I did it! I can’t believe that worked. Even though we’re supposed to have 24 hour security, I convinced my father to have my brother take my best friend, Dillon, and I to the fair. It was at night… and unsupervised.
Once we were there, Dillon and I asked to go to the mirrored funhouse. Remy, who didn’t want to be there at all, agreed after some light nagging. And then once in, Dillon distracted Remy while I found the exit and escaped.
It’s like a miracle. I’m practically a spy from a movie. Or Veronica from Riverdale. But as excited as I am to be free for the first time in forever, that was just part one.
I had spent the last few days planning this and convincing Dillon to help me because there was someone I had to meet. This is going to sound clique, or whatever, but I think I’ve met the boy I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. He says that we’re fated mates and I believe him.
I know what everyone would say if I told them about this. ‘Hil, what are you doing listening to some guy you met on the internet. You’re 14, not 8.’ Dillon already gave me that speech. But, it’s not like that. And I’m not an idiot.
I met him in a chat forum on the dark web. It sounds ominous, but it’s not. It’s just a version of the internet that’s a little more private. And when you have secrets, like I do, like my whole family does, it’s the better option.
For example, you couldn’t have a chat group for shifters on Tumblr. I take it back. I’ve seen one there. But everyone on it is just a wannabe shifter. There’s a girl whose father turned her into a wolf shifter from birth. And she’s pretty much the most famous person alive.
Everyone wants to be her. Everyone likes to believe that if they try hard enough, they can change into a wolf when they get mad. It’s a huge meme.
As an actually shifter, or at least someone whose father is a wolf, I find it so annoying. Isn’t that, like, cultural appropriation or something? Or, wouldn’t it be once I start shifting.
Father says that I’m a late bloomer. Remy and me both. Remy especially because he’s 17 and still hasn’t shifted. Father says it’s because my mother was human. He’s worried that it’s skipped a generation.
That’s why I was in forums on the dark web. I was looking for shifters my age who knew more about this stuff. That was when I met Edwin. And, yes, he’s actually a 16 year-old-boy and not some creeper. We exchanged photos.
And it took him a while to convince me to send him one. I’m not a fan of taking pictures of myself. They all make me look fat. Probably because I am. But when I eventually sent him one, he told me I was perfect.
Obviously I’m not. I know that. But, the thing is that he kept saying it.
“Hil, you’re perfect. Hil, you’re perfect.”
Hear that enough times and you start to believe it. Or, at least that he believes it.
There are a few problems, however. The first is that he’s never seen me in person. You better believe that I found every angle that hid my double chin and belly that stuck out further than my chest. So, what was he going to say when he saw me in person?
Do you know that feeling when you want to believe something so bad that if it’s not true, you know it will kill you? Well, what if Edwin sees me and laughs at me, or throws up or something? I couldn’t take it. I might seem like a bad ass for sneaking out like a ninja, but I’m not.
I’m pudgy and weird and if it wasn’t for Dillon, I would have no friends. I’m not exactly the model of self-confidence. So, when you meet someone like Edwin and he says the things he said about me, you really want it to be true. You want at least one person in the world to think that you’re perfect exactly how you are, double chin and all. And if Edwin is that boy, then I’ll do anything I have to to be with him.
The second problem is a little trickier. I kind of told him I can shift. He said he’s been shifting for years. He even sent me a picture of his wolf. When he asked for a picture of mine, I used a pic from the internet and told him it was from a family vacation at Yellowstone.
I don’t know why I lied. Okay, that’s a lie. I know exactly why I did. He made a really big deal about me being able to shift. Like, I wasn’t sure he would still like me if I couldn’t.
I had to lie, didn’t I? And now that I was minutes away from meeting him in person for the first time, I’m wondering how much of a mistake I had made. There was no way he would believe I’m perfect when he actually saw me, right?
I mean, I want him to. Let’s be real, it would crush me so hard if this was all a big joke and he doesn’t even show up. I don’t know if I could take that. Just thinking about it, I’m tearing up.
Oh God, this was a big joke, wasn’t it? And I fell for it. I was the stupid fat girl who fell for it!
The closer I got to the spot where he told me to meet him, the more my legs felt like jelly. I was falling apart. The truth was becoming clearer. I was just some sad idiot who fell for the first guy who said something nice to me. I was the gullible, pathetic, loser who no one would ever love and who everyone would always make fun of.
“Hil!” I heard snatching me from my spiral.
I didn’t recognize the voice. Turning to find the source, I saw him. It was Edwin. When I saw him, every cell in my body tingled. He had come. This wasn’t a joke. It was real.
I tried not to cry. I failed. Was it the stress of everything? Maybe. I just felt so relieved. There was only one other thing that I wanted, that I needed. It was to hear him say the words he used every time we met online.
“You’re perfect,” he said filling a hole in me that I didn’t know I had.
“Edwin?” I asked wiping the tears from my eyes trying to act normal.
He looked just like his pictures. He was everything he said he was. But, who were the people behind him?
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “I’m glad you came.”
“How could I not? You asked me to,” I said reminding him how he had almost insisted on it.
“Yeah. It was kind of important.”
“Yeah, because this might be the last chance we get.”
I looked at him confused. My eyes darted to the dirt bag looking boys standing behind him.
“What’s going on?” I asked getting an uneasy feeling.
“Oh. These are my friends. We, ah, we need you to help us with something.”
