Few things surprised Raphael Stone. The man had a reputation for being quite logical, to say the least. Some would say that the man was a cold-hearted bastard, but never to his face. No, they would just pray to the goddess above that whatever secrets they held didn’t piss him off. The man could read anyone in a moment, see their hopes, desires, and inner thoughts, which was why he was mildly annoyed at the guests in front of him.
“Is it true that you haven’t found your mate?” Olive eyes glanced at him, desire darkening them as the she-wolf flicked a strand of blonde hair over her shoulder. His teeth gritted together once more, trying to resist the urge to put the little wolf in her place. That was the fourth time Alpha Grange and his family hinted at the possibility that their daughter could be his mate. Raphael had to stifle a scoff as he cut his steak. If that were the case, Raphael would have known upon their arrival, not hours later. But Grange and his family were no fools. They knew that if they couldn’t find a fated mate for their daughter, a chosen mate would do. And short of the King, Raphael was their best option for a chosen mate. That was why the little she-wolf, Bridget, tried to seduce him from across rooms. She gave him glances, swayed her hips, pushed her breasts out into his view as much as possible. To put it short, she was desperate. Unfortunately for her, Raphael wasn’t taking anything she offered.
“I’ve not had the chance, I’m afraid,” Raphael replied, meeting her gaze with cold eyes. “Tell me, have you had the chance yet on your tour?” He smiled, and her gaze faltered. Bridget’s eyes narrowed as a flash of irritation shined for a moment. After all, he was mocking her.
“No, Alpha Stone,” She replied with her teeth gritted together. “It’s been a long tour, I’m afraid.” Bridget violently stabbed her salad with her fork, frustrated at her situation. Bridget’s mating tour was traditional, starting with packs at the front of the alphabet. It was evident that she was almost at the end of the line by showing up at the Whitehaven pack. This was practically her last chance at some semblance of power before reaching the dreaded last pack - Voltaire. Her pride and hopes were also wounded by not finding her mate in 40 different packs already.
“Shame.” He pouted for a moment. “I gather that since Whitehaven is lower in the list, it might be prudent for the tour to expand outside of tradition.”
“What do you mean Alpha Stone?” Alpha Grange rose an eyebrow at him very cautiously.
“Travel to the more human-populated areas.” Raphael simply rose his glass of wine to his lips as his deep green eyes watched Grange choke. It wasn’t unexpected for Grange to react so openly. The man had a reputation of being protective over his only child, but what else could Raphael suggest? Bridget’s eyes grew wide, and suddenly her body stiffened at the suggestion. No longer was she looking at him with desire, with her breasts shifted for his view, but now she curled back into her seat. For the first time of their entire stay, Raphael had to gather that she wasn’t playing the role thrust upon her.
“Alpha, I don’t mean any disrespect, but that’s out of the question.” Grange finally spat out in a hoarse tone, trying to compose himself.
“Why not?” Raphael just rose a brow at the man, frowning.
“She is more than of age,” Raphael cut him off, looking over at Bridget that seemed entranced inside her thoughts. “19, I presume?” She snapped out of her state of mind enough to nod. “While it is possible that her mate is at the last stop, it’s also possible given the fact you’ve made it this far, that her mate is quite not even a werewolf. Her mate may be human.”
“Hm.” Bridget nodded slightly as if she were scared to admit the possibility. Raphael relaxed more. She knew he was right.
“After all, she could easily attend a college in the human realms.” Raphael continued, watching Grange’s face pucker as his lips went tight. Raphael had to resist the urge to smirk. If the man continued, then he’d end up looking like a sour patch. But instead, the Alpha squirmed, wrestling with the fact that he couldn’t deny Raphael’s points, his desire to keep his daughter safe, to keep her out of Voltaire, and not admit he was wrong.
“That..is a proposition,” was all Alpha Grange was able to spit out after an extremely long pause.
“Pardon me Alpha,” Luna Rebecca Grange piped up and Raphael resisted the urge to shatter his glass. He was so close to getting away from this persistence. Breathing in, he settled his attention onto the blonded hair woman that sat near him. Her ice-cold stare told him that she wasn’t as open as her daughter. It was probably her idea for her daughter to be so forward from her appearance. The Luna was wearing a tight dress that left little to the imagination to her daughter’s mating ceremonial dinner. She flaunted her body, demanding attention, and it seemed she wasn’t afraid to do anything for it, even attempting to upstage her daughter.
