By Zena Wynn
© 2009 All rights reserved
“Shannon! Shannon! Where the hell are you?”
The door closed with such force it rattled the whole house. Shannon rolled her eyes and kept logging figures into her spreadsheet. He’d find her soon enough. She was in the same spot every day.
Her brother Rory stormed into the office. “I just spoke to MacDougal. He said you turned him down. That’s the third one this week!”
She didn’t even glance away from the computer screen. “If you would stop setting them up for failure, we wouldn’t keep having this problem.”
He pounded his hand on the desk, causing the monitor to shake. “I have to do something. If I left it up to you, you’d never take a mate. You’re twenty-nine. Most females your age are mated and have several cubs.”
Oh, great. Time for another one of those discussions.
Shannon sighed, saved her spreadsheet, and finally turned to face him. “I’m not most females my age. If I decide to take a mate, it will be one of my own choosing. Stop shoving men at me. All you’re doing is pissing me off.”
Rory growled in frustration and began to pace. “Shannon, you have a responsibility to mate and produce pups. It’s for the continuation of our species. As the alpha-fem, you have to set an example for rest of the females, no matter how few of them there are.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Cut the crap, Rory. You could care less about ‘the continuation of our species.’ Don’t you mean the continuation of our family line? God, I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but you’re starting to sound just like Dad.”
“Well, he was right about this at least. We are the last of the McFelans. If we don’t have pups, the line will die with us. Then who’s going to lead the pack? Do you want that to happen, Shannon? Do you?” He planted his hands on the desk and leaned forward aggressively, getting into her space.
God, he is laying it on thick. Shannon relaxed back into her chair and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Rory, quit trying to lay a guilt trip on me. It’s not going to work. If you don’t want the McFelan name to die out, produce your own pups.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she inwardly winced.
Her brother had been spreading his seed around like water since he was old enough to know what to do with it. As far as she knew, there wasn’t a female in the pack over the age of consent he hadn’t fucked. None of it had taken root. He had to be thinking he was the first infertile McFelan in generations. Maybe that’s why he was becoming obsessed with her lack of a love life.
Rory grew completely still, and his face turned red then white. Supernatural power spiked, raising the hair on her arms. His flesh rippled, and his eyes turned golden. Crap! His wolf was rising to the surface.
Shannon eased away from the computer, calling forth her wolf as she did. She didn’t let it out but held it ready, waiting to see what he would do next. She didn’t want to fight with Rory, but she would if his wolf attacked. She wouldn’t be dominated by anyone, not even her beloved big brother.
Minutes passed as he visibly struggled with his beast, trying to push it back down. Finally, he regained control of his temper. “I don’t want to fight with you. You will take a mate. I’ve called a gathering for tonight. Be there and for once in your life, try to remember that you’re supposed to be a bitch, not butch.”
The door slammed behind him as he left.
* * * * *
A big, bright, and full yellow moon dominated the night sky. Despite making her best effort to get there on time, Shannon was one of the last to arrive. The gathering place, little more than a large clearing in the woods a couple of miles outside of town, was already packed.
The minute she joined the others waiting, her gaze connected with Rory’s. Oh shit, he’s planning something. Something she knew in her bones she wasn’t going to like. A glance at the other members of the pack showed they sensed it as well. They stood in groups, talking quietly, throwing uneasy glances at the alpha.
As Rory climbed to the raised natural platform in the center of the clearing, his red hair glowed in the moonlight, and his power flowed outward like waves. All around him the silence grew and swelled with expectancy.
No longer was he her brother. The McFelan, alpha of the Sparrowhawks, stood before them. Allowing his power to continue to rise and surround him like an aura, Rory began to speak. “Tonight, we hunt!”
There were gasps and murmurs all around. Shannon stood still as shock waves rippled through her body. He’d called a hunt. Sneaking, conniving, manipulative bastard.
