Chapter One – Journey with a Stranger
I stand at the bus station, my bag clutched in my hand as I watch the bus to Linton come to a stop in front of me. It is finally happening, everything I have worked so hard for over the last three years is coming true.
Between school, studying and working two part time jobs I haven’t had a life, but it all feels worth it now. I am going to Linton, to attend the only university in the country where wolves and humans study together, and a lone shifter like me is welcome.
I move forward, and hand my bag over to the man loading the luggage onto the bus. I climb the steps and look around searching for a seat. We are one of the first stops, so the bus is only a quarter full, and I easily find an empty seat halfway down. I try to make myself comfortable for the long journey ahead.
Linton is on the other side of the country, and it is going to take over a day to get there. The bus will follow a winding route across the country, stopping at over a dozen major towns and cities on the way.
It would have been easier to fly. There are direct flights which would get me there in a couple of hours, but they are a luxury I can’t afford. The bus may not be expensive by most people’s standards but when I get to Linton, I am going to have to find a part time job quickly before my meagre savings run out.
That is my biggest concern, that I will run out of money. That after all the effort I have gone to, the sacrifices I have made to get there; I find that I cannot afford to stay.
I am not nervous about moving to a new town on my own. I am used to travelling around, never settling in one place for very long. Every six months to a year, mum and I would move someplace new. We would have to find somewhere to live; I would get a part time job to help pay the bills; and I would have to settle into a new school.
I would try and make new friends and study hard to catch up determined to stay near the top of my classes. In short doing everything I could to keep my dream of going to this university alive.
One of the best things about studying in Linton will be that I can stay there for five whole years. For the first time I will have the opportunity to settle somewhere that I can call home. No more being forced to leave because the local pack hates loners, or because mum just decides one day that it is time to move on.
She was always so sure that there was a better town out there for us, just waiting to be discovered. With a better school than the one I was attending, a nicer house to live in, and well-paid jobs. Once she made her mind up to find that better place we would have to go.
Now I am finally going somewhere where a lone shifter is welcome. I am going to be able to shift into my wolf and run without the fear of the local pack running me out of town for being on their pack’s territory.
Linton is part of the Red Moon Pack territory, but they are a peaceful pack. They don’t class all lone wolves as rogues. They leave us alone unless we cause trouble, particularly if we are attending the university.
It is going to be brilliant to not have to always be looking over my shoulder waiting for the local pack to discover what I am and launch an attack.
The only downside is that my mum isn’t here to share this experience with me. She has been my one constant throughout my life. Always there to cheer me up and pick me up when I fall. There to make our frequent moving around bearable. Laughing and joking, seeing each new town as an adventure. And it was when I was with her.
That ended six months ago when she was killed in a traffic accident. The driver of the van who ran her over fled the scene. I don’t even have the comfort of knowing that her killer has been caught and punished. She never found out that I had passed all my exams and that I had gotten into the university of my dreams.
So now here I am an orphan at the age of eighteen, about to start my new life without her. At least I won’t have to figure everything out for myself.
The university has put me in contact with another lone wolf who has agreed to show me around and help me to settle in as a new werewolf on campus. We have been messaging each other every day for the last month.
Jason has helped me find suitable student accommodation to stay in not far from the university. I am going to stay with other werewolf students. They are all loners like me so they will be able to help me adjust to my new surroundings.
I stare out the window, watching the scenery change as we leave Dunnington far behind. Every couple of hours the bus stops to take on new passengers, and we get the opportunity to grab some food and use the facilities.
The bus is steadily filling up, and I don’t expect that the seat beside me will remain empty for long. After five hours we reach the first big city on our route. It takes us half an hour to make our way through the busy traffic to the bus station. As we arrive, I groan silently when I see the large queue of people waiting to board the bus. The seat beside me isn’t going to remain vacant.
There is next to no chance that it will be another wolf who sits next to me. Wolves don’t travel by bus. Those who are part of a pack or have enough money will drive their own car or fly. Only an orphaned loner like me would be forced to travel by bus.
I am not an anti-social person, and it isn’t that I hate humans the way some shifters do. It just takes concentration to keep up the pretence, and act like a human around them. We have to be very careful not to arouse their suspicions. The last thing we need is for them to guess that we are not human. They must never find out that shifters exist.
