I yawned, rolling onto my side. I brushed against Jacob, and his hand began to trace lazy, abstract patterns across my hip. It was getting close to midnight. A slanting beam of moonlight fell across our exposed legs, making them shine silver.
We were waiting up together on the night of my eighteenth birthday. We’d become official members of the Silver Crescent pack at sixteen, and that had been exciting enough – a ceremony held for all of us who’d turned together, with Jacob’s dad, the Alpha, stood in front of the elders on a small wooden platform.
We’d pledged ourselves to our pack, vowing to care for one another and, above all, to preserve the wellbeing of the pack. In our honour, we’d sworn, and his parents, Alpha and Luna, had looked down at us with pride. Ever since, we’d been able to mindlink, and had been permitted to join in training with the pack.
But at eighteen something even more special happened. At eighteen, our true mates were revealed to us.
Not immediately, of course. The Moon Goddess works in mysterious ways, and we’ve been taught from birth to trust in our paths. At eighteen the possibility of finding our mate is finally given: both of our scents mature, and, in adulthood, we may find one another.
Jacob and I had grown up together, him the son of the Alpha and I the daughter of the Beta. We lived in the pack house, along with the Gamma and his family, a pair of twins called Ayon and Aron. More often than not, though, we referred to them as Double A, or just The Twins. They did everything in sync, and Jacob and I found it a little creepy at times. As they were so close, Jacob and I had teamed up, too. We were both only children, which is rare amongst wolves, so our bond had been formed early.
He lived on the top floor of the four-story house. It was huge, and each floor held a cluster of rooms to suit the needs of the pack and those who lived there. The very top floor belonged to the Alpha and, when he found her, his mate, the Luna. Their floor was home to a secondary library, smaller than the pack library on the ground floor, as well as bedrooms, offices, and a small kitchenette. Those living in the pack house tend to eat together, along with the Omegas who live nearby and serve the food.
I’d always felt bad for the Omegas, having to work tirelessly to cook and clean up after the higher ranking wolves. My birth right as the Beta’s daughter meant that I didn’t have to help, but I did as often as I could. My dad used to sigh at me and roll his eyes, but then he’d smile like he was proud of me. Once he’d whispered that I’d make a good Luna, but I had no claim to that title.
Jacob nudged me, gently pressing his knee against mine. I sat up drowsily, pulling my long, wavy hair up into a messy bun. A few strands refused to cooperate, but I left them be for now. Jacob moved one softly away from my lips, tucking it behind my ear and smiling at me, his eyes sleepy. I smiled back, my brown eyes meeting his heavily-lidded sea-blue ones.
“It’s nearly time,” he murmured, shifting his weight in his seat. We were both on my bed, and I’d been on the cusp of sleep, my legs stretched out across his lap until moments ago. The light from his phone screen glowed against his face, enhancing his already strong jawline and straight nose. He pushed my duvet back, and I leant heavily against his side.
He ran a hand through his tousled brown hair. I’d always thought that his hair, eyes, and lips softened his face. His hair was always stuck up at some unusual angle, looking as though he’d just awoken from a long and dreamy sleep. His eyes were kind, with the beginnings of small crows feet etching their way into the soft skin around his eyelids. He’d only turned eighteen a month ago, but his lips had similar wrinkles, soft smile lines from years of laughter and teasing. We were best friends, and – fingers crossed – soon to be mates.
Since childhood everyone had expected us to be mates. We’d clicked instantly, and had been inseparable since we’d first met. Of course, our close quarters helped – the Beta and his family lived on the floor just below that of the Alpha, and the small class sizes on the pack territory meant that we’d been together at school as well as at home.
I had to admit that we were cute together. He towered over me, and his Alpha heritage meant that he was broad and well muscled. I was strong, too, of course, but short and I had an undeniable cuteness about my face. To begin with, he’d treated me like a younger sister, but our bond had evolved beyond that as we’d reached our teens.
We were together every day. At sixteen, when we’d become official pack members and had sworn our allegiance to Silver Crescent, training became another part of our daily routine that was intertwined. It was unusual for two wolves to be so close without being mated, but our lives were one.
