I was about 99% sure I was in trouble... big trouble. And the 1% of me that wasn't, simply hoped I wasn't. All I could do was hope and pray that Mum had managed to calm Dad down – even slightly - by the time I reached the door.
It was somewhere boarding midnight, and I was only just getting home. My curfew is meant to be eight sharp. Four hours late was not something my family was going to take lightly.
In my defence, if my parents had just got me a mobile like I had asked for more times than I could count, I could have warned them of my lateness. It wasn't my fault that I had missed the one and only bus home from school, meaning I had to walk the twenty miles back home. My parents, however, wouldn't see this as an excuse.
I reached the tall oak door and took a deep breath in (a pointless attempt to prepare myself) before pushing it open. Straight away I was met by a deafening voice that I'm pretty sure everyone in a ten mile radius could hear. However, the voice was nothing compared to the invisible force that slammed against me now that Dad knew I was alive.
"Cynthia Imelda Rald!"
Dad was using my full name... ouch. Trying to hide the wince from the mixture of loudness, power and irritation, I looked up at my Dad, who now stood directly in front of me blocking off my escape route to my bedroom. His tall and well built frame was nothing on the scale of domineering presence compared to the way he stared me down. Those eyes, usually a loving green, were now rimmed in black. I knew all too well what would happen when that darkness spread throughout his eye.
"Where the hell have you been?" He yelled.
I shrugged my shoulders, again a pointless action. "I missed my bus and had to walk." Someone scoffed in the room to the left, the kitchen; apparently someone else was finding my excuses amusing.
"And why did you miss the bus?" His voice was quieter now, but the anger behind them was still strong. Unfortunately for me, he was pushing me into difficult territory. If he found out that a detention was the cause of all this, he would kill me – luckily not quite as literally as it could be – but part of me felt like he was already aware of my wrong doings. If that was the case, lying to him would put me in a worse situation.
"I had detention," I muttered, trying my best to stay strong, but finding that strength being pushed back by my stupidly powerful father. He raised his eyebrows in a way that told me I had chosen the better option. He already knew, and now he wanted me to say with my own mouth the reason behind the aforementioned detention. "I got into a fight at school."
The only thing I could be proud of right now was the fact I had been able to hold his gaze throughout all of this, something only two people I know can do. One of them was me, because I had spent all seventeen years of my life practicing to withstand his force. The other was my mother, who was the one thing in this world that could scare Dad.
I guess the tiny bit of will power I kept impressed him slightly, as his shoulders relaxed and he rubbed his eyes like he always did when he was growing exasperated with me. To be honest, the only reason his anger was fading was because he was a completely softy when it came to his only daughter.
"Would you care to explain why you got into a fight, and with whom?" He asked, looking back at me with caring green eyes.
Only now did I let my eyes swivel to the side, and not because of his presence of whatever, but because what I was about to say next was extremely hard and embarrassing for me to say. "Some guy called us freaks."
It was at those words that Dad pulled me into a bone crushing hug, which was probably meant to be more reassuring than it was in reality. "What am I going to do with you Lupita?" he said softly. I flinched slightly at the use of my nickname. 'Lupita', meaning 'little wolf', was something only those closest to me used. That consisted of my parents, older brother, and best friend. Of course, it was only my parents who could get away with calling me it without getting a smack across the head.
You could call it a sensitive subject, the one that this stupid guy was referring to when he used that disgusting word 'freaks'. You see, by 'us' I don't just mean my family. When I use 'us' in that sense, I am referring to the entire community that lies twenty miles away from the city. The community me and my family belong to. All those 'normal' people from the city avoid us at all costs. To them we are strange, different, odd. In other words we are different than them, and therefore wrong.
Dad pulled away from the hug and walked me into the kitchen area, where the other members of my family were gathered. Connell, my twenty year old brother, sat at the table with a book. His eyes flickered up from the pages and the corners of his mouth pulled into an all knowing smirk. Not bothering to think up a better comeback, I stuck my tongue out at him.
As he always was, my best friend stood leaning against the far wall. Lowell was eighteen and, knowing him, had probably been waiting here for me to arrive back from school. My parents didn't mind him hanging around here for hours on end for different reasons to my own. He shot me a sympathetic smile from across the room.
