Rabid (Kingdom of Wolves #6) by Ivy Asher

Chapter One

The smell of rain tickles my senses and rides the delicate breeze as it winds through my hair. I can almost taste the threat of moisture all around me, feel the heaviness of the storm clouds as they move sluggishly closer. The change in weather feels fitting for today. It’s as though the sky is willing to open up and release its sorrow, something I still haven’t been able to do.

Murmurs all around me pull my attention away from my wandering thoughts. I focus back on the shoots of greenery spilling out between the white flowers cascading over the top of my mother’s casket. They really outdid themselves with the arrangement, and I’m trying to appreciate the thought and effort put into it instead of thinking about how much my mother would have hated it.

As pack healer, my mom despised premature death and useless violence in equal measure. Her feelings weren’t only reserved for those of our kind or the humans we so closely resemble when not in our wolf form. They applied to all living things. Give my mother a plant she could nourish and encourage to grow, and she’d love you for life. Give her a bouquet of flowers doomed to die the second they were picked, bundled, and handed over like some prize to revere, and that would earn you a lifetime of side-eye.

She was strong in her convictions, gentle in her bedside manner, and the best mom I could have ever hoped for.

And now she’s gone.

I trace the lines of her casket with eyes that still haven’t cried, and I can’t help but feel like none of this is real. I know I’m still in shock, probably with a little denial sprinkled in for good measure, but I just never saw the day where I would be here without her unwavering strength and guidance standing right beside me. Especially not with the Flux being only days away.

Hess, my mother’s closest friend, finishes his speech and wipes at his eyes. I look around to see if any of the gathered pack are looking at his show of emotion like it’s a sign of weakness, but instead of gauging how many challenges may be coming his way in the near future, my empty stare lands on a set of familiar, shifty black eyes. They watch me intensely, and a shiver of disgust licks its way up my spine. I force my grossed-out gaze away from the pack’s alpha and settle on one of the betas, who rises from his seat.

His cargo khakis are wrinkled, just like his white button-down shirt. There’s an unkempt brown scruff on his cheeks and neck, all of which would be okay if he were grieving, but he’s not. No, his disheveled state is from the bender the pack had last night. Their antics and laughing were loud enough to reach even my house on the outskirts while I tried to prepare for today. It’s as though they were celebrating the loss instead of being crippled by it like I am. The disrespectful beta steps up to say a few words before it’s time to lower the coffin, and I want to growl at the absurdity.

I can’t focus on what’s being said anyway, because I can still feel Alpha Burke’s eyes on me, and it’s making my skin crawl. I’ve had far too many run-ins with him since he showed up three years ago with his band of rogues and attacked us before successfully taking over the pack. He took an interest in me right away, but my mom was always there to intervene and keep things from escalating like they have with so many other females here.

Gifted healers are hard to come by, and it seemed no matter how much Burke wanted to mess with me, he wanted my mother to stay and do her job more. But now she’s gone, and I’m alone. Maybe if I had my mother’s gift, I’d have room to negotiate for my safety, but sadly, that blessing skipped this generation.

Now, I find myself trapped in what could become a very volatile situation. It doesn’t matter that I want to be left alone and have no interest in being claimed by the alpha or anyone else in this pack. If I survive the Flux and get my wolf, I know that I won’t be given a choice. I’ll be claimed by someone whether I like it or not.

I do my best to ignore the weight of Burke’s unwelcome gaze as it roves over me. I try not to fidget or show any sign of weakness or discomfort. If I do, it’ll invite trouble, and that’s the last thing I need so close to the ceremony. I’ll need to come up with a plan, figure out what I’m going to do about my place here. But right now, I just need to bury my mother and come to terms with the fact that she’s no longer here.

Seamus, the mountain-sized beta pretending to give a shit about my mother and my loss, gives me a nod that tells me it’s time. Pulling in a fortifying breath, I stand up slowly, walking to the head of my mother’s coffin. I stand there, numb, lost, and not nearly ready to say goodbye.