COAL

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Strategy

Coal

I managed to crash for about an hour before heading it out. It wasn’t much sleep, but at this point, every little bit helped.

Ryder was already waiting for me in the truck, head reclined back, eyes closed. The snarling bass beat of some metal song pounded through the earbuds connected to his phone.

There was no movement to his body. I wasn’t sure he was even awake. Rather than startle him with my physical presence, I reached through our mind-link. I’m here.

Yeah, I know. Came his reply.

I opened the door and tossed my bag of extra clothes and supplies in the backseat next to his.

Thankfully, I hadn’t run into my father since his vile sentencing of Brinley, and I was just fine with that. I was still filled with rage and needed the car ride to get myself under control.

“Where are we headed?” I asked.

Ryder replied without opening his eyes or lifting his head, “White Fang. Onyx Moon and the Druid Alphas will also be there.”

I gritted my teeth. Onyx Moon, that meant that wolf, Langdon might be there. My Wolf prowled in my head, eager to show his competition precisely who Brinley belonged to.

I worked to calm him down. As much as I agreed, we didn’t have the luxury of going off half-cocked. Begrudgingly, he settled down in the back of my brain, deciding to take a nap. Well, at least one of us would get some rest.


It took four hours before we arrived in White Fang territory.

I slowed when we approached the security gate. The guard took our identification and verified it against a list attached to a clipboard in his hand. Giving a hard nod, he stepped away from the vehicle as the gates opened.

It was another short drive before we reached the packhouse. House was a little bit of an understatement. It was more like a sprawling log mansion.

More than twenty luxury, high-end vehicles were parked along both sides of the long driveway. I navigated my truck into the closest spot.

Two large black SUVs with tinted windows pulled in next to us. We didn’t wait for them to get out and say hello. Our trip wasn’t a social event. Tensions were high, and wolves were on edge. Instead, Ryder and I headed straight to the two grand entrance doors.

The inside of the mansion conveyed warmth and a family atmosphere. All wolves were social. Here was no exception. Wood covered almost every surface, from the walls to the massive beam ceiling and intricate inlaid floors.

We were directed to an open expanse of a room with plenty of seating, meant to accommodate large pack gatherings. The wood theme of the home continued with handcrafted furniture made by skilled artisans from the finest maple and red oak. Vibrant colored furnishings in crimson, orange and teal, offset the natural palette.

Finding two comfortable chairs together, Ryder and I settled into them. Already, the room was thick with discussion, several pockets of conversation filling the air around us.

“Can I get you something to drink?” a soft voice spoke from behind me.

I turned around to find a pretty little shewolf. She looked at Ryder and me, blushed and glanced down at the floor.

“Just a beer for me,” I murmured.

Several wolves had amber colored hard liquor swirling in their glasses. I had no desire to get drunk off my ass in this environment.

“A beer is good for me too, thanks,” Ryder added.

She flashed a pearly white smile and disappeared, only to return within minutes with two cold beers. I gave her a thankful nod. My throat was dry.

My father walked in the door with Beta Ford.

Fury coursed through me. My free hand clenched around the armrest of the chair. Ryder reached out through the mind-link, trying to calm me down, ”Easy, brother.”

Alpha didn’t acknowledge us. Instead, he sat in the chair to the right of Alpha Wilder.

Slowly bringing the drink to my lips, I didn’t respond to Ryder. My Wolf was on edge. He wanted to fight right now and claim his prize, but he, even more than me, recognized the strength of my father’s wolf.

We weren’t ready…

…yet.

Ryder’s soothing words invaded my head again, ”Let’s just get through this so that we can get home. Now is not the time, and here is definitely not the place for a confrontation. The testosterone of all of these wolves is fucking stifling.”

I had to agree with him there. The atmosphere was oppressive with dominance and power.

A glance around the room confirmed Langdon wasn’t present. I appreciated that small consolation. I didn’t want to deal with him on top of everything else right now.

I took another swig of my beer as one of White Fang’s Enforcers laid down several large 8x10 photos on a coffee table in the middle of the room.

We leaned forward to inspect the images. They were pictures of the three vampires we’d met in the diner. Ryder sucked in a deep breath as he stared at the smirking face of the male vamp who’d marked him.

It was my turn to calm him down. I spoke into his mind, ”Everything will be fine. Hang in there. Just take a deep breath.”

Ryder did as I suggested, his chest rising, and then exhaling slowly.

Alpha Mason of White Fang spoke, “These vampires were identified in the human towns. There were four, but Coal from Ravenwood killed one of their males.”

Eyes turned in my direction. I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t looking for appreciation, and I certainly wasn’t sharing any more information than I already had.

Alpha Mason continued, “At first, we assumed they were just passing through as they hunted. But their movements suggest an alternate theory. They have methodically traveled through the surrounding towns and are now encroaching on werewolf territory. They are keeping to the edges, seemingly not wanting to engage with the pack patrols, but we don’t know how long their restraint will last.”

“What do they want?” a Beta from the back asked.

“It is uncertain. However, the vampires sudden interest in our lands is disconcerting. Every pack has increased patrol size and perimeter run frequency, but we believe a multi-pack coordinated defense is now required.”

“Fuck defense. Let’s just kill them," my father interjected.

Several wolves growled their agreement.

Tension rolled through Ryder’s broad chest. A muscle in his jaw twitched. I wondered what he was thinking, but when I reached out to him, he blocked me. I frowned.

“I think we can all agree, their deaths are our number one priority,” Alpha Wilder contributed. “But without knowing their purpose, it puts us at a distinct disadvantage. They are not to be trifled with, and they are not easily killed. While we have only witnessed these three, we cannot exclude the possibility of more.”

Mason’s tone was brusque and hard, “In addition to defense, a strategic offense is also required. Their pattern of movement indicates a purpose, almost as if they are searching for something.”

Ryder’s heart raced in his chest.

“Calm down,” I murmured through the link. Other wolves would be able to hear his increased heart, just like I had. Most would assume it was nervousness, but I’d prefer they not notice him.

“So what is the plan?” a wolf I didn’t recognize, asked.

“That’s the reason we’re here,” Alpha Wilder replied tightly. “If you have ideas, now’s the time to voice them.”

The meeting continued for hours as several wolves made suggestions and options were discussed. For the most part, Ryder and I listened quietly.

As nighttime approached, I was thankful when we were dismissed, and shown to our rooms. It took me less than a minute to fall into an exhausted sleep.

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