I didn’t much have time to let Archie’s words sink in before we were summoned to the Pack House. Which was in utter chaos when we arrived, telling me immediately that something terrible happened.
My shackles rose as we made our way down the corridor where I knew the King would be around this time of the day and the scent of humans and the sounds of argument were even worse. Squeezing Archie’s hand once more, I throw open the double doors and walk into the room.
Marching to the middle of the room, I stand in attention in front of the King on his throne. “You called for us Your Highness?”
Archie bowed, peeking over to the humans cowering in the opposite corner. “Yes.” The King’s voice is grave and then my eyes take in the sobbing family of Jasmine and her mate Liam.
Archie gasps as he must have come to the same conclusion I did. Jasmine and Liam must have died and the humans present must have something to do with it. What’s worse is that I can tell there are at least two hunters among them, and the rest are either my colleague’s or Archie’s. That’s because of the looks they keep throwing our way.
There is a little commotion where the humans were gathered, people were shoved around and a hunter stepped forward “We were well within our rights to shoot fair game!”
He screamed before Geoffrey, Archie’s manager managed to drag the man back. That confirmed my worst fears that they shot Jasmine and Liam. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in Jasmine’s family as Cordell, Jasmine’s younger brother shifted and bounded over to attack the hunter. Archie growled as he moved to intercept Cordell.
While they were struggling, Archie was trying to calm Cordell down, so that he won’t commit murder in front of the King. No matter how justified it might be, cross that line, and you’ll find Dillan standing on your doorstep.
Archie was doing a good job, Cordell shifted back, crying and shouting threats at the address of the hunter who basically admitted that he had killed his sister and his brother in law.
The King turned his gaze to the hunter, rose from his seat and took a few steps in their direction. “Within your rights you say?”
The King’s sole focus was feasted on the hunter, “Within your rights on my land?” The hunters seemed sacred but determined not to show it.
“Yeah.” The King snorted very animal like, making me and every shifter in the room tense. The meaning of the sound went over the hunters head, as he continued to dig his own grave.
“Yeah, no matter where we hunt we are within our rights to shoot fair game.” The King cocked his head to the side, “And that fair game would be the two snow panthers you shoot I presume.”
The hunter looked surprised; he didn’t know that the King would know what type of shifters they were.
“And then one of the snow panthers became human, a man. Probably clueing you in on the fact he and the other snow panther were shifters, and yet you shot the second pregnant snow panther.”
He stressed the word pregnant; family was everything to shifters, family and Pack.
“The fact you orphaned a little girl, and that you killed a man in cold blood, mortally wounded a pregnant woman doesn’t faze you? Not at all?”
At hearing that little Leah will never get to know her parents or her unborn sibling had Jasmine’s and Liam’s family sobbing.
“The fact you ripped a family apart just because they were snow panthers never crossed your mind? The fact that a pair of snow panthers walk around in a dense forest, close to civilisation, never made a bell ring in your mind?”
Now the hunter seemed to pale a little, it seemed to sink in what he had done. Of course someone had to step in on his behalf and make everything worse.
“And how was he to know that they were shifters huh? How was he to know that they weren’t fair game?” Another hunter demanded.
The King grinned, showing his teeth, a very animalistic move. “I am glad you asked, because I will tell you.” The King stepped even closer to the hunter, who smartly enough took several steps back.
“You and your puny hunting party trespassed into my Lands when you decided to ignore the warning sign near Weeping Willow’s creek, because that creek is the border between the Pack Lands and your human town. Because of that I am within my rights to kill each and every one of you on the spot.”
Geoffrey looked hopelessly to us, wanting us to do something. He didn’t understand that we couldn’t do anything; Pack came before our position as delegation to work together with the humans. I shook my head, signalling they were on their own in this.
“We can’t do anything to help you. Pack comes first and foremost. The best you can hope for is for The Alpha King to be merciful.”
Geoffrey seemed to grasp the seriousness of the situation and who was standing in front of him. As most he pales as he turns his attention back to the King.
His Adam’s apple bobbed, “S-sire, P-please.” He was sweating bullets as the King turned towards him with his heavy, stern magenta gaze.
“What do you want to say to me human?”
Geoffrey seemed to have scrapped his remaining courage together even though he shrank back. “I hope you will let us handle this matter on our own.”
That wasn’t what the King wanted to hear, not that the others noticed, but I did. He tensed slightly before he answered “So you are saying you can get them convicted for murder in the first degree and an attempt to murder?”
Most people gasped and stared, “Because that’s their crime, they murdered one man and mortally wounded his pregnant wife. Are you sure you on your own can get them convicted? Because I don’t think you can, most of you don’t see us as humans but as dangerous animals that can be put down by any means necessary.”
