Selene jerked awake and clutched at her sweat-soaked bedsheets, breath coming in panting bursts, and her heart refused to slow its furious pounding. A low, animalistic groan sounded from deep within. Moonlight slanted across her bed in pale streamers, illuminating the darkness around her, but Selene could only see the images that filled her mind in terror-filled flashes.
The nightmare had started the same as all the others…
She was in her wolf form, which was always different from her human self—enhanced sight and more sensitive hearing, attuned to the sounds of the night, and her point of view was lower to the ground. In this dream, she’d been watching a house from the deep shadows of the woods. It was nighttime and lights on inside the house gave her an easy view of the inhabitant—a middle-aged woman who appeared to be alone. A gut-level sadistic urge to hurt that woman swamped her, overflowing into a barely contained snarl of aggression.
What is happening to me?
Confusion swept through Selene on a rising tide of panic. This instinct made absolutely no sense. She’d never deliberately harmed another being in her life.
She started to move, as though her lupine body had a will of its own, padding noiselessly out of the trees and across the clearing. She had no control, with the need to kill dictating her actions. Selene prowled over to a small patio that extended from the back of the house. She stopped within feet of the structure and crouched low in a pool of moonlight, her white form blending in perfectly, rendering her almost invisible.
There, she waited.
But the rational part of Selene had no idea what she was waiting for exactly. It was as though her dream-self had been here before, had stalked this woman, and knew something was about to happen.
Trying to take in her surroundings, Selene didn’t recognize where she was. She was sure she’d never been to this place when she was awake. What was she doing here? Panic set in, bitter in her mouth, her heart trying to slam its way past her ribs. Or maybe it wasn’t panic…maybe it was anticipation for the kill. Her thoughts were all tangled up.
What is wrong with me?
The fur on her back bristled, and Selene tensed as the moment of no return approached. Her keen hearing picked up the soft tread of footsteps inside the house, followed by the click of the door handle. Her muscles coiled more tightly, ready to pounce. The door opened, a ray of light from inside just missing the spot where Selene was hidden, and the woman stepped out onto the patio.
Selene felt her body spring into the air, against her will, as though she wasn’t in control.
No! No! No! She tried to hold herself back, make herself stop. But she couldn’t.
The woman’s screams pierced the night air, ringing in Selene’s ears as she slammed into her prey, sinking her sharp teeth into the sweet spot at the back of the woman’s neck. Bones crunched under the pressure of her jaws, and the sharp, metallic taste of blood surged into her mouth. The woman continued her screeching, thrashing around hysterically under Selene’s deadly grasp. With a guttural growl, Selene clamped down harder before shaking the woman like a rag doll, a satisfying crack of the woman’s neck ending the struggle.
Then, as abruptly as the nightmare had started, darkness consumed her, and Selene had jerked awake to find she was safe in her own bedroom, in her human form.
She whimpered as the sound of screams continued to clang in her head, clamping her hands over her ears to silence the echoes of the nameless woman’s terror and the sickening sound of her neck as it cracked in her jaws. With a gasp, Selene lifted a trembling hand to her mouth, wiping at her lips.
No blood. Thank goodness.
Just another nightmare. Although knowing that didn’t help much in the dead of the night. Not when those screams still echoed in her head, the smell, the mix of pine trees and blood and poisonous fear, still ripe in her nostrils.
Usually Selene was able to determine what dreams she entered. She could walk in and out of the minds of any person she chose while they slept. But somehow she wasn’t in control of this one, or of her actions while she was in it. It felt more as if she’d been physically yanked into the vision. That alone was cause for alarm. Was someone controlling her? Or, even worse, was she actually killing people while she dreamt?
But what had every muscle in her body shaking with reaction was the fact that this wasn’t the first time she’d had a nightmare like this. They’d started coming more frequently lately.
And the victim’s faces were never the same.
Selene searched the archives in the enormous room stacked to the ceiling with ancient, dust-covered books—a record of her people. The Vyusher, a people possessed of extraordinary powers made even more incredible by the fact that they were linked by a shared ability to shift into massive timber wolves, had existed for centuries, almost a millennium.
She always came to this room when she was upset, and today she’d come with the desperate hope of finding answers. She usually found comfort in the history this room represented, both in the musty smell of old papers and in the wisdom of her ancestors, recorded for anyone to discover. She could use some comfort now.
She hadn’t slept well for weeks, and heavy makeup did little to disguise the dark circles under her eyes. Only one person knew about her ability to enter dreams. Not even Selene’s brother, Gideon, had ever discovered her secret. But Griffin Aubrey knew.
She closed her eyes and pictured him—golden hair and tawny, almost leonine eyes, strong and trustworthy. She used to visit him in his dreams, but that was before he found out who she was.
Over a year had passed since that day, and she’d managed to keep away from him. With Gideon dead and Griffin safe, she didn’t need to visit him anymore. Although after this last nightmare, she craved the feeling of security that wrapped around her whenever she was near him, even if it was just in her mind.
Selene’s eyes popped open, and she silently groaned at the interruption. Pushing aside her thoughts, she turned to face Oren, who stood respectfully in the doorway. Her face a perfect mask of serenity, she folded her hands primly in her lap. “Is it time?”
“They are ready for you,” he confirmed.
His gaze did not leave Selene’s face. He seemed to be searching for a clue as to why she’d requested the High Council of the Vyusher be assembled, but Selene had long ago mastered the art of concealing her feelings. She’d had to. Her brother had given her no choice. Even Oren didn’t know her true feelings most of the time.
