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Soon the weeping willows came into view. Laylah sat up and clutched her pack to her chest. She paid the bill and walked up the marble steps, but hesitated at the door. Glancing around, Laylah spotted the limo in the garage and frowned. Where was Jacques? Unease hit her and she considered not going inside. “Stop it, Laylah, you’re being silly,” she muttered. Squaring her shoulders, she turned the door knob and walked in. “Jacques? Naiya?” Laylah peered about, but no one came out to greet her. Uneasiness was fast giving way to fear. It was too quiet. Slowly she made her way to the kitchen door, pushed it open and froze in the doorway. Why were the skylights closed? Why hadn’t someone turned on the lights? Laylah took a step into the kitchen and noticed the pantry door ajar. There was a light on in there. Silently she crept to it and pushed it open. Horrified at the sight before her, she stood in the entrance as her mind struggled to process what she saw. A man’s hand was underneath a huge pile of empty boxes. “Oh my god! Jacques!” Laylah’s shock was lessening but her mind was still struggling to understand. She felt her legs moving and then she ran to him. Her foot slipped and she fell on her butt. “Ow!” Laylah tried to get up and yelped when she got a good look at the floor. It was blood she now sat in. Scrambling to stand she ran the last few feet to Jacques. She tossed the boxes off him and paled. Hastily she backed away, turned and retched. Something had ripped into his body, and unless, she was wrong, most of his intestines were spread outside his body. “Laylah?” Jacques’ voice was weak and very hoarse. “Jacques! Oh thank heavens, you’re alive!” Wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve, Laylah’s tears began to fall and she went to his side, dropping to her knees. “What happened? Who did this? Where’s Naiya and the others? Are they hurt? How did we get broken into?” The questions poured out of her mouth and she couldn’t seem to stop them. “Laylah! Hush! Listen to me. Get out of here, now!” “I can’t leave you! You need help. Pressure, that’s it. Pressure stops bleeding!” Laylah put her
hands over the jagged tear on his stomach and tried to squeeze close his flesh. Blood continued to seep out and she felt faint at the sight of it. “Laylah, I need you to listen to me. Get out of here. Run and get help.” Jacques wheezed and tried to push her hands away. “Help? Yes, help! I need to call for help!” Laylah let go of his skin and fumbled with her pants pockets, trying to get her ear comm out. “Forgive me.” “Forgive you?” Laylah glanced up and the impact of his slap knocked her sideways into the drying pool of blood. Stunned she lay there, staring at him. “Move your butt, Laylah Le Croix!” he roared. The guttural shout, coupled with the shock of being hit by someone she trusted not to harm her, was too much. Laylah scooted backward before getting to her feet. She ran from the pantry, sobbing in confusion and hurt. She didn’t look where she ran as she left the kitchen and went out the side door that led to the backyard.
Blinded by her tears, Laylah ran. Her side ached and she was forced to slow down. She wiped at her eyes and noticed that she was in the forest behind the house. Laylah didn’t remember coming in this direction, but somehow it felt right. Strangely enough she felt at home in this place, surrounded by trees and birds. Laylah caught her breath and pondered about what happened. Jacques had hit her! She couldn't believe it. Why had he hit her so hard? The sting of the slap remained with Laylah as she looked about, trying to figure out how to get back home, or at least find someone to help Jacques. It was starting to get dark and she hated nighttime. She started walking, not sure what direction to take. The snap of a twig froze Laylah in her tracks. She strained to hear and noticed that the forest was quiet. Her heartbeat sped up and the familiar hand of fear touched her. She took two steps and the air was suddenly filled with menacing animal calls. Stopping a scream from leaving her mouth, she turned and ran. Behind her twigs snapped and the sounds of the pursuing animals grew louder. Laylah glanced over her shoulder to see and tripped over a tree root. Her ankle popped as it twisted the wrong way and she fell to the ground writhing in agony. Hoarsely she screamed as the pain radiated up her leg. She saw the bone sticking out of her flesh and she almost fainted. ::Get up! You can’t lie there:: The voice in her head frightened her into an amazed and scared silence. ::Get up, now, or they will rip you to pieces!:: “Who are you?” she whispered, her ankle throbbing. She must be going crazy.
::You are not crazy, but you’re going to be very dead if you don’t move that cute body out of harm’s way.:: Cute body? Now she knew she was dreaming, but something about the voice compelled her to her feet. She didn’t want to die, but she was hurt and there was only so much she could do. “Where do I go?” ::Follow my voice. I will get you to safety. Now, run!:: Laylah obeyed, but the pain slowed her down to a fast hobble hopping movement that still managed to jar the injury. There was barely any light left and she was exhausted. The voice continued to urge her on. The sounds of the animals hadn’t gotten closer, but neither had they stopped. She knew that they would close in soon. ::You are almost there. Give it everything you’ve got. Hurry, Beautiful.:: She snorted. “Sweet talking won’t help me move any faster,” she snapped but the howl of a wolf nearly brought on a panic attack. ”Oh God, oh God! I can’t do this!” she wailed, her strength waning. ::You can and you will. You’re here! Now climb, Beautiful, climb.:: “No way!” Laylah stared in dismay at the hill in front of her. “I’m not going to make it!” Panic set in when the second wolf howled. The setting sun’s dying glow gave her the first glimpse of the animals hunting her. She blinked and gasped. Two wolves, a giant leopard, a horse and one enormous grizzly bear had cleared the forest and were making a beeline for her. ::Climb!:: the voice shouted, startling her into obeying. Her entire body hurt and the pain in her ankle was excruciating. It had long gone past being tolerable. Laylah slipped when she reached for a handhold, slid down and cut her exposed belly on a protruding rock before catching herself. Panting, she fought exhaustion and continued climbing. She tried to ignore the unhappy and angry noises the animals were making below her. She wanted to be safe. Finally, her hand touched the top and then she reached with the other to anchor herself. She felt
fingers wrap around her wrist. “Hey! Let go!” but the words died in her throat as she was hauled upward. Laylah had one confused moment to catch sight of the person grabbing her—blue eyes, dark brown hair, man—before being tossed behind him. She screamed in agony from the pain that lanced her body as her ankle hit a tree limb lying on the ground. Tears ran down her face as she fought to manage the throbbing from the injury. She heard a growl and she wildly jerked her head up. Amazed, she stared at the wolf that stood on the edge. How had it gotten up so fast? It wasn't possible! She'd barely made it up and she had hands! Laylah’s rescuer stood two feet in front of her and she felt afraid for him. He also was blocking her view. She struggled to sit up and the sight that greeted her made her want to hide. All the animals were on the hilltop with her and the mystery man. Everything was quiet, so still you could hear an eyelash fall. And then, the second shock of the evening happened. The creatures in front of her rescuer seemed to shimmer before the popping of bones filled the air and the creatures began to change. Features slid away becoming more human as the five animals went to their hind legs and grew until men stood in their place. “ You’re...you’re...” Words failed Laylah. Eyes wide in marvel and terror, she stared, unsure of what her sight was telling her. Wait a minute! They were naked! Her cheeks flamed pink with embarrassment. Laylah averted her gaze and threw her hands up, covering her eyes.
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