My shoulder and hip met hard stone as I was thrown onto the floor and air was pushed out of my lungs with an ‘umph’. Someone from behind loosened the tie around my neck and the bag came off, my hair flying up with it and settling in a wild red mass.
I pressed my forehead to the cold floor, thankful that I gave nothing away during the trip out to the car, or that I didn’t freak out when they had thrown me into its trunk, and lastly when I was scooped up over someone’s shoulder with the sound of vicious dogs snapping at my ankles. I had kept my breathing mantra and had no ‘flare-ups’ to give me away.
I finally looked up and around, pushing my hair away. I and four other men who could only be called ‘goons’ with their size and style of dress were standing in the four corners of a very large, magnificent, stone hall that had large floodlights shining up the walls to illuminate the space. There was a large, but only slightly raised platform at the front of it that had a small table and several chairs.
Wolf's Castle. They had brought me directly to the Maddock home base.
I looked up and around at the men all staring down at me on the floor, impassive and distant, their hands clasped in front.
Behind us all, there was the sound of doors opening and in walked the man from the pub just a few hours ago, looking for his dad and offering another drink. He stormed in and looked at me, bewildered, then up to the man closest.
“Are you fuckin crazy?” He gritted out through clamped teeth. I had a pretty good idea of what I looked like. Scraggly hair, splotchy face, red rimmed eyes, a sniffling pathetic mess. I gave him a look that pleaded for help. Sure, I had expected to eventually be escorted here. But they had fucking manhandled, hooded, and threw me into the back of a car to do it. So far the Maddock pack was living up to the savage reputation they had cultivated over the last few years.
He glanced at my tear streaked face and back up to the goon leader who calmly replied,
“He told us to, and he should be here soon.”
I looked between them, and asked the newcomer, “Please. What’s going on?”
He looked down at me, pity in his eyes, but said nothing. Instead, he retreated to the back wall, next to the entrance and took a phone out of his pocket. I took in my position, the men were about twenty feet between me and the door. I could run for it, and make a show, but the only purpose it would serve would be to land me a few more bruises, and I was not as fast a healer as they thought.
As soon as I had slumped back onto the cold stone, the double wood doors were pushed open again and in walked a large brown wolf with grey hair peppered throughout his fur. Behind him, a short and wiry older man followed closely. Both of them were almost hideous to look at.
The wolf, although large and waist height, seemed more intimidating for the level craziness it exuded. It looked goddamn rabid. Like it might actually have rabies. Its fur was mangy in places and maybe even bald in others. But it was the snarl in its teeth and the look of alertness in its eyes that made my blood run cold. This Were had some deep issues.
The sinewy man following was the wolf’s equal in nearly every way, on edge, desperate. He had a bald head and was wearing a wife beater singlet with track pants. His skinhead gleamed in the warm lighting of the stone hall and when he sneered down at me on the floor, it was evident that there were several teeth missing. I involuntarily shivered, feeling it all the way down my spine. I did not want to mess with either the wolf or whoever the piece of redneck trash was trailing him.
They passed by me, headed towards the platform and the wolf walked up to it, while the man stood behind, now facing towards me. A few moments of silence filled the hall and I glanced up to the man closest to me. Was I supposed to say something? What the fuck was going on here?
After a few more moments of awkward silence, a groan came from the front of the hall. Not a groan, but something more animalistic. The wolf positioned himself to sit on his back legs, and stretch his jaw like he was yawning. Starting to paw his feet on the ground, back and forth, and stretching his whole body, it began to contort. Sounds of groaning were suddenly replaced by another sound that made me wince.
Bones. Bones snapping, innards gurgling. The wolf was now on the floor, his eyes and mine locked while his body was changing. Mangy fur was now being stretched and something new was coming up underneath it. The animal retched onto the stone floor and regurgitated, something red and slimy falling from its jaws. Its paws were now braced and from its throat another groan, more animal than man, erupted while the snout contorted and skin was stretched and broken to show raw muscle underneath.
