Read Chapter 1 of The Golden Claw by K.A. Faul
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The Golden Claw

By K.A. Faul

Chapter One

 

Mina sprinted through the dense undergrowth. She looked down for a second, a mistake. When she raised her head, she ducked with a yelp to avoid the branch wanting to knock her on her ass. The howls of the two wolves behind her fueled her run. Close. Too damn close.

Unfair,” she huffed between breaths. She ducked a branch and jumped over a log in her way. “How the hell am I supposed to outrun two wolves?” She ducked another limb. “That’s four times as many legs!”

The complaints made her feel better, even if she knew they wouldn’t do any good.

Her strained lungs, aching legs, and outraged sense of fairness didn’t matter. The hunters pursuing her weren’t about to give her a time-out and go to commercial break.

No. She wouldn’t let herself think that way. She would show those two fools.

Mina spared a glance over her shoulder. The rays of the noon sun penetrated deep into the forest. She could only imagine trying to avoid the wolves at night.

She was sure those sons of bitches were enjoying this far too much. Still, the flutter of birds in the distance marked their approach. The wolves didn’t exactly bring their stealth game to the hunt.

Her watch beeped. Relief flooded through her like a powerful anesthetic. Her painful breaths and burning muscles didn’t matter anymore. She grinned. She only needed to survive for one more minute.

Mina ignored the growls growing closer, instead searching the area in front of her. The words of her rather annoying trainer Thomas floated into her mind.

Always use the environment. You have a mind, not just instincts, so use it.

Flowers. Bushes. Downed logs. Lots of trees. The forest might have a lot of resources, but Mina didn’t see anything of immediate tactical or escape use.

A fox poked its head out of a hollowed-out log ahead, eyeing her like she owed him money. For a second, she almost thought she could feel a combination of curiosity and fear radiating off the animal.

The wolves were now close enough that she could hear them tearing through the bushes. The fox darted into the log, and Mina realized he was afraid of the wolves, not her.

She looked up and spotted her salvation: a branch.

Mina didn’t slow and continued barreling through the forest. Her gaze flicked to a stump, two trees, and several low-hanging branches. It was time to put her opposable thumbs to use and attempt something she’d only seen on YouTube.

Well, kind of. She’d seen something similar, if you replaced trees with buildings, but she was sure it would work. Mostly. Okay, at least thirty percent sure. Twenty-five maybe when she took the light breeze into account.

The loud growls of the wolves signaled they would be able to pounce any moment. She ignored them and concentrated on timing her escape.

Not yet, not yet. Go!

Mina leapt toward a stump coming up on her left. She pushed off on contact to launch herself toward the thick trunk of a nearby Douglas fir. One final leap sent her sailing toward a branch on another tree. Her momentum carried her forward, and she swung on the branch.

The rough bark scraped her hands, but she didn’t care as one final jump brought her to a higher, thicker tree limb. Joy exploded through her as she landed atop the branch.

After taking a second to settle her position, Mina glanced down in time to see one of the wolves, a brown-coated one, attempt to mimic her motion. She snickered.

“Yeah, go for it, Garett!” Mina shouted.

The wolf slammed into the trunk of the Douglas fir with a yelp and fell to the ground. The other, a light-coated wolf, didn’t bother. Instead, he stared up at her, growling.

Mina’s watch beeped again, and she waved her arms at the wolves.

Both circled below her now, growling and glaring at her with baleful amber eyes.

“Time’s up, losers,” Mina shouted. “And did you see that jump? That was ridiculous.” She laughed. “I can’t believe that worked. But I think my favorite part is when Garett thought he could do it in wolf form.” She waved at the brown-coated wolf who’d tried to copy her. “Hope you didn’t break anything important.”

The wolf growled louder, then stopped as the other wolf tilted and shook his head.

“Come on, Thomas,” Mina said. “You have to admit that was pretty awesome. That was practically some Hunter crap there. Though imagine what they could do in a forest like this. It’d be pretty impressive.” She chuckled, trying to envision it.

The bodies of the wolves shuddered and folded, their fur, muscles, and bones twisting. Low growls escaped both wolves. Paws stretched and split, turning into hands. Their snouts shrank, along with their teeth.

Mina sighed and stared at them. No matter how much she wanted to tease them, messing with a werewolf while they were shifting was an asshole move. They might be a few years older than her and could shift in under twenty seconds, but she doubted shifting hurt any less for them.

