The Peace Summit
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
Who was I kidding? I was walking into the lion’s den. A ballroom full of Alphas and their packs was waiting and here I was pacing across my room as Lia and Sami stared at me. I was supposed to walk in there and take charge? Undermine every Alpha in the room? It was a suicide mission.
“Girl, calm down.” Samantha said from the bed, smoothing her blue sheath dress out.
“How can I calm down?” I asked nervously. “I have one shot. One chance to get this right. If I mess this up, its over. They’ll be on me before I get the chance to raise a fist. And any chance of the truth coming out will die with me.”
“That’s not true.” Lia comforted me. “We have your back no matter what.”
“She’s right.” Sami agreed with a nod, sending her bouncy curls bobbing here and there.
I looked at them with appreciation etched all over my face. These girls didn’t owe me a thing in the world. They were helping me just because they wanted to. They were really my friends. I just hoped it would last through the night.
“Now, come on already! We need to get you ready!” Samantha argued as she came at me with all manner of beauty tools.
What was the point? I was just going to end up running for my life anyway- assuming I made it that far. But I needed to do this. For my father. For my mother. For all of my people. I would need all the help I could get to get everyone’s attention on me so I could tell them the truth. Plus, if letting Lia and Sami doll me up made them happy on the night I would have to leave them, then so be it.
We hadn’t spoken of it, but I felt like we all knew what would have to happen. Once I spoke out against Marcus, there wouldn’t be a safe place for me in this city. Maybe in the country. I’d be hunted down until I was silenced for good, and I couldn’t bring them down with me. The consequence for tonight would be mine and mine alone.
“Hold still!” Lia chastised as she dusted my face with a medley of unknown powders.
Samantha was pulling and tugging on my hair, winding it around a sizzling hot rod that she held dangerously close to my face. The pulling and tugging went on, and just when I had had enough, they finally pulled back and went to get my dress from the bed. Lia had made me glow. My eyes were framed with gold and my cheeks glistened in the light. Sami had formed a beautifully pinned mass of curls at the base of my neck with a few loose tendrils falling around my face.
I stood and disrobed, forgetting my squeamishness about my nudity in front of the girls. They helped me into the silky soft red dress and fastened the gold clips at my shoulders. The crimson color reminded me of the Spartan cloaks. Form fitting strips of fabric stretched from the tight bodice to cover my breasts, running over my shoulders and to the back of the dress. The amount of side-boob action going on made me slightly nervous about potential wardrobe malfunctions. The skirt billowed from the waist gracefully around me and gently flowed whenever I moved. Long, sheer segments of fabric fell from the shoulders of the dress, framing my figure like a soft and feminine cape that floated behind me.
“You look gorgeous.” Sami gushed, making minor adjustments to my hair.
There was a knock at the door, and my heart stalled in my chest as I was sliding a set of golden cuffs up my arms.
“Come in!” Lia sang cheerfully.
The door opened slightly, and Soren slid in quickly before shutting it behind him. He must have finished stashing my rucksack with my few belongings in the forest outside the city. I was happy to see him, but I felt an unsettling disappointment as well.
“You ladies about ready?” He asked tensely. He hadn’t been too crazy about my plan. I knew his loyalty to his father and his Pack ran deep, so it wasn’t a surprise that he had distanced himself from me.
“Yeah, just about.” Samantha answered, adjusting the straps of her own dress. “Where’s Ry?”
Soren kissed Lia on the cheek and placed his hand on her waist. “He’s already in the ballroom. He’s been sticking close to Marcus all evening.”
My stomach lurched. Ryker was with Marcus. He had been all evening. Was he going to stand by his side? Was he wishing me the best but choosing to side with his people? I didn’t expect this level of anxiety at the thought of Ryker’s allegiance. He was free to do as he thought was right. Wasn’t he?
“We’d better get going.” Soren announced as he checked his watch.
Samantha nodded and took my hand in reassurance. “Remember, the party is still in full swing and people will be all over the grounds. When they announce the renewal of the Accords, everyone will gather for the signing. That’s your best chance to get everyone’s attention.”
I nodded, feeling my heart drumming like a hummingbird. This was it.
“Let’s go.” I said.
We walked down to the ballroom, Lia and Sami at my side. The place was buzzing with activity. The Howling Ball had nothing on this get together. The doors were opened out to the courtyard and the masses of people were funneling in and out. The crowd was overwhelming, and I couldn’t pick out the faces among it. Members from all the neighboring packs were here and the sound of the various discussions was a cacophony that rang off the walls.
