A bastard pup.
That’s all I was.
That’s all I would ever be.
Alpha had allowed me to live. My newborn life in his hands, just a few breaths old, and still wet from my mother’s womb, he chose my fate. He gave me the gift of life.
But his gift had not been without cruelty.
He made sure of it…
I was allowed to breathe, but I, along with my mother, had been shunned. We’d been labeled outcasts, forced to live and watch the tightly-knit, loving pack family…
…but never allowed to be a part of it.
Torment. I could think of no better word to describe being an outcast for as social a creature as a wolf. Wolves thrived on their connection with other wolves. But not me. All my life, the only feeling I knew was loneliness. It consumed me, like a festering sore, eating me from the inside, out.
I would forever pay for the sins of my father, whoever the hell he was. My mother had refused to even speak of him.
And then she died.
I was ten at the time.
At seventeen now, most girls my age, spent their time dreaming of their future mates. They had friends. They dressed up and went to parties, casting shy glances at all of the eligible unmated male wolves, wondering, if he might be the one. It was their only care in the world—wondering who the Moon had chosen for them.
I had no friends, no dreams for the future.
Friends were not an option because Alpha banned it. Anyone, who made the grave mistake of befriending me, risked his wrath and punishment. So, none did.
My misery didn’t end with a lack of friends, but Alpha made it clear the Moon did not give the gift of love to abominations, such as me. I had no mate.
I had only one hope...
Every night, I prayed tomorrow would be the day—the day I shifted for the first time and met my Wolf!
Finally, I would have someone else to call my own. Yes, a Wolf wasn’t a skin companion, but she would be mine, and she would love me.
A trickle of fear rolled down my spine, causing my heart to beat faster because even that precious gift might have been taken from me. I might not be a real Wolf at all.
I wasn’t sure.
Alpha had laughed and ridiculed me. He doubted the Moon would punish any Wolf with having to live inside my body.
My heart broke at the thought.
I swiped away the tears that fell down my cheeks. I knew I wasn’t good enough to have a mate, but surely the Moon didn’t hate me so much as to deny me a Wolf!
...but I didn’t know.
I shoved the painful thoughts back into the dark recesses of my broken heart and forced myself to focus on the task at hand. I didn’t have time for self-pity.
Responsible for cleaning the suites in the packhouse, I still had four more to finish. I cleaned ten per day on a rotating schedule, so all thirty suites were cleaned twice per week.
My quota used to be only five per day, but since I graduated high school a year early, Alpha doubled my workload to keep me busy.
He was adamant he would not tolerate laziness on my part, although, no other wolf was required to work ten to twelve hours per day, six days a week.
Perhaps, it didn’t matter, I sighed. It wasn’t like I had anything else to do or anyone to see.
Cringing hard, I stopped when I came upon the next door—Alpha’s suite.
The one I dreaded the most.
I rapt on the door soundly, making sure anyone inside could hear me. Even when there was no answer, I did it again, a bit louder, just to be sure. I didn’t want another episode like last month.
Last month, I thought my knocking had been loud enough to alert anyone, particularly a wolf with extrasensory hearing, to my presence. Apparently not. Because when there was no answer, I used my set of keys to let myself in…
…only to find Alpha completely naked, pounding relentlessly into a she-wolf bent over his bed. Eyes shut tight, mouth open in ecstasy, her breasts bobbed and jiggled with his violent thrusts.
Frozen, my brain refused to acknowledge the horrific reality that I could be standing ten feet away, watching him hump some random she-wolf into oblivion.
His head snapped toward me. At that moment, I was sure whenever punishment he doled out would be swift and harsh. But rather than anger, and not even bothering to slow down his relentless thrusts, Alpha gave me a knowing smile.
Every cell in my body had cringed.
He was thoroughly enjoying my discomfort.
Caught like a deer in headlights and cheeks flaming with embarrassment, it took another second before I could make my body function. I’d scrambled backward out of the room and shut the door, mumbling, “I’m sorry!”
His laughter rang out as I ran down the hall.
There’d been no mistake. Alpha had known exactly what day and time I cleaned his suite. He’d wanted me to find him like that so that he could torment me.
It was a new low, even for him.