I always tried to make up for my big round eyes and button nose at training. Every kick or swing told the bigger wolves around me that they shouldn’t dismiss me based on my size, or the spattering of freckles that littered my nose and cheeks. A younger boy had teased me for having long hair the other day. I’d used my swaying ponytail to pull him into a chokehold, and had grinned triumphantly as he’d tapped out, frustrated.
My mum, training alongside me, had winked over at me. Some of these wolves needed to be taken down a peg or two. My dad saw, and shook his head fondly. He’d smiled at my mum, though, and given her hand a quick squeeze before retaking his position at the head of the pack, next to Jacob’s dad.
Recently, the Alpha of the Valley Fern pack, who neighboured us further inland, had discovered the development of a serum which he claimed could force a werewolf to shift back into their human form. His warrior wolves had captured two hunters prowling on their land, and they’d uncovered the serum buried deep in their pockets, loaded into syringes. Since then, our Alpha had increased the number of training sessions we undertook in human form.
Jacob, as the soon-to-be Alpha, had been too busy helping one of the young warriors into an offensive stance to notice. I like to think that he would have approved of my imaginative method, though.
I could feel him tense next to me. He took my hand in his much larger one and began rubbing soothing circles into it. I got the feeling that this was to soothe him more than me. As soon as it struck midnight, we’d know if the Moon Goddess intended for us to be together or not. A lifetime of being certain that we were hung in the balance.
We’d never kissed, having never quite let ourselves reach that point out of respect for our future mates, on the slim chance that we weren’t destined to be together. We loved each other, though, and we’d cuddled our whole lives, naturally letting our bodies align, feeling them sink in to one another with a feeling of safe familiarity. Jacob was my home, as much as my pack was.
“Arienne,” he whispered, his lips brushing against my ear. I shivered. “What if we aren’t?”
“I don’t know, Jake,” I mumbled back. I moved my free hand so that it lay atop our conjoined ones. The darker brown of my skin melted into the tan of his. I looked up at him and bit down on my lower lip. “We have to trust that the Moon Goddess knows best.”
“But what if she doesn’t?” He asked, his voice so quiet I had to strain to hear it, even with my ultra-sensitive wolf hearing. I moved so that both of my legs were swung over his, shifting my weight into his lap. I kept our hands entwined, though, and let my tired head flop against his chest, just below his chin.
“We have to trust her.” I spoke into his t-shirt, talking quietly as though afraid I’d break the spell between us. “She’s never been wrong before. Our whole lives, everyone has assumed that we’d be mates. Your mum has been giving me guidance on being a Luna for as long as I can remember.”
I smiled to myself. Jacob’s mum, Liliana, had started to subtly give me bits of knowledge regarding what it meant and took to be Luna of a pack years ago. The first time was at a large pack gathering, where she’d pulled me aside during dinner to tell me to listen carefully to her welcome speech, as it would likely be something I’d have to do myself in the future.
I’d listened attentively, my eyes never shifting from her. She was a powerful wolf, but with a motherly softness that I was sure Jacob had inherited. She oozed self-respect, though, and I yearned to have such an essence about myself one day.
“My dad said that if we weren’t mates, we should both reject them to be together.” He laughed, and I felt it rumbling deep in his chest. “He wants you to be my Luna, Ari, and I want that too.”
He punctuated his sentence by pressing a delicate kiss to my forehead. My whole body tingled, and I was certain that we were right. We had to be mates.
“We’ll find out in a minute,” I whispered, looking down at his phone screen. The background was a photo of us, captured by my best friend Rosa. We’d been out in the woods, pacing the perimeter of our border, and her boyfriend Joshua had jumped out at us. Jacob had screamed, and I’d laughed so hard that my lungs had hurt. He’d caught on quickly, and Rosa had taken the photo at the exact moment that it had clicked for him.
I was bright red in the face and doubled over, and he was looking at the camera with wide eyes, his mouth in a perfect O shape. I smiled down at it, remembering that day fondly.
Jacob’s dad had requested more wolves working the perimeter due to an increased number of Rogue sightings. We’d just turned sixteen, and were eager to demonstrate our allegiance to the pack. Rosa and I had been to the gym together when the mindlink came through, and we responded to our Alpha keenly. As we headed to the showers we devised our plan, and she mindlinked Joshua to let him know.
