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Authors: Michelle Clay

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BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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Chloe continued to watch Ryan out of the corner of her eye. He was bent over the mask he’d made, diligently going over the raised areas with a silver-leafing pen.
She just couldn’t fathom why he was so angry with her. She’d done nothing to him.

Ever since the glue incident, she’d learned that his one act of kindness didn’t mean he’d changed his mind about her.
He was still snarly and rude in biology. He barely even looked at her. To be fair though, he treated everyone the same. Jenna seemed to be the one and only exception.

Later at
track practice, she spotted the pack lingering around the bleachers. Ryan was amongst them, a smile on his face. He and the pack must be on friendly terms this afternoon.

Amy hung all over
Ryan like some kind of nasty fungus. Chloe’s stomach did a little roll when she saw the blonde girl plant a kiss on Ryan’s cheek.

As she approached, it sounded as if they were planning some kind of party. Amy seemed excited as she talked about who would be there. Hope blossomed within her, but withered just as quickly. There was no way they’d invite her.

Chloe tried to slip past with the rest of the team, but Travis spotted her right away. Like wolves circling their prey, they were all around her. Only Ryan hung back, a smug look dominating his features.

Amy
laughed and pointed. “Wow, those shorts make your butt look huge, frog girl.”

Her spirits sank when Ryan grinned for the briefest of moments.

“I think they make her ass look pretty hot,” Travis said with a crooked grin. He slapped her on the left butt cheek and made her yelp. “Why don’t you turn around and model for us?”

Chloe tugged at the bottom of the shorts, wishing the dark blue fabric was just a bit longer. She wasn’t
exactly chunky girl, but she was softer and more rounded than some of the others. She’d probably never be willowy or model-thin and who would want to anyway?

“Leave me alone,” Chloe said through gritted teeth. The other girls on the team ran by, they’d already started
warm-ups.

Kelly
shoved her, forcing her to stumble backward against Travis. He leaned too close, his breath hot on the back of her neck. “What if we don’t want to?”

Chloe opened her mouth to retort, but Ryan clapped a hand on Josh’s shoulder and said, “If Travis keeps bugging her, people are going to th
ink he’s got the hots for her.”

The pack laughed and their malicious
attention swung to Travis now.

“I
s it puppy love?” Josh laughed. Kelly giggled like an idiot at her boyfriend’s lame joke.

Travis let
Chloe go with a rough shove. “Yeah right! I only like hot chicks!”

“This is stupid,” Amy grumbled as she and
Kelly headed for the parking lot. Josh and Travis ran to catch up with them. Before Ryan turned away, she thought she saw him wink.

Chloe and the rest of the
team did timed sprints down the track. She was dripping with sweat and panting now. A quick glance at the bleachers gave her solace. Ryan wasn’t there and thankfully, he wouldn’t see the disgusting mess she’d become.

Coach waited for her to pass again before calling her over.
“Your friend wants to talk to you for a minute. Make it fast, Chloe. This isn’t social hour.”

Friend? What friend?

Jenna moved from behind the coach. She looked so out of place in her long black skirt and matching lace shirt. Each time the breeze ruffled the fabric, she caught a glimpse of black and white tights beneath the skirt. Her shoes were probably the most mundane part of her outfit. They were cute velvet flats with a simple bow at the toe. Of course they were black too.

Jenna bounced and waved
with excitement. The older girl was actually pretty in an exotic sort of way. Chloe couldn’t help but wonder what she’d look like in normal clothes and less makeup. And when did she put that fuchsia streak in her hair?

Chloe tugged on the hem of her shorts. “I thought
Goths were morose and non-bouncy.”

“Common misconception.
” Jenna tucked her chin length hair behind her ears and grinned.

“Okay,” Chloe nodded then cast a quick glance over her shoulder. Coach was staring
right at them, arms crossed over his chest. He looked pretty aggravated. Taking time to be harassed or speak with friends during practice didn’t make a very good impression.

“I need a ride home,
” Jenna admitted with an embarrassed laugh. “I had to stay late and do some make up work and I guess Ryan already left. We’re practically neighbors so I figured your mom could just drop me off if it’s not a problem.”


It’s no problem,” Chloe called as she turned to rejoin the team.

“Where’s your head, Chloe? You’re falling behind.” Coach Lewis called as one of the other girls sprinted past her. She ducked her head then pumped her limbs harder. No matter how much she tried, how fast she ran, she could never catch the
two quickest girls on the team.

After practice and the shortest shower of her life, she
found Jenna near the bleachers. She was about to call out to her when she spotted Karen talking to Coach Lewis. Her mom’s hand rested on his arm and she kept touching her hair. Karen was flirting with him so soon after filing for a divorce?

