A Dormant Howl

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Chapter 12

Elegant Eighteen and Reckonings of Blood

2009

“Are you sure you can’t spend the night?” Lucie asks me. I pull on my fur-lined parka and adjust my beanie cap. “I know our dorm is small, but we can squeeze you in- it’ll be like old times.”

I smile but shake my head- I have already stayed too long. “I have an early start tomorrow- I need to visit my Papa’s grave then go to work. I don’t feel comfortable leaving Mama alone, either” I admitted, shivering as I opened the door to their dorm room and step into the hallway. “Besides, it’s not like you guys live too far away now, Freshmen.” I teased.

Both girls pouted at my declining their offer to spend the night with them on campus but smiled at my gentle rib. “Besides, I am going to see you all tomorrow, right? Daphne should be back too!”

They both giggled and squealed, earning them a banging on the thin wall of their dorm room, their neighbor bellowing to shut up and let them sleep. They blushed but rolled their eyes and waved me off as I trotted away towards my little car. As I left my friends behind and sped home, my mind began to contemplate how much a difference a year really makes.

After our high school graduation, I started right away that summer for my classes at Oswego University with Tameekah. Since it is just fifteen minutes from my house and I was still considered underaged, I stayed at home. I don’t know how she managed it but Temeekah wanted to have the dorm experience, so she got to stay on campus. Every so often I would spend the night if I had a class with her the next day or if I did not have a morning shift.

Daphne, Lucie and Leigh Anne all graduated this year- it was so exciting to finally see my friends and hang out with them again and talk shop like we used to. Oh, and Meri didn’t get in anywhere- in fact, she didn’t even finish getting her GED. Eventually the clan stopped footing the bill for her therapy and psychology sessions with Lennon, as they seemed to not help much. I have to remind myself not to laugh at how her life was going, if it weren’t for the fact that she still had a certain someone in it.

But despite all the good things coming my way, things felt slightly different, strained somehow-- I could not explain it but something felt as though everything was about to change. I noticed this once my other friends began living their lives after graduation.

Lucie and Leigh Anne got into Potsdam University, meaning they are on campus. Thankfully, it is in our territory so we can visit one another. But day by day, I notice they are more inclined to stay on campus or go outside clan territory. Daphne, on the other hand, took it a step further and decided to hold off on going to school. Instead, she decided to take a year off and ‘explore the world’-- the adventure of a lifetime. She tried inviting me but when I said I couldn’t, she got angry with me.

“Girl, you’re almost 18 years old- you need to get out from under your parent’s thumb. Clan or no clan, you need to live your own life- carve out something for yourself and grab life by the huevos and live!” Daphne had snapped. I turned to look at Lucie and Leigh Anne, but neither of them could meet my gaze. Even Tameekah, who was usually a chatterbox, found silence and found picking at invisible lint on her sweater was more interesting.

“You don’t understand. It’s not that simple,” I sputtered, standing tall and prepared to list my reasons for an age-old argument we have had since I was sixteen. “I have to stay for now. I can’t leave Mama and if I go out of the territory--”

“Because then you’d be seen as a Rogue, wouldn’t have clan protection-- yeah, yeah, I have heard it all before and it is bullshit! Seriously, Jeremiah could just write you a letter or give you his blessing or something-- and you could go. Seriously, for all you know your true mate could be out there- and yet you cannot even leave the nest. I mean seriously, what the hell are you waiting for? Girl grow up and live for yourself for a change. Do what you want, not what your clan or your Papa wanted, but what you want!”

My knuckles turned white, my hands squeezing hard around the wheel as I drove through the snow and toward home. It was still a sore spot with me, how she called me out about my not leaving home. It wasn’t as simple though. I thought I was doing what I had wanted, at least that’s what I kept telling myself.

I had always wanted to learn and go to school, especially college. Most Lycan females didn’t get that chance. I was doing both - what I wanted for myself, as well as for Papa. I was going to go to school, serve my clan, and yet...and yet…something still nagged at me, as though I we’re missing something.

I drove through the gate that led to my family’s ranch and came to a halt just as the house came into view. The porch light was still on. Absently, I wondered if Mama was still waiting up for me. On the one hand, it made me smile- knowing that she loved me and would wait for me. The other side of me- the dark, rebellious teen side of me - was annoyed and wanted to argue with her. I could hear in my head how it would go.

You don’t need to keep waiting up for me, Mama. I am not a child anymore…

I’m your mother, why wouldn’t I wait up? You never know what could happen…

Mama, I am eighteen years old- I am not a little girl anymore.

Almost eighteen years old…you’re still a child. My child.

I want to live my own life, be an independent adult.

You’re too young, and it’s not safe outside Clan territory. What happens if you get hurt or another Lycan attacks you?

I want more than being tied down, I want my own life…

Why do you want more when you have everything here? You are safe, loved, secure, and have a life...why want what you already have?

I shook my head, trying to get rid of the various arguments and disagreements we had had recently. Combined with my last argument with Daphne, I didn’t know what to think or do. I was on track, I had a life-- a job, my own car, friends...but still.

I looked at my watch- it was just a few minutes past ten o’clock: Mama’s show would likely be over and she’s preparing to go to bed. I thought for a moment, contemplating my next move. My hand twitched around the keys in the ignition and Corah purred...her hold had gotten stronger the last few months, the looks I had been given by males- especially Jerry...and then there was Tanner to deal with.

What if Mama was right? I couldn’t run. Not yet. I had unfinished business to take care of.

Sighing, I parked the car and got out. Just as I stepped onto the porch, the light turned off and my mother stepped outside. She was dressed in her flannel pajamas, bathrobe half open. She looked at me, glazed over in surprise as well as accusation.

