Bitter Truth is out today!
Which means the entire series is now complete so you can read them all without waiting for the next book to release.
AND if you’re just starting out, I’m offering a sneak peek of Bitter Rivalry, book 1, right here so happy reading!
My ears pricked at the sound of familiar footfalls in the hall, and my mouth went dry. If Carter was back, it could only mean they’d found her.
I blinked and Carter materialized, his broad frame filling the office doorway. He looked at me first but his expression was fixed, unreadable. His light hair and blue eyes were striking, though not nearly as piercing as that cold stare he always wore when he faced my father. Even at seventeen years old, pack warriors were expected to be soldiers. And soldiers followed orders. No room for feelings or opinions.
Despite that, Carter had been my friend for as long as we’d both been alive. We’d been born a month apart—he never let me forget he was older. And despite our penchant for arguing like siblings, he was one of the few I trusted these days to see bits of the real Regan. But he also liked to mess with me and I knew he was purposely ignoring me now. Ass.
I bit my tongue as he turned to my father across the log cabin-style space.
“She’s here,” Carter said.
Those two simple words made my pulse accelerate. I looked at Dad, and he looked at me. My excitement was mirrored on his weathered face.
It felt like I’d been waiting for my sister to arrive for days, even though it couldn’t have been more than a few hours since the retrieval party left. That might have been because I really had waited for her my entire life.
I grew up hearing stories of her: Charlotte Vuk, the estranged pack member who had grown up around humans. They said I would meet her someday—never a specific date or anything, just a vague “someday” that could have been in a year or a hundred years. Until then, all I had of her was a description (“she looks a lot like you,” Dad had said) and a photo I’d hidden from my mother. My chest ached as I realized even that had changed. I didn’t need to hide it so well anymore.
Sometimes at night, when I couldn’t sleep, I laid there and tried to imagine what this Charlotte was like. Was she as tough as me, molded by a childhood as a pack heir? Did she like hunting too? Was her favorite color red? With all of the bad blood between our elders, could we ever be friends? Could our shared DNA actually, finally mean I’d have a friend? Someone to tell secrets—even weaknesses—to? It was a lot to hope for.
Now I was finally going to meet her.
It was all I could do not to leap to my feet and hug Carter, who had delivered the news. But I kept my feet carefully rooted. Despite being one of the top warriors in the pack, Carter backed up when Dad stood, giving him the deference the alpha deserved, and kept his head down. I was the only person who didn’t have to show submission around Dad, since I would be his equal soon. Future alphas never bowed.
“Where did you put her?” my father asked.
“In the room we prepared,” Carter replied with his eyes on the floor. “Just like you asked.”
The single-word answer revealed nothing. I didn’t know how Dad could react with such control. He marked his place with a bookmark, set the volume on the table between us, and strolled toward the door. His movements were unhurried—casual. Inside, I was dying with impatience.
As soon as Dad was far enough away, I jumped up. “What is she like?” I whispered.
Carter shrugged. “Unconscious.”
“How revealing,” I said and Carter grinned wickedly.
“Fine,” I said, “Don’t tell me anything. See if I help you next time your long lost sibling returns.”
The door swung shut. I hurried through it to catch up with my dad. He walked into the fresh morning air, and I stuck close to his back, trying to keep my expression schooled. The rest of the pack knew something was up. They got out of the way when Dad and I passed, hurrying to do their daily tasks, but I could feel them watching. I kept my expression blank as I walked; I couldn’t look nervous or excited. I had to keep my cool. That was what an alpha did, no matter what, and after everything that had happened in the past few days I knew my future was almost upon me.
Thoughts of my mother crept in, but I shoved them out. I couldn’t think about her now, with everyone looking to me for the future. I couldn’t afford to break down. Maybe later—when I had some privacy. Dad said leaders never cried. Mom said they only cried in the dark.
Charlie’s room had been prepared in the main house, where we—the alpha family—lived. But Dad didn’t lead me to the bedrooms upstairs or even the guest room at the back of the first floor. Instead, he led me down to the basement.
