Authors: Cynthia Eden
Author: Cynthia Eden
This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real people, places, or events are not intentional and are the result of coincidence. The characters, places, and events in this story are fictional.
Copyright ©2012 by Cynthia Eden
Cover Design by Pickyme Digital Artist, Patricia Schmitt
I should have known better than to go into the woods alone.
My dad and I hadn’t been in town long, really just a few days, and I should have stayed at the house. But I was bored and lonely, and the woods around our new place just seemed to call me.
At first, I wasn’t scared at all. Truth be told, I’m not the kind to scare easily, but that’s because I’m…different. My dad’s word. He doesn’t like to call me a freak or anything since he’s my dad, so he says I’m just different.
My tennis shoes crunched over the ground, breaking twigs and crushing leaves. The waning sunlight barely broke through the treetops. Around me, the woods were dark green and brown and I could hear birds chirping in a sweet song. For a girl who’d lived the first sixteen years of her life in the city surrounded by tall buildings and asphalt that stretched for miles, the swaying trees and the light pine scent of the woods were…nice.
No, at first I wasn’t afraid at all. I just walked and walked. I didn’t worry about getting lost. I
get lost. No matter where I go or what I do, I’m never lost. I can always find my way back home.
That’s just one of the ways that I’m
from other girls. But dad didn’t like for me to tell folks about that particular talent. Then again, my dad wasn’t real big on sharing with anyone. As far as I knew, I was the only person he ever confided in. Sometimes, I got the feeling he was keeping secrets even from me.
I walked and walked. I found a small stream and the icy cold water chilled my fingertips. Wisps of dying sunlight fell down on me as I knelt at the stream, and I could take breaths that didn’t taste of the city.
But then the sunlight seemed to fade even more. I was crouched over the stream when I heard the first growl.
And when I felt the light touch of fear on my skin.
I lifted my head slowly, and my gaze darted across the water.
My startled whisper as I saw what waited for me.
I should have known better than to go into the woods alone.
Another growl had the hair on my arms rising. Because this growl…it showed the fangs—
the very big fangs
—that the beast before me had. Those fangs were big and way too sharp as they burst from the animal’s mouth.
A dog? A really big, scary dog? “Easy,” I whispered as I rose and offered my hand. I thought I’d read that someplace…that you were supposed to let a dog sniff you to show that you didn’t mean any harm.
The dog snarled at me. Seriously, a snarl, and I dropped my hand.
Its eyes—bright and yellow—were on me. Thick black fur covered its body and its strong paws dug into the earth.
Sweat began to trickle down my back.
The dog’s teeth snapped together, and it jumped up, flying right over that stream and coming at me.
I screamed and turned away, running as fast as I could. “Heel!” I shouted over my shoulder as I ran. I heard the slosh of water as the dog landed at the edge of the stream. “Go away and just—
I wasn’t exactly a dog lover, and crazy Fido sure wasn’t doing anything to change my opinion.
The ground seemed to shake behind me as he closed in. I didn’t glance back. I didn’t want to see those teeth again. I raced as fast as I could go, but I was never gonna be a track star. My side ached, and tree limbs scratched over my arms.
Once I got away from Fido, I was never going into the woods alone again.
I could feel his breath behind me. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I could. Hot, heavy. My own breath choked out as I saw a tree up ahead. An oak tree, one with a long, hanging limb that I was sure I could reach. I pushed forward with my last bit of energy—I am so not an athlete—and I jumped up, reaching desperately for that limb.
I missed it.
So not an athlete
I slammed into the ground and in the same instant, I felt a white-hot pain slice into my upper arm. I screamed and kicked, and, lucky me, I caught the mutt right in the side. He howled and flipped back.
I pushed up and jumped for the tree again. This time, I caught it. I lifted my legs up, doing a weird half-crawl up the tree. The bark bit into my skin, but I didn’t care. In about four seconds, I was sitting on top of that tree branch.
And Fido was right below me, doing that deep, rumbling growl that freaked me out.
“Go away!” I yelled at him as I glanced at my left arm. Jeez, he’d clawed me! I had four long slices cutting across my skin. Four long,
slices. The kind that you knew weren’t going to heal easy. No, thanks to Fido, I’d probably be carrying these marks for weeks.
My dad was going to flip out over this.
And now, I was stuck up in a damn tree while the dog circled around me, sniffing the air every few minutes, and pawing at the ground.
I took a walk and ended up trapped. That was pretty much the story of my life, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by this messed up situation.
“Go away!” I yelled. “Go find someone else to bite!” I shifted around, trying to ease into a better spot. Future note—there is no better spot when you’re stuck up in an oak tree.
And then things got worse for me. Yeah, how is that possible, right? But I started to hear a distinct…
I have the worst luck in the world. My gaze flew to the right, and I saw that the limb, my sweet safety, had started to break.
