“They’re at it again.”
I glanced up as Jodie slipped behind the bar with a black tray of empty glasses, she started loading up the dishwasher and jerked her head towards something behind me. She was young, and despite the fact that she resembled a doll with her wide, blue eyes, long lashes, and chubby cheeks – she had a bitter attitude. She was dressed in the same uniform as me, bottle green polo and black trousers, although her jeans had rips in the knee. I wasn’t sure it was a fashion thing either, I genuinely think she had just fallen over. Jodie was a clumsy little thing.
I followed her gaze, although I already knew who she was talking about. The group had been getting rowdier by the minute, their volume level had been rising steadily for the best part of an hour. They whooped and laughed, high-fiving each other like it was the best goddamn thing in the world. They downed their pints like they were men caught in a desert, cheering each other on like they were away at fresher’s week. They drunk so much simply because human alcohol did nothing for them, their own stuff was a hell of a lot stronger, but Kev the landlord had stopped stocking it so they drank the house dry. I didn’t overly mind, the local werewolves made up the highest percentage of income for the pub; maybe that was Kev’s plan all along.
As part of the town’s council, my Dad worked closely with the wolves, because of that both my Mum and I needed to know all about the supernatural side of our little town. My parents made sure that from a very young age I knew how to recognise werewolves, and which ones were dominant. The stronger the wolf, the more dangerous they were. It was easy to tell them apart from humans, they walked differently. They moved with confidence and a lot more grace than they should. And although they came in all shapes of sizes, the werewolves all shared the same basic characteristics, they were stronger with lean muscles, fit for fighting.
And boy did they like to fight, more often than not they liked to scrap, and I always ended up being the one to tell them to take it outside. Most humans were nervous around them, something about their instincts told them to stay away from what they didn’t understand. I didn’t have that reaction so much, maybe it was because I knew what was different about them, or maybe it was because my best friend was a werewolf and he was the biggest idiot I had ever met. I couldn’t even imagine him being dangerous.
Alec stood with the other wolves, leaning against the wall with a pint in his hand. He had always been good-looking, from a baby-faced teen to a handsome man. He had ink black hair that almost looked blue in some lights, and a rich olive skin tone, he had the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen – something he had gotten from his Mum. I had expected him to have some sort of respect for my place of work, but they were pack animals and enjoyed nothing more than fun and games. He laughed, egging on the others as they played darts. Only as I watched them, I caught a glimpse of something shiny and my stomach twisted. The wolves had grown bored of the traditional darts that we provided and instead had taken to throwing cutlery at the board.
They had ruined one dart board already this month, I was just thankful that they had good aim and never hit the walls.
I blew out a breath, rolling my eyes at Jodie. We were going to have to start keeping the cutlery behind the bar. “I’ll sort it.”
Any other person would be nervous, I was a five-foot girl about to lecture a bunch of six-foot werewolves, but I had told them off enough times that it was an odd day when I didn’t. I tried to catch their attention, my voice suffocated by their obnoxious chatter. I knew they could hear me, werewolves had good hearing and I was standing right in front of them. They were just being rude. Irritated, I put my thumb and finger in my mouth and did the loudest whistle I could manage. Another way to spot a werewolf, make a sudden loud noise and see who covers their ears.
I was met with a series of harsh glares, but at least they were quiet. “We talked about this,” I said sternly, hands on hips. When no one said anything, I grunted and yanked a fork from the board. I waved it at them, “We have darts for a reason. Stop using cutlery.”
“C’mon, Casey. We were just having some fun.” Alec grinned innocently, earning a little cheer from his peers.
I shot him the nastiest glare I could managed. “I don’t care. I’m the one that gets in shit when you break things.” I hissed, looking at all of them in turn. I made eye contact with a few of them. It was dangerous, dominant werewolves saw it as a challenge. I only held their gaze long enough to know I was serious but most of the time I focused on a spot on their forehead. I held out my hand, “Give.”
The group mumbled but handed over the knives and forks; the metal was cool and heavy in my hands. It was almost funny, seeing a group of supernatural men being told off by a little human woman. I was aware that the other humans in the pub were trying to watch without being too obvious, there were only a handful of us that actually knew the truth but that didn’t mean others weren’t curious.
From the corner of my eye, I saw one of the wolf’s fold a little pocket knife – turn it over in his hands. My heart pounded, werewolves were dangerous enough as it was, they ran on their emotions. And an emotional wolf with a weapon, well that was just a recipe for disaster.
