Artemis loudly groaned. It had been over a week since her incident with the cliff and her family still weren't showing any signs of letting it go. Or letting her forget it. She could scarcely mention leaving the house anymore without a reference throw in, or receiving a worried look. In all honesty it was her own fault. Lydia most surely would have not mentioned her risky adventure had she not mentioned it first. Yet Artemis could not pass up a chance to brag about her exploits. Her family were generally used to her daredevil antics, and while they might not approve, at least tolerated her free spirit. Sadly, she hadn't counted on Lydia's frank honesty. So while she had been quite happy retelling the story she planned to leave certain facts out- like nearly dying for instance. In her tale she had bravely braved the cliff, emerging victorious. Unfortunately Lydia didn't seem to know that fact, because as soon as Artemis had mentioned her climb, Lydia uncharacteristically butted in- seeing it as the perfect excuse to gush over Rick. Her family were now all familiar with the wondrous hero that came to her rescue and alarmed her recklessness had finally almost cost her her life. If she heard the words "you have to be more careful" one more time she'd commit murder. Her dad was the worst. Typical over protective father syndrome, she guessed. At present, she gave him her recent daily speech.
"Dad, I'm eighteen. You can't keep me indoors forever. Besides, I have been doing things like this my whole life. One little mishap isn't going to put me off."
Weak blue eyes met hers. "I just want you to be more responsible and careful."
Then he wanted a different daughter! She wasn't Lydia. Responsible and careful were alien words to her. In her opinion they equalled dull. And I am far from dull.
"I worry about you," her father gently persisted. "You have so much spirit I do not want it to get you into trouble that you will not be able to get out of one day."
"I won't go near anything dangerous. I'll only go for a nice, quiet stroll." Artemis lied through her teeth, ignoring his doubtful look. She may have inherited his fiery red hair and fair complexion but that was all. His spirit was much more suited to Lydia's than to hers.
To her relief the lecture ended, and she slipped out of the cottage- leaving her father to inform her mother and sisters of her absence when they returned from the nearest town by car. Had they actually walked the whole ten miles she might have considered accompanying them. But no. Her lazy family needed to do everything the boring way, polluting the air in the process. Her fathers reason for staying home was much more simple. Football was on. Inwardly shaking her head at the peculiarity of certain males (why would you want to watch sport when you could be playing it?) she started her ramble.
The sky overhead was vivid light blue, clouds like fluffy mountains loamed in the distance. The country lanes were narrow and the steady uphill climb would have tired most people's legs. It never bothered her. She looked with friendly interest at the cows in the fields who watched with open curiosity as she passed, wondering at the strange girl who travelled by foot.
After a while she lost track of time and decided to stop a bit while she plotted her next course of action. Walking was beginning to bore her and she longed to find something more daring to do. It was as this thought crossed her mind - her eyes settled on the farm to her right. The fact it was barricaded off with a chain link fence immediately piped her interest. As did the notice warning her to be careful of the dogs. She smiled devilishly. This was a worthy escapade. Am I really going to trespass on private property and face vicious dogs for a brief thrill? She already knew the answer.
Artemis swung over the fence easily, ignoring the sharp jagged wire that pierced her palms as she clung to the dangerous material. Her intrusion caused a very noisy reaction. The dogs joined in a symphony of wild barking that almost made her turn back round again. She laughed at her cowardice. Their only dogs! She was naturally gifted with all animals and had yet to meet one that did not love her. Trusty trainers crunched over pebbles as she approached the farmyard. Her midnight eyes were anxious, her body alert. So I am in. Now what? Planning ahead had never been her speciality. Perhaps I could roam around the field. I might run into some bulls. The thought did not alarm her as much as it ought. She was assessing whether the buzz she would receive would outweigh the danger when the sound of movement startled her. The next thing she knew her shoulders were gripped from behind and she was being swung around to face her attacker. She found herself looking into an all too familiar pair of brown eyes. That just now seemed to be saying -Oh, god. You?
"Rick," she said levelly. Her voice betraying none of her surprise. "What are you doing here?" Although one look at his dirty overhauls and wellingtons made her question needless.
"I work here," was uttered in an overly defensive tone. "What are you doing here?"
