A/N: Hey everyone! So this was up a while ago and I took it down...and now it's back up. This story and another one called Cursed which is coming soon, are both prelude stories to the Tales of Darley Heights series. I plan to publish the first chapter of Feral, book 1 in the series, in late October...so please let me know what you think of this, it's all connected to the same universe :)
Morgan Faulkner flicked on her lighter and cast her gaze around the forest when the wolves began to howl. She raised her cigarette to her lips and let the flame lick at the end of it. Around her, the howls continued like a chorus of the damned. She took a puff of the cigarette before exhaling slowly, watching the smoke as it billowed out in front of her. The howls sent chills down her spine and called to her, like she was a moth drawn to the light. They were meant to – it was the call of her pack, and as the mate of the former alpha, she must answer.
Spitting out a curse, Morgan let the cigarette drop to the dirt, crushing it under her boot. It had only been a few days since the death of the alpha, Joel Ridley. The wolves had been allowed their time to mourn, and Morgan had needed more time than most. She and Joel had been near inseparable for five years. Unlike most of their pack, she was born, not bitten. The only born female werewolf. Before Joel's death, that hadn't meant a thing. Now, it caused unrest and distrust among some of the pack – including Joel's beta, Elliot Connor.
Personally, Morgan thought that they had much bigger problems, including finding out who had killed Joel in the first place. A born alpha was difficult to murder, but the death had been much too clean to have been one of theirs. It was close enough to the full moon for one of the older wolves to have gone into a partial shift, yet the neat cut across Joel's throat looked more like it was the product of a knife, not claws.
Morgan's grey eyes flicked upwards to the full moon and she let the familiar tremors take a hold of her body. It took only moments now. As a child, it had been hours of excruciating pain. Now, Morgan knew that it was like ripping off a Band-Aid. Don't fight the change, let it consume you.
Shaking out her light brown fur, Morgan bolted through the forest towards her pack. She loved the feeling of running in her wolf form. The dirt under her paws, the huge bounds she took with each powerful stretch of her legs…it made her feel alive and energetic. The thick scent of smoke made her nose twitch, and she followed the smell, knowing that she would find her pack at the bonfire.
The forest trees spaced out to form a clearing, and the pack had gathered there, both in human and wolf form. Morgan shifted back into her human form, striding over to grab some of the clothes draped over a large log. There was no shame in nudity before the pack, but they still preferred to be dressed in human form. Her eyes skimmed the silhouettes before her, and then the darkness of the forest. There were thirteen of them present, which meant five yet to come – including Elliot. Her lip curled in disdain. How like him, to make a fashionably late entrance at something as serious as this.
The familiar voice made her turn, adjusting the hem of her shirt. There were many among the Darley Heights pack that Morgan would refer to as sister or brother, but there was only one other werewolf that was her true blood. Neal, the youngest member of their pack at seventeen years old. She crossed over and they clasped hands as if about to shake hands, before Morgan pulled him into a hug. Relief coursed through her, shoulders relaxing. This would be a lot easier with Neal here.
"Neal. I didn't know if you'd come."
The boy scoffed. "Exams can wait. We need a new alpha, and my vote counts."
The vote. Things had been different once, more brutal. When an alpha died, those amongst the pack who wished to take up the position would fight until one of them was victorious. Joel had changed that particular law, said it was wasting blood on the dirt. Out of respect for him, the pack upheld that. But Morgan knew that if the vote did not carry a clear winner, bloodshed was inevitable.
"Are you going to go for it?" Morgan asked tentatively, gripping Neal's shoulder. She knew the answer, or rather, what the answer should be. Neal was a child still. Although a born werewolf, there was much about their ways that he didn't know. Leading a pack was no task for a teenage boy.
"Of course not," Neal responded indignantly, before he licked his lips and lowered his voice. "But you should."
He was not the first to say that to Morgan since Joel's death. It had always been in whispers, as though the rest of the pack were afraid of what Elliot would think. He had been outspokenly open to becoming the new alpha, and probably didn't think anyone would challenge him. Elliot and Joel had been like brothers, so who could deny it? Morgan thought she could – despite Elliot's charm, he was lazy and arrogant, and would make a terrible alpha. His decisions would be hedonistic, not for the good of the pack.
Morgan hoped she had the abilities that were present in an alpha. She liked to think having a younger brother meant she had a good mixture of discipline and seeing the need for independence – it had just been her and Neal in their family since their mum had died two years ago. Yet the pack was also their family, even if blood did run thicker.
Over by the bonfire, the younger werewolves had gathered with Cards Against Humanity and an iPod dock. Some growling, guttural music emanated from the speakers through the forest, accompanied by the occasional howl from one of the pack. Neal grinned across at them, and Morgan could see that her brother wanted to join in with some of the games. This was what Joel would have wanted – not for his death to be mourned, but his life to be celebrated. Rejoicing in the pack for the good memories that had passed, and what was yet to come.
