At the top of the stairs I hear the master bark out an order to one of his other handlers. Lawrence’s fingers quiver in response as he slides his key into the padlock securing my cell, a clear indication that the wolves aren’t the only ones afraid of their keeper. I look past his shoulder, at the streak of light filtering downward and illuminating a path to the grand mansion up above.
“Going somewhere?” he taunts. I glare at him and his expressionless mask shatters for a brief moment. He offers me a smug smile, but I hear the slight tremor when he exhales.
I make a noise, a mixture of a human moan and an animal growl, and his hand slows on my lock. Escape from the compound might be impossible, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. I like to exercise my mind by trying to find holes in the security system. Most would think I’m simply daydreaming but what I’m really doing is watching, listening, learning and absorbing everything about the estate and the people who run it.
The compound is huge and so far I’m unable to figure out a way to get through the electric fence. Even if I do overcome that first obstacle and make it to the other side, I can’t forget about that pesky microchip beneath my skin, a tiny transponder with a permanent radio-frequency identification.
I could try to run while out on a job, like my mother did. But capture came swift for her as she tried to make her way toward the Canadian border, to where she believed wolves ran free. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, or even if those packs would have helped her break the rest of us out if she’d found them.
As I think about escape I wonder how far I would get before another tracker found me. Or would the Paranormal Task Force—an elite group of officers who hunt things that go bump in the night—catch me first?
The hinges on my cell groan like a wounded animal as Lawrence pulls open the door and makes a grab for my chain. I know better than to shift to my primal form with the collar on. One of the pups broke his neck that way. Another lesson compliments of our master.
Lawrence yanks on the chain and jerks me to my feet as his gaze rakes over my dusty floor. With that grin still on his ugly rat face, he uses his stained boot to brush away the picture I drew in the thin layer of dirt.
I won’t let him see me flinch, I won’t give him that power, so I clench my jaw hard enough to grind bone and resist the urge to kill him.
It’s a silly thing, really, but I hate how he takes pleasure in erasing the one thing that gives me joy. Drawing. I once saw the master’s wife—I think it was his third wife—using water colors to paint a picture of the vineyard and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
I stretch my leg muscles as I exit my cage and wait for him to release Jace and Clover. Then, with three chains in his hand, Lawrence leads us all up the stairwell. The windows are open and a warm breeze blows over my flesh, rustling the hem of my nightgown.
He herds us down a long walkway until we reach the kitchen. I keep my head down as I walk past Mica, not because she looks at me with pity, she doesn’t, but because I don’t want her to see my wolf’s hunger. Hunger for her bread.
Hunger for her blood.
Like every other morning we leave the kitchen and step out into the vast outdoors and prepare for our daily run and agility training. With the warm, sun-kissed grass tickling my bare feet I stand there for a moment and inhale the bouquet. The master’s estate is on the west coast, smack dab in the middle of wine country, and if I listen really hard, way off in the distance I can almost hear the Pacific waters lapping lazily against the sandy shoreline. My ears perk as I listen to the soothing sound. Something about the translucent blue ocean with its rolling surf and unpredictable waves reminds me of freedom, but now is not the time to be thinking about such things. It’s time to be thinking about captivity and what that means for me.
As I stand there absorbing the new day, and the familiarity of it all, I don’t take pleasure in the aromatic smells from the juicy berries blossoming beneath the late summer sun, like some of the other shifters around me do. Instead I study my surroundings. Survival instincts force me to look for a change, to check and see if anything has been altered.