His blood had turned to fire; he was sure of it. Hot. So. Hot. He struggled. Struggled to wake. Struggled to free himself from the prison of the blankets. Struggled to remember...

Remember what? Had he dreamed?

With a groan, Regan kicked the handmade quilt Helen Belden had given him two Christmases ago to the floor and squinted blearily at his bedside clock.


P.M., he told himself, struggling to think coherently. That meant that it was still night. That he’d only been asleep for a little over an hour. That he had another good five hours of sleep even if he chose to get an early start to his day.

But his blood was on fire.

Kicking the blanket to the floor had helped, but not enough.

He could feel the heat thrumming through his body, through his extremities and pooling in a ball of flame in his chest. Out. The flame needed out. He needed out.

He lurched to his feet and stumbled past the chair where pyjama bottoms awaited him. Out of bed wasn’t enough. He needed out. Outside. And that meant jeans. But not a shirt. He was far too hot for that. His hands shook as he zipped the fly but it didn’t take him long to jam his feet into riding boots and fling himself down the stairs from his apartment above the garage.

A midnight ride. It wasn’t something he often indulged in; after all, the horses were early risers, which forced him to be as well, but somehow he knew that a midnight ride was the only solution to his problem.

To the burning fire which still had not abated though the night air was cool.

And there was only one horse that would do. One horse that understood the wild need to run.

Jupiter silently tossed his head, the line of his neck tense. The horse’s mood matched his own, Regan recognized. Not a good combination, probably. But it didn’t matter because he was riding tonight anyway.

He and the horse both knew it.

Regan expected Jupiter to pull, to push for speed straight out, but the horse surprised him with a measured warm-up that was on the quick side but just controlled enough that Regan didn’t have to rein him in.

They were a team tonight, Regan thought with relief. At least, as much of a team as a human could ever be with an animal. It wouldn’t matter if they weren’t a team—he was going to ride anyway. But this was better.

The night air grew cooler as they moved farther into the preserve and the thick canopy of trees. He expected to feel a chill as the sweat on his torso dried, but he was as hot as when he’d wakened so abruptly. And there wasn’t a drop of sweat on him, he realized. It was more like his internal furnace had been set on high by a switch over which he had no control.

And he didn’t know if a ride through the preserve would help, but just as he had no control over the heat coursing through him, he had no control over the compulsion to ride.

The pull didn’t lessen. He’d thought it would lessen. He’d counted on it lessening. Instead, he felt that the preserve was more alive than he’d ever seen it. Though it was dark, he could see individual leaves. Scents he didn’t notice in the daylight hours tickled his nose. Clean dirt. Fresh vegetation.

Picking up another scent, he frowned. It was familiar, but somehow different at the same time. He ought to recognize it, but... He leaned forward, concentrating on what was just out of reach. Jupiter’s ears pricked, and he wondered if the horse could hear what Regan couldn’t seem to smell.

“What’s out there, Jupe?” he asked, leaning close to the horse’s pricked ears. Jupiter chose that moment to rear unexpectedly, connecting with Regan’s face with a resounding smack. He could have regained control, Regan told himself later, if Jupiter hadn’t bolted before he could tighten his grip on the reins. The next instant, to his chagrin, Regan found himself flat on the ground, his nose pressed to the fresh dirt of the path. He was fine, he discovered after testing each limb carefully. Aside from a pounding headache. He flinched when he tried to sit up, and collapsed back to the ground with a groan. The throbbing grew in a gradual crescendo of pain as he pressed against the earth, unable to move beyond the pain. Jupiter would be fine, he told himself. He had a good sense of direction. Better, at least, than certain teenagers he could mention. The big black horse would find his way back to the stable and even if Regan wasn’t there to let him in he’d wait patiently enough in the paddock until someone found him. Not that he’d have to wait that long. Regan knew he’d feel fine in a minute. Or at least fine enough that he’d be able to walk back to the stable. In a minute...

He knew he’d drifted off because when he woke, the pain in his head was almost completely gone. Except for the pounding....

He frowned. If the pain was gone, why was his head still pounding? Only it wasn’t just his head that was pulsing. He could feel it in his hands as he braced himself against the ground, and in his chest. And it wasn’t so much the pounding he associated with a headache, but a much more familiar pounding. But that couldn’t be, because if he was hearing the pounding of horse hooves so strongly, that would have to mean that the horses were—

A thundering roar of pounding hooves filled the night air and Regan, ignoring all of the slight injuries he’d suffered when he’d been thrown, scrambled off the path and threw himself behind the relative cover of the trees. The ground beneath him shook with the force of what he estimated had to be at least forty powerful horses. Forty powerful horses with riders. No matter what anyone said, Regan had always maintained that there was a different quality in the sound of a horse with a rider compared to a horse without. And it wasn’t just volume. He waited for the horses and riders to sweep past him. They were unauthorized trespassers in the preserve, but he knew his own limits. He wasn’t about to risk his neck by stepping out on the path to confront them. Still, it would be good if he could at least give an accurate description of the trespassers, possibly poachers, when he reported it to Sergeant Molinson. But the horses and riders didn’t appear. And the pounding of hooves was growing fainter by the minute.

