Humans were so predictable. They had an innate distrust of the different, anyone that didn’t conform to their norms. Even after eight hours in an airplane, Kenrick Wulver was still getting looksand what the other passengers surely thought were subtle glances.
By now, Kenrick was used to stares whenever she went outside her pack lands of Wulver Forest in Scotland. She did admit her appearance was perhaps striking to humans. As a dominant werewolf she was tall, well built, and strong. But more than anything, her hair was probably what people stared at the most. Kenrick had a thick mane—as her mother described it—of dreadlocked hair, held by a leather band in a ponytail that hung to the nape of her neck. The sides were undercut, as was the fashion of her generation of wolves, with the Celtic wolf symbol shaved into one side.
The humans’ attention was distracted from her by the sound of the drinks trolley coming down the aisle. Kenrick looked at her watch and let out a sigh. Two hours had passed since she boarded at Glasgow Airport, and she had at least another seven ahead of her, with a change at Jackson to connect to Utah and her destination of Wolfgang County.
She drummed her fingers on the armrest. Kenrick was not used to being idle for this length of time, and her wolf was getting restless. At least she was in first class and had some room to move. She fiddled with the twisted leather bracelets on her wrist, each one significant, each being awarded for a stage in her development and her rank in the Scottish Wulver pack.
The drinks trolley arrived at her side, and one of the female cabin crew bent over and said, “Can I get you something?”
The blond woman was beautiful and had been flirting with her the whole flight. That was the other side effect of how she looked. A portion of the human female population seemed to find her attractive. Kenrick didn’t understand it herself—she was just an ordinary wolf. Maybe it was the wild they could see in her, the wild primal energy of the forest.
“Aye, just some water, please,” Kenrick said.
“Still or sparkling?”
“Still.” Kenrick looked at her name tag and added in her lilting Highland tones, “Thanks, Lucinda.”
“You’re welcome. I love your accent by the way.” Lucinda handed her a cup and opened a small bottle of Wulver Spring mineral water.
Kenrick felt heat flare in her cheeks.
As Lucinda poured the water into the cup she said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I saw your name on the passenger list. Are you a Wulver of Wulver Springs and Wulver Single Malt whisky?”
Kenrick was immensely proud to see the lovingly made Wulver products whenever she went out in the world. It was her pack’s livelihood and essential to their way of being, but Kenrick herself did not like to take the limelight.
“Yes, it’s my father’s company.” For the next month anyway, Kendrick’s mind reminded her, and the thought made her stomach twist with tension.
This information seemed to inflame Lucinda’s interest. She leaned in and whispered in her ear, “You know, if there’s anything I can do to make your flight go a little more quickly, come and see me at the back of the aisle, by the restroom.”
Kenrick gulped. Despite giving the appearance of being a confident dominant wolf, Kenrick was old-fashioned. Perhaps it was the romantic in her, but she had long ago made a promise to herself to wait for the wolf the Great Mother had planned for her, but it had been a long, long wait.
The other wolves in her age group had found their mates long ago, and as the only child of the Wulver Alpha, having a mate was essential.
How could she get out of this proposition without offending? A white lie wouldn’t hurt. “Thanks, Lucinda. But I’m spoken for.”
Lucinda’s smile faltered. “Pity. She’s a lucky woman to have such a loyal partner.”
Kenrick just smiled and Lucinda moved away.
Lucky, and nothing more than a fantasy.
Kenrick slammed the back of her head against the headrest. The leadership of the pack was about to pass to her in a month’s time, and not only did she feel unworthy, she couldn’t provide her pack with a Mater—the heart of any pack.
She rubbed her temples as the pressure she felt inside grew with each passing day.
“Zaria? Have you got everything you wanted?”
In the kitchen of the small-town diner where she worked as a server, Zaria Lupa quickly filled her bag with the day’s leftovers—some bread, soup, and a half an apple pie.
“Just a second, Chrissy,” Zaria shouted.
When you earned part-time minimum wage, leftovers and out of date stock became your staples. She hurried out to where her manager was waiting to close up.
“Come on, honey. Let’s get out of here,” Chrissy said.
Of all the jobs Zaria’d had, and she’d had a lot, Chrissy was the nicest boss, always looking out for her, trying to give a little extra. It was a shame she would have to move on soon, as she always had to.
Chrissy locked the door and said, “You sure you don’t want a ride home?”
Zaria felt badly refusing her, but anyone who knew where she lived was a risk to her, and to themselves.
Zaria smiled. “It’s okay. I like the walk. See you tomorrow.”
Zaria walked away quickly and pulled up the collar of her jacket, not because she was cold, but to hide her face. It was a twenty minute walk to her studio apartment, and everyone she passed on the sidewalk was a potential threat.
Zaria looked behind her quickly. She had the dreaded feeling that she was being watched, but she saw no one. Her heart started to pound and she hastened her speed. This was the first time since she’d come to Knoxton two months ago that she’d felt that familiar fear of being watched, being found out.
This was a lot longer than she usually stayed in one place. She’d moved from town to town in Rutherford County since she was sixteen, but never out of the county. She had to be near Wolfgang County.
Finally she arrived at her rental complex and ran up to her room. It was a squalid apartment building with people hanging around the hallways, drug dealers plying their trade, and all the subjugation of women that went along with it.
Zaria had managed to keep out of everyone’s way so far, of course she could look after herself if she had to, but that would mean giving up her secret.
She unlocked her door, got in, and locked it quickly. She let out a breath of relief. Was it just her own paranoid thinking she was being watched, or was she really being tracked again?
