Just the cold exterior settling around the warmth, I told myself, wrapped tightly in Jarrad’s strong arms.
Something tapped at the window. My heart leapt into my throat. As he got up to investigate, I felt a terror like nothing before. It gripped my chest and chilled me to the bone, even as the fire roared at my feet.
Unfazed, my love peered through the glass, into the darkness. And it was so dark; no sign of civilisation, no light of other living souls—nothing. I don’t know what he expected to see, but whoever—whatever—was out there could see us in here clear as day without having to leave the forest.
And yet, the tapping came again.
Jarrad smiled and tapped his own reply, fingers making meaty sounds against the pane. “Just the rosebush in the garden bed. Wind’s picking up out there.”
To my relief, he embraced me once again.
There was no fireplace in the bedroom, so we made our own heat. Our creaking bed drowned out the settling cottage. The beast upstairs was my beast, whose ferocious body and tranquil snoring sheltered us both from the foreboding night and tempestuous wind. I fell asleep, sated and believing I was safe, only for strange sounds to permeate my dreams.
At first, it was the groan of centuries-old wood, pocked with a stutter that at times emerged as voices—laughter. Then, a rustling in the trees like rain on concrete, and a whistling breeze that grew to an incessant wail. Then, finally, a scream.
It was the scream that woke me up. Jarrad was gone.
No answer. Morning light crept through gaps in the curtains. Though faint and milky, it gave me the courage to leave my sanctuary of blankets and go search for my love.
The wooden stairs creaked underfoot. His shoes were missing from the foyer, but the smell of coffee lingered in the air. I found him at the picnic table on the back porch, lost in thought and staring out at the trees.
He greeted me with a kiss. “Hey, I thought you’d never wake up.”
“Likewise. How long you been awake?”
“Not long. The wind woke me up. It got wild last night.”
“The car should have blown away. It was just covered in crap, though. You slept through all of it, didn’t even hear me get out of bed.” He checked his phone. “No rain today.”
“Wanna drive into town?”
“And waste the great weather? No way. I’ll make us breakfast, then we can hike through the woods. The reviews said the forest is incredible.”