Lock your doors, shut them tight,
Close your curtains every night,
Don’t look out in case he’s there,
Always live in total fear,
Even if it means sacrificing your mate,
Don’t let Alpha Kaden seal your fate.
Ever since I was born, I’ve been warned about him.
By my teachers. By pack authorities. By my parents. He’s the reason I can’t walk home from school alone. The reason I can’t go out on weekends.
Hell, even our nursery rhymes are about fearing him.
I’ve been told that my pack, the Purity Pack, was once a happy and peaceful place.
But ever since I’ve known it, we’ve lived in abject fear of the Vengeance Pack and their alpha.
His name alone sends a shiver running down the spine of every Purity Pack member.
For the past twenty years, he has been destroying the balance we had established between equality and riotousness within our pack.
He stole everything. Especially our freedom.
The legends of his evil run rampant.
They say he kidnaps innocent girls from our pack and gives them to his wolves as trophies.
They say he wears a hood at all times because his face is too terrifying to behold.
They say murder is as commonplace to him as brushing his teeth.
I don’t know how much to believe.
I pull the edge of the curtain slowly back from the window and peer out onto the street.
It’s getting dark, the moon illuminating the deserted sidewalk.
To any other eye, the scene might appear innocuous—peaceful even. Everyone’s doors are closed, their curtains drawn. Their gates are locked and their kids are safely inside.
But everyone is on high alert, like they are every night.
I sigh deeply, my breath fogging up the glass in front of me.
I rub it with my sleeve so that I can see again. Except there is nothing to see.
There never is, because, unlike in other packs, all life on the streets ceases at night here.
When Alpha Kaden first attacked, we constructed a thick perimeter wall meant to protect our small world of religion and peace.
But even that isn’t strong enough to protect us from him. He breaks in anyway, so we stay locked in our houses every night.
Walls and walls, but none of them are enough to keep us safe.
“Mara, get away from there!”
My mother pulls me back from the window by my shoulder.
I stumble backward as she angrily closes the curtain again.
She turns to me, hands on her hips.
I love my mother, but sometimes she can be way too protective.
She has lived her life believing in only one thing: the Moon is our savior, and always will be.
She believes the Goddess controls everything that we do and decides our futures through some type of unknowable magic.
Despite growing up in this pack, I don’t believe in it. I respect it, though.
“Mother, it’s fine,” I assure her. “No one saw me.”
She sighs and runs a hand across her face. Stress is etched into her aging features.
She doesn’t know how to deal with me sometimes—especially when I decide to go against her strict rules.
I don’t mean to do it, but my incessant curiosity keeps tempting me.
“What if Kaden saw you?” she asks sternly.
“Well, I wouldn’t know if Kaden saw me because I don’t know what he looks like,” I retort, my voice rising.
Mother narrows her eyes at me.
She hates the thought of me knowing anything about Kaden.
His appearance is still unknown to me. He could walk by me in the street, and I would be completely oblivious. Although his hood would be a dead giveaway, I guess.
He is the reason wearing hoods is banned throughout our pack.
“Mara, please. Don’t be difficult,” Mother begs, exasperated.
I fold my arms over my chest.
To say I am sick of being holed up every night is an understatement.
I have given up on seeing friends on Friday nights.
I’m a hop, skip, and a jump away from graduating, but that doesn’t mean my mother’s rules will be relaxed.
She’ll probably just double down on finding me a mate.
Finding our mate when we are young is essential within our culture.
The amount of young males I’ve shaken hands with in the past month is ridiculous.
“Everything okay in here?” I turn as I hear the front door open and my father walks in from outside.
He takes off his soaking wet coat and lays it on the kitchen table.
Our house isn’t very big, which makes spending most of my time in it even worse.
My parents abide by the simple life the Moon Goddess would want.
I’m not one for materialistic luxuries, but sometimes I do feel a little deprived.
“I caught our daughter peeking out the window again,” my mother tells him, cutting me off.
I glare at her. She always seems to be getting me into trouble with Father.
My father frowns at me.
“Kaden isn’t going to be out there,” I protest. “You’re overreacting when you say he might be.”
I see my father’s gaze switch to my mother.
He motions with his head for her to leave because he knows how easily she and I argue.
When she’s gone, he leads me over to the couch so that we can sit down.
“You know the neighbor’s daughter? Mandy, is it?”
“Milly,” I correct him.
Father nods. “Kaden took her last week. He stole her right out of her bed, and she hasn’t been seen since.”
I feel my eyes widen.
