BOOK ONE: Bound
Nyah Morgan stood at the edge of her father's grave, hands in pockets and shoulders hunched against a boisterous wind. Crisp winter laced its breath as it tugged strands of her hair free, momentarily shrouding her view of wilting wreaths heaped against the newly erected headstone. "It's a bitter one today," she murmured, stamping her feet against the cold creeping through the soles of her boots. "So, Jackson did a lovely job," she announced, nodding with appreciation at the headstone. "I hope you like it." Hearing herself, she cringed against the stupidity of talking to someone who couldn't hear, or reply. "What are you doing?" she muttered, rolling her eyes to where pale sky stretched far beyond the tips of the surrounding bare trees. "This is so hard, Dad," she confessed, tears blurring the colourless afternoon. "I hate it. I hate that you're gone."
Determined to behave stronger than she felt, Nyah wiped dampness from her cheeks before sniffing back the remains of her tears. "Okay," she said, firming her stance on the icy ground. "I'll read it out to you. 'Harper Morgan,'" she began, wanting the carved words to be spoken aloud so the surrounding earth would understand the importance of the man now resting in its depths, "'fearless leader, beloved husband and devoted father'." A moment passed before her throat softened. "'May he rest in peace,'" her recital whispered to a close.
Nyah reached out to trace fingertips over the wolf carved into the upper right-hand corner of the headstone. The lone wolf stood on the highest of three peaks, its neck carved into an eternal arch as it howled towards the moon. To the human eye, not that many ever wandered this deep into their territory, the carving was nothing more than a motif. To her, and all fellow werewolves, it represented how her deceased father had been an Alpha. "I miss you, Dad," she whispered, and feeling her throat swell again, gave her head a firm shake. "Okay, enough," she muttered. "Enough."
When the scent of Alan, the werewolf in line to take over from her father, reached her nostrils, Nyah tried to fix a neutral expression onto her face. She preferred to keep her moments of weakness to herself; tears were best reserved for behind closed doors, or huddled under the duvet at night, as was her preference.
"What do you think?" Alan strode through the wrought iron gates surrounding the cemetery. He came to stand beside her before stretching out to give the headstone an affectionate pat. "Jackson did a good job, didn't he?"
"He did," she agreed, "it's perfect." Knowing Alan hadn't come to the cemetery to share his thoughts on her father's headstone, Nyah made a point of checking her watch. "I'm not late for the meeting, am I?" she asked, aware she still had half an hour before it was due to begin.
"No. I wanted to talk to you about something beforehand, away from prying ears."
Alan nodded towards the open gate, inviting her to walk with him as if what needed to be said would disrespect the memory of his deceased Alpha. "Simon Northfell's attending the meeting," he announced once their backs were turned to the grave.
Nyah groaned. Alan shared her less than pleasant opinion of Simon Northfell, in fact, the entire pack held little tolerance for the man.
"I told him no," Alan said, following her through the gate, "but as he constantly likes to remind me; I don't officially have the right to deny his attendance."
Together, they mimicked Simon's haughty drawl. "You are not Alpha, Mr Stenson; the decision is not yours to make."
"He's a royal pain in the ass." Nyah ensured the rusting gate latch had caught properly before they walked on. "And I wish he'd crawl back to whatever rock he hid under for the last ten years."
"I doubt the rock wants him either."
"Next Thursday can't come quick enough," she grumbled as they strolled towards the copse of trees arching above the pathway ahead. "It's a pity we can't find a way to make you Alpha sooner."
"I don't think me being Alpha is going to change anything. He wants a place on the council and he's going to fight tooth and nail to get it."
"After being gone for a decade? Just because some ancient, watered-down ancestor of his happened to be Alpha a gazillion years ago, he's crazy to think he's now entitled to a place on the council, or even in our pack for that matter."
"Unfortunately, his ancient, watered-down bloodline ensures it."
Nyah came to an abrupt stop. "Noare you sure?"
"Yeah." Alan drew one hand through his wavy dark-blonde hair, a familiar sign of frustration. "I traced his bloodline and checked the statutes. He does have the right."
"That's not good."
"It's not." Alan shoved his hands into his pockets. "And there's nothing we can do about it."
An occupied silence shared their walk along the narrow path. It was only when the first of the houses skirting the edge of their small village were visible before Alan spoke again. "Nyah." Taking her arm, he slowed her to a stop once more. "I've a bad feeling about all of this. Simon clearly has an obnoxious plan formulating, and whatever it is he wants, I think he'll announce it at the meeting."
"Any idea what it might be?"
The answer was a grimace.
"Just say it, Alan."
