Upon finally succeeding in taking every last penny from me, Madam Coco came through and handed me a box with four darts inside. I’d deliberated on it for a while but eventually concluded that the darts were a much more efficient tool for infiltration and worth the extra cost. I didn’t even bother thanking her or saying goodbye, relieved that I’d never have to smell the disgusting mix of old lady perfume and cigarettes, or hear her raspy smoker’s voice, again.
A few days later, on a warm Thursday in mid-August, Hugo drove me to his pack. We stopped at the entrance and exited the car, then we were brought to a small room. The werewolves who escorted us there wrinkled their noses at the sight of me, and I realized it must be my rogue smell. I let out a deep sigh. When we were waiting alone, I asked Hugo, “Is the smell really that bad?”
He rubbed the back of his neck and said, “No, they’re exaggerating. It’s just a little unpleasant.”
I nodded and wondered if he was just being polite. It wasn’t long before a very tall and muscular middle-aged man entered the room. I could instantly sense he had a superior presence and was likely someone high up in the pack. He sat down across from me at a table and made himself comfortable, making me believe this was not too uncommon an occurrence.
“Hello, I’m the beta of the pack. And you are?” He looked at me, squinting his eyes.
“Talia,” I replied, studying him. He had a friendly face, with kind eyes, a scruffy beard, and a pleasant scent. But the way he spoke, he was all business.
“We don’t normally allow rogues in, as I’m sure you know. Your kind is not exactly predictable.”
I nodded even though I didn’t know, and he spent the next hour interrogating me. Yep, all business. Hugo chimed in constantly—something I was thankful for because I didn’t feel much like talking. He pleaded my case that I was homeless and needed his help, pulling the damsel-in-distress card. In the end, the so-called beta must have decided I was harmless and had good reason for being there because he let us through.
“We did it!” Hugo celebrated as we headed back to his car. I wondered how many people had been rejected in the past, and how common of an occurrence a stranger entering a pack really was. As we passed through the gates, I turned my attention to the surroundings. I’d never seen a pack before and was fascinated by the small community in the middle of the woods. I was even more intrigued by how uniform it was—all the houses were built in a similar log-cabin style, like a cute little village in the middle of the forest. I felt as if I’d stepped into a fairy tale. The downtown area was even cuter, with cobblestone streets and stone storefronts. Rivers ran along roads, with homes lining ponds. I could only imagine how breathtaking this place would be during the winter when snow would cover the abundance of pine trees and the many bodies of water would freeze over.
Hugo’s home was located on the outskirts of town, overlooking a pond in his backyard. He let me in and hung his head a bit, his eyes downcast. “It’s not big, but it’s home. We don’t have a spare bedroom, so I put a blow-up mattress on the floor of my room. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all,” I replied, thankful I had a place to stay. Although, I couldn’t help feeling a bit stung that he wanted to keep our sleeping arrangements separate. My recent loss and pathetic state made my loneliness only more painfully noticeable, and I couldn’t help but harbor a desperation for love.
He showed me around, and I was in awe. While it was not a large house, it was cozy and much more than my mom and I ever had. I wondered why she never brought us to live in a pack. All this time, we could have had something like this. “This is amazing,” I professed.
When we entered the living room, we found his mom in wrinkled sweats with matted hair, hypnotized by the TV.
“Mom, this is Talia.” Hugo brought me over to her.
“Oh, hello, Talia.” She turned to me for a moment before bringing her attention back to the TV, clearly not interested in the visitor to her home. I was taken aback and couldn’t help but notice how aloof she was compared to my own mother who had always been so warm and inviting, even while she suffered depression throughout her life.
Once we were in the privacy of Hugo’s bedroom, he said, “I have to apologize about my mom. She may come off as rude but don’t take it personally.” He slumped his shoulders, his whole face downcast. “I never told you this, but a few years back, my dad was a firefighter in Greater Madawaska. A house in town caught fire, and a child was caught inside. They’d pulled the mother out, but she was hysterical, screaming for her son. My father ran in trying to save him, but he never made it out. They say he exhausted his air supply and got stuck somewhere in the house’s interior, right before the whole house collapsed. They never found his body. Probably because werewolves turn directly to ash from burning.” His eyes were red as he blinked. He took a deep breath and continued, “Anyway, my mom never recovered from the loss. She’s now too depressed to do much and definitely not work. That’s why I support her and my brother.”
