It was seven o’clock at night on a cold December evening, and the news was bad. Seth sat in the living room with Levi rigid beside him. Neither had moved for ten minutes. The others weren’t any cheerier: Bekah was lumped against the wall, Scott and Gwyn were by the window, and nobody breathed as they watched a familiar face give a speech on the TV.
“Evil is real,” said Tate Peterson. His hair was spiked in the front, his eyes were clear, and he wore a neat three-piece suit. His knuckles were white as he gripped the podium in front of him.
Cameras flashed. He swallowed hard and glanced at his note cards.
“Evil is real,” he said again. “I’ve seen it myself. Evil took my mother—a respected county commissioner—and now evil has taken my grandfather, too. The man that you all know as Senator Peterson.”
Another pause, more shuffling cards.
“Evil comes in many forms. There’s evil in the hearts of men. The kind of evil that makes families fight, or forces us to commit crimes. I was a troubled kid. I knew that kind of trouble intimately before I found God.” He looked straight into the camera. “But there is a more literal evil in the darkness, too. It doesn’t care if you smoke pot or engage in homosexual behavior. There are creatures that want your blood, life, and soul. A thousand different kinds of demons: incubi, strigoi, mara.” Tate’s eyes narrowed. “Werewolves.”
Levi stood in a swift motion, haloed by furious energy. “Tate,” he growled, as if he thought his ex-boyfriend would be able to hear him through the TV.
Scott reached for his arm, but Levi jerked away and stormed out of the room. His father moved to follow. Bekah held up a hand.
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I’ve got it.”
Tate was still talking as Bekah followed her twin brother out of the house. Seth barely heard the rest of the speech, but he didn’t think the details mattered anyway. The sentiment was perfectly clear.
A hand appeared from off-frame and pushed Tate gently aside. A new man took the podium as the camera zoomed back to show both of them. This speaker was older than Tate, and not nearly as handsome; he kind of looked like an ape in a suit. He had introduced himself at the beginning of the event as Gary Zettel, secretary for the brand new Office of Preternatural Affairs.
“Thank you for sharing that with us, Mr. Peterson,” Secretary Zettel said, a totally inauthentic smile glued to his lips.
It had been eighteen hours since a senator had been assassinated at his office in Washington, allegedly by some kind of demon. Tate’s speech laid out everything for the public: the truth that most people chose to ignore, and which most supernatural creatures tried to conceal from the public.
The United States government had just destroyed centuries of secrecy in one fifteen minute speech.
Only the blast of cold air blowing through the living room managed to draw Seth’s attention from the TV. Stephanie Whyte, doctor and witch, shut the door behind her, unwound her scarf, and hung her jacket on the hook.
Gwyn grabbed the remote and lowered the volume. “Thank goodness you’re back. Did you get everything?”
Stephanie lifted a plastic bag. “I did. Where is she?”
“In our bedroom,” Seth said, feeling queasy with nerves. It wasn’t from the press conference. He had even bigger worries than that. “Should I come with you?”
“I’d like to talk to her on my own first. Wait out here.” Stephanie tucked the bag under her arm and disappeared down the hall.
Seth sank onto the couch again, and Gwyn sat beside him. “It’s going to be okay,” she said, rubbing a cool hand over his arm. He forced a smile.
“Thanks, Gwyn. You’re probably right.”
Secretary Zettel continued to speak in front of the blue curtains with Tate hovering at his back.
“Evil is real, but there’s no reason for the American people to be afraid.” He removed the microphone from its stand and paced across the stage, forcing the camera to follow him. “Yesterday’s attack represented more than just an assassination on a respected senator. It’s an attack on our very freedom. Our nation has come face-to-face with evil, and we will respond with the core of America’s good heart.”
As he walked across the stage, Seth glimpsed people standing behind Tate. The press conference was being staged outside of Senator Peterson’s home, which meant that the rest of the surviving members of the Peterson family were there: Tate’s dad, his aunt, and his newly-widowed grandmother. There were also a cluster of men in black suits. Seth almost skimmed right over them, but one of the faces caught his eye.
“Wait,” he said, reaching for the remote. “Are you recording this, Gwyn?”
“Recording it? With what?” she asked.
Seth punched several buttons, but nothing happened. They had canceled their satellite subscription when they thought that the entire pack was moving to California, so their DVR didn’t work anymore.
