"Retreat!” The order came through the pack bonds so loudly that she flinched, her wolf form whimpering as her head lowered towards the leaf-littered forest floor. The alpha her father was in trouble. She could hear it in him when he’d given the order to retreat. They had all known it would end like this. Ever since the Alpha of the burning tree pack had declared war on her pack, the mercenary dogs; it had been clear that they were doomed.
She halted and spun around, running at top speeds towards where she knew her father was. No way was she going to let him go down without her. If she was going to die, she was going to die defending her family against those savages.
The burning tree pack was notorious for their cruelty, malice, and lethality. No pack had ever withstood them. Not one. They had taken down six packs already, making them the most dominant in the United States by far. Her pack had merely been next on their list. It was territory they wanted, and they were not afraid to take it by force. Once their Alpha gave the order to attack, you and your entire pack were done. No question.
She came into the clearing at top speed, attacking the first enemy wolf she spotted with a ferocity that took the entire clearing by surprise. Everything had paused for a second before the fighting resumed. She took the enemy down easily and moved on to the next one.
The closer she got to her father the bigger the enemy wolves got and the harder it was to take them down. She was gaining respect though because very soon she was standing over her father’s fallen body. He was still alive, but just barely. His state enraged her, and she let out a snarl she wasn’t sure how she’d managed. The clearing was littered with the bodies of her pack’s elite. Their pack was done, she knew this, and yet she refused to leave her father to die at the hands of these invaders. She stood in a guard position over father, snarling at all of them, her muzzle wrinkled back exposing all of her teeth; ears flat back against her head, signaling her rage.
She knew that her wolf was in total control right now, but she let her have her way. She was in complete agreement with what they were doing right now. What had their pack done to bring down the Moon Goddess’s wrath? Her pack, despite its name, had always lived honorably. They were mercenaries, yes, but they followed the old ways, only taking jobs to dispatch insane wolves or depose abusive Alphas.
The burning tree pack’s elite was standing in a semi-circle around her, staring. Some of them were yipping and shaking with the desire to attack her. None of them had, though, which could only mean that they had been ordered not to. That meant their alpha was surely nearby.
Sure enough, the Wolves parted ways, for the biggest wolf she’d ever seen. He was so big he dwarfed her, which was very impressive, considering that she was as large as a full-sized male alpha. That was rare in a female, but her mother had been born of Alphas, and her father was an Alpha from a long line. It was no wonder her wolf was strong. She’d impressed them. That much was clear from the savage Alpha’s appraisal of her. He moved forward and her growling became more intense, challenging.
He growled back, revealing his own teeth which put hers to shame. She could feel the power coming off of him. He was an alpha to end all alphas. In a pitched fight between them, despite her size and battle training, she knew she would lose. Part of her training as a mercenary was sizing up your opponent and knowing when to cut losses. He shifted seamlessly into human form as he moved towards her. It is hard to do, and it was very impressive.
He was tall, and broad, muscular and beautiful in the moonlight. His face was all savage beauty, planes, angles, and scars. His lips were full and had a cruel edge to them. His hair was long and dark, falling to his shoulders in an unruly mess. His eyes were golden yellow and bored into her own.
“Shift.” He said. His voice was deep and dark, like the night sky with a new moon. She stopped growling at the command in his voice, but she didn’t change her stance. She wasn’t going on the offensive; her stance was complete defensive. She wouldn’t make a move if he didn’t. His eyes narrowed at her. “Shift.” He said again, using some of that Alpha ‘push.’ She shook her head, letting it run off her back like water. He smirked and, some of the other wolves cocked their heads at her. Did he not see how big she was? Obviously, she wasn’t a weakling for a push that small to work on her. Her wolf huffed at him, clearly smug. “Shift.” He said again, using a considerably larger amount of force.
It was enough to make her stop growling and make her ears perk up, listening to him carefully; her wolf reconsidering her defiance, but not enough to force obedience. She shook her head in denial of his command. This had become a test of wills.
“I simply want to meet you, warrior. It would be a shame to kill someone so accomplished. My pack and I make it a habit to welcome someone like you. You may take the first female you come across in our next conquest. Now Shift!” The command in his voice was complete, overpowering even her iron will. She shifted against her will, the process nearly as fast as his had been. His eyes widened, and several of the wolves stepped back a few feet. She smirked at him, unconcerned by her nakedness. When one shifted from wolf to human form regularly, one was nude in front of others often enough that modesty wasn’t a concern. She smirked at their reactions. They had expected a male warrior.
“While I can appreciate your offer of a female that isn’t much of a draw. I don’t swing that way.” She growled, her tone vicious. That was when the look on his face completely changed, along with hers as she caught his scent in human form. He smelled amazing, like all of her favorite things; forest, nighttime, and fresh baked cookies. She was trying desperately to deny what she now knew beyond the shadow of a doubt; what her wolf was howling in her mind...mate! For the first time ever she was worried about being naked before males.
“Impossible.” He muttered. He moved much closer to her, and his eyes widened, a low growl running through his chest. He was now barely a foot away from her. “Mate.” He growled. She shook her head, horror shivering down her spine. How could the moon goddess be so cruel? She was to mate the beast that had destroyed her pack? No. Dread filled her like a poison.
“I have no interest in joining your pack. I want only to bury my father. He will not last the night.” She said, proud of how strong her voice was.
“You are my mate.”
“You have destroyed my entire pack. My father lies dying at my feet. What makes you think that matters to me?” She narrowed her eyes at him. He narrowed his eyes back.
“My men will gather your dead in this clearing, and you will be allowed to dispose of them as you see fit. You’d best get digging.” He growled, there was no gentleness or regret in his gaze. She knelt down beside her father moving the hair from his face.
