The drive home from the congress found Dorian in the back of his SUV staring out the window. His enforcer and an assistant quietly sat in front. Long gone were the two men who had come to his defense the night he became alpha. He had convinced them to accept the important position of enforcer out of a sense of duty to the pack. The friendship he built with them had been important. So many nights hunting forged a strong bond. Evenings sitting at his house, talking late into the night about things of importance or just bullshitting about nothing had been a regular thing for the trio. Something finally registered in the recesses of his mind. There was one person always missing from those gatherings. There had always been an excuse, a reason for not showing up, something more important than relaxed time among buddies away from the office. His best friend never socialized with his enforcers or other friends. In that moment, Dorian missed Wade and Thaddeus immensely. He finally understood the significance of their departure. Closing his eyes, he replayed their last conversation as the drone of the tires on the pavement threatened to put him to sleep.
“What was so important you wanted to meet tonight? And why did you ask that Levi not be here?” Dorian waved his hand to the chairs in front of his desk and noted his enforcers remained standing.
“Alpha, in the days and weeks after you ascended, we met regularly to work out how you wanted us to approach the position as your enforcers.” Wade paused and glanced to his counterpart.
Thaddeus took over for his friend. “What we’re being asked to do now goes against everything you originally wanted.”
Dorian cocked his head, puzzlement etched on his face. “How so? Your duties are still the same. Enforce the decisions of your alpha and punish those who violate our laws.”
“Respectfully, Alpha, we’re being asked to go after anyone who speaks out against the McKinney family, while they push people out of positions they’ve held for years.” Wade fidgeted with the envelope in his hands. “We both understand the beta is your best friend, but you must see what his clan’s doing.”
“Alpha, anyone who opposed that family under Alpha Wagner has been targeted. People who say the wrong thing about them now find themselves out of a job or worse. Wade and I are the ones having to dispense their retribution while trying to avoid it directed at us. And the orders targeting non-wolves are getting out of hand.” Thad ran his fingers through his dark hair. “If these orders are in fact coming from you, I accept that as your authority being alpha. However, if it’s political punishment from your beta and species segregation, we can’t in good conscience carry out those orders anymore.”
“You’ve both become good friends over the years and I value your opinions. I consider you almost as close as I do Levi. You make it sound like the beta is going behind my back. Anything he does is with my consent. He’s your boss, and I won’t listen to conspiracy theories about his family getting revenge against anyone who might have wronged them.” He settled back in his chair not believing what he was hearing. “The McKinney family has graciously stepped up to provide critical support in places we needed it when others weren’t doing the job.”
The sadness was evident on Wade’s and Thad’s faces as they nodded to each other. Both placed the envelope they held on Dorian’s desk. Thad shook his head in disappointment. “Alpha, we hereby tender our resignation effective immediately. We both respect you. Speaking as the friend we’ve hunted with so many times, something has seriously changed in how you lead. I’m sorry, but neither of us is willing to be a part of it anymore. It’s only gotten worse since you disbanded the council. We won’t speak out against you or the beta and for the good of all, Wade and I plan to leave the territory as soon as we can settle our affairs. All we’ll say is we took a position elsewhere.”
Dorian was at a loss. He hadn’t expected this from two of his most faithful friends. “I accept your resignations. Perhaps this is for the best, if you are uncomfortable with how I do things.”
Both men dipped their head before departing. True to their word, they never said anything against him or the beta.
Levi entered the alpha’s office with a smile. “Thad and Wade left the territory today. I say good riddance to them. It’s too bad it took them nearly a month to find a new home.” He dropped into a chair and kicked his feet onto the edge of the desk. “I never saw why you kept them on. It was a nice gesture at the start, but they were never our kind of guys. Too friendly with the other lycan.”
“Show some respect. They were my friends and did a good job. It took courage to stand up for something they believed in.”
“No, I’m your friend. A friend wouldn’t have turned his back on you the way they did. Those two clung to the benefit of being close to the alpha. They were never going to get with the program for how we wanted to reorganize the pack. All bleeding heart and nostalgic for the past. That kumbaya attitude of all groups working in harmony is bullshit when you have to manage this many people. Wolves are apex predators and shouldn’t be held down by others. We don’t need berry-eating bears and rodent-hunting birds to make us complete.”
Dorian rolled his eyes at the interspecies tirade, though he had grown to agree the others weren’t compatible with wolf life. “I still wish they hadn’t resigned. Trying to find a new enforcer is not easy. I trusted those guys with my life and my family. And I’m going to miss hunting with them.”
“There’s all kinds of people for you to hunt with, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. I mentioned to Mom you’d be bummed about them leaving, so she made you a fresh batch of cookies.” He placed the tin on the desk and slid it to his friend. “I’ve got an idea for your new enforcer. One of my cousins would be perfect for it. Being a McKinney he’d never turn his back on you. When I spoke with him, he was interested in the job. He had some good ideas for stepping up security around you and your family. Want me to set up an interview?”
“Bring him in. I swear it’s amazing just how large your family really is. You never had this many people around here in the old days.”
“Knowing we have such a wonderful alpha, the ones living in other packs opted to move here.”
A change in road noise brought Dorian out of his deep thoughts. He glanced around to see them pulling off the highway for their overnight stop. A part of him wished he hadn’t asked Ethan to remove the poison from his system. The effects of silver nitrate had been long ago explained to him when it was initially suspected for the pain he suffered. Doctor McKinney quickly ruled it out after a series of blood tests. The clouded thoughts of the last few years had been a slight advantage over the clarity he now faced.
The SUV stopped at their hotel, and it felt good to stretch. Dorian watched the two from his vehicle and the group from the follow up truck. Seven members of the McKinney clan surrounded him to make sure he was safe. He briefly wondered if he could make a quiet escape in the dead of night.
“It isn’t safe. We don’t know what could happen to you there.” Levi’s arms were crossed and the enforcer nodded emphatically.
“This is a friend’s wedding, and I’m going on my own.”
“Alpha, please. At least let him accompany you on the flight. He can remain outside the ceremony, but your safety needs to be assured.”
“There will likely be a lot of people there who are or were considered threats to you as recently as the congress. It’s my duty as your enforcer to protect you. I’m your bodyguard, Alpha. I really need to be there with you if no one else is.”
“Levi, Allen, enough. Not one more word. I’ve made my decision, now deal with it. Last I checked I’m still alpha.”
The two men retreated to Levi’s office and closed the door. “I don’t know what’s up with him. He’s been acting different since the convention.”
“My people have kept a close eye on him. I’ve got no explanation for this. He never travels without me. He’s your friend. Maybe you can figure this out.”
“Pick someone you trust that he doesn’t know, and I’ll get them on the flight. Our alpha shouldn’t be on his own. For his own good, I want someone keeping an eye on him. A few in the pack would come after us if he was hurt while traveling without escort.”
“Did you have a good time at the wedding?” Levi tried to feign interest in the event he’d read about in the lycan news. He actually wouldn’t have minded rubbing elbows with some of the high ranking guests.
“I actually did. It was good to see so many from congress in a more relaxed setting. The international guests were over the top.”
“You’re holding out. I can tell by that smile. Something I haven’t seen in a long time.” Levi studied his friend carefully. “Come on, tell me.”
“Alpha Ryan and I spent a lot of time together. I like her. She’d make a strong mate for me.”
“Seriously? The bitch who thinks a woman can be an alpha?” He didn’t like where this was going.
Dorian’s snarl surprised him as his fist crashed down on the desk. “I just said I like her, and you say the bitch who thinks a woman can be an alpha?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sure she’d make a good breeding match to give you a strong pup or two.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Levi? You sound almost jealous I met someone who’s got my attention. It’s not like you let me fuck you anymore, since you moved in with that bitch and stud. God knows it’s been long enough you have no right to question who I date. The way you still tease I’m likely to mount the first thing that offers me a place to bury my bone.” He involuntarily licked his lips as he leered at his friend’s ass. “At least Kar wants more than a quick fuck, unlike you.”
The beta glared and tried to shift the discussion. “Her pack’s on the east coast, isn’t it? Is she willing to give that up to become your mate? If not, what’s the point even considering a match?”
“Who said she’d give up being an alpha? If we mate, we could divide our time between the two territories and be joint alphas for both. You’ve never shied away from any type of merger. You run most of the day to day operations here, so I figure you’d be prime beta between the two packs.” Dorian couldn’t repress the smile as he thought of the fierce woman. “She makes me happy. I’m forty-five fuckin’ years old. It would be nice to settle down with someone. God knows I’ve never found anyone around here who caught my interest. After twenty years as alpha, you’d think my best friend would be happy I found someone who can put up with me. I’d like to have some pups and enjoy watching them grow before I get too old.”
“Dorian, this is ridiculous. How well do you even know her? And tell me this, was she going into heat while you were around her? Maybe she was just looking for you to make her scream like the other bitches do.”
“ENOUGH.” Dorian was seriously angry. “Can’t you simply be happy I had a good time?”
“I’m sorry. I was only trying to look out for you. Ya know, that thing best friends do for each other?”
Levi kept an eye on his friend, worried by his actions, and the decisions he was making without consulting him. It had been unlike the alpha to do anything like that in all the years they’d run the pack together. Something seemed off, but he couldn’t figure out what. His friend still exhibited his frustration with the pain he suffered and could be brutal when he went on a hunt. All he could do was watch.
And watch he did as Dorian kept in regular contact with Alpha Ryan. His alpha appeared delighted when that woman arrived in Burney for a visit. Dorian took her to one of his favorite places, Burney Falls. The two sat away from their entourage, quietly talking with their arms wrapped around each other.
