Three months ago, South Florida
Samantha sat at her grandmother’s bedside, holding her hand. The doctors had told the family that there wasn’t much time left, but Samantha hoped they were wrong. Grandma Peggy had been through a lot in her life, and surely she could get through this, too. But maybe she was being selfish? She was closer to her grandmother than anyone else in her family, and now, other than her brothers, who had each other, her grandmother was all she had left.
Sitting here, watching her grandmother sleeping, photos of Grandpa Arthur looking down at her, she could see that her grandmother was ready. She was at peace with what was to come. Samantha lost the fight against the tears that had been threatening since she walked into the room. Her grandparents had been together since they were sixteen years old. Arthur had died a few months ago, right after his eighty-sixth birthday, and now it looked like his beloved wife was joining him. Age and grief had taken their toll, and with the news that the cancer she’d beaten so many years ago was back, she’d refused treatment.
“I’m too old to fight that fight again,” her grandmother had said, comforting Samantha, “and I miss Arthur. I’m going to be with him again soon. Don’t be sad for me, Samantha.”
“Oh, Grandma, what am I going to do without you?”
“You are going to live, young lady. I know that things haven’t always been easy for you. I loved your grandfather and your mother, but I saw them clearly, too. Your brothers had each other for comfort and support.”
“And I had you.”
“There’s so much I have to tell you and so little time.”
“Save your strength, Grandma.”
“No, Samantha. Your mother should have told you these stories, but she didn’t because she thought it would hurt your grandfather, and I stayed silent for the same reason, but now, I’m the only one left who can tell you, and there isn’t much time. You need to know the truth, and I need you to listen. I know you know some. You know your grandfather and brothers were…different from other men, no matter how much they tried to fit in.” Samantha nodded.
“Your brothers, maybe because they had each other and because they grew up with the wolf within, had a better time accepting it, but your grandfather was born human. He was always ashamed of the wolf inside him even though that’s how he and the others survived that last battle during the war. I could never hate the wolf because that’s what brought him back to me, but part of him wished he’d died over there and never accepted it.
“Your grandfather was a private serving under Captain Rory McAllister. Toward the end of the war, Rory was shot during a skirmish, separated from his men and dying when a young French widow found him bleeding in the woods. She convinced her father-in-law, who was the alpha of the district, to give him the gift to save his life as wolves heal much faster than humans. Within a few days, he was strong enough to return to his men, but by then they were in love, and he vowed to return for her. It was the waning days of the war, and he got back to what was left of his men and was shocked that there were only eight, the rest having perished in the same battle he was wounded in. They were hiding in the woods, but he was able to find them because of his heightened wolf senses.
“Then things went badly quickly. The Nazis made one last desperate assault, and it looked like it was going to work. They were surrounded and did the only thing he would think of to save them. He turned his remaining men and made them wolves, too. It worked, and they all made it home.
“The captain and the others accepted this gift and after the war decided to start new lives together in a town called Harmony in Washington State. It was the ‘pack’ mentality showing itself. Even shape-shifter wolves have the call to live together in a social group. Some like your grandfather were already married and brought their wives. Others married local girls. The captain married Elise, his French widow.
“Anyway, your grandfather and I lived there for a while, and that’s where your mother was born. Unlike the others, though, your grandfather couldn’t make peace with the wolf inside. He was ashamed, and he passed that shame on to your mother. He tried his hardest to accept it, but when your mother was born and Rory McAllister talked about how, when she grew up, he hoped she’d be mated with his sons, your grandfather decided that we had to leave. We moved here to Florida, which is just about as far away as you can get from Washington.”
“Did he ever see the others again?”
“Not for years. But I kept in touch with Elise McAllister. She and I had become friends. And she knew about wolves. Her first husband had been wolf, and her family had been wolf, so she knew the history and the ways of the wolf-shifters. She was able to guide the men, reassure the women, and to provide guidance when raising children of the wolf.
“She and Rory came for a visit after you were born. Your grandfather pretended to be mad, but he missed Rory. We got together every year after that. She and Rory are now living in a retirement community in New Harmony, New Mexico. The families started it a while back when they decided they needed some place warmer to live after retirement. Mostly it’s the younger generation, your generation, Samantha, who lives in Harmony, Washington. The rest live in New Mexico.
“Now this is what I want you to do, Samantha. Promise me you’ll do it. Promise.” Samantha looked at her grandmother and heard the urgency in her voice.
“Anything, Grandmother, anything at all.”
“I want you to go to Harmony. I want you to get to know others who share the wolf’s blood. They are your pack, Samantha. You should have been brought up with them.”
“Grandmother, Granddad may have had the blood, but I don’t. Or if I do it is so diluted in me that it pretty much doesn’t exist.”
“Don’t fool yourself, Samantha. It doesn’t work like that. Rory and Elise explained that in the female, the blood is more or less dormant, showing itself in subtle ways through physical strength, heightened senses, and superior healing. It is impossible to easily tell if a female is of mixed blood. He couldn’t tell that you were part wolf just by your scent, but he and Elise knew after playing with you. And you loved your uncle Rory. You recognized the blood in him and cried when he left. After that, Arthur wouldn’t let him near you again.” Her grandmother looked so sad that Samantha decided she needed a distraction.
“Scent? Ooh.” She made a face.
Her grandmother laughed.