“Watch the background,” he said, crouching in front of the screen and pointing at the corner.
“What are we watching for?” Scott asked.
Seth held his breath as he waited for Secretary Zettel to pace in the other direction again. And there he was: the man among the people that Seth had initially assumed were Secret Service. He was only on-screen for an instant before the speech ended and it cut back to the newsroom.
“Jesus,” Gwyn breathed. “Was that…?”
“I don’t understand. I didn’t see anything,” Scott said.
It felt like Seth’s heart was going to pound out of his chest.
Those hadn’t been Secret Service. The black suits, black shirts, and Bluetooth earpieces were all hallmarks of the Union.
And his half-brother, Cain, had been standing among them.
Rylie gnawed on her thumbnail as she paced in the twelve foot by twelve foot box that was her bedroom. She hadn’t stepped outside the door for hours. Not since Abel had claimed to be responsible for her pregnancy at the wedding.
She couldn’t face the awkward silences and the judgment in the eyes of her werewolf pack. Nobody had to speak for her to know that everyone thought that she had cheated on Seth.
It seemed so stupid to hung up on that when they had just defeated Cain. But she was. She didn’t even care that she had witnessed her evil mother-in-law die a second time. All she cared was that her pack thought their Alpha was a slut.
Her cheeks burned with the shame of it.
She jumped when her door creaked open, but it wasn’t Bekah trying to console her again. It was Stephanie Whyte, who was her usual brisk self.
“Heck of a night, isn’t it? Lie down and expose your stomach, please.”
The nonexistent bedside manner probably should have bothered Rylie, but it was comforting, for once. Stephanie couldn’t have cared less if Rylie was sleeping with Seth or Abel or Seth and Abel, or every single werewolf in the world. All that Stephanie cared about was doing her job.
Rylie stretched out flat on her back in bed, lifted her shift above her navel, and wiggled her jeans lower on her hips. “What are you going to do?”
Stephanie dragged the desk chair to her bedside and sat down. She squirted a dollop of hand sanitizer onto her fingers. “I’m just going to see if I can feel your fundus. This won’t hurt.”
“The top of your uterus. It will help me date your pregnancy.”
Rylie shut her eyes and tried to remember how to breathe. My pregnancy. It had been almost two weeks she took the pregnancy test and saw those two pink lines, but she still wasn’t used to the idea of it.
Stephanie palpated Rylie’s lower abdomen, eyes going distant with thought.
“Well?” Rylie asked after a few seconds of silence.
“What’s the date of your last menstrual period?”
“I don’t know. I don’t keep track.”
She pressed a little harder, but not painfully so. “Hmm. Well, when was the last time you changed into a wolf? Three months? Four?”
“It hasn’t been that long. I skipped a few moons, but…two months? Maybe less?”
“You can pull your shirt down.” Stephanie sat back, steepled her fingers, and gave Rylie a thoughtful look. “The average werewolf can’t sustain a pregnancy because of frequent, violent physical changes. Did you know that?”
“Yeah. Seth told me that I’d never have a baby,” she said.
“So I imagine you weren’t even using condoms, were you? Don’t answer that. I don’t need to know.” The older woman heaved a sigh. “Look, Rylie, you’re not an average werewolf. You’re an Alpha. And you feel like you might already be four months pregnant.” Rylie’s jaw dropped, but Stephanie wasn’t done. “Your fundal height is almost to your navel. You aren’t really showing because first time mothers have strong abdominal muscles.”
If Rylie hadn’t been laying down, she thought she would have fallen over. Dogs only gestated for sixty days. Was she going to have a dog pregnancy? “What does that mean? Does that mean I’m growing supernaturally fast? Do werewolves do that?”
“We don’t know anything yet. It’s too soon to worry.” Stephanie grabbed the plastic bag she had brought off the floor. “You’re hyperventilating, Rylie. Relax.” She punctuated those words by pulling out several color-coded vials and a needle. A very long needle.
“What’s that for?”
“It’s so I can draw your blood and make sure things are progressing normally. We’ll have to treat this as a high-risk pregnancy…assuming that you plan on keeping it.” She snapped on blue latex gloves.
Rylie was grateful for the surge of anger she felt at that suggestion. It was a nice change from the utter terror. “Of course I’m keeping it! What kind of person do you think I am?”
