The Most Read Fantasy Romance Novel since Twilight
Chapter 1: Gift of the Goddess
“Come on Ariel, show me what you’ve got.”
Xavier’s muscular arms wrap around me, and he pushes me back against the wall.
His earthy scent is making me feel lightheaded, and it’s hard to breathe when his broad chest is holding me down.
I’m losing my focus, but I can’t let that happen.
I can’t give in.
I have to prove what I’m capable of.
Swiftly, I grab Xavier’s wrist, pull it over my shoulder, and then twist my body—flipping the guy flat on his back.
I smirk. “Is that what you wanted to see?”
The crowd goes wild—yeah, the crowd. Because I’m in the middle of the hardest test of my life, and everyone is waiting to see if I’ll rise to the occasion, or fall on my face.
All my squadmates are cheering me on from the sidelines, hoping I pass my final test to become a fully-fledged pack warrior.
Suddenly, I feel my legs sweep out from under me, and I land on my back, hard.
Within seconds, Xavier is on top of me—like really on top of me.
I’m just wearing a sports bra, and our sweat-slicked bodies stick together as he pins me down.
He leans over and whispers in my ear, “Just give in, Ariel. Don’t fight it.”
My heart is thumping, threatening to burst from my chest.
I’ve literally had dreams like this.
For years, I’ve wondered if he is my mate. Now would be the perfect moment to find out.
Giving in is an enticing proposition, but right now, I’ve got more important things on my mind…
I savor the look of shock on his face as I swing my legs upward and wrap them around his neck, putting him in a triangle chokehold.
More important things—like kicking his butt.
“Looks like I’m the one on top now,” I whisper back.
I squeeze my thighs as tight as I can, making sure Xavier won’t be able to break free.
Moments later he taps the ground, signaling his surrender.
The crowd erupts in cheers, and my squadmates swarm the arena, jumping, shouting, spraying sports drinks in every direction.
I fall back on the floor, dazed. Did I really just beat the future alpha? Did I actually win?
Xavier gets up before I do and extends his hand. I take it and he pulls me up, then straight into his chest.
“Well done, Ariel. Today, you proved yourself a true warrior.”
He leans down, and for a moment I think he’s going to kiss me, but then—
Xavier growls softly in my ear, “And you’ve proven to be the perfect partner for the Alpha.” My heart leaps into my throat and I’m left utterly speechless.
Oh, my Goddess—Xavier wants ME?
The chains tightening around my wrists bring me back to consciousness.
For a moment, I can’t remember where I am. I blink my eyes open to see the cracked concrete ceiling above me.
Then it all comes back to me like a brick settling in my stomach. I fight back the urge to cry.
The silver shackles bite into my raw wrists. You would think that I would be used to the pain after two years of being treated like a worthless animal, a science experiment, but sometimes it becomes unbearable.
The first year was the worst…
The experiments—with microdoses of liquid wolfsbane in my food and analyzing the effects on my body. And my wolf.
I learned in the beginning that the burning feeling coursing through my veins was the wolfsbane as it weakened and cut off my connection to my wolf.
I’ve been a whole year without her. Only feeling her faintly in the far corners of my mind, whimpering in pain and sadness.
Never in my life have I ever felt so overwhelmingly alone.
They took my family…
And my wolf.
My eyes start to flutter shut as the pain becomes too much.
I feel a sharp smack across my already bruised cheek.
“Don’t go passing out on me yet, werewolf. We’ve only barely started today.” Curt, the leader of the hunters, digs his dirty fingernails into my shoulder.
“Screw you,” I say, mustering up what little fight I have left.
Curt’s cold, gray eyes—as strange as it sounds—are the only thing that have kept me going. The thought of never seeing them again once I escape…
I often think about the first time I saw those eyes. It was the night I’d been accepted into warrior training. The night I’ve been dreaming about.
I’d fallen asleep by the lake, and when I woke up, those eyes were hovering over me, glaring at me with absolute malice.
Our pack had never done anything violent to humankind, but that didn’t matter to hunters.
All they want is the complete eradication of werewolves.
