Madelyn

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-5-

The howls were getting closer. Madelyn’s heart beat faster, fear pushing her forward. She wasn’t far from the house now, but the sounds behind her told her the wolf wasn’t far from her, also. Her legs moved faster and in a moment of curiosity - or perhaps stupidity - she chanced a glance behind her. Seeing nothing behind her, yet still hearing the sound of something chasing her, she turned back forward, but still missed seeing the root.

She hit the ground with a grunt, pain searing through her ankle. The sounds in the underbrush behind her stopped, as well. Turning to look toward the direction from which she’d just ran, she gasped as the wolf she’d seen yesterday stood there. He looked at her a moment before they both heard another howl, this time even closer than before. His head turned toward the direction of the howl and before she knew it, he leaped, turning in midair as he did so, and stood between her and the source of the howl.

Hackles raising, he started growling low a full minute before the second wolf burst from the thick brush.

***

"Rolf, she’s mine,” the Connor said via mind-link to the other wolf.

Madelyn blinked in surprise as the second wolf started growling. She scrambled backwards from both of them with a loud gasp as pain seared her ankle in her attempt to move away from them.

Fight me for her, Connor, and then you can take her,” Rolf told the first wolf. ”If I win, though, I claim right to mate with her.”

Her pulse quickened and she looked from one wolf to the other. She kept moving backwards as best she could, with her ankle in the condition it was in, but found herself blocked by the trunk of a rather large tree.

Connor looked back toward her. She looked into his eyes. In them, she thought she saw a look of apology, but she couldn’t tell because before she knew it, his head turned back and lowered. Growling, he crouched low to the ground, waiting for Rolf to make a move. Madelyn watched as Rolf also crouched, and then the two wolves began circling one another.

She screamed as the two slammed into one another, fangs and claws sinking and tearing into one another, fur flying. Going onto all fours, she crawled further back, away from the fight, though had she understood what was happening, she’d have known neither would harm her.

The two separated and circled one another again. Both had blood soaking their muzzles and Connor had a patch of fur missing on his shoulder, blood dripped from a gash there. Madelyn was amazed as she watched what she thought was the gash suddenly stop bleeding and the flesh begin knitting together again.

Rolf, she’s mine to court...I claimed rights to court her before the pack when she returned. You heard me yourself, and you heard Elder Brian agree and support my claim,” Connor spoke to his rival as they circled one another. ”You are defying the Elders, and you are defying the Alpha by challenging my right of courtship in this way.” Rolf wouldn’t hear of this.

I have every right to challenge you for her, Connor,” Rolf growled.

Aye, Rolf,” Connor agreed reluctantly, in order to try to placate his opponent. ”But not here, not like this, and you know it.” Connor glanced at Madelyn, concerned. ”Look at her, Rolf. Madelyn is terrified. Do you think she is in any mood to be courted by either of us now?”

Rolf looked over at her and for a moment Madelyn thought she saw contrition in his eyes. If she hadn’t seen her parents’ binder, she’d have thought she was going mad. The look she’d seen in Rolf’s eyes only happened for a moment. In the next moment, he lunged at Connor once more, knocking the wind out of his rival.

I will have rights of courtship, Connor,” Rolf growled. ”And you will forfeit your life for trying to keep me from courting her. She will be my mate,” he cried, then sank his teeth into Connor’s thigh.

The other wolf yelped with pain, but he wasn’t finished, not yet. He would defend his right to court Madelyn, and he would protect her from Rolf with his own life. The other wolf was dangerous, and too many females had been damaged by his attempts to get them to mate with him. Madelyn was too special to risk that kind of harm. He could not allow it, and if need be, he would kill Rolf to protect her from it.

It was not to be. Just then a pack of five wolves burst from the forest and placed themselves between Connor and Rolf. One of the newcomers approached Madelyn slowly. He was a huge sleek wolf with silver and black fur. As he sniffed her ankle, she heard a low growl coming from his throat. He shifted abruptly, ignoring Madelyn’s gasp as suddenly the black and silver wolf was now her attorney and longtime friend, Brian Hemming. Ignoring the fact he was now naked in front of his client, he went to Connor, his face red with anger.

“Shift, Connor,” the wolf said to the first wolf angrily. When he was finished shifting, Madelyn’s eyes grew wide as she recognized the man from the grocery store. “You were entrusted with her safety, and she is injured.”

“Please, Elder, I was attempting to protect her from Rolf, who has challenged me for the right to mate with her,” Connor told Brian as he leaned against a tree, blood running down his right leg.

