I was exhausted, and my wolf was on edge by the time I left the plane in Moscow. Crying babies, turbulence and a businessman who stank of cigarettes and body odor, while ignoring my ring and trying to hit on me at 30,000 feet, pretty much did me in. I turned on my phone and texted my son I was on the ground before heading to baggage claim.
He met me just outside the security area, and I hugged him tight as he embraced me back. “Welcome to Russia, Mom,” he said.
I looked up at him and cupped his face. “You look like you’re beat up, Patrick,” I said as I saw the bruises on his face and neck.
He laughed. “The Alpha has us training every day in a different style. Today was mixed martial arts, and my defense against elbows was found lacking,” he said with a smile. “I was surprised to hear you were coming, is everything all right back home?”
“Mostly,” I told him. My suitcase showed up and he picked it up before leading me to the door. A driver was waiting, and he set the suitcase in the back of the sedan before joining me in the back seat.
“This is Pyotr, he is my driver and one of my bodyguards,” he told me. “I have three more when I leave the Pack building, so I am well protected.”
“You need this much security?”
“Well, Alpha Javier thinks it prudent. With Jessie now dead, Mischa and I are the leading candidates to take over the Moscow Pack. We aren’t the only ones, but after the trials and what I did to his Beta, it’s clear that Yuri would like me out of the way. It doesn’t help that there may be Mafia members that remain in the Pack and may not be trustworthy to Javier or I.”
“And Mischa? Is she doing all right?”
He shook his head. “She’s going stir crazy already,” he said. “We talk on Skype every night, but it isn’t the same. Our Alphas agree that it isn’t worth the security risk for one of us to travel to the other’s Pack. We’re both counting the days until she turns eighteen and we can finally mate.”
I patted his hand. “That time will come soon enough. In the meantime, you’re mating an Alpha Female and you need to be ready. How is your training going for the job?”
“It’s more than I expected it would be,” he said. “I knew I’d be getting classes in Pack law and Pack relations, but I had no idea just how much time an Alpha spends on financials, administration and dealing with Pack problems. It’s amazing watching Alpha Javier and Luna Abrianna work with the members of this Pack. There have been so many changes, so much upheaval, they both spend a lot of time just reassuring members that everything will be all right and dealing with day-to-day issues.”
“Beta is a better job, that is for sure,” I agreed. “The Alphas are responsible for everything, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Betas have work divisions and tasks and can make and keep a schedule without events driving a truck through it all the time.”
“I have a new appreciation for Alpha Stan and Larissa now.”
We talked more as we drove through the city, and Pyotr pointed out some of the sights in Russian and English as we drove by. I was pleased that Patrick was picking up the language along with the job. I didn’t want to talk about Jessie yet, not until we were alone. It didn’t take too long until we were pulling in to the underground parking of the combined office and condominium building that was the Pack’s Moscow headquarters. The security detail accompanied us to the elevators, then only Pyotr entered with us. Patrick held a card out to allow access, then pressed the button for the floor with the Alpha and Beta offices. “We need to check in with the Alphas before I show you to your room, Mom.”
“I understand, that’s standard protocol. I hope he doesn’t want to socialize, I can’t wait to shower and nap.”
We got off the elevator and walked into the Alpha offices, where Javier and Abrianna were waiting for us. “Welcome to the Moscow Pack, Beta Abigail,” Javier said before he pulled me into a hug, followed by Abrianna.
“Thank you, Alphas,” I said. “I’m sorry for the late notice, but I felt the need to visit my son and his mate. They are so busy with training, they’ve barely had time to think about their mating ceremony!”
Abrianna just laughed. “I’m sure Luna Marina has it all under control. Patrick just has to show up and let his wolf take over.” It was true, in cases like this where the marking had already been celebrated at a big party, the actual mating was a private event for the two families being brought together. The couple would be with their families for a lavish dinner, then would retire to their room to complete the mating while the rest of the families bonded. The party went until the couple emerged and their scents showed the mating had been completed.
“Well, each family needs to bring things for the meal, and I have to make sure they can make the American foods that are favorites of ours. I need to train their Pack on how to make his favorite barbecue and sides,” I said with a smile.
“You should train our Pack as well,” Abrianna said as she laughed. “We’ve traveled all over, and we love the backyard barbecues we’ve been guests at in America."
“Where can you barbecue around here,” I asked.
“The rooftop gardens are actually quite nice. The next few days are warm, I could ask the Beta in charge of the kitchens to help you out.” She looked at me, pleading, a little bit drooling already. She must love her barbecue. “We would be honored to try your recipes, and it would be a good excuse for a party. Our Pack can use that social time.”
I thought about it, I wasn’t going to the Kstovo Pack for three days so I could have time with my son. “That would be fun,” I said excitedly.
“How about we raise the stakes a little,” Patrick asked. We all looked at him. “We ask the best Russian barbecuer to go head to head with Mom. Every person attending gets a chip, and they put it in a can by the meat they like best. Winner gets bragging rights, maybe a prize.”
“I like that,” Javier said. “What kind of barbecue are you making?”
“Pulled pork with my homemade barbecue sauce,” I said.
“So pork dishes,” Javier said. “I think we open things up a bit. Let people form teams, each does one pork and one side dish. I’ll put up ten thousand rubles to the team whose dishes score the highest total votes.” Wow… that was over three thousand dollars if my estimate was right.
