In the Company of Wolves

By: Paige Tyler


Prologue


East Side Detroit, September, 2010

Jayna Winston flinched at the sound of the door slamming against the cheap plaster wall of the apartment’s tiny entryway. Crap. Her stepdad was drunk again. No surprise there. These days, Darren came home drunk almost every night. He was supposed to be looking for work, but unless there was a job hiding under a bar stool down at Hoolie’s, he wasn’t likely to find one anytime soon.

She glanced at her partially opened bedroom window that exited out onto the fire escape. Maybe she should bail and see if she could crash at a friend’s for the night. She didn’t like the idea of walking the streets of Detroit’s East Side this late, but she really wasn’t in the mood to listen to Darren and her mom get in another fight over money and his drinking habits. Darren was a mean drunk, and when her mom started screaming at him about wasting what little money they had, things usually got ugly fast.

Not that her mom was any kind of saint when it came to saving money. The reason she got so pissed about Darren blowing through all the cash was because it hardly left her any to spend on her own vices—lottery tickets with a little crystal meth on the side.

Jayna scrambled off the bed and started for the window, but then hesitated. Darren got pissed when she used the fire escape to leave their third-floor apartment. He said it made her look like a dirty hoodlum, sliding down the ladder like that. Not that she cared what people around here thought, but the last time he’d caught her slipping out the window, he’d thrashed her with his belt right out on the street while the neighbors watched.

She was still weighing the odds when she heard Darren swear, immediately followed by her mom’s voice, roughened by a lifetime of smoking unfiltered cigarettes, cussing right back at him.

“Don’t turn your face away from me, you stupid bitch!” Darren’s deep voice was so heavily slurred, it would have been impossible to understand if she didn’t have so much experience at interpreting his drunken rants. “You think you’re too good for me or something? You’re nothing but a meth whore. Get over here!”

“Double crap,” Jayna muttered as she headed for the window.

She was getting the hell out of there. Darren wasn’t only violent when he was drunk; sometimes he was horny too, and now seemed like one of those times. Her stepdad never had a problem smacking her around whenever he felt she deserved it—which was frequently—but he’d never tried anything else. Since she’d turned seventeen a couple weeks ago, he’d started looking at her in a way that made her feel really queasy. Jayna knew that sooner or later, he was going to come sniffing around her. She wasn’t going to hang around and give him a chance to do it tonight.

She was yanking on the window, which got stuck more often than not, when a loud thud resonated from the living room, immediately followed by a sharp cry of pain. She hesitated, but not for long. She’d tried to come to her mom’s defense a few months ago, putting herself in front of Darren and rocking his head back with a slap across his face, only to end up getting hit on the head with a heavy glass ashtray by her mom, who then shouted at Jayna for touching “her man.”

Jayna didn’t think of herself as all that smart—she was barely making it in school—but there were some lessons she only had to learn once. That night had been the last time she ever tried to get between her mom and Darren. Her mom wanted him; she could keep him.

Ignoring the sobbing outside her bedroom door, Jayna tugged on the window again. It broke loose without a sound, and she already had one leg halfway over the sill before she remembered her cell phone.

“Crap.”

She pulled her leg back in and darted for her dresser, where her old, battered Nokia was charging. She hated wasting time getting the thing. It had crappy service most of the time anyway. But if she was going to find a place to crash tonight, she’d need her cell. It wasn’t like she’d find a working pay phone around this part of town.

Jayna was shoving the phone in her jeans back pocket when her bedroom door flew open so violently the knob smashed a hole in the wall and sent a cloud of white dust flying. She took one look at Darren’s pissed-off expression and ran for the window as fast as she could. Angry might have been his default expression, but this was different. This time, he looked…hungry.

She didn’t make it far before a heavy hand caught her shoulder. Darren spun her around and gave her a shove, bouncing her off the cheap mirror attached to the wall beside the window. Her right elbow and forearm absorbed most of the impact, hitting the mirror hard enough to shatter it. Something shattered in her arm too, and the stab of pain that shot through it was enough to make tears spring to her eyes.

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