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Authors: Michelle Clay

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BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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Chloe stared at Jenna for a few seconds as though a bug had just crawled out of her ear. “What’s your natural hair color?”

“Boring brown,” Jenna answered as she and Chloe spooned the last of the dough onto a cookie sheet.

“It’s
like you want to stand out,” Chloe murmured. “I just want to fit in and be accepted. You don’t care about that?”

“Not really. Take you for example.
” There was a playful twinkle in Jenna’s blue eyes. “You’re a cookie cutter image of every girl at school.”

“So?” Chloe shrugged, but didn’t seem
the least bit ruffled.

Ryan wanted to argue that she was not like them. There was something different about Chloe, but he didn’t know what.
She was much prettier and smarter than the other girls, especially Amy and Kelly. She was definitely more outgoing once she got wound up.

“No one accepts you.” Jenna wiped her hands on a
dishtowel then tossed it onto the end of the table. “No matter what you do or say to fit in, you’re still alienated. You’re an outsider and always will be.”

Chloe’s cheeks were tinted pink
. “I’m beginning to believe it. I’ve never worked so hard to get people to like me. It used to come so naturally.”

The first hint of discomfort showed on Chloe’s face. Ryan shifted in his seat and gave his cousin a w
arning glance. She ignored him.

“I prefer individuality as opposed to fitting in. I’m okay with who and what I am.” Jenna shrugged
as though it wasn’t a big deal.

She could talk big to this girl all she wanted, but Ryan knew the truth. The words others used to describe her cut deep. He’d spent countless hours providing a shoulder for her to cry on.

“I just wondered. I’ve heard some interesting rumors,” Chloe said as she licked the cookie dough from a spoon. She shut her eyes and groaned with pleasure.

Ryan
watched as Chloe’s pink lips curved into a content smile. His stomach suddenly seemed like it was full of giant butterflies.

Jenna stared at him. If possible, her pale face seemed even whiter. Had she guessed he was thinking about kissing Chloe? He scrubbed a hand across his face then looked away. If he
were smart, he’d leave the kitchen. Better yet, he would leave the house entirely. The truth was, he liked the way he felt around Chloe. Something about her drew him like a magnet.

Then
Jenna blurted, “I dabble in witchcraft.”

“Jenna!” He dropped
the pencil in alarm then stood. He hadn’t expected his cousin to give this newcomer an in depth view of their world. If she told Chloe the secret he kept, there would be serious repercussions. They were playing dangerous as it was. Chloe shouldn’t even be here!

Chloe surprised them both by saying, “Cool! I’ve always wanted to meet
a witch.” She grinned and he was unsure whether she believed Jenna or not. “I thought you were going tell me you’re a vampire. Your room is like a shrine to the sunlight deprived.”

Then she transferred the loaded cookie sheet from the cabinet to the awaiting oven. He half expected
Chloe to bust up laughing, but she seemed completely composed.

Jenna got the crazed, fan-girl gleam in her eyes that she usually had when discussing her favorite obsession.
“It’s probably just a phase, but I absolutely love vampire stuff. Other girls have crushes on rock stars and football players. Not me. I’m waiting for my dream vampire to come whisk me away.” She glanced at Chloe and grinned. “And no, his name is not Edward and he doesn’t sparkle.”

The girls laughed at this until tears formed in their eyes.

Ryan wrote an answer, a random number really, and grinned sardonically at his cousin. It would serve her right if Chloe left right now, believing Jenna to be just a little on the nutty side.

“I’m not joking
about the witchcraft, Chloe.” Jenna shot him a fierce frown. “I wasn’t sure how you’d take it, so I hid most of my occult items.”

“And h
ow many of those actually work?” Ryan snorted.

“I’m still learning!”
Jenna was quick to answer. She returned her attention to Chloe. “Some of my ancestors on my dad’s side were gypsies. It’s in my blood.”

“Will you show them to me? I’ve always wondered what else
was out there. There’s got to be some credibility to the myths and legends, right? Just think of the possibilities.” Chloe deposited a plate of cookies on the table then took notice of his homework.

Her fingers lingered on his before she took the pencil from him. Something seemed to spark between them and his pulse raced. His mouth was suddenly too dry and Chloe seemed to fill all
of his senses.

She said,
“That answer is wrong. Here, let me show you.”

Chloe’s hair fluttered
across his cheek and nose when she leaned over him to correct his work. Though she explained how she came up with the answer, he barely heard her. His brain seemed to have short-circuited.

