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Chapter Fourteen

Everything fell still.  Cold wind blew in from the hole in the garage door, smoke curled from the end of Stark's gun, and I struggled to keep my balance on my knees with my head spinning the way it was.  I could hear somebody hyperventilating.  I realized it was me.


"What... what..." I stammered, my thoughts coming slowly through the pain in my skull.  "What..."


Finally, as if remembering that he wasn't alone, Stark dropped his gun and turned to face me.


"Amber, you're bleeding," he said, holding his hand out as if to steady me, even though he was on the other side of the garage. "Don't move."


"She's bleeding?" Mom screeched, and she burst into the garage with us.


"Jennifer!" Stark snapped. "I told you to—"


Too late, she had already seen me. "Oh my God, Amber!"  She exclaimed, hurrying over to where I knelt. "What happened?"


Through my hazy thoughts, I wasn't able to register anything either of them were saying.  I was still staring out the hole Kimberly had made in the door. "What... what..."


I wobbled and blinked, and when I opened my eyes again Stark was by my side, putting a strong hand on my shoulder. "You've got a concussion," he said, speaking loudly and slowly.  I looked up him and, though it took a few seconds, I was finally able to make out what he was saying. "Just take it easy."


"We need to lay her down," Mom said, hopping back to her feet. "I'll get a pillow and some towels!"


"No," Stark stopped her.  "She'll be fine.  We just need to get her outside."


And still my stupid, scrambled brain refused to cooperate. "What... what..."


Stark tried to slip a hand under my arm to help me to my feet. "Take it easy," he said again.


I don't know where it came from, but a wave of the most intense anger I've ever felt surged up from inside me, and the next thing I knew I was taking a swing at Stark.  He caught the punch, but my anger didn't go away.


"What... the... HELL JUST HAPPENED?" I screamed at the top of my lungs.  If I was in a proper state of mind, I might have been horrified by the fact that I'd just tried to punch my alpha in the face.  I wasn't, though.  I was tired, confused, hurt, and really, really pissed off.  I thought I'd crossed the line into crazytown months ago, but this... this was something else entirely.


Surprisingly, Stark seemed entirely unconcerned by the fact that I'd tried to hit him, and merely pushed my arm down by my side again. "Amber, quit it!" he snapped. "You're going to—"


"This is all your fault!" I yelled, trying to break free of his grip and hit him again.  He was too strong. "You let this happen!  You knew...  It's your...  It's all your..."


Everything started to go dark, and my arm went slack in Stark's hand.  My strength gave out, and I fell against him.


"All... your... fault..." I was barely able to croak.


I couldn't be sure, but I think the last thing I heard before I blacked out was Stark's voice.


"I know."


I don't know how long I was out, but the next thing I knew I was lying on my back in something cold.  My eyes fluttered open, and I realized I was spread out on top of a snow bank, with the night sky above me.  Millions of stars, and out of the corner of my eye I could see the moon.


And I could feel it, too.


There was still a throbbing pain in my head, but it was fading a little with each passing second.  I waited a minute longer, letting strength come back to my arms and legs, and then forced myself to sit up.  I was still in my clothes, and they were soaked through.  I was freezing cold and shivering, but at least my head wound was healing.


Mom and Stark were standing in front of me.


"Oh, thank heaven!" Mom shouted, and ran forward to give me a hug. "I thought I'd lost you!"


Stark grunted. "It was just a bump on her head.  She would've been fine even if we hadn't gotten her out in the moonlight."


I reached back and felt my head.  There was a bump there, and my hand came away wet with blood, but I don't think I was still bleeding.  The bump was getting smaller, too.


"You!" Mom yelled, rounding on Stark. "You had better explain yourself right this minute!"


"Mom," I yelled back at her, jumping to my feet. "You can't talk to—"


"Amber." Stark didn't yell, his voice was barely a mumble, but it was still more than enough to silence me. "It's all right."


We both stood there staring at him for a few seconds, waiting for him to explain.  Stark put his hands in his pockets and looked from me, to Mom, and then back again, but didn't say a word.  There was something profoundly wrong with what I was seeing, but it took me a minute to realize that it was because Stark, my alpha, looked ashamed of himself.  Like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar...


"We have to get Kimberly back," he finally said, his eyes settling on me.


I sucked in a breath.  Kimberly.  She was still out there, wasn't she?  A wolf that gigantic was sure to get noticed, and we had no idea what she was going to do, or if she was even still in control of herself.


"Don't you change the subject," Mom said, jabbing a finger in his face. "We want an explanation!"


"And you'll get one," Stark promised her. "But right now we've got a werewolf the size of a truck running wild in those woods.  We have to get her back before she hurts someone!"


