Selena wasn’t the kind of wolf that would blindly step her feet into the fray. Assurance was a valuable route to take whenever she was fuming. Though all of her strength seemed to evaporate the moment her eyes dawned upon Francis. He dawned with his expensive gray suit and black tie, accompanied with a matching pair of pants well-polished taupe-colored shoes.
Her estranged cousin was a thorn on her side. His lineage and last name aside, Francis never sat in a light that did him well and despite her dislike for him, Talon always insisted to house him. To her dismay, Francis was like a stray puppy to Talon to which he can’t refuse.
She approached him, knitting her brows together with a rueful and pointed stare. Her arm reached for his shoulder and tugged him outside.
“What are you doing here, bootlicker?” She glowered, holding him tightly.
“Woah, why don’t you let go of me first and we’ll talk like civilized and normal wolves?”
“Civilized?” She scoffed. “Talk to me when you’re civilized enough to admit that you’re no longer our family, Remmington.”
“Ouch, cousin. I would have hoped for a kiss and hug but I’m greeted with vile and hatred.” Francis replied, wincing from the force Selena reigned on his shoulder.
“Alpha Stormwind will murder you the moment he sees you loitering around his pack.”
“Is that you caring or you being eager to push me out? Because, cousin. I suggest you do the first one since Talon sent me here.”
Hearing her brother’s name subsided her initial anger and for a bleak moment, she softened.
“Explain and do it fast before I report you to the Luna.” She harshly lets him go.
Francis shook his head, massaging his shoulder. He was the most lenient with his cousin violently dragging her fingers on his arm, the gesture was now a common occurrence for him.
“Report me?” He spoke. “Well, go ahead then. I might even go with you.”
It would be foolish to act on her feet. Francis always had something rolled up in his well-tucked sleeves and if her brother was involved in this, she feared that the reason might be too serious. Could it be that their pack was under attack again? She shivered in fear. Her pack was still recovering from the last battle, it would be an insurmountable loss for them if another war between packs breaks lose.
“Cat got your tongue, huh? Well, I have an appointment with Luna Eliza herself. Courtesy of Talon.” Francis brushed her aside and entered the packhouse.
Selena swiftly pulled him back. “As much as I admire your lunacy, I don’t need you dying because of it. Especially if it involves my brother.”
“You’re sounding a lot desperate than usual, Selena. Is there something you’re trying to hide?” He leans down on her.
Sadly, she was. If Francis was to report her current state, then all of the hard work her parents had done with building bridges with pack Morris would all be for nothing. Selena knew her brother very well.
Talon, though reserved and understanding, was impulsive and quick to judge when something happened to her. It was one of the many benefits of being a younger sibling to an Alpha but this, she saw it being the bullet that would end everything.
She realized that if in the event Talon ever found out about this, rejecting Nathaniel would be the last thing in her mind. Getting him mixed in all of this would further complicate things. And for once, she didn’t want to rely on her brother to solve her problem.
The worst thing she could ever imagine was Talon declaring war upon pack Morris.
“Let’s just say pack Morris doesn’t take wolves with the last name Remmington too kindly.” She seethed.
“You talk as if I’m a senile man, relax. All your ugly worrying will be all for naught. Especially when Luna Eliza is looking straight at us.”
She looks over her shoulder and tracked her cousin’s eyes. Eliza wasn’t just looking at them, she was approaching them and fast. Selena had no time to prepare herself. She only breathed in and out heavily.
Francis grinned and faced the Luna.
“Ah, the darling Luna of the North.” He takes the Luna’s hand and kisses its back. “Guilderoy Bootlicker or Roy, if you might prefer, here to assist my cousin and very, very pleased to meet your acquaintance.”
Selena glared at him and resisted the urge to hide her face in the palm of her hand.
“Ah, I see you’re a very charming young man.” Eliza giggled. “But may I say, your last name sounds quite eccentric.”
“Yes, the Bootlicker family dynasty stems from Europe, Claveria. The name may sound unsavory but I and my family take pride in it and of our humble beginnings as steady lines of thoroughbred Betas. Some have even become Alphas themselves.”
She wanted to believe that the Luna would not buy into the pile of shit that came pouring out of his mouth but to her great dismay, Eliza stared at Francis with wonder and glee.
“You must tell me the whole story when I am free. Nice to meet you, Mr. Roy Bootlicker. I’m sure Selena will do great with seeing a familiar face, especially right after what happened with her mate. But for now, I’d like to excuse myself. The work of a Luna is never done.”