Zaria took her bag over to her small table where she had an old hotplate. After a day in good company at the diner, coming back to this dump was depressing. It was grimy, the wallpaper was peeling off the walls, and she was often kept company by bugs who made their home there. It wasn’t much of a life, and her wolf longed for the company and safety of a pack, but the alternative was too terrifying to contemplate.
She quickly heated her soup and took it over to her bed. Zaria swept her long dark hair into a ponytail and set her tablet up on the bedside table. This tablet and the internet connection were where all her money went, and why she slept in this dump and ate leftovers. She had to be connected to the Wolfgang Pack.
Most packs in the world had websites you could log into if you were a member. This kept pack members connected and updated with all their news. Zaria found a computer geek a few years ago who helped her hack into the Wolfgang site. She logged in now, and the Wolfgang website popped up. She took a sip of soup and clicked on the Wolfgang Academy page. She smiled when she saw a picture of the high school football team posing with a trophy. They had just won the championship, and all had happy smiling faces.
It was worth it. All her sacrifice, it was worth it.
Zaria was interrupted by a banging of the door. “Zaria! Your rent’s two weeks late.”
Her stomach twisted with tension. How was she going to get out of this one? She had spent everything paying her internet bill. Zaria hurried over to the door and said, “I just need some more time, Mr. Raymond.”
“Open the door now, Zaria, or I’ll use my key,” Mr. Raymond said.
Zaria reluctantly opened the door, and the large, sleazy guy pushed his way in and shut the door behind him.
“Where’s my money?” he said.
Zaria was disgusted. She always felt him watching her and mentally undressing her, and there was nothing she feared more. She had felt those looks before, and they’d frightened the life out of her.
“Can you wait till Friday, Mr. Raymond? I get paid then,” Zaria said.
“Friday is too late. Pay now or you’re out.”
Zaria zeroed in on the beads of sweat on his top lip and they made her stomach growl. She had to get him out.
“Please, Mr. Raymond. I need this room. I can pay you extra on Friday. Please?”
The greasy looking man gave her a cruel smile and started to back her against the wall. Zaria’s wolf started to scratch and demand she do something, but she knew if she did, her cover was blown. She had to calm this down.
He grasped her lightly by the throat. “If you’re nice to me, you can stay. Can you make Ray feel good?”
Zaria’s wolf raged at the touch of his sweaty hand. “Step back or I will hurt you,” Zaria warned.
He just laughed and squeezed her throat. “I’ve wanted you since you first came here, little girl, and it’s time to pay.”
Zaria saw the fear in his eyes as he saw her start to shift. He screamed as she growled, snapped the arm he held her with, and pushed him across the room so hard, he hit the other wall and was knocked out cold.
Zaria panted heavily and wiped the blood off her partially shifted mouth. She had to get out of here—he would wake up soon, and she would be found out. Zaria couldn’t kill, it wasn’t in her nature, so running was her only option.
She gathered up her things quickly and leapt out of the window to the street below. Zaria was running again, but running away would always be her life.
Dante Wolfgang grabbed her suit jacket and ran downstairs to the basement of their house. She thought she would find her daughter down there. The basement of the Alpha’s den housed her war room, a place where Dante and her elite wolves met to discuss pack business and security.
As her oldest child and the strongest of her age group, Dion was the future Alpha of the Wolfgang pack. Such a task was a heavy burden to carry when you were young, as Dante knew from her own childhood. At fifteen and going through the rush, the werewolf equivalent of puberty, knowing you had such a big future ahead of you, and such great responsibility, didn’t make growing up any easier.
Dante found Dion coming down here more and more and sitting and thinking at the large oak table, contemplating her future, no doubt, and full of self-doubt as Dante had been. She had started to invite Dion to some of the more mundane meetings just to give her the flavour of the job, and Dion loved it.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and watched her daughter gazing at the coat of arms hung on one wall. Dion was almost Dante’s double, and sometimes she could burst with the pride in her heart, not only for Dion but her whole family—Meghan, a few years younger, and then Conan, her one-year-old son.
But for the last few months her pride was tinged with guilt. The Lupa pack, led by their Alpha Leroux, had attacked the heart of their pack, her mate, Eden, and they had lost the cub she was carrying. Dante felt like a failure for not finding Leroux and making her pay, but there had been no leads—the Lupas had disappeared. None of her wolves who had been sent out on reconnaissance, or humans she had offered money to, knew of the Lupas whereabouts. But they couldn’t hide forever.
Dion looked around and smiled. “Hi, Pater.”
Dante walked over and stood beside her daughter. “Ricky called. She finally got her delayed connecting flight, so we need to leave for the airport, if you still want to come.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait to see Ricky. She’s so cool.”
Dante chuckled. Her cousin Kenrick was five years younger than her. With the different style of the Wulvers and younger dress sense, Kenrick was the peak of dominant wolf cool for Dion.
Kenrick’s father was a first cousin of her own father, and they grew up sharing summers together. Sometimes Dante would visit the Wulvers, and other times Kenrick and her brother would visit them here in Wolfgang County. They had such fun together, but this visit was about more than pleasure. Kenrick’s life was about to change, and Dante was going to help her.
Dante ran her hand reverently over the wood and steel coat of arms. In the centre was a wolf’s head in the middle of a Celtic cross. Around it were arranged the symbols of all the ancient British and Irish packs of which the Wolfgangs descended.
All the cubs of the Wolfgang pack were brought up with the stories of the Wolfgangs’ ancient beginnings, but Dante wanted Dion to grasp how important it was to them.
“Tell me our story, Dion.”
