Authors: Elodie Parkes
Cover Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
SWOOP ON LOVE
Copyright © 2013
weak sun peeked from behind a bank of clouds, brightening the light gray summer sky. A fine rain fell, but hardly any hit the ground. The atmosphere was sticky with warmth. The rain left an oily coating as it misted the back of Jeanie’s hand, and her fingers slipped as she attempted to open her car door. She fell back slightly, and then tried again. This time the door opened and she slid into the driver’s seat. Jeanie stared out of the front window for a few seconds. Only vaguely wet, the dust on the windshield displayed streaks in short grainy marks like strange fingerprints.
Jeanie needed to go into town for supplies.
A recent move to this county meant she was still finding her way around. During the week, she quickly joined the motorway traffic via a winding slip road from the town’s outskirts, and then drove almost mindlessly into the city to work. On the weekends she tried to explore a little of the surrounding beautiful countryside.
This move to the county bordering the other side of the city
where she worked was the fix for her broken heart. She couldn’t leave her well established office. She loved it. She liked the city, but needed some kind of change. Out finding a Christmas tree the winter before, she’d crossed county borders and noticed a house for sale. The tiny, startling pretty town with one main road was nestled between two cultivated woodlands. A short way from the house, a huge plant nursery was, busy with holiday shoppers. She’d bought her Christmas tree there. They specialized in potted trees that meant after the festivities, the tree could be planted in the garden. It could have its life back. Jeanie liked that idea.
It wasn’t as if she’d never travelled through this county before, but it seemed to draw her this time, with its lush woodland and tiny towns hidden away down picturesque lanes.
The bigger town where she now headed contained all the shopping facilities anyone might want. Jeanie enjoyed not having to make a foray into the city for supplies the way she
did from her last home.
s she drove, she passed an intriguing signpost pointing to a place called Owlswick. She hadn’t explored there yet. She glanced at the sign in the rear view mirror, and decided to make that her afternoon activity.
Jeanie didn’t enjoy shopping. She didn’t drift along the supermarket aisles as some shoppers did. She plowed along, deftly moving her shopping cart into the available space and gathering up what she needed. She could sometimes cut the wait at the checkout by going to the self-serve area, but often her weekly
shop proved too much to juggle in the confined packing area there.
she waited, she looked around at the other customers. She daydreamed sometimes that she’d meet a guy there in the market. They’d strike up a conversation, and then go for coffee, just like in some movies. He’d be very attractive, kind, and naturally fall in love with her. It hadn’t happened so far.
She saw not one
single, attractive guy around alone. She paid the bill with her credit card and went back to her car to load her supplies. Jeanie drove off home.
Nearly an hour later, she stood in the sunshine on her patio
with a cup of coffee. Another solitary Saturday night awaited her, but at least she’d get out again that afternoon to explore Owlswick. The mist of rain dried up under a fiery lunchtime sun and now the sky showed off patches of intense blue.
She picked up her small camera
in case she saw any photogenic sights, took a bottle of spring water from the fridge, and left to explore the place called Owlswick.
The countryside glistened in the sun, making the drive enjoyable. When Jeanie reached the signpost for Owlswick, she turned onto a pretty, single-track road bordered on either side by flowering trees. The road wound around, becoming narrower as the hedgerows grew wider with bright green leaves, and white trumpet flowered vines. Quite suddenly, the road widened and split into two. The section to the left led to a row of large houses and a big, low roofed workshop at one end. In front of the buildings a square of grass rippled in the breeze, and in the middle of that, an old sign swung on a long timber pole. Jeanie turned into the road when she spotted a big colorful display of a barn owl painted on the sign.
She slowed right down as she drove past the row of buildings. When she reached the end where the low
-roofed building was, she saw a gnarled street sign attached to the wooden fence out the front. It read Owlswick. Disappointment pricked her.
Is this all there is?