“I’d be glad to speak with you again, Luna. Please, have an amazing day.” Francis lowered his head and watched Eliza giggle as she walked away from them.
Meanwhile, Selena felt a mix of dread and astonishment searing in her core. She had hoped to try and make an excuse or even to just lie and get it over with but with Eliza spilling it all, she shriveled in her spot.
Francis turned to her, both of his brows raised. Her options were limited but she wanted to push through him. He was mocking her with his delayed comment and boastful smirk.
‘Deny, deny, deny.’ Selena said to herself.
“Hmm, cousin. Why don’t you bring me my luggage? It’s on the guard’s posts near the gate.”
“Fat chance, bootlicker.” She growled.
“Cousin, you are aware of why I am here, right?” Francis cocked his head.
“My brother wants you to check up on me. Of all the people that he could have sent, he sent you!”
Talon could have sent one of her friends, one of the wolves that she worked with from the nursery, or even their Beta. She would have greatly appreciated Beta Julius checking up on her but as for Francis, Selena preferred to jump from a cliff and fatally die from it.
She had never trusted Francis for so many reasons. One being, his last name Remmington and his relations to that pack swayed her emotions.
To her, Francis was no family. At least, not anymore. He was part of the people that destroyed her family. Sadly, Talon didn’t see it that way.
“I’m glad living in pack Morris didn’t dull your perception,” he says. “A wolf’s senses are far more important than a wolf’s strength.”
“So what? Are you going to blackmail me?”
“You think I’m that cruel? I am simply using my limited knowledge against you to acquire favorable outcomes for my satisfaction.” He grins.
“Yes, or otherwise called blackmailing.” Selena glared at him.
“Hmm, I guess I am that cruel. Nevertheless, my upper hand in our situation lands you in a spot too inconvenient, I’m afraid. So, try and be a bit amiable while I am here.”
“I hate you.”
His face crumpled into dismay. He leans down on her, his voice ominous and terrifying as he whispered near her ear;
“My indifference towards you is not a secret, cousin. You choose to not see it, unfortunately. Take my luggage to the room next to yours. Talon already arranged my unsung stay here or… unless you want him to find out about your mate.”
Francis, although certainly having her backed into a corner, was right. He had caught her where it hurt and if she didn’t comply, everything was doomed.
He looks at her with a stoic expression before turning away and leaving Selena with a tightened jaw.
Why of all the days did her brother send Francis here and now? Her plan to make use of her time and get stronger was put to a searing pause. Right now, her main and only focus should only be keeping him oblivious. But that would be unfruitful as Francis was a spy in the profession. That was why spewing out lies for him was an easy play.
He lies for a living and thrives because of it.
Selena begrudgingly followed Francis’ wishes and hauled his luggage up to his room. She did so with a dark gaze, only planted to the floor as she slung his duffel over her shoulder while dragging his other bag.
It was a blessing that the mansion had many stairs which conveniently lead to her room and Francis’. After she was done haplessly throwing his stuff into the floor of his room, Selena marched and followed Francis’ scent. She didn’t feel any better when she found him pacing around her room, tactfully examining her belongings.
“Your stuff is in your room, bootlicker.” She crossed her arms over her shoulder.
“Much obliged, cousin.” He answers.
Francis continued his peak attention towards her dress, the ring on her nightstand, and to her. Selena had seen this look before. It was those moments where Francis excelled at what he was best at, investigating.
She wasn’t intimidated by him at the slightest. What she worried the most was what he was going to report back to Talon once he nears the end of his observation. Her brother’s overprotective nature was only good when the only person getting yelled at was her. That was not the case though and her pack’s alliance was at stake.
“Did the wedding dress fit you well?” He asks, looking out the window.
Her brows meet, baffled with what kind of wedding dress he was referring to.
“Talon didn’t pack any wedding dre-”
Selena paled and stared aghast at the dress she wore yesterday when she was strolling around town while her arm was looped around Jacob’s. Now she realized how Jacob came up with his quip that to her at the time was nothing more than a foolish joke.
‘Huh, as groom and bride, I hope.’ Those were his exact words.
“You mean you haven’t worn it yet? Shame, Talon paid five thousand dollars to revive your mother’s wedding dress to a more in line with the time one. Well, I’m pretty sure Nathaniel would have given you an even better dress if he were to marry you.”
The only things Nathaniel was going to give her were more headaches and deathly glares. And none of those came close to being a dress.
“And you’re not wearing your mother’s wedding ring? I mean, it’s certainly no diamond but surely the sentimental attribute it holds should be reason enough for you to wear it, yes?”
