Chapter 15

"I have a proposition for you. One that will not be so easily refused," Zelko said to the hulking wolf sanding before him. He was big, his body thick with muscle on a frame large and imposing. He had a face only a parent would love. There was a jagged scar that cut through his eyebrow and halfway down his cheek. His hair was cut close to his scalp and the top half of his ear was missing.

"You don't have nothing I want," the werewolf sneered contentiously, crossing his powerful arms and propping himself up against a tree. He was full of bad attitude, a mere hair-trigger away from changing into the deadly animal that was caged beneath the flesh of a man.

They were meeting in the shadows of the trees miles from Timber Island. There wasn't a chance of anyone overhearing this conversation so deep in the wilderness. It was just supposed to be him and the alpha werewolf meeting. But there were glowing eyes of other members of this small tribe peeking through thinning foliage on shrubbery and saplings. They were most likely there to lend aid to their master at a moment's notice.

Zelko wasn't intimidated in the slightest, and he was no fool. Expecting the volatile attitude of these animals, he had made sure to bring his own back up. Not only did he have powerful magick at his disposal, his familiar was by his side in its lynx form. But more importantly, his other familiars were scattered among the hiding wolves, camouflaged in the same darkness that encompassed them. They were waiting to lend aid and power to their master in case the wolves thought to decline his offer and seek retribution.

"I know your pack is but a handful in numbers. I know your females are having trouble conceiving and any pups they do gestate to full term are weak and usually unable to survive more than a few days outside the womb. I could easily fix all your problems. I could see to the collapse of all your misfortune," Zelko said, words dripping persuasion.

He needed the wolves – no, he didn't need anyone to help him get what he wanted. He could accomplish it all on his own. But having these wolves assist him would make his overall plot flow more smoothly. He didn't care what happened to these shape-changing menaces. They could kill each other off if they so wished. Zelko just wanted to avenge his fallen sister and administer as much emotional agony he could inflict on Ulrick Blackstone before he disposed of him.

"And how would you accomplish that?" the Thunder Creek's pack leader asked. The distrust was palpable and reflecting in his silvery blue eyes that held just a little bit of madness in their liquid depths. It was one of the things he hated most about these stupid fucking animals. They were always hard to win over, and once loyalty was given, it was almost as unshakeable as their suspicions.

Zelko mentally sighed, but the plan was already set in motion. If he backed out now, they would probably give a heads-up to Ulrick no matter the rocky, bitter past the two shared. "I can even supply a healer for you."

Darus snorted, rolling his icy blues. "And where are you going to get this said healer? They don't exactly just fall from the sky, asshole."

Zelko was furious by the insult but clutched his hands tightly to keep from sticking out. The thing was so stupid it needed to be put out of its misery. Maybe he should capture them all, implant the berserker curse on them then set them loose on one another. It would certainly prove to be entertaining for sure. Once his score was settled, he would give serious thought to the idea.

"Have you heard the good fortune that befell the Darkwood pack?" he asked, tamping down the anger boiling inside him. It served no purpose to rise to anger, except to waste his time. "Their new healer should be quite the talk of the town."

The wolf glared at him with pure malice. "Yeah? So what?"

"I could give her to you," Zelko promised. With careful planning he could make good on that, too. But the package just might not be in one piece when they receive it.

And after he skewered Ulrick's head, he would do the same to that pathetic witch. She interfered with his pet. And Zelko would not – could not – let that stand. The bitch would get hers and he would relish in dispensing justice. "She is, after all, the brat of the wolf you killed – the once proud second-in-command that you slain in the mud like a worthless stray."

Darus bristled at the words, but did not convey what the warlock already knew.

His sister had found out that little secret years past, a juicy little tidbit that she could one day work to her advantage. Tragically she had died before then. "I know lots of things about this world, werewolf. You would do well to remember that."

The werewolf stepped closer. "Are you threatening me?"

"It was not but a friendly little reminder," he said. "Just think about how deceptively spectacular it would be. She would be working for her father's murderer and she would never have a clue."

