Chapter 48: Awkward
Ella Anderson’s POV
I watched in shock and horror as Lars, the newest member of my Pack, found his mate in my surrogate mother-in-law, Shelley. We all were shocked, this kind of thing didn’t happen, not like this. Finding your mate was supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, not a disaster witnessed by hundreds of friends and family.
At least when Craig had ran from me, thinking I was pregnant with Mark’s baby, I was alone.
He was holding her, and she was fighting, then Tom was down. Several men nearby grabbed Lars and held him back, but what happened next was cruel. Shelley rejected him, without hesitation, and the air went out of the room with it.
“Gunny, get Lars out of here. Take him running or something, and bring some others to watch him.” He moved forward, gesturing for the men to bring him outside. They must have shifted, because we heard a powerful roar, filled with pain and loss, before they ran off.
I went over to Shelley, after linking Marge to watch our babies. She called the girls to her, comforting them as they worried about their adoptive parents. Doc ran up with his bag, and I pulled Shelley back so he could work. “Calm down, Mom,” I said. “You’re scaring the kids.” I talked her through a breathing exercise, helping her as she sat in my lap at a nearby table.
A couple men ran in with a stretcher, and Tom was quickly moved onto it. Shelley tried to get up, but I held her in place. “Doc will take care of him, Shelley, and you can’t be in there with him.”
“He’s my HUSBAND, I need to be there,” he said.
“And you will be, just not right now. Right now, we need to talk.”
Renee came to stand by us, she had been busy calming the children and getting everyone to sit for lunch. “Go use the conference room,” she said. “I’ll have food brought there.”
We got up and walked out. The people stared at us until they suddenly looked away and down, probably because their Alphas told them to stop. I could understand why, in our society mates were sacred and treasured. To throw one away, not even giving the bond a chance, was a slap in the face of the Goddess that gave mates to us. Shelley had lived among us for years, the thought went, and she should know better.
I led her to the room, she was crying softly. I set her at a chair and rolled mine close to hers. “What are you thinking about, Shelley?”
“How dare he break up my marriage,” she said. “We’ve been together since high school, almost thirty years, and he runs up to me like none of that matters and now I’m HIS? I don’t think so.”
I rubbed her hand to calm her down. “He knew nothing of you, nothing of your history, nothing except the certainty of his panther that you are his mate. Don’t blame him for how he acted, you know it is how his instinct drives him.”
Tears were running down her face. “He didn’t have to do it like that, he saw I had children, a husband.”
“None of that would stop his cat from coming forward and staking his claim. His anger was because someone else had what he saw as his. It won’t go away just because you rejected him, either.”
“What do you mean?”
“Rejection is a funny thing,” I said as I held her hands. “You rejecting him will hurt his cat, he will still want you despite it all, until he accepts it and rejects you back. The bond is like a two-strand cord, though. You broke one, but the other is still there. The more you see each other, the more the bond feeds on the connection.”
“Then get him away from me, quickly.” She was shaking in fear. “He’s going to ruin my life.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “Don’t throw away what the Goddess has for you so easily.” I held her as she cried into my shoulder.
“Ella, I need you in the isolation cell. Tom is making the change,” Craig sent.
This day just kept getting better and better, I thought. “On my way.” I opened up a bond to Olivia. “Liv, I need you to take Shelley and the girls back to their rooms. Tom must have been scratched, he’s undergoing the change and I have to help.” She told me she was on her way. “Shelley, Olivia is coming with the triplets. I need you to go back to your rooms and wait.”
“No, I need to be with Tom!”
“You can’t be, Mom. Tom was scratched, he’s undergoing a forced turn. Only his mate or an Alpha can help him when he shifts, and you aren’t either one.” She covered her mouth with her hand, the realization coming to her quickly. The door opened and the triplets came running it, surrounding her with hugs. I saw Olivia waiting at the door. “Girls, your Dad is in the clinic right now, I’m going there with Alpha Craig to help him.”
“Is he all right,” Sara asked as Sharon and Sally looked up at me with wide eyes.
“He’s going to be fine, but he was scratched and will turn into a panther like me,” I told them. “I need you to stay with your Mom and watch some movies or play in your room. When he’s ready to see you, I will come get you.”
