Chapter 1: Claimed

"The willing, Destiny guides them; the unwilling, Destiny drags them."

- Seneca

I almost reached up to ring Brandon's doorbell before I realized that I now possessed my very own key into his–ours in less than twenty four hours–apartment. I felt giddy just turning the key in the lock. I could barely wrap my head around the fact that Brandon and I would be living together by the end of the night.

"Babe, you in here?" I called, stepping into the house and closing the door behind me. I was still a little tired from my late night with Ria, but nothing on earth could keep me away from Bran, and besides, I already missed him.

"One sec!" he called, his voice drifting in from another room.

I looked around the apartment and another giddy smile found its way onto my face. The place was extremely gorgeous, regardless of Brandon's average salary. We definitely lucked out when he found this place for sale. Bran was still in High School with me, but he had participated in some co-op program last year and was now ahead of the rest of our class year in credits. He only needed to attend school part time (he took two courses; the rest of us took four). He'd gotten a part time job with the time he had free. It was why we could afford this place.

I'd heard some horror stories from some of my friends who hadn't had the money to get a place ASAP when they'd found their mates. The connection between a mate and their partner is the most intense feeling they will ever experience. Things can get out of hand in the beginning, especially since new mates aren't yet used to all their new overwhelming feelings. Think teenage hormones on crack. Let's just say that some poor parents have walked into some…ahem…very private situations.

I have a hard enough time keeping my hands off of Brandon now, so it's a damn good thing we'll have a nice secluded place to jump each other's bones.

I was about to open my mouth and ask what the hold up was, when Brandon appeared in front of me. I jumped back, startled.

"Not fair!" I pouted. "What have I told you about using your full wolf super speed while I'm still limited with mine?"

He shut me up with a kiss, and when he pulled back and looked at me like I was his very own sunrise I forgot my slight irritation.

"I have a surprise for you," he baited, wrapping me up in his arms.

"Oooh, is it a birthday present?" He knew how much I loved surprises. I was uncontrollably impatient until I found out what they were.

He shook his head. "Nope. You'll get that later."

I hit him with my best puppy dog eyes and pouty lip and asked, "Do I get this surprise right now?"

His mouth quirked in amusement at my excitement. "Unless you'd rather wait."

I gave him a 'duh!' look. "Like that would happen." I leaned my head forward and left a teasing kiss on his lips, before looking up at him with doe eyes. "So can I have it now? Pleeee-ease, Brandon?"

His eyes had darkened with lust when I'd kissed him. "Now I want to give you a different kind of surprise."

"After." I winked. "That is, if I like this one."

"I am holding you to that." With his arm around my shoulders, he began to steer me towards the storage room. My excitement quelled a little. Why would my surprise be in there?

He opened the door slightly before leaning down and whispering in my ear, "Keep your eyes closed."

"Yes, Master." I grinned kittenishly before doing as I was told.

I assumed he was going to steer me into the room, instead I felt myself being lifted into the air. I was starting to feel like I was being carried over the threshold on my wedding night, except we weren't married….and we were already inside the house. The urge to open my eyes and take a peak was almost too tempting. He was purposely walking slowly, trying to drag out my suspense. I knew he could carry me into the room in less than a fraction of a second if he wanted to.

Finally he placed me back down.

I was practically bouncing on the balls of my feet. "Can I open my eyes now?"

It took him forever to respond. "Go for it, baby."

A beautiful and fully furnished room came into view and it took me a second to realize that this was the storage room. Sometime in the last few days, the cluttered eyesore of a mess had been turned into a fantastic lounge. The walls were painted my favourite color —gold, because that would be the defining moment when Brandon and I became 'one' so to speak. There was a lush looking love seat, a desk/tiny work area, and a section of the room had been set up as a dance area.

Words seemed to escape me and I could only gawk at it all.

"Does that mean you like it?" Brandon asked, and I could tell he was shy about what my reaction would be.

I squealed and tackled him at a speed that would have knocked a mortal man on his ass. Brandon effortlessly caught me. I wrapped my legs around his waist, my arms around his neck, and began peppering his face with kisses. "I can't believe you did all this!" I gushed.

Brandon blushed slightly. "You're going to be living here now and I just wanted to you have everything you need."

"You even set up a place for me to practice my dancing!" Peppering him with even more kisses.

Grinning uncontrollably at my excitement, he caught my gaze and his smile turned mischievous. "Do you want your other surprise now?"

