Today I’m honored to have Brianna Vedsted, and an excerpt of her novel “Here With the Wolves”.
Thick clouds mask the full moon, but its presence cannot be completely hidden. The sluggishness of the black night is suddenly shattered by a woman’s scream. A creature, covered in shaggy fur, sniffs the base of a tree trunk before pointing its nose to the sky and letting out a heart-chilling howl.
A howl in the distance answers the first. The shriek abruptly ends and is followed by a chorus of eerie, jovial baying.
“I can do this.” I repeat over and over, looking at my own reflection in the mirror. “I can do this.” I’m gripping the edge of the countertop with such force that my knuckles are white.
All I can think about is last month’s hunt. It was a nightmare. I stayed at the back the whole time, but wasn’t able to stay out of the action. A werewolf attempted to flee, and since I was unarmed, I stepped out of his way. I was just thankful he didn’t try to kill me. That’s when a knife sunk up to the hilt in his shaggy back. I looked up and saw my pack mate, Malcolm, glaring at me from across the glen. Black-skinned, blue eyed Malcolm has hated me ever since I was chosen to be the pack’s future alpha. As shameful as it sounds, I’m scared to death of that tall, lean Slayer. And like the coward I was, I retreated and didn’t stop until I’d reached the truck. I locked myself in the cab and didn’t come back out until the hunt was over.
Thankfully, Malcolm took care of the wolf, but with the look he gave me, I’m sure part of him wishes that he’d taken care of me, too. And today I’d have to face him. Today I must face everyone at the Grange. But how could I, after my humiliating display? How could I even look my alpha, Kenneth, in the eye after I’d shamed him?
I just can’t kill werewolves.
I stood with my back to the wall, listening to Kenneth as he spoke about his plans to venture to the wolves’ nest next week. The rest of my pack members surrounded the podium, eating up his words like hungry dogs. One woman looked as if she might actually drool with anticipation.
They all looked forward to the hunt, as they always did. But I just felt sick. My head was spinning and I turned around, in hopes of making it to the window for some fresh air. That was when I noticed how close I had been standing to Malcolm. I stiffened when I noticed him and attempted to slip away. But as I moved, Malcolm looked up. I froze as he took a few steps closer and leaned against the wall just inches away from me. “Hello, Ness.” He spoke low and nodded in my direction coolly.
“Hello, Malcolm.” I was attempting to stay calm, even though my heart was already racing. I tried to assume a cool, confident attitude, but Malcolm didn’t seem to notice.
“You appear a little sick, Vanessa. Are you looking forward to the hunt next week? Think you might actually manage to take down a wolf all by yourself?” Malcolm grinned coyly, flashing his white teeth at me.
“You bet,” I threw back my head, glaring down my nose at him.
“I’ll believe it when I see it. You may have been chosen by Kenneth, but he is going to see how pathetic you are. When you humiliate him again, he’ll probably turn you out of the pack.” Malcolm chuckled with glee.
A pale hand clamped down on his shoulder and Malcolm yelped as he struggled to look back at his attacker.
That was the first time I’d ever seen Kenneth that angry. He hissed so softly that I could scarcely hear him, “Back down, Malcolm. Keep away from Ness. Hear me?”
Malcolm winced, but had to give in, “I hear.”
Kenneth released him and said louder, “Pack dismissed. Meet me back here a week from today. To Columbus!”
A loud chorus of “To Columbus!” followed Kenneth and I out the doorway.
Once outside, Kenneth blinked several times, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the brightness. He did that so often, even on cloudy days, that I often wondered just how well he could see. He acted as if his eyes always hurt. “The pack is anxious.” The words were spoken so softly that I wondered if Kenneth was talking to himself or to me.
“Are you mad?” I cocked my head to one side, waiting for his reply.
“Of course not. One day you’ll be great and then everyone will stop giving you such a hard time.”
“Do you really think so, Kenneth?”
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have chosen you.” He put his arm around me and walked me to my car. “I know you’ll be able to do it this time, Ness. You were born for this.”
I managed to nod. “If you say so.” I tried to believe what he said, but in my heart, I doubted everything I’d been taught. Momentarily, I wondered what Columbus would say if we met. Columbus is like my fifteenth great Grandfather. My family, this whole wolf pack, really, are descendants of Columbus. I remember the day Kenneth took down the big, leather-bound book and read the history to me. I sat on the floor at his feet, enthralled as he told how the first Slayer was born. And in that moment, I heard his voice again.
“Christopher Columbus, the Grandfather, came to America for blood. The blood of his enemies: the werewolves. See, Ness? It is an ancient feud, between our family and the werewolves. The Grandfather found the wolves in Spain and eradicated them, but not before overhearing a conversation about “all the wolves in the New World”. So, after securing a crew, a couple of ships and enough gold from the crown, he set off, determined to rid the world of the foul beasts. Not a moment after the Grandfather set foot on American soil did he see them. Thousands and thousands of indigenous werewolves. Left alone amongst the Indian populous, the wolves had bred and multiplied with nerve-wracking speed. The Grandfather set to work, but could not make as much as a dent in them.
“His crew was outnumbered and Columbus wasn’t canny enough to outwit the wolves, or anticipate their next move. They all would have been killed if Columbus hadn’t thought up a brilliant plan. His plan was to mix just enough wolf blood with his own so that he could think like the wolves and outsmart them. He was wise enough to know, however, that if he didn’t choose wisely, his offspring would be just as much wolf as the creatures he sought to destroy. Somehow he managed to find a woman whose bloodline had almost been completely drained of wolf blood and he took her for his bride. The result of the union was a tiny daughter. The mother died giving birth, leaving Columbus to raise and train his young child. He would have no outside help, for too many wolves had discovered his plan and wished to foil him to save their species.
