End of summer 1993
THE scent, that enticing scent, wafted in the air, surrounding him. He tried to resist its lure; he did. Scuttling around on the same spot, he took one step in the scent’s direction, then stepped backward. In frustration, he sidled sideways, shook his head, sneezed, and did everything he could think of to get rid of that wonderful smell.
He even whimpered.
He hadn’t whimpered since he was a very small pup. He still wasn’t grown up, only thirteen years old. His age showed in his gangly, lanky form—in his human form as well as in his wolf form. His gait lacked smoothness, and his fur still felt softer to the touch than the adults’ coats. His muscles had begun to build up and fill out his form, but right now Tim Evans felt wholly like the awkward teenager his parents claimed he was.
The scent lured, wooed him to come closer. Yet it smelled so strange it also scared Tim a little bit. Slightly embarrassed, he looked around, hoping none of the other wolves would ask him about his obvious agitation.
He wished his father, Ralf Evans, was here. He would know how to handle this situation. Some of the pack’s members were debating, getting more and more irritated. Tim even saw some of the wolves growling and baring their teeth. He wondered what was happening and stepped closer to the older wolves, who had gathered around his mother, Paula Evans, the alpha wolf’s mate.
Ralf’s beta, Richard Thompson, stood next to Tim’s mother as he led the pack tonight. Tim couldn’t stand the man; there was something not right about him he couldn’t explain.
Timmy? Are you okay? his mother asked, using their telepathic connection.
Tim started. She stood in the middle of the clearing. Her fine white fur shone like a gleaming light in a sea of gray coats. Tim always thought his mother glowed with kindness and warmth. She exuded… something that soothed the often high-strung and aggressive other wolves.
It worked on Tim and his siblings too, and it definitely worked on his father.
Yes, just nervous.
Why? she countered, her head cocked to one side, a clear sign she expected an honest answer and no evasion.
Tim swallowed, circled around himself, and stuck his nose into the loose soil at his paws. Inhaling deeply, he relished the deep earthy smell, which already held the promise of an early onset of autumn.
That specific and confusing scent, the one he could neither shake off nor put a name to, tugged at him, whispered, captivated his attention.
Tim glared at his mother. She took a step toward him. Tim’s eyes widened, and he hastily volunteered, Something strange is going on.
It was strange enough his father wasn't leading the gathering, since he usually kept the full moon’s day free from any appointments so he was present for their monthly pack gathering. But the man who was going to sell them the Shire horse his father so desperately wanted insisted on finishing their business today.
You’re feeling it too? his mother asked.
He doubted he and his mother were on the same page, but he did feel it. His body ached to follow the scent, find its source and do… well, he didn’t know what he’d do, but figured he’d get the idea once he found the source.
Laine claimed she found a den with two young hybrid pups.
For the first time that evening, Tim stood still. Hybrid pups. That would explain the increasing commotion within the pack.
He had heard stories about hybrids, though he had never seen one before. Opinions about those hybrids diverged wildly. Some, like Thompson, wanted to kill them because they threatened the pureness of the pack’s blood line. Others, like Tim’s father, were wary but reluctant to act. Ralf had advised to check the hybrids closely.
Tim listened to Thompson snarling about how they needed to put an end to the spreading epidemic of hybrids.
Before Tim could process the consequences of Thompson’s words, a jolt of aggressiveness rippled through the pack. Some wolves shifted back into their human forms and tried to leave the clearing, obviously distressed by Thompson’s words.
Thompson reacted immediately. He howled, startling the younger wolves and pups as well as most of the other pack members. Some of his closest companions began circling the ones who wanted to leave and herding them back to the clearing.
Not all wolves reacted kindly to Thompson’s gesture and snapped at his companions. Thompson’s fellow wolves countered in a surprising and inappropriate manner.
Within seconds, howls of pain and fury filled the air. The scent of blood quickly followed.
Tim saw his mother standing close to Thompson, conversing with him in a heated argument Tim wasn’t privy to. Thompson did nothing to interfere with the fighting beasts, not even when one attacked a young woman in her human form. She cried out and shifted while the dark-furred wolf aimed for her throat.
Tim! Leave! Go home and don’t come out until I’m back!
His mother sounded panicked. She never sounded panicked. She was the calmest person on earth!
Tim pricked his ears but didn’t move an inch. Wide-eyed, he stared at the scene before him. Pack members attacked each other, and not only that, but also family members attacked each other, even couples. Tim never thought something like this could happen.
Again he was interrupted, this time by a deep growl next to his ear.
Mom didn’t say to leave to be funny. Move it!
Daniel, his older brother, emphasized his statement by snapping at Tim’s ears. Surprised, Tim reared back. As he turned toward his brother, he saw him surrounded by his other three siblings: his younger sisters, Debra and Laura, and his baby brother, Robin.
Worriedly he glanced to their mother. What about Mom?
She told us to leave so that’s what we’ll do.
Tim glared. His sixteen-year-old brother didn’t waver. We obey. Whether we like it or not.
Debra whined and nudged Tim’s nose with her own. Others were leaving the clearing too, mostly the teenage wolves, herding the pups away.
They ran as fast as the little ones could, carrying the babies if they had to. None of them ignored that they were running away from a bloodbath. All pups respected their parents too much to disobey when the situation was as serious as this one seemed to be.
