It's not easy being a girl. It's even harder when you're the only girl in a family of werewolves. But it's next to impossible when your very existence spells out the doom of your race. . . Meet Jessica McClain -- she just became part of the pack.
About the Author
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By Amanda Carlson
OrbitCopyright © 2012 Amanda Carlson
All right reserved.
I drew in a ragged breath and tried hard to surface from one hell of a nightmare. “Jesus,” I moaned. Sweat slid down my face. My head was fuzzy. Was I dreaming? If I was, this dream hurt like a bitch.
Wait, dreams aren’t supposed to hurt.
Without warning my body seized again. Pain scorched through my veins like a bad sunburn, igniting every cell in its path. I clenched my teeth, trying hard to block the rush.
Then, as quickly as it struck, the pain disappeared.
The sudden loss of sensation jolted my brain awake and my eyes snapped open in the dark. This wasn’t a damn dream. I took a quick internal inventory of all my body parts. Everything tingled, but thankfully my limbs could move freely again. The weak green halo of my digital clock read 2:07 a.m. I’d only been asleep for a few hours. I rolled onto my side and swiped my sticky hair off my face. When my fingers came in contact with my skin, I gasped and snapped them away like a child who’d just touched a hot stove.
Holy shit, I’m on fire.
That couldn’t be right.
Don’t panic, Jess. Think logically.
I pressed the back of my hand against my forehead to get a better read on how badly I was burning up. Hot coals would’ve felt cooler than my skin.
I must be really sick.
Sickness was a rare event in my life, but it did happen. I wasn’t prone to illness, but I wasn’t immune to it either. My twin brother never got sick, but if the virus was strong enough I was susceptible.
I sat up, allowing my mind to linger for a brief moment on a very different explanation of my symptoms. That scenario would be impossible. Get a grip. You’re a twenty-six-year-old female. It’s never going to happen. It’s probably just the flu. There’s no need to—
Without so much as a breath of warning, another spasm of pain hit clear and bright. My body jerked backward as the force of it plowed through me, sending my head slamming into the bedframe, snapping the wooden slats like matchsticks. My back bowed and my arms lashed out, knocking my bedside table and everything on it to the ground. The explosion of my lamp as it struck the floor was lost beneath my bona fide girl scream. “Shiiiit!”
Another tremor hit, erupting its vile ash into my psyche like a volcano. But this time instead of being lost in the pale haze of sleep, I was wide awake. I had to fight this.
I wasn’t sick.
I was changing.
Jesus Christ! You’ve spent your whole life thinking about this very moment and you try to convince yourself you have the flu? What’s the matter with you? If you want to live, you have to get to the dose before it’s too late!
The pain buried me, my arms and legs locked beside me. I was unable to move as the continuous force of spasms hit me one after another. The memory of my father’s voice rang clearly in my mind. I’d been foolish and too stubborn for my own good and now I was paying the price. “Jessica, don’t argue with me. This is a necessary precaution. You must keep this by you at all times.” The new leather case, containing a primed syringe of an exclusively engineered cocktail of drugs, would be entrusted to me for safekeeping. The contents of which were supposed to render me unconscious if need be. “You may never need it, but as you well know, this is one of the stipulations of your living alone.”
I’m so sorry, Dad.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. My genetic markers weren’t coded for this. This was an impossibility. In a world of impossibilities.
I’d been so stupid.
My body continued to twist in on itself, my muscles moving and shifting in tandem. I was locked in a dance I had no chance of freeing myself from. The pain rushed up, finally reaching a crushing crescendo. As it hit its last note, my mind shattered apart under its impact.
Everything went blissfully black.
Too soon, pinpoints of light danced behind my eyelids. I eased them open. The pain was gone. Only a low throbbing current remained. It took me a moment to realize I was on all fours on the floor beside my bed, my knees and palms bloodied from the shards of my broken lamp. My small bedside table was scattered in pieces around me. It looked like a small hurricane had ripped apart my bedroom. I had no time to waste.
The dose is your only chance now. Go!
The bathroom door was five feet from me. I propelled myself forward, tugging myself on shaky arms, dragging my body behind me. Come on, we can do this. It’s right there. I’d only made it a few thin paces when the pain struck again, hard and fast. I collapsed on my side, the muscles under my skin roiling in earnest. Jesuschrist! The pain was straight out of a fairy tale, wicked and unrelenting.
I moaned, convulsing as the agony washed over me, crying out in my head, searching for the only possible thing that could help me now. My brother was my only chance. Tyler, it’s happening! Ty, Ty… please! Tyler, can you hear me? Tyyy…
Another cloud of darkness tugged at the edges of my consciousness and I welcomed it. Anything to make all this horror disappear. Right before it claimed me, at that thin line between real and unreal, something very faint brushed against my senses. A tingle of recognition prickled me. But that wasn’t right. That wasn’t my brother’s voice.
Nothing but empty air filled my mind. I chastised myself. You’re just hoping for a miracle now. Females weren’t meant to change. I’d heard that line my entire life. How could they change when they weren’t supposed to exist? I was a mistake, I’d always been a mistake, and there was nothing my father could do to help me now.
Pain rushed up, exploding my mind. Its fury breaking me apart once again.
Jessica, Jessica, can you hear me? We’re on our way. Stay with us. Just a few more minutes! Jessica… Hang in there, honey. Jess!
I can’t, Dad. I just can’t.
Fear shot through me like a cold spear. I lifted my nose and scented the air. Coolness ran along my back, forcing my hair to rise, prickling my skin. I shivered. My labored breaths echoed too loudly in my sensitive ears. I peered into the darkness, inhaling deeply again.