“But you are suggesting that we send our daughter into the human world to a single college. What are the odds that she’ll find her supposed mate at a single college?” Rebecca narrowed her dark gray eyes at Raphael directly with a slight snarl. Raphael suppressed another urge to choke the woman. She was borderline challenging him. Goddess, this woman was seriously behaving like this in front of her mate?
“Then allow her to complete a study abroad program, she could consider another tour of the human realms for about a semester. ” Raphael gritted his teeth together before sneaking a glance at Bridget that looked completely horrified at her mother’s behavior. “At least consider a tour of those areas for Bridget.”
“What kind of tour would you suggest then?” The Luna hissed at him and Raphael’s eyes shifted to Grange looking shell-shocked.
“Then Luna Grange, may I recommend an apprenticeship with the FLA’s diplomatic council? After all, Bridget has a record of exceptional grades and demonstrations of leadership in her lifetime so far. ” Raphael watched her eyes widen at the fact that he knew so much about her.
“She’s lead her pack to the top spots in numerous competitions such as debate. I think that she would benefit from being able to tour with a werewolf council member. Her skills in diplomacy would only flourish if given the opportunity, making her a top tier Alpha female, to say the least.” Raphael took another sip of his glass before adding, “All she could do while searching for her mate. After all, FLA council members travel quite a bit into various realms and cities.” Rebecca Grange stared at him with her eyebrows narrowed into a cold-hearted scold.
“That would be wonderful.” Grange cut his mate off with a growl, passing a stern look before continuing to speak with Raphael. “Do you think that Bridget would qualify for such an opportunity?”
“I’m more than sure that she is qualified.” Raphael smiled kindly at Bridget whose cheeks turned a shade of pink. Her whole demeanor changed in a moment. No longer was she confidently trying to seduce, but now the young she-wolf was quiet and respectful. It was apparent that her mother preferred her to use her physical attributes as opposed to her other qualities.
“Thank you Alpha Stone.” She remarked. “I really appreciate the recommendation. Do you know of any diplomat that would take me on as an apprentice?”
“There are several. I can have a list brought to your suite later tonight, complete with each representative’s politics and priorities. But I think that Representative Travis may be at the top of the list for you. I understand that you do volunteer work in neighboring school districts. Representative Travis has a new focus on education that may interest you.”
“Unacceptable.” Rebecca hissed as she stood up. “This is not what a future Luna should be doing to prepare for her role.” Goddess. This woman was a piece of work. Raphael’s smile fell. He was about to put her in her place if her mate couldn’t do it. It looked like he didn’t have to, from the angry scowl that flashed onto Grange’s face.
“No mother.” Bridget stood up and stared at her mother in the eye. “This is exactly what I should be doing. I am the only child between you and father, so I will be the Alpha. I don’t need a man to take care of me, as you have tried to teach me over the years. If someone such as Alpha Stone thinks I’m capable of doing so, I will.” Bridget turned to Raphael with a smile. “I apologize Alpha Stone for my mother’s behavior.”
“Excuse me?” Rebecca seethed at her daughter, completely embarrassed and outraged at her daughter’s stand.
“REBECCA!” Grange bellowed at his mate who stopped in her tracks over to her daughter. “You will stop immediately, go back to our room, and if not, I will not hesitate to place you in the dungeons per permission from Alpha Stone.”
“Hugh-” She gasped in fear.
“No, no. You’ve disrespected Alpha Stone more than enough for him to be obliged to do so. I’m honestly shocked that the man hasn’t done so already.” Raphael was more shocked that he hadn’t choked the woman out, but dungeons were also on the mind. Grange stalked over to his mate, pulled her by the arm close to him before looking at Raphael. “Thank you so much Alpha Stone, and I apologize for my mate. She needs a lesson, and I will be taking care of that right away. I hope that this doesn’t deter you from your offer earlier.”
“Not at all.” Raphael watched Rebecca bit her lip in fear. “My dungeons are more than open for you to use at any time, Alpha Grange.”
“Thank you, if you’ll excuse me. I’m going to go and teach my mate a lesson in respect.” With that Grange pulled a sputtering Rebecca Grange out of the room.
“Well then...” Bridget let out a sigh. “I apologize Alpha Stone for my behavior earlier. My mother was very insistent on me behaving in such a manner throughout the tour. If I had not...she would have made things very unpleasant, to say the least.” Bridget turned to him with a small frown. She looked utterly ashamed. “I hope you can forgive me.”
“Not a problem.” Raphael waved his hand. If Bridget was truly this ashamed, then her mother must have threatened her to behave in such a dreadful manner earlier.
