When I received the call from Lyra asking the Shady Grove pack for help, I was shocked. I expected Nick to call for help. I’d offered it several times, but he denied it on the basis that Lyra didn’t want outsiders involved. I feared they were up against forces they didn’t understand, but finally, she stepped up and made the call.
My father taught me that asking for help wasn’t a sign of weakness. It was a sign of knowing yourself, your pack, and your enemy. Until you know all three things, then you cannot possibly fathom warfare. The packs in the South were facing an all-out war against the fairies who had meddled in the politics of the wolves.
Only now were we starting to see the depth of that interference. The purposed still eluded us though. Troy Maynard, my adoptive father, was a Faeborn wolf. I was a Faeborn wolf. Nick, his brother, and sister were Faeborn. This infiltration wasn’t limited to an occasional situation where a fairy and wolf produced a child. It now appeared it had all been deliberate. We were all connected somehow.
We would figure it all out, but for now, a few of the stronger fighters of my pack and I were dashing through the forests of Mobile County, Alabama heading for the swamps of Dog River. A thick fog covered the ground, but through our enhanced sight we had no issues seeing through the soup.
I carried Abe Kwaski on my back. His claws dug into my skin, but it didn’t hurt. He’d become a prominent member of the pack and represented most of the non-wolf shifters. As a possum, he couldn’t run as fast as the rest of us. However, I wanted him with us. His fighting skills and a keen eye had developed as a law enforcement officer in Shady Grove.
About two miles out from the area where Lyra had instructed us to meet, we ran across a group of seven people. I slowed our pack as we approached. Loud shouts and arguing filled the forest. When I recognized Callum’s voice, I sprinted ahead. My pack followed my lead as we descended upon a strange scene.
The woman in the red cloak caught my eye first. She gave orders to her men to take Callum and a young woman into a large oak tree. Callum fought off the two men that held him and attacked the two that held the young woman. Her bright blonde hair flashed in the moonlight as she fought fiercely. However, she’d had little or no training and didn’t stand a chance against them.
Callum’s attack was intercepted by one of the two men he’d knocked down.
“Free the woman first, then help Callum,” I ordered. “Be aware of the witch.”
My pack responded with snarls and howls. They were ready for a fight.
I hit the larger man holding the girl at full speed, knocking him and her to the ground. She screamed in terror, but I saw the flicker of a wolf in her eyes. My help ignited her to fight harder as she took on the other man that held her by the wrist.
The witch held her hand on the large oak tree beckoning it to open for her to the Otherworld. I’d seen Grace and Levi do it several times. It seemed as though this tree was not cooperating with her.
I continued to fight the man who slammed my throat with a wicked punch. It knocked my hold on him, but in the process, I ripped out a chunk of his flesh. He screamed in pain and tried to crawl away from me. I latched on to his leg, but my teeth only tore through his jeans.
However, Kwaski had shifted to human and laid a hefty punch along the man’s jaw, knocking him silly.
“Tinley!” Callum screamed.
The other man still had ahold of her. I hit him in the legs, causing them to buckle with her. Tinley. Her eyes flashed at me again, showing me her wolf. But she did not shift. I knew it would probably save her, but she didn’t. I looked deeper and saw the fear in her eyes. Not of me. She feared her own beast.
My heart broke for her right there. No shifter should ever fear their animal. Maybe it was more a fear of those around her, but I’d vaguely remembered Nick mentioning someone named Tinley. She was Lyra’s sister. She’d grown up as part of a pack, so I didn’t understand her fear.
That fact made me fight harder for her. Whatever was going on here, I was not going to let that witch take her. I knew I’d made a promise to help Lyra at Dog River, but I figured she’d forgive me if I saved her sister.
Callum didn’t shift either, and I wondered if the witch had a spell on them. Focusing my amateurish fairy sight on the witch, I saw the magical leashes she had on the wolves. Her other power fed into the tree. She didn’t have anything else to come after us. However, a bright light started to form around her at the tree. She had opened the door.
Flicking out of my sight, I released the man’s leg and went for his throat, but he jerked away. The other wolves I had with me tried to help Callum, but the witch tugged his leash harder. He screamed and clawed the ground as she dragged him toward the tree.
Ingo Bannister, one of my wolves, flew in the air, then snapped his jaws down on the witch’s hand. The magic must have released the leashes, but Callum had two goons dragging him by the feet. I saw his fur ripple on his skin. He looked me in the eye and screamed.
“Mark! She’s my sister! Save her!”
Suddenly, I understood her fear. Callum had thought he was the last of the Native American white wolves. And now this ORC wanted them both.
The witch flicked her hand, sending Ingo flying into the woods. He hit hard and was hurt, but alive.
I pulled on the fairy power that I knew I had, shifted into a human, and formed a pair of shorts. I’d practiced the shift a hundred times. I just hoped I got it right this time. The last thing I needed was to scare the crap out of Tinley, but grabbing her as some creepy naked stranger.
The last man tried to drag her toward the tree, and I had to choose Callum or Tinley. I saw Callum’s eyes. I knew I’d face the wrath of the Winter Queen, but I chose Tinley. Mentally contacting my wolves, we focused on the man dragging her.
