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Authors: Michelle Clay

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BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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“I don’t trust you,” Travis answered.

Goosebumps formed on Chloe’s arms. Just what was going on here? And why the heck was Amy so handsy?

“And I don’t trust
either of you,” Ryan said. Finally he shrugged Amy’s hand away.

Travis
snatched the lantern and held it at arm’s length. The glow illuminated his face for a moment. “Do you smell cinnamon?”

Jenna gripped
Chloe’s hand so hard that it hurt. Her whisper was barely audible. “We have to go. Now.”


So, here we are. What’s this about?” Travis demanded with a sneer.

Ryan
said, “This is the last time I’m going to warn you. Leave the new girl alone or there will be consequences.”

Amy cross
ed her arms over her chest and her brows pulled downward into a frown. “What do you care if we have a little fun with her?”

Travis sat the lantern down. “She’s
fair game, Ryan.”

Ryan’s fists curled at his sides. His expression twisted into a fierce sn
arl. “Just leave her alone…”

“Aww, isn’t that sweet?” Amy
mocked. “I thought you didn’t like her.”


I don’t!” Ryan growled back. “She’s an outsider.”

“That’s
just the problem,” Amy countered. “Too many outsiders have moved in and for some reason, you’ve taken to this one.”

Travis said,
“I’m tired of hiding what we are. We’re the outcasts now.”

“We shou
ld run them all out,” Amy said with an ugly sneer.

Travis
nodded in approval. “Scare the hell out of them and send them packing.”

“We don’t hunt
in town. That’s the rules of the pack,” Ryan answered.

The insistent tug on her hand made it clear that Jenna wanted to leave, but Chloe had a right to hear thi
s. It was about her, after all.

Travis drew his shoulders back to stand his full height.
He was a few inches shorter than Ryan. “You abandoned us, remember? You’re no longer part of the pack. You don’t get to tell us what to do anymore.”


I’d rather hang out with outsiders than belong to your flea infested gang,” Ryan sneered.

Travis
went rigid with anger.

Amy
stepped between the boys then laid her hands against Ryan’s chest. Her fingers ran along the lines of his pecs and shoulders. “I have daddy wrapped around my little finger, Ryan. All I have to do is ask and he’ll let you back into the pack.”

“Like I care?”

Chloe pulled her hand away from Jenna’s. She felt like a voyeur watching from the itchy weeds. Plus she had no desire to see Amy paw all over Ryan.

Ryan shoved
Amy away and Chloe silently cheered him on.

He said,
“You guys make me sick. You chase humans on school property and kill penned animals.”

“Hey, we didn’t do that!” Travis defended.
For just a moment, he looked hurt that Ryan would even accuse him. “Okay, we did chase Chloe, but we weren’t going to hurt her. We only wanted to scare her a little.”

Chloe snapped her head around to
search for Jenna in the inky darkness. Travis and his gang had never chased her. They’d poured glue in her hair, said nasty things, pushed her around and threw food at her, but never chased her. She opened her mouth to speak, but Jenna clamped a hand over it.

“Quiet, watch your step,” Je
nna whispered against her ear. She backed away from the bushes at a snail’s pace and chose each foot placement carefully. “Hurry.”

Chloe
turned to go with her, but the next words Travis said stopped her in her tracks.

“We thought you killed the lamb
.”

“Me?”
Ryan sounded genuinely surprised. “No.”

Travis frowned then said,
“What about the calves on the Baker ranch?”

“No.”

Both Ryan and Travis stared at each other for a moment. Finally Ryan said, “I think someone tried to make it look like an animal attack.”


Why?” Travis glanced about as though he was searching the surrounding woods for answers. “Do you think someone’s trying to expose us?”

“Possibly,” Ryan said.

Amy seemed to hug herself tighter. “An outsider?”

“What are they talking about?”
Chloe didn’t care if they heard her or not. She moved toward the clearing, hands held out to keep from running into anything.

Jenna’s whispered words were low and fierce
. “We have to go back now. We shouldn’t be here.”

Although
Chloe moved carefully, Amy must have heard her. The blonde girl turned her head this way and that as she sought the source of noise. A falling branch or perhaps a large animal made a sound on the opposite side of the clearing. There was a loud crunch followed by silence. Chloe froze to listen too.

