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The Mating Contract

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Between fighting to keep her family in their home and figuring out what she wants to do with her life, Holly Walker has her hands full. But when her friend pressures her into helping him solve a 70-year-old cold case; the mysterious disappearance of 6 women from her hometown, Holly can't help but get involved. When the case leads them to the possibility of a man eating beast in the forest, Holly ignores it, instead drawn to the towns elite who have been in power for years . When she discovers that the people of Bare -Tree Hollow have a lot to hide, but even more to loose, the case turns deadly. Learning that the source of the towns violent deaths and disappearances border on the paranormal, Holly is forced to sign her life away as a prospective mate to not only save her life, but her families future. Holly resigns herself to her fate until an intriguing stranger comes to town. A man she can't help but get tangled up with that makes her question everything; herself, her future, and just how far she is willing to go for the people she loves.

Romance / Fantasy
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

June 6, 1950

A light knocking at my front door, had me excitedly rising from the sofa. Smoothing down my skirt as I walked, I double-timed it to the door. Opening the door a tad, I cautiously peeked out. When my eyes locked on a pair of dark brown orbs, brown curls haphazardly slicked back into a messy pompadour, and a familiar navy letterman’s jacket, I let out a giggle before throwing the door open. The man on my threshold smiled, his soft pink lips stretching to show off perfect white teeth as he beamed at me. “You shouldn’t be here.” I raised my eyebrow at him, conservatively holding my hands in front of my dress. I tried to keep the excited smile from taking over my attempt to act serious, but I failed. The smile tugging at my lips was so strong that I could feel its effects in the pit of my stomach that rolled ecstatically.

Smiling like a fool, my eyes studied his lips as his grin turned silly. “Well, as hard as it is to stay away from such a beautiful girl, I’ll leave if that is really how you feel.” Giving me a small bow of his head and shoulders he turned on his heel and made to leave. “Chase, wait!” I called, the sight of his retreating back knocking the smile from my lips, and birthing a small pain in my heart. Chase stopped and turned around. That silly grin was still plastered on his face. I knew he was joking, but the sight of him leaving always had this effect on me.

“Can I help you, ma’am?” He asked, mischief gleaming in the dark depth of his eyes. “You can help me by never calling me ‘ma’am’ again.” He came back to me, walking in large strides like a dog called to heel. “Yes ma’am I apologize-“ I stopped him by pressing my finger to his lips. Rolling my eyes, I grabbed the front of his jacket before pulling him to me “ Also, never turn your back on me again.” I whispered, my eyes meeting his for a moment before falling to his lips. He leaned in, kissing me quickly his eyes flashing with understanding. “Never again.” He promised.

Pulling away, he placed his forehead against mine before whispering “Can I interest you in a drive?” Just like that, I was back to smiling like the lovestruck fool I was. “You can,” I giggled. Releasing him, I grabbed my spare key off the hook by the door before closing and locking it. My parents had to drive to the next town over to check on my ailing aunt, leaving me home alone for the night. Taking his hand, he led me to the street where his daddy’s Catalina Coupe was proudly parked. Opening the door for me I gracefully slipped inside, folding my hands in my lap.

Running around to the driver’s side, Chase grabbed the handle and pulled, only for the heavy door to remain firmly closed. Laughing I reached over and unlocked the door for him. Opening the door, he nodded his head before sliding behind the wheel. “Next week that’s getting fixed.” He mumbled under his breath as the mass of metal roared to life. “Awwwww, I think I’ll miss that stubborn door, it gives the car character,” I said as he pulled forward. The automobile had a nasty habit of locking its driver out if the door was closed too hard. I joked that the machine was just sensitive and needed a softer hand. Chase said it needed a good night in with a mallet.

Turning on the radio, we drove away from my dark street. A few minutes later we found ourselves lost in the blur of the trees that lined the road. The occasional porch light would cut through the darkness every now and again, but for the most part, the world was winding down. Crossing the bridge, Chase turned off the main dirt road down a smaller one that led to the large meadow where the community often held picnics. Pulling up outside the clearing, the headlights briefly illuminated the proud picnic table that stood in the tall grass. The first of many my father planned to build.

