There was a single parking space available right in front of the county council chambers and I pulled into it. I looked over to Kelly in the passenger seat, she was still staring out the window but obviously hadn’t registered that we had come to a stop. Her silhouette with her perky nose and full lips was fascinating, even when she was somber.
Ever since last night, when she had gone through some kind of mental turmoil about her dead mother that might never be resolved, she had remained quiet. Instead of making love we had laid in bed, her head on my chest where she had fallen asleep. Listening to her even breathing and reveling in the intimacy of simply sleeping with someone else, I knew that it was never just my libido or wolf who wanted her, I loved her, too. The sassiness and cheek, the forgiving and caring quality she was trying to hide, her full lips and body that was healthy and strong, the brains behind it all.
Goddammit, love. Fuck. It had been brewing for near two months, so it wasn’t really a surprise, but Kelly was going through big life changes. It would be a dick move to throw the L word into that mix. Kelly herself, she thought we were just dating, or that this was the start of a new relationship that had some quirks. She didn’t seem to remember that wolves mate for life. There would be no ‘breaking up’ or ‘taking a break’, the whole point of mating is that we couldn’t hide anything from one another. You were exposed and vulnerable to the other person, until the end. The very end.
But there was time, literally a lifetime now, to walk her through what everything meant. What we meant. Whatever she felt for me was deep, deep enough for herself to take the plunge and mark me. I studied her in her daze, whatever questions were running through that head, she wouldn’t get to ask the keeper of family secrets, Margaret, until she returned to the Coven next week, so better not to stew. I cleared my throat and asked.
“Are you sure about this?”
I was surprised when we woke up this morning and she suggested we go and deal with my county surveyor issue. We had left the reservation far too early and traveled some ninety minutes to the county’s headquarters, Kelly justifying the early rise as the best time to catch him in his office. She turned her head and blinked her eyes firmly, as if she was waking up, then gave me a full smile.
“Absolutely. Look, I had to deal with people like this a lot in Seattle. We earth science majors, let’s just say we do too much protesting. Ambush him. You said he requested a response within another two weeks, well, here it is.”
I nodded in solidarity and we both exited the truck. Holding open the door for her to the main building, a sleuth of aromas hit us. Everything from coffee to cheap cologne was in here. The heat was up way too high and it was making everything more aromatic. Kelly seemed to notice it as well as she took off her scarf and brushed her nose with the back of her hand. I grinned at her.
“You’ll get used to it, newbie.”
She gave me an eye roll and approached the front reception desk, where a middle aged woman was waiting expectantly for us. Kelly gave a million dollar smile and confidently said,
“Good morning, Chief Achran of the Wenatchi nation is here to see Councilman Reid. He is expecting us.”
The receptionist blinked a few times, as if Kelly had spoken Swedish. Then, looking me up and down, decided that she had heard correctly and reached for the phone, while Kelly and I gave knowing glances to each other. This was another reason why I was pretty sure I loved Kelly. She had the acumen to deal with people and the quagmire of shit like this. Me, coming in by myself, wouldn’t get past this woman. But Kelly, telling me to pull my hair back with a braid in it, wear the traditional moccasin jacket with my tribe’s style of jewelry, and walk in with confidence? Pass Go and collect two hundred dollars.
Kelly knew how to work these people and do it with a smile. She herself had worn dress jeans and boots, with a black blazer over a casual v-neck t-shirt. If she stretched her head to the left, my mark would be visible. Every time I saw it, it gave me a little sense of relief and I wanted to nuzzle the hell out of her until she would push me away.
Putting down her phone, the receptionist asked, confused.
“When was your appointment?”
“Ten am, I am afraid we are a few minutes early, but we know how important this was to the Councilman, so we didn’t think he would mind,” Kelly replied saccharinely. The phone at the receptionist’s hand rang again, and after speaking a few words into it, she placed it back down and looked to me.
“You can go up, third floor, swing left.” I bent my head in acknowledgment and steered Kelly over to the elevators at the side. Once we were in, I turned and pinched her chin between my thumb and forefinger, lifting it to look at me.
“Masterful,” I complimented and she grinned up at me.