"Surely you could have gotten home a little faster, Imelda?" Mum said, her back to me as she finished preparing some sort of meal that would be eaten tomorrow. I knew that whilst Dad's anger could easily wither away at the sight of his beloved daughter, Mum wouldn't forgive me so easily. However, the fact she had used my preferred name meant that she wasn't planning to lock me in a cage in the cellar or anything. I also knew that her question had been a rhetorical one, since everyone in the room knew that I could have run home in less than an hour without trying. If I had wanted to that is.
You see, if there's one thing that is definitely not average about my seemingly average family, it's the fact that we are all werewolves. Lycans. Shifters. Wolfmen. Whatever you feel the need to call us. Not the kind that is forced out of its body during a full moon, but the kind who can change whenever and wherever we want. In both wolf and human form we have heightened senses, amazing speed, and a connection that goes deeper than blood. The big community I live in? That's my pack. We're a tight knit community, just like any actual wolf pack out there; it's in our blood to be part of a pack. If you have a secret, it's everyone's secret.
Oh, and did I mention that my dad over there is the alpha? The leader of the pack, and my mum is his mate, or the 'female alpha'. This means that, however much I despise it, my brother and I are somewhat like royalty to our kind.
Returning to the present, and answering the question that wasn't supposed to be answered, I shrugged and said, "I felt like a slow walk would do me good."
Mum turned around with a sigh and a look that said 'don't push it missy'.
"You're too rebellious for your own good, Lupita," Lowell chuckled as he walked over to me and head butted my forehead. He was a good few inches taller than me, something he never let me forget.
"I'm mentally slapping you right now," I replied lazily, knowing fine well that actually slapping him wouldn't do me any favours right now.
"You, Imelda, are grounded until further notice. Go to bed," Mum growled before turning back to the food.
I frowned and didn't move from my spot.
I winced as Dad used the tone of the alpha on me, something he rarely did whilst disciplining his own children, but every now and then I crossed the line. Every member of the pack is bound together through the alpha, meaning his bond to you is stronger than anyone else. Using the alpha tone means forcing his will upon you. No one can refuse it. No matter how much you want to.
Feeling the immense push against my mind, I knew that I had no other choice but to obey. It was like I had no control over my mind any more, he was there. Inside my head. Invading every thought and feeling I owned. Any other person would have found themselves upstairs before they knew it.
However, I was an exception. For some unknown reason – that I'm pretty sure Dad knows but won't tell me for yet another unknown reason – I've always had a sort of resistance to his alpha tone. The force is still there, but I've been known to be able to fight back a number of times. Today, he was using quite a lot of force. I could have carried on pushing back, but figured that would only worsen my punishment. I clung on to my last bit of power and scowled at him before I stormed upstairs and slammed my bedroom door behind me.
If anyone claims that they don't have enough free will from their parents apparently hasn't tried being the daughter of an alpha werewolf.
I don't know how long I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling in stubbornness before exhaustion won and I fell asleep. All I know is that I woke up when the sun was high in the sky. If it hadn't been a Saturday I would have been so late for school. I sat up...
My entire body groaned and ached in payback for walking all that way. Normally I don't get tired for running long distances, whether it is in human or wolf form, but walking slowly for miles wasn't something my body was used to. I began to really regret not getting home faster, but part of me felt a small piece of satisfaction in disobeying the alpha that ran my life.
I had a quick shower and threw on a pair of slacks and a hoody, and then made my way downstairs. As I opened the front door I felt something behind me. I spun around just in time to catch the apple that Mum had thrown felt pelt at my head.
"You're grounded, remember," she warned as I shut the door behind me.
Luckily, being grounded in our house meant we were still able to go anywhere within a two mile radius of our wolf community. It would be cruelty to keep an adolescent werewolf locked up – whether it was child cruelty or animal cruelty, I don't know.
Without a particular destination in mind, I started to run down the dirt path until I reached the edge of the main village. Though there are some houses scattered here and there, most of our pack likes to keep close range, nearby the alpha.
It was rather late for me to be up, possibly around ten in the morning. Though my human self would thrive in the idea of sleeping till noon like other teenagers, the wolf part of me wouldn't even let me think about it. I have, and always will be, the runner of the pack. No one else runs as fast and as often as I do. The boys like Lowell and Connell may wrestle and fight for fun, but I've always simply ran.