Chloe
moved slowly, cautiously. Coach was attractive for a guy his age. She thought he might be in his early thirties, which made him a few years younger than Karen. He looked athletic in navy blue track pants and a white t-shirt. A whistle hung around his neck and a pair of sunglasses sat atop his head. Short spikes of brownish-blond hair pushed around the eyewear. He gripped a clipboard in his left hand. The one her mother kept touching with startling familiarity.

Coach was the first to take notice of her standing there. He smiled. “I was just telling your mom that you’re an excellent runner.”

“Okay,” Chloe said then frowned at Karen. It certainly didn’t look like that’s what they were discussing. By then Jenna had joined them.

Enthusiasm practically leaked form Coach Lewis’s pores. “You placed
sixth in your district last year for the eight hundred, didn’t you?”

Chloe felt an intense surge of pride. “Yeah
and I got fourth in cross-country.”

He waved the clipboard as he spoke. “I was just telling your mom that I don’t
think you’re giving it your all.”

“What?” Her fingers found her hair and began twisting it round and round. She felt defensive and hurt.
He hadn’t even given her a chance!

“Your head’s not in the game. You’ve got too much going on up there.” He
tapped his forehead. “You need to let go of everything that’s eating at you and just run, Chloe.”

She bit her lip as her good feeling dwindled. “Are you kicking me off the team? I can do better!”

He shook his head and laughed. “No. I’m saying if you apply yourself, I think you could place third or better. Tina and Dana have the speed, but I think you have the endurance.”

“Oh
.”

His smile widened. “How do you feel about running the sixteen-hundred and thirty-two hundred meters?”

“I ran the sixteen back home.”

He nodded then wrote something on his clipboard. “
Cool. You’re going to join our cross country team next year aren’t you?”

“I guess so.” She shrugged then cast a fleeting glance at Jenna who was p
robably bored out of her skull.

Karen touched his shoulder and smiled. “She won’t let you down, Coach Lewis.”

“Please, call me Mike,” he insisted with a charming smile.

Having heard enough, Chloe gripped Jenna’s hand and dragged her toward the car. “Can you believe that? She’s acting like… What do they call it when older women go for younger men?”

“I don’t think she’s old enough to be a cougar yet,” Jenna laughed then glanced over her shoulder with an arch of a brow.


Gross!” Chloe yelled in hopes that Karen would hear. Never mind she was too far away to hear the discussion leading up to the outburst. “Now he’s gonna be nice to me because he likes her.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Jenna wondered.

“Well no, but I want him to like me because of me.”

“That would make him a
pedophile,” Jenna shook her head with mock shame, but couldn’t hide her teasing grin. “You wouldn’t be the first student to have a crush on him.”

“I don’t mean like that!” Chloe laughed and playfully tugged the fuchsia streak in Jenna’s hair. “
You’re so twisted.”

Jenna smiled. “There may be hope for you yet, little miss preppy.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” Jenna agreed as she got into the car then
arranged her skirt.

Chloe got in then
turned to gaze at Jenna. “You’re the only one in this whole town who seems to like me. Why is that?”

Jenna arranged
the fabric once more. “Small towns can be clannish and close minded.”

“But you’re not like them.”

“No, I’m definitely not,” Jenna confirmed with a frown.

 

 

Chapter
Five

 

“Sit down, Jenna. I can’t concentrate if you pace the room.” Ryan was close to giving up on his math homework. It was Saturday afternoon and he could think of at least twenty things he’d rather do. The only problem was Frank and Trudy, Jenna’s parents, demanded he get the schoolwork done before doing anything else.

“Don’t you have somewhere else you could go?”
Jenna picked up an empty soda can and a crumpled chip bag. After she deposited them in the trash, she nudged his legs out of the way with her foot. “Like your room for instance?”

Ryan snarled playfully at her.

Next she gathered the scattered remains of the newspaper he’d looked through earlier. He grabbed a section from her. “Hey, I’m not done with that!”

Her lip curled with disgust when she saw what he’d been reading about. “Animal mutilation? That’s gross.”

He shrugged.

“Since when are you so interested in current events?” She gazed at the paper and made a face at the grisly photo of the calf. It hadn’t made the front page, but was tucked away inside where it would be easily overlooked. The grainy, black and white photo was barely discernable.

Ryan
stared at her a moment then folded the paper between the pages of his math book.

Jenna
opened her mouth to say something, but snapped it shut again.

“What?”
Ryan demanded.

“I overheard Bill Baker talking about it the other night
while I helped mom at the diner. He told Sheriff Mackie that it was probably coyotes or wild dogs. But it wasn’t, was it?”

Ryan shook his head. Baker had an obligation to hide the truth from regular folks.
“No, it wasn’t.”


Bill thought he saw something run behind the barn, but when he went to look, no one was there. Then he noticed I was listening.” She smiled apologetically.