Once parked, I marveled at the stars as they shone down on us. This place was one of my favorite spots. I often snuck out to spend my nights here with Chase. Sometimes we walked the field or sat at the picnic table and talked. Other nights we spent listening to the radio in the car, enjoying each other’s company.

An hour later, Chase leaned into me, his warm lips pressing against the corner of my open mouth, before kissing my cheeks and nibbling along my jaw bone. "Ch-Chase." I gasped breathlessly as his lips began moving against my throat. "Mmmmm?" he asked, not bothering to stop his ministrations. His hand snaked around my neck, the other squeezing my thigh. I tilted my head back, closing my eyes.

'It's just a second more' I thought, enjoying the sensations his careful kisses created. Donlevys' voice yelled out from the radio and my eyes popped open, remembering my mission. "Chase, it's getting late." It was 15 minutes into 'Dangerous Assignment', the radio show had started around 10:30. Normally I was in bed at this hour, snuggled beneath my covers, listening to this show through my closed door as it played from my father’s radio.

I could almost smell the scent of my father’s cigar as it wafted around the house, and the thought made me feel guilty. They believed I was home in bed, and here I was out with Chase, betraying their trust. "Your parents are checking on your aunt, no one is going to notice," he murmured against my collar bone. "What if they come home early?" I asked pushing my hand into his chest.

Chase stopped and leaned back into his seat. "If they do, then you can tell them that you heard noises and were scared, so I offered to keep you company." I rolled my eyes "You offered to keep me company in your car, in the woods alone. I am sure they will be thrilled by your chivalry." I crossed my arms over my chest and looked out the window. I knew Chase loved me, but these rendezvous were going to get us both into a lot of trouble one day.

"Why don't we just tell them?" He said softly. My body stiffened and I could feel his eyes on me. Turning to face him, I watched him push his brown curls out of his face as his dark eyes locked with mine. "Come on Bernie. What are you afraid of? Are you ashamed of me? Why don't we tell them?" My heart fluttered nervously in my chest.

"I'm not ashamed of you, I love you. I'm just worried about what they will say. They'll tell us we're too young. They will tell me I'm making a mistake, and they’ll forbid it." Leaning in, Chase grabbed my hand. "You're 18 Bernie, they can't stop us. Do you think you're making a mistake? Do you think we're too young?" he asked, his urgent tone demanding an answer.

"No," I answered firmly, my eyes still locked with his. "Then what they say won't matter. Tomorrow I'm telling your father that we're getting married. We shouldn't have to keep hiding it." A genuine smile stretched across my face. "Okay. Let's tell them."

Chase removed his hands from mine before leaning in and cupping my face in his hands. We studied each other’s faces before our lips crashed together. I sank into his kisses, kissing him back greedily. I couldn't get enough of him. Chase felt like home, and I knew he always would.

The sudden clank of rock colliding with glass, had Chase yanking his lips from mine. “What the-?” He muttered under his breath as his eyes widened at the sight before us. The windshield that had been intact just moments before was now marred with a baseball-sized web of shattered glass. I reached my hand out to touch the windshield, gawking at the cracks that had spread over the once smooth surface, when the sharp tinkling of shattering glass had me screaming and covering my head. Chase jumped over me, covering my head as the raucous clinking of rocks hitting glass and metal crashed around us.

Chase’s chest rose and fell with mine rapidly and his nails dug into my shoulder. My forehead was practically touching the soft leather of the seat and its smell was so strong that with each breath I taste it. The assault hit its crescendo when something broke straight through the driver’s side window. The projectile hit the door behind me and tumbled to the floor, rolling into my ankle. Glass rained down on us and Chase pushed me further into the seat as I screamed.