"Go on then." Morgan gave Neal a light shove in the small of his back in the direction of the bonfire. A smile crossed her lips as she watched him sit with the others, but it quickly soured as a big, light-furred wolf made its way into the clearing, drawing the attention of everyone within the pack.
He shifted, giving the rest of the pack an easy smile as he tugged on some jeans and a flannel shirt. Morgan folded her arms as she watched him, unimpressed. There had been a rumour circulating that Elliot may have been the one to kill Joel, to try and take leadership for himself. Morgan doubted that. It would require too much effort on Elliot's part, more effort than he could bother putting in, and he and Joel had been extremely close. Morgan knew all of Joel's secrets, and none of them had involved a disagreement with Elliot.
If alphas were chosen simply by appearance, there was no doubt in Morgan's mind that Elliot would win the vote with ease. He in was in his mid-twenties, almost six and a half feet tall with broad shoulders and a friendly smile. Morgan, in comparison, had just turned twenty-three and barely scraped five foot four. Not exactly an intimidating figure for a potential alpha.
"Morgan, how are you doing?" It was her that he approached first, clasping hands with her in the same fashion as she had with Neal. When he drew back, his expression was solemn. "I heard you were the one to find Joel's body. You holding up okay?"
"Yeah," Morgan whispered, but her mind drifted back to three days ago when she'd walked into the lounge room and found Joel on his back, eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling. Her piercing scream had roused the pack from their various homes around Darley Heights. The blood had stained the carpet so badly that she and Neal had to rip it up.
Two other men approached Elliot, and he pressed his lips together in a firm line. Oliver Dunn, dark-haired and slender. Alex Winters, incredibly handsome but also incredibly quiet. Elliot slung an arm around each of them, leading them away from Morgan while talking in a low mutter. It didn't surprise her. Alex and Oliver had also been good friends with Joel, not as close as Elliot, but close enough to be heavily grieving his death. Neither of them would stand for alpha, Morgan was certain of that.
Her eyes drifted over the rest of the pack – in particular, the members who could very well stand for alpha. Belle Johnson, tall and beautiful like some Amazonian goddess, staring silently into the flames of the bonfire. Coby Turner, sitting with Neal and the other youngsters, laughing over someone's card. They were the only ones who might have the self-confidence required to step up for the vote.
Silence fell over the clearing except for the crackling of logs on the bonfire. Morgan glanced over her shoulder to realise that Elliot had crossed over to stand in the middle of the gathering. All of those in wolf form had shifted back into their human skins – difficult for the younger wolves, but possible. Shoving her hands into her pockets, Morgan crossed over to stand beside Neal. Elliot had the ability to hold a crowd's attention – yet another useful trait in an alpha. Was it even worth trying to stand against him, knowing that it was most likely he would win the vote?
"We come together today not only for our monthly gathering, but also to mourn the death of our alpha, Joel Ridley." Elliot cast his eyes to the leaves strewn across the grass. "We also come to elect someone to take his place. Tradition dictates that those who want to take over as alpha must step forward the vote. If there is a tie…we all know what happens then."
Morgan picked at the hem of her shirt, still torn. Did she really want to go through with this? Was division within the pack what Joel would have wanted, or would he have preferred that she step down to allow Elliot to become the alpha? Uncertainty twisted her gut, and she glanced to Neal for support. Her younger brother offered her a smile of encouragement. Morgan looked back to Elliot.
"I would be honoured to take over where Joel left off as the alpha." Elliot folded his arms over his chest. "Who else?"
"Me." As Morgan had suspected, Belle strode forward, chin lifted boldly. Her eyes were focused on Elliot as though daring him to challenge her.
"I will." Coby stepped out of the shadows and into the firelight, and Morgan had to restrain a smirk at the knowledge that she'd guessed correctly. Perhaps she just knew the pack too well now.
"Anyone else?" Elliot pressed, and she felt his gaze settle directly upon her. Now was the moment to make her decision. She was not as outgoing and social as Joel had been, as Elliot and the others were. Yet something drove Morgan to step forward, one foot slowly in front of the other. Elliot raised his eyebrows, but he didn't look surprised. He looked somewhat troubled.
"I'll stand for alpha."
Neal looked thrilled, but Morgan felt her stomach churn. Her eyes raked over Elliot, and she knew that if she had to fight him, things would not end well. Elliot was a bitten werewolf, but he was a lot bigger than her. She hoped there could just be a clear majority so that it wouldn't come to that. Nodding slowly, eyeing off the competition, Elliot turned to the rest of the pack.
"We haven't had to put this into practise before, but let's try. Who wants to vote for Coby?"
One hand. Coby scowled.
Three hands. Better, but not enough.
She almost didn't want to look. It wasn't defeat that she was afraid of, and she knew it. Neal's hand was the first in the air, straight and proud. Slowly, hesitantly, others began to raise their hands. One of those hands belonged to Alex. Morgan's palms were clammy as she counted them. Five hands in total, meaning that…
"Fuck," Morgan murmured under her breath.
