Two hours after the incident in Dr. Brevard’s office, Maya was leaning over, head first in the porcelain toilet of her bathroom; emptying her stomach of everything she’d eaten that day and the night before. The nausea, an after-effect of shifting to wolf and back in such a short time frame, was showing no signs of letting up.
The teenager moaned as she lifted her head from the toilet, and flopped back onto the ground. “Still!” she called out as she leaned against the cool bathtub, grateful for the sensation.
“She’s gone out, Doodle Bug,” Deidra Stratton-Waters, Still’s mate and wife, called out as she poked her head inside the door. “Can I get you anything?”
“How about a new stomach, Dee,” Maya groaned. “I think mine is trying to kill me.”
“Poor baby,” Dee cooed as she slid into place beside Maya and pulled the ailing teen into her arms. “I know how you feel. For the first three months after my first shift, I was sick as a dog for days every time I shifted. I think most of my friends clocked in at three months also.”
Maya yelped and turned to gaze at Dee with wide eyes. “Three months? Seriously?”
Dee shrugged her shoulders and sighed. “Afraid so. But everyone is different. And weres and shifters have lots of things in common, but there are some big differences also. Maybe this is one of those things.”
Maya sighed and leaned her head against Dee’s shoulder. “I appreciate the sentiment, Dee, but I’d rather you tell me the truth.”
“You’re screwed, kiddo, for about another month and a half or so. Give or take a week or two.”
“Now, was that so hard?”
“Not really,” Dee agreed. “But this floor is. My ass is numb.” Dee made a big production out of rubbing some sensation back into her backside, earning her the first laugh Maya had let loose in days.
“Finally!” Dee shouted as she threw her hands in the air. “I was beginning to think that I’d never hear that sound again.”
“I haven’t had many reasons to laugh,” Maya sighed.
“Sure you have,” Dee countered. “But you’ve been too busy wallowing in self-pity to notice them.”
“You might be right,” Maya mumbled reluctantly.
“You’re damn right I am. I think you realized that important fact a lot faster than your sister did,” Dee laughed. “So what are you gonna do about it from this point on?”
Dee held out a hand and pulled Maya to her feet. “You have to do more than, not wallow. You have to live, my girl. Embrace the new you and show the world that nothing can beat you.”
“Now you’re pushing it and bordering on corny,” Maya scoffed.
“Maybe a little,” Dee laughed. “But I’ll risk it if it gets you out of your funk.”
Maya sighed as her thoughts went back to the scene in Dr. Brevard’s office. “Today could have gone really bad,” she admitted. “I was the re, but I wasn’t...” Maya’s voice trailed off as she struggled to find the right words.
“Ahh. I get it,” Dee sighed with a knowing frown. “It’s easier to blame our wolves for our bad behavior, instead of owning up to the fact that we are our wolves. Listen, little one, our wolves aren’t some separate being inside of us that takes over against our will, doing things that we would never think to do or say. Our animal selves see the truth of our thoughts and feelings and act on them. It’s okay to call your other half, my wolf, as long as you recognize that she is you and you can’t use your wolf as an excuse for your behavior. The sooner you learn that lesson the better off you’ll be,” Dee offered, before leaning over and kissing Maya on her forehead.
“Get yourself together. Still will be home in about an hour and George is coming over for dinner.”
Maya gave Dee a two-finger salute as she walked away. Once she was alone, Maya’s mind wandered back to earlier. Yes, I lost control, but looking back, I have to admit that there was a conscious part of me that was very aware of what I was doing. I could have stopped at any moment if I wanted to, she thought. That scathing truth brought fresh tears to her eyes as she stood looking at herself in the mirror.
“Time to get it together, Maya,” she said to her reflection. She gave herself a quick once-over, stopping long enough to splash water on her face before heading for the door. Her hand was on the doorknob when she heard a car coming up the drive. Even though she was on the far end of the house, thanks to her wolf-enhanced ears, she could hear George when he stepped on the porch.
“I hope he brought Rodger’s apple caramel cheesecake,” Maya smiled to herself as she pulled open the door. Her smile faded when she heard George’s version of hello.
