I was a pretty good influence on my teenage cousin. Or, at least, that's what Aunt Nora had told me, when I'd asked if it'd be alright for me to move back in for a bit after graduation. It'll just be for a couple of months, I'd been prepared to explain, I just need some time to put in some applications and figure a couple of things out. She hadn't let me get more than two words out, however; I was family, I was a big help on the ranch, and – besides! – I was a damned good influence on my younger cousin.

…Something told me Aunt Nora might not have been so quick to declare me such an excellent role model, had she had any idea what Bridget and I usually got up to in our spare time.


Raucous laughter echoed in my ears, somehow drowning out the sound of thundering hooves. In front of me, my cousin's red hair flapped in the breeze she created, a taunting grin on her face when she glanced back over her shoulder at me.

She was baiting me. I knew she was baiting me, but that didn't stop the competitive surge I felt rising up inside of me. We weren't supposed to race. After Bridget had broken three different bones when she'd been thrown from her gelding two years ago, she'd had to promise she wouldn't race again. She'd also promised to always wear a helmet… so there we were: oh for two. Granted, galloping through a wide, open field wasn't nearly as risky as trying to cut an extra half second off your usual run time in barrel racing, but I sincerely doubted my aunt would bother to split those hairs.

"What's wrong, Katie? That old mare of yours having trouble keeping up?"

Shit. My jaw clenched, my grip on the reins tightening for a second as I blew out sharp breath. "Your mother is going to kill me," I muttered to myself, coming to terms with that fact as I rose up out of the saddle and gave my legs a firm squeeze.

My mare rocketed forward at my urging, responsive as always, and it took only a few seconds before we shot past Bridget and her gelding. I urged her faster, still, knowing it wouldn't be long before they were at our heels again, and I felt it the moment my mare broke into her top speed. It never got old, that rush of adrenaline as your heart took a moment to catch up with your body. It was the kind of feeling that chased all of your worries away – absolutely unbeatable in every way.

Of course, it only lasted a moment, for my horse was tired and couldn't sustain that intense pacing for very long, but a moment was all it took. I had a huge grin on my face as Bridget caught up to me again, our horses neck-and-neck as they raced down the hillside. And though I had every intention of winning our little race, our horses were side by side as we crossed over the small creek that had long ago been declared the finish line – a tie.

"He's getting good," I had to acknowledge, gradually tightening up on the reins and easing my mare down into a relaxed trot. I hovered another moment before giving my legs a break and settling back down into the saddle. "It seems like he's finally outgrown that whole follow-the-leader thing he…" I trailed off with a frown, having only just taken in the way my cousin was still rising and falling in time with her gelding's gait. "What're you doing?"

"Force of habit," she admitted, sporting a sheepish smile even as she continued the repetitive motion. "I barely even realize I'm doing it anymore."

I blinked, not quite sure how that was possible. "You're at a slow trot, your horse's gait is smooth, and, in case you haven't noticed, that saddle right there is Western. You don't need to post." But she would, I knew, so I didn't bother to push the matter. "Forget it," I instructed instead, before nodding to the field ahead of us. "Show me what you've learned. Three o'clock, middle tree."

Bridget offered a determined nod as she immediately dropped her reins – a far cry from the whine and long list of objections she'd raised a few months ago when I'd last put her on the spot. Now, she only reached for the bow that was attached to her saddle, snatching up an arrow from the quiver at her hip with a confidence that revealed just how much she'd been practicing. Without too much hesitation, the teen nocked the arrow, drew back the string, and released all in one remarkably fluid motion. Still, as her arrow flew through the air and lodged itself in the lower half of the appropriate trunk, she set her lips into a small frown.

She'd always been too hard on herself.

"That was a good shot," I insisted, the praise sincere. "Your movements look very natural. Give yourself a few more weeks, and no one in the youth division will be able to touch you this year. You've already got the standing competition in the bag, so just keep up the hard work and you'll have the horseback, too."

Her lips didn't lift from the frown. "I was aiming higher," she revealed, motions stiff as she stowed her bow for later.

"…And you dropped to the saddle while you released." It was something that was bound to continue happening so long as Bridget insisted on posting her gelding's trot, but I didn't think it was necessary to rub that in.

