Authors: Carina Wilder
Julia went first, against a woman called Jacqueline.
I had no doubt that my good friend could beat anyone here; she was clever as well as feisty.
Her fight lasted
only about thirty seconds. Jacqueline was clearly terrified of pain and I thought at one point that I saw her pull her weapon to the side to allow Julia to hit her flat across the stomach, which was an automatic disqualification. I only hoped that all the fights would be so easy.
When the time came for me to
fight Joanna, I tested a strategy that involved being a defensive fighter. I was quick for my size, and managed to block each shot and then to swat her in the belly when her guard went down. She took the defeat fairly well, at least.
After we’d each fought and narrowed the field to five, Julia had to fight Brittany, who somehow managed to take her out while blocking her
own expensive chest from attack. I must admit that I was surprised to see how athletic Brittany actually was. She dodged and blocked each blow with seeming ease and finally caught Julia in the brief moment when she’d lifted her weapon to swing it. I was almost glad; if I was going to have to fight again I preferred for it not to be against my best friend among the women.
I fought Bre
e next, and it was another easy match. My aggression was beginning to come out as I realized that I could win the whole tournament, and when Bree saw the look in my eyes it only took a second for her to back away. I had no desire to injure her but I felt something like bloodlust erupt within me as the large men and women of the pack surrounded us. I wanted to be accepted among Tristan’s ilk, to show them what I could do.
Finally it was down to Brittany and me. I looked at her from across the ring and saw in her face a look of determination, and I knew she meant business. She already hated me and there was no way she’d give in and allow what she regarded as an inferior woman to beat her; it would be the
worst fate imaginable to a person of her breed. In that regard she was an awful lot like Craig.
I, on the other hand, was determined in my own way to win.
There was no way I was giving anyone the chance to push me out of the house.
As I stood
considering my strategy, Julia pulled up next to me.
“She’s quick, so don’t expose any sensitive bits to her. And for God’
s sake, beat the living shit out of her.”
“I will. At least I’ll try.
Seems that Brittany’s competitive side is stronger than I’d even thought.”
“Yeah, I’m a little surprised by how hard she’s fightin
g to stay here. Of course, she’s probably just looking for more airtime.”
I knew that it would be an uphill battle, and I fuelled my desire to win by thinking of the catty comments Brittany had made over the last several days. It was clear that she thought I was unattractive and that I shouldn’t have been in the house in the first place. I wouldn’t be surprised, I thought, if she were the one ultimately responsible for the separation between
Tristan and me. She and Joanna seemed to have a fairly tight friendship and it seemed just like her to rat me out to Craig.
As I contemplated this last theory I grew angry, my resolve replaced by
something like bubbling rage.
John gave us the signal to enter the ring and I moved in slowly, stalking Brittany as a panther might stalk its prey. I could see immediately that she was confused by my lack of aggression; her technique had thus far involved waiting
for the attacker to come to her, then swatting them as soon as she had a chance.
I was going to make her come to me. I suspected that she’d hate for me to control the situation.
And she did.
It was always hard to read the expression on Brittany’s face, but, her eyes denoted a sort of angry frustration that filled me with satisfaction. I wasn’t giving her what she wanted, and she was very unaccustomed to not getting her way.
“That’s it,” I thought. “Come to me, you nasty piece of work.”
Finally, after what seemed like minutes, Brittany did just that. She lunged at me, crying out and striking at me with the wooden shaft of her weapon. I blocked her easily, a hand holding each end of my own. We repeated this process several times over, each time with her being forced to take the initiative and strike a blow. I could see her face going red again, betraying her anger. There was no question that she was set on winning, and there was no way I could let her.
“Come on,” she growled. “Try and hit me, you fat lazy bitch.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tristan, who was watching with the other pack members, take a step forward. I knew that he’d heard her and that the same instinct was kicking in that had caused him to attack Craig. But if he got involved it would be the end of his job, not to mention the end of the show. I couldn’t let that happen.
glared at Brittany and growled, “Make me.”
She continued her attempts to taunt me
under her breath. I wondered if the microphones picked it up, but they were so far off and by now the other women were cheering so loudly that I figured no one could hear much but us and the wolf pack, who seemed to have exceptional hearing.