“So they’re really making a big stink about this, huh?” George called out as he came inside. “I never thought I’d say this about our girl, but Still has the patience of Job. I’m surprised she hasn’t snapped on those old farts and put them in their place. We both know that she does not play when it comes to Maya and Malia.”
“And I thought I told you we weren’t going to talk about this,” Dee hissed, cutting him off. “Maya is probably listening to us, right now.”
Maya carefully closed her door and thought back on the different rules Ryan had been trying to drill into her head, one being the alpha has to place the pack's needs above her own.
“Damnit all to hell,” Maya softly groaned. Shame washed over her as she realized exactly what her sister had done for her. Still had fought for her tooth and nail, when the elders wanted her gone. The compromise was the report from Dr. Brevard, and now she’d gone and messed that up. Still had opened the door for the elders to question her position as alpha.
“I’m going to make this up to you, Still,” she mumbled to herself as she splashed more water on her face. While she intended to pay closer attention to Ryan in his lessons, and maybe throw the good doctor a bone or two in their sessions, Maya’s method of redemption changed the moment she opened her bedroom door. Neither of those would be enough to show the older wolves that Still’s faith in her wasn’t misplaced.
“I’m going to talk to them myself and make them see that I’m not a raging lunatic,” Maya nodded to her reflection. “Time to get my shit together.”
Maya slipped from the bathroom and trained her ears on Dee and George’s conversation below. They were quiet. Either they were writing to keep her from hearing their conversation, or they were in Still’s soundproof office at the rear of the property. Maya closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the house. Aside from the appliances, she got nothing.
“Perfect,” Maya said to herself as she left her room and headed for the staircase at the front of the house. “If they’re in Still’s office, then they won’t hear me when I leave,” she laughed as she skipped down the stairs. “They’re making sneaking out way too easy.”
Even though Maya was almost certain that Dee wouldn’t be able to hear her from inside the office, that didn’t stop her from tiptoeing her way across the front porch and gravel of the driveway. When she got to the driveway she looked to the road and frowned. It’s a fifteen-minute drive to town by the road, but the path through the woods is less than half that on foot, and even shorter if I run, she thought to herself.
“I guess I’m taking the shortcut,” she mumbled as she headed for the thick woods of the forest. Even though she’d taken the path to town plenty of times with Still, Maya had never traveled it alone. And she was the first to admit that never paid that much attention to where she was going. She just walked where Still told her to.
If it was as simple as taking one path, getting to town would be a breeze, but the forest was full of multiple pathways that twisted and turned all across Still’s property. On nights of the full moon, Still’s home was the meeting spot for the entire pack. While all paths lead to Still’s home, the same couldn’t be said for the opposite end.
“I choose the wrong one and end up somewhere I don’t belong, that’s going to make even more trouble for Still,” Maya sighed as she took her first steps onto the worn footpath. She made it about ten feet into the forest when the path divided into five different ones.
“I take what I said about sneaking out being easy,” she frowned as she looked at the ground, trying to remember which way to go. After a few seconds of deliberation, she’d eliminated three of the five. Maya scanned the area around the last two, searching for clues that would give her an idea of which path was the right one.
“Think, Maya,” she mumbled to herself. “How would a wolf do this?”
Then as if on cue, Maya heard the mental manifestation of her wolf. “Use our nose, of course,” her wolf sighed as if she were bored.
Maya grabbed the side of her head and frowned. “I was wondering when you were going to put your two cents in,” she replied inside of her mind.
“Be glad that we did or we would be wandering around the forest all day,” her wolf said.
Maya opened her mouth to verbally reply but she could already feel the presence of her wolf fading away.
When Still first told her that she would be able to talk to her inner wolf, Maya didn’t think that she meant literally. The first time that her wolf spoke to her Maya thought that she was going crazy, but Ryan assured her that it was normal.
It didn’t feel normal to Maya. It only made her feel more like the freak that she had become. So she chose to ignore her wolf. “Guess that’s one more thing I need to work on,” Maya sighed as she exhaled and took a deep breath.
The scents of the world around her burst to life in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with her human senses. Maya picked apart the smells that she caught from the two paths and cursed when she smelled both her and Still’s lingering scents coming from both. “You can do this,” Maya whispered to herself as she exhaled and took another breath.
