“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Nora, happy birthday to you.”
My parents and siblings are all grinning as they end their song, and then my mum starts the cheers. “Hip hip, hooray!”
Over and over, I sit here giggling as she counts up to eighteen, and on the final hooray, I lean forward to blow out my candles.
“Keep blowing,” my mum says, when nothing is happening.
It takes a minute for my brain to register why. They bought trick candles—my favourite. It takes me about eight blows before they’re finally out, and I don’t think I dropped the smile once. My dad takes the cake over to the side to cut it up for us.
Today is important, more so than any other birthday I’ve had. Not only am I now a legal adult in the eyes of the human and wolf government, but in wolf society, there are extra perks. My wolf has finally matured, and now we’re able to find our soulmate.
A soul mate is the other half—or other piece—of your soul and they’re the person or people you’re destined to be with for the rest of your life. A mate who has been matched with you by fate.
This is one of the most sacred moments of being a wolf, and I’m finally at the age where I get my chance.
It’s a simple process, if albeit a long one. To find your mate, your wolf is hunting for a specific scent. There’s something about the person that appeals to you, and the moment you scent it, the bond hits you both.
But, no matter how easy—and romantic—the process is, there’s no guarantee how long it will take. Your mate isn’t necessarily the same age as you, although it’s rare that there’s more than a few years between mates. Your mate might not be from your pack either.
But that’s not going to diminish my hope. We’ve got a lot of unmated males in our pack, and I’m hoping that my wolf will find her destined in at least one of them.
It’s the moment I’ve dreamed of since I’ve been a young girl, and I’d hate to be like the pack members who have been searching for ten, fifteen years and have still yet to find theirs. I want my happy ending—my fairytale romance.
My parents found each other on my mum’s eighteenth birthday, and they’ve got the perfect mating. I need to be as happy as they are.
Over the years, I’ve used every single bit of my good luck to wish for my mate. Every birthday candle blowout, every stray eyelash, every 11:11, and that’s not all I’ve sacrificed.
“You’re lost in the clouds. I bet I can guess why,” my mum says, nudging me with a teasing grin on her face. I shrug, and she laughs before turning around to where my dad is still cutting up the cake. “Brandon, they don’t need to be perfect.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. He takes a few moments before handing out slices. “The biggest piece goes to the—”
He pauses, and as his eyes glow a bright amber, I know that he’s connecting with someone through the mind link.
The mind link is a telepathic connection that we can access. There’s a familial bond that we share with family members. There’s a pack bond that is controlled by the Alpha of a pack, and it enables you to talk with anyone who is initiated into the pack. And finally, there’s a mate bond that’s shared between mates. It’s different from the other mental bonds, which is just another thing I’m excited to share with my mate.
I’m not sure who my dad is communicating with, but the conversation only lasts for maybe fifteen seconds before it’s over. He rubs the back of his neck and shoots my mum a look I don’t understand.
“What’s wrong?” Neve asks, surprising me by putting her phone down. “Dad? Who was that?”
“Alpha Newitt has called an urgent pack meeting,” my dad replies.
“I thought it was tomorrow,” my mum says, with a small frown and he sighs and gives her a one handed shrug. “Okay then. Let’s not keep him waiting.”
“But what about cake?” my brother, David, whines.
“We can have cake when we’re back.”
“What’s the meeting for, mum?” Neve asks.
I don’t know why she thinks my mum has an inner ear to the Alpha, but it makes me laugh. It’s not like we’re one of the high-ranking families, so we’re not included in the Alpha’s inner circle. We’ll find out what is going on once we get there.
“We’ll see,” my mum replies, tucking her hair behind her ears. She seems nervous, but also… excited? Does she know something?
Well, I’m also excited for the meeting, but I doubt it’s for the same reason as my mum. Every wolf in the entire pack needs to attend the pack meetings, unless specified by the Alpha, so that means if my wolf is going to find her mate within the pack, today is her first chance to do so.
As my parents lock things up, and get David ready, I rush upstairs, much to my parent’s chagrin, and change my top before joining them.
You only get the chance to make a first impression once, and I’m not going to meet my mate wearing the birthday girl shirt.
“Let’s go find out what’s going on,” my dad says, patting Neve’s shoulder as he opens the front door. “I think you’ll be happy about it.”
When we get to the meeting area, we’re surprisingly seated near the front. It’s not where we usually sit, and it’s annoying because it means that instead of being near the doors for people—potential mates—coming in, I’m as far away as can be.
I’m half turned in my seat, my legs shaking as I examine every single face to enter. It’s so busy though, that I’m not sure it’ll prove successful.
