Humans and lycan alike gathered on the street as the fire truck’s and ambulance’s red lights flashed in the darkness. Gasps were heard as a gurney was wheeled out of the office building. Instead of a person heading to the hospital, a large black bag was strapped to it. Speculation raced through the lycan crowd on who it could be and what happened. Many thought their alpha had dealt with a serious problem, like he had done several times in the past. In those cases, it wasn’t done where the human population could see the removal of a dead body.
A sheriff’s deputy walked out beside the beta. The man was trying to comfort Levi who appeared distraught. The pair spoke as other emergency officials joined the conversation.
Once the black bag was loaded, the flashing lights were turned off, and the vehicles departed. Life returned to normal on the sleepy streets of Burney.
An hour or so later, the beta sent a text to the pack’s membership. <It’s with great sadness I inform you our beloved alpha has left on the eternal hunt. More info when we have it.>
Theories raced through the pack about what could have happened. Each more farfetched than the previous. One suggested the alpha was secretly meeting that woman and would return soon. Another said the bitch had him murdered to take his pack. Still more that she rejected him, and he died of a broken heart.
So many circulated, Levi was happy to let them run, while the official process slowly worked its way back to his desk. The members of the long-disbanded council met with the beta to demand answers.
“What really happened in that office?”
“I’m meeting with you as a courtesy due to your long service. Don’t forget none of you have any official position anymore.” Levi was annoyed at having to deal with them. He expected it, but still didn’t want to bother. “Our medical staff’s examining the body. Nothing’s finalized yet, but the initial report I received is Dorian had a minor defect with his heart, and it finally proved fatal.”
“Why did you prevent our family from claiming the body to have our own autopsy?” Marshal didn’t look at all happy dealing with Levi.
“To be honest, it’s not your place. You may be his family, be he was the pack’s alpha which gives me full authority over how to deal with his death.”
“I don’t like it, but I’ll accept that under pack law. Now I want to know how soon until we can give my stepson a proper funeral.”
“It should be another couple days. Marshal, don’t forget I’ve lost my best friend in this. I’ve known him longer than you. You’re not the only one hurting.”
“I suppose you’re right. His friends from the Lycan Council should be notified if they haven’t been already. I’m sure several would like to attend his memorial.”
“The discussion with security has been to keep this as just a pack event. Logistics for allowing others in at a time like this are complicated.”
“In this case, his mother and I will overrule you as is our right. You may have control over the investigation of his death, but the family, even of an alpha organizes the funeral. Sarah and I have already started planning it. A notification will be sent to the Council that any alphas who wish to pay their last respects will be most welcome.”
Levi tried to repress his growl. “I’ll send the message out today with follow up information when the day is set.”
Dignitaries began arriving in the small town of Burney. Levi was surprised when he met one of the private jets and found himself face to face with the chief alpha of the Lycan Council.
Ethan and Aiden, along with their friends, arrived with Alpha Ryan. Dorian’s mother, Sarah, met them at the airport and took them to the family home.
“For years I couldn’t stand your son.” Karissa tried to smile through her tears. “I’m sorry. I know that sounds bad.”
“I’m his mother and watched as he changed. You have nothing to be sorry about since I couldn’t stand him either. If anything, you helped bring him back to who he was. He was truly happy since he met you.”
“His attitude over the last two congresses was so different. The first one surprised us all when he was helpful. A lot of what we did to reform the Lycan Council was because of his support. I didn’t expect to like him so much when I got him to dance with me at the inauguration. I never imagined I’d fall in love with him.”
“I always knew it would take a strong woman to catch his attention. There’s no one I would have approved of more as my daughter-in-law than you.” A few tears began to fall as Sarah turned away from her guests. “I’ve buried one mate. A mother never expects she’ll have to bury one of her children. It became real this morning when the funeral director stopped by to go over the final details with us. I completely lost it when he handed me the death certificate.”
Casey felt the need to be helpful. Sitting around while the family reminisced was difficult. “If you show me where the kitchen is, I’ll take care of cooking for you. My mom would be seriously pissed at me if I didn’t.”
“We’ll help you, Case.” Darius patted his mate on the shoulder.
Sarah eyed the three enforcers who guarded two of Dorian’s friends. “I don’t mean to be rude, but are you three a… I guess couple isn’t the right word, but are you?”
The smile on Cody’s face actually lifted some of the sadness in the room. “Yes, ma’am. We are. I know it’s unconventional, but none of us could agree to live without the other two.”
“Besides, when it comes to our duties of protecting our charges, it prevents outside influence from interfering.” Darius wrapped an arm around both of his mates.
“You’ve definitely got to be the lion Dorian talked about.”
“Yes, ma’am. I am.”
“Kitchen’s this way.” Dorian’s younger sister got up to lead the three. “Tall, handsome, built, and can cook. You’d be perfect if you weren’t gay. Either way, I’m sure you give lots of people vivid fantasies.”
“We try our best.” Cody bowed to the woman.
Aiden pulled Marshal aside. “Is there someplace we can speak privately? Ethan and I have something important for you.”
Four horses pulled a black-draped wagon bearing the alpha’s casket. It was the same one that carried Alpha Wagner to his funeral twenty-seven years before. Mourners had gathered in the field by the river to honor their leader one last time. Dorian’s family walked behind the slow moving carriage, as visiting leaders followed.
Members of the Hunter Corps lined each side of the wagon, as it made its way to the back of the gathering. The men and women stood at attention, while eight of the visiting alphas moved alongside and lifted the casket, carrying it to a pedestal. The commander of the hunters placed the Corps’ flag over the coffin, briefly resting his hand on it.
The honor guard took up their position around the leader who so loved his time as one of them.
Levi stood and was about to address the crowd, when Marshal shook his head. The beta thought everything had been agreed to and was puzzled by the change. It was, after all, his right as the second in command to run the funeral.
Dorian’s stepfather scanned the crowd. “Thank you all for joining my family tