Thea waited until she knew her father was awake before she went to get them both some breakfast and carried it to his door. "Good morning papa," she said cheerily when he opened it at her knock.
"Good morning kopela mou. Breakfast?" he asked at the paper sack she had in her hand.
"Of course. After we've eaten, if you like, I can take you to my house so you can see it," she replied. She stepped into his room and they sat at the small table provided for meals. "I was wondering something," she said after a moment. "Why do you wish to speak with Asil before you leave?"
He studied his daughter. "Because I am still your papa, you are still my daughter no matter what else you are now, and it is my right, my duty, to make sure anyone who is interested in you is worthy of you. I did not speak up with that bastarde you were married to, because I thought he made you happy. I will not make that mistake again."
"I don't think he's interested in me papa. Not that way at least. It's because of what I am. They call it Omega, a special type of werewolf that can help others to remain calm. I remind him of the mate he lost a long time ago, that's all."
Mikolas scoffed. "A father knows these things. He is interested and I will make sure he's worthy of you."
Thea knew better than to argue with her father. He could be very stubborn and she knew when he set his mind to something there was no changing it. "As you wish papa."
After they finished their breakfast she drove the fifteen minutes to her home. Her father made no comment and she knew he wouldn't until he'd seen everything.
Mikolas had made his fortune designing and building homes like the one his daughter had built. As he wandered through the house, going from room to room, he took in every detail. When he finished he found her seated at the breakfast nook just off the kitchen with two steaming cups of tea; one for herself and the other for him. He sat, sweetened it just right, and took a sip before he spoke. "Your builder did a fine job. Nothing but top quality material."
"I made sure to get the best," she replied with a faint smile. "I knew you would approve," she added. "He did everything to my specifications. He was surprised I knew so much until I mentioned Stavros Building and Design."
"He didn't figure it out when you introduced yourself?" he asked, one brow cocked in amusement.
"No. He said he didn't like to assume things. It made the process go much more smoothly though because he knew I knew what I was talking about."
Mikolas sipped his tea for a few moments before he spoke again. "You really are happy here? You weren't just saying it because of the others being present before?" he asked.
"Yes, I really am happy here papa. I know, it's a big change from New York but I already feel at home here. Maybe part of it is because I don't have to worry about running into them again. I saw them a week before I left. He pretended not to see me but she had such a smug look on her face. I wanted to smack it right off but then I realized she's a fool. She thinks he'll be faithful to her and he won't be and the karma will come back to her."
Mikolas patted her hand. "No, he won't be and you are much better off without him." He paused before continuing. "Now, I have given some thought to what has happened to you and I think it would be best until either you can visit us or we can come back here before your mama, brothers, and sisters are told. It would be easier to accept, I think, if they could see it for themselves."
Thea nodded. "I think you're right. To be honest papa, I wasn't ready for anyone to know but you coming here changed that. I'm okay with waiting to tell them." She sighed softly. "We should get back." She rinsed their cups out and locked up behind them before heading back to Aspen Creek. On the way back she called Sage, explained that her father wanted to talk to Asil, and asked her to meet them at the motel since she had no idea where Asil lived. Sage agreed to be there when they arrived.
After Charles and Bran both left Asil returned to the motel and watched the door to Thea's room. He needed to make sure she was safe. He didn't leave until long after her father had retired to his own room and he was certain Thea was asleep. Asil tried very hard to convince himself that his concern for her was purely platonic. He'd had a mate, his Sarai, he didn't want or need another one. His wolf didn't agree. They'd mourned and grieved for 200 years and now they'd found someone who could heal them. It wanted her. Normally the human half chose first and the wolf later followed. That was how it had happened with Sarai but this time the wolf was choosing first.
If Asil was completely honest with himself his human half wanted her too. It had been so long since he'd held a woman in his arms, so long since he'd shared passion with another being. Two hundred years was a long time to be alone. But he was an old wolf and the old ones were often stubborn. Sometimes too stubborn. Wanting her wouldn't stop him from fighting himself.
