I tossed my backpack on the kitchen table, the numerous pins attached rattled as they bumped into one another. There was always a small pang of disappointment when I made it back home from a hectic night at Jeb’s to find Elijah’s car still missing from the driveway.
Most of the houses in town were styled after cabins, and all had massive fireplaces built for the harsh winters. The cold and I had a love hate relationship, which is why Elijah made sure we were always stocked up on wood and I made sure we had plenty of hot cocoa.
He spent a good portion of his time at the tiny clinic that was always understaffed and overpopulated. I used to tag along when I was a kid, back when he would do house visits. It had taken one particularly nasty family, who refused to have the cursed child step into their home for me to realize how uncomfortable I made people.
Elijah stopped taking house calls that day, and I stopped asking to see more of his job.
He was the only one who didn’t pester me about my past. He gave me time to process this new place I was in, to process the fact that my old world—the memories of where I had been before, they were gone.
I’d been lost in the tune I was humming when I wandered past the kitchen, nearly missing the lavender index card stuck to the fridge.
I snagged the card off the fridge and shouted, “Jackie! You here?”
A headache throbbed at my temples as I stared down at his messy handwriting. He always tried to neaten it up for me by writing slow and steady. I had spent countless hours teasing him and his doctor friends, wondering how they could read a jagged line so easily.
Violet – Code blue at 1am. Come armed.
“Something wrong? I was finishing up Elijah’s laundry. Not that he wears anything other than those button downs and god-awful ties.” Jackie said, appearing from around the corner.
She had worked as a nanny for the previous owners of the house, who had long ago moved out and went elsewhere. Mind you, she wasn’t a very good cook, but she had improved drastically in the two months I’d been teaching her.
Jacki’s primary job was to keep the house clean and to provide me with some much-needed company, not that she would admit to the second part.
“Another family meeting?” She chuckled, her laughter warm and comforting after a long night. “You two and your secret notes.”
Along the countertop sat a bunch of various cookbooks, all themed in some way. At the front was my favorite, the first book Elijah had ever gifted me. The antique looking cookbook, themed after witches and wizards, was what propelled me into my passion for baking.
“Let’s see…” I trailed off, pulling two from the shelf at random. Colorful pictures jumped out at me until I chose one from each book, as I did every night. “…how does bacon jam burgers and a black forest pudding cake sound?”
“Sounds like I need to start paying you instead of the other way around. You keep spoiling me like this, and I might not want to retire.” Jackie teased, the corners of her eyes crinkling. “Next time you make some of them cheesecake bars, I’ll take another pan. Phil went crazy over those things.”
I laughed and promised her as many as her heart desired, even though that familiar ache started in my chest. Jackie’s husband, he was like the rest of the adults in town.
Still, I refused to let them turn me bitter and cold. I’d smother them and shovel my kindness down their throats until they finally realized they were just mean people, hating and isolating a child.
“How was the library?” Jackie asked, pulling out some of the things I’d need for our late-night dinner.
Our towns library was open twenty-four hours, but only because the owner lived in a small apartment in the back. No one else in town felt the need to go past 5pm, which meant it was the perfect cover for my nights working the bar.
“Oh, it was fine. Quiet as always.” I lied effortlessly, having told this one enough times to memorize the soft smile and easy shrug it took to convince Jacki.
Lying wasn’t something I did, which is why neither suspected anything when I stopped frequenting the library at night and started bringing a backpack with a change of clothes inside. A hint of perfume before walking in the door covered the scent of stale beer long enough for me to start cooking or hop in the shower.
Neither one ever looked deeper than that, but often I didn’t mind. I wanted my job at the bar to be secret. Everything from the moment I was found had been seen and heard by everyone in town, and this—this was mine.
“I don’t see why you won’t go earlier in the day, get some face-to-face interaction. You’ve got to get tired of talking to this old bird all day.” She tittered, sounding just like some of the mothers in town.
How could I possibly explain that somewhere along the way my need for control had become so strong that conquering my intolerance for adrenaline and conflict was a necessity?
He’d see the girl who blacked out—who left five other wolves just as scarred and traumatized as me.
“I could never get tired of you, Jacki. You eat everything I cook, and never complain.” I kept my laugh light, even though I felt the familiar tremor in my fingers urging me to check the locks and windows until that itch in my head was satisfied. I couldn’t, though. Jackie would know something was up the moment I reached for the door.
Grabbing the baby pink apron that hung on a hook by the pantry, I wandered over to the stove and flicked the burners on, then searched the pot rack above the island counter for two pans. Using the little step stool Elijah had bought me, I grabbed what I needed and started cooking.