I was definitely getting a vibe from him that I didn’t get when we were online. He had nervous energy. I don’t think it had to do with me.
“I thought you asked me here on a date.”
His friends laughed. Why was that funny? What was going on?
“Yeah, definitely,” Edwin said drawing my attention. “It’s just that we need you to help us with something first. Afterwards we could go grab some ice cream or something. Would you be okay with that?”
I didn’t like where this was going but I wasn’t sure why. He had come like he had said he would. He saw me in person and he still thought I was perfect. He was even talking about getting ice cream together.
That was everything I wanted, right? All I had to do was help them with something before we went. That’s not too weird, is it?
“What do you need help with?”
Edwin looked back and his friends with frenzied excitement. Pushing back his mat of black hair, he straightened his lanky frame and focused his possessed eyes on me. A chill shot up my spine.
“There’s someone we need to have a talk with. And we don’t think they’ll come if any of us asks,” he said gesturing to his four sketchy looking friends.
“What do you want to talk to them about?”
“We just want to chat with ‘em. Nothing crazy. They’re a shifter too. We just want to talk about that.”
“Do you mean, like, that you want to ask them to join your pack?”
Edwin looked back at his friends and laughed.
“Something like that,” he said turning back to me.
“How am I supposed to get them to come talk to you?”
“I don’t know. You’re both shifters. Maybe you could shift for her so she knows what you are and then you can lead her to where we are.”
“Where are you gonna be?” I asked getting a really bad feeling about this.
“Do you see those trees over there?” he said pointing to a thicket deeper within Central Park. “We’ll be waiting there.”
“What do you have to talk to this girl about?” I asked feeling a wave of fear.
“You don’t worry about that. You just get her to come. Afterwards, we’ll go get ice cream. You still want to get ice cream, right?”
“Yeah,” I said wanting it desperately.
“Then, take care of this and that’s what we’ll go do,” he said offering me a smile.
I looked back at Edwin’s pack. The only shifters I knew were my father and the men who worked for him. They were all dangerous. Was that what came with being a wolf? Was it the entry fee to entering this world?
I looked at Edwin again. He wasn’t the best looking guy, but I wasn’t the best looking girl. The only thing that mattered was that he liked me. He said that we were fated mates. I wanted it to be true. And the only way it could be would be if I did what my alpha asked. If I didn’t do this, I was gonna lose Edwin.
“Who’s the girl you want me to convince?”
Edwin exploded into a crazed smile. Turning and pointing into the distance, I saw a person sitting alone on a bench. As small as she was, the black hoodie she wore made her barely visible in the darkness.
“You just want to talk to her, right?”
“Yeah. Just talk,” Edwin confirmed.
“Then afterwards we could go get ice cream?”
“Whatever flavor you want,” he said enthusiastically.
“I’ll do it,” I said no longer sure of anything much less what I was doing.
Edwin and his friends giggled like hyenas. It was unnerving.
“Okay. We’ll be over there waiting for you. I knew you were perfect,” he said again.
With them heading to the trees, I headed toward the bench. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. Edwin had said that she was a wolf shifter to, though, right? If he was going to ask her to join their pack, maybe it would work out for everyone. Because if I dated Edwin and she was there, we might become friends. I had never even met a female shifter my age.
As I approached, the person on the bench didn’t turn around. I wasn’t exactly quiet. She definitely heard me coming. But it wasn’t until I sat that she turned toward me.
Staring into her eyes, my heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe. I knew who this was. Edwin was right. She was a shifter. She was the most famous shifter in the world. And amongst shifters, she was the most hated.
I whipped my face forward as soon as we made eye contact. What was going on? What do I do?
“I don’t bite,” the soft voiced girl said.
“Yeah, ah, I know,” I said fumbling over my words.
I could feel her staring at me for a second before getting up about to walk away.
“I’m sorry, was I rude?” I said trying to keep her there.
“No, that’s okay. I’m used to it.”
“I didn’t mean to be rude,” I told her.
“No one does,” she said looking down but not leaving.
“So, you get that reaction a lot?”
“Only about every day of my life.”
“Is it because you’re a shifter?”
“Because I’m a shifter. Because people think I’m lying about being a shifter. Take your pick.”
“I believe you. I mean about shifting.”
“Good for you.”
“I might even know other shifters.”
That was when she looked up and turned to me. Staring at me, she was silent. Why wasn’t she saying anything? Did she not believe me? Was this another thing she got a lot?
“I’m a shifter,” I told her. “I mean, not yet. But probably.”
“Right,” she said doubting me but not sure.
“I’m telling the truth. And there’s a lot of us,” I said saying the things I should never say.
“A lot of shifters?”
“Yeah! I know you think you’re the only one, but you’re not.”
I lowered my head feeling the weight of what I was about to do next. My heart hurt. I wasn’t sure why.
“Would you like to meet some of them?”
“Meet other shifters?” she asked more suspicious.
“Yeah. They’re not like me. They can shift. At least one of them can.”
“Right,” she said staring at me.
“They’re over there,” I said pointing to where Edwin and his friends were waiting.
She turned to the trees.
“They’re over there?”
“Why are they in the trees?”
“I don’t know. Shifter stuff?”
“I can tell when people are lying. Did you know that? All shifters can.”
I froze. What was she talking about? If that were true, my father would never have let me go out tonight. My entire life would have been different. And wasn’t her whole deal that she thought she was “the only one of her kind”. I decided to play along.