“You’re late,” she said evenly. I sighed, rolling my eyes as I walked inside. “Baby, I have told you before to be home by ten o’clock on the dot. What if something had happened to you? What if--?”

“Geez, Mama, give it a rest!” I huffed, exasperated. I marched past her, her footfalls slapping the hardwood flooring and keeping pace just behind me as I walked through the house.

“I mean, seriously, what’s with the third degree? Like, seriously- I am not a kid anymore. I’m gonna be eighteen in the next couple of hours,” I grumbled as I stomped up the stairs. Just as I reached my door, Mama grabbed me by the arm, so she and I were face to face.

“There is no need to sass me, young miss! You’re still--”

“Mama!” I snapped, my voice and Corah’s combining and coming out in a loud snarl. Mama jumped back; shock written all over her face. Sighing, I slumped forward and shoved my hair out of my face.

“Mama, I am not in the mood to argue. I’ve had a long day and tomorrow’s gonna be even longer-- what with work and my Elegant Eighteen,” I sighed, looking up at her.

“Remember what happened after your thirteenth birthday? Papa and I were so frantic-- and then with your sixteenth birthday being--”

“Mama, seriously, why would you--? Ugh-- I am not interested in discussing that,” I said trying to go into my room. Mama followed close behind, not letting up. I quickly grabbed my pajamas and scurried into my bathroom, slamming, and locking the bathroom door to keep her out. I heard the door creak, mama leaning against it.

“I just want to know you’re safe. You’re my youngest...I just don’t want to lose you, too.”

I halted, my night shirt halfway over my head. My papa had been gone for four years, dying in battle protecting Josiah Nolan. Since then, it had mostly been me and her- my brothers training and working for the clan. They had even stepped outside our territory...going where I didn’t couldn’t go. Sighing, I quickly finished getting into my pajamas and began washing my face and brushing my teeth.

When I came out, Mama was still there. She opened her mouth to say something, but I stopped her. “Look, it’s been a long night and tomorrow will be even longer--. We can argue AFTER my birthday. I’m almost eighteen and with that comes privileges, including YOUR not crossing my boundaries and ME gaining some more freedom-- all of which can be discussed later. Agreed?”

She pursed her lips, frowning. I knew she wanted to argue, to change my mind, ORDER me to do as I was told. But after tomorrow, that argument would only go so far.

“Fine, good night, Desi,” she said finally, deflating slightly before coming over and kissing my cheek. I kissed her back, leaning in and giving a small squeeze before going into my room to get some sleep.

At a quarter to two in the morning, I wake with a start. I blink, wide awake and not knowing why. I look out the window, noting the color of the sky-- still pitch black, almost a deep velvety navy blue. I look at the calendar, smiling broadly. I am now officially 18 years old. Almost on impulse, I get out of bed and grab my fur-lined parka from the closest and grab my emergency backpack-- blanket, matches, batteries, tinderbox, first aid kit, trail mix, protein bars, and of course water. Without thinking, I sneak down the stairs and race from the house.

As I walk, I keep thinking back to today and what’s so important about it. I’m now eighteen years old- a teenager, yet an adult. I can vote, smoke, purchase my own gun- hell, I can even live on my own. The thoughts of what I can do now thrill me. The thought of being older also sobers me.

I am officially 18 years old, and for four years the clan has felt the emptiness of losing a great warrior – my Papa. It’s been two years since Jerry gave me the gift of my first kiss and two years since Tanner gave me the gift that made me question everything.

Both Jerry and I haven’t openly acknowledged our obvious feelings for one another. Nor have we denied that there was this tension between us. I have a feeling I know the truth, but I haven’t admitted it to myself and he hasn’t brought up the topic. I just know how I feel when he’s around, I feel the hole when he’s gone, and I feel the butterflies when he casually touches me.

I walk through the forest, walking carefully so as not to draw any attention to myself. It is early, not even turned blue outside and I am freezing in my slippers and fur-lined coat - but it is important that I am here. It is important to see him. It has been harder and harder to visit my Papa’s grave over the last four years- between school, work, helping out at the ranch, and other concerns...I hope my Papa, wherever he is, will understand my distance. I have so much to relay and I hope he can give me some guidance...

Shivering, I continue walking through the forest. Though it is dark, I know the path by heart to his mausoleum. As I wander, my body is alert to everything and Corah, my poor Beast, watches and shifts about inside me- listening for the smallest change in temperature, the tiniest snap or noise- and she will take over. Though my Talisman still works, it has grown less and less powerful as Corah has done her best to protect me. Especially after my birthday party. A shiver that has nothing to do with the cold runs through me just as we clear the tree line and there it is. I nearly cry when I see it, wondering if I have been the only one attending to him in all this time. There are some flowers-a dried bouquet of rosemary, maple leaf branches, and roses -and I know Mama was the last to come see Papa. I take a brief whiff, wondering how long they have been here. From the lingering fragrance and tiny hint of decay, I assume it has at least been a month or less.

Yanking off my backpack, I quickly lay a blanket down in front of his mausoleum, lighting some candles I “borrowed” from the bathroom. Once I am comfortable, I begin to speak to him about everything and anything, as though he is still here with me, even though it has been over four years since he died.

“Oh, Papa- I am so sorry I was not as faithful. I did try to come and visit but...well, no real excuse for ignoring you,” I mumbled, distractedly yanking at a small thread at the edge of the blanket, causing the woven edge to unravel a little. “But I have some good news for you - I have met her, and she’s been quiet, for the most part,” I said, referencing my Beast, Corah. She gave a lazy but delighted purr in response- happy to finally be noticed or mentioned to someone else besides Mama. She silently urges me to continue on.

“Well, there’s so much to say- I finally had my first kiss. One of my Guardians of Virtue--” I paused, chuckling and shaking my head at the remembrance of when Papa first told me I would be getting two guardians, “--I still cannot believe you tasked Jerry and Tanner to be my protectors. But Jerry gave me my first kiss, just before I turned 16 and Tanner--” I stopped, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. I gingerly fingered the pendant that was hidden beneath my shirt’s neckline. Tanner had not been my protector- not really -since Merigold Newton came along. Both Corah and I bristled at the thought of that walking STD-- the wind blew then, rustling my hair. I nearly laughed, wanting to believe that Papa had somehow been given a small reprieve and had ruffled my hair in the wind. The thought, however farfetched, made me smile a little.

“I just- I don’t know what to do, Papa. I know Jerry cares about me- hell, he kissed me! Me! We’re friends but what I feel for him is-- it’s nothing like I ever imagined. And I think he feels the same way-- but he hasn’t made a move yet. We have not really discussed what happened really-- neither confirming nor denying the connection, this tension. Was this what it was like for you and Mama?” I asked, not really expecting an answer back. All I got was the wind tickling my cheeks and I sighed.

“Mama thinks there’s a possibility I have two mates-- I have a feeling I know the truth, that Jerry is one of them. Maybe Tanner, too, but since Tanner’s with Meri and Jerry’s always dealing with clan business...I don’t know what to do, nor am I ready yet to remove my Talisman or break my Dormant Howl. I just know how I feel when Jerry’s around, I feel the hole in my chest when he’s gone, and I feel the butterflies when he casually touches me. Is that what it was like?” Again, no answer- just the wind whistling through the branches and tousling my hair. I sighed, falling back onto the blanket, and letting my eyes take in the opening within the canopy of trees. The sky was now starting to turn the faintest shade of navy velvet.

From my place on the blanket, I continued talking about Jerry turned twenty-two this past April. Alpha Josiah had no choice but to officially coronate him in our clan traditions because he was no longer able to do his duties. Alpha Josiah was now trying to assimilate to life in a wheelchair. It was hard seeing a once active, virile, and larger than life leader be regulated to a battery powered chair with four large wheels. Luckily, he could still drive, so Luna Beatrix bought him a cherry red Porsche so instead of running with his beast, Luther, he raced in his car. His mother is acting Luna until he has found his mate.

As for Tanner, Beta Thomas had to reluctantly pass down the Beta title to Tanner. I say reluctantly because his father is tired, both physically and emotionally. He’d be in a mentor capacity, but as for full time responsibilities, he can’t do it anymore.

As for Meri and Tanner - they are still going strong and Tanner is a 23-year-old man, in the prime of his life, but he looks fifteen years older than that. No one would ever tell him to his face, but she’s draining him. After Meri barged into my sweet sixteen party and saw Tanner and I together, it made her hold on him even tighter. We barely speak, let alone look at one another anymore. The only time I do see him is around 2:00am in the morning, just beyond the property line behind my house. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss him. And poor Corah misses Wren.

I awoke with a start. My mind whirled as I tried to catch my bearings and remember where I am, how much time has passed. I am still in the middle of the forest near Papa’s grave. The area around me is covered in snow, yet where I lay, I am untouched, as though there is some spell that holds the snow from touching me. The sky is still under the sway of the moon, though I can see the tell-tale signs of lightness coming through the trees. Cursing myself for forgetting to wear a watch, I hastily grab my things and- giving my Papa’s grave one final glance, run for home.

I know Mama will be up, she’s always up and moving- barreling around the house like a bull through a China shop. She’s been like this ever since Papa died and, though annoying, I have become used to her. In fact, she’s practically my very own human alarm clock.

Thankfully, she is not in the kitchen when I get home. I even managed to barrel through the house and reach my room just as she comes through the front door. As I shove my backpack into the closet and dive under the covers just as my alarm clock is about to go off in, 5, 4, 3, 2 . . . 1

“Desdemona Corah Patchett, get your butt up, RIGHT NOW!”

I groan, looking at my real alarm clock-- not even six thirty yet and she’s bellowing. I swear, if I had been into electronics, I could have marketed my very own Mama themed alarm clocks. At least for a short time...before she likely sued me. As I try to pull the blanket over my head, I jolt as her fist pounds at the door.

“You have fifteen minutes to get your lazy, uppity butt out of that brand new bed that I bought you, get into the shower and eat the breakfast I slaved over the stove for you to digest with five minutes to spare to get you on time to that daycare center!”

I froze, staring at the clock and groaned again as my body bolted from the bed and began to move around, getting ready for work. When I’m not in class or I’m on a break, I work at the clan daycare center. As I stomp down the stairs, I wonder if she actually has the speech memorized or does, she have it recorded, because I swear, she hollers it up to me every morning. The funniest thing about it is, I am usually up and ready an hour before she goes through all the aggravation.

As I enter the kitchen, refreshed, and dressed for work, I sit down and begin to stuff my face-- watching her as she works. She turns from whatever she is concocting at the stove, her eyebrows knit and her mouth open to bark an order when she finally spots me with my fork shoved in my mouth.

“Hey, Mom. When did you get up?” I asked, having a good laugh to myself. Mama turned and gaped at me, her face growing red as she realized I had been sitting at the kitchen island the whole time, stuffing my face with the French toast she so lovingly microwaved for me. Pursing her lips, huffed and slammed a glass of fresh orange juice down in front of me.

