Allanna could only stare. Cynthia, her lifelong best friend, was on her doorstep. The last thirteen years had taken a toll on her beautiful face and delicate skin, but this was still the same Cynthia that Allanna knew since childhood.
But she didn’t feel relieved. She felt suspicious.
“What happened to you?” Cynthia asked after she got a good look at Allanna, and then caught a whiff of her. “You’re a…”
“It’s a long story. But why are you here? And who’s with you?”
“No one’s with me; I came alone. I’m here because, well, I left the pack.”
“Yeah, I’ve been beating myself up for the past…how long has it been?”
“Wow. Yeah, thirteen years, I’ve been beating myself up for not leaving Duskwood with you. I got mixed up in a war I wanted nothing to do with, and now the pack’s in the process of picking a new alpha…”
“New alpha? What about Dad?”
“I guess when you don’t age, you don’t notice how time passes. Your dad’s not as young as he used to be, Allanna. The pack needs a new leader.”
Allanna hadn’t thought much about her previous life in Duskwood, and she knew that Xavier hadn’t either. It was hard to imagine the pack with an alpha male other than her father.
“But still, what does that have to do with you coming here?” she inquired skeptically.
“With that war and the whole alpha thing going on, I got to thinking of how much I missed you. Not only that, but you’re more of a family to me than anyone else has ever been. I don’t care what your dad says; even if he’s the alpha he shouldn’t have abandoned his own daughter. That isn’t what being in a pack is all about. So I decided that I’d rather not be in a pack than be in one where the alpha would do that. No offense.”
“None taken. So, you came here because you didn’t want to be a part of the pack anymore? But how did you even find me?”
“I can answer that,” Xavier said as he stepped out from behind Allanna. “I hate to tell you this Allanna, but you tend to talk in your sleep from time to time.”
“I do? Oh my God, how embarrassing.”
“Not at all. But you mentioned Cynthia a few times and it was pretty obvious that you missed her. So, I gave her a call. And after what you said to me not even an hour ago, I think this is a good thing.”
Allanna was deeply touched. Xavier had called Cynthia for her, and Cynthia had given up everything in order to preserve their friendship. That truly meant a lot to her. She still scanned her mind quickly just in case, but she saw the memories play in Cynthia’s mind clear as day. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.
Allanna finally invited Cynthia in, and the two embraced for the first time in thirteen years.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Allanna said as tears filled her eyes. “I’m so glad you came.”
“I am too. But I have to say, I didn’t expect you to be a vampire.”
“And I didn’t expect to become one. And, I hate to say it, but if this is what I smelled like to Xavier at one point, it’s a wonder he put up with me.”
Xavier chortled and said, “I grew quite accustomed to it after being around you for so long. But let’s not talk about that particular point in history.”
“Yeah, I’m more interested to know how you became a vampire,” Cynthia said incredulously. “How is it even possible?”
“That’s a really long story, so let’s go in the living room and I’ll tell you all about it.”
So the three sat down in the living room where Allanna began the tale. They were briefly interrupted, however, by Braden and Jaden, who’d grown tired of playing outside and had come inside, only to catch their first whiff of a full-blooded werewolf.
“It stinks in here!” Braden complained as the two barreled into the living room. “What is that?”
“Yuck!” Jaden added with disgust.
“Boys,” Xavier said with a warning tone. “That’s not nice. That odor is our guest.”
“They need to take a shower,” Braden mumbled under his breath, but Cynthia’s acute hearing picked up on that. But instead of retorting to the comment about her scent, she asked Allanna in a stunned tone, “You have three kids?”
Allanna nodded. “Yeah…you never even met the one I was pregnant with in Duskwood. Remember?”
“Of course I remember. You freaked out and ended up moving to Bridgeport. I never knew…”
“I should have kept in touch. I’m so sorry, Cynthia.”
“Boys,” Xavier cut in, “this is your mom’s best friend, Cynthia. She’s not a vampire like us, but she isn’t human either. Remember how we told you that your mom used to be like Linley? Well, more or less?”
“Yeah,” Jaden answered for the both of them.
“Well, the part of Linley that can transform into a wolf is what your mom used to be. That’s what Cynthia is. She’s a werewolf.”
“She can turn into a wolf?” Braden asked, fear consuming his little face.