The only thing down here was storage. A large room lined with books and trinkets given as gifts from various celebrations. And a small room off the east wall that was rumored to have been used as a prison cell before our jail was built.
Confusion tinged with dread washed over me as I descended the stairs. “What—?” I started to ask, but then I saw the guard at the bottom of the stairs and stopped.
They had put my sister in a locked room.
“Just a precaution,” said Dad.
This time, the lack of emotion in his tone made me wonder. Maybe he wasn’t as thrilled as I was after all. My dread flared into worry. Was there something they weren’t telling me?
“A precaution against what?” I asked.
Dad didn’t answer, but I guess he didn’t really need to. Our werewolf pack had been at war with a coven of vampires for over a century, and there was a lot of bad blood on both sides. We had faced assassination attempts more than once. This last one succeeded. My mother … But I couldn’t think about that right now.
Maybe a locked room was a good idea. The basement was more secure than the rest of the house. But the guard Dad has assigned, a muscly ex-military guy named Brent, didn’t fill me with confidence. What was the saying … All brawn and no brains?
Brent snapped to attention when Dad stopped in front of him. “She’s awake,” he reported.
My heart skipped a beat.
“Don’t let anyone disturb us,” Dad said, and then he went in the room. I had to take a deep breath before following him inside. My pulse pounded in my wrists as my adrenaline spiked, like I was about to go into a fight instead of meeting my long lost half-sister.
I followed Dad into the shadowy space and stopped.
There she was.
Charlotte Vuk was sitting up in bed, staring at the small window at the top of the wall beside her small cot. The black bars broke the morning light as it spilled over her. Seeing her was almost like seeing a reflection of myself, but the differences were powerfully disconcerting. She was really pretty, with luminous brown eyes and cascades of thick brunette hair we had evidently both inherited from Dad. Her olive skin and full lips were just like mine.
That was where the similarities ended. She had plumper cheeks than mine, and a few extra pounds on her hips, curvy like a girl should be where I was slim and toned. And she smelled weird. Simultaneously familiar and yet … strange.
She was also wearing a pretty blue formal dress. It was kind of … frilly.
Frills. I tried not to gag.
I stayed behind Dad, folding my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t shake.
“Charlotte,” Dad began in a warm, friendly voice I had never heard out of him before.
Charlotte swiveled to face us with a jerk of shock. Hadn’t she heard us come in? Could her senses really be that dull? Tendrils of disappointment crept into my heart. “I’m so glad to see you. I’ve waited so many years.”
“It’s Ch-Charlie actually. Who are you? And where am I?” Her voice was softer than mine. More feminine. But underneath that, I heard the fear. My senses opened and I caught the subtle tremble of her chin, the small scent of panic on the stale air. Terrified, more like.
Dad stepped forward, always dominant no matter the situation. “You know who I am.”
Charlotte’s eyes flicked between Dad and me. Recognition dawned on her face. “You’re … him. My …” She trailed off as if unwilling to finish the title. “I’ve seen pictures, but…”
She moved like she was going to get out of bed and go to him, but he didn’t budge, and she didn’t make it any farther than throwing her legs over the side. His separation was palpable and surprised even me. I could read Dad better than anyone. Up until today, he’d been excited to meet his youngest daughter. The few moments he seemed uncertain I’d chalked up to nerves. Why was he suddenly so closed off?
At his hesitation, Charlotte’s hands clenched tight in the bed sheets. Her eyes, already red and puffy, filled with tears. Not the stoic facade of a wolf with alpha blood. My excitement dropped another faction.
“I hope the retrieval team didn’t scare you,” Dad said. “We had to get you out of there quickly. There was no way of knowing who might be watching.”
Charlotte shook her head like she wanted to argue but had already given up. “Where’s my mom?” she asked dully.
I shifted uneasily. Shouldn’t she know the answer? Hadn’t someone already explained? This was getting more and more uncomfortable.
