For the ten generations since the evil first came to Woodcutter’s Grim, the Guardians have sworn an oath to protect the town from the childhood horrors that lurk in the black woods. Without them, the town would be defenseless…and the terrors would escape to the world at large.
The son of shape-shifting goats, William Gruff escaped a dire fate when his family is bound to the evil pervading Woodcutter’s Grim, the only shelter for supernatural creatures. Adaryn Azar, a legendary phoenix, changes his lonely life. But a happily-ever-after may be impossible when the hunter who’s tracked her for centuries finds her again. Dying and resurrecting would mean forfeiting the life growing inside her. Unfathomably, Woodcutter’s Grim may be the only safe place left.
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GENRE: Fantasy/Paranormal/Mild Horror/Romance Word Count: 73, 478
October 24, 2026
“How do you feel about opening the realty office today?” Jack Shaussegeny, her boss, asked when she stopped in the middle of Main Street to take one earbud out in order to answer her phone.
“Sure. I was just about to do some shopping,” Ember Sidhe said amiably. “What’s going on?”
“Just talked to the Protectorate Guardian. There’s someone new in town. They just crossed the bridge.”
Ember herself had been the last person to come into the small town of Woodcutter’s Grim. The Shaussegeny family had brought her here, promising her a refuge she’d long since believed was lost to her. She’d been desperate enough to accept their generous invitation, but a part of her had assumed she was walking into a trap.
If I hadn’t been at my wit’s end, not knowing where to go or how to hide after being on the run for so long, I wouldn’t have come here.
Who knew hopelessness could lead to the best thing that could happen to a person?
Jack and his loving, very wealthy family had offered her a job at Shaussegeny Realty, one of the many businesses in town they owned. They’d also given her the small cottage she’d come to love and feel at home in the past couple of years. In the last place on the Earth she would have thought to look, she’d found safety and a clan willing to protect her to the death, if need be.
“Gabe verified there are two grown men and a female child of about six. Chances are good they’ll head straight to the real estate agency first, if they’re planning to stay long.”
“I’m already here,” Ember said as she inserted her key into the door of the cozy real estate office. The building was nestled between the beauty shop and the law office Jack had retired from years ago that was now run by his oldest son and daughter-in-law.
“Good, good. You’re a treat, Ember. If you could find out who they are and what they want without being suspicious…?”
“No problem, Jack. I’m happy to help.” Part of her job managing the real estate agency was to be friendly and inquisitive with strangers without raising suspicions about why she needed to know about everyone who entered this town.
Woodcutter’s Grim was far from a normal place, as she’d quickly realized when she arrived. She would never forget her own harrowing crossing.
She hung up, pushing the door of the office closed with her hip, then turning the sign on it to read “Open”. She tucked the Bluetooth earbud she’d removed to talk on the phone beneath the shoulder of her sweater to hold it in place. The music she needed 24 hours of every day played in the other earbud but softly enough that she’d be able to hear easily.
She smiled as she made her way to her desk, stopping to rearrange the number of chairs in front of it to match the number of visitors she anticipated. So few people came into Woodcutter’s Grim compared to any normal place. She couldn’t deny she looked forward to the prospect of discovering something new. As much of a risk as it was, she believed in the Shaussegenys’ cause. They recognized the extraordinary and wanted to preserve it. And anyone coming into Woodcutter’s Grim had to be singular. Just as Jack and his wonderful family had wanted to save her, she wanted to lend a hand in liberating another such as she’d been–lost, terrified, vulnerable in a world that could be never big enough to hide her. There weren’t enough places to seek shelter out there. Not for long. Woodcutter’s Grim was the only option for someone like her.
She pressed the button on the coffeepot near her desk, just in case the visitors wanted some, then she busied herself with examining the available properties for sale or rent in town. Jack and his family had bought up most of the available land in town long ago and they’d built homes and small cottages for rent all around the area. In the last few years, they’d focused on constructing smart, simple homes solely on their vast estate, expanding their fortified walls to enclose as much of the town as they could inside their private fortress.