Mom looked like she was about to argue more, so I put myself between them. "Okay," I said. "What do we do?"


Stark hesitated. "First we have to track her down.  "That shouldn't be too hard.  There's snow on the ground, but nothing's coming down to fill in her tracks.  Once we find her..."


His voice trailed off, but I knew exactly what he was thinking.  She was obviously hostile and somehow outside her alpha's control.  We were going to have to fight her into submission.


"Can we do that?" I asked. "Even if we fight together, she's bigger than both of us!"


"You aren't going to fight anything!" Mom said, grabbing my shoulder and spinning me around to face her. "You've already been hurt once, and I—"


"Go inside, Mom."


Her mouth snapped closed like a trap, and she looked at me in shock.


"I- I won't!" she argued.


Before she could react, I grabbed her by her shoulders, spun her around the same way she had done to me me, and marched her back into the garage.  It wasn't hard.  I was a werewolf, and she was only human.


"Don't you dare, young lady!" she yelled, digging her heels in, but that didn't even slow me down.  Kicking the door to the kitchen open, I pushed her inside and slammed it shut behind her.


"Let's go before she comes back," I said, turning around and racing back into the driveway.  Stark didn't argue, he spun around and took the lead, charging headlong into the woods.  A few steps later, we both threw ourselves forward, shifting into our wolf forms before our hands had even touched the ground.


Kimberly's scent, which I had been able to detect before, was suddenly overpowering.  Even if it hadn't been, her tracks were so enormous that a human would have been able to follow them... a blind human.  Stark and I raced between the trees, and my blood began to burn again.  There was no desire to hunt this time, though.  As dim as my wolf side seemed to be sometimes, even it understood that this was no time to play around.  Something had happened to Kimberly, and it was up to me and Stark to save her.


Part of me didn't think we'd catch her.  Kimberly had become the biggest wolf I'd ever seen, bigger than a freaking horse.  With legs that long, not to mention the muscles she'd grown, I bet she could really haul tail.  Stark and I were far from in bad shape, but we were still just two regular werewolves.  We'd never be able to catch her.


Fortune was in our favor tonight, though, it seemed, because a few minutes later Kimberly's scent began to grow even more powerful.  We were getting close.  Stark realized this just as I did, and we both skidded to a halt in the snow.  Glancing back at me, he jerked his nose down at the ground.  I understood.  Lowering ourselves so that our bellies were dragging through the snow, we made our way forward more slowly.  I was worried that we'd lose her again if we didn't move faster, but Stark seemed to know what he was doing.  Sure enough, a minute later I began to hear noises coming from ahead.  Grunts and growls, wolfish noises for confusion and aggravation, came from a small clearing in the distance.  Stark and I prowled our way to it, zigzagging occasionally to stay in the shadows.  Not that it would matter much if Kimberly caught our scent.  I hazarded a guess that Kimberly would be able to tear down the trees without much effort in our current state.  Still, Stark was the alpha.  Stark was the one in control.  If he told me to do something, I would do it.


And there she was.  Standing at the edge of a frozen creek, the mammoth wolf plunged her paw through the ice as easily as if she'd stepped on a potato chip, and lowered her head to drink.  My breath caught in my throat.  She was so big!  My tail instinctively went between my legs, and I tried to back away until Stark turned and glared at me.  No, I couldn't run.  It wasn't just because my alpha told me not to, either.  Kimberly was my responsibility.  Whatever had happened here, I needed to fix it.


Kimberly finished drinking, and lowered herself like she was going to jump across the creek.  Stark lowered himself too, and I followed suit.  Terror fluttered in my chest.  I might not make it out of this.  The thought struck me like a falling anvil, and if it hadn't been for Stark giving me commands, I probably wouldn't have been able to creep forward with him, out of the shadows.  Kimberly was still bracing herself for the jump, as if she couldn't quite figure out how to move her new body.  On one hand, she was the perfect predator.  Lithe, strong, and most of all, big.  On the other hand, until she got used to that body, all that extra size and muscle just served to make her more cumbersome.  I began to feel hopeful.  Maybe, Stark and I actually had a—


Suddenly, Kimberly's ears perked up, and she spun around to face us.  Stark and I both froze.  For a minute, everything was still.  Kimberly raked her glowing eyes across us, but she didn't move to attack either.  There was unbridled hostility in those eyes, like an animal, and I found myself wondering again if Kimberly was still in control, or if her instincts had taken over.


Then I realized she wasn't looking at us...


She was looking at something behind us...


And then Becky's massive paw came down, flattening me beneath it.



NEXT TIME: Oh, shoot!  What’s worse, a giant wolf or a giant hyena?  Which one is coming out of this alive, and will Amber still be around to see it?

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