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"Where is she?" Her shrill voice split the air. "Chaos!" Joanna yelled into the woods. "Chaos!"
No answer. Panic. Her breath short, she ran in rapid bursts between the sparse evergreen trees, one way then another, sliding on the loose rock with her abrupt turns.
"Oh no, oh, where is she?"
The sunlight, though filtered by the trees, still managed to make its way down to her and exploded into painful darts on her skin. She could stand the pain no longer and dashed back inside the house, screaming for her mate as she ran.
"Colin! Colin! She's gone. Colin!"
Of course, Colin slept during the dreaded daylight. Joanna knew that. She should have slept too, but this terrible uneasy churning in her gut disturbed her sleep enough to rouse her. Chaos, where could she be? Her bed lay empty, the room unoccupied. Joanna already searched the house, inside and out, to no avail. The missing young one lived up to her name, creating chaos for everyone.
Shaking his shoulder, she woke her husband and creator with as gentle a touch as she could under the circumstances.
"Colin ... Colin. Wake up." His eyes opened, the furious glow in them flaring then fading when he saw Joanna perched on top of him.
"She's gone again?" He didn't even need to ask.
Yawning, Colin stretched his hands high over his head and sat up, bringing his face even with Joanna's. He kissed her on the lips and taking her face in his hands, brushed his mouth on her forehead then whispered against her skin.
"Try not to worry, Jo. You know that CJ can take care of herself better than you allow her to. She is most likely playing out of earshot again and did not hear youcall."
Scowling back at him, she fought the urge to shove her knees into his unprepared, soft belly.
"Colin, you know she doesn't just play. She never has."
"Yes, well, have you checked with the others?"
Joanna looked away. His logical question gave her a jolt, as she hadn't thought to see if the others were in their rooms. How stupid. Before he could ask again she jumped off the bed, trotting down the carpeted hall to Ben's room. Why Colin insisted he be on the same floor with them still rankled her but at least his room sat at the opposite end of the hallway. She tried the knob but it didn't turn.
What a relief. The last thing she wanted to see right now ... Ben in bed. Turning back, she returned to her daughter's room to look for some kind of clue, anything to help her locate the missing girl.
She found the bed turned back, CJ's stuffed wolves all tossed on the floor. Crouching to pick them up Joanna saw a tuft of hair stuck in the carpet beside the bed. It didn't feel like synthetic fur and she lifted it to her nose. It smelled like wolf. Dropping the toys, she dashed down the stairs, taking them two or three at a time and ran across the den to Linnea's room. Empty! She couldn't decide though if this were a good thing or a bad thing. The Therian would never harm the child while in human form, but she had no clue how Linnea would respond as a wolf.
"Joanna!" Colin's call echoed through the house and she bolted back up the stairs as fast as she had raced down them moments before. He stood over CJ's bed, his face a map of worry as he stared down at the sheet. Joanna moved closer to see what had him so agitated and gasped...
Blood! Their daughter's whimsical prairie-printed sheets gave them the proof they needed. Several drops of blood dotted the field of grasses with terrifying flowers of dark maroon. Chaos was indeed in trouble.
Colin and Joanna stared down at the horrid vision, neither speaking, afraid for their child down to the marrow of their bones. Joanna reached out for Colin's hand, but didn't find it at his side so she glanced away from the bed up to his troubled face. He ran his hand through his already tousled dark curls again and again until he gathered a fistful of his own hair and just squeezed. His hand shook for a moment before he let it fall back to his side.
Joanna grasped his hand, locking her fingers with his larger ones before he could pull out a chunk of the curls she loved so much. He tightened his grip on her fingers for a moment then released her to place his hands on her shoulders.
"We will find her." Just like Colin to try and reassure her.
Meeting his gaze, she felt his heart constrict. He broadcast his thoughts and his feelings and she picked them up without even trying, feeling them like they were her own. He was thinking about the color of her eyes.
Those enchanting eyes the deep green color of the forest almost brought him to his knees even after all these years of staring into them.
She smiled up at him, loving his feelings for her, but sad at his worry. His thoughts of emerald pools about to spill over, so poignant, so loving, but she didn't want to cause him more pain. It hurt his soul to see the tears collected on the edge of her lashes so she wiped them away. Pulling her into his arms, he held her close against his bare chest, stroking her back and the length of her downy mane.
"Let's go." His soft black chest hairs moved with her breath. Joanna savored the warmth of his embrace a moment more before she pulled away. Leaving the cabin during daylight hours would be painful, but she must search for Chaos. This week, the dreaded week of the full moon ... nobody wanted to leave the cabin before sunset.
"I'll wake Benjamin while you dress." Colin patted her behind then moved toward Ben's room.
Until he mentioned it, she'd forgotten that she stood in the hallway in nothing but one of his t-shirts and underwear. Of course Colin may not have noticed that he knocked at Ben's door scantily clad himself and Colin never left their bedroom without being dressed all the way down to his shoes.
The door eased open, Ben's bleary eyes fighting to focus as he peered out at his creator. Seeing Colin he perked up, all bleariness gone. Something had to be wrong for Colin to stand before him clad only in his black silk boxers.
"Chaos is missing. Will you help us search for her my trusted friend?" Colin paused searching for the proper words. "...Linnea is also not in her room."
Ben's mouth dropped open, his mind reeling.
"Of course, Creator. I'll get dressed."
Colin bowed his head in thanks. He knew that Ben would be willing to make any sacrifice for his family, even braving the daylight.
