“Congratulations, Em,” Gabe said, though his tone indicated it wasn’t such happy news. “I’m pretty sure you just started your own pack.”
The raised voices of people arguing around me was a strange, static buzzing, hovering just outside my comprehension. I knew I was sitting in a kitchen. People were talking around me, at me, too me. But none of it penetrated the fog in my head. So much had happened to me in the last month or two. God, I didn’t even know how long it had been.
The feel of the cool, wooden, kitchen table was solid under my fingertips, so I focused on that, the only thing that seemed real and tangible.
There was nothing of who I was before. My life began when I woke up in the facility. My memory stolen, whether by accident or on purpose, it didn’t matter, the result was the same. I was a shell, empty of all memories except those left to me by my abductors and their tender mercies. They’d given me pain and violence; a rage so strong, it threatened to consume me. I’d been captured, experimented on, changed and made into freak among freaks. Not Lycan, not Werewolf, not Human: something in between.
But I’d escaped. I’d run and somehow found Gabe.
The thought of him was enough to focus my attention, just a bit, and I looked over to him. Gorgeous, his brown hair viciously raked back by one hand while he waved the other in frustration at his sister. Laura, her own dark hair tossing from her enthusiastic hand gestures, as she yelled back at her brother, their words still lost on me.
It’d only been weeks since I met him, yet somehow Gabe and I shared some kind of mystical bond. A connection so strong, the thought of losing him made me want to claw at my face and howl. Contemplating the inexplicable link between us, so deep and intense, caused my panic to rise, so I pushed it away for later.
He’d seen me at my worst, when I was a broken thing, so close to being feral from what had been done to me during my captivity. Yet he’d accepted me for what I was, his open welcome a miracle I still had trouble believing.
Memories of the night before filtered through my haze and brought with it the sudden realization that maybe Gabe hadn’t quite seen me at my lowest, after all.
I’d killed a man, with my bare hands. Or claws. Whatever. The people who’d stolen my memories had changed me; I was unknown, a monster, with strange abilities that I couldn’t understand or control. And I’d used those abilities to take a life.
Numbly, I shifted my head to look at the young girl beside me. Her shoulders hunched, her posture screaming her anxiety as she watched the others yelling and fighting. Meryl was innocent, a total stranger, and now as completely entangled in the mess that was my life, as a fly in a web.
What had I done? I didn’t know who I was. I had no clue what I was. My actions of the night before had been driven by instinct and the situation had escalated so quickly. What I’d done meant I’d been able to walk away and not have to look over my shoulder, waiting for an enemy to come at my back. But is that really a viable justification? It was him or me?
Douglas was dead. Meryl, a girl I’d never met before, was now tied to me, possibly forever. Once again, I was freaking out because I was the weirdest monster at the party and no clue what I was doing. I felt like a toddler with a fucking chainsaw. Either myself or someone else; the question wasn’t if someone would get hurt. It was who and when.
Gabe’s voice, insistent, familiar, intruded on my introspective. Turning my head, I stared into his worried face, the intensity of my attraction to him hitting me, making my breath catch, helping to ground me a little more.
His brows furrowed as he studied me. “Are you okay?”
I let out a sound that some might consider a laugh. Did he really need to ask that? I think it was pretty fucking clear I was not okay.
“Gabe, you just finished telling me that I’m some kind of freak of nature, with unknown abilities that shouldn’t exist and then sarcastically congratulate me on starting my own pack. What part of that would you be okay with?”
Regret crossed his face and he started to reach out to me. “Em-”
But I wasn’t interested in hearing the rest of that sentence, not yet. The numbness rapidly fading, replaced instead with a burning, impotent rage.
Angrily shoving away from the table, I ignored the startled faces of the only friends I had in the world, and stalked to the door, heading for the living room, needing space.
A pack? Really? Gabe thought I’d started my own pack. What the hell was I supposed to do with that? I couldn’t function on my own at the moment, I had no job, no income, no home! And no freaking clue! So how the hell was I supposed to be in charge of someone else? And a full Lycan at that.
Pacing up and down in front of the lounge, I gulped in air and struggled to even out my breathing. Hearing the kitchen door open in the hallway and figuring it was Gabe come to talk to me, I hunched my shoulders for what was to come.
I wasn’t ready to be pacified or soothed, both of which Gabe was capable of doing. His very presence had the ability to both calm and aroused me and sometimes that left me feeling like I had no control. Considering control was an issue for me, I needed a moment to just be me, the individual, not part of the pair that I’d become with him.
