Authors: Dawn Michelle
|Claimed by the Beast Bundle|
|Novel Concept Publishing, LLC (2014)|
Crystal Davis never claimed her life was perfect. Her grades were too good and her clothes never hid enough. Her friends were few and far between when there wasn't an exam around the corner. She resigned herself to a miserable senior year after a final attempt to fit in left he walking home from a party.
Daydreaming about life beyond small town America, she wasn't ready for the pack of bikers that roared through the night. She was even less prepared for what leapt out of the darkness and decided to make her its next victim.
Marked for a fate worse than death, Crystal's desperate to do whatever it takes to escape with her life. Even if that means facing the very beast that's claimed her as its own.
Claimed by the Beast
Published by Novel Concept Publishing LLC
By Dawn Michelle
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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West Bloomfield, MI 48324
Cover art © 2014
and Willsin Rowe
Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Look for the prequel to Claimed by the Beast:
“Hey Meth! Want to come hang out on the deck? We’ve got a hot tub!”
Crystal spun away
from the blond with the dazzling smile and perfect hair and felt the heat rush to her face. “I knew this was a stupid idea!” she hissed.
Ignore that dumb bitch,” Beth, her best friend, said loud enough for everyone nearby to hear her over the music. “Let’s grab some beer and have some fun!”
Crystal let her friend grab her hand and pull her through the crowd
and away from the kitchen. She had sense enough to yank her hand back. “That’s all I need, for Stephanie to see that and start in.”
Beth rolled her eyes and turned to someone
sitting on the arm of a couch that cost as much as a small car with a plastic cup in their hands. “Hey, where’s the keg at?”
Out back, on the porch.”
Crystal groaned as she
followed her friend through the crowd of people in the house. The house belonged to Chad Dixon, one of their classmates. Well, it belonged to Chad’s dad, a high-priced corporate lawyer named Barnaby. Chad’s parents were away on a business trip for the weekend and following week, leaving Chad alone with at least a hundred of his closest friends.
Crystal and Beth found their way through the dining room and out through some French doors
into the humid summer night air. The music was a little quieter but that made the buzz of conversation that much louder. The smell of tobacco and marijuana stung her nose and made her eyes water. She saw Beth blinking and recognized the forced smile her friend had on her face.
There it is!” Beth cried out when she saw a kiddie pool lined with ice. Three kegs sat in it, each tapped and offering different types of beer. “Come on.”
Crystal yelped as she was dragged by her friend across the deck. She heard someone yelling and turned to see the hot tub that Stephanie had mentioned. Sure enough, Stephanie was standing next to it. Amid cheering
, she was slowly lifting her top over her head. Crystal stared, stunned at how there was no limit to what the popular girl would do to get attention.
Can you believe that?” Crystal hissed as Beth pushed a cup in her hands.
Beth turned and sighed.
“Ignore her. She just wants attention. I bet she’s nothing but a cock tease anyhow. Not with her daddy and the church and all that.”
Crystal smirked and took a drink of the pungent liquid. She grimaced but forced herself to swallow the beer down. It would take some work before it started tasting good. Or at least so she didn
’t mind the taste. Maybe she wouldn’t mind Stephanie being such a bitch by then either.
Ladies,” a boy said as he slowed while walking past them. He held up a bong and a lighter and offered it to them. “You guys want a hit?”
No thanks, Ben,” Beth said before Crystal could respond. “We’re just drinking tonight.”
That’s cool,” he said. His eyes dropped, taking in their bodies, and then he grinned. “You two have fun together!”
’s eyes narrowed. He walked out of earshot before she could hiss, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Relax, it doesn’t mean anything. Just try to have fun! You’re too hung up on what people think. Nobody cares what that bitch said. They probably don’t even remember!”
Oh, sure they don’t. That’s why he accused us of being together!”
Beth rolled her eyes.
“Screw them,” she said.
Not a chance!”
Beth laughed, spraying out some of her beer. More cheering distracted them and made them turn to see Stephanie standing in only her bra and panties on the deck. She stepped into the hot tub and sank to her knees,
and then took another step and sank to her waist.
Attention whore,” Beth muttered.