"It would be a shame if we didn't get to test this room out," I feigned innocence. "After all, we've already broken in the rest of the house."

I unwrapped myself around him so that I was on my own two feet again. "Think there is enough room for the two of us on there?" I motioned to the couch teasingly.

"Baby that was my first consideration when I bought it."

"Good thinking." I grabbed a hold of his hand and dragged him over to the couch in question. Laughing, I pushed him onto it so that he fell onto his black. He play growled at me and pulled me down on top of him. I rearranged my position so that I was straddling his strong thighs.

He really is the most gorgeous man I have ever laid eyes on. When standing, he towered over me at an impressive six-foot one. He had shaggy golden brown hair that sometimes curled adorably around his ears and deep blue eyes that drove me crazy. I always thought he was the better looking half of our relationship, though he makes me feel beautiful when I am with him.

I got lost in his heated kisses for a while but soon found the need to voice the overwhelming feelings he always created inside me. "Bran," I whispered, pulling my lips only about an inch away from his. "You really didn't have to do all this for me. You're all I'll ever need. But -" I paused to quickly sweep in for a kiss, "I am really happy that you've spoiled me."

I felt his chest rumble underneath me as he chuckled. "Get used to it. I'm never going to stop." His hands came up to cradle my face as he stared directly into my eyes. "Kaia, do you have any idea how much you mean to me? I'm going to love you until I'm dust, and maybe even after that."

We didn't speak anymore after that. We were too occupied with tearing each others clothes off.

This was hands down the best day of my entire life.

I rubbed some foundation into the hickey on my neck. It was around ninety percent hidden, which was about the best it was going to get. Luckily my wolf genes would kick in and completely heal it by the end of the hour. Five hours (but who's counting?) of sex-capades right before the night of my full fledged admission into my pack probably hadn't been the best idea.

But it had been totally worth it.

I double checked my eyeliner, glad to see that I'd finally managed not to smudge it. I didn't usually bother with much makeup but tonight was a special occasion. I was primping for my celebration party at Moonies. It was tradition to go crazy at Moonies in the hours before nightfall on any 18th birthday. I was looking forward to laughing it up with my friends, but I was doubly looking forward to what followed after.

My friends of age and I would head over to the secret pack meeting grounds. I have never been there before. Only the adult wolves are allowed to know its whereabouts. Our alpha had arranged for a druid to place a spell on it decades ago. Humans and underage wolves could be staring right at it and not realize it.

I peered into the mirror and tried to imagine what I would look like as a wolf. As a human I was pretty average looking. I liked my long, thick, dark black hair and green eyes, but everything else was mediocre. I wasn't ugly (I don't think I have ever seen an ugly Lycan)…but I was nothing special either. I have a nice full bottom lip but my top lip is too small. My face is too oval. I suppose I have decent cheekbones. My body is alright, though out of proportion. I hate my breasts. Girls as short and skinny as me should not have breasts as big as mine. Besides, I could do without the ogling from strange boys. Some girls have told me that they envy my cup size, but I never understood why. Believe you me, I'd rather have a boy notice me for my face than what was under my shirt.

Bran and I fell for each other before my chest had its freak growth spurt, which really means a lot to me. I feel like any other boy would just want to use me to cop a feel.

I am hoping I will make a prettier wolf than a human. Though I wouldn't mind keeping the color of my eyes when I morphed. I wonder if any of us got to keep the natural color of our eyes when we changed. I wouldn't know.

I have never actually seen an adult skin-walker in their canine form before. Ridiculous, isn't it? There is some stupid pack law that states that only wolves who can transform are allowed to see other wolves in the same state. That is why I have never been to the pack grounds before. Personally I think the rule should be eliminated. Why should we have to wait until our eighteenth birthdays to see what we are only going to become ourselves?

I had tried to persuade Brandon into showing me his wolf form a few times (OK, more than a few times). When everything else failed, I'd turned to some more creative methods. I had only just got him to cave when we'd been interrupted and the scheme hadn't worked the second time around.

Either way, the wait was finally over. Tonight I would get everything I could ever ask for and more.

A car honked outside; Brandon was my ride to Moonies. I hadn't wanted to leave his place earlier but I desperately needed to shower and change. I couldn't show up to my party with sex hair.

I grabbed my purse and made a beeline for the door, almost running into a stack of boxes that were waiting to be moved to Bran's house.