“Get to work, Desi. Those pups won’t watch themselves. Alpha Jeremiah will be here any moment to drop you off.” She reminds me pointedly, quickly turning away to get back to making her own breakfast. I stiffen and groan at the reminder. It’s not that I don’t like seeing Jerry or spending time with him. It’s the fact that, despite being almost eighteen- almost an adult -she won’t let me drive myself. Anywhere. It’s as though the car I purchased from one of my ward’s parents is a figment of my imagination versus being the only property I really own.

“Why is it that you continue to have him drive me there and pick me up? You know I can drive there myself, right?” I chided as I shoveled the last piece of confectionary goodness into my mouth, lifting my prized driver’s license to show it off, as I do almost every morning I have to go to work or school. I grin as I chew loudly, hearing her scoff and groan.

Still munching away and rolling my eyes, I clomp to the coat rack to sling on my purple parka, grey wool hat, mittens, and snow boots. Oswego winters are killer, and I always have to bundle up. It’s nice that Jerimiah likes to take me to work, even though it’s unnecessary.

We still have that unspoken connection that we just can’t explain. He’s been extra attentive since last week. I guess because it was a day before my big eighteenth birthday. He doesn’t want to see me grow up.

Just as I am pulling my boots on, I hear a knock-- four quick rapid knocks, a beat of silence, punctuated by two more quick knocks. I smile, knowing the signal all too well. That’s Jeremiah’s knock - shave and a haircut. Kinda silly, but it helps me, and my mama know who’s coming. Though we both have stellar senses of smell, we cannot always know for sure who is coming.

I spring up and open the door, allowing a winter-ready Alpha with snowflakes coating his hair and shoulders to swoop in and wipe his boots all over our welcome rug. He shakes his head, sending a flurry of snowflakes my way and making me giggle.

“With your birthday just a few hours away, are you ready to make the clan a better place, Miss Patchett?” He says merrily as he bounces toward me, a spring in his step and a song in his greeting. It’s all I can do to not blush or giggle at the corniness of it all. But when he’s this close all I can do is smile and let of a breathy gasp reminiscent of a chuckle.

“Okay, Jeremiah. What’s with the chipper attitude on this fine wintery morning?” I respond, trying to ignore the somersaults and flips in my belly. Still smiling he leans forward and helps me with my collar, abnormally close. His eyes lose some of their merriment, suddenly replaced by something dark and smoldering that makes me want to tear all my clothes off and…

“Mama, the Alpha is here. We’re leaving.” I say hastily, moving around him to grab my bag and reach for the door. Then I hear the trotting of feet and smell my mother. Damn it, not fast enough.

“Wait, wait…” she comes trotting her way through the hall to the front door, brown paper bag in toe. I groan, smacking my head gently against the grain of the front door- of course she made me lunch. My cheeks start to burn, feeling more like an elementary age schoolgirl versus a teen college student and adult young woman. How damned fucking embarrassing.

“Hello Alpha, dear. I made you these delicious chocolate chips cookies.” She says, smiling. I feel my cheeks flush even more- partly for my thoughts about my mama, the other for feeling suddenly envious. Mama doesn’t make her chocolate chip cookies on a whim for just ANYONE. I narrow my eyes, looking back and forth between the two of them.

Before I can so much as blink or move a muscle to grab the bag, he eagerly snatches the bag and devours one of the freshly baked chocolatey confections. His eyes roll back into his head and he groans, licking his lips free of any melted chocolate. “Thank you, Mama Patchett. How sweet of you.”

Mama bows her head bashfully, looking up at him through the tangle of curls and batting her eyelashes. I roll my eyes again- of course she’s up to something. I interrupt the weird moment, jabbing Jerry in the ribs so he nearly drops the bag.

“Hey, you’re my mother and it’s my birthday. Why don’t I get cookies?” I whine, wincing inwardly at how petulant I sound. Mama smiles at me sweetly, her eyes flashing playfully as Rubi comes to the surface.

“Because I love him. And he didn’t destroy my girlish figure.” She points out, putting her hands on her hips. Jerry beams, chomping on another freshly baked cookie. It’s all I can do to not fall to the floor laughing, staring at my mama. Though she is still quite trim, she does have a bit of pudge around her middle.

“Did you really ever have a girlish figure?” I mumbled to myself with a grievous pout. I hear a sharp intake of breath, then a low warning growl.

“What, dear?” My mother sneered. I hastily smiled and flounced over to her, placing a placating kiss on her cheek.

“Nothing Mama, I love you.” I say, smiling and batting my eyelashes. She gives me a pat on the back, though the mischief in her eyes says she heard everything and will find a way to make me pay for it.

“Uh-huh, watch her today Jeremiah. She’s got a sass about her today. I blame it on her old age.” She harumphs wickedly. I gasp and give her a playful shove.

“Hey, I’m only eighteen, Mother!” And with that last protest, I am being pulled my arm out the door. Jeremiah pushes me towards the passenger side as Mama follows us outside.

“Have fun today at work, sweetie! And you have a fantastic day as well, Alpha!” She says sweetly. I see Jeremiah wince at the title, but he turns around and waves at my mama before he jumps in and we speed away, leaving the ranch behind.

“Still not used to that title,” he admits as we drive towards town. “Even though that title was passed down to me, it’s not something I have ever really been used to.”

“Really? Well, you’re doing a good job of pretending then. It’s been what, almost three, four years? I’d have thought you were hitting your stride and were doing well.”

Jeremiah smiled at this, bowing his head slightly in acknowledgement of my praise. He then went back to focusing on the road. “It’s not as easy or like I thought it would be. After I was officially given the title and made our clans Alpha, I was immediately sent away to the Alpha Academy,” he told me. I looked at him, almost gasping.

