Timothy and Kit join Honheim as the town celebrates its founding. Sister Tera stalks Kit in the name of the Inquisition, and Timothy’s mother watches for the chance to reunite Timothy with his long dead father.
Beneath the festivities, a greater threat spreads. A threat that cares little for the plans of a mother and a nun. A threat that changes the relationship between a shepherd and a girl.
Shepherd Hunted is the second book of The Hunted Trilogy.
“Please. Please help me.”
The woman’s stringy hair crawled with lice. Black-tipped sores dotted arms covered in little more than rags. She grabbed at Kit. “A little money. Just a little money for a doctor.”
Kit recoiled. “Stay back.” Her red hair bristled under her blue scarf. She tried to pull her arm out of the woman’s grip. Green tinged Kit’s lips, and she covered her nose.
Timothy ordered his stomach to be quiet. He dug out a coin and held it out to the woman. Silver glinted in the late afternoon light. The woman snatched the coin.
“Thank you, thank you!” The woman turned and limped off, casting anxious glances over her shoulder.
Kit danced and brushed at her arms. “Do you see any fleas on me? Please tell me there are no fleas on me.”READ MORE
“I don’t see any.” Timothy wiped his hand on his pant leg. He hoped whatever the woman had wasn’t catching. The last thing he needed was a sick fox on his hands.
“Better not be any.” Kit shivered and arranged her blue skirts. “I lost my appetite.” She snatched his hand and dragged him back up the street. The muffled din of the festival carried on the chill wind.
“Where are we going now? I thought you wanted to try that bakery at the end of this street.” Timothy jogged to keep the pace she set.
“I can’t eat after seeing that.” Kit’s mouth twisted. “I need to check my tail.”
“How could lice have gotten on your tail?” Timothy’s gaze wandered to the skirts that hid her ruddy fox tail.
“You wouldn’t understand. Last I looked, you didn’t have fur, shepherd.” Kit all but ran through streets as they began to fill with people. The gathering crowds flowed toward the main square. Timothy thought he’d seen all the costumes the town of Honheim had to offer, but these people wore costumes he hadn’t seen since the festival started. Kit watched people with her brow knit. Of course, that didn’t slow her pace.
A woman spoke with a man wearing a wolf pelt over his shoulders. The woman wore a large squirrel tail tied to her waist. Only that tail and a few well-placed patches of brown fur saved her modesty. Several more people wearing odd costumes passed. Men wore yellow and black striped barrels hung from leather straps. On top of their heads bobbed wires like the two thick hairs bees had. Kit tugged him toward Melanie’s inn. She slowed as they approached.
“Did you see that woman, Kit?”
“I did. And why are you looking at women wearing that drab fur when mine is in danger?” Kit marched into Melanie’s inn. Timothy tripped on the step.
The heavy door closed off the hum outside. The common room held several merchants speaking in hushed tones. The men smiled and nodded at Timothy as Kit dragged him past.
“Have any after-festival business ideas, Master Clarke?” The merchant’s shirt strained against his bulk.
Timothy shrugged. Ever since Kit’s river stone deal with Shefar, Melanie’s inn remained filled with merchants trying to strike deals with him—as if he knew anything about business.
At the front desk, Melanie looked up. “Back so soon?” Her dark hand didn’t stop its work in the ledger. Her purple dress complimented her brown skin. Her long black hair curled around her face. “I thought you would want to go to the costume brawl. This is the last day of the festival.”
Kit released Timothy’s hand and disappeared up the stairs. “Costume brawl?” Timothy worked his hand. Kit had a grip.
“It’s the big event. Shefar loves the last day of the festival.” Melanie sniffed. “He would, since it focuses on his family.”
She closed the ledger and leaned close. She watched the serving girls working among the merchants. “You two are good for business. Shefar told me of your scheme. It’s genius I know didn’t come from you, Timothy. No offense, but you are not the money type.”
Timothy laughed. “I can’t argue that. Kit is one for the ideas. Oh, is our order ready?”
Melanie glared at one of the serving girls. The girl squeaked and scurried from the young merchant she hovered around. “I got word of it being ready,” Melanie said. “They just wanted to know the place. I hear many different things about your lamb.”
“What things?” Timothy’s gaze wandered to the staircase. He would have to check on Kit in a moment or he wouldn’t hear the end of it.
“That the lamb fought a heretic with Michael’s sword in her mouth. That the lamb was the savior come again.” Melanie touched her forehead, chest, and shoulders. “That Saint Peter returned to protect you. That you sacrificed the lamb to the devil.”
