I woke up with a splitting headache. It was light out, the sunshine overwhelming the curtains that were fully closed, and it took me a moment to realize where I was and why my head hurt.
Dad warned me never to get into a drinking contest with a Russian.
He should have warned me never to try and keep up, either. I looked to the bedside table, two bottles of water and some Tylenol were there with a note. I picked it up, it had her smell. “Thought you might need this, love. Come down for brunch when you’ve slept it off. Love you, Mischa.” I smiled, pounding the first bottle down before taking the pills with the second. I got out of bed and took a shower and brushed my teeth; I’d been so drunk my breath must have smelled like roadkill. Getting dressed in a pair of khakis, a white polo shirt and loafers I opened the door and walked towards the Pack dining room.
The buffet was still out, and I saw a few other victims of last night’s party leaning their heads on their hands as they tried to eat eggs and sausage. I sat down and the Omega on service detail brought me a huge orange juice before asking for my order. The Russians were laughing and carrying on, while the others were off to the side where it wasn’t so loud. I downed half my juice as I talked to the others at the table, mostly European sons and daughters of Alphas and Betas invited in the hopes they’d find mates.
I was halfway through my breakfast when I felt her love in the back of my mind, right before her scent hit me. I turned around and she sat in my lap, hugging me after a good morning kiss. “Did you sleep well?”
“Right until I woke up, then it felt like I’d been run over,” I said with a smile. “Now I’m all better.”
“You’re better than your father is,” Mom said as she walked up behind us. “He should have listened to me instead of joining the boys in the study last night.” She was holding a pair of mimosas in her hand, she gave one to Mischa.
“He warned me, but I didn’t try too hard to keep up. Konstantin and the others kept toasting things and I had to drink.”
Mischa just shook her head. “You’ll learn.”
I put my head on her shoulder, breathing in her scent as I felt Konstantin come behind us. He was still on guard duty, only now as a marked pair he couldn’t stop us from our affections; he was to ensure we weren’t left alone though. “What is on the schedule for today?”
“The Council is going to meet this afternoon to discuss some items not related to you two, but they want to meet with you privately in ten minutes,” he said. “Finish your breakfast and I’ll take you to the room.”
I moved Mischa to the chair next to me and started to eat my food as the ladies gave their orders. I wasn’t up to eating much anyway, so it didn’t take long before I kissed them both goodbye and followed Konstantin out into the labyrinth of hallways. “Any idea what this is about?”
“I can’t tell you, Patrick. Just try and relax, they aren’t the enemy.” We made it to a double set of doors. “I’ll be waiting outside.” I knocked and was asked to enter, so I left him in the hallway.
The room was a study, with couches and comfortable chairs set in a U-shape. There was one chair that wasn’t like the others, it was a wooden stool in the center, and the only one not taken. World Council Chair Francois gestured to the stool and I sat. “Patrick Clarke, before we start we all congratulate you on finding your mate. What happens in this room cannot be spoken about to any other, including her. Do you understand?”
“What we do here is not about your mating, it’s about your suitability for the position your mating has placed you in position to attain. Alphas are about more than heredity, they are about aptitude, courage, potential and morality. In recent years, Councils have taken a more active role in screening and training young men like yourself for the position. We have found that preparing you now makes for a better Pack later.”
“Very wise, sir.”
“We’ll begin with introductions. From your left are Council Member Thomas and his mate Elizabeth, Hans and his mate Prudence, Salvatore and Jurgen. On this side is Council Members Roberta, Armando and his mate Yara, and Javier and his mate Abrianna.” They all smiled at me as their names were read.
“Forgive me, sir, but I was not aware the former Lunas were council members.”
“Officially we are not,” Roberta said, “The rules of the Council Treaties required the members to be the former Alphas. In the last century, they realized that by not including their pairs in the decisions, the Council was not as effective as it could have been. The men are the public face, and that gives us a certain freedom the men don’t have. In times like this, our intuition is needed to identify things beyond intelligence and strength that would make for a strong Alpha in the future.”
“We will start with a discussion of your bloodline and upbringing,” Thomas said. “We have your report here, and it shows you have Alpha blood from both of your parents.”
