“A priest,” said Tabitha for the fifth time.
Reaching up, Sebastian lifted Tabitha from the boulder and dropped her on the ground beside him.
“Eyes of gold.” Tabitha threw up her arms and marched ahead. The deer path took a gentle turn through the trees, easy to follow even under the darkening sky. “He is his mother’s father. A ridiculous riddle!”
“Misdirection,” said Sebastian. Reaching out, he pushed back the tree limbs. Tabitha slipped through easy, but at his height, the branches became a tangle. “Only that last part mattered.”
“And your little message,” said Tabitha.
Father Young was a highly respected elder in the church and a creature with gold eyes. The riddle was also a warning to forget the Rhemus profession.
Calling over her shoulder Tabitha said, “What was that about your father? Do you believe Father Young ordered death for his own people?”
Sebastian stuffed his hands into his coat. The moist air lost warmth, and night fell like a candle flame exhausting the wax of day. “Criminals perhaps. I don’t know. Back home I had assumed he meant my father hunted them all down like animals.”
“And perhaps he had.” Sebastian shrugged. “But under Father Young’s orders.”
The forest opened up. Moonlight revealed the Brook Grove-Roan Road. Tabitha turned north marching on the muddy road. Glancing south, Sebastian spotted the firelight, evening roast at Dunston. Looking back, he watched the long fur coat drifting away.
“Wait.” Sebastian thumbed over his shoulder. “Dunston is this way.”
“Not heading for Dunston.”
In four great strides Sebastian caught up with the woman and grasped her shoulder. She spun around, the coat slipping from her shoulder revealing bare flesh. Catching sight of her breast, Sebastian released the coat and covered his face.
Boots sloshed through the mud, Tabitha marched away.
Uncovering his eyes, Sebastian spotted the woman scrambling up a slope above the road. On firmer ground her pace increased stomping over rocks and twigs. Walking, he caught her again. One of his steps matched every two of hers.
“My task,” said Sebastian, “is to escort you back to Dunston. I’ll aid the law in finding the killer.”
Tabitha shook her head, a coy look in her eye. And a sparkle. Fractal shards of golds and browns caught the moonlight flickering like a fire.
Preparing for a chase, Sebastian unfastened his coat allowing more room. “I’m not about to let you walk alone.”
“How sweet,” said Tabitha. She gazed up at him. The moonlight turned her face white. “Will you escort me to Roan?
The long solemn look he remembered from the cabin, gone, replaced by determination. Breath streamed from her nostrils. Vigor poured from her brown eyes. He stood frozen, enchanted by her confidence. Capturing the moonlight, her eyes were brilliant. The orbs told him she would not peacefully return to Dunston. He reached out.
Tabitha twirled away, and Sebastian grasped her arm. She slipped free from the coat and ran. The pale moonlit flesh blinding, Sebastian turned his head aside. Out of the corner of his eye he watched the nude woman disappear into the dark woods.
Fur coat in hand, Sebastian ran into the woods. Catching movement, he stormed in the direction batting branches aside. The forest dripped, cool drops draining down the back of his neck. His own coat protected his arms from the wet branches, and he raised the fur coat protecting his face from the prickly needles. Spotting the pale form, he burst through trees and slid to a stop.
In a clearing stood Tabitha wearing only tall boots. “It’s rather cold out here.”
Turning gaze aside, Sebastian approached holding the fur coat out. “What’s in Roan?”
“Your father’s killer.” She slipped into the coat and pulled it closed.
“Your brother’s killer,” said Sebastian. “The Dunston Monster. Is that what Father Young told you?”
Tabitha studied him, her eyes roving up and down. She nodded.
“You were never abducted. You left on our own accord looking for the killer on Myrtle Ridge.” Sebastian folded his arms. “Who is he?”
Sebastian looked at a pawn. Father Young had asked him to return to university, forget his father, but had given Tabitha the name and location of the killer. The pawn played enticing him after his father’s legacy. Curiosity about the killer captured him, but the danger was too high for a young woman.
“I see that look.” Tabitha opened her coat.
Wincing, Sebastian looked away. The vision of bare breasts sent his head spinning.
Tabitha pulled her coat closed, and giggled.
“Please stop that.” He felt a smile on his face and let it grow.
“A boy, aren’t you?” Tabitha raised a revolver, thumb pulled hammer back, a round clicked into the chamber.
Smile fading, Sebastian stared at his father’s revolver pointed at him. Disbelieving, he glanced down and pulled his coat aside revealing the empty holster at his hip. Disarmed so easily, doubt of catching a killer swarmed over him. He looked up at the barrel, up at the cruel gaze, her burning eyes. A shiver attacked.
There was no mistaking it, the orbs glowed. As Tabitha stepped back out of the moonlight, her eyes intensified, red embers burning within each pupil, like hellfire burning within—an unholy sight.
“Stupid boy,” said Tabitha, whispering. “To Roan if you please.”