Chapter One: Patience
Her name is Penelope, and she lives at the edge of the forest.
At least, that’s how this story would start if it was the kind of modern fairy tale that Penelope’s father had told her when she was still a pup. Fairy tales with self-rescuing princesses, and warrior women fighting to prove themselves capable in the wolf-eat-wolf world of crown politics. A world where happily ever afters were the real fairy story - especially for princesses, who had to be concerned with things like alliances and public perception.
These were fairy tales that, when her father spoke them in his deep, rumbling voice, sounded more like a long forgotten memory than a romantic fantasy told for tiny tots. The faraway look in his eyes should have been her first clue, but even though she was a precocious child Penelope knew better than to press. All that would do was make the old man clam up.
While Mason Silvius could be tender with his only pup, he could be a difficult man; controlling to a fault and prone to long periods of silence. Not that Penelope minded all that much. Even though it was only the two of them in their cabin, far from the comforts of pack life, she never wanted for anything - including company. She had her internet home school friends, and like her father, she preferred the quiet of the woods to crowds of people. They were a ‘pack of two’ as he often said, and Penny was happy to entertain herself with books as well as the exploration of the nearby woods. She had a good childhood; one that she was grateful for, though sometimes she wondered if perhaps she was missing out.
Penelope loved her father, and her home, but she yearned for freedoms that he had so far denied her in the name of protecting her. She wanted to see what else the world had to offer, make her own mistakes, and find her own path. She wanted to meet other people face to face, even other werewolves - though her father often snarled colorful curses about pack hierarchy being inherently classist and misogynistic. Mason fancied himself a ‘woke’ alpha.
That was almost twenty years ago now. Penelope thought things must have changed since then, though she knew she still had to be cautious around other shifters. She wasn’t a rogue, exactly, as her father had registered their ‘pack of two’ with the council, but she was only part wolf. She’d never experienced it personally, but she knew most of her friends in her online homeschooling were like her - part wolves - and their stories about being bullied were enough to convince her that her father wasn’t just being an overbearing, overprotective alpha. There were people out there who were willing to hurt others, hurt her friends, just so that they could feel good about themselves. The thought made Penelope’s jaw hurt from clenching too hard.
Her mother had been a half wolf, and her father was the third son of the alpha whose pack she’d only heard the name of once - Twilight Promenade. The name alone smacked of the pretentiousness that her father despised, though she was sure he hated the attitude and culture of the pack more than its name. Her father’s former pack ridiculed her mother, did everything short of banishing her, just because she was unable to shift. They didn’t expect that when she did finally leave, Mason would go with her - refusing to give up his true mate.
Luckily, Penny had no problems shifting. She shifted for the first time on the evening of her 18th birthday, which was the standard for most werewolves - though some powerful wolves would shift earlier and weaker wolves had a tendency to shift later. Though he was adamant that he would love her regardless of whether or not she could shift, Penny could tell that her father was proud - and relieved. It meant that regardless of if or when she ever found a true mate for herself, or whether or not he wanted her, Penelope wouldn’t need his protection. She could protect herself. In this context, Penny understood why her father was pleased that she could shift because, as he often reminded her, he would not be around forever.
Her father could be a bit morbid sometimes.
Currently, Penelope was sitting in her book nook; a bay window with a storage bench that her father had built for her that was right next to the front door so that she could look out on the woods while she read. Her hands shook a little, and she bit her lip as she stared down at the unopened letters she held in her hand. She’d been waiting with baited breath for these letters to arrive, but now that they were in her hands she was afraid to open them. Why had all three arrived on the same day? That made the anxiety so much worse! What if they were all rejections? Penelope bit her bottom lip and a high pitched whine escaped her.
At eighteen years old, Penelope understood that she was sheltered and more naive than most she-wolves her age. It was something her friends often teased her about in their group chats. If her father had been a little more tech savvy, and hadn’t allowed her unfettered access to the internet, it probably would have been worse. Even so, she thought she was ready. It was time to leave the comfortable confines of their cabin at the edge of Wilderlands State Park, for whom her father served as a park ranger, and get a taste of the not-so-rural life.
