Read Muddy Paws Online

Authors: Sue Bentley

Muddy Paws

Table of Contents
 
 
 
GROSSET & DUNLAP
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To Petra—gentle sheepdog friend
and a loyal companion.
Prologue
Storm paused to drink the clear water that flowed swiftly between two banks of ice. It felt good to be back in his home world.
But the young silver-gray wolf 's happiness lasted for only a moment as he thought of his mother, Canista, wounded and in hiding.
Suddenly a terrifying howl echoed in the icy wind.
“Shadow!” Storm gasped, realizing that the fierce lone wolf was close.
Storm used his magic to transform himself quickly so he would be hidden from Shadow. There was a bright flash and a dazzling shower of golden sparks. Where Storm had been standing there now crouched a tiny fluffy black-and-white Border collie puppy with midnight-blue eyes.
Storm trembled, hoping that his puppy disguise would protect him from the evil Shadow. Keeping his little belly low to the ground, Storm crept into a clump of snow-covered bushes.
A dark shape pushed through the bushes, loosening a cloud of snow, and Storm's tiny heart missed a beat. Shadow had found him!
But instead of the lone wolf 's dark-gray muzzle and pitiless black eyes, Storm saw a familiar silver-gray face with bright golden eyes.
“Mother!” he yapped with relief.
“I am glad you are safe and well, my son, but you have returned at a dangerous time,” Canista said in a warm velvety growl. She nuzzled the disguised cub's black-and-white face, but then gave a sharp wince of pain.
“Shadow's poisonous bite sapped your strength!” Storm blew out a gentle stream of tiny gold sparks, which sank into Canista's injured leg and disappeared.
“Thank you, Storm. The pain is easing. But there's no time right now for you to help me recover all my powers. You must go—Shadow is very close,” Canista rumbled softly.
Sadness rippled through Storm's tiny puppy body as he thought of his dead father and litter brothers and the once proud Moon-claw wolf pack, now broken up. His midnight-blue eyes flashed with anger. “One day I will stand beside you and face Shadow!”
Canista nodded proudly. “But until then, you must hide in the other world. Use this puppy disguise and return when your magic is stronger.”
Another fierce howl split the air. “I know you are close, Storm! Come out and let us finish this!” Shadow cried in an icy growl.
“Go now, Storm! Save yourself!” Canista urged.
Bright gold sparks ignited in the tiny black-and-white puppy's fur. Storm whined softly as he felt the power building inside him. Bright golden light surrounded him. And grew brighter . . .
Chapter ONE
Beth Hollis woke up with a start and lay looking up at the unfamiliar white ceiling with its low black beams. Rain pattered against the window and she could hear animal noises and voices outside.
Gradually Beth recognized the attic bedroom in the Tail End Farm owned by her aunt and uncle. She was staying here while her parents were away.
The room was still dark and a gust of wind sent more rain drumming against the window. Beth pulled the blanket over her head and snuggled back under the downy warmth.
Suddenly the bedroom door swung open. Beth heard muffled footsteps approaching the bed and then she felt a rush of cool air as the blanket was pulled aside.
“Rise and shine!” cried a voice. “Mornings start early on a farm!”
“Hey!” Beth complained, sitting straight up.
Martin Badby, her tall dark-haired cousin, stood grinning mischievously down at her.
“Give that back!” Beth demanded, lunging at him with outstretched arms.
“No way!” Martin yelled, backing away. He tossed the blanket across the room out of her reach.
Beth scowled. Martin was twelve years old, older than her by three years, but he sometimes acted as if he were six. He loved playing silly jokes on people, especially his younger cousin.
“That was a really mean thing to do!” she yelled.
“Yeah? So sue me!” Martin said cheerfully. “Are you coming downstairs, or what?”
Beth sat in the middle of her bed and crossed her arms. “No, I am not! Auntie Em said I didn't have to get up early on my first day here!”
“That's only 'cause you were sulking last night. I heard you talking to your mom and dad before they left. ‘Poor me. It's
so
awful that I have to stay at boring Tail End,' ” he mimicked in a silly whiny little voice.
“I don't talk like that!” Beth said, feeling her cheeks turn red. “Anyway, how would you like it if you got dumped on relatives while your parents flew to England for two weeks?”
Martin rolled his eyes. “They're not going anywhere fun, are they? It's just a boring business trip.”
“I still wanted to go with them,” Beth murmured. She'd never been away from her parents, except for the occasional sleepover at a friend's house, and she was really going to miss them.
“Talk about selfish. I guess you didn't even think about me?” Martin grumbled.
Beth frowned, puzzled. “What about you?”
“Well,
I
have to put up with
you
, don't I? Mom and Dad have practically ordered me to look after you. Just what I wanted, my stupid spoiled cousin following me around—not!”
“Thanks a lot! I'll try not to get in your way!” Beth cried indignantly. She flung herself off the bed and stomped over to the closet. “Can you leave now, please? I want to get dressed.”
“I thought you weren't getting up?” Martin teased.
“I changed my mind. Spoiled cousins do that a lot, you know!” Beth said spiritedly.
“Whatever!” Martin went out and closed the bedroom door behind him.
Beth made a face at the closed door. She'd forgotten how annoying her cousin could be and now it seemed that he wasn't happy having her here at all. Her spirits sank even further as she thought of the two weeks stretching endlessly ahead of her.
 
 
“Morning, Beth. You're up early. Did you sleep well?” Emily Badby called from the yard as Beth stood in the open doorway of the back porch.
“Fine, thanks,” Beth replied.
No thanks to Martin
, she thought.
Her aunt held a bucket of vegetables. “Goats love fresh food. It gets them in a good mood for milking. Do you want to come and watch?”
“Okay,” Beth said, shrugging. She wasn't that interested in goats, but there was still so much time before breakfast and nothing else to do.
She borrowed a pair of boots and followed her aunt into the barn. A sweet musty smell of goats, dung, and warm hay greeted her. “Phew!” Beth said as she wrinkled her nose.
Emily Badby laughed. “It's a healthy farm smell. You'll get used to it.”
Beth wasn't sure she wanted to. She went to look at the brown-and-white goats in their pens, down one side of the barn. “They all look a little annoyed. What kind are they?” she asked.
“Anglo-Nubians. It's their long noses and floppy ears that give them that expression,” Emily explained, selecting a goat and leading it to a small wooden platform. The goat leaped up nimbly and soon Beth was watching the creamy milk foaming into a clean bucket. “I sell milk, yogurt, and cheese in the local stores,” Emily said. “My dairy's next door. You can have a look around sometime, but ask me first. I have strict rules about hygiene.”
Beth nodded.
When her aunt finished milking, she poured the milk through a filter into a metal churn. “I'll just take this to the dairy and then get started on breakfast.”
A loud braying noise came from the back of the barn. “Oh! What's that?” Beth looked around in surprise.
Her aunt laughed. “That's Darcy, my new billy goat. He's only been here for a week or so, but he's always complaining because he isn't getting any attention.”

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