A gentle knock sounded from my bedroom door, ripping me from a dreamless sleep. Drowsy and disoriented, I kept my eyes closed but focused my senses. The wolf inside me stirred and I knew exactly who it was even before she uttered a word. Her scent had drifted in from under the door, carrying traces of her with it. Miriam.
Rubbing a hand over my sleepy face and stretching my limbs, my eyelids fluttered open. I regretted the action immediately as the too-bright light soaked the room. I shut my eyes quickly.
“Miss Lily, breakfast will be served in thirty minutes,” the soothing voice of Miriam, our housekeeper, floated in from the other side of the door.
Groaning, I tried to rub the sting from my eyes and bit back a wave of irritation. My annoyance wasn’t necessarily aimed at her. Anyone who disrupted my sleep would become the victim of my rage and, unfortunately, Mirriam had the honour of being the lucky winner this morning.
Thirty minutes, she’d said.
My eyes flicked open. Wait, what? Glancing at my alarm clock’s tiny screen, it read 6:00. I grit my teeth and flung a string of mental curse words in Axel’s direction.
“What time is it, Miriam?” I called, already aware of the answer.
“7:30 in the morning, Miss.”
Son of a-, I cut myself off, “thank you, Miriam! I’ll be right down!”
She lingered at the door. “Uh-Miss?” I could hear her fidgeting with her clothes. “Alpha asked me to remind you of tonight’s formal dinner.”
I scrunched my face, pushing through the haziness. What day was it? Friday? Thursday?
“The one with Shadow Creek?” her voice sounded again.
Friday, then. “Sure, thank you, Miriam.” A single butterfly awoke in the pit of my stomach. “Oh. Uh, would you mind laying my black off-shoulder dress out for me, please?”
“Of course, Miss,” she answered, her footsteps finally drifting into the distance.
Thirty minutes, I groaned, falling back onto the bed and contemplating the many ways in which I would kill Axel, my lovely twin.
He had messed with my alarm clock yet again, restarting a war he was bound to lose. The two of us shared many similar traits, both in appearance and personality, making him a worthy opponent for a bit of healthy sibling rivalry.
In the past, our battles also included Cassius, our older brother. Axel and I would team up against him, spend endless hours contemplating our attack. But lately, since he started his Alpha training, we hadn’t seen much of him. Not that we blamed him in any way, of course. Being the heir to a pack as large as Hollow Stone came with huge responsibilities. In truth, I pitied him. It was as much a burden as it was a blessing, something Axel would never have to deal with and possibly never understand.
Cassius was the first-born son of Alpha Leonidas and Luna Eleanor, our parents, making him the heir and future Alpha of the Hollow Stone Pack. It didn’t matter that myself and Axel were also born from an Alpha bloodline. According to tradition, Cassius would be the next to lead. This didn’t give us the freedom to roam as we pleased, either.
Being part of the Alpha’s household made us instant targets; we were expected to partake in extensive combat training from the early age of twelve. Strict training schedules were part of our everyday life. We needed to be ready to defend ourselves and our pack, should anything ever happen to Cas.
While I was still lying lazily in bed, daydreaming about meeting with our friends from Shadow Creek later that afternoon, Axel barged in. He flung the door open like he owned the damn place and strode in with a grin that spelt trouble. His baby-blues sparkled with pure mischief as he eyed me.
“You’re going to be late for breakfast,” he chimed, falling down beside me as if the bed belonged to him. The golden fringe-up do he wore bobbed with each step he took and a few longer strands fell free, touching his brows.
“Nah, I won’t,” I snorted. “How long could it possibly take to throw on a clean shirt and some shorts?” I couldn’t let him win the first little battle of the day, and wouldn’t give him that satisfaction even for a second.
“Well, it depends on how many clean shirts and shorts you try on before finding the right one,” he teased back, with that infuriating grin still stuck in place.
I turned on my side to face him and jabbed my index finger hard into his ribs. “Aren’t you a smarty pants so early in the morning?”
Boisterous laughter bubbled out of him. “At least I’ve picked out a pair of pants,” he threw back, trying to shield himself from my onslaught. “That’s more than you could say.” With that, I pressed my palms into his side and shoved him off the bed.
