Chapter 72: Christmas with the wolves (and cats)
Isla San Jose, Panama
“Wow, they’ve really made some changes since we first came here,” I said as I looked out the window of our private jet. “That road wasn’t there.” I could see a new road that wound through the jungle now, circling the entire island and connecting all the little villages and beaches.
“They’ve added a lot of guest housing,” Gunny said as he looked where I was pointing. “Ella said they have six new clusters scattered around the island, each with private beaches. I guess we won’t be staying in tents like last year.”
“Not like Ella would ever let a heavily pregnant woman stay in a tent.” I looked across at my four little angels, strapped in their travel seats and sleeping. Now nine months old, the three girls and one boy were my pride and joy. Gunny’s big hand reached over, covering my belly which was barely showing the bump. Twins this time, thank Luna, but still too early to tell if they were boys or girls. So far, the matings between cats and wolves had yielded a few interesting things. One was that the females were cats while the males were wolves. The other, helpful thing was that all could shift at birth, while pure wolves didn’t shift until they were about three years old. Being able to deliver babies and feed them in panther form was a big advantage I had over my daughter.
“So where are we staying this time,” Charlotte asked from behind me. This Christmas would be different for her, their first as a fully mated couple, and at six months pregnant she was swollen with triplets. She and Jane Spencer were both having honeymoon babies, but Jane was having a son while Charlotte was having three boys. I don’t know if it was the water or the genes, but our Pack was gaining babies at a rapid rate. Even Ella was impressed.
“The Alphas and Betas are staying at the main house, as we have some talks and other things to do along with our vacation. The single wolves and cats are being sent to the villages on the north, along with the younger mated couples without kids. The lower ranking families are in the village just a half mile east of the main houses.”
“So, we are with you, then.” She nodded, it was fine with her. I loved having her around, and Josh didn’t care, as long as Charlotte was happy. They were a great couple, and pregnancy wasn’t going to keep her from getting her education. Josh was loaded with Presidential-declared legal cash, just like our Packs. We all employed staff, local humans or feline associates, to help with our homes and landscaping. Our Pack house was now fairly empty, but the neighborhood was all Pack except the Johansen’s. Tim and Crystal were a stubborn old human couple who refused offers of double what their home was worth, so they now were getting used to the new security and the, um, more relaxed attitude towards nudity that came with being around a Pack.
“Yes, we are going to work together on our charity efforts, so it made sense for the five Packs to have their leadership stay together in the main house.” After the war ended, the remaining Packs received reparations, but the financial disparities remained huge. The Guns and Roses Pack was easily the richest, with the Gila and El Paso packs not far behind, but they had good leadership. The Johnson and Thurmont packs didn’t reap the financial rewards from the Cartel war, but they had been run well. Too many Alphas blew their windfall, leaving little for normal Pack members. Now that there were more matings and it was easier to change Packs, many of these Alphas were finding their Packs fading into nothingness. Derek and Amanda Johnson were attempting to help with this problem by creating a summer program for future Pack leaders, bringing them to their Pack for an eight-week intensive course for future Alphas and Betas aged 16 to 21. The classes were taught by experienced Alphas and Betas, and members of the Elders and Alpha Council. The fact that matings had occurred was just a bonus; the courses were open internationally and to all Were species.
“Where is Renee building her Mate Loss Recovery Center?” Jane was looking out the window as we lined up for landing.
“North end of the island, they have an isolated compound and village, no distractions. Only one road in and out, nobody within a couple miles,” I pointed. “I hope she can make a real difference when this opens.” There had been some success stories in saving survivors. Alpha Renee and Beta Joe were the best known, but we had to improve on the current 90% loss rate of mates left. Renee had presented the idea at Wolfstock over the summer, and this island was the best way to get it done. Ella had jumped at the chance to make it a reality.
“Craig and Ella are taking a real risk making this an open Pack land, welcoming so many people, and without restrictions as to their original Pack or Packless state,” Gunny said. “They have more wolves and cats working for their Pack on this island than they have people in their Pack. In the old days, Alphas would never allow that. Way too dangerous.”
“They had to, their plans for this island would never work without it,” Josh said. “They’ve given hundreds of people jobs here, along with a chance to find mates and Packs.” He absently rubbed Charlotte’s belly. “I can’t imagine any Alpha being stupid enough to take advantage of them. Not only is their pack strong and well run, but they have friends everywhere.”