I hummed as I worked, losing myself in the ingredients and scents of the kitchen. The sweet and savory aroma of bacon jam filled the air, followed by the buttered buns I left to toast. While I was relaxed and in my element, the itch beneath my skin was still there, just momentarily forgotten.
Jacki cleaned the kitchen and scrubbed the counters down after we had our fill, as she did every night. I had plenty of time to shower and relax before Elijah would be home for our ‘code blue’ meeting.
Even in my bedroom, I couldn’t stop myself from veering straight to the two windows to check the locks. They sat on either side of my bed, making it even more tedious to dart back and forth.
On the bright side, Elijah had a tinted film put over the glass, blocking my bedroom from prying eyes. More than once I swore I could see eyes watching me from the forest, undoubtedly trying to catch a glimpse at the small town’s spectacle.
I counted under my breath, locking and unlocking, click after click. I’d turn away, confident they were secure only to have to check again.
When my fingers finally stilled and the itch faded, I managed to take a quick shower.
Nearly an hour later, Elijah’s car pulled into the driveway.
“This meeting must be important. You’re on time for a change.” I teased, setting the romance novel I was reading down, albeit a bit reluctantly.
I flipped the book over so Elijah couldn’t see the cringe-worthy couple on the front, locked in a passionate embrace as their hair was blown back from an invisible wind.
Even Jacki made fun of me, until I had her hooked on one, subsequently proving that the books with the cheesiest covers are often the best.
“Go on, make fun of me. We weren’t all gifted with incredible time management skills.” Elijah’s complaint was marred by the growing smile on his face.
Todays tie was a sickly shade of mustard, with an emerald diamond pattern running down the front. Jackie was right, Elijah’s tie collection was atrocious. Although, it did make him incredibly easy to buy gifts for.
Elijah was one of those men who grew more handsome with age. The darkness of his curly hair, which was still free of greying, made his baby blue’s stand out impressively. He’d lost muscle from his college days after trading warrior training for a white coat and stethoscope, but it did nothing to diminish his sparkling personality.
I never looked at Elijah in that way, not when he was the only father figure I had ever known, but I never missed the way the other she-wolves in town would drift closer to him, and how they would be nice to me.
For a while, anyway.
“How was your day?” He asked, his voice fading as he ventured into the kitchen.
I cocked an eyebrow when I heard the coffee maker start up. Elijah had no more than six coffee’s a day. He blamed it on having a ‘doctor’s schedule,’ but really, I just think he enjoys the dopamine it gives him. His words, not mine.
“Better than yours if you’re drinking coffee at one in the morning.” I scrunched my nose at the bitter scent. “And you’re having it black. Now you’ve got me worried.”
“It’s decaf.” He said, a hint of mock offense within the smooth tone of his voice. I smirked and sank deeper into the couch. That was his usual defense, and never once did I buy it. “You remember I’ve been talking to Sylvia, right?”
I blinked at him, surprised by the sudden question. He brought the mug to his lips and drank deeply, eyes honed on my face as they waited for my response.
“Of course, I remember.” I nodded, thinking back to the curly haired brunette with the pearl necklace and long lashes. A frown ghosted across my face as I asked, “Is everything alright?”
Elijah had met her at one of the numerous medical conventions he went to every year. I had seen pictures of her in his phone from when they would spend their free time together afterwards.
“Things are great. That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.” He hesitated, rubbing a hand over the five o’clock shadow along his jawline.
Elijah hated facial hair, even though Jacki and I both agreed it made him look like a rugged lumberjack. I gave him an odd look, forcing my eyebrows together and tilting my head.
“Don’t leave me in suspense here.” I teased lightly, pleased when some of the tension faded from his shoulders.
Elijah smiled softly, and I mentally braced myself.
“Sylvia left her husband awhile back. They weren’t mates, but they do have two children together…” He explained, his jaw growing slack as his battle to find the right words played out within his eyes. “I—things between us have gotten a bit more serious these past few months and living apart isn’t something we want to do any longer.”
His pause wasn’t long enough for me to begin jumping to conclusions, even though I wracked my brain trying to remember when things had shifted between Elijah and Sylvia. When they had gone from the occasional date to the nightly phone call phase that I had encountered in dozens of books. Now that I looked harder, he did have that spark of excitement in his eyes.
“I know how you feel about this town. You’ve been more than gracious to some of the narrow-minded people here, so I wanted to give you a choice. I’m going to be transferring to a new hospital, one of the largest in the country. I’ll be taking one of the old surgeons position, and I’d love it if you came with me. I’ve always been honest that children weren’t something I wanted, but you’ve changed my life for the better, even if you can’t see that yet.” His smile was small but genuine, wrought with a hesitation that made my heart leap in my chest.
