Julianna hopped up and down, shaking her body and warming her muscles in anticipation for a day filled with physical activity. She wore a pair of tight yoga pants and a baggy white undershirt she'd borrowed from Garrick, feeling both comfortable and ready for anything. She was even prepared to sacrifice her white sneakers for what she'd learn today.
She was ready to fight, no matter what.
The forest was cold that morning, and Garrick and Reilly shifted on their feet to keep warm as they talked strategy nearby. The mist and morning dew made the air chillier than it had been in town, but the sunshine beginning to poke through the tree branches gave her hope that it would be warm by the afternoon.
For good or bad, this forest was a catalyst of change for her. She had learned how to feel free here, how to listen to her wolf and embrace what she was born to be. She had to admit, she was becoming rather fond of it, especially after what she and Garrick had done the night before.
"What's the hold up, guys?" she called to the men. "I'm nice and limber, ready to get started." She bent down one leg at a time to finish her stretch.
When she glanced up, it was to find the men looking down at her with laughter in their eyes. "What?" Her body grew still. "Aren't you going to teach me how to fight today?"
Reilly punched Garrick's shoulder like a man who was used to constant camaraderie and often got his way in spite of it. "Unlike what this guy might have told you, fighting takes years to learn and perfect. We're not even going to get to the basics today."
Julianna's shoulders slumped with disappointment before straightening up to a standing position. "I thought you were going to teach me how to protect myself?"
"And we will." Garrick folded his arms. "The best way to protect yourself, especially at this stage of your training, is to teach you how to trust your instincts. You're not always great at listening to them."
Reilly snorted. "She succumbed to you, didn't she? It takes more than common sense for any woman to be attracted to your surly face."
Julianna leaned back against a tree as the men mocked each other good-naturedly, her face flushing red. Reilly had known the minute they'd met him in the woods that morning that she and Garrick had taken their relationship a step further.
He might have been subtle about it, but she'd caught the handshake Reilly had given his soldier. "About time," had come from the Alpha's lips.
Garrick didn't seem to be even remotely self-conscious about his Alpha's speculation. In fact, he seemed to take great pleasure at meeting her eyes during conversations that became stagnant when he was late to reply. It made her body shiver with the knowledge that he was simply biding his time until he could get her back into his bed.
The heat in his eyes couldn't mean anything less.
Julianna was more than happy that Reilly had volunteered to help them that morning. If left alone, she doubted that she would have made any progress before they found themselves rolling around naked in poison ivy.
"Trust my instincts?" she repeated at last, interrupting their immature antics. It was so easy to be reminded that all men were just little boys in disguise, that is, when they weren't trying to jump your bones. "I thought that's what we've been practicing?"
"Sort of," Garrick conceded. "I've been trying to teach you how to open your mind to the world around you, to let your wolf see and hear for you. Today we're going to teach you something a little bit different."
Reilly nodded with agreement. "We're going to show you how to anticipate dangers, to study your enemy, and to protect yourself from an unexpected attack. That way you can run for help while you still can."
Julianna glanced between the two men standing so earnestly in front of her. "When am I going to learn how to attack? All I've been doing is running."
More than that, she was tired of letting fear of the Rogues dominate her life. She was sick of being in constant terror that they would find her, or even worse, that they would kill someone else to get to her. She didn't want to hear any more sad stories. She wanted to protect her pack.
"I know you're eager to beat them," Garrick answered, knowing that every bone in her body was stiff with frustration. "But training takes time. This is the best place to start."
Sighing with resignation, Julianna shook her body again to keep her limbs warm. "What do you want me to do?"
"Stand in that clearing," Reilly directed, coming forward to join her. "I'm going to walk around you. Try to move with me and anticipate my movements."
Julianna complied with his suggestion, moving to stand in a green space that allowed Reilly the space to move around her. She clenched her hands to her sides and bent her legs, ready for any movement or fake attack that he might make towards her.
Garrick stood outside the clearing and tried his best to not to be irritated by his Alpha's closeness to his mate. The man stalked his woman, moving slowly around her the way Garrick had done the night before. Clearly Reilly had other intentions, but it still drove his wolf half-mad to watch them.
