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Nineteen-year-old Anna has been an outcast her entire life, and neither her parents nor her pack want anything to do with her. When she is transferred to the Silver River Pack, she’s finally welcomed with open arms. But why can’t she shift into her wolf form? And why is the enigmatic Alpha Zach so interested in her?

Age Rating: 18+

Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

 

Fighting Fate by Shannon Bradford is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

Summary

Nineteen-year-old Anna has been an outcast her entire life, and neither her parents nor her pack want anything to do with her. When she is transferred to the Silver River Pack, she’s finally welcomed with open arms. But why can’t she shift into her wolf form? And why is the enigmatic Alpha Zach so interested in her?

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Shannon Bradford

Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

The ridge overlooked a forest that was so dense that no earth could be seen.

It seemed to go on for as far as the eye could see, a vast ocean filled with many diverse shades of green.

There were trees of all different descriptions, their tips seeming to reach for the sun that sat high in the sky above them.

Anna Davis could name a few of them: pine, redwood, spruce, and cedar, and she knew that protected under all their thick branches, nestled in the trunks and in the underbrush, wildlife would be thriving.

Anna hadn’t explored much since she had arrived in the valley, so she wasn’t sure exactly the kinds of animals that resided here, but she bet it was full of creatures that had yet to taste the fear of humans.

This land was protected, untouched, but Anna didn’t kid herself.

It was only a matter of time before the near-humans would cast their eye to it, seeing prime land to destroy and develop.

Anna looked over her shoulder, seeing the Calmariel ranges behind her with the largest mountain standing close and proud.

It towered above the land and completely blocked any view of the city that sat behind it about thirty miles away.

Humans’ lust for more was ever-growing, becoming like a virus that stretched its tendrils out and destroyed anything that it touched…

Only this virus also raised concrete buildings and factories where breathtaking nature had once stood.

Anna turned her back to the view out over the ridge, smiling.

When humans turned their greedy gaze this way, they were going to be met with just a few obstacles.

The land was full of rolling hills, deep ravines… and also predatory wolves, who were very protective and territorial over their land and home.

Anna kicked her bare feet against the rock face, looking down at her dangling legs and the sheer drop beneath her.

She guessed it must have been about an eighty-foot drop, but that didn’t bother her. Heights never had.

Before coming here, Anna had lived in an apartment complex in the city with her pack.

Anytime that she managed to get away from her family, she would find herself on the rooftop with her eyes firmly on the horizon.

Her mother had found her once and had scathingly told her that maybe Anna should have been born a bird because she sure as hell didn’t make a good wolf.

Anna sighed, thoughts of her family making her feel pensive.

She had transferred to Silver River pack a couple days ago, and almost immediately, feelings of relief had overwhelmed her.

It had been hard to believe that she had finally escaped the clutches of her old pack, Gray Wing, but at the same time, Anna was frustrated that she would never know the answers to her past or to the treatment that she had suffered at the hands of both her family and the rest of the pack.

She truly didn’t ever expect to see any of the Gray Wing pack again, even her parents, but they had been the only family that she had ever known.

Silver River was vastly different, and Anna was constantly finding herself feeling unsure and out of place.

She wouldn’t be an official member of the Silver River pack until the bonding ceremony, but she had no clue what her role would be once that happened.

Anna had never had a true role within Gray Wing, although she had understood firmly what her place was.

Life had been fairly predictable, and that had made it comfortable, even if it hadn’t been filled with happiness… or even entirely pleasant.

Anna shook her head, trying to clear herself of all those thoughts, and straightened her spine.

This incredible view in front of her was one of the biggest reasons why she had accepted her transfer here—this view and the freedom that accompanied it.

Anna had felt claustrophobic in the city, surrounded by a concrete jungle of high-rise buildings and streets full of loud, fast vehicles.

Wolves weren’t made to run through the cities, and she still didn’t understand why Gray Wing had made their home there.

Right now, Anna felt more connected to her wolf than she ever had before.

She knew with certainty that no matter what happened after the bonding ceremony, she would never regret coming here.

The past two days had already proven to her that life had significantly changed from what she had been experiencing at Gray Wing.

Anna was jerked out of her thoughts by the sound of someone clearing their throat, her head snapping around to locate the source of the sound, catching sight of a man standing at the tree line.

At her sudden movement, she wobbled on the edge of the ledge, and the man stepped forward, his arm rising as if he were about to dart forward and yank her back from the drop.