She ran a short, clean fingernail down the page as she scanned the rest of his answers. Her arm rested against his and her hair made a curtain between them. It smelled delicious, like strawberries and vanilla. Whatever perfume she wore was light and natural with just a hint of floral, not overpowering in the least. He liked it. It wa
s clean and feminine, like her. Suddenly uncomfortable, he shifted in the chair and cleared his throat.

Jenna winked and he knew she was gearing up for something
he wasn’t going to like. “So, did you have a boyfriend in Fort Collins?”

Ryan snapped his gaze up, awaiting the answer despite his resolve not to care.

Chloe shook her head and her silken hair danced across his shoulder and arm. Satisfied with the rest of his answers, she straightened. “No. David and Karen didn’t think I was old enough.”

“You just turned sixteen.” Jenna said, totally ignoring his
warning glare. “What about now?”

“I don’t know. No one has asked me.” Chloe snuck a
peek at him then returned her gaze to Jenna. “What about you?”

Jenna smiled wistfully.
“Still waiting for a charming vampire to sweep me off my feet and spirit me away.”

“Fat chance,” Ryan sneered. The likelihood of that happening in such a small town was close to zero.

She narrowed her eyes and gave him an evil grin. “By the way, Ryan’s single.”

Chloe licked her lips and
began twisting her hair. “Oh.”

Jenna remove
d the last sheet from the oven then said, “So, I told you my secret. I think it’s only fair that we all share one, right Ryan?”

His sense of ease crashed down around him.
He wanted to stay near Chloe, but he also wanted to run. “I’m not part of this conversation.”

Chloe twisted a lock
of hair tight around her finger and smiled. “I’m perfectly normal. No secrets here.”

“No one is normal.” Jenna transferred the cooled cookies into a container then snapped the lid shut. “You’re lying if you say you are. Everyo
ne has their odd little quirks. C’mon, Chloe, whatever you say won’t leave this room. I promise.”

Ryan crammed a cookie into his mouth then allowed the chocolate and vanilla to explode on his tongue to avoid talking.

Chloe’s blonde hair had formed a tight coil around her finger. She lowered her gaze, seemingly unable to look at either of them. “I can sort of understand animals.”

“No way! Like the boy in the Jungle Book?” Jenna screeched in delight. Her bright blue eyes fell upon
Ryan and he scowled back.

“Not exactly,” Chloe admitted. “I don’t hear words. It’s more like I get an impression of what they’re thin
king or feeling at that moment. I know that probably sounds stupid and you don’t believe me, but it’s true.”

Ryan’s
emotions were torn between anger and something close to blind panic. “What a load of crap.”

The coil of hair unraveled and she started on a new
one. “It’s true! The zoo is a nightmare. I can’t even have pets.” Suddenly she looked worried. “You don’t have any pets, do you?”

Jenna shook her head. “No, we had to get rid of
our dog. She was scared of Ryan.”

“My dad brought a
puppy home when I was five.” Chloe stared out the kitchen window. Her gaze was far away, like she wasn’t actually seeing what was out there. “That’s when I found out.”

“But that seems like it would be so cool.” Jenna said in confusion.

“It was a nightmare. They didn’t believe me. My parents thought something was wrong with me.” Chloe touched her temple with the fingers that had previously been in her hair. “They took me to a therapist. Finally, I just pretended that I was cured and couldn’t hear them anymore, like it was my version of an imaginary friend. I don’t know what was worse, their looks of pity or that they thought I was making it all up.”

Jenna clutched
the dishtowel against her chest and practically bounced with anticipation. “So how does it work?”

Ryan shifted in the chair. He wanted to escape from the room, but was worried the behavior might seem odd. No matter how disturbing it was, he genuinely wanted to hear what Chloe had to say.

“Most the time it’s like I’m experiencing the same feelings the animals are. It’s kind of scary sometimes and I feel like I’m losing my mind.” Chloe shifted from foot to foot and shrugged.

Ryan wondered why she would choose to share something of this magnitude. Most people would have feigned embarrassment and said they liked Justin Beiber or something
stupid like that.

Chloe’s
cheeks were a deep scarlet and her bottom lip quivered ever so slightly. “That’s kind of why I’m worried about living here… around so much wildlife. I’m afraid of going outside.”

Jenna gaped at her as though she was the world’s seventh wonder. “That’s…” She gripped Chloe’s arm. “So freakin’ cool!”

Chloe didn’t comment on Jenna’s outburst and instead continued her train of thought. “Sometimes I even pick up an image or whatever. It’s really hard to explain.”