"How would you accomplish that? Ulrick isn't stupid. He didn't gain alpha status by luck. He will have his pack healer heavily guarded, more so with outsiders around. You are not going to be able to whisk dick away from Ulrick, most especially the pack healer," Darus said with enough acid in his tone to chew through steel.

Zelko chuckled. "Such trivial things to worry about. I can get around them easily." Of that he had no doubt.

"You're stupid to even try."

"Do not underestimate me," Zelko growled out. "Let me worry about extracting the Darkwood bitch. I need to know I can rely on you to do the right thing when I follow through."

"Why are you against him?"

"He took someone very precious from me and I demand vengeance. Surely you understand retribution for a loved one."

"How will I know you won't turn on me?" Darus asked, that damn suspicion weighing in once more.

"I will be frank. You are nothing more than a means to an end," Zelko said. "But we will both benefit from this. You obtain a witch/werewolf hybrid and your pack will prosper. I'll have Ulrick's head. Without a leader, you could even challenge the beta. Should you win, you could take over the pack. Slaughter all the males to erase any chance of vengeance and keep the females for yourself to strengthen your numbers. It will be easy to do with a healer. So, do we have a deal?"

There was only the slightest of hesitation in his answer. "Yes."

With a villainous grin, Zelko produced a cell phone and tossed it to the were. Darus stretched out his hand and caught it. "This is the beginning of the end of Ulrick Blackstone. And the rise of a new wolf clan. Call your old pack leader and ask to rejoin him once more."

The trek back to the house was a silent one as both Tegan and Soren were no doubt thinking about what had happened between them tonight. It had been fast, hot and totally unexpected. And though they had both been caught up in it, it had been a small pleasurable reprieve from everything that had been going on lately.

Tegan's lips quirked up in a crooked grin as she watched Soren from the corner of her eye. Her lips still tingled from their earlier kisses. Her skin was warm, blood still at a low simmer. And her heart was still beating erratically.

Had Soren not stopped, things could have gone a whole lot further than she intended. Of that, she was grateful. She didn't know what caused this sudden longing within her, be she couldn't deny the fact that a part of her wanted him. Perhaps it could all be explained by a heat of the moment thing. Or perhaps all her hormones – like her emotions – were going haywire with the change that would soon be upon her.

They returned to a house that was eerily quiet. Kerr must have left while they were away and Storm had probably never come back from his earlier flight.

"Looks like we have the place to ourselves," Soren said, giving voice to her thoughts as they entered the darkened living room. He even went to his brother's bedroom and checked it out to be sure. There had been nothing but rumpled bed sheets.

Tegan frowned, kicking her shoes off on the mat beside the door then flicked on a lamp, illuminating the room in a softy, buttery glow. Kerr must have turned it off when he left because she recalled leaving it on. "I wonder where Kerr went. And I would have thought that Storm would have been back by now." He would have greeted her upon their return had he been home.

Soren wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to him. "No worries. I can think of something to do in their absence."

She rolled her eyes and pushed away from him, but she was smiling. Sighing as fatigue tugged at her, Tegan curled up on the couch. She patted the seat next to her as a gesture for Soren to join her. "Since we have some time together, you should tell me more about werewolves. What I know about them could fit into a thimble."

"Us," he corrected. "You're a werewolf, too."He sat down beside her then grabbed her feet to pull them into his lap.

"You're being very touchy feely – more so than usual. Are you sure you're not drunk?"

"I just like the contact with you. It's comforting to me. It has nothing to do with drinking." He rubbed his thumb against her ankle in slow circles. "What do would want to know about wolves?"

"What was it like the first time you changed?"

Soren was quiet for moment while he thought. "I was about five when my first change hit me. I remember wanting to cling to my mother the whole day. I got up early that morning and curled up beside her while she held me. She immediately knew what was going to happen and warned me. I was scared but I was really excited about it, too. I was finally going to be a wolf."

Tegan smiled at the thought of Soren as a small child and what he must have looked like when he changed for the first time. "What causes the change to start?"

