Outside, the witch chuckled—something she hadn’t done in a long time. Gods. Sentient beings. She laughed again in a low, raspy sound. She was neither, but if it pleased them to label her as such, she cared not. Her ancestors had roamed these Southern woods for years, passing on their Hoodoo practices from generation to generation, using folk magic, potions, and their ties to the supernatural to bind themselves with nature. They had a history of interceding for common folk to influence money, divination, health, love, even necromancy. She herself generally avoided involvement in those mundane exploits, yet she’d ignored her own instincts and moved from observer to participant with this bunch.

She wondered why for a moment then attributed her actions to the fact that wolves had been involved. When man moved against man with deceit and violence, it neither surprised nor concerned her. For the most part, she thought honestly, they deserved the evils they fabricated. This time, however, a pack of wolves from her own mountain had been attacked, and the lives of two shifters had been profoundly affected. She’d heard the one called Kieran grieving the loss of his packmates in the woods. Later, the younger one, Daniel, had been mourning Audrey, his lost love, and had wished for her return with such depth of emotion that her heart had been moved.

When she’d come to the cabin this night, she’d sensed that evil had already arrived. She intervened through the woman, Sabrina, to deflect an arrow intended for one shifter. Then she’d stayed merged with her to heal the younger shifter. Summoning Audrey’s spirit, which had never been far from the place of her death, she’d allowed the dead woman to share Sabrina’s mind and body for her reunion with Daniel. But as she’d listened to their words and felt the thwarted love between the two intended mates, she recalled Daniel’s wish in the woods months earlier. She decided then to use her power to embody Audrey in a form that would return her to Daniel and restore communication with her sister, who appeared to have the gift of telepathy with the wolf clan.

She didn’t regret her intervention. On the contrary, she felt lighter of spirit than she’d felt in years and justified in restoring the balance of light and darkness. Now, however, the group in the cabin were stupefied and seeking answers. She sighed with impatience over the human need to have everything logically explained and waved her hand in the air, producing paper. She closed her eyes momentarily and mentally touched the fading energy of the dying one outside. His treachery initially sickened her, but she uncovered the answers she needed. She broke the connection with him and moved her hand over the paper, hoping her words would bring peace to those inside. When she finished, she placed the page on the body outside and vanished with a smile back into her beloved mountain.

Kieran felt rather than saw the presence outside, for the hairs on his neck rose in warning. Moving protectively in front of Sabrina and instructing the others to stay put, he crossed the wooden floor and went outside. On Ricky’s bloodied chest was a letter addressed to them all. He lifted it in surprise and began reading aloud as he felt Sabrina and the wolves join him from behind.

Greetings, all, from one who has lived in these mountains alongside you for many years. You’ve known my people in the past as conjurers, midwives, peddlers, and healers, as we can alter the course of power, love, and even life with our abilities, if we choose. The man lying in front of you chose to bring death to your loved ones, though his original intent was not to do so. His rejection brought your end, Audrey, and his fear then moved him to ask his uncle for help.

Kieran paused in the reading and looked in confusion at the others. "His uncle?"

Daniel’s wolf bobbed its head. "I’d forgotten that...Ricky’s father was half-brothers with the sheriff. When Ricky’s folks moved, Ricky stayed on because he wanted to be a deputy."

Sabrina knelt again next to the white wolf , keeping her eyes averted from Ricky’s body. "So the sheriff helped cover up Audrey’s death to protect Ricky. Maybe his fancy car was a gift from Ricky’s father to help ensure his continued silence. But why make the death look like a wolf attack?" Sabrina asked. "Audrey, I saw in your vision that Ricky didn’t believe you loved a shifter...he thought Kieran had been just a man and that you were saying anything to protect someone else. He had no reason to frame a wolf for your killing."

"I’m betting that was the sheriff’s touch," Daniel said. "He openly believed in shifters and expressed hatred of them every chance he got. Audrey’s death gave him a reason to go hunting and allowed him to legally exterminate what he’d always despised—half-breed abominations. He never cared if the wolves he killed were shifters or simply wolves. He just had fun killing them, and Ricky helped."

Kieran considered this, then continued reading:

When this man first witnessed you shift, Kieran, he understood the truth of Audrey’s words and wanted nothing more than to kill any shifter that could have stolen her from him. He learned from his uncle that Daniel was also wolf. His uncle, unfortunately, wanted to remove Sabrina from this world, too, as her interest in Kieran was plain. But this man still held affection for Sabrina, and he took his uncle’s life rather than adding Sabrina to his growing list of wrongs. In doing that, he knew he’d be unable to return to his old life and sought only to eliminate you two shifters before killing himself. What happened here tonight was the result.

You’ve all been changed forever by this man’s actions. How you resolve to live now is chosen only by you. After all, it is a new year, my friends. Choose well.

Sabrina shut her eyes and tried to remember Ricky as he’d been in her childhood. Those days had been full of carefree laughter, innocence, and friendship. What had happened? The white wolf at her side whined softly, and Sabrina caressed the wolf’s fur, deeply grateful for Audrey’s return regardless of form. Daniel nuzzled Audrey again, clearly feeling the same, and Sabrina’s felt tears of joy spring up. She stood and looked at Kieran, who’d been watching her intently. They moved as one to put their arms around each other, and Sabrina spoke words full of love.

"I choose you," she whispered as his mouth claimed hers.