“Aw, man,” Sharon said with a huff. “He gets a cat and we don’t? SO unfair.” I snorted a little, the girls had been pestering their parents and us for years to let them be changed. They had been orphaned and their Pack destroyed at three years old, just after gaining their wolves. They had a lot of trouble adjusting and we had to inject them with wolfsbane, killing their wolves, to keep their wolves from taking over and making them rogue. They had been in therapy for years and we were close, but there was only one shot to make them cats. If their animals couldn’t become stable and we used it again, they would be human forever.
“Take care of your Mom, all right?” I hugged them all as they left with Olivia. I went to the clinic.
In the back we had an underground room that we used for forced turns. There were no windows, no furniture or beds, just a solid steel door lined with silver. The walls were poured concrete, heavily reinforced and lined with steep plates on the inside. Recessed lights and cameras fed to the monitors outside. Doc Terry and Craig were watching; looking in, a naked and shivering Tom was screaming in pain as his bones started to break and reform. “You going in,” I asked.
“Just waiting for you, I need you to talk to him until I can mind link him.” He shifted into his big, glossy black and white wolf as Doc manned the door. It opened to the inside and was reinforced like a vault door. The bolts clicked open and he walked in.
“Just relax, Tom. We’re here for you.” The door closed behind Craig, he moved quickly to circle Tom, licking his neck. “Craig is going to help you through this.”
“Is Shelley all right? The girls? Keep them away, I don’t want them to see this.” He screamed again as his left arm started to reform, fur breaking out as the shift accelerated.
“They are in their room, they know what is happening. When you are stable and in control, I’ll bring them down. Now relax, focus on your breathing and let your cat come forward in your mind.” He closed his eyes, trying to ignore the pain, and in a few minutes, it was over. A leopard, tan mixed with black with black rosettes, was roaring and leaped after Craig. He was expecting this; new werewolves and werecats were dangerous but predictable. They always attacked the neck.
Craig jumped to the side, avoiding Tom as his cat’s head crashed into the wall. He jumped on Tom’s back, his jaws closing on the back of his neck as he forced his face to the floor by the wall. He growled, his dominance washing over the cat until he finally stilled under him. “Welcome to the Pack, Tom,” he said as he let the cat up. Tom rolled on his back, submitting to his Alpha and licked at his muzzle.
“Congratulations Tom. Just relax, take some time to talk to your panther and get to know him.” I took off my dress and shifted into my panther, now that the dangerous time had passed. Doc opened the door and I went in, rubbing my face and body alongside him in greetings. He was family, so Craig didn’t get upset with that. “Olivia, his change is over. Bring the girls and Shelley to the back of the clinic, so they can see him before I take him running.”
I made sure he was sharing well between his panther and his human part, and he was. Living around us for so long, there weren’t many surprises. “Honestly, Ella, I thought I would have been accidently turned years ago, so this doesn’t bother me.”
“I’m glad.” Doc opened the door and Craig led the way out, shifting and changing as we passed him in the hallway. “We’re going to go exploring, we’ll give your cat a chance to work out its new body. Are you all right in meeting a few people before we run off?”
“Yes, but I want you with me, I don’t want to hurt anyone by accident.” I coughed, like I would let that happen. We went to the back door that faced the trees and the scrub beyond, there were rocks and canyons and trails that were fun for the feline types. We didn’t run like wolves, we liked to get vertical. “All Belden Pack members, meet Tom at the back of the clinic. Cats who wish can come play with us for a while.”
The Pack members started showing almost immediately, most shifting to their animal form for a round of rubbing and buttsniffing. They all backed off when Olivia led Shelley and the triplets out. They knew me, but they squealed in joy as they saw their Dad’s form. He wasn’t big and muscled like Gunny or Lars, he was sleek and looked fast. The girls ran to him as he dropped to his stomach, grabbing his ears, their little hands exploring their fur. He licked their faces with his sandpaper-like tongue, which caused them to hide and move away. His purring was a low rumble as they played.
Finally, Shelley came over and dropped to her knees in front of him. “You’re so handsome, my husband,” she said as she hugged his neck. The purring stopped, and he moved away from her.
“What’s going on, Tom?”
“Not my mate. I want my mate.” He got up, moving away from her as he gave the girls short rides on his back. He never looked at her or touched her again.
I moved my head under her hand, moving until she scratched my ears. “I’ve lost him, haven’t I?”
I shifted back, pulling her into a hug. “He still loves you, as the mother of his girls, your son, your grandchildren. He just knows that you have a mate now, and he wants his. This can’t be undone. Even if you complete the rejection of Lars, he’ll still choose his mate over you.”
