Peter smirked over his shoulder as he felt Chris behind him struggle with the cuffs binding them together. He leaned back in his chair and twisted his head so his breath ghosted over Chris’ ear. “Well, this is ironic.”
Chris grunted. He twisted his wrist, causing Peter’s hands to jerk. The two of them were handcuffed back to back in the middle of a forgotten factory. They had been in the woods hunting for an omega when a group of hunters had taken them by surprise. One of them had knocked Peter out with a taser set to a high enough voltage to kill a human. Peter had not seen what happened to Chris, but gauging by the trickle of blood behind Chris’ ear, Peter had a decent guess as to what had happened.
When Peter had become conscious again it was to find himself hooked up to a machine that pumped electricity through him. His body thrummed from the volts, but it wasn’t enough to diminish his supernatural strength entirely.
The hunters had still been present when he’d awoken, so he feigned unconsciousness until they left. Chris had done the same.
There was a series of clicks as Chris picked at the cuffs’ lock. “You could help.”
“I don’t want to hurt your masculinity.” Peter brushed his lips across Chris’ neck, enjoying the feel of Chris’ pulse against his mouth. The pulse had hastened since their capture but had maintained a steady beat. Years of hunting the supernatural had made Chris hard to rile. It was why Peter enjoyed the delicious shudder that wracked Chris as Peter teased him.
“I much rather not be stuck here when the others come back.” Chris turned his head, accidently touching his cheek against Peter’s.
Smugness filled Peter. “How about this: You work on breaking the cuffs, and if you do it in two minutes, I’ll let you use them on me later?”
Peter heard Chris’ teeth grit together. “Now is not the time.”
Peter hummed innocently. “I’m just trying to motivate you.” He finally pressed his mouth under Chris’ ear and lapped at the thin trail of blood flowing from Chris’ head wound.
Chris bumped his shoulder roughly against Peter’s. “Not now.”
Peter drew his mouth back and huffed. His wrist baring his soul mark itched in irritation. Scientifically speaking, it was impossible for his mark to react to his annoyance with Chris, but it had happened enough times throughout their relationship that Peter doubted the scientists knew what they were talking about.
“A little fun never hurt anyone,” Peter said.
There was a loud click, and the cuffs holding Chris slid to the ground with a clang. Chris swung out of his chair and kneeled next to Peter. With his hands free, it only took seconds for him to undo Peter’s cuffs. With a clank the cuffs fell off. Peter took his time standing.
Chris on the other hand was on his feet, and scanning the room for his weapons. He glanced at Peter then reached for his soul mate’s arm to haul Peter up.
“It’s almost like our first capture when we were teenagers. Well, I was a teenager. You were a poor college student who spent too much of his time looking for wolves rather than studying. What a waste of money and education.”
Chris tugged on Peter’s arm and headed for the door. His free hand rested over his hip right where his pistol should be, and his fingers twitched. No doubt, Chris felt naked without his weapon of choice.
Peter could see Chris calculating the benefit of searching for the weapon, and leaving right then and weaponless. Without knowing where the hunters had hidden the pistol, they might not find it and there was no guarantee that the gun was even in the factory. However, if he and Peter ran into the hunters during their escape, Chris would only have his hands to defend himself with.
A low growl built up in Peter’s throat, but he held it at bay. Instead, he reached up and clamped a hand on the back of Chris’ neck. Chris jolted in surprise, but relaxed. He nodded in silent understanding.
Peter slipped his hand off Chris’ neck and took the lead. He could handle a few bullets.
The shrill sound of the lunch bell sent students launching out of their seats and racing through the door. Stiles sighed and rolled his eyes as his best friend Scott joined the masses in their hurry to escape the confines of Economics and Coach Finstocks’ rant about Wednesday’s lacrosse game.
Normally, Stiles would be right with Scott running out the door, but knowing what was waiting for him in the cafeteria made him take his time collecting his things and getting out of his chair. Every lunch period for the last few weeks consisted of Scott running to the cafeteria, into the arms of his soul mate, and then making out like they were about to die if they didn’t.
“Bilinski, hurry it up,” Coach hollered and clapped his hands. “These are my forty-five minutes of peace from you hormonally charged, ungrateful brats, and I don’t want to waste one minute of it looking at your pasty face.”
“Thanks, Coach,” Sarcasm coated Stiles’ voice. He slung his bag over his shoulder and dragged himself out of the room. He meandered his way to his locker and took his time reorganizing his books and papers. He looked at his cell phone to see ten minutes had passed when he finished. He smiled to himself and headed toward the cafeteria.
His eyes drifted to his usual table. Scott cuddled with his soul mate Kira, his arm wrapped tightly around her as they chatted and laughed. Kira rested her head on Scott’s shoulder and Scott lit up like the sun.
Two trays of food sat in front of them, but only one looked to have been eaten off of.
Stiles grinned at the extra large pile of curly fries on the untouched tray, and took his seat across from them. “For me? You should have.” He snatched up a fry and practically inhaled it. He hummed in delight at its salty flavor.