It was a spectacular display of madness.
As we joined the endless sea of people, I found myself looking around for Ryker. I don’t know why I was still thinking so much about him. I had to focus. I couldn’t get distracted tonight.
Everyone around us was drinking, but our group stood in tense sobriety. None of us wanted our senses dulled when push came to shove. I could tell all the Alphas apart from the rest of the crowd. They stood tall and proud, their dominance emanating from them in waves. They mingled here and there, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. These were all Marcus’ allies. They were in his corner, and I had to somehow get them to listen to me as I challenged the Alpha King.
Lia and Soren excused themselves to go dance, trying their best to enjoy the peaceful time they had left. Samantha wasted no time in going to flirt with the new selection of male werewolves. As she bounced around the ballroom I could here her giggles and thinly veiled seductive commentary. The girl was a different kind of animal.
I slid through the throngs of people, making my way out the doors that led out to the less crowded gardens. It was colder out here, but the conveniently placed heat lanterns stationed around the courtyard gave off enough heat to keep the area tolerable. There were several groups huddled around the lanterns, laughing and throwing back glasses of golden liquid. The skin around my nails stung as I fidgeted and scratched anxiously. Everyone was happy right now. They were blissfully unaware of what was going to happen tonight. I wished that I could have been one of them.
A hand snaked around my wrist and pulled me behind a line of tall shrubs just barely clinging to their last bits of foliage. I was ready to fight off my assailant, but I caught sight of bottomless dark eyes set in a finely chiseled tan face.
“Ryker?” I whispered, looking around us to see if anyone had noticed us. “What are you doing? You shouldn’t be around me right now.”
“I know.” His voice was strained. The evening darkness concealed our presence, but the distant fires from the lanterns faintly lit his features. “I just… I needed to see you.”
Ryker raised his hand and gently stroked the side of my face with his fingers. I knew I should have pulled away from him, my body had missed him more than I realized. I leaned into his touch and closed my eyes, taking the chance to breathe in his scent. That warm, woodsy smell would never get old. His touch become firmer, less tentative, as he pulled me closer against him.
My arms wrapped around him and I was surprised by how tightly I clung to him. How had I missed him so much after everything? Every part of me was still calling for him despite the pain he had caused. I could feel him release a long breath as his body relaxed under my touch.
Ryker pulled my head back so I would look at him. “I know you need to do this.” He said. He was shaking slightly, and his eyes darted all over my face like he was trying to memorize my features. “My father will do his best to keep up appearances, but I don’t know how long he can keep hold his composure. Once you confront him, there’s no telling what he will do.” Both his hands cupped my face, sending a slight chill down my spine. “I’m afraid for you, Asenna.”
“I’ll be fine.” I tried to show that I was confident, that I knew everything would be alright, but the words sounded fake even to me. “You know I have to leave, right?”
Pain shot across his face as he nodded. “I know.” He said beneath his breath. “I’ll try to keep things held back here.”
I studied Ryker’s face, dreading the distance that would be between us. Even if I had been avoiding him, at least he had still been here, in the same city. I didn’t want to think about how hollow I would feel wandering the wilderness without him nearby.
“Come with me.” The words spilled from my lips without a second thought. We stared into each other’s eyes in silence, letting the invitation sink in.
He leaned in and kissed my forehead. “I don’t want to be apart from you. But I can’t just leave. Someone needs to be here to deal with the damage. Neither of us know what’s going to happen after you tell everyone the truth.” His hands trailed down my body to rest on my sides. “This is the best way I can protect you.”
“Ryker!” A voice called from the doors of the ballroom. Marcus.
My pulse started to race as Ryker pulled me to him and pressed his lips fervently to mine. I kissed him hungrily, knowing this was probably the last time I would feel his lips. The fire between us ebbed as he grudgingly pulled away.
“As soon as you finish, run.” His voice was quiet but filled with urgency. “Don’t look back, don’t wait for a response. Get out of the city as fast as you can.”
He laid one last quick kiss on my lips before stepping out from behind the shrubbery.
“Coming dad.” Ryker said blandly as he left for the ballroom.
I looked through the bare spots of the bush I was behind to see everyone funneling back into the large, brightly lit room, leaving me alone out here in the dark. My breath was coming fast. The Packs were gathering.
It was time.