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Chapter 1

“Stupid me. When you’re scared you should scream like a girl and not turn into a nuthatch,” Chloe Hamil scolded herself as she made her way down from the tree she’d been hiding in.

Brent Perry had gotten the balls to ask her out. They’d dated for two months and then he asked her if she wanted to date only him. He was finally her boyfriend after years of friendship and strange sexual tension. She’d gotten scared and flown away after shifting into her animal form, the tiny little nuthatch. Chloe assumed she’d probably flown out of her boyfriend’s life forever.

Her best friend, Layla Adams, would never let her hear the end of it, but it wasn’t Chloe’s fault. It was the person who was shooting at them.

“Why was someone shooting at us?” Chloe asked the leaves, which had just started to turn yellow and red with the beginning of fall. Talking to foliage seemed like a normal thing to do after the night she had. Brent had suggested a nice walk in the woods to talk about their feelings for one another. It was near her home and he had stopped by to see what she was up to. They had been walking for maybe ten minutes when a shot rang out and the bullet went right by her. Brent noticed as well and he tried to shield her. It was too late. The second her body sensed danger it went right into shifting mode. As hard as she tried, she’d never been able to stop it when she was scared.

It was terrible. All she could do was watch him grow taller as her body folded in on itself and shrunk all at once. The look on his face was a mixture of shock and horror.

Woodland Creek was a small community. There were less than four thousand people in town and a lot of those people were not human. The humans who were in the town were mostly kept in the dark about the existence of people who shifted into animals. It tended to make them want to leave when they found out. The existence of one paranormal being meant others existed and that was a little too much for them to handle.

Now Brent knew for sure there was something otherworldly going on in their small Indiana town, and she was the reason for it. She needed to deal with the fact that she’d exposed herself to a human without any warning and then she needed to figure out the issue of whoever had been shooting at them. She decided to go to the police.

It was about eight in the morning. She’d slept in the tree in bird form, too scared to come down and face life. It was Sunday, so she didn’t have to be at work until ten forty-five and the police station, like everything else, was just a stone’s throw away. Once she got back to her apartment, she climbed into her tiny, red bug and took off toward the station.

She walked into the station and didn’t see anyone at first, but she heard talking, so she sat in one of the hard, puke green chairs they placed out front for visitors.

“Can I help you, little lady?” The chief of police walked out from the back room, rubbing his face. TJ Rickman had been a policeman for a decade in town and she’d dealt with him before when she’d bailed Layla out a couple of times for her escapades.

“Chief Rickman,” she said as she stood. “I need to report someone shooting at Brent Perry and myself yesterday around four o’clock in the woods.”

“Shooting.” TJ rubbed his belly and she realized there were donut crumbs there and around his mouth. He rubbed his face again, knocking off some of the sugar, and went to take out a notepad.

“Okay, where were you exactly and how do you know someone was shooting?”

“We were about a ten minute walk behind my house. You know the old, blue one. It used to be Mama and Daddy’s?” He nodded as he made a note.


“We were walking and suddenly a bullet flew past us and hit the tree across from where we were standing. There’s no doubt in my mind it was aimed at us because it was so close and then there was a second bullet.” She left out the part where she’d already been flying out of the area when the second bullet whizzed past.

“So someone was shooting at you just because they wanted to? That doesn’t sound all that plausible. I’ll have one of the deputies go out and look into it.”

Chloe could tell he didn’t believe her and it was unfortunate because there was a lunatic out there shooting a gun at people. It wasn’t the best feeling that law enforcement didn’t want to just run out there and put a stop to it.

“So, I’ve done my part reporting it, right?” Chloe wasn’t sure if she should try to do anything else. It wasn’t like she could identify the person who did it. They hadn’t seen anyone with a gun in the woods.

She decided she would go and see her parents before her shift at work and maybe eat something. Her parents had lived in Woodland Creek their whole lives. They said it felt like a sanctuary for shifters to thrive and be comfortable. Chloe had been one of only four kids in the preschool class until Brent had moved to town and then a couple of months later Layla had moved as well. Layla’s family was of deer shifters and had heard about Woodland Creek through some other family members who already lived there. Brent’s dad had gotten a job teaching at the local college and once they moved into the area they never wanted to leave. The three of them were thick as thieves and got into a lot of trouble together. When they were in the eighth grade Chloe’s feelings started to change for Brent. She saw him in a different light, but never told him about her crush. She was terrified they wouldn’t be friends anymore. When they hit high school, that’s when Layla had discovered drugs. She’d gone down such a dark path they had stopped talking for a while.

Pulling into her parents’ driveway, you never really knew what you were going to see. Today was no exception. There was a nude statue in the yard and it was half painted red and white. Her dad popped out from behind the ugly thing as she got out of the car.

