"Mona! Godammit, when will you grow up?!" Monica stared at the floor, her arms crossed sullenly over her chest as her father paced before her, barely contained aggression pervading the air around him. "When are these childish antics going to stop?" He turned on her, his hand yanking her chin up to look her in the eyes. "This is going to end now, you are not a little girl anymore and I will not tolerate this insubordination."

"I'm not one of your dogs that you can order around," Monica spat. "I'm eighteen, I can do what I want." The slap snapped her head to the side. Her father stared at her, a cold calm having descended.

"Just because you are an adult by human law does not mean you are no longer tied to pack law. You will obey. You will stop being so dramatic. Am I understood?" Monica stared at her father, an insolent smile tugging at her lips.

"No, you're an asshole." The second slap was expected, and as her father moved behind his desk, the door to his study opened and one of her brothers stepped inside, grabbing her arm and dragging her out. Monica didn't bother fighting it, choosing to flip her father off instead as the door to the study slammed shut behind them.

Monica's father sat back in his chair, the anger in his features settling into something that resembled exhaustion as his eyes drifted shut.

"She's just like you Patton. I see the same rebellious spirit in her that I fell in love with in you." His wife's hands settled on his chest as she leaned over the back of his chair. He reached up to hold her arms, leaning back in his chair and looking at her.

Senga's silent entrance into the room, while appreciated, only served to remind him of his wayward daughter. Her hair was much darker than the pale blonde hair his daughter had inherited from him, but her tall slender frame and delicate face summoned thoughts of his recent argument with Monica.

"I just don't understand Sen, she refuses to obey. Her brothers never gave me this much trouble." He sighed, his hands intertwining with the delicate fingers resting on his chest.

"Patton, she's a teenage girl, your only daughter, and in a very small minority of people in this family who aren't werewolves. You have to expect that she feels out of place at this time in her life, she wants to see what's out there."

"But we love her! We all love her, and we want to protect her! We have to protect her, whether she likes it or not. There are people out there who would hurt her just because of who I am, let alone who she is." Senga took a deep breath and turned her husband's chair to face her, settling onto his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck as his hands settled on her hips.

"She wants to follow her dreams, she wants to see what's out there. Don't worry honey, she'll settle down and choose a boy in the pack. I'll talk to her; see what's going through her head. This whole leaving thing is just a phase." Placing a comforting kiss on his lips, Senga smiled at her husband before slipping off his lap and leaving the room.

"Get your hands off me! I can find my own room!" Monica tried to wrest herself from her brother Prosper's grasp, but only stumbled forward as he yanked her upstairs.

"When are you going to grow up? I swear, the other girls in the pack don't cause this much trouble." Prosper shook his head at his sister as she scowled at him.

"Yeah well they're all boring idiots who think pack life is dandy. I want to do something with my life, not turn into a baby maker whose sole aim in life is to be a good life-mate." Prosper snarled at her, obviously catching her insult to his mate, Kendra who was expecting her and Prosper's second child.

"The others understand their place. You should learn yours." Prosper shoved her into her room and locked the door. "Dinner is in twenty minutes, I expect you to have a better attitude by then.

"Just because you're the next alpha doesn't mean you can boss me around! I'm not a wolf!" Monica screamed, but he was already gone. She sank to the floor, a quiet sadness settling over her. She was stuck. Yet another failed escape attempt had landed her right back where she started, sitting on the floor of her room, in a house full of people who didn't understand her.

A lone tear snuck down her cheek before she angrily wiped it away. Her duffel bag sat on her bed, obviously set there by Bane, the brother who had brought her in from the bus station.

Monica had been trying to leave; it was her fifth attempt to get out, but this time she had had a plan and she had gotten farther than ever before. She was going to go to New York to where her friend Mike had work for her. Her father and the pack wouldn't let her leave; pack loyalty came before her dreams. Monica sneered at a group picture of the pack that hung on her wall, the twenty or so people, all smiling, with Monica in the middle on her father's lap.

The picture was taken when Monica was six, before she began to realize that she was different. She had always known that her father was a werewolf, as were the other adults in her life, but it was only in middle school when the other children in the pack began to hit puberty that she realized that she was different. While the others were experiencing their first changes and joining the ranks of full werewolves, Monica was realizing that she would never do the same, she didn't get the right combo of genes to be a lycanthrope. The two other girls in the pack realized this as well, but they were too busy with boys to care, knowing that they could mate later on and be turned. Monica however, was realizing that the people she had grown up with were leaving her behind and she no longer had connections with them, connections she wanted to maintain that is.

So, she immersed herself in her art and never looked back. Yet leaving pack life behind was easier said than done. It surrounded her and pervaded her home. Her house always contained at least one stray pack member, the alpha's house tended to act as a community-gathering place. The pack refused to leave her alone outside the house as well; Monica, as a human member of the pack, was subject to the "protection" of the other wolves.

Just because she was human didn't mean she was free and clear of ties with werewolves. She still had the werewolf gene and she could always be turned later on, more importantly, she could have werewolf children. And that ultimately was what it came down to. Monica was expected to find a nice werewolf boy in the pack and have more little werewolf babies.

In high school, when the other girls began looking at mates, Monica decided she had had enough. Her first escape attempt had ended in disaster, as had all the others. Now she was a senior and running out of time. But she had a plan, and she had a future, she just couldn't quite reach it.

