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Raised by wolves, p.1
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       Raised by Wolves, p.1

           Jennifer Lynn Barnes
 
Raised by Wolves


  For my family, close and extended—

  the best pack a girl could ask for.

  In Loving Memory of

  Annie Mae Barnes,

  An incredible woman

  I never got the chance to know.

  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Copyright

  CHAPTER ONE

  “BRONWYN ALESSIA ST. VINCENT CLARE!”

  Four names, five words, one pissed-off werewolf. The math in this particular equation never came out in my favor.

  “Callum,” I said, feigning surprise at his sudden appearance in my workshop. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

  His eyes narrowed slightly. On a human, the same motion would have conveyed sharp irritation, but on Callum’s face, the expression was mild, until and unless you looked for the power behind the gaze and caught a glint of the wolf staring back.

  Growing up the way I did, you learn a few things, so I knew the dangers involved in standing my ground and the ones that came with letting it go. My right hip twinged just above the band of my low-rise jeans, and my fingers played along the edges of the scar that lived there. The Mark tied me to Callum and the rest of the pack, and it served as an ever-present reminder that they were bound to protect me as one of their own. It also drove me into a hierarchy I’d never subscribed to. That and the whisper of the rest of the pack at the gates of my mind—closed for business, thank you very much—spurred me into choosing the lesser of two evils in my interaction with the aforementioned pissed-off werewolf.

  Calmly, I brought my eyes to Callum’s. The power coming off him made it an effort, even for me. After a few precious seconds of meeting his gaze, I flicked my eyes to the side. Protocol would have had me looking down, but I was about as far from submissive as you could get. I also wasn’t a Were, and Callum wasn’t my alpha, so despite the constant pull of the pack at my psyche, there was nothing in Emily Post’s Guide to Werewolf Etiquette to say that I absolutely had to submit.

  Callum responded to my subtle, pointed defiance with a roll of his amber-colored eyes, but he had the good grace to abstain from pressing me into the wall or down to my knees the way he might have if not for that pesky humanity of mine. Instead, he brought one suntanned hand up to his jaw and ran it roughly over the five o’clock shadow on his chin in a way that made me think he was mentally counting to ten. The action—and the frustration that drove it—reminded me that even if he wasn’t my alpha, Callum was my legal guardian, the executor of my estate, and the closest thing I had to a brother, uncle, or mentor, all rolled into one. Despite my best efforts as a small child to convince Callum that he was not (and I quote) the boss of me, he technically was. As alpha, he took pack business seriously, and had I not had four names of my own to choose from, I could have easily gone by “P.B.”—Pack Business of the first and highest order.

  The Mark on my hip wasn’t just for show.

  “Bryn.” Callum’s voice, even-toned with not even a hint of a growl, brought me back to the present. I was somewhat relieved that the situation had been downgraded in his mind from meriting all four names to just one. Better still that he stuck with Bryn, which I vastly preferred to Bronwyn.

  “Bryn.” Slightly sharper this time, but mostly exasperated, Callum’s voice forced me to focus.

  “Sorry,” I said. “Mind bunnies.”

  Callum nodded curtly and waited for me to address the reason for his presence in my workshop. This was supposed to be my sanctuary, a tiny slice of pack territory that belonged to only me, myself, and I. It wasn’t much more than a standalone garage turned second-rate art studio, but I didn’t much appreciate the invasion, or the way Callum kept his eyes on mine, confident that I’d eventually tell him exactly what he wanted to know. Experience told me that he was probably right. Callum could outwait anyone, and though he was only a few inches taller than me, and the muscles in his granite jaw were relaxed, the power behind his eyes was always palpable in his stare.

  “I really don’t know why you’re here,” I told him, selecting my words carefully. Most Weres could smell a lie, and Callum, the alpha of alphas in our corner of the world, would have known immediately if I’d offered up an excuse that wasn’t technically true. Luckily for me, I didn’t know precisely what it was that I’d done to merit a visit from our pack’s leader. There were any number of possibilities, none of which I wanted to openly admit to on the off chance that there was something I’d done that he hadn’t found out about yet.

