Main The Silver Series Complete Boxed Set
The Silver Series Complete Boxed SetCheree Alsop
The Silver Series is a series about teenage werewolves trying to survive in today’s world. They face the trials and joys that come with being a teenager, as well as the additional challenges of a werewolf. The Silver Series consists of seven books. Book 1- Silver, book one of the Silver Series, is a coming of age story about a teenage werewolf whose father is murdered. He has to come to terms with his new life, new school, and new friends while trying to prevent more killings. Attempting to make peace with the territory’s pack and finding out that the girl next door might be more than she lets on make his situation even more perilous. Book 2- Black is about a werewolf raised through the atrocities of a werewolf fighting ring. He is rescued and given the chance at a new life, but haunting reminders of his past follow him as he tries to make a fresh start. He has to confront his dark history in order to protect the girl he loves, or let himself be swept away into the pain and humiliation of the arena once more. Book 3- Alex’s quest to stop the General’s army of extremists gets personal when someone he cares about is taken. Lives are put on the line and Alex is pushed far past his limits to bring her home. The General is ruthless in his attempt to get Drogan back, and he knows Alex is the key to finding his son. Through it all, Alex comes face to face with someone he thought he would never see again. The question is, can instinct and his heart agree on the path he should take? Book 4- Violet, the fourth book of the Silver Series, is about a teenage girl who awakens to the harsh reality of life as a werewolf. Protected by a wild werewolf with golden eyes, Colleen finds solace in his forest and control over her rapidly changing life. But Colleen’s control is put to the ultimate test when her loved ones are in danger, forcing her to choose between freedom or returning to the source of her nightmares. Book 5- Azure, the fifth book of the Silver Series, is about an alpha werewolf who rescues a human from the vengeful grasp of his pack. Nora is the only person who is not afraid of Vance’s size or strength, and in return she gains his respect. When Vance is pushed to the edge of survival, his heart is torn between loving Nora and a werewolf who befriends him with the kindness that is greatly lacking in his life. Book 6- Hunter, the sixth book of the Silver Series, is about Dray, a werewolf who feels trapped and alone in his small farming town. He struggles to find his place and fit in despite his differences, then Dray’s world is shaken when a cute girl shows up the same time as a vengeful wild werewolf pack. With Jaze’s help, Dray fights to protect his town, but when Jaze is in trouble, Dray puts everything on the line to help the werewolves who changed his life. Book 7- Silver Moon, the seventh book in the Silver Series, is about Jaze as he fights to hold onto the peace he has achieved for the werewolves. Tensions rise, ultimatums are made, and Jaze is forced to make a decision that will change everything for werewolves, hunters, and humans alike. Hearts are broken, lives are forfeit, and Jaze’s pack is called upon to save those who survive.
The Silver Series Complete Boxed Set 7 Books By Cheree Alsop Copyright © 2016 by Cheree L. Alsop All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. ISBN Cover Designs Andrew Hair Editing by Sue Player and Shannon www.ChereeAlsop.com The Silver Series Book 1-Silver Chapter 1 I knew the contents of the trunk by heart; a brown leather jacket so worn the cloth showed through in places, an empty bottle of cologne that still held its scent, an old pair of sparing gloves with faded knuckles, and a couple of sheets of paper covered in the precise penmanship of the son of a teacher. A Hunter would kill me if he ever found the trunk, but Mom knew better than to suggest I get rid of it. I pushed it back under my bed. My heart ached at the scent that lingered, but I forced myself to get on with unpacking. I wondered with a glance at the multitude of cardboard boxes if it was futile to pursue emptying them, but the thought of inactivity and the barrage of memories it brought sent a shudder down my spine and I turned back to work. Night chased the shadows of evening from the street below. I couldn’t see the moon through my window, but knew it would be full in a week and a half. I didn’t need to look at the calendar anymore; I could feel it in my bones. I tossed several shirts into the closet and went down for dinner even though my stomach twisted at the thought of the spaghetti and meatballs that touched the air with their wheat and tomato scent. “Do you have everything ready for school tomorrow?” Mom smiled, but her tight eyes and creased forehead belied her cheerful demeanor. I nodded and swallowed another bite of spaghetti without tasting it. “Did you find your backpack? I was worried you wouldn’t find it in all those boxes.” The strange tone in her voice caught my attention. I looked up to see tears tracing lines down her cheeks. My heart clenched away from her pain, shoving me back into the black void I had buried myself in to survive the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t let her face her pain alone, but I didn’t have to face my own. I rose and hugged her tight where she sat in her chair. She froze for a split second, then turned against my chest and started to sob. I patted her head, smoothing the long strands of dark blond hair. It was hard not to say anything, hard not to let the fire in my throat and the ache in my chest turn into its own sob, but I forced it back. A single tear traced down my cheek; I wiped it off before she saw. “We’re gonna be okay, Mom,” I whispered. I stared out the kitchen window. I searched the darkness for golden eyes, but only my own image reflected back at me. It wasn’t the image I held in my head. I looked older, worn. The past two weeks had aged me more than I could have guessed. My stare reflected back hard and angry, my jaw clenched tight. Strands of blond hair fell in front of my eyes, eyes the same dark brown that dad’s had been. I shook my head to clear them and turned away from my reflection, angry at the things it didn’t show. “A new school, a new territory,” Mom said, her shoulders bowed. She shook her head. “You shouldn’t have to go through this alone. It could be dangerous.” I couldn’t help the wry tone that came to my voice. “There is no one else, Mom. I’ll be okay. Who’s going to mess with me?” But we both knew the truth. I stepped away. “I’ll be in the backyard for a bit.” She wiped the tears from her cheeks and looked at my plate. “You’re not going to finish your dinner?” I shook my head. “Not hungry.” I didn’t wait for her answer. I grabbed the pair of gloves on the counter and slid open the back door. Fresh air, so different in taste and smell it felt like we had stepped onto a different planet instead of across the country, swirled around me in an eddy of humidity, the dull roar of city night life, and a hint of rain. A cacophony of crickets, the slight breeze catching in the trees, and a pair of dogs barking at each other a few blocks away completed the portrait of night. I strapped on the gloves and made my way to the bag I had put up the second the moving truck left. It hung from the pecan tree like a lone sentry guarding the yard against night demons. The thick paneled fence gave a facade of privacy, but it felt like eyes watched from the gaps between the wood. I shrugged off the feeling and jabbed the bag. It shook and the familiar rattle of the chain drew me back to better times. I dodged and swung. The bag rocked with the force of the blow. I stepped back and kicked it to get it moving, then ducked and punched when it came back my way. Sweat trickled between my shoulder blades and my heart pounded by the time I finished. I leaned against the tree, my legs rubbery. “Wear yourself out yet?” I jumped and spun, searching the yard for any sign of movement. Lit only by stars and the faint light of the waxing moon that filtered through the reaching trees, the yard would have been nearly pitch black to anyone else; but to my eyes, shades of gray defined the shapes around me. I stood up when I confirmed that I was alone in the yard. A faint motion between the fence panels revealed the silhouette of a person a few inches shorter than me. I stepped sideways into the slight breeze; the scent it carried, a floral perfume faint from the day, a whispered hush of mint and apricot, and a hint of pizza which I guessed was from dinner, confirmed that my watcher was a girl. There was nothing hostile in the scent. I shook my head at my own fears. “Should I take you to be the strong, silent type then?” she asked with a touch of humor. I wasn’t in the mood to be teased. “Just the type who prefers to be left alone in his own backyard.” I unstrapped the gloves, the sound of the velcro loud in the silence between us. A siren wailed in the distance, followed closely by another. “Wow, and blunt. No beating around the bush for you, huh?” I rolled my eyes, forgetting that she couldn’t see me. “Is it too much to ask for some privacy?” “In this city? Yes, or haven't you noticed that there’s barely enough room to breathe back here, let alone keep to one’s self.” She leaned against the fence with a huff. “What do they expect us to do after curfew, sleep?” I laughed despite my foul mood. “I think that’s the idea.” I toyed with the gloves in my hands and debated whether to go in the house. The night was cool, but not the freezing temperatures I was accustomed to in early March. “So you get all moved in?” she pressed. I gave an inward sigh. “Yeah, pretty much.” “The moving truck wasn’t there long.” When I didn’t answer, she waited in silence. I hoped if I kept quiet long enough she would grow bored and leave. But a few minutes later, she asked, “You starting school tomorrow?” I frowned and fought back an urge to hit the bag again. “Yeah, why?” “It sucks to start a new school in the middle of the year. Why’d you move?” I turned back to the house. “Have a good night.” “You’re leaving? Just like that?” She sounded surprised and a little hurt. “Yeah, like I said, have a good night.” I took two steps when a long, low howl cut through the symphony that made up the city twilight. Dogs stopped barking, the shouts of an angry wife a few houses down quieted, and insects that had seconds ago been weaving their songs of worship to the moon fell silent. Hair rose on the back of my neck. The source wasn’t close, but it was definitely werewolf. I fought the urge to bare my teeth. The howl drifted away to a thick silence; I wondered that no other werewolf answered, then remembered that it wasn’t a full moon. Uneasiness tangled under my skin at the thought of a werewolf running alone when the moon was only waxing. “Goodnight.” Her voice startled me. She made her way toward the house without waiting for a response. “Do you have a lot of wolves here?” I wanted to kick myself as soon as the question left my mouth, but it caught her attention. She turned and the faint light that spilled through the back door gave life to her silhouette. She had long black hair and wore loose-fitting pajama pants and a teeshirt with a black bird printed on it. She showed her annoyance with a hand on her hip and the hard stare she gave as she tried to make out my form in the shadows. “Oh, so now you want to talk?” she accused. I shook my head. “Never mind.” I had reached my own back door and slid it open when she said, “Yeah, there’re wolves.” I paused, a knot in my stomach. “I didn’t think there would be wolves here, especially in the city.” I forced my tone to lighten. “I figured there'd be more coyotes; you know, like in the westerns.” She gave an unfeminine snort. “Sorry to disappoint you. Welcome to the big city, partner.” She tipped an imaginary hat my way and a laugh escaped her lips. “Why thank you, little lady,” I replied. I felt foolish, but grinned just the same. We stared across the darkness at each other for a moment, then I stepped inside the house. “Have a good night,” I called over my shoulder. “You, too,” she said. I slid the door shut behind me and listened for her to do the same, then went upstairs for a quick shower before bed. The howl echoed through my thoughts and quickened the foreboding that rose in my chest when I thought of what the morning would bring. It was a long time before I gave in to sleep and the ever-present nightmares it heralded. Chapter 2 I walked to school the next morning. We didn’t have an extra car and Mom was out searching for