The entire Garden of the Wolf series in one complete package!
The Fountain of Youth is just a myth, right? That's what Abby Lee think when her friend Susie Baker drags her to a mountain resort known as the Garden with promises of rejuvenation. Little does both of them know that the secret to the Garden is more feral than either of them could have guessed.
My friend’s finger practically jabbed into my eye as she pointed at the placid creature chewing on some grass some twenty yards off the road. I grabbed her hand and pushed it away from my face. “Will you not do that while I’m driving? It’s bad enough I don’t know the road,” I growled.
It wasn’t that great of a road, either. It was only graveled, and there were some sharp corners I couldn’t see around because of the steep, wooded hillside on our left. On our right was a gradual drop-off to the forested, bowled valley below. All around us was a forest of thick, ancient trees that spread their branches over the small, one-and-a-half car road. If a semi came along we’d be toast.
But before I go too into detail with this trip let me introduce myself. The name’s Abigail Lee. Abby to all my friends, and some other names to my enemies. I was your average office girl who squeaked by on my salary.
You notice I used the past-tense on that whole ‘average’ part? Well, that’s because a few things changed, and it all started with that drive up a mountain road. It was all Susie’s fault. That’s my friend who tried to jab my face with her finger. Susan Baker, plotter extraordinaire. She got it into her head that we both needed a vacation away from our doldrum lives, and going to the mountains and getting ourselves killed on this back road was just the thing.
“Well, you wanted to drive,” Susie argued.
“Yeah, but I didn’t know you weren’t going to be much help. You’ve pointed out every squirrel, chipmunk and deer we’ve passed,” I retorted.
Susie shrugged. “Hey, I’ve only been up here once, remember? What’s a city girl like me to do when she sees some wildlife?”
“Sit still and behave,” I suggested. I ground my teeth as we came upon another corner in the dirt road. “How far is it to this resort again?”
Susie rubbed her chin. “Well, we’ve been off the paved road for about a half hour, and the air’s starting to get pretty thin, so I’d say we’re almost there.”
I sighed. “Tell me again how you talked me into going to this resort.”
“Because you love me and I batted my eyelashes at you. You know you can’t say ‘no’ to my eyelashes,” she replied.
“Uh-huh, I recall that conversation a little differently. There was something to do with a large lake and some relaxation,” I argued.
Susie shrugged and leaned back in her seat. “Well, there was that. Oh, and the discount because this is my second time up here and I referred a friend. That helps.”
We rounded the corner on the gravel road and there was another mile of straight washboard road ahead of us. “And why exactly is this such a great place again?”
Susie pulled a brochure from her purse at her feet and unfolded the flaps. “Because it has its own lake, hot springs, restaurant and hiking paths, and it’s all out in the middle of a really large forest.”
“I don’t see that last part as being a selling point unless someone’s aspiring to be a serial killer,” I countered.
“We could think about changing occupations,” she teased.
I snorted. “Yeah, you do that, but what’s the name of this place again?”
“And a resort in the middle of the forest is called that again why?”
Susie rolled her eyes. “You’re such a worry-wart.”
“And forgetful, so humor me,” I returned.
“It’s called The Gardens because they make their own food up there,” she explained.
“They grow their own food, you mean,” I corrected her.
“Yeah, that, and that’s why everybody comes here because they advertise the food as being rejuvenating. We’re going to stay there for what they call a session, which is two weeks long, and we’ll feel refreshed and younger,” Susie told me.
I snorted. “Sounds like a Fountain of Youth type of thing. You sure we’re not paying half price for a full scam?” I asked her.
Susie crossed her arms over her chest and turned her annoyed eyes on me. “I’m living proof that it works.”
A grin spread across my lips. “But not intelligent proof. Maybe I should ask for a second opinion.”
She stuck out her tongue and picked up the brochure in her lap. “You might think I’m crazy, but everybody who’s anybody comes to this place to lose a couple of years. I lost ten pounds being there, and I swear I lost ten years.”
“So you went from twenty-two to twelve?” I teased.
“Twelve and a half, but I really do almost feel like I should be going to school and pasting posters of hot boy bands on my walls,” she returned.
I cringed. We shared the same apartment. “Please don’t. I don’t know how I’d explain that to anybody who visited us.”
“Nobody visits us, and that’s another reason we need to get out more,” Susie commented.
“The spinster life not fun enough for you?” I wondered.
“Abby, there are guys in the world. Needy, bachelor-type guys who are just aching to have their way with us,” Susie told me.
I snorted. “Those must be the ugly ones because I don’t see any handsome ones falling over each other to get at us.”
“That’s because we don’t get out enough!” She tapped the back of her hand against the brochure. “We go here, find a couple of rich, handsome guys, and then we’re on track to a life that doesn’t involve pushing papers and making creatures out of paper clips and staple removers.”
“I kind of like making those creatures,” I defended.
“Yeah, but for the rest of your life? That’s what nowadays? Seventy, eighty years more?” Susie tilted her head toward me and her voice took on a more serious quality. “Come on, Abby, you know we could do better than the dead-end life we’re leading.”
I pursed my lips and glanced out my window. She was right, kind of. We could do better than going to work, coming home, sleeping, and rinse-and-repeating. “We could also do a lot worse,” I argued.