"Me?" Elliot asked, but his voice was curt and his cold eyes fixed upon Morgan. He blamed her for this, as they both knew if she hadn't stepped up, he would easily have won the vote. Another five hands were raised in the air.
As much as she despised the situation, Morgan could not help but smirk slightly at how Elliot's jaw clenched. This had been what he and some of the others had been concerned about – that she, the born female werewolf, would try and take control of the pack. However, 'take control' were not the words that Morgan would have applied to the situation. She was just doing what she felt was best for her pack, as no doubt Elliot was.
"Alright." Elliot nodded slowly, looking as though he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else. "This means Morgan and I will have to fight for the pack – unless you want to step down, Morgan?"
To back down now would indicate cowardice, fear of Elliot. Although her stomach twisted itself into knots, clenching and roiling, Morgan shook her head vigorously. Her pride refused to bend, to allow her to let Elliot to take control. She would be a laughing stock to the entire pack if she backed away from a fight, and it would also prove that she was unworthy to be an alpha if a challenge frightened her.
Elliot's eyes flashed, although it was too quick for Morgan to tell whether it was anger at her stubbornness or relish at the opportunity to fight her.
"Good. Next full moon, we'll fight here. The winner will become alpha of the pack."
Elliot didn't need to say what would happen to the loser. Not an omega, but the next worst thing – the lowest rung of the pack, remembered forever as the werewolf who stepped up to the challenge only to be humiliated.
It was only later, when she and Neal had returned home, that Morgan was hit by the full weight of everything that had happened. It impacted her with the force of a bullet, and she grabbed a bottle of red wine and sat down cross-legged on the couch. Being a werewolf meant she had a very high metabolism, and it would take her a lot to get drunk. She could do 'a lot'.
Rain had started to patter down quietly outside, and lightning flashed brightly behind the curtains. Morgan ignored the oncoming storm, unscrewing the lid and taking a deep swig from the bottle. There was a lump in her throat she was trying to swallow down, and tears pricking at her eyes that she was trying to blink away. Wiping her nose with her sleeve, Morgan curled her knees to her chest. Unable to stop the onslaught of feelings and memories, she lost her battle with composure.
Joel had been her everything. She had been eighteen when they'd started dating, and he'd been two years older. He was her first serious boyfriend, and they'd connected on the level of both being born werewolves. He had been like an older brother to Neal, showing the kid an affection that previously only Morgan and their mum had bestowed upon him. She'd been twenty when Joel had marked her as his mate, the same time that he told her he loved her for the first time.
"Dammit!" Morgan hurled the bottle across the room in blind rage, viciously satisfied as it smashed against the wall from the force of the throw. Red wine dripped down the wall and seeped into the carpet like blood, Joel's blood. Sniffing, Morgan angrily wiped the tears from her cheeks. Thumping on the stairs alerted her to the fact that her fit of temper had disrupted Neal. Her brother stopped on the last stair, peering at her with concerned wide eyes.
"Morgan? What's up?"
"Nothing," Morgan responded hastily, even though she knew her response was completely unconvincing. Due to the six-year age gap between her and Neal, she tended to coddle her brother, treat him like he was a child. But there could be no denying that Neal was grown up now, and he seemed to know Morgan's moods better than she did herself.
"No, talk to me." Neal sat down beside his sister on the couch, gesturing to the shattered glass all over the carpet. "That isn't you. This isn't you. It's about Joel, isn't it? Is it about Elliot too?"
Morgan cursed him for being far too perceptive for his own good. "Of course it is."
"Drinking won't help, you know that," Neal chided her gently, sitting down and rubbing her arm. He had always been a very intuitive and compassionate kid, and Morgan couldn't help but smile tightly, tilting her head to the side so it rested on his shoulder. "You did the right thing, Morgan. You'd make a great alpha."
"But is that what Joel would have wanted?" Morgan inquired softly. Her dead mate's wishes were important to her, and she felt that even with him gone, she needed to do everything in her power to make sure that things in the pack were the way he would have wanted them to be. She owed him that much.
"I don't know." Neal sounded momentarily confused, and Morgan felt a sliver of doubt. Did he too partially regret her standing for alpha? "I guess all we can do now is what we think is best."
A knock at the door alerted both werewolves to the fact that they had a visitor. Morgan tensed immediately, shoulders hunching and hands balling into ready fists. She knew who it would be, so she pushed herself up off the couch and turned to her younger brother. Neal's eyes were wide.
"Go back to bed, Neal. You've got school tomorrow. I'll sort this out."
Neal's troubled blue eyes indicated that he wanted to object, but he never said a word. Instead he eased his frame off the couch and silently padded upstairs. Morgan raked a hand through her tangled hair and walked over to answer the door. She was fully aware that she looked like shit, but at this point in time, she couldn't bring herself to care. Undoing the lock, Morgan wrenched the door open, raising her eyebrows at her visitor. Elliot lowered his umbrella, water droplets pattering to the ground and lightning flashing in the sky behind him as he examined Morgan expectantly.