a job all day; I figured the fresh air would help clear my head. The school looked normal enough from the outside. Students streamed in from buses, cars, on bikes, and on foot. The atmosphere was solemn at the early hour, and several of the seniors carried cups of coffee from the nearby Starbucks. But the similarities to my previous high school stopped when I entered the building. Metal detectors had also decorated the entrance of my old school, but it was the cups that caught my attention. Bracelets, necklaces, rings, chains, earrings, and wrist bands, all made of silver, filled the small containers used to hold any metal that had the potential to set off the alarms. Each student that passed through the detector filled a cup nearly to the brim; two guards didn’t bat an eye when one student required two cups to hold all of his silver. The students around me threw suspicious glances my way when I passed through the detectors without putting anything in a cup. Distracted, it took two more steps for the smell to hit me. There had been two other werewolves at my last school and we were in the same pack with eight others from around the city. It was a large pack as far as convention went. Here, my senses strained at the obvious presence of at least a dozen werewolves, enough to complete a whole pack within the school alone. My mind reeled at the implications. The metal detectors took on a new light. Students looped necklaces and reattached bracelets with practiced ease while juggling school books and backpacks. Silver flashed in the neon glare and the light chime of metal on metal resonated harsh to my ears. The guards also wore silver, though it was much less extravagant than that of the students. I didn't know what to make of it. I turned away, distracted, and a shoulder caught mine and shoved me into the lockers along the wall. “Watch where you’re going,” a voice growled. I looked up to see a student my age with jet black hair and dark eyes flanked by two stocky, younger students. The scent of werewolf wafted from all three of them. The student who shoved me took a step closer, then stopped; his nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed. “You better have a good reason to be here.” I bristled at his tone. “My reasons are none of your business.” His jaw clenched and he swung at me. The years of practice with my father paid off; my body flowed through the motions without thought. I ducked under his fist and punched as I came up, catching him in the stomach. He doubled over with a gasp, and I slammed an elbow into his back. He fell to the floor with a grunt of pain. Arms wrapped around me from behind and squeezed tight to pin my arms to my sides. The other student punched me in the stomach with a left, then a right. I broke the student’s hold and ducked, pulling his right arm over my head and behind his back. I wrapped my left arm around his throat and pulled up on his wrist. He yelped and squirmed. I pulled harder. “Stop moving if you don’t want a dislocated shoulder,” I said quietly in his ear. He froze and his breath rattled in his constricted throat. The black-haired boy struggled to his feet, his arms around his stomach. The other student hurried to his side with a hand out to help, but the boy hit it away. “Chet Clemmons, causing trouble again are we?” The voice behind us carried a hint of frustration. I let go of the student I held and turned, careful to keep my back to the lockers so no one could get behind me. I ignored the pain in my stomach. I had given worse than I got, evident by my first assailant’s pale face and pained expression when he straightened up to talk to the man who addressed him. “I’m not the one causing trouble, he is.” He pointed at me. Everyone’s attention shifted. I hadn’t realized until then how many students had stopped to watch the fight. Most had mixed expressions of excitement and foreboding, but there were a few who watched me with cold, intent stares. I forced myself to look away. The man who spoke was of middle height, medium build, had thinning brown hair, glasses, and wore a faded brown suit that looked as though it had been washed too many times. His eyes took in the students around us with the look of someone who knew each of them by name and regarded them as his direct responsibility. He straightened his dark brown checkered tie and met my eyes with a frank, curious gaze. “I need to see you all in my office.” When one of the boys started to protest, he turned and glared at the three of them. “Now.” “Yes, sir,” they mumbled together. “And if I’m not mistaken, it’s time for class,” he said to the onlookers. The bell rang on cue. Students broke off in groups and made their way down the hall to their various destinations. I felt several pairs of eyes on my back as I followed the three students to the office. The man nodded at the two women behind the main desk and led us past several doors to one that stood open at the end of the hall. Glass windows made up two sides of the office and gave an excellent view of the student lounge that fronted the library. The last bell rang and two students hurried past throwing worried glances our way. The man just shook his head and sank onto a leather upholstered chair behind the l-shaped desk which bore the nameplate, ‘Principal Anthony Stewart’. The three boys took the chairs in front of the desk with the familiarity of students who had been there many times. The Principal looked up at me. “I guess we’re a chair short. Do you mind grabbing one in the hall?” “I’m okay with standing,” I told him. To be honest, I felt better near the door than sitting beside three hostile werewolves. Their glares were enough to start the brawl all over again. Principal Stewart studied me for a second, then turned back to the others. “You boys are already on thin ice. I warned you last time that one more outburst would result in suspension.” They started to protest, but he held up a hand and cut them short. He rubbed his eyes behind his glasses with a weary sigh. “I’m feeling generous today, so take this as your last warning.” He dropped his hand and looked at each of them in turn, his expression serious. “One more mistake and you’re out of here. I’d better not hear of any more trouble from the three of you for the rest of the year. Understand?” “Yes, sir,” they said in sullen unison. “Now get to class; the last thing I need is for your teachers to report you tardy.” He motioned and they left. Each one shoved past me with more force than was necessary. I smiled at their glares with a small rise of fierce satisfaction in my chest. The scent of werewolf lingered in the air. “I don’t think we’ve met,” the Principal said. I turned and found him watching me with a calculating expression. “Jaze Carso,” I replied, holding out my hand. He shook with a firm grip. “Principal Stewart, if you haven’t already surmised.” He tipped his head toward the name plaque. “Please sit.” I took the middle seat. The odor from the cushion told of several other wolves who had sat here among countless students over the past few months. Mr. Stewart had a file in front of him. He nodded at it. “You're the new student. I must say I didn’t expect you to arrive in such a . . . tumultuous manner. You don’t have any marks on your record for fighting.” He met my eyes expectantly. I shrugged and forced a nonchalant tone. “I’m normally a go with the flow kind of student. I guess I sort of . . . .“ “Didn’t like where this flow was going?” he filled in. I smiled at his easy manner. “Yeah.” He sat up in the chair and put his elbows on the desk. “May I be frank with you, Mr. Carso?” “I would appreciate it.” “I would steer clear of Mr. Clemmons and the other students that hang around with him.” He gave me a hard look as if to make sure I took him seriously. I nodded again and wondered how much he knew. He wasn’t a werewolf, that much was obvious, but he didn’t act like he had the wool pulled over his eyes, either. He definitely knew something was going on in his school. I couldn't decide if that was good or bad. He gave me a schedule and directed me toward my class, remarking offhand that with my GPA I shouldn’t have too much trouble catching up. I doubted it, considering that half the school year had already passed, but decided not to press the issue. The hallway echoed with my footsteps, and the eyes of the students in the classrooms I passed burned into my back. Banners that read, “Go Wranglers!” and, “Stomp Those Tigers!” lined the brick walls in red and gold lettering. Pictures of the basketball team were encased in glass next to a shelf of trophies, and my heart ached at the reminder of my old school. It had been comfortable, like slipping on an old pair of shoes. I knew where everyone stood, and nobody messed with me, not because I was intimidating, but because I made it a point not to be too good at anything despite the extra strength and endurance my werewolf attributes gave me. I had a solid group of friends and the support of the pack. Everything had been perfect, until that night. I gritted my teeth and pulled opened the door that matched the number on my schedule. Twenty-five pairs of eyes, the teacher’s included, turned to me. I showed the teacher my schedule and took the seat he indicated, front and center of course, the only empty chair in the classroom. I stifled a sigh and pulled a blank notebook from my backpack. Chapter 3 I had repeated the same scenario in three other classrooms by the time the lunch bell rang. In one, a wide berth of chairs fronting where the teacher stood was empty despite the fact that several students lounged against the back wall while they took notes. Upon taking my seat, I realized that it was the designated splash zone for a teacher who spoke with a lisp and a lot of enthusiasm. I tried in vain to shield my notebook from the splattering and vowed to get there early enough the next day so that I could get a better seat; otherwise, I would be forced to buy a parka. I stood in line in the lunchroom and pretended to review the day’s food list while I studied the layout of the room from the corner of my eye. Rows of off-white tables made up the middle of the room while shorter tables stood on either side. Students shouted insults and comments to each other across the room, much to the chagrin of the two scowling teachers that I assumed had discipline duty for the day. The scent of over-cooked French fries and salted hamburgers carried over the fainter smell of sack lunch sandwiches and potato chips. I picked up my lunch, paid a few dollars to the bored lady with a hairnet next to an ancient computer, and carried my tray to a table near the door and a wall, a convenient location where my back would be protected. The glares of several students I passed confirmed the necessity of the position. When I sat down, a skinny student with spiky brown hair looked up at me from his hamburger of mystery meat and squishy peas. I gave him a half-smile that I hoped came across as friendly. The last thing I needed was to be hustled during lunch. “Welcome to our school,” he said amiably. At my questioning look, he shrugged. “I work in the attendance office and saw the picture on your file. I’m Brock.” “Jaze,” I said. At his nod, I shrugged, “But I guess you already knew that.” “Yeah, I’m not really supposed to see that stuff, but I can’t help it if someone leaves the files lying around.” He gave an affable grin, “You’d be surprised what you can find out in there. Did you know that Mr. Corley once gave a student detention for not combing his hair?” At my lack of comment, he continued, “Well, you’d have to know who Mr. Corley is to find that funny. He’s bald.” His good-humor was contagious and I found myself warming up to him. It turned out that he was in my same grade, a junior. He told me he had failed his driving test for failure to yield to a cow, and had to work in the evenings to help pay for repairs on the Driver’s Education car. “Who thinks to look for a cow in the road in the Metroplex? I was being a responsible driver looking out for pedestrians and all, not searching the roads for livestock.” He let out a laugh. “But the driving instructor sure saw it. He yelled so loud I think the cow might have died of fright before I even hit it!” He sighed and rolled his eyes. “But hey, it’s not my fault his brake didn’t work. I shouldn’t have to pay for faulty school equipment, even if I was going a little fast!” While he was talking, a voice from across the cafeteria caught my attention. Scanning the mass of unfamiliar faces, I found my neighbor at the long table against the far wall. My stomach soured when I saw who she leaned against. Chet