At age six, Anna moved in with her grandfather after Hunters killed her parents. Now, twenty years later, their murderers have been caught and executed. It’s finally time for Anna to move on with her life. At twenty-six, she still hasn’t met her mate and doesn’t feel hopeful. But then the Oborot Pack comes to visit for Christmas, and both Alpha Viktor and Beta Erik claim Anna is their mate! Anna’s got an important decision to make—but how can she choose between the two hunky Russian wolves?
Age Rating: 18+
Note: This story is the author's original version and does not have sound.
“Please, Mama. Please, Papa. Wake up. I’m scared!” Anna sobbed over the lifeless bodies of her parents; their bodies were stiff and cold under her small hands. Her heart was breaking.
Her confused six-year-old mind refused to acknowledge the dark blood that stained her mother’s pristine cream sheets.
Her small nose, with its enhanced sense of smell, refused to believe the rancid scent of death and decay came from the bodies before her.
“Please.” Her uncontrollable sobbing continued. The smell in the room and the sight of her dead parents had her gagging. Nothing came up from her empty stomach.
They couldn’t be dead; they’d promised to keep her safe. How could they protect her from the world if they weren’t there?
“Please.” The repeated word was whispered this time, as her crying and coughing eased into small whimpers. Her small body collapsed between her parents, and her eyes closed.
The silence was unbearable.
Heavy footfalls sounded through the ceiling and ricocheted off the walls surrounding Anna to penetrate her small ears, startling her awake from a deep, dream-filled slumber.
A quick sniff told her it was still the early hours of the morning; her ears picked up that the birds had not yet risen from sleep, as all was silent outside her family’s home. So who was in the kitchen?
From her bed, Anna couldn’t make out any strange scents from above her ceiling, but the hushed voices that followed yet another set of stomps a few moments later weren’t those of her parents.
Staring up at the ceiling, Anna followed the sounds of whoever walked around the kitchen above and huddled back against her headboard, covering herself in the thick duvet.
Then the hatch door above her shook under the weight of whoever stood on top.
Her heart started to pound in her chest, so hard she feared it might break through. Mommy and Daddy were never up this late, and they’d never had any friends over before.
Anna followed the sound of footsteps as they made their way across the floor to head into the hallway. Muffled voices sounded again before the front door slammed closed, leaving the house silent.
Leaving Anna with nothing but the sound of her thundering heart and labored breathing.
Anna wanted to call out for her parents, but her lips wouldn’t move.
For as long as she could remember, the one rule never to be broken was “Never come above ground before dawn.” So Anna kept quiet and waited until morning.
From her seated position against her pink-painted bedroom wall, Anna peeked out from under the covers.
The banging and strange voices that had startled Anna from sleep seemed like they’d happened forever ago.
Anna’s room was a converted basement that lay underneath the kitchen, where most of the thuds had occurred.
The hatch door that separated Anna’s room from above was practically unnoticeable.
The ceiling above that had previously shaken from the weight of heavy footfalls, but it now lay silent. Too silent.
Whoever had been in the house with her parents had been gone for hours, and dawn had finally broken, making way for the new day.
Anna could hear the chirping birds waking from their nests in the tall trees surrounding their small cottage.
By now, Anna’s father should have been down to collect her as he did every morning. It was a Sunday, and that meant they’d be out on the lake all morning catching salmon for dinner.
In fact, they should already be there; her father was always the first and earliest to rise.
She was confused and eager to move from the cramped position she’d managed to get herself stuck in out of fear that if she moved a muscle, something bad would happen.
Anna stretched out her limbs and let the duvet fall from her now-overheated body; she had used the comforter as a shield to protect her for an unknown number of hours.
Her small muscles ached with the movement.
Shuffling off her bed, Anna felt instant relief as she stretched, arms high above her head, small frame shifting back slightly, to ensure a full-body stretch.
Once satisfied, Anna crossed the small space from her bed to the creaky wooden stairs she needed to climb to reach the hatch door. She hesitated, still afraid to make any noise.
Resigned to the fact that she wouldn’t be breaking any rules, since dawn was well and truly here, Anna proceeded to climb.