"Well? Can I come in?"
Morgan heaved a sigh and swung the door open wider, allowing Elliot to step inside. He was not the person she wanted to see right now, especially not with Neal home. Yet she knew that turning him away would result in more bad blood between them, and that was something they didn't need right now. Morgan leaned against the kitchen bench, watching Elliot with narrowed eyes as he busied himself with his umbrella.
"Why are you here?" she demanded. She made no attempt to be tactful – considering how things had turned out, she felt she had every right to be suspicious of Elliot. He closed the space between them in one stride, looping his arms around her waist. Morgan shoved him in the chest with all the strength she had, rage coursing through her veins. She slapped him across the face, seething when he barely flinched.
"How dare you."
"Are you serious?" Elliot raised his eyebrows, looking more amused than anything. Morgan's heart was hammering in her chest and she bared her teeth, prepared for a fight. "It didn't bother you before. Or had you forgotten?"
Morgan's fierce gaze remained locked onto Elliot, but she could feel her resolve wavering. He was right. What had started with a bonfire party for Neal's latest birthday had turned, twisted into something between her and Elliot that neither of them had anticipated and that both of them had deeply regretted the following morning. Morgan was Joel's mate, Elliot was his beta. They had crossed a line that couldn't be uncrossed. While Joel's death might make Elliot feel liberated, Morgan felt as though the guilt weighed even heavier in her stomach.
"It was wrong. We shouldn't have done it." Morgan raised her eyebrows coolly. "If you think seducing me into backing down is going to work, you're really wrong."
"Come on, Morgan." Elliot's exasperated tone and the way his shoulders slumped told her that was exactly what he'd come here to do. He had always been a charmer, and he knew it. Just like he had charmed Morgan on the night of Neal's 17th, he clearly hoped to do the same now. "You can't honestly think you'll win, that the others will follow you? They respect you, sure, but not as a leader."
"Then why did so many of them vote for me?" Morgan planted her hands on her hips, ensuring her voice was low enough so that she wouldn't wake Neal. Just as her affair with Elliot was not for the ears of her younger brother, neither was them bickering over the vacant position of the alpha.
"Out of respect for Joel?" Elliot shrugged his powerful shoulders, casting his gaze around the kitchen. She honestly didn't understand how he was so comfortable with this, with knowing what they had done behind their alpha's back and then seeking to use that against her. It only hardened Morgan's resolve, made her all the more adamant that he would not make a wise leader.
"You're unbelievable." Morgan pointed a finger towards the door. "I want you out of my house. Now."
Elliot held up his hand defensively, trudging over to grab his umbrella. Despite his slow, deliberate movements, Morgan knew that he was pissed off. She was a bit wary now, wondering why he was so desperate for her to back down. Surely it wasn't usual for private confrontation to occur. Shrugging the matter off, Morgan watched in cold silence as Elliot stepped outside, putting up his umbrella.
She closed the door quietly behind it, although she wished she could have slammed it. Clicking the lock shut, she raked a hand through her hair and tried to think. Was it worth challenging Elliot when he was so determined to back down? Pushing such weak thoughts of failure aside, Morgan resolved that there was another issue that needed to be focused on: how Joel had died. She had no desire to interrogate the members of the pack, so she needed an outsider. Someone who knew the laws of the supernatural world too, so it couldn't be the police – they did jack shit really anyway.
Steeling herself, Morgan crossed over to the fridge and picked up a worn shred of paper with a name and a mobile number on it. Peeling off the butterfly fridge magnet, Morgan set the scrap of paper on the bench. For a few moments, she just stared at it, if that would do something in itself. The number belonged to a person that she would rather not call unless it was a last resort. She supposed that this must be a last resort.
Morgan's hands were shaking as she slipped her phone out of her pocket. She didn't believe in anything this man represented, but he had been a good friend of Joel's, and Joel had always supported him. Putting her doubts aside, Morgan put in the number and called Drake Dormien.
The apartment was old, and that was possibly the best thing Morgan could have said about it. It made her a little nervous, but she never would have admitted that. The elevator was out of order, so she took the stairs up to the third floor. The corridor was dark, with less than half of the lights actually working. Hip hop music was blaring from room 301, and the odour of something that smelled suspiciously like weed wafted down the corridor. Wrinkling her nose in distaste, Morgan forced herself to continue until she came to room 304.
The numbers had started to peel off the door – in fact, the 0 was completely gone and had been drawn on in what looked like permanent marker. Raising a hand to knock, Morgan stiffened as the door was wrenched open. Even with her werewolf senses, she hadn't heard anyone approach the door. A tall man with a shock of black hair raised his eyebrows at her, before checking the corridor suspiciously.