She looked back at me for a moment with an expression of contemplation, before giving her head a decisive dip. "I'll work on it," she announced, finally dropping and settling into the saddle. A quick flash of a grin, and she clapped a hand down on her leg in obvious excitement. "Come on, then!" she urged. "It's your turn!"

I faked an exhausted sigh, but I wasn't able to keep the smile from my lips for long. "Pick the target," I instructed as I latched my reins and retrieved my bow with practiced ease. I had an arrow nocked only a second later, but it seemed my cousin needed another moment to decide on the target.

"How about that old fence post at ten o'clock? Right where that crack ends?"

I didn't bother to confirm, instead simply taking a steadying breath as I focused on getting a gauge on the speed of my horse and the strength of the breeze. Then, without any hesitation, I lifted my arms and allowed my fingers to glide backwards just as my gaze locked in on the point she'd identified. The arrow sailed away as I released my breath, lodging itself into the post just where the split in the wood ended.

"Oh, nice, Katie!" came my cousin's delighted cry. "Are you sure you don't want to compete this year?"

I rolled my shoulder forward in a casual shrug, moving to stash my bow and retrieve the reins before I replied to the question. "I don't know, Bridge. Graduating means I'm out of the collegiate level, now, and… I don't know, it seems like maybe it's time to be done competing. I still have to figure out what I'm even doing with my life, and I don't think falling back into the same things I've always done is going to help me with that."

From beside me, my cousin made a noise of understanding. "You mean you're still hoping Uncle Tom will take you with him to the boys' club instead, now that you've got nothing else going on."

I couldn't stop the sudden irritation that built up within me; I'd already gotten an earful from my father on the matter, and Bridget knew this was a hot-button issue for me. "It's not a boys' club," I responded stiffly. "It's—"

"A legacy club, I know, Katie," the teen interrupted, adding an eye roll for good measure even as she leaned down and gave the gelding beneath her a quick pat. "I'm just saying, at some point you have to realize that it probably isn't going to happen. You tried for two summers to get your dad to let you shadow him for an internship. Your mom didn't even get to go to one of those summits. I think it's pretty—"

"Bridget, stop. You don't know what you're talking about, and I really don't want to have this conversation right now." It came out too harshly, but it was all I could do not to actually explode on her. That didn't stop the guilt from churning in my stomach the second I glanced in her direction and registered the closed-off expression she was suddenly wearing. Shit. It had definitely been too harsh.

It wasn't the first time we had had this conversation, though, and my hands were tied with how much I could actually explain. She really didn't know what she was talking about, and she couldn't possibly understand the importance of it all. This wasn't just a fancy country club I wanted to be a part of, this was a top-secret international organization that, every day, worked to ensure the world remained a safe place. Well, relatively safe. Safe from certain threats, at least. There wasn't much they could do about climate change or the world's refugee crisis. The point was, if Bridget had understood what exactly the Council was doing on a day to day basis, she would have known better than to tell me to just give up on my dreams.

I'd studied political science and international relations in school, for crying out loud, and I was just as good if not better than Conner in every single Council-sponsored competition. Sure, it was usually a father-son-only thing, but it was also the 21st Century, and there was a chance.

A very, very small one – I knew that even better than she did, after all, but I just didn't want to believe it. My entire life, I'd wanted nothing more than to be a part of the family business, to get to go with my father on trips, even if my brother was still going to inherit the seat no matter what. I didn't care about the seat. I just wanted in.

The Council of Nobles – a collection of families from all of the inhabited continents, meant to represent the entire world, but made up of only one gender. It was a boys' club. In its entire six hundred and forty-seven year history, only once had a woman ever filled a seat, and even then, her position had only been temporary. Margaret Williams had had a vote for two months and seven days, after her husband had died and before her son had returned from war. Sure, her vote had technically been a stand-in on behalf of her son, since it had been his seat and all, but still. She'd voted. It counted.

Margaret's impressive sixty-eight day run had taken place over sixty years ago, back when women were still expected to give up all career ambitions in order to focus on becoming the best housewife possible. And it had been completely unprecedented at the time. So, if she'd been able to vote sixty years ago, then it stood to reason that simple attendance during a couple of meetings wouldn't be too much to ask for. I didn't even want a voting seat, after all; I just wanted to listen in on the debates and hear the latest news. Heck, I was even willing to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself if that was necessary.

