I felt bad for both Alina and Zander. They would need to cope with her trauma one day at a time. Unfortunately, I had more pressing things to be concerned over. Considering how Zander so readily confessed his love for Alina to me, I knew that he could handle the situation. She was in good hands.
Silas was concerned right now because he feared that Blackmore would arrive in the midst of my shift. I’d been listening to him and Maxim arguing in his office for the last fifteen minutes. It was starting to piss me off that they were speaking of me as though I wasn’t even in the room.
“There are risks involved, risks I’m not willing to take!” Silas yelled.
“I understand that, but if she doesn’t shift, then the chance of us winning this war is significantly lower.”
The more they argued, the more I shook my head admonishingly at them. Though they were both making valid points, it was time for me to speak up. “Gentlemen!” I called out. Both heads turned to me. “I can’t listen to this nonsense anymore. You’re both right, but war is coming. It would be absolutely stupid of us not to have me shift on the full moon.”
“Marnie, you can’t be serious,” Silas said.
A small smile spread across Maxim’s face. “Yes, Silas, I am serious. My uncle is right. War is coming. If I shift and have a chance to help us beat the enemy, then of course, I’m going to take it.”
He shook his head. “No, there is no way you can do this.”
I instantly came up with an alternative to appease him. “If you’re that worried, why don’t the three of you keep an eye on me during the process?”
“Generally, it’s a private matter. Outsiders aren’t allowed,” Maxim stated.
Turning to my uncle, I took a firm tone. “I understand that. However, Silas also has a point.” He crossed his arms over his muscled chest, vein popping slightly from his forehead. “Since Blackmore is aware of what I am, there is a chance he will try to attack the night of the full moon. Granted, he won’t attack with full force, but people could get hurt or killed. Don’t we want to avoid that?”
Logic clearly had the upper hand. He relaxed his body, submitting. At a loss for words, he knew I was right. Sighing deeply, Maxim conceded. “I’m fine with it as long as the prince is.”
Looking to Silas, I raised my eyebrows. “Well?”
Resigning himself, Silas understood this was an argument he wasn’t going to win. “Fine,” he huffed. “I agree.”
I stepped back from between them, and the men shook hands. Smiling, I was satisfied with how things were coming together.
~The Next Morning~
Rolling out of bed, Silas was still asleep. He was so tired, and I didn’t want to wake him. Leaning down, I kissed his forehead gently, not wanting to wake him. Guilt ravaged me knowing he was upset that he had to watch me shift, even if it was for protection.
Stepping into the shower, I let the hot water fall over me. I could already feel my muscles starting to tense, and my head pounded against my skull. Every single bone in my body throbbed in pain. The more I acknowledged the ache, the more I didn’t want to go through with the shift.
After my shower, I went down the hall, where the wolves were staying. Walking in, all heads turned to me in concern. “What’s wrong?” Maddox asked.
“I -uh-I don’t feel so good,” I responded, leaning weakly against the wall.
Laying the back of his hand on my forehead, he was immediately alarmed. “Jesus, you’re burning up. Go get Maxim,” he ordered Blaze. “Jax, help me get her to the bed.” Each of them took an arm, carefully laying me down. “Zane, get me a cool towel, quickly.”
“Why do I feel like this?” I rasped.
“I don’t know,” Maddox replied, laying the cool towel on my forehead.
Maxim came bursting into the room with a freshly woken Silas. Maddox moved to the other side of the bed, away from the scrambling men.
“What’s wrong with her?” Silas asked, panicking.
“Her whole body is aching, and she has a high fever,” Maddox responded.
Silas whipped his head to Maxim, rage in his eyes. “Is this supposed to happen?”
Maxim knelt next to the bed, gently touching my limbs. “Her whole body is drenched in sweat. I’m not sure what this is.”
“Could it be that her body went from dead to living again? The shift could be affecting her before the moon comes,” Maddox reasoned.
