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WARRIORS

a Wolf Point novel

Kate Spofford


-1-

Daniel


“So this is our army?” The discouragement in Kayla's voice can't be disguised. She's surveying the backyard of our home base, a rundown cabin in the middle of nowhere, where Remy is doing his best to teach all the new wolves how to turn. Most of them seem more concerned about being naked than anything else. “We’re screwed.”

I watch her long, tawny hair blowing the mountain breeze. She looks too young to be the alpha of a werewolf pack.

“We have a lot more people than we did a few months ago,” I try.

“Yeah. People. Not soldiers. You realize that Geo has soldiers, right? Like, trained soldiers. And redneck gun nuts.” She gestures to our pack. “We don’t even have guns.”

“We don’t need guns. We’re wolves.”

“And so are they!” She stands now, too upset to remained seated, and stalks back and forth.

I don’t say anything else. She won’t listen to it, anyhow. At one point she thought I was her hero, the one who would save the pack. Of course, it’s my own fault for running away from it all. I stare at my hands, which have clenched into fists.

I’m standing now, and walking toward the forest, because if I don’t I’m going to explode out of my skin – literally.

“That’s right, just run away, Dan. Like you always do,” Kayla calls after me.

A snarl escapes my lips and then I’m tearing my clothes off, because I can already feel the change coming, the violent prickling of hair and the shifting of bones under my skin. This is the way it happens when I try to control it, to hold it back. I’ve been working on it with Remy. “Why would I need to slow it down?” I had asked him, when he suggested it.

“There are many reasons, the first being the ability to control whether or not you turn.”

“But isn’t it better to just snap into it?” It had taken me so long to be able to make myself turn on purpose that the idea of slowing down sounded stupid.

“Sometimes, yes – an instantaneous change can allow you to surprise your enemy, or your prey. But exploding into wolf form is dangerous if it happens without your control.” Remy always talks like he’s giving a lecture, which is annoying unless you want to learn something. “Plus, control means you can do a partial change, like this.” He held up his hand, which morphed into a wicked-looking wolf claw.

I was convinced, and since then I’ve been working to avoid turning when I got angry. So far I’ve only been able to slow it down long enough to get my clothes off. I don’t have many clothes left, and our supplies are on the low side.

“Breathe, Daniel.”

When had Remy come up behind me? I growl at him. My already-clawed fingers had fumbled unbuttoning my jeans.

“Breathe in,” Remy instructs in a voice so patient I want to punch him. “Breathe out. Breathe in the calm, breathe out the anger.”

My throat isn’t human enough to argue back. I give up on my pants and try to do what he says. Even after my first set of deep breaths, I can feel my skin calming down, the anger fading away.

“She won’t listen,” I gruff at him when I get my throat back.

“She’s young,” says Remy with a shrug. “We’re working on her.”

He turns to look over at the picnic table, and I do too. Clare, who is apparently our great-aunt, is talking to her.

“It’s so weird,” I say.

“Which part?”

I look at him. “The part where I’m not in jail for murder.” He smiles, then stops when he sees I’m not. “All of it, really. My grandmother’s sister is alive. I have cousins, other cousins than Kayla, I mean. I guess you’re my cousin?”

“First cousin once removed. I think,” Remy says.

“And if Will and Sophie are Clare’s grandchildren, then they’re also your cousins. Uh, first cousins once removed.”

“Right.”

“So that does that make them my cousin?” I ask.

“Second cousins.”

“Not removed.”

“No.”

“Okay.” I nod. Then wince. “That’s weird.”

“How so?”

“Um, because they’re Indians?”

“Don’t let them hear you say that. They’re First Nation. And it isn’t weird, because it’s the other side of the family that’s native, not your side.”

I still don’t quite understand how I can be related to two Native American kids – twins – but I shrug and look for them among the pack members practicing their shift. I don’t see them.

(they’re inside, helping your mom put together lunch)

I give Remy an annoyed look. I don’t like when he reads my thoughts.

“Then you should join the others to practice blocking,” Remy says, and heads up toward Kayla and Clare.

I hate watching them all discussing strategy together. They don’t even consult me. I curl my fists and glare at the ground. If only Remy wasn’t right all the time. If I want to be the hero everyone thinks I am, I need to learn to control myself.


-2-

Zeke


I’m sittin’ on the ground staring deep into Laura’s eyes when I sense – smell, mostly – that Dan’s approaching. “Pickles!” Laura yelps, and laughs.

I blink and shake my head. “You got me. I was distracted.” We both turn to look at Dan.

My bond with Dan is stronger than Laura’s, which is how his being there distracts me more. He wasn’t the one who turned me, which would automatically make him my alpha, according to Remy. But the one who turned me disappeared, and Dan was there, and according to Remy, he’s a much stronger werewolf than most. When he first taught me to turn, he forced the change and that made himself my alpha.

It's weird, because he was only my alpha for a few days before I was kidnapped and had to become an alpha for a bunch of other werewolves. You’d think that being an alpha would make Dan not my alpha, but I guess there’s a hierarchy. Daniel is my alpha, I’m Jeff and Tucker’s alpha. I’m not sure if Jeff is still Tucker’s alpha, or if I replaced him entirely.

There is so much learnin’ to do about being a werewolf.

“Remy said I should practice blocking with you guys,” Dan says.

His body language ain’t hidin’ nothing, his thoughts neither. He’s annoyed at Remy and mad at himself, that’s plain as day.

“I’ll practice with ya.” I give Laura a sideways smile. “You need a more challenging partner.” She shrugs and smiles and wanders off. I can’t imagine how weird it must be to be a grown woman who now has to take werewolf lessons from a teenager. I’m the youngest one here, too. I get the sense that she finds me the least threatening.

