Those Who Dwell in the Thorns
Catherine has always done what was right and proper. She married a wealthy man she hardly knew because it was expected of her. She too has certain hopes for her future. All she ever wanted was a normal life with her husband. When she arrives in Thornwood, the secrets of her past catch up with her at last and her dreams for her future are shattered. She tried to hide her peculiarities behind a facade of normalcy but Ray Thorn knows what she is. He is willing to keep her secrets, for a price.
The otherworld is dying and Ray must find a way to save them. After numerous failures, Ray believes he has found the otherworld’s savior in Catherine. The only problem is she does not want to help. Catherine refuses to believe in the Fae and time is running out. Something is hunting and killing villagers in an effort to thwart Ray and he fears Catherine may be next. He must find a way to convince Catherine that the Fae are real, if he doesn’t she will never pass the tests needed to save his kingdom. Ray has been wrong before but if he is right this time, Catherine will save the Otherworld. But if he is wrong then it could cost Catherine her heart.
Read an Excerpt :
It was not advisable to be out at this time of night. Any respectable woman would be tucked away in bed. She just could not stand going back there and let Miss Brown humiliate her. I never thought country folk could be so cruel, she thought as she wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Her auburn braid swung back and forth as she hurried down the road. The night pressed in around her. It was darker here in the country and too quiet. Each step on the gravel crunched and echoed through the night. The air was thick with moisture. As the dark grew deeper, she wondered if she should turn around and face the music. She’ll be waiting for me in our room with that smug look on her face, knowing I was too afraid to do it.
Something scuffled up ahead on the road and gave her pause. She stopped, heart hammering in her chest. Maybe being too afraid is better than dying at the hand of some monster.
“Who’s there?” A shiver ran up her spine. Silence followed her question, and she began to wonder if she had been hearing things. I’m letting her get into my head; it’s all just village superstition.
In the distance she heard the howl of some dog, but it was much too feral and wild sounding to be a real dog. Don’t be ridiculous. There haven’t been wolves in these parts in centuries. You’re letting the night scare you. You’re better than this, Evelyn, she chided herself.
She continued on her way, a warm cider at the inn and pub, The Fairy Bride, was sounding better all the time. I’ll have a drink and sit by the fire and let Miss Brown worry about explaining my absence to Mrs. Morgan. Just the thought of Miss Brown sputtering a flimsy excuse when the housekeeper came around to do her nightly check brought a smile to Evelyn’s face. She kept her shawl clutched close and rubbed her arms with the flat of her hands. There was a definite chill in the air. The night was silent after that mournful howl. Gravel clattered together, signaling footsteps behind her. Evelyn quickened her pace. She could see the distant light of The Fairy Bride just past the grouping of trees at the end of the road. Yellow light spilled from behind opaque diamond-shaped glass. The door swung open, and local patrons tumbled out, the sound of laughter drifting on the air. I am nearly safe, she thought. A hand fell hard on her shoulder. She screamed. She tried to fight against her assailant, but he spun her around, grabbing her by both shoulders, forcing her to face him.
“Please let me go. I never did no harm to no one,” she sobbed. Her chin wobbled as she shook all over.
He laughed. A mocking sort of sound that brought her back from her terror quicker than anything else could. She looked up through her tear-clustered lashes into a handsome face.
“Miss Smith, it’s a bit late for you to be out and about,” he said with a crooked smile that made her heart skip a few beats.
She exhaled with relief. “Mr. Thorn, I thought you were one of those terrible creatures, the one the villagers are always talking about.”
He grinned and patted her on the top of her head. It was an oddly familiar gesture that set her heart to pounding for a different reason entirely. She had noticed Mr. Thorn before; how could she not? He was tall with wide shoulders and long wavy hair that bordered on obscene. He was almost pretty with neat angular features and full lips. His hands were large with long tapered fingers. He had almond eyes and olive skin. He was exotic enough that she wondered if he was English at all. She’d heard a story passed around that his mother had been a Spanish dancer who had fallen in love with an Englishman. He had the skin for it, and his hair was a glistening chestnut.
Evelyn had worked in many a household in her twenty-one years and she had never seen a gentleman half as beautiful as Mr. Thorn, and he was only a gardener. It seemed ludicrous that someone this gorgeous spent his days toiling in the earth. He was the reason she had snuck out, at Miss Brown’s insistence; it was not just Evelyn’s eye Mr. Thorn had caught, but every able-bodied woman who worked and lived at Thornwood Abbey. Miss Brown had pressured Evelyn into sneaking out to have a drink with the gardener. Had Evelyn refused, Miss Brown would have told Mrs. Morgan who had stolen the silver. In truth it was Miss Brown who was the thief, but Evelyn had no way of proving it. Evelyn was new. She had only been on the job two weeks, and Miss Brown’s family had worked for the manor for generations. Mrs. Morgan was not likely to believe Evelyn over Miss Brown. So here she was, out past curfew, caught on the roadside by a dangerously handsome man. Not that she thought anything would come of this rendezvous. Mr. Thorn was beyond what she could hope for even in her wildest dreams.
