Sneak Preview: Tasmanian Devil

Here’s a sneak preview of my forthcoming book, tentatively titled Tasmanian Devil (I so need to work on that title), set in my home, Tasmania: billionaires, shifters, wolves – oh my!

The rain was easing. Night had set in. The forest around her was completely black. Through gaps in the clouds, a deep blue sky showed overhead through the netted black web of the trees. Bright white stars were already shining through. She could hear the creek bubbling and rushing below her. If she wasn’t in such a predicament, it would be almost pretty.

Especially if she wasn’t already scared witless by what she had heard out in the forest just before.

There was a jack in the trunk, she thought. Maybe if she jacked the front up – and the rotten planks didn’t just collapse any further – she could just drive it out.

She clambered over the hood and onto the roof of the car, then slid down over the trunk. Then she remembered that she’d need the keys to open it.

Cursing, she was just about to climb back and get the keys when she heard it again.

Something was moving in the darkness, out in the darkness. She heard the slither and thud of something heavy moving slowly and deliberately along the undergrowth and the detritus of the forest floor. A twig cracked. It sounded close.

Then she saw the eyes.

Two glowing eyes suddenly shone out, high up in the trees. Pale and cold, they glittered like deadly opals as they regarded her steadily, unmoving. For long moments Virginia simply cowered where she was, unable to move.

Then a new sound intruded.

A low, rumbling noise began to fade into hearing. At the same time a pale glow appeared, deep in the trees. As the growling rumble grew louder, the glow wavered and dipped, but grew steadily brighter.

The eyes flickered and vanished.

The bright glow split into twin beams as the noise grew into the unmistakable roar of an engine in low gear. Virginia could have cried with relief when she saw an SUV, with its headlights shining brilliantly, lurching down the trail from the direction she had just come. As it drew near the bridge, the SUV stopped, leaving its headlights on high beam, blinding her. She heard a door open. Then someone spoke.

“Would you kindly move your car from that bridge, miss?” The voice was refined, but Virginia couldn’t place the accent. Not Australian. Sort of English-sounding. He also sounded kind of pissed.

“Oh, hey, hi!” called Virginia, trying to shield her eyes from the blinding lights. She could just make out a dark silhouette standing near the SUV. “I’m real sorry about blocking the bridge, sir, but my car’s kinda stuck here. The bridge has given way a bit. Actually, I was really kind of hoping you could help me out?” she ended hopefully.

She thought she heard a muttered curse from the other person, and his silhouette loomed larger and larger as he walked towards her. Then he was standing beside her, and she finally got a clear look at him.

In contrast to the refined voice, his appearance was rugged, almost wild. He had a rough, unkempt beard, and a weatherbeaten, deeply lined face. He was average height but, although he appeared well past middle-age, he was broad-shouldered and strong-looking. His clothing, although clearly made for the outdoors and well-worn and covered with mud, was well-made and expensive-looking.

He looked like a mountain man who shopped at Patagonia.

He shoved past Virginia and squatted by her car. Snapping on a torch, he peered underneath, darted the light about quickly, and snapped it off again. He sighed in exasperation. Standing up, he glared at her.

“Just what the bloody hell did you think you were you doing, fooling about here on a night like this?” he snapped.

Virginia stared.

“Excuse me?” she demanded at last. “Hey, I didn’t ask for this god-damned bridge to just fucking, y’know, collapse under my car like this, y’know? I mean, thank you so much for your gallant offer of help and all, mister. Are all Australian men as charming as you are?”

“Are all Americans as idiotic as you?” he retorted. “This vehicle, miss, is clearly not suited to these conditions, for one thing. For another -” He stopped abruptly and stared off into the forest.

“Did you hear something too?” asked Virginia, her anger fading under resurgent fear. “I think there’s some kind of wild animal out there. Something big. Do you have wolves here? I saw eyes before.”

The man looked sharply at her.

“Wolves? Of course not, miss. This is Australia. We don’t have wolves here. You probably heard a wallaby or a wombat.”

“No, this was big,” said Virginia, shaking her head. “Real big. And like I said, I saw it’s eyes. It wasn’t any kangaroo, that was for sure.”

“A deer, then.”

“Deer?” Now it was Virginia’s turn to scoff. “Listen, buddy, I may be a dumb Yank, but I do know deer, at least. I used to hunt with my Daddy when I was a girl. That was no deer. Anyway, you say you don’t have wolves here, huh? Yeah, well, you don’t have deer, either.”

“Actually, miss,” the man said acidly. “Feral deer are quite common in the Tasmanian highlands. They -”

He was cut off mid-sentence by another voice that spoke suddenly from the darkness.

“Callan?” it said. “What seems to be the problem?”

The voice was male, deep and refined, although roughened by fatigue. The speaker seemed to be some way off, in the blackness of the trees. Even though he was speaking low, his voice carried clearly. Mountain Man – who was clearly the Callan so addressed – turned and answered the unseen speaker.

“Nothing, sir. Just helping this young lady on her way from a spot of car trouble, sir.”

“Oh, uh, hey?” called Virginia, ignoring the shut up glare from Callan and craning her neck in a vain effort to catch a glimpse of the unseen speaker in the darkness. “Yeah, I was just explaining to this guy here that my car’s, well, kinda fucked, if you don’t mind me saying so. The timber on that bridge is all rotted away, and part of it just gave the hell away right under me, so now my front tire’s wedged in there, good and all. Maybe if you and your friend have got some chains or a tow-line in your SUV that you could help pull me out with? I’d sure appreciate it.”

There was a pregnant pause. The rain chose that moment to resume. A good downpour. Virginia hugged herself and hoped the unseen speaker would prove to be at least a little more gallant than his companion.

“Callan?” said the unseen speaker at last.

“Sir,” Callan answered without hesitation. “I really think this is none of our concern. May I suggest you return to the Rover, sir, and I’ll drive you home. If you wish, I could place a call to the RACT. I’m sure their man at Clementyne would be here to assist the young lady in under an hour.”

Virginia’s mouth fell open. Surely these assholes were just going to leave her stranded here? Then it occurred to her – how were they going to get over the bridge, if they wanted to get home? Before she could speak, the unseen voice answered.

“Come now, Callan,” he said. “Even you couldn’t be as un-gallant as all that, surely?” As he was speaking, his voice seemed to be moving closer. Virginia could hear the sound of someone brushing aside undergrowth, and the snap of a twig. She saw the large, dark shape of a man looming next to the SUV.

Next to her, Callan sighed in exasperation.

“A moment, sir,” he said stiffly, and walked back to the SUV.

Virginia heard a quick murmur of voices. Then the stranger’s deep voice said something sharply, to which Callan muttered, “Very good, sir”, and disappeared behind the SUV. She heard a hatch pop, and the sound of rummaging. After a moment the deep voice murmured, “Thank you, Callan”, and the stranger stepped into the light.