Dion reached out and touched the wolf in the centre. “When the first wolf pack arrived in Britain millennia ago, they formed four packs in ancient Britain and Ireland, so that our kind could colonize every part of the land. There were the Wulvers,”—Dion touched the symbol of the silver sword, then moved her hand to the ancient Irish axe—“the Irish Filtiaran pack, the English Ranwulfs represented by their shield, and the Welsh Blaidds.” She finished by touching the Welsh symbol of a spear.
“And what happened then?” Dante asked.
“War came to our paranormal world, between vampires, witches, fae, and shapeshifters, and then humans hunted us through fear. The packs had a grand council between them and they asked for volunteers to build packs in the New World, so our bloodline, our ancient beginnings, would survive.”
Dante put her arm around Dion and gave her a squeeze. “No wonder you got an A in history. That’s right, and we are one of the North American packs descended from those gallant pioneers. Luckily the ancient packs in Britain survived and grew, keeping our wider family of werewolves strong. That’s why I and all the Alphas before me have had this coat of arms on our wall. It’s to remind us where we came from, to remind us we are from something greater than ourselves. We share our blood with these packs, and we draw from their traditions.”
Dante turned around and put both hands on Dion’s shoulders. “But the most important thing to remember is that because we share blood, the Wolfgangs are never alone in this world. The blood of our pack bonds us together in a way that cannot be defeated. That thought always gave me comfort when I was awed at the thought of leading the pack. Remember that, Dion. You will never be alone.”
Dion smiled and seemed a lot less tense at that thought. “Thanks, Pater. I understand and I won’t ever forget.”
“Let’s go and get Ricky then.”
As they walked upstairs, Dante thought of the Lupas. Some pack historians believed if you went back far enough, all werewolves shared ancestry, but that was a long time ago. The Lupas arrived in America from an Eastern European pack and had immediately begun to fight for the Wolfgangs’ bountiful territory. They seemed to have jealousy and destruction in their bones.
I will find you, Leroux, Dante vowed.
Zaria had hidden as best she could on the edge of town for most of the night. To any passer-by she just looked like another rough sleeper, not a werewolf hiding from the police. She hadn’t slept a wink worrying about what-ifs, hoping she hadn’t killed Mr. Raymond. Even though what he had planned for her was abhorrent, Zaria despised violence and knew only too well what it had cost her and her family.
She hid behind a building across the street from the diner, waiting for Chrissy to arrive and open up. Zaria had to get her wages and get out of Knoxton as soon as possible. She grasped the haematite stone pendent she wore around her neck and closed her eyes. The pendent had been passed down the submissive line of her family for generations, and in her darkest moments it gave her courage, strength, and hope, as the stone was meant to.
Zaria saw Chrissy pull up in the parking lot at last. She waited until Chrissy got in and hurried across the road. When she entered the diner, Chrissy jumped.
“Jesus, Zaria. You nearly gave me a heart attack. You’re not due in for another hour.”
Zaria walked to the diner counter but kept glancing outside nervously. “I need to leave town, Chrissy. I’m sorry to let you down, but something really important has come up.”
Chrissy looked her up and down, obviously seeing her dishevelled appearance. “Is everything all right, honey? Are you in trouble?”
“No, no. I just need to leave. I’m sorry to leave you in the lurch—you’ve been so kind to me. Could I have my pay?”
Chrissy pulled her into a hug. “Sure. It’s been nice working with you. Just take care of yourself, okay?”
“I’ll try,” Zaria said.
“Give me a second and I’ll get the cash out of the safe.”
While Chrissy went into the office, Zaria opened up the local newspaper she had brought in. Her stomach dropped when she saw the front page.
Local businessman Eric Raymond was attacked last night and left for dead. Witness heard screams and growls, and doctors say his injuries were consistent with an animal attack.
“Terrible, isn’t it?” Chrissy’s voice made her jump.
“Terrible,” Zaria replied.
“Makes you wonder who or what got into his apartment building.”
“Yeah.” Zaria caught sight of a black car with blacked-out windows pulling into the lot, and her instinct told her she was in danger.
“Can I have the money? I have to go,” Zaria said.
Chrissy frowned, seeing Zaria nervousness. “You are in trouble, aren’t you?”
Zaria looked back outside and saw two big dominant wolves get out of the car, one male and one female.
“I’m sorry, Chrissy. I need to go out the back.” Zaria grabbed the wages envelope and ran through the kitchen to the back door. It was locked and Chrissy had the keys, so she used her strength and shouldered the door out.
Zaria stepped outside and scented werewolf coming from behind. She started to run but was grabbed around the waist and pulled to the ground.
She fought and tried to break the male wolf’s hold but he was too strong. He pinned her down and smiled at her.
“We’ve been looking for you for a long, long time, little wolf. You’ll make a perfect prize for my Alpha and pack second.”
She spat in his face. “Over my dead body.”
His face and claws partially shifted, and he clawed down the side of her face. “That could be arranged.”
The female wolf came around the corner and said, “Stop playing with her, and let’s get her in the car and get out of here.”
They carried her kicking and screaming around to the front of the diner. Zaria saw Chrissy with her phone to her ear, probably phoning the police.
“Run, Chrissy, run,” Zaria shouted in vain.
The female wolf opened up the trunk of the car and she was thrown in there. “Maybe this will shut you up, bitch,” the male wolf snarled.
He put silver manacles around her wrists, so she couldn’t use her strength to burst open the trunk.
“No!” She screamed but was soon engulfed in darkness in a confined space. There was nothing she hated more than a confined space. Wolves needed wide-open space to feel calm, and the burning silver leeching the strength from her body made her situation worse.