“Yes sir, my mother was the third daughter of the Cascade Pack Alphas, and my paternal grandfather was heir to the Catskills Pack Alpha.” I saw the looks of sadness in several eyes. “The Pack was wiped out early in the Vampire Wars when my grandfather was five. He was raised as a Beta in the St. Croix Pack.”
We spent the next few hours talking about my parents, my training and my Pack duties, and then we got into the fun stuff. They started tossing out scenarios about how I would handle things as Alpha of a Pack. They might have seemed easy at first, but the follow up questions exposed my values and motivations until I felt stripped bare. These people didn’t miss anything.
Finally, we stopped as Francois said we were breaking for lunch. “The male council members are meeting with the Alphas at one PM. Patrick, you will report back here after lunch where you will be assessed in the areas of Pack Law, Werewolf History, Tactics and Diplomacy. I’m sure you’ll enjoy that more than our meeting,” he said as the other men laughed. “Come, let’s go eat.”
I rose and waited for them to leave first. Francois patted my back as he pushed me towards the door. “Relax, you’re doing fine. Find your lovely mate and have a nice lunch.”
And so I did.
Alpha Viktor’s POV
The demands of being host were such that I only had a few minutes I could carve out with my Betas to discuss our position going into the meeting this afternoon. Yuri’s apparent recognition of Patrick had thrown a wrench in things, and we would have to move up our plans accordingly. I looked around the room. “Right now Jessie is being taken somewhere none of us know, for her own protection. I can’t imagine Yuri is going to take this well, and he might lash out thinking we had something to do with hiding her.”
“And we did,” Marina said, “And it was the right thing to do. There will be no second-guessing; we are only going to discuss how we move forward and stay safe now that we’ve made ourselves his enemy. We need our allies with us, the Council too.”
“I expect Yuri will do nothing overt, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be silent. He will use humans, paid off government agents, even other Packs to throw the suspicion off him. I will talk with Alpha Peter, but we need to protect Mischa. She’s going to remain her after Patrick returns home, and he will do anything for his mate.” I looked around the room. “From now on, she has a personal guard just like your Luna. I want two more whenever she is off Pack property.”
“She won’t like that a bit,” Konstantin said.
“I’ll talk to her,” Marina responded. “Now, we need to go. Keep your eyes and ears open and cultivate your friends in other Packs while they are here.”
“Yes Luna,” they all responded as I stood up and walked her out. I kissed her, she was returning to the kitchens to supervise the preparations for the Luna social. Some people would be leaving late this evening, others waiting until the morning. For this meeting, each Alpha could only bring one person into the room with them, so Konstantin was with me. He would sit against the wall and watch my back.
I joined the other Alphas as we filed into the large meeting room. The tables had been arranged into a large circle, with the Council members at the back of the room. As host Alpha, I sat directly across from them. I saw Yuri take a spot three people to my left. When everyone was seated, Francois started the meeting. The agenda was put onto the board, it started out with the normal stuff; Pack report outs of births, deaths and matings; upcoming single werewolf mingling parties, and the next Council meeting. It was the last two items that caught my attention. Moscow Pack Leadership and Combat Testing for Patrick Clarke.
We moved quickly through the routine stuff, the only interesting thing was the increase in size of the St. Petersburg Pack in the last few months. Almost entirely due to welcoming wolves from the Moscow Pack, the Pack had grown almost twenty percent. I gulped, knowing this number almost all consisted of warriors and some families. Yuri didn’t make a habit of allowing people in his Pack who couldn’t help his illicit businesses.
Finally, we reached the main topic of the meeting. Council Member Hans took the floor, putting a diagram up on the screen behind him. “Since the death of Alpha Yevgheny and the death or imprisonment of his top leadership, the Moscow Pack has fallen apart. Of the four hundred and eighty-seven Pack members reported to us last year, we have identified only about a hundred and twenty who have been accepted by other Packs. The latest information just provided does not change the problem, which is we have a large number of werewolves who are without senior leadership, and they are going nowhere.”
Alpha Pyotr of the Kiev Pack stood up. “My Pack and others have contacted Moscow Pack wolves we know or are related to and have offered sanctuary. In almost all cases, our offers are refused. The Moscow Pack wolves are different, urban and settled into jobs and homes. They don’t want to leave and start over in another Pack far away. They need an Alpha and a leadership team. We can’t wait longer, their wolves will become more and more unstable as this goes on. We can’t risk exposure when their wolves start to take over.” This was the real danger with lone wolves; since we are social animals, we need the interaction of family and Pack to keep our animal part stable.
