The Calling Page 47

I told myself that was her way of dealing with stress, but still…? Reading fashion tips? If it was me, I’d be plotting my escape, no matter how unlikely it seemed, just to feel that I was taking control of my fate.

I shimmied a little closer and the branch creaked. Nicole looked up. She saw me, and her mouth opened to let out a shriek. I froze. I was stuck out on a branch, with no easy way to back up and escape. She didn’t scream, though. For a minute, we just stared at each other. Then she lifted the lantern and squinted, her gaze sliding along my side.

“Maya,” she whispered.

I followed her gaze to my flank. There was my birthmark, black fur forming a paw print.

“It is you, isn’t it?” She stood. “They told me what you are.”

She smiled up at me and I saw the same old Nicole, sweet and shy, yet all I could think was, You killed Serena. I looked into her eyes and it wiped away that last piece of doubt.

“You came to rescue me,” she said, keeping her voice so low I could barely hear it.

When I just stared at her, she said it again.

“You are here to rescue me, right?”

I thought about how easy it would be to drop from my perch, slash through that tent, and take her down. I imagined my fangs clamped around her throat, and felt a kernel of horror in my gut, but it was only a kernel.

“Stop that,” she hissed, yanking her gaze away. “Go get the others. You outnumber these guys. Together you can save me.”

I didn’t move.

She looked at me again, and the sweet and shy Nicole disappeared. Her eyes blazed.

“The others aren’t here, are they?” she said. “You have no intention of rescuing me. Why would you? I’m competition for your precious Daniel. You don’t want him, but you don’t want anyone else to have him either. You’re a selfish bitch, Maya Delaney. A slut, too, fooling around with every guy in sight, right under his nose.”

As Nicole raged, the hair on my neck prickled, because in her eyes, I saw madness. Obsession and madness.

“Everything comes so easy for you, doesn’t it, Maya? School, boys, friends, sports. Even your precious animals. You can’t just take care of them like any normal person. You have to be some kind of animal whisperer. Magical healer. So damned special. Like Serena, captain of the swim team and the best singer on the freaking island, and how much does she practice? Sings in the shower. Paddles around the lake. Do you know how hard I work? It’s never enough. You two get the trophies and the solos and the As and the boys.”

You’re crazy, I thought. Did they do this to you with their experiments? Or is this just you?

I started inching back.

“You’re just going to leave me here?” she said. “Well, you know what, Maya? I could use a littlecompany.”

She screamed, a long drawn-out shriek of feigned terror.


MORENO WAS THE FIRST to see me, and he let out a curse as loud as Nicole’s shriek.

He pulled a gun from his hip. An automatic pistol.

Antone knocked it from his hand and pointed his flashlight at my flank.

“It’s Maya,” he said.

He started toward me. I was inching back, the branch too thin for me to turn around.

“It could be Annie,” Penny whispered, her gaze fixed on me. “Come looking for her brother.”

Antone shook his head. “That’s Maya.” He met my gaze. “I know it is.”

He kept walking until he was directly under my branch.

“This is your first time, isn’t it?” he said, his voice soft.

“You’re scared and you’re confused—”

I let out a snarl that reverberated through the quiet forest.

Antone chuckled. “Or maybe not. I should have guessed you’d hit the ground running.” He smiled. “Or hit the trees climbing. But you’re trapped now. I know that’s not fair. You came to rescue your friend and—”

“She didn’t come to rescue me,” Nicole spat as she stormed out of the tent. “She came to taunt me. She’s a spoiled brat—”

“Get her out of here,” Antone said, eyes never leaving mine. “Maya, you know you’re trapped, and I’m sure you want to put up a fight, but that’s not going to help anyone.”

I hunkered down, measuring the distance between us.

“Cal…” Penny said. “Back away. She’s getting ready—”

“She won’t.” His gaze fixed on mine. “She might want to, but she won’t.”

I dug my claws deeper into the branch, testing my purchase. My tail rose and flicked from side to side as I adjusted my balance. I crouched. An easy leap. He wouldn’t get out of the way. He was too confident that I wouldn’t hurt him.

My hindquarters twitched. My rear legs tensed. I sheathed my front claws. I let out one last snarl. Then I leaped.

He realized then that he was wrong. That I felt no tie to him. Felt no sympathy for him. That I would rip his throat out if that protected my friends.

At the last second, I twisted. Penny fired the tranquilizer gun, and I felt the darts whiz past. I heard Antone’s shout. Heard Penny curse as she realized she’d missed. Heard Nicole shout for them to shoot me before I killed them all.

I wasn’t about to kill anyone. That wouldn’t save me. Wouldn’t save the others. I didn’t know if I could have or not. Only that it would be a life wasted, so the point was moot.

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