Suddenly feeling old and empty, Monica crawled onto her bed and hid under the covers, kicking her duffel bag off the duvet as she did. The darkness was wonderful and for a moment, Monica could breathe. The next moment a gentle knock sounded on her door.

"I don't want to see anyone." Monica paused, "besides, I'm locked in I couldn't open the door if I wanted to." There was silence for a moment, and then Monica heard the door open and shut quietly. "You should learn to take a hint, whoever you are."

"Is that any way to talk to your mother?" Monica groaned and rolled to face the wall.

"Yes, it is. Now, get out." The bed dipped as Senga sat down, her hand coming to rest on Monica's shoulder.

"Honey, are you alright?"

"No. I'm being held against my will." Senga sighed and tugged at the sheets over Monica's head.

"Come on Mona, talk to me."

"No."

"Mona…."

"NO."

"Monica I just want to talk to you." With an angry huff Monica threw off the covers and sat up, crawling past her mother and moving to sit at her desk, ignoring her mother's presence as best she could.

"Monica, your father and I…Honey we just want you safe and happy." Silence. "You know there are bad people out there that can hurt you, until you find your mate, we have to protect you bec-"

"You just don't get it!" Monica stood up suddenly, her chair crashing to the floor. "I wouldn't have to be "protected" if I left the pack! I wouldn't have to be a part of your stupid world anymore. I wouldn't have to deal with any of this-" Monica made a sweeping gesture directed out the window towards where the pack lands extended to the neighboring houses, "stuff." Senga opened her mouth to speak, but Monica barreled over her.

"I've had this werewolf life-mate crap shoved down my throat ever since I can remember and I'm sick of it! There's a future out there for me! I can take care of myself, and eventually, I'm going to get out of here." Monica looked her mother in the eye and moved to kneel in front of her, gripping her hands as though she could press understanding into her skin. Her tone softened as she pressed her mother's hands to her heart, I'm going to get out of here," she repeated, "and you can't stop me."

Senga stared at her daughter, the only girl she had out of five children. She had heard proclamations of independence from her youngest child before, but something made her pause this time. She saw in Mona something different this time; there was a calm determination that reminded her eerily of her husband.

Reaching up to cup the back of her hair, Senga kissed Mona's forehead. "This is just a phase. You'll settle down soon, don't worry my love, you'll understand one day." Monica made a disgusted sound and yanked her mother's hands off of her.

"You can get out." Monica yanked her desk chair upright and sat down; tapping her pencil against the half finished drawing she had been doodling on before she had tried to leave.

Senga sat for a moment, feeling as though she had just lost something very precious. She stood and left the room, leaving the door open as she made her way downstairs. Patton stood talking to her second oldest, Bane, at the bottom of the stairs. They both turned as she descended, grave expressions on both of their faces.

Before either one of them could speak, Senga held up a hand. "We have a serious problem. We have to act now. Tonight." Exchanging a glance with Bane, Patton nodded and Bane pulled out his phone.

"I'll take care of it mother." Bane, glancing up the stairs to where his sister's room lay, felt his three other brothers come up behind him. He dialed a number and waited as it rang, it was time to make sure his sister stayed where she belonged; with the pack.

Monica delayed going to dinner as long as possible before finally dragging herself out of bed. She was wearing the old jeans that were frayed at the hem (her mother had tried to confiscate them numerous times), and a black t-shirt, and she felt no inclination to change despite the fact that dinner was something of a big deal at her house.

Usually one or more of the pack families joined the Alpha's family for the meal. But tonight, Monica felt no desire to put on something that would please her family. She was already walking into a death trap as it was. The pack members would already know that she had tried to leave again; they would also know that she had gotten farther this time. Monica could just picture the judgmental stares of the pack mothers as they served dinner, and the mocking she would get from the younger generations.

Leaving her room, she made her way down the hall, she could hear everyone downstairs already and she groaned. Eyeing the stairs distastefully, Monica plopped onto her butt and began letting herself thump down one step at a time. She didn't care how much noise it made, or how undignified it was, she just wanted to make her reluctance known to the waiting occupants in the dining room.

Just as her bum hit the cold floor of the foyer, the basement door opened and Beck and Regis, her two other brothers, and the other pack boys emerged in a loud crowd of testosterone. Gemma and Cora, the other two unmated girls were just behind them, giggling cutely as they followed the boys, and Monica felt her heart sink.

She had been hoping to run into the other teenagers when the adults were present, but apparently her luck had deserted her. In a last ditch effort to avoid notice, Monica shut her eyes and froze, praying that the old "I can't see you so you can't see me" principle would take effect.

"What are you doing?" No such luck. Opening one eye, Monica saw that the group had turned their attention on her, and they had conveniently blocked her way to the dining room. Cursing mentally, Monica stood brushed her jeans off, giving Beck, the person who had spoken, a disdainful expression.

"Checking to see if my ass was still there. It is." Smiling sweetly, Monica tried to snake around the edge of their little group, only to be stopped by a large muscular arm coming to rest against the wall.

"So. We heard about your little escape attempt." Lloyd, Bane's best friend, smirked at her.

"Wow. That's cool, you know, I heard something about that too. Oh wait, I was there!" Monica tried to duck under his arm, but Lloyd stopped her mid-duck with his next words.

"Good thing that's the last time you'll be pulling that stunt. Your parents are finally putting an end to all your nonsense." Monica turned and stared at him, glancing at the emotionless faces of Beck and Regis, and finally looking at the other young pack members. The girls wore uncomfortable looks, as though they were witnessing a personal moment in a stranger's life. The boys had a strange tension about them that suggested a large bomb was about to drop.