Milly? She is a year older than me, and many times more attractive.
The fact that she has been selected to be a part of whatever business Kaden is doing doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
“Why are you telling me this?” I ask him.
I like to be in the know, but I didn’t expect my father to want that too.
“I’m worried he might take you. Every morning I’m scared to walk into your room in case I find that he has stolen you during the night.”
I shake my head at him. The likelihood of me being taken is slim.
If he’s taken another girl from my neighborhood, that should mean he won’t be back here for another one for at least a month.
It’s the kind of game he likes to play with people.
He lulls us into a false sense of security, until he changes his pattern and shocks us all into confusion.
Father takes my hand in his and looks me in the eye.
“We all wonder why he does it, Mara. I promise you, we will figure it out, and stop him as soon as possible.”
He squeezes my hand slightly.
Father runs our local church, which leads me to believe his ability to stop Kaden isn’t that great.
The man we are so scared of is an alpha of a pack that is notorious for its lack of mercy.
“Everything will be fine,” I assure him. “Alpha Rylan will sort things out eventually.”
That makes my father smile. Rylan is our only hope to end this suffering. If he can’t do it, we have no chance.
I retreat and decide to go straight to bed.
When I enter the room, I am hit by the cold. It isn’t usually this chilly.
I switch on my light and look to see where the cold is coming from.
The space is small, with a simple closet, desk, and bed. Nothing too flashy or extravagant.
The source of the chill is pretty obvious: my window is wide open. It’s never open like that. Ever.
My mother would kill me if she saw that my curtain was pulled back at night.
I would surely be grounded if she found out.
Warily, I go to the window.
I can hear the patter of heavy rain on the road outside.
There’s a storm picking up, accompanied by the distant rumble of thunder. The sooner I close the window, the better.
I quickly shut it and turn back to my room.
A sudden burst of rain hits the glass, making me jump in alarm. I have always hated thunder and lightning…
I just need to calm down and go to sleep, I tell myself as I pull the curtains closed. I am letting this Milly situation get to me.
I pull my hair tie off and enter my ensuite bathroom. Maybe if I shower, I can wash all this anxiety away.
I turn the water to extra hot and strip off all my clothes.
As I step under the showerhead, I am transported to another world—a world where I don’t have to listen to other people’s rules all the time.
Where my parents don’t dictate every decision I make.
I rest my head against the tiles.
“Maybe I am destined for the Freedom Pack,” I murmur to myself. “A pack where I can do whatever I want.”
I’m just thinking how stupid I probably sound when a shadow flits across my vision.
I jerk my head up, surprised. I peer out of the shower and look around cautiously.
I feel even more ridiculous now.
I get out of the shower, turning the water off after me.
As I wrap my towel around my body, I try to dismiss all paranoid thoughts.
The shadow was probably just a figment of my imagination. I am known to have a strong one.
Kaden really isn’t someone who usually influences my imagination.
I’m fully aware of the threat he poses to me and my family, but I can’t bring myself to fear him in normal circumstances.
Yet tonight, for some reason, the chill dancing down my spine confounds my assumptions.
A loud crash of thunder from outside makes me squeal in fright.
I thank the Moon Goddess that the curtains block out the full brightness of the lightning.
I dry myself and go back into my room, where I change quickly into my night things.
Then I turn the lights out and hop straight into bed, with the covers pulled right up to my chin.
I just want to sleep this storm away and carry on tomorrow without Kaden plaguing my thoughts.
But the more I try to get comfortable in bed, the harder it seems to banish him from my mind.
My inner vision is clouded by strange shadows.
I am about to doze off to the sound of the rain splattering against my window when a flash of lightning illuminates my room.
That’s when I see him.
There’s a man standing at the end of my bed, dressed all in black.
I want to scream. I want to run.
But before I have time to do more than gasp, he is on me, and a leather-gloved hand clamps down over my mouth.
I have never been taught self-defense, and any idea of what to do deserts me.
I struggle as hard as I can while screaming into his hand, even though the sound is muffled.
I kick as I am pulled up and out of my bed.
I feel him applying pressure to my neck, and for a second I think I am about to die of strangulation.
Well, I won’t go without a fight!
My legs are the only weapons that I have.
I lash out, trying to connect with my captor’s ankles. But each time I miss and meet only air with my bare feet.
“Settle down. Everything will be over soon,” he whispers in my ear.
But I don’t settle down. Even as I feel my vision going black, I keep fighting back.
A fear I’ve never experienced before exploded through me the moment I saw him.
Because he’s wearing a hood.
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