Tala Prophecy Companion Novella
by Tia Silverthorne Bach
Copyright 2015 Tia Silverthorne Bach
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be copied or re-distributed in any way. Author holds all copyright.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Cover design by Jo Michaels
Edited by Jo Michaels of INDIE Books Gone Wild
Published by Tia Silverthorne Bach
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by fines and federal imprisonment.
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
~ Albert Schweitzer
So many people spark my inner flame.
I can’t imagine life without my husband of twenty years and three beautiful daughters. Ed, Jackie, Reagan, and Maddie bless my life every day.
Some of the first sparks came from my mother, father, and three sisters.
Jo, you’re not just a spark; you’re fireworks! You inspire me. Thanks for your mad editing skills, killer covers, all around advice, and friendship.
My beta readers rock! Thanks Shauna, Dana, Tara, Tricia, and Mom. I’m so grateful for your encouragement and suggestions.
And what would life be without amazing friends? I’ll get to see many of you in Colorado in May and utopYA in June. Hearts and hugs.
Thanks to all the readers who spend precious time reading my books; you inspire me to keep writing.
And in all things, thanks be to God.
When terror strikes, forever altering your life, it doesn’t ask permission or forgiveness.
After a tough week of school and extracurricular commitments, my sister and I lounged with Mom in our bedroom discussing boys and clothes. I told a story about a boy at school who was pushed out of the locker room with his underwear around his ankles. Laughter filled the space. Then, we heard a noise. Mom bolted upright and told us to stay put. As she pulled the door closed, she put a finger to her lips. My sister came to sit with me, and I took her hand. With each passing second, I tightened my grip. We heard a dog outside barking and growling followed by a loud noise downstairs. My sister gasped, and I clamped a hand over her mouth.
Maybe Mom bumped into something in the dark. After all, we were just laughing and goofing off. An eerie feeling settled into my bones. Something was wrong. Why hadn’t Mom come back? Impatient and curious, I uncurled my fingers from my sister’s, crept toward the door, and cracked it open.
“No, Madeleine—” Amélie said.
I cut her off by putting a finger to my lips and shaking my head—my heart pounding in my chest. Turning back to the door, I strained to listen. At first, I only heard muffled voices, so I stepped a foot into the hallway. Then, a male voice—rough and deep—wafted up the stairs.
“You knew we’d find you.”
“Fernand isn’t here, and I don’t know what you’re talking about,” my mother said, her voice shaky.
Dad had been gone for days. When I asked Mom about it, she said it was an unexpected business trip. Lately, he spent more days on the road than with us.
A loud crash, followed by my mother’s screams, sent me scrambling back into the room.
“Search the house!” the male voice commanded.
“Girls, run!” Mom yelled.
There was no doubting the fear in Mom’s voice. Only one other time in my life, when she screamed for me to get out of the road as a speeding car approached, had her voice sounded so intense. I ran forward, slammed the door, and locked it. Frantic, I spun around a couple of times, desperate to find a way out. On the third twirl, I caught sight of our only chance. I grabbed Amélie and pushed her toward the bedroom window.
“Down the tree!” I yelled. I’d used this mode of escape last weekend to sneak out and see my boyfriend.
As Amélie threw one leg out the window, something slammed against the bedroom door. I grabbed our desk chair and wedged it under the doorknob. My heart raced, and I fought for air, my breathing shallow and erratic. Desperate to find some kind of weapon, my eyes darted around the room. Then, I saw what I needed. A few months ago, my dad brought back an ornate sword in a carved case from his trip to Japan and hung it on our wall. I grabbed the weapon, hoping it was more dangerous than a normal souvenir, and ran to join my sister.
Shoving the sword, safely in its sheath, into my sweatpants, I scrambled down the tree.
Amélie waited at the bottom, yelling for me to hurry. About halfway to the ground, I looked up and saw a man hanging out of our window. Shocked by his appearance, I froze. His porcelain skin and red eyes took my breath away; he would’ve been handsome had he not reeked of creepy. When he smiled, fang-like incisors elongated until they were almost to the bottom of his chin.
“I’ve got them,” he said in a teasing voice.
I dropped the last few feet to the ground. Unable to stay upright, I landed and rolled before finally pushing myself back up. I grabbed my sister’s hand and ran, terrified to glance back and see how close our pursuer was. I dropped Amélie’s hand so I could unsheathe the sword.
Amélie screamed, causing me to snap my head up and see the freak from our bedroom land not ten feet away. With exaggerated movements, he stood from his crouching position, fixed his stare on us, and laughed.
“This is too easy.”
In a flash, he had Amélie in his grip. He pulled her head to the side, exposing her neck, and bent toward it. His teeth shone in the moonlight.
“No!” I yelled as I sprinted toward him.
He dropped my sister and came at me. With sword raised, I thrust it at him as soon as he came close enough. Spinning, I caught his hand and sliced it off when he reached for me. He looked as shocked as I was by my maneuver. Thanks, Dad, for an authentic souvenir, I thought. Then, the thing moved toward me again.
“I was going to kill you quickly, but now you will suffer!” he yelled, clutching the area where his hand used to be.
A piercing howl cut through the night air, causing the creature to look to his left. When he did, I swung the blade again. This time, I caught his lower neck. Blood spurted everywhere as he clawed and hissed. I hadn’t been strong enough to slice all the way through and decapitate him.
Amélie rushed to my side, and we took off for our closest neighbor a few yards away. Pulling her along and terrified to look back, I felt her being ripped away as a dark shadow slammed into me.
“She’s coming to.”
Struggling to fight the heaviness in my head, I edged one eye open and then the other. A handsome face leaned over me.
Gripping the bed sheets, alarm filling my body, I tried to scramble backward. Exhaustion prevented me from getting far.
“It’s okay. I’m not here to hurt you.”
“Where am I?” I managed.
Shadows and darkness; it all came rushing back. “Oh, God, where’s Madeleine?” I asked, trying desperately to sit up and take in my surroundings. Then, I remembered Mom’s screams. “And my mom and dad?”
With delicate force, the young man pushed me back toward the bed. “Madeleine’s safe and recuperating. You need to rest. You and your sister have been through a lot, and your healing is almost complete.”
Intense hunger swept over me, and all I could think about was food. Pushing past selfish needs, I wondered why he didn’t answer about my parents. “I want to see my sister.”
“You need to rest.” He sighed. “But I can see that’s not going to happen. Madeleine wouldn’t sit still either. Okay, let’s go.” He put his hand out. “My name is Rafe, by the way. Madeleine is with my brother, Rowan. I’ll take you to them.” Rafe extended his hand and a smile crept onto his face.
He was one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen. His skin was a warm brown, his eyes deep green, and he must’ve stood over six feet tall. If I had to guess, I’d say he was eighteen or nineteen; just a couple of years older than me. I reached out and put my hand in his, startled by the jolt of his touch.
When I stood, I noticed I was no longer in my pajamas. Instead, I was wearing a pair of gray sweatpants and a white cotton tank top. It looked like something my dad would lounge around in on a relaxing Sunday morning.
Confused, I looked at Rafe.
“I know you have questions, but it’ll be easier to talk with you and your sister together. She’s been up a few hours now, and I’m not sure how much more Rowan’s told her since we spoke earlier.”
I couldn’t help but wonder why Madeleine hadn’t demanded to see me right away. Shaking off my thoughts, I followed Rafe into a dim hallway. Everything from the wood paneling to the decorations on the wall reminded me of New Orleans. Even the rickety stairs made me think of the old homes in our neighborhood.
Dad was some kind of big-wig in town, though he didn’t hold an official title, so we were often dragged to important social events. All the locals knew our family. We couldn’t just disappear without major rumblings from the community. Somebody had to be coming for us.
At the bottom of the stairs, voices brought me back to reality as we rounded the corner and entered the kitchen. Several guys and one lady, who stood out with her deep tan and flowing white blonde hair, were sitting around a long table.
A few people moved aside as Madeleine rushed over. She captured me in a huge hug, squeezing hard, before pulling back and putting her forehead to mine.
“Have they told you anything?” I asked, eager for details and some knowledge about Mom and Dad.
Another olive-skinned, ripped young man walked over. “Hi, I’m Rowan, it’s nice to meet you,” he said, extending his hand.
I took it in mine and looked from Rowan to Rafe. They shared the same skin tone, dark hair, and brown eyes, but Rowan’s eyes had an olive-brown richness.
“Let’s head into the living room and talk,” Rafe said.
This time, he took Madeleine’s hand, and I felt a moment of jealousy. Shaking off the shallow thoughts, since there were more pressing matters than lusting after our host, I followed Rowan and a few others.
Something about this place felt like home. Tendrils of anxiety laced around my throat, and I knew I should be afraid; yet, a sense of calmness prevailed. Sitting in the living room, on a ball and claw couch my mother would’ve adored, I took a deep breath and prepared for details. The last thing I remembered was Madeleine swinging a sword at some man-like thing and then running in the darkness; the rest of the story couldn’t be good.
“How much did your parents tell you?” Rafe asked as an older gentleman walked into the room.
Before I could clarify what our parents were supposed to have told us, a new voice boomed.
“I’ll ask the questions around here.”
All movement and conversation stopped.
For a moment, I could’ve sworn I saw anger flash in Rafe’s eyes, but he lowered his head and stepped to the side.
“My name is Hemming. I assume you’ve met Ricardo, Sasha, Rafe, and Rowan.” He nodded at each of them as he said their names. “I wish we had more time to get to know each other, but things are very delicate right now. So, what did your parents tell you?”
Madeleine and I exchanged glances and shrugged; unless she knew something I didn’t, we didn’t know anything.
“Your parents told you nothing?” Hemming asked, his head tilted, one eyebrow arched, and a deep crevice formed above his nose.
“No. There was a deep voice, and he was asking Mom—” Madeleine paused, looking to the side as if searching for answers “—all he said was, ‘You knew we’d find you.’ I have no clue what that means or who he was. Right now, all we care about is Mom and Dad. Did Mom make it?”
Before he could say a word, the look on his face communicated everything. “Your mother is dead.”
I shook my head and covered my mouth with my hand. Tears fell. Mom couldn’t be gone. I could see people’s lips moving, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. All I could hear clearly were Hemming’s words over and over again. Seeking comfort, I buried my face in my sister’s lap.
Madeleine stroked my hair. With a slight quiver in her voice, she asked, “And Dad?”
“We aren’t sure about your father yet,” Hemming said. “It seems he’s high on many most wanted lists right now. They aren’t real thrilled with some of his interactions.”
As my mind tripped over the idea of Dad having any interactions that would matter to this group, or the ones we encountered at our house, my sister spoke. “You’re going to have to give us some kind of history lesson, and fast. Until last night, I had no clue vampires existed.” My sister’s voice seemed clearer, more in command.
“Well, that didn’t keep you from handling them pretty well.”
I raised my head at the sound of Rafe’s voice and wiped away the last few tears.
“If they’re vampires, then what are you, and why should we trust you?” I asked. A sense of dread took over, knowing simple answers were a thing of the past. Nothing would ever be normal again.
“The same thing you are… werewolves. We may be the only family you have left.”
“Werewolves?” I asked, scanning the people around me to see who’d crack a smile first. This had to be some kind of a joke. Serious faces remained, and I’d had enough. “Okay, I think it’s time we leave.”
My blood was boiling, and I felt anger like I’d never experienced. I didn’t realize I was clutching the side of the couch until I stood and heard a crunch. I looked down to find the wood detail firmly in my grasp.
Shocked, I fell back onto the couch and let the piece fall to the floor. “What just happened?”
Rowan was quick to come to my side, kneeling before me and making eye contact. “Your father called us in to help you. He got word of the attack, but we didn’t get there in time. When we arrived, you were fighting the vampire—and doing a pretty amazing job, I might add—so we had to act fast.”
“What did you do?” Each word was harder than the previous one to say, and my volume decreased to almost a whisper by the last one.
“You’re now one of us,” Hemming said. “It wasn’t part of the initial plan, but there were so many vampires. Amélie was an accident, an overzealous newer recruit, and you sliced your leg pretty bad with the downward swing of your sword.” Hemming paused and looked to Rafe, who cast his eyes downward. “Still, it’s for the best. We haven’t been able to communicate with your father, but the plan was always to bring you to safety. Being one of us is the best way to keep you safe.”
“One of you? What exactly does that mean?” Amélie asked, her voice cracking.
I pulled my sister closer, bracing for the response.
“You’re stronger than you could’ve ever imagined, you won’t age as fast, and you’ve gained a new family.” Rafe paced the room as he spoke.
When I woke up, desperate to find my sister and know more about my parents’ fate, he’d been there. He calmed me with warm, comforting touches as well as news that my sister was safe. If he wasn’t with me, Rowan was. Since arriving, I hadn’t spent a moment alone. My gut told me I could trust the brothers more than Hemming.
“We’ll need to get you trained. The people in this room are my most trusted, and best, warriors. You’ll be in good hands,” Hemming said. He patted Rafe on the shoulder before heading out of the room.
“Wait,” I said. I barely had enough room to stand with Rowan still on the floor in front of me. “How do we know for sure you aren’t the bad guys?” My hands trembled, and I tried to steady them. I refused to let him, or anyone in this room for that matter, know I was scared.
“You don’t,” Hemming said, before turning to Rowan and Rafe. “I expect you to get them whipped into shape pretty fast. Got it?”
After the brothers nodded in unison, Hemming left.
“I know he didn’t do much to answer your questions, and he’s never been accused of being warm and fuzzy, but I assure you, we are not the bad guys. These rogue vampires are killing machines, and they’d stop at nothing to wipe out the human species, and ours if they got the chance. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. If it wasn’t for your father…” Rowan paused, looking to his brother.
Rafe took a turn. “Your father has been instrumental in keeping the vampires under control. He formed some alliances. Not only with us, but also with a few powerful vampire clans who want to coexist. They’ve found other ways to feed and believe it’s never best for one species to annihilate another.”
“You’re expecting me to believe our father was aware of vampires and werewolves. Mom, too? And neither of them thought to protect us or, at the very least, educate us?”
I knew my parents, and they wouldn’t keep us clueless. It didn’t make sense. Anger rose like a bad case of heartburn.
Amélie, still sitting on the couch taking it all in, reached out and took hold of my hand. She was always the more level-headed of the two of us. Comforted by her touch, I took a few deep breaths.
“That sensation you feel is the werewolf blood coursing through you. You’re new to it, but what feels like anger is really power,” Rafe said, a smile spreading across his face.
“Before we train, let’s grab some food. You two must be starving,” Sasha said.
Besides my sister, Sasha was the only other girl in the room, and I made a mental note to make friends with her. I had a feeling this new family was going to be male-dominated, and I wanted some female power on my side.
“Could I have a moment alone with my sister first?” I asked.
Rafe and Rowan looked at each other before Rafe nodded. “We’ll be right outside in the hall. When you’re ready, we’ll escort you to the kitchen.”
Watching them go, my brain went into overdrive trying to process recent information, or lack thereof. Even with all my questions, I didn’t see any better options. Before I could turn back to my sister, she threw an arm around me.
“What do we do?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but my gut tells me this is the best place for us. For now. I certainly have no interest in trying to figure all this out on our own, especially without Dad.”