Anna steadied herself quickly, eyeing the stranger warily.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice soft like he was speaking to a spooked animal. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Anna’s eyes quickly took him in, assessing whether he was a threat or not. He was wearing faded blue-wash jeans and that was about it.

His feet were bare, as was his chest, which Anna noted was dusted with short, curling brown hairs.

He had muscular shoulders that tensed as he moved, crossing his arms over his chest.

Anna guessed that he had recently shifted and had found jeans in one of the many caches of clothing that were placed strategically around Silver River territory.

He had dark-brown hair that was curling around his ears and angular cheekbones that led down to a firm jaw shadowed with a few days’ worth of stubble.

Anna finally met his warm, brown eyes, which were watching her with a concerned expression, and she realized that he was waiting for her to respond.

His words finally registered in her mind and she felt her cheeks heat slightly.

It was extremely hard to sneak up on a wolf shifter because of their acute hearing, and Anna knew that any other wolf would have heard him coming.

As Anna admitted to herself that she couldn’t even claim it was because she was deep in thought, she flapped an embarrassed hand at the stranger.

“It’s okay. I mean, I really should have heard you coming, but I was lost in my thoughts,” she lied, but he just gave a small smile and tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

“How could you not be, with this view?” he murmured, looking past Anna to the forest behind her before looking back.

“My name is Mitch. I’m one of Silver River’s soldiers. I haven’t seen you around here before.” It was a statement, but his voice rose slightly in question.

Anna felt a little bit of the tension leave her at the mention that he was a Silver River pack member.

“I’ve only been here a couple days; I’m a transfer from Gray Wing.” She got up and padded over to him, holding out her hand for him to shake.

“My name is Anna.” He took her hand in a tight grip, offering a small smile, which she returned.

“Nice to meet you, Anna. Do you need a tour buddy? I’d be happy to show you around. I’m Silver River born and bred.”

Once he had released her hand, Anna subtly stepped back to put space between them again as she considered his offer.

Finally, she said, “That would be great, actually! Can we start now?” Mitch nodded, laughing at her enthusiasm.

“Sure, I have nothing else going on right now. Training doesn’t start for another three hours.”

Anna smiled, starting to feel more at ease by the minute.

She retreated back to the ridge edge to pick up her discarded socks and shoes. She started stuffing her feet into them as Mitch waited patiently.

Once she had finished, they began walking together toward the mountain ranges and the pack den.

The trees grew dense fairly quickly, their steps rustling the foliage as they walked.

Anna made sure that she kept at least of foot of distance between them so that Mitch’s body wouldn’t accidentally touch her own.

She waited for Mitch to ask her why she hadn’t shifted, her mind racing with different explanations that she could come up with, but after a while she accepted that the question was not forthcoming.

Instead, he told her all about the dynamics of Silver River, and Anna listened, fascinated.

When she had arrived, they had only told her that the alpha was away on business, and so her official pack welcoming wouldn’t take place until he got back.

That meant for the last two days, Anna had basically been in limbo.

She wasn’t used to being so idle, but until she was assigned a role, she didn’t have much choice.

“So Silver River has been on this land for almost twenty years now. The previous alpha, Phillip Stone, found it and thought it was something special.”

Mitch stepped over a large fallen tree, turning back to help Anna over it. “The pack spent years creating the den, modernizing it and making it what it is today.”

“I’ve spent some time walking around, but there’s so many hallways, and it all looks the same, so I’ve actually gotten lost a couple times.”

Anna brushed her hand against the rough bark of a tree as Mitch chuckled.

“That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been telling everyone for years that they should start making maps!”

“How did Phillip get the idea for building under a mountain?” Anna queried, looking up in front of her at the mountain in question.

“He wanted his den to be difficult for anyone to find and fairly impenetrable. It’s always been a priority for Silver River to protect the young and vulnerable. What about Gray Wing? I heard their main pack house is actually in the city.”

Anna smiled at the disgust in his voice at even the idea of living in the city.

“I’m not sure how long they’ve been there… Since I was born at least, and I’m nineteen.”

“Did you enjoy living there?” he asked.

“No, not really.” She trailed off, recalling all her thoughts on the subject from earlier.

“It felt so hard to breathe, like the air was denser. Here, however…” Anna paused, inhaling deeply and grinning at Mitch.