“This did not stop Columbus, though. He knew if he couldn’t kill the wolves himself, he would find a way to use his daughter as a tracker. But in an unfortunate turn of events, the little girl was left behind when Columbus set sail for home. She was left with her people, a child with pale skin, to stand out and be humiliated by both her Indian and wolf kin. How easily they could have killed her and freed themselves from worry, but wolves are merciful. The girl was spared and raised in the ways of her mother’s people. But Columbus returned one day and took the teenaged girl away with him. Being a gullible child, she allowed herself to be molded into the killer Columbus had meant her to be. He raised her, not as his daughter, but as a creature with a purpose. By now he was formally married, to a noblewoman, and could not afford his relationship with an Indian woman to be known, so he lied about the child, saying he found and captured her to be his handmaid.
“Just a few years before he was sentenced to prison, Columbus sent his daughter back to her country of birth and set her loose on her people. Her growing years of being cared for by these people were forgotten and she killed without compassion, without the faintest repentance. She was everything her father had hoped for, and more. She married a human man and produced half a dozen grandchildren with the need to kill wolves already imbedded in their minds.” Kenneth had closed the book there and smiled at me. “Do you see, Ness? It is our responsibility to kill wolves. We must not let Columbus down.”
With a terrible ache pounding behind my temples, I desperately needed to clear my head. I wanted to go home, but my house was so depressing and drab. And most importantly, my house was empty. Right now, I needed someone to talk to. A friend would come in handy right about now, but since I didn’t have any, I went for the next best thing: my mom. I decided to pay her a visit. My mom is a gentle woman, a human, and even though she doesn’t know that I’m a Slayer, she’s very supportive and always has a word of comfort hidden up her sleeve for me.
When I got to her house, I saw a white van parked in the driveway. That’s odd, Mom doesn’t usually have friends over. I thought to myself as I walked up the front steps and opened the door. Inside, I found my mom and sister, Viv, lolling around the kitchen and watching the man who was halfway hidden under the sink.
“Ness, this is Jacoby,” Mom called out when she spotted me.
Jacoby’s eyes were like two pools of molten turquoise, they were the first things to greet me when he popped out from under the sink. “Hi.” He flashed me a quick smile before diving back under the cabinet.
“Hello,” I muttered softly as I pulled out a barstool and took a seat, reaching for a pad of paper and a pen. Maybe I should have stayed at the grange or gone home with Kenneth. I’d wanted a chance to talk to Mom, but with Jacoby here, that wasn’t going to happen. I started absent-mindedly doodling on the paper, not even realizing that I was drawing a very terrifying picture of a wolf.
That’s when Jacoby started to talk, “If any of your cats climb into my van, I get to take them home.”
I did a double-take, wondering if he was talking to himself or to us. Viv and I looked quizzically at each other, wondering if we should say something or not.
Jacoby’s booming laugher thundered through the room.
Eyes narrowed, I looked up.
Jacoby was sitting cross-legged on the rug, laughing heartily at our expressions. “I’m kidding, girls, just joking! Cats always end up in the back of my van. There was this one time a cat got in there and I didn’t see it. I went home and parked in the garage and didn’t go back out until Monday. Then I see this cat sitting on my seat! And whew, did my van stink!”
Never in my life had I ever met a person who was as open and friendly to a total stranger as Jacoby was. He seemed unreal, other-worldly almost. Just then, he caught me staring at him, and he unabashedly winked at me! I felt my face get hot as I turned my attention back to my drawing, but I couldn’t help but think that Jacoby was the strangest man I’d ever known.
That being said, for a single afternoon, sitting in the kitchen with that plumber, I forgot who I was and the job I was meant to do. For the first time in my life, I felt normal. The members of my pack had never treated me as their equal. And they never joked and laughed and spoke as openly to me as Jacoby did.
“Are you out of high school?” Jacoby asked me curiously, as he studied my face like he was wondering how old I was.
“Yeah, I graduated last spring.”
“Cool. You’re older than you look. I thought you were seventeen or so.”
I laughed. “I know. Several people have told me that.”
“It’s not bad to look young. That way you’ll look forty when you’re sixty!”
“Eww! Sixty…” I grimaced at the thought of being old.
Jacoby laughed at me again. “Being old isn’t so bad.”
“Oh, and how would you know? You can’t be much older than thirty.”
“I’m twenty-seven, thank you very much!”
“That’s not old!” Viv and I exclaimed together.
Mom joined in on the laughter, trying to act serious as she mock-scolded us. “Now, now, you young whipper-snappers! Stop talking about age, you’re making me feel old!”
“Don’t worry, Megan,” Jacoby soothed, “You’re like Ness! You look very young. I’m guessing mid-thirties, right?”
Viv rolled her eyes and I broke out laughing. “Close enough,” I told him as I smiled at Mom who grinned back at me.
All too soon the afternoon ended and Jacoby began to pack up his tools. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he promised.
“But tomorrow is Saturday.” Mom pointed out.
“I don’t have a desk job, so I don’t work banker’s hours. I’ll be back around nine.”
I followed him out the door.
He seemed puzzled, “You’re leaving?”
“You don’t live here?”
“No, I have my own place.”
Jacoby frowned, “Do you have a boyfriend or something?”