Amélie nodded. “Me, either. Still, I don’t like some of these feelings I’m having, and I think I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Even though she was twenty months older, I was usually the leader. “Are you up for this? I have to say, it’s not where I saw my life going.”
Although I wanted to throw myself on the ground in a full-blown toddler tantrum, our destiny seemed out of our hands. I wasn’t going to roll over and accept defeat, or worse, end up in a battle without allies. After seeing those vampires, I knew we wouldn’t last long without help. Pushing back concerns about the creatures we were now and what that meant, I straightened my spine.
“I truly think we’re safest here, especially until we hear from Dad.”
“If we hear from Dad,” Amélie said.
I clutched her hand and touched my forehead to hers. “At least we have each other.”
Walking toward the kitchen with Madeleine, and flanked on either side by Rafe and Rowan, I tried to calm my nerves. I wasn’t sure how long we’d been here and what it meant to be a werewolf. It still sounded so absurd, even in my own mind, to say the word.
Everything I knew was based on fiction books and movies, but none of it made me excited to embrace this new creature lurking within me. Werewolves were mad beasts with sharp fangs and big teeth. I shuddered at the thought.
“Are you okay?” Madeleine whispered.
Before I could answer, we were in the kitchen. A few more male faces filled the room. Total, there might have been fifteen of us. We were ushered to a table. Rowan and Rafe each pulled out a chair and we sat. Water and steaming bowls of beef stew were placed in front of us. Madeleine didn’t hesitate to pick up a spoon and dig in. I watched for a second, and then took a few nibbles. In no time, my bowl was empty and my stomach full.
Rafe sat next to me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Do you feel better?”
I did, and it wasn’t just from the food. His touch sent a ripple of heat through me, which was oddly comforting. “I do.”
“So, when does training start?” Madeleine asked.
Leave it to her to get right down to business. I’d prefer to have a few more questions answered and take a few days to ease into our new life.
Rowan chuckled. “A bit later. The hardest part will be shifting, so we’ll start with that. Then, we’ll work on fighting and the best tactics to use against vampires and other creatures. Vampires, specifically, can be tricky. And, if you didn’t notice, they’re hard to kill.”
I didn’t remember much from that night, but nothing could erase the image of a sword halfway through a man’s neck. To make matters worse, Rowan mentioned other creatures. Then, another thing he said reverberated through my mind, begging for an answer.
“Did you say something about shifting? I assume you’re talking about when we turn into werewolves.” Why was the word so hard to say out loud? “Wait,” I said after further thought. “Doesn’t that depend on the full moon?”
“No, we shift when we want. There are a few species who stay in wolf form, though not many, but we won’t introduce you to those until you have more experience,” Rafe said.
I opened my mouth to ask more questions, but then clamped it shut. Every thought running through my head felt juvenile or stupid. Then again, for a newbie in this world, what question wouldn’t be stupid? It’s not like I had any experience. Yet, I was oddly calm. Shouldn’t I be freaking out? Maybe if Madeleine wasn’t here, I’d be more alarmed.
“So, when do we start?” Madeleine asked again.
Even though I loved her, I wanted to strangle her. I often admired her impetuous tendencies; at least until she pulled me along for the ride.
“How about now?” Rafe asked, pushing his chair back.
Madeleine collected her bowl, spoon, and cup and headed to the sink before I could even begin to stand. Why did she always go full steam ahead?
“Let me help,” Rowan said, taking my things and motioning me to follow.
Rafe and Madeleine were already heading out of the room.
“Guess my sister is adjusting a little quicker than I am.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll find your groove. Rafe and I were turned at the same time, not that long ago, and we’re still learning. Actually, you’ll find you always have something to learn because the threat keeps changing.” Rowan put his hand on the small of my back. “This way.”
His touch felt reassuring, but it definitely created a different response than when his brother touched me.
“We’ll show you to your room first. You’ll want to put on some tennis shoes and pack a bag of extra clothes. Grab a towel, too.”
Although the shoes made sense, I wasn’t sure why we’d need extra clothes, but I kept moving. Up ahead, Madeleine chatted up Rafe. I couldn’t hear anything, but I could tell my sister was hanging on every word he said; the way she tilted her body into his and occasionally reached out to touch his arm. She even swung her ponytail a couple times.
I shook my head at the sight and took in a deep breath. Madeleine and Rafe turned and went through a doorway, and Rowan and I joined them. It was a modest room with bunk beds, a desk, a trunk, and a dresser.
“The bathroom’s down the hall on your right, so you know. For now, just grab some tennis shoes and those bags in the corner. They should have everything you need.”
How did they know our sizes? It was one of the million questions bombarding my brain, and quite low on the list in importance. But it was one I could handle. Madeleine and I actually wore the same size shoes, so we each grabbed a pair and a bag and followed the boys. They led us outside. I didn’t know what day or time it was. Although I guessed it must be early evening based on the setting sun.
An extended cab pickup was parked in the driveway. Rafe opened the driver’s side door and motioned toward the back seat. I went in first and Madeleine followed. Closing us inside, he got up front to drive while Rowan crawled into the passenger’s seat.
“We’re going to head into the woods for some cover. Some of our friends will protect our perimeter just in case.”
Madeleine and I nodded. I reached over and squeezed her hand, thinking how sad it was we hadn’t held hands this much since we were little kids.
“Are we really doing this?” I whispered.
She never looked my way, staring straight ahead. “Yes. What choice do we have?”
Following her lead, I sat up straighter and pushed my shoulders back. She was right; we didn’t have any options. At least we were together. And, until we heard otherwise, there was still hope Dad was alive. Collapsing into an emotional pile of goo wouldn’t help anyone.
Mom’s face filled my head and heart. We hadn’t had a chance to grieve or even bury her. It didn’t feel real that she was gone. Then, I remembered an earlier consideration. Wouldn’t people be looking for us? At some point, police must’ve shown up. At the very least, friends would’ve noticed when Madeleine and I didn’t come to school.
Lost in my thoughts, Rowan’s voice in the otherwise silent car startled me. “The easiest way to shift, especially when you’re new, is to be scared or angry. Later, you can do it with less pain and simple concentration.”
Pain? My eyes widened, and I shot a glance at my sister to see if she had the same reaction to the word.
“It’ll be okay,” she whispered, with no change in expression.
“We’re here,” Rafe announced as the car slowed to a stop.
It was darker now, and we were in a dirt parking lot. Rafe got out and opened the back door. As Madeleine and I exited the car, I took in our surroundings. There wasn’t much to look at other than some dirt, trees, and an obscure path.
“We’ll hike in a little way before we start training. There’s water and a few energy bars in your bag in case you need them.”
Rafe grabbed a couple of backpacks from the bed of the truck and tossed one to Rowan. I saw a trailhead with a brown marker sign and gate and turned toward it.
“No, we’re going this way,” Rafe said.
Readjusting, I noticed the group heading in the opposite direction. We appeared to be going off trail. I was a trail sort of girl, someone who appreciated rules and structure. But I wasn’t going anywhere alone. With a sigh, I caught up.
Any other night, I’d be thrilled at the prospect of heading into the woods with two hot guys. My friends would be salivating over Rafe and Rowan. But, no, as fate would have it, I was heading into the woods to learn how to shift into a werewolf for the first time.
Every time fear crept into my brain, I pushed it aside. I could tell Amélie was barely keeping it together. She stuck to me like glue, and her eyes widened at every new sound. An owl hooted a few feet into our walk, and she almost fell over. Focusing on her need kept me from giving into my own concerns. I remembered the sound of terror in Mom’s voice when she faced those vampires. Nobody was going to take anything else away from me; at least, not without a fight. I had to protect my sister. If that meant being a werewolf, then I was going to be the best one I could be. I didn’t have time for fear or questions.
With my mind racing, I almost ran into the back of Rafe when he stopped.
“This looks like a good spot to get started,” he said, throwing his backpack to the ground.
Amélie and I tossed our bags into the same area. When I turned around to see what to do next, I stood face-to-face with the biggest wolf I’d ever seen. Before I could react, Amélie screamed. Throwing my head in her direction, I noticed another wolf circling her. When it lurched forward, I jumped over to protect my sister.
With the movement came a thousand stabbing pains and an intense headache.
“Good job, Madeleine.”
It was Rafe’s voice, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.
Pushing through the pain, I spun around and tried to find my sister. She was huddled against a tree with her right arm over her face. I walked over to comfort her, and she scrambled away and wailed.
“It’s me!” I yelled, but all I heard was growling. Then, it hit me; I’d transformed.
“Quiet your mind. Walk over slowly.” This time it was Rowan’s voice.
They were in my head. I wanted to swat their voices away like a circling bee, but I remembered Mom always said a bee would strike if threatened. Freaking out wasn’t going to help my sister, no matter how much I wanted to give into the temptation.
I calmed myself, slowed my motions, and concentrated on pushing my thoughts to her. “Amélie, it’s Madeleine. Can you understand?”
She tilted her head and relaxed her body. “Madeleine?”
I edged closer but left some space for comfort.
With exaggerated footsteps, she walked toward me, extending her trembling hand. Her eyes narrowed, but she maintained her ground. I didn’t move, worried it would send her huddling back against the tree. My heart raced, beating at a much faster pace than usual. I lowered myself to the ground—a movement very similar to the one we’d taught our dog to do for a treat—and she closed the distance. Falling on one knee and then the other, she laid a hand on my head. My pulse rate slowed, and I felt myself slip away.
“Madeleine, can you hear me?”
As I peeled my eyes open, Rowan’s face came into view.
“What happened?” I managed as I tried to sit up.
“You turned, but you passed out when you changed back,” Amélie said.
More aware of my surroundings, I felt a blanket draped over me. I clutched it close. It was all that was between the cold air and me; somewhere along the way, I’d lost my clothes. My sister’s face came into view as she knelt beside me.
“Did you turn?” I asked, still trying to shake off the fogginess in my head.
“No,” Rafe answered instead as he reached a hand out.
I took it, and he pulled me to standing. At first, I thought I might collapse again, but he put an arm around my mid-section, and I leaned into him for support.
“Actually, your sister is an interesting one,” he whispered into my ear.
Interesting? I wasn’t sure what they meant. And why did the way he looked at her bother me so much?
“Why don’t we head back to the house? Training will start early, and I’m sure you both need some sleep.” Rowan grabbed the bags and tossed me some clothes. “You might feel more comfortable if you put these on first.”
I caught them mid-air but lost my coverage in the process. Refusing to acknowledge my nakedness or how much of it the guys had seen, I gathered the clothes and turned away from everyone. Amélie came over and held the blanket up so I’d have some privacy. Although it made sense that my clothes didn’t survive the shift, public nudity was not on my bucket list. I chalked it up to another thing I’d have to accept.
Once I dressed, we made our way back to the car. None of us said a word. I couldn’t wait to get back to the house and interrogate Amélie about the night’s events. As questions darted around my brain, the interior of the back seat closed in on me. Before I could panic, Amélie began stroking my hair. By the time we pulled into the driveway, I was calmer.
Everything was dark and quiet in the house when we arrived. It was the perfect excuse to head to our room. We exchanged good nights with Rafe and Rowan and closed our door.
“Please, fill in some details. I remember coming toward you, and then, well, nothing.” I’d never fainted before, and I didn’t like the loss of control.
“Something happened when I touched you. Rafe and Rowan weren’t totally sure what to make of it. I heard your voice in my head, as well as your heart racing. I was worried about you, and I wanted to make you feel better.” She paced the room, using exaggerated hand movements. “They said they’d never seen anything like it.”
I tried to replay the evening’s events in my mind. “You looked so scared, and I knew I had to try to communicate with you. You seemed to hear me, but I wasn’t totally sure. Did you hear Rafe and Rowan?”
She stood by the window, wringing her hands while she swayed back and forth. “I heard garbled noises, like a television show on in the background, but I couldn’t make out anything until your voice came through.”
Was it because we were sisters? I hadn’t heard any voices until I was in wolf form, but she’d never shifted.
“How long was I out?”
“Not long. Rafe and Rowan came up within a few minutes. I didn’t even notice them shift back,” she said. Her body finally stopped moving, but I could see wetness around her eyes. “I don’t know what to think about any of this. Mom’s dead, Madeleine. She’s gone! We have no clue where Dad is, or if he’s even alive.”
She collapsed on the bed. I walked over and sat next to her.
“Oh, and there are vampires running around; ones who want to kill us. As if that wasn’t enough, we’re werewolves. It’s like a horrible nightmare.”
I held her as she emptied her tears. Although I wanted to do more, to say something to make it all better, I couldn’t find the words. It was too much. Everything before the vampires attacked was another lifetime; nothing about it seemed real anymore. Only one option remained: survival.
My body was being moved, but I fought the sensation, determined to stay wrapped in Rafe’s arms. Resistance was futile, as the person refused to give up.
“Come on, we have a lot to do today.”
Rafe slipped away as Madeleine’s voice broke through. It was a dream. Disappointed, I opened my eyes. “All right, all right, I’m getting up.” I swatted at her hand and then sat up.
Light had only just begun to filter into the room. Looking around, I didn’t see any kind of clock. “What time is it?”
“I have no clue. Rafe popped in about fifteen minutes ago.”
His name brought back images from last night, both real and not. I threw the covers off and pulled my knees to my chest, not quite ready to face another day of werewolf lore and training. My stomach had other ideas, sounding out in protest to my slow movements.
“Guess you’re hungry,” Madeleine said. “I smell bacon, so I say we follow the scent. I laid some clothes at the end of your bed. The dresser is full of the basics, so not a lot of choices. Are you okay if I head to the kitchen and you meet me there?”
Grabbing the house uniform—all anyone seemed to wear were dark gray or black workout pants and tank tops—I nodded.
“See you in a few.”
When she left the room, I gathered my stuff and headed to the bathroom. Nobody was milling about the hall, so I assumed everyone was at breakfast. Worried taking time for a shower would mean a missed meal, I changed quickly and washed my face. My reflection caused an abrupt halt to my morning activity. I reached up and touched my face, surprised by its softness. My brown hair had flecks of gold I’d never noticed before, and my eyes were a more intense shade of blue. After everything I’d been through, I expected to see a ragged image staring back. Instead, for the first time in my life, I felt beautiful. Madeleine was always the more obvious stunner, with her raven hair and bright blue eyes.
Still, if Madeleine decided she wanted Rafe, I didn’t think I could compete.
Wow. Where’d that thought come from? Why was I so drawn to him? Our lives were complicated enough right now without me mooning over some boy. Shaking off my feelings, I brushed my teeth and hair—thanks to the supplies found in the small kit left on my bed with my clothes.
When I opened the door to the bathroom, Rowan stood there with a closed hand raised. I threw my hand to my chest and let out a squeal.
“Sorry, I was just about to knock. I didn’t see you or Madeleine in your room and thought one of you might be in here.”
Exhaling, I smiled. “Just me. Madeleine already left for breakfast.”
“Okay, want to walk there with me?”
I nodded and followed. When I was around Rafe, heat rushed through my body. Rowan provided a sense of safety—a warmth quite different in intensity—and I was grateful. I heard the buzz of activity before we entered the kitchen: pots clanging, people chatting, a tea kettle screaming. My eyes darted to where my sister and Rafe were sitting. I couldn’t suppress a moment of jealousy when I saw no empty seats around them.
