Hot Blooded (Wolf Springs Chronicles) - By Nancy Holder

1

I outran them.

Katelyn McBride soared into the spotlight on the Mexican cloud swing. The swing was a thick rope of braided fibers connected by either end to the sky-high rigging of the circus tent. To the audience far, far below, the swing looked wispy as mist, but it was as strong as Katelyn herself. Nearly unbreakable. She was seventeen, and she was at the top of her game: a beautifully trained gymnast, limber, made of solid muscle. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a bun and her light blue eyes were edged with kohl.

I outfought them.

Music pulsed like a heartbeat as she sat on her swing and pumped her legs, rocking in and out of the spotlight —

— the moonlight —

— and she gazed down at the werewolves of Wolf Springs. They prowled in their magnificent wolf forms on the floor of the arena, which also seemed to be the forest, in a swelling river of tension. Their glowing eyes narrowed with intense purpose.

You thought you could hurt me, but you can’t even touch me, she sneered as she executed a backward roll on the swing, then shifted her weight onto her hip bones as she came back around. This was the Cirque du Soleil, the world of greasepaint and gymnasts and death-defying feats of daring. Here she was in charge. Wolf Springs was nothing but a fraud, a lie designed to frighten little children. All you had to do was stop believing in ghosts and monsters and Hellhounds, and Wolf Springs lost its hold on you.

I’m free.

But another voice seemed to whisper, Never free from me.

Applause and cheers rose, buoying her up. In the audience were her mother and father, Giselle Chevalier the ballerina and Sean McBride the assistant district attorney, their arms around each other, loving her. Proud, happy. Alive. She swung back and forth, waving. They waved back.

Then a voice whispered urgently, Run.

A sharp, icy fear washed over her; everything shifted. The cloud swing picked up momentum on its own, propelling her back and forth like a pendulum. The frantic to-and-fro rhythm was out of control, like her heartbeat, and she collapsed from her balanced pose, grabbing the two sides just in time to stop her fall.

Run.

As she looked down into the audience, huge tongues of fire shot up between the seats. They rose so high they nearly singed Katelyn’s eyelashes as she pulled herself upward, holding on for dear life. Spectators were screaming, igniting like kindling. Her cloud swing was gone. She was holding onto twin ropes of Spanish moss. Through the sudden haze of smoke, all she could see were the howling werewolves of Wolf Springs, racing around the trees, trying to find a way out.

“Jump, my darling!” Katelyn’s mother screamed. Then her mother tumbled into the center of the wolf pack and the closest werewolves leaped on her. In seconds, she was buried underneath them.

“Mom!” Katelyn shouted.

Some of the werewolves fixed their glowing blue eyes on Katelyn, snapping their blood-drenched jaws. Their eager howls were like the shrieks of demons.

Then a figure streaked with blood and ash rose from the center of the pack. Fists balled over his head, Justin Fenner roared with fury. He stood broad-shouldered in a shredded white T-shirt and ripped black jeans that molded his body. Howling like a werewolf prince, he slashed at all comers.

Wheeling out of his reach, the werewolves scattered into the smoke and began to catch fire. They screamed and tried to retreat from the inferno, racing back toward Justin. But as he lunged at them, they cowered and cringed, preferring to burn rather than to take him on.

Panting, he looked straight up at Katelyn with his deep blue eyes. He held out his arms to catch her.

Capture her.

“Kat. You are my secret weapon,” he whispered, yet she could hear his voice above all the chaos. “Jump. I’ll keep you close.”

“No!” she shouted, flailing in the rigging. “Don’t touch me!”

Then she was falling.

Falling.

Falling.

Frantic, she clawed at the smoke-choked air. She landed hard in Justin’s embrace, against his chest. She struggled to get out of his arms but he enclosed her, enfolded her. “I’ll keep you forever,” he said, gouging his nails into her arms. The pain was an icy shock.

And Katelyn McBride woke up in her bed.

~

Moonlight poured down from her skylight and illuminated the bust of her mother that Trick had made for her as a birthday present, presenting it to her earlier that day after Justin had dropped her home. Katelyn stared at her

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