Chapter 1

I look out over the river coursing by me and sigh sadly. The Canadian geese and their fuzzy babies glide by as the sun sets in the distance, a bright orange glow on the horizon. Hidden as I am underneath a willow tree I can see the beautiful landscape before me safely.

I turn sixteen years old in less than a week and instead of being thrilled at such a momentous time in my life I am depressed. My dad lost his job at the dairy farm where he works and has spent the last two days drinking nonstop as a result. I am old enough to get a job in town to help out but life at home has become unbearable.

I go over in my mind my dream from last night of the stranger that has haunted me in my sleep since I can remember. He has curly short dark hair, hazel eyes, patrician nose, and a well-trimmed beard. I cannot tell how tall he is from my visions, but he just feels as if he is at least six foot tall. He is muscular with wide shoulders and a narrow waist and looks to be around his late thirties or early forties somewhere.

I have always had dreams that come true and over time I have learned to trust them to be fact. I have saved the life of students I go to school with as well as my father. I learned from a very young age not to share my dreams with others because they do not seem to have the same ability that I do and they usually find it hard to believe.

I get the distinct feeling that the man I dream of is somehow tied to my dead mother, but I cannot tell how. I have a sketchpad that is full of drawings of him, but no name to put with the face.

Last night was the first time in any of my visions of him that I got a hint as to who he is or where to find him. I saw a sign that said Crescentwood Manor. I have done some internet searching at school today and found one property in Washington State that has that name and it is located outside a town called Black Hollow.

I have a month of school left for this year before summer vacation and I plan on going down to the local IGA grocery store to see if I can get a full time cashier job.

With a sigh of resignation, I get to my feet and slowly leave my place of peaceful solitude and make my way home to make dinner. The house is quiet when I enter and I see that my dad has gone somewhere, thankfully. I quickly whip up a batch of spaghetti and leave it on the stove for him to eat when he finally comes home. I look around the place that has been my home for the last fifteen plus years with a grimace of shame. There are holes in the walls from my dad’s many temper tantrums and the carpet is worn nearly bare in spots. The walls needed a good painting at least ten years ago and our furniture should have been thrown away before I was born. My bedroom is the cleanest and best kept room in the house because I spend what little bit of money I come into to brighten it.

I take the time to soak in the bathtub since my dad is most likely drinking down at one of the local taverns until closing time and won’t be home to bother me. Gazing at myself in the mirror I grimace as I wish with all of my heart that I looked like the other girls at school. I have waist length black ringlet curls with violet eyes and porcelain skin that doesn’t tan or burn. I really wish I had blonde hair and a tan with blue eyes like most of the other girls. I only stand at four feet ten inches tall and am by far the smallest girl in high school.

I am fast asleep when I am woken up by my father stumbling into the house in the middle of the night. He yanks me out of bed by my hair and pulls me into the kitchen.

“Look at all of this food that you let go to waste!” He screams as he backhands me across the face. “I wasn’t home for dinner and you should have put this in the fridge so it didn’t spoil. I am not working right now and can’t afford this!”

Sobbing at the fire radiating through my cheekbones I curl into a fetal position on the floor as he kicks me mercilessly. Finally, he gets tired and shuffles off to bed leaving me alone. I limp into my room and fall into bed hoping my bruises will heal before I have to go to school in the morning.

Morning comes too soon and when I climb from my bed I realize that I am much more than bruised from my beating last night. My ribs hurt and it is excruciating to draw any more than a tiny breath. When I look in the mirror I see that my bruises are healing but they are still an ugly yellowish-green color across my cheekbones.

For some strange reason I heal much quicker than others and normally the bruises I sustain from one of my father’s beatings are gone by the next day. Unfortunately, he came home from the tavern well after closing so this beating took place just a couple hours ago.

I leave my hair loose today and part it to the side so that my long curls will fall over my face and hopefully hide most of my bruises. Unaccustomed to the pain that I am feeling I try really hard not to limp once I am inside the school but the pain in my ribs and hips is just too much to bear.