“Thank you.” She gave him a small smile. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go to bed now.” With that, she left the room, and Raphael ran a hand through his hair. That was unexpected.
“So...” His beta, Jacob, came into the room quite awkwardly, paperwork in one hand, and the other running through his hair. “Should I put some guards in the range of Grange’s suite?”
“Of course.” He snorted. “It’s up to Grange on how he wants to go about this. But I take it that there may be shouts and screams.” Raphael frowned at the thought. “Luna Grange has a reputation of pushing her limits, and I’m afraid that the tour has only caused her to take it to extremes so some forsaken reason. To be honest, I’m not sure how Grange tolerated it for so long.”
“From what I understand, she usually did it without him in the room.” Jacob sighed and sat down next to Raphael. “Here are the most requests and orders.” He passed a stack of papers to Raphael before pouring himself a glass of wine. Raphael looked at the stack of paper, each from another part of the world, all from increasingly desperate individuals all begging for the Whitehaven wolfsbane and the prized lunar orchid. While wolfsbane was common, Whitehaven had developed a strain that was considered the most potent in the world. And the lunar orchid was the rarest medicinal herb in the world, and that gave the Whitehaven pack its power. Through the pack’s generations, they had developed the methods to cultivate the delicate flower and send it to those who needed it the most. Usually, it was the odd researcher or two, possibly a clinic, but these days, it seemed everyone was in dire need of it.
“What are the reports from the other packs?” Raphael’s eyes narrowed at the stack, running his fingers through the total pages. There were 26 new requests. Goddess.
“It looks like now a quarter of million wolves are infected.” Raphael’s stomach dropped. This new disease was ravaging the werewolf population, no one was spared. Old, young, man, woman, and child had all fallen to the mysterious illness. Thankfully no one had succumbed to it, but several patients were extremely close. The only thing that kept it at bay appeared to be the orchid and wolfsbane from Whitehaven, and even then, it only just prevented death.
“How are our supplies?”
“Oh, we are fine. The crops and storage from the last 5 years will be more than sufficient for the moment.”
“But?” Raphael looked up at Jacob, knowing fully well that he was keeping something out.
“There are rumors that the disease is now ravaging the dark fae population.” His body stiffened. Most of the requests were for werewolf patients. There weren’t any fae representatives amongst the requests.
“How many?” Raphael growled, his stomach sickened at the thought.
“We just got the report from FLA. There will be news reports in the morning, but an entire community was struck in the past week. It was a mixed population with both light, dark fae members as well as a few humans. One morning, people got up, going about their lives. By the end of the night, only the light fae and humans remained.”
“So someone is targeting us, ” Raphael growled as his fists clenched. Anger rolled off of him. It was apparent that wolves were just the first test run of whatever this was. If dark fae succumbed in hours, then there would be a new strain released soon to the wolves. And the idea of what would come next was frightening.
“Let Alpha Grange know that he needs to leave as soon as possible,” Raphael shot up, papers in hand. His beta followed him out of the dining room and through the packhouse. “It’s too dangerous for any Alpha to be away from his pack right now. Let him know about the FLA information, and allow him to take 2 kilograms of wolfsbane and 500 grams of orchid. He’ll need it before long, so I don’t want to have to play paperwork tag when I could just give it to the man here.”
“Understood Alpha.” Jacob nodded.
“Also give a list of the diplomats to Bridget.”
“Got it.” Jacob turned to go and complete his tasks when Raphael added.
“And Jacob, after all that, go home to your mate,” Raphael smiled and Jacob’s face glowed at the mention of his mate. She was expecting him to be out late tonight, so being able to leave early would be nice.
“Thanks, boss.” With that, Jacob practically sprinted off to his office. Raphael smirked before entering his office. The familiar space offered little comfort for him right now. The moon glowed outside the window, shining additional light into the relatively bright room. With a sigh, Raphael turned to the stack of papers in his hand. He’d have enough to fulfill these orders at least, but when the morning news came out, new requests would flood in. After tonight, he would have to mull each request over carefully, weighing the risk, and the benefits.
His heart sank at the thought of the upcoming trial. He’d eventually have to cut off orders, even if it was months away. With his lips tight, he looked out the window and took a deep breath in as he saw Jacob run out with his mate into the woods for a midnight run. In the past, he may have longed for a mate. But right now, he thanked the Goddess that he had never found his mate. For a mate was the last thing, he needed on his mind.