After twenty years of being away, Harlow has come back to his birth pack. Now in his early forties, he’s a doctor and ready to retire from human life in order to take his place in the pack. But the pack he left behind isn’t anything like what he comes back to. His older brother is the new alpha, and the pack that was once full of families is now little more than a harem of young wolves following his brother blindly.
The only one not afraid of his brother is his beta, Nathan, who stays to protect the others. Harlow brings with him the much needed hope Nathan has been searching for, but Harlow has to prove himself worthy of the position of alpha before Nathan will follow him.
After twenty years of being away, Harlow still remembered the long, lonely highway through the mountains that would take him back to the Woodlands pack deep in the Colorado Rockies. He was four hours west of Denver, driving a rented truck he intended to return in Glenwood Springs, where he would be close enough to the pack to shift and run the rest of the way in. He hadn't been a wolf for more than an hour in the last year, and the last time he'd been shifted outside had been five years earlier while serving in the Peace Corps. He was a doctor, and getting away from the pack, getting some space to be on his own for a while, meant he could go wherever he wanted to in order to help people. But helping humans had never been the point of him going away to college in the first place, and he'd always known that eventually he would be called to come back home to help his pack.
It was March, one of the snowiest months in Colorado, and this Friday night was no exception. There was already six new inches of the white powder in the mountains and another four was supposed to come down before midnight. At least it was light. Snow in the mountains was always different than it had been in Boston. Back east, the winters had been heavy and wet. The snow had taken a long time to melt and the city could be shut down because of it. In Colorado, everyone went about their business, including the wolves. He was glad to be back home, even though it was just a place to him. He'd never felt tied to the pack or any territory in general, but it was his duty to come back and serve the pack when he was done with his career.
That had been the pact for centuries. The pack paid for its members’ education, and they got a degree in something useful for the pack. He was back to finish out his duty to them by using his skills to help them all while getting a mate and making babies to become the next generation of the pack to start the whole thing over again.
At least that was how things were supposed to go. He planned to make a case for being let out of that part of his commitment to the pack. He'd already been through one mate, and had a son out there who hadn't bothered to speak to him since he was fourteen. The last time Harlow had seen him had been far longer ago than that, probably closer to when the boy had been five. They belonged to a pack in Boston, and they weren't ever joining him in Colorado. Taking Evaline as his mate had been a favor to her father, the alpha, who had wanted an heir and to see his free-spirited daughter settle down. But Harlow hadn't been a good mate for her, and she'd had no love for him either. Their son had been the only good thing to come out of their forced union, and she'd been a far better mother than she had been a mate. Too bad Harlow hadn't been good at any of it.
He'd been shit as a mate and as a father. He knew that now. At the time that they'd been told to be together. he'd been eighteen and too afraid to tell anyone who he really was. Dean had been born later that same year, and a few months later Harlow had found out about Evaline's affair. He hadn't minded in the least. She kept her relationships strictly with humans, wanting sexual pleasure but wanting to keep the werewolf bloodline pure. At the time, he had appreciated that about her. Now he really didn't care. They didn't speak anymore, and they'd rarely had anything to say to each other back then either.
The sign for Glenwood Springs was barely discernable off the side of the road. He got off the highway and headed for the car rental company office. The place was dark, but that was better for him. After getting his backpack out of the trunk, he slipped the key into the drop box in the office door and walked away. The snow was coming down hard enough that he didn’t worry about leaving tracks as he walked through town with his collar pulled up, wishing he could shift already and be warm in his fur. He hurried for the edge of town and the woods there before he shifted just in case. No one could know about shifters. He'd been hearing the warning all of his life, and he hadn't forgotten it.
The storm helped keep the people off the streets, and Harlow didn’t even feel people watching him from the shops and houses he passed on his way through town. He didn’t remember Glenwood Springs being so quiet, or so big, but it had been years since he’d been back to the pack. When he cleared the last house, he scrambled up a hillside and then made it to the forest. He traveled another quarter of a mile before he stopped and stripped off his clothes. The wind was cold against his skin, and he quickly shoved his clothes in the large backpack with his laptop and the couple of books he couldn’t bear to leave behind. A lot of his kind would leave everything human behind when they returned to the pack, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that. If his brother hadn’t brought the pack into the modern era, he would. It was nearly impossible to stay isolated, and if the pack insisted on doing that, he’d have to change their ways, if for nothing else than their own protection.