The Catalyst (Preternaturals #3) by Zoe Winters
It started with one lost, shivering pup; it may end in a war... Panthers don’t do responsibility. They don’t do long-term relationships. They definitely don’t raise kids. But when Z discovers a young wolf in the forest, he takes him in, unaware of the powerful beings hunting the pup. Fiona is a witch who can’t leave her house; the birds have told her something bad will happen. The mailbox is as far as she’ll go, but even that may provide more danger than she’s bargained for. When a wolf pup stumbles into her garden, her safe, wrapped-up world heads for a free fall. But along with danger, the pup brings a chance at love—a chance an agoraphobic witch and a bachelor panther shifter aren’t likely to find on their own.
Just have to make it to the mailbox. Everything will be okay. Fiona Patrone stared out the window at the lonely box at the end of the driveway. Her house was surrounded by trees in a heavily wooded area of Golatha Falls—so far out it was amazing the mailman delivered. And yet it felt so open and unknown out there. It was safer inside.
There probably isn’t any mail. Just check it tomorrow. Nothing important. Not worth going out. The thoughts tunneled through her mind like vicious moles. If she didn’t venture out, she’d be even more a prisoner of her own mind and fears. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone past the mailbox. If she got to the point where she couldn’t even get that far…
The birds outside screeched then, chattering warnings, screaming the same awful things they screamed at her every day. If you go out there, something bad will happen. She believed them. Birds had no reason to lie. They were excellent seers, so much so, that for centuries people had read bird entrails, not realizing that you needed a live bird to get any knowledge of value.
Something bad. They could at least give her a little detail, some clue as to what she should fear, but the threat remained the same—vague and foreboding as ever.
Fiona had been able to understand the language of animals before she could understand that of humans—a rare and special gift for a witch to inherit. Though she’d always seen it as a curse. If not for those damned birds, she’d be outside living her life. Maybe she would have found love, a job, something.
Well, she had a job—on the Internet. Her money was direct-deposited. She ordered her clothes online and had her groceries delivered. Thanks to the web, agoraphobia had never been so easy. At least from a logistics standpoint.
She took in a slow, measured breath, her hand poised over the doorknob. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. Fiona mentally repeated it like a subliminal message she prayed would take hold. The doorknob clicked in her hand. She moved through what felt like invisible molasses as she forced herself out the door and into the throng of screeching, angry birds.
The wind had a new crispness. Almost Halloween. As a witch, shouldn’t she be in her element right about now? But the idea of ghosts and goblins and veils thinning served to make the whole ordeal seem more dangerous.
Fifty-five steps. She counted them every day because counting them was the only way she could make herself get there. It wasn’t far. She could run back into her house if the birds were right.
The mailbox held nothing of interest: an electric bill that could have waited until tomorrow. On her way back, step twenty-four, she became aware of the eerie silence. The birds had stopped their squawking, and a stillness blanketed the yard. She would have run straight for the front door except for the plaintive cry coming from somewhere nearby.
Ignore it. It’s not your concern, she told herself. Thirty-five. But the noise happened again. So sad, scared. Her heart softened at the sound. She’d want someone to help her if she were in distress. Fiona tucked the electric bill into the waistband of her jeans and struggled through the wild growth of the front yard. She hadn’t worked on the garden in five years, and it showed.
When she reached the side of the house, she found a wolf pup with wide, brown eyes, crying. He was old enough that he should have started learning the language of his kind, but he hadn’t. There were no words she could pick up and decipher. She could still get emotions and basic information, especially if those emotions were strong. In some circles, this made Fiona dangerous; in others, it would make her a pawn of those who might want to capitalize on such information.