The Griffin Marshal's Heart - Zoe Chant
Eighteen Years Ago
Gretchen Rose Miller came from a long line of shifters. Mostly, the people in her family turned into lynxes. There were a few bobcats on her dad’s side, and her great-great-grandmother on her mom’s side had been a falcon shifter. But mostly, it was lynxes all the way down. Her mom, her dad, her two sisters, and her brother: they all turned into long-eared, long-legged spotted cats with imperious stares.
Gretchen didn’t. Gretchen was human.
There was no genetic test for shifter parents to give their children. If your parents were shifters, you were a shifter: that was how it worked. If one of your parents was a shifter and the other one was human, you were still probably a shifter.
No one had ever heard of a case where two shifter parents produced a fully human child.
Not until Gretchen, anyway.
For the first few years of her life, her parents had just expected that she would turn into a lynx kitten at some point.
Then the whispers had started:
She’s just a late bloomer.
I think my second cousin was six or seven when he first shifted. I’ll ask around.
She’s healthy! There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be able to do it. The doctor said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her.
Now, she was twelve years old, and they all knew the truth. There was nothing wrong with her—except she was different.
She was average instead of extraordinary.
She wasn’t super-strong. She didn’t have an inner animal, a manifestation of her subconscious that would keep her company inside her own head and keep her in touch with her instincts. She would never look at someone and instantly know that he was her mate, destined to click with her perfectly on every level. There was magic—or at least something like magic—out there in the world, out there in the rest of her house, even, and she couldn’t touch it. She couldn’t use it.
She was just plain, ordinary Gretchen. The fluke. The dud. The mistake.
And while she knew her family loved her, they had a million little ways of driving that fact home.
“Don’t roughhouse with Gretchen! She’s not as strong as you are.”
“Remember to look after your sister. She doesn’t have your instincts.”
“Gretchen, I just don’t know if that’s safe for you.”
Well, Gretchen had a plan to deal with all of that.
It’s like a shot, she told herself firmly. It’ll hurt, but then it’s over with.
It won’t work, a little voice in her mind whispered.
She used to think that was her animal’s voice, but her parents had gently explained to her that that was impossible, that she was just imagining things. Gretchen had learned to stop mentioning it.
The voice spoke up only rarely, but when it did, she usually listened. It sounded like an older version of herself, like a Gretchen she desperately wanted to be.
But right now it was telling her that her plan was dumb, and she didn’t like that at all.
Remember the water balloon fight? the voice said, prodding at her. You kept trying to fill up that water balloon, and you put so much water in it that it burst. You don’t want to burst.
No, she didn’t. Yuck.
But she couldn’t burst apart, because there wasn’t anything inside her, no matter what it felt like. The little voice was just her imagination. She was empty, like a balloon thirsty for any water at all.
Her little sister Tricia’s bite would take care of that. After it was over, Gretchen would be just like the rest of her family. More importantly, she would be just like she felt she was. Her outsides would finally match her insides.
Gretchen pulled the collar of her T-shirt off to the side, exposing her neck and shoulder. If a neck-bite was good enough for Dracula, it was good enough for her.
“Are you sure about this?” Tricia said nervously.
“Definitely.” Gretchen kept her voice perky even though she could feel goosebumps rising up on her arms. “It’s not like anything bad will happen. It’ll just make me like the rest of you.”
“I don’t know. Mom and Dad always told us to be careful not to bite you because it could make you really, really sick.”
It stung to know that her whole family had talked over how to protect her and she hadn’t even known about it. It was like they were the real people and she was just the baggage they lugged around. Well, not anymore. Not if she had anything to say about it.
Her parents thought that she was weak and fragile, but she wasn’t.