Walking into my first hour AP Chemistry class I make my way to the back of the classroom to my desk and sit quietly. To my dismay we have a different teacher today. It seems that our normal teacher was in a car accident and won’t return until next year.

The new teacher, a Miss Danvers, seems to have noticed something unusual about me because I can see her gazing at me all hour.

“Miss Mazzariello, can you stay after class please?” She asks me as I try to slip from the room after the bell. I groan with frustration as I anxiously hang back until all of my classmates have left the room. She closes the door and turns to me with sympathy evident in her green eyes. She is a pretty lady with long blonde hair and a trim build. She looks like she just graduated with her teaching degree probably last year.

“Will you tell me how you received those bruises?” She asks me in a soft tone.

“I fell.” I reply as I drop my gaze to the floor and allow my hair to cover my face.

“I can help you if you will only let me Nikolette.” She whispers sincerely.

“There is nothing to help.” I retort crisply. “I fell down the stairs, I’m fine. May I go now?”

“Yes.” She replies in a sad voice as I hurry from the room so as to not be late for my next class.

I can feel the rage building because I have lived my whole life with this problem and the only people willing to even ask me if I am alright are the new teachers who come here from out of town. Everhill, Wisconsin is a tiny town of just over a thousand people and I am positive everyone knows that my father beats me at least weekly.

Lucky for me my sixteenth birthday falls on a Saturday and since I have no friends I get to spend it alone. My father is hungover from the night before and as soon as he feels better he heads for his local hangout to drink tonight away as well.

I walk down to the river and sit under my willow tree and watch the sunset. It is peaceful with only the sounds of nature and the water gurgling as it works its way past me. The full moon rises and for some reason I am absolutely captivated by it. Lying down on my back I relax and just stare at the bright expanse of the moon above me.

Suddenly, my hands and feet start to feel as if they are going to split apart. The agonizing sensation spreads to my arms and legs and then my torso as it feels as if my body is contorting itself into a completely new form. Screaming through the pain as I hear my bones snapping and cracking I can actually feel my body shifting into something foreign. The torment seems to continue on forever until just as suddenly as it started the pain is gone. As I look around me I notice that I am seeing things in a completely new way. Gone is all of the color I am accustomed to seeing with yet everything seems sharper somehow. When I look down at myself I see that I have hairy dog legs and can feel panic building. Stepping up to the water’s edge I gaze down at my reflection and see a wolf looking back at me, a small black wolf.

Stamping down the panic that is flowing through me I force myself to stare down at the wolf gazing back at me from the water’s reflection. I lift my left hand and splash at the water and the wolf in the reflection does the same thing. Moving my head to the left and then to the right I see the wolf make all of the same moves as me. Is that really me?

I close my eyes, draw in a deep breath and am amazed at the plethora of scents that invade my brain. I can smell a whitetail doe off in the distance, a male fox sniffing around for a female’s den, and an owl flying low to the ground to snatch a chipmunk off of the ground.

A hunger such as I have never felt overwhelms me and draws me away from the water and towards the doe that is off in the distance. Giving my instincts free reign I run silently through the trees following the doe’s scent with my now sensitive nose to where she is grazing in a small meadow. My mouth salivates as I watch her munch on the green succulent grass, unaware that a predator is watching her, upwind where her sense of smell cannot smell me.

I attempt to stalk into the meadow so that I may kill her and satisfy this hunger that is driving me crazy but I step on a twig that snaps, drawing her attention. Her head flies up and upon seeing me drawing close to her she turns tail and flees into the trees. Howling with frustration I race off into the trees after her but am unable to catch her.

I slowly meander my way back to my willow tree so that I can lie down to just rest for a moment and when I next open my eyes the sun is coming up. When I look down at myself I see that I am again in my human form. Did I dream last night?

