I stayed in my room for the rest of the evening, even ignoring my mom's calls to come to dinner when she got home. I could hear Kimberly romping around in the hallway, nails painted, full of sugar, and a hundred times happier than I had ever made her. I briefly considered going to check on her, but decided against it. Her little face would light up like a Christmas tree when I told her she could see her parents again, and... well, I didn't trust myself to keep my mouth shut around her. Even though Stark had ordered me to wait, I was tired of being the bad guy around her.
I wanted to be the reason Kimberly was smiling for once.
But I couldn't, so I planted myself in the beanbag chair Stark had bought for me and tried to read the chapter my history teacher had given us for homework.
The hours drifted by slowly, and the sun had long since sank below the horizon when I finally realized I'd been reading the same paragraph over and over again, and slapped the book shut. Almost eight o'clock, and the wind was a low moan outside my window. A quick glance showed that another snowstorm had blown in while I was studying, dropping a fresh layer of powder on top of the one we'd gotten a few days ago.
Maybe we'll have a snow day tomorrow, I thought hopefully, letting my curtains fall into place again, but then shook my head. No, that wouldn't be good at all. That would mean I'd be stuck in the house with Stark, Kimberly, and my mom, with nothing to do but worry about things. At least if I went to school I'd have my classes to distract me.
The thought actually made me chuckle. I knew I was practically unrecognizable from the girl I had been a year ago, before the attack, but you know things are drastic when a seventeen year old girl actually wants to go to school.
Something tapped against my window, but I ignored it and started undressing for bed. There was a tree planted about fifteen feet away from my room, and some of its branches were long enough to scrape the window when the wind blew. Stark had offered to trim it for me, but I'd turned him down. When I slept, I usually slept like a rock, and it would take a lot more than a little tapping to keep me up.
And tonight, I thought as I slipped my pajamas on, I was going to sleep like a rock on freaking tranquilizers. I'd been put through the ringer a dozen times today, and I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was lie down, pass out, and stay there for a week.
Maybe a snow day would be good for me after all, I thought as I felt my brain already drifting away to dreamland. I could get caught up on—
The tapping came again, but I barely noticed it. What I did notice, though, was the scent coming from outside. My eyes shot open, and I sprang out of bed like someone had electrocuted my mattress. Sure enough, by the dim light of the streetlamp by the road, I could see a shadow just outside my bedroom window.
A big, huge, hulking shadow.
As if it had realized it had been spotted, the shadow suddenly disappeared. I stood there, my feet rooted to the floor for at least half a minute before I spun around and ran into the hallway.
"Stark, wake up!" I screamed. "There's somebody—"
I came into the hallway and dug my feet in, skidding to a halt. Stark was sitting on the living room couch, just as awake as I was.
And my mom was with him.
The two of them froze when I barged into the room. Mom's hand was hovering just over Stark's shoulder, like she was about to touch him. They were sitting so close together that their hips almost brushed each other, leaving the seat at the opposite end of the couch empty.
"What's... going on here?" I asked a few seconds later, after my brain had come back online.
"Nothing," Stark said, hopping up and leaving my mom behind. He almost looked relieved. "What's wrong?"
"There was something outside my window," I said, spinning to point back down the hallway. "Something big!"
Without waiting for me to explain more, Stark made for the front door, throwing it open to let the frigid, snowy wind inside. I went after him, ignoring my mom's demands that I stay put. The cold stole my breath away the moment I stepped outside, but I ignored it and charged after him.
I found him just outside my bedroom window, kneeling down on the ground. His head shot up when he heard me coming, and I stopped short when I saw the look in his eyes.
"Get back inside," he ordered, pointing for the door. I wanted to stay and ask what it was I had seen, but I couldn't ignore a direct command from my alpha so I turned tail and made for the door. The minute I stepped inside, Mom was there throwing a blanket around my shoulders.
"Are you all right?" she demanded, pulling me away from the door. I couldn't help but notice how she left it standing open. "Did it hurt you?"
"It's gone, Mom," I said, shaking my head. I waited in the living room, watching the doorway for almost ten minutes before Stark came back in, stomping snow off his cowboy boots. Mom immediately went to try and cover him with a quilt too, but he waved her off.
"Whatever it was, there's nothing we can do about it now," he said, shutting the door behind him. "Snow's coming down too hard, covering the prints and the scent. We'll never be able to track it down."
"Well, why would you want to?" Mom demanded, grabbing me by my arm and pulling me further into the living room. "If that thing—"
"If that thing," Stark cut her off, sounding uncharacteristically ill tempered, "works for Hendricks, then the last thing we want is it running free. If we get a chance to catch it, we have to take it."
Mom's face went even paler. "But..."
"For everyone's safety," Stark asserted. My mom may not have been a werewolf, but even she couldn't argue with an alpha when he wanted the conversation to be over. Her grip tightened on my arm for a second, but then she let go and sat down on the couch again in defeat.
"Did... did you see what it was?" I asked in a frightened whisper.
Stark shook his head. "It was long gone by the time I got out there. Must have bolted the minute it figured out you'd seen it."
I hesitated, staring at him, unsure of what to do.
"Just go back to bed," he said, giving me the gentlest look he could manage with adrenaline rushing through his veins. "I don't think it'll come back tonight."
Once again, his authority as alpha took over, and I was only too happy to let it. I walked back to my room on numb feet, more exhausted than ever now that the excitement was over. I collapsed in bed and closed my eyes. It didn't matter that my heart was trying to beat its way out of my ribcage, I began to fall asleep almost immediately. The last thing to cross my mind was the scent I had caught just before seeing the shadow, and I shivered.
I didn't know what it was, but I did know that I had smelled it somewhere before.
NEXT TIME: Venture not into yonder forest, lass, for here there be monsters. Big shadowy monsters, the likes of which make Amber have nightmares. I wonder what, or who, it be? I also wonder when I'll be droppin’ this fake pirate accent? Yar har fiddle dee dee.