“No,” I couldn’t understand what he was getting at.
“Then why do your parents let you live alone? There are lots of bad people in the world. You could get hurt—”
I laughed before I could stop myself. “I’m not afraid of humans. I can take care of myself.” I dropped my voice a little, “It’s the animals that scare me.”
Jacoby’s eyes widened and for a second, he seemed about to say something, but then he shook his head and grinned enormously, “You’ve got spunk. I’ll see you tomorrow, Ness Vancouver.”
“Tomorrow,” I promised.
“Hold this here.” Jacoby gestured to the two bits of pipe he was gluing together. I stood next to him, holding them as still as possible. “If your hands get stuck in the glue, there’s no way I can get you loose, so I’ll just have to install you under the sink with everything else.” His tone was so casual that I thought he was serious until I looked up into his eyes. “Just kidding,” he chimed innocently.
Later, I tried to get him back by clipping a clothespin to the top of his hat.
Jacoby found the clothespin almost instantly and tried to pinch my ear with it. I ducked away, out of his reach, and then looked up just as he threw it good-naturedly at me, laughing when it bounced off my forehead.
That was the best Saturday I’d had in a very long time.
While I sat at the table and ate a bowl of pea salad, my mind began to wander. Why couldn’t I be as comfortable around my pack as I was with Jacoby? Why couldn’t I feel like I belonged with them? If they made me as happy as I am now, I’d embrace my birthright and join my alpha brothers, Johnny Laree and Dustin Daniels, this very minute. Those two boys were born the same month I was, and Kenneth had chosen the three of us to be his successors. But I’d been blocking them for the last four years. I wouldn’t let them get close to me. They are better slayers than I am. They’re stronger, keener, and deadlier. They’d each killed a dozen or more wolves since their initiation summer. I knew that they were waiting for me, because without me, they’d never reach their full potential.
Alphas always come in threes. Each alpha is one-third of a jigsaw puzzle. And when all the pieces are connected, everything just sort of comes together. We’d all be stronger and more powerful.
But the last thing I wanted was to be like either of them. They killed wolves as easily as I swatted at mosquitoes. And I never wanted to be that way. I wished that Kenneth would have picked a different girl. I wish he’d have picked Margery or Kate. Then I’d be free. But he’d chosen me to carry on his legacy. In short, he’d cursed me.
Jacoby cleared his throat, bringing me back to reality. Glancing up, I noticed Jacoby and Mom were both looking at me rather oddly.
“Is something wrong, dear?” Mom sounded worried.
“No, why do you ask?”
“You were glaring at the salad. I didn’t like peas when I was growing up either, but I never glared at them. It didn’t make them taste any better.” Jacoby was trying to lighten the mood, but he was also cautious.
“Oh, I was just thinking about something.” I shrugged my shoulders as if it wasn’t important, but my heart began to beat faster, all the same.
“Something or someone?” Mom asked gently.
“Maybe both,” I frowned back at my bowl, hoping to change the subject.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Jacoby offered, “I know something that will put the bit back in your mouth!”
I perked up hopefully.
“Come and hold this light for me.” Jacoby held up a flashlight and batted his eyes playfully.
Sighing dramatically, I went to sit beside him and hold the flashlight.
Relieved, Mom laughed at him and then went back her flower arranging.
The sink was fixed. All the fixtures were in working order. There was not one single leak.
It was time for Jacoby to go home.
While Mom wrote a check and my little brother, Collin, dug through Jacoby’s toolbox, Jacoby did something that no normal person would ever do: he invited himself to study the pictures that were all over the refrigerator. “Who are those two?” he asked, pointing to the picture of my little brothers standing side by side in front of the tiger enclosure at the zoo.
“That’s Corey and Collin.” Mom chirped.
“Cute,” he continued looking. His eyes got wide all of a sudden and he pointed to another photo, asking, “Who’s that?”
To my horror, it was a picture of me. It had been taken only a few hours after I was born, I was lying on a white hospital bed, hardly wearing a stitch of clothing.
“That’s Ness.” Mom’s answer was so nonchalant.
Jacoby turned to grin wickedly at me, and I had the feeling my newly adopted family member had just found some dirt to use against me.
I tried to act like it was no big deal, but I knew I must have been blushing because the room seemed to be getting uncomfortably warm. But as uncomfortable as I was, I ended up laughing too.
Still howling with laughter, Jacoby said to Mom, “The best part is how embarrassed she got! Look how red she is!”
When the laughter finally died down, I wrapped my arms around my aching sides and let out a sigh. I watched Jacoby swing Collin around in a circle and toss him into the air. “Don’t drop him,” I teased.
Jacoby stuck his tongue out at me before setting my little brother back on his feet.
Standing on the porch and watching him pack away his things, I invited, “Why don’t you stay for supper?”
“Ah, I’d like to, but I’ve got one more job to go to before I get to call it a night. My neighbor called me and said her shower is backed up. No rest for the weary.”
“You’ve been here since this morning and haven’t had anything to eat! Can’t you even stay for ten more minutes?” Mom looked hopeful.
“I really wish I could, but I need to be going.” Jacoby shuffled his feet and frowned at the thought. I could tell he wasn’t ready to go yet.
“Hang on just a second!” I begged. I ran back into the house and filled a plastic bowl to the brim with the strawberries Mom had picked from the garden this morning. When I handed the dish to Jacoby, his expression brightened.
“How did you know?” He demanded of me.
“That strawberries are my favorite!”
“Oh, I didn’t know. But I guess everything worked out good.”