“What
was that?” Amy asked, whipping her head around to face the noise.

“I d
on’t know,” Ryan answered. “I’ve caught this scent before, but can’t place it. It was at the lamb’s pen and it was around my house last night.”

“Let’s check i
t out,” Travis said in a low voice.

Then something strange happened. Everyone in the clearing seemed to
bend and blur. It was almost like looking through a water filled lens. Or an oily bubble that shifted over a still image.

“Jenna, what’s happening?”

Jenna grabbed her arm and wrenched it in an effort to pull her along. “Come on!”

Chloe stumbled along with her, but continued to peer over her shoulder.

The area around Amy and Travis stilled. Two blond wolves stood where they had been. Discarded clothing lay in disarray around them.

“Oh. My. God.” Chloe could barely breathe
, but the words seemed quite loud in the stillness. Fear and understanding suddenly flooded through her. Her limbs trembled as she commanded them to run. They didn’t obey and instead left her frozen in place. How was it even possible that Hunde high’s pack was really a pack?

“Oh no,” Jenna moaned. “You weren’t supposed to find out
about them.”

Even though he was somewhat blurry, Ryan’s head turned in her direction, a s
tartled expression on his face.

“Chloe?”
The name formed on his lips, but turned into a howl. A rather large black wolf stood in his place. The same black wolf she’d petted earlier!

Her
heart lurched in her chest. No, not Ryan too! This couldn’t be real. It had to be some sort of after effect of Jenna’s crazy tea. People absolutely did not turn into wolves.

Jenna grabbed for her, words meant to sooth
e poured from her mouth, but Chloe could no longer hear them. The wolves had mixed emotions. Dread and anger were the foremost impressions that pushed and squirmed through her mind.

She whirled to run. Jenna called out to
her, but she refused to listen.

“This isn’t happening,” she cried as she stumbled through the thick undergrowth. Her feet tangled in
tall weeds as she ran blindly past dark, towering trees.

“Do something!” One of the wolves cried in Amy’s voice. Chloe realized she must
have picked the thought straight from the animal’s mind. Amy hadn’t actually spoken the words, at least not in a way she could understand.

“Don’t touch her!”
Ryan’s voice was loud and clear. “I’ll take care of it.”

Chloe
glanced over her shoulder. She couldn’t see them in the darkness, but she could hear their footfalls on the scattered leaves behind her.

“Check out t
he other…” Ryan seemed to tell her and Travis.

Amy
pulled away then ran in the opposite direction. Mercifully, her racing thoughts went with her. Travis ran alongside Ryan. He yipped and growled, but she understood perfectly. “See to her or I will.” Then he joined his sister.

The big black wolf
surged forward. “Watch out!”

Chloe
slammed into a thick tree trunk. She sprawled backward as tiny fireworks flickered behind her closed eyelids. Her forehead felt as if it had been struck by a sledgehammer.

She
must have passed out because suddenly voices and a thin beam of light swam up through the murkiness. Her stomach lurched as gentle hands gripped her arms and helped her sit up.

“Is she going to be okay?” Jenna asked. She clutched
the flashlight at chest level and aimed it just above Chloe’s head.

In the dim halo, she could see a very human Ryan
. Once again he wore only jeans, no shirt. Without comment he crouched in front of her.

His brows pulled down in confusion
, or maybe irritation. At this point, her brains were so scrambled, it was hard to tell. Jenna glanced at him, a curious and somewhat somber expression on her face.

“I’m sorry, Ryan. I didn’t know you were meeting them there.” Jenna tried to reach for him, desperate it seemed to make him understand. When he shrugged her hand away, she said, “I just wanted to show her the clearing, our special place.”

Chloe’s head throbbed and she brought tentative fingers up to it. A huge knot had already formed above her left eye and was tender to the touch. When Ryan reached for her, she scooted away.

“I saw you,” she whispered as confused, frightened tears formed in her eyes.
“How? How is it possible?”

Ryan’
s face showed several emotions at once. Jenna seemed to pale in the flashlight’s harsh glare. “Calm down, Chloe.”

“You ran into a tree,”
Ryan explained. “Your head is a little jumbled right now. Let’s get you home.”