Regan frowned, reviewing his mental map of the preserve. He didn’t know exactly where he was, but he knew well enough that there was no other path close enough that he should have been able to hear the horses so clearly. Could they have been galloping through the underbrush, making their own path? Or using a narrow deer trail? It didn’t seem possible—they’d been moving far too quickly. It just wasn’t possible. The pounding, which had been growing steadily fainter, had almost completely disappeared. Stepping out onto the trail, Regan reached for his hat to the ground in disgust, only to discover that he’d forgotten more than a shirt when he’d dressed for his ride. A fine groom he was if he couldn’t keep track of a group of rogue riders in his own backyard or remember proper attire.

A tingle on the back of his neck alerted him to danger before he could see or hear it. He whipped around just in time to see a group of—dogs? But he’d never seen dogs like this before—they broke and flowed around him, as if he were a rock and they were a rapidly flowing river. He could feel their breath and see their glowing eyes as he stood frozen, certain that he’d be trampled if he moved even an inch. And then, as suddenly and as silently as they’d appeared, they were past him.

Before he could even think about feeling relief, he realized that the greater danger was yet to come.

The horses, which had seemed so very loud when he’d first heard them, emerged on the trail following the hounds, as silent as the tomb.

Regan closed his eyes, certain that death was imminent. He hadn’t been crushed by the dogs, but it was too much to hope that the horses would be as considerate. Even if they wanted to. They were simply moving too fast. It wasn’t even possible for them to avoid him.

He felt a rush of wind as the horses passed him, and then there was nothing. No sound, no crushing pain of being trampled beneath the great beasts’ hooves. Nothing.

He opened one eye, halfway expecting to see that he’d been knocked to the path and was only now regaining consciousness. Instead, he saw the glowing of many pairs of eyes. Glowing red eyes belonging to dozens of midnight black steeds. And the oddly similar and yet infinitely more disturbing glowing red eyes of the persons who rode the horses.

He’d thought he’d felt fear earlier.

He was wrong.

The terror that gripped him was unlike anything he had ever experienced. The threat of imminent trampling was gone, only to be replaced with the knowledge that his time had come. These horses, dogs, and riders—especially the riders—were stamped with death. They were death. And he’d seen them, meaning that—

The rider directly in front of him spoke.

He didn’t understand the words, but he knew the lilt. Welsh. He’d heard it often enough in the shelter, spoken by the strongest, scariest old woman he’d ever met. He stared at the rider, trying to make sense of the words even though he knew it was pointless.

And then she laughed.

Regan’s eyes widened, both at the fact that his worst nightmare was laughing, and because the rider was female. He considered himself as big a proponent of gender equality as the next man, but it hadn’t occurred to him that the rider was female.

Or that he could feel a strange pull of attraction to the person he was fairly certain held the power of his future in her hands. Stranger yet, it wasn’t even a sexual attraction. It was more of a desire to be at her side, to join her in her hunt.

She laughed again, but this time there was no mocking in it. “Not yet,” she said, and he understood the words even though they were spoken in a language with which he had only a passing acquaintance. “Your time will come, rider.” And her eyes, and the eyes of her riders, and the horses, and the hounds, glowed even more brightly.

And then they were gone.

Regan slumped from his kneeling position and collapsed to the ground, exhausted. The pounding of hooves grew louder as the herd galloped away from him. It pulsed through his body to settle in his head, and he closed his eyes against the pressure.

“Regan! Regan, are you okay?”

He knew that voice.

“Of course he’s not okay,” a second voice retorted. “He spent the night on the ground!”

He knew that voice, too.

“Gosh, do you suppose he got drunk? He does look kind of hung over...”

Regan definitely knew that voice, and decided he’d soon be having a talk with his nephew about how, exactly, he knew what a hangover looked like.

As soon as he could open his eyes.

“Don’t be redic,” the first voice retorted. “Regan wouldn’t wander into the preserve drunk.”

“He didn’t wander. Remember we found Jupiter outside the stable this morning? He rode into the preserve. And probably got thrown. That’s a nasty goose egg on his forehead. Maybe we should get Brian—”

“I’m fine,” Regan muttered, though it felt like his mouth was filled with cotton. And possibly the pelt of a small animal. And the pounding. The pounding. He pressed his hands to his temples, memory tickling. What was he supposed to remember about pounding? Other than not getting a goose egg from being thrown from a horse...

“Jupiter’s okay?” he asked, eyes still closed.

“He’s fine,” Dan assured him. “A little spooked, though. Maybe he felt guilty about throwing you. How did that happen, anyway?”

How had that happened? He hadn’t been thrown in years. And wasn’t there something about horses he was supposed to remember? Not about Jupe, though...

“I have no idea,” he admitted, and took the hand Dan offered. No broken bones, he realized as he stood. Not even any bruises to speak of. He shook his limbs gingerly, but the only residual soreness he could feel was from a night spent on the hard ground.

He swung up behind Dan on Spartan, grateful that he wouldn’t have to walk back to the stable. The gentle clip-clop of the Bob-Whites on their horses soothed him, though for an instant he thought he heard the baying of a hound, and the laughter of a woman.

Matilda, he realized, and stiffened so abruptly that Spartan whickered unhappily. He’d met Matilda and the Wild Hunt. The riders of Welsh folklore who came for humans when their time had come.

But he was still here.

What had Matilda said? “Not yet.” And he remembered the incredible urge he’d felt to ride with them.

He shivered, and he wasn’t certain if it was from fear or anticipation.

Author’s Notes


Happy Halloween!

Thank you to MaryN and BonnieH for editing and MaryN for the awesomely spooky graphics.

As in my previous Halloweens, this story is based on folklore I discovered reading Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series, which I highly recommend.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Copyright by Ryl, October, 2016.

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