STAWP | Chapter 5

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"No. No! Of course I didn't have anything to do with it! I didn't even know," I cry, shaking my head emphatically. "I would never cheat people, or gamble, or anything! I'm sixteen!"

"I see," POW replies, his voice devoid of emotion, and turns back to watch the road.

I know there's no point in arguing. Years of experience have taught me that it's best to stay quiet, take the blame and apologize... no matter how absurd the accusation. If I try stand up for myself, it'll just make him angrier, more pissed off. He'll lash out with a slap that flings me across the room—if I'm lucky—or beat me until he hears the cracking of bone. He'll expect me to fight back, too. If I don't, it'll just anger him more and—I grimace, realizing that I'm thinking about Dad, not POW.

The Pissed Off Wolf is bigger and stronger than Dad, so he's bound to be ten times worse. Plus, unlike Dad, he has no reason not to kill me. Arguing will just show him I'm no Omega and ruin any chance I have of getting away.

"Last week he got cocky," POW spits out, going back to telling me about Dad. "Decided to play against a wolf." He shakes his head at the absurdity of it. "There'd been rumors... talk of a guy from out of town," POW continues, making his distaste for Dad clear. "I sent Sam to investigate. When he realized it was a wolf..." POW purses his lips, his grip on the wheel tightening. "Let's just say Sam cleaned him out good. Got an IOU for the ten grand he stole from our neighbors."

I gasp. When POW said Dad was playing poker, I'd assumed he won a few tens or twenties. With people as poor as us, that could actually mean gambling away everything you own. I also pictured Dad getting drunk and betting a bunch of money against POW to turn things around. I never once considered that Dad might have won anything substantial—because he couldn't have.

"It wasn't him." I tell POW. "Dad doesn't have that kind of money." Sure, Dad's still the asshole who sold me to a stranger, but if I can convince POW he's got the wrong guy, maybe he'll let me go.

"Oh, it was him alright," POW insists, his voice harsh. "Used the money to pay off the local pack."

"Pay them off?" I ask. "Why?"

"It costs twenty grand a year for a Rogue to live on their land." When POW says the word Rogue, it's laced with disgust, as though to him we're the worst scum on the planet. "I spoke with the Alpha and he said your Dad was behind on payments. Had to join the pack or leave town. Then, he suddenly came into ten grand a few weeks back."

I shake my head in denial. All my life I've wanted to join a pack, to have friends of my kind to play with, friends I could shift and run with. Dad's told me he tried joining tons of packs but that none would have us. We're too poor, too weak, and have no relatives who would take us in.

All I've ever wanted was to belong. Dad knew that! There's no way he would have spent twenty grand a year so we could stay poor and alone when we could have had a nice place to live and plenty of food. Dad always complains about how much being a Rogue sucks. If he had a chance to change that, why wouldn't he have taken it? Plus, where would he get that kind of money, if he's never been able to hold down a job? He'd have had to rob banks or sell drugs or do something illegal to pay off the pack. If he had, I would have known about it, wouldn't I?

I sag against the seat and stare blindly out the window. POW has to be lying. He has to. He's just trying to get into my head and turn me against Dad so he can... well, I don't know why, exactly. It's not like it's hard, anyway. Dad's spent years making my life hell and then sunk to a new low and sold me into slavery. I'll never, ever forgive him, and the possibility—however small—that he's the reason I grew up a Rogue makes me want to scream.

I fight back tears and stare at the empty road for what seems like hours. POW doesn't say anything either, which is kind of a relief, but also leaves me with way too much time to think. At first, I keep picturing Dad on the couch, watching TV like he didn't just pawn me off to a Pissed Off Wolf. When I actively try not to think about it, which only makes me worry about POW.

I sneak a peek at the driver's seat from the corner of my eye. POW's glaring at the road, and he's got a death grip on the wheel, like he's still on the verge of losing control. I gulp and instinctively hunch my shoulders and squeeze myself against the passenger-side door. Anything to convince POW I'm an Omega not worth his time, or his anger.

I guess the Omega act works, because POW doesn't hurt me for the remainder of the drive. Eventually, he gets off the highway and enters a small town. I spot a sign that reads Mapleton. Never heard of it.

POW drives down Main Street, past Joe's Pizza and a grocery store, and then turns onto a dirt road. The road seems to go on and on, winding slightly here, twisting there, until there is nothing around but trees.

Soon, I start to wonder if POW plans to kill me and bury my body where no one will find it. I tense up, ready to bolt if I have to, but then POW takes a right and a huge mansion looms up ahead. It's four stories tall and so wide that even if I shift it would still take several minutes to run the length of it.

It's no wonder POW could afford to throw away ten grand on me. He's a gazillionaire!

POW drives up to the mansion and parks the truck in the empty driveway. Without missing a beat, he pulls the keys out of the ignition, unlocks the doors and jumps out. I only have enough time to unbuckle my seatbelt before he opens my door and lifts me right out of the seat. I clutch my bag as he pulls me out of the truck, my feet dangling in the air for several seconds before he abruptly sets me down. With a pointed look, he turns and heads towards the mansion. I stare after him for several seconds before he looks back I realize he expects me to follow. He's tall, and his steps are huge, so I break into a run to catch up.

POW reaches the front door, which I'm kind of surprised he keeps unlocked, and jerks it open. He gestures for me to enter ahead of him, and after a second of hesitation, I step inside. POW follows, slams the door shut behind us, and throws the deadbolt. I gulp.

"Stay here," POW orders and before I have a chance to respond, he crosses the foyer and is halfway up the stairs. I stand frozen in place, watching him take them three at a time.


What should Saffron do? Stay or run?

Where do you think POW's going?

What do you think will happen next?

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