The car pulled to a stop in front of the huge inn. Scott O’Hearn had added a fresh coat of paint to the entire place since they’d left Woodhaven for New York. The merlot color stood out dramatically against the snowy landscape. There’s no way that grizzly bear had come up with this stunning color scheme on his own. Their good friend Margaret definitely had a hand in this. He and his mate, Margaret, ran the inn strictly for paranormal guests. But this Christmas, it was just for family and pack.
Tess twirled a loose strand of her long, blonde hair around a finger and glanced over at her twin sister. It didn’t seem like two years had passed. After their mother died, she and Hallie remained with their aunt in New York. Their sister, Nicole, and her new mate, Aaron, had also found a place and settled into life in New York.
They’d all been so busy the time had just flown by. And with Jason taking up residence at the pack headquarters in New York as well, there had been a steady influx of new pack members as loyalties shifted and a new hierarchy was put in place.
Being a Demakis in the New York pack came with some privileges, but mostly it came with a lot of rules and supervision. Jason considered Tess and her sister extremely high-profile targets for rival packs, and he made sure they never went anywhere without guards. Especially after a few close calls last year. Her Aunt Melinda wasn’t much better, and had been coaching Tess and Hallie to take over more responsibilities in the pack.
She and Hallie had turned twenty-five two weeks ago, meaning they could be mated and bonded permanently to a male.
Tess wanted to believe they would have some say in who their mates would be. Jason hadn’t said otherwise, but he’d pointed out several men he thought they should consider.
“He’ll let you choose. Don’t worry about a mate right now,” her wolf whispered, stretching and pushing against her conscious. “”Let’s worry about getting out of this car so we can run!”
That was the biggest drawback to living in New York. There was nowhere to shift. Nowhere to run safely. The pack would draw names each month to see which weekend they would get to fly to the country and spend the weekend running. Only shifting once a month had been torture for her and her sister. They’d grown up with the luxury of shifting several times a week. While they had lived here at Woodhaven, they ran in the forest every morning—sometimes even twice a day.
“So.” Hallie turned to look at her. “Is your wolf about to die to get out and run like mine is?”
Tess snorted and grinned. “Hell, yes!”
“We should get it out of their systems before we go in, don’t you think?”
Tess laughed. “Absolutely.” She pulled out the clip holding back her hair then took off her earrings and laid them both on the dashboard of the rental car. Her sister mirrored her movements, and soon enough they were naked and giggling, their clothes folded in neat piles on the dash.
Hallie opened her door first and a blast of icy wind made Tess shiver. She opened her door and stepped out into six inches of fluffy, white snow.
“Oh my gods! It’s cold!” She squealed and shut the door behind her. Taking a deep breath, she sank into the change, overjoyed to feel the stimulated ripples of energy bathe her body. She padded around to the front of the car and touched noses with her sister.
Hallie barked and took off across the front of the Woodhaven property. Tess growled and leapt into a gallop behind her.
Feel better now? She asked her wolf as she breathed in the unpolluted, pine fresh air. It really was nice to be back.
Another wolf crossed their paths, and then another and another. Tess stopped at her sister’s shoulder as the pack circled. She tensed for a moment until she caught Samantha’s and Nicole’s scents. They were loping toward them from the tree line. She turned back to the unfamiliar wolves and cocked her head.
“They are probably latents we haven’t met yet.”
True. She agreed with her wolf’s assessment. Chris and Sarah lived just up the road, and Woodhaven functioned as a training facility for Steven Antipas’ descendants who were latents—wolves that hadn’t learned to shift because they were half human.
Sam and Nicole bounded up and knocked Hallie and her into the snow. Tess shook the cold powder from her face and woofed at her sisters then swung her head toward the forest. She wanted to run. Needed to run.
Sam woofed back and took off toward the trees.
The pack followed the Alpha female. When they were together, it was Sam’s place to lead if her mate, Chase, wasn’t there. Even being away for as long as they had been, Tess knew hierarchy in a pack kept things orderly and peaceful.
