When her marriage fell apart after she found out her husband was unfaithful, Althea Stavros, Thea to her friends, decided she needed a new start. Only the gods knew what possessed her to move to a remote area of Montana, of all places. She wasn't a snow bunny for gods sake, and yet here she was. She knew the winters were going to be hell, but maybe the solitude would be welcoming. She'd always liked the country but there were far less remote places that would still let her feel like she was in the middle of nowhere. Yet, here she was. With the settlement she received in the divorce (at least she'd gotten lucky and her ex-husband made a killing on the stock market and they'd lived in a state where she could nail his balls to the floor for his infidelity), she bought a piece of land, had a house built, and started her life over.
She wasn't terribly far from a little spot in the road town called Aspen Creek. It didn't get tourists or anything, but the little she'd heard about it was that it was one of those small, tight-knit communities where everyone knew everyone else. She wondered what that was like. Was it comforting or was it annoying to know you had no secrets? If she'd known the secrets the town held, she might not have bought the old Carmichael homestead and built her home there. The land had sat empty for years after the old man who'd owned it passed away. No one wanted such a remote stretch of land that bordered mountains and woods. She had no idea the danger she was in, not from the townsfolk, but from others who might come there to cause.. trouble.
Summer was in full swing, what summer the area got anyway, and she'd hiked some of the surrounding area already, never straying too far from home. She was careful and she silently thanked all the times she and her family had gone camping and hiking when she was a kid for her good sense of direction. It was a warm day, the sky was clear, and she felt restless. She decided a hike would do her good. Since she'd moved she avoided the television that sat in her living room. Oh, sure, she watched sometimes, but not very often, and rarely did she watch the news. It was too depressing. Had she not avoided the news she would have known the danger she put herself in when she left. She would have known that three people had already been attacked and killed by a 'wild animal' in the area and that residents were urged to not wander too far from home until it could be caught and dealt with. Because the werewolves were still in hiding, she had no idea that the animal was in fact a rogue werewolf that had come there to push the Marrok into killing him. He wanted to die and there weren't a lot of ways that was achieved. Death by another wolf or drowning were the only real options, excluding a silver bullet to the heart. The rogue figured the Marrok's enforcer would do the job nicely.
She'd hiked a good hour before she decided to take a break. She knew that her direction had taken her fairly close to Aspen Creek and idly considered going into the town just to see what a quaint little town like that was like. It was something to think about anyway. The sun was warm on her back and she tipped her head up as she closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth on her skin. She sighed softly, took a drink of water, and decided to head home instead. Maybe some other time she'd go into Aspen Creek, but not today. She'd just replaced the cap on her water bottle when she heard a menacing growl. Thea froze where she sat, her heart pounding in her chest. The unmistakable sound of claws on rock came from behind her and she knew that whatever it was, it was close. She moved slowly, shifting to turn around and face whatever it was she'd disturbed, and the animal attacked. She saw a dog-like muzzle filled with sharp, elongated teeth as a furred body slammed into her. Claws ripped into her chest as the muzzle dove for her throat. She lifted her arms to protect herself and screamed as the bones in her forearm were crushed with the force of the animal's bite. Her brain clouded with agony and she idly thought 'This is bigger than any wolf I've ever seen' before all thought fled as she was wracked with pain so intense it stole her breath and caused blackness to descend.
Charles Cornick, son of the Marrok as well as his enforcer, was hunting a rogue werewolf that had already killed three people. His mate padded at his side on four paws because she'd refused to let him hunt alone and he'd refused to let her go in human form. They'd compromised because in wolf form she could protect herself better if the need arose. Due to his heritage, the son of a witchborn werewolf and a Salish shaman's daughter, he was the only one of his kind that was a born werewolf. As a result he could shift with ease and the magic he gained from his mother's blood allowed him to dress himself when he returned to human form. As a result, he could shift instantly once they found the rogue in order to take him out.
