OverRuled (The OverRuled Series, book 1)
Two Girls. One Kingdom. No Way Out...
AN Excerpt from OverRuled ~ Enhanced with GIFs!
Stepping out the door, a cool breeze brushed loose tendrils from Nova's thick ponytail. The wavy strands fell across her face before she pulled her hood up to keep the chill at bay. A hint of smoke hung in the air, but not another soul was visible. The village was quiet, dim. Lights flickered only from inside the rows of houses. Even the forest seemed to be asleep.
Nova put her fingers to her mouth, but before she whistled, a husky nicker called to her, and River peeked out from behind the nearest group of fir trees. “There you are,” she whispered and the big red horse sauntered over. Nova placed a hand on his forehead, rubbing a welcoming hello before she kissed his whiskered muzzle. “Were you sleeping, big boy?” His soft, blinky eyes told her he was.
Nova pulled a carrot from her back pocket and waved it under his nose. “I didn’t think you’d fall asleep before your evening snack.” River’s ears perked forward, and Nova giggled as he grabbed the carrot with his lips and greedily snapped half of it into his mouth.
“Not too many wild mustangs get a handfed snack before bedtime,” she noted while picking a twig out of his snarled forelock. River chewed and then reached for the second half of his snack. “Actually, I’m certain you’re the only one.”
Nova glanced back at the house. Dusk settled around it and she knew it was time to go inside. She didn’t want her dad to worry. He had enough to think about.
“Sleep tight, big boy,” she cooed, and offered up the last carrot. River reached out, grasping the orange flesh with his teeth, but instead of mowing it down, he released the carrot like it shocked him. His head jolted back and he stood alert, suddenly awake. His nostrils flared, and Nova immediately looked over her shoulder. She knew River’s senses were sharp, often noticing things she didn’t.
“What are you looking at?” she asked, not liking the way he puffed up. But as the question fell out of her mouth, Nova spotted the culprit.
Her eyes caught a dark flash as it jumped into the woods.
For a second, Nova stood still, unsure of what she saw. A bear? A coyote? Whatever it was, it had been creeping out of the forest, stalking her and Riv. There was no way she could go inside and leave her beloved horse vulnerable to a predator.
Reacting on instinct, Nova spun and ran to the house, snatching her bow and quiver propped against the door. As she ran back to River, Nova threw the quiver over her head and the pack of arrows slapped against her back. Grasping hold of the bow’s wooden handle, Nova jumped and launched herself onto her horse’s back. As soon as she was on top, River lurched forward, pressing his hind legs against the earth and bursting into a gallop. Together they shot across the grass, aimed at the spot where the dark shadow disappeared into the trees.
Without hesitation, River leveled the brush, splitting the greenery in two before Nova sat up straight, asking him to slow with a cue from her body. He reluctantly stopped, and Nova sat stock-still on his back, listening for the stalker, but the forest was dead silent. Only River’s breathing was audible as Nova scanned the dense canopy around them. She searched the forest floor for prints, tightening her grip on the bow as she focused. And she snapped her head up when she heard sticks breaking in the distance.
The hunt was on.
Nova leaned over her horse’s neck as he propelled through the trees, crushing branches beneath his hooves, moving toward the noise. His coarse mane blew in the wind, slapping Nova’s face. He listened to every movement of her body, having no sense of fear as he followed her silent instructions.
Soon, the animal was in sight. The tables had turned. Nova snatched an arrow from her quiver and snapped it into her bow. She brought the weapon to her face and balanced her body with Riv’s movements as he barreled through the forest. They zigged and zagged, jumped low brush, and chased the spry animal as it darted back and forth in a black blur, using the forest for protection. Nova held the arrow in her bow, waiting for a clear shot, but hesitated as she wasn’t certain what she was hunting. The creature was the size and color of a small bear, but too fast.
Looking beyond the chase, Nova discovered gray light as it filtered through trees. She realized they were nearing the river. They were closing in on open space, and Nova knew she would have a better shot once they broke out of the woods.
Sensing her thoughts, Riv lengthened his stride, quickly breaking out of the trees and onto the sandy river bank. But, as soon as Nova had a clear shot, she dropped the bow to her side and yelled for River to stop.
“Whoa! Whoa!” she shouted, grabbing a handful of mane as Riv halted. He gave a small rear in resistance of her abrupt command.
Ahead, on the edge of the racing river, a creature dressed head to toe in black jumped into a waiting boat and joined another similarly dressed figure. Together, they sped off across choppy water, without the use of a single oar.
It wasn’t an animal she was chasing.
Yet Nova had a sinking feeling it was a predator.