He waited for the pack settled down before continuing. “All of the eligible, unmated she-wolves will be given a five-minute lead. Unmated males will begin hunting on my say. Once you’ve captured and subdued your mate, bring her before the council for formal recognition. All challenges will be settled by combat. In the case of a draw, the female will decide. No killing.”
He waited, giving the rules a chance to sink in. “Let the hunt begin!”
Shannon took off running, cursing Rory with every step. Hunts were archaic, even for packs as locked into the past as the Sparrowhawks. He said he was trying to bring the pack forward. Damn it! What was he thinking?
In ancient times, once a year she-wolves of a certain age were gathered on the night of a full moon. They were given a head start and then the unmated males of the pack were set loose. If two or more males trapped the same female, the decision of which male claimed her was settled by combat and most often resulted in death. Once the male subdued his female -- and by that, they meant fucked into submission -- the couple was brought before the council to have their mating formally recognized.
There were only two ways to avoid being claimed. The first was to make it to daybreak without being caught. Sunrise ended the hunt. The second was to keep from being subdued. Shannon hoped not to be captured but if she was, it was a bet that she wasn’t going to be mounted. She’d fight the whole damned pack before she’d allow a mate to be chosen for her this way.
She ran as fast as she could with the rest of the fleeing females, then veered off in the opposite direction. There were ten unmated females who fit the age requirements and about thirty unmated males. That was three-to-one odds, at best. Because she was the alpha-fem, none of the omegas -- the weakest of the wolves -- would give chase. Unfortunately, that still left the betas. Get enough of them on her tail, and she’d have a serious fight on her hands.
She ran uphill, through the toughest terrain she could find, hoping to slow her pursuers. When she’d gained a comfortable lead, she stopped and stripped, knowing she’d make better time in her wolf form. Unfortunately, her scent would also be stronger, but she couldn’t afford not to shift. She needed all the help she could get.
She backtracked a bit and threw her pants in one direction, then came forward and threw her shirt in the opposite direction, hoping it would confuse them and buy herself more time.
Rory howled. A chorus sounded with him, echoing through the night. The males were coming. If she could just make it to the ridge, there were places to hide and water to cover her scent. Damn, why hadn’t she figured out ahead of time that he would do something like this? She’d been caught flat-footed and off guard, never good when dealing with Rory.
When she began, the wind had been in her favor, carrying her scent away from the pack. Now, she was running into the wind, her scent trailing like a beacon behind her, announcing her whereabouts to any shifter who wanted to know.
She could hear them behind her, gaining on her. She couldn’t tell how many, but it was definitely more than one. Crap, she wasn’t going to be able to outrun them. That meant she had to fight.
Shannon altered her course, already knowing the perfect place to make her stand. According to the rules, if more than one male cornered her, they had to fight with each other to determine who got to claim her. She couldn’t escape while they were fighting, but it would give her time to catch her breath and gather her strength while she studied her opponents.
She rushed into the small clearing and turned to face her pursuers, hackles raised. At her back was a rock-faced wall where the mountain soared above them. It was surrounded by dense forest on three sides, forming a natural arena.
As they entered the clearing, she wasn’t surprised to see Michael MacDougal and Caleb Jones, Rory’s second and third. What absolutely floored her was the sight of her brother with them. What kind of trickery was this?
MacDougal was a big, burly bear of a man who’d made no secret of his ambition to one day be alpha. He would have challenged her father if it hadn’t been for Rory. MacDougal was all right, but she knew he didn’t see her as a person, just a means to the end. Mating her would automatically boost his position and prestige within the pack. She would be no man’s stepladder to success.
Besides, MacDougal was old-fashioned and dominant as hell. With her petite build and small stature, he was sure to try to intimidate her, just like her father had her mother. The first time he tried to forcefully bend her to his will, she’d kill him. There was no way he would be her mate.
Caleb, she actually liked. He was a good man and a strong wolf, not to mention extremely attractive with his dark skin, lean muscular build, and long, carefully maintained dreadlocks. He would have been a consideration except he didn’t move her. The thought of mating with him left the woman in her cold. There was no spark of attraction, no passion, nothing. She didn’t want to fight him and risk damaging their friendship, but she would if necessary. This was her life they were messing with. She couldn’t afford to throw away her future because her soft nature got in the way. There was no choice. No matter which man won, she would face off with the winner.