An uneasy feeling crawled down Monica's spine as she deliberately slipped through the door into the dining room, the others just behind her. Moving toward her customary seat at the furthest end of the table from her parents, Monica realized that it was occupied by Bane. The teenagers behind her moved into their seats before she could react, and Monica realized that the entire pack was present. Looking around with narrowed eyes, Monica saw that the only seat was to the left of her father's beta, diagonally from her mother, and right across from…Lloyd.

Feeling as though a trap was about to snap shut around her, Monica sat down, and people began talking again, though Monica could feel eyes on her as she took a serving of meat and potatoes.

Keeping her eyes on her plate, Monica shifted uneasily. She could sense that something was about to happen and that she wasn't going to like it. Lloyd's words floated around her brain, your parents are putting and end to all your nonsense, what the hell did that mean? Glancing quickly at her father, Monica saw that he was talking to his beta, Thane. Her mother was listening to their conversation, and Lloyd next to her conversed with Prosper. That was another thing. Since when did Lloyd sit so close to the head of the table?

A sharp kick made contact with her shin and Monica winced, turning to see Prosper glaring at her. She rolled her eyes as he jerked his head at Lloyd, who, she realized, had just said something to her.

"What?"

"I just asked whether you were still drawing?" Lloyd's carefully innocent expression sent a fiery wave a fury through Monica.

"Shut up!" She hissed angrily.

"Monica." Prosper's eyes warned her to be quiet and to behave. Glaring at him, she viciously stabbed a piece of potato and turned her glare on Lloyd who was smirking in victory back at her.

Lloyd knew very well that Monica's art was a touchy subject. Her parents had forbidden her from pursuing a career in art and Monica, in response, had painted her walls in a graphic and violent mural that depicted her parents as Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI at their executions, and Monica as their executor. Monica thought it was a stroke of brilliance, but she had been forced to paint over the mural and her art supplies had been taken away. That had lasted only long enough for Monica to present her parents with an ink drawing of a wolf…done in Monica's own blood. She got her art supplies back.

Needless to say art was a touchy subject within the household. Monica stabbed at a chunk of meat repeatedly, feeling her stomach roil with distaste.

"If I could have your attention," Her father's voice brought the table to silence as the pack turned to look at their alpha. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Monica looked up at Patton, knowing that what came next couldn't be good.

"I have been informed that Cora and Gemma have been chosen." A round of applause went around the table as Cora and Gemma blushed prettily. Being chosen meant that one of the guys had chosen them as their life-mate, and they were basically engaged.

"I would also like to announce that our daughter Monica," here, he paused to take Senga's hand, "Will be accompanying my son Bane as well as Lloyd, on their trip to the Oregon pack. Monica blanched.

So this was their plan. They knew now, where she was going, so they had decided to send her in the opposite direction, Oregon. In Colorado, where they lived, New York was only halfway across the country, in Oregon, New York was…on the opposite side of the country. Why would they even send her in the first place? It made more sense to keep her at home where they could keep a close eye on her. Staring at her father in confusion, Monica couldn't help but feel that there was something he wasn't saying. Glancing at her mother, who looked unusually stoic, only confirmed Monica's fears.

They were up to something major. The table had erupted into happy conversation and no one was paying attention to her, save for Bane who was watching her with an unreadable expression. Sticking her tongue out at him, Monica stood up and left the table, ignoring the whispers and questions that followed her.

She stormed up to her room and slammed the door, knowing that the werewolves downstairs would hear it loud and clear. Throwing herself on her bed, Monica glanced at the duffel bag she had shoved to the side earlier. Now she understood why Bane had put it there instead of leaving it on the floor, it was his way of sending her a message.

Sighing, Monica thought about the trip to come. Bane and Lloyd were supposed to be going on some sort of diplomatic mission, why they would include her was beyond her reckoning. She was never polite to pack members, and she had a hard time following orders. Why her parents would send her presented a worrying mystery

"Monica." Monica looked up to see Lloyd and Bane in her doorway.

"We leave in the morning."

"What? Why? Tell me why they're sending me with you." Bane only remained silent and turned away Lloyd smiled coldly at her before doing the same.

"Tell me!" She screamed. "Please!" The last part came out half sob and half scream. Bane paused to look at her, considering her hysterical state.

"It's for your own good Mona." With that, they were gone, and Monica sank to the floor, knowing that things were happening, things that she didn't like at all, and they were all beyond her control.

Senga woke her at dawn and told her to get dressed. Her duffel bag was already packed from her earlier attempt at running away. This time, she got to bring an extra messenger bag with some more art supplies, her laptop and i-pod, and other various odds and ends. Monica thought it was strange that her mother didn't make some changes to what she had packed, but she didn't question it.

Bane and Lloyd met her downstairs, along with her father and mother, and the rest of her brothers. Monica felt distinctly off balance, she was used to leaving secretly and without goodbyes and the change disconcerted her.

"Monica," Her father reached out to hug her but Monica stepped away from him. He gazed at her sadly, but Monica knew that the second she gave in and became his darling daughter again, he would have won and she would be stuck doing what he wanted for the rest of her life.

"Monica, please, for me?" Senga reached out to touch her arm, and Monica glared at her.

"Don't. Don't pretend like you care when all I am is your pawn." She yanked herself out of her mother's reach and turned to face her brothers. Prosper, he used to be her favorite, but now he stood accomplice to her parents, wearing the same saddened expression as they at her "defiant" behavior.

