Her Enemy Protector Bear by Cynthia Wilde

Chapter 1

Zoe Miller pulled her truck and trailer through the large open gates leading to the grounds of the Ravenstone Realm Renaissance Festival, one of the most famous and most difficult shows to get into, not only nationally but also internationally. Since going on the road in her early twenties, Zoe always dreamed of working and vending here. Of course, to do so was easier said than done. The unspoken policy was either someone had to retire or die for a new merchant to come in and take their place. It just so happened that when she called them a few days ago, desperate and almost broke, as a last-ditch effort to get work somewhere, a booth space had mysteriously opened up.

The lady on the phone, Samantha, had been somewhat relieved herself when she called. Apparently someone had left in the middle of the night and the faire were more than happy to have her fill it. She couldn't believe her Hail Mary cold call had worked! With less than a hundred dollars in her pocket, getting the gig was an absolute Godsend.

The sun was going down as she followed the signs toward the Faire campgrounds. Like the rest of the vendor they would stay off-site. It had been a very long drive. Sleep, among other things, was on her mind. As she looked off to her left, the large front gates of the faire were lit up with a brilliant reddish ray of the dying sun, making everything look like it was almost on fire.Zoe felt giddy, taking that as a sign that good things were coming their way. The sheer size of the structure was impressive, which, in Zoe's experience with Renfaires, meant the place had money, which, in turn, meant they had a lot of guest traffic. And a lot of guest traffic meant lots of sales for her. Of course she knew all about Ravenstone, but seeing it in person was still impressive. Zoe reached over and took her son, Devon's, hand, squeezing it slightly in hers. “This is our new home,” she said, smiling at him with reassurance, wanting to believe her own words. “Hopefully things go well and we can carve out a place here.”

The smile on his face looked genuine as he stroked their new orange cat, Furdinand, who purred loudly on Devon's lap, but Zoe knew that he was tired too. They'd been through a lot these past few weeks; with his father leaving them on the road, and their lack of funds. She'd tried not to worry him, but he was a very smart and observant eight-year-old, and despite her attempts to put on a brave face, she knew that he knew exactly what was going on. But he never asked her tough questions about his dad. She suspected he felt much like she did. At this point it was more of a relief, for both of them. She made it clear he could talk about it he wanted to, but didn’t press him. They were embarking on a new adventure and would start fresh. One way or another it was going to be ok; maybe even better than ok.

She pulled the rig into their assigned spot according to the hasty email she received from Samantha, who it turned out was the assistant vendor coordinator. Right now, she had to set her wheels down, plug into her electricity and get some rest.

As she stepped out of her truck, Zoe immediately felt something different about this place. She couldn't put her finger on it, but it was almost like the air was buzzing. Boy, I must be nervous, she thought, or very excited. It felt like the earth here was saying hello. Weird. She was used to getting weird feelings about things… she had since she was a little girl at times. But this was different. It was actually sort of nice. It actually sort of almost fueled her as she set up the trailer and began to organize their new space.

Zoe wokeand for a moment was disoriented. It was just her and Devon. Right, he finally left for good. She looked at her phone. Five A.M. It was still dark out. She lay her head back on her pillow. The concept, and the events of the past few months specifically, played through her mind before she came to a logical conclusion. Good riddance. Her subconscious would still need a little time to get used to the idea that they were on their own however. Even though she had known for quite some time that it wasn’t working, and really so had Devon, it was still a little jarring. But it was crystal clear in her heart that it was for the best. Now she could to focus on the future for both of them.

From now on, it would just be her and Devon. And a cat, and maybe a dog or two. She realized they could finally have all the pets they wanted without hearing a word of complaint from any certain somebodies.

Caring for animals was in her DNA and it seemed her son was no different. He'd shown empathy on more than one occasion when they'd come across a baby bird that fell out of its nest, or an injured squirrel. Even as a small boy, Devon had had more than the usual fascination with animals. It was almost like he had a special connection to them. Of course most kids did. It’s not that his father was a bad guy, he just didn’t have the same sensitivity when it came to cats and dogs. It was an affinity that had run in her family, as far back as she knew of.

Long ago, when she was single and before she'd joined the renaissance faire circuit, Zoe's life plan had actually been to go to veterinary school so she could make her passion for animals into her life’s work. The problem was that she couldn’t afford it and her parents certainly didn’t have the means to help. At the time, the next best opportunity had been at a local faire. They had a petting zoo, and of course, the horses from the joust that all needed tending to. She just wanted to be around animals. She would have shoveled their poop, to be honest. But even those jobs were taken.

As it turned out, the faire did need cast members to work the street crowds and entertain guests around the faire. The job wasn't exactly what she wanted, but Zoe decided to take it on a lark. She had done some high school theatre, and really had always been sort-of into fantasy stuff. A renfaire seemed sort of romantic and exciting. Plus, at least there were animals on the premises. That had to count for something. So, she decided to take the job.

When Zoe met her ex at the faire, she had been so smitten she had just let his ambitions totally take over her life. He had an excellent head for business and he talked to her all the time about opening a booth and traveling the renfaire circuit. Zoe fell right into the plan. When she joined the faire, she had made her own costume and had realized that she had a talent for sewing. Soon she began making them for others too. With her talents and his business sense they had managed to book spots at most of the big faires and had immediately hit the road together. By the end of the season, they wanted to spend their lives together, traveling and raising a little Bohemian family, with a few dogs or cats in tow.

