Chapter 5

‘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 infected brain conjured one scenario after another. The shy, awkward main character starting her first day at an elite boarding school after a whirlwind make-over, always running from some elusive past I couldn’t wait to discover.

She’d turn heads the moment she walked through the doors, beautiful while never realizing it. There was usually a fifty percent chance she’d catch the eye of the golden-haired jock or the asshole in ripped jeans.

Personally, I always preferred the blue-eyed jock. There was something about arrogance topped with thick hair, dark eyes, and wrapped in leather jackets that made my blood boil.

I wanted romance, not high blood pressure and a maximum life span of forty-three.

‘Are you sure about this, Vi?’ Lacey asked, ears flattening. ‘It’s been a while since we’ve been in a public school…it’s not going to be like your novels.’

‘I’m just trying to stay positive, Lacey. I know it’s not going to be like a romance novel, and don’t pretend you aren’t listening in every time I read them. I could feel your presence plain as day when I read End Zone.’ I grinned and fell backwards onto my new bed, giggling as I slowly sunk into the blankets.

‘Human sports are interesting.’ She grumbled, narrowing her pale eyes.

I contorted my face into a stern expression that made Lacey snort and nodded solemnly, ‘…of course, it was the sports you stuck around for.’

‘Really, Ms. high and mighty? What drew you in?’ She asked with a twitch of her bushy tail.

‘You know exactly what drew me in. I’ve never hid that.’ I teased, seconds away from making her bristle when my stomach rumbled pitifully.

It had been hours since dinner and instead of sunlight streaming past the billowing folds of silken curtains in my bedroom, it was now moonlight.

I’d talked to Sylvia a bit longer, going over potential classes and a major while devouring my side salad that consisted of mostly lettuce and a few cherry tomatoes.

All werewolf schools, public and private, had warrior training. My heart quite literally skipped a beat when Sylvia assured me she’d look into certain accommodations that would allow me to skip training. It’s been years since my last blackout, and the last thing I needed was to ruin my lucky streak in this new town.

We agreed I’d take the weekend to think things over, to make sure this was what I really wanted. Truthfully, my mind had been made up the moment I saw Elijah’s encouraging smile.

‘As tasty as that soup was, we need something more filling.’ I groaned, a hand on my hungry stomach. It was soft and my belly poked out a little bit, but I was long past trying to starve myself to achieve the toned physique just about every she-wolf possessed. I had learned very young that if it wasn’t my scars people whispered about, it was my weight.

‘…could we maybe just pop on down to the kitchen?’ Lacey suggested, her voice low even though no one but me could hear her.

My lips twitched into a grin, ‘aren’t you the one who keeps us out of trouble?’

‘At one point, maybe. You kinda ruined that when you decided to work at the worst bar in town.’ She guffawed.

‘That’s fair.’ I nodded, leaping off the bed and onto my feet. ‘Speaking of the bar, I’ll need to find another while we’re here…’

‘We’ll probably have to travel out of town. The bars around here are probably more like nightclubs, which means we’ll run into other students. We can figure it out after we get some food in our stomachs.’ Lacey insisted, urging me out the door.

The walls were lined with identical doors crafted from an expensive dark wood, but there wasn’t so much as a peep coming from any of them. I wondered if they were all bedrooms and tried to picture each one as I turned the corner, skimming my fingers along the trimming on the wall as I walked.

There was one door that made me pause. I caught the faintest scent of cologne. The trail was so weak that I couldn’t even tell what it smelled like, only that it was masculine. I leaned in close, my cheek almost pressed against the door as I strained my ears.

‘Quit being nosy before someone catches us.’ Lacey scolded me.

Ignoring the little voice in my head that wondered if the door was locked, I continued down the hall. When I found the main staircases with minimal back tracking, my hope that I’d learn my way around this place was renewed.

Pausing on the balcony that overlooked the foyer and part of the living room, I wondered what it might’ve been like to grow up in a house like this. Running through these massive, twisting hallways would’ve been the first thing I did. Well, that and explore every single room.

