Authors: Cat Kalen
Tags: #romance, #adventure, #animals, #violence, #kindle, #ebook, #teen, #action adventure, #series, #social issues, #childrens books, #twilight, #ereaders, #new experiences, #literature and fiction, #spine chilling, #pararnorma, #foxes and wolves, #read it again
After escaping the brutal confines of her
master’s estate, can seventeen year old Pride find love and freedom
with the boy/wolf she was sent to hunt, or will her master
recapture her first and shorten her leash, or worse, end her
Copyright 2011 by Cat Kalen
Published by Cat Kalen at Smashwords
Edited by Denise McClain
Cover by Crocodesigns
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California Wine Country
six days until full moon
he click of the
lock at the top of the stairwell is my only indication that morning
is upon me. My ears perk up and I listen for the coming footfalls.
The weight on the stairs combined with the creaking of each wooden
step will let me know which handler has come for us this time,
which unlucky puppet has drawn the short straw and is stuck with
letting the dogs out, or in this case, the werewolves.
Sure, he’ll come sauntering down the stairs
sporting a brave face and looking at me with cold, dark eyes meant
to intimidate. But the wolf inside me can smell his inner fear.
Despite the fact that I’m the one caged, underneath the handler’s
cool, superficial shell he’s the one who’s truly afraid.
A long column of light filters down the
stairs and I blink my eyes into focus as the bright rays infiltrate
the pitch black cellar. I don’t really need to blink. Not with my
exceptional vision. But I do it anyway because sometimes I simply
like to pretend I’m a normal seventeen-year-old girl, one who can’t
see in the dark. It’s nonsense, I know. I’m not fooling anyone.
Least of all myself.
The door yawns wider and before the first
heavy boot, soiled with old blood that he’ll pass off as wine
stains, hits the top step, my senses go on high alert. I never know
what morning will bring—or who will bring it.
A breeze rushes down the stairs ahead of the
handler, carrying the aroma of the grand estate with it. I push
past the metallic scent of dried blood to catch traces of grape
juice in the air, a common smell on the majestic vineyard—that and
illegal drugs, the estate’s real source of income. Going beyond
those familiar fragrances, I breathe deeper and get hints of fresh
bread baking in the upstairs kitchen. It must be Thursday. Mica,
the estate’s cook, always bakes on Thursday.
In my human form I roll onto my side and lean
toward the smell. Wistfully, my tongue darts out and brushes over
my bottom lip. There is something about that scent that always
entices me and before I can help it I envision myself eating a warm
slice covered in rich creamy butter, crispy on the outside, moist
and tender on the inside.
My nostrils widen, but I know the bread isn’t
meant for me and not even one delicious crumb will pass over my dry
lips. Not unless Mica sneaks it to me. As much as I’d love to taste
her offerings I don’t like it when she takes chances for me.
Disobedience is far too risky for the aging housekeeper. Despite
that, my stomach growls in response to the aroma and I fight off
the cravings. I can’t hope for bread when it’s unlikely that I’ll
even be given a scrap of food today, especially if I can’t please
A boot hits the second step—the handlers
always descend slowly—and as I stretch my legs out on my dusty
mattress I hear the waking groans of Jace and Clover stirring in
their own cages beside me. I glance their way, and that’s when my
attention falls on the one empty cage in the cellar. My mother’s
den. I breathe deep and fight off a pang of sadness that I cannot
afford to feel.
I turn away from the empty cage and stare at
the gray cement walls. I can’t bear to look at her den any longer.
It only reminds me of how they killed her and how all the pups were
forced to watch—to learn that disobedience comes with a price.
Guilt and sorrow eat at me to think that she’d died trying to free
When step number five creaks, I diligently
try to shake off the memories. The handler is close which means I
can’t think about my mother right now. I push all thoughts of her
aside, knowing that right now I have to think about my father and
what he taught me before the master killed him. Never let them see
I harden myself.
Before my master’s puppet even reaches the
bottom step, I know it’s the one they call Lawrence, the handler I
hate the most. The one with a weak mind, strong back, teeth like
baked beans and beady eyes that fit his ugly rat face.
He likes to call me kitten. I have a few
choice names that I’d like to call him in return, but I always bite
the inside of my cheek to resist the urge. Partly because I’d be
whipped and partly because Miss Kara educated me and taught me all
about manners. I realize that an educated wolf with manners might
sound laughable. In my line of work, however, education and manners
are as lethal as a bear trap to those I hunt. That’s how I lure my
marks, how I bait my prey. A pretty face and good grace go a long
way for a trained killer like me.
