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Consumed (Dark Protectors)

Rebecca Zanetti
To celebrate Brandie Chapman’s 40th birthday, a group of twenty gals headed to Vegas in February of 2012. This book is dedicated to this incredibly energetic group—may all stories stay in Vegas, and thank God we made it home.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



So many people work in so many different ways to make a book come together. I have several people to thank for help with this book and sincerely apologize for anyone I’ve forgotten.

Thank you to Tony, Gabe, and Karly Zanetti, my very patient family, for giving me time and space to write, as well as support and love ... and chocolate;

Thank you to my amazing editor, Megan Records, whose hard work, dedication, and sheer enjoyment in the romance genre make this journey all the more rewarding;

Thank you to my incredibly talented agent, Caitlin Blasdell, whose ability to see the deeper layer for characters and arcs never fails to amaze me, and who works so very hard within this challenging industry;

Thank you to all the folks at both Kensington Publishing and Liza Dawson Associates who work many long hours for their authors;

Thank you to my critique partners, Sayde Grace and Jennifer Dorough—you two rock;

Thanks also to my constant support system: Gail and Jim English, Debbie and Travis Smith, Stephanie and Don West, Brandie and Mike Chapman, Jessica and Jonah Namson, and Kathy and Herb Zanetti.





Prologue



Thirty years ago





Katie tried to sink into the dented kitchen cupboard, her bare feet digging into cracks in the faded linoleum floor. Fear hurt her tummy. Jim Bob was mad again, yelling at foster mom Wanda about the soup being cold.

Wasn’t soup always cold?

She’d only been at this foster home for a week. Yesterday she’d turned four years old and nobody remembered. That was okay. Her mama and daddy lived in heaven, and they probably remembered. She wished she remembered what they looked like.

Jim Bob yelled louder, grabbing a wooden spoon to throw against the peeling wallpaper of old roses. His face got really red, and the fat under his chin jiggled. Stains covered his big belly and ripped pants, but he didn’t care about clothes.

He cared about soup.

Wanda grabbed the spoon off the floor and threw it back at him. Dirt flew through the air along with chunks of noodles. She was skinny in her ugly blue dress, but she could throw. A cigarette hung out of her cracked lips, dropping ashes on her scuffed shoes. She pointed her finger at Katie, yelling that having a foster kid meant too much work no matter how much money she brought in, especially since the stupid kid didn’t even do the dishes earlier.

Jim Bob whirled on Katie, his eyes a mean brown.

She bit her lip to keep from crying, her legs shaking. The dishes were too high on the counter for her to reach. Fear made her lungs ache. Panic had her eying the door for an escape. The wild forest outside wasn’t as scary as Jim Bob.

Then a tingling started in her cold feet. Shudders swept through her arms. She hurt. A lot.

Crying out, she dropped to her knees. Jagged edges of the linoleum cut into her skin. Black covered her vision. What was happening? She hadn’t been bad. All her bones popped and something ripped. Her dress?

Shaking her head, she tried to look past the black. Colors. So many colors danced on the dust mites. A million different pinks swirled around. A zillion different blues. And smells—she could even smell the pine trees outside along with stinky Jim Bob. He stunk like wet dirt. She opened her mouth and a meow came out.

Paws. She had paws.

What had happened? Did she do something wrong? Girls didn’t have paws. Fear had her shaking so hard her teeth rattled.

Terror had her lifting her head to see Jim Bob and Wanda staring at her with their mouths wide open.

Wanda started screaming. “It’s the work of the devil. Kill her!”

Jim Bob shouted and jumped toward his shotgun in the corner. His beefy hand wrapped around the thick part.

Katie didn’t want to die. Where was the devil?

Jim Bob swung the big pointy end toward her.

Run!

She leaped for the doggie door in the screen and rushed into the early night. Seconds later a shotgun blast echoed behind her.

She ran through the forest, her paws slapping the rough trail. How did she have paws? Fear crawled inside her tummy like a mean spider. Nobody told her she was gonna turn into an animal when she got scared now.

Darkness pressed in from the trees on either side of her, but her eyes worked really good. Bugs crawling in the grass. Very cool—so many of them. Different greens shining in the moss. Much prettier than she’d ever seen before. How could she see all the new stuff? Something was wrong with her.

Her panting filled her ears along with the sound of something loud coming. Jim Bob, yelling that she was a monster. He was gonna shoot her.

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