~ JADE ~
I should have taken my own advice.
It was good advice. Simple advice. Advice that I had lived by for two full years. All I had to do was stay clear of the pack. They were just a bunch of dogs. That was it. Nothing special. Just dogs with a superiority complex. Nothing good ever happened by getting mixed up with them. I had seen the proof of their destruction over and over and what had I done? I had let one of them help me. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
The thing was, it wasn’t easy to avoid them. The pack had been a part of Dog Mountain since, well, forever. I was pretty sure that the town was even named after them. Why else would they have called it Dog Mountain? Anyway, they were everywhere; in school, on the streets, at the stores; you couldn’t go anywhere without running into one of them. Everyone knew about them. In most towns, that would have freaked people out, but not here. Here, the werewolves were welcomed by everyone, well, everyone but me.
Personally, I couldn’t stand them. They walked around as if they owned everything. I guessed they kind of did, or their families did. But that wasn’t the point. They were possessive, territorial, and a serious pain in the butt. Especially the she wolves. The she wolves were the worst.
And it was because of one of those nasty she wolves that I was trapped in the girls’ locker room in my underwear.
I should have figured something like this would have happened. Erika and her little gang of dogs had been on my back ever since Dominic — the alpha’s beta — drove me home last week. It had been completely innocent. It had been pouring rain, my car had broken down, and he had stopped to help. That was it. But Erika, well, Erika wanted him all to herself, and she couldn’t seem to get it through her thick head that it had only been a ride home.
I opened up another locker in the long line of metal doors and slammed it shut. Empty. They were all empty. Why did gym have to be my last class of the day?
Frustrated, I plopped down onto the cold bench and pulled my knees to my chest, hugging them closely. They didn’t even leave my backpack, and, of course, that’s where my phone was.
How could I have been so stupid? I had Mr. Townsend for gym this year, and gym with Mr. Townsend meant running laps. Only laps. He thought running was the only kind of fitness anyone ever needed. Personally, I thought that that mentality had to be a werewolf thing, because, well, running laps sucked. And yes, my gym teacher was a werewolf. Needless to say, by the time class ended, I was all sweaty and gross. I had planned on going shopping after school, just to kill some time before Marcy, my best friend and practically sister, got home, so understandably, I had decided to grab a quick shower. Clearly, leaving my clothes unattended was a big mistake.
I glanced at my watch, 3:30. Another hour or so before the after school clubs would finish. Maybe I could make a dash for my locker then, and grab my extra set of gym clothes? The idea of running around school almost naked made my stomach roll.
For years, I had managed to avoid those … those … dogs. And now, I couldn’t get away from them. I didn’t even understand why Erika cared so much. Dominic hadn’t spoken to me since that day. And honestly, I didn’t even know why he had stopped to help me in the first place. Since he had become one of them, he had barely glanced my way.
I’m going to throttle that she wolf!
The pack had always made their presence known in everyday Dog Mountain life. They prowled the streets, taking what they wanted when they wanted it. Well, maybe not really taking. Most of the residents of Dog Mountain willingly gave whatever it was that one of those stupid dogs wanted, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that they never actually worked for anything; they just took. What happened to the days when werewolves had kept hidden?
The time ticked by slowly. I was starving, but then, I was always starving, and since I had just finished gym, I was extra-starving. My stomach rumbled and I was starting to get a headache. I could feel it at my temples, radiating in circles through my head. What a fan-freakin-tastic way to end the first week back at school.
“Jade, you in here?”
Dominic. His deep voice rumbled through the door, as he pushed it open a crack. My heart jumped in my throat, and I was pretty sure my whole body flushed. I felt it like a flash fever. Hot and sticky.
“Go away, Dominic,” I yelped, scrambling from my seat. I whipped open one of the lockers and hid behind the metal door. “Don’t come in here.”
“Why not?” he asked, and I could hear the laughter in his voice. “It’s not like I haven’t seen you in your underwear before.”
“Just stay out!” I hissed at him.
He didn’t open the door any more than a crack. “I’m sorry, Jade. Erika …” He paused, sighing long and loud, and then his hand slid through the small opening. “Look, I have your clothes. I’ll just leave them here at the door, okay?”
I didn’t say anything and he didn’t either. He just stood there, only his hand visible for a long moment. My stomach was twisted in tender knots and my heart beat loudly in my ears. The door inched open a bit further, and I couldn’t stop the squeal that rushed from my lips. Jeez, he’s going to come in! My brain was certain of it.
I frantically searched around for something, anything to hide my body. But there was nothing. Not even a towel. Those darn wolves probably would have stolen my bra and underwear, too, if they hadn’t been in the stall with me.
But then, Dominic sighed again and thankfully, he dropped my clothes onto the floor, and pulled the door shut.
~ AIDAN ~
I slinked behind an oak tree, pressing myself tightly against the rough bark, and held still as Dominic stomped out of the school. He walked by, without even a glance in my direction, and he was muttering something about ‘Jade being impossible’. Who Jade was, I didn’t have a clue, and what he was doing here when he was supposed to be meeting me, seriously had me annoyed. I may not have been the alpha for that long, but I was still the alpha — his alpha.