Beck and Regis, the twins, stood there tiredly, not quite awake yet. "So long sis, have fun with-" Beck slapped a hand over Regis' mouth and smiled at Monica.

"Have fun with Bane and Lloyd. Should be grand." Monica stared at them suspiciously before rolling her eyes and storming out the door, ignoring Bane and Lloyd.

The car was outside, a black SUV that fortunately, had third row seating so Monica could stay as far away from the boys as possible.

She heard her family saying their good byes to Bane and Lloyd as she crawled into the car, waiting for them to get in. She considered locking them out, but Bane had the keys so that would be an exercise in futility.

They got in the car and Monica put in her headphones, deciding to ignore them for as long as she could. They would be driving the whole way, so it would be a long journey. Pulling out her sketchpad, Monica tried to tune out the world and wait.

They were somewhere in Utah when Bane pulled into a rest stop. They all got out of the car as Lloyd filled the tank.

"You'll probably want to use the bathroom, we won't be stopping again for a while," said Bane. Monica nodded and grabbed her duffel, moving to go inside.

She was stopped by Bane's hand and your shoulder. "What's with the duffel bag?" He was staring at her suspiciously, obviously wondering why she needed her shoulder bag and the duffel to go to the bathroom.

"I want to change into something more comfortable." Bane nodded and let her go. Rolling her eyes, Monica made her way inside and used the bathroom, changing into sweatpants and a hoodie. She took her time coming back, stopping to buy a couple magazines from the counter. She paused on her way out, hearing Bane's voice. He and Lloyd were standing in line at the deli counter just around the corner.

"I just have a bad feeling about this. She doesn't even like the idea of life-mates in the first place. Forcing one on her, a stranger no less, will only piss her off. I don't know what dad's thinking and I definitely don't like the idea of leaving her there."

"Hey, who knows, maybe she'll like the guy, I mean, it's not exactly like she's going to have much of a choice in the matter anyway. We'll just get in and get out, she'll get used to them better without us there." Lloyd's sounded as though he were trying to convince himself of his words as well as Bane. Monica took a deep breath as the full import of their words hit her.

So that was the plan, they were going to take her to Oregon, foist her off on one of the guys in that pack and leave. They'd be able to keep tabs on her, while not having to actually deal with her.

Hot tears of pain threatened to spill out, but Monica ignored them. She steeled herself and wiped her face blank before rounding the corner and going to stand with the boys in line.

"Can you get me a ham and swiss? I'm going to wait at one of the outside tables." Bane nodded and Monica turned to walk away, a plan already formulating in her head.

"Monica!" Monica froze, turning slowly to face the boys.

"What kind of chips do you want?" Monica felt her chest loosen and let a deep breath out, as Bane stared at her expectantly.

"Sun chips." She turned and hurried outside, making her way over to the side of the gas station that was for semis. Glancing behind her to make sure one of them hadn't followed her, she surveyed the area.

A trucker was just climbing into the cab of his truck. Monica hurried over to him, pasting an innocent smile on her face.

"Hey!" The man looked over his shoulder at her, before hurriedly turning around and smiling.

"Hey yourself, what can I do for you kid?"

"Where are you headed?" The man looked at her consideringly before answering.

"I'm headed to California, Oakland." Monica grinned, perfect.

"I'm headed there too, do you think I could catch a ride with you?" The man nodded and jerked his head toward the truck.

"Hop in, I'll take you as far as you need to go." Monica smiled at him and moved around the side of the truck. She opened the door and threw her duffel and her messenger bag in; she paused, before hopping in as she had an idea.

"Hey, hold on just one sec, I'll be right back." Monica ran over to one of the other trucks and rubbed herself against the passenger side, making sure to get her scent all over it. Running back to the other truck cab, she hopped inside, just as the trucker brought the engine to life.

"Ready?" Monica nodded, and smiled, anxious to get out of the station before the boys realized she was gone.

"My name's Hank by the way."

"Monica." Hank smiled and pulled out of the station, Monica looked back, seeing Bane and Lloyd inside the station, still getting their food. Smiling, she settled back in her seat. This time, she was getting to New York, screw the pack and screw her parents.

"We caught her scent on a truck heading east, we're heading that way now. We should catch up to her within a couple hours."

"Do it. Fast, if you don't get her, come home, I'll handle telling Richard." Bane snapped his phone shut and gripped the steering wheel tightly. Beside him, Lloyd was angrily drumming his fingers on the armrests.

"We should have known she would do this. I just don't understand why. It's not like she knew what was going to happen." Bane stayed silent, not responding to Lloyd's heated words. He knew his sister and if he knew anything about her, it would take something big to make her mad enough to leave with a random trucker. Usually her escapes were much more planned, and they took more time for her to organize. This was random and spontaneous, and that scared him. Her behavior was much more difficult to predict when she was pissed off, and she was more likely to do something stupid.

Sighing, he gave the car more gas, the sooner he got to his sister, the sooner he would know she was safe, and in the end, that was all that mattered.

"Mike, it's me Monica."

"Mona! I thought you were getting away this time!" Monica smiled at Mike's pouty tone.

"Well, my first plan was foiled by my overbearing family. But right now, I'm sitting in the Oakland airport. Can you wire me some cash? I'll pick it up and grab a plane ticket. I can get a red eye flight and be there tomorrow."

Mike was silent on the other end. "You're serious? It's really happening?"

