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Wolves and Vampires never mix…
Unless they are ready to rip each other apart.
Humans say there is something magical about the Crystal Glow Mountains in Colorado… or so I’ve been told.
They are right.
It’s us. The Shadow Born Pack. An ancient race of Wolf Shifters born of the purest Witch magic, and a mystical crystal only found here. From the shadows, we protect humans from creatures they believe to only exist in their darkest nightmares.
The venomous monsters are real—deformed, cursed creatures deprived of thought, logic, or feeling. Driven only by their insatiable hunger for blood, they hunt humans each night, the only time they are safe from incineration under the power of sunlight. It’s why we were created, to end their killing and blood enslaving of the human race.
Our hunters go out each night to the world below the mountain, using the cloak of darkness to track and kill those vile beasts, and soon, I will be one of them.
Gusts of excitement fluttered through the Shadow Born village, as preparations for the long-awaited fire ceremonyhad begun. The swirling joy mixed with the billows of fog crawling along the earth, and the cool air of the morning atop the Crystal Glow Mountains.
A small chill ran down my spine as the breeze swept me in a soothing caress, not because I was cold, but because my senses awoke with the delightful smells of pine trees and spice cones. An indulging smile curved my lips when I stopped on the edge of the cliff, glancing down at the orange, red, and yellow leaves that painted the mountain skirt like a canvas, while soft white snow adorned the surrounding peaks.
I loved living here. So close to the clouds that humans could only ever dream of it, yet close enough to the city to make sure they were all safe. We, however, fit perfectly in this beautiful forest we called home. Because we were special.
Supernaturals. Protectors. Wolf Shifters.
“Good morning, Natasha!”
“Morning, Greta!” Waving at the sweet, older woman and her three daughters—Willa, Frederica, and Ilsa—I resumed my way back to the house after taking a hot shower in the communal bathroom.
Sure, we were Wolf Shifters, but we weren’t animals. Though we lived at the top of the mountain, our village was still equipped with some of the advantages of the modern, human world… even if we weren’t really a part of it or allowed to visit.
Greta and her daughters, with the rest of the pack’s breeders, hung white and golden-colored lanterns from the trees along the large clearing, arranging strings of white orchids all around the area designated for the ancient and sacred event.
“Are you excited to finally complete the fire trial?” Willa’s voice carried the same feeling of happiness everyone shared, its wisps seeping into my pores with each step.
“More than you know…” My gaze travelled over the forest beneath us, extending to the bustling city beyond the ever-changing trees—where humans lived. Both contentment and nostalgia filled my being. It was a sight that had fed my soul each day since I could remember, and I didn’t think I could ever get tired of it. Most of all, I couldn’t wait to be part of that world too.
Two more days…
An extra kick of exhilaration rushed through my being, tying my stomach in knots. This year, the fire ceremony just so happened to fall on the day of my nineteenth birthday… The day my life would finally change.
My steps suddenly faltered when kids ran across my path, a little one bumping against my knee in his rush to keep up with the older ones. “Oh! Careful there, little cub.”
Lifting the three-year-old boy in my arms, I kissed his chubby cheek and set him down again to join his friends. Our kids weren’t really wolf cubs since our race required ancient fire magic to fully acquire our mystical wolf forms, and they were too small to be put through the excruciating experience of trying to shift without that magic, but they loved it when I called them cubs.
Grinning widely with the compliment, he waved me goodbye and ran away, eliciting a chuckle from me before I resumed my pace.
Once I entered our house, I hung the wet towel on the back of the chair, before closing the curtains for privacy. The “house” was actually a tiny cabin—only big enough for a kitchenette, small table with two chairs, a couple of twin-size beds, a closet, and a desk—but Isis and I didn’t really need anything more.
I knelt in front of Isis’ bed, pulling out the suitcase hidden underneath it, and took out the phone she kept stashed inside it. A smile instantly captured my lips seeing the hundreds and hundreds of comment notifications on the screen, and the exhilaration they stirred joined the glee already rushing widely through me.
The purple and blue extensions Isis had gifted me on my last birthday were out next, so I sat in front of the small mirror on the desk, placing them along the strands of my all-white hair—just like she taught me. They looked so freaking awesome that I wished for the millionth time they were real.
Our Alpha, however, would probably strangle me with his bare hands if they were. The fur of a wolf shifter was the most sacred thing we had, and it should never be dyed or changed in any way.
Not that it mattered, I doubted my unusual strands could be dyed even if I was allowed to try… And my fur was already “damaged” enough.
Sadness began to tinge my emotions as I glanced at myself in the mirror. The jagged mark that tainted my childhood stared back at me, eliciting a painful reminder I hadn’t been able to escape for years.
