A Robin of Larkspur Novel (Book 1)
(And a Curse Breaker Prequel)
They took her daughter. Now, she’s hunting them.
They kidnapped her baby and vanished without a trace. With no clues to follow and an injured companion to save, Robin must undertake a difficult journey to get help. But a wintry wonderland fraught with dangers lies between her and the one person who could find her daughter. For Robin, failure is not an option. She’ll do anything to save her baby even become the one hunted in a deadly game.
Hunter’s Night is the first book in the Robin of Larkspur series. Christian Fantasy meets epic fantasy in this fast-paced narrative pitting Robin against supernatural creatures who will do everything in their power to stop her.
Fans of Nicholas Eames, Julliet Marillier, Michael J. Sullivan, Mercedes Lackey, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman will enjoy Robin’s struggle to find help for her wounded friend and herself. Read Hunter’s Night today!
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For a limited time, read Hunter’s Night for FREE with Kindle Unlimited.
***Hunter’s Night was part of the USA Today Bestseller Rogue Skies: A Limited Edition Science Fiction & Fantasy Boxed Set.***
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Warrior. Mother. She was both now, but could she continue to be? Robin pondered that as she ignored the snores of her tentmate. Outside, night fell, and snow too, but she was warm enough under three blankets.
Robin turned the broken arrow over and listened to the wind whistling through the nearby mountain pass as she ran her finger along the crack in the arrow’s shaft. Three months ago, she’d given birth to the healthy baby girl asleep in the wicker bassinet to her left. But she still felt like this arrow—broken inside.
End over end, the arrow spun in her hands. Maybe ‘broken’ was the wrong word. ‘Changed’ might be more apt. Giving birth had changed her body, making it curvier and fuller in places than before. It had also forced her to face the grim reality of her future as a new mother with no prospects. Sure, Robin had a bow and could outshoot most Rangers, but that wouldn’t put a roof over her daughter’s head, not when a stupid law controlled the number of Rangers a settlement could hire.
The last rejection she’d received echoed in her mind as Robin twirled the arrow around her index finger. “Sorry, lass, we’ve got no room for anyone else on the roster,” the hatchet-faced lieutenant had told her four days ago.
But he’d let her pitch a tent outside the Ranger’s barracks while she’d tried to figure out where to go next. Can’t have a woman and her baby sleep on a bunk in a house full of men. No, sir, that just wouldn’t be seemly. So, Robin had lit out of that forgotten town the next morning without a thought for the weather.
She aimed for a spot well away from her baby and her still snoring tentmate and threw the broken arrow into the darkness. Strella was out cold from the grueling hike up the mountainside, which had become a desperate scramble over icy rocks as the storm raging outside had closed in on them. Robin was just as exhausted, but her mind refused to quiet down and let her sleep, so she stared into the darkness again consumed by worry.
Would Mount Eredren be any different? It was perhaps another two days’ hike depending on the conditions of the trail, and what mother nature had in store for her tomorrow. Mount Eredren was also the next closest settlement and far larger than the two she’d already tried.
“Will they have a place for me, or will they be just as full-up as the last one?” Robin asked aloud even though only her baby was listening. As she shifted on her pallet, that question hung there in the darkness, tormenting her.
Robin rubbed her aching breasts through her red leather brigandine. Though calling the uncomfortably cold thing she lay on a ‘pallet’ was a misnomer. Handfuls of pine needles and leaves on frozen ground with a couple of blankets thrown over them hardly counted as a fit surface for sleeping. But it was the only accommodation available this deep in the hinterlands.
Rosalie whimpered in her sleep, reminding Robin she wasn’t alone in her discomfort.
“I know, girl. This was a bad idea. I should have toughed it out until spring.” Robin sighed and pushed away that regret. It couldn’t warm her or her baby.
Outside, the wind howled as it buffeted the tent again. The storm must be intensifying. But the tent’s construction was sound enough to withstand its onslaught. Thank all that was holy for that small mercy. In the silence between gusts, snow blanketed the precipice and covered the trail she’d hike tomorrow.
