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Dark mist snaked around my ankles, then curled upwards into the still night air. From somewhere to my left there was a rumbling bellow that sent rippling chills down my spine. Both my hands, slick with damp sweat, clutched onto silver throwing daggers while painful burning heat coursed through my veins.
There was a rustling to my right. I flicked a glance over to the shadowy copse of looming trees, and shifted my weight imperceptibly, ready to meet head on whatever was about to appear. The bellow sounded again, closer this time, but the danger in the small forest was more pressing. The cracking and heaving of falling boughs and branches indicated the imminent arrival of the beast, and a faint green glow sparked up from my hands in anticipation. I side-stepped, trying to gain a better vantage point.
The pain in my shoulder had increased from a dull ache to sharp sear, making it difficult to continue to grip the daggers. I tightened my fingers, and waited, trying to ignore it. The crashing sounds got louder and I could now see the giant oaks leaning and falling as my foe cleared a path for itself. A tinge of cloudy red seeped across my vision and I blinked several times in quick succession, attempting to clear it, then, when that didn’t help, shook my head in short, sharp staccato movements. It didn’t work.
I cursed inwardly and hunched down slightly, hoping that by making myself smaller, I’d have more of a chance to surprise the creature and gain the advantage. No such luck though. Just before it reached the edge of the tree line, it stopped, the more vertiginous tips of the oaks swaying unnaturally. There was a snort from within the tall dark shapes and my eyes lifted upwards, noting the height of the cloud of exhaled breath. Fuck. This thing was big.
The pair of us stood there in silence for one quiet moment, each facing the other through the veil of night and shadowy trees. A brief thought skittered through my mind, but I pushed it away before it could fully form. Whatever this thing was it was dangerous and I couldn’t allow myself to be distracted now.
Then it moved, with more silent grace than I would really have thought possible for a beast of its apparent size, and from the edge of the canopy a shape began to appear. Through the haze of red as yet marring my vision, I still couldn’t work out what manner of nastie it truly was, even when one large clawed foot lifted itself out from under the cover of the trees and planted itself onto the dark earth in front of me. Its deadly talons gleamed.
A shot of uncontrollable pain lanced through my shoulder and I cried out involuntarily, dropping the dagger from my left hand. Goddamnit. There was no time to scoop the weapon back up, however, as a second scaly foot joined the first. I looked upwards, slowly, my eyes tracking the rest of the thing’s body as it emerged. It was f**king huge – to the point where I had to crane my neck upwards to get a proper look at it. A drop of something landed on my face. Disgusted, thinking it was slimy drool, I reached my now dagger-less hand up to wipe it away. Except it wasn’t saliva – it was blood. I looked up again and realised that something was hanging from the creature’s mouth. Twisting my head, I tried vainly to work out what it was. The beast, as if trying to please me, helpfully leaned down, allowing me to begin to make out what the blood-sodden shape actually was.
There was a clump of dark material dangling lifelessly from within its jaws, like a bunched up ballgown. Who on earth would be wearing that much in the middle of summer? I squinted further, catching sight of pale skin at the edge, cocking my head to get a better view. Whoever the unfortunate victim was, they were most definitely dead, as even though I couldn’t make out their face, their neck was skewed at a horrifyingly
I jumped slightly as there was another earth-shattering roar from behind. The creature in front shifted its weight, fixing one giant yellow dragon-like eye on me. I leaned forward and prodded the lifeless thing in its mouth, feeling the clammy skin of the dead. My movements disturbed it, however, and it flopped forward towards me. It was a man - his mouth was open in a silent shriek, but his eyes were covered with an unmistakeable caul. Thomas. The agony in my shoulder increased and the cloud of red across my eyes deepened to a vivid scarlet, and I screamed.
I woke, my whole body covered in a sheen of cold sweat, and a sheet wrapped constrictingly round my legs and torso. Lying there for a moment, heart thudding painfully in my chest, I blinked away the hot tears and swallowed hard. Then I pulled myself together and extricated my limbs from the damp cotton, getting out of bed to yank an over-sized t-shirt over my head and pad to the bathroom. I flicked on the light, wincing at its brightness, turned on the tap and scooped up cold water to splash over my face.
I reached over for a towel, patting my skin dry, then stared into the small mirror. I looked pale, with heavy dark rings under my eyes that appeared in stark contrast to the rest of my skin. Sighing, I ran my fingers through my now almost shoulder-length hair, and tried not to think any more about Thomas. Instead, I curled my nails into my palms and gritted my teeth, and stalked into the kitchen.
