Her Darkest Secret (excerpt)

Two men stood on the threadbare rug in front of the hearth. They both wore rifles strapped across their backs, but Eliza wasn’t afraid.

One was a stocky, solidly built man with dark, greasy hair to his collar, streaked with gray. His face was hard and lined, his eyes dark. He leered at them as they stepped in, and Eliza’s skin crawled. She had never seen him before, though she knew many of the men from the logging camp at the base of the mountain.

The other man, however—he was breathtaking, a sight to behold. Tall, so tall he could have reached up and gripped the bare beams of the ceiling. He was gloriously masculine, hewn from muscle and raw power, with the arms of a man who chopped wood all day and the lithe, powerful body of a hunter and mountain man. He had a thick, dark beard, short and neatly trimmed. His intense eyes glimmered in the firelight. A knit cap hid his hair, but his face was proud and majestic. He wore a red flannel shirt and suspenders, and leather boots to his knee.

He reminded her of the stories her mother told her as a child, about the spirits of the mountain—men, turned into tall, impossibly strong warriors in death, left there to protect the people on the mountain from harm.

Eliza stepped forward, forcing authority into her voice. “What do you want? Why are you here?”

The shorter man stepped forward, sliding his gaze over her. She knew she looked more appealing than her sister, for she was full-bodied and healthy beneath her long blue dress, a buxom and curvy figure. Her long black hair she wore down, her eyes as green as the spring grass, her features delicate and her skin tanned from working in the sun. She received many leering looks from men in the small town around the camp, whenever she went there to get supplies. She did not often mind such looks for she was capable of defending herself. However, this man, she would gladly pluck out his eyes like a hungry raven.

“We don’t mean to alarm you ladies,” the man said. “We come with dire news. My name is James Potts, this is Lucien Grey. We’re from the logging camp.” The tall man, Lucien, kept his gaze fixed on her.

“I know where you come from.” Eliza frowned. “You’ve come a long way to fell trees.”

“We’re on the hunt,” James said. “We’re warning folks on the mountain.”

“There was an attack last night.” Lucien stepped away from the hearth. His voice was deep and rumbling, like thunder over the peaks. “A werewolf. It killed two of our men.”

Eliza stared at him. Her thumping heart filled her throat.

“Don’t worry,” James said. “We’re going to find it and kill it. But you ladies should stay inside after dark. Bar your doors and windows.”
“There will be a search tonight.” Lucien’s voice took on a point. “We wanted to let you know.”

“If you hear gunfire, don’t be alarmed.” James turned to Mary and looked her over as well. “We’ll protect you.”

Mary stood next to Eliza, staring at the floor, hands clasped in front of her, drawn in on herself. If James continued ogling her sister, Eliza would grip the back of his greasy hair and dash his head against the hearthstones.

“Did you hear or see anything last night?” Lucien’s gaze burned into Eliza. “Have you seen anything today?”

Eliza turned to the table, and picked up the metal bucket there. “I need some water from the pump.” She looked at Lucien. “Walk with me, and I’ll tell you what I know about werewolves. Maybe it’ll help you find it.”

James arched an eyebrow. “Do you know much about werewolves, miss?”

“My mother told me stories.” She stepped to the door. “Please, stand outside the door and keep watch while we talk,” she told James. She didn’t want to leave her sister alone, but her skin crawled and she had to steal away. “Bar the door behind me,” she told Mary.

The three of them went outside. James took position by the door. Outside in the light, he was even more grizzled and ugly.

“Stay right here,” Eliza told him.

“Yes, miss.”

Eliza and Lucien walked around the side of the cabin. They strolled through the fallen leaves, kicking them up, the bucket swinging at her side. She breathed in the scent of him, sweat and wood dust and the tantalizing odor of him.

They were silent until they reached the back of the cabin. Once there Lucien said, “It wasn’t you, was it?”