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Fable of Happiness

_From New York Times Bestseller, Pepper Winters, comes a new Dark Romance full of decadent angst, monstrous heroes, and pages chock-full of lust._

_A house hidden in the middle of nowhere._

_A man who’s lived alone for a decade._

_A woman who trespasses on his solitude._

_A love full of hate as well as hunger._

Age Rating: 18+

_Please note this is a dark romance and not suitable for people who have triggers. Content included can be hard to read and only recommended for people who like dark romance._

 

Fable of Happiness by Pepper Winters is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

Fable of Happiness

Book One

by

New York Times Bestseller

Pepper Winters

Summary

It’s the start of something huge.

From New York Times Bestseller, Pepper Winters, comes a new Dark Romance full of decadent angst, monstrous heroes, and pages chock-full of lust.

A house hidden in the middle of nowhere.

A man who’s lived alone for a decade.

A woman who trespasses on his solitude.

A love full of hate as well as hunger.

The thing about my life is…I was never in control of it.

I just I thought I was.

I thought I had everything figured out—a good career, fun hobbies, a bright future, but everything changed when I found an ivy-cloaked house, tucked in a forgotten valley, hiding a man who corrupted my world forever.

I thought I was successful, until he showed me fortune and happiness could be snatched away in an instant.

I believed I was blessed, but really, I was cursed.

Cursed to become a plaything for a monster.

Cursed to become a prisoner just because I trespassed.

Now, I know nothing.

I am nothing.

I’m just his.

Age Rating: 18+

Please note this is a dark romance and not suitable for people who have triggers. Content included can be hard to read and only recommended for people who like dark romance.

Copyright © 2021 Pepper Winters

Published by Pepper Winters

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, including electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it to the seller and purchase your own copy. Libraries are exempt and permitted to share their in-house copies with their members and have full thanks for stocking this book. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

Published: Pepper Winters 2021: [email protected]

Photo: Chris Lawton from Unsplash

Cover Design: Ari @ Cover it! Designs

Editing by: Editing 4 Indies (Jenny Sims)

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Kassen

THE DAY I WAS BORN, a curse was put upon me.

That curse grew with me from boyhood to man. I had no mark to prove it. No doctor to confirm it.

But I knew.

A blackness had attached itself to me, and I was cursed.

It was irrefutable.

Because of this fact, I didn’t look upon surprises as favorable. Surprises in my world meant pain and punishment. I liked methods. Rules. Comfortable habits and familiar routines.

So, what are you going to do with her?

My hands balled as I paced outside the cell where I’d thrown her.

I don’t know.

That was a lie.

I knew what I should do.

I should kill her because she’d found me. She’d stumbled upon my carefully hidden world. She’d had the audacity to enter my home. To step foot upon my domain.

So…kill her.

I stopped.

I glared at the heavy wooden door, dropping my gaze to the rusty padlock that’d continued its role of imprisonment for far too long.

Eleven years.

Eleven years since I’d looked upon another person. Eleven years since I’d felt that raw hate bubble in my blood, demanding violence, chanting for their pain before they could summon mine.

Do it.

I pulled the key from my pocket.

I opened the door.

I stepped inside to face my enemy.

 

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2

Gemma

MY MOTHER USED TO SAY I was blessed.

Her tone might have been sarcastic, and her praises might have been fake, but that didn’t change the fact that I agreed with her.

I was blessed.

I was born in the summer, I liked to learn, and I’d had a happy childhood. Well, I had until my dad passed away from a sudden stroke, leaving me and my little brother, Joshua, at the mercy of my fragile mother, who used scorn to patch up her own heavy grief.

But, because I was blessed, the minute Joshua turned eighteen and rented a place with some friends, I moved out of the house too, assuring my mother that I would always be there for her. That I would always answer the phone and forever be her daughter, even if she couldn’t understand why life seemed, in her words, “to favor me and not her.”

By favor me, she meant that by the time I was twenty-three, I’d quit my job as a travel agent and would never have to work for someone else again. I was free of the rat race. A self-made millionaire.

And it was all thanks to a passion that’d started in school and had morphed into a career that provided an ample income to buy my quaint lavender-painted house, squirrel away my retirement fund, and enabled a lavish lifestyle, if I chose to.

Pity that I chose simple things.

I didn’t drink or smoke. I didn’t party or favor expensive dresses or makeup. Yes, I had the latest gadgets in video recording and laptop software, but those items, along with new carabiners, rope, and chalk, were all tax deductible because of my career.

My career that my mother couldn’t understand. That friends from school rolled their eyes at, and other peers glowered at with envy.

I was one of the few women climbers who’d struck gold on YouTube.

A girl with strength in her fingers and flexibility in her body to scale complicated boulders, cliff faces, and technical mountains.

First, it was just the sponsorships. The free climbing shoes and exercise leggings as I won more local and regional contests.

Then it was the appearances. The brief reviews I was requested to give on climbing gyms around the USA led to some larger companies flying me overseas to sample their own routes and walls, quoting me in magazines who’d dubbed me as “The Girl Gravity Can’t See.”