But what they want with me—why they’ve kept me alive to experiment on me for two years—I have no idea.
“I think you need to be reminded of your place, mutt,” Curt says as he forces me to drink the wolfsbane.
“No… NO!” I scream as he kicks me once more.
My spine begins to stretch and a horrible cracking noise echoes through the room as I shift.
He’s forcing my wolf out somehow, but the silver is keeping my body from healing during the transformation.
The pain is unreal.
You can feel yourself lose consciousness as the pain becomes too much.
“NO!” Curt shouts. “I think I gave her too much! Medic! Get over here!”
I want to howl so badly from the pain, but all I can muster is a pathetic raspy wheeze.
The room is beginning to blur and close in around me.
“Get her stable!” Curt yells. “We can’t lose our best test subject. She’s almost perfected!”
As the darkness settles in, I hear a soft and ethereal voice…
“Don’t give up, my child.”
I’m sitting at the edge of the lake again, just like the night I was taken. But this time, there’s a mysterious woman sitting beside me.
She’s beautiful in every way—pale blue eyes, long silver hair running down her back, and milky smooth skin that almost seems to glow.
Who is this captivating woman?
“Hello, Ariel. I wish we were meeting under better circumstances,” the woman says warmly.
“Who…who are you? And how do you know me?” I ask, confused.
“My name is Selene, though some call me the Moon Goddess,” she replies with a soft laugh.
Oh my Goddess, THE Moon Goddess. Holy…
“Don’t be nervous, my child. I must apologize to you.”
The Moon Goddess, apologizing to me? I guess I haven’t exactly felt her presence for quite some time.
“You were never supposed to be taken by the hunters,” she says calmly, her warm smile never leaving her face.
“But my sister, Fate, can be quite vengeful and she had another plan in mind. We don’t often see eye-to-eye.”
“I know the feeling,” I say, thinking of my own sister.
“In order to right these wrongs, I’m bestowing upon you a gift—the gift of healing.”
Selene leans forward and kisses me on the forehead. “May you heal both your own pain…and the pain of others. Be a light unto those who need it most.”
As Selene sits back, she places her palm against my cheek and her eyes sparkle.
“One more thing, Ariel. This is not the life I had planned for you. You must escape this place—and find your mate.”
“My mate? Who is my mate?”
But I already have an idea who it might be…
Selene reaches out and lays a soft hand on my cheek.
I feel warmth emanating from the contact, and I lean into her touch, sighing at the pleasant sensation.
“It’s Xavier, isn’t it?” I feel excitement coursing through my veins for the first time in two years.
But then the look on her face gives me pause. She’s thoughtful, as if trying to decide how to respond.
“My dear, it isn’t that simple,” she answers slowly.
“What do you mean?” I ask, confusion clouding my mind.
I feel Selene’s caress begin to fade against my cheek and realize everything is growing hazy around me.
“Please, who is my mate?” I ask, desperation pulling at me.
“There is another… But I cannot tell you more right now, my child. You must go. Free yourself from these tyrants…”
Warmth surges through my body as the Goddess fades away completely.
“Find him, Ariel. Only you can heal him.”
I jolt awake, still shackled to the operating table, although the room is empty.
Was that just some weird fever dream?
As the haze of the dream begins to wear off, one thing becomes clear.
I shouldn’t have woken up.
Imagine my surprise when I crane my neck to look at my battered body and find that…
All my wounds have been healed.
I feel a strength inside me that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Is this what she meant by the gift of healing?
Thank you, Selene. But that wasn’t all she said…
She told me that I have to escape…
That I have to find my mate. And that it might not be Xavier…
Find him. Heal him.
I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking, but he definitely isn’t here.
I struggle with my chains, but even though the silver isn’t irritating my skin like before, it still stings.
I hear a door open at the top of the stairs, and uneven footsteps as someone stumbles down them.
That will probably be Curt.
But he doesn’t know that I’ve regained my strength. I can use this to my advantage.
“You’re finally awake, mutt. Good. We’re gonna play a little game,” he says, slurring his speech.
Curt grabs the chains around my arms and grips them hard, forcing me to my feet.