A rumble of sounds bubbled up from beneath me and I inched back into the corner and whined. The thrumming from my chest surrounded me, enveloping me in my own fear.
I leapt forward. My claws slid out in front of me, sending me tumbling as I scrabbled for purchase on the smooth surface. I picked myself up, plunging down a dark tunnel into a bigger space. All around me things shattered and exploded, scaring me. I vaulted onto something big, my claws slicing through it easily. I sailed off, landing inches from the sliver of light.
My ears pricked. I lowered my nose to the ground, inhaling as the sounds hit me. Images shifted in my brain. Humans, fear, noise… harm. A low mewing sound came from the back of my throat. A loud noise rattled above my head. I jumped back, swiveling away, searching.
Then I saw it.
I leapt toward the moonlight, striking the barrier hard. It gave way instantly, shattering. I extended myself, power coursed through my body. The ground rushed up quickly, my front paws crashing onto something solid, my jaws snapping together fiercely with the force of the impact. The thing beneath me collapsed with a loud, grating noise. Without hesitation I hit the ground.
I surged across hard surfaces, finding a narrow stretch of woods. I followed it until the few trees yielded to more land. I ran and ran. I ran until the smells no longer confused me, until the noises stopped their assault on my sensitive ears.
I veered toward a deep thicket of trees. Once inside their safe enclave, I dove into the undergrowth. The scent pleased me as I wiggled beneath the low branches, concealing myself completely. Once I was settled, I stilled, perking my ears. I opened my mouth, drawing the damp air over my tongue, sampling it, my nostrils flared. The scents of the area came quickly, my brain categorizing them efficiently. The strong acidic stench of fresh leavings hung in the air.
I cocked my head and listened. The faint sounds of rustling and grunting were almost undetectable. My ears twitched with interest. My stomach gave a long, low growl.
I sampled the air again, testing it for the confusing smells, the smells I didn’t like. I laid my head down and whimpered, the hunger gnawing at my insides, cramping me.
Eat, eat, eat.
I couldn’t ignore it, the hunger consumed me, making me hurt. I crept slowly from my shelter beneath the trees to the clearing where the tall grass began. I lifted my head above the gently waving stalks and inhaled. They were near. I trotted through the darkness, soundless and strong. I slid into their enclosure, under the rough wooden obstacle with ease. I edged farther into the darkness of the big den, my paws brushing against the old, stale grass, disturbing nothing more.
The wind shifted across my back. They scented me for the first time. Bleating their outrage, they stamped their hooves, angry at the intrusion. I slipped under another weak barrier, my body lithe and agile as I edged along the splintered wood. I spotted my prey.
I lunged, my jaws shifting, my canines finding its neck, sinking in deeply. Sweet blood flowed into my mouth. My hunger blazed like an insatiable fire, and my eyes rolled back in my head in ecstasy. The animal tipped over, dying instantly as it landed in the dirty hay. I set upon it, tearing fiercely at its flesh, grabbing long hunks of meat and swallowing them whole.
My head jerked up at the noise, my eyes flickering with recognition.
“I’ll teach you to come in here and mess around in my barn, you mangy piece of shit!”
Sound exploded and pain registered as I flew backward, crashing into the side of the enclosure. I tried to get up, but my claws slipped and skidded in the slippery mess. Blood. I readjusted, gaining traction, and launched myself in the air. The pungent smell of fear hit me, making my insides quiver with need.
A deep growl erupted from inside my throat, my fangs lashing. My paws hit their target, bringing us both down with a crash.
I tore into flesh, blood pooled on my tongue.
I backed away.
“Bob, you all right out there?”
I loped forward, limping along in the shadows. I spotted a small opening, jumped, and landed with a painful hiss. My back leg buckled beneath me, but I had to keep moving.
I ran, scooting under the barrier. A scream of alarm rent the air behind me. I ran and ran until I saw only darkness.
I crawled beneath a thick canopy of leaves, my body curling in on itself. I licked my wound. There was too much damage. I closed my eyes. Instantly images flashed through my mind one by one.
Man, boy… woman.
I focused on her.
I needed her.
I called her back to me.
She came willingly.
Jessica! Jessica! Honey, can you hear me? Answer me!
Jess, it’s Ty. You have to listen to Dad and wake the hell up!
My brain felt foggy, like a thick layer of moss coated it from the inside.
Jessica, you answer me right now! Jessica. Jessica!
I squinted into the sunlight filtering through a canopy of branches a few feet above my head. I was human again. I had no idea how that had happened, but I was relieved. I tried to move, but pain snapped me back to reality the instant my leg twitched.
With the pain came everything else.
The change, the escape, the poor farmer. I shuddered as the memories hit me like a flickering film reel, a snippet of my life one sordid frame at a time. I’d been there, I’d seen it, but I hadn’t been in control for any of it—except at the very end. I hoped like hell the farmer was still alive. Saying no had taken so much effort, I couldn’t remember anything at all after that. I had no idea where I was.
From everything I knew about wolves, not being in control was an extremely bad sign. If I couldn’t subdue my wolf—couldn’t master my Dominion over the new beast inside me—I wouldn’t be allowed to live.
Holy shit, I’m a wolf.
I lifted my head and glanced down the length of my very exposed, very naked body. I focused on my injury and watched as my skin slowly knit back together. Incredible. I’d seen it happen before on others, but until now I’d never been in the super healing category myself. Young male wolves gained their abilities after their first shift. My body must still be adjusting, because my hip was still one big mash of ugly muscle. Dried blood stained my entire right side, and the heart of the gunshot wound resembled a plate of raw hamburger.
Thankfully there was no bone showing. If there’d been bone, there would’ve been bile. Now that I was awake and moving, the pain had increased.