My mother beat me to the door. She was holding a digital camera in her hands. "Kaia, you need to let me take a few pictures of you before you leave. Today is a very special day." She refused to acknowledge my blasé expression and snapped a picture.

"Mom," I whined. I hated having my picture taken. I photograph even worse than I look in the mirror. "Brandon's already outside. Do we really need to do this?" My vision was temporary blinded by another flash.

"Would it kill you to smile?" she complained, taking a few more (horrid I'm sure) photos of me.

I tried to smile but it came out more like a grimace. If she ever got these developed I'd have to burn them. "How many are you going to take?" I griped through my lips, my face frozen as I posed for her annoying camera. The sooner I let her have her way, the sooner I could get out of here.

My mother beamed at me, though it was hard to tell through the constant assault of flashing lights. "You look beautiful sweetie," she gushed. "Do you think we should have Brandon come inside? He would look so handsome in these photos."

I was starting to feel like the night was a bad sequel to my prom. Mom picked up on my exasperated expression and finally gave me a look of understanding. "Alright, alright. I'll let you be on your way."

I smiled, relieved. "I'll see you soon." My mother would be at my 'wolfing' (I just invented that word but I think it works), as would every other skin-walker above the age of eighteen.

Mom slipped the camera into my purse. "Take tons of pictures while you're at your party." Of course she would say that. I gave her a quick hug before finally making my way out of the house.

I waved and flashed Brandon my brightest smile. He was parked on the side of the road outside my house. "Sorry I took so long," I apologized, pecking him quickly on the cheek once I'd gotten inside the vehicle.

"Let me guess, your mother and her camera?"

He knew me so well sometimes it was almost freaky. With that thought I took a peek at the cars clock. Only six more hours until midnight.

Only six more hours until the beginning of the rest of my life.

"Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Kaia

Happy Birthday to you!"

A gaggle of my closest friends stood before me, belting out the lyrics to Happy Birthday in the middle of Moonies bar and grill.

Mitch Mason's mismatched voice rang out louder than the rest as he cheekily executed his own version.

"Happy Birthday to you

You belong in a zoo

You look like a werewolf

And you smell like one too!"


I pretended to glare at him over the others laughter. Brandon's "Watch it, Mason, that's my mate your singing about," carried to my ears and had me grinning like a rather large goofball myself.

That, and the double-decker chocolaty fudge ice-cream cake Ria was holding out before me. Yum. Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for my Lycan metabolism. I'd happily polish off that entire cake myself if I didn't have to share it with my guests—and hey, who says I can't? It is my birthday after all. No, no. I won't be that greedy. But mmmm, chocolaty fudge.

I wasn't the only one smitten with the cake. Mitch and some of the other hungry Lycan males started up with a chant of "Cake! Cake! Cake!"

"Come on, Kaia. Make a wish," Ria urged as she set the cake out in front of me, all eighteen carefully placed candles lit and ready to be blown out.

A new chant of "Wish! Wish! Wish!" kicked off, with the exception of Mitch, who was still chanting for his beloved cake.

I stared into the tiny flickering flames, feeling their warm glow surround me. Wish…wish for what? In a few hours I'd have everything I could ever want.

"Wish! Wish! Wish!"

I contemplated just going ahead and blowing out the candles…but it seemed foolish to waste a wish.

I actually heard Mitch's stomach growl. "Just a warning, Pearson. I'm about five seconds away from blowing out those damn candles myself."

I heard a feminine gasp before Silvia Desiree's reprimand of, "Don't you dare, Mitch Mason!"

I shot him a warning look. "I can always wish that you'll end up with the smallest piece of cake, asshat."

Mitch looked so crestfallen that I was unable to hold back a small chuckle before refocusing back on the task at hand.

Right. I needed to make a wish. Really, how much could it hurt to wish for something that I already knew was going to happen? In the end it was just extra insurance.

I wish for tonight to be the night that I officially find my mate. I sent the thought out into those dancing orange flames like a prayer, before sealing the deal and blowing the small balls of fire out.

You know that old adage 'Be careful what you wish for?' Well, it hadn't occurred to me then, but I really should have chosen my words much more carefully.

I was conversing by the bar with some of my fellow bitches—I swear that isn't as rude as it sounds, I actually like these girls—and trying not to obsessively watch the clock while obsessively watching the clock, when Silvia bounded up to me.