"Morgan, right?" He had a smoker's voice, deep and raspy. He caught her wrist and tugged her inside, causing her to scowl as he slammed the door shut behind her. "Joel's mate. Thought I'd be seeing you, at some point or another."
"Joel's dead," Morgan stated, looking around the dim apartment with distaste curling her lip. There were empty chip packets strewn over the couch, beer bottles on the table and all over the kitchen sink. It smelled like something stronger than weed in here. Morgan didn't think she wanted to know.
"Really?" The man, who she assumed must be Drake since he hadn't yet introduced himself, picked up one of the bottles and rolled his eyes. "I totally didn't know that. I mean, I only have ancient magic running through my veins and all that…"
Morgan snarled. "Cut the crap, warlock. I don't even know that I believe in your voodoo bullshit. I'm here for answers."
Drake's eyes took on a dark gleam. "Do you have what's required? I'm sure Joel told you enough about what I do."
Feeling nauseous, Morgan reached into her bag and took out a small box. Tugging the lid off and impatiently unwrapping the tissue paper, she cleared some space on the table and placed Joel's severed ring finger down. Drake offered her a smirk, clearly entertained by her revulsion, watching as she took a few steps back. He did the opposite, swooping in to inspect the finger.
"Yeah, this'll do."
"I went to a lot of trouble to get that." Morgan folded her arms. Werewolves were savage by nature, but seeing her former alpha and mate's finger on the table, poked and prodded at by some so-called warlock, made her feel queasy. "So you'd better be able to get me some answers."
"Or you'll tear my throat out?" Drake asked mildly, looking up at her with a complete lack of fear in his gaze. "Please. You werewolves and your threats. I'm not afraid."
Morgan watched in silence as he picked up the finger, holding it up to what little light streamed through the curtains. She folded her arms and convinced herself that this was for the best, because it was the only way to make herself feel less creeped out. A shiver ran down her spine nonetheless as Drake's eyes rolled back in his head and he started speaking in tongues. She had never seen him at work before, although apparently Joel had. It freaked the actual hell out of her.
She had never believed in ancient magic before. Morgan had sneered at it, had often derided Joel for trusting Drake. But seeing this now both fascinated and terrified her. It made her certain that something about this must be real, because the warlock was shaking violently, the whites of his eyes gleaming in the dimness. Now Morgan understood that magic was something dark and primal, just as wild as a werewolf turning on the full moon.
Her first instinct, as a predator that had found something it feared, was to turn and claw his throat out. Yet as a born werewolf, Morgan managed to control that particular urge with relative ease. She clenched her hands by her side, but her claws had extended of their own volition, digging bloody crescents into her palms. Her entire body was tense, poised to attack if the need arose.
Drake gasped as if he was breathing in air for the first time, putting the finger down on the table and clinging to it for support. His brow was shining with sweat and any lazy amusement was gone from his eyes as he stared in Morgan in sheer horror.
"What have you done?" he whispered.
"What did you see?" Morgan demanded, her stomach lurching at his words. He certainly knew something, and it involved her, and it was bad. That was enough to immediately make her concerned. When Drake pushed himself away from the table, Morgan caught him by the shoulder and roughly spun him around. "What did you see?"
Drake snarled, his eyes rolling back in his head again. Morgan only had a split second in which to frown before she went flying across the room, slamming against the opposite wall with enough force to make her wince. Drake held his hand towards her, palm facing her, only the whites of his eyes visible once again. When he spoke, it was as a thousand voices were talking as one.
"Morgan Faulkner, you are both the traitor and the betrayed."
She gasped and struggled against Drake's hold, but his power was too great. Her feet dangled uselessly, metres above the ground. Morgan was not used to being helpless, and it was a feeling she loathed. Yet as much as she wanted to resist it more, she also wanted to hear what Drake and the dark magic within him had to say.
"Do you not see? You doomed Joel Ridley. You and Elliot."
"Drake, what are you doing?!" A high-pitched girl's voice rang throughout the lounge, and Morgan caught only a glimpse of a blonde girl before light pierced the room, so bright that she had to screw her eyes shut. Drake's hold on Morgan was released and she collapsed to the ground in a heap of weak limbs.
When the light died and Morgan opened her eyes again, Drake was on his knees on the carpet, a sweet-faced blonde girl standing over him. She appeared to be Neal's age, perhaps slightly younger, yet there was a savagery in her green eyes as she stared down at Drake.
"You will not do that again."
To Morgan's astonishment, Drake nodded fervently, clambering to his feet. "Yes, Celina."
"Wait, who the fuck is this?" Morgan gestured to the blonde girl, eyes darting between Drake and Celina. She was half the warlock's age, too young to be his lover and too old to be his child.
"None of your concern," Drake said sharply, and Morgan knew by his protective stance that they were family, that he cared about this young girl whose power eclipsed even his.
"My name's Celina Prentice." The blonde stepped out from behind Drake, curious eyes raking over Morgan. "I go to high school with your brother, Neal. I'm Drake's cousin."
