Fighting Fate - EXCERPT

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Chapter 2

Anna woke late the next morning to complete silence. She lay under the comforter for a minute, enjoying the lack of noise. Anna blinked her eyes open, glancing around the darkened room. Owing to the den being built underneath the mountain, there was no natural light but the lack of windows wasn’t so much of a sacrifice when Anna considered the quiet. Anna sat up against her headboard, smiling at the sparse room. It wasn’t much, basically a bedsit with a kitchenette and a bathroom. It was a standard space given to unmated pack members apparently, but Anna had no complaints about it. It was the first time she had ever had a room to herself, something that was completely her own that had a lock on the door. The only furniture in the room was the bed and an old bedside table, because Anna had nothing to bring with her when she transferred. The only thing she’d managed to bring was a duffel full of clothes, but even so she was having to washing almost every day so that she didn’t run out of clean clothes.

Anna finally pulled herself out of bed and made herself a cup of coffee. Whoever had set the room up for her had made sure that she had coffee, milk and cereal, and even some utensils, cups and plates. It had been a nice surprise on her first morning when Anna hadn’t been ready to face everyone in the dining hall. She made a mental note to ask in the hall today about when someone would be making a trip into town so that she could stock up on some more supplies.

She leaned against the kitchen counter and thought about what had happened in the dining hall last night. After Anna’s conversation with Piper, the SilverRiver second-in-command had approached their table. Alex had been the one to welcome Anna when she arrived in the alpha’s absence. He was a very serious man and Anna had found him very intimidating at first. His hair was dark, almost black, and closely shaven to his head. He was a big man, tall and very broad shouldered. On that first day, Anna had watched him and his expression had always remained impassive, as if nothing touched him… even when a pup tried to tackle him around the legs. Anna had thought for sure that he would kick the pup away, something that her previous alpha would have done, but instead Alex had reprimanded the pup and told him that he should have tried a surprise attack if he wanted to win against a much bigger opponent.

Last night, Alex had approached the table, his expression still as serious as it was that day but his eyes had focused solely on Anna. After greeting everyone, he had formally announced that Zach, the alpha, would be returning the next day and that the ceremony would be going ahead the following night. Anna’s stomach had immediately started churning with nerves and not long after Alex had left, Anna had said goodnight to everyone at the table and retreated to her quarters.

Anna was of two minds. She really wanted to be officially welcomed into the pack so that she would feel more secure and safe in her place here. On the other hand, she was nervous about meeting the alpha, about standing in front of the entire pack and then being found wanting. What if he decided that she wasn’t SilverRiver material? Anna knew that she had nothing to offer. She had no skills, no money and her dominance level was pretty low. If it had been higher, if she had been assigned as a soldier or something of a similar level… than maybe her whole life would have been different.

Anna shook the thoughts out of head, finishing her coffee and rinsing her cup. She refused to spend the day worrying about what would happen tonight at the ceremony. She was already here, away from GreyWing and that already felt like the biggest win to her. Anna went to her closet, looking despondently at the two pieces of clothing hanging in there. She had no idea what kind of dress code tonight would be, but she didn’t have many options anyway. There was a cream silk blouse, which she could pair with some tidy jeans or a knee length blue floral print dress. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before pulling the dress out of the closet. She quickly changed into and went to stand in front of the full length mirror that hung on the back of her bedroom door. She eyed her reflection critically, her eyes taking in her wavy, auburn hair that reached her shoulder blades before looking at the dress. It was an a-line silhouette, sleeveless and with a high neckline. The tulle skirt flowed out from Anna’s waist and caressed her knees, the fabric dark navy and covered in floral patterns filled with pink, orange and blues.

She once again wished she could shut off the nerves that were churning her stomach as she quickly applied a little bit of eyeliner and pink lip gloss. She finally turned away from the mirror and grabbed her brush from the bathroom sink, roughly pulling it through her hair before she twisted the thick strands up into a messy chignon bun, with a few tendrils framing her face. She glanced at herself one last time before walking out of the bathroom.

Anna checked the time and saw that it was only three in the afternoon. She still had two hours to kill before it was time for the ceremony to start. She considered going to the dining hall but her stomach rejected the idea of food and Anna really wasn’t in the mood for casual small talk. Instead, she decided on a quick walk outside to get some fresh air. Feeling good about that decision, Anna quickly slid her feet into some strappy black sandals and made her way out of the room. Following the hallway towards the exit, Anna smiled at the few pack members that she passed, feeling grateful when they returned her smile but no one stopped her to talk. She made it to the bottom of the incline leading out when she heard someone calling her name.

