rainbow trout was lifted out of the water by the hook, weighing down the flimsy pole.
“Poor thing!” I said, unhooking the fish. I held it in my hands, and it flopped around a bit. Its scales felt rough, but slimy, against my hands, and it was cool, just like the water it lived in. I unhooked it, tossing it back into the water and watching as it dove beneath the surface.
Thane smiled at me, his dark brown eyes twinkling. I’d always loved the way they glimmered in the sunlight, even when we were kids. It was one of the things I loved the most about our Alaskan summers.
“You know, I always have so much fun with you when we come out here by ourselves. It’s nice to get away from the rest of the pack sometimes.” Thane cleared his throat and added nervously, “And it’s also nice to be able to hear your thoughts. They make me laugh sometimes.”
I glanced away from him and out at the water. The stretch of lake extended far beyond us, with the beautiful mountains in the background. “You always say you can hear my thoughts, but I don’t understand it, Thane.” I met his gaze again. “If we’re really mates like you say we are, why can’t I hear yours, too?”
Thane shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just one of life’s little mysteries, I guess. I
just know that if it was because you’re not really my mate, I wouldn’t be able
to hear your thoughts or feel your emotions the way I do. You’re intense
I sighed. “I know I can be intense at times. I just don’t understand why I can’t
hear you. It almost doesn’t seem fair.” I wanted to be able to hear his thoughts so badly. It would let me know that the feelings I had for him actually meant something. Instead, I wondered if we were both wasting our time.
I’d known Thane White my whole life. We had been the best of friends, ever since we’d been in deerskin diapers. It had always been assumed that we would be together one day, and I really did have feelings for him, but I didn’t see how it was possible that we could be mates if I couldn’t even hear his thoughts. Mates could almost always hear each other’s thoughts, especially if they were both already wolves.
“I have a feeling everything is going to change once we mark,” Thane went on. “I hear that the dynamics between mates can change after marriage. Maybe after we get married, you’ll be able to hear me, too.”
“Maybe,” I replied, even though I had my doubts about it. As much as I cared about Thane, sometimes I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe we really weren’t mates at all. Maybe my mate was someone else, and the only reason Thane could hear my thoughts was because we had been such good friends since we were kids. We had a special bond, but that didn’t necessarily mean that we were meant to be, did it?
“Maybe we could do that soon,” Thane said quietly.
I glanced up at him. “Do what soon?” I questioned, searching his brown eyes. Had he meant what I thought he’d meant?
“Get married,” Thane replied.
A knot tightened in my stomach. He did mean what I thought he’d meant.
When I didn’t say anything in response, Thane continued. “I mean, we’re both seventeen, Skye. The Koto want us to get married and start having babies soon. Why not just do it now?”
“Because I’m only seventeen,” I said, turning away from him and staring out at the water. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.” Truthfully, there was more to it than just that. I also wanted to be able to hear Thane’s thoughts or feel his emotions—at least once—before agreeing to marry him. I wanted a sign that we really were each other’s mates before I jumped into a relationship with him at all, let alone got married.
An uncomfortable silence passed between us. I glanced down at my watch. “We should get going now. The meeting is going to be starting soon.”
Thane reeled in his fishing lure and nodded. “Okay,” he replied, even though I could see from the confused look in his eyes that my reaction to getting married had crushed him a little.
As we headed back to our pack’s campsite, the tension between us thickened, but I knew it was only temporary. Thane and I had known each other for too long for things to stay awkward between us.
* * *
“Skye!” my mother called out to me, from her place around the circle our pack was sitting in. I could tell from a hundred feet away that she was angry with me. “Where have you been all day?”
I glanced over at Thane, and he gave me an apologetic look, before we separated. In our pack, men sat on the left of the circle, and the women sat on the right. It was one of the many ways in which our pack was stuck in the old times and one of the things that I hated about being a Koto.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” I replied, as I approached her. “Thane and I went to the lake. We caught a bunch of fish.”
“Where are they?” my mother asked, touching a piece of her long, silky black hair behind her ear. She seemed to brighten at the prospect of fish. “Perhaps Thane and his parents can come over tonight for dinner, and we can cook for them. Was it trout that you caught?”
“Yes, but … we didn’t keep them,” I replied, knowing that she wouldn’t be happy about this news. “I felt bad for them. I made Thane throw them back so they wouldn’t die.”
My mother placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at me. “Do you mean to tell me that you skipped out on all of your chores today to go fishing, but you didn’t even bring any fish back because you felt bad for them?”
I nodded, and my mom shook her head frustratedly. “What am I going to do with you? When will you ever learn to be more responsible? That could have been our supper tonight! Now, we have to go fishing again or hope that someone else has some fish or moose they can spare us.”
“Well, maybe we should go to the grocery store and buy food like normal people,” I told her with an eye roll, and when I saw the angry expression that her face had twisted into, I knew that I’d said the wrong thing.
“Because we are not normal people, Skye! We are werewolves! We must stick to the Koto pack traditions, and that does not entail buying our groceries from a store that is frequented by humans!” my mother scolded me in an embarrassingly loud tone of voice, and I noticed some of our pack members staring. An angry red heat had risen to her cheeks, and I knew that she was livid with me this time.
Comparing us to humans was taboo in my mother’s book. Not all werewolves hate humans, but my mom does because my grandfather was killed by a human who’d shot him with a silver bullet while he was in his wolf form. It was an honest mistake, but my mother and grandmother had held a grudge against humans ever since.