I pulled in a deep breath and knocked a third time, waiting another long moment. I wasn’t taking any chances. When I only heard silence, I turned the key and edged the door open slowly, peeking inside. I breathed a huge sigh of relief to find the room empty.
Quickly getting to work, I tackled the bed sheets first. The disgusting linens were always a mess with any number of bodily fluids, Alpha’s combined with a never-ending revolving door of she-wolves.
It made no sense to me. Why would any woman want to sleep with such a vile creature as him? But they were not immune to the enticing pull of power he exhibited, and our pack had no Luna. She’d died before I was born.
It gave the many shewolves hope that maybe they would be the one he chose as his Luna. But he’d selected none, content just to screw them as toys for his pleasure and left the Luna position unfulfilled over the years.
My nose wrinkled in revulsion as I gathered the soiled sheet, the pungent scent causing my belly to roil. I’d smelled Alpha’s release enough that I would recognize his scent anywhere. I hated it.
Shoving the offending sheet into a laundry bag, I fought back the gag crawling up my throat and breathed through my mouth to lessen the intense odor. Even though my Wolf had not yet emerged, my sense of smell was still radically sensitized past that of a human.
I tied the bag shut tightly and quickly placed it outside the door. Completing the bed with freshly laundered sheets, I moved into the bathroom, taking great care to make sure everything was sparkling clean, just right. Alpha would undoubtedly let me know if it wasn’t.
The clocked ticked through three more hours before I finished. It was 6 PM. I had started work at 5 AM and was exhausted.
My sore feet felt heavy as I trudged back to the little shack I shared with Lena. Lena was a bitter old wolf, and I was reasonably sure she hated me as much as Alpha.
My stomach rumbled with a familiar pain, hunger. Rationed with just enough food to survive, I felt it every day. My belly growled its discontent.
Opening the refrigerator door, I grabbed my allotted meal and gobbled it down, still far from satisfied. My shoulders slumped as I stood from the table and made my way to the little bathroom.
I didn’t feel well…
…which was normal, but it was worse today.
Skin, hot with the light sheen of sweat, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Wide evergreen eyes looked a little bit too big for my gaunt face, pale, lacking its usual olive complexion, particularly against my auburn hair.
Maybe I had a fever.
A heavy sigh expelled from my body as I leaned up to turn on the shower, eager to remove the grime of the day. I might look like a vagrant in the threadbare clothing I wore, but I was always conscientious about cleanliness.
Removing my shirt and pants, I carefully folded and placed the worn garments on the counter. I glanced down. I had the curves of a female, but I was too thin, ribs and hip bones protruding from my flesh. Not a very pretty sight, but alas, I had no one to look attractive for, and most people ignored me, pretending I wasn’t even there.
After my shower, I dressed and sank down onto the small cot. Not even a bed. Lumpy and uncomfortable, my muscles ached as I stared up at the ceiling, tracing the familiar cracks with my eyes.
It desperately needed new paint, as did all of the rooms in the two bedroom house. If it could be called that, maybe shack was a better descriptor. I could barely turn around; it was that small.
After an hour of tossing and turning, unable to relax, I gave up. I pushed myself off of the bed, dressed in yoga pants and T-shirt, grabbed a sweater and headed out into the woods. I didn’t have to think about where I was going. The trails were familiar, ingrained in my mind, a part of me. In a way, they were my only companions as a child. I even named the trees and pretended they were my friends.
Running about a mile, the pit of anxiety in my stomach didn’t lessen even a little. In fact, with each passing step, the churning seemed to get worse. Heat shimmered on my skin, increasing by the second.
I stopped and hunched over, leaning against a broad oak tree for support. Lungs empty, I pulled long drags air into my mouth. Perhaps I was coming down with something, although, wolves didn’t get sick very often. And then the most startling discovery hit me hard…
…could this be my Wolf?!
My heart raced at the thought. Quickly, I pulled my pants down over my boney hips and stepped out of them. Shirt and sweater next, my hands trembled so violently, I could barely release the hook of my bra. Finally, my underwear was the last to go.
There I stood, feeling self-conscious as hell.
The idea of anyone catching me was mortifying as I stood, vulnerable and naked, in the woods, waiting for nature to take its course—fervently praying that nature would take its course.
