BY: TONYA ROYSTON
She never thought her ability to communicate with wild animals was anything more than a unique gift. But this gift is tied to a long history of secrets that threaten to shatter her one chance at true love…
Laken Sumner isn’t your average teenager. Ever since she realized that wild animals could hear her thoughts, she’s spent more time in the woods with them than with other children. Even her wolf is a better friend to her than most people. She trusts him—so much so that she follows him out into the wilderness in the middle of the night to find a lost little boy. But the boy’s disappearance is only the beginning.
The one bright spot in her life is Noah Lawson, the handsome new town deputy. Charming and mature, he almost seems too good to be true. Then she meets Xander Payne, the new boy at school, who seems to know something about her. But how could that be possible?
As strange things begin to happen in her sleepy New England town, Laken wonders if Xander has something to do with it. Or is it just a coincidence that danger targets her soon after he arrives?
Twenty-five cents for every print and ebook copy sold will be donated to the Ian Somerhalder Foundation.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Shadows at Sunset by Tonya Royston, Laken Sumner is a high school senior who talks to animals. They trust and protect her and she spends more time with them than she does with her human friends. Laken falls for Noah, the new deputy in her small New England town. But when a new boy moves into town and starts at the local high school, trouble begins following Laken everywhere.
Royston does a good job of character development, both for her human and animal characters. This is a coming of age story with a twist—one both YA and NA should love.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Shadows at Sunset is a paranormal coming of age story about a young woman who can talk to animals. She lives in a sleepy New Hampshire village in the mountains and, until a new boy moves into the neighborhood, Laken’s town fees safe and secure. But with the arrival of Xander Payne, things begin to change. Now little boys disappear from their backyards, bodies are found in the woods, and someone seems to be stalking Laken.
Shadows at Sunset is well written and portrays the problems that come with not only growing up and turning from a child into a woman, but also suddenly finding yourself in danger. It’s a well-written story of courage and innocence—one that anyone who loves animals or who has ever been a teenager should thoroughly enjoy.
Six-year-old Laken Sumner climbed up her backyard swing set ladder until she reached the top of the slide. Her wispy blonde hair hung in a tangled mess behind her shoulders and her green eyes reflected the clear blue sky. She was alone, except for a squirrel that scampered across a branch in the woods surrounding the yard. Within seconds, the squirrel disappeared, the leaves swaying in its wake. The air was warm, not hot or humid, typical for northern New England in July.
Laken hummed as she pushed herself down the slide, lifting her legs so that they wouldn’t stick to the yellow plastic. At the bottom, she jumped to her feet and ran around to the swings hanging behind the slide. She settled onto the supple rubber seat, grabbed a hold of the chains, and pumped with her feet. A brilliant smile was plastered on her face as she soared high into the air. The only sounds were that of the creaking chains as she rocked back and forth and a breeze whispering through the leaves overhead.
After a few minutes, Laken grew bored and let herself slow. Just before the swing stopped, she launched into the air, bending her knees as she landed. Then she ran across the yard to her mother’s garden. The red roses climbing up the white trellis never failed to distract Laken from her swing set, if only for a moment. As she admired them, breathing in their familiar sweet scent, she noticed a shadow moving through the dense trees out of the corner of her eye. A twig snapped and leaves rustled from somewhere within the woods.
Laken stood still, staring in the direction of the movement and shuffling leaves. She wasn’t scared, just curious. She knew it was an animal. The forest behind her house extended for miles into the mountains of New Hampshire. Deer, moose, and even black bears were a common sight from her bedroom window.
She didn’t have to wonder what it was for long. A spotted fawn emerged from the cover of the trees, stepping cautiously into the yard. Its nervous eyes darted in each direction until they settled on Laken. Then, suddenly, the apprehension in the fawn’s expression disappeared. As if feeling safe, it dove its muzzle into the lush grass and started grazing.
Laken watched the fawn for a few moments, surprised by how comfortable it seemed in her presence. She remained still, not wanting to scare it. As she waited, the fawn moved closer to her without raising its nose from the ground.
Laken had seen countless deer in her life, but never had she been so close to one. She took a step toward the fawn, and it jerked its head up.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Laken said softly. “I just wanted to say hi.”
