Hey y'all. I'd really appreciate everyone offering their thoughts on this story. Love it, hate it, whatever. But constructive critisism only, please.
Chapter One: Living a Lie
"It's not a big deal, Anna," I insisted. My sister threw me an incredulous look, not pausing in her attempt to pave a hole in the floor with her pacing. "Really. It could be just a fluke."
"A fluke?" she said doubtfully.
I shrugged. "Yeah."
"Sophie," she exclaimed, "look at your hand!"
I glanced down at the hand that had Anna so worked up. I was lying when I said it wasn't so bad, not only to Anna but to myself as well. Staring down at my mutated fingers, I felt a spark of panic flare in me. My hand was covered in a dark brown fur, the nails extended out like talons. It seemed odd to me, considering that werewolves didn't actually turn into half-man, half-beast creatures like Hollywood made it out to be. We transformed into normal wolves, abet a little larger than average, but relatively normal. But admittedly, I'd never seen a Change myself. I could guess, though, that it began with the claws.
"Just a fluke," I repeated, tearing my gaze away from the deformity.
"Well, what the hell are we going to do about this little 'fluke' or yours?" she demanded, her voice several octaves too high.
"I'll keep my hand in my pocket," I said firmly. "That should hide it long enough to make the rounds and bolt."
"The entire pack is down there!"
"So what? As long as they don't see my hand, we're good."
Anna rolled her eyes and ran her hand through her long caramel colored hair anxiously. "Like that would actually help," she said sarcastically. "They'll be able to smell how nervous you are, Sophie. They'll figure it out."
"No. They won't."
I stood swiftly from the edge of my bed and crossed the room quickly to the bathroom. Anna tried to follow, but I slammed the door in her face. I marched to the porcelain sink and gripped the edge firmly. With narrowed eyes, I stared at the reflection in the mirror. Brown eyes met my gaze firmly. Using my normal hand, I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand and let out a shaky breath.
Change back, I silently begged. My eyes slid shut and my breath slowed to an even pace as I concentrated. Please, please, please.
I couldn't handle something like this. Not now. My entire life, the pack had been telling me that I would most likely go through the Change. But that was supposed to happen when I turned eighteen—not six months before my seventeenth birthday—if it happened at all. For the last few months I had been hoping that they were wrong, that my father was wrong. Anna was the lucky twin; she wouldn't ever go through the Change naturally. Once she was an adult she could chose to be Turned, but I doubted she would make that decision. Anna fit in so well here, in this new life my mother had created for us here in New York.
"Sophie?" Anna called, raping lightly on the bathroom door.
I opened my eyes. "I'll be out in a minute."
I gritted my teeth and hesitantly peered down at my hand. I was looking down at long, thin, manicured fingers. I let out a shaky, triumphant laugh and grinned at myself in the mirror. Mind over matter.
I adjusted my dark brown curls carefully as I opened the door. Stepping out, I smiled at Anna and raised my hand. "See? Fluke."
Anna broke out into a wide grin and looped her arm through mine. "A fluke," she agreed, but I heard the catch in her voice. It was so slight that I wouldn't notice it if I hadn't known her so well.
"If it happens again, I'll call Bryce," I lied, putting her silent worries to rest. I felt a twinge of guilt lying to her, but I couldn't take it back. If anyone found out about this little incident, my life would be ruined. No more parties, no more fancy prep school, no more Manhattan. Sadly, I couldn't say I wanted to stay for any reasons that weren't shallow. I had a group of friends from school that I could party with but in the last four years I hadn't gotten close to any of them. They were the kind of friends you gossiped with, not went to for advice.
"How soon do you think we can slip out unnoticed?" Anna whispered as we rounded the corner to the living area of our penthouse apartment.
I looked at the group of thirty or so werewolves in the room and frowned slightly. "It'll be awhile."
My mom will tell you that walking into a room full of werewolves is like walking into enemy territory. You have to be on your guard, ready for an ambush, and prepared to run like hell. A good plan, but not always effective. You have to have a pretty freaking huge head start to outrun a werewolf….
So I prefer a much simpler approach: give up and accept that you are going to have to greet and hug absolutely everybody.
