Chapter One: Briar
Briar ran as fast as her paws would carry her, the branches of the trees and thick underbrush tearing into her fur and skin. She couldn’t bother to look where she was going. She had pushed her body far past the point of exhaustion and was no longer capable of thinking clearly. Every part of her hurt, both body and soul, but she needed to push aside her thoughts, every bit as much as she needed to push aside the physical injuries that were slowing her down.
The head start that she had on her pursuers was the only reason that she had any chance of escaping. She’d been beaten badly and she wasn’t that fast compared to the other werewolves, even on her best day. If Alpha Theon sent his trackers after her, and a sinking feeling in her gut told her that there was a very good chance that he would, they would be able to find her, wherever she went.
It took an enormous amount of effort to push the thoughts away, so that she could focus on the sound of her feet hitting the ground. She kept her eyes focused on the forest in front of her.
Briar tried to embrace the pain of the broken ribs and the deep cuts that she knew would take days to heal because of their severity, or at least to accept them. Still, none of her physical injuries could even begin to compare with the pain in her chest, the great aching emptiness that hadn’t existed twenty-four hours ago.
If she’d been in her human form she would have let out a sob. As a wolf she whimpered, her entire body trembling. The landscape was beginning to change. The sky had lightened about the edges, staining the horizon pink and orange far away in the east, with the promise of another storm. She was further than she had ever been from her remote home high up in the mountains, but she was still far from civilization.
Maybe she would be dead before they found her. After all she was weak, the daughter of Omegas.
She should never have dreamed that it was possible to be more than her mother and father had been, it was just when she looked into his eyes she had thought that he had felt it too. For one long moment she had been so sure. Her heart had pounded in her chest, her entire body flooded with happiness as her wolf shouted “mine.”
But in the next moment everything had gone wrong.
Briar had never thought that she had much of a life to lose. Everyone in the pack called her “runt.” At least that was the nicest thing that they called her to her face. She was basically a servant.
That morning though, she discovered that there were worse things than being called names and treated like the lowest of the low in the pack pecking order. Of course she’d always been shoved and pinched and occasionally beaten. But nothing like what had happened last night, before she'd been dragged to a small, freezing cell where the pack kept those who had broken it's laws.
She’d thought that they were going to kill her.
If she hadn’t gotten away she had no doubt that they would have.
She came to a clearing and her steps slowed. There was a river up ahead, across an open grassy clearing. Standing, she listened, but heard nothing behind her. Was it possible that she’d really escaped? And did she want to?
What did life outside the pack even look like?
Drawing in a slow breath she stepped into the field. The sky didn’t fall, crashing down about her shoulders. No predators came running out from behind or before her to tear her to pieces.
A smile almost curved the edges of her lips. Almost. Briar knew that she wasn’t in the clear yet. It was late September. She was fortunate that winter snows had held off. Last night she had shivered as she had run, unable to shift for a long while because of the damage to her already weakened and starved body.
The water practically called to her. She parted her parched lips, and breathed in. She could smell the fresh, clean scent. When was the last time she had knelt and drank from a stream that smelled like that? Had she ever?
Briar shifted as she left the forest and made her way through the thick golden grass, before kneeling down on the tiny pebbles that made up the river's curving banks. She was so focused on what was in front of her that she didn’t feel the eyes of an apex predator behind her, watching her carefully, evaluating her every move.
Her hand reached out, her fingertips brushing against the icy water, touching it, when the pain wracked her chest. If she hadn’t already been bent forward, she would have fallen to her knees.
She had felt this pain before, many, many times, but now that she had turned eighteen and she knew what it was, but now that she had recognized her mate, it was different. The pain was sharper, and it sliced through her with the intensity of a thousand blades, rending her soul and mind. She crashed to the ground, the edges of her vision going black, the sounds of the world that surrounded her fading as her body curled in on itself.
Maybe her mate hadn’t sent his trackers and warriors after her. Maybe he’d decided to let her go. But wherever he was, he was with the one who he had chosen to replace her, the woman that he saw as worthy to be his Luna, and he was fucking her again, just as he had after he’d told Briar that he would never have a weak pathetic Omega as his Luna.
Briar’s stomach twisted, but there was nothing in it that could come up. It was a mercy when the world went black and she was spared from the pain that had been chasing her since she escaped from the pack prison, since before she had slipped into the early morning darkness and had run to save her own life, not entirely sure if it was really worth saving.