glared at me, his dark eyes narrow. I met his gaze for a moment before reason kicked in and I turned away. This wouldn’t be a good place to start another fight. I toyed briefly with Principal Stewart’s comment of possible suspension, but knew better than to press my luck. I finished my food in near silence, responding to Brock’s questions with one-word answers until he turned back to the other students at the table and left me in peace. At the end of lunch, however, I was forced to ask him where to find my fifth period history class. “You’re in luck; that’s my classroom, too! I can help you get caught up!” he replied with the same enthusiasm you would expect to hear from a kid who had just been told he was going to Disneyland. I suppressed a groan and shouldered my backpack. Wary and on edge, I studied the hallways we passed. Chet and the other werewolves had finished lunch and left early; I wasn’t convinced they would pass up an opportunity to seek revenge before school ended. Fortunately, my last three classes crawled by without incident. Brock saved me a seat in Economics and took time to show me where the gym was for Physical Education even though he had Advanced English that hour. He then met me with an enthusiastic grin outside the gym doors after school. “What’d you think of Coach Meyers?” he asked. He had a bright orange backpack slung over one shoulder, and when he turned I saw a ‘kick me’ sign stuck to it with gum. I pulled it off and handed it to him. He accepted it with a casualness that said this wasn’t the first time it had happened. At my questioning look, he shrugged and tossed the sign in the garbage can by the school doors. “Hey, at least they notice me,” he said with a wry grin. Two students shoved out the door past us. Anger flared in my chest and I turned, but stopped when I recognized Chet’s cronies. They continued walking, but one looked back at me and gave a twisted smile. I forced myself to continue down the hall despite the rage that made me want to phase and teach them a lesson. “Man, they sure don’t like you,” Brock said. “The feeling’s mutual.” “You don’t want to mess with Chet’s group. They’re trouble.” Brock sounded worried. I fought back a grimace. “So I’ve been told.” We stopped at my locker and I twisted the combination several times. After more than a few failed attempts, I fished the tiny slip of paper with the combination out of my pocket and tried it again. It opened with a squeak to reveal pictures of someone’s girlfriend. Brock laughed. “Guess they moved on.” He took one off the door and gave it a critical look. “She’s not bad.” He put it in his jacket pocket. At my look, he grinned. “You never know when you might need an imaginary girlfriend to fend off some ugly chick.” “Is that something you do often?” “It never hurts to be prepared.” I shook my head, threw my books in, and shut the door. It was Brock’s turn to stare. “Not one for studying?” I shrugged. “Later.” “What are you doing after school?” “We’ve still got a lot of unpacking to do. My mom’ll be home late, so I’m going to try to get as much done as I can.” “Sounds fun,” Brock said in an unconvinced tone. I gave a wry smile. “Oh, it is; believe me.” “Well, beats working at Mack’s to pay for a car I don’t even get to drive.” I laughed. “Yeah, that sucks.” We walked out the front doors into the cool afternoon air. The parking lot quickly emptied as students and teachers rushed to leave school. We made our way along the row of buses to the side road. I turned toward home, “See ya later.” “Hey,” Brock said over his shoulder. “If you get bored, come by the shop.” I paused on the sidewalk. “You walking there?” He grinned. “No license, remember? Besides, it’s not that far.” I thought about it. If Mom’s job search didn’t go well, she might be out late anyway and I definitely didn’t have anything else to do. I nodded. “I might stop by.” “It’s just up Main past First Street.” “Got it.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and continued down the road. I made my way toward home, but a few streets later realized that was the last place I wanted to go. Nothing was more depressing than a house full of boxes. Mom wouldn’t mind if I unpacked later. I jogged west through some apartment buildings and up a road between rundown brick warehouses so I could meet up with Brock before he reached the shop. Someone yelled and I stopped short. I strained my ears to hear the voice again. “What do you want with me?” Brock’s words were strained. I ran through an alley on my left in time to see Brock back up against a wall with his hands raised. Two boys and a big animal stood with their backs to me. I recognized two of Chet’s followers and realized with a jolt of surprise that the animal with them was a werewolf already phased to wolf form. “Chet wants to know about that Jaze kid. You’ve been hanging around him all day like a lovesick puppy.” “No!” Brock shook his head. “I don’t know anything, I swear.” The first boy grinned. “I don’t believe you. And Chet said to get answers any way we could.” He took a step forward. The wolf beside him lowered its head. A fierce growl ripped from its throat. “Whoa.” Brock leaned back against the wall, his eyes wide. “I don’t know what you want, and I don’t know anything about Jaze except that he just moved here. That’s all, I swear it!” “Oh, you’ll be doing more than swearing by the time we’re done with you,” the second boy said with a cruel laugh. He pulled his shirt off. A voice inside my head screamed for me to walk away, but I ignored it and entered the alley. “Leave him alone.” The boys and wolf looked back at me in surprise. I made my way toward them with calm, measured steps despite the adrenaline that pounded through my veins. I met Brock’s eyes; fear and relief reflected in them. He shook his head as if to tell me to leave and save myself. I gave him a grim smile. “Looks like the boys at your school don’t know how to play nice.” “Jaze, get outta here,” Brock said. The wolf turned and snapped at him. He leaned back into the brick wall. “You know,” I said, my tone fierce with anger I could barely control, “If you have questions, you could have asked me.” The two boys exchanged crooked smiles at my invitation. The one with his shirt off started toward me. “That can be arranged.” He phased in a blur of skin and fur. His teeth sharpened and mouth elongated into a pointed muzzle. His shoulders rolled and ears moved to higher points on his head. His legs and arms bent and shifted their muscles, forcing him onto all fours. His pants fell discarded at his feet. A growl rolled from his throat. I looked into the golden eyes of the gray wolf and saw the animal hunger in them. He gathered his legs under his body to leap. I pulled off my shirt phased into wolf form in the split second it took for him to leave the ground. His eyes widened, but it was too late for him to change course. He slammed into my shoulder. I rolled with the force of the collision while his own momentum threw him over me and into the trashcans along the wall. The other boy had phased to wolf form by the time I got to my feet. I backed slowly so that I had a wall behind me and could watch all three wolves. Their coats were varying shades of gray, male wolves who didn’t wear the black of an Alpha. The one that had tangled with the garbage cans limped back over to join his pack mates. I sensed their confusion, a mixture of anger and surprise at my black Alpha fur. There was no time for them to regroup with Chet and decide what their next course of action should be. Three heads lowered, ears flat and hackles lifted. I bared my teeth. A low growl rumbled from my chest. I could see Brock pressed against the wall out of the corner of my eye. The fear that rolled off him in waves fueled my rage. Fire flowed through my veins as the three wolves leaped. I ducked under the first wolf and caught the shoulder of the next in my jaws. I shook him and threw his body against the nearest wall. He yelped and fell to a heap on the ground. The third wolf grabbed my forearm in his mouth and bit down. His sharp teeth tore through the flesh; pain laced up to my shoulder. A snarl ripped from my throat and I turned and bit at his neck. My teeth sought purchase through the thick fur. The scent of his panic filled my nose. He let go and darted back, breaking my hold. The first wolf dove at me again. I jumped to the side and his teeth missed by inches. Before he could regain his footing, I used my shoulder to bowl him over. His belly was exposed and he yelped in fear. I latched onto his unprotected throat. My ears filled with sound of his blood pounding millimeters from my teeth. I growled a warning. He froze. A strained whine escaped him. I heard his two pack mates’ anxious replies. My jaws ached to close, to end his life in an effort to release some of the fury and anger pent up inside me, but I fought against it. I growled again for good measure, and then let up the pressure. The wolf on the ground held still for another moment. When he realized I wasn’t going to attack, he rolled onto his belly and slunk back to his pack mates. They left the alley without a sound. I noted with grim satisfaction that two of them limped, and the third held his tail between his legs. Movement from the corner of my eye snuffed out the satisfaction. Brock detached himself from the wall; his eyes never left me when he leaned down to pick up his backpack. The fear in his gaze left me hollow. I turned and made my way back through the alley. Blood ran down my front leg where the wolf’s teeth had scored it and I tried not to limp. Normally, I would phase back to human form in an effort to be less conspicuous in the city, but I had left my clothes in the alley and couldn’t bring myself to go back for them. I wondered if a naked human or a huge wolf would catch more attention. I settled on the rationale that most people could accept a wolf as a large sled dog. A naked human was not so easily overlooked. Regardless of all that had happened, it felt good to be back in wolf form. I hadn’t phased since the last time with my dad. Though the full moon next week would make it inevitable, Dad and I had always escaped a few nights a week for a run. Being back in wolf form after the past two weeks felt like stretching muscles that had been too long dormant. I relished the feeling, and phased to human form only when I realized our back door wasn’t easy to open with a muzzle and paws. I pulled on some pants and sat in the kitchen attempting to bandage my still bleeding arm when the doorbell rang. I tied off the cloth and slipped on a shirt with long sleeves before I made my way to the door. My heart slowed when I opened it to find Brock, my discarded clothes tucked under one arm. Trepidation rose in my chest. “What are you doing here?” I growled. “You saved my life, man. The least I could do is return your clothes.” Brock pushed past me into the house. I stared after him in surprise, then shook my head, shut the door, and followed him to the living room. Boxes filled most of the sitting areas, and he turned back to me with raised eyebrows. “You really did just move here, didn’t you?” “Saturday. Why?” He shrugged. “I was wondering on the way over if it was some story to cover up an underground werewolf something-or-other.” His eyes lit up. “Did you move here because of a werewolf thing?” My eyes narrowed. “It’s none of your business.” He held up his hands, a grin on his face. “Okay, okay. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine.” He pushed aside a stack of books and sat on the corner of the couch. At my look, he apologized. “Sorry. I keep feeling like I’m going to fall over. A long walk after being attacked by werewolves must not have been good for me.” I studied him. “It’s not that long of a walk.” “If you have four feet, maybe. But I had to make it on two,” he said casually as if he often made references to werewolves. “Have you ever seen a werewolf before?” He shook his head. “Never, and not for lack of trying.” That surprised me. “You mean, you’ve tried to find werewolves?” “Oh, yeah.” He sat up, his expression brightening. “Mouse and I have been trying to find proof of werewolves for as long as I can remember. It’s a hobby of ours.” “Strange hobby,” I muttered. I frowned. “But you can’t tell him. No one can know.” “Word’ll spread fast enough to Chet if I know Max and Darryl.” His tone turned pleading. “Are you sure I can’t tell Mouse? He’d be thrilled to know we were right all along.” I shook my head. “Absolutely not. You’re lucky to still be alive. No human is supposed to know of the presence of a werewolf. Chet’s followers would have killed you when they’d gotten all they could out of you.” Brock’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “But you could have let them kill me and didn’t. Don’t you follow werewolf law?” I gritted my teeth. “I’m not so fond of it at the moment.” “Is that the reason you moved out here?” I shook my head and made my way to the kitchen to clean up before Mom got home. Blood on the counters was the last thing she needed to see after a hard day of job hunting. “I told you I’m not talking about it.” “Okay.” He followed me, then stopped at the sight of the blood. “Whoa. I didn’t think you got hurt.” I raised my sleeve to show him the already soaked bandage before I turned away to find a rag in the cupboards. “I thought werewolves healed quickly.” His knowledge concerned me, but I didn’t let it show. “We do, but it still takes some time.” I found a rag, ran it under the tap, then began blotting at the counter top. He fell silent. I looked up to see him watching me. “Thank you,” he said quietly, his expression sincere. “Don’t mention it.” I finished the counters and rinsed the rag in the sink. Blood ran over my hands when I wrung it out. The water turned pink as it carried away the iron scent. I tossed the rag into the washing machine by the bathroom. Brock followed me down the hall. “So what now?” “What do you mean, what now?” “Well, do you wage war on them or something?” I shook my head and walked back to the kitchen. “There’s too many of them. I shouldn’t even be here. The most I can hope is for them to ignore me from here on out.” Brock looked disappointed. “Oh.” Then he perked up again. “But what if they don’t?” I turned to face him, exasperated. “Why do you want me to fight them so bad?” “Because I finally have proof that there are werewolves, and now everything's just going to go back to normal? I don’t think so.” His voice softened, his face pale. “According to you, Chet’s gang will have to kill me now that I know what they are.” The thought turned my stomach. He was right. I took a seat at the table. Brock hesitated, then did the same. His eyebrows lifted. “Hey, if they had bitten me, would I turn into a werewolf, too?” I shook my head. “No. That’s just a myth. Werewolves are born, not made.” “Then why the rumors?” I shrugged and ran my finger along a small rip in the yellow flower print tablecloth that still smelled of our old home. “It’s their attempt to be thought of as human instead of monsters.” Brock gave me a strange look and I realized I had said ‘their’ instead of ‘our’. I rose from the table and my chair slid back with a screech. Brock jumped, but his face was carefully expressionless, his eyes on mine. “You wanna watch a movie?” I took a deep breath and let it out with an exasperated huff. “You aren’t afraid of me?” He shook his head. “Should I be?” I glanced out the window in search of an answer. My reflection stared back. I sighed and turned again to Brock. “No, not of me. But you’re right about Chet’s pack. I suggest you start carrying some real silver.” Brock’s eyes widened. “You mean it really works?” I gave him a tight-lipped smile. “Unless you strike a vital organ, silver won’t kill. But we’re allergic to it. Especially the weaker members of a pack.” At his questioning look, I explained. “Alphas have black fur, and the rest of the male werewolves' fur ranges from dark gray to light gray. The lighter it is, the weaker they are.” Brock thought it over for a minute, then his eyes lit with the question I knew was coming. “So you’re. . . .” I nodded. Brock sat back in his chair. “Wow, an Alpha. No wonder Chet’s gang doesn't like you.” I shrugged. “Something I’ll have to deal with on my own.” I changed the subject. “Any suggestions for a movie?” A smile spread across Brock’s face. “How about ‘Teenwolf’?” “Very funny.” Chapter 4 I stifled a smile at the surprised look on Mom’s face when she found Brock and I hanging out in the box-cluttered living room, but she recovered quickly and asked if he would like to join us for dinner. “Absolutely. What are we having?” Brock shot me a questioning look. I shook my head. No, my mom was definitely not a werewolf, and he wouldn’t have to worry about rare steaks for dinner. The obvious disappointment on Brock’s face turned into excitement when Mom mentioned she was making chicken Alfredo manicotti. She met my eyes, a sad smile on her lips. An answering pang tore through my chest. It was a dish Dad and I always requested, one of my favorites. Her smiled firmed with a determination that said she was not going to let everything pleasant go. I nodded an agreement that I didn’t feel. Brock didn’t notice our unspoken exchange. He followed Mom into the kitchen like a starving puppy and asked how he could help speed things along. I shook off the heavy weight I felt and tagged behind. Brock didn’t seem to mind the time it took to make the food. He helped Mom cut and clean vegetables, grate cheese, and prepare the filling. I was put to work with a bowl of cookie batter. My culinary shortcomings had been accepted long ago, but Mom said I had a special skill in spooning dollops of batter onto a pan. Demeaning, yes, but I conceded because it was better than nothing. I watched Mom and Brock at the bar and tried not to remember my tall, confident father who should have been beside her. I looked down at the mixture I stirred and it was hard not to pretend that he was with us again, telling his jokes and stories. Mom laughed and I stood up so fast my chair fell over with a crash. “Jaze, what’s wrong?” she asked, surprised. Brock froze with his knife midway through a head of broccoli. He looked from Mom to me, but I couldn’t meet their eyes. “I was just telling her about the cow,” he said. I slammed the bowl down, angry at myself for letting my emotions get the better of me. But before I could say anything, a sound cut through the room. The howl was deep and angry, like a tin roof torn open during a hurricane. It was a challenge. The hair rose on the back of my neck. My lips pulled back in a snarl. I stepped around the table. “Jaze, no!” Mom and Brock said at the same time. “He’s out there!” I was barely aware that I was shouting. I stared past them toward the front door. “He knows where we live!” My chest heaved and I fought not to phase. “You can’t take them by yourself,” Brock argued. He grabbed my arm. I stared at him for a moment without seeing him. Blood pounded in my ears. I wanted to phase, wanted it more than anything I could remember. The anger that I had tried to keep down the last few weeks boiled through me like hot tar. I needed to rip into something, to tear it apart to match my soul. The howl sounded again, but it was mixed with many others, a whole pack of werewolves that circled our front yard. “Jaze?” The fear in Mom’s voice broke through the dissonance of my mind. I blinked and saw Mom and Brock in front of me, their eyes on the front door. I realized what I had almost done and steadied myself with a shaky hand against the table. “They’re leaving,” I whispered. The slight change in the tone of the howls, too subtle for human ears, renewed the threat, then faded; they left into a night which had become much darker. I fell into a chair and put my face in my hands, my elbows on the table. I closed my eyes and waited for my heart to stop hammering in my ears. The howls echoed in my head and refused to fade. The oven chime sounded and I jumped. I took a deep breath and pushed down the urge to run after the werewolves, to defend my territory and my family against all the hatred I heard in their voices. I grabbed the bowl again in an effort to calm my mind. “I’m not quite ready with the cookie dough.” “What was that?” Mom’s voice shook. “A new territory,” I replied in an even tone. I met her eyes, my own carefully concealing my thoughts. “We knew this would be coming.” She shook her head, a spark of anger in her eyes now. “No, not like this. Not at our own house.” “They’re not happy I’m here, and they want to deal with it like animals.” “Then we’re leaving,” Mom said. “There are too many of them.” “I’m not leaving.” The edge in my voice surprised us both. I tried to sort out my conflicting emotions. “What’s to say it won’t be like this at another school in another city? We have to try to ride it out here.” “And what if they don’t let you?” Mom asked with a frustrated gesture toward the front door. “I’ll work it out.” “And he won’t be alone.” I had forgotten Brock was there. I stared at him with a faint spark of amusement at the thought that he would watch my back against the wolves. Mom looked at him with a hand on her hip. “Are you a werewolf too?” She glared at me. “Are you inviting strangers into this house who could turn on us?” A laugh burst out of me at the thought of Brock as a werewolf. Mom’s answering glower only made the situation more hilarious. After his initial surprise, Brock laughed too. “I’m definitely not a werewolf,” he said when he stopped to catch his breath. I shook my head. “Far from it.” Brock threw me a grin. I stirred the batter again, feeling somewhat better. I could still sense Mom glaring at me and gave her a placating smile. “It’s okay, Mom. They’re not going to kill me. They’re still held to the Law.” “But there are so many of them.” “All the more reason for none of them to cross the line. They won’t want their pack broken up by force.” I could tell she wasn’t satisfied, but she let the argument go. She grabbed hot-pads and carried manicotti and steamed vegetables to the table. Brock took a seat next to me and, at Mom’s invitation, helped himself to the food. He raved at each bite about how good the food tasted. Mom smiled despite the concern that furrowed her brow. “Doesn’t your mom cook?” Brock nodded and said around a mouthful of broccoli, “Yeah, she cooks the same thing every night. It’s amazing how many kinds of frozen pizza there are!” Mom laughed, then embarrassment colored her face when she realized it wasn’t a joke. “Don’t worry, Mrs. C,” Brock said, mistaking her expression. “Your manicotti’s better than frozen pizza any day.” I burst out laughing. At Mom’s insistence, Brock let us drive him home. Though he put on a brave front, worry showed on his face at the thought of school tomorrow. “I get bored walking by myself. Do you mind if I swing by and get you on the way? You’re only a few blocks down,” I offered before he left the car. “You mean it?” he asked, his eyes bright. I nodded and he gratefully accepted, then ran through the dark to his front door without looking back. “I feel the same way,” Mom said quietly. She waited to make sure Brock shut and locked the door before she drove away. “He’s had quite the rude awakening,” I agreed. “He’s brave though.” Mom drove down the street in silence, her lips pressed together in a tight line. I turned to look out the window, but changed my mind when a shadow detached itself from the others to run alongside our car. “I’m enrolling you in karate lessons.” “I can’t take karate, Mom. I’m too strong. It would be obvious.” I forced myself to look back out the window. The shadow was gone. “Then how else are you supposed to defend yourself?” “Dad taught me, remember?” I tried not to sound bitter. “I can take care of myself. I already won one fight today.” I threw it in as a jab, but regretted it the moment it left my mouth. Mom’s eyes widened and she stared at me. “You fought today? With werewolves?” Her voice rose. “Were you hurt? Was anyone killed?” I shook my head quickly to cut off her barrage of questions. “Three werewolves tried to get information from Brock about me. They would have killed him if I hadn’t stepped in. They’d already phased, Mom, and in broad daylight.” Her mouth fell open. “He saw them? He saw you?” I nodded. “If I hadn’t phased, he would’ve been a body in an alley. It makes me wonder how often that happens around here.” Mom’s jaw tightened and I could tell she was about to begin her argument about moving away again. The car inched slowly toward the other lane of traffic as she focused all her attention on me. “And that’s why I can’t leave,” I pressed, the thoughts that had been racing around my head finally settling into a semblance of order. “Something’s wrong here, and until I find what's at the bottom of it, I can’t go. There’re too many innocent lives at stake.” I grabbed the wheel and eased the car back onto our side of the street. Luckily, it was late and no one else seemed to be out. Mom had a tendency to go under the speed limit anyway, and I doubted we would do much harm at 15 miles per hour. Mom opened her mouth, then closed it again and turned to face forward. I let go of the wheel and sat back. That was it, what had been bothering me. There were too many werewolves here. The general population had some notion that they existed; otherwise, why all the silver at school if not to prove that the wearer wasn’t a werewolf? But werewolves could tolerate thin grades of silver; the plated metal on most jewelry wouldn’t cause more than a slight rash after being worn for a day. My bigger worry was the fact that Chet would send his pack after a student without fear of repercussion. Had this happened before? Or was this wolf pack thicker into the city’s politics than I imagined? I figured the best place to start would be the files at school. Even if the principal didn’t know what was going on, there had to be some mention in the files of abnormal activity. Chapter 5 The wolves didn’t come back that night, but I was jarred from sleep time and again by howls that echoed all too real in my dreams. I didn’t feel at all rested by the time I got up. I found a discarded silver wristband with spikes in one of my junk boxes and put it on. I felt Mom’s eyes on it when I came down for breakfast. “Going to meet up with Brock?” I had to give her credit for the effort. I could tell by the lines around her eyes that she had been up worried all night. “Yeah; otherwise, I think he might skip school.” I didn’t mention that I toyed with the same idea. I sat down at the table and forced myself to eat a few bites of the cereal she had poured for me. Mom walked behind where I sat and surprised me by leaning down and putting her arms around me from behind. “Take care of him, Jaze,” she said quietly. “Take care of you both. I can’t pretend to be okay with this, but I know you have your reasons. Just give me the option to say enough if it goes overboard.” I could hear the pain in her voice, the fear of losing another member of her family. A lump formed in my throat and I nodded. She squeezed my shoulders, then let go with a sigh. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips when she walked around the table to face me. She rested her hands on the back of a chair. “You have so much of your father in you. He never would back down from a fight. I think it’s the Alpha in you.” I grinned at her. “That’s what you get for marrying the toughest werewolf in town.” She nodded. “You got that right.” It felt good to talk like we used to, even though we both forced it for the other’s sake. It would be a long time before anything felt natural again. I fought back a grin as I pulled off the silver wristband and dropped it in a cup before I passed through the metal detectors. Brock filled his own cup most of the way and followed me through. The students around us didn’t pay any attention, though I could tell by the feral odor in the air that several of Chet’s werewolves had chosen to tag along. We walked down the hall with forced nonchalance, and I refrained from pointing out our followers to Brock. He already looked pale, but I had to give him credit for meeting me in front of his house ready for whatever the day might bring. My locker, situated down a side hall, would have been the perfect place for an ambush. I passed the hallway and continued to my classroom despite the fact that I didn’t have my books. Brock threw me a sideways glance, but didn’t argue. We had almost reached Brock’s first class, Algebra II, which happened to be across from my Science class, when I heard footsteps. I turned and ducked; our first attacker doubled over my shoulder and I rose to send him crashing into the lockers that lined the hall. Then they surrounded us. My nerves tingled at the scent of silver, pure silver, not the cheap stuff that plated most of the jewelry the students wore. Knives flashed in the grip of at least three of our attackers. Chet was serious about this. I stepped in front of Brock, who knew better than to protest, and widened my stance. Feeling foolhardy and in a bad mood, I gestured for them to bring it on. Chet’s pack dove at me in a group. I caught a dozen punches and kicks, and gave only half that, but with my Alpha strength those I gave left a mark. I felt bone crunch under my knuckles and a werewolf cried out in pain. A punch caught me on a cheekbone. I dove out of the fray toward my attacker, and his triumphant expression turned to fear when he saw me coming. I threw a two-fisted punch at his chest; he slammed back against the wall and slid to the floor. Arms grabbed me from behind before I could finish him. I tripped over someone’s legs and fell onto my back. An elbow slammed into my stomach and my breath left in a gasp. I fought for air, my arms above my face to protect it from the blows. Fists and shoes battered my unprotected ribs. Then a knife cut along my side and fire exploded through my veins. Thunder pounded in my ears and I fought not to phase. The punches and kicks became nothing more than goads for my anger. Before the phase could take over, I jumped to my feet, throwing those who were closest to me into the surrounding wall of students. I used the adrenaline that compelled me to phase and attacked Chet’s pack. The ten or so werewolves must have felt the change in me. They fell back against the students who watched the fight with opened mouths, and scrambled to break through the tightly packed ranks. My vision flared red and I threw my assailants right and left. I found two silver knives in unresisting hands and threw them hilt-deep into the nearest classroom door. I grabbed two werewolves and was about to smash their heads together when the Principal’s voice rang out. “Mr. Carso!” His tone broke through the red haze. I shook my head to clear my eyes, and looked up to find him inside the ring of students, his hands clenched into fists. Even though he had said my name, he glared at the students around me like it was their fault I had beaten them. His gaze finally rested on me. “I would like to see both of you in my office.” I looked behind me and was glad to see Brock cowering unharmed by the door. He gave me a weak smile and ran a hand through his sweaty hair. I helped him to his feet, then staggered back as the fading adrenaline left my body. Brock caught my arm, his eyes wide. We shouldered through the watching students. “Thanks, man,” I said low enough so the other students couldn’t hear. “No prob,” Brock replied with a shrug and a shadow of his easy smile. Most of the students left to class. The second bell gave a shrill ring, leaving Chet’s pack members to help each other to the nurse’s office. I wondered why Principal Stewart didn’t call them to his office as well, but decided not to press my luck by asking. I didn’t think I was the only one who noticed Chet missing from the group. Principal Stewart led the way into his office. I took the same seat I had the day before, and fought back a grimace at the irony. “A second fight in two days, and with Mr. Clemmons’ group again? I’m a little surprised.” But his expression was far from surprised. The Principal laced his fingers together and leaned forward on his desk. He glanced sideways at Brock, hesitated, then sighed. “Jaze, I’m sorry about your father. Your old school sent the records over this morning.” My heart slowed, and I clenched my fists behind the desk where he couldn’t see them. They ached, but it felt good, an ache to get lost in. The burning fire from the shallow wound the silver knife had left along my side flared whenever I moved. My shirt stuck to my side and I was suddenly grateful I wore black because the blood wouldn't show through as easily. Brock nudged me with his elbow and I looked up to see Principal Stewart watching me with an expectant expression. “Sorry, sir. Can you repeat the question?” The Principal gave an understanding smile. “Where did you learn to fight like that?” I was glad he changed the subject from my father. “I came from a hard town.” I didn’t say that I had just moved to a harder one. He nodded. “Well, I’m glad that you can take care of yourself. I don’t condone fighting in the school, but I especially hate to see someone outnumbered.” He shook his head. “Maybe they’ll try to stay on your good side from now on.” I smiled. “Doubt it.” Principal Stewart looked down at my arm. “What happened there.” “Dog bit me yesterday,” I said quickly. I glanced down at the mostly-healed gouges, then looked up at the Principal again. “Yesterday?” It was too late to change my story, so I nodded. His eyebrows rose, but he didn’t press it. “You two had better get to class if you’re up to it, or I could have the nurse excuse you for the day.” The thought of a walk home with werewolves at our heels was more than I could handle at the moment. “No thank you, sir,” I said. “We’ll be fine at class,” Brock agreed; his voice squeaked on the word class, but neither of us laughed. I could feel the Principal’s eyes on us as we walked back down the hall. I didn’t want to know what he was thinking. Chapter 6 Brock followed me into the restroom. I made sure it was empty, then propped a garbage can under the door handle to wedge it shut. I eased off my shirt to assess the damage from the silver knife. Brock had gone straight to the sink to splash water on his face, and when he saw me in the mirror, he turned, his face dripping. “Dang, man!” I grabbed some paper towels and ran them under the water. “Leave it to Chet to bring out the silver weapons.” Brock’s eyes widened. “But aren’t werewolves allergic to silver?” I nodded and squeezed the excess water out of the towels before turning to inspect my side. The cut was shallow but long. It ran down my right side from the middle of my ribs to just above my hip bone. Blood oozed slowly down and I wiped it away. I clenched my teeth and held the wound open with my right hand while attempting to scrub it out with the paper towels in my left. I hit a particularly sensitive spot where a shard of silver was embedded and sucked in a quick breath at the stab of pain. “Give me that.” Brock took the towels from me, threw them away, and got a fresh set. He worked at the spot for a moment, his jaw tight. When he finally worked the offender free, he held it up for inspection. “More silver?” I motioned for him to throw it in the garbage and set a hand against the wall to steady myself. “Knives for battle against werewolves are designed to splinter. It leads to a slow, agonizing death if the wound isn’t cleaned.” He found another sliver and I clenched my fist against the gray bricks. “Usually, it’s the Hunters who use them, not werewolves against each other.” Brock met my gaze in the mirror. “I guess you’ve found an especially amiable pack, then.” I snorted. “Lucky me.” The bleeding had stopped for the most part by the time he finished. I pulled my shirt back on and turned to open the door, but Brock put a hand on the garbage can that blocked it. “What happened to your dad?” I shook my head and pushed the garbage can aside, but he leaned against the door. My first impulse was to throw him like I had done to several members of Chet’s pack. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to find the calm void I had created around the pain. “I don’t want to go there.” Brock crossed his arms and gave me a frank stare. The fact that he dared to stand up to me made me appreciate his bravery even more. “Look, Jaze. Something bad obviously happened, and you can’t carry it all by yourself.” He kicked a heel against the door. “Mouse’s parents were killed in a car accident a few years ago, and it was all I could do to keep him from running away or doing something crazy. We all need a shoulder once in a while.” His words clicked, and I felt the tiniest bit of relief that someone even cared. I couldn’t talk to Mom, because she already cried in her bed at night when she thought I was asleep. The helpless emotions welled up inside me like a shaken bottle of soda. It was a slim thing that I hadn’t phased and torn into Chet’s pack. I had to talk to someone to relieve some of the tension I carried. I shoved my hands in my pockets and leaned against the cold tile wall. My side stung, but I ignored it. I studied the dirty floor. “He was killed by Hunters two weeks ago.” I forced my voice to be calm despite the knot in my throat. “Mom and I had gone out to eat because Dad had to work late. We went bowling afterwards, and when we got home, the front door was open.” I shut my eyes against the flood of memories. Blood coated our walls in ragged spurts. I could see my dad’s arm behind Mom’s rocking chair where she used to hum while she cross-stitched. His torso had been thrown into the fireplace; ashes mixed with the dark blood. We never found his head. Brock set a hand on my arm, jarring me back to the present. “I’m sorry, man,” he said quietly. “You know what the worst part is?” I looked at him but still saw the violent scene in the living room. The metallic scent of blood filled my nose along with another scent, one that haunted me. “I think my uncle was behind it.” Brock opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again. I ground my teeth in an effort to keep calm. “My dad was the leader of our pack, and my uncle was his second. He supported my dad in everything, but Dad told me once that he thought it was just a show, that his brother wanted power. He told me later to forget about it, but I never did.” I took a deep breath. “The night my dad was killed, I smelled him there. A werewolf would never work with a Hunter, but I know he had something to do with it.” Anger filled my chest. I wanted to phase and rip something apart so bad it hurt. I grabbed the metal paper towel holder and ripped it off the wall, then threw it against one of the stalls hard enough to put a rectangular dent in its side. I turned and did the same with the hand dryer, leaving only stray wires sticking out where the machine had been. I fought to catch my breath, and slid down against the wall until I sat on the floor. The paper towel holder sprung open with a click that made both Brock and I jump. Paper towels flew out like confetti. One landed on my knee. I picked it up and started to laugh. Brock sat down against the door and started laughing, too. “That’s one paper towel holder we won’t have to worry about,” he said. “Yeah,” I managed to get out. “And the blow dryer won’t be messing with anyone, either.” I held my side, which objected to the movement of my ribs as I laughed, but I couldn’t stop. It was like the pent-up anger had to get out somehow and was glad to have found a non-violent, or less-violent, release. When I finally pushed up to my feet, my stomach hurt from laughing and the knife wound burned like fire, but I felt a little better. Brock grinned at me. “See, it helps to talk and throw stuff across the room.” I glanced back at the destroyed appliances and dented stall. “We’d better get out of here before they come asking questions.” “Good idea.” We ran down the hall to our separate classrooms, and I ducked through the door to Science. Two werewolves glared at me, but I ignored them and took a seat in the far corner. The werewolves weren’t the only ones who watched me; I heard whispered descriptions of the fight told to those who had missed it. Unfortunately, there was no need to embellish on the details. My own aggression after the knife incident provided plenty to talk about. I slumped in my chair and attempted to pay attention to the teacher’s rehashed description of Photosynthesis, a topic I swear had been beaten to death by middle school and did little to keep me from reliving the fight in my own mind. The details blurred but my knuckles pulsed at each remembered connection with flesh; my side burned and adrenaline pounded through my veins as I felt the knife wound again. It didn’t help that the student in front of me had the fight recorded on his phone and sent it to his neighbor, who unfortunately was one of the werewolves I had pummeled. He glared at me, but the first student gave me a thumbs-up. “This’ll be all over the school by lunch,” he whispered excitedly. “Mr. Morrison,” the teacher said in a threatening growl. “You better not be texting during class.” The student sat up. “No, Mrs. Poller. I was just making sure the new guy wasn’t lost.” The teacher studied him for a minute. “Alright then.” She turned back to the whiteboard. It was like that until lunch. Students watched the fight and talked about it in, during, and between classes. I saw myself wipe the floor with Chet's pack from several different angles and heard accounts that made me sound like Superman. I sat my tray down on the table next to Brock for lunch and groaned. “Bombarded about the fight?” Brock asked. When I nodded, he smiled sympathetically. “Hey, at least they realize you were there. The most I get is, ‘Good thing you were on his side.’ Very demeaning if you ask me.” “Very,” I mumbled into my lasagna of questionable origin. I looked across the lunchroom and found the Alpha wolf sitting in his usual corner with his pack around him. I took a grim pride in the fact that several of them were bandaged and bruised and shot glares in my direction. But when they saw I was looking, they turned away and ignored me. I sat back and toyed with my food. Brock glanced at me once in a while, but he left me in silence. Then Mouse sat down. Mouse was small and scrawny like his nickname. He had light brown hair and glasses, and brought a sack lunch. Everything about him was puny, except the smell. He was definitely a werewolf. At my surprised look, Mouse gave a minute shake of his head. I stifled a laugh at the fact that Brock was so interested in werewolves, and his friend who had been part of the search for information was in fact one. Brock turned the topic to a new thriller movie about vampires that was releasing next weekend, leaving me to my own thoughts. I studied Mouse who kept his eyes on his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The boy looked sick but relieved that I didn’t rat him out. When the bell rang, he hurried away. He avoided any contact with Chet’s pack, which was also peculiar. Chapter 7 “Maybe they’ve decided not to mess with you,” Brock said hopefully when we reached his house after school. “Maybe,” I said, but I doubted it. They would probably take a few days to lick their wounds and wounded pride, but two Alphas never lived peaceably in the same city for long. Lucky for Brock, he told his parents about the attack the other day in the alley but made it seem like an attempted mugging instead of a werewolf death threat. They forbade him from going to Mack’s anymore, paid off his debt on the car, and set up chores for him to do at home instead. They also treated me like royalty, making me wonder what Brock had said about his ‘rescue’. “Some pepperoni pizza to take home?” Mrs. Nelson asked, hurrying out the door after us with a large sandwich bag. “Uh, sure,” I replied. She had sent me off that morning with a breakfast pizza of cheesy scrambled eggs and sausage when I picked up Brock. I had been grateful for it, but this was getting ridiculous. “You know you don’t have to-“ She cut me off and shoved the overflowing bag into my hands. “Now, now, every growing boy likes pizza, don’t they, Brock?” She ruffled his hair and gave him a fond smile. Brock grimaced and threw me an apologetic look. I shrugged. “Thanks, Mrs. Nelson. I really appreciate it.” “Enjoy, and don’t forget to tell your Mom that we would love to have you over for dinner some night.” “I will.” I hurried away before she could tie me into any other commitments. “He’s a nice kid,” I heard her say to Brock. He mumbled something and they disappeared into the house. I breathed a sigh of relief when the screen door creaked shut behind them. Mom had left a note on the counter. “Found a job, have to go to training tonight. There’s leftovers in the fridge and some money on the counter if you want pizza. I love you. Keep safe.” I filled a cup of milk and took a couple of Mrs. Nelson’s pizza slices into the living room to watch TV, but I couldn’t relax. I ordered Chinese food, figuring that Mom would understand if I didn't get more pizza, then paced by the door until the delivery boy showed up. Unfortunately, he turned out to go to our school. “Hey, it’s you!” he said when I opened the door. I stifled a groan and handed him the twenty Mom had left. “I was there during the fight. You sure pounded those guys!” He gave a serious frown. “But I don’t know if I’d go up against them. That Chet’s a bad guy to mess with.” “Tell me about it,” I said under my breath. “Huh?” I shook my head. “Nothing. Thanks for the food.” I shut the door before he could protest. “Hey, what about your change?” he shouted through the door. “Keep it!” It must have been more than I thought, because a second later a surprised, “Thanks, man!” sounded. I sighed, sat back down on the couch, and began to flip through the channels in the search of something interesting. I ate half the food while watching a documentary on dingoes, then threw the bag in the fridge. The clock showed 10:33pm. It was past curfew, but I wasn’t tired. I went in the backyard and punched the bag a few times to work out the soreness in my knuckles from the fight, but when I turned with a punch the knife wound opened and started to bleed again. I gave up. The neighbor’s back door opened. The scent of Chet’s girl tangled through the air. “Where are you going?” a woman’s voice shouted after her. “Nowhere,” she yelled back. “There’s nowhere to go.” She let the screen door slam shut behind her and walked to the middle of the yard where she stopped with her arms crossed tightly in front of her chest. “Parent problems?” She turned and glared in my direction. “What business is it of yours?” “None.” I shook my head. “But this curfew sucks.” She gave a humorless laugh. “Not like my parents would let me go out anyway with the wolves last night.” “Wolves?” I asked carefully. She walked closer to the fence. “Didn’t you hear them? They were howling all over the neighborhood.” “I must have missed it. We were dropping off a friend.” Before she could ask any more questions, I switched to the next subject I could think of. “I didn’t see you at school today.” She shrugged. “Yeah, my parents made me go to Council with them.” “A council about what?” She sighed. “The wolves again. The Council's convinced that they’ve overgrown the city.” Her tone sounded strange, like she wasn’t sure how she felt about the wolves herself. I wondered if she knew that Chet was one of them. “Sounds like a strange problem for a big city. Why don’t they just get someone to shoot them?” My gut clenched at the question, but I knew it was something a regular outsider would ask. I could see her frown in the moonlight. “Who says they’re the ones that have to leave?” Her question caught me by surprise, but caution outweighed my curiosity about her opinion. The talk about wolves, the fight today, and the empty house behind me was too much to take at the moment. I made my way past the punching bag to the back fence. “Where are you going?” she asked in surprise. “Out.” “Out?” She followed me on her side of the fence. “You can’t go out; there’s a curfew.” Exasperated, I turned and faced her through the wooden slats. “Look, my mom’s at her job, no one’s home, and I’m fed up with being by myself. There’s got to be something to do here at night.” I grabbed the panel that ran along the back of the fence and levered myself over the top to drop in the alley behind it. “You’re crazy,” she said, but I heard her struggle to get over as well. She landed beside me a few seconds later, a gleam of triumph in her eyes. “I’m Jaze.” “Nicole,” she said with a beautiful smile. “But everyone calls me Nikki.” She combed her long black hair back with her fingers and tied it in a ponytail with a rubber band she pulled from her pocket. “Alright, I’m ready.” “For what?” She grinned. “Anything; bring it on. After what I saw today, I don’t doubt you have more trouble up your sleeves.” I stared at her. “I thought you weren’t at school.” She laughed and held up her phone. “I got five different views of the fight, five. Keep it up and you’ll be the best known delinquent in the city.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and started down the alley. She waited for a minute, then ran to catch up. “Boy, you’re touchy. I figured a guy who’d mess with Chet would have a thick hide.” “He’d have to,” I said. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, but she shrugged it off and looked into the yards we passed. “This is exciting,” she said in a loud whisper. “You’ve never been out in the city at night?” I asked incredulously. “Not when it’s against the law!” I laughed and she slapped my shoulder. “Shhh, do you want us to get caught?” I grinned and shook my head, catching the enthusiasm that shone on her face. We made our way behind a grocery store, through the parking lot of an abandoned gas station, and into the next alley. Adrenaline began to course through my veins at the thrill of the night hunt, the escape from society, and the cool breeze that brought with it a promise of rain that smelled so sweet it was all I could do to keep from standing still and just taking it all in. It wasn’t until we reached the back of a rundown mall that someone spotted us. “Hey you two!” a security guard sporting a reflective orange vest and a nightstick shouted at us. Nikki and I looked at each other. “Run!” I shouted. She grabbed my hand and we dashed across the sparsely lit parking lot toward the skeletal outlines of partly-constructed houses beyond. I could have run faster, but I didn’t want to leave Nikki to the whims of the guard. Luckily, he stopped at the edge of the parking lot and waved his stick at us. “Whoa, give a guy an inch,” I said when we’d caught our breath. We made our way between the houses. The frames made silhouettes like dinosaur bone shadows along the freshly paved road. “Yeah, seriously,” Nikki replied. “There’s a man on a power trip.” She must have realized that she was still holding my hand because she let it go and gave me a self-conscious smile. “Do you think he would have run away if we turned around and started chasing him?” She laughed. “Probably. We’ll have to remember to bring our own orange vests next time, then we’ll see who’s tough.” The thought made me chuckle. “You’d be pretty intimidating in orange. I don’t think it’d be fair to him.” She was about to reply when a yell caught my attention. “Wait,” I held up a hand. “Do you hear that?” Another yell sounded, followed by a shout of triumph. “What?” Nikki asked. I hurried toward the sound, afraid that someone might be in trouble. She followed close behind. We ran across two vacant roads, through a bingo hall parking lot, and jumped over a ditch. A fence about eight feet high stretched off into the night, and beyond it I could see a dozen smaller roofs. Yelling followed by cheers came again from behind it. “What is this place?” “It’s a giant swap meet on the weekends. I didn’t think anyone came here during the week.” She peered through the fence, but the only thing we could see was the back of a building. I laced my fingers together. “I’ll give you a hand.” She stared at me. “What? No way. I’m not going in there.” I pointed toward the sound. “Listen. There’s no screaming, just laughing and yelling. Sounds like a bunch of people having a good time. I just want to see what they’re doing.” I gave her a smile. “It’ll take two seconds. We’ll just peek in, see what’s up, and then leave.” She gave me a suspicious glance. “You promise?” I nodded and put my hands together again. She sighed, then stepped onto them. She let out a tiny squeak when I hoisted her to the top of the fence, but she grabbed the top pole, levered herself over, then lowered until she could fall to the ground. “But how are you-“ I jumped and caught the bar with my hands, then pulled myself over and landed on the ground beside her. “Oh.” She bent to tie a shoelace. I waited impatiently until she stood. “Ok, I’m ready,” she whispered. I led the way around the back of the first building, across a gravel pathway, then along a second. The noise grew louder as we neared the center of the complex. We passed rows of sheds with rolling doors pulled down and locked. The scents of old books, furniture, tires, animal cages, clothes, cheap electronics, stale food, and garbage filled my nose. By the smell of things, the place was very active on the weekends. We edged along the last row of sheds and peered out. A group of about twenty high schoolers flew by on roller skates chasing a green puck. “What the-” Nikki grabbed my shirt and pulled me back when they came racing back in the other direction. “Street hockey?” she asked, the surprise on her face identical to mine. “Why not, I guess?” I said. I stepped back around the corner and she followed close behind with a hesitant hand on my arm. A group of skaters shoved a member of the other team into a stack of garbage cans. He floundered for a moment through the trash, then rose with the puck in hand and a triumphant grin on his face. Someone hit it out of his grasp, he yelled back, and they raced off again. “No picking up the puck!” a kid shouted, skating by. “It was in the garbage can,” the first boy protested, following close behind. They argued as they made a mad dash toward the other side where they barely missed a football flying through the air. Several students ran after the football and a brawl ensued when they reached it. Two older students stood on the sidelines arguing about whose ball it was. They didn't seem at all phased when another student kicked a soccer ball in their direction. They threw it back and the student hit it with his knee to two students waiting at the far end. I was surprised at how many students watched the games from the sides, jumping clear when any ball or the puck came at them. Girls and boys lounged on benches that had been pulled out at the other end of the clearing. Several students sat in a circle around a manhole cover and tossed cards onto a pile. Nikki caught up to me as I walked through the crowd. Both of us tried to act like we fit in. I didn’t catch a single whiff of werewolf and began to relax. “So this is what a bunch of oppressed high school students do during curfew,” I said to her. Her eyes were wide. “I guess so; I never knew!” The skaters rushed by again; we dodged them and made our way to the benches. “I know one thing,” I told her. “What’s that?” “I’ve gotta unpack my skates.” She stared at me. “You’re going to play with them?” She made it sound like I wanted to take on a whole S.W.A.T. team by myself. “Why not?” “You could get killed!” she replied. I gave a grim smile. “Oh, and that would be any different from my life right now?” She was silent for a few minutes, then surprised me when she said, “Well, if you’re going to play, I am too.” It was my turn to stare. “You, out there?” We both turned to look just as the entire north team crashed into the goalie of the south team and flattened him against a park bench that had been flipped on its side to serve as a goal. They helped each other up, one picked up the puck and threw it, and they were off again. “It could be fun.” She grinned. “Besides, there are girls out there. And girls can be more aggressive than boys.” “Oh really.” “Yes, really.” I laughed and shrugged. “Fine, if you want to play, meet me behind the fence tomorrow night with some skates.” A boy tapped my shoulder. “You guys wanna drink?” He held out a selection of sodas. “Thanks.” I took a Pepsi. Nikki took a Sprite. “Who do we pay?” she asked. The boy shrugged. “No one; it’s covered by the school, right Bode?” he shouted over his shoulder. A husky guy who looked like he could take on a bull singlehandedly raised a can in salute. The coolers he leaned against looked overloaded with cans. “That’s the quarterback of the high school football team,” Nikki whispered to me in surprise. We raised our sodas back and he gave us a thumbs-up. “So, what do they do if the cops show up?” Nikki asked the boy who gave us the drinks. He pointed to two students I hadn’t noticed perched on top of the back buildings. I saw two more at the other two corners of the square. “We take turns acting as sentries for a night. If the cops show up, we’re outta here before they know anything’s up.” He left and I turned back to Nikki. “The things you would’ve missed if I hadn’t shown up next door.” “Hey, it’s the brawler!” someone shouted. I shook my head, but several students came over anyway. “You took on like twenty guys by yourself,” one boy said. “Yeah, and you didn’t even bleed!” another crowed. Embarrassed, I shrugged. “They got me, but I’ll live.” “Show us,” an overzealous girl with red streaks in her hair demanded. “You got hurt?” Nikki asked quietly next to me. “It’s nothing, really,” I protested. I lifted up my shirt so that they could see my side, forgetting that the wound had opened again when I punched the bag. Dried blood caked it, making it look worse than it was. Several students gasped and whistled. Nikki touched my arm. “You should have that looked at,” she said. I shook my head and lowered my shirt. “I’m fine; it's really not that bad.” “And you gave them worse than that!” a skinny redhead from the group said. A student with short black dreadlocks grinned. “Dude, those guys have beaten up practically every kid in school; it’s good to see someone get the best of them for once.” “Yeah,” other students agreed. I shrugged. “Hey, I’m just glad to find a place to escape this curfew.” Several students laughed. The dreadlocked guy held out his fist. “You’re more than welcome.” I bumped his knuckles with my own. “Thanks.” Nikki grabbed my arm after they drifted away. “Chet’s gang normally doesn’t fight with knives. He’s not that way.” Her eyes were serious, pleading for me to believe her. I shrugged. “Maybe someone dropped it and I rolled on it.” I swallowed my sarcastic tone at the worried look in her eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to get them in trouble or anything. Besides, the Principal seems to think there’s something funny about them anyway.” This time, her eyes tightened at the corners and she looked away. “They can be dangerous, Jaze. You need to stay away from them.” “Why? What’s so dangerous about them?” She stared at me, and I thought for a minute that she was going to confess, but then someone yelled, ‘head’s up’, and we both ducked to avoid the puck that flew past. After the mad scramble of hockey players passed, Nikki looked down at her watch. “I’ve got to get home before my parents miss me.” “Your parents miss you?” I asked. She slapped my shoulder and pulled me to my feet. “Come on,” she said. I shook my head, shoving my hands in my pockets. “Fine, I wouldn’t want your parents thinking you’d been kidnapped or whatever the curfew is supposed to prevent.” She grinned at me and walked past the tables. We said goodbye to a few of the students and promised to return the next evening. My heart slowed when one of them mentioned that they would be there every night but on a full moon. The walk home was quiet and uneventful. There was no sign of the security guard when we crossed the parking lot. The stars lit our path and gave a friendly hue to the midnight shadows. Nikki and I climbed our fences and said quiet goodbyes. I entered my empty house and sat on the couch, thinking about Chet and his gang. There was something there, something that wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. I finally gave up and went to bed, leaving on a few lights for Mom. Chapter 8 “I need your help with something,” I told Brock on the way to school the next morning. His face lit up. “Anything, man. Just name it!” A car passed us slowly, its windows tinted too dark to see through. I watched until it turned the corner ahead of us and drove out of sight. “I need to see some of the student files.” Brock glanced at me, his expression curious. “Sure. The Administrators have a meeting right after school and I told them I’d watch the front desk. That’d be a good time.” “Perfect,” I replied distractedly. My attention was on the car again. It had circled the block and then pulled to a stop at the curb on our side of the street not far ahead. “They leave me the keys and it’ll be no problem. . .” he noticed I wasn’t paying attention and followed my gaze. “Jaze, what’s up?” “That car.” The passenger side door opened and a man of medium build wearing a faded jean jacket and a black baseball hat got out. My heart slowed. “Brock, we’ve got to find another way to school.” I looked around, wondering if it was too late for Brock to hide. Maybe he could go ahead and pretend he wasn’t with me. I discarded the idea as quickly as it came. It was too dangerous if they had already linked us together. The other occupants stayed in the car, but I could see silhouettes of the driver and two more men in the back seat. I fought to keep my breathing even. The man in the baseball hat turned. We were close enough to see the smile he gave that showed too many teeth. A breeze brushed past him to us and I fought down the urge to growl. “Jaze, how fortunate to meet you here!” he said. His tone was casual, but his eyes studied me intently. “Uncle Mason, what are you doing here?” I forced the words out lightly despite the knot in my throat. It was all I could do to keep my face expressionless, let alone look happy to see him. “I just thought I’d check to make sure you and your mother got moved in okay.” I had to fight to keep my fists unclenched when he mentioned her, but he didn’t seem to notice. “I heard you were here and figured you might need a hand.” He gave a shrug. “It’s the least I can do, after what happened to my brother.” I ground my teeth so hard at the mention of Dad I was surprised they didn’t break. I stopped a few feet from him so I wouldn’t give in to the impulse to throw him through the windshield of his car. “We’re doing fine, thank you. Brock and I are late for school, so we’ve gotta go.” “Oh, I understand.” He turned his sickly sweet smile on my friend. “Brock, is it?” I kicked myself mentally for giving Mason