Timothy rolled his eyes. “Do people not have anything else to do?”
Melanie laughed. “Welcome to the elite merchant club. When you put up that statue, you will make the rumors even worse.”
“Would you do any less for a friend?” Timothy felt foolish as soon as he said the words.
Melanie nodded. “Better go apologize to your wife for whatever you did.” She grinned. “Even if you didn’t do anything.”
Timothy shook his head, but he took the stairs two at a time.
Kit sat near the open window. Her skirt lay crumpled on the floor. An ivory comb worked through her red tail. She plucked at its tip of white fur. Her tail curved into the gap between her blouse and leggings. Her freckled face pinched as she peered between each strand, and her head scarf flicked. The stories about her kind spoke about all-hearing ears. Just how much had she heard?
Timothy shook his head. Just a few weeks ago, vixens were only stories told by old men with too much mead in them. Now he found himself between the paws of one of the Church’s enemies.
“Why, I feel a pervert’s stare on me.” Kit looked at Timothy out of the corner of her eye. She grinned fangs, and her tail wagged in her hand. “A pervert who is lucky. No fleas.”
“Melanie said the statue is ready.”
Kit smoothed her white fur. She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “It is the least we could do for Cat.”
“Where do you plan on putting it? The statue was your idea.” Timothy sat on one of the beds. It creaked.
“In the square once the festival is finished.” She set the comb aside and leaned out of the window. Her tail danced. “The costumes give me an idea.” Her bottom wiggled with her tail.
“You have a magnificent tail.”
Kit giggled, and her tail bobbed. She whirled to her feet, upending the chair. “Melanie said it was some sort of costume fight. Well, I don’t need a costume, but a fight sounds nice.”
Timothy grunted. So she had heard them. Lovely. The fox would be out of the bag as soon as someone stepped on her tail. Those Inquisitors were gone by now right? With my luck, no.
“You disapprove.” Kit untied the scarf. White tufted ears slipped from the cloth and twitched.
“Tahd may be gone but—”
“But. But.” Kit shook her head. “We will leave soon. Who knows when we will have a chance to enjoy another festival?” She gasped and placed both hands over her mouth. “Unless you have other ideas. No. Those just won’t do. You are a husband only in our story, remember?”
Timothy ran a hand through his hair. He ignored the bait. “What if someone discovers you aren’t wearing a costume?”
She sighed, crossed the room, and knelt before Timothy. “I really want to go out and play. I will be extra careful. I promise! You can hold my hand if you want.” Kit looked up through her bangs with her liquid meadow eyes. Her ears drooped.
“I really wish you wouldn’t do that. I can see down your shirt.”
She batted her eyes.
Timothy groaned. “Fine.”
Kit leaped to her feet and flicked his forehead. “Maybe next time I will bury my fangs in you for not trusting my judgment.”
“I am just concerned.” Timothy took her offered hand and rose to his feet.
“I know.” She grabbed his arm. “That is one reason why I put up with your occasional stupidity. But you can’t keep my ears and tail to yourself.”
“But I like your ears and tail.” It sometimes amazed him how much he had changed these last few weeks. He never imagined being so blunt. He could imagine Kyle clapping him on the back and saying, “Finally!”
“Do you happen to know just how sensitive my ears and tail are?” Kit smiled. “You may just find out—but not today. Let’s go before the fight or whatever is happening starts.”
The babble in the common room stopped as soon as Kit hit the bottom stair. Timothy’s mouth dried. He braced for panic and calls for the militia. Timothy tried to watch everyone at once. Not that he could do much of anything.
“That is a lovely costume,” a balding merchant said. “I wish I’d thought of that now. It would have sold for dear.”
“Like she stepped out of a story.”
“What fur did you use?”
“See, shepherd.” Kit patted his arm. “You worry too much.”
“That is some costume. The ears seem to move,” Melanie said. One of the serving girls stared at Kit. The bald merchant muttered something and sketched on the table with a damp finger.
Kit waved. “These ears are tricky. Will Shefar be about?”
“He will be in the thick of it. It isn’t for me.” Melanie peered at the serving girl. The girl jumped and scurried into the kitchen. “How much did he pay you for those stones? That looks like real fox fur.”
“You remember what foxes look like?” Sweat ran down Timothy’s back.
“I saw a tail displayed on a hunter’s wall once.” Melanie turned back to her ledger. “Shefar should be in the square directing people who won’t be listening.”
The street outside bustled with people. Timothy’s heart quickened.
“Relax, Timmy.” Kit laced her elbow into his. “Tahd is gone. There is no one chasing us now. We can relax and take our time finding my home now. Let’s have some fun.”