Danny’s as tense as a bowstring, and a lot of the other men are, too. There are a few, like Mike and Terry, who don’t like being told what to do. The werewolf side of them makes them quicker to anger than a hungry rooster, and more than a few fights have broken out. It doesn’t help that we’re all crowded and hungry and part of being pack is pickin’ up on everyone’s emotions. Misty, she’s a sensitive one, she’s even gone and built herself a shelter out in the woods to escape it all. Remy don’t like that. He thinks it’s dangerous to have wolves out all alone. He thinks it makes them easy for Geo and his army to pick us off.

I myself think it’s better not to all live under one roof. Geo might have access to bombs or long-range weapons. He could target the cabin and then we’d all be dead.

“So how does this work?” Dan asks, sitting on the ground where Laura had been. His knees poke through the holes in his jeans.

“Blocking? You have ta imagine a wall in your brain, like a brick wall or somethin’. Or like a soundproof room for all yer thoughts.”

“A padded cell. For all my crazy thoughts,” Dan mutters. “Got it.”

“So what Laura and I were doin’ was thinkin’ of a word, and juss repeatin’ that word over an’ over in our heads. Here, you go first. Just think of any word, but imagine the wall.”

Dan’s forehead scrunches up. “Any word?”

“Any word.”

(grassgrassgrassgrass)

I wince. I could call it right now, but I wanna give ‘im a chance to imagine the wall. Give ‘im a chance to quiet his mind. But after a minute, I can still hear him, loud and clear.

“Grass?” I say.

He sighs, and grabs a fistful of grass between his fingers. “Yeah.”

“Okay, how about imaginin’ the wall first, then start thinkin’ the word?”

In his intensity, he doesn’t look at me. I can practically see him buildin’ a brick wall in his mind. But then

(rockrockrockrock)

“Rock,” I say.

He growls – not at me, though I back up a bit. That’s when I catch sight of Tucker lurking ‘round near the side of the cabin. “You’ll get the hang of it eventually,” I tell him. “It’s hard to imagine one thing while thinkin’ of another.”

Dan looks over his shoulder, where I spotted Tucker. “Are you worried about him at all?”

It’s hard to say. Tucker hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself with anyone else in the pack. Some of that’s ‘cause Jeff refuses to trust him, and everyone likes Jeff. Mostly it’s Tucker’s personality. He’s smart, and aims to make the people around him feel stupid.

“A little. He’s a good person to have on our side, ‘cause he’s ruthless and smart, and he’ll be useful once we start talkin’ strategy. I just don’t… trust him, not all the way.”

Turning to look at me, Dan doesn’t say anything. Not out loud. In my head I hear

(me neither)



-3-

Kayla


I don’t know what I expected being an alpha to be like. With all the prophecy crap my mom spouted about Daniel, back when everyone (everyone being my mom and Aunt Jenny) thought Daniel was the alpha, I guess I expected it to be like walking on water. Being a hero. Being a king.

So far, I’ve had none of that. I don’t know if it’s a sexist thing, or an ageist thing, but it’s really starting to piss me off.

All these people are here because of me. I saved them.

I found Daniel back when he was starving and alone and didn’t even know he was a werewolf. Even if I didn’t physically bring him back with me, I got him on the path toward home.

Misty, Laura, Martin, Terry, Mike, Phil, Tricia – all of them are here because I went to where they were being held prisoner and freed them. They should be grateful. Instead, Martin’s a walking panic attack, Misty’s off in the wood meditating, and none of the men listen to me. At all. Laura’s okay, I guess, but I get the feeling that if I asked her to do something unpleasant, she would give me a hard time.

Okay, so it wasn’t me who brought Jeff, Tucker, Clare, Will, and Sophie here. That was Zeke. For a little kid he’s pretty amazing. And I swear, that kid gets way more respect than I do.

Even Remy is making me crazy. “You need to go out there and talk to Misty,” he’s telling me.

“She doesn’t want to talk to me,” I say, squinting in the direction where I feel her pull. It’s weird, this tug I get when someone wanders too far or is having intense feelings.

“Sometimes people avoid things that are better off confronted.”

I roll my eyes. “Can you stop with the Obi Wan Kenobi shit already? Great, you know everything there is to know about everything. Maybe you should be alpha,” I snarl, even though he’d have to pry the title of alpha out of my cold, dead claws.

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“No shit!”

Remy laughs a little and puts his fists on his hips, looking away. God, could he not look just like a model for some mountaineering company, just once? He shakes his sandy blond hair. “Sometimes you are just such a teenager,” he says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demand.

“Nothing,” he says, and turns his gaze on me. Suddenly I’m brought back to when my mom was pushing me to become Remy’s mate. Yeah, I wanted no part of that. Want no part of that. Sometimes, though, I wish no one had tried to force him on me. Maybe I would have turned to him on my own. Those pale blue eyes are so piercing. “Just, sometimes, I forget that you haven’t had a lot of life experience.”

I open my mouth to say, Excuse me? But he holds up a hand.

“You’ve lived a fairly isolated life. You haven’t had a lot of experience in dealing with conflicts. That’s all I meant.”

“I went to public school. I had friends.” Two friends, who weren’t very good friends, but still.

“Forget it. All I mean is, Misty is avoiding you. She went through a traumatic experience, and you saved her. Can you imagine if you had been in her position, and had to be saved? Wouldn’t you feel a little resentful?”

I want to say no, but I do know what he means. I would have hated being saved. “But Laura and the rest of them went through the same thing.”

“Everyone handles things differently. And many of them have had more time to deal with what happened to them than she has. Just go and talk to her.”

I heave a sigh. I know I should go talk to her. “I just don’t get why it’s so important. I mean, I know we need the numbers, but if she doesn’t want to be part of the pack, can’t she just leave?”

“I think we should make a special committee.” That sounds like the most awful thing ever. “Don’t give me that look – you know what our pack meetings have been like. I want our calmest, most influential members.” He raises his eyebrows, and in my head I hear

(Me, you, Zeke, Jeff, and Misty)

It takes a moment before I realize who’s missing.

(No Daniel?)