When he finally fell asleep it was almost dawn and he knew he would only get a few hours' rest before Anna came for her training. She'd learned all she could really, she was just perfecting a few things and liked Asil's advice to make sure she was doing it right. Thea's training would begin after her father returned to New York.
Anna arrived at Asil's having full knowledge of what happened the night before. She just couldn't believe Asil growled at Bran. Oh, she didn't think her mate was lying, she was just stunned the Moor did it. She found him where she expected; tending to his roses. "Good morning Asil," she said and moved to help him.
Asil could feel her curiosity. "You want to know why I did it, don't you?" he asked. "I'm sure Charles couldn't wait to fill you in," he added dryly.
"Stop that. Charles likes you. He was actually in admiration of it. There aren't many wolves, Alpha or otherwise, who would have growled at Bran regardless of the reason," she replied.
Asil finished replanting a bush he was moving to a bigger pot before he replied. "They believe that I did it because I desire her as my mate."
Anna watched him. "And do you?" she asked gently.
"That is not your concern." He motioned her to follow him out and after getting them both something to drink he returned to the previous lesson. He'd tasked her with trying to use her abilities to deliberately affect others.
"I think I made Charles lose his temper the other day. I made myself think about something to make me mad and a few minutes later he growled and snapped a piece of wood he was shaping to replace one of the spindles on the porch railing."
"Good. But anger could be dangerous for a wolf. Still, I think, Anna, you have learned all I can teach you. Each Omega is different in their own way. It seems your talents lie a great deal in your voice, especially when you sing." They both knew he was referring to the time, not so very long ago, when she'd used her voice to soothe Bran's beast after Mariposa used dark magic to completely subdue his human half.
"I can still come by to visit though, right?" she countered.
"Of course my dear," he replied and watched her head to her car. Once Anna left Asil wondered how much time he had before Thea's father arrived and what the man was going to say to him. More importantly, what was he going to say in return?
Sage was perched on the hood of her car when Thea pulled into the parking space in front of her room. She waved at Thea and slid off as the other woman and her father got out of the car. "Good afternoon. You look well rested Mr. Stavros. I know you want to go talk to Asil but I think I should give you some advice first. You're a dominant personality so you'll probably understand more than most. Asil is a very dominant werewolf. As a result, do not get into a staring contest with him. His wolf will take it as a challenge. If he's in the hothouse when we get there, don't raise your voice because he will get angry. He feels that loud voices are unhealthy for his roses. Yes he has his quirks," Sage said at the look Thea's father gave her. "But don't we all?" she added.
"I do not like talking to someone I cannot look at," Mikolas replied.
"You can look at him, just don't get into a staring contest. Meet his eyes briefly. If it's any consolation, he'll have the same urge, to stare you down to prove he's the more dominant one and he will have to fight to resist the urge too."
Mikolas nodded. "Alright. Take me to him. I know you think there is no need for this Althea but a father knows these things."
Sage glanced at Thea then moved to the driver's side of her car. "I'll drive," she said and waited for them to get in.
Mikolas held the passenger door open for his daughter, a sign of trust that Sage meant them no harm, and slid into the backseat for the ride to Asil's.
Asil heard the car and knew Sage wouldn't be alone. He exited the hothouse and gently closed the door behind him. This would not be a conversation to have around his roses. Besides, he was ready for a cup of tea. "Good afternoon Sage, Thea, Mr. Stavros. Would any of you like some tea? I was just going to fix myself a cup."
"I'll pass today," Sage replied. "Why don't I take Thea to go see your roses while you and Mr. Stavros talk," she added. Surely Asil could control himself enough to not cause any problems, especially in light of his insistence the night before that Thea's father come to no harm.
"Go manari mou," Mikolas said when his daughter hesitated. "We are two civilized men, we can have a civilized discussion."
Thea let herself be led away to the hothouse and offered up a prayer that all went well between Asil and her father.
Asil led Mikolas into his home and fixed them both some tea before he sat at his kitchen table. "Let's do be civilized," he said and the way that he sat was as if he was posing for an unseen camera.