“Then you know I’m telling the truth. I have shifter friends and they asked me to ask you if you want to meet thing.”
That was close enough to the truth in case she really could tell if someone was lying.
She stared at me. I was thinking I was going to have to come up with another plan when she said.
I paused surprised. I couldn’t believe it. It had worked. I never thought it would.
“Then, you should follow me,” I said getting up.
Without a word I began walking toward the trees. She followed.
Everything about what was going on was crazy. How had this worked? Who else could have convinced a stranger to follow them into the woods at night? Edwin was right. I was perfect.
I thought about that. ‘I was perfect’. That’s what he always said. ‘Perfect’. Was this what he meant? Was I perfect to convince a stranger to follow me into the woods?
Wait! Was this his plan? Was I a part of some plan? I was.
Why did he say he wanted to talk to her, again? Was it to join his pack? Had he suggested that or did I?
The girl following me was the most hated shifter alive. Her going public made every shifter’s life harder. Shifters wanted her dead, and not just wolves. Even my father had suggested things.
The only reason she was still alive was because there wasn’t a shifter stupid enough to try to kill such a public figure.
“You need to get out of here!” I said turning to her.
“What?” She asked startled.
“You need to run. It’s not safe for you here. Get out of here! Quick!”
I didn’t have to say it twice. Without a word she turned and ran. I watched her go. What had I just done? What was I about to do?
Terror flashed through me as I considered what to do next. Should I run? Wouldn’t that be the smart thing to do? Or was it?
Wasn’t it possible that Edwin wouldn’t care that I messed up their plans? Wasn’t there a chance that he actually liked me? The possibility seemed so slim that I would have to be fool to risk it. But, wasn’t there still a chance?
I wasn’t desperate enough to do the dumbest thing ever, was I? He didn’t like me. He was just using me to try to kill someone. I knew that. Then why was I now walking towards the trees?
It was because I needed for someone to say that I was worth something. I just needed for someone to like me. I want so badly for him to like me.
“You fucking bitch!” Edwin yelled when I stepped into the shadows.
He stood in front of me with his shirt off while his four friends circled him in their underwear.
“Why’d you do that?” He screamed furiously. “She was right there. Right fucking there!”
“I’m sorry. I just thought I was coming here so we could go out on a date.”
“On a date with you, you disgusting fat fuck? You had one job to do. One job.”
“I’m sorry,” I said melting into tears.
“You want to know sorry?” Edwin turned to his friends giving them a nod. “I’ll show you sorry,” he said as each stripped naked and shifted into their wolf. “We can’t have our fun with her. But, you’ll do,” he said unbuttoning his pants.
His smile was the last I saw of his humanity. As I stared, the naked boy in front of me fell to ground and growled in pain. I could hear his bones snap as he transformed. I had never seen this. It was horrifying. And when Edwin’s wolf’s eyes lifted and locked with mine, I knew I dead.
Frozen, I saw my life flash before my eyes. I had been such a fool. Why did I ever think that anyone could love me? No one would ever love someone like me. No one.
Edwin’s wolf was the first to lunge. As it did, my heart stopped. This was the end of me. At least it would have been if a wolf hadn’t met Edwin’s mid-flight knocking him out of the air.
The new wolf was powerful, and big. It wrapped its jaw around Edwin’s wolf and shook it like a rag doll. When it tossed Edwin aside, it went after his friends.
“Remy!” I said stunned but knowing my brother anywhere.
“I think I just got someone killed,” I said with blood draining from my face.
“Hil, is that you?” Dillon’s concern for my well-being was something I had grown to love her for.
“It’s me. What have I done?”
“Oh my god, did you shift?”
“I didn’t shift,” I told her hinting at the frustration I felt as a 20 year old wolf shifter who still hadn’t shifted.
“Then where have you been? I’ve been worried sick! Where are you?”
“I’m in a hospital,” I said, looking around at the other concerned people in the waiting room.
“Wait, why are you in a hospital? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I lent someone my car, and they were in an accident. My phone got an alert saying it had been rear-ended and an ambulance had been called. Dillon, I think someone tried to run me off the side of a cliff.”
“Hil, you have to tell me where you are.”
“I don’t know where I am. It’s a small town in Tennessee. But I’m fine. I just needed to hear your voice. You can’t tell anyone you’ve heard from me.”
“Remy has been asking me about you. He said that your father is worried.”
“You definitely can’t tell him. Promise me you won’t.”
“Okay. I promise. But you can’t just disappear like that again.”
“I won’t. But I have to do this. I need to prove to them that I can make it on my own.”
“Didn’t you just say someone tried to run you off the side of a cliff?”
“I’ll be fine, Dillon. I can do this.”
“I was told that my mother was brought in,” someone with the hottest southern accent said, pulling me away from my conversation with Dillon.
I looked up to see a guy at the reception desk twenty feet in front of me. He had jet-black hair, broad shoulders, and an athletic build. More than that, I knew his scent. I didn’t know how, but I did. He was a wolf shifter.
I was from a long line of wolf shifters, at least on my father’s side. My mother is human. I guess, so am I.
Usually, that’s all I was. But something has been happening to me since I arrived to this town. They’ve been little things like being able to move my curvy body as if it were 50 pounds lighter than it was. I couldn’t explain it. And since there were so many things about my life I didn’t understand, I had just added it to the list.
