“We need to get out of here,” Monroe said. “Stay at Connor’s back in the retreat.”
Ethan’s face was tight with grief, but he nodded. “On it.”
“Now, Connor,” Monroe said. “Hurry.”
Connor crouched beside Shay, gathering the wolf in his arms.
I cried out when Shay’s fingers were wrenched from mine.
“Got him,” Connor said. “Let’s go.”
“After you.” Ethan lifted his crossbow.
Connor raced across the room with Ethan at his side, firing bolts as they ran. Monroe turned to follow.
“Wait,” I whispered hoarsely.
He looked down at me and frowned. “Who are you?”
“I’m trying to help Shay.”
“You made him like you? A Guardian?”
“I had to.” The room began to fade in and out.
“Did the Keepers make you turn him?”
“No.” I winced, closing my eyes against the pain. “They didn’t know.”
One of his eyebrows shot up. “You defied the Keepers?”
I nodded. My body convulsed and I coughed up blood.
There was a long moan and the slow scrape of feet along the stone floor grew louder. I wondered how close the creature that had been Kyle was . . . and how strong it might be.
Monroe’s gaze flitted behind me. His brow knit and his eyes fell on me again, watching me struggle to sit up.
“I’m sorry about this,” he said, raising his sword, and brought the hilt down on my skull.
A lightning strike of pain seared through me before I sank into darkness.
I LIVED IN THE SPACE BETWEEN THE CONSCIOUS
and the unconscious. Brief flashes of light and sound occasionally pierced the veil that smothered my senses. I felt movement, but not any I made on my own. My limbs were numb. Arms, legs, torso all felt heavy; painless, but waterlogged and beyond my control.
Was I dragged or carried? I couldn’t be sure. I was only vaguely aware of my body being lifted, jerked, passed from one pair of arms to another. Was this actually happening? I felt warm, drowsy. My eyelids were like lead curtains.
“I hear we’ve bagged an alpha.”
Voices. Rough speech that belonged to strangers, enemies. Words that made no sense.
“Corinne’s son? Monroe must be relieved.”
“No. It’s a female.”
“That’s a shame. We’re not keeping her around, are we?”
“Not sure. I think Monroe’s weighing our options.”
Someone gripped my hand and I heard the voice of a friend.
“It’s going to be okay, Calla. I swear I won’t let them hurt you.”
“Shay, get over here,”
a gruff but strangely familiar voice ordered.
“I’ve asked you not to speak with her.”
“You’re being unreasonable.”
“I think you’ll find I’m very reasonable, but you haven’t earned my trust yet.”
“Is that what I’m supposed to be doing?”
“You’d be the wiser for it.”
The world came rushing back, strange sights and scents swirling around me. I was lying on my back, and there was a dull ache in my chest. My eyes struggled to adjust to the dim light. Something cold with sharp edges clamped around my left wrist. A sudden heavy weight brought my arm down hard against my body and my eyes squeezed shut again. I winced at the tenderness in my rib cage.
“Ethan, stay close to Connor in case she wakes up,” Monroe said.
“Why are you doing this?” Shay said. “You don’t need to. She isn’t your enemy. Not anymore.”
“Sure, kid.” Ethan laughed coldly. “Whatever you say.”
“Hand me the other one, Ethan,” Connor said.
The same cold grip seized my right wrist and pressure pinned my arm against my torso.
“That should do it,” Connor said.
“You said she’d be okay,” Shay growled. “You promised.”
“And I’ll keep that promise,” Monroe said. “She hasn’t been harmed.”
“She looks okay to me,” Ethan added. “What do you think, Connor?”
“I think she’s kind of cute,” Connor replied.
A snarl and a scuffling sound reached my ears.
“Whoa! Hang on there, kid. Lucky you ducked, Connor, I think that’s the same left hook that broke my nose last round,” Ethan said. “You got him, Monroe?”
“He’s not going anywhere,” Monroe said with a grunt. “Stop struggling. Connor didn’t mean anything by it, Shay. You don’t need to fight him.”