“Here, I can really breathe.” Mitch looked around as if seeing everything for the first time.

“Sometimes I forget to stop and look at this place. I forget how lucky we are.” He smiled nostalgically before shifting the conversation back to Anna.

“So back to Gray Wing, what did you do in the pack?”

“A bit of everything, I guess. I was never assigned a role so I just…floated around. I stayed mostly in our family’s quarters and helped my parents.”

Anna shrugged one shoulder, looking away from Mitch’s curious expression.

She knew from observing Silver River the past two days that what had happened to her at Gray Wing was abnormal.

Anna guessed it was also a big part of the reason that she was feeling so out of place and unsure of how to change it.

She didn’t feel like she could just jump into any job, because she was scared that she would do it wrong or that she would be stepping on someone’s toes.

“But you said you’re nineteen?”

Anna nodded in response, and Mitch looked at her strangely before saying, “Fair enough; I guess every pack is different.”

The pair broke through the trees and into a large grassy clearing.

The trees had been cut right back so that the tree line was in the shape of a semicircle.

In the middle of the clearing stood a large boulder, big and round with a lot of footholds.

Anna knew it was a great climbing tool, having seen a bunch of pups playing on it earlier.

The entire area of the clearing was surprisingly flat and green for being right in front of a mountain, which stretched steeply upward.

The rock face was light-gray and seemed almost smooth to touch in places, and Anna knew from touching it earlier how cold it would feel against her skin.

She looked upward, trying to see the peak of the mountain, but the sun was peeking out from behind it, making the sky too bright for Anna’s eyes.

Mitch strode toward the base of the mountain, seeming smaller the closer he got to the wall of gray.

Anna followed more slowly, her eyes taking in every detail around her as if it were the first time seeing it.

She imagined that alpha, Phillip, coming here and seeing the potential to create a home and was once again amazed at what he had created for his pack.

Eventually, she came up to Mitch, who was standing in front of the cave entrances.

They were tucked right into the base of the mountain, veering steeply downward so that they were smaller in appearance and camouflaged against the rock.

If you didn’t know they were there, they would be almost impossible to see from a distance.

There were two entrances right next to each other and divided by a rock wall.

Anna knew that one led to where her quarters and all the domestic areas of the pack were, while the other led directly to the soldier training rooms and garages.

Everything was joined together farther back in the den, but she hadn’t managed to figure it all out yet.

She knew how to get to her room, to the dining hall, to the exit, and that was about it.

Mitch led Anna into the left entrance, both of them stepping carefully down the steep path until it began to level out.

The hallway had a cement floor and the walls were left natural, although the rock had been smoothed completely out.

There were round bulkhead lights lining the ceiling and small vents scattered between them, an air ventilation system that could disperse clean air and heating throughout the den.

Mitch led Anna eastward, toward the dining hall, and he pointed out important rooms and different hallways along the way.

Anna tried to keep up with what he was saying, but knew that she was just as likely to get lost as before.

They finally reached the dining hall, which was quickly filling up with people as dinner time drew close.

The room held about thirty tables, and along one side of the room stood a large buffet-style serving table.

Right next to it was a serving window that Anna could see opened into the kitchen.

People wearing aprons were going back and forth through a door a few feet from the window, carrying large trays of food and setting them up on the buffet table.

Mitch led Anna to a table that already had six people sitting at it. He slapped his hand down firmly on the table surface to get their attention.

“Hey, guys,” he announced, pausing as he waited for everyone to turn and look at him, glancing curiously at Anna as they did so.

“This is Anna, the transfer from Gray Wing. I told her I’d be her tour guide. Anna, this is Tori, Josh, Adrian, Lucy, and Piper.”

Mitch named each person at the table from left to right, pointing at them as he did. Anna gave a small wave, smiling at the table as a whole.

“I’m not going to remember any of that, but hi! Nice to meet you all.”

They all laughed before one person, who Anna thought was Josh, invited Mitch and Anna to join them at the table.

Anna felt a spark of hope that this was the beginning of making Silver River her home.

She had never felt that at Gray Wing, even though she had been born into the pack and had lived with them her entire life.

Silver River was her chance at a fresh start and maybe finally becoming a part of a real family.

She was distracted from her thoughts as she sat down and the woman sitting on her right turned to Anna, asking, “So, you’re from Gray Wing, huh?”

Anna looked at her, remembering that this woman had been introduced as Piper.

