Gusts of wind rattled the windows, and the lamps flickered and failed. I put down the cup of coffee I had been pouring, hopped down off the tall stool behind the bookstore counter, and picked out four candles from the cupboard setting them on the countertop.
“Vatra,” I whispered, and the candle flames danced cheerfully. I eyed the stubborn fireplace. “Vatra!” I insisted, and the dim embers in the fireplace crackled as though they were laughing at me. I narrowed my eyes and tried again and it came to life. The warmth of the fireplace reached my bare feet as I climbed back onto my stool and pulled the stack of university catalogues towards me. The Deakin University School of Psychology beckoned for my attention, and I dog-eared the page. I had lifetimes ahead of me and before my grandmother had passed, she had insisted that I choose a program. My life consisted of reading university catalogues between serving coffee to the few who knew of my grandmother’s little book nook on a side street in West End.
Hours later, a glance outside revealed the illuminated streetlights, and I remembered my dinner plans with my sister. I quickly returned the course catalogues to their place under the counter and pulled on my ankle boots. Rather than enter into a battle with little flames that would reignite half a dozen times before allowing me to leave—I ignored the candles and fireplace. They’d turn themselves out once I’d left. I stepped out into the cool air and locked the door behind me. My boots clicked loudly in the silence, and when the last street lantern wavered and dimmed, my eyes began to itch. A chill seemed to emanate from my palms and it spread up my arms, startling me. There was a werewolf closeby, and I could taste his intoxicating scent in the air. A deadly trap that ensnared young witches. I backed against the wall and tried to focus on something—anything—that would help me ignore the thick, heady bait.
“Oči!” I called a frantic whisper for my eyes to find a safe route to run. I could feel his excitement. He stood in the shadows of the adjacent building and watched me, enthralled. I catalogued his frame. Unsuited to a chase over a prolonged distance if I were to keep to the rooftops. He seemed too broad, too heavy, and it gave me hope. The stranger moved to the stairwell and a darkness overcame my eyes. Invisible bindings locked my legs in place and a rush of adrenaline flooded my body.
“Such a pretty little witch.” My pursuer purred. His accent, like mine, was Slavic, and I felt his concentration as he attempted to melt my tension. I had heard stories of young witches being claimed by rogues. They were forced to abandon their lives, travel, be a companion and bred. The thought had always nauseated me. I thought of the loss my sister would face and my chest ached with sorrow. My panic drew strength and I threw the shrillest call for help I could muster into the wind. No sound left my lips, but the call for help would be heard. Within moments, the invisible bindings loosened and my vision returned.
“Lani, I can’t hold him for long.” My sister’s lilted voice carried on the wind, but my attacker wouldn’t have heard her. “Run, Lani.”
“I just want to see something,” I replied. Narrowing my eyes at the hunter frozen in front of me, I stepped forward to gain a closer look. His green eyes appeared almost black in the moonlight and my heart raced seeing his pupils dilate in response to my proximity. It was in that moment that I saw the playfulness in his features, and it didn’t seem feasible that he would cause me harm.
“Lani, what are you doing?” My sister’s impatience was palpable, and I felt her strength, like an elastic band, straining. “Lani, stop!”
I didn’t answer her. As much as I tried to ignore the pull of the hunter, I couldn’t. I reached my fingers out and touched his stubble-covered cheek. The reaction was instantaneous. My nervous energy dissolved and in its place was longing. His skin was searing hot, and my fingertips pulsed as though a low-voltage electric current was running through them. All at once, his hands were holding my wrists and my back was pressed to the cool, glass windows of the bookshop. The hunter had shrouded us to avoid interruption. Mortals wouldn’t have been able to see us even if someone had happened upon the narrow alleyway.
“Please,” I whispered—unsure of exactly what I wanted. My body trembled in anticipation, and I was greeted with only the most delicious chuckle. He leaned forward to hover his lips next to my left ear, and my stomach tightened. Within me, my wolf stirred. Daughter to an alpha and witch, my witch was my every moment. My sister and I opted to suppress our wolves. Being a witch seemed to be infinitely more fun – from what my mother had left in her journals and what we had experienced since our grandmother’s passing, and it was pack brutality that ended my parents’ lives. I was brought out of my reverie by calloused fingers tilting my chin towards his.
“Little girl,” he chastised. “Run.”
My face was expressionless, and I blinked.
“I want to play,” he said, gesturing to the only way out of the alleyway. “Go.”
It took a moment for my brain to catch up as my feet flew across the cobblestone street. I couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I easily slipped into the trap of the winding lanes under the blanket of clouds and disappearing moon. A peculiar rush had overcome me. I wanted him to catch me. A giggle bubbled to the surface. Clouds filtered the moonlight, so that his face was just visible, and his lips were upturned in a relaxed grin. My chest rose and fell in quick succession, and my hunter stalked nearer.