“Yes, but she won’t hurt you,” Allanna interjected with a glance at her friend. Cynthia nodded and said, “I’d never hurt you or your family, Allanna. I just can’t believe I never knew…”
Allanna looked down, feeling guilty that she’d never kept in touch with her friend. But she’d been too cowardly to do so. She feared that if she stayed in contact with Cynthia, her father would find out, and he’d send the entire pack after her and Xavier, not to mention their children. She didn’t want to risk it. Besides, after what her father had said about her being so easy, she didn’t want to have anything to do with him, good or bad. She’d never forgive him for that.
Cynthia was properly introduced to the boys, who quickly evacuated upstairs to escape the pungent smell of the guest, and then Allanna finished her tale of her involuntary transition into a vampire. She also told her all about Linley, the child she’d been pregnant with before she’d left Duskwood forever.
“So, since this Mortius was an elder vampire,” Cynthia said in summation, “his blood was strong enough to take over your werewolf blood, so you turned into a vampire? That’s just creepy.”
“It wasn’t the best experience in my life, I have to admit.”
“Well, at least you get to stay young and pretty forever. Look at me. I look like shit.”
“No, you don’t. You’re still gorgeous. I can’t believe you don’t have a boyfriend yet.”
“Oh, I’ve had a few boyfriends, but they were mostly one night stands for a good time. Nothing permanent, and I doubt I’ll ever find something as real as what you have. My God, you two would do anything for each other. I can’t get a guy to even stay in bed with me; after we do the deed, he takes off, or he’s out the door first thing in the morning.”
“Do you still have the house?”
“No, didn’t you hear? The whole pack had to move on because the vampires took over Duskwood. That’s another reason I decided to leave; I didn’t want to have to relocate and start over with a half-assed family.”
“Wait, Duskwood is owned by the vampires now? How? Mortius is dead.”
“He is, but his clan isn’t. Some bitch with reddish hair seemed to be leading them now. She led the whole clan through our territory, and we lost a lot of members. We didn’t have any choice.”
Allanna felt tears well up in her eyes. Her home for the majority of her life was gone, owned by the very enemy she’d fallen in love with and had bred with. And now, she was one of them. It was impeccably disheartening to hear this.
“You said some pack members were lost,” she finally stated. “Who?”
Cynthia bit her lip, clearly not wanting to answer. She didn’t have to. Allanna picked her brain and images of the fallen pack members flooded her mind. Among them were Cynthia’s younger sister, Allanna’s former chosen mate Ace, and Devan. Despite how painful the very last member was, Allanna finally succumbed to her tears when Lupe’s face flashed through Cynthia’s mind.
Xavier cradled his wife in his arms as Cynthia guiltily looked toward the floor. “I’m sorry,” she said gently. “I guess I shouldn’t have even thought about it. You can read minds now.”
“It’s not your fault,” Xavier said as Allanna cried into his shoulder. “But I feel responsible for what happened, and I feel I should reciprocate. It was my kind that caused all this, right from the very beginning. Even before the three of us were born. It was started because vampires came into existence. Humans were given the ability to transform into wolves as a means of survival, but vampires enslaved them because they feared them. And now this.”
“Xavier, you didn’t do it,” Cynthia replied. “You had a change of heart and took good care of my best friend. You were with her and your kids when this happened. You didn’t tell that bitch to lead her stupid clan through our territory and drive us out of it. None of this is your fault.”
“If I hadn’t agreed to that diabolical plot to begin with…”
“Then you wouldn’t have met me,” Allanna interjected. “And I wouldn’t have met you, and we wouldn’t have had this life. I’d be stuck married to Ace and never would have known true love.”
Just then, the front door opened and a new smell filled the foyer. It drifted into the living room, followed shortly by its owner.
“Hi, Linley,” Xavier greeted his daughter, who stood in the doorway, clearly detecting a new smell in the house.
“Hi,” she said in bewilderment as she looked at the stranger sitting on the couch.
“Honey, I want you to meet someone,” Allanna said as she stood up and motioned Linley to come into the room. Linley obliged and her mother performed another set of introductions.
“This is my best friend from when I was a kid. This is Cynthia, and as I’m sure you could already tell, she’s a full-blooded werewolf.”
“Wow, I’ve never met one of those before. I mean, I’m half, but…”
“I hear you’re a very special breed,” Cynthia said politely. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Linley sat on the arm of the couch her father was sitting at and couldn’t help wondering what was happening. Her mother had mentioned Cynthia a few times before, but it was her understanding that the two weren’t even in touch with each other any longer. And now, suddenly, she was sitting in the living room shooting the breeze like all was normal.