I closed my eyes and laid my head back on the ground. My encounter last night better not have been a normal night out for a new werewolf. If it was, I was so screwed.
My head shot up so fast it slammed into a pointy twig. Ow. “Dad?” So it hadn’t been my imagination after all. I knew the Alpha could communicate with his wolves internally, but hearing his voice was new to me. I concentrated on listening. Nothing. I projected a tentative thought outward like I used to do with my brother.
Oh my God, Jessica! Are you all right? Answer me!
Yes! I can hear you! I’m fine, er… at least I think I am. I’m in pain, and I can’t really move very well, but I’m alive. My hip looks like it went through a meat grinder, but it’s mending itself slowly.
Stay where you are. We’ll be right there. I lost your scent for a time, but we’re back on your trail now.
Okay. I’m under some thick brush, but I have no idea where. I can’t get out because of my leg.
Snort. You’re not healed yet?
Who else would it be?
Hearing my brother’s voice in my head released a flood of emotion. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it until right this second. It’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting you back in my brain. We haven’t been able to do this since we were kids, but it’s good to hear you now.
Tyler’s thoughts shifted then, becoming heavier, like a low, thick whisper tugging along the folds of my mind. Jess, I heard you calling me last night. You know, when it first happened. It sounded awful, like you were dying or something. I’m so sorry I didn’t make it there in time. I tried. I was too late.
It’s okay, Tyler. We haven’t been able to communicate like this in so long, I really wasn’t expecting it to work. It was a last-ditch effort on my part to take my mind off the brutal, scary, painful transition process. Don’t worry about it. There wasn’t anything you could’ve done anyway. It happened mind-bogglingly fast. Almost too fast to process. My heart caught for a second remembering it.
I heard, or maybe felt, a stumble and a grunted oath. You’ll get used to it, Tyler said. The change gets easier after you do it a few more times. Hold on, I think we’re almost to you. We lost your scent back at the barn. Jesus, you ripped that place apart. There was blood everywhere.
An ugly replay started in my mind before I could shut it down. I hope the farmer survived. I shifted my body slightly and winced as a bolt of pain shot up my spine. My injuries would’ve killed a regular human. I was clearly going to survive, but it still hurt like hell.
My dad’s anxiety settled in sharp tones in my mind. We’re close, Jessica. By the time we picked up your scent on the other side of the barn, we had to wait for the human police and ambulance to leave. It shouldn’t be long now. Stay right where you are and don’t move. Your scent grows stronger every moment.
Yeah, you smell like a girl. It’s weird.
Maybe that’s because I am one. Or have you forgotten because you haven’t seen me in so long?
Nope, I haven’t forgotten, but you don’t smell like a regular wolf, Tyler said. Wolves smell, I don’t know, kind of rustic and earthy. You smell too female, almost like perfume. It sort of makes me gag. I could feel him give a small cough in the center of my mind, which was totally bizarre.
Then I should be easy for you to find.
We’ll be right there, my dad assured me. Don’t worry. We’ve got a car not too far from here waiting to take you back to the Compound.
All this effort to communicate was taking its toll, and my head began to ache in earnest. The pain in my hip flared and a whooshing noise started in my ears. I’m feeling a little woozy all of a sudden…
I woke to white walls and the smell of disinfectant, latex, and coffee. The room resembled a typical hospital room, clean, bright, and sterile, except this one catered exclusively to werewolves. It was underground because wolves weren’t known for their calm cool natures, and dirt was damn hard to claw your way out of if you went crazy.
No one else shared the space with me, which made things easier. Newborn wolves meant chaos, and less chaos was preferable, since last night I’d managed to achieve the impossible. I’d become the only living female full-blooded wolf on the entire planet. My new identity was going to rock the supernatural status quo, and the sooner I could prepare for the fallout—which was inevitable—the better. Hauling my ass out of this hospital bed was a good place to start. “Hellooo,” I called. “Is anybody there?”
While I waited for a response, I flexed my leg and tested for pain. A small twinge lingered high on my thigh, but otherwise it felt normal. I couldn’t actually see the wound, since the top of my leg was wrapped with enough gauze to stuff a throw pillow. Recalling the mincemeat it’d been, I was more than happy to go without a visual. I had no idea if I would scar from the ordeal or not. I had a lot to learn about my new body.
A conversation started on the floor above me. My father’s low baritone stood out. I cocked my head, half expecting to hear a bionic beep as I homed in on the conversation. It was amazing how clear it was, like they were in the same room with me. I tested my vision on a tiny container across the room. I could read the fine print on the label, no problem.
Footfalls hit the steps and my father, Callum McClain, the Pack Alpha of the U.S. Northern Territories, stepped into view. “Well, it’s about damn time.” I flashed him a big grin. It’d been a while since I’d seen him and I’d missed him. Since I’d left the Compound seven years ago, we’d only seen each other a handful of times. We’d been extremely cautious about our meetings, because being spotted together would’ve set off alarms in the supernatural community. Any gossip could have compromised my alias, abruptly ending the independent life I’d worked so hard to create for myself.
“Jessica, you scared the hell out of me.” My father strode to my bedside. With a full head of dark hair and no wrinkles in sight, he didn’t appear a day over thirty-five.
“I scared the hell out of myself.” I chuckled. “Shifting into a wolf hadn’t been on the evening’s agenda. Plus I kind of thought I was dying, so that put a serious damper on the whole thing. My limbs felt like they were being sawed apart by a dull blade.”
“The first time is always rough,” my father said. “Especially if I’m not there to guide the transition. It’s much better if you don’t fight the process and stay calm. The tranq would’ve eliminated the pain. Why didn’t you use it?” My father slid a chair over and pulled it next to the bed and sat. “That was our agreed-upon failsafe if you ever started to shift. You were to inject yourself, knock yourself out, and we would find you. No damage to you in the process. You could’ve died jumping out of your apartment and it’s lucky the gunshot didn’t sever your spinal cord. I put my trust into you, into our agreement. I expected you to follow it to the letter.”