"As soon as our bodies are able to sustain a change like that," he said. "It usually happens between four and eight years of age, sometimes longer depending on the magick flowing within the pack and how much wolf you have in you."

"Does it hurt at all?" she asked.

Soren shook his head. "A little at first, but your body will slowly get used to it. It's more frightening than anything."

"I can attest to the frightening part. How does this alpha/beta thing work?"

"My father is the alpha, I'm the beta, and Zeke is the gamma," he told her. "That's the hierarchy in any werewolf pack. The rest of the pack could be considered deltas. Then the lowest ranking wolves are omegas, most of which are the mutts or runts. If there was ever trouble and the alpha falls, the beta takes over. If the beta falls, the gamma takes over."

"What happens if the gamma falls?"

"If the enemy takes out the leader, beta, and gamma, there was no hope for the pack to begin with," he told her grimly.

"What would happen to the rest of the pack?" she asked.

"They would be absorbed or killed off. It depends on what the other pack does."

Tegan couldn't keep the horrified expression off her face. "Have you ever killed anyone, Soren?"

"No. But I would if it meant saving my pack and especially the ones I love," Soren admitted.

"Where do I fit in the picture – with the hierarchy, I mean? I'm only a half-breed."

"You would have fallen into the omega category. But you get your own distinction as healer which raises you in status."

"So then it is just really you and your father that have power over me. I don't fall under the command of the gamma, because Zeke I would listen to. He's scary."

"Yeah, you only have to listen to me and my father. But maybe we should change it so that you have to listen to Zeke. Getting you to follow a simple command is like pissing in the wind. And once you have your mind set on something, there is no stopping you no matter what I do." He cast a peeved look in her direction.

"Because I'm not going to be some bitch that heels to you even if you are the beta. I'm not trying to openly defy you at every turn. I'm going to always do what I think is right. I don't need you making every decision for me," she said.

His only response was a grunt.

"I mean it." She nudged her foot into his stomach. "How did your dad become the alpha?"

He moved his hand to her calf and steadily rubbed back and forth. "He had to contend with other wolves for it."

She raised a brow at him. "Contend how?"

"Until submission or death," he murmured as if it wasn't that big of an issue.

Tegan's eyes went wide with shock. "What!"

"He challenged the previous pack leader. They fought until death and my father beat him," Soren explained.

"That's…barbaric." She was stunned by the admission though she wasn't sure why. You'd think by now she'd be fatigued with all the surprises thrown her way. "Do they really have to kill one another? Why can't it all be to submission?"

"The challenger is the one that chooses what kind of match it will be so he goes in at his own risk and knowing fully what could happen. It's is fair that way."

"Ulrick chose to kill the one he contended against? He killed someone?"

"Had my father not taken a death match, the other wolf he challenged would have put him to death. This isn't the human world, Tegan. We may look very much like humans, but we live by the rules of nature. Only the strong survive and all threats must be eliminated.

"The last pack alpha died when he was shot by a wayward hunter. The beta at the time would have taken control of the pack was cruel and unjust. Had father not killed him, it would have been a very different pack you found. Most likely you wouldn't have been given a choice about being a healer. He would have chained you to the rock and made you work for him."

"How did you become beta?"

Soren shook his head. "The alpha assigns his second and third. To be honest, I never really wanted to be the beta but it fell to me when Kerr left. I'd much rather live out my life without having the pack depend on me."

"Why didn't you turn your father down?"

"I don't know. I guess I wanted him to be proud of me."

Tegan leaned forward and gently touched his arm, garnering his full attention. "He is proud of you, Soren."

"You think?" he asked wistfully.

Her smile was warm as she pulled away from him. "I know he is. He loves you."

"How else would he be able to put up with your rude, temperamental self?" Tegan added mirthfully.

"Gee…thanks. And here I thought you were being nice," he muttered, keeping his hands busy dancing along the lower part of her leg, kneading the muscles there.

