Authors: McKenzie Hunter
Table of Contents
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.
© 2013, McKenzie Hunter
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. 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 express written permission from the author / publisher.
I looked around the unfamiliar room, acutely aware of the light footsteps below me. This wasn’t the first time I awoke in a strange place, naked and bloodstained. But it was usually in the woods with Bambi’s and possibly Thumper’s mutilated and half-eaten carcass lying next to me. Waking up in a stranger’s house—naked—surrounded by a distinctive male musk was inconceivable. My life just wasn’t that interesting.
Each time I moved, my body ached against the hardwood floor. I tugged the blanket closer, brushing my sweat-drenched hair away from my face. I slowly came to my feet and looked around the meticulously neat room. The king-size bed across from me was covered by a henna-colored, paisley-patterned duvet that looked like it had never been used. Dark mahogany nightstands were place on each side of it, meticulously aligned with the headboard. Even the bronze gourd lamps on the nightstands were perfectly centered. The room looked like a hotel room but I had a feeling I wasn’t in one.
Where am I?
I took a quick look at my reflection in the cheval mirror across from me: my hair was disheveled, a long scratch ran along my right arm, and plum-colored marks in the late stages of healing covered my shoulders and arms. A handprint-shaped bruise wrapped around my calves. I wasn’t sure which was worse—the way I looked or the way I felt.
The scent of blood and spiced musk inundated and lingered in the large space. The walls were solid and reinforced. They would be damn hard to break through without tools. When the double-paned security windows opened with ease, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was on the second floor. No problem. I’ve jumped from higher.
Taking a seat on the small accent chair in front of the writing table, I rummaged through the drawers before delivering the same treatment to the dresser, nightstands and walk-in closet. With the exception of the hangers I found in the closet, everything was completely empty.
I looked out the window. It was late afternoon and the sun would set in a couple of hours. I was surrounded by nearly twenty acres of dense woodland. I assumed I was still in Illinois. For all I knew, I could be in any of the other flat states surrounding it.
Every visible corner was covered by large masses of trees. There wasn’t a neighbor in sight. If I screamed, it would go unheard. How far would I need to go before I would run into someone?
I was about the find out. I quickly braided my hair and tucked it into a bun; then I tightened the blanket around me.
Before I could do anything, I heard light footsteps approaching. Should I stay in the room or see who was coming? I opened the door. It was so thick and heavy it was an effort to open it. That must have been to block out sound. I really wanted to escape.
I poked my head out and saw him. I could never forget that tense, harsh grimace and predacious movements. Forced to the surface was the memory of him standing in my living room covered in blood, four dead bodies lying at his feet. He killed them so effortlessly and brutally that my only instinct now was to run.
I considered securing myself in the room, but it locked from the other side. Instead, I darted out the room and down the hall, running past an oddly placed console and sprinting toward the stairs, nearly hitting the rail as the hall came to a dead end. Taking a sharp right turn, I kept running, barely holding on to the blanket. Saving my life trumped Midwestern modesty.
“Skylar!” His voice was like sandpaper. I continued to run, lunging for the stairs in a frantic rush. But I didn’t make it before a firm grasp yanked at the blanket, pulling me back. Crashing to the floor, I skidded backwards and slammed against the wall. When he reached for my leg, I kicked him. Spinning on my butt, I kicked him again. My legs thrashed out, trying to keep him at bay. It was the same way they showed me in my self-defense class.
Nothing seemed to deter him.
His cruel gaze and vicious movements made his declaration that he wasn’t going to hurt me hard to believe. Werewolf strength gave me a physical advantage most of the time, but he had my five-eight frame by at least four inches. His lean sinewy muscles flexed and tightened, holding exceptional power. With one swift movement, he grabbed my legs, immobilizing me, and pulled me into his arms. I was bundled so tightly that the only thing I could move was my head. His movements were so efficient and precise it was obvious he’d done this before—many times before.
I clawed at his hands. When his hold didn’t give, I bit down into his shoulder, grabbing more t-shirt than skin. I stayed clamped to whatever skin I had, doing whatever it took to keep him from taking me back to that lockable room. Steel-like, corded muscles flexed and distended, making it difficult to keep a firm hold. The unforgiving muscles fatigued my jaw and made my teeth ache but I hung on.
Pounding down the hall, he seemed unaffected by my teeth embedded into his arm. He tossed me back in the room. When I wouldn’t stop screaming, he leaned over me, “Shut up!”
