Return to Russia
I slept most of the flight over, exhausted from the long night at the Russian Embassy. My new countrymen loved to party, and I wasn't used to all the rich food they would serve. When I woke up, I had to run to the bathroom where the morning sickness rejected all the food from the party. Stan handed me a Gatorade and some pills to help with the nausea. “Where are we,” I said after I gulped them down.
“About four hours from landing,” he said. We were in the first-class section of the United Airlines direct flight. The plane was half full, so we had the row to ourselves. When I returned from the restroom, the flight attendant saw I was up and brought over a breakfast of egg bake, toast and jam, and bacon. By the time I finished, my head was able to focus again. “Thanks for waiting, Stan. I’m myself again I think.”
He just chuckled. “You did fine last night, and it was a great party. The humans were impressed by you, as was the Ambassador.”
“I didn’t know he was one of us, but he said he was Moscow Pack.”
Stan nodded. “He’s a null, his father was one of us and his mother a human. It happens, and Yevgheny was smart enough to turn his birth into an opportunity. He let the baby live, and in exchange the parents promised he would serve Pack interests. He was steered into good schools and diplomatic service, and now they have a powerful Pack agent in the Russian government. I talked to him later, he will call his parents and they will introduce themselves at the welcome party.”
“How did he know?”
“Even though he has no wolf, his other senses are heightened compared to normal humans. He knows the smell of a wolf, especially a ranking one.”
I thought about it for a while, his parents were like mine. “So, I got a wolf and he didn’t.”
“Exactly. It happens, but in many packs the nulls are still considered inferior. Some are killed at birth, some are allowed to live but as near slaves, never holding any rank. The Councils are working to change rules regarding them, but superstitions remain. Some believe Luna didn’t grant them a wolf because of the sins of their parents, or because they couldn’t be trusted with her gift. It’s a lot to overcome. In a way, it’s a good thing he was born to that Pack which operated among humans and found a way to use the nulls that were born.”
There was so much to learn about their world, their traditions, and I didn’t even know their language well enough to be conversational yet. I felt completely unprepared for what was coming. “He pushed pretty hard for me to take the spot in Moscow.”
Stan nodded. “History and lineage mean a lot more to the European Packs than the American ones. The Zubkov line stretches back to the times of Peter the Great. You are the only heir to that line other than Yuri’s son, and he won’t leave St. Petersburg. Their other choice is Patrick and Mischa; no offense to the two, but you have an Alpha’s daughter and a Beta male, the same as they would have with you and John, except you two are older and better prepared to take over.”
“I feel completely unprepared to run a Pack,” I said as I looked out the window.
“If it was just you, I’d agree, but you have John at your side. You underestimate yourself; you are strong, have good morals, and you care about those around you. The people you meet love you and want to follow you. If you thought the Ambassador put on the pressure, wait until you meet the Pack. They’ve been praying to Luna for a leader like you, and they will want you to stay. And do you know what?”
I shook my head, afraid to say. “What?”
“Keep an open mind, and you might fall in love with them." My wolf agreed with him. "Don’t worry about my Pack, or John’s. The leadership of the Iron Range Pack is the American Council’s problem. I know they offered it to you, but you have no ties to that Pack and I’m not sure it’s the right fit for you. People in that Pack died because of you, and that isn’t a good start. It’s as far away from me as Mischa’s pack is from Moscow, and it isn’t as large or prestigious. You grew up near the cities and trust me… the Iron Range is beautiful in the summer, but for more than half the year it’s a cold, snowy wilderness, hours from the nearest city of any size. It makes Minneapolis look like Florida.” I snorted, it wasn’t THAT much colder, although the winter weather did push out almost a month each side.
“Yeah, like Moscow is like Florida,” I laughed. I knew enough about it to know those winters could be brutal.
“Ok you got me there, but Moscow is a big city, vibrant and exciting.”
I thought about all the harm Yevgheny had done, all the people he had hurt, all those who had left after he died. “Will they blame me for my father’s deeds?”
“How could they? They know your story, you didn’t even know who he was until after he had been dead three months. They see you as an answer to their prayers, a second chance to be the Pack they once were.”
“But what about my powers? I know how they feel about witches.”
“Our kind has always mistrusted witches because they are out for themselves. We see them as selfish, trading services for power, no loyalty to anyone. You are different; your actions have shown you are Pack first. Everything you have done with your powers has been to help others, and they will see that just as we have. It’s an amazing thing to have at your disposal, and it will only serve to raise your status in their eyes."
I closed my eyes, hoping he was right. but my fears were still there. The idea I would be in charge of hundreds of families, when I’d never managed anything bigger than a section of a bar. ”You’ll be fine,” my wolf said to me. “They are going to love you.” If I could only be so sure. “I’m going to get more sleep. What time is it in Moscow when we arrive?”
“I wouldn’t, it’s going to be ten at night and if you don’t sleep later, your jet lag will be even worse. Just relax for a while.” I pulled out my iPad and went to my book library, selecting a werewolf romance called “Taken” by Steamyhot. A few hours later, I was caught up to the updates and completely taken by the steamy hot romance between Beta Landon and Violet. I was glad real life wasn’t like this for werewolves, not that my life had been without drama. “Time to get ready for landing,” Stan said.
I closed down my iPad and stowed it in my bag under the seat, then looked out the widow as we descended into Sheremtyevo International Airport. Stan pointed out a few of the major sites in the city as we approached, including Red Square and the Kremlin. When we arrived at the terminal, we were among the first to depart. An airport security officer pulled us aside. “Miss Donato, Mr. Larsen, if you would come with me please.”