This was hell, but she felt even worse when she heard one of them say, “Get ready to go, I’ll go and get rid of the human.”
Zaria hit the trunk lid, but her arms and legs felt like lead weights. “Don’t hurt her!”
Kenrick finally got through immigration. Apparently she looked suspicious, but when they realized she was a Wulver of the Wulver beverage dynasty, it was decided she wasn’t a threat. She’d had to keep tight control of her wolf. After a prolonged journey, she was frustrated enough as it was, but to be kept waiting in an interview room answering stupid questions was nearly enough for her wolf to bite the immigration guy’s head off.
Kenrick slung on her rucksack and pushed her bags on the luggage trolley through to the airport entrance. She couldn’t wait to see her American family. The Wulvers shared family bonds with all the Western European wolves, but she’d always felt a special kinship with the Wolfgangs, and especially Dante and Caden.
She saw Dante and Dion waving from the other side of the entrance area. She smiled and waved back. Kenrick loved cubs, and Dante and Eden’s were amazing to be around and play with. As she walked over to Dante, that ever-present knot of stress returned to her stomach. Dante in her professional looking designer suit looked every inch the Alpha of the Wolfgang pack, and then she looked at herself. Ripped jeans, black T-shirt with skulls and gothic designs, and heavy black boots—how could she ever be like Dante?
But that was why she was here. In a month her father was stepping down as Alpha of the Wulver pack, no longer the strongest and most dominant wolf in the pack. That was now Kenrick, and the pack and business would be handed over to her. Doubts had been plaguing her since her father made the announcement that it was time to enjoy his retirement.
Since leaving school, she had worked in the hands-on, physical labour side of the business, maintaining the forest and the fish stock in Wulver Loch, and working on site at the Wulver bottling and distillery plant.
Kenrick enjoyed her life, but now she had to step into the office and run the business side and take leadership of the pack. Dante had made the same transition when her father died, and Kenrick’s father thought spending time with Dante and shadowing her in business would give her confidence in her abilities.
Dion ran the last few yards to her and hugged her. “Hi, Ricky.”
“Hi, Wolf, you get bigger every time I see you,” Kenrick said.
“Your T-shirt is totally cool,” Dion gushed.
Kenrick pointed to Dion’s which had a rock bands album cover on it. “Cheers. Yours is too. I love that band.”
Dante walked over and joked, “They give me a headache.”
She opened her arms to Kenrick, but Kenrick thumped her chest in salute first in respect, then hugged her cousin.
Dante said, “You don’t have to do that. We’re equals now.”
“Not for another month,” Kenrick said trying to put some distance to her new life that awaited.
“It’s great to see you, Ricky. You’re looking good. Dion? Push the luggage trolley for Ricky.”
“Sure, Pater.” Dion walked a few steps ahead of them.
“It’s good of you and Eden to have me, Dante,” Kenrick said.
“We’re glad to have you. You’re always welcome.”
Kenrick felt she had to say something but didn’t want to upset Dante. She lowered her voice so Dion wouldn’t hear her. “How is Eden? Mum, Pater, and I were so sad to hear about your cub.”
Dante looked at her, and Kenrick was sure she saw Dante’s eyes fill up, but she quickly gulped the emotion away.
“She’s doing much better. The body heals but the mind and heart take longer,” Dante said.
Kenrick shook her head. “The Lupas have never been happy with peace, but to come into your land and attack submissive wolves is the height of cowardice.” Kenrick stopped Dante and put a hand on her shoulder. “You know the Wulvers stand with you always. If you need anything, any wolves or help, it’s yours.”
Dante smiled and clasped the back of Kenrick’s neck. “I always know that. Thank you.”
When they broke away from their clinch, they laughed when the humans passing them by stared.
Dante said with amusement, “Humans aren’t accustomed to close contact are they?”
Wolves needed contact with each other, both dominants and submissives. That’s how they were brought up, and there was no awkwardness.
They continued walking and got to the door of the airport. “How’re Caden and Lena? Is Caden coping with having a pregnant mate?”
Dante laughed. “She’s a bag of nerves and is driving Lena crazy, so I hear. The cub’s due any day now.”
“It must be nice,” Kenrick said wistfully.
They reached the parking lot and began the drive to Wolfgang County. Kenrick shifted uncomfortably in the front seat of Dante’s Jeep Cherokee. It seemed like years since she had let her wolf run free.
“Your wolf restless?” Dante said with a smile.
“Aye, just a bit.”
“Well, we’ll be back at the house in about an hour, and then Dion will take you out to the forest. You can run a bit of that teenage energy off her.”
Kenrick laughed. She remembered how crazy the rush made her feel at that age. When Kenrick was going through it, she didn’t have a girlfriend to test out those early feelings with. It made her even more restless.
Dion sat forward and popped her head between the two front seats. “Yeah, come with me, Ricky. I’ll show you all my favourite places.”
“I’d love to. How’s school going, Dion?” Kenrick asked.
“Great, we just won the football championship,” Dion replied.
Kenrick gave her a high five. “Fantastic, although we’ll have to have a game of proper football while I’m here.”
Dante rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to her, Dion. I’ve had to listen to this since we were cubs. Soccer is for submissives.”
Kenrick was just about to reply with a witty retort when she saw something in the road up ahead. “Dante, look.”
Dante slowed as they got nearer. “It looks like someone’s lying in the road.” She pulled over. “Dion, stay in the car.”
“No buts. Stay here,” Dante said firmly.
Kenrick got out of the car quickly and hurried over. A woman was lying there, and from her scent, a wolf. She dropped to her knees and saw silver manacles around her wrists and a silver bolt sticking out of her leg. The woman had the most beautiful long dark hair and dark olive skin. Kenrick lifted her hand to take her pulse, and she ran her nose along the woman’s hand, inhaling.