This time she examined the nuanced differences between the scents and almost yelled with excitement when she found one set of scents was slightly stronger than the other. “One leads to the stream by the hill and the other leads to town. We were at the creek two days ago and we haven't taken the path to town, in at least three days, so I go this way,” she said as she started running down the path that veered to the right.
Maya raced through the forest, oblivious to everything except making it to town. The teenager was so focused on looking ahead as she ran, that she wasn’t paying attention to her other senses. Which meant that she didn’t hear the footsteps on an intersecting path, ahead of her. By the time the group of teenagers emerged from the cover of the forest and walked into the open, Maya was moving so fast that she couldn’t stop without plowing into them.
Since she couldn’t go through them, Maya decided to go over them. “Excuse me!” Maya yelled as she jumped into the air at the last minute. A few of the five teenagers dropped to the ground and covered their heads, while others tried to jump out of Maya’s way.
“What the hell?!” one girl screamed as she hit the ground and rolled into a nearby tree.
“Seriously?!” yelled another before she shoved her face into the dirt and crumpled leaves.
“You could at least stop and apologize!” a boy grunted as he stood up brushing bits of grass and dirt from his clothes.
“I think that’s the freak,” one boy whispered to the others as they watched Maya running away.
“I’m sorry!” Maya winced as she glanced back to make sure everyone was okay. If the situation were different she would go back and check on them, but they all seemed to be in one piece, so she kept going. They wouldn’t want help from the freak, anyway, she reasoned, so screw them.
The remainder of the trek after her near collision was thankfully uneventful. Running at full speed it took Maya around five minutes to exit the woods and step into the small vacant lot at the far end of town.
“Now to find the community center,” Maya said absentmindedly as she crossed a two-lane street to reach a sidewalk.
The downtown area of Goose Creek screamed small town and was nothing like what Maya was accustomed to, having lived in Charlotte her entire life. Even though she visited the town from time to time to visit her brother Rush and his family, she never ventured farther than his backyard.
Maya didn’t commit the directions to Dr. Brevard’s office to memory, because quite frankly, the woman got on her nerves. And whether she was in the car or walked, she was lost in her own world, not taking note of where she was, just going where Still told her to. So to say she had no idea where she was, was an understatement.
Luckily for her, Goose Creek was the type of small town that had quaint little wooden signs on every corner, pointing towards areas of interest. It only took Maya two blocks to find one to point her in the right direction. Two minutes later she was knocking on the doors of the locked community center.
“This has got to be a fire hazard,” Maya mumbled as she slapped her palm against one of the doors as hard as she could. It took a few moments, but when someone finally came to the door, the man on the other side pulled it open far enough to glare and her and dismiss her with a sigh. “We’re closed to the public for the next hour,” he grunted and tried to close the door.
Maya grabbed the handle and pushed, refusing to let the door close. “I’m not the public,” Maya quickly offered. “I’m here to speak to the elders.”
The wolf took another look at Maya and frowned. “If you aren’t already inside then you have no business with the elders,” he barked as he added more force to his efforts to close the door.
Maya growled and her eyes began to glow as she felt her wolf surge to the forefront of her mind. “If he won’t move, make him,” her wolf urged her.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Maya replied as she pulled back for the briefest of moments to gather her strength, then slammed her shoulder into the door. The door flew open and the wolf on the other side went careening into the wall behind him.
Maya entered the building, hurrying past the downed wolf before he could get to his feet, and scanned the halls, listening for the sounds of a group of people talking. She was just passing the second door when she heard the wolf climbing to his feet.
“Get back here,” he grunted with a shake of his head.
“Not until I find my sister,” Maya countered as she stuck her head inside another door, and frowned when she found nothing.
“Just wait until I get my hands on you,” the now angry wolf growled. From the sounds of his voice, he was much closer than Maya would have liked him to be, but she didn’t waste any time looking back. Instead, she kept moving forward, desperate to find Still and the elders.
“Do you realize how pervy that statement sounded?” Maya replied as she quickly checked another room only to find nothing.
