Shards of electricity smacked into the ground and I winced at the display Mother Nature was putting on for someone's benefit. Certainly not mine, given that I hated lightning. My skin crawled with ripples of goose bumps and my wolf pushed at me to be let free. It was a full week to the full moon and there was no way I was changing to soothe the savage beast. Damn family secrets.
My cell phone began to play the Nine Inch Nails tune, "Closer" and I paced across the room to see Bryan's number displayed.
"Your dime." I quipped while pacing. Bryan rarely called me. Add in that the raw electricity running through the room was making me edgy.
"Damn it, Victoria, get out of the past. Nothing costs a dime anymore." I winced. He wasn't in a good frame of mind. I felt my head dip as my wolf automatically cowered to his superior pack aggression. Thankfully he couldn't see the submissive behavior. I walked to the fridge and pulled out the Skippy creamy off the bottom shelf. While waiting for him to tell me why he called, I twisted off the lid and dipped a finger in then slowly laved off the smooth silky peanut butter on my hand. The burst of flavor played across my soul.
My wolf shut up when I slathered my tongue with the peanut butter.
Bryan growled. He sensed my lack of respect and that I was, for whatever reason, distracted.
The silence stretched out as I unsuccessfully tried to free my tongue from the roof of my mouth. I snagged out the half and half creamer from the top shelf in the still-open fridge and quickly gulped down the dairy product. A few deep swallows directly from the carton and my tongue was thankfully free again. Sometimes being a werewolf was really a pain in the ass. The peanut butter addiction never went well with me, but calmed my inner wolf. Bryan was waiting for me to say something. Hell, I hadn't called him, so I ran my newly freed tongue around my mouth and got the last bits of the creamy treat. My wolf shimmied and settled down in the back of my brain.
"Fine," I reluctantly caved to Bryan's place in the family's hierarchy as second-in-command to my maternal uncle with, "Bryan, it's your what, fifty cents? I don't use pay phones so like give me a break."
Maybe that wasn't so much caving as baiting. My mistake. Again. His low growl was even detectible with his shitty cell phone. I swear he used the cheapest possible cell phone. It wasn't a lack of money deal, but rather a reluctance to join the twenty-first century, much less the tail end of the now past twentieth. He'd prefer to still be using messengers with wax sealed missives.
He was old school to the extreme.
"Sorry, Bryan, what can I do for you?" I aimed for mid-level submissive. I wasn't thrilled to have my afternoon interrupted. There was a show on Sci-Fi I really wanted to catch. I started looking around for my remote control when he snarled, "Stop the crap, Victoria. You need to be home and ready to meet with Will by seven."
I stopped looking for the remote. Will wasn't from my pack. He was middle level from Delphi pack three counties over. They weren't as vicious as my pack but had more wolves. Just thinking about the Delphi pack my skin began to itch. My nails softly scraped at my hairline looking for imaginary fleas. The Delphis weren't to be messed with and the idea I was supposed to meet with one of them was making me nervous.
"Kyle called for a meet this morning and your mother said you'd be perfect for the negotiations." I felt the little bits of peanut butter in my mouth freeze. Kyle was the pack leader of the Delphi clan. He wasn't good with the word no, I'd heard over the decades. In fact, he tended to rip apart those who disagreed with him. Clever mom. She offered me into the fray. I really wondered how much longer I'd be alive now that I was of age.
Female werewolves tended to have short-lived lives. Whelping pretty much killed most of us, if straight out pack politics let us even clear puberty. I was more than a little past that and had been furred monthly ever since. Humans didn't have a clue how bitchy we got once a month. It wasn't like we could eat a chocolate bar or two and then whine about how mean our families were. Nope I ended up running in the woods, tearing apart small bunnies and squirrels. Up until my early teens I had a normal human-like existence. Werewolves' existing in the world is one of our best-kept secrets. Since we didn't turn furry until we matured, it wasn't like we went out and shot off our mouths during kindergarten or on the playground over dodge ball. Once we came of age, we were vetted and groomed to keep our clan alive.
