Patrick stood protectively in front of me as I stood in the corner of the office, staring at the men who had just burst in. The three men lowered their weapons and yelled the place was clear. “почему ты в моем офисе (Why are you in my office)”, Olga asked. “In English, please,” nodding towards us.
“Our investigation in St. Petersburg turned up an imminent threat to Miss Donato,” one of the men said. I looked behind him, Svetlana was in handcuffs and crying as she was led out of the office between two large officers. “Your secretary has a brother in the Russian Mob. The police captured him this morning, and while he was being interrogated his phone started getting text messages from Svetlana saying that Jessie Donato was in your office and asking why she hadn’t been killed yet. She offered to do it for the reward money, not realizing that offer expired with Yuri Zubkov.”
I mulled this over in my head, and a light came on. “That’s how they found me,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“The car bomb in Sergiyev Posad. Svetlana told them my real name, and that I was here to claim Yuri’s estate.” Patrick looked at me, it came together for him as well.
“Her brother confessed to the whole thing, he wants to spare her a long prison term. On his phone we found your photos, the legal documents, everything. She was feeding him information from your first visit.” The officers started to clear out. “We had to move fast before she could harm you.”
“Thank you,” I said as I moved out from behind Patrick. “Do you need me to make a statement?”
“She’s due in court in thirty minutes,” Olga said.
The man shook his head. “Let us sort this out, if she pleads out we won’t need it.”
“You can contact my lawyer, she will make arrangements if needed,” I said. “I plan to be in Moscow for a few weeks.” He handed me his card and we shook hands before he departed with the rest of his men. “Well, that will get the blood pumping,” I said as I sat down.
“You should relax, stress isn’t good for the baby,” Patrick said.
Olga’s eyes widened. “Congratulations,” she said.
“Honeymoon baby,” I smiled. “Part of why I want to get this court case over with.”
She sat down in her chair, her face showed the betrayal she felt. “I can’t believe Svetlana would do this to me, to my clients. I’ve known her for years.”
“A lot of people do weird things when a fortune is offered,” I said. “How could you know?”
She pinched her nose between her eyes, then took a deep breath and looked at me. “I will understand if you want different representation. Ultimately I’m responsible, and I breached your trust.”
I reached over and held her hand. “I want to get this over with, and you are still my lawyer. There’s one more thing we need now,” I said. “I need a will. Simple, until I get everything straightened out. Everything left to John Seamus Pearson, Cluny Castle, Scotland.” She pulled up a standard will, asked me a few questions then printed it out. A call to a neighboring office brought in a second witness, who signed with Patrick after I did to make it official. “This is very basic, we really need to talk after you have the assets because a large estate like that needs planning for tax reasons alone,” she said.
“Shouldn’t we get to court?”
She nodded and got up, putting her papers in her briefcase. “You can ride with us, I brought plenty of security,” Patrick said. Fifteen minutes later, we were going through the metal detectors at the Courthouse. The entrance had been a zoo, the information on the hearing was publicly available and the press was out. Patrick had me put a bulletproof vest on under my blouse, and he and his men surrounded me as we got out of the vehicles. I ignored the press, leaving them outside, and most of my security men stayed at the entrance or with the cars. Patrick, Olga and I rode up with two plainclothes Police who were members of the Moscow Pack.
The courtroom had been emptied of all but the lawyers and court staff, so the judge didn’t waste any time. Yuri’s lawyers showed up, but his death certificate had already been filed in St. Petersburg. His claim was dismissed, and with my parentage proven, the decision was that all of Yevgheny Zubkov’s possessions were to be passed on to me. “This is a large estate, and a big responsibility,” the Judge told me. “There are still portions of the estate that are tied up in police investigations, and that is a separate matter for you and your lawyer to deal with. I hope you will be a better steward, and a better person than your father was.”
“Thank you, your honor.” With that, the hearing ended. Olga gathered her papers and walked me to the doors. “It sounds like you have a lot of work left.”
She laughed. “I don’t mind, my fee on an estate this size makes it worth it. Plus, it’s to my advantage to free those assets and get them into your hands so I can get my cut. Come on, some people are waiting for you.” Sure enough, Patrick was waiting outside the doors and I hugged him tight as Olga waited.
“It’s over, it’s finally over,” I said.
“True. Now you’re just one of the richest people in Russia, so the security has to continue. We can’t have you kidnapped or harmed, you know. John would kill me if I let anything happen to you.”
We walked towards the elevator as I talked about my plans for the money. I’d never imagined this kind of wealth, and it was a bit mind-boggling to know that I could just make a phone call, buy a private jet, and not make a dent in my fortune. Patrick still had control over a large portion of the money I’d gotten from Yuri after faking my death. He’d already made plans to return the commercial real estate we’d gotten at a big discount to the Pack, as soon as the matter of leadership was settled. Too many members of Yuri’s inner circle were still at large to do anything now, and the Council was just starting to pick up the pieces.
We returned to the Pack House in a jubilant mood. I changed into more comfortable clothes, then we joined the Pack for lunch. There was no set start time, so we were able to eat and then socialize. Patrick took me to various tables, where I was introduced and got to use my poor Russian skills. No one seemed to mind, many were impressed that I had learned so much when my Russian heritage had only been revealed a few months ago. “If you live here for a year, you’ll be speaking like a native,” one of the Pack members promised me. “I met my Anatoly and moved here from Australia, and I didn’t know a lick of Russian when we mated. I had to carry a pocket translator with me for the first few months,” she laughed.
“The bond can transmit emotions, so it wasn’t that bad,” her mate said. “And not many words were needed that first month or so.” She turned red and smacked him while we laughed.
“I know how that is,” I said as my hand drifted to my lower stomach. “John and I spent the first weeks of mated life on an island, cut off from all contact with others. It was amazing, and it worked.”
“How far along?”
“Five weeks,” I said. “Just starting the morning sickness phase.” We chatted about children, she had two in day care and two at school.
“After lunch I’ll show you the Pack School and Day Care,” Patrick promised. “The children have been waiting for a chance to meet their Luna.”
We excused ourselves, meeting a few more on the way out, and I elbowed him as soon as we were out of the room. “You can’t call me their Luna, Abrianna is the Luna here.”
“She is temporary, she knows it and the Pack does too. As good as she is, this is a retirement job, something being done to help out a Pack that would fall apart. She will be happy to hand it to you, or Mischa, as soon as you are ready to take it.” I followed him through the halls, and we headed towards an elevator and took it to the roof level. “Come on, the children want to meet you.”
“Outside? It’s barely above freezing!”
“Moscow is like Minnesota, they are outside all the time. I think you’ll like this feature of the Pack House, though. My Dad needs one of these for our Pack.” The doors opened, not into the chilly winds, but into tropical warmth. The smell of a swimming pool and blooming flowers filled the air, and I looked out in wonder at the huge sunroom that took up most of the rooftop. Children were screaming and playing together in the pool, some in wolf forms, others in swimsuits. Adults were watching the pool, while others were gathered at the tables doing work. “Cool, huh?”
“Wow.” I didn’t know what to say, I could see how important something like this would be during a Moscow winter. I didn’t get to say much, because little voices started shrieking about how Luna Jessie was here. I didn’t know what to do as children from ages two to eight or so came racing towards me, hugging my legs and lifting their arms for me to pick them up. I looked at one of the teachers, and after a flurry of Russian the children had backed off and sat down.
“I’m sorry, they get a little excited,” the teacher said.
“It’s quite all right. Привет, меня зовут Джесси Донато (Hello children, my name is Jessie Donato.)”
“I’m Katya Semulskaya, and the pre-schoolers are mine. Natasha has the first and second graders, and Ekatarina back there has grades three and four,” she said. “The older children are in classroom this period. Would you like to meet them?” I nodded. “Here, have a seat and I’ll have them come up one by one.” The children were well-behaved, and I got many hugs and kisses as I sat there and met each one. When I had met everyone, and they were sitting on the grass around me, they started begging for a story.
“Oh, I don’t know, my Russian skills are not good,” I said.
“I’d be happy to translate for you. All of the children start learning in English one period a day starting in kindergarten, so some will be able to listen without the translation.” I looked out, the kids were pleading with their eyes for a story. “Would you like to hear a story about a werewolf who doesn’t know she’s a werewolf?”
“YAAAAY,” the young kids said as they settled in. I figured this was as good a way as any to tell the Pack my story from my own point of view. I told them my story, talking about growing up in Minnesota, my father’s death when I was a child, and my Mom’s battle with cancer. They cheered when they found out my mate found me while I was working and defended my honor but booed when he had to go to jail. I told them about living with the St. Croix Pack, ignorant of who I really was, not knowing what they were either. They perked up when I told them I came to Moscow to find out about my birth mother and biological father.
“So your father was our Alpha?” The little girl, maybe four, hadn’t been told much.
“Yes, he was not a good man. He hurt my Momma, and I had to be hidden in the United States so he couldn’t hurt me either.”
“I thought Alphas wuz good,” she said as she looked down.
“Many are, but there are good wolves and bad ones in the world.” I didn’t know what to say to people who had grown up with my father as their absolute leader.
“Momma says she is glad da bad Alfa is gone,” another said. “How do you know a good wolf from a bad one?”
“You listen to your heart, and your wolf,” I said as I pulled him into a hug. Tapping on his chest, I smiled. “When a good wolf tells you something, you feel good about it in here.”
“Okay. More story?” It took about an hour to tell them about the events of the last few months. They listened in rapt attention, more so when I did some simple magic tricks to show what happened after Father Kempechny died. I made sure I didn’t stress myself, just making a small fireball or ice ball, or lifting a child into the air. They all cheered when I told them about flying into battle, fireballs flying in every direction, as the good wolves defeated the bad ones. “And now I’m here with you,” I finished.
They clapped, and a bunch of them came up and hugged and kissed me and thanked me for telling them a story. The teachers finally took them away, it was nap time for the young ones, and the older ones were coming to the pool area next. I got up and followed Patrick out. “You set that up, didn’t you.”
“Meeting the children? Absolutely. They love you, and you can’t tell me you and your wolf don’t feel a pull towards them.”
I thought about it and asked my wolf what she thought. “Of course we are pulled towards them, this is where we were born to be. You can feel how much they love you, and you would die to protect them, wouldn’t you?” It was true, I would sacrifice anything for them and I had just met them. Tears came to my eyes, I needed my mate and he wasn’t here. What would he think? Would his wolf feel the same? Did we even want to be here? “I already promised you the Moscow Pack, Patrick. I can’t take it from you now.”
We reached the elevator, and after punching the button he turned to face me. “You did, and I’m honored, Mischa too, but we are now and always will be the backup plan for this Pack. Don’t worry about us, Mischa is still in school, she still wants to be a Doctor. Who knows what will happen? I promise you, we will be fine no matter what you choose.” The door opened, and we got in. He slid a card in the control panel and pressed the button for the basement second level. “I want to show you something.”
We exited into a vestibule, heavy steel doors were in front of us, and cameras above us. “Beta Clarke bringing Jessie Donato on a security floor tour.”
“Access granted,” a voice said, and I heard bolts retracting before the door in front of us opened.
“Why here,” I asked.
“Right now, your wolf is feeling protective and wants to be reassured those children you were with are going to be safe. No better time than now to show you.” He pointed at a door in the center. “The Pack House has a safe room in the floor below us. There are two ways in; a freight elevator and that stairway behind that door. Both can only be opened up by the security control center over here, and reinforced steel plates slide into place after everyone is inside. There is room for five hundred people in there, and enough supplies for two weeks.”
I understood the secrecy. He took me to a room, it was dark and filled with monitors showing camera views from inside and outside the Pack House. “In here we monitor the House and two blocks surrounding it. If there is an attack, we can lock down all exterior doors in seconds. Ground and second floor windows are bulletproof, and the doors are reinforced steel. The security force is armed and has regular and silver weapons available at their stations. Secure areas are monitored, and access controlled from here.” He introduced me to the two men and one woman on duty. “We have three in here at all times, and another seven on patrol.”
“That’s a lot of security,” I said. “You would need at least thirty to set up a watch schedule.”
