried as she watched him lift eggs, butter and milk from the refrigerator.

“Not a thing you’re the guest.” He closed the glossy white door exposing the magnets on it.

Riviona saw colourful magnet letters reading out ‘Matt needs a gf’ and ‘buy donus dad’.

“Is that meant to be donuts?” Riviona gestured to the refrigerator door.

Jack glanced over as he unloaded his ingredients at the counter near the cooker. “Yeah, Cassie’s work, she could’ve just used one t for Matt, we’d have understood.”

Riviona took a gulp from her cup and looked over to the sheriff once more. “Right, enough of the guest crap, what am I helping with?”

“The murders,” Jack answered brightly as he hunted flour out of a cupboard.

“I can help with murders and pancakes,” Riviona said with her own cheer, “I’m good at multi-tasking. A gun only needs one hand, that leaves the other free for the whisk.”

Jack laughed as he lifted out the flour and salt. “Fine, fine, do you want to mix or flip?”

“Hmm, mix,” Riviona decided as she finished her cup of tea. “Can you crack the eggs though?” she queried quietly. “I’m...not the best at that.”

Jack looked over to her with a teasing smile. “Really? It’s not difficult. Come on, I’ll show you otherwise you’ll never learn.”

Riviona frowned at this before she stepped over to place her empty cup beside the sink. “I’ve been shown plenty.”

“Not right apparently,” Jack said merrily as he waved her over.

Jack lifted a large, white egg out of the carton and held it out to the detective. “Go on, take it.”

Riviona obeyed. She tensed slightly when Jack’s hand took hers, turning it gently so she had the egg horizontal in her hand.

“Ready?”

He gave her no time to answer, instead forcing her hand down to hit the long side of the egg on the kitchen counter. He gave a slight chuckle when she jumped a little with the sudden movement.

Jack’s hand brought hers up and turned it round to expose the egg, which now had a crack running across its centre.

“Now both hands,” Jack advised as he released hers. “Take a grip of either side of the shell, get your thumbs at that crack and pull it open over the bowl.”

“Um that sounds like the hard part where I usually mess up and send eggshell into the mix.”

“Yet you wanted to mix over flipping, you’re the one who gets them stuck to the ceiling and tossed to the floor aren’t you?” Jack teased.

Riviona tensed again as Jack leaned forward slightly to grip both her hands this time with his larger grasp. She felt the heat of his body close to hers, his strength humming close under his muscles as he almost came to stand behind her. His palms were warm against her cold fingers and she found herself grateful for their heat. He guided her hands to hold the egg by either side and manoeuvred her thumbs over the crack.

Hovering over the bowl, Jack pushed his thumbs down gently into hers prompting hers to press against the crack.

“Now pull,” Jack urged.

Together they tugged the egg shells free to spill an almost perfect yolk and white into the bowl.

Jack laughed at their success as he released her hands. “There you go, see if you can get the next one on your own.”

He headed over to the fridge and lifted out a carton of orange juice. “Better be quick about it, I want the kids to have them for breakfast not dinner.”

Riviona nodded as she discarded the eggshell and reached for another egg. She scorned herself for getting caught up in a morning of pancakes and murder.

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