Anna briefly considered making a run for it, but reckoned that her chances of getting up the hill in a hurry without falling over were slim to none. Sighing, she straightened her shoulders and turned, finding herself nicely surprised to find Mitch striding towards her.

“Hey,” she greeted him warmly once he had reached her.

“Hi, Anna. Going for a walk? Do you mind if I join you?” He smiled back, his voice cheerful and Anna nodded, turning back to walk up the incline as Mitch fell into step beside her. They didn’t speak as they exited the den, but it was a comfortable silence. It was beautiful outside, the skies blue and clear, the air was warm. Anna savoured the breeze on her skin, aware that the weather would be changing soon, with cooler weather moving across the country. She wondered if it would be colder out here in the forest than in the city, hopeful that it may even snow.

She chanced a glance at Mitch out the corner of her eye, noting his messy brown hair and strong jawline. He was quite an attractive looking male, which his warm personality only seemed to enhanced. Anna briefly compared him to the soldiers she had known at GreyWing, all of them arrogant and rude. They had considered her far beneath their notice, more likely to shove her out of the way than even give her nod of acknowledgement if she had met one in the halls. Mitch wasn’t like that at all. He didn’t seem bothered by her lack of dominance or role within the pack. He just saw Anna as… well, Anna.

“How’re you feeling about tonight?” Mitch’s voice broke the silence and Anna glanced at him, wrinkling her nose up in an expression of self-deprecation.

“I’m so nervous.” She admitted. “I keep thinking up scenarios in my head where it all goes wrong.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, the usual... I walk in and I’m naked. The alpha is a crazy person who kills me. I walk in and it’s actually GreyWing inside waiting for me.” Mitch let out a bark of laughter that made Anna smile.

“Now, that is some imagination you have there.” They walked past the boulder, Anna stretching an arm out so that her fingertips grazed the cool rock. Her head already felt clearer, listening to the birds in the nearby trees and hearing the breeze rustle the crisp leaves, which were only just starting to think about turning brown.

“It’s just that… that it seems almost too good to be true here. Nothing in my life has ever just been handed to me and, really, I don’t have anything to bring to the pack. I don’t understand why they would accept my transfer in the first place, so logic tells me it must be a mistake.” As she finished speaking, Mitch stopped walking. She halted next to them, the pair standing on the edge of the treeline, and Anna looked back over the clearing and at the mountain that housed SilverRiver.

“I think you underestimate your own value, Anna, but from what you’ve told me so far, I can tell you that SilverRiver is completely different.” Mitch touched Anna’s shoulder softly, his tone reassuring. “Zach is a good alpha and strategist. He doesn’t believe that brute strength is everything. I can’t tell you why your transfer was accepted, but I can tell you that it wasn’t a mistake.” Anna gave Mitch a wan smile, wanting to believe him but her past had disillusioned her.

“Come on,” Mitch voice brought her back out of her own head. “It’s time to start heading to the auditorium. Zach hates when people are late.” He gently grabbed her arm, turning them both back towards the entrance to the den.

“Any chance I can do the ceremony in private?” Anna half joked as they entered.

“Come on, Anna. It’ll be a piece of cake!” Mitch wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulders. Anna felt warmth spread throughout her body, enjoying the feeling of having a friend. Mitch lead her in a direction that Anna hadn’t been down before and it wasn’t long before they could hear voices. With every step, the sound grew louder and Anna’s heart started beating faster, her mind once again swirling with possibilities of everything going wrong. Finally, Mitch brought her to stop in front of two large double doors, announcing unnecessarily, “we’re here!” He turned to look at Anna and she saw his eyes widen at her pale face and the sweat she could feel starting to the dot her brow.

“Jeez, kid, it’s really not that bad. The sooner you get it over with, the sooner the after party starts.” Anna took a deep steadying breath, swiping her arm across her forehead.

“Okay,” she muttered. “I got this.” She ignored the fact that her voice was trembling and her hands were starting to follow suit.

“You sure do.” Mitch grinned mischievously but before Anna could ask him what his deal was, he opened the doors and shoved her unceremoniously inside. Anna stumbled, glaring at him over her shoulder before facing forward. The site of the auditorium greeted her, a large room with a curved ceiling and a floor that sloped downwards towards a stage. The floor was filled with seats covered in red fabric and Anna guessed wildly that it would sit about 200 people. Pack members were milling about the room, chatting with one another as they slowly found somewhere to sit. Anna gaped, not quite realizing the enormity of SilverRiver until this moment. The GreyWing pack wouldn’t even be able to fill half the room.

“How many people are in this pack?” She turned to look at Mitch as she spoke. “Is every single pack member going to be here?”

“No, there’ll be quite a few missing. There are a few members who live in a packhouse in the city and soldiers will still be out on rotation tonight, especially with all the media covering Zach’s comings and goings.” He looked around the room thoughtfully. “Not a lot of people know where our den is, obviously, but everyone is always trying to find it. They won’t succeed, though. We can be pretty sneaky when we want to be.” Mitch smirked down at Anna, hooking his thumbs into the belt loops of his blue jeans.

The noise level in the auditorium started fading quickly into a quiet buzz and Anna watched as everyone began moving into their seats.

“Come on,” Mitch said. “There’ll be reserved seating for you at the front.” Anna followed Mitch as he walked down one of the aisles that divided the rows of seats, noticing that they were drawing a few curious glances. Anna fidgeted with the bottom of her dress, feeling self-conscious at the attention but also relieved that her dress suited the occasion, seeing a few other similar dresses in the crowd. They finally reached the front row and Anna saw Mitch was right, seeing ‘Reserved’ signs stuck to the back of the seats. Mitch pressed Anna into the seat on the end of the aisle and started backing away, saying, “good luc-...”

“Wait!”Anna cut him off, jumping to her feet. “Where are you going?” Even she was embarrassed to hear the panic filling her voice.

“Sorry, Anna, the other seats are for the others being welcomed into the pack. I’ll catch up with you after, okay?” He gave her a reassuring smile before turning and walking back up the aisle. Anna watched him go, seeing a group of people beckoning him over. She sat back down, feeling even more embarrassed than ever. She was acting like a child with their parent, wanting her hand held. She took a deep breath, straightening her spine. No one had ever held her hand in her life, she did not need anyone now.

Someone sat next to her, murmuring a greeting. Anna gave an awkward smile back but before she could reply, a man walked onto the stage. He came to a half in the front middle of the stage, standing almost straight in front of Anna, who’s eyes slowly travelled up his entire body, taking in every detail. His feet were encased in black boots and his dark blue jeans were tucked into the top of them. The denim was clearly worn in, with faded patches on the knees and the material hugging his large, muscular thighs. Anna thought with amusement that she could probably fit her whole body into one leg of those jeans. Her eyes traveled to a black dress shirt that hung untucked over his waistband. The sleeves were rolled up to expose tanned forearms, and the material was pulled tight over his chest and wide shoulders. His hair was tousled, as if he kept running his hands through it, and long enough to curl around the neatly folded collar of the shirt, although that wasn’t the most interesting thing. The colour of his hair was completely grey, and in the harsh light from overhead, Anna could have sworn that it was almost white. The colour contrasted with his tanned skin and youthful face, although Anna decided that the hard line of his square jaw would put anyone off challenging him. His expression was welcoming as he looked out over the crowd, but there was something extremely intimidating about him. Anna decided it was a combination of his large build and an aura of menace that seemed to vibrate out from him. As she finished her perusal, she curiously noted that he didn’t hold a microphone. Her thought was quickly followed by the realization that the room had fallen dead silent. Anna glanced around, noting that almost every single eye was fixed on the man and she made an easy guess at his identify. Zach Thomas, the SilverRiver alpha.

She had one knee hooked over the other, her foot swinging nervously, but everything froze as he finally began to speak.

“Welcome, SilverRiver.” His voice was deep and husky, and it seemed filled with power that flowed throughout the room, filling every corner. Anna could feel the hairs on the back of her neck lift and knew that if she glanced down at her arms, she would see her skin raising with goosebumps. Her heart started to race and she felt the insane urge to get closer to him, to touch him or smell him or both. Anna tried to steady her breathing, never having felt anything like this before, even around her old alpha. Her mind was racing, trying to work out why she was reacting this way when all he had done was speak two words that weren’t even directly to her.

“These are always my favourite occasions,” he continued as Anna tried to focus on him, “where we welcome our newest pack members. We all witness their joining of our pack and our family. We become stronger with each member and all that they bring. We become stronger against whatever, whoever, would seek to harm us.” He paused while the room filled with cheers and claps. Anna heard some ‘whooping’ that sounded suspiciously like Mitch, making her smile. It was a brief, welcome distraction against the effect the alpha’s voice was having on her.

Zach stepped closer to the edge of the stage, his eyes moving over the people sitting in the front row. Anna held her breath as his eyes moved over, barely touching on her before moving until the next person. She let the breath out in relief but froze as his gaze returned and paused on her. Anna felt his stare like a hot wave of air that swept her from head to toe. The whole room seemed to still as Anna’s eyes met his, seeing that they were a bright glacial blue. Her chest started aching with the need to breathe, her cheeks flushing with heat but her eyes unable to let go of his stare. Finally, after what felt like eternity, his moved on to the rest of the people in the row. Everyone had started talking as Zach had assessed the pack members in the front row and he waited for quiet before he spoke again, softer this time.