“Hi Stiles,” Kira greeted. She smiled, but it was tainted by uncertainty. Kira and Scott had only found each other three weeks ago, and she was still worried about making a good impression with Stiles. It had gotten worse since they went bowling and Stiles had left early because the two wouldn’t stop making out. Kira and Scott had apologized for the incident, but Kira still acted guilty every time she was with Scott and Stiles. Because of that, Stiles made the extra effort to smile at her.
“How was the rope climb?” He asked.
Kira groaned and went on a tangent about her P.E. class.
Content to listen to Kira talk, Stiles ate his fries as he listened. He tried not to laugh at the way Scott kept sneaking enamored glances at Kira. Scott was so whipped, the guy was lucky that Kira was so sweet that she probably would rarely, if ever, use that fact to her advantage.
“By the way, what do you want for your birthday?” Kira asked.
Stiles paused in the middle of biting on a curly fry. “What?” The fry almost fell out of his mouth, but Stiles caught it and swallowed the tasty morsel. “When did—”
“Are you having party?” Scott interrupted.
“Wait? Hold up!” Stiles flailed his arms about. “Since when do you know when my birthday is?” Stiles pointed at Kira.
Scott rolled his eyes. “I told her.” He leaned in and whisper conspiratorially to Stiles. “Kira wanted to go out that night, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted to do something or not. Especially since it’s the big one.”
“The big one” was Stiles eighteenth birthday. Not only would he be an adult, but his soul mark would finally appear somewhere on his body. Everybody got their mark when they turned eighteen—science was still trying to find out that convenient fact of life.
Stiles pursed his lips and mulled over Scott and Kira’s questions. He glanced at the double band with a paw mark above on Scott’s bicep. Kira had a matching mark in the same place on her arm, but it was concealed by her top at that moment. Stiles mindlessly prodded his bicep, thinking about the mark that would soon appear. A part of him hoped the mark wouldn’t show up on his ass or dick, but a more humorous part of him thought it would be hilarious.
“A party would be a good way to find your soul mate,” Kira pointed out.
Stiles snorted. “Yeah, if the person even goes to our school.”
“We could invite kids from other schools,” Scott suggested.
“Come on guys, I know you’re both hopeless romantics, but who finds a soul mate on their eighteenth birthday?”
“Lydia,” they both supplied.
“But Jackson didn’t.” Stiles smirked, enjoying being a smartass. That was the problem with soul marks, because they only showed up when a person turns eighteen two soul mates could spend their entire lives living across the street from one another but they wouldn’t know until the younger one came of age. By then the older one could be across the country at college or touring the world.
Heck, two soul mates could spend years loathing each other only to learn they were meant to be together.
It wasn’t that Stiles wasn’t a romantic. Truthfully, he very much was. He’d seen how in love his parents were and had heard all of the stories about how their relationship had started off rocky and then bloomed into a love so strong it had wrecked John when Claudia died. Stiles wanted to love that strongly, and until a couple of months ago he thought he would. From the moment Stiles had seen Lydia Martin he had been mesmerized. There was no doubt in his mind that they were meant to be, even when she started dating Jackson. He could feel it in his bones that she belonged with him.
Lydia’s birthday had been quite the rude awakening.
“Stiles,” Scott sang to get his attention as he waved his hand in front of Stiles’ face. “You in there, buddy?
Stiles batted Scott’s hand away with a grin. “Have you seen the Star Wars movies yet?”
Scott blanched. “No, but…”
Stile picked up a fry and pointed it at Scott’s chest. “That’s what I want for my birthday. You, Kira, and me watching the original trilogy at my house. Be happy I am merciful enough not to make you watch the prequels.”
Scott groaned and laid his head down on the tabletop.
Kira patted his back and smiled. “The Ewoks are really cute, Scott.”
Scott groaned again.
“That could have gone better.” Peter closed the front door behind him as Chris marched into the kitchen to grab an ice pack and the first aid kit that was hidden under the sink. “You really should talk to your friends about hunting us.”
Chris ignored him in favor of yanking open the freezer and pulling out the ice pack for his head. He was mindful of the cut, and kept the pack away from it. He slammed the freezer shut then squatted in front of the sink to pull out the kit. “They aren’t any friends of mine.
Chris settled on one of the wooden chairs at the kitchen table and flipped open the kit. He tossed the ice pack aside for the moment as he dug through the kit for disinfectant and bandages. “They should have contacted me, though, before hunting on our land.”
Peter scoffed, yanking a paper towel off its roll perched on the counter. He folded the sheet up and passed it to Chris. It was cute that Chris still liked to think most hunters would inform him of their presence even after all these years of being a social pariah in the hunting community. After all, hunters don’t run off with werewolves unless it’s to kill them in some backwatered shed in the middle of nowhere.
Peter folded the sheet and handed it to Chris, who was removing the cap from the bottle of disinfectant. He poured a generous amount of the liquid onto the towel.
Peter wrinkled his nose as the strong scent assailed his nostrils and stung his eyes.
He watched as Chris wiped at his laceration, hissing in pain as the alcohol cleansed the wound of any diseases.
