Moon battled cloud beyond peaks of the fells, illuminating our valley with a gliding, fluctuating light. The effect, watching long clouds scud past, brilliantly lit, then fading to darkness beyond that yellowish glow, was hypnotic. Strange, also: there was little breeze tonight in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, yet those clouds all but dashed across the sky.
Soft steps sounded through the carpet of grass—cropped close by sheep. Then Zar sank against me at the boulder that I, in turn, leaned into. These great rocks—at the foot of the slope and along a beck—had startled me when I’d first caught a glimpse of them in moonlight, unsure what they were.
Zar stroked my hair aside to kiss my neck.
I shivered at his touch, leaning close, and Zar put his arms around me. He kissed my lips, slow, as if waking someone. I returned it, then looked again to the sky, idly brushing back hair off his face.
“Could we hope for a better place in all of England?” I asked in a whisper as a strand of cloud slipped past the moon—a trail of fluff over a lightbulb—then gone. “Yet still nothing. Not that I really expected to find them. I looked for years in New Mexico and never saw so much as a faie’s whisker.”
“They won’t come if you’re not expecting them,” Zar murmured into my neck, kissing across my hairline.
“I know about thoughts.” I squeezed his hand when he twisted the fingers of his left into mine. “I do expect them. Sort of. Now that they asked for help. I’m just not anticipating it suddenly being ‘easy’ to have a chat with them.”
“Should we try the flute? We’re far enough out from any human dens.” His tongue traced the rim of my ear.
“Maybe there on the next hill?” I pointed to the dry stone wall running along the footpath to crown the next rise—not as if Zar could see, though. “We should have a three-sixty view from up there.”
“Jed was over that way.” Zar closed his teeth around my throat. It wasn’t painful, but not soft either. Weirdly erotic as he shifted his grip, pressing up below my jaw, his hot tongue on my cool skin.
“All the better,” I said, tipping my head back, involuntarily closing my eyes as I tried to have another look at the moon. “We should meet up. I think we’re done. This was just an experiment. We need sleep. Other than the music, we’ve tried everything we know for now. Since they won’t come for our summons and haven’t presented to Jed, it’s time to back off. We’ll try again. I’m still hoping we’re meeting for dinner tomorrow. We just need it confirmed from Gavin. But, if that doesn’t work out, we’ll at least have more time for kindred spotting.”
Zar kissed across my jaw and again to my mouth.
I stood, lips still on his, though turning him to the footpath.
The night darkened, sinking from a moonlit, peaceful wilderness with only the sound of the flowing beck and our quick breathing to a deep, velvet night without moon or stars or any human habitation, road, or electricity in sight. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as a sense of oppression stole over me: trapped, watched, someone standing behind me.
I yanked away from Zar with a gasp and spun around, skin tingling.
Only the boulders, the beck, the empty sheep field, a wood and the fells looming beyond.
“What’s wrong?” Zar’s arms were around me again.
“Did you feel…?” I looked up.
The moon was inked out by a noble specimen of a cloud.
“Feel amaus?” he asked in my hair.
I shivered from head to toe this time and looked around, though able to see nothing at all beyond black shapes on a black landscape. I stepped on Zar’s feet as I turned my back to him, close and tense while I waited for moonlight.
“Yes,” I whispered, “I love you too. But, no, that’s not what I meant. Did you feel like someone else is out here?”
“Jed’s out here.” Zar cupped a hand around my breast, the other flat across my pelvis, holding me against him as he was back to nibbling my neck.
“Not Jed. You’re right, he went up the hill.”
“Andrew might have followed us for a laugh. Remember the castle?”
How could I forget? Namely; Andrew pretending to be a mannequin, then terrifying me in the castle in the middle of the night.
This night, though … even Andrew wouldn’t do that.
Zar, Jed, and I were out here alone—under the condition that I checked in by text with Isaac, who was back at the bed and breakfast, working on whatever he could from afar with his laptop. Andrew, Jason, and Kage weren’t involved at all.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Kage’s sister, along with a friend of hers, had been murdered at their home near Brighton. Now it was around midnight, Sunday night, and the seven of us were staying in a rural bed and breakfast in the southern part of the Yorkshire Dales, among sprawling emerald farmland, majestic fell-sides, and endless miles of dry stone walls running in every direction.
