The night began like any other. There had been no indication that my life would irrevocably change in just a few short minutes. No omen that this night would be the tipping point for my future.
And yet it was.
Seated around the campfire with my brothers, my father handed me a beer, while I waited for Calla to arrive.
“Thanks,” I grunted.
Twisting the top off with a flick of my wrist, I turned it up and took a few swigs, enjoying the coldness of the liquid down my throat.
My thoughts wandered, tuning out whatever sex joke my adolescent brother was telling, and ignoring their raucous laughter. I’d heard them all, and they stopped being funny around the age of twelve. I sighed heavily. They were sixteen and eighteen now, when would they grow up?
Calla sauntered in fifteen minutes later. She wore a slim-fitting white top, and blue shorts, which revealed her long toned legs. Flipping her blond hair off of her shoulder, and flashing her million watt smile, she stepped past my father to sit on my lap.
It didn’t escape my attention when his gaze fell on her ass, lingering, while he licked his lips. I hated when he did that. He had plenty of shewolves, perfectly willing to be his whores, why the hell did he have to look at the one girl I dated like she was a piece of meat?
My brother, Ryder handed Calla a beer, and thankfully the conversation changed from pubescent jokes to more relevant pack conversation. The night went on as usual. The laughter continued.
But suddenly, I wasn’t listening anymore.
In a split second, my world changed.
An unimaginable force and delicious scent wafted over me. Humming in the air, the foreign sensation tickled my senses. Every cell in my body quivered, bursting with energy I couldn’t contain.
I didn’t want to contain it…
…I’d never felt anything like it.
The scent. The power. I was instantly addicted.
And it was getting closer.
No one else seemed affected, just continuing their mundane conversation. Laughter and the sounds of their voices muted as if they were underwater, distorted by a barrier in my brain caused by my unwavering attention to whatever was drawing near.
And it was a damn good thing the mysterious enigma was getting closer because I couldn’t have held off from jumping up and running to find it if it hadn’t.
And then there she was!
Leaping up, I completely forgot my girlfriend in my lap. Calla fell to the ground at my feet, but she may as well have been invisible for all I knew.
I only had eyes for one shewolf…
…and she called to my very soul.
The most beautiful wolf I’d ever seen.
Thick, lush ebony coat with a white breast, underbelly, and paws, as well as a very sexy, white streak under her tail. My Wolf’s ears perked up. A deep rumble went through his chest. He was more than ready to thoroughly investigate what was under her tail.
Not only were her markings beautiful, but the cut of her fur was unique, none like I had ever seen before. The hair on her chest jutted out in an unruly tuft. Her tail was long and swept elegantly through the air, and her forehead contained another out-of-control tuft, the longer strands falling into her eyes. She shook her head in annoyance, flipping the hair out of her eyes so she could see. Adorable.
Not more than three seconds had gone by when my excitement and joy turned to utter sorrow as the devastating truth hit me.
The one wolf I could never have.
Alpha hated her. I never knew why, only that he did, and the one time I’d questioned him ended with me having three broken ribs. His hatred ran deep.
And that was the problem.
Never in a million years would he agree with me taking her as a mate. And it wasn’t that he would just disagree. No. If he thought I wanted her, if he thought I had any inclination to keep her, he would ensure she would never be my mate. He would guarantee she would never be Luna…
…by whatever means he had to.
I feared just what force he would use to accomplish it.
Instinctually, I knew her identity because she was my mate, but at the moment, the others did not. My father’s head snapped around, furious at the disruption, and snarled, “Shift!”
Brinley dropped to the ground, shaking and trembling, as the change came over her. The instant my father recognized her, my worst fear was realized. My reaction had been enough to confirm she was my mate. There was no hiding it.
“No!!” he roared as he jumped to his feet and headed in her direction. Deadly intent blazed in his black irises.
He fully intended to end her life!
Right in front of me.
In a few more steps, she’d be gone.
My wolf howled, his rage echoing mine.
I couldn’t let him kill her. “Stop!!”
He spun around to face me, his eyes burning furiously. “You know this is NOT happening. I don’t give a fuck what the Moon thinks. I’m ending this right now!”
My instinct was to fight. I wanted to tear my father into pieces for the sheer audacity he would threaten my mate. Innate forces of nature pulsed through me, tangible and alive, hunger and thirst to stake my claim over the one shewolf meant for me.
But the horrible truth hit me.
I was strong…
…but his Wolf was something else entirely.
An edge of crazy ran through him, simmering just beneath the surface, exploding with a vengeance at the slightest provocation. He’d been challenged countless times, on occasion by multiple wolves at once, strong wolves, betas and other alphas.
He’d never lost.
Agony slammed into me like a shot to my chest.
I couldn’t beat his Wolf.
And if I challenged him, I wasn’t just gambling my own life.
I was gambling Brinley’s.
Knowing I couldn’t win caused excruciating pain to shudder through me. There were only two possible outcomes if I fought.
Either he would kill me and then kill Brinley, as retribution for my life. Or he would make an example out of me and let me live...but still kill Brinley, just for the sheer fact he knew I wanted her.
If he thought that there was the slightest possibility we might join someday, he wouldn’t leave the outcome to chance. He would eliminate the risk. His actions, right this second, were irrefutable proof.
Either way, she died.
If I chose to fight, I was sentencing her to die. My decision would be what killed her, the catalyst that ended her life.
It was unacceptable.
That just left one other choice.
I had to let her go.
I barely knew her. I might have only spoken a few words to her over the years. But none of that mattered. I finally understood the devastating force of the mate bond.
It was a living, breathing fiber in my belly that grew and spread to every part of me. And the thought of never having Brinley in my life, in my arms to hold and love and protect, killed me. The pain of that loss was so wretched, I felt my heart fracture in two.
Being my mate was damnation to her. I had to set her free. If I could do nothing else for her in this life, I owed her this sacrifice.
Now I just had to make it believable…
I couldn’t leave any doubts. Not is his mind. Or in hers.
I growled back at him, “No! Of course, it isn’t happening! But I will take care of it. We cannot condone killing the girl when she has done nothing wrong.”
When Brinley heard my words, the look of shock and fear on her face tormented me. But she was right to be afraid. I had to release her from this death sentence once and for all.
Walking forward steadily, I fumbled for words. My words would cut. We’d both be left in pieces. But they would save her life. Brinley would be free. I was willing to shred my heart to pieces by letting her go...
…to save her life.
Still crouched on the ground, she trembled when I reached her. I wrapped my hand around her bicep to pull her to her feet. Tingles shot through me at the contact, stunning me. I dropped her arm, struggling for a moment to regather my thoughts. “Brinley, listen to me very carefully. This isn’t happening. You need to leave and forget it ever happened.”
Her face fell, lip quivering. She wrapped her arms protectively around herself as she whispered, “But—”
“Let me be clear,” I interrupted her. Her vulnerability was a knife straight through my heart. The whimper in her tone killed me. I gritted my teeth. “I don’t want you now, and I will not want you in the future. Do you understand?”
Tears filled her beautiful eyes and ran down her cheeks, while I waited for an answer. I hated myself. She glanced over my shoulder toward where my family and Calla remained. Her tortured expression returned to me. But no response came from her lips. Instead, she shifted, falling to four paws, and ran.
That was it…
…it was done.
Unbearable pain flooded through me, making it impossible to catch my breath. The one thing I wanted more than life itself was the one thing I had to let go.
She would move on and somehow, so would I.