Hello everyone! As some of you might know, this is the sequel to my story Truthful Deception. For those of you who have not read that story, I suggest you read it first before this one because you'll have no idea what's going on! Haha. So anyway, those of you who are returning thanks for doing so and I hope you enjoy the continuation of Claire's story. As always please let me honestly know what you think! :) Man-Hunt
The sharp scent of crushed ferns reached my nose, a warning fragrance that told of pursuit. I could almost feel the dark shadow that watched my every move, tracking my progress through the woods. I knew I couldn't let it win. Everything was at stake.
A sharp crack split the humid air. I froze in my half-crouch with sweat trickling down my temples, plastering tendrils of hair to my face. Hair rose on my forearms as I felt the shadow slip closer. I quieted my breathing so the sound wouldn't give me away. It was too close for me to run without giving away my position and my human feet would make too much noise even if it was a mile away. But I had one last trick up my sleeve. This wasn't going to be finished without a fight.
My hand closed tightly around the tennis ball I held and brought it up to my lips. I spat on it, rubbing the spit into the felt with my palms. I checked the position of the shadow one last time and then hurled the tennis ball in the opposite direction.I listened for a few satisfied seconds as the yellow missile sailed through the trees, bouncing through the underbrush. I felt the shadow take off after it in hot pursuit, feeling the vibrations through the ground. Without a moment's hesitation, I ran.
I tried to keep my footsteps light as I raced away so it wouldn't alert my pursuer of the trick. Leaping over bushes so broken branches wouldn't make a trail; I cut my way through the sticky air towards safety.A wild laugh burst through my lips. I was going to make it. Then, suddenly, I felt the dark presence again, the feeling of eyes burning into my back. And this time, it wasn't just watching, it was hunting.
Just out of sight, I felt it drawing closer. Expertly, it wove through the forest gaining ground with every step and cutting off my escape. I kept running. No way was I going to be pushed back into the forest again as lost prey.
My breath started to gasp through my throat, the air too thick to give me enough oxygen. The muscles in my legs began to protest my wild flight and more sweat drenched my back making my t-shirt cling to my skin. I ignored my body's signs that I was exerting it past the limit. Just a few more meters and I was free.
The thinning of the trees gave me new hope and I pushed harder, no longer leaping over brambles but pushing straight through. The shadow already knew my path. Secrecy wasn't an option any longer. The gentle slope that led out of the woods loomed in front of me as the last stretch. But my pursuer was still gaining. Only a few more minutes and it would have me. I began scrambling up the hill, using the last few low branches as handholds to pull me up. Just a few more feet.
Something slammed into me from the side, knocking my feet from under me. With a cry, I lost my grip on the branches and felt myself tumbling back down the slope. I crashed through thorns and brambles, putting my hands in front of my face to protect my eyes. I dug my heels into the ground to slow my descent, but I didn't stop until I crashed into a tree, the breath forced cruelly from my lungs.
I lay there, too dizzy to stand. The sky tipped and spun above me and my head and side throbbed. I closed my eyes, slowly flexing everything to make sure nothing was broken. All was in order. But I had lost.
Soft, padded footsteps made their way towards me, too silent to be a human. The sun's light that turned my eyelids red was blocked by a shadow. My eyes flew open to see a huge silver muzzle not inches from my lips pulled back in a snarl to reveal huge jagged teeth and the beast's hot breath blew into my face. An enormous paw armed with claws that looked as though they could cut through steel pushed hard against my sternum. I felt the bruise forming as the animal leaned closer.
Before its huge teeth could snap close, I screamed.
"Ahhhhhhhh! Okay, okay, you win!" I cried, laughing. "Now get off, you're bruising my ribs!"
The silver wolf gave a rusty laugh and I shoved him off. Gathering my weight on my hands, I rolled into a sitting position, massaging my side. The forest had finally found balance again, and the trees stood straight and solid in my line of vision. I swept the back of my hand across my forehead, wiping the sweat and dirt away from my eyes.
The silver wolf had disappeared and a boy had taken his place. Wearing only shorts in the hot, summer air, his tanned skin glowed in the soft rays and a mop of brown hair dripped into his golden eyes that seemed to hold the sun themselves. Hard, well developed muscles rippled as he came over to give me a hand up which I accepted gratefully. He returned me to my feet without the slightest hint of effort.
