Ardor – n. enthusiasm or passion
In the short years that I had been alive, I had seen ardor everywhere. It was felt by mates in my pack, by humans on club dance floors, and by people playing their favorite sports. Enthusiasm or passion. Both were thrilling emotions, but they could lead to consequences that could become deadly for others.
My brother had been too passionate and had ended up being killed by a territorial Alpha. My sister had been too enthusiastic and had made herself anxious about so many things, even though she was excited. But, it wasn’t all bad. Being passionate for something made you want to get better at it and having passion for someone? Well, that was a totally different story altogether.
I tapped my pen against the wooden top of the desk I was sitting at and heard my office phone ring. Yes, I was eighteen, and I had my own office. As one of the few remaining female Lycans and as the leader of the pack, I needed an office. I picked up the phone and swiveled my chair around so my back was facing the door.
“Hello, Amber Montoya speaking,” I said as professionally as I could, just in case it was a human.
“Amber,” A soft and hurried voice spoke. “We need your help.”
I sat up straight in my chair and asked, “Clarissa? What’s wrong? Has something happened? Is Derek okay?”
Derek was Alpha, and his pack claimed the territory next to ours. He was sometimes hotheaded and often got us into a lot of trouble. Despite the fact that he was occasionally a hothead, Derek was a pretty good Alpha, and his commanding presence could easily attract respect. It helped that he was a Lycan and not just a normal werewolf. Alphas who were werewolves were pretty dominant; however, if you were a Lycan and an Alpha, that combination just ramped the power up to 100 percent.
Lycans I don’t want to sound like a horrible person who automatically thought she was better or anything, but the truth was that Lycans were superior to werewolves. Lycans were stronger, faster, and bigger than regular werewolves. But much of the Lycan had been wiped out, and it was rare that one came across a pure-bred Lycan. Derek
was a true Lycan just like I was, and we were just like a handful of others all around the world.
“We were just attacked,” Clarissa said breathlessly. I stifled a growl and listened to her speak. “A lot of the food was taken, and”— her voice turned anxious— “the hunters are too exhausted to go and search for more. What do we do?”
“Just get some wolves who are less adept at hunting, and try to find something,” I said, turning my chair back around. “I’ll see if I can get some food sent to you guys. Do you know who attacked?”
“No,” Clarissa answered, her voice mournful. “We thought that it might have been Alpha Derek’s pack but it wasn’t. His pack had been raided too.”
I furrowed my brows in concentration. My pack and Derek’s pack had both been raided, and the food had been taken. We didn’t have any other packs in the neighborhood, so I was utterly confused as to who the culprit was. A nomadic tribe of werewolves perhaps? Or, maybe it was a Rogue? Rogues were usually much more volatile, so it couldn’t have been one of them…Still, who could it have been?
“I’ll send food for both packs then,” I finally said. “Just be extra vigilant. If anything else happens, call me right away.”
Clarissa promised, “I will.”
“Amber?” she asked.
“Who are you thinking of taking as your mate?”
I hung up on her. I hated it when my pack mates asked me who I was going to take as a mate. I didn’t know yet. Logically, Derek was the best choice because he was also a Lycan, and Lycans could only reproduce with other Lycans. Derek and I were one of the few chances for Lycans to come back into the world, so it would be sensible for us to take each other as mates.
It wasn’t like I wasn’t attracted to him; I was. Everything about him was attractive, and it was hard for me to fight the instincts to claim him. The wolf within me liked the idea of claiming him as well. But I was hesitant to do so. I didn’t want to rush into anything. If I were to claim a mate, I wanted to make sure that he was a perfect match for me. It couldn’t be all about chemistry, although physical attraction would help as well.
I sighed and looked down at the paperwork that was laid out in front of me. It wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to do. Still, it was something that needed to be done, because it would grant my pack more money and more land. I signed my name with a flourish on the document that I had just finished reading. and grabbed another paper, the door suddenly burst open.
The scent of power filled the room, and I jerked my head up. My eyes flashed gold, my nostrils flared up, and I struggled to reign myself in. This scent of chocolate and earth was familiar to me, and I looked at the figure standing in the doorway.
He was tall, about six foot four, and his features were extremely muscular. His dark hair was disheveled as always, in that on-purpose sort of way. His black shirt was unbuttoned, slightly revealing the top of his chest, and his dark jeans clung to him in a way that was completely and utterly sinful. My eyes darkened with lust as I stared at him. No man should be allowed to look that good.
“Hello Amber,” he said in an extremely husky voice while he walked over. I swallowed.
“Derek,” I answered back as cordially as I could. “I thought you were going to call.”
He shrugged with an arrogant smirk and said, “I was… but I was already in the States, so I thought it would be easier to just stop by and inform you of the situation. I assume one of your pack mates have told you?”
“You assume correctly,” I answered. “Both of our packs were raided and the food was stolen. Any ideas?”
“Plenty,” he answered. “But they may not be related to the situation facing our packs.”