The fawn stared at her, its body frozen for a few seconds. Finally, it took a breath. A trusting look came into its eyes. The fawn began walking toward Laken and only stopped when it was close enough to nuzzle her hands with its black nose.
Laken giggled, a big smile crossing her face. “Can you understand me?”
The fawn glanced at her, its eyes relaxed and calm. It nudged her hands again.
“You can understand me. You know I won’t hurt you.” Laken slowly raised her hand to pet the fawn’s soft neck. Her eyes widened in amazement. She couldn’t believe that it trusted her enough to let her touch it.
Her awe was cut short as a doe appeared at the edge of the yard. It trotted over to the fawn, its wild eyes and stubby upright tail telling Laken right away that it wasn’t comfortable with the close contact between her and its baby.
Laken froze in fear at the sight of the larger animal rushing toward her. She remained silent, but thought, ‘I won’t hurt your baby. We just want to be friends.’
The doe stopped beside the fawn, the worry in its eyes disappearing as if it suddenly approved. Laken resumed stroking the fawn, her eyes never leaving the doe in case it changed its mind and charged at her. Instead, the doe stretched down to nibble the grass as if Laken wasn’t standing there.
The silence was broken when the back door to the house abruptly slammed shut. The doe and fawn jerked their heads up in alarm. Before Laken could calm them, they ran back into the woods on their spindly legs. Within seconds, their shadows disappeared and the leaves and underbrush that rustled from their movements could no longer be heard.
Laken’s mother rushed across the yard, her brown eyes distraught with fear. “Laken! What in the world were you doing with those animals?”
“Mommy! Did you see that? They weren’t afraid of me. They understood me.”
“Laken, don’t be silly. The deer can’t understand you. And you should never get that close to wild animals. It’s dangerous.”
At that moment, Laken realized how alarmed her mother was. Laken’s delight faded into regret. Regret that her mother had seen her, not regret that she had touched the deer. “I’m sorry, Mommy.”
“Laken, wild animals are very dangerous. They could hurt you, even a baby deer. It could bite you or kick you.” Her mother’s voice was calmer now, but still deeply concerned. “I need you to promise me that you’ll never get that close to a wild animal again. Can you promise me that?”
Laken caught her mother’s imploring stare. For a moment, she wondered how to respond so that she wouldn’t have to lie. She studied the ground while she snaked her right arm behind her back and crossed her fingers.
Then, as a twinge of guilt poked at her, she uncrossed her fingers and lifted her gaze to meet her mother’s eyes once again.
“I promise,” she said, silently adding, Unless they want me to.
Not much had changed since I was six years old. I still lived with my parents in the same white farmhouse on the outskirts of a small northern New Hampshire ski town. My father was still a local police officer, although he was promoted to sheriff a few years ago. My mother still taught fifth grade at the local elementary school. I still spent as much time outside as possible, even in the dead of winter, wandering for hours through the mountains bordering our backyard. And I still talked to wild animals.
A few things had changed, naturally. Ever since I realized I could talk to animals, I thought I would never have a human friend. The animals became my friends. I could tell them anything and they listened endlessly. Even though they couldn’t speak, the look in their eyes told me they understood.
It started with deer and, by the time I was nine, my circle of friends included black bears, moose, all kinds of birds–from woodpeckers and cardinals to hawks and owls–foxes, squirrels, and sometimes even snakes and turtles. I could feed songbirds and squirrels out of my hands. Hawks and owls often swooped in close to me, and the black bears loved a good scratch between the ears.
I never felt comfortable with the other children at school. I knew I was different. I wanted to fit in, to be more like everyone else, but I knew that would never happen. The animals accepted me unconditionally, something I knew the other children would never do. For years, I kept to myself, counting the minutes each day until I could return home and escape into the wilderness to enjoy the silent company of a bear, moose, or any other animal that happened to cross my path. Except for a dog or cat. My talents had never worked on domestic animals. I never knew why it worked on some animals and not others. But I had to admit, the wild animals were much more intriguing and fun. They made me feel special since no one had a bear or a moose for a pet.
