Prologue- Death, Fate & Exile
Screams ripped through the previously peaceful night air and left twenty-year-old Decker Grey chilled to the bone. The peace he’d found on his run tonight was quickly replaced by an intense need to get home.
The fur on his neck rose as he turned and scented the air. The bitter tang of blood tainted the air toward home and Decker immediately began running toward the pack compound.
Rogues! Davis, Ridgestone Pack’s Beta, sent the cry through the pack link, and Decker picked up the pace.
Trees blurred in his vision and leaves trembled in his wake as Decker ran, pushing himself faster to cover the miles that separated him from the pack compound.
Howls, and a cacophony of growls rang through the air, the urgency in the sounds of his pack spurring Decker to the limits of his speed as he dodged through the foliage.
Decker reached the edge of the training field, the scent of blood that tangled with the scents pack and unfamiliar wolves was almost overwhelming.
Hearing his approach, a rogue turned, barred his fangs, and initiated an attack.
Decker growled, barring his fangs in return as he met the tawny wolf head on. His jaws snapped at the opponent as his claws ripped into the rogue’s shoulder and belly as the rogue’s claws dug for purchase in Decker’s own shoulder. Decker pulled away, ignoring the sting of his shoulder as the two wolves began to circle each other.
Decker and the rogue eyed each other as they circled, both looking for any sign of weakness, any opening. The sounds of growls and snapping teeth faded into the background as Decker focused on studying his opponent.
Though the rogue wolf was the same height as Decker’s wolf, there was a leanness to his opponent that spoke of starvation, mistreatment, or both. Decker estimated that he had at least fifty pounds on the other wolf - a weight difference that could very well make or break this fight. Though the rogue would be able to move faster, lighter on his feet, Decker’s extra weight was all muscle, which meant more force in his jaws, in each swipe and step. The rogue’s eyes skittered nervously over Decker and around the area, constantly shifting.
Decker faked a lunge, and the rogue jumped back, his teeth snapping viciously. It was then that Decker noticed an overabundance of white froth at the edges of his opponent’s mouth.
The thought sent a small involuntary shudder down Decker’s spine. No one, lupine or otherwise, wanted to be face-to-face with a rabid animal.
Some are rabid. Watch yourselves. They have nothing to lose. Decker sent the thought through pack link, aware of the pack acknowledging the message, but not taking his focus from his opponent as the two of them growled at each other.
Decker, you remember playing ‘Bait’ when you were a pup?
A female’s voice slid into his thoughts, smooth like silk and honey. Her voice was familiar, but as he subtly scented the air, he couldn’t quite pinpoint which female was in his head.
Of course. We all played ‘Bait’ at some point. Why?
We’re going to play long enough for me to distract the rogue in front of you. There’s a rogue creeping on your six as well. When your rogue’s makes a break for me, I’ll take him out and you take out creeper.
As soon as he acknowledged the plan, a slender, silver and brown she-wolf began slinking out of the tree line just a few yards to Decker’s left, her sight focused on the pack compound as if Decker and the rogue didn’t exist. Streaks of blood marred her coat, mixing with the brown spots that fully covered her face and various other parts of her body.
Despite the signs of a fight, Decker thought that this she-wolf was the most beautiful one he’d ever seen. His ears perked toward her as her scent tickled his nose. Decker’s eyes drank her in, and he felt warm all over as his blood began to roar in his veins.
Easy, Deck. Focus. Amusement colored her words, and if Decker hadn’t known any better, he’d have sworn that the she-wolf even smiled.
Decker re-focused his gaze on the rogue wolf, whose gaze was rapidly shifting, glancing back and forth between Decker and the she-wolf.
As the rogue began giving the she-wolf longer glances, Decker picked up on the rogue’s excitement of an easier kill, and Decker risked sneaking another brief look at the female.
The she-wolf’s steps were slow, each step heavily favoring her front right leg, but her gaze never faltered from the pack compound, even as her steps drew her closer. Her head hung low, ears drooped defeatedly, and her nose nearly touched the ground with each limped step. Looking as though each panting breath caused her pain, the she-wolf truly appeared as if she could barely walk, let alone put up any kind of fight in which she would survive.