“Well, all that building is coming to fruition. We get to be the first to stay at some of these villages, the first All-Were resort and meeting center in the world,” I said. “When I talked to Ella last week, she said they were booked through May. Newly mated couples, families, all the way to entire Packs coming to enjoy some sun and fun. It’s genius, really, and with the improvements to the airfield it makes it easy for people to come and go.” The runway was now paved, and a fuel farm and two large hangars could store private or charter planes. This meant that direct flights were possible, and no more puddle-jumpers from the mainland. The pier nearby had been extended to take barge traffic, allowing the villas to be prefabricated in shops, shipped over, then placed on foundations and assembled on the island. I could see the windmills and the large solar panel farms and battery rooms near each of the outposts, Ella said each were fully independent with diesel generator backups.
We touched down softly, and the babies woke as the engines reversed. I couldn’t do anything yet, not until we stopped, but at least they didn’t cry the whole way down. I looked out the window to the hangers, seeing that our Pack members had joined the welcoming committee in the hanger. Our flight was the last to leave home, the others had flown down over the past few days and gotten settled in already. The unmated and associated cats were first, giving them the most time to be with the others. We taxied into the hangar, parking next to three other planes, and as we stopped we were finally able to unbuckle the babies and comfort them in their car seats. Gunny, Charlotte and Josh each took one for me as we readied our exit.
When the pilot lowered the stairway, the heat and humidity, plus the smells of the island, hit us like a brick. The island was so different than the desert home of ours, so many smells. Gunny and I led the way down the stairs as the crew worked to transfer our luggage to the waiting Jeeps. Ella couldn’t wait, she broke from the line and rushed to embrace me. “Rose! How I’ve missed you!”
I gave her a hug, she was looking at my belly bump while I was checking hers. “Not pregnant yet?”
“Not for lack of trying,” she laughed. “I think I’m losing my touch, someone else is hogging the baby fairy!” She moved to hug Charlotte and Jane and we slowly moved to the rest of the group. The Johnson, El Paso and Gila leadership were all here. Babies were removed from their carriers and passed around, stories were traded, and friendships rekindled. It took us twenty minutes just to get the greetings done, there were so many people we hadn’t seen in since Thanksgiving or longer, plus our own Pack members updating us on things.
A Jeep pulled up, and a striking dark-haired woman jumped out, followed by her hulking mate and their three-year-old daughter. “LINDA!” We moved towards each other, as fast as her pregnant belly allowed. No longer Black Ker, she was now the Nightmare Pack Alpha Female along with Joe and their daughter Lynn.
“By Luna, Rose, it’s so great to see you again! I’m sorry, we’ve been VERY busy.” Joe came up and gave me a hug after I bent down and kissed Lynn, and she kissed Allison’s head.
“Don’t worry about it, you had a big challenge. I’m just glad to have you here.” Linda, in a way, was the “mother” of all the panther shifters in this big grouping, having been the first. A chance mating between her wolf father and panther mother gave her enough wolf characteristics that she could function as a leader in a Pack, and she passed that on to us.
“Alpha Joe, you are looking happy,” I said.
“Because I am, Rose. I love my life now.” It hadn’t been easy, after the trial their little Nightmare Pack had taken over the Telluride Pack in Colorado. With hundreds of members and almost all their senior leadership gone, they had rebuilt the pack in the past eight months until it was respected again. It was now one of only four packs with feline Were in senior leadership, which offended some traditionalist Packs. We didn’t care, obviously, and our Packs were stronger for it.
“Shouldn’t we be moving to the main house sometime,” Gunny asked Craig.
“We’re waiting for another plane, no point in moving right now,” he said. “In fact, they’re on approach now.” We calmed the babies as the plane landed and pulled into the open spot in the hangar, and our big group moved over. The door opened, and a Secret Service man came out first, then former President Hank Kemper emerged followed by the Thurmont Pack Alphas and Betas.
I was excited, I’d never met the former President. We quickly formed a reception line, babies in arms, starting with the host Alphas. “Did you know he was coming here?”
“I didn’t even know Ross and Lisa were coming,” Gunny said. “It’s a hell of a surprise, though. I wonder if there is more to it than a social call?” Hank had been in and out of public life since his shocking resignation as the President. He had spent a lot of time learning how to be a wolf and finding his mate Tatiana had thrown him for a loop. “That mating scar didn’t fade a bit, did it?” The man’s neck looked like a jigsaw puzzle of scars.
