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The Bite: Chapter 21

The smell of bacon and coffee woke me from the grave. There were four Advils on the nightstand next to two huge glasses of water. I took the medicine and washed it down with both glasses of water.

Walking proved to be more than a challenge. I had to hold on to the wall for support as I made my way slowly down the hall. The only reason I kept on was the smell of food. My whole body trembled with each step. My muscles spasmed, and my stiff joints had me practically hobbling.

My beast grumbled inside me. We both felt like we hadn’t eaten in ages.

The beast.

I almost fell when I could feel her moving in me. It was o natural; the organic way she ingrained herself into me was impossible to deny, yet the innate way she was pulsing through my veins paralyzed me. My eyes fell down to my quivering hands with an inner dread that the cracking would start again. I was so sure, looking at my fingers, that the bones would start to break.

“If you watch it long enough, I heard that sometimes you can grow a sixth finger.” Levi lowered his paper enough so I could see the smirk forming on his lips. The dread started to dissipate while annoyance took its place. “How do you feel?”

Like I fucking clawed myself out of my grave, Levi, thanks for asking.

“Charlotte?” Derek walked over to me with his signature warm smile and hugged me like I was glass ready to shatter.

“Go sit. I’ll bring you a plate.”

“I can get it.”

“You can barely walk without holding on to the wall. Go sit.” Begrudgingly, I gave in and shuffled to the table, which seemed much farther from the kitchen than it usually did.

My legs burned when I sat down while my lips struggled to hold a whimper from escaping. Levi didn’t look at me; all I could see was the big paper, a crossword puzzle half filled out on the back staring back at me. I felt like I could feel him smirking at me, though. I wished I had laser vision to burn through his damn paper.

“Have some vitamin C, you need it.” He lowered his paper, picked up the pitcher of orange juice on the table, and poured me a glass.

“Thanks.” His silver eyes were watching me, the beast in him coming closer to look at us. I felt my own wolf stir.

She was crawling on her belly, trying to creep quietly without detection. But there was something different about him that I didn’t notice before. My eyes found a vein in his neck.

It pulsed right as this strange energy whipped out at me, snapping like an electric whip between us. I jumped, barely concealing a whimper.

“Here you go, Char,” Derek said, setting the plate of bacon, eggs, and pancakes in the shape of wolves in front of me.

“Thanks,” I said over my shoulder, my eyes lingering on him as he walked back to the kitchen.

It was so obvious how easily a human could fall into a vampire’s trap. Derek used to be a human to me, who sometimes had fangs and a strange blood mustache that I liked to convince myself was wine, but he wasn’t human at all.

Carefully, I turned back and took a sip of coffee. “Well, well, well.” Another breeze of coppery sweetness approached me. Elliot sat down at the table with a smile. “Looks like Sleeping Beauty is up. I can’t believe you, Charlotte,” he said with a mock scold while I started to cut into the pancakes.

“You left me with these two on my own for four days! Four days, Charlotte, how—”

Four days?” I almost spat out my coffee.

Levi turned the page of his paper lazily, like it was a normal morning. “You went through Extreme Makeover: Werewolf Edition. It’s expected.”

“It’s normal,” Elliot added.

Derek set a plate in front of Elliot then took a seat on the other side of me, a cup of coffee in his hand. “How do you feel, then?”

I felt Elliot put the back of his hand on my forehead.

“Fine, everything hurts.”

“No shit?”

A low growl from my inner beast reverberated over to Levi. He just chuckled at me, and in a way his assholish nature made me feel normal again.

Elliot leaned back in his seat with a tired smile. “I think you’re going to be fine. Your vitals look good. You’re going to want to take it easy for a few days. Your body is still adjusting, so you’ll probably, more or less, sleep through the next few days.”

“How does she feel?” Derek asked.

“Everywhere. She’s everywhere, like she’s always been here the whole time,” I found myself saying.

“She’s strong, Levi,” Elliot mused.

Levi just grunted, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

“But I’m normal, right? Nothing is wrong, right?”

Levi took a bite of bacon. “Besides being a pain in the ass? No.”

“You’re fine,” Elliot assured me, although I wasn’t convinced. With my brain scrambled, it was hard to be convinced of anything. “What would you like to do, Charlotte?”

I hadn’t thought about that in the previous weeks; surviving had been my only goal. Only concern. What did I want to do?


“What happens now?”

“You need to rest, so I was thinking we could have a movie day? The Wi-Fi is sketchy, but we do have plenty of DVDs, and—”

“No, I mean, what am I supposed to do now?”

Levi folded his paper. His eyes looked tired, like my question reminded him of all the sleep he had lost.

“Come on, Charlie. Let’s go for a run.”

“Right now?”

“Yes, right now,” he answered.

“Char, the shifters are on your bed. I can put them in the bathroom if you don’t want to walk that far?”

My eyes hadn’t left Levi’s form, which was now walking down the steps and onto the lawn. “I’ll be fine.” Which was a dead lie. I practically cried walking back to my room, my beast wailing inside me. Everything felt like it was frayed, hanging on by flimsy duct tape.