"You're getting better. That tennis ball was a good idea, but you're trail in the beginning is still giving you away," said Cade.
"Thanks," I gasped. "I'll win eventually. Until then though, do me a favor. Just, go a little easier on the impact. I'm not exactly built to withstand a tree falling on me."
Cade laughed. "Sure, no problem."
I pulled my messy hair back up into a neat ponytail, sighing as a breeze cut through the sticky air and cooled the back of my neck. "Shouldn't we be getting back?"
"We've got time for one more round."
"Maybe we have time, but I don't have the energy," I said, still trying to regain my breath. "I vote we go. We can always play again tomorrow."
Cade chuckled. "Fine by me. But I think it's just because you're afraid of losing."
"Shut up," I snapped playfully, swinging my fist towards his shoulder. He dodged it easily and shook his head.
We began walking together through the woods, swatting at the thick entourage of mosquitoes that constantly swarmed around our heads like paparazzi after the best photo of the two biggest movie stars in the world. Eventually, we gave up and let them get their shots. It was just too exhausting trying to avoid , my wild flight towards safety had been in the direction of my house, which meant after only a few minutes, I could see its white exterior through the trees.
Summer was in full swing now that school had been out for two weeks. I had so far enjoyed everyday of my freedom, living each day with enough energy that I fell into my bed each night unconscious before my head even touched the pillow. My days had been divided between my boyfriend Connor, who spent all his free time outside work with me, and my best friend and werewolf, Cade.
The last couple of weeks, Cade had been playing hide and seek with me in the woods as a training program so I would be able to hang with the werewolves once they settled into their new home without feeling like too much of an outsider. His pack, which would be conveniently moving into the house down the street, had spent so much time living as wolves that they had forgotten what it was like to live amongst humans. As one of the three humans who were currently aware that supernatural beasts walked among us, and the one who had saved them from being revealed by their shape-shifter enemies at last year's Harvest Fair, they trusted me to help them settle back into human life.
But, as I had learned from working with two teenage werewolves last fall, it wasn't without its risks and differences. Hanging around people who were not only much stronger than you but had the ability to hear, see, not to mention shift into a wolf, could make you a little self-conscious not to mention a good target.
So in order to help me fit in, Cade had devised a game between us. Human versus werewolf. Cade would give me a head start to set a trail through the woods and then begin to track me. If I could fool him long enough that I could make it back to my house without him catching me, I won. So far, I believed the score was tilted drastically in his favor. But I was getting better. And Cade was a surprisingly good teacher, and after you got around his massive size and crazy yellow eyes, he was a great friend.
Because of Cade, I now had the skills of someone who had grown up in the wild, just maybe not as finely tuned. Thanks to him, I knew how to use my feet to feel vibrations through the ground and to determine whether they were a human or an animal. I knew how to use my ears to pinpoint a sound after it had echoed through the trees. My eyes had been tuned to peal apart movement and deceiving textures from the thick forest background. And most importantly, I had learned to use my intuitive feelings to my advantage when something wasn't right. He had taught me a lot.
As we walked up gently rolling hill of my backyard, I asked "Do you think Bridget's back yet?"
Bridget was my other werewolf friend and was a little harder to get along with than Cade. She had had a tough childhood after her brother had been killed by a shape-shifter and spent a lot of her time wallowing in guilt and sorrow. It didn't help that Bridget didn't get along well with her parents and she didn't make friends easily. I still wasn't sure of what kind of relationship we held even after nine months.
Back in early May, she had left school early on a sick leave, finishing her schoolwork only to the extent that she passed junior year. But Cade had let me in on her real absence. The shape-shifters that had tried to reveal them at the Harvest Fair had been spotted back in town. Bridget had volunteered to go with the five or so other wolves who had decided to track them down once and for all, while Cade, surprisingly, had stayed behind. But, from the updates that were passed from the group back to Cade's pack, it didn't sound like they were having a lot of success and would be heading home any day now.
"I don't know," answered Cade. "But I wouldn't bet on it. Last I heard, they were still up in Vermont giving one last look around."
I nodded and started up the stairs to our back porch.
