Home > Heart Of The Hounded (Eden Academy # 0)

Heart Of The Hounded (Eden Academy # 0)
Author: Grace McGinty

 

Prologue

 

 

Tonight, I cursed the human race, especially those with Y-chromosomes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a bad ass witch or voodoo queen, and I couldn’t make the curse stick.

But if I could, I’d curse Pete Bukowski to a lifetime of shrivelled nuts. Maybe a micropenis too. Or maybe one of those really huge dicks that were good for nothing and tiny shrivelled nuts. Yeah, I liked that. No one would be able to look at him naked without laughing or running away.

I snarled into the night air. It was for Pete Bukowski that I’d ditched my natural cynicism towards teenage boys. Pete Bukowski, who’d asked me, Layla Lee, nerd and complete social pariah, out on a date and I’d been far too blind to second-guess his intentions.

Pete Bukowski, who’d thought I’d be so grateful to spend even a minute in his popular, football jersey, beer bong breath presence, that I would gladly climb into the back of his overpriced, trash-filled SUV and do whatever the hell he asked.

Boy, was he wrong.

Just thinking about it made me angrier. Our evening picnic was really just a drive up to Hallaran Point, the local make-out spot. We’d scoffed down Wendy’s, and kissed a little bit. Then he’d tried to go further and I’d said to stop. Spoiler alert, he hadn’t.

What he didn’t understand was that I had a lot of free time because of that pesky little no friends problem. Which meant I watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to maim a guy with three well aimed strikes.

I’d punched him in the balls and slammed out of the car in my indignation. I guess it really only took one well-aimed strike when it came down to it. I’d fully expected Pete to feel ashamed by his shitty behavior, maybe be a gentleman and drive me home. What actually occurred was Pete calling me some vile shit and roaring away too fast in a hail of mud, twigs and stones.

And so, I hated all men at this moment. Maybe I’d become a nun. Or like, a scientist so I could figure out a way to remove the need for men completely. What I would not do was cry. Instead I’d take all the anger, hurt and fear I felt right now and meld it into a ball of molten hot rage, then plot my revenge. It would be epic and probably get me thrown out of school, but by god it would be worth it.

The night noises made a deafening soundtrack to my shame, my own breathing nearly drowning out the owls and other nocturnal creatures. However, nothing drowned out the sound of the wolves in the mountains. Their chorus of howls was too loud, and adrenaline bounced along my nerves. As the howls sounded closer, my white ball of fury turned into a lead weight of fear in the pit of my stomach. I walked faster, well, as fast as my high heels would let me without breaking an ankle, and the crunching noise of my feet was a small comfort.

Until it wasn’t.

With a sudden intake of breath, I halted but the crunching continued for a brief second. As much as I would have liked to dismiss it as my imagination, I knew that would be a stupid, and probably fatal, mistake. I continued walking, slowly now, my ears straining to hear the footfalls behind me. They were soft and light, obviously not human and they were coming from many directions. There was no doubt in my mind what forest creature was stalking me now.

Stopping again, I leaned down and removed my shoes. Wrapping their straps around my wrists, I shot off into the darkness towards the muted glow of the town lights and the safety they represented. Tears had started to stream from the corners of my eyes, creating cold rivers over my cheeks. They told us not to run from predators, but the other option was what? Lying down and being eaten? No fucking thank you!

A scream burst from my throat as a wolf leaped in front of me, appearing from the darkness like a vision from my nightmares. I skidded to a stop, forest debris spearing my foot. I was oddly aware of the warm pain radiating up my leg, the same way you are aware of pain when given a local anaesthetic. The wolf stood rigidly in my path, its heavy breath creating clouds of hot mist visible by the pale moonlight. I knew the rest of its pack had me surrounded, just as I knew with complete certainty that I was about to die. Frozen in fear, I couldn’t cry or scream, I just stood there, staring into the eyes of the predator, listening to the rest of the pack closing in behind me.

Move your fucking ass, Layla! Despite the words I was shouting in my head, I remained as frozen as a deer.

Then the leader leaped for my throat.

Screaming, I twisted around as the animal attacked, its jaws missing its jugular target and landing the bite on the scoop of my shoulder. I swung my high heels at the animal’s head, getting it in the eye with a lucky shot. The monster let me go with a yelp, but its pack mates were on me as soon as it released its jaws. A bite got me in the back of my leg, bringing me to my knees. I curled up in a defensive position, covering my head and neck as teeth tore at my bare legs. Every inch of flesh radiated pain now. More bites got my arms, my back, each tugging and tearing at my skin.

Then, almost as one, they stopped.

Lifting my head only slightly, I saw the wolves backing away from me, growling defensively. A deafening rumble reverberated through the woods and my heartbeat stopped. Was it a bear? What the hell would scare wolves that way?

My brain had compartmentalized the pain I was in, like it knew there was a greater threat that I had to run from now. Adrenaline, already heightened, made me struggle to my knees.

I looked in the direction of the rumbling growl, my gasp drowned out by the cacophony of whining wolves.

A monster stood in the clearing.

My brain struggled to comprehend what I was seeing. It looked almost wolf-shaped, I guessed. However, it didn’t look like any wolf I’d ever laid eyes on, nothing like the animals attacking me. The massive creature stood on its hind legs, towering over seven feet high. Its coat was shining in the moonlight but I couldn’t tell what color. Its head was slightly more rounded than a normal wolf’s, but its cheekbones were high and its features pointed. Its ears were stiff and alert, and it had furred hands rather than paws, tipped in long claws.

The monster gripped an attacking wolf around the throat and hurled it into the nearest tree with bone-shattering force. I was grasping at my neck, trying to stem the flow of blood, struggling to my feet as I watched it grab another wolf by the head. One of its massive clawed hands slid into the wolf’s mouth, gripping its lower jaw and snapping it off with a noise that echoed around my head.

The wounded cries of the jawless wolf seemed to stun the other pack members into stillness. The monster leaned down and snapped its neck, ending the injured wolf's misery. The rest of the pack eyed the creature warily before turning and running away with lightning swiftness.

I wobbled on my one good leg as the beast turned on me. I swayed unsteadily, clutching a rock that I didn’t remember picking up, ready to fight. Unfortunately, the blackness had started to intrude on the edges of my vision, my swaying becoming more violent, until I collapsed to one side.

The jaws must have hit an artery, a distant voice in my head deduced. I was suffering blood loss. I was screwed, but it was still probably better than being torn apart by wolves. Or whatever fate this monster had in store for me.

I stiffened as the thing lurched toward me, its stride long and powerful.

Run, run, run, you stupid idiot. I really wished my legs would obey the screaming voice in my head.

Instead, I laid still as the monster came close enough to lean over me, sniffing my face and the wound on my neck. It knelt down, sniffing the wound on my arm and behind my knee as well. It plucked the stick out of my foot, the way you would pluck a pesky bone out of a piece of fish before you ate it. It stood back up to its full seven foot height and stared into my face. The thing had a hold of my arms, keeping me suspended upright so that the tips of my toes barely brushed the ground.

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