Shadows of Hunters Ridge (Hunters Ridge #2)

They are still out there, and they want their prize

Ebony Blakely has her life nearly exactly where she wants it. She’s a country vet with a successful business in Hunters Ridge, a town that she loves, and has a close group of friends. The only thing missing is romance. Unfortunately, the man she wants treats her as a good friend, and no matter how much she tries to change that perception, he just won’t get it.

Lee Dalton is an ex-cop with a chip on his shoulder about his past. He’s determined to make a success of his building business  –  and keep his thoughts away from his best friend’s sister, Ebony. But seeing Ebony every day as he works on her surgery renovation makes that almost impossible and soon their hidden feelings begin to complicate their friendship.

When it becomes apparent Ebony’s life is in danger, she is scared but determined not to run. But following an earlier encounter Lee knows what these monsters are capable of and is forced to use everything he’s ever learnt as a policeman to keep her safe.

Because these monsters are serial killers, and they’ll stop at nothing to claim their prize.

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Extract

The last police car disappeared into the night, taking with it all sense of comfort and security. In the absence of light and sound, the night embraced her, enshrouding her in its thick cloak of quiet.
    Moments before, red and blue lights had flashed brilliantly against the late winter’s night, fighting for dominance against headlights and spot lights, and the shocking glare of the emergency workers’ reflective vests. Police cars, ambulances, paramedics, a fire truck, a rescue vehicle, all clamouring for space around a ute tangled in a fencepost, a tree drunkenly skewed across the windscreen. Rescue crews had crawled over the carnage frantically, machinery had warred with metal, revving and screeching, grunting and tearing.      Shouts had been frequent, instructions barked. A pinprick of panic on a vast, still canvas.
    A light breeze came up, clouds receded. The scenery faded in and out with the shifting moonlight and a plover’s distant song penetrated the quiet. The landscape had reclaimed its space, the incident coldly erased, as though it had never been.
    As the first prickles of unease crawled along her skin, her senses slowly adjusted. Silver-topped grasses, highlighted by a weak crescent moon, swayed dreamily; the soft sound like hushed voices on the fresh-scented wind. A few proud trunks glimmered faintly in a distant tree line, falling into darkness as cloud again crept in to cover the light. She allowed her fingers to rest against a line of barbed wire, only to pull them back sharply when they encountered the heavy stickiness of a spider’s web.
    Ebony Blakely listened. When emergency workers had arrived, Joxer, Constable Melanie Pendleton’s beloved kelpie, had been hanging from the twisted vehicle. Only one hind leg had been able to reach the ground but that tenuous touch had saved him from strangulation. So they’d cut him loose. And he’d run – down here, they’d said. She wished people wouldn’t tie dogs by their collars on the back of their utes. If Melanie survived, she’d read her the riot act. If Melanie survived, she’d want her dog back.
    Ebony was reluctant to desert Joxer, but the hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end, while her sense of self-preservation had charges of adrenaline kicking through her veins. The feeling of being tiny, insignificant, out here had once held a seductive quality. More recently it had been simply overwhelming and, at times, terrifying.
    Past that distant tree line, something watched. She couldn’t see it, but instinct told her it was there. Her fingers automatically moved to the scar that reminded her every day of what monsters were capable of. The ever-present knot in her stomach tightened. It had been more than a year since Rob Littleton had held a knife to her neck and pierced the delicate skin of her throat; a little longer since his last known kill. There’d been no sign of him; long gone, the police believed. There was no reason to think he was still out there lurking behind every tree, in every dark corner. But the feeling of being watched was always with her. Tonight, out here, it was stronger than ever.
    A movement caught her eye – a branch waving in the breeze, or something more sinister? And what was that silhouette in the distance? A tree stump? A curious roo? A murderer?
    She stepped back, tripping over a mass that moved and yelped, causing a short scream of her own.
    ‘Joxer?’
    The cowering dog’s tail thumped twice and he lifted his head to sniff nervously at her hand.
    ‘You snuck up on me.’ Moonlight reflected off a small gash on the side of the dog’s head and a gentle examination revealed swelling and abrasions around his neck, but no obvious broken bones.
    ‘Come on, mate, in the car.’
    She carefully lifted him into the cage in the back of the four-wheel drive and took one last look behind her. The shape she’d been so certain had been there had disappeared. Anxiety slid towards fear. It was time to go.
    She glanced in the rear-view mirror as she distanced herself from the scene and the countryside faded back into the night. No, they said, there was no reason to believe Rob Littleton was still out there. But she knew better. This was his territory, his hunting ground. As long as he was alive, there would be death.
    She wondered who would be next.