When the screams started Charles noticed just how close to town they were. The rogue was getting cocky, and on that thought fear for one of their people brought anger and Brother Wolf to the forefront. He was already running when he shifted and one second it was a man on two legs, the next it was a wolf on all four. The cinnamon colored wolf with black legs bolted in the direction of the screams, his mate at his side. He barreled into the rogue, who was mauling a human who surprisingly was still breathing, and the two began to fight.
Anna moved to the ravaged figure and whined. She could tell the woman was barely holding on, but she also got something else. A stray emotion from the rogue the moment Charles got the upper hand and his jaws closed on the rogue's throat, tearing it out. Peace. The rogue wanted to die, and its prayers were finally answered. She growled at her mate to get his attention and gently nudged the woman to indicate there was no time to worry about the rogue. She needed help. Now. Of course, if the woman survived the attack her life was going to be forever changed.
Charles shifted back to human and moved to pick the woman up. Her breathing was shallow and labored, but already he could see some of the more shallow wounds beginning to heal. If she survived, she would have to be taken into the pack. He moved quickly, closing the distance between where she'd been attacked and town. His father's home was the best place to go but he didn't think he was going to make it there with her. Not before her more serious injuries bled out anyway. He veered towards town and went right to the motel to the safe room. As soon as he got her settled in the room he was on his phone. "Da. I found the rogue, it's dead about three miles north of town. But I didn't find it before it attacked a hiker. I brought her to the motel, some of her more shallow wounds are closing but its still iffy on whether or not she'll survive."
Bran listened to his son explain before he spoke. "I'll get a cleanup out to the attack site and send someone to look at her injuries. Stay with her. Anna being there should help keep her calm if she wakes up too soon." Then he hung up and made the necessary calls.
Anna shifted while they waited for the doctor to arrive. She wanted to be in human form by then and she was grateful for the pair of sweats she found in one of the dresser drawers so she wouldn't greet the doc in her birthday suit. Neither of them was aware that the woman still clinging to life was like Anna; an Omega. Anna's own gifts overshadowed the wakening ones of the woman on the bed.
Hours passed and slowly the woman began to stir. Warm brown eyes opened and briefly flashed to gold before returning to their natural color. As her mind began to clear her nostrils flared in fear and she started to get up.
"Try not to move," a gentle voice said. "Not all your wounds have healed, the more serious ones are still really raw and seeping blood from time to time," the voice added calmly.
Thea ached all over. She wasn't sure where she was or how she'd gotten there. The last thing she'd remembered was the animal attacking her. She was confused, frightened, and when she shifted position in the bed she lay on pain spiked and she began to panic.
"Shh, its okay," Anna said in soothing tones and the panic receded. That was one of the gifts of the Omega. "You're safe now. I know you have questions, and fears, and there is a lot you need to be told, but you're safe. I promise. You just need to be careful so you don't hurt yourself further. Are you hungry or thirsty?" she asked.
Thea frowned at the woman. Safe? She hurt, she remembered being attacked, how was she safe? And yet she did feel a bit calmer. At the question she nodded. "Both," she croaked out.
"I had a feeling you might be. Here, let me help you," Anna said and carefully got the other woman sitting up enough that she wouldn't choke on her food or the water they had for her. "I'm Anna, by the way," she added while the woman devoured the sandwiches on the plate she'd handed her.
"Thea," she managed to get out between bites. The water felt good on her parched throat and when both her hunger and thirst were quenched she was exhausted again. Before she could say anything else her eyes closed and sleep dragged her under.
The next time her eyes opened it was to find herself being watched by a young blonde man. She frowned and when she tried to move this time she didn't hurt. Her body was stiff, as if she'd slept for days without moving, but there was no pain. "Who are you?" she asked and that was quickly followed by "And where am I?"
"You're at the motel in Aspen Creek," he said, answering her second question and ignoring the first for now. "I know you have questions," he added, holding up a hand to stop her from interrupting. "There is much to discuss but first, food. Then we will talk."