“We better get some grub before it’s gone,” Rowan said, directing me toward the counter.
Had he noticed my reaction? Hating my transparency, I was determined to be less obvious with my feelings.
“It’s crazy busy in here,” Rowan whispered in my ear. “How about we take our food out on the deck?”
Wanting the escape and some fresh air, I nodded and followed him into the next room. He pushed open the French doors, and we went outside. It was a beautiful, crisp morning and the scenery was breathtaking. We seemed to be in some kind of luxury cabin with gorgeous views and mountains in the distance. Normally, I’d want a jacket this time of year, but I wasn’t the least bit cold.
“Where are we?” I asked, laying my plate on the wooden table and pulling back a chair.
I almost dropped my coffee mug. “What? That can’t be.” Our home was in New Orleans. How in the world did we get to Wyoming?
“We needed to bring you somewhere safe. New Orleans is a very dangerous place to be right now, especially for you and your sister.”
My mind darted back to my earlier thoughts about police involvement. “Are people looking for us?”
“Not the kind of people, or things, you want looking for you.”
Vampires? It must be. “Any news about my dad?” If he was alive, there was no way he wouldn’t move Heaven and Earth to find us. Or, at least, that’s what my heart was saying.
“No. I wouldn’t get your hopes up about that. If he’s alive, and I do mean if, he’s in hiding. We’ve sent word to those we trust that you and Madeleine are safe. That’d be enough for him for now.”
He seemed so matter-of-fact, but I could sense something more. “What about you and Rafe? Where are your parents?”
My question caught him mid-bite; he put his bacon down and looked out toward the mountains. “Dead.”
Something about his delivery made it very clear: the subject was closed. I went back to eating and enjoying the rustling and color of fall leaves. Other than nature, silence abounded. As I opened my mouth to offer sympathy, feeling weird about not doing it right away, Rafe poked his head out the door.
“Training time,” he said as he walked onto the deck. Madeleine was right behind him, followed by Sasha and Ricardo; the only other names I knew besides Hemming. We hadn’t seen him since that first chat in the living room.
“Heard yesterday was interesting,” Ricardo said, giving me a light tap on the shoulder. Everything about him screamed smooth, and he embodied the Latin-heartthrob stereotype. “Sasha and I can’t wait to join you soon.”
“What do I need to grab?” I asked, collecting my things from the table.
“Rafe and I already got the bags, and they’re in the car,” Madeleine said.
Sasha took the items from my hands. “I’ll get that.”
Ricardo did the same for Rowan’s mess. “You guys go on ahead.”
I followed everyone back into the house; Ricardo and Sasha veered off to the kitchen, and the rest of us headed outside. Like last night, Rafe held the truck’s door open, and I got in. Before Madeleine could join me, Hemming appeared.
“More training, I assume?” he asked.
“When you get back, I’d like a report, especially in light of yesterday’s session.” Hemming glared in my direction, and goose bumps raised on my arm.
Was he staring at me? I didn’t like all the attention and odd looks. Madeleine was clearly the better wolf, since she actually managed to turn into one. Something kept me from asking what was so special about yesterday even though I was dying to know.
Madeleine didn’t offer any questions, either.
Rafe seemed focused on Hemming’s retreating back. We stood in silence for an awkward moment.
“We’re going about a mile away today, to an old warehouse we’ve set up as a gym,” Rowan said, turning slightly to make eye contact with my sister and me.
A gym. Wonderful. Madeleine was always the athletic one in addition to being more beautiful. She definitely received the winning end of the gene pool in our family. I was the one with the grades; a lot of good they’d do me now. College was nothing more than a dashed dream at this point.
We turned down a dirt path, and a huge building came into view. It looked industrial, but without any identifying features like a company name or other signage. Rafe drove around to the side. He reached over, opened the glove box, and pulled out what looked to be a garage door opener. With a click, the grated metal door began to creak open. He drove the truck inside and, pushing the button again, closed us in.
Fluorescent lights lit the enormous space. It looked like a small arena; various equipment was spread around the room and bleachers were set up in certain areas. Above, the ceiling was made up of metal beams and hanging lights.
“We’ll split up. I’ll take Madeleine,” Rafe said. My heart squeezed at his choice. “You and Rowan can work together.”
I nodded and followed Rowan.
“Sorry you got stuck with me.”
He tilted his head at my comment.
“Madeleine’s so much more athletic. She’s the one you’d want next to you in battle.”
“Don’t be so sure about that. She seems to have great instincts, but what you did the other day… I’ve never seen anything like it.”
There it was again, the cryptic talk about the other night. I stopped and placed a hand on his shoulder so he’d face me. “Okay, I don’t get it. What did I do?”
He studied me. “First, most people would be terrified at the sight of three huge wolves surrounding them. You quickly shook that off and focused on your sister. The way you calmed her… it was like you affected her feelings. I can’t explain it. Hemming wants us to work with you and see if it’s something you can learn to control.”
For a moment, I did nothing but stare. So I had a calming presence, something Mom always said about me, but a whole lot of good that would do me in a battle with a heartless vampire—or whatever else we might face. “I’d rather be the better fighter.”
A huge smile spread across Rowan’s face. “I get it. But don’t underestimate other tactics. Anyway, let’s get started. We’ll work on shifting again later tonight, but for now we need to start building your strength and reaction time.”
He led me to a section set up like a gymnastics studio with bars and mats. We started with some pushups and chin ups. I soon discovered I was stronger than I thought; it must be thanks to the werewolf blood. Within minutes, sweat poured off me.
“Here,” he tossed me a bottled water. “Let’s go do some sparring.”
As we walked to the other end of the gym, Rafe and Madeleine came into view. Each had on boxing gloves. With her right arm, Madeleine threw a punch. Just before contact, Rafe moved his head slightly and avoided the blow. My sister stumbled from the forward energy but quickly recovered and spun to face him. Their movements mimicked a high-energy dance. I could feel the intensity from several feet away.
Madeleine threw a few more jabs, but none connected. Then, Rafe attacked. She threw her arms up to block most of the shots. When he went for the uppercut, she yanked her head back. As his arm sailed by without connecting, she slammed her right fist into his chest. Stumbling, he grabbed her, and they fell to the ground. Madeleine landed on top. As she pushed up onto her arms, letting her knees hit the floor, Rafe closed the distance between them by propping up on his elbows. Then, in a fluid movement, he threw his arm around her, spun their bodies, and pinned her to the floor. Their faces were inches apart, chests heaving.
A heaviness settled over me, forcing me to look away. They looked so intimate lying there, and I couldn’t help but wish I was the one pinned to the ground.
I pushed hard against his chest, determined to break contact; the more I struggled, the bigger his grin became.
“As you wish,” he finally said, moving to the side.
Standing, I smacked my gloves together and squared my shoulders. “Again.”
“Actually, Amélie and I are up next,” Rowan said.
I startled at his voice; I had no clue anyone was watching, which made my lackluster performance all the more embarrassing. Wanting nothing more than to show Rafe what I was capable of, I focused on him. “You sure? One more go round?”
“There’ll be plenty of time for that,” Rafe said. “Why don’t you give your sister your gloves and help her get ready.” He turned to his brother. “Can we chat for a second?”
Rowan nodded, and they walked to a close corner. I couldn’t make out any of their conversation, but Rafe made eye contact with me for a brief second before he turned his back to me.
“It’s impolite to stare.”
Amélie. I almost forgot she was there.
“Sorry. He never gives me a compliment, and I’m working my butt off.” With exaggerated movements, I took off the gloves and began to put one on my sister. “Where does he get off?” I tightened the laces.
“Sorry again. I’m just frustrated. So much has happened, and nobody has asked us how we are or if we need anything. Or, and here’s a crazy idea, if we’d like to make a phone call or access a computer to try and contact Dad.”
Amélie reached over with her non-gloved hand to wrap me in a half hug. “We’ll get through this. Somehow. Trust me, I’m freaking out, but I trust Rafe and Rowan.” She rubbed up and down my arm. I could feel my muscles loosen and tension evaporate.
Then, it hit me. “Oh my God! That’s what you did the other day, isn’t it?”
Was she actually willing me to feel better? It seemed impossible, but so many things happening to us would’ve been unimaginable a week ago.
She jerked her hand back. “I don’t mean to. Rowan was talking to me about it while we worked out.”
I wanted to tell her everything would be okay, but I was too unsure myself to be convincing. Instead, I stayed on task and finished getting her ready.
Rowan and Rafe rejoined us.
Halfway through day ten of training, Rafe announced it was time for lunch, and I realized the depth of my hunger. We gathered our bags and made our way to the truck. As I was getting in the back, Rafe’s cell phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket and answered.
Never had I seen his face contort so much. I hovered half in and half out of the car, catching bits and pieces of the conversation.
“We’ll be right there,” he said, ending the call and kicking at the ground in front of him.
“Hemming?” Rowan asked.
Rafe clenched his hands into fists, and I could see the veins pulsing in his arms.
Rowan opened his mouth as if to speak but was cut off by a shrieking howl. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and it sounded close. Shivers ran down my back, and a horrible urine and mildew smell permeated my nose.
“Get in the truck and stay there,” he said, pushing me the rest of the way into the car.
Once I was in, the door clicked shut behind me, and then I heard the locks engage.
Amélie gasped, so I jerked my head back to the window.
Rafe and Rowan had transformed. They crept away from us and toward the woods surrounding the building.
“I’ll never get used to seeing them like that,” she said.
A series of prickles crept over my skin, similar to goose bumps but more intense. I tried rubbing my arms, hoping to ease the uncomfortable sensation. An urge to jump out of the car overtook me. When I reached for the door handle, Amélie pulled my hand back.
“Rowan wanted us to stay in the car.”
As the brothers moved to the edge of my vision, I noticed a fast movement out of the corner of my eye. Then another. Rafe ran back toward us. My face was glued to the window, like a young child watching a scary movie way too close to the television. Out of nowhere, fur overtook my view. I moved back; my sister and I now pinned together on the opposite side of the car. A nightmare played out in front of us. Crimson eyes, glowing like a hot poker, stared at us through the window. It looked like a large dog with some kind of flesh-eating disease, its fur mangled and patchy. With teeth bared, it began scratching at the door as if trying to get in.
Then there were two others. One jumped into the bed of the truck while another crawled up on the hood.
Amélie and I clung to each other as the air in the small space began to feel constrictive, as if we were using it all up.
Rafe—I could tell it was him by the darker color of his fur—flew over the front of the truck, taking the one wolf with him; they tumbled onto the ground.
Then, Rowan tackled the one to the side. Behind us, the remaining creature seemed even more desperate to get in; he crept back and ran full force into the back window, repeating the action over and over again.
For no obvious reason, the thing stopped, returning to the ground and sitting as if its master had summoned it to do so. Both other wolves did the same. Looking around, I could see at least five more huddled a few feet away near Rafe.
Rowan stayed close to the car.
Rafe stood on all fours as the wolves sat at attention; each coming down to their bellies in turn.
Rowan tapped lightly on the glass by the driver’s side, suddenly back to his human form, and I felt like I’d jump out of my skin.
“Everything’s okay now,” he said, just above a whisper. “Can you throw me that bag?”
I did as I was told. As Rowan put clothes on, his body blocked by the car, I asked, “What are those things?” I knew they were some kind of wolf, but they seemed more than a simple woodland creature and not like us. I couldn’t shake the image of their blazing-red eyes.
“We’ve only started encountering them recently. They seem to respond to Rafe.” A but hung in the air, although Rowan didn’t utter another word. He stared at his brother and the whimpering wolves with as much intensity as I felt.
My gaze went to Rafe and zeroed in on his bronzed butt. With a wave of his hand, the wolves stood at attention and took off for the woods. He watched until they were out of sight and then Rowan threw his brother the bag. I turned away, embarrassed.
“Is everything okay?” Rowan asked.
Rafe nodded, opened the door, threw the bag in, and took a seat; the truck soon roared to life. Rowan hopped into the passenger’s seat, and we were on our way.
“Ready for some lunch?” Rafe asked, as if nothing had happened.
I leaned forward, getting as close to the front seat as I could without crawling into it. “Lunch? How about we discuss those things first?” So far, I’d been numb to all the changes, even going so far as to be understanding of our uprooted life and the need not to bombard our new family with questions. But I refused to ignore obvious warning signs of trouble.
For an awkward moment, nobody spoke. I wanted to pop Rafe in the back of the head and demand answers, or at least some serious attention to what we just experienced.
“That group is a little rowdy, but we need them on our side,” Rafe said, his eyes locked on the road in front of us.
He sounded like a parent making excuses for his misbehaving children—the ones who were one step away from juvenile detention. Noting Rowan’s tense body language and remembering the distance he’d kept from the animals, I promised myself I’d get him alone later and pursue the conversation.
For the rest of the trip, we rode in silence. Amélie was facing her window, her forehead pressed to the glass. Resigned to the quiet, I sat back into the seat, leaned my head against the headrest, and closed my eyes.
Going through the motions, I picked up a plate and loaded it with food, but I felt disconnected. Was this really my life now? I started to wonder if I’d died that fateful day and was walking around in some kind of purgatory. Shaking off the thought, I lowered myself into a chair and lifted the hamburger to my mouth.
“How’re you holding up?” Sasha asked as she sat next to me.
I turned to face her, my sustenance still mid-air. “Okay, I guess. It’s all so much to take in.”
“I know. It’ll take some getting used to. Trust me, I still have moments where I wonder if this is all real.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked, curious to know how long I’d feel this way.
“About five years,” she answered. She took a long sip of her water as I considered her response.
I felt dejected. Five years was a long time to still have doubt. Before I could get too caught up in analyzing, Madeleine sat down.
Rafe and Rowan had disappeared not long after they’d arrived back at the house; Hemming had caught them at the door and ushered them down a hallway while directing Madeleine and me to the kitchen.
Sasha seemed like someone I could trust, especially since Rafe and Rowan appeared to value her. Maybe she knew something about the wolves from earlier. “So, what’s the story with the mangy wolves we saw earlier today?”
Her eyes darted from one end of the room to the other, and then she dabbed her napkin on her mouth. “Are you done eating?”
I nodded, confused.
“Why don’t we go chat in my room?” she said, gathering her things.
Madeleine and I threw our dishes into the dishwasher, tossed our trash, and then followed Sasha out of the kitchen. Her room was in the basement and set up much like ours.
From the amount of stuff on both beds, I assumed she shared her room with someone. “Have we met your roommate?” I asked. We had yet to meet another female in the house besides her.
“Oh, yeah. Ricardo.” She plopped down on her bed, leaning back into her pillows.
“Are you two…” Madeleine began.
“No! We’re like brother and sister. Eww! Anyway, back to your earlier question. First of all, don’t let Hemming hear you talking about those wolves. He’s not a fan. Rafe seems to be one of the few they’ll listen to. We’re all a little weirded-out by the mutts, quite frankly.”
“What about Rowan?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t pressing my luck with the question. Sasha was being friendly, and I didn’t want to put her in an awkward position. Madeleine and I could use all the friends we could get around here.
Sasha threw her arm behind her head and breathed out. “Rowan will always have Rafe’s back. But none of us feel real comfortable about the whole thing.”
“I noticed they didn’t shift at any point,” Madeleine said. She was leaning against the wall with her arms crossed.