Peter rubbed his soul mark—a silver triskelion with small patches missing from the three silver branches. Peter had always found the mark a little too on the nose for his tastes. The silver hue obviously represented Chris, what with his familial name meaning silver, and the triskelion was Peter’s family’s symbol.
“Something wrong?” Chris asked as he taped the bandage to the back of his head.
Peter let out a haughty breath. “An omega and a band of hunters in my territory, and a mate who is too preoccupied with it all and his mundane job to enjoy the physical things in life? Really, I can’t think of anything better, Chris, except to invite our families over and see whose survives.”
The corner of Chris’ mouth twitched as he stood, taking the ice pack with him. He glanced at the clock on the microwave and shook his head. “We can take care of at least one of those things later. I need to keep up appearances for now.”
Peter crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the counter’s edge. “Ah, that silly job.”
“That silly job is what’s paying for this house.”
“It’s not the only thing, though,” Peter remarked with an air of arrogance. Peter was a collector of sorts, and he had collected many things of the years. Many things that were not legal to have and if seen by a human would convince them that Peter was a serial killer.
If it weren’t for Peter’s heightened eyesight he would have missed the slight muscle twinge in Chris’ cheek that revealed his distaste for Peter’s line of work. It had always been a source of debate between them, but Peter refused to “get a real job” as Chris put it, or be a “sniveling housewife” as Peter phrased it.
Chris walked past Peter, and Peter contemplated seizing the man by the belt and dragging him back for heady kiss. He feigned disinterest by examining his nails. From the corner of his eye, though, he watched as Chris left.
Peter hummed in thought when just before Chris reached the door, the older man scratched at his soul mark.
“Happy Birthday!” Scott shouted.
Stiles eyes flew open just in time to see Scott leap onto his bed with a bucket and dunk Stiles in freezing cold water.
“Shit!” Stiles sat up and hugged himself. His frickin’ nipples had pebbled and he’d gone two shades paler—that’s how damn cold the water was.
Scott laughed and bounced on the bed as he hurled the bucket aside. He hopped off the mattress and ran out of the room.
“Scott!” Stile flung his blankets off himself and dashed out of his bedroom, hot on the heels of Scott. Their steps thundered down the stairs, and Scott swung himself off the stairs and towards the kitchen where the scent of bacon wafted from. Stiles clamped his teeth down on his bottom lip and picked up the pace. Scott was just on the threshold of the kitchen when Stiles jumped him from behind.
The two fell into a pile of limbs and wrestled on the linoleum floor until John in his sheriff uniform cleared his throat.
“You two break anything and it comes out of your pockets. That includes medical bills.”
Scott and Stiles rolled apart. Scott grinned and roamed his gaze over Stiles’ body. “So does it show yet?”
It took a moment for Stiles’ brain to catch up with Scott’s question. When it did, Stiles’ heart leaped to his throat. He roved his hand over his chest as if he would feel the mark’s presence despite the fact that it would be the same texture as any other part of his body.
Scott scooted closer. He griped Stiles shoulder as he searched Stiles’ back for signs of a mark. Stiles was inspecting his left Gastrocnemius muscle when he noticed a few faint splotches on his right wrist. He raised his wrist to his face, scrutinizing the discoloration. It would be impossible to see them without proper lighting. The splotches were a light gray that almost blended into his skin.
John huffed affectionately at the two boy’s actions. Grabbing a spatula, John scooped out a few pieces of bacon and deposited them onto a plate.
Stiles thrust his wrist at Scott while scowling at his dad. “That better be turkey bacon.”
“It’s your birthday,” John said in a no nonsense tone.
“Yeah, so grant my wish and live to a hundred.”
John plucked up the plate and carried it over to the table seated for three. Eggs, toast, oatmeal, and box of doughnuts covered the tabletop, and Stiles’ mouth watered in anticipation. His dad was right. It was his birthday. As long as Stiles’ made sure he didn’t have anything else unhealthy for the next few weeks his dad should be fine.
Scott traced his finger over the faint bits of Stiles’ mark. “What do you think it will look like?”
“A rainbow with flowers.”
Stiles whapped Scott on the back of the head mockingly then hurried to the table so he could get to most of the bacon before his dad could. It was the breakfast of kings with flavors ranging from salty to sweet to slightly charred, and it was delicious. Stiles ate so much he swore he knew what it felt like to be pregnant. He could barely find the strength afterwards to plop himself on the couch, shoving away his dad’s case files so Scott could join him.
Scott plopped half on top of him. He too was a victim of his food consumption.
Stiles halfheartedly pushed Scott away. At some point Stile found the strength to stretch across the gap between couch and coffee table to pick up the remote and turn on the TV to cartoons. The combination of cartoons, his best friend’s presence, and the clatter of dishes as John cleaned up after their meal put Stiles at ease. He sank into the cushions and picked at his mark. A few of the splotches looked like the beginnings of lines now, but they were still so faint it was hard to tell.
As the cartoon was wrapping up, John stepped in front of the TV, dressed for patrol. “I’ll be back by nine.”