As quickly as the ambush started, it ended. Everything went silent and the only thing I could hear was the sounds of our heavy breathing and the crunch of glass under my shaking feet. Chase slowly raised his head, while moving his palm to the back of mine. “Stay down” he whispered as he shifted away from me and started looking out of what was left of his window. I waited for a minute, and when the silence grew too much to bear I slowly straightened in my seat.

Looking around I saw that the passenger side window was destroyed and the windshield was peppered with craters of varying sizes, the webbing of shattered glass spreading, covering the windshield in its entirety. The passenger window had a rock still embedded in it. Chase just stared at the front of the car, his mouth agape and head swiveling taking it all in. “Stay here,” he patted my thigh as he used his jacket sleeve to brush the glass from his seat before sliding to lean against his door. My head snapped to his shaky hand as he reached up and grabbed the handle.

“Don’t go out there!” I whispered to him, reaching out and grabbing the back of his jacket. “I have to, we can’t stay here all night and I need to figure out if whoever did this is still around.” My hand loosened its grip on his jacket. He was right, but I still didn’t like it. “I’m going with you then,” I declared, moving towards my door. “No! You’re safer in here. Please, just stay here while I look. I’ll be right back okay?”

I reached over and grabbed the back of his jacket and tugged. He froze and turned to face me, his dark eyes shining with fear. “Promise me you’ll be back in a minute,” I demanded, eyes locking with his. “I . . .” He began but I stopped him by placing a finger on his lips. “With a kiss,” I whispered and he instantly complied, his lips colliding with mine before I had the chance to blink. I kissed him hungrily, soaking in his minty scent and familiar taste. Finally, he pulled away from me. “I promise. I’ll be right back,” he reassured me.

“Be safe. I love you.” I released him, still scared of him leaving the car alone. “I love you too. Lock your door,” He smirked at me nervously as he opened the door. Getting out, he softly closed the door behind him, leaving it cracked so it wouldn’t lock him out. Then he looked around uneasily before he began walking around the car. He made it to the front of the car, walking slowly and quietly when he suddenly froze. The headlights were shining into the dense wall of trees ahead, and Chase stepped into the beam of light before growing stiff and rapidly moving back against the car.

My hand instantly rose to my throat and my breath caught in my chest. I couldn’t see anything. I moved forward squinting out of the heavily damaged windshield. Chase’s legs began to shake as he tried to move back again and that was when I heard it. Snarls and growls growing steadily louder from the trees around us. The sound grew louder, menacingly lacing terror in with the warm breeze that blew from the damaged window and caressed my cheek. Then it stopped. The noises disappeared with the breeze as if they never were.

Shaking, I slid over to the driver’s side door and pushed the door open wide enough for me to climb out. “Please Chase. Come back in the car. I want to leave,” I pleaded as I rushed over and grabbed his hand. I attempted to pull him back towards the car, sure that he was frozen in place. “Stop it, Bernie! Go back inside. We will go in a second.” My fear boiled inside me as my hand tightened on his. “ Did you hear that? We need to leave now!” He took a hesitant step forward before stopping again. “No, I need to know who did this. What am I going to tell my dad? He loves this car.”

Releasing his hand I stomped my foot, causing a cloud of dust to rise from the dry ground. “Tell him you hit a deer or something, please, I’m scared, let’s go.” A loud snapping from the forest had us both turning our heads towards the trees. Hardly breathing, we listen as the sound of twigs snapping underfoot grew closer. A low rumbling seemed to move through my chest, and raising my hand to my heart I realized that the rumbling was actually growling from the trees nearby.

The sound seemed to scare the sense back into Chase as he pushed me forward, “Get into the car now!” He demanded pushing me towards my door. Rushing forward I grabbed the handle, only to realize I had locked it. Grabbing my hand he pulled me towards his door when a howl broke through the trees. Something large started moving out of the line of trees closest to us and Chase threw me behind him backing me up into the car. I heard a soft metallic ‘clang’ as my back connected with metal.

