When his wolf-dog goes from furry to beautiful girl in 2.7 seconds, 17-year-old Kia doesn’t believe it. Arii’s been recruited to bring Kia home, back to her realm, where werewolves are real, the supernatural exists, and tension between the two wolf packs is threatening to erupt into a full-scale war. With his father missing, Kia is the rightful heir and without an Alpha’s power behind them, their pack is defenseless in the face of an oncoming battle.
Kia has spent his entire life being a wallflower—he’s not leader material, but he’s not given a choice. Stolen away from all he knows, he’s thrust into a world where rank is dictated by the color of your eyes and where the light of the full moon transforms you into a powerful beast. All Kia wants is to go home, where his only worry is not flunking calculus.
With the help of his new-found friends, he soon realizes that the only way to return to the real world is to end the war—but not everyone wants Kia to succeed, and as he starts to enjoy his awakening confidence as a leader and he falls deeper in love with Arii, he starts to doubt if he wants to go back at all…
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I knew two things for certain: one, the girl with the mesmerizing eyes was staring at me again, and two, I would never have the balls to talk to her.
Still, I couldn’t help but seek her out of the crowd of unruly high school students loitering around the front doors. She didn’t really stand out, not to me at least. She was cheerleader material—five-three with long, platinum blonde hair that danced in the wind around a heart shaped face. I happened to be a sucker for the sort of girl to get muddy playing football with the guys. This girl would probably freak out if she broke a nail.
Then our eyes locked and it was all I could do to remember how to breathe, like all of the oxygen had been sucked from my lungs with one of those turkey basters. Wow. They were an angel’s eyes, blue as oceans, and I knew that one of these days, I’d have to talk to her.
She stood on the curb, giving me an impish smile as she pulled down the hem of her yellow sundress. A smile that promised of things to come, whether I liked it or not, and my stomach twisted.
I looked away, trying to fend off the rather demasculinizing blush burning my cheeks, thinking of dead kittens and cold showers. If anyone asked, I could pass it off as windburn. It was cold enough out here.
“Huh. I was beginning to think you fancied boys.” Greyson Meyer’s voice was a fly in my ear, slightly buzzing, his breath a warm reprieve from autumn’s chill. A smile laced through his next words: “I was getting a little excited.”
I gave him a shove with my shoulder, turning away from the blue-eyed girl. Greyson was my best friend—hell, my only friend—and played the part of a well behaved Christian boy. With tousled hair the color of sand and an innocent smile that could fool even God, he got straight-A’s, strived to graduate with honors, and played the trumpet in Rockfell High’s Jazz combo. Most people would never guess he was gay.
“Sorry to rain on your parade, but I’ve never been on that menu.”
“So, you like her?” He jerked his thumb in her direction.
I resisted the urge to look back at Angel Girl. “Well, sure. She’s pretty, yeah?” Wrong person to ask, of course. He gave me a wry grin and I shook my head. “But she’s not really my type.” Besides, I was kind of a foot-in-mouth sort of guy when it came to girls.
He rolled his eyes. “That’s why you were ogling her? Do you even have a type, besides big-boobed anime chicks? Which, by the way, are totally unproportional, if you really think about it.”
I cut him a look.
“All I’m saying is this: Live for the Now. Who cares about type? If you like her, go talk to her. It’s not like you’ve got anything to lose.”
Greyson snorted. “What dignity? This dignity?” With that, he reached behind me and groped my ass. I gave a bark of surprise and punched him in the shoulder. He merely shot me a too-innocent grin and gave me a shove. I lurched forwards, gaining my balance only to trip over the curb. One minute I was upright, the next I was eating cement. I tasted the copper tinge of blood as laughter boomed out around me.
“Nice fall.” Angel Girl’s voice was softly husky where I’d been expecting fluting and feminine. I groaned and looked up, my eyes catching hers. They sparkled with curiosity and concern. I sat up and wiped my bleeding lip with the sleeve of my jacket while she tried to stifle a grin. She failed. “Are you alright?”
“I’m alive.” But it didn’t feel like I would be for long—my heart was pinballing around in my throat and my palms were suddenly slick with sweat. I couldn’t stop staring. God. She was beautiful.
I pushed myself to my feet and glanced around behind me, ready to shoot laser-eyes at Greyson, but he was nowhere to be found. Instead I looked back to the girl, feeling suddenly sheepish. “Are those contacts?” And this was the reason I didn’t want to talk to her; I had no filter between my brain and my mouth, especially around girls. I always ended up sounding like a fool. I hauled my messenger bag back up on my shoulder.
“Nope, you?” she shot back, her lips quirking in a half-smirk, half-smile.
I slowly shook my head. My irises were a rich yellow with dark gold flecking through them. I had my father’s eyes, although his had been caring and kind. Mine were…I don’t know. Wary. I stood there, my hands in my jacket pockets as I looked at her. She felt familiar. Odd, because I’d never met her before in my life.