Alpha Yuri stood up. “I would be happy to take the remaining members of the Moscow Pack into mine. I already have a major chunk of the more senior wolves in my Pack, and I could leave my Beta in Moscow to run things day to day while I split my time between there and St. Petersburg.”
Alpha Borya of the Yaroslavi Pack, which was northeast of Moscow, stood in protest. “I’m sure he would be more than happy to take over more land, more territory, and most of all the riches of the Pack lands his brother owned. If you allow this, I will not be able to travel west without his permission. You are turning over Russia to him, a criminal and a Mafia chief. He attracts too much attention, the authorities are already digging into his brother’s empire. How long until they find our secret?” He smacked his hand on the table. “NO! We make a stand now. We need to live in peace with the humans, drawing no publicity, no scrutiny. Giving him Moscow would be a huge mistake. I cannot agree to this.”
“Yevgheny was my BROTHER, I have a blood claim to the Pack,” Yuri said as he stood quickly. “What I do, what my Pack does to support itself is none of your business.”
It was time to play my card. “He has a blood claim, but Alpha Yuri is not the Alpha Heir of the Moscow Pack. Natalya Klishnina is. She is Yevgheny’s daughter and the rightful leader.”
“That daughter of a whore? The Pack needs an Alpha, not a stripper! She’s worthless!”
“ENOUGH,” Francois said. “I have heard of this on the news, she is suing to be declared his daughter and inherit her estate?”
“That is correct, sir. Yevgheny killed her mother when she came to him for help after she was born. She was adopted by another couple, both of whom are now deceased, and didn’t learn of her true heritage until a few weeks ago. The courts have the DNA testing and proof of their relationship. It is only a matter of time until she inherits his estate.” Yuri stood up, but a glance from Francois stilled him. “Yuri has already tried to kill her and failed. She is recovering from her injuries now.”
“THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS!”
I glared at Yuri. “What is outrageous is using a car bomb to kill a beloved Priest who was with her in a populated town. It’s exactly the kind of attention we need to avoid.”
Council member Jurgen looked at me. “Even if this Natalya is heir to Yevgheny’s estate, a young female is not able to take over the duties of a Pack such as this.”
“Unless she is mated, sir.” His eyebrow raised. “Her mate is a very capable man. However, due to the visibility of the estate proceedings and the danger of further attempts on her life, the two are not able to come forth and claim the Pack at this time.”
“Then we have nothing to talk about,” Yuri said. “We all just agreed they need an Alpha now.”
“I have a proposal for the Council, then,” I said. “Place the Moscow Pack into receivership. I would ask that a Council member take control of the Pack for six months. This would be enough time to stabilize the Pack and set up a peaceful transfer of power to the rightful Alphas.”
“I AM the rightful Alpha!” Yuri’s face was red from the strain of holding his wolf back.
“You have a Pack, Yuri. If Natalya and her mate are capable and willing of running the Moscow Pack, it is her birthright. If she is not able to take that place, I would propose the Council organize a selection of interested candidates and select the best pair to take over.”
“I suppose you know someone?”
“Actually, I know several. Patrick and Mischa could do it. I’m sure other Alphas could put forward sons and daughters of Alpha blood. I’m sure we could find plenty of good candidates to select from. Alpha pairs who would guide the Moscow Pack back to its rightful place.” I looked around the room. “If we are serious about doing the right thing, this is the right way to go about it.”
The meeting hall erupted into debate. The Council members moved to the corner, talking together for a few minutes before returning to the table and calling for silence. "The Council agrees with the proposal put forward by Alpha Viktor," Francois said. "Alpha Javier and his mate Abrianna have agreed to take over the Pack for a six month period, after which the Council will name a successor from the names put forward and examined. This matter is now closed." There was grumbling, but it was over for now. "The final item is an evaluation of the combat talents of the American Beta Heir who is mated to Viktor's daughter. I need four volunteers to assist who are experienced Betas or Alpha heirs."
Immediately a hand raised from behind Yuri. "I'll fight him," Beta Shura said as he stood up to his full height. Yuri smirked, he thought this was going to be a mismatch.
So did I, because I knew Patrick.