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Authors: Michelle Clay

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BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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Ryan didn’t release her. Instead, he clasped her hand and drew her toward the thick pile of brush. He knew what was hidden there because he’d caught the scent as he ran by.

Chloe’s body stiffened and she tried to yank away. He held on.

“Look,” he said as he brushed the weeds and
fallen branches aside. Beneath it, four tiny rabbits squirmed, stretched and yawned. When their shelter was disturbed, they retreated into a small hole that had previously been hidden.

“That’s so mean!” Anger
blazed in her brown eyes. “Why would you do that?”

“I
t was just a test,” he answered with a shrug.

“Jerk!” She stamped the ground and
yanked herself out of his grip. Then she shot him a ferocious frown. “Why are you always so mean to me? You won’t even talk to me and then when you do it’s only to play a joke?” Something like a frustrated scream escaped her. “You’re just like the pack, maybe worse.”

Worse than the pack? That stung just a little. He’d done everything in his power to turn himself around, to become the opposite of what he had once been.

Chloe whirled to leave.

Ryan trailed after her. “Okay fine, so you can h
ear them. I believe you now.”

She stopped and
hunched her shoulders. “Just leave me alone.”

“It must be hard
dealing with all those thoughts and emotions when you can’t even handle your own.”

“Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hands on her upper arms, he pulled her toward him. When he tried to kiss her, she turned her face away. His lips brushed her cheek instead. He didn’t even realize that he wanted to kiss her until that very moment. Still, the rejection stung.

She pushed him away the
n stumbled backward. Her cheeks were flushed and she looked everywhere but at him. “Don’t you dare!”

He stood where he was
. Why did this spoiled brat twist his insides around and confuse him so much? He was trying to help her, but she obviously didn’t understand what he was trying to do.

He wasn’t really mad at her. Mostly he was
frustrated with himself. He couldn’t be around her. It simply wasn’t safe. He had too many secrets to hide. Getting close to her would only put her at risk and it wasn’t all that safe for him either.

A slight shift in the wind brought a familiar scent. It was the same strange, pungent aroma he’d picked up in
the yard the night before. The memory of it tickled his senses and he felt uneasy when he couldn’t recall where he knew it from. It left him with a strange tightening in his gut. The musty, decayed and somewhat filthy odor drifted past again.

“Run home, Chloe.”

Her face clouded first with hurt then anger. “Don’t tell me what to do.”

She turned away without another word and stomped back the way they’d come. When she was safely out of sight, he shucked the t-shirt from his body then did the same with the shorts.
His shoes followed. It would be much easier to track the scent in his other form.

He squeezed his eyes shut as new sensations coursed through his body. His lungs seemed to squeeze shut and
cut off his air momentarily, but it was over too quickly to cause any concern.

When he opened his eyes
again, he was lower to the ground. His senses were sharper. Everything around him was so much more vibrant and alive. He could hear things he hadn’t noticed before. Even his sense of smell was more powerful in this form. Ryan lifted his head and breathed in the air. Chloe’s scent was all around him as though she’d never left.

He moved silently through the low brush and passed between tree trunks. His nose was
inches from the ground, ears forward and tail held parallel to his body. Silently he followed the scent that enticed and annoyed him.

Ryan was so focused on it, that he barely noticed when he reached the road
that led to the clinic. Whoever or whatever had drawn his attention must have crossed the road. They could be hiding in the tress just across from him. The sound of shoes crunching gravel drew his attention. Chloe was just coming out of the woods.

He
crouched low amongst the weeds and wildflowers then darted across the road behind her.

Chloe
whirled to glance at both tree-lined sides of the road. “Hello? Very funny, Ryan. Leave me alone.”

Ryan had no time to worry about whether she’d seen him or not. Again he
searched for the source. He broke out of the trees into an area just off the highway that was frequently used as a make out spot by the local kids. Sometimes travelers used it as a turn around point. Growling, he pawed at the ground in agitation. The trail was gone. It was as if it had just disappeared. He circled the spot where it dropped off then broke into a run back the way he’d come. Perhaps it had led him away then circled back around to Chloe. She could be in danger.

He was panting by the time he broke through the dense trees. Without thinking, he skidded to a stop just behind her. She squealed then bolted. It was all he could do to keep from chasing her. The
bad wolf in his brain wanted a rollicking hunt. The only problem was, he didn’t know what he would do if he caught her. While he had a good grip on the wolfish part of his brain, the animal instincts sometimes took over his better judgment. Watching her lithe legs pump and her hair stream behind her, he yearned to devour her. Her flesh would be sweeter than any deer or rabbit’s.

Ryan’s fur bristled as he cursed himself for thinking such things. If Chloe could understand animals, she’d just received a
frightening description of what the beast inside him was thinking. No wonder she was running as though her life depended on it.

