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Copyright ©2012 Riley Ashford
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One week. Three days. 14 hours.
He hadn't come for her yet. Or maybe he was giving her time. Space. He'd always been good at predicting her needs, her moods.
He shouldn't have loved her.
He shouldn't have mated with her.
Mallen Driftwood looked out the picture window at the swirling snow. The dim yellow of the porch light barely penetrated the darkness. Yet she knew that rolling mounds of white covered the entire area -- all the way to the tree line.
The cabin was isolated, one of several rentals near the lake. She couldn't remember the name of the water. Earlier in the day, she'd been white-knuckle driving in the snowstorm, and yet had managed to see the sign for cabin rentals. The woman manning the single desk in the tiny rental office was chatty, friendly. She said only one other cabin had been rented. She happily relayed that Mallen's closest neighbors were Hubert and Sarah Gilmore, who were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary by staying in the same cabin where they'd honeymooned.
Her gaze drifted through the tall pines. Mallen could just make the faint yellow glow of the Gilmores' porch light.
Yes, he would come for her.
But so would the Diego. The spirit protector of their pack. The one who would make her pay penance for her crime. She would die. Die gladly so that her mate and her pack would be okay.
The Diego would devour her. David would choose a new mate. The pack would thrive.
She'd been running. From David. From fate. From the life she could never have.
Her brothers used to call her Five.
She was the fifth pup. The only girl. The weakest one born to her family. In some packs, the weak pups were left in the woods -- either to die or to prove they had the strength to survive. But even though she was a mewling, tiny thing, her family kept her. She was nurtured by them all. Loved. But not coddled. She was expected to pull her weight. To do as well as her bigger and stronger brothers. To take care of herself.
They also prepared her for her expected place in the pack. Her father was among the wolves that patrolled the borders of their territory. He was a soldier. Not an officer. Not a wolf with opportunities for advancement. Her father seemed satisfied with his life. Whether or not that acceptance had been easy -- well, she didn't know. So, as the youngest child of wolves with lesser rank, she was expected to follow in their footsteps. Either she followed her mother into administrative work or she joined her father as part of the protectors.
Mallen learned to fight. Every pack member learned to fight, but she wasn't one to seek violence when cleverness and intelligence could more easily win the day. She was curious about the world. Unafraid to ask questions. To dream bigger. To want more.
Is that what David had seen in her that day? When the new alpha assumed leadership, custom dictated every single female of age present herself to him. As long as anyone could remember, the alpha would choose several bride prospects who would then engage in a series of challenges.
The winner got to marry the alpha.
It was a stupid tradition.
She had no intention of participating. Not that it mattered. No alpha in his right mind would pick her. She was too small, looked too delicate, and her family was too low of a rank. So she was never a serious contender.
Not being considered competition had its advantages. She wasn't picked on by the other women. Of course, that may have been because she had four protective older brothers, who were handsome and more than willing to satisfy the bedroom urges of willing females. And they did not take kindly to slurs against their little sister. The long-held rule of "I can pick on my sibling, but you can't," was very much gospel in their family. Mallen had gotten used to being ignored, even looked at with pity. She didn't care about the opinions of others, anyway. She knew her own mind. She didn't need approval.
She only went to the choosing ceremony to please her parents. They knew how she felt about the pack's archaic traditions and expectations. But still... she didn't want to disappoint them. They'd always had her back, and she figured it would cost her nothing to honor this one small aspect of pack life.
So, no. She was not a serious contender.
Is that why she answered him so boldly? And looked him in the eye? And then she dared to question his intelligence when he pulled her from the line of women and, to the shock of the pack, proclaimed, "I have chosen."