Curt stumbles as he starts climbing the stairs, pulling me behind him.
“Get a move on!” he says, tightening his grip on the chain.
Good. Hold tight, you hateful jerk.
I wait till he’s almost at the top of the stairs. I can hear the voices of other hunters coming from the other side of the door.
He thinks he’s won… Not today!
Growling, my wolf comes to the surface, and I yank the chain as hard as I can muster.
Curt loses his footing and flies backward, tumbling down the staircase.
I calmly walk to the bottom of the stairs and stand over his body as he looks up at me, pleading for mercy.
I dig into his pocket and find the key to my chains. I unlock them, letting them fall to the floor.
I stare into his cold, gray eyes. The eyes I’ve seen every day for the past two years as he’s experimented on me.
The eyes that have kept me going. For that final day when I can leave them in my past.
“You won’t be hurting anyone else ever again,” I say, turning from him and locking the basement door behind me, never to be opened again.
I feel something inside me, but it’s not the strength of the Goddess. No, this is something different…
I am going to follow Selene’s instructions.
I’m going to find my mate, no matter where he is. And I’m going to heal him.
But first, I’m going to make these hunters pay for what they’ve done to me.
Chapter 2: Breaking Chains
Each step that I take, I feel more and more unbridled rage.
I don’t just open the door at the top of the stairs…
…I tear it off its hinges.
I walk down an empty, sterile hallway until I get to a closed door.
Party music is blaring on the other side, and I can hear several men—at least five— dancing and carrying on.
I kick through the door and snarl, raging and feral, ready to wreak havoc.
The men look up at me, stunned, as my eyes flicker from one hunter to the next.
“Who’s first?” I growl, drawing my claws.
I tackle the first hunter, knocking him to the ground.
I’m double-teamed by two of them as they jump on my back, but I swing around and throw them against the wall, crumpling to the ground with a moan.
The fourth hunter grabs a knife from his boot and charges at me, screaming. He manages to get a small scrape on my face.
As I touch the spot where he cut me, I can feel it already closing.
His eyes widen with disbelief. “H-how d-did you?”
He backs away, falling over and passing out from the shock.
I want to stop and take a breath, but my body won’t let me. I’m running on pure adrenaline…or something else, but I don’t feel in control.
As I turn around to look for the exit, I see a young hunter in the way of me and the door. His hands are shaking.
Five. I forgot there were five.
Without a moment of hesitation, I pounce on the young hunter, knocking him unconscious. But a searing pain shoots through my body as I stand up.
How does this healing thing work? This is the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life!
As I look around, I can’t help but wonder what the Goddess would think. She told me to escape, not to attack everyone in the building.
Is that why my healing isn’t working now?
I grab a nearby lantern and limp toward a ladder that leads to a hatch, and climb up it, through a dark tunnel. As I emerge, I hold up my lantern to find myself in what looks like an old barn.
So they were hiding in a secret facility underground this whole time. No wonder no one ever found me…
I’m about to push through the massive barn doors and leave this place forever when I spot several kerosene containers in the corner.
I can’t let this place be used for evil again…
I dump the kerosene oil all over the barn and smash the lantern onto it, creating an instantaneous and raging inferno.
As the fire spreads, I feel triumphant, but that feeling immediately turns to dread when I see the fire moving toward something covered by a tarp in the corner—a pickup truck.
My feet lift off the ground, and I fly backward through the splintering wooden barn doors.
I land on my back, and a searing pain shoots through my body. The twinkling stars in the night sky begin to turn into blurry black spots.
As smoke billows into the clearing and the scent of burning oil overwhelms my senses, I feel myself slipping away.
The cool night air feels perfect as I sit on top of the old water tower, overlooking the woods.
Technically, it’s outside of pack borders, but it really is the best place to get away from it all—the politics, the pack business, the pressure.
I glance to my right and see that Dominic is basking in the beautiful night as well, snacking on some chips he packed for the journey.
“You know, all those chips are giving you a gut. Maybe that’s why you’re still unmated,” I laugh, nudging him in the ribs. “Your destined mate took one look at that belly and went running for the hills.”