What am I doing here? The truth was she hadn't much idea of her motives for entering the farm. Yet boredom and the quest for mischief had drawn her to it. Plus when a sigh or anyone forbid her from doing something- she simply needed to do it. She supposed wanting to be a daredevil and flatter her own vanity by once again doing something dangerous and remaining unharmed also played a significant factor in her newest activity.
He shook her too forcefully for Artemis's liking. "Well?"
"I don't know, I was bored. This looked interesting."
"Are you too stupid to read the stay away sign?"
"Why do you think this looked interesting?" She flicked her eyes meaningfully to his hands. "Now, do you mind letting go of me? You're getting my t shirt all dirty."
He dismissed her request. "I'm getting the boss."
To her indignation he actually began powerfully dragging her to the farmhouse. "What? Why? Stop." Was all she managed to mutter.
This was laughable. " So, what do you think your boss is going to do? Arrest me? I did not realise curiosity was an offence."
"Boss don't like thieves."
"Thieves? What am I going to steal? Bread, milk and eggs? Or, wait, maybe a chicken?" When he ceased to respond she furiously wrenched out of his grasp, nearly pulling her arm off in the process. "Let go!"
Her scream stirred the dogs. The snarls that followed were in turn both frightening and deafening.
Her eyes darted the width of the farm. "Where are they?"
"I should let them rip trespassers like you to pieces," was the cordial reply.
"I see your manners have much improved."
" And you're still a immature brat. But what's the problem? If you are really fearless- show me. Enter the farmhouse and confess."
"Or you'll what, drag me?"
"I'd like to see you try!" Realising that might be construed as a challenge, she tried a less volatile approach. "I did not mean any harm. I only wanted to roam around . Where are the dogs?"
She frowned. "But the sign said.."
"It's meant to deter."
"Well," she replied with self satisfaction, "it didn't deter me."
Her words seemed to aggravate Rick because he closed the distance between them like a bull about to charge.
Well I did think I'd quite like to meet one. "Look, I am sorry if I invaded personal territory, or whatever. I will not do it again. So can I please go now?"
He looked at her sceptically. "You really only came here cause you were bored?"
At last the little grey cells connect! "Yes. It's why I climbed the cliff. My danger instincts are different to normal people. I do not get scared easily or try to avoid danger- I seek it. " She quickly explained, having no idea what was making her blurt all this out or start this bizarre conversation. Only hoping to make him understand and diffuse the aggressive pattern that seemed to be developing between them. "There is nothing more of a thrill or as addictive as the buzz you get when you do something you shouldn't. But, believe me, If I had known I' d run into you- I never would have set foot on this farm."
Whether it was the entire speech, or the earnestness of this last sentence that convinced him she never would know. But Rick relaxed. At least as much as Rick could relax. Which wasn't a lot. "Don't come here again."
"Trust me, I won't."
The next words were so mumbled together it took her an entire minute to decipher them, and even then she was not sure she had de-scrambled right.
"My shift finishes in half an hour. Meet me by the oak tree ten yards from here if you like."
"Oak tree. Half an hour. Meet," he repeated. His patience once again clearly thinning.
For the first time in her life she was actually genuinely speechless. Was he honestly almost trying to be friendly?
"Well go then, you bloody idiot. Don't stand there catching insects and gaping at me."
Apparently not. She left the farm without another word, too puzzled to speak. She could not help being torn. She still wasn't exactly fond of Rick and his company was bound to be unpleasant. Not a week and a half ago the idea of being seated around a dinner table with him redefined hell. Yet this wasn't a dinner table, Lydia wasn't here and she did not have to stay or be polite. Should I meet him just for the hell of it? Or should I trust my first impressions and feelings by going home or finding somewhere else to explore? Then again, it was still light. What would there be to do if she got home? Besides, if he were still unbearable she could always leave him and explore solo later. He didn't turn me into the farmer like he threatened, and I need to know what he wants, otherwise the mystery will never be solved. I have never before turned up the chance to solve a mystery. Why start now? What harm could it do? Unsurprisingly curiosity won, and Artemis found herself beside the oak tree- waiting with accustomed restless impatience.
Thanks to everyone for the really encouraging reviews. I swear I'll do shout outs next chapter. (The holiday was great by the way. Gorgeous scenery.) Luv Kaitx