“No… I just...” Nathan could feel his eyes grow larger as his jawline became ridged and he looked her over from head to toe. Her dark thick hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail that left carefree strands of hair dangling on the sides. He had expected any relative of Ellis to be older and pasty white. This was a young woman with dark eyes enhanced by faint tan eye shadow and dark mascara, and tawny coloring that made it seem as if she were just back from a day at the beach.
“I didn’t realize…” he trailed off as he thought about much of his island in the hands of this young woman.
He took in Brooke’s face more intently watching as it crumpled into wary confusion.
“Are you okay?” She took a step back and he had to restrain himself from taking a step towards her.
“I didn’t expect you to come so soon,” he tried to clarify.
“You were expecting me? Did you know Mr. Ellis?” Brooke asked.
“Well… No, not really. I—
“Come on, Brooke,” another woman hurried through the door and broke whatever intense mood was building up between the two of them. Her coloring was much the same but she was older. Probably her mother. Nathan wondered just how they could be related to Ellis, there was no family resemblance. “We need to get over to the island and back before dark.”
“Right…” Brooke answered the woman and she looked from her and back to Nathan. She looked as if she were waiting for him to say more but words failed him. All he could do was turn away from her, and busy himself with straightening the shelves behind the register.
“Thanks for the sodas,” she said to his back before leaving.
He dug his phone from his pocket and called Marcus.
“I… I just met her.”
“Met who?” Marcus sounded as if he were under the hood of a car in the garage.
“Brooke Morgan,” Nathan said impatiently.
“Who is Brooke Morgan?”
“Ellis’ next of kin.”
“Oh… Be there in ten minutes.”
Nathan was already scrolling the internet looking over articles of scandal involving Brooke and her fiancé when Marcus made it over. He pushed back the flash of jealousy that invaded him as he looked over the glossy blonde city boy that had gotten himself and Brooke in trouble.
“Wow, she’s beautiful,” Marcus said when Nathan handed him the phone stopped on an up close picture of Brooke. “Too bad she’s human.”
Nathan felt himself flinch at the reminder.
A look from Marcus let him know that his friend noticed.
“Don’t worry.” Nathan reassured him. If he even thought about getting involved with a human, one related to Raymond Ellis at that and he could kiss goodbye any credibility that Cole and Marcus siding with him might get him. It was a line that no shifter crossed without facing shunning at the least or exile at the worst. He wouldn’t risk losing the only family he had to chase after any human.
“She’s a photographer,” Marcus pointed out and navigated to her online gallery. “She’s talented too.”
Nathan took in the photos impressed by her eye. But was stopped short by a series of wolves she’d taken, more specifically a litter of wolf pups with their mom.
“Who is this woman?” Nathan asked aloud.
“Trouble,” Marcus answered and handed the phone back to Nathan. But when they made eye contact Nathan could tell he was reading his mind. “Thirty minutes. I’ll watch the shop until you get back, more than thirty minutes and the pack is coming after you. We won’t be nice.”
Nathan shifted before he was out of the station, and took off towards the woods to follow the river to its shallow crossing onto the island. Over the years the land had reclaimed so much of what had once been his home. He’d been so young but he could still remember and feel vivid flashes from his former childhood. As he ran through the miles of back brush that cut towards Ellis’s old cabin, he thought of the family that had once surrounded him with strength and love.
He remembered the comforting feel of cuddling in his mother’s arms on warm evenings and under her soft fur on cold ones. He licked his fangs thinking about the times he spent tearing into tender sweet meat with his brothers and cousins. He even remembered his first full run with his father, the connection they had where he could hear and feel the beating of his father’s heart in sync with his own.
He pushed his legs impossibly fast as he ran from images of the fires that swept through their thriving community playing in his mind. The last thing he remembered of them, in the dark of night, his mother had encouraged all of them to shift and run into the woods. But it turned out not to be just fires, but hunters taking aim at the small pups as they made their way to the safety of the river.
He could still feel the piercing hotness of a hunter’s bullet as it clipped the edge of his tail pushing his terrified legs faster beyond the falling forms of his brothers until he was in the river floating along until the adrenaline rush ended and he felt the grief of the evening take him over.
He’d woken up naked and alone swept up on the riverbank. He’d felt right away that the connection between him and his father had been severed. He knew the only way that could happen was if his father had been killed.
In the present, he howled with the pain of emptiness that had never healed. A pain that he knew could only be appeased if every last person who’d trespassed onto the island and taken his family paid for what they did.
He slowed as Ellis’ cabin came into view. He stopped at a distance to see Brooke get out of the car and look around the outside curiously and taking pictures. He watched her every move intently taking notes of how delicate yet deliberate she seemed. But at the same, time he could sense a sadness that seemed to wash over her. He hadn’t meant to, but he focused his hearing on her breath and soon he could sense her heartbeat. Steady and strong, braving the sadness of death, isolation, loneliness and abandonment and suddenly he found his own heartbeat matching hers. She turned to look towards the forest in his direction and he stood stock still hoping she wouldn’t see him and also wishing she would just come to him. After several moments she turned away. When she disappeared into the house with her camera, he turned from the cabin and headed back to the station.
Whoever she was, like him she was an outsider here and somehow, he sensed she was just as alone. He was lost in his thought of her and ready to break into a run to get back to the station when the ground beneath his paws snapped, and he felt the covering on the trap he stood on give way. He was at the bottom of the pit in the next instant, having twisted his front paw.