“We could be out of jobs and kicked out of our apartment.”
Susie looked forward and rolled her eyes. “You’re too practical. That’s another reason why I’m dragging you up here, so you can get some experience in being impractical and having some fun.”
“And you needed me to get the discount,” I reminded her.
She sheepishly grinned. “Yeah, and good thing we got our reservations in early. I heard they stopped offering that referral discount a week after we got the cabin. Something about getting too many referrals.”
“Well, if they’re advertising themselves as the next Fountain of Youth then they were probably losing their shirts,” I agreed.
A faraway look slipped into Susie’s eyes and a lecherous grin slipped onto her face. “I hope some of the managers lose their shirts. They’re not bad. Heck, everybody up there’s like some sort of a god, even the cabin attendants.”
“The cabin attendant is the person we have to deal with a lot, right?” I asked her.
She gave a nod. “Yep. They’re pretty much our personal servant. They get us food, drinks, they clean the place, everything. I got a cute guy the last time who gave me a really nice massage.”
My eyes flickered over to her. “You’re drooling.”
Susie clapped her mouth shut and shrugged. “He was a really good massager.”
“Masseuse,” I corrected her.
She scowled at me. “There you go trying to be Miss Perfect. You need to relax.”
My hands clenched the steering wheel as we rattled through another mess of washboard. “I’ll relax when we get there.” I glanced upward and noticed the sun would set in three hours. “How far is this-”
My question was answered when we rounded the next corner. The trees and road opened to reveal a large flat meadow of over a hundred acres near the top of the mountain. At the front of the acreage and closest to us was a two-floor lodge hewn from the local logs. The balcony on the second floor hung over the front of the ground floor and created a comfortable porch. Large windows on both floors allowed us to see a spacious lobby with high, open-rafter ceilings which extended to the back of the lobby. From there a wall separated the back lower-half of the lodge from the front, and a pair of doors on the ground floor, along with a balcony on the second floor, allowed access to the inner depths of the building. Along the left side of the lodge was another dirt road that wound its way into the woods behind the building, and near the road was a small parking lot with half a dozen golf carts.
The road ran past the front of the lodge to small, two-room cabins made from the same woody material. The last of the cabins signaled the end of the road, and it curved back to the lodge. The thick forest lay on our right and behind the lodge. There was parking in front of the lodge and along the sides of the cabins. I took a spot in front of the lodge and we stepped out.
I tilted my head back and gazed at the full scale of the lodge. “What’s the lodge used for?” I asked my friend. When I didn’t receive an answer I turned to her and found Susie’s eyes glued to the golf carts. There was an eager devilish grin on her face that I knew all too well. I looped my arm through hers and pulled her toward the lodge doors. “Come on, you can wreck them later,” I told her.
“But golf carts! Driving!” she protested.
“Didn’t have your fill of wrecks last time you were here?” I teased.
“They weren’t here on my last trip,” Susie told me.
“Well, they’ll be there later, so let’s check in,” I persisted.
We walked inside and over to the long desk on the right side. A wrinkled old woman of about eighty stood at the desk and by the scowl on her face she wasn’t happy. “I demand a male attendant for my cabin,” she insisted.
The young, handsome man across the desk smiled at her, but shook his head. “I’m sorry, Miss Platt, but we’re short on staff and can’t change attendants. I’m sure Lindsey will satisfy your needs.”
The old woman scoffed. “Not all of them, but we’ll see. I’ll be putting this in my review of this place, you mark my words.”
The young man bowed his head. “We look forward to hearing about your experience.” The old woman made one more huff and stalked off toward the doors. She pushed between us and marched outside. The young man noticed us and his smile brightened. “Hi Susie, it’s great to see you again.”
Susie stepped up to the desk and I followed. She nodded at the doors where the unhappy guest had gone. “After dealing with her I’d be happy to see anybody else.”
The man shrugged. “I’m sure she’ll be pleased with Lindsey. She’s one of our most experienced attendants. Anyway, I saw your name on the list and have your cabin ready.” He reached below the desk and pulled out a key. “It’s cabin fourteen close to the trails to the lake.”
Susie took the keys and batted her eyes at him. “You sure know how to spoil me, Frank.”
“We try our best to spoil all of our guests,” he countered.
I rolled my eyes and looped my arm around one of Susie’s. “Come on, I want to collapse on a soft bed.”
Susie yanked on my arm and I stumbled against her. “Frank, this is my friend, Abby. Abby, Frank. He’s the mastermind behind this place.”
Frank chuckled and held out his hand. “I try to run the front desk, but Mr. Young and Mr. Nelson handle the big decisions.”
I smiled and shook his hand. “Well, you handled that unhappy woman just now pretty well.”
Susie leaned one elbow atop the desk. “Yeah, about that. Are there a lot of those this round this session?”
“That’s a possibility that can happen during any of the sessions,” he replied.
“Susie, could we please go check out our cabin?” I pleaded with her.
Susie let me pull her away from the desk, and she waved to Frank. “All right. We’ll see you later, Frank.”
Frank returned the wave. “I hope you enjoy your stay,” he called back.