Autumn awoke the next morning to find her bedroom door still locked. She jiggled the handle, but it wouldn't budge. With a small chuckle, she figured they must have forgotten and would soon remember when their stomachs started growling for breakfast.
She decided to take her time in the shower, letting the hot water cascade over her as she pondered what her life might have been like if her parents hadn't gotten themselves into so much trouble. She would have finished school, pursued her dream of becoming a nurse, and maybe even found a mate.
In the beginning, she had wished every day for her mate to find her and whisk her away from this place. But now, at almost twenty-four, it seemed more and more likely that if she hadn't found a mate yet, she probably never would. Sighing at the thought, she turned off the shower and got dressed.
Standing in front of her small mirror, she pulled her long, dirty-blonde hair into a knot on top of her head. "Someday we'll leave this place," her wolf whispered softly.
"Someday," Autumn agreed, smiling at her reflection before walking to the door, momentarily forgetting it was still locked.
She pulled on the handle and, with a chuckle, settled onto the bed with a book. An hour later, she heard yelling from down the hall.
"Autumn! You think you can get away with sleeping in again and not making breakfast?!" Joella's voice carried through the house.
Footsteps approached, and Autumn heard the door handle twist. Joella muttered a curse under her breath before unlocking the door. "Why aren't you downstairs?" she demanded, glaring at Autumn.
"Umm, you locked me in here, Joella. I can't exactly make breakfast if I can't leave the room," Autumn replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Joella stepped forward, her face inches from Autumn's. "I'm warning you, Autumn. Find a new tone of voice, or you'll spend more than an evening in this room."
"And if I'm locked in here, who will feed you or do all of your work?" Autumn shot back, her eyes narrowing.
Joella's eyes darkened, flecks of black appearing in her deep-blue irises as her anger flared. "What did you say?"
Autumn's eyes widened as she realized what she had just said, but there was no taking it back now. "I-I said that you won't lock me in here, or you'd have to do all of your own work and cook the pack meals yourself like you're supposed to!" she stammered, her confidence wavering.
Joella's hand connected with Autumn's cheek, the slap sending a stinging pain through her face. Autumn's hand flew to her cheek in shock.
"You don't have a choice! Your parents owed us hundreds of thousands of dollars. And just because you think you're better than your parents' debt does not mean you get to speak like that! Now get downstairs and do your chores before I have a mind to keep you in here forever!"
Lowering her head, Autumn walked past Joella, surprised at herself for speaking to the luna like that. Joella could have her severely punished for talking back.
"How dare she hit us!" her wolf howled in her head.
"I was defiant," Autumn mumbled.
"Someday we will be free of her and this place. When our debt is paid, we will leave and find a new home. A better home," her wolf spoke with a mix of anger and hope.
Autumn smiled in response, looking forward to that day.
She worked diligently for the rest of the day, and around four in the afternoon, the doorbell rang. It was unusual, as pack members typically just walked in without ceremony. Opening the door, Autumn found a well-dressed, strikingly handsome wolf standing on the front porch.
"Can I help you?" she asked politely.
"I am Thomas, beta to the king. I was sent by King Elijah. I must see your alpha at once," he replied, his voice even and devoid of emotion.
Autumn's eyes widened in surprise. "Oh…yes. Please come in, Beta. I'll take you to his office."
"Thank you," he said gently, following her through the house and to the pack offices.
After showing him in, Autumn returned to the kitchen to start dinner. It was nerve-wracking knowing he was here, especially considering the reason for his visit. King Elijah must have heard they had broken the treaty.
As she finished dinner, she could hear yelling coming from the pack offices. Whatever was being said was not well received on either end.
Halfway through dinner, the alpha, luna, and Beta Thomas entered the dining hall. "We will have a pack meeting immediately following dinner. Spread the word to your families and friends. Attendance is mandatory," the alpha announced before walking back to his office.
The pack sat in silence, wondering what the meeting could be about. Autumn knew it had something to do with Beta Thomas's arrival. King Elijah wasn't the type to let things go, and Alpha Warner had clearly disobeyed his king. It gave her hope, though. Sending Thomas instead of an army was a good sign.
"Or it's how he sends his declarations of war," her wolf muttered grimly.
"Not helping," Autumn whispered in response.
As dinner came to an end, Autumn cleaned the kitchen and prepared to attend the meeting. As pack members filed into the meeting hall, she dried her hands and joined them.
Taking a seat in the back, she shifted nervously in her chair as the pack waited for the meeting to begin. They whispered among themselves, speculating about the reason for the sudden gathering and the identity of their visitor.
The doors opened with a bang, and the alpha and luna entered the room, followed by Beta Thomas. The hall fell silent as the pack members lowered their heads in submission and a touch of fear for what was about to happen.
Alpha Warner stood at the front of the room. "High Mountain Pack, I called this meeting because of what has been happening here the last few days." He stepped back and gestured toward Thomas. "Thomas, beta to the alpha king, has a few things to say to us."
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