“Easy, little witch.” His jet-black hair fell forward into his eyes and he brushed it back, running his fingers through the wild mop. The reality of his age was hard to discern. Though he appeared no older than mid-twenties; the reality was that he could have been a century or two older than his appearance.
“Too easy. Try again.” He moved his hand in a sweeping gesture to motion for me to run.
“Who are you? I asked, slowly backing away from the dead-end.
“Not a rogue.”
I blinked. Impossible.
“And when I catch you, you’re mine.” He promised.
I was broken from my excitement. No. I don’t want to be claimed. Not yet and if he wasn’t a rogue, who was he? My life was quiet, but it was mine.
Not waiting for another invitation, I turned for the nearest fire escape and climbed.
“Oh, decided to run have we?”
“Shut up, Lumi.” I threw my voice back at my sister.
“He’s giving you a head start.”
Well, at least that was nice. I reached the rooftop and breathed a sigh of relief. I began to run. With the rooftops aligned, I could see my path and knew I could make it. A werewolf was a perfect tracker, but a witch could easily shroud, and with the gaps between buildings, I doubled back, and created false trails.
The wind carried me effortlessly from the adjacent rooftop to my balcony and I landed safely with both feet on the wall. I peered over to the rows of barely audible traffic forty floors below, turned and stepped down from the wall. It was unlikely that I could have been followed, but not impossible, so I quickly unlocked the door to the apartment and locked it behind me. The living area was uncharacteristically warm and it was a welcome reprieve from the wintry chill I’d experienced as I danced along the rooftops.
I stripped out of my dress and boots, walking to the kitchen where a bottle of merlot had been decanting. Pouring a glass, I turned off the light in the main area and followed the glow of the hall lights to my bedroom. My wolf was more awake than she had ever been and I almost regretted only once letting the shift consume me.
When I closed the door to my bedroom, I hovered my hand over the lock until I heard the click and feeling the ebb and flow of protection, I walked through the bedroom sealing the windows. I just needed one night without interruption. Exhaustion weighed heavily on my eyelids and the warmth of my ensuite’s bathtub was calling to me. I sipped my merlot and set it down on the ensuite counter. A long, hot bath was what I needed - even if my wolf grimaced at the notion of becoming wet willingly. I pinned my hair up and filled the tub. The water was just as heavenly as I had anticipated and the glass of wine I had finished caused my wolf to almost purr in contentment. I closed my eyes and slid down into the hot water relaxing fully.
A sharp knock broke me from my shallow slumber, and I sat up, frowning. It had to be after eleven o’clock and I’d be dammed if I would allow my nosy neighbour Mrs Adams to disrupt my precious recuperation time with her fear-mongering about the recent animal attacks in the local reserve. To be quite honest, I didn’t care. I was a hybrid witch werewolf after my pack disbanded following the attack which took the lives of my parents, the Alpha and Luna. My sister and I had already been sent away to live with my grandmother in anticipation of the attack and from what I was told as I got older - the pack had been destroyed by the physical attack and constant fear. The pack house had been burned, some mothers escaped with their pups, but the strength and soul of the pack had been wiped out in the attack. I was never told what happened with the beta, gamma and surviving warriors, but I only hoped they survived and found a new pack willing to take them in. It was twelve years later, I was 20, and I just wanted to live peacefully after the passing of my grandmother two years ago.
Beyond the sealed bedroom, the knock became more persistent. I grumbled, pulled myself out of the tub, did a half attempt at drying myself, before giving up and enveloping myself in my dressing gown.
I stamped through the apartment to the front door.
“Go to bed, Mrs Adams!” I called through the closed door.
No response, but the knocking ceased. Breathing a sigh of relief, I walked back toward my kitchen. I had almost reached the bottle of merlot when the rapping started again.
“For Goddess’ sake! Go to bed you crazy old woman!” I whispered in exasperation and walked back to the door, determined to put Mrs Adams back to bed where she belonged.
I took a breath, closed my eyes and swung open the door – willing myself to be cordial.
“Mrs,” I began and stopped. I opened my eyes and it wasn’t Mrs Adams. Where I expected to see her blue eyes with half-moon glasses falling down her nose, I was met with the sight of a very wet and very muscular chest. A black shirt clung to every line of the chiselled man in front of me and I inhaled shakily when I felt the pull of his gaze. A warmth crept up my neck, my heart thundered in my chest and when I lifted my eyes to meet his, my wolf whimpered. His green eyes held me in place and I swayed on my feet. I faintly heard the bottle of merlot smash on the tiled floor as it slipped from my fingers. Then…nothing.
My wolf yelped softly. Mate!