“How do we help her?” Silas asked, petting my sweat soaked hair.
“Keep her body cool. She needs to feed periodically. That may help the fever,” Maddox responded.
“It may benefit her to have some of mine,” Maxim continued, “since I’m her kin.”
Silas growled at my uncle. “No fucking way,” he hissed.
“Silas,” I cried out. “I don’t feel good. Please, help me.” Weakly grabbing his hand, my grip was nil.
“We don’t have time for your objections!” Maxim was becoming increasingly agitated.
“Fine. Do it,” Silas said through clenched teeth.
He shuffled out of the way, letting Maxim sit on the edge of the bed. “Marnie? Marnie, honey, look at me.” Slowly cracking my eyes open, I saw my uncle’s thoughtful face. “Can you hear me?” I nodded, and he smiled. “You have to drink from me. Just a little bit. Should stave off your fever for a bit. I promise.”
“Okay,” I wheezed. Extending my fangs, I bit into his forearm. Barely registering anything around me, the taste of blood made my head spin. As I drank, I could feel the power of his blood flowing through me. The more I drank, the more I felt an electric charge coursing through my bones.
“That’s enough, sweetheart.” Maxim tried to pull his arm from between my teeth, to no avail. “You have to let go, Marnie,” he said more forcefully. Finally, he ripped his arm away from me, cradling it close to him. “Damn it,” he growled. “She has quite an appetite.”
“Marnie?” Silas came close, but he sounded so far. “Talk to me, sweetheart,” he pleaded. When I opened my eyes, Silas’s own eyes widened. “Your eyes…. they’re golden-red.”
Sitting up, I blinked a couple times, hoping it would go away. “I feel a little better,” I admitted.
“Good. That’s good,” Silas said. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”
“I’m sure,” I reassured.
“Next question,” Silas started, “can someone tell me why her eyes were golden-red just now?”
“It’s part of her wolf. The red pigment is more than likely a symptom of the hybrid part of her.” Maxim replied.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Silas was visibly frustrated. “ I don’t think she should partake in the shift tonight.”
“She has to!” Maddox argued. “Marnie is our only hope for the upcoming war.”
When I stood out of bed, I felt like I could take on the whole world. “Don’t worry, gentlemen. I will be shifting tonight with all of you. We’re still going to go through with the plan we agreed on. I’m not sitting this out, and no one is going to make me.”
Silas didn’t agree with my decision, but eventually he conceded to my wishes. “I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Cupping his face, I smiled gently at him. “Try not to worry., I’m not going to be alone, anyway. You’ll be there, and so will the wolves.”
Tonight, I would turn into something that hadn’t been seen in a long time. I wasn’t afraid though. It was my duty to protect my friends, family, and the man I love. Let War would come, and we would emerge victorious.
~Later That Same Day~
My fever started to return slightly as the day dragged on, but I didn’t feel as weak. Maxim’s blood was stabilizing me. Night was coming, I could feel it in my bones—the pull of the moon.
All the wolves were getting restless. They all felt the same way I did.
“How are you feeling?” Zane asked.
Rolling my shoulders, I tried to loosen my muscles. “I feel okay, but not the greatest. It doesn’t seem like you guys are having any better time than I am.”
“Of course, we aren’t!” Blaze snapped.
“Don’t get bitchy with me!” I retorted.
He put his hands up in defense. “Sorry, sorry. I don’t mean it. I’m just feeling all twitchy. It’s the shift. Don’t take it personally.”
I chuckled wryly at how on edge we all were. “It’s all right. The moon is coming. We should get ready.”
The boys followed behind me, and on our way bumped into the vampires. “We’re going to get ready.”
Silas stopped in front of me. “I want to talk to you first.”
“Veronica? Zander? Will you keep an eye out?” I asked.
“I’ll keep an eye on you. The mutts can fend for themselves,” Zander said, coldly.
