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The Beast of Birch Hill by Naomi Clark






Wildlife photographer and cryptozoology blogger Emma Jordan came to Birch Hill expecting to find another urban legend. The rumours of a big cat stalking the woods around this quiet town surely had to be just that - rumours. But when the evidence starts to pile up that Birch Hill really does have a killer cat on the loose, Emma finds herself caught in a confusing game of cat and mouse. And her blossoming relationship with Abi Blakely might just be pushing her further into danger.





Excerpt

Emma awoke in a tangle of sheets to the sound of running water. She sat up, finger-combing her knotted hair, and looked around for Abi. The door to the en suite was open and she could just make out Abi's silhouette behind the frosted glass shower door. Her pussy throbbed, an almost Pavlovian reaction, and for a second she contemplated slipping in there with her.
            Then her phone, discarded along with her jeans last night, started ringing. Cursing, but unable to ignore it, she leaned over the side of the bed to grab it. An unfamiliar number flashed on the screen.
            “Hello?”
            “What happened last night? Where were you?”
            It took her sleep-hazed brain a second to recognize the voice, and a second longer to realize Jed wasn't asking her about her sex life. “Something came up. I couldn't make it out there. Why do you care anyway?” she asked, realizing she sounded rude just a little too late. “I mean, we hadn't planned to go up to the woods together, after all.”
            “No, but I went anyway. You city folks, you think you know the woods, you think you're gonna be safe, but you don't know shit, so I went to keep an eye on you. And guess what?”
            “You wasted your night? I'm sorry, Jed, but—”
            “There was another kill!” he said, almost triumphantly.
            Emma stilled. “A cat kill?”
            “That's right. Big old deer, just slaughtered and left on the trail. If you'd been out there with your camera like you said, you'd have caught it all.”
            “There's no guarantee of that,” Emma said. “But I'd like to come and have a look now, see if there are any more paw prints or anything.”
            “Well, the deer isn't going anywhere,” Jed said. “Meet you at the trail's start in an hour, if you can make time for it.”
            He hung up without waiting for her reply. Emma swore softly and tossed the phone across the bed just as Abi emerged from the shower. The sight of her wrapped in a mint green towel, her dark hair dripping water down her cleavage, was briefly distracting.
            “What's up?” Abi asked.
            “Jed just called. He found a deer kill in the woods – the Beast strikes again, I guess. He's annoyed I wasn't out there to capture it all on tape.”
            Abi frowned. “That can't be right.”
            “What can't?”
            “The Beast, the cat – I mean...it can't...didn't you just go see a kill yesterday? Cats don't hunt that often, surely?”
            “This one seems to be killing for fun,” Emma said, climbing out of bed. “So I guess I should go take a look.”
            Abi clutched at her towel, expression worried. “If you did find it, or get it on film or whatever, what then? What would you do?”
            Emma shrugged. “I wouldn't do anything except blog about it. I'm not out to capture the Beast or kill it or anything. But if I do get proof of an alien big cat out here, I want to talk about it!” Her initial lack of enthusiasm at Jed's call was fading away. The thought of uncovering a mystery, even a small one, and sharing the answer with the world, was irresistible. And sure, there would be a mundane explanation – escaped zoo animal, abandoned exotic pet – but it would still be part of the bigger puzzle. That was worth getting excited about.
            She went to kiss Abi as she passed to use the shower, but Abi barely seemed to notice. She was still frowning, staring at the bed they'd shared last night as if it suddenly just materialized there.
            “Abi? You okay?” Emma touched her arm lightly and Abi jumped.
            “No. Yeah, I mean, yeah, I'm fine. I just...hey.” She looked up at Emma, chewing her lip. “Could I come with you?”
            “You wanna come see a dead deer?”
            Abi smiled. “Sure. Maybe I can make it into dinner later.”
            Emma laughed, but a touch of unease crept over her. The feeling didn't make sense, so she tried to ignore it. “I don't see why not. It's probably not going to be any fun though, with Jed there.”
“That's fine. I never expect dead things to be fun.




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About the Author
Naomi likes writing, perfume, fancy tea, and unfathomable monsters from the dark spaces between the stars, not necessarily in that order. She has been writing stories ever since she learned how to write, but is still trying to master the art of biography writing. When she's not dealing with werewolves, demons, or sea monsters, she's hanging out with her cat and probably watching a documentary about Bigfoot. If the cat isn't available, she's with her fiancé watching cookery shows and silently plotting her next book.

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