Chapter 1: Road Trip
Can read as Book 1 or Book 5 of Were Wars series
“Ella, wake up hon.”
I opened my eyes as the late afternoon sun coming through the window of our Ford Expedition hit them. I let out a groan, my nap wasn’t long enough. I checked my iPhone, it was 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon and we had been on the road since five. I sat up and stretched, my muscles were stiff from the drive and the awkward sleeping position. “Where are we, Mom?”
“About twenty minutes out of St. Cloud. You need to wake up and fix yourself up, dear, you’ve got drool down the side of your face.” She smiled as she looked back at me; Luna Emma Grey was a stunning woman without benefit of makeup. Her Swedish heritage was clear, in her angular facial features, long blonde hair that hung straight to the middle of her back, and her pale complexion. At age 38, she had a figure that a twenty-something would spend hours in the gym for.
“We’ll be arriving at the St. Cloud Pack House in a half hour or so. Do you remember who we are meeting?” Her father and Alpha of the Belden, North Dakota Pack was an imposing figure even sitting behind the wheel. Mitch’s six foot five frame barely fit with the driver’s seat all the way back and down, and he was 240 pounds of solid muscle and bone. His light brown hair was kept in a flattop, with just the first hint of grey at the temples.
“Yes, Dad, we’ve been over it. Four Minnesota Alphas and their teenage sons who will leer at me and try to get in my pants.” I shook my head at it, I really didn’t want to deal with them, but it was protocol for unmated sons and daughters of Alphas and Betas to be brought to interpack meetings. There were so few of them, and matings are so important to our survival, so you do what you must.
Our Pack had good relations with some of the closer packs in Montana and the Dakotas, but we really didn’t deal with the Minnesota packs at all. Maybe it was because of this eight hour road trip that was needed to get to them. Maybe it was because they were a bunch of power hungry assholes. Maybe both.
It was really my fault. I had been looking at colleges, and one of my top choices for a business degree was the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. Getting my degree was just as important to my future as my training to be an Alpha. My father ran a trucking company, and was also the CEO of the Pack business, a land holding company. My Mom ran the property management side of that business. Our Pack owned hundreds of thousands of acres of range land, which we leased grazing rights on, but more importantly we held mineral rights. This was the key to the wealth of our Pack, as the mineral rights were in the Bakken Oil Fields and were now worth a fortune.
I wasn’t an expert, but everyone in the Pack was involved in drilling for oil in one way or another. The oil was locked up in shale formations underground, and up until a decade ago it was not economical to retrieve. As oil prices rose, new technology for horizontal drilling and fracking turned North Dakota into an oil boom town. The mineral rights gave us the rights to the oil underneath. Our Pack wasn’t large, only seventy-two members, but the stock each member owned in the private holding company was worth several million dollars. The earnings were plowed back into more land acquisitions, as we knew the boom could go bust just as quickly. Oil money gave us one of the largest privately held territories of any Pack in the country.
“We’ve talked about your attitude, Ella. You need to be polite and respectful of the Alphas and their families, as we are trying to build alliances with them.” Dad looked at me in the mirror. “And who knows, maybe one of them will be your mate.”
“I don’t want a MATE, Daddy.” I looked out the window at the fields, most of the corn had been harvested but some was still standing and was brown and dried out. “The last thing I need is someone who just wants to have me as his baby making machine. I’m not ready to be that right now. I want to get my education, make my way in the world.”
My mom laughed. “I said the same thing when I was young, honey. I had a year of college left to get my BS in Marketing when I took that summer internship with Burlington Northern Railroads. When I met your father at the convention in Denver, I thought my life plans were gone, too.” She reached over and held Dad’s hand. “We fell in love quickly, and my life did change, for the better. We talked about what we wanted in life, and he helped me finish school and get my Masters in Business as well. It’s not being mated that scares you, it’s the idea that you have to consider someone else as well that scares you.”
“You guys are different. Disgustingly cute, but different. You believe in true mates, in love, in the dream. I know some of these Alphas don’t. You know about Alpha Lewis of Fargo Pack, right? The guy has an arrangement with Alpha Anderson of the Brainerd Pack. He’s trading some of his territory for the hand of Olivia Anderson. He’s TWICE her age, and she hasn’t turned eighteen yet. They aren’t mates, either.”
“Where did you hear this?” Dad looks at me again, he doesn’t know the Alphas well at all.
“I’m friends on Facebook with Carol Tanner, her Dad is the North Shore Alpha. She has all the gossip.” I looked down to check my phone, no messages. “Not every Alpha is like you. If you had a male heir, you could pimp me out to other Packs as Luna material.”
“ELLA MAE GREY! How DARE you!” Mom could be scary when she got mad, and I had certainly crossed a line with that comment. Mom was sensitive to such talk, partly because in Werewolf society it was so important to have a large family. Her first pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage- a boy- and it was another three heats before I was conceived. They hadn’t been able to conceive again, so they were stuck with a female Alpha heir. Heiress. Whatever.