“I really must start thinking instead of reacting. A little forethought could have landed us in a much better position.” But her gut had told Robin to grab her daughter and go, and she hadn’t questioned it. Maybe she should have.
Rosalie grunted seemingly in agreement even though she was too young to understand. She was probably just responding to the tone of her voice. Robin wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision.
At twenty, she was a single mother with no home, no job, and nothing to her name but the baby listening to her rant and the rucksack under her head. A tear squeezed out before she could stop it. She wanted to scream, but Rosalie beat her to it.
Robin snapped out of her funk into full-mother mode. She might have screwed up their lives for the time being, but she would be the best damned mother despite that.
“Don’t cry, sweetheart, Mama’s here. I’ll fix whatever’s wrong. I promise.” Robin swiped another tear from her eyes and levered herself up but stopped halfway when a cold, hard object touched her throat. “What the—”
A knife resolved out of the shadows and above it, two startlingly bright eyes that seemed to glow a soft green. They seemed to float in the darkness above Robin. Watery light crept into the tent, revealing the rest of the intruder, and she was definitely not human.
Robin wanted to kick herself for not hearing the strange creature’s approach. That’s what she got for letting her insecurities out to play when she should have been on guard. Damn it; she was the daughter of a Ranger. This bitch should not have gotten the drop on her or her tentmate, but she had, and Strella was still dead asleep. If Rosalie’s scream hadn’t even woken her, would Robin’s?
Probably not and the idea of screaming for help like she was some waif in need of a rescue galled Robin. Her pride wouldn’t allow it as she matched stares with the intruder, who was not as solidly built as she was. If she could just get her hands on a knife… Robin hid a smile as a plan formed.
“Don’t move,” The green-eyed creature said.
“Who are you?” Robin asked, risking a slice, but the knife didn’t bite into her exposed flesh. Did that mean this creature hadn’t come to kill her?
“I said not to move.”
The knife didn’t waver as it pressed into Robin’s neck and drew a bead of blood. Point taken. As Robin lay back against her makeshift pallet, she let her arm slide up until her hand touched the rolled-up tunics inside the rucksack she’d been using as a pillow. Robin had unbound her hair earlier, and it hung in a straight dark fall over her shoulder, it covered her arm and the hand she shoved into those tunics seeking a weapon.
“And I asked you a question. Who are you?” While Robin waited for an answer, she grasped the bone handle of her knife but didn’t draw it out of the rolled-up tunics hiding it from view. Her captor hadn’t told her to be quiet, and anger was coiling in her gut like a serpent ready to strike. Robin managed to keep that anger out of her voice but not her eyes.
They blazed with righteous indignation and a promise of retribution, but the fierce look was lost on her captor because there was only a little light filtering into the tent through the unsecured flap. It was enough to backlight her captor but not Robin since that creature’s shadow fell across her.
The temperature dropped as the tent flap parted again, letting in a cold gust of wind and a triangle of pale moonlight. Said light glinted off the buckles holding her assailant’s outfit in place as the womanish creature chuckled. Metal discs connected by silver rings clothed the creature holding a knife to Robin’s throat—if you could call that ‘getup’ clothing.
The metallic ensemble ended at the creature’s midriff. A divided skirt picked up where that left off, but it petered out well before a pair of hooves, not feet. Well, wasn’t that interesting. Enough to finally clear out the last cobwebs from the restless night.
Silver hooves—the sight triggered a vague memory, but it fled when a pair of pale green eyes that glowed captured hers. The womanish creature leaning over her grinned, showing off a set of perfect teeth. She was part deer and part human and just plain creepy.
“What do you want?”
Robin gripped the knife hidden inside the makeshift pillow under her head. She’d managed to work her whole hand under there without drawing her captor’s notice. Unsheathing it would be risky, but she felt better with a weapon in hand even if she couldn’t use it just yet. Years of training and ingrained muscle memory should help her land at least one solid blow even in this dim lighting. All she needed was an opening. Come on, bitch, give me one.
“I think you know what I want.” Her visitor traced the tip of her knife along Robin’s throat. “I ride the longest night where no light but mine shines. Pay the toll or heads will roll.”