Selena remained silent. She knew better than to lie and deny anything at this point. She would only be adding ammunition for his report.
“The last thing is, I don’t even smell his scent on you. When he claimed you as his tribute, he seemed adamant about marking you but after Luna Eliza’s words and your lack of protests, I conclude he left you. Pray tell, cousin. What kind of pain has he put down upon you?”
She breathed heavily.
“Alpha Stormwind is engaged to another wolf. I’ve tried to reject him but he won’t let me.”
“Hmm, it doesn’t surprise me anymore. He’s been quite the recluse to us outside of his pack. I just knew he was hiding something. Well, what do you want me to do?”
Francis circled her bed and sat, crossing his legs. He looked at her with intense concentration and waited.
“What do you mean?” She asked, perplexed by his sudden position to the matter.
“This is not a matter I can easily assess nor to act upon. It will be your call whether I should spill the beans to your brother right now or a date most suitable for you.”
Selena tightened her jaw. “What’s the catch?”
“Catch? There’s no catch, cousin. I have my reasons to which I don’t want to discuss with you.”
“With you, there’s always a catch. Money, a favor, or some sick kind of enjoyment. Tell me.”
He became silent, drawing himself back as he thought of his reply.
“Since you’re so adamant about proving me a villain, I guess your anger aimed at me would suffice and make good entertainment.”
“Is that all? Come on, Francis. There’s gotta be something.”
She simply couldn’t trust him. Francis was many forms of evil and somehow, she felt he was holding on to something.
“As I said, no catch. I’m just giving you time. A week or so will be fine but if I feel the need to report it, I will with no delay. Me agreeing to hold this information from Talon is already a betrayal of his trust. I can’t have that, Selena. Talon’s the only person left in this world I have respect for.”
She sighed. Francis was indeed a loyal supporter to her brother. That was an irrefutable fact and something she couldn’t look away from. Resentfully, she fell to a heavy groan. She couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fix what was happening especially when he was gracious enough to give her a week.
A week to reject Nathaniel.
She hoped that was the finale of her broken dreams and aching heart.
No more Nathaniel and no more pack Morris.
“Thank you.” She murmured.
“Remember, Selena. I’ll act when I feel as though it is needed.” Francis stood, straightening his coat and fixing his tie. “Don’t forget, cousin. Alpha Talon Highcliff hired me to take care of you. To make sure that you are safe. On his wishes, I swear to make true of it.”
He nods his head and walks out of the room, the bottom of his shoe emanating an ominous sound.
She thought of him as a storm just waiting to wreak havoc and Selena could only sit and wait in his calm.
After Francis had left her, Selena remained trapped in her room to make plans. Staring at the ceiling while she threaded her hands over her stomach. She had intended to stay here a bit longer and become stronger. But that plan had ceased and now she can only improvise.
Break the bond she had for Nathaniel and salvage her heart.
While she was absorbed with thinking of ways to have Nathaniel accept her rejection, she had lost track of time and failed to notice the sun retreating for the night. Her stomach growled hungrily, signaling that it was now time to take a rest and eat.
“Talon, of all the wolves in your circle, why Francis?” She asked aloud.
But after seeing there was no time to maul about it now, she opted to get up from her bed. She might as well get dinner. But eating alone was a tiresome strain and she was tired of it.
Fortunately, the mess hall always had an abundant amount of food ready for consumption at any time. Though that didn’t mean that the food they served was delicious, just simply good. Along with food, there was also cheap wine and beer, lots of it. And where wine and beer are, there were also many drunkards.
After standing up and making her way towards the mess hall, Selena made quick work and grabbed a plate, piling a good amount of food on it. Eating alone was suddenly not a bad idea. When she saw the many wolves happily grouped, chanting and singing while clinking their drinks. The most infuriating thing was Francis, being the center of their attraction.
Some things never really changed. At any given event, he had everyone flocking to him. A good charmer with an intent unclear but somehow, everyone loved him.
Selena fumed in anger but made it her best to try and avoid thinking of him. She hoped to successfully evade him though that would be a very hard job to do so when his job was to hawk over her.
If only wolves didn’t consider murder outside war a crime, Francis would have met the sharp edge of her blade ages ago.
She took her plate and sat on a table furthest from where Francis displayed his award-winning, manipulative grin. Not a minute later, Selena was approached by three wolves. Two girls and a boy.
“Hello, Luna Highcliff.” One of the girls leaned down on her.