"Yeah," Monica paused, glancing at the airport around her, "Yeah I did it this time." She could practically feel Mike's grin as he gave her instructions to get the money.

As she hung up, she took a deep breath. She was on her way to New York, and nothing was going to stop her. Humming happily, Monica grabbed her duffel bag and took off through the airport.

Ten hours later, Monica was disembarking the plane, exhaustion dragging at her body. She hadn't been able to sleep much on the plane; excitement had kept her mind running the whole way. As she made her way past security and into the reception area at LaGuardia, she looked around for Mike, her height enabling her to look over most of the people there.

"There's my girl! Look at you! You're more beautiful than ever!" Monica grinned as she turned to see Mike and his wife Elena waiting for her. They enfolded her in their arms, and Monica fought the urge to cry.

"Honey we're so happy to have you here, Mike already has some jobs lined up for you. That portfolio you sent has drummed up some major interest." Elena beamed at her, the petite woman sending out waves of energy.

Mike grabbed her duffel bag and guided her outside to where his flashy red convertible was waiting. "Thank you guys so much for what you're doing, don't worry, I won't let you down." Mike paused, his hand on the car's handle, looking at Monica seriously.

"Monica, I was in the same boat as you ten years ago. We were both born into the pack life, and I got out, I want to give you the chance to do the same, have your own life. I know you can do great things with it." He kissed her forehead hand opened the car door. "Get in sweetheart, Elena's got lasagna cooking at home. Tomorrow you can meet with the people I've told about you. They're very excited to work with you."

Monica climbed in and tried to contain her rising excitement. She had done it, she had escaped the pack, and now she was on her own. No more of that silly life-mate business, she was free and clear, grinning, she sat forward in her seat to talk to the couple in the front seats.

The car ride took an eternity, but when they finally arrived at the couple's Upper East Side apartment Monica let out a sigh of relief. A doorman took Monica's bags upstairs to a spacious apartment. The smell of homemade Italian cooking hit Monica the moment she stepped inside and she felt her tension drain away as she took in her surroundings. Elena hurried into the kitchen and Monica heard banging and a bit of cursing.

"I've told her, time and again, I'll hire a cook but she says she likes to do it herself." Mike smiled as he shut the door behind him and pulled off his coat and led Monica into what she assumed was the family room. A breakfast bar separated it from the kitchen, where Elena was busily tossing a salad.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No honey, you just sit down, you and Mike probably want to talk before dinner, speaking of dinner, I'm going to need the gory details of how you made your great escape from the pack." Elena winked at her and Monica smiled.

"Your wish is my command." Mike laughed and sat down on one end of the big L shaped couch that faced a glass wall that was lit up by sparkling city lights. Monica sank onto the couch, imitating Mike and kicking off her shoes.

"So, I need to know. Are you serious about this? Do you really want to separate from the pack for good?" Monica nodded.

"I've thought about it a lot, and I need this. I'm not a werewolf, and I never will be. Their ways are too antiquated. I want to be like you and do my own thing." Mike nodded in understanding.

He too had been born into a werewolf pack, and like Monica, the gene for the werewolf mutation had skipped him. It was unusual as usually the gene only skipped girls, never boys. Rather than live in the pack, forever an omega, he left. He moved to New York and got into NYU on scholarship, finishing in three years and going on to write his first best selling novel. He had continued to write successfully and he had now established himself as a respected and well-known author. He was set for life financially, and he was happy with his wife. His family had of course, disowned him, but that was a sacrifice he had been willing to make for freedom.

Monica had met him at a book signing for one of his books. He had seen her with her brothers, and recognizing them as werewolves, had talked to her. They had met a couple times while he was in Colorado, and when he left, they had kept in touch, when he found out Monica wanted to leave, he offered to get her started with some work.

"You know I'll do anything I can to help you. Monica, Elena and I have a proposition for you." Mike sat forward and Elena emerged from the kitchen to sit beside him on the couch, an excited grin on her face. "I know you said you want to be independent, but neither of us are comfortable with sending an eighteen year old girl to live on her own in the city. We propose that you stay with us for a year while you get on your feet. You can start working, maybe take some art classes, get a feel for things before you jump in on your own." Monica was silent for a moment. She wanted to accept, but how could she impose for that long?

"I don't know, I mean…how can I possibly stay for that long, I don't want to intrude-"

"Honey," Elena came to sit beside her, taking both her hands in hers, "we both want you here, so much. You're young and it can't be easy to leave home. We don't want you to have to go through the same thing Mike did, being on your own with no money or family. And besides, I want you here to help me through the pregnancy, lord knows I'm not on speaking terms with my mother so I'd like to have another female around to talk to about this stuff."

"You're….?" Monica looked questioningly between Elena and Mike.

"Mhm," Elena nodded excitedly, "Three months!"

"That's amazing!" Monica threw her arms around Elena and hugged her tightly before hugging Mike too.

"So you'll stay?" Elena looked at her hopefully, a mischievous smile on her face.

Monica hesitated a moment before she nodded. "I'll stay."

"Great! Now that that's settled, let's eat!" Monica followed Mike and Elena to their patio overlooking the city. She told the couple about her many escape attempts and her final successful one, and she was finally able to laugh about it with them.

"Lord, don't know how they managed to catch you, you were much more creative than I ever was." Mike could hardly stop laughing, almost choking on a breadstick, "though I think that one with pretending to be a cheerleader and getting on the bus for an away game is the best. I just think it's hilarious that they were all going to the game anyway".

