SIX MONTHS LATER: MAY
Spring in Crescent Lake was just as beautiful as I imagined. The spring festival the pack held on the shore of the lake every year—the one he’d written to me about in the letter I never received—was a blast. I ate more food than I should have and stayed up way too late dancing with Wesley and all our friends and family. And in the early hours of the morning, after we’d gone home, my mate held me close and made love to me, whispering to me and caressing me with the same care and tenderness he’d shown me on our first night together.
That was all a few weeks ago. Now, we were gathered by the shore of the lake again, but for a different reason.
For Wesley’s alpha ceremony. For him and his friends and brother to take over the pack. And for me to become the luna.
It was still strange to think of myself as a leader of a pack of wolves. But in the short time I had been with Wesley and been living in the pack, I’d found more acceptance and love than almost anywhere I’d lived before.
Wesley, Reid, Nolan, and Sebastian all stood in front of the pack. Wesley stood forward with the three others at his back, the water of the lake rippling behind them from the breeze. I stood off to the side of the ceremony area with Maddie and Luna Emily, her fingers laced with mine and her hand giving my trembling hand a gentle squeeze. Reid’s dad and Nolan’s parents stood in front of the rest of the pack, all smiling up at their sons.
It was to be a private ceremony, a ceremony held only for members of the pack. I had asked about inviting the king and his family, as well as Alpha Benjamin and Sarina and her nomad friends, but Wesley informed me their tradition for the ceremony was pack members only.
It worked out for the better, anyway. Sarina and her friends had left just days before the ceremony. They had hung around to help Ben find the rest of the members loyal to his father, who had fled during the transition and after Wes had killed Pierce. Then one morning, they were just gone; the clearing erased of any trace of them, even their scents.
And Ben was gone on another trip to the royal palace in Hawaii to bring them more evidence of the drug his father had created and sold. So he wouldn’t have been available, even if he could attend.
Not even Shirley and Jack could attend. I was disappointed, but they were both gracious and understanding.
Wesley’s eyes slid to me, his lips tipping up as he looked at me in my light purple dress, the same dress I’d worn the night of the company’s premiere. I returned his smile, and then he turned his attention back to his father as Harrison began speaking.
“Crescent Lake family,” Harrison began, addressing the pack standing on the shore. “We are all gathered today to witness the transfer of power from our current leadership to the next generation. As is tradition, we have waited until our future alpha found his mate and marked her before we give him the reins.
“We have all watched as Wesley grew from a strong but slightly wild young lycan into the man and alpha he is today. A man who is not afraid to stand up for those who need defending, who is willing to help others even when they’re too proud or scared to ask for it, and who views his mate as a treasure, as someone who gives him strength instead of making him weak.
“We have watched him learn how to be a leader by making mistakes and owning up to them, and realizing when he was in the wrong. And instead of making excuses or placing the blame elsewhere, he takes responsibility, and works to remedy his errors, and learn from them.”
Wesley stood still during his dad’s speech, his dark green shirt stretching across the muscles of his chest. With each word from his dad’s mouth, he stood a little straighter, a little taller, accepting the weight of his new responsibility with strength instead of letting it pull him down.
My heart fluttered at the sight of him standing so proudly, so ready to take over his pack. Our pack. He’d been hesitant, had voiced his fears to me of not being ready yet, but we all knew he was. And he wouldn’t be alone. He’d have Reid, Nolan, and Sebby to help him.
And he’d have me.
Harrison turned to look at Wesley, and as soon as he turned his back, he let his serious alpha mask drop to reveal the pride and love in his eyes to Wesley.
“Wesley,” he choked out, then he blew out a breath and shook his head, a soft laugh spilling from his lips. “Wow, this is harder than I thought it would be.” He chuckled, and the pack members behind him joined in with his laughter.
“Wesley, I know you think you’re not ready. I know you think I should wait longer before letting you take over, that you think there is still more you could learn before you become our alpha.
“But I know, in my heart, that you are ready. I have seen the man you have become, the man you are with your mate by your side, and I have complete faith that you will lead the pack with honor and integrity. I have complete trust in you, and I know you”—he swallowed, blinking and tilting his head up to the moon for a moment—“I know you will be a better alpha than I was,” he whispered.
Wesley blinked too, and his lip quivered, but he didn’t move or otherwise show how Harrison’s words affected him. Only I knew. Only I could feel all of it through our bond.
“Wesley Michael Stone,” Harrison said, loud enough for the entire pack to hear. “Do you promise to lead Crescent Lake to the best of your ability as the next alpha? Do you promise to love them, care for them, and protect them? Do you promise to have a firm hand and voice when needed, just as a parent sometimes needs to be firm with their child?”
“I do,” Wesley replied with conviction, his voice unwavering and his body straight and tall.