“Let me go!”
“Scrappy one, isn’t he?” Connor said. “You’re sweet on this girl, huh? Interesting.”
“If you touch her, I swear—”
“Calm down,” Connor muttered. “I was just joking around.”
I forced my eyes open, but everything remained blurry. My throat was parched and I struggled to swallow, to find my voice.
“We had a deal, Shay,” Monroe said firmly. “You can’t stay here any longer.”
“You’ll see her again. You have my word.”
“That depends on you.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You will. Now it’s time to go. Today is the day your real life begins.”
The light winked out and shadows engulfed the room. The long screech of a rusty metal hinge was followed by a dull clang. The voices began to fade.
I parted my lips, my voice emerging in a quiet rasp.
Silence. I was alone in the darkness.
Maybe it was a dream.
Anger seized me and I screamed at the shadows that filled the room, but there was no enemy to fight, save my gnawing fear of the unknown. I began to tremble.
You’re an alpha, Calla. Get it together.
The unyielding darkness pooled in the pit of my stomach.
What does it mean to be an alpha if you’ve abandoned your pack?
I was glad to be alone when the tears finally came. At least no one would witness the shame that rolled swift and hot down my cheeks. Streaks of moisture reached my lips and tasted sharp and bitter, reminding me of the choices I’d made. Of how I’d taken so many turns that brought me here—to a place so unfamiliar that it felt like the end of everything.
Where did running away lead me? Straight into the arms of the only enemy I’ve ever known? To my own death?
For the first time I could remember, I was truly alone. I stared into the empty room, grasping for a sliver of hope.
I’d risked everything to save Shay. Letting stillness ease my trembling limbs, I closed my eyes and saw his face, remembering the freedom I’d felt in his arms, the possibility of a life unlike any I’d imagined. I wondered if my capture had snuffed out that dream . . . if it had ever stood the chance of becoming real.
Despair threatened to drag me down, but I fought back, clinging to a single, flickering thought.
Shay loves me.
He would risk everything to find his way back to my side and set me free.
Because that’s what love is, isn’t it? It has to be.
doesn’t phonetically evoke the grace and fortitude provided by colleagues, friends, and family, whose presence made this novel possible. Richard Pine and Charlie Olsen of Inkwell are my knights in shining armor. Charlie—thank you for loving this book, guiding me, and indulging phone conversations conducted fully in Star Wars metaphors. Richard—I’m still dazzled whenever you call! I couldn’t have better writing mentors than Michael Green and Jill Santopolo at Philomel. Michael, thank you for your wonderful words and questions as I started this journey. I’d especially like to thank Jill for bringing incredible skill and kindness to our work together. The entire team at Penguin Young Readers has been wonderful. Thank you Don Weisberg, Jennifer Haller, Emily Romero, Erin Dempsey, Shanta Newlin, Jackie Engel, Linda McCarthy, Katrina Damkoehler, Felicia Frazier, Scottie Bowditch, and Julia Johnson for your incredible support and enthusiasm. I’m thrilled to be part of the Penguin family!
I’m indebted to Stephanie Howard and Lisa Desrochers for being great critique partners. Lindsey Adams and Gina Monroe made my Internet digs fabulous by sharing their artistic gifts. John and Natalie Occhipinti taught me that strangers on a plane can become your first fans. Corby Kelly, thanks for lending your mad language skills. Kristin Naca, you are a goddess, keep it up. Casey Jarrin, your brilliance makes everything around you sparkle, this book being no exception. This writer’s mind flourished in a little-known corner of the globe: Ashland, Wisconsin, I love you like no other place in the world. FISH CAMP! Ed and Maribeth, thank you for reading from the first hope. Katie, thank you for knowing.
None of this would have happened without the love and support of my family. Aunt Helen, thanks for all the books. Mom, Dad, Garth, you are the threads that weave through everything, always. And for Will, who dances with me whenever I am sad—I may not like
The Young Ones,
but I love you more every day.