The first time Madeline O'Conner saw the man she had to marry, she was five.

It was a freezing winter evening in Montpelier, Vermont. The ice-cold wind whipped at Madeline's already raw cheeks and she tried to focus on the tiny flakes of snow whirling before her eyes. The space out here, in the front yard of the Curran home was wider and emptier than the one of her own back in St. Peters, nearly one hundred and fifty miles away, her brother claimed.

Madeline looked to her brother next to her quietly. Nicolas stood tall and silent in the noiseless screaming wind; the only show of emotion was the concentration in his dark eyes. They were hazel, like their mother's but something was different; harder in their bronze depths.

The voices of her father and the man he was talking with brought her back to the outside world. Madeline wrapped her arms around her torso the best she could in her overstuffed parka, trying desperately to keep her knit blue scarf around her mouth and nose as it whipped around her violently in the wind.

"She's not to be bartered for, Stuart."

Her father's rich Scottish accent was rough and methodic over the wind.

"You wanted this agreement, Tomás," the other man replied sharply. "Do you want protection for your family or not?"

Madeline unconsciously scooted closer to Nicolas. He let her wrap a small arm around his middle but made no motion to comfort her. Her father glanced over at Madeline and Nicolas, eyes lingering on his youngest and only daughter. She blinked and he looked back to the man named Stuart.

"Can we go inside the car yet, Nicky?" Madeline whispered, leaning on her tiptoes so Nicolas could hear her over the wind. She watched his steamed breath come out in puffs as he thought over an answer.

"No, Maddie-girl," he replied quietly but firmly. His muscles felt tight beneath her tiny frame, even under his thick layer of clothed warmth. "Father has us out here for a reason."

But what reason? Madeline thought but didn't give voice to the question. She knew to keep silent when her father was talking. He was in charge and she loved him. That was it.

The conversation lasted another ten minutes but Madeline could only get bits from the wind that brought it through. Sometimes the wind would blow the snow so hard that she couldn't see her father for a few seconds, causing her heart to clench and her skin chill even more than before.

"Dè a tha seo? What is this? What are they saying, Nicky?" Madeline asked urgently and Nicolas shrugged. Madeline's brow furrowed in confusion and she waited to hear more of the conversation.

"We can discuss the details later." It was her father's voice. "Right now I need to get my children back home."

The snow cleared momentarily and the man with the icy gray eyes glanced at Madeline.

"He looks too old for the age you suggest, Tomás." His cold gaze swept over Nicolas, and Madeline glanced up at him. He remained still as stone, staring straight ahead as if no one was watching him. "Is he past the point?"

Past the point of what? Madeline wanted to ask but kept quiet again.

"No." Her father shook his head. "Just the beginning I'm afraid."

The cold man's gaze swept to Madeline and she felt frozen in her space, gloved fingers tightening on the side of Nicolas' ribs. She could feel his heartbeat, steady and strong.

"You are sure she will change in the appointed time?" Although the cold man was speaking to her father, his eyes never left Madeline.

"She is stable and fiery, like her grandfather before her," her father replied with a nod. Madeline relaxed when the man's gaze left hers but her heart still skipped a few beats. "I have faith that she will turn out perfectly."

The cold man nodded gruffly then turned to his house. Madeline and Nicolas' father also turned, but to their rugged Ford Sedan, parked a few yards away. Nicolas tugged Madeline along and she reluctantly followed.

"Nicky, why did that man want to talk to Father?"

"I don't know."

"Then why did we drive all the way here, deartháir?"

"I don't know."

"Well, why does Father want us to–?"

"I don't know, cailín, just get into the car."

Madeline allowed Nicolas to pick her up and set her in the backseat but when he pulled back to close the door, she tugged his thick sleeve, looking up at him pleadingly. Silently and with no complaint, Nicolas climbed in next to her.

As Madeline father started up the car and let the heat shift on, he glanced at her from the driver's mirror. His dark brown eyes turned from scrutinizing to reassuring but he didn't smile back when she beamed at him. The car finally pulled forward and Madeline pressed her forehead to the frosted window. Her breath steamed across the glass and she used the sleeve of her sweater to wipe away the iciness.