“I’m sorry.” I plucked at the bedsheets like an errant child. “I tried to reach the dose, but I didn’t make it. I have no one to blame but myself. I transferred the case from my bedside stand to the bathroom cabinet a few years ago. I thought it was close enough, but honestly, I never thought I’d need it. It’s been over ten years since I hit puberty and we’d always been told I wasn’t genetically coded to shift.” I paused for a second. “I’m sorry. I thought you were being overprotective as usual.”
“Dear Jessica!” Dr. Jace entered the room, his familiar white hair fanning around his face like a fragile halo, his expression full of open amusement and wonder. “You gave us quite a fright! You’re a miracle, young lady, truly a miracle.” He shuffled to my bedside, grabbed on to my hand, and patted it affectionately. “Who would’ve thought it possible? A true female among us. Amazing! Truly amazing!”
“Doc Jace.” I tilted my cheek toward him so he could give it a quick peck. “It’s great to see you again. It’s been too long. You’re looking well.” This man was the closest thing to a grandfather I’d ever known. He was an Essential human in our Pack, like his father and grandfather before him—meaning he knew our secrets, worked for us, but was not supernatural himself. Essentials were a necessity in every supernatural Sect, since the human race had no idea we existed. They were doctors, teachers, lawyers; individuals recruited to play a special role within the Sect. Doc Jace was a brilliant doctor, an extreme asset to our Pack. “I’m so glad you’re here”—I flashed him a grin—“because you’re just the man to answer a burning question.”
“Of course,” he said. “I will always do my best to answer your questions, Jessica.”
“How did I survive? I thought I wasn’t coded for wolf, that it would be impossible for me to make a full transition, and if my body chemistry did change late after puberty I’d likely die from the ordeal. But I’m alive.”
Doc absently stroked his short beard. “Males carry their wolf markers on their second Y chromosome, very uncommon indeed, but they are there, coded very clearly. You have never had any such indicators and no second chromosome. My best guess is your body must carry the gene, the one that marks you as a wolf, elsewhere, perhaps in a noncoded region. But as you can guess, I will be doing exhaustive research on that very topic.” He patted my hand. “Exciting work it is.” Puzzling over our genes was his life’s work. “Having you make a successful transformation as a female is revolutionary. We are blazing a new trail with this research. It will be marvelous indeed.”
I already knew it was revolutionary, because females didn’t exist in our race. My birth had sparked a frenzy of discontent, which was enhanced to a breaking point by a certain unsubstantiated but extremely well-circulated myth proclaiming I was pure evil, a menace placed on earth for the sole purpose of bringing down the race of wolves. Once the Pack found out about my new status as a full-blooded wolf, there was going to be a huge uproar, and everything I’d built for myself would slide straight down the drain. Without going into all that with the Doctor, I asked instead, “What time is it? How long have I been out?”
“It’s seven o’clock in the morning,” Doc answered. “You’ve been asleep for nearly eighteen hours, which is not uncommon for a wolf recuperating from a traumatic injury. I’m guessing you’re ready for some coffee and some breakfast? You must be famished. Shifting utilizes an incredible amount of energy, and newborn wolves are more hungry by nature.”
“Yes, coffee and food sound heavenly.” My stomach growled on cue. “I’m actually starving.” Dr. Jace left and I turned back to my father. “I’ve been asleep for eighteen hours? Are you telling me it’s Monday morning already?”
“Yes, it’s Monday.” My father leaned forward in his chair. “But don’t worry about missing work. I’ve already been in contact with Nicolas. He’s already on his way. You’ve actually been asleep with a little extra help from the Doc. He wanted to be perfectly sure you would heal completely with no complications, and I wholeheartedly agreed with him. Injuries like yours take time to mend, especially for a newborn. I’m just thankful you came back to us in one piece. That was a hell of a ride you took us on.”
I was relieved to hear my business partner and best friend, Nick Michaels, was on his way. It would be good to have another ally here, since I had no idea how this was going to play out. “The whole transition was insane, but I don’t really remember how it went down.” I corrected myself. “No, that’s not exactly what I mean. I do have a clear memory of the pain, but for some reason I can’t remember the actual turning very well.”
My father sat back. “It’s not uncommon to disengage with your wolf during your first turning. Your change was an unexpected, traumatic event. As we discussed, fighting the process can make it excruciating. Your wolf likely took over while your human side remained in a shocklike state. It happens. It’s not ideal, but it happens.”
I was mildly surprised by his reaction, but ultimately happy he wasn’t going to hatch an immediate plan to chain me to a bed until I could master more control. “It didn’t feel like I was in shock, but I guess I could’ve been. In the end she toggled something between us and handed me control again. I’d been a passenger up until that point, but when I finally slid into the driver’s seat, I took one sniff of my injuries and passed out.” My first tough werewolf moment and I’d passed out like a champ.
My father regarded me quietly for a moment. He ran a single hand through his thick dark hair. It was a gesture of stress, and he didn’t do it often. “Well.” He cleared his throat. “I’m not sure what happened there, but it can take a wolf many years to master Dominion over their wolf. If your wolf willingly handed control back to you, it seems you’re not going to have a problem with mastery.” He leaned in closer, his eyes alert. “It’s a sign your human side is strong, and that’s a damn good thing.”
A wolf was required to prove Dominion over his inner wolf before being allowed to reenter human society. By instinct your wolf wanted complete control—demanded it. The human side had to be powerful enough to override the wolf’s urges at all times. No exceptions.
