An awkward silence filled the air. It was uncomfortably hot. Mother and father haven't said a word. The side windows of the car were foggy, and my feet were burning up. I kicked the blanket mom had put back here away and huffed. I wanted to take my jacket off but to do that I would have to take off my seat belt and now was not the time. The radio wasn't even on which made me sigh more. I thought I saw dad's arm twitch. I looked at mom.
She looked stunning with her hair curled and a white beanie on her head, she had taken off her jacket a while back, the white sweater she wore looked super soft. I noticed she didn't wear makeup though and she had bags under her eyes. I sighed again and kicked my feet against the back of the driver seat, I was bored and uncomfortable. Two kicks in and dad's hand shot behind the seat and grabbed my ankle tightly.
"One more kick or one more sigh and I swear I will tie you to the roof." He threatened looking at me through the rearview mirror. I huffed and crossed my arms pulling my leg away from him.
"I'm bored and it's hot in here." I told him. He sighed and rolled down his window letting the freezing air intrude on the muggy atmosphere. I took a deep breath enjoying the frigid air. I always loved this time of year. We have been driving for hours and I thought I had been good since there was nothing to do. Alpha Lee invited us to stay a week before the branding.
"Ridiculous. This whole place." Mom muttered and pulled her arms around her looking out the passenger window. I gasped, we finally were out of the mountains, the north pack coming into view. Cute little cabins were scattered around, thick evergreen trees covered in snow and ice liter in between. I thought it look like a scene right out of a movie. Mom hated the cold, she had her favorite season was spring when it all went away.
"I think it's pretty." I said watching a few flurries of snow come in through the window. Mom sighed more.
"Of course, you do." She said and looked back at me giving me a small smile.
"Not too much longer now, Alpha Lee said we can stay in the main house." Dad said reaching over and gripping mom's hand. She relaxed and stretched her back. I watched as cabins and trees blurred past. We came to a stop in front of a large cabin bigger than our house. I was in awe of it. It looked magical in the snow. Standing in front of the cabin was Alpha Lee, Luna Lena, and Jaxton. I was disappointed that Sasha was not here. She said I would get to see her and meet her mate, Zed. I had laughed at his name when she first wrote to me about him and called him badly instead, Sasha thought that was a wonderful new nickname. Mom and Dad slowly got out of the car, Dad opened my door and I hoped out loving the crunch of the snow under my feet. I giggled as I stepped in it making it crunch more. Mom zipped my jacket growling at me to behave. I felt Jaxton watching me, the butterflies making my insides warm. Mom held my hand as we walked to stand in front of Alpha Lee's family. Dad and mom bowed, and I quickly followed.
"Thank you, Alpha Lee, Luna Lena, for your hospitality." My dad said not standing straight. I watched as Alpha Lee's massive feet came into view, they were shield in snow boots from the snow. I should feel the cold starting to seep into my own boots, but I didn't mind, my feet had been sweaty in the car.
"Welcome, Beta Carter and your family to our home. Please enough formalities, we are family now." Alpha Lee said. Dad and Mom straightened, I followed suit.
"Let's all go inside, you must be hungry." Luna Lena smiled warmly at everyone. She wore a red shawl that looked very thick and warm, black leather gloves covered her hand. Alpha Lee wore all white, he would have blended into the snow if he didn't have a thick black beard. Finally, I took in Jaxton. He also wore all white, but he looked taller than last time. We slowly followed them in side, Alpha Lee and Dad carrying our luggage inside. Luna Lena helped me take off my puffy winter coat and gloves. She handed me a pair of purple house slippers to put on. I quickly did, not wanting my socks to get wet from the melting snow. Mom fussed over my hair being frizzy and pulled it into a bun.
"Karen, I want you to know she is like my own daughter now, and I would never do anything to hurt her." Luna Lena said preparing bowls of stew for us. Mom sighed and put her head in her hand.
"You have to understand, she's my daughter, my only child. She is too young to be branded." Luna Lena came to stand beside Mom placing her hand on her shoulder.
"Trust me, I know. I would not allow it if it wasn't tradition. Here it is the highest honor to be branded by your mate, it more permanent than a mate's mark. Like how it is an honor in your pack to scar those who challenge you. You may not like them, but the scars on your back from your sister are very beautiful to me. My own pack saw scars as rights of passage." Luna Lena leaned down and pressed her cheek to Mom's. Mom closed her eyes and accepted Luna Lena. I watched, learning.
"I got a scar from Sid, does that make me beautiful?" I asked suddenly. I wanted to be a beautiful Luna like Luna Lena and my aunt Gracey, but also strong like my mother. Mom and Luna Lena giggled.
"Your scar means you are stubborn." Mom said.
"You are beautiful with or without it." Luna Lena said. I smiled and grabbed my bowl.
Alpha Lee and Dad entering the room pulled our attention to the men, they were laughing, and Alpha Lee was patting Dad on the back, Dad had a black eye. Jaxton wasn't with them. Part of me was relieved and another part of me wanted to know where he was. These emotions confused me.
"Jaxton has been training more than usual since the festival. He is preparing to be the next Alpha." Alpha Lee said as we all ate together. I watched the adults, they were more relaxed and happy. I smiled I liked this feeling. I was still nervous about the branding, but I knew I could do it. I was strong, my scar from Sid didn't even hurt anymore and I didn't wince when aunt Gracey slapped my hand now.
