Chapter 1: Homecoming
Katrina Patel was bone tired. The ensuing flight from Cairo, Egypt to Onaway, Michigan had been an exhausting affair. Hours spent confined to a seat had nearly debilitated her senses. She wasn't made to sit still let alone for fifteen hours. She had nearly given into that prickly sensation she experienced whenever she shifted to her other self. The gray wolf lay dormant under her skin only until she released her or on full moon nights once every month.
But she couldn't complain. Every hour that passed by meant that she was getting further away from that nightmare that had stalked her in that Egyptian desert. Those raging yellow eyes that altered to black with lustful glee as a massive paw ripped through her father's trachea and then his larynx so that bloodcurdling scream stopped short.
He knew she was close to witness so he had drawn out her father's death. Even now she could remember him tearing into his belly, dark blood splattering that muzzle all the way to his jaw line beneath the jet back fur. She remembered biting back a whimper as she hid under that burnt 1964 Volkswagen. The charred remains had made her lightheaded, and her eyes glazed over at the Fuji X Pro 1 camera she had gifted her father. It lay six feet from what that black wolf had left of his body.
"You're mine"those eyes had promised.
Katrina shivered uncontrollably, and gripped the handle on her luggage tighter as she rolled it into the waiting area for arriving passengers. She collapsed into the plastic blue seat and plunked her aviators to shield her face. She might have escaped, but the penchant to hide was still ever present. The electronic voice over the loudspeaker dulled considerably as her eyes drooped sleepily. Her heart had been racing too quickly to fall asleep on the flight home. She closed her eyes.
3 years ago.
It was almost 6:34 she noted excitedly. The sun was already drooping beyond the sunset lining the forest trees behind her house. She pulled out her digital camera and clicked, capturing the way the sun's rays glinted, casting yellow bands of light through the autumn leaves. The sunset had been a furious amalgamation of orange and vermilion.
"Brilliant," she whispered as a few more minutes ticked by and the whisper of a full moon gleamed beyond the clouds. Just twenty more minutes and she could capture it in its full glory.
She was about to focus the camera on tint of pink that streaked across the sunset when a basketball wrenched her arm back.
"What the hell, bonehead?" she yelled, swiveling around to catch her brother's brown eyes sparkling with laughter.
"Bonehead? Nice one, Kittycat. Whatcha' doing, twinsie?" he laughed. Katrina made a face at the nickname and threw the basketball back at him, aiming for his gut. Unfortunately, Rayyan Patel was the captain of Eastern Prep's wrestling team and he caught the ball reflexively with one muscled hand. She groaned jealously. She had no such reflexes.
"I am trying to create a flip book for your information," she replied, taking a seat next to him on the porch. He dribbled the basketball low on the asphalt of their driveway as she looked over the photos on her digital screen.
After a moment, he turned to her. "You know, the Cato's are coming back this school year."
Two opposing emotions of excitement and dread congealed in her belly. The billionaire Cato family had left two and a half years ago to travel Europe and finally settle in their native Italy in a sumptuous three-story villa overlooking the Bay of Naxos. She had known this from the Facebook posts lining her newsfeed from Anthony Cato.
The good twin, she noted.
Rich beyond belief, handsome, and a kindly demeanor had him as her unadulterated fantasy from the moment he had helped her walk after breaking her arm in the school playground five years ago. He was her also her brother's best friend.
"So, are you going to the Cato Mansion?" she replied, casually. Her twin brother was many things, but stupid and clueless he was not.
"Why? So you can give Anthony the googly eyes," he smirked, punching her arm lightly. "You know, sister dear, if your charms don't work on Anthony, there's always Bi-"
"Shut up," she groaned, waving a fist at him. She knew she had better luck breaking her arm then making a dent in his face.
The other twin was Bishop Cato, and there was no way in hell she would ever consider him even in her unadulterated fantasies.
"Just send me the wedding invitations when you're through with him. Can't miss my chance to be your maid of honor" he replied, knowingly. His phone buzzed against his thigh and he left, ruffling her black locks goodnaturedly.
He disappeared into the house, leaving her in the dark. Her eyes adjusted slowly back to the trees and a summer breeze crawled over her bare legs. The sun had disappeared beyond the trees and dark shadows cast over the concrete where her driveway and the forest met.
Nearly dropping her camera, she stood up quickly. She had almost forgotten all about the pictures, but it wasn't too late. The full moon shone bright and luminous above her. She lifted the camera eye level to capture it.