The mating had begun between them, their wolves connecting on a psychological and physical level that would bond their souls together. There was a lot of lore concerning mates, and it was something that no werewolf understood completely, but he already knew that he would die for her. To see his mate so close to another man, when she hadn't fully allowed herself to submit to the mating between them, set his teeth to grinding.
He should be taking her to bed that very moment, cementing the power of their lust into something more permanent. They shouldn't be standing in this forest when his wolf ached to remind her of why she was his. It was barely even safe for him to be around other wolves. He was too out of control right now, but this had meant so much to her. He couldn't deny her.
Reilly studied Garrick out of the corner of his eye, well aware of what was tormenting his friend. He moved slowly, assuring himself that the dominant male anticipated each and every step or action he made. Reilly had no intention of touching Julianna that day, but she didn't know that.
Before he had a chance to move more aggressively in her direction, a fury of movement burst from the trees as a petite, blond creature knocked Julianna to the ground. "Gotcha!" Lexi squealed, jumping up from the hard ground she had driven them both to.
It may have been expected, but Garrick still growled at the sight of his mate lying on the ground with the wind knocked out of her. He came forward to give her a hand, lifting her up as Lexi did a little dance around them.
"I've still got it!" she exclaimed. "You didn't see me at all."
Reilly chuckled. "Stop gloating, Lexi. I seem to recall Billy doing worse to you during your first training session."
The female soldier scowled and stopped in her tracks. "He won't let me forget it either. Neither it seems, will you."
"Just saying," Reilly shrugged with a wide smile.
Shaking her head, Lexi straightened her shirt and frowned when she saw Julianna clutching at her hip. "Hey. You okay?"
"I'm fine," she grumbled, rubbing at the ache above her hipbone. "I just wasn't expecting you to tear out of the woods and attack me. What are you doing here?"
Lexi grinned. "The boys asked me to come. Couldn't let you be surrounded by these two ogres all day. All they know is brute strength. Sometimes you need a little bit of finesse." She waved an arm gracefully and a bit silly towards the end of her sentence.
"I don't think that was finesse," Julianna complained. "You rammed into me like a bull."
Shrugging, Lexi replied, "I kind of thought you would see me."
Reilly shook his head. "We asked Lexi to be here so that you could have someone of a similar size to practice with. And seeing how Garrick was going a little crazy with the thought of me attacking you, I think it was the right choice."
Garrick flushed slightly and cleared his throat. "Like I was saying, you need to be more aware of the world around you. Did you even smell Lexi in the forest?"
With a frown, Julianna glanced to her friend and realized that she hadn't been aware of her at all. "I had no idea she was there," she sunk her head.
"Hey, it's okay," Garrick pulled her into his arms, unable to witness the sullen expression on her face. "It can be learned. Many werewolves who had been Turned later in life face the same problem." He let her take a step back so that he could look into her face and absently pushed the long ponytail away from her shoulder. He steadied her with strong hands. "If you've spent most of your life without having these abilities and instincts, it makes sense that you'd have a hard time listening to them when you finally get them."
"It just takes practice," Reilly agreed. "The more aware you are, the better you'll be able to anticipate changes around you."
"We're here to help!" Lexi smiled, and even winded, looked as if she wanted to jump up and down like a cheerleader. "Come on! Let's get back to it."
As the women started to take their poses in the clearing once more, Julianna thought of something that Garrick had said. Was it possible that Garrick had been Turned by Rogues? She remembered him saying that he hadn't been born with the werewolf gene either.
It was strange, but for some reason she had never looked that far into his past. She had simply accepted his love of the pack and assumed that he had always been with them. It shamed her a little that she didn't know more about him, this man that she was beginning to fall in love with.
Garrick was so strong, so primal. It was hard to imagine him being like she'd been, just a normal person living a normal life. His world would have changed completely, and it made her wonder how many more Turned werewolves were out there.
"Are there a lot more?" she asked Reilly, standing up from her crouched position in front of Lexi. "Werewolves who had been Turned, not born?"
"Most of our pack was born to the werewolf gene, which is why we have one of the largest packs in the United States. Most people here want to stay with their families instead of shifting between packs looking for mates or better positions as other wolves do," Reilly answered. "Though we do take in those that have been Turned from Rogue attacks. It's a part of our responsibility to protect those that are in our territory, even people without the gene."
