Cooked Low and Slow
Alpha Sven’s POV
The next morning, we sat at the table in my house with my mate and my Beta as we went over the plans once more with David. The whole thing was riding on a razor’s edge; as long as Jessie was believed to be dead and they stayed hidden, they were safe. If word got out she was alive, Yuri would do anything to get her.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t just go public with this now?” David was turning the flash drive over and over in his fingers.
“Time is our friend,” I told him. “The longer we wait, the deeper the hole is that Yuri digs himself in the human and werewolf world. Plus, Jessie is not ready to emerge into our world and all that will be expected of her. John needs time to get her trained and comfortable with all that Alpha power she has inside her.”
“Not to mention her witchcraft. I still can’t believe she was able to make the illusion so believable when you faked her death.”
I smiled, thinking back to how she had proven to me she could do it before we went ahead with her plan. “She was powerful when she just had Father Kempechny’s power, enough to flip a car into a guardrail with her mind,” I said. “She’s gained the power of two Coven High Priestesses since then. If she was fully trained, I have no doubt she’d be one of the most powerful witches in the world.”
He looked at his hand. “Just another reason for people to come after her. Witches will be jealous of her power and know if they kill her, it becomes theirs.”
“That is why that little island in the middle of a Northwoods lake is the safest place for them to be right now, to come into their power together. It has to be this way.” He nodded. “The information on that thing is explosive. There is no denying it, and when the time is right it needs to be revealed. Not before then.” He stood up and we walked to the door. “Take it to Patrick in Moscow. He will know when the time is right for it to come out.”
“My wolf wants his blood for Brian’s death in the last attempt on her life,” I said. “She was protected by us, and John was a member of our Pack when they tried to kill them at the Coven.”
“He will pay for his crimes, but it doesn’t always happen the way our wolves want,” I told him as he opened his car door. “Yevgheny was taken down by the Russian Police. In the end, he was dead, and his leadership was dead or in prison. It was a better outcome than if another Pack or the European Council took him out. The press, the police, hell, with Jessie’s disappearance and Yevgheny’s estate battle, they’re in the news all the time. Right now the Coast Guard and FBI have a half-dozen boats scouring the bottom of Lake Superior off Tofte, looking for Jessie’s body. Surrounding them are two dozen boats carrying television crews. Trust me, it’s better this way.”
He started his car. “I suppose you’re right.”
“You know I am, old friend. Remember what I said; only Stan can know what you do, and he has to keep it quiet. Don’t let that jump drive out of your possession, deliver it to Patrick in Moscow.”
Linnea came out of the house, carrying a thermos and a bag. “You have a long drive, I packed you a sandwich, chips and some fruit,” she said. “I don’t want you doing something stupid, like eating a gas station burrito.”
He laughed as he took it. “Few things are less trustworthy than that,” he said. She leaned in and kissed his cheek. “Thank you for everything, Linnea. Thank you for taking good care of them.”
“You’re welcome, David. Have a safe drive.” I shook his hand and he pulled out, following the guard on his ATV to the gate. I pulled my mate into my side, relieved everything had turned out so well when it could have been so much worse. As I sniffed her hair, I noticed something had changed. Her scent was stronger, my wolf picked up on it and I was aroused. “You smell different.”
“I feel different,” she said. “Do you think it worked? Could she have fixed it?”
I put my hands over her lower belly, feeling the scar there. When she was young, before we met, she had caught a severe infection that attacked her reproductive system. Her fallopian tubes were scarred as a result, and we had not been able to conceive in our two decades together. She had been crushed when the doctor had figured out the issue eight years ago; they were too damaged to repair. I refused to put her away and take another, or to have another woman bear my heir. “If it isn’t our child, I don’t want a child at all,” I had told her as she cried onto my chest.
When she was talking with Jessie last night, she revealed her magic had the power of healing, and offered to help. I was hesitant, werewolf doctors could do nothing, but it gave her a ray of hope and I couldn’t deny the pleading in her eyes. Jessie had laid her hands on her belly, and her hands took on a purplish glow. Linnea gasped, clenching my hand. “Does it hurt, love?”
“It’s warm,” she said. A few seconds later, the glow went away. “Is it done?”
“I’ve done what I can,” Jessie replied. “I’m kind of new to this, but I think so. I guess you’ll have to find out on your own.”
As I stood with her in front of our house, I thought we had a chance. I turned her around, dropping to my knees I brought my nose to her waist, taking a deep sniff. I was immediately hard enough to cut diamonds; her scent was strong and meant only one thing.
She was going into heat.
Beta Female Abigail Clarke’s POV
I pulled the last of the eight pork butts I had prepared off the smoker and shifted my hands so my claws could tear it apart. Humans used these stainless-steel things called bear claws to rip the meat apart, but I preferred using my wolf to do it. When the fat was removed, the long pieces of smoked pork were placed in a large serving tray and mixed with my homemade barbecue sauce. I cleaned up as the tray was taken out to the tables for the competition.