She was careful to step lightly and not on the parts of the wooden steps she knew made the slightest of creaks.
The exposed wood of the stairs was cold against her bare hands and feet, but she just wanted to see her parents, and heading back down to search for her slippers and gloves seemed unimportant.
Anna reached out a small hand once she reached the hatch, aware of her trembling, then gripped the cold metal handle, which she twisted and pushed.
The hatch door lifted, then met resistance, giving her only a thin gap to peek through. Turning her head slightly to the right so her ear faced the small opening, she strained to hear.
After a long moment of complete silence, Anna found the courage to speak.
“Mama? Papa?” she called out. “I’m stuck.” Waiting for them to come running, Anna looked around the kitchen as much as she could through the small gap.
She cocked her head slightly to get a better look and saw that the blind was still closed.
The coffeepot her mother set up routinely every morning before dawn was still packed away in the cupboard mounted on the wall. Maybe they slept in after having late-night guests?
After a few moments and no reply, Anna started to panic. They wouldn’t have gone out and left her alone. They never had before.
The eerie silence that filled her home caused fear to settle in her small body, urging her to cower and retreat to her bed and wait, like she’d been told to do every night until her father came to collect her after dawn.
Suppressing that urge for a stronger need to be with her mother and father, she mustered up the extra strength her parents had forbidden her to use unless there was an emergency and pushed against the old wooden hatch door.
Instead of meeting resistance this time, the hatch door swung open, throwing whatever had been blocking it into the air.
The kitchen table came crashing down a foot from the open hatch a second later. Anna backed down a couple of steps, waiting for the sound of her parents’ voices angry at the noise she’d made.
Confusion gripped her. Why had the table been blocking her hidden door?
After another long moment and not a peep from her parents, Anna slowly peered out again, and another moment later, she climbed out, keeping the hatch door open in case she needed to hide again.
There was nothing like the safe feeling of being tucked under a thick duvet in your own bedroom.
Anna found herself shifting from foot to foot; the wooden floor beneath her feet was freezing.
By now her father usually had a fire lit, warming the house with its heat, but instead there was nothing and now her whole body was chilled.
Outside, snow would be falling, lacing the forest and cottage in white. The cottage would only get colder if they didn’t light a fire soon.
Slushy snow-boot footprints made by the visitors from hours before stained the wooden floor; the cottage was so cold that the snow hadn’t melted entirely.
Anna’s heart started to thunder again when she noticed that some of the boot prints were mixed with red. She took off at a run out of the kitchen and down the corridor.
She didn’t look back as she pumped her small legs, her focus solely on reaching her parents’ room. Her small feet splashed in the red-stained slush as she ran, causing her to slip once.
Anna caught an awful scent when she slowed to a stop a meter away from the half-open oak door that obscured her view inside her parents’ room.
The scent reminded her of when her father had taken her hunting.
She remembered they had come across a deer that had been dead and rotting for a few days. The stench had been so vile and strong to Anna’s delicate developing nose that they’d had to leave the area.
She would never forget that smell.
Why would Mama and Papa have a dead animal in their room?
On weak, shaking legs, Anna closed the distance between herself and the door, then reached out and pushed it, revealing the room to her view. An icy chill crept up her spine.
Refusing to believe her eyes, Anna spoke the first words that came to mind.
“Are you still asleep?” she asked in a quiet voice. The scent was stronger inside the room, but there was no dead animal. The smell was coming from the bed, from them.
She caught other scents now too. Ones she couldn’t name or place. The smell of multiple outsiders filled the air.
She smelled dirt coming from the large wet footprints marking the floor in perfect lines up to the bed, staining her mother’s immaculate cream carpet.
She could smell the blood that stained the cotton candy-pink sheets covering her parents’ bodies up to their necks. Above the quilt, her parents’ heads rested on their pillows.
Eyes closed, looking peaceful. But their coloring wasn’t right, and Anna knew the blood staining the sheets was the cause.
Letting out the sob she’d been holding, Anna broke from the chill that had kept her immobilized and raced to the bed. She jumped on top of the covers, landing between her parents’ bodies.
Anna shook them both, begging for them to wake up.