Geoffrey opened and closed his mouth, the worst thing he could do in a room full of predators.
“Seeing as you hesitate, I don’t think you can get them convicted, so they will be held here until the end of the investigation.”
With that the guards posted around the room came out of the shadows and hidden corners and led the humans away. The same guards returned shortly after and return to their previous positions around the room.
The King returned to his throne in the meantime, Archie returned Cordell back to the family.
“Archie and Riley, the reason I asked you to be here today has to do with Jasmine’s daughter Leah and her still unborn child.”
Archie looked at me with big eyes, a little unnerved by our recent conversation about our own family. “I had spoken with both families about the adoption of Leah and her unborn sibling. Both families have agreed to have them adopted outside of their families and have nominated you two. The reason is because of your animals are similar to their own. Are you willing to adopt them?”
Archie licked his lips, “Yes, Archie, ask your question.”
Archie looked at me before speaking, “Why would we need to adopt them? Not saying we don’t want to, it’s just a little unnerving because we recently had a conversation about cubs.”
I wrapped my arms around him to steady him “Are you sure Jasmine won’t be able to take care of them on her own?”
The King’s gaze softened “I am quite sure she won’t be able to take care of them as I just got news from the doctors that she just passed away after they retrieved her just born son. She named him Liam with her last breath.”
[We will take them right? It’s not fair to separate the siblings; I want them to stay together.]
Archie linked to me, looking quite desperate. I bit my lip, not too sure about what to do. On one hand I wanted to help, on the other hand I didn’t know if I was ready to be a parent. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that they were destined to be our cubs.
I might not have liked Jasmine, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t take care of her children. I squeezed Archie close “We will adopt them with the consent of both families.”
I turned to both grieving families “You are all welcome to visit them whenever you want to tell stories about Jasmine and Liam.” I knew they were quite overworked families, big families that could barely feed their own.
Both families were relieved that we would adopt the children, relieved they wouldn’t disappear within the legal system. Just like the humans, our legal system isn’t the best for orphans. Knowing that their maternal grandchildren were going to be okay, the families felt that they could take care of the double funeral in peace.
Archie and I decided to wait with adopting the children until after the funerals, for the sake of the grieving families.
Our families were surprised to learn that we had adopted not one but two cubs, not just any cubs but Jasmine’s. The whole Pack grieved the loss of Jasmine and Liam, while the Pack detectives were working on the case of their deaths, and the hunters were still held in Pack jails.
Even their human lawyers couldn’t do anything to get them out of jail. The human Major of the human town bordering the Pack Lands agreed to keep them in our jail and was firm about the fact that they would be treated as suspects in any human murder investigation, to the relief of both grieving families.
A few days after the funerals, both sets maternal grandparents and Archie and I were present once more in the King’s office. This time we were here to have them sign the paperwork regarding us adopting the children.
When all forms were signed to the King’s satisfaction, we were led to the facility where they had kept the children.
Lisa, the head of the facility checked the signed paperwork before leasing us to the room. “Okay I need the both of you to shift separately, just to see if your animal will react violently to the cubs.”
Archie stepped forward, I will go first.” Nodding her head Lisa and politely turned her back to us, so Archie could shift in somewhat privacy.
“Okay, now Archie I just want you to go in there and just walk around and see how they react to you.” Archie nodded his head before stepping through a hatch leading into the room. For a while he just stood there like a statue, until one of the cubs noticed him and came over, rubbing its small body against his leg.
“Who is that?” I asked as I watched Archie give the cub a bath, much to its annoyance. Lisa looked down on her clipboard, “That would be Leah. She a little more outgoing and adventurous than her younger brother, not very surprising since he’s just a few days old.”
Deciding she had seen enough she asked Archie to come back through the hatch, having a beaming smile on his face.
“They are so cute!” He gushed “You’ll be fine babe.” He must have noticed my hesitation to shift and enter that room. Not wanting to let him down I shifted and crawled through the hatch. Just like Archie I stood there for a while, get used to the baby scents.
I felt my chest rumble as Leah came close; she stopped looking a little unsure. Gently I lowered myself on my belly, inviting her to come closer. After her first hesitant contact, she tried to pounce on me, but I just kept pushing her away gently.
Surprising myself with the gentleness I showed her. Liam was a different story, he still smelled of Jasmine, but thanks to Archie’s bath he smelled more strongly of Archie. Upon returning to Archie and Lisa, Leah and Liam cried out for us, making us turn towards them.
“That’s the reaction I wanted to see.” She said smiling “Well Mister and Mister Woods, congratulations with your son and daughter!”