Another of those things was how I felt staring at the built guy in front of me. I could only see him from behind, but I was uncontrollably drawn to him. So when the guy who drove me to the hospital rushed to him, I got up and joined them.
“I have to go,” I told Dillon.
“Don’t disappear on me again. You have to tell me where you are.”
“I’ll call you soon. I promise.”
I ended the call and joined the two guys at the reception desk. Marcus, the one who had driven, turned to me as I approached. “Hil, this is Cali. Dr. Sonya is his mother.”
The taller built guy looked at me. As he did, my knees wobbled. There was something about his smell and the way his eyes peered into mine that made me weak.
“Why was my mother driving your car?” the gorgeous man snapped.
I stepped back, knowing what he was capable of as a wolf. But my racing heart slowed when I considered things from his perspective.
This wasn’t one of my brother’s teenage hormone-induced episodes that I had been so scared of as a kid. It made sense why he would be upset. I would be too if I was in his situation. But couldn’t he see that I was concerned as well?
“She had admired my car when I first arrived at the bed-and-breakfast. She had mentioned it a few times, so since I was supposed to be leaving today, I asked her if she’d like to take it for a drive. Should I not have? Is she not a good driver?”
Staring at me, Cali relented.
“No, that’s fine. She’s as good of a driver as anyone. You couldn’t have known what would happen. I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
“It’s Hilaire, but everyone calls me Hil,” I said, offering him my hand.
Taking my chubby hand in his, he held it for longer than I had expected. The way he peered at me made me feel vulnerable. It was like he could see into me. I had no secrets when he looked at me like that.
“It’s good to meet you, Hil. I guess I should apologize for what happened to your car.”
“Don’t be absurd. That’s what insurance is for. I’m just hoping your mother will be alright.”
Cali let go of my hand and turned away, breaking whatever connection we had. It hurt to feel it go. One of the many downsides of growing up in a family like mine was that I didn’t get the chance to meet guys like Cali. As protective as my father was, I didn’t go to school. I never had anything but tutors. I never got a life.
When my father figured out that I wasn’t a shifter, he didn’t make a big deal about it. But it became something else that made him feel like he needed to protect me. I was his little princess. But not in the way that felt like I would find a prince. It was in the way that told me that I couldn’t be trusted to do anything. That was a part of the reason I was on this trip, to prove that I could survive on my own.
If I were being honest, another reason was that guys who looked like Cali and made me feel the way he did, were far and few in between. At twenty years old, I was still a virgin. That would never change living under my father’s protection. I had to get away. But now I was in a hospital in the middle of who-knows-where -Tennessee, unsure of what to do, where to go, or how to get there.
“Thank you for coming, Marcus. But you don’t have to stay. I’m sure you have a lot to do. I don’t want to keep you from it,” Cali said, not looking at him.
“No, I can be here for as long as you need me. She’s your mother, but I cared about her too.”
“Thank you. But Claude and Titus will be here soon. There’s no need for you to stay,” the built guy said dismissively.
“No, seriously, I can stay as long as you need me.”
Cali turned to face him with a look that was pure wolf.
“Marcus, go. I’ll let you know how she’s doing. I’m sure Hil will need a ride back as well.”
I jolted back hearing my name said in the same dismissive tone. Did he not want us here? Was he upset with me? Was he the type of wolf where things were about to become dangerous?
I put my hand on Marcus’s shoulder.
“We should go. I’m sure that Cali will update us when he knows more.”
Cali turned to me with relief on his face. I wasn’t sure why. Was there something going on between the two. Did they have history?
Knowing that Cali was a wolf, I turned back to Marcus to get a better look at him. I didn’t have the same feeling looking at him that I did Cali. Was it because he was human?
Physically speaking, he certainly wasn’t my type the way Cali was. Marcus was fit and still very attractive. He also shared Cali’s dimples.
But looking at Cali, my chest hurt. Something scratched within me fighting to get out. I could barely breathe staring into his eyes. Compared to that, Marcus was a shadow.
“I can take you back to Dr. Sonya’s,” Marcus said, too sad to meet my eyes.
“Thank you,” I said as if I didn’t want to stay as much as he did.
“I’m sorry again about what happened to your mother,” I said, capturing Cali’s attention but not his gaze.
He barely acknowledged me. Staring at him, I desperately wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him that his mother would be alright. But there was a prickly armor covering him that I couldn’t penetrate.
Was he acting that way because he could see that I was attracted to him? I didn’t know much about boys, much less shifter boys, but I did know that guys as hot as him were never interested in curvy girls like me. It could only make it worse that I was human.
Maybe he was being so cold because he didn’t want to give me the wrong impression. Or, maybe he was just disgusted by me and wanted me to go away. Either way, I had to go.
Leaving as Cali requested, Marcus and I were silent as we drove back to the bed-and-breakfast. The entire way, he looked as confused by our interaction with Cali as I was. Thinking about it again, I wondered if he had actually rejected me. I had a tendency to be insecure about my weight.
But Cali didn’t seem like a bad guy. Was there a chance that he just wasn’t very talkative? Wolf shifters could get like that sometimes, couldn’t they? Maybe he had a history of being quiet.
Speaking of histories, did he and Marcus have one? Was there a reason things seemed tense between the two? What was going on there?
“I need to apologize for the way Cali reacted. He isn’t usually so…” Marcus paused.
“So much of a lone wolf?” I said testing how much he knew.
Marcus laughed. “No, that part is typical Cali. He’s usually a little nicer about it, though. You shouldn’t take it personally.”
