Danica Newman stood beside her boyfriend and mate, Sandulf Austerlitz, and looked about her at the people at the party. She didn't know anyone here. Oh why had she agreed to come here?
She realized why right away. She knew there was only one thing that could draw her back here to this place. It was the hope of seeing Lloyd Evans. Once upon a time, she and Lloyd Evans had gone out together. She had Changed though, and then she had left him and left town. Now, nearly ten years later, she had returned with her mate, Sandulf to see if she could apologize to him. The party was just a mask; of course she was visiting old friends, but she was also trying to find out all that she could about Lloyd and what he was up to.
She had loved Lloyd, but she knew from the moment she first made the Change that she could no longer be with him. The fear that he would find out what she was drove her to him to send him away. Instead, he had seen her second form and she had left town to return only now.
When she got the invitation to join the Christmas party, she was going to refuse, but she caught wind of Lloyd being there, and she knew she had to apologize. He had to know that she hadn't meant to hurt him.
She dressed simple: a pair of jeans, a pair of gloves, a tee shirt and her thick coat, and her collar of course. It was the collar that controlled the Change. Without it she would be a wolf twenty-four/seven. It was brown leather with a simple silver pentacle on it like a dog tag. Sandulf wore a similar one – only his was black leather and his pentacle was more ordinate with Celtic symbols swirling around the edges and a small gem of emerald adorning each point of the star.
They stood out among the humans that was for sure. Her eyes were violent indigo with pitch-black pupils that reflected the world, and her dark red hair swept over her shoulders in a thin sheet. His own eyes were completely black and were warm and pleasing. His blond hair was short and spiked as if ice had frozen in it.
The people around them seemed to step back and look upon them with reverence and fear. They smelled of it. They stank of it. Danica waited a few seconds and continued her search among the crowd.
"Wait!" she whispered to Sandulf even though he hadn't moved a single muscle since they had stopped. "I see him. Stay here, please."
She stuck her hands in her pockets and walked over to the young man with the black leather coat and long black hair pulled back in a thin braid. His skin, despite the winter, was deeply tanned and convinced people of his Native American heritage. His eyes were dark, like Sandulf's, although his gaze was cold. Danica could see his face in her mind, even though he had his back to her and was talking to a tall thin blond with a pink frilly jacket that looked too thin for the cold weather.
She stopped and waited just beyond him even as the blond nodded and gave his cheek a gentle peck and walked away. She almost felt the need to growl at the woman, but she had released Lloyd; she couldn't stop his show of affection for anyone anymore. She had no desire to.
"Lloyd," she said in a soft voice and looked down at the ground, watching his feet turn slowly toward the sound of her voice.
He stared at her. "Danica!" he whispered, and there was a note of surprise in his voice. So, no one had told him that she would be coming.
She glanced at his face, and it was as it was before – unchanged – still dark and brooding. She walked up to him and put her forehead on his shoulder, not allowing any other part of her to touch him.
He stiffened and froze, unsure of what to do.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, and then she pulled away. "I really am sorry. I did not mean to hurt you at all."
He continued to stare at her for several moments. When he didn't say anything, she realized this was the worst idea she had ever had and turned away from him, her heart breaking in her chest.
"Goodbye, Lloyd," she said and started walking toward Sandulf again.
"Danica?" Lloyd called after her.
She turned back to him and suddenly, he reached forward and unbuckled her collar.
"Show everyone what you are, bitch!" he snarled as the collar slipped from her neck.
For a second she stared at him with her human eyes – disbelief and hurt defiant in them. Then she was making the Change, and in the human girl's place was a large dusty-red wolf with black points and violent indigo eyes standing among a pile of clothes. She reached Lloyd's waist easily, but despite her size, she was petite and dainty on her feet like a dancer.
The crowd surrounding them stopped and stared at the pair.
"This is Danica Newman!" Lloyd cried. "See her for what she is! A freak who turns into a wolf whenever she pulls off her collar!"
The crowd stared at Danica in fear, even as she flattened her ears and growled at Lloyd.
There was no warning when she leaped for Lloyd, drove his back hard into the ground, grabbed the collar in her teeth and sprinted away as fast as she could go.
Sandulf calmly walked over to Lloyd and helped him to his feet. Lloyd stared at him. Sandulf gave him a wolfish grin and tapped his own collar.
"Danica loves you, you fool. She was apologizing for scaring you once upon a time, and this is how you repay her?"
He reached forward and slapped him, his nails leaving three scratch marks on his face. Lloyd stared at him again with saucers for eyes.
"Be careful that you don't hurt Danica again, for I love her as she loves you, and I will kill you to protect her. She belongs to me now, human. Do you understand?"
Lloyd nodded dumbly and watched as Sandulf calmly picked up Danica's clothes and walked out of the circle, people parting for him as the Red Sea did for Moses.
Sandulf found Danica at the car, shivering with fear and shame. She whimpered at Sandulf, and he opened the backseat door to the Jeep Liberty. She placed the collar in his hands and flattened her ears again with a whine.
He calmly put it on her neck and she Changed back into her human form and huddled against the door on the other side.
"He didn't love me," she whispered. "He never loved me."
Sandulf shook his head. "He may have loved you once."
She looked at him. "Sandulf."
He climbed in the vehicle and closed the door behind him. "Danica, you're gorgeous. You don't have to prove it to anyone but me. The fact that you stood up to Lloyd when you could have run away... that's gorgeous to me babe." He reached forward and pulled the blanket they kept in the back forward to cover her with. "Remember, you belong to me now, babe, and I am not going to judge you between forms as he did."
She stared at him for a moment, but finally she nodded and smiled wanly. "Thanks, Sandulf. I love you."
He smiled at her, his eyes warm and gentle. He had waited forever to hear those words from her.
"You're worth it, babe."