Zena felt her throat constrict when the plane began descending. The sensation of dropping aroused her muscle memory and resumed the panic attack from all those nights ago.
Her nails dug into her palms and her heart rammed into her ribcage with a vengeance. She imagined her hair whipping around as air entered from the cracked compartments of the jet and the wind penetrating the layers of defense of the once powerful machine, rendering it useless by ripping off chunks of metal.
Falling... skydiving with no parachute... with no one to catch you but the solid ground. What a horrible demise that would be; getting caught by the very thing that will end you. A savior yet a killer; an ironic paradox.
“Welcome to Massachusetts where the local time is 2:17AM. Please keep your seatbelt fastened until the plane becomes fully stationed,” the robotic voice of their conductor announced, breaking Zena free of her trance.
She swallowed hard to moisten her raw throat.
Once the plane came to a stop, she maneuvered her shaky hands to undo her seatbelt.
Lukas, clueless of her distress, removed his seatbelt and rose to his feet. He had to bend his head since his height was not compatible with the short roof of the cabin.
Zena walked to the exit, not wanting to spend another second inside the ticking time bomb. The captain stood by the door with a smile. Zena offered a thankful nod and walked down the steps.
“Zena!” her older sister cried out. Zya was running in her direction with teary eyes and outstretched arms.
“Lukas!” a much younger voice yelped. She looked to her left and found a shorter and less lethal version of Lukas running in her direction as well. The boy reached Lukas’ side first and Zena’s jaw hit the concrete when the kid launched himself into his harms. She highly expected Lukas to let the child fall face-first but to her surprise, he dropped to his knees and accepted the boy’s embrace.
“Hey Mark, did you take care of Mountain Hill while I was gone?” Lukas asked and rumbled out a laugh.
The boy fisted his T-shirt and nodded as he sobbed. “Yea but I missed you so don’t leave again,” he ordered.
“What the fu-” before Zena could finish the sentence, her sister quite literally tackled her to the ground with a hug.
“Oh goddess, you stink!” Zya complained and scrambled off her.
“I’m sorry that I’ve been so busy surviving in Canada with nothing but my wit that I didn’t have time for trivial things such as showers,” she retorted.
“I’m already tired of you. Please go back to being missing,” Zya teased with a smile.
“Yeah, it’s good to be back in good ole ’Murica. Let’s go home,” Zena sighed.
She looked over her shoulder and found Lukas holding his brother’s hand while talking with someone she could only classify as a lady. She wore a knee-length and long-sleeved pink sundress and spotless white gloves. Her hair was pulled back so tightly that Zena wondered if blood was struggling to circulate through her head. Her feet were encased in tall white heels and her posture was crisply perfect. The woman looked like she hadn’t slouched a day in her life.
She had a smile on her painted lips that complemented the layer of makeup she applied to her face in order to conceal her aging. This woman was Lukas’ mother. She was who Lukas wanted Zena to be. A lady.
Lucille Clark, Lukas’ mother and the Luna of Mountain Hill hadn’t worked in over two decades. She was a housewife. While there was nothing wrong with this lifestyle, what Lucille failed at was mastering the word “no.” She did whatever her mate expected her to do without argument like a brainless mutt. She barked, rolled over, and fetched when he commanded her in order to ensure her accommodations. She had all the diamonds a girl could want, two sons she adored, and a mate who protected her. She knew he didn’t love her and she was fine with that as long as she wasn’t separated from her children or her mansion.
Lukas and Marcus grew up watching their mother bow her head when their father raised his voice, occasionally address him as “sir,” and always carry a smile that was as neat as her attire. They eventually adopted the doctrine that mates should be accessories, not necessities.
This, of course, did not justify Lukas’ degrading expectations of women. He was a 27-year-old educated man. He was just too stubborn and too entitled to give a damn.
Zena followed Zya blindly, her mind stuck on Lukas’ public display of affection for his brother. Since when was he a family man? Just a few days ago, he was eager to trade their child for Red River.
Zya led her to a car. She smiled at their driver and opened the door for Zena. They didn’t have to deal with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection thanks to Adrian and the council.
“How bad is the damage?” the alpha asked nervously when she settled into the back seat.
Zya sat beside her and breathed a sigh. “Not terrible. There were no casualties, just some pretty bad injuries. Beta Gerald lost his sight for two days but he has recovered. The council is demanding to talk with you. They want answers. The pack is jittery and many elderly are considering leaving momentarily until this blows over. Um... about a dozen hired rogues snuck in during the initial attack. All were wiped out, but Mountain Hill has one captured.”