For twelve years, they were pretty happy together, or at least that’s what Zoe had thought at the time. They were the proud owners of a little shop called Witch's Stitches ─ a clothing shop full of beautiful renaissance garments handmade by Zoe herself. She'd become an excellent seamstress, and she was well known throughout the festivals for quality work at an affordable price. She had become the go-to person for many of the cast members at prominent faires, not to mention among the hordes of fantasy loving guests in attendance. Zoe was very proud of her work, and it showed; she embroidered many of her items by hand.

Her reputation as an accomplished seamstress preceeded her, to the borders of the prestigious Ravenstone Realm faire. At the end of the conversation with Samantha Wells, the woman admitted that she too owned a few pieces of Zoe's work; a skirt, a chemise, and a bodice, to be exact. Then she confessed that nothing else in the festival could compare to Zoe's handy work. These two reasons alone were the deciding factors that gave the coveted spot to her. Not even her past could take that away, she was a genuine craftsperson.

Memories of dreams from the past resurfaced, but Zoe pushed them away quickly. It was time to think about her future, not her past, and she figured she might as well get up and prepare herself for the day with an infusion of highly caffeinated tea. As she sipped the dark liquid with honey, she reflected for the umpteenth time on what had happened at the truck stop. The truth was that had he not left, she would have taken Devon and left herself, after that.

It was a few weeks ago, but Zoe remembered it like it was yesterday. She and Devon were in the truck, pulling the trailer while her ex was in the little mini cooper with the new girl he'd just hired. That should have been your first clue right there, she admonished herself. To this day, Zoe couldn't say the woman's name, but it was etched in her mind. The two vehicles had become separated in traffic, so when she was getting ready to pull off at a truck stop to fuel up and use the bathroom she called Devon’s father. It went immediately to voicemail. She told him where they were and said they would wait for him in the restaurant.

Zoe and Devon sat there for an hour, at an orange plastic booth. They nursed milkshakes in the hard, cold seat while waiting for him and that woman to ‘catch up'. She tried to call him three more times. When the message said his mailbox was full, she texted him. There was no response. Zoe glanced at her son who was staring down at the kid's menu as the waitress came by for the third time to check on them.

They'd worn out their welcome. There was a line of truckers out the door and they were taking up valuable space. She thanked the waitress and asked for their bill. It was right at that table that she had come to two conclusions. The first was that her ex wasn’t going to show up. Not then, and not ever. The other was that she really didn’t want him to. Enough was enough. She was tired of begging for affection.

The memory was pretty much neutral at this point. She'd cried out the last of her tears some time before, maybe months ago. She finished her cup of tea and looked across the room to her still sleeping son. Zoe decided she'd leave him there to rest for the time being. They'd been on the road for so long to get here, and he deserved a good rest.

Slipping on her robe and shoes by the camper door, she checked herself in her full-length mirror. Although she looked a little tired perhaps from the trip, her chestnut brown hair was still full and shining. Except for those 3 gray hairs.Whatever. She shook it off. She was excited for a new opportunity.

She definitely still looked good for being a mama in her thirties, she thought. She turned to look at her profile. Her waist was slim, and her breasts and ass were still in good shape, not that she had dating on her mind. That was something she wasn't going to do for a long time. She still wanted to look good though. Having some “Zoe time” was her goal for the moment though, and certainly Devon would need her as well.

Zoe had adoptedFurdinand to keep Devon company on their journey. They found him wandering around the same truck stop actually, cold, shivering, and hungry. Somehow it had seemed fitting. He was orange with bright green eyes. Both Zoe and Devon fell in love with him as he rubbed against their legs and purred when they picked him up.

He was dirty, mangy, and covered in fleas. And Zoe was totally in her element. They snuck him into the truck stop shower inside Zoe's over-sized handbag, greased him up with coconut oil, picked the bugs from his fur, and cleaned him up using some lavender soap Zoe had on hand. He was the strangest cat they had ever seen in that he loved the water and didn't make a sound when they lathered him and combed him until his body shone. She actually was pretty sure he had been purring. Devon named him Furdinand because his fur was so fluffy. The cat had been the perfect distraction for Devon.

Zoe pet Furdi, put on his harness, and took him outside to relieve himself and run around a bit. She hoped the crisp air would help her focus her mind. Being in a new faire, she had a lot to do to get things set up. She was so grateful to be here.

Zoe breathed in the morning air as she watched the sunrise, feeling excited to get started. This would be the first time she would have an actual building to sell her wares out of, and if all went well, she wouldn't have to travel anymore. Ravenstone Realm was a year-round destination for fantasy nerds and families alike. Maybe she could put down roots here and have a home without wheels for once. She was almost afraid to have such high hopes, but she reminded herself, anything is possible.

She just needed time to figure things out and make a new life for herself and her son. But it was a little overwhelming to say the least. For now, she was placing her hopes on Ravenstone Realm. If all went well, they would accept her and allow her to become one of their own. Being on the faire circuit for many years though, she knew full well that only time would tell.