The Wolven Of Hunters Holler by Valmore Daniels by Valmore Daniels - Read Online

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The Wolven Of Hunters Holler - Valmore Daniels

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reserved.

Table of Contents

The Wolven Of Hunters Holler

Part One Blood Of The Wolven

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Part Two Bite Of The Wolven

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Part Three Bane Of The Wolven

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Epilogue

Newsletter

About The Author

Part One

Blood Of The Wolven

Chapter One

When Jessie Marlin picked up the heavy bag of dog food, the bottom snagged on the edge of the shelf. It split open and every last morsel inside spilled out onto the floor of the Shop ‘n’ Go General Store.

That, she said, closing her eyes tight, "did not just happen."

Opening them again, she looked down, but the mess was still there.

Slumping her shoulders, she let out a heavy sigh.

What’s wrong? Rose Quentin, who also worked at the store, raced around the aisle. When she saw the scene, she let out a sharp laugh.

It’s not funny, Jessie said. That was our last bag. Mr. Hendershot’s going to be furious.

Here. Rose held her hand out for the empty bag Jessie was still holding. We’ll just staple the bottom and scoop the food back in. We’ll give old man Hendershot a discount.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Jessie gave the torn bag to Rose and, with a sigh, headed to the hardware aisle to fetch a shovel.

Before she got there, she stopped before the front window and looked outside.

A pickup rumbled past, kicking up dust on the two-lane highway leading out of Woodale, a small community of just under three thousand in the Cumberland Plateau of southeastern Kentucky.

It was beautiful country—one reason why she was drawn to stay—but something deep in her mind kept telling her she didn’t belong here.

Maybe it’s time, she said to herself, but it was loud enough for Rose to hear.

Time for what?

Jessie felt a tightening in her chest. To go back. A moment later, she added, To Louisville. Or somewhere else. She waved her hand as if to say it didn’t matter where.

Rose left the dog food bag on the floor and walked over, a look of concern on her face.

Jessie had never been one to get close to anyone. She’d had plenty of acquaintances, but no friends. Rose didn’t seem to mind her standoffishness and always had a smile for her. Whenever Rose had plans with her friends, she made a point of inviting Jessie, even though she declined four out of five times.

You have to give it a chance, honey. Rose put a hand on her arm. I love it here. You will, too. It’s way better than Louisville or Lexington, with all their crime and pollution. Things are maybe a little more laid back than you’re used to, but once you get used to it, you won’t ever want to leave.

I just don’t think I’m going to fit in. Oh, everyone is polite enough, but I get the feeling I might not be completely welcome.

Rose pursed her lips. No one blames you for making that report. I would’ve done the same.

It’s not that. Even before then, I always had this notion that maybe I didn’t belong.

Shaking her head, Rose said, Everyone in town loved Nana B, and they all know how much you did for her. They’ll get to know you soon enough. Give it a bit; you’ll see—oh, Jessie, don’t cry…

Jessie wiped at the tear that formed in the corner of her eye.

Rose put a hand on her shoulder. Hey, I’m sorry, she said. I didn’t mean to upset you.

It’s all right.

Giving her a hug, Rose said, I know you miss her.

Jessie had moved to Woodale six months ago to take care of the only person she had ever considered family, though she was not related to Nana B by blood.

Growing up in the foster system, Jessie had lived with a dozen families over the first fifteen years of her life. Every home she stayed at was worse than the last. Though she had plenty of horror stories to tell, Jessie had never felt comfortable enough with any person she met to confide in them. Until she met the closest thing she’d ever had to a mother…

When she’d arrived at their house ten years ago, the portly old woman who had met her had ambled up and given her an all-consuming hug without hesitation.

You just call me Nana B, she’d said. All my kids call me Nana B.

Betsy Cottrell and her husband, Jackson, hadn’t been able to have children of their own. So, they’d done what they thought was the next-best thing, and had become foster parents to twenty-three children over forty years, treating each one as if they were their own, no matter if they stayed for days, weeks, or until they were adults.

From the moment Jessie stepped into their home to the moment she left to go out on her own, Betsy and Jackson Cottrell had done something Jessie had never believed possible: they’d given her a place to call home.