I bit my bottom lip.
That wasn’t exactly how it’d happened. I knew I’d stopped her from killing the farmer, but I had no idea how to do it again if I had to. But I was content to drop it for now, and asked instead, “How did you know I changed? How did you find me?” I grew up on the Compound, so naturally I knew a lot about wolves, but I’d been kept in the dark about a lot of things too.
Before my father could answer, my brother bounded into the room. He’d grown even taller since I’d seen him last. “We found you because you stink, and stink is easy to track.” He dropped himself onto my bed, edging me over without a thought.
“Be careful, you big ox. I’m recovering from a serious injury here.” I chuckled as I shuffled my barely hurt leg out of his way to make room for him, but it still wasn’t enough because he was massive and the bed was tiny.
“Then you must not be that strong, wimpy girl, because if that was my leg it would be as good as new already.” He grinned, flashing teeth and dimples. My ever competitor.
“That’s easy for you to say,” I said. “You didn’t just get your leg almost blown off in a gunfight with an angry farmer.” I leaned over and gave him a playful shove. He didn’t budge an inch. At six foot five, he was built like he was trying out for a spot on the WWE circuit. Tyler resembled our father, we both did, except Tyler had blond hair instead of our shared darker shade. He’d also inherited a pair of shameful dimples, also courtesy of our late mother. But the one feature marking us so clearly as siblings was our matching sky blue eyes.
“Face it, Jess. I’ve gotten into a hell of a lot more scrapes than you have, and the next day I’m always fine,” Tyler said. “You’re just wimpier because you’re a girl.”
“Yeah, right. Remember that time with Danny in the mountains? You had to be carried out on a stretcher. And if I remember correctly, you were out cold for three days straight.”
“My skull was split open and my brains were leaking out. That hardly constitutes a minor injury.”
“The last time I checked, getting a leg blown off is not exactly minor either.”
“Oh, please. That”—he pointed to my hip—“it’s nothing more than a flesh wound.”
Flesh wound my ass, little brother.
Comprehension lit his face. Our shared mental capacity as children had always been tenuous at best, blinking on and off like a loose wire. Most of the time it had run unfairly one way—from Tyler to me—and when Tyler had changed at puberty the connection stopped for good.
Now it was back.
Time for a little payback, huh, brother?
“Okay, that’s enough,” my father ordered. “Tyler, I need you to behave. Your sister’s going to need our help; what’s happened here is unprecedented. We’ve managed to dance around the seriousness thus far, but now we need to determine the right course to follow to minimize the fallout. The wolves are restless and we must tread carefully.”
My brother sobered instantly. He took Pack business seriously, he always had. At twenty-six, he held an unusually high Pack status; the only other wolf with more status was my father’s second-in-command, James Graham, who’d been by my father’s side for more than a century. Tyler had fought a lot of bloody battles to move up so rapidly in the Pack ranks. He was a strong wolf and I hoped it ran in the family.
My father stood and paced to the end of the bed. “The wolves know something, but there’s still a good chance they don’t know you’ve turned. Most are unsure of what they heard last night, because I snapped the line quickly. We’re going to use that to our advantage and try to hold off sharing the news of your shift as long as we can—possibly indefinitely if we’re lucky.”
“What do you mean, ‘what they heard’?” I asked. That didn’t sound good.
“A new wolf signals his first shift to the Pack. It’s a built-in safety precaution and your wolf sent out that very same alert.” My father turned to face me. “At first change, your body triggers a beacon, and hundreds of years ago we found wolves all over Scotland and Wales exactly like that—wolves who didn’t know what they were prior to their first shift.”
“The whole Pack heard my shift?” The thought of having a pack of werewolves inside my brain sent a rush of panic racing through me. “Can they hear me right now?” I tried to contain the waver in my voice, but it shot around the edges anyway.
“No, they can’t hear you now,” my father assured me. “The Pack connection is always established by me first, and by me alone. Wolves cannot talk internally on their own. You and Tyler are a rare exception, which is undoubtedly because of your close blood-bond, and not because of Pack. I am the conduit of communication only because I’m Alpha. The alert you sounded was only heard by the Pack for a few brief moments. Once I realized it was you, I shut it down completely. As of right now, they aren’t positive it was you and that runs in our favor.” He ran his hand through his hair again. “I can reasonably deny my knowledge of your change without triggering an untruth, because I never saw you. Nobody actually saw you in your wolf form, therefore no one knows for sure if you’ve changed. If we’re lucky, they’ll think it was a beacon coming from a new wolf in the Southern Territories, which is a possibility. We’ve heard one once before. The distance is a factor, but because it’s happened we can use it.” The U.S. Southern Territories controlled everything south of the Mason-Dixon Line down into Mexico, my father, everything north into Canada.
My brother nodded in agreement.
Making sure my father didn’t have to lie to his Pack was important. Wolves could sense a lie, because the body betrayed itself every time. The heart raced, pupils dilated, and you perspired. My father, being a strong Alpha, could mask a lie, but if his wolves questioned him too deeply, his emotions could betray him.
“It’s a relief they can’t hear me, but they have to be curious why I’m home in the first place? I’m assuming they know I’m here.” Keeping me a secret on the Compound would be too hard. I wasn’t supposed to be here, I was supposed to be in Europe. When I’d finally departed for good several years ago, I’d started a new life under the alias Molly Hannon. The Pack was informed Jessica McClain had headed to Europe for good. I’d actually spent a short time overseas recuperating from injuries I’d sustained fighting just before I’d left the Compound, so it wasn’t untrue, and it’d worked like a charm. I’d come back stateside as Molly, and my new life was two hours south of here, in the Twin Cities, and it had been blissfully uneventful. Nobody knew who I was, and I desperately wanted to keep it that way.