“Is something wrong,” Stan asked as we moved towards a waiting cart.
“No, sir, but the Ambassador called ahead and arranged for you to clear Customs and meet your security outside the view of the waiting press. Someone tipped them off you were arriving tonight and it’s a circus out there.” Stan pulled up his texts, sure enough Javier had sent word of the new arrangements. We were taken to a private Customs office, where my Russian passport was examined, and Stan’s US passport was stamped. “Welcome to Russia, Ms. Donato,” the officer said as he opened the door for us.
”PATRICK!” I ran through the door and hugged him, then embraced Mischa and Alpha Viktor. “I didn’t expect you all to come for me, you must have better things to do.”
“Not right now,” Patrick said. “Come on, we need to get you settled in at the Pack House for the night. You have an appointment with your lawyer first thing in the morning, and court at nine.”
“No party tonight?”
“No, that will be tomorrow. Tonight, you get to rest and freshen up.” We made our way out a service entrance to the waiting limousine, escorted by two vehicles filled with warriors. He filled me in on what was happening with my mate; horrified, I sent text messages to Larry that may or may not have threatened physical or magical violence if he didn’t get him out of there. It took a call from Alpha Esca to calm me down.
I sent some texts to Larry for him to pass on to John, including a plea to not kill Larry because he was important to me. Larry told me at best, John would join me in Moscow tomorrow night for the party.
The limousine brought us directly to the Pack House, where we were escorted up to the Alpha’s office to be officially greeted by Alpha Javier. As I walked through the lavishly-appointed waiting room into his office, my blood turned cold. I stopped at the door, realizing this was one of the last things my mother had seen before Yevgheny killed her. “Are you all right?”
I nodded to Javier. “Yes, Alpha, just a little shook up. My mother was in this office a little over two decades ago, and it didn’t work out well for her.”
“There is a lot of history in this city, both good and bad. In the big picture of things, your father’s reign will be looked at as a blip on an otherwise proud Pack history. If you become Alpha, you can change it as you wish.”
I just shook my head, I hadn’t decided to become Alpha and he was already talking decorating. I was glad Stan stepped in. “We thank you for your hospitality, Councilman Javier. Jessie and I have had a long flight and an early day, if you don’t mind, we’ll take our leave.”
He shook Stan’s hand and gave me a brief hug. “Of course, we will see you tomorrow. Patrick is going to be your guide, he will give you a full tour and introduce you to a number of Pack members so the party tomorrow night isn’t so overwhelming.”
“Thank you, sir, for everything,” I said. We retired to the guest rooms, where the maid helped me unpack my clothes and took some items to be pressed. I took a shower, read for a while, and finally fell asleep about two in the morning.
I was woken by a different maid, and I quickly dressed in the business attire I would need for court. I looked at myself in the mirror, shocked at how a few months had changed me. My face had changed, I had my wolf and magical powers, and I was much stronger than before. I stood a little taller and checked out my perfectly-tailored skirt and jacket, and my stylish heels. I would have worked for months before to make this, now the cost of clothes was a rounding error on my current net worth- before I even inherited my birthright. I heard a knock on the door, and found Patrick waiting for me outside. “Ready to go,” he asked.
“I am.” I walked next to him down to the dining area, where we were to join Alphas Javier, Stan and Viktor at the main table. The room had gone quiet as we entered, and everyone was trying to get a look at me. I smiled at them as Javier introduced me to enthusiastic applause. I pushed back my embarrassment, standing tall and letting my wolf strengthen me, before I addressed them. “Thank you for the warm welcome to your Pack, and I look forward to meeting you all soon,” I said. Patrick walked me to a chair next to Luna Abrianna.
Breakfast was a whirlwind of food and conversation, then we were driving away in the back of a large SUV with security in front and behind. We made a stop at the Bank of Moscow, where a senior manager walked me through opening the accounts I’d need soon. Our next stop was the garage of the building that housed my lawyer’s office. In both cases, Patrick’s arrangements made sure we could get in and out without the press or anyone else knowing we were there.
A short elevator ride later and we were in the reception area, to the surprised look of Svetlana Gustova. “Miss Donato?” She looked confused. “You weren’t listed as having an appointment this morning,” she said as she looked at her computer.
“That’s because I didn’t use their real names, too much press interest,” Olga Alexandrov said from the door to her office. “Welcome, Jessie, come on in.” My security detail checked the room out, then returned to the waiting area while Patrick and I sat in her office. “Well, things have changed a bit since we last met.”
“Just a little,” I said with a nervous laugh. “Are we ready for court?”
“We are,” she said. “It should be routine. Your paternity will be acknowledged, and that will be enough to establish the probate. Once the judgement is in place, which should be signed in a day or two, the executors of the estate will work with me to transfer it to you. It will take a few weeks to complete all the legal paperwork.”
“And once the assets are transferred?”
“Then they are yours. You are a Russian citizen now?” I nodded, showing her my passport, which she made a copy of for her records. I also gave her the account numbers I wanted the money transferred to at the Bank of Moscow, minus the percentage she was due as my lawyer. It took almost an hour to go through all the things we needed in place to be ready for the hearing. We were just finishing the paperwork when I heard a commotion outside, people were yelling.
“полицейские поднимают руки (POLICE! HANDS UP!)” Patrick jumped to his feet, standing in front of me as the door burst open and heavily armed men in black combat gear and helmets came pouring through. Submachine guns at the ready, they surveyed the office. “она здесь! (She’s here!)”