She sat back on her haunches and rested. She studied them as they trod into the clearing. Rory was the massive red wolf with a large barrel chest. In wolf form, he was the size of a small pony. As a man, he was short, standing only five-nine, but stocky, thick with muscle.
Michael was equally large. His fur was a dull grayish black that reminded her of mud. She’d seen him fight before and knew he used sheer, brute strength in combat. Caleb was the smaller of the two suitors. His coat was the gray of a timber wolf, complete with all the traditional markings. Of the three, he was the only one who could pass as a regular wolf. He was also the most vicious. He never quit, and he didn’t give an inch. A fight between Michael and Caleb should be interesting. Maybe they’d kill each other and save her the trouble. On second thought, that’s probably why Rory was there -- to make sure no one died.
Instead of confronting each other as she expected, her brother and Caleb sat down on their haunches on the side of the clearing, out of the way. Michael approached with his head and tail high, his steps oozing confidence. The fool actually thought she’d submit. She crouched in challenge, ears straight, and growled. Something was wrong. This wasn’t the way things were done. Even her wolf knew and was angry.
Her brother’s words about acting like a bitch came back to mind. It was suddenly obvious. He had handpicked one of these men to be her mate. These were the two he had thrown at her most often. Tonight, he was hoping one of these men would leave the clearing victorious.
She looked at Rory and snarled again, low in her throat, expressing her displeasure. Michael growled in return. She knew her refusal to simply drop and present herself for mounting would infuriate him. He would see it as a challenge to his manhood. They circled each other warily, watching to see what the other would do. She waited, knowing Michael would use his size to try to overpower her.
Suddenly, he sprang. Agile on her feet, she rolled out of the way. In the process, she caught him with a quick nip to his sensitive underbelly, drawing first blood. Spinning around, she crouched, already waiting when he landed and turned.
She’d surprised him. No one, with the exception of Rory, knew how well she could fight. MacDougal thought she’d be an easy victory. Now he was pissed. Although with his ego, he more than likely thought she got in a lucky blow.
He came at her again, using the same attack, confirming her low opinion of his cognitive ability. Wanting this over, she pulled every dirty trick her brother had ever taught her and defeated him quickly with only a few scratches to show for it.
Michael would have continued to fight, no doubt unable to believe that a woman defeated him, but her brother called him off. It was either stop as commanded or face the McFelan.
As MacDougal skulked away, Caleb entered the clearing. She felt like a wrestler being tag-teamed by her opponents.
Caleb was closer to her size. He was also fast and could think on his feet, which was why he was Rory’s second. She watched Caleb closely, knowing he’d had time to sit and study her fighting techniques. She wouldn’t catch him off guard like she had Michael.
He stalked slowly into the clearing, giving her time to submit. When she didn’t turn and present herself, he growled, low and vicious. She’d hoped when he realized she wasn’t interested that he would let it go. But for some unknown reason, he seemed to want her just as badly as MacDougal did.
She was tired, and Caleb was fresh. She couldn’t let him draw this thing out or her weariness would work against her. She took the initiative and charged. The only thing she had working for her right now was that he wasn’t trying to kill her. She wasn’t in a fight for her life, just her virtue. Of course, being mated to a man she didn’t want could be deemed as fighting for her life.
Caleb was ready for her and only sheer determination got her away from him without being pinned when his jaw locked around her throat. He was patient, toying with her, waiting her out. He knew time was on his side. He harassed her just enough to keep her on the move and from catching her breath. Sheer desperation gave her the strength she needed to defeat him, that and timely interference from her brother. Rory must have realized how determined she was not to submit and called Caleb off.