"If it makes you feel better, you're also thoughtful at times, you can be sweet when you want to be, you are loyal, and so much more than what I ever expected when I first got to the island. You're not as bad as you want everyone to think you are. And I'll think even more highly of you if you do me one tiny little favor."

Soren looked over at her, one blond brow arched high on his head. "And that would be?"

"I want to watch you change. I want to see you as a wolf," she told him.

He frowned. "I've already changed in front of you before."

Tegan sighed. "That was when I was panicking over Storm. I didn't get a good look."

A lopsided grin twisted his expression into something waggish. "I know you got a pretty good eyeful the first time I caught you sneaking around the burial grounds. You kept checking out my ass."

"I did not!" But the redness the bled into her cheeks belied the denial. "Get mind out of gutter and get changing, wolf-boy." She pulled her legs off his lap and started pushing him out of his seat.

Soren sighed and rolled to a standing position from the couch. "I haven't tried to change since I was infected, you know. I don't know how this is going to affect the transformation."

Tegan stood up as well. "I trust you."

"You shouldn't. I might not be able to control the curse when I change. I could end up coming after you." He looked torn, wanting to do as she asked and not wanting to do something that would put her in grave danger.

"We'll go outside. If you change into bad wolf-boy I'll lock myself in here and get Storm or call your father. But I still want to see you transform. Please, Soren," she begged. "Look at it this way, it could be an experiment to see what happens when you do change."

He reluctantly agreed. They both went outside. She stayed behind on the steps while he put a little distance between them so that in case something happened she would have plenty of time to get into the house and lock herself away in safety but remained close enough that she could see the particulars of the shifting.

"Are you ready?" he called out.

"Yeah," she answered. She watched as he began peeling clothing from his body. He stood out in the field naked for a moment giving Tegan a view of his very nice backside before the purplish hazed shimmered around him. A few seconds later, a large timber wolf was standing where Soren had been.

Tegan let out a sigh of relief that she didn't know she had been holding. There was a part of her that expected him to turn into the horrible creature that Kerr had been.

The wolf turned to her and trotted in her direction. It still felt weird to have such a big wild animal loping toward her and not be running in the other direction. Her instincts still screamed at her to bolt. But it was the knowledge that this wolf was Soren that held her in place.

He came to a stop beside her and nudged her with his muzzle. She crouched down so she could get a better look at him.

"The fact that you aren't trying to rip my arms and legs off is a good sign." She reached down and ran her fingers through his hair. It was smooth and silky, so much softer than she had imagined. She scratched behind his ears and he turned his head into her touch.

When he had enough, he pulled back and gently nipped at her fingers. "You seem bigger than the last time I seen you this way. I guess you weren't lying when you said you were going through a growth spurt. And I feel absolutely crazy sitting here talking to a wolf. Do you even understand what I'm telling you in this form?"

He nosed under her chin and gave her a lick. She laughed and ran her hands through the white and bronze fur. "You really are a beautiful wolf, Soren." Then she gave him a knowing look. "Just don't let that compliment go to your head." She knew he would have some cocky commentary to add about her praise had he been in human form.

She wondered what she would look like as a wolf. Would she be dark or light in coloring? Would she be large or small? Tegan found herself excited to find out. She was starting to look forward to her change instead of dreading it.

After her inspection, Soren changed back and got dressed before they both headed back inside. They were about cross the threshold when Soren's cell phone went off. "It's my dad. I gotta take this. I'll be in, in a minute." He held open the door for her before disappearing outside again.

Soren reentered the home a few minutes later and slipped his phone back into his pocket. He sat down beside Tegan on the couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table.

"That was my dad. He wants us to go over to the house in a little bit. He said it was imperative that we be there in about an hour," Soren explained. "He sounded odd."

Tegan glowered at his feet before pushing them off the table.

"This isn't the wilderness, you heathen. Don't put your feet on the furniture," she scolded.

He scowled but did as she said. "You think you would be a little nicer to me since I rocked your world tonight."

Tegan smirked at him. "I'm sure I can find another guy that can blow my world off its axis."