Selena almost spat her food. No one from outside of her pack called her that. Luna Highcliff, the title given to her when she turned fifteen as her birthright. Technically, she was only the honorary Luna but when the time came that Talon meets his mate, she would gladly hand her title to whoever that person is to Talon.
“Please, call me Selena. That title holds no importance to me.” She spoke after taking a long sip from her glass of water.
“Oh, forgive me for intruding.” The girl waved her hand.
She looked to be at least a few years older than Selena and was no doubt a wolf that was married. The ring on her finger and the scar left by her mate’s marking indicated that. She had bright green eyes, mischievous and filled with trouble. Even if her intentions were unclear, Selena already didn’t like where this was going.
“It’s nothing,” She nervously smiled. “Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
“Well, yes. My name is Christina. These are my friends, Amanda and Pat. We were hoping that someone with your title would accompany us to a soiree and put on a good word for us.”
Selena’s brows knitted. “A soiree? Like a private house party?”
It was certainly an odd request when they have only just met. Selena didn’t know how to respond. Soirees were boring and filled with talk of business. She had no place in those kinds of events. For her, the offer was flattering but simply not to her expertise. If she learned anything from going with Talon to business meetings, is that all of them were close to murder by boredom.
“Precisely,” Christina nodded. “We’ve been trying to get into this party but sadly, the guest list is limited to those of the wealthy. I gathered who better to introduce us than the Luna of the wealthiest pack of the North.”
‘Was that it?’ Selena asked herself. All they wanted was to use her to boost their reputation. Now the request was clear and Selena could only stare at them stoically.
“I’m sorry, but soirees are not my thing.” She says, cautiously shaking her head.
“Really? But I could swear you and Alpha Talon go to these kinds of meetings, right?” Christina asked.
“But that doesn’t mean I enjoy coming along with my brother. Soirees are bothersome to me and I’d rather be in my room than to spar my feet with strangers.”
The other girl, Amanda, scoffed at her.
“I think I know what she means.”
“Me too.” Pat entered the conversation. He wore a scowl while staring at Selena. “I told you we shouldn’t have bothered asking her.”
“Excuse me?” Selena stared at them further.
“You think we’re not good enough, do you?” Amanda slammed the palm of her hand on the table. “As expected from the pack filled with snotty and high-nosed wolves who care nothing about other, less fortunate wolves.”
“Pack Highcliff, wolves filled with greedy capitalists. No wonder they’re so prissy and full of pride. They don’t know what common wolves like us go through. When trouble comes, they call us to do their dirty work.” The boy snarled.
“Enough, you too.” Christina glared at her friends but smiled when she face Selena. “Would you at least reconsider, Selena?”
Reconsidering was not an option. They have said too much and already made her fume in anger. No wolves in pack Highcliff were ever snotty or high-nosed nor prissy and prideful. Wolves like that didn’t exist in her home. Their pack was a tight-knit community of wolves helping each other.
If anyone was were to act like what the wolves in front of her so blatantly described, they would meet swift disciplining from Talon. Her brother was rather harsh when it came to fairness and when a wolf denies their duties, it didn’t end well for them as Talon gave those who oppose the pack laws a sharp lashing with his tongue in front of the whole pack.
But sadly, they were right about one thing. Pack Highcliff resorted to hiring wolves from other packs. A practice that started years ago that their pack honors until to this day.
She gulped noisily, giving each of them a cold-hard glare.
“No,” Selena answered, her voice dawning finality.
The friendly face Christina wore faltered into a hostile one. She grounds her teeth and exhaled a heavy sigh.
“I see now why my Alpha chose Kayla Marie over you. I’m glad he chose to not marry you, bitch.”
Christina pushes her hair back with one swift swipe of her hand and walked away with a loud stomp to her walk while her two lackeys followed her.
For a while, Selena considered fighting back and reason with her truth but where would she start? She had too much on her mind to say and the only thing she could do was sit while she stared on her plate, now without her appetite, heart throbbing in anger, and fingers shaking.
She was put to even more disarray when Francis stood before her, a tight and displeased frown cast down on her direction.
“What the fuck was that!” He exclaimed angrily.
“It’s none of your business.” She answered.
“Not my business? You let those fucking pariahs walk all over you like a rug, Selena.” Francis locked his jaw.
Selena was amazed at how far off he was from his usual, smug character. It all just sounded that he truly cared for her, to which she only wanted to say that he was full of bull.
“I would have stooped down to their level if I fought back.”