“That is no excuse,” Brian said to Connor. Madelyn couldn’t believe she was doing this, but she suddenly moved closer and chimed in.

“Wait, Brian” she said, and all eyes turned to her in surprise. “He’s telling the truth.”

Brian looked at Connor again before turning to Madelyn. “What happened, Maddy?” he asked her. She looked at him curiously before relating the story of what had just happened. Each of the four that had burst upon the scene with Brian growled low when she related that Rolf had terrified her with his howls and growls, that she was running from him when she tripped and hurt her ankle. She said she could tell Rolf was challenging Connor.

Madelyn was shaking by the time she came to the end of her tale, both from pain and from fear. This entire afternoon had been a major shock to her. Brian is a werewolf? The man from the store is, too? And what was that about mating?

Six of the seven wolves present settled themselves into a circle and were clearly talking amongst themselves. The only one of the seven that noticed her condition was Connor. Slowly, unthreateningly, he made his way over to her. She watched as he winced every time he put even a little weight on the leg Rolf had bitten. It wasn’t healing like the gash on his shoulder had.

When he got to her, he sat next to her, placing his hand on her knee. She looked at the group that was talking then back down at Connor’s hand before placing hers atop his. He sighed softly, enjoying her touch.

“Thank you, Connor,” she suddenly said in a soft voice. He turned his head and looked at her.

“For?” he asked.

“Stopping him,” she said.

Brian, hearing her voice, turned to listen, but she had already gone silent again. He watched as she stroked the back of Connor’s hand softly. Turning to the other Elders, he conferred with them before each head raised, ears turned toward nothing Madelyn could see or hear. Connor’s head rose and he stared in the same direction as the others. A moment later, a jet black wolf appeared along the path she’d been running.

The appearance of the last wolf wasn’t a shock to Madelyn. What shocked her was when the other four wolves began shifting, even though she’d just witnessed Brian and Connor shift. When they were finished shifting, a man crouched in the place where a moment ago a wolf stood.

Fear once again rose in her. Sensing it, and seeking to soothe her, Connor squeezed her hand reassuringly. He looked at her, pressed a soft kiss to her cheek, then said calmly, “Madelyn, there is nothing to fear. These are my people.” He gestured to the one on the left, a dark-haired older man with scars on his left shoulder. “That is Elder Raoul.”

Elder Raoul nodded to Madelyn with a soft look on his face. The corners of her lips twitched up slightly, as if she was trying to smile politely, but was uncertain at the same time.

“Standing beside Elder Raoul is Elder Connall.” The man he referred to had red hair and bright green eyes. His smile was friendly and he lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the ground. She assumed he was hoping that doing that would help her to find him less intimidating, which she did.

“The next two are Elders Aatu and Aatto,” he said, indicating the final two men who were shifting themselves to sit cross-legged like Elder Connall. “They are twin brothers.” Both of them had dark hair, black eyes, and were the same height. The only difference between them was that one of them had a terrible scar on his left chest, and the other did not.

“They, and Elder Brian, comprise our Council of Elders, which advises the Alpha,” Connor told Madelyn.

“And the Alpha is the black one who just appeared,” Madelyn stated, it not really being a question, as she could see it plain as day. She noted Rolf had sunk into the shadow of a nearby tree, but had not left the scene. Little did she know that he knew better than to flee in this situation. He was in serious trouble, however he knew he’d be in worse trouble if he were to flee from the consequences of his actions rather than face them.

“Aye,” Connor said. She glanced down at him and smiled faintly. He took that as a good sign. Though she was still very uneasy about the other werewolves in present company, she was relaxing toward him. Perhaps this courtship would go more smoothly than he thought it might? Only time would tell.

Just at that moment, the Alpha approached. He did so slowly, and while Connor noted Madelyn looked up when the Alpha started moving toward them, he was pleased when she dropped her gaze, her body language showing her to be respectful of his position. He glanced to the Alpha and his head bowed in respect momentarily.

“I apologize for not standing, Ulric,” Connor said to the powerful black wolf standing beside them. “I would if I could, but my leg hasn’t yet healed.”

Rest easy, Connor,” Ulric mind-linked to him quietly, in a powerful, yet gentle voice. ”I have heard what has happened here. You acted honorably, with the well-being of the female you intend to court in mind. I will see to it you and she are returned to her home and are attended to until you both recuperate."

“Thank you, Ulric,” Connor said, his head again dipping in respect. “We would appreciate that, very much.”

She is very beautiful, Connor,” Ulric said to the injured wolf. ”You are very lucky to have her. Take very good care of her.”

“I will, for certain,” Connor replied.
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