I pulled the truck into a spare spot next to the old cabin, now long in disrepair and standing decrepit. Scanning the lot surrounded by tall thick trees, it seemed that most of the ‘inner’ pack was here already. Even Deian’s ridiculous black Jag was across the other side of the lot hidden deep in the Welsh woods that bordered Fishguard.
I grimaced at the thought of our upcoming confrontation and then winced as the swell of my bruised cheek reminded me of the reason for it. Fuckin Irish, playing dirty and taking the first swing on a man looking the other way.
The sun had well set and the torches placed around the lot continued down the path to the old Jones’ meeting site, now well into its second decade as the Maddock’s. I didn’t see Aaron’s truck, meaning Kelly and Iona weren’t here yet. But that was for the best since I had yet to set my father straight.
I crossed the lot and followed the line of torches down the forest trail. After five minutes, a bright glow emerged from the forest ahead and I left the trail to follow it, the sound of the pack members growing with each step. Eventually, the large space opened up, where members were milling around in small groups talking and joking.
I looked around, only the inner members of the pack had been invited tonight, around fifty or so. The Maddock pack was some 300 strong, but all were varying degrees of involvement and not everyone would come to meetings to shift. Some of the female members had tagged along with their mates, obviously hearing about the new girl and Vince’s betrayal.
Oh god I hoped she killed that piece of shit. After all those years of abuse I had suffered at his hands, his protection as Beta was the only thing that stopped me, but tonight was his judgement and I was fucking here for it.
Deian stepped out of the crowd, a puzzle on his face as he walked over. Gesturing to my cheek and eye, he asked,
“Who did that and is he still alive?” I gave him a pointed look,
“Seamus O’Connor, and unfortunately yes.”
His eyebrows perked and looked closer to the dark bruise and cut above my eye.
“See, I got a really strange call the other day from the older brother, offering me twice as much to hold and move the girls. Which I thought was odd, cause I told you not the day before that it would take a lot more money to make me consider continuing on with it.”
My Da opened his mouth to retort, but I cut him off,
“So I took some of the lads and sailed right up to O’Connor’s personal dock and figured the situation out. Unfortunately, the younger O’Connor and I have never really gotten along, but you know, scraps happen.” I stepped into my father and whispered furiously into his ear.
“If you ever go behind my back like that again, I will force you into early retirement, old man. I told you the Maddock pack was done with flesh trading and I meant it.”
I pulled back to see the stone face of my father that I grew to fear when I was younger. Just before he would go berserker and into a rage, that old unforgiving face would emerge. For a second I paused in doubt before remembering I was older now, and stronger than Deian ever had been. I had been crafted by years of his physical and emotional abuse. It may have fucked me up psychologically, but there was no denying I was stronger in body for it.
Still keeping his demeanor, he lowly spoke,
“You think you can pick and choose which business you want to continue after I spent all my life building it?”
I flashed an incredulous look and put some deep timbre in my voice.
“Give it up old man. I’m sick of jumping through your hoops. Maybe we should think of making the transition next month.”
Deian looked around at the other members anxiously to see if any heard. He stayed quiet for a moment, but his fist clenched in and out while he glared down at his feet.
Some jeering from members on the outside of the clearing started up, signaling Vince’s arrival and I parted away from my father while others accordingly made the meeting circle.
Coming in through the woods, Vince was being hauled by my father’s guard, his hands still bound behind him. As he was walked down the aisle lined with pack members, a slight grin was on his face as he walked past his crew. A few of the members, obviously friends, shouted words of encouragement “You’ll be able to take her, Vinnie!” And he nodded enthusiastically, giving off bravado. This fucker.
Once he reached the circle, he was led away to a place outside, not allowed to see Kelly or her initiation.
The members stayed in formation but spoke low to one another while we waited for the newest member. I took the opportunity to address everyone since tomorrow would be my first time leading a shipment.
“Listen up, pack. Most of us have a big day tomorrow. I want no mistakes, and no one tired enough to make a fuck up. So after the shift, no partying, no one gets let off the leash. If you’re on a boat tomorrow, trawling or other, you’re home by midnight.”