“Wow, Hugo, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” Tears trailed down my cheeks at his confession, the feelings from my own mom’s death rushing back to me. I leaned forward to hug him, putting my head against his chest. He wrapped his arms around me in return and I inhaled his familiar scent. I allowed the tears to fall freely, soothed by the steady drumming of his heartbeat. I rubbed his back, feeling empathy for his situation. He had also lost a parent, and all this time, I had no idea. No wonder he had been so good to me—we now shared a harrowing bond.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” I choked out, my throat burning, realizing now that perhaps we’d never been as close as I thought we were.
“I didn’t want to talk about it.” Hugo sniffed, pulling apart. “Goddess, look at us. We’re so pathetic, eh?”
“You’re not pathetic. You’re taking care of your family, and now you’re taking care of me too. You’re one of the strongest people I know. You must be in so much pain, but you hold it together for everyone else.” I sighed, wishing that things could have been different between us. “Until you told me that story, I would have never even guessed that you’d experienced loss.”
“It’s no big deal.” He rubbed his neck humbly. “Here, why don’t we have some ice cream, eh? It always makes me feel better.” He led me into the kitchen. As he rummaged through his freezer he said, “This ice cream is from Pine Forest Dairy, the pack’s dairy processing facility. That’s how the pack pays for everything. It’s a huge operation.” He finally pulled a pint out of the freezer triumphantly. “I always keep some on hand. It’s needed around here.” He gave a small smile but I noted the sadness behind his eyes.
After we finished eating, Hugo took me for a walk to show me around the pack. He lived on the outskirts, so it took us quite a bit of time to get to the downtown area. People gave me odd looks as we passed by them.
Hugo leaned over and whispered, “The beta sent an email to the pack to let them know we’re hosting a rogue, so don’t worry. They’ll be too polite to say anything to you.”
I nodded but decided it would be best if I stayed out of the public areas moving forward and perhaps mostly confined myself to the woods.
After walking around for some time, I asked, “So, where does he live?”
Hugo knew who I meant and my aversion to using his real name. He shifted a bit and wouldn’t look at me, staring straight ahead as he continued with his tour, pretending like I hadn’t just asked anything.
Becoming enraged by being ignored, I shouted more forcefully, “Tell me!”
Suddenly, Hugo stopped, becoming immobile, his head turned with eyes pointing. I followed his gaze to a large chalet-style house at the center of town. He then shook his head and asked, “How did you do that?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“You just almost forced me to answer your question.” He searched my eyes.
“I did?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“I didn’t want to answer your question, but when you shouted, it was like I couldn’t help myself. Something compelled me.”
“Oh,” I replied. “I don’t know.”
Hugo had to work most afternoons and evenings, leaving me behind in his home. I didn’t mind and, in fact, preferred the solitude. It left me time to mourn my loss and reflect on my past—make peace with the fact that I had so many questions that I would never have answers to now. My mom had preferred to never tell me anything. When I’d try to push her, she’d become shifty, sometimes breaking down into tears. In the end, I’d decided to just give up. Her past was a closed door to me.
When wandering the house, I tried to speak to Hugo’s mom a few times, finding the idea of us just ignoring each other while living in close quarters awkward, but she’d mostly give one-word answers, her eyes glued to the television. She rarely changed her clothes, and she clearly didn’t shower much either by how strong her scent was. His brother was a teenager and wasn’t home much, mainly at school and with his friends. I never made friends in school, being too ashamed of where I lived and what my mom did for a living. It was better just to keep to myself. I did have a boyfriend during my junior year of high school. We mostly hung out at his house. He eventually wanted to know more and more about me, see where I lived, and meet my mom. So, I broke it off, knowing he probably would have dumped me once he found out anyway.
After that, I began sleeping with different bouncers they hired at the brothel, deciding it was safe—they already knew who I was and what my mom did. Madam Coco loved hiring attractive and muscular men for the job. And they loved giving me attention. A few months after I graduated from high school, Madam Coco hired Hugo. That was about two years ago. We started out as friends, eventually became lovers, and turned back into friends again. Since then, I hadn’t been with anyone else. I was still a bit stung from the rejection and decided men were too much of a liability. Sure, I sometimes felt lonely at night, but—well, it was just better this way.
Either way, I now had more important needs that overrode anything else. I wouldn’t sleep soundly until he was dead.
In the evenings, while Hugo was gone, I’d make the long trek to the chalet, sticking to the shadows of the trees. For several weeks, I kept my routine, always holding my switchblade and darts close by, waiting for the perfect opportunity. Because I knew how well-trained and powerful my mom’s killer was, I knew I’d have to find a way to catch him unawares because there was no way I’d ever be able to overpower him. Even being tall as I was, he still towered over me, and his body had to be at least three times the mass, most of it pure muscle. No, he would not be easy to take down, but my overarching need for revenge overpowered any fear I should have had.