“Come on stage, all those joining us tonight.”

Anna waited for everyone else in the row to make their way before following behind the person that had been sitting next to her, a middle-aged woman. There were ten people in total, including six youths who looked to be about 13, which was the age that SilverRiver officially welcomed young into the pack. They filed onto the stage in a line, turning to face the rest of the room. Anna felt safe at the end of the line, glad that she would be able to see everyone else go through the ceremony before it was her turn.

Zach stepped up to the first person at the other end of the line, a small girl who grinned confidently up at the alpha, clearly familiar with him. He smiled back as he knelt in front of her, although he still remained taller, as he began to speak.

“Do you, Madeline, pledge to join SilverRiver, and join in protecting the pack and all of its members? Do you promise your loyalty and your honour to putting the pack above all else? And do you swear your allegiance to me, Zach Thomas, as your alpha?” His words were serious and Anna found herself once again mesmerised by his voice. Her eyes darted between him and Madeline, her body leaning forward so that she could see better.

“Yes, I do.” Madeline’s voice was confident and clean, and Anna envied the girl for it. Zach placed both hands onto Madeline’s shoulders and closed his eyes. Anna could almost feel the pull of power from him and she heard Madeline inhale sharply and guessed that was the moment that her mind was brought fully into the pack bond. Madeline opened her eyes, looking a little dazed, as Zach stood to his full height and smiled proudly down at her.

The process was repeated with each other person on the stage until, finally, Zach finally approached Anna. She stared hard at the floor, swallowing hard as his black boots came to a halt right in front of her. Her head was level with his chest, his body towering over hers as she slowly looked up so that she could see his face. This close, she could see grey stubble covered his strong jaw, surrounding lips that were pressed into a tight, thin line. His nose was straight, leading to thick, grey eyebrows that sat above deep-set eyes. The left eyebrow was dissected with a large scar that trailed to his temple. The thought flickered through Anna’s head that the injury must have been near-fatal. A lock of hair curled down over his forehead, almost giving him a boyish look except for the serious expression on his face. His blue eyes stared down at her, glinting brightly. Anna imagined that she could almost see power swirling around his irises, as if his wolf was just below the surface of his human skin.

For a long moment, he didn’t speak. His whole body was completely still, although Anna could have sworn that he sniffed the air. Her own brow furrowed as she wondered if this was the moment that he pronounced her unworthy of joining SilverRiver. She inhaled shakily, waiting… but then the moment was gone and he began to speak.

“Do you, Anna, pledge to join SilverRiver, and join in protecting the pack and all of its members? Do you promise your loyalty and your honour to putting the pack above all else? And do you swear your allegiance to me, Zach Thomas, as your alpha?” His voice spilled over Anna and she shuddered, her eyes falling closed. It seemed much more intense when he was standing right in front of her, talking directly to her.

“Yes, I do.” Her voice was quiet but Anna mentally high-fived herself, because it was clear, calm and the complete opposite of the chaos happening inside her head. Zach placed his hands on her shoulders, closing his eyes as he had with everyone else, and Anna’s focus was completely taken by the heat of his skin touching hers. Her body started to tremble, her own palms itching to reach up and touch Zach’s forearms, until a pulsing began in her head. Anna closed her eyes, feeling a pulling sensation, as if she was being dragged through a wall of water, even though she was certain that her body wasn’t moving an inch. Zach stepped away and Anna squinted her eyes open, seeing him smile at her before turning to face the room. Anna watched him move through eyes that seemed blurry, feeling her knees begin to tremble. She could hear him speaking but she couldn’t make out the words, as if he was somewhere really far away. He stretched his arms out to the room and Anna could hear the crowd cheering. Her head begun buzzing, a sound that grew louder and louder until she couldn’t hear anything else. Pain started to creep around her head, starting in her temples and moving until everything hurt. She closed her eyes again, her hands raising up to press at her head as if that would stop the pain. She could feel her fingers trembling and she tried to blink her eyes open, to look for someone to help her, but now her sight had been reduced to almost a pinprick. She opened her mouth, intent on calling out for help, but only a garbled groan escaped her lips. She felt, rather than saw, everyone on the stage turn at look at her. She felt a vibration through the floor as if someone had stepped towards her. Anna felt the darkness reaching up to grab her and she stopped fighting, wanting the pain and noise to stop. Her body became limp, slowly dropping forward. Anna surrendered to unconsciousness but just before her body hit the ground, she felt rough hands seize her.

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