Damn...you’ve got some good acting skills. Decker pushed the thought to her as he looked yet again at the rogue.
The rogue’s body trembled with excitement at the appearance of such an easy kill, but he still split his attention between Decker and the she-wolf, trying to decide which fight to pick.
Something is holding him back...you’re wounded, but he’s still paying too much attention to me.
Decker heard her mentally chuff at him, the sound full of humor and a touch of irritation as he returned his gaze to his opponent.
Patience, Deck. He’s communicating with Creeper...trying to decide who gets which kill. Creeper is stockier than the other one, but still on the lean side. Shorter than your wolf by an inch or so too. Don’t give him a chance to bite you and draw blood, Deck...either of them. They’re both blood-driven and tasting it will send them into a frenzy.
How do you know all this?
I... it’s just a gut feeling, I guess... Her hesitancy spoke volumes to Decker.
When we get out of this, will you tell me everything? Why you’re not being totally honest with me?
Before Decker could respond to her vague answer, the rogue in front of him charged directly toward Decker.
The rogue was fast, but Decker had been training his entire life. Just as the rogue opened his jaws to bite, Decker dodged.
Using the rogue’s surprise to turn the tables, Decker extended his front paw and dug a bloody trail down the rogue’s side as he passed, his aim taking him directly to where Decker had been.
The rogue’s eyes widened at the contact, and that was all Decker needed to lunge, ramming into the rogue’s wounded side and sending him rolling.
Before the rogue could regain his footing, Decker was on top of him, jaws locked around the rogue’s jugular. With a decisive twist, Decker ripped the throat from his opponent, effectively ending the fight.
Jaws snapped next to Decker’s tail, and Decker whirled, expecting to see the other rogue, but instead he saw the she-wolf guarding his flank, blood seeping from a new-looking claw mark on her shoulder as she stared the rogue they had dubbed “Creeper”.
Creeper shook his head as if stunned and barred his fangs at the she-wolf.
Her hackles raised even higher as she bristled and returned his look with an angry growl. Decker added his growl to hers, instinctively stepping forward to brush their shoulders together.
You okay? Decker glanced at the she-wolf as she continued staring at the rogue, waiting for him to attack.
So far. At least I think so. Suddenly, the she-wolf froze, her eyes widened. NO!
Deck, get to the pack house! Now!
The she-wolf sprung at the rogue, her sudden attack momentarily stunning both Decker and the rogue.
Decker watched as the she-wolf attacked the rogue with ease, using the element of surprise to spring on the rogue’s back and clamp her jaws around the nape of his neck.
As the she-wolf violently thrashed her head back and forth, Decker felt what seemed to be a massive break in the pack link.
Pain radiated through his entire body as the pack link filled with sorrow, pain, and anger. Someone had died, though Decker couldn’t tell which of the pack it was.
No... Decker’s body bowed under the anguish as his head lifted and a mournful howl tore itself form his throat.
Decker, GO! The she-wolf nudged her head against his shoulder, gently but firmly pushing him toward the pack compound.
Decker turned and ran for the compound, the she-wolf easily matching him stride-for-stride.
What was that? The pain...I don’t understand.
It’s the Alpha. I can still feel him, but...he’s hurting. This is bad, Deck. This is really, really bad.
Both picked up the pace as they rushed toward the compound, urgency driving them onward, even as their breaths shortened to heavy pants.
Crossing the edges of the compound, both Decker and the she-wolf came to a sudden halt.
Bodies littered the area between buildings, rogue, and pack alike, some in wolf form while others were half-changed, and still others were fully human. The eyes of the dead were in various stages of glazing over, and Decker cringed.
How many of them could he have saved if he’d been closer to the compound instead of saving his own hide from his father’s wrath?
The she-wolf whimpered, the sound pulling his attention away from the dead that lay before them.
Decker gently rubbed his head against hers in silent comfort, noting that the she-wolf was trembling.
We couldn’t have saved them, Deck. We would have been among the dead if we’d been here when this started.
How do you know? Maybe we could have saved someone.