“You liked that, huh? Well just wait, you’re about to get a masterclass in bullshitting in a minute,” and from the side pocket on her purse, she pulled out some reading glasses and pushed them up on her nose.
“You need glasses?”
“No, but it helps with the image of the Logistics Manager for the tribe.” I cocked my head with a smile.
“You know it’s only me in that office handling all tribal affairs, right?”
“Oh, I know, and we won’t get into how crazy that is right now, but, that is crazy.” Shaking her head in bewilderment for emphasis. “Anyway, just remain aloof and wise looking.”
The elevator pinged and we exited, turning left as instructed. God, it was still just as hot up here. Looking to the right, there was an open bullpen of sorts with many desks and conference tables in between. About twenty or so people of all ages were going in between or sitting at desks, scurrying or working. On the left, another receptionist sat in a large waiting area, where a large gold sign and emblem of the local county stared right at anyone coming out of the elevator. Across from the receptionist was a large looking office half covered with glass and temporary wall. This woman glanced up at us with a frown on her face.
Before we could speak, the door to the large office opened up and a burly blond man stepped out, as if expecting and waiting on us.
“Chief Achran! Welcome, welcome!” Opening up his arms wide, he made way to usher us into his office where two chairs were waiting in front of a sturdy large desk. Kelly and I calmly made our way into the room and positioned ourselves in the chairs. The Councilman had stopped by the door to say something to his receptionist about a later meeting and I took the opportunity to look him over.
Tall, a little overweight, but more sturdy than fat. He had a pale complexion that seemed to lend itself to a red face when he was flustered. And right now, he was flustered. Glancing around the large office, there was a side sitting area with a couch, coffee table and bookshelf that held all manner of things, most of them pictures of himself with others and some shiny looking awards. He closed the door behind him and I addressed him, still facing forward to the empty desk.
“Councilman Reid. Thank you for seeing us. This the tribe’s Logistics Manager, Kelly.”
The councilman almost rushed from the door to behind his desk. There was a slight gleam of sweat on his brow, no doubt from the heat in the office. Paired with his slightly red face, it gave him a clammy look that made me cringe. He reached his hand out to Kelly and she confidently took it. Reid asked,
“Can I get you both anything? We have any…”
Surprising both of us, Kelly began to speak.
“Mr. Reid, I’m afraid we are a little short on time today, we have another appointment at 10:30, but we wanted to respond to your request for the survey of the Wenatchi lands.” The councilman sat down and leaned back in his chair, looking like he was getting ready for a rebuttal and fight for his survey.
“We think it is a great idea. Chief Achran and his father have had the idea for a few years to do something similar, but it never came around. Now, it seems like the perfect time.”
Councilman Reid lifted his eyebrows in surprise and a smile came over on his face. He slapped his knee and came forward over the desk.
“Well, really! Wonderful news. I…” Kelly interrupted him again.
“It is a good idea, and we are happy to have your cooperation. We already made contact with a well established survey company out of Seattle and they should be on-site by the end of next week. We will cover all the fees for the survey, and in turn we will maintain the original report. But we will be happy to provide the county records with a copy.” Kelly finished with a smile and in a tone that seemed like the councilman should be kissing her feet. I wanted to kiss her feet.
His face however went from a smile to one of confusion, then troubled.
“Now, Ms. Kelly, I am afraid that I have already lined up a company to carry out that task. They have been waiting for…”
“You made a contract for a survey on nationally protected tribal lands without the approval of its elders or Chief?” Kelly interjected, sounding like the man had carried out a felony. Shit, it might be a felony. I gave the man a scowl in unison with Kelly’s words, I was officially pissed. The tone of his letters from earlier had sounded like some under the table discussions had been happening, but I hadn’t thought on it too much until I could come up with the solution.
Seemingly beginning to understand that he was not on the righteous side of this fight, he backed out from his lean on the table to lay his hands in front of him.
“Well, no. No contract has been made, but this company showed interest in the project and we discussed a plan forward when...if the Chief consented.” He looked over to me, as if asking me to take the reins of this conversation, that I would understand if we could just talk man to man. In response, I leaned back in my chair and folded my hands over chest, sealing it with a look of disdain.