Levi looked up at me in surprise, like he had expected me to need to crawl outside. I didn’t blame him. I was surprised my bones hadn’t given up.

“All right, try shifting.”


“Just let her come out like you did your skin. Just think of your fur. Think about the change from where you are now into your other form, and call that forward.”

Simple enough according to Levi.

“Right . . .” I felt like more questions were not in the cards for me today.

The beast in me was ready, but memories of the Blood Moon made the hair on my arms rise. Levi sat back on his heels. “It’s going to hurt until you’re used to it, but you won’t get there until you do it over and over again.”

“Is that what you did?”

“It’s what you’ll do when you don’t look like you’re about to shit yourself. Now come on. Putting it off only makes it worse.”

“Fine,” I huffed.

I closed my eyes and let her come forward. There was something different about her, something careful. She pushed but she wasn’t charging. Inwardly, I could feel that she knew how breakable we still were, a notion she held close as she pushed some more—the shift taking over me.

In the middle of it, I thought I would pass out. My screams and the sound of cracking were a nightmare I didn’t want to relive. I tried to walk again like I had during my first shift, but ended up flailing around in the grass until fur rolled over me and a muzzle sprouted from my face.

With a heavy breath, she shook out her fur then looked at Levi.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out, only whines and angry-sounding growls. I had done this before, but trying to think in my tired brain about how that had worked was like trying to find a needle in a pool of molasses.

“Just talk. You’ll feel it, like you’re turning a dial to find the right radio channel.”

I sat back and closed my eyes. My mind felt vast until a humming called me to it. An energy I couldn’t have missed even if I’d wanted to. I reached out, touching it with the fingers of my brain, instantly feeling something click.


He rolled his eyes. “Congratulations, you can annoy the hell out of me in both forms now. 

He jumped with ease into the air. His bones quickly cracked into place and fur moved over him like a wave as the transformation rolled over him with ease. I tried to control my envy when he landed gracefully on the ground on four paws.

How long until it doesn’t hurt? 

It always hurts, you just get used to it, ” he replied, darting into the trees.

My wolf leaped after him. She had so much more energy than I did, and I was happy to let her have temporary control of the situation. When she ran it was like she was practically flying. She was so graceful, careful not to step on the dried leaves or fallen branches, easily falling into a silent swiftness that both impressed and unnerved me.

Levi twisted and turned through the trees. It was a struggle to keep up with him, but my beast was relentless even with the pain still humming through us. Considering his size, the way he could snake around trees and out of the way of boulders that jutted up angrily from the ground was more than impressive. It didn’t seem real.

We ran until the land became stark with unforgiving inclines. A few times I would slip or pause for a break, but Levi would nip at my legs until I would start to run again.

I followed him until the canopy of the trees thinned out so a cool, snowy rain mixed with mist could sprinkle onto us. A harsh wind ran through my fur, bitter and carrying the sound of ice breaking with it. Levi shifted to his skin, wearing long black pants that I assumed were shifters. He jogged to a bush where he dug around in some kind of burrow.

“One thing to know,” he said as he reached his arm into the hole. “We have these burrows all over the pack. There’s usually some supplies and clothes inside of them.” He pulled out a pair of sweats and tossed them to me before reaching back into the hole.

My eyes closed and my mind tried to find that fuse I needed to set off so I could shift back to my skin. Eventually, I felt the ripples comb over me before the cracking started.

Birds flew away as sickening sounds rolled off my lips while my skin took over me. My hands clung to the ground as I caught my breath.

Levi held the sweatshirt open for me and helped me carefully slip into it. “It only gets easier if you keep doing it.”

“Right.” I was still skeptical that was true. This pain felt like the kind that never left you. Always lingering around to bite you at the right moment.

He helped me up, then held open the sweatpants for me.

My fingers clung to his shoulders, my legs like noodles ready to give out. “Easy,” he said while I disjointedly stepped into the pants. “After I first shifted, my father had me shifting over and over, every day, whenever he would say, until I could do it without thinking. We’ll get you there eventually.”

He stood me upright then stepped away, waving a hand for me to follow. It was like a thousand little knives were stabbing at my calves when I stepped forward. Levi pulled sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt on over his shifters, while cracking sounded in the sky. “Levi?”

“Walk it off.” He walked past me and farther up the hill without a glance back.

My beast groaned until I heard what sounded like thunder. I looked around but the sky didn’t have a storm cloud nearby. Curiously, I made my way up the hill to where Levi was sitting, using every swear word in the book as I climbed.

“Levi—” I was cut off by the sound of something shattering and groaning.

We were on top of a cliff that bordered a lake. The water below was foggy but still the most vibrant color of turquoise that I had ever seen. Big chunks of dusty ice floated in it and dotted the beach below us.

The glacier the ice was falling from started to groan again, almost like it was trying to wake up and stretch its arms after a long sleep. It was a whimsical shade of frosty blue with ridges so sharp yet so aristocratic that part of me thought it looked more like a painting than something real.

“This is beautiful,” I said, walking past an old tree stump to where he was sitting.

“She’s been receding a little more in the last few years, but not as bad as others,” he replied over my whimpers while I tried to sit.