Your stupid boyfriend of a producer didn’t like that much, did he? It hurts his little feelings to see me pick on his porky lady friend. Jesus, he has to be a serious moron to go for an ugly cow like you. You two deserve each other. A fat bitch and a fucking idiot.”
It didn’t bother me to be called fat or ugly; not by this woman.
There was nothing she could say about me that would make me lose any sleep.
But when I heard her insult
Tristan something happened to me. To call it rage would be an insult to the English language; it wasn’t that at all. My body took my mind over, and I found myself breathless, almost unable to stand. I hunched over, confusing Brittany. She paused for a only a moment before saying,
“Oh, did I make you cry? Poor Nicole. So many insecurities.”
I felt something happen then; a pressure from every part of my body. I pulled my helmet off and threw it to the ground, as my head felt that it was going to explode. Brittany stood before me, weapon in hand, and paused again, unsure as to whether it was okay to use it when my defenses were down.
I bent over and, without understanding how I’d gotten there,
found myself on my hands and knees, my back arching upwards. All I could think of was this woman in front of me who had no understanding of human beings, no compassion, not a care about anything or anyone but herself. All I wanted was to teach her a lesson.
I heard it before I felt it.
A sort of crunching and then sharp pain followed by numbness, every nerve in my body reacting at once.
The world went to shades of grey, yet everything became clearer
; every sense was heightened all of a sudden. My head shot up again and my eyes were set on my rival, who was staring over me in horror. She dropped her weapon at her side and began to back away.
That was it; she was vulnerable.
I lunged at her before realizing that my own weapon was no longer in my hands. As my body impacted hers, she fell back to the earth and I stood over her, my hands on her shoulders, pinning her down. I wanted to tear her fucking throat out.
But when I looked
at her I saw my fingers on her, digging into her flesh.
realized with a shock that they were covered in a sort of light fur, long claws extending from their tips. These were no fingers.
I backed away now, stepping over and over again and leaving the
awful woman flat on the ground. I watched her chest heave as shock washed over her.
As I moved backwards I saw my clothes, torn to shreds, lying on the ground and I knew without a doubt what had happened. So it was true; this was my legacy and my father had left it to me.
Tristan ran to me first, yelling something. I heard him but didn’t register a word; I didn’t know what to do. I found myself looking up into his eyes as a member of the wardrobe staff draped another robe over me.
laid a hand on my back now and said, “It’s all right, Nikki. I’m going to bring you into the house now. Just let me guide you and don’t worry about anything. I’m here.”
His hand still on me, he led me to the cabin
. My footfalls were tentative; I felt as though I was drunk and only now learning to walk.
When we were inside my eyes dar
ted around the room, which was furnished with large couches and chairs, no doubt to accommodate the pack in moments of relaxation and meetings.
closed the door to give us some privacy and knelt in front of me, his eyes on my face.
“So it’s true,” he said. “I thought it must be. I knew there was a reason I was so drawn to you. Nikki, listen to me: you know by now that you’ve shifted. I need you to breathe, relax, and think about your human form. Picture it.
Let go of any anger you’re feeling.”
I breathed deeply, realizing that my tongue was jutting out of my mouth; I was panting. The thought amused me, which allowed me to relax. I did as
Tristan instructed and calmed myself, letting go of my anger. I thought about Nikki, the woman I was so used to scrutinizing in the mirror.
came back into the world as I lay down on the floor, allowing my body to relax with the robe draped over me. I continued to think about the human part of myself and closed my eyes. My body did what it was supposed to then, and in a wild shudder I shifted back into my usual form.
“Good girl,” said
Tristan quietly, his hand touching my face. “You poor thing. That must have been a shock.”
I..it was. I didn’t know…”
“No, you wouldn’t. Normally people begin to shift when
they’re younger, and half-breeds often don’t shift at all. You must have been extremely pissed off at Brittany for that to have happened.” He was smiling now. He knew why I’d been so enraged. “I guess you’re not as in control of your emotions as I thought.”
“I wanted to kill her,” I said.
“I know you did. And I’m glad you didn’t do it, especially not in front of all those TV cameras.”
Just then the door opened and Craig came in. For once he wasn’t set on attacking
“How is she?” he asked.
“Shaken, but okay I think,” said Tristan.
“You shouldn’t have done that. You scared the hel
l out of Brittany,” said the alpha, his anger with me showing where his loyalties were focused, in one quick moment.
