"CLAUDIA! Hurry up and get in here!"
I knew Elly was going to scream my name long before her shrill voice echoed out of her room and into the hallway where I waited. This was the daily ritual, every afternoon. She would call for me, and while she sat at her vanity table, I brushed her long hair like a servant to her satisfaction. If a stranger saw us, I looked like any common slave of the pack house. No one would guess she was my half-sister, nor Maria in the other bedroom.
It was true. Our father was Alpha Kris of Dark Moon. But whereas Elly and Maria were tall and slim with beautiful auburn hair, I was the odd one out with my inexplicably pale skin, shorter stature, and completely black hair. But it suited us… since I was only the illegitimate daughter of the Alpha and the human slave he had raped eighteen years ago and impregnated. I was a disgrace, along with my mother who had died giving birth to me. A disgrace of a hybrid, a half-breed abomination. As I said, no outsider would ever guess I was supposed to be part of the family.
And no one would guess I could read minds, either. I had kept that secret all my life.
How was it possible for me to read minds? I didn’t know.
But I was privy to all of Elly’s secret thoughts just like now, and without fail, anytime something even slightly inconvenient happened, it was because of the no-good half-sister Claudia, illegitimate daughter of the Alpha, the half-breed.
At least my mother wasn't here to suffer with me. Me, a hybrid forced to play handmaid to my half-sisters, and her, the human slave who had given birth to me -- our lives would have been hell anyway. Better that I suffered alone. I could endure it, at least until I escaped from this place, the estate of the Dark Moon pack.
What a stupid bitch
, Elly seethed privately as I brushed her long hair out with gentle strokes of the brush.
But at least no one can possibly be so stupid they mess up brushing hair! Idiot. She had better not leave one strand out of place or I'll have them kick her ribs in to teach her a lesson. Bitch
I ignored her thoughts. It was unfortunate that everyone's private musings made it into my head regardless of my will, but I'd long since learned to mask it and pretend nothing was amiss. Besides, Elly was the boring one. Her thoughts were always the same, day in and day out, either blaming me for every little thing that happened to her or daydreaming about being the center of attention at school. Which then turned back to blaming me, since I attended the same high school, and who would want to have a disgusting half-breed hybrid for a sister? I was, in her world, always at the center of her woes. And she never missed a chance to give me hell for it.
But life was life, and even hell could become trite. The highlight of Elly's and Maria's school days were the gossiping and bad-mouthing of their classmates and even so-called friends whom they complimented and simpered at to their faces. For all the time they spent in front a mirror, they should take a moment to really self-reflect. Their make-up could pretty up their faces, but nothing could be done for the rotten personalities beneath. Swimming in their thoughts was like trying to wade through a swamp.
Ugh! She doesn't deserve to look so pretty
, Elly continued to seethe.
She's just a fucking slave. Trash! Disgusting trash! I wish someone would just cut her face up so I don't have to look at it anymore. She can't even shift! She might as well be human. Just make her a regular slave! Why does she get even this privilege to serve me personally!
Nothing new there either. At least I didn't have to listen to her ugly thoughts all the time, only when she was close enough. As soon as she was far enough away from me to leave the range of my ability, I was free.
...Actually, her last vicious thought about my wolf had stung. She was right. While I had one -- Cassiel -- she couldn't take over, and therefore I was trapped in human form. I wondered sometimes if Cassiel hated me for it. Was that why she was so quiet sometimes?
"Don't screw this up," Elly said aloud. "You're not important enough to deserve being involved in this, so don't get any stupid ideas. But I won't let you mess this up for me today, not in front of Alpha Evan."
Alpha Evan. His name had been all over everyone's minds since yesterday, overwhelming me like a tidal wave. Yes, Alpha Evan, the current Alpha of the Scarlet pack who had deposed and killed his predecessor, Alpha Adrain. Rumor had been that Evan was his long lost nephew, but people knew better than to gossip too loudly about that. Alpha Evan was as ruthless as they came, dominating and annexing every minor pack neighboring him and making the Scarlet pack a complete juggernaut.