Still in shock myself, mind circling over Rebecca, Kage, their family, the pack, Zacharias, Jed, Gavin, what we were doing out here and what we needed to accomplish, I could hardly keep on task. And I could only imagine how much worse this was not only for Kage, but the rest as well. Living communally as they did, Rebecca and Darius were a part of all their families. Their deaths had brought the total losses for the Sable Pack up to eight.
It was not a night to sneak after us in the dark and spy for a joke—or try to scare us while Zar and I attempted to make contact with the faie and Jed scouted for them.
No, Andrew wasn’t lurking in the dark to watch us. He was in the bed and breakfast watching BBC gameshows, he and Jason staying with Kage—who I partly wished wasn’t along at all, worried for his mental health and giving him space for grief.
Which left an urgent unanswered question in the now smothering night.
“You didn’t feel anything?” I asked Zar, still in a whisper.
“Hmm?” He slid both hands to my hips, pulling me against him, nose fishing down into the collar of my hoodie for more skin contact.
I’d been grateful for his attention—shaken and needing the reassurance he offered after the day we’d had. I’d also been alone with Zar for only a few snatched minutes in the past days and I’d missed him more than I’d known. I didn’t mind the distractions tonight: a comfort we both needed.
Yet … something…
I listened and watched. Zar held on and kissed me.
In less than a minute, the moon burst into beautiful clarity once more. The world grew visible in soft edges and hushed light across rocks, beck, field, and dry stone wall.
We had one small flashlight in case of emergency but had been doing our best not to use it. We were summoning creatures who would never make themselves known around such devises. I regretted even having my phone on me, though Isaac was right that we needed to be careful.
How careful? Why?
Because there might actually be something sinister out here? No… “Sinister” was after the South Coast Cooperative. Nothing was after us here. Unless … they were. Unless they knew. Unless something had followed us here.
City wolves. Country vampires. Psionic country vampires. And we had their book—something they had a strong connection to. And it was the middle of the night. And we had no wooden stakes and hardly a light source between us.
The odds still seemed long … but…
In fresh moonlight nothing stirred aside from the flowing water.
All calm, peaceful. A sympathetic setting for summoning elemental spirits, meditation, grieving, or making love against a boulder.
Also, just far enough removed from civilization for no one to hear you scream.
“Zar? Let’s find your brother and get back to The Gables.”
“Flute?” His voice was muffled in my collar, hair, and skin.
“That’s okay. We’ll try again. Gillian said we can have the rooms for up to three nights before they’re already booked.”
Zar finally pulled back. “You all right, Cass? Did you see something?”
I shook my head. “Let’s just move on.”
He looked around as well.
I shifted so I could see his face, watching his eyes as he scanned the beck and near distance. Zar had better low-light vision than I did, as well as better hearing.
After a moment on alert, he relaxed against me once more. “I missed you.” Kissing my ear.
He hadn’t seen anything, hadn’t felt anything weird. For that matter, didn’t smell any dead bodies—as he would have if a vampire were lurking behind one of those rocks.
I let out a breath and turned in his arms to embrace him. “I’ve missed you also. Let’s find Jed, though, and call it a night.”
We walked up the hill, meeting the dry stone wall and moving along it as we went. I held Zar’s hand not just for the company, but because his better sight helped us navigate without the flashlight.
As we leveled off to walk along the hilltop, the wall was too high to see over. What we really wanted was to be on top. That would be our 360º view.
“There’s a stile,” Zar said quietly, pointing ahead.
I couldn’t see it. Only the dark wall on a dark hill below soft light shifting as strips of cloud zipped past the moon.
Again, that feeling.
I pulled him to a stop to look back.
“All right?” Zar asked. Not so concerned he didn’t take the opportunity to kiss me again.
“I just keep feeling like we’re being watched.”
“The kindred? All the summoning we’ve been trying maybe got their attention, but they’re too shy to come out yet?”
“That makes sense but … this…” I shivered again and we went on. “This doesn’t feel like them.”
“We’ll turn in, like you say. It’s been a long day.”
I could see the crude stile then: stones jutting from the side of the wall, a wood post on each side to hold onto. No proper ladder on this one but stones would work. We only wanted a look and to find Jed, who’d gone on ahead.
We had just reached the stile when Zar stopped and pushed me back to the stone wall, standing between me and the trail we’d just climbed, tense for the first time as something caught his attention. An instant later, I heard it: something large running toward us, chasing us up here.