Hunted by Wolves and Shadow
A Red Riding Hood Retelling
By Jo Holloway
Once upon a time, the wolf fell in love with a witch . . .
Emi has visited Grandma’s cottage often before, but this time the Mist is thicker, the beasts are too close . . . And the handsome stranger who answers her frantic knock is definitely not her Grandma Ruby.
Wolf had one job: Kill the witch and end the curse plaguing his found family. Instead, now the forest feels more menacing than ever when a fiery redhead comes screaming out of the Mist.
Trapped together by the dangers outside the door, Emi and Wolf find unexpected chemistry sparking between them. But when explosive secrets come out, their bond shatters.
He’s a murderer and a monster.
She has the blood of a witch.
Neither trusts the other, but when Wolf realizes Emi could be the key to ending the curse, and Emi discovers her family kept their magic a secret, they’ll need to learn to trust their hearts if they hope to break free from the Mist. Because the forest, and every lost soul within, is running out of time...
Hunted by Wolves and Shadow is one of ten books in the Enemies Ever After series, a collection of standalone short novels featuring enemies-to-lovers fairy tale retellings with a touch of steam.
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Chapter 4 - Emi
The sight of a shirtless Wolf chopping wood was not helping my overheated situation. I’d lost track of what was emotion or discomfort or attraction by this point. It all jumbled into flushed cheeks and a squirming stomach as I approached him.
Muscles in his back clenched as he raised the ax. His biceps bunched and unfurled as he swung. Beneath his messy cinnamon hair, he had the most delectable shoulders I had ever seen and I could have stood watching him all day. The ax struck with a crack and two perfect halves of the log bounced off the stump. He bent to pick up another, his trousers stretching tight, and I had to look away to stymie my blush.
This was ridiculous. I could just talk to him. I’d given him plenty of time to cool off after my outburst earlier.
Fine, I’d given myself time to cool off. Not that it mattered. All the heat was back, except now it was pooled in my belly.
Making sure he could see my approach so I didn’t startle the strong man holding a deadly weapon, I held my hands out in a gesture of peace and tried for an amiable smile. “I see you have an ax now. Should I be worried?”
His tight huff of a laugh sounded like victory.
He placed the new wood on the stump. “That depends. Will I need it?”
“Why would you need it?” I thought we could lighten the mood, but he seemed determined to remain guarded.
His jaw knotted as he swung again, and another two halves of wood skittered from the platform. This time he let the ax-head bury deep into the stump and left it there. “You tell me. Who are you, Emi?” He stood to his full height and faced me. For the first time, he felt distinctly dangerous. I was rethinking the ax joke.
“What? What do you mean?”
“I mean, who are you…Really?” The muscle beside his jaw ticked. “Because I can only think of one answer. One reason that you came here, to this cottage. One explanation for how you walked through the Mist unscathed.”
“I—I don’t understand.” I stepped back.
His body tensed as if debating whether to pounce or run. But why? Why was he acting so aggressively suspicious?
“What is your mother's name?” His question was tight and angry, and completely unexpected.
“My mother?” Utterly confused, and with mounting concern for my safety, I took another step toward the trees. He didn’t know it was a touchy subject. “My mother isn't around,” I told him curtly. “She left when I was little.”
His face clouded. As if realizing he was being a mop-headed jerk, he backed off a touch. “But your sister's name is Jade.”
“Yes. So?” Why was it always about Jade? I didn’t want him to see the hurt in my face so I turned to blink back the prickly heat in my eyes.
His presence behind me sent a tingle up my neck. I was so aware of Wolf. When he spoke, it came out as growly as his namesake. “Who is the Ruby Witch to you, Emi?”
I whirled. “Don't call her that.”
“What? Her name?”
“Don't call my grandmother a witch. It’s rude. She’s a strong, independent woman who lives alone. So what? She likes it here, and people don't have to be such sun-forsaken jerks about it!” I bristled as he met my glare with one of silvered hostility. How dare he? He was the one using names like witch.
“Your grandmother? Your grandmother!”
I took another hasty step back from his threatening figure. My hand grasped at rough bark behind me, ready to put one of the trees at the edge of the clearing between us. Maybe I'd have to chance the actual wolves in the forest after all. If only Grandma Ruby was here. Where was she?
Wolf was sweating despite the cold. “The Ruby Witch is your grandmother?” With a curse, he looked skyward. “Your sister is named Jade, and you…Your name must be, what? Emi…Em…Emma…Emerald? Oh sunny skies, that’s it, isn’t it? It’s Emerald.” He unclenched one fist to drag a hand down his stricken face. When it fell, he was looking at me like I was something foul he’d scraped from his shoe, then he dropped a half-whispered accusation. “Emerald Witch.”
I slapped him.
It happened so fast, my hand stung with righteous anger. “Watch your tongue.”
“Me? I can't believe this. You’re a gemstone witch. This can’t be happening.“ Wolf turned away, muttering and rubbing his face with one hand where I hit him.
Shimmering sunbeams, I hit him!
I’d seen him wielding a heavy ax like it was nothing, let him intimidate me back to the forest’s edge, and then I went and provoked him by slapping him. What was I doing?
Wolf withdrew, watching me like I might leap over and chant a curse at him. I was so sick of people accusing Grandma of being a witch, let alone when they did it to me. He was annoyingly silent and impervious to my trying to burn holes in his head with my gaze, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I don’t need to listen to this,” I shouted. “I don’t care how bad the Mist is. I’ve had enough of this. Enough of you!”
“No. I’m going to find my grandma.” The drum of my furious heartbeat drowned out any fear, and I picked up my skirts to stride into the forest.
I paid Wolf’s snarled command no heed. Shut me out and call me names and now you want to talk? I think not. I didn’t stop when he yelled again, or when a far off growl set my hair on end.
I didn’t stop when Mist clouded my vision either, wrapping its clammy arms around me, but I did come to an abrupt stop a heartbeat later at a large pile of overturned dirt. The mound of fresh brown soil stretched between two alder trunks, ivy ripped up messily by what looked like claw marks beside one long edge. Even in the low light under shrouding Mist, it was impossible to mistake the shape of a grave.