Chapter Four

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THE FOREST SEEMED less sombre during the day. It took a moment to cross the edge and find the path. I must be insane to return to this place only a day later, but something drew me here, a need to find answers.

I wasn't going to cower the woods for the time that I'd live in this town.

I tried hard to piece it together in my foggy memory, pushing past the intense fear that quickened my pulse and picturing the route that led to the encounter. After twenty minutes of running in circles, I was lost again. There were too many narrow crossings to choose from.

I breathed deeply to calm my nerves. In the afternoon daylight, the leaves were a vibrant green, casting their tinted glow over the ground. Even though the woods looked nicer at this hour, it was all too easy to imagine the beast looming up from behind, snarling and growling.

I would not panic and lose control.

There were so many questions unanswered. My ankle? What happened to the animal after I blacked out? Why did it chase me only to leave me alive? It had wanted to kill me. Every cell in my body was aware of it.

Did something stop it?

My brain churned with a million possibilities, but no outcome made sense. I had to be missing something important. Turning in my spot, I spread my arms open. Discouragement washed over me; this was useless. What did I expect to find? It didn't help at all, and I was lost again.

I sighed and spun back, only to freeze.

A tall boy stood ramrod straight on a hill at a few feet away, hands hidden in his lumberjack vest pockets, scanning me from above. Shivers percolated down my spine. I hadn't even heard or seen him approach. He'd sneaked up on me like an apparition.

The hard line in his jaw and his furrowed brows made me think at first that he was a few years older than me. His eyes were a stunning shade of green, deep and rich like the leaves bundled at my feet. Dark and tousled hair--almost black--spread on the sides of his frowning face, under his hood.

Something about him didn't feel right. My hand slid into my rear pocket, tightening around the knife. I wasn't on board with another round of run and hide in the forest.

"What are you doing here?" he threw out, jerking his chin towards me.

I took a step back. "What are you doing here?"

My own response surprised me. I didn't make it a habit to snap at random people, but meeting a stranger in the woods wasn't exactly a good sign.

The corners of his mouth turned down in displeasure. He looked like he wanted to kick some good manners into me.

"This is private property, you dwarf." Annoyance spiked his words.

I scoffed. I knew I wasn't tall with a five feet, four inches frame, but damn. He had to attack my height that fast? It kind of hurt and I slipped into defense mode.

"Dwarf? Who the hell taught you to be so lovely with people?"

Aside from the stranger danger, this guy was over six feet tall, broad and lean. I could picture him being fast and strong at once. I wasn't completely defenseless with my knife. Dad also taught me a few punches and kicks--I was a Navy Seal's daughter, after all. But I wasn't going to act invincible. Not in front of a menacing boy glaring at me like I'd defamed his entire ancestry and spit on his shoe.

"You shouldn't be here, much less alone," he said in a deep voice, emphasizing the last word meaningfully.

I gazed at the surrounding trees, having no idea this was private land. At this point, I figured he was playing me or something.

"Right, because you bought a couple of acres while you still live with your parents and have a part-time job?" I didn't believe him one bit. "You don't get to tell me what to do."

I was really pushing the limits, and it showed by the look on his face. The boy's expression shifted from dislike to full-blown warning. I began regretting my attitude. My hand remained securely wrapped around the pocket knife, refusing to let my guard down.

He bent his knees and jumped off the little hill, landing softly on the bed of leaves below. He swaggered over to me, slowly, never taking his hands away from his pockets. My muscles locked. He stopped when his face came within inches from mine, and we almost breathed the same air. What was he doing?

His brilliant eyes, the one trait that struck me from a distance, studied me up and down carefully, in complete silence. Then, he seemed to shed a few years, and I realized he must be about the same age as me. I gave into curiosity and studied him, too.

The boy gazed at my features like he never saw a human being before: with mistrust and contempt. Seconds passed by and his face relaxed as he contemplated, seeming to lose himself in mine. Okay, not weird at all...

Up close, I noticed his lashes--long and sooty--defined cheekbones, and the full lips. There was nothing ordinary about this boy, even his irritating personality. Great, first hot guy I meet is a total creeper and maybe a psychopath. And I managed to irk him. Just great.

It was strange how in two days I'd done things that were erratic and uncharacteristic of me. I was a laid-back person. Sure, last night was a blunder, but my behaviour now? Never happened before, and I was inwardly shocked that my mouth spewed comebacks like this, almost like an unknown part of me was reacting to him.

"You got a lot of nerve, kid. You better learn to keep it down a notch before someone does it for you," he threatened, breaking the awkward moment of mutual observation.

"Don't tell me this is actually your property."

He did not put more distance between us, and I had a hard time holding his stare. "Well, not mine as in my investment, but mine as in belongs to my family. You should piss off if you don't want issues with the law."

The rebuff caused a wave of embarrassment within me, but I won't let him enjoy it. I raised my hands in surrender.

"Okay, fine. Your turf, I get it." Who wanted woods infested with creatures born straight out of nightmares anyways? I backtracked onto the trail, turning away from him. I truly didn't understand what was up with me.

"Wait."

I stopped, wondering why I cared enough to do as he said. Slowly, I faced him, folding my arms. "What?"

"Why did you come all the way here? You're pretty far from town," he asked out of the blue.

I was tempted to ask why the sudden interest, but I wanted to get as far away as possible. "Nothing. Just... thought I lost something and I'd try to find it."

The boy stiffened. "So you were here before?"

Crap. I shouldn't have answered.

"Look, I didn't know this was a private property. I'm sorry." I began to turn back. "I'll be leaving. You can stop biting me in the ass for it..."

There was the faintest of chuckles as I paced on the path. His voice called again from behind, and I rolled my eyes.

"One more thing."

I didn't turn around this time.

"Go straight down the mountain, turn left on your first crossing and right at the second. Don't stray from the trail. People get easily lost around here."



And voilà ! First character meets second main character 😁. What do you think of him and of this first interaction? They don't seem very happy to stumble upon each other, especially the creepy boy lurking in the woods... Frankly, this forest hides many surprises, it's practically a character with a life of its own in the story. It definitely occupies an important place.

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