When I was ten, a family from Boston moved into the house on the other side of the woods next door. Their son, Ethan, was my age and we immediately struck up a friendship. I often wondered if we would have become such good friends had it not been for the fact that he lived next door. But he accepted me, never asking why I didn’t have any other friends or why I disappeared into the woods for hours at a time. He was just there when I needed someone who could talk to me.
We spent our summers in the treehouse his father had built in his backyard. Ethan read his endless pile of comic books while I watched the birds.
They often landed on the ledge, studying us as if wondering why two humans would spend almost as much time in the trees as they did. They weren’t afraid of us, either, because of me, of course. I never forgot the day a red-headed woodpecker landed on my shoulder. Ethan’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor, but he didn’t ask a single question when it took off a moment later.
My parents seemed relieved that I finally had a friend. Until that year, I had spent most of my time away from school alone, at least that’s what they thought. But I was never truly alone. I was always surrounded by my furry and feathered friends.
In my freshman year, Brooke Carson moved to town. Quirky, spunky, and free-spirited, Brooke was as extroverted as I was introverted. We weren’t instant friends like Ethan and I had been. She actually met him first, and he brought the three of us together. Before I got to know her, I was as distant and withdrawn as I was with other classmates. But she quickly put me at ease, never once judging me for being a loner. Throughout high school, we were as different as two girls could be. I took up wildlife photography–a hobby that pushed me farther and farther away from people. She pursued her love of dancing and joined the drill team. Despite our differences, our friendship flourished. She was like the sister I never had. She challenged me to step outside my comfort zone, forcing me out to an occasional party or dance. She made me feel like I could fit in, and for that, I was grateful.
My only other friend was given to me when I was twelve. My uncle who served as the Boston Chief of Police discovered a wolf pup about three months old chained up in a drug dealer’s backyard. He seized the pup when no one was looking and brought him to us. My parents were skeptical at first. I remembered my father asking his brother how he thought we could possibly take care of a wolf. A wolf was entirely different than a dog. A wolf had wild instincts, not to mention that owning one required a permit that we didn’t have the money for. But I begged, promising that I could handle it. I was never sure how I did it, but I convinced my parents to let me keep him.
I named him Dakota, and I raised him on my own. He grew up fast, weighing over one hundred pounds by the end of the first year. His fur was smoky black and his eyes bright amber, the color of honey. He had a few white markings–a heart on his chest and a few spots on his paws. Like other wild animals, he understood me. I never used a leash on him, and he came and went as he pleased, often striking out into the mountains for days. But he always made his way home safely. He avoided people, never once hurting anyone. It was a good thing, too, since we had never gotten that permit.
As the town sheriff, my father couldn’t let anyone know that his daughter kept a wolf as a pet. Although truthfully, I didn’t keep him as a pet. Dakota lived wild and free except for an occasional nap on the bed tucked into the corner of my room. Over the years, as Ethan and Brooke spent more time at my house, I couldn’t hide him from them. They thought it was really cool that their loner friend had a wolf and they promised to never tell a soul. They knew he meant the world to me.
Dakota never left my side when I ventured into the woods. Sometimes I took my camera to take pictures of the animals I had come to know, and other days I escaped with a book. This mid-August afternoon was no different. I sat upon a large rock shaded by maple trees, a novel in my hand as Dakota lay by my feet. This was one of my favorite spots because I could hear the stream trickling a few feet away. A moose ambled by, nibbling at branches on its way to the water. Shadows danced around me as clouds darted in front of the sun directly overhead in the bright blue sky.
I loved living in the White Mountains. Summers were mild and pleasant, definitely worth enduring the bitter cold winters. Unfortunately, the summers always flew by way too fast. This summer had gone by even faster than the last few. Now that I had my driver’s license, I also had a job at a local pizza shop. So my free time to read and capture wildlife on camera was limited to my days off, like today.
I glanced at my watch. Four o’clock. I had two more hours before I needed to head home. Ethan was coming over for pizza and a movie at six-thirty. Brooke said she might come over too, if she could use the car she shared with her sister. Since school was only a few weeks away, we were trying to hang out together in the evenings we had left.