Crystal nodded but couldn
’t help herself. It was like watching a train wreck—she wanted to look away but couldn’t. Stephanie bent over and dipped her arms in the water. A moment later, she lifted them out and held her pink panties in her hand. She swung them around before letting them drop on the deck, earning a fresh round of catcalls from the boys gathered for her show.
Well, that’s backwards,” Beth observed.
Crystal nodded again and took a large drink of her beer. She ignored the bitter taste until it burned her nose. She lowered the cup and saw Stephanie staring at her across the deck. The blond pursed her lips and blew her a kiss as she released her hands that had been holding her bra against her chest. Crystal gasped.
“Look at her!” Stephanie cried out over the drunken cheers. She shook her head and dropped the bra on the deck before sitting down in the hot tub and letting the water hide her breasts. “You can’t have me. I’m not into girls.”
Crystal spun away, tears stinging her eyes. Beth swore loudly and grabbed her arm, sloshing her beer on the deck.
“Fuck her! Come on,” Beth growled. She tugged her across the deck and off into the yard. People were gathered there too, but it was more open and the smoke wasn’t as thick. “God, what a bitch!”
I’m not like that,” Crystal said. “Why does she have to do this to me?”
Maybe you should be,” Beth suggested.
’s heart skipped a beat. She stared, too stunned to be upset. “What?”
She keeps getting attention for teasing you. Maybe you should one-up her. Stop denying it.”
But I don’t like girls!”
You kissed her,” her friend pointed out.
I was drunk and it was her idea! She said we could get some guys to like us. I didn’t know—”
“Crys, I love you. You know that. We’ve been friends forever, even when you kind of treated me like crap earlier this year.”
Crystal let her head drop and stopped fighting the tears.
“I’m sorry. I wanted to be—”
Stop it. I know. It’s okay. We all want to know what it’s like to be the queen.”
Crystal lifted her head and nodded.
She’d always been nobody since middle school started. A little too thick. A little too clumsy. A little too awkward. A little too plain. She was always nice to everyone and tried to get along no matter who she talked to. Then when Stephanie Edgerton, the queen of Middlebrook High, suddenly started saying hi back, she thought everything was going to change.
Stephanie started spending time with her. They went shopping together and did homework together, with Crystal helping her get better grades in math and science along the way. They hung out and people started noticing her. Noticing her and wanting to hang out with her.
It all came crashing down at a party after midterms were over. She was drunk and Stephanie had played her, telling her how different and special she was. Crystal didn’t know what was happening, other than that she was the center of attention. Stephanie’s attention. Before she knew what was happening, Stephanie kissed her. It wasn’t a good kiss or even a kiss that Crystal wanted. But it meant something to her. It meant she was good enough and cool enough. She kissed Stephanie back.
And then the rug was pulled out from under her feet. Stephanie pushed her back and laughed at her. Laughed at her in front of a stunned crowd. She called her a dyke and a rug muncher and a bunch of other things. None of them true! But people believed her. Hell, Crystal believed her. She ran home, crying and hurt
, even if the shock had killed her buzz.
Beth reached up to wipe the tears off her cheeks.
“Stop, somebody will see,” Crystal mumbled.
Let them,” Beth challenged. “I’ve heard them say it before.”
“We’re friends. They make the jokes and assume we’re lesbians.”
Crystal groaned and stomped her foot on the spongy ground.
Beth shrugged and poured
the rest of her beer into Crystal’s cup. “Drink up. It’ll help.”
Alcohol won’t solve my problems,” Crystal whined.
Neither will milk,” her friend said with a grin. “I’ll go get more. That way you don’t have to get near the bitch.”
Beth turned to get more beer and Crystal took her medicine like a good patient. She chugged the foul
-tasting drink down and managed to only gag a little when she’d finished it. She winced and belched, her hand flying to her lips to try to hide it. She looked around and saw that no one was paying any attention to her. Just like it used to be. Just like it should be.
“This was a stupid idea.” She repeated her earlier statement. She let the cup drop and turned away. She could cut through a neighbor’s yard and be on the next street. She was a couple of miles from her house, but the walk would do her good. It was warm out and she needed to clear her head.