Look at them, Decker. Pain laced the she-wolf’s voice. Some of them didn’t have time to shift before...
Another wave of pain crashed through the pack link, strong enough this time to send Decker and the she-wolf to their knees.
The she-wolf snarled and forced herself upright, trembling even harder than she had been moments ago.
Wait... Decker forced himself to stand next to her, the effort taxing.
The she-wolf shook her head and charged for the center meeting ground. Unsure if the she-wolf had been clearing her head or telling him ‘no’, Decker followed.
When Decker reached the edge of the meeting ground, he froze, losing sight of the she-wolf as his senses focused on his father who stood tall over two bodies, their arms outstretched toward each other, fingers just barely touching.
Decker approached his father, trying to remain inconspicuous as he scanned the faces of humans and wolves that were gathered in a semi-circle in front of his father. He needed to find his Uncle and did not want to be noticed...not by his father.
Shock poured through his system, swift and chilling as his eyes lit upon and recognized that the bodies at his father’s feet were the Alpha and his mate, the pack Luna, Brad and Elise Connors.
Decker’s Uncle and Aunt.
Decker lunged forward as he shifted, the transition almost painless with the shock that coursed through his body.
“No!” The hoarse cry ripped from his throat as pain threatened to swallow him whole. He fell to his knees, his strength giving out mere inches from his Aunt’s face, still and pale in death.
“Please...no...” he whispered as sorrow seemed to crush him from every side and tears filled his eyes.
Aunt Elise had always been there for Decker, and after his mother’s death and his father’s rejection of him, Aunt Elise and Uncle Brad had become the only safe haven Decker knew. They sheltered him-taking him under their wings to protect him from his father’s bad temper and alcoholic beatings.
Aunt Elsie taught him how to cook, sew, and clean up after himself and how to listen and how to give advice. Uncle Brad taught him how to fish and hunt, both as man and wolf, how to fix cars, and build a house from the ground up.
Together, Uncle Brad and Aunt Elise helped Decker remember what a real family was like; what it meant to love someone unconditionally. Through the years, they became his parents in every way. To lose the two of them meant that not only was he losing his parents, protectors, confidants, and friends, but also the last link he had to his mother.
Decker reached toward the prone forms of his Aunt and Uncle when a loud growl sounded above his head, causing Decker to pause and look up.
“Do. Not. Touch. Them.” Decker’s father, Gunner, glared down at Decker as he spoke, disdain written in every feature of his weathered face.
“I need to say...” Decker’s voice was low. The last thing he wanted was to start a fight with his father.
"I said don’t touch them!”
Decker sensed what was coming and protectively hunched into himself. His father’s boot glanced off Decker’s shoulder and an enraged growl emanated from his father’s throat as he reached down and roughly grabbed Decker’s hair, yanking him to his feet.
“Do not disobey me, boy,” Gunner’s dark blue eyes swirled with silver as he glared at Decker.
Their eyes locked, and for a moment, Decker could only stare, surprised by the depth of hate and anger that revealed itself in his father’s eyes.
His father’s nose wrinkled on one side as he barred his teeth at Decker.
“Are you challenging me, pup? Do you really think you could be Alpha?!"
Decker blinked and averted his gaze as his father tightened his grip on Decker’s hair to the point where Decker saw stars.
"DO YOU?! I ASKED YOU A QUESTION, BOY!!"
Decker flinched as his father roared at him, feeling spit fly from his father’s mouth and land on his face.
“No, sir.” Decker kept his eyes downcast.
“That’s what I thought. Stupid whelp,” Gunner tossed Decker away from where he stood over the bodies of the Alpha and Luna.
Decker managed to twist himself before he hit the ground so that he landed in a crouched position instead of on his back.
Decker glanced at his father, noting that his father was watching him from the corner of his eye, but otherwise appeared to be completely ignoring Decker, turning instead to face the crowd that gathered.
“As Delta of the Ridgestone Pack, and only surviving member of the pack Council, I stake my claim as Alpha. If anyone has reason to challenge my claim, step forward now.”
An uncomfortable silence followed the pronouncement. Though several of the pack shifted, no one spoke.