“They can’t. We encountered a few of them not too long ago during a fight. They followed Rafe back here and they’ve grown in numbers. They’re vicious in battle.”
For a minute, we sat in silence. I looked around the room. No pictures or any personal items. It felt like a college dorm room where the student was either packing up to go home or had just arrived. I wondered if anyone here had family.
“Those things definitely didn’t seem happy to see me and Amélie. They were attacking the truck as if we were fresh meat.” Madeleine’s comments brought me out of my thoughts.
“Like I said, we’re all nervous about them. Then again, we have a few vampires on our side, and I have an even harder time trusting them.”
“Do you know, or care, what it is we’re fighting for?” I asked. It was something I’d been wondering since I woke up not knowing where I was.
“First, we have to survive. There are all kinds of things that go bump in the night. I don’t ask a lot of questions, but there seems to be something ramping up. Even Hemming seems nervous.”
“Speaking of Hemming, he and Rafe seem to have a tense relationship,” Madeleine said.
I’d wondered the same thing and was glad she brought it up.
“They’ve had some run-ins, and things seem to be getting—”
“What are you three ladies up to?” Rafe’s booming voice filled the room, and I felt like we’d all been caught doing something wrong.
“Just some female bonding,” Sasha said. I was glad for her quick response.
“What would you all think about getting out of here for a little while?”
Each using a different word, we showed our enthusiasm. He led us to the living room where Rowan and Ricardo waited.
“How about the bar in town?” Ricardo suggested.
“Wait, won’t they card us?” I asked. It made me realize I didn’t even have my driver’s license. We left our house in too much of a hurry to grab anything. My thoughts drifted back to home. What I wouldn’t give for a picture of my mom and dad. I pushed back the tears threatening to take over.
“Nobody’ll ask any questions where we’re going,” Rafe said.
We walked outside, and I looked around for an additional vehicle. There was no way we’d all fit in the truck, unless several people were piling in the back.
“Do you prefer to run or go in the truck?” Rowan asked me as Rafe threw some bags into the back.
While I was trying to figure out what he meant by run, Madeleine voiced her choice. “I’ll run. Amélie?”
It finally dawned on me; they were going to shift and go in wolf form. Transforming was something I had yet to do. A bead of sweat formed on my brow, and I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t fight my wolf state forever, but I didn’t want to run to a bar and back.
“Why don’t I take you in the truck, and we’ll meet these guys there?” Rowan asked.
I wanted to hug him. “Sounds great.”
Rowan and I got in the truck; the others stood in the glow of the headlights and waved. As we pulled away, they each shifted and ran off into the woods.
“I don’t know why, but I’m just not ready,” I said. I felt comfortable with Rowan, especially since he seemed to sense my hesitation about shifting. “Madeleine seems to be a natural.”
“We all have to come to it in our own time.”
Deciding to take advantage of having him to myself, I broached another subject, praying I wouldn’t tax our budding friendship. “What was with those wolves today? Rafe seemed comfortable with them. You, not so much.”
He opened and closed his hands on the steering wheel one at a time. “They’re much more animal-like than we are, and I’m not sure we should trust them. But, Rafe thinks we need them. He understands some elements that I don’t, but I still worry. Sorry,” he said. “Something about being around you seems to compel me to be honest.”
Was it something I was doing, or was he happy to have an ear? “I’m always happy to listen. I have to say, those red eyes freaked me out. They seemed to come straight from Hell.”
Rowan’s fists tightened around the wheel. Not another word was said until we pulled up to the bar.
Running through the woods with my new friends, their voices in my head, was the most exhilarating thing I’d ever done. Beyond that, it was sensual, with the wind ripping through my hair and sounds I’d never noticed in the forest before. My body tingled with new sensations, even the air I breathed felt richer.
We came to a stop in a small clearing. Rafe switch back to human form and everyone else did the same. We huddled, naked, until Rowan came around the corner and threw us our bags. After getting some clothes on, we went into the bar.
“You should have come with us. That was so cool!” I said, putting my arm around my sister’s shoulder. “We were so fast, and I could hear the others. Oh, and I really don’t know how to explain it, but I knew how to follow them even when I couldn’t see them. We were connected. It was awesome!”
Amélie seemed reserved but smiled. A pang of guilt dampened my high. I knew I should be more considerate of her feelings since it was obvious she had reservations about embracing her wolf side.
A round of drinks was ordered, and I downed mine. It burned, and I lost my breath for a second. I’d forgotten my complete inexperience with alcohol. Other than taking a sip of my parents’ wine from time to time, I really hadn’t had any.
“Come on. Live a little,” I said, scooting Amélie’s drink closer to her. There’d be plenty of time for more fear and reservations, I wanted her to let loose and embrace our circumstances—at least for a night.
She took a small sip and gagged. “That’s gross.”
“Here,” Rafe said, handing her what looked to be white wine. “Try this.” Then, he turned to me. “Wanna dance?”
I took his outstretched hand and headed to the dance floor. Country music blared. Not my favorite, but I didn’t care. I lost myself in Rafe’s movements and the fast-paced beat. Then, much to my excitement, a slow song came on. Rafe pulled me close, and I melted into him. Everything about him turned me on, but most of all, his scent was intoxicating. Maybe it was a wolf thing. Then again, I didn’t feel that way around any of the other males in the house.
Looking over Rafe’s shoulder, I saw Amélie at the bar. She seemed honed in on us, her mouth bordering on a frown. Nobody else probably noticed, but I would’ve sucked as a sister if I didn’t recognize her thinly veiled jealous demeanor. Rafe was too much for her; she could never keep up. She needed someone calmer like Rowan. Or was I just rationalizing what I wanted? Instead of continuing with this thought process, I decided to be in the moment. Unfortunately, the song was over way before I wanted it to be.
Rafe stepped back, and I felt as if half the heat in my body dissipated. “Should we grab some food? They have some great wings and potato skins here. If I know Rowan, he’s already ordered for the table. Let’s head over.”
I would’ve given up food—maybe even air for as long as I could take it—to stay pressed against him, but I took his outstretched hand and walked over to the tables our crew had commandeered. Just as Rafe predicted, Rowan had some food on the way.
Although I knew it was selfish, I sat on the other end of the table from my sister. I wanted to enjoy the night, to let loose and forget about everything we’d been through recently. Was that so wrong? Rowan was sticking with her, so she wasn’t alone.
For most of the evening, I laughed and danced. Ricardo swung me around for a fast number, and I snagged Rafe for another slow dance. Amélie never left the table, but I did see her chatting with Rowan. A couple of times I caught her smiling. When a group came onto the floor for some line dancing, I ran over to grab her, not wanting her to miss all the fun.
I put on my best pouty face and whined. “Come on. Just one dance.”
“All right,” she said. Then, she hooked her arm in Rowan’s. “But only if you’ll go with me.”
Now it was Amélie’s turn to pout.
“Okay,” he said, giving in.
Sasha and Ricardo joined us. By the end of the dance, we were all laughing. It felt good. As much as I missed Mom and Dad, at least we had some family. We never knew our grandparents, so we had nowhere else to go.
As we headed back to our tables, Rowan checked his watch. “We really should be getting back,” he half-screamed; it was the only way we could hear him over the crazy noise.
Rafe was right next to me, so I leaned in and put my lips close to his ear. “I’d love another run with you.”
He nodded and smiled. I wondered if I’d be able to deny him any request. Then, I chided myself. I’d only known the boy a few days. What was wrong with me? Usually, the guys had to pursue me. I’d never been so forward and obvious. Or needy. Although I wasn’t a prude, I was a virgin. Now, I felt like some kind of dog in heat.
Walking outside into the chilly night air, my body began to cool. I was boiling hot in the building. Actually, my body temperature was elevated most of the time now. Growing up, I always had to throw on a sweater or wrap a blanket around myself. It must be the new blood flowing through my veins.
After a quick pow-wow and collection of our clothes, Rowan and Amélie headed back to the house in the truck. So far, I hadn’t managed a complete view of Rafe naked, although I’d imagined it several times. He was a master at the quick shift and redressing.
Once I was animal, I connected with Rafe and followed him. Testing my speed, I pushed myself. I lost contact for a moment at one juncture. Panicking, I raced faster, hoping to pick up a trail. Just as I heard my name, I ran into what felt like a brick wall and tumbled. I realized I’d landed on top of Rafe, both of us now in our human forms and breathing heavily.
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry,” I said, pushing away and attempting to cover myself with my arms.
He stood up, in all his glory and without even a hint of embarrassment. I blushed and averted my eyes. It was dark out, but I still got a quick glance of chiseled muscles. He came closer and tilted my chin so I’d look at him. “You seem to like to get me in that position.”
Then, his lips were on mine. Like the last several days, I decided to give into the present and not analyze anything. As far as distractions go, and I needed a respite from my life, Rafe was a good one.
For the next hour, passion and heat consumed me. Oblivious to anything but sensation, I knew I was playing with fire.
Rowan and I got back before the others. After a short, but enjoyable, ride home, Sasha and Ricardo came strolling up at almost the same time. Without Madeleine and Rafe.
“Where’s my sister?” I asked, although a part of me already knew.
“She and Rafe were right behind us. Don’t worry. Your sister couldn’t be in better hands,” Sasha said.
With those words, I made myself a promise to put Rafe out of my mind for good. It was clear he was interested in my sister, and she in him. I didn’t want to compete with her, assuming I’d never win anyway, but I already had too much going on in my life. Why complicate it with infatuation?
Funny thing about logic: the brain accepts it, but the heart stays open. Even after knowing Rafe for only a few days, he’d commandeered a piece of my core. I knew walking away from my feelings wouldn’t be any easier than accepting Mom’s death and Dad’s disappearance.
Sasha and Ricardo went to bed, and I turned toward my room. After saying goodnight to Rowan, I decided to take a hot shower. I grabbed some clothes and toiletries from the room I shared with my sister and locked myself in the bathroom. Once I was done, I felt refreshed and exhausted. Sleep couldn’t come fast enough.
When I got back to the room, Madeleine was there with a huge grin on her face. I pushed my feelings aside.
Madeleine couldn’t contain her energy now any more than she did at the bar. “You really do have to come running with us.”
“Did you and Rafe take a different way home? Sasha and Ricardo were back a while ago.” I tried not to sound snippy, but every word dripped with jealousy.
She stared at me, and it was clear I’d drained the joy from her evening. I began putting my things away, needing a moment without eye contact. Her glare was breaking me down.
Days of exhausting training later, we woke and went down for breakfast; there was no sign of anyone. Madeleine and I searched the house and yard for Rowan or Rafe, but neither was around. Finally, we ran into Ricardo in the shed out back.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Guess there’s trouble brewing. Rafe, Rowan, and Hemming already left,” he said. “I’m supposed to rally the troops here. Do you think you and Madeleine are ready? We need all hands on deck.”
Madeleine nodded. I knew I should’ve been on board, but I’d never been in a fight, much less a battle. Even though our training was coming along, I didn’t feel ready. Sasha came up before I could formulate a response.
“Amélie, you can come with me. I need to get some supplies.” She then turned to my sister. “Why don’t you help Ricardo gather everyone? We should receive word soon on where to be.”
Madeleine and Ricardo went one way, while Sasha and I went the other. She took me into a corner of the basement I’d yet to explore and opened up a closet. Inside were weapons of all shapes and sizes: swords, bows, guns, daggers, and others I didn’t recognize.
“Guns won’t do you any good with vamps, and I’m guessing that’s what we’ll find out there,” she said, opening a wooden chest. “Grab everything you can from here.”
I peered over the edge. Based on what I saw, most of the horror movies had it right. There were different-sized wooden stakes and some canteens filled with what I assumed was holy water. I gathered what I could, and noticed Sasha loaded down with swords.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said, holding my supplies as tightly as I could so my trembling hands would be less obvious.
“We all felt that way at some point.”
Back in the hallway, we ran into Madeleine and Ricardo.
“We’re heading out. Just got the word. Madeleine’s coming with me,” Ricardo said, and then focused his attention on Sasha. “Rowan wants you to stay here and hold down the fort in case this is all a ruse to get to our home base.”
While Sasha looked disappointed, I felt nothing but relief. “I’ll stay here with Sasha.”
Madeleine gave me a quick hug and whispered in my ear, “Stay out of sight. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I pulled away without letting go. “Please be careful.”
She nodded and ran off with Ricardo.
“They’ll protect her. Don’t worry,” Sasha said.
It had been a long time since I prayed, even though Mom brought us up in the church and insisted on a strong Catholic education. In that moment, with my sister running off to battle, the only person I trusted to protect her was God.
War. Other than studying history in school, I never thought much about it. Yet I was on my way to a battle; one I didn’t yet feel invested in other than to keep my family safe. It surprised me to realize I truly saw my pack as family now, but my ultimate goal was to protect Amélie. Glad she was safe back at the house with Sasha, I focused on the task at hand and hoped three weeks of training was enough.
“Let’s stay toward the back until I know what we’re facing. Just follow my lead,” Ricardo said, as we raced through the woods.
Still getting used to voices in my head—I could hear bits and pieces of numerous commands being shouted—my inner-ear pounded with the noise. It was like sitting in a room where several people were watching different movies, and it was too much to process. I focused on Ricardo’s voice.
As we got closer, a putrid smell attacked my senses. Then, I saw the bodies; pieces thrown all over the place as if they were puzzles waiting to be put back together. Even though my gut told me to run in the other direction, I forged ahead.
Within another quarter of a mile, we hit a clearing. Rowan fought alongside Rafe and his wolf cronies. As leader of our pack, I assumed Hemming would be close by, but I didn’t see him.
“Stay on the perimeter. Don’t let anything get by you,” Ricardo said as he threw himself into the fracas.
I paced along the border, watching the battle scene in horror. Rafe and the demon wolves, as I’d decided to call them, were tearing apart what looked to be humans. I told myself they must be vampires, or some other kind of creature I’d yet to learn about, because any other option was unthinkable.
Rafe was ruthless in his attacks, and moved in conjunction with the wolves surrounding him. It was as if they were joined in mind and body. A shiver trickled down my spine. I’d never seen anything so brutal. Full of nervous energy, I made my way around the border.
At the far edge of the field, I saw a group of men—they held various kinds of weapons and wore camouflage—backing away. I decided to watch the hunters and try to figure out what their intentions were. Following Ricardo’s directive to not let anything pass, I stayed in the shadows.
I caught sight of a creature coming at my left side and braced for impact as it smashed into me. We rolled together a few feet before a tree stopped us. Luck left me on top, and I faced the kind of evil that killed my mother—its fangs protruding and long nails slashing at me. Above me was a tree branch. I ripped if off with my teeth and plunged it into my attacker’s heart. Its body began to age and crack, like hard clay drying in the sun. I took a couple of steps backward, dazed by the sight. A rustle nearby caused me to jerk my head to the side, and I caught a glimpse of a few hunters with their guns and bows raised in my direction.
Frantic to figure out a strategy, I turned to run just as an arrow sliced through the air, missing me by mere inches. Wolves came at the group from several directions, and Ricardo came to my side.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“It’s time to go. Follow me.”
With that, we headed home. I assumed victory, although nothing about this event felt like something to celebrate.