Harrison gave him a curt nod. “Then I, Alpha Harrison James Stone, willingly transfer my title of alpha to you, Wesley Michael Stone.”
The breeze blowing leisurely through the grounds that evening picked up and swirled around the pack, rustling the pine needles, the grass, and the water. Wesley’s eyes closed, and he took a deep breath, his muscles tensing and rippling from the new power surging through his veins and his soul.
When his eyes opened, there was a brief glow there, a small glimpse of the strength and power he held inside himself. My breath caught at the sight, at the knowledge that he held all that in his body, had the power to rip a man’s throat out with ease, and yet he always handled me with such care, such tenderness. That he always treated me like a princess.
Or, I suppose, a goddess.
“I’m so proud of you,” Harrison murmured, pulling Wesley into a hug.
Wesley smiled, and they patted each other on the back. Then Harrison stepped back and pushed Wes in front of him. “Crescent Lake, I give you your new alpha, Alpha Wesley Stone!”
The cheers and howls from the pack echoed off the surrounding mountains, and Wesley’s smile grew.
And so did mine.
As the cheering died down, Harrison joined Emily, Maddie, and me, and Wesley turned to look at his friends and his brother. All three waited patiently for him to give them their titles; all three dressed similarly to Wes in jeans and a T-shirt, clothes they wouldn’t mind ripping when they shifted into their wolves at the end of the ceremony to lead the pack on a run.
He approached Reid first, and they grasped each other’s forearms. “Reid Stephen Thomas,” Wes said. “Do you promise to lead Crescent Lake to the best of your ability? Do you promise to be my second in command, the one who stands by my side and supports me but also questions my decisions when needed? Do you promise to fulfill the duties I cannot so our pack’s needs are covered on all ends?”
“I do,” Reid answered with a sincere nod.
“Then I hereby proclaim you the beta of Crescent Lake, Beta Reid Thomas.”
Reid smiled at Wes as the same breeze blew through the grounds, rustling his short hair.
He fist-bumped Wes, and they laughed before Wes moved in front of Nolan, grabbing his hand as he’d done to Reid.
“Nolan Ulysses Shepard. Do you promise to lead Crescent Lake to the best of your ability? Do you promise to protect your luna, to stand by her side or in front of her as the situation calls for? Do you promise to support her in whatever way she needs? Do you promise to be not just her friend but her brother?”
Nolan’s hazel eyes slid to me, and he nodded at me before turning back to Wesley. “I already do, and I will,” he declared.
“Thank you, Nolan,” I said to him through the mindlink.
“Of course, Luna,” he replied.
He wasn’t lying. He came with me to every class, every rehearsal, every performance, and everything in between. He drove me to the city, then did his coding job on his laptop or tablet while I did whatever I had on my schedule for the day, and then he’d drive us back to Crescent Lake. Of course, Wesley would tag along occasionally as well, doing more of his work remotely now that we were mated.
“I hereby proclaim you the gamma of Crescent Lake, Gamma Nolan Shepard.”
The breeze blew again, and Nolan inhaled, breathing in the magic and feeling his new power settle in his body. He and Wesley exchanged a smile, and then Wesley stepped in front of Sebastian.
“You sure you don’t want your own pack?” Wesley muttered to him.
“I’m sure, Alpha,” Sebastian replied.
His face and eyes were serious, his brow raised, challenging Wes to ask him again. But he didn’t. He just nodded and took his brother’s arm in his as he’d done with the other two.
“Sebastian Henry Stone,” Wesley said. “Do you promise to lead Crescent Lake to the best of your ability? Do you promise to train our warriors to defend our pack and those who cannot defend themselves? Do you promise to be among the first to lead us into a fight against those who wish us harm?”
“I do,” Sebastian whispered.
The brothers exchanged a long look, and then Wesley squeezed Sebastian’s arm. “Then I hereby proclaim you the delta of Crescent Lake, Delta Sebastian Stone.”
Sebastian’s lips pinched together, and he hugged Wes, his face hiding in his shoulder.
They released each other, and Wesley turned to me, giving me his full attention for the first time since the ceremony began. My hands shook again, and I swallowed, squeezing Emily’s hand as she had done earlier.
“Don’t be nervous, Sugar Plum,” Wesley whispered in my mind, his warm brown eyes locked with mine. “The pack already loves you. This is just a formality, just part of our tradition.”
“You will be fine,” Emily murmured, wrapping her arm around my shoulder and hugging me.
“Haven Kenway,” Wesley stated, a broad smile on his face as my name fell from his lips, his hand outstretched to me.
Everyone had their eyes on me as I walked from Emily’s side to Wesley, but I only had eyes for him. My mate. My Wesley.