“They sure did! I’ll get your bowl back to you in a few days, and I’ll be back for more of these!” He winked, but was momentarily distracted by the sound of wheels on gravel.
I followed his gaze and what I saw made me freeze in my shoes.
Malcolm’s blue car had just pulled into the driveway.
I shook my head. This wasn’t possible. What was he doing here? I put my hand on Jacoby’s arm, “I guess you’d better go. Dad must have invited a friend over.”
Jacoby nodded and started to turn away.
I turned to walk back to the house, but my foot got caught on the water hose Mom had stretched across the driveway, and I would have fallen if Jacoby hadn’t caught me. “Thanks.” I murmured, glancing sideways to see my dad park his truck behind Malcolm’s car, just as Malcolm emerged from the vehicle.
“Such a klutz, aren’t you, Ness?” Malcolm mocked me.
I opened my mouth to throw a sour retort back, but it was Jacoby who spoke first, “That doesn’t seem quite fair to the lady, Friend.”
Malcolm’s attention was no longer on me. He looked Jacoby up and down before smiling, “Perhaps you’re right. My apologies, Ness.”
Jacoby nodded stiffly, gave me a little push back towards my mom, and then climbed into the cab and closed the door. He waved as he pulled out of the driveway.
Still bristling at the thought of Malcolm being here, I quickly followed mom back into the house and grabbed my coat off the chair with every intention of leaving.
Dad was the first one in the door and he seemed not to have overheard Malcolm’s and Jacoby’s brief exchange. Dad smiled at me, “Hi, kiddo! It smells good in here. Megan, do have enough food to feed another mouth? The stove went out at Malcolm’s place so I invited him to eat with us.”
“Actually, Dad,” I answered before Mom even had the chance, “I was just getting ready to leave—”
Malcolm put his hand out, blocking the door as he insisted, “Why don’t you stay? You know how much I enjoy your company.”
I snorted, knowing that Malcolm enjoyed my company as much as he would enjoy the company of a garden slug. I wouldn’t put it past him to try lacing my food with rat poison, but Mom begged, “Oh, Ness, do stay! I made pot roast, your favorite!”
Sighing, I dropped my coat back over the chair. For my mom, I would stay. But that didn’t mean I had to talk to Malcolm. He is trying to ruin my life. It’s bad enough he gets to pick on me when I’m with the pack, but now he’s coming into my home and has my parents believing he’s as good as gold?
Malcolm turned out to be a wonderful actor. He pulled out my chair for me and pretended to be a gentleman. The worst part was that my parents bought it! Hadn’t my dad ever seen how much Malcolm hated me? Was Dad that blind? I couldn’t fault Mom. After all, she’s just a human. She doesn’t even know that Dad and I are Slayers or that werewolves exist. Dad was forbidden to share anything with her, as was I.
It is hard for a girl not to be able to tell her mother anything. I couldn’t explain why I had such vivid nightmares about dying, why I was gone so often or why I hung out with Kenneth so much. I’m afraid Mom thinks she’s a failure as a parent or that I don’t love her. But she’s never tried to barge in on my life. I respect her for that. I think that Mom is the most laidback human I’ve ever met. Its too bad I didn’t inherit that trait from her.
While I was pushing a few bits of corn around my plate with my spoon, Viv brought up Jacoby. “Mom had a guy out to fix the sink. He was really funny.”
“Such a sweet boy.” Mom agreed.
Despite the presence of the guest Dad had invited, I even opened up a little. “It was like I’d known him forever.”
“A plumber, huh?” Malcolm seemed interested all of a sudden. “As a matter of fact, the water lines in my kitchen have been acting kind of screwy, did he give you a card?”
“Ness, go get the card Jacoby gave me, it’s in my purse.” Mom, of course, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, but as I walked down the hall, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I returned with the pale yellow card and hesitantly offered it to Malcolm. His hand brushed against mine as he took it. I shivered.
Malcolm’s eyes met mine.
No one in the room should have been able to miss the malice that time. But not a word was said.
Feeling sick, I returned to my seat, but my appetite was long gone.
As the sun was beginning to dip down past the horizon, I got in my car and drove home. I had really wanted to stay at my parents’ house, but I hadn’t spent a night there for almost two years and it seemed a little childish to ask to spend the night.
Cold and dark, my house was as empty and lonesome as ever. Sometimes I wonder why I even live here. After all, I could still live with my parents or even with Kenneth. But this is what I chose. It is sort of like how I am living my life: alone.
I dropped my coat on the floor and kicked the door shut behind me. The sound of the squeaking hinges made me spook, for some reason. I chalked up my jumpiness and sudden bout of depression on the thought of the upcoming hunt and decided to make some coffee. I wandered into the kitchen and got the coffee pot going, hoping a good cup of hot caffeine would cheer me up. Though, it didn’t seem to work. The coffee seemed to go straight to my brain, hotwiring me. Mug in hand, I paced the length of my living room back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
There was a bad feeling in my heart. I couldn’t shake it. It was like I was dreading the worst, darkest thing imaginable, but I had no idea what it was. Surly the hunt couldn’t be doing this to me, could it? I just kept on pacing, trying to understand what it was that I was feeling but I didn’t have time to find the answer.
A vehicle screeched to a stop outside my house and someone dashed up the wooden steps to pound on my door.
My body moved on its own. I dropped my cup and practically flew to the door.
Kenneth was standing in the porch light. “Come on, Ness, something’s up.” His tone was urgent. He took my hand and we ran out to the waiting truck. As I climbed in, I asked him, “What is it?”