“Can you believe someone just threw her away?” Rob Hamil always got excited about the trash he found and tried to repurpose. It was always something completely useless. This time it was a strangely painted statue. The time before that he’d found a car bumper someone had stuck different colored gum all over. Because it was trash and disgusting, Chloe’s mother had made him throw it away immediately. Chloe could only imagine what she would have to say about this newest discovery.

“No, Dad,” she replied sarcastically. “I can’t ever believe the amazing wonders you bring home from the dump.”

“Side of the road. I’m going to spray paint her silver and she’ll stand in the yard like a gorgeous shiny princess,” he yelled behind her as she walked inside their cute little farm house.

“Hi, honey.” Debra Hamil sat at the kitchen table, writing out a grocery list. She looked exactly like Chloe, with dark brown hair and eyes, fair skin, and small features.

Chloe debated telling her mother what happened, but did she really want to worry her? Maybe she could fib a little and get her opinion.

“Hi, Mom, how are you?” She kissed her cheek, then sat opposite her at the table.

“Did you see your father’s boobs? I swear all he’s done is stand out there and stare at them. He acts like he hasn’t seen tits before.”

Chloe giggled. “You know how he gets with his discoveries.”

“I do, but that ugly thing is out of here as soon as I figure out a way to get him away from it. He’s like a dog in heat with that thing.” Chloe giggled again. Her father was a mountain lion, not a dog. She had gotten the nuthatch gene from her mother. There had been a fifty percent chance she would be a mountain lion, but she looked like her mother down to the colors of her feathers. If she were a mountain lion, she wouldn’t have hidden in a tree like a weakling, she would have fought. At least she could fly. Layla had always been jealous of that fact.

“Something happened in the woods with me and Brent,” she blurted out.

“Oh, my dear.” Her mother didn’t look up from her list-making. “I hope you used protection.”

“No, Mom, that’s not what I mean. We were walking in the woods and something startled me, and I changed in front of him.” She thought maybe she should mention someone shooting at her, but didn’t really want to alarm her parents if it was a wrong place wrong time thing.

“Oh no, Chloe, you didn’t. You just started dating.”

“Why is that a bad thing, Debra?” Her dad had walked in and was frantically trying to scrub silver paint off his hands. “That can got away from me.”

“Because, Rob, you don’t lead into a relationship with a human by letting them know you’re a shifter. That’s something you ease them into if you even need to tell them at all.”

This was a subject her parents disagreed heavily on. Her father thought the whole world should know about shifters and it was dumb that they kept it a secret, while her mother very much adhered to the rules that a human only needed to know if it was unavoidable. In her mother’s mind, when it came to a relationship, waiting to tell the other person what you were was right up there with waiting to say I love you.

“How did he react when you talked to him afterward?” Her mother put down her pen and leveled her with a piercing stare.

“So, I didn’t talk to him. I hid in a tree for the evening.” Chloe looked down, knowing her mother was going to be disappointed in her.

“Okay, so you go see him and you talk to him about it as soon as you do.”

“It’s okay, baby girl.” Her dad had given up the battle with the paint and joined them at the table. “You gave him time to think about what he saw and now you can explain that he didn’t eat some tripping mushrooms, but he actually saw you change.”

“Dad, I don’t think they call them tripping mushrooms.”

“How would you know?” He immediately got defensive.

“Fair point,” she said, “it’s just that I’ve wanted to date Brent since the eighth grade and it’s finally happening. I screwed it up by an uncontrollable freaking shift.” She put her head in her hands.

“I think if you’re meant to be together, then he won’t care about your feathers, Chloe,” her mom reassured her. Chloe wanted to believe her, but she didn’t see his face when the change happened. He was scared.

“Does this have anything to do with the gun shots I heard yesterday afternoon?” her dad suddenly asked.

“Yes,” Chloe said. “They startled me and I changed.” There was no point in lying and she just didn’t have to say they were shooting at them.

“Well, I guess that would scare anyone. See you later.” Her dad retreated back to his special project and Chloe turned to find her mom fosamax staring at her again. She was trying to figure out what Chloe wasn’t telling her. It was time to go. Ever since she was a little girl her mother had always been able to tell when she wasn’t giving her all the information.

“I better go home and get ready for work. I’ll let you know how that conversation goes.”

Her mom nodded. “I think it will be fine. Just be honest with him. We can’t help what we are, sweetie.”

Chloe kissed her cheek and started for the door. “I’ll call you after work.”

“Listen, honey, our instincts aren’t usually wrong. If something scared you that badly then maybe don’t go into the woods for a few days.”

“All right, I won’t. Good luck with Dad’s statue.” She wiggled her brows and headed back out to her car. Her dad was really concentrating on painting one breast with the tip of a paintbrush. It was a little disturbing.

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