“The next sound you’re gonna hear is your backside hitting the pavement when I throw you out of here,” the wolf threatened, as he grabbed for Maya’s shoulder.
Maya felt the rush of air blow by the side of her face and at the last minute twisted out of the wolf’s way. “Yeah, I don’t think so,” Maya gasped as she avoided another swipe and began to run. The searching door-by-door method was getting her nowhere, so she did the next best thing.
“Still!” Maya yelled as she raced through the hall. “Ryan! Bishion! Lucas!”
The wolf was dead on her heels, trying his hardest to catch her, but Maya dodged every reach and grab. When she reached the end of the hundred-foot hallway she rounded a corner and ran smack into a chest.
“What in the world,” Cicely Waters grunted as she slid a few steps backward from the force of Maya slamming into her.
Maya looked up and threw her arms around her sister-in-law's neck. “Oh, thank god,” she sighed. “Can you please tell the Juggernaut to back off?”
“She’s not supposed to be here,” the wolf in question grunted as he reached for Maya’s arm.
“Do we have a problem?” Bishion Rivers, Still’s beta, asked as he stepped around Cicely and grabbed the wolf’s hand before he could touch Maya.
“Yeah, this little shit is trying to crash the alpha’s council meeting,” he answered with a smug expression on his face.
Maya stepped away from Cicely and looked back and forth between her and Bishion before turning to the wolf with a broad smile. “Who’s gonna tell him?” she asked.
“Tell me what?”
“I think we should give Bishion the honors,” Cicely said as she slapped Bishion on the shoulder. “He has such a way with words.”
Bishion nodded and shrugged a shoulder. “Well, friend, this little shit, as you called her, is the alpha’s little sister.”
“Which also makes her my little sister,” Cicely added with a growl.
The dumbfounded wolf looked more like a deer in headlights at the revelation as he pointed at Maya and then Cicely. When he opened his mouth to reply, Bishion held up a finger, silencing him.
“Don’t,” the imposing wolf sighed. “As one of the packs’ sentries, you should know every single one of our wolves. That you didn’t recognize the alpha’s own sister is a problem. We’ll talk about this later.”
Bishion laid a hand on Maya and Cicely’s shoulders, preparing to leave when the idiotic wolf had to say something.
“She’s not one of our wolves,” he whispered under his breath. “I only see a blood traitor.”
When a person is standing in a space with three individuals with supernatural hearing, a whisper is just as loud as a shout.
Bishion spun around and grabbed for the wolf, but Cicely was faster. The petite female had the wolf by the front of his shirt and was lifting him off of his feet before he knew what was happening. By the time the wolf’s face registered any surprise, Cicely had already hurled him through the air. He slammed into a wall ten feet away and slid to the floor in a crumpled heap.
Bishion was radiating anger as he took a step toward the wolf, but a small whimper from Maya stopped him. Bishion’s hard gaze softened when he turned and found Maya with tears in her eyes.
Cicely pulled Maya into her arms and Bishion reached out and brushed away her tears with the pad of his thumb.
“Don’t pay him any attention, little cub,” he said.
“No, don’t,” Cicely agreed. “Small-minded people like him are idiots. You are as much a member of this pack as any other wolf, and don’t you ever for a second let anyone make you question that.”
Maya nodded but remained quiet. Cicely growled as she turned and glared at the wolf who was climbing to his feet. “Bishion, if you deal with him, I’m going to take Maya to my house for a while. I’ll bet seeing the kids will cheer you up,” she said as she gave Maya a small squeeze.
“You leave now and we will always be running,” Maya’s wolf offered.
Maya brushed the tears from her eyes and stepped away from her sister-in-law. “I’m not leaving,” she said with a shake of her head.
“What?” Cicely asked, confused.
“I can’t leave until I tell everyone in that meeting why I think they are full of shit,” Maya said and exhaled. “Now if you don’t mind, can you take me to Still?”
Cicely nodded and pointed at the door closest to them. “She’s right in there, kiddo,” she said, unable to keep the smile off of her face. “Maya, Rush would be so proud of you,” she added as she fell into place beside her.
“Thanks, CiCi,” Maya replied as she slowly turned the door knob. “Now let's see if I can make Still proud.”