Back at the house, I went on a frantic search for my sister. Going from room to room, I finally found Rowan, who informed me a house meeting would begin soon. Hemming and Rafe weren’t back yet. According to Rowan, they’d arranged a meeting with some allies to determine what had gone down. It seemed to me we should’ve done more information gathering before jumping into a death scene. Guess I had a lot to learn.
Then I noticed Sasha in the back corner, and I made a mental note to check in with her after the debriefing.
Rowan shared what he knew. “We got word a few days ago that a group of vampires and other werewolves, ones whose interests don’t necessarily align with ours, were heading into our territory. Guess we weren’t the only ones who received word, because a group of hunters—and I’m not talking about men out looking for deer—arrived just after we did. Unfortunately, in the chaos, several were killed and some were turned. We’ve sent out some scouts to see what happened to them. We know another pack was in the vicinity, so they may have ended up there.”
Another pack? I wondered how many there were and if they were on our side. Then, another question hit me. Who were these human hunters? Were they only after vampires, or were they after us as well? And I thought vampires were the biggest threat. I realized how little I understood about this new world I found myself in.
I edged over to Sasha as Rowan shared a few more details.
“Where’s Amélie?” I whispered.
“She had a migraine. I was so worried about her. She kept saying she was hearing too many voices, and she was holding her head like it might burst open,” Sasha said, leaning in closely so only I could hear.
“I’m going to go check on her. Will you fill me in later on whatever else I need to know?”
Sasha nodded, and I headed for my room.
When I got there, I cracked the door open, not wanting to disturb my sister in case she was asleep. There were no lights on.
“Madeleine?” Her voice sounded weak.
I rushed over to her bed. “Are you okay? Sasha said you had a rough night.”
“I’m just so glad you’re safe. I kept hearing voices and screaming. Some I recognized, and some I didn’t.”
A thought hit me. Could she hear more creatures than just our pack? So far, I could only hear ours, and only while in wolf form.
“Please don’t tell anyone about this,” I said, feeling very protective. “I’ll tell Sasha the same thing.”
She sounded like a small child. I pulled back the covers and crawled into bed with her.
A psychiatrist would have a field day with the voices in my head. Not long after Madeleine left, I heard a series of commands, terrifying screams, and vicious thoughts. Unable to filter through it, my head had teetered on the edge of explosion. Terrified the pain would kill me, I’d taken a hot shower and focused, trying to bring forth any distracting images. Rafe’s face kept popping into my mind.
I knew Madeleine had been with him, but she seemed disinterested lately. At first, the two seemed like magnets, and I’d often catch them in intimate moments. Then, things cooled off. I hadn’t asked any questions, determined to move on.
Grateful for a new day and seeking escape, I took a walk around the grounds. Blessed with a warm, sunny afternoon, I soaked in nature and blissful quiet. Still unsettled by yesterday’s events, I wondered why I’d been overcome with voices then but didn’t hear anything on a normal day. Maybe fear or worry brought it on. Maybe I’d never understand it. Why couldn’t I be blessed with Madeleine’s instincts and strength instead?
“What’s got you so deep in thought?” Rafe asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Deep indeed, since I hadn’t heard him come up and didn’t startle at his unexpected question. Instead, I was glad to see him.
“Just trying to figure out what happened.” As soon as the words left my lips, I wished I could retract them. Madeleine had asked me to not say anything.
I rushed to explain it away. “The battle sounded terrifying. Were you scared?” I hoped he would accept my diversion.
He cocked his head, only a slight tilt. “There’s no time to be scared. It’s about survival and coming out on top.”
Something more hid behind his words. Unable to stop myself, I took his hands in mine. Turmoil filled me, causing my stomach to cramp. His energy was tortured. When I touched Madeleine in wolf form, all I felt was adrenaline. I controlled my breathing and wrapped my arms around her furry head, and she relaxed and passed out. Hoping to help comfort Rafe, I relaxed and recalled the calming effects of nature: light breezes, warm air, and beautiful colors.
Within moments, I felt his tension ebb. I opened my eyes to find him staring at me.
“How do you do that?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
He sat on the grass, pulling me down with him so I ended up in his lap. Wrapping his arms around me, he nuzzled my neck. I sank into his embrace.
“My own father was scared of me,” he said breathing into my hair.
He had to be mistaken. Why would a father fear his own son? I took his face in my hands, forcing him to look at me. “I don’t believe that.”
Pressing his forehead to mine, he asked, “Are you scared?”
I shook my head. He and Rowan gave us a family when fate took ours away. We owed them everything. “I’m grateful. Without you, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me or Madeleine.”
Madeleine. Hearing her name reminded me of my promise; Rafe was off limits.
“I should be getting back,” I said, standing.
As I turned to go, he caught my hand. “If this is about Madeleine, it was physical, nothing more. And it’s over.”
Conflicting feelings kept me rooted in place. They’d been physical as I suspected, but no longer. Still, I felt a connection with him. Something I couldn’t quite explain. “Still…” I said, trailing off because I didn’t know how to continue.
“It was a mutual decision to stop. I told her I wanted more.”
My heart squeezed in my chest as I waited for him to continue.
“Please don’t leave. I need you.”
Life can change in an instant. Mine did. Then, when I didn’t think it could get any more complicated, I both started and stopped an affair and entered my first battle. To make matters worse, my relationship with Amélie felt strained. She was spending more time off on her own. I knew there was a lot on her mind, but I wished she’d turn to me for help.
Rafe and I found common ground in training and strategy but kept our distance otherwise. After seeing him in battle, his freaky wolf sidekicks falling in line beside him, I felt uneasy around him. Earlier, Amélie had finally asked about the battle. I detailed the horror. She fidgeted for part of it, and then she seemed to withdraw, her eyes glazing over. After, we had breakfast together. She didn’t say a word to me and quickly excused herself. That was hours ago.
Hoping to let loose some pent up energy, I changed into some running clothes and went outside. I stretched for a few minutes, trying to figure out the best route to take. I didn’t want to go too far by myself. Before I could decide, I heard the front door open and looked up to see Rowan.
“Heading out for a run?” he asked.
“Just need to clear my head.”
“Sounds good. Do you mind if I join you?” he asked.
I shook my head, and we started with a slow jog.
“How’re you holding up?”
“Fine,” I said, my steps slowing.
He ran ahead a bit and then turned to face me, now jogging backward. “Really?”
I slowed to a walk. “No, not really. There were body parts thrown all over the place, a vampire attacked me again, and Rafe’s wolf friends aren’t growing on me. Where was Hemming, by the way? Shouldn’t he have led us in battle?” Once I started, I couldn’t seem to stop the overflowing words.
“Hemming was still trying the diplomatic approach when Rafe forged ahead. They tend to have completely different strategies.”
“Shouldn’t Hemming have the final say?” I asked. “As it was, Rafe seemed more the leader.”
Rowan kicked at a piece of dirt. “I’m worried about that. Hemming would prefer we keep a low profile, and I don’t disagree, but I don’t know that it’s the best long-term approach. They’ve come to blows many times. Hemming doesn’t like to be questioned, and Rafe seems to be getting bolder about it every day.”
If anyone asked me which leader I’d prefer, I’d be torn. Hemming didn’t feel like one of us, but Rafe had an intensity in battle that scared me. “What about you?” I asked as soon as the thought hit. “You’d make an excellent leader, and everyone respects you.”
“I don’t want to be a leader. I’m here to keep Rafe from self-destructing, and to keep us alive. Sasha and Ricardo are family. I’d do anything for them. And for you and Amélie.”
I threw my arms around him. “We’d do anything for you, too,” I said as I pulled back.
Why did I always go for the bad guy? A normal girl would be falling all over Rowan, the perfect combination of sexiness and substance. I loved him, but I couldn’t see myself with him. “I’m here for you no matter what,” I said, giving him a peck on the cheek.
“And I’m here for you and your sister. I won’t let anything bad happen to either of you,” he said. “Now, let’s get back and see what kind of trouble my brother and your sister are getting into.”
I nodded, but his words struck me. I hoped my sister could handle the kind of trouble Rafe brought.
Eager for a shower, I stopped to pick up some clothes and toiletries. I almost ran into Amélie in my haste. “Hey, where’ve you been?” I asked. I hadn’t seen her since breakfast.
“Hanging around. What about you?”
“I went for a run with Rowan. He’s pretty awesome,” I said, grabbing some supplies from my dresser and bed.
“He is. Where are you going?”
“I so need a shower, then I was hoping to find some dinner. Will you come with me?”
I wanted to beg her to tell me how I could fix things. She meant everything to me, and I couldn’t stand the tension between us or pinpoint how it started. Most of our conversations felt stiff and took way too much effort. It’d never been that way before. We never kept secrets. At least, we didn’t before the night our mother died.
Rafe called for me at all hours of the night. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, refuse his need. When he summoned me, I didn’t hesitate to slip out of bed and move down the hall into his room.
I pushed the door a bit to peer inside. “Rafe?” I whispered.
“Come in, and close the door.”
Doing as I was told, I entered the darkness. “Can you turn on a light?”
For a moment, there was nothing but silence. Then, a light came on next to his bed, illuminating his face. My eyes darted to Rowan’s bed; it was empty.
“He’s on patrol. That’s why I called you. I…”
He never wanted to say the words, and I didn’t force him to. I crawled into his bed and pulled him close.
“It always works better when our bodies touch,” he whispered into my ear.
I pushed my nightgown down. Prickling sensations flooded me. Whenever I was with Rafe like this, I could feel his energy seeping into me. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling—at least not at first, with his intense need tugging at me—but it seemed to relieve him.
As he took, I gave. What started as a greedy rush ebbed into a slow burn. Then, I allowed myself to feel. He slowed down and took my needs into consideration. When we were both spent, we lay curled into each other.
“Ah,” he said, his body relaxing. “I assume Madeleine told you about the battle.”
I nodded, wondering why he would bring this up now. I didn’t want to talk about it. Madeleine hadn’t wasted time detailing Rafe’s machinations, how brutal he and his demon wolves were in their attacks. She’d gathered a few more details as everyone was talking in the living room afterward. Unfortunately, a group of citizens—ones who, according to Madeleine, were there for the same purpose—got in the way and were slaughtered. A few survived, but were turned. Their whereabouts were unknown.
“It’s not what you think. Those vampires are vile. You of all people know that. They killed your mother and would’ve killed you if it weren’t for…”
We both knew I owed my life to him and Rowan. Still, I couldn’t shake the details Madeleine had shared about the prior evening. “Those wolves that are always around you freak me out.”
His body tensed at my statement. “They’re cursed, unable to switch back like us. It’s made them angry, but they blame the vampires, and they want what we want. They didn’t ask to be the way they are.”
There was something I could understand. None of us, to my knowledge, had asked to be what we were. Although he seemed sure about the wolves, I still had questions. “How can you know their intentions? How is it that you can communicate with them, but nobody else can? Madeleine said you moved with them in tandem, as if you were connected somehow.”
As soon as I said the last words, I regretted them. I shouldn’t betray my sister; she’d shared those thoughts with me in private. My questions and concerns fell into empty space as he began to caress me in places nobody but him ever had. I couldn’t resist. Amazing sensations and a sharp tug—like someone was draining my energy from within—competed with each other. When he took what he needed, as he had a couple of times, he kissed my forehead and rolled off me.
“Rowan will be back soon.”
I felt dirty and used, something I hadn’t felt with him before. I reached for my nightgown and slid it back on. “You’re a good man; you just have to believe it like I do.”
“My mother used to say that. I believed her; then, she killed herself.” He turned away.
Pushing closer, I wrapped my arms around him. “I’m here for you, and I’m on your side. And, yes, we all agree these vampires need to be stopped. Still, I don’t want you to become their kind of evil to do it.”
He tensed. “You should go.”
I kissed his shoulder and snuck out of the room to go back to my own. Afraid to wake Madeleine, I tip-toed over to my bed and lowered myself onto it. Just when I thought I was in the clear, the bed squeaked.
“Is everything okay?” Madeleine asked, her voice drowsy and disoriented.
“Yes. I’m just getting back from the bathroom. Sorry I woke you.”
“You never used to get up so much in the middle of the night,” she said, sounding more awake.
No, not before Rafe. I wanted to talk to my sister about what was going on. I never thought I’d keep so much from her. Rafe was very honest with me about his dalliance with her. He said it hadn’t meant anything. Still, guilt began to suffocate me, and I had to steady my breathing.
“I think we’re all antsy, lately. Go back to sleep. It’ll all figure itself out soon,” I said.
If only that could be true.
Dinner was usually my biggest meal of the day, especially considering the activity levels of my late evening and early mornings. This morning the smell of steak turned my stomach. Chilled to the bone, I made myself coffee and sat down. When I lifted the cup to take a sip, the aroma filtered into my nose, and a wave of nausea hit me like a bull going after a red cape. I set the cup down and hurried to the bathroom, where I emptied the remaining contents of my stomach.
I’d been feeling rundown. For some reason, I thought my newly enhanced human and werewolf combination wouldn’t give in to the common cold so easily. Guess that showed what I knew. Weak from throwing up and hunger, I decided to go sit outside where it was cooler and sip on some water.
“Can I join you?”
Madeleine’s voice caught me off guard, and I spilled some of my water. “Oops,” I said, trying to recover. “Rough morning.”
“You look awful,” she said, reaching out to touch my forehead. “Do you feel okay?”
I shook my head. “I think I have a cold.”
She pulled back a chair and sat down. “Maybe we should run out to the store later.”
“Rafe says we shouldn’t leave the compound.” It came out before I could stop it.
Madeleine flinched. “He’s probably right.”
A cool breeze kicked up, and we sat in silence while she sipped her coffee.
We both turned to look when the back door crept open. Rafe walked onto the porch. “Amélie, I’ve been looking for you. Can we chat?”
It was strange for him to seek me out this early, and even more unlike him to be so forward in front of Madeleine, or anyone for that matter. He seemed to sense how uncomfortable I felt.
“Sorry, Madeleine. Amélie’s been helping me with something. Do you mind?”
She shook her head and looked away.
I wanted to tell him to wait for me so I could chat with my sister. My relationship with Madeleine had never been so shaky, and it hurt me to the core. However, when I looked at Rafe, his obvious need beckoned.
“Madeleine, I’ll be back in a little bit.”
In my heart, I made a promise to open up to her soon. We needed to reconnect as sisters.
Blood comes first.
“Can we talk?” Rowan asked; the seriousness in his voice unmistakable.
“Sure. Hey, have you seen Amélie? She seems to be avoiding me today.”
Amélie thought she was pulling a fast one, sneaking off to see Rafe in the middle of the night. How gullible did she think I was? Did she not think I could smell him on her?
“That’s for the best. Do you mind going somewhere more private?” he asked in a hushed tone, reaching his hand toward me.
I responded by placing my hand in his.
We walked down the hallway, and a couple of people stared at our joined hands. I could only imagine what the gossip mill was around the house. Did people think there was some wicked triangle going on? I didn’t care what most people here thought, so I squeezed Rowan’s hand tighter and put the others out of my mind.
Once outside, I followed his lead through the forest. We didn’t transform. Top speeds weren’t possible in our human form, but we ran faster than most Olympic athletes did regardless.
When he slowed his pace, I matched his stride. Soon, we came to a stop. He wasn’t still for long, pacing taking the place of running.
