Fox Blood, Chapter 1 Scene 1

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“I think this is called the walk of shame,” Kira suggested, her voice cutting through the foggy evening air like a sword through warm butter. I swiveled in unconscious reaction, peering through almost-raindrops hovering around us on every side.

Between the fog and the night, I couldn’t see anything, unfortunately. Which didn’t mean we were alone…just that visibility was painfully low. Unfriendly werewolves could be hovering just out of scent range, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce upon us. Good thing I wasn’t as oblivious as my pampered younger sister to the danger we were currently walking through.

So—“Shh,” I huffed out, hoisting a trio of cardboard containers a little higher in my arms while hoping the suddenly overwhelming aroma of stale beer wasn’t emanating from one of them. Perhaps I should have sprung for new boxes rather than begging for used ones behind the neighborhood liquor store….

“Well, it is, isn’t it?” Kira demanded, turning around to walk backwards down the gravel road leading up to our secluded cottage. “I mean, if we weren’t ashamed, we would’ve taken Gunner up on his offer to rent a moving truck. We would have come when it was daylight out. And we wouldn’t have parked twenty miles away so nobody would hear Old Red squeak her way up the drive.”

“Old Red isn’t so bad,” I rebutted, defending the new-to-me car. I’d never wanted a vehicle until I began living over a hundred miles away from a boyfriend who only visited in the company of needy pack mates. Skype had kept us in contact, but I had needs that weren’t being met via video chat.

Gunner had offered to throw money at the problem, but I wasn’t ready for that level of entanglement just yet. So I’d found a new job, had saved my pennies, and had bought a twenty-year-old, off-brand vehicle the previous week.

Old Red made it feasible to move into a secluded, rural village without feeling like I was trapping myself and Kira next door to a bunch of werewolves. The car gave me an easy out if we needed to flee and allowed me to spend time with Gunner without having to become monetarily indebted to him. Now, however, I was having second thoughts about the cleverness of my ploy.

Because my skin prickled with warning of hidden werewolves in the vicinity. Turning in a tight circle, I barely managed to keep Kira’s box of stage-magic paraphernalia from teetering off the top of the stack while I peered around the barrier. I knew they were out there. This was Atwood clan central after all. Even at the crack of dawn, there should have been patrollers out guarding the boundaries and early risers jogging down tree-lined paths.

Instead, the territory appeared empty even though it smelled far too strongly of wolf…plus impatient little sister. “And we didn’t park twenty miles away,” I continued, trying to get Kira off topic before I was forced to tell her what a walk of shame really was. “We parked a quarter of a mile away so Old Red’s brakes wouldn’t wake up the neighbors. It’s the considerate thing to do. You need to learn to be polite now that we’re denning with—”

“Whatever,” Kira cut me off, darting away to dance up cobblestone steps toward our cottage. The first dead leaves of autumn lay on the stones between us, and in daylight I suspected they would have glowed beautifully orange or red.

In the evening fog, however, the discarded plant matter merely appeared gray, slippery, and dangerous…like everything else about this place.

“Kira, wait.” I wasn’t in fox form, so I couldn’t be certain. But I got the distinct impression someone had marked his territory on the bottom step in the form of very lupine-smelling pee. Gunner had promised the pack was ready to welcome us into their midst, but urine wasn’t generally considered a sign of open-armed acceptance. More worrisome, however, was the fact that the liquid had been deposited so recently that it still puddled atop the cobblestones in my path….

Kira.” This time I snapped out her name as close as I could come to a werewolf compulsion. But, of course, we weren’t wolves and my sister saw no reason to obey me.

Instead, she turned the knob of our new domicile without even glancing backwards. Pushed the door open into darkness…and walked straight through an overwhelming cascade of strangely sulfurous eau de wolf.

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