"So it doesn't sound like they had much luck," I commented, pulling the sliding glass door open and stepping with a sigh into the air-conditioned kitchen.
"No, there wasn't much to find. It was like they disappeared into thin air, but it was only the fact that they came back here so soon that was suspicious. They should be home any day now," Cade informed me, stepping into the house but keeping close to the still-open door.
Even after months of hanging out with humans, Cade hadn't managed to be completely at ease in human dwellings. This was probably only the third or fourth time he had set foot in a house, but his eyes still roamed warily and his feet constantly shuffled as if he was getting ready to run or fight. I didn't know how he was going to be at home in his new house, but maybe being around his kin would make him feel better.
"Do you want something to drink?" I offered, trying to distract him.
"No thanks," he said. A noise upstairs made him tense; it sounded like my sister had dropped something. "You know what; I'll just wait for you outside."
Before I could protest, he was gone, a hot breeze blowing through the kitchen now that the door was unblocked. I went to slid it shut, shaking my head. I went in search of a can of soda, chugging half of it before taking a breath. It was delicious. I grabbed another for Cade despite his wish returned to the out doors to go and find hi. Before I shut the door, I shouted up to my sister.
"Courtney! I'm going down the street. Tell mom when she gets home or have her call me on my cell phone!"
I bounded down the porch steps and found Cade now in a white t-shirt leaning against the side of my house watching my spaniel mutt, Travis, chasing a butterfly around the yard. When the whole drama with the shape-shifters had the werewolves on red alert Cade had warned be about Travis being one of them. I refused to believe him although he claimed he could tell between animals and the supernatural. There was nothing to suggest Travis was a shape-shifter. He was just a stray who had decided he wanted to live with us.
When I came into view, Travis abandoned his pursuit of the butterfly to beg attention from me. I threw Cade the soda, who grinned when he caught it, and kneeled in the grass next to the dog to give him a belly-rub.
"So you still have him then?" asked Cade in between drinks.
"Cade, he is not a shape-shifter. He's just a dog. Please let it go," I asked, fishing a treat out of my pocket and throwing it into the yard for Travis to find. He scampered off and I returned to my feet brushing grass off my legs.
"He's not just a dog Claire. Believe me. But since you won't, I'll let it go. For now."
I rolled my eyes. "Even if he was a shape-shifter, and I'm not saying he is, what harm could he do to you in a form like that?" I inquired, indicating his little body and big brown eyes.
"Not much in the physical sense," admitted Cade, "But he could be a spy for all we know."
"A spy? Really Cade?" I mocked. "What do we ever discuss in front of him that would have any meaning to him?"
"You never know," replied Cade, turning back to watch Travis chasing his tail. "You never know."
I shook my head. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
Cade pushed away from the wall and took one last glance at my dog before walking towards the woods.
"Can we take the street this time? Most people don't wander in the woods on a daily basis, they use the roads. That's what they're there for," I informed him laughing.
He chuckled. "Sure."
"Bye Travis!" I called. He looked up and barked, then went back to patrolling the yard.
We walked down the driveway in silence, Cade slowing his pace so I could keep up. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and looked up at the trees that threw spotted shadows on the road as the swayed in the wind. It was good to be outdoors again, free to do whatever I wanted without school hanging over me or the threat of being killed by werewolves or shape-shifters by association.
"How is the rest of your family settling into the new house?" I asked cautiously. The move wasn't the easiest of subjects for even Cade to talk about. As much as they wanted to become a part of human life again, it was a big change for them. One that would require a lot of time, patience, and most of all restraint.
"All right, I guess. It's been tough to put it lightly. There are a lot of things that are different. We just have to adapt; it's been done before," explained Cade, looking at his feet.
"I see. Well kind of," I said, trying to lighten his mood. Cade wasn't much fun when he was like this. "But we're unpacking more stuff today aren't we? It'll make the house feel more like home."
"If you say so," he murmured, kicking at a stone. Under his breath, I heard him mutter, "Your home, not mine."
"Cade," I sighed, putting a hand on his arm and turning him to face me. "I thought you, all of you, wanted to come back to your human roots."
"We do, we are."
"Well, you sure don't sound like. If you're just going to give up before you get anywhere, then we fought last year for almost nothing. I understand it's not easy. You're trying to be something you haven't been for a long time. But just because you're not there yet doesn't mean you won't get there," I promised.
