The path to freedom wasn't supposed to include falling in love.
Identical twins Ali and Amir are in serious trouble. They’ve been imprisoned, accused of a crime that only one of them committed. As they await trial, they must learn to survive as inmates in a prison filled with sadistic guards—and werewolves. Good thing they’re werewolves too.
Ali has no idea how to survive in this brutal world. It’s almost a relief when the cellblock alpha, Morgan, takes a liking to him and helps him adapt to prison life. Ali can’t resist the frightening, wild, and beautiful man, but too soon he learns that Morgan’s protection comes with a price.
Amir’s struggled to cope since their mother’s death, letting Ali take care of the family. But now he’s terrified for his kind, sensitive brother trapped in the other cellblock with the prison’s notorious “alpha.” And for his teenage sister, trying to survive on her own. He finds a confidant in Ben—a transfer from another prison—who’s everything he isn’t: calm, careful, and charismatic. The pair grow closer, but Ben has a past, and Amir can’t risk sharing his own while freedom hangs in the balance.
Afraid and alone, both brothers struggle to survive while the clock ticks on towards their trial. And overhead, the moon grows ever larger.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Drug Use (references)
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abandonment, abuse, acceptance, alpha/alpha, angst, anxiety, atonement, bullying, family, financial gap / class disparity, first love, fitting in, found family, hurt / comfort, isolation, mental illness, police brutality, politics / power struggle, power imbalance, protection, self-confidence, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues
The police came at 3:03 a.m.
Amir was awake. It felt like he’d been awake for hours, lying in bed, staring at the clock on his bedside table, palms sweating, breathing shallow. Waiting.
He’d expected sirens. Maybe a helicopter, like in the movies. Instead, there was just a knock. Loud, heavy, persistent. The warning came at 3:04 a.m. Brief, muffled through the walls, but clear enough to make out a few words. Surrender was one. Consequences was another. But there was only one word that really mattered. One word they said over and over again. Warrant.
It was 3:06 a.m. when they finally used the power that warrant gave them and kicked down the door.
“Living room clear!”
There was a bang as the door to his brother’s bedroom was flung open.
“He’s in here!”
“W-what’s going on?”
“Get on the floor!”
“I don’t unders—”
“Get on the floor now!”
That was what made Amir get up. Not the police. Not the thump of their boots on the carpet or the slam as they shoved open another door. It was the sound of his brother’s voice. Small. Scared. Alone.
He pushed back the sweaty tangle of blankets, clambered to his feet, and pulled open his bedroom door just in time to see a bald man in body armour shove his brother face-first into the carpet.
“What are you doing? He’s not resisting. He’s not resisting!”
“Shit. It’s the other one.”
Amir held up his hands as a second officer turned to point what he hoped was a Taser at him.
“He’s not resisting,” Amir said again. It wasn’t just his palms that were sweating anymore. His whole body felt clammy and cold. His heart was going at Mach four. “I’m not resisting.”
“Then get down. Right down. On the floor. And keep your mouth closed.”
He did, eyes flicking between his brother and the weapon pointed at his face. Fuck. It didn’t look like a Taser. It really didn’t.
When he was on all fours, the officer pushed him the rest of the way down and put a knee into his back, holding him in place. He gritted his teeth and forced himself not to fight as his arms were yanked behind his back and cuffed. A second pair of cuffs with a longer chain was clipped around his ankles as, a few metres away, the bald officer began reciting their rights.
“. . . warrant for your arrest. Whatever you say or do may be used in evidence . . .”
Amir tried to make eye contact with his brother. Tried to see if he was all right, if he was hurt, if he was scared. But his angle made that impossible, and his wriggling caused the knee in his spine to be driven in harder.
“I wasn’t! I—”
“The rest of the house is clear,” one of the officers called out.
“You sure?” another answered, voice high and jittery. “There is a third bed back there. Wasn’t it full moon the other night? What if another one jumps out and—”
“Hey man, chill, it’s empty. And, even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t matter. These are the two we want.”
“Positive. Look at the driver’s licence photos. These are the ones. No idea which is which though.”
“Does it matter?”
“Guess not. Let’s get muzzles on them and move out so forensics can earn their keep.”
