In The Shadows

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Twenty Four

Avoidance was my solution to the confrontation that happened nearly a week ago. I was embarrassed to show my face to Hakota and so I made sure we never crossed paths. Hakota made it easy because he gave babysitting duty to Frayah. She was like my shadow, following me everywhere I went.

I didn't mind though. Frayah was a quiet person, she spoke only when she felt she should. She also didn't speak in riddles and say strange things like Roshan.

I still hadn't quite figured out Roshan. He'd given me bits and pieces, enough for me to know that he'd been a slave for a very long time, locked away from the world until Hakota found him and adopted him into his small pack. Although, I liked how being around the red haired lycan made me feel at peace, there was something otherworldly about him that unnerved me. His ability to seem to know everything going on inside my head like my fears, thoughts, and secrets would make my plans hard to conceal.

This past week I had been slowly setting the first step of my plan into action. I'd gone out into the werewolf community a few times now, usually met with aversion but sometimes a smile. However, never had I seen Little Cloud. So yesterday, I had 'bumped' into a particularly prickly werewolf, shoving a note in his pocket. He of course had noticed, but with a hard look from me, he seemed to understand and gave me a slight nod.

My note had been short and to the point.

I need to meet with Little Cloud about the lycans.

I had left the meeting for Little Cloud to figure out because my constant surveillance limited me. I couldn't just wander around asking for Little Cloud. Even if I could, I doubted anyone would willingly tell me. The werewolves seemed to have a grudge against the lycans, not surprising considering one just killed their alpha.

I was shocked however, that the werewolves were all friendly with each other. They all seemed like friends even though I never seemed to see the same people twice. There was probably eight to ten thousand werewolves that lived just in this area. This was the heart of their town but I had no doubt there was many more who lived further away, deep in their territory. Of course a large number of the werewolves didn't have the shifting gene and were what we referred to as 'human', a term I had once hated with my whole being when I thought I'd never be anything of worth to my pack.

Here, it didn't seem to matter. They spoke with familiarity, no respect for the pecking order. Omegas conversed freely with betas, something that wasn't tolerated in my father's pack or the neighboring werewolf packs around us. Here it was like I had entered a different world.

I was content to just observe this society, try to understand what made them different that they didn't care about the hierarchy. How could they all respect each other when the omegas did nothing for the pack? They weren't warriors or medics, scouts or hunters. They were a drain on resources if they didn't farm or specialize in a craft. The omegas in our pack had to do the chores no one else wanted to contribute in some way to the pack. If they didn't contribute, they didn't eat. It was just the way we worked.

The market square was my favorite spot to just sit and watch. The werewolves would slowly migrate to neighboring stalls when the business was slow, talking and showing off their merchandise but then hurried back to their booths when someone showing interest walked by.

Warm and cheerful words were discussed, turning from business to conversations about family and interests. We never bothered with such trivial things. We passed information and orders. Small talk was for your family. We did not diverge from one thing to the next. Concise, blunt, and to the point, was how everything seemed to be said in my father's pack.

I noticed Frayah didn't mingle, she stayed by my side, following me around. Some people would sneak passing glances and others would frown slightly, before quickly fixing their faces into blank expressions when I turned my head. Very few seemed open to Frayah's possible business and I wondered if she and the other lycans had ever been turned away.

Today, I had the opportunity to go on yet another little trip into town. I had the perfect excuse once again to leave the lodge and wander around the market.

One of the werewolves had asked Frayah to spend the day with her, during our last visit. Frayah had looked hesitant to do so, but I had told her that I wanted to go back to the center of the werewolves's territory and buy some spices and vegetables. So now here we were.

Frayah still kept an eye on me, but with her friend Birch engaging her in conversation, she wasn't as attentive as usual. I had gained a little of Frayah's trust. She didn't seem to believe I was as evil as the other lycans thought or that I would hurt Hakota, a wonder considering I'd mauled her during our first week together.

"Fray, you need to see Sparrow's newest carvings. He made a beautiful table out of the elk antlers I found in the woods." Frayah's face brightened at the prospect but then her smile fell and she looked at me out of the corner of her eye.

With a smile I waved her away. "I will be right over, just let me look at some of the vegetables." We would be across the market square, but she would still be able to see me from where she would be standing. With a brisk nod she gave me a pleading look to stay out of trouble, least I get her into some with Hakota.

"I'll be good," I promised.

She still seemed hesitant but Birch tugged at her hand and together the two females walked away from me. I watched their backs before quickly scanning the market square, disappointed when once again I couldn't spot Little Cloud among the crowd of unfamiliar faces.

