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They were out hunting together on a sunny afternoon and went too far north of the protected property. They went beyond our boundaries and into an area humans were known to sometimes sneak into. They must have gotten lost and weren’t paying attention. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a problem because I was usually with them. I would watch over them and make sure they didn’t go beyond the safety zone. But that day I was distracted. I didn’t make it home in time to go with them, so they left without me. Two hunters saw them and thought they were wild wolves. The hunters were trespassing, and when they came across two wolves hunting a deer, they shot them.

Stone found the bodies and tracked the hunters down, taking care of them. I never got my revenge, and after hearing the news, I went mad. I shifted and fled to the woods, unable to be in my skin for a very long time. I didn’t think I would ever fully shift back, but over time it happened slowly. I was still part-wolf up until a few months ago, and some of my features never really returned to how they were before.

I should have been there that day. I could have protected them.

I stop that train of thought and focus on the task of cleaning up. I can’t let myself go down that road.

The sun is setting, and I’m all finished for the day. Shifters are amazing creatures with lots of strength, but I realize that I had neglected my body for a long time, only eating when I gave in to the hunger pains.

I’d always built houses, so I knew my way up one side and down the other when it came to putting one together. But the first day I tried to do just some basic work, it about broke me physically. After a few good hunts, I was doing better. And about a week later, my body was back. I could feel the strength in my arms and legs grow as my shifter genes helped repair the years of damage I’d done to myself. I am bigger than I have ever been.

I’ve been given free rein of the forest surrounding Gray Ridge, but a few acres are specifically mine. I’d built a home on some land out here before my mom and sister died, but I hadn’t been back since the accident. I built it so that one day, when I took a mate, I would have room for everyone. I couldn’t bring myself to go back after they died, but from what Dominic told me, he and Stone would go over every so often and take care of things for me. I think Stone knew at some point I would want to come back, and he made sure it was kept up.

Once a week Sheriff Dominic comes to check on me and brings me supplies. Sometimes he even offers a hand to help me with the place. When he found his mate, he made me realize what I’d been missing. I’d let myself go and let my wolf run for so long that I forgot about the things I want in life. I want a mate, and someday I hope to find one. Dominic made me see that I wasn’t doing what I needed to. I need to provide a safe home for my mate, and I have to be able to protect her. The power of his words hit me when he asked if I would have allowed another shifter to make my sister live the way I was living. His words hurt, but he was right. I wasn’t a worthy male, and I need to be. A mate deserves the best, and I intend to make the best home there ever was so that when I find mine, she’ll be happy.

I stand up and turn around, seeing Dominic. “Must be Friday, and it’s weird that you always smell like cookies now.”

“My mate likes the way I smell, thank you very much.” He sets the big basket of food down on the picnic table and looks at the progress I’ve made since last week.

Dominic has been worried about me a lot lately, but I can’t figure out why. It’s as if he keeps coming back to make sure I’m making progress. Like something is going to happen and he’s making sure I’m prepared.

“You’ve come a long way, X. The house looks great.”

“I’ve got nothing but time on my hands,” I say as I grab the basket, pulling out the cookies first. They are my favorite and always smell the best.

Not too long ago, I was doing pretty bad and walked too close to town. I think I was in a daze and following a scent. I stumbled upon the back of the town bakery, and I stopped when I saw a woman coming out. I’d been smelling something so good coming from the shop, and I think that’s what led me there. When I saw her, I thought she was my mate, though I was surprised that the scent wasn’t stronger. It was only a hint of my mate. It turned out that the woman was Ruby and she belonged to Dominic. She wasn’t mine, but the cookies she had in her hands smelled like mine. So now every week he brings me a basket from her, and the cookies are what I look forward to the most. They remind me of something I have buried deep in my heart, and I refuse to let it out.

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