My eyes widened and my heart fell to my feet when I reached behind me, tugging at the chrome handle. When the door refused to open, I realized what had happened. When Chase pushed me into the door it had closed and locked. The dark figure continued to move out of the trees towards us and Chase whipped his head back, eyebrows furrowed, before he reached behind me and tugged at the handle himself. When nothing happened, his eyes connected with mine and we both just stared, wide-eyed and terrified at each other.

The sounds of leaves rustling from behind us, inspired the shrill shriek that left my lips, as I watched another large figure move in the darkness. Chase shifted me behind him as he moved to the side, his head looking to each side of us rapidly. It was when a loud snarl came from behind me in the clearing near the front of the car that we realized we were almost completely surrounded. Looking in front of him, Chase’s eyes squinted before he turned to me. “Run.” He whispered nodding his head forward. “What?” I asked my body numb with fear.

Grabbing me behind my neck he shoved his lips against mine. Pulling away he repeated “Run!” before pushing me forward. I stumbled on wobbly legs as I took a few steps. The creatures in the trees howled together and ice ran through my veins and a small scream escaped my lips before my body shot forward. I had no idea where I was going, but every instinct I had, had just come to life and they all said the same thing. Run or die.

I could hear Chase running behind me and I ran up the dirt road and jumped into the trees. I planned to run to the main road in hopes a car passing in the night would see me and stop. For a second all I could hear was my ragged breathing and the beating of my own heart until Chase let out a loud yell. Focusing my attention behind me, I could hear the sounds of branches breaking and small trees being shoved out of the way as something barreled towards us. “Run Bernie, Run!” Chase yelled as I momentarily slowed, my body begging me to turn and look towards the trees.

Fire pumped through my veins and my lungs burned, but I pushed harder. I picked up more speed, crossing my arms in front of my face in a weak attempt to shield my skin from the leaves, and branches I was running headlong into. I heard a soft cry and a loud thud behind me, and sure it was whatever beast we were running from, I yelped and ran impossibly faster. Spotting a dim light through the trees, I followed it. It remained steady but I ran fervently still, afraid that I wouldn’t be fast enough to catch it before it was gone.

Jumping through the last line of trees, a sob of relief rolled from my chest as I saw Bernard Walker standing on the other side of the dirt road holding a lantern. Running towards him, I watched as his piercing blue eyes narrowed on me in the lamplight. A summer breeze tousled his light brown hair, and his hard jaw twitched as I neared him. Slowing to a stop I pointed a thin finger behind me while gasping for breath. “Pl-Please help me. There . . . There is something in the woods!” I pleaded in-between gasps.

The corner of his lips twitched and his eyes lit up amused. “ Bernice Vintner.” He chuckled under his breath. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous in these woods at night?” His lazy drawl left me shivering in June’s heat. My eyebrows scrunched together, and my eyes looked over his relaxed posture, not understanding why he seemed so at ease. A loud yell broke through the trees and I spun to face it, realizing Chase was no longer behind me.

“Please you have to help us!” I yelled towards Mr. Walker. “Us? Oh, Bernice. That boy has been warned. Maybe if you were tucked in bed where you oughta be, this wouldn’t be happening.” He laughed as the howls and snarls coming from the trees grew louder. Chase cried out again and I cried, my chest shaking with the confusion and defeat I was feeling. “I don’t understand. Please, Mr. Walker,” I begged through my tears. “That boy is going to have to die now,” He shook his head, a sideways smirk on his thin lips.

Just then Chase burst through the trees. His eyes were large with the terror he felt and blood was dripping from a gash on his head. “Run Bernie!” He yelled to me as I started running towards him. He reached his hand out to me as he drew close, love and the determination to protect me staining his facial features. I was right in front of him when he froze. His arm was outstretched still and I grabbed it, just as he gasped in pain, and an arm shot through his chest, holding onto his still-beating heart.

