“Jean, what were you thinking of telling Austin that I had a crush on him?” I said, looking over the green bench seat of the school bus. We were on our way home, having been let out early due to a blizzard that was covering Southern Maryland with nine inches of snow and still showed no signs of stopping.
My best friend Jean Andrews looked at me with doe eyes and a sheepish look. “Ashley, we both know you would have never approached him, so I did. Don’t you want to know what he said?”
Of course, I wanted to know what he said, but I couldn’t let her off that easily. Austin was the captain of the football, basketball, and baseball teams. Every girl in the school wanted to be with him. I did too, but I was in a different clique than him. Yes, I was a cheerleader, and I was a co-captain of the swim team, but I wasn't one of the popular kids. I was a social caterpillar, whereas others were butterflies. So, I counted to ten in my head as I fended anger, and then I smiled. “Tell me! What did Austin say?” I was eager to know. I think I was holding my breath as I watched her come closer.
But before she could tell me, the bus lurched and slid off the road, flipping on its side as it slid down the embankment. Colluding into the window, Billy Hudson, who was sitting on the opposite side of the bus, slammed into me, pinning me under his weight. I heard metal screeching before darkness flooded my eyes and I struggled for air. I pushed and shoved, but it was no use. It felt like half the football team was on top of me, crushing the very life from my lungs.
I passed out.
It was the sound of growling that woke me. Somewhere between the sirens and gunshots, I heard intense growling and snarling. I opened my eyes, but I found I was still dreaming. I was no longer on the bus, but laying in the blood-coated snow among mangled bodies. Standing above me, roaring, was a beast. I have seen enough Hollywood movies to know this was a werewolf. But seeing one hovering above me with blood-coated claws only told me that I was either dead and in hell, or I was still asleep.
Sadly, I was awake, and this is how I found out that Werewolves were real, with a raging angry monster standing over me. I was frozen in place, petrified by panic. I attempted to move, but a searing pain radiated up my left arm into my shoulder as I struggled to inch away. I managed to roll on my belly and used my knees and feet to propel my body forward. My left arm didn't seem to work, though I managed to get six feet away when a set of fur-covered clawed toes landed in front of me. I looked up, in horror, at a half-man half-wolf creature.
I screamed when I felt my body hoisted from the snow. The creature held me by the back of my coat, suspended a good four feet in the air. I felt my left arm burn in pain as the fabric stretched, pressing what felt like a dagger into my chest. I kicked and wiggled, but it was useless. I looked into the eyes of my attacker and gasped, seeing a pair of emerald-green eyes looking back. This was not a mindless beast, but a highly intelligent creature. This realization terrified me.
I heard a male voice behind me. “Your highness, don’t concern yourself with the trash. I will take care of it.” I knew the voice. Slowly, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Austin staring at me.
“Austin,” I whispered, shocked that he referred to me as trash. But then it occurred to me that he was talking to the werewolf and called him highness. I felt my body unexpectedly crash into the ground, and my attention was brought back to a naked man standing where the monster had been. He was tall, standing six-foot-six, had brown hair and beard, and those emerald eyes. His body was chiseled to perfection. Stop looking. I chide myself.
“Austin, take her to get medical treatment, and then send her to the south encampment.” The man said, never taking his eyes off me. Something transpired between us and I couldn’t put a name to it. It was as though he saw me as something besides a panic-stricken teenage girl. As he spoke, his eyes glowed yellow and then returned to their emerald hue.
I gasped, not in fear, but in awe. He commanded so much power, but I didn't feel the fear I had moments ago. I felt safe, as if being in his aura was the safest place on the planet.
“Of course, Prince Anatole,” Austin said as he leaned over to bring me to my feet.
I shrugged off his hand and shot daggers at him with my eyes before I addressed the prince. “I am not going anywhere. Who in the hell do you think you are?” I demanded as I smacked Austin’s hand for a second time.
“You might want to lower your eyes and show some respect to the Prince,” a gruff voice said before the back of my knees were kicked, sending me crashing into the snow and onto my left arm. A burst of red-hot pain surged through my chest and I couldn't breathe. I gasped for air and passed out again.