My Mac ’n Cheese recipe was already set up on the table with the side dishes. It turned out the idea of a pork bbq competition had sparked a lot of interest, and there were fourteen entries in the meat category and twenty-five in the side dish. Twelve people including me were entered in both, and thus eligible for the Grand Prize that Alpha Javier had put up money for. With the interest, he’d added cash prizes for each category as well as through third place overall. Each competitor had to submit at least fifty pounds of meat or side dish to be eligible.
I went to my room to change and shower, my hair smelled of cherrywood smoke and my body felt sticky from being in the kitchen or out at the smoker all day. Putting on jeans, a blouse and sweater, I walked out to the elevator to take me up to the rooftop. The late fall weather had held out for us, it was still in the 50’s as the sun got ready to set. The rooftop had an open section where the smokers had been set up, plus a large enclosed sun room with a small swimming pool and lots of patio space. It was here that the Pack members were gathered and where the smells were captivating.
Alpha Javier opened the competition with a brief speech, thanking the participants and wishing everyone luck. He explained the rules; each Pack member had a single white chip and blue chip, one for their favorite meat and one for the favorite side. In front of each tray of food was an explanation of what it was and a small can with a lid you could drop the chip into. He encouraged everyone to try a little of everything the first time through, then go back later for their favorites. He and Abrianna then started the line, everyone else following behind.
We ate, drank and socialized for three hours, and I was enjoying myself quite a bit with Patrick and his new friends. I was happy to see that both my dishes were among the first to run out, which I thought was a good sign. Some of the entrants had made copies of their recipes on 3x5 cards, and I grabbed more than a few for my own use back home.
Patrick hugged me from behind, making me jump a little. “Your food was a hit, Mom. You got this in the bag.”
“Nothing is over until it is over, Patrick. There was a lot of good food there. I know I want to get a few recipes before I leave.” It was a tour de force of tastes from around the world tonight. Most of the werewolves in the Pack had found their mates in Russia, but not all, and even regions they came from made a difference. Two entries were by wolves who came from the United States; one made Carolina style pulled pork, which had a spicy clear sauce based on apple cider vinegar, while the other was a Cuban style roast pig from a woman who grew up near Miami. There was Poc Chuc, a saltwater-cured grilled pork marinated in onions, sour orange juice and charred red tomatoes from Central America that was amazing. I also got the recipe for the Brazilian gaucho style pork that was cooked on a sword and rubbed with spices. Among the other entries were Jamaican jerked pork tenderloin, two kinds of Chinese bbq, a Pork Satay on a skewer from Thailand, and four different Shaslik recipes, a traditional Russian bbq on a skewer.
The sides were also excellent, and my wisdom in choosing mac ’n cheese was apparent as I watched the children of the Pack vote. They didn’t want vegetables or salads, they were taking big spoonfuls of my cooking.
The voting closed down as the wolves kept eating the remaining foods, and a half hour later Luna Abrianna took the microphone to announce the winners. I held Patrick’s hand nervously as they were read. I screamed when I won best side dish, rushing up to the stage to take the cash and the trophy they had made for the event. “Congratulations, Beta Abigail. Not only did you make a dish our children are now begging us for, but you gave us the idea for this event in the first place, and it was a rousing success.” The Pack applauded as I hugged her, then shook the Alpha’s hand. The Cuban roast pork won the best meat category, and then it was on to the combined prize.
“In third place overall, for the combination of Ural Mountain Shaslik and Potato Salad, Theta Lidia!” She came up, accepting her cash and trophy, then was moved aside to wait. “In second place, with her combination of Pulled Pork and Mac ’n Cheese, Beta Abigail!” I went back up, my face beet red as I accepted my second trophy. “Finally, the Grand Prize winner of ten thousand rubles and this trophy, Omega Maria, for her Cuban Barbecue Pork and Stuffed Mushrooms.” The crowd went wild as she came back up to collect her prize, then we all posed with our trophies. “There have been so many calls for recipes from this contest that Beta Galina has agreed to collect them for a Pack cookbook. Once it is completed, the web page will be sent to everyone. Also, the top eight dishes in each category will be prepared by the Pack Kitchen each Friday for the remainder of the year.” There were more cheers to this.
I got to my bed, completely exhausted and a little bit drunk. Some of the ladies had promised to take me shopping tomorrow, sure that I’d find things to spend my winnings on. I was really enjoying this little side trip.
Retired Alpha David’s POV
It had been a rough two days for me since I left Sven and Linnea. I drove back to our Pack, to the questions of both my Pack and the Highlands group. I had met privately with my son and laid out what was going on; he was blown away by what I told him, but he promised to keep the secret. Alpha Esca was disappointed to learn that the Vermillion Pack hadn’t been involved in Jessie’s death. My son promised him he would keep up the investigation, and Esca’s men would stay for another week in case we found the killers.
