I burst into my other skin and run through the forest. I said it. Like a dummy I poured my heart out and told her I love her. I’ve laid all my cards on the table, yet somehow I can’t completely regret it. I have loved her since I was seven. Before my first shift I knew I loved her. I remember the year I turned sixteen so vividly.
It was the first year she returned. I was in wolf form making my rounds. I always stopped by the Mayfield household to check on her grandparents. Her grams always sat on the porch waiting for me to show up. She would gently shake her head to let me know she hadn’t come home.
She knew what Elliana was to me long before I really comprehended it myself. That day I showed up and there she was. She got out of the car and just stared into these woods. She couldn’t see me but I saw her. Her honey brown eyes met mine and I went weak in the knees. One word bounced around my head: mate.
I always thought I’d have to love her from afar but fate gave us a second chance. I just have to show her we can make it. We don’t have to be like her father and Raven. There are many happy couples that are living a safe, happy life in my tribe.
I arrive at the council building and shift back. I jump into my clothes and walk in. I’m greeted by my father, the chief, with a weary smile. I nod politely. Our relationship has been strained since Ellie came home. He’s not so happy about allowing her into our family with her father’s mistakes hanging over us. How does that make Ellie guilty? It doesn’t, but for some reason the old man can’t see it.
I think he also hoped I’d end up with Rhiannon, my beta. Thank god she and Koda ended up being mates because neither of us were interested in being more than friends.
Koda is the delta even though he is the oldest by several years and Rylin, Rhiannon’s little brother is also a shifter. He just turned a few months ago. Together we are a team and we are plagued with the responsibility of ensuring lone wolves are taken care of before they can attack our tribe.
The council consists of my parents, Koda’s father, Rhiannon’s parents and an elder is selected every five years to represent those who do not shift.
My generation will take over once I mate with Ellie. That thought alone sends so many images of her into my brain. I can’t help but think of her full lips, her pale skin, how small she is. She’s so short and it makes me want to be her protector. That fiery hair and those big brown eyes... and those curves, all those curves.
“Get your thoughts out of the gutter. The meeting has started.” Koda whispers. I roll my eyes and tune back in to the meeting. The human elder, Lee, is speaking.
“The greenhouses are producing well and crops should be plenty this winter. I would like to suggest a tribe thanksgiving to keep unity. The children are especially fond of the shifters and it’s an extra opportunity for them to see you.”
I nod in agreement. I asked Lee to bring up a thanksgiving dinner to help Ellie feel at home. And, my favorite part of being a shifter is all those kids. It gives me a chance to teach them the tribal way and preserve it for their generation and they enjoy seeing us in wolf form.
“All in favor?” A unanimous vote. Father keeps his eyes on me.
“Well there is only one more matter to discuss. My son has found his mate it seems. The human girl of the Mayfield family we share our lands with.”
“What of it?” Rhiannon’s father asks.
“Given that her father once led a lone wolf to our tribe and she is new to this world I would ask the council to support a decision to protect our own.”
“What are you proposing, Nate?” Mom eyes him warily. He’s caught her off guard. Heck, I am confused. What’s he doing?
“She still has not decided whether or not she will mate. I think, given the past, we establish a rule that she must decide and if she chooses to mate with my son she must never leave the tribe because of the risk she poses coming and going. It’s a spoken rule that needs enforced. She must also be mated to Nikan by New Year’s Day. If not, she will not be allowed back due to safety breaches that could occur.”
Rhiannon looks at me in complete bewilderment. I’m too stunned to say anything for a moment. Koda speaks up.
“Why are you so keen on punishing her for a mistake that was really no ones fault to begin with?”
“Koda! Hold you tongue. You of all people should be for this. Your mother died because those two led a lone wolf back to the tribe!”
“If mother were here she would tell you to stop punishing an innocent.”
“Nate, we mustn’t forget this is overwhelming to her. She came back home for the sole reason of finding Nikan. She loves him. She just needs some time to adjust.” Mom is on my side. I smile at her. She nods subtly.
“I also propose we ban her from any and all tribal duties if she is to be mated with Nikan.”
“Why are you doing this?” I grit my teeth and my knuckles grow white from the pressure I’m putting on them.
“For the safety of your people. They come first.”
“This is a borderline cult! You can’t exclude her just because she comes from the outside.” Rhiannon speaks boldly. Her green eyes meet mine in reassurance.
“I can if it keeps your future children alive.”
“You’re crucifying her before she’s had a chance to even meet the people! It’s my fault. I’ve kept her to myself but I will prove to you that she is a worthy mate and leader.” I state with any authority I can muster.
“Nate, this is outrageous. She is meant to be an equal leader. You cannot do this.” Mom is angry with him. So am I.
“I’m doing this for the people. She is a human outsider who knows nothing of our ways. How could she protect the people? With that bow of hers?” Dad says sarcastically.
“Well she hits the bullseye every time so maybe she would. What’s it to you how she defends the people? Are you really saying she’s too weak to be my mate and equal?”
“I don’t know if she is. Fate dealt you an unfamiliar hand. The last outsider killed two shifters”
“You haven’t given the girl a chance.” Lee states.
“She doesn’t need one. I vote yes to the proposal.” Koda’s dad says and Koda let’s out a growl. My heart swells with pride. He hasn’t even met her and he’s defending her.
“I vote no. She deserves a chance. Fate wouldn’t bring her to us if she was to be counted out.” Lee says.
“Let me remind you fate messed up before.” Koda’s father, Robert says bitterly.
“I vote yes. For our children.” Rhiannon’s mom votes.
“No. There is no prior law stating a human outsider is not permitted. We aren’t here to settle old scores.” Rhiannon’s father says.
“No, that’s my sons future you are toying with. She will be his equal.” Mom says confidently.
“The vote is tied so I suggest we at least ensure she spends time with the people and she must mate with Nikan by New Year’s Day. If she has proven herself unfit before Christmas Day the current council will move to ensure she will not sit on the council with the rest of the upcoming shifters however we do not
interfere with the mating process.” Lee reasons. I growl at the suggestion that she will prove herself incapable.
“All in favor?” This time it’s four to two. Mom and Rhiannon’s father held their ground.
Immediately we leave the building and head over to our favorite meeting spot, the lake.
“What was all that about? Why is your dad so determined to keep you from mating? It goes against everything we know!” Rhiannon shouts. I growl in frustration.
“I don’t know! I need to see her. There’s a lot she doesn’t know yet.”
“We will help her adjust. She handled finding out about your ability to shift. She can handle this.” Koda reassures.
“Why don’t you bring her back here tomorrow? She can meet us and then we can come up with a way to help her out.” Rhiannon suggests.
“You need to explain what’s going on. Tonight. Don’t let them blindside her.” Koda wraps Rhiannon in his arms.
“I know. I just feel like I’m turning her world upside down. I wanted to take it slow. She isn’t where I am. What if she rejects me? I don’t think I’ll survive that.”
“Wait, have you told her how you feel?” Rylin asks. I nod. He whistles low.
“And she said nothing back?” Rhiannon asks curiously as she tucks a dark curl behind her ear.
“I didn’t exactly give her a chance to.”
“What do you mean?” I feel my cheeks burn. I’m the alpha of this nosy bunch. I’m supposed to be in charge of everything. And I am in charge of everything except this stupid conversation.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll see you later. I’m going to go find her.” They all chuckle as I run toward Ellie’s house.