Piper had bright-red hair pulled into a ponytail and expressive gray eyes. There were freckles dusting across her nose and cheeks.

Anna looked down and saw that Piper was wearing the standard Silver River soldier uniform, a black polo shirt and black cargo pants.

“That’s right. It’s so different here compared to Gray Wing.”

“I know how that feels; I’m actually a transfer myself. I came here about a year ago. Dark Cloud was much smaller than Silver River, with only about fifty members in total.”

“Why did they let you transfer?” Anna asked in surprise.

“I didn’t give them a choice. My parents were killed in a territory battle with another pack, and I couldn’t stand being there with all the memories.”

Piper looked away, and Anna regretted asking the question.

After a tense silence, Piper looked back, clearly struggling to put the smile back on her face.

“So you’ve been here two days? Do you like it, even if it’s different?”

“It’s hard to say because I still don’t know where I fit in to everything.” Anna shrugged.

“I don’t have anything to do, and I feel strange about just jumping in to help when nobody knows me.”

Piper’s brow furrowed as she stared at Anna, concentrating for a moment.

“Wait, you got here two days ago? And Zach… Tori, when did the alpha leave for his trip?”

Piper turned to a black-haired woman sitting at the other end of the table.

“Four days ago, I think. He should be back any day.” At the answer, Piper turned back to Anna, looking her over with concern.

“So, clearly, you haven’t been welcomed into the pack bond yet, so you’ve been without a pack for three days? Are you feeling all right?”

At the question, Anna blinked at Piper in confusion.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she said, her tone questioning.

“Our head healer believes when the mind severs the emotional ties with a pack by making the decision to leave and then puts distance between themselves and the pack, the bond link is completely broken.

“I don’t know about other shifters, but wolf shifters need that bond because without it, we can either go feral or get sick. I’m really shocked that they left you this long.”

“I am feeling a lack of energy,” Anna responded thoughtfully.

“But Gray Wing had closed me off from the pack bond for so long that I haven’t really noticed any difference.”

Piper gaped at her revelation, her mouth opening and closing before she exclaimed, “They blocked you out?!”

Her loud voice drew curious glances from the rest of the table.

Anna made eye contact with Mitch, who raised an eyebrow in question, but Anna just smiled before turning back to Piper.

“It’s okay, Piper,” she said quietly, hoping that Piper would follow suit and lower her voice.

“Don’t feel sorry for me. It was just a part of life; I don’t even know what I was missing.”

Piper looked like she wanted to argue but then decided against it. She sat back in her chair, her eyes still firmly on Anna.

“Just know this, when you are welcomed into the pack and the pack bond, you’re in for a real shock. I got one just from coming from a pack a quarter of the size of Silver River.”

As she finished speaking, the person sitting on the other side of her said something and she turned away.

Anna was left sitting in silence, nervously wondering what Piper had meant.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

2

Anna woke late the next morning to complete silence. She lay under the comforter for a minute, enjoying the lack of noise.

Anna blinked her eyes open, glancing around the darkened room.

Owing to the den being built underneath the mountain, there was no natural light, but the lack of windows wasn’t so much of a sacrifice when Anna considered the quiet.

Anna sat up against her headboard, smiling at the sparse room. It wasn’t much, basically a bedsit with a kitchenette and a bathroom.

It was a standard space given to unmated pack members, apparently, but Anna had no complaints about it.

It was the first time she had ever had a room to herself, something that was completely her own that had a lock on the door.

The only furniture in the room was the bed and an old bedside table because Anna had had nothing to bring with her when she transferred.

The only thing she’d managed to bring was a duffel full of clothes, but even so, she was having to do washing almost every day so that she didn’t run out of clean clothes.

Anna finally pulled herself out of bed and made herself a cup of coffee.

Whoever had set the room up for her had made sure that she had coffee, milk, and cereal, and even some utensils, cups, and plates.

It had been a nice surprise on her first morning when Anna hadn’t been ready to face everyone in the dining hall.

She made a mental note to ask in the hall today about when someone would be making a trip into town so that she could stock up on some more supplies.

She leaned against the kitchen counter and thought about what had happened in the dining hall last night.

After Anna’s conversation with Piper, the Silver River second-in-command had approached their table.

Alex had been the one to welcome Anna when she’d arrived in the alpha’s absence.

He was a very serious man, and Anna had found him very intimidating at first.