She must’ve felt the same about me, because she boldly looped her arm through mine and tugged me away from the school. Once again, my face heated, but I dropped my head and followed after her. What else could I do? This was my big chance to talk to her.
And I was probably going to screw it up.
“Do you have a name?”
“Doesn’t everyone? Ariiantha. You can call me Arii.” She put emphasis on the ‘ee’ sound.
“Exotic.” I managed a small smile. “I’m—“
“Kia Thomas. I know who you are.”
Oh boy. “Are you…stalking me or something?”
“Something like that. I’ve actually got a question.”
“If you want help with calc, let me tell you now that I’m pretty much failing.” Unlike Greyson, I wasn’t aiming real high school-wise. I was gonna be lucky to graduate with a B-average. But it wasn’t like I was planning on going to college; as soon as high school was over, I was done. Maybe I’d get a job working with animals or something—I communicated with dogs better than I ever had with people.
Arii shook her head. “Nope. It’s more personal than that.”
I let air seep between my teeth in a hiss. Oh hell, was she going to ask me out? Her? She was beautiful, quirky, and probably fun and I was just…me. “It depends, I guess. Shoot?”
But instead of asking me to study or go on a date with her, her eyes flickered with emotion. “Do you ever feel like maybe you belong somewhere else?”
What kind of question was that? I looked up at her, studying her face, her brow slightly creasing. Did she mean feeling like I was a stranger in this endless world? That maybe there was a reason for me being such a lone-wolf? I opened my mouth, but no words came out for a moment. I blinked and tried again. “I—“
“There you are.” I felt a hand clamp down on my shoulder. I twisted out of Arii’s grasp, turning to face my baby sister. Shae was fifteen and a freshman. If I looked like our dad with his pale skin and cocoa-dark hair, she definitely took after Mom. Her auburn hair was cropped at her chin in sharp, choppy layers and her green eyes gleamed with her traditional ornery sparkle. She wore red and black striped leggings under torn-knee jeans and her boyfriend’s Incubus hoodie.
“Mom called and said she’d be home early and she’s making chicken lasagna tonight. We’re not allowed to miss it.”
That was a surprise. Mom typically worked late every night. She was one of the big-wig nurses and the hospital worked her like a dog. Shae and I were usually in charge of dinner. Mom would come home, reheat leftovers, then crash. We’d see her before we went to school in the morning, decked out in her Snoopy scrubs. Rinse, lather, repeat, six days a week.
Shae looked at Arii long and hard before offering a wide smile. “You gonna introduce me, Kia?” Her arms crossed over her chest.
Arii offered a hand. I noticed her nails were kept short, natural, with no polish. Maybe I was wrong about the whole break-a-nail thing. “Ariiantha Caldwell.”
Shae took her hand with a grin. “Mishaela Thomas. What are your intentions with my brother?” Shae didn’t waste any time getting to the point. I felt fire touch my cheeks and I turned away with a groan. Shae swatted my arm. “Hey, I’m just watching out for you.” Then to Arii: “Are you asking him out or something? Because Kia totally needs to get laid.”
Arii merely laughed. “Maybe someday,” which made my heart lunge into my throat like a rabid beaver. I shot her a glance, which she shrugged off with a smile. Her too-blue eyes locked into mine.
“I’ll let you two get home; you don’t wanna miss dinner. Nice to meet you, Shae. I’ll see you later, Kia?” Her head tipped slightly to the side, her blond hair falling over one shoulder. I had the urge to reach out and touch it.
Instead I nodded and she turned and floated off, her flats scuffing the sidewalk. I spun on my sister with a low growl. “What the hell, Shae?” She did this a lot, embarrassing me in front of people, but this… This was too much.
“Oh, get over it,” she huffed. “She’s totally into you and, let’s face it, you have no idea how to handle this sort of situation. You practically need me.”
“Like you’re an expert? How long have you been with Tate? Two months?”
She shot me a look. “Try five and a half. We’re practically engaged.” She straightened up, stuffing both hands into the pockets of her hoodie. “Mom said dinner would be ready around six. I’m going to hang with the gang at Hotspot until then.”
The gang equaled her two best friends, Marley and Phaedra, their boyfriends, and Tate, of course. Hotspot was Rockfell’s little café-slash-teen hangout. I’d been there twice—way too many people in my opinion, not to mention the music was horrible.
“I’ll see you at home then.” I knew where I was going, even as she walked off, leaving me alone in the emptying parking lot. I hauled my bag higher up on my shoulder and headed towards town. I’d take the long way home, just like usual, through Rockfell Plaza. To my alley.
The wind was crisp, smelling faintly of snow as it whipped through my jacket. As I walked, my thoughts drifted to Ariiantha, to her cryptic question. What did she mean? And more importantly, how would she know how I felt? Unless she felt that way too? It didn’t seem possible; she seemed so with it, the kind of girl who was pretty and popular and perfect.