Kelly stayed silent for a moment, churning what the Councilman had said.
“Well, Mr. Reid, since you have not made a contract, then there is nothing lost on your side, and you will still have the project report. We will keep this… discussion between you and this survey company out of the press since it does no one any good. This company, what did you say their name was?” Reid’s face had gone a shade paler, and his tightened lips showed that he was not happy with how this meeting had progressed. Still, after a moment he had composed himself and straightened in his seat.
“It is a well known firm, JJ International. They have set up a new branch out of the capital, Olympia and another in Spokane. I assure you they are quite reputable and I actually have a meeting with them this morning, if you would like to stay and hear about their services.” Hope had spread across his face, thinking we might be willing to be on board with whatever he had already planned. Kelly seemed nonplussed about his reply, but still asked.
“Do you happen to have their card?”
Giving a smile, thinking Kelly might have some interest, he opened up a drawer to his right and shuffled some things about before eventually pulling out a black and white card and handing it over.
“The project manager, Mr. Arawn, would be happy to have you sit in on our meeting and walk you through all the new types of imaging equipment they now use for large scale land surveys. They are doing several others in the state and are very familiar with the challenges here.”
Kelly took the card and studied it for a moment before wordlessly handing it to me and arching her brow in displeasure. I held it in my hand and looked it over. It seemed professional enough for assholes who wanted onto my land. What did she want me to see? I studied it. A logo up the top, an intricate design that held many parts, almost Celtic. I spun it in my fingers… holy shit.
In the right section of the logo, tilted on its side was the tattoo of the Hunters. A circular symbol with some markings in the middle. I looked down to the rest of the card, the name Arawn didn’t ring a bell, but looking at the two addresses provided, a physical and a mailing one, I now knew where I had seen it before. It had come across my desk exactly twice. The first when Mr. Reid sent his first request with the company name on it and contact details, and second, when Smith had given me the address of the dead Hunter’s forwarding address.
Goddammit. These Hunters had a long term game plan, they even went through county officials to get to the Blue Moon pack. I pocketed the card in my shirt’s chest pocket. But why? Why not just try another physical attack? The reservation was well protected and our pack was a few hundred wolves strong, but still, the land was vast and there were probably a few inventive ways past the Coven’s wards. Kelly’s angry voice rose in volume and I turned my attention back to what she was saying.
“...highly inappropriate to organize such a project regarding a federally protected native nation. Second Mr Reid, I’m afraid to tell you that the FBI recently approached the tribe to see if we had any contact with this company. It seems JJ International is currently being investigated for allegations of subterfuge, sabotage, and other unsavory crimes targeting national parks and lands in other states on the East Coast. If they haven’t been in contact with you yet, I’m sure, it is just a matter of time til they think to contact local officials.”
Reid’s face was a stark contrast to when we had entered. He was tapping his fingers rapidly on the desk in nervousness. His voice now came out with a little stutter.
“Well, that is news. I did some background investigation of course, but nothing that showed anything different than what they had claimed. I am extremely sorry, Chief, for any interaction I have had with them.” He motioned a head bow to me, like I was the one in control of this conversation.
“Luckily, Mr. Reid, we met before anything transpired. We expect for you to not have any more involvement with this company…”
Reid was quick to answer “Of course! I’ll…”
“And if the lead FBI agent contacts me again, I’ll give him your name and number, I’m sure they will want an account of your interactions to build a case against them.”
The councilman paused on his previous thought and looked nervous. A county official being questioned by the FBI did not look good for reelection. That was, if every word out of Kelly’s mouth wasn’t a total lie. FBI, holy shit, that was good. I almost chuckled when his mouth fell open at the ‘FBI’ part, but I tamed my features for ‘wise and aloof’. Actually, if this asshole had unknowingly assisted the pack of Hunters that attacked the Coven, then I definitely didn’t want him to feel comfortable.
Kelly then stood up and adjusted her blazer, looking to me to do the same. I slowly stood, staring Reid down.
“I’m afraid we will have to be going, Mr. Reid, but we will be in touch and we look forward to sending you the survey report when it is done in a month or so.”
