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Chapter 2

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Claire


She bolted through the forest. The wind whipped through her fur, the trees swaying and leaves falling to the ground by the push of the wind. Her breath came in pants, her heart thudded, and her lungs cried with exhaustion. She ignored it. She ignored it all and kept going.

Her paws became soaked when she splashed playfully through a stream, the water jumping up in fright and sparkling in the sunlight. Claire wanted to stop and enjoy the icy coldness of the water and how wondrous it felt when it rushed over her brownish-red fur, but she couldn't stop.

The bird she chased cawed in horror as it flew through the green trees, dodging trunks and branches. Its blue and brown feathers danced in front of Claire's eyes, taunting her.

Almost there.

Claire.

One step away. Claire could practically feel her jaws locked around the tiny animal.

Claire!

She opened her mouth, her canines glinting beautifully in the sunlight leaking through the treetops. She bit down, catching the bird gracefully just as—

"Claire!" Something shook her shoulder hard, jerking her out of the dream. She jumped up, surprised, her head ramming painfully on the shelf on the wall by the booth.

"Ow. Damn." Claire rubbed at her head, pain shocking her senses like lightning. She looked up at the person who had woken her up.

"Sandy?" Her eyes darted around the diner as her mind caught up with her. How long had she been asleep?

Sandy glared down at her coworker. "Finally. I've only been trying to wake you up for like the past 15 minutes," she said, exasperated. "You're lucky they even let you keep your brother here while you work."

Claire frowned. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep. It's just been a bit hard lately and—"

"Yeah, yeah. Save it," Sandy told her harshly, rolling her eyes. "You better get back to work before the boss finds you slacking off. Your break's been over for 20 minutes now."

Shit.

"And you definitely want to get a hold on your brother. He's been bothering that old couple for quite a while now."

Claire jumped up from the booth, her nervous gaze sweeping for Charlie. When did he get up from the booth? She couldn't help but sigh in relief when she found him near the back of the old diner, chatting excitedly with an elderly couple. Lucky for her, the couple didn't look like they minded having him join them for dinner.

Claire watched in horror when she saw Charlie steal a fry from the older man's plate. She immediately jumped into action, forgetting all about Sandy. "Charlie!" she hissed when she got to their table. "What did I tell you about leaving the booth?"

She sent an apologetic look to the couple, begging for them to understand. "I'm so sorry about this."

The lady only smiled down at little Charlie sitting next to her, his blonde curls looking way too out of control. "Nonsense, Dearie. This young man is more than welcome here." She ran a hand over his hair. "Harold and I don't mind. He's been wonderfully behaved."

Charlie beamed up at the lady, no doubt soaking in the praise. "Care! Care! Can I stay? Please?"

Claire gave Charlie a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, Charlie, but I need you to stay in the booth where I can see you. Besides, all your toys are there. Don't you want to play with your playdoh?"

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