“Yes, wolves can scent other wolves. He scented it immediately in the boys when he met them. But as Elise explained to me when your mother was born, the blood passes down pure to the males even if their mothers are not wolf, but does dilute in the females. You are three-quarters human, but it is there in your genes even if it is almost undetectable, and if you were to marry a wolf, it would come out.”
“You said before that Grandfather didn’t want Mom to marry Rory McAllister’s son who, I’m assuming, was wolf.”
“Not his son. His sons.”
“Sons?” Samantha realized that her voice was almost a squeak.
“In the wolf clans, the boys generally always marry the same female. The legal marriage is with the first born, but she is wife to all. There’s a formal mating ceremony between or among the parties outside under the full moon. It’s really very moving.”
“You watched one?”
“No, sweetie, I experienced one. You grandfather and I were already married, but to honor his inner wolf, we did the ceremony. There was no audience. This is a private ceremony even though it takes place outside under the full moon. As much as we loved each other before, we felt connected on a much more primitive level after that. I believe it is part of what made our relationship so strong for so many years.” She sighed. “But your grandfather didn’t want that for your mother. Rory had three sons, and your grandfather just couldn’t accept that for his daughter.”
“I should think not.”
Her grandmother sighed.
“Elise and I had many long conversations about that. She said it was the way of the wolf, and all the marriages she’d seen like that had been successful and the women blissfully happy.”
“More like exhausted,” snorted Samantha. “How would a woman even keep up?”
“Something in the blood, or so I understand it. A woman mated to wolves is more than able to satisfy her men. In fact, they have to work hard to satisfy her.”
Samantha colored at the thought of needing multiple men to satisfy her. Maybe that was why her relationships had never succeeded? She laughed to herself. No, she’d never been able to keep one man satisfied. She had a low sex drive or something, or so her boyfriends had complained. The very idea of satisfying multiple men was ludicrous. She had to move the conversation along.
“Yet she ended up marrying a single husband.”
“She was a widow when she met Rory. Both of her wolf husbands had died in the war. She fell in love with Rory when she was nursing him, and he with her, and when she changed him, they were tied together forever. They were crazy in love. The night she saved him was the first night of the full moon. He left after the third night, but not before they performed the mating ritual. She was carrying their first son when he left to go back to his men, not that she knew it then, but she did know that the pull of the mating would bring him back to her, if he was physically able.
“And she knew all about the history of the wolf. She taught the others. They all learned eagerly, except for your father. Your mother was raised to pretend the wolf didn’t exist. She married your father, a good man but a terrible match for her, because she wanted someone who was the opposite of wolf. He loved her until the day they died in that terrible car accident last year, and she loved him in her way, but part of her yearned for what might have been.
“As you and your brothers grew up, I kept in contact with Elise, and she helped me to teach them what it meant to be wolf. She even helped me find a place, a kind of summer camp, where they could be accepted and taught to control their gift. But your mother always hoped you’d escaped what she and our grandfather termed ‘the curse,’ so much was kept from you growing up.”
“Not as much as everyone thought. I’ve got three brothers who are wolves. You don’t think they didn’t take advantage of the fact when we were kids?”
Her grandmother smiled. “Yet you always kept the secret from your parents?”
“Somehow I always knew that this was something that shouldn’t be discussed. Children know. Just like I knew that my parents were content, but that Dad loved Mom far more than she loved him. She cared about him, but she didn’t have that great passion that he had for her.”
“Your dad made her happy. Make no mistake about that, Samantha. But he wasn’t what she really needed. And I’ve see those boys you date. All boring sticks in the mud in the mold of your father. It’s what you’ve been brought up to believe you should desire. But there’s something inside you that you need to explore.”
Samantha tried to argue, but her grandmother stopped her.
“You promised to do me this one favor. The little house where your grandfather and I lived in Harmony is still there. Arthur could never sell it, even though part of him wanted to forget about everything connected to Harmony. So we rented it out. A couple of months ago, the lease came due, and when the family living there told me they weren’t renewing, I took it as a sign.
“Samantha, you’ve talked about taking a sabbatical from work to write that novel you always wanted to write. Well, here’s your chance. Go spend the year in Harmony. Get to know the town and the people and maybe even the wolves. They won’t be able to scent you, but you’ll know them. You could scent it on your brothers, couldn’t you?” Her grandmother looked at her slyly. “You’ve got more wolf senses than you like to let on, don’t you?”
“Well, maybe. But I can’t move to Harmony.”
“Of course you can.”
“I can’t afford it.”
“Sure you can. It’s all taken care off in my will. I’m leaving you the house in Harmony on the condition that you reside in Harmony for the summer. I’d really prefer you to take that sabbatical and spend a year there and really get to know the other members of your pack, but if you at least spend the summer there, I’ll be content.”
“What about the boys?”
“They are in touch with their inner wolf, probably much more than you can even imagine. And they’ll be taken care off. They’ll split this house.
“Child. Please do this for me. I have always felt that you were cheated out of knowing part of your heritage. The boys got to understand about being wolf. It’s time for you to do so. I won’t force you to promise to reveal yourself. I understand. A year sounds like a long time. Live there for three months, more if you find you like it. I’ve love you to spend a year getting to know that side of your heritage, but I’ll settle for three months. Then, if you decide to turn your back on the wolf inside, that’s your choice. But three months. Give me that, please.”
Samantha looked at her grandmother’s expression and couldn’t say no.
“Okay, Grandmother. If it will make you happy. But not just yet. I’m not missing a minute with you, do you understand?”