Fido still circled below me.
Crap. Crap. Crap!
“Go—” I began again, but the dog stopped mid-snarl. Its head tilted to the right, and its ears perked up. Then, without even another glance my way, it turned and lunged into the woods.
I sagged back. Blood dripped down my arm.
This would teach me to leave my mace at home. But I figured, hey, not in Chicago anymore. What bad thing can possibly happen in the boonies of South Carolina?
Apparently, wild, vicious dogs could happen.
My breath hissed out when I touched the claw marks. Ten to one odds they’d scar. Then I’d be the not-so-cool girl with claw marks on her arm.
“Uh…you okay up there?”
The male voice was deep, hinted with just a bit of the south, and…amused. Amused at my expense.
My head snapped up, and my gaze searched the ground. I frowned because I didn’t see anyone, not at first and then—
Then he stepped out of the shadows.
Tall, tan, with lots of muscles. Muscles I could see because the guy didn’t have on a shirt. A pair of old faded jogging shorts, tennis shoes, but…nothing else.
His thick, black hair was a little too long, and his eyes had to be the absolute bluest that I’d ever seen.
He looked like he was around my age, maybe a year or two older. One look, and I knew he was trouble. The really good kind of trouble that can make a girl want to sneak out late at night.
And I was stuck up in a tree, bleeding. Right. Way to make a killer first impression.
Things were supposed to be different this time.
I cleared my throat and felt I had to warn him. “You need to be careful! There’s some kind of wild dog running loose out here.” Yeah, my voice broke a bit because I’m super cool and sexy like that. Nice.
He blinked and his brows rose. “Dog?”
There was another
. Louder this time and I knew that—
The limb broke, and I went down. In that half-second, I prepared for the impact and the staggering humiliation of falling at the hot guy’s feet.
But I didn’t slam into the ground. He caught me.
He caught me.
Up close, I realized that his eyes weren’t solid blue. Gold circled his pupils.
My arms locked around him. He was warm and strong and…I cleared my throat. “Thanks. You move fast.”
lame did that sound?
A ghost of a smile lifted his lips. Nice lips. Not too thin. Not too thick. “You spend a lot of time falling out of trees?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Only on days when Fido chases me.”
The smile faded as quickly as it had appeared, and his gaze dipped to my arm.
I was still holding on to him. Okay, now this was getting awkward. “You can put me down.”
His face was truly perfect, in the dark-and-dangerous kind of way. Strong features. Hard jaw. Incredibly white teeth.
Slowly, he lowered me to the ground. I didn’t want to be bleeding all over him—
and I didn’t know him and we were alone in the woods and my dad hadn’t raised a fool
—so I took a few quick steps back. Adding a little space might be a good thing.
“What happened?” He wanted to know as he put his hands on his hips.
Do all the guys here look like you?
I bit the question back. So not the time or place. I have a tendency to blurt things out. I’m working on that tendency. Really. Kind of.
And I’m also supposed to be working on my attitude. The teachers at my old school had pretty much thought that my attitude sucked. Because, you know, it did.
My hand covered the marks. “The dog clawed me.”
“So you ran up a tree?”
I blinked. Where was the flaw in my plan?
Oh, yeah, the breaking limb.
“It seemed like a better idea than just standing still and letting him bite me.”
His gaze came back to mine. “You sure it was a dog?”
But just then, a new sound filled the forest. A long, mournful howl.
He laughed then, and his white teeth flashed in a grin that made me think again—
. “Chicago, you don’t know much about animals do you?”
So he knew who I was. I cleared my throat. “You’re saying it was…a wolf?” I’d just been nearly eaten by a wolf? I could never do anything half-way.
He stepped forward then, and his hand lifted toward my red hair. I flinched because I wasn’t expecting that move.
“Easy.” He seemed to barely breathe the word. Then he pulled a twig out of my hair.
The ground could have just opened up and swallowed me then. That would have been merciful. But, no such luck.
Bloody, dirty, and with twigs in my hair. Normally, I presented much better than this. I had style—I just didn’t have it right then.
I swallowed and tried to calm my racing heart. I’d been in situations much, much worse than this before.
I took another step away from him. Not because I was nervous. Or maybe because I was. “My name’s Anna Lambert.” Not Chicago. I waited just a beat. “Who are you?” My eyes darted behind him. That howl hadn’t sounded close. A good thing.
Guess I sure wasn’t in Chicago anymore.
Another howl filled the air, and I rocked back on my heels.
His face hardened. “You shouldn’t be out here,” he told me. “You don’t know this area. You’ll get lost—”
“I never get lost.” Now there I went—blurting. And except for one bad confession to an ex-boyfriend, I’d kept that secret for over three years, ever since I first developed my little gift on my thirteenth birthday. But give me a wolf, a claw mark, and a hot guy, and suddenly I’m over-sharing.