But Bridget didn't understand that. And she also didn't seem to know how she wanted to reply. "Well…" she drew out, "the deadline for entry into the tournament isn't until next month, anyways. Why don't you talk to Uncle Tom and then decide if you want to compete or not? He and Conner get back in two weeks, right? That gives you time to think it over before you have to make any final decisions."

Tiredly, I glanced in the redhead's direction and gave a reluctant bob of my head. She meant well, I reminded myself, and maybe she even had a point about not giving up on competing before I even had a reason to… but I really was not in the mood to think about it any longer. Nor was I about to bring this conversation up with my father – again – but she didn't need to know that. "Okay, Kid," I conceded, taking another breath before deciding on a desperately-needed change of topic. "Now come on, let's get you back before your mother sends out a search party."

She let out a loud laugh at that, her eyes rolling up towards the sky once again. "We haven't been gone that long."

"Ah, but you have a test today, don't you? Or were you hoping you'd miss it by distracting me with races and psychoanalysis?" With a sideways glance, I tried a knowing expression on for size and couldn't help but smirk when she scowled back at me. "Have you been studying?"

Bridget gave a loud scoff. "You mean, have I been memorizing my bedtime stories? Come on, Katie, you can't tell me you don't think it's completely ridiculous that my mom tests me on ancient mythologies!"

Sure I could. And I had one heck of a good reason, too. …Except, I couldn't tell her the reason. Instead, all I could do was carefully recite the same explanation I had given her year after year: "Understanding the beliefs of different cultures is important, Bridge. Conner and I were tested all the time, too, you know. Our parents just want us to be educated and well-rounded."

"My Dad thinks it's a waste of time."

And Uncle Dave thought marriage counseling would've been a waste of time, too, but that hadn't worked out so well for him in the end. I managed to avoid saying as much to his daughter, however, and settled instead on offering a noncommittal shrug.

"It's ridiculous, Katie!" she insisted, apparently not picking up on how I very much did not want to have this conversation again. Still, with all the certainty of a teenager who thinks she knows best, she plowed right on: "I mean, really, who cares if I know that a werewolf can choose to shift whenever it wants?!"

I waited a couple of seconds before turning and fixing a long, serious stare in her direction, but she was too preoccupied shaking her head and rolling her eyes to pick up on the silent hint. After a moment, I gave in and verbally reminded her of one important omission: "Except?"

The prompting earned me another roll of her eyes, but at least she amended her earlier statement. "Except on the full moon, I know, I know. Jeez! I have been studying, Katie… even though it's completely ridiculous that I have to."

I simply turned my head away and rolled my shoulder once again in practiced nonchalance. "You never know; it might come in handy someday."

"When?" she was quick to challenge, fixing a pointed look in my direction. "Seriously, Katie, when? I'm not really planning on trying out for any game shows anytime soon. …Are you? Am I going to be your phone-a-friend?"

I wanted to tell her. More than anything, I wanted to explain to her exactly how important it was for her to remember all of pesky little details she hated so much. I wanted to make her understand how important it was that she teach her own children every last lesson our parents taught us. I wanted to make it clear to her that one of those details could someday be the difference between life and death.

But I couldn't tell her any of those things, because she wasn't technically a Noble. Even though she was just as much a member of a Noble family as I was, even though we were both equally descended from the same man who had joined forces with forty-nine others to create the Council of Nobles… my cousin wasn't technically a Noble. The title followed the Council seat, which was only passed down to one child each generation – the eldest son, whenever possible, or the nearest male relative if not – and only the immediate family members of the seat holder were considered Nobles. When my grandfather had had the seat, he'd been able to pass on his knowledge of the supernatural to my father and my aunt, but now that the seat belonged to my father, Aunt Nora was expected to keep her knowledge to herself, just as I would be expected to do when the seat eventually passed on to my brother Conner.

It was a stupid rule, but one that kept the secret safe and the world at peace.

Still, even if Bridget wasn't allowed to know the truth about the existence of the supernatural, she needed to at least know the lore. She needed to know how to identify a vampire and how to kill a werewolf, even if she didn't know that they were actually real. After all, if she ever happened to run into one, or if she ever suddenly became a Noble because – God forbid! – something happened to the rest of us… those bedtime stories she despised so much could end up saving her life. They could help her recognize the signs before a vampire got his fangs in her, or could help her understand what was happening if a Councilmember suddenly came knocking on her door, asking to train her son.