She glanced over her shoulder at the porch and saw everyone dancing and partying like they didn
’t have a care in the world. They were having the time of their lives and didn’t realize it was at the expense of someone else. Crystal’s lip curled up in a snarl. “Fuck them,” she growled before turning and striding across the yard to get the hell away from them all.
Crystal pushed through the hedge and tugged her shirt free with a cry of frustration. She felt the fabric rip but it came free from the bush. She grabbed the torn fabric at her side and stared at it with fresh tears welling up in her eyes. It was one of the shirts she’d bought because Stephanie had said it looked hot on her.
She clenched the fabric between her fingers and started to pull on it. She wanted to keep ripping it. To tear it off and burn it. Except then she
’d be walking home in the dark with only a bra on. Not one of her better plans. She let out a frustrated sigh and dropped her hands to her sides.
She wondered if anyone had noticed she
’d left the party. Beth probably did, unless she got caught up in something. Beth was a good friend. The kind of friend Crystal needed. The kind of friend she wanted to be. After all the stuff that had gone down, Beth had been there to help her. To show her somebody still cared, even if she’d been too stupid to realize it.
She turned to look back at the hedge and the couple of yards between her and the party. Should she go back and tell Beth she couldn
’t stay? Or would she figure it out? She bit her lip and shook her head. No way was she going to face those people again. Beth was a smart girl; she’d figure it out.
Crystal turned and started walking again. She hugged her arms against her chest in spite of the sticky night air. The sooner she got home the better
. Then she could throw her stupid shirt away and try to figure out what she really wanted.
She glanced up when she got to the next street. She was near the edge of the upper
-class part of town. The road went back into town to her right and on the left it went towards her place. A small house with just her and her mom. Her dad had left a long time ago, running off to chase some dreams of making it big in California. Sometimes he sent money, but he never called or came back. Then one day, even that stopped.
She stopped and turned, glancing up and down the dark road. Trees lined the side, casting shadows in the darkness as the moon and stars were filtered. A breeze kicked up, blowing humid air against her and then fading. Crystal glanced back and shivered. It was really quiet. She knew she shouldn
’t hear the kids at the party; those voices had faded a couple of minutes ago. But now everything seemed so silent.
She started walking again, her eyes shooting into the darkness and glancing back and forth
, trying to pick out details. She felt like things were moving as she saw them out of the corners of her eyes, yet when she turned there was nothing there.
She whipped her head back around to the front and heard herself gasp. Over the sound of her low wedges scuffing the loose dirt on the side of the road
, she heard the sound of the stream up ahead. Middlebrook Creek, the only thing of interest in the entire town. It fed a swamp a few miles downstream that emptied into the Mississippi River on the other side.
She stared ahead at the bridge over the creek. Construction a few years back had rebuilt it one lane at a time and now it was supposed to be good for a hundred years more. She passed the weight limit sign without even bothering to read it. She
’d seen it enough times to wonder what could possibly visit her town that would weigh more than eighty-seven tons.
Crystal made it to the edge of the bridge before she stopped and stared at it. Other than her own breath
, she could only hear the water rushing underneath her feet. She put her hand on the railing and looked over the edge into the black water.
It was deeper than it used to be. Not deep enough to swim in, but they
’d dug the creek out when they replaced the bridge. Before, it had been shallow enough that kids used to catch crawdads and frogs. Now it was waist-deep and swift enough that nobody was allowed underneath it anymore. Some fences had even been put up to keep people out after a kid died earlier that year. He slipped and went under and they never did find his body as he was washed downstream.
Crystal leaned out and saw the chain
-link fence to keep people out. She also saw where it had been dug out and could be pulled back. Kids were still kids, after all. She nibbled her lip for a moment and then looked up at the water. It was so dark it looked bottomless. Empty. Endless. She imagined the boy who drowned felt that all around him.
She shivered and hugged her arms closer. She was upset, not suicidal.
She started to step back when she heard something come from under the bridge. Something that sounded like a splash, which wasn’t surprising. What followed sounded like an animal growling.