When Jackson had succumbed to his bad heart five years back, Betsy had returned to her home town of Woodale to surround herself with the memories of her youth in her retirement.

A lifelong smoker, Betsy had been diagnosed with lung cancer six months ago. Jessie had immediately dropped everything to move to Woodale and take care of her.

She passed away three months later.

It was only after the funeral that Jessie learned that Nana B had left the house to her in her will.

Jessie didn’t have any ties in Louisville, and decided to stay and see if she could make a life here, rather than selling the property.

Though she had tried to settle in, she was getting closer to the realization that, though Woodale had been Nana B’s home town, it was never going to be hers.

You know what you need? Rose’s voice cut through her thoughts.

Jessie raised an eyebrow. What’s that?

Rose winked. Roots.

Huh?

Lifting the corner of her mouth in a smile, Rose said, You need to find someone and put down roots. You know, marriage, kids, the whole shebang. Why don’t you let me set you up on a date?

Letting out a sharp laugh, Jessie said, I don’t think so.

No, seriously. When’s the last time you were in a relationship?

It took a few seconds for Jessie to admit, Never, really. At least, nothing serious.

Why not? What’s your problem? Rose said it with a hint of a smile.

Jessie sighed. I don’t know. After dating for a couple of weeks, all I can think about are ways to break up.

Why?

Shrugging, Jessie said, I guess I just lose interest.

I’m telling you,—Rose wagged a finger at her—wait too long, and you’re going to shrivel up into an old prune.

Jessie shook her head. "I’d rather that than spend my life with the wrong guy."

I could set you up with Alec Robbins…

Jessie gritted her teeth. Is he the one who was leering at me at the diner last week?

Rose pulled her face into a disapproving frown. He’s just a bit shy. His dad owns a car dealership; it’s not like you’d have to worry about money or anything.

Shaking her head, Jessie said, There’s more to life than money.

Okay, how about Tom Ratcliff? Tall, handsome—

Jessie pursed her lips. Isn’t he married?

For the moment. Shrugging a shoulder, Rose said, But he’s in the process of getting a divorce. The girls are all lining up to take a shot at him. Cocking her head, she said, Don’t want all the complications, hey? I get you. What about Henry Widner…?

When Jessie slowly shook her head, Rose let out a huff. Then she said, I can easily name a dozen guys right now that would kill for a date with you. I don’t know if you know this, but you’re a hot ticket in town. The new girl. Mysterious. Exotic. And freaking gorgeous.

Jessie blushed. Shut up.

Yeah. I’m so jealous I could scream. You can have your pick of any guy in town. She took a sharp breath. All you have to tell me is what you’re looking for.

Feeling Rose’s frustration, Jessie said, I want… She shook her head, trying to find the right word. …something else. Something different. Something … more.

More? What are you talking about?

I just don’t see that any of those guys will ever care about anything other than fixing up their trucks, or getting smashed on the weekend, or … I don’t know … doing any of the hundreds of things they do. Quickly, she added, It’s not just the guys here in town. Back in Louisville, it was the same. All the men I went out with were … it was like they were all copies of one another. You know what I mean?

Rose shook her head. You’ve got some strange thoughts in your head, girl. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I know, Jessie said. Sometimes I wonder if I even know what I’m talking about.

So, spell it out for me.

I just think there must be more to life than this. There must be some depth, some meaning. I guess I’ve never met a guy who can give me that. Jessie looked directly at Rose. Do you understand what I’m talking about, or am I just being crazy?

For a moment, Rose held the look of sympathetic concern on her face, then she broke out into a wide smile.

You’re definitely crazy, but I love you anyway.

Jessie laughed. Let me get that shovel. Mr. Hendershot will be in anytime for his dog food.

Before she could turn around, the bell at the front door sounded.

Afternoon, Jessie said automatically, but the last part of her greeting trailed off when she saw the strange, intense man who entered.

Chapter Two

Dressed in a dark-green camo jacket, worn jeans, and black hiking boots, the man stepped inside.