Soon enough I realised I had passed right through the village, and was now entering the denser forest. I was heading east, my favourite direction to run in as the ground became rockier as I moved further out, until at last I came to the large rocks that formed some sort of mini cliffs. It was a good place to practice running swiftly no matter the terrain, and there were many high rocks to climb and sit in the warm sun or under the night sky. Of course, this was also the edge of my two mile limit.
I sat down on a smooth stone, letting my legs scream at me for running so soon after walking such a long way, but at the same time the wolf within me was howling for more yet still satisfied with running this far.
I let the comforting smell of my surroundings fill my nostrils. The pine trees were most prominent around here, and our pack was usually identified by the mixture of it alongside sweet apples that we grow ourselves. The pack controlled what was known as the Pine Valley, not all too inventive but better than some I've heard of. We weren't the biggest pack, far from it, but we were respected by most others as we have a long line of strong alphas and a history of –
Something that reminded me of utter freshness. Fresh air. Fresh running water. Fresh grass.
Blinking, I barely had time to let my human mind think. The smell had hit me strongly, and appeared so quickly I felt slightly dizzy all of a sudden. But my wolf instincts kicked in. I leapt to my feet and let every one of my senses to survey the air. Right now I wasn't just a werewolf; I was the alpha's daughter.
Because someone was in my territory.
And they weren't part of my pack.
Most wolves would reach through the bond and alert the alpha, in fact, they would alert every pack member within reachable distance. The smart thing to do was to stand firm and wait for back up, unless of course the threat became so dangerous you were forced to act. That would be what every other wolf would do.
But then again, I was never like any other wolf.
I took off at a speed most, humans and wolves alike, would find frightening. I was fast. I always had been. And everyone knew it. I was at least six miles past my grounded limit, nearing the edge of our territory, before I knew it. It wouldn't have even registered to Dad, or anyone for that matter, that I was not where I should be.
Skidding to a halt, around one mile before the territory boarder, I smelt and felt the stranger stronger. The smell was just about over powering all of my senses, making it difficult to smell that familiar Pine Valley scent that should have been all around me.
Yet... it wasn't unpleasant.
In fact, I found it rather agreeable to my nose. With that scent, the threat felt almost nonexistent.
Trespasser. My wolf instincts reminded me. I blinked back into defence mode, biting back the urge to let my lips curl back and release a snarl. I was still in human form, and therefore I had to remain controlled.
"Does this pack not have any chivalry?"
My eyes darted upwards. I was angry at myself. I should have realised the threat was up there. I didn't growl or snap. I stood with a steady glare fixated on the stranger, a silent warning that they shouldn't be there, and they were certainly not welcome.
He could only have been around my age, maybe a year or so older, but not by much. He sat casually on a thick branch, high up in the tree, his back pressing against the trunk and one leg dangling down. His hair was a more vibrant blonde than my dad's sandy colour; it was also a lot wilder and hung just below his ears. My glare was answered with a steady stare from his own amber eyes. But what irritated me most was the smirk that played on his lips.
Ignoring his comment, which had always hit a nerve, I went along with the usual protocol for dealing with trespassers. "You are trespassing on Pine Valley land. Please leave now or state your reason for being here. The alpha has already been notified." Ok, so maybe the last part was a little white lie, but that didn't matter.
He let out a low chuckle and closed his eyes in doing so. Apparently he was more than comfortable with the situation, unlike me. However he didn't give me a reply, he also didn't reopen his eyes. So I repeated my statement.
"No need to call the alpha, little princess, and no need to lie about doing so." His eyes flickered open once again to stare down at me, an emotion danced around his eyes, but I couldn't work out what it was. I also ignored the derogatory term he had called me by.
With amazing grace, even for a werewolf, he slipped off the branch to land delicately before me. It had all been in such a fluid motion, I could have mistaken it for flying if I didn't know better. He leaned forward so that his mouth was beside my ear. I didn't react, as that would be a sign of weakness.
Although, the sudden closeness between the two of us did make me a little unnerved.