There was no time to wonder about the visitors before they were walking through the door of the single room (and a bathroom) office. Her gaze quickly verified the two adult men and the child hiding behind them before she was on her feet, a wide, sincere smile drawing them in before she officially welcomed them. “Welcome to Woodcutter’s Grim. I’m Ember Sidhe, which is spelled S-i-d-h–”
“-e,” the shaggier of the two males said at the same time she did. He added the proper pronunciation of the word, “She.”
“Sidhe, like the fairy people in Irish folklore?” the little girl asked in excitement. She squirmed slightly to emerge from between the two men blocking her, almost as if they were trying to protect her.
Ember grinned, going down on one knee to reach the adorable child’s level. “Exactly. You like folklore?”
“I love stories–real or made up.”
“So do I. What’s your name?”
“Celestial. But everybody calls me Celee.”
Ember murmured in awe. “What a beautiful name. I’m pleased to meet you, Celee.”
“I like your name, too.”
The little girl had long, thick, blondish-brown hair with brown eyes and an angelic smile. She wore a flowered shift over leggings. Her feet were bare and extremely dirty, maybe as dirty as Ember’s were hidden away in her slippers. She never wore foot coverings in her idyllic herb and vegetable garden, where she spent most of her leisure time.
“Thank you.” The urge to tell this sweetheart her real name–Fête–almost glided out of her mouth without restraint. That was far from a natural impulse with her, given her usual wariness about revealing anything personal about herself, if she could get away with it.
She stood up and kicked off her pantofle, revealing long, slender feet covered with dirt from her morning wandering among her plants while drinking tea. Celee giggled at the sight. For a moment, Ember wondered if the munchkin would hug her but then the shaggier man reached forward and lifted her in his arms. The guy next to him who was almost as tall but definitely less hairy took a step forward.
“I’m William Gruff. My family knows me as Will. I come from Woodcutter’s Grim. Or at least I lived here…once upon a time.”
Ember opened her mouth in a gasp. “Gruff? Then your mother must be Asmari! I know her well, Will.” She laughed at her awkward phrasing. “In any case, Asmari and I share a love of horticulture. Oh, she’ll be so happy to see you, Will. She’s spoken of you…but…sadly. I assumed because she hasn’t seen you in so many years.”
Will was taller than most humans at 6’4 at least and muscular with dark hair and strange, compelling eyes. Something about him reminded her of Syle, her first and only love, the only male she’d allowed into her heart. When they ran away together, abandoning their clans, they convinced each other nothing could hurt them. That, because they loved each other so much, being outcasts wouldn’t bother them. Even the danger on their heels from every side couldn’t touch them. But they’d been so naïve and foolish.
A second look at Will forced her to see he was nothing like Syle, though he was almost unnaturally handsome. Syle had been slender in the sylphid way of their people, his skin a pale, shimmery, sage green, his flowing hair nearly the same shade.
Even as tears stung her eyes, she forced herself to smile and shake herself out of ancient history. Folklore. “Are you back to see your family?”
Will nodded. “I hope to and soon. My wife will be…appearing shortly.” He turned slightly, gesturing toward the other man holding the child. “This is Torin Valais, my wife’s brother. And you’ve met his daughter Celee.”
Ember’s gaze stole to Torin, noticing again just how insanely tall he was. And husky. His shoulders might have been as wide as a semi rig. His silver-shot black hair was long and bushy, just as his beard and moustache were. If not for his gentle brown eyes, so like adorable Celee’s, he might have struck her as fierce and intimidating.
“I’m so pleased to meet you, Torin,” she said, realizing suddenly how soft and shy her voice sounded even in her own ears. Swallowing at the sense that she’d left herself vulnerable, she glanced quickly at Will again and said, “I look forward to meeting your wife. That is, if you’re planning to stay in town for a while?”
“That’s actually why we’re here. We’re hoping you can help us. Are there any places in town for rent?”