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Soulbound ‡ feral

by Wes Leigh

Chapter 5

"In the end," Callum said, his voice soft, gentle, "it all comes back to you. You protect them [your pack], you love them, you live for them, and someday, you die. That's what it means, Bryn-girl, to be what we are [to be Alpha]. It's lonely. It's impossible. It's all-consuming. It is what it is."

-- From Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Andreas patted Connor's shoulder with pride. "You picked up driving fast, lad. I'm pleased with how well you did. You can use the truck from now on. Run errands for your Ma and me. The sooner you get the hang of it, the better, because you'll be using the truck to go to school this fall."

Connor slowed to a stop in front of the Lodge and turned off the engine. The old Dodge rumbled a bit and then shuddered into silence. "School?"

"Aye," Andreas replied. "All the lads attend. They'll watch over you and show you where to go."

"But? What do they do in school?"

"Teach you about the world. About reading and writing. About math and other things you need in a modern world."

Connor shrugged. "Don't need those things. I know how to hunt and that's all I need to know."

Andreas chuckled. "If only that were true, lad. There's a sight more to the world than livin' for the hunt, and you'll need to know it if you're going to lead the Pack one day. I've no doubt you'll pick it up fast. You're a bright lad. Gabi will teach you to read and give you some of the basics. I'll teach you to deal with those damned—" Andreas paused and clamped down on the growl that tried to escape his chest. "I'll teach you other things. This weekend. You need to know how to deal with the creatures you'll encounter there."

It sounded like torture to Connor. Sitting in a room all day. Hearing people drone on and on about things he didn't want to learn. And all the time sniffing the winds for danger. He really didn't want to do all this, and he wasn't sure we wanted to lead the Pack one day, not if this was what he had to endure.

He'd much rather be running through the forest on all fours with his mates.

"She likes you," Donny said with a smirk.

"Who?" Connor asked.

"Deb." Donny nodded toward the tall, sandy-haired girl. "Deborah Murphy."

"Caleb's sister?"

"Aye. She's a lanky bitch. As horny as her brother, too. She'd be a good mate for you."

Connor glanced over at the Deborah, who was pretending not to stare and doing a poor job at it. Connor snorted and said, "I don't want a mate."

"You have to have a mate, Connor."


"Well… to have pups."

"You give her pups. I've seen you sniffing around her tail with your cock hard. I don't want to mate her."

Donny frowned. "It doesn't work that way. You don't understand."

"Then explain it to me."

Donny shifted uncomfortably. "The Pack needs an Alpha, and the Alpha needs a Mate. Together, they lead the Pack."

"You and I can lead the Pack."

Donny laughed. "I'll be your beta, but I can't be your mate."

"Why not?"

"I can't have pups!" Donny replied, as if that answered everything.

"I'll be Alpha," Connor said, pointing at his chest with his thumb. "You be my beta, and you give her pups to raise for both of us."

Donny shook his head, chuckling. "I don't think the Pack will let us do that. Don't you want to mate her? She's got a nice ass."

Connor looked over at Deborah again. Aisling was now standing next to Deborah, and they were both grinning at him, no longer bothering to hide their interest.

"Caleb has a better ass," Connor said, grinning. "I'd rather mount him."

Donny shrugged. "You can mount Caleb any time you want. He'll let you. And as soon as the oldies allow it, Deborah will let you mount her too, I reckon."

"I don't want to mount her," Connor insisted.

Donny snorted. "You will, my friend. Sooner or later, you will." Donny's eyes opened wide in surprise when he saw Connor pulling his shirt over his head. With a quick flick of his wrist, Connor tossed the shirt at Donny, striking him in the face, and Connor's pants soon followed. Donny tossed the clothes aside to find Connor standing naked in front of him.

"Last one in the river is a shaggy mountain goat!" Connor said with a grin. Then he turned and ran down the grassy slope, changing into an enormous red wolf and flying down the slope.

The rest of the boys whooped and began stripping off their clothes, following Connor's lead.

Deborah and the other young bitches watched, wanting to join the boys, but knowing the oldies wouldn't approve. They couldn't go swimming with the boys, but it was fun watching them strip down and run off. Especially Connor. He had muscles on top of muscles, and Deborah thought he was one of the sexiest wolves she'd ever smelled.

Nearing the river bank, Connor leaped into the air and shifted from wolf to wolfboy to naked teen, while still in mid-leap, landing in the cool river waters with a mighty splash. The other boys landed all around him, laughing and shouting. The next few moments were a free-for-all of splashing, dunking, and wrestling, with most of them ganging up on Connor and finding he wasn't an easy wolf to submerge. Somehow, despite their combined efforts, he always managed to slip away, laughing at their puny efforts. When they couldn't shove him under the water, they gave up and began dunking each other.

