Out of all the prayers the education gods could have listened to, for some reason they chose to answer my lone plea to go to school the next day. The roads were plowed, the buses were on time, and by a quarter past eight we were handing in the half finished assignments everyone had assumed we would have at least another day to complete. Amidst the choruses of groans and complaints, I was probably the only one who was actually happy to be there.

 

Of course, that happiness only lasted so long as I could distract myself from the literal wiz kid who, by no suspicious means at all, somehow ended up with the exact same class schedule I had. I spent the entire day sitting with my back rigid, adamantly refusing to glance in his direction. That didn't stop Ed from looking at me, of course, and I could feel his prepubescent little eyes crawling all over me so much that I wanted to chuck a dictionary at him during English class. He never came and tried to talk to me, which was a relief, but the fact that he was there was like a tick burrowing into my brain all day long. The last straw was when my final class ended, and I headed out to board the bus home.

 

"So, I was thinking," Stacey was telling me, wasting no time in unwrapping a few pieces of bubblegum and cramming them in her mouth, "maybe you could come over tonight and we'd have a Tim Burton marathon."

 

I shook my head. "Stacey, you know I don't like his movies as much as you do."

 

She sniffed and turned her nose up. "I'm going to convert you sooner or later. Everything he makes is a masterpiece, and I don't understand how anyone could not love them."

 

"It's because they're so weird, and—"

 

Something caught my eye as I stepped up into the bus, and I looked to see Edgar sitting in the back row of seats. I froze, my grip tightening around the handrail so much I swear I almost broke it, and then backed out onto the curb again.

 

"What's with you?" Stacey asked, nonchalantly smacking her gum.

 

I gave a wary glance back at the bus, but Ed wasn't even looking at me. Still, my skin crawled at the thought of riding home with him. He was probably just trying to offer more "protective services" for the trip home, but that didn't mean I wanted to lead him straight there. I mean, Majestic probably already knew where I lived— hell, they probably had my bowel movements scheduled. Still, that didn't mean I wanted him there watching when I walked through the front door.

 

Because... well, Edgar is Edgar, and Edgar is a creep machine fueled by hormones.

 

"You look as pale as Johnny Depp did in Edward Scissorhands," Stacey said, bringing me back to the present. She paused. "That's a Tim—"

 

"I know," I cut her off, more sharply than I meant to. "Actually, I think I'm going to walk home today."

 

Stacey looked at me like I had just said I wanted to take a baloney sandwich to prom. "In this weather? Why?"

 

"I... dunno," I said, lamely. "I just feel like walking today."

 

"Isn't your place, like, fifteen miles from here?"

 

"I could use a little exercise."

 

Stacey huffed and rolled her eyes. "What, are you afraid the dweeb's gonna try to Larp with you on the bus or something?"

 

I froze. So she'd seen Edgar in there after all.

 

"No, no, it's not that," I said, looking back at Ed through the bus window. He still hadn't looked up at either of us, his nose buried in a library book. "Can I not just do something because I feel like it?"

 

Stacey and I stared at each other for a few seconds, and I knew the lie was printed all over my face. Even so, I didn't want to get on that bus with Ed. At all.

 

"Whatever," she said at last, rolling her eyes again and getting on the bus. "You are so weird, Amber."

 

I didn't argue. I was weird. If anything, Stacey was severely underestimating just how weird I was.

 

I watched her board the bus, and as soon as she was seated I turned and took off the other direction. Fifteen miles would have been really far for a normal human, but I'd be able to make it in an hour or less once I found a hidden place to shift. Heck, I might even get there before the bus did. I just had to get out of town first, or else risk another sighting of the "man eating dog."

 

As I jogged, I found myself on a familiar road. It was one I'd walked dozens of times over the past month, and when I recognized it my stomach reflexively clenched. This was the part of town where...

 

I came to a stop on the sidewalk, peering down an old street filled with potholes. The houses that lined it were falling apart and in serious need of a paint job, but it was a sight that would be burned into my memory until the day I died, no matter how much I wanted to forget.

 

Almost involuntarily, my feet started moving again, carrying me down the street. My heart began pounding in my chest and my skin felt clammy underneath my coat, but I kept going. Why was I doing this to myself, I wondered? What was the point? There was absolutely nothing here that I wanted to be reminded of. If I could forget every last thing that had happened to me and Kimberly on this street, that would probably be the greatest thing that could ever happen to me. My feet ignored my common sense, though, and continued to carry me further down bad memory lane, until...

 

There it was. A gigantic pile of charred planks sat at the edge of the street, the firemen not having had time to clean it up yet, and the smell of smoke was heavy in the air to my supersensitive nose. I stood there staring at it for almost ten minutes, unsure of how to feel. I should have been happy that the Swag Pag's house had been reduced to rubble, right? It was a symbol of everything that had gone wrong since the Silverblood bit me, and I would have done anything, anything to erase it.

 

And yet, staring at the remains of my old packhouse, I felt sad, almost reminiscent. Whether it was a good part of my life or a bad one, it was an important one. It was thanks to Dalton's constant stream of abuse that I had finally found the strength to break free of my submissiveness and stand up for myself. I was stronger because of it, and...