She inhaled as she sat up and several scents assailed her nose. She smelled beef, so rare it was almost raw, a faint trace of blood and sweat, which no doubt came from her, and overpowering that was a heady mix of musk and mint. The last scent calmed her and she smiled a little. "Okay."
Bran watched her as she turned her attention to the food waiting for her. He'd sent Charles and Anna home to rest while he watched over the new wolf. He'd known as soon as he walked into the room what she was, even with his daughter-in-law there. He doubted Anna and Charles did though, or they would have commented on it. When she finished eating he spoke. "The creature that attacked you was not an animal, not in the way most would think anyway. You know about the fae, yes?" he asked. Everyone did, so the question was more rhetorical than anything. "Well, they are not the only things in this world that are 'Other'. There are other beings who look like they're human but aren't. The creature that attacked you was a werewolf. It was a rogue that was sentenced to die the moment it killed its first victim. You were its fourth, and the only one to survive its attack."
Thea stared at him. Okay, maybe she wasn't awake after all, because what he'd just said, no way could she be awake. But she didn't feel like she was asleep, and a quick pinch to her wrist told her she was wide awake. "You're crazy. There's.." She started to say 'no such thing as werewolves' but her voice trailed off. She felt... something. She couldn't explain it but she felt different. It was almost as if there was someone else, something else, in her body with her. Not a ghost or spirit but something that was... part of her. Only it wasn't human. It was... Her eyes widened a little. A wolf. If she had to describe it, it felt like a wolf was prowling around inside her and she knew that would make her sound nuts so she kept that to herself. "They're.. but... I don't understand," she whispered.
"I know. It's not easy to find out that things you always believed a myth are real. The world felt much like that when the fae first came out."
"Does this mean I'm going to.. to start.. killing people?" she asked in shock. The thought made her feel sick.
"No, you aren't going to go around killing people. You will be taught how to control your wolf so that there is little danger to those around you. You will remain here, in Aspen Creek, with the pack until you have succeeded in gaining control. I'm Bran Cornick, Marrok of all the North American werewolves and Alpha of the Marrok. It is both the name of the pack, and my title. Don't worry, your strength will come back soon," he said, noticing the frown on her face as she struggled to get out of bed. "You need to rest, to fully recover from the attack. When you're feeling better I or someone else will take you to meet the rest of the pack. There will be a formal joining ceremony, binding you to the pack, for your own protection. In the meantime, I will have someone come sit with you, in case you need anything. I think Sage will do nicely. She's one of the few females we have who is dominant enough to help you if your wolf tries to take over." He could have sent the message to her with his mind but he didn't want to scare the new wolf so he called instead. "Sage, you're needed at the motel, in the safe room. I'll let you in when you get here."
Sage was puzzled by the call but went because her Alpha needed her. She knocked on the door and when it opened she stepped in. "Hello, hello," she said, eyes immediately going to the woman propped up on the bed. "I'm Sage, which you probably already figured out," she said in introduction before her eyes widened a little and she looked at Bran. "Is she...?"
"You know he's gonna..."
"I am aware."
"This should be interesting. Go, I've got this under control," she said and motioned to the door. Bran gave her 'the look' and she lowered her eyes in submission. She waited until he left before she let out the breath she was holding. "Sorry about that," she said to the other woman once they were alone. "How are you feeling? Hungry? Thirsty? Like you're going stir crazy?"
Althea blinked at her exuberance and then laughed softly. "I'm okay, just a little stiff. He made me eat before he filled me in on... everything," she said and it was clear she was still trying to process all of it. "I'm Althea but everyone who knows me just calls me Thea."
"Thea, that's a pretty name."
"What was that about? Where he kept cutting you off before you could finish a sentence?" Thea asked curiously.
"Caught that, huh? I knew by looking at you that you were a quick one. So, how much do you know about what you are? What did Bran tell you?" Sage asked as she plopped down on the foot of the bed.