"What were those voices telling me? Or you or…whatever that was?" Morgan's sharp eyes turned back onto Drake, who was raking a hand through his dark hair. Magic was not something she understood or even wanted to understand. She simply wanted clear, concise answers. "What do you mean, Elliot and I doomed Joel?"
"Sorry, dude." Drake shrugged his shoulders, infuriating Morgan. "The magic speaks through me. It's hard for you wolves to get. But I don't control it. It controls me. Whatever you heard…only you can make sense of it."
"He meant the affair," Celina said quietly, causing Morgan to glance at her. Perhaps it wasn't Drake she was meant to see after all. The young witch was clearly powerful – she had overridden Drake's magic, and now openly spoke of secret matters that not even Drake had uttered aloud. Celina hadn't even touched Joel's finger. Her potential made Morgan feel a bit sick.
"What do you know?" Morgan asked, walking over to the girl. Drake tensed, but Celina touched his arm and he backed down.
"I could tell you who the killer is, but…" Celina looked apologetic. "I need Elliot as well. That's just the way it works. You alone don't give us enough information. But rest assured, it is someone close to the pack."
Morgan thought that mountains would move before she would be able to convince Joel to come and see Drake. As opposed to Morgan, who had always been scornful about the existence of magic, Elliot believed in it – and was afraid of it. He had been with Joel to see Drake once, and whatever he had seen spooked him. It would take a bit to get him to come back, but Morgan hoped that the prospect of catching Joel's killer would be enough to motivate him.
"Thank you, Celina." Morgan offered the girl a wan smile, before growling at her cousin. "You, Drake Dormien, are utterly useless."
"Ah, but it wasn't me you were really here to see after all." A secretive smile graced Drake's lips momentarily, before they pulled back into a scowl. "But I'm not useless, werewolf. You not being able to get it into your thick head is not my problem."
Morgan scowled. She did not how like the warlock implied that werewolves were stupid. She was not magickind, and did not want to comprehend them. That did not make her fool, but a supernatural being of a different kind. A grin lit up Drake's face.
"So. Let's talk payment."
"Absolutely not." Elliot's tone was flat and his gaze was accusatory as his eyes bored into Morgan. She raked a hand through her hair in frustration. She had been anticipating a response like this, but it didn't make it any easier to actually hear it. Morgan had hoped that Elliot might be cooperative. She'd been wrong.
"This is about solving Joel's murder." Morgan didn't have the patience to try and sweet-talk him. She needed him to come and see Celina with her, and if he didn't come voluntarily then she would just have to knock him out and drag his ass over there. She understood that magic spooked Elliot – in truth it scared her, too. Yet as the fight for the position of alpha drew ever closer, Morgan's suspicions about a traitor in the pack grew.
"You really trust Drake Dormien?" Elliot examined Morgan incredulously, shaking his head as an almost amused gleam entered his eyes. "Not to mention his freaky little cousin. What they are might be real, but I don't trust what they can do. It's unnatural."
"They probably think the same about us," Morgan replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. She knew very little about the magickind, but the point wasn't to delve into what each supernatural being thought of each other. The pack needed answers, for Joel's sake rather than her peace of mind. They needed to know who killed him. "Celina said it's someone close to us, Elliot. If that doesn't worry you, then you're more stupid than I thought."
Elliot whirled around faster than one would expect of a man his size, teeth bared as he growled at Morgan. His eyes were glowing amber, the colour every werewolf's eyes went when they shifted. Although Morgan knew he was not about to make a full shift here in his small kitchen, it was almost enough to make her take a step backwards. Almost. But she remembered that she wanted to be an alpha, and alphas were not intimidated. So she lifted her chin and boldly met his ferocious eyes.
"Or was it you who killed Joel?" Morgan asked quietly, tilting her head to the side. "It would definitely explain why you don't want to come…"
The wildness died from Elliot's face, horror contorting his features as his eyes died back down to their usual blue. He examined Morgan with such revulsion that, in that moment, she knew that he hadn't done it. Shaking his head slowly, he took a step away from her as if being close physically pained him.
"How can you even think that, Morgan? You know Joel was like family to me."
"I think he knew what we did," she murmured, staring at the ground. She was still ashamed of what she and Elliot had done. The thought that Joel might have known…she looked up at Elliot, tears burning in her eyes, blurring her vision. "Do you think…do you think he killed himself?"
Immediately, she wished the words unsaid. The hurt that flashed across Elliot's face made her gut twist in a knot. Sniffing and wiping her eyes, Morgan composed herself and sucked in a deep breath.
"Forget it. We need to see them and find out the truth."
Slowly, uncertainly, Elliot nodded.
Elliot's reaction to Drake's apartment was very similar to Morgan's. His nose was wrinkled with disgust as he nudged his way through chip packets. Celina was humming to herself in the lounge, cleaning empty bottles from the table. When she heard them enter, she spun around, her eyes resting firmly upon Elliot. There was something haunting about her gaze. The girl unnerved Morgan, and she rubbed at her bare arms and cast around for Drake.