No matter the species, there was always someone who thought that they were better than everyone else. Marc was one of those wolves, he thought he was above the rules just because he was high up the food chain. He had been full of himself since he learned how to talk.
I caught his attention, holding his gaze. “Hand it over.”
He narrowed his dark eyes, trying to force me to look away. I was winding him up, I could see it in the pulsing vein that appeared across his forehead but I didn’t care, I wanted him to see I was serious. “What?” His voice was low, like a growl.
“Hand over the pocket knife. I don’t want it in here.”
Marc leaned down, trying to intimidate me by getting in my face. He smiled, flashing his teeth in a sneer. He flipped the knife open and the light gleamed off the blade. “You want this, do you?”
I squared my shoulders, I was so scared. My stomach was doing flip-flops. Marc was an arrogant arse, he liked playing games and proving he was a big man. If he wanted to he could kill everyone. There were strict rules in place to protect the human population as well as the supernatural secret, killing people was definitely a no go but that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t do it if he lost control. If things went south, it would be a big old mess. I knew that Alec and the other wolves would stop things before they got too bad, it gave me a little comfort.
I held my hand out, thankful that my fingers didn’t shake. “Give me the knife.”
He scoffed, folding his arms across his chest. “Come and take it from me.”
I knew I couldn’t beat him strength-wise, only the other wolves could do that. I needed to be smart, thankfully people had a habit of underestimating me because I was so little. I gritted my teeth, “How about we make a bet?” I asked. I could tell that I had piqued his interest from the way his mouth twitched. “If I get a bullseye, you leave the knife and the pub.”
His lips twitched. “When you don’t, you buy us rounds for the rest of the night.”
Alec stood just behind Marc and I saw him grin. Either he wanted the drinks or he knew his friend was going to lose. “Deal.”
I lined up with the board, the darts that we had were pretty crap. They were off balance and were a bit wobbly. I took a breath and missed, the dart hit the metal rim and tumbled to the floor. Marc laughed loudly, hooting like it was the funniest damn thing in the world.
“Hang on. All or nothing.”
“You lost.” He sneered, shaking his head.
“All or nothing.” I hissed, pulling my hair out of my face and back into a ponytail. “If I get a bullseye with this.” I held out a fork. After the first time the wolves had done it, I ended up teaching myself out of curiosity. “Then you leave, and I get to keep your little knife.”
Marc gave a short but shook my hand anyway. “You already lost! But fine, I’ll give you another chance.”
Again I lined up, the fork was top heavy making it easy to spin out of control. The key was speed and angle. I took a breath, letting my nerves calm. I could do this. Marc was stupid to make a bet with me, and I couldn’t wait to see the arrogance disappear from his face. I threw the fork, the two middle prongs landed perfectly in the bullseye, the two outer prongs on either side of the red circle.
The wolves cheered, something about the noise set my nerves on fire, feeding into my ego. I could understand why they caused trouble when the attention was so addictive.
Marc snarled, far from happy. He tried to back me up against the wall, blocking me in but Alec quickly stepped between us. He was shorter than Marc, his shoulder came to just below his collarbone. The werewolf glared at me over the shoulder of my best friend, his jaw set and his nostrils flared. Anger oozed off him.
“Calm down.” Alec said casually like he was talking to some random person and not a furious werewolf that wanted to rip my head off. “You lost, buddy. Accept it.”
“She played me. She fucking conned me.”
Alec put his hand on the wolf’s shoulder, and although it was a little movement it was obvious who was more dominant. His eyes flickered to Alec for a split second before he looked away, his jaw tight. “You bet against Casey, you should know better.”
One of the other wolves nodded, agreeing with my best friend. Glancing around I think it was safe to say I had conned nearly all of them. Not in a bad way, just a little money here and there, and the challenge. They were always so surprised when a human outsmarted them; it was so satisfying when I won.
“She won.” Alec said calmly, removing his hand from his shoulder. “C’mon, hand over the knife.”
The wolf gave a tight smile and held up his hands in a half surrender position. Alec stepped aside, letting Marc come towards me.
Everything happened so quickly that I barely caught it. There was a flash of silver as Marc swung the knife out, slashing towards my face. Someone grabbed holding of my arm and moved me so fast that all I felt was a rush of air and a swirl of terror.