I had been tailing him all day and so far, it had been a disappointment. The pack (or I guess it wasmy pack now) liked Dominic. I had been banking on the fact that it was only because he was a better option than Ray, the last alpha, if only slightly. But so far, following him around had only shown me that they actually liked him and what was worse, they trusted him. The problem was that I had a gut feeling that I couldn’t trust him. Dominic was power hungry. I could see it, feel it, and I was sure that he would be my biggest threat at the ceremony tonight. He had been Ray’s beta, and now he was mine by default. Sure, I could choose someone else, and I wanted to, but as I said, the pack liked him. Stripping him of his title could lead to something I didn’t want to face — yet.
I was beginning to feel a bit foolish, though, hiding behind a tree and stalking my beta. It didn’t feel very alpha-ish. But then, I had never meant for this to happen. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be the alpha. I did, and I was sure I’d be good at it, but that didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t meant to take out the last alpha.
I peeked around the tree trunk, and scanned the parking lot for Dominic. He was leaning against his car, arms crossed, and, by the look of it, he was still muttering about something. This was the first time in the last twelve hours that I had seen his cool persona ruffled. And right then, as I watched him, I didn’t know whether to be happy (or even more disappointed) that maybe I had been right about him.
He had been there when I had disposed of Ray last night, or I guess it was this morning, and he hadn’t done much to stop it. Although it would have been against pack rules for him to step in, but still, he didn’t seem to care that much that Ray was gone. I figured that that was a good thing, seeing as the only reason I challenged the jerk in the first place was because I had found him beating his mate.
Just thinking about it made my stomach roll. Tammy had been covered in blood and barely breathing, huddled at Ray’s feet, when I had walked into the bar.
I had scented the pack at the border of this little hick town, and I had come close to just driving straight through. The last thing I wanted to deal with was a pack that I didn’t know. And if I hadn’t been so exhausted, I would have kept going. I’d been driving for thirteen hours straight, trying to put as much distance between me and my father as I could.
After checking into a motel, I went in search for the pack and found them easily enough at a little hole-in-the-wall bar in the center of town. My plan had been to let the alpha know I was in town and just passing through. This was purely out of respect for the pack, but when I saw him kicking the girl over and over, and not a single one of the pack members were doing a thing to stop him, I kind of lost it.
He was a big guy, dressed like a biker with a leather jacket and a green bandana wrapped around his head, and by the way the others were watching him, I knew right away that he was the alpha. They were all cowering back, clearly afraid to interfere. I shot them all disbelieving looks. They were all pack members; even the bartender had a distinctive wolf scent. Fury raged through me, and I started toward the alpha, and was about to pull him off the girl when Dominic had stepped in front of me. “Leave it alone. She’s the alpha female.”
“The alpha female deserves more respect than this,” I growled, staring him down. The alpha was still kicking her, oblivious to us, and for the first time in my life, I actually channeled my father.
I shifted, recalling everything the man had taught me about showing dominance. My legs were stiff and tall. My ears were erect and forward. My tail, vertical and curled. The hair on my back bristled and I growled long and low. I stared at Dominic, advancing slowly. It didn’t take long for him to drop his human gaze and shrink away from me, submitting. It was then that I knew he had to be the beta. The rest of the pack members followed him, moving back, hunching their shoulders, and making themselves look smaller. Not a single one of them shifted.
I let out a low warning growl and the alpha stopped, motionless. The copper scent of blood was stronger in my wolf form, calling to me, reminding me of the thrill of the hunt. I took slow and sure steps toward her, baring my teeth, curling my lips, and claiming the prey as mine. If the alpha hadn’t shifted, I don’t know what I would have done. In that moment, all I saw was easy food.
He snarled at me, his fur bristled, and he crouched, ready to attack, guarding his food. The silver-white light of his alpha’s imprint shone through his chocolate-brown fur as he gathered his scent, giving me a silent warning to back off. I growled again, and all at once, his scent blasted at me with a staggering force. The pungent, bitter scent overwhelmed me, reminding me of the days I’d spent locked away while my father tortured me — taught me — to ignore the call of an alpha with his own alpha scent. It was crippling, demanding me to give in. Submit.
He channeled his scent again, pushing it out at me in a steady stream. I tried to shake it off just as my father had shown me, and I pushed my own scent at him. He cocked his head to the side, confused for a moment, but without the imprint to enhance the power of my scent, his confusion was short lived.
I kept my dominant posture, my lips curled even further, exposing my gums, and right then he launched at me. For half a second, I almost submitted to him. I was exhausted and hungry and I couldn’t think straight, but then his teeth sunk into my shoulder and a rage rushed through me, again. Hotter and deadlier.
Swift clarity came back to me in a rush. An image of the girl curled on the floor bleeding while Ray kicked her over and over surged through my brain.
I twisted, biting back. My teeth sunk into his side, and then his legs, and in less than a second, he was pinned under me, his vulnerable neck exposed. The years of training under my father had paid off, making him an easy target, but he didn’t submit. He snarled and kicked up, trying to throw me off of him. He snapped out at my neck, his teeth grazing my fur.