She stumbled over the gravel and he just knew she’d go down.
That’s when he’d move in. No! He would not hunt her. He could not harm her.

Chloe gasped and moved a little faster. She cast a glance toward the trees she’d j
ust left and screamed his name.

Ryan didn’t want to scare her more than she already was.
He couldn’t change back just yet. He’d be naked and it would require quite a lot of explaining. Instead of moving toward her, he sat down. His tail curled around to touch his front feet. Ears erect and alert, he listened for any telltale sign that they weren’t alone. He sniffed the air, but no longer picked up the strange scent from earlier.

He tried to think of ways to calm her. How could he tell her he wouldn’t hurt her if he couldn’t speak?
Hadn’t he protected her before? Why should this time be any different?

Chloe stopped
then snapped her head around to look at him. He cocked his head in question. His tail thumped the ground as if he was just an ordinary, friendly dog.

She
held up one hand as though it might keep him at bay. Her body language conveyed her fear. Ryan wondered which she was more afraid of, being mauled or hearing his thoughts.


Both,” Chloe answered softly. Her voice wavered. “Be a good boy and stay there, okay?”

His ears twitched as her voice rose and fell. She
backed away and her gaze never left him. He inched forward.

Horror paled her face. Ryan hoped she didn’t bolt.
Rabbits and deer had not fared well when they’d reacted this way. He’d rather gnaw his own leg off than chase a human like prey, but the primal urge was undeniable.

He wished he could speak so he could say, “
I don’t want to hurt you. Please don’t run.”

Chloe gasped and her
eyes widened in confused alarm.

He wanted to nuzzle her hand with assurances that everything was okay. Instead, he sat where he was and allowed his tail to flip
in a friendly manner. The hardest part was controlling the animal side of his brain. He didn’t want her to know it was him. He could not think about her. Instead, he thought about simple, happy things like how the wind flowed through his fur when he ran, how the breeze brought new and exciting scents. He thought about how much he enjoyed chasing deer, the thrill of the… That was a bad idea.

Chloe made a strangled sound then
backed further from him. There was no way she could see the pothole behind her. Her heel sank in and she fell backward onto her butt. Her mouth fell open, but she didn’t make a sound. Ryan assumed the fall had knocked the air right out of her.

He lay on the gravel and rested his chin on his front paws.
His ears were forward, eyes wide. It was a warm morning and his tongue lolled out of his mouth as he panted. He inched forward on his belly.

She did not immediately get up and he worried that she
might have sprained an ankle. Unable to wait any longer, he scrambled to his feet then trotted over. He nudged her arm with his nose and her entire body froze.

Ry
an whined then licked her hand.

Chloe jerked
it away as though he’d tried to bite off fingers.

He pushed the flat of his head against her shoulder
as if to say, “C’mon, get up”.

His tongue flicked her chin and she squeezed her eyes shut.
When he didn’t bite her nose off or anything as terrible as that, she opened them again.

“Good
boy.” Her voice still sounded uncertain.

Ryan sat down next to her and did his best to keep his mind blank. Chloe pushed herself up slowly. She continued to eye him cautiously as his hindquarters rose off the ground to allow his tail to wag.
He was certain he looked silly. For a big, black wolf to perform like a domesticated dog was just deplorable. He was thankful the pack wasn’t around to see this. If it were anyone but Chloe, he wouldn’t have bothered.

Still
wary, she turned to walk up the road.

He
scrambled to his feet then walked slightly ahead of her. Too soon Chloe’s house came into view. He immediately noticed two things. A strange car was parked in the drive and there were raised voices coming from inside the house. His ears twitched and his nose quivered. He didn’t recognize the man’s voice or his scent.

Chloe must have forgotten her fear of the big
, bad wolf because she sprinted past him. “Dad!” She took the stairs two at a time then disappeared inside.

Ryan darted
around the house and entered the thick grove of trees and underbrush. He had his answers but felt unfulfilled.

Chapter
Eight

 

Chloe allowed the door to bang shut behind her. David stood then opened his arms, awaiting a hug. “Hi, baby!”

Karen’s eyes were puffy and re
d. David’s cheeks were flushed. They were doing what they always did when they were together: arguing.

“What’s going on?”
She stopped short of reaching him. “Why are you here?”

Karen picked up the cup Chloe left on the table the night before. “I’ll let the two of you talk. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me, Chloe.”

She watched her mother leave the room. Karen’s shoulders were slumped and she sounded as though she’d received terrible news.

Sitting on the closest chair arm, she
stared at David. “It’s not your weekend.”

He offered a hesitant smile then
ran a hand through his thick brown hair. “I wanted to see you. I missed my Chloe-bear.”

She
ignored the annoying baby name. “What did you say that upset mom?”

He frowned and sat back down.
After a glance toward the kitchen, he said, “Nothing. She’s still emotional about the split, that’s all.”