It was rare that Elijah got like this. I was the sappy and emotional one, while he looked at things with logic and reason. He might high-tail it in the other direction when he’d spot me weeping over a movie or novel, but I’d always find a carton of my favorite ice cream on the counter, or outside my bedroom door shortly after.
“Wow, you sure know how to start off strong.” I giggled, sniffling as tears pooled in my eyes. “And what’s my other option?”
Elijah’s smile widened because he knew I had already made my decision. “I’ll have the cabin paid off in another year. If you want to stay here, the place is yours. I’d send you a monthly check, only because I know you’d lose it without baking something. On the downside, though, you’d have to collect your own firewood—”
“Oh, no. That’s my breaking point. I’m coming with you.” I shook my head, trying hard to fight the smile that threatened to form. “There’s no way I can gather my own firewood. It’d take me hours, and I’d freeze to death.”
“I thought you’d feel that way.” He grinned, his eyes crinkling around the corners. “Which is why I am happy to announce that the last time the Nightfall Pack received snow was five years ago.”
“No snow?” I gasped, the novel tumbling from my lap as I clasped my hands together.
No more icy fingers and frost-kissed nose, just the undying warmth of sunlight and crisp air. Picnics in the grass, hunting for wildflowers, and hiking through the forests. Excitement blossomed within me, sprouting seeds of hope that stretched into tall vines.
I stood from the couch, already eager to rummage through my closet and chuck anything stuffed with down or made of that rough fleece material out the window.
“There is one more thing…” Elijah said, his voice trailing off in a way that made me freeze and sink back into the clutches of the couch. “We would be living with Sylvia, and her two children.”
A harsh jolt of nervousness pierced my chest, and not because I’d be living with two children somewhere around my age. Rather than voicing my worries, I swallowed them back and nodded, “…that doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Also, I know I told you that Sylvia is a philanthropist, but that isn’t all that she does…” He explained with a careful tone that didn’t go unnoticed. “Her ex-husband, the one she’s separating from, he’s the Alpha of the Nightfall pack.”
I paused; my lips parted in surprise.
“So, she’s…” I trailed off, my eyebrows inching higher and higher. I was completely thrown, especially because he had never mentioned this until now. Still, I wasn’t unhappy with him. Not when he had found the person who brought that ear-splitting smile to his face. “Wow, Elijah. How did you land yourself a Luna?”
“She’s only acting Luna until the current Alpha remarries.” He laughed, but quickly his eyes darkened like storm clouds. “Are you sure about coming with me, Violet? The last thing I want to do is force you into anything.”
For five months we’d find ourselves snowed in, forced to make the trek into town for fresh food and gasoline for the generator, but leaving town—venturing past the jagged mountains that acted as the iron bars of this prison, was all but impossible.
I thought about the townspeople, who had once felt sorry for the little girl who wandered through their woods in the dead of winter, covered head to toe in slices that should have drained her dry of blood, and how that sympathy quickly turned to fear and disgust as she grew older.
Giving Elijah a confident smile, I felt a rush of excitement mingle with my nerves.
“When should I start packing?”
The moment Sylvia’s driver picked us up from the airport, I was determined to soak everything in. We drove through a bustling city, where the buildings were towers plucked from story books, so high that they kissed the clouds that surrounded them. People walked on pristine sidewalks free of cracks or holes, most with briefcases or cellphones pressed to their ears. Traffic thickened and thinned, becoming smoother when the two lanes we drove down opened up into four. It was at this point the trees began to multiply into densely packed forests, and the magnificent buildings grew scarce. During the drive I snagged Elijah’s phone and looked at the first map I could get my hands on. The Nightfall pack was named for the starry sky that overlooked the bowl-shaped valley it rested in, and was known for its Redwood trees, which stood taller than any other in the world. We drifted into a town where the buildings looked shiny and new. There were plenty of expensi
I rounded the corner and appeared in the dining hall just in time to spot Elijah and the woman who I’d only seen in photographs. For half a second, they were wrapped up in their own world. One of his hands came to rest on hers as he said something that made them both laugh. Elijah had been right when he said the camera didn’t do her justice. His phone couldn’t capture the bounciness of her glossy brown hair, or the beauty mark above her perfectly symmetrical lips. If it weren’t for the charcoal pants suit that fit her slender figure as though it had been tailored for it—which it probably had, I would’ve thought she were a model and not the Luna of an entire pack. “Ah, there she is.” Elijah’s eyes lit up as he spotted me at the other end of the table, hovering just a few feet from the doorway. When Sylvia turned to face me, he gave me a look that said he knew exactly where I had been and what I’d been up to. “Sylvia this is Violet.” “I’ve been looking
