I knew it was bad news when Daddy called me into the office to talk. When we want to discuss something nicely as a family, we do it around the dinner table. We don't get called into the office unless we are in trouble. As I followed Beta Phillip through the pack-house, I felt that heavy sense of foreboding weighing me down. I saw a sort of pity in Phillip's face when paused to let me catch up, and glanced back at me. I was already searching my mind, trying to think of what I might have done to get myself in trouble... but I'm really a pretty boring girl. I couldn't think of anything that might have triggered my father so badly that he would call me into the office.
We came to a stop in front of the heavy oak door. Phillip knocked twice, and my father promptly called, "Enter!" Phillip opened the door, and stood aside for me to precede him into the room. It was so formal, it felt all wrong. And then he closed the door again, shutting me inside with my father. Daddy was hunched at his desk, and he didn't look happy. His handsome face was haggard, and somehow, he looked older today than he had just a few days ago. "Sit down, Nina."
I limped to one of the leather wing backed chairs that faced his desk. I didn't limp because I had any recent injury, I just had bad legs. I sank gingerly down on the leather, sitting on the very edge, because somehow it didn't feel safe to relax. Daddy wasn't looking at me... he was looking at papers on his desk. He cleared his throat several times, as if he was struggling to find the right words. When he looked up, his face had hardened, and when he spoke, he spoke with his firm Alpha voice. Not his Daddy voice. That made me shrink back further into the chair.
"Nina, as part of the treaty negotiations with the Gold Mountain Pack, I have agreed to a marriage alliance. You, Nina Boyton, will marry the Alpha's son, Nolan Pierceson on the next new moon."
I felt like someone had punched me, knocked the air out of me. "What? Daddy! How could you??" I ,whispered in shock. Arranged marriages were an archaic thing of the past. Nobody did that any more, did they?
Daddy looked pained. "I did it for the sake of our pack, Nina. We are a small pack, and since your mother..." he couldn't quite bring himself to say the word "died"..."We are weak and vulnerable. We need the protection of a larger, stronger pack. This political alliance will ensure our safety and our survival."
I felt so many emotions whipping through me, I couldn't grab a hold of them. "But... why me?" I had two sisters, one older, and one younger. Janice was smart and strong, one of our best warriors. And the younger, Hannah was the beautiful one. None of us had found our mates, we were all single and available. I was almost sure if the Alpha of Gold Mountain had ever seen the three of us, he would have picked one of them. Not me. I am the most ordinary, non-descript, and insignificant of the Alpha's daughters. And then it hit me like a slap in the face. Without my father answering me, I knew why he had sacrificed me. I'm the weak one. I'm the expendable one. I'm the one with the "bad legs".
"Its not what you think, Nina." My father said quietly. "It has nothing to do with your... condition." He never knew quite how to refer to my inexplicably weak legs. The pack doctors hadn't been able to diagnose the problem, even the human doctors had shrugged me off after a battery of inconclusive tests. I waited for him to explain. But my father didn't elaborate further, and that irritated me.
"Don't I get a say in this? Don't you need my consent before you sell me off "for the sake of the pack"? What if I refuse?"
My father's face blanched for a moment, and then darkened. "If you refuse, I will disown you, and you will be exiled from the pack."
His words hit me like a slap in the face. My own father would throw me out of the family and out of the pack and make me go rogue? Who was this man, behind the desk? Surely this wasn't my Daddy. He wouldn't have done this to me. I felt a hot tear run down my cheek, and I could only think, if Mama had been alive, she never, ever would have allowed him to do this to me. For a few moments I seriously considered the option of refusing and being exiled. I didn't really stand a chance, as a lone she-wolf without a pack. I wasn't physically strong enough, but more importantly... I couldn't stand the idea of being forever separated from the family that I loved. Daddy was doing something terrible at that moment, that broke my heart. His responsibilities as Alpha had to come first... even if it meant sacrificing his own daughter. Although everything inside me was raging against it, I had to obey his order. Not only for him, but for the pack that I loved.