"He's not here," Celina said softly. "But it was me you came to see, wasn't it?"
"Yes." Morgan knew that unlike her older cousin, Celina possessed the ability to use her magic without needing a person or item to trigger it. She didn't know if this was rare among the magickind, but she did know that the girl was a lot more powerful than Drake. "I brought Elliot, like you asked. Now, tell us who the murderer is."
Celina stepped towards the male werewolf, who visibly flinched away from her. Unperturbed, the blonde surveyed him for a few moments. Her body started shaking, but this was not the wild convulsions that Drake had, where the feral magic had taken over her body. No, Celina was shaking because she was afraid. She threw back her head and released a piercing scream, like the wail of a banshee. It was an awful sound that made Elliot grimace and cover her ears, but Morgan rushed over and gripped the girl by the shoulders.
"Celina, tell me who did this! You know, I can see you do!"
"Neal." The word was little more than a whisper, and tears slid down Celina's cheeks. She licked her lips and raised her voice. "Sweet Neal."
Morgan stumbled backwards as if Celina's words were knives, stabbing and twisting in her flesh. There had to be some kind of mistake. Neal had loved Joel like an older brother, he had idolised him. There could be no way he would kill Joel, there was only one person he would put before Joel…
Which was Morgan.
Realising the truth, Morgan raised a shaking hand to her mouths. Neal had known the truth about her and Elliot. Why would that have led him to Joel? There were too many questions that remained unanswered, but before Morgan could ask them, the door slammed open and Drake stood there, face rigid with a cold fury. He marched over and took Celina in his arms, holding her close.
"Just leave her alone. Can't you see you've upset her?"
"What the hell's wrong with her?" Elliot demanded, examining the blonde warily. "Why does this make her so emotional?"
Drake's eyes narrowed. "There's a lot you don't understand about magickind, and about Celina. Now get out, before I do something I might later regret."
"We have to tell the rest of the pack," Elliot urged as they drove back towards the Faulkner residence. Morgan had barely spoken since they had left Drake's, too shocked about what they'd discovered. They had been digging too deep and now she regretted it. Neal was a sweet and compassionate kid. He had a fire in him at times, but he was no cold-blooded killer. Had Morgan overlooked a darker, more vicious side to him all this time? She raked a hand through her hair and fumbled in her pocket for a lighter. She needed a fucking cigarette to handle this.
"We can't. Not until we've talked to Neal." Morgan's tone was flat, as if she had lost the ability to feel.
"Can you hear what you're saying?" Elliot asked in disbelief, hands tightening around the steering wheel. Morgan wondered if he was imagining it as Neal's throat. "We'd be covering up murder. They deserve to know the truth about how Joel died."
"We need to know why!" Morgan barked, her tone more resolute now. She focused on lightning up her cigarette, taking a deep breath and then winding down the window so she wouldn't fill Elliot's car with smoke. "We have secrets too, Elliot. Secrets that could tear the entire pack apart. Don't you get that? They could turn on us just as easily. Let's just get to the bottom of this and then decide."
She checked her phone. 3:30pm – Neal would be home from school. As Elliot parked the car in the driveway, Morgan stamped out her cigarette on the gravel. She had confronted Neal once about his grades dropping at school, and that had been difficult enough. Confronting him now with the knowledge that he was a murderer was a thousand times worse. She had to do it though. For Joel, for Neal, for all of them.
"Neal?" Morgan asked tentatively. Her brother looked up from where he was sprawled in the lounge room, checking over his study notes. The stain from Morgan's wine bottle had nearly faded out of the carpet. Nearly, but not quite. Fighting back the urge to vomit, Morgan approached her younger brother and knelt down beside him as he yanked his earphones out. "We need to talk, about something serious."
A loud snarl caught both of their attention. Morgan whipped around to see that Elliot had fully shifted into his wolf form, amber eyes savage. Understanding what he was doing, what he intended, Morgan pushed herself to her feet, placing herself between the enraged wolf and her teenage brother.
He didn't listen. He lunged at Neal, batting her aside in the process. Morgan hit the wall so hard that the paintings shook above her, threatening to fall. Neal had reacted swiftly, shifting into his own far smaller wolf form. Morgan pushed herself to her feet, dizzy and disorientated as the two wolves battled it out in front of the couches. Elliot easily pinned Neal, snapping at his neck. Neal was whining and yelping, the sounds hurting Morgan more than any physical wound.
Her more primal urges told her to shift as well and show Elliot how a born female werewolf could fight. The more sensible side of her was what urged her to sprint into the kitchen and grab the revolver from the bottom drawer, from where it lay amidst old rusted crockery. The gun was only in the house as a last resort – everyone who lived there had been a werewolf, after all. But Morgan was thankful for that precaution as she flicked off the safety and fired a shot.