It also marked the first time we had shifted after being sworn into the pack. It was ceremonial to allow our wolves to come forward together for that first time, but since then we’d had no opportunity to do so again. At the ceremony I’d been in a flurry of thought and conversation, and overwhelmed as the mindlink opened for the first time. As the second highest ranking young wolf, I’d been the second to shift, so I hadn’t got to see Jacob in his wolf form.
When the photo had been taken we’d just reached our post, and were yet to shift. Moments after we’d all changed, allowing our wolves to come forwards, giving them physical form. I’d expected Jake’s wolf to be brown, like his hair, as I was – my brown fur and chocolate eyes matched my human body, but he was a silvery-grey wolf, standing much larger than I did. His dark eyes did remain the same, however, and looking into them was strange. I could see his soul, almost, bared to me in his animalistic form. He’d mindlinked me then, and I could almost feel his raised eyebrows even though I could of course not see them.
You make a cute wolf, Ari, he’d said, and he sounded smug.
I would’ve rolled my eyes if I could have, but instead I shot back through our link.
You’re not so bad yourself. I could almost feel his smirk radiating off of him.
“Arienne,” he hissed. He looked pointedly at the time. The clock on his phone read 11:59. I tensed against him, and he pulled me close.
“How do we know?” I asked.
“We just do,” he murmured. He took one of my hands in each of his, and squeezed gently.
Then the numbers changed. 12:00. Jacob’s fingers squeezed tighter. My eyebrows narrowed, and I looked up at him, confused.
Nothing had happened. My breath stilled, and I looked up at Jacob. We froze.
My heart sank. 12:01. I was officially eighteen, but I couldn’t feel anything except for disappointment. Jacob was struck dumb. He hadn’t moved for a full minute now, and I could scarcely feel the movement of his chest rising and falling.“Jake?” I whispered, pressing myself closer to him. He sighed.“We’re not mates,” he murmured, and the heartbreak in his voice made my chest clench. “I asked my mum how we’d know. She said we just would, that our worlds would change, re-arrange so that you were at my centre. It feels the same,” he said, choking on the last word. I wrapped my arms around him and furrowed my head even further under his chin.I still felt safe and at home, but there was no magic spark, nothing mystical or otherworldly. I could feel my love for him pounding against my ribcage, bursting like a firework and then fizzling out over and over as the realisation hit me. We weren’t mates. We weren’t meant to be.I could feel tears worming their way up to my eyes, my throat burnin
I groaned as I made my way downstairs for breakfast. My alarm had gone off at 5:30am as usual, and I’d immediately regretted my decision to attend training despite having been given the Alpha’s permission to skip it.I’d dragged myself out of bed and over to the mirror. I never bothered with makeup until after our morning workout, so I pulled a brush through my hair and scraped it up into a high ponytail.The brush made my beachy waves wispy, so I raked some coconut oil through my long brown lengths using my fingers. I rubbed the remnants of it into my forearms, the deep caramel of my skin soaking it up, before pulling on some gym shorts and a boxy, cropped tee.It was a brisk morning, the air sharp with a bitter chill, but the sort that promised a sweltering heat later in the day. I waited in the pack kitchen for Jacob and The Twins, anxiously bouncing on the balls of my feet.I’d spent most of the night tossing and turning, finding that every time I shut my eyes all I could hear was
The rest of the day went quickly, passing me by in a blur of frenzied activity. After speaking to Jacob all I really wanted was a nap, but I was almost certain that my parents would have other plans for me.I was proved right as soon as I walked back into the pack house. They were sat in the kitchen, right by the door to the grounds – impossible to miss. I smiled at them.“Thought you two were overrun with work today?”They shrugged in unison.“We made some time,” my mum said with a glitter in her eye. I moved to sit down next to them, but my dad held his hands up.“Woah there, Ari. Don’t get too comfortable. There’s something we want to show you.”I beamed. I loved surprises. “What is it?” I asked, bouncing on the balls of my feet. My parents laughed at me, standing and nodding towards the door.“This way,” my mum said, giving my hand a squeeze. I returned the gesture, and then followed them eagerly out into the gardens.The pack house itself was huge, but it was dwarfed by the ground