I made eye contact with the running crew members. Not everyone in our pack was in on the side business, some were purely fishermen, but they all knew, and if needed would step in with diversion from the Irish Guardia or Welsh Heddlu. They all nodded in agreement, and I returned to my spot, seeing Deian silently fume at my commandeering of the situation and held his stare for a long moment.
After a time, Aaron walked into the open space and signaled the two were on their way. He came over to stand beside me as my second, and I quickly whispered to him,
“I need you to shift now, just in case she takes off and I can’t follow. Just tail her though.”
Aaron quickly nodded and sank back out of the member ring to make his own change.
The ring of members grew silent and I tensed, not realizing how important this moment was until it happened. I hadn’t seen my intended for nearly two days, though the guards told me all of her movements. Not wanting to let her in on my quick trip over to Ireland and what else I had been doing, Kelly always seemed to be sleuthing out whatever I wanted to keep hidden like a modern day Agatha Christie.
She walked in on the arm of her grandmother, wearing the dress I had left for her and it stole the breath from my lungs. In the light of the torches, the emerald silk dress hugged her in all the right places and flashed different hues as she moved. With long sleeves, it came to a deep V on her chest and the floor length gown brushed the forest beneath her bare feet. Provocative but modest, everything I thought of when Kelly Jones invaded my thoughts.
Her hair was down and when paired with the dress she looked like dark embers on an emerald hill. Keeping her eyes down as she walked, Iona guided her with their arms looped, the old lady daring anyone to speak or holler at this time with cold eyes. Kelly, clearly nervous, was breathing deeply as she walked down the aisle and into the circle where Deian was waiting in his role as Alpha.
Arriving into the middle, Iona untangled their arms and patted Kelly’s hand, whispering something into her ear before leaving her alone. Kelly looked up and then my father stepped closer to her in that ridiculous cloak that mocked Kings. He turned away and began to walk around her, addressing everyone gathered.
“Tonight, our newest, Kelly Devon Jones, daughter and granddaughter of Alphas Ewan and Devon Jones, the red wolves, and originals, will make her first change with us here in the place where they also first changed. Then, as is our law, enact justice against pack Beta Vince for an unprovoked assault.” He came to face her, “Kelly... you ready?” She briefly nodded and my father stood forward with a knife. Suddenly, my chest surged with jealousy and I called out,
“Wait. I’ll do it.”
He turned to look at me, his face surprised but then understanding when he saw it was me and simply nodded.
I strode forward and took the knife from his hand, ignoring the slight look of disdain on his face, and stepped forward to her, so close that I could feel her nervous breath on my neck. I stared down at her, not yielding any softness. She didn’t need kind right now, giving it to her would be a mistake. She needed someone to strongarm her and make this as quick as possible.
“You scared, Red?” I softly asked, suddenly mesmerized by the new sun freckles on her nose. She had tanned since our trip out on the water, and when all her colors combined in the firelight, the emerald dress, the dark red hair, the tan skin, it made her look like a siren from older times.
She looked up, studying my face and the bruises before meeting my eyes, simply shaking her head ‘no’. I grinned down at her bravery.
“Take off your dress.”
Her eyes glanced around the circle and locked with me again. After a moment of silence, she understood I was serious and wordlessly slid it off her shoulders, unzipped the lower back, and let it fall to the ground. To my credit, I didn’t look down at the body I had partially seen and fantasized about for the last 2 weeks but could hear others breathing in anticipation at the sight. I ignored them, there was no hiding anything from a pack, and sooner or later, we always saw each other naked.
Her hair fell forward and nearly covered her breast.
We locked eyes, and for once I had no words. Without breaking the gaze, I grabbed the blade with my right hand and made a shallow cut, enough for blood to pool and I rubbed my hands together.
Tears were welling in her eyes, she was so afraid at the pain to come and for a second I nearly drew her close to comfort.
Instead, I brought my palms up to her face. Coated in blood, I smeared them across her nose and straight to her cheek, where one of her tears fell over my hand. I brought it to my mouth as I held our gaze. She looked like an ancient Celt about to go to battle and I drew our foreheads together.
