Nightshade Page 28

“It’s more complicated than that.” I drew my knees up to my chest, anchoring myself to the earth. “The only reason that Ren and I, or any of the young wolves, were born was to form the new pack. It’s what the Keepers brought us into the world for. They made matches for our parents, just like they’ve paired us as they see fit. Our union is a legacy of the alliance between Keepers and Guardians.”

He was on his feet. “Are you even dating Ren?”

“That’s not how it works.” I stood up. “You don’t understand. We’re not supposed to . . . come together until the union.”

“The union?” He turned away, muttering and shaking his head. When he faced me again, his lips thinned. “Are you trying to tell me you’re getting married? To that jackass? When?”

“At the end of October.” I put my hands on my hips. “And he’s not a jackass.”

“Could’ve fooled me. How old are you?” He peered at me. “Eighteen?”


He lurched forward, grasping my shoulders. “That is insane, Calla. Please tell me you’re not just going along with it. Don’t you care?”

I knew I should shake him off, but his eyes were so bright with concern that I remained still.

“I care. But it isn’t my decision.” I couldn’t pull my gaze from his. “I serve the Keepers as all Guardians always have and always will.”

“Of course it’s your decision.” His face filled with pity, and I was suddenly furious.

I shoved him away. He lost his footing and fell to the ground.

“You know nothing about my world.” I spat the words.

He jumped to his feet with surprising agility. “I may not, but I do know that telling people who they can and cannot love is absurd.” Despite my hostility, he walked toward me and took my hand. “And cruel. You deserve more.”

My fingers trembled in his grasp; unwelcome searing liquid pooled in the corners of my eyes. Tears streamed down my face, blinding me. Why is he still touching me? Doesn’t he understand? I ripped my hand from his and stumbled backward.

“You have no idea what you’re saying.” I wiped my eyes, but the salty torrent wouldn’t stop.

“Don’t cry, Calla.” He was close again, touching my face, brushing away my tears. “You don’t have to do this. I don’t care who these Keepers are. No one can have that much control over your life. It’s crazy.”

I glared at him, flashing sharp fangs.

“Listen to me, Shay.” My words lashed out. “You are a fool. You know nothing. You understand nothing. Stay away from me.”

“Calla!” He reached for me, only jumping back when I shifted forms and snapped at his fingers. I could still hear him calling my name as I escaped into the forest shadows.


DARKNESS ENVELOPED THE SKY BY THE time I wearily pushed open my front door. Tranquil piano nocturnes lilted through the house, the sound track of my parents’ ritual on nights they didn’t patrol the mountain. Chopin in the air, a glass of wine in my mother’s hand or a tumbler of whiskey in my father’s. Tonight my father would be nestled in his leather chair while my mother roamed the forests near Haldis.

My shoulders slumped as I climbed the stairs, feeling like a heavyweight’s punching bag. All I wanted was to take a hot bath, to go to sleep, and to not wake up. Ever.

When I reached the top step, a strange series of bumps and shuffles came from behind Ansel’s closed door. I paused outside my brother’s bedroom and raised my hand to knock, but the door flew open.

“Hey, Calla!” Bryn emerged from Ansel’s room, flushed. Her eyes met mine for the briefest moment. When she looked away, the muscles in her jaw jumped about in a furious dance.

“You’re still here?” I swiftly did the math in my head. I’d left Bryn sitting at the kitchen table almost twelve hours earlier.

Her gaze darted along the hall. “Um. Yeah. Uh. I was . . . you know . . . helping Ansel with his poetry homework.” She tapped her fingers on her hips and didn’t raise her eyes to meet mine.

“Right.” I peered at her. “I guess he’s really fallen behind?”

A smile poked at the corners of her lips. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

“Thanks for the help, Bryn!” Ansel called from within his bedroom.

“See you tomorrow, Cal.” She flew down the stairs.

I followed her rapid exit with narrowed eyes before heading into my brother’s room. Ansel lounged on the bed. He flipped over the pages of an English literature anthology with nonchalant sweeps of his fingers.

“How was patrol?” He continued his non-reading of the pages in front of him.

“Fine.” I settled on the corner of his bed. “And how was your day?”

“Fantastic,” he purred.

“And why is that, baby brother?” I asked, propping my chin in my hands.

He sat up, squared his shoulders, and shoved the book so hard that it careened off the bed onto the floor.

“Isn’t that your homework?” I pointed at the discarded anthology. He ignored my outstretched finger.

“I need to talk to you,” he announced, straightening even further.

“You do?” I rolled onto my side. “What is it?”

He continued to stare at me, eyes unblinking. “It’s about me and Bryn.”

“Yeah?” I raised an eyebrow at him and plucked at the coverlet.

A frustrated expression flitted over his face. “I mean, me and Bryn.”

Oh dear. I’d been expecting this for some time. Poor Ansel. “That’s what you just said. What about you two?”

“Come on, Cal,” he said. “Are you gonna make me spell it out for you?”

“Obviously I am,” I said, knowing what he was going to say and yet hoping it wasn’t true . . . for all our sakes.

A rosy flush moved up his neck. He coughed. “I mean, haven’t you noticed how I—?”

He shook his head and punched a pillow so hard its seams burst. Goose feathers floated in the air between us.

I sat up. “Tell me what’s going on.”

He moved his head up and down as though he was rehearsing a speech in his mind.

“I want to be with her.” He drew a sharp breath and plunged on. “When the new pack forms, I want Bryn to be my mate.”

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