22 years later

The harsh winter that had blanketed Mika's homeland in pure white snow had retreated, melting away to start yet another cycle of life. She could see it; feel it. Life was teeming just barely under the surface of the forest. Every living thing in the woods was waiting for the longer days of summer to bring the sun closer to the earth and awaken their sleeping souls. The trees that had been bare for months were budding light-green leaves, dotting the white landscape with color once again. Oh, she loved the snow for sure, but every new season brings with it welcome change. And spring was on its way for sure.

Mika's skin was itching with anticipation as she watched the time tick by on the wall clock of her father's office. Not only was it Friday and the end of a long week, but it had been almost a month since she'd run through the forest and she longed for that freedom. The freedom she felt when hunting: the pure instinct, the raw emotion, and pushing her lean, muscular body to its limit.

The formal atmosphere of the architecture firm only served to irritate the wild side of her, dreaming of spring in the forest and all the things she wanted to scent out of their hiding places. The rich mahogany of her receptionist's desk coordinated perfectly with the mustard color of the walls and rust colored furnishings. At the moment though, the usually warm and inviting colors of the office were suffocating. It certainly wasn't her style. It was her father's style: traditional, elegant. She longed for the stark white and countless shades of brown and green surrounding her family's summer cabin which she now called home year round.

"Mikayla." Her father's distracted voiced pulled her away from the plans she was making to visit her favorite places in the wood. She looked up at him as though she hadn't smelled him coming from down the hall. It was a learned habit after 22 years.

"Yes, Daddy?"

He didn't answer immediately, and she waited patiently for him to finish analyzing the small notes on the blueprints in his hands before he rolled them up and handed them to her. She had already grabbed a cardboard mailer from the neat stack next to her oversized receptionist desk in anticipation of his next directions.

He glanced at the cardboard tube and then the clock before turning back to her. "This needs to be at 's office by five o' clock."

"Yes, sir." She paused after taking the plans from him. "Will there be a return package?" She asked calmly, trying to hide the anticipation in her voice and the jitteriness of her movements.

Her father smirked as if expecting the question, but the unfamiliar expression didn't quite fit on his stern face. "No. Lock the door on your way out, please."

"Of course. Goodnight, Daddy." She was only allowed to call him Daddy if there were no clients present.

"Goodnight, Mika." And he was only allowed to call her Mika if no one else was present.

Before heading down the hallway back to his office, he asked her sternly, "You'll be over to see your mother tomorrow?"

"Yes, sir, I'm bringing lunch again."

He nodded in approval before turning back down the hall.

Mika made it to Vachon Construction in record time to politely and professionally drop off plans of her father's latest project. She had the urge to just run home directly from there, but climbed back in her SUV and drove the 15 miles home with a lead foot despite it. She hadn't lived a double life for over 20 years just to risk exposure because of a little spring fever.

The place she had called home as a child, was now her adult home. Her parents had moved closer to town when she'd been a child, but they had kept the small cabin as a summer place. When Mika had graduated from college the past winter, she'd asked to move in there and her father had agreed. It was quite a ways from anything remotely civilized, but Mika was free here. More free than she'd been in her entire life of living with human parents and oblivious college dorm mates.

Ali, Ezra, and Suka met her at the middle of the long driveway with wagging tails. Apparently, her adopted pack had a little spring fever as well. Mika's heart fell thinking of how she would have to leave the pups behind. It was too dangerous in the forest for them tonight with the extensive expedition she had planned. They were inexperienced hunters and couldn't keep up with her pace. Even Suka, her little speed demon.

She skipped up the steps of the wooden cabin and in the front door, not bothering to lock up anything on her way. No one disturbed her this far out of the city and even if they tried she could smell them coming miles away. The cabin was small and only contained the necessities, but it was home. It provided the shelter and amenities she needed without the extra space and work other larger homes required. Plus, it was free. No rent! What more could a girl ask for?

Mika hung her jacket and threw her keys on the kitchen table in the time honored gestures of arriving home, and darted down the short hallway to her small bedroom. She hastily peeled off the tight gray pencil skirt and the white button up she wore often to greet clients and customers of her father's small firm. She tossed everything onto her unmade bed and then quickly started to discard her expensive undergarments. She caught a glimpse of herself in her vanity mirror, half-dressed, with her white-blond hair pulled out of its previously perfect top knot and a wildness lurking behind her ice blue eyes.

She laughed at the image, wondering if anyone would have a clue as to how wild she truly was.