Decker turned his head toward the voice and saw a young woman stepping forward from the crowd, chestnut hair cascading down from her head to somewhere below her shoulders. A long, light-blue coat covered her body, held closed by hands that tightened into fists.
Decker’s body trembled for a moment as he forced himself to stand. She didn’t know what Gunner was capable of, but Decker did. Decker slowly edged toward her, his muscles tense. He refused to let Gunner harm her.
“What?” Gunner spun toward the young woman, his face contorted in a snarl.
“I said... Where. Is. Davis?” Her voice didn’t waver as she squared her shoulders to Decker’s father. “Davis is pack Beta. He is next in line for Alpha by seniority. Where is he?”
For a moment, Gunner looked taken aback that someone so much younger and smaller in stature had the guts to speak out against him. Then his features darkened with anger.
“He’s dead. Even if he wasn’t, I’m staking my claim, seniority be damned. Brad and Elise were my kin...my blood. Alpha is mine by blood right.”
“No. It’s not.”
A gasp ran through the crowd at her boldness, but it didn’t seem to deter her as she stepped forward yet again, further separating herself from the crowd and bringing her just barely out of Gunner’s reach. Decker continued moving toward her, keeping just out of his father’s line of sight.
“You claim kin and blood right, but Alpha Brad and Luna Elsie were not your kin by blood. Only by marriage. You know that as well as anyone else.”
“Are you challenging me, pup?” Gunner’s voice came out a snarl. “You’re barely old enough to be off your dam’s teat, yet you think you can contradict my claim. You self-righteous juvenile bitch. How dare you speak to me that way?”
“How dare you speak to me that way?” She quipped back.
Decker was close enough now to see the fine tremor in her hands as Gunner’s face turned a mottled shade of red.
Just then a gust of wind blew her scent towards Gunner and Gunner’s eyes widened as his face morphed from anger to surprise and possessiveness.
As Gunner moved to reach her, Decker lunged, closing the distance between himself and the female.
The force of his lunge sent them both skidding across the ground. Decker cradled her head to his chest trying to protect her from the fall.
When they stopped moving, Decker carefully released his hold on her and braced his weight on his arms, so he didn’t crush her. Her eyes were wide with shock and Decker noticed her eyes were the warm, the color reminded him of chocolate, ringed with caramel, and little gold flecks scattered throughout them.
“Sorry about that,” he whispered, his face mere inches from hers. Decker gently brushed stray hair from her forehead and cradled her cheek in his palm.
Her breath hitched, drawing his attention to her button nose and full, rosy lips. As if of its own accord, his thumb brushed across her mouth and cheek. Decker noticed how soft her skin was, how kissable she looked.
Time seemed to stand still as Decker inhaled, and his mouth went dry. She smelled...perfect. Her scent was a heady combination of cinnamon and apples with an undertone that was uniquely hers.
His body tingled as his heart stuttered, then pounded in his chest. Everywhere they touched felt like sparks of static electricity, except far more pleasant.
Decker glanced down the length of her throat, noticing that her pulse seemed to match the erratic beating of his own.
Her coat had fallen open, her hands gripping his biceps like a lifeline, and Decker realized that she had been naked beneath the coat, her right thigh flush against his groin.
Decker cleared his throat, bringing his gaze back to hers. “You okay?”
She nodded, her chocolate and caramel eyes swirling with silver.
“You?” she whispered. Her thumb smoothed against his bicep, and Decker felt a spark pass between them, a strange yet familiar and comforting feeling, like coming home.
“Yeah,” Decker’s voice was low and unintentionally guttural, and she shivered slightly in response.
Decker’s eyes glanced down again and froze as his eyes landed on a crescent-shaped mark just below her clavicle.
“You’re a Luna?” Stunned, he whispered the question, almost afraid to hear the answer.
Before she could respond, a heavy boot crashed into his ribcage, the force ripping the two of them apart as Decker was sent rolling across the ground.
"MINE!” Gunner snarled at him, reaching for the female.
Too late the female tried to scramble away from his grasp, letting out a yelp as Gunner’s fingers bit into her arms as he drew her to her feet and crushed her aggressively to his chest.
