Grace Steven’s stay at Wolf Lake grows into a bigger mystery as her neighbor, the handsome Will Campbell, woos and lies to her. She is torn between her growing affection for him and her mistrust toward his actions. The annual lake picnic gives her chance to meet other, more normal people, but Will has other plans for them both.
Breakfast was over in half an hour. I leaned back in my chair and groaned in satisfaction as I patted my full, but happy stomach. “Vuk, would you consider cooking for me every morning?” I asked the manservant as he stood in the kitchen.
Will smiled at me. “Vuk and I would be pleased to have you every morning,” he invited.
I grinned. “Be careful what you wish for. I might eat you out of your bacon,” I warned him.
He chuckled. “I highly doubt that, but even with your threat the offer still stands.”
“Standing might be a problem right now,” I commented. I stood and felt like I’d gained ten pounds, and all at the hips and butt. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you two were fattening me up to eat me.” I expected at least a smile or a chuckle from Will, but instead I noticed a dark shadow cross his face. Vuk paused in his washing of the dishes and turned to us with a plate suspended in one hand and the rag in the other.
I cringed and turned back to Will. “I’m sorry if I said something-”
“You didn’t say anything wrong,” Will interrupted me. He smiled, set his hand on my back and led me toward the rear door. “And I’m very glad you enjoyed the breakfast. I will be sure to have Vuk prepare the same for you every morning when you visit.”
“You don’t have to-burp-excuse me. You don’t have to go to all this trouble. I can feed myself,” I protested. Though at that moment the idea of eating my own meals wasn’t appetizing. You just couldn’t compare cold cereal to a warm, cooked breakfast, especially if bacon was involved. Bacon was like the Force, it had it’s dark meat and its juicy white fat, and nothing beat the Force.
“But I insist. It isn’t often Vuk and I are able to speak so openly with another person. We are-well, very confirmed bachelors in our way,” he told me.
We stepped out onto the rear porch and admired the beautiful view of the glistening lake. “And you’ll let a confirmed old maid like me into your pad?” I teased him.
He smiled and admired my face and form. “Calling yourself an old maid isn’t doing you justice,” he scolded.
I shrugged. “The world is full of injustice,” I replied.
Will turned away from me to look at the lake, and a pensive expression slipped across his face. “Yes, the world and life are full of a very great injustices. One’s life is shattered in an instant by a stupid mistake, and they travel the world hoping to fix their error only to find disappointment and despair.”
I looked over his face and could detect a hint of that disappointment and despair in his expression. “Speaking from experience?” I guessed.
His voice was a ghost of its normal self. “More than I care to admit,” he replied. He shook himself and glanced at me with his smile. Now I wondered if that smile was real. “You must be a witch,” he mused.
I blinked. “Beg your pardon?” I asked him.
He chuckled. “You’ve bewitched me into speaking more about myself than I’ve done in many years. Not since I met Vuk,” he revealed.
“How long ago was that?” I wondered.
“Seven years ago,” he told me.
“It’s a good thing you’re not a woman. That’s a long time to be a celibate talker,” I teased.
“Yes, but I’m glad to break my celibacy for such a lovely companion,” he replied.
I blushed and looked away to my left where stood my cabin. My face fell when my eyes fell on a familiar form hurrying in our direction. “I don’t think she sleeps. . .” I murmured.
Will leaned forward and glanced past me. He sighed when he noticed Olivia headed toward us. “Will you blame me greatly if I step back inside?” he asked me.
“Run, run fast,” I agreed.
Will clasped my hand in his and planted a gallant kiss on the back of my hand. “Until later,” he whispered. I didn’t get a chance to reply before he slipped inside, leaving me at the mercy of Olivia. I stepped off the porch onto the grass just as she scurried up to me.
“Good morning, Grace,” she warmly greeted me.
“Good morning, Olivia,” I returned.
She looked past me at the closed door. “Is William busy?”
“He had something to do,” I replied. I didn’t mention that it was to hide inside and wait until she was gone.
“Oh, well, I’m sure he’s getting ready for the picnic this afternoon,” she guessed. “By-the-by, have you two finished setting up the flags?”
I frowned. “Didn’t Will tell you we finished it?”
“Oh no, my dear, I haven’t heard a peep from him since I gave you two the flags and the map. I hope it wasn’t too hard for you to find your way through that thick brush,” she wondered. She must have noticed the confusion in my voice because she put a hand on my shoulder. “Is something wrong, Grace? You look troubled.”
“What? Oh, no, just thinking about something. Is there anything else you needed help with before the picnic?” I asked her.
