I am awakened by my mom and grams hovering over me. I gasp and jump back, startled by their presence. They laugh and I shoot them a look before hiding beneath the quilt.
“What are you two doing?” I grumble from under the blanket.
“I wanted to show you something and I just couldn’t wait.” Grams says with a big grin.
“Ugh. It couldn’t wait an hour?” I go to the closet and grab a light blue sweater and some jeans. When I walk out of my room my mother hovers over me insisting I close my eyes for grams surprise. I humor them but complain about needing to brush my teeth and brush my hair. Mom says she’ll allow it and I roll my eyes. Mom drags me into the living room, her hands covering my eyes. When I am allowed to see what the fuss is about I’m stunned.
Grams is standing in the living room holding a dress. After a moment I realize it isn’t just a dress, it’s a wedding dress. The most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. It’s an ivory long sleeve gown that looks likes it’s made from smooth satin. It’s simple yet somehow so beautiful. The veil is so long it takes up half the small living room. I run my fingers over the translucent material.
“Well, what do you think?” Grams asks with a twinkle in her eye.
“I-it’s perfect. How did you-?”
“It’s mine. I wore it the day I married gramps over forty years ago. After Nik told me about the ring we rushed to the city to get it cleaned.” She beams with pride as she reminisces.
“Grams, I can’t take your dress...”
“You don’t have to but if you like it I want you to have it. I know you probably won’t be allowed to go back into the city and shop so I thought maybe you could take mine.” I tear up and we all hug. Mom starts to cry and we all just stand there in an embrace.
“I can’t believe my baby is getting married. And to a shifter! I’m so very happy for you and Nik. You don’t know how much I regret keeping the truth from you.”
“Thanks mom. I know dad was afraid. It’s okay. I’m here now and that’s all that matters.” I can’t be angry with them after knowing the truth.
“Let’s get you in this dress and see how it fits.” Grams says as she begins to help me undress. The woman has no boundaries. She and mother help me slip into the dress and she sets a full length mirror up so I can see how I look.
The dress forms perfectly over my curves. As much as grams would hate to admit, I inherited her figure. We decide to take the hem up because it is a little long. When my mother adds the veil it sinks in. I’m getting married. Soon I’ll be Nik’s wife and I will be making a commitment not only to him but the tribe I know nothing about.
My smile falters and mom makes eye contact with me in the mirror, concern evident on her face. I try to smile again but it’s not genuine. I never could hide my feelings. My face gives them away.
“You alright dear?”
“I will be.” I clear my throat when I begin to choke up.
“Where did that sparkle in your eye go? Having second thoughts?” Grams questions.
“No, I love Nik. He’s the only one for me. I tried to date in college and I just couldn’t find it in me to be serious about anyone. Nik was always there in the back of my mind.”
“We know. You wrote several books about him.” I roll my eyes and mom giggles.
“So why the long face?”
“I’m nervous about how the tribe will react. I don’t know anyone but Nik and his parents and his father is very much against our being together. I don’t want to be an outsider again. I was an outsider most of my life. I don’t want to be that anymore.”
“You will find a way to win their hearts. I just know it.” Mom reassures me.
After a long morning of wedding talk I venture out into the woods. Nik isn’t waiting in our spot like he usually is. Tomorrow is thanksgiving so maybe he’s busy preparing I tell myself.
I take the trail leading to his house. I am close to the meadow when I feel as if I’m being watched. Goosebumps grow under my sweater. I can’t tell if it’s from the cold or from the feeling of being watched. I grab an arrow and slide it onto the string of my bow. I keep my fingers in place as I continue walking.
I peer into the trees and notice the birds are quiet. This is not a good sign. I hear a low rumble to my left and slowly turn toward the sound. A giant black wolf is striding toward me. It’s mouth is covered in foam and I instantly know this has to be what Nik described as a lone wolf.
It paces around me, sniffing the air. I try to avoid eye contact with it as a sign of submission but it doesn’t seem to care. It bares it’s teeth at me. I hear the sound of something and look up.
In the distance I see several more wolves. I recognize the one leading instantly. I’d know that red brown fur and those whiskey brown eyes anywhere. The black wolf looks at me and back to Nik’s pack. It lunges at me as I’m trying to release the arrow. I’m knocked to the ground and all the air escapes my lungs.
I can feel it’s breath on my face. It yelps as something drags it away. It manages to slice into my jeans with razor sharp claws. I cry out in pain.
Nik lashes out at the lone wolf and they dance across the forest floor. They begin to roll, fighting for a dominant position. The black wolf manages to pin Nik down after several attempts and he bites into his neck. Nik yelps and takes a bite out of the wolf’s shoulder.
Before I can process what is happening I draw my bow back and when the black wolf is distracted by my movement I don’t hesitate to launch the arrow into his chest. Nik takes the opportunity to kick the black wolf with his hind legs and bites into its neck, canines deep into its throat. It convulses for a moment and then goes still.
Without reservation I run to Nik and he instantly shifts back into his human form. I fall into his arms, not caring that he is naked or that the other wolves are watching. I am shaking with adrenaline. Nik tried to soothe me but I just stare into the lifeless eyes of the lone wolf.
“Ellie! Look at me. Don’t focus on him, look at me baby. You’re hurt, come here I need to get the bleeding to stop.” I look up into his eyes and feel a wave of calm wash over me. That is until I notice his neck is still bleeding. My hand flies up to the wound.