Julianna thought about what he was explaining. "Why were they attacked? Did the Rogues want anything from them?"
Reilly grew serious. "Rogues attack humans to hunt, often for sport before a kill. For many, living off animals isn't good enough. They seek the challenge."
Julianna's face turned green. She had been hearing that more and more werewolves were becoming Rogues, but she had never thought that it might be so that they could kill people, normal and good people. Or worse, that they would live off of those kills.
"Julie," Garrick's voice was soft, soothing. "Why are you asking about this now?"
Shaking her head, she slumped down to the base of a tree and took a seat at its roots. Lexi and the two men stared back at her pensively. "You said the Rogues were building an army." She faced Garrick. "Is it possible that they are Turning people?"
The thought of Rogues Turning innocent people into wolves so insane that they might kill others and do their building, it made her hate them even more. That's what they wanted from her, and most of their victims wouldn't have a pack to protect them.
Silence filled the clearing as the soldiers thought about her question. "It's possible," Reilly admitted. "But it wouldn't really help their end goal, unless all they wanted was to bolster their numbers. You were born to be a werewolf, Julianna. It was inherent in you, whether you knew it or not. But for those that were Turned, they will always be weaker than our kind. They will never be as in tune with their wolves as we can be, and that stunts their growth, so to speak. Most Turned werewolves become very submissive, always a victim and dependent upon others to help them make sense of their own bodies."
"Not Garrick, though." Lexi crooned.
Reilly nodded as Garrick turned away, avoiding their gazes. "He's the most dominant Turned wolf I have ever met. I sensed it from him the minute we met. He has the ability to spend months away from the pack without needing to reaffirm the bond. It's quite unique."
Julianna looked up at Garrick, trying to understand the expression on his face. He looked uncomfortable, shifting between legs. "You okay?" she asked.
"Rogue army aside, you still need to learn how to protect yourself." He said, coming over to lift her from the ground. "I'm sure Reilly has better things to do than waste time in a damp forest all day."
"Wow, I'm touched," Reilly laughed. "Most of the pack forgets that I actually need to do work once in a while."
"That's because we know you have so much more fun being out and doing stuff like this," Lexi bumped into her Alpha. "Come on, Julianna. Let's show these boys what you've got."
Smiling, Julianna joined Lexi in the fighting stance, already feeling the strain leaving her shoulders. Lexi had a gift with people. She always seemed to know the right thing to say to relieve the stress of a situation.
This time, when the women moved in a circle around the clearing, each studying each other's movements, Julianna was ready. When Lexi made her move, jolting forward to grab her, Julianna was able to dodge her at the last second. She shifted sideways to avoid Lexi's grasp and received praise from the men watching.
"Good," Garrick smiled, pleased. Julianna might not have realized it, but Lexi was very fast. No normal woman would have been able to avoid her attack. His mate was a quick learner.
Before the woman could fall back into their fighting stances for a second try, Reilly turned his head abruptly into the air. "Quiet," he whispered with enough vehemence that they all heard it in their souls.
"Behind me," Garrick moved to protect Julianna, pushing her against the tree behind his back to provide a small semblance of shelter.
"Lexi, Turn," their Alpha commanded. The pixie-like woman was already obeying, shedding her clothes and falling down into a petite strawberry-blonde furred wolf. Garrick pointed into the trees, telling her to find an advantage point from which to attack.
Julianna didn't have to be told to know that something dangerous was coming their way. Something unexpected.
The men were ready when a wolf plundered into their mists, his thick coat drenched with sweat as his body heaved with thick breaths. He was a large wolf, one that had to have been fast to get this far into their territory without being stopped.
Reilly crouched into a footballer's position, a deep growl vibrating from his throat, ready to Turn at a moment's notice. A whimper erupted from the intruder, though he was no submissive wolf. Falling to the ground, the wolf shifted into a panting boy. Every limb of his body shook with exhaustion as he attempted to lift himself up.
"Michael?" Garrick stepped forward slowly, a hand preventing his Alpha from attacking. He grunted to his Alpha, telling him to wait. This wolf might not be pack or friend, but he wasn't an enemy either.
A sob came from the boy, his naked body shivering from the cold. "Garrick," he breathed out. "You were right," he cried. "Everything you said was right." He found the strength to lift his head, tears running down his face. "We were too outnumbered. The Rogues killed everyone."