“Are you actually stupid enough to think she could have helped it, Craig? For Christ’s sake,” growled
To his credit, Craig remained calm and simply looked at me and said, “Come out when you’re ready.”
“Well,” said Tristan when the alpha had left, “this show’s just gotten a lot more interesting. I have a feeling you just upped our ratings by three thousand percent.”
With that I laughed. “Well, at least I’m good at something,” I said.
I was joking but a part of me meant it. All at once I felt empowered. My size now felt like a bonus, a sign of strength. All my life I’d wondered why I felt gigantic and now I was grateful for it.
“You are good at many things; you’ve just never seen it or admitted it to yourself. Maybe now you’ll start.”
We went out
side together, me in my robe, suddenly a uniformed member of the pack. Brittany stood far from me, eyeing me as though I were the angel of death with her name written on my scythe. All the disrespect she’d shown me had been replaced now with something like terrified reverence and I was enjoying it, I’ll admit.
John walked to the center of the ring. “Ladies, we’ve discussed what should happen here, given the unusual circumstance that’s arisen. It need not be said that this will be a moment that goes down in te
levision history. But there has to be a winner, and we’ve decided to award control of the next date to Brittany since it’s not exactly in our rulebook that you’re allowed to shift into a wolf before fighting.”
It was fair enough; I had broken the rules. Still, I was disappointed not to be able to throw another date Julia’s way. I knew that Brittany would take it for herself.
Julia approached me when John had finished his requisite speech, a bewildered smile on her face.
“Well, aren’t you full of surprises?” she grinned.
“Believe me, no one was more surprised than yours truly.”
“I believe it. Even as a wolf you looked pretty stunned, if it’s possible for a wolf to look that way.”
We returned to the house as a group in the same SUV that had brought us. I didn’t get another opportunity to talk to
Tristan, but I wished so much that I could. The shock was wearing off and I had so many questions to ask. Why hadn’t my mother told me the truth? What would happen now? What about my life? Children? How was I supposed to carry on as if nothing had happened? There should be a support group for this.
John surprised me by approaching me quietly when we got back to the house. “I know you must be having a hard time right now with all of this,” he said. The cameras were off, thankfully. “You didn’t know about it, did you? That you’re a shifter, I mean.”
“No, I didn’t.
Not for sure, anyhow.”
“If you need anything I’m
here. I know I play the uptight host of the show, but I’m also a pack member. Don’t forget that.”
“John,” I said as he got up to leave me, “What happened to you when you found out you were a shifter?”
“Well, I knew all my life. Both my parents are, and they prepared me. But a lot of people don’t know and it comes as a huge challenge to many of them. I’ve seen more than one of them break down because of it.”
I thought then about my father, and how much it must have devastated my mother to lose him. She wasn’t an unkind woman and I suspected that she’d never told me about my genes because she hoped that I would never become what he’d been. Maybe she thought that by concealing it she could save me from the temptation to learn more.
This news would probably hurt her; I made a mental note to ask a producer if I could write to her, to tell her that I would never desert her.
“I won’t break down,” I said. “I feel confused, frightened, anxious, all of it. But above all I feel stronger.”
John smiled then, and it was the first time I’d ever witnessed a sincere expression on his face.
“I’m really glad, Nikki,” he said. He left me alone then.
Brittany had her date the next day with Craig; it was some all-day affair that took them into the mountains on a hike. No doubt at some point they talked about the ‘incident,’ as people were now calling it. I wondered if she’d gathered he
r wits enough to pretend that my wanting to rip her apart with my teeth didn’t bother her too much.
found me during the day, defying the rule that he was to avoid contact. I was sitting in the kitchen over a cup of coffee.
“Can we go outside?” he asked.
The air was crisp and smelled of the forthcoming autumn, but there was something else as well. I felt that my senses were heightened now; that I’d allowed them to develop into something more than human. I found myself inhaling deeply as we left the house, taking in the sce
nt of the surrounding mountains and of the man next to me.
“How are you?” he asked when we’d sat down on one of the decorative stone benches that dotted the landscape.
“I want to tell you that I’m fine, but the truth is that it’s all very mixed for me. So I’ll say that I’m okay. You don’t need to worry. It’s not like I didn’t have suspicions that this was in my blood.”
“I know. But I am worried---I have to worry about you.