As it was, she decided against telling her father when she first applied to Universities out of state, thinking it would be easier to tell him she was leaving if she already had an acceptance letter in hand. Especially if her friends were going to attend the same University - because then she would be with people he was vaguely familiar with. That’s why they’d all agreed to apply to the same schools.
Though her father was a lone wolf, he knew that it was unhealthy for his daughter to have no social life at all; wolves were supposed to be social creatures. So, while she and her friends didn’t live near each other, being from different packs spread out across the country, they had met up from time to time for homeschool field trips, or just for fun. They had formed a bond, and jokingly claimed to be their own pack - The Misfits.
The Misfits had been strategic in their choice of schools, applying for three different colleges in the same city. They reasoned that even if they didn’t all get into one they would still be able to room together - have a real pack house to call their own. They city that they chose was so large that each borough had multiple packs; a city where not just shifters, but humans, vampires, and mages lived side by side - though the humans were oblivious to the presence of the supernaturals, of course. Well, most of them anyway.
In her hands Penelope held what could be her ticket to the big city and all the wonders it had to offer. In her hands was her ticket to Darcingtowne.
Just as she was getting ready to slide a fingernail under the flap of the first envelope, the one for her last choice school - a community college that fed into Darcingtowne University - when the front door opened. Penelope yelped, and when her father poked his head inside, he frowned at the way she was clutching the envelopes in her hands.
“What have you got there, Pen?” Mason rumbled, quirking a thick black eyebrow at her. Aside from the eyebrow, his expression was flat.
“N-nothing...just…” Penelope stuttered. She was not a good liar; in fact, she’d been beating herself up for keeping the whole University thing from her father for weeks now. She took a deep breath, and decided she might as well come clean. Perhaps he could open up the envelopes for her so that she didn’t drive herself to an early grave with a stress induced heart attack.
“They’re letters from Darcingtowne Community College, Darcingtowne University and Promenade Collegiate.” Penny confessed. She could feel her father’s aura pressing down on her; not that he was trying to force her to submit, it’s just how his aura was. In a way, it could be comforting. Mason’s aura was solid and supportive, like him, though it could be a touch oppressive - especially when he was in a foul mood. He rarely let it get out of hand, though.
When she met her father’s eyes with a steady look that any other alpha would have found challenging, Mason only smiled. It was an almost indulgent smile; he must have already known about her applications. She bet that the other parents in the homeschooling pod told him of their plans. Ugh, how embarrassing! She should have just told him herself.
“Did you need help opening them?” Mason lumbered into the house. He barely fit through the door, ducking down a little so that his head didn’t brush the doorjamb. He was wearing his khaki ranger uniform, hat and all. He removed the hat after shutting the front door, and set it on a peg that had been affixed to the wall by the front door for just such a purpose.
Penelope smiled a little, and exhaled. Well, at least he wasn’t mad. Though, that made her wonder why; he’d always been insistent that she would do online University as well. He no doubt had some kind of plan to keep an eye on her, but that was a fence she would have to jump when she got to it. For now, she was going to let him keep being his overbearing self.
She handed the letters over to Mason, who leaned against the wall as he started opening them. He read the first one, nodded a bit, then moved on to the next.
Penelope growled a bit, and said impatiently, “Dad, come on! What did it say?!”
He fixed her with a look, pursed his lips, and read the second letter. When she got up to her feet and tried to grab the papers from him he held them high up out of her reach, laughing from his belly as she scrambled around him.
“Patience, Pen! You’ll never get your answers that way.” Mason growled playfully at his pup and flicked her nose with his forefinger. “Settle down, and I’ll read the last one.”
Penny crossed her arms over her chest and refused to sit, rumbling irritably from her chest as her father chuckled down at her. There was no way she was going to stop glaring until he told her what the letters said, even though her glare had zero effect on the man. It never had, much to her chagrin.