"Yes well, having two brothers on the team might have precipitated that, something I should have thought of in the first place."

They stayed up talking for a long time before they all finally went to bed, Monica in a spacious room and a big bed that made her infinitely happy.

As she dozed off, she couldn't help the warm feeling inside her. Life seemed full of possibilities and tomorrow; she could begin working on her future. Curling contentedly into the pillows, Monica closed her eyes, the happiest she had been in a long while.

After that night, time seemed to pass at an incredible rate. The next day she met with some authors who were looking for illustrators. She signed a contract with one and immediately began work on the illustrations for a children's book. She also signed up for art classes with excellent teachers, something she had never been permitted before.

Mike and Elena were paying for her expenses and Monica vowed to herself that she would pay them back. She knew that she had a long road in front of her, but one that she could live with as long as it was her own.

She heard nothing in the passing days about her family, and she took the lack of news as good news. She settled into a routine, going to classes in the mornings and working in the afternoons, spending her nights with Elena and Mike.

She could now sleep soundly at night, knowing that she was following her dreams and doing well at it. All she had to do now was show her family that she could make it as an artist and as her own person.

A year later.

Monica blew a raspberry into Amber's stomach and smiled as the baby gurgled happily, tugging on Monica's long pale hair with chubby little hands.

"Okay pumpkin, time to let Monica get used to having her own apartment, away we go!" Mike swept Amber into his arms as his wife emerged from the kitchen.

"There are enough frozen meals in there to last you a while, are you sure you're going to be okay tonight? I can stay if you want. Just until you get used to it here." Monica laughed as Elena looked around the tiny apartment worriedly.

"I'll be fine Elena, you and Mike have done enough already, now go home, and I'll call you in the morning." Mike helped Monica to usher Elena out the door, pausing only to giver her parting advice.

"Don't forget to pay the electricity, and call me if anybody bothers you, I'm serious about that." His face was creased with worry, and he absently let Amber gnaw on his finger as he gave another suspicious glance at the apartment which he privately thought might be smaller than his and Elena's closet.

"Okay Mike, got it, now go!" giving him a helpful shove out the door, Monica locked the door and turned to survey her new home.

The most noticeable thing about the apartment was that it was small, but Monica was proud of it all the same. She had gotten enough work in the past year, that she had been able to save up enough to rent her own apartment, without Mike and Elena's help. They had become like family to her in the time that she was with them, and she knew she would miss their warm presence. But they weren't that far by subway, and she knew she would be babysitting Amber often enough.

Monica smiled at the thought of Amber; the baby had been born six months ago and Elena and Mike had honored her by asking her to be the girl's godmother. Her gift to her new godchild had been to paint her room in soft shades of lush pink with beautiful designs of butterflies and swirls on the walls.

Monica considered her own walls thoughtfully before looking at the walls, something would have to be done about them; matte white just wasn't her thing. Adding that to her list of things to do, Monica paced restlessly to her window, looking down on the street below her. A group of people was walking by; they appeared to be about her age. Watching them pensively, Monica noticed that they were dressed to go out, clubbing perhaps.

Monica was startled to realize it was Friday night, and she didn't have plans. Of course, she didn't often have plans, most of her friends in New York were Mike and Elena's age, she had been so busy building a life for herself that she hadn't even thought about going out and exploring the social scene.

Suddenly her little apartment seemed large and lonely. Coming to a swift decision, Monica went into her bedroom and quickly changed into black jeans and a blue silk halter-top Elena had gotten her a while ago. She shook out her hair and hurriedly smudged some eyeliner and mascara on her eyes. Looking at herself critically, she decided it would have to do.

She made her way out of the apartment, and to the street below, feeling a rush of adrenaline at her first night of complete independence. Making her way down the street, she headed towards a club she had heard Mike talking about to one of his friends. They had said it was brand new and every Friday they had live music.

After only a short walk she saw the sign for the club. There was a line out the door, and Monica felt her heart sink. There was no way she could get in with a line that long, and judging by all the girls in revealing outfits, there was no way she could sweet talk the bouncers in her relatively modest ensemble. Deciding to do a quick walk by, just for fun, Monica continued walking; desperately trying to make it look as though she didn't even know the club existed.

A commotion at the door drew her attention, and she couldn't help staring as two burly men hauled a drunken man onto the curb. He stumbled away, muttering stupidly and stumbling towards the street at a surprisingly fast pace. Giving a particularly wobbly lurch, he tilted towards Monica, and before she could move, he crashed into her. Her breath flew out of her lungs as she crashed into a particularly glittery clump of girls standing by the club's entrance.

"Hey! No cutting! Wait your turn at the back!" A girl in a tight black miniskirt shoved Monica away, a hostile glare on her face.

"I'm sorry I didn't mean-"

"Is there a problem here?" Monica turned to see one of the bouncers behind her, his thick arms crossed over his chest.

"No, I was just trying to-"

"She's with me Paulo, leave her alone." Monica's head whirled as someone threw their arm around her shoulders and guided her past a suddenly apologetic Paulo.

Craning her neck to look up at the person who had their arm around her, Monica realized it was a tall man, a very attractive tall man. Squirming to get out from under his arm Monica turned and tried to step away, only to find that there were several other abnormally tall men behind the first. The dim light of the hallway leading towards the main room of the club cast them all in shadows and Monica could only catch a glimpse of their eyes.