Soren growled low in his throat. "I better never catch another male even trying. I'll rip out his spleen and feed it to him."

"Just because we kissed doesn't mean we are this exclusive couple, you know. No need to be so…territorial."

He looked over at her with a certain hunger filling his eyes. Soren leaned in closer, crawling until he was nearly poised on top of her body. "I obviously haven't made myself clear enough. You are my female. If I have to cover you from head to toe in my scent just to prove it, I will."

She wrinkled her nose. "What are you going to do, wolf-boy? Lift your leg and pee on me?"

"Nope. Just get you naked and rub myself all over you before I take you. Once I am finished with you, you will have no doubt whatsoever of who you belong to." She hated to admit it, but a small part was thrilled at the idea of Soren doing just that – though there was still an even larger part that was not impressed with his domineering ways.

"You are such a deviant," she said exasperatedly.

She pushed at him as she squirmed to get out from beneath him. He grumbled but moved. "Why does your father want to meet with us? And at this hour no less." It was just before midnight.

He shrugged. "He didn't say. Just stressed that we really needed to be there."

Tegan frowned. "That's odd. What do you think it could be?"

"Who knows? With the way things have been going around here lately it's probably another problem rearing its ugly head," he said.

"God, I hope not. I think we have enough on our plates right now," she muttered.

"You never know. It could be a bit of good news. Right about now, we need it."

"So true," she agreed, nodding her head.

At that moment, a naked Storm came barreling through the door with an equally naked Kerr. There were stress lines around werewolf's eyes and he was grimacing and groaning in pain. Mud mixed with blood streaked his arms, legs, and torso. There were scratches here and there that were bleeding quite steadily.

Tegan jumped from the couch and moved closer. "What happened?"

"I found him like this out in the woods," Storm explained.

"Please, take him to his room. I'll be in there in a minute after I grab some things to bandage him up." Soren came over and helped her familiar taking him to the back of the house while Tegan grabbed bandages, unguents, damp clothes to wipe the filth away, and some clothing from the laundry room for Storm to change into.

When Tegan entered Kerr's bedroom, she handed the clothing over to Storm who thanked her.

Kerr was stretched out on the bed. She kneeled down by the edge and set down her gear. She started wiping away all the gore to see the true severity of the wounds. Once cleaned, they were not as critical as first thought and would only need to be bandaged.

She took a cool, wet rag in her hand and started blotting away the sweat running down the sides of his face. He moaned at the contact.

"What happened, Kerr?" she asked softly, trying to be as soothing as she could.

His cracked open his eyes, but they were unfocused and rolled around in the sockets. He gazed around the room as if he had no idea where he was. He moaned and then closed them again. His body wracked on another tremor.

He didn't answer. He only shook as tears rolled out of the corners of his eyes. He skin was hot and red like he had been standing in the scorching summer sun too long.

Tegan looked up at the other two in the room. "Is there anything we can do for him to help with the pain?"

Kerr was the one to answer. "N-n-nothing…w-works." His voice was harsh and unsteady, stammering with the trembling his muscles were doing.

"I think I might know something that will at least ease you a little. I'll be right back." Tegan ran from the room and went to the cellar. They had all her mother's things stored there. Even the boxes from the Den. She rifled through until she found what she was looking for: the candles that Storm have used to get her to relax. Hopefully these would work the same on an enchanted werewolf.

She raced back to the room and lit them. Kerr was still restless, writhing back and forth. Storm had slid on the bed beside him and was running his fingers through the wolf's hair doing his best to calm him.

"Tegan?" Soren said from behind her. "I know you need to tend to him and all, but we're really pressed for time. I called my dad's phone to tell him we might run a little late but he's not picking up."

Tegan cursed under her breath, not wanting to leave Kerr in this condition. The best she could do was to leave her familiar here to watch after him. Someone had to say here to make sure he started to mend. She had already done all she could for him anyway. "Storm, do you think you can stay here with him while we go see what Ulrick wants? It probably won't take long but if it does I'll let you know what's up, okay?"

