Chapter 1

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Katarina sat at the dinner table, enjoy a light meal. The first she had managed in days. And it was wonderful.

It had been a week since her crazy run through the forest and her jump off the cliff, and she couldn't imagine what had got into her head to make her do it.

Her sister, Josanna, sat across from her and her father, Grene, to the side. It was a family dinner with no hiccups this time, so Katarina smiled to herself at that rare moment of peace. So many things had gone wrong lately that she really hoped that just one week, one month, even just one day could pass without incident.

Her fork was on its way to her mouth with a string of spaghetti when a loud, insistent knock on the door woke her from her thoughts.

All three looked up at the kitchen doorway, towards the hallway.

Grene got up from his seat and headed for the door, opening it only to be surprised by who he found there.

"Beta. What can I do for you?" He asked, unsure why the Beta of their small community was on his doorstep.

Being a shifter was a dangerous life. Wolves were notoriously dangerous animals, but a human intellect within a wolf-shifter was just plain deadly.

Katarina's father was forty now, with a well earned respect amongst their shifter community, but even then, his house sat on the edge of their lands. He kept his daughters far away from the dangers of the other shifters.

Seeing the Beta on the doorstep only spelled trouble. There was no war on the brink, so his skills were not required. But he did have two daughters. And the Alpha was due to turn twenty in just ten days. He should have taken a mate by his eighteenth birthday, but had refused to be rushed in his search.

Katarina knew what was happening before the Beta even spoke.

"The Alpha has requested your daughter, Grene. I am to take her with me now." Leo explained with a small, apologetic smile.

Grene nodded and turned to look down the hallway, where his two daughters sat, staring at him through the open kitchen door.

Josanna was already out of her seat, checking her hair in the reflection of the refrigerator.

"All right Josanna...you're going to get what you've always wanted." Grene faked a laugh, to hide his dread, as she sauntered over.

She looked so happy. She'd had a crush on the Alpha, a boy called Milo for nearly a year now and wished every night to be his mate. She was nineteen so she was of age for the union.

"I am sorry Grene, but it is not Josanna I require. It is...the other one." The Beta spoke, suddenly confusing the entire, three person family.

Josanna froze, halfway down the hallway looking stunned. When Grene turned to gaze at Katarina, she didn't know what to say. She was crying as she stood from her seat. Before she left the table, she picked up a napkin and used it to dry her eyes as she made her way to the door.

No-one defied the Alpha, so whether they liked it or not, she had to go.

Grene looked back at the Beta and opened his mouth to plead with him.

"I understand." The Beta soothed. "But I cannot defy my orders. The girl will come with me and I will return her when the Alpha is through with her."

Grene bristled at the words, but didn't deny the Alpha that right. Whatever he was going to do with her was his business. He could do whatever he wanted to her and no-one would be able to talk against him without fear of punishment. That was how the pack worked.

Katarina picked up her jacket as she met them at the door.

"I love you father. I'll be all right." She spoke with tears in her voice and he knew she didn't want to go. But they didn't have a choice.

Grene offered her a smile and kissed her forehead.

She stepped down to the path leading from the house and the Beta nodded to him in respect, before turning to leave.

"Please stay close." He asked Katarina. He took off at a brisk walk.

***

Katarina walked by the Beta's side in silence. She was nervous and kept zipping and unzipping her hooded jacket. The Beta kept glancing at her with a frown.

"Beta," She began, catching his attention. "Do you know why I've been summoned by the Alpha?" She wondered, clearly surprising him, from the way he turned to look at her. Most girls wouldn't have questioned the Alpha, especially so close to the deadline to find his mate.

"No." He answered shortly. "You have been summoned by the council of Elders, girl. Not the Alpha. Do you know why that might be?" He asked in return.

"I'm afraid not Beta." She shrugged but kept her tone and words formal, in respect for his elevated position. The Beta was the Alpha's second hand man and she didn't want to make him mad. "It...it may be because of my grandfather, Constantine." She confessed.

"Elder Constantine?" He wondered over that news for a moment as they continued their walk through the town.

Her father had chosen to live as far from the rest of their community as he was allowed, so their walk was relatively long, but she didn't mind so much. It was a nice night.

"Do you," Katarina began again, confused.

The Beta turned to look at her.

"Do you think they have chosen me as the Alpha's mate?" She asked, strangely panicked.

The Beta shrugged and continued walking until she caught his arm.

She was terrified. "Beta, I can't be his mate." She pleaded, grasping his arm tightly.

"I know. I don't understand it either. You're the runt of our pack, Katarina, you don't deserve to mate with the Alpha." He said, bluntly.

She nodded along with him, agreeing with his view of her. He was about to start walking again when she stopped him.

"Beta, I'm not stupid. And I have no misconceptions about who and what I am. I'm not good enough for the Alpha. He deserves better than me." She insisted, adamant about it. "Someone who can stand by him and support him and be...strong and brave. I can't be his mate...and be the one thing that holds the pack back. I won't do that to them. I'm a runt...I'm worthless...I'm...slow and stupid and..." She rambled on.

Although, as Beta, he wasn't supposed to linger in his summons, Leo grabbed Katarina by the shoulders and gave her a shake.

"Calm down. It is not for you to decide if you are good enough for the Alpha. If the council have chosen you, you will be his mate." He snapped at her.

He gave her a push back to the path and she took the signal to mean that she was just to shut up and keep walking. So that's what she did. She kept her mouth shut and walked along with him in silence, until they reached the edge of town.

The shifter community all lived in the same town, but they varied their houses throughout the human streets so that there was enough distance that no family felt overcrowded or threatened by the others.

As the Alpha, Milo and his family lived at the border of town, the furthest shifter house from Katarina's home. The walk was more awkward with the silence, but Katarina preferred it.

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