She needed to take her studies seriously.

"Hey, is that your brother over there?"

I was quick to snap my head back up and look over in the direction she gestured, my mouth dropping open when, sure enough, my gaze landed on an unmistakable mop of brown hair mulling about over by the barn.

I didn't waste any more time observing him from a distance. Without bothering to give my cousin any warning, I brought my heels back and gave my legs a quick squeeze, sending my hair back into a gallop just as I pushed down into the stirrups and brought myself to a hovering squat once again. She bolted toward the barn, the sound of beating hooves echoing in my ears, and after what felt like only a couple of seconds, I was giving my mare an affectionate pat and hopping right out of the saddle.

"Conner!" I shouted out as I closed the distance between us and wrapped my arms around him in a tight hug.

He returned the gesture without hesitation, one hand lifting to ruffle my hair when he pulled away. "Hey, there, Katie! How've you—"

I cut him off before he had the chance to finish the question. "What are you doing back?" I asked, stepping back and giving him a quick once-over to make sure I hadn't missed any obvious injuries. "What happened? Is it Dad?"

He placed a hand on my shoulder, a quick laugh that didn't quite reach his eyes tumbling out of him. "Woah there! We're fine. Dad's fine. I know you're surprised to see me and a—"

"Surprised?" I parroted, momentarily incredulous. "The Council doesn't break for another two weeks, Conner! You shouldn't be back!"

He made a face in response. "Gee, thanks so much for the warm welcome, Sis."

"Oh, shut up," I chided as I brushed his hand off of me. He knew perfectly well that that wasn't what I'd meant and this wasn't the time for jokes. "What happened, Conner?"

His smile fell quicker than his arm, and the suddenly solemn expression he wore had my stomach immediately twisting in knots. "Dad wants to tell you himself. He's in a meeting right now, but he should be done any minute, and then he'll fill you in on everything."

"But why can't you—" I started to ask, before cutting myself off when the crunch of gravel behind me made it clear we were no longer alone. I didn't need to turn to realize that our cousin had finally caught up.


"Bridge!" Conner was quick to side-step me and pull the sixteen-year-old into a huge, spinning hug. She was laughing in delight before her feet were back on the ground. "How are you, Kiddo? Have you been growing?"

For what had to be the fifth time that day, I watched Bridget roll her eyes dramatically, but there was a still a smile on her lips even as she offered a sarcastic reply. "That's what people tend to do when you're gone for months at a time, Con."

"…Right," my brother returned, both eyebrows arched as he sent a look over her head that was somewhere between amusement and surprise.

I returned the look with a shrug. She was sixteen; what did he expect?

"But hey! You're back early! Are you and Uncle Tom going to be sticking around for a while?"

It was a good question, and one that I wanted to know the answer to as well, but my evasive big brother wasn't about to say anything on the matter – that much was clear from the way he awkwardly cleared his throat. "Bridge, I think Aunt Nora was looking for you when I got in," he commented instead. "You late for a test or something?"

"…Maybe." The redhead had the good sense to appear sheepish at that, ducking her head and stealing a quick glance toward the porch door. "Is she mad?"

"Well, I wouldn't keep her waiting much longer if I were you."

She groaned in response and seemed to resign herself to her fate, before suddenly perking up and clapping her hands together. "The horses!" She suddenly announced. "Someone's got to take care of the horses, and it would be irresponsible of me to run back inside without properly brushing Finn down and returning him to his stall. And while I'm at it, I can take care of Moxie for you, Katie."

She was stalling and being incredibly obvious about it, but for once, I could only encourage it. After all, if Bridget was taking care of my mare, then that freed me up to get to pry more information out of my brother. "Thank you, Bridge," I told her before Conner could get the chance to do something like insist she run along for her exam while I brush down both horses alone. "We'll let your mom know that you'll be in once they're both taken care of."

She flashed a grin in response, pulling Conner into another quick hug. "Catch up with you later?"

"You got it," he promised, a tight smile on his face as he stepped back and gave her a nudge in the direction of the stables.

We both watched in silence as she collected the two horses and led them into the barn, waiting until she was out of sight before we both turned back to face each other. Conner beat me to the punch.