Anna squeezed my hand and pulled me toward our Alpha, Marcus, and his wife. "Lillian," she squealed, "it's so good to see you!" She pulled Lillian into a quick embrace and kissed her cheek.
"It's good to see you too," Lillian said, smiling.
With a less-than-subtle nudge from Anna, I gave Lillian a one-armed hug and a false smile. It was returned with a kiss on both my cheeks. I forced myself to widen my grin. Lillian was new to our pack, mating with Marcus only in the last year, and I had yet to warm up to her. Anna liked her even less than I did, but she was better about hiding it.
Marcus had clearly married Lillian to form an alliance between our pack and her brother's. He seemed to care for her, but I still had my suspicions that he had a thing for my mom. Not that it mattered; she had remarried merely a year after my father's death. Lillian, though, literally worshiped the ground my Alpha walked on, would do anything he asked. It was almost sickeningly pathetic.
"How have you been?" Anna asked politely.
Lillian smiled up at Marcus. "We've been fantastic."
I raised an eyebrow at Marcus, who was ignoring our conversation, his eyes across the room. He nervously ran a hand through his dark hair. My other eyebrow raised in surprise. Marcus was never, ever nervous.
I half turned, following his gaze to the window seat where a boy I didn't recognize was seated. I studied him, trying to decide if I'd ever seen him before. He was undeniably gorgeous, with light brown hair hanging in his almost navy blue eyes. Anna followed my gaze and made an inappropriate whistle.
"He's hot," she said approvingly.
My cheeks reddened as the boy, as well as half the room, looked our way. Marcus cleared his throat. "Not a word I would use to describe him, but I suppose from a female point of view, Mathias could be taken that way. What do you think, Lily?"
"Absolutely," she said enthusiastically.
The room echoed with a low chuckle. I laughed nervously, just a few seconds too late. If possible, I turned even redder. It was ridiculous, really. I hadn't been so awkward around the Pack since my dad's death years ago. Why was I acting so weird? I glanced down at my hand, sure that it would by covered with fur again. But it was normal, aside from the slight shaking.
Marcus put his hand on my shoulder and pulled me toward him. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly. Anna and Lillian pretended not to hear, engaging in their own conversation.
"Nothing," I said defensively. I instinctively tucked my right hand behind me. It was ridiculously obvious.
"Hey Sophie!" I looked over my shoulder and gave Adam a shaky smile as he joined our circle.
"Hi," I said softly.
Adam was almost 6'2, broad shouldered and muscular, with a scruffy beard and shaggy hair. He looked out of place in his Armani suit and shiny loafers. He slung an around my shoulders, disconnecting me from Marcus. I gave him a grateful smile.
"What's up, kiddo?"
I shrugged and looked to Anna. She caught on quickly. "Adam, you're just going to ignore me?"
"I guess." He shrugged.
"You're such an ass," she laughed, smacking his chest lightly.
"It runs in the family," he said in a mock-whisper, inclining his head toward Marcus.
"My nephew is mistaken," our Alpha said seriously. "He gets it from his mother's side."
I heard an angry hiss from across the room, where Lauren, Marcus's brother's wife and Adam's mother, was glowering at us.
"He's kidding, Ma," Adam said. When he turned away from her, he rolled his eyes. "Can't take a joke," he whispered, grinning.
My hand tingled and a hot pain shot through my fingertips. "Ouch!" I yelped, holding my fist to my chest.
"What?" Adam demanded, leaning in to study my hand.
It spasmed, my fingers flexing on their own accord. I grabbed it with my other hand and covered it. When I looked up, all eyes were on me.
"What's wrong with your hand?" Adam asked, sounding more curious than worried.
I snuck a look at Marcus, who was pursing his lips. I could almost see the cogs turning in his mind, the puzzle pieces coming together.
"I damaged some nerves when I broke my hand last year," I lied quickly, putting on a sheepish expression. "It does that sometimes now. Isn't that weird?"
"Hell yeah," Adam agreed.
Anna looked torn, like she was weighing the pros and cons of ratting me out or keeping her promise. I glared at her and she glared right back. The clinking of a fork against a wine glass saved us both from an explanation to our Alpha.