Crystal gasped and took a step back, her wedge scuffing across the loose pebbles on the edge of the road. Maybe it wasn
’t kids who had pulled the fence back. Maybe an animal had dug it out. Except she wasn’t sure what kind of animal would have done it. A woodchuck or badger, maybe? Or a dog. Yes, that was it, probably a dog.
She heard another growl, but this was from her right. It was distant and steady. She turned and saw two eyes sparkling in the darkness. She gasped and took a step back, slipping and nearly sliding down the side of the bank towards the river.
Crystal’s arm grabbed the railing and she held on while her other hand came up in front of her face.
The growling grew louder as the eyes approached and then multiplied. She realized what an idiot she was a moment later. It wasn
’t an animal; it was a motorcycle. Several of them. She watched as they roared closer and thundered across the bridge, riding side by side. She counted five of them as they passed her with no more than a glance from the drivers and a wave from a woman riding as passenger on the lead bike. Her hair, so blond it looked white, blew in the wind behind her.
They were gone before she could see any more. The noise of the bikes
disappeared as fast as it had appeared. She stared after their taillights and then turned to glance at her footing. She wondered how close she’d come to slipping off and falling.
Another growl, this one from the animal under the bridge, distracted her. She gasped and tried to see more. She had almost a foot before the bank sloped too sharp for her to stand on
, so she slid her foot down farther and peered out. The growl turned savage, from a warning to a threat. She swallowed and started to pull herself back.
Was it a rabid dog? A wolf or a coyote? Her imagination got the best of her as she imagined a massive wolf with snarling teeth. She whimpered and turned to get away from whatever it was beneath her. It could have been an angry chipmunk with a megaphone for all she knew
. She had to get away!
Something rattled the chain fence, stealing her breath from her and making her heart drop. Was it coming for her? Was this what had killed the little boy? Maybe it wasn
’t an accident—maybe he’d been eaten alive!
She pulled herself back up to the railing and started to scramble away. Wedges weren
’t running shoes but she would have run a marathon in high heels to get away from whatever the hell was behind her.
Shi—oof!” She gasped as her right foot twisted and she fell forward. Her knee slammed into the rough pavement, ripping her jeans and making her knee erupt in agony. She slapped her left shoulder and right elbow next but that pain was forgotten when her cheek hit the asphalt and rubbed her skin raw.
Crystal rolled over and stared up, her vision blurry and dark. She heard someone crying
. Was it her? And something else. Something growling and breathing heavy. She blinked as fast as she could and tried to make sense of what was happening. She pushed herself back, sliding across the road to gain some time. She needed to get up and run. That much made sense. She could deal with her face and arm and knee later. Her foot felt funny, too—kind of numb but with a sting to it, like she’d cut off circulation to it.
She rolled back onto her hands and knees and staggered to her feet. Her right knee felt like someone was sticking needles in it but she had to go. She clutched her right arm against her side and took a few steps that left her limping and crying out. She couldn
’t make it—it hurt too much! She suddenly caught a new and wretched smell. It made her think of rotting meat.
A howl pierced the night and sent a shiver down her spine. She stopped breathing for a moment and started to turn her head back just as she heard the sound of an animal fighting another one. Was it her animal? The one that was after her? It sounded
like more than that. Were there two of them under the bridge?
She risked a look and saw dark shapes rolling on the bridge. She made out fur and a flash of white teeth. Eyes sparkled with a light that seemed like something straight out of hell. Crystal wanted to scream but she couldn
’t find her breath. Something grabbed her shoulder and spun her around.
Crystal stared into the wild eyes of a woman with flaming red hair flowing down her back. She tugged Crystal as though she was a little kid instead of a teenager
who ate too many meals out of a drive-through window. Crystal stumbled and cried out, but the pain in her knee was numbing already. She staggered a few steps and looked back again.
She stopped and stared as the woman slipped her leather vest off her shoulders and reached down to rip her skirt off. She jumped forward, her image blurring in the darkness. She landed on all fours and jumped again, except she looked different. Did she just—
Crystal was spun around again. She stared into the chest and neck of a man who might as well have been a mountain. Before she could say anything, she felt him grab her waist and pick her up. Her stomach felt like she’d left it behind until she landed on his shoulder and realized she was staring at his leather-clad back.
She screamed and started punching him as he turned and started to run.