“It’s called a dad bod, Alex. They’re totally in. She-wolves love them,” he responds, grinning.
Dom has been my best friend since we were pups, but as much as I enjoy teasing him, I can’t help but think that I’m holding him back.
“You know you’re free to go look for your mate whenever you want. I can hold down the fort just fine on my own,” I say, in a serious tone. “Don’t stick around on my account.”
“Alex, we’ve been over this, and my answer is still the same. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Look, man, I know that I’ve been in a bad place for a while, but I promise that I’m okay now,” I say, trying to sound convincing.
“The grieving period has passed. It’s been six months since Olivia…since she…” My voice trails off as my throat goes dry.
Just saying her name aloud makes me feel like someone dropped a load of silver bricks on my heart.
“Really, I’m fine,” I say, turning and wiping away the tears welling up in my eyes.
“Real convincing,” Dominic says, sighing as he puts his hand on my shoulder.
“Alex, you lost your destined mate. It was sudden, and you didn’t even get to say goodbye. You don’t just bounce back from that, and that’s okay. It’s not a race.”
I know he’s right. Olivia’s passing created a hole in me. It’s like my very core has been ripped from my body, and now I have a dark void that can’t be filled.
No amount of healing can close up a wound like that.
“Look, Dom, I appreciate that you’re trying to be here for me, but if it’s at the expense of your own—”
A massive explosion rocks the already rickety water tower.
A pillar of black smoke billows out of the forest in the distance as the embers of a fire tint the sky red.
I turn to Dom. He looks just as shocked as me.
“I’m going,” I say suddenly.
Maybe it’s all this talk about Olivia, but for some reason, I feel like I need to do this.
“Alex, are you crazy? That’s way outside of pack borders. I can’t allow you to do that,” he says, grabbing my arm.
“You can’t allow me?” I ask in a tone that reminds him exactly who gives the orders around here.
Dom growls in submission. “Why do I even try? Alright, if you’re going to insist on being an idiot, I’m going with you.”
“No, go get back up and bring a squadron of warriors. Someone needs to alert the pack.”
Dom growls again and leaps over the railing, hanging from the side of the tower. “Fine, just don’t do anything stupid,” he says, before disappearing into the treetops.
I’m nearly out of breath as I reach the clearing where the explosion happened. It’s easy to track the burning scent, but there’s something else… Definitely a wolf.
I crouch down in the bushes bordering the clearing, looking for any sign of rogues, but this wolf doesn’t smell like a rogue.
The scent is a pleasant one, honey mixed with blackberries.
Through the heavy screen of smoke, I see someone lying on the ground.
I leave my hiding spot to get a closer look and my eyes widen at the sight in front of me…
A girl, covered in ash, lies completely still, broken and bruised. A ray of moonlight cuts through the smoke, lighting her like a fallen angel.
As I step closer, only one thought crosses my mind…
Who is this beautiful she-wolf?
Chapter 3: Fallen Angel
As I watch the wild-looking she-wolf in front of me, lying unconscious on the ground, I can’t help but wonder if she escaped the fire…or if she started it.
There’s a feral quality about her, but she’s definitely not a rogue. So what is she doing all the way out here, alone?
I bend down and survey her body, looking for any sign of a pack.
As I lightly touch her arm, a hand suddenly wraps around my throat. The girl is awake.
Her bold, yellow eyes stare at me with fear, and they’re quite beautiful, despite the fact that she’s trying to choke me out.
“I…mean you…no…harm,” I say hoarsely, forcing out each word.
She releases her grip and crawls away, stopping at the base of a tree and leaning against it for balance. She’s surprisingly strong.
“Who…who are you?” she asks, holding out her claws, ready to strike if I get too close.
“My name is Alex,” I say, holding up my hands. “What happened here?”
I suddenly catch some more scents, but these aren’t wolves…they’re humans, and they’re running away from the fire.
My calm questioning quickly becomes an interrogation.
“Did you start that fire? And attack those humans?” I ask in an accusatory tone. “It’s against our laws. Are you a rogue?”