Olivia came up and hugged her, leading her away. I gathered the cats together when the greetings were done. “Come on, let’s have some fun,” I said to them before I shifted. I roared to the sky, soon joined by the others, then we took off for the hills. “Gunny? We’re out for a run. How is Lars doing?”
“Upset. Confused. Pretty much what I expected.”
“We’re heading west from the Pack House, all cats. If you think it would help, you can join up with us.”
“Will Tom want to be around him?”
I thought about it, Lars had basically taken away his wife. I brought him and Lars in on the link. “Tom, the panther that is Shelley’s mate, the one who turned you, his name is Lars. I’d like you two to meet in cat form if you’re up for it.”
He moved alongside me for a while, then coughed. “Sure. He’s not my enemy. Shelley is still important to me, he’s her mate. For the sake of the Pack and the children, we need to get along.”
“Tom, I just wanted to say I’m sorry about what happened. Gunny has been explaining things, I should have handled this better. I didn’t mean to scratch you, my cat lost control for a moment.”
“It’s all right, Lars. You should see me now, I look GOOD and I feel like I’m in my twenties again.” They joined up with us about twenty minutes later as we played on a rock formation, leaping from boulder to boulder.
“Gunny, Ella, where are you guys?” Craig’s voice entered my mind.
“Rock canyons six miles west.”
“We came across a herd of antelope on our run. Care for some combined hunting?”
“Sure. Herd them along the canyon, we’ll set up above them and attack on my signal,” I told him. I passed the word to the rest of the Pack, and we scrambled to find the best ambush locations. The canyon we were in was wide at the far end and narrowed at the end closest to the house.
We could hear the howls and the sound of running hooves getting closer. I set myself at the chokepoint of the canyon, lying down so I wouldn’t be seen until the last minute. I loved this form of hunting, we had done it a lot with pigs down on the island. It took advantage of their speed and teamwork, and our ambush ability.
“Five hundred yards,” Craig called to us.
“We’re ready.” The antelope were being pushed into a tight formation by the canyon, and when they were about thirty yards from me, I jumped up and roared, sending them into a panic.
The herd tried to stop, at least some of them. I took down a big male as he tried to run past me, my teeth sinking into his neck and shaking until it snapped. I heard the bleats and squeals of other game being taken down; looking around, most of the cats had leapt down and gotten one. The ones that turned around were quickly taken down by the wolves in pursuit. We had almost twenty when it was done.
Craig howled, his bloody muzzle to the sky, and I joined him with my roar. The others soon joined in.
“That was AWESOME,” a bloody Lars said as he stood over his first kill.
“Let’s share a few dozen of these, and send the rest back to the kitchens for dinner,” I said. I linked back to the Pack, and soon a truck was dispatched our way. We tore open the stomachs and removed the organs from the ones being sent so they wouldn’t spoil, and we gorged on the tasty livers and hearts. The truck arrived and started loading while we were surrounding the chosen carcasses like big feline vultures. “Fast food is the best,” I said.
An hour later, we arrived back in the yard where Pack members had the sprayers and soap ready. With no rivers to wash off in, and a ban on blood in the pool, we stood stoicly as we were hosed down like we were in Pulp Fiction. When we were clean, we shook off and went to dry in the rocks surrounding the pool.
I was lying between Gunny and Lars, enjoying the late afternoon sun on my fur, when the girls came out. They ran to Tom, getting him to shift and join them in the pool. They had joined a bunch of the other younger children and parents in the pool, all of them nude as that was how we rolled. Anyone flying over would think this place was a nudist resort with big dogs around as security.
I kept my eyes on Shelley as she came out of the house, dressed in a light sundress and a floppy hat. She waved to her girls and Tom as they played with the other children, then came around to our side of the pool. I expected her to find a lounge chair, but she walked to me instead. Sitting between me and Lars, she scratched my ears. “Thank you for helping him through the change. He seems happy, and that’s all I ever wanted for him.”
She reached a hand over, nervously letting Lars sniff it. He scooted closer, laying his big head on her leg and exposing his throat to her. She reached down and touched his fur, jerking her hand back from the tingles before starting to pet his neck. “We got off on a bad foot, I’m sorry about that,” she told him as she looked deep into his eyes. “My name is Shelley Harris, and apparently, I’m your mate.”