They stood in a close group at the door, hesitating even though all three wanted nothing more than to plunge into the search for Chaos. The sun blazed with inexhaustible power in the peak of this flawless autumn afternoon. Dangerous golden rays touched everything outside this door. Even with their sunglasses on and the curtain drawn, glaring brightness invaded their vision with blinding fury.
"I've been out today and I'm still alive." Joanna pulled up her sleeve to show the two men her skin. "Look, I'm just a little pink."
"You have both been taking your betony supplements, correct?" Colin's strained voice exposed his own anxiety but he held his head high, looking down his regal nose at his shorter companions. He did not really expect an answer but he knew that behind their mirrored glasses they both met his eyes. Reaching behind him, he took three caps off the hat rack, donned one and passed the others to Ben and Joanna. Then, with tentative motions, he opened the door.
Colin had not entered the sunlight during the week of the full moon since his change over three hundred years ago. If Chaos were not in danger, he would not do so now despite the herbal treatments he and his neophytes consumed in mass quantities. It seemed to be working, reversing the vitiligo, the loss of skin pigmentation. Looking at the others, he realized they all appeared less sallow than usual for this time of the moon phase. Colin took a deep breath, held it ... then walked outside.
His skin warmed beneath the layers of clothing, but it did not burn! Keeping his head down to shade his face, he turned to the others to let them know they could come out. Joanna stood right behind him and Ben had also braved the sunlight to stand at her side. Though it felt far from comfortable to be out during the day, they all knew that it was now possible. The ancient Lachlan had been right about the herbal treatments.
"We should split up to search the surrounding woods." Colin glanced from one beloved face to the other, feeling such pride and at the same time, worry. "Be careful, both of you. Avoid the sun as much as possible but be quick. We will meet back here in two hours."
Joanna took off right away. Ben nodded to show Colin that he agreed, then he also headed for the woods. Ben's unkempt blonde hair hung down in his face. He made no attempt to move it, keeping his hands buried in his pockets. Colin watched him go, worried about his child by blood almost as much as his biological child, Chaos. Ben seemed distant, quiet, very unlike himself. He stayed away from the house for most of the night and sometimes even slept elsewhere without offering any explanation.
Not that he would ask for one anyway, but still Ben had changed and no longer played the childish prankster as he did before Chaos arrived in their lives. Colin missed that side of his cherished neophyte. He missed seeing those sky blue eyes aglow with mischief, his soft baby face wrinkled with laughter.
Now he had to stop thinking of Ben and find his missing daughter. If this were just another stunt he would discipline her to within an inch of her life! Although he missed Ben's misbehavior, he did not relish CJ's dangerous antics. She went too far.
Joanna yelled "Chaos" over and over until her throat clenched in protest. Then she tried again with the child's nickname, "CJ," thinking that if the girl chose to ignore her given name, maybe she would answer to CJ. Doubtful, but she would try anything.
The only answers she received came from the irate crows cawing at her from the safety of the treetops. Her long sleeves irritated her arms and the heat from all this clothing and the insidious sunlight sapped her strength, but she kept looking and hoping that she'd be the one to find CJ.
Colin would spank the child in a fit of anger and she no longer trusted Ben around her daughter. She caught him several times watching CJ, absorbed with every move the child made. When he realized she saw him, he would jump up and leave the room without saying a word.
Joanna continued to climb the steep hillside, using the conifer saplings as supports so she wouldn't slip on the loose gravel and have to start over again. The Texas Hill Country could be very unforgiving to reckless hikers. That's just what she acted like as she continued to climb, her mind drifting miles away.
Stumbling, Ben caught himself before he fell to the ground. Parties of cactus decorated the landscape and they sported lovely long thorns that he didn't want to have to pluck out of his already irritated skin. Ben chose a large boulder shaded by even larger boulders and sat down to rest for a moment. The skin on his face felt taut but heavy like it was about to slide right off his skull. Slipping one hand out of his pocket he touched his cheek, afraid of what he would feel there, but curious nonetheless. His skin felt foreign! Warm, slick, synthetic, but not like skin. He could only imagine what he looked like.
He should have stayed in the shade as Colin suggested, but this area happened to be one of CJ's favorite places. He knew this because he followed her here on numerous occasions ... unbeknownst to her ever-watchful parents. She loved climbing the boulders and exploring the small caves made by the fallen rocks. Ben loved watching her as much as she loved her secret explorations.
With a burst of adrenaline, Ben's intuition kicked in and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He leapt from his stone seat to search for the intruder.
A low growl brought his attention to the top of the highest boulders. There in the blazing sunshine stood an enormous wolf, its fur standing up from the massive shoulders all the way back to the end of its narrow hips. Silvery lips drew back showing a mouthful of evil white teeth and long fang-like canines. The sun glinted off the creature's eyes, small round mirrors reflecting the soulless horror Ben felt deep inside. The urge to run grew stronger but he knew that running from this wild creature would be a mistake. Although it may not be fatal, it would be painful at least--and pain he wished to avoid.
Without breaking eye contact with the wolf he backed away, slow sliding steps, until he bumped into one of the many large cacti that dotted the hills. Not in the least bit surprised, he gritted his teeth, sighed and twisted around to pull the cactus needles out of the back of his pants and the flesh of his calves. Glancing back up at the wolf, shock raced through his veins, icy knives puncturing his vital organs--nothing there!
The great beast had disappeared. Why had he turned to pluck the spines from his legs with that animal in such close proximity? The sun must have baked his brain.
With trepidation, he turned at a snail's pace to look behind him though he knew beforehand what would be there. Yes, there stood the enormous bristling wolf, teeth bared as it leapt for his throat.