"Hey Birthday Girl, I know you're supposed to be the one receiving all the presents tonight, but I'll love you forever if you could give me just one tiny thing."

"Go on…"

"I want to make out with Mitch."

"Good for you," I teased. "But I'm in no position to just give you Mitch."

"No duh. I want you to give me a Mentos."

As a species we wolves are practically OCD about cleanliness. When you have such an enhanced sense of smell, body odor is an enemy to be smote down at all times. Breath mints = absolute must haves.

"I'm sorry," I lied, deliberately making her request difficult as any loyal friend would. "I'm in no position to give you one of those either."

Silvia didn't appreciate the hold up in her plans to molest Mitch's lips. "Oh, just go steal one from your man, would you."

I gave her a mock salute and went off to do her bidding.

Being that I'm the type of girl who hates lugging around a purse—I'm always losing them when I do use them and I'm too tomboyish to have much use for them anyway—I was constantly sticking the few items I do carry around into the pockets of Brandon's jackets. Knowing I'd find Silvia's sought after Mentos there, I slipped into backroom of Moonies, where everyone had stored their jackets.

It was then, as I was rummaging through Bran's pockets, that I got my first surprise of the night. Along with the usual items of car keys, condoms, my lip chap, and the stash of Mentos, there was a sleek black box. One of those tiny ones from a jeweler that obviously contained a ring or a set of earrings. Had I just accidentally stumbled upon another of Bran's presents for me? The laws of WELL DUH and the fact that it was my birthday all pointed to a big fat yes.

Now, I've already told you all about how I love surprises, but I go absolutely crazy with having to know what they are. So, while putting the box back and pretending I'd never seen it was the right thing to do, I'm just not that strong. I'm a weak weak individual.

Naturally, I eased open the box to peek inside…and then I almost pissed myself.

Okay. So that is a disgusting expression, and I never should have used it, but I don't quite know how to explain just how excited I was.

I may not have seen that many of them (and certainly never one of my own) but I was almost positive that I was looking at a simple, elegant, silver little engagement ring.

Brandon was going to propose? My heartbeat started to race and I swear to God I was at risk from spontaneously combusting from happiness right then and there.

I forced myself to calm down. I could be wrong. This might not necessarily be an engagement ring—please God, be an engagement ring!—but I knew just how to find out if it was.

I rushed back into the main room, practically threw Silvia's Mentos at her, ignored all the poor souls garnering for my attention: "There you are Birthday Girl." "You still need to open your presents." "Where'd you disappear to?" Et cetera, and grabbed a hold of Mitch's ear and hauled him back into the backroom.

"Tell me about the ring I found in Brandon's pocket," I demanded, using my best cop-drama voice. I may not have understood why Bran considered Mitch-The-Goofball his best of friends, but at times like these it came in handy.

Mitch rubbed his ear, looking frowny. "Dammit Kaia, that hurt! You can't just go around yanking on a guy's ear." Adding under his breath, "You didn't even let me finish my piece of cake." Since it had been his third piece, I didn't feel too heartbroken for him.

"Mitch Mason, you tell me about the ring I just found in Brandon's pocket right. now."

"And if I don't?" He was obviously still butt hurt about his ear.

"Then I'll rub up against you like a bitch in heat."

That, finally, got his attention. His obnoxious expression sobered and fear came to the forefront. If I pressed my body up against Mitch's, I would get my scent all over him. Mates, especially the males, have the potential to get…well, there's really no nice way to say this, so I'll just say it…physco murderous when it comes to finding their mates scent all over somebody else. Luckily for Mitch, though, Brandon would never take the idea of he and I seriously. But what Mitch didn't know, I could still use to blackmail him with.

"You wouldn't."

I smiled unmercifully. "In a heartbeat. I am not a shewolf you want to mess with. I will fuck you up."

"You know, you're a lot more vicious than your size would suggest."

"What are you saying? That I'm short?"

"…You're not tall."

I narrowed my eyes. "Now you're really going to get it." I slipped into song, wielding the words of Britney's 'Hold It Against Me' like deadly weapons. "If I said I want your body now...Would you hold it against me?" I swished my hips, inching closer and closer to him threateningly.

Mitch backed up. Sweat broke out on his forward.

"If I said my heart was beating loud…If I said I want your body now…Would you hold it against me?" Any second now I'd be brushing up against him.