Sometime during their run, the Evans pups glanced back over their shoulders, hoping to see their mother catching up with them.
Tim desperately wanted his dad to be there. He was the alpha wolf of their pack. He would know how to stop the violence. He would also bring their mom home safe and healthy. Tim swallowed.
Despite his anxiety, he still smelled that scent. It called to him, distracted him from his duty to help bring the pups to safety. His steps grew heavier, and sometimes he even tripped over his own feet, which earned him irritated looks from his siblings. His heart pounded too fast, but whether it was due to fear for his mom or because he’d been forced to run away from the scent, Tim didn’t know.
WHEN they reached home, the big placidly grazing Shire horses lifted their heads and nickered a greeting. The Shetland ponies galloped to the far side of the pasture. They were never comfortable with the Evans clan showing up in their wolf forms.
Daniel and Tim hurried everyone inside. Once there, they shifted into their human forms, all of them panting and their gazes darting around the room in a frightened dance. Daniel and Tim made sure every door and window was secure before they walked upstairs and hastily threw on some clothes.
Nowadays Tim was even able to forget he was naked in front of his sisters. If there was one thing he truly didn’t understand, it was why they could shift into their wolf forms with their clothes on, but when they shifted back, the clothes were gone. Maybe nature pushed the reset button every time they shifted? Tim remembered endless discussions about this topic, and honestly, he still hoped for someone to discover the reason for their inability to shift back dressed, but for now he lived as best as he could with this knowledge.
Tim went to the girls’ room, helped dress Robin, and then carried him downstairs, the girls on his heels. Daniel awaited them in the living room, waves of worry rolling off him. Tim plonked into one of the armchairs and cuddled Robin close to his chest.
“Mommy should be here soon, right?” Debra, the younger of the girls by eight years, asked.
On cue, Robin began to cry for his mommy. Tim rolled his eyes as he got up with Robin in his arms. “You couldn’t just shut up, could you?”
Debra’s eyes filled with tears as well. “I'm worried about her!”
“We’re all worried about Mom,” Tim shot back.
Debra was not Tim’s favorite sibling. She cried at least ten times per day, felt that other people did her wrong at least once per day, and generally got on Tim’s nerves. Robin, sensing Tim’s agitation, cried even harder. Tim paced the length of the living room, using one hand to stroke Robin’s tiny back.
Daniel stood at the large window and peered outside. Debra cried while Laura, who was only two years older than her, held her hand and tried to soothe her. Debra was inconsolable, though.
The siblings spent minutes together without talking. Only Debra’s and Robin’s sobs and gulps were audible. Robin was overwrought—which as always resulted in a short crying fit—but just like usual, he calmed down quickly and his sobs tapered off. As long as one of the family members remained close, his little world was okay. Tim wished he could say the same for himself.
Tim looked around the living room in their well-tended house in Hammonton, New Jersey, locking his eyes on Debra and Laura. In their human forms, both of the girls were pretty, with blue eyes and long blonde hair that they liked to wear down. Normally they’d whisper and giggle most of the day. Tim had learned from his buddies that this was nothing to worry about. It was deemed normal behavior for girls their age.
Recently, Daniel and Tim had each gotten his own room, while the girls still shared. Robin mostly played wherever their mother was and slept in their parents’ bedroom. The one-year-old was as cute as they come, with large dark-blue eyes, curly blond hair, and the deepest dimples one could imagine. He melted the hearts of absolutely everyone he met. Tim smiled, because even now, Robin clutched his beloved stuffed bear—or what was supposed to be a bear—tightly in one chubby fist.
Tim’s gaze traveled to his older brother, standing immobile at the window. Tim wondered how long they’d give their mother to show up before they had to go out and search for her. He didn’t believe anything bad would happen to her. She was a strong wolf, and more importantly, she was the alpha’s mate. No one would even think about attacking her. She was untouchable, as were her children. At least as long as no one challenged the alpha. Tim frowned. Was that what was happening?
“Did you call Dad?”
“What?” Daniel started. He blinked and looked at Tim.
“I asked if you called Dad,” Tim repeated.
Daniel shook his head. “No.”
“Why not?” Tim stared at his brother, flabbergasted. That was the first thing he would have done.
“Mom didn’t say to call him.”
It was Tim’s turn to blink. Daniel always did things by the book, a character trait that drove Tim nuts on a normal day. Today, it also made him angry.
“She didn’t say so? I don’t care! We have to call Dad!”
“No! Think about what he’ll do if he finds out we didn’t contact him when Mom could be in trouble!”
“She can defend herself!”
“Why would she be defending herself?” Debra asked, her voice high and quivering.
“I just….” Daniel trailed off.
“Daniel, come on.”
Tim shifted Robin’s weight in his arms. The little boy used the opportunity to press his cheek against Tim’s, nuzzling sleepily. Daniel still looked doubtful.
“It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of protecting us. It’s just—” Tim took a deep breath before he continued. “We want Dad. He’s the best at keeping people safe.”
Daniel’s eyes clouded for the briefest moment before he gave a curt nod. “All right, I’ll call him.”
“Thank you,” Tim replied, relieved.
Daniel stalked over to the phone and punched in the number their father had left for emergencies. Tim felt guilt for not trusting his brother to protect them, mixed with the relief of knowing their dad would be here soon.