“Hemming’s going to make a stand against Rafe and his band of wolves,” Rowan said, his eyes locked on mine. Before I could process what this might mean, he continued, “Hemming came to me because he wanted me to keep everyone safe, and he hoped I’d understand why he needed to teach Rafe a lesson, considering the last incident.”
Blood was thicker than water; I understood his conflict right away. I’d have to tell my sister, even if I disagreed with what she was doing. No way could I stand by and let someone attack her without warning.
“What are you going to do?” I asked, knowing in my heart the answer.
“I have to tell him. It sucks. Hemming took us in when we needed a home, and this is how I repay him.”
“You aren’t responsible for what your brother’s done.”
“Yes, I am. But I know Hemming will have to kill him, because my brother won’t back down.”
Neither would Hemming, that much I knew. “Rafe isn’t himself lately, or at least he’s not the man I first met. Even if you didn’t tell him, I think he’d come out on top, but you’d put yourself—and your friends—on his bad side.” Had I really ever known Rafe? Could a man fall this far this fast? Then again, Rowan seemed to hold out hope, so how could I not?
“What if we convince Rafe to talk to Hemming and smooth things over?” As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew they were ludicrous. What was about to happen was inevitable.
“I want you to get your sister and get as far away from this thing as you can.”
I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder, my brain firing while searching for a solution. “Amélie seems to have some kind of hold over Rafe. I can’t explain, but I think she makes him… better. Maybe she can convince him—”
Rowan put his hand over mine and squeezed. “Trust me. Get your sister and find Sasha. She knows a safe place to take you both tonight.”
“What about you?” My hand was shaking.
“I have to go. He’s my brother.”
I nodded. “Okay, let’s head back. I’m not going to tell Amélie what’s happening until Sasha has us safely away. She’ll want to go to him, to do her best to stop this. Before we go, are you sure you don’t want her—”
He shook his head. “If it’s not tonight, it’d be later. Hemming and Rafe won’t be able to co-exist. Our nature is to have only one alpha. Anyway, we better get back.” He turned back toward the house, but hesitated. Without facing me, he added, “Thanks for listening. I really appreciate it.”
With that, we took off. Once we arrived back at the house, he stopped at the edge of the driveway and wished me luck. Then, he was gone. I headed inside and ran into Sasha. She motioned for me to come with her. Although I was anxious to find my sister, I knew talking to Sasha first was a good move.
Sneaking out was wearing me down. Not only was I exhausted, I hated deceiving my sister. Yet, every time he called me, I answered.
This evening was no different.
As I walked to his room, he met me halfway. “Do you trust me?”
Could he really doubt that at this point? “Of course.”
He took my hand and led me outside. “Let’s go where nobody can find us.”
Worry took over. What if Madeleine woke up and wondered where I was? Would she go searching? My gut told me she knew I was sneaking off to see Rafe, but she might still come looking. I was worried Rafe would get upset if I shared my doubts, so I nodded and followed.
We walked about half a mile. It was dark, so I stayed close to Rafe’s side. When we came up to a group of trees, Rafe pushed aside some branches and pulled away a tarp. Underneath was a motorcycle.
“Ever been on one?” he asked.
He got on and patted the seat. I threw a leg over and put my arms around his waist, holding on for dear life. Soon, it roared to life and we were off. I closed my eyes. There was little to see thanks to the cloudy night, and I settled in close to him.
We came to a stop, and I opened my eyes. In front of us was a small concrete building; it looked like a crypt of some kind. Fear prickled at the back of my neck. “Where are we?”
Without a word, he led me inside and turned on a light. Now I could see it was more like a bunker. He opened a door, which led to a staircase, and we walked down. Madeleine would be yelling at me for my foolish choices if she knew. She was always the one who screamed at the characters in horror movies for being so stupid, saying they deserved to die—survival of the fittest and all.
With each step into total darkness, my trepidation escalated. Just as I was about to ask to go back home, Rafe led me into another lit room.
“Very few people know about this place,” he said, motioning me to a couple of chairs. We sat, and he took my hands. “Hemming has no clue how to lead us. Hard choices have to be made sometimes. I don’t like making them, but we can’t just sit by and wait for the battle to come to us. I won’t lose anyone else I care about.”
“He seems to respect you. Can you talk to him?”
“Actually, he values my brother more. Just like my dad did. Rowan tends to be the thinker, where I’m all about action. Hemming is too old and too soft to do what needs to be done.”
Anger flowed from his body, and I did my best to push through it and calm him.
“My mom was the only other person who ever believed in me.” He leaned in and kissed me, long and hard. When he pulled back, he stared into my eyes and stroked my face. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Nobody had ever needed me like he did, and I could empathize about being the second best sibling. Although I knew Mom and Dad loved me, they always seemed to see more potential in Madeleine.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to keep our pack safe and protect our interests. Ultimately, if that means fighting for the alpha role, then I’ll do what I have to do.”
Now it was my turn for intense emotions. I couldn’t lose him, and it terrified me how far he’d go. Hemming had been the leader for quite a while from what I understood, and I doubted he’d step aside easily. Afraid I’d appear too clingy, I didn’t often tell Rafe my feelings, but maybe it would help him to know.
“I can’t lose you. I love you,” I said, letting my head drop because I was terrified I wouldn’t see in his eyes what I needed to. We’d never exchanged these words.
He placed his hand under my chin and gently pushed it up, forcing me to look at him.
“I love you, too.”
My heart leapt at his declaration, and I wrapped my arms around him. His words played over and over in my head, as if on a constant loop. I’d never forget them.
Without pulling away, he continued, “No matter what you hear others say, I need you to believe my truth. If you have questions or fears, come to me. I don’t handle betrayal well.” His grip on me tightened, and my breathing became strained.
“I’d never betray you.” I hoped the words would reassure him and cause him to relax his hold. When he did, the air rushed out of me.
He stood and checked his watch. “We should get back.” I nodded and took his outstretched hand.
We wound our way back upstairs. Once we were outside, I started toward the motorcycle.
“Oh, and one other thing,” he said from behind me. I turned to look at him. “Don’t ever try and leave me.”
I shook my head in answer.
“I promise,” I said.
For the whole ride back, I considered the events of the evening. It was a night I’d never forget.
He loved me.
Still, as much as I tried to focus on those words, I couldn’t completely overlook the intensity of his warnings.
I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I wanted more than anything to share my joy with Madeleine, but she wasn’t around. Thinking she’d gone for a run, I decided to grab a snack.
All that sounded good was a bagel and some coffee, so I grabbed those and headed for the back porch. There, I found Madeleine and Sasha chatting.
“Oh, there you are. I thought you might be out for a run or something,” I said. “Do you mind if I join you?”
“Actually, I need to get going,” Sasha said. She gave Madeleine a quick pat on the back. I couldn’t help but notice the sadness in my sister’s eyes. If I had to guess, she and Sasha had been in a pretty deep conversation.
Madeleine and I were the only two left on the porch.
“I know it’s none of my business, but I hope you’re being careful. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“I love him.”
It was my turn to break eye contact. I needed her to know, because hiding it from her was killing me. I braced for her opinion. Instead, she stood up, gathered her stuff, and left.
Rafe’s words had filled a balloon of love in my heart, and Madeleine burst it. My appetite was gone, so I decided to go for a stroll and clear my head.
No amount of walking helped, although I only stayed gone about twenty minutes before exhaustion set in. When I got back to our room, it was empty.
Desperate for distraction, I ventured into the library room. Sasha had shown it to me a few days prior. I looked for my favorite book, Depression Cookies, and found it. Clutching it to my chest, I returned to our room.
I hadn’t been reading very long when Madeleine returned. Then, Sasha arrived and urged us to hurry.
Once we were a safe distance from the battleground, Amélie demanded to know what we were doing. I explained the best I could what Rowan had told me.
“I can’t let this happen,” she said, transforming.
It was the first time I’d ever seen her do it. She took off, but she was no match for my speed. I caught up within a quarter of a mile and rammed into her, sending her sliding across the clearing.
“Don’t do this. We can’t help them. Rowan did the best he could under the circumstances. It’s the same thing I would’ve done for you.” I sent the words to her. “Rafe would want you safe. Hopefully, we’ll know something soon.”
She shifted back, and I did the same.
“Rafe’s on the edge, and I don’t want to lose him.”
Both of us stood there naked in the raw moment.
Sasha tossed us a couple of blankets. “Good thing I packed a couple of bags, not knowing how long we’d be out here.”
We huddled under our new covering and sat in a circle.
“I know we have different opinions about Rafe, but—”
“You don’t know him like I do,” Amélie said, cutting me off.
I rolled my shoulders back and reminded myself this was the first time she’d ever been in love. She was under his spell, and trashing him would only turn her against me. If she could rationalize away what happened in the last battle, I knew she was completely blinded by her feelings. I pushed back the images in my mind of just how well I knew him. Every time I thought back to those moments now, even though it was something I wanted desperately at the time, I felt sick. How could I blame her—or condemn her—for being so wrong, when I’d made the same mistake?
Sasha must have sensed the awkwardness, because she took a turn. “I’ve known him for a while, and he’s always been volatile. I don’t doubt his alpha-ness, but Hemming doesn’t deserve the fate that’ll most likely befall him tonight.”
In the silence following her statement, I could hear the wind whistling.
I preferred action to waiting, and I wished there was something we could do. “Any word yet from Rowan or Ricardo?”
“No.” Sasha stood up, fiddling with a branch she’d picked up while she was sitting. Then, she froze.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“I have an intense feeling, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m going to shift and check the perimeter.”
Once in wolf-form, she took off.
“It wasn’t that long ago, I’d have been terrified to be caught out in the woods at night,” Amélie said.
“True. Now we’re hiding while our new family fights against each other.”
“You blame Rafe,” she said.
I hesitated. A huge part of me wanted to shake some sense into her, but blasting Rafe wouldn’t accomplish anything. At the end of the day, I loved my sister, and I didn’t want to cause her pain. “I don’t blame Rafe; I just think he needs to calm down his approach. Hemming put a lot of trust in Rowan and Rafe, and there was no need for this to come to a head. Rafe should’ve—”
“From what you’ve told me, this was Hemming’s choice. Heck, if Rowan hadn’t told Rafe, Rafe’s the one who’d be in danger.”
Her trust in him ran deeper than I thought, but her words did hold some truth: Hemming forced this to a head.
I heard a rustling in the trees and moved closer to Amélie. “Did you hear that?”
She didn’t answer but pinned her body to mine.
Then, Sasha came bursting into the area. I let out the breath I was holding.
“What happened? Is Rafe okay?” Amélie asked.
No obvious concern for Rowan, Ricardo, or any of the other pack members. If I doubted how far gone she was about Rafe before, I knew now.
“It’s over. Hemming’s dead,” Sasha said, her eyes wide. “Sounds like Rafe is the new alpha. We need to hurry back to the house. We don’t want anyone to think we ran. Plus, I’m sure there’ll be lots to discuss.”
Hemming was dead, and Rafe was responsible.
No matter how much I tried to ignore my doubts, I worried how Rafe’s new command would change him; how it would change us.
Sasha, Madeleine, and I raced back to the house. By the time we got there, people were already gathering in the living room.
Ricardo greeted us in the foyer when we entered. “Glad you ladies are back. Most of us raced back as soon as we could. Rafe wants a meeting with everyone, and he would’ve noticed you ladies not being here.”
“That’s what we figured,” Sasha said.
“Is he okay?” I asked. It felt selfish, considering Hemming was dead, but I had to know.
Madeleine grabbed my arm and pulled me aside before Ricardo could answer. “Let’s show some respect for what was lost tonight. Obviously Rafe’s okay if he’s calling meetings.”
I yanked my arm back, knowing I’d have a bruise there tomorrow. Words formed in my head, but I couldn’t get them out of my mouth before she walked away. Familiar faces raced around the halls, and most seemed to stare at me. Or maybe I was becoming paranoid.
Wanting to clear my head, I stepped outside and sat on the front porch. It was nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of activity, even for a moment. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. An unpleasant scent wafted over me. Any hope of settling down evaporated, and I opened my eyes, stood, and tried to find the source of the smell. I caught a flash of movement and then another. A wolf crept over, its red eyes boring into me.
I took a step backward, closer to the front door. Both times I’d encountered these beings before it hadn’t gone well. As it edged toward the stairs, it growled and bared its teeth. Then, it lifted its nose in the air and whined. I placed one foot on the step and then another, drawn to the animal but still cautious. When I got to the bottom, it sat. I’d only seen these types of wolves calm down around Rafe.
“Guess he likes you.”
Rafe’s voice came out of nowhere, and I stumbled and fell back onto the stairs. He scooped me up. “Sorry.”
I threw my arms around his neck. “You startled me, but I’m glad you’re okay.”
He put me down. “We need to get inside.”
My life took a drastic turn the day vampires invaded my house. I could only imagine how my life would change now.
Rafe’s meeting was quick and to the point. He was the new leader. Nobody talked when it was over, and the silence spoke volumes.
Amélie and I retreated to our room without exchanging a word. Everyone was processing. I was, too, but about much more than the change in leadership and the possible consequences.
Even though I already knew, could even hear the little heartbeat drumming in my head, I had to have proof. There was no way I could disappear to the drug store without drawing attention to myself. Everything was a powder keg right now, and my absence would be a devastating spark.
Then it hit me. Sasha. She’d know what to do. I couldn’t share anything with my sister, not yet. This news would devastate her. As exhausted as I was, it took me hours to finally go to sleep.
Morning came before I was ready. I needed to find Sasha, so I walked down to the basement and made my way to her room. Her door was open, and I saw her sitting at her desk.
“Mind if I come in?” I asked, noticing Ricardo wasn’t there.
She threw a hand to her chest. A pang of regret stabbed at me. The poor girl had so much on her mind; we all did.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Do you have a second?”
“Sure,” she said, pushing back from her desk and standing. “Guess I’m just a little jumpy these days.”
“Totally understandable.” I clicked the door shut. “I need your help.”
She came over and put an arm around me. “Anything.”
“I think I’m pregnant, but I need to take a test to know for sure.” No sense in beating around the bush.
Again, her hand went to her heart. “Oh, God.”
I hung my head. “I know.”
“Stay here. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“What do I say if anyone asks where you went?” There was too much at stake to draw Rafe’s attention.
“Tell them Ricardo and I went to patrol the South border. It was our assignment soon anyway, so they’ll think we left early. I’ll grab Ricardo to go with me. I’ll slip back when I can with what you need and then go back to patrol duty.” She hesitated before reaching out to rub my upper arm. “Hang in there, honey.”
Then, she was gone. I didn’t know what to do with myself. As much as I wanted to reach out to Rowan, I couldn’t until I knew for sure. If only Mom were here. She’d know what to do. For any other issue, I would’ve gone straight to Amélie. How could I look my sister in the face and tell her I was pregnant with Rafe’s baby, the man she loved beyond all reason? I shook off the thought. Until I had undeniable proof, I needed to quiet my mind.
I decided to go back to my room and fidget until Sasha returned. Since Hemming’s death, the house had a heavy air. Everybody was on edge and somber, and it felt hard to breathe. For some, his death was like losing a father. For others, there was an uncertainty about Rafe and what his plans were for their future. Where else did any of us really have to go?