"I'm just passing by to pick up something of mine," his whispered with a low voice. At last he pulled back, but didn't give away anything else, clearly waiting for me to react somehow.
"In that case, the alpha shall handle the situation," I said with a blank tone, refusing to give anything away.
He chuckled again, a sound that was starting to remind me of bells. I never knew bells could be so infuriating... "Little princess, the alpha has nothing to do with this."
"Everything that happens on this land is the alpha's business. You'll do well to remember that," I growled, releasing more of my inner wolf than I intended. This seemed to amuse him, as a smile widened on his face.
"And yet, you still haven't called upon your oh-so-precious alpha."
He was right. I didn't even know why I hadn't immediately called for Dad, or anyone for that matter, but something stopped me from doing so. I was talking about the alpha, and yet it didn't even occur to me to actually call from him. The stranger seemed to realise that he had shocked me, and that he had won on something.
My mind was too confused and lost to notice the trespasser reaching towards me.
I couldn't stop myself from stiffening in fear as he placed his hand under my chin and moved closer to me yet again. What was wrong? Why couldn't I fight or move like I should be doing? Why wasn't my inner wolf screaming at me to get away? Why was the wolf so silent?
"I will do anything to gain what is mine. Don't forget that little princess," he murmured to me as his eyes narrowed in an evil smirk.
Get out. Run away. For God's sake just get away from him! Why aren't you moving? Call for Dad! Mum! Connell! Lowell! ANYONE! JUST GOD DAMN DO SOMETHING!
The scent of such an untainted freshness. The air. The water. The grass. Nature in all its purity. Safe. Home. Pack.
I heard something behind me, like shouting or running, but it was like my ears were blocked and the sound was muffled. I tried to turn but I couldn't move, even though I was completely free other than the hand that held my chin softly. My eyes refused to move from the amber ones that stared back at me warmly.
Then it was gone.
I gasped, finding myself flying through the air. It didn't last long. My back slammed into a tree, and my entire body fell to the floor. It didn't hurt, but the shock was enough to stun me slightly, in a way no werewolf should. I trembled from head to foot, and let my frantic eyes search for what had just thrown me over here. It wasn't until a hand grabbed by arm and hauled me to my feet that I understood.
"Imelda? Darling? Are you ok?" My mother asked hysterically. I had never heard her speak like that. My eyes were still swivelling madly, looking for the stranger that had been so close only a moment ago. Mum's warm hands moved to both sides of my head, forcing me to face her and see the worry in her eyes.
I wasn't even aware I was crying.
"Mum...?" I asked, but it calm out as nothing more than a hoarse whisper, barely audible. She nodded slightly, looking only a tiny bit better that I had answered her.
A deafening howl sounded from somewhere in the trees in front of us. I recognised the power of that sound as the alpha – my father – warning someone to stay away. Other growls, barks, and snaps answered him from all around. I forced my senses to focus, trying to identify who was here. Connell. Lowell. Three others of my pack.
The stranger was still fighting; I could smell him over all the rest. He, and all of the others around, were in their wolf form. Only Mum and I stood in our human skin.
Someone, somewhere, let out a murderous yelp. But it wasn't one of anger... it was pain. And it was Connell.
My mum was no longer by my side; her clothes lay in tatters in the floor beside me. Her dark red fur was just a blur as it leapt through the trees out of sight.
She had also been the only thing holding me up.
My legs gave way and I didn't even try to brace myself for the impact of the ground that wouldn't hurt me all that much. An impact that never came.
Instead, I was once again flying in the air. This time, upwards, with a force that shook fear to my core. When it finally stopped, I was surrounded by the high branches and leaves of the tree I had been standing beside.
And I was cradled in the arms of someone with an overpowering scent.
"They certainly fight for their little princess don't they?" The stranger chuckled as he held me. I couldn't say anything; only stare at his warm amber eyes that looked deep into my own. "I can understand though, after all, you are the Prize."
'Prize'. The word I had hated since I had been a very little girl. It seemed that to the world I was nothing more than that. 'Prize' is the term used for the first born daughter of an alpha. Whilst the first born son would be a Prince, the next in line to be alpha if no one else challenged, they girl was nothing more than the Prize. She was the ideal mate for any powerful werewolf, be it an alpha of a different pack or not. As she reached the age of sixteen, her father would hold a contest of sorts. She was the Prize.
