Winter Wolf (A New Dawn Novel Book 1)

By: Rachel M. Raithby

CHAPTER 1

Katalina Winter’s favorite night of the week was Sunday.

“Turn up the heat, Dad.”

“Sure, Kat.” He fumbled for the knob with his hand, never taking his eyes off the road.

Katalina snuggled deeper into her white wool coat. Winters in Michigan were brutal, but Katalina had always loved this time of year. There was just something about a crisp November morning: frost and snow covering every surface, turning the landscape into a glittering wilderness. She had always thought winters had a peaceful silence to them.

“So how’s it feel to be eighteen, darling?” Katalina’s mom asked, turning to face her from the front seat.

“I still have no idea what to do when I leave school,” she admitted.

It bothered Katalina, no matter how many times she told herself she still had time. Everyone else knew where they were heading, what job they wanted, which college to go to, but Katalina still couldn’t picture herself in the future. Couldn’t imagine where she’d be, who she’d be.

“Don’t fret, Kat. You’ll figure it out.” Her mom smiled, turning back around.

Her dad met her eyes in the rearview mirror. “It’s all downhill from here, Kat, wrinkles and gray hairs!” He laughed.

“Duncan, don’t be mean!” They both laughed.

“Ha, ha, guys.” Katalina smiled at her silly parents. She knew she was lucky they’d decided to keep her. They’d found her before her first birthday, and she’d always wondered whether she’d been left on Mr. and Mrs. Winter’s doorstep as some kind of joke: her eyes, of blue-silver, looked as if they were carved of ice themselves. Katalina had hair that was so light blond it was white in the sunlight, and pale skin to match. She was the embodiment of winter.

She’d been the butt of many jokes, but after a while, she’d come to embrace her unique looks. She loved her parents fiercely and had no desire to know her biological parents. As far as Katalina was concerned, they’d done her a favor, dumping her on her adoptive parents’ doorstep. It had been the dead of winter and she’d been left with only a piece of paper pinned to her blanket, a single line on it saying, “Her name is Katalina.”

Laughing as her father told more jokes, Katalina looked out the window at the passing trees; she saw a flash of something between them. Leaning forward to rub her gloved hand over the glass, she tried to get a better view.

Wolves?

If only she hadn’t said a word, she might have gone on to love every Sunday night for the rest of her life . . .

“Dad . . . there . . . there’s a wolf,” she muttered, pressing her face closer to the cold glass.

“What?” her mother answered. “Impossible. I don’t think we’d get them this close to town.”

“Honestly, look—it’s following the car.”

Her mother sucked in a breath as her father signaled to turn into their drive. “Duncan, look. It is a wolf!”

Katalina glanced at her father as he turned his head to look, and that’s when it happened. When her life changed forever, irrevocably broken . . .

Wolves, in shades of black to gray, ran out onto the road. There were so many that all Katalina could see was a wall of fur. They didn’t move, nor did they attempt to get out of the way. They looked at the vehicle, the glint in their eyes promising death.

“Dad, watch out!” she screamed.

“Shit!” he shouted, slamming his foot on the brake.

The car skidded . . . Her mother screamed . . . Time slowed. As the car flipped, Katalina’s body was weightless; for one glorious second, she felt nothing, feared nothing, and then time hit fast-forward.

Her body was tossed like a weightless doll, flipped and smashed, while all around her was noise: smashing glass, groaning metal, terrified screams.

Then there was silence, an endless eerie silence that signaled things were very wrong.

It might have been a minute, or ten, or maybe just a bare second, but in that time, Katalina hung from her seat, her head rushing with blood, her ears ringing, and a constant roll of pain riding through her body. None of it was as frightening as the thought of breaking the silence. Because she knew—she knew as soon as she opened her mouth—it would be over. Her life would never be the same again.

“Mom? Dad?” Her voice was barely a whisper, yet the raspy sound sent a fresh pulse of pain through her head.

“Mom? Dad?” she asked more loudly to the silhouettes hanging from their seats, arms limp and fingers unmoving.

Fumbling for her belt buckle, she unlatched it, falling with a thud onto the car roof. Her heart pounded louder in her ears. Finding hidden strength, she was crawling toward her parents when suddenly she heard a whoosh. The car caught on fire.

Panic seized Katalina. She screamed, scrambling over glass and twisted metal. Barely registering the cuts to her hands and knees, she unlatched her father’s belt. He slumped down, a dead weight. “Dad! Dad! Please wake up,” she cried, shaking him.

Noises from outside filtered in: the scuff of snow, the low rumble of a growl.

Heat. Heat surrounded her, filled her, and each breath burned. She stretched up to release her mother. Nearly at the buckle, she screamed when the window smashed inward. Squeezing her eyes shut, she gasped as glass cut into her skin.

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