“He got her good, too,” I said. Pretty soon we were shaking his hand. “Congratulations, Mr. President, Alpha Tatiana,” I said as I took in her baby bump. “How far along are you?”
“Four months,” she replied with a smile. “Twins, that’s why I’m showing. I just can’t believe it, I had thought it was too late for me to find love and have children.”
“I guess he bowled you over at the right time then!”
“A little heads up would have saved some trouble,” she said. “Can I introduce my stepson, Scott? Scott, this is Gunny Rodriguez and his mate Rose, they are Alphas of the Pack in Santa Fe.”
I shook the young man’s hand, he tall and muscled like his father, his hair cut short, but out of his Air Force Academy uniform. I scented something feline…. I may have been a little forward. “Tatiana bit me two days ago; I wanted to take the change, they offered me wolf or tiger, and I picked Siberian Tiger, of course.”
I was a little shocked. “Why tiger?”
“Cat-like reflexes for flying, plus they look cool,” I said. “I can’t wait to shake out my fur and do some hunting while I’m here.”
“The pig hunt is going to be EPIC,” Craig said as he overheard it. “They got a little out of control in the time we were gone. Who wants to run to the house instead of driving? It’s about five miles through the jungle.” There were a bunch of shouts, and soon a mixed group of wolves and cats had shifted.
We collected their clothing in one of the Jeeps and secured the baby carriers in the back. Gunny helped me climb in and before we set off. “You didn’t want to run?”
“I’m old enough I don’t have to prove anything.” I snorted, he was still ripped and could outrun teenagers. “Plus, I didn’t want to be apart from you and our babies.”
It was a few hours later before we were settled in the room, the babies were all fed, and we had our naps. I hadn’t had a break, no sooner had I worked off the baby weight when Gunny knocked me up again. I could hear the screams and yells from outside as we walked towards the doors; Gunny opened them up and I trotted through, the babies running around and under me. There was a section of beach that had been fenced off for the young ones to play in, and I took them there. “Oh wow, they are SO cute!” The women supervising the area gushed over them as they picked them up and sniffed them. “It’s so nice to see a panther kitt this small and cute,” she said.
“We’ll be around,” Gunny said as I rubbed against his leg. There was so much to see and do; a bunch of younger ones were in the water, swimming and boogie boarding in the gentle surf. Others were playing volleyball in the white sand, or laying out in the tropical sun. Dinner smelled amazing, there were five whole pigs being slow roasted over coals, plus some large fish were being baked. Gunny shifted, and we spent a little time getting to know the others in our animal form.
I checked back on our babies, the ladies had fed them and they were playing with the other young ones. “I feel like we shouldn’t be wasting this time, love.”
”Feel like sneaking out for a bit?” I rubbed against his shoulder before taking off for the trees, running for the trail leading away from the house. “Do you even know where you are going?”
”Nope. Does it really matter when you’re sneaking away for a quickie?” I kept running until I couldn’t hear the people at the beach, the whole time thinking about my mate chasing me down. He must have figured we were far enough away, because he jumped ahead of me and forced me to stop. Normally, he would have tripped me, but not while pregnant. He circled me as I stood, there, his tongue grooming my face and neck before he moved farther back. I shifted my tail aside as he sniffed my sex, which was swelling in anticipation. He licked out, slowly tasting me as his rough tongue split my folds. I squirmed in pleasure, dropping my chest to the ground.
He kept at it until I came powerfully around his tongue. I looked back dreamily, seeing him aroused and ready. He climbed onto my back, moving forward until I could feel him at my entrance, and with a single powerful stroke he seated himself deep inside me.
I roared my pleasure to the jungle as my body adjusted to the invasion. We were both too excited for it to last, he started to move inside me, his front legs holding me in place. I pushed back into him as he pounded me, mewling and groaning as he brought me quickly to another strong orgasm. He didn’t stop bringing me pleasure until my eyes rolled back. With a loud roar, he slammed forward again, bringing me to the highest peak yet as dots filled my vision, then it all went black.
I woke up and it was dark, and Gunny was gone. I lifted my head up and smelled, he hadn’t been gone long. I moved into the bushes, relieving my full bladder and enjoying the ache that came from a good, hard screw. He trotted back up a few minutes later, a boar piglet in his mouth. He dropped it at my feet before licking my face.