his name. When Brock nodded, his eyes alternating between Mason and me, Mason smiled again. “A pleasure to meet you, my boy.” Brock glanced at me. “Thanks.” It sounded more like a question than a response. I grabbed Brock’s arm. “Come on, we’re going to be late.” Brock followed close behind; I passed the car facing it until I practically walked backwards. “Thanks for stopping by, Uncle Mason. I’ll be sure to tell Mom you send your regards.” He nodded. “You do that. I went by the house, but she must still be at work. Let her know I hope she’s settled in comfortably at the office.” Cold fire ran through my veins, but I forced myself to turn and continued to school. We passed through the doors just as the first bell rang. I threw my plated silver bracelet into a cup, stepped through the metal detector, and put it back on in a blur, angry and more frustrated than I could think. My feet took me toward my classroom and it wasn’t until Brock called my name the third time that it registered. “Jaze!” His face was red and he fought to catch his breath as he put on the last few pieces of silver jewelry he had taken off for the metal detectors. I waited for him. “Sorry. I was distracted.” “Tell me about it!” At the look on my face, Brock slowed down. “Was that who I think it was?” I nodded. “What’s he doing here? I mean, I assume you guys moved to get away from him or something if he’s the one you told me about that-“ I held up a hand to cut him off. “Don’t say it. I can’t handle it right now.” Brock nodded quickly. “Okay, no prob. But what do we do?” We had reached my classroom. I glanced inside, wanting more than anything to go check on Mom and not sit inside a brick room all day listening to lectures that wouldn’t sink in past the tornado of thoughts in my head anyway. “I don’t know.” I took a deep breath to slow my pounding heart. “But until I figure it out, we’ve got to go on as normal.” Brock nodded, his eyes wide. I gestured to the classroom. “I’ve gotta go. See you at lunch.” I slid into an empty seat just before the second bell rang. Two more students ran in late and received a reprimand from the teacher. Mason wasn’t supposed to know we were here. We had justified using my real name because we needed my school records for the transfer, but I didn’t think he would track us so quickly. He obvious had more pull than I realized. But to take a trip so far east just to check on us? He either worried I suspected something or was here on business of his own. I wondered if I had given anything away. We had never had a close relationship anyway, so I hoped the standoffish encounter didn’t give him any reason to suspect I knew anything. I forced myself to stay seated, rationalizing that Mom would be safest at work surrounded by her coworkers and customers. Something was definitely wrong and I had to get to the bottom of it soon for all our sakes. The rest of the day passed without incident beside a few accusatory stares and the occasional jostle in the hallway from Chet's gang. By the time Brock and I were alone in the office, I was so tense my muscles shook. Brock glanced down the hall toward the teachers’ lounge where they held their meeting. He looked as stressed as I felt. “Amazed we didn’t get jumped again?” he asked. He pulled the office door shut and locked it. “The day isn’t over yet,” I replied grimly. I studied both the long halls visible from the office, but they were empty. I shook my head. “Let’s get this over with.” I followed him past the desks toward Principal Stewart’s office; we stopped at a door on the left side of the hall just before it. The keys jangled more than necessary in Brock’s hand, and I glanced over to see him bite his lip. “Nervous?” I asked quietly. He grinned and shook his head. “Excited, actually. I never thought to look in the student files for evidence about the werewolves. Now’s my chance!” I shook my head, not sure we would find anything helpful. Brock opened the door and flipped on the light. Neon hummed above, illuminating a tiny room with four filing cabinets across the left wall and the same on the right. A short table sat at the far end already piled with files. Brock went straight to the third cabinet on the left. “These are the Junior files.” “What about those over there?” I asked, gesturing to the opposite row. “Those are students who have already graduated.” He paused, a hand on the cabinet door. “Do you think we should check those, too?” I debated, then shook my head. “We don’t have time. Let’s just pull files on Chet’s gang and go from there.” He started pulling files alphabetically from the drawer. When he turned to set a few on the table, I grabbed Mouse’s out and slipped it behind the ones I held. I fought back a wry smile. Mouse’s real name, Nicky Strouse, left little to the imagination as to how he had gotten his nickname. I settled on the floor with my back against a filing cabinet and flipped through Chet’s file. Brock leaned against the table and did the same. We both searched silently through the files for several minutes. I was amazed at how many warnings and detentions Chet had received. But as far as I could tell, he had never been suspended. “Um,” Brock broke the silence a few minutes later. “What exactly are we looking for?” I shrugged. “Not sure, but I’m hoping I’ll know when we find it.” Brock turned back to his file and muttered, “Very helpful.” I fought back a grin and grabbed another file. Two pages in, I stopped. I read the single sentence typed on a plain white sheet of paper and my heart slowed. I grabbed Chet’s file, found a similar sheet in his, then dropped it and grabbed another file. Four pages in, I found the same thing. I dropped all the files and leaned back against the metal cabinet; bile rose in my throat. “Jaze, what’s wrong?” Brock leaned toward me, his eyes bright with concern. I closed my eyes and rubbed them hard, willing the pages in the files to disappear. Only I knew they wouldn’t. It made too much sense. “I found what we’re looking for.” Brock's eyebrows lifted. “Really? You look like you found a ghost or something.” “Might as well have,” I muttered. At his look, I opened Chet’s file and pointed at the page. “Read this.” Brock took it and cleared his throat. “Parents killed in car accident Sophomore year.” “And this.” I handed him one of the others I had found. “Mother died in house fire, Freshman year.” Wordlessly, I handed him another. His voice grew quieter. “Father, Mother, and older brother killed in car accident, Sophomore year.” He looked up at me. “Jaze, what is this?” “There’s one in every file I’ve looked at.” My throat tightened, but I forced out the words, “Including my own.” Brock stared at me as the implication hit him. “You mean someone is killing the werewolves?” “The adult werewolves,” I clarified. “Why would they do that?” My voice dropped as I fought to control the anger. “Someone is killing off the older, stronger wolves. That way, they can be in charge. And I have an idea just who that might be,” I concluded with a growl. “Your uncle.” I nodded and rose to my feet, jamming the papers back into the files I held. “We’ve got to stop him.” Brock took the files before I could mangle them too badly and proceeded to put them back in the cabinets. “If he’s killing off the stronger werewolves, then he’s got two alphas left here.” He glanced at me. “Do you think he’ll try to kill you next?” “He’s already tried.” “When?” Brock asked in surprise. “Remember the knives when we were attacked in the hall? Silver knives are one of Mason’s call signs.” Brock frowned. “But aren't there werewolf laws against this sort of thing? Something to stop one werewolf from becoming too powerful?” I nodded numbly. “There are Elders who enforce the laws. They should be handling this. I don't know why someone hasn't noticed that all of the Alphas are being systematically killed off.” Rage filled me so intensely that I couldn’t contain it anymore. I left the room before I damaged anything. “Where are you going?” Brock yelled down the hall. “Home. I’ve got some things I’ve gotta do,” I shouted over my shoulder. I turned the deadbolt and shoved through the glass doors that led out of the office. Brock ran after me and stopped at the doors. “Be careful, Jaze!” I hesitated and turned. “You have a safe way home?” He nodded. “Mom was planning to pick me up. Clothes shopping or something like that.” He shuddered. “Looking forward to it.” I nodded. “Okay, be safe. I’ll meet you tomorrow at your place.” I turned and jogged down the street, glancing back once to make sure that Brock locked himself safely back in the school. When I reached our house, I went straight to my room and pulled out the chest with Dad’s belongings. Until that point, I hadn’t truly wanted to believe that Uncle Mason, my father’s own brother, was the one who had killed him. But in light of what I had found, and with Mason showing up today, it was undeniable. I pulled the leather jacket up to my face and took a deep breath. Dad’s scent, the wild warm smell of the woods, the hunt, and a touch of Mom’s flowery perfume surrounded me. I closed my eyes tight against the tears that spilled down my cheeks. He had been a good dad, the best a boy could ask for. He had taken me to little league games, taught me how to fish, catch, camp, and the intricacies involved in werewolf life. With him, nothing had seemed impossible. Now, everything did. I thought of Mom, the way she tried to hold everything together by moving us to this new place. How would she feel if she knew Mason had been the one to give Dad up to the Hunters, and that he knew where we were now? I wouldn’t run again, but she wasn’t safe. I leaned against the bed, the jacket across my knees. “What would you do, Dad?” I whispered past the knot in my throat. There were too many people here who would be hurt if I left. Chet, for all his bravado and hostility, had a pack to take care of, a pack that would be turned over to Mason if my uncle got rid of him. Then I thought of Nikki. What if she was there when Mason went after Chet? I had to warn her. But how? I put the jacket back in the chest, looked at Dad’s few remaining belongings one last time, then shut it and pushed it back under the bed. I surveyed the cardboard boxes around my room, then opened the first one with the old computer Mom had given me. My muscles tensed when the front door opened. “Hey kiddo, I’m home,” Mom called. The door shut and she made her way to the kitchen followed by the sound of plastic bags and a few paper ones dumped on the table. The scent of orange chicken and rice wafted up the stairs. My stomach growled and I followed it down to the kitchen. “I brought Chinese,” Mom said in a muffled voice, her head buried in the refrigerator. She then looked back at me with a warm smile. “But I guess you already knew that.” I laughed. “The nose knows.” We repeated Dad’s favorite saying at the same time, then stopped and looked at each other. I couldn’t take the sadness in Mom’s eyes, the rush of memories and the knowledge of what was taken away from us. Anger at Mason came so quickly it stole my breath and I had to look away for a moment, afraid of what she would see on my face. I took a breath and forced a laugh as I turned back. “Dad always said I could smell food from a mile away.” Mom laughed too, tiny laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. “And he could smell it from two.” She rose to her feet with a sigh. “I keep pretending he’s away on a business trip or something; that one of these days he’ll come through the door with a vase of daisies.” I nodded. Though my heart protested, I gave in to the urge to talk about him. “I dream about him sometimes, about running through the forest as wolves, and of the first time he took us to the lake. Do you remember that?” Mom laughed. “He was like a little kid at Disneyland. That was when he taught you how to track. You couldn’t have been more than eight or nine.” “Seven,” I remembered. “He kept saying seven was magical because that’s when werewolves turn into wolves for the first time.” “He was so proud when he found out you were an Alpha,” Mom said. She reached over and fondled my dark blond hair. “Who would’ve thought?” “I still wonder why. You’re not a werewolf. At the most, I should have been a gray.” Mom nodded. “Our little miracle.” I had stopped believing in miracles, but didn't say so. I threw out my next thought. “I worry about you all by yourself, Mom. Do you want to visit Aunt Sam or something?” She looked at me in surprise. “And leave you here by yourself? There’s no way I could do that.” “I’d be okay, I’ve got friends at school, and Brock could stay over.” She shook her head,