Chapter One

Tabitha Brady hitched up the ridiculous skirts she wore and ran like Bigfoot himself was after her. And from the one, fleeting, totally stupid backward glance she’d taken, that was a real possibility. She stumbled a bit, nothing less than she deserved for acting like one of those too-stupid-to-live-type heroines in cheesy horror movies. The beast giving chase roared again, closer, but she found her stride. With a burst of speed, she put some distance between herself and the monster shadowing her.

This was not the nice, magical island vacation she’d envisioned. Nope. Not at all. Totally at odds with the classy invitation she’d found on her doorstep—the creamy vellum, the exquisite calligraphy on the paper itself, the delicate sandalwoodsy-musky-oddly-floral scent that had clung to the envelope. That same aroma perfumed the air of the island, but Tabitha’d decided she was the only one who could smell that particular combination. She’d heard a snippet of conversation from another guest in the welcome center, a place called ‘Sessrúmnir.’ The woman remarked to the lady next to her that the entire island smelled to her of strawberry Danish. Oddly, the other guest countered that she didn’t smell a thing other than the sea and sunscreen.

And then the island’s hostess—for lack of a better term—Freyja, appeared to welcome the group of newcomers. Tall and gorgeously Nordic, Freyja’s flowing, gauzy dress seemed to Tabitha to be the perfect sort of island wear, and she’d hoped to find a clothing boutique with similar fashions. The long-haired, white cat perched on Freyja’s shoulder had stared curiously at Tabitha, or so it seemed. After listening to a short greeting, Tabitha had been whisked away in a golf cart, astounded when, instead of going towards the beach, the driver pointed the little vehicle inland. The crooked wooden sign at the side of the road informed her she’d just entered the town of Credence, 1884, whatever that meant. Thus abandoned on a rickety wooden sidewalk before a false-fronted hotel-saloon straight out of the nineteenth century, not once did Tabitha think she’d wind up wearing period clothing, and running for her life through the dense overgrowth of a pine forest. On a tropical island. Yeah. This totally made sense, housing a guest out of their element, rather than ensuring her complete and total comfort.

“Left! Go to your left!”

She didn’t know who’d hollered at her, but at this point, she’d take any advice. Anything to get herself out of this crazy predicament. She veered left, then screamed as the ground gave way beneath her feet and she slid on her bustle for God Himself only knew for how long before landing on her back, skirts up over her head. Breath knocked out of her, she was dimly aware of a deep male voice cursing—growing closer every second—and the accompanying sounds of another person crashing through that crazy rabbit hole.

Someone hard and much bigger than herself landed half on, half off her, between her legs. Tabitha gave in to the very girly need to scream when their foreheads bumped together. A large hand clapped over her open mouth.

“Oh, God, stop. Situation’s bad enough without you screaming your bloody head off.”

Tabitha, silently, had to agree. This wasn’t her, screaming like a horror film expendable—and this was her second horror-film-heroine stupidism. Great. Arrive on a fantastic tropical island for the vacation of a lifetime, escorted to her accommodations in an Old West town—weird—put on the clothes provided, and immediately lose all brain function. That alone made her want to holler some more. She nodded, hoping the man would understand that she was finished screaming and would remove his dirty hand from her face.

(C) 2014 Laura Hamby

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