The first book in The Law of the Lycans series.
When she came home that day, Elise had no inkling that she would end up mated to a complete stranger. The appointment of a new Alpha and the necessity for an alliance between packs have made her a pawn.
She lay beside him, staring blankly at the ceiling. The deed was done. They were mated. It didn't matter that she had no love for him nor he for her. Political alliances were more important than feelings, or so she had been told. That fact was cold comfort right now as her heart broke within her.
Beside her, he stirred and she sensed him rolling over, his amber eyes staring at her. She made no move to look at him and instead tried to steady her breathing. It was no use. As she inhaled, her breath quivered betraying her emotional state. Despite blinking rapidly, a stray tear trailed down her cheek.
The covers rustled beside her and then she felt his finger move across her cheek, catching the tear. "I'm sorry, Elise." Kane's voice was deep yet gentle.
"It doesn't matter." She answered quietly, still staring at the ceiling. What he was apologising for, she was unsure. For mating her? For the inevitable pain the first time brought? For the fact that she was now bound to him for the rest of her life, despite her love for another? Perhaps he was sorry for all three, yet they were as beyond his control as they were hers. She swallowed hard. "It couldn't be helped."
"No, it couldn't,"he agreed, sighing heavily. His arm slipped around her waist and drew her closer. She let her cheek rest against his muscular chest, too spent to protest; the sound of his steady heartbeat faintly comforting. "I wish I could have given you more time to get to know me before we mated, but the Elders are awaiting proof of our union."
She felt heat flood her cheeks at the thought of the blood stained sheets being examined as proof of her virginity. It was so old fashioned but it was how things were done to ensure the blood lines between the packs were truly mixed. Heaven forbid she'd come into the relationship tainted with another male's pup in her belly. Well, there could be no doubt now that Kane was her first and only mate.
Tradition or not, it still didn't lessen her embarrassment. All her friends and family would see and know the intimacy that had occurred between her and Kane. Worst of all, Bryan--the one she loved--would know as well.
Closing her eyes, scenes from the past day flashed through her mind. She'd just returned from a run with Bryan where they'd frolicked and played in the cool shaded woods that surrounded her home. He'd been her best friend since they were pups and recently the friendship had grown into something more. Bryan had hinted that he would ask her father for permission to become her mate and she'd been thrilled at the idea. Many of her friends were already mated and, as her nineteenth birthday approached, she was becoming restless, eager to experience bonding with another.
Already, she'd gone through two heat cycles but her father had held off choosing her a mate. Elise had naively thought he was waiting for her to find someone who suited her. Ruefully, she now acknowledged that was never the case. While her father loved her, he was first and foremost their Alpha and had to put the well-being of the pack ahead of all else. Her older brother and sister had mated with packs to the north and south. With the sea at their back, it was only to the east that an alliance was needed. When Kane became the new Alpha of that territory, the Elders determined that a mating between the packs was needed to ensure continued stability.
That day, as she returned laughing at something Bryan had said, Jake, her father's Beta, had greeted her at the door. "Elise, you are needed in the assembly room."
Something in his tone of voice warned her that all was not well. With a slight wave to her friend, she followed Jake, wondering what could possible require her presence. The assembly room was used on occasion for general pack meetings but usually her father and the council of Elders dealt with all important issues.
As she pushed the door open, a cacophony of emotions hit her. Excitement, worry, curiosity... She was sensitive to moods and puzzled over the strange mixture. Her eyes scanned the room. The Elders seemed excited and pleased and were conversing with another group of older persons who were strangers to her. Her father was frowning and talking to a man of about twenty-five. Elise hadn't encountered him before and took a moment to study this new arrival.
The man was taller than her father, at least six foot four, and powerfully built. His shoulders were broad and muscles could be seen rippling beneath his shirt as he moved, gesturing to make some point. Dark, faintly messy hair topped a pleasing face, with sculpted cheeks and a full bottom lip. Possibly sensing her inspection of him, he glanced toward the door and his amber eyes locked on hers. There was a hard edge about him. Slowly he studied her from head to foot, lingering on her breasts and then her hips, before returning to her face. Elise felt herself flush under his scrutiny. As he flashed a brief smile at her, she thought she caught a glimpse of softness in his eyes but it was quickly gone. He looked back at her father and continued speaking with him as if dismissing her presence.
Her father glanced her way, sighed and ended the conversation. He walked towards her with a scowl on his face. "Elise, you've been running again, I see."
She glanced at her reflection in a nearby mirror. Her long brown hair was messy and a faint sheen of sweat gave her sun-kissed skin a dewy look. Noting a smudge of dirt on her pert nose, she scrubbed it off. Turning back towards her parent, she gave a sheepish grin aimed at cajoling him out of his mood. "It was too nice a day to stay indoors."
"But what did I tell you? It isn't safe to be out alone in wolf form. It's hunting season and even though our property is posted, the humans don't always heed--"
"I was with Bryan and we didn't go near the edge of the property. We aren't fools, you know."
"Ah...Bryan..." Her father frowned, and then sighed again. "Elise, I have something to tell you. As you might know, the pack to the east has a new Alpha. His name is Kane."He nodded towards the man standing across the room and Elise shot him a glance again before smiling with polite interest at her father's news.
"He's come to meet you?" She wondered why she was being summoned. The politics between the packs had never been a concern to her. Her father didn't involve her in the council meetings, yet clearly she could only assume that the gentlemen in the corner, talking to the Elders of her pack, must be representatives from the eastern group.
"Yes, Kane is here to meet me...and you."
"Me?" Elise couldn't contain her surprise and for some reason, a strange quivering feeling began to develop within in her.
"Yes, you. It has been decided by the Elders that, with a new Alpha in charge, a fresh alliance should be created. Kane is willing. He will be mated to you and our packs will continue to live in peace."
"Mated? To me?" Elise knew her mouth was hanging open on shock. Her eyes darted across the room to see Kane staring at her blandly, his hands behind his back. She looked back at her father. "But...but...Bryan...?"
"Yes, I'm aware you've had your eye on him, but this is for the good of the pack. We need strong alliances so that we can guard against the human threat. As well, allied packs allow access between territories and increase the area in which we have to roam."He stopped speaking and stared at her, then placed his hand on her shoulder. "I know this is a surprise, but don't worry. Kane is a good man. He'll make you a fine mate."
Her mouth had suddenly gone dry and she felt her fists clench at her sides. Was this how her sister had felt when she had found out she'd been bonded to a male from the north? At the time, Elise had only been twelve and had been more excited about the festivities than concerned with her sister's feelings. Now the shoe was on the other foot and she found the fit to be decidedly uncomfortable.