“He’s too volatile.”

(Not my mom? Or Clare?)

Remy shakes his head.

I do understand having Zeke and Jeff there. Zeke actually dealt with Geo – so did Tucker, but I trust Zeke way more. And Jeff has the same dreamwalking abilities I do. I feel heat rising to my face just thinking about him.

“So why Misty?”

“We need her, Kayla,” Remy says. “I want a representative from those who were at Ben’s camp… and I think she knows something. It’s hard to tell, because she’s quite good at blocking without any practice. But you might be able to break through.”

“I’ll try,” I say.



-4-

Misty


“Hey, Misty! Wait up!”

I heave a sigh and try not to turn around. I'm only glad that I'm on a trip away from my tree house to gather firewood rather than heading toward it. The tree house is a secret.

Ever since I came here, alone time has been near to non-existent. Now I’m living with thirty or so other werewolves in a one-bedroom cabin and it’s the next thing to hell on earth. I now know what hell on earth is like, so I can say that in all honesty.

Kayla runs to catch up with me, her long legs springing over the uneven ground. Even when she’s not a wolf she’s got this animal grace. It doesn't take a genius to see why the most powerful werewolf in North America would amass an army just to make her his mate.

Not even breathing heavy, she arrives at my side and says, “Is something wrong?”

“Have I done anything to make you think something is wrong?” I ask flatly.

“Um, I don’t know if you remember, but I can read your thoughts.” Kayla flips her hair over her shoulder.

I press my lips into a line. “You said you weren’t going to do that to me.”

“I know, I know, sorry. I didn’t really read your thoughts,” she says quickly. “More like body language and emotions. I don’t really think of that as reading your thoughts. Like, I can look at you and get a sense of how you’re feeling, more than anything specific. Which is why I asked you.”

“What emotion are you getting right now?” I ask her.

Finally she has the good sense to blush.

It’s not that I don’t like Kayla. I mean, she rescued me from the werewolf pack that turned me. They weren’t exactly nice. I guess I didn’t really appreciate how she rescued me. The way she forced me to turn even though I told her I didn’t want to. After everything I was forced to do while with Ben’s pack, being forced to do one more thing makes me wonder exactly how different this pack is. Maybe all werewolves are the same.

And I’m now one of them.

“Look, I know this situation isn’t ideal,” Kayla says.

“You’re damn fucking right,” I say, totally ignoring the fact that Kayla’s only fifteen and I don’t normally swear. “You wanna know what the ideal situation is? If I was home in my apartment with my job and all I had to worry about was getting my laundry and grocery shopping done. That would be ideal.”

Kayla chews on the inside of her cheek and looks like a chastised little girl. She’s supposed to be the alpha, and most of the time I forget how young she is.

I sigh. “I know none of that is your fault. I guess all I’m saying is that it’s hard to adjust, not knowing if I’ll ever be able to have that life back again, okay?”

“Okay,” she says.

“I’m used to having a lot of alone time,” I tell her. “I’m an introvert. I don’t really like people. And in case you haven’t noticed, we’re a little crowded back there. So I’d like to go for a walk. By myself.”

“Okay,” she repeats. “As long as you’re not mad at me?”

I heave another sigh. “No.”

“Okay, good. Um, so Remy would like to have a meeting tonight, and he’d like for you to be there.”

“Another pack meeting?” These hadn’t been going so well. Just a couple of days ago, a bunch of new wolves had shown up, and it’s caused a lot of tension. Jeff, this Asian kid who Kayla apparently likes, wants to kill Tucker, this nerdy-looking dude, because apparently Tucker killed a friend of theirs.

See what I mean about all werewolves being the same?

“After the regular pack meeting, we’re going to have a special meeting. Remy wants only a few certain people. Like you.”

“Me.” I stare at her. “And who else?”

“Me, obviously, you, Zeke, and Jeff. That’s it.”

“What, are we going to be the high council or something?”

She shrugs. “Something like that. I think it makes sense. Maybe no one will freak out and start to turn if we have a smaller group.”

“Why me, though?”

“Remy wants a representative of the survivors from Ben’s camp.”

My laugh startles some birds from the trees. “There’s a whole slew of us. Why didn’t he pick Laura? Or Phil?”

“He thinks your information will be the most valuable.”

“I doubt that.”

“Will you come?” Kayla asks.

“I suppose I might have cleared my head by then,” I say, “if I can get some time to myself.”

Kayla takes the hint. “Okay. I’ll tell him.” And Kayla’s gone just like that.

Now there’s a skill I’d like to have. Kayla and Remy are the only ones who can really do it. They’ve been trying to teach us, but there are so many werewolf skills to learn, and so many new wolves, that most of us are struggling with the basics.

Like telepathy. I didn’t bother to ask where or when this super-secret meeting is taking place. They can all read my mind and push their thoughts into my brain. I’ll know, whether I like it or not. I’ve been working to block people from being able to read my mind, and doing a fair job of it, but I still can’t keep other thoughts out, especially Kayla’s. But everyone says that’s normal because she’s my alpha.

Now that I’m alone out here (far as I can tell, anyway), I can practice turning, which I’m getting better at. When I’m alone, at least.

And even when I’m alone, I still feel like there are eyes everywhere, watching me. Just like when I was in the cage. Nothing like living in a cage for a month, chained up like a dog and covered in mud and your own shit to make you feel less than human. Makes it a little easier to turn into a wolf. At least as a wolf I don’t feel naked and helpless.




-5-

Daniel


It's been an hour since I watched Kayla head off into the forest with a few backward glances to make sure no one saw her. Except, obviously, I saw her.

My blocking lessons with Zeke were a disaster, and after I gave up, I came over here to read an old paperback I found in the bottom of a drawer. It’s the third book in some fantasy series by Robert Jordan. I’m not picky— reading seems to be the only way to shut out everyone else. I can’t hide my thoughts and it pisses me off and makes it harder to have quiet thoughts. This is one of those times I wish I was still on my own, wandering with no direction and no responsibilities. But the book is enough to help me forget everything going on around me.

