The smog is thick, coating my nostrils with a wretched stench. My lungs are too quick to suck for fresh, clean air where there is none – not in this area of the city. Not when I’m running for my life.
My long black hair whips the side of my face, stinging, as I round another corner, my pursuer not far behind. Off in the distance, a constant song of sirens wail, but not for me – nobody will be here to save me. My survival rests on my own shoulders.
This part of the city is filled with factories, each puffing smoke into the atmosphere at all times of the day and night. It’s an area burdened with poverty. It’s also an area where no one looks for anyone. It’s a crumbling brick, rusted metal, and unkept vegetation jungle, crawling with predators in search of innocent prey.
I continue to run while degrading my foolish choices. I shouldn’t have stayed put for so long. I should have kept moving, knowing they’d find me eventually. But, I grew comfortable, a growth of arrogance working against my careful plan of survival.
Cursing under my breath, I propel my arms higher and force my legs to move a faster rhythm. The cracked pavement beneath the rubber soles of my shoes hold steady, a contradiction, a drumroll pounding in tune with my heart which beats a frantic pace. I can feel the drums in my wrist, in my neck.
I look over my shoulder, knowing the predator shouldn’t be far behind in his chase.
He isn’t there.
His kind are ghosts in the wind – you never see them coming and you never know how they’ll strike. I’ve been running from him for weeks – from all of them. The Asian masters of stealth and deadly silence are hell-bent on my death for reasons I can’t fathom. I’ve never stopped to ask why.
They are my first memory, the only one I can remember, beginning less than a month ago. Before that, I remember…nothing.
The wind changes direction, a caress to my sweaty, heated cheeks. It tunnels through an alley up ahead. I take a chance – a bet on my life – skid into the opening, and slam my back against the metal wall. I squeeze my eyes shut and cringe when it vibrates and echoes, giving away my location to anyone in the area. A noise like that doesn’t go unnoticed by a trained killer.
I focus on my breathing, calming each frantic inhale and exhale, in hopes I’ll hear him before he reaches the alley. I have no plan, but running isn’t working anymore. Besides, it’s only one hunter. Surely I can deal with the one.
He never comes. In confusion, I’m slow to open my eyes, and reluctant to peek around the corner and believe I’m safe.
My back bumps against the metal once more. A surge of adrenaline shoots through my veins and stiffens my joints when I see him before me.
There he stands – my ghost, my hunter. His short black hair spikes around his head, and his bangs swoop across his forehead, covering his right eye. The dark casts shadows across his features, yet his uncovered eye holds a mischievous, deadly glint. A smirk spreads his thin lips, exposing straight white teeth, and his hands are tucked in the pockets of his faded black jeans.
How long has he been standing there, silent, waiting, stalking?
He reaches forward, swift, his fingers spread and intent on grasping my shoulder. I grab his wrist, just as quick, twist his arm, and spin my body. He flips in the air, his shoulder hitting the metal on his tumble to the ground. He’s fast, too fast. His body adjusts to the fall and I instinctively anticipate his next move.
Without a sound, he lands on the ball of his foot and spins, using his other leg in an attempt to trip me. I jump, graceful, and by the time I land on my feet, he’s back on his.
He swings his arm forward. I block. He swings another. I duck. Each move I make, every anticipation of his body’s actions are instinctual – muscle memory with no idea how I acquired it.
Using his foot, he kicks my abdomen and I tumble backward, the air gushing from my lungs. He reaches in his pocket and pulls a circular silver object from its depths. There’s a moment, a sliver of victory in his smirk before he presses a button on the object. Spikes emit, sparkling in the light of the exposed moon.
Fear. My heart beats to an unwavering surge of fear, begging me to flee. I can’t fight a throwing weapon. I have no doubt his aim is true. The chances I’ll survive with it buried in my chest are minimal.
Every nerve along my skin pricks, a wave of agonizing sensation. I open my mouth to scream – for my life and for the pain, but as soon as I do, a curtain of dark overcomes my vision.
The light reaches my closed eyelids, a ray of yellow annoyance shining through my bedroom window. I thought I had closed those.
I run through my memories of last night and frown when I can’t recall if I held an ounce of intelligence to shut the damn curtains.
With a groan, I shove back my comforter and swing my feet over the side of my king-sized mattress. I rub my eyes, attempting to rid the crud before I open them and bask in the morning’s false glory.
