Being Red: Chapter Nineteen

Screaming in the middle of a field is not how I imagined spending my Wednesday night, although the birds the sound flushes from the tall grass are rather satisfying in a cinematic way.

Kellan stands before me as I give him the dressing down he deserves. He holds his chin with one hand as if to keep anything he might want to say to himself. At least he has the courtesy not to lean on his truck. He stands straight and gives me his undivided attention like what I have to say actually means something to him. I almost wish he didn’t so I had the excuse to really let loose my temper.

“You had this planned all along,” I say in summation. “Eli was just a pawn meant to bring us closer together.”

The alpha assesses me as if deciding how much he will reveal. As if deciding whether telling me anything of his plans will improve my mood at all.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t figure it out?” I demand when he doesn’t offer up an explanation.

Kellan waits until he is sure I am done with this latest outburst and then asks, “Does it really make any difference? Our initial meeting was not going to be pleasant however it played out.”

It matters to me! It shouldn’t, but there is no hiding from this particular truth. Kellan does have a point, however, I am too mad to agree with him quite yet. I’m not in the mood for compromise now either. Our relationship feels strained. I can’t deny that I trust him at this point, and despite this betrayal, I find that I still do. But my feelings are hurt. I knew Kellan was using me for his own gain, but he did so overtly from the very beginning. He never hid his motives or his plans from me. Or so I thought. Now I feel played by the one person in my life who I thought had been most honest with me.

I cross my arms over my chest, perhaps to protect myself or maybe to hold everything in, and it’s my turn to keep my mouth shut.

When Kellan sees I won’t interrupt him, he continues, “I initially planted Eli in Ben’s pack for two purposes. The first was to take down Dante because he was bad news for all our kind, a volatile exposure risk. The second was to lure out the infamous Red so that we might meet and I could give you our pitch. As you know, it didn’t quite work out that way.”

He laughs and pushes his hair from his eyes, searching my face when I remain silent.

“Dearg, I didn’t know at the time, or even once we met, that I would actually like you,” he says. “I honestly expected the worst. I never thought that we would be anything more than rivals grudgingly working together, if that even worked out as I had hoped. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that we could become–”

He pauses to search for the right word.

I wonder what he will say. Colleagues? That really doesn’t fit our dynamic or the situation. Friends? Is that what we are? I frown a little at the thought. I should be happy if he chooses to describe me as such, but the idea somehow feels disappointing. Besides, it would just be another lie, wouldn’t it?

Before my mind can come up with anything else or I go crazy with the possibilities, Kellan breaks the silence.


His honesty knocks down some of the walls I erected to protect myself, and tears threaten. If we are ‘close’ as he claims, then how could he do this to me? I try to rationalize, telling myself that he didn’t even know me when he set his original plan into motion. It makes little difference. I angrily blink back the useless show of emotion, temper rising to quell the discomfort of the sadness threatening to overtake me.

“You were supposed to be honest with me,” I accuse. “You out of everyone should know what it means for me to be played like that.”

Kellan doesn’t shy away from my strong emotions. He looks me directly in the eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his hand extending as if he means to reach for me before his fingers thread through his hair for the second time. “I cannot change what was, but I hope to make amends. If you’ll allow me.”

I return his gaze and shrug noncommittally.

“You know what always helps me at times like these?” asks Kellan, not waiting for me to guess. “A run.”

I think of Valerie and decide I’m not really up for that kind of adventure this evening. I’m already emotionally drained, leaving me feeling physically exhausted. “I think I’ll pass,” I say, skeptical.

“No, not like that,” he says as if the words should assure me. When he sees on my face that I am no more swayed, he clarifies, “The opportunity to exercise the wolf inside me is what helps, Dearg.”

Oh. I admit I have been curious, beyond curious if I am being honest, but I am not sure I am ready for that. Especially on such an emotionally charged evening.

“Do you trust me?” he asks, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth invitingly.

I already admitted to myself that I do, however, I am not sure I should let him in on that particular detail at the moment if he hasn’t figured it out for himself already. Yet I hate when we are at odds. “I do,” I say.

“Then let me teach you how to shift,” he says.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. I think my wolf is kicking me for my stupidity and for ruining her chance at stretching her legs. She’s only been allowed free reign in my dreams, after all, and that is nothing compared to experiencing the shift and running wild in the waking world.

Kellan takes a step towards me, and I sway a bit closer as if pulled by his gravity. “Remember what I told you when you asked me what shifting is like?” he asks.

Freedom. The answer instantly comes to mind. The exhilaration I feel in my dreams tells me it’s true. It has to be. Or I just have one hell of an imagination.

Pessimist, I admonish myself even though I don’t believe it. Not really.

“How could I forget?” I say aloud. I hope my voice isn’t too wistful.

The shift is all I have been able to think about for days. It has consumed all of my nights. He must be able to see it on my face, or perhaps he knows my heart better than I do myself. I’ve suspected as much almost since we met.

“Let me teach you, Dearg,” Kellan begs, the nickname a plea on his lips.

This time I nod before I can stop myself, and excitement courses through me.

“What do I need to do?” I hear myself ask, my hands going to the zipper on my jacket.

Realistically, I know that I need to divest myself of any clothing I don’t want torn to shreds. Knowing I have an audience doesn’t make me too keen to undress, although we are unlikely to be spotted by anyone else in this remote field. Images from the past of Kellan standing naked before me come unbidden to my mind, and it’s all I can do to banish them.

Kellan reaches out a hand to stop my fingers, already working at the fastening down my front. “Whoa there, Dearg,” he says, humor lighting his eyes, and perhaps a hint of something else I’d rather not name. “There’s plenty of time for that later. For now, let’s focus on the concepts.”

I zip my jacket back up, all the way to my chin, in ornery silence. Then I cross my arms over my chest. “Teach me, oh wise sensei,” I say with mock reverence.

Kellan just grins and drops to the ground, motioning for me to take a seat across from him. I only hesitate a moment before I fold into a seated position opposite him, legs crossed, and I sort of feel like I am in public school although it isn’t something I ever experienced first hand given the personal tutors Gregor hired for me so that I could focus on my training without the distraction of the usual childhood pursuits.

“Close your eyes,” Kellan says, his voice warm like whiskey.

His eyes are already closed, and I lower my lids, squint at him through one eye, and then finally close mine all the way as well so that all I see is the warm peach hue of the backs of my eyelids in the late afternoon sun.

“Now,” he instructs in a voice that takes my cares away and makes me relax in a way that I have not been able to in a long time, or possibly ever, “the shift is all about awareness of and connection with all parts of our being.Take a few deep breaths, and feel the beast inside you.”

I exhale slowly through my nose and look inward. Like in my dreams, my wolf is a wild energy just below the surface. I can tell she is excited to get out. The aggressiveness scares me, and I withdraw to a more comfortable distance. I yearn for this more badly than I can explain, and yet it goes against everything I have been taught I am for so long.

I steel myself, and on my next exhale, I drop my guard and allow my wolf to share my mind with me. She is warmth and comfort all around me, a powerful presence that makes me feel strong and safe. I wonder how I never noticed her before when she was always this close. Maybe, like the night my parents were murdered, my memory and perception were altered by necessity. But now my wolf is with me, and I draw her close, tired of hiding and being afraid

My arms start to prickle and itch, and my eyes snap open. The sensation instantly abates. I am glad the sensation has ceased and miss the feeling at the same time. I think it meant I was close.

“Good, Dearg,” encourages Kellan, and my eyes lift to his face. “I didn’t expect you to catch on so quickly, but you are an alpha’s daughter. I should have known better. You’re a natural.”

He’s happy for me. For me, not because he thinks he can use this talent of mine, but because he enjoys that I might be good at something and my success alone is enough. I can see it in his eyes and the soft bow of his smiling lips. I can’t help grinning at him.

“What’s next?” I ask.

“You do what you did, and just follow the feeling,” he says. “Allow it to pull you in and guide your body to do what it already has a natural affinity to do.”

“Will it happen fast?” I ask. I want to ask if it will hurt, but I already know it does. I’ve seen the undulations beneath taught skin and heard the crack and grate of bones.

Kellan thinks for a moment before replying. “Not the first time,” he says finally. “The first time takes the longest because your body needs to learn the process. After that, you can speed up the shift with practice.”

Someday I want to shift like he does, all smooth and fluid and graceful. I wonder how long it will take my body to learn how to do that. He must see the longing in my eyes because he chuckles.

“Patience, Dearg.”

I glare at him to hide my bruised feelings. A girl can dream. I’ve been allowed very few dreams in my life thus far, and I want this to be one of them. So I permit myself this yearning.

Kellan puts his hands up in a request for peace between us, and my brow softens. I close my eyes and breathe deep.

Kellan interrupts my thoughts, “You’ll want to take off your jacket now. And jeans are the worst during a shift.”

Before I can ask, he turns himself around so his back is to me and he is facing his truck. I remove my jacket, shoes and socks, jeans, and shirt so I stand in nothing but my undergarments. After a moment of thought, I remove those too. I set my shoes aside and fold everything but my jacket and stack it neatly beside me, tucking my unmentionables into the middle of the pile. My jacket I spread on the ground so dry grass doesn’t poke my bare ass. Once I am seated again, I resume my meditative state.

This time, my wolf greets me almost instantly because I am prepared to welcome her. I bask in her comforting glow, and I follow her lead. When my arms begin to prickle again and I feel my skin start stretching, I keep my breathing steady. The cracking of my bones is a little more difficult to ignore, and I whimper despite myself, pinching my eyes closed tighter against the pain. It’s too late to stop it now, though. The transition overtakes me in a blinding hot flash of searing pain that rushes from my spine to my head and eventually suffuses the entirety of my being.

I feel as if I passed out. My eyes blink, and I am standing on all fours, my head about at the height of Kellan’s where he sits still facing away from me. I take an experimental step forward and find using my new form is somehow intuitive. The feeling is exhilarating. I step forward more quickly and poke my new nose into Kellan’s shoulder. He smells amazing, and I snuffle along his shoulder blade in an attempt to take in more of his scent before he turns to look at me.

Pushing himself to his feet, he gives me a once over.

“You make a fine wolf, Dearg,” he says.

I bob my head at the complement since I can’t answer him, wishing I could see for myself. Realizing I can, thanks to modern technology, I thrust my nose at the pocket of his jeans until he understands that I want him to take a picture.

When he pulls out his phone and opens the camera, I leap a few feet away and try to stand there appearing regal. I at least try to avoid looking goofy. I have no idea how to properly pose for a picture as a human let alone a wolf. When I feel Kellan has had plenty of time to capture a good image, I bound back to his side and try to stand on my hind legs to get a look. Kellan laughs and shows me the screen.

He took a video of me hopping and strutting around like a complete fool. I must not manage a decent glare in wolf form, or he simply enjoys mocking me and doesn’t find me the least bit intimidating, because he just laughs harder. I let loose a growl that rattles my chest, surprising a little bark out of me.

Kellan tries to stymie his laughter. “Okay, okay,” he says. “I’ll delete it.” With my lupine ears, I hear him mutter “eventually” under his breath.

I nip at the hem of his shirt in displeasure.

“Oh, come on, Dearg. It’s cute!”

How dare he? I am not supposed to be cute, and no one has ever accused me of being any such thing before. The infamous Red, cute? Never. And now that I am a vicious incarnation of an apex predator? I am definitely not cute. No.

I stick my nose in the air and turn my head away, ignoring him. The car door opens, and I can’t resist the urge to snoop. I watch Kellan tuck his phone into the center console for safekeeping and divest himself of his white shirt in a single tug I pretend not to find a little bit sexy. When he goes for his belt, I go back to ignoring him. The car door slams, and what feels like only seconds later, a blur of fur tears past me.

Without even thinking, I give chase, my wolf’s instincts taking over. We dart through the grass, running as hard as we can. Suddenly, Kellan whirls and lunges for me. I yelp and dodge out of the way just in time to avoid his fangs. Before I can make a beeline in the opposite direction, he drops to the ground and rolls over to show me his belly. My wolf is instantly at ease, and my brain suddenly connects the dots. He’s playing with me.

I drop into a crouch and wiggle my haunches in the air to show him I understand. He hops back up onto all fours and attacks before I can escape, so I commit and launch for his neck. He twists out of the way, and his jaws glide right past my muzzle, never quite touching me. I quickly learn what it is to play in this form. It’s like an improvised dance. We maneuver around each other in a complex pattern, our bodies sometimes gliding against each other, fur slipping along fur as we attack or retreat, but our fangs never actually close over flesh.

Kellan wrestles me to the ground with his front legs, and I kick at him with my rear legs to throw him off. Then he darts away, and it’s my town to go on the offensive. I pelt after him with all my strength. Even playing at a hunt is exciting in this form, and we run through the field until we are both panting and our chests heave.

We head back to Kellan’s truck at a leisurely trot. The sun is gone, and I am tired but happy.

Kellan shifts like it’s the easiest thing in the world, and I realize I have no idea how to reclaim my own human form. A part of me is afraid I might be stuck like this, and another part never wants to go back at all. I could stay like this and hide away from the world. Gregor and the syndicate could all just fade away into a distant memory. But I know that would solve nothing.

“Don’t worry, Dearg,” Kellan says as if he can see my mind racing. “I’ll guide you through how to change back.”

At this point, I no longer doubt him at all. When I first saw him earlier this evening, I was angry and hurt, and I felt a gulf growing between us. But after bonding with him in this form, I accept what I learned the night he saved me from Valerie: not only does he mean me no harm, Kellan has my back. And I decide right here and now that I have his too.

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