Decker sprung to his feet as he growled at the force behind his father’s grip and the female’s struggle to get loose.
Mine. The thought came unbidden to Decker’s mind, and he barred his teeth at his father, the urge to protect the female stronger than anything he could remember.
“She’s not yours,” the words growled from his throat and Decker felt his canines begin to lengthen.
Gunner roared in anger, roughly shoving the female behind him as he sprung at Decker.
Decker dodged and felt the sting of claws rake his shoulder. He wouldn’t let Gunner hurt her.
“She’s mine!” Gunner’s voice echoed with rage as Decker spun to face him.
Decker knew he couldn’t take his father in a fight, but he remained determined to protect the woman.
“Decker...” her whisper drew his attention, and he turned to look at her.
He felt drawn to her and he stepped her direction only to be blocked by his father’s bulky frame as he grabbed Decker’s throat, the tips of his claws digging in.
“Are you challenging me, pup? Over her?” Gunner’s grip tightened, beginning to choke off Decker’s airway.
“She’s not yours,” Decker wheezed the words as Gunner’s grip tightened further.
“I’ve staked my claim to Alpha, and no one has challenged it. As Alpha, this is my pack. They’re mine."
“She’s...my...mate...” Decker could barely breathe now, and darkness swirled at the edge of his vision.
Gunner’s grip loosened and Decker sucked in a deep breath. The silver began to fade from Gunner’s eyes, and he blinked as a confused look crossed his features. It was as if Gunner didn’t understand why his hand was around Decker’s throat.
“Moira...” Gunner whispered his wife’s name. For a moment, Gunner’s eyes were completely devoid of silver and Decker thought maybe his father would release him.
The silver rushed back into his father’s eyes, this time accompanied with red as the two colors completely swallowed the dark blue.
“I. Am. Alpha.” Gunner snarled before tossing Decker to the edge of the compound, where Decker landed hard.
Decker’s temple connected with a rock and the scent of blood seeped into the air as he felt a trickle of liquid begin to run down the side of his face. Tenderly, he touched the spot and his hand came away red.
“No!” The female’s anguished cry reached his ears, and Decker looked toward her, noting that she appeared fuzzy around the edges.
Decker blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision.
“You are no longer part of this pack,” Gunner’s voice sounded distorted, as if he was speaking underwater. “You are not welcome on Ridgestone land. You are a Rogue.”
Even though the words were distorted, Decker felt the Alpha power pressing on him and understood that his father was completely and fully cutting all ties with Decker.
“What? No...” Decker tried to fight against his father’s words, but he couldn’t seem to focus.
“You are not one of us. If you stay, you will be killed for trespassing on pack lands, as is the right of the pack. You have three seconds. One..."
Decker glanced at the female, saw the glisten of tears as they fell from her cheeks and the hunched set of her shoulders.
My mate. Decker felt as if he was being torn in half at the thought. If he stayed, he would die. But if she was really his mate, and he stayed, his death would break her.
Decker’s vision cleared enough that he could focus on her eyes, and he clearly saw his own pain reflected there.
Is this real? He asked her through the bond that had started to form between them.
She nodded once as her hand covered her mouth and tears poured unchecked from her eyes.
Several of the pack warriors shifted and moved toward him, their heads low.
Decker backed away from the warriors, shifting as he did. His shoulder stung and his head was pounding in time with his heartbeat, but he kept eyes on the woman who was his mate.
I’ll find you, Deck. I promise.
Decker whined as he continued to back away from the approaching warriors. He did not want to leave her, not now, not ever.
Decker turned and dashed away from the compound, the pack warriors close on his heels as he ran for the border.
Once he was over the border, the warriors stopped chasing him, and Decker let himself pause for a moment.
Unsure if she would hear it, he let out a long howl for his mate, the sound full of sorrow and promise.
Decker saw a muzzle flash a split second before a shot rang out in the darkness and pain exploded through Decker’s already wounded shoulder. Decker spun away from the shooter and continued to run as best he was able.
A lone howl sounded through the darkness as Decker ran, the sound becoming faint as he put more distance between himself and the pack boundaries. Even so, Decker understood the keening cry.