Seeing the sight paired with the wolf’s stare, my dinner came back up and I vomited on the stone beside me, disgusted and horrified by the change.
Wiping my mouth with my sleeve I moved away kept my forehead to the floor, hearing the sounds of the Were’s change but not daring to look up again. Jess had once told me that seeing a transformation would haunt my dreams. He wasn’t joking, seeing the insides of an animal change into a man was the stuff of horror movie effects. Except it was real, and I could hear and smell it. The wolf’s transformation sounded in my ears for minutes, hours, days it felt like. Animal groans finally turned into man’s cries.
After what had to be only minutes a rich Welsh voice rang out.
“You can look at me now, girl.”
My breath held and I raised my head slowly. Where the wolf once sat, now a man stood, naked and proud. My eyes traveled up him and he seemed to feel them, erecting his posture to stand tall.
Deian Maddock, Alpha.
Around fifty years old, his skin was noticeably wrinkled but his frame still held some of the muscle of an active man. A soft and slightly protruding stomach was below a broad chest, covered in sporadic brown hair. It was his face though that told the most about him, and I realized his wolf was a clear representation of the man.
Alert and a little bit crazy. Slight jowls covered his lower face and the slight grin he held while looking at me stretched them out. Bright blue eyes, the same hue as his son, Rhys, were fixed on me and staring me down. Rhys had inherited his father’s strong jaw and brown hair as well, though where his was thick, Deian’s hadn’t aged well and was thin to a point where it looked brittle.
Taking him all in, the man looked like he had partaken of too many vices over the years, and while he wasn’t sick, he wasn’t a beacon of health and maybe a little bit crazed.
Behind him, the wiry skinhead picked up a long cloak from the table and handed it to him, settling around his shoulders and covering his nakedness.
Walking off the platform, he made a line for me and crouched in front on the cold stone. His eyes switched over to the puddle of vomit to my side and took in my face, still overwhelmed at his transformation and my own kidnapping. Without looking, his hand reached out to the man closest to me, and he was handed something. Bringing it to his face, he squinted at it and I glanced down. My passport.
“Kelly Devon Jones from...Seattle, huh?.”
I kept the wary expression as he considered my passport.
“America, never even tried looking for him there. Didn’t think he had the guts to wander so far from dear old ma. The Devon is a nice touch though.” He flipped it shut and handed it back to the waiting man, now looking at me like I was a criminal he had to interrogate.
“Where is Ewan Jones?”
A tear rolled down my cheek,
Deian straightened up in his hunch, now alert,
“A house fire with my mother, around 14 years ago now.”
He rolled back to sit on his ass, and brought his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them as he thought. A grim smile crossed his face, setting the wrinkles around his eyes deeper.
“Fitting. Do you have any siblings?”
I shook my head.
“Why are you here?”
I sat up and ran my hand under my nose, wiping it. I looked up at the men in the room, all still passive though focused on me and their Alpha sitting on the cold floor.
“I...uh, something happened to me a few months ago, and I thought I would try and find my dad’s family. If they could help me..understand and manage it.”
He leaned back, glancing again at my vomit on the floor and putting the pieces of my recent change together.
“Your mother was…”
He leaned forward to stroke my cheek and I turned my head to the side to avoid contact with the calloused and dry hand. As if he knew I didn’t want anything to do with him, he grabbed my chin forcefully and leaned forward to sniff my hair, pressing his face up against it, rubbing it across my scalp until he ended up at my cheeks.
“You smell like him...and that hair...,” I didn’t reply, but kept my eyes down to the floor, avoiding his hot gaze as he murmured, almost to himself, “He thought he could run, but you just came back all by yourself, huh?” Still holding my chin, he turned it towards him and up, forcing me to meet his eyes.
“You know, I gave up on you some years ago, we all did. But you and I are going to have some good times, and when that red wolf finally….”
Behind us, the double doors clanged and both our heads turned to see Rhys stalk in with his long gait, his face holding bridled rage. His eyes locked down on us on the floor and he was hovering within a few strides. His father stood up at his arrival and straightened his shoulders. The son was several inches taller and broader than himself, and in much better shape.