Looking around for my clothes I see that they are shredded, no doubt from my transformation, and I push away the panic that tries to overwhelm me again. I use the tatters of my clothes to cover myself as best I can and make my way back through the trees to the back edge of our property and pray that my dad is still sleeping.

I push open the front door as quietly as I can and grimace as I hear the telltale squeak of the hinges. Closing the door behind me I try to tiptoe to my bedroom so as not to be noticed.

“Where have you been?” Dad asks in an icy tone from the living room.

“I fell asleep by the river.” I tell him as honestly as I can.

“You expect me to believe that when your clothes are apparently destroyed?” He thunders as he rushes across the room towards me. “Your whore of a mother shows up on my doorstep sixteen years ago begging for my help because some whack job was trying to kill her and like a fool I married her and raised you as my own daughter. Now you walk into my house naked as a whore, just like your mother, and expect me to clean up your mess.”

He raises his arm and backhands me to the floor as he stands over me threateningly. Grabbing me by my hair he pulls me to my feet and starts to punch me in the stomach repeatedly while I just hang there helplessly. I suddenly feel the same contorting pain that overwhelmed me last night right before I shifted into a wolf. I manage to rip out of his grip and run to my room where I lock my door against him. No sooner is the door locked than I am on the floor writhing in agony as I once again shift into my wolf. The man I thought of as my father, Thomas, breaks through the door in a rage.

“I’m going to kill you, you little bitch.” He thunders before coming to a stunned halt as he stares down at my wolf. I can smell the rage coming off of him in waves and know for certain by the way he smells that he really does mean to kill me. Before I can stop myself the wolf in me leaps for his throat and rips it out before I can react.

My humanity just seems to shut off and my wolf takes over for me. I can feel myself drag his body out into the woods where my claws dig a deep enough hole to bury him in. Once that is taken care of I make my way back to the house where I crawl under my bed and whimper until I shift back into my human form.

I lie there and cry at all of the horrible things that he told me until the realization hits that I need to leave. Even though it was my wolf that killed him and no one can blame me for his death I know that I need to disappear.

I take a shower, dress, pack and raid his money stash before grabbing his truck keys on the table by the door. If I don’t buy anything to eat and only use the money I have for gasoline I may make it to Washington by driving myself.

I head out and take the interstate west praying that I will not be pulled over by a cop because I only have my learners permit from school. It is just over 1800 miles to Washington state to Crescentwood Manor so it will take me about 31 hours of straight driving to get there.

Thankfully, the drive all the way into Washington state is uneventful. Unfortunately, it seems as if I won’t have enough money to be able to drive all the way into Black Hollow where Crescentwood Manor is so I drive into a heavily forested area of state land to dump the truck and happen across a cliff where I can coast the vehicle over into a lake down below. Just to be safe I wipe the truck down of all of my fingerprints before I allow it to go over the edge.

I hope it is years before the truck is found as I watch it sink into the watery depths down below.

Heading off on foot I make my way through the woods knowing that I should end up on the edge of Crescentwood Manor by tomorrow night sometime.

Exhausted, I find huge oak tree that has the perfect branches for me to sleep on where I will be up off the ground but will be safe from falling off.

The morning sun peeking through the branches wakes me at dawn and I climb down to continue on my way. The day passes quietly and by nightfall I come upon a stone fence that I follow until I find a gate with an intercom. The words Crescentwood Manor are scrolled through the iron gate. I made it!

I push the button on the intercom and seconds later a deep voice answers my summons.

“May I help you?”

“I know this may sound strange, but I am looking for someone and all I have is a picture.” I state into the intercom nervously. “The only thing I know is that Crescentwood Manor is somehow tied to him.”

“I will send someone to the gate.” The deep voice answers me politely.

I look through the gate and down the long driveway but see nothing but trees. Sighing with exhaustion and anxiety I wait patiently for someone to come and look at my drawing of the man who I have had visions of since I was just a little girl.

