Chapter 24: Christmas Vacation
I hadn’t let my phone get out of reach for the last week. I was almost obsessively checking it, making sure there were no missed calls or text messages from my mate, but there was nothing. Carol did send me a photo he was in from the summer; I cropped out everyone else and saved it on my phone to look at. I was beginning to wonder if my home screen was the closest I’d get to him.
We had left the North Shore pack and had made the rounds through the Wisconsin packs (Flambeau, Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Black River Falls and LaCrosse) before going back through Minnesota and South Dakota. Stops there included Rochester, Sioux Falls, Rosebud and Deadwood before heading back home. Marge and I were completely wiped out by the time we were done, but it had been a good trip. We had established or built on our previous relationships, had multiple offers of help, and I had found three more wolves to join my revenge quest.
Richard Darling was the best find. A semi-retired country lawyer, he was excited by the prospect of using his experience to get justice for me. His mate Doris planned to join him. Alpha Roman Peters of the LaCrosse pack even offered to pay his salary, but I told him that money was the least of my problems. They were going to pack up and head my way in two weeks, and I needed to get a home ready for them.
I also got lucky when Nadine Andersen volunteered. She was a member of the Rochester pack, and made her living as a Private Investigator. She was young, only twenty-six, and had been a police officer in Rockford, Illinois before meeting her mate and moving to his pack. Sadly, he had been killed by a drunk driver when she was pregnant with their daughter. She was looking forward to the change in scenery, and Marge assured her we could take care of Natalie while she was working. The great part about her was her experience in tracking down information through social media and other sources.
The final person hired was Melanie Schefter, from the Chippewa Falls pack. She was a whiz with relational databases and analyses, perfect for the work we were doing. She was almost painfully shy, though, so the idea of working in a remote place with only a few people appealed to her. Her Luna in the Chippewa Falls pack pulled me aside and filled me in on other reasons why. She had been drugged and raped by wolves from a rival pack when she was fifteen; although the attackers were caught and executed, she still struggled with being able to trust men. Her mother was going to drive her out after Christmas.
She, Nadine and Natalie would all be staying in extra rooms at our house; they were more comfortable living with other women than on their own. I was paying for their room and board, and giving them a cash salary. I didn’t want any records left behind of our activities, not all of which were going to be legal.
As we approached home, I looked at my phone again. I couldn’t have my Craig on the cover of my phone, because Mark would be around. Of course, I couldn’t put Mark there in case Craig showed up.
My love life, summed up in a simple exercise over home screens. I selected a photo of me with my parents and made that the home screen instead.
Marge and Mabel handled all the work in getting ready for our new help, while I studied for and took my final exams. By the time Christmas Vacation rolled around, I couldn’t wait to get out of town again. I had done all my shopping online, so on Saturday morning we loaded everything into my truck and the three of us headed back to the Johnson Pack.
It felt great to be back with their Pack, and I ran to Remi’s arms as they greeted us outside the Pack house. Since it was late, I spent an hour catching up with friends in the recreation room before heading to bed.
I had just put my PJ’s on when there was a knock on the door. I told the person to come in, silently cursing the lost ability to tell who it was by smell, and laughed when the door opened. A quart of Cow Tracks ice cream and two spoons appeared as the door was partially opened. “Care to talk?”
“Sure, Aunt Remi. You know me too well.” I piled the pillows up against the headboard and we sat back, eating that mint chocolately goodness, until it was time to talk again. “I know who he is now. My mate is Craig Anderson, the twin brother of my ex-friend Olivia. You know, the one who tackled me and held me until my rapist arrived.” I showed her his picture on my phone. “He wasn’t there that weekend, he had stayed home for a soccer tournament.”
“He’s good looking, a strong male. Luna gave you a worthy mate.” I knew Remi didn’t believe in human love, she believed in the bond just as I had once.
“Sure, but is he a good man? He’s been raised by his father, he probably thinks women are just trading pieces for what you want. What if he doesn’t want me now because I can’t be Alpha?”
“You ARE alpha, Ella. We keep telling you that, maybe someday you’ll believe it.” She dug out a big chunk, I frowned as I saw how many chocolate pieces she had in her spoon. “You know, you’ve made quite a reputation for yourself. I can’t even count how many phone calls I’ve taken from other Lunas, even Alphas, who are amazed at what you did. You just made a tour of a dozen packs, and walked away with allies, help and universal respect. If he can’t see what you are, how strong you have been despite everything that has happened, he doesn’t deserve you.”
I dug my spoon in the corner and was rewarded with a bounty of little chocolate chunks. Jackpot! “My gut is telling me to go to him, to break up with Mark and be with my mate. I think deep down I always knew that Mark was a life preserver, not a boat.” I took another bite. “I feel terrible for him, especially since I’m probably carrying his babies. No matter what, we are tied together for life now.”
“Yes, you are. You’re going to have to find a way to make it work. If you are destined for your mate, you can believe he too is destined for another. He is still young.”
I would forever regret that I was so weak, so needy, as to seduce Mark and not even use protection. All I wanted to do was to feel whole again, to feel love, and the price of that was in my belly. I didn’t even realize my hand was rubbing where my bump would be soon. She looked at my hand and her shoulders sagged. “How is your morning sickness?”
“Off and on. It’s annoying when the smell of some foods makes me nauseous, even if it is something I like. I’m starting to get cravings, too.”
“I can imagine, twins will make everything more. I loved being pregnant, though. Just wait until you feel them move, or when they get the hiccups.”
I rested my head on her shoulder as I tossed my spoon into the now-empty container. “Can I do this? It is all so much,” I said. “Maybe I should give up my revenge, let Luna deal with them.”
