Title: The Last Wolf
Author: Maria Vale
Series: The Legend of All Wolves #1
Pub Date: February 6, 2018
Genre: Paranormal Romance
For three days out of thirty, when the moon is full and her law is iron, the Great North Pack must be wild.
If she returns to her Pack, the stranger will die.
But if she stays…
Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of her Pack’s social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn’t all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves…
In which Silver, in an act of mercy, kills her former shielder
The circle of wolves in the Clearing tightens around Ronan, and for the first time since my Dæling, I am deeply grateful that I am not Pack. I am just a guest and don’t have to be part of this.
But when I start to lope away, Ti doesn’t move. He doesn’t understand what is happening, so I nip at his pant leg. The Alphas of each echelon are taking up their positions at the front of the circle. Everyone wants this over with quickly.
Opening a passage for Charlie, John nudges Ronan’s father toward his son. In its mercy, Pack law allows First Blood to Ronan’s family, so that when the Pack eviscerates him, Ronan won’t feel anything. I plant my front paws and pull Ti harder, because I really don’t want to watch Charlie rip out his son’s throat.
Ti doesn’t move.
John nudges Charlie again, but Charlie just stares at Ronan, his head cocked, his mouth open. Then his eyes roll around the circle searching for help he won’t find, because to be on Pack land as an exile is bad enough, but the only response to an attack on a pup, is a Slitung, a flesh-tearing, and every wolf shows teeth. Charlie throws himself on the ground in front of John, his feet up in the air, his hips shimmying back and forth in a clownish show of submission.
John snaps at him.
Charlie follows our Alpha around, one ear up, the other down, his mouth open in a rabid leer, until with a quick look over his shoulder, John signals Tara to drag the broken wolf away from the Pack. Tara grabs his muzzle tight in her powerful jaws and drags him off mewling. I run beside him whimpering too, begging Charlie to come to his senses long enough to do this last kindness. He seems not to even see me, more interested in the furry thing following behind him. As soon as Tara lets him go, he starts to chase his tail, barking.
Tara turns her back on him with a growl and a dismissive kick of rain-sodden soil. She heads back to the Pack, which clears a path for her. As John’s Beta, Tara has a place of honor, but she also has a place of responsibility and is expected to be right up front for the Slitung. I stick to her slipstream and push through to the whimpering Ronan.
Rubbing my muzzle against his, I turn to John, my body down, my head between my paws. I’m not sure he will accept my claim to First Blood, but I have a better chance if I at least smell like the wolf who had been my schildere but who never wanted to be my mate.
Then John’s nose bumps against mine, telling me to get up. With a quick snap of his jaws, the Pack retreats, giving us room. John is a good wolf and a great Alpha and, if given a choice, will always choose mercy.
First Blood allows for one bite only, and if Ronan decides to fight me, I doubt I’ll be able to make the kill. But after everything that has happened, the once-upon-a-time Alpha of the 14th Echelon seems to understand that his luck is not going to change again.
He lies back with his chin stretched high, staring at the mountains and the pinpoints of stars and the real world, the world of men, that he so wanted to be a part of.
Opening my jaws wide, I gently take his throat between them. It’s what we do, and it means trust me. It means I see you at your most vulnerable.
I bite down fast and hard on the cartilage tube, giving it the same fatal break I would for a deer. Ronan struggles a little, and blood spurts into my mouth. I curl my tongue against the back of my throat, because I don’t want to swallow this blood. I don’t want to be nourished by this death.
The pulse of his blood slows, but I don’t lift my head until it stops.
Before I even stumble out of the way, the Pack surges forward, eager to be done with this particular bit of ritual butchery.
I race for Clear Pond, my paws sinking through the cold, thick mud and dying sedges until I am in deep. Pushing the air out of my lungs, I sink and stay down until my own throat is on the verge of collapse, and the blood that had already started to stiffen on my muzzle and chest and legs begins to melt away from my fur. Maybe there was so much that all of Clear Pond is tainted, but no matter how many gulps of water I take, my mouth still has the sharp, metallic tang of blood, and there’s something stuck in my teeth.
I start to change, and as soon as I’m finished, I pick at the thing with my fingers until it comes loose. I don’t look at it before throwing it into the weeds. I think the change was a mistake though, because in skin, I feel the intense cold of the schist on my naked body and the icy water running from my hair down my back and the taste of death in my mouth. I can’t stop shivering. I try to get wild again, but my muscles are spasming so hard that I can’t. I lurch up on all fours and then to my legs and stumble only a few steps before collapsing again, my head on my knees.
A warm coat that smells like angelica and green corn and the earth before a storm settles around my shoulders. “Put it on,” says that quiet voice, and Ti lifts me, guiding my arms into the sleeves, and then pulls me close to his even-warmer body. He says nothing, just holds me tight, letting me shiver against him.
“I killed him,” I finally stutter.
He lifts my sodden hair out from under the collar of the coat.
“Yes, you did. And if you hadn’t, he would have died in pain and the whole Pack would have had the burden of it. Now only you do.”
Ti doesn’t say that I wasn’t responsible or that I shouldn’t feel guilty, but rather that it’s a burden worth carrying and one that I’m strong enough to bear. His faith calms me in a way that no amount of coddling ever could.
It’s one of the things I love about him….
“I can’t get the taste of blood out of my mouth.”
He doesn’t respond. I guess he didn’t hear, or knowing him, he did hear, but doesn’t think there’s any point in responding. It doesn’t matter. I settle my head back on his chest and listen to his heartbeat.
Did I say love?
He frees one arm and lifts my chin. It’s dark for my poor human senses, but he’s not like me and the nearly full moon lights up the green glow of the lucidum in his eyes.
He hesitates, his lips hovering above mine, like a boy nervously contemplating his first kiss. But I know what he’s hiding, and I stretch up as high as I can and wrap my arm around his neck, feeling the shape of his skull under the roughness of his cropped hair. I feel his mouth against mine, firm and ripe and warm and still closed.
Nuzzling the seam of his mouth, I catch his lower lip gently between my fangs, pulling him closer. I know you, Tiberius. I know the wildness that you’ve always hidden there, but I am not human and I want the untamed, inhuman sharpness of your mouth.
I let go and lick my lip before gently circling his, my breath feathering his sensitive skin.
Finally, his lips open softly and I seal my mouth around his, because this is his first kiss and mine too, and I am his shielder in all things.
Maria Vale is a journalist who has worked for Publishers Weekly, Glamour magazine, Redbook, the Philadelphia Inquirer. She is a logophile and a bibliovore and a worrier about the world. Trained as a medievalist, she tries to shoehorn the language of Beowulf into things that don’t really need it. She currently lives in New York with her husband, two sons and a long line of dead plants. No one will let her have a pet. Visit her at https://www.mariavale.com/.
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