“The article said the cow was slashed and torn up. It was almost de
capitated,” Ryan said as he squinted at the math problem.

“This isn’t the first one it’s happened to
either. Bill said he lost three calves in all, but only reported this one because it was the most recent and he’s had enough.” She fidgeted and it seemed she was unsure how to say what was on her mind.

“What?”

“I refilled their coffee so I could peek at the file lying on the table. It said something about a canine.”

Ryan
glanced at the photo again. It looked as if the animal had been gutted. The wounds appeared too clean and precise to have been done by an animal. “Nah, none of the good parts were eaten.”

Jenn
a wrinkled her nose at this.

“Think about it.
” He urged her to understand. “If an animal did it, the wounds would be ragged and uneven. There’d be bite marks, missing parts, torn flesh.”

Ryan heard the rumble of a car engine before Jenna did. When the car door slammed and a girl’s cheery voice called goodbye, he scrambled to his feet.

“I invited someone over.” Jenna grinned mischievously.

“Chloe.”
He realized who the voice belonged to. “Why?”

Jenna shrugged. “Why not?”

“You’re putting us at risk.”

She shook her head. “
I don’t have anything to hide.”

“Yes,” he said in a low growl. “You do.”

Chloe’s footsteps on the wooden porch drew closer to the door. Ryan grimaced then snatched the textbook from the table. He tucked it beneath his arm, fully intending to hide out in his room the remainder of the afternoon or at least until he finished these damned math problems.

“She can probably help you with that.”

He scowled at his cousin. “I don’t think so.”

“She’s
the only one passing the class.” Jenna shrugged her shoulders, indicating that she could care less if he flunked out.

Ryan closed his eyes. That’s just what he needed, some bratty kid telling him how to do
arithmetic.

Jenna moved toward the door. “She needs friends, Ryan. And in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have any either.”

He looked at her, unconvinced that this was the only reason. He collapsed onto the couch again then propped his feet on the table. “You’ve got me.”

Jenna made a face.
“Something bad is coming and I think she’s part of it.”

“So?”

“I want to help her.”

Ryan snorted. “Did you see this in your crystal ball?”

“Tarot cards. You broke my crystal ball, remember?” She rolled her eyes then sighed. “And I was right last time. Sort of. It’s all a matter of interpretation. Besides, I really like her.”

“You shouldn’t get involve
d with an outsider,” he warned.

“Too late,”
Jenna said then opened the door. Chloe stood outside, her hand was raised as if she was about to knock. Jenna turned back to him with a half smile on her face. He was unsure whether or not to take her next words seriously. “It involves you too.”

“Hi!” Buoyant excitement carried Chloe into the room, but her gaze darted to him with what appeared to be concern. He had to smile. Although he’d never been overly terrible to her, as he might have been just a year ago, she still seemed somewhat apprehensive.

She looked good in a black tank top and jean shorts. Then Ryan noticed the purple tote bag hanging from her shoulder. He looked to Jenna though he could easily guess the explanation.

“She’s sleeping over,” she clarifie
d with a proud grin. “Her mom is in Fort Collins tonight, so Chloe’s staying with us.”

Chloe twirled a strand of hair around her index finger. Her
nervous chocolate brown gaze fell upon him. “He’s staying too?”

“He sure is,” Jenna laughed then h
ooked her arm with the younger girl’s. Together they moved through the house. She gave Chloe the grand tour while he settled over the homework again. Soon the two girls were in the kitchen, discussing what to make for a snack.

“Cookies?” he called hopefully.

The whirring mixer, banging cupboards, dishes rattling, and Chloe reading the recipe aloud drew his attention. The house was infused with laughter and the scent of vanilla and chocolate. He leaned back and shut his eyes. And just that easily, his emotions were raw and conflicted.

The girls’ gentle companionship and the menial task of baking brought warmth that had previously been missing into the house. Until just now, he hadn’t noticed how much he had missed it. The times that he did, he shoved those emotions to the back of his mind. It was the type of amiable sincerity and belonging that he hadn’t felt in a long while. Not since
the winter two years ago that stained his memories and the memories of those he loved.

It felt like an entire lifetime had passed, but at one time he’d had a close, loving family. He’d had a mom,
a dad and two older brothers. He hadn’t always been an orphan, a blemish that relatives (people he hadn’t seen since he was very young) had to take in. He appreciated his aunt and uncle’s willingness to take him into their family, but the town’s only diner took up most of their time. It was sweet, patient Jenna who remained a constant in his life. That was saying a lot since he hadn’t always been so kind to her.

At some point Ryan and his textbook migrated to the kitchen table. He didn’t know why, but he needed to feel included.

Jenna flicked flour at him. “Want to help?”

She pitied him. Ryan could see it in her eyes and he despised it. “No. What’s the ETA on those cookies?”