Amir was trembling though he didn’t know if it was with fear or anger. They weren’t even going to talk to them. They weren’t even going to asktheir names. They were just going to muzzle them and leave. A part of him had known this would happen. He’d been preparing for it as he lay in bed and waited for the sirens that had never come. It was standard procedure in these sorts of cases. But knowing something would happen and experiencing it were two very different things. “We’re not resisting,” he said again, voice low, wretched, and shaking. “Fuck. We’re not going to bite. We’re not fucking mons—”
His words were smothered as something big and foul smelling was pulled down over his face. It snapped closed at the back of his skull with a loud double click and pressed hard into the bridge of his nose and the point of his cheeks. Before he could adjust to the oppressive scent and the heat of his own breath, he was being hauled gracelessly to his feet and half walked, half dragged towards the door.
He tried to turn his head. Tried to see his brother. The hands on his shoulders just got rougher and pushed him forward.
He did. There was nothing else to do. Fighting would make it worse. A lot worse. So he walked when he could, stumbled when he couldn’t, and eventually made it out of their small, shitty house and into the back of a waiting police van. The doors slammed closed behind him. A moment later he heard a second set of doors close nearby.
The doors on a second van. The one where his brother was probably, like him, standing barefoot in threadbare pyjamas and too-tight handcuffs. Ali.
“Fuck,” he said into the muzzle and closed his eyes. “Fuck.”
They should’ve run. They should have taken the money under the sink and disappeared. It would have been hard, Amir didn’t know the first thing about being a wanted criminal, but it wouldn’t be the first impossible challenge he and Ali had overcome. If it wasn’t for Aisha, maybe they would have. Maybe they should have.
No. He crushed that thought down. Don’t think like that.
This was a mess. No. More than a mess. This whole situation was one big shit-filled dumpster fire. But it was too late. It was too late to do anything other than what they were doing.
It didn’t matter. This would work. It had to work.
They would get through this. No matter what, they would get through. Both he and his brother. He would make sure of it.
Police Radio Traffic, 11:37 p.m., twenty-ninth of June 2018.
Dispatcher: Any units west side? I’ve got a code grey at 34 Porter Street.
Officer: Copy that. Code grey. M146, en route. That’s the old cinema, right?
Dispatcher: Affirmative. We have two reports and more coming in. Still not sure exactly what’s happening. The information is mixed. As far as we can tell, the suspect is Middle Eastern. Red jumper, black pants. Half shifted. Last seen with white female, early twenties, purple hair, in the parking— Wait.
Officer: Go ahead, dispatch.
Dispatcher: Just got more info. The female is injured. Sending the paramedics.
Officer: What type of injury?
Dispatcher: Didn’t say. Get there quick, guys.
Officer: Code three. Will do.
The recording clicked as it came to an end.
The room remained silent as the next audio file was highlighted and then opened.
Police Radio Traffic, 11:40 p.m., twenty-ninth of June 2018.
Officer: M146 responding to code grey at 34 Porter Street! Code eight! The female is down!
Dispatcher: Copy M146. Calling all units.
Officer: It’s a bite. It’s a goddamn bite.
Dispatcher: Copy that M146. Code four. Paramedics ETA one minute.
Officer: Shit. Shit!
Dispatcher: Stay with me, M146. Is she awake?
Officer: She’s . . . Yes. Affirmative. She’s awake. But she’s bleeding. No sign of the suspect. Miss? Are you okay? Miss? Do you know where you are?
The recording cut off.
“Officer Michaels,” the prosecutor said, her voice soft but strong.
“In your own words, could you please describe what you saw when you arrived at 34 Porter Street that night?”
The man nodded. “Yes. The female, Darcy Flint, was in the cinema car park lying on the ground. When I approached, I saw blood on her sleeve and what appeared to be an animal bite on her left shoulder.” The man’s eyes stayed fixed on the prosecutor, not turning towards Amir, Ali, or the public defender sitting stiff as a board between them. “She was awake but in shock. She didn’t speak until the paramedics arrived.”
“What did she say?”
“She said it hurt. She said she was sorry. She said it was a wer— Um . . .” He shot an uncertain look at the magistrate watching on from behind an imposing bench.
“Go ahead, Officer Michaels,” the prosecutor prompted.
“Forgive the crude language, ma’am, but she said it was a werewolf.”