Chloe allowed Jenna to help her get to her feet. She was beginning to understand now.
The cousins had invented a convenient reason behind the craziness she’d just witnessed. It couldn’t be real, could it?

Ryan’s warm hands cupped her face
, offering comfort. She fought the urge to lean into his tender touch. For just a moment, she wanted him to kiss her, reassure her that things were going to be okay. Instead, he searched her eyes.

Jenna held the flashlight up so he could examine the lump on her forehead.
“We need to get some ice on that.”

Ryan’s
thumb gently stroked across her cheek. “Do you want me to carry you?”

Chloe
flicked her gaze to Jenna for a moment. She gave no indication that anything was wrong. She could play this game too. Forcing a shaky laugh, she said, “I must have run into a tree while we were walking. I dreamed some crazy stuff while I was out.”

Jenna and Ryan glanced at each other
with what looked like relief.

Chloe
stood then brushed the leaves and dirt from her clothes. She motioned for the flashlight and Jenna handed it over. Without another word, she began walking toward her own house. Her steps were quick and she breathed a sigh of relief when no one followed.

“Let her go,” Jenna
voice was quiet, reflective. “I don’t think she’ll tell anyone.”

“For her sa
ke, I hope not,” Ryan answered.

Chapter
Ten

 

The next few days were nerve racking for Ryan. Both he and Jenna called Chloe’s house, but she hung up as soon as she heard their voice. Jenna had even gone over, but Chloe refused to see her.

Poor Jenna was devastated.
Her one and only friend had turned her back on their friendship.

Travis and the others
were ecstatic when Chloe didn’t come to school on Monday. By Wednesday they felt even more confident. Travis had boasted that it was only a matter of time before Chloe and her mother packed their things and hauled ass out of Hunde. He certainly wouldn’t blame her if she ran back to Fort Collins.

After school, he drove Jenna to the diner.
She promised her folks she’d help out this evening. To pass time Ryan bused tables while Jenna refilled glasses and took orders. Before long the afternoon rush was over. Now the quiet lull before dinner began. Frank advised them to go home, finish homework, etc. Jenna refused. Now that Chloe was ignoring her, she had nothing else to do.

Around
six o’clock couples and families began to arrive for dinner. Their chatter, the clang of dishes and laughter filled the silence. Some he recognized from the local pack, others were outsiders. Even that group gave him a wary eye.

Sheriff
Mackie made his way inside and Ryan’s insides squirmed. He hastily wiped the table he was working on then hefted the bin he’d put dirty dishes in. Amy and Travis trudged into the building behind their father. Neither looked very happy to be there. All three scooted into a booth near the front counter. Amy and her father shared one side of the booth while Travis took the other seat. He’d have to pass them to reach the kitchen.
Great
.

Eyes downcast, he moved to
ward the double swinging doors as quickly as he could.

“Ryan.”

“Sheriff Mackie,” he answered without looking at the real alpha wolf of Hunde’s pack.

“I’d like a word with you.”
It wasn’t a request. Judging by the hard set of Mackie’s jaw, Ryan was about to get his ass chewed.

Amy stared up at him with a somber
, yet hopeful expression. Travis cursed then swung his legs to the floor.

Ryan handed the dirty bin to Jenna
as she walked past then slid into the booth. His cousin cast a curious glance over her shoulder as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Sherriff
Mackie cleared his throat. “Tell me about this new girl.”

A sly smile twitched at the corner of Travis’s mouth
. Amy’s foot touched Ryan’s knee beneath the table then ran all the way up to his inner thigh.

“How much does she
know?” Mackie questioned. “Will she be a problem?”

“No
,” Ryan answered with a sideways glance at Travis. “She won’t.”

Travis
smirked. “She hasn’t been to school in a few days. I think we’ve ran her off.”

Sherriff
Mackie glanced around to make sure no one was listening in on their conversation. “It was real stupid of Jenna to take her out there. Your cousin put us all at risk.”

“She didn’t know
I was meeting Travis.”

Frank and Trudy were at the end of the lunch counter. Both pretended to
clean or take an order, but Ryan knew they were desperate to hear the discussion. While they knew of his affliction, like Jenna, they were both normal and therefore still considered outsiders.