My glance wanders to my leg, the one peeking
out from beneath my ratty blanket, and my eyes are drawn to the
long jagged scar tracking the length of my calf. I grimace. Even
with my education and manners, I never forget what I really am. I’m
never allowed to.
“Hey kitten,” Lawrence says. Most would think
the nickname is a play on my birth name, Pride. But I know it’s the
handler’s way of cutting me down, to find control where he feels
none. My parents called me Pride because I was their pride and joy.
Lions live in a pride and since lions are cats…
He tosses a collar and chain into my cage.
I take note of the gun in his holster before
my glance locks on his. As I give him a good hard stare, he
flinches. The movement is slight, but I notice it. Dressed in my
knee length nightgown, long hair loose around my shoulders, I might
look like an average seventeen-year-old girl—harmless and
innocent—but we all know I’m not.
Even though Lawrence keeps his face blank and
stares down at me with those dark eyes of his, he reeks of terror.
The scent is like a mixture of hot sweat and rotting compost. Oh,
it’s not pretty by any means. Nevertheless, the werewolf slumbering
restlessly inside me feeds off his fear, thrives on it, so I inhale
and draw it deep into my lungs.
Without taking my eyes off his, I take my
time to leash up. My movements are slow and deliberate as I
position the collar. Metal grinds metal and the sound cuts the
silence as I secure it around my neck. The handler winces. So do
the older, more obedient wolves that I bunk with.
Jace cuts me a glance, chocolate eyes now
milky from old age warn me to behave. I realize he’s doing it for
my own good, but this morning I’m cold and hungry and in no mood
for Lawrence’s insults. Clover makes a noise to draw the handler’s
attention away from me, and all sets of eyes shift to her.
As Clover tries to pacify Lawrence, averting
her gaze in a show of respect and making small talk about the
weather, Lawrence opens my mother’s former cage and pulls out her
cot. He gives it a good hard shake and the breeze stirs the dust on
the unfinished boards masquerading as our ceiling. The particles
dance in the stairwell light before falling to the cold, cement
When Lawrence tosses the cot into a corner I
stiffen. It can only mean one thing. My mother has been gone for a
little over a year now, and I know the master rarely keeps a cell
empty for long, which makes me wonder when and how he’s going to
Who will he breed?
I cringe at the thought of bringing puppies
into this world, but know it’s not something I have to worry about.
The master would never breed a wolf like me. My mother always said
I was a survivor, the only pup in a litter of three to make it, but
hey, a runt is a runt. Thanks to Darwin and his theory of ‘natural
selection’ a runt is a heritable trait that a pack can do without.
When it comes to canine reproduction, only one motto dictates:
runts need not apply.
Deep in the bowels of the estate’s basement,
the master keeps other wolves, separating the strong and young from
one another. I’m smart enough to understand that he distances us so
we can’t conspire against him or speak telepathically. Wolves can
only use telepathy when in animal form, however. Well, most wolves
that is. Oddly enough, I along with Stone, an alpha wolf two years
my senior, are able to communicate while in our human forms.
Sometimes the master does in-house breeding,
sometimes he sends us out to one of his associates—other drug lords
who also harbor werewolves. It’s like he’s running a regular old
puppy mill in here. Except his puppies kill for him. Which begs the
question, what does my master have in store for me today?
t the top of the
stairs I hear the master bark out an order to one of his other
handlers. Lawrence’s fingers quiver in response as he slides his
key into the padlock securing my cell, a clear indication that the
wolves aren’t the only ones afraid of their keeper. I look past his
shoulder, at the streak of light filtering downward and
illuminating a path to the grand mansion up above.
“Going somewhere?” he taunts. I glare at him
and his expressionless mask shatters for a brief moment. He offers
me a smug smile, but I hear the slight tremor when he exhales.
I make a noise, a mixture of a human moan and
an animal growl, and his hand slows on my lock. Escape from the
compound might be impossible, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think
about it. I like to exercise my mind by trying to find holes in the
security system. Most would think I’m simply daydreaming but what
I’m really doing is watching, listening, learning and absorbing
everything about the estate and the people who run it.
The compound is huge and so far I’m unable to
figure out a way to get through the electric fence. Even if I do
overcome that first obstacle and make it to the other side, I can’t
forget about that pesky microchip beneath my skin, a tiny
transponder with a permanent radio-frequency identification.