And now, it was Dark Moon pack's turn today. In ceremony, the reins of this pack would be turned over to Evan to do as he saw fit, no resistance. All the female werewolves would be inspected and 'registered,' whatever that meant. The other rumor was that Alpha Evan ordered this done with every pack he conquered because he was searching for a suitable candidate to be his mate, his Luna.
Hence, Elly's and Maria's excitement. How handsome he is! they had crowed, and strong and rich! They would make a perfect mate for him, and he would definitely choose one of them. Or so each one thought. Maybe one of them was even his fated mate, and they would find out when they looked into each other's eyes...
I didn't care about that. I didn't know anything about mate bonds, and I'd never felt the urge to chase it. Probably because I was a half-breed, which was also likely the cause of the strange mutant power of my mind-reading ability that was far superior to mere mind-linking.
Which was how I knew that although both girls pretended to be in full sisterly support of each other, what each one thought was that she was far more beautiful, so there was no chance the other would become Luna, ever.
It was hard not to laugh sometimes. That was the real downside of my secret power, trying not to roll my eyes at the ridiculousness.
But to an Alpha like Evan who had ambitions of ruling the whole werewolf world, finding their true mate was no laughing matter. It was a gift from the Moon Goddess, something to increase their power and complete them.
This ceremony today could become a life or death matter if someone stepped out of line...
It took place in the afternoon. All the female werewolves lined up in the front courtyard of the estate as ordered while I watched on with the rest of the human slaves from the side, ready to help the ladies back indoors and attend to their needs once this was over. But the inspection was thorough and dragged until evening, and we were all forced to watch, nearly bored to tears. Nothing, of course. No woman was selected for whatever it was that Alpha Evan was searching for as he moved up and down each row. Elly and Maria looked like they were going to burst into tears when he passed them by, not even bothering to inhale their scent as he did with a few others.
When he returned to the front to stand on the platform, he gestured for my father the Alpha to join him up there, then glanced to his right at the brown-haired man who stood by him already. They must have mind-linked with each other just then. Not that I'd know anything about it. Other than my freakish mind-reading ability, I possessed no ability to telepathically communicate, to mind-link. And they were too far for me to eavesdrop with my power, which was unstable when it came to short distances as it was.
But the man -- perhaps the Scarlet pack's Beta? -- possessed a booming voice, and he left no room to wonder about what had just been communicated. He waited until Alpha Kris joined them and asked, "Is this all? Every single female werewolf in your pack."
"Yes, of course. Do you perhaps need to see my two daughters again?"
Elly and Maria perked, but the perhaps-Beta pushed on. "Your last chance. If any women have been excluded, we'll find out, and you won't survive the consequences."
"My Alpha, of course not --" Kris began to plead as he turned to look at the silent Alpha Evan, then seemed to remember something. "Well, there is one girl, but it's impossible. She's a half-breed, practically human. Surely she wouldn't be fit for--"
"Her name, werewolf!" The man snapped, forcing Kris's attention back to himself. "Give it to me."
"...It's Claudia Dale."
And then the man turned and called my name.
It happened so fast. The Scarlet pack werewolves came for me, forced me to stand on the platform in front of everyone. I was still trying to understand how it had come to this when I had been trying so hard to stay out of trouble, and now it had come looking for me. Nothing would happen since Kris was right, I was just a lowly half-breed, but Elly and Maria would take it out on me with vicious hatred later for the sheer perceived insolence of obeying the order to present myself.
But that became the least of my concerns when Alpha Evan stood in front of me... and leaned in, taking in my scent with visible relish.
, he thought, and it seeped into my mind uninvited.
It's her. The girl from nine years ago. This is that same scent. I've finally found her.
Nine years ago?
Was he insane?
I would have been eight years old, what could I have possibly done wrong to anyone when I was just a child?