“What are you gonna do
about Chloe?” Travis demanded.

“I don’t
know,” he answered truthfully. “I’ll figure something out.”

If things got real bad, he could always blackmail her with the mind reading thing. It was likely that she wouldn’t want the entire pack to know
about it. He sighed then, knowing he could never do something like that to her.

Travis grinned to show teeth
. “Well, you’d better do it quick.”

“Yeah,” Amy chimed in. “It isn’t like
we don’t know where she lives.”

“You’d better not touch her,” Ryan said
in a voice full of rage.

Before Ryan could
say more, Mackie asked his children to leave for a few minutes. Ryan watched as the two reluctantly slunk to the pinball machine by the entrance.

When they were out of earshot,
Mackie said, “You understand that you’ve got to do something about the situation, don’t you? We don’t want any trouble and we don’t want to cause this girl any more trouble than we have to.”

Ryan rubbed his chin and glanced out the window.
“Yeah, I know.”

“As alpha, I have to protect
my pack. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep our secrets safe.” Mackie looked out the window too. “But this girl, this outsider… something has to be done.”

Ryan’s skin prickled at
the thinly veiled threat. “I said I’d take care of it.”

“I knew I could count on you.” After a moment’s silence,
Mackie added, “You’re being careful with her?”

His face
reddened. “It’s not like that.”

The sheriff
grinned, a teasing look on his face. “I was just worried about her being bitten.”

Ryan’s memory flashed to when the others had chased her on campus. Someone
’s teeth had ripped her shirt. The consequences could have been heavy if they had pierced Chloe’s skin and she turned out to be a carrier of the virus.

“Why are you so protective of her, son?
” Mackie leaned forward. “Whatever you say won’t leave this table. You have my word.”

Ryan glanced over at Travis and Amy who waited impatiently at the pinball machine.

The sheriff clapped him on the shoulder and smiled. “This is between you and me. Not them.”

Ryan grimaced, not sure he even wanted to admit to what he was about to say. Mackie was pack alpha th
ough and maybe he could shed some light on the situation. “I get this weird feeling around her. Jenna says she’s read about this phenomenon before.” He scoffed then said, “Chloe might be my beloved.”

Mackie’s features took on several emotions at once. The most dominate was incredulity. “That’s impossible, Ryan. She isn’t like us.”

Feeling miserable about it, Ryan said, “I know it shouldn’t be possible, but what if it is?”

Mackie studied him for a moment before saying,
“Sometimes you have to choose a side, Ryan.” He picked up the worn menu then turned it over in his big, calloused hands. “Just stick with the pack and you’ll be fine. We take care of our own. This thing you feel for her, it’s just an infatuation. She is not your beloved.”

Ryan
scooted to the edge of the seat, hoping that was a dismissal. “I’m not part of the pack anymore, remember? I’ve been extricated.”

“You’re still one of
our kind. You’ve got more in common with us than you do with that outsider.” Mackie dropped the menu back to the table. “Amy mentioned someone was lurking around your place the other night? Someone you didn’t know?”

“Yeah,” Ryan answered. He wished he could turn tail and be alone with his thoughts. Instead, he said, “
I caught the same scent around the lamb’s pen at school and thought it might be connected to the attack.”

“S
omeone in the pack?” Mackie looked doubtful, but Ryan sensed no animosity in the alpha’s words.

“No, I don’t think so.
I would’ve recognized it.” Ryan rolled his shoulders in hopes of easing the tension. “I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it. It’s like it’s a faintly familiar animal smell, but there’s something else… something I can’t identify.”

Mackie
leveled a cool gaze on him. “Some thought you were to blame for the mutilations at the Baker ranch.”

He frowned and couldn’t help wondering why everyone was
always so quick to point their fingers. “Did they?”

“W
ell, when you left the pack, it wasn’t on good terms.” The pack leader picked at the corner of a worn menu and didn’t meet his gaze. “They thought maybe you were acting out.”

Ryan glared at the shiny badge pinned to
Mackie's barrel sized chest. It was kind of hard to leave on good terms when at least ten of those pack members had attacked and left him in a bloody mess. They probably would have finished him off if the alpha hadn’t put a stop to it.