Two men replaced the wolves, a brown-haired man in his mid-twenties and a younger-looking blond-haired man. Even if it could be hard to tell the age of werewolves, Mina knew Thomas was barely twenty.

Thomas might be kind of cute if he didn’t always wear a scowl on his face that made him look constipated. That, and the way he acted like being a couple of years older than her made him so much wiser. He was overcompensating for something. She snickered at the thought.

Once the Rite is over, at least some of that garbage will be over. I hope.

After a few seconds, Mina frowned, realizing something. “You’re not naked.” She held up a hand. “Not that I’m not grateful for being spared the sight of you two in the buff.”

Garett reached under his T-shirt and yanked out a small bronze amulet inlaid with gemstones. Mina couldn’t see the details from the tree, but she was sure a bunch of strange runes had been carved into the amulet.

“Preservation amulets?” she asked. “They are handing those out for training exercises now? Since when?”

“I had concerns you’d do something stupid, so I asked for them,” Thomas said.

Mina jumped down from her branch to the one beneath her before falling to the ground. She dusted off her pants before speaking. “Stupid?”

“For all we knew, you’d hop in a truck and barrel toward non-clan friendly humans. So I had to make sure we could shift without losing our clothes and drawing too much attention.”

Garett grunted in agreement.

Mina rolled her eyes. “Oh, yeah, because there are just so many random humans wandering around here who aren’t clan relatives or don’t already know about werewolves. That makes perfect sense.” She tapped her bottom lip. “But you know, that’s a great idea. I think next training exercise, I’ll just go on social media and start streaming it with, ‘Jerk werewolves chasing dark-haired hottie. You’ll never guess what happens next!’”

Thomas crossed his arms and narrowed his blue eyes. Mina shrugged. Garett looked like he wanted to punch her.

Mina almost wanted him to try. She was getting a little tired of everyone underestimating her just because of who her father was. Thomas always seemed to forget that it wasn’t like she’d only started receiving training when he’d been assigned to her.

Thomas let out a long sigh. “Your Rite of Passage is coming soon, Mina. You need to take this seriously. If you fail, you’re not going to get a chance for another year. And how do you think that’ll look for your father?”

Mina narrowed her eyes. “Don’t bring him into this.”

“Good, I hope she fails,” Garett said. “Then maybe she’ll learn some respect.”

“For who?” Mina asked. She pointed at him. “You’re not my father. You’re not my king. You’re not my alpha. You’re not my beta. I’m not even in your pack. I don’t have to give you any respect. You have to earn it.”

Garett gritted his teeth and stepped forward.

Thomas threw his arm in front of the other man. “Calm down.” He shot a nasty glance Mina’s way. “And nothing he said changes what I said.”

She shrugged. “Contrary to what you seem to think, Thomas, I don’t plan on failing my Rite of Passage.” She gestured toward the tree. “And you seem to be forgetting that I passed your training exercise. I avoided both of you, on two legs, for the time limit.” She crossed her arms and leaned against the tree. “I seem to recall you saying something like, ‘You will fail this test, Mina. It’s a test of character. Try not to embarrass yourself by pouting later.’”

“You only passed because of a lucky stunt,” Thomas said.

“You’re the one who told me to take advantage of my environment. Looks like I have both good character and a good mind.”

His face twitched. He opened his mouth to say something when a loud, shrill cry sounded from above. Mina’s head jerked up.

A shadow passed over them, the source a huge circling raven. After a couple of seconds, the bird dove straight toward Mina.

Thomas groaned, and Mina grinned.

The raven blurred and twisted into a small woman in a near instant, landing right beside Mina on two feet, her arms outstretched.

“Hey, Linh,” Mina said. “Did you see it? Please tell me you did.”

The short and slender girl lowered one arm and waved with the other. Despite her youthful face, she was nineteen, a year older than Mina. “Oh, yeah. That jump was beyond awesome.”

Mina couldn’t help but be jealous of how wereravens could shift so quickly. A raven couldn’t heal like a wolf, but fighting wasn’t exactly on top of their to-do list anyway.

Unlike with Thomas and Garett, Mina wasn’t surprised that her friend landed in her clothes, dark jeans and a dark T-shirt for some band she’d never heard of before. The few ravens that lived in Golden Oaks all had preservation amulets.

“You shouldn’t be here, Nguyen,” Thomas said, pursing his lips. “This is a wolf training exercise.”