"Stop! Stop! You win, alright? Just don't come any closer."

I did a little dance of victory and clapped. "…Well, are you going to answer the question?"

He took forever to answer, deliberately, I'm sure, torturing me right back. Heart in my throat, I waited for him to speak the words that mattered so very much to my future.

"It's definitely an engagement ring. Congratulations Kaia, you have now officially ruined your own surprise birthday present."

I had never before understood the girls who felt the need to positively shriek with excitement, but in that moment I unashamedly joined their club. Feeling like I was going to explode from my own happiness I screamed and launched myself at Mitch, hugging him and hurting his poor ear all over again with my too vocal joy.

Mitch immediately panicked and tried pushing me off. "You said! You said you wouldn't put your scent on me if I told you!"

Brandon appeared right that very moment, likely drawn to our commotion by my shrieks. His blue eyes narrowed as he took in the sight of me practically strangling Mitch with my bizarre hug of affection.

"What are you two doing in here?"

I let go of Mitch just in time to see the blood drain from his face. Poor guy looked absolutely terrified.

"Not much." I elongated Mitch's torture, unable to control the giddy-stupid smile I was wearing. "Mitch was just confessing his secret undying love for me."

Mitch literally cowered. Flinching, ducking, arms-drawn-over-his-head-like-a-shield cowered. He spent a good moment or two in that pose, positive Brandon was going to attack him. After failing to get hit, he cautiously opened his eyes. Brandon was standing calmly in front of him.

Mitch expelled a breath of relief, delighted to be safe and alive. I bet when his life had flashed before his eyes, all he'd seen was cake.

"Right," Brandon tried again. "What are you two really doing in here?"

I didn't want Brandon to know I'd found my engagement ring, but I couldn't think up a clever cover to his question. My mind was filled with tuxedos and dresses. Brides maids and happily-ever-afters.

I spared Mitch a quick glance. "Go away. Silvia wants to make out with you." That quickly he was gone, and Brand and I were alone in the tiny room.

Brans blue eyes regarded me openly. "Want to tell me what has got you so happy?"

I closed the distance between us and took his face into my hands. "You. Always you."

"But what-"

"Sshh," I whispered. And then I kissed him with all the love in my body.

Goodbye Kaia Pearson. Hello Kaia Ryan. Mrs. Brandon Ryan, my mind sang. I'm going to be Mrs. Brandon Ryan.

God, I really like the sound of that.

"Kaia!" Serena's intruding voice was as unpleasant as being doused with cold water. "If you don't get your butt out here right now and open these presents, I'm going to keep them for myself!"

This is it. Now. It is happening.

I am different. I am me, but I am not me.

I can barely remember how I came to be here. I find it almost impossible to concentrate. Sometime during my birthday party, in the waning hours of daylight…I'd felt it. Felt the new presence in my head, felt my wolf, and now I can no longer separate our thoughts. I forcibly summon up the memory of them rushing me here after my eyes had turned black—the telltale sign of a wolf in the first stages of a transformation. FSS had quickly followed: Fever, sweats, shakes.

I want to tell you more. I want to tell you everything, but I do not know everything. I know where I am. I know that I am on sacred pack ground. I know that the wolves gathered around me in a ritualistic circle are the members of my pack. I know that the moon is coming to transform me.

The moon has a voice and it is whispering to me. Calling out to me. I hear nothing else but the moon and the loud, almost deafening, pounding of my own heartbeat. I do not even hear my own alpha as he recites the oath that will swear me into the pack forever. He is one of the three of us here still wearing our human skin.

It is my first time seeing the rest of my Lycan brothers and sisters in their transformed state, but I can recognize many among them. I identify my mother, the slight brown wolf. Serena, the wolf with rare golden fur. And for some reason I recognize him. Zan. The monstrous black wolf with the startling red eyes.

He is dangerous, this one. It is only the feral wolves who have permanent eyes of blood. I am filled with the instinct to snarl and snap my jaws at him, to warn him back, even though I do have fangs yet. But my gums have throbbed themselves raw, and I know that it is only a matter of time.

Brandon stands next to me. If there is one thing I am sure of, one thing that stays true in my splintered mind, it is this. He too is still human. He is waiting for me to transform before he does, even though it does not follow the normal proceedings here. I had made him promise me this back when everything was clearer.

