Last Wolf Watching(3)

By: Rhyannon Byrd

Even as an outsider in this ominous setting, she understood instinctively what the menacing energy permeating the night signified. They were ready—the Silvercrest pack’s anticipation ripe for the ceremony that would soon begin.

Hold it together, she silently scolded. Do not fall apart.

Willing her backbone to keep her upright, Michaela focused on the towering blaze of a roaring bonfire that rose from the far side of the clearing, its orange flames burning with maniacal zeal against the ink-black curtain of night. Not even the stars shone in the eastern sky. Only the moon burned in the stygian darkness of the heavens, its yellowed mass seeming to reflect the fiery glow of the sinister flames.

The mountains were silent but for the low, nearby noises that filled her ears, more animal-like than human. This was Silvercrest pack land, and the werewolves were tired of waiting. Michaela kept her gaze fixed on the fire, aware that many of the Lycans had already shifted into their preternatural shapes, their fur-covered bodies standing like monstrous shadows at the edges of the forest as they waited with restless expectancy.

If not for her friends, she’d have thought she was in hell. But she wasn’t alone, thank God. Mason stood on her left, while Torrance moved in closer to her right side and grabbed her hand, squeezing her icy fingers in support as the wind surged around them, rattling the autumn leaves upon the gnarled branches of the trees, scattering others in the ravaging gusts. It still seemed astonishing that her best friend, who’d always been wary of the supernatural, had married a man who could howl at the moon, but Michaela liked Mason, as well as respected him. And there was no denying that the gorgeous half-breed was head over heels in love with his redheaded wife.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Torrance murmured, the tone of her voice soothing, as if gentling a cornered animal.

“Mason won’t let anything happen to Max, I promise.”

Okay? she thought, blinking rapidly as tears threatened to spill once more from her raw, swollen eyes. How was that even possible? Her nineteen-year-old brother had been attacked by a rogue werewolf—a Lycan who preyed upon humans for food. Max had been bitten in the attack, which meant he was no longer human, but a breed of creature that existed between the two worlds of man and beast, much like the Bloodrunners themselves.

Last night, it had been Carla Reyes’s turn to wait at the hospital while Max worked his shift as a security guard. Michaela had been enjoying a relaxing evening at home after a long day at her store, when Reyes called to let her and Wyatt know that Max had taken his car and disappeared in the middle of making his rounds. Michaela couldn’t think of any possible reason that Max would do such a thing—unless it had something to do with Sophia Dawson. And she’d been right.

Sophia was an eighteen-year-old Lycan who’d discovered the gruesome murder of a human female the week before. She’d spent a few days at their home, before returning to her parents’ house in Shadow Peak, the mountaintop town that was home to the Silvercrest pack. Max and Sophia had become fast friends, despite Michaela’s warnings that her brother should be cautious. Sophia was mixed up with a wild party crowd down in Covington, and the last thing Michaela had wanted was to see her brother become involved in an unhealthy relationship. She didn’t care that Sophia was a werewolf—but she did care that the teenager was heavily involved in the local drug scene.

In fact, she suspected it was Sophia’s troubled lifestyle that had drawn Max to her in the first place. He’d always been a champion of the underdog, willing to take on everyone’s worries as his own. Michaela loved that his heart was so generous, but she’d also worried that it would eventually land him in trouble—which was exactly what had happened.

After Carla’s call, Wyatt had contacted the other Runners and a search of the city had been immediately set into action. Then Brody Carter had arrived on her doorstep with his heartbreaking news.

“Max is still alive,” the Bloodrunner had explained to her and Wyatt in gritty, clipped tones. “Sophia Dawson showed up in Shadow Peak with him about a half hour ago. They’re trying to get the story out of her, but she’s pretty hysterical. Seems she’d called Max from a concert, scared that she and her girlfriends were being followed. Says Max told her he knew Reyes wouldn’t let him into that part of town, so he slipped out a back entrance at the hospital, grabbed his car and met up with them. He talked Sophia into coming back home with him, but before they could make it back to his car, they were attacked. The only thing that saved their lives was an accident that happened up the street. When he heard the approaching sirens, the rogue fled and the girls were able to get Max in his car. Sophia panicked and drove him straight to her parents’ house. They notified the Elders and he was taken into custody.”

Michaela had stood there feeling dead inside, a great roaring wave of pain ripping through her body, while Wyatt had talked with the scowling Runner. Then Brody had left as quickly as he’d come, leaving Wyatt to explain that Max would be kept in a holding cell in Shadow Peak, where he would be watched by guards until his first shift into a werewolf, which usually came the second night after an attack. Once the signs of impending change were noted, a Novitiates ceremony would be called.