It always came down to the babies, I thought. He would make sure I ate well. I used a claw to rip open the belly, then reached in and gobbled down the vitamin-rich liver. He let me take the best pieces before he started in as well. We only needed a few minutes to reduce the small animal to bones. “Ready to head back, love?”
“We should, the babies are going to need us.”
“They’re sleeping at the beach, playing with the bigger kids really wore them out. Charlotte is keeping an eye on them.”
“I like fresh killed, but I have to try that roast boar,” I said. We moved together through the jungle, finding the path again and making our way to the beach. We used the outdoor shower to clean off the blood, then shifted back. We were going to take advantage of the remote location, staying nude as much as possible.
“Welcome back, you young lovers,” Ella teased as we entered the beach and checked on our sleeping babies. One disadvantage of being around werecats, they could tell by the smell that you were feeling well. “You weren’t the only ones sneaking off.”
“I’m just sorry I slept through dinner,” I said.
“Nonsense, there is plenty left. Go get a couple plates and sit down, Hank says he needs to talk to us.” I didn’t need another invitation, I went over to the outdoor kitchen where the last big boar was still over the coals. We were served a feast; thick slices of boar covered in their famous tropical fruit sauce, salad, rice and fish tacos. We sat down at a big picnic table and were brought glasses and lemonade. Gunny refused to drink in front of me, so he left the beer alone.
We were soon joined by Ross and Lisa (Thurmont), Craig and Ella (Island), Robert and Renee (Gila), Derek and Amanda (Johnson), Jesus and Maria (El Paso) and Hank and Tatiana. They had all visited the ice cream bar and had big banana splits or milkshakes. Ella had my back, she brought me my favorite- vanilla ice cream over a brownie, slathered in hot fudge and whipped cream. Gunny was on his own!
“Thank you for meeting with us,” Hank said. “I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Anything you need if we can give it,” I said. “We owe you a lot.”
“Dangerous, but it isn’t that much. Tatiana and I can’t stay with the Thurmont pack anymore.”
“His training is complete, he’s mated, and they are both Alphas,” Ross said. “It is time he starts his own Pack, before his influence disrupts my Pack more than it has already.”
I had long suspected he was an Alpha, ever since Lisa told me he didn’t immediately submit to her in the hospital hallway.
“I don’t know of any Packs needing Alphas right now, although there are a few I’d like to see replaced,” Renee said.
“I want to start a new Pack, not split an existing Pack. I’d like it to be like what the Guns and Roses and Belden Packs are doing; be welcoming to were of all kinds, but especially humans. In talks with other Packs, there are lots of humans out there that have requested the change, that would make good Pack members, but existing Packs are reluctant to change them,” Hank said.
“Unless you have a mate who is already Pack, only a handful have been turned and joined,” Tatiana said. “We feel that for our kind to regain numbers and influence after the losses during the war, we need to be more open-minded about changes.”
“Nearby Packs won’t like that,” Jesus said. “They’ll see you as a threat to them. Almost all Packs are gaining members only by picking up stragglers from other Packs, plus the recent baby boom.”
“And that is why I need your help. First off, the Alpha Council is going to need to approve the start of a new Pack with us as Alphas. I am hoping you all will support me in that.” Ella and Renee both nodded, Ella was part of the regional Alpha council for the southwest, while Renee served on the national council. Both had been elected over the past summer, Ella’s choice was unanimous while Renee only had one dissenting vote.
“I would be proud to welcome you as Alpha,” Renee said. “Whatever help we can give you, financial or otherwise, is at your disposal.”
“Thank you. We need a territory, and I don’t want to step on any toes. We’ve researched the potential locations, and our preferred location is the Brainerd Lakes area in Minnesota. Craig and Ella, that land is yours by Pack law and birthright, so I need to know if you will allow it.”
I wasn’t up on everything that happened in the war, and Ella saw that. “The Brainerd Pack is Craig’s former Pack. I killed his parents in retaliation for what he did, giving up the location of the Johnson Pack House at the beginning of the war. The airstrike took out over half the Pack.” She looked at her mate, talking to him over the bond briefly. “We are happy here and have no plans to return to the frozen North,” she said. “The territory is yours if you want it, I would be happy to see it under strong leadership again.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I would hope that our new Pack could join the alliance you have created with the others at this table, we don’t want to lose the friends we’ve made.”