He stopped there, eyes darting left and right, as if trying to see any danger before it took him by surprise. His dark hair fell in lanky waves around the sides of his face. Though he was average height, and was on the lean side, he exuded an air of strength.

When he spotted Jessie, his eyes narrowed.

A shiver went up her spine.

Then, completely dismissing her, he turned and grabbed a cart, pushing it to the grocery section of the store.

Jessie realized she’d been holding her breath. She whispered, Who the hell is that?

Adam Hunter, Rose said, also keeping her voice low. He came in last week, too; you were off that day.

Glancing at her coworker, Jessie saw that Rose was frowning, but didn’t look like she was afraid of him.

Doesn’t look like he’s from around here. I’ve never seen him before.

He lives in Hunters Holler.

Jessie frowned. Where’s that?

It’s about thirty miles east of here, deep in the mountains. The entire Hunter family are recluses. Matter of fact, I don’t think anyone really knows how many of them are up there.

Jessie said, I’ve never heard of them. Of course, she’d only been in Woodale six months.

Rose made a face. Adam used to get his supplies at Monroe’s Market, but there was some trouble, some words. Long story short, Adam’s not welcome there anymore.

You seem to know a lot about him, Jessie said.

Not that much, Rose replied. Everyone in town knows about them, but we try not to pay too much mind. The family’s owned the land for fifty years; they pretty much keep to themselves. The only one who leaves the property is Adam. I’m sure he’s only a couple years older than me, but he never went to school here in town. None of them have, ever.

That’s odd.

It ain’t the strangest thing about them.

Oh?

Rose shrugged. Of course, they’re probably just rumors. I’m sure none of them are true.

Jessie glanced at Adam from across the store. His cart was filling up fast with dry goods. What rumors?

Rose lowered her voice. People have disappeared up there.

And you believe that? Jessie asked, frowning.

I don’t know. You gotta wonder, though, why they keep to themselves so much.

Lots of people like to keep to themselves, Jessie said. In a way, she was like that, too. Even though she’d lived in Louisville for years, she’d never really integrated into society. It was the same thing here in Woodale. I’m sure the Hunters just want their privacy. Can’t blame them for that.

I don’t care if the rumors are true or not. Rose shivered. That Adam Hunter gives me the creeps. I wish he’d do his shopping somewhere else.

I’m sure he’s harmless, Jessie replied. Maybe we should be neighborly and try to get to know him better.

Get to know him? Rose blanched. He’s creepy; dangerous. She tried not to move her head when she flicked her wide eyes in his direction. "Just look at him."

Jessie glanced over the shelves toward Adam. Her first reaction to his presence had been fear, but now that he was going about his business, she wondered if he was just putting on a show. Maybe it was a kind of social armor to keep people from getting too close.

I’ll bet he’s just shy. It’s no wonder, if people are talking about him and his family, like you say.

For all you know, he could be an ax murderer, Rose said, pursing her lips. Go ahead, talk to him if you want, but don’t blame me if we find your dead body lying in a field tomorrow.

Jessie chuckled. That’s just crazy.

Her last word died on her lips when Adam approached the counter. He started to unload the cart. All the items he had selected were dry or canned goods; nothing perishable.

She smiled at him and made a point of keeping her voice light and affable. Did you find everything you were looking for?

He nodded, but didn’t say anything, and he didn’t look at her. His long hair hid his eyes.

You know, Adam, she said, If you have big orders like this, you can call ahead and we can put it together for you. Might save you some time.

He looked up at her, and for the first time, Jessie saw his face. Stubble covered his strong jaw, framing surprisingly soft-looking lips. His sparkling blue eyes locked on hers, and Jessie felt an electric tingle run through her insides.

His voice was a low rumble. No, thanks.

Rose elbowed her and hissed, What are you doing? Then she realized Adam could hear her, and looked down. She started bagging his groceries.

Ignoring Rose’s outburst, Jessie began to run the products through the scanner. She could feel sweat forming on her brow.

Do you have an email address? We have a newsletter. Specials and discounts every month, exclusive to subscribers.

Adam continued to stare at her, as if trying to figure out if this was a joke.