“Lunch is ready,” my mom calls from the cabin’s back door. She has sandwiches on a tray and Aunt Julie behind her with a jug of water and a bowl of chips. Around me, the others perk up and hurry toward her.

I stay where I am, on the ground, leaning against the side of the house. A moment of peace as everyone’s attention turns to food. They’ve all discovered that being a werewolf means increased appetite. Mom has been going crazy trying to feed everyone, and it isn’t like we have a ton of money. I release a breath and fall into the words of the book.

A shadow falls over my page and I squint up at my mom. “Aren’t you hungry?”

I shrug. “Not really.”

“You don’t have to be starving to be hungry,” she says. The way she looks at me, smiling, but not in her eyes, makes me feel guilty, somehow.

“I just needed some space.”

As soon as I say it, I wish I could take it back. Because I need space from her, too. I’m not used to having a mom fussing over me. I was on my own for three years. I grew up. It’s nice to have her concern, but sometimes it makes me feel even more useless than I already do.

“Me, too,” Mom says, and sits down beside me. She doesn’t say anything else. Instead, she leans her head against the sun-warmed wood siding and closes her eyes.

That’s the thing about being on your own: you forget how to listen to how others feel. I haven’t thought about how Mom’s life has changed through all this. How she might be feeling stress, how she had never planned on being a mother to a pack this large. I look at her weathered face, the fine wrinkles that you might not notice if you weren’t looking for them. She might look young, if her hair didn’t have silver strands picking up the sunlight. Just a few, at her temples.

Werewolves can live much longer lives than humans. Remy told us that, but Clare’s arrival made that obvious. She’s older than my grandmother, yet doesn’t look much older than Mom.

The anger in me burns so deep. If only I could have protected Mom somehow. I had thought that by leaving her alone, I was helping her.

“Where do you think Kayla went?” I ask, because I can’t stand to think anymore.

Mom opens her eyes and looks around, slightly alarmed. “She left?”

“I saw her go into the woods about an hour ago.” I dog-ear the page and close the book. “I thought maybe she was going to the bathroom, but it’s been too long.”

We both listen to the sounds of the forest coming alive from the winter and the gentle chatter of everyone eating lunch. “Can you feel her?”

I close my eyes and sift around in my head. This was pretty much the only thing I’ve actually been able to learn from Remy: how to find my bond to my alpha. Our bond is stronger than most in the pack, because at one point we were meant to be mates. The bond is a strange sensation, once I focus on it, a sort of projection that drifts out of my head and into the air. I could follow it, if I wanted. But like most things werewolf, it feels too intimate.

“Yes. She’s okay.”

Mom nods. “Good. Now, you need to eat.”



-6-

Zeke


As usual, I gravitate towards Will and Sophie, cartin’ my sandwich and chips over to where they’re sittin’ cross-legged on the ground. “She does so look like Grandma,” Sophie is saying. “It’s her eyes. They’re the same color.”

“Kayla looks exactly like her mom,” Will protests.

“Where is Kayla, anyway?” I ask as I plunk down on the ground with them.

Will shrugs. “She went off in the woods somewhere. Probably to take a d—”

“Gross,” Sophie says, cutting him off.

“Everybody poops,” Will says.

I’m with Sophie on this one, so I pick up what they were chattin’ about before I sat down. “I don’t think she looks like Clare, neither. Dan looks like Clare.”

“No way!” the twins say at the exact same time. They grimace at each other. Sophie brushes some crumbs from her fingers. “I was just saying, Grandma is their grandmother’s sister, so both of them could look like her.”

Dan’s sitting over in the shadows with his mom. He don’t look much like her, his hair’s darker and his coloring’s more fair. “I think Dan takes after his dad.”

“Did you know his dad?” Will asks, leaning forward to fix me with his dark eyes.

“No…”

Will sits back and crams the rest of his sandwich into his mouth. “He wash an ash-hole.”

“You knew him?” It’s a dumb question. I know the twins liked ta keep tabs on Dan’s family, even though Clare, and Remy, and Geo himself forbade it. There was some kinda pact between Geo and the Angry Dog clan to not have contact with the Wolf Point pack.

“We’ve seen him,” Sophie says while Will is washing his sandwich down with a soda. “His dad was… well, he wasn’t exactly in good shape. He drank a lot. Daniel doesn’t have his build.”

“You checkin’ him out?” Will asks, and the two of them have an aggressive staring match. Or glaring match, really.

“What if I am?”

“You’re related.”

“So? I heard they were trying to get Kayla and him together. To mate.”

“Gross,” I say softly. I mighta been raised in the middle of nowhere, homeschooled and off the grid, but even I know incest is all kinds of wrong. When Sophie turns her glare on me, I take a bite of my sandwich and look away.

I like hanging out with the twins. They’re always fightin’ or competin’ with each other, and they’re the closest to my age of anyone here. After our crazy road trip to find Jean, Clare’s brother, I feel like we bonded. But if I say that, then I’d hafta say that I’m as close to the twins as I am to Tucker, or Jeff.

I don’t even hafta look around to see Jeff is as far from Tucker as he can get. Tucker knows he ain’t welcome, and he tends to stay in front of the cabin to “keep guard.” There’s one road in and out, and it’s about five miles to the nearest road, so there’s not much danger of somebody drivin’ up without all of us werewolves with our super-powered hearing knowing about it. He’s trying to prove that he can be helpful. And he knows no one trusts him, even the people who never knew him before he showed up and Jeff tried to kill him.

Jeff’s talking to Remy on the edge of the trees. Literally as far from Tucker as he can get without leaving the property.

“Kayla likes him,” Sophie says.

“Jeff? Heck yeah. She turns into a tomato whenever he’s around,” Will agrees.

Sophie smiles, leaning back on her hands. “He is cute.”