"I know you have questions," he said as he put his hand right back on my shoulder, "and I promise you we'll tell you everything, but Dad wants to tell you himself, alright?"

"Oh come on, Conner," I tried to argue. "That's—"

"He made me promise, Katie! Please, just let him tell you himself."

I took a moment, looking up into my brother's eyes and trying to figure out whether or not he looked like he was going to budge. He didn't so much as blink as he held my stare. "Alright," I grudgingly replied, letting out a loud huff of air with the word.

Conner immediately dropped his grip on me. "Thank y—"

I turned on my heel before he could finish the word. "Alright, Conner. If Dad wants to be the one to tell me what the hell is going on, then he can tell me, but he's going to tell me now."


I started walking before he could grab me again, making a beeline for the house, my brother hot on my heels.

"He's in a meeting!"

"Oh, I know," I assured him, not offering anything else as I pulled open the screen door. I figured it was pretty gracious of me to give it enough of an extra little push so it stayed open long enough for my brother to slip inside behind me, but he didn't bother to thank me.

"I don't think you get it, Katie. He's in there with—"

"Don't care, Conner," I informed him, yanking my arm out of his grip when he once again tried to slow me down.

"Oh, don't be a spoiled brat!"

That got my attention. I paused immediately, spinning on my heels and narrowing my eyes at him. "I am not a—"

It was his turn to interrupt me, a loud scoff cutting me off mid sentence. "I told you we would tell you, alright? You just need to wait five fucking minutes!"

And oh, he really should have known better, because I had never been a particularly patient person. Turning back around, I took off down the hall once more, ignoring the low curse of protest that echoed behind me. "I wait around for months, Conner," I seethed aloud once he had caught up to me again, "so I think I'm allowed to be a little bit impatient when you waltz back here two weeks before the Council is supposed to break and tell me something huge happened but I need to wait before figuring out what it is."

"It's nothing to worry abou—"

"Bullshit!" I snapped, only to immediately regret it and raise a hand apologetically. I didn't raise my voice with my brother; I never had, and I didn't want to start now. "Look," I started again, sighing once and making sure my tone was much more restrained before I continued, "I get why you didn't want to say anything in front of Bridget, but me? Conner, come on, you and I don't keep secrets from each other! You and I both know the only time the Council ever breaks early is when something major happens. Don't treat me like a child. The last time this happened I was… what, five? Six? That time, both of the Enforcers had been killed and everyone was panicking about the safety of the world! Who's dead, Conner? What's going on?"

"Damn it, Katelyn!" Without any more of a warning, he grabbed me by the arm and jerked me to a stop, apparently done playing keep-up through the halls of our childhood home. With an irritated look on his face, he stepped closer and raised both of his hands to my shoulder, this time giving me a rough little shake for emphasis. "No one's dead, alright? There's just been an… incident. There was a little panic at first, sure, but the Council's got everything under control now. They've got a solution that is going to ensure we have much more control over all of the werewolves' actions from now on, so there's absolutely nothing to worry about, okay? You have my word."

"It was the werewolves, then?" I wasn't sure if that was more or less reassuring. The werewolves were the biggest supernatural threat by far, so I had kind of assumed that the Council breaking early would have something to do with them… but if the Council was taking control of them somehow, then that meant this really was a big deal. "What happened?"

He looked at me with pleading green eyes. "Dad will tell you everything as soon as he's done with his meeting, I promise."

"Conner, come on!"

For just a second, it looked as if I might have gotten through to him, because he let out a sigh and pinched his eyes closed, dropping his head toward the floor. "You're right, okay?" he admitted, hands giving my shoulders a quick squeeze. Slowly, he looked up at me through overgrown brown bangs. "It is big, but I promise, everything is okay now, and Dad will tell you everything as soon as he's out. Twenty minutes – that's all I'm asking, here. He made me promise not to say anything."

This time, it was me who sighed, deflating a little bit at the intensity in my brother's eyes. "You have to understand, Con—"

"No, Katie, you have to understand. This is not your decision, alright? He's in there with Antonio Cannizzaro, okay?"