Jeanie hadn’t expected to see owls, but she hoped the place offered somewhere to stop, have coffee, and maybe take a photograph or two.
She glanced back at the building behind the wooden fence.
Shallow windows peeped from under the roof at the top of the walls. They were dark.
From an accumulation of grime, or purposely tinted black?
She couldn’t decide. Some kind of signage clung to the wall at the corner of the building, but it was impossible to read. The paint peeled off it, and a few of the curling vine plants she’d seen growing in the hedgerows sprang up from the dirt driveway and wound around the sign. They obliterated any lettering.
shifted gear, intent on turning her car and going back home, when a huge bird flew rapidly from somewhere near the building and over her car. It winged barely an inch from the windshield, its sharp talons extended. The bird glanced at her then disappeared. She didn’t know exactly what kind of bird, but it must be a bird of prey with such a fierce looking beak and talons. She trembled with shock as she peered up into the sky.
wouldn’t want that hitting the windshield as I’m doing fifty or even thirty. Wonder where it came from?
She turned her car in the wide part of the road. The bird that
flew so close to her car was perched on top of the sign in the middle of the grassy square. It gazed off into the distance, its massive wings folded down. Jeanie stopped her car and picked up her camera from the passenger seat. She adjusted the focus and carefully got out of the car door. She watched the bird, careful with her movements. She didn’t want to scare it away.
got a few photographs before it looked straight at her, shook its head, and in a majestic movement, took off into the air. Jeanie stared after the bird. It soared high, making a strange cry, half screech, and half whistle. Only a black shape remained against the blue sky in the distance, when a man approached her.
closed in on her before she knew he was there at all. A prickle of fear ran up her spine as she read the expression on his face. Fury.
“Hey, this place isn’t open to the public now
. Did you just photograph the bird?”
Jeanie instinctively put her hand behind her back
, holding her camera.
“No, it flew away before I could
.” She shook her head to add weight to her lie. The man scared her, even as she took in his astonishing good looks. He lost the angry glare as he held up his hand.
“Sorry, I must seem really rude.
I’m Reed. I have The Art Barn over there. I heard the bird cry. He’s usually silent, so I thought I’d check it out.” He waved the hand at the low roofed building, and then ran it through his dark hair.
meant her to shake his hand, but the gesture of greeting got lost as he indicated where he lived.
residue of fear from both the enormous bird skimming her car windshield, and this man’s scary approach, unnerved her. She croaked out, “The Art Barn. Are you an artist?”
sorts. Okay, well, sorry to bother you. I’ll let you get on with your journey.” He turned and stalked off.
followed him with her gaze, sparks of interest lifting her fright. The back view of his muscular bottom in his faded jeans was enticing and sexy. An appreciative smile twitched her mouth as he disappeared down the path next to The Art Barn.
She got into her car and placed her camera on the passenger seat again.
A sigh of regret escaped her when she considered how attractive the man was, and how she might never see him again.
Jeanie didn’t go straight home. Instead, she followed the other half of the road where it split. She drove along a lane that took her steadily up to the top of a hill, and then down again through dense woodland. With her car window open, the drop in temperature raised goose bumps on her bare arms. The trees soothed her with their pine and cedar perfume.
place is beautiful.
When she came
across an indent in the hedgerow, she stopped to take photographs of the trees. She got close-up shots of the bark and tangled branches as she breathed in the atmosphere.
to start another business, although she hadn’t gotten very far with it. She wanted to take beautiful pictures, get them printed poster size, mount them in lovely frames, and sell them. She hoped to have frames that were original craftwork or antique finds. Sometimes in the city, she would search amongst the many antique stores for picture frames. She had some ready for restoration in her small garden shed, well wrapped against any dampness that might spoil them.