I sighed, as I took my place on one of the logs that surrounded the campfire. I
didn’t want to argue with my mother, but she and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a
lot of things. She was a traditionalist; she believed that we shouldn’t stray
from our pack’s ways, but I felt the opposite. I wanted to explore the world. I
didn’t want to be stuck here, in this same boring place, for the rest of my
I had been so envious of my best friend, Kyana, when she had left our pack last year to join the Tala pack and be with her mate, Chris. Kyana was finally able to see the world in a whole new light, unlike me. I was stuck here in Alaska, seeing the same old people and the same old places.
Kyana and I couldn’t even talk to each other on the phone, since my mother didn’t allow me to have a cell phone. The only way Kyana and I could communicate regularly was by writing letters. She seemed happy and, even though I missed her and wished that I could leave like she did, I was happy for her.
At that moment, my sister, Kirima, came and sat down beside me. “Where have you been all day?” she whispered, leaning in close. “Mama has been worried sick about you! Not to mention angry that you didn’t even do your chores this morning.”
“Thane and I went to the lake,” I replied with a shrug.
My sister shook her head at me, and I knew she was frustrated at me. She was just as bad as my mother was, really. I was seventeen, and Kirima was twenty-two. Like my mother, Kirima believed that we should stick to the traditional ways of the Koto. It was annoying. Sometimes, I felt like I had a second mother.
Akar stood before us, and our pack quieted. Akar was Kyana’s brother and Alpha of the Koto pack now that his father, Orkos, had died. “Attention, attention, everyone,” he said, moving towards the center of the circle and glancing at each of the members of our pack as he spoke. “I have an important announcement to make today. The Koto pack as we know it is about to change, and all of you have a decision you need to make.”
Change? I scoffed. I didn’t see how that could even be possible. Nothing ever
changed for the Koto pack.
Akar glanced over at me, and I knew he had heard me scoff. He didn’t say anything about it, though. Instead, he continued with his announcement. “For many years, the Koto pack has resided in Alaska. This state is our home, and many of us have ancestral ties to this area. It’s time for me to leave, though.” He paused. “You see, it’s been hard for me to be this far away from my sister, Kyana. As all of you know, she’s decided to live in Pennsylvania permanently. While I’m not going to be moving to Pennsylvania due to the high number of packs that are already in that area, I will be moving to New Jersey. I’ll be less than an hour away from her, which will make me feel relief as a brother. She has a mate now, but I still need to know that I can be within a close distance to protect her. I hope you’ll all understand.”
So, this was the big announcement? That he was leaving our pack? Big freaking deal. I, for one, didn’t mind seeing him leave. I never know how to feel about Akar. He was Kyana’s older brother and the leader of both our youth and adult pack, so I’d known him for most of my life. Even though I’d known him forever, it felt like I didn’t know him at all, if that made sense.
There was something mysterious about Akar. I always got the feeling that he only showed a certain side of himself to our pack, and that there was a certain side that he kept hidden. I just wondered what the secret part of him was like.
“Elijah is going to stay here and act as your new Alpha,” Akar went on. “Like me, he will be the Alpha of both the youth and adult packs. At least until fate decides otherwise.”
There were a few loud groans around the circle. No one really liked Elijah. He was a nice guy and all, but he was sort of a weakling. No one thought he could do anything to protect our pack.
“But Elijah doesn’t need to be your Alpha if you don’t want him to be,” Akar went on. “I’m not joining a new pack when I move to New Jersey. I’m going to form a new pack. I’ll be starting a new chapter of the Koto pack in New Jersey. I’ll find new members once I get there, but I hope that at least some of you will choose to come with me.”
A dead silence spread across the pack circle. I could tell, judging from the
expressions on the adults’ faces, that our parents weren’t happy about this
“Now, you all have two days to make your decision,” Akar continued, glancing to each of us. “I want you all to consider it very carefully. If you choose to leave, you should know that life as you know it will change. If you’re younger than eighteen, you will attend school. If you’re beyond school age, you’ll need to get a job. Life will be different for all of us who leave, but I hope that it will be for the better. You can always come back here if you hate it, but I hope that if you come, you’ll stick it out—at least until the new chapter of the Koto pack is strong enough to not need you anymore.”
If we went with Akar, it meant that we would go and experience the world in a different way than we’d ever seen it before.
I considered what this all could mean. I could leave this all behind. I could go
away and never come back, except maybe just to visit. I knew that Kirima and my mother would never leave. That much was obvious to me. I wasn’t sure who else from our pack would go—if anyone went at all—but it didn’t matter. Leaving would mean that I'd have the chance to find true happiness.
I could watch movies and go to malls. I could go to school. I would no longer have to live in a den and be expected to have a pup when I turned eighteen in a year. I could postpone the life that I wasn’t ready for yet here.
And, if I left, I could find my mate. As much as Thane thought we were meant to be together, I didn’t believe we were. More than anything else, I wanted a mate whose thoughts I would be able to hear, a mate who I had a true connection with.
I didn’t believe that I would ever find him in Alaska, but I knew that he was
out there… somewhere. I just needed to find him.
I wanted to do it. I wanted to go with Akar.
Without even thinking twice about what I was doing, I raised my hand, which instantly made me feel stupid. I always made a point of not raising my hand when we were in our circle, even though we were supposed to, because I wanted to rebel from the Koto ways. Our elders viewed me as a smartass teenager, and I annoyed Akar at times when I just spoke without permission, but I’d never cared before.
The surprise that I was raising my hand seemed to register on Akar’s face, but he didn’t question it.“Yes, Skye?”
“I want to go. I’m coming with you,” I told him. I could feel the cold stares from my mother and Kirima, but I avoided their gaze.
Akar’s lips twisted into a wide grin. “Perfect.”
I wondered what Thane would think about my decision, but I knew that I couldn't worry about he felt, the same way I couldn't worry about how my mother and Kirima felt.
For once in my life, I needed to do something for me.