Swiftly pushing it all away, I stood, taking off my plain, linen dress and changing into one of the pretty outfits Isis’ left in the suitcase for me. My life was about to begin, and nothing was going to ruin the happiness growing inside me…
Once I fully shifted with the mystical fire, I would become who I was always meant to be. A magical and powerful she-wolf warrior. Uncle Arnoldt—sorry, our Alpha—would welcome me into his vampire hunting pack, and I’d finally step outside this beautiful place I called home.
I would taste freedom…
For so long, I had prepared for this. So long I’d waited to be part of the Hunters. To enter the human world, mingle with them, and protect them like our shifter race was created to do.
Two more days. Only two more…
I opened the closet and reached for the false wall at the back, taking out my most precious treasure—one of my make up bins. Once I was ready, I set up the phone to record as Isis always did and hit start.
“Hello, makeup queens! It’s your bestie, Selena, with my weekly report of the new products you shouldn’t miss. I’ll also be answering all your questions from last week, and most of all, satisfying your requests for new awesome looks. Let’s begin!”
Briefly checking the curtains yet again, to make sure I got enough natural light but still hid my shenanigans from the rest of the unapproving pack, I grabbed the angled brush and luxurious set before me.
“Today we are putting to the test the brand-new palette from Heavenly Beauty, the Ninth Cloud Set. As usual, I already got my face prepped with all my skin care, and full coverage foundation. If you want to know what products I used, check the description below for the full list. Alright, makeup queens, the first thing I love about this palette is that it’s a nine-in-one set. It has cream foundation, contour, bronzer, four eye shadows, and of course, a beautiful blush and highlighter combination. It also comes in a huge range of skin tones, so no one is left behind. These are the ones that match my skin.”
Tilting the palette in my hand towards the phone’s camera, I did my best to show the gradients and began applying the contour.
“Wow, I wish you could feel how luxurious these are. They glide like silk over my skin!” I applied the blush next, then shifted my face in front of the camera to show the shimmering glow it provided. “Absolutely dreamy. Now, per your requests, today we’ll be creating an evening Fall look, for anyone who wants to go out but wants something a little different. Also, @Eyra–Vegasgirl asked in the comments if I could find an affordable dupe for the red Dior lipstick I showcased last week, and the answer is, of course! I know many of my queens are on a budget, so I found you the perfect dupe and it comes in so many options!”
Lifting the range of colors for the camera to capture, I smiled.
“Aren’t these just absolutely gor—”
“The Hunters are back!”
“The Hunters are finally here!”
Each shout reverberated through the air like thunder, slipping into the house along with the sounds of doors swinging wide open and slamming closed all around the village—mates, breeders, and mothers rushing out to greet them.
My heart stammered into a fierce pounding, and I jumped off my chair, forgetting things I should never forget. The lipsticks droped from my hands, crashing to the floor one by one like bells. I, too, swung the door open, running outside.
It had been a week since my uncle, the Shadow Born Alpha, and his hunters left to track and kill Vampires. Their outings usually took them away from us for only one night, maybe two days, three at most, so the entire pack was anxious. This was the first time it took them so long to come home, which meant the threat they’d encountered had been greater than anything they’d expected. Everyone knew the Hunters were the most powerful among us, yet even though I tried my best not to dwell on it, part of me was still scared for my future mate.
Strong arms caught me the moment I rushed out of the cabin, wrapping around me in a possessive embrace, and bringing with them the impossible heat only a Wolf Shifter possessed.
Ryker had come home straight into my arms.
Lifting me from the ground in a single swoop, he hid his face in my neck and hair as my arms draped around his broad shoulders in response, welcoming him. Relief coursed through me, feeling him safe just as a deep breath expanded his chest against mine. He was scenting me. Our bodies flushed with the movement, and a satisfied smile curved my lips while my eyes fell closed—my wolf melting inside me for him too.
“Mate…” he growled against my ear, pretending to bite my neck like he would finally get to do once I turned nineteen and shifted for the first time.
“Soon,” I whispered before his lips captured mine, and I let his adoration engulf my entire being. My wolf rustled inside me contentedly, embracing the familiarity of him. She couldn’t wait to shift and meet his wolf.
Ryker was one of the few constants in my life. We had been promised to each other for so long that the years blurred together, so the anticipation of the day when our wolves would finally meet and get to mate grew each hour.
Was this what humans called love? I wasn’t sure our species experienced things the same way, but it had to be to course through my body like this every time Ryker was near.
We got lost in the kiss, until his nose returned to my neck, taking in my scent once more as though it was the only thing that made him feel like he was truly home.