John leveled Scott and Stiles with a warning look. “Also, do Melissa and me a favor and stay out the woods. We’ve got animal attacks and it seems like someone has decided to take matters into their own hands.”
Stiles’ interest perked, and he sat up. “Are we talking about a Batman level vigilante or a drunk dumbass who doesn’t know what their doing vigilante?”
John shook his head. “All you need to know is someone is out there hunting. I do not want to come home to you with a bullet hole somewhere on you, do you understand?”
“Yes, sir!” Stiles and Scott saluted in unison.
John shook his head at their antics and left.
An hour later, Scott shoved Stiles off the couch and told him to get dressed before Kira arrived. Stiles muttered a few insincere grumbles and went upstairs where he proceeded to get distract by his mark as he got dressed. He’d just gotten his undershirt on when he plopped down in his swivel chair and booted up his computer.
He did a search on soul marks. Most of the articles he found were basic in their information, so he retyped in his keywords for the search engine. There were blogs dedicated to stories about soul mates meeting for the first time, usually decked out with flowers, hearts, and all the other love icons. Stiles sifted through the blog links until he found stories about soul mates gone wrong. There were articles about a serial killer and an FBI agent being soul mates that used the agent’s resources to aid the killer in murder and escape. There were stories about a soul mate being too controlling and possessive of their partner. There were even a few in which the family and soul mate of a coma patient fought for years about whether or not to keep the person on life support.
A tap on the shoulder drew Stiles out of his research mode. He blinked and looked up to see Scott and Kira standing over him. A small smile played on Kira’s lips as she handed him a small, wrapped package. “Happy Birthday, Stiles. I hope the gift is okay.”
Stiles shredded the paper and opened the box. Inside the box was a Yoda figurine that could fit in the palm of his hand. He immediately took it out and placed Yoda on his desk. He beamed. “It’s awesome!” He opened his arms for a hug, which Kira gave. Stiles released her with pat to her shoulder and grinned wickedly at Scott. “You know, someone hasn’t given me a present yet.”
Scott chuckled. “The bucket was your present.”
“I don’t accept it.”
“I’m finally going to watch Star Wars with you, isn’t that enough?”
“Fine,” Stiles dragged the word like he was exasperated, but truthfully, he was just happy to have his best friend over for his birthday. Watching the originally trilogy was a bonus.
The three hurried downstairs and set up the first movie. They were in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back when their stomachs growled and they called for pizza. Somewhere from there the three of them got in a popcorn fight and the couch got overturned. Stiles then went to the bathroom only to come back to Scott and Kira making out. Stiles took the opportunity to grab a water bottle from the fridge and dump it on Scott’s head. Scott chased Stiles around the house while Kira laughed. John returned home before Return of the Jedi started and the quartet had cake.
Scott, Kira, and Stiles, had reached the last half hour of Jedi when Scott and Kira fell asleep on the floor.
Stiles picked at his mark. It was no longer a faint gray but silver. The lines that had slowly been forming all day created an encircled triskelion. Stiles ran his fingertips over the curls.
He was marked.
It was odd. He’d spent his whole life knowing that it would happen, but now that the day had come he wasn’t sure what to feel. He could now find his soul mate, but were they even worth finding? Intellectually he knew most people found happiness with their soul mate, but emotionally he had doubts.
Stiles pushed himself off the floor and went to his room. From down the hall he heard his dad snoring. The sound was comforting and Stiles smiled. He plopped himself in front of his computer and started his research again.
Peter dashed across the preserve in his wolf form, following the scent of the omega. The bitter smell was faint and circled the perimeter of Peter’s territory. An odd move, considering just days prior the brash fool had wandered into the center of Peter’s land and attacked a car of drunk teens. The teenagers had gotten away, but the claw marks and a human-sized dent had been left in the vehicle’s side.
It was shortly after that the hunters had come.
Peter snarled. He’d rip the intestines out from the omega for leading hunters to him.
Peter stopped and pressed his muzzle to the ground, inhaling the rich smell of moist soil and the omega’s scent. He detected a hint of blood and felt his stomach curl with satisfaction.
He retracted his claws then released them, feeling the earth under his paws.
His being itched with the need to hunt and his body felt too small to contain him. It was a familiar sensation, one he felt during the full moon, but there were still a few days until then. He’d felt trapped in his own skin since morning, and by noon had transformed and taken off into the woods, thinking that finding the omega would sate his urges.
He let out a low growl and paced the area. Intellectually, he knew he wanted to follow the omega’s trail, but something more primal was taking him in a different direction. Yes, that more instinctual part of him wanted to hunt too, but it was for something else, something much more mouthwatering.
A twig snapped behind him, and Peter whirled. He pressed his ears down to his skull and growled.
The aroma of gunpowder, a sharp cleansing aftershave, a heavy musk that Peter loved to drown his senses in came from the source of the noise. The threatening growl turned into a soft rumble of pleasure. Mate.
Chris stepped out from the brush with his gun in hand. He had it aimed at Peter, but upon seeing him, Chris lowered his weapon.