His hair was dark, almost black, and closely shaven to his head. He was a big man, tall and very broad shouldered.

On that first day, Anna had watched him, and his expression had always remained impassive, as if nothing touched him…even when a pup tried to tackle him around the legs.

Anna had thought for sure that he would kick the pup away, something that her previous alpha would have done.

Instead, Alex had reprimanded the pup and told him that he should have tried a surprise attack if he wanted to win against a much bigger opponent.

Last night, Alex had approached the table, his expression still as serious as it had been that day, but his eyes had focused solely on Anna.

After greeting everyone, he had formally announced that Zach, the alpha, would be returning the next day and that the ceremony would be going ahead the following night.

Anna’s stomach had immediately started churning with nerves, and not long after Alex had left, Anna had said goodnight to everyone at the table and retreated to her quarters.

Anna was of two minds. She really wanted to be officially welcomed into the pack so that she would feel more secure and safe in her place here.

On the other hand, she was nervous about meeting the alpha, about standing in front of the entire pack and then being found wanting.

What if he decided that she wasn’t Silver River material? Anna knew that she had nothing to offer.

She had no skills, no money, and her dominance level was pretty low.

If it had been higher, if she had been assigned as a soldier or something on a similar level…then maybe her whole life would have been different.

Anna shook the thoughts out of her head, finishing her coffee and rinsing her cup.

She refused to spend the day worrying about what would happen tonight at the ceremony.

She was already here, away from Gray Wing, and that already felt like the biggest win to her.

Anna went to her closet, looking despondently at the two pieces of clothing hanging in there.

She had no idea what kind of dress code tonight would be, but she didn’t have many options anyway.

There was a cream silk blouse, which she could pair with some tidy jeans or a knee-length blue floral-print dress.

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before pulling the dress out of the closet.

She quickly changed into the dress and went to stand in front of the full-length mirror that hung on the back of her bedroom door.

She eyed her reflection critically, her eyes taking in her wavy auburn hair that reached her shoulder blades, then looking at the dress.

It was an A-line silhouette, sleeveless and with a high neckline.

The tulle skirt flowed out from Anna’s waist and caressed her knees, the fabric dark-navy and covered in floral patterns filled with pinks, oranges, and blues.

She once again wished she could shut off the nerves that were churning her stomach as she quickly applied a little bit of eyeliner and pink lip gloss.

She finally turned away from the mirror and grabbed her brush from the bathroom sink, roughly pulling it through her hair before she twisted the thick strands up into a messy chignon bun with a few tendrils framing her face.

She glanced at herself one last time before walking out of the bathroom.

Anna checked the time and saw that it was only 3 p.m. She still had two hours to kill before it was time for the ceremony to start.

She considered going to the dining hall, but her stomach rejected the idea of food, and Anna really wasn’t in the mood for casual small talk.

Instead, she decided on a quick walk outside to get some fresh air.

Feeling good about that decision, Anna quickly slid her feet into some strappy black sandals and made her way out of the room.

Following the hallway toward the exit, Anna smiled at the few pack members that she passed, feeling grateful when they returned her smile but didn’t stop her to talk.

She made it to the bottom of the incline leading out when she heard someone calling her name.

Anna briefly considered making a run for it, but reckoned that her chances of getting up the hill in a hurry without falling over were slim to none.

Sighing, she straightened her shoulders and turned, finding herself nicely surprised to find Mitch striding toward her.

“Hey,” she greeted him warmly once he had reached her.

“Hi, Anna. Going for a walk? Do you mind if I join you?”

He smiled back, his voice cheerful, and Anna nodded, turning back to walk up the incline as Mitch fell into step beside her.

They didn’t speak as they exited the den, but it was a comfortable silence. It was beautiful outside, the skies blue and clear; the air was warm.

Anna savored the breeze on her skin, aware that the weather would be changing soon with cooler weather moving across the country.

She wondered if it would be colder out here in the forest than in the city, hopeful that it might even snow.

She chanced a glance at Mitch out of the corner of her eye, noting his messy brown hair and strong jawline.

He was quite an attractive-looking male, which his warm personality only seemed to enhance.

Anna briefly compared him to the soldiers she had known at Gray Wing, all of them arrogant and rude.

They had considered her far beneath their notice, more likely to shove her out of the way than even give her nod of acknowledgement if she had met one in the halls.