When I woke up again, I was laying on a cot in a dimly lit room. I tried to sit up, but found my body sluggish, as though I had been drugged. When I fully opened my eyes, I realized my left arm was in a fiberglass cast and my left shoulder was covered in a blood-stained bandage. “What the hell?” I mumbled in a hoarse voice. I was still wearing the jeans I put on before school, and my shirt had been replaced by an oversized black cotton t-shirt that had the left shoulder cut open. I can only guess it was cut like this to look at my wounded shoulder.
I tried to stand, but my legs weren’t responding. Instead, they were numb and cold. I rubbed my right palm over my thigh to wake my leg up. It was clear I had been laying here for a long time. As my legs started to tingle from the circulating blood, the accident came flooding back, as did the fact werewolves were real.
My heart started racing. I could hear the thumping in my ears as the need to run overtook me. I managed to stand, only to fall back on my ass. I stood for a second time, slowly. Once I was sure I wouldn’t fall, I walked to the metal door, placed my ear to it, and listened for any sounds from the other side. Not hearing any, I tried the door handle and to my shock, it was unlocked.
I opened it while I held my breath. In the B movies, the hero gets out of the locked cell and gets a false sense of freedom. In reality, I opened the door to discover a seven-foot monster glaring at me. Okay, he might not be seven feet tall, but he was tall, and he wasn't furry, but well muscled and had piercing blue eyes. And if I've to be honest, he is super attractive. Stop looking! Hell, right now, I don’t even know if he is human or a wolf. Oh gosh, I never would have thought to refer to someone as a wolf.
I took a deep breath in and steady my trembling thighs. “Hello,” I croak out. My throat feels stuffed with sand and my mouth is made of cotton. My head spins a little and the room tilts sideways. I reach out to grab the door frame. But instead, I fell right into the man. I feel gravity pulling me to the floor. My cheek hits the cold tile with a heavy thud. I blink and see a pair of bare feet in front of my face.
“What the hell is going on here? Who let this thing in here?”
The woman stressed the word thing with so much venom I thought she might be a part viper. I tried to get up, but the dizzy haze still had a tight hold. There was a growing buzzing sound deep in my head, and the voices started to sound like the teacher in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.
“Waa waa waa waa waa,” is all I heard as a rough set of hands pulled me from the floor by the back of the thin shirt I was in, I felt my body being dragged down the hallway, roughly. Whoever had a hold on me didn’t have any care for my life or safety. In the corner of my mind, I knew she was one of them. I was tossed across the floor, sliding until I came to a crashing stop against something hard.
I blinked several times as I rolled on my back, pain shooting through my left side. I felt fat tears leaking from my eyes as I fought not to cry. I tried to slow my breathing and control the pain. My hearing began to return.
“Waa waa waa the meaning of this! A fucking human scumbag in here! Who let this disgusting bitch in?” As she spoke, she kicked my side and placed her foot on my throat, threatening to cut my airway off. I struggled with my right hand to free her foot, but I was no match for her strength. “Well?” She growled.
I looked up as the man who Austin called Prince Anatole stepped into my eyesight. I caught his green eyes for a split second before I heard his deep-chested growl.
“That thing,” he nodded in my direction. “Is mine. It had the audacity to speak to me. I want it alive.”
He sounded angry, and I couldn’t tell if it was at me or her. Again I began to feel a heavy pressure trying to suffocate me. Black dots filled my vision, and then I noticed the woman who had me pinned, shifted her weight, and I could breathe again. I rolled on my right side, curling in the fetal position, and choked several times until I could inhale and exhale without coughing.
“My apologies, Highness,” she said as she lowered her eyes.
“Dimitria, if I ever see you touching what's mine without my permission again, it will be you who feels my punishment instead of it! Do I make myself clear?” Prince Anatole stepped closer to me, leaning down he gripped my ankle and slid me across the floor, causing my casted arm to collide with the wall.
I gritted my teeth as hot, searing pain radiates through my body. Those fat tears hung on the edges of my lashes and threatened to fall. I didn't know whether it was fear or just stubborn luck, but those tears did not manage to get free.
“Austin, deal with this,” Anatole’s voice was heavy with command.
“Yes, Highness,” Austin said seconds before I was ripped from the floor. Blinding pain rocketed through my body. I cried out as I tried to get my feet under my body, but Austin was moving too fast, and I could only be pulled along behind him, fighting my scream.