I turned my attention back to my book, a novel about fallen angels. Ever since paranormal stories had become the rage, I couldn’t get enough of them. They made me feel better about my unique gift. I could certainly relate to characters who were different and didn’t fit in.
As I turned another page, a black-capped chickadee landed on my shoulder. I smiled at the tickle of its feet, losing my place in the book. I lifted a hand, and it hopped onto my fingers. Holding it in front of me, I studied its beady eyes as it tilted its head, watching me. Then, without warning, it fluttered its wings and flew up into the trees. With a sigh, I looked back down at my book, wanting to finish a few more chapters before I needed to head home.
At six-twenty that evening, I emerged from the forest into the backyard I had known all my life with Dakota in tow. We bounded through the back door that led into our modest country kitchen to find my mother looking for something in the refrigerator. “Hi, Mom.”
My mother looked nothing like me. She had brown curls that reached her shoulders and matched her warm eyes. Her skin was an olive tone, now bronzed from the summer sun. She was a few inches shorter than me with more curves. I stood five feet, seven inches tall, and my pale skin burned if I spent too much time in the sun. My blonde hair hung in soft waves, and my green eyes seemed to be something of a miracle considering that both my parents had brown eyes.
My mother closed the refrigerator door and turned to me, her white blouse tucked into her khaki slacks. “There you are. I was just trying to figure out what to do for dinner. What are you in the mood for?”
“Ethan’s coming over with a movie and we were going to order a pizza. Where’s Dad?”
“He’s held up at the station. I’m not sure when he’ll be home.”
“Really? What’s going on?”
“Oh, it’s probably some drunken tourists in a scuffle. He said not to wait up for him. So pizza, huh? Mind if I have a piece? I’ll buy.”
“Mom, if you buy, you can have half the pizza. Is veggie supreme okay with you?” A few years ago, I had given up meat. I had never liked the chewy, greasy texture of it, especially red meat. But I hadn’t gone vegan, at least not yet. Cheese and ice cream were still two of my favorites.
“I wouldn’t expect anything else. I’ll probably just have one piece. I’m not very hungry.”
Even though she tried to hide it, I could tell she was worried. She always told my father that the one time she let down her guard, trouble would find him on the job. It didn’t matter that nothing remotely dangerous ever happened in our town. She still worried.
I ignored her concern. Whatever was keeping my father couldn’t be that serious. “Good, because Ethan will probably eat half of the whole pizza and Brooke might be coming over too.”
She grabbed a book off the kitchen desk. “Well, there’s cash in my wallet. Go ahead and use that when they get here. I’ll be outside.”
“You better get a jacket. It’s starting to get chilly out there,” I told her.
Up in these mountains, the nighttime temperatures ranged from the seventies during the most intense heat waves to as low as the forties, and sometimes even the thirties. Tonight would be one of the latter. It was a sign that fall was not far away.
My mother flashed a brief smile. “Good point. I heard there’s a cold front coming through tonight. Summer sure flies by around here.” After grabbing a fleece jacket from the coat closet, she disappeared outside.
A few minutes later as I hung up the phone from calling in the pizza order, I heard our front door open. We kept our doors unlocked, as did just about everyone else who lived around here. Our town was as safe as they come. Besides, having a wolf to protect our home meant the chances of someone breaking in and getting away with whatever they intended to do were pretty slim. And everyone in town knew that this was the sheriff’s house. Only a stranger to the area would try to break in, and Dakota would take care of that.
Ethan came around the corner, all six feet, three inches of him. At eighteen, he was tall and boyishly handsome, with thick brown hair that flopped across his forehead framing his warm brown eyes. I had noticed lately that he was starting to fill out.
His black T-shirt stretched across his broad shoulders now, when, a year ago, it would have hung loosely on his thin frame. Having known him since he was ten, I still remembered when he was shorter than me and skinny as a stick. I had watched him grow up and witnessed all of his awkward phases. Even though he was turning out really cute, he was like a brother to me.
He greeted me with a smile. “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself. I just ordered our pizza. Veggie supreme.”
“Why am I not surprised? I had a burger for lunch just because I knew dinner with you would be vegetarian.”
“And you’re right. But there’s ice cream for dessert. So what movie did you bring? It’s a romantic comedy this time, right?”
