Prologue—12 years ago
THE BELL rang, hurting Falco’s ears. He usually anticipated it, but today the raw clang that shook his eardrums took him by surprise. He already had his things together and left his last Friday class in a huge hurry, looking forward to a weekend of running with the other boys in the pack. At thirteen, those his age weren’t ready for their first shift, but Falco could feel his wolf beginning to push toward the surface. Of his packmates, he had always been the one to experience everything first. Being the biggest and strongest, he’d developed faster than the others, which was both exciting and frightening. But he had his dad and uncle to help show him the way, and they knew just about everything about being a wolf shifter—at least, that’s what Falco thought.
He reached the hall, put his things in his locker, and grabbed his jacket and the one book he’d need for homework—thanks, Mr. Collins, Falco growled under his breath, his throat rumbling. Then he looked around, closed his locker, and headed out for the bus to take him home.
Falco reached the door to the middle school as a commotion caught his budding wolf hearing. He was still getting used to all the things his increased senses provided for him. The bell making him want to howl eight times a day was one of them, but those senses also warned him of trouble, like now. The early spring breeze, usually fresh and clean, carried the tang of abject fear.
Falco scrunched his nose and shoved his book into Missy’s hands. “Carry this on the bus for me?”
“What is it?” she asked innocently.
“I’ll be right back.” He raced toward the back of the building and turned the corner to where two other boys—Falco knew their exploits well enough—had a smaller blond-haired kid up against the wall.
“Just leave me alone,” the kid said forcefully, standing defiantly against the brick, staring back at both of them.
Falco had to give him credit—the kid had guts.
“What’s going on?” Falco asked in his best commanding voice, emulating the pack alpha as he stepped forward. He watched as the kid’s eyes widened and the smell of fear became more pungent. His uncle had told him once that sometimes fear was necessary to keep the order that a pack required. Falco had seen him put that into practice on a few occasions, but this was different.
“We’re just having a little fun. He’s a newbie, and we thought we’d see how fast the rabbit here could run before we brought him down,” Jason said with a vicious grin that indicated he was planning a lot more than just playing.
“Your fun’s over. The buses will be leaving soon.” Falco placed his hands on his hips, already tired of both of them.
Peter wheeled around as though he were going to fight, but stopped, eyes widening, and then he took a step back.
“Go on. Get out of here.” Neither of them was any match for him, and they both knew it. Falco was stronger than both Jason and Peter, and even together, Falco would clean their clocks, especially since his fingers and teeth were already tingling, preparing for a shift that he wasn’t ready for. “Go!” he growled, and they took off at a run.
“Thank you,” the kid said, holding his books over his chest. “It’s my first day, and—”
“They decided to welcome you to the school.” Falco stepped forward, and the breath zipped from his lungs like he’d been punched in the gut. Except there was no pain, only heat, warmth, the most amazing scent ever, and a total stiffy in his pants that he hoped wasn’t visible. The wolf inside him was now fully present, just like that, awake and pacing, pushing to get out.
“Yeah, I guess.” The kid shifted from foot to foot.
Falco tried to concentrate on what the kid was saying. He saw his lips move, but his mind floated elsewhere, a haze surrounding him. Falco blinked and shook his head. What the hell was happening to him? He wanted to step back, but the kid’s scent drew him closer. Hell, he wanted to rub himself all over the kid, just to get his scent on him. He needed to mark him as his, but that was completely stupid.
“I should go.”
Finally Falco’s brain kicked in. “We need to get to the bus.” Falco motioned in that direction, and the kid broke into a run, with Falco jogging behind him. They stopped outside adjacent buses.
“Thanks for your help. I’m Carter.”
The driver honked the horn, and Falco turned to climb onto the bus. He took the seat next to Missy, who handed him his book, and watched as Carter got on the other bus, his blond head moving above the seats until it disappeared once he sat down. Then they were moving and he lost sight of Carter.
“What happened?” Missy asked as they rode.
“Jason and Peter were being dicks to a new kid.”
Missy grinned up at him. “I always knew you were really a nice guy.” She elbowed him lightly in the side, and Falco rolled his eyes.
He’d always been told that alphas needed to be strong. Nice had rarely figured into the equation, at least as far as his uncle was concerned. Falco and his father didn’t talk much about things like that. As alpha, Dad was busy running the pack, so he let his brother take care of the less important things, like raising his son. That initial realization had hurt the first time it had occurred to him, but now it was just the way things were.
He and Missy talked a little, but his thoughts were on Carter and what his weird reaction meant.
When Falco got home, he walked up to the large pack house and went inside. His mother was in the kitchen, and she had food ready for him, which he devoured quickly. Falco was always hungry.
“How was your day?” she asked, wiping her hands on her apron as she turned around. Then she frowned. “Hey, what’s wrong?” She could always read him. His dad and uncle said he needed to get better at hiding his feelings, but he suspected that no matter how good he got, his mother would always be able to tell. She pulled out the chair next to his and sat down. “Something’s changed.”
“I mean, you smell different, like….”
“I can feel my wolf, Mom. Just like that, he was there, and… I don’t understand.” His heart rate had returned to normal and the tingling had subsided, but the intense thoughts of Carter remained. He could almost still smell him.
“You’re young to discover your wolf, but it happens. You need to tell your father so he can help you through your first shift. You’ll be ready soon.” She smiled proudly.
“Mom,” Falco asked as a wave of uncertainty he rarely experienced washed over him. “Can I ask you… what does it feel like to find your mate?”
She chuckled, stood, and went to the stove. “Well, it’s like the world stops for a few seconds and there is nothing but her, or in my case, your father.” Her eyes turned wistful as she leaned against the counter. “Your mate will have the best scent, perfect for you—one you can never get enough of for the rest of your life. Everything will click, and you know there will be no one else for you as long as you live. That will be it. Your wolf will want no one else.” She sighed and turned back to the stove. “You have plenty of time for that later.”
Falco nodded, but he knew he’d already found him. A guy—his mate was another boy. He wasn’t sure how the pack would feel about that. Not that it mattered; he was only thirteen, and no one was going to believe him anyway. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Sure, sweetie. Go finish your homework so you can talk to your dad later.” She continued her work, humming softly to herself, and Falco went to his room. He meant to do his homework, but his thoughts wandered to Carter and refused to let go. He’d found his mate, at least he thought so, and now all he had to do was make sure.
OVER THE next week, Falco managed to run into Carter at school on a regular basis, and each time his wolf grew stronger and more insistent, not to mention the way his body reacted when he got near. God, it was like he was on fire. The more he was around Carter, the more he was convinced Carter was his mate.
It took almost two weeks for Falco to become sure that, at thirteen, he’d found his mate, something some wolves never do their entire lives. He was thrilled and vowed to spend more time with Carter, become his friend, and really get to know him better.
The following Monday, Carter wasn’t in school. Falco figured he was sick and looked for him each morning, but Carter never showed up in school again.
Two weeks. He’d met his mate, and two weeks later, he was gone.