“I told them you were in town for a few nights for a rare visit with your brother, and you’d been staying down in the cities with Danny. You arrived on Compound late last night, which was purely a coincidence.” Danny Walker, my brother’s best friend and another of my few allies. He worked policing the cities’ boundaries for errant wolves, and he was damn good at it.
“And they bought it?”
“You haven’t been back in seven years. It was time.”
“When, and if, the news of my shift gets out, it’s going to be hard to convince them I’m not their enemy after all the years of the Cain Myth infecting their minds. They’re finally going to have the hard evidence they’ve been waiting for to accuse me of bringing down the Pack.”
“Your presence here right after the beacon went out is not ideal.” My father walked across the room. “Any extra time we obtain will allow me to ready the Pack to better handle the news. Some of the wolves have cooled their position on you over the last few years, but finding out your new status as a full-blooded wolf is going to shake their beliefs once again.” He turned at the stairway. “I’m heading back out to talk to them now. After your breakfast, and Doc has finished his testing, we meet in the main lodge to discuss the next step.”
Tyler patted his hand on my knee as he stood. “Don’t worry, Jess. We’ll figure this out. And for the record, I don’t think you’re a freak at all.”
After scarfing down the most food I’d ever eaten in one sitting, I went through a battery of tests involving every spare tissue sample I could part with. “I told you, I’m fine. I don’t need these.” I was perched on the edge of the bed, wiggling a needless pair of crutches in my hands. “My leg feels great.”
Dr. Jace stood next to me, scrutinizing my every move.
“Watch.” I bent my leg and extended it. “See, it works just fine. No pain.” I’d changed into an old pair of pajama pants and an ancient Radiohead T-shirt of mine someone had scrounged from my old bedroom at the main lodge. As my pajama leg eased up, I caught a glimpse of the thick dark hair coating my once cleanly shaven leg and stifled a gag. “And, um, other than all this gross hair, I’m totally good.” No amount of money could make me look under my arms. My eyes had remained firmly closed. Apparently after a full change, your hair came back. All of it.
“You will use these for now.” Doc nodded toward the crutches. “If you prove to be better later, well then, we will reevaluate at that time.”
A head of lettuce would’ve been easier to convince, so I took the damn things and stuffed them under my arms as I stood.
The walk from the infirmary to the house I’d grown up in was a short distance across a nicely manicured lawn. No one else was out, likely on my father’s orders. This spring had been unusually rainy and the grass was a bright, startling green.
The Lodge, as it was affectionately known, had been built in the late ’30s and had served as the Northern Territories home base ever since. The worn red cedar plank floors were a welcome sight as I entered. Doc stepped in ahead of me. “Jessica, would you care for another cup of coffee or perhaps some tea?”
“Coffee would be great. Thank you.” He veered toward the kitchen and I continued into the enormous two-story living area. The fireplace, set with stones quarried directly from the lake, covered the entire eastern wall.
It was beautiful, but it wasn’t as good as what was awaiting me.
“Nick!” I dropped the crutches without a thought and jumped immediately into his arms. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Easy there, Jess.” Nick enveloped me in a big hug, and then stepped back to give me a careful perusal. “Hmm, you do look pretty good. No lingering fur or fluffy ears to speak of, but how’s the leg?”
“All healed.” To prove my point, I slid down the side of my pajama waistband to reveal the top of my hip. The only thing still visible was a slight red discoloration. “See? Pretty cool, huh?”
“That is impressive.”
I pulled him down on the couch beside me. Along with being my best friend, Nick was a werefox, not a wolf. In the world of shifters, your strength and size matched your animal, so he wasn’t a huge guy, topping out at around six feet. His father had been First Nation Canadian, his mother white. He had light copper skin and shaggy dark hair. He was a welcome sight after all the craziness.
“I’m really glad to see you,” I told him. Nick calmed me in a way no one else could, and he had since we were children. “This whole thing has been slightly insane. I’m having trouble believing it actually happened.”
“Well, I’m just happy you made it through the transition in one piece.” Nick’s eyes were an amazing dark golden color naturally and they lit for a moment with a hint of emotion, making them appear even more brilliant. “You could’ve been killed.”
Before I could respond, my father and James Graham, his second-in-command, strode in. James wore his standard-issue black T-shirt and camouflage cargos, the same uniform I’d seen him in my entire life. The ensemble matched his short dark hair and olive skin perfectly, adding a unified blend of menace and strength to his tall frame. James was an impressively large wolf, with a pair of huge shoulders, and would’ve stood out in any outfit, but I was glad to see he hadn’t changed at all.
My father acknowledged Nick with a quick nod. “Nicolas.”
“Hello, sir,” Nick answered, scrambling to stand.
“How’s your leg, Jessica?” my father asked as I rose.
He looked me over for a few seconds, then gave me a quick nod.
James approached me. “It’s good to see you, Jessica,” he said as he encircled my waist in a warm embrace. His rough Irish brogue was still infectious after all this time. “Glad to see you are well.”
I gave him a hug. “It’s been too long, James.” I smiled as I stepped back. “Far too long.” He’d been instrumental in my final departure from the Compound seven years ago and I was happy to see him. Without his support I might never have left, and it had cemented a bond of friendship between us that hadn’t existed before.
“Let’s head into my office.” My father strode into an adjacent opening off the living room and disappeared inside.
The rest of us followed. As we came in, my father set two chairs in a semicircle in front of the leather couch facing the windows. His office had originally been the old library, and rows of beautifully crafted bookshelves lined the walls. It also had a superb, unobstructed view of the lake.
“Jessica, please take a seat on the couch. Nicolas, you sit beside her.”