As my notoriety increased, so too did the prize winnings. I had the opportunity to train with elites and enter contests reserved for champions.

I enjoyed all aspects of competition. I liked indoor climbing as well as outdoor challenges. However, my personal favorite was climbing on my own. No spotter. No belayer. No one to catch me if I fell.

One afternoon, I’d left the city behind on a quest to find a waterfall I’d seen mentioned on a couple of climbing forums. For four hours, I’d climbed its treacherous rocks. I almost fell. I made a few mistakes and triumphed on a few challenges. I truly felt as if I was the girl gravity couldn’t see.

I’d loved the experience so much, I’d created a profile online and posted the recording from my camera that I’d set at the bottom of the waterfall. Just a simple recap showing the route I’d taken, the cuts I’d endured, and the time-lapse journey of me scaling moss-covered rocks all while water drenched me.

The light had been perfect on the cascade. The rainbows had been exquisite. The colors had been magical. I’d wanted to immortalize the experience by uploading it.

I’d tagged a few climbing acquaintances, labeled the video “Swimming in the Sky,” and then gone to bed.

I woke to a viral sensation.

And the rest was history.

Now, at twenty-six, I’d hit over three million subscribers, had a nest egg that my bank manager looked at enviously, and got to do what I loved for a living.

I was blessed.

In everything but love.

With a sigh, I scanned the profile I’d just filled in for a dating site. Active Souls promised to match like-minded sporty individuals with other successful athletes.

I’d tried dating the old-fashioned way. I’d been on a few blind dates set up by friends. I’d agreed to a few drinks with men I’d met at the gym. I’d even had dinner with a man who’d done a double take at the gas station as I fed fuel to my sand-colored Jeep Wrangler.

He’d asked if it was my boyfriend’s car, eyeing up my off-road tires, well-earned dents, and light bar. He’d been dubious when I said she was mine, followed by instant sexual interest.

I needed such a car.

My work, my videos, required me to explore backroads in search of boulders that no one had climbed yet, of waterfalls too tricky for others to attempt. I wasn’t afraid of crawling over riverbeds or creeping up hillsides with my Wrangler for the perfect video that would hit a million views in just a few days.

The guy at the gas station—who’d been intrigued instead of intimidated—had asked for my number. He’d seemed sane enough, so I’d given it to him. We’d gone out. He’d said all the right things.

I hadn’t been with anyone in years, so, feeling reckless, I invited him back to my home, and we slept together. The sex had been okay. I got more thrills from climbing a piece of sandstone, if I was honest, but it was nice to have company.

However, the next morning, he announced he and his wife had seen my channel, and he found me hot. Hot enough to cheat on his wife and turn me off men altogether.

Who would have thought that at twenty-six, the majority of single people came with such heavy baggage already? Most had a child, sometimes two. Some were still living at home with their parents. Some were embroiled in a messy divorce. Some openly sought affairs. And the majority? The majority were overweight, didn’t exercise, and their personal ambition was drinking on the weekend with their workmates.

Why are you doing this?

I rolled my eyes at my profile again.

Because I’m stupid, that’s why.

Name: Gemma Ashcroft

Age: Twenty-six

Appearance: Blonde, hazel eyes, curvy but athletic

Ethnicity: Half American, half Norwegian.

Looking for: A man who loves the outdoors. Single. Loves to travel. Doesn’t mind camping and exploring off the beaten track. Trustworthy. Kind. Passionate. Intelligent—

“Ugh.” I deleted it all. “Just give up, Gem. Get a dog that you can drag around the backcountry and accept that you’re successful in business, but in romance…you suck.”

Nodding at my wisdom, I went to close out of the site, but a rush of rebellion shot down my fingers, and I typed:

Looking for: A man who’s dominant and dangerous but not afraid of a woman who’s probably far more successful than he is. A man who knows how to grant pleasure without thinking he’s some gift to womankind. A man who knows how to cook and clean without needing a girlfriend for a maid. A man who doesn’t have fifteen exes, two kids, a beer belly, and can’t use a screwdriver. A man who…is a man. An old-fashioned man who is prickly but sweet. Who is gruff but kind. A man who will sweep me off my feet but allow me to fly free, all while he makes me come alive beneath his tongue.

“You are such an idiot.” I laughed under my breath as I deleted the entire thing, closed the window, and went to shut down my laptop. “No more daydreaming of fantastical men who don’t exist.”

A flashing notification caught my eye, alerting me to a new post in Climbers Anon. I opened my screen again. I’d stalked that online group for a few years. The group’s tagline promised virgin routes, secret boulders, and untried mountains.

In the years I’d followed them, they hadn’t posted a single adventure that I hadn’t already done or heard about.

Until now.

As I scanned the link and the hazy photo of a boulder cluster covered in weeds and debris, my heart rate picked up.

Kentucky Khaleesi

Found two days ago deep within Mammoth Cave National Park. Overgrown. Hidden in a ravine that seems impassable. I’ve marked the trail to get there with yellow ribbon. Didn’t climb down as had no gear. 4WD required, followed by steep descent on foot. Whoever gets there first can name the route. Climbing grade? I’d say fucking hard.