Mina rolled her eyes. “She’s lived in Golden Oaks a lot longer than you have. And she’s a Messenger. So stop with the calling her by her last name crap.”

“She’s still not a wolf or a member of our clan. And she’s only an apprentice Messenger.”

Garett grunted and nodded his agreement. Mina sometimes wondered if he had to concentrate to speak full sentences.

“It’s okay, Mina,” Linh said, a cheerful smile on her face. She stuck her hands on her hips. “How do you know I’m not here on Messenger business?”

Thomas heaved a weary sigh. “Okay. Are you?”

Linh laughed. “Nope.” She high-fived Mina.

“Mina cheated,” Garett said. He nodded toward Linh. “She had the raven giving her information. The point of the exercise was that she escaped by herself.”

Mina and Linh exchanged glances.

“The timing is suspicious,” Thomas said. “Not saying that you did, but still.”

Mina pointed with her thumb at Linh. “Oh? And how did we pull that off?” She looked over at her friend. “I guess my mastery of bird calls has come far along.”

Linh bobbed her head, forcing such a serious expression on her face that Mina had to resist another laugh. “Oh, yeah, yeah. I liked how you squeaked out, ‘Give me active tactical position reporting on the two wolves after me, over,’ and I was all ‘CAW, CAW, CAW,’ and you squawked back, ‘Thanks for the position report that the two pursuers are exactly twenty-four yards behind me, over. Prepare coordinates for artillery firing solution.’” She shrugged, a warm smile lingering on her face.

“What this is really about is how you two,” Mina said, pointing to Garett and Thomas with separate hands, “can’t handle that my Rite Initiate ass managed to avoid both of you. Not my problem you underestimated me. I’m getting a little tired of it to be honest.”

“Just because you’re the king’s daughter doesn’t mean shit,” Garett said, his voice a near growl. “And just because you have some red streak in your hair don’t mean you’re special.”

Mina narrowed her eyes, clenching her hands into fists. She couldn’t help who her father was. Not that she minded. He was awesome, after all.

Her stomach knotted over the other comment. She’d spent most of her life dyeing the red streak to match her naturally black hair and had only stopped after her first shift the previous year. She knew what everyone said, that red hair, fur, or feathers in a shifter marked direct descent to Rogan, the First Shifter. She wasn’t even sure if she believed in that crusty-ass superstition.

Even if she could bring herself to believe it, the red streak had never done her much good. It had mostly brought her to the attention of idiots like Garett.

“You’re right,” Mina said, unclenching her hands. “None of those things are important. The fact that I beat you on two legs does mean I’m special, though. Or you can’t hunt worth crap. Take your pick.”

Garett growled. “You think I won’t hit you—”

“Enough!” Thomas shouted. He shook his head at Garett. “We have our orders from the alpha on training Mina.”

Garett gave her one last glance before stomping off back toward town.

Mina resisted the urge to flip him off. She almost wanted to brag about her glorious self-control. Garett had a good five years even on Thomas, and yet he was still having to take orders from the younger man. It said something about Garett that a relative newcomer to his pack was the beta.

Thomas pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why do you insist on pissing him off?”

“I don’t insist on anything. I just say things, and some people choose to get offended.” Mina turned to Linh. “Have I pissed you off today?”

Linh shook her head so hard, her long, dark hair swirled around her face. “No, not at all.”

“I’m not going to ask you, Thomas.” Mina shrugged. “I know I piss you off. Even though—yeah, I want to beat this point into the ground—that I defeated two way more experienced werewolves in a hunting evasion exercise.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “But you keep acting like I’m doing terrible when we spend hours every day doing exercises, and I’m doing damn well at all of them.”

“Hours doing exercises?” Thomas snorted. “You got something to better to do? Your Rite of Passage is coming up, so you should get over it. You should just be happy to receive additional training.”

“It’d be more useful for me to know about the actual Rite than run around in the woods making Garett look stupid, let alone all that survival crap you have me do.”

“Says the girl who has never eaten a freshly killed meal in wolf form.”

Mina grimaced. He had her there.

The man shook his head and started toward town. “You’ll be doing a hunting exercise tomorrow as a wolf. And we’ll be doing combat training later tonight.” He stopped to look over his shoulder. “And it’d be nice if your raven friend didn’t tag along.” He continued walking.

“I love you too, Thomas,” Linh said, blowing him a kiss. She waited a few moments for the man to walk farther away before turning toward Mina. “What crawled up his ass and died?”