“Do you?” I asked wondering if Cali was a lone wolf or whether I had stumbled into a pack.
“Do I what?”
“Do you, I don’t know, take it personally?”
Marcus’s mouth opened, but remained silent. It took a while for him to speak.
“Sometimes. He and I went to the same high school. Cali was on the football team and had girls throwing themselves at him. We didn’t exactly hang out in the same circles.
“But our mothers are friends, so we were often forced to spend time together. I always felt like such an inconvenience for him. I guess nothing changes.”
“So, Cali had a lot of girlfriends?” I asked, unable to hide my interest.
Marcus looked at me, joining the long line of people who could see straight through me. He chuckled.
“Funny enough, although there was an endless line of girls after him, I never really saw him with any of them. He is more of a brooding, loner type.”
“A lone wolf,” I suggested again.
This time he stared with me with a hint of suspicion. “I guess.”
Knowing how touchy wolves could be, especially around humans, I decided to change the topic.
“He mentioned two guys joining him. I take it that neither is a boyfriend?” I asked lightening the mood while making sure I wasn’t barking up the wrong tree.
Marcus laughed again.
“No, Claude and Titus are his long-lost brothers.”
“Yeah. Last fall, Titus’s girlfriend passed around a DNA test, and it turned out that the three of them share the same father.”
I thought about that. I had met Cali’s mother. She seemed very human. Did that mean that Cali’s father was a wolf? Was he a half-wolf like me? Did he have two half-wolf brothers? Out of everywhere I could have ended up, had I chanced upon a pack of half-wolves?
“That’s exactly what the rest of the town thought,” he said misinterpreting my surprise “It was a real scandal. Cali’s mother was one of the people everyone couldn’t stop talking about. ‘Did all three of them have the same father? How are they so close in age? Who was this man?’
“None of the mothers said. Supposedly, they wouldn’t even tell their sons. Cali and Dr. Sonya we’re pretty close until then. Now, Cali spends most of his time back at university.”
“Wait, Cali attends college?”
“Yeah. He’s on the football team. He and Titus both. Last season, Titus set the record for yards run in his position, and Cali set the record for yards kicked.”
“That’s an athletic family,” I said suddenly confused.
“Apparently,” Marcus said with a painful ache in his eyes.
“I take it that you don’t attend university?” I asked, assuming that he was around my age.
“I wasn’t blessed with the natural ability that so many people in this town have. If it was in the water, I certainly didn’t drink it,” he said, offering a smile.
I looked away and considered everything Marcus had just told me. Had I gotten things wrong? Was Cali not a wolf shifter?
His life seemed so normal. He attended university and played on the football team. Wolf shifters didn’t do things like that. They kept to themselves and killed each other over territory.
At least, that’s what I thought they did. I wasn’t a wolf shifter but I had grown up with them. Was this yet another way my sheltered existence had warped my reality? Or was Cali not actually a wolf?
If he wasn’t, it would explain why Marcus hadn’t reacted to my saying “lone wolf”. I didn’t know how I expected him to react but I certainly expected more than I got. Either this was just a normal small town with normal people or I had no idea what it meant to be a wolf. I needed to know which it was.
“I’ve tasted your pastries,” I said turning back towards Marcus “You don’t need to play football when you can make stuff that tastes like that. I know people who would kill for one of your chocolate croissants,” I said genuinely.
“I appreciate you saying that,” Marcus said perking up. “Baking pastries is how I relax.”
“I would trade an arm to be good at anything as much as you are at baking. I couldn’t tell you how to boil an egg.”
Marcus laughed. He must have thought I was joking. I wasn’t. Growing up, we always had housekeepers and chefs. For a short while, we even had a food taster. It’s a little hard to learn how to survive on your own when, not only are you not allowed to leave home without an escort, but there are an endless supply of people who are paid to do things for you.
Switching topics for the remainder of our forty-five-minute drive, I asked him what it was like growing up here. Even if you removed my wolf shifter stuff, it was still crazy different from how I grew up in New York. They literally caught fireflies in mason jars. How small town was that?
“The next thing you’re gonna tell me is that you and your friends would fish down at the creek.”
He looked at me embarrassed.
“You don’t understand how few things there are to do here. But, have you ever tried it? It’s actually pretty fun.”
“I guess. It’s got to be better than awkwardly playing with kids that your parents set you up on a play date with.”
“Your parents set you up on playdates?” he asked, looking at me confused.
“Yeah. Don’t people do that in small towns?” I asked, trying to fight off the embarrassment and shame I felt from needing my parents to find me friends and failing.
“No. I’ve never heard of that.”
“One of the glories of being home-schooled, I guess,” I said with a shrug, wanting desperately to change topics.
Thankfully, Marcus looked away without responding and silence returned. My inability to make friends was another of my sore spots. If it wasn’t for Dillon, I would be a fat girl locked in her room every day covered in Cheetos dust. Yeah, I really needed this trip.
When we arrived back at the bed-and-breakfast, Marcus asked me if I would need anything now that I didn’t have a car. I told him I would be fine. He then gave me his number and told me to call if I needed anything. I was grateful.
Putting aside whether or not I had stumbled upon a pack of half-wolves led by the hottest guy I had ever seen, I had come on this trip to prove that I could be independent and self-reliant. However, the truth was that I was no closer to that than when I left. What was I going to do now that I didn’t even have a car? More than that, what was I going to do without cash?