Maya threw open the door before her nerves got the better of her, and walked into the room. There were about thirty people seated in the medium-sized room, not counting Still, who was standing in front of a long table. Seated on the other side of the table were the elders, four of the oldest wolves in the pack.
When the door opened, Still and everyone else turned their attention in Maya’s direction. Maya lifted a hand and waved, and Still rushed across the room.
“Hey, kiddo, what are you doing here?” Still asked, as she grabbed Maya by the shoulders and leaned forward to look her in the eyes. “Why have you been crying?” Still looked past Maya and frowned at Cicely. “What’s going on?”
“We’ll talk about it later when you three come over to tuck the kids in for the night,” Cicely replied. “For now, Maya has something she’d like to say to the elders.” Even though everyone could hear them, Cicely said the last part a little louder.
One of the older men stood up with a frown and folded his arms across his chest. “This council does not recognize the shifter,” he grunted.
A low growl began to rumble in Still’s throat and when she turned around to face the elders, her eyes were blazing with anger and power.
“My sister will speak and you all will listen,” she said. Although her voice was barely a whisper, the old man flinched under the force of Still’s words.
When no one else objected, Maya walked to the front of the room, closed her eyes, and exhaled.
“I know that all of you have your opinions on wolf shifters. There’s this unfair bias that seems ingrained in all of you and I’m not sure why,” she started. “I’m not here to change everyone’s minds and make you all fall in love with me. I’m here because I was attacked and mauled by a psychotic shifter that was trying to hurt my sister. I had my life turned upside down because I was lucky enough to live through that attack. There were moments that I didn’t see myself as lucky, and I’m gonna be honest, you all have played a big part in that, especially when Still told me about all the restrictions you insisted on before I was allowed to come here.”
Maya paused and looked at her sister before taking a deep breath and continuing. “My sister is so proud to be the Goose Creek Alpha. If the wolves that my sister speaks so highly of, think that I’m a monster, then they had to be right. If you all, the very people who were supposed to be my refuge and teach me what it meant to be a wolf, thought that I was a monster, who was I to argue? Well, I’m not a monster. I’m not a mindless, out-of-control creature that has to be locked away for the safety of the public. I’m just a kid that wants to finish her junior year and keep my GPA intact so I can make it into Johnson C. Smith when I graduate in a few years.”
Maya paused and lowered her head. When she lifted it, her eyes were glowing with the energy of her wolf. Maya began pacing back and forth, searching the room and making eye contact with every wolf in the room before turning to face the elders. “You may not see me as one of you, but I am a wolf. For a group that places so much emphasis on family and protecting one another, you all are a bunch of hypocrites. But that’s okay because I know who my pack is. I don’t need you to accept me because they do. I won't be treated like a prisoner any longer when the only crime I’m guilty of is existing.”
Maya went to Still and threw her arms around her sister’s neck before turning back around to face the room. “And I will no longer let my sister take the heat for my actions. My wins and my losses will be all on me.”
“Maya what are you doing?” Still frowned.
“Getting my act together,” Maya replied. “I want to go to school. I’m tired of sitting around the house, and being stuck seeing a therapist who clearly wants nothing to do with me,” she said, addressing the room again. “So I will make one deal and one deal only; lay off my sister and me, and if I lose control just once, you can send me on the first bus, packing. And I will never set foot in your precious town again.”
“No,” Still barked with a shake of her head. “You’re not going to agree to those terms for these people,” Still said with finality to her statement that almost dared anyone to say anything.
“We accept,” one of the elders called out.
“Like hell you do,” Still almost shouted. “My sister will not gamble with her life to please you all. I refuse.”
Maya slipped her hand into Still’s and gave it a small squeeze. “It’s not a gamble, Sissy,” the teenager smiled. “Trust me. I’ve got this.”
Still reluctantly nodded and leaned forward to kiss Maya on the forehead. Then she glared at the elders with murder in her eyes.
“I’m choosing to let this go for now, but if you lot think for a second that I would ever allow you to make good on banishing my sister, you’re even more delusional than I thought. Now, if there is no more business on the agenda, we’re going to enroll my sister at the high school.”