“Sorry Mom.” I reached my hand forward and took hers. “It’s just that it upsets me that these girls have to give up their chance at a true mate because their parents see them as a means to an end.”
“We just have to be more careful, dear. We want you to be happy, to find your true mate that Luna has decided for you. That’s why we have taught you how to defend yourself, but more importantly how to avoid bad situations. There will be those who want to put their mark on your neck just because of what it will gain them. If one succeeds, you know what happens.” She squeezed my hand tight. “You have to watch yourself and avoid bad situations. Don’t ever find yourself alone with an unmated male. Stay with us or your friends.”
We had covered all this in some very uncomfortable Pack classes on Werewolf Mating. If you take normal Sex Education and triple it, you have the cringe factor of that class. Basically, there is one true mate, someone Luna herself has designated for you, out there somewhere for you. Finding that person isn’t easy, but you recognize them by smell and the pull is strong and instant when you see them. When the male bites the female on the shoulder, it starts a mating bond between the two. The female can bite the male back, but that is for show, not for the bond. It just warns other females he is taken.
The bond is completed when the two make love in either wolf or human form, and the male bites the female again. Once formed, the bond only ends when one of the two dies. The connection is so strong that the surviving werewolf usually chooses to follow their mate into death rather than go on without them.
The problem is that the bond can also form with the male’s bite even if the two aren’t true mates. If a man takes your neck, you will be irresistibly drawn to complete the bond. The bond will override your desires, even if it is against your will, even if you want nothing to do with him. Tragically, when this happens, your true mate could be left alone for the rest of his life, unless they take a mate of convenience.
“Don’t worry Mom, I’ll be with you or with Carol, she promised we could go to the lake with Olivia. It’s still warm enough to go out on their boat and do some water skiing.” It was pretty late in the season in Minnesota, it wouldn’t be warm but we had higher body temperatures than humans and with wetsuits we would be fine. I had been water skiing on the Missouri River since I was four, it was a blast. “I’ll behave for the meet and greet and then we’ll be back for dinner.”
“We know you will, Ella. We love you, we just want the best for you.”
I looked out the window, we had taken the exit from I-94 and were now moving through the outskirts of the small city. “Me too, Dad, but what is best for me is a third or fourth son of an Alpha. I’m just scared of what happens if my mate ends up being a first son.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, Ella. No matter what, we’ll be happy you’re with your mate.”
Why a third or fourth son? Well, the first son was the Alpha heir, and the second was usually his Beta. The sons stayed with their pack of birth, and it was expected their mate would drop everything, leave her Pack and everyone she knows, and go be his Luna. In my case, this would leave my Pack without a successor in case my parents died or stepped down. I hated the idea of strangers fighting for the right to MY packs’ Alpha position because I was stuck somewhere else. If it was a later son, they still had Alpha blood but didn’t have a high position waiting for them in their Pack. For them, it was better to find a wolf like me; they would move to my Pack and we would be next in line for Alphas.
The other reason was that the oldest sons grow up knowing they are next, that they will have power, and many of them are stuck up assholes. I have no interest in ‘hooking up’ with them, and I hate when boys think I’m just going to drop my panties because they wiggle their eyebrows at me. I’ve got other plans.
I dug into my purse for my comb and mirror, we were getting close. I wiped my face clean, got the hair back under control, and applied a touch of makeup so I wouldn’t look like I just spent eight hours in the back of a car.
It wasn’t much longer until we were outside the city again, and turning on to a dirt road that led into the woods. We passed a fence and a gate, there was a werewolf holding it open as we were expected and they had our license plate number. When a werewolf travels to another Pack territory, they have to get permission from that Alpha first. For an Alpha to travel, the plans are more detailed.
The dirt road wound through the woods until it opened up into what looked like a typical residential subdivision, but I could see some differences as I knew what to look for. The largest house, on a small hill in the center, was the Pack house and Alpha residence. It was by far the biggest and grandest. The house was surrounded on three sides by roads and smaller houses, and the farther you got from the center the smaller and simpler the houses were. The higher the Pack rank, the larger the house. Behind the Pack house were huge grass fields, used for training, and a gym in a large steel building.
I picked out the reinforced positions where snipers could be placed in upper floors. The buildings were laid out so the defenders in the Pack house had clear lines of fire all the way to the surrounding trees. Emergency shelters were spaced such that no one was more than a few hundred feet from the nearest one. The Pack house itself had operating shutters, fireproof siding and roof, and reinforced concrete construction. It was made to survive an attack against a much larger force, yet from the air it looked like any other housing development. No one knew every resident was a Werewolf.
Our existence was a carefully guarded secret.
Dad pulled up in front of the Pack house, and there was a reception line waiting for us. “OK, everyone smile and stay sharp. We can’t trust them yet.” I nodded at my father as we got out and walked around.
I took a deep sniff of the air, picking out the scents of the gathered Alphas and their families.