Chapter 1 - Sam
Things were finally starting to look up for Sam. He had proved himself a worthy male to take his place among the ranks of his pack, and while that rank was low, he was only eighteen and had plenty of time to build himself up.
Even though he joined the ranks on a technicality, he was happy to finally be a contributing member of the Zhooniyaa Miskwi Pack (Silver Blood Pack). He was a patrol wolf now, usually paired up with his best friend, Cameron, since he was still a newbie on the border and had much to learn to bring his skills up to par. He couldn’t wait to make his alpha, luna, family, and Cameron proud.
He gazed at the small framed picture of him and his older brother taken nine years ago on his dresser. A scrawny beanpole next to the full-grown male dressed in a high school graduation gown with an arm wrapped around him and his diploma in the other hand. All smiles for the camera.
Despite the nine-year age gap, his big brother had been his rock. His salvation. Andrew loved him regardless of his flaws and defects.
He missed him so much. A day didn’t go by without Andrew flashing briefly in his mind. For five years, he carried his memory and it was only during the last three that he could think of Andrew without crying. It was during the last three that Andrew’s memory gave him encouragement. Gave him courage to live.
Thanks to the influence of his alpha and luna, Cameron came into his life when he was ready to give up. Cameron was in poor shape as well with Andrew’s death—he was Andrew’s best friend. He took Sam under his paw then. Looked out for Sam like Andrew had. Both of them filled the gaping holes in each other’s hearts that Andrew’s death brought.
Sam felt more indebted to Cameron for his friendship. Cameron didn’t need to step up and befriend him like he did. It was their shared love and heartache for Andrew that bonded them in friendship. Sam felt he could tell Cameron everything.
Well, mostly everything.
Pulling on a loose black T-shirt and black shorts, he set out to the field for assignment.
It was nearly noon on a Saturday in mid-August. The sky was bright blue with only a few thin clouds in sight. It was proving to be another hot afternoon with sweat already building across his flesh with the harsh sun glaring down overhead.
He looked around at his fellow packmates preparing to start the day. A few females mixed in with the males, eying them with arms crossed over their chests as the males fist-bumped and jostled each other. No one glanced his way. The runt never caught anyone’s attention if he wanted to survive.
Lowering his head, he kept his eyes to himself as they waited for Alpha to come. He couldn’t help but feel small and insignificant next to the other males with muscles that rippled under flesh. He was trying, working hard to build muscle himself, but his body didn’t seem to make it as easily as them. He was average in height for a werewolf male but much leaner in frame. He hoped his growth spurt was just later than others and he would fill out soon. Otherwise, he wasn’t much of a male to look at. He feared finding his mate and disappointing her; that he wasn’t male enough for her.
They didn’t have to wait long before Alpha Noodin showed up. Everyone straightened their spines, lifted their heads, and pulled their shoulders back as they waited for a few stragglers to arrive and Alpha barked out their assignments.
With the threat of rogues along the border, more wolves were called to patrol and defend it. Assignments were a new method to structure the added wolves to the first line of defense. Normally, a wolf was assigned the same post for a week and changed it the next, but with double the number of wolves now guarding the border, trying to juggle everyone and still ensure they got some time off to rest, Alpha found it easier to assign posts before every shift.
Alpha Noodin looked tired, Sam noted. Word had slipped out recently that Luna Aki was pregnant and with the rogue threat at the borders, it was no wonder Alpha was more stressed than usual. Pregnant female wolves couldn’t shift. Luna would be an easy target for threats and after losing pups in the last battle...
Alpha’s dark eyes turned to Sam on the edge, a few feet away from the group. “Samuel: the south-western edge near Aspen Beach.” Privately, he added, [Cameron and his mate will be spending the latter half of the day and night there. They’re in your care until six.]
Sam puffed his chest out. [Thank you, Alpha.]
He couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. He was so happy and excited for Cameron. This was the second chance he’d been waiting for. He and Olivia needed this. To return to the place it all began before the battle five years ago destroyed all of their lives. Cameron had only just found his mate that day before rogues breached the northern border and flooded into the territory. Cameron had been struck, nearly killed, was in a coma for weeks, and suffered amnesia before he had a chance to tell anyone that he had found his mate. He had recently found her in the last few weeks and things had gotten off on a shaky start, but there was hope. He had that and he clung to it.
Assignments issued, they set out to the trees that lined the valley and shifted.
Black fur pushed through Sam’s skin as he got down on all fours. His muscles loosened as his bones shifted, became unhinged before snapping back into place with a crick, creak, crack. A tail sprouted from his backside as his jaw unhinged and his nasal cavity elongated with sharp teeth breaking through the gums.
With his clothes left in a pile along the treeline, he set out west, paws pounding and tongue hanging out, panting already from the heat of the day. A few other wolves from the brief meeting set out with him to the western border. Bumping shoulders as they wove between trees, yipping to each other.
His wolf was as big as a female’s with long, lean legs known for tripping over his own paws. No one playfully jostled him and he was okay about that. Last thing he wanted to do was stumble over his own clumsy paws like a newly shifted pup.
Soon they arrived at the western border and Sam turned south with a few others on his heels while the others turned north. They barked and howled to inform the old patrol wolves that reinforcements had arrived.
Sam’s ears perked forward when he caught the scent of his older brother, Jonathan. He slowed his pace down as his brother’s sandy-colored wolf came into sight. He lowered his head and tried to catch Jon’s eye, but his brother turned the other way. He tried to greet him through the mind-link but Jon’s barriers were up.