But the soft footsteps behind me didn’t belong to my lover. I turned to see Meryl, hesitantly heading towards me. As she approached me with her head hung low, eyes peeking at me from her lowered face, not quite meeting my gaze. She reminded me of a dog that expected its owner to kick it.
Had I done this, made her so timid? When I’d hauled her into my crazy world, accidentally binding her to me with some weird mental powers and making her the first member of a new pack that I allegedly formed? She was a werewolf, she should be strong and confident. Not scared and meek.
Tears welled in my eyes and I blinked rapidly, not wanting them to fall. Taking a few steps forward, I pulled the girl into a tight hug, unable to bear her anxiety a second longer. She was shorter than me, probably only about 5’2” and so slender she bordered on fragile.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I whispered into her hair, unsure of what to say, keeping her close, willing her to feel my remorse.
“Are you angry you’re stuck with me?”
Her tiny insecure voice had me rearing back, shocked that she would think that.
By blindly playing with forces I didn’t understand- namely, the mental connections that I seemed to have to the pack wolves- I’d bound Meryl to me psychically, and who knew what other repercussions my blundering had caused.
I’d taken away her free will, messed with her without knowledge or permission and she was worried that I was angry with her? Where was her wrath, her fury at being tied to someone without any other options?
“No,” I said forcefully. She winced and I softened my voice. “No. I’m sorry that I’ve dragged you into this. You’re innocent and don’t deserve to be my supernatural lab rat. I have no idea what happened to me before I came here to Gabe, but I’m pretty sure it was against my will and I fight the bitterness of that violation every day.” Closing my eyes in pain, I tried to block the shame I was feeling.
“What I’ve done to you is no better. I promise, I’m going to find a way to try and fix this, just give me some time. There’s gotta be answers out there somewhere.” I opened my eyes, the expression on my face bordered on pleading.
Meryl looked at me, confused. “Wait.” She frowned. “You’re upset because you think I’m upset?”
“You should be,” I exploded, flinging my arms out and stepping back, unable to contain my agitation. “I reached into your head, made you act against your will. Essentially violated your freedom! And now it looks like I’ve possibly tied you to me indefinably. You should be infuriated!”
“But I’m not,” she replied, forehead scrunching as if she couldn’t understand why I didn’t see that.
Energy suddenly draining from me, I fell to the couch, flopping my head back and ground the heel of my hands into my eye sockets.
The lounge dipped next to me as Meryl sat and I dropped my hands, rolling my head until I could see her.
“Look,” she began, not meeting my eyes. “You don’t know me and I don’t really like to talk about it, but I came from a pretty bad place.” Meryl hesitated, her words hesitant.
“Even after coming here, which was better than where I was before, I…” she trailed off, struggling to find the words as she nervously picked at her fingernail. “I never really fit in, never belonged. I’m an outsider here. The shy, nervous, weirdo who joined the pack but isn’t really part of it.”
Big blue eyes looked up at me through heavily lashed lids, I was almost distracted by how they went so perfectly with her flawless porcelain complexion. Meryl shrugged and brought my attention back to the topic at hand. “With you, I do. Feel like I belong, I mean. I can’t explain it and I’m not sure I really want too. I’ve been alone and scared for a very long time, Emma. Here, sitting with you, for some reason, I don’t feel alone anymore, I feel safe. Right now, I don’t really care what you did or how you did it because, honestly? I like it. I’m not scared and that means more to me than any objection I might have had about not being asked.”
Those wounded eyes watching me so cautiously were my undoing. There was no way I could reject her after that confession. Reaching over, I grabbed her hand.
“Well, I guess we’ll just social outcasts together,” I sighed, accepting the inevitable.
Happiness beamed from her, and I was sure if I’d concentrated enough, I would’ve seen the glittering gold filament that represented the connection between us glow. The woman I’d started to think of as my Golden wolf grinned, and I was lighter inside for seeing the contentment in her face.
“I have to warn you,” I cautioned. “I’ve got no freaking clue what I’m doing, so don’t go comparing me to all the other Alpha’s in your life.”
“Oh baby, they mean nothing. You’re the only Alpha for me.” Her tongue in cheek response made us both laugh, lightening the somber mood, and gave me hope that once this girl felt comfortable enough, she’d stop being the shy, nervous weirdo she’d called herself.
Sobering a bit, I continued, “Seriously though, there’s a lot you need to know about me and things are going to get bumpy. It’s not too late to back out. If there’s ever a time in the future when you want to bail, you just say the word. I will never hold you against your will.”
Meryl nodded, a determined look crossing her face. “And that sentiment right there is why I’ll never leave.”
Crap. No pressure or anything.