Mitch wasn’t like that at all. He didn’t seem bothered by her lack of dominance or role within the pack. He just saw Anna as…well, Anna.

“How’re you feeling about tonight?” Mitch’s voice broke the silence, and Anna glanced at him, wrinkling her nose up in an expression of self-deprecation.

“I’m so nervous,” she admitted. “I keep thinking up scenarios in my head where it all goes wrong.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, the usual… I walk in and I’m naked. The alpha is a crazy person who kills me. I walk in, and it’s actually Gray Wing inside waiting for me.”

Mitch let out a bark of laughter that made Anna smile.

“Now, that is some imagination you have there.” They walked past the boulder, Anna stretching an arm out so that her fingertips grazed the cool rock.

Her head already felt clearer, listening to the birds in the nearby trees and hearing the breeze rustle the crisp leaves, which were only just starting to think about turning brown.

“It’s just that…that it seems almost too good to be true here. Nothing in my life has ever just been handed to me, and really, I don’t have anything to bring to the pack. I don’t understand why they would accept my transfer in the first place, so logic tells me it must be a mistake.”

As she finished speaking, Mitch stopped walking.

She halted next to him, the pair standing on the edge of the tree line, and Anna looked back over the clearing and at the mountain that housed Silver River.

“I think you underestimate your own value, Anna, but from what you’ve told me so far, I can tell you that Silver River is completely different.”

Mitch touched Anna’s shoulder softly, his tone reassuring.

“Zach is a good alpha and strategist. He doesn’t believe that brute strength is everything. I can’t tell you why your transfer was accepted, but I can tell you that it wasn’t a mistake.”

Anna gave Mitch a wan smile, wanting to believe him, but her past had disillusioned her.

“Come on.” Mitch’s voice brought her back out of her own head. “It’s time to start heading to the auditorium. Zach hates when people are late.”

He gently grabbed her arm, turning them both back toward the entrance to the den.

“Any chance I can do the ceremony in private?” Anna half joked as they entered.

“Come on, Anna. It’ll be a piece of cake!” Mitch wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulders.

Anna felt warmth spread throughout her body, enjoying the feeling of having a friend.

Mitch led her in a direction that Anna hadn’t been down before, and it wasn’t long before they could hear voices.

With every step, the sound grew louder, and Anna’s heart started beating faster, her mind once again swirling with possibilities of everything going wrong.

Finally, Mitch brought her to stop in front of two large double doors, announcing unnecessarily, “We’re here!”

He turned to look at Anna, and she saw his eyes widen at her pale face and the sweat she could feel starting to dot her brow.

“Jeez, kid, it’s really not that bad. The sooner you get it over with, the sooner the after-party starts.”

Anna took a deep, steadying breath, swiping her arm across her forehead.

“Okay,” she muttered. “I got this.”

She ignored the fact that her voice was trembling and her hands were starting to follow suit.

“You sure do.”

Mitch grinned mischievously, but before Anna could ask him what his deal was, he opened the doors and shoved her unceremoniously inside.

Anna stumbled, glaring at him over her shoulder before facing forward.

The site of the auditorium greeted her, a large room with a curved ceiling and a floor that sloped downward toward a stage.

The floor was filled with seats covered in red fabric, and Anna guessed wildly that it would sit about two hundred people.

Pack members were milling about the room, chatting with one another as they slowly found somewhere to sit.

Anna gaped, not quite having realized the enormity of Silver River until this moment. The Gray Wing pack wouldn’t even be able to fill half the room.

“How many people are in this pack?” She turned to look at Mitch as she spoke. “Is every single pack member going to be here?”

“No, there’ll be quite a few missing. There are a few members who live in a pack house in the city, and soldiers will still be out on rotation tonight, especially with all the media covering Zach’s comings and goings.”

He looked around the room thoughtfully.

“Not a lot of people know where our den is, obviously, but everyone is always trying to find it. They won’t succeed, though. We can be pretty sneaky when we want to be.”

Mitch smirked down at Anna, hooking his thumbs into the belt loops of his blue jeans.

The noise level in the auditorium started fading quickly into a quiet buzz, and Anna watched as everyone began moving into their seats.

“Come on,” Mitch said. “There’ll be reserved seating for you at the front.”

Anna followed Mitch as he walked down one of the aisles that divided the rows of seats, noticing that they were drawing a few curious glances.