She was hit with a dazzling array of scents that made her heart thud loudly. Initially she scented the top layers of fear, terror, and loneliness, but Kenrick closed her eyes and allowed her wolf to take those apart and see what was underneath. She saw lush forest, blue sky, the deepest bluest loch—it was home.
Kenrick’s eyes sprang open. How could she scent Wulver Forest on this probably American werewolf?
“How is she?” She was shaken from her thoughts by Dante’s voice.
“Do you have bolt cutters in the Jeep for these manacles?” Kenrick said.
“Yes, give me a second.” Dante ran off.
Kenrick scanned the mysterious woman’s body again. As well as the bolt sticking out of her leg, there was blood spattered on her forehead from a head injury, and cuts and bruises over her body. There was a large hill bordering the road, and Kenrick guessed she fell or was pushed down it.
She traced her fingers down the woman’s grazed cheek and said softly, “What has happened to you, lassie?”
Dante and Dion arrived back with a bolt cutter and a first aid kit. “Stand back, Dion,” Dante said.
Kenrick held up the woman’s wrist to give Dante a better angle to cut the restraints. “We need to get her to hospital before that silver bolt kills her.”
Dante snapped the cuffs and threw them to the side. Suddenly the woman gasped, and her eyes snapped open. They were the deepest shade of brown, like the forest trees in autumn. Kenrick was entranced, but then she saw the terror in them, and that made her angry at whoever had frightened her so much.
Almost as soon as she opened her eyes, the woman went unconscious again.
“Let’s get her back to Wolfgang County quickly. Dion, go and open the door,” Dante said. Kenrick put her arms under the woman and lifted her with ease. Dante stopped her and said, “Wait a minute.”
“What is it?” Kenrick asked.
Dante pulled a stone necklace from beneath her T-shirt. “This is hematite stone. The stone of the Lupa pack.”
Kenrick’s stomach fell. “She’s a Lupa?”
Kenrick held the injured woman in her arms with gentleness and reverence in the back seat of the Jeep. Dante drove fast and made phone calls to her elite wolves as they drove. She could feel Dante’s stress and couldn’t blame her. The Lupas attacked her mate and killed her cub, not yet born. But Kenrick could feel no malevolence from this submissive wolf. On the contrary, she sensed the fear and anxiety seeping out of her pores, and looking down at her injured and helpless, all Kenrick wanted to do was protect her.
They pulled up outside the hospital, and Kenrick saw the Blaze the sheriff, Flash, and Xander—all people she had spent endless summers with—were waiting with guards and looking decidedly serious and ready to battle.
Kenrick held the injured woman tighter. “Dante, is there any need for this? She’s a submissive wolf, unconscious and dying if we don’t get her help.”
Dante leaned over from the front seat, looking deadly serious. “Because of the Lupas, my mate was attacked, Caden’s mate was attacked, we lost a cub, and two brave wolves died protecting them. She will get help, but we need to know her story. It’s very necessary.”
Kenrick nodded. She couldn’t argue with that.
The back door was opened by one of the elite wolves she didn’t know, and a trolley was brought forward by hospital staff. Kenrick lifted the unconscious woman out and shrugged off the attempts to take her.
“I can do it,” Kenrick said with a growl. She placed her on the hospital trolley gently and was loath to let her go.
One of the nurses said, “Dr. Jaycen is waiting for her in surgery.”
Kenrick nodded and felt her heart tighten as she was wheeled away. Dante joined her and said to one of the guards, “Drive my daughter home.”
The guard saluted and got into the Jeep. Blaze, Flash, and Xander all greeted Kenrick.
Dante indicated two faces Kenrick didn’t know and said, “Kenrick, this is Ripp and this is Joel—two new members of my elite wolves.”
“Good to meet you.” Sensing Kenrick’s dominance, they both inclined their heads in respect.
“Where is Caden, Ripp?” Dante asked.
“I called her but she hasn’t turned up yet. I’m sure she won’t be long,” Ripp said.
She nodded and said to Blaze, “Did you send wolves to our dens in case this woman is a distraction?”
“Yes, Alpha. Our mates are safe,” Blaze replied.
“Let’s get inside then and see who and why this woman is here,” Dante said.
Whoever that woman was, she was frightened, and Lupa or no Lupa, Kenrick was going to make sure she was safe.
Leroux sat in the dining room of the mansion they had acquired in Knoxton—acquiredby disposing of the resident owners. She scanned the tablet she had been handed and navigated to the website browsing history.
“This was found in Zaria’s room,” Ovid said. “She attacked her landlord and put him in hospital.”
“Zaria is very interested in the Wolfgangs.” Leroux put down the tablet and tapped her claws on the table. “I wonder why?”
Ovid gave a sly smile. “We’ve finally found where she is, and that’s all that matters. I sent two of our best wolves out to find her.”
“Then I will happily dispose of her. My mate and cub wouldn’t be dead if it wasn’t for her. No one runs from Leroux.”
Ovid slammed her hand down on the table. “You promised she’d be mine.”
Leroux shot up and bared her teeth in an instant. “You challenge me, Second.”
Ovid lowered her face, eyes to the side in submission. “Forgive me, Alpha. I have been waiting a long time for her.”
Leroux calmed her wolf. “After all this time you still want her? I know I promised if we found her she was yours, but that was a long time ago.”
“Yes, Alpha, I chose her, and I want her. We have unfinished business,” Ovid said.