Mikolas sat opposite him, added a bit of cream and sugar to his tea, and took a sip. "What is your intent where my daughter is concerned?" He didn't beat around the bush about it.
Asil set his cup down. "I will help her to understand what she is, what it means to be an Omega, which is what we call werewolves who are like her, wolves with the innate ability to affect those around them. They are rare because a dominant wolf's instinct to protect is heightened where they are concerned and few humans with the qualities of an Omega are changed. Only a rare few of our kind are crazy enough to attack an human Omega."
Mikolas studied him as he spoke. "And beyond that? Do not think your interest in her has gone unnoticed. I will be frank with you. I never liked Althea's ex-husband. There was something that always seemed not quite right but I wanted her to be happy and she seemed happy with him, in the beginning, so I said nothing. I did not protect her from the predator that he was. She thinks she fooled us, when things turned bad, but I saw the marks and I wanted to kill him for touching her in anger. I will not allow her to be hurt again. I do not care what you are. If you hurt her in any way I will make sure you pay for it."
"I would sooner cut off my own arm with a silver blade than harm her," Asil growled. "Her ex-husband hit her and he's still breathing?" he added and he had to fight to keep his wolf under control. It raged at the thought of anyone laying a hand on Thea.
Mikolas watched his dark eyes change color before returning to normal and cocked a brow at him. That was not the reaction of someone who would play games that left his daughter hurting. It was the reaction of a man who already had feelings and the thought that someone had hurt her infuriated him. Mikolas nodded. "I am satisfied she is safe with you. Yes he still lives if only because I have not figured out yet how to make it look like an accident," he replied.
Asil laughed at that. "If you were a werewolf I think you would be a very dangerous man Mr. Stavros."
He took that for the compliment he was sure it was meant as. "Mikolas. Mr. Stavros makes me feel old."
By the time Sage and Thea came into the house, hoping 'the talk' was over, it was to find Asil and Mikolas in an animated discussion on Spanish architecture.
"The architecture of Al-Andalus in Cordoba, which arose after the conquest of the former Hispania by the Moorish troops of Musa ibn Nusair and Tariq ibn Ziyad and the overthrowing of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus produced some breathtaking structures," Asil said animatedly.
"True, it did," Mikolas agreed. "But the architecture of the Romanesque period is even more so. Have you ever seen the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela? Absolutely stunning."
They bantered back and forth a bit longer before Sage finally cut in. "As enlightening as all this is, it's getting close to dinner time and Bran has invited Thea and her father to dinner."
Thea was unaware of that and frowned before she sighed. "This should be... interesting." At the look her father gave her she tried to explain. "Bran's... wife doesn't like the type of werewolf I am. I'm sure it'll be a fun evening though," she said and tried to sound positive.
"That's the spirit," Sage replied. "Come on, I'll take you back to the motel to freshen up and then you can follow me to Bran's," she added.
Mikolas nodded at Asil and shook his hand, they'd come to an understanding, and then he followed his daughter out to the car. "Why does this woman not like you?" he asked.
"Well, you see, every pack has an hierarchy, a structure of most dominant to least. An unmated female, like Thea or I, regardless of if we're personally dominant, is usually at the bottom of that structure. Leah, being Bran's wife and mate, because there is a difference because a mate is something deeper, is at the top. Normally Thea would have to do whatever Leah says but Omega's are outside of that structure. They don't have to take orders and Leah hates that. She takes it out on our other Omega, Anna, too. Just try to ignore her tantrums," Sage said, explaining it all to him. "Which, really, it explains why even before she was Changed Thea didn't listen when ordered to do something," she added. She was sympathetic for her friend though because she was right; it wasn't going to be a fun dinner.
Thea followed Sage to Bran's and expected Sage to leave once they were there so she was surprised when the other woman got out of her car too.
"Bran invited me too," Sage said at the look Thea gave her. "I guess he thinks I can run interference or something," she added. "You know, take Leah's attention off of you," she added.