“Settle down,” my mum says, but I ignore her. I’m far too excited. I look around the room, occasionally meeting people’s eyes as I try to get my wolf to work with me. She’s bored, uninterested, and it’s slightly disappointing.
The scents in the room are blending together, and it’s hard to differentiate them between differenent members of the same family. I genuinely thought I’d be one of the lucky people who would spot their mate instantly and we’d have our happily ever after.
I just don’t think I was very realistic in my goal.
I keep watch as everyone comes through the door, and the sniffing I’m doing is getting on my mum’s nerves, but I don’t care. I’m more focused on the fact that not a single person appeals to my picky wolf.
Not a single person.
Dejected, I turn back around and get comfortable as we wait for the Alpha party to show. It’s not unusual for our Alpha to call a meeting and then arrive half an hour later.
“Don’t look so upset, sis,” Neve murmurs, and I sigh. “You’ll find him.”
I can only hope. The doors open once more, and a delicious scent overtakes my senses. A strong smell of clementine overtakes my senses, with hidden undertones of spice. I freeze in my seat, as my wolf begins to whine in my head alerting me to the fact that our mate just entered the building.
I repeat… our mate just entered the building.
As the Alpha, Luna and the future Alpha, Kennedy, walk onto the stage, my eyes don’t stray from the younger man. His shoulders are rigid, and I know he can sense it too. The moment he’s facing the crowd, his eyes meet mine.
What are usually bright blue eyes are pure amber because his wolf is to the surface, and tingles appear across my skin as a feral growl leaves his throat. There’s a commotion with his parents, but I don’t pay attention.
My wolf has chosen. We’ve found our mate.
Kennedy Newitt. Future Alpha. Twenty years old. He’s been searching for me with no hope for the last two years, and by his reaction, I know he’s as happy as I am about this.
“Mate,” I mouth, and he attempts to storm forward but is stopped by his dad. I can’t decipher the expression on my Alpha’s face, but he seems mad. Does he understand what’s happening?
My wolf is torn between cowering from our unsettled Alpha, and leaping for joy because we’ve found our mate. She doesn’t do anything except freeze under the indecision.
“Thank you all for coming. I’m sorry to cut this meeting off before it begins,” our Alpha says, still holding his son back. Kennedy’s tense body language is doing little to calm my wolf. She wants to go to him, but she’s scared. I’m scared. “We can reconvene another time. Thank you.”
Our Luna comes over to where I’m sitting, frozen in my seat, and motions for my family to stay behind as our pack clears out. My mum nods, and reaches over my lap to take Neve’s hand.
My mate is the future of Alpha of our pack. I am so fucking lucky.
My dreams of a perfect life, and a perfect mate, never took into account his pack rank. Instead, I focused on the aspects I care about—a man who loves me, who puts me and our family first.
But this? This is the ultimate jackpot. I’m going to be Luna one day, and I’ll get to be the mother to not only my kids… but the entire pack. Fate has been kind to me.
Once the room clears and the door slams shut with an echo through the hall, the Alpha lets Kennedy loose, and he storms over to me. My mum edges away slightly, my mate’s dominance unsettling her. His hands cup my cheeks, and he smiles. Everything in me lights up at the attention, and I can’t stop the giant grin that covers my face.
“Hi,” he murmurs.
I giggle, unable to stop the butterflies raging in my tummy. I’m so elated at the news. My mate is the future Alpha. I’m going to be the Luna of our pack.
“We need to talk,” Alpha Newitt says, but the tone of his voice is anything but happy. What do we need to talk about? This is cause for a celebration, especially since Kennedy’s waited all this time for me. “Ken, take a seat.”
Kennedy nods, dropping his hands from my cheeks, and as he steps away from me, my heart sinks. Every single step he takes that’s further from me takes even more warmth from me. I’m stood with my legs shaking barely able to hold myself up, hating the effect him sitting a couple feet away has on me.
His dad mumbles something, causing Kennedy’s face to drop. They’re tense as they switch to the mind link to argue, and after a moment, Kennedy looks resigned. I’m clearly missing something here.
“Sit down,” the Alpha says, and although he’s not looking at me, I know it’s directed at me. I immediately sink into my seat, not able to look away from Kennedy but powerless to my Alpha’s command.
“The pack meeting today was to discuss mating opportunities for Kennedy,” the Alpha says, looking at my dad. “As you all know, Kennedy is twenty now, and he’s had two years to find a mate. His wolf hadn’t picked yet, and we’re now out of time.”