Chloe narrowed her eyes when she
spied a tiny white envelope lying on the coffee table. It looked like some kind of announcement. “What’s that?”

Before h
e could answer, she snatched it up. The edge of the envelope tore when she pulled the fancy embossed card from it. The front was adorned with doves and silver bells. Realization crawled over her and her stomach dropped somewhere past her knees.

“Lisa and I are getting married,”
he said, barely containing his excitement.

Something in the kitchen clanked. Chloe stared at David in disbelief. With trembling fingers, she opened the
card. The ceremony was to be held in less than three months. “You sure didn’t waste any time.”

“We wanted to wait until school was out since you’ll be staying part of the summer with me
.”  David scooted to the edge of the sofa seat and took her free hand in his. “So what do you think?”

It
felt as though someone had punched the air right out of her. Her pulse throbbed in her head. The sting of tears burned at the corners of her eyes. She jerked her hand away then tore the fancy little card in half. Dropping it at his feet, she said, “That’s what I think of it.”

“Chloe!”

She retreated behind the chair then curled her fingers into the plush upholstery like claws. If she had the strength, she might have thrown the chair at him. “Did you come to rub it in our faces? Did you want us to envy your perfect new life?”

“No,
Chloe, I came to ask you to be there.” He spread his hands as if imploring her to understand. “It would mean everything to me if you could learn to accept Lisa.”

“I don’t want to see
you and your whore get hitched!

Karen had entered the room at some point. Her hand squeezed Chloe’s shoulder, but did little to comfort her.
“Calm down, sweetie.”

David looked shocked that his little girl would dare speak to him this way. “Lisa isn’t…”

“You were still married to mom when you were banging her!”

“Th
at’s enough,” Karen said softly.

David looked
at Karen in helpless confusion.

Chloe wasn’t finished even though she knew the words would also hurt her mother, she had to say them.
“I’m not stupid, dad. All those nights you worked late, you were with her. Those weekend meetings, the extra-long errands, even on my birthday you were screwing that … slut. I’m the one who walked in on the two of you, not mom.”

David gasped then shot a
shocked glance at Karen. All this time, he must have thought it was Karen who had witnessed them together, not Chloe.

Tears flowed down
Chloe’s cheeks. Lisa had been her babysitter when Chloe was younger. Apparently, she’d slept her way into a better position as David’s secretary. The entire fiasco left a bad taste in her mouth. “You don’t give a damn about us. So stop pretending.”

David’s mouth flapped, but no sound came out.
He looked at Karen again, clearly hoping she’d bail him out of this mess.

“So no, dad, I don’t want to go to your stupid wedding. I don’
t want to be anywhere near her.”

“If you’d just give her a chance…” Her dad’s face had paled to a sickly shade. “The two of you used to be close.”

“That was before I realized what a whore she was and what a cheating liar you are.”

Karen’s arms
looped around Chloe’s shoulders. To David she said, “I think you’d better leave.”

He stooped to pick up the torn card and stuffed into his back pocket. “What about this weekend?”

“What about it?” Karen didn’t attempt to hide the contempt in her voice.

“Can I have her?”

Chloe swiped at her eyes. “I’m not some freakin’ object you guys can swap back and forth. I’m old enough to decide where I want to go.”

Karen
straightened then glared at her ex-husband. “You’re weekend was last week and you didn’t show.”

He looked bewildered. “I had a meeting.”

“Of course you did.” Chloe plucked a tissue from the box on the end table. She blew her nose soundly.

Karen scowled at him over the chair back. “You should have called her. She’s your daughter, David.”

David ignored Karen’s comment. “So how about it, Chloe? We can do anything you’d like.”

Chloe stood and smoothed the hem of her shorts down.
“Is
she
going to be there?”

He blinked several times then
answered, “It can be just the two of us.”

“No thanks.” She headed toward
the kitchen.

“No thanks?”
There was no mistaking the irritation in David’s voice. “What do you mean, no thanks? I want to take you out for your birthday. We can go shopping or see a movie, whatever you want.”

Chloe turned and scowled at him. “My birthday was two weeks ago,
but thanks for the flowers.”

“I drove all
the way out here to pick you up.”


Then you wasted a trip,” Chloe said over her shoulder.

Karen bit back a laugh. “Next
time you’d better call first.”

“I get her two week
ends a month,” David protested.

“It’s not my fault you
skipped your turn,” Karen snarled. “You’ll have to wait until next weekend, like scheduled.”

“But I have
plans next weekend,” David shot back. “This is the only free weekend I have this month.”

Chloe leaned against the doorframe leading
into the kitchen. “I’m spending the night with a friend.”

David stared at her a moment. “
Can’t you reschedule? I’m sure your friend will understand.”

Karen’s
sudden bark of laughter startled Chloe. “That’s so like you, David. You always put your needs and wants before others.”