It took me a minute to be sure I'd heard him right, and then it took me another moment before I realized he wasn't joking. "What?" I questioned in a harsh whisper, as if repeating the name at full volume was sure to make us overheard. "Cannizzaro? Cannizzaro is here? Right now? In our house? Damn it, Conner! The Speaker of the Council of Nobles doesn't do house calls! What is going on? I'm freaking out right now, okay? I need to know wha—"

"Someone's been bitten."

I froze, absolutely sure my mind was playing tricks on me and I hadn't actually heard what my brain was telling me I'd heard. Someone couldn't have been bitten – that just didn't happen. Bitten rhymed with a number of things; I must've heard him wrong, or he must've been playing a very cruel joke on me… But he didn't look amused, and the way that he stiffly released my shoulders and turned away, hands lifting in clenched fists towards his forehead…

He wasn't joking.

"The man wasn't turned," he elaborated after a moment, the tension obvious in his muscles also present in his clipped tone, "but he was bitten. He'll be fine, but obviously this isn't the sort of thing to be taken lightly."

A good long minute of silence passed before I was able to remember exactly how vocal cords worked. It took another minute before I remembered what words were. "But… that hasn't happened since the Great War!"

Conner only nodded, still refusing to turn away from the wall. "Hence the Council breaking early."

"My God…" I couldn't think of anything better to say; I couldn't even fully wrap my head around the fact that this had happened, not after over six hundred years of no one even really coming close to getting bitten.

This was a direct breach of the Treaty. This meant war.

The expression on my brother's face when he finally did turn around told me he knew what I was thinking, and that I wasn't far off base. "Do you get why Dad wanted to tell you, now?"

The question sent a jolt through me, my mind suddenly catching up and focusing in on something else Conner had said. "Wait, you said the Council had come up with a solution, one that would give us more control over werewolf actions. What's the solution?"

He didn't answer, an absolutely broken expression on his face as he only shook his head. "I can't, Katie."

"You've already told me this much," I pointed out, but the helpless look my brother sent me made it clear that this was the part of the story he'd really promised not to say anything about. But what could possibly be worse than someone being bitten? And what could possibly be preventing an all-out war right now?

"Fifteen minutes," Conner pleaded. "Come wait with me in the family room. Dad'll tell you everything then."

"Because he's meeting with Cannizzaro right now." That was key part of this, somehow. My eyes narrowed speculatively. "Cannizzaro is here, and this solution is somehow complicated enough that you aren't allowed to explain it to me yourself. …It involves us, doesn't it? Is Dad being put in charge of something?"

He tried not to answer, but the grimace that spread across his face told me everything.

"Conner!" I exclaimed, only to be shushed as he threw a glance over his shoulder and raised both hands in a calming gesture.

"It doesn't need to involve us at all, okay?"

"But it could?"

"It won't," he corrected. "I… you're aware of the current werewolf hierarchy, right? How there's only one Enforcer? …The Council's managed to make an agreement with the Sovereigns; they're letting the Council fill the open Enforcer position in order to avoid a war."

"Oh, of course!" It was such a simple, brilliant solution, that I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it myself. "So…" I drew out, searching Conner's face for a clue as to what the correct deduction was, "there's a chance Dad will become an Enforcer?"

He blew out an irritated breath. "No, Katie—"

"Then you're going to? Conner! That's incredible!"

"No one in this family is going to become an Enforcer, damn it!" he snapped, causing me to flinch away from him in surprise. His expression immediately paled; he never raised his voice with me, either. "I'm sorry, Sis, but aren't you up to date on your werewolf law? There can't be two male Enforcers! The Council broke early because Cannizzaro wants to talk to you, but you're going to refuse the position. He—Katie! Wait! Dad's still tal—"

But I wasn't listening. It was suddenly clear to me exactly what was going on in that meeting: our father must've been trying to talk Cannizzaro out of meeting with me in the first place. Of course Dad wouldn't want Conner to say anything to me! He wanted to tell me after the fact, after the Speaker had been convinced to go talk to another Noble family instead.

…Which could happen at literally any moment.

"Katie!" Conner called out again, but I'd already made it to the end of the hall, and before I could be caught by the arm and yanked back again, I burst through the door to the library.

And, for just a second when I registered the expression on my father's face, I wished I could take it back. I'd been escorted home in a police car once – which had been Conner's fault, not mine – but even then, my father hadn't looked nearly as angry.

