Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Chapter Three, page 1 of 7)

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Carmen trudged through the sticky mud toward the chicken shed. There was no point in getting all worked up. Obviously Alex was showing off for Katie. After all, he had less than two weeks to convince her to move back to Houston. How he expected to achieve that by feigning interest in the goats was a mystery, but at least he cared enough to make an effort. A month ago, before the letter announcing his visit, she would have said otherwise. Why the sudden interest in Katie? Did it have anything to do with the fact that she would be twenty-one soon, and gain control of her inheritance? How much of his wealth actually belonged to Katie? Now there was a thought - not a very nice one, either.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a cacophony of squawks and wings beating against the chicken coop walls. She broke into a run, screaming for Katie. Something was after the chickens - probably that dad-burned skunk again.

Her foot slipped on a large wet rock, spilling her face first into the mud. For a long agonizing moment her knees and elbows took turns at the ground, but finally she made it to the chicken coup door. She turned the wooden latch and threw the door open, ducking as a chicken flew over her head. It took an instant for her eyes to adjust to the dim coop interior, and then she found herself staring into the desperate eyes of a red fox.

He cowered in the corner, clutching a white hen in his mouth. The rest of the chickens were flogging all over the tiny coop, bouncing off the walls in a state of panic.

Carmen pulled the coop door shut and the fox snarled around the hen, backing deeper into the corner. As Carmen glanced around the coop for something to use as a weapon, one of the chickens ricocheted off the wall and hit her head. Her knees hit the floor with a grinding jolt, and the fox seized the opportunity. He grabbed the hen by the wing and headed for a sliver of light shining through the coop door. Carmen lunged at him and he leaped straight into the air, dropping the chicken. He hit the floor on all fours and snapped at the hen as she rolled by. The hen scrambled, dragging a broken wing and squawking her anguish. Furious at the loss, the fox made a snarling lunge at Carmen.

This time Carmen backed away. It was a mistake. Sensing her fear, he moved closer, his teeth bared in an ugly snarl.

The coup door swung open and Alex assessed the situation quickly. In an instant he entered the coop and pushed Carmen back, putting himself between her and the fox. Waving his hands, he yelled and the fox darted out the coop door - without the hen.

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