Connor enjoyed the wet rough-housing, but his mind was still on the conversation he'd had with Donny. 'Sooner or later, you will,' Donny had insisted, firm in his belief that Connor would want to mate with Deborah or Aisling or one of the other bitches. Connor wasn't convinced. In fact, he was almost certain he didn't want that. He saw how Donny and Ethan got boners when the girls were around, and Connor could smell the pheromones coming off both the boys and the girls. Obviously, they were all old enough to feel the urge to mate, but Connor didn't feel that urge at all. At least, not with the bitches. His dreams were often filled with heated rutting, but the one beneath him, accepting him, wasn't Deborah or Aisling or any of the female lycans. He didn't know who it was. His dreams were fuzzy and unclear, but the body beneath him was always pale and hairless and masculine.

Donny landed on Connor's back with a roar and knocked him from his feet momentarily, forcing Connor to stop daydreaming and fight back. In the wild melee that followed, Connor was able to push his concerns about mating aside while he dealt with the powerful young lycan who was determined to shove him under the water. Ethan joined Donny, and together, the strong blonde teens forced Connor beneath the river's surface, shouting in triumph. Their glee was short-lived when Connor burst up out of the water and dunked them both in rapid succession.

Connor stood waist-deep in the water, his muscular arms raised over his head in victory, and howled. It was good to be alpha.

Red and blue lights flashed behind them.

"Shit!" Donny exclaimed. "Pull over, Connor."

"Why?" Connor asked.

Ethan looked behind them. "It's a sheriff's SUV. You'd better do what Donny says, Connor."

Connor slowed down and pulled off to the side of road, stopping the truck and killing the engine.

The SUV pulled in behind them and stopped. The door opened and a deputy sheriff climbed out, adjusting his hat as he approached, footsteps crunching in the gravel. When he reached the open driver's window, he glanced inside and saw that none of the boys were wearing seat belts.

"License, registration, and proof of insurance please."

Donny leaned forward and looked at the deputy. "You know we ain't got none of those, Jonas."

"You know the law requires all three, Donny," the young deputy replied, frowning.

"Since when?" Donny asked, defiant.

Jonas Kipling sighed. Just what he needed. Another fucking confrontation with the mountain boys. He didn't recognize the one driving, but he knew the other two, Donny and Ethan McCoy. It wasn't the first time he'd pulled over one of the mountain boys for driving without seatbelts, without a driver's license, without registration or insurance or anything else you had to have to operate a vehicle in this state, but no matter how many tickets he gave them, nothing ever changed. The Sheriff always tore up the tickets, and the mountain people kept violating the law.

Well, not today. Not on his watch. Today, someone was going to jail.

"Get out of the truck and put your hands behind your back," Jonas ordered.

"What? What the fuck, Jonas?" Donny shouted. "What are you doing?"

Jonas stepped back and put his hand on his service pistol. "Get out of the vehicle NOW!" he shouted.

Connor didn't understand. He didn't know who this man was, but he smelled the fear in him. And Connor saw the alarm in Donny's eyes and felt the anxiety emanating from Ethan. His wolf brain screamed danger, causing his hackles to rise and a deep growl to rumble up from his chest.

Jonas heard the ominous snarl from the muscular kid behind the wheel. It was the sound of imminent death. His knees began to shake. His bladder spasmed and filled his pants with warm liquid.

Connor glanced at the deputy. He sniffed. He looked down and saw the deputy's pants turning dark at the crotch and down one leg. He blinked in surprise.

Jonas gulped and turned, walking stiff-legged back to his cruiser. He fumbled with the door, trying to get it open, and finally yanked on the handle. Jerking the door open, he jumped behind the wheel, slammed the door shut, and started the vehicle. The SUV peeled out, narrowly missing the Dodge pickup as he drove off.

"What the fuck got into him?" Donny asked.

Ethan looked at Connor, grinned, and patted Connor's arm. "You scared the piss out of him, Connor."

"I guess I did. What do we do now?" Connor asked.

"Head on into town and get the supplies your pa wanted." Donny motioned for Connor to start up the truck and pull back onto the road.

Connor started the truck moving again and asked, "What the hell was that all about?"

"No big deal," Donny replied. "Jonas is a dick. He was always an arrogant fuck in school, talking shit to us younger kids, and when he graduated last year and became a deputy sheriff, he just got worse."