Levi’s aggravation grew, and he found it difficult to keep his feelings from the pair. His scent threatened to give him away.
The situation took a serious turn when without consulting his beta, Dorian called a special pack meeting.“I want to thank you all for coming on such short notice. I felt there was something important I should discuss with everyone.” Some knew of the visiting alpha and seemed surprised to find it was the woman standing beside him. There were audible gasps as he placed his arm around Karissa. “Alpha Ryan and I have decided to formally pursue a relationship. Neither of us knows the form or what the outcome will be yet, but I will say she makes me happy.”
Dorian’s mother rushed up and kissed her son before embracing Alpha Ryan. “You two look good together. Thank you for making my son smile again.”
Marshal stood and clapped. Many others did so as well, showing their joy for the alpha’s happiness. A good number of the members turned towards Levi with a worried look.
It had been months since the announcement about Alpha Ryan and Dorian’s relationship. Most of their contact was by video, but there were occasional visits. She spent Thanksgiving with him and his family. When Christmas arrived, he traveled to her pack with an armful of gifts and a heart filled with joy. The two were particularly close when they met up again at the next congress. The couple assisted their friends, the Elementals, in building on what had been done the year before.
The gossip around the convention centered on the two alphas in love, especially after Dorian met with the alpha mates group.
“Ladies, Ethan, and the rest of you guys.” Dorian’s mood was at an all-time high as he stood before the group. “I know many of you women are alphas in your own right, but based on the notion of one leader, you defer to your mate in running the pack. I respect that decision when you’re at home. Some of you may have heard I’ve fallen for an alpha.” There were giggles around the room. “When I’m at her pack, it’s understood she’s the boss and I’m the boyfriend. She is teaching me things about leading I hadn’t considered. Your mates are lucky to have you help guide them. Since our congress is still going through changes, I must ask you for more. We need your voices in the Hall of Alphas. This body needs your wisdom so we can grow.”
One of the more powerful women in the room stood. “Brave words, Alpha Jackman. Some of us have told our mates that for years.”
“Well, there’s a growing number who think as I do. I may be dating a wolf who commands her own pack, but even if it was just mine we shared, I can’t imagine going into that room without her at my side. If we can pull this off with your mates’ support, will some of you consider it?”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding if you think we’ll pass up this opportunity.”
Ethan met his friend after the discussion group broke up. “Karissa’s really got you whipped, doesn’t she? I’m so happy for you.” He couldn’t contain himself and hugged the large man.
“Maybe she does.” The big man actually blushed. “Thanks, though. It’s nice to feel this way about someone.”
“I promised to do decorations for her wedding whenever it happens. So let me know when you guys finally pick a date and location.” The young Elemental was bouncing with happy energy.
Dorian’s face darkened some. “I’ve got a huge favor to ask, but I want Aiden there when I do.”
“You already know we’ll do anything we can for you.”
“I’m counting on it, Ethan.”
Levi received daily reports from the security detail throughout the congress. Dorian’s behavior was becoming more concerning with each passing message. He tried to manage his frustration with what he heard. He lost it after the enforcer called in regarding the latest meeting Dorian attended. “He did fuckin’ what? The alpha mates? Why didn’t you pull the fuckin’ fire alarm or something to stop him?”
“I didn’t know what he was going to say. It’s not like he told me ahead of time he was going to meet a group of she-wolves.”
“Was the bitch there? Any idea if she put him up to this?”
“She wasn’t there. Looked like she was shocked when she found out. Happy as shit, but shocked.” The man paused for a moment. ”There’s one other thing.”
“If it’s worse, you might consider not coming home, Allen.”
“The two have been publicly discussing formalizing their mating with the other alphas. It doesn’t look like there’s any way to stop it.”
“Don’t worry about it. That I can deal with. Try to keep him out of trouble. You only have three days before the convention’s over.” Levi hung up and left the office. Glancing at his watch, he knew both his partners should be home. A hot round of sex with the pair would burn off some of the stress he was feeling. There was a strong needed in him to feel the stud make him moan like a bitch as his hole was ravaged by the younger man’s oversized appendage. He also wanted to hear their girlfriend scream in pleasure as he took her at the same time. A smile crept across his face as he felt a tingle of anticipation.
“Dorian, why all the secrecy for a simple meeting between alphas? Neighbors?”
“If this goes how I’d like, I’d prefer no one knows about it until we conclude this negotiation. I want to avoid outside influences from interfering.”
“Well, you’ve piqued my curiosity. Things on our border have been tense at times, what with your expansionism over the last ten years of so.”
“That’s precisely what I wanted to talk to you about, Shane. Pit River and Tahoe used to have a good amount of distance between them.”
“Very true. Each time you expanded south we felt we needed to claim more territory to protect our borders from you.”
