Authors: Sophie Fleur
by Sophie Fleur
Copyright © 2016 by
All rights reserved. This book or any portion
may not be reproduced or used in any manner
without the express written permission of the
except for the use of brief quotations in a
© Can Stock Photo
Inc. / yekophotostudio
Edited by Sara Rose
You can never go home again.
Fred Awley wished that were true. He didn’t want to go home, yet
here he was, riding along that same road he’d left on more than a year before. At
20, those thick oaks and thin rivers had been like an inescapable maze. He’d
been desperate to escape the quiet chirping of birds, the sight of deer hoof
prints and the smell of fresh air. Most of all, he’d wanted to be free of James
and those feelings that had always tied them together tighter than a red
He sat in the back of a truck, watching as the woods got darker
and thicker. The old farmer had promised to take him to the property line and
no further. Not that Fred could blame the man. This was pack territory, where
human law did not apply. The wolves who lived past that fence line did not care
about the politics or niceties that most of society followed. The pack’s
justice was tooth and claw and combat. Strength was all.
Fred shuddered. He was going back to the place he’d thought he’d
escaped from. He hadn’t minded the wolves. Most of them weren’t cruel, just
indifferent. He’d been the youngest son of the pack doctor, small and scrawny
even for a human. He’d been family, but not pack. Allowed to go wherever he
wished, following along at first his father’s and then James’s heels.
The truck rolled to a stop near the line. Fred got out with
difficulty. His ribs were bruised and it hurt whenever he moved. He picked up
his duffle, dragging it on the ground.
“Are you sure about this?” the old farmer asked him through his
Fred nodded. “I’ll be safe here.”
“Don’t know about that.”
Fred wasn’t sure about that either. The woods did not seem
friendly. Dark shadowy trees loomed ahead as he stood.
The farmer drove off, leaving Fred alone. There was no real fence.
No barbed wire. No red line painted in the dark earth. Nothing marked the
beginning of the pack territory but a single white cross. Fred used to joke
that they needed to paint a dragon on it like in the old maps.
Beware, for here be dragons. Or werewolves. Same difference
He couldn’t carry his duffel. Not yet. Instead he let it trail
after him as he moved past that invisible line. It made a thumping sound as it
rolled over rocks and roots.
He lifted his nose, smelling the pine needles and red dust that
surrounded him. Birds chirped from high trees. Squirrels and other small
animals jumped from branch to branch as though they were following him. The
sounds comforted him like a song he’d heard before, over and over.
He had to stop every few minutes to catch his breath. He cursed
the men who had done this to him. The cowards had attacked him near his
apartment at dark, three on one. He wasn’t a large man. He was barely five foot
five and had the thin frame of a runner. He usually forgot to get his sandy
blond hair cut and now it reached his collar, curling over his neck. He had a
sharp nose and blue eyes flecked with brown and bits of yellow. He’d always
thought his face was ordinary but he hadn’t wanted it broken.
They’d hurt him, calling him a “wolf lover” as they did. Fred
didn’t know how the men had known where he came from. He never spoke of it to
his friends or his roommate, Kyle. He’d wanted to get as far away from the pack
and pack politics as he could. That’s why he’d run to the city.
Wolves tended to avoid any large gathering places of humans
because they said humans smelled bad. Fred thought it had more to do with all
of the metal and iron in the cities. Wolves didn’t like being closed in. They’d
rather die than be caged. Plus there was the constant smell of smog in the air
and food being cooked on street corners. Of garbage rotting in the street. Come
to think of it, he hadn’t liked the city all the much either. But he’d stayed.
It was better than seeing James every day, knowing that James would eventually
have to marry and sire heirs. It was his duty as the Alpha.
Wolves didn’t have a high rate of conception. One in three
pregnancies survived to term. Of those, only a handful of children survived
birth and the first few months of their lives. It was every wolf’s duty to have
children, whether they wanted to or not.
Even if Fred had been willing to endure that, the fact remained that
he was human. Wolves did not mate humans. Ever. Not if they wanted to remain
part of their packs. Something about diluting bloodlines. Fred had never really
asked. He hadn’t wanted to know the answers.
After half an hour of walking and dragging his duffel, Fred was
sweating and shaking. He reconsidered his decision to go home without calling
his father to pick him up. His father would have met him at the bus stop and
talked his ear off. He was still mad about the way Fred had left. Fred couldn’t
blame him. Maybe he’d stay in the woods and make camp. He could live like a
caveman, killing for food and getting rid of all his pants.
No pants sounded good to his sweaty body.