“I love it,” I said. “We get to try new things, have fun and have a little competition.”
“I’m on Team Mom,” Patrick said. He turned to me and hugged me. “You got this, your pork is amazing.”
“It’s settled, then,” he said. “I’ll put the word out to the Pack. Teams can enter by tomorrow at breakfast, and we’ll do it for dinner tomorrow night.”
“My meat has to smoke for almost ten hours, Alpha. I need a head start here.”
“Patrick can take you to the kitchens, if you let the Beta know what you need she can make sure you have it. I’m pretty sure we have some large smokers around for you to use.”
I rubbed my hands together, eager to show these people what REAL barbecue was about. We thanked the Alphas, and Patrick led me out. “What are you doing for your side, Mom?”
“I’m thinking my macaroni and cheese or my cole slaw,” I said.
“Lots of cabbage here, I think your Mac will stand out better,” he said. “Plus it’s been my favorite since I could eat solid food.”
I laughed as we entered the elevator, going down to the Pack kitchens. Beta Galina had been thrilled to hear about the competition, and promised I’d have everything I needed by morning. She made me a plate as we talked, and I enjoyed the food before returning upstairs. Patrick escorted me to my guest room and I pulled him in. “Is everything all right, Mom? Surely you didn’t hop on a flight at short notice just because you missed me,” he said as I collapsed into a chair.
“It’s not all right, Patrick. Losing Jessie that way has been a real kick in the teeth. Yesterday, a messenger brought me this to give to you.” I handed him the letter and the power of attorney that Jessie had signed before she was killed. “Our lawyer has looked into this, we think Yuri will go to court here and in the United States to get Jessie declared dead. She has no heir, so if that happens, the decks are cleared for him to take over Yevgheny’s fortune.”
“And it rewards him handsomely for killing her,” he said as his hands squeezed the chair he was sitting in. “What do you want me to do?”
“Draw things out. Until she is declared dead by the court, he doesn’t get a cent. She’s given you authority to act for you, so meet with her lawyer and tell her to hold off a decision as long as she can.” He thought of something and started to laugh. “What’s so funny?”
“We’ve got people in the St. Petersburg pack that are sympathetic to us, and they hear things,” he said. “The word is that Yuri needed a lot of cash quick for something, and he went to the Italian Mafia for it. Supposedly, it’s a loan of three hundred million rubles, with interest of thirty million rubles a week.” Holy cow. That was about ten million dollars, US, every WEEK. “That kind of interest, he must figure he can get a lot more money quick. He’s going to be really pissed off when I drag this out for MONTHS.” He pocketed the papers, a smile on his face.
“Yuri is probably still watching her lawyer, so be careful and meet her alone. We want him to suffer for what he did, and the longer he doesn’t get the inheritance the better.” He nodded at me. “Now for the other news. We think the Pack that brought me that letter either was the one to kill Jessie, or they know who did.”
He thought about it for a while. “Why would they take Yuri’s money to kill her, then give me this? What do they hope to accomplish?”
“I don’t know. Alpha Esca sent warriors to our Pack, they should be there now. We’re going to find this Pack and figure out what is going on. Whoever killed her won’t be alive long enough to enjoy the reward,” I promised.
“I’ll see what we can do from this end. Now, you need some sleep. I’ll see you for breakfast.” He got up and kissed me, then I let him out and locked the door. The shower was calling my name.
Alpha Stan’s POV
“We found them, Alpha.” Beta Peter came into he room, one of his men carrying a laptop. Beta Fergus, the leader of the group Alpha Esca had sent, was right behind him. They set the computer on my desk, the tracker was showing a position near Soudan, Minnesota and Lake Vermillion. “The Vermillion Pack. The Alpha is a man named Sven Hirkkel, his mate is Linnea.”
“I know him, he’s been Alpha there since before my father was Alpha here. His wife lost their first child, and it left her unable to bear children. He’s a good man, though. Quiet and runs his Pack well.” I was shocked to think a man my father and I respected so much might be the one who killed her. “Hang on, I’m going to ask my father to join us.” He responded he would be there in ten minutes, so I spent the time getting updated on how the Highlands wolves were fitting in to our own. We would work together to take down whoever killed her.
My father David came through the door, wearing a T-shirt and shorts he’d gotten out of the bins on the front porch. Since my mother died and he stepped down from the Alpha position, he’d lived alone in a cabin on a lake, rarely getting involved in Pack affairs. He was still in good shape for a man in his sixties, and his eyes were clear and alert. I introduced him and gave him a quick update on what we knew so far. “I’ve known Sven for over four decades, I can’t believe he’d kill a human for money. Mates are sacred to him, and if she was there with Beta John, it doesn’t make sense.”
“I know. Still, his Pack is the last known location for John and Jessie. I’d like to find out what is going on without bloodshed, if possible. Do you think you could arrange to meet him and talk?”
He nodded. “Of course, a good bottle of Irish Whiskey and I’ll have him talking.”
“You leave as soon as possible, then. I’ll send the warriors with you, they can stay just off Pack lands while you figure out what is going on. If it is them, will you have an issue with us killing the Alpha and anyone else involved?”
He just got up and stared into my eyes, his shoulders going back. “Son, if he killed her for money I’ll kill him myself.” I gave him a hug and they all walked out the door.
Tomorrow I would have answers.