"Yeah," Ethan agreed, "He's always pulling us over and telling us we're breaking the law. Like we care."

"Breaking the law?" Connor asked with a frown.

"Yeah. Human law. They have to have special papers to drive around and own a car and everything," Donny explained. "Hell, they probably have to get a permit to take a piss on the side of the road."

The other boys laughed. "Humans are quivering rabbits," Ethan added. "They don't know what it means to live free."

"Yeah," Donny added. "Your pa has talked to the Sheriff about this a few times. The Sheriff knows the Pack has its own rules, and Andreas Finnigan is the one who decides what those rules are, not some scared rabbit of a human up in the state capital. Don't worry none about Jonas. We'll talk to your pa when we get back and he'll make sure Jonas leaves you alone from now on."

Connor drove on, his mind in turmoil. It was so much simpler when he was running alone through the forest, a pack of one.

Sean Allen adjusted Connor's shoulder pads, tightening the strap on the right side slightly. Then he stood back and watched as Donny helped Connor pull the jersey down over the pads and into place.

"Why do I have to wear these?" Connor asked.

"To protect you from hits," Sean explained, picking up his coach's playbook.

"I never needed all this when we played on the grass in front of the Lodge."

"You lads weren't hitting each other as hard as these boys will."

Connor frowned. "Donny hits me hard when he's trying to tackle me. All the boys do. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we break a bone, but it always heals quick, and we're back to hitting each other a minute later."

Sean threw up his hands exasperated. "You have to wear the pads and uniform, Connor. Everyone wears it during a game."

"But why? It itches. And it's pinching me all over."

Sean picked up a helmet and slid it down over Connor's head. Then he knocked on the helmet with his knuckles. "You're a werewolf. You may not need this gear. But the human kids do, and if they have to wear it, so do you."

Connor tugged the helmet off and tucked it under his arm. He didn't want to wear it until he absolutely had to. He followed Coach Sean and Donny and the other boys out of the field house onto the grass of the football stadium. They were scrimmaging the team from Allentown. They called themselves the Mustangs. Connor knew his team was called the Agony Cougars. Should be an easy battle, he thought. Cougars can mangle mustangs any day.

Connor looked up in the stands. There were a few people sitting around, talking. It was only a scrimmage, so few students had come out. Most of those in the stands were parents of the players.

But not all. Near the top of the stands, Connor saw several boys dressed in black. There was something odd about them. Something that made his eyes narrow and his hackles quiver. Then he noticed one boy in particular. A tall, thin lad with dark, wavy hair, pale skin, and handsome features. The boy was standing there, holding a trumpet, talking to the other boys in black, but his eyes were focused on Connor. They were black, like the night sky, like his raven hair, and they seemed to draw Connor in.

Donny saw where Connor was looking and whispered, "Blooded. Don't know why they're here. Wish they'd piss off."

Up in the bleachers, Xavier lifted his trumpet to his lips and blew a few test notes. But his mind wasn't on the music at all, but on the large teen with the dark red hair and the cute dimples. There was something about him that made Xavier want to know more about him.

Xavier felt a sharp elbow in his side. Turning, he saw Gregor grinning at him.

"What are you doing, Xavier?" Gregor asked, with a leer.

"Nothing," Xavier replied. "Just watching the team come out on the field."

Gregor grinned. "I didn't know footballers were your type."

Xavier frowned at Gregor. "I don't have a type, Gregor. Let's go." Xavier placed his trumpet back in its case and snapped it shut. Then he stood up and motioned for Gregor to follow him down the bleachers.

Connor watched them go. He'd never actually met one of the Blooded before, unless you counted the ones who had killed his parents. These two didn't look all that dangerous. They looked like regular kids, like any other teenager going to school in Agony. Only cuter.

Coach Sean blew his whistle and called the team to huddle up. "Okay, lads. It's just a scrimmage, so I'm going to give you all a chance to play positions you don't normally play. Connor, we'll keep you on defense, since it's all new to you, but I want to try you at linebacker and defensive end, maybe safety."

Connor blinked. He remembered the positions, and he remembered Coach's orders. "Don't go wolf. Bring your powers just to the surface, but keep the wolf inside. Whoever has the football is prey. Hunt them down and drop them to the ground. Don't kill 'em. Just stop 'em."

It was still very confusing. He hated the way the gear squeezed every part of his body. He didn't like having the strange boys watching him from the stands. He wanted to rip the pads and uniform off his body and run naked out onto the field, slashing right and left and throwing these mustangs to the ground, then turn and lope through the stands, tearing apart any Blooded he found there and leaving their steaming carcasses to rot.