My stomach rumbled again, and as I spotted the front doors my fingers twitched with that familiar urge. There was no way I could do my usual routine of checking the locks. I’d look insane if someone were to catch me.

Through the dimly lit dining room, I could see the lights in the kitchen were off. The doors they were built into made a soft swishing sound as I pushed past them. The effort I made to keep silent was for naught because the second I walked into the kitchen; the lights flicked on.

I was temporarily blinded, but still managed to spot Norma’s short and slender frame standing in front of the pantry, her arms crossed over her chest. The severe look on her face that reminded me of a dragon protecting its loot, softened when she realized it was me.

“You look ready for battle.” I let out an anxious laugh that confirmed my guilt.

I really couldn’t lie to save my life. It’s a wonder I managed working at the bar as long as I have.

My sneaking suspicion she’d been waiting on Graham was confirmed when she dropped her protective stance and said, “If you knew how many packs of cookies I’ve told Sylvia I ate just to cover for that doe-eyed thief, you’d be ready to battle too. Just last month she gave me full access to the gym on the first floor.”

“Oh, how thoughtful.” I felt my cheeks heat up, confirming my lie just in case my wavering voice hadn’t.

“Sylvia has a kind heart; she just fell victim to the same thing all these old-blooded families do.” Norma sighed and abandoned her battle station, wandering over to the industrial size refrigerators.

Some of my embarrassment faded as curiosity took its place. The word old-blooded rang in my head, familiar and just a little bit frightening. It practically oozed intimidation and wealth. She said it with a comfort that made me wonder if this were an everyday term, possibly something unique to the Nightfall pack.

“What is it they fall victim to?” I asked, salivating when I caught the scent of leftover jambalaya, bold and smoky from the spices Norma used. I kept a healthy distance even though I wanted to snatch the glass bowl from her hands.

“I suppose it’s a good thing you don’t know anything about them, but that’ll change once you start school.” Norma trailed off as she began rummaging through the cabinets, muttering about someone named Louis and how he needed to stop reorganizing her kitchen. “Come here and eat while I give you a little history lesson and some good old-fashioned advice.”

A sweat broke out over my face from the intense blush I had going on, and as if on cue, my stomach rumbled miserably. I half expected Norma to make a lewd comment about my weight, but she was silent as I approached.

She made a sound of impatience as I stared down at the bowl, watching the steam curl off the rice and sausage.

“Well, go on and try it. Can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten to break out some of my older recipes.” She said and leaned against the countertop with a disgruntled frown on her face. “Sylvia’s been on a diet of nothing but liquids and rabbit food since Imani Vanderbilt made that comment about her weight. I’m so tired of making that meat flavored water she calls soup. It’s downright neglect to expect you to eat the same as she does. Only Sylvia could survive on a diet like that.”

I gripped the spoon in my hand tighter to stifle the twitch of my fingers. Whoever this Imani person was, she didn’t seem pleasant. Again, the word “old-blooded” came to mind, along with the prestige that accompanied it. A sense of dread curled in my stomach because it was just now dawning on me the situation I had gotten myself into.

Changing the subject gave me a chance to push my fears down, but that infuriating itch remained.

“Graham seemed to like your jambalaya.” I pointed out, shoveling another spoonful into my mouth.

Norma snorted and pulled out the pin that kept her grey-streaked hair at bay. It tumbled down her back, curled from the bun she had it twisted into.

“Graham will eat rocks if you tell him you have sweets for him afterwards.” She said with a voice full of dry humor, and a part of me worried she wasn’t exaggerating.

It was clear within the softness of her stern eyes and the way they crinkled at the corners that she cared about the youngest of Sylvia’s sons, even though he regularly looted the pantry. Turns out his older brother wasn’t the only one looking out for him.

