Hunted by Moonlight Chapter Four

At some point, her willingness to take foolhardy risks to make him laugh turned into a desire to have his approval. She wanted his attention and she wanted his kisses.

Author’s Note

This freaking chapter. I’m not sure where I’m going with Parkell. He may never show up again. Anyway, the joys of the Alpha Draft.

Chapter Four – Solenne

They found Miles by the forge, with the collar opened on his shirt and his sleeves rolled up. Damp blonde curls stuck to his brow. The furnace was cold but a stove in the corner heated the workshop to a balmy temperature.

Miles smiled when he spotted them, and Luis gulped audibly. He inspected the damaged armor, accepted the item for trade, and Solenne helpfully suggested that Luis would be interested in observing the repair process.

“Really?” Miles blinked, as if surprised but then gave Luis an assessing gaze. “An extra pair of hands is always helpful, but you’ll ruin your coat.”

Solenne leaned in, whispering, “He’s interested in your hands.”

“I don’t mind,” Luis said in a hurry, blushing and stumbling over his words. “About the coat.”

Miles took Luis’s coat and limped toward a peg on the wall to hang it.

Solenne thoroughly enjoyed watching her brother, the monster hunter, stumble awkwardly around his crush. It was too precious for words, yet she dug deep down and managed to find a cheery, “I’ll stop by after my visit with Charlotte?”

She didn’t wait for Luis to answer. Miles had turned his attention to the damaged armor and Luis watched the blacksmith work.

The mill dominated Boxon. The nearest river laid several hours journey to the west, which meant the village relied on overland transport for the delivery of raw wool and linen and the shipping of finished goods downriver to the capital. Overland travel left a lot to be desired. Pavement was not always a guarantee and the further away from Founding a person traveled, the more likely the road would be mud. Still, while industry did not exactly thrive in Boxon, it brought in steady income and a steady supply of fresh goods. 

Solenne ambled through the open-air market, enjoying the crowd and the noise. She took a fair amount of pride in knowing that Boxon’s stability was thanks to her family. Other settlements as close to a nexus point rarely fared as well. Such close proximity  created uncertainty. Farmers lost livestock and crops. People feared to be out after dark. Industry shuttered at sunset. An uncontrolled nexus was a death sentence to a settlement. It was more than a passing curiosity that the majority of abandoned settlements were always found near a nexus point. They were abandoned for a reason. 

Boxon had a modest industry and it’s citizens felt safe. 

Sometimes the provincial government would send in forces to secure the area. Sometimes they considered the settlement a strategic loss. With no easy access to transportation or valuable resources, she had doubted the province would be motivated to send aid to Boxon if her family failed.  

The threats came from all sides. If they could just make it through the next full moon, if Luis could defeat the wolf and not get himself killed in the process… 

She needed a life line. 

“Miss Marechal.”

Solenne turned at the deep voice, familiar with its owner. “Good morning, Colonel Chambers.”

“Always a delight. How is your father?” Colonel Chambers leaned on his cane and a gloved hand touched the tip of his hat. A leg injury forced him from the military and into the occupation of the gentleman farmer. He was pleasant enough, Solenne thought, if a bit pompous. He seemed to hold her in high regard, though Solenne could not imagine why. She had only ever been civil to the man and made pains to avoid him. 

Godwin, however, placed several not-so-subtle remarks that Colonel Chambers was not so much older than her—only fifteen years!—and she could do far worse for a match. He had enough money to revitalize the Marechel’s fortunes and understood their responsibility, even supported their mission. 

The family needed a life line. She was not sure if this was the correct one. 

“Healing slower than he would like,” she said. In the last week, it became apparent that Godwin would lose sight in his eye. He could be handling it better but Solenne thought her father was allowed to be a grumpy bastard, considering the circumstances.

“Any news of the creature that attacked him?” His gloved hand gripped the silver handle of his cane, the leather creaking.

“Luis tracked the creature, but the rain has slowed down the search,” she said. Rain obscured any trail the creature made with freshly churned mud. Thus far, Luis had not discovered the creature’s den, which meant it came through the Veil that night and—hopefully—went back through the Veil. The alternative was the creature transformed into its human form and now hid among the crowd. It could be anyone.

“It was injured,” she added.

“With silver?” He grimaced as he said the word.

“Yes, so that should slow down its regeneration.” If the wolf did hide among the flock, so to speak, they would be wounded. She had no one way of knowing who an injury in wolf form translated into a human form, but new and unexplained injuries were something to consider.

The clock tower struck noon.

“I’m afraid I have an appointment to keep,” Colonel Chambers said.

“Miss Wodehouse is expecting me.” She gave a short dip of her head and turned away to make her escape.

“Oh, Miss Marechal—”

She froze. “Yes?”

“Will you be attending the Midsummer Ball?”

A month away, it seemed impossibly distant. “I had planned to attend but with my father’s condition…” She let her voice trail off, unwilling to let Colonel Chambers trap her into a promised dance or three. At the last dance, he hovered near and scowled at any man who approached her.

“Understandable. Let us hope for a speedy recovery.” He smiled and Solenne felt an icy chill that had nothing to do with the spring weather. Perhaps it was the sunlight or the shadows, his normally affable face transformed into a leer.

He swept off his hat and left.

She breathed a sigh of relief. She knew that people called her a spinster behind her back. Twenty-six was not so very old, but the expectation was to marry young. Her mother had been twenty when she married Godwin, who had been thirty at the time. The double standard of men not spoiling with age rankled her.