Reid rushed to stand up, combing back his hair in a nervous gesture.
“Yes, well, I’ll be on the lookout for it. And please, again, accept my apologies over... the misunderstanding. The project manager suggested it was doing such things with other tribes in the state and it would be of great interest to everyone to undertake a project.”
Kelly gave the man a superficial grin that didn’t reach her eyes.
“No hard feelings, Councilman, in the future though, let’s be more in touch, shall we?” She stretched her hand out and he took it eagerly as if she was throwing him a bone. I kept my arms folded and glared at the man once more while Kelly moved to the door and exited. After Mr. Reid gave me another conciliatory look, I started to leave and heard Kelly address someone familiarly, but with confusion, outside the door in the waiting area.
Entering the area, I found Kelly a few feet away from a tall blond, dressed in business casual. His face was shell-shocked, and he was obviously feeling the heat in the office as he had his tie loosened and sleeves rolled up. I looked him over and his closing proximity to Kelly and something on his sleeve caught my eye.
I grabbed Kelly’s arm from behind and dragged her back a few feet back, whispering into her ear while we were both staring at him, he looked like he was about to gather his senses at suddenly seeing Kelly.
“Kelly, that guy has the Hunter’s tattoo.”
Her eyes flashed down to his arm and they widened while her lips parted in a gasp. Who the fuck was this guy? I looked him over again, a little over six foot, with glasses that seemed necessary as they seemed thicker in the lens. Good looking with a heavy brow and sharp eyes, eyes that were now looking at Kelly with something akin to a boyfriend getting caught coming home late.
From across the other side of the floor near the bull pit of desks, an older, but still in shape man came striding across, his eyes set on the receptionist and hadn’t noticed us yet. Something about his stride caught my eye, it was...familiar. Kelly and her ‘Chuck’ were still having a stare-off of sorts, wondering who was going to speak first. Chuck had progressed to having his mouth gap open, the words not coming.
His hands were now half raised as if he wanted to reach out to her and close the six feet between them. She was holding back her words as well, staring at the man like she didn’t know him. Whatever this Chuck was to her, it wasn’t the ex, I knew that by his smell. What the ever-loving fuck was going on, did she know this blond Hunter or not?
To our left, the older man went straight to the councilman’s waiting receptionist and she looked up with a smile.
“Ahh, Mr. Arawn, he had an unexpected meeting, but shouldn’t be much longer.”
He energetically tapped her desk and gave her a blinding smile, when he turned to see the three of us over the other side of the waiting area. The smile vanished at the sight of us facing off. My eyes focused on him and his now careful steps towards our direction, while his focused on Kelly. That walk and posture, it was obvious this guy knew who we were and felt capable of being able to defend himself. Watching his arms flex and his gait take an unusually offensive one, it was clear this guy could go ten rounds in a ring, with either wolf or man.
Coming to a stop next to ‘Chuck’, Kelly finally turned her head towards the intruder. She was angry, not lightning-from-the-sky angry, but I still felt her anger and hurt. The older man must have sensed it too because he looked sideways at the blond and glanced down at his arm as well.
“Oh, for god’s sake, Charles.”
‘Charles’ finally glanced down at the tattoo that everyone had now seen. The fresh Hunter’s tattoo, with no tally marker. Instead of trying to roll it down, he looked up again at Kelly, and muttered, “Sorry, Sir.”
The man in reply, waved his hand, as if to brush the apology aside. My hackles were raised and I tightened my grip on Kelly’s wrist. Fuck, two Hunters, here. What game were they playing at? We were in the middle of a public official's waiting area, were they going to lay down in a goddamn foyer? I couldn’t shift here, and Kelly couldn’t do much of anything that would be useful with her Gran’s new warning. My mind was racing with scenarios with how we could get out of there while the man seemed nonplussed at Chuck’s words and acted like it was an inconvenience but nothing more.
“Well, cat’s out now, I guess.” He drawled out in what was a light Scottish accent I guessed. Examining Kelly up and down, he finally stopped at her face.
“Kelly Jones, always turning up where you’re not expected, huh?”