Her hodgepodge dog pack was waiting for her in the living room lined up in a row and not at all shocked by her sudden nudity. Suka, the long-haired, golden whippet who was almost as fast as Mika herself would qualify as beta to her alpha. As an aggressive male and her closest competitor he easily took the title. Ali, the black and white border collie, was almost too clever for her own good. She may be the smallest of the pack, but she certainly made up for her size in intelligence. And then there was Ezra, the gentle giant. He was an Alaskan malamute/bullmastiff mix and every bit the giant description.

In her random study of dog and wolf packs, it was abnormal for a female to be pack alpha, but theirs was an odd pack at best. Three abandoned mutts and an orphan werewolf did not a stellar pack make. Mika's shifted form was that of a pure-white wolf. She was larger, faster, and smarter than all of her adoptees and they recognized her authority regardless of her gender.

"Sorry, guys. Not this time."

Suka whined loud enough for the three of them and the other two pulled their eyebrows together to look over at him.

"Go on." Mika pointed to the back door and hardened her voice. "On the sun porch."

They reluctantly turned and fell in line to go through the doggy door onto her large screened-in back porch and she clicked the lock into place. Not until the past year, when she was finally on her own, did she cave and finally adopt the pups from the shelter where she volunteered. And not until the past year had anything ever lessened the gaping loneliness she had constantly felt. It was a welcome surprise. She had thought she was saving their lives by giving them a home when really they had saved hers and given her a family.

She whispered to them through the door, "I promise not to stay out all night."

Mika shifted effortlessly on her way to the side door and slipped through the dog flap, padding down the steps and rounding the house to the rear woods. Her body was always faster than her mind at adjusting to the change and it quickly equilibrated her weight across her four limbs and postured itself for covering the terrain. The surge of scents and sounds pricked at her senses, overloading her human mind before she gave over to her wolf's instinct and let it lead her.

She hadn't covered the core of her territory for weeks and felt the need to mark it as hers once again. She started near the small pond at the back of the house before taking a labyrinth like route across her property. She urinated and scratched over the regular travelways and junctions to restore the boundaries. It was advertisement to anyone who dared to enter that this place was taken. Although, who would even bother escaped her simple wolf mind. She'd never scented another wolf within hundreds of kilometers of her home, but she'd learned it was always easier to give in to the instinct that guided her in this body rather than let her human mind try to comprehend its motives.

The cold patches of snow still clutching to the earth were nothing against her padded paws which were adapted to withstand the temperature and abuse. The evening was almost warm to her body, covered as it was in thick winter fur, not yet molted for the coming warmer months.

It was well past midnight when she'd finally reached the edge of her land, but she trekked on, giddy with the time she still had to run before the sun came up. About three miles east of the boundary, a familiar scent perked up her sensitive nose. It was a squirrel. Mika's wolf licked her lips in delight because it was not just any squirrel, but the same maddening one that had evaded her with its wiley ways on her last two hunting trips. She was determined to catch him this time.

She caught up to the furry rat quickly, following his scent up a large tree that was apparently an important hidey hole for his goods because he chattered at her furiously before taking off due north in a hurry. She tracked him relentlessly, biding her time for a chance to pounce before he was up another tree and out of her reach. A musky, unusual scent caught her attention on the trailway as she followed the fresh squirrel tracks but her hungry stomach ignored it in favor of the hunt.

Within seconds she discovered it had been a mistake to ignore it. She smelled him again before she saw him, and her wolf instinctively dug her paws into the hard dirt to stop her forward motion. She had frozen in her tracks a few feet away from a large timber wolf expertly camouflaged against the brown bark of the trees. She must have surprised him as well, because a shocked yelp escaped him as she slid into view. He recovered quickly, taking an aggressive stance and giving her a low pitched growl of warning.

Fear rocked Mika to the core at the commanding sound and set all her senses on edge. She had never seen this wolf before, but the little experience she'd had with other male wolves did not instill any faith that he would be anything but hostile towards her. The land surrounding her own had never been a habitat for other wolves, so he was possibly only passing through.

Or he had decided to claim it as his own.

Her fear doubled when she recognized he wasn't just any timber wolf. His intelligent eyes mirrored her own and she knew he was a shifter as well. Which meant he was even more dangerous.

Mika's wolf instinct gave her two options: fight or flight. Mika processed these options as the timber wolf carefully regarded her. If she didn't get the chance to run she would have to fight and the thought made ice flood her stomach. She would never win a fight with a wolf that big. He was twice her size and with a decidedly male scent. His body was muscled, and built for taking down prey.

But hers was smaller, sleeker and she knew she could outrun him if given the chance.

The wolf cocked his head to the side, studying her and lifting his nose to scent the air around her. When he took a step towards her, she instinctively growled a warning for him to keep his distance. He paused but then moved forward once again in an attempt to scent her more intimately. Mika snarled at him aggressively, effectively stopping his advance for a second time.