Ryan hastily gathered his things. He’d heard enough. There was no way he was going to hang around and listen to this nonsense. She was probably just making it up, trying to look cool and more enigmatic than Jenna, but on the off chance that she really could sense those things… He grabbed two more cookies then tried to push past Jenna who
now blocked the exit.

She refused to move and her eyes searched his face as she spoke to Chloe. “You live on the other side of those trees. Do you ever pick
up anything around your house?”

Chloe nodded slowly. “Sometimes, if it’s really close.
The first night we were here, I saw a big black wolf on the road. Mom hit it, but not hard enough to hurt it. Then the wolf jumped on top of the car and I could sense all of its anger and hate for…”

“What?” Jenna had
to know. “What did it hate?”

“Outsiders?” Chloe looked kind of confused. “It gets all jumbled, but it’s like he was saying we didn’t belong and just wanted us to turn around and leave. It was pretty scary.”

Jenna stared at Ryan for a moment then back at Chloe. Ryan trusted her, knew she wouldn’t let anything slip, but still he cast a worried glance in Chloe’s direction. Ever since Jenna had revealed they weren’t an item, she’d been looking at him differently. He had to put a stop to it.

He gripped Jenna’s shoulders and hauled her out of the way. “I’ll be back later.”

“Wait,” she sputtered. “Where are you going?”

“For a run.”
He tossed the textbook on the counter. “I also told Trudy I’d help out at the diner this afternoon.”

“Are you on the boy’s running team?” Chloe asked, her eyes dancing with excitement. She thought she’d found a kindred spirit and he hated to dash her hopes.

“Get real,” he growled. This was the easiest way to push away any feelings she might have for him. He loved to run. In fact, he had thought about joining the boy’s team, but declined. Teammates and opponents would be at a major disadvantage against him. Unlike Tina and Dana, he didn’t think that was very reputable.

Chloe’s eyes widened with shock and hurt. There, it was done. His harsh words should have squashed any desire she had of getting to know him.

Jenna gripped his arm and squeezed. Her short nails dug into his flesh. “Stop it or I’ll put a curse on you.”

“I’m so scared.” He said
in mock horror. “Especially since your so-called spells always blow up in your face.”

Chapter
Six

 

Chloe bent in front of the bleachers to tie her new shoes. They were a bit tight in the toes and the laces kept coming undone. She hated them. They weren’t even the color she’d asked for. She’d wanted hot pink, but these were more of an orange color.
Yuck!

Karen had rolled her eyes at her complaints. “They’re running shoes,” she’d said. “They’re supposed to be snug. Besides, they’ll stretch out after you’ve worn them a
couple times.”

“She never compromises,” Chloe grumbled as she jerked the laces tight then double knotted them. It would be easy to blame Karen and the new shoes for the disappointing place she’d come in at during yesterday’s
race. Eighth place was not acceptable. She’d given it her all only to trip over a stupid shoelace. Scads of runners had blown past her as she scrambled up, but it was too late. She hadn’t been able to catch up.

At practice today Coach
reminded them to give a full one hundred percent. Chloe felt like he’d spoken solely to her. He’d certainly looked in her direction more than a few times.

The waning sun painted the sky a dusky pink. A dog barked nearby and
she wished her mom would hurry up already. She searched the parking area just beyond the bleachers then groaned. This was the second night Karen was late. The school was locked up tight, practice was over and the parking lot was empty except for a familiar red Jeep.

She climbed halfway up the bleachers then scouted the area. From this vantage point you could see forever in all directions. Just beyond the school, up on the hill behind it, she spotted someone.
A head of black hair glistened in the late afternoon sunshine. He was probably too far away to hear, but she called out anyway. “Ryan! Hey, wait up!”

Chloe didn’t understand why she wanted to talk to him. He’d acted weird ever since she’d admitted to hearing animals last weekend. In biology and art class she kept catching him giving her odd little
glances. He always seemed to be on the verge of saying something, but would change his mind at the last moment. Trying to figure out Ryan Neal was an exhausting chore.

Nevertheless, she grabbed her bag then rushed down the bleachers. She slung it over her shoulder and headed toward the
back of the school. It wasn’t that she wanted to be in his company, she told herself. More like, she just didn’t want to be alone.

Art, drama and technology education were the only buildings back there. The bleating of a sheep reminded her that there was also a small fenced area where the kids in
F.F.A. kept livestock.