“I…yes, I started the fire. But I’m not a rogue. And they weren’t just humans…they were hunters,” she responds, with a pained look in her yellow eyes.
“If you’re not a rogue, then prove it,” I say, closing in on her. “Why are you out here alone?”
She lifts her arm to show me a small crescent moon tattoo—the mark of a pack warrior.
“You’re from the Crescent Moon Pack?” I ask, somewhat skeptical. “How did you end up out here? This is the border of the Royal Pack.”
The girl sighs, exasperated. “Are you thick? I told you, hunters.”
“I think I’d know if hunters were operating outside my own pack,” I say, annoyed.
“Your pack? Who made you the king?” she asks, rolling her eyes. “You’re clearly just a common pack warrior coming out here on your own.
“And,” she continues, “if you couldn’t scent the hunters that were right underneath your nose, then maybe you need to go back to training.”
Geez, this girl is arrogant. I can’t believe she’s speaking to me like this.
“Pretty convenient that you destroyed any evidence that would prove there were hunters here,” I growl.
I’m surprised to see tears welling up in her eyes, breaking through her tough exterior.
“I…I just couldn’t let them stay. What happened to me… I can’t let that happen to anyone else.”
Even though all my training tells me that this girl is dangerous, my wolf is telling me that she’s being truthful.
Something terrible happened to her… Something traumatic. And it’s eating away at her.
I know the feeling.
“What’s your name?” I ask, suddenly feeling guilty. It’s the first question that I should have asked.
“Ariel. Ariel Thomas.”
Ariel Thomas of the Crescent Moon Pack… What story lies behind those sunflower eyes?
I reach out and offer my hand. “You need medical attention. Will you allow me to take you?”
She slowly nods as she takes my hand, but when she tries to stand, she screams in agony, and her legs buckle beneath her. I catch her just before she hits the ground.
“Why am I not healing?” she asks, frustrated.
Healing? Wolves might heal faster than humans, but these are fresh wounds. Why would she expect it to heal?
The rustling of the trees around us announces a squadron of warriors, led by Dominic, as they burst into the clearing.
“Alex, stay back! She could be dangerous,” Dom growls, as he steps in front of me. “I thought you weren’t going to do anything stupid.”
“Relax, the threat isn’t her. The threat was hunters, and they’ve already been neutralized,” I respond.
It suddenly hits me how strange it is that this one wounded girl could escape from an entire gang of hunters by herself. Something isn’t adding up…
Dom signals for a couple of the warriors to investigate the wreckage, the fire now reduced to a smolder.
“And who is this?” Dom asks, pointing aggressively to the girl in my arms.
She’s sweating badly. It’s clear the injuries are taking their toll on her.
“Ariel Thomas,” I reply, tensely. “And she needs medical attention. Now.”
“Wait, you’re suggesting bringing her to the pack? Alex, she could be a rogue, or—”
“She’s no rogue,” says an older warrior as he steps forward. I recognize him as Steven, one of our most seasoned and most respected warriors.
“How do you know?” asks Dom, incredulous.
Ariel’s eyes flutter shut as she passes out in my arms. I grip her tightly to keep her from falling.
“Because…” Steve’s gaze grows serious as he stares at Ariel. “I knew her father.”
The soft beeping of the heart rate monitor wakes me from my sleep as my eyes adjust to the harsh fluorescent light above me.
My rags have been replaced with a hospital gown, and someone has left a bouquet of flowers at my bedside. A sudden overwhelming feeling washes over me, and I feel tears spilling down my face.
This is the first time in two years that I’ve woken up without chains or shackles binding my hands and feet. I’m finally free.
I pull back the blanket covering me to examine myself. I’m totally healed. It’s as if I was wounded.
“Oh, you’re awake!”
I quickly throw the blanket back over myself, not wanting to draw attention to my healing ability.
An older man, around my dad’s age, approaches my bed. I recognize him as one of the warriors from the woods.
“Are you here to guard me?” I ask, somewhat sourly.
I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that these people don’t trust me.