“He’s in college,” I say.

“I’m seventeen,” she says. “Next year I could go to college, too.”

“Yeah, right. With what money?” Will says.

“There are scholarships….”

I notice for the first time that Sophie has something in her hand. She’s playing with it absently, flipping it between her fingers. “What’s that?”

Will scoffs. “Her bear tooth.”

I raise my eyebrows.

“I found it,” Sophie explains, holding it up. It is indeed a tooth, a sharp curved thing that’s about two inches long. “I think it’s a bear.”

My eyes follow the tooth as she makes it dance across her knuckles. I can’t say for sure, but there’s something not right about what she said. Like she might be lying.

I’m not good enough at trying to read people’s thoughts yet to bust through whatever blocking she’s doing and has been doing her entire life. Will’s face is unreadable as well. Does he think this tooth is from a bear, for real? Or is the tooth from a werewolf, and both of them are lying?




-7-

Kayla


When I return to the cabin, everyone turns to stare at me.

Okay, so maybe most of them aren’t staring. Most of them look up, briefly, then return to eating. For one moment, however, every single face is looking in my direction.

It’s terrifying.

Daniel is one of those staring at me, his brain shouting questions that he can’t seem to not broadcast.

(where were you? you just left? where did you go? are you okay?)

Sophie and Will are staring at me, too. And then Remy and Jeff are staring. I know Remy wants to talk to me about Misty, but he’s talking to Jeff, and I can’t even with Jeff right now.

Needless to say, I head toward the front of the house, where Tucker is, because I’d rather have just one face looking at me than twenty.

Tucker sits in a lawn chair with frayed nylon straps and a rusted frame. “Where’d you dig that thing up?” I ask, because of course he’s looking at me, too.

“I found it,” he says.

“….aaaand this is why people don’t trust you,” I say.

Tucker rubs his nose in a way that makes me wonder if he used to wear glasses. “I smelled it,” he says flatly. “People dump trash in the woods, you know? If you walk around you can smell it.”

“You smelled a rusting chair?”

“I smelled exhaust, and humans. And yes, when I was close enough, I smelled the chair.” He smirks a little. “Smokers.”

“Ah,” I say, and now I do scent that whiff of cigarette smoke. “How long have you been a werewolf?”

Tucker laughs a little. “About two semesters.”

Having never gone to college, it takes me a minute to do the math.

“That translates to a year,” Tucker tells me, before I can figure it out.

“Wow, you really are as charming as they say.”

Looking away, Tucker pressed his lips together and nods.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to say you aren’t charming. Not that you are.” God, stop talking. “I was just trying to get away from everyone else.”

Tucker squints at me in the sunlight. “Is it hard? Having everybody in your head?”

“Oh, it’s not that bad. I grew up this way, so I know how to block. It’s weird, though. How everyone sort of… orients themselves toward me, you know?” Shut up, Kayla. He doesn’t know. Zeke had Tucker tricked into thinking he was an alpha for a while. Change the subject. “So you’re really good at scenting things,” I say.

“Sure.” The way Tucker says it, I know he knows I’ve just made an awkward subject change.

“Do you think that’s something you learned, or…?”

Tucker shrugs. “I don’t know what your ‘or’ is. You know Jeff and I were both turned by the same wolf, right? If it has something to do with how we were turned, his sense of smell should be as good as mine. And it definitely isn’t. Or at least he hasn’t demonstrated that it is.”

“So you learned it, then?”

“If you’re thinking I could teach everyone else how to do it, forget it.”

That had been what I was thinking. Damn.

“I’ve always been observant,” Tucker continues. “I think becoming a werewolf made that stronger. But I could always smell things other people couldn’t. I’m sure your sense of smell is more defined than mine. Yours, Daniel’s… you know, being born this way. But it isn’t a skill that would be easy to measure.”

“I think Daniel’s nose is better than mine,” I tell him.

“Interesting.”

I take a deep breath. Remy warned me not to give too much information to Tucker, and here I am doing just that. “I think they’re having lunch back there. If you wanted anything. I can take over guard duty.”

Tucker doesn’t move out of his chair, just twitches his shoulders. “I already ate.”

“No, really, if you’re hungry–”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll grab something later. I did smell the food, you know. With my amazing nose.”

I’m not sure what kind of reaction Tucker wants, so I just laugh and leave him there. “Your loss,” I say, and crunch over the grass toward the cabin.

I can’t help but peek over my shoulder back at him. Part of me wants to trust him, to believe that he’s volunteering for guard duty to make up for all the shitty things he’s done – killing one of his packmates, kidnapping Zeke, attempting to kill Jeff, trying to gain favor with Geo by turning Zeke over to him.

Another part of me just can’t. How much of that part is the influence of everyone else here who doesn’t trust him makes me not sure I can even trust myself.




-8-

Daniel


Another night, another pack meeting.

There isn't much else to do at night, really. No TV. No cell phones that work. I would prefer to read, but Martin saw me reading that Robert Jordan book and now he won't stop talking to me about it. He’s a funny guy, with reddish hair and squinting eyes. Nervous. He flinches every time I try not to snap at him. Sometimes some of the others see me reading and I can feel how jealous they are. They would love a book. They would love anything. No one is used to the silences like I am.

Like Zeke is. Zeke grew up in silence.

I wish Zeke was sitting back here with me, crammed on the couch between Martin and my mom, but like an eager puppy he's up front, cross-legged on the worn carpet and looking up at Kayla and Remy.

Terry and Mike are leaning up against the kitchen counter, while Aunt Julie is sitting on the counter-top – a dangerous position, because the entire cabin feels ready to shudder and collapse. Also because Terry has his dark eyes trained on her. His flannel-clad bicep presses up against Aunt Julie’s bare arm – she’s wearing a tank top despite the fact that it’s early April in the mountains. Mike is glowering at Terry. I suppose there’s enough werewolf heat in here to keep Aunt Julie warm.