Zena shook her head. “Shit is going to hit the fan when whoever is working for Bella discovers we’re still alive.”
“I know... Adrian wants to talk to you. You should call him.”
With a deep inhale, Zena grabbed Zya’s phone and began working.
She called Adrian and scheduled a meeting. She had to officially debrief him on everything she knew about Bella and hand a copy of her file. Adrian offered both Red River and Mountain Hill reinforcements which Zena gladly accepted. Her borders would be safer with more wolves patrolling it.
She arrived in Connecticut at 4AM with a mix of fatigue and excitement. She had a sense of control that she lacked when she was out in the open in Canada. The second she entered her state, she became overwhelmed with the homely recognition of her surroundings.
To Zya’s displeasure, instead of taking a shower and catching up on sleep, her hard-headed sister walked straight into her beta’s bedroom.
“Rise and shine, Gerald. It’s time to fix shit!”
The startled Gerald fell off his bed with a grunt.
“Zena for the love of the goddess, go get sleep,” Zya scolded.
“I have a meeting with the council. I’ll sleep later,” she grumbled moodily.
She dialed the number that would directly connect her with the head council member, an older man named Vance.
After a couple of rings, the voice of the aged man spoke up. “Thank you for calling, Alpha Zena. This conversation is on speaker and the six other council members are present. We are waiting for Alpha Lukas to connect and then the meeting will commence,” he explained.
“Understood. Thank you,” she replied flatly. Her voice was as void of enthusiasm as her body.
Minutes later, a ding announced Lukas’ presence. “Good afternoon Alpha Lukas and thank you for joining us. Alpha Zena along with the rest of the council are a part of this conversation which is being recorded. Let me begin by welcoming you back,” Vance greeted and both exhausted alphas grumbled out a ‘thank you.’
“Due to protocol, I’m required to ask the following question: Are either of you no longer eligible to fulfill your duties as alphas for reasons including negligence, medical disabilities, social or political complications, or altercations with the human law? If the answer is yes, please elaborate as to why. We will then assign your pack to a qualified leader,” Vance offered.
Both a feminine and masculine “no” cut through the silence.
“Alright. Moving on,” Vance replied before continuing.
“To our understanding, Bella Fort, a former member of Red River issued a simultaneous attack on Mountain Hill and Red River to bait you two into flying back to your respective packs in order to bring the plane down in an assassination attempt. Your absences rendered the packs defenseless. What preparations have you made to fix this?” he quizzed.
Zena was the first to reply. “I’ve been working with Alpha Adrian since Bella expressed interest in bringing harm to his luna. He sent a team of 40 wolves to my territory to aid with patrol. I’ve assessed the damage to the territory, to my pack members, and the contributions Alpha Adrian made to our search. We’re at 206,344USD which we’re financially stable enough to recompense. Red River is expected to make a full recovery.”
“Very well. What about Bella’s situation? If she’s in captivity we’ll have to request that she’s handed to us. She will be charged with terrorism and espionage,” Vance replied.
“She’s dead. I provided the Canadian council with the coordinates of the crash and they found both the wreck and her body. They assured that they would send a report to the American council when they completed her autopsy. You should receive it within the next hour,” Zena responded.
“Thank you, Alpha Zena. What about you, Alpha Lukas?” Vance urged.
“Mountain Hill received and accepted the same offer Alpha Adrian made to Red River. We have a rogue from the attack in captivity and we’re working on abstracting information from him using whatever methods are effective. The estimated amount of damage is 96,392USD without including Alpha Adrian’s benefactions. I plan on repaying him by splitting the amount with Alpha Zena should she allow it,” his raspy voice disclosed.
“Good. Alpha Zena, will you accept?” Vance questioned.
“Yes,” she replied curtly.
“Then I’ll leave it to you two to work out the details. Now, let’s move onto more pressing matters. Alpha Lukas has made the claim that you two are mates...”
“Yeah, about that. I'm rejecting him,” Zena cut in.
There was a moment of silence before Vance spoke again.
“Alright... first we’ll have to address Alpha Lukas’ report. As your mate and neighboring alpha, he believes Red River and Mountain Hill should merge and title him as the official alpha and you the luna. You have the option to accept or deny the request,” the councilmember offered.
“Not happening.” She spat immediately.
“Then we’re going to need you two to present your cases in person. Since you just made it back to your packs and need time to work out repairs, we’ll schedule the meeting for one week from today. After that is settled, we will need your signature to validify the rejection. The high priest will then disconnect the bond.”
“I’ll be there.” Zena practically hissed with a bloodthirsty expression.
“I will send the details. Goodnight and once again, welcome home.”