“Papa.” She whispered.
“Baby, you have my pride.” His eyes flitted to the Alpha, who had stayed in the clearing missing nothing of what she was doing. “Keep to our ways.”
“You know our ways. You vowed to follow them. That is more important than anything. Swear it. Grant an old man his dying wish.” His voice was barely intelligible. He was fading fast, his lifeblood soaking the ground beneath him.
“I swear it, papa.”
“Swear it by the blood.”
“I swear it on our blood, that I will keep to the old ways.” He nodded.
“Keep strong daughter. You have my pride and my love.” She kept hold of his hand until he went limp and the life left him. She closed his eyes and shifted to wolf form, howling her grief into the night sky, singing her rage and betrayal to the Moon Goddess. She couldn’t grieve for long, though; she needed to do things correctly, following the old ways. She turned and ran from the clearing passing by the men who were dragging her dead pack through the forest.
She shifted when she got to her home, pulling on jeans, combat boots, and her t-shirt. She didn’t have long, and she needed to prepare. The Alpha, whose name was Drayven had followed her, but he was keeping his distance thankfully. She didn’t think she could deal with a possessive alpha at the moment. She gathered the necessary oils and herbs. She didn’t have time to do things properly, with real pyres and vigils, but she could make it, so they all passed to the Moon Goddess with honor. She carried the oils and the rest of her equipment to the clearing and sat upon the ground, spreading everything out before her.
She could feel grief eating her inside, but she didn’t have time to grieve. The pack came first. She was grinding the herbs and mixing them with the sacred oils when her new mate knelt beside her. She refused to focus on him; she didn’t have time right now.
“What are you doing? Should you not be digging?” His voice was emotionless.
“We do not bury our dead.” She said, mixing the last of the herbs into the oil. There was a goodly amount of it so that it was difficult to lift. Luckily she was strong.
“If you do not bury them what do you do?”
“We follow the old ways.” She said, refusing to explain further. He would see soon enough. The pile of bodies in the clearing grew until all fifteen of her pack were piled there. She sat the oil down carefully and turned, picking up her father.
It was no small feat. She dragged him to the pile and sat him down at the base so that he was sitting up. She dipped her fingers in the oil and anointed each body painstakingly with the symbols of the dead.
She allowed her claws to lengthen and cut her arm, letting the blood fall to the earth.
“I call to the forest; I call to the wolf spirits of the gathered dead, and the generations who stand strong beside them.” She called out, her voice loud and steady. “By right of the alpha blood in my veins, and by right of life long service and devotion I call you!”
All around her, the spirit forms of wolves entered the clearing and the trees rustled as the spirits came alive.
“In this, the farewell to my dead, I beg you to witness and aid them on their path to the Moon Goddess from whence they came and to whom they must return.” She picked up a dry stick and set it on fire with her lighter.
She placed the stick in the lap of her father, and the flames caught on the oils, spreading quickly. She stepped back and stood watching as her pack burned before her, forcing herself not to look away. She knew her expression was stone, but she refused to show weakness. She was a warrior, and she must bear her grief stoically to bring honor to her pack. Drayven came to stand beside her watching her as she watched them burn.
“What is your name mate?” He asked. She thought about turning and slashing his throat. She wanted blood, but her wolf whined at her in her mind, not wanting to harm her mate. She had promised her father she would keep the old ways. She sighed.
“Do you fear me?”
“No. I want to bathe in your blood.” She growled.
“Yet you do not attack.”
“I follow the old ways. By those dictates killing you will bring dishonor on my ancestors.”
“You are so devout?”
“No. I’m loyal.”
“Good, you’re faithful to your mate.” It sounded like he approved.
“No. I am loyal to my father.”
“What do you mean?”
“As his dying wish, he asked that I keep to the old ways. I swore to him I would.”
“So you will not fight me?”
“I will fight you at every turn. I will never cleave to you, I will never bear your pups, I will never share your bed, and you will never have my loyalty, trust, or respect.”
“It will be war between us.” He said, voice still lacking emotion.
“It is war you brought to yourself when you destroyed everything I loved.” She said, her voice shaking with rage.
“I am going to claim you, you will bear my pups, and you will share my bed because I am the Alpha and you are my Luna. You are powerful and fierce; however I am now your Alpha, and you will submit.” He growled.
She didn’t answer him watching as her family burned, allowing the stench and the sight to stoke the fire of hate inside her heart. As she watched, she hatched a plan, looking at her new pack from under her lashes. They were brutes all of them.
She would win them over, each and every one. She would make them all love her, act in every way the dutiful Luna and take care of them. And then, when they all trusted her she would turn them on the Alpha and take his place.
She knew she could take them all save for him. But even he could be beaten if she had backup. It was a loophole, but if she took over the pack she would be in her rights kill the old Alpha. Taking over a pack and obtaining the rights to Alpha overshot the duties of the mate bond.
“What are their names?” He studied her carefully for a moment.
“If I am to be your Luna as you say, should I not know my pack?”
“You just told me you had no plan for cooperating with me.”
“I don’t plan to. That doesn’t mean I’ll be taking our war to the pack.”
“That is very...reasonable.” He seemed confused.
“I’m a mercenary Drayven. I’m a practical woman.” He nodded.
“You will have their names after the claiming ceremony.” She nodded.
“Very well.” He grabbed her arm and whirled her around, grabbing her chin. She mentally cursed the tingles and warmth that spread through her system at his touch. He felt them too because there was a sudden warmth in his eyes that bespoke hidden passions. She refused to indulge him, simply glaring defiantly into his eyes.
“Quinn I find you a fitting match. I accept you and claim you as my mate.”
“And on your own head be it.” She growled, letting her wolf shine through in her eyes.