Chapter 1 ~ Ambitions
"Get up, Raeghan. Always get back up."
My arms trembled, struggling to lift myself back to my feet. Even my legs felt like jelly, and I wasn't sure how much harder I could push myself, even with Weylin's words of encouragement. But my father was watching, and I wanted to prove myself to him. He hardly ever came to watch me train.
Always get back up, that was easier said than done.
Painfully, I managed to sway myself back to my feet, ignoring the ache of bones and muscles. When I looked proudly in my father's direction it was to see him walking away. My body slumped, my will to stay standing diminishing.
"Stand for yourself and those you protect, not those you want to please," Weylin instructed from where he was brushing himself off.
He'd won our fight, again. But I was getting better. I could feel myself getting stronger, faster, even if I still had so far to come. I could easily hold my own against wolves my age. They wouldn't let me train with them anymore. The warriors of the pack were my next battle but they were fully grown wolves, coiled in muscle and strength.
I looked back at where my father had stood, feeling my shoulders hunch in more. A growl from Weylin and I looked away. In his training room, he was the only one that my attention should be on.
"He thinks I should stop," I stated, loud enough that maybe my father would hear before the doors swung shut behind him.
Weylin sighed, his gaze following mine. "He thinks you're aiming for a dangerous goal."
"And what do you think?" I asked, dropping to the floor, sprawling out and finally allowing myself to pant for breath.
I knew well how to hide exhaustion and weakness, but I didn't need to anymore. I could lie here and slowly heal if I wanted. Mum would come find me soon, smothering me until every bruise disappeared before urging me to keep training.
"Does it matter what I think, Raeghan?"
I shook my head. I guess it didn't. "It would still be nice to have some that believed in my ability to become an Alpha. Those that watch only relax when I fail, when I'm beaten. I can feel them tense when I come close to winning."
"Everyone's afraid of the new. Your ambition, if achieved, would change a lot in our world, in our culture." Weylin smiled, sitting beside me and passing a cool bottle of water that I gladly took. "Don't let others fears put you off if you feel this is your path."
I wasn't sure if it was my path though, or simply the one my mother had placed me on. Then again, she'd never pushed me to become an Alpha, she simply wished for me to be trained as any first born male would be. It had been me that was determined to challenge myself for more. No female had ever ruled as Alpha alone, not as I wished to.
Of course mates of Alphas had led the pack themselves if the Alpha had died, but more often than not, another would take over. The Beta, or whoever was heir, but Dad wouldn’t even name me his heir.
Over and over again I'd been told for every strong female there was a stronger male. That even if I could be Alpha, a male would come to challenge me for my place. I could stand as his equal if I took a mate, lead as equals like Mum and Dad did. But were they really equals if sometimes as Alpha, Dad demanded Mum’s submission? My nose scrunched and I took a sip of water to get rid of the sour taste in my mouth.
My father worried about what fate lay waiting for me if I took what I wanted. He worried that I was painting a target on my back. He hated that the pack watched his daughter with a mix of amusement and wariness. Many thought it was almost cute that I trained so hard. When I'd been a pup, my announcement of wanting to become Alpha had been met with awes and laughter. Now it was met with disbelief.
Wolves would come for me, to try and show me my place was beneath them and not leading a pack, and Dad knew that those challenges could end in my death. Yet I could see the pride in his eyes when I never swayed in my belief, when I got back to my feet even after many broken bones. But he'd walked away today.
"A hundred years ago, people would have laughed at the idea of a female taking Beta by herself without a male," I said, more to myself than to Weylin who nodded anyway.
"That's true, and now female Beta's are as common as male."
Nodding again, I took a sip of water, determination once more filling me. I wasn't sure what the future held for me, but I wouldn't stop fighting for this. This was as much my birthright as any damn male's.
"I think we've trained enough for today. You can go home," Weylin said, patting my shoulder. "You fought well."
Grinning, I straightened up at his praise. "Are you tired, old wolf?"
There was growl in his laugh as he smirked, his eyes glowing. Weylin was still one of the strongest males in our pack, in the whole country, we all knew that. Only my father, and maybe my mother, surpassed him.
"Off with you, before I change my mind and I have to carry you home after I win again," he teased.
My smile turned into a grimace. I didn't want to go home. Mum would ask how training went as she gave my dad a look like always. She tested him, daring him to speak his truth. He never did, not when he thought I was within earshot at least, but I'd heard him and mum arguing about me.
It wasn't so bad when I could escape to my cousin's home but with Fenna now so far away, learning to be an Alpha Female herself with a male by her side, I had nobody who understood.
I sighed and nodded, pushing myself achingly to my feet once more.
Always get back up.
Weylin gave me a sympathetic look before nudging me towards the door. Grabbing my hoodie from one of the benches and slipping earbuds in, I switched on some music and began to job home.