The sound of his body hitting the ground and an audible grunt was music to my ears. Peering over the side of the bed, I stuck out my tongue and relished in the glare he sent me.
Time, however, was of the essence and I scurried off to the ensuite bathroom without a second thought. I couldn’t afford to be late for breakfast again; mom would kill me. Looking myself over in the mirror and splashing some ice-cold water on my face, I cringed at the sight and rubbed at the skin trying to rid myself of the last signs of sleepiness. Although my eyes were the same shade as Axel’s, they appeared darker this morning. Sunken. Tired.
“You know, mom and dad will be at the provincial meeting all of next week with most of the other Alphas,” Axel said casually, leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his chest.
I knew exactly what he was getting at. A goofy smile stretched across my face, while I tried to pull my fingers through golden tangled strands of hair. I couldn’t help it. It happened whenever I thought of him. Raiden. Axel snickered from behind me.
“You can inform lover boy tonight,” he said with a lazy wave as he turned away from me. “Like I said, late for breakfast!” he called over his shoulder, walking out of the room.
“Shit,” I muttered under my breath, snatching a dark blue t-shirt and pair of ripped denim shorts from my closet and practically threw them on. Rushing towards the dining area, I tamed my hair into a bun I hoped wouldn’t be too messy, taking the stairs two steps at a time. Mom was going to kill me, and it was all Axel’s fault.
As soon as I stepped into the dining hall my eyes fell on our table. My two brothers and mother were already seated and waiting for me. Even from across the room, I could see my mom’s annoyance with my lack of punctuality flare. She kept her composure, however, acting civil in front of pack members who were also waiting on my arrival.
Shit. Double shit.
Almost half of the tables in the hall were occupied by wolves. Everybody was staring at me, waiting for me to sit the hell down so that they could start eating. It was customary for the Alpha’s household to receive their food first before anybody else was allowed to start.
I hurried through the hall, sure my cheeks would have turned red by now, my eyes downcast to avoid making eye contact with anyone. I pursed my lips and swiftly pulled out a chair next to Cassius instead of Axel. Bastard.
Mom stood up gracefully and said, “proceed,” with an overly friendly tone. I was completely and utterly screwed.
As soon as my mother sat down, the clatter of cutlery rattled throughout the hall. Finally, I exhaled the breath I had been holding. Axel’s eyes met mine from across the table and I saw him snickering under his breath. Fire burned in my veins. Whether it was from my mother’s gaze spitting fire in my direction or my anger for Axel, I wasn’t sure.
“A future Luna never leaves her pack waiting,” she said coldly as she adjusted her seat.
“I’m sorry, Mom. It won’t happen again,” I said with a clenched jaw.
She ignored me, looking at Cassius instead. “How’s your shoulder this morning, Cassius?”
“Much better, thanks, Mom. Nothing a good night’s rest and a warm bath couldn’t fix,” he replied, his smile charming as ever.
Cassius had dislocated his shoulder the day before during a training session, but thanks to our fast-healing abilities as werewolves, it would now be fully healed and pain-free. Werewolves usually lived in small communities called packs. Every pack had an Alpha, the leader of the group. In our case, my father was the Alpha. To be a strong and worthy Alpha, one must be from an Alpha bloodline. The Alpha bloodline carried the essence of power and authority and could only be passed on at birth, via inheritance.
All members of the pack are considered part of the family and all decisions are made to benefit the welfare of the pack as a whole. The Luna is the Alpha’s mate, the ‘Queen’ of the pack. Together, they rule, command and maintain order within.
As a female from an Alpha bloodline, chances are that I would one day be paired with an Alpha from another pack. This means I would also become a Luna. Of course, my mother constantly tried to educate me in the ways of a “proper Luna”. A strange thing to force down the throat of a sixteen year old, I know. Part of me wondered daily whether she cared if I was ready to take on the role just yet. Because I sure as hell didn’t feel ready.
Werewolves were considered mature at the age of eighteen, making them viable to find their fated mates. This meant that I had two years. Two years to fix my act and learn what it meant to be a proper Luna. Would it be enough?