Cold wind blew through her fur as they dashed between trees and ran full throttle through the forest. This was what she’d missed in New York. Freedom. Open space. Her human side loved the city’s hustle and bustle, but her wolf couldn’t forget what she’d left.
“We should stay here.”
I can’t leave Hallie in New York.
“You’re both adults. It’s okay to have different lives.”
Tess dodged a fallen tree trunk and landed in a deep bank of snow on the other side. She shook it off and leapt back into a run, catching up with the pack in moments.
Just enjoy it for now.
Her wolf sighed, but Tess could feel her sorrow over the thought of leaving Woodhaven again. It’d become part of them after they left Las Vegas with Margaret and Scott. It was home, even more so than Vegas, where she’d grown up from a child. The forest called to her more than it did Hallie.
Sure her sister missed getting out to run, too, but Hallie loved the business side of things much more. Their aunt had taken Hallie under her wing and was teaching her pack politics. Tess had no doubt in her mind that Aunt Melinda was grooming Hallie to succeed her as Alpha female of the New York pack one day.
“You don’t want to be an Alpha. Your sister does. She always has,” her wolf spoke slowly. And don’t forget that Nicole still lives in New York.
Tess turned sharply to the right to avoid a low-lying branch and growled.
I know. But if I stayed here, I’d be leaving all three of my sisters. Staying just because I want to isn’t a good enough reason to abandon the pack.
“There’s no need to make a choice at this moment.”
So true. This moment was about the joy of the run.
One of the unfamiliar wolves crossed directly behind, nipping at her flanks and growling teasingly. She took the challenge and knocked him off his legs before he could find his stride again.
A throaty bark put him in his place and he lay still on the ground, waiting for her to leave before getting up. She bared her teeth and snapped a warning. She might not be an Alpha, but she was a Demakis and her place in the pack was much higher than his. He had no business nipping at her, no matter how teasing it might appear. He whined.
She turned away and lifted her nose to the air. The scent of the pack had turned; they were all headed back to Woodhaven.
A few minutes at a flat run brought her to the edge of the trees. The inn stood before her across the wide-open meadow. Scott had cleared at least another quarter-acre of forest, giving the inn a larger sight line. The farther the trees were from the buildings, the harder it was for anything or anyone to sneak up.
The latent wolf exited the tree line a dozen yards north of her. She watched him walk slowly, his head low, and his body tense.
He needs to get over himself.
Her wolf shrugged. She shook her head, flapping her ears to get the snow off and trotted back to her parked car. Hallie was already inside getting dressed.
She shifted quickly, shivering as the north wind hit her bare skin instead of fur. Pulling at the door handle, she slid into her seat and began slipping back into her clothes. Hallie grunted on her left, trying to get her tight leggings all the way up under her ass. Tess giggled, until she was faced with the same obstacle.
“Uh, huh. It’s not easy, is it?” Hallie said, her voice filled with irritation.
“For gods’ sake,” Tess whined. She kicked the door latch and the door swung open. Standing outside the car, she pulled up her cold leggings, slipped her furry boots on, and grabbed her shirt from the dash. She was dressed and ready and her sister was still struggling with her pants. “Come on, Hallie. Just get out of the car. We aren’t in the city. No one out here cares.”
Hallie shook her head and yanked her pants on the rest of the way. After completely clothing herself, she got out of the rental car and closed the door behind her. “Now, I’m ready.”
Tess giggled. The buttons on her sister’s sweater were off by one and her normally perfect ponytail was askew.
“Check your shirt. And you might want to redo your hair. I think the headrest in the car did a number on it.”
Hallie glanced down at her sweater and growled. Then peered into the side-view mirror and shrieked. “You wouldn’t have let me go in like this, would you?”
Tess shook her head. “Of course not.”
Tess ran her hands through her long waves and shook her head. That was about as far as she took hairstyling. She loved her natural look and rarely changed it, even for special occasions.