“I missed you so much, Tasha.” His voice fanned my lips when his head lifted once more, and he briefly looked into my eyes. “Monster after monster we ripped apart, but I just wanted to come back to you.”
My forehead pressed against his and his eyes instantly closed, taking comfort in our contact. “Was it worse than our Alpha predicted?” I asked, pulling back again, caressing the muscles that instantly tensed along his jaw—drops of dried, red blood were still splattered across his skin.
Ryker’s head shook as a dark shadow of disdain and hate crossed his expression. “You have no idea. I don’t think the Alpha ever thought it would be this bad. Their numbers have increased, and they are getting dangerously close to the city. It doesn’t make sense. It felt planned, like an ambush.”
“That’s impossible,” I whispered, shocked. “Vampires are beasts incapable of any type of thought or intelligence.”
“Someone brought them here,” Ryker continued, completely lost in thought. “We killed a few of them but most were able to escape. Something’s calling them here.”
The mere thought terrified me. Throngs of deformed and irrational creatures, stronger and faster than any human, thirsty for blood in an unsuspecting city was the last thing we wanted to happen. Especially, if there was something else out there guiding them, using them as weapons.
A sense of purpose and duty coursed through me instantly, replacing the fear. “Good thing that in two days I’ll be able to finally join the Hunters and help kill those beasts.”
My future mate’s jaw tightened again, but this time, he seemed bothered by my words.
“What is it?” I glanced at him confused. “We’ve been planning this forever. I’ll complete the trial, shift, our wolves will mate, and then I’ll join the Hunters. We’ll be stronger together, fighting to prote—”
“Stop, Tasha. Just stop.”
Blinking, I shook my head. “What do you mean, stop? We have talked about this so many times—”
“No, Tasha. You have talked about this sooo many times. I just haven’t contradicted you. It’s not the same.”
“‘You haven’t contradicted me??’” I asked, bewildered by his rude-ass response. Those were plans we had done together… Or so I’d thought. “What the hell does that mean?”
“Tasha, please,” he growled, clearly annoyed.
“No. Tell me what you mean?”
Sighing, like I was a bratty kid giving him a headache, he shook his head. “You are different. You are not strong enough to be a Hunter.”
Different… The word burned through me.
“I am strong enough. There are she-wolves in the Hunters’ already, I can fight alongside them and—”
“You can’t even shift into your wolf without excruciating pain,” he snapped, cutting me off before abruptly dropping me on my feet. “Do you really think you’ll be able to fight those vile monsters? Give me a fucking break, Natasha.” He snidely snorted. “Others have pushed through the pain to at least achieve basic wolf form without the fire magic, but you can’t even do that.”
The loss of his embrace hurt almost as much as his harsh words, but my hands still fisted at my sides, trembling. Pain choked my throat, yet it was true. I wasn’t like other she-wolves. I was a broken wolf. While others roamed the forest freely in their wolf forms, I was stuck here with the breeders and their cubs, still struggling to shift on my own.
Unable to become who I knew I was truly meant to be.
“That won’t last forever, and you know it, Ryker!” I shouted back at him, pain and frustration driving my outburst.
Instantly, my future mate’s nostrils flared, and his coal black eyes glowed an eerie yellow with fury. One should never defy or raise our voice at the Beta of the pack. It was disrespectful, and a direct challenge of his supremacy over us.
What felt like my wolf’s fear swirled through me at the sight, eliciting a whine as her body contracted, and though it was the last thing I wanted to do, I submitted, dropping my gaze from his.
“Sorry, Ryker. I’m sorry. I just mean that the fire ceremony is only two days,” I whispered, glancing forcefully at the ground while hurt and anger still swirled through me. “Once I complete the challenge, my wolf side will finally take over, and I’ll be just like you. Even then, I know how to fight. You know this. Isis has been training me for a long time so I can hold my own in a battle. I am capable.”
Slowly, I dared lift my gaze to his, though never looking him straight in the eyes.
“I know,” he answered, his voice much calmer than I anticipated, while his finger curled under my chin to finish lifting my face. “You’ve worked harder than any she-wolf in the pack, but you are still not ready, Tasha. You’ve never killed a monster, or another shifter for rank. Even after you successfully shift, you will never be ‘just like me’.”
Once again, his statement scorched me, but he was right. Ryker was second in command to our Alpha, not only to our pack but also to the Hunters—an honor earned through years of harsh training, accrued strength, and beating other Betas during a challenge of power. Unlike Alphas, there could be more than one Beta in a pack at any given time, but wolf challenges were fought to the death, so whoever survived became the stronger Beta.