“When I took Graeagle, that was the final pack that separated us.” Dorian set a folder on the table between them. “As far as I’m aware, incidents on our border have been limited to a few wolves growling at each other. Perhaps anger when a deer being chased would cross and someone wouldn’t want to break off the hunt. Both sides have done that and I’m not making an accusation.”
“I think we’ve both tried to avoid any problems. It’s a long way from each of our homes.”
“That’s exactly why I wanted to talk to you about this. The territory is of no benefit to either of us. I’d like to propose a pull back of our borders.” Dorian pulled a map from the folder and spread it across the table allowing the Tahoe alpha time to inspect it.
“So we’d each pull back twenty miles? All hunters and warriors?”
“Not only that, Shane. All business interests as well. In the case of what I now own in that area, I will turn it over to Paul if I can convince him to resume leadership of what had been the Graeagle pack. The people who were members of that pack are the only ones from my territory who would be allowed to remain in the new buffer zone.”
“Forgive me for being suspicious, Dorian, but since they’re your pack members now and they get to stay as well as benefit from this new zone, how do I know you won’t really be in control of them and the land?”
Dorian slid another document to his counterpart. As Shane read it, his eyes grew wide. “This is an official reinstatement of the Graeagle Pack and gives them exclusive use and oversight of your side of the buffer.”
“Yep. I caused them to be boxed in by you and me before I absorbed that pack into my own. This will resolve that error and give them enough land to hunt. If you agree, they will supervise your side of the zone. Both of us will save money without having to patrol all that space that’s useless to us.”
“What’s to stop you from moving back in and retaking it all after I’ve pulled back? You know I have to ask that Dorian.”
The rest of the documents were handed over to Shane. He nodded occasionally as he reviewed them.
“From those, and I’m willing to file them side by side with you at the Council office, you can see that as long as I’m alpha I give up all present and future claim to that area. Graeagle gets their territory back and use of the buffer zone. They also act as monitors that I abide by the terms of this.”
Shane ran his fingers along his jaw line as he thought about the proposal. “I have only two questions. When do you want to make the announcement? And do you have a pen?”
“Allen, if this is another bad call.” Levi huffed. “Okay, what’s got you sounding so nervous?”
“Dorian and the alpha of Tahoe just made a public announcement about a new treaty.”
“They what? I hadn’t heard about anything being discussed.”
“Something about a new buffer zone between the packs. They said it was signed and filed with the Council earlier today.”
Levi tapped away at his computer. “FUCK!”
“Dorian, how could you give up territory like that? You didn’t even talk to me about it.”
“Last time I checked, my title was still alpha and yours is beta. I don’t need your permission to negotiate a treaty. It happened, it’s signed, now live with it.” He crossed his arms and glared.
“Of course it’s your decision. You normally talk to me though.”
“I didn’t like the reports you’ve provided on your cousin’s operation of that region. The expense of maintaining it was getting out of control. I informed him a couple hours ago he’s fired. Anyways, an opportunity presented itself that I felt benefited us, Tahoe, and the people of Graeagle. Paul has agreed to resume his duties as alpha and will monitor the neutral zone for Shane and me.”
“Shut up, Levi.” The alpha smirked. “Look, the decision is made. Our people have one week to pull back within the new boundaries. Anyone who doesn’t will have to answer to my claws. You and Allen have your orders. Now make it happen.” He looked around his office. “Didn’t you bring me any cookies? I’ve been craving your mom’s baking.”
Two months had passed since the most recent congress and the grey wolf sat under the dim light of a quarter moon. He stared at the water flowing over Burney Falls yet didn’t see a thing. Closing his eyes he inhaled the sweet fragrance of the forest, letting it wash over him. The roar of the falls soothed him. He wished his future mate was beside him to share the moment. This was the one place in the territory Dorian still felt at peace. Having escaped his bodyguards for the time being he enjoyed the tranquility of the spot he always visited as a boy when he needed to think. Reopening his eyes, the wolf now saw the beauty before him and savored it with all his senses. Sadness clouded the happy memories of the falls. A tear rolled down his fur and dropped to the ground. A sense of resolve filled Dorian. Walking away the grey wolf turned for one more look at his beloved Burney Falls.
Levi had managed to keep Dorian focused on what he felt was important to him and of course the pack. This was a challenge at times, with the back and forth trips of his alpha and the bitch.
He was surprised when he was summoned to Dorian’s office one evening after most everyone had gone home. He wondered if this was to arrange an announcement about the alpha couple’s expected engagement. The beta bristled at the thought.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“I need an ambulance at Pit River Industries. Now!” The voice sounded panicked. “Dorian isn’t breathing.”
“I’m alerting EMS and fire services now. They’re five minutes out. Does he have a pulse?”
“He feels cold.” There was a brief pause. “I think he’s dead.”