"I don't know for sure. I mean, the guy is delusional. I don't even know what he thinks this willbecause no-one's going to." An agitated grunt ended his ramble.
"You're really letting him get to you," she warned.
"I can't help it," Alan sighed. "He rubs me up the wrong way every time I see him. If I have to hear another declaration about his damned birthright once more, I swear I'll . . .I'll bloody well . . ."
"Smile sweetly and agree to nothing."
Alan relented with a reluctant smile, his annoyance easing with a laugh of surrender. "You're right, I know. But, look," he tried again, "he might say some things at this meeting which could upset you, so I want you to be ready for it, okay?"
"Don't let him get to you," he pushed.
"Just like you don't," she teased.
"I'm watching out for you is all." Alan nudged her along the path again, a smile softening his features, but not entirely reaching his brown eyes. "Old habits die hard, you know. And anyway, you've been through enough without that i***t upsetting you."
Nyah didn't dwell on Simon Northfell any further as they walked the final stretch. She was used to Alan's protective ways, and his concern for her had gone into overdrive since her father had passed. At the age of seven, in the absence of other siblings, Alan had declared himself as her older brother, and since then, hadn't faltered in his promise to always watch out for his little sister.
"See you in a few," he said, as they separated on the path. "And remember what I said, okay?"
"I will." Nyah watched as he jogged off in the direction of her father's house. Pack members were already gathering on the lawn outside and she threw across a quick wave before turning into the pathway of her own house.
The last thing she needed was a council meeting waylaid by Simon Northfell. Yesterday's crazed idea of believing she might be stable enough to start packing away her father's belongings had left her emotionally drained, and she now had nothing left in her reserves that a spat with Mr. Obnoxious would require. Wincing at the memory of how her tears had turned the entire packing operation into one big blurred, sobbing mess, Nyah pulled her brush through her hair, frowning at the shadows under her eyes as she faced the bathroom mirror. After dragging herself home last night, she'd fallen straight onto the bed in a state beyond exhaustion, but when she'd woken this morning, grossed out by how she'd slept in her clothes, sleep hadn't worked any magic. "You're a mess, Morgan," she warned her pale reflection.
Downstairs, she grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl on the dining table, glancing out the window to the opposite side of the street where her father's house sat. The sight swelled a leaden ache in her chest. She had lived in that beautiful house for nineteen years and everything about it she now desperately missed. She longed for the comfort of its familiarity, the security her father's presence brought, the scents that belonged solely to the old building and most of all, the knowledge she was never alone. Nyah couldn't recall a single occasion of ever being the only person inside its four walls, and this was what she had loved most about being the Alpha's daughter. Her friends used to think she was crazy, wondering how she didn't go out of her mind when pack members were traipsing in and out of her house every day, and they had never understood when she had tried to explain how it made her feel as if she had dozens of brothers and sisters, when in reality, it was only her and her father. With her father gone she was now alone, her mother nothing more than a cloudy memory of a smiling woman in a lemon-coloured dress her father had once told her was his favourite.
"Give the self-pity a rest," she ordered, throwing the banana back into the fruit bowl. What had she to be sorry for anyhow? Her new home was comfortable and she'd slipped with ease into sharing it with her best friend Karen, a twenty-five year old childless widow whose mate had been killed in a car accident three years previously. Karen and Peter had been married for only one year, but as Karen had said on one of Nyah's many sleepless, tear-filled nights, it had been the best year of her life and nothing could ever take that from her. "Just like nothing can take your memories from you," she had consoled, "so take your time grieving your father, but remember; everything that's up here," at which point she had tapped the side of Nyah's head, "is yours to keep forever."
It was advice Nyah would have to keep reminding herself of when Alan and his family moved in to her old home next week. Three generations of Morgan Alphas and their families had lived under that roof and it was crushing to believe it had all come to an end. Alan would be a great Alpha she consoled herself, pulling the front door shut. He was fair and honest, and, she had to admit, more open to change than her father had ever been. Nyah smiled to herself as she shoved her phone into her back pocket. Perhaps now they would finally get broadband installed. It was high time 21st Century technology was welcomed to Blackwater Ridge.
Humour dissipated as Nyah crossed the street. Simon Northfell's grey-streaked hair marked his movements amongst the gathering pack members. Although the stiff shoulders and curt nods of those he addressed were subtle, the sense of her pack mates bristling at his presence was not. Their irritation prickled like a pending electrical storm. Simon was an arrogant and cold man, distrusted because of his long absence from the pack and the assumption held on his return of how he could weave himself into the decision making of the pack council. With no-one willing to hold him in conversation, he spotted Nyah's approach. Before he could sidle near, she ducked inside the house, ignoring his call and not caring if he knew.