Someone new had come into the equation, tipping the tables.
Alec had yanked me out of the way, not from Marc’s attack but from someone else’s.
Enter Donavon Masters, the biggest, strongest werewolf in town. He had shoulder length dark hair pulled back into a messy bun, a full beard trimmed close to his jar, and brown eyes. He was burly, all muscle and power. He was so fast that I hadn’t even seen him until he took control of the situation. He moved with lightning speed, impressive for someone his size. He had Marc up against the wall by his throat, his feet dangling off the floor. The wolf fought against him, pawing at the hand at his throat, trying to peel Donavon’s fingers away. Donavon was Alpha of the pack, he had a final say in everything the wolves did, and starting a knife fight wasn’t something he approved of.
Marc made a gagging sound, gargling as he tried to breathe. I watched as Donavon’s fingernails grew into harsh claws, so sharp that they drew blood where they nicked Marc’s throat. The wolf stopped struggling, held very still and dropped his eyes to the ground.
Donavon gave a tight smile, bearing his teeth violently as he spoke in a low tone that only those close enough could hear. “Tell me, Marc, are you excluded from Pack Law?” He hissed, tilting his head as if to listen. The wolf just wheezed. “We do not attack innocents.”
The Alpha let the wolf go, and he slid down to the floor, gasping for breath. Donavon crouched beside the man, taking his time picking up the knife that had fallen to the floor. He turned it over in his hand, watching the blade shimmer for a moment before folding it away. He leaned close and snarled. “You’re a fucking werewolf, have some pride.”
My breath caught in my throat as he stood and turned towards me. He towered over me like a shadow, so intimidating that it made my chest hurt with nerves but all the harshness of his wolf side had faded. His eyes had softened and his touch was gentle as he took my hand in his, placing the knife in my palm. His hold lingered for just a second longer than it should have; making my stomach flutter. “I would like to talk to my wolves.”
Dismissal. I was more than happy to walk away. I made sure to take all of the cutlery with me, tucking it safely behind the bar.
“That looked... intense.” Jodie commented, she leaned against the bar with her arms folded.
Normally I would have told her off, leaning looked sloppy but I could just about catch my breath. All I did was give a little nod. “Yep.”
“When did he even get here?” She snorted and shook her head. “I didn’t see him come in, did you?”
Jodie wasn’t in the know. To her and many others, the werewolves just looked like a bunch of troublemakers. So things like super speed and strength didn’t seem realistic to them. Having Donavon suddenly appear out of nowhere didn’t surprise me, left me a little winded but didn’t surprise me. I had known him for a long time, before he took over as Alpha he often accompanied his Dad to council meetings and we would get stuck waiting in reception- that was before he was old enough to be included. Now he worked closely with my Dad to make sure that the human and wolf population were equally represented.
“No,” I said softly, having to clear my throat to get my voice back. “No, I didn’t see him come in.”
Jodie frowned, I could tell that she annoyed by my lack of interest. Jodie and everyone else loved to gossip, it was the only problem with small towns. Anything strange or out of the ordinary was a hot topic and spread like wildfire.
I watched from the corner of my eye as she scooted out from behind the bar, and went from table to table collecting empty glasses.
Donavon came up to the bar, now that his Alpha was suppressed he was as easy to talk to as he ever was. “They won’t cause you any more trouble. If they do, let me know alright?”
I just smirked. “I can handle trouble.”
Donavon smiled, the curve of his lips changed his whole face. It softened the brown of his eyes and took away the sharpness of his brow. He had the same cheeky smile from when we were kids. It had been years since I had a crush on him, but there was still something that made my stomach flutter just a little. It didn’t help that he had got insanely handsome over the years.
He hesitated like he was about to say something, but instead, he just tapped his hand against the top of the bar and walked away.
The wolf population started to trickle out of the pub, Alec pulled a face as he came over to talk to me, squishing his lips together.
“Is the party over?” I teased, wiping a sticky spot on the counter.
My best friend sighed, all but collapsing against the bar. “We’ve got to have a lecture about controlled fun.”
I snorted before I could control myself. “Controlled fun?”
“Yep.” He nodded grimly, sulking like the child he was. “Y’know in case there are witnesses and stuff.”
“Fragile, squishy creatures.”
Offended, I pulled a face. “Oh, thanks!”