  “You have no idea why I might want to talk to you?” Callum asked, his voice never losing its calm, cool tone.

  That was a trickier question to answer without crossing the border from half-truths into lies, but I’d had years of practice. This I could handle. “I really don’t have an idea why you’d want to talk to me.”

  Technically, I didn’t have an idea; I had several.

  Callum measured my response. I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that he bought what he was hearing (and smelling), but I knew him well enough to hope that he might not want to play this game all afternoon. He was the one who’d taught me to play it in the first place, but at the moment, he really didn’t seem to be in the mood for a “surviving pack life” tutorial on obfuscation.

  With a much-aggrieved sigh, Callum opted out of forcing me to speak, and instead, he itemized my transgressions for me. “Motorcycle. Algebra. Curfew.” Callum never used four words where one would do—unless, of course, he was calling me by my full name, a trick that he must have picked up from watching television, since he’d been born in a time and place where middle names weren’t standard fare. The rest of our pack took their cue from him. Of all of us, I was the only one with a middle name, let alone two …

  “Bryn.”

  “Right,” I said, valiantly fighting the mind bunnies, which had a vicious tendency to multiply at inconvenient times. “I let a boy from town give me a ride on his motorcycle, my algebra teacher’s a sadistic imbecile, and I’m a bad, bad girl who doesn’t believe in curfews. Can I go now?”

  For a split second, I thought I’d pushed him too far. I imagined his wolf instincts overtaking his human ones, changing Callum into something harder and primal. Unless he actually Shifted, he’d keep his human appearance, but I knew better than anyone that smooth skin, sandy hair, and slightly upturned lips meant nothing. Wolves in sheepskin had nothing on werewolves masquerading as men; shape-shifters were dangerous when their beasts were loose on the inside but contained on the surface. As wolves, they were hunters. In human form, they could be deadly.

  Come out, come out, wherever you are, little one. No sense hiding from the Big Bad Wolf. I’ll always find you in the end. …

  I clamped down on the flicker of anxiety, snuffing it out. I was
well acquainted with the dangers associated with strolling down that path on memory lane. I also knew from years and years of experience that Callum never lost control; his wolf would never harm a human. In any form, Callum would have died before hurting me. Instead, he took my sass and responded to it just as he always had—with a warning look and the air of someone who was trying very, very hard not to laugh.

  Slightly abashed because I’d maligned him with misplaced anxiety (not fear), I took Callum’s silent chastisement and didn’t push back at him.

  “Motorcycle.” Callum issued the word as a statement rather than a question, but I felt compelled to answer anyway. That’s the way it was with Callum—once you stopped pushing back, once you submitted, you’d find yourself acting in line with his will. He would have had the same effect on any other human, whether they knew what he was or not. The Mark on my flesh, and the bond between us, let me recognize the compulsion for what it was, but I didn’t fight it.

  “A kid from school offered me a ride on his motorcycle,” I said, by way of explanation. “I took it.” I chose not to mention the fact that I’d nearly died of shock at the invitation. The kids in town didn’t mix with those of us who lived in the woods, and I wasn’t generally the kind of girl who drew attention from the male of the species. Any species. “There is a slight chance that the guy in question didn’t want me driving aforementioned ’cycle, but I might have ended up with the keys anyway. I guess I’m faster than he is.”

  “I didn’t train you to move so that you could steal motorcycles,” Callum said sternly.

  No, I wanted to say, you trained me so that I could run away from fights I couldn’t win—the kind where my opponents had fur and claws and very few weaknesses.

  Out loud, I opted for, “I gave the bike back. And Jeff barely even minded.” I did, however, doubt that Jeff would be inviting me to homecoming anytime soon.