Walking over to the stall, I picked up the vegetables and examined them because I really did need them for dinner tonight. I began piling them into a bag, ignoring the vendor's burning stare.

"Am I going to like what you have to tell me, or will I be disappointed?" A low voice carried on the breeze.

I froze for just a second before resuming my work, glancing down at the zucchinis and turning them over. Little Cloud took up a spot beside me, neither of us looking at each other as we carried on the conversation without acknowledging each other.

"We have the same interests at heart." I answered back, moving around the carts to look at the mushrooms.

"Good girl," I could hear the smile in his voice.

I rolled my eyes, not caring to be called a girl but let it go, "I suppose you have some plan."

"A queen protects the king. If she leaves him vulnerable there is little he can do," he told me as if that explained everything.

I knew what he was hinting at, but it made no sense. "The queen didn't exist until recently, why didn't you strike before?"

"The king wasn't reliant on her before. Now that he has a queen, he has no choice but to entrust her with his safety." Little Cloud meandered over to the stall behind me so that our backs were facing each other as we poked through the merchandise.

"He doesn't need my protection," I replied briskly, flicking a wet blade of grass off a mushroom.

"Perhaps that was true before, but now his heart will be just as involved as his head."

"Your plan won't work. He would never put my life before his pack's and his own."

"So seduce him, make him value you more than anything."

"How?" I hissed. What he was asking of me was like asking the sun to shine at night.

"Figure it out Cleo, you are a smart girl. Your father made sure of that."

I frowned as I processed his words before turning around to ask what he knew of my father but he was gone.

Biting the inside of my cheek in frustration, I paid the vendor with the coins Frayah gave me and slowly made my way over to my chaperone.

Frayah was happily chatting with a group of werewolves, laughing at something that was said.

I was so troubled by Little Cloud's words that I didn't realize Frayah was speaking until she tapped me.

"Cleo?" She asked, worry tinting her voice.

I blinked, shaking myself from my thoughts. I met Frayah's worried gaze. "Sorry, I was just thinking about everything I need in case I was missing something."

Her lips tightened, sensing my lie, but she didn't confront me about it. "We are going to go." Frayah told her friends to which she received several protests. "Sorry, alpha's orders. Get what we need and leave." I snorted, picturing my mate sternly instructing Frayah to not loiter and hurry back. "I'll come back soon I promise."

After a few hugs we departed, slowly making our way back. Frayah said nothing about our slow pace nor did she try and hurry me.

I was grateful for her consideration. She knew I hated being cooped up in the lodge and it was extremely awkward every time Hakota and I crossed paths.

"You should try to make peace with some of the others," Frayah told me quietly. "It's hard enough for us to be hated by hunters and most werewolves we can't afford to have hatred among ourselves."

"It's hard to change first impressions, and even harder when you try too hard to make amends. They'll see me as being fake so what's the point?"

"Then start with Hakota. They won't warm up to you if you contiue to push him away. He's been alone for a very long time, Cleo. He's tired of people stabbing him in the back. The last thing he needs is to worry his mate is going to do the same."

I swallowed, a shot of panic coursing through me. Did she know? Was she trying to guilt me out of it?

"They won't give you a chance if your own mate won't. I know you don't like your situation but make the best of it."

I was left to think about her words for the rest of our walk.

The lodge was silent when we entered. Frayah and I parted ways, as she set off to find the other lycans. I brought my groceries to the kitchen and put them away, leaving out what I needed for making dinner.

Not really having anything better to do, in my last month here I took up cooking. Frayah gave me money to buy whatever I wanted as long as I made enough for her and her mate Sani.

Roshan had eaten with us a few times before Innoko found out and forbid him to do it ever again. She probably thought I was going to poison him or something.

Sani wasn't all that thrilled with the arrangement either, but he enjoyed my food so he took it and ate with a few grumbles, ignoring me.

Slicing up some of the meat in the freezer, I set it aside and cut up my vegetables, throwing them in a skillet to make a stir fry. My hands were quick and neat with the knife, making easy work of my ingredients.

I threw the white rice in a pot of boiling water and then started to make a soy sauce with the spices I had bought.

I tossed the meat in when everything was nearly ready and sauted it with the vegetables.

Putting a lid on the rice and stir fry to keep it warm, I went to find Frayah and her mate.

My search was cut short when I passed by a slightly opened door, hearing the familiar voice of my mate and his beta, Sitka in a heated discussion.

So naturally I did what anyone would do. I evesdropped on their conversation.

What I heard though...

Well, that changed the game.

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