Coveted

By: Stacey Brutger



She and James had dated for three weeks before realizing they were better friends than lovers. He’d stepped up and promised to keep her out of trouble. Her mother readily agreed, as if spending time alone together would change them back into a couple.

James took his job seriously, delivering her to the inn with a minimum of fuss. He got her settled, unobtrusively checking out her room, even peeking under the bed. It had taken her the whole plane ride to convince him he couldn’t miss his medical conference in London just to sit around babysitting her.

But the magic of Scotland was tarnished by the troubles that followed her around like a shadow she couldn’t shake.

It was time to finish this nonsense.

No more running from her problems.

The first step would be to purchase essential supplies for the week, finish the job quickly, and not allow her stalker to get the upper hand. She’d deal with him, then she’d figure out a way to avoid the bleak future stretched out before her if she was forced to give up the job she loved. The wind kicked up, penetrating her clothes, and she shivered. She shoved her camera back in her satchel, but when she turned to head back toward the quaint little inn her prospective boss had rented for the week, there was no sign of civilization, only a huge-ass dog sitting amongst the heather.

Watching.

Waiting.

Shayla bit her lip, debating her choices. She tried to glance around without actually losing sight of the dog.

No owner.

And certainly no tree close enough that she’d be able to climb and get away from those super-large, saber-toothed type teeth he flashed about if he decided to give chase.

Then a big tongue lolled out, giving her a doofus grin as if to say ‘See? I’m Harmless’. She wasn’t convinced, but she remembered spotting him sneaking around at the inn. There was no road behind him, no discernible path. She must have meandered off course. She glanced at her watch and cursed to see that hours had passed.

Shayla didn’t panic. She was never lost. All she had to do was focus on her destination, and she would find her way there.

Eventually.

It was part of her gift that came to her like second nature.

But she didn’t care for the look of the black thunderclouds rolling in over the sea. The sky had darkened threateningly, the storm clouds boiling up from out of nowhere. The dog barked then paced back the way they’d come.

As though offering to lead her home.

Only one problem.

She’d never make it back before the storm struck.

She glanced toward the castle, the only visible shelter, and a spurt of unfamiliar indecision made her waver.

She could deal with a haunted castle. No, it was the words of caution from the innkeeper about wandering off that gave her pause, that and the half dozen posters of missing people she’d noticed in the short time since she’d arrived.

Then she shook off the morbid thoughts. She wouldn’t melt in the rain. She turned her back on the castle to see the dog patiently waiting to guide her back to safety.

“Okay, you win. Good guard dog.” Shayla had taken two steps when electricity sparked in the air, like a bolt of lightning preparing a strike. She increased her stride when a heart-wrenching howl split the air. The lonely sound held such despair that she stopped short. She spun around searching for the source.

Her eyes latched on the castle. The poor animal must be trapped.

Thunder rumbled, and the earth trembled under her feet with its ferocity. “Damn it!”

She couldn’t leave the dog stranded.

A night in a haunted castle was every tourist’s fantasy. She could brave a night in an abandoned castle with the spooks and spiders. It would be the kind of adventure her grandfather had always encouraged her to embrace. So why did she tense with the compulsion to flee while she had the chance?

Ignoring the heebie-jeebies crawling along her skin, Shayla pushed toward the ruined walls, wincing as she plodded through the beautiful flowers like some heathen.

Another boom shook the ground, and the sky opened up, jolting her into a run. By the time she reached the outer wall, she was soaked.

The rain was surprisingly warm. She cocked her head, listening for any sign of the dog who’d howled so plaintively, but she couldn’t hear squat over the storm. “Here doggie.”

Feeling foolish, she hunched over and made kissy sounds, searching the area for any traces of the missing hound. And not getting very far. She could barely see two feet in front of her in the downpour. Her foot slipped. Mud sucked at her shoes. She staggered to catch her balance as the ground beneath her feet shifted, and the earth began to slowly crumble.

“Shit.” Shayla threw herself sideways. But the ground had a mind of its own, slurping her down like a hungry beast, and she could’ve smacked herself for putting the image of being eaten alive into her brain. Her hands slid over the rain-slicked earth, mud squishing through her fingers as she scrambled for purchase.

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