Garrick unbuttoned his shirt to wrap around the naked boy. "It's alright, Michael. You're safe here." He looked up to his Alpha to confirm that his words true. Reilly stood aside, looking helpless at the pained wolf. He gave a single, definitive nod.
All werewolves would be given sanctuary if they deserved it. Reilly couldn't turn away a boy, even a dominant one. He was still a cub, needing to be protected.
"You don't understand." The boy shook. "It was all my fault."
Garrick wrapped his arms around the cub, attempting to warm his frozen body. "What happened?"
"I'm the one that found them," he sobbed. "I followed them out of Boston, found them infiltrating an old house. My pack, they were just trying to bring me home. They didn't know about the Rogues. They weren't ready. It killed them."
Lexi moved in from the shadows, brushing her body against the boy's to provide warmth. The boy seemed to understand the gesture of friendship, for he held on to her fur and dropped his face into her body as sobs racked his body.
Julianna moved forward, wanting to comfort this boy so badly, that her blood burned with the need. When she reached out a hand to touch his sweaty hair, the boy fell back from her. He nostrils flared wide with understanding and disgust.
"You!" he grunted, his voice filling the forest. "They were after you!"
Julianna was quiet on their way home, too quiet. It made Garrick tick with anxiety. "Are you okay?" he finally asked, tired of the way she stared out of the car window and said nothing.
She faced him, an expression of absolute disbelief on her face.
"They aren't going to do anything," she answered, frustration ringing in her tone. "Rogues have my grandmother, and they're not going to help her."
Garrick pulled into the driveway and was grateful to stop the car before this escalated any further. He had known she wasn't going to take this lightly. "That's not what they said," he replied carefully. "They do want to help. Reilly is going to meet with the Coalition tonight. He asked me to be there."
Julianna shook her head, her blood coursing with irritation. She'd sat in silence while the pack soldiers yelled back and forth, debating the retribution for her grandmother's kidnapping and the slaughter of the Boston pack. She'd had faith in them, faith in the system Garrick had defended time and again.
In the end, Red Oak had decided that the Coalition's permission was necessary to rescue her only family member, that they couldn't get involved without it. It wasn't good enough.
Michael, the tortured Boston cub, had been the only other person in the room who had stayed silent apart from her. He was a cub away from his territory, at the mercy of another Alpha's decisions. Reilly had led Michael from the forest to his home, Julianna and Garrick following behind. They had waited while Reilly's kind housekeeper brought some clothes and food for the pained werewolf.
They had received the rest of the story then, about how the Boston pack had been unraveling in the face of all the murders being uncovered in the city.
Michael had told them how Garrick's words had influenced him, how he'd become convinced that his city was overrun with Rogues. He hadn't been able to let it rest, and he had run away from his pack, following the Rogues to her grandmother's house.
The only reason he had recognized Julianna was because it was obvious she was the Hybrid the Rogues had been discussing before the death of his family.
It was incontrovertible. The Rogues were making their move, and Red Oak would be too slow to catch up when the time came.
"Yes, but they won't do anything about it now!" she growled out. "My grandmother could be dying, Garrick. This very minute."
She followed Garrick inside the house, shaking off his hand when he attempted to comfort her. "The relations between the packs are complicated, Julianna. We can't simply wander into another pack's territory without permission."
Her brow furrowed with confusion. "You heard Michael. His pack is in danger. They need help, too. His Alpha is dead!"
Garrick huffed loudly, wishing it were that simple as he followed her up the stairs to their bedrooms. "It's not that the Boston pack would take offense, it's the worry that the other packs would object." He stilled her at the top of the stairs. "There is a reason why I was sent to the other packs, the reason why we are so entrenched with the Coalition and this war. We are one of the largest and oldest packs in the United States. If the packs see us going into another pack's territory, they might think we were trying to take over by force."
"I don't care about inter-werewolf politics!" she roared. "My grandmother is in trouble. My flesh and blood! She's the only family I've got!" She pulled her arm away, and instead of turning into the room she had begun to share with Garrick, she walked into her old room where many of her possessions had been left. She grabbed a bag and started filling it with random bits of clothing. "I need to help her."