Despite it still being summer, it was cold, but the freezing winds only invigorated me. By the time I made it home, my cheeks were bright red and my nose completely numb. I kicked mud off my trainers before stepping inside. The house was full of wolves today and I smiled and greeted those that passed by. The sweet smell of cookies being baked had me pausing by the kitchen. My stomach growled, reminding me I'd skipped breakfast. Again.
"Raeghan is that you!" Mum’s voice rang through the house and chuckles followed as I attempted to sneak away.
A hand on my shoulder put a stop to my escape. Turning slowly, I put on a bright smile for her. She tugged me closer, pressing her cheek to mine and I closed my eyes as I inhaled her scent.
"How did it go?" she asked, taking note of my bedraggled state and flushed cheeks.
"It went well," I replied lightly, keeping my smile in place but a mother-wolf's eyes weren't so easily fooled.
Taking my hand, she pulled me into the kitchen and I hated that she was going to do this so publicy. Brighid stood beside Arianna as Ben took the cookies out of the oven and I knew the three wolves were listening closely.
"Your father came to watch you," my mother stated, golden eyes appraising me.
I shifted on the spot, shoving my hands in my pockets. "Yup. He left before I did."
My mother hummed and shared a look with Brighid. It made me even more uncomfortable. Her gaze wandered over me again, her chin lifting as she scented the air. I knew what she was smelling. Beneath the scent of sweat was the first tellings of my heat arriving. My hips had filled out, my breasts tender to touch, and if my mood swings hadn’t been enough of a warning. . .it wouldn't be long now.
Her arm wound around my shoulders, guiding me to take a seat like she did every time I returned from training, she fussed over me. Her fingers grazed over the bruising on my cheek, studying me with careful eyes. It was my ribs that got the brunt of Weylin's attacks today; lessons on leaving my body open to attack when defence was just as important.
Brighid tossed an ice pack to my mother who wrapped it in a towel before pressing against my cheek.
"That looks nasty, it’s the same colour as your eyes," Ben teased, leaning on the counter.
I glared at him, replacing my mother's hand with my own. I wasn't a pup, I could look after my own injuries. She took a step back, a glint of hurt in her eyes before she turned away. Guilt coiled around my stomach. I should let her look after me.
Arianna swiped a cookie off the tray before Ben could scold her, passing it to me with a wink. Grinning, I made sure to look Ben in the eye as I took a huge bite. He growled but it was half-hearted and the tension in the room disappeared. Mum chuckled and shook her head, her fingers brushing over my hair as she passed behind me. I leaned into her touch with a little rumble of apology that made her smile. Taking my irritation with Dad out on her wasn’t fair.
The throbbing of my ribs was getting harder to ignore, even with the sweet cookie to distract me. I rubbed my side, cringing as the pain doubled.
Okay. Don’t touch.
"You took another beating."
The husky voice of Beta Quillan reached my ears and I turned with a smirk. "Weylin will have some bruises as well."
His lips twitched as he stalked towards me but I made sure not to lower my gaze. It was a struggle. Quillan had a feral edge that unsettled my fur. When he flashed his fangs at me, I looked away again.
"Where's Roarke," Mum asked.
His expression tensed, his head tilting ever so slightly. It didn't look like he was going to answer at first until he inclined his head. "In his office."
She nodded then whispered something to Brighid that I didn't care to hear. Her steps were purposeful as she left and made her way down the hall. I stopped eating, putting what was left of the cookie on the table.
"I'm going to run the border tomorrow," Quillan said, going to pour himself a glass of water. He placed one in front of me too. "Be ready by six."
Not a question. An order. My injuries would mostly heal over night. My ribs would still be sore, I had no doubt about that, but it was part of my training. I needed to push past the pain. "I'll be ready."
Sliding off the stool, I went to put the ice pack back in the freezer. I could feel wolves watching me so I kept my back straight, shoulders back, head held high no matter how much it hurt.
"Make sure you come down for tea!" Ben called after me.
I gave a halfhearted wave to show I'd heard. More members of the pack filled the living room, calling out hellos to me as I passed. Sometimes I wished we had a little more privacy.
Looking between the stairs and the corridor that lead down to the Alpha's office, I paused. I couldn't hear any shouting, that was a good sign. Maybe they weren’t fighting after all. When the office door clicked, I hightailed it up the stairs and into my bedroom. I'd been scolded for eavesdropping at that door more times than I cared to count.
Stripping quickly out of sweat drenched clothes, I breathed a small sigh of relief before I began to inspect todays injuries. I stared at the new and old bruises that covered my skin. This was the price for what I wanted to achieve. I wondered if my father had suffered this much under Weylin's and his father’s hands as he trained to be Alpha. My jaw clenched as I pressed over my ribs, searching for any sign of breaks. He should have been training me too. Teaching me how to lead. Instead I suffered without him.