“A wolf was around some humans today, guess he stirred up some trouble and the pack is worried he’s a threat. We need to take care of him tonight. We’re meeting the others in town.”
“Wait, you mean kill him?”
“Yes, Ness. Tonight you might get a chance to prove yourself. Are you ready for this?”
I couldn’t answer him.
We drove along in silence until Kenneth pulled into an unmarked driveway.
“What are we stopping for?” I wanted to know.
“This is where your dad said the wolf lives.”
My Dad? What did he have to do with this? Looking around, my eyes fell on the big numbers on the mailbox directly in the headlights: 66274.
This is where Jacoby lived! That address matched the one on his card! Why, I could see his van parked just up the drive a bit! I clawed at the door handle and managed to open it. As soon as my feet touched the ground, I was running as fast as I could towards the little house at the end of the road. Kenneth slammed on the brakes and hurried after me on foot, “Wait, Ness! You don’t know what’s going on up there!”
I ran through the already open door and nearly collided with Malcolm. “Where is he?” I screamed at him. But he didn’t need to answer.
I heard a groan coming from the next room. I flew around the corner and nearly collapsed when I saw the chocolate colored wolf lying in a pool of his own blood. “Jacoby,” I fell to my knees, pulling the wolf’s head into my lap.
The wolf looked up at me, his eyes echoing his pain. I noticed red liquid dripping from his mouth, but it wasn’t blood. It was too pale and thin. I pressed my fingers lightly to Jacoby’s mouth and pulled away my syrupy fingers. I sniffed them delicately, trying to place the smell. Then I knew. Strawberries. Looking around, I saw the bowl of half-eaten berries sprinkled with white sugar and topped with mounds of fluffy cream. I turned my attention back to Jacoby, and in the last moments of his life, as his body was wracked with spasms, he transformed back into his human form. His bloody hand clutched mine, and I held him tightly as the life slipped from him. Tears ran out of my eyes and I leaned down to press my lips to his clammy forehead. The last word he uttered was, “N-Ness—”
A sob erupted from my throat. The tears began to flow and I couldn’t think clearly.
Malcolm’s deep voice dripped with raw pleasure as he said, “One less wolf in the world.”
I glared up at him, “Do you realize what you’ve just done? Only wolf royalty can transform when the moon’s not full!”
“He’s not a royal. He’s a user.”
“No he’s not!” My voice broke. I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that Jacoby was a user.
But Malcolm dropped a white paper bag beside me and assured, “Its wolfsbane. See for yourself.”
I bawled all the harder when I opened the packet and saw the dried purple flowers. I knew that some werewolves consumed wolfsbane, used to kill wolves in medieval times, to be able to transform whenever that wanted. But it was dangerous and rarely used, or so I had thought.
“He could have killed you today,” Malcolm hissed. “I just did you a favor.”
Kenneth knew I’d reached the breaking point, “Maybe you should clear out, Malcolm. Your job here is done.”
With one final glare at me, Malcolm turned and disappeared down the hallway.
Kenneth gently drew me away from Jacoby’s lifeless body, and held me securely by his side, despite the blood that had soaked into my clothes and was undoubtedly leeching into his spotlessly white t-shirt. He started to lead me away, but when we’d almost reached the door, I turned to take one last look at Jacoby. Then I noticed Malcolm was in the living room, inspecting the pictures that were on the mantle, a trail of muddy shoeprints trailing behind him.
I flew into a rage, breaking free of Kenneth’s grasp and flung myself at Malcolm, clawing at his face with my hands. “Have you no respect for the dead? How could you come into this man’s home, take his life, and then act like you own the place?”
Malcolm threw up his arms to shield his face just as I attempted to punch him square on the chin. My fist bounced off his toned forearm, not doing any damage whatsoever.
By now, the rest of my pack members had arrived and were clustered outside the door, wondering what could be drawing such a caterwauling from their future alpha.
After a moment’s struggle, Malcolm overpowered and pinned me against the wall, one hand at my throat and his eyes burning with hatred.
I’d brought this upon myself, but in that desperate moment, the alpha in me took over. Telepathically, I called out to the two men I’d avoided like the plague for the last four years: Johnny Laree and Dustin Daniels.
My call had been the sign they’d been waiting for since they were fifteen. And now that I finally needed them, my brothers were beside me in a millisecond.
Johnny took two handfuls of Malcolm’s coat and gave a mighty jerk, breaking Malcolm’s grasp on my neck. Dustin stood in front of me, his body shielding mine. And if it hadn’t been for Dustin’s hand in mine, I might just have had the courage to take another swipe at Malcolm’s head.
Kenneth put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder and squeezed ever so gently, silently but firmly telling him to back off. And then Kenneth offered a hand to Malcolm and helped him off the floor. “Go home, Malcolm.” His voice rang with authority and Malcolm didn’t need to be told twice.
Then Kenneth turned around and looked for me. Dustin and Johnny stepped to the side, leaving me to face Kenneth’s wrath alone. I felt his overpowering authority and I hung my head in shame.
“We’ll talk about this later,” he told me sternly.
“He was a good man!” The fire came back to me and I met his stare, glaring at him, hating the world.
“Hush, Ness.” The warning bell tolled in his voice.
“He was doing no harm!”
“He was a wolf.”
“Hush. Wait for me in the truck. Boys, walk her out, will you?”
Johnny and Dustin put their arms around me and walked me out the door and down the long, empty driveway towards Kenneth’s truck.