If you’re trying to take the kind of trip that I was, you can’t rely on your father’s credit card. Credit card purchases could be tracked. If I used it, my father would know exactly where I was.
Alternatively, you could take the family car that doesn’t have a tracking device in it, pocket a few stacks of cash that your father keeps hidden around the house, shut off your phone, and go whatever you want.
That was the option I chose. But I also kept the cash in my car thinking that’s where it would be safest. Should I have thought about that before allowing Dr. Sonya to take it for a drive? Clearly. But how could I have guessed that my car and all of my money would end up at the bottom of a mountain pass?
What was I supposed to do now? I had no car, I had no cash, and if I wasn’t mistaken, Dr. Sonya had someone else scheduled to check into my room tonight.
It wasn’t like I didn’t have any options. If worst came to worst, I could always use my credit card or call home. But I didn’t want to do that. For once in my life, I wanted to show my father that I wasn’t completely helpless. I could take care of myself. But the more time that passed on my little adventure, the more I started to think that I couldn’t.
Entering the bed-and-breakfast, the faces of four people immediately turned towards me. They looked like two sets of couples dressed for an adventure vacation. Wearing hiking boots and with large backpacks on the floor next to the couch, I reasoned that these were the visitors that Dr. Sonya had said would be replacing me. I wasn’t sure what to say to them, so instead of saying anything, I hurried past them to my room.
Behind my locked door, I collapsed onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. I felt so lost. I had to do something, didn’t I? I couldn’t just lay here hoping everything would work out. Didn’t self-reliant people take action? Didn’t they anticipate what would happen next and prepare for it?
Paralyzed, I laid there for more than an hour considering what I should do. I knew that Dillon would help me if she could, but that wasn’t our relationship. I was the one who had adopted her.
Dillon had been the daughter of my favorite housekeeper. There were a limited number of humans who knew that my father and brother were wolf shifters. Our housekeeper was one of them.
Deciding that I needed a friend, my parents arranged a playdate with her daughter. Feeling like I was looking in mirror when I met Dillon, I decided that she would get the life I wished I had.
When Dillon graduated from high school, I convinced my father to create a scholarship and then made sure that she got it. I also made sure that her dorm room at college was furnished with everything she would need. The scholarship included spending money so she didn’t have to get a job, and she got a clothing allowance so she could find a great guy and have a happy life.
I didn’t do this because I wanted anything from her. She is my friend. I just want her to be happy. I’m sure that she would help me now if she could. But she was in New Jersey, and I knew the exact amount in her bank account. Asking Dillon for help wasn’t an option.
Hearing a knock on the door, I snapped out of my downward spiral. Quickly pulling myself together, I sat up. It had gotten dark since I had laid down. Scrambling to my feet, I flicked on a light.
“Yes?” I said, suddenly face to face with Cali’s chiseled cheekbones and his incredible scent.
“I was wondering if you’re gonna be checking out soon?” he said with an unmistakable weight on his shoulders.
I didn’t want to burden him with my trivial problems. He had enough to deal with, thanks to me.
“Yes. Of course. I guess I just lost track of time.”
“It’s just that there’s someone scheduled for this room, and I still have to clean it…”
“If you need more time…”
“No. I don’t have much. I can be out in a few minutes.”
Instead of replying, his gaze rolled over me. It gave me a warm feeling that settled deep inside my sex. Tightening his lips, he gave me a nod and returned downstairs.
Well, this was it. I was going to have to make a decision. Tossing the few things I had into my bag, I took a last look at myself in the mirror and left the room.
“I’m out,” I told Cali when I found him in the kitchen.
“Okay, thanks,” he said, scurrying up to the room behind me.
With nowhere to go, I joined the guests in the living room. It was a comfortable space. The furniture had pictures of birds on the upholstery. There was an ornately designed throw rug under the coffee table in front of it and shelves surrounding the space with books and knickknacks from around the world.
I wondered how it was to grow up in a place like this. It felt like a home filled with love. I knew what that was like. My father was intensely devoted to his family. My mother, my brother, and I were everything to him. It was the rest of the world that had a reason to fear him.
It only took twenty minutes for Cali to return and escort the new guests to their rooms. He looked at me and our eyes made contact for a moment. But that was it. He was busy. I understood. How was he supposed to know what I was going through? Besides, he had real things to worry about.
Thirty minutes later, when he returned to the living room and found that I hadn’t moved, I felt embarrassed. I couldn’t look at him.
“Is everything okay?” he asked me, drawing my eyes to his.
Staring at him, tears welled in my eyes. I was being ridiculous. I knew it. I had options. I had nothing to complain about. But here I was crying while a person who could be losing his mother remained strong.
“I’m sorry. I’ll get out of your hair now,” I said getting up, grabbing my bag, and hurrying to the door.
“Wait. Stop!” he ordered with a voice that froze my muscles involuntarily. Facing away, I couldn’t move even if I wanted to. What was happening to me?
“You don’t have a car. Where are you going?” he said oblivious to the effect his words had on me.
“I can call for a ride.”
“If you could do that, you would have already. Do you have anywhere to go?”
“Really, you don’t have to worry about me. How’s your mother?”
When I said that, I felt his mysterious grip on me release. Free, I turned around. All I could see was the pain that rippled through him.
“The doctor says that she’ll eventually be alright. But I could barely stand to see her like that. She’s always been so full of life, you know? To see her lying there with tubes attached to her, I couldn’t take it.”