“There’s no need to fear. It is only me,” he said, bringing her back to the here and now. “Since we have happened to meet, perhaps you would like to go with me to The Fairy Bride for a drink?”
She was too shocked to even voice her assent. She pressed her hands to her lips to stifle her surprised ‘oh’ that was threatening to spill out. She had no real intention of actually asking Mr. Thorn to get a drink with her. She was just going to pretend. Her heart beat faster; this was too perfect for words.
He offered her his crooked arm, and she took it delicately. She pressed the barest tips of her fingers to his arm and felt the soft velvet of his coat. It was dark out still, but she hardly noticed now that she was with Mr. Thorn. It was as if he were a beacon in the night, lighting their way.
Together they went into the pub, where he ordered her a drink. They sat at a table by the fire, and the night went by in a happy blur. She felt many a jealous eye on her from the women patrons. She had no doubt that Miss Brown would hear about this, and she could only imagine the nasty things she would say, but for once, Evelyn did not care. When it got late, Mr. Thorn got up to settle the check.
When he was at the bar speaking with Mr. Humphry, the owner of The Fairy Bride, settling their tab, she felt the weight of the villagers’ stares upon her. She squirmed for a moment before she could take it no longer. She slid out the front door, intent on waiting for Mr. Thorn outside. She caught his eye on the way out. He inclined his head and smiled to her. Her heart filled with that warm glow all over again. Even the cold outside did little to staunch her good cheer.
She rocked on the balls of her feet back and forth for a few minutes as she waited. Mr. Thorn is taking quite a while. She looked back at the door, wondering if she should go in and check. She hesitated. It was no secret that the residents of Thornwood were not welcoming to outsiders. Many of their families had built Thornwood hundreds of years ago. The family of Lord Thornton, her employer, had established the village, if local legend could be believed. It was said the village came into existence sometime during the reign of the legendary King Arthur.
A song drifted on the night air. It wrapped around Evelyn, and she snapped her head up. It seemed to be coming from the woods across from the inn. The Fairy Bride was set along the main road that led to the village proper. Like much of the village, the woods crept in to press against the buildings and other manmade structures. Though Evelyn did not miss the smoke and gray of London, she did find the ominous dark forests frightening, especially at night. They were full of unfamiliar noises, the occasional hoot of an owl or the crunch of leaves as a deer took flight through the underbrush.
The song dominated all those other sounds; it pulled at Evelyn, calling her forward. Come to us, it seemed to be saying. Dance, my child. Let your fears go. She stood in the light coming from the few remaining lit windows in the inn. Mr. Thorn would want to walk back with her, she shouldn’t stray or he might think she headed back on her own, but she could not deny the pull of the song. She moved, her feet hesitant at first, then more assured.
She stumbled over a few rocks and fell to her knees. The pain that shot up her leg brought her back to the present. The song died away, and in its wake the darkness was more complete. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light of night, with nothing but the stars and a sliver of the moon to guide her. Why have the lights in the inn gone out? She did not have much time to puzzle the reason because a figure approached. The stars outlined his figure in a thin string of light. His features were left in shadow.
“Mr. Thorn, I am so embarrassed. I thought I heard something in the woods, and then I fell. Please don’t laugh. My mother used to say I would trip over my own breath if I could.” She tried to stand, but before she could regain her feet, he slammed her back against the ground. He pinned her body by the shoulders against the hard cold ground, and her hips were straddled by his powerful thighs. “Mr. Thorn, what are you doing?” She struggled to break free, kicking her legs and wriggling her torso, to no avail.
“Hush,” he said, his voice was husky, his breath warm against her face.
I am a fool! What else will a man think of a woman sneaking out after dark? I have done this to myself. This is why Miss Brown forced me to go. I knew she wanted the lady’s maid position. How could I have been so stupid? They must have planned this together. I’ll be ruined!
She tried to scream for help, but he covered her mouth with his hand. He ripped her bodice with ease; the ripping sound echoed back at her, compounding her shame. She sobbed as she felt the cool knife brush her skin as her petticoat was cut as well. Her flesh pimpled as it was exposed to the evening’s chill.
He leaned in to whisper in her ear, “Don’t worry, my pet, I don’t want your body. I’m only after your heart.”
She screamed as the knife he had used to tear her clothes was thrust hilt deep into her chest.
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