Leroux thought for a few moments. Maybe watching Zaria suffer would give her some kind of satisfaction, and suffer she would if Ovid had her.
“Very well, she’s yours, but keep her subdued and under control. That wolf has caused a lot of problems in our pack.”
“I promise, Alpha. I will control her,” Ovid said with a hint of glee in her voice.
Leroux heard the front door open and she sensed two of her pack mates coming into the house.
“Your wish might be about to be granted.”
Two wolves, a male and a female, walked in and she could smell their fear. Something had gone wrong.
“Did you find her?” Ovid asked.
“Yes, Second,” Cero, the female wolf, answered.
“Well? Where is she?” Leroux said. She could feel Ovid’s anger and frustration building. These wolves better have a good explanation.
Cero replied, “We had her and put her in the trunk of our car. Somehow she got out. We chased her and shot her with a silver bolt but—”
“But what?” Ovid snarled.
Artem continued, “She rolled down a steep embankment, but when we got down there she was gone. I’m sorry, Alpha.”
Ovid launched herself at Artem and ripped his throat out, a wolf’s weak spot. He dropped down dead with a look of shock still on his face. Then Ovid grabbed Cero by the neck and lifted her off the ground.
Leroux had to step in—she could not afford to lose too many wolves. “Second, put her down.”
“Now, Second,” Leroux growled.
Ovid did, and Cero gasped for air. Leroux grabbed her shirt and pulled her up to her feet. “Do not fail us again, Cero. Or you will suffer the same fate as him.” Leroux pointed to the bleeding body beside her.
“Yes, Alpha. I promise,” Cero replied.
“Get him out of here,” Leroux ordered.
Once Cero dragged the body out, Ovid turned to her, looking furious, blood dripping down her face. “You should have let me kill her. This was the closest we’ve gotten to her in years.”
“We have limited resources. Your obsession with her may be your undoing, Second.”
“She was promised to me, and I want her one way or another, Alpha.”
Leroux had always wanted to find Zaria and kill her, but their top priority was the Wolfgangs. Killing Dante would change their lives and fortunes. She was worried this would become a distraction, especially sensing the Ovid’s anger, hunger, and obsession.
“We will get another chance to find her,” Leroux said. “I have a plan. We need to make a journey.”
Dante sat with the rest of her senior elite wolves in the hospital waiting room. The only ones on their feet were her wolves guarding the entrances and exits, and Kenrick, who paced up and down nervously.
She showed a protectiveness for the young wolf they had found even after they learned she was a Lupa. It was good to show concern for a fellow wolf, and especially a submissive, but that kind of compassion could be exactly what Leroux wanted, and Dante was not going to give Leroux what she wanted.
Blaze walked through the doors to the waiting room.
“Blaze, did you find anything?”
“Not much. But we ran the name on the bank card, Zaria Spero, and it seems she never stays in one place for long. Moves from job to job every month or so. At first glance she doesn’t appear to be running with the Lupa pack.”
“Appearances can be deceptive,” Dante said.
Flash nodded and added, “She doesn’t go by the name Lupa then. Interesting.”
Kenrick walked over to where Dante, Flash, and Xander were sitting. “Spero? That rings a bell. It’s Latin, I think. Give me a sec.”
Kenrick pulled her phone from her pocket and typed the name in her search engine. It popped up instantly. “Hope. It means hope.”
Blaze took off his hat and said, “There’s one more thing. There was a reported animal attack on a human male in the apartment building where Zaria Spero lived.”
“She could be dangerous then,” Dante said.
Kenrick couldn’t explain why, but that assessment of this woman made anger simmer in her stomach. “Zaria is terrified, Dante. Fear, terror, helplessness, and loneliness were what I scented from her. She’s not dangerous.”
Dante looked at her silently. Kenrick had probably said too much. This was not her business, not her pack, but someone had to speak up for Zaria.
Before Dante could reply, Dr. Jaycen came out to speak to them. Dante stood and the others followed. “How is she, Doctor?”
“I’ve removed the silver bolt and she is responding well. You must have gotten to her soon after she was shot because the silver hadn’t yet progressed too far. She needs some recovery before she can shift and heal. Maybe a few days.”
Kenrick let out a breath in relief. “Is she awake, Doctor?”
“No, I gave her a sedative to make her sleep,” Jaycen said.
Before anyone could say anything, Caden burst through the doors holding Lena.
“Doctor, the cub’s coming, but Lena’s bleeding,” Caden said.
Dr. Jaycen and the nurses jumped into action and ushered them down the corridor. Kenrick could feel the fear in her old friend Caden. She had always craved love but loving someone also made you fear you could lose them.
The younger elite wolf, Ripp, said, “Alpha, I need to go with Caden.”
“Of course, I’ll follow you in a second.”
Ripp hurried after them, and Dante called over Blaze, Flash, and Xander. “I have to go and support Caden. Make sure there are guards on Zaria Spero’s door and one in the hospital room.”
Kenrick said, “Could I sit with her, Dante? If she wakes up, I’d like to be there.”
Dante hesitated for a few seconds, then said, “Okay, and if she wakes up, try and get her to talk.”
“I will. Give my best to Caden and Lena,” Kenrick said.
She prayed to the Great Mother to look after Lena and the cub, because she doubted Caden could live on without her mate. Caden had waited so long to find her mate, and she couldn’t lose her now. When Kenrick’s parents passed on the news about Caden finding her mate, she had been so happy for Caden—but the news also gave her hope that the Great Mother would send everyone their mate, even if they’d nearly given up hope.
Her thoughts turned to Zaria, the woman she didn’t know but felt the need to protect.