“Of course,” Veronica said, rolling her eyes at her brother’s answer. They followed suit with the wolves so that they could prepare, leaving Silas and I behind.
Grabbing his sleeve, Veronica dragged her brother outside. “Don’t be such an ass.”
I couldn’t help but snicker at Zander’s remark. It was very much like him, which eased my anxiety about things.
Turning my attention to Silas, concern laced his features. “What’s on your mind?” Taking his hand, I gave it a light squeeze.
“I still don’t like the idea of you doing this. I know it’s essential, but there is serious risk involved. If Blackmore decides to send out even a few wolves, there is no guarantee that we three will be able to protect you. Based on what we’ve been told these wolves sound feral, and dangerous.”
“Truthfully, I’ve never had good experiences with wolves,” he admitted.
Blood boiling, he was generalizing a species he didn’t understand. “Have the wolves in your house ever been dangerous toward you? Please do not group them together. They’re my kind too, and you have to have respect for them equally.” I was angry at him for suggesting such a thing. “If you can’t respect both sides of me, then you have no place in my life.”
“Take it easy,” Silas said. “Of course, I want to be in your life. And I’m not trying to disrespect you. That was never my intention. But you heard Maxim. He said the wolves that reside with him are rogue. Rogues are dangerous, undisciplined, and incredibly hostile. When they shift, they can be the most savage beings on Earth. I don’t want to lose you again. You don’t know what that would do to me.” The pain in his eyes was apparent.
Putting my hands on his hips, he put his on my waist; I gazed straight into his eyes. “I don’t want to lose you either. Right now, I really need you to do this for me. Stand by me as I shift, please. I need you.”
He kissed my forehead, and I felt his grip on my waist tighten slightly. “I’m not leaving you. This I swear.”
Hand in hand, we walked out into the clearing where the rest were preparing themselves. The wolves had already started to strip, clad only in their jeans. Silas growled beside me. “Take it easy,” I whispered.
“Why are they half-naked?”
“We lose our clothes in the shift,” Jax answered. “Better to just strip ahead of time.”
Maxim appeared out of the woods much the same way, and a bowl in his hand. “Are you ready, Marnie?”
Sighing deeply, I released Silas’s hand and moved toward my uncle. “I don’t think I am, but I know it’s what’s best.”
“Don’t be afraid. I’ll be here to help you along,” he said, with a smile.
“Veronica! Zander!” Silas called out. From the trees, they appeared. “Make sure you keep your eyes open at all times.”
They both nodded.
“Good luck,” Zander said, giving me a small smile.
Silas was completely worried. The moon kept rising higher and higher, and the wolves were growing increasingly agitated. “I still don’t think this such a great idea.”
“I swear she’ll be in good hands,” Maxim responded. Silas nodded slightly, without hiding his concern. “Come here, sweetheart.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Handing me the bowl, I smelled blood. “You have to drink this,” he answered.
Peering around to the near naked wolves, I became apprehensive. “Do I have to strip too?”
“No, you don’t have to. It’s all up to you.”
Having taken a peek over to Silas, his eyes were raging fire, prompting me to opt out of taking off my clothes. “I think I’ll pass.”
Tentatively putting the bowl to my lips, I drank the blood. The wolves around me began to shift to their forms. They were beautiful beings. Eyes golden like the sun, their fur gently blowing in the wind. They gathered around me, waiting.
“How long will this take?” Silas inquired.
“Not sure. It could take a little longer—”
A sudden, searing pain racked through my whole body. My bones were snapping and breaking. Tasting blood in my mouth, I fell to my knees. My arms were snapping in ways that made me scream louder than I thought possible. My spine was breaking in awful, unspeakable ways.
“What’s happening to her?” Silas screamed.
“She’s shifting. This is how it’s going to be,” Maxim responded. “Marnie, focus.” Pain shot through my body so severely, I was barely able to raise my head. His voice sounded so far away. “Marnie, focus on the wolf inside of you.”