"You will not!" Garrick roared back. He grabbed the bag from her hands and threw it across the room, regardless of what he might hit. "You will not leave without permission of the pack. You will not put yourself in danger!"
Julianna growled and attempted to push him away. When he refused, she hit him instead, a sharp slap stinging his face. "You can't stop me this time. This is bigger than the pack, bigger than us."
"You are my mate!" he gritted back. "I can't let you go."
Tears ran down her face as she tried to hit him again and again, her head shaking with denial. Grabbing her flaying arms, he pushed her against the bedroom wall. Holding her hands against the surface, his mouth came down hard on hers.
With his lips he told her everything he couldn't say, that he wished with his entire heart that they had the freedom to do what she asked of him. He wished that they could rescue her grandmother without worrying about consequences from the Coalition, but it would only make things worse.
He loved her more each day, and it killed him to deny her something so heart wrenching. His wolf wanted to fight for her. It raved inside of him at the injustice done to his mate. It sought her wolf, forcing a bond between them that neither man nor woman could resist.
Sobs wracked her body as he kissed her. His lips forced her to breath through her nose, calming her breathing. Finally, instead of fighting him, her arms tightened around him. She gathered comfort from him, their wolves sharing their souls in the process.
"I love you, Julianna," he murmured when she began to respond to him. His arms wrapped around her so tightly, afraid to let her go, so afraid she would slip through his fingers. He was terrified that one day she would turn from him, and this bond between them would disappear.
He pulled back from her, allowing his fingers to brush away the tears on her face. "God, I love you so much."
Julianna stared up into his eyes wonder shining in their depths. Pulling his face back down to hers, she deepened their kiss. Garrick was more than happy to allow her.
Their kiss became fevered as they showed each other what they couldn't verbalize. Julianna poured her heart into the kiss, because she couldn't tell him that she loved him too, couldn't promise that she would obey his demands.
She already knew that she would betray him in the end.
They pulled their clothes off in a fury, first her shirt, than his. They both moaned when naked skin brushed against skin. Garrick wouldn't tolerate fabric between them, not at that moment. He wanted her to be vulnerable, to have every secret and thought revealed to him. He wanted her to be his in every possible way.
Pulling down the straps of her bra in one fast, rough movement, he freed her breasts and feasted on them with his mouth. She gasped as he pulled on her erect nipple with his teeth, laughing a moment later when he struggled to unhook the bra from her back. His distraction by her breasts was overpowering as he left one nipple for the other.
She grasped at his nape with both hands, leaning back against the wall to enjoy the escalating flutters in her stomach. She brushed her fingers through his dark hair, tightening a little as he lapped against her with his wet tongue.
She wanted more, but she didn't want to lose their connection either. She wanted his tongue in her mouth. Digging her fingers in his shoulder, she growled slightly when he wouldn't budge.
With a mischievous grin, Garrick moved down to kiss her ribs instead. Hooking his fingers into the band of her yoga pants, he slid the pliable fabric from her legs, taking the rest of her underwear with them.
He needed to taste her, had needed it ever since he'd caught the scent of her growing moisture building for him.
Julianna panted heavily as he blew against her sensitive mound. He licked once, twice, against her as she shifted restlessly in his arms.
He groaned as he licked harder, deeper against her labia, finding the sensitive bud waiting for him. She cried out when he found her, coming instantly against his tongue.
Reaching up to steady her against the wall, he felt her stomach clench and vibrate against his hand. His mind clouded over with lust and possession. "You will not leave me." He managed to say between licks grounded against her. "You're mine."
Shaking her head, she moaned. "No…"
"Say you're mine!" he demanded, reaching up to clench his hands on her buttocks.
He forced her to widen her stance, dipping his head to lick inside her shaft. Her breathing picked up as another sharp orgasm took over her body. She screamed as he pushed her orgasm higher and higher, never once giving her a chance to pull away even when her stomach clenched so deeply she could barely breath.
Gasping deeply, Julianna fell back to the earth. This time when she sought to pull him up to her, he let her. His fingers drifting up her body as he stood.
"Say you're mine," he demanded again.
"I'm yours tonight," she whispered back, wrapping her arms around his neck to stop his protest with a kiss, unwilling to let his lips free.