“I’ve never seen one before.” I paused, sucking in a sharp breath while I adjusted my legs out in front of me. “It’s so loud.”

“Mhmm,” he hummed. “It’s shifting, there haven’t been many big pieces that have fallen off lately, but usually you can catch a few smaller chunks.”

“Do humans know about this?”

“That glacier and lake are on human territory.” I looked over at him as a tired smile tugged on his lips. “They can’t see us, but we can see them. Can’t you feel it?”

There was a strange wave coming off the glacier, an energy rolling toward me. The hair on the back of my neck stood and my nostrils flared as the scent neared me. “It smells like burning sugar.”

“Magic,” he said as the glacier began to rumble again.

“We can’t necessarily see it, but it’s there. All of it smells a little like burning sugar, but the scent is unique to the witch or group of witches who cast the spell.”

“What do the humans see?”

“Hills and a forest. The park rangers think this is private property. It is, but they can’t see the wolves on the other side of the magic.”

“But before? When I was attacked? Was that protected?”

Levi shook his head. “It borders our land.”

My mind wandered off, remembering the tracks that disappeared into the mud when I first met Levi. Levi watched me carefully before smiling. “You didn’t even see me coming, and you wouldn’t have.”

My heart skipped a beat. “But the clearing you sent me to?”

“Not protected land,” he admitted.

“What about if humans try to cross the border?”

Levi shrugged. “It happens. Some packs have some deterrents—one pack has a path that will magically appear to take the human out of the pack land. It depends. But no harm comes to them. Usually someone on patrol finds them and escorts them out. If they saw something they shouldn’t, we try to deal with it as carefully as possible—it’s why we need the vampires to help us since they can wipe their memories.”

The glacier groaned again, small fragments of it rolling down the steep side and into the water, the ripples making their way to shore. I turned to look at it, my mind drifting away from the conversation and onto watching the ice fall into the milky water.

“I come out here a lot,” he admitted. “Always have.

Sometimes it feels like the only place I can fucking think.”

He looked tired, and not from a lack of sleep. He looked like whatever future he was staring at exhausted him.

“What’s going to happen now?”

He was quiet for a while before he turned his head to look at me. “What do you want to happen?”

“What do you mean, what do I want to happen?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.” He laughed to himself.

“You’re a stubborn little shit, you know that?”

“Do I have to join the pack?”

“Do you want to?” he asked. “No one is going to make you do anything.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

He rolled his eyes. “If you keep living life the way you think you’re supposed to, you’re going to find that you end up pretty disappointed.”

And I was. I had helped build a life, brick by brick, and it had only crumbled. I had done everything right, all the boxes on my “supposed-to” checklist were filled out. Constantly, I metered myself to make sure that this list was carefully balanced—every woman does, it’s what we’re “supposed” to do.

Because you have to be fierce, but not to the point where you’re shoving feminism down everyone’s throat. You have to be beautiful, but you can’t be intimidating. The goal is to look like you just woke up with those puckered lips ready to open wide and sharp cheekbones that look elegant even when they carry black-and-blue battle wounds. You have to be fit, but you can’t be that fit—not to the point where your strength is emasculating, but enough that justifies the need to live off overpriced meal replacement shakes.

The game is to keep checking boxes off your list until you die. Go to college, have a kick-ass career that you can blog about, get married, pop out some kids, stay fit and hot as hell so your husband won’t lose interest, pick up some hobby you can also blog about, only ever shop at Target, never forget your nail appointment, and never let your gray hairs show. Ever.

I had no idea what my list was even supposed to be now, but I did know that I never wanted one ever again.

“There’s no going back now. If you do it, it won’t be the same.”

There was no denying that. I felt the beast in me hum in the back of my mind in agreement. Levi was right. I needed to decide what I wanted for myself.

“And the pack?”

“Is here if that’s what you want.”

The cool wind bit at my lips. My beast stirred while my mind wandered in circles around what a new life with the pack could mean.

“There’s some business I need to take care of first.”

Levi turned his gaze to mine, silver eyes locking me in place without resolve. He said nothing. Neither of us needed to. He nodded to me, understanding in his eyes, and let me step away from him and the cliff.

My paws carried me home quicker than I would have liked. Derek and Elliot were out of the house, the silence dancing around me. I swallowed whatever was bubbling in my gut and strode into my room; to the closet where the shoebox tucked in the back corner was along with the duffel bag I had carried here so many weeks ago.

I fished out the phone and powered it on. My fingers paused for a moment, hesitation daring me to drop the phone and leave it behind. But this was something I couldn’t leave behind. To go forward, sometimes you had to go back.

My fingers rushed over the number and lifted the phone to my ear. Dull rings sounded over and over along the hollow line until finally, the line was picked up.


“Nate,” I said, the words escaping on my breath.


I sucked in a breath. “It’s me.”

He let out a breath, silence creeping over the line.

“Charlotte—what is it this time?”

“You were right,” I said. “I’m coming home.”

“You’re coming home? Baby?”

I blinked hard and let out a breath of my own. “I’ll be there in a few days.”

“I’ll be waiting.”


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