My skin itches everywhere. It feels tight, like it is going to split. My bones do not feel like they have room in my own skin. I want to move, I need to move, but my muscles have seized up in pain. I am shaking and sweating with a fever that would land any mere human in the morgue.

Brandon takes my hand. I am afraid that when I am like this, with no control over my own body, I will accidentally crush it with my new strength. He does not let me pull away.

In front of me, my Alpha's lips stop moving. He has finished reciting the oration. I am one of them now. Truly. His wolves collectively throw their heads back and howl to the night sky. They are officially accepting me, welcoming me.

And for one glorious second they are louder than the moon. I hear them, all of them, and it is the most extraordinary sound in the world.

A wave of pure adrenaline washes over me. It's coming. It's coming now.

I try to speak. My lips are rigid, my throat is swollen. "Is it going to hurt?" I have asked him this in the past, but like all things before, I do not remember now.

My voice does not reach my own ears, and for a moment I wonder if I succeeded in getting the words out at all.

Brandon answers me. Again, I do not hear his voice, but I am able to read his lips. Like hell. He does not lie to me. He does not sugar coat the truth. It's going to hurt like hell. But only for this first time. You can do this, baby. You can do anything.

I hope he is right. I have been anticipating this, wishing for this my entire life. And now that it is here, I refuse to feel fear.

I regret that last thought.

The moon reveals itself from behind the clouds and I am filled with terror.

Everything happens at once.

My heart stops in my chest. My bones snap. My back first, and then the rest of them, as they began to rebuild themselves into something new. I cry out in agony—no, I think I scream out with it. I fall to the ground. I writhe. I seize. My skin feels like it is being flayed alive. I taste blood in my mouth. Coppery and disturbingly…enticing. The moons siren song grows louder and louder until I am sure it is going to burst through the back of my skull. And then, abruptly, the sound disappears.

I am deaf and I am blind and all I know is pain.

Unimaginable pain. I forget who I am and why I am here. I am agony. Living, breathing agony. I would give anything, do anything, for it to stop. Please God, kill me…Oh please God, just kill me…No more. No more. KILL ME. GOD KILL ME—

Surely, no living being could withstand this…

Surely, this was the pain of dying one-thousand deaths…

I believe my mind is broken. I believe there is nothing left of me. And then the incredible happens…

The pain starts to retreat.

I am disoriented. For a terrifying moment I experience what it is like to be an amnesiac patient, with no recollection of whom or where I am. I am an animal who doesn't think like an animal. Oh, God…what am I?

My memories come rushing back.

I am Kaia Pearson and I have just survived my first transformation into a werewolf.

I feel the light tickling of damp grass beneath my pelt as I lay there panting, exhausted. Minutes feel like hours as I remain still, allowing my body to recover. My mind no longer feels so cluttered. My wolf and I have moulded, become one. I am me again, but I am better.

My hearing returns to me slowly. I make out the sound of my packmates collective breathing. The strong, steady rum pa pum pum of their heartbeats. The whirling rush of the wind. I even hear the wings of a fly I am sure must be over fifty feet away. I ease my eyes open, praying that my sight has returned to me too.

It has not only returned; it has improved. Colors have been muted, as if desaturated, but the world is crystal clear in a way I did not think possible. There is no detail too fine for me to see. My once familiar world appears brand new before my Lycan eyes.

I stare at the dainty white paws stretched out in front of me. My paws. I gingerly get to my feet, relieved when I remain standing, despite the soreness that still plagues me.

Awhooooo. The sound of howling fills the night air, drawing my attention to my packmates. For the second time tonight I watch as they simultaneously throw their great bushy heads back and pay tribute to the moon. I can feel their pride. Their happiness that my shift was a successful one. For the first time tonight I am able to do the same. I open my jaws and join them in their song as old as time. As I do so, the feeling of true belonging wraps around me. The knowledge of being one with others. Of never having to feel alone.

A flash of something white and furry distracts me and puts a stop to my yowling. I turn my head and inspect the white tail sticking out from behind me. From what I can see, I appear to be a pure snow white wolf. I try to move my tail. It takes me four tries before I finally succeed with a light swish. I have no means of getting an exact estimation of my size, but my paws are incredibly tiny and the space that I take up feels very slight.

Figures. Looks like all those jokes about me being an undersized wolf were true after all.

