Living a life shrouded in darkness, Hunter enters a world where curses are real, and fear runs deep. Will her love for Caleb save them both from his inner demon, or will her father’s killer remain out of reach forever?
Hunter Hartley had listened to her father’s stories of the werewolf colony on the Sunshine Coast for 25 years. She’d scrutinized his photos until her vision blurred. Not once had she seen what he claimed to be a werewolf. Her brother David, however, had believed every single word.
Thoughts of her father brought unexpected tears. The suddenness of James Hartley’s death, two years earlier, still disturbed her. A heart attack, the death certificate said. Although, she wasn’t entirely sure. Only hours before the heart-numbing phone call, he’d sounded excited as he babbled on about the full moon that night and the pictures he planned to take.
Hunter studied the DSLR camera in her hands. A light breeze carrying the scent of gardenias stirred her hair. With a heavy sigh, she flicked auburn strands from her eyes and picked her way through the overgrown vegetation to the tree line.
Caleb’s Rest, a majestic two-storey Victorian mansion, dominated the valley below. Ornate columns bordered the wraparound veranda. Filigree barriers decorated the smaller upper balconies.
Resting her shoulder on a tree for balance, Hunter snapped photos, intrigued by the house’s ageless grandeur. Through the lens, every detail became clear. A decaying fountain sat in the middle of the curved driveway and the garden consisted of little more than tangled, overgrown weeds.
The editor of Cock and Bull Magazine, where her father had worked for over 20 years, said James had obsessed over the house. Obsessed. Now, Hunter wanted to know why.
A man stepped from the house and walked the length of the wooden veranda, his movements fluid and relaxed. Hunter focused on the man as he strode back and forth, a cell phone plastered to his ear. Dark hair curled at the collar of his light blue t-shirt. Jeans hugged his well-toned thighs and backside. Unable to resist, Hunter clicked a photo. He may not be a werewolf, but he deserved immortality within the confines of a photograph!
When he turned, the lens blurred, and then slowly focused on his groin. Hunter almost dropped the camera. Quickly, she swung to the furthermost hills and snapped a few shots of the neglected vineyard. Unable to stay distracted for long, she turned the lens back to the house, and the man. Just one more look.
Gaze downcast, he spoke on the phone. The shadow of a beard covered his square jaw and he smiled as he talked, deep lines creasing the edges of his mouth. He brushed hair from his forehead to reveal high cheekbones and a long, handsome face.
“Goodness,” she whispered.
As though he heard her, he stared straight down the lens. Iceberg blue eyes narrowed. Dark brows lowered slightly. The phone rested in his hand by his side as he stepped from the veranda.
Stumbling back through the shrubbery, Hunter hurried across the narrow road to her white 4X4. How had he seen her? She must be half a mile away from the house and partially hidden by trees. Her cell phone rang shrilly from her back pocket. Running around the back of her car, she flicked the phone open.
“Hello?” she said, a little breathless.
“Hunter, what’s wrong? You sound funny.”
“Not now, David.”
“You’ve been back from Europe for three weeks and you’re already avoiding me. Too bad. I’m coming to Caleb’s Rest tomorrow. Someone saw a man turn into a wolf—.”
Hunter groaned. “Please don’t start this.”
A gasp of surprise caught in her throat. Her hand tightened on the door handle. The man from the house stood at the front of her 4X4, even more attractive than she first imagined.
“Hunter?” Her brother’s voice echoed from the phone.
Without taking her gaze from the man in front of her, Hunter disconnected the called and shoved the phone back into her pocket.
He held out his hand. Long fingers and a broad, strong palm. “Your camera, please.”
“I wasn’t—.” Hunter clamped her mouth shut and handed over the camera. Taking photos without asking was the one thing her father had warned her not to do. “Don’t break it.”
“I won’t. Although I should.” The man trapped her within his pale gaze for a moment. “This is a private road. Maybe I should call the police and charge you with trespassing.” His attention moved to the digital pictures. An eyebrow raised a fraction.
Hunter’s cheeks burned.
The man deleted the picture of his posterior and passed the camera back. “You only needed to ask for a picture.” Disappointment faded the sparkle in his eyes. “There are no werewolves here.”
Surprised, Hunter blinked. “Werewolves?” Biting back a laugh, she opened her car door. “Did my brother put you up to this?”
For a moment, he watched her intently. “I think there has been a misunderstanding,” he said slowly. “Are you a reporter?”