Feeling a bit more confident, I brought a spoonful of the jambalaya to my lips and tried not to inhale it when the spicy tang of cayenne pepper and garlic danced across my tongue. The expectant look on her face was the same one I had when I spent the afternoon trying out a new recipe, eager for Elijah to come home and taste test.

“It’s so good! The spices are just incredible.” I smiled warmly and took another bite. My stomach clenched painfully as it began to fill with actual food and not the meat-flavored water Norma hated so much. “…not that the soup wasn’t delicious, but I’d much rather have stuff like this from now on if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Course not, child. Come down here anytime you’re hungry, the pantry is all yours. The only reason I chase Graham off is because he’ll eat himself into a sugar coma, and I don’t get paid enough to babysit him until three in the morning.” She replied, “…don’t let the crap people say around here get to you, they’ll always find something to hate on.”

“My old pack was like that.” I nodded, “It’s alright, despite how I look I have some pretty thick skin.”

“You’ll need more than thick skin around these parts. The families around here are called old-blooded for a reason. Alpha Xavier himself is descended from the Original Pack, so are a few of the others in town. Those are the ones you avoid at all costs, child. Do not get in their way…” Norma’s voice lowered and in the dim kitchen light, she looked absolutely haunting. This didn’t feel like any advice I’d ever gotten, what it felt like was a warning. The jambalaya no longer felt warm, but ice cold. “…that goes for the Alpha’s son as well.”

“The Original Pack?” I forced myself to swallow and tried not to think too hard on why Norma felt the need to include that bit about Sylvia’s eldest son. A trickle of trepidation dripped down my spine, ice cold as it made the alarm bells in my head ring with danger. “…I thought they were all extinct.”

Every werewolf child learned about the Original Pack. The Moon Goddess created the first werewolves, a group of men and women whose souls were bound to one another. When I first learned about the original pack, I was hooked. It felt like every fantasy novel I’d ever read but brought into the real world.

It was a slice of magic at times I wish I had. As a werewolf who’s never shifted, I lost out on the wonder that was shedding my human form and trading it for that of a beast.

You can imagine how disappointed I was to find out the original wolves, and their descendants didn’t have any mystical otherworldly powers, just heightened senses, a larger wolf, and a tremendous ego.

The full story wasn’t told to us children until we were well into high school. Much like the humans with their brutal, vicious history, the werewolves of the past did what they could to wipe the evil from the records. The classwork I did at home had readings that covered the original pack’s travels and recorded their determination to grow their numbers.

“Is it true that they can…” I trailed off, the bowl of half-eaten jambalaya cold and forgotten.

“Bite a human and turn them into a werewolf?” Norma saved me from speaking the words myself. “It’s true, but now-a-days they all charge a small fortune to do it.”

I didn’t protest when she took the bowl of food from me and scraped the small amount left into the trash. Talking about the original pack was bound to put a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.

“They had no problem doing it for free thousands of years ago.” I said quietly, thinking back to the gruesome details of the past.

The original pack lived separate from the humans until the rise of hunters forced them to act. I couldn’t remember how they discovered a bite to a human would turn them into a werewolf, but it was chaos and carnage from then on.

Humans were turned into werewolves, forced to obey the Alpha of the original pack, and join his growing numbers. There was one silver lining the newly created werewolves discovered.

If their soulmate, as the originals called it, were human then their offspring would be human too.

The rogue gene hadn’t existed back then. It wasn’t until these unmated wolves began having children with one another that the rogue gene was bred into existence.

“They still don’t, but only for special occasions.” She muttered, but as the words fell from her lips she paused, eyebrows gnashing together as though this were a topic she hadn’t meant to speak on. I opened my mouth to keep the ball rolling, but Norma beat me to it. “Don’t go repeating this, child. I mean it, you could get me into a world of trouble if you do.” Her stare was piercing, and only when I nodded did she finally continue. “They’ll turn a human for free, but its six years of your life they’ll want in exchange—six years as a soldier in their armies.”

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