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Shae trudged through the snowdrifts, her feet sinking nearly to the knee with each step. Cold seeped into her bones, but she didn't dare stop. Holding the bundle high against her chest, she pushed harder. It wasn't far now. Another mile through the trees. Maybe less.
If only she knew what chased her. It had been following, though she couldn't say how closely, since she left the road. That she knew of. It could have been following since the last checkpoint, even, and only revealed itself now. Sparing another fearful glance over her shoulder, she looked past the mist of her own breath on the night air for some sign of the person, maybe even the thing, that had come with her into the forest.
But she sensed it Just because she couldn't smell it or see it in the shadows of the black trees or hear it crunching through the white snow didn't mean it wasn't there. She could feel it. It was nothing good.
She gave a shriek as her foot suddenly dropped deeper into the snow, throwing her off-balance onto her hands. The bundle at her chest wriggled desperately. Gasping, she gathered it close, peeling back the blanket layers to check the baby's face for signs of pain.
Once again, she wondered if this was the right move to make, but the second-guess was gone almost before it formed. The baby would have a better chance this way. Freedom was the only gift she could give to her.
Thankfully, the sleeping infant was more startled than hurt. She settled again when Shae made shushing noises. It took time, precious time, but she got the baby back to sleep, tightening the straps that bundled it to her chest before finding her footing again.
She made it five more steps before the first sound scared her nearly out of her skin. An angry hissing roar that echoed in her ears long seconds after it passed. If she didn't know better, she'd swear the sound had circled her, inches from her face. She had only time to gasp, her throat preparing to scream, and it was gone.
Panting, adrenaline rushing like an overflowing river through her veins, Shae did the only thing she could think of. She ran.
Arms tight around the baby, she skidded, crunched and sloshed through the snow, barely finding solid ground before she rushed to the next step.
Too much noise.
She wanted to obey the Instinct, but fear ruled her. This hunter was no pack of lustful wolves. Not even a death squad determined to end her. She didn't know what this was, but it was toying with her. She lurched backward at another hissing threat from between two trees, already changing direction.
South. Head south.
Half a mile. That was all. But Shae could feel the truth in her soul as the terrifying noise struck her spine, the sensation more frigid than the snow, nearly overturning her again. She wouldn't reach the last stop on the Underground, wouldn't have the chance to plead with the new Alpha she'd heard about. The one rebuilding the packs. To have come so far, escaped being caught over and over again because the dream of safetya future for her childkept her going despite the dragging hunger and exhaustion, only to know she'd never had a chance to get there tore the few remaining pieces of her soul.