A crunching sound interrupted her, stilling her movements. It took her a second to realize that it had come from her. Her spine to be exact.
Another minute passed by and a sharp, blinding pain enveloped. She sunk to her knees immediately, dropping her camera. It clattered on the ground and she tried to reach for it when her entire body shuddered from the pain. It felt as if she had been lit on fire. The muscles in her abs clenched. Reddish brown fur grew over her tan arms and spread to her chest and face. She tried to scream, but a choking sound was all that came out as her face elongated into a snout and her ears traveled to the top of her head, fur spreading along the way. Her memory waned and she forgot her name as she landed on her four legs.
The call to disappear into the forest was strong and she answered, launching off her hind legs. She ran, her muscles lithe and strong gave her the strength to leap over boulders in her way.
Trees blurred past her and a strong odor assaulted her senses. A fog of blue smoke wrapped around a tree and lined a pathway beyond the stream to her left. The trees were decidedly closer in this part of the forest. She didn't like not being able to run freely, but the the blue fog and the smell of honeysuckle that wafted of off it propelled her forward.
She followed it until she reached the edge of a clearing. The periwinkle blue fog had darkened to a midnight blue. She was drowning in it, the smell of honeysuckle stronger than ever.
She almost missed the crunch of leaves and a low growl behind her. She swiveled around and realized that the blue fog led up and surrounded a crouching figure. Too late she realized that it was not some kind of natural phenomena. It was a scent marking another wolf. This one an alpha male judging from muscles that rippled along the brown and white fur. A modern day dire wolf.
In a running leap, it tackled her. She fell back, exposing her belly. The growl that grew in her chest and erupted from her told the male that she wouldn't make things so easy for him. He bared his teeth as if to give her a toothy grin.
The smell was stronger than ever, and he surprised her when his tongue lapped her on the side of her face. A show of affection. All of a sudden the world fell of its hinges and righted itself. A cord of power tied them both.
Mate, it whispered and she felt the truth in every fiber of her being. The other half of her soul was alive and standing before her in all his furry glory. Cerulean blue eyes stared at her like shards of ice. The edges were lined in charcoal black.
I know those eyes...
Katrina broke out of her reverie at the sound of fingers snapping near her ear. She ripped off her sunglasses and met her little brother's glare head on.
"Why so late, Arry?" she asked, reaching forward to ruffle his black hair. They were obsidian loose waves like her own except his hair was cropped above his ear. He smacked her hand away and a streak of pain hit her in the chest.
"Get her stuff, Rayyan's waiting in the car. He said that if you don't get out in five minutes, he's leaving."
He turned and headed for the sliding glass doors leading to the street lined with parked cars and passengers haphazardly shoveling luggage into them.
Katrina sighed and ignored the hurt associated with the diss. Some things never changed.
After she had met her blue-eyed mate, he had turned and bolted away from her, leaving her alone in the clearing. She crouched there waiting for him to come back. Days crawled by but there was never any sign of him again. Her human mind and her wolf mind hadn't melded well those days. She had the vague notion that she had a family to return to, but chasing rabbits and sleeping under tree logs had won out.
Two weeks had passed until she was able to grasp her need to return to her human form.
Her family was in distress. The police had been called. Rangers and a search committee had been wrangled together by her family to find her. At this point, the detectives had assured her mother that the a decomposed body was what they had to be on the lookout for at this time.
They had found her naked, bruised, and with no recollection of where she had been for the past few weeks. At least that's what she told them. The local townspeople were barricading themselves in their homes to hide their daughters and children from a presumed child abductor.
A few weeks later she disappeared again. This time, no one was forgiving.
Everyone thought she was crying out for attention. Even the kids at school gossiped about it.
Her only chance was to leave with her deadbeat father as his photography assistant. Over the past three years they had gone backpacking across Asia and Europe. It was a dream come true for any aspiring photographer but she couldn't forget that hateful look from Rayyan. Her own twin brother. He had given her the silent treatment ever since she crawled through her bedroom window after her second disappearance. The silent treatment was more than anything the worst punishment from her always smiling and overprotective brother. For so long it was the two of them against the rich snobs at Eastern Prep.
Now, a gaping void was left in her heart.
"Home, sweet home," she murmured to herself as she lifted her luggage into her brother's silver Lexus. He sat in the driver's seat with a stony expression. Those eyes never glancing her way even after the three years they had been apart. His smile was only on full display as he joked with their kid brother who was engaged in his latest video game.
Some things never changed.
As she slid into the backseat, a bluish tint fluttered in her periphery.
Looks like some things were about to.