When Hunter receives an invitation for a group tour of an ancient cave to celebrate his cousin’s birthday, he and his girlfriend Rosa unwittingly attend a party…with unusual refreshments.
“It’ll be dark soon.” Rosa Martinez shook out the picnic blanket, and then watched the last carload of tourists exit the Crystalline Cave parking lot in a cloud of cinders and dust. She clutched the blanket to her chest, her big brown eyes tracking their progress until their taillights disappeared.
Hunter Reid glanced at the fading sky then back at his girlfriend. “We have an hour or so to kill before our tour starts.” He shot her a hopeful grin, but the hint faded with his smile as Rosa twisted a corner of the fabric around her finger and hugged the cloth tighter. Did she just…whimper? He took a closer look. Couldn’t be. Rosa was resourceful and tough. She’d grown up with five brothers.
He reached out to touch her shoulder. “We’ll be fine until the others arrive. It’s safe out here in the country.”
She glanced at the surrounding greenery and the trees towering above them. “Yeah, right. There’s probably a serial killer hiding in the bushes.”
Rosa was definitely in a mood, and not the kind that got them naked.
Hunter conceded the argument for the moment and threw their sandwich crusts, organic chips packets, and empty bottles of iced tea in the trash and recycle bins. Rosa brushed a palm down the front of her t-shirt and the back of her jeans, flaking off bits of crumbs and dried clover.
Katydids, tree crickets and cicadas chirped and buzzed in the thick grass and dark woods of the surrounding Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. The twilight sounds replaced the din of chattering children and their parents from the ancient cave on the hill, to the familiar comfort of their cars, trucks and SUVs. Almost one hundred fifty years after the cave’s discovery on a family farm, locals and tourists still flocked to the site.
Rosa stared up at the enormous cave and scrunched her nose. “Only your cousin would celebrate her birthday in a creepy place like this.” She clicked her tongue. “Who knows what creatures lurk inside?” She nodded for emphasis and her dark hair swayed around her shoulders. “And who has a party where you bring your own food?”
Hunter tried not to smile, since Rosa was being serious. If she only knew how cute she looked when she made that face, she might never do it again.
Rosa hated the dark and anything remotely otherworldly. She refused to watch fantasy or horror films and detested Halloween. Rosa liked Broadway musicals, TV cooking shows, and Christmas.
Hunter had mollified her with a picnic he’d prepared, but the novelty of his artisan sandwiches on home-baked bread had clearly worn off. “Didn’t we have this fight already? When the invitation arrived, you said you’d come with me.”
His cousin, Angela, had sent invitations through the mail, printed with elaborate calligraphy on expensive-looking faux antique paper, complete with an RSVP card and a wax seal on the back of the envelope. Hunter had to admit the old-school, snail mail method she used looked impressive. The contact was a definite improvement over the impersonal social media invitations that had become popular, though it also made it harder to refuse the request. Maybe that was the point.
Rosa huffed out a breath. “Don’t know what I was thinking.”
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Nook, Tolino, Page Foundary, 24 Symbols https://www.books2read.com/u/b5OEak