Landing on all fours, I screamed in agony. Every part of my body was on fire. When I looked down at my hands, I saw paws. My vision changed. Everything appeared enhanced. Suddenly, my legs gave out under me. My body was so tired from the shift that my body weight was too much to bear on my shaky legs. Something licked my head. Raising my eyes up, a familiar, large black wolf was in front of me. It was Maxim.
Then I saw the other wolves. They all bowed before me, I respect. I couldn’t tell who was who, but Silas was standing back in awe of my form. “Marnie is that you?” Whimpering at him, I forgot I couldn’t speak. “You’re beautiful.”
Stand up, a voice entered my head, and said. It’s Maxim. Don’t be alarmed. This is part of being a wolf.
You’re a good-looking wolf, Maddox commented.
Thank you, I replied.
Oh, there she is, Jax exclaimed. We were starting to think the shift was too much for you.
Shut up, Jax, Maddox barked at his brother.
Silas was becoming irritated because he couldn’t understand what was going on. “Marnie, can you shift back?”
Maddox shifted back as an example. “Just think about your vampire form, and you’ll shift back.”
Concentrating, I thought about how I looked before, and all of my features. Suddenly, I was back on two feet in front of Silas. “I did it.” Shaking it off, the discomfort from my bones snapping back dissipated. “What did I look like?”
He seemed mesmerized by me for a moment. “You had a gorgeous white coat with black tips on your fur. The very tip of your tail was black, and your eyes were golden green with traces of red. Your features were perfect.” Cupping the side of my face, he smiled at me.
White wolves are rare, Maxim added. They were always said to be the most powerful.
The large black wolf came up next to me. I can still hear you. Is that normal?
We’re wolves. Telepathy comes with the territory. You’ll learn to block it out once you get more experience. Holding my hand out, he gave me a slight snort. Gliding my hand across his fur, I almost forgot how gorgeous he was. Bringing his snout up, he licked me right on the nose.
Feeling a nudge, I turned to see who it was. “Maddox?” Snorting in response, I smiled at him. His coat was a beautiful auburn color with small white spots all over. His eyes were golden with flecks of blue. Aside from Maxim, he was the most beautiful wolf I’d ever seen. Observing the two men, I noticed their sizes were slightly larger than Blaze, Jax, and Zane.
Suddenly, I was pulled from my reverie.
Howls sounded in the distance.
Silas readied himself close to me. Veronica and Zander gathered with the rest of us. Fangs exposed their bodies tensed. He looked to me. “You have to shift.” The wolves were ready to fight, taking their stances in different directions.
Shift, Maxim commanded.
Picturing my wolf, I dropped to all fours, becoming my wolf. Taking my place next to Silas, I was ready to take on whoever came through the woods. To all of our surprises, someone came through that shocked us all.
“What the hell is this?” Silas demanded.
“Oh, relax. I happen to know a few wolves of my own. I’m not a complete beast,” he jested. “And what’s this?” Maddox and Maxim came to my side, growling, baring their teeth. Veronica and Zander flanked the wolves.
“What do you want, Braxton?”
“You’ve declared war. Seeing as how I hate Micheal Blackmore as much as you do, I want to help.”
Shifting back, Braxton’s eyes dilated. “The slave.”
“She’s slave no longer,” Maxim said, having shifted back himself. “Braxton.”
“Good to see you, Maxim.”
Looking to my uncle, I was completely bewildered. “You know him?”
“Yes, I do. Perhaps a story best saved for later,” he said.
Realizing I was stark naked, Silas jumped in front of me to spare me from Braxton’s unwanted gaze. Blaze threw a shirt over me. “Maybe we should take this inside,” Silas said.
Maddox turned to the others, “Shift back,” he said.
The entire group of us, save for Braxton’s wolves went back into the mansion.
