The radio station was playing one of my favorite country songs as I drove through the many fields of grass and cattle speckled between wooded areas. It was a beautiful, warm spring day. I could not help myself and put the windows down while I drove. It was not long before the countryside scenery turned to heavily lush woods, reminding me of my childhood. The trees were gaining their green leaves, while the grass was growing long and green with all the heavy rain we’ve received these last few weeks.
It had been six years to the day since I left the Pack of Hunters’ Bayou. Leaving behind the pack life to live as a human. When I turned sixteen, I was disappointed that my wolf did not emerge. Everything and everyone I loved and knew was there. However, my dad, being human, never felt like he fit in. We only stayed in the pack for as long as we did because of my half-wolf side.
My mother was a werewolf. Daughter of Beta James, my grandfather, of the Hunters’ Bayou Pack at the time of her birth. She died when I was fourteen during a rogue attack. I wanted to be just like her. A warrior. Fighter. Hunter. My father was ex-military and very fit for being human. He kept up with the other werewolves and fought alongside them. My parents had a similar level of strength, despite my father being human. It did not change the fact that my father was ready to return to his human family and raise me as a human to protect me from the wolf life. We moved to San Antonio a week after my birthday, leaving East Texas behind. Leaving Hunters’ Bayou behind.
It was my uncle who invited me for a visit. It was mid-April, and the pack was celebrating the Alpha’s birthday with a crawfish boil and fish fry. My mouth watered at the sound of it. I always loved my aunt and uncle and my cousin, the newly appointed Beta Joseph. My Abuela was still alive and had been living with us up to the time of my father’s death, but my Tia (aunt) Maria had my Abuela move in with her so I could focus on my studies and youth. I moved to Houston shortly after I transferred schools. Selena, my best friend, and I found a pleasant apartment not too far from there, moving in together. The car I drove was a gift my uncle gave me for my eighteenth birthday. Yet, being only an hour and a half away, this is the first time I’ve visited the pack since I left.
The truth is, I was excited to visit with my old friends. I see my extended family often, at least once a month, except for Joseph. He, I see more than that.
I was especially excited to see Alpha Titus. He took over the pack when he turned twenty-one. We had been best friends, despite our age difference. He was my protector, made sure no one made fun of my being a half-breed. My mom and his mom were best friends and therefore he, his twin siblings Anna Beth and Lucas, Joseph, Gamma Hendrick, and I were all inseparable. Around them, I was never alone versus living in San Antonio, where I struggled to make friends. I often thought of him.
When we were younger, we had hoped we were mates. We were both upset when I had to move. He had agreed to meet me at my home the afternoon that I left, but my father had us ready to leave first thing that morning and would not wait for Titus. That was on Titus’ eighteenth birthday.
I knew I was in pack territory when I saw a flicker of movement by the river as I crossed the bridge, turning onto the dirt road off the main highway. The territory was private land, therefore humans never entered, or it would be trespassing. Still, I drove another fifteen minutes on the dirt road until the road turned back into asphalt and I entered a large suburban neighborhood.
The pack had at the very least five thousand acres if not more. Enough to hide a few hundred homes and buildings deep in the woods. Not only this but a large ranch that was home to a large herd of cattle. Ranching and oil are how this pack made the millions of dollars it was worth. The pack house was on the ranch. It came into view and already I could hear the zydeco music playing as I parked my car. Leave it to Aunt Jane to add the extra flare to the Cajun cooking.
“Ellie Mae, is that you?” I heard once I got out of my car. I looked around for the deep male voice that called my name. It did not take long for a large, good-looking man with mocha-colored skin to lift me off the ground and spun me around. “It’s me, Hendrick.”
“Oh, my goddess! Hendrick!” I yelled when he finally put me down. “How have you been?”
“You know, awesome. You? What’s with the hair?” Hendrick asked. His question had me bent over to inspect my reflection in the side mirror so fast it was not even funny. My blond and pastel pink highlights were still curled and up in a messy ponytail.
“What do you mean? It’s supposed to be messy.”
“You’re blond and have pink in it too,” Hendrick explained. I was not a natural blond. I was a natural brunette, and I was half Hispanic, but did not look it. Therefore, I suppose my being blond was not normal for him.