I was scared out of my mind. Most wolves had family and friends to help them through their first shift. I had no one. I didn’t know what to expect.
Abruptly, pain sparked in my head. No. Not pain. Pressure—an additional consciousness pushing through, fighting to share my headspace. The feeling was uncomfortable and scary and wonderful, all at the same time.
Hope soared in me…
I did have a Wolf!
And she was coming right that moment!
Abruptly, agony shattered my good mood. Dropping to my knees, I panted hard. Bones, muscles, and tendons cracked and pulled out of shape. Nothing I’d ever experienced compared to the torment crushing my body.
This was it. I was going to die.
I bit back a scream.
It wasn’t safe…
… I couldn’t risk anyone finding me like this.
Who knows what they would do if they stumbled upon me in such a vulnerable state? I was no stranger to the ugliness and ruthlessness of other children, and even some of the adults. I’d long been their preferred target of bullying, which hadn’t stopped at words, but frequently transitioned into hair pulling, pushing and flat-out punching, at times.
Another wave hit hard. No longer able to sustain my weight and balance on my hands and knees, I fell to my side.
I bit the inside of my cheek to stifle the deep groan that fought to escape my lips. Violently shaking, I convulsed, the extra consciousness in my head becoming even more clear. My jaw elongated. Fur pierced through my skin. The swish of a tail brushed against my back legs.
And then it was over.
I lay there, my chest heaving.
It had happened. I was a Wolf!
All of those years of hoping and worrying and waiting, my ever-present animal companion was finally here.
Head spinning, I worked to organize my thoughts. My mind reached out tentatively, Hello?
Her reply didn’t consist of exact words, but I understood it.
The process had been scary for her as well, but she was excited. And more than I could have hoped for, she was just as happy to meet me as I was her!
My heart swelled with love for this creature, who had always been inside of me, but I just now met. I wanted to tell her everything, my whole life story. But when I began, her response shocked me.
She already knew!
She might’ve been silent in my mind, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t there. She knew the struggles I’d faced. She knew my heartbreak. She knew me.
And she loved me.
If wolves could cry, I would be a blubbering idiot right that moment.
Finally, I wasn’t alone anymore...
Thoughts steady and sure, she hoisted our body to its feet. A little wiggle of her butt was all it took to shake out her fur.
I was dying to know what she looked like. Sharing my curiosity, she dropped her head down. Through her eyes, I saw the fur at the top of her chest was black and transitioned into white at the midpoint. It was also tufted out, thicker and longer than a typical Wolf. That was unusual.
She dipped her head lower, looking between her legs, and found the white strip of fur continued along her belly. Her legs were solid black. Three out of four paws were white. Glancing over her shoulder, I could see her back was black, and her tail was thicker than usual as well, long and sleek, black on top, but white underneath. It swished regally in the air.
She blinked and tossed her head back to get the fur out of her eyes. Wait a minute…
…she shouldn’t have hair in her eyes.
But there was. I could see it. It must be longer there as well. Okay. So, she was a little different. But I didn’t care. I had a wolf. That’s all that mattered, no matter what color or shape she came in.
Abruptly, her muscles contracted. Power flowed from her hips as she leaped forward, high into the air. Her movement was thrilling. Excitement coursed through my veins. She bounded forward at a dead run, tearing through the forest with shocking speed and grace. The sun had set, and night darkened the sky, but I could still see easily. The air whipping around her lithe frame was invigorating. I inhaled deeply.
Without warning, she ground to a halt, nose high in the air, catching the scents on the wind. Beneath the smell of pine and earth, there was a much more enticing scent—delicious spice, balsam and juniper berry.
Her nostrils flared. Her legs trembled. She pawed at the ground.
What was that??
My wolf didn’t know either. But the compulsion to find it, whatever it was, was impossible to ignore. Her head snapped to the side, isolating the scent on the wind and she took off, gliding over the ground even faster than before.
The path, we were on, led to the packhouse. Confusion colored my thoughts. What could the tantalizing scent be? I’d never smelled anything so decadent and alluring there before.
We were close.
She whipped around the side of the house without slowing down. So caught up in the maddening scent, I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.
Grinding to a halt, every inch of my body quivered in shock, as I stared at the scene in front of me because now I understood.