‘We’re actually doing this, Lacey. We’re going to college. Did you see how proud Elijah looked?’ I laughed, spinning in place while some obscure pop song trickled from my phone. ‘This is all he’s ever wanted for us…but you know we can’t back out now, right?’ She replied, and her uncertainty caused the first crack in my giddy exterior. I sucked in a breath, held it for seven seconds and exhaled just like my old therapist taught me. Even now I could see his face, speckled with deep lines and pock marks, that flap of greasy white hair over his head. Those long, drawn-out meetings where I talked about my feelings and lack of memories were my primary motivation to act normal. So long as I took my daily cocktail of medication and went to my bi-weekly appointments there was no need for a grueling three sessions a week. ‘We’re not going to back out.’ I insisted, determined to ride out this euphoric high for as long as possible. My romance novel infect
I carried the consequences of my past on my shoulders for years. I’d tiptoe downstairs and to fumble with the lock on the front door for a couple minutes before curling up in bed. That was what I considered a good night, and thankfully they happened rather frequently. Last night, however, wasn’t one of them. My stomach was full but the conversation I had with Norma left me feeling anxious and jittery. I needed to make sure the doors were locked, that the house was secure from the inside out. It was an urge I no longer questioned, and one I’d stopped fighting years ago. The lock on my bedroom door was wrong. It felt too flat between my fingers, nothing like the heavy thud of the deadbolt that was on the front door of our cabin—the same kind downstairs. This one was one of those cheap locks that stuck out from the doorknob like a button. Even the click it made was wrong. I face planted in my bed hours later, swallowed whole by exhaustion
Her frame seemed even smaller from a distance and was swimming in the billowing fabric of her muumuu. Even with Lacey shouting ‘abandon ship’ in my head as she urged me to flee like a gazelle, there was nowhere for me to run. Norma’s face was impassive as she asked, “…you do this kind of thing often, child?” “No, of course not.” The lie came out much too fast and yanked my voice up an octave or two. Instead piecing together it’s shattered remains, I went into damage control mode. “I mean—only when I’m stressed…or in a new place.” “Both of which you currently are.” “Right…” I swallowed as embarrassment heated my face. “Look, I—" “This isn’t you freaking out about going to the University is it?” She asked, and just a hint of accent peeked through. “No, not at all.” I stammered. “It’s something I’ve done back at the old house. Look, Elijah knows about it. He and Sylvia have so much going on…I just didn’t want him to worry about me, especi
“I suppose that leaves us with one last question. Is this something you can handle, Violet?” “The Cedar Grove Pack has never been my home, and I’m never going back.” I dropped my twinkling smile and let her see how serious I truly was. They’d sooner find me packing a bag in the middle of the night than willingly stepping back into that claustrophobic nightmare. “Good, then on that note if you could open the bag in your hands, please.” As it turns out, I’d been wrong. The lacey bra within the boutique bag was my first official test. “I had my assistant pick it out. She’s an expert with this sort of thing. One look at you and that scrap of polyester you wear, and she knew your size. Elijah should be charged with neglect for allowing you to wear it a day longer, but as intelligent as the man is he truly is horrible with children—and even worse with teenage girls, it seems.” Sylvia waved a hand dismissively, like having her assistant rummage through my cl
As I waited within the lunch line, I couldn’t help but scan the Dining Hall. There were rows upon rows of padded booths, each one pristine and new. Circular tables, much like the ones you’d see in a public school, filled the empty spaces. From afar, close to the wall of spotless glass that overlooked the back half of the courtyard, I could make out a salad and fruit bar. With a tray in my hands, I steered past the busiest part of the Dining Hall and towards the one empty table nestled in the back of the room. The Lobster Risotto and Chipotle Garlic Seaweed Butter spewed an interesting assortment of scents into the air. Each one was a different colored shred of silk, weaving around one another until their shades muddied and turned into something new. As I approached the table, I realized I’d been wrong. There was a single person perched on one of the round seats, an Asian girl with granite eyes and choppy layered hair. When she turned her head to stare me down
A feminine gasp to my left threatened to pull my attention away from him…away from my mate. Just hearing the words in my head, seeing them unravel in the way he smiled—it was all so surreal, so idyllic. I should’ve listened to the girl, maybe then I would’ve been better prepared. The fact that I tuned into their hushed conversations seconds too late would forever weigh on my mind. “Hael’s back early?” “Something must’ve happened between him and Mykelle…” “Can you believe it?” “Does that mean he’s finally single?” Voices both male and female overlapped one another, growing steadily with excitement while my own seemed to falter and plummet. Cold realization took its place. I’d already caught his scent in the lunchroom, when his friend heckled me for eating a cupcake. It reminded me of salty waves, of the earth after a long, harsh rain. Before I could question why our bond hadn’t snapped into place back in the lunc