"Dinner is ready," my mother announced from the entryway, her smile bright and dazzling. She swept her dark hair over her shoulder as she pivoted and went into the dining room.
The young Pack members hurried after her, the smell of freshly cooked duck drawing them in. The adults, however, took their time. Anna and I hung back, looking for an escape route.
"I'll cover for you," Adam said, winking.
"No you will not," Marcus said firmly. I jumped, having not realized he was still in the room. Maybe he had come back in. "Your mother worked very hard to put this event together. It's not right for the two of you to bail."
I hated the tone of his voice. That I'm-an-adult-so-I-know-what's-right voice. Marcus didn't used to talk to us like that. I missed the old Marcus, the one that would probably have joined us, if only to make sure we didn't get lost or hurt. Back when he was just the Beta, he was a lot more approachable. Now talking to him reminded me a lot of talking to my dad… or a brick wall.
Anna and I trudged in behind Marcus. Adam gave an apologetic smile before slipping past us to the table. The table was long and mahogany, an elegant white table cloth resting on top of it. It was set for twenty two, the Pack and my mother and her husband. My step-father was in the corner of the room, standing awkwardly, his gaze flittering nervously between all the men of the Pack. None of them where what you could call slight or short and Barry was just that. A shrimp. My mother, standing at 5'8, towered over him even when she wasn't in four inch heels, which she usually was.
Marcus took his place at the head of the table, Lillian sat down on his right, and Adam on his left. I scanned the room for the Beta. "Where's Bryce?" I asked.
"At the Manor," Lillian answered. "He had some things to take care of and couldn't make it."
I nodded and sat down beside Adam, who was in Bryce's spot, and Anna plopped down beside me. She put her napkin in her lap and reminded me to do the same. I leaned back in my chair and tried to relax. Dinner couldn't last more than, at most, an hour. Even Mom wouldn't drag it out that long. So all I had to do was wait, act normal, and hope my hand didn't do anything else weird. Namely, grow fur and claws.
Our butler, plus the hired caterers, served our salad course. Then the soup course. Then dinner. Roast duck. I pushed mine around on my plate, burying several pieces under my mashed potatoes. Lillian fixed me with a disapproving look and I couldn't help but sneer at her. She balked, mouth hanging open, eyes wide. I smirked at her, daring her to say something. She was an outsider, Marcus's mate or not. No matter how long it had been since I'd lived with the Pack, they would still side with me. How dare a girl only a few years older than me act like that, like my parent? Marcus was Alpha, he was supposed to. Alpha's mates from foreign packs don't get a free card. What a bitch.
My mental tirade came to a screeching halt as it occurred to me the substance of what I had just done. Yes, Lillian was obnoxious, but I was the one acting like a bitch. I opened my mouth to apologize when a stomach cramp hit me. I let out a small gasp, so quiet I was sure Anna was the only one who heard it, werewolf hearing or no.
"Are you okay?" she asked, leaning toward me so that we wouldn't be heard.
"Yeah," I said, straightening up. "I'm okay now, I guess."
Adam looked down at me quizzically and I gave him the best smile I could muster up. "Ready for desert? I don't think I can eat any more of this." I gestured to the duck with my fork.
"Absolutely," he replied.
My stomach cramped again as the servers took up our plates. It wasn't as bad this time, but I still ground my teeth together. Tiramisu and cappuccinos were placed in front of us and almost everyone dug in immediately. Bile rose in my throat and I pushed my plate and cup away from me.
"You gonna eat that?" Adam asked, his mouth full. I shook my head.
"Are you sure you're feeling okay, Sophie?"
"Yeah." I handed him my plate.
Across the table from me, my mother was holding hands with her husband, not even trying to hide it. Barry leaned in to whisper something to her and she giggled, like a love struck teenager. I'll never understand their attraction to each other. They didn't have any of the same friends, didn't have any of the same interests, came from different social back rounds. It was baffling. Somehow, they just worked together.
I wasn't the only one confused by the two of them. I could see the disbelief and hint of anger in my pack-mates' eyes when they looked at them. I knew because they felt the exact same way I did.