Peter pounced, transforming as he plowed into Chris, knocking his hunter onto his back.
Chris grunted and his hand flew up to grab Peter’s back.
Peter buried his face in Chris’ neck as he rubbed himself on Chris, enjoying the feel of rough denim against his bare skin. His nose tickled Chris’ ear as he teasingly pressed his fangs against Chris’ throat.
Chris shuddered and arousal wafted off him, sending a thrill of delight through Peter, but it wasn’t enough. His mate, that’s what he’d been wanting—hunting for—all day, but not quite this. Something was still amiss.
Chris pressed his right palm against Peter’s chest, muttering something, but Peter didn’t hear it, too preoccupied by what he saw on Chris’ wrist. He snatched Chris’ arm, his claws out and threatening to tear the long sleeve of his jacket. Even though the sleeve covered half of the mating mark, Peter already could tell something was different about it. He pushed down the sleeve to find the branches of the triskele connected and a circle surrounding them.
Chris stilled beneath him, but his steely gaze wasn’t locked on his wrist—it was on Peter’s.
Peter followed his gaze and stiffened. His mark had changed too.
The sound of a bowstring and an arrow whizzing through the air stole Peter’s attention. With a roar, he grabbed Chris by the shoulders and rolled them over, the arrow just missing them in time.
A female scent came from the arrow’s origins, and Peter launched up. He charged toward the scent and slashed his claws through the assailant’s neck.
A gunshot rang out, and Peter moved out of the way just in time for the bullet to lodge itself in the tree behind him.
Peter dropped into a crouch, the female archer’s body dropping down beside him in a heap.
Barks and gruff voices filled the area. From a quarter mile away, Peter saw a flashlight beam. He cursed and dodged another bullet. His eyes followed its path to see a man hidden in the branches of a tree a few yards away.
Chris had gotten up and had his gun ready, and was aiming at the man in the tree. Before he could shoot, Peter jumped up, seized his arm and pulled him through the thicket.
“What?” Chris began but was cut off by Peter.
“Police. I believe you are the one who said we need to keep a low profile. Your bullet in that man’s head won’t help.”
Chris nodded but kept his gun out.
Two tactical retreats from hunters in less than a week? Peter gritted his teeth in frustration. He was going soft.
Chris and Peter were silent upon their return home. The sun would be rising in a few hours, and the two of them should’ve been preparing for bed to get at least a few decent hours before they had to revert back to their average civilian lives. However, the two lumbered about their home. Chris cleaned his guns and stored them for the night while Peter brewed tea and sat at the kitchen table with his laptop. He sifted through the Internet for answers as to why their soul marks had changed. Peter already had a suspicion, but he wanted more concrete evidence before he started spouting off theories.
He would have preferred textbooks over the random sites of the Internet filled with morons with no idea what they were talking about, but he made due with what he had available to him on short notice. Thankfully, since he had an inkling as to the cause of the change, he narrowed down his search immensely.
He had just downed his first cup of tea and scrolled through three sites when Chris dragged himself into the room. A deep frown marred his features. He glanced at Peter’s wrist. He was as stoic as ever, but Peter could read the tension in his shoulders. “So you’ve been looking into it?”
Peter made an acknowledging hum.
Chris’ worried frown became tinged with annoyance as he took an aggressive step toward Peter. “You mind telling me what you found?”
Peter tilted his head up. “How about you tell me what you think it means?” He wanted to see if Chris could reason the answer out himself. Chris wasn’t obtuse; he had to suspect something.
Chris hesitated, but not out of fear or uncertainty. He was scrutinizing Peter, trying to figure out why Peter was being evasive. Finally, either realizing Peter’s reasoning or deciding Peter’s reasons weren’t pertinent, Chris answered. “Polyamory.”
“So it would seem.”
“But how?” Chris braced his arms on the table and sighed in frustration. “Even if it is polyamory the marks shouldn’t have changed.”
“It’s not unheard of. Rare, though. There are more stories of marks changing after a soul mate has died. Very overly romantic second soul mate gibberish.” Peter shut his laptop. “However, it does make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. After all, while not all soul mates have sexual relations, many do. I hope I don’t need to explain to you that the primary purpose for sex is breeding, and therefore it would be advantageous to know when a compatible partner becomes…available. Due to a lack of test subjects, there is not much scientific evidence to support that theory, however, what research has been done shows that it is entirely possible that our bodies are trying to tell us of another viable mate.
Chris’ brow furrowed. “Are you suggesting that we have another soul mate, who just turned eighteen?
Peter raised a thin eyebrow in mock incredulity. “Of course I’m not suggesting it. I’m saying that’s it exactly.”
Chris cursed, dragging his hand over his mouth. He looked anywhere but Peter. After a moment, he marched to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer. He knocked the cap off against the counter and took a swig. He then returned to the table and slouched into the chair across from Peter.
The quickened beat of Chris’ pulse pushed Peter closer to the edge. He’d been fighting to keep his claws and fangs hidden for hours. The urge to hunt was still strong, but now he knew what was the cause behind it; he need to find his second mate. “We should check the local high school first, then move on to the freshmen at the community college.”