My mouth was almost painfully dry so I yanked open the fridge door and pulled out a carton of orange juice, then drank deeply from it, without bothering to get myself a glass. I had virtually drained the entire thing when there was a sudden sharp knock at the door that caused me to swallow the wrong way and start choking and spluttering, juice flying out of my mouth in all directions. I wiped the back of my hand across my face, trying to get the worst of the citrus smears off, then cursed irritably to myself and reached out for a cloth to wipe down the juice spattered fridge. The knocking continued, more insistent now. I ignored it.
Come on, kitten, open up. I know you’re in there and you’re awake.
I continued dabbing at the dribbles of the juice that had managed to somehow cover half of my small kitchen, and didn’t bother to answer the annoying Voice in my head.
Corrigan’s fist against my door increased in both tempo and volume, a drumbeat to some silent tune of annoyance that only he knew how to create. I wanted him to go away so I go crawl back to bed and try to get some real sleep.
There was a warning note in his Voice now that did nothing more than irritate me. Who did he think he was coming round here in the middle of the night? Surely the bloody Lord Alpha of all the sodding stupid shifters had better things to do with his time?
I heard a door bang in the flat above me. Great, now he’d woken up the neighbours. I’d only moved in four days ago, it was hardly time to start pissing them off just yet.
Fuck off, Corrigan. I am trying to sleep.
No, you’re not.
He gave up on knocking and began thumping on the door instead. Jeez. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone called the freaking police at this rate. Rolling my eyes in exhausted exasperation, I put down the cloth and walked out the kitchen and towards the front door. I was just reaching for the handle to open it, when there was a loud splintering noise and I jumped backwards while the whole door burst open with a crash. On the doorstep in front, leg only just lowering, stood Corrigan, looking terribly pleased.
I stared at him aghast. “You kicked open my f**king door?”
He grinned at me ferally. “I had to make sure you were alright, kitten. You were screaming in my head.” He licked his lips. “It was…disturbing.”
Screaming in his head? Oh shit. That meant that I’d reached out and called for him in the throes of my nightmare. Then I thought for a second. “Hold on a minute. I only woke up five minutes ago and you live on the other side of the city.” I put my hands on my h*ps and cocked my head at him. “You might be fast, my Lord, but you’re not Superman. What were you doing hanging around this part of town?”
Corrigan had the grace to look at least slightly abashed, but he was saved from answering as there was the unmistakable sound of a door upstairs opening and heavy footsteps walking down the narrow staircase towards us. A moment later a heavy-set man appeared in blue-striped pyjamas appeared, cricket bat gripped in his hands.
He waved it threateningly in Corrigan’s direction and spoke gruffly. “What the hell is going on here?”
The Lord Alpha held up both his hands, palms turned outwards. “Nothing to worry about it, sir. I’m sorry if I woke you up.”
My neighbour glanced down towards me, taking in the destroyed door, then flicked a glance back at Corrigan. “Doesn’t look like nothing to me. You upsetting this lady?”
I felt a surge of warmth towards him, and cleared my throat. “Everything’s fine. I know this guy. He just, er,…” My voice trailed off. Just what? Kicked in my door because he’s a were-panther psycho control freak?
Fortunately, Corrigan’s wits were somewhat more sharp than mine at this time of night and he stepped in to rescue me. “My friend, here,” he laid heavy emphasis on the word ‘friend’ so that there was no mistaking his meaning, “has diabetes. When she didn’t answer her phone or the door I grew worried that she’d fallen into insulin shock.” He smiled disarmingly. “You can’t be too careful, you know.”
My neighbour looked at me for confirmation, so I nodded mutely, trying not to look pissed off that Corrigan was trying to insinuate that we were in some kind of romantic relationship. The idiot probably thought that he was marking his territory when I’d already made it pretty clear that I didn’t need or want him around. Well, I didn’t need him at least. And as for the want part, I was sure that would pass soon.
I found my voice. “Honestly, everything’s fine. I’m so sorry that we woke you up.” I shot a hard look at Corrigan. “It won’t happen again. I appreciate you checking though.”
The man’s grip on the cricket bat relaxed. “Any time, Miss. I’m just upstairs if you need anything. Flat 3D.”
I smiled at him as he shot me a meaningful look, then watched as he turned and walked back upstairs. Once I was sure he was safely back inside his own apartment, with the door closed, I looked back at Corrigan and glared.
“Four f**king days!” I hissed. “And already the neighbours think I’m some kind of nocturnal weirdo with crazy friends. Speaking of friends, what the hell was it that you were trying to suggest anyway?”