Chapter 1: A New Home
The room was quiet and dark. Dawn was still a long way off.
For a long moment, Harlow lay silently not moving. Sometimes she thought waking up was the hardest part of her day.
For several long moments as her body shifted from sleep to waking, she would forget everything that had happened before, when she’d been brought back to her hometown to be a pawn in a game she hadn’t wanted to play. And then, over and over, each morning, it would all come back to her.
Hux was dead. He’d been the first boy she’d ever kissed. He was the father, not that he’d been much of one, of her beautiful daughter, Kayla. Sometimes she regretted that she felt only relief when she thought of how he had died, killed by Alpha Theon after he’d challenged his Alpha for leadership of the pack. A small part of her thought that she should feel something besides relief, some small kernel of regret, but she couldn’t find the energy to manage it.
Theon was dead.
Harlow didn’t pretend she had known the Alpha long enough to have fallen in love with him. She’d liked him. A lot. But she had seen what he’d done to his mate, and she had personally experienced the way his pack had suffered under his leadership. He’d just begun to realize that he needed to change, only to lose his life when his ex, who was mated to his Beta and who had orchestrated the entire coup, had nicked him with a poisoned knife.
Cara, the half-sister who she had once thought of as a sort of friend, was dead. Harlow had tackled her and Cara had fallen on her own poisoned blade, injuring Harlow in the process. In a twist, the small doses of poison that Harlow’s mother had been giving her for her entire life, to prevent her wolf from emerging, had helped her survive being poisoned.
That wasn’t what she woke up screaming about morning after morning, though. The scene that was featured in her nightmares were the long moments when Cara had held a knife to Kayla’s neck, the poisoned blade nearly slicing into her young daughter’s neck, while a strong guard had kept Harlow from being able to go to her.
Thankfully Kayla, who was only five, had shifted for the first time at that moment, turning into a small ball of white fur that had tumbled down at her aunt’s feet. Kayla seemed to be recovering from everything that had happened that day. She was also adjusting well to the many changes that had come their way in the past few weeks.
Harlow closed her eyes and pressed her head back against her pillow, willing her body to go back to sleep. After ten more minutes, she accepted that that, for now, was an impossibility. She pushed herself up, wrapping a thin blanket around her shoulders to ward off the cold. Winter hadn’t quite arrived yet, but it was close, and if the forecast was right they would have snow before the end of the week.
Padding into Kayla’s room she knelt for a moment beside the newly assembled twin bed, watching the rise and fall of her daughter’s chest for several minutes. The soft, steady sound of Kayla’s breath eased the tightness in her chest that she only half realized was there. The restlessness didn’t fade entirely, and after another quarter of an hour had passed she rose, ignoring the pins and needles of her half-asleep feet. Harlow eased the door shut behind her as she walked back out into the hallway of their home.
Their home, the thought never failed to astonish her each and every time the words drifted through her mind or left her mouth.
It had been one month since she’d left the town she’d grown up in for the second time in her life. Harlow hadn’t known she was leaving at the time. She hadn’t even been conscious.
For a week after the knife blade had made its shallow slice into her side she had tossed and turned, trapped in fevered dreams she didn’t want to remember. Alpha Cian Marek, whose pack lived far north of anyplace Harlow had ever visited, had brought her back to his Pack House, along with Kayla. His mother had cared for Kayla, and Cian had stayed by her side day and night, only eating when his mother or the pack doctor insisted that he needed to keep his strength up.
She knew now that he had expected something to happen when she’d woken up. But it hadn’t. She hadn’t felt anything when she looked at the handsome man who was asleep in the chair beside her bed.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She’d been worried about Kayla. She’d been confused and frightened since all of the fragmented pieces of memory that she had of her last moments of consciousness had been terrifying. But she knew now that Cian had expected her to feel what he felt… and she hadn’t.
It hadn’t taken Harlow much time to realize that Alpha Cian, and his pack members, all believed that she was his mate. Someone accidentally called her Luna at least once a day.
She knew that it hurt him, that she didn’t feel what he did. She’d heard comments and whispers and knew that everyone expected her to move into his home. She should already be marked and mated and she certainly should have taken her place as his Luna long since. But she couldn’t.
What if he was mistaken? In every story she’d ever heard, even with human-wolf shifter matings, both sides felt strongly from the first moment they saw each other as adults, that there could be no other love for them in all the world. She didn’t feel sparks when he touched her hand. Warmth didn’t wash over her when their eyes met. And even as a human, she knew enough from growing up around wolf shifters to know that that wasn’t right.
What if the wolfsbane and silver that she’d been given for years had broken something irreparable inside of her? Or what if Cian was simply wrong? What if what he felt was merely a strong attraction and his real mate was out there somewhere? If she let him in and let herself fall in love, would he someday find his real mate and break her heart?
Harlow had very little doubt that she could fall in love with the attractive Alpha if she spent even a little time with him. He was handsome and kind. Kayla adored him, and Harlow had sat on her little front porch for hours each day watching as he taught her daughter the things she needed to know about being a wolf.
It wasn’t usual for five-year-olds to be able to shift. She had yet to meet a wolf shifter who even knew of anyone who had seen a child shift at that young an age. The youngest she’d heard of so far was thirteen, and like Kayla, that boy had shifted after surviving a small plane crash that had left him alone in the woods for three days.
Yes, she thought, as she eased the front door shut behind her and stepped out into the chill night air, she could fall in love with Alpha Cian, if she let herself. But she wouldn’t let that happen until she was sure that they really were mates. She had promised herself that she would never get involved with another wolf shifter unless he was her Goddess-given mate, and she wasn’t going to break that promise, not after seeing the mess that had been made by Theon and Hux and Cara.
Sinking down onto the beautiful rocking chair where she’d spent so much of her recovery, she tucked her legs beneath her and stared out into the forest.
Alpha Cian had given her this cabin, once he’d realized that she wasn’t going to be jumping into his bed five minutes, or even five hours, after waking up for the first time. And she wasn’t in a hurry to leave. Even if she wanted to, where would she go? She didn’t want to go back to the apartment, where Hux and Theon had fought, shattering the little thrifted dining room table she had been so proud of. There was no way she would take Kayla back to her mother’s house, not after learning about what her mother had done to keep her own wolf at bay.
And Vegas? She was bound to go back to Vegas, but she’d broken the contract and nothing had happened. Lachlan had come and left, warning her that eventually, the curse would catch up with her. It was strange that it hadn’t started to affect her yet, but he’d warned her that that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t. Curses were strange things, but the sort that Mr. Rose purchased didn’t just disappear unless he wanted them to. And Lachlan had indicated that his cousin definitely had not been the one to release her from his control.
Blinking slowly she took a deep breath. Being out here in the forest, for their little cabin was at the very edge of town, helped her to relax more than anything else. With a sigh, she let the blanket she’d been carrying fall away. It wasn’t as cold as she’d thought. In fact, it was unseasonably warm. The thought made her smile. Maybe in the morning, she’d feel strong enough to take Kayla down to the creek that was only a few minutes walk away. Her little girl loved catching tadpoles and building little dams and pools at the edge of the water.
Yes, that’s what they would do, she thought, as she drifted off to sleep with a smile on her lips.