They hit him simultaneously, and he dropped her. I scooped her up and ran south.
Sully ran toward me through the woods. His eyes widened when he saw me.
“The witch has him! Hurry!” I said.
“Go help him,” Tinley begged.
“I can’t leave you,” I replied.
“But he’s going to die. They will kill him,” she cried.
I knelt down. Her whole body shook with fear, and I knew I couldn’t leave her.
“I’m Mark Maynard. The Alpha of the Shady Grove pack. Your sister called me to help,” I explained.
She shook her head as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Okay, but Callum. I just met him,” she said.
“My other wolves are trying to save him. He is my friend, and he asked me to save you. I have to honor that,” I said.
She nodded as if she understood, then lunged toward me, wrapping her arms around my neck and sobbing. She just melted into me. For all her strength, her body had given up the fight and her emotions took over.
I could hear the fight continuing, but now the witch had her power to fight back. Through the reactions of my pack, I knew, even with the addition of Sully, they weren’t going to save him.
Without realizing it, I’d wrapped my arms around Tinley as we sat on the ground. I brushed her back gently, whispering words of comfort.
Sully’s cries filled the forest, and Tinley shook harder in my arms. Kwasi ran up to us. Bless him. He didn’t have a lick of fairy power, so he was completely naked. I felt Tinley hide her eyes in my neck.
“We lost him,” Abe sighed.
“Once we started the fight, I knew we couldn’t save them both,” I admitted.
“Sully won’t stop banging on the tree,” Abe said.
Sully had joined our pack, and I could feel his emotions through that connection. The pain, anguish, and loss were overwhelming. My eyes filled with tears, and I had to block his connection so that I could function for the rest of my pack.
“Who is hurt?” I asked.
“Ingo hit pretty hard, but he’s tough. The others are banged up, but nothing major. The witch began to throw balls of lightning at us. They hurt like a tazer, but the effects are not long term,” he said.
“Get everyone together. I’ll try to talk to Sully. We need to move South to Dog River,” I said.
“Is she okay?” he asked.
“No, but she will be. I feel her strength,” I said. I felt her muscles flex with the praise. I stood with her, because she didn’t feel like she weighed anything. Walking back to Sully, his cries continued.
“Sully! Come on. Let’s go back south. There is nothing we can do from here,” I said.
“We have to get the Queen. We have to get someone to open this fucking tree!” he screamed.
Tinley’s tears renewed. “Come on, man. Show me how to get back to Dog River with Tinley. Nick and Lyra are there.”
“Don’t you understand! They will kill him if we don’t get him back! Or torture him. I can’t leave him,” Sully said, sinking to his knees.
He wasn’t going to leave that tree. I didn’t need the connection to know that Sully loved Callum, which explained why Sully hadn’t accepted any of the offers from the female wolves in my pack.
“We are ready to move, Boss,” Kwaski said behind me.
“Go ahead. I’m right behind you.” The others started moving south. “I’ll go get help. You stay here so they will know which tree.” Sully shook his head, but didn’t speak. “You know that Grace wouldn’t let someone take her child without there being hell to pay. We will get him back.”
“I won’t rest until he’s home,” Sully muttered.
“I swear to you that none of us will,” I said. Tinley’s grip on me tightened. “I swear it to you, too,” I said softly to her.
“Thank you,” she muttered.
Leaving Sully behind, I ran south following the scent of my pack. As we entered the outskirts of the town, we discovered several houses on fire and slowed our approach. I couldn’t feel Nick anymore, so I had no idea what we were walking into.
It wasn’t long before Nick’s form appeared through the smoke and fog. He stood next to a tall, dark haired woman. His head jerked up to me and his eyes flashed red. I hesitated, because I’d never seen that from him. I didn’t understand what had happened to him. I knew he’d accepted some Alpha responsibilities for this pack, but the red was something I’d never seen or heard about.
The woman standing with him sprinted toward me. Without a word, she took Tinley from my arms. As she walked away, Tinley grabbed my hand and squeezed. Her eyes flicked again for me in approval. She was stunning, and something inside of me wanted desperately to see her wolf form. I’d seen the snowy white coat of Callum, and I wondered if Tinley’s was the same. I also felt the need to help her embrace that part of herself.
Nick staggered toward me, and he looked like he’d been beaten to a pulp. Malphas walked along with him. I informed him about Sully immediately, and we quickly returned to where I’d left Sully.
His pain had amplified, and I could barely block it. His exchange with Nick bothered me deeply. It solidified my need to find Callum who had been a member of my pack. To help Nick who had fought for Shady Grove. I couldn’t call myself an Alpha if I didn’t take on these responsibilities. I knew there would be others looking for him. Even a certain fiery Phoenix. Winnie.
I placed my hand over my heart, remembering the compass tattoo there. I closed my eyes and instead of the fierce face of my childhood best friend; I saw the fearful eyes of a beautiful and strong woman. My commitment to Alpha included all shifters. It was the nature of the Shady Grove pack. It meant that I’d made a commitment to Tinley without even knowing how deep it might go. I felt her fear in my soul, but I knew her strength, too. If no one else in Dog River would show it to her, then I would. My compass had a new north. And I had to follow it.