It’s a rogue, I mindlinked to Rosa. I held my ground, feeling my wolf urging me to shift. Get in the truck quickly. I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I let my wolf come forward and I shifted, feeling my face elongate into a snout and my legs shoot backwards, lengthening and widening. My hands and feet became paws, and my whole body sprouted fur. I growled, keeping my eyes on the rogue.It seemed startled and took a timid step backwards. I immediately filled the space, looking down at it. It was smaller than me, with mousy brown-grey fur that looked tattered, covered in bite and claw marks. It’s eyes seemed to harden, and it howled loudly, the sound being drawn up into the night.It pounced. Suddenly I felt the lash of its claws against my neck, scraping down towards my chest. I growled in fury, ignoring the pain as I jumped at it. I latched my jaws around it’s leg, and heard a
I ducked my head. Jacob’s lips brushed my forehead as I moved, and he let out a small whimper. My heart clenched for him, but I wasn’t ready.“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I held onto him tightly, not wanting him to move away. “Please, Jake,” I said. “After the ball. It’s not that long away. I just – I can’t. Not until then. I have to know.”“But why?” He asked, his voice pained. I tried to meet his eyes, but he averted his gaze. “Why am I not enough for you? Really, Ari, please just think about this,” he begged. “What is a mate going to give you that I can’t?”I gulped. I didn’t have an answer for him. I knew that I loved him, and I was certain that I would be happy with him. We could mate and live as mates, but part of me would always wonder if there was someone better suited to me out there.“Please,” I said again. I didn’t have anything more to offer him.He nodded mutely, and then
The pack house was rammed when I crept out of the library. I’d intended to get my bandages changed before dinner, but I’d become sucked into my research. I discovered that many Native Americans offered their animal fetishes cornmeal, so I resolved to find some for my little wolf. I also spent a long time noting down references in a word document, flitting between that and my mind map in an attempt to narrow down my focus. I’d found a folk tale about two wolves, one black and one white; one made of anger and the other forged from goodness. A grandfather tells his grandson that the one that wins is the one he chooses to feed. I liked the sentiment, and decided to use it as a focal point for my argument. It had been relaxing, to sit in the warm rays of the sinking sun. They streaked in through the windowpanes, garnishing the wooden bookshelves a deep gold. I would’ve liked to have stayed there through dinner, but I heeded Jacob’s message and packed u
My heart pounded. I could feel my pulse thrashing wildly against the skin of my neck. I span around, my eyes roving across the darkness desperately.“Hey, it’s okay,” came Jacob’s soothing voice. It did little to calm me, but I took a deep breath before I jumped up. “Jake,” I hissed. “Help me look.”“It’s probably just an animal,” he placated, but he stood up beside me nonetheless. I held a finger up to my lips.I crept away from the log we’d been sat on, my eyes wide. I was afraid to blink. I could smell something unsettling, and familiar, but I couldn’t place it. The sun had set completely now; the woods were washed in darkness, shades of black and blue coating the forest floor like bruises.Another footstep fell to the ground. It was quiet, but the sound radiated through the trees like ripples in a pond. I turned towards Jacob, but my breath stilled in my throat when I caught sight of him. <
“Watching me?” I gasped. “But why?”“That’s why Silver Shore are coming early,” Jacob said. He stood and slid the chair back under the table, and then moved to stand beside me. “Their patrols caught a rogue between our border and theirs. They’ve kept her for questioning. She hasn’t said much, apparently. But she did let one thing slip. They haven’t told us what, yet, though. They said they wanted to discuss it in person, but that it couldn’t wait for the ball.”“I’m sorry we chose to keep this from you,” Kele said. “It was wrong. You fought off a rogue singlehandedly. I am ashamed that I thought you could not protect yourself, that hearing this would weaken you.”“It’s okay, Alpha Kele,” I said. My head was swimming with new information, but I was processing it quickly. I moved to add a dot to the map, and placed it where Rosa and I had come across the rogue. “In future,