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Chapter One

They met over the gravy boat. Literally. Both sniffing and inhaling, getting closer and closer by the second…

Simi was cold and starving, and the chill air of winter seemed to sink right into her bones, no matter how many layers she’d piled on. Too bad going furry wasn’t exactly the answer to her problem. People might find it a bit disconcerting to see a golden cougar running around the streets of downtown.

So she stayed upright in human form, trudging through the slushy snow, searching for a place to stay for the night. Temperatures were supposed to drop below zero, and she needed somewhere to hide. To eat.

And when she least expected it, for once, God answered her prayers, her salvation emerging in the form of a conversation she overheard. Plodding past a burn barrel, two men were talking about Satisfied Women’s Shelter & Soup Kitchen, complaining they’d get a meal, but not much else. Spouting off that the director was a mean bitch that discriminated against men, saving all the available cots for the female kind.

Simi didn’t have to understand the reasoning. Right now, she and the animal counterpart inside her, Cougar, needed a warm place to stay. And even if it was for just one night, Satisfied sounded like it could offer them a temporary safe haven from the bitter cold. For someone on the run, just like her. So beaten down, broken, brainwashed, that it had taken near death for her to finally have the courage to leave, only to find she really had nowhere to go. At least, not far enough away from Malcolm. She knew he’d find her—it was just a matter of when.

Should she risk it? Risk Malcolm finding her at the shelter? Until now, she’d shied away from those places, stayed under the radar so she wouldn’t be caught. When she’d run, she did it with the clothes on her back, her winter coat the only luxury she’d been able to take with her. Little money, no credit cards. Malcolm had everything under lock and key. Speaking of which, she was down to her last five dollar bill, and with her metabolism demanding more sustenance than she could scrounge from dumpsters, Simi’s stomach imposed its will and made the decision for her—to seek out the shelter.

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