"Hey thanks for the save but I wasn't actually-" Her words were cut off as the inner door to the club opened and a chest throbbing wave of music spilled out and cut her off. She leaned closer to the guy to try and shout over the music, but as she did he grabbed her hand and led her towards the club.

His friends were crowded close behind her and she could only shout uselessly above the music as they moved into the main area of the club.

Mona's eyes were stunned for a moment by the low lighting pierced only by the lasers and pulses coming from the stage. A DJ was set up and the dance floor in front of him was a writhing mass of bodies.

The tall guy moved Mona through the crowded club towards a raised platform that was guarded by a beefy looking bouncer. The two men nodded at each other and suddenly they were above the crowd in a lounge like area. The music still pulsed and pounded it's way through everything, but at least you could hear each other speak.

Mona was hustled into a spot on a sofa next to the guy as his friends crowded in and almost out of nowhere a coterie of girls were wedged in with them. Mona felt a little pulse of excitement as she realized this must be a VIP section, and she was in it! Plus, she was in an actual club actually being social! Albeit with people she had never met before in her life. Mona also realized that she was definitely a little young for the average age of the group as a cocktail waitress appeared with a bottle of something for the table. Shifting a bit nervously she glanced over at the guy next to her.

He grabbed two drinks and handed one to her. "I'm A.J. What's your name gorgeous?" Mona smiled and took the drink, casting a suspicious glance at the contents.

"I'm Monica." She took a second to look a little more closely at her "savior". He was huge, long legs, broad shoulders, and messy blonde hair. Glancing around the group, Mona realized that all the guys were just as big.

Maybe they were professional athletes or something. Mona's inner girl radar gave a little beep of happiness at the thought of actually being out clubbing with guys like that. A.J. leaned in to say something in her ear as one of the other guys reached across the table to grab a bottle. His sleeve rode up and Mona's breath hitched in her throat, the greek letter "B" was tattooed on his inner wrist. Sometimes pack members would be allowed to get their ranking in the pack tattooed after they performed an act of particular dedication to their pack or their alphas. Mona took another slow glance around the group, her eyes landing on AJ.

She realized he was saying something to her and she shook herself, her heart pounding.

"What did you say?"

"I asked where you usually hang out, I haven't seen you around this area before." Mona thought quickly, trying to keep herself calm. Of course she would manage to find a group of werewolves on her first night out as a normal girl.

"I'm just passing through. Visiting friends. You know, seein the big apple!" Mona forced a smile and took a sip of her drink, trying not to blanche at the sharp sting of alcohol. A.J. opened his mouth to respond and Mona hurriedly cut him off. "You want to dance? I want to dance." Mona set her drink down and hurriedly clambered out of the group of people, trying desperately to avoid touching the other guys in the group.

Werewolves. Goddammit. Mona hurriedly made her way out of the VIP section, not looking to see if Asher was behind her. She had to act normal, but she had to get the hell out of there. The second these guys caught wind of her being anything other than a normal ignorant human, there'd be hell to pay.

Mona felt a solid presence behind her as she worked her way into the dance crowd and she knew A.J. had followed her. She got as close as she could to the stage, the sound blasting from the speakers obliterating everything else.

The pounding of rising panic in her chest meshed weirdly with the music and she chanced a quick glance at A.J. He was right behind her and as he caught her eye he grinned, and pulled her in to him, his hands settling on her waist. She glanced around at other couples on the floor, plenty of them were grinding like this.

She looked at the stage again and tried to ignore the little tingles dancing along her skin where his hands happened to touch bare skin at her waistline. She had to figure something out.

She couldn't spend any more time around this guy. Werewolves never hung out with humans, if the guy with the tattoo was a werewolf, the entire group was. And the longer she was near them, the more she risked giving herself away.

She had done just fine without pesky pack interference in her life, her family hadn't found her, she had started building a good career for herself, and she was independent. Nobody was going to mess that up for her.

Seeing one of the other girls in the crowd moving seductively around her dance partner, Mona had an idea. She glanced behind her and smiled up at A.J. He grinned back at her and leaned down to nuzzle into her neck. Mona hurriedly bent forward and wiggled her butt against him, trying to imitate the other girls on the floor. Snapping her body back up she turned around to face him, her fingers tracing up his torso to his shoulders. She began to circle around him, shaking her butt at what seemed like appropriate intervals.

He was smiling bemusedly and Mona hoped that meant she was doing it right….she really couldn't tell. As the music built into a bass thumping crescendo, Mona began to rotate around him again, this time, as she got to his back, she slipped between the people behind them and began making her way through the crowd as fast as she could.

Her height made it hard but she ducked behind as many guys as possible. The crowd would mask her scent well, which she was suddenly thankful for.

She pushed through the crowd until she reached the edge of the floor and made her way to the door of the club. Glancing back she thought she spotted a tall blonde head making its way through the crowd. She tried to move forward again and bumped into something solid, glancing up she realized it was one of the guys in the group, the one with the tattoo, a giggling curly haired brunette clinging to his arm. They made eye contact and a puzzled look crossed his face as his eyes went to what was probably A.J. getting to the edge of the dance floor.

Without waiting to see if he'd try to stop her, Mona edged around him and dashed to the door of the club, making her way outside and into the street.

She gulped in fresh air and thought for a second. She couldn't go right home, they might pick up her scent. She couldn't go to Mike and Elena's either, she didn't want to bring a pack down on his head too. She took off in the opposite direction of her apartment, zig-zagging in the busy NY streets. She kept going till she was certain she had confused her trail enough then ducked into a subway entrance.