Halfway there, just as the rain began to fall, I broke down in tears.
Neither of my new “brothers” knew what to do with a girl who was hysterically sobbing her eyes out. They looked back and forth at each other and shrugged. Johnny finally asked me, “Did you love that wolf? Is that why you’re crying?”
“I didn’t love him,” I hiccupped. “He was my friend!”
“You’ve known him a long time?” Dustin asked.
“I met him yesterday.” I know I sounded silly. How could I have just met him and yet be so close to him? It was because he’d helped me fit in. He hadn’t wanted me to be anything besides who I really was. “He wasn’t doing any harm.” I repeated.
“But he was a user. He could have been doing the King’s bidding. Maybe he was instructed to get close to you and then kill you.” Johnny’s tone was gentle, but his words stung my ears.
“No! He was genuine! He was a nice person!”
“Maybe he was like you: maybe he didn’t want to be a wolf. Perhaps he was trying to change his fate,” Dustin offered kindly.
My reply was lost in a loud clap of thunder.
That’s when Kenneth arrived. “It’s all right, boys,” he nodded dismissively to Johnny and Dustin, “I’ll take over from here.”
Before he left, Dustin pressed his hand to my cheek. “Ness, we’re always here for you, so stop shutting us out, okay?”
There was a bond forming between the three of us, and for some reason I made no move to stop it. I actually wanted to be connected to the both of them. They weren’t the cold killers I’d always imagined them to be. Instead, they were kind. They didn’t care about Jacoby, but they did care about me.
I embraced my alpha potential for the very first time and Johnny and Dustin turned to look at me. They’d felt it: I’d given in. I was now one of them.
Once I was securely strapped into his camouflage-covered seats and the truck engine roared to life, the radio came on blaring western music and the AC was on full blast, chilling me completely to the bone. Never bothering to turn down the dials, Kenneth turned on me with his eyes radiating all of his alpha powers.
I cowered down in my seat and whimpered a little. Facing Malcolm’s teeth was nothing compared to this. As a matter of fact, I’d rather face a charging grizzly bear or a Mexican fighting bull, anything but this.
Disappointment and anger wafted off Kenneth’s skin. “Malcolm very nearly killed you, you know. Then where would I be?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause trouble.”
“Then don’t befriend another wolf.”
“I—I didn’t know. I didn’t think he was a wolf.”
Kenneth sighed and I felt a lecture coming on. “Your abilities should be keener by now. You’re of age. You should know better. Look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t feel anything when you saw him. Tell me the truth, Ness.”
“He could have been my brother.” I said in a small voice.
Kenneth tugged on a handful of his close-cropped hair and moaned, “I’ve told you a million times if I’ve told you once! You’ll feel connected! You’ll feel related! A brother!? Ness, how didn’t you see this? Why can’t you understand?”
I hung my head. I knew the answer. I’d known all along that Jacoby had been a wolf. But I didn’t want to see it, so I let myself ignore it. I wanted to be friends with him. He’d been so kind to me. He seemed neither vicious nor murderous. Timidly, I told Kenneth, “He was doing no harm. He was just a plumber. Malcolm did it to get back at me for earlier. He came to my house and like a fool, I spoke favorably about Jacoby. That’s why Malcolm did it, isn’t that right, Kenneth? Tell me that I’m wrong, please tell me I’m wrong.”
Softening, Kenneth reached to turn off the radio. “Why can’t you be so in-tune all the time? How could you tell Malcolm that killed him just to hurt you when you couldn’t think to put up a barrier against Jacoby in the first place? You brought this on yourself, you know. It’s what we do. Find a wolf. Kill a wolf. End of story. Malcolm was doing his job. But yes, you’re right: he killed your wolf out of spite. He knew how much it would hurt you.”
“I wanted you to lie to me!” I groaned into my hands. “You were supposed to tell me that Malcolm bears me no ill will, that he was truly just doing his job!”
Taking my hand in his, Kenneth pointed out, “You’d have seen right through my words. It would not have comforted you. And I don’t want to get into the habit of lying to you. I know how hard this is, Ness, really I do.”
“Why does life have to be so vicious?”
It took awhile for Kenneth to find the words to answer me. “Pain is in your blood. It is your curse. It is my curse. Just remember, Ness, that no good comes from a deed done out of hatred.”
“Can we go home now, Kenneth, please?”
We drove through the rain in silence. I counted raindrops for awhile, until my lids grew heavy and I drifted off to sleep. I didn’t wake up until Kenneth opened the truck door and I was blasted in the face by wind and rain. Kenneth helped me to my feet and walked beside me, using his body to shield mine, all the way to the front door and waited while I fumbled and dropped my key.
In one smooth, fluid motion, he knelt, retrieved the key, and unlocked the door, ushering me inside. While I hung up my coat and kicked off my shoes, Kenneth headed for the kitchen, asking over his shoulder, “Are you hungry?”
I nodded eagerly as I wrung water out of my dripping hair. While Kenneth cooked, I headed for my bedroom to get some dry clothes. But I got sidetracked when I dug through my top dresser drawer and found the box of chocolates that I’d been saving for a special occasion. I sat down on my bed and ripped off the clear plastic wrapping and threw it to the ground and then tore open the cardboard top. I gazed at the assortment of fine confections for a moment. I ate one and then another. The flavors were delicious and each candy melted on my tongue and was quickly replaced with another and another until the box was empty. I was licking off my fingers, chuckling with glee, when my head began to grow dizzy.
Too much sugar.
