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  • Home > Jennifer Lynn Barnes > Trial by Fire     

    CHAPTER ONE

    “NO MORE SCHOOL, NO MORE BOOKS, NO MORE teachers’ dirty looks …”

    For a two-hundred-twenty-pound werewolf, Devon Macalister had a wicked falsetto. Leaning back in his chair with casual grace, he shot a mischievous look around our lunch table. “Everyone sing along!”

    As the leader of our little group—not to mention the alpha of Devon’s pack and his best friend since kindergarten—the responsibility for shutting down his boy-band tendencies fell to me. “It’s Thanksgiving break, Dev, not summer vacation, and technically, it hasn’t even started yet.”

    My words fell on deaf ears. The smile on Devon’s face widened, making him look—to my eyes, at least—more puppy than wolf. To my left, Lake, whose history with Devon’s flare for the dramatic stretched back almost as far as mine did, rolled her eyes, but her lips parted in a grin every bit as irrepressible and lupine as Devon’s.

    A wave of energy—pure, undiluted, and animalistic—vibrated through my own body, and I closed my eyes for one second …two.

    Three.

    In control of the impulse to leap out of my chair and run for the woods, I glanced across the table at the last member of our little quartet. Maddy was sitting perfectly still, blinking her gray eyes owlishly, a soft smile on her lips. Images—of the night sky, of running—leapt from her mind to mine through our pack-bond, as natural as words falling off lips.

    The impending full moon might have been giving the rest of our table werewolf ADD, but Maddy was perfectly Zen—much more relaxed than she normally would have been when all eyes were on the four of us.

    Despite our continued efforts to blend in, the buzz of power in the air and the unspoken promise that within hours, my friends would shed their human skin were palpable. I recognized the feeling for what it was, but our very human—and easily fascinated—classmates had no idea. To them, the four of us were mysterious and magnetic and just a bit unreal—even me.

    In the past nine months, my life had changed in more ways than I could count, but one of the most striking was the fact that at my new high school, I wasn’t an outsider, ignored and avoided by humans who had no idea why people like Devon and Lake—and to a lesser extent me—felt off. Instead, the other students at Weston High had developed a strange fascination with us. They didn’t approach. They didn’t try to penetrate our tight-knit group, but they watched and they whispered, and whenever Devon—Devon!—met their eyes, the girls sighed and fluttered their eyelashes in some kind of human mating ritual that I probably wouldn’t have completely understood even if I’d grown up like a normal girl.

    Given that I’d been raised as the only human child in the largest werewolf pack in North America, the batting of eyelashes was every bit as foreign to me as running through the woods, surrounded by bodies and warmth and the feeling of home, would have been to anyone else. Some days, I felt like I knew more about being a werewolf than I would ever know about being a teenage girl.

    It was getting easier and easier to forget that I was human.

    Soon. Soon. Soon.

    The bond that tied me to the rest of the pack vibrated with the inevitability of the coming moon, and even though I knew better than to encourage Devon, I couldn’t help the way my own lips tilted up at the corners. The only things that stood between the four of us and Thanksgiving break were a couple of hours and a quiz on Shakespeare.

    The only thing standing between us and delicious, feral freedom was the setting of the sun.

    And the only thing that stood between me and Chase—my Chase—was a distance I could feel the boy in question closing mile by mile, heartbeat by heartbeat, second by second.

    “Bronwyn, please, you’re making me blush.” Dev—who could read me like a book, with or without whatever I was projecting through the pack-bond—adopted a scandalized tone and brought a hand to his chest, like he was seconds away from demanding smelling salts and going faint. But I sensed his wolf stirring beneath the surface and knew that it was hard for Devon on a day like today to be reminded that I wasn’t his to protect in the same way anymore.

    That I was alpha.

    That Chase and I were … whatever Chase and I were.

    “Fine,” I said, flicking a French fry in Devon’s general direction. “Have it your way. No more school, no more books …”

    Dev made an attempt at harmonizing with me, but given my complete lack of vocal chops, it did not go well, and a horrified silence descended over our entire table.

    After several seconds, Devon regarded the rest of us with mock solemnity. “We shall never speak of this moment again.”

    “In your dreams, Broadway boy.” Shaking out her long blonde hair—a motion laden with excess adrenaline—Lake stood and stretched her mile-long legs. If the girls in school were all secretly pining for Devon, the boys were absolutely smitten with Lake. Clearly, they’d never met the business end of her shotgun or had their butts whipped at pool.

    Soon. Soon. Soon.

    Across the table, Maddy sighed, and Devon bumped her shoulder with his, a comforting gesture meant to communicate that he understood. Soon, our entire pack would be gathered in the woods. Soon, the Weres would Shift and I would let their power flow through me, until I forgot I was human and the difference between four legs and two virtually disappeared.

    Soon—but not soon enough.

    “So,” I said, my voice low and soothing, intent on keeping my pack-mates focused, however briefly, on the here and now. “Hamlet. What do I need to know?”

    “New girl.”

    I balked at Lake’s answer. “I was thinking more along the lines of Guildencrantz and Frankenstein.”

    “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” Devon corrected absentmindedly as he followed Lake’s gaze to the double archway at the front of the cafeteria. I turned to look, too, and the rest of the student body took their cue from us, until everyone was eyeballing the girl who stood there.

    She was small—the word tiny wouldn’t have been a misnomer—and her eyes seemed to take up a disproportionate amount of her face. Her skin was very pale, and she was dressed almost entirely in black, save for a pair of white leather gloves that covered her arms from the elbows down.

    She looked like a porcelain doll, and she felt like a threat. Given that I could tell, even from a distance, that she wasn’t a Were, I had no idea why something inside me insisted I track her every move.

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