My heart pumped faster as I glanced at my dirty, well-used backpack where I’d tossed it by the front door. I hadn’t found an exciting climb in a few months. Regardless, I kept my bag packed with food and camping necessities, and carried around a permanent tent and bedroll in the back of my Jeep, along with all my ropes, gear, and filming equipment.

I could leave in a few minutes.

I could be the first.

I could claim it.

Enlarging the photo, I squinted at the size and shape. Fog had rolled into the valley where it was hiding, distorting the lines. Weeds made the outline of rock and plant hard to distinguish, and twilight shadows hid most of its secrets.

I couldn’t tell if it would be a worthwhile journey from just the picture. However, I could see it was big. A looming giant rock compared to the trees below. It was untouched by human hands. It was calling to me to scale.

What else do you have planned?

I had no contests for the rest of the year. No luncheons with girlfriends. No dinners with potential lovers. I didn’t even have a dog to walk. I was successful, healthy, and had ensured my future would always include financial freedom. But…I was alone, and I didn’t like the emptiness of not having a challenge to tackle.

Look at what a few days with idle hands has done to me.

I’d stooped low enough to fill out a profile for an online dating site. I didn’t care if all my ex-school friends had found their husbands and wives that way. I didn’t buy into the advertisement that online dating was safer and far more effective than trolling parks, bars, and coffee shops looking for that perfect other half.

It was time I accepted that my love affair included granite, quartz, and feldspar instead of someone with a heartbeat.

And you know what? That’s totally fine with me.

Stone couldn’t trick you or tease you. It couldn’t pretend to be interested because of your money or lie that they were single and sane.

Stone was clinical, cold, and didn’t care if you conquered it. Because if you didn’t, then it conquered you by throwing you into the dirt—broken bones and all.

I’m going.

Standing, I closed my laptop, stuffed it into its travel case, and packed the solar chargers for my phone, camera, and other tech stuff I’d take with me. Triple checking that my backpack still held enough supplies, I grabbed my personal locator beacon from the side table by the window and strode out the front door with swift steps.

After tossing my gear into the back of the Jeep, I pulled up my brother’s number.

My life might consist of taking off on whims and chasing granite playgrounds, but it didn’t mean I was stupid. If I ever got seriously injured and needed to be airlifted out, I had a location beacon. I had a GPS tracker on my car if it ever got stolen while I was up a cliff somewhere. And I religiously texted my brother where my next spontaneous adventure led me.

Gemma
Hey, Josh. I’m leaving. Going to Mammoth Cave National Park. I’ll have my GPS and locator. Probably won’t have reception on my phone. It’s a seven-hour drive, so I’m guessing it’ll be a few days by the time I find it, climb it, and get back to civilization. The boulder I’m hunting for is on Climbers Anon. Use my log-in to get more info if you need to. Don’t start panicking unless I go missing for five days, okay? Five days then put Operation Find Stupid Sister into play. Hope you have a great week!

He replied almost instantly.

Joshua
First, it’s midnight. Perhaps sleep first, then go driving cross-country? Second, only you would willingly go get lost in some national park and call it fun.
Gemma
You know I’m a night owl. If I leave now, I can be there for dawn and get some amazing light shots. There’ll be park rangers there. They’ll look after me if I need help.
Joshua
They’ll most likely shoot you if you’re covered in bracken and dirt, crawling monkey-style down a mountain. They’ll claim they finally caught Bigfoot.
Gemma
Ha-ha.
Joshua
Be safe! Give me access to your phone location so I can track you.
Gemma
I’ll turn the mode on, but I doubt reception will be reliable enough to show where I am.
Joshua
For Christmas, I’m gonna get you that portable Wi-Fi docking station for hikers. Least then you can have your own satellite internet, and you won’t be able to use ‘off-grid’ as an excuse not to call me.
Gemma
Go back to bed and stop nagging me.
Joshua
Stop climbing rocks and messaging me at bedtime.
Gemma
Love you.
Joshua
You too.

With a smile on my face and excitement bubbling in my heart, I tossed my phone onto the passenger seat, inserted my key, and cranked the Wrangler’s grouchy engine. My trusty Jeep yawned and growled, lurching out of my driveway, used to me waking it up in the middle of the night to go on some boulder hunt.

Switching gears, I glanced back at my house. My own slice of suburbia in the middle of Michigan.

I sighed with contentment.

God, I was so unbelievably lucky.

I wasn’t clever with gardens, so the flower beds were wild, and the lawn needed a trim, but the façade was freshly painted with lavender cheer, and I’d had the roof redone in a dark charcoal.

The privacy offered by the three-bedroom place made up for all the lonely nights I might have endured. I loved it. I loved that it was mortgage-free and waiting for me to return. I loved that it wasn’t just a house but my confidant who sheltered and protected me.

See you in a few days, house!

If only I’d known I’d lied that night.

It wouldn’t be a few days before I saw it again.

It would be never.

 

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