“Lots of things, but there were so many sticks up there already, it’s gotten crowded, so I think it’s extra painful.”

“He’s normally uptight, but he’s become a downright bitch lately.”

Mina shrugged. “He’s easy to ignore.” She threaded her fingers together and stretched her arms into the sky. “Not saying I won’t enjoy getting a few hits in during combat training.”

Linh snickered.

Mina leaned toward Linh. “But it was an awesome jump, right?”

“Couldn’t have done it better without wings,” Linh said with a grin.

Some movement caught Mina’s attention, and she turned. The fox she’d spotted before sat in front of a stump, staring at her.

“I think he’s hungry,” she said. She wasn’t sure why she even thought that.

“What?” Linh turned, and the fox scurried off.

“Oh, nothing,” Mina said. “It’s just like that fox knew me.”

She didn’t know what to make of it. It was far too small to be a shifter, and the only werefoxes she knew of in the entire state were the small handful in Seattle.

Linh patted her on the shoulder. “Let’s get some lunch before you go beat the stuffing out of Drill Sergeant Pretty Boy.”

Mina and Linh both laughed.

 

Chapter Two

 

Mina sighed as she stepped into the huge sand circle marking the training ground. Burning braziers surrounded the entire area, pushing back the recent nightfall and illuminating the sand in an eerie, flickering glow.

A light breeze sent a shiver through her, despite her leather jacket. It had been a chilly April.

A few dark spots in the sand caught her attention. Bloodstains.

Mina knew the place well enough. She’d been training here for most of the last year in a variety of two-legged and four-legged combat techniques.

Her face twitched, and tension spread through her neck. Something about the training ground had always bothered her. Just a bit too much Hunger Games in flavor for her taste. She preferred going to the sparring rooms at the community center.

The crunch of steps in sand reached Mina’s ears. She turned toward the source. Thomas’s shadowed form stood in the distance on the other side of the training ground.

“You’ve seen me fight,” Mina said. “You know I’m not a wimp.”

“My alpha told me that you didn’t receive much in the way of training before you shifted.” Thomas took a few steps forward.

“No different than anyone else here. How about you?”

“No, I guess I wasn’t that different.”

Mina nodded. “Yeah, it’s not like we want to have the Untouched risking their lives when we werewolves can handle it.”

Thomas stared at her for a second, something calculating in his eyes. “Untouched? Like your brother?”

“Yeah, like my brother.” She stepped farther into the circle. “What about him?”

“Well, he’s Untouched. Just, it can be hard, you know, having an older brother who never shifted.” Thomas shrugged.

“Not like that’s rare. Most families around here have Untouched, and I don’t give any crap that he’s Untouched. Was it so different where you came from?”

“No.” Thomas raised a hand. “Not saying that I do care, but you have an Untouched brother, and your other brother, who actually was a shifter, went missing.”

“Is there a point to this, Thomas?” Mina snapped. “That happened a long time before you got here. It’s old news in Golden Oaks. It’s old news in the clan, even.”

A thin smile appeared on Thomas’s face. “Just checking.”

“Checking what?” Mina narrowed her eyes, a sickening sensation spreading through her stomach. She didn’t like Thomas being a step ahead of her.

“That you still at least take your family seriously.”

Mina sucked in several deep breaths and slowly let them out. She didn’t want to give Thomas the satisfaction of knowing that he’d gotten into her head.

“Who cares about that?” Mina asked. “Tonight, I’m here to take some fighting seriously.”

Had it just been about getting her in an aggressive mood? She couldn’t be sure. She would take it out on him either way.

“Okay, nothing super serious,” Thomas said, cracking his knuckles. “Basic two-legged fighting. No weapons. Never know when you might get jumped and not have time to shift. A werewolf should be ready and able to fight in both forms in all conditions.”

Mina nodded slowly and pulled her jacket off. She tossed it out of the circle. She might be able to heal easily enough, but she didn’t want to stain or tear her jacket. She loved that jacket.

“Will it piss you off if I admit I’m going to enjoy punching you in the face?” she asked.

Thomas chuckled. “As long as you keep your focus, I don’t care if you enjoy it.” He raised a hand and gestured with his fingers for her to attack.

Mina raised her fists and dropped into a stance, slowly closing the distance between them and trying to circle Thomas. She’d watched him fight more than a few times, and as much as it pained her to admit it, even to herself, he was good, which made sense, given that when he wasn’t training her, he helped his alpha, Sheriff Storm, maintain order in Golden Oaks.