Mackie
said, “Some still think you should have been banished from our territory. I might have done just that, if it wasn’t for your cousin.”


What does Jenna have to do with anything?” Ryan’s gaze flicked to her and the table of customers who were teasing her. He returned his attention to the alpha when Mackie spoke again.

“Poor kid isn’t like us.”
Mackie glanced at Frank and Trudy then said, “And she isn’t exactly like them either. I have to say, I’m proud of the way you’ve turned out. You’re not the hoodlum I first thought you were.”

Not for
the first time during the conversation, he felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t that he was afraid of Mackie or the pack in general. Things were weird since he’d left them. Most of the other members shunned him. For the longest time, he felt as though he’d betrayed them somehow. Now, he was glad to be free of their politics even if he still had to follow the rules in order to live in their territory. Mackie's admission didn’t help. He was the one who ultimately decided to allow the pack to cast him out. Now Ryan was conflicted since he’d spent the past summer hating the alpha and the pack. Now he felt some sort of respect was due and he just wasn’t comfortable with that.

Mackie leaned forward and caught Ryan’s gaze. “Amy chose you, Ryan. She chose you out of the entire pack. You’ve got to know that is a big deal.
If you’re her beloved, I can’t deny her.”

“Amy isn’t
mine,” Ryan said, well aware this may cloud Mackie’s judgment. At this point, he didn’t care. He would not be saddled with that neurotic disaster. “I feel nothing for her.”

“She’
s my daughter, Ryan. If she says you are hers, then by rights, she has to be yours,” Mackie said, unwilling to accept the truth.

Ryan took a calming breath. “She’s mistaken.”

Mackie continued to ignore him. “Amy is the eldest by three minutes. That makes her the next in line to take the role as alpha, but you and I both know the pack won’t like that. Her beloved will take on that role. You could be the next alpha when I step down.”

“I bet Travis has other ideas.”
Instead of voicing the rest of his thoughts, he said, “I want them to leave Chloe alone. Let me handle the situation.”

Mackie
motioned for his children to join him. “See that you do, son. We don’t want this to blow up in our faces. I’m putting my trust in you, Ryan. The rest of the pack may still see you as the troublesome kid you were, but I’m beginning to see the man you’re turning into.”

He
breathed a sigh of relief as he pushed past the heavy glass doors that led to the parking lot. He didn’t know exactly where he was headed until he turned onto a familiar road then drove past the veterinary clinic. He crept up the driveway then parked next to Mrs. Williams’s car. A blue hatchback was parked behind it. Chloe and her mom had company. Maybe now wasn’t the best time to talk. That is, if she would even talk to him.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he
jabbed a finger against the doorbell. The soft murmur of voices drifted from inside. Karen Williams laughed and it was a pleasant throaty sound. When she opened the door, she looked surprised to see him standing there.

“Hi.
” He shifted from foot to foot with impatience. “Is Chloe busy?”

Karen took a step backward
. “Come on in.”

He stepped inside to find Coach Lewis lounging on the
sofa. Two wine glasses sat on the low coffee table along with a tray of assorted cheeses and crackers. The television flickered softly, but no sound came from it and he suspected they’d only wanted the ambience. He couldn’t have picked a worse time to come over.

Karen
sank onto the edge of the sofa. “It’s Ryan, right?”

He
nodded and felt slightly uncomfortable under the coach’s lingering stare. Where was Chloe? He wanted to speak with her before he chickened out.

“You’re Jenna’s cousin
, right?” Karen exchanged a quick glance with the coach. Her hands fidgeted with the hem of her blouse as though checking the buttons.

“Yes
.” This conversation felt weird, somewhat strained. It was as if Karen was sizing him up, trying to figure out his intentions. What exactly had Chloe told her?

“Do you know what’s going on between them, Ryan?” Karen glanced down the hall, presumably toward Chloe’s room. “Did they have a falling out?”

“Yeah, I guess. Look, that’s not what I’m here for.”

Karen bit her bottom lip.
“Did you come to ask my daughter on a date?”

Under
normal circumstances, he just might have answered yes. Instead, he said, “Actually, I just need to talk to her for a few minutes.”

BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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