A warm spray of blood misted my face and arms, and my mouth fell open as I choked on air. His heart was being held almost right in my face, and he looked at it, and then to me before his skin turned chalky white and his face became void of all emotion. His heart gave one last sickly beat, and Chase slumped forward, held up by the appendage that was still protruding from his chest. I squeezed his hand, aware that it had gone slack in my grip before his body was thrown away from me. When his dead body hit the ground, so did I.

A scream of pain and loss left my lips as my head fell back, releasing my pain into the night sky. The night grew visibly darker. Colder somehow, although I knew there was no chill. Large beasts swam in and out of my view as tears obstructed my vision. They were going to kill me and at this moment I was ready to die.

Bare feet stalked towards me, passing Chase where he lay on his side, blood spilling from the hole in his chest and pooling around him. His eyes were still open, still staring at me and I deliriously watched them, waiting for them to blink, begging him to move. For his chest to rise with a shaky inhale of summer air. Anything. Anything to show me he still remained where I could be with him. The feet stopped in front of me, blocking Chase from my view.

A second later, a naked man crouched in front of me, his right arm coated to the elbow with blood. “Bernie,” He said softly, and my eyes left his arm to study his face. Pale green eyes studied me, his lips pulled into a grim line, his clean hand running through his blonde hair that was already messy and tangled with leaves. “Walter?” I mumbled confusedly. Tears ran down my cheeks and my eyes connected with his. Nothing made sense. “It’s okay Bernie. I’m going to take you home now.”

“No, I can’t leave Chase. Chase. . . You killed Chase.” I accused, anger burning through my words. “Chase was warned not to touch what wasn’t his,” Walter spit out angrily. I shook my head, not understanding his words. “I’m not g-going anywhere with you,” I stuttered. Fear becoming my most prevalent emotion. “You’re mine, and you’re coming home where you belong,” Walter answered pulling me into his hard chest and lifting me from the ground.

I began banging my fists against his chest, wailing, spitting, even cursing as I struggled wildly in his arms. Walter just held me tighter and began walking forward. Looking over his shoulders I could see an abnormally large wolf clamping his teeth into Chases’ jacket as he began to drag him towards the woods. “No! Let him go you monster! You can’t have him!” I screamed, turning in Walter’s arms.

We passed Bernard Walker who fell in step behind Walter, holding his lantern up and looking at me in disgust. “I curse you, you bastard!” I screamed at him, spitting in his direction. “Seems like your bitch could use a firm hand,” Mr. Walker muttered under his breath. “I’ll never forgive you. Either of you,” I seethed. “Oh, you will.” Walter chuckled darkly. He pulled me back into his chest roughly, and my arm brushed against his. That is when I realized that my skin felt sticky. Looking down at myself, I realized that in my struggle my arms and hands had become stained with Chases’ blood.

Bile rose up my esophagus but I swallowed it back as a fresh wave of tears left me shaking in Walter’s arms. My head shook back and forth as my mind kept telling my body that this couldn’t be real, this couldn’t be happening. Walter stopped suddenly. Looking forward I saw the sleek black automobile that stretched in front of us. Mr. Walker opened the door before Walter dropped me roughly onto the seat. The door slammed shut and Mr. Walker stood at the door, his body leaning up against it to stop me from opening it. Walter lingered outside the car for a minute before he opened his door and slid behind the steering wheel. He was now clad in jeans and a white shirt marred by bloody handprints.

He turned on the car, stepping on the gas, and suddenly feeling dizzy and sick, I curled into myself. Looking behind me, I watched as Bernard Walker gave me a cheery little wave as he disappeared into the darkness. The reality of everything that had happened settled into my chest like a stone, and pressing into myself, the world around me grew darker and darker until I realized I was slipping away. I almost smiled, the darkness promising me a reprieve from the pain that racked my mind and body with each and every breath. Closing my eyes, I once again saw Chases’ retreating form. The back of his navy blue jacket almost glowed as he walked away from me. “You promised,” I whispered as I reached out in my mind’s eye, grasping to hold onto him. His jacket slipped through my fingers though, and he kept walking away, as I willingly followed him into the darkness.

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