The rhyme struck a chord in Robin’s memory. So did the silver horns curving up from either side of her attacker’s heart-shaped face. This thing was part of the Wild Hunt—oh crap.
Robin stared at her long-necked captor who bore more than a passing resemblance to a deer except hinds didn’t usually have horns just stags did. Brown fur so fine it blended to look like human skin kept her exposed bits warm, and there was a generous portion of her curves so exposed to the elements. A riot of brown curls tumbled down the Huntress’ back, and a leather band kept those locks out of her eerie eyes. They were pale green mirrors reflecting Robin’s growing horror.
The Wild Hunt. Oh, God, anything but those monsters. Robin looked away, disconcerted by the promise of pain in those eyes. Her nightmare was just beginning. Before it ended, whose lives would it claim? Not my baby, please Mother of God, protect her.
Rosalie wasn’t crying anymore, and the silence inside the tent was becoming as oppressive as the shifting shadows sliding over the Huntress’ sleek fur. A tear slid down Robin’s cheek at the thought of her sweet daughter lying in the bassinet beside her pallet, and the Huntress grinned. Outside, the wind howled and pummeled the tent with invisible fists as it gusted past again. By some miracle, the tent stayed up despite the onslaught.
“What do you want?” Robin asked again because she needed an answer.
“Your life, your death, either will suffice.” The Huntress shrugged as if she had no preference, nor any skin in this game.
Nearby, metal clanged, and a woman grunted. That must be Cat. Or had some unlucky band of adventurers lucked on to their camp? Rescue might be only seconds away.
It was possible. This trail had looked well-traveled before a storm had dropped a foot of snow on it. Robin had seen plenty of evidence to corroborate that assumption else she wouldn’t have made camp here, and they were heading for one of the most trafficked waterways in the country, the River Nirthal.
Some of her hopes must have written themselves on her face because the Huntress threw back her head and laughed again. The bitch thinks she has me cowed. Not likely, since her father was a Ranger. He’d be scandalized to see his daughter so easily taken.
Robin took advantage of that momentary inattention to swing her knife up and out of hiding. It slammed into the Huntress’ blade, shoving it aside then Robin was rolling aside to avoid that next blow and move the fight away from the bassinet and her too-quiet daughter. She’d have to check on Rosalie after the fight. She couldn’t risk doing so now.
The Huntress scowled as she danced aside to avoid the kick Robin had aimed at her. She must drive that creature away from her daughter. Robin frowned when her booted foot didn’t connect with its intended target. Damn, she had so looked forward to sinking her cleated sole into that creature’s face. Well, at least she’d put some space between them.
But Robin was still on the ground, which was a bad place to be a moment later when the enraged Huntress stomped down with her cloven hooves. Robin threw her knife, missed the skinny deer-woman—damn that canny bitch—and had to roll quickly out of the way of another silver hoof aimed at her abdomen.
Robin slammed into another body. Thankfully, this one was supine and much taller than she was. Oh, thank God, Fate, whoever was listening—an ally at last! Robin shook that blanket-wrapped bundle for all she was worth, hoping her fellow traveler was still alive and armed. The two warrior women sharing her campsite were a lucky find. Fortunately, they’d decided to team up with Robin for a while. What luck that was. Three women traveling together made a less enticing target, especially when they were all armed.
“Wake up! We’re under attack.”
Strella groaned and rolled onto her side, batting Robin’s hands away. How could anyone sleep through this? Strella must really be exhausted. “Then let Cat deal with it. It’s her watch. Mine just ended,” Strella mumbled into her arm.
“Get up before you wake up as a shade in the Gray Between Life and Death.”
But Strella just snored. Damn her. All that hiking must have caught up with her.
Robin ducked, and a knife just missed her head. She grabbed the first thing that came to hand—a rucksack—and thrust it in front of her like a shield. Why had she sacrificed her knife earlier? Robin could just imagine the lecture her father would have given her if he’d been there. Stupid, stupid, she was better than this.