That may sound easy because in our human form we look and sound just like them, but even the most credulous human can tell that there is something different about us. They can sense the predator that lurks within.
I have had more practise than most wolves in dealing with humans. Because loners do not belong to a pack, we tend to live on the outskirts of werewolf society, hiding in human towns pretending that we are just like them. We try to blend in while keeping ourselves apart as much as possible. We work with them, go to their schools but we can rarely make close human friends, it is just too dangerous. So the idea of spending the next eighteen hours in close proximity to one fills me with dread. I just hope that they aren’t the chatty type. Maybe I can feign sleep for most of the journey.
As the new passengers climb onto the bus, and start to look round, searching for a seat, I notice a tall man with dirty blonde hair and a muscular physique heading my way. His gaze sweeps round surveying the bus and its passengers, as he decides where to sit. He glances at the seat next to me and then suddenly he looks up. He stops and stares directly at me. My breath hitches, as I take in his electric blue eyes and his wide mouth which turns up into the sexiest smile I have ever seen.
He is too good looking, too perfect to be human. My heart stutters as I realise what he is. A wolf just like me.
A passenger stuck behind him grumbles at him “you are blocking the way. I need to find a seat.”
The sexy stranger turns round to glare at him. I watch as the human pales and steps back. “Sorry” he whispers.
This seems to be enough to satisfy the handsome wolf because he turns back, towards me, his eyes fixed once again on my face, with a smile playing on his lips. He makes his way up the aisle and points at the seat next to me.
“Is this seat taken” he asks in a deep voice, his eyes never leaving my face.
I gulp “no it’s free” I manage to splutter.
He smirks at me as he eases himself into the seat.
Once he makes himself comfortable, he turns to me and says softly so only I can hear. “No need to guess where you are going little wolf. University of Linton.”
“Yes” I manage to reply. “Are you going there too? Are you a student at the university?”
His smile broadens. “Something like that. I plan to spend a bit of time studying, but I haven’t made up my mind if I will stay. It isn’t easy for a loner like me to settle anywhere.”
I stare at him. He doesn’t look like a loner. He looks strong, his clothes are obviously expensive, he has the appearance of a pack wolf.
Most loners tend to be smaller and less well cared for. They don’t have the strength and confidence of this wolf. We spend our time watching, waiting for trouble to find us, for pack wolves to assault us. This wolf looks capable of taking on any pack that might try to attack him and I am pretty sure he would win the fight.
He must guess at some of what I am thinking because he turns to me and says “you will meet many different types of wolves when you get to Linton, many pack wolves but also other loners. We haven’t all had the same experiences.”
I nod. I know that I have led a pretty sheltered when it comes to the ways of werewolves. Mum had made sure we stayed away from other lone wolves.
“Not all lone wolves are good like us” she would tell me. “Many are rogues who would take any opportunity to attack, they would see us as easy targets, prey. We are only safe when we are hidden from other werewolves.”
She hadn’t been keen on me going to Linton really. She felt that I would be at risk there, but she knew how desperately I wanted to go, so she had finally agreed. She had warned me that even there I would never be truly safe.
“So little wolf, what are your plans when you get there. Have you found a place to stay?”
“The university put me in contact with another lone wolf who has arranged accommodation for me.”
“Good, you will need someone to help you and show you round.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, I have friends there who will help me. Besides this won’t be my first time staying in Linton.”
I turn to look at him more closely and realise that he must be in his mid to late twenties.
“What made you decide to come back and study now” I ask him curiously.
“Things are beginning to change in Linton, and I want to be there when they do” he says vaguely before changing the subject and asking me “so what do you plan to study?
That is an unusual subject to pick for a wolf. Human doctors don’t know much about our physiology.”
“No, but as healers are restricted to packs, and none of the pack healers will treat a lone wolf I thought that if I could learn more about medicine in general, I might be able to adapt the training to treat loners. It might not be as good as getting treatment from a real healer, but it would be better than the care we get now.”
“That is good of you, to try and help other wolves.” He tells me seriously.
I blush. “Thanks. What about you, what do you plan to study?” I ask changing the subject.
“A bit of this and that. I think I will decide when I get there When I see how the land lies.” With that he smiles at me and closes his eyes bringing our conversation to an end.