If she were to believe the gossip, she needed to pick someone, anyone, why she still had options. Colonel Chambers might not inspire warm feelings in her, but he was not a bad choice.

Just a bit dull. And tedious. And the last person she’d ever want to marry.

She refused to be pressured. Any match she made would be purely practical and loveless. Her troublesome heart belonged to the same man since she was twelve: Aleksandar. A few years older than her, he seemed so mature and handsome and clever and a dozen other favorable attributes. But more than that, Aleksandar had been her friend. They trained side by side. He listened to her. He never pressured her into going against her nature. Instead, he made the worst ideas seem like the best. He led and she very much wanted to jump in after him.

At some point, her willingness to take foolhardy risks to make him laugh turned into a desire to have his approval. She wanted his attention and she wanted his kisses.

Not that much ever came of it.

Her cheeks heated at the memory of her clumsily confessing her feelings and his response.

Aleksandar had been kind because he carried a kind heart, but she was too young to make promises.

Yes, she knew it was pitiable to carry a flame for a man she had not seen in ten years, but her feelings remained. Her regard for Aleksandar, or her memory of him, prevented her from forming a strong attachment to another. She had simply never met another man she admired half as much.

And he had still not replied to her plea.

She was not worried. He would answer the call for help. Aleksandar was a good man. Godwin, unjustly, made him leave but he would return. She knew it, felt it in her bones the same way she felt the moon and the fluctuations of the Veil.

A wind stirred, carrying the savory aromas from nearby taverns and food stalls.

She hated this, longing for a man who walked away. She had tried and tried to harden her heart to him, to move on, but it stubbornly refused. She was no longer that sixteen-year-old girl infatuated with her friend, but, it seemed, her heart very much was.

Ridiculous things, hearts. She didn’t have time or the luxury for sentimentality. Marechal House desperately needed money for repairs and Colonel Chambers had money. A husband who could aid Luis would be ideal, but money bought new equipment. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have Luis in new armor and not fret about it failing when he needed it most? Love and adoration would be nice, but those were luxuries for an aging woman in her position.

Solenne arrived at Charlotte’s house and pushed away thoughts of the colonel and marriage. She found Charlotte in the garden, surrounded in a halo of sunshine and vivid spring greenery. Charlotte wore a new pink dress that complimented her fashionable figure and bronze complexion. Her curling hair had been pulled back into a loose bun. Sunlight picked out golden highlights. She made an extraordinarily pretty picture and Solenne wondered why Charlotte took such efforts for a simple visit from a friend. 

The answer was soon revealed as Charlotte had a companion in the garden. A tall gentleman in a rich green coat sat next to her on a bench. The man spotted Solenne first and sprang to his feet. 

“Solenne! Allow me to introduce Mr. Parkell, Colonel Chamber’s nephew. Mr. Parkell, this is Miss Marechal,” Charlotte said, rising with grace. “He’s here for the summer.”

Mr. Parkell gave a curtsy. “My physicians prescribed fresh country air. Uncle obliged. A pleasure,” he said and Solenne murmured a reply. 

“I just passed your uncle outside,” she said. Strange that Chambers did not mention his nephew, but Charlotte diverted her attention. 

“Mr. Parkell was just telling me about his research. It’s fascinating,” Charlotte said.

“I insist you call me Jase,” he said. Charlotte maintained a neutral expression. Not even the hint of a pink bloom on her cheeks. Completely unmoved. Once, Charlotte had confessed that she suspected her father invited young men to visit, hoping one of them would propose to his unwed daughter. Thus far, Charlotte seemed as unmoved by the parade of handsome young students as they were to her. Jase had not risen above his competition. 

Charlotte’s hand fluttered at the neckline of her day dress, ostensibly adjusting her shawl but Solenne wondered if it was a nervous gesture. Perhaps this Mr. Parkell had qualities to recommend him. 

Jase turned his attention to Solenne. He smiled, charm turned up for maximum effect. “And I insist you also call me Jase, Miss Marechal.”

She had to admit, it was effective. Jase was handsome in an unfinished way, like an unpolished stone. Boyish, Solenne realized, the same way that Luis had a boyish roundness to his face. Jase’s loose blond curls were tied back and his eyes were intelligent enough. Warm, even, when he looked at her but his gaze invariably shifted back to Charlotte, and no wonder. Charlotte was prettier with a ruddy complexion that turned very red if she got too much sun, so she was careful with her bonnets and parasols. She also stood to inherit a good fortune, which no doubt made her very pretty indeed. Solenne had only a crumbling manor and obligation to recommend her. No wonder Jase only had eyes for Charlotte.

“How do you find Boxon, Mr. Parkell?” Solenne asked.

His shoulders slumped at her formality.

“Marechal House has many old-world books and artifacts,” Charlotte said. Her eyes widened slightly, imploring Solenne to understand something without speaking. “He is a historian.”

“An enthusiast, I’m afraid.” He seemed a bit more interested in Solenne. “Sir Lucas informed me that Marechal House has some extraordinary photographs. Originals.” He licked his bottom lip.

Ah. She understood now. Jase was not interested in her so much as he was interested in her library. Perfectly reasonable.

“Certainly. Consider the library at your disposal,” she said. Charlotte smiled prettily and Jase seemed relieved.

Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings

On to Chapter Five

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