If I didn’t have Rowan, and his contacts in the werewolf world, I would’ve simply transferred my allegiance from Hemming to Rafe. I thanked God again for bringing Rowan into my life. Maybe I should try to reach out to my dad. He’d know what to do. Not about the pregnancy, but about the politics of our new life. I couldn’t allow myself to believe he was dead, since I’d already lost so much.
Sasha returned about an hour later with what I needed. I went into the bathroom and took the test. Three of the longest minutes in my life resulted in several more of crying. I turned on the shower to drown out my sobs. Life grew inside me, but with it came fear and dread. Rafe would use it against me. It? What a horrible thing to think. Yet, I knew with every fiber of my being it was cursed by evil. I couldn’t bring part of Rafe into the world. Then, everything was clear. I had to get rid of it. Turning off the water, I walked over to the mirror, rubbed away the fog, and looked at my reflection. I could do this. I had to do this.
When I pushed open the door, Sasha was there. She looked at me, and pulled me into a hug.
“I’m here for you,” she whispered as she squeezed me tighter. She pulled back and wiped away a few of my tears. “You need to tell Rowan. We can’t stay here any longer.”
Her words didn’t shock me—I’d been thinking along the same lines—but how was I going to convince Rowan and my sister to leave?
Sasha seemed to sense my conflict, because she pulled me into her room and detailed why she and Ricardo were leaving. She’d seen too much, and she also knew Rafe and Rowan’s backstory. She said he’d tell me when he was ready and convinced me I was key to him leaving.
Or was it the demon baby I was carrying that would convince him?
Days went by, and with each new sunrise came more changes. Rafe increased training time and led his core group—Rowan, Madeleine, Sasha, and Ricardo—on more missions. Most of the time, I was kept out of the loop. Rafe told me I had a special place as his muse. Also, we were trying to hone my ability to hear other voices.
After several more nights of sneaking into his room, he asked me to stay permanently. “I’ve already talked to Rowan about it, and he understands how much I need you.”
“But, Madeleine?” I asked, torn between my love for him and my sister.
“She means nothing to me,” he said, only an octave below screaming.
He’d made that clear a while ago, so I wasn’t sure why he was so upset. “I wasn’t trying to suggest that. It’s just that… she needs me, too, you know?”
He took my hands in his. “She’ll understand. Plus, I need your help with something.”
I cocked my head to one side, wondering what he could be referring to.
“A woman has come to us. During a battle, she was turned and has amnesia. She doesn’t remember where she’s from and needs a home. I thought you could help her feel more comfortable.”
Amnesia wasn’t a bad way to come into this new existence. At least she wouldn’t miss whatever she’d lost. “I’m happy to help her.”
“Great. Let me take you to her.”
I wondered how a new person had been at the house without me knowing. My bewilderment was soon squelched as we headed outside and made our way to Rafe’s motorcycle. Soon, we arrived at our secret hideaway, although it didn’t feel as special knowing another woman was there.
He led me downstairs, like he’d done many times before. In our room, I saw a girl huddled in a corner. She was crying.
“I’m going to leave you two alone for a little while,” Rafe said, after introducing us.
After he left, I walked over to the girl and knelt beside her. “Rafe tells me you don’t remember much about your past, but I’m here to help in any way I can.”
She looked up, her beautiful brown eyes full of questions. With her dark skin and jet black hair, it was easy to see her Native American roots.
“My sister and I came to be part of this family not long ago, too. They saved our lives, and I promise you it’ll soon become your family as well.”
For the next hour or so, I told her stories about our new family and some of our closest friends. Most of all, I told her about Madeleine, Rowan, and Rafe. At one point, I reached out to grab her hand. A jolt of powerful energy coursed through me; it was akin to pain, but it made me feel stronger and more alive.
By the time Rafe returned, she was smiling and talking a little. She’d even told me her name: Dyani. He seemed pleased with the results.
Dyani and I walked back to house, since three people couldn’t fit on Rafe’s ride. Once there, I took her to meet my sister.
“Madeleine,” I said, entering our room. “There’s someone I want you to meet. She just joined us.”
Madeleine put her hand out in greeting, and Dyani took it. I waited to see if Madeleine responded to Dyani’s touch like I had, but I didn’t notice any reaction.
“Why don’t we all have dinner together and then I’ll take her to her room,” I suggested. Both of them agreed, and we went to the kitchen.
After dinner, I helped Dyani get settled in her room and then returned to mine.
Madeleine was ready to pounce as soon as I walked in. “Rowan said Rafe brought her here. Nobody knows where he picked her up or why. There must be something in it for him.”
I was disgusted with her attacking Rafe all the time. It made my decision about Rafe’s earlier request clear. “I’m moving in with Rafe.” Determined, I started gathering my things and throwing them into a bag.
“Just like that,” she said.
“No, it isn’t just like that, but I’m sick and tired of you attacking Rafe. It’s better this way.”
Madeleine came over and took the bag from my hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just been a long week with a lot of fighting and…”
“I get it. I don’t go to the battles, but I have a purpose. Rafe understands that.”
I slammed the last few things in the bag and left. With each footstep down the hall, anger receded and sadness filtered in. I didn’t mean to leave things that way. Just outside Rafe’s door, I hesitated. As I was turning to go back and talk to my sister, I ran into him.
“Wonderful, so you’re moving in.”
It was time to talk to Rowan.
When I first arrived, my intense feelings for Rafe overwhelmed me. He was all about heat, although our few nights together had left me feeling cold and empty. Sure, he’d been the one to end it, but I didn’t fight.
I again questioned why it was that I cared so deeply for Rowan, would do anything for him, but I never saw him as a love interest. Other than my sister, there was nobody I felt closer to in my new life. Yet, I was about to knock on his door and tell him I was pregnant with his brother’s baby, I planned to get rid of it, and I wanted him to leave with me. Would he care about me after my confessions and requests?
With Amélie sharing Rafe’s quarters, Rowan had moved into one of the empty rooms. Odds were on my side he’d be alone. Before looking for him, I made sure Rafe wasn’t around. After confirming he was out for a while, I made my way to Rowan.
I edged his door open and poked my head inside. “Do you have a minute to talk?”
He swiveled in his chair to face me. “Sure. What’s up?”
“Do you mind if we go somewhere a little more private?” Even though I knew Rafe was gone, I couldn’t afford for him to come back early or for anyone else to overhear our conversation.
It was life or death.
He must’ve read the concern on my face, because he stood and grabbed a sweatshirt. “I know the perfect place.”
I followed him out the back door, down a path, and into the woods. This was new territory for me. We ran, but didn’t transform. Good thing, since I didn’t think to pack, and showing back up at the house naked would arouse suspicion. Or maybe it wouldn’t. I couldn’t think; being covert wasn’t a natural skill, although I seemed to be getting better at it by the day.
A couple of miles away, he slowed. We were near a rock wall. He motioned for me to follow as he bent to enter a small crevice. Once inside, it opened up into a small cave. He pulled out a battery-operated lantern from a dark corner and turned it on.
“I have a feeling I know what this is about.”
What a dangerous statement. How many people had given up too much information based on the ambiguity of a similar claim?
“What is it you think you know?” I should just trust him, but I felt vulnerable. Add that to the horrible nausea, and it left me not myself.
“Sasha and Ricardo, and actually a few others, have talked to me about leaving. I understand the concerns, but—”
“I know, he’s your brother,” I said, interrupting him.
“Actually, I was going to say something else. But, yes, he’s my brother. I know I’ve told you pieces of our story, about our parents being dead. What I didn’t tell you, what I’ve never told anyone, is that Rafe was responsible.”
I gasped, clutching my belly. As soon as I did, I dropped my hand. It was an instinct, but I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t care about this thing growing in me, not with everything I knew about the father.
Rowan cocked his head and glared at me. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
“I’m pregnant. It’s Rafe’s.”
His head dropped, and I noticed his fists balled up by his side.
“I’m not going to have it, and I need your help.” I started crying. This wasn’t the way I wanted this conversation to go. I didn’t want to guilt him into anything. I stood.
“Never mind. I’ll take care of it by myself.” I turned to leave.
I only made it two steps before he grabbed my arm and pulled me to him, wrapping me in his arms from behind. Closing my eyes, I let my head drop back onto his shoulder. Then, I collapsed into him and let him hold me.
“You’re doing the right thing. Long story short, my mother made some kind of deal with the Devil. That deal became my brother. My father was devastated. In the end, she took her own life. She left a note about Rafe’s lineage.”
So, I really was carrying the Devil’s spawn. I started retching, but nothing came up. My body contracted into spasms, and I sank to the floor.
“I thought I could save him. Then, I thought Hemming could guide him. Finally, I thought maybe you, or your sister, could give him something nobody else ever could and help him overcome the demons inside. Then, there were his demon wolves and his increased violence. Dammit!” he yelled as he punched the interior wall. I heard the bones in his hand break.
“To make matters worse, there’s a prophecy. It’s too much to go into now, but trust me. We have to figure it out before Rafe does.”
A prophecy. Not that I needed to be convinced to leave, but this sounded even more ominous. I trusted him to tell me more about it when he was ready, but there were more pressing matters to figure out first.
“Will you come with us and help me find someone to, well, take care of my situation?” I asked, standing to walk over to him. As much as I knew my decision was the right one, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything more detailed. I took his crushed hand into my own. “I love you. I hope you know that.”
“I swear I never said those words to your brother. It was passion; ill-advised and with horrible results. I don’t know that Amélie will be so easy to convince. And, to be fair, if anybody has had a good effect on him, she has.”
Rowan reached up with his good hand and pushed back a stray hair from my face. “She was my last hope. But now, with being the pack leader and his wolf army, I just don’t know. Do you think you can convince her to go?”
I opened my mouth to answer but closed it again.
Every time I walked past Madeleine’s room, my former one, I sighed. Dyani and I had become friends, but I missed my sister.
Rafe was busier than ever now that he was pack leader, and I saw him very little.
Sometimes, I only felt his presence as he slipped into bed. He was like a heat-seeking missile; no matter how much I tossed and turned, he moved with me. It was as if he couldn’t sleep without my touch. Yet he rarely tried anything. Every morning, he’d kiss me on the forehead before leaving, but there were no more words of love.
I sensed my pregnancy, and the heartbeat within me, before I had proof. Nobody ever seemed to notice me anymore, so it was easy to sneak out to the local drug store. I often wondered if Rafe gave some kind of orders about me, because nobody talked to me or even looked in my direction. Madeleine and I would share a few awkward moments per day, but my only real companion was Dyani, and I was grateful for her.
When the results confirmed my suspicions, several emotions surfaced: fear, happiness, confusion, insecurity, and sadness. What did I know about having a baby? I didn’t even finish high school. Would Rafe be happy? What about Madeleine? I wanted to run down the hall and tell my sister the news. Rafe would be a father, Madeleine would be an aunt, and Rowan would be an uncle. Maybe this baby would be the salve we all needed to be a family again.
Yet I sat there, frozen.
Needing a distraction, I went in search of company and ran into Rowan.
“Well, hello. How do we live in the same house, and I barely see you?” I asked.
“Things have been crazy lately. Have you had a chance to talk with your sister?”
It was an odd question.
“Why? Is something going on?”
He looked a bit uncomfortable, which confirmed my original misgivings. What would Madeleine want with me, and what did it have to do with Rowan? Then, it hit me. It must be about Rafe, and she went to Rowan first.
“When she comes to you, hear her out. She’s in a lot of pain right now. She needs you. Promise?” he asked.
He kissed me on the cheek. “Good. You mean a lot to me. I hope you know that. Lately, we haven’t been hanging out as much.”
I took his hands and smiled. “You mean a lot to me, too.”
“What are you two up to?” Rafe’s voice boomed in the hallway.
“We were just talking,” Rowan said, and then turned to me. “Think about what I said.”
I nodded, and he walked away.
“So, what do you need to think about?” Suspicion and anger laced Rafe’s words.
There was a time I’d tell him anything. Yet, I stood in the hallway, full of things to share, and said, “He wondered if I wanted more training.”
It was the first of many lies.
My room was so empty without Amélie, and I missed her. I hoped I could convince her to come with us, because I couldn’t imagine my life without her. Again, I wondered if I should tell her about my predicament. I knew she had the power to comfort me, but could I look her in the eyes and tell her I was pregnant with Rafe’s baby? Worse, could I tell her I wasn’t keeping it? Tears started, as they did every time I thought about it.
Life pulsed within me, but I knew too much. Nobody deserved to be born with demon blood.
I only had one choice.
Still, whenever I thought about it, my heart shattered into a million pieces. Then, I’d put it back together again as best as I could only to lose a small piece each time. Nothing would ever be the same.
I would never be the same.
Rafe and Amélie were inseparable these days. I wasn’t jealous. Not anymore. Nothing would make me happier than to see her expel his demons and for Rowan to have his brother back. But I’d seen too much, and I knew a side of Rafe she’d never see. He’d never let her go; he needed her too much. She kept him from being consumed by pure evil.
I hesitated at Amélie’s door, wiping away tears. She was my sister, and I had to tell her why I was leaving. Maybe I could convince her to come, to understand the path Rafe was walking. Time was running out. He’d be back soon, and our window would close. With renewed hope, I reached for the doorknob and twisted it.
Amélie was sitting on the edge of the bed, slightly bent, with her head in her hands. When the door creaked, she looked up. Her eyes were swollen and red. Tears were in abundance tonight.
I walked over and fell to my knees, taking her hands in mine. This was my sister, my flesh and blood. I couldn’t lose everything; I had to convince her. But first, I needed to be her sister and find out what was wrong.
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
“Do you remember how Mom would get us to go to sleep when we were scared?” she asked, sniffling.
Memories flooded me. Mom would have us crawl into her bed; she’d be in the middle and have an arm around each of us. She’d sing her favorite French lullaby from when she was a kid—she was born in Paris and had an amazing voice. We’d curl into her side and hold hands over her belly.
“I told myself I’d sing that song to my own kid someday,” she said. With the last word, she broke down into sobs again; her body shook from the force.
I moved to sit next to her on the bed, letting her collapse into my lap; I stroked her hair and started singing the song. When I finished, she seemed calmer. My heart leaped ahead of my brain.
“Rowan and I are leaving. Sasha and Ricardo, too. Rafe’s gone too far; he’s dangerous. Please come with us. I know you think you love him, that maybe you can save—”
She cut me off. “I’m pregnant.”
Every part of my body froze. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, and I struggled to breathe.
She turned to me, her voice shaky. “I know why you have to go. Under different circumstances…”
“No! I refuse to leave without you.” I stood and began pacing the room.
Damn Rafe! Why did I fall for him? Why didn’t I protect my sister from the same fate? Should I take her by force? She didn’t know what I did about Rafe’s background.
“Please, Madeleine. You’re only making this harder. I can save Rafe; I know I can. Maybe being a father will change him. My only choice is to stay and fight for the man I love, for our baby.”
In that moment, our fates were sealed. She’d never understand or support my choice, and she’d never stop believing Rafe could change. For her, the baby was hope. All I saw was inevitable destruction when I thought of mine. Still, how could I leave her?
“Madeleine.” It was Rowan, calling for me. It was time to go.
Part of me leaned toward the door, but the other part felt cemented in place.
Amélie threw her body into mine, wrapping her arms around me. I clung to her.
“We have to go,” Rowan said, this time from the doorway.