Part of me had been waiting for one of these calls for over a dozen years. My mom had been distracted by my brothers' antics and let me go my own way. That was miles from the pack. Someone must have reminded her I was well beyond cub-bearing age and set her in motion. I kept my rising anger out of my voice as I replied, "Sure whatever."
I wanted to rip apart something soft and sweet. My finger dipped back into the jar of peanut butter. The slick, silky and not-nearly-as-satisfying-to-me-as-if-I-was-tearing-into-the-soft-tissue-on-the-underbelly-of-a-tasty-bit-of prey jar of smooth peanut butter. The raw meat, fresh and hot sliding down my throat wasn't something humans understood. Hell, they liked their dinner carefully sanitized, saran wrapped and placed into the butcher section of the supermarket with labels. Werewolves didn't need any stupid labels. A simple sniff would tell us what creature the meat was from without a black and white label plastered on the outside.
But it'd have to do given that there wasn't anyone nearby to shred. Bryan was still buzzing in my ear with the boring details of the meet. I polished off the rest of the carton of half and half tossing the container in the recycle bin without a thought.
"Sure no worries, I'll be there." I disconnected while raging inside.
So this was it. I was going to be either killed or offered up to the other clan. Either way my life was done. No do-overs for me. My time was up.
The storm still raged outside and I paced while wondering what I was supposed to do when I met up with dear old Will. I knew he was mateless and figured my mom was either trying to get me pregnant while mated with a clan or killed in the negotiation stages. With my mom it could have been either or both. She really wasn't overly picky.
Heavy handed thumping on my front door disturbed my musing. I reluctantly wandered over to the peek hole to see who was stupid enough to bug me.
I sighed and opened the door, "Hey, Earl."
He wasn't high up in the pack but he tended to show up when I whenever I was ready to tear off limbs.
"Hey Victoria. I guess you got the call." He wasn't asking, he already knew.
"Yep, I've been whored out by dear old mom. So what brings you out on such a lovely evening? Trying to get hit by lightning for fun?" I said while letting him follow me inside.
"Nah, I'm too mean to get struck by lightning." He wasn't kidding. For not being high up in the pack he was certainly one of the most vicious creatures I'd ever been with. Not like that. He was a cub mate in a way. I curled in his arms after running then feasting and he kept me safe.
He shut the door behind him and pulled me into his arms. It was safe and family. I sighed and wondered how I'd flip this around tonight, which given the darkening skies wasn't as far off as I'd like.
"Sorry the she-bitch got you riled. But it was only a matter of time. Will's not half bad. I've run with him a few times. He won't brutalize you like some." For us that was saying something. I breathed in the woody musky scent that I knew as Earl. He let me and then spun me towards my room saying, "Brush the damn peanut butter out of your breath and get dressed."
Yeah, he knew me just as well. That and we could always read each other pretty easily. He came to offer me support and torment me into getting ready. I growled softly. The lights flickered and simply went off. The smell of ozone spun through the windows cracked open to let a breeze inside. The burnt smell of plastic and rubber let me know the strike had been very close.
"Guess you were just missed huh?" I laughed as I headed to brush my teeth. I wasn't so sure about the getting dressed bit. With a werewolf that was pretty much a tough project; the amount of clothing I loved and lost!
Earl followed, not trusting me to stay in the room. The shadows were deeper but we could see in the dark fairly well. The flashes of lightning outside kept reminding me the storm wasn't going away anytime soon. Night was falling and I was not happy to know Will was coming to my family home. Someone would pay for that in the future, but for now I had to turn tail and be good. All the while my animal side was anxious to get out and run in the woods. Nothing would be safe from my other side in this sort of night. Add in that we weren't above shredding pretty prey for entertainment value and little in the way of nutrition. I put my foot down on anything smaller than my clenched fist and most of the rodent family. They bit before I could finish them off despite how I played. Earl told me I wasn't quick enough. I knew it was because part of me hesitated.