My shoulders slumped forward in defeat. I could no longer meet his eye, and stared down at my toes instead. I couldn't find the words to speak, so I simply nodded. I didn't see his face, but I could hear the relief in his voice. I wonder if he'd secretly been worried that I would actually choose exile over a forced marriage. But when he spoke, it was the heartless, stern, Alpha voice again. "You will pack up your things. You will leave tomorrow in the morning."
My head jerked up. "So soon? But you said, on the new moon?"
"I said the marriage would take place on the new moon. The alpha has requested you to come immediately. Gretta will come and help you pack." He shuffled the papers on his desk, as if they were suddenly more important than his daughter. "You are dismissed."
Dismissed? I don't ever remember my father speaking to me like that... like I was some underling to order about. I made my way back to my room in a stupor, passing pack members in the hall but not really seeing anyone, or hearing their greetings. I shut the door in my room and managed to lean back against it before the strength left my legs and I sank to the floor. Being forced to marry a stranger was bad enough, but it had deeper, more far reaching implications. I would be forever tied to a man I didn't love, and I would never get to experience the joy and completion of finding my mate. That's what every wolf longed for, as soon as they came of age. To find your goddess-given soul mate, the magical person who would complete you and make you whole. All happiness and satisfaction was tied up in that one, fated person. And I would be denied it, forever. Great big tears of self pity rolled down my cheeks as I absorbed the unfairness of it all.
After awhile a knock came at the door, and Gretta, a sweet little omega who worked in the pack house poked her head in. "I was told to come assist you, Miss Nina." I sighed and hauled myself to my feet. I might as well resign myself to my miserable fate.
"I need to pack," I said dully. "I'm leaving in the morning."
"Oh, of course." She was too submissive to dare to ask where or why. I wondered if my sisters knew already, or if they were being kept in the dark too. I wasn't sure I could face them right now. I pulled two suitcases out of my closet that I had only used once when mother took us on a trip to Mexico. "What exactly do you want to pack?"
I sighed and pulled open my drawers. "Just the absolute essentials Gretta," I said, pulling out my favorite clothes and throwing them on the bed. I was a no-nonsense kind of girl when it came to fashion. I preferred comfort over style, and I didn't own many nice or fancy things. I pulled a couple of nice dresses out of the closet and tossed them on the pile, for formal occasions. I wondered idly if there would be a real wedding dress for this farce of a marriage, or if we were just going to stand before the officiant in our street clothes while it was made legal.
I looked around my room, trying to gauge what other things I needed to take. I slipped my mother's delicate porcelain jewelry box into the bag, wrapped carefully in one of my sweatshirts. There was the picture of my sisters and I, taken several years ago, our arms looped around each other, smiling happily at the camera. There was my leather bound journal, and my laptop. Other things seemed too childish to take to your marriage home... like the old, worn stuffed bear that had graced my pillow since I was six years old. But I did finally take the fuzzy lap-blanket, printed with cheerful sunflowers and butterflies, and tuck it in the top of my bag. After adding in the practical toiletries and other necessities, I sighed and declared the work finished. I felt a little sad that the entire of my 19 years of life could so easily be condensed into two suitcases, and another fat tear rolled down my cheek.
I'd never felt so worthless and unloved in all my life. But now I had to face the facts. My own father considered me expendable. The Gold Mountain pack had demanded a bride, and I had been, quite literally, thrown to the wolves. A part of me wanted to call my sisters, to cry to them, to tell them how scared and worried I was about this great unknown responsibility that had just fallen on me... but I couldn't. I suppose I resented them. They would go on with their normal, happy lives after I left. My fate didn't matter much to them, in the grand scheme of things. Their sympathy at this point would only make me feel worse.
I thanked Gretta for her help, and quietly closed the door behind her. My suitcases were standing neatly by the door. I grabbed my old, well loved teddy bear and curled up on the bed, and tried to shut my mind to all the hurt and all the worries that were eating at me. My mother would have said, "Chin up, sweetheart. Face the world head-on." Thinking of my sweet mother only made me cry harder, until I fell into an exhausted sleep.