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Devour (Devoured #1) by Shelly Crane

One

There’s a game you play. The one where you guess what the shapes and objects the clouds have made above you. Today there was a lady with a long witchy nose, a rabbit, a sailboat. Everyone’s perception is different; we all see different things. I personally think you see what you want to see.

I was solely entranced in my gazing. The sun was bright behind me as I lay in the grass, my head on my jacket. My insanely dark black hair was long and almost too warm as it fanned around my head and caught the sunlight. The small hill on the edge of the park was the perfect spying spot. Spying on clouds, on people, on squirrels, but I was alone. Alone here and alone in life. My family used to come here together, but no more. My sister was gone, joined the Navy and would be gone for four years. She couldn’t handle the fact that our parents died and decided to fulfill my dad’s wish for us to be in the armed forces.

The burglary, and the burglar who took their lives, was something we all wished to forget. Even the Montana police hastened the investigation because things like that just didn’t happen in our town. But there I was, stuck in my last year of high school, living with my Pastor’s family as a temporary custody home until I graduated and went off to college. I was as alone as I could be.

The sun so bright behind me made the shadow that was suddenly loomed over me startling.

I looked up to see a guy standing by my head looking down at me. He had a little smile, almost wistful, on his lips as he cocked his head to the side. I sat up and twisted to see him better. His eyes were a freakishly bright violet. I’d never seen a guy with purple eyes - well, I’d never seen anyone with purple eyes. It was a rare thing, I guess, but now looking at them like that, they almost seemed natural.

He was wearing a deep green button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and jeans with a small tear in the knee. Aviator sunglasses hung from his collar. His hair was as black as mine and close cropped. His hands were in his pockets and he continued to stare at me until I spoke.

“Hi.”

“Hello, there,” he finally said, his voice deep and lilting with a small accent that I couldn’t place.

“Can I...help you with something?” I asked since he continued to gaze at me unabashedly.

“Nope. Just enjoying the view,” he said and then smiled slightly as he turned to look up at the clouds and then back down to me. “There always seems to be a rabbit and an old lady doesn’t there.”

“How did you know I was...”

“I guessed. Why else would you be laying here, alone, looking at the clouds?”

I laughed nervously and twisted the ring on my finger; my nervous tick.

“Are you new here? I haven’t seen you around. Big Timber is a small town so, you kinda know everyone whether you want to or not.”

He laughed and it was delicious and rich making my stomach flip. I frowned. I had a boyfriend. What was wrong with me?

“Yeah, I’m new. Just moved stateside from Zimbabwe. My parents were teachers at one of the schools there. I’m Elijah Thames, but everyone calls me Eli,” he said and knelt down in front of me, sticking out his hand in greeting.

“Clara Hopkins.”

I took his hand, almost expecting something to happen when our skin met. Though his hand was warm and rugged, it was just a normal handshake.

“Nice to meet you, Clara Hopkins.”

“You too, Eli. You came at the perfect time I guess. Second semester starts tomorrow so we all get new classes. It won’t just be you getting a new schedule.”

“That’s nice, I guess. I’m pretty used to being the new kid though.”

“Are your parents missionaries or something?”

“Of sorts,” he said vaguely and stood. “So, what’s there to do in this town on a Sunday afternoon?”

“You’re looking at it,” I said through a giggle. “This is about it, I’m afraid. There is an old theater in town but it only plays one movie at a time and there’s a club here, but I’ve never been to it. We usually just hang out at the burger place.”

“Who’s we?”

“What?”

“You said ‘we hang out’. Who’s we?”

“Oh. My friends and I. My boyfriend,” I said and was shocked at how reluctant I was to tell him that.

“Ah, I see. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy, huh?”

“What wouldn’t?” I asked though I felt the blush creeping up, knowing exactly what he meant.

He just smiled.

“Well, can I walk you home at least? It’ll be getting dark soon.”

“Um...sure, I guess.” I took the hand he offered and then picked my brown corduroy jacket up, slipping it back on. “So, do you always walk up to strange girls in the park and start conversations?”

“Nah,” he said slyly and bumped my shoulder. “They didn’t have parks in Zimbabwe.”

I burst out laughing and was intrigued by how comfortable we seemed to be together already.

“Where do you live?” I asked him as we hopped onto the sidewalk.

“We bought a place on Buxton.”

“The bed and breakfast?”

“Yeah. My parents are all about trying something new.”

“Wow. Well, it’s a nice house. I’ve always loved that place.”

“It’s nice and big. Too big but I guess once you get a house full of guests it won’t be big enough. I made my room the basement though, so that should help with the privacy.”

“The basement? Won’t that be cold and muggy and...creepy?”

“You watch a lot of scary movies, do you?” he said in amusement.

“Maybe I do,” I spouted playfully. “I’m sure it’s nice enough anyway. But you know, it could be the attic,” I said and shivered in mock horror.

“Oh, attic’s are way creepy.”

We laughed and it resounded in the quiet darkening street.

He seemed to know right where he was going so I just walked beside him and let him lead us. Buxton was only a few blocks away from the city park and I lived beside the church near there.

We walked and talked for about a block before trouble turned the corner.

My boyfriend, Tate, was coming down the street in his big 4x4 truck. He was on the wrestling team, the town’s pride. He was really good to me, very attentive, and while I enjoyed spending time with him, I wasn’t in love with him. And he was a very jealous guy. All he ever talked about was us going to college together next year, but I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to go on a mission trip or maybe apply to a Music or Art school. If my parents were alive, they’d be so disappointed. My dad dreamed of his alma mater and the Army and my mom wanted me to marry right away and find a man to take care of me. Both of those dreams were nil.

But Tate was a sweet guy. Even though he was popular, he was pretty nice to everyone...except guys who tried to talk to me. He once almost pummeled my science lab partner when he stopped me in the hall to get my notes.

Apparently, his mom cheated on his dad all the time and his dad had no inclination to do anything about it. The whole town knew about it but they held a position of status and prime real estate in the town so no one cared, essentially. But Tate had always cared.

“Oh boy,” I mumbled.