Just then, the squirrel, which until this moment she had hated with a passion, jumped from the tree branch directly above them to another tree nearby. It was her only chance. She didn't even hesitate as she dashed back the same way she'd come. She was gone before the timber wolf's head had hardly moved towards the distraction. She ran as fast as her legs would take her towards home, but she could hear him make chase after her. He was fast for a wolf his size, but she knew this terrain like no other animal in the forest. She used it to her advantage, making quick turns and easily dodging natural obstacles on her path.

The land that she had just meticulously combed with her nose the past few hours flew by in a panic as she took the shortest path to her safety. She was afraid to go straight home for fear of him discovering where she actually lived, so she made the quick decision to lead him out around the east side of the territory and trek back once she lost him.

After half an hour of running at full stop, Mika's lungs were burning and her legs protesting the speed at which she was still moving. She had managed to gain more distance in front of him, but he just wouldn't give up. He was still hunting her. She was getting close to the river and if she could reach it before him, she could maybe throw him off her trail.

A brilliant and dangerous idea flitted across her mind. If he didn't know the area as well as her, he would follow her no matter where she led him. She could take him up Big Bluff and try to jump the pass over the river. He'd never make it across if he wasn't prepared for the leap. She didn't think about it and just let her wolf guide her, but her human mind ticked off the many reasons she should ditch the plan all while her four paws carried her on towards the bluff.

After an exhausting climb, she could finally hear the river nearing in the distance and slowed her pace slightly to make sure her pursuer followed. She stepped lightly, listening for the shuffle of his paws and his heavy breathing. Now that he was closer behind her, she could hear his urgent yips and short barks more clearly, trying to communicate something to her. She ignored it and made a mad dash for the pass. It would take all the strength she had left in her back legs to make it across.

It felt like time slowed down a few feet before the jump and all she could hear was the blood pumping forcefully through her heart, her paws banging on the hard rock beneath her feet and her own heavy breaths filling her burning lungs. Her human mind screamed for her to stop and then suddenly she was in the air, soaring above the river that was raging below from spring's melting snow.

If time had slowed down before the jump, it caught up with itself afterward. As if in fast-forward, the bottom half of Mika's body slammed into the rock ledge on the other side of the river, causing her balance to go off-kilter and her back legs to slip. She desperately clawed at the side of the cliff before gaining a foot hold and pushing herself upright and over the edge to safety. She could hear the rocks dislodge and tumble down the rock face to hit the fast running water a hundred feet below.

The relief that washed over her was euphoric as she realized she'd actually made it. She was alive! And he was still on the other side of the river. She looked back in time to see him skitter to the edge, yipping at her frantically, but she couldn't summon the fear she'd felt before. He wouldn't catch her now. Couldn't catch her. And if she could smile as a wolf, all her sharp teeth would be showing in triumph right at this moment.

Before her wolf could become too cocky, her human mind reminded her she would still leave a trail and a wolf's nose was made for tracking. Even as she thought it, she noticed the timber wolf was looking down, trying to find a way across the river. She sped off again, using her sudden adrenaline rush to push herself towards home and safety.

Not even fifty feet into the boundary of her territory the piercing sound of a wolf howl made her stagger on her feet. The tone and weight of the sound penetrated straight through to Mika's bones and struck a chord in her soul. She shook her head free of the strange feeling and started forward again only for him to howl once more, louder this time. She froze mid-step. I should go to him. Some primitive part of her recognized the call of an alpha.

Her human mind cut in. No.

He is calling me!

He is dangerous! Her human side insisted.

As the fear crept in again, Mika built herself up against the eerie call and pushed on towards home. She could hear him for miles, her heart wrenching with each step she took away from him, but knowing at the same time this is what was necessary for her to survive.

Her only experience with an alpha male had been tragic and she had been wary of all other wolves since that time, preferring to remain alone than a part of the life she had glimpsed.

Still, she did not sleep well that night. The dogs had been anxious when she'd arrived home so late. She'd had to endure their excessive sniffing and nuzzling because she'd broken her promise and had foreign wolf scents clinging to her fur to boot.

When she finally crashed into bed, she laid there in the cool, early morning air reliving the events, trying to use human logic to analyze how it had made her feel. If she hadn't been so scared, the chase might have been…..fun. Was she crazy? It had been not only terrifying, but exhilarating, exciting! The stark image of him - so strong, virile, and powerful - stirred her wild side in frightening ways. His innate male scent felt like it still clung to her nose and skin, which only served to exacerbate her body's natural reaction to an unmated male. She kept thinking (or hoping?) that she would hear his paws padding on her porch but she never did. Even after she passed out from exhaustion, the striking timber wolf was still there in her mind, haunting her dreams with his howls.