The continued bleating raised the hairs on the back of her neck. She was still too far away to pick up on the animal’s emotions, but she’d have to be an idiot not to recognize
the terror in its cries. Suddenly she remembered the newspaper article she’d seen only days ago. Curiosity urged her in Ryan’s direction. What business did he have with the livestock? Maybe she could catch up to him if she hurried.

Her legs were
achy from yesterday’s race. They shook with exhaustion as she jogged past the track’s fenced exit then set off toward the school.

When she reached the gate that led to the courtyard, she hung her bag on it so Karen
would know she was still there.

The main office and administrative building was just inside. On either side
of that was the gymnasium and cafeteria. In the middle of all this was another grassy area with a sputtering fountain. There were stone benches surrounding the water feature, but Chloe saw no purpose in having it. The grass was forbidden to students. Just to spite those who made the rule, she trudged across the lush greenery. The rest of the school formed a sprawling, broken U shape. She headed for the opening between the buildings.

Adrenaline surged through her when she heard a sound on the other side of the structure. She wanted to catch Ryan before
her mom showed up to embarrass her. She called out to him once again.

Disappointment replaced withering hope. He hadn’t answered or
even indicated that he heard her. It wasn’t surprising. There was something wrong with him, but she didn’t know what. He was so secretive and always quick to shut himself off from emotion. What had she done to make him dislike her so much? He’d practically ignored her all week and the few times he’d spoken, it was gruff and to the point. Jenna just laughed it off, saying he was “in a mood”.

Girls didn’t even PMS
for this long!

A shadow darted past the open end of the
building. The click-clack of claws on the sidewalk sounded loud all around her. Then the wave of playful malice flooded her awareness. She glanced over her shoulder, but saw nothing. A haunting howl echoed off the brick walls surrounding her.

Her own p
anic accelerated her heartbeat and she broke into a sprint. As she pumped her legs faster, it felt like a million wasps doing the tango on her thighs. A side stitch forced her to clutch at her waist, but Chloe didn’t slow down. Her lungs burned as she sucked in great gasps of air. Now she wished she hadn’t wasted so much energy trying to catch up to that jerk Ryan.

She
experienced a small sense of accomplishment when she made it past the breezeway leading to the back of the property.

A big
canine with golden fur loped around the art room. Chloe leapt to the side to avoid crashing into it. Its twin crept up from behind. Their ears perked forward with interest and a low growl rattled from their throats.

The big
gest wolf lunged at her then snapped at her moving feet. Sharp teeth snagged her sock, but not the flesh. The fabric tore and she landed on her hands and knees. Pain and fear tore a yelp from her as concrete bit into her skin. The wolves seemed undecided about what to do next. They glanced at each other with tails bristled. The smaller blonde wolf lunged forward and snapped only inches from her nose. Chloe scrambled to her feet, but had nowhere to go.

“Nice
doggie,” she said in a quivering voice. Was it dogs or bears you didn’t run from? She couldn’t remember.

An auburn wolf trotted out of the shadows next to the industrial arts room
and a rusty brown one followed. Their noses twitched at the smell of blood trickling from her scraped knee. Chloe pressed her back against the brick wall. She tried to squeeze all thoughts from her mind, but they still managed to leak through. Curiosity, anger and a bit of jealousy crept over her as she met each of their gazes.

The auburn wolf snap
ped at her leg. The small blonde gripped the back of her shirt in powerful jaws. Twisting her upper body, Chloe pulled free with a terrible ripping sound then stumbled forward. She would not go down again. If she did, they’d murder her for sure. The largest wolf lowered its head and ran straight at her. Its pink tongue curled in an ugly snarl as saliva dripped from its muzzle.

Chloe screamed then kicked.
Her right shoe clipped the wolf’s jaw. His teeth snapped together and he yelped in surprise.

Fear propelled her back the way she’d come.
Two of the wolves veered away from the pack then disappeared around opposite corners of the building. The two blondes were at her back. Their sense of playfulness had been replaced by maddening anger. Their minds played a line of attack clearly. They would split then surround her like a frightened rabbit.

Chloe screamed.
She ran through the breezeway, into the center of the campus. The wolves were all around her, their barks and yips sent a trill of terror straight through her. The brown one flanked her. She could see his reflection in the mirror-like windows as he kept pace. The two blondes were behind her. She didn’t see the auburn wolf and thought it must plan on surprising her.

The wolves closed the circle
as she reached the fountain area. A sob of frustration escaped her as she realized they had herded her toward the brick wall.

