Beauty's Beast - By Jenna Kernan

Chapter 1

The fear made changing into her animal form easy. Transformed into a grizzly bear, Samantha Proud charged across the frozen lake as if the devil himself was on her tail—for soon he would be. The March wind blew at her back as she hurdled across the Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

What have I done? What have I done? The thoughts echoed with the rhythmic strike of the pads of her feet on the frozen ground. Her stomach twisted with fear as she galloped along, her claws tearing the ice. Should she warn her family or protect them by running in the opposite direction?

Home, she thought. It was the only home she had ever known. Miles blurred together and she reached familiar territory, out of breath and dizzy from her exertions. It was Blake who saw her first. Her twin brother was older by only seven minutes, but that was enough to establish him as her elder and she as his little sister, if you could call a nine-hundred-pound bear little.

They had spent a lifetime running and had run too far and too long for him not to understand the meaning of her panicked flight. On sighting her, he bellowed at the top of his lungs and bolted with her to their parents.

Their father, Sebastian, a great healer, bellowed in return and charged out to meet them, arriving in the yard to their cabin just as Blake and Samantha rounded the woodpile. Her mother, a Seer of Souls, was not a Skinwalker and so could not take an animal form. She was last to arrive, appearing from the cabin as she drew on her black down coat over a lavender turtleneck, her long dark hair falling in disarray about her pretty face.

With one look at her children, she broke into a sprint. “What’s happened?”

All three of them, her father, brother and herself, shifted to human form with a flash of light and the now-familiar surge of energy that pulsed from her core. An instant later and their great bearskin coats transformed, at their direction, into their preferred attire. Jeans and a red fleece jacket for Blake and jeans and a brown-and-green plaid flannel for her father.

Blake now stood seven feet tall and possessed a heavy musculature, just the same as their father. His straight, shaggy brown hair was lighter than Samantha’s and far shorter. They both had golden-brown skin and the high cheekbones of the First Nation, though her eyes were more cinnamon and his deep brown. Blake’s square jaw was clamped tight, and his eyes narrowed on her in disapproval. Here was another difference. Blake’s face resembled their father’s, especially when he scowled like that, while Samantha’s heart-shaped face, generous mouth and pointed chin resembled their mother’s.

“What did you do?” Blake whispered. He knew where she went and why. His disapproval did not prevent him from guarding her secrets, as always.

“In the Dogrib fishing camp,” she puffed, out of breath. “An evil ghost had possession of a child.”

Her parents went still and stared at each other in deadly silence. Samantha snatched another breath as her courage fled entirely. Dread settled on her, pressing her down. She needed to tell them the rest. Needed to warn them. Looking at their worried faces, she felt the groundswell of regret. Why couldn’t she have done as she was told for once?

“You were in Yellowknife?” Her father’s words were more accusation than question. She knew the danger of going where people lived, because where people lived, ghosts could be found.

“I told you not to go,” Blake said.

“What good are my gifts if I am not permitted to use them?”

“What good are they if you’re dead?” he countered.

She glanced at her parents, shifting uneasily under their silent condemnation.

“I only go there once a year, at the spring equinox. Just to do some healing.” As if when she visited made any difference.

“Showing off,” said Blake.

“I’m not!”

Her mother was not so subtle. “Please tell me you did not expel a ghost. That you did not send it for judgment.”

How could she leave a child in torment, when she knew how to free him?

Samantha wanted to tell her parents that she was tired of hiding, tired of living on the run. That up until today she had never, ever even seen a possession. But instead, she bowed her head.

Her mother’s voice rose an octave. “Did you?”

Samantha nodded.

Her mother’s sharp exhale sounded like a hiss, and her father’s jaw tightened. They shared a look. Her parents had