"Maybe it's for moral support," Thea replied. They were becoming fast friends and she was glad Sage would be there too.
Sage didn't bother with knocking once they reached the door, she just opened it and stepped inside. "If he wasn't expecting us I would have knocked," she said at the look she got from Thea's father.
"Even being expected, it is still rude to just walk into someone's home," Mikolas countered.
"Normally that is true but werewolves see things differently, especially when the house in question is not only their Alpha's home but also a refuge for wolves in need." Bran had heard them come in and left his study to greet them. "It's good of you to join us for dinner," he added. "The dining room is this way," he said and escorted them through the house.
The table was set for seven which meant they were waiting for someone else. Thea hadn't seen any other vehicles when they'd pulled up out front.
"Charles and Anna will be here momentarily. I thought it would keep things more comfortable for our guest that way." What Bran wasn't saying was that having Thea and Anna both there might keep the tension down.
Leah wasn't happy with Thea in the house and glared at her after setting the rolls on the table. When Charles and Anna walked in she was all but bristling with annoyance. It was bad enough having one Omega in her home, but now she had to deal with two. "Dinner is ready," she said, ignoring Anna and Thea. If she couldn't control them then she'd settle for ignoring them.
"It all looks delicious Mrs. Cornick," Mikolas said once everyone was seated.
She preened at the compliment. "Thank you. At least someone appreciates all my hard work," she replied.
"What is it you do for a living Mr. Stavros?" Anna asked curiously.
"I am an architect. Stavros Building and Design is one of the most sought after building design companies in New York," he replied.
"Really? What did you think of Thea's house?" Sage asked. " She'd been there and she thought the house was beautiful.
"I think my daughter chose wisely with the builder she went with. He did a superb job."
"Anna, you have got to see her home. Thea has such an eye for detail. I'm thinking of letting her redecorate my house for me."
Anna laughed. "I know how much you like your stuff so Thea's house must have been really impressive."
"Of course you'd say that," Leah said to Anna. "You don't have any taste at all. What was it you had in your dingy little apartment? A card table and two folding chairs?" she said with mock sweetness.
Anna ignored her, or tried to, but Thea didn't. "You have never known hardship, have you? It's always easy to tell. Those who haven't tend to look down on those who have without realizing it's those hardships that helped them to survive things that would have destroyed others." She turned her attention to Anna. "I think it's admirable to have walked through hell and come out whole."
Leah huffed. It wasn't exactly rude but she didn't like it. "Don't you dare pretend like you know anything about me. Lesser wolves need to learn some manners and remember their place," she growled.
Mikolas set down his fork. "Thank you for the delightful meal, Mr. Cornick, but I think it is time to leave. I will be returning to New York tomorrow and I wish to spend a bit more time with my daughter." He'd barely eaten a bite but he would not sit there listening to the woman speak like that to his daughter.
"Papa, it's alright. We shouldn't let such delicious food go to waste. We can stay up for hours to spend that time together," Thea said softly.
Leah, who'd been looking snide, got a cowed look on her face which meant that Bran had scolded her, in her head, where no one else could hear. "I apologize, I didn't mean to offend you," she said to Mikolas. "Please, enjoy your dinner," she added and focused all her attention on her plate.
Mikolas felt like he'd missed something and frowned but the tension he'd felt faded slowly. "It does smell wonderful," he admitted. "I am curious about something Mr. Cornick. Your town has a motel, I was told it is often used by hikers, but why no restaurant?"
"We really don't get enough visitors to have one," Bran replied.
"I keep telling Bran we don't need visitors or tourists, maybe the townspeople would like a break from cooking their own meals sometimes, but alas I am ignored," Sage said with a dramatic sigh that made Anna giggle.
"It is something to think about, her suggestion. Of course the would depend on if you wanted to risk having more visitors passing through than you're used to. Which would include needing to advertise your town a bit, so I doubt there would be that big of an increase anyway," Mikolas said after a moment. The little sign indicating where the town was was so small it was easily missed if you didn't know to look for it. "But it is not my decision to make, I am merely giving my opinion."