Completely fascinated with exploring this new form, I begin testing my balance. I lifted my paw; put it back down on the ground. Lifted the other paw; put it back down on the ground. I attempted a light trot, and when I succeeded, I upgraded to a running jump. I snuffed air through my snout, rubbed my slightly pointed ears with a paw, and barked just to see if I could.

One of the male wolves yipped at me, as though laughing at my self-exploration. Since he was close to me, I snapped my jaws and bit down on his long grey tail. Consider that the wolf way of going neener neener neener.

Confident that I could control this new body, I was filled with the urge to play. To run with my pack. To hunt. To feel my brand new choppers crunch down on the bones of my prey. I wanted the feel of blood in my mouth, the taste of raw meat on my tongue. I wanted—


Why wasn't he here? He'd given me his promise to remain beside me. To help see me through my change. I remembered him being there. Refusing to let go of my hand until it was no longer a hand at all. Even with all that I had just gone through, I couldn't believe it had taken me until now to notice his missing presence. A long whine made its way up from my throat. Where was he?

Out of nowhere my hackles rose and my shewolf went on alert. I had only a moment to try and understand why, when a giant black mass collided into me. It was the unsettling black wolf from earlier, the one with the blood red eyes. My first instinct was to lash out and attack him. Protect myself. But I knew that he would not be here if the pack did not deem him safe. That trust far outweighed any instincts I might have had.

Besides, he wasn't doing anything to harm me. He was just…nuzzling me? Gross. But not life threatening. If I didn't know any better, I might have even believed that the sounds that were emitting from him were purrs.

But Wolves didn't purr. There was only one shifter type that did. The Canaima. Blood thirsty Jaguars with no regard for human life, or even those of their own pack.

Shaking the unpleasant thoughts of canaimas from my mind, I wondered if his nuzzling was just another tradition amongst the pack. Would each member take a turn stepping forward to nuzzle me? Was this a Lycan form of hello? As a shifter, touch and affection were two natural and very important things to me. Still, I could definitely pass on the nuzzling. I far more liked the other tradition I'd heard about. The one where I was supposed to take my first run with the pack, and would be given the honor of first kill when it was time to move in on our prey.

Strangely enough, none of the other wolves made a move to come any closer to me. In fact, they seemed to be inching backwards, as if respectfully giving the black wolf and I space.

A great sorrow settled over me, staggering me, but I knew right away the emotion wasn't my own. Something had happened to make one of my pack feel a great distress. Overcome with worry for my Lycan brother or sister I turned my head towards the source. All around me I saw my pack do the same.

The impressive brown and red wolf, the one whose sorrow I felt so deeply, was Brandon. Like so many of the pack this night, he stood in classic wolf stance: head thrown back, tilting upwards towards the moon. But the song he sang was a different one. It was the wounded, haunting cry of a broken animal. Panic rose inside me. I had to go to him. I had to take away his sadness.

I tried to move, but a heavy sinking feeling kept me paralyzed. There was only one reason Brandon would be this miserable. One reason that he'd be feeling a despair strong enough to affect our entire pack.

The giant black wolf affectionately bumped his muzzle into mine and sighed with contentment. I looked at him, truly, for the first time, knowing what I was going to see and praying with everything in me that I was wrong.

Bright, glowing eyes. Golden eyes. Staring directly into mine.

Mate, my wolf declared.

Zan. Not Brandon.

My head swam. The corners of my vision blurred. My heart dropped to my feet. I felt sicker than I had before my change. How could this be happening? How could this be possible? I was supposed to be Brandon's mate. I loved Brandon.

No. Not this. Please not this.

Brandon's agonized howls were the last thing I heard before I promptly collapsed into a dead faint.

AN: I want to thank everyone who reviewed the last chapter. It is always scary to post something new and your reviews were very encouraging, so thank you for that. You have no idea how far reviews go in keeping me motivated.

If I haven't said it before, I welcome reviews of all nature. Positive critiques, negatives critiques, short reviews, long reviews, I want to hear all of your feedback. If you don't feel like typing anything, heck, you can even just rate the chapter with a number from 1-10 ;).

I beta'd this last chapter myself, so I'm sure I must have left a few mistakes behind. If you see any please let me know. =)

I hope you all liked the newest chapter.

The chapters for this are shorter than the ones for SL&HS, and that makes it easier to update faster. I'm pretty confident I will be able to update every 1 – 2 weeks.

And can I just add THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY. Marry me Friday, you are my fave day of the week haha. I hope you guys all have a great weekend!