Clay's Hope
before
others of my kind started to challenge me. How much time had
already passed? Three months since I first saw her? Maybe four? I
still had a few months to try to win her over.
    I growled low, a warning to the one who
approached, and stopped walking. Gabby froze beside me.
    “What is it, Clay?” she whispered. “What
should I do?”
    I couldn’t let her fear distract me. I
listened to the thump of the male’s feet as it ran toward us.
    I growled louder, angry at this pup’s
audacity, and tensed, ready for a fight. Gabby retreated a few more
steps behind me. Good. She knew not to run.
    The steady pounding of paws on the ground
stopped as the challenger leapt toward us. This was no pup. I
braced myself as my opponent flew from the darkness. He collided
with me, and I snarled as I twisted away from his snapping teeth
and dug in my feet. My claws grated against the pavement as we slid
closer to Gabby.
    When the other wolf pulled back to regain
his footing, I saw an opening and took it. Lunging forward, I aimed
for his face. His lip and nose ripped under my teeth, and his blood
coated my tongue. My opponent cried out in pain, and I grunted in
satisfaction and let go, giving him a chance to concede.
    Instead of giving in, the mutt tensed, ready
for more. I growled a low warning to let him know I wouldn’t be so
lenient again. He snarled in return and tried to circle me. Gabby
moved with me, so I remained her shield.
    She was worried and afraid. I was neither. I
watched him closely, waiting.
    “Hey!” Gabby yelled.
    The other wolf’s blue gaze shifted to Gabby
as a light turned on in a nearby house.
    “Whose dog is this? Someone help me get him
off my dog!”
    She didn’t really think this was a normal
dog, did she?
    Another light went on in the house, and I
lunged forward, taking advantage of the distraction. The other wolf
dodged just in time, avoiding a second bite. The first bled freely,
coloring his muzzle.
    He swore at me, then lunged again. I turned
so he caught me in the shoulder. The impact was harder than I’d
expected, and it knocked me off balance for a moment. I went for
his foreleg, exposing my neck. The other wolf grunted in pain as my
teeth sank in.
    As I’d anticipated, the mutt still went for
the opening. His teeth clicked against the metal that studded my
collar. The wolf growled, pulled back, and made to try again. I
released him and backed away. Gabby shuffled back a step behind
me.
    As I moved, the damn leash uncoiled from its
place under my collar. The other werewolf noticed, moved forward,
and tried to step on the trailing end. I twisted sharply, flicking
the end of it out of the way.
    Someone whistled shrilly. “Duke! Come here,
Duke.”
    “The noise has everyone waking up, whoever
you are,” Gabby said, proving that she understood this was a
challenge. “You don’t have enough time to finish this. It’d be
better to leave now since Clay won’t be able to chase you.”
    She knew I wouldn’t leave her.
    “Someone’s going to call the police, and
when they get here, they’ll see a dog that’s neither licensed nor
leashed. You’ll either have to change and expose yourself, or let
them take you away thinking you’re a dog.”
    He and I continued our slow circle.
    The front door of the house closest to us
opened, and a man shined a flashlight at us.
    “Can you help me?” Gabby called to him.
    I understood what she was doing but didn’t
like it. I could take care of this challenger on my own.
    “Do you know whose dog this is? It came
running at my dog from the direction of your backyard.”
    “It’s not ours. Want me to call the police?”
he yelled over the snarls and growls.
    My opponent swore under his breath, turned,
and sprinted for the darkness from where he’d come.
    I watched the other wolf retreat. With his
withdrawal, the challenger conceded. For now.
    “Did you see what kind of dog it was?” the
man called as he left the safety of his house to look at his

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