Silas stayed very close to me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. Braxton’s presence obviously made him nervous. None of us had any reason to not suspect him of wrongdoing. “Why don’t you get dressed?” Braxton gave a low growl, prompting the wolves to growl back. “Enough. This is my home, and I will not tolerate fighting,” Silas said. “Maddox, please take Marnie to get changed.”
Placing a hand on my shoulder, he escorted me from the room. “That guy is such a scumbag,” Maddox murmured.
I shuddered at the mere thought of Braxton even being in the house. “He’s a sleaze. Hopefully, he has something useful to say.” He nodded, waiting outside my door while I changed.
As we walked back to the office, loud voices boomed. “I don’t think this is going well,” Maddox said, snickering. Everyone was waiting outside the office, and some of them appeared angry. “What’s the deal?” he asked Veronica.
“Braxton has a plan, but it’s not sitting well with Silas or Maxim,” she replied.
Gathering my courage, I walked to the door. “I’m going in.”
Then, I purposefully barged into the office, and all three men became dead silent. Silas looked angry, Maxim looked angry with a touch of concern, and Braxton had the smuggest expression on his face. “So, gentlemen, since you’re yelling loud enough to be heard in the next country, I’d like to know exactly what’s going on here.”
Braxton went to open his mouth, but he was shut down immediately. “Open your mouth, and that will be the last time you ever speak again,” Silas snarled. Maxim growled at his side.
“Oh my god, enough!” I screamed. All three men turned their heads to me. “Rather than bickering amongst yourselves, why not tell me what the actual fuck is going on here?”
“You see, my dear,” Braxton started, “we’re discussing how we should go about winning this war. I suggested sending you in, but the men here don’t think it’s a wise decision given you were taken once already. However, since we have those wolves here, and an entire pack on our side, I think we stand a chance. Additionally, you’re a hybrid. With your speed and stamina, Blackmore doesn’t stand a chance.”
“It’s out of the question,” Silas said.
“No one is putting my niece in danger!” Maxim added.
The three of them began to bicker again, without any thought to what I wanted to say. Remembering the punch that silenced Zander and Silas before, I calmly walked over to the desk clamping my hands together. Raising them high above my head, I slammed them down onto the desk. Splitting it, all attention veered toward me.
“Now that I have your attention, please stop talking about me like I’m not in the room,” I said. All three of them focused on me. “I understand that this war will not be an easy one. I also understand that I appear to be the focal point of it. And, as much as it pains me to say, Braxton is right. Undoubtedly, I’m the strongest one here. The only way we can end this nightmare is to kill Blackmore. Will rogue wolves fight without a leader?”
“No, they won’t,” Maxim answered.
“Then someone explain to me why this is a bad idea?”
Braxton only looked smugger after my outburst. Silas and Maxim exchanged a glance. “Marnie, listen. It’s completely out of the question,” Silas responded.
Anger took hold. “Stop! Enough! Quit telling me it’s a risk! Goddamn it! I know what it is! I want this to be over! I do not want this war to claim anymore lives!” Maxim and Silas’s expression turned wary. I hadn’t realized that my claws began to extend, my fangs emerged, and my eyes turned golden. “I’m not some sort of fucking invalid! Let me fight!”
“Easy, sweetheart. No one is saying you’re incapable.” Maxim slowly approached, hands in front of him. “But, you really need to relax. You haven’t quite mastered the shift yet. Being angry can force one, and we don’t want that.”
“Take it easy, baby,” Silas added. He also approached carefully. “No one is saying you can’t be part of this, but we really need you to relax. You’re right. This war has already claimed innocent lives. Given that fact, and the fact we’re low on options, we need to go with this plan.” The pain in his eyes was evident, not wanting to speak those words.
“You can’t be serious!” Maxim angrily yelled.
“Well, I am,” he snapped. “Marnie is our best chance to win, especially if she can take down Blackmore with few casualties. How many wolves do you have, Braxton?”
“Approximately two thousand.”
“Once we have final numbers—”
Zander burst into the room. “The council has been destroyed!”