As she stood there with her tongue hanging out and her sides heaving, Rory approached her. By this time she was ready to drop from pain and exhaustion as the adrenaline began to wear off. There were deep gouges in several places where she hadn’t moved quickly enough. Had Caleb actually been trying to kill her, no doubt she’d be dead. She wanted to shift back and heal herself, but she refused to be naked in front of these two, especially after tonight.
She needed to close her eyes and rest, but that would have to wait until this entire fiasco was over. She couldn’t afford to show any weakness, not now. She waited uncertainly to see what would happen, for the rules as she knew them had seemingly been thrown out the proverbial window. She felt like she was playing a game where she was the only player who didn’t have a copy of the rule book. She’d always hated being left in the dark.
Rory was pissed. This was not going as planned. Shannon was too strong and stubborn for her own good. No shifter in the pack would have her now, not after she’d defeated two of their strongest males. She would never find a mate.
Look at her, bleeding and exhausted, but still proud.
When he came toward her, he did so as the McFelan. She should show him proper respect -- ears, tail, and head down -- especially in front of others. Though she knew how important it was to him to maintain a proper image, she stood there tall and proud, unconsciously issuing a silent challenge he couldn’t afford to ignore now that his men knew just how strong Shannon really was.
The Sparrowhawks weren’t ready to deal with an alpha she-wolf. Their way of thinking was too backward. He was trying to bring them out of the dark ages, but it would take time. Time, thanks to Shannon, he no longer had.
For the well-being of the pack, he knew what he had to do. Rory attacked.
Though he’d caught her by surprise, she responded instinctively, just the way he’d taught her. Had this been a real dominance fight, he’d have shown no mercy, but this was about teaching his baby sister a lesson -- to show her alpha the proper respect.
As they circled each other, another plan came to his mind that was so genius in its simplicity, he didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it before. Shannon needed a mate, one who was strong enough to tame her wolf, yet gentle enough to treat her with the love and respect she deserved. His wolves had already proven themselves too weak, but his was not the only pack in the area.
Just a few short miles away as the crow flew was another pack full of strong, unmated males, including Alex Wolfe, their alpha. The Ravens had twice as many unmated males as the Sparrowhawks, including some alphas.
He needed to get his sister to the Raven pack.
Concentrating on Shannon once more, he attacked with a controlled savagery. He knew just where to bite to inflict the most pain but the least amount of permanent physical damage, and he used that knowledge ruthlessly.
Shannon didn’t have much fight left. He lashed at her until her wolf took control, turned, and ran. With his betas at his back, he herded her east toward the Raven pack, nipping at her heels whenever she tried to retreat to the safety of their home.
He kept her fleeing until she reached the Raven pack’s territory. To ensure she stayed there, he took a chunk out of the tendon in one of her hind legs. By now, she was bleeding profusely. He ran her until she collapsed. Then he backed off, letting her think he’d gone away. She immediately dragged herself until she could go no farther.
When she was down, Rory sent his betas back to the gathering place. He let out a howl of triumph, one guaranteed to be heard, hoping Alex Wolfe came to investigate. Then he sat and watched her from a distance, protecting her from predators and any human seeking to do her harm.
Hearing a sound, he backed into the shadows. He was upwind so he had no fear of his presence being detected. He watched carefully as an unfamiliar male approached his sister. Rory sniffed the air. The male smelled like a wolf-shifter and was moving slowly, so as not to alarm or startle her.
Once he was sure the shifter was there to help Shannon, he headed home. He would miss having his baby sister around, but it was for her own good. After tonight’s events, the council would have made her life a living hell. They were already saying she was unnaturally strong, and they hadn’t even seen the true extent of her power. By defeating two of the highest-ranking males in the pack, she’d done the unforgivable. As the alpha-fem, her actions would set an undesirable precedent with the other females, one which the council, with their outdated ways, would not tolerate.
The Raven pack was run the way a pack should be. Their alpha was an honorable man and a strong wolf. Alex Wolfe was one of the few alphas Rory’s father had respected. If Shannon had to go to another pack, he couldn’t have picked a better alpha to entrust her to. They would be good to her, or he would truly become his father’s son and kill them all.