“What the fuck do you think you are doing?”
Rhys’ eyes traveled down from his father to me on the floor.
“Meeting my new bride, of course. The red wolf, finally returned,” Deian said with a gloating air and stared down at me on the floor. “Isn’t she beautiful? I can’t wait to see it.”
At my side, Rhys’ stance became defensive.
“She was promised to me. I already approached her...”
Deian cut off his son with an almost roar,
“She was promised to the Alpha of the Maddock pack, and you are wanting, son. And as for chest beating in a pub, don’t even try to tell me you are serious?” Deian scoffed. Rhys’ fist curled tight while watching his father turn his back to walk to the raised platform. Still speaking aloud to himself, he turned around to sit back on a chair, treating it almost like a throne.
“Yes, finally a Maddock son will be a red wolf. It’s due,” he muttered with finality and looked down at me with something akin to desire mixed with anger. The two men stared each other down across the space for a few tense moments. It was so ridiculous, so utterly insane it reminded me of something out of a cliche Western.
A burst of laughter erupted from my mouth, and I paused, looking back and forth between the father and son. They looked down at me, expectantly. But now that I had started, I couldn’t stop them bursting out between my words.
“I’m sorry. What. The. Fuck?” I stayed silent for a few moments and got the laughter controlled, looking back at the older man on his pedestal.
“You think I’m going to marry you and… give you children because…..I’m Ewan Jones’ daughter?” Another fit of laughter escaped and the men remained silent, before Deian spoke with controlled anger.
“Ewan Jones killed my wife and daughter and promised me you in their stead. So, yes, that is what will happen.”
I clamped my mouth shut, the crazed laughter now very gone. Fucking Jolene, she couldn’t have told me that little important piece of information? Or did she even know for that matter? When she said that some Weres had died, a mother and daughter seemed like a salient point to convey.
Beside me, Rhys tensed and barked out to the men in the room, “Everyone, out!”
I gathered my feet, but his hand clamped down on my shoulder.
“Don’t be daft, Red.” Rhys whispered down into my ear. Striding past me on his way out, the skinhead with a sneer gave me a final look up and down and I got the distinct impression that I did not want to be alone in a room with that Were.
I stayed put on the ground while Rhys started to pace behind me, facing his father at the front, still sitting in his makeshift throne. When the door finally clanged, Rhys stopped pacing.
“She is mine. I will fight you on this if I have to.”
Deian narrowed his eyes and gripped the arms of his chair, his lips tightening into a narrowed seal. Rhys walked past me, striding halfway to his father, ”I will challenge at the next meeting. And I will win.”
Instead of becoming angry at his son’s defiance and threat, Deian leaned back into his chair and chuckled. He studied the tall man for a few more moments before clasping his hands on his thighs.
“You think you’re ready to take over, huh? The pack? The business? The other business? Last time we talked about this, you had some strong feelings otherwise. Has that changed?”
Rhys shifted his weight between his feet, and glanced back to take a long look at me before facing his father.
His father’s eyes volleyed between the two of us before finally settling on Rhys, looking up his tall frame and authoritative stance. Begrudgingly, he gritted out through his set teeth,
“Fine. You may have her if you want all of it.”
Rhys’ stance relaxed slightly and I looked between the men with amazement. Passing me between them like I was a god damn token to be parlayed. What the hell would this be like if I had no clue about anything they were talking about? If I really was the naive daughter looking for help? These men were high if they thought I wasn’t going to try and fight this, as Jolene and I had planned.
“Sorry, just so we are clear, after kidnapping, hooding and terrifying me, you think I’m going to now be with this raging load of machismo and stick around?” I glanced between them with wide eyes.
“Oh, I see, you’re crazy. That’s the problem here.”
Rhys turned around to me, an unamused glare on his face. His father matched his expression and for the first time I wondered if I had mistaken Rhys as the ‘nice’ one. Right now he looked unforgiving and the scar on his face matched his mood; severe.