I had gone through that last year. Watching in horror as my father allowed the wolves he approved of to fight for me. My 'suitors' had consisted of four Princes from other packs and two strong males from Pine Valley. The person who won was the 'Champion of Pine Valley', as they won Pine Valley's Prize.
That Champion hadn't been a Prince (much to my relief).
It had been Lowell.
My best friend, the person I grew up to love like a brother. He had kept it secret our whole lives that he was one of the competitors. I had never known until the day he stepped out into that ring and won me as his Prize.
That's all I was. It's all who I had ever been. Labelled with it, now and for eternity.
"Don't like the term, little princess?" The stranger's voice, mixed in with his musical chuckle, brought me back to the present.
Below I could hear frantic howls, calling for me. It was wrong, so wrong. If they were looking for me, Dad should be reaching for me through the bond, but he wasn't. So I reached for him. Searching for him. Grasping for the bond that should hold us together. Screaming at it. But no answer came. I was scared. And I was alone.
"Well in that case, let me tell you something," the stranger leaned closer to me. "You don't have to be a prize. You can be you. You can just be Imelda."
My heart almost stopped in my chest.
A terrifying howl rang from below us. Both the stranger and I looked down to the ground to see it surrounded by twenty or more wolves, snarling up at us. Dad had called reinforcements. I could see him, the huge sandy haired wolf with pure black eyes.
I felt the stranger's arms tighten around my shaking body. He was warm and almost comforting. Both of which made this whole thing even more wrong.
"Looks like I'll have to come back for what I wanted," he said in a low voice meant only for me. Of course, being in wolf form heightened the senses of those below us even more, and there was no doubt they had heard. The stranger smirked as the wolves began to snap and snarl louder.
And then he did the unthinkable.
He lowered his head even closer to mine and moved it close to my neck. His warm breath made my entire body shiver even more. I couldn't fight back against him. My wolf was gone. The part of me that wouldn't even let Connell hug me, without jumping back from him, was lost.
Or it just sat back and allowed the stranger to bite my neck.
I screamed at the top of my lungs, as I felt the tips of his teeth touch my skin. It didn't hurt, it wasn't meant to, but it was a complete violation of my body. That was a sign of claiming someone as your own. Only two people had ever done that to me. One was my father when I was born to signify I was part of his pack. The other was Lowell after he had won me.
I felt naked. Exposed. Bare.
As he pulled away from me, I saw the smile that had taken over his face that shone through his eyes. Below me, my pack was in outrage. The livid cry of my father seemed to cause my eardrums to explode, as someone claimed what was his. Whether the cry was as an alpha or a father I didn't know.
But the one that stood out against even that, came from the light brown wolf who stood beside me father. The one with soft grey eyes, and even lighter markings around his face and paws. Letting out a howl containing both anger and pain, Lowell's cry seemed to stab me in the heart.
It was that cry that woke the wolf within.
Change. Run. Fast. Leave.
And like that, I wasn't the helpless girl that I barely recognised. I was Cynthia Imelda Rald, the Prize of the Pine Valley (no matter how much I hated the title), the fastest wolf in the pack who everyone knew. And, most importantly, now I was one pissed off werewolf.
As strength returned to my body, I swung my legs up and over my head, spinning me in my captors arms. He would have held on to me, but I had the element of surprise, and I slipped out of his grasp. Letting my feet sense where to go, they landed onto the branch below. I ignored the boy above me who was now staring at me in amazement, and I ignored the wolves below me who barked at me to come to them for safety.
Instead, I pushed off from the branch with all my might. Away from everyone, and heading even further east than we already were. Then I felt it, starting from my heart, the change.
My entire body felt like it was on fire, as my heart beat began to increase at a dramatic speed. Until it was nothing more than an immense pounding in my chest which no human could ever beat out on a drum. At last the pressure reached its height, and a rush of ice cold rushed over me, as if I had just imploded. With that, I heard each bone cracking and breaking simultaneously, before realigning into a new form. The pain was numbed by the iciness of the change. Copper fur covered my new body, long and clean, the same colour my hair had been moments before.
I let my instincts take over.