Thomas kept her in sight, also trying to find his opening. “I don’t get you, Mina.”

“Really? I don’t think I’m that complicated.” Her gaze flicked all over him, trying to find an opening.

“You’re the daughter of a great wolf. A wolf who saved this clan after the coup.”

“You don’t have to convince me my father rocks. I already believe it.”

A frown appeared on Thomas’s face. “The point is that your father knew trouble, had to kill because of it, and you act like more trouble will never come, that you can just be carefree. Just because you’ve been safe in Golden Oaks doesn’t mean you’ll always be safe.” His eyes narrowed. “Lots of things out there would love to kill a werewolf princess if they could get the chance.”

Mina darted forward, swinging a fist. Thomas blocked it and then swung at her. She leapt back, avoiding a blow to her face by an inch.

“Do I look like a vampire to you?” Mina asked. She enjoyed the confusion on the man’s face.

“What?”

“I said, do I look like a vampire to you?”

They exchanged a flurry of blows, but neither could land a solid hit.

“You look like a spoiled young woman,” Thomas said, his breathing turning ragged. “Why?”

“The point is, I’m going to die someday. You’re going to die, too. Maybe not tomorrow, but someday.”

Mina feinted to the side and then kicked at the off-balance Thomas. He caught her leg and threw her backward. She rolled on the ground and hopped back to her feet, grinning. A good sparring session always helped to wash out her built-up tension.

“So?” Thomas said. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“It means if you’re going to die anyway, sitting around being uptight and depressed about it doesn’t help.” She tried to throw Thomas off-guard again with a series of quick jabs, but he blocked them all. When she backed off, he repaid her by slamming a fist into her stomach.

Mina hissed and stumbled back. “Life’s more fun when you just enjoy it, Thomas,” she coughed out. She winked, despite the pain. It would fade soon enough. “And I intend to enjoy life to the end.”

The Rite Initiate rushed at her trainer. He raised his fists, but she ducked, sweeping with her leg. He grunted and fell. She leapt off the ground, trying to kick him while he was down, but he jerked his arm up, blocking her boot. He returned to his feet in seconds, shaking out the arm she’d struck.

“Nice move,” Thomas said. “Good.”

“Good?” Mina snorted. “I think that’s the first time in a while you’ve actually suggested I’m not a total screw-up.”

“Maybe not a total screw-up. The important thing is, you’re a werewolf. You’ll heal, and you shouldn’t be afraid of the pain, and I don’t think you are. I can work with that.”

“Not a fan of pain, to be honest,” Mina said. “But I’ve seen some good healing in my time. So, yeah, I can deal.”

“I’ll give you that. But I don’t like the rest of your attitude. Peace is fleeting for our people, and I don’t think you understand that. You think this is all a big joke.”

“No, I think your lectures are all a big joke.”

They both charged each other. Mina again tried a sweep, but this time, Thomas was ready. He grabbed her leg and yanked. Her head smacked against the packed sand, leaving her seeing stars. She could only imagine what it would have been like if he’d taken her down over some concrete.

Mina grabbed the man’s foot before he connected with her stomach, and she pushed him backward. She hopped back to her feet in the time Thomas was still stumbling. Her stomach and head throbbed, but she wouldn’t be giving up anytime soon. Not to him.

“Shift,” Thomas yelled.

“Huh?”

“Shift. You have a lot of experience on two legs, but what about four legs?”

“Plenty, but wouldn’t that be less useful given the point of his exercise?”

Thomas shrugged. “Not like clans never fight and werewolf struggles never happen.”

Mina let out a sigh and rolled her eyes. She pulled off her shirt and tossed it behind her. Her sports bra flew to join it next. She could shift without taking her clothes off, but she didn’t want to risk tears or getting caught.

Thomas watched, but there wasn’t any hint of lust in his eyes. She didn’t expect any. Anyone who grew up around shifters got used to the naked body. There was a time and place for lust, and it wasn’t in a bloodstained sand pit during combat training. After a second, her trainer started pulling off his own clothes.

With a deep breath, Mina called to her wolf. The pain shot through her body, every bone, every muscle, down to every cell. She managed not to whimper even as her body tore itself apart from the inside. Bones twisted. Fur erupted until a black-coated wolf with a red stripe on her head replaced the young woman.

She hadn’t timed herself in a while, but the last time she found she could shift in under thirty-five seconds. Unpleasant as it was, it was a vast improvement over the minute it had taken her during her first shift.

