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When Rawling enters Sombertooth University mid way through the school year, he's expecting to be the new kid. What he's not expecting is to find himself thrust into an entirely new world: one in which shifters are real. And with them a whole set of problems like pack dynamics, latency, and territory wars that Rawling never knew existed. Add to the mix the cutest guy Rawling has ever seen in his life, and his first year at Sombertooth is shaping up to be more exciting than he ever could have imagined.
The large wooden gates creaked ominously as they opened, and I shivered as a sliver of yellowish light fell on the driveway. Behind me, the taxi driver sped off in a cloud of dust. He’d been reluctant to bring me here and had only agreed when I offered to double the fare.
I gulped as the gap between the gates widened because I’d watched enough horror movies and this was exactly how many of them began. But what followed was not what I imagined when I had the idea to enroll.
Expecting to be greeted by someone with their clothes in tatters and a gap-toothed sneer, I steeled myself and gripped the small pack over my shoulder. But the guy who appeared was dressed in a uniform of sorts, consisting of gray pants and a tunic that fell to his knees. His wide smile allayed my fears a little. When he stretched out an arm, the sleeve pulled back, revealing an intricate tattoo, but I couldn’t make it out in the fading light.
The fingers on my right hand were clamped so tightly around the pack that a film of sweat coated my palm, so I offered him my left one.
“Welcome, Rawling. I’m Zev.”
“Thank… thank you,” I replied, my voice croaky. He’d been expecting me. Not surprising as I’d sent an email with my arrival time.
Unlike the college I was transferring from, this one was much more formal with so many rules and uniforms. Had I not been transferring because of my late godfather, I’d have considered details such as this a red flag and said thanks but no thanks. But I was determined to make this my home for the next three-and-a-half years even if it meant ignoring signs I shouldn’t.
After a brief handshake, Zev stepped back, and my gaze fell on the building, set against the darkening sky. I’d seen photos of the place in daylight, but the turret—or was it a steeple or a spire?—reaching up to the heavens as if trying to pierce the gloom reminded me of tales of witches and dragons, while the pinpricks of light from some of the shuttered windows reassured me the building was inhabited. Maybe.
“Welcome to Sombertooth U.”
Zev had a tablet in one hand, and on the screen was a list with checkmarks. He tapped a column and tucked it under his arm. His using modern technology and being organized got rid of one red flag.
“Everyone’s here.” He jerked his head at the path leading to the building. “Off you go. There’ll be someone inside who’ll show you to your dorm.” He leaned toward me and sniffed. I couldn’t catch what he mumbled, but it sounded like, “That’s different.”
After thanking him, I sniffed under each arm, worried I smelled bad, but perhaps I’d used too much cologne in my desire to impress everyone.
I squared my shoulders, and the gravel crunched under my feet. Sombertooth hadn’t been my first choice of college, and I’d done my first semester elsewhere. But this was the alma mater of the man who’d taken me in after my parents died in a car accident.
Rawlins. Godfather, guardian, or whatever name society assigned to someone in that position couldn’t come close to describing what he’d been to me. The person I was named after and who held me in the middle of the night when my body was racked with grieving sobs. The man who’d sat at my little league games and cheered me on, even when I sucked and got shouted at by my team members. The alpha who helped me negotiate my high school years and first dates, and who plied me with ice cream and watched crappy movies with me when Jake, my first crush, told me I was too nerdy to be his boyfriend.
After being diagnosed with cancer, he didn’t linger but was dead within six months. My old friend, grief, returned, but instead of my world collapsing, it was more of a sting, followed by a slow burn that seeped into me, weighing me down and yet giving me purpose. And now I was honoring him by switching to the college that, according to Rawlins, shaped him so he became the alpha I knew and loved.
Opening the door, I stepped into a large foyer with black and white tiles underfoot. A dark-mahogany staircase curled upward to the next floor, and to my left and right, there were long passageways, dimly lit.
A woman with dark-rimmed glasses pushed on top of her head, holding a tablet similar to Zev’s, yawned as she sat at a desk. Her eyes flicked in my direction, and she muttered, “At last.”
“I’m—” I twisted my godfather’s lapis ring as she stood, the initials SU for Sombertooth University engraved on the stone.
“Rawling Blakesley. Sign here, please.” Once she had my signature—and her gaze was fixed on my ring as I was writing—she handed me a key card. You’re upstairs on the fourth floor.” And, as Zev had, she sniffed me. What was it with the staff here? Did they all have allergies? It wasn’t unusual to have mold creeping unseen through the walls of an old building.
