Chapter 3

The room broke out in whispers again. “A female alpha? Is that really possible?” The speaker sounded as stunned as Zephyra felt. She looked at the three men, curious to see their reactions, and again was surprised. They appeared to accept the woman’s claim as alpha. Furthermore, they looked proud and ready to challenge anyone who would say otherwise.

“This isn’t right. I don’t like it,” a man grumbled from the other side of the room.

Zephyra watched as her mom opened and closed her mouth a couple of times as if she had lost her voice. Zephyra grinned. She never thought she’d the day her mother was left speechless. There were a few snickers from the crowd. Zephyra guessed they’d never thought they’d see the day either.

The alpha cleared her throat, calling everyone’s attention back to her. “Our kind has never notified non-shifters where we decide to place our packs before. I see no reason I should have to now,” she said. Her voice was calm and clear and didn’t bother to hide the defiance in her tone.

A smile spread across Zephyra’s face. She was starting to like this woman.

“However, I don’t want us to start on the wrong foot,” the alpha stated. “So despite having no obligations to do so, I will answer your questions. My pack’s interest in your town is the same as yours. We’ve come to make a home for ourselves: to live and thrive.”

“What are your numbers?” Zephyra’s mom asked, her tone no longer angry and accusatory, but soft and curious. It seemed she had warmed up to the female alpha too.

“We’re a small pack of only ten members.”

“Ten?” one witch to Zephyra’s right whispered to another. “I’ve never heard of a shifter pack with less than thirty.”

Several others were whispering the same. The general consensus was shifters lived by the rule “safety in numbers.”

“I repeat, we only seek a peaceful place to live. We mean no harm to anyone. You leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone,” the alpha insisted.

“Why are you alpha?” a male witch asked with the hint of a leer in his eyes.

Her gaze narrowed at him, and her lip twitched in what looked to be a snarl. “Because I want to be,” she snapped, “and because the others have accepted it.”

Most of the women in the room chuckled approvingly, some shooting sharp looks at the male witch. Deciding to prevent any more genius comments from him, Zephyra voiced her concerns. “What about your hunting abilities and plans? One of your wolves cost me a buck yesterday. He made so much noise that he probably chased off all the game for miles!”

“You must be the woman that Noah mentioned,” the bad boy shifter said. “He says you tried to kill him.” The left corner of his mouth tilted upward with a hint of a smile while his eyes lightened with amusement.

Now that’s funny! He was the one who jumped at her. She wondered just how to respond to the accusation and decided to take a page from his alpha’s book. Zephyra lifted her chin and stared at him as a challenge. “Kill him? Dramatic much? If I wanted him dead, he’d be dead. I’m one of the best hunters in this area, even better than my mother on my good days,” she told him, earning a harrumph from her mom.

“I didn’t know your pack had come to town yet, and I assumed he was a loner and wanted him gone yesterday.”

The smirk on the shifter’s face grew just a little and Zephyra wasn’t so sure she liked being the object of his amusement. It felt kind of demeaning. The alpha cleared her throat, and the bad boy dipped his chin in a fraction of movement. If Zephyra hadn’t been looking right at him, she would’ve missed it.

“An apparent misunderstanding on both ends,” the alpha told her. “I didn’t think Noah going into the woods would be a problem. We’d never had any issues before.” Her tone wasn’t unfriendly, but there was a hint of defiance in it.

Unsure what exactly her defiance was directed at, Zephyra put a hand on her hip and a smirk on her lips. “This is the South. Hunting is the top hobby here, besides drinking beer and watching NASCAR. If your people go into the lands destined for hunting it’s going to cause trouble.”

Her eyes narrowed a fraction at Zephyra, but it was the bad boy that spoke. “If the alpha finds it acceptable, I can meet with you at some point to figure out what we can do to avoid any trouble between my pack and yours or us and the norms.”

Zephyra looked at him for a moment, the shock knocking her a little off-kilter. She didn’t think he’d be one for playing by the rules. “Sure. I’ll agree to a meeting to keep everything nice.”

The smile grew, but he kept whatever amused him to himself and glanced towards the alpha. “I think that would be a good idea,” she said. Her tone, while still a little stiff, had lost that sense of defiance.

The badass shifter sniffed in her direction. “What are you?”

Zephyra dreaded answering the question, but she answered anyway. “A nymph, nephelai to be exact.”

A smirk appeared on his face. “A nymph, huh?” He made a small chuckle that was a purely male sound. And there it is, Zephyra thought. Most men heard the word nymph and thought immediately of the flighty, flirty nymphs who gave birth to the term “nymphomaniac.”

Zephyra gave him a good hard glare. “Yeah, and?” she said back, challenging him to say something stupid.

Her mother didn’t give him a chance to. “I think that will be all.” She warned the shifter with a glare. “Thank you all for your time. If any of us have any more questions, we know where to find you.”

The alpha stiffened at the dismissive tone. Her jaw tightened and relaxed a few times. Zephrya’s mom lifted an eyebrow as she waited for the alpha to decide what she was going to do. Zephyra crossed her arms, watching the alpha, not at all surprised to find her mom goading the alpha. Zephyra’s mom may not have been a shifter, but she was just as much the alpha type as any of them. She liked to be in control and was going to make sure Billy Jean knew it.

“Thank you as well,” the alpha said, and with a whirl of her hand, she and the other three shifters left. Everyone else mingled a bit before finally following them out.

Once everyone was gone, Zephyra teased her mom. “Already making power plays?” She picked up several plates that had been left about the living room.

“To a shifter, you’re either one of them or prey. I needed her to know that while I’m not a shifter, I’m not prey,” her mom explained then looked at her daughter. “You need to do the same Zephyra, especially with those two male shifters.” When Zephyra made a derisive snort, she shot her a glare.

“Zeph,” her dad joined in, surprising Zephyra with his serious tone. “Listen to your mother. She knows what she’s talking about. This pack is dangerous. We don’t know what shifter rules they’re willing to bend or break. Until we see just how dangerous they are, you need to be careful.”

“I’m twenty-five —” Zephyra started to say, but he cut her off.

“And still young for your kind,” Dad insisted. “And sometimes you tend to forget how the world works outside this sleepy little town.”

“I do not,” she argued, feeling offended now.

“Do I need to remind you about what happened in college?”

Zephyra flushed with embarrassment and scowled at him. “That wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t even fair.”

“Perhaps, but it is what it is,” he replied. “Now, let us finish cleaning up and you get yourself home.”

Still annoyed, Zephyra set the plates on the kitchen counter. “Yeah, sure. I’ll text you when I get there.” She kissed him on the cheek and left.

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