We sat immediately.
Without needing to be asked, James took the chair next to my father, leaning over and bracing his forearms on his thighs, ready to start the discussion.
My father sat straight and imposing. Physically he was a few inches shorter than James, but his body held more mass. His strong arms spilled out of his rolled-up dress shirt. My father was always dressed for the occasion. I’d never seen him run a serious meeting in a T-shirt and jeans. My father was a leader. There was no mistaking it.
“Nicolas,” he began. “After this briefing I want you to find out everything you can about the rumors circulating in the supernatural community concerning Jessica or a recent shift. See if any news has spread outside of this Compound. If you find anything out of the ordinary I want to hear about it immediately.” My father continued, “That will be your top priority. But for now, let’s start with a replay of what happened early Saturday morning when you first arrived at Jessica’s apartment. I know you’ve already relayed it to me, but I want to hear it again from start to finish.” He nodded my way. “And I’m sure Jessica would like to hear what’s happened in her absence.”
“Yes, sir.” Nick turned toward me.
“This should be interesting,” I joked, hoping to ease some of Nick’s tension, which smelled like burned toast to my new nose.
“Tyler called me around two-thirty a.m. the night you shifted,” Nick said. “He was worried and thought you were in trouble. I jumped into my car and immediately called Marcy, and told her to meet me there. I knew if there’d been some kind of a disturbance at your place there was a strong chance your neighbors had already called the police. Having her there would make things easier.”
“Good thinking, ace,” I said. That was the best news I’d heard since I jumped off my three-story balcony. Marcy Talbot, the secretary at our firm, was a very talented witch, even though she refused to give herself any credit. Marcy hated working under pressure, and had the misfortune of constantly misfiring her spells in stressful situations, which kept any coven from accepting her. But when she did perform, it was completely mind-blowing.
“Marcy and I arrived at your complex at about the same time,” Nick continued. “It was a total miracle we made it there before the police. It was a mess and people were milling around all over your hallway. Marcy conjured a spell on the spot, something that made everyone think they were needed elsewhere. Once they cleared out, we slipped into your place unseen.”
“Go, Marcy,” I said. “How did the apartment look? My wolf busted up a lot of stuff trying to get the hell out.”
“ ‘Busted up’ is on the tame side.” Nick flashed me a cynical grin. “It looked more like you laid a bunch of C-4 around the place and blew it up. There were piles of demolished furniture everywhere and the floor was trashed with huge gouges. Your bedroom was the worst. But we didn’t have time to clean it all, because the police sirens were getting close. Marcy had a brainstorm to make it look like something busted into the apartment, instead of you jumping out. So she made your sliding glass door look like it had been punched from the outside in.”
I nodded along. “Brilliant.”
“After that she was almost drained.” Witches needed to refuel when they conjured consecutive spells. “So we ran back to your bedroom, because we knew it had to be clean or it would’ve launched a huge investigation. That much unexplained blood would have to be accounted for.”
“Did you make it?”
Nick nodded. “Yes. She had enough power left to make it look like you hadn’t been home at all, bed made, everything tidy.”
I murmured, “Perfect.”
“We barely made it out before the police arrived, but we couldn’t leave the building without them spotting us, so we ducked into Mr. Stubbard’s apartment next door.” Nick glanced at my father. “Jess’s neighbor directly to the east. Then it was my turn to do a little bespelling of my own. I convinced Mr. Stubbard to go back to sleep after he let us in. Marcy and I stuck around and watched bad TV until the police took off, and that’s it in a nutshell.”
Nick possessed the extremely useful gift of mind persuasion. Lots of supes had special abilities to go along with their true natures. A power like persuasion usually only worked on weak-minded humans, but was handy to have nonetheless. As far as extra abilities went, my brother was able to run twice as fast as any other wolf, and James could heal in half the time it took anyone else, which was amazing to watch. There were no guarantees you’d inherit a special gift. It was all a matter of what was already coded in your genes. I was hoping like hell I’d get one, but I had no idea how long it took for them to surface.
“Marcy’s going to need a raise. Witches don’t work for free,” I told Nick. “Without her I’d be completely screwed. It’s going to be hard enough to come up with a statement to give to the police, but this will help immensely. A break-in is much easier to explain than a breakout.”
“Oh, and here’s your phone.” Nick pulled it from his jacket pocket and handed it to me. “I found it on top of a pile of debris. I just happened to see it on the way out. Nobody leaves town without their phone these days.”
“Thanks.” I took it and tucked it into the waistband of my pajama pants. “Did you happen to see my purse too?”
Nick looked stricken for a moment. “No, I—”
“Don’t worry,” I interrupted quickly. “Nick, honestly, you did a perfect job of covering my ass, as usual. Guys never have purses on their radar.” Marcy would’ve grabbed it if she’d seen it, I was sure, but it was probably buried underneath a pile of rubble. I glanced to my father. “Do we still have a stockpile of backcountry camping passes? I’ll use a last-minute overnight camping excursion as my excuse for not being home.” We were surrounded by deep woods and national forests up here.
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” my father said. He turned to Nick. “You did an excellent job, Nicolas. You’ve proven yourself time and time again as an asset to this Pack.”
Nick bowed his head at the compliment. My father didn’t mete them out often.
“The break-in will allow us to take care of the first step with the human police,” my father said. “Now comes the hard part, and James and I have already discussed some of the possible scenarios.” He turned toward James. “There are dangers attached to keeping you here and allowing you to go home. Each option gives me pause.”
James picked up the thread, his Irish lilt giving it a rough, pleasant texture. “If you stay here, Jessica, I feel it will announce to the Pack, in no uncertain terms, that you’ve already become a full-blooded wolf. I think it’s an unnecessary risk to take. The wolves here are agitated already. They know they heard something last night. They’re just unsure what it was. If we can possibly keep your shift a secret, and give you a shot of going back to a normal life, we should do that.”