“There’s an alpha academy?” I gape. I knew my brothers had been sent to training and a boot camp for warriors and clan generals. I didn’t know really; they had done the same so much with Alphas. Jerry smiles at my naivety and I blush, wishing I had not sounded so ignorant.

“Oh, yes- there is an Alpha Academy for Lycans. It’s similar to what your brothers did with their training, but just more advanced and for Alphas, betas, and lunas only. It’s not a big secret or anything, but it’s not talked about a lot beyond the inner sanctum- council members, elders, or alpha and beta families -so don’t beat yourself up so much about not knowing, Desi.”

I nod, wondering why I had not heard my brothers talking about this. I wonder why I had not paid so much attention when he continued talking.

“Back then, both my father and Beta Thomas took me, taking me under their wings and giving me a crash course in being an Alpha. While I may have the title and the power that comes along with it, there is more to just the name and power. There is the need to control this power, to channel it and use it both for the benefit of an alpha’s clan and his future family,” he told me, saying the last part softly as he took his hand from the wheel and gave one of my gloved ones a squeeze.

My mind whirled with all of this new information, a small part of my mind focusing on the swirling pattern his thumb was making over the wool of my gloves. I thought back to that time several years ago when he had been made Alpha- there was a time where I did not see him very often and wondered where he had gone or what he was doing. Mama and my brothers always said the same thing: He’s the Alpha, now- he has gotten business and better things to do than run after you.

At the time, the words had stung a bit; however, as time wore on, it made sense. He was the Alpha- my Alpha. I wondered what it was like, being the Alpha of a clan of Lycans like ours. Then another thought entered my mind, and I felt my breath seize in my chest.

When he entered the academy, he was considered the youngest Alpha. And, as far as I knew, would have likely been the only unmated Alpha on the East Coast. That would have made him sought after by a lot of families and clans, eager to have one of their daughters- or maybe sons, depending on the progressiveness of the clan and family -his mate and future Luna.

I looked at Jerry and smiled, though I felt some small ping of sadness because I wanted to be selfish. I didn’t want our relationship or friendship to change- the connection we had, though brought on by the overprotectiveness of my father, was special and unique. Squaring my shoulders, I resolved that whatever happened, everything would be okay. That if he turned out to not be my mate, everything would be okay. I just hope that once he finds his mate, she is okay with our relationship.

“So are only Alphas, Betas, and Lunas allowed at this academy? I just ask as I didn’t hear my brothers or papa ever talk about it.” I said innocently. Jerry smiled and nodded, his hands moving on the wheel, so we turned onto the main road that led into town.

“They wouldn’t, really, as it’s on a need-to-know basis. Though I am surprised your brothers or father didn’t talk about it or mention anything around you. Then again, since you seem to be more human than Lycan,” he mused, his voice trailing off slightly. I felt my cheeks grow warm, though it had nothing to do with being near Jerry or being layered in the midst of winter. I felt Corah bristle at this statement, flexing her claws in preparation for when she would be free.

We sat in silence for a moment, my mind focusing on the chain of command. Now that Tanner had taken his rightful place as Beta of our clan, we would likely be going to the Academy as well. I felt bad that he would be playing catch up with my brothers Jensen, our clan Gamma, and RJ as the Delta and clan general- who had been given the honor and all the decoration that my father had. However, I smiled slightly at the thought of him being sent away for a while...and away from Merigold “I am an itchy whore” Newton. As if reading my mind, Jerry began talking again.

“I’ve been trying to sway Tanner away from Meri. Something is definitely off with him-- whenever she’s around, she gives off this strange vibe as though she were almost controlling him or has some type of claim on him.”

“Maybe it’s the mate bond,” I huffed, trying to not care about it. But I remembered how Meri had acted, fawning, and clinging to Tanner and daring to even fight Luna Beatrix. Jerry shook his head, frowning at the idea.

“I overheard what RJ said- she rejected him and then went after Tanner. I know both your brother and Tanner- both are level-headed and wouldn’t put up with that bullshit, from anyone. But ever since the Newtons came here…”He paused, contemplating what to say as he waited for the light to change.

“I don’t know- nothing about this makes sense. Ever since your Sweet Sixteen-- I don’t know, her hold on him has gotten worse. She tries to follow him everywhere, keeping whatever, he’s doing or whomever he’s seeing within her line of sight. It is getting in the way of his work and clan duties as Beta- half the time, I end up either doing the work myself or passing it onto your brothers. He’s just not himself! I can see her, digging her claws into him, deeper than ever, practically forcing him to stay. And the worst part is, he’s letting her get away with treating both him and everyone else- including his parents, myself, and you -like utter garbage.” Jeremiah snarled as he pulled out of my driveway and on to Cardinal Ave.

I slowly reached under the loose collar of my shirt, fingering the cool silver of the necklace Tanner gave me. After my birthday, I did as he requested and wore it, never taking it off unless I was at home taking a shower or maybe swimming, keeping it in my talisman pouch. Whenever I am alone, I clutch it from time to time, remembering how he looked when he gave it to me. It is the only good thing I can hold onto.

“It doesn’t really concern me, Jerry. He’s chosen his misery. Now he has to lie in the mess he created,” I spat, shrugging my shoulders. I looked at him then, frowning.

“Besides which, other than her getting in the way of clan business, why should we care who he’s mating?” My lip contorted into a disturbed pout. After my birthday, almost everyone in town- Lycan or not -knew what she had done. It had caused her mother’s shop, Meri’s Sweet Treats Bakery, to suffer greatly. Someone had even broken the windows, shattered the display cases, and damaged the sign with spray paint, changing the sign to say, Meri’s Sweet Treats and Tricks - with a matching graffiti caricature of Merigold Newton bent over between two men, being taken from behind while blowing someone. From what I had heard, it looked like both men had been caricatures of RJ and Tanner, choking and fighting one another while doing Merigold.