“That’s on purpose,” I explained.
“Whatever. It doesn’t look bad. I just remember a small brown-haired girl with glasses and braces.”
“Thanks for making me sound odd and nerdy.” The sarcasm in my voice was very thick.
“A pretty small brown-haired girl with glasses and braces. That, however, is no longer the case. I mean… Damn! Check ya out, you’re smokin’!” Hendrick looked me up and down, blatantly checking me out. There was no hiding the reddening of my cheeks when he did so. I was athletically curvy and well-endowed in the breast area, with a solid d cup, and a tiny waist. I enjoyed running and going to the gym. Also, I played varsity volleyball and softball in high school. That was my attempt at making friends but did not go so well in the end.
“Thanks,” I smiled up at Hendrick. “Shall we go? I hear crawfish calling my name.”
When we entered the house, I noticed that not much had changed. It was still beautiful, with its neutral beige and wood-paneled walls and outdated furniture. It was large enough to house the alpha, beta, and gamma families. The kitchen was always my favorite part of the house. It was large with granite countertops and wooden cabinetry, very modern. We walked through the netted sliding back doors, closing the door behind us to make sure insects did not fly in. Several pack members were standing around the deck, talking. Just down the steps, near the deck, was a large swimming pool and other pack members were standing around it, having conversations with one another.
I found my Aunt Betty and Uncle Kevin sitting with the former Alpha and Luna, whom I refer to as Aunt Jane and Uncle Paul, even though we’re not related to me. Quick as I could, I made my way to them.
“Ellie!” Jane yelled out to me when she saw me. “Oh, my goddess! You’re here!” she screamed, getting up from her seat. She hugged me so tight, I don’t think she planned on ever letting me go. I could not stop the tears that welled in my eyes from falling when we finally let go of each other. “Look at you. You are so beautiful. You look so much like Eliza.” My mother’s name rolled off her tongue, and I smiled. That fact comforted me, taking pride in looking like her.
“Thank you, Aunt Jane. You haven’t changed at all.”
“Ellie Mae, I’m so happy you’re here,” Paul said to me, hugging me as well.
“Thank you for having me. Wow! Things have not changed, have they?” I asked them as I made my way over to greet my Aunt Betty and Uncle Kevin.
“What are you talking about? There have been lots of changes. Titus is Alpha now,” Jane clarified.
“I meant the house. The parties. The ranch.” I explained my statement.
“Oh, well, that’s because Titus hasn’t cared to change it.”
“Why change it when it’s working? Where’s Titus anyway?” I asked as I glanced around the deck, searching through the other pack members. Just by looking, I could tell that these were trainers, warriors, and ranch hands. Probably high-ranking ones too. There was a mixture of men and women. One could point out the ones that were mated to each other and the ones that were unmated just by looking at the marks on their necks. “I don’t see either of the twins either.” Noting that none of the former Luna’s children were at the party.
“Anna Beth and Lucas are both in Austin studying at the university. They couldn’t make it because they’re studying for their exams,” Jane explained, taking her seat and crossing her arms in front of her.
“Titus just got back from working on the ranch, so he went to take a shower and get ready,” Hendrick answered from beside me.
“He’s gonna be really happy you’re here,” Jane added mischievously.
“Aunt Jane, what do you know that I don’t?” Just then, a strong citrus smell with a hint of cedar filled my nostrils. It was a welcoming smell. An intoxicating smell.
“Nothing dear,” I heard Jane say, just when I turned to meet those beautiful green eyes that I knew perfectly well, staring right back at me. He stood tall, maybe a little less than a foot taller than me, and I, myself, am five foot seven inches and my boots added an extra two inches. He wore a nice chambray button-down tightly against his torso with the sleeves rolled up. From what I could observe, tattoos stained his forearms, unlike how I remembered him. His dirty blond hair was short but curly, and he had a nicely trimmed beard. I watched as his eyes turned black, telling me that his wolf was present. Before I knew it, he had me off the ground, in his arms, and his nose in the crook of my neck.
“Mine,” I heard him say with a deep growl. He raised his face to look me in the eye. My goddess, those eyes. “Ellie.”