Still, she didn’t say as much. A part of her was feeling baffled, but another part of her felt a hint of excitement. She’d never met a full-blooded werewolf before. She only knew of herself, and she was half vampire. She knew that her mother had originally been a werewolf, but that was too far back for her to remember. She’d turned into a vampire when Linley was a toddler. Maybe Cynthia could answer questions she might have for her. Or maybe she’d even have a nightly running mate. Allanna had always said that Cynthia was like another sister to her. That could technically make her Linley’s aunt, the only aunt she’d ever known.
Maybe this blast from the past was a good thing. Maybe it was a sign that everything was going to be all right, and that all was looking up. Still, a bigger part of Linley couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread. She feared that Cynthia’s arrival meant the beginning of something dire.
Three months later…
The day of the wedding approached quickly. With Cynthia’s arrival, Linley didn’t have to help with every single part of the planning, though she did as much as she could. Cynthia had insisted that Linley remain the maid of honor, since she was Allanna’s daughter and had actually been a part of her life for the past thirteen years. Cynthia would be a bridesmaid instead. And thanks to her arrival and Allanna’s trusting nature, Cynthia had agreed to watch the kids so that her best friend and husband could go on a two-week honeymoon.
Linley wasn’t too thrilled with that idea, but she didn’t want to ruin her parents’ time, plus her mother was a pretty good judge of character, so she chastised herself for making a mountain out of a mole hill. Her suspicions were completely unjustified; she was obviously concerned because she hadn’t met Cynthia before and her mother had told her about her loyalty to the pack that had abandoned her. But Cynthia had obviously changed, and her father was the one that had called her in the first place, so obviously he trusted her as well. That was all there was to it.
Because of the sun issue, the wedding was taking place inside a church. Braden and Jaden each carried their own pillow, each one with a ring on it. The flower girl was the daughter of one of the family friends in town, and Linley had to admit that the bridesmaid dresses weren’t stereotypically hideous. In fact, she found them quite enjoyable.
The only thing that was really missing was the bride’s father walking her down the aisle. But she chose to go it alone instead, because in actuality, she’d gone it alone in the first place, and because she knew what her father thought of her love for Xavier, she wouldn’t have wanted him there anyway.
The ceremony was beautiful and the vows were expressed with genuine emotion. The rings fit perfectly and there were a few tears shed as the happy couple shared their kiss.
There was a reception held in the dining hall of the church and everyone enjoyed some cake before hitting the dance floor. Linley and her friends also joined in, until Linley noticed something.
“Where’s Addie?” she asked Craig when they sat back down to take a break from dancing.
“Oh, we broke up,” Craig replied indifferently. “Her mom got a new job so they’re moving to Appaloosa Plains. We thought it would be better if we went our separate ways.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“So was I. But it happens. What can you do?”
“Well, thanks for coming today. After a breakup, a wedding is probably the last place you’d want to be.”
“It’s no big deal, I was invited so I came. Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
Linley felt her heart skip a beat. What could Craig, sitting there looking impeccably handsome in his rented suit, possibly have to ask her at her parents’ wedding? And why did he look so serious about it?
“I have to be honest,” he began, a hint of crimson in his cheeks, “I thought you were pretty when we first met at school, and you look really pretty now too. Plus you were so nice to me that first day, showing me around and stuff. It’s pretty obvious that Chelcie has a crush on me, but I’d like to get to know you as more than a friend. But I was always afraid to ask because I didn’t want to cause problems between you guys.”
Linley wasn’t sure what to say. Her mind was screaming, “Say something you idiot!” while her heart was hammering, “Oh my God he wants to go out with me!”
Composing herself, Linley finally said, her voice an embarrassing squeak, “I don’t think it would cause problems. We’re friends, we shouldn’t fight over a guy.”
Which was probably the lamest thing she could have said. Of course best friends would fight over a guy; it happened all the time. Still, she didn’t really care about Chelcie at the moment.
Craig just grinned and said, “Well, then I’d like to take you to a movie or something sometime. It doesn’t have to be a date, just a way to get to know you alone. Without Chelcie and Skyler around.”
“That sounds like fun. I’d love to.”
The two smiled at each other and continued watching the dancers. The photographer began taking pictures of the happy couple and Linley and Cynthia had to keep taking turns being in the shots.
All the while, Linley felt like her heart would explode out of her chest in anticipation. Craig had asked her to go to the movies with him! Even though he’d declared it wouldn’t be a date, that didn’t matter to her.
Little did she know that accepting that invitation to the movies would start a chain of events that would cause several aspects of her life to spiral out of control.