I wasn’t a health nut, but I’d never had more than two or three fun-sized chocolate bars in one sitting. I looked at the last piece of candy and resolved to give it to Kenneth.
He entered the room with a tray of food fit for a bed and breakfast in London. Poached eggs, bacon, buttered toast and marmalade, orange juice, and peeled grapes. He stopped at the end of the bed and sniffed the air. He raised one eyebrow, “Chocolate?”
Grinning ruefully, I held out the chocolate to him.
“You know chocolate isn’t good for dogs.” Kenneth teased with a wink.
And despite the horrible evening I’d just had, I cracked up laughing.
Kenneth stood there watching me with a small smile on his lips until tears rolled down my cheeks and my sides hurt. I struggled into an upright position, daubing at my eyes with a tissue, and Kenneth set the tray on my lap. I caught hold of his wrist and pressed the slightly melted candy into his hand. He leaned forward and kissed my forehead softly. Shaking his head, he told me, “I’ve always wished I had a daughter. Maybe that’s why I chose you, Ness.”
My shoulders sagged. This whole time I’d been feeling sorry for myself, meanwhile Kenneth had been worrying about me, doing all he could to comfort me and keep me safe. He loved me as if I was his own child. He’d do anything for me. All I had to do was ask.
“Are you going to go home now?” I asked him when he turned away from my bed.
Making himself comfortable in a chair and propping his heels up on the top of my hamper, Kenneth grinned at me and teased, “Only if you’re kicking me out.”
“You know I wouldn’t do that.”
“Good. Now, I want to ask you something.”
Fearing it would be an unpleasant question to answer, I filled my mouth with a forkful of eggs before I glanced up to meet his eyes.
In a heartbeat, he’d moved from his chair to the end of my bed again and was waiting for me to pay attention.
With a sigh, I swallowed my food, “Okay, Kenneth. Fire away.”
“Do you have any intention of coming along for the hunt?”
He caught me off guard with that. “What do you mean?” I asked guardedly.
“I want to know if you’re coming with me next Friday or not.”
“Of course I’m coming. I told you I would, didn’t I?”
Kenneth took my hands in his and he spoke earnestly, “Yes, but always before you’ve been on the sidelines. This time, you’re expected to fully participate. Tonight, you accepted your birthright. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“You mean that I’m required to kill at least one werewolf.”
“Exactly,” Kenneth frowned. “Making you do this is hard. But I can only think to compare it to a father sending his only daughter off to college even though she’d rather stay home. You have to trust me, Ness, I’m doing what’s best for you.”
“And what’s best for the pack.” I pulled my hands away from him and stared at them. I admired my smooth, healthy skin with its deep, baby pink glow. Then I compared my hands to Kenneth’s hands. His were tanned, rough, and covered with scars and calluses. They were the hands of a trained wolf Slayer. Mine were the hands of an innocent youth.
Tonight I was given a choice. I could remain at home and start a life free of bloodshed, which also meant rejecting my birthright and the honorable title Kenneth had waiting for me or go along and use my hands as they were intended to be used, to kill the wolves.
Really, I only had one choice. I could not stay behind. As much as I’d love to, I couldn’t bring myself to let Kenneth down like that. Kenneth, who’d nurtured and doted on me. Kenneth, who hand picked me to carry on his legacy. Kenneth, who treated me as his own flesh and blood. Kenneth, my best friend.
Relief flooded Kenneth’s brown-green eyes and a smile broke out across his face like an uncontrollable wildfire. “You’re going to be a star. So, what is your plan of attack?”
“Well, what do you plan to fight with? A bow? A knife? A dart gun perhaps? Come on, Ness, think of something! Hand-to-hand combat?”
“Not likely!” I snorted. The mental picture of me wrestling with a burly werewolf was seriously hilarious. Kenneth seemed to think so too, but he was able to reign in his smile this time, and he pressed, “What is your weapon of choice? You’ve been trained in every possible weapon, but you’ve got to pick one to stick with.”
I was seriously lousy with a bow, even a crossbow. Most likely, I’d as soon cut my own hand off than actually be able to manage a sword. And a spear was too awkward to drag around all the time. That only left the knives. “I suppose I’ll take a knife.” I said with a sigh.
“Knives! That’s the spirit, my girl! Come on and let’s get you outfitted!”
“Are you kidding me? You just happen to be carrying an arsenal of knives around on your person?”
“Not exactly. I hope you’re not afraid of the dark.”
The dark was one of my worst enemies. I groaned. I know, I know, some fearless wolf Slayer I am.
Despite the fear of my own shadow, I followed Kenneth outside and back to his truck. He opened the door and punched some numbers into a keyboard that was hidden on the backside of the headrest, which flipped over the backseat to reveal a hidden armory. “Take your pick.” Kenneth told me, his face beaming in the cargo lights.
I see long bows, cross bows, arrows tipped with wickedly sharp broadheads, canisters of tear gas, a foam block stuck all over with knives ranging from the size of a needle to the length of my forearm, and there was even a slingshot and a medieval-looking sword. I started to reach for a knife, but my hand stopped to pick up a bright pink can. I turned a quizzical face to Kenneth and tried to keep from laughing as I asked, “What are you going to do, pepper spray the wolf to death or season a steak for the grill?”
“You never know when it might come in handy. Sometimes I get cravings for really spicy tuna fish patties.”
I roll my eyes as I replace the can carefully amongst its shredded paper nest and move on to select a knife.
After seeing the one I chose, Kenneth demanded, “Did you pick that knife for the handle or for the blade?”