He stole another glance at Chloe. Jenna raised an eyebrow with open curiosity. Okay, so she caught him ogling her best buddy. So what? It didn’t mean anything. Chloe was cute and he was sure lots of guys looked at her the same way he did.

“Your parents don’t mind hi
m being here?” Chloe whispered.

Jenna laughed. “Nope, not at all.

A contemplative expression tightened Chloe’s features. She looked less concerned and more like someone who possessed a potentially damaging secret. A slow smile
spread across her face. “Karen would freak if she knew he was here. Is he spending the night too? I mean, I’ve been to lots of sleepovers, but not with boys.”

Jenna
smiled patiently. “He lives here, Chloe.”

Chloe squealed with delight. He flinched away from the sound of both girls
giggling. When she finally gathered her wits, she said, “How cool is it that? They let your boyfriend stay here. You have the coolest parents!”

Ryan
stared at Chloe for a moment and marveled at how easily it was to be swallowed by her excitement. He hated to extinguish it. To see a smile on her face was rare. “We’re cousins.”

Chloe looked stricken for a moment then turned to Jenna. “Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you
guys were dating!”

Laughing, Jenna said, “Even if he wasn’t my cousin, I wouldn’t date him. He’s too hardheaded.”

Ryan grunted then erased the answer he’d just penciled onto the paper. It didn’t look right.

Jenna smiled fondly at him. “He came to live with us a
bout a year and a half ago. I think of him as my brother.”

Chloe’s face reddened with embarrassment. She started to say something
then thought better of it. Instead, she gathered the dirtied dishes and stacked them in the sink. As she reached for the dish soap, he noticed that her gaze flicked to him once more. Again, electricity seemed to dance across his skin. What was it about this girl that made him feel this way? She wasn’t like him and she would never be anything more than an outsider.

He scowled at both girls. “Don’t get too excited. I’m going to be gone most of the night. So, I’ll have to miss out on the hair braiding and makeovers.”

“Going to hang out with Travis and Amy?” Chloe asked.

Ryan’s head jerked up and his face darkened.

Nervous fingers pushed the bangs out of Chloe’s face. “I overheard you guys talking about meeting up yesterday at track practice. Sorry.”

“Yeah, something like that,” he finally answered.
He bent over his homework once more, but had to grin at how talkative Chloe was. Their conversation moved from their favorite music and movies (she liked a lot of the same things he did) to gossip involving people at school.

He preferred to listen
to join in. Still, Chloe managed to pull a few answers from him before he was able to close himself off. It would be a lot easier to keep Chloe at a distance, prevent himself from letting down his guard around her, if Jenna hadn’t invited her over.

To be fair, his discomfort at getting close to others, of allowing himself to feel anything more than anger and hatred, was geared toward all outsiders. It wasn’t just the
hottie baking cookies in his aunt’s kitchen.

His ears perked at the mention of his name. He hunkered over the homework and pretended to focus on it.

Jenna said, “Do you see the way Amy looks at him? I heard her talking to Kelly in the hall. It really irritates her that you sit next to him in biology and art. And when she found out that he loaned you his shirt, she went crazy! She’s so jealous.”


That’s just silly. He doesn’t even talk to me.” Chloe waved a spatula around as she spoke. She smiled sweetly then placed a saucer loaded with cookies on the table next to him. She picked one up and nibbled on it. Was it his imagination or were her cheeks flushed? Come to think of it, his felt slightly warm too. It was probably just the heat from the oven.

She pointed the spatula at Jenna. “So, how long have you been into all that gloom and doom stuff? Do your parents mind? My mom would crap a brick if I wore all black and did my makeup like that.”

Jenna nearly dropped the bag of flour she was returning to the cupboard. She opened her mouth to answer, but no sound came out. Bewildered, she thrust the bag into its proper place then glanced at Ryan. Her eyes seemed to beg him to speak up in her defense. He smothered a grin. She was on her own in this argument because he didn’t understand her fascination with it either.

Chloe’s eyes grew wide and she quickly amended what she said. “I mean, it’s not that you look bad or anything! It really works for you
, I love it. It’s just that, well you know, it’s different. I don’t see anyone else at school dressed like that. And please don’t take this wrong, but there were a few Goth kids at my old school. They were kind of creepy.”

Jenna laughed good-naturedly then examined the fresh coat o
f black polish on her nails. “It suits me.”

“Your parents don’t mind?”

Ryan ducked his head to hide the smile twitching at his lips. Frank and Trudy had harped on her for as long as he’d been there to change her ways. They’d even asked him to help. Thus far, the mediation had done no good.

“Yes and no. They wish I
would dress like you do, but that’s not going to happen. I do my thing, they do theirs.” Jenna shrugged as though it wasn’t a big deal.

BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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