“Nik, you’re hurt! We need to get you to a doctor!”
“Ellie, I’m fine. You’re the one who needs a doctor.He manages to get the words out between shallow breaths.
“You can’t breathe. Nik, you can’t die! We have to-.” He slams his lips into mine. His lips are warm against my chilled skin and I forget why I was upset for a moment. When he pulls away from the kiss all that’s left of the wound is some dried blood. The teeth marks and open wound have faded.
“Whoa.” I breathe out and he chuckles. He scoops me up and begins running, pressing his arms around my bleeding legs.
“I told you, I’m fine. We smelled him early this morning and we were tracking him when you showed up right in his path. Ellie, you could have died. I should’ve protected you yet you saved my life.”
“Of course I helped you! I wasn’t going to watch you die!” I bury my face in his chest and he wraps his strong arms around me.
I peer around his body and see we are approaching a stone building. My heart sinks thinking of what just happened. I killed that person. Those were human eyes staring back at me. Tears well up and threaten to spill over.
“Shh, it’s okay. You did the right thing. I’m sorry you had to do that. I know the first time is hard. Forgive me for exposing you to that.” He strokes my hair as I sob. He scoops me up and carries me, to where I don’t know. I’m too blinded by the water in my eyes to tell.
When we reach our destination I’m still breathing erratically. I’m trying to pull myself together but when I blink I see those wicked blue eyes. I am a killer. Is this what life will be like?
“Elliana, I can feel the turmoil running through you. Baby, please don’t think this is what our life will be like. I’ll find a way to shield you from what I am.”
He sits me down on a table and starts shouting in his tribal language. A woman who looks to be in her forties approaches us. She immediately shuts the curtain and stares at my legs.
“Hello, Elliana. I am the tribe doctor, Midewen. You can call me Winnie. I need to get these pants off of you so we can see your wounds.”
From behind the curtain I hear Nik growl in frustration.
“She’s okay, Nikan. You need to calm down so I can do my job.” After that I hear a chair fling across the floor and it sounds like he is sitting. His foot taps against the white tile.
When Winnie takes off my pants I am staring down at my torn flesh. My stomach turns at the sight of it. She eyes me curiously I attempt to be strong but the adrenaline is wearing off and the pain is throbbing.
“Okay, let’s lay you back. I am going to hook you up to an IV and get some pain killers in you.”
When I lay back I feel so dizzy. When she inserts the needle it stings and then a cool sensation runs through me. I sigh and she smiles.
“Now that you're a little more comfortable let’s get you in a gown and I’ll get to work.”
Whatever she has given me is making me sleepy. I try hard to keep my eyes from shutting permanently but end up losing the battle.
When I come to I am aware of several voices in the room. The lights are bright so I shut my eyes and listen closely. I peek through the crack of the curtain when a man speaks.
“Alpha, you can’t shield her. This will be her life, she should know that.” He says. He looks older than the rest of them. He wears only a pair of red shorts. His skin is slightly darker than Nik’s and his eyes are almost golden against his skin.
“Watch yourself, Koda.” Nik warns.
“He’s right Nikan. You have shielded her long enough. You wanted us to show her more of your life. We won’t sugar coat it.” The woman looks strong and is very beautiful. A pang of jealousy runs through me until she wraps an arm around the waist of the man, Koda. Her hair is shoulder length and the dark hair shines in the light.
“Can you handle the truth or not?” She turns to me with a brow raised in challenge. I feel like a kid who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They knew I was awake. She motivates me to dry my puffy eyes and sit up straighter. She smiles triumphantly.
“She just killed someone you guys. Let her have a moment to break down while on her near death bed. Hi, I’m Rylin and I cried the first time I killed someone too.” The young boy smiles brightly at me and I can’t help the laugh that escapes my lips. The girl rolls her eyes.
“He’s not lying. He really did cry.” She smiles and comes to sit next to me on the bed.
“I’m Rhiannon, Nikan’s beta, or second in command.”
“Oh, we know. Alphas been talking about you for years. Heck, he talks about you so much I’m almost in love with you.” Rylin says and I laugh again. Nik rolls his eyes.
“Would you shut up.” Nik warns.
“So, are you ready to enter our world or not?” Rhiannon asks.
“Yes. No more secrets. Help me understand and teach me how to be in your world. I’m all in.” Rhiannon looks impressed with my bravery. I probably look like a fragile little girl to her. With all my crying and walking blindly around in their world.
“You’re all in?” Nik asks in awe.
“I’m all in.” I nod in reassurance. It may kill me, but I’m willing to try. I want to be stronger. I want to deserve a place in his life, in his world.
Winnie wraps my wounds and shows me how to clean them. Nik promises he will do it for me.
“Thank you Winnie.” I tell her as she finishes up.
“I’m sorry we met under these circumstances but I’m glad we met.” She says genuinely. I decide I like her.
“I didn’t realize you guys had a hospital.” I say aloud.
“Yeah, it’s not much but my skills make up for it. I just wish I could get permission to send my students to med school. So much has changed since I was a student.” She eyes me cautiously.
“Why can’t they go?” When Nik looks at her with a worried glance I know the answer.
“We know it wasn’t his fault.” She quickly smooths things over. I guess that is really going to be how everyone sees me. The daughter of the man who led a lone wolf here that slaughtered two shifters.