  “Are you interested in this boy?” Callum asked, his brow furrowing. Despite the fact that he did a good impression of an overprotective big brother, I’d lived under his rule long enough to realize that his concern wasn’t just for me or my heart.

  “I have no interest in provoking interspecies aggression,” I said, using the politically correct phrase for incidents involving young, stupid werewolves and young, stupid human males. “And, believe me, if I did, it wouldn’t be for a guy who wouldn’t let me drive.”

  I spent enough time resisting testosterone-driven dominance maneuvers in my day-to-day life. The last thing I needed was a human boyfriend who wanted me to play the simpering miss.

  Callum stiffened slightly at the idea of my dating anyone, even in the abstract. Werewolves tend to be very protective of their females, and even though I wasn’t anyone’s actual daughter or sister or—God forbid—mate, Callum had ceremonially dug his claws into me when I was four years old. While that had no effect whatsoever on my humanity, by Pack Law, it made me his. As a result, Callum’s wolves owed me their protection, and as far as they were concerned, that made me theirs, too. If werewolves had been into using “property of” stickers, I would have been mummified in them.

  I just loved the idea of being owned.

  “I don’t like the idea of you on a motorcycle, Bryn. You could get hurt.”

  I didn’t dignify that particular concern with a response.

  “I’m asking you not to do such a thing again, Bryn,” Callum said, choosing his words carefully, making it clear that this was not an order but a request. Lot of good that did me—Callum’s “requests” didn’t leave much room for noncompliance. If I refused to give him my word, there was a good chance that he would turn the request into an order, and as the leader of our pack and one of the highest-ranked dominant wolves on the continent, Callum’s orders were very close to law. Disobeying an official edict from the alpha meant incurring the wrath of the entire pack—some of whom refrained from sending me to my just rewards only because Callum had likewise forbidden them from killing me.

  Framing my orders as requests let Callum keep the pack out of it, and that left him free to deal with me on his own terms, which was sometimes a good thing and sometimes not.

  “Bryn?”

  “Your request has been noted,” I said, my lips twisting inadvertently into an easy grin. “I don’t anticipate there being any motorcycles in my future.”

  I was pushing him again, but I couldn’t help it. You didn’t get to be alpha of the largest pack in North America by winning popularity contests, and Callum was so dominant that the day I stopped pushing back would be the day that I was a member of his pack first and myself second.

  To Callum’s credit and my relief, he didn’t push for a firmer promise—probably because there were still two major items left on his Bryn Agenda.

  “Your algebra grade is lower than it could be. Education is important, and I’d not have you slacking off, sadistic teacher or no.” His voice took on that odd, old-fashioned lilt he sometimes adopted, a mere remnant of the accent he’d had before coming to this country.

  “Right. Algebra.” With the spring semester a month under way, I was getting a solid B-plus, but it could have easily been an A, and Callum had all kinds of lofty ideas about the importance of my living up to my potential. It was impressively modern of him, considering that he predated Women’s Lib by a couple of centuries—at least.

  “Did you tell Ali on me?” I asked. When the pack had adopted me, Callum had Marked a second human as well. Alison Clare had come to Ark Valley in search of her sister, who’d left their human family behind when she’d married into the pack. No one had counted on twenty-one-year-old Ali tracking her sister to Ark Valley and unraveling secrets best kept in the woods. Any other alpha would have killed Ali the moment she saw her brother-in-law Shift. Callum had given her a choice.

  And then once she’d chosen, he’d given her me.

  At present, Ali was thirty-two, 100 percent human, recently married to one of the pack’s males, and my foster mother. Adopted mother. Whatever. Putting a label on Ali’s role in my life was somewhat difficult. I used her last name and had lived in her house for almost as long as I could remember. Despite the fact that she’d been practically a kid herself when Callum had initiated her into our world, Ali was the one who’d hugged and scolded and raised me from a pup (figuratively speaking, of course). Callum was my guardian on paper, but it was Ali who fed and clothed me, Ali who’d set up this studio so that I could have a place that was purely mine, away from the constant pull of the pack, and Ali who would ground me quicker than Callum could say my full name if she thought for a single second that I deserved it.