The footsteps she’d heard during the night did not belong to friends of her parents; whoever they were, they’d come into her house and hurt her parents.
“Please, Mama. Please, Papa. Wake up. I’m scared! Please.” Her uncontrollable sobbing continued. The smell in the room, the sight of her parents, and the combination of both had her gagging.
Nothing came up from her empty stomach. They couldn’t be dead; they’d promised to keep her safe. How could they protect her from the world if they weren’t there?
“Please.” The repeated word was whispered this time as her crying and coughing eased to small whimpers. Her small body collapsed between her parents and her eyes closed. The silence was unbearable.
An eternity later, or so it felt like, Anna heard a sound. Sitting up from where she’d been lying between her parents’ lifeless bodies, she strained to listen.
Movement sounded from outside the cottage. There was someone at the front door. She heard the distinct sound of the door handle turning, the creak as the door opened, then the sound of voices.
“Why has it taken so long to find them?” a deep male voice said. “You’re supposed to be the best damn tracker in the state.”
“I haven’t seen my son in eight years, for Christ’s sake!” Anna could smell the man’s anger from where she sat; the power he carried in just his voice alone had her shaking in terror.
The words didn’t register inside her brain. Had the people who hurt her parents come back for her?
“I’m sorry, Alpha.” Another male voice, though this one was lower in pitch. “They covered their tracks well. A place like this so out of the way, it was almost impossible to find a scent—”
“Stop!” A female voice cut the men off. The light steps they had been taking halted. “Do you smell that?” Anna could hear sniffing; could they smell her? The woman growled.
“Everyone, watch your backs.”
The footsteps started up again as they began moving toward the room she was in. They grew louder as the intruders moved closer.
Anna started to crawl backward on her hands and knees as fear took over her body. The need to hide was overwhelming to the point where she was trembling uncontrollably, her breath coming out in rapid puffs.
She couldn’t make it back to her bedroom without passing the intruders.
Her head jerked from side to side as she frantically searched every crevice of the room with her eyes. Before she could act, the footsteps stopped outside the door.
Anna’s body shook in terror. No one would protect her now. Her father’s gun was in the living room, knives were in the kitchen, and she had nothing.
A figure dressed in black stepped inside the doorway. A woman, Anna noticed, her long raven-black hair and features were so much like Anna’s mother’s.
A growl left Anna’s lips as the woman made a move to approach. The woman dropped her gun to the floor and whimpered as she stared past Anna to her parents.
Anna’s parents had told her never to growl at anyone she saw, but the noise came from deep in her chest and couldn’t be helped.
The woman moved in slowly, her hands held up as if surrendering. She was followed by more dark figures.
The curtains were open in the bedroom, but the sun hadn’t broken through the trees that were shading the cottage yet, so Anna couldn’t make out the facial details of the people behind the woman.
The last person to step into the room, a man, took one look at Anna, then at her parents, who laid motionless behind her, and threw his head back, letting out an almighty roar.
Terror shook Anna’s body, and the urge to flee took over. She dove off the bed, running toward the window.
It wasn’t open, but maybe if she used her extra strength she could break the glass and escape. Where she would go from there was a problem that hadn’t registered with her yet.
Hands encased her small waist and lifted her high off the ground before she could make it close to her escape route. Anna growled and scratched at the strong hands that held her.
Those hands turned her around. She quickly realized the man who held her was the one who’d roared, which only made her whimper and struggle more. He growled deep in response.
Anna paused as a sense of knowing washed over her. She stared into his narrowed, pain-filled eyes. She knew those eyes. She knew his scent. He smelled just like…
“Papa?” she asked. The man’s eyes softened, then grew glassy.
“No,” he replied softly, slightly shaking his head. “I’m your papa’s papa. Do you understand?”
“Grandpa?” She knew his face. Her father had shown her pictures of this man, told her stories about him.
“You smell like my papa.” She sniffled; her eyes blurred when tears overflowed to run down her cheeks. “Will you wake him and Mama, please?”
He pulled her close and cradled her into the warmth of his chest. “I’m sorry, my sweet.” He spoke while stroking her back. “They’re gone.”