Though the damage to the building had been dealt with and the graffiti covered, up, the damage to the Newtons’ reputation had been done over tenfold, not to mention how my family and Tanner’s was also looked at with a mixture of pity and revulsion. They were now as most Omegas of old had been treated- scum, rats, and pests. They were not welcome to large pack gatherings or in most of the large businesses.

Jerry had tried his best to help Meri’s parents and made sure Tanner’s and my family were also taken care of. But despite being old news, people still cast all of us with odd looks. I still blamed Meri for everything, though RJ tried to tell me to forget it. That he’d magically “move on,” which wasn’t true. Especially since my mom revealed that his insistence of moving on had to do with the guilt of having actually been with her just before being rejected. RJ’s rank wasn’t good enough for her.

Even worse, she had tried to get to Jerry, too, before moving onto Tanner. But Jerry’s not that hard up and already knowing her reputation previously, was not interested in yesterday’s forgotten and spoiled goods. Unlike Tanner, he had a sense of dignity and honor; he wouldn’t betray RJ like that.

“How can you be so sure that he isn’t her second chance mate?” He asked me, eyebrows raised. As Alpha, once a pairing is made, he needs to oversee the mating ceremonies.

“If he’s her second chance, I am a monkey’s uncle,” I scoffed, finding the thought ridiculous. Then noticed his face: he was being 100% sincere. It took me a moment to realize why he was staring at me that way: he was testing me. We came to a stop at the light, the Silver Daycare Center, another two lights away.

“Desi, were you absent the day they taught second chance mates in lycan biology and myths?” He asked me, his voice tensed as he looked at me with a questioning glare. I tried to think back to my day in that class when he spoke again.

“The Moon Goddess doesn’t bestow second chance mates to those who reject their true mates, unless it’s extenuating circumstances.” He announced sharply. I felt my insides freeze, then I shook my head.

“Really, Jeremiah…”I said easily, rolling my eyes. I cleared my throat trying to make it look like I knew that already, “Of course I was there that day…”

“Uh-huh,” he deadpanned, not taking me seriously. He continued with his lesson recap.

“There’s only a small chance she’d provide a second chance mate to someone who rejected their true mate. It’s not guaranteed and only out of duress or death. Not when the one who speaks the rejection oath is a selfish, status climbing, power hungry cow.” He growled, his hands squeezing the steering wheel so tightly I thought the wheel might crumble apart in his hands.

I could hear the grit and see the talons slicing through Jerry’s hands. Crow was surfacing-- we would crash! Without thinking, I lovingly but cautiously caressed my hand on Jerry’s leg trying to soothe Crow. It worked, Crow’s eyes fading away until Jerry was back with me.

“I’m sorry for that. This entire thing is just so...so fucking twisted. I cannot have him continue on like this, especially if he decides to stay with Merigold. Your brothers are already taxed enough as it is, without having to do his work and keep Merigold from entering our office.” He admitted, sighing and rubbing my hand as he began to turn into the strip mall parking lot.

I knew that Jerry is put in an odd position, but he is right to be concerned. This relationship with Meri is affecting Tanner’s effectiveness as Beta. Though I do not seem him that much anymore, whenever Jensen and RJ come home, they talk about him in hushed tones. He comes in sullen, despondent, and lethargic most of the time. He’s been late for combat training and has been extra aggressive with the new defensive line recruits that RJ has assigned to border patrol.

“I believe she’s been hexing him. But I need proof.” He admitted in a soft voice. I looked up at him, eyes wide in shock as though I had misheard him. His voice was a near whisper, but I know what I heard, and it shocked me. I had sometimes wondered what hold she had on him, but a hex- that was powerful magic. Magic that Meri had no way of being able to control- the girl had no aptitude for anything besides being on her knees or on her back.

“How are you going to get that proof?” I asked, throat thickening. I wondered if he would be doing research, spying on the Newtons, or maybe asking someone else. He shook his head, not quite sure what to tell me.

“I don’t know yet. I need to do some research first, see what I can find out. I might also need to pay Meri’s parents a visit,” He said as I got out of the car. I turned to say something- tell me what you find out, let me know if there is anything I can do -but he was backing away.

“I’ll be here at the end of your shift to pick you up. See you later, my Desi Doo,” he called out as the car turned and sped away. I stood in the parking lot, watching his taillights fade into the morning traffic, and sighed. Soon after he sped away, I received a text from Mama as I walked through the door of the daycare center.

Momma: Honey, don’t forget to pick up your party dress from the cleaners when you’re done with work and be home at least by 5, guests arrive at 7.

Me: Yes, Mama. I love you. See you later.

Heading home

My shift ending at 4:00pm, I hastily zig-zagged through the crowd of strip mall shoppers, trying to make sure I got to the cleaners just in time. I sighed in relief as I stopped out front, the sighing in relief as I had arrived just in time.

“Ah, Miss Desdemona- your drapes for the evening are prepared anon,” The elderly woman and shop owner, Mrs. Pawlowski, said airily pointing towards the back of the shop. I rolled my eyes but smiled. Apparently, the owner was just as much a lover of Shakespeare and Old English as my mother was.

“Thanks, ma’am,” I said, smiling as I grabbed my dress from the rack. I hastily dropped the money for the dress on the counter. “Pleasure doing business with you! Thanks again!”

“Do you need a ride home?” She called after me, turning off the light for the sign. I shook my head as I exited the shop, focusing on my phone.