Jessie tried not to squirm under his intense stare. She hoped she wasn’t blushing. You don’t have to sign up, if you don’t want to. It was just a suggestion.

His tone was flat. Thanks. I’ll pass.

When Jessie finished ringing through the last item, Adam asked, How much?

She glanced at the register. Three-eighty-five, twenty-three.

He tossed four crumpled hundred-dollar bills onto the counter and started to push the cart toward the exit without waiting for his change.

Do you want help loading that onto your truck? Jessie asked.

Adam shook his head and kept walking without looking back.

Are you out of your mind? Rose whispered when he was halfway to the door. Why are you chatting him up? You’re just asking for trouble.

Will you be quiet? Jessie hissed. I’m just being nice to him. We’re supposed to be courteous to customers, remember?

You’re doing a lot more than being courteous, Rose said, then she blinked, her eyes going wide. You’re hitting on him.

"I am not hitting on him. Jessie felt her face flush. I’m just talking to him."

Well, don’t do it again, Rose warned. I won’t be responsible for what happens if you do.

You won’t be responsible for anything, Jessie said. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.

She took a step out from behind the counter, intent on following Adam.

Rose grabbed her arm. Are you nuts? She laughed. What are you doing? You ought to be locked up in a padded room.

Lifting a handful of bills, Jessie said, He forgot his change.

Rose let her arm go. I wouldn’t bother.

Jessie took two steps toward the door, but stopped when she heard the roar of a truck engine and the screech of tires as it pulled into the parking lot.

It was a jet black, diesel-powered Dodge Ram, modified with lifts and oversized tires.

Jessie’s stomach twisted when Owen Barnes jump out.

Chapter Three

Owen wore a tight muscle shirt and grease-stained jeans. His friends, Bobby Shrader and Liam Tucker, piled out of the truck right after him.

It’s not my day, Jessie said.

Rose asked, Want me to call the sheriff?

Don’t bother, I can handle it. Even still, she retreated behind the counter with Rose, as if that would afford her some protection.

Sandy-haired, tall, with a chiseled jaw, Owen walked with an air of confidence that only someone born to privilege could have. His father owned one of the few profitable coal mines in the county, and employed nearly a quarter of Woodale.

As Owen strode toward the front door, he passed Adam, who was loading his groceries in the back of his pickup.

When Adam turned in his direction, Owen called out, What are you looking at, hillbilly?

Adam didn’t respond. Slowly, he turned back to loading his groceries.

That’s what I thought, Owen growled, then continued toward the store.

Sneering as he entered, Owen stopped a few paces in and motioned Bobby and Liam away. With a shared look, they ambled over to the magazine rack and started browsing.

Approaching the counter, Owen locked eyes on Jessie. I’ve been looking for you.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where I am, she shot back. Though she set her eyes defiantly, inside, she was trembling.

Owen was obviously not expecting to be challenged. His face flushed briefly, but then he got control of himself.

I’m not here to fight, he said. I just want to talk.

Jessie gave him a scathing look. I have nothing to say to you. She folded her arms across her chest.

He flicked his eyes at Rose, then back to Jessie. It was apparent he was trying to remain calm. Look, he said, his voice one of reason, I’m just thinking ‘bout your best interests.

Oh, really?

Yeah. Nervously, he licked his lips. I mean, you can go on telling that story around town, but all that’s going to do is make people think you’re crazy.

Crazy…

Right. He nodded, as if that was all it took to convince her. I mean, it was dark. Late at night. You were way far away. There’s no way you could have seen what you thought you saw.

I wasn’t that far away, Jessie said. The streetlights were bright enough—

Ain’t no one going to believe you. His voice rose a notch. Then he took a breath and forced a smile. It was an accident.

It might have been an accident, but I know why it happened. I know what I saw.

His face darkened. "All you saw was that old bat jumping out in front of me. I slammed on the brakes, but I couldn’t stop before I hit her. It wasn’t my fault. It was her stupid fault. What was she thinking, wandering around at night when she shoulda been home sleeping?"

"Alice Mayfield didn’t walk out in front