“We got scans of every lycanthrope’s driver’s licence in the city,” Michaels went on. “Miss Flint refused to speak to us, but there were several witnesses who all identified the same photo. Well, photos.”
“The one of Amir Bashir. And one of Ali.”
The magistrate’s gaze wandered over both of them.
“They must be very similar,” the magistrate said softly.
“Yes, Your Honour. We needed to take their fingerprints to tell them apart. Shame there were no prints at the scene.”
“Were you there when they were arrested, Officer Michaels?” the prosecutor asked.
“Could you describe that event?”
The man shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “Not well. It was the lycanthropy special operations unit that broke down the door and made the arrests. I was just there as backup. We did find a lot of evidence on that property though. Blood. Clothing. But both suspects had showered and were in bed by the time we arrived. There was no way to tell who had committed the crime, so we had to arrest them both.”
“But you were sure it was one of them?”
“What made you so sure?”
“The witnesses, the evidence on the property, the lycanthropy strain detected on the wound. One of them attacked Darcy Flint. I wish I could tell you which one it was.”
“Thank you, Officer Michaels. No further questions.” The prosecutor turned.
Amir expected her to look smug. Or, at the very least, satisfied with the result of her questioning. She didn’t. She looked sombre. Her expression drawn and careful even as she walked by them to return to her seat.
The magistrate waited until the prosecutor had settled herself before speaking. “Does the defence wish to cross-examine the witness?”
The public defender at Amir’s side jumped a little. A kid called out in class. “No, Your Honour.” They were the same three words he’d been saying since the hearing started.
Under the table, Amir clenched his hand into a fist.
“Very well.” The magistrate turned back towards the witness. “I have one further question for you, Officer Michaels.”
“Yes, Your Honour?”
“You said by the time the arrests took place both suspects had showered.”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“How did you know that?”
Officer Michaels frowned. “Eh, well, they both had wet hair, Your Honour.”
“What time was this?”
“The arrests took place just after 3 a.m. on the thirtieth of June.”
“So.” The magistrate leant back in her chair. “Despite the late hour, they had just showered when the police arrived.”
“Both of them.”
“And this was what made it impossible to know which of the two assaulted Ms. Flint?”
Amir couldn’t take it anymore. “Heaps of people shower at night,” he snapped, voice muffled by the muzzle. “It doesn’t mean anything. This is bullsh—”
“Get control of your client, Mr. Baker.”
“Yes, Your Honour, I’m sorry. Ali—”
“Amir. I’m Amir.”
“Amir. Yes. I’m sorry. Please don’t talk until—”
“If you don’t want me to talk, then maybe you should. What the fuck is this? You’re meant to defend us not—”
“Amir.” Ali’s voice was small. “Be quiet. Please.”
He glanced at his brother but couldn’t see much of him. Ali’s eyes were down, hair forward, and features obscured by the bulky leather and metal muzzle caging his jaw.
“Please,” Ali whispered again. “Just this once.”
Amir swallowed the mess of words threatening to spill out of his mouth and looked down at the pair of cuffs locking his wrists together. They were a dull battered grey and had already left raw marks on his skin.
Ali was right. He needed to stay calm. He needed to stay in control. He needed to get through this as quickly and smoothly as possible so they could go home. Both of them.
When he looked up again, the magistrate was studying them, a strange expression on her face. “Thank you for your testimony, Officer Michaels,” she said when it became clear the exchange was over. “You may sit down now.”
The courtroom stayed silent as the man stepped out from behind the podium. It was only when he was seated in the back of the room that the magistrate let out a weary sigh.
“Does the prosecution have any more witnesses they want to interview at this time?”
“No, Your Honour.”
“Very well.” She started flicking through the papers in front of her. “In regard to this hearing, even without the testimony of the victim, there is enough forensic and circumstantial evidence here to submit both cases for trial. Before we do that, I want to reassess these pleas. Ali Bashir.”
“Yes, Your Honour?” His brother’s voice was painfully soft in the large room.
“You stand accused of unprovoked assault, wounding with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and obstruction of justice. You pled not guilty. In light of the evidence presented today, do you wish to change your plea?”
Amir held his breath.
“No, Your Honour,” Ali said.