Selene nodded in response to his summons and rose gracefully from the ancient oak table where she’d been seated, brushing off the seat of her tailored black slacks and checking that dust from the old books hadn’t marked her black silk blouse. She followed him in silence as they made their way out of her room and down a series of hallways to the chamber where the Council had gathered.
The Vyusher lived in an immense medieval castle currently located in an isolated region of northern Canada. This had been her people’s home for centuries, moving with them from place to place. They were lucky that one of their more talented members had the ability to move entire buildings anywhere they wanted. Selene shivered at the chill that permeated the familiar dark hallways as she followed dutifully behind the man who’d been a surrogate parent to her after her own father had been killed.
As they neared a pair of massive double doors, someone came up from behind her and took her by the elbow, gently slowing her to a halt. She turned to face the son of one of the highest-ranking Vyusher. About her age, he stood several inches over six feet, lean and muscled.
“Desmond,” she acknowledged.
“Princess.” He gave her a mocking bow. He knew how much she hated people pandering to her. “So when are you going to call me Dez?”
Selene ignored the question. She always called him by his full name. Using his nickname felt too…personal. Her insistence on formality only amused him, and now he teased her every chance he got.
She resumed walking. “What can I do for you?”
He offered her his arm, and she accepted. “I don’t suppose I can change your mind?” he asked, falling into step beside her.
“About what exactly?” Selene gave him a cool glance.
“About what you’re about to ask the Council.” He nodded down the hallway.
A frown puckered Selene’s brow. How could he possibly know? She’d spoken to no one about her plans, and Desmond did not possess any telepathic abilities, at least none of which she was aware.
“I must go.” She released his arm and turned toward where Oren stood patiently waiting.
Selene gave him one last glance over her shoulder.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He winked before turning to stroll back down the hall, whistling an off-key tune.
Selene’s lips twitched in amusement. She shook her head and, dismissing Desmond from her mind, turned back to Oren, serious once more. He opened the doors with a flourish and announced her arrival to the assembled Council members.
Selene glided silently through the doors into a round chamber, once the original Great Hall of the ancient castle but since modernized for more practical purposes. Before her, assembled in a ring around the large room, sat the decision makers of her pack. Some were in their wolf form, but most appeared as humans. Now that Gideon was gone, more and more of the pack preferred their human form for day-to-day activities. But the Council, without Gideon’s influence directing them, increasingly had difficulty making decisions.
Damn you, Maddox! Selene mentally castigated one of the lead wolves who’d abandoned them as soon as Gideon died. By right of blood, she’d inherited the burden of leading her people when her brother met his gruesome end. However, Maddox’s departure had cast an additional shadow of doubt over her rule of the Vyusher.
Now she was forced to take a step that part of her questioned, part of her wanted—an internal battle of wills she suspected would rage long after the decision had been finalized. Regardless of right or wrong, she’d have to handle this moment with delicacy and tact—traits she secretly feared she didn’t possess.
“My lords and ladies,” she spoke in her most commanding voice. The sound echoed through the large chamber, gaining their full attention. “I have gathered you here to put forth a request of a personal nature…”
Selene paused and glanced around, careful to make brief eye contact with each person in the room. She knew what they’d see as they all waited for her to continue—a cold, emotionless figurehead. They were unable to see past both her beauty and now her connection to Gideon. She would never let them see that her façade was not coldness, but fragility.
She gathered her courage, shoulders back, head held high. “My request is to leave the pack for a period of time,” she announced. A loud murmur buzzed through the assembled group. Selene stood calm and still, waiting for the mumblings to quiet. “I have felt for some time that my presence is a cause for concern.” Some shook their heads. Some refused to meet her gaze.
“As we all continue to regain our true memories and realize the extent of what Gideon did to us, my relation to my brother makes it…difficult…for our people to trust me. And that directly impacts their ability to trust you. After a great deal of thought, I know in my heart that this is the right thing to do for the pack. So I ask you to allow me to go.”
At the quiet emotion in her final plea, many of the Council members sat forward, paying closer attention. Selene wasn’t surprised since she never showed visible emotion. The fact that she’d allowed herself to do so on this occasion had been deliberate, a way to indicate the seriousness of her petition. The assembled Council members exchanged glances.
“Where would you go?” Oren asked.
Selene’s heart ached at the sadness reflected in his eyes. She hadn’t shared this decision with him beforehand. She couldn’t. It would’ve been too difficult.
“I thought maybe I’d go to college. It’s an opportunity Gideon never granted me.” He’d needed her…and her particular abilities…too much. “It’s a plausible explanation for an absence of a decent interval. When I complete my coursework, then we can discuss the possibility of my return.”
“Princess…” Xavier, the head of the Council, rose from his seat and moved forward. “If you would step out for a moment, we will discuss your request.”
“Of course.” Selene projected a calm she wasn’t feeling as she turned and left the room. Once in the hallway, she refused to allow herself to pace as she waited for the Council’s decision. Instead she stood silently, her hands folded in front of her, back straight, head held high. Her countenance could show no sign of the internal turmoil that rolled through her.
The reasons she’d given the Council for wanting to leave were legitimate; however, she’d deliberately failed to mention the most important reason—the nightmares. Something was off about her dreams, something that had the potential to place her people back in danger.
The doors opened and she was ushered back into the room. She suppressed her anxiety behind a cool, unsmiling expression. The importance of the Council’s decision meant following a road she’d never thought she’d have a chance to travel.