 

"And I'm grateful," I whispered to myself, hardly able to believe the emotion that had rose up in my chest.

 

Holy crap, what was wrong with me? I folded my arms and shivered, even though my coat was more than enough to ward off the cold. What kind of sick person would actually be grateful for all the different kinds of hell D.K. put me through?

 

But no, that wasn't it either, I realized. I still felt a burning hatred whenever I thought about my first alpha, and that would never go away. I wasn't thankful for what he'd done to me, I was thankful for... what he'd done to me. How, in the end, he had made me stronger. It hadn't been intentional, but maybe that was the point. He had tried his hardest to break me, but instead he had done the exact opposite. Like how boiling water will soften a potato, but harden an egg. I wasn't a potato, I was a hardboiled egg.

 

The thought almost made me laugh.

 

I would never stop hating the Swag Pag, but maybe I had been put there for a—

 

"What are you doing here, stupid girl?"

 

I spun around with a gasp, and then stepped backwards into the road. Do you know how hard it is to sneak up on a werewolf? If we don't smell you coming a mile away, we'll still hear you long before you get anywhere near us. The fact that someone had done just that without triggering one of my heightened senses was enough to shock me...

 

But not nearly as much as seeing a dead man scowling at me.

 

"Victor," I said, completely deadpan.

 

"Miss Pace," he said in curt reply.

 

We stared at each other for a minute, me in shock and him in disdain, before he finally spoke up again.

 

"What do you think you're doing here?" he demanded a second time.

 

"You're alive," I replied, my brain still trying to reconnect after short circuiting.

 

Victor rolled his eyes. "Very astute of you."

 

"How?" I asked.

 

Instead of answering, Victor looked at the house behind me. "Hendricks is back, and he is searching for you. Tell me, Amber, just how stupid does one have to be to go directly to the first place he would expect to find you?"

 

I paused, and looked at the house again. Victor was right. If Hendricks didn't know where I lived now, then he would be scouting out everywhere he thought I might be. By coming back to the Swag Pag's house, I might have just given myself away.

 

I wasn't going to admit that to this guy, though.

 

"The last time I saw you," I said, rounding on him again, "you got smashed under a semi-truck."

 

Victor gave me his trademark scowl. "What of it?"

 

"And then the truck blew up."

 

Victor didn't respond, and my irritation grew. I hated Victor almost as much as I hated D.K. He was the one who put me and Kimberly in the Swag Pag in the first place, despite telling his boss that he was going to find us a safe pack. He, more than anyone else from Majestic, owed me big time— and I wasn't about to take any sass from him.

 

"How the hell did you survive that?" I yelled.

 

For a second, I almost thought I saw Victor smirk, but then it was gone.

 

"We cannot very well protect you if you insist on running into danger like a lemming off a cliff," he said instead.

 

"I don't want your protection," I snapped.

 

"But you need it," he replied. His hand patted the side of his fine suit, and I guessed that was where he had his wand hidden. "You don't possibly think that you, a helpless werewolf child, can take down a demonic crime lord by yourself, do you?"

 

My face burned, and a growl rose from my throat. "Your track record isn't that great either, is it?"

 

Victor's scowl darkened, something I had a hard time believing was even possible.

 

"Besides," I spat before he could say anything else, "Ed told me why you're protecting me. So if your Silverblood dies you'll have a replacement to run tests on."

 

Victor arched his eyebrows, as if that were the most obvious thing in the world.

 

"Well, you can forget it! I'm not going to be your lab rat, got it?"

 

Victor seemed to consider this a moment, and then shrugged. "Very well. I suppose we can get just as much use out of Kimberly."

 

I froze, stunned.

 

"She might not be as strong as you," he mused, "but the girl does have spirit. I'm sure that with the proper care she'll survive at least a few years."

 

With a scream, I lunged at Victor. My vision had gone completely red. Somewhere inside me, I knew he was just trying to get me to react, but I didn't care. How could he talk about Kimberly that way? How could anyone be that heartless? In that moment, my wolf completely overtook my rational human mind, and all I wanted was to sink my teeth into his throat and MURDER HIM. In the split second it took me to close the distance between us, I could already feel my muscles bulging underneath my clothes, ready to burst free when I transformed. I opened my mouth, my teeth sharpening, and—

 

Victor's fist connected with my cheek, and I went sprawled out on the ground. It took a few seconds to realize what had happened, but then the cold snow soaked through my hair and shocked me back into reality. Victor stood above me, looking at his knuckles as if he were worried he'd scratched them when he punched me.

 

Do you know how hard it is for a human to hurt a werewolf? It's just a little bit easier than sneaking up on us.

 

"It's too dangerous for you to be wandering around alone," he said, fixing me with his cold glare. "Go home, stupid girl."

 

Before I could reply, I was blinded by a flash of yellow light, and I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I was in Stark's front yard.

 

NEXT TIME: Hey, would ya look at that? Our ol’ buddy ol’ pal Victor’s still alive and kicking!  Isn’t that great?  Isn’t that exactly what you all wanted?  Victor’s the best, isn’t he?  You all know you love him.  But how is Amber going to react to this wonderful news?

Chapter Eight

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