A man dressed like a bear roared at them. People pointed at Kit, and several men wearing the painted barrels stumbled over each other staring at her. Kit wore a grin. Her tail waved. Timothy hoped people would take the movement for the wind.
A girl wearing only a pair of cloth wings and painted yellow-black stripes jogged past. Kit drilled her elbow into Timothy’s ribs. “You must have lied for that tail to draw your eyes.”
Timothy rubbed his ribs. “At least we know not everyone will stare at you.”
“Oh, so you are saying my tail isn’t as nice as that little bee’s?” Kit winked at a passing man. He tripped, spilling his mug all over another man.
“You do not know what it is like to have your tail always trapped by a dress. Or what it is like to have your ears flattened and squished.” Kit ran a hand over an ear. “A tail is meant to be free, to feel the wind.”
“And to be stared at,” Timothy said.
The street opened into the square. People clambered over a tall wooden castle standing in the center of the cobblestones. Lines of costumed people waited near racks of mead barrels. The babbling sounded like a beehive. Musicians perched on some of the upturned casks. People leaped and stomped in time with the bawdy tune.
“Aw, my friends!” Shefar Ealo waved over the crowd. He wore a bright red cloth wound around his head and clipped in place with a bronze pin. The hat still struck Timothy as strange, but then he was the one with a fox girl on his arm.
“So you decided to join us for the last day of the festival!” Shefar clapped Timothy on the shoulder. “The real fun begins when the sun goes down.”
“Oh?” Kit’s ears perked up. Timothy’s stomach flipped. She needs to keep her tail and ears under control.
Shefar looked her up and down. He frowned. “That is some costume. Is that real fur?”
“Ummm, well,” Timothy said. “We, umm…”
“What my tongue-tied husband means to say, Master Ealo,” Kit glared at Timothy a moment, “is that our agreement paid us well enough to have a little fun.”
Shefar held up his hands. “Trent and I look forward to doing business with you again. The stones sold wonderfully.” He peered at Kit’s tail. “Is this some other business idea?”
Timothy’s heart slapped his chest.
Kit grabbed her tail and stroked it. “It is magnificent fur, isn’t it? See how it shines. It is also quite warm and soft.”
“It looks like it.” Shefar rubbed his chin. “It would make a good lining for a coat. Better than what I currently use. What animal does it come from?”
Kit released her tail and whacked Timothy with it. “Sadly, the animal is one of a kind. I don’t know if any others exist.”
Shefar’s broad shoulders drooped. “Too bad. If you hear of more, please let me know. I would be happy to do business with you again.” Shefar looked over the crowd. “It won’t be too long. We will get things going soon after the sun sets. Will you join us for the battle?”
“Battle?” Timothy asked, shaking his head at Kit. A fang escaped her lips.
“We will attack the castle with torches.” Shefar rubbed his hands. “Just like my ancestors did. Well, they also used more than torches.”
“Sounds fun,” Kit said over Timothy.
“It is. Someone always gets burned, but that is just a part of being a man.” Shefar gestured at Kit. “And a woman, of course.”
Timothy sweated and waited. She was going to want to do it. He just knew she would want to join in whatever was going to happen. Kit smoothed her hair. Her tail flapped against Timothy. He closed his eyes and waited.
“I think I will pass. I can’t have my fur getting burned.”
Timothy opened his eyes and let out a long breath.
“Oh yes. You are quite right.” Shefar watched the people working at the wooden castle. “Such rare fur shouldn’t be put at risk. I had better go manage those louts. Enjoy the rest of the festival.”
Kit chuckled. “The look on your face, shepherd. I thought you were going to drop over if I said yes. Just think, I gave up such fun for your sake.”
“Fun until you got your tail burned.” Timothy rubbed his forehead. He felt warm. Kit liked to strain him.
“Don’t think I don’t consider you when I make decisions.” Kit patted his arm. “Besides, I didn’t want your lunch on my shoes. You really need to relax.”
A floppy green hat spiked with a black feather weaved through the crowd. “Shefar told me I could find you here,” Trent Mohmed said. He wore crimson with boots shined to a mirror finish. Even among all the costumes, the man stood out. Not that Timothy would expect Trent to do anything but stand out.
Trent swept a bow and kissed the back of Kit’s hand. He hesitated when he saw her ears. “You are as lovely as always. Why, I would think you were one of those foxes the Church hunted if I didn’t know better.”
“Thank you. What brings you to the festival, Master Mohmed?” Kit asked.COLLAPSE