Cade sighed and looked up to meet my gaze. He smiled. "You're right. It's just going to take some time. Thanks for the pep talk."
"Anytime," I said, beginning to walk again.
"That's what we have you for. Who knows how to make werewolves seem human better than a human herself?" he asked.
I gritted my teeth at his words. "Yea, no pressure or anything."
He shook my shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry about it Claire. I'm just teasing you. We don't expect you to work miracles."
"Well, I'm going to try anyway," I said determinedly. "Wait and see."
We were silent for the rest of the walk and stopped in front of their new house. It was a two-story white colonial that had a neat front yard split by a stone walk-way. There wasn't much of a backyard but it didn't bother the werewolves in the least. The woods were only ten feet from the back door. Now, the house stood empty and forlornly, waiting for its new occupants to claim the property, but inside were the many boxes waiting to be unpacked.
When Cade's family had first come to town, the few human possessions they had were stored in boxes hidden in the cave where I had first learned of Bridget's mixed heritage. Over the last couple of days, they had been moved to the new house which they had bought and begun to furnish with the help of a group of werewolves who had existed in secret from the shape-shifters helping to incorporate the packs brave enough to live full-time in the human world back into society. They had even managed to arrange for Rea and the one member of the pack I hadn't been formerly introduced to, Shawn, to get jobs to help support the new family.
I turned to my left to see Cade staring up at the house with a vacant expression on his face. I was about to say something when the front door opened.
Rea, the beta wolf of the pack, appeared in the doorway with a smile on her face, a red bandana in her hair, and rolled up over-alls.
"Come on you two. Don't stand there all day. We need help unpacking," she called.
Cade just sighed and jogged towards the door. I followed behind.
"Hi, Rea," I greeted as I stepped over the threshold.
"Hi, Claire, good to see you again," she replied. She was the one other werewolf I felt completely comfortable with besides Cade. If I didn't know she was a supernatural creature, I never would have guessed her to be.
The interior of the house was dark and cool, a welcome relief from the heat outside. To my left was the soon-to-be living room which opened up into the dining room. Straight down the hall was the kitchen, and to my right was the staircase that led to the four bedrooms. All around us were boxes and covered furniture just waiting to be unwrapped and put to use.
"So," I began happily, "Where do we start?"
"Well, I've got Camen and Ianna's room done as well as mine. Shawn's done his and I'm pretty sure Bridget would rather do her own unpacking. Cade will do his now. So it looks like you're stuck helping me with the kitchen and living room," said Rea.
"Works for me," I said, clapping my hands together. Cade just bounded up the stairs without a word. A second later, a door slammed shut. I bit my lip. "He really doesn't want to move does he?"
Rea sighed and led me into the living room. "Cade has always been more of a wolf at heart. But he needs this more than most of us to find out there is much more to life than running around the forest howling at the moon."
"He'll come around eventually. I'll make sure he sees how much fun it can be to be human every once in a while," I said confidently.
"You know Claire, I'm really glad you found us," said Rea.
"Don't you mean poked my nose where I shouldn't have?" I joked.
"Whatever you want to call it, I'm still you did. It'll be good for Bridget and Cade to have a trustworthy human friend to rely on while they make adjustments."
"Thanks Rea. I'm glad I found you guys too. It's been a real eye-opened to my own world," I said seriously.
"Well, I'm glad. Now enough talk. We have unpacking to do."
She handed me a box and grabbed one of her own. We settled down together on the floor and began unwinding bubble-wrap from various glasses and dishes. An hour or so passed this way and steadily, the pile of unpacked boxes grew while the full ones decreased. Not much conversation passed between us expect when we asked for another box or to move something and Cade never made an appearance.
Later in the afternoon, I went to go grab a drink from the kitchen. I watched as the sun sunk lower and lower in the red sky and felt the calm that comes with summer nights as the crickets and cicadas come out to perform. As I was rinsing out the glass, I heard a commotion out front.
Rea wasn't in the living room when I returned to see what was going on and the front door was thrown wide open. I walked towards it and met Cade as he came down the stairs.
"What's going on?" I asked. A smile was plastered on his face. It was the happiest I had seen him all day.