“Keep dreaming,” Ethan said with a groan. “Of course not. You know you have to save those for Brooke.” As he rambled off the name of an action movie I vaguely recognized, he opened the refrigerator and pulled out a Coke.
“Okay. I’ll save the romance for another time.”
He nodded, popping open the can. “Do you think you’ll actually stay awake tonight?”
I grinned at his teasing. He knew me so well. Rarely did I make it through a movie without dozing off, since hiking in the mountains wore me out. “I don’t know. I’ll try, but I’m not making any promises. Can you grab me a Diet Coke? That will help.”
Ethan was closer to the refrigerator, so he reached in for another can of soda and tossed it to me. Then we sat down at the kitchen table to wait for the pizza.
“Where’s your dad tonight?” Ethan asked.
“Work. Mom said he would be late.”
“Really? Wonder what that’s all about.”
“I don’t know. How was work for you today?” I asked, changing the subject from one boring topic to another.
“The usual. Another fun summer day spent manning the deep fryer for hungry tourists. I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait for school to begin.”
“I’m not crazy about working the summer away either, but at least we’ve got some cash,” I reminded him. “And I can definitely wait for school to start.” Just the thought of lugging heavy books home and spending hours cooped up in my room working on my homework dampened my mood.
“You never want school to start. Personally, I think college is looking better and better every day. Have you thought any more about where you want to go?”
I averted my eyes to the side, not wanting to meet his gaze. College was a sore subject with me. I couldn’t imagine leaving Dakota, but I didn’t expect Ethan or anyone else to understand that. “No. I’m trying to put off that decision as long as I can.”
“You can’t run from it forever.”
“I know. It’s not the college part that upsets me. It’s Dakota. I know I can’t take him with me.”
“You got that right. I don’t think he’ll be allowed in any dorm. But your parents will keep him and you can visit. They’re not going to get rid of him once you leave. He’s better behaved than any dog I’ve ever known.”
“I still wish I could take him with me. It just won’t be the same.”
Dakota knew we were talking about him, and he also knew I was upset. He rose from where he was lying, walked over to me, and rested his big wolf head in my lap. His amber eyes gazed up at me, unblinking.
I scratched at the base of his ears. “See? He agrees with me,” I told Ethan.
“Of course he does. He always takes your side,” Ethan stated. “Okay, we’ll change the subject, for now. But you will have to deal with this soon.”
“After Christmas,” I promised.
“Halloween. You need to get your applications out by Christmas.”
“Thanksgiving then, and that’s my final offer.”
“I guess I’ll have to live with that. I just think it would be cool if we went to the same school and I don’t want you to lose your chances by applying late.”
“That’s very sweet of you.” I had already considered applying to several of the same schools as Ethan if I had to apply to any. As long as there was a photography program, I could at least pretend to be interested. “And I agree. It would be nice to know at least one person at college. But we said we were going to change the subject.”
“You’re right.” Ethan sighed, and Dakota, sensing that I felt better, lay down at my feet. “Where’s Brooke tonight?”
“She was going to try to come over, but–” I glanced at my watch. It was almost seven o’clock. “If she’s not here yet, I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
“You know, one of us really needs to have a car at our disposal this year. We’re going to be seniors. How lame will we be if we have no way to get out on a Saturday night?” Ethan asked.
As I tried to cheer him up, my cell phone buzzed. It was a text message from Brooke. Her sister needed the car for her night shift at a bar in another town and didn’t have time to give Brooke a ride. Ethan and I would be on our own tonight which happened a lot since Brooke lived across town. I flashed the message at him before we continued talking about what it would be like to be seniors this year.
The pizza arrived a little later, and we shared it with my mother. We still hadn’t heard from my father, and the worry in her expression had deepened. She ate one slice before retreating to her bedroom with a glass of white wine and her book.
Ethan and I polished off the pizza and then scooped Rocky Road ice cream into bowls and smothered it with chocolate sauce. We carried our dessert into the family room where the big flat screen TV beckoned. Dakota followed us, seeming reluctant to leave my side. He usually preferred to be outside on a cool summer night, but he hadn’t gone to the back door all evening. Perhaps he didn’t want to leave until my father returned home. Whatever it was, it was a nice change to have him around.
