Chapter One

They assigned Jeff to watch over me for the night. It was an odd feeling, pitying the guard standing over you. But I did pity him, even as I was sitting on the cold ground tied to a tree.

I wiggled the fingers on both hands, feeling nothing. My circulation was being cut off; they had tied tightly me against the trunk, and with enough ropes that my body was covered—they feared my escape. They feared I would go back to the humans.

Jeff did not speak to me. He stood a safe distance away, holding his rifle, with his back to his prisoner. I studied him impassively, trying not to admit my own hurt at his rebuttal. I didn't need him. I didn't need anyone. I would die with an honor of my own, and not beg for anyone's help.

The night wore on, and grew colder. White fumes of air clouded the black sky when I breathed. I grew some of my fur to keep me warm.

My pelt was not the only thing that gave me comfort; my pendant was still and smoldering against my chest. It hummed quietly, and as the moon rose higher, the Calling became louder. It was difficult to resist. But I did, because I knew my family—the Pack—would be angered at the sight of me if I were to change. They would feel it was an insult.

Jeff fell asleep. But even when his head nodded, he still clutched the rifle with his two strong fists. I would not allow myself to fall into the same sweet oblivion. I remained alert, watching and waiting, for any opportunity.

If one did come, I would be ready. But I doubted anything would present itself. Uncle Richard stood not too far away, on the outskirts of the makeshift camp the Pack had built, watching me. His muscular arms were obstinately folded across his chest, and his black eyes glared into mine with such hatred that I turned away.

Uncle Richard and Aunt Cornelia had always despised me. I resembled my mother, and for the two of them it meant two different things, two different reasons to loathe me.

Richard Soren had been in love with my mother.

He and my father both. My mother had, for a reason never made clear to me, chosen my father. Father told me it was because she didn't love Richard, but I don't think so. I think it was because of Aunt Cornelia. The old woman must have loved Richard, and my mother must have seen that.

My mother is remembered as a great beauty, one of the favorites of the Pack. I've been told that unlike most of our breed, she carried herself with an innate kindness that most could not understand, least of all Cornelia. It was no secret that Richard had desired her above all others, and had been consumed by rage and jealousy when she'd chosen another: my father.

Despite how cruel he has become now, I think that there was love between Richard and my mother. At times, in the past, when Richard would speak of her, his rough voice would grow soft with remembrance, and his eyes would glow like our pendants, with an inside fire. Sometimes when Father spoke of Mother, his mouth would grow tight, and a surprising anger would burn in his eyes.

Aunt Cornelia hated my mother, despite her sacrifice. I could not see how my mother could be so kind. I don't think she loved my father. He was a weak man, and not near as handsome as Uncle Richard used to be.

Uncle Richard despised me because I reminded him of her, and it pained him. I reminded him of how she did not choose him, of how she died with another man at her side. Aunt Cornelia was simply jealous, and was withering inside with it.

And as I waited to be killed, I pitied my Uncle Richard as well.

An owl suddenly flitted across the sky, making its loud call. I jumped, and Jeff mumbled in his sleep. I was staring up at the stars, forcing back tears, when a hand clamped over my mouth.

I glanced wildly at the camp, and saw that Richard was gone. When I saw this, I knew it was him behind me, then. He wanted to kill me with his own hands, then. I screamed desperately, but the sound was muffled.

"Shut up," a familiar voice snapped in my ear. "Sit still while I cut these ropes."

I instantly obeyed, my heart in my throat. My relief was so strong part of me wanted to cry. Not allowing myself to give into this weak urge, I listened as he sawed at the thick ropes. As soon as I was free, Mark grabbed my arm, hauling me into the woods.

"Change," he ordered. I was only too eager to obey. It was a sweet surrender to the Calling, as my skin became fur and my nose stretched to a sharp, wet snout. I hadn't done it in so long, and my muscles practically sighed with contentment. This was the body I felt I most belonged in. This was the body that I thought more beautiful.

We were wolves now, running through the trees with such speed that I doubted even the wind could keep track of us. Mark was swift and powerful beside me, black and gorgeous. And I couldn't deny the heat that spread through me at the sight of him.

I didn't know how long we ran. I followed Mark, an overwhelming surge of conflicting and unknown emotions flowing through my being.

We stopped when the Mackenzie Wall was before us. It was only then that Mark turned to face me. He changed back, so that his human eyes were the ones looking at me.

"That was… too easy," I said, breathless, my confusion growing stronger. "How—why—"

"You don't really think Jeff would fall asleep standing guard, do you?" Mark asked me, his voice flat and hard. "He volunteered, and did a pretty good job of convincing your aunt and uncle that he would do the job right. No one else was that willing to stay up with a Shamed One."

"Jeff was… faking?" I was embarrassed about how stupid and slow I sounded, but I couldn't believe that Jeff would do what he's clearly done for me.

Mark didn't reply to this. "He'll have much to answer for in the morning."

"And you—"

"You have no family now," the wolf went on quietly. "You have no home. Leave these mountains. Leave everything behind, and go to the cities. It is not safe for a lone wolf in the wilderness."

"What about another Pack?" I asked feebly, knowing the answer before he spoke it.

"No other pack will accept a traitor. Rumors have a way of traveling. Blending in with the humans is the best chance of survival for you."

I bit my lip, nodded, and prepared to turn away. His hard hand descended upon my shoulder, and, surprised, I turned back.

His dark eyes were fathomless, and I couldn't help myself—I looked at his lips. And then, before I had realized it, they were on mine, rough and caressing at the same time. When I'd recovered I responded with enthusiasm. His tongue, not aggressive but gentle and exploring, swiped my lip. I couldn't stop a moan from escaping my throat. This is what Harriet and the others always come back for, I thought faintly.

Mark suddenly shoved me away, and for a moment we both breathed heavily.

"Go," he said hoarsely. "Now, before they wake."

I forced myself to turn away again. I stared up at the towering mountains. Mountains that I never should have crossed. I knew now what lay beyond them, as I had longed to all my life, but the cost was almost more than I could bear. What did they have in store for me now? Would Dane come with me to the cities? Shelter me, help me?

I realized I had been standing and staring at the range too long without saying anything. One last time, I turned around to thank Mark and to say goodbye.

But he was gone.