Tail tucked underneath him, Sam hung his head as he continued his way south.
‘He doesn’t smell right.’
‘There’s something wrong with him.’
‘He’ll never amount to anything.’
Sam whimpered, pushing those words from his head as Andrew’s would replace them.
‘Stop it, Papaw! You don’t know that!’
No matter how many times Andrew stood up for him, their father’s words always held more power.
We’ll show them, won’t we Andrew? Sam said to himself, baring his teeth as he picked up his pace and uncurled his tail. We’ll prove them wrong. Just like you, Cam, Luna, and Alpha said: I’m not defective.
When Alpha and Luna pulled him out from under his parents’ roof and thrust him into the cabin for healing and growth with Cameron, Sam tried not to look back. All he would find was rejection and disappointment for not being the male they wanted him to be.
‘You deserve better than that, Sam,’ Alpha, Luna, and Cameron had told him again and again in the cabin.
‘Don’t give up, Sam,’ Luna had said, holding him as he sobbed into her shoulder. His blood and tears streaked her flesh and dress as he clung to her the way a pup clings to his mother, letting all his heartache out to the only ones who would listen and hold him. ‘We’re here. We love you. We would do anything for you.’
He owed them his life. More than his own family, he wanted to make them proud, though it would feel good to do something great and be able to rub their noses in it.
He ran as far south as he could until he reached the ridge of rocky cliffs that separated the pack lands on the left and the major city metropolis on his right. He tip-toed to the edge overlooking the vast expanse of water below. The cliffs rose six stories high and if he wasn’t in the same frame of mind now as he had been in the past, he would have found an easy way out.
But he didn’t think that way anymore and he shook the darkness from his mind.
He trotted back down the rising ridge. For the next few hours, he trotted back and forth along the border. As the ridge rose higher towards the water, the trees thinned out, the surface too rocky to support the roots of tall trees. Only the toughest evergreens could withstand the conditions of the land, though it enabled him to see for miles in all directions.
It was while he was at the top of the ridge that he smelled it. A wonderful scent that made him stumble on the uneven surface. The breeze shifted directions and he looked around for the source. One word filled his head on repeat and he danced on the spot, his paws light as air and his heart surging with joy.
Mate! Mate! My mate is here!
He threw his head back, howled, and waited for her reply. A chorus of other howls met him, his packmates, as he looked around, inhaling the lingering scent on the breeze.
[What is it?] A barrage of voices from his nearby packmates filled his head. Curiosity mixed with anxiety in their voices.
A rustle of movement farther down the ridge caught his attention and he dashed toward it.
[My mate!] he cheered back to them. [She’s here!]
He howled out to her again. The scent growing stronger with his approach. He still couldn’t see her. Where was she? Why wasn’t she responding to him?
The bush thickened as he sprinted down the ridge, deeper into the forest. He stumbled over some raised roots, nearly toppling to the ground, but he caught himself and continued forward. As the scent grew stronger, he could sense something was off. Why wasn’t she revealing herself to him?
He paused and looked around. The scent was intense but he didn’t know which way to turn. She had to be close. He barked for her, his tail swishing lightly back and forth as he panted from excitement and the heat of the afternoon.
A growl rumbled nearby. The sound of a threat.
Sam lowered his tail and his head, turning toward the rumble that flattened his ears.
Startling icy blue eyes pierced into his soul, freezing him in his place as a large silver-gray wolf stepped toward him through the foliage. Nostrils flared as black lips curled up revealing sharp teeth intent to kill. Aggression spilled, fur stood on end as the growling intensified.
Sam’s tail curled underneath him and flattened against his belly. Cowering, he lowered himself to the ground, whining for his mate to calm down.
Sam could smell it now. Smell his mate’s maleness heavy and heady as he slowly advanced on him. Sniffing him, still growling at Sam not to move a muscle.
He circled around Sam, sniffing his back leg, seeking Sam’s female scent under his tail that he didn’t possess.
Sam whined, pulling away until the silver-gray wolf pressed his paw down against Sam’s thigh and snarled for him to be still. Fear gripped him. He whimpered, pressing his tail flatter against him. Whimpered for him to accept him as he was.
The wolf’s lips curled and he snarled. Pulling away, he threw his head back and howled: a war cry that shook Sam to the bones. Shoving Sam against the earth, he took off east—heading toward Aspen Beach.
Sam’s heart pounded in his ears. What just happened?
[The border’s been breached! We’re under attack!] someone shouted in the pack’s mind-link.
Mass chaos sounded in Sam’s head. Pulling out from the link and shaking his head, he tried to get his own thoughts straight as to what happened seconds ago.
His mate was a male and... rejected him?
He sprang to his paws. No, no, no! He can’t do that!
Kicking up dirt, he darted after his mate. He followed his scent through the forest, barking, yipping, and whining for him to stop. He had to stop! Sprinting as fast as he could, he could hear the waterfall ahead. That should slow his mate down—he wouldn’t know how to get around it.
As he neared the clearing of the small lake and waterfall, a series of snarls sounded ahead. As the trees parted before him, he saw Cameron’s mixed-gray and white wolf lunge at his mate, snapping his jaws at his neck. The silver-gray wolf jerked out of reach.
[Cam, stop!] Sam yelled into Cameron’s head as he jumped between them and flashed his teeth. [He’s my mate!]