“Hey, Dad. It’s me.”
Nyah Morgan stood at the edge of her father’s grave, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, and eyes watering against a boisterous wind. Crisp winter laced its edges, glee whipping strands of her hair into a frenzied dance to momentarily shroud her view of wilting wreaths.
“Jackson did a great job with the headstone,” she announced, stamping her feet against the chill creeping through the soles of her boots. “I hope you like it.”
Hearing herself, she cringed against the stupidity of talking to someone who couldn’t hear, or reply. “What are you doing, Morgan?” When she rolled her eyes to where pale sky stretched far above the naked tree tips, tears blurred the colourless afternoon. “This is so hard, Dad. I hate it. I hate that you’re gone.”
Determined to behave braver than she felt, Nyah wiped her cheeks dry. She forced the tears to retreat with a loud sniff. “Okay,” she said, firming her stance on the icy ground, “Here’s what he carved. ‘Harper Morgan’,” she read aloud, wanting the epitaph broadcast so the surrounding earth would understand the importance of the man now resting in its depths, “‘fearless leader, beloved husband and devoted father. May he rest in peace’.” The recital whispered to a close.
A small carving graced the black granite. In the upper right corner, a lone wolf stood on the highest of three peaks, its neck chiselled into an eternal arch as it howled under a swollen moon. To the human eye, not that many ever wandered this deep into their territory, the carving appeared to be nothing more than a motif. To her, and all fellow werewolves, it represented how her deceased father had served as Alpha.
Nyah traced the etching with numb fingers. “I miss you, Dad.” With her throat swelling again, she gave her head a shake. “Enough.”
The scent of Alan, the werewolf set to take over from her father, carried on the unruly breeze. Nyah tried to fix a neutral expression in place, preferring to keep moments of weakness to herself. Tears were best reserved for behind closed doors, or huddled under the duvet at night, as was her preference.
“What do you think?” Alan strode through the wrought iron gates surrounding the simple cemetery. He came to stand beside her before stretching out to give the regrettable addition an affectionate pat. “Jackson did us proud, didn’t he?”
“He did,” she agreed, “it’s perfect.” Knowing Alan hadn’t come to the cemetery to share his thoughts on her father’s headstone, Nyah made a point of checking her watch. “I’m not late for the meeting, am I?” she asked, aware she still had half an hour before two o’clock arrived.
“No. I wanted to talk to you about something beforehand.”
Alan nodded towards the open gate, inviting her to walk with him as if what needed to be said would disrespect the memory of his deceased Alpha.
“Simon Northfell’s attending the meeting,” he announced once their backs were turned to the grave.
Nyah groaned. Alan shared her less than pleasant opinion of Simon Northfell—in fact, the entire pack held little tolerance for the man.
“I told him no,” Alan said, following her through the gate, “but as he constantly likes to remind me; I don’t officially have the right to deny his attendance.”
Together, they mimicked Simon’s haughty drawl. “You are not Alpha, Mr Stenson; the decision is not yours to make.”
“He’s such a pain in the ass.” Nyah ensured the rusting gate latch had caught properly before they walked on. “I wish he’d crawl back to whatever rock he hid under for the last ten years.”
“I doubt the rock wants him either.”
“Next Thursday can’t come quick enough,” she grumbled as they strolled towards the trees arching over the forest track. Bare limbs clacked overhead, the sound too close to rattling bones for Nyah’s comfort. “It’s a pity we can’t find a way to make you Alpha sooner.”
“I don’t think me being Alpha will change anything. Northfell wants a place on the Council and he’ll fight tooth and nail to get it.”
“I’d love to know in what reality he thinks he’s entitled to it. He left for a whole decade. Who in their right mind believes they have any sway on any Lycan Council after abandoning their pack for ten years?”
“Eh, Simon Northfell.”
Nyah kicked a fallen pine cone into the shadowy depths to her right. “Along with his ancient Alpha descendants, if we’re to believe his bullshit.”
Alan scratched at his head. Nyah ignored the fidgeting as her rant gained momentum. “I bet if every wolf looked into his or her ancestry they’d find some tissue-thin connection to an Alpha. He’s got some neck thinking his entitles him to a seat on the Council. Or to rejoin the pack for that matter.”
An exhale of remorse trailed from Alan. “Nyah.”
“What.” His tone slowed her irritated stride.
“Unfortunately, his connection is a little more substantial than tissue paper.”
She came to an abrupt stop. Above, swaying limbs clapped in disapproval. “No—that can’t . . . are you sure?”
“Yes.” Alan dragged a hand through his wavy dark-blonde hair, a familiar sign of frustration. “I traced his bloodline. Twice. And I checked the statutes. He does have the right.”
“That’s not good.” Nyah hugged herself, unsure if it was against the nipping breeze or the cold truth.
“What can we do?”
“Nothing.” Alan shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, resignation dipping his shoulders.
“Nothing at all?”
“We’re bound by Lycan Law.”
Silence hitched a ride for the final stretch of narrow path. It was only when the first of the houses skirting their modest settlement were visible before Alan spoke again.
“Nyah.” Taking her arm, he urged her to a halt once more. “I’ve a bad feeling about all of this. Simon has an obnoxious plan formulating, and whatever it is, I think he’ll announce it at the meeting.”
Concern stripped softness from his tawny eyes. Nyah smiled up at him, hoping it would chase the darkness away. “And you’ll be ready and able for it.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about.”
“So it’s me?” she tried to laugh.
“I don’t want him upsetting you.”
“Ignore whatever he says, okay?”
“Just like you do?” she teased, tugging his sleeve as he wrestled with his hair.
His hand dropped. A smile appeared, but didn’t make it past his lips. As he tipped his chin at a call from the direction of the pack house, unease lingered, continuing to dim his expression. “I’m watching out for you is all. Old habits die hard, you know. And anyway, you’ve been through enough without that idiot upsetting you.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry,” she promised as they left the rustling tree tunnel behind. She was used to Alan’s protective ways. His concern for her had gone into overdrive since her father had passed, and by her reckoning, Alan had another few weeks of big brother duty before he’d ease up.
On her seventh birthday, Alan had declared himself as her older brother. The week before, they’d been making family trees in school. Upon seeing Nyah’s tree empty of siblings when his had five leaves occupied, Alan had stared at her with horrified despair. In response, he’d stolen her sheet off the classroom wall and added his name to the leaf above hers.
When the folded page fell out of his birthday card to her, his solemn promise to always watch out for his little sister came half-choked under emotion. He’d never once faltered since.
He gave her a final careful glance before reluctantly backing away. “See you in a few. And remember what I said, okay?”
“I will.” Nyah watched as he jogged towards her father’s house. Pack members were already gathering on the lawn outside and she threw across a quick wave before turning into the pathway of her new home.