Without thinking, I rushed to him and gripped his shoulder. If I had thought before I did it, I might not have. When he didn’t pull away, I was glad I had.
“The doctor says she’s gonna be alright?”
“That’s really good. I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that.”
As if regretting he had given me a peak under his mask, he quickly straightened up and pulled away.
“Thank you. And, I’m so sorry about what happened to your car. My mother has insurance. It will take care of it.”
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. You just worry about your mother and everything else I’m sure you have going on.”
“I’ll be fine. But you didn’t answer my question. Do you have anywhere to go?”
I wondered what I should tell him. I had already said that I would be fine. He hadn’t accepted that answer. Deciding I should tell him the truth, I shook my head no.
“Then, you’ll stay here,” he said kindly.
“But the room is gone.”
“You’ll stay in my room,” he said confidently.
My mouth dropped open as I stared at him, wondering what he was suggesting. He quickly clarified.
“I’ll stay in my mother’s room. My room isn’t much but…”
“No, thank you. I’m sure it’ll be more than enough,” I said as relief washed through me.
“You’ll need to give me a few minutes to straighten it up and maybe change the sheets,” he said as his fair-skinned cheeks turned red.
“Don’t go through any trouble.” I implored.
“No, just give me a minute. I’ll be right back,” he said hurrying up the stairs.
I watched his ass as he left. Damn!
As I led her down the hallway to my bedroom, I pictured the girl following me. Her tousled, curly hair fell halfway down her forehead. And her wide eyes and full pink lips reminded me of a Kewpie doll. She had to be the hottest girl I had ever met. My wolf craved her.
This was not the time to think about that, though. I had other things to worry about. My mother was in the hospital. It was hard not to blame myself for her being there.
Ever since I learned that Titus, Claude, and I were brothers, things had been tense between my mother and me. When I had confronted her with it, she had tightened her lips and walked away. She knew. For my entire life, she knew that I had brothers and hadn’t told me. Why? How could she do that to me?
“Here it is,” I said, turning back to the much shorter, curvy girl behind me.
“Are you sure this is okay?” she asked, her eyes hinting to her vulnerability.
“It’s no problem,” I said, trying to push back all the things my wolf wanted to do as I stared at her.
The gorgeous girl continued to look at me as if there was something she wanted to say. I couldn’t imagine what it would be. Staring back, I had an ache in my chest. Overwhelmed by a desire to rip her clothes off and fuck her until she howled, I looked away to gather myself.
“Do you think your mother will be coming home soon?” she asked, drawing my gaze.
“Don’t worry. You can have the room for as long as you need it.”
Hil looked embarrassed.
“That wasn’t why I was asking.”
Staring at her again, it was clear that wasn’t what she was asking.
“Right. No, I’m sure it will be at least a couple of days. The doctor told me that she looks a lot worse than she is. Luckily, it’s mostly scratches and bruises. She escaped a lot of the internal damage that might have made things tricky. But she’s not completely out of the woods. I’ll be heading back in the morning to check on her,” I said, once again overcome by regret.
“Please, give her my best.”
I stared at her. The pain in her eyes told me that she really did think that what happened to my mother was her fault. I couldn’t understand why. She wasn’t the one who had crashed into her or had left the scene of the crime. She was the one who called the ambulance that rescued her.
I tightened my lips and nodded before turning toward my mother’s bedroom and leaving Hil in my wake. Opening the door at the end of the hall, I didn’t look back. I desperately wanted to, but I wasn’t sure my wolf could let me walk away if I did. Besides I didn’t want to get too attached. She could be gone by the time I woke up, and I was tired of having my heart broken.
Trust was an issue for me, and it didn’t help that the person I thought I could trust the most had allowed me to live a lie. So I wasn’t going to let myself feel something for Hil no matter how much my wolf was drawn to her. I had to protect myself from her. Or, at least my human part.
But with the door locked behind me, I pictured her again. The wolf in me went wild. My cock immediately got hard, really hard. I had to squeeze it to ease the pain.
This wasn’t the first time I had had feelings for someone, but the other times my wolf hadn’t reacted like this. I didn’t know what was going on. It was like my wolf knew her and was fighting to get to his mate. Was this what wolf shifters felt when they found their one?
I never knew if the things people said about wolf shifters were true. There were a lot of us in this town, but not until recently had we been able to form a pack. It had to do with a magical barrier that a fae living here had placed over us. My brother, Titus, was the one who got him to take it down. When he did, the life of every wolf living under it changed.
For us it felt like removing a mask and taking a deep breath for the first time. We could all smell things we hadn’t been able to. With that came instincts and desires that hadn’t been there before. It was even true for shifters who would only come to town for high school. Somehow the fae’s barrier had cut all of the wolves off from who we were.
With the barrier down, things were slowly kicking in. That was a bigger deal for the older wolves than for me because, only recently starting to shift, it was still all new. I hadn’t lived a lifetime without it.
What was a problem was that the barrier meant that there were no elder wolves who could tell us what to expect. Having only recently formed a pack, our alpha was just a few years older than me. He hadn’t even known he was a wolf until he accidently shifted. And, he didn’t know that shifters existed until right before then.
So, what’s going on with my wolf now? Who knows? And I didn’t know who could tell me.
What I did know was that as much as my wolf wanted her, and how beautiful I thought she was, she wasn’t a wolf shifter. At least, I didn’t think she was.
