Raised by Wolves(10)

By: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Sorry, Bronwyn.

Devon put an arm around me and curled his lips into an expression I recognized as Smirk Number One: sarcastic with a touch of I-couldn’t-care-less. “Why, Bryn,” he said with a hint of Scarlett O’Hara in his voice, “I do believe he’s given her your pen.”

Devon’s words freed up my mouth, which—true to form—spoke without consulting my brain. “Well, get Freud on the phone. He’ll have a field day with this one.”

That should have been the end of it, but unfortunately, algebra was my last class of the day, and that meant that Devon wasn’t the only wolf in the near vicinity. Ark Valley was small, the combined middle/high school was even smaller, and even though I wasn’t close to any of the other juveniles in our pack, when it came to confrontations with the outside world, we were family.

Or as they would have phrased it, I was theirs.

There were only three of them, and one was a seventh grader, but werewolves mature quickly. By age twelve, they look like teenagers, and by the time they’re in high school, they could pass for twenty. Somewhere around fifteen or sixteen, their growth slows down, and most don’t ever age past about thirty, no matter how many centuries they see.

Moral of the story? My age-mates were all physically advanced for their age, and Jeff had reason to be looking nervous.

They didn’t descend, not right away, and they didn’t say a word. My pack-mates just circled us, with long, ambling strides, their eyes flickering from me to Jeff and back again.

Out of habit, I shut them out. Bond or no bond, nobody got into my head but me, and the last thing I wanted was to feel the low, dangerous vibration of a growl beneath the surface of someone else’s skin.

To Jeff, they must just have looked like an odd assortment of strangely intense ruffians whose backwoods roots showed in every crevice of their faces. To me, they looked like Trouble, capital T.

I brushed my hand lightly against Devon’s arm, and he nodded.

“Thank you for that extremely Freudian performance, Jeff. Sir, madam, we bid you good day.” Dev boomed out the words in his best Sean Connery accent, but all the while, he kept his eyes on the others, staring them down, warning them not to come closer. There was a single moment in which I thought the others might disregard the warning and close in, but a few seconds later, the tension broke. Callum’s wolves had ultimate control over their animal instincts, and they knew as well as I did that altercations with the outside world wouldn’t be met with smiles and pats on the back from the pack’s alpha.

Unaware of just how much of a reprieve they’d gotten, Jeff and his little lady scurried away, and I was left with four teenage werewolves—none of whom liked the idea of my walking home by myself.

General rule of thumb: except for Devon, the rest of our age-mates usually gave me a fairly wide berth. One seemingly mild glance from Callum was all it took to warn them away from thinking I was future mate material, and unless werewolves were on the lookout for a breeding partner, most of them didn’t have any use for humans. There were at most a dozen of us human-types living in the woods at any given time, and besides me, every single one was mated to one of the pack’s males. There were more human females, lots of them, buried in unmarked graves: the ones who hadn’t survived taking on a bond with the pack during the mating process, the ones who’d died in childbirth, the ones who’d lived to a ripe old age while their werewolf mates stayed young.

No, thank you.

If Callum hadn’t scared off any and all of my would-be suitors, I would have done the job myself.

“You three can go now,” I said, trying to put a hint of Callum—understated authority and uncompromising power—in my voice.

Not one of them moved.

Since I obviously wasn’t good at commanding their fear and respect, I tried to appeal to their rationality. “I’m fine. I’m safe. The outside threat just went poof.” Unfortunately, this seemed to be falling on completely deaf ears. Jeff was gone, and if anyone had a claim to me, it was Devon, but our age-mates just stood there, flanking my position like the threat hadn’t abated.

If I’d opened up my bond, I might have been able to figure out why, but I also would have been devoured whole by the power that flowed through the entire pack. I was connected to each of them through Callum’s Mark, but just living with the pack had me treading water for every breath of independence I managed to take.

All of which meant that I had to rely on more subtle methods of finding out the things that I needed to know.

“Jeff’s gone, and you’re all acting like the threat is still here,” I said. “Would I be correct in guessing that means that there is an outside threat? And would this be the same outside threat that has Callum insisting I be inside every day by dark?”

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