Raised by Wolves(7)

By: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

“Oreos,” Ali declared, popping one into her mouth. “You want?” she asked after she’d gulped hers down.

I took the proffered Oreo and surveyed the rest of the kitchen. “Cravings?” I asked.

Ali shrugged hopelessly.

“Where’s the steak?”

It didn’t matter what Ali was craving, there was always meat involved. The baby had turned her into a carnivore, and Ali, who couldn’t stomach even the sight of a rare steak eight months ago, ate them daily now. Such was the price of a Were pregnancy. That, and the fact that instead of kicking, like normal babies, Ali’s son Shifted forms. A couple of months ago, I’d joked about selling tickets to watch her stomach during the full moon. Now, with the baby’s birth closer all the time, it really wasn’t funny anymore.

“I’m going to be fine,” Ali said, reaching up to rub my shoulder with one hand.

“You always do that. It’s like you can read my mind.” I meant it as a complaint, but it came out nostalgic, like part of me was preparing to look back fondly on that habit when she was gone.

“I’m going to be fine,” Ali said again. “You know me, Bryn. Have I ever backed down from a fight?”

Never. Before Callum had thrust me into her care, she hadn’t even been a part of the pack. She’d only just found out that werewolves were real and that more often than not, they took human women as their mates. For an orphaned kid she’d never even met, Ali had abandoned her own life and risen to the challenge. She’d taken Callum’s Mark and mastered it, insulating herself—and me—from most of what it entailed. There wasn’t a Were within a hundred-mile radius that she hadn’t stood up to on my behalf, Callum included. I thought that was why he’d given me to her, instead of to one of the other Weres. He’d made her Pack so that she could take care of me, knowing that she’d be unaffected by dominance hierarchies, knowing that she wouldn’t put up with someone giving me crap just because they were dominant enough to think that they could.

“You’re going to be fine,” I said, repeating Ali’s words. I believed it. I really did. I just forgot that I did sometimes. I’d seen too many women die in childbirth. Female werewolves were extremely rare, and human bodies weren’t meant to carry werewolf pups.

“Where’s Casey?” I asked, changing the topic of conversation and hoping that my thoughts would follow suit. “It’s not like him to miss a meal.” Ali’s husband was an eater. And for the past eight months, he’d been quite the hoverer as well. Food plus Ali meant that he should be here, and even though I hadn’t quite gotten used to the fact that it wasn’t just me and Ali anymore—or the idea that when I slept, there was an adult Were sleeping down the hall—Casey’s absence struck me as fundamentally strange.

“Casey’s eating out tonight,” Ali said. “Here, taste this.”

I was so caught up in trying to figure out why Casey was “eating out” and what Ali wasn’t telling me that I almost took the bite she offered me. At the last second, I came to my senses and realized that whatever concoction Ali’s cravings had led her to create, I really, truly didn’t want any part of it.

“Your loss,” she said, spooning the goop, which definitely contained both the peanut butter and the marinara sauce I’d smelled, into her mouth. She followed it with an Oreo.

“I’m going to throw up,” I said, gagging—and not just for show.

“It’s all part of my master plan,” Ali replied. “Cravings are just the pregnant woman’s excuse for making everyone around her as nauseated as she is.”

“You’re evil, Ali.”

She smiled and serenely took another bite. “I know.”

I took refuge in the refrigerator and nosed around until I found something edible. Popping the container into the microwave, I turned my attention back to Ali, who was very good at distracting me—just not quite good enough.

“Your husband’s not home for dinner, even though he hasn’t gone more than ten feet away from you since you hit seven months. Callum decided to start enforcing my curfew and assigned an entire team to keep an eye on me. You’re making pregnancy jokes to distract me from asking questions.” I ticked the observations off on my fingers as I spoke out loud. “Something’s going on.”

“If I asked you to please, as a personal favor to me, stay out of it, would you?” Ali asked.

I busied myself by checking on my microwavable mac and cheese and didn’t reply.

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