Ryker had climbed quite the shifter ladder to rise to where he was today, and any Betas left knew better than to challenge him.
“There is no place for you in the Hunters,” he continued, driving the knife deeper into my heart, “you belong here, Tasha, in the village, raising our future cubs.”
Oh, hell to the fucking no! Did he really just say that to me?
“I’m not a breeder,” I protested, trying to keep my voice low, even though searing fury began to flare inside me—feeling like actual flames igniting in my core. A kind of fury that didn’t belong to a lesser she-wolf like me. And yet, I felt it coursing through my veins like fiery lava. “I am the niece of the Shadow Born Alpha. His only heir. I am—”
“Exactly, Tasha. You are all he has left after his only brother, the late Alpha, and his mate were sliced to pieces by Vampires before his eyes. It’s a miracle from the Moon Goddess that you even survived the attack. He will never knowingly put you in the same kind of danger.”
“I deserve revenge!” I growled. “I need justi—” My voice broke with the resentment and anguish squeezing my heart. “I deserve a chance to kill those monsters too.”
Sighing, Ryker slowly nodded, his thumb caressing my cheek in an attempt to soothe me. “I know you believe that, but revenge is not yours to take. It is the Alpha’s, and I will help him deliver it. It is why he gave you to me. Why he chose me as your future mate. Our Alpha knows I will always look after you. And I will never let you face a Vampi—”
His brows furrowed just as his words halted, and he finally paid attention to my appearance.
My stomach sank to the floor.
No, no, no, no.
His fingertips rubbed against the other, the creamy foundation and blush spreading over his skin. My future mate’s expression turned from confusion to ire in a split second, and I realized my grave mistake.
I’d forgotten to change and take off my makeup.
“Damn it, Natasha!” Ryker growled, gripping my jaw firmly and turning my face from side to side to look closer. “Why do you defy your uncle like this? Take that garbage off your face before he sees you.”
“I didn’t do it to defy him,” I weakly defended, hating that I got caught because of my carelessness. Slowly, I pulled my face away from his fierce grasp and lifted the bottom off my white shirt to my cheeks, beginning to wipe them. “It’s only a little makeup, Ryker, and I just do it for me. It makes me happy… Why do you all hate human things so much? They are harmless.”
Once again, my gaze fell to the ground.
“You don’t need makeup to ‘feel happy’, you have me. And they are not harmless,” he sneered. “You are degrading yourself by using that human crap. We are above them, Tasha. You are the descendant of an ancient, magical race of Wolf Shifters. You are not human, so stop acting like one.” His hand flipped the lock of hair that fell over my shoulder with disdain, showing the colored extensions, and then pulled on my sleeve. “And take those ridiculous clothes off too, before he sees you.”
“Ryker!” Our Alpha’s voice sliced the air behind us, and we both stiffened in response.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Damn it,” my future mate growled under his breath while pinning me with a furious stare that said I was going to get him in trouble too, then turned to face our Alpha—hiding me behind his broad back before lowering his eyes. “Yes, Alpha.”
“Good job leading the Hunters out there, you are becoming the leader I want you to be.” Pride effortlessly exuded from his words, as though he were praising his own son.
Ryker’s chest puffed up in response, satisfied by his accomplishment. “Thank you, Arnoldt.” His voice didn’t even twitch when he called our Alpha by his given name. He was the only one ever allowed to do so.
Unfortunately for me, he walked around his Beta, finding me there. Rage immediately ignited his irises the same dangerous yellow all our shifters experienced from the ancient magic within.
“Natasha! How many times do I have to tell you that the world below these mountains is not meant for you?!”
The change in his voice told me exactly what awaited me. It wasn’t the first time my name was distorted by his rage. Too many times to count, actually, but I was still trying to find a way to change that… To prove to him that I was worthy.
It may seem stupid, yet makeup was the only way for me to connect with a world I desperately wished I was part of, and yet, I was strictly forbidden to explore. Thankfully, he didn’t know about the vlog Isis had created for me in the eutubee—where she uploaded my videos each week—or about the thousands of people who actually looked forward to my videos and valued what I had to say, even enjoyed what I created. Who knew what our Alpha would do if he ever found out about it.
No, I wasn’t human, but sometimes I wished I could be.
“Sir, I already reprimanded her, there’s no need to punish—”
Pushing Ryker out of the way, our Alpha’s hand viciously wrapped around my arm, and he pulled me towards the house, ignoring his Beta’s attempt to save me.
I had defied the Alpha… No one could save me from what was coming now.
© 2024 Stephany Wallace, S.W. Creative Publishing co.