"See, even a stranger here thinks a restaurant would be a good idea," Sage said. "It's just a thought," she added quickly at the look Bran gave her.
Once again Anna diverted the discussion. "How long have you lived in the U.S. Mr. Stavros?" she asked. The air was thick with tension and that was bad for werewolves. She gently pushed a calming wave out to everyone to ease it. It was one of the many gifts being an Omega gave her.
"My parents moved us here when I was a boy. I met Althea's mother on a trip back to Greece to visit family when I was fifteen. We wrote each other often, she encouraged my desire to go into the Marines, even though my parents were hesitant about it because they feared for my safety, and she further encouraged my dreams of being an architect. When she was old enough she became my wife. She was the friend of a younger cousin," he explained at the look Anna gave him. "She was eleven when we met but I knew immediately she was the other half of my soul."
"What papa isn't telling you is that mama's papa did not initially approve of them even writing one another, but papa convinced him of his sincerity when he continued courting mama even after he'd enlisted in the Marines. Papa sent his military pay, most of it, to mama to 'support his family'," Thea put in. "Papou had no choice but to admit that papa's feelings and intentions were true."
"That's kind of romantic," Anna said dreamily and Sage agreed.
After that the meal continued with idle conversation until it was over. Mikolas watched his daughter a moment before he turned his attention to Bran. "I have one request, Mr. Cornick, before I leave tomorrow."
"Oh? What might that be?" Bran asked, voice neutral.
"I would like to see my daughter's... what do I call it? Her other self?"
"Her wolf would suffice. You need visual proof. Very well. I will warn you though. It will not be pretty, nor will it be painless. Changing hurts, but the first few times a new wolf changes it hurts even more so. You will not be able to touch her until I tell you its safe, and she will most likely remain in her wolf form until morning, so there will be no further conversations between the two of you until then," Bran informed him.
"I understand. I would still like to see it."
"I don't want to hurt anyone," Thea said quietly. She was afraid that if she changed with a human there, even if that human was her father, she'd not be able to control herself.
"You won't. Your father is quite safe from your wolf," Bran assured her.
Thea hesitated but one look in her father's eyes and she knew she had to do it. He wouldn't fully believe until he saw it for himself. "Alright," she said and moved away from the table. While she undressed with her back to them Anna quietly explained to Mikolas that changing while wearing clothes was extremely painful because the nerves were so raw during it and even the lightest touch could be excruciating.
Bran was honest when he'd said it wasn't pretty. Mikolas had to force himself to not go to her side as her body slowly shifted from human to wolf and small pained noises escaped her. By the time she was done his hands were stiff from keeping them balled up so tightly in fists.
After what felt like forever Thea stood on four legs instead of two and panted through the last tingles of pain. When she felt better she shook herself and wagged her tail a little as she lifted her eyes to her father. Her human half was worried about his reaction.
Mikolas stared at the black and brown wolf in front of him. "Can I...?" he asked, reaching out to touch her, but he hesitated.
"It's safe," Bran told him.
Thea moved closer to him and when her father's hand touched her fur she sighed. If he was willing to touch her, he couldn't be repulsed by what he saw.
"You are beautiful, kopela mou," he murmured. "Thank you for showing me this," he added softly.
"Sage will drive you back to the motel, Mr. Stavros, but Thea must remain here until she returns to human form," Bran informed him.
Thea whined but she knew it was safer that way.
"Don't worry, she'll be back to human form by morning," Sage assured Mikolas.
It wasn't easy to leave his daughter there but he had to trust that she was safe. "Very well," Mikolas said finally. He knelt and looked into his daughter's eyes. "You are still my daughter," he said and pet her a moment before standing up again. "I'm ready to go," he said to Sage and followed her out.
Thea was taken to a room that was reinforced in case of trouble and she curled up on the bed to get some sleep. It was a long time coming as she thought about all that had happened the last few days but finally she drifted off content with the knowledge that her father accepted her and loved her no matter what.