She smiled and shook her head. “No, I’m glad to say there’s nothing at all to finish. The food is cooking or prepared to cook, and the fireworks are waiting for the fun.” She clasped her hands together and laughed. “What a wonderful picnic this will be! I am sure it will be the best by far, and you shall have a chance to meet with so many friendly people!”
“Yeah, it’s going to be great,” I replied. My enthusiasm was on par with a limp fish. Fortunately my fluttery friend didn’t notice my lack of cheerleader spirit.
“Well, I must be going. There are still friends to see and a few ti-ki torches to put up in the park. Ta-ta!” She waved her fingers at me and hurried off to finish her master plan of fun-making.
She left me with an uneasy feeling. Will told me he’d talked to her about the flagging and our gruesome discovery, but Olivia just unknowingly disputed his statement. I turned and glanced at the closed, and possibly locked, rear door of Will’s cabin and the memories of last night resurfaced. Now Will’s tally had a lie and a mystery to it, and I had two options. I could confront him about his lying and hear another strange reply, or I could check out the reason for his lying that lay at the top of the cordoned off area.
I wasn’t a confrontational person and I had conflicting reports about the flagging rather than anything concrete, so I opted to revisit the scene of my horrible discovery. I hurried around the side of Will’s cabin and onto the road where the flags started. The hill loomed above me and I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone from Will’s cabin watched. The curtains were closed as always, and none of them stirred. I started the climb.
I had the flags on the far left to show me the way and in a few gasping minutes I reached the top of the flagged area, only it wasn’t the top I knew. Yesterday, because of the dead animal, we placed the flag a couple yards short of the mapped area. There hadn’t been any sight of the logging road at the top, but now I could clearly see a gap in the trees about fifty yards farther up the hill.
I turned and glanced down the line of flags I’d followed. My eyes hadn’t seen any sign of the animal anywhere, but it must have been there. I retraced my steps and paused at a strange clump of brush. The leaves were thick and wide, but fresh dirt shone through the gaps in the foliage. I pushed aside the leaves and saw that the ground had been turned over enough times to mimic a tiller, and the lower leaves on the surrounding plants, those that brushed the ground, were missing. I knelt down and dug my fingers into the dirt. The loose brown soil turned over and revealed a few flakes of a dark red, dried liquid. The blood. Someone had come up here, taken what they could of the creature, and hid what couldn’t be taken away.
I stood and wiped the blood on my pants. There was no way any wild would, or could, wipe their plate that clean. A human had cleaned up the mess, and I didn’t need three guesses to know who. Why Will and Vuk had gone to the trouble was one question my mind couldn’t answer, but it might have explained what was in the bag they dumped into the lake last night. They were getting rid of the evidence, but evidence of what? A large predator in the area? Maybe a wolf roaming Wolf Lake?
Was my blossoming boyfriend some sort of wolf nut who didn’t want anyone to know about a wild beast in the area? If so, he was doing a poor job of it. The cow on the side of the road told the farmers all they needed to know except where to find the wolf. Maybe Will knew that, too, but I was getting into pure speculation territory with that guess.
I froze. That didn’t sound like my friendly neighborhood squirrel coming to meet me. It sounded like my not-so-friendly neighborhood bear coming to maul me. I slowly turned toward the source of the noise, a few yards below me, and my eyes fell on nothing. Well, there was the brush and the trees, but other than that there was nothing to catch my suspicion. Seeing nothing didn’t give me any comfort. On the contrary, it brought up all kinds of horrible images of cougars laying in wait and the smarter-than-your-average-bear hunkered down prepared to give me the hug of a lifetime.
My heart thumped so loudly in my chest I wondered if it rang across the lake. I took a cautious step forward. Nothing. Another step and a twig snapped beneath my foot. That was the sound of the gun for me and I raced down the hillside to the safety of civilization. I flew from the path and stumbled onto the road. It was midmorning by this time and the lake was alive with the families and friends enjoying themselves. Never had such friendly sounds been so welcome to my ears.
I caught my breath, or rather my breath caught up to me, and I glanced back up the trail. Nothing stirred, not even a mouse. Either I’d imagined the crack, or whatever it was hadn’t cared to make my acquaintance. Either way the outcome was to my benefit, and I promised myself that come the Wolf Hunt I would be safe and sound on the road.
Speaking of wolf, I looked to the lake and Will’s cabin. It was dark and silent. Maybe they hadn’t noticed me barreling out of the brush. I hurried into my own with the promise of a hot shower waiting for me.