The Huntress slit the bag open, spilling woolen socks onto the canvas floor, but it stopped her next jab before that wicked blade could do more than graze Robin’s red leather brigandine. Robin grabbed a relieved breath when the Huntress frowned.
“Having some trouble?” Robin asked when the Huntress couldn’t jiggle her blade free. Now, that was more like it. Robin smiled. The Huntress’ knife was caught on something inside the rucksack, so Robin shoved the sack at the Huntress’ face, and the back of the creature’s hand thwacked her pert little nose.
“You bitch,” seethed the now bleeding Huntress.
“Yeah, yeah, cry me a river. It’s just a little nosebleed.” And maybe a broken nose too, but Robin wasn’t sure about that since her opponent wasn’t completely human.
Robin chucked another bag at the Huntress to keep her off balance. The bassinet was nowhere in sight, but Rosalie was here somewhere. She must be. The tent wasn’t that large. So why hadn’t she made so much as a peep since the fight had begun?
“Rosalie?” Panic bloomed in her chest, as Robin shoved another bag into the path of the lunging Huntress. It was half the size of a person and just as wide. When the Huntress dodged it, her hooves caught on a tangle of wet clothes Strella must have stripped off after her watch, and that deer-woman went down. Good, maybe she’d stay tangled up for a little while. Robin nudged her traveling companion again in passing. “Get up! Death’s here for a dance, so let’s give her one.”
But Strella didn’t rise from her blankets at that stirring speech, nor did the large lump under the blanket budge when Robin shoved her a third time. Where was Cat? Was she still fighting out there? How many more of these creeps were there?
In answer, the wind screamed through the mountain pass and pummeled the tent again, ripping one of the tent poles out of the ground. Robin wrestled with yards of unruly canvas as the tent suddenly embraced her. The Huntress crouched, making a smaller target for the wind-whipped canvas to strike until the wind calmed. When it did, the tent listed to one side. One more blow would knock it down then Rosalie would be unprotected against the elements.
The Huntress remained hunched and partially hidden by the sagging canvas. She withdrew a second knife from her sheath. Where was the first one?
“Nice knife. I’ll take it from your cold dead fingers.” Robin shoved loose canvas out of her sightline.
“I’d love to see you try.” The Huntress extended a forked black tongue and licked her blade. The bloody thing had canine teeth running along its edge, and it looked as hungry for her blood as its wielder. Oh goody, not only would she die, but she might end up on the menu tonight.
“What the hell have I gotten myself into now?” Robin wondered aloud. She thought she’d left all her troubles behind when she’d lit out on the trail seeking a new life. Apparently not.
Cold seeped through Robin’s clothes as she fumbled through her gear for a weapon or something to throw—anything would do. Her bow case would be great right now. It was wooden and as long as a quarterstaff. Where was it? Her numb fingers turned up baby paraphernalia but no bassinet, baby or bow case. Damn it. Where were they?
“Where’s my baby?”
The question hung between them while Robin’s thoughts spun in a tight, terrified circle. She shut down that line of thought before panic turned her into a gibbering wreck and tossed three dirty diapers and a rattle in quick succession. The Huntress dodged the cloth poo-bombs but caught the rattle and did a suggestive hip wiggle before pocketing it. She smirked at Robin, and her eyes glinted in the half-dark.
Robin swallowed, and fear burned all the way down to the worried fist clenched in her belly. “Where’s my daughter?”
A heavy weight slammed into Robin, knocking her down onto her belly as a new combatant barreled into the tent, collapsing it. A second and a third creature followed him, and several hooves stepped on her back before Robin could roll out of the way. Only the tough leather of her brigandine kept those hooves from biting into her flesh.
Pain lit Robin up, but it was a dull roar compared to the fear for her daughter squeezing her chest. Please don’t trample her. She’s just a baby. Robin tried to throw her arms over her head to shield it, but she was all tangled up in the canvas. Something hard collided with her head, and the world winnowed away as an ululating war cry rang out.
“Strella? Did you finally get up?” Robin tried to ask, but everything faded to black before she could get the words out. Forget me. Save my baby. Robin sent that wordless plea into the darkness to anyone who was listening. Then, she finally passed out.
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