The magistrate studied him. “Tell me, in your own words, what were you doing the night of the twenty-ninth?”
Ali’s voice was small. “I came home from work, showered, and went to bed.”
“Do you have anyone who could corroborate that story?”
“No, Your Honour.”
“Do you know the whereabouts of your brother that night?”
“No, Your Honour.”
The magistrate’s gaze turned to him. “Amir Basher. You’re also accused of unprovoked assault, wounding with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and obstruction of justice. You also pled not guilty. Do you wish to change your plea at this time?”
“No,” he ground out.
“What were you doing the night of the twenty-ninth?”
“I came home from work, showered, and went to bed,” Amir echoed his brother.
He could tell by the look in the magistrate’s eyes that she knew where this was going and wasn’t impressed. “Is there anyone who can corroborate your story?”
“Do you know what your brother was doing that night?”
The woman motioned to the guards. “Take off their muzzles.”
“Your Honour,” the public defender finally protested. “In cases involving a confirmed bite with an L-positive individual it is standard practice that—”
“I know what the standard practice is. I’m deviating from standard practice. Take off their muzzles.”
“But . . . what if one of them bites?”
“They won’t,” she said evenly. “They’re much too smart for that. I would like to see the brothers that are so alike that no one, not even forensic experts, have been able to tell them apart.”
The public defender made an unhappy hmm but didn’t protest further as a guard stepped forward and used a key to unclip the muzzle from the back of Amir’s skull and yanked it off his face. He heard the same happening to his brother and, when his face was free, turned towards him.
Ali’s did the same and, for the first time since this all began, their eyes met.
There were shadows under Ali’s dark eyes and marks on his brown skin where the muzzle had been pulled too tight on his face. But, despite that, he looked okay. Not good. No. He was a long way from being good. But he was okay.
“Eyes up front, gentlemen.”
Both Amir and Ali turned back towards the magistrate.
She took her time studying them, first Ali and then Amir. “They are remarkably similar.”
“Yes, Your Honour,” the guard said. “Identical twins.”
If the man’s stating of the obvious annoyed the magistrate, she didn’t show it. When she spoke, she spoke to them. “Congratulations, gentlemen. You’ve done it. You’ve fooled us, at least for a little while. Until we gather more evidence, we don’t know which of you committed this horrendous act against Ms. Flint.” A pause. “But you do. You both do. One of you knows because he didn’t do it. The other one knows because he did.” Her stare remained pinned on them. “I am speaking now to the one that did. Your brother is about to go to gaol for a crime you committed. Perhaps—as I suspect—he’s conspired with you to make it hard for us to prosecute. Perhaps he hasn’t. Perhaps he really is as ignorant as you both pretend to be. But you’re not. You know exactly what happened . . . and you know it’s your fault. You can spare him. All you have to do is tell the truth. All you have to do is change your plea.”
A painfully long silence.
The magistrate’s eyes moved between them, first studying Amir, then Ali, and then Amir again, her gaze hard and unwavering. Waiting.
Finally, after what felt like an age, she sighed. “That’s disappointing.” She pulled two pieces of paper from the stack in front of her. “Ali Bashir. You are hereby formally charged of all allegations brought against you today.” She signed one page with a quick scribble. “Amir Bashir. You are also formally charged with all allegations brought against you.” She signed the other page. “For the safety of the public I cannot grant an unstable lycanthropy-positive individual bail. As such, you will both be held in custody at Her Majesty’s Australian Lycanthropy Correctional Centre Longreach until the preliminary trial, which will take place in approximately thirty to forty-five days. You can change your plea anytime between now and then.” She folded the pages together and passed them to the waiting bailiff. “The matter is committed to trial. Court adjourned.”
The minute the magistrate was out of the room, their muzzles were back on. Amir didn’t protest. There was no point. He’d only been in police custody for a few days, but he’d learnt that, despite Officer Michael’s restraint during the hearing, there really was only one thing these people thought of when they looked at him.
But it was worse than that.
They weren’t just werewolves, they were brown werewolves.
One of the guards yanked on Amir’s muzzle.
“Good. Let’s move out.”
They were marched in a procession, first Ali, and then him, out of the courtroom and through a series of interconnected, near identical hallways. Amir didn’t try to make sense of it. He knew where they were going. Prison. The route didn’t matter. So he just followed his brother. Left down one corridor, right down another.