  “Ali has her own concerns at the moment,” Callum said, and I saw the faint ghost of worry on his otherwise unreadable face. Ali was eight months pregnant with her first child. Werewolf births were notoriously difficult, and many human women didn’t survive.

  Ali’s sister hadn’t.

  I was not willing to consider the possibility that the same thing might happen to Ali. Ali was strong. She’d make it, and the baby would, too, and then he’d outlive her by, oh, say a thousand years.

  Darn werewolves and their ridiculously long life spans.

  “Was that it?” I asked Callum, hoping he’d get the message loud and clear that I wasn’t going to spend a second worrying about Ali, who would be just fine-fine-fine.

  “You on a schedule here, Bryn?”

  I gave an exasperated huff. “No.” I hoped he’d smell the half-lie for what it was. Just before he’d interrupted me, I’d been working on a new piece, and I was anxious to get back to it. Found art was all about the process, and His Royal Highness, the Werewolf King (and Grand Poobah of Pains in the Butt) was seriously disrupting mine.

  “You broke curfew last night,” Callum said sharply. The first two complaints had been mere warm-ups for this one. His features tightened, his brows drawing together in a V.

  “If my curfew wasn’t at dusk, I wouldn’t have to break it.” I felt as strongly about this issue as Callum
did. Nighttime came depressingly early in winter, and I had no intention of being home each day by five.

  “There is unease in the pack, Bronwyn. I would have you safe from it.”

  I was Bronwyn again, a surefire sign that he was dangerously close to issuing either an edict or a threat. Possibly both.

  “If I cannot trust you to be home before nightfall, I will be forced to take further measures to ensure your safety.” Callum’s words were unquestionably set in stone, and the hardness of his tone told me that he meant business. In my experience, Callum’s definition of “further measures” was disturbingly broad and ranged from taking me over his knee (when I was eight) to posting a guard outside my bedroom window. Right now, I wasn’t at all worried about the former, which I’d long outgrown. The latter, however …

  “Until I can be assured of your cooperation in this matter, I’ve assigned a team to keep an eye on you.”

  I scowled at Callum. “You have got to be kidding me.” There was nothing in the world worse than werewolf bodyguards.

  “Bryn, m’dear, you know I never kid.” Callum’s brown eyes sparkled with just a hint of lupine mischief, which told me that (a) he was, in fact, serious about the guards, and (b) my moral outrage amused him, because in his mind, I’d knowingly brought this on myself.

  “You suck,” I grumbled.

  He put two fingers under my chin and held my face so that my eyes met his. “And you are the most disobedient child I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting.” His words were laced with unspoken warmth, an affection that—in his human form, at least—he showed only to me. Still holding my chin, he rubbed his cheek once against mine and then tousled my hair, actions I both hated and loved since they simultaneously marked me as a child and as his.

  “Be home by dusk, Bryn,” he told me, before taking his leave. “Trouble’s afoot.”

  I harrumphed. I was a human who had been quite literally raised by wolves. In my world, trouble was always afoot.

  CHAPTER TWO

  AFTER CALLUM LEFT ME ALONE IN THE STUDIO, I SET about pretending he’d never been there at all. This was my space, and if growing up in the pack had taught me anything, it was the importance of marking your territory. Since I had no compulsion whatsoever toward scent-marking, the best I could manage was refusing to acknowledge the fact that my sanctuary had been violated at all. Turning my discerning gaze to my work in progress, I evaluated the day’s efforts thus far. At present, the sculpture resembled nothing so much as a papier-mâché fire hydrant. I’d meant for it to be an oak tree, but c’est la vie. I was more concerned with my materials than the outcome per se. Chess-club flyers, notes passed in class, failed tests, and midterm papers—this was my medium. I was always happiest elbow-deep in things that other people had thrown away.

 
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