I could feel the rest of the pack watching. Their tension and unease was palpable and my inner-wolf responded to it. They had submitted and he would, too. I pinned his neck down with my teeth, not biting, only holding him on the ground, but still he fought, bucking and twitching under me. He snarled again, and a chorus of whimpers rang out behind me.
“End it,” Dominic had growled. “He will not submit.”
And I did. My teeth found purchase in his neck, and I tasted his blood, seeping into my mouth. And then, he stopped moving, stopped fighting, stopped breathing, and I let go.
I couldn’t say how long I stood over the dead alpha, staring at him, waiting for him to take a breath, before I had shifted back. I remember thinking that my father would have been proud if he knew that I had found my own pack and claimed the alpha rank. I had followed in his footsteps, just as he wanted. I could hear his words as if he was standing right beside me, ‘You can run, but alpha is in your scent. You can’t hide from it, Son.’ And I also remember thinking that I didn’t know how I felt about it.
I didn’t reach for my clothes which were piled behind me, marking the place that I had become a wolf. I was too stunned that I had won to realize that I stood in the middle of the bar stark naked. From the corner of my eye, I saw the beta pull the girl to her feet, and I noticed that she wouldn’t lift her head. She kept her body curled, staying small and passive, and all I could think was, How had that girl won the challenge? How many females had she beaten to become the alpha’s mate? And what had he done to her to break her so badly?
“The new alpha pair,” Dominic said, once she was firmly on her feet, and standing in front of me. He waved a hand at us as if he was introducing us to the world. The words shocked me. I hadn’t considered everything before I challenged him and the reality of my actions was slowly sinking in. Alphas do not lose their status if one of them passes on. What was his was now mine, and I was now hers. We were the new alpha pair.
“No,” she whispered. “Please. I just want to go. Let me leave. I don’t want the rank. I don’t want the pack.” She looked up at me; her eyes were full of tears, pleading with me to let her walk away.
I slid my thumb across her cheek, wiping some of the blood away, and she cringed at my touch. “Are you sure?” I asked. I needed to know if she understood what she was doing. If she stepped down, there would no longer be a place for her in this pack. She would be ostracized, marked as weak, and, in time, killed or run out of town.
She didn’t hesitate and said, “Yes, please take a new mate. Please. I’ll leave town.” Her voice was weak, and she dropped her gaze back to the ground. She quivered, shrinking closer to the floor with every passing second. I should have felt sorry for her. An alpha female should never show fear, not like this, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how broken she must have been. But right then, I had no sympathy for her. I only felt relief. I would not have to babysit a mate that I did not want, and clearly, she did not want me either.
“Go,” I said. Just that. A simple command I had heard my father use countless times.
She let out a shaky pent-up breath and whispered, “Thank you,” still refusing to meet my eyes, and she scurried from the bar, without so much as a backward glance.
In all my nineteen years, I had never seen a pack like this. Werewolves were supposed to be a protective bunch. It was ingrained in us. In our blood — our bones. But this pack … whatever Ray (and I’m certain it was because of Ray) had done, had ruined them. Right now, though, my biggest worry was how close Dominic really had been to his old alpha. I needed to be sure he was with me. Tonight could change everything and if he wasn’t backing me … I didn’t even want to think of the chaos that could happen.
My phone began to vibrate against my hip, jerking me from my thoughts, and I fished it out of my pocket. Dominic. His name flashed on the screen. I tapped the flashing call button, and brought the phone to my ear.
“I’m going to be late,” Dominic barked into the speaker before I even had a chance to say hello.
“Anything wrong?” I asked, keeping my voice low, and peeking at him again. He had folded one arm across his chest, and his body tensed, as he leaned against the car.
He looked like he was considering what to tell me and then, after a moment, he said, “No. I just need to deal with something.” He relaxed slightly, and sighed into the speaker, or at least I thought it was a sigh; it sounded like a crackly burst in my ear.
“With what?” I pressed, wishing I could get closer. From this far away, I could barely pick up his scent, and I wasn’t entirely sure if he was lusting after someone or completely frustrated. The scent was so diluted; mixing with the grass and leaves, and most of it was taken away on the breeze before it reached my senses.
“It’s personal,” he snapped with a rumbling growl.
I was about to tell him that nothing — absolutely nothing — was personal when his alpha was asking, but right then, the double doors banged open and a girl stormed out of the school. She was average height, maybe five-foot-six, slim with curvy hips, and long brown hair that curled softly at the edges and around her shoulders. She was cute and she looked furious, which in my opinion, made her look even cuter. She had a fiery spirit; anyone could have seen it just by looking at her. Her hands were clenched at her sides and her cheeks were bright red. She squinted against the glare from the sun and then her eyes landed on Dominic. If she had been furious before, she was murderous now.
For a second, she looked as if she was about to dart back into the school, but then Dominic turned to her and she froze.
“I’ve got to go,” Dominic growled into my ear, and the phone went dead.