As energy diminished, she stumbled against the
rough exterior of the wall. The wolves had slowed their pace too. The auburn wolf jogged through the open courtyard gate.

“Leave me alone!”
Chloe yelled. Their ears twitched and she received another warning growl in response.

The pack was so close now she had no chance at escape.
Four sets of eyes, ranging from emerald, aqua to chocolate, were trained on her. Each wolf had its head down, ears forward and mouth hanging open. She couldn’t run any more. Panting and hurting, she eased along the wall. Her legs shook and threatened to drop her at their feet.

The smallest blond
e leaped up, mouth wide and snapping. Chloe screamed and threw her arms up to protect her face. The wolf never reached her. Ryan darted in front of her and knocked it away. The wolf struck the ground, yelped then scrambled to her feet. Confusion and hurt replaced most of the animal’s anger.

Ryan
stood in front of Chloe, shirt open and flapping. One of his arms was held behind him, pushing her against the wall. Something akin to a growl rattled up his throat. In the mirror-like window across from them, she saw his face warp into a snarl not unlike the ones the wolves wore.

Chloe couldn’t seem to drag enough air into her depleted lungs. She bent at the waist and put her hands on her knees. The urge to puke
made her gag and bile burned the back of her throat.

Ryan moved toward the pack. His hands
formed fists and his stance was protective. Both female wolves backed away with tails between their legs and whimpered.

“Ryan, don’t,” Chloe pleaded. The frenzied animals were sure to rip him apart. She grabbed for him, but he had already moved out of reach.

He seemed unafraid as he addressed the wolves as one. “What the hell are you doing?”

The reddish brown wolf offered an apologetic whine.
The tip of her tail quivered.

Chloe
straightened then blinked several times. To her amazement, the brown male lowered his head in submission. Only the big blond wolf’s face clearly conveyed the rage he felt. Behind him, the others shrank back.

She
plucked an image of hatred and loathing from the wolf. He understood Ryan and saw him as an equal, as a wolf. How strange. He wanted to tear Ryan into shreds for interrupting their fun. Chloe tried to focus on the others and their thoughts instead, but everything was so jumbled with too many emotions and images flooding her mind at once. They feared Ryan and the threat he posed. They hated her and her human weaknesses. One of the females wished Ryan would notice her. The other just wanted to leave. The brown male seemed to dislike Ryan and even thought of a time when he had broken a very human arm. She clutched at the sides of her head and wished she could make it all stop.

“We don’t hunt here.”
Ryan’s voice lowered to a dangerous growl. “We don’t hunt humans.”

The air around him seemed to shimmer then blur. A faint buzz, like when a radio can’t quite pick up
the station, hummed at the back of her brain. Flickers and emotion not associated with the pack filtered into her mind, but she couldn’t make sense of it. Chloe squeezed her eyes closed. When she opened them again, everything was as it should be. She pressed her back against the wall and wondered if she was going to pass out.

Ryan took another menacing step toward the
lead wolf. To her surprise, the animal growled then turned to lope away. The others scurried behind their leader. Only the blonde female turned to look over her shoulder before disappearing behind the building. The feeling of loss, of hurt feelings and shock washed over Chloe. She wondered what would make the wolf feel that way. The animal’s emotions seemed to center around Ryan and no one else.

Once the pack was out of sight, Ryan turned to face her. His
blue eyes were full of fury, but his words were soft and consoling. “Are you okay?”

Chloe bit her bottom lip
and nodded. A flicker of her running, wolves chasing her and the immense longing to join in startled her. She frowned then cast a curious glance in Ryan’s direction. Was there a wolf still lurking somewhere in the shadows?

“Come on, I’ll drive you home,” he said as the security ligh
ts around the school winked on.

It took her two tries to speak c
oherently. “Something’s wrong. You’re all blurry.”

Instead of saying anything, he gripped her upper arm and gave it a tug. “Let’s go.”

Her pace was considerably slower than his and her injured knee had stiffened. “I think I’m gonna pass out.”

By now the sun had sank lower and threw
long shadows across the ground. He surprised her by scooping her into his arms.

Secretly she was relieved and a little flustered.
He still hadn’t bothered to button his shirt and the bare skin of his chest was warm. The muscles of his shoulders bunched and flexed as he held her against him. For just a moment, she laid her head against his shoulder. “I’m okay now, really. My mom should be here any minute.”

His
arms tightened around her. “I’ll wait with you.”

Once Chloe was settled on a bench by the fountain, Ryan stood on the stone seat to survey the area.
He squinted into the darkness and frowned.

BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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