“Close your eyes, and relax.”
She did and eventually her breathing slowed.
“Follow my directions, breathe in and out. In and out, Red.”
She gave a little smile for some reason before it quickly faded.
“Do you hear the moon, hear her song?” Kelly’s heavy breath paused suddenly while her ears searched for the sound and found it instantly. Slowly, she nodded, now intent on the lunar call. “Good, focus on it and everything else will melt away. Let the walls melt away, breathe in and out. Do you feel her inside?”
She slightly nodded,
“Good, let her in, Kelly.”
Her breath and body paused for a beat at my use of her name for the first time and I leaned down to her ear, pressing close to her breast and crowding other’s view of her face. I wanted to be the last thing she saw and the first thing the wolf did. I would be her first.
“Let me see her, Kelly. Let her out.”
Her breathing started to quicken and she unconsciously grasped my forearms, her nails digging. Kelly’s eyes flashed open and up towards the moon but they were no longer the blue eyes of my promised. They were her wolf’s. The iron blue color had stayed the same but the iris was now blurred, made for the night. She clutched me tighter, starting to groan in pain.
“Breathe in and out, Kelly. Let go.”
She clutched her stomach and almost fell to the ground in pain. It was starting. I picked up her dress and moved back to give her space and watch her first time. My eyes moved over her form, starting to seize up in the new shape it was about to take.
Kelly began to claw the dirt with her nails and screamed into the ground before curling up on her side in a fetal position. Her widened eyes found mine and now not caring about acting brave in front of the other’s, she exhaled a pained,
Fuck. I raked my hand through my hair at the sight of naked Kelly on the dirt in pain asking me for help. I was never so helpless as in this moment. There was nothing I could do for her, nothing anyone could do. At this stage, her inside would be starting to change,
Still, I knelt down to her eye level, so across the space she would be able to focus on me.
“Red, this is normal, just try to relax into it…”
She suddenly curled onto all fours and started to dry heave, and after a few moments I heard the first bone break itself. Kelly clutched her leg and screamed openly to the sky, it was swiftly followed by many others and I winced at every one of them. Her body was writhing on the ground now. Fucking hell, this was getting tough to watch, it had been too long since I had witnessed someone’s first time. It had been even longer since someone as old as Kelly had been with us for their first.
It was hell.
Suddenly, a hand planted itself on my shoulder and I looked down to see Iona.
“Stop it,” she whispered, and I looked around to see I had been pacing in front of the others, obviously anxious at my girl’s change. I swallowed through the lump in my throat and nodded, setting myself next to my friend, her hand still on my shoulder in support.
In front of us, Kelly’s body had started to contort and contract, fur started to grow, the wolf inside starting to breakthrough. Kelly was huffing on the ground, the dirt making a small cloud of dust beneath her. She cried out in pain again, but now, her voice had a duality to it, there were two beings making that call. It was nearly musical, maybe even beautiful.
Kelly’s eyes found me one more time, but now her face didn’t hold any pain. It was anger now.
The face was starting to mold into another, my blood still on her cheek which grew to a snout. I knew the millisecond Kelly had been pushed out and into the background. This new form was wrathful and it showed on her new face.
Quickly, the rest of Kelly’s body started to change. Her hair receded, the long torso curved down and the new bones set. In the soft torchlight, the wolf’s fur grew longer, the dark red of Kelly’s hair now well into replacing her creamy skin as the final form was shown.
After what seemed like an age, the new red wolf finally gave a final shiver, like it was shaking off a summer rain and finally howled to the sky. Its fur was shaggy, akin to if it hadn’t molted in years.
The pack members around the circle were collectively just as stunned as I. It was well known that the long gone Jones pack had only ever birthed male red wolves for as long as recent history could recall. No one had thought twice of it. Stories were told how they were strong, sleek and lithe. A male red wolf was thought to be the epitome of all that was beautiful about the kind.
Until she emerged and I sighed with satisfaction.
There was my Red.