For weeks, I’d watch the windows from afar—hopefully, far enough away they wouldn’t catch my scent—figuring out where everyone slept and planning how I’d enter the house once I was ready. He lived there with his wife, a middle-aged woman. They also seemed to have two grown children. One was a woman, and the other was a very attractive, muscular, blond man who I found out from Hugo was the alpha. I’d sometimes inadvertently catch his scent, which seemed to mix itself with the most spellbinding cologne. I’d never smelled such a luxurious, masculine, sexy cologne before. What was it? Maybe something outrageously expensive from The Bay. I loved inhaling the scent when my nose would catch it. Sometimes I’d catch it in the woods where I was hiding after he’d been there earlier in the day, and I’d put my nose to the ground, trying to inhale as much of it as I could.
It was a week into September when the perfect opportunity finally presented itself. One Friday night, when I knew Hugo wouldn’t be back until the early morning, I spent the evening in the woods behind the house, watching. It was a very dark, cloudy night, the sky pitch-black. I was thankful for my night vision. While I never spent much time in my werewolf form, it provided some handy benefits.
That night, he got in a fight with his wife, and I keenly observed as she turned the lights on in another bedroom before pulling the curtain closed. The light stayed on in that room for at least another hour before it went dark. The night was crisp and cool, and he opened his own window, presumably to get some air. Almost immediately, a plan began clicking into place. I brushed my fingers along my switchblade—I’d just have to cut through the screen, which would be easy enough.
Adrenaline pumping through me, I waited long after the light went out in his bedroom. It was imperative for him to be out cold when I entered. It wasn’t far-fetched to believe that he would do to me exactly as he had to my mom. When enough time seemed to have passed, I forced myself to wait a little more. I had one chance and it had to go perfectly.
When I felt satisfied it was safe, I crept my way into the backyard, mentally begging my heart to stop beating so loudly. I snuck closer in the shadows until I reached the pine trees lining the back of the house, probably for privacy. Clearly they hadn’t realized how easy they were making my job. I hoisted myself onto the lowest branch, using every muscle to steady myself as I climbed, trying to keep the branches from moving, practically holding my breath so my panting wouldn’t be heard. My whole body was wet with sweat by the time I reached the top from both anxiety and from the workout I’d had to do to keep the tree still.
Finally, I made it to his window. Balancing myself on a branch and leaning against the house, I sliced through the screen as quietly as possible, thankful the blade I had was so sharp and created minimal noise. He had a huge window, so it was close to the ground, allowing me to pad across the floor of his bedroom very quietly.
I was in. He was snoring loudly and alcohol permeated the air, comforting me that he was completely out. I pulled the darts out of my back pocket, a smile on my face. A warmth spread through my body at my luck. This was much easier than I was expecting, as if someone had been watching out for me.
I quickly removed the protective coverings from the darts and crept closer. He let out a loud snore as his stale and putrid alcohol breath blew into my nostrils. God, his breath stinks. I almost dry heaved but forced myself to focus. Knowing there wasn’t much time, I’d have to be quick. Choosing the easiest target, I stuck one dart into his exposed arm.
My heart jolted when his eyes shot open in shock, locking instantly with mine as confusion played across his face. “Bianca?” he choked out, and I was taken aback for a moment at the mention of my mother’s name. My body tensed and heat flushed through my body, my need for revenge amplified.
“No, her daughter!” I roared. Not giving myself any more time to think, I promptly stuck in another. That must have shocked him into clarity because, in seconds, he was out of bed, lifting me off the floor as if I weighed nothing, grasping me tightly, my arms pinned against my body. Fuck!
Before I lost my chance, I stuck the last two darts into his leg as that was the farthest my arm could reach at that point. And all I could do was pray that they worked quickly. He growled and threw me up against the wall, violently slamming my body against it so hard I’m pretty sure drywall shattered. I fell to the ground, my back throbbing. I was certain it was now stained black and blue.
He pulled back his arm, ready to punch me, and I wondered if it was over. But then, a miracle happened. Instead of swinging his fist at me, he brought his hands to his throat.
Blood sputtered out his nose and mouth as he coughed out choking noises, gasping for air, his eyes bugging out as they stayed locked on mine, desperation on his face. He soon fell to his knees, letting out a whimper. Acting on impulse, I quickly got up, pulled my blade out of my back pocket and shoved it into his back, forcing him to collapse on his stomach while his arms flailed like a helpless rag doll. And then he was gone, blood flowing freely from his back and face.
