STAWP | Chapter 1

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I sit on my bed cross-legged and listen to the shouts coming from downstairs.

One of the voices is Dad's and the other belongs to a man I don't recognize. I catch a whiff of his scent, and it tells me two things. Stranger... and werewolf.

I can easily listen in on their conversation from up here. Then again, they're so loud I'm sure even a human would hear them... from the next town over.

"If I don't have my money by the time I count to five, I'm going to tear your throat out," the stranger yells.

A better daughter might run downstairs to save her father, but I don't budge from my spot on the bed. I'm not paralyzed by fear or anything like that. Okay, maybe a little. Mostly I just keep reminding myself that I shouldn't care. Dad and I aren't close and he doesn't give a damn about me. I bet if our roles were reversed, he wouldn't bother saving me. It's only fair that I return the favor. He can get out of this mess on his own.

Just as my mind's made up, Dad starts shouting from downstairs. He's had years of practice, so his baritone is loud enough to make the walls shake.

"Sofie! Get down here this minute!"

I'm so used to Dad's yelling that it doesn't really bother me anymore. Plus, like I said, I really don't want to get mixed up in his mess. Still, I jump off my bed and rush downstairs. I plan to stay out of the way if I can, but I know that if I take too long obeying an order, there will be consequences. If Dad somehow manages to get out of this mess alive, that is.

I get more and more worried with each step. We don't have whatever money Dad owes. We're so short on cash that even with my part-time job, last time I checked the money jar, it only had a twenty, two fives and a handful of coins. The twenty and fives paid for cigarettes and beer, and if we didn't hunt, we'd likely starve. Anyway, the fact that we have a money jar and not a bank account like normal people pretty much sums things up.

So why is Dad calling me? Does he plan to blame me and say I stole the money? Actually, knowing Dad, it's possible, and makes me worry even more.

He could also be stalling, but is that reason enough to bring his only daughter within striking distance of a pissed off Wolf? Not that I expect Dad to be concerned about my well-being, but still. Shouldn't he care about continuing the blood-line?

I enter the living room and stop hesitantly in the doorway. I'm not sure it's safe to approach and there's a small chance—fingers crossed—that Dad just wants me to fetch something... like that money we don't have. So I'm actually saving time by standing near the door. As if!

I peer into the living room and my eyes settle on one of the largest werewolves I've ever seen. He's in human form and towers almost a foot over my dad. Although he's about Dad's age, he's in much better shape—lean, strong and muscular—and I'm pretty sure he doesn't have an ounce of fat beneath his jeans and black leather jacket. His jet-black hair is in need of a cut and he looks like he hasn't shaved in days. His eyes are narrowed and his upper lip is curled back in a snarl. My overall impression is that he's big, wild and dangerous. Definitely not the sort of wolf Dad should be messing with.

"Come here, Sofie," Dad orders when he spots me. Unlike his rival, Dad doesn't look like much. He's of average height and of above average weight. All that weight is gathered in his stomach, so he could pass for nine months pregnant. Okay, fine, maybe more like seven. I guess all the beer drinking and late-night eating has really taken a toll. Dad's balding on top and his teeth are yellowed from years of smoking and avoiding the dentist. As usual, he's wearing khaki shorts, belted below his belly, and a stained white t-shirt.

I carefully walk up to Dad. When I stop next to him, he puts his arm around me... for like the first time ever! I really can't remember him ever showing me any sort of affection, at least not since Mom died. As he pulls me close, I smell cigarettes and beer, and his stench makes me shudder in disgust. Then I catch a whiff of hope laced with worry, which tells me that Dad's definitely up to something.

What's his plan? Be all like: "Please don't hurt me, my little girl needs me?" I mentally roll my eyes at the thought. It's the only explanation I have for why Dad is suddenly acting all dad-like.

"This is my daughter," Dad introduces me to the pissed off wolf, who emits a growl in response. It could be his way of saying "nice to meet you," but I doubt it. He doesn't bother introducing himself, so I settle on 'Pissed Off Wolf,' or just 'POW' for short.

The nickname is kind of silly—POW! POW! POW! like in a comic book—and it makes me feel a little better. Like, I can think whatever I want, and no one can stop me.

"Saffron," Dad adds with a smirk.

'Saffron' is my legal name, though I haven't heard anyone use it in years. When I first started school, a few kids shortened my name to Saffie. Others just assumed it was Sofie and I never corrected them. Eventually, it's what everyone was calling me, even Dad. Which makes me wonder, why is he using my full name now?

"I can guarantee that she's worth her weight in gold," Dad adds.

I guess that explains it. Saffron is this really expensive spice that used to be as valuable as gold if measured by weight. Like, if you wanted to buy a pound of saffron, it would cost you a pound of gold. That sort of thing. Pretty cool, huh?

Mom was the one who picked out my name. I still remember how she'd call me her little treasure. Of course, Dad has to go and ruin that memory by constantly telling me that if Mom could see me now, she'd regret calling me Saffron, since I'll never amount to much. I still like the name though, even if no one actually uses it anymore. It's the only reminder I have left of my mom.

"And I should care why?" POW growls, bringing me back to the present. His jaw is tense, a vein in his forehead is throbbing, and his hands are clenched into fists. He does not look happy.

I start to worry that he's about to take his anger out on me, not just Dad, so I assume an exaggerated Submissive Wolf pose. It's a self-defense move Dad taught me that makes me look non-threatening. It's supposed to trigger a Wolf's protective nature, dampening their urge to attack. I've practiced it on Dad—and succeeded—enough times to be an expert.

I hunch my back slightly, making sure not to make eye contact, and emit a whimper. POW's expression softens briefly, but for him it's just a dominant Wolf instinct that he easily suppresses, because all the anger is back moments later.

"Explain yourself!" POW demands. I kind of have to wonder, too. Why would Dad suddenly start praising me when he always says he hasn't a clue why Mom named me Saffron... that he got cheated and he'd take the gold any day?


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