He groans. “Yes and for doing that, you did better but you don’t always have to do better. Sometimes, you gotta smack a bitch right across their face.”
“Why do you even care? All you did was watch right across the room.”
“I didn’t help because I wanted you to fight for yourself.” Francis exhaled heavily. “You are a Highcliff, proud of your stance against violence but I know you, cousin. We bathed together in the same bathtub as babies. You don’t conform to the standards put upon you by pack Highcliff’s law. When the time comes, punch someone when they overstep their boundaries.”
With that, Francis huffed and stalked away from her sights and left Selena’s mouth hanging. It’s just a dream, she forced herself to believe. Though she tried her hardest to force herself to believe that, the fact was irrefutable and Francis showed a side that she hadn’t seen for a long time.
Talon heaved a heavy breath as he placed one end of a heavy log over his shoulder while another wolf held the other side. Before him, his wolves were busy reconstructing their own homes and other buildings that were damaged by the recent attack.
Looking at them now, his heart swelled with unfathomable happiness. He was glad that not a single wolf on his side lost their life. All that they sustained were wounds able to be healed by time. He took pride in knowing that his pack was safe, at least for now all he could do was rebuild and strengthen their number.
“Let’s put it down here, Alpha.” The wolf says. “You’ve helped enough for today and it’s already nighttime, are you sure want to help us?”
Talon massaged his shoulder and chuckled.
“I told all of you to stop hours ago, didn’t I? What kind of wolf will I be if I let all of you do the work?”
“Well, if the Alpha insists, we would gladly accept his help.” The old wolf grinned and patted Talon’s back.
While he was left alone, Talon gazed at his pack, torn and filled with nervousness. He knew that to become stronger, he would eventually break free of tradition and change their ways.
He would have to teach his pack how to fight and wield their blades on the battlefield. But sadly, as pack Highcliff remains to be a sovereign community that favors rules and seeks piece over brawn, that would be a big shift of their lives. But a change needed nonetheless.
To let what happened to his pack occur again was the last thing he wanted. And when the time came and if a change was warranted by blood, he would act upon it swiftly to protect his people and the wolves that mattered to him the most. To make his sister and parents proud.
“Talon!” His Beta, Julius, called for him.
He turns to where Julius’ voice came. “Julius, what’s the matter?”
“An urgent call, sir. From your cousin, Francis.”
Julius hands over a phone to his Alpha, nodding before he took his leave.
“Thank you, Jules.” Talon smiled at him. Before he answered, he wiped the sweat off his brows and inhaled. “Francis, how is my sister?”
Francis chuckled over the line. “She’s doing well with Alpha Nathaniel. Though their wedding will be postponed until further notice.”
Talon relaxed. All that mattered to him that moment was his sister’s safety and happiness.
“Okay. Continue watching over her and please, Francis. Be nice to her. I know the both of you have your differences but you’re the only wolf I can trust with looking after her.”
His cousin took a moment to reply. “Ah…yes, cousin. Have no worry. If anything comes up, you’ll be the first wolf to know about it.”
“I’m glad I can trust you, Francis. Please, always take care.” He smiled.
“Say, cousin.” Francis suddenly spoke. “If I were to, say, theoretically shoot or stab a wolf that has done a distasteful deed towards me, would you be able to forgive me?”
Talon knitted his brows together. He knew his cousin. He was a very hardheaded and vengeful wolf, sometimes even unhinged. That was why he couldn’t just let go of Francis. He needed to take care of his cousin. Left alone, Francis would have already slaughtered dozens of wolves.
“Cousin, reclaim your bearings and put down your gun. Blood spilled by you will break the pact my father and Alpha Jacob Morris have bonded all those years ago.”
Francis groaned. The sound of his gun being locked made Talon sigh in relief.
“Yes, cousin. By your will, patience will be my virtue.”
The call ended with Talon looking at the screen. He only hoped that Francis was able to hold himself.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the line, Francis stood on a cliff. Suffice to say, he was steaming in unbearable anger. He impatiently cussed and threw his phone on the ground, furiously stomping on it until it fizzed with smoke. He brought the lens of his rifle to his eyes and pointed its sights to a hospital window. It took all of his strength not to pull the trigger.
In his cross-hair, Nathaniel tightly smiled as he spoon-fed an ailing wolf resting on a bed. Francis couldn’t believe it. While the bastard smiled, his cousin was left to herself. That was a trespass he couldn’t simply let go of.
“Someday, Nathaniel. Vengeance will be mine.” Francis murmured under his breath and slung the strap of his rifle and walked away.