Soon a very large guy with dark hair strides down the driveway towards me. He looks to be at least six and a half feet tall with very large muscles. His hair is black and is combed back to curl slightly at the nape of his neck. His eyes look to be a dark brown under heavy brows. His nose is a proud example of a roman profile; his lips are full surrounded by a trimmed goatee. As he gets closer I see that he only appears to be maybe eighteen or nineteen years old.

The gate opens at his approach and he gives me a curious look as he gets within a couple feet. I hold out my sketch pad and show him one of the many pictures I have of my dream guy and his eyebrows raise in surprise.

“Why are you looking for him?” He asks me bluntly with no friendly overtures. “You don’t even know his name.”

“I think he knew my mother, Seraphyne d’Amboise.” I share with him honestly.

His expression doesn’t change as he answers his cellphone which suddenly rings.

“I understand.” He replies before hanging up. “The man you are looking for is inside and wishes to speak with you.”

I follow along behind him down the long driveway towards the impressive stone structure situated at the end. The house looks like a typical English Manor that some noble lord probably used as a hunting lodge back in medieval days. It is partially covered with creeping ivy and has at least twenty-five stairs just leading up to the front doors.

I feel way out of my element as I follow the gorgeous guy into the beautiful house. He leads me into a library that has floor to ceiling bookshelves all lined with ancient looking texts. So impressed am I with all of the books that I fail to notice the two other men that are looking me over with shock on their faces. So many books! Hearing someone clear their throat I am instantly pulled back to the present and meet the eyes of the man that I have been dreaming of my whole life.

“You really are real!” I exclaim with surprised wonder as I step up to him and raise my hand to touch his face to see if all of this is actually reality.

He chuckles and allows me to touch his cheek gently.

“You look exactly like your mother.” He states in a hoarse voice. I smile in response.

“I wish I could have met her.” I reply equally hoarse.

“Proper introductions are in order.” He says. “My name is Greyson McElwain. The man who met you at the gate is Lyrik Trantham and this is his older brother Lucien.”

He gestures for me to sit on the sofa directly behind me.

“My name is Nikolette Mazzariello.” I answer as I take my seat and smile at them each politely. They each take seats across from me as they smile in response.

“How old are you Nikolette?” Greyson asks curiously.

“I turned sixteen two days ago.” I tell him softly as I remember the morning after my birthday when I killed Thomas. Tears trickle down my cheeks at the overwhelming emotion rushing through me.

“Do you know who I am Sweetheart?” He asks me gently.

“You’re my father aren’t you?” I ask in a tiny voice.

“Yes.” He responds as he crosses the room to sit next to me and grab my hand. “What happened to your mother?”

“She died after giving birth to me.” I recite. “I have been living with someone I thought was my father until yesterday.”

“How did you know about me then?” He asks.

“I have dreamed about you ever since I can remember.” I share honestly. “I have visions that come true.” I whisper the latter uncertain how he will take it.

“You shifted for the first time on your birthday, didn’t you?” He questions me tenderly. I nod my answer without speaking.

“What happened after you shifted that made you come looking for me now instead of long ago?” He continues softly.

“I didn’t know what was going on when I changed into a wolf. It took me a little bit to accept what was going on and the next morning when I woke as a human again I went home, but Thomas was awake and waiting for me.” I explain. “He accused me of being a whore like my mother. He said he wouldn’t clean up my mess like he had for my mother by raising a child that wasn’t his. He was going to kill me. I could smell it. I could feel myself changing back into my wolf so I ran into my bedroom and locked the door but he got in anyway. Before I could control my wolf he was dead on the floor with his throat ripped out.”

I see the three of them exchange worried glances across the room at my statement.

“You ran here to see if you could find me.” He says matter-of-factly. I nod and drop my gaze to the floor, shame engulfing me.

“Your wolf protected you.” He tells me. “You have nothing to be ashamed of Nikolette.”

“What happens now?” I ask nervously.

“Your home is here.” Lucien says. “You are part of our pack. Help me prepare something to eat Lyrik.”

Lucien and Lyrik leave the room and I am alone with my biological father.

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