Storm nodded, not taking his eyes off the man in the bed. He seemed sad while he looked on. "Yeah, I don't mind staying. Just make sure you call if anything goes wrong. Lately, trouble seems to have a penchant for finding us."

Tegan gave him a kiss on the cheek then did the same for Kerr. "Storm's going to take care of you. I hope you feel better, Kerr." She looked to her familiar. "If he gets worse you'll tell me. And if you feel anything wrong, if you hear or see anything out of place, you tell me immediately."

"I will."

Reluctantly, they left the house and Soren drove them over to the Den. It was a few minutes that would have taken a lot longer than if they had walked. The mansion was alive with buzzing activity.

When they entered, the group gathered was split into two: those that she recognized and those that she did not.

They approached their alpha, standing beside him in this non-hostile standoff. Zeke was off to the opposite side. He seemed tense, hopeful, and angry all at once.

"What's going on? Who are they?" she asked Ulrick.

"This is the Thunder Creek clan, or rather, all that is left of it. They seek to join us," Ulrick rumbled loud enough so that everyone could hear.

Tegan took in the newcomers. It might have been a small group, but their alpha was big and brutal looking. He had scars and the sneer on his face didn't make him friendly or approachable at all. In fact, he looked murderous. There was something wrong about this whole situation. There was a bad feeling roiling in her gut. Not only was self-preservation kicking in, but pack-preservation as well.

"And you're going to let them?" She only hoped that he denied their request for the joining.

"They don't have anywhere else to go. There isn't many in numbers and they do have a large amount of pups that need a home." Ulrick ran a hand down his stubbly jaw.

Tegan looked from Ulrick to the other alpha. He was scowling at her, casting a look in her direction that said she was beneath him, that it would be wise if she shut her mouth and issue no protest.

She stood her ground and didn't let him intimidate her. "What are you going to do?"

"I say let them say for a bit and offer shelter. Mostly for the pups' sake. But heed my words, if there is even a thought of betrayal that crosses the mind in any of you, I will not hesitate to obliterate what is left of the Thunder Creek wolves," Ulrick growled fiercely. A shudder of fear rolled through Tegan and she knew there wasn't any posturing coming from the powerful werewolf beside her. There was no doubt left in her mind that he wasn't a man to be pushed around and she realized how lucky she was to receive only a warning from Ulrick. She was definitely going to watch what she said around him that was for sure.

But something wasn't right with all this. It just seemed too convenient for Tegan. All of the happenings that have occurred in the past few days and now this – a pack showing up out of the blue asking for refuge?

Her wolf-y senses were tingling…and not in a good way. There was a chance that is was coincidence, but she didn't think so.

"Why do they want to join with us? And why now?" Tegan asked, taking a careful look at each and every one of the outsiders. There were four males and five females carrying what she assumed were their children. There was a sleeping baby with one, but the rest had their arms full with wriggling puppies. So they must have been young children in their human form.

"Their pack is in worse shape than ours. They need the protection, our protection, from nature. They are on the verge of total collapse."

"How can you know that they can be trusted?" There was something about the interloping alpha that had the hair on the back of her neck rising. Tegan felt like baring her teeth at him.

"Do you really allow her question your authority as she is?" This came from the head honcho batting for the other team.

He rested his warm hand on her shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze. "I value her opinion, yes. Tegan is our healer and what she asks is a valid enough question."

"Well, can they?" she persisted.

"I would be a fool to give them my complete trust," he said. "Darus was once a wolf of the Darkwood. But he went seeking a life elsewhere. He is also Zeke's brother and that gives him some merit. And I wouldn't want to leave the pups to the kind of fate that would befall them without aid. Those are the only reasons I would allow this given the circumstances."

Tegan gave up all pretense of trying to ignore the newest pack member they'd just absorbed and glared right back at. "I'm still leery but I trust your decision, Ulrick."

Her alpha smiled at her, a reassuring gesture. "Tomorrow, after we all have rested, I would like for you to check them over and tend to the pups and babe. For now, let us get used to each other and mingle in one another's presence."