Hunting Grounds (City Shifters the Pack #2) - Layla Nash

Chapter 1

Ophelia

The car broke down a few miles from the city and where I’d meant to hunker down for as long as possible, and I abandoned it on the side of the road. I couldn’t afford to stop moving. I needed to find a safe place to shelter as soon as possible, so I could cast a protective circle and disguise myself so Rocko wouldn’t find me. I hauled the bag with my loom and knitting needles out of the passenger seat, since I couldn’t afford to replace them, and started the hunt for a place to hide.

I walked as fast as I could in my battered boots, shivering in the chill wind. At least the car’s heat had been broken so I was already almost numb to my bones. Even a slight breeze cut through my Salvation Army coat, though I pulled it closer to make myself feel better. The outskirts of town weren’t particularly welcoming, though I felt safer seeing people around and other signs of life. Rocko wouldn’t attack me right in the open. He’d wait until I was alone and more vulnerable, or at least he’d wait until he thought I was more vulnerable.

I hugged my jacket to make myself feel better. I’d been working on all the defensive magic I had at my disposal, so Rocko would have a nice surprise the next time he confronted me. I’d been hoping for some help in the city, since I’d felt a huge magical disturbance not too long ago and figured there were some witches around. They wouldn’t take kindly to a sorcerer like Rocko mucking around in their territory, which was the only reason I dared enter another coven’s city.

Whether they’d welcome me, a stranger and lone witch, was another question entirely. I could figure that out later, once I knew I was safe from Rocko, and negotiate some kind of secure passage with whatever covens were still around.

The shivers that racked me were at least partly due to the thought of being around a coven, though the cold caused most of it. I’d had my fill of dealing with covens and I’d been running from them almost as long as I’d been running from Rocko. Still, though. A witch coven was preferable to a sorcerer’s prison.

Something barked, lost somewhere in the dark buildings and abandoned lots of the outskirts of the city. It looked to have been a mostly industrial neighborhood before all the industry left, with only a few houses still standing and some “up and coming” efforts at rejuvenation. I hunched my shoulders to try and keep my neck warm and hustled faster.

I had the address of a women’s shelter someone in the last town recommended, though from the street numbers I was still a hell of a hike away and the night only got darker with each passing step. Too bad about the car. Part of me suspected maybe it was Rocko’s doing, although it was more than likely because it had been a shitty car. My taste in vehicles was just as bad as my taste in men, apparently.

Another bark and a few yips echoed around me from the left and right, and then from behind, and I tensed. That wasn’t just a junkyard dog wanting to be heard. It sounded… sentient. Deliberate. As if a bunch of dogs were herding me somewhere—or hunting.

The hair on my arms stood up and I moved a little faster. I definitely didn’t want to run, not when the darkness hid broken concrete and other tripping hazards, though I couldn’t have gotten far in my shoddy boots. New shoes were on the list of things to get as soon as I landed someplace long enough to hold a job and save some money. Right after finding an apartment, some transportation, food, utilities, and the dollars to get some cough meds to deal with the lingering cold I’d had for what felt like forever.

I clenched my jaw and kept going, fighting down a rising tide of panic. I could have used magic to send the dogs on their way, but I didn’t want to light a beacon for Rocko to follow. The second I touched my power he would know about it and come after me even faster.

Of course… I almost stumbled to a halt. What if Rocko sent the dogs after me? He was the kind of asshole who’d do such a thing, knowing I’d have to kill the dogs to save my own life, and

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