I was well aware that such hesitation that could kill me some day if I wasn't careful. This could be the night I made that fatal error. Part of me grinned. I'd been living on borrowed time for decades.
Earl cuffed the back of my head, sending my face to my chest.
"Knock that shit off, Victoria. It's just a negotiation. You've been around for plenty of them." He said.
"Why do I have to go home?" I whined while tossing clothing on the bed dismissively.
The family home wasn't somewhere I liked to go in good weather or good times. Being called and told to be there wasn't something I could reject because I didn't 'feel like it'. We werewolves didn't run that way. Our path was spelled out from cub to grave. We had rules and we followed them or died. Hell, we could follow them and still end up being killed.
Earl got sick of watching me toss clothing on the bed and started pawing through the outfits. I bit back a grin as I saw his frustration growing. He wasn't finding anything worthy of such a momentous meeting any easier than I was. My wardrobe wasn't exactly built for pretty and sturdy. He wasn't dismissing the idea I might end up changing into a werewolf if things went badly. I never had to say a word, he knew.
Finally I yanked a long skirt from the back of my closet. "Hell, this will work." The black free-formed skirt would withstand a change, I knew, but whatever top I picked was pretty much a guaranteed goner. Earl handed me a white cotton lacy top.
"Get real! That'd be less than useful if I flip to fur."
"True but you look hot in it and that'll distract anyone if you have to change." He grinned.
I laughed and stripped out of my casual clothes and changed.
"I'd lose the thong, no need to give old Will a wrong impression." I nodded and yanked off the underwear and replaced them with a pair of cotton jockey underwear. Werewolves weren't like humans about nudity. We recognize each other by smell and auras more than visually. I knew for a fact my werewolf didn't have nearly as good vision as I did when in my human form. We didn't see naked skin and get excited. No, I was more likely to smell some wolf who interested or worried me before I ever even saw the tip of his or her tail.
I pulled a brush through my hair and looked back to see Earl shaking his head.
"What's wrong?" I double checked my reflection and didn't see anything hanging out or unbuttoned.
"Nothing, Victoria, you look fine."
"Give, what??" He still had an odd look on his face.
"Well, you dressed reluctantly yet are stunning." He laughed at me. I caught myself in the mirror and did a double take. He was right, I did clean up well. I laughed with him and tossed him the keys to my home. I wasn't taking a purse. I'd learned long ago to travel light when heading home.
We headed into the storm, and I felt a chill run down my spine. This had all the earmarks of a catastrophic event. And I wasn't talking about the weather. The rain that followed the lightning was harsh and pummeled the car. I wanted to be in my own home and not on the way to my pack's house. Estate would be more accurate. Ranch-style throw back to the twenties, it had acres around it to keep us from prying eyes. Anywhere else it would go for two or three million, but in California the last real estate brochure left at the gate had indicated they had an interested buyer offering twenty-five million. The land of location-location-location ... the home was well situated.
I felt the tug from my center. I was near my siblings and cub mates. And yet there was a nudge of otherness to the area. I could feel the Delphi beasts. They had nearly matching number for the ones at home. I shot Earl a look.
"Why so many?"
Bitterly, "I don't know -- they weren't all here earlier. Settle down."
I felt my body squirming and shifting. I pushed my wolf deeper and a growl broke from my lips taunting me. I guess I wasn't as in control as I thought.
"Easy for you to say. You're not on the chopping block. I am." I yanked off the seatbelt as he pulled up to the house. The car was still ticking and clicking and I was out of the vehicle. Earl ripped the keys from the ignition and jogged around the car to catch my elbow in his grasp.
We hit the door together and I felt a hiccough in my heart. The screams were pain filled and tortured. And they were my pack's voices. This wasn't a negotiation, it was a massacre. Without thought, I reached for my wolf and ripped off the human clothing, mirrored by Earl. We shifted and headed into blood-spattered room. Fangs and claws we hit our stride. It was going to be a night to remember. I wished I could start the whole day all over and come back with more than my body. It didn't matter, what would be would be. Fully wolf, I no longer thought in human terms.