“I’ll go and sit with Zaria now, Blaze.”
“Let us know if there’s any change,” Blaze replied.
“Aye, I will do.”
Zaria walked out of the large wooden hut that was used to school the submissives. She laughed with her friends over something one of them said. Zaria loved school—it was the only place she got to feel light-hearted and relaxed. The den that she shared with her sister was chaotic, and they both lived in fear.
Her light-heartedness ended when she felt eyes on her. She looked up and her throat and stomach tightened with fear. The pack Second, Ovid, was standing outside the school gate.
She had been brought up around Ovid, but the last year or more, Zaria had felt her eyes on her whenever she went. It made her feel so uncomfortable. Ovid was ten years older than her, and Zaria knew instinctively those kinds of looks were creepy and wrong.
Zaria hadn’t told her sister, because she had too many of her own problems to worry about.
Her friends must have noticed because one of them said, “Just keep close to us, Zari.”
When they got to the gates, Ovid walked over, and they all bowed their heads.
Ovid smiled. “I’ve come to walk you home, Zaria.”
Zaria took a step closer to her friends and said, “We were going to get milkshakes at the cafe, for my birthday. I’m sixteen today.”
Ovid’s smile didn’t falter. “Yes, I know it’s your birthday, and I think it’s best if you come with me.”
Fear seeped through her bones. You didn’t say no to the pack Second. She reluctantly walked away from her friends. “See you tomorrow.”
After a few paces Ovid took her hand and held it possessively. “I thought we’d go on a walk through the forest on your way home,” Ovid said.
Zaria was terrified. She looked at all the wolves that they passed in the street with a pleading look, but they just averted their gaze. They weren’t going to intervene when the pack Second was involved. Leroux and Ovid ran the Lupa pack with an iron fist, and that bred fear.
Dante watched Caden lean her head against the hospital wall and her partially shifted claws dug into the plaster.
“Caden, try and control your wolf.”
“My mate is in there bleeding, our cub is in danger. I should be in there with her,” Caden roared.
Dante knew not to touch a wolf in this kind of distress. “Dr. Jaycen just wants to look over her without you growling at his every move. He won’t take long.”
Caden took a breath and got her wolf under control. “I’m scared, Dante. She’s a human and maybe giving birth to a werewolf is too much for her.”
“Lena is much stronger than you give her credit for. She helped defend Eden against dominant werewolves. She’s an amazing human. Just give her some time.”
Ripp, who had been hanging back behind Dante, came to Caden’s side. “If there’s anything you need me to do, just say, Cade.”
Caden patted her on the shoulder. “Being here helps. Thanks, Ripp.”
Dante knew Caden was so proud of the progress Ripp had made since joining the pack. She’d taken all of Caden’s teaching to heart and made her transition from human to werewolf using Caden’s blood. It went perfectly, and soon Ripp had made herself an irreplaceable part of the pack.
When two wolves retired from her elite wolves because of age, Dante had to choose the two most dominant wolves of the next generation, and those were clearly Ripp and her best friend Joel.
“Who is this Lupa wolf you brought in?” Caden said.
“We’re making inquiries. Don’t you worry about her just now. She’s well guarded, and Kenrick is sitting in with her.”
“I forgot that you were picking up Ricky. Is she okay?” Caden said.
Dante thought of the tender, protective way Kenrick held Zaria. It was something she would have to keep an eye. She couldn’t afford any wolf in her lands to be taken in by someone who could be a danger to her wolves.
“She’s good. Once your cub is born healthy and happy, we can all run together,” Dante said.
A nurse came out of the hospital room. “Second, you can come in now. Your mate is about to deliver.”
Caden gulped and Dante was sure she saw Caden’s hand shake. She remembered that feeling only too well.
“Good luck, Cade,” Ripp said.
Caden nodded and walked into the hospital room.
Ripp growled, “I wish there was something I could do. I feel helpless.”
Dante pulled her close. “Don’t worry—they will be okay.” She could see tears in Ripp’s eyes and feel her anger.
Ripp explained, “Cade and Lena have been so good to me, like the mother and pater I never had. I can’t lose Lena.”
“You won’t. Caden and Lena and their new cub will be at your mating ceremony in a few weeks.” The pack had been preparing for Ripp and Kyra’s mating for weeks, and Caden and the elite wolves had been helping Ripp build their den.
Dante needed to distract the young wolf. She needed an occupation.
“Ripp, I need you to do something for me,” Dante said.
Ripp immediately dried her eyes and stood to attention. “Anything, Alpha.”
“Lena would feel better if the Mater and your mate Kyra were here with her, but I don’t want them traveling here alone, not while we have a Lupa mystery on our hands. I need you to go and pick the Mater up and bring her here with Kyra. I think Stella was with the Mater, so she will watch our cubs, I’m sure.”
“I’ll go right away—you can count on me, Alpha.” Ripp thumped her chest in salute.
Dante smiled. Since Ripp was newly transformed to a were, she had all the insecurities and struggles of controlling her wolf that a teenage wolf like Dion did, but in an adult body. She looked in the direction of the Lupa wolf’s room and thought about how much they had to protect now. She wouldn’t let anyone come in the way of that.
Kenrick paced the hospital room, barely able to contain her worry. Zaria was hooked up to all sorts of machines and IVs were giving her fluids.
It was not usual to see a wolf in this condition. Any injuries they could shift and cure, but not when they had silver in their system. She ran her hand over her dreadlocked hair, then scratched her shaved scalp above her ears. She couldn’t imagine any dominant shooting a submissive with silver or attacking them in the first place. It was the height of cowardice.