Balancing the knife on my palm, I studied the foot-long, serrated blade and the silver-and-pink handle before answering, “Both.”
With a knowing smile on his lips, Kenneth turned to select a few more objects from his store, then he closed the truck door and we walked back to the house.
Sitting on the end of my bed while I ate, Kenneth decked out my hunting outfit. Inside my knee-length, black leather boots he fashioned a hidden sheath where he stashed a palm-sized blade, a perfect back-up weapon. Then Kenneth glued a strip of something around the sole of my boots that was so small and fine, I mistook it to be lace and ignorantly ran my finger over its seemingly silky edge. It turned out to be a serrated razor blade, capable of slicing through skin, all the way to the bone, which I found out the hard way.
After helping me disinfect and bandage my finger, Kenneth found a sheath that fit on my belt and was big enough to house my pink-and-silver knife. And on the inside of my vest he sewed in two little rows of elastic bands to accommodate up to a dozen throwing knives. He also fitted a switchblade into my coat sleeve that could slide into my hand in a second’s notice. On the upper part of my coat sleeve, in a little pocket he sewed on with fingers as deft as a seasoned seamstress, he stashed half a dozen round metal disks.
When I asked about them, he pulled one out and showed me how it worked. Setting the disk on the table, he pointed to an almost-hidden button the size of a pinhead. When pressed, after a three second pause, eight long blades appeared all around the disk’s circumference. If the need arose, I could take out one of those killer disks and press the button before hurling it at my attacker. It was a brilliant device, designed to be lethal.
And finally, Kenneth slipped a tiny can of pepper spray into my coat pocket. “Just in case,” He told me with a wink.
This was my arsenal. As you can tell, it certainly isn’t child’s play. I believe that there is an old saying that goes along the lines, dressed to kill, but actually, my clothes could almost do the killing for me. Now I was finally ready to hunt. I wanted to practice using my knives, but Kenneth decided I needed to get some rest. He promised me that we’d go to the arena tomorrow so that he could give me some pointers.
Reluctantly agreeing, I went into the bathroom to put on my pajamas. I started to pull off my shirt, but a searing pain stopped me. It felt like my back was being ripped open. I let out a startled cry and before I knew what was going on, Kenneth burst into the room. I started to complain, “Kenneth! Don’t you know how to knock—?”
But he had spun me around and was inspecting my back. He mused, “Your shirt is stuck to your skin.”
“Do you think?!”
“By blood: your blood. Hold still.”
R-i-p. For the sake of decency, Kenneth had just ripped off half of the back of my shirt.
“This was my favorite shirt you know.” I growled through gritted teeth.
“Yes, actually, I did know. How couldn’t I? You wear it all the time. I think you’re due for a new wardrobe.”
I hissed in answer.
Kenneth soaked the bits of shirt that was stuck to my back with warm water and slowly worked the fabric back and forth until it freed my skin, though the blood had already begun to flow, despite Kenneth’s gentle touch.
“How bad is it?” I was so lightheaded, I was about to pass out. The smell of blood was nauseating and I had a feeling I was going to be sick.
“Not too bad. I’m sure Malcolm got it worse.”
“What does Malcolm have to do with this?”
“These marks were made by his nails.” Kenneth handed me a mirror and held one up behind me so that I could see the five crescent shaped cuts on each of my shoulders. As the blood crept slowly down my skin, I was inwardly cursing Malcolm. It was almost funny, though, that I never even felt his fingers digging into my back as he held me up against that wall. I guess I must have been so angry that there was no time for pain. All I wanted was revenge. “I’m going to kill him the next time I see him!” I declared boldly, even though I knew I couldn’t. My oaths were louder when Kenneth doctored my wounds with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. But my wrath was short lived, and soon, my words were replaced by hot, salty, flowing tears.
Kenneth didn’t try to silence me until I was bandaged up and tucked into bed. Then he took away the tray of cold food and came back to sit beside me until I’d cried myself to sleep.
Bio and links:
Briana Vedsted writes from the family ranch in Colorado. She is passionate about many things, one of them being the written word. Since third grade, Briana has read every book she could get her hands on. Her father’s library of Louis L’Amour books were among her favorites, as well as her mother’s old copies of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie series. These books encouraged Briana’s love of the old west and pioneer days. As she got older, she still loved westerns and was introduced to Zane Grey and Elmore John Leonard Jr. She also started reading fantasy books like the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Warriors by Erin Hunter, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.
From a young age, Briana made up short stories, and was encouraged by her mother to write them down. The first of these “books” were only a few pages long, about princesses, fairy queens, and magical animals. Later came books that were about children in the old west. Those westerns started to grow, until pretty soon, they were short story length. Then Briana made a switch from wanting to be an elementary school teacher, to becoming an author instead. Since then, she has self-published three books and had her fourth published through Tate Publishing and Enterprises LLC.
About the book:
In the year 2016, young Ness Vancouver faces the hard life of being the leader to a pack of werewolf hunters, the Slayers. Ness hates the thought of having to kill the wolves, but knows that mankind is in danger if the wolves were to be left uncontrolled. The two boys she’s been paired with to lead the pack seem to be heartless, killing wolves with ease, causing Ness to balk at accepting the invitation to join them. Kenneth, the packs current leader and Ness’s trainer, tried to show Ness how their job is necessary for the existence of humans, a fact Ness is hesitant to believe.
In Here With the Wolves, you’ll follow Ness through her trials of being a wolf hunter, as she learns that to be the perfect killer, she must find something to fight for. Someone to love.