Another day. Another day of dealing with pack nagging. They’ve made it their mission to find their alpha – me – my mate. Each day I grit my teeth and endure it, but there’s only so much a man can hold in until he blows.
My wolf smirks inside me, always finding the dirty side of my thoughts.
I chuff aloud and step onto the plush, white carpet. It’s near impossible for a wolf shifter to find their mate. We only get one, and out of thousands of shifters across the world, my odds are slim.
I bend to my hand-crafted, wood nightstand, pick up the blue shirt I laid out last night, and turn to the large mirror hanging on the wall. The reflection of the morning light shines across the dark, dewy skin of my upper arm, catching my gaze. Staring for a moment, I absentmindedly slip my shirt over my sleek, shaven head. My biceps ripple when I slip my arms through the shirt’s holes.
I stare at the mirror – not for vanity, but because I almost don’t recognize myself. Inside, I feel young and carefree – the spirit of a teen, of a young wolf. On the outside, the firm edges of my full lips, the flare of my nostrils – it tells a different story.
My dark brown eyes stare back at me, stress stealing the emotions lying within. There’s no weakness painted in my reflection, a purposeful, trained act I maintain to remain strong for my pack. There’s no room for weakness when several lives are under your care.
I run my fingers along my under-eyes and turn from my reflection. A stress free day isn’t something I’ll ever have. Not while I’m Alpha.
The wood beneath the carpet creaks under my weight as I travel to my door and swing it open. The halls are quiet in our compound – an old school building we renovated and re-purposed to house our entire pack, the Riva Pack, before I was born. It’s unusual for silence here, and I immediately become suspicious.
My eyebrows furrow as I travel down the hall, the scent of coffee luring me to the cafeteria. I round the corner and stop inside the entrance. Half the pack is here, seated at the tables. Their eyes are glued to the large flat screen TV mounted on the wall.
A woman with a high-pitched nasally voice reports the news. “The identified man is of Asian descent. No identification has been found. Authorities are asking anyone to come forward if they have information.”
The female news anchor shuffles her papers and the volume is lowered. Rex, the pack’s beta, turns to me, remote in hand, and the rest of the pack follows.
Reese, a doctor and our pack healer, comes to stand beside me, steaming cup of coffee in her hand. She passes it to me, tucking a stray hair behind her ear, and I nod my thanks.
I turn back to Rex and flick my eyes to the mute TV. “What is this?”
He lifts a hand and ruffles the back of his curly red hair. “They found a body.”
“Yeah?” I ask. It’s not unusual for that part of town. “And?”
He purses his lips and his hand thuds back to the table’s surface. “Something’s wrong here, Jacob.”
Reese leans, whispering. “Suspicious murder.”
“Suspicious?” I frown. “You’re thinking shifter? Vampire?”
Rex shrugs. “We don’t think so.”
“Alright then.” Leaning against the entrance wall, I take a scolding sip and grimace as it burns a path down my throat. “Let’s hear it.”
“Well,” Rex chuckles, nervous. I cock my head to the side. Rex is never nervous.
“His head exploded,” Cinder blurts. I turn my attention to Cinderson, whose blonde hair is purposely disheveled, with a raised eyebrow. He’s a rude little shit, and if he wasn’t so damn funny, I’d have found him another pack by now.
“Exploded?” I ask, skepticism dripping in my tone.
Rex licks his bottom lip, worry lines wrinkling his forehead. “No bullet, no bomb, no explanation.”
I chuff for the second time in less than ten minutes. It really is too early for this kind of news. “And how did you learn of this?”
Cinder shrugs. “I was working at my bar last night when a call came in – the bar isn’t far from the crime scene. The Cloven Pack dude – Evo or whatever – tipped me off.”
I nod. I’m not surprised he knows the details before the gossip could be dripped to the public like a leaking faucet.
Reese disappears inside the kitchen and returns with a fresh blueberry muffin and sets it on the table for me. I sit, placing my cup of coffee in the middle, and run a hand down my face.
“Anything else from Evo?”
“Irene says hi,” Cinder adds after a few seconds of silence, and Reese sniffles behind me.
Irene used to be one of my wolves, and Reese’s best friend, until she found her mate within the Cloven Pack. She joined their pack when their mating was complete. We were sad to see her go and it still stings to turn a corner and not see her there.
My eyes flick between Rex and Cinder. “Alright. Since you both seem the most intrigued by it, I’ll leave it up to the two of you to find the information we need.”