As the movie began, I snuggled under a blanket in the recliner while Ethan sprawled out on the couch. With the lights off, we ate our ice cream by the glow of the TV. All that could be heard was the music of the opening credits and our spoons clanking against our bowls. When I finished, I set my bowl on the side table and rested my head back against the chair. As hard as I tried to stay awake, I lasted about ten minutes before my eyelids grew heavy and I drifted off to sleep.
“Laken, wake up,” Ethan whispered, gently shaking my shoulders.
I opened my eyes and smiled at him.
“You fell asleep. I think you missed the entire movie.”
“That’s nothing new,” I said in a sleepy voice. “Was it any good?”
“Yeah, it was. I’ll leave it for you and you can watch it tomorrow.”
“Thanks.” I yawned. “What time is it? Did my dad come home yet?”
“Ten-thirty and, no, he isn’t back yet.”
Just as he answered, headlights reflected against the sheer window curtains and we heard a car pull into the driveway. I sat up quickly, suddenly wide awake. I could tell by the low rumble of the car that it was my father. That, and the fact that Dakota didn’t move a muscle. If it had been anyone else, Dakota would have been on his feet, growling, in an instant. “He’s here. Finally. It’s pretty late. Now I’m kind of curious to know what’s been keeping him.”
“Come on, Laken. Nothing ever happens in this town. A tourist probably hit another moose and totaled their car,” Ethan mused.
He stood from his kneeling position by my chair as my father appeared around the corner. We both turned our attention to him. His jacket was slung behind his shoulder, his wrinkled light blue shirttails hanging over the waist of his jeans. Worry etched through his usually soft facial features and warm brown eyes. His salt-and-pepper gray hair appeared disheveled, even down through his neatly trimmed beard.
He nodded slightly. “I didn’t expect anyone would be up when I got home.” His voice sounded exhausted, drained of energy.
“Well, she wasn’t until a few minutes ago,” Ethan explained.
“Yeah. I fell asleep during the movie, again,” I said sheepishly.
A faint smile crept across my father’s tired face before he looked at Ethan. “It’s getting late. You’d better get home, son.”
Usually my father didn’t care how long Ethan stayed. He had even allowed Ethan to sleep on our couch a few times. But tonight, Ethan took the hint right away. “Yes, sir. I was just about to head out.” He looked over at me. “Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Of course,” I replied–like he even had to ask.
As Ethan headed into the entry hall, my father turned to him. “Ethan. Do you have a jacket? It’s pretty cold out there.”
“No, I didn’t think to bring one. I’ll be fine. It’s not far.”
“I can give you a ride.”
“No thanks, Mr. Sumner. You just got home, and I’m sure you don’t want to go out again. Besides, I’ve been making this trek for years now.”
“Okay.” My father followed him to the front door. “Have a good night, son,” he said as he shut the door behind Ethan.
When my father returned to the family room, I watched him curiously. “What happened today?”
He ran his fingers through his hair and sat down on the couch with a strained sigh. “Ryder Thompson disappeared from his backyard this afternoon. He was playing on his swing set when his mother had to run inside. By the time she returned, he was gone. Vanished without a trace. We spent all afternoon and evening combing the area and came up empty.”
I sat straight up, my back stiffening. I knew Ryder from babysitting him a few times over the last year. At three years old, he was a quiet little boy who didn’t talk much yet. He would be helpless out in the wilderness alone, and tonight the freezing temperatures could be dangerous. “How did he disappear?”
“I’m sure he just wandered off after a butterfly or something. There were about ten of us searching, and he must have gotten pretty far. Unfortunately, he got a good head start on us. His mother tried to find him herself. By the time she called us and we got there, he’d already been gone for a few hours.”
I cringed to think of Ryder lost in these mountains, especially in the dark. There had to be something we could do. Tomorrow morning would seem like forever to such a small child. He was probably scared to death right now.
“And to make it even worse, he’s only wearing shorts and a T-shirt.” My father shook his head. “He’s going to freeze out there, probably already is. We called the nearest canine search and rescue team, but they can’t get here until the morning.”