Anna just didn't get it. She couldn't fathom why any of us would be upset by the marriage, let alone me. She said it was logical for Mom to jump into a relationship, that it made sense for her to want what she had with Dad. I kept my mouth shut and let her have her opinion, but inside I felt like screaming. It wasn't fair. He was our dad, her husband. A new hubby wasn't going to make us feel any less empty, so why bother? It was a betrayal to his memory.
My stomach cramped again and I looked around, gaging my chances for escaping. Several of the teenagers from our pack were missing, ones I remembered seeing earlier in the parlor, including the new boy. I pushed back my chair and stood up gracefully.
"Where are you going?" Anna asked.
"Restroom," I told her. Anna leaned back in her chair, unsurprised.
"You always have to pee, Sophie," she said in a matter-of-fact sort of way. I gave her a crooked smile and shrugged.
Instead of turning down the hall that would lead me to the bathroom, I went left. Off one of our guest rooms, we had a massive deck that overlooked the street of 5th Avenue fourteen stories below. Being sure to lock the guest room door behind me, I walked to the sliding glass door and opened it.
The boys immediately jumped up and put their hands behind their backs, out of sight. "H-Hey, Sophie," Eli, the youngest at just fifteen, stuttered.
The others visibly relaxed when they saw it was me. Eli looked at the others, face pinched in confusion as they all brought their cigarettes from behind their backs. I looked at the group of five, but didn't see the new boy.
"Want one, Sophie?" Ace asked, holding out a pack. I shook my head and sat down in the empty chair. His brother still looked at me nervously. "She doesn't care, Eli," Ace said.
"I'm going inside," Eli said, looking at me warily. I raised my eyebrows at him as he put his cigarette in the ashtray on the floor.
"Since when do you not smoke?" Ace asked, blowing out smoke. Eli shut the glass door behind himself.
"Since I quit," I told him. "My school has a no tolerance policy. And God knows my mom would come unglued if I got suspended."
"That blows," he said.
I nodded and scanned the rest of the group. They were boys I'd grown up with, playing hide-and-seek and tag behind the pack house during meetings. It would be a stretch to call us friends, though. It was more like cousins who had been stuck together periodically at family gatherings. We got along, but had never been close.
I knew Ace better than the others, simply because he had lived at the pack house with us. The Beta and his family always lived with the Alpha. Eli, of course, never played with us, due to the age difference. I'm sure his most vivid memory of me was the tantrum I threw when I found out my mother wanted Anna and I to go to Manhattan with her. Not exactly my finest moment.
Slipping my feet out of my shoes, I pulled my knees up to my chest, being careful not go give anyone a show of what was under my skirt. "So who's the new guy?" I asked, not directing my question at anyone in particular.
Parker spoke up. "His name's Mathias something or other. Joined the Pack almost a year ago."
I frowned. "How come no body told me?"
"It was kind of a secret," Ace chimed in. "Most everybody didn't even know until about eight months ago. Marcus didn't want many people knowing about it. I only knew because he lives in the pack house with us."
"Yeah. Marcus gave him the room across from yours when he joined the pack."
"What's his story, then? Where'd he come from?"
Parker and Ace exchanged a look, hesitating.
"What?" I demanded.
"Hunters killed his entire pack," Ace said finally. "They were living down in Houston and were ambushed when he was seven. He got stuck in the foster system, then came to find your dad when he turned eighteen."
I swallowed hard. "That's horrible."
"Yeah," Parker and Ace agreed together.
In the modern world, Hunters didn't used to be a problem for our kind. Before the nineteen hundreds, sure, but after the Industrial Revolution, backwater cowboys and farmers with pitchforks and heavy superstitious notions were harder and harder to find. But in the last decade, Hunters had resurfaced and are out for blood. It was a growing risk for a werewolf to live alone, which was why most packs lived in groups or close by each other nowadays.
"How well do you know him?" I inquired.
Ace opened his mouth to answer when the door behind me slid open. I looked over my shoulder to see Adam poke his head out. Again, the guys hid their cigarettes. I almost laughed, considering that Adam smoked too.
"Marcus wants to see you in the study," he told me.
I frowned. "What about?"
He glanced at the others, then back to me. "It's private, Sophie."
I gave a melodramatic sigh and stood. "This better be good," I grumbled, shrugging past Adam.