Double-checking to make sure no one was behind her she made her way to a train and hopped on. As she found a seat and sat down, she finally took a relieved breath. She was fairly certain no one had followed her. She debated whether she should call Mike and tell him what had happened.

But she didn't really want to worry him, plus she was fairly certain she'd never see A.J. and his friends again. She'd just avoid the clubs. Plus she'd told him she was only visiting New York so it's not like he'd be looking for her…

Mona sighed. Even though it had kind of ended in disaster, she felt a little happy bubble at having been able to go out on her own. Plus she had identified the werewolves before they turned into a problem. She could handle herself. Grinning at her own independence she settled in for the ride home.

Mona put the NY werewolves out of her head. Out of sight out of mind. She was working constantly trying to meet two important deadlines for big projects. They were for two well known authors and she was adamant that everything be perfect for them.

About a week after her misadventure in the club Mona looked up from her work table to see that the clock read 9:00. 9:00 At night? Mona thought confusedly. She had been at work for hours! Feeling her stomach give a gurgle of protest, she realized she hadn't eaten since….well she hadn't eaten in a while. Sighing she pushed the wisps of hair that had escaped from her bun out of her face and stood, stretching her arms up as her body un-cramped from being hunched over a desk all day.

She needed food but she didn't really feel like cooking. She looked down at her shorts and t-shirt, they were stained with various mediums and colors and she knew she had stuff on her face, but at that moment she couldn't quite bring herself to care.

"Food." She said determinedly. She turned off her desk lamp and closed her computer, which had been playing background music. She would run to the Chinese place down the street and grab quick dinner. She grabbed her sketchbook on the way out; you never knew when inspiration would hit.

A wave of hot muggy air hit her as soon as she stepped outside. Grimacing, she gave silent thanks for her apartment's AC. The streets were starting to come alive with nighttime activity and Mona walked a little more quickly. She wanted to get her food and get home; her couch and Netflix were calling her name. She had worked enough for one day.

She grabbed a table in the restaurant and waved to the man behind the counter.

"Working late, Mona?"

"You got me, Tony." Tony laughed and shook his head.

"The usual?"

"Yes please!"

Mona flashed him a smile as she put her feet up on the chair beside her and flipped open her sketchbook. She doodled waiting for her food, sketching different ideas for a character on a new project. When her food came she sniffed appreciatively and dug in. Her huge order steaming plates of lo-mein, sesame chicken, and pork buns had gotten her some weird looks from the staff at the restaurant when she first started coming there. But after they regularly watched her put away the food with enthusiasm they accepted her ability to consume copious quantities of food and still somehow be as willowy as ever as a strange miracle. Of course they didn't know that even though the werewolf gene had skipped her, she had inherited a werewolf's speedy metabolism and matching appetite.

She had just taken a huge bite of chicken as she erased the eye of one of her sketches when the chairs across the table scraped against the floor.

Mona looked up and her eyes widened at the person sitting across from her. She tried to swallow too fast and ended up choking, her face going red as she grabbed her water and hurriedly took a drink.

"Easy there, that's a heck of a lot of food for one little girl." A.J. smiled at her and grabbed a pork bun, taking an enthusiastic bite out of it.

"Hey!" Mona put a protective arm around her plates and glared at him. "This is my food!"

"Aw, you don't want to share?" He grinned wickedly through a mouthful of food and in the fluorescent light of the restaurant, Mona was struck again by his handsome features.

"No, I don't want to share. What are you doing here?" Seeing him eye her lo-mein critically she pulled her plates in closer and her glare deepened.

"I happened to be passing by and saw you through the window. I wondered what a supposed tourist in the big apple was doing here three weeks after I saw you last." He raised an eyebrow at her and she hurriedly looked down at her plate and shrugged.

She stuffed a mouthful of noodles in her mouth and chewed slowly, trying to think. This was bad, very bad. She eyed him doubtfully as he flagged Tony down and ordered some food.

"If you're going to eat here then get your own table."

"Ouch, why so hostile Miss. Monica?" A.J. leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs obviously intending to stay right where he was.

"I just want to eat my food in peace, leave me alone." She put her head down and tried to look very busy eating. A.J. reached over and snatched her sketchbook from her.

She made a grab for it but he held it out of her reach and lazily flipped through the pages.

"So is this a hobby of yours?" He glanced at her incensed face before looking back at the pages.

"Please give that back now." She held out her hand and he grinned at her before looking down at the notebook. Suddenly the grin dropped off his face and he looked at one of the pages more closely.

Mona tried to see what he was looking at and her stomach dropped. It was an older drawing from back in Colorado. In one of their rare moments of accord before her departure from the pack, Mona had sketched her parents as they sat watching their sons play a game of football in the yard. Her mother was curled into her fathers' side, and his arms were wrapped around her. But the most striking thing about the image and the one thing Mona was sure A.J. had noticed was the tattoo on Patton's shoulder. It was the mark of an alpha, and every alpha had one. Each one was slightly different because they bore details of the individual pack's crest, but certain characteristics were unmistakable.

Mona froze, staring at A.J. His eyes rose to meet hers and narrowed.

"What is this?" He said, the tension in his voice apparent.

Without thinking about the consequences, Mona picked up her fork and stabbed it into his hand. She leapt from her chair and ran for the door, not looking back to see if her distraction had worked long enough to get her away.

She ran as hard and fast as she could, making as many turns and confusing her scent as much as possible