“But—” Kennedy starts.
“But now he’s found his mate in your youngest daughter,” the Alpha says, frowning so badly that his eyebrows look like one, with a crease between. I don’t like where this is going.
My Alpha turns to me, and the hatred in his eyes makes me flinch. “Nora, you’re not a suitable candidate to run this pack with my son.”
“But—” I attempt to protest. We’re told as kids to never to argue with our Alpha, it’s one of the first rules we’re ever taught, and I’ve just broken it. And I don’t regret it.
My mate might not seem willing to fight for me, but I’m going to fight for him. For us.
“Shut up,” my dad says, and I can hear him grinding his teeth. Shit. Neve reaches for my hand, squeezing it gently, trying to offer comfort. It’s not her reassurance that I want.
“Dad,” Kennedy says, and my wolf yips in my mind at the sound of his voice. “I understand what you’re saying.” Wait… what? “But if not Nora, then who? We can’t have a pack without a Luna—she needs replacing.”
Only moments ago, I was elated. He was touching me, bonding with me and choosing me. My blood turns cold, or at least that’s how it feels, and tears spring to my eyes.
How can he willingly throw me away?
“If I can’t have my fated mate, then I get to pick my replacement mate,” he decides. He sounds like a brat, like his favourite toy has been snatched away and he’s got to make do with second best.
But am I just imagining that?
“It’s nothing against you, Nora, but you’re weak,” Kennedy tells me. A minute ago, he was so excited… what changed? “I need a strong Luna who can handle the job. You’re too fucking nice, and the pack don’t respect you. They’ll never be able to respect you. This”—he motions between us both—“won’t ever work.”
“He’s right, honey,” my mum says softly as she tucks my hair behind my ears. “You can find a new mate, and you’ll have the full support of your parents. Do this one thing for your pack, give up your mate, and you’ll be so happy.”
“No,” I whisper.
This is a joke, right? They can’t seriously be telling me to give up my mate. I glance around the room, and other than my brother, who is far too immature to be present for this conversation, they’re all eager, and expectant.
What kind of sick person would suggest leaving my fated mated and be this happy about the idea of it?
“Lunas are there to help the Alpha, and that includes making the tough decisions,” Luna Newitt says softly. “There’s no time for compassion because you need to be objective.”
“You cried when I killed a spider earlier,” my dad reminds me. “You’re not cut out to be Luna, Nora. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.”
The gleam in his usually dull blue eyes shows me how proud he is of me. But I’d be a fool to think it’s because I’ve mated above my current social standing. No, he’s proud because he thinks I’m going to do this one thing for my pack. He’s proud because he thinks I’m going to willingly give up half of my soul.
I’ve always been the selfless daughter, but this time, they’re asking for something I can’t give.
They’re asking me for something nobody could give up.
“Fate thought I could,” I say, crossing my arms and sitting up straight. Nobody is on my side. David’s too young to care, but even Neve, my sister who is holding my hand, doesn’t believe that I can do this.
How have things gone wrong this fast?
Their lips continue moving, but the words don’t register in my mind. I physically can’t grasp that they’re doing this to me. My parents who are meant to love me, to support my dreams, to want the best for me. My Alpha and Luna who are meant to be the ones to support their pack members, to make sure that their pack is thriving, to be the example that we all need.
My mate, the man who is meant to cherish me, to love me, to be the other half of my soul.
These people are meant to want the best for me, yet all they want to do is destroy my life. They’re hurting me, and they don’t even care.
A stinging sensation hits my cheeks, and I look into the furious face of my mother. Her amber eyes are glaring at me, and as a ringing sound echoes in my ears, sound returns. My cries fill the room, an action I didn’t even realise I was doing, and anger is the only emotion I can smell.
They’re all furious at me.
“I, Kennedy James Newitt the third, the future Alpha to Riverstone, reject my mate, Nora Nouvel Hart. I willingly sever all ties to you and your animal, and I understand that this will permanently renounce you as my mate.”
Searing pain shoots through me, a burning sensation in my chest. I fall to my knees as my wolf loses it within me, and when Alpha Newitt howls, it washes over me. His wolf’s command completely bounces off me.
I don’t recognise him as my Alpha anymore.
“She’s no longer a wolf,” Alpha Newitt scoffs, turning his back on me. She’s no longer a wolf.
The words echo through my brain as my wolf cries and whines get quieter but no less intense.
To her, her mate is dead. Kennedy severed our bond, and she can’t wrap her mind around the rejection—around the loss. He doesn’t want us, but she doesn’t understand that. There’s a hole inside that should be filled with our connection to our mate, and that’s all she can focus on.
