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For the longest time, Alex was enveloped in darkness, untethered from her body, and that was perfectly okay. Darkness meant rest. It meant escape from the hell she had been thrust into. But it wasn't meant to last. Unconsciousness, much like snow, melted away in the heat of distress, and Alex's body was screaming.

Her jerk back into existence wasn't a slow dawning but rather done with all the gentility of a speeding truck slamming into a wall. Breathtaking pain roared at her like a banshee, growing louder as it neared until it was all she could process. Confusion hit next, a one-two-punch to her senses. The last thing she remembered was the van...the beating...the knife.

Her struggle upright wrenched a strangled scream from her throat. Disoriented, Alex couldn't grapple her bearings. Where was she? A morgue? No, something soft propped her up, and there was fuzzy warmth spread over her legs. A hospital? No, the room was dark but what little her one roving eye could see didn't shout sterile hospital room. Still with her captors then?

Panic was an impossible poison to shake when it sank its claws in. Alex couldn't breathe. Couldn't see. Couldn't shift enough to better gauge her surroundings. It was like an episode of sleep paralysis only she knew she was awake because never in her wildest dreams would she ever be in this much torment.

Everything hurt, volcanic acid seeping through the cracks in the glue used to patch her back together after half a dozen boots smashed her to pieces. Unable to rise, she sent searching fingers to fumble the length of her body-she had to know if all of herself was still in intact-and met starchy gauze bound almost cruelly tight around her torso.

Bandages? Why?

Exploring further, Alex's blind searching moved past her navel to her bare hips and thighs secured under a blanket, the revelation piercing her to her core. She was naked from the waist down. Exposed. Vulnerable. Violated.

Heart rate suddenly exploding through the stratosphere, all trace of caution evaporated. Clawing at her abused face, she tore off the bandages obscuring her vision but failed to regain the full use of her sight, the skin of her right eye fused shut from swelling and bloody crust. Hyperventilating, sinking into an ocean-deep panic, Alex choked herself into a wet coughing fit, setting off a domino effect. It was enough to make spots flash in her limited field of vision and stomach bile burn her already scorched throat.

Her struggling must have alerted someone because through the haze of throttling terror she could hear the clump of boots headed in her direction. Lacking the ability to push fully upright, all Alex could do was flinch when a figure skidded into the dimly lit room.

Oh no, someone — a woman by the sound of it — gasped. Oh no, hold on. Please, don't panic.

A light popped on nearby, banishing most of the darkness and revealing the stranger in her midst, but Alex had been mistaken. This wasn't one of her captors. This wasn't even a human.

Beastly was a good way of putting it. Subhuman. Its nose was wide, the bridge flaring out between its eyes rather than receding, culminating in a slightly more pronounced brow and deeper set eyes. Had Alex seen this in any other setting, it would have looked like a human wearing a Hollywood werewolf prosthetic complete with pointed ears poking out from under a mop of wavy brown hair. Only there was nothing fake about what she was seeing. Especially not the jagged set of top and bottom canines that caused the creature's mouth to sit slightly ajar or the blue eyes so bright they almost glowed in the semi-darkness.

Screaming was the inevitable response, but the sound lodged in her throat like a sideways twig until the creature spoke. It's okay! It's okay! You're safe, I swear! Let me just...

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