The white-coated Thomas waited as Mina finished shifting.

She inhaled deeply. All that pain, all that discomfort. She couldn’t say it wasn’t worth it. The world came alive with the shift. She could hear the faint flutters of birds in the trees, make out the sweet smell of distant flowers on the wind, and her eyes cut through the darkness outside the training ground.

Ready? Thomas thought to her.

Mina never could understand why werewolves could send thoughts to each other in wolf form but not when in human form. She’d heard a lot of theories, but they all just amounted to the same thing: because Rogan wished it that way when he’d turned their wolf ancestors into shifters.

After that shifting pain, you’ll have to seriously up your game to impress me, Thomas.

Mina’s heart raced, and she let out a low growl. On four legs, the bloodlust of the challenge flowed into her, spurring her to take on the other wolf confronting her.

Thomas leapt at her. Mina charged right at him, managing to run under him. He landed and rounded on her immediately, baring his fangs. She bared her own.

You’re still just an Initiate, but you think you have all the answers, Thomas sent to Mina.

Well, not all the answers. Just the most important ones.

Mina bounded toward him, sweeping with a claw. Another fine advantage of being a werewolf instead of just a normal wolf: actual sharp claws you could use in battle.

Thomas didn’t even try to dodge her blow. Her claws caught and tore, satisfaction shooting through her.

With a growl, her opponent jumped forward, his jaw open.

They fell in a tangle of limbs, but his wounds didn’t matter now that Thomas had his jaw around her throat. He rested his sharp fangs against her neck.

Do you yield, Mina?

If I say no, are you going to rip my throat out?

Don’t tempt me.

Her inner beast battled between the burning will to fight still in her and survival.

You win. After a moment, Mina added, bitch.

Thomas growled and then released her. She fell to the ground with a yelp. He backed up slowly, his tail wagging.

Mina growled, still wanting to taste a little blood. The bastard thought too highly of himself.

You got lucky, she sent.

Just like you got lucky with your little tree stunt?

Mina let out a single bark, the closest she could manage to a laugh in wolf form. Are we done?

Yes.

About a half minute later, Mina lay naked and bruised on the sand. The wounds to her body would probably be gone by the time she hit her bed tonight, but the wounds to her ego would linger for a while longer.

Now back on two legs, the bloodlust drained out of her. She didn’t look at Thomas as she put her clothes back on. She didn’t want to see the smugness on his face.

“You’re a spoiled princess,” Thomas said.

“Oh? Am I now? Can I be Princess of Flavor Town?”

Thomas snorted. “You can’t be serious for five seconds?”

“Five seconds yes. Five point one, not so much.” Mina offered him a grin.

The spreading frown on the man’s face only fueled her desire for more snark. She wondered if Thomas would ever catch on to that.

“I’m not going to say you didn’t show some good moves just now, but you don’t get that bad things can happen, and so you don’t care. Not really.”

Mina finished slipping into her last piece of clothing, her T-shirt, then grabbed her jacket. “Is there a point to your latest lecture? Some actual practical point?”

“Just because your father is king doesn’t mean your Rite of Passage will be any different. You have to go through it like any other wolf, and you need to be ready for anything.”

“Like what?”

“Wolves fail Rites.”

“Not all that often.” Mina zipped up her jacket. “And I don’t plan on failing.”

Thomas shook his head. “Wishing doesn’t make it so.”

“Neither do your lectures, or Garett accusing me of cheating with Linh’s help.”

“She’s not clan. She’s not even a wolf. Maybe it’s good that you remember that.”

Mina marched right up to Thomas and locked eyes with him. “I grew up around Linh. You only came to Golden Oaks six months ago.”

His expression didn’t change. “I’m still a wolf, not a raven.”

“And like you told me, wolves sometimes kill wolves.” Mina offered him a faint grin. “I’m loyal to my family and my clan, but I’m also loyal to my friends, and you can go screw yourself if you think I’m pushing my friend away because she was born a raven instead of a wolf.”

Thomas waved a hand dismissively and walked away. “That friendship with that bird is going to hurt you soon.”

“Maybe, but you should stop worrying about me and get your operation soon,” Mina yelled after him.

“What operation?” he called back.

“The surgical removal of those sticks up your ass.”

Thomas grunted and didn’t say anything else. Mina would take that as a win. That didn’t stop her from flipping him off when his back was turned.

Grab Your Copy Now

The Golden Claw

By K.A. Faul

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