“No. I’m a photographer. My name’s Hunter Hartley. I’m here to take photos of the house for my portfolio. I spoke to Gordon a few days ago.” She waited for him to tell her his name.
Instead, he raked his fingers through his hair and offered a rueful grin. “Please, ignore the werewolf comment.”
“I’ll forget what you said, if you forget the photo I took.”
His gaze dipped to the silver medallion around her neck. “Where did you get the necklace?”
Hunter studied the round pendant. Etched into one side was a wolf baying to the moon. On the other, the words dead forever. “My father gave it to me a few years ago.”
Fear spiked in the man’s eyes. “Do you know what it does?”
“No, but I like it.”
“That medallion keeps the dead, dead.”
Hunter stared at him for a moment, perplexed. “Keeps the dead, dead, huh? I always thought being dead would keep the dead, dead.”
One corner of his mouth lifted into a slight smile. “Welcome to Caleb’s Rest, Hunter. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay here. I know I will.”
Caleb Scott crossed his arms and leaned a shoulder on the doorframe to watch the white 4X4 move slowly down the rugged track towards the house. Her name brought long buried memories to the surface. Memories he’d successfully ignored.
The 4X4 turned through the gates. Caleb entered the house and strode into the northern side of the mansion. James Hartley had failed to mention anything about a daughter. If Caleb had known about the family, he wouldn’t have agreed to James’ insane suggestion.
Caleb sat at his beloved grand piano and gently stroked the black and white keys. Guilt plagued him. He rubbed his eyes. So much damned remorse. The horror in James’ eyes would haunt him for as long as he lived. Forever.
“Just play and try to forget,” he muttered.
The soft, melodic notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata filled the music room and eased Caleb’s melancholy. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the one thing that made him happy, the one activity that proved he was still human. Nothing else had appeased his insatiable regret.
Under the gaze of Hunter’s clear hazel eyes, he’d forgotten about his futile existence. In her presence he’d felt alive. He wanted to make his mistakes right. However, could he allow Hunter to enter his nightmarish life? Joseph Stewart was only ever a step behind, and Hamish always stayed two steps ahead.
The music he played grew in intensity. Caleb poured his energy into the piano. All of his emotions flowed into the keys and for a moment, he traveled to the past. Before the tragedy. Before his conscience ruled.
He finished the piece with a flourish. The final note dissolved, as did his dream of normalcy.
Startled, he spun on the piano bench to face the caretaker, Gordon, and Hunter. His salvation.
“You two know each other?” Gordon asked.
“We met earlier. I didn’t even introduce myself. Forgive my rudeness, I’m Caleb Scott.” He rose and reached towards her.
Slender fingers slipped into his hand, warm and a little damp. The nervous flush in Hunter’s cheeks intrigued him, as did the scent of arousal she emitted. Did she find him attractive? Caleb smiled, thrilled he could still affect a woman in a positive way.
“Compared to the dusty shadows I’ve recently kept company with, you are a fresh, pleasant change. Welcome to Caleb’s Rest,” he said.
“Thank you,” she replied. “Your home is beautiful.”
When Hunter tried to pull her hand away, Caleb tightened his grasp. Escape was no longer an option. Already, his heart felt lighter. Perhaps she could save him and make right his many wrongs.
Innocent hazel eyes lifted to study his face. Not innocent to the ways of the world, but innocent to his realm of fear. Hunter’s full lips spread into a shaky smile and her blush deepened. Now, her hand trembled in his.
Gordon cleared his throat.
Caleb released Hunter’s hand. “I plan to play for the rest of the afternoon.” He indicated to the piano. “You’re quite welcome to stay.”
Hunter’s mouth opened a fraction. A mixture of excitement and uncertainty lit her gaze. She glanced around the music room, her attention lingering on the piano. “If you don’t mind, I might take some photos before my brother arrives tomorrow.”
Caleb’s anxiety returned triple fold. Why hadn’t James ever mentioned his family? “Your brother?”
Hunter nodded. “David’s a final year student of crypto zoology. He rang before and started raving about werewolves.” She shrugged and offered an apologetic smile. “That’s why I thought he’d put you up to that comment earlier. He’ll probably make me search for werewolves tomorrow.”
How much had James told his children? Caleb swallowed his apprehension. “I look forward to meeting David tomorrow.”
Hunter’s smile turned genuine for the first time since he met her. “Oh good. I’m sure he can’t wait to meet you.”
Rubbing his whiskered jaw, Caleb watched her leave with Gordon.
Eternity would never be long enough to beg Hunter for forgiveness.
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