Coach Sean shouted, "Hands in." Connor watched, confused, as his teammates leaned forward with one arm extended, screaming, "COUGARS!"

Why couldn't he just be a feral wolf?

Andreas loaded sleeping bags and camping gear into the bed of the old Dodge pickup. They wouldn't need food. He planned to hunt with Connor once they reached the campsite. There was a small herd of whitetail that called the area home, so they'd have plenty to eat.

"Connor!" he shouted. "You ready to go?"

Connor ran out of the house, eager and excited. A weekend out in the wild. Hunting with Pa as wolves. No school. No football. No Blooded. Just the forest and the prey. "Yeah, Pa. Ma gave me this." He held up a bag filled with sandwiches made with thick slices of juicy beef on homemade rolls. "For the drive up."

Andreas nodded. He opened the driver's side door and motioned for Connor to get in. "You're drivin'."

With Connor behind the wheel, Andreas called out the route, selecting a winding mountain road that led deep into the wilds behind the Lodge. The road took them into a dense forest, up the side of a mountain, and to a dead end near the peak. They could go no further.

"We'll leave the truck here and hike the rest of the way in," Andreas explained, climbing out of the truck and reaching into the bed for a sleeping bag and a large sack.

Connor picked up the rest of the gear and followed Andreas down a narrow trail that led into a deep crevice.

As they followed the narrow track, Andreas explained. "The Silvermanes settled here in Agony back in 1920. It was the perfect community for our Pack. Remote. Isolated. People kept to themselves and tended to their own affairs. We found places out in the country, like the Lodge, and we made a home for ourselves. We didn't bother the humans and they didn't bother us. We hunted wild game, which satisfied our appetites and left the humans alive, so everyone came out ahead."

Andreas turned back and smiled at Connor. Connor grinned to show he understood his pa's dark humor.

Andreas stopped smiling and said, "In 1940, another group of creatures showed up. The Blooded. They moved into town and began taking over, buying up stores and homes, making it clear they were here to stay. It turns out Agony, North Dakota, was perfect for them too. Out of the way, with a small human population they could control." Andreas snarled and added, "They didn't know we were here already, and when they found out, it was too late to back off. The battle lines were drawn, and our two clans settled into an uneasy truce."

The path opened up a bit, so Connor moved up next to Andreas. "The Blooded? What are they? Another pack?"

Andreas shook his head. "Not a pack. No, we'd be able to negotiate hunting territory with another pack. But there's no negotiation with the Blooded. They're our ancient enemies, always seeking to destroy us. If they catch a wolf alone, they'll kill him."

Connor stopped, tears coming unbidden to his eyes.

Andreas paused and turned. "What is it, lad?"

Connor sniffed. "Is that what happened to my parents? Did the Blooded kill them?"

Andreas nodded his head slowly. "Most likely, yes. I can't prove it, lad, but it has all the marks of an attack by the Blooded."

Connor gritted his teeth and asked, "What are they?"

Andreas looked Connor directly in the eye. "Our ancient enemies. Vampires."

Connor lay on top of his sleeping bag, staring into the deep vastness of the sky. The stars were pinpoints of twinkling light, spread across the heavens. They were his friends, his faithful companions. Never talking. Simply shining down on a lonely boy hiding in the woods, silently running from those who would kill him. The Blooded. Vampires. Filthy assassins.

Connor couldn't sleep. Andreas' words still tumbled around in Connor's mind.

"They will always be our foe. If we can kill them, we will. If they get a chance to kill us, they take it. They are fast, able to jump through space from one place to another, so we have learned to track them down without engaging them. Then, when we are within striking range, we leap and sink our fangs. They cannot jump away when our teeth penetrate their flesh. That is when we have the advantage. We are stronger, more deadly. But they are deadly too, with terrible fangs and talons they use to defend themselves. You must teach the pups to work together, Connor. To hunt as a pack. To leap upon a vampire and bring it down, then to rend it. That is how a werewolf kills a vampire. With his pack. It's our destiny, Connor. That is your destiny. One day, you will lead the pack. And then it will be your duty to protect the pack from the Blooded."

Connor stared up at the stars, unblinking. He hadn't asked for this destiny. He didn't want it. Not the leadership of the Pack with all the demands it would make of him. Not a future mate with litters of pups and the responsibilities they would place on him. Not school, locked in a building all day. Not football, wrapped in armor for battle. None of it. He was a feral wolf, captured by the Pack and tamed, but his heart refused to be caged.

Connor rolled off the sleeping bag and stripped off his clothes. Walking away, he transformed into a wolf and ran.

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