Then it happened.
It was in a hallway. One exactly like all the others . . . only this one was a T intersection.
His brother was led to the left. When Amir tried to follow, the men on either side of him hauled him roughly to the right.
“Wait.” He dug his heels into the carpet. “Where are we going? Where are you taking him?”
The guards didn’t answer.
“Where are you taking him? We’re going to the same gaol. The magistrate said we were going to the same—” He twisted to see Ali. He was almost at the end of the corridor on the left, almost out of sight. “Ali! Ali!”
Ali looked over his shoulder.
For a split second their eyes met. Then Ali was around the bend in the hallway and, just like that, he was gone.
Amir stared after him, his stomach twisting into a series of knots.
He’d known this would happen. Of course he’d known. They would never be allowed to stay together. Not when everyone thought they were criminal accomplices. But for some reason, he hadn’t thought it would happen so suddenly.
He’d thought he’d be able to say goodbye.
He didn’t take his gaze off the bend his brother had disappeared behind as the guards manhandled him down the corridor. They took him to a holding cell. He sat in the corner of it and wondered how long it would be before he would see his brother again. Hours? Days? Weeks? Months?
If this didn’t work, it could be years before they were together again.
Ali was his twin. They had always been together. Always. When their father died, it had been Ali’s shoulder he cried on. When their mother died, it had been Ali who had started taking care of Aisha. When he’d got drunk, Ali had been the one to pick him up. Ali had been the one who’d held the family together. Ali had held him together.
Could he go years without seeing him?
No. Don’t think that.
The prosecution might have witnesses that pointed to both of them but, if the hearing was any indication, they didn’t have proof that singled out just one. That meant, as long as he and Ali both stuck to the story, no jury would be able to convict them. Not when, from their perspective, there was a fifty percent chance they were sending an innocent man to prison.
Reasonable doubt. That was all they had. It seemed like a flimsy shield. But it would be enough. He had to believe it would be enough.
It was an hour later when the guards returned.
They pulled him out of the holding cell without a word and marched him back through the tangle of corridors, back to where he’d last seen Ali. Amir knew he wouldn’t be there, but he couldn’t stop himself from holding his breath as they turned that bend in the hallway . . . only to see another stretch of hallway.
It led to a door, beyond which was a parking lot occupied by a single white van with the words Longreach Lycanthropy Correctional Centre emblazed across the side.
He looked up.
A man was standing on a bin holding a massive camera over the top of the car park fence. The shutter clicked in rapid fire. A small collection of other people were trying to film through the mesh.
“Are you Ali or Amir?” one yelled.
“Did you bite that girl?” another screamed.
“Are you covering up for your brother?”
He turned away, the strange sick feeling roiling inside him growing as the guards loaded him into the van and slammed the doors closed behind him. There was a window in the rear door. Through it, he watched the people continue to snap photos as the van pulled out of the car park and merged into the traffic.
They drove for a while. Ten minutes. Maybe twenty. Amir had no way to tell. He watched the city go by out the window. He saw people talking on their phones, eating takeaway, and waiting in line for the bus. It all seemed surreal in its normality.
Sometime later, the van stopped and the back doors opened. Amir tensed.
To his surprise the guards didn’t pull him out. They pushed someone else in.
A man. Tall, black, and bony with curly brown hair. Like Amir, he was wearing a belly chain and a muzzle. Unlike Amir, he was also wearing a bright orange jumpsuit with the words Freemantle Lycanthropy Complex printed across the front.
An inmate, Amir realised with a lurch. The first he had seen.
But it wasn’t the sight of him that was stilling.
It was the scent, strong enough to make out even through the stench of the muzzle.
Like earth, ash, and fire.
Wolf. Just like him.
The man must have smelt Amir too, because he paused in the doorway. Their eyes met, and for a few seconds, neither of them did anything. They just looked at each other. Amir wasn’t good enough at reading people to know if it was a curious look, a cautious look, or a calculated look. Whatever it was, it didn’t last long.
“Keep moving, Berkley!”
The man shuffled forward obediently and took a seat opposite Amir as the doors slammed closed behind him. Almost instantly the van began moving again.