"Where's Sasha? She said she would be here to see me." I asked wanting to know where my friend was. Alpha Lee looked towards his mate who gave a small laugh and blushed.
"Well she's very busy right now with her mate. Her heat came unexpectedly last week." Luna Lena explained. I gagged and pushed my food away.
"Adults are so gross." I said and broke a piece of my bread off to eat. They laughed at me and I bared my teeth at them. Normally Dad would have growled at me to behave but he only gave me a look. After we ate I was so full and warm. I stared outside at the snow wanting to play in it.
"Why don't you go play outside, little wolf?" Alpha Lee said. I looked up at him excited.
"Don't wonder off too far though, here the wild is not tamed." Luna Lena said holding my jacket out for me. I raced to get dressed wanting to go explore.
Once outside I ran through the snow giggling as it began to snow big fat flurries. I was staring at a big evergreen when a white rabbit darted out in front of me. I gasped and chased it not paying attention to anything around me only chasing the rabbit. I only slowed down when I noticed it was getting dark. I looked around trying to see where I was, there were thick evergreen trees blocking every path. I looked back at my footprints, but it was snowing harder now, and I could barely see them. The sun was setting making it harder to follow them back. Soon I couldn't tell between my foot prints and a clump of snow. I shivered as the wind howled. I didn't like the cold anymore. My heart pounded in my ears, my face stung as the wind picked up. Whimpering I curled hugged my knees to my chest trying to keep warm. Why was it so cold now?
I couldn't stop, I decided. I stood back up and kept walking back the way I thought I came. I had to put my glove covered hand over my face when the wind pushed me. I kept walking, it felt like forever. My body was cold, and my heart was still racing. My throat clogged with fear as I thought I would never make it back. I tripped and cried out, I must have been on higher ground as I rolled and rolled, I cried out with each bump, my cold body stinging. I finally stopped rolling and the tears finally came. Why was this so hard? Why did I have to be so childish? I clenched my jaw and went to push myself up. My arms were shaking, and my legs weren't listening.
Once I was standing I looked up at the hill I just rolled down. I pushed myself to go up the hill. Half way through I had to stop my body shaking too bad. My feet and hands were becoming warm. I needed to hurry. I looked back up at the top of the hill and my breath stopped.
A silhouette of a wolf stood there. The wind slowed enough I could see the wolf panting watching me, black eyes watching me. I knew this wolf. In my bones I knew him. I whimpered when the wind picked up closing my eyes. Another harsh gust and I fell my hand shooting out to catch me. The wolf growled as if willing me to push myself. I opened my eyes and stood back up. Tear were now streaming down my face as I climbed the hill.
The wolf stared at my shaking body. Its head bent down towards mine, a rough warm tongue licked my checks growling at the tears. I hugged its neck burying my face into its warm black fur. It shifted leaning its body down and nudged me to climb onto its back. Once I had a tight grip it took off. It moved so fast I had to put my face in its fur, the wind biting into me.
When it finally stopped I looked up, we were at the main house again. It laid down letting me climb off it's back. I stood there my hand still in its fur and looked at the cabin. Mom and Dad ran out and picked me up hugging me.
"Why did you run off?" "What were you thinking?" They both asked walking towards the house. I heard a growl and cracking of bones. I looked over Mom's shoulder. Jaxton stood in place of the wolf holding my beanie in his hand. It must have come off when I fell, I never noticed. I looked at his chest, he had brandings all over his chest and shoulders, different symbols, on his left arm a 'S' was branded there, it was red and angry as if it was recently done. Luna Lena rushed past us with a blanket covering Jaxton and pushing him behind us.
Luna Lena and Mom both were pulling off my clothes in the bathroom a warm bath was started, and they were telling the men to have my room warm and bed ready. I was so tired. My eyes keep drooping, but Mom would growl and tug my ear telling me to stay awake. I couldn't tell if she was trying to help or punishing me. The warm water stung my cold skin making me whimper.
"Jaxton, she's fine, get away from the door." Luna Lena suddenly said. I looked over at the door. I could see two bare feet under the door. A growl sounded, and the two feet shuffled away. After I stopped shaking and both Mom and Luna Lena were satisfied they rubbed me down with fluffy warm towels and dried my hair. Luna Lena braided my hair for me while we waited for Mom to bring me my clothes. Dressed in green fennel PJ's and purple slippers I walked into the kitchen. The men were standing there whispering when I walked in. My face flushed as Jaxton stared at me, the butterflies going crazy in my stomach.
"Thank you for finding me, Jaxton." I said quietly and looking down at my hands. I hated feeling bashful. I hated Jaxton for making me feel bashful.
"You're welcome, little mate. But you owe me." He said leaning on his elbows at the table. I frowned. I owed him? What a jerk, I just thanked him!
"Tomorrow you have to spend the day with me." Jaxton said his head shifted slightly to the right as if he was watching my reaction. I sighed and looked out the kitchen window, my arms crossed over my chest.
"I guess I could grace you with my presence tomorrow." I scuffed and titled my head up. I suppose it wasn't an outrageous favor, but why did he want me to spend the day with him?
"Eat up, little wolf, and then off to bed." Alpha Lee said pulling a chair out for me. I frowned seeing him pull the chair out that was right beside Jaxton. I sat in the chair and scooted it away from the annoying man. A bowl of stew was placed in front of me with a glass of milk. My stomach growled loudly causing my dad to bark in laughter.