I gave him a dry look and tried not to let him know how affected I was by him. It was a difficult task, and dammit, he already knew how attracted I was. He smirked and folded his arms across his muscular chest, while I struggled to keep my eyes away from his biceps.
His voice sounded deeper as he said, “Try to get those thoughts out of your head, Amber.”
“What thoughts?” I asked, and my voice shook a little.
“I can smell your arousal,” he answered and laughed. “You know what thoughts.”
I really wished at this point that he would focus on the pack instead of flirting with me. I began to sense the flush in my face and could not stop. Embarrassing.
I flushed again, and he continued, “As for the situation, I have no idea who did it, but I can replace the food. However, I feel like you’ve already handled that.”
“Yes, I have,” I answered in the middle of my stupid blush. “I’m going to arrange for food to be sent out to both the packs, and I’ve already sent some hunters out. They will be provided for.”
“And will you be provided for?” he asked with a devilish smile. As my body grew hot, I looked away from him and tried to concentrate on important stuff.
Curse him for being so attractive. Was it really that hard for him to stop flirting with me? I crossed my arms over my chest defensively and returned my gaze to him, our eyes locking.
“Derek, I have a feeling we are no longer talking about the same thing,” I answered stiffly. That, however, did nothing at all to faze him.
“Probably not,” he replied a bit indifferently. He licked his lips, and I leaned back against my chair trying to increase the distance between us.
The fact that I was trying to ignore him and his innuendos greatly amused him, and he smiled as I squirmed. Finally, I got to my feet. It was irritating that he kept standing while I was sitting down. My discomfort made him smile
more; could I even call it a smile? It was more like a smirk, and it seemed to me that whenever he was around me, Derek would prefer smirking endlessly.
I was pleased that I could amuse him and make him lighten up, but I didn’t like how it was at my expense most of the time. His eyes raked my body, and I held his gaze firmly when his eyes returned to mine. The phone on my desk rang, and my fingers twitched with the urge to immediately answer it, but I was reluctant to break this staring contest.
The phone rang again.
“Are you going to answer that?” Derek asked, his eyes darting to the phone after it rang for the third time.
“Yes,” I answered curtly as I picked up the phone. “Amber Montoya speaking.”
“Amber, it happened again,” Clarissa’s voice was urgent, and I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. Her next words quickly cleared that confusion, “We were attacked again.”
“What happened?” I asked as Derek moved a little closer, even though he didn’t need to.
“I don’t know, they were just so fast, and we were ambushed, and they took some of the pups and some of the women,” Clarissa wailed. A growl rumbled in my chest.
Derek rested a hand on my shoulder, offering some form of support. He knew how important pups and women were to a pack, and how important they were to me. If they had been taken, it meant I was not a good leader. Clarissa went on to say that ten pups and five women had been taken.
My protective instincts kicked back in. My teeth elongated, and my eyes glowed gold. I barely restrained myself from attacking something and smashed a part of the table instead. Derek was the only one who was holding me back, but even he tried to fight his own instincts to destroy something immediately. Our packs were neighbors, so his pack could be next.
“Was Derek’s pack attacked?” I managed to ask as I tried to calm my rage. Derek’s large calloused hand squeezed my shoulder in appreciation, and the heat from his touch seared my skin as it seeped through the thin material of the shirt I was wearing.
“His pack?” Clarissa sounded puzzled. She sniffled and said, “I think so, but I don’t know. I just… what are we going to do? Amber, are you going to come back?”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I had to go back. There was no other option. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at Derek. His eyes glowed gold as well.
“Yeah I’ll be coming back,” I said as I kept my eyes on Derek. I guess I tried to express that he had to come back with me.
“I know,” he whispered, making sure Clarissa didn’t hear him. I exhaled in relief.
I couldn’t exactly express in words why I was so glad that Derek was also heading back with me, but I was very happy about it. It would be easier to deal with this threat if we united our strengths, coordinated our packs, and combined our resources.
“Great,” Clarissa said, her voice filled with relief. “Amber, we need you now more than ever.”
“I know,” I said, repeating the words that Derek had just told me. “I’m sorry that I even left you guys in the first place because everything got too overwhelmingly complicated, but I’m back now, and things will get better.”
She didn’t reply, and I took that as my cue to hang up the phone, then she suddenly said, “I hope so.”
“We’ll deal with the threat and eliminate it,” I said confidently before hanging up.
“And how do you plan to deal with the threat if we don’t know what it is?” Derek inquired, his eyes watching me. I flushed.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” I admitted. “But we will deal with the threat eventually. Clarissa needed that reassurance. The whole pack needs that reassurance. That’s all I was doing. Reassuring them. You’ll notice that I didn’t give a time limit, so we’ll have time to find whoever is doing this to our packs.”
“We hope,” he answered darkly.
“If you say so. Now go. Book us flights or something,” he said, making a shooing motion with his hand. I growled at him but did as he had asked.
Now wasn’t the best time to argue with him or yell at him for ordering me around. I would do that on the flight back home.