“No, no-- my mom or a friend should be here soon to pick me up.” I said absently. There were no new texts from Jerry or my mom-- had something happened? Looking down at my phone, I quickly began to type out a text when I ran into some kind of pole.

I stuttered, nearly dropping my phone as my body walked into a tower of pure, solid torso. Electricity danced up my arms, a gasp escaping my lips while a resounding growl emanated up from the wall’s belly.

“Hey, watch it!” I snapped, bending to pick up my phone. If I had somehow broken my phone, he would be getting an earful.

“Desi…” The man gasped in shock. I gazed up the towering figure who had uttered my name like it was a saving grace. I nearly dropped my phone again as I stared at the man in front of me.

“Oh, Beta Tanner.” I sputtered, unconsciously beginning to extend my neck out of respect. I flinched, shaking my head, and recovering as I stared down at my phone, ignoring the electrical current radiating through me from my head down to my toes. He was the Beta now- he both needed and demanded that respect. Despite our standoff several years ago, his now official status as Silver Bullet Beta now caused anyone to show respect- even me. Despite my talisman, it still had an effect on me.

As I sent the text, I quickly pulled at my dress- making sure the bag and the dress itself didn’t somehow get damaged. Where the hell was Mama? Or Jerry? I looked up as Tanner narrowed his eyes, glancing between my phone and my dress before he straightened up- throwing his shoulders back and cracking his neck, radiating power, and trying to appear intimidating. I felt my body shiver, but passersby- humans and Lycans - tried to avoid him.

“Be more careful next time, huh? I’ll see you tonight.” He said, turning to look over his shoulder as if waiting for someone. Unable to stop myself, I moved toward him.

“What do you mean, you’ll see me tonight?” I demanded, feeling confused. I had gone over the list several times with Mama, noting who would and would not be welcome. We had invited Tanner’s parents but surely, she had not--

“It’s your birthday tonight, yeah? I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Nice dress - “He began, motioning towards my dress when he was cut off by an irritating clatter. We both turned, locking eyes with an eyesore dressed in fur-lined pink park, wooly Ugg boots, and not much else. Merigold.

“Okay, baby lets go.” The magenta haired status hopper simpered, clinging on to my former best friend and future mate. I froze-- wait, where the hell? I must have made a noise because suddenly I felt like a deer in the deadlights as both Tanner and Merigold looked at me, eyes narrowing. Her usual puckered mouth frowned, turning into a cruel sneer as she looked me over.

“Oh, well if it isn’t the mat-less wonder.” She bit out, smile dazzling and sharp. Tanner turned to look at her, eyes narrowing, and jaw tightened. Before either of them could say anything, my phone pinged- Jerry was on his way -and I looked at them, smiling sweetly.

“And if it isn’t the status hopping heifer.” I quipped back. Merigold’s mouth gaped and her eyes flashed dangerously. Flipping her off, I whipped my hair at her as I spun around walking in the opposite direction as them, ignoring her high-pitched banter.

“Hey, Desi…wait up.” A familiar voice shouted down the sidewalk after me. I rolled my eyes, turning to look at him trotting after me. Merigold stood behind him, glaring at both of us and tapping her foot in anger.

“What, I’m in a rush, Tanner.” I snapped. He ignored my disrespectful curt tone. He ran his hands through his tousled hair, pointing his thumb back at his chosen mate.

“Look, I’m sorry about Meri. She had no right to say those things.” He offered, offering me a sheepish and apologetic grin. I glared at him, my breaths coming out in vicious pants. I could feel Corah uncoiling in my mind-- she was ready to pounce. She wanted to get out, tear Merigold apart, take Tanner and--I shook my head, ignoring the images as best as I could.

“Nothing new between her and me, Tanner. Just keep your bitch of a jailer under control,” I ground out. Tanner’s eyes flashed- in anger or shock. He leaned forward, mouth agape in eagerness to say something when I heard a low honking. Jerry was here.

“Well, it’s been nice chatting with you.” I announced, nodding at him, and flipping Merigold the middle finger. Rolling my eyes as I snorted, I whipped around again, attempting to make my escape. This is my birthday and I refuse to entertain him any further.

“Wait,” He said, his hand grasping my shoulder so I could not move. I turned, glaring at him with hurt in my eyes. He removed his hand slowly and just stood there, hands in his pockets and beginning to sway from one foot to the other, as if he were nervous about something.

“You’re still wearing my mate token…” He whispered, a shadow of a grin pulling at either side of Tanner’s chiseled jawline. My hand reached up to the open collar of my parka and skimmed out the purplish-blue gemstone that still hung around my neck. Instantly I removed me hand and zipped up my parka; I chose not to show how he affected me.

“If that’s all, Beta Tanner, I have a birthday party to get ready for and my Mama won’t be so pleased if I am late.” I sniffed, slowly backing away. It nearly broke my heart to be cruel to him.

“Oh, yeah of course. Go. Be safe and see you later.” He said sheepishly before turning and jogging back to Merigold. As he approached, she grabbed his face in her hands and gave him a searing kiss that made my stomach flip and nose hairs curl. Corah let out a low growl.

Ignore him, my girl- ignore them both. Corah ordered me, her tone making me shiver in fear. They will both see the error of their ways or die trying. I promise- things will be made right, somehow.

She was right. Brushing his lame attempt at exchanging awkward pleasantries, I hurriedly jog down the sidewalk – ignoring his very public make out and dry humping session with Merigold. Jeremiah was tightlipped as I got into the car, his eyes focusing on the road ahead as we left the outlet mall...he must have seen Merigold and Tanner with me.