Clare’s on the floor, braiding Sophie’s hair. Will and Jeff are sitting beside them, Laura’s curled up on the floor beside the couch, Tucker lurks by the door with his arms crossed, with Jean on the other side of the door in a similar pose – and yet I feel like something’s missing. I scan the room again, and realize Misty isn’t here.

“Well, I guess we should get started,” Kayla says.

No one was really talking, because most of us are strangers to one another, but absolute silence follows Kayla’s statement. Kayla swallows and takes in all the faces turned toward her.

If this is what being an alpha is all about, I’m glad I gave up on that dream back when Kayla first came to me. I have no idea what I’d do in her position.

I do know what I can do in my position, however. I focus on sending my thoughts only to her.

(you got this)

She blinks and finds me in the crowd. And strangely enough, she smiles and her shoulders relax.

Then I notice that Remy has placed his hand at the small of her back. A dark feeling falls over me.

“I have a fun announcement this time!” Kayla says, faltering only a little at the look on my face. I try not to glower, but even my mom is feeling me and looking over in concern. “So this will be a pretty short meeting.”

This seems to go over well. I swallow down my jealousy.

"When my mom and my aunt and Remy and I first came here, we weren't truly a pack yet. We had no alpha, and Remy had never been part of our pack. One of the first things we all did together was to go on a hunt. I know a few of you have gone off hunting on your own," here Kayla nods at Phil, Terry, and Mike, "but hunting as a pack is a great way for us all to bond and get familiar with each other's wolves."

Martin raises his hand, which Kayla ignores for the moment.

“It will also help us to train for when we fight Geo’s army. Because someday we will have to fight. And I believe we can defeat him. We might not have a lot of people, but everyone in our pack is treated like a person. We’re all pretty much equal here.”

“Except you. You’re the alpha,” says Mike flatly.

“Yes,” Kayla says slowly. She holds his gaze steadily, until he drops his eyes. “I’m a leader. What makes me different from their leader is that I care what you guys think. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m only fifteen, guys.” She laughs a little. Sophie laughs too – she’s seventeen. A few of the others nod their heads. “I can’t do this by myself. Also, I’m not going to chain anyone up or whatever.”

I wince, and Laura sucks in a little breath. Whatever is one way of saying that Geo’s men raped some of the women. The wrong way.

“What I’m trying to say is, I want everyone here to trust each other and be able to work as a team. That’s what’s missing with Geo’s pack. They’re all about threatening and hurting people to keep them submissive in the pack. That’s why a lot of you are now here, because you didn’t trust them, right?”

More nodding.

(good Kayla you got this)

Kayla smiles with one side of her mouth just then, so I know she heard me.

“So working together, getting more comfortable with our wolves, that will make us stronger.”

Martin, who still has his hand raised, says, “Do we have to kill an animal when we hunt?”

“What the fuck do you think we’re gonna do out there?” Terry demands. “Wolves are carnivores. We kill animals.” He nudges Aunt Julie like she’ll agree.

Aunt Julie smiles tightly. Beside me, Martin shrinks into the couch.

“That is the goal, Martin,” Kayla says, after a sour look toward her mom and Terry. “But just remember, your wolf knows how to do this. It’s natural when you’re a wolf.”

“Isn’t Misty a vegetarian or something?” Laura looks around. “Where is Misty?”

Kayla sighs.

“Misty just needs some space,” Remy starts to say.

“What, she gets to skip pack meetings? What the fuck makes her so special?” Mike asks.

“She doesn’t—” Kayla says at the same time Remy says, “She’s not—”

Remy and Kayla look at each other.

“Look, we’re supposed to be learning to work together, and she’s never fucking here,” Mike continues. “Is she gonna be part of this hunt?”

Martin’s shaking. He doesn’t like when people yell or get angry. “Don’t worry,” I say to him, quietly, as Mike adds his opinion of how Misty is a stuck-up bitch. “Hunting means we’ll track a larger animal and take it down all together. You probably won’t even have to do the killing part.”

“I’m going to talk to Misty, okay?” Kayla shouts over the two men. “She’s going to be part of the hunt. Don’t worry about her.”

“I am worried,” Mike snaps at Kayla. “We’re supposed to learn how to fight like a goddamned army. I never heard of an army led by a teenage girl.”

Now I’m the one sucking in a breath, because Kayla’s rage is exploding across the bond.



-9-

Zeke


The rage burns into my brain like a forest fire.

Probably I woulda gotten angry on my own, because Mike is a jerk and what he just said was completely awful. I mighta been raised in the backwoods, but Pa taught me how to respect women.

Kayla’s rage, though, it just boils through me, and suddenly I’m on my hands and knees on the floor, ready to turn, ready to fight. I can hear Jeff at my back, growling low in his throat. I can feel everyone in the room, all the anger, firing me up.

I need to attack. Mike was attacking Kayla, I gotta attack him.

Before I can begin to shift, a cool hand covers mine, and I look up into Clare’s blue eyes. “Calm,” she says, and coolness flows through me. I remember Remy talking about how we can affect each other’s moods across the pack bonds, but this is the first time I ever felt it. Calm. Just like that, my anger is gone.

“Thank you, ma’am,” I say as my muscles relax and I sag in relief. I gaze around at everybody else. They’re all still upset for some reason. Especially Dan. He’s standin’ there, shaking, and already fur has started to sprout up from his forearms and his face, and his teeth are too big for his mouth. He’s gonna leap into a transformation. I seen him do it before and I can tell by the way his muscles are coiling that he’s about to do it now.

(Oh god, Daniel, stop!)

He pauses, mostly because his mother has grabbed his hand.

(CALM)

I hear her thoughts, or maybe they’re Clare’s thoughts, or Kayla’s. I’m still a mite woozy and slow from Clare’s intervention. When I turn to look at Kayla, Remy’s standin’ in front of her, holding onto her shoulders, looking into her eyes intensely. Clare, Dan’s mom, and Jeff are all doing it, calmin’ the new wolves.