The bullet smashed through the lounge room window, glass falling like rain. Either the sound or the flying glass caused both werewolves to pause, their eyes trained on the woman holding the revolver. Morgan's breaths came in short pants as she held up the gun. They needed to know that she meant business.
"Next time I fire this, it won't be at a window."
It was Neal who shifted back first, expression guilty and apologetic. Elliot looked livid, grabbing a blanket and draping it around his waist as he stalked towards Morgan, jerking a thumb behind him at Neal.
"He murdered Joel! Do you expect me to just be okay with that, Morgan?"
"He knew, Elliot." Neal's voice was hoarse and choked with emotion, and there were tears welling in his eyes. "He knew about what you and Morgan had done. He was so angry. I was the only one home at the time, and he ranted on about it like…like…"
Morgan frowned. She knew that her mate was a hard man to anger, so the knowledge that he had been so infuriated made her begin to guess why Neal had committed the crime he had. It didn't excuse it, and it never would. But it explained his motives.
"I thought he was going to kill both of you," Neal muttered, averting his eyes. "He talked about it. I didn't know if he really would, but I couldn't risk that happening. So I did the only thing I could have. You want me to say it, I will. I killed Joel."
Morgan and Elliot both lapsed into silence, and she knew they were both deliberating what was going to come next. Joel's murder had to be solved. It was for the good of the pack. Yet if it was solved…Morgan, Elliot and Neal would be condemned. The pack would be divided and leaderless. For the first time, Morgan could appreciate why some secrets had to be kept. Neal had only been thinking of keeping his older sister safe. He wasn't a cold-blooded murderer.
"We have to keep this between us." Morgan put the gun down on the bench, her hands shaking. She knew that Elliot was not going to like this, but she was prepared to do whatever it took to protect her sibling – just like Neal. If that meant she had to kill Elliot to preserve the peace, it was a price she was willing to pay.
"What?" Elliot folded his arms over his chest. "Morgan, how can you say that? We would be lying to the pack. How are we meant to explain Joel's death? The truth always comes out sooner or later."
"The truth died with Joel, unless one of you wants to tell it." Morgan's eyes darted between the angry beta and her ghostly-pale, scared brother. "Listen to me. If we expose what Neal did, he would be hunted. He could possibly be killed. Then there comes the question of why. Which means we have to explain what we did and how we betrayed Joel. They would then turn against us as well. Are you prepared for that, Elliot? Are you really?"
Elliot averted his eyes, his jaw clenched. Morgan knew him well enough to sense that he was defeated. He knew that she was right, and had no more argument to offer. His hands clenched and unclenched. Morgan drew herself up to full height, mind searching for a solution.
"We tell them he did to himself."
"Suicide?" Elliot looked stunned, then his eyebrows drew together into a frown. "Morgan, have you lost your mind?"
"It was obvious to anyone he was under a lot of stress." Morgan's voice was quiet, her heart heavy as she contemplated the lies they were going to tell to protect her brother. To protect themselves. Perhaps it was selfish, but it would also prevent a rift from being formed within the Darley Heights pack. Sometimes, hiding the truth was less hurtful. "It wouldn't be too difficult to believe."
Elliot swallowed hard, tears sparkling in his eyes. He walked across to the knife rack and Morgan tensed, wary of an impending attack. Instead, Elliot picked up the largest knife and cut a line across the back of his hand. Knowing what it symbolised, Morgan's head jerked up to meet his furious, miserable eyes.
"I rescind my claim to the position of alpha."
"No." Elliot shook his head vigorously, setting the knife down with a clatter. "Don't, Morgan. I can keep this secret and take it to the grave. But I can't lead a pack knowing I'm living a lie. You have always been the stronger one, let's not deny it. You can take it. You can live with that. But I can't."
"At least be my beta," Morgan pleaded. She felt sick to the stomach knowing her choices, their choices, were driving Elliot to stop fighting for something he had wanted since Joel had died. "You've always made a good one."
Elliot forced a smile, clasping his bloody hand with Morgan's. She smiled tightly. There was a bond between them now. Something strange, something awful. More than friendship, yet not romantic. The bond of people tied together so closely that if one of them fell apart, so would the other. Neal crossed over to them and placed his hand over theirs, looking to Elliot in silent askance.
"I can forgive you." Elliot reached out a hand to affectionately ruffle the younger werewolf's hair. "But I can never forget, Neal."
"I know, I don't expect you to." Neal squeezed their hands gently, eyes fierce. "We have an unbreakable bond, even if we don't want to. The three of us."
"The full moon is in a week." Elliot didn't let go of either Faulkner sibling's hand, but his eyes sought Morgan's. Hers were determined. What happened could be put behind them, yet they would always know it was there, lingering just under the surface. "I'll announce my decision to step down then. I can say it's because I know Joel would have wanted you to do it. Because you are the better leader of us, Morgan. I couldn't say it before, but I will now. You are our alpha."