Anna fidgeted with the bottom of her dress, feeling self-conscious at the attention but also relieved that her dress suited the occasion, seeing a few other similar dresses in the crowd.

They finally reached the front row, and Anna saw Mitch had been right, seeing Reserved signs stuck to the back of the seats.

Mitch pressed Anna into the seat on the end of the aisle and started backing away, saying, “Good luc—”

“Wait!” Anna cut him off, jumping to her feet. “Where are you going?” Even she was embarrassed to hear the panic filling her voice.

“Sorry, Anna; the other seats are for the others being welcomed into the pack. I’ll catch up with you after, okay?”

He gave her a reassuring smile before turning and walking back up the aisle. Anna watched him go, seeing a group of people beckoning him over.

She sat back down, feeling even more embarrassed than ever. She was acting like a child with her parent, wanting her hand held.

She took a deep breath, straightening her spine. No one had ever held her hand in her life; she did not need anyone now.

Someone sat next to her, murmuring a greeting. Anna gave an awkward smile back, but before she could reply, a man walked onto the stage.

He came to a halt in the front middle of the stage, standing almost straight in front of Anna, whose eyes slowly travelled up his entire body, taking in every detail.

His feet were encased in black boots, and his dark-blue jeans were tucked into the top of them.

The denim was clearly worn in, with faded patches on the knees and the material hugging his large, muscular thighs.

Anna thought with amusement that she could probably fit her whole body into one leg of those jeans.

Her eyes traveled to a black dress shirt that hung untucked over his waistband.

The sleeves were rolled up to expose tanned forearms, and the material was pulled tight over his chest and wide shoulders.

His hair was tousled, as if he kept running his hands through it, and it was long enough to curl around the neatly folded collar of the shirt, although that wasn’t the most interesting thing.

The color of his hair was completely gray, and in the harsh light from overhead, Anna could have sworn that it was almost white.

The color contrasted with his tanned skin and youthful face, although Anna decided that the hard line of his square jaw would put anyone off challenging him.

His expression was welcoming as he looked out over the crowd, but there was something extremely intimidating about him.

Anna decided it was a combination of his large build and an aura of menace that seemed to vibrate out from him.

As she finished her perusal, she curiously noted that he didn’t hold a microphone.

Her thought was quickly followed by the realization that the room had fallen dead silent.

Anna glanced around, noting that almost every single eye was fixed on the man, and she made an easy guess at his identify.

Zach Thomas, the Silver River alpha.

She had one knee hooked over the other, her foot swinging nervously, but everything froze as he finally began to speak.

“Welcome, Silver River.” His voice was deep and husky, and it seemed filled with power that flowed throughout the room, filling every corner.

Anna could feel the hairs on the back of her neck lift and knew that if she glanced down at her arms, she would see her skin rising with goosebumps.

Her heart started to race, and she felt the insane urge to get closer to him, to touch him or smell him or both.

Anna tried to steady her breathing, never having felt anything like this before, even around her old alpha.

Her mind was racing, trying to work out why she was reacting this way when all he had done was speak two words that weren’t even directly to her.

“These are always my favorite occasions,” he continued as Anna tried to focus on him, “where we welcome our newest pack members. We all witness their joining of our pack and our family.

“We become stronger with each member and all that they bring. We become stronger against whatever, whoever, would seek to harm us.”

He paused while the room filled with cheers and claps. Anna heard some whooping that sounded suspiciously like Mitch, making her smile.

It was a brief, welcome distraction from the effect the alpha’s voice was having on her.

Zach stepped closer to the edge of the stage, his eyes moving over the people sitting in the front row.

Anna held her breath as his eyes moved over, barely touching on her before moving on to the next person.

She let the breath out in relief but froze as his gaze returned and paused on her.

Anna felt his stare like a hot wave of air that swept her from head to toe.

The whole room seemed to still as Anna’s eyes met his, seeing that they were a bright glacial blue.

Her chest started aching with the need to breathe, her cheeks flushing with heat, but her eyes unable to let go of his stare.

Finally, after what felt like eternity, his moved on to the rest of the people in the row.

Everyone started talking as Zach assessed the pack members in the front row, and he waited for quiet before he spoke again, softer this time.

“Come onstage, all those joining us tonight.”

Anna waited for everyone else in the row to make their way before following behind the person that had been sitting next to her, a middle-aged woman.