The car moved slowly across the ice and Madeline watched as they passed the large, old house. Madeline wouldn't realize until she was older how beautiful and priceless the house really was but at the time, it seemed dark and intimidating in the deep snow.

Something shimmered in the bleak snow and Madeline blinked, rubbing the frost from the window again to look out. In the darkness, past the raging wind and snow, beyond the trees and fading sunlight was a pair of emerald eyes that would haunt Madeline in another eight decades.


"I want to see him, Kieran!"

"You'll stay out here as instructed."

Nineteen-year-old Madeline glared at the six foot five burly lycan towering over her. It didn't matter that Madeline was technically higher up in the pack and that she was one of the fastest of her kind. It also didn't matter that she hadn't seen her father in over thirty-six hours, ever since he had collapsed after patrol last week. Kieran was the beta of their pack and his instructions were strictly ordered to keep her out.

Madeline went over her options. She could follow pack orders and go back to her room like the good little girl she was raised to be…Or she could change–no matter how hard it was to do–and hope that she could miraculously knock out a full grown male lycan that weighed almost half a ton more than her and knock down the door.

Before Madeline could even consider changing, the door opened behind Kieran. Joseph, the pack's physician stepped out and glanced at Madeline.

"Miss, it would be best if you'd listen to your beta."

Madeline's gaze hardened but she remained silent. Joseph was old; nearly three centuries her senior. He was always such a stickler for the rules.

"I have a right to see my father, Joseph."

Madeline met Kieran's hard eyes as he took a step forward but Joseph's hand on his shoulder stopped him. Joseph told Kieran something under his breath that Madeline couldn't catch and Kieran nodded.

"Go get your mother, Missy," Kieran told her.

Madeline opened her mouth to object but Kieran's firm eyes told her "no" as he crossed his thick arms over his chest, pretty much dismissing his earlier nickname for her. With a frown, Madeline turned down the hallway and made her way to the east wing of their colossal mansion.

As she stormed down the hallway, Madeline tried to calm her nerves. She hadn't slept more than five hours in almost a week and it was really irking her how she was being bossed around so much lately. It was hard enough not being able to think straight without worrying about her father and constantly being told what to do. She didn't need a household of moody male werewolves to bat.

"Whoa…Cool it, Maddie-girl."

Madeline blinked as she hit the rock hard chest of her older brother. Nicolas firmly grasped her shoulders to halt Madeline and grin down at her. Nicolas had filled out well in the past several decades, both physically and as her doting older brother. Although Madeline and Nicolas were both born in the nineteenth century–and would survive for dozens more–their bodies only progressed to a certain age. Nicolas had developed into a well-built and handsome lycan, with their mother's brilliant hazel eyes that seemed to skip her generation and shoulder length auburn hair only a shade darker than Madeline's.

"What's the matter, cailín?" Nicolas frowned immediately at his sister, one hand traveling up from her shoulder to smooth out her messy red hair. Madeline looked away. "He's going to be okay. You know that."

Madeline shrugged and Nicolas pulled her to his chest gently.

"No, we don't, Nicky."

Nicolas sighed again as he waited outside his parent's room.

His sister had been in there for almost an hour with their mother and he was getting anxious. Even with his advanced hearing, Nicolas couldn't hear a thing and he silently cursed his parents for having certain rooms in the house soundproofed and padlocked.

Nicolas' phone vibrated at his side and he pulled it out of his jeans. It was Kieran.


"How's your sister doing?" Kieran asked with a hint of concern in his voice. "She almost lost it on me at the door."

"Cut her some slack," Nicolas replied immediately. "Everyone's testy around here."

"I know, Nic, I know." Nicolas could hear Kieran sigh slowly on the other end and Nicolas closed his eyes. "It's hard, man. You know that."

Nicolas couldn't help but smirk. Yeah, Kieran's job as beta was already hard enough; Maddie probably didn't make it any easier.

"Any update?" Nicolas asked.

"Sorry, no. Joseph came out only twice but he won't tell me a thing."

"Think it'll be better with Cateline there?" The pack's old healer had a soft spot for Nicolas' mom, especially during hard times like these. If there was any way of getting around his austerity, it was their mother.