There was definitely something different about her, though. There had to be. Looking at her was like a drug that made me need to shift.
I wasn’t going to. Not even locked behind my mother’s bedroom door. I didn’t yet know what my wolf could do. Would it find a way out and then break into my bedroom to claim the woman sleeping in my bed?
My cock flinch thinking about her leaving her scent on my sheets. No. I had to take my mind off of this.
Fighting every instinct I had, I stripped off my shirt and jeans and laid down. Instead of thinking about Hil, I thought about how weird it was being in my mother’s bed. I hadn’t slept in it since I was a kid.
What I had told Hil was true. My mother’s doctor had said that he thought my mother would fully recover. But what I hadn’t told Hil was how awful she looked. Purple bruises covered her fair skin. And pumped with painkillers, she stared at me as if I wasn’t there.
My mother had always been so strong—so full of life. I used to think of her has being “too much.” Now I would give anything to have her back to the way she was.
There had to be a reason she hadn’t told me that I had brothers, right? And why she refused to tell me anything about my father, even after I shifted and found out that I wasn’t human? There had to be a reason.
But none of that was important now. The only thing that mattered was that she got better. And I was going to do whatever I had to do to make that happen.
Sitting in the waiting room the next morning, images danced through my mind. Would Mama look better? Worse? Were the drugs that she was on masking a head injury that would rob her of her spirit?
I barely slept the night before thinking about it. I had been a fool to fight with her. I would now give anything to take it back.
“Mr. Shearer?” the stout, dark-skinned woman said from behind the receptionist desk.
Getting up, I quickly stood in front of her.
“That’s me,” I said with my heart thumping in my throat.
“You can go back now,” she said, barely looking at me.
Was her uneasy eye contact because things had not gone well overnight? Heat washed through me as I considered the possibility.
“She was moved to room 201. That’s on the second floor. Would you like directions?”
“You changed her room?”
The woman’s tired eyes met mine. After only a second, they popped back down to the sheet in front of her.
“It says here that she was moved due to an upgrade in her status. It’s a good thing,” she said with a practiced smile.
“Thank you,” I said relieved and headed towards the stairs.
I didn’t like the smell of hospitals, especially with my wolf’s heightened senses developing. It was painful to breathe. Every inhale smelled like death. I knew the scent too well.
I couldn’t take losing my mother. And as much as I tried not to think about it, the thought overwhelmed me as I crossed the halls. When I found room 201, I reached for the knob and paused. I had to get control of myself. This wasn’t a time to let my wolf control me. I had to push it back.
I needed to be in complete control for whatever I was about to see. I wasn’t sure I could take it if Mama’s condition had taken a turn for the worse. This whole thing was a nightmare. But suppressing my racing wolf, I gathered my courage, knocked lightly and opened the door. Peeking in, I held my breath.
“Cali?” a strained but familiar voice said from within.
“Yeah, it’s me, Mama.”
“I’m glad to see you,” she said with drowsy eyes and a smile.
Allowing the door to close behind me, I moved to the side of her bed. Although she was more awake than she had been the night before, she looked worse. All of her purple bruises had darkened. I couldn’t imagine that being a good sign, but hadn’t they moved her to a new room because she was doing better?
“That bad, huh?” my mother said, reading the look on my face.
“No, Mama. You’re looking better.”
My mother smiled. “Here’s a secret, Cali. You have a tell when you lie. A mother knows,” she said, emphasizing her usually light Jamaican accent.
Was that true? Could she tell when I was lying? I was certainly lying this time.
“Mama, how did this happen?”
Sadness entered my mother’s eyes. It was the same one she got whenever I brought up my newfound brothers.
“Does this have something to do with my father?”
She looked at me, staring into my eyes.
“It does, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know that. And neither could you, so there’s no point in asking about it.”
“What are you talking about? Someone told me that your car was rear-ended. You could have been killed. I almost lost you. If you’re still in danger, I need to know about it. If someone’s trying to hurt you because of me…”
Mama took my hand in hers. Looking at her, all I could see were the tubes attached to her arms.
“What happened was an accident. That’s all it was.”
“But what if it wasn’t? You have to tell me who my father is. If he’s someone dangerous, I have to know. Titus, Claude, and I need to know.”
For the first time since finding out there was more to my past than I was being told, my mother looked at me with empathy. I hoped it would be followed by an explanation. It wasn’t.
“Even now you’re not going to say anything?”
“Cali, there is nothing to say.”
As relieved as I was that my mother seemed more like herself, I was once again furious at her. I deserved to know the truth. She was withholding a part of who I was from me.
Maybe if I knew who my father was, it would explain things about me that I didn’t understand. I wanted to yell that at my mother, but I couldn’t. Not now, and maybe never again.
“I’m going to be taking a break from school to take care of the bed-and-breakfast,” I said to her, changing the topic.
“No!” she replied emphatically.
“What do you mean, no? There are guests staying there. Now that business is starting to pick up, we have to think about reviews.”
“Promise me that this won’t affect your schoolwork.”
“Do you think I care about school right now? Do you see where you are?”
“I said, promise me! Your education is what’s important. That should always come first.”
“There is nothing more important than getting you healthy,” I explained to her.
She squeezed my hand. “Thank you. But the doctors here will take care of that. You just worry about your grades. Let me worry about the business.”
“You say that, but what could you do from this bed?”
“More than you think,” she said with a smile.