I couldn’t. Yelling at the top of my lungs, I hoped someone, anyone, would help. I needed to be heard, to stop him before he did to me what I saw him do to those four other people. He used one hand to cover my mouth and nose. His other hand snapped around my wrists, cuffing them over my head. “Stop it. If I wanted to hurt you, I would have. And you’ve given me more than enough reasons to do so.” His fingers scorched against my skin as sharp, angry eyes demanded silence. Silence that didn’t come easily but instead was whittled into a whimper as I tried to grab oxygen from any space his hands would allow. As soon as I stopped struggling, he removed his hand from my face.
His hands moved quickly from my wrists to my face, grasping my cheeks, holding my face still. His eyes narrowed as he examined mine. Frowning, he asked, “What—what
What was I? He didn’t know.
I stared at him for a long time, remaining silent, refusing to talk to the man I watched kill so quickly and violently that it would haunt by nightmares for the rest of my life. He studied me inch by inch, crevice by crevice, imprinting my face, features, flaws, and markings to memory. “What are you?” he asked again, his curiosity belied by his aversion.
“Ethan, get off of her,” commanded a firm, feminine voice from behind him. He stiffened at the sound of the calm, melodic voice. The woman’s face, soft and round with small patches of freckles decorating her nose and cheeks, looked just as kind and gentle as her voice. Her deep auburn hair was pulled back into a ponytail, wisps of bangs angled across her face. Pale brown eyes cast a gentle gleam as she spoke. “Ethan … ” she urged again when he didn’t move.
He stepped back, taking a position near the door as she inched closer to me. He continued to watch me, his thin lips twisted into a sneer. The glaring way he peered at me with his gunmetal gray eyes, in an odd state between revulsion and aversion, made me feel the decision not to hurt me wasn’t his own.
Noticing my reaction to Ethan, the woman turned to him. “Give me a moment,” she requested warmly. “Please,” she added when he was slow to respond. He gave me another chilling look before he walked out of the room.
I came to my feet, securing the blanket around me, keeping my distance from her. “Who are you?” I asked.
Her lips spread into a warm smile that was disarming and comforting. It was easy to imagine her standing in a classroom surrounded by small children who looked upon her dotingly. “My apologies. I’m Joan.” She pulled up a chair from the corner of the room and placed it in front of me. “Please, have a seat.”
I remained standing. “Where am I?”
“You’re in a retreat home.”
Keeping my focus on her, I stepped behind the chair creating a barrier between us. She was very calming, parrying my skepticism, distrust and anger with ease. Whether intentional or not, she made me feel like surrendering, like an unwary and trusting child. I didn’t like that. “What am I doing at a retreat?” I asked abrasively.
“I hoped you could tell me.” She lowered herself to the edge of the bed, keeping the chair between us. “Skylar, what can you tell me about last night?” she asked softly.
The long uncomfortable silence didn’t seem to bother her as she waited for me to speak. I took a seat at the head of the bed. “There was a break-in—four—no five men came after us. It happened so fast, most of it’s just a blur,” I admitted, frustrated. I fidgeted with my braid. "We ran … two men were up there … one grabbed me, the other my mother.” I stopped speaking, unable to go on.
The images were just erratic blurs bouncing around in my head. I didn’t know what came first or what really happened. I just knew they were fast, strong and hard to evade. It was as though they anticipated every movement I would make. Their movements were so sharp and quick, I felt as though I were shuffling about in slow motion.
Then Ethan appeared with a massive animal, a large coyote, maybe a wolf, and a tall, dark-haired woman. Chaos ensued. Blood and bodies moved around me so fast that I labored to stay out of the way, to avoid the gore and dismembered body parts.
Then everything stopped—well, for me it did. The sounds of violence whirling around me―bones crunching, grunts of pain, muscle and tissue ripping―came to an abrupt stop. My mother lay near the stairs, motionless, covered in blood, face pallid, chest stilled. I ran to her and immediately started CPR. I continued for fifteen minutes. Ribs broke under my hands from panicked compressions and my rescue breaths were so hard her chest distending unnaturally. It felt like I couldn’t push hard enough or blow breath deep enough into her lungs. I couldn’t make the life, which I refused to accept was gone, respond. Exhausted and tearful, I finally conceded and accepted the harsh truth: she was dead.
I was surrounded by three strangers covered in blood, four decapitated bodies, and my dead mother. I didn’t want to be there to dwell in the intense emotions and violence. Escaping in the only way I knew, I changed. Usually I fought her presence but now I welcomed her gratefully because standing in front of my mother’s lifeless body was definitely where I didn’t want to be.
That is how my wolf functioned. When emotions ran so high that I could barely contain them, it showed up. I was never sure if it was to protect me or to offer an escape or reprieve; nevertheless, it liked to be present when mayhem occurred. At that moment, I didn’t care.
“They weren’t men,” Joan finally stated quietly. I lifted my gaze to meet hers, waiting for her to continue. “They were vampires. Skylar, why are vampires after you?”