For a while, they sat in silence.
Then . . .
Amir didn’t respond.
The inmate wasn’t deterred. He stuck his hand out as much as his belly chain would allow. “My name’s Ben. I’m a transfer from Perth. What about you? Where are you coming from?”
Amir looked at Ben, down at his offered hand, and away. “Just pled not guilty.”
“Really? Oh shit. So you’re brand-new, huh?”
“Yeah,” Amir admitted.
“I remember when I was brand-new. Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it seems. I mean, it’s shit, but most of the muzzles and chains go away once we’re in the cellblock.” Ben’s hand was still extended towards him, waiting.
After a moment, Amir took that hand and gave it a single shake. “Amir. My name’s Amir.”
Ben’s eyes crinkled. A smile. He was smiling under his muzzle. “Amir. Nice. I’ll remember that.”
They lapsed into silence.
Ben itched absently at his neck.
Amir returned to staring out the window, watching the shimmering glass towers transform into cement blocks. Finally, when all the shops and apartments had given way to industrial buildings, the van slowed.
Amir’s stomach leapt into his mouth as, for the first time, he saw it.
Big and brick with fences and watchtowers all around it. It looked the way prisons did in movies.
But if he was seeing it out the rear window, that meant they were already past it.
The van slowed and turned into a smaller driveway and drew to a halt. Amir heard the driver talk to someone. A moment later they were moving again, and Amir saw a man drag a large metal gate closed behind them.
“You okay?” Ben asked.
“Yeah,” Amir lied as the van lurched to a stop and the engine cut off. When the doors opened again, the cold cut of wind hit him like a knife.
“All right,” a man called out. “You can get out, lads. Slowly now.”
Ben obeyed. Amir followed.
Longreach Lycanthropy Correctional Centre was a small square building walled off from the greater prison complex by a series of fences. The walls were grey brick and the windows hidden behind metal mesh.
“Keep moving, lads! We haven’t got all day!”
Amir ducked his head and followed Ben up the driveway, through an unassuming door, and into a small office. Inside the air was dry and artificially warm. An iPhone in the corner was quietly playing pop songs from the early 2000s. A woman in cheap office wear sat behind the desk.
The man beside Amir grunted. “Traffic was bad.”
“Sure.” She wiggled and clicked her mouse. “Name?”
Ben was closer to the desk, so he answered first. “Benjamin James Berkley.”
“Berkley . . . B-E-R . . .?”
She typed it in. “Birthdate?”
“Third of July 1989.”
“Wow. Happy birthday.”
His eyes crinkled around the edges of his muzzle. Another smile. “Thank you.”
“All right. There you are,” she clicked her mouse a couple of times to open up a window. “Transfer. Three months left.”
“All right.” She waved him through. “Next.”
Ben moved aside and Amir shuffled forward.
“I’m Amir Ba—”
“Bashir. Born August tenth, 1992,” she finished for him, typing in the information. “No allergies. No medication. Here on remand until trial, date yet to be set.”
“How did you—”
Before he could say anything, he was pulled into the next room, where Ben was already out of his muzzle, getting his photo taken up against a white wall. It was the first time Amir had seen his face unobstructed, and the sight stopped Amir in his tracks. He wasn’t much into guys. He wasn’t much into anyone. But even he could tell Ben was beautiful.
Smooth symmetrical features, warm dark skin, and full lips, pulled up at the corners.
Smiling. He was smiling again. For his mug shot.
Amir snapped back to himself as the guard uncuffed his right hand and brought it up to press his fingers into an ink pad and then onto a piece of paper. It wasn’t the first time he’d had his fingerprints taken since his arrest. He ignored the small angry voice inside him that wanted to remind these people that he could put his hand on an ink pad by himself, and let it happen.
When they had all of his fingers, they pushed him back against the wall and finally took off his muzzle so he could get his photo taken.
He didn’t smile.
After that, he and Ben were stripped naked, checked for parasites, and finally given green tracksuits and freshly printed IDs.
Amir thought that was it until something heavy and black looped around his throat.
In a flash of panic, he reached up to claw at it, but, before his fingers could find purchase, he saw the same thing happening to Ben, and froze. It was a . . . collar. They were putting collars on them.
“It’s okay,” Ben said s