He was contemplating his bag and how much he could throw out of
it to reduce the weight when he felt something strange. He paused, listening.
No birds. No squirrels. He couldn’t even hear the sound of the wind.
He dug into his duffel bag for the bone knife his father had
given him when he’d started learning to hunt. It fit into the palm of his hand.
The leather of the handle was smooth against his skin. He held it at his side,
ready. Could be a bear or one of those wild pigs. They rarely attacked but
maybe he’d stumbled into a den.
A wolf appeared. It wasn’t anyone Fred recognized. Not that he’d
know any new wolves anyway. Only James had shown Fred his wolf.
This wolf stood tall enough to look Fred in his eyes. It had
rusted red colored fur and white on the tip of one ear. All the wolves were
fairly large. Fred was used to being around them, but not alone. Alone was
different. Alone wasn’t safe. He tried to keep calm. Wolves liked calm. If he
ran, the wolf would definitely attack him.
“I’m a friend of the pack,” Fred said. “I’m Doctor Awley’s son.
I’m your friend.”
The wolf lifted his lip in a snarl. He growled, low and
threatening. The sound came from deep in the wolf’s chest. Fred felt it echo in
his own chest. His hands shook as he realized he might have to actually try and
fight this thing.
Okay, so I’m not his friend then.
“I’ll leave. We don’t have to fight,” Fred said.
The wolf lunged for Fred’s throat. Fred slashed out with his
knife, slicing a line across the wolf’s nose. The wolf howled and lunged again,
snapping at the arm that held the knife.
The pain was sharp and hungry. Fred didn’t let go of the knife.
His father had taught him that.
Never let go of your weapon when fighting something bigger and
He could feel the wolf’s hot breath on his face. Small drops of
the wolf’s saliva dripped down onto his cheeks as Fred held the beast off.
He was going to die here in the woods like a deer. He’d seen how
wolves ate. They left nothing behind. This big bastard was going to eat him and
no one would ever know what happened to him. He was Little Red Riding Hood.
Fred’s arms started to weaken. The wolf’s fangs were closer. He
couldn’t use the knife. The wolf was too close. He thought maybe he could push
the wolf away and gouge out an eye. They could heal an injury like that, but it
would take time.
“I am not your dinner!” Fred pushed as hard as he could. The
wolf barely moved.
He saw something move out of the corner of his eye. The shape
got bigger and bigger until it jumped, hitting the other wolf square in the
chest. The pressure left and Fred could breathe again.
Fred knew that wolf. It was James. He was even bigger than the
other wolf and had dark salt and pepper fur. Wolf James had the other wolf on
the ground with his teeth buried in the wolf’s neck. Wolf James shook his head.
His throat vibrated with angry growls. He tore into the smaller wolf’s sides
with his claws, causing it to whimper in pain.
The other wolf lay back, exposing his belly. Fred knew that
meant the smaller wolf had given up. Wolf James didn’t seem to agree. He kept
growling and shaking the smaller wolf’s neck.
“James? Hey,” Fred said.
James looked up. His eyes were arctic blue even in human form.
When he shifted, he was taller than six feet and had short black hair. His face
was too rugged to be pretty, but almost. Fred missed that face.
“Come on now. He was a bad wolf, but he’s been punished.” Fred
couldn’t believe he was asking for clemency for a creature who’d been
attempting to kill him. He asked more for James’s sake than the unknown wolf’s.
James had always said he didn’t like hurting people. Maybe that had changed,
but Fred didn’t think so.
Wolf James howled but let go of the other wolf. The smaller wolf
tucked his tail in between his legs and walked away, disappearing into the
After the other wolf was gone, James licked at the wound on
“That is not hygienic,” Fred said. The licking did help the pain
somewhat and Fred was able to move his arm without screaming.
Wolf James gave him a look before finishing. He cleaned the
blood, leaving torn flesh behind. Fred sighed and tore up one of the few shirts
he had in his duffel, making a tourniquet around the top of his arm. His father
would not be pleased at having to sew him up the first day he was home. He used
the rest of the shirt for a makeshift bandage.
Fred absently patted Wolf James on the head, earning him a wolf
grin. He blushed. He was used to touching James in wolf form. James had the
softest fur on the tips of his ears. Fred remembered falling asleep while
stroking those ears with the buzzing warmth of James beside him.
“Just a habit,” he said.
Wolf James licked him on the chin before getting up and
signaling that they needed to leave. Fred followed him, wishing again that he’d
stopped at that property line. Maybe he really was Little Red Riding Hood.