My family and the leaders of my pack decided I was weak and useless because I have compassion. Me being a good person, a nice person, has cost me my entire life.
To her, her mate is dead.
To me, he was never alive to begin with.
“Good morning,” I greet as I lead my client down to my office. “How are you doing?”
“Morning, Nora,” he says, smiling. “I really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me again. I know how terribly busy you are.”
“I’m never too busy for you, Fred.”
He nods, and it’s only a few more minutes of small talk before he explains the reason for his visit—his daughter.
Solving other people’s problems is one of my primary responsibilities, and it’s the part I love the most. I’m a senior paralegal at Legal Pride, a law firm within my small town of Callent. With the firm being a branch of a giant corporation, we’re pretty much left alone to do what we need to make sure we keep our clients in this town happy. It’s a great balance between the small-town life I need and the chance to do some good.
I’m a paralegal here, and I mostly help clients with their day-to-day problems so that they don't need escalated to our solicitors. I manage my floor of paralegals, and we work closely with the solicitors to ensure that all of the people in our small town have all of their legal needs met.
My job changes on the daily, which is something I love. Variety is the spice of life—or so they say. I live alone, and so I spend as much as my time at the office as possible. It’s therapeutic in a way to focus on other people’s problems.
If you keep moving, you’re never able to feel alone.
Six years ago, he ruined my life, but that only made me come out of a challenging situation and make a different life for myself. I owe everything to my firm because they put me through law school and gave me a reason to continue living.
“So, fill me in,” I say, keeping my tone gentle because one thing Fred is good at is taking his sweet time to get to the point.
I spend the morning organising a plan with Fred for his daughter, making sure we loop in her therapist. Nobody said life was easy, but this girl is suffering tremendously. She won’t truly understand how much her father cares for her until she’s out of her situation, but for their sake, I hope it’s soon. He’s a good man, and she could do a lot worse... believe me.
Some parents disown their children and make them leave the city and struggle alone at the tender age of eighteen years and zero days old. Imagine being ripped from your life on your birthday. Can’t imagine it? Don’t worry. My life story shows you how it actually works, and it’s not a fairytale, no matter how many wishes I wasted asking for one.
My name is Nora Hart, and this is my story of second chances. The question is... will I learn that I’m able to be loved, or will I give up and lose myself to the voice in my head?
The past six years have shown that this toss-up changes on a daily basis. My mind is my enemy, and the goal... my goal is to survive. My therapist used to tell me the goal was happiness, and I just need to work for it. But how can I be happy when I spend all my energy trying to survive?
The key to that is something I’ve still not found.
Once Fred leaves, thankfully a lot calmer than when he first arrived, I continue with my planned day. I’ve got two appointments with clients, and then one with Rob, one of the junior solicitors, to go over my case load.
I volunteered to help Lacey set up for the mock trial happening tomorrow. Her brother is a trainee solicitor here, and he’s nervous about the process. It’s nice catching up with her as we work.
When it hits five, I send my staff home and finish doing the set-up myself. It’s something that has made my staff appreciative of me, this willingness to be hands on, but it’s something I do for myself. It’s selfish, and so whenever I’m thanked or praised for helping, I can do little more than give a smile. I don’t deserve their gratitude.
My house is somewhere I go to sleep. It’s not a home. It’s not even a safe place. It doesn’t bring me comfort to be there. It’s this thing that my bed is contained in.
The day that ripped my life apart was also the day I became an adult. That meant my parents—and pack—could buy me a tiny little house in a tiny little town and leave me there with no repercussions. Legally, they did their job. They promised to check in on me and see how I was doing, but that was the last time I saw them. Six years. It’s been six whole years.
The first few months are hazy, and all I can remember is being in pain. Pain so profound that I don’t know whether I ate, whether I slept, or any single thing outside of the battle I was having with my own mind.
The first year after that haze was hard. The hardest thing I have ever had to suffer through, and I’m now a law school graduate and a senior paralegal at a prestigious law firm. Law school was tough, but I’d do it all over again if it would mean I never need to repeat that first year.
This company gave my life a purpose. I might not have a pack anymore, I might not have a family anymore, and I might not even have a wolf anymore... but I do have a purpose. You can’t kill yourself when you have things to do tomorrow.
My purpose is to continue being the one thing that my pack and family decided was bad. I get to be compassionate towards my clients and do my best to make their lives better.
It’s a simple life, but it’s mine. One I clawed my way up to after hitting rock bottom.
Well done, me.