For me, it began much later. But she is so much more important. For my Claire, it began the day her parents came to get her after that first weekend at Emily's. The day I had to tell them… She is so much more important, so I'll begin there.

I was tickling Claire when the fateful doorbell rang. That perfect little smile… I would kill or die for that smile and count myself lucky. Claire couldn't talk very well, being only three, but she managed to stutter out a haughty command between giggles.

"Thtop it, Kwiw! Thtop!"

The way she mispronounced my name was so adorable. It made me want to scoop her into my arms and…

Three, Quil. She just turned three. Patience.

I obeyed, and to my delight, her giggles continued. It was the only sound in my world.

Emily interrupted my bliss. "Lina, Jack, this is Quil Ateara… a friend of Sam and mine."

I looked at the two strangers. I presumed they were my Claire's parents. Lina looked a deal like Emily, where Jack was tall, thin, and commanding.

I had a very unpleasant conversation ahead of me.

"Sam, I need you!" Emily called. He sprinted in just as I would had my Claire called.

Sam looked into my eyes, as though he was reading my mind. Which I don't think he could do… at least not in this form. He was asking if I was ready for this. I nodded ever so slightly, and my chief tilted his head sarcastically to the side. He could tell I was lying.

All five of us sat, and I began talking. "All right. I have no clue how to say this, so I'm just going to put it straight out. I'm a werewolf."

Lina laughed. Mr. Denson merely looked scornful.

"So am I," Sam added.

"That's how I got the scars. I wasn't mauled by a bear."

"You were mauled by a monster," Sam whispered, looking at his knees. Emily scoffed. I saw the regretful horror in Sam's eyes, but Emily chose to ignore it.

"Sam, self-loathing is unattractive."

"Anyway, one of two things is going to happen. You'll believe me, and then we'll move on to the (unlikely enough) even more impossible part of this conversation. Or I'll get pissed off enough that I'll phase right here which will be hazardous to your health and mess up the furniture."

"AT LEAST GO OUTSIDE!" Emily hollered.

"I'll need to see it to believe it," Lina said, and John nodded stiffly once.

I summoned the rage that lay so narrowly beneath my skin. It was still stronger because of Claire. What if someone hurt her? Or if she broke a toy she liked… or if I couldn't see her… or if someone was mean to her?

Before I knew it, I was trembling. And I felt the change.

Oops. I'd forgotten to take my clothes off… again. Good thing I'd removed my shoes.

I heard Sam's voice after a second. "They get it, Quil. Phase back before you mess up my living room."

I obeyed.

The two humans looked staggered. I realized that, in addition to having just turned into a big brown wolf in front of them, I was also naked. Sam sighed and passed me the blanket we kept nearby for just these occasions. It was bright pink. Sam thought it would help us learn control. Usually it was Paul who had the hideous fluorescent thing on him, but I wore it this time.

"Why… what… ummm…"

Obviously, Mrs. Denson didn't even know what to ask first.

"There are ten of us. All huge wolves, different colors. Sam, for instance, is black. All born to protect the people… from vampires. But you've heard the legends, Mrs. Denson. We phase when we're angry. And we imprint."

Before the obvious question could be asked, Sam explained. "I imprinted on Emily. Imprinting means… it's something we do. When you see her, nothing else matters. Only her. You'd do anything, be anything, for her."

I took a deep breath.

"I imprinted on Claire."

John looked furious. The man would make a good werewolf. Except for his cool distance. I didn't like him at all. I wasn't sure I wanted him anywhere near Claire.

Lina looked disgusted. "Are you some kind of pedophile?"

Don't get angry. Don't get angry…

"No. It's not like that. Not at all. I would never, could never, do anything that is not completely, totally, utterly in her best interest. She will be safest when she is with me. I will protect her with my life. That's what I'm for, ma'am. To protect her and help her and do anything she wants me to. Someday, maybe, we'll be more than friends. But that will always be her choice. I will never hurt her in the way you're suggesting… or any other. And I will never allow anyone else to hurt her. She is the most important thing to me. Always. She is my reason for existing. I will watch her more carefully than anyone else could. I adore her… and it's not about me. It's about her. She is what matters. I need to be near her because I need to keep her safe."

The thin man stood. "No. I'm not letting some mutant teenage wackjob psychopath pervert near my daughter. She's two years old, you pervert!"

Control. Control…

"What do you mean, someday?" Lina asked, utterly unaffected by her husband's ridiculous show of temper.

"Well, we don't age. Not until we stop phasing. So I'll wait for Claire to grow up, and be hers if she'll have me. When she's a woman. Until then, I'll be anything she needs. Her friend, her protector, her brother. Anything. And to me, she'll be the whole world."

"I think I understand. You'll want to see her?"

"Every minute of every day. But I understand, if you insist I don't. I need to be near her, at least some of the time. Maybe… four hours a day?"

The woman spluttered. "Four hours a week. You're in love with my two-year-old. That's pretty disturbing."

"I'm not in love with her. I love her. Neither of you quite seems to understand… I don't want to have a romantic relationship with a toddler. That would be strange. But I love her. I want to do anything she wants me to."

"Fine. One hour a day."


"Okay. Two hours a day."

Haggling. How ridiculous. Sam glanced at me, seeming to know my mind. It was ludicrous. This is so important.

Mr. Denson stood. "He is not going NEAR her. That's it. You're going to let him spend time with her? What's he going to do with her? She's a baby."

"Play with her. Make her smile. Teach her. Feed her. Put her to bed and watch her sleep. I don't care. I just want to be near her."

"No. This is not happening. I refuse."

"Don't be silly, Jack. I need another hand around the house anyway."

"Hire a maid."

"When this boy will do a better job? He's not going to hurt her. I believe him. We can trust him."

"Yes, you can," Sam offered. "He would never do anything to betray a trust. Besides… he's in my pack. And he can't disobey an order. Quil, you are not to attempt to pursue any romantic or sexual relationship with Claire until she is fifteen."

"Yes sir."


"I'm barely sixteen, sir. And I'm not getting any older."

He spluttered helplessly, then returned silently to his seat.