A knock on the door and the male himself walked in. My father and Alpha inhaled sharply at the mess of my skin, shutting the door gently behind him. I slipped a dressing gown on, tying it tight enough that it hurt.
"You fought well today, my pup," he complimented, giving me a strained smile.
He walked around my room, his fingers brushing over the dent on my desk with a small smile. It was from my grand idea of taking the TV off the wall by myself to move it to the opposite side so I could see it better. I'd dropped it, being only a small pup of four or five. That was the first time I could really remember being taught that my father was the Alpha. I'd been in so much trouble, forced to eat last at the table that night. A common occurrence these days.
I shifted awkwardly on my feet as I watched him, waiting for a scolding or something. Not the look of resignation he gave me.
"I know you think I don't approve, Raeghan," he spoke up, his voice gentle. "It's not that I don't think a female should be Alpha. Nor is it that I don't think you're capable. You’re more than capable."
I looked away, wrapping my arms around myself. I didn't believe him. He'd tried this line with me before but I didn't care to hear it anymore. I wasn't a pup who needed coddled. Fenna had been my age when she'd left the pack, yet I wasn't being allowed the freedom to do what I wanted.
Dad sighed, making his way towards me. My fingers dug into the soft, fluffy gown I wore. What did he want from me? Why was he here just to tread over the same ground?
"Please look at me, Raeghan."
Swallowing hard, I forced myself to raise my eyes to his. Eyes the same pale green as mine. He brushed damp hair away from my face, frowning at the bruise that was spreading across my cheek. The growl that rumbled from his chest almost made me smile. It proved he cared at least.
"I didn't walk away because I was disappointed in you or because I think your wants are wrong. Do you know how hard it is to watch Weylin fight you? To hear you in pain? To watch you struggle to even stand?" he asked.
I softened toward him a little but clung onto my resolve. He wouldn't be standing saying this if I was his son, and not his daughter. If I was born male, he'd be standing beside Weylin instructing me. He'd be taking me into his office to watch him deal with pack matters so I could learn.
"You're my female, Raeghan. Watching you get hurt causes me physical pain. I want to tear the one hurting you away, to feel their throat between my teeth." His voice was harsher now, his eyes glowing an eerie green as he pleaded with me to understand.
My anger flared, my body puffing up until I was sure he could see the challenge in my gaze. "Did your father cower from teaching you how to be Alpha?"
He eyes narrowed dangerously as he growled, the sound tearing through me. "Be very careful with what you say next to me. I came here as your father, Rae. But I'm your Alpha too. I will show you where your place is. Why must you always fight me?”
Tears stung my eyes. This was the way it always was between us now. Always so much tension. Fighting. Falling out. He wouldn't train me. He wouldn't watch me train. So I poked and prodded at him until I got the attention from him I craved. Childish? Most definitely. But I didn't care. I voiced my anger for him to hear with no apology.
Gone was the softness from his face as he straightened to his full height. The air around him fizzled and it took all my strength not to bare my neck to him. He was giving me a choice to willingly back down or have him make me back down.
"You think you did well against Weylin today? Let me tell you Raeghan, you wouldn't last seconds against me," he stated, the power of him a crushing weight in my shoulders.
Still I dared to catch his eyes again, even when he bared his fangs in warning. I was close to crossing the line now. His warning rang through my head again. He would do worse than simply make me eat last if I spat out what was on the tip of my tongue.
Tipping my head to the side to bare my neck, my gaze flicked to the window. The dominance of him receded, his body relaxing as he got my submission. Much to my surprise, he pressed his cheek to mine, nipping my jaw as if I was still a small pup.
"Even if you don't believe me, I love you Raeghan. You and your mother are the most precious things in my life. Everything I do, I do to keep you safe," he promised, kissing the top of my head before he turned to leave.
His words left me frozen as I fought between understanding and wishing he would understand. I crumpled against the wall, digging my nails into my palm to stop myself from crying. Only pups cried after being put in their place, I told myself adamantly.
Standing tall again, I caught my reflection in the full length mirror by the dressing table. This wasn't the image of a next in line Alpha. I lifted my head up, pulled back my shoulders and widened my stance. I took one slow, deep inhale, filling my chest and then shirked off my dressing gown.
A relaxing bath with lavender would ease the pain in my muscles. After tea, I'd ask Oria for some herbs to dull the ache of my ribs. At least I would be out of the house most of tomorrow, running the border with Quillan. He wouldn’t go easy on me. By the week's end, I'd need to take a day or two off to heal.
One way or another, I'd make my father see, I'd force him to accept my choices. He’d name me heir.