Alec winked and leaned over the bar to give me a quick hug. “I better go, talk to you later alright?”
“He is so attractive!” Jodie sighed as soon as Alec walked out of the pub, she leaned against the counter and stared at the door longingly. “I don’t know how you can be just friends with him.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Trust me, I have stories about Alec that make you never see him as attractive again.”
Of course, she didn’t believe me but after twenty years, I knew every gross thing he had ever done. Jodie continued to fantasies for the rest of the shift, I blocked her out after a while. There was only so much of her crush that I could take, it was like listening to someone saying dirty stuff about my brother.
It was disturbing.
It was freezing by the time I finished work, and my light jacket did very little against the harshness of the breeze. There was a single street lamp in the car park, and it just about lit half of the spaces. My car was the only one left, everyone else had gone home so I could lock up. It was always eerie late at night. The whole town was in the centre of a huge forest and beyond that was farmland so the wind always groaned and whistled as it passed through the trees. The sound had terrified me as a kid, and I wasn’t very fond of it as an adult either.
Shivering, I had to give the key a wiggle to get the door to lock. I had been bugging Kev for months to get it replaced but the tight arse refused, it was only a matter of time before someone broke in and when that happened, I wasn’t prepared to deal with his bitch fit.
The heels of my shoes echoed in the quiet as I made my way across the lot, the wind blew my hair into my face. I was so busy trying to clear the tangles away from my eyes that I almost missed it. A quiet, throaty growl. The hair along the back of my neck prickled, fear rooted itself deeply in the pit of my stomach.
I stopped dead in my tacks, heart pounding in my chest. I half hoped that it was just one of the wolves pissing about trying to scare me, maybe even Marc trying to get some petty revenge. I tried to control my shaking as I turned very slowly. If it was someone playing a trick, they would never let me forget it if I freaked out. I didn’t even know if I could scream over the tightness of my throat. I could barely breathe as I scanned the tree line, in the darkness I couldn’t tell where the growl was coming from. It seemed to echo from every direction. If it wasn’t for the sound I would have just put it down to paranoia brought on by the shadows, but my hearing was fine. There was something in the forest, watching me. I could feel its gaze like acid on my skin, burning deep into my bones.
Among the undergrowth was a patch of black that was darker than the surrounding area, so dark that it looked like it swallowed everything around it. A pair of blood red eyes watched me with malicious intent.
I almost wished it was Marc plotting to kill me.
Red eyes meant rogue. Rogue meant I was going to die.
Normal werewolves were dangerous enough, but rogue wolves were insane. Full of violence and rage. They would kill and attack blindly, taking down anything in their path. Donavon and his pack were meant to keep them out of town, seeing one meant something was very, very wrong. Even though my Dad had made sure I knew enough to keep myself alive, I had never come face to face with a rogue before. I knew I was dead. It was impossible to run, and I certainly wasn’t strong enough to take it on.
As soon as the monster realised I had spotted it, it moved forward, head low as it curled its lip back and snapped its teeth. I was paralysed, terror poisoned my blood. I was so scared that I snivelled, tears rolling down my cheeks. If it had gotten this far, then there was no one coming to save me.
Fight or flight was a funny thing. You don’t think anything of it until you’re faced with life or death. From the ridged stubbornness of my joints, I was sure that my body had decided to give up, but as the beast crept forward something red hot ceased my body. I chugged down a deep breath of air, letting rip the loudest scream I could muster; hoping, praying that there was a patrol close by.
Startled by the sound, the rogue roared. It leaped, hitting me with so much force that I hit the ground with a thud. My head bounced off the concrete with a wet wallop, my vision whirled. It all happened so fast, somehow I managed to get my arm up in time to catch the monster’s teeth – stopping them from getting my throat.
There was no pain, I saw the blood more than felt the wound. The rogue shook its head, gum deep in my flesh. I heard a snap and was sure it was bone.
I shrieked, kicking and pounding my free hand into the side of the monster trying to get it away from me. In my struggle, something slipped from my pocket. I reacted before the thought was even in my head, grabbing the pocket knife from where it had fallen – and counting my lucky stars, I struck the beast in the side of the throat. It gave a cry, the blade slid through its skin and fur like warm butter.
The weight of the dead wolf was suffocating, its blood felt hot against my cold skin. It seeped into my clothes, the fabric clung to my body in a sticky mess. I shoved the rogue off me, my right arm ripped and dead weight at my side. I couldn’t feel the pain yet, my body was too hyped. My mind sharp and crystal clear – buzzing with adrenaline.