Stephanie wiped down the inside of Rylie’s elbow with an alcohol swab. “I think you’re the kind of person that turns furry twice a month. We’re not even certain that you can carry the baby to term, or that it will be healthy. We don’t even know who the father is. This isn’t a simple situation, and I would understand if you chose to abort.”
That was such an ugly word. “Abort.” Rylie felt queasy again.
“Seth’s the father. I’ve only ever had sex with him.”
“Right,” Stephanie said.
A sharp prick, and the needle was in. Rylie watched in sick fascination as the blood spurted into the vial with every beat of her heart. Once the first was filled, Stephanie swapped it out, and she ended up filling four vials total. She pressed cotton against the needle’s insertion point and withdrew it.
There was no need for a bandage. Rylie healed instantly.
“I can send one of these to a lab for paternity testing,” Stephanie said, turning the chair toward the desk to label the vials.
Rylie sat up, rubbing her arm. “Are you listening to me? I don’t need paternity testing. I would never cheat on Seth!”
Aside from the one time she had kissed Abel, anyway. But kissing didn’t produce babies.
“As I said, you’re hardly a typical situation. If you think that there’s any chance—even a small one—that you might have mated with Abel while in wolf form, then I recommend a paternity test. It would be good for your peace of mind, if nothing else.”
Rylie groaned and let her head bump against the wall.
Squeezing her eyes tight, she nodded once.
Stephanie dropped the vials in an envelope. “I’ll contact the hospital and arrange a dating ultrasound as soon as possible.” She removed her gloves and threw them in the trash. “I think it would be best if I performed the scan myself.”
“You don’t think you’ll look inside and see a puppy, do you?”
She had meant it as a joke, but Stephanie didn’t laugh.
“I’ll tell Seth he can visit you again,” she said on her way out of the room.
Rylie grabbed the wastebasket and threw up for the third time that day.
She had been having morning sickness for a while, and it wasn’t getting any easier. It always left her feeling dizzy and weak—almost as bad as silver poisoning. But Rylie could try to purge silver from her system. There was no purging a baby.
Assuming you plan on keeping it, Stephanie had said.
The suggestion of abortion angered Rylie, but it wasn’t the first time she had thought about it. Whether Seth or Abel was the father, it was going to be Eleanor’s grandchild. Eleanor was pure evil, and so was her oldest son, Cain, who was also a werewolf. And since there was no chance that Rylie was going to produce human offspring, the odds of making a baby like Cain were pretty high.
She buried her face in her arms. Maybe her baby was going to be a monster, but Rylie couldn’t kill it. She couldn’t.
The door opened, and Seth entered. She thought that he was going to be angry, but he only looked stunned. “We have a problem,” he said.
“I know,” Rylie said. Her chin quivered.
“You already know?” Seth looked puzzled. “Were you watching the news in here?”
“Huh? I was talking about this.” She placed her hands over her stomach. “What are we going to do?”
The shock vanished from Seth’s face and was immediately replaced by sympathy. “Oh, baby.” He sat at her side and wrapped his arms around her. He was so gentle, so sweet, and tears immediately spilled out of her eyes and splashed down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Seth.”
He pulled back to look at her. “Sorry?”
“I didn’t tell you. I can’t…I just…”
He wiped her tears away with the palm of his hand. “I just wish you had told me so that you wouldn’t have to deal with it alone. I’m not angry. Just surprised.” Seth gave a shaky laugh. “I didn’t think I’d ever be a dad.”
His hand trailed down her stomach and rested on her belly button, and Rylie put her hand over his. There was only a small, soft lump under her shirt. “Stephanie thinks that I might be growing too fast,” she said, and she couldn’t keep her voice from shaking.
Seth responded by kissing her, slow and deep, without moving his hand. Even though she had been throwing up, he still kissed her like he meant it. But when he pulled away, he wasn’t smiling.
“What were you saying about the news when you came in?” Rylie asked, grateful for a distraction.
“Forget about it. What about…” He trailed off, seeming to choke on the words he wanted to say. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What about Abel? I mean, there’s no chance, right? There’s no way that Abel could be…”
This time, when his words failed, he gave up speaking. But Rylie couldn’t respond.
When she remained silent, he kissed her again.
“Whatever happens,” he murmured against her lips, “I’m going to be here for you. We’ll do this together. Okay?”
Rylie rested her head on his chest. “Okay.”