But then again, all those times I’d caught her watching me in the halls, I never saw her with friends. Maybe she was as alone as I was. Maybe I’d introduce her to Greyson Monday at lunch. Maybe someday I’d be bold enough to ask her out. Hey, a guy can dream.
I drew nearer to the alley between Joe’s Tavern and a second-hand clothes store Mom shopped at. Sprawled out in front of the rusty green trash cans was a dog. My dog. Delilah was the dog I only wished I could take home with me.
A big, lanky female, she was mostly husky with a mix of shepherd and maybe even a little wolf. Her coat was long and plush, white with a silver saddle and face mask. Her eyes were the perfect husky-blue and they lit up with excitement as I crouched down. In the middle of her forehead, between her eyebrows, was a white marking resembling a question mark.
Her entire body wiggled, long tail thumping the ground as she scooted closer to me. I sat down, cross-legged, in the mouth of the alley and Del all but climbed into my lap.
“Hey girl.” I wrapped both arms around her neck. My fingers found the black, rolled leather collar and stainless steel tag I’d bought for her. They kept her out of the shelter, at least until I could take her home. This was my heart-dog, the one being in this entire world I could talk to without feeling nervous. The words came easily, flowing off the tip of my tongue. I cupped her face in my hands and smiled as her large ears pricked up. Her tail never stopped wagging.
“Tonight, girl. I’m going to ask Mom if you can live with us,” I said, stroking the fur of her face down. Mom didn’t like dogs—she’d been attacked by one when she was little and she’d never quite forgiven them. Even though Del would never hurt a fly, I knew taking her home would probably never happen. Not even if I kept her in the back yard on a chain.
I frowned at the thought of my dog never being able to run. No. I wanted her in my bedroom with me while I slept. I wanted to watch TV with her on Saturday mornings, to run my fingers through her fur while she sprawled across the couch.
As I dug out my leftover pizza remains from lunch, I told Del about my strange day. About Arii, always looking at me. About getting to talk to her today. Del merely gobbled up the food and stretched out against my leg, her head in my lap as she yawned.
I stayed in the alley with her as long as I could, talking about school and failing Calc and hating my English class. Then I pulled out a tattered library paperback and read to her, just to keep from thinking. After a chapter or two, I sighed and glanced at the digital display on my cell.
“Five-thirty. I’d better get home. Mom’ll skin me if I miss her famous chicken lasagna.” Plus I was getting hungry. “Maybe I’ll bring you some tomorrow.”
I stood up and stretched, easing the kinks out of my back and dusting the dirt off the butt of my jeans. I reached down and took Delilah’s head in my hands, placing a gentle kiss on the end of her nose. Her warm, pink tongue darted out to lick me and I grinned.
She was so my dog.
“I’ll work on her, I promise,” I said, backing up a step and turning to walk the rest of the way home.
“Kia’la…” The word echoed softly down the alley and I froze. Del craned her head up at me as I peered down the lane. Darkness was beginning to seep through it, like monstrous fingers reaching for me. My heart thundered in my ears. No one called me by that name. Only Dad, and he was gone. He’d been gone for a long time.
“Little princeling, long ways away from home…” The words were crooned in a feminine voice, tender and acidic all at once. I shivered. No one could give me credit for being a brave guy, but…
I stepped through the mouth of the alley. Del gave a keening whine beside me, her eyes filled with uncertainty.
“Stay here,” I murmured, fondling an ear. Then I headed into the darkness. My arm stretched out in front of me, feeling along the brick wall. “Hello?” My voice came out a little more tremble-y than I would’ve liked. I cleared my throat and repeated myself, bolder. I walked slowly, carefully.
“Little princeling,” the voice murmured again, but this time it was in my ear, ghosting through my mind.
I spun, lashing out with my free arm, but it never connected with anything but air. Cold chilled down my arms, raising a line of goose bumps like a zombie army.
“Who’s there?” I barked, trying to see through the darkness. I walked a little faster, even though the panic rising in my throat told me to turn away, to go home now. My foot caught on something on the ground and I gave a yelp as I pitched forwards. I caught myself, hands scraping the cement enough to burn like fire, but not before I struck my head on something metal. “Goddamnit!”
Then the world spun. In the back of my mind I heard water dripping onto metal, a soft tinking sound. A scuffle of claws against concrete. A low growl. I smelled blood, dirt and wet-dog.
My vision blurred, sharpening as colors flooded to life. It was like someone turned a light switch on in the alley—I could see the edges of trash cans, garbage, two-by-fours leaning against the wall.
There was a shrieking bark. A darkly uttered snarl. Hysteria rose up my throat like bile and I looked down, right into the blood-red eyes of a beast. Fangs gleamed as the wolf raised its lips. I took a step backward just as the beast leapt. One minute, its claws dug into my chest and the next I was stumbling, falling.
I was barely aware of a sharp stab of pain as my skull cracked against the brick wall.
Then everything went dark.