Then there’s Tucker.

He’s standin’ there, leaning against the wall. He don’t look affected at all.

Immediately I look for Jeff, as far ‘cross the room from Tucker as he can get. Jeff’s breathin’ hard but otherwise in control.

Julie, Kayla’s mom, has her fingers in Mike’s throat. He’s gulping for air, and blood trickles down his neck – she’s formed claws. We’re all a little calmer by the time she seethes, “You ever speak to my daughter like that again and I’ll rip your tongue out of your head.”

“S-s-sorry, ma’am,” Mike croaks, and then Julie releases him, takes a breath, and shakes out her hand. Her claws disappear back into her bright red fingernails.

The tension is gone from the room. The tension that started with Kayla.

Mike mighta had a point – Kayla is young, only a year older than me! And no way in control of her temper. She and Dan are alike that way.

Kayla looks at Remy, then says, with a flat voice that makes me think she doesn’t want to say it, “Does anyone have any real concerns about my being the alpha here? Please, I would like to hear what they are.”

“Um, well I’m not sure what just happened, but that’s a big fucking concern,” Phil says. He’s stepped beyond Julie’s reach – smart move.

While Kayla takes a deep breath, Remy steps in. “What just happened is one of the advantages of being in a pack. Communicating a feeling across the pack bonds without words or thought. It can alert others in the pack to danger, calm panic, and – as we just saw – it can replace those long-winded war rally speeches. You immediately understand who to attack or when to run.”

Remy’s body language as he speaks fascinates me. He walks back and forth, gesturing, lookin’ just like I imagine a professor giving a lecture would look. It’s almost like he’s explained this before. Like he knows exactly what words to say to convince everyone that what just happened wasn’t a near-catastrophe.

Phil scoffs. But he doesn’t say nothin’ else.

Mike does, however. “Look, I just think this alpha thing should be based on seniority. I don’t know how this girl became alpha, but I mean—” He gives Julie a wary look. “I mean, maybe we have someone else here who could do a better job?” Gesturing to Remy, he adds, “Like you.”

“If we base alpha on seniority, then I would be the alpha,” says Clare from the floor. I almost laugh, because Clare was born in the late 1800s. She’s over 100 years old, and looks like she’s barely sixty.

“She’s right,” Remy says with a shrug. “And if we base it on who’s the strongest fighter, we’d have Daniel as our alpha.”

Dan glares at Remy from under his thick black hair.

For a while, back when I was first turned, Dan was my alpha. He wasn’t so bad… but he knew even less about what he was doing than Kayla does.

“In years past, the Wolf Point pack used to choose its alpha by fighting for supremacy. It didn’t work. I don’t think anyone from the Wolf Point pack would want to go back to that, either.” Remy looks around, and I look around too.

Dan and his ma were both abused by Dan’s dad, who was the former alpha. The abuse was so bad that Dan ended up killin’ him. Dan’s mom, Kayla, and Julie didn’t even know that a woman could be an alpha.

“Back when the Wolf Point pack was known as the Five Families, there was one family who believed the alpha was the head of the household, passed down through the blood to the eldest son, like a monarchy. This family, my family, also believed in keeping the bloodline clean.” Remy waits, and when no one seems to understand, he explains, “Through incest. Obviously, this led to insanity. So. If we do not choose our strongest warrior as our leader, and we do not have a bloodline to follow, how do we choose an alpha?”

Again, Remy is pacing as he lectures. “We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. I consider my own strength to be teaching and organizing. Daniel is our strongest warrior. Some of you have shown promise in stealth, others in strength, and others in healing. We need all different types in our army. And we need someone who is a leader to lead us. Someone who can fight well, who knows how to communicate through her wolf, someone who can make difficult decisions, someone we can all talk to. And for me, that person is Kayla.”

People are nodding. I’m nodding. It all makes sense. I know Remy thinks I’ve picked up wolf skills real fast, and I proved that I have survival skills from all those years homesteading with my dad.

“And Kayla is the one Geo wants,” I say. “He told me he wanted her as his mate.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Mike demands, throwing up his hands. “You marry this Geo guy, we all live happily ever after.”

“Do you even know who Geo is?” Kayla demands. “You were kept prisoner in one of his camps. Do you think he’s fucking Prince Charming?”

Slowly, Mike closes his mouth. Kayla waits, and eventually Mike seems to understand what he was suggesting.

“I’m sorry,” he says. Julie didn’t even have to threaten him for this apology. “I can’t believe I even said that.”

Terry speaks up. “I saw what the women were put through at that camp. What Kayla was put through when she was captured. I never met this Geo guy, but if his army is anything like him, we need to fight. And we need to fight for Kayla.”

Kayla’s smile ignites smiles for all of us. Even Mike, who finally seems to understand everything. “Then let’s get down to business. Let’s talk about going on a hunt. And Martin – just think of it as a team-building exercise.”



-10-

Kayla


“Misty’s not here,” I hiss at Remy after the pack meeting, after we had all discussed hunting to the point where I wanted to scream. Sometimes I want to grab Martin and give him a good shake. Who knew someone could be anal about hunting? As a wolf??

“I am aware,” Remy says, walking away.

“Where are you going?” I snap.

“Kayla, you know where I’m going.”

Frustration rages in the back of my throat. I stalk after him. Of course I know where he’s going. We hadn’t picked a place in advance, because Remy is all about the subterfuge. Instead, he was going to walk into the woods and I’m supposed to pull Zeke and Jeff toward us using the pack bonds.

“Misty should have been there, with everyone else,” I say, forgetting every lesson Remy ever taught me about moving quietly.

He turns and gives me a steely look in the moonlight. “We will discuss this at the meeting point. And please, walk more quietly.”

I bristle at being told what to do, though I do it anyway, curling my hands into fists and gritting my teeth. “And how will I know when we’re there?”