You mean a lot to me, you know.”
“Do I? I mean, do I really? What are we going to do,
Tristan? I feel like everything is on such thin ice here, between us, with the show. Everything.”
“It is, gorgeous, but we’ll figure it out.”
“But how? If Craig chooses me for some bizarre reason I have to be with him, don’t I?”
Tristan’s face now, as I knew it showed up on mine. I hadn’t known until I shifted that this was how things would play out: that now I was a pack wolf and the alpha claiming me would mean that I was essentially his property.
“Yes,” he said.
I wondered if the other girls were truly aware of the consequences if they dared reject an alpha, but then none of them would. This show was set up perfectly to ensure that the candidates would fight to the death for this man; I knew in that moment, even, that every female in the house was scheming, devising a plan to ensnare Craig, even Julia. But they wanted to win him on television and didn’t see the true reality of the situation.
“I don’t think I could do it though,
Tristan. I don’t think I’d ever want to be with him. No---I know I wouldn’t want to. I
want to. I want you.”
“And I want you, more than I ever did before. More each day.”
Tristan laid a hand on my cheek and leaned in close.
I felt myself melt, my body surrendering without resistance to the fe
eling that surged through me as he moved in. His soft lips, gentle but firm on my own, sent me reeling, dizzy, searching for an anchor as my hand reached for him. I laid it on his chest and felt his heart pounding under his perfectly sculpted flesh.
Our tongues met and mingled, explori
ng and searching one another in an attempt to sate the hunger that had built between us for so long. Truth be told, I felt that if we could in that moment we would have devoured each other. A kiss seemed too tame and yet this kiss filled us both, I knew, and it would have to feed us for days to come, if not for a lifetime. I relished each second, not knowing if there would be another chance to be with him. The bittersweet moment lasted forever and yet not nearly long enough.
When we stopped, both of us coming to our senses, I looked into his light eyes. There was a sadness in him that I hadn’t seen, and I knew that I reflected the emotion; that we both longed for a solution to our dilemma and that neither could come up with one.
“Nikki, I know that I had a life before you. For twenty-six years I lived, content, without you. I know that I’ll go on living even if I don’t have you. But I’m not sure that I could ever want to.”
“I know. I know exactly what you mean. I can’t imagine getting up in the mornings now and not thinking about you first thing, and last thing before I fall asleep. All I want to do is be with you,
He kissed me again, lightly
, his lips brushing softly against mine.
“You’d better go inside,” he said, “or one of us will get fired, and it won’t be you.”
I stroked his stubble-coated cheek and then left him on the bench alone.
I stuck around that evening to hear about Brittany’s date though what I really wanted was to isolate myself in our bedroom, away from the candidates, away from anyone’s eyes.
en were wary of me now, all of them but Julia. Nothing seemed to phase her. I found their fear of my own shifting strange, given that they seemed so intent on finding their way into Craig’s life and bed. Somehow a shifter who was male was sexy to them whereas the female in their midst was a freak. But I enjoyed this; I felt powerful in their presence and I knew that no one would mess with me. There was no longer a risk that I would revert to shyness and cast my eyes to the floor.
When Brittany got home
she remained uncharacteristically quiet; normally she would have bragged about her date and how far she’d advanced with Craig. I supposed that it was my presence that threw her off. All she said when asked was, “It was good.”
Over the next several days more women were eliminated. There were trivia competitions involving everything I’d told the cameras I liked: baseball, architecture, equestrian sports. There was even a cooking competition with a taste test by Craig, which I won based on my own culinary instincts; in my brief time as a full-fledged shifter I’d developed a taste for a certain cut of venison and I knew that it would appeal to the alpha, though of course he wasn’t told who’d cooked it. My intention was only to make him believe that I wanted to be there to win his heart. I needed him to set aside worries about Tristan and could only hope that if I lost in the end, Craig would end up happy and I would have a shot at being with the man I’d come to adore.
When he chose mine as the winning dish, I watched his face. It contorted into a look that was a cross between frustration and anger. I failed to comprehend why it was that he’d shown such
possessiveness over me when clearly he didn’t want me there, but I came to the conclusion that he was simply asserting his dominance; to allow Tristan to steal me from under him would mean that he’d been defeated, humiliated even, and he couldn’t allow it to happen in front of his pack mates.