Bryn squinted up at the sky, trying to count the stars. The full moon was rising but had yet to reach its zenith and she was bored with the waiting. And cold. Januaries in Montana were bitter.
But it wasn’t much of a bother to the rest of her family and the Pack, who had stripped down to underwear or merely skin in the silvery clearing.
With a sigh, Bryn shoveled off some of the snow on an outcropping of rock and sat down. She tightened the laces on her gray running shoes with numb fingers.
“I wish you could feel this,” her best friend, Rowan exclaimed breathlessly as she jogged up to the rock. Her russet hair hung to her ribcage in a thick, razor-straight pelt, her skin ivory in the moonlight, her freckles pale. Bryn stared at Rowan’s polka-dotted underwear, embarrassment bringing heat into her cheeks. Other people’s naked bodies had been shoved in Bryn’s face for six years now—ever since puberty hit, but the older she got, the less comfortable with it she became.
“What?” Bryn lifted her eyes to her friend’s yellow-green ones.
She could feel it. The thrum of energy that started in her toe-tips and traveled through her nerves to the top of her scalp. She could almost see it, running through the snow-covered ground and up through the barren trees. That was the problem with the Pack. They were constantly underestimating her. Just because she was the family freak.
Someone let out a yelp, and all attention turned to Frey, the youngest member of the Pack, whose voice, at fifteen, had just changed over a few months ago. The pull of Mother Moon was strongest for him and a large dark wolf stood where a one hundred and sixty pound boy with dark hair had been mere moments before. He shook his great head and whimpered for several long seconds.
Joyous howls filled the air in the clearing and rose to the sky. In her mind’s eye, Bryn watched the notes spiral to the heavens, as if she was mapping out a song. Across the snow, her mother and father turned to gray wolves and milled with the others on all fours, bumping noses and rubbing muzzles. The last to turn, in a show of power, was their Alpha—Torolf. He was her parents’ age—early forties, although in a werewolf it was often hard to tell age. He strutted around naked and proud like a cock on the walk, like a stallion surveying his newly-won herd. He paraded past Bryn, black hair curling thick over his chest and legs and by his ears when his hair grew out a little too long from the military cut he usually kept it in. He glanced at her sideways, out of eyes that were more yellow than green at the moment, then let out a great roar and shifted into the largest wolf this side of Yellowstone. His mate, Anika, a red wolf, moved to be by his side. With a happy yap, Rowan, the unfortunate daughter of the Alpha pair, ran towards them and slid to a stop, spraying snow and wet into their faces. She jumped back and wagged her tail, mouth hanging open, tongue lolling, but Torolf snapped at her and growled. She hung her head.
With a snarl, Torolf took off into the trees at a run and the Pack followed suit.
Bryn launched herself from the rock she was perched on and began the chase. To keep up with her brethren on nights like this, she ran ten miles five days a week at sunrise without fail. Even so, even with her heightened night vision, she stumbled on hidden branches in the snow and nearly fell several times, slowing her down. Sometimes, Satu or Laef would hang back and brush against her in a friendly manner. At one point, Jensen was even on her tail, snapping at her heels. He shoved her and she shouted foul play but he passed her in a huff. They all passed her eventually and soon she was running alone with just the icy wind cutting through her sweats and her breath in her ears.
She was aware she was being hunted by the itch that crawled up the nape of her neck. Anxious, she tried to run faster. It wouldn’t be the first time glowing yellow eyes had watched her with hunger from the darkness, nor the first time had she been inches from death by the teeth of her own kind. Bryn had one foot in the human world, one foot in the werewolf. She was full-blooded, born of two lycanthropes, but when she hit puberty…nothing happened. Blessed with heightened senses, Bryn still had only one form and that made her a flaw. And the flawed were not tolerated in werewolf society. Her days were numbered she figured, before someone decided to take out the freak who threatened to mar their bloodlines.
So she ran faster. She ran until her blood boiled and then she spun on her hunter, brandishing the silver throwing knife she kept sheathed at the small of her back—the set had been a sixteenth birthday gift from her mother.
“Show yourself!” she shouted, putting her back toward a large, old tree. “Hell if I’m going to go quietly.”
She stilled long enough to hear twigs snap somewhere off to her right and see a flash of eyes. She flicked the knife, heard a small yip and then the big silver wolf was rushing her. She backed into the tree, feeling the bark rough through her clothes, and shut her eyes but not before unsheathing the smaller silver knife on her left forearm and holding it up in a defensive position.
“Bryndis! Bryn! It’s me. It’s just me.”
She felt the warmth of a human form press against her, his hands on her wrists, pinning her arms in a cross against her chest, squeezing firm. He smelled like wolf, like musk and forest and sandalwood which ultimately made her open her eyes. Sober now from her panic.
“Calder,” she said flatly.
The naked boy in front of her grinned. He had too many teeth in his mouth.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Running.” He said, and they breathed heavily together for a few spaces. His platinum blond hair was white in this moonlight. His blue eyes silver.
“So close to the pack? You’re a moron.”
“I was looking for you.”
He just smiled again.
Sick of his game, Bryn, whose knife had been pinned along with her wrists, wiggled a little and with a tiny movement, cut him, but just a little. Right under his chin. The silver would burn and make the wound slow to heal.
“Yow!” He let her go to grab onto his neck. “You already got me once tonight. Isn’t that enough?”
Having wiggled away from him, she turned back to look at the small gash on his ribcage and realized she hadn’t smelled the blood. She would have to work on that. It was her turn to smile. Bryn fished her knife out of the snow and began the jog back to the clearing. Calder left her alone physically but she could not shake him from her thoughts.
He had shifted forms effortlessly during the full moon. She hadn’t known he could do that. Only the most powerful wolves had that ability. He was just a silly Casanova wolf. A loner, traveling from pack to pack picking off vulnerable females and leaving them high and dry. But he had set up roots here in Gardiner; it had been over six months and he had some ridiculous idea that he was going to challenge Torolf at the Spring Equinox. At twenty one years old, it was stupid. But legal.
Bryn slowed to a walk when she got to the clearing and kept on going north about a mile out of Yellowstone Park until the trees thinned and revealed Torolf’s massive, manicured backyard. The lights were blazing on his lux log cabin, which sat just slightly out of town. No neighbors to speak of. It was the biggest house in Gardiner. She avoided the large pool and hot tub, climbed the steps on the wraparound porch and sat down in one of the wooden rocking chairs and curled up, waiting for the sun to rise and the Pack to emerge from the forest. She took her chance to doze restlessly. After all, there was no stopping school tomorrow.