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Sweet and innocent and lost in the woods. It sounds like the start of a fairy tale. But this is no fairy tale and Ash Carson is no knight in shining armour.
He brought me to his tumbledown cabin deep in the forest and now he won’t let me leave. refusing point blank to open the door until the blizzard dies down.He might be the most handsome man I’ve ever met and my only hope of survival but he’s also infuriatingly stubborn and what’s worse, he won’t stop staring at me with hunger in his eyes. I know what that look means and I’m so scared, I can hardly move.
I don’t know what to do. He’s just given me two options, leave or stay. If I leave, I’ll freeze to death. If I stay? Well, he’s warned me what will happen if I stay. He won’t listen to reason, he won’t argue. He wants my innocence and he’s going to take it.
The most shocking thing about all of this? I want to let him.
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ONE – ISOBEL
THE ONLY SOUND IS THAT of my footsteps. Around me the snow is softly falling, an unexpected joy on top of the stunning beauty of the woods. The gap between the trees is wide enough for the white flakes to flutter down between the outstretched boughs to settle on the bed of pine needles at my feet. I stand still for a moment, watching as the forest floor gradually begins to turn white. At first it’s only tiny specks among the rest muted browns and greens of late autumn. Then more and more. As the snow falls heavier, the colours change, almost too bright for my eyes, my whole world turning white.
It’s unusual for it to snow at this time of year but I’m glad of the spectacle. I couldn’t wish for a more perfect view than that of the woodland turning into Narnia. It shows just how little I know that I saw only beauty, not the danger that was fast approaching me, racing towards me without making a sound. I had no idea just how much trouble I was about to walk into.
I hadn’t planned a walk in the forest, especially not today. I’m in the middle of moving from Durham to York, a half day drive. The removal truck set off first thing and I had followed until we got separated on the motorway. They had the keys ready to unload at the other end so I wasn’t worried, deciding to take the coast road and then travel across the moor top, take a look at the scenery, distract myself from the stress of thinking of how much unpacking I was going to have to do when I got to my new house.
I reached Cropton forest a little after twelve, deciding to take a break amongst the trees, have a stroll and clear my head. I walk for a couple of miles along a track that winds slowly uphill before descending again and as it does so, I realise that for the first time in as long as I can remember, there is no sound at all. The woodland around me dulls the wind, I am at peace. It is wonderful. Then the snow starts to fall.
At home, it’s not like that, I think. Then I correct myself. That’s not home anymore. That’s the house where my parents live. My home is going to be a houseshare with four people. How much room will there be for my things? I have no idea, I haven’t even seen the place, I’ve just emailed back and forth with the man who owns it. I tell myself to relax, the woods are not the place for worrying.
I am glad of the quiet, of the break from the constant noise of arguing, the TV on full volume, the radio in my baby sister’s room blasting out, competing with her ever running hair dryer. This is so much better. No noise at all. Total silence.
I hear a twig snap to my left and I glance that way. Amongst the trees, a man is walking. He looks the rugged outdoors type, presumably on some thirty mile route march with a bit of tree climbing thrown in for fun. I call out a greeting and he glances at me. He looks fucking hot when I see his face properly. I wave but he just looks away before vanishing. “Friendly,” I say to myself as I decide I don’t want to walk the same direction as someone rude enough to not say hello back. That’s my first mistake. My second is not turning back as the snow begins to fall heavier still, soaking through my jacket. “Watertight, my ass,” I say out loud as I feel the dampness against my arms. The jacket is supposed to be impervious to weather. It’s not.
I stand still after walking another half mile or so. I expected the edge of the wood to be visible by now. I’m sure I’m curving round back towards my car, parked at the roadside and waiting for me. The first thing I plan on doing is putting the heating on full, I’m starting to get cold, my toes numbing as water from melting snow seeps in drop by drop.
I’m in trainers because this is an impromptu walk. It’s turning into an impromptu slog. I try not to think about my parents, knowing exactly what they’d say if they knew where I was.
“You think you’re grown up but you’re not, Isobel.” Dad looking down his glasses at me, Mum beside him, looking down her nose like I was far beneath her. “You’re still just a child.”
“Mum agreeing. “You can’t even go for a walk in the woods without getting lost, how are you going to survive in a new house without our help?”