“And you’re still a
bitch,” David growled back. “You always have to get the last word, don’t you?”

“Stop it!” C
hloe shouted, but was ignored.

David glared at Karen. “Maybe if you weren’t so
icy, I wouldn’t have looked elsewhere.”

Karen gasped and her eyes filled with
new tears. Chloe stared at her parents. Who were these people and why were they being so cruel to each other?

David hung his head and muttered, “I’m sorr
y, I shouldn’t have said that.”

He
reached for Chloe’s hand, but she jerked away. “Come on, at least have lunch with me. I saw a diner on the way here, we don’t even have to leave town.”


You need to leave now,” Chloe said in an exhausted voice. She was tired of this misery and of their constant bickering.

David swiped his keys from the coffee table then brush
ed past Karen. On his way to the door he said, “I don’t know when I’ll have another free weekend, Chloe-bear.”


Just go, David.” Karen said over her shoulder. Her voice cracked and Chloe feared she was close to tears again.

Her dad
slammed the door behind him. Karen and Chloe looked at each other in silence until they heard the engine of his new car start. Her mother reached for her. “I’m so sorry, honey.”

Chloe backed away and shook her head. More tears
fell. She was so sick of crying over this. “I just want to be alone for a little while.”

A sigh escaped Karen
as she wiped at her eyes with the back of a hand. “It’s probably not the best time to tell you this, but I have plans for lunch.”

“With who?” Now Chloe understood why
Karen was wearing one of her newest tops and a beige skirt that showed off her legs. She reached for her hair and thought,
please don’t say Coach Lewis
.

The corner of Karen’s mouth kicked up in a pleased smile.
“Mike invited me to have lunch with him. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you came too.”

Her initial reaction was to scream and throw a tantrum
like a three year old. Instead she said, “I wouldn’t want to be a third wheel.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to le
ave while you’re upset.”


Just go on your stupid date.” Her voice caught on a sob as she whirled to exit the back door.

Chloe trudged across the yard and stopped at the entrance to the woods.
Birds chirped high in the trees and small creatures skittered amongst the fallen leaves and grass. On the other side of the yard, Karen’s car started then rolled down the driveway.

She blinked away the tears that filled her eyes. It seemed like everyone had moved on.
Everyone except her, that is. The need to be alone was a lie. She wanted someone to confide in, someone to hug her close and tell her everything would work itself out, even though she knew it was a lie. She needed a friend. She needed to see Jenna.

One step into the trees and the o
verwhelming feelings of concern, wonder and familiarity touched her. She used the hem of her shirt to wipe the tears from her face. All she had to do was move her feet forward and she’d reach Jenna’s house within a few minutes. The only thing separating them was a rather wide forest filled with all sorts of creepy, crawly things.

“It’s so unfair,
” she whispered then kicked at a fallen branch. It struck the tree opposite her then splintered. A startled bird took to the air. Something heavier crunched through the leaves. She refused to listen to the forest’s thoughts and emotions buzzing in her brain. Try as she might, she couldn’t drown them all out and their emotions weighed heavy with her own.

She
gripped the closest tree and struggled to breathe. How could David be so insensitive? He had to know his news would rip her apart. Karen was no better. She was just acting silly about the first man to show any attention since the divorce.

A sob rattled up her throat. She’d been a fool. When she’d first spied
David’s car, she’d thought he was here to make amends. She’d imagined him begging Karen for forgiveness and admitting that he’d made a horrendous mistake. In her fairytale, Karen would take him back and they’d all live happily ever after at their house in Fort Collins.
So much for happy endings.

At some point she must have slid to the ground. A new round of sobs shook her as she wrapped her arms around her knees and laid her head on them. “
Why is this happening to me?”

Some of her
schoolmates back home had divorced parents. At what point had it become fashionable, just part of the norm? How could split custody, battling over holidays and child support be normal? She leaned against the thick trunk of the tree and stared up at the canopy of leaves and branches. Patches of sunlight peeked through to warm her face.

“Families are supposed to
love each other. They’re supposed to stay together.” Her knees were sticky and wet from tears. She groaned in frustration and swiped angrily at her cheeks. “He’d better not expect me to call her mom.”

The words stuck in her throat
. Her heartbeat kicked out a couple extra beats. Just inches from the toe of her left sneaker sat the black wolf. His head was cocked and inquisitive blue eyes focused on her face. Chloe gasped, forgot she was sitting against the tree, and tried to scramble backward. Gnarled tree bark bit into her skin.

The wolf’s ears twitched.
How had she missed its approach? Stranger still, she couldn’t pluck any thoughts from its mind. And this time, she was trying! It was as though a wall had been erected between them. She couldn’t see over it or hear anything through it.

“Go ahead and eat me.” Her voice cracked and she sniffled. “My life’s ruined anyway.”

BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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