She put the ice cream down on the table and took my shoulders in her hands. “No, you are doing the right thing. You swore a blood oath to your parents, and you should keep that.” She looked deep into my eyes. “That doesn’t mean you have to do everything right now. You’re assembling a team, actually a Pack that will be there for you. Part of becoming a leader is realizing you shouldn’t do everything, because eventually you can’t. Pick good people for your team, tell them what you need and set them loose. Only then will you have the time for school, for your babies, for family.”
I hugged her tight to me. “Thank you so much, Aunt Remi.”
“You’re welcome. Now, you get some sleep and we’ll talk in the morning.”
Morning came way too early for me, especially since I threw up right away and then lost my breakfast an hour later. As I was sitting in the living room, nursing a pregnancy headache, Doc came in and handed me a glass. “Smells funny,” I said.
“I expect that, it’s a glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a tablespoon of honey. It will help with the headache and nausea.”
I made a face as I tasted it. “And I’m supposed to believe the man who didn’t even see the second baby?”
He laughed. “No, actually it’s your grandmother who gave this tip to me. It works, so drink it slowly and relax. You’re on vacation.” We talked for a while about prenatal care and what I could expect; although I was human, pregnancy in humans and werewolves was remarkably similar. I felt better by the time Doug asked Marge and I to join them in his office.
We spent about an hour, going over the results of each Pack visit and the events since I left. Marge pitched in with her impressions, which were surprisingly insightful since she wasn’t in on the talks. She talked to the wives and mothers instead, and had a good pulse on what the Packs thought, not just their Alphas.
I showed them the people I was planning to hire, and we talked about how best to use them. I also talked about the research firm of humans I was planning. They were a little less excited about this, as it increased the chances of werewolves being exposed, but they could tell I was being careful. When I was done, I looked around for questions.
“You’re missing something big, Ella. I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on it.” Beta Mike looked at me, but I didn’t pick it up. “Security. It scares the hell out of me, Ella, that a wolf was able to get right into your front yard and none of you picked it up.” He was right. “You only have Marge and Mabel there, and the wolves you are bringing in aren’t suited for patrols or fighting. What if one of the other Alphas decides to take you out? You’re a sitting duck.”
I was going to answer with how I had guns, knives, a safe room, even that I had already fought off a few attacks, but it wouldn’t do any good. A single warrior wolf could rip my throat out before I even knew he was there.
“What do I do? Even when I had the full Pack, we only had a couple warriors. I can’t even do patrols without at least four, preferably six.” My shoulders slumped. “Do you think I should stay here instead?”
“That would be easy, but there are advantages to where you are as well. As much as we love you, you have your own home.” Doug put his hand on my shoulder as I shot him a glare. “I think the real question is how we can provide some security for you while you still keep your independence.”
“I have some ideas, let me talk to a few people and I’ll get back to you.” Beta Mike looked at Doug and I could tell they were mentally communicating.
“If you send your people, I insist on paying them,” I said. Doug started to say something, but I put my hand up. “It’s only fair, they are helping me, they aren’t my Pack and I’m paying the others who are helping. I’ll put them up in a house, too.”
“We’ll make sure it’s a complete unit, used to working together. I think it would be good experience for some of the younger warriors and future Betas, but I will make sure someone with experience is in charge.” With that out of the way, we went over a few more things before lunch.
The days flew by and Christmas had arrived. Werewolves do celebrate, even though they aren’t Christian. It is a chance to eat and be with family, plus it helps them fit in with the humans. With such a large Pack, there were a few things different. Christmas morning and the big lunch meal was held by the families. In the late afternoon, the whole Pack would gather around the big tree in the dining room for “grazing, gaming and shaming” time.
The ‘grazing’ was when every adult or mated pair brought an appetizer and a dessert, and placed them on a long table; over the course of the night, people would take a plate and walk down the line, snacking on their favorites. ‘Gaming’ time was just that, there were tournaments for Bridge, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit on one side, while computer gaming setups on the other had tournaments in Mario Kart, Madden 15 and Halo. And ‘shaming’? Well, that was the focus of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest. Everyone attended in their worst sweaters, hoping to win the $500 grand prize. If you were judged “not ugly enough,” you were fined $25 and forced to wear a sweater of Luna’s Choice- after she got everyone’s attention and there was open season on your fashion sense. It was all in good fun.
The day after was spent mostly outdoors, it had snowed heavily and the deep powder made it tough for even the wolves to get around. We did pull out the toboggans, and I had a fun afternoon playing with the young children on the hill out back. All too soon, it was time to leave again. I had to get back home and get ready for my new team members.
My thumb was much improved, so I split the driving with Marge on the way home. I was still wearing the Luna’s Choice sweater I had paid for- red and white and green, with reindeers making baby reindeers as the pattern. We met Mabel in town for dinner, so she didn’t have to cook, then we went home.
When the headlights swung past the front of the house towards the opening garage door, I caught the movement on my front porch. A large black wolf, with a white streak on his chest, was thumping his tail as he sat up in front of the door.
“Is that?” Marge was staring at the wolf as I pulled into the garage.
I nodded. “Can you take the stuff in, I’m going to talk to him.”
“Will you be safe?”
I smiled. “He’s my mate, he won’t hurt me.” I walked out of the garage, grabbing some sweats from the cabinet on the way. Werewolves kept lots of extra clothes around because of the shifting. I walked onto the porch, and he moved up to greet me, his tail wagging furiously as I ran my fingers through his fur. The tingles were addicting, and the mate pull was making itself known. “Come on, let’s go where it’s warmer.” I opened the door and walked into the foyer, leaving the clothes on the table by the door. I didn’t look back as he shifted and pulled them on, I just sat on the couch in the living room and waited for him. My eyes widened as I saw him walking in, pulling the sweatshirt down over his well-defined abs.
“Ella.” He walked over and sat next to me. “I’m sorry.”