No, no, no!
There was no way.
It wasn’t possible!
Alpha and his three sons reclined around a fire. Beers in hands, they looked as if they’d been talking and laughing, comfortable.
That is, until I burst on the scene.
But only one of them mattered to me right then.
Alpha’s firstborn son—Coal!
He snapped to his feet the instant I entered the clearing, causing his girlfriend, Calla, to tumble off of his lap. She glared up at him from the ground, surprised by his sudden and unexpected movement. And then her head turned to me, her confusion twisting into horror.
Coal stared at me, transfixed.
At twenty-one, he was four years older than me. I’d gone to school with his younger brothers, Ryder and Chase, both of whom were complete asses. I had seen Coal before, but never like this.
My razor-sharp vision took in every inch of his perfect flesh.
Tousled dark hair, piercing blue eyes, pants low on his hips, he wore no shirt, revealing his muscular chest, a chiseled six-pack and distinct V indention on his hips.
If I could have licked my lips in this body, I would have. As it was, I wondered if my tongue was hanging out.
Why, yes actually, it was.
I mentally nudged my Wolf.
She pulled it back into her mouth and clamped her jaw shut.
Alpha’s head spun around to stare at me. Eyes blazing, he snarled, “What the fuck? Who...?” And then his voice dropped low, barking out an order I could not resist, “Shift!”
I fell to my belly as the change came over me. Pain. Oh no, it was hurt again. It took a minute, but finally, I crouched on the ground, naked, panting, my hands planted down to the earth to support my trembling muscles.
I stared at Coal in awe.
I had a mate!
…the one thing I never thought I was good enough to have.
And there he was.
“Dude,” Chase muttered, his face twisted as if he was in pain, as he stared at his older brother.
What? Why was he looking at him like that?
His brother had just found his mate. It should be a happy time. Mates were special, no matter who they were, a gift from the Moon.
This changed everything for me.
And then I understood Chase’s expression.
Shock and disappointment coursed through me.
He was staring at Coal in pity.
“No!” Alpha roared, jumping to his feet. Hands clenched into fists, his unbridled expression, rage. He took a purposeful step in my direction.
Oh shit! Terror coursed through me.
Coal yelled, “Stop!”
Alpha spun and faced him. “You know this is NOT happening! I don’t give a fuck what the Moon thinks. I am ending this right now!”
“No!” Coal hissed. “Of course, it isn’t happening. But I will take care of it. We cannot condone killing the girl when she hasn’t done anything wrong!”
My gaze broke from Coal and centered back on Alpha. A hard shudder ran down my spine. Coal was right. Alpha’s eyes blazed lethal intent.
I was going to die.
Coal stepped around his father and approached me slowly. Every step closer charged the air with electricity. Did he feel it too?
Crouching down, he brought himself eye-level with me and then wrapped his hand around my bicep to tug me to my feet.
Tingles shot up and down my skin at his touch.
Eyes widening, he let go of my arm like it was on fire. A muscle in his jaw twitched. He spoke through clenched teeth, his tone icy cold, “Brinley, listen to me very carefully. This isn’t happening. You need to leave and forget it ever happened.”
Forget it happened?
How was I supposed just to forget it happened?
I crossed my arms in front of my chest, embarrassed and vulnerable at my nudity, and whimpered, “But—”
He cut me off, his voice harsh, “Let me be clear. I don’t want you now, and I will not want you in the future. Do you understand?”
My wolf whimpered in my head, her tail tucked between her legs. I was speechless, powerless to speak around the massive lump in my throat. Tears came to my eyes and streamed silently down my cheeks.
Nothing had changed.
He didn’t want me.
And now things were much, much worse.
Coal’s expression hardened as he waited for an answer to his question.
My eyes flickered back to the group behind him. Alpha glared. Calla had found her way back into Coal’s chair, and smirked at me in satisfaction.
I thought I’d been broken before.
I thought my life couldn’t get any more painful.
I could not have been more wrong. I laughed bitterly in my head. Because there was no way I was going to survive this torture, this pure heart-crushing pain.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t give Coal the answer he wanted.
Instead, I let my Wolf take over.
Skin became fur.
We turned and ran...