I had barely gotten to my feet when another attacked teeth first, the knife flew from my hand landing with a clatter somewhere in the darkness. I screamed again, but the sound died in my throat as two more rogues lunged from the undergrowth. Rogues were solitary animals, they were too violent to survive in groups, seeing this many was just bad luck on my part.
I could hear the squelch of my own body being ripped apart, but with the moonlight shining through the treetops, I barely felt it. It was just a numb tug and pull here and there. All of the fight I had, all of the drive to stay alive melted into a strange peaceful sensation. It was like falling through a still ocean.
Suddenly something hit us from the side, a quick flash of colour that knocked the weight from my chest. Vicious sounds burned my eardrums, yelps of pain and violent snarls of anger made my stomach churn. Little by little, the pain started to seep in. A deep ache and sharp shooting pain attacked my limbs. It was a gnawing, stippling hurt that came from deep in my bones. My breath came in short pants, panic had taken over. I was badly injured and fuck me, did it hurt. It hurt so much that I couldn’t think of anything else but the pain. My mind span so quickly, and in so many directions that it was dizzying. I felt sick.
I was going to die.
What a shitty way to die.
I managed to turn my head away from the sky, I tried to keep up with the blurs of movement but it was unfocused. It was wolf against wolf; flashes of yellow and red eyes in shadows of the trees. There was a lot of blood, a puddle had formed around me; it was warm against my ear. There were a few chunks of things that looked chalky under the moonlight, I didn’t want to know what they were or what part of me they had come from.
There were bodies scattered across the car park, limp dead wolves.
The world grew grey, turning fuzzy at the edge of my vision. It was hard to keep my eyes open.
There were a number of wolves left, but most of them were from the pack. They had come to rescue me.
A little too late.
Finally, the last wolf was taken down, one of the good guys had its neck in his mouth and gave one violent shake, snapping the bone. For a moment they looked around as if to make sure the threat was over, and then they all sprung back into action. Each of them changed back to human, it was a mess of cracked bones and twisted limbs. Alec had told me how painful it was but that it was something so second nature that the pain was easily ignored, but they ached for a little while after.
Once they were human they started dragging the bodies away, shouting instructions to each other from across the carpark. It was a strange thing, seeing naked men clearing a mess of dead werewolves. Among them was Donavon, even covered in blood he was still a sight to behold. He looked like a vengeful god, tall and muscled with a look hellish anger on his face. His long hair was loose and when he crouched beside me I could see that the ends of it were crusty with blood and grime. Red was smeared across his mouth, staining his beard.
Trust me to notice how good he looked naked and covered in blood when I was dying.
A part of me didn’t like that he was kneeling in a puddle of my blood, but it was a distant, delirious part of my mind.
“Casey.” He said softly, his voice rough from the change. His hands hovered in the air over me, almost like he didn’t know what to do. There was panic in his gaze, something I had never seen before.
When I spoke my voice was so weak that even I could barely hear it. “Told you I could handle trouble.”
He didn’t find my joke funny. His brown eyes darkened harshly, and he frowned. “You’re dying.”
I tried to smile, tried to shrug it off like some moron but my tears betrayed me. “Yeah.”
Donavon touched his hand to my face so softly, scooping me up so that my body was against his chest. He heaved, his breathing ragged as he cried. “I don’t want you to die.”
I tried to talk but wheezed and it hurt like a bitch. “I don’t want to die.” I tried to move, growing frustrated when I couldn’t control my own limbs. I wanted to see his face, I wanted to understand why he was crying over me. A sob ripped from my throat, and I looked up at him with wide, panicked eyes. His shimmered the pure amber of his wolf just beneath the surface of his human skin. His reaction tore at my emotions, “I don’t want to die.”
He leaned close to my face, his cheek against mine. His arms securely around my shoulders, his breath soft on my ear. “I won’t let you.”
Before I could even process what was happening, Donavon pressed his lips against the curve of my neck in a feather-light kiss, and then bit down so suddenly that I screamed in surprise and fear, it got clogged in my throat and I choked. A thick fog of confusion fell over me, pulling at any consciousness I had left and pulled me down into a pit of nothingness.
The last thing I heard was Donavon’s voice begging me to stay.