Chris nearly choked on a mouthful of beer. He coughed and slammed his bottle down. “Are you crazy? We can’t just bring a teenager into this.” He gestured around them.
Peter frowned, his claws slipping out and scraping the tabletop. “Possessive, are we?”
Chris shook his head. “You know it’s not that. This—the supernatural… We can’t bring an eighteen-year-old into this kind of an environment.”
Chris glared. “It’s not right.”
“If they’re our soul mate, then it is,” a growl leaked into Peter’s voice. “I won’t say it will be easy if they are a human with no knowledge of what is really out there. Although, if they are already involved in the supernatural then it will be.”
“That’s a big if.”
Peter shrugged. “They are still our soul mate, which means they are capable of handling what we are and what we do.”
Chris took another gulp of beer. He pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. “We can’t do it now. Not with hunters and an omega running around. Once this is settled we can try, but not before.”
Internally, Peter howled. He wanted to his second mate now, but he could wait. Waiting and scheming had always been his strong suits.
Stiles woke to a post-it note stuck on his cheek and a knot in his neck from having slept slouched over his desk. Stiles grumbled and batted the note off as he blinked blearily at his illuminated computer screen.
10:37 AM was displayed in the bottom right hand corner.
Stiles shot up, knocking his chair over. He was late for school! Why hadn’t anybody woken him?
Stiles snatched up an armful of clean clothes, ran into the bathroom, cleaned and dressed himself and then ran downstairs to find Kira and Scott still asleep on the floor. He’d completely forgotten about them. “Guys get up! We’re late!”
Scott’s eyes fluttered but he remained on the floor.
Kira didn’t react at first, but then seconds later she launched up and looked around in a panic. “What time?”
Stiles glanced at the kitchen clock as he searched the cupboards for Poptarts. “Ten to Eleven.”
Kira cursed and made a made dash for the guest bathroom.
Scott finally sat up and ran a hand through his mussed hair.
“Dude, get moving. I’ll leave you behind!” Stiles shouted.
Scott finally picked up the pace and ran upstairs to use Stile’s bathroom.
Stiles took a deep breath to calm himself. He’d gone the whole school year without a tardy or absence so far, his dad would understand.
Stiles frowned. Thinking about his dad brought up a very important question, one that Stiles had let fall to the wayside in his rush to get ready. Why hadn’t his dad woken him? Stiles went to the fridge where he found a scribbled note tapped to it. Stiles read the scrawl.
Called in to work last night. Will be home for dinner.
Stay out the preserve.
Stiles’ stomach churned. His dad didn’t usually get called in unless there was an emergency.
“Ready, Stiles?” Scott asked as he sauntered into the kitchen and raided Stiles’ cupboards for a protein bar.
Stiles crumpled the note in his hand just as Kira hurried out of the guest bathroom. “Yeah.”
They clambered into the jeep and sped off to school. Stiles had Scott send a quick text off to his dad letting him know what had happened and also inquiring about last night. As pulled into the parking lot Stiles’ dad respond with a simple: “Okay.” Stiles pulled a sour expression at his dad blatantly ignoring his inquiry, but he didn’t say anything to Scott or Kira about it.
They went to the office to get late passes for their classes. The rest of the school day moved slowly, and Stiles found himself sending off text after text to his dad about his day with a few questions about the preserve and his dad’s most recent case sprinkled in between. His dad ignored most of them, although he did send a sad face when Stiles sent him a picture of the cheeseburgers the cafeteria was serving.
The final bell rang and Stiles practically sprinted to his locker to get his things and go. He was almost out the school’s doors when Scott caught up to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Whoa. Did you forget about lacrosse practice?”
Stiles cursed. He’d been planning to go to the police station and butter his father up with sweets until his dad told him what happened last night. He scratched the back of his head in frustration. “Cover for me?”
“If you don’t show Coach is going to bench you from the next game.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “You mean like he’s done for the last three games?”
“He’s saving you for something special, man.”
And that right there was one of the many reasons why he loved Scott. The guy was so optimistic, it practically hurt to doubt him.
“Thanks Scott, but if its letting Jackson wail on me today so I can maybe play in the next game, or see my dad and avoid the pummeling that will come from practice…” Stiles held up his hands as if gauging the weight between two objects”…then it’s no contest.”
Scott nodded, adjusting his bag’s strap on his shoulder. “Anything you want me to say? Vomiting? Twisted ankle? Sexual identity crisis?”
Stiles chuckled. “Whatever you want, just make it good. Like I jumped out of an airplane rescuing the president good.”
Scott nodded enthusiastically, a glimmer of mischief shining in his eyes. “I got a few ideas.”
They hugged it out and Stiles headed to the police station. He made a pit stop at a burger joint to buy two milkshakes for bribery.
Stiles strolled through the station as if he owned the place, and in some ways he felt as if he did. He’d been going to the station for as long as he could remember. It felt like a second home to him. Because of that things always turned interesting when a new hire started working at the station. They’d always try to send Stiles away and glare at him whenever he went near a restricted zone, but after a while they would realize their was no point in fighting over such things.