“There’s one more thing in favor of you heading back home,” my father added. “Anyone in the supernatural community who had an idle suspicion that Jessica McClain was really Molly Hannon will be on high alert. They will be looking for you to be missing. If Molly disappears, right as rumors of Jessica McClain turning into a wolf surface, you might never be able to go back to that life, and preserving your alias is a high priority. It would be extremely hard to give you another identity at this point. Supes are tricky, and many are familiar with you from your chosen line of work.” He held his tongue, but I knew what he wanted to say—that I’d been reckless and made poor choices regarding my career path, and as it sat right now he’d be right. It’d been a tough battle to convince him to let me involve myself in the supe community in the first place, but after I ended my short stint as a police officer, I had only a few options left open that made any sense. In the end, and likely against his good judgment, he’d allowed Nick and me to open Hannon & Michaels Investigations, with the understanding that I would act solely as Nick’s Essential, his human companion, and we would take only low-risk cases. It’d worked, and now I was on the brink of losing my hard-fought-for life. It scared me. “Letting you go back to your life until we see how this unfolds may be the safest place for you. But I don’t like it,” he growled. “Keeping you here under lock and key is what my gut is telling me to do.”
“If news of my shift leaked today, how many wolves do you think would actually be a serious threat to me right out of the gates?” I asked.
My father studied me closely. “Out of the hundred and fifty-nine wolves under my immediate directive, not including outlying Canadian or Alaskan wolves, I believe there are only a few—ten to twelve at most—who still hold tightly to the belief that you will bring about the ruination of the Pack if you become full blooded. The majority are undecided, but could be swayed quickly if the loudest of the opposition gained momentum before we were able to shut it down. I don’t want to worry you any more than necessary, but this morning the Cain Myth resurfaced on several U.S. Pack sites. It could be a coincidence, it does come up once in a while, but it’s likely tied to the unease. We haven’t figured out where it was generated from this time, but we’re working on it.”
“Already?” I exhaled the breath I’d been holding. “That can’t be good.”
“In this instant age of technology,” my father shook his head, “I have no way to stop it. It infuriates the hell out of me, but it proves beyond a doubt there’s already speculation and unrest within our own ranks, and getting you back to your old life and out of danger is an absolute priority. If we can stop the momentum and keep your shift under wraps, we have a chance to calm the uprising; if not, we may possibly have a civil war on our hands. It’s my job as Pack leader to keep that from happening at all costs.”
The goddamn Cain Myth.
A few nonsensical verses typed on a plain sheet of paper had shaped my entire existence. The Myth had been mailed to the Compound with no postmark exactly one month after my birth. Whether it carried an ounce of truth had never mattered. It had achieved its goal from the start—to seed unrest inside the Pack, while ruining my life in the process. I knew the lines by heart. They were etched in my mind permanently, like a bad stain:
As a Female in Wolf Skin rises, the unborn Daughter of Cain is born;
In her the beast shall lie, well hidden in True Form;
And from this day forth, the Wolves of the Night shall pay;
Blood and flesh of their bones, her mighty hand shall slay;
The end of the race will be close at hand;
When the Daughter of Evil rules the land.
Did I believe I was the daughter of Cain? Of course not. But fear was a powerful motivator, especially for the extremely superstitious wolves. When the Cain Myth arrived, I’d been told it sent the wolves into a frenzy, many calling for my father to end my life. It’d taken a few years to quell that unrest, but the Myth had lingered, rearing its ugly head throughout my childhood, causing never-ending trouble for me. Things had finally leveled off, but only because I hadn’t shifted into a wolf at puberty, and ultimately I’d fought my way off the Compound. Out of sight, out of mind.
Now I was back.
“It can’t be a coincidence,” I muttered. If our entire history wasn’t structured around myths and legends, and wolves weren’t the most superstitious beings on the planet, my life would’ve been a hell of a lot easier.
My father cleared his throat. “The wolves can speculate all they want, but until they have absolute verification—which can only come from me—they will continue to be unsure, which is why I’m leaning toward sending you back. But honestly, Jessica, not having you near me, not being able to protect you myself, goes against every fiber of my being.”
I scooted to the edge of the couch. “Dad, listen.” I touched his leg. The contact felt good. “This is the right thing to do. I know it’s going to be a rough road, and things are uncertain, but I have to at least try to salvage my life. If I stay here, there’s still no guarantee of my safety. You can’t hold my hand or lock me in my room forever, and with the wolves on edge it’s better for me to leave now. We have to give it a chance.”
My father stared at me for a long time. Then he turned to James, and without words they made a silent agreement. “Okay, we’ll give it a chance.” His words held a solemn note. “But I’m not sending you back without adequate protection.”
I nodded, accepting his decision. Having bodyguards would likely be my new norm from now on. I could live with that.
He straightened in his seat. Now that we had a plan, it was time to delegate. “Nicolas will take you home immediately,” he said. “Tyler and James will follow you down shortly. Danny is already there, and I’ll put him and his team on high alert within the city limits. It’s my feeling we will know within a few days what the fallout will look like. I will be in contact with you daily.”
Excerpted from Full Blooded by Amanda Carlson Copyright © 2012 by Amanda Carlson. Excerpted by permission.
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Amanda Carlson's debut novel is a fast paced tale with a cliffhanger ending that left me panting for more. Full Blooded left me on the edge of my seat from cover to cover.
Amanda Carlson's Full Blooded is full of all good things: danger, excitement, an original, LIKEABLE heroine and some great mythological mayhem. Bring on book 2!