Thea looked at her hands. "He told me I'm a werewolf now. He said I would have to stay here and be taught how to control my wolf so I don't hurt anyone and then I can go back to my life." Not that she had anything amazing to go back to. Okay, so she was still hurting over the betrayal but she didn't need to tell Sage that.
Sage felt like growling but she didn't want to scare her so she stopped her wolf before she could. "There's more to what you are than that, and I don't know why he didn't tell you. Maybe he thought you were already in information overload and decided to wait. Oh well, he should have said so. You're a werewolf, but you're also special. You're what we call an Omega. They're... it's hard to explain, but some call them Peace-Bringers or Wolf-Tamers. They have this ability to calm and soothe those around them. They're also really rare because it takes a crazy wolf to push past the natural urge to protect in order to attack a human with the qualities of an Omega. Like the rogue that attacked you. See, most wolves are dominant to some degree, and the more dominant a wolf is, the more protective he or she feels towards those less dominant to them. It's usually a submissive wolf that brings out the protective streak, because whereas dominant wolves tend to... fight in order to prove they're more dominant than their opponent, submissive wolves are content to be at the bottom of the pack order and only fight if they have to to protect themselves. With an Omega, that urge to protect is even stronger." She hesitated but she figured Thea needed to be forewarned. "There's an old wolf in the pack, and I do mean old, like thirteen hundred years old or so, but you'll find all wolves, no matter how long they've been alive, look kind of young. Anyway, his name is Asil and his mate was an Omega, before she was killed two hundred years ago. That's a story I won't get into because it's not mine to tell. Anywho, you met Charles and Anna, right? I know Charlie was out hunting the rogue, oh and by the way, I'm the only one he lets get away with calling him that so don't go trying it or he'll growl at you. I keep getting off track, sorry. His mate, Anna, is an Omega, and when she first came here as Charlie's mate, the bond wasn't set between them and as soon as Asil knew what she was he tried to woo her. Let me tell you, that was almost bad because talk about possessive, Charlie was probably ready to rip his head off. I'm telling you this because Asil might react... oddly to you. I wanted to warn you because he's liable to try to woo you as well. Bring you flowers from his hothouse, that kind of thing. You're not, like, dating or anything, right? Because... if so we'll have to make sure Asil is aware and doesn't do something to make you uncomfortable."
Thea listened, some of it was a bit confusing, but she got the gist of it. "No, I'm not dating anyone. I'm recently divorced, so there's no reason to worry about a potential fight between him and a boyfriend."
Sage relaxed. "Oh, good. Well, not good that your marriage ended but good that there won't be any awkwardness as a result of that. Bran said there's going to be a joining ceremony tonight. Right? You should get some rest. It can be a bit overwhelming and if you're tired, that just makes it worse."
Thea nodded and shifted in the bed. "I am a bit tired, to be completely honest," she said softly. "Do you think it will be okay if I take a shower before the ceremony though? Someone changed my clothes and cleaned up most of the blood, but I can still smell it.. and sweat, and its not really an appealing mix of odors. But.. what is that musk and mint? At first I thought he was wearing cologne of some kind but I still smell it," she asked and then yawned.
"Werewolf," Sage replied. "That's what a werewolf smells like. We all have our own unique undertones mixed into it, which you'll pick up on eventually, but that's how you can tell if someone is a wolf or not. They can't hide that scent. And yeah, you can take a shower before the ceremony. There are sweats of every size in the dresser but I think something more.. flattering is in order. I'll get clothes brought here for you to change into later."
Thea smiled sleepily. "You don't have to do that but thank
you," she said, stifling a yawn. "It smells nice. It's..
relaxing," she murmured. She was trying to process everything
and not panic. One minute she's completely normal and the next she
finds out she's a monster. How does a person deal with something like
that? She yawned one last time and gave up the fight, letting herself
drift back to sleep.