Stiles nodded in greeting at a few of the officers on duty and even exchanged a few pleasantries as he made his way to his dad’s office. He adjusted his hold on the two milkshakes and knocked on the door before shoving it open without permission.
His dad looked up from a file. Upon seeing Stiles, John flipped the folder shut and stuffed it in his desk’s drawer.
Smooth, Stiles sarcastically thought.
Stiles beamed as he plopped himself in the chair across from his dad and offered him one of the shakes. “Hey Dad. Figured you needed an energy boost.” He waved the shake in his dad’s face. “See, not even one of those health shakes—a real, true, chocolate milkshake.”
Stiles’ dad took the shake, leveling Stiles’ with a knowing look. “I’m not telling you anything about last night.”
Stiles gaped in mock hurt. “Dad, I can’t believe you’d accuse me of—”
John cut Stiles off with a wave. “Don’t bullshit me, Stiles. This isn’t even one of your better attempts at getting information.” He slurped the shake.
Stiles scoffed. “See if I ever get you a shake again. I just wanted to make sure you’re safe.”
“You might be eighteen, but I’m still the dad, Stiles. I look out for you.”
“We look out for each other,” Stiles argued.
“That doesn’t change the fact that there are procedures that need to be followed, and right now I cannot share any information with you. Now,” John paused and gestured at Stiles. “Let’s see it.”
“Huh?” Stiles brain stumbled over itself.
“Your mark,” John clarified.
“Oh, right.” Stiles had forgotten that his dad hadn’t gotten a chance to see Stiles’ soul mark yet. Stiles rolled up the right sleeve of his hoodie and held out his arm. John clasped his wrist and examined the silver symbol. He made a thoughtful hum then released Stiles.
“Interesting,” John said.
Stiles rolled down his sleeve. “Yeah, at least it isn’t boring like Scott and Kira’s. Two bands around the arm? How boring? Even a flower or star would be better. What does two bands even mean?”
There came a knock at the door and Deputy Morris popped his head in. “Sheriff, I need you to take a look at something.” Deputy Morris eyed Stiles. “You better come to my office.”
John nodded and stood. He tossed Stiles a warning look over his shoulder. “Behave.”
“When don’t I?”
John narrowed his gaze. “I will handcuff you.”
Stiles held up his hands in surrender.
His dad nodded in approval then left, shutting the door behind him.
Stiles didn’t waste a second. He scrambled for the drawer where his dad had put the mysterious file. Stiles yanked the folder out and flipped it open. The image of woman with claw marks across her throat seized Stiles’ focus.
There were four, deep, perfect, bleeding gashes. Stiles didn’t have to read the file to know that the woman’s death had been instant. Depending on the circumstance the woman might not have even know the animal was coming at her until it was right on top of her.
Stiles’ brow furrowed as he ran his fingers over the claw marks in the photo. They were definitely claw marks, but they were just one set. He’d described them as perfect before and not thought much of it, but the more he studied the image the more off he realized it was. What kind of animal only took one swipe? He supposed it was possible, but he had doubts. He shuffled through a few more pictures and his doubt expanded.
Just the four claw marks.
There was no other damage done to the woman. Not even a bite to suggest that the animal had been driven by hunger and attacked her.
Stiles read through the file. It said the woman had died from an animal attack. It also mentioned that gunshots had been heard at the scene but no one had been found wielding a gun in the vicinity. The woman, oddly enough, had been carrying a crossbow, suggesting that there must have been at least one other person nearby. Gun shells had been collected and were being examined to identify the owner of the gun that had been used. Multiple footprints had been found but were too damaged to use for identification.
Stiles looked over the first photo again. Two armed people go into the wounds and one ends up dead because of an animal—it sounded like it fit with what his dad said the other day. A few people had taken the matter of the recent animal attacks into their own hands. Now one was dead. It sounded so simple, but two things niggled at Stiles’ mind. One was the claw marks being too perfect. The animal attack was too neat and clean. The second thing that bothered him was that the gunman had run off. Hunting on a preserve without the proper permits would get the guy some heavy jail time if the police could prove it, so his lack of presence made sense to a degree. However, if the gunman had any connection to the woman wouldn’t he or she have at least stayed to volunteer some information?
Stiles sighed. He was being too optimistic. There were plenty of people in the world who would abandon a friend if it kept them out of jail.
The knob on the door turned, and Stiles stuff the folder in his dad’s drawer just in time to keep from being caught. He spun in his dad’s swivel chair and smiled at John.
John stared at Stiles with suspicion.
Stiles stopped spinning, keeping his goofy grin in place. “What?”
“You did something.”
Stiles squawked in indignation and stood up. “I can’t believe you, Dad! Well, I’m not going to stay somewhere where I’m accused of wrong doing without any evidence.”
John blocked the doorway with his body. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Just tell me, am I going to have to ground you?”
“Dad,” Stiles spoke seriously as he grabbed his dad’s shoulder. “You’ll be grounding me until I’m sixty. However, I’m pretty sure you won’t ground me for anything I did today.”