“Go,” Amélie whispered in my ear. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” I said, but I couldn’t seem to pull away.
In every moment of our lives together, I’d been the strong one. But when it really mattered, Amélie displayed the necessary toughness. She pushed me into Rowan’s arms. “Go.” She mouthed the word and nodded her head before turning away.
Still, I couldn’t move. Rowan picked me up and took off. When we hit the outside air, something in me reignited.
“Put me down,” I said.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“I’ll never be okay again. I’ll never be the same. But we have to go.”
He nodded and put me on my feet. “Sasha and Ricardo are up ahead waiting for us, but we need to get moving now.”
We shifted and took off. Rowan’s voice was in my head, reassuring me. Then, another voice, one I never thought I’d hear again, burst through.
It stopped me dead in my tracks.
Watching my sister leave was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. I knew she had to go, but my heart ached for her to stay. Losing her gave me a renewed determination to save Rafe and turn everything around. If I could help him drive his demons away, then we could find his brother and my sister and start again. Rafe would be devastated by losing Rowan. And there was the baby. Maybe that, and whatever love he did have for me, would change our destinies.
This baby would save us all. I had to believe that.
Anger shot through my soul. It wasn’t mine, but I felt it with the same intensity as if it was. I knew he was coming before he burst through the door.
“Where is she?” he growled.
He crossed the room, grabbed me by the neck, and pinned me to the wall. “What have you done?”
“I did nothing. I chose to stay.” I struggled to speak and reached up to put my hands on his arms, pushing my calming energy into him.
“No more of your tricks,” he said, throwing me to the side.
I curled into a ball as he came at me, his foot rearing back as if to kick me.
“Stop!” I screamed. “You’ll hurt the baby.”
It wasn’t the way I wanted to tell him, but I had to protect our child.
He fell to his knees beside me. “Did you say—”
“Yes, I’m pregnant.”
I closed my eyes and prayed he’d pull me into his arms, tell me everything was going to be okay, and reassure me he’d do anything for our child and me.
Instead, he started laughing. It sounded like the hyena I’d heard at the zoo as a child.
“You’re mine forever, do you understand?”
“Now, we need to figure out where your sister and my brother ran off to. They know too much, and I can’t have them getting in our way.”
I flinched at the words, but it was too late to give up now. “Rafe, we have to consider the baby now.”
“Oh, I will. Both this baby and the others that are coming.”
Not sure his meaning, but all too aware of his body language, I crept backward. I wouldn’t let him use our baby.
I reached out to my sister. Maybe it wasn’t too late to join them. But as soon as I uttered her name in my head, I blacked out.
“Thought you could change your mind, did you?”
Rafe was leaning over me when I woke. My head throbbed, and I reached toward the pain.
“They don’t even realize the people I have working for me. There’s now a spell in place over you and Dyani. You can only communicate with me now.”
Oh, my God, I thought, what have I done?
“As soon as you evoked her name, you set the curse in motion.”
“She’ll come back for me,” I said. I packed the words with more bravado than I felt. After all, I’d told her to go.
“She won’t know there’s a you to come back to,” he said, his eyes flashing red.
I squeezed mine shut and wrapped my arms around my belly. Now, more than ever, I placed hope in my unborn child to save us all.
Rafe picked me up and took me outside.
I was numb and didn’t fight.
Once we were in the driveway, he put me in the back seat of the truck. Dyani was already there. I took her hand and the door slammed shut.
A young man I didn’t recognize sat in the driver’s seat.
“Take them to the new location,” Rafe ordered.
Then, we were off. About half a mile down the road, I heard the explosion.
“I’m glad you’re still here,” Dyani whispered, drawing my attention back to the inside of the vehicle. “I’m scared. I started remembering things about my father, and I wanted to go back home. Rafe wasn’t happy. I’ve never seen him so angry.”
It was then I noticed her black eye and reached toward it. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay now. I told him I was pregnant, and he backed off. Still, I just want to go home,” she said as tears began to slide down her cheeks.
“Is it his?” I asked, still numb to what I’d just heard. My heart already knew the answer.
She nodded. “At first, I couldn’t remember anything. It was like my brain was caught in a trap. Only recently did I start putting some pieces back together. I knew he was with you, but I was so confused. It was only once. Please forgive me.”
I believed her, and I had another purpose. There were two babies to protect. If I couldn’t find a way to heal Rafe, maybe Madeleine would find the people she needed to take him down. Even with everything that’d happened, I didn’t relish the thought of his death. But it wasn’t just about the two of us anymore.
“I promise I’ll keep you, and our babies, safe.”
By the expression on her face, I knew she caught my meaning.
When Amélie called to me, I knew what I had to do.
“She’s calling me,” I communicated to Rowan. “I have to go back.” I changed course and raced back.
Rowan was screaming for me to stop, but I pushed forward.
Within a mile or so of the house, I heard the explosion.
“You and my brother should’ve never crossed me.” It was Rafe in my head. “Your sister will pay the ultimate price for your betrayal. I promise you that. But not until after my son is born.”
“No!” I screamed.
It came out as a howl.
Hatred for him filled my veins and I charged ahead, determined to kill him. Then, something slammed into my side, sending me flying into a tree.
“We aren’t ready to face him,” Rowan screamed in my head. He was on top of me, still in wolf form, holding me down. “We will be someday, but not now.”
He slowly backed away, and I stood.
I knew he was right. Rowan was the only family I had left. We ran back in the direction of safety, to find a place to regroup and come up with a plan.
First thing, we had to get rid of the demon growing inside me. I wouldn’t give Rafe something to hold over me, another way to hurt Rowan or me. My life’s goal would be to avenge my sister’s death and to make sure Rafe never brought pain to another person. That he’d suffer like I had.
He couldn’t be allowed to gain more power.
He had to be stopped.
He had to pay.
“I hate you! Your mom killed herself. I’m stronger. I’ll kill you.”
I pushed the last five words through my entire being, praying he could still hear me.
Read on for an exciting look at
Book Two of the award-winning Tala Prophecy series
Breathless from running most of the night, Reagan collapsed on the ground by the closest tree. She leaned forward and put her head between her legs, trying to control her rapid breathing. Nothing could slow down her mind as it began processing the last few days.
“How you holding up, dear?” Papa sat down beside her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Until a few days ago, she thought her grandfather was dead. Now, he was her only lifeline.
She willed herself back into a sitting position, Papa’s arm still providing comfort. “I don’t know how to feel right now. You’re supposed to be dead, my parents put me in a mental hospital, I thought my brother was killed, people talk to me in my head, and I’m part witch and part werewolf.” Reagan considered adding more to the list but knew she’d made her point.
“I know it’s a lot to take in. But you have to trust us right now. There’s a lot on the line.”
“It would help if I had some answers. It’s all I’ve wanted since Sam disappeared. For Christ’s sake, I thought he was dead. Sure, I hear him in my head, but I want to see him with my own two eyes. Everything I thought was real is gone. I can’t even trust my parents.” Reagan took a moment to digest those words. She’d always trusted her parents, even thought she had a pretty cool relationship with them. But everything changed when she and her brother were attacked. Now she was sitting here with the grandfather she never knew—a man her grandmother and mother believed was dead. “I don’t even know if I can trust you. Or Rowan.”
Rowan had saved her, but his brother, Rafe, had tried to rape her at the very least. Whatever other intentions he’d had that night were thwarted by Reagan’s gun-toting mother, a woman who’d never picked up a gun before that evening. Reagan’s body was exhausted, but her brain was working overtime trying to make sense out of everything.
Papa uncurled his arm and stood up. He put one hand on the nearest oak and leaned into it. “There’s so much we need to talk about. Maybe it would be best if I start with that night so many years ago.”
“Or, we could start by talking about werewolves. Oh, and how you let Nana, and your own daughters, believe you were dead all these years!” Reagan’s anger punctuated every word.
“Let him speak.”
Rowan. Having him in her head sent shivers down her spine.
“Rowan, if you have the answers, why don’t you tell me?” Reagan sent her thoughts back to him. Or she tried to. She wasn’t totally sure how the whole communicate with your handsome werewolf friend thing worked. Then he was there. She wanted to be angry with him and tell him to mind his own business, but instead she felt her pulse quicken in reaction to his presence. Cursing herself and her hormones, she forced her attention back to Papa.
“Years ago, your grandmother knew something was happening. We all knew: me, Susie, Sarah. But we didn’t know just how bad things had gotten. There were rumors of animal attacks. We suspected there was some dark magic—or something—involved. There were too many attacks, and too many people had gone missing. But we had no clue a battle was brewing. Nor did we know just how close to home the fight was getting.
“I gathered some of my hunter friends, ones I knew I could trust. Nothing could’ve prepared us for what we found. When we entered the clearing, we noticed several bodies, each torn apart with the pieces thrown around. A head here, a severed arm there. Then we heard screaming, and we knew the attacks weren’t over. We ran toward the sound.”
Papa paused. He put his hand over his closed eyes. Reagan got up and walked over to him. This time it was her turn to offer comfort, and she wrapped her arms around his middle. It felt right.
“The wolves were massive, like nothing I’d ever seen. And I’ve seen some damn big animals in my life. They were throwing bodies like you’d toss trash into a bin. We pulled out our guns and started firing. The wolves were unfazed as they crept toward us.
“We started backing into the woods, but realized we were surrounded. I thought it was over. That’s when I met Rowan. And Rafe.”
“Rafe? What does Rafe have to do with all of this?”
“Did you know we’re brothers?” Rowan asked.
“Yes, Rafe did mention that the night he attacked me.” Reagan pulled away from Papa and started pacing as she recalled the event and shuddered. Rafe had attacked her just outside her parents’ house, talking crazy about werewolves. Or, it seemed crazy at the time.
“There’s a war brewing. And you’re right in the center of it,” Rowan said.
“More riddles. What the hell is that supposed to mean? A war? Me?” Reagan’s head pounded. It was too much to process. A howl ripped through the air.
“We’ve got company,” Papa said.
“Time to go. We’re close to a safe place. Stay with me.” Rowan grabbed her hand. With his other hand, he tipped her chin up. “I’m with you, the whole way. Don’t worry.”
Don’t worry. Really? War. Running. Werewolves. Nothing to worry about. Even with all the drama and fear, she couldn’t silence her inner sarcasm.
“You two get started. Madeleine, Sasha, Ricardo, and I will be right behind you. We just want to make sure nobody gets close.” Papa turned to Rowan. “Keep our girl safe.”
Her life was in the hands of people she was just beginning to trust as well as people she hadn’t even met yet. Before she could process her feelings, she caught a flash of fur out of the corner of her eye.
“They’re here.” Rowan’s voice penetrated her thoughts.
Panic seized her muscles, and she wasn’t sure which way to turn. Papa and Rowan were on either side of her, forming a shield of protection, and each of them was scanning the area for the threat.
First one wolf and then another burst through the trees. There were at least five of them. Eyes wide and heart pumping, Reagan looked to the two men at her side for some direction. Papa made eye contact with Rowan and pointed to one side; Rowan nodded.
A few more wolves entered the area just as Papa and Rowan yelled for Reagan to get clear. Terrified, she scanned the area to find a wolf-free passage into the trees and took it. Halfway there, she saw a wolf jump at her from the side. She braced for impact, throwing her arms up in front of her face; but a darker wolf took the threat out in mid-air. Turning to look back, Reagan saw flashes of fur in battle; Rowan and Papa were nowhere in sight.
“Run. We’ll be right behind you.” It was Papa.
Taking off like a runner who just heard the starting shot at a meet, she bolted toward the nearest copse of trees. Without looking back or considering where she was going, she sped away. Nature blended together into a series of colors and flashing lights as she tried to control her breathing; which was hampered due to exertion and fear. Resting wasn’t an option, and the pure will to survive was all that was keeping her going.
Just as she entered another open and vulnerable space, she caught a glimpse of an animal coming up on her side. She forced herself to run faster, but she sensed it gaining on her. Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest when she felt something brush her back. She jerked her head toward the sensation only to catch her foot on a protrusion of some kind. At the speed she was going, it was all she could do to force her body into a tuck position as she fell. Her body slammed into a nearby tree. Gasping for air, she struggled to get back to standing as a figure swam into her vision.
“It’s me. You’re safe, but we have to get out of here.” Rowan’s face came into view, although her head was still spinning and her vision was blurry.
Before Rowan could answer, the sound of crinkling leaves and low growls forced both of them into action. Hand in hand, they took off into the forest.
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About the Author
Tia Silverthorne Bach has been married to her college sweetheart for twenty years, has three beautiful girls, and adores living in sunny California. Her daughters were born in Chicago, San Diego, and Baltimore; and she feels fortunate to have called many places home. She believes in fairy tales and happy endings and is an avid reader and rabid grammar hound.
She is an award-winning, multi-genre author and an Editor for Indie Books Gone Wild. From an early age, she escaped into books and believes they can be the source of healing and strength. If she’s not writing, you can find her on the tennis court, at the movies, reading a good book, or spooning Jif peanut butter right out of the jar.
Give Tia a follow!
Twitter @Tia_Bach_Author (https://twitter.com/Tia_Bach_Author)
Goodreads Author Profile (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4456703.Tia_Silverthorne_Bach)
Amazon Author Page (http://www.amazon.com/Tia-Silverthorne-Bach/e/B004RGSL4K)
Other books by Tia Bach:
Chasing Memories (http://bit.ly/1SbHTT1) Book 1
Chasing Shadows (http://bit.ly/1KwRSMk) Book 2
Chasing Destiny (http://bit.ly/20lhfKo) Book 3
Fractured Glass: A Novel Anthology (http://bit.ly/1NAkAPT)
7: The Seven Deadly Sins (http://bit.ly/1Om8gAm)
Heart Chatter (http://www.tiabach.com/) – Depression Cookies Book 1 (re-release coming soon!)
[2011 Readers Favorite Book Awards, Silver Realistic Fiction and Finalist Chick Lit
2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Finalist Chick Lit]
Two distinct voices, two stories interwoven within the walls of family and love.
Abby needs some magic in her life, along with a white knight, respectful children, and an exciting career plan. Instead she is drowning in unfulfilled expectations, disappointments, and unmet needs. What she doesn’t expect is to find the true essence of magic in the strength, friendship, power, and energy of the female spirit found in her mother and her mother’s zany group of friends. Krista cannot believe it’s happening again. Her father waltzes in and announces another move. And what does her mother do? Nothing. Don’t they realize she’s almost thirteen, and this could mean the end of her life? In the midst of teenage melodrama, she is determined to survive a new school, defeat the annoyances of two scene-stealing sisters, and deal with out-of-touch parents. Yet she quickly realizes the double-edged sword of growing up.
When terror strikes, forever altering your life, it doesnâ€™t ask permission or forgiveness. Madeleine and AmÃ©lieâ€™s quiet lives are ripped apart by a creature they never imagined could exist outside a horror story. Their mother is murdered, their father is missing, and the only safe haven is with a family full of secrets. But rescue comes at a price. Ripped from the light of youth, the sisters are forced into the shadowsâ€”where they meet brothers Rafe and Rowan. Itâ€™s not the time for infatuation or love, but the heart rarely listens to reason. Now, the young women have decisions to make. Will they be able to achieve their unified goal of stopping evil, or will it consume them from the inside out? They soon learn some choices canâ€™t be undone.