I snorted. “All right, but you’re going to have to pick a holiday to host at. Most of the major ones are already taken.”
“We’ll figure something out, it may be a while before we have enough built to be able to host anything. The buildings were razed, the lands sold. Plus, I don’t have any Pack members yet.”
“Not for long,” Gunny said. “As soon as Minka finds out a mixed Pack is starting in Minnesota, you’ll have Pack members.” We all laughed, the tiny Lynx loved the cold and snow.
“Look for resort or campground property, something with a good chunk of lakeshore but a lot of attached land,” I said. “Taxes are pretty high; a cash offer might find you with enough to have a good start. Buy some farms or wooded land surrounding it, quietly, before anyone figures out a Pack is moving in. Once you have it all in hand, we can petition to have it declared Pack land and take it off the property tax rolls.” They nodded, thinking about it. “Just don’t set up shop in Minnesota until you have it all set. A former President moving in is a big thing.”
“I have some undeveloped land, about a thousand acres, that was not seized during the war because its ownership was hidden. You can use that or work out a trade for other land that works better for you,” Craig said. “It’s time for a Pack to live there again.”
I finished my plate and started on my ice cream as Gunny ran to get some for himself. “Anything else you want to discuss? I have a couple billion sitting around after the last rounds of the Cartel wars, we want to put it to use to help the Packs without direct payouts that can be diverted to the leadership.”
“Then you need to invest in institutions, not Packs,” Tatiana said. “Look at what Ella is doing here with counseling widows, or what Derek is doing with leadership training. Create something that all the Packs need, then provide it free or at reduced cost.”
“Medical care,” Renee said. “Many Packs do not have doctors, or facilities that can handle serious injuries. Even if they did, they don’t own the helicopters and crews to get the injured to the hospital quickly from remote sites.”
“That would take dozens of locations,” Gunny said.
“Even better. Go by region, work with the Pack with the best facilities as a start. Work out financial support to upgrade their hospitals and add a helicopter and ambulance support- but only if they agree to serve all the Packs in their region. You don’t have to do everything,” Renee said.
“And more than that,” Robert added, “You could fund scholarships for those in Packs without adequate medical care to send their people to medical school, nursing school, even dentistry. In return, they have to agree to serve nearby Packs on a regular and emergency basis.”
“Or cut out the middleman, if I find doctors and nurses who want to make the change, I’ll do that, then rotate them to other Packs to fill the immediate needs. Who knows, they might find their mates that way,” Hank said.
“You know, we need more than just doctors,” Renee said. “We have a whole generation like me that lost their teen years to the war, no school, no college. If we want packs to become self-sufficient, they need to be able to get good jobs in society. Plus, we need people in construction trades. Most Alphas are hesitant to bring humans in, at least unless they can be directly supervised by Pack members. Apprenticeships, vocational school, we need to close the education gap.”
I thought about it. “There’s enough we could fund a big push up front, then have an endowment that would continue to fund scholarships well into the future,” I said. “Josh said the accounts are earning a half million a day in interest while we figure out what to do with it all. It’s an embarrassment of riches, thanks to Josh and his hacking skills.”
“We don’t want our Pack to become slack or entitled just because we have money,” Gunny said. “Money’s just a tool, it’s what you do with it that is important.” I squeezed his hand, he expressed that perfectly. We had spent a lot of money on land, homes and things like airplanes, but everyone in our Pack still patrolled, cleaned, prepared food or cared for the children. No free lunches.
“One reason we haven’t done much is because we don’t want other Packs to know what we have,” I said. “As far as they know, the war was between the Zetas and the Cartel and we had no involvement in it. It needs to stay that way.”
“Set up a charitable foundation and endow it anonymously,” Robert said. “Appoint a Board of Directors to administer it and hire staff to handle the details. No one needs to know how much money you have or where the money is coming from. Hell, you could accept donations, I’m sure there are some Packs and people who would contribute.”
I tapped the now-empty plate with my spoon as I thought it over. “You know, that’s a great idea. The Luna College Fund.” There were smiles all around.
I heard the sound of a yipping pup and tiny running feet. Looking down just before they arrived, I reached for my babies at my feet. I picked them up, kissing them and handing them off. The other children of the Alphas poured in, some in human, most in animal form. The meeting broke up so we could put them all to bed.
There would be plenty of time to talk tomorrow.