John glared. “‘Pretty sure?’”
Stiles shrugged. “Hey, I don’t know when things are going to go off the rails and explode in my face. I’m just being honest here. There is always a chance of a grounding when I am involved.”
Stiles’ dad did not look amused, but he let Stiles pass.
Stiles all but ran to his jeep. He fished out his cell phone from his pocket and speed dialed Scott. His call went to voicemail. Stiles double-checked the time as he climbed into the car. Scott would be getting out of Lacrosse in ten minutes. “Hey, Scott, don’t leave school after practice. I’m on my way right now.” He hung up and sped out of the parking lot.
He reminded himself to drive safely and that Scott would get his voicemail so there was no need for him to panic and run a red light. His nerves were tingling with anticipation, excitement, and worry.
When he pulled up to the high school, Scott was sitting on the front steps, waiting for him. Scott ran up to the jeep and hopped into the passenger seat. Curiosity and expectation curled his lips upward. “What’s up? Did Lydia invite you to her party this weekend?”
Stiles head snapped toward Scott. “Lydia is having a party?” Stiles shook his head, trying to get his mind off the topic. “No, just… do you remember what my dad said about people hunting in the woods?”
Scott nodded, his joy draining from him to be replaced with something somber.
“Someone died,” Stiles said.
Scott jumped in his seat. “Holy shit! Are you serious?”
“Why would I lie?”
“Shit.” Scott looked down at his lap in amazement.
Stiles gave his arm a smack to get Scott’s attention back. “Yeah, but it’s very suspicious.” Stiles delved into explaining his findings to Scott. His best friend frowned and occasionally asked questions and made comments.
“So why are you telling me all this?” Scott finally asked.
Stiles bit the inside of his cheek. This was going to be the hard selling point. “I want to check it out.
“Check what out?” Scott inquired warily.
“The place where the police found the woman.”
Stiles held up his hand to cut off Scott. “I know! I know! It’s stupid, and we promised my dad we wouldn’t go into the preserve, but Scott,” he whined his friend’s name, “something is not right, and my dad is out there. I just need to look, to make sure he didn’t miss something that might get him hurt in the end.”
“Stiles, you’re dad is the Sheriff. He can handle himself.”
Stiles slouched, banging his forehead against the steering wheel. “I know, but I just need to check—to reassure myself. There’s still daylight if we go now. We’ll just look then leave. No harm, no foul.”
“Why drag me into this?”
“Because you’re my best friend, and if something goes wrong I want you to race over to my house and delete my browsing history.” Stiles straightened and said in a deadpan voice. “No joke dude, since Junior year my tastes in porn have gotten so kinky, I question if I should be confined to my room for the safety of others.”
Scott sighed in defeat. “Okay, but we get in and get out.”
“Thank you,” Stiles exaggerated the phrase.
Scott shoved Stiles for his dramatics, and they shared a laugh.
They drove in silence to the preserve. Scott pulled out a map of Beacon Hills and the preserve from the jeep’s glove box. Stiles gave the coordinates listed on the police file for where the body had been located, and Scott circled it on the map. Luckily the spot was somewhat near the edge of the preserve. Unluckily, there was nowhere to park for about mile. Stiles drove as close as he could to the location before pulling off the road and parking. He pulled out his cell phone and set it to compass mode.
The beginning of the trek was easy, there was a trail. Once Scott and Stiles went off trail though, that’s when they struggled. Stiles tripped on anything and everything, whereas Scott constantly needed to stop and rest. There were a couple of times when they thought they had gotten themselves lost, but they eventually got themselves back on track.
When they got to the area, yellow police tape roped it off and there were two officers present. Stiles only caught a glimpse of one, but the other one was clearly hard ass Officer Malcolm. There was no way he could scout around without getting caught, and Officer Malcolm was a no nonsense kind of woman. She’d arrest him on principle alone.
Disappointment hit Stiles hard in the chest, and Scott gave him a sympathetic look.
They headed back toward the jeep. Stiles shoved his hands in his pockets and sighed up at the pink and purple sky. He’d get home just in time to throw pasta in a bowl and trick his dad into thinking he had been home since his visit.
“At least you tried,” Scott consoled.
“Yeah,” Stiles halfheartedly agreed and kicked a rock.
Something loud snapped behind them. Stiles tensed and looked over his shoulder. When he saw nothing, he continued onward.
A bush rustled to his right, and Stiles whirled in time to see a shadowed blur.
“C’mon, Stiles.” Scott waved Stiles forward. “It’s probably a deer.”
Stiles nodded, not fully convinced but not stupid enough to stay and argue.
A howl pierced the air.
Scott and Stiles both jumped in their skin.
“That was a wolf!” Scott exclaimed.
“There aren’t any wolves in California,” Stiles countered. Stiles’ heartbeat skyrocketed. Something was definitely wrong.
Crashing sounds came from the left, and Stiles faced it.
“Stiles!” Scott bellowed.
Stiles spun just in time to see a monstrous wolf lunge at his throat.