As we disappeared around the corner and headed home, I felt Jerry’s hand on my thigh. His thumb began to rub a slow circle over the top, instantly calming my thoughts. When he removed his hand, my mind began to wander again. For the entire ride back to the ranch, I took inventory of how Jeremiah has been clingy and angry while Tanner has been distant and nasty, with moments of being sweet. For sure, something was wrong. If only Papa were here to give me guidance...

An Hour before festivities

When I got home, preparation for the party was well under way. For once, Mama allowed me to relax and enjoy myself- saying she and our ranchers were more than capable of handling the finer details. When I went upstairs to my room, I was shocked to see not only Marjorie Wilcox but a few members from the salon there as well.

“As you are the queen for the day, we are to treat you as such. This means,” she said gingerly removing my parka while the other women began to help me undress, “you are to get the royal treatment.”

Before I could say anything, I swept away on a cloud of euphoria as I was massaged, primped, nails clipped and manicured, pedicured, given a complete facial and waxed from head to toe. The last part I would have preferred not to have, as it left my legs and the place between my legs sore. But at the end, I felt...different. Serene, almost-- even Corah purred and stretched out inside my head, feeling like a freshly sprung being than a caged animal.

Mama helped me with my hair, pulling it up into a dramatic sock bun that sat on the top of my head with dark tendrils flowing down around my face. Tanner’s mother, Margorie arranged for a makeup artist, Fauna to work her magic - a plum colored smokey eye, plum iridescent lips and a lavender shimmer on my cheeks.

Looking in the mirror at my reflection- I took stock of my heritage, the human half combining with my Lycan half. I looked almost unlike myself, transformed into something or someone not entirely human or Lycan. And yet both sides had shown through.

“No black this time, my girl. You are to be regal, elegant, and royal. As such, you must dress the part,” she had insisted. Even Marjorie Wilcox had insisted on this matter, refusing to give me anything that was black or red. Instead, she allowed me to pick the style and the cut of the dress...but the color was something of a secret, even from my mother.

As I began to drag down the zipper to the garment bag my dress hung in – my teeth began to chatter. I may have picked it up from the cleaners, but I haven’t seen it until I opened the garment bag to slip it on. And I was awestruck when it was pulled from the bag, Marjorie and one of her assistants helping me into it. Not only am I a Lycan, but I am Irish, and, in my culture, purple is seen as a royal color, so my mother wanted me to be radiant and regal.

The bodice was lovely - adorned with silver and pale blue whimsical floral appliques. A tight sweetheart neckline and corset bodice with spaghetti straps and a full ball gown. I couldn’t believe this was all mine. As I stepped out of my bedroom, I stopped as I saw my mother come from her room. When she spotted me, she stopped and looked me over in awestruck dumbness. Really, I had never heard her be so quiet before. Looking at my mother, I could see her joy.

“If only he could see you now. He’d be so proud of you and usher you down the stairs to announce you with such admiration and pride. His aingeal beag (Little angel).

“Oh, Mama…” we embraced as if someone was wrapped around us, keeping us from breaking apart.

“Oh, stop…absolutely NO tears. My masterpiece!” Fauna ordered, referring to my face as she handed me and Mama our own tissues. I smiled and gingerly wiped at my eyes, being careful to not smudge the hours of work that had been done to make me and my two heritages shine through. My two brothers come behind our mother, smiling at me and reiterating their thoughts.

“Almost everyone’s here but there are still stragglers. Ready to face the music?” They both joked, both offering me their arms to bring me downstairs and greet the gathering guests. Nodding, I take each by their arms and allowed them to lead me toward the stairs.

Rather suddenly, I was beginning to feel an overwhelming sense of dread and enormous pain starting to collect in my head down into my chest. I stopped gripping their arms as the pain began to overwhelm me. They both froze, staring at me in confusion and worry.

“Desi, what’s wrong?” RJ asked, turning my head so I was facing him. I opened my mouth and wheezed out words, pain welling in my chest and making it hard to breath, let alone talk. My stomach was in knots and shooting pains went out and up from my groan.

“Ma-ma…” I gasped, nearly toppling over as my hand went down to clutch just below my stomach. RJ nodded, running to find her while Jensen helped me sit in a dignified purple heap on the floor. Absently, I thought it could have been that time of the month.

My head lolling to the side, I looked up at the calendar and began to count down the days since Aunt Flow had visited and realized it was too early. Without warning, in the front of my head, there was a sharp pain radiating as if someone took a hot fire poker and rammed it right into my eye. I could hear a distant growl in the pit of my belly, up into my chest, up through my nasal cavity - smack dab into the crown of my head. That’s when the lights went out and all I could hear were high pitched screams, familiar voices yelling for me to get up.

“Get the clan physician,” Jensen barked, his voice echoing as though coming from deep within a tunnel. I felt a wetness on my chin, and I could hear gurgling coming from my throat as I was no longer in control of my own body. I could feel myself jolting-- body spasming violently as my limbs, hips and shoulders thrust out and convulsed. Hissing, I unleashed a labored howl that also sounded like it came from somewhere else...not me.

Then, as quickly as the lights went out, I shot up, as if someone injected me with adrenaline. My family was there, staring at me with mouths agape. The doctor was there, hands at his sides...staring, all staring. At me.

I made a mad dash for the front door, makeup in ruins, hair out of place and now cascading down my back, I ran outside with no shoes on. The snow crunched beneath my feet, the sharp cold biting into my exposed flesh as I ran toward the property line. I could hear a cacophony of voices plaguing me-- all begging for me to return to them, but I could not stop.

I was too shocked, too out of my element. Suddenly, my body collided with another wall unexpectedly. The spell broken, I shook my head and stared up, shock washing over me again. I didn’t expect to see him the moment I flew down the stairs out the door.

“Mine…”

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