The flight to Moscow hadn’t been fun, my knees were starting to ache with the arthritis and the flight was long. Wolves don’t like to be trapped; being stuck in an aluminum tube with smelly humans was not fun. I couldn’t drink enough to sleep, and only reading PenumbraMine’s “Blue Butterflies” on my iPad helped me get through it. My daughter-in-law had turned me on to her stuff, and I was hooked despite finding it under the ‘Chicklit’ tab.
I was happy when I arrived and made my way to the taxis. I hadn’t checked a bag, just my carryon as I was only staying a day. Winter had arrived in Moscow, it was cold, and a few inches of snow had fallen recently. I was dropped off outside the lobby of their building and walked in unannounced.
“Могу ли я помочь вам, сэр (May I help you, sir?)” The young blonde shewolf at the desk opened her eyes wide as my dominance struck her, not expecting an Alpha.
“Please let Beta David Clarke know that Retired Alpha David Larsen is here to see him.”
“Of course, sir.” She picked up the phone and made the call. “The Beta will be down in a few moments. May I offer you a drink?”
“No thank you.” I started looking at the artwork in the lobby as she returned to her work. I noticed a few of the Moscow Pack warriors were gathering around, just in case. Alphas, even retired ones, didn’t just show up at the Pack House without an invitation. The Alpha would be within his rights to expel the person, even kill them.
I wasn’t shocked to see not just a surprised Patrick but Alpha Javier and some men emerge from the elevator. I turned and smiled at them as they walked up. “Patrick, Council Member Javier, I apologize for my lack of notice before entering your territory. I need to speak with you urgently,”
Alpha Javier sized me up, he was a legend in the European Council and I bowed to his dominance. “We should go to my office, then. Come.” He turned and walked back to the elevator as Patrick came to my side.
I put my arm around Patrick’s broad shoulders and pulled him close. “I’m so proud of you, my boy. How is your mate?”
He smiled as we entered the elevator with his Alpha and one guard. “She is doing well. You just missed my mother, she went to visit their Pack a few hours ago. She’ll be back in two days.”
“I’m afraid I won’t be here,” I said. “I leave tomorrow for home.”
“It was that important to come see us?”
“Critical,” I said. “And I need to see you two alone.”
Javier raised his eyebrow, but only the three of us entered his office. I laid it all out for them, and their shock at learning Jessie was alive was not faked. Finally, I handed Patrick the jump drive. “Alpha Sven said this was for you, that you would know when to use it.”
If they were shocked before, the contents shocked them even more. “We should take him down now,” Javier said. “I can call the Council together, we can arrest and try him in under a week.”
“No,” Patrick said. “There’s no reason to act quickly here. Let him twist in the wind for a while.” He filled me in on what they had learned about the loans he had taken out, and how his empire was being sold off bit by bit to pay the interest on the loans.
I picked it up then, giving the plan we had worked out with Jessie, John and Sven. “We bleed him dry first. The police are investigating, he owes a lot of money, and we can push off a decision on Yevgheny’s estate for months. If the cops or the Mob take him out, it is a much lower risk of us being revealed. In the end, if he dies our vengeance is satisfied.” I looked right at Javier. “The moment people see this, they know Jessie is alive and she is in danger again. The two of them need time to train and prepare. If we create a power vacuum in their Pack now, it will just create more chaos. Better to wait until they are ready to take over her Pack.”
“This pack isn’t hers yet,” Javier said.
“Maybe not, but it is her birthright, and once you meet her you will see the two have the power and character to be good Alphas to this Pack,” I replied.
“With Jessie having a wolf and her hereditary claim, I would withdraw from consideration for this Pack,” Patrick said. “Mischa and I are in no hurry to become Alphas, she wants to go to medical school. We will do it if asked, but I would let Jessie decide first. I’d even take it for a period of time until she is ready to take over, if she asked, but otherwise we will wait.”
Javier leaned back. “I didn’t expect that from you, Patrick. I thought the lure of the position would be stronger for you.”
“Alpha, although I appreciate your confidence in me, my loyalty to Jessie makes it an easy decision. Before she was an Alpha, she was my friend and I was responsible to protect her. She’s a good woman, and now I hear she’s a good wolf too. I’m happy for her.”
He looked at Patrick, nodding his head slowly. “We will let things ride for now, but if I think it’s starting to go bad I’ll call the Council together and have him arrested,” he said. “Killing another Pack’s Alpha heir, especially if they involved humans, is enough to have him removed and executed.”
“But first,” I said, “First we want to destroy his world. And Jessie has a lot of money available now to use on that.”