“You’ve had a long day, Red. Kidnapped, hooded, betrothed, you even met dear ole nain, right?”
I sat up a little straighter, confused. His eyebrows perked up,
“Iona? Had a few champers and a nice long bond with her, huh?”
I tensed up at the insinuation, while his smile full of perfect teeth continued to grow.
“You know she can’t travel anywhere, don’t you? ...Health issues. Ones that might be fatal if you try to run...understand?”
I took a long, deep exhale to stifle the growing anger at the man’s threat. Breathe in and out, Kel. Of all the bastard things I could think of for a ‘bad guy’ to do, threatening someone’s elderly grandmother was up there. This piece...of...shit.
He gave a grim grin at my silence and exhale, mistaking it for fear, rather than the growing fury for him. But no, this was part of it, putting up a fight was part of the ploy, but fuuuuck this guy.
Satisfied he had me pacified, he turned back to his father.
“I’ll make it official after the next meeting.”
Deian sat up in his chair, alert. “That’s two weeks away.”
“I want to see the wolf first before I commit. She looks the part, but she is still half human. I won’t do it until it’s confirmed that she carries the gene.”
Deian leaned back his seat, unhappy with the conclusion.
“Fine, but she stays here, in the keep.”
“Fine, but so do I.” Rhys clipped.
As if that was the end of the conversation, Rhys turned his back on his father and strode towards me, hauling me up by the shoulder in a forceful grip. He began dragging me towards the door, and it seemed like the best and only time to voice protest at the two men.
“Are you for real? This is not normal! People do not just kidnap others for their brides! You frigging psychopaths. Let me go!” Rhys ignored my pleas and my struggling, and continued to drag me out the doors and down a stone hallway that was dimly lit.
“Rhys, look, I’m sorry I blew you off at the bar, but you seriously can’t believe this bullshit about my father ‘promising me’ to your family?”
He continued to ignore me, pressing forward down the hall. I couldn’t see his face, just a small glimpse of his profile, his scar glaring at me. He looked resolute.
Turning a corner, he came to the first door on the left and opened it without hesitation. A large bedroom was revealed with a four poster bed, his grip on my arm loosened once we were inside.
“Bathroom is in there, extra blankets in that closet. Your things from the hotel will be here by the time you wake up.”
I briefly glanced around the room, noting all he was pointing at and surprised to find that it was nice. Like upscale-hotel-nice. Facing him, he was already at the door, making to leave.
“Rhys, you can’t be serious about this. This is crazy. Do you know how crazy you’re acting?”
With his hand on the door, he turned back to face the room, those eyes now somewhat softer.
“Look, I know this is all new to you, being... wolf. But better me than him, Red. At least I’ll care about you.” His eyes sought out my lips again and it wasn’t hard to know what he was thinking, “Make sure you’re happy. You might not be able to see it tonight, but I’m not...bad.” He went to shut the door, before pausing it for another second. “Don’t open or unlock this door, for anyone, okay?”
I hesitantly nodded and apparently appeased, he shut it, the lock sounding and a key taken out.
Not that bad guy? The Rhys who stormed into Wolf's Castle tonight and threatened his father and Iona was dramatically different from the cocky, flirtatious bastard who tried it on at the pub with a kind demeanor. Was he insane? Not that I was planning on it, but he pretty much told me Iona would end up dead if I tried to escape.
Spinning in a circle, I looked around the room, satisfied that there weren’t any other ways in or out. After using the ensuite to wash out the vomit and the last hour, I glanced into the side table drawer. Sure enough, just like any fancy hotel, there was a notepad and pen.
I wrote in clear script ’I’m in’ and ripped the page off. Moving over to the bed, I placed the page underneath the pillow and imagined my mother and her bed, whispering the latin incantation underneath my breath. A few moments later, I lifted the pillow to make sure it was gone.
Happy with my success, I laid down and stared up at the high ceilings.
I had been in Fishguard for less than three days and I was already inside the castle. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and incensed by the gall of these men, but I was here. It was going to be so easy to get these assholes to kill themselves.