She tottered down a corridor, high heels clacking on the tiles, and yelled over her shoulder, “Your roommate, Jack, is a bear. Not that I’ve met him. He snuck in and signed his name while I was on a bathroom break.”
If Jack was as bad-tempered as the woman made out, I’d have to tread carefully and not make too much noise or leave my stuff lying about. Thinking of being tidy had me remembering my messy room as a kid and how my godfather, who’d once walked these halls, tut-tutted when he poked his head in the door.
As I peered up the steep, winding staircase, I was glad I’d whittled my belongings down before I packed. Even with one suitcase, a duffle, and a messenger bag slung across my chest, it would be a struggle. If I hadn’t given up soccer as a kid, I’d be fitter and bounding up to my room.
Tucking the key card into my jeans pocket, I strode up the stairs, which quickly became a stagger, until, when I reached the top of the final flight, I dropped my luggage, panted, and gulped in mouthfuls of oxygen.
When I’d caught my breath, I pulled out the key card: 4G. A sign indicated it was to the left. Groaning, I picked up my belongings and lumbered to 4G. My name, along with the previously mentioned Jack’s, was stuck to the door.
The room was in darkness except for moonlight streaming through the old-style window that had strips, or dividers, between each small glass pane. The space was laid out similarly to my previous college with two beds, desks, closets, and a door that led into the Jack and Jill bathroom we shared with one other room.
Based on the piles of clothes on the bed closest to the window, a splinter of light shining under the bathroom door, and the sound of water splashing on tiles from behind said door, Jack had made his claim on the better-positioned bed and was taking a shower.
Not wanting to piss off my new roommate before we’d been introduced, I unpacked clothes for the next day and pulled out my toiletry bag and something to sleep in before shoving my gear into the closet and closing the door.
The click of the bathroom door alerted me it was meet-the-roommate time. Plastering a huge smile on my face, I glanced up as Jack walked out clad in a bathrobe, with a towel wrapped around her head.
Like me, Jack was an omega, but she was a girl.
She froze, framed by the bathroom light.
“I didn’t know…” I gulped and started again. “Ummm, I didn’t know the dorms were co-ed.”
“They’re not.” Her voice held a hint of steel.
“Well, this is my room.” I jerked my head toward the door. “It has my name on it.” I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth ’cause I sounded like a toddler insisting a toy was his.
“Mine, too. And I’m not moving. The view from this room during the day is stunning.” She picked up a bunch of clothes from the bed, turned on her heel, and headed back to the bathroom.
Did she expect me to pack up and leave right now? “Maybe we can sort it out in the morning.” I folded my arms in an effort to protect myself. Though from what, I wasn’t sure.
Jack shrugged. “I waited a semester to get into Sombertooth, and I lucked out with the best dorm room, so I’m staying put.” And then she freaking well sniffed. Dammit, what was it about this place? “And I don’t really fit in with everyone here, you understand. That’s probably why they made us roommates.”
Eager to brush my teeth and climb into bed, I nodded, although I didn’t understand what she was referring to.
Before I could question her, Jack continued by saying, “Let’s get one thing straight. The alpha across the hall—the gorgeous one with dark, shoulder-length hair and a tattoo on his wrist—is mine. Hands off.”
Willing to agree to anything, though her description of the alpha piqued my interest, I responded with, “Okay.” What more was there to say than that?
Later, I slid into bed, pleased at the crisp, lightly scented sheets and the heavy quilt that would keep out the cold. I was wide awake, though, and went over the events that led me to enrolling at Sombertooth.
During the long hours I’d spent beside Rawlins’s bed, there were days when he slept continuously, and others where he sat up, eating Jell-O and reminiscing about his college years. As well as more traditional college courses, he described his astronomy classes and environmental conservation. Bogged down with calculus and algebra, they spoke to me, sparking my imagination as a siren did to sailors’. While my godfather never pressured me to switch colleges and majors, I researched Sombertooth while he was sleeping and dashed off an inquiry.
They’d responded, saying as Rawlins was my guardian and an alumnus, they’d love to have me.
“Just like that!” I said out loud in my Sombertooth dorm room. They hadn’t asked for my transcripts or references, and there were no reams of forms to fill in. “Just like that.” I lowered my voice and crossed my fingers that I hadn't woken Jack.