The narrow valley opens up before us as we crest the ridge, a dense expanse of green and copper beech from edge to edge. Brennan down-shifts as we plunge into the darkness beneath the canopy, barely holding the road as it pulls sharply to the left, before straightening out down the valley wall.
“Torrin owns all this?” I ask—not without a little envy—as I peer out into the warm green twilight.
“Uh huh,” she replies bouncily. “The whole valley. There’s a river and everything.”
I glance across Brennan’s arms, down the slope, but the trees are too thick, and the light too dim—I can’t see through to the bottom.
But I have more pressing concerns. I tear myself away from the scenery.
“You think he’s likely to have human visitors today?” I ask.
“I don’t know . . . probably? Like I said, he did every other time I’ve been here.”
“How did your father . . . deal with them? I mean, how did he get Torrin alone to speak with him?”
“Oh, well . . . he didn’t have to say anything. I mean, they know each other—Torrin just excused himself and took us into his office.”
I nod just as a group of pheasants break cover and flee up the slope to our left. I spin around in my seat to watch, but they disappear from view in the dense underbrush almost instantly.
I can’t help but smile. This place . . . he can’t be all bad, not if he chooses to live here.
I drag my attention out of the forest and back to Keely.
“He’ll recognize you?”
She nods. “I think so. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, but, you know . . . it’s not like he’s going mistake us for humans, right?”
I chuckle—no . . . that’s not likely to happen.
She frowns, and adds, “I just hope the dogs aren’t out.”
My smile vanishes in a heartbeat. Dogs?
Brennan shoots me an anxious look, suddenly very alert. He lifts his foot off the accelerator, too.
“You can’t be serious.”
She holds my gaze for a moment, then nods apologetically.
Fuck. “Big dogs? Little dogs?”
“Um, pretty big? Setters, I think they’re called. Um, mostly? One or two wolfhounds. A few others—maybe a dozen in all, last time I was here?”
“A dozen,” I repeat.
I realize my mouth is hanging open and I feel the muscles around it twitch, like they don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.
A lone wolf. Hangs around with humans. Has a pack of dogs.
“What the fuck is with this guy?”
She shrugs apologetically and shakes her head slowly as she says: “Um, they were pretty friendly, last time I was here. I don’t think they’ll give us any trouble . . . .”
“Great.” I plaster on a tense smile and look away.
Outside, the forest slips by, full of warm light and quiet promise, in total opposition to how I feel. But it calls to me, in a way few other places have—its dark underbrush, its giant trees, so thick you’d need three people to reach all the way around them. The urge to be out in it, to run in it, is suddenly almost overwhelming. I want to be out there, free of all this mess. Free of all these weird people.
Is that so much to ask?
I snort out a breath.
Okay. fine, whatever. I’m going to have myself a nice, surreal little visit in the country. Two minutes, we’re in, we’re out. It’ll be fine.
I chuckle, though not because anything’s funny, and ask her, “So, is there anything else I should know before we get there?”
She shakes her head.
I wait a moment for her to change her mind, but she doesn’t. I settle back into my seat, and look down the road, through the forest I can’t go running in.
I guess it won’t be long now.