"Katelyn!" his voice boomed. "This is a very important, very private conversation that you are interrupting. Leave us immediately!"

I almost didn't register the second man in the room – a slightly older gentleman who had turned to face me as well. "There's no need to be rude, Thomas," he contradicted calmly but firmly, waving a dismissive hand in my father's direction before stepping forward and offering it to me. A warm, wide smile spread across his lips as he nodded once in greeting. "Katelyn Hughes, I presume? I'm Antonio Cannizzaro."

I couldn't help but do a double-take, somewhat awed to be in the presence of the Speaker of the Council of Nobles for the first time. He was shorter than I had imagined him to be, and a bit greyer as well, but he was also much friendlier than my father and brother had ever described. "It's nice to meet you, Sir," I managed to say, giving my head a respectful dip as I took his hand and firmly shook it.

It occurred me then that I didn't exactly have a plan for storming in on this meeting, but luckily it didn't look as though anyone was waiting for an explanation.

"We were just talking about you, actually," the Speaker admitted. "Your father and I have something we'd like to talk to you about."

Of course, my father immediately disagreed. "Antonio, I have already made it very clear to you that my daughter is not going to be involved in this."

"She's an adult, Thomas." I almost couldn't believe my ears; the Speaker was defending my right to have a say in something Council-related? It was the 21st Century after all! "Don't you think it would be prudent to let the young lady hear the offer and make an informed decision for herself? If she wants no part in the matter, then of course she will not be involved."

I already knew I wanted to be involved, but the look on my father's face stopped me from saying so without at least hearing what the Speaker had to say. Actually, the look on my father's face stopped me from doing anything at all, the fury swimming in his gaze pinning me to the spot like a scared little girl.

A moment passed, before he gave a slow, reluctant nod. "How much did Conner tell you?"

"…He said that someone was bitten." The sharp look that was sent in my direction told me I apparently didn't have as good of a poker face as I though I did.

"And he undoubtedly also told you that the Council has decided the best way to respond to this incident is to have a Noble step in and fill the vacant Enforcer position."

Cannizzaro spread his hands in front of him in a wide gesture, that same smile still in place as he smiled at me. "It's an opportunity to help protect the world from the werewolves, Katelyn."

"And an opportunity to die young," my father was even quicker to add, shooting me a pointed look. "You'd have to leave your entire life behind, Katie. You'd have to leave everyone you've ever known and move to Wolf Creek – a town in the middle of nowhere, completely made up of werewolves. You'd have to—"

"Don't make this sound worse than it is, Thomas," the Speaker rebuked, clinking his tongue in a disapproving fashion. "You'd be able to see your family at some of the Council meetings, Katelyn, and this truly is an opportunity to help protect people, to use all of your skills and training to help support the mission of the Council. I understand you hold several gold medals from international youth archery competitions, and that you spent last summer interning with the State Department at the U.N. The Council thinks that you'd be the best woman for the job, and we'd be in your debt for helping to protect humanity."

"But this is your decision, Katie, not the Council's. No one will hold it against you if you don't want to do this." I could read between the lines well enough; my father's real warning was that he would hold it against me if I decided that I did want to go through with it.

"Your father's right," Cannizzaro agreed easily. "It's completely your decision. Please don't think that you would be letting anyone down if you say no; there are other women we can ask, it's just that we think you have the most potential. It's your decision – not ours, and not your father's. What do you think?"

The only thinking I had to do was to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I'd been waiting for an opportunity to get involved with the Council for as long as I could remember, and this was the Speaker standing before me, extending a personal invitation.

I didn't so much as glance in my father's direction.

"I'll do it."

Gloomy's right, it's been a year since I took this story down to rework it, and I owe you all an explanation. I've been trying to edit this monster of a story down to a workable size in the hopes of possibly publishing it someday, but... I don't know. Grad school was a miserably draining experience and I'm only just back into a healthy mindset where I can actually write again, but I miss you all terribly and I don't want to wait to share this story with you again.

I can't promise that this won't get taken down again once I am through with the edits and making progress towards possibly publishing this, but I can at least promise that if that time does come, I'll keep you guys updated on where you can find the rest of the work. And in mean time, I'll keep posting some chapters here. I think you guys will like some of the tweaks that have been made to the chapters you've already seen, and I know you're all eager to get to the things you haven't seen yet. (;