“We actually have fifty, with time off and training you need a five-crew rotation to make it workable. The surveillance equipment is top of the line, with aiming and zoom control and facial recognition built in. Areas not normally occupied have motion sensor alarms, and the cameras are normal and infrared.”
He was right, my wolf did feel better now. “What would you do different if you had control and money?”
He thought about it for a minute. “I’d expand. The Pack has always been dispersed around the area, over half don’t live here. The hotel next to us could easily be converted into housing and connected by underground tunnel. Adding security to it would be easy.” He was right, but if the Pack members wanted to stay in their own apartments or houses it wouldn’t work. My job would be to make them want to live as a group again.
”See, you’re already seeing them as yours,” my wolf said with a chuckle. Patrick finished showing me this, then took me to the upper basement level which was filled with gyms, a trampoline room, a larger pool and locker rooms. It was all right, but new machines and a remodel would help.
Before I knew it, it was past three o’clock and the jet lag had caught up to me. Patrick noticed. “Come on, let’s get you back to your room. You can nap for a few hours, the informal reception starts at six thirty and the formal dinner at seven thirty.”
“That sounds good,” I said. I went back to my room, quickly showering and falling into bed. At five thirty, an omega woke me and helped me to get dressed and do my makeup. She was an energetic young woman, just out of high school and hoping to find her mate soon. I had on the expensive lingerie I’d bought in Minnesota, along with a flattering silk dress with four-inch heels. I barely recognized myself in the mirror, I looked rich and glamorous, far from the Hooters girl I had been at the start of the summer. “John is going to flip when he sees me,” I said.
“You’re a beautiful woman, Luna. Your mate is lucky to have you.”
I smirked. “Just wait until you see him, and you’ll see why I am the lucky one. Those muscles…”
She touched up my hair just before Alpha Stan knocked on the door, and he smiled when he saw me. “John is in the air, he should be here after dinner sometime. May I have the honor of escorting you to the party?”
“It would be my honor, Alpha,” I said as I took his offered arm. He was dressed in a tuxedo, looking every bit the strong and confident Alpha. I straightened my back, letting my wolf strengthen me. I belonged here, I was strong on my own, and soon my mate would join me.
We made the short walk to the main reception area, where all talking stopped as soon as we walked through the door. “May I introduce the Alpha Heiress of the Moscow Pack, Jessie Donato,” Stan said as he moved me forward.
I stood tall, taking in the wolves, all but the Alphas having bowed their heads slightly towards me. “I thank you for your hospitality and may the blessings of Luna above be upon this evening,” I replied.
“Welcome, Alpha Heiress Jessie and Alpha Stan, to the Moscow Pack. May Luna bless you and your Packs,” Javier said formally. The party started up again, and Stan led me to where Javier, Abrianna, Patrick and Mischa were standing. A waiter brought glasses of champagne, when I refused he pointed to one that was sparkling grape juice. “You aren’t the only pregnant female here tonight, Jessie,” he said. “This pack has hope again, and I foresee a baby boom in the next year.”
Abrianna nodded while holding his hand. “Our wolves have more to do with conception than we think. In a bad Pack, birth rates are much lower than in a healthy Pack.”
“Is that true for mated wolves too, or is it just fewer wolves in bad packs find their mates because they become isolated?” I was learning a lot.
“A little of both. Birth rates are a better predictor of pack health than the reports sent to the Council,” Javier said.
My hand unconsciously went over my still-flat stomach. “It all seems like a dream. It wasn’t that long ago I was spreading my Mom’s ashes, wondering how I would make enough money to go to school or have my own place.”
“And now you could buy a school,” Stan said. “It’s the same problems, just more zeros on the checks. You and John will find your way, and I know you will put the money to good use.”
We chatted and mingled for another twenty minutes before there was a stir in the crowd. Curtains opened, exposing televisions which were turned on to the news channel. A camera was showing a car, still burning, the steel twisted by a powerful explosion. I couldn’t follow the Russian-language broadcast, but I could see the faces and read the names in the Cyrillic letters below them.
Alpha Yuri’s widow Natasha and five-year-old son Anatoly had been killed.