There were ten people in total, including six youths who looked to be about thirteen, which was the age that Silver River officially welcomed young into the pack.

They filed onto the stage in a line, turning to face the rest of the room.

Anna felt safe at the end of the line, glad that she would be able to see everyone else go through the ceremony before it was her turn.

Zach stepped up to the first person at the other end of the line, a small girl who grinned confidently up at the alpha, clearly familiar with him.

He smiled back as he knelt in front of her, although he still remained taller, and he began to speak.

“Do you, Madeline, pledge to join Silver River, and join in protecting the pack and all of its members? Do you promise your loyalty and your honor to putting the pack above all else? And do you swear your allegiance to me, Zach Thomas, as your alpha?”

His words were serious, and Anna found herself once again mesmerized by his voice.

Her eyes darted between him and Madeline, her body leaning forward so that she could see better.

“Yes, I do.” Madeline’s voice was confident and clean, and Anna envied the girl for it.

Zach placed both hands onto Madeline’s shoulders and closed his eyes.

Anna could almost feel the pull of power from him, and she heard Madeline inhale sharply and guessed that was the moment that her mind was brought fully into the pack bond.

Madeline opened her eyes, looking a little dazed, as Zach stood to his full height and smiled proudly down at her.

The process was repeated with each other person on the stage until, finally, Zach approached Anna.

She stared hard at the floor, swallowing hard as his black boots came to a halt right in front of her.

Her head was level with his chest, his body towering over hers as she slowly looked up so that she could see his face.

This close, she could see gray stubble covered his strong jaw, surrounding lips that were pressed into a tight, thin line.

His nose was straight, leading to thick gray eyebrows that sat above deep-set eyes.

The left eyebrow was bisected by a large scar that trailed to his temple.

The thought flickered through Anna’s head that the injury must have been nearly fatal.

A lock of hair curled down over his forehead, almost giving him a boyish look except for the serious expression on his face.

His blue eyes stared down at her, glinting brightly.

Anna imagined that she could almost see power swirling around his irises as if his wolf was just below the surface of his human skin.

For a long moment, he didn’t speak. His whole body was completely still, although Anna could have sworn that he sniffed the air.

Her own brow furrowed as she wondered if this was the moment that he would pronounce her unworthy of joining Silver River.

She inhaled shakily, waiting…but then the moment was gone, and he began to speak.

“Do you, Anna, pledge to join Silver River, and join in protecting the pack and all of its members? Do you promise your loyalty and your honor to putting the pack above all else? And do you swear your allegiance to me, Zach Thomas, as your alpha?”

His voice spilled over Anna and she shuddered, her eyes falling closed.

It seemed much more intense when he was standing right in front of her, talking directly to her.

“Yes, I do.”

Her voice was quiet, but Anna mentally high-fived herself because it was clear, calm, and the complete opposite of the chaos happening inside her head.

Zach placed his hands on her shoulders, closing his eyes as he had with everyone else, and Anna’s focus was completely taken by the heat of his skin touching hers.

Her body started to tremble, her own palms itching to reach up and touch Zach’s forearms until a pulsing began in her head.

Anna closed her eyes, feeling a pulling sensation as if she were being dragged through a wall of water, even though she was certain that her body wasn’t moving an inch.

Zach stepped away and Anna squinted her eyes open, seeing him smile at her before turning to face the room.

Anna watched him move through eyes that seemed blurry, feeling her knees begin to tremble.

She could hear him speaking but she couldn’t make out the words as if he were somewhere really far away.

He stretched his arms out to the room, and Anna could hear the crowd cheering.

Her head begun buzzing, a sound that grew louder and louder until she couldn’t hear anything else.

Pain started to creep around her head, starting in her temples and moving until everything hurt.

She closed her eyes again, her hands rising up to press at her head as if that would stop the pain.

She could feel her fingers trembling, and she tried to blink her eyes open, to look for someone to help her, but now her sight had been reduced to almost a pinprick.

She opened her mouth, intent on calling out for help, but only a garbled groan escaped her lips.

She felt, rather than saw, everyone on the stage turn at look at her. She felt a vibration through the floor as if someone had stepped toward her.

Anna felt the darkness reaching up to grab her, and she stopped fighting, wanting the pain and noise to stop.

Her body became limp, slowly dropping forward.

Anna surrendered to unconsciousness, but just before her body hit the ground, she felt rough hands seize her.

 

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