"At this point, I have no idea." There was a pause, and what sounded like a door opening on the other line. "Nic, you might want to come down here. Bring your mom and Missy too." The phone clicked off the line and Nicolas quickly opened the door to his mom's room.

"Máthair, Maddie-girl, let's go."

Their mother looked up from across the room, her deep copper eyes hesitant. Maddie looked away from Nicolas, one arm wrapped around her chest to hold onto the other. Cateline murmured something to Maddie, who nodded slowly and then followed her out of the room.

They walked down to the north wing in silence, Cateline keeping pace with Nicolas while Maddie sauntered behind.

"Ciúnaigh, Maddie," Nicolas said soothingly to his sister as they reached the door to the recovery room. He used their native tongue, hoping it would calm her but he could still feel her tensing.

They were always a strong pack, Madeline reminded herself.

And a pack could not be strong without their leader. Madeline tried to go over this in her head over and over again as she looked at her ailing father before her. Tomás O'Conner was over five centuries old and alpha of his pack for three of those centuries. He was always healthy, always strong, always there. And now, Madeline had to come to terms with the possibility of losing him.

What was even happening? Madeline thought with a frown. She was allowed in the room but not near the bed. Even when she was in, she couldn't get past the half dozen six foot tall mass of lycan surrounding her father.

The sick room, or recovery room or whatever-the-hell Joseph called it was eerie and dim. It was a large rectangle of thick carpet and dark walls, all the lights turned off and replaced by faint and incensed candles. The soft smoke was irritating her eyes and Madeline was getting tired of standing around, but still remained silent.

Madeline had never been in the recovery room…because there was ever any need to be. Any healing was done by Joseph or someone higher up in the pack; the alpha's daughter had no place here.

In the lycan world, females were prized. There was such a small chance that a lycan pup would be a girl, that the existing ones now were cherished like a dying out species. Madeline was the only female of her pack, save her mother who was already mated and produced offspring, and unable to have any more children.

That left Madeline for Spirits know what and she suddenly realized as she stood in the shadowy smoky room that she had never really thought about it until now. The past century of her existence wasn't based on wondering what her future would be like. It was just living; it was looking after her brother and helping her pack.

At that thought, Madeline tried to get a glimpse of the bed. Her brother was nowhere to be seen but her mom stood on the far left of her father's bed, her hand smoothing the dark hair from his face.

What's wrong with you, Daddy? Madeline thought again as she heard the door open behind her. She didn't turn even though she could smell Nicolas as he walked past her and said something to Joseph. The healer nodded to Kieran who left the room without even a glance at Madeline.

"His organs are failing, Maddie-girl." Nicolas was beside her now and she looked up at him with a blank expression. She could always rely on Nicolas to be honest with her; even as children, he never sugarcoated anything.

"Why, Nicky?" Madeline asked softly as she looked back to the bed. She still couldn't see her father.

"I don't know, cailín," Nicolas replied. "Joseph is doing everything he can but…Dad isn't trying."

"What do you mean?" Madeline looked up at her brother, trying to keep the irritation from her face. Nicolas' features looked sharper and more concerned in the candlelight. "Nicky, what does that mean?"

"Maddie, I…" Nicolas sighed, pushing a hand through his hair slowly. They both knew what it meant.

A/N: If you've made it this far, you're my hero. Seriously. Thank you for giving it a chance, this really isn't my best work but the only thing I'm brave enough to get out in the open.

The foreign italicized words are Irish (or Gaelic). I've tried to add the English phrase after it (not sure how correct that is) if it's not a word or term of affection, but you can usually get the gist of it.

Dè a tha seo? ~ What is this?

cailín ~ sister

deartháir ~ brother

Máthair ~ Mother

Ciúnaigh ~ Calm down/Stay calm

Obviously if there's any spelling or grammar mistakes please let me know. I'm a stickler about that. But also, could you please point out any inconsistencies? I've been editing this before/during/after posting so if anything seems out of place or confusing, it would be nice to know. (I feel like I'm asking too much. And talking too much.)

Thank you so much for reading.