“On the contrary,” he says cheerily. “I just came to visit. I haven’t seen you in years, but you have your father’s eyes.
“What was it he always called you? His little warrior?”
“How…how do you…” I respond, choking up. My father did call me that once, despite my mom’s protests that a lady shouldn’t be a warrior.
“I knew your father a long time ago. You were probably only three or four years old when I last saw you.”
“Is he…is he coming?” I ask, suddenly scared that something might have happened to him in the two years that I’ve been gone.
“He’s on his way as we speak,” the man responds, smiling. “He was overjoyed when he found out you were alive and safe.
“He couldn’t say any words other than ‘thank the Goddess’ for about thirty minutes.”
Thank the Goddess is right. Selene is the only reason I’m still here.
“I’m sorry, I don’t even know your name,” I say, extending my hand to my father’s friend. “It’s been a while since I…since I really talked to anyone.”
“The name is Steven, but you can call me Steve.”
His expression turns sad as he clasps my hand. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, Ariel.
“If you ever need to talk, I’m here for you. And my wife, Louisa, too. She sent the flowers, hoping they’d brighten up this stale room a bit.”
“You’re both very kind,” I say, my eyes growing misty.
“It takes someone with real strength to endure what you did,” Steve says warmly. “A real warrior. We could use someone like you on the squad.”
A soft knocking draws both of our attention to the door, where Alex is standing, holding a bouquet of sunflowers.
“Steve, I’d like to speak with Ariel, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course,” Steve says, nodding. “I’ll see you soon, Ariel.”
As he leaves, Alex takes his place at my bedside and places the flowers in an empty vase.
“Those are my favorite,” I say, impressed. “How did you know?”
“Oh, uh, I didn’t actually,” he stammers. “They reminded me of your eyes.”
Maybe it’s just the unflattering fluorescent lighting, but it looks like Alex’s face is red. Is he blushing?
“I…I’m sorry I was a little…suspicious of you, in the woods,” he says, scratching the back of his head nervously.
“I should’ve known you weren’t a rogue.”
“I’m sorry too, for that dig about the hunters,” I say.
I feel like I was a bit harsh, myself. “They were hiding out underground. It would’ve been impossible to know what was going on.”
“Ariel, I can’t imagine…” Alex says, his posture going rigid. “The things they did to you...”
His face is red again, but this time it’s from rage. “I’m glad you chased them off…but, how? How did you manage to escape?”
Alex seems like someone I can trust, but I’ve only just met him. I don’t feel comfortable telling him all my secrets. And would he even believe me if I did?
I still don’t know how this whole healing thing works. So far, it’s been pretty unpredictable.
“Look, Alex, I appreciate the flowers, but I really just don’t want to relive it right now,” I say quickly. “Can we talk about something else?”
“Oh, of course,” he says, flustered. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Well, we’re both pack warriors, aren’t we? At least… I was training to be a pack warrior. I had just made it to my final test before…”
My voice trails off. Two years ago, my life was completely taken from me. Now I have no idea where I stand. No idea what I’ve missed.
Just because I disappeared doesn’t mean the world stopped and waited for me.
“You’ve lost a lot,” Alex says as if he can read my mind.
His eyes meet mine. “When you lose something…or someone…you just feel out of place. It takes a long time to find your purpose again.”
I suddenly realize that Alex is holding my hand, but I don’t pull away.
I feel a connection with him. The way that he understands loss, he must’ve lost something important to him, too.
“Excuse me,” a doctor says abruptly as he enters the room with a clipboard. “Hope I’m not interrupting.”
Alex quickly pulls his hand away. “Yes, what is it?” he asks, clearing his throat awkwardly.
“I’d like to run a couple more tests on Ms. Thomas if that’s alright,” the doctor says.
Alex nods and gets up to leave. “We’ll talk more later, Ariel.”
As he walks to the door, the doctor bows to Alex. What the heck?
“Please keep me updated on her status,” Alex says, as the doctor lifts his head back up.
“Of course, my alpha.”
Did he just say…
Oh my Goddess.
Alex isn’t a pack warrior. He’s the alpha of the Royal Pack!
Which also makes him…