He took both of my hands in his. His tongue traced his lips, and he swallowed, looking down at his feet for a moment to compose himself.
“Haven. My mate. My luna,” he began, his face softening as he looked at me, taking in my dress and my soft, wild curls. He reached up and touched my cheek, stepping in closer to me. “Do you promise to be your alpha’s other, better half? To guide me with your love and your heart? Do you promise to keep me from being too hotheaded and impulsive? To challenge me and call me out on my bullshit? Because Goddess knows I need someone to do that, and you’re the only one who does it without worrying about my reaction.”
The entire pack laughed, and I smiled at him, covering his hand on my face with my own. “I do,” I murmured, and he beamed at me.
“Crescent Lake!” Wesley exclaimed, turning to look out at our pack. “Do you promise to love and respect your luna? To treat her as the heart of our pack, the one who holds us all together? Do you promise to protect and defend her, just as you protect and defend our pack and our bond? Do you accept her as your luna?”
I held my breath, my body tensing as I heard his question, and waited for their response. This was the part I was most afraid of, the part I was dreading. The moment when they might turn me down.
But the howls and cheers that sounded before his question even finished were even louder than the ones they gave to Wesley when he was presented as their new alpha, putting all my fears to rest, proving to me they were unfounded, that I’d had nothing to worry about.
“Then I present to you your new luna, Luna Haven Kenway!” Wesley shouted.
The howls and cheers continued, growing even louder as he tugged me towards him and kissed me in front of them all, claiming my mouth with his lips and his tongue, claiming me for all of them to see. I held onto him, returning his kiss with renewed fervor, energized and driven by the support and acceptance of the wolves of our pack. The breeze blew around us, twisting my hair and dancing in the fabric of my dress as we kissed.
“I love you, Luna Haven,” Wesley said as he pulled back, his nose brushing mine.
I gave him another kiss. “And I love you, Alpha Wesley,” I replied. “Now go. Lead your pack on your first run as their alpha,” I told him, stroking his chest through his shirt before pushing him towards his friends.
He pulled me back in for one more kiss and then another, his smile growing against my lips with each one. Then he walked backwards until his bare feet were in the lake water, Reid on one side of him and Nolan and Sebastian on the other.
Without a word, the four of them shifted into their wolves and lycans—Wesley and Sebastian standing tall in their more humanoid, dark gray forms and Reid and Nolan on all fours with them. They let out a unified howl and then took off, splashing through the shallow water towards the trees.
The thundering of hundreds of heavy paws echoed around me, and the wolves of our pack sped by me. Some of them nuzzled my hand with their nose or rubbed the fur against my legs as they passed me, all of them also splashing through the shallow water as they followed their new leaders, howling and yipping with joy. The water hit me a few times, and I squealed and laughed at the unexpected temperature change and the feeling of the water on my skin and my dress.
I wrapped my arms around myself and smiled as I watched the last shifted wolf run to the forest, strolling along the shore and dipping my toes into the water, not caring if my dress got wet since it had already been splashed by the wolves. I closed my eyes, but a small tug on my skirt pulled me out of my thoughts.
I looked around and down and found a young child—or pup, I guess, since that’s what the pack called them—holding onto my skirt and peering up at me with wide, green eyes.
“What is it?” I asked him, crouching down to his level.
“Will you run with us, Luna Haven?” he asked.
“But I can’t shift. I’m not a wolf,” I reminded him.
“We can’t shift either,” he said with a shrug.
“And we don’t care that you’re not a wolf,” another chimed in. “You’re still our luna. And we want you to run with us while we chase after the big wolves!” she exclaimed.
A chorus of “Please, Luna Haven!” and “Run with us, Luna!” echoed and played around me, complete with pouty lips and wide, blinking wolf-pup eyes.
“All right,” I said with a smile. “Let’s go chase the big wolves,” I declared, standing and reaching my hands out for them.
They all cheered and took my hands, pulling me with them towards the clearing in front of the forest. The breeze blew again, stronger this time, pulling my hair and the skirt of my dress and drawing my attention back to the lake.
I paused, still holding the hands of the little pups, and looked over to the lake, to where the full moon hung over the water and was mirrored back to itself. The breeze wrapped around me, warm and soft, and caressed my cheek once before moving away to the trees.
I turned, and there in the tree line staring back at me, was my Wesley, in his lycan form, watching me as I ran with the pups of our pack. I smiled at him, picking my pace up again and bringing the children with me, laughing with each step I took.
His beast let out a howl and then took off in a flash, leaving only dust and dried pine needles in his wake.
And as I ran after him, a gaggle of unshifted wolf pups in tow, I realized what I should have known from that first night I found myself on the shore of Crescent Lake and stared out at the moon hovering over the water.
I realized I had finally found where I belonged.