For the last ten minutes Zaria had been murmuring in her sleep, and Kenrick could scent her fear and stress. She wanted to wrap her arms around her and make her feel safe, but that wasn’t her place. She didn’t even know this wolf, or if she had good intentions, but her intuition told her Zaria was not a threat.
Zaria suddenly started to throw her arms out, as if struggling with an imaginary foe, threatening to pull out the wires and drips she was attached to. Kenrick just reacted without thinking. She hurried over and grasped her hands, trying to keep her lines from coming out. She saw the welts on Zaria’s wrists from the silver shackles and her anger burned deep inside.
Zaria cried out, “Don’t, don’t touch me. No, no!”
Whoever was frightening Zaria in her dreams, Kenrick wanted to scare them away. She put her hand on Zaria’s cheek and whispered, “You’re safe, Zaria. No one will hurt you. You’re safe, I promise.”
After repeating this a few times, Zaria’s body started to calm. Then Zaria’s eyes fluttered open. She looked at Kenrick for a few seconds, then scrambled off the other side of the bed.
“No, don’t, you’ll hurt yourself,” Kenrick said.
Zaria huddled in the corner of the room and shouted, “Stay back. Don’t touch me.”
Kenrick stayed where she was, not wanting to seem like a threat. “Zaria, you’re safe. You’re in Wolfgang County Hospital. We just want to help you.”
Zaria, shaking and panic-stricken, started to pull out her IV lines roughly, and blood ran down her arms.
Kenrick said, “No, you need those. You have silver in your system.”
The wolves guarding the door burst into the room, apparently hearing the commotion. Zaria looked like she was trying to shift to protect herself from this new threat, but the doctor had said she wasn’t strong enough to shift yet. It could be dangerous.
Kenrick had to get control of the situation. She pointed to the guards. “You two—out now. I will deal with this.”
They hesitated, and she gave them a hard stare. “Go now.”
Yielding to her dominance, they nodded and walked out. Kenrick turned back to Zaria, who was still trying to shift. “You can’t shift, Zaria. You’ve had silver in your body. It’s too dangerous.”
Zaria just growled.
Kenrick tried to think how she could quickly show Zaria she wasn’t a threat. Then she had it. She would approach her like any wounded animal.
She walked around the bed, and Zaria walked further into the corner. “Get back.”
Kenrick dropped to one knee, put her head down, and held out her hands. “I’m not going to hurt you, Zaria. We found you injured on the road and brought you back to Wolfgang County. You’re safe now, but you need to rest and you can’t shift. The silver is still in your system.”
Zaria’s struggle to shift seemed hard and futile. She growled in frustration, then through her fear she saw the wolf who had been guarding her, on her knee, in apparent submission. This shocked her to her core, and her breathing started to calm. The wolf was big, very dominant, and powerful, yet she had her head bowed in apparent submission to her.
Never in her life had she seen a dominant wolf give a submissive posture to a submissive. In the Lupa pack no dominant would ever lower themselves to do that. Could she trust this wolf, or was it a trick? She didn’t sound like a Wolfgang. She had a lilting Scottish accent.
Zaria tried to calm her breathing and asked, “Who are you?”
The wolf slowly inched her head up from the submissive position, and Zaria saw those dazzling blue eyes that had caught her breath when she woke up.
“I’m Kenrick of the Scottish Wulver pack. I’m here visiting my cousin, the Alpha. We found you on the road when the Alpha was picking me up from the airport. You are safe—I give you my word.”
Zaria found herself captivated by Kenrick’s gentleness, despite her size and her obvious strength. But if this wolf meant her no harm, then why was she under guard?
It was then that she felt the pain from ripping out the IVs. She looked down at the blood dripping down her arms. She was a mess. How had her life been turned upside down in twenty-four hours?
“If I am safe, then why am I under guard?” Zaria asked.
“I’m sorry about that. It’s just a precaution. We guessed you were from the Lupa pack, going by your pendent, and the Wolfgangs were recently attacked by the Lupas.”
Zaria gulped and closed her eyes. She knew only too well what had happened and felt shame that she had failed in her promise to her sister—to protect the one thing that was precious to them both.
Kenrick moved forward a few steps and held up her hand to Zaria. “Take my scent. You’ll see I am no threat to you.”
Zaria was frightened to bend her head in case it was a trap. Dominants had never showed her gentleness and she didn’t trust them.
Kenrick lowered her head again and put her other arm around her back. Why was this wolf trying so hard to convey she was not a threat? It was strange. But maybe if she could make an alliance with this wolf, she could get out of here, and then she could make contact with the wolf who meant more to her than anything.
She lowered her head and gasped when she inhaled Kenrick’s scent. It conveyed strength, power, but gentleness, and underneath that the fresh scent of a lush forest after a rainfall. It was beautiful.
Kenrick raised her head and Zaria looked in her eyes, and her heart fluttered. No wolf had ever done that. She found herself reaching out to touch the mane of soft dreadlocked hair Kenrick had on her head and felt an urge to scratch her claws along the shaved sides, but she pulled her hand back at the last second. What was she doing?
“I’m going to stand up slowly, okay?” Kenrick said softly.
Zaria watched Kenrick raise to her full height. She was taller and stronger than any Lupa dominant she had encountered, but in contrast to her strength and power, Kenrick held herself so openly and gently. Zaria was quite disarmed.
“Will you get back into bed and let the nurses put your IVs back in? All we want is to make you feel better,” Kenrick said.
Zaria took a moment and trusted her instincts about Kenrick. Besides, she had to get better to get out of here and seek out her reason for living on the run since she was sixteen years old.
“Yes, I will.”