When she arrived home, Jeanie went around the house opening windows to let in the late afternoon breeze. She hadn’t yet dealt with the need for insulation
, so the third story of her house became especially hot in the very warm afternoon. She brought a cold drink with her, to sit at the small table on her patio. She decided to read for a while before she made her solitary meal. She propped the usually engrossing, romantic book in front of her and stared at the text. Jeanie couldn’t concentrate to read more than a page. Her mind wandered to the man in the tiny place, bizarrely named Owlswick.
She got up, drank down her lemonade, and went indoors.
At her desk in the room designated her study she opened her laptop lid. As it booted she took the SD card from her camera, and inserted it into the special slot. Jeanie gasped as the array of photographs displayed.
the row above the pictures of trees, bark, and leaves, where she expected to see the huge bird on top of the signpost, sat a man.
She clicked on the first photograph with her heart beating loudly.
Her blood rushed in her ears. A mixture of nausea and urgency swept over her as the picture enlarged to its full size. Jeanie stared at it. The close-up shot showed the man with his hands clutching the side of the old sign. He was scrunched up, balanced on there.
. His dark hair was glossy and well cut, his eyes an amazing blue.
She opened each photograph and caught her breath at the one where he
looked straight at her. A shiver went down her spine as she read speculation in that azure gaze and her hands trembled. She flipped through the photographs she’d taken in the woods to make sure they contained nothing weird.
Her thoughts were a jumble of disbelief and excitement.
Is this real? Did I somehow photograph the bird over an existing picture?
She shook her head.
No. I’d remember taking a photograph with a man like that in it, even if he was in some group near a landmark or something. How extraordinary. How spooky.
he got up from her desk and went to make a cup of coffee.
Jeanie half expected the photographs to be changed when she got back to her computer. She put her cup of coffee down carefully some way off from the machine, worried her
shaking hand might splash the drink over her keyboard. She sat down and checked the pictures. They were the same. She tried to recall exactly what the man called Reed had said to her.
He was angry I might have photographed the bird.
That’s what was wrong initially. Would he have taken my camera if he’d seen it? What the hell?
She looked at each photograph again
. Her hand shook on the mouse. She leaned forward to the screen. The birdman looked a little like Reed.
Did Reeve have blue eyes?
An image of his stern look popped into her mind. He’d frightened her so she hadn’t seen the details of his face, only the overall picture of attractiveness.
Maybe I should call
someone. The police?
She laughed nervously at herself as she mouthed, “Ghostbusters.” She picked up her coffee, sat back in her chair, and drank some. The familiar taste helped.
There has to be some mistake. It stays light until nine at least. I’ll go back there and, and, well look for the bird again. Take another photograph and this time it will be just a bird, I bet.
uploaded the photographs from the SD card to her hard drive, and then replaced the card in the camera. She left her house thinking there was a mistake, but deep down a tingle of instinct told her there wasn’t.
I’ve stumbled on something weird
It occurred to her she could be going into danger when she reached the
designated turn off for Owlswick, but then she shrugged it off.
I can’t ignore this. I’ll never sleep.
heart pounded as she arrived on the road by the row of houses and The Art Barn. She got out of her car, took the camera, and locked the doors. She went to the sidewalk first, by the row of large old houses. She realized then they were all empty, the three of them with those vacant staring windows that spoke of long abandonment. They looked disheveled and lonely. The hair on the back of her neck actually spiked. She’d never felt that before and she put her hand up to smooth it. The touch of her own hand gave her a little courage, and she took a few steps down the path belonging to the nearest house.
was untidy, but the lawn had been cut. A For Sale sign was unearthed and tossed by the front porch. It looked weather-beaten and the last few letters of the real estate agent’s name were scratched off, as if some creature had clawed there. She tiptoed to the large front window and peered in. She saw a long room, the floor, bare boards, and the walls, whitewashed. Jeanie tiptoed back to the sidewalk and stopped in alarm. There, in the entrance of the driveway to The Art Barn, stood birdman. She’d know him anywhere, having imprinted his gorgeous face on her memory as she stared at her computer screen in awe.