Remy doesn’t answer. It’s just as well. The hike takes some of the anger and fight out of me, and the quiet lets me consider why I’m so pissed. It isn’t my period. It’s that I got challenged earlier and I nearly lost control and I’m angry that people aren’t confident in my ability to lead them and scared that they’re right.

All in all, it’s only about a twenty-minute walk to the river where we all took down an elk a couple of months ago. So much has happened since that kill, it feels like much more time has passed.

“This is where we’ll meet.” Remy sits down on one of the boulders at the river’s edge. “You can call the others now.”

“Do they know about this meeting? Zeke and Jeff, I mean. You talked to them?”

“Of course.”

“Fine.”

I sit down on a rock, cross-legged, and close my eyes. I take a few deep breaths to try to clear out my still-festering anger at Remy. Trees and mud, a family of squirrels in a tree nearby, the scents distract me. Remy can wait. I like the feeling of having my eyes closed and all my other senses working. Even with the rush of the river I can hear bats flying and an owl swooping.

Further I push, until I can hear the snores of my pack, their rustling and bedtime preparations. I sort through all the bonds in my head until I find the one linked to Jeff. He has a quiet hardness, a controlled rage.

(Come to me)

The feeling when he picks up on my signal is like a light in my brain, a faint buzzing. I tug, and then search for Zeke.

Zeke has a brightness that no one else has. A hope. He’s excited for this new life, instead of scared or worried.

(Come to me)

His bond responds with a flash, and a tug, and now I have to move away, to find Misty.

Misty’s bond is the faintest of them all, but since she’s out on her own, it’s less confusing to find her. And when I do, I’m a bit surprised to find her searching for me. She’s a lonely trail of thought winding through the trees, up toward the stars. I barely touch our shared bond when I hear

(i’m here)

(Come)

I send little tugs through the bonds to keep them on the right path. I can tell that Zeke is sure-footed and confident even in the dark, and that Jeff wants to protect him regardless. When they speak it’s murky, but I can still hear it.

“This way,” Zeke says, and Jeff says, “It’s stupid, to walk off into the woods at night.”

“Over here,” Zeke says, and Jeff mutters, “How can you know that for sure?”

Misty arrives before either of them. She must have been closer than they were, and she also didn’t have to sneak out of camp. Still, it startles me when I go to tug and she doesn’t move, and I open my eyes to find her standing there just a few yards away in the high grass. She’s like a shadow in the moonlight.

“This is our secret committee?” she asks, not coming any closer.

“We’re still waiting on Jeff and Zeke,” Remy tells her. “Come sit down.”

“I’d rather stand,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest.

When Zeke bounds into the field, he’s all smiles. “We made it!” he called out.

“Secret meeting, Zeke,” I say, laughing a little. “We don’t want everyone back at camp to hear.”

Jeff trudges along behind him, and gives Misty a long look before he settles onto a rock near Remy. Zeke plops down on a rock in between so that we all form a loose circle, with Misty still standing. Everyone looks at me.

“I don’t know why you’re all looking at me,” I say. “This whole thing was Remy’s idea.”

“Um, because you’re the alpha?” Zeke says.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime?” I retort.

That takes Zeke’s eternal optimism down a few notches. In the cricket-filled silence of the night forest, I glare at Remy.

“I suppose Kayla has a point,” Remy finally says after a few minutes. “I did arrange this meeting. I have a few plans I’d like to present, and it’s hard to get everyone to agree to anything at these pack meetings. Too many people.”

“And you think we’re the leaders in the group?” Jeff asks.

Misty makes a sound of disgust in her throat.

“All of you have some qualities of an alpha, so yes,” Remy says. There are a lot of raised eyebrows, including my own. He clarifies. “Jeff, you were the alpha of your pack before Zeke took over. And Misty… you’re a bit of a lone wolf, and that makes you… special.”

The look Misty gives Remy could wither the forest around us.

“I’m serious about this,” Remy tells her. “I don’t have a word for it. You’re outside of pack influence. You are effectively able to block us all, even if you still seem to respond to your alpha’s commands in an emergency. You don’t have any alliances with the others in the pack, which means you can be an objective influence. I have a feeling that if you participate in any of the plans I’m about to suggest, the others in the pack will see your participation as a vote of confidence.”

God, I wish I was as good with words as Remy is. Maybe I’m the only one with any real bond to Misty, so I’m the only who can feel her relax, just a little bit. She’s listening to him.

“Here’s what we know,” he starts.




-11-

Remy


We barely know anything. From Zeke and Tucker’s brains, I learned that Geo is headquartered at Fort Howell, up near the Canadian border. From Misty and the others who had been prisoners in Ben’s camp, I learned how Geo was going about making and training new wolves.

As far as what Geo wants, and why he’s making his move now to get it, that’s what I don’t know. Or understand.

“We know Geo wants Kayla for something,” I say, after I’ve explained what all of us should already know. “I just want to know why he waited three years.”

“He said he wanted her as his mate,” Zeke explains. “Maybe he was waiting until she was old enough.”

Jeff snorts. “Yeah, right. He’s super honorable, so honorable he’d wait for a girl to turn fifteen instead of taking her when she’s twelve and not even a werewolf yet? This dude was born in the 1700s. People got married young back then.”

“Okay, so why would he wait this long?” I ask.

“You mean you don’t know?” Kayla laughs up at the night sky. “Remy Loupe doesn’t know something?”

“I never said I had all the answers.”

“Maybe he is honorable,” Zeke says. “Just because you think of him as a bad guy doesn’t mean he’s all bad.”

Kayla twists her hair up and lets it fall to her back again. “He’s a gross old man. Maybe if he was hot I’d consider marrying him.”

In the darkness my gaze keeps drifting back to Misty. The way the moonlight highlights her deep brown skin, casting it in shades of bronze… it’s beautiful. I just wish I knew what she was thinking. With the others, it’s so obvious.


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