“Morning? Dad, that could be too late.”
He rested his elbows on his knees. “I know. That’s the best they could do. I’m just sick over this whole thing. I’ve been with the Lincoln Police Department for over twenty years and nothing like this has ever happened. We’ve had car accidents, bar scuffles, and the occasional break-in, but this is a child. We searched really far tonight, but we finally had to give up.”
“Have you told Mom?”
He nodded. “I talked to her a few hours ago, and I’m sure she didn’t want to interrupt your movie or, in your case, wake you up, to tell you. I think she was hoping we wouldn’t have to tell you at all. It brings up bad memories for us.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I never ran off when I was three.”
“No, try six. That’s when you started wandering off, but somehow you always made it home safely before dark.”
I avoided his gaze as the memories came back to me. He was right. As soon as I had learned I could talk to animals, I ventured into the forest alone all the time, even when my parents scolded me time after time.
What they hadn’t known was that I was never really alone. And if I lost my way, the animals led me home. “I remember.”
“I still don’t like you out there alone, but at least now I know you’re with Dakota.”
I glanced over at the black wolf sprawled out across the carpet. “He never leaves my side.”
“Speaking of Dakota, I’m surprised he’s not out tonight,” my father commented.
“He seemed to want to stay in. I think he sensed something was wrong.”
“He’s a good boy. I remember being a little reluctant to keep him. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve never regretted it. He’s been really good for you. I don’t know how you do it, but you really get through to him.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without him.” I briefly recalled my conversation with Ethan tonight about going away to college and realized how empty a college dorm would feel without Dakota lying at the foot of my bed.
“Well, listen, I’m going to turn in. I don’t know if I’ll sleep, but I’d better at least try since the search teams are going to be at the station at six in the morning.” He stood up. “How ’bout you? Are you going to head up to bed soon?”
“In a few minutes.”
“Okay. Good night, Laken.”
“Good night, Dad.”
As soon as he disappeared around the corner, I sat still, staring at Dakota. My mind was spinning out of control with thoughts of the lost little boy. You have to do something. You can’t leave him out there alone tonight. Dakota will help. Together, you could find him. He could freeze or animals could get to him. You have to at least try, I told myself.
Taking a deep breath, I began to piece together the situation. The Thompsons lived about a mile down the road from us. Their house was even on the same side of the street. That meant if Ryder had wandered off from his backyard, he was probably somewhere in the wilderness behind our houses. I knew these mountains better than anyone, and I could organize a search party of animals who had nocturnal abilities that a trained search-and-rescue dog couldn’t match. Suddenly, I knew what I had to do.
I stood up abruptly, tossing my blanket aside. Dakota sprang to his feet like a soldier ready for battle. His solid stance told me he knew we needed to find Ryder, and fast.
My eyes met Dakota’s knowing stare. “Come on, Dakota,” I said confidently, but softly enough that my parents wouldn’t hear me. “Let’s go find that little boy.”
© 2015 Tonya Royston
Online Book Club:
Monday, September 14, 2015: ALynn Powers of Online Book Club gives Shadows at Sunset 4 out of 4 Stars.
She says: “Tonya Royston’s debut young adult novel, Shadows at Sunset, is the first book of the Sunset Trilogy. I can already say without a doubt that I will be reading the next two books in the series when they become available. With just a touch of paranormal mystery and romance, Shadows at Sunset tells the story of not-so-average Laken Sumner and the not-so-normal start to her senior year of high school…I could make a long list of the things I love about this book. The characters are likable and realistic; even Laken’s ability to speak with animals is easy to believe, without being over-the-top or silly. The writing is superb and near flawless. The plot is attention-grabbing and makes the book difficult to put down. But my favorite part of this book is the setting. I’ve never experienced autumn in New England, but given the vivid descriptions, it’s almost impossible not to imagine what it feels like to walk down a mountain trail surrounded by fall colors with a bear or moose casually roaming in the background. The heavy attention to detail of the setting allows for a relaxed-paced story, but I never once felt bogged down by all of this information. It was relevant and important to the story, given Laken’s ability and her connection to nature and the wild animals around her.” READ FULL REVIEW