Dad sighed and shook his head. “She can’t come here.”
“Your mother and I…” He glanced at me and Charlotte’s—or rather, Charlie’s—gaze followed.
Charlie and I didn’t have the same mom. A couple of months after my mom got pregnant with me, my parents went through a rough patch. At least that’s how Mom described it. My dad had spent some time running patrols with his old girlfriend from high school, one thing led to another, and baby number two was conceived. My mom didn’t say much else, except that for reasons I was “too young to understand,” Charlotte and her mother were sent away “for their own good.”
Dad didn’t say much about it because it made Mom too mad. The little bits I knew of Charlotte were mostly eavesdropped conversations or slipped-up details given by my father or some other elder in the pack. Now, after what happened to my mom, maybe I was finally going to get the whole story.
I waited for my dad to explain, just as curious and clueless as Charlie.
“Trust me when I say it’s safer this way,” Dad said with his typical mysteriousness. “There are people who remember when she used to be here, and our kind can hold grudges for a long time.”
Charlie flinched. “When you say ‘our kind,’ do you mean…?”
“The wolf pack.”
Charlie blinked and I could practically feel her disbelief in the exaggerated movement of her eyelids. “This is nuts,” she said finally. She pushed the sheets back and stood. Her legs wobbled, but even as she steadied them, her eyes narrowed. Off-balance, uninformed—what had they done in order to bring her here?
I glared at Carter, who hovered in the hall behind me, but he remained fixed on my dad.
“I want out of here,” Charlie said. “I’m going back to my mom. I have friends, you know. I want to finish school. I have to—”
“You’ll be educated here,” Dad interrupted. “The things you learn here will be different, but more practical than any outside education system.”
“You have schools here?” Charlie asked, brows raised.
“We don’t have schools like the humans do,” Dad said. “Our classroom is the forest. Your classmates are other pack members. Your lessons will be the animals you hunt.”
Her jaw fell open. “Hunt? As in, kill stuff?”
Dad narrowed his eyes and his next words sounded accusatory even by my standards. “I know you’ve been sheltered from many things, living with humans, cut off from us. You have so much to learn in a short amount of time. But this is what you were meant to do, Charlotte. This is where you belong.”
To her credit, she didn’t back down under Dad’s stare, like so many others. She lifted her chin and glared at him. “Don’t I have a choice in the matter?” she asked.
“Duty is more important than choice,” Dad said and for the first time since I’d laid eyes on her, my heart went out to this lonely stranger who was my sister.
Duty was more important than choice, or at least I’d heard it so often, I could almost believe it. But Charlie hadn’t. She was so new to this world, clearly, and I could only imagine the panic and confusion she must feel being ordered to give up—well, everything—and just matriculate.
Charlie chose that moment to look at me and I had to force the sympathy out of my expression. Her gaze was a little desperate, like she wanted me to help, but I couldn’t go against Dad. Not even for her. I looked away.
“Duty to what?” she said, staring at Dad again. There was a stubborn note to her voice that reminded me of myself. “This isn’t my pack.”
“It could be,” Dad said.
Charlie narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”
Dad hesitated and then explained, “You’re in line to become alpha, Charlotte.”
It was like a punch to my gut. I drew in a hard gasp as all of the air was sucked from the room. “What?” I squeaked.
Dad shot a glare at me, and I immediately felt guilty for even that small outburst. I clamped my jaw shut, but I couldn’t shake the betrayal and confusion from my expression. Luckily, Dad ignored that and turned back to Charlotte. She was looking back and forth between him and me, and seemed even more confused than I was.
“Regan’s mother,” Dad gestured to me, “the pack alpha, was killed recently. The law says the role must be filled by a female of the Vuk line.”
“But…we have different mothers,” Charlie blurted and Dad’s mouth quirked.