I glanced at him, about to turn around and leave, when the door flew open. A man with dark eyes and dirty-blond hair looked down to the ground at his father and then slowly up at me until he locked his eyes with mine. And I stopped—the world stood still, time halted. It was as if we were the only two people left on earth.
Every nerve in my body pulsed with desire. My lips parted, desperate with need to feel his on mine. I couldn’t help but be drawn to his brawny frame, the thin fabric of his T-shirt revealing his clearly well-defined chest and broad shoulders. My inner thighs tingled and my breathing deepened. My hands lifted upward against my will, now with a mind of their own, reaching for him. I could already imagine how his skin and muscular body would feel under my fingertips.
I felt both a tenderness and lust I never had before in my life, and it was almost as if I could sense all of his feelings—shock, despair, shock, lust, shock. We both spoke at the same time. “Mate!”
I quickly covered my mouth and came to, realizing the situation before me. I had just killed his father, and he knew. Overwhelmed, and without a second thought, I shifted into my wolf, tearing all the clothes I was wearing, and jumped out of the window, running into the dark night.
Operating on instinct and adrenaline, I sprinted out of the pack’s territory. I had just been caught red-handed killing the man’s father, and deep in my gut, I knew the sentence for that was likely death. Even as a part of me hesitated, something scratching deep within me, tugging me back to that wonderful-smelling man, I ran. I knew I had to run.
So that’s what I did. I ran into the woods and didn’t look back.
Not knowing where else to head, I decided to find my way to Vermont. Maybe I could find my mom’s old pack and get some answers. I wasn’t sure where to go, but my wolf was taking over now. In my wolf form, I had a much better sense of direction than as a human. I knew to head southeast. I’m sure I’d find signs along the way to point me in the right direction. And if I got hungry, I could hunt.
As I ran, I realized it was much nicer being in this form, and I wondered why I’d never embraced it much before. It was nice running on instinct rather than logic and emotion. My problems started to fall away. I was free. It was just me and the wilderness. Maybe I would prolong my trip and really bond with this new part of me that I’d never bonded with before.
And that was what I did. I spent about a week and a half running in the woods until I found the town my mom’s birth certificate was from. During that time, I became one with nature, enjoying exploring the wooded areas and taking long swims in brooks, rivers, and lakes, preferring to travel by water rather than on land when the weather was nice.
After arriving at my destination and exploring the town of my mother’s birth, I discovered a pack deep in the woods, noticing that wolves were guarding the border from a distance. I began observing, walking parts of the border, trying to figure out whether I should approach or not. I knew I would eventually, but I always liked to take my time with things, preferring not to be rash and reckless with my approach to anything. Well, besides sleeping with all the bouncers, I suppose. And that was when I felt myself becoming warm, recalling all those memories vividly, suddenly wishing I was back in the brothel to experience them all over again, back in the days before Hugo became a cockblocker. It had been a long time, and I was very alone in the woods.
BLAKE One afternoon, well into September, a mindlink for Luke and me came in while we were in the office together. “I smell a rogue in my patrol area.” Jack’s voice said in our minds. Luke and I both looked up at each other and instantly got to our feet. “Be right there,” I mindlinked Jack back. We both rushed outside, quickly shifted into our wolf forms, and sprinted over. When we got to him, Jack led the group in tracking the scent, inhaling the unpleasant aroma that had clung to the dirt and ferns just outside our territory. Rogues usually weren’t a big problem. It was just a matter of making it clear to them that this was pack land and that they should move away from the area. Every once in a while, we’d encounter a problematic rogue, one that had spent so much time in its wolf form that it became feral and refused to shift, occasionally attacking us. Those rogues were dealt with differently. But hopefully, this would just be the standard, run-of-the-mill, confused rogue. We fo
ALEXANDER Well, that was an interesting way to meet my mate, to say the least. It almost wasn’t surprising when it happened. Okay, it was very unexpected and shocking, but I’m also one of those people who attracts drama and crazy situations. Needless to say, it is never a dull day in my life, and I never run out of stories to tell at parties. So, it was almost expected that I wouldn’t meet my mate the normal way. Most people meet their mates at a party or a café, they lock eyes from across a room, they go to the same park one day. You get the picture—there are hundreds of normal ways to meet a mate. Of course, I’m the one that meets my mate at my father’s murder scene, my mate being the number one and only suspect. If it weren’t so disturbing, I’d laugh about it. The Moon Goddess clearly has a sick sense of humor. Granted, my father was not exactly in the running for father or, heck, person of the year. But I’m not quite sure what crime he committed that deserved murder. Okay, okay,