“Yes, thank you for pointing that out. Pack tradition dictates that the line is taken from the male, the father. But it can only be passed to his female offspring. You are both my daughters and less than six months apart.” My eyes flicked to Charlie and my cheeks flamed in indignation. I’d always known that’s how it’d happened but seeing Charlie digest it all made it somehow worse.
Dad cleared his throat and went on. “Since you share the same birth year, pack law dictates the terms very clearly. Where two possibilities exist, there will be a contest. The winner gets the position of alpha, first in command. The runner-up will gain the role of beta, or second.”
Behind me, Carter made the smallest of sounds. I glanced back and found him staring angrily at my dad. He caught me looking at him and his expression smoothed out, calm and blank. I faced forward again, unwilling—and unable—to take on his stuff right now. I was having a hard enough time with my own.
I felt my hands ball into fists at my sides. It was all I could do not to scream. I bored holes into Dad’s head, but he didn’t turn. He probably knew I was trying not to flip out, but he was more concerned with Charlie right now. She was staring at him like he’d just spoken Russian.
“A competition? For alpha?” she asked. She shook her head and then nodded her chin in my direction. “And I have to compete against her? Who is she?”
Dad smiled. “Charlotte, I would like you to meet your half-sister—Regan Vuk.”
“Half-sister?” Charlie’s voice caught on the word “sister,” and our eyes met and held.
It seemed like an extra charge of energy traveled between us, and for a second, I felt like we were both feeling the same sordid batch of emotions.
It made me feel a little strange that she hadn’t known I existed when I’d spent my whole life dreaming about her. I had wanted to know her, to have her companionship, for so many years. And now that I’d finally met her, she didn’t have a clue about me. And to top it off, the very first thing we would do as sisters would be to fight. She would see me as a competitor instead of a friend.
I felt more than just a little disappointed. I felt played.
It didn’t matter by whom. Mom, Dad, the Universe. They had all known and yet none of them had told me. And here I’d walked into today thinking I’d gain an ally.
Charlie broke her gaze from mine and looked back at Dad. “So, Regan and I are both…you’re my father,” she said in a small voice. Finally. Almost tripping over the last word.
“Yes,” Dad said.
Charlotte stared up at him for an extra beat. He’d managed to keep his answer short and devoid of any emotion. Even I had no idea what he was thinking.
“I want to talk to my mom,” Charlie said.
Dad nodded. “You can call her anytime you like. I’ve arranged for you to have this.” He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Everyone in the pack has one. It works as a two-way radio as well. Just hold down the button and let us know what you need. Someone will always respond.”
Charlie took the phone and pressed a few buttons as if to test it. She looked back at Dad with a hint of defiance. “And if I try to leave?”
“We will always bring you back,” Dad said. His voice was firm, leaving no doubt he meant every ounce of what he said.
Charlie’s expression heated. “Like you brought me here? Threatening my mom, knocking me out?”
Dad ignored her but again, it made me wonder what they’d done to get her here. “This is your home now. It’s easier if you accept that now.”
“I guess I don’t have a choice,” she said quietly.
“We’ve prepared a room for you, upstairs in the main house. If you’re ready to accept your new role, I think you will be more comfortable there.”
He waited until Charlie nodded and gave a mumbled, “Okay.”
Dad’s heel scuffed the floor as he turned and strode briskly out. “Show her to her room,” Dad said to Brent. There was a mumbled reply.
I hesitated, wanting to offer something kind or more humane than the exchange I’d just been a part of. But my mind was incapable of forming the words. Dad’s announcement still echoed: a contest. Charlie and I would duel for alpha. My future was no longer set. And even though I knew logically that it was due to pack law, I couldn’t help but blame the girl standing in front of me for taking it all away. For threatening what was rightfully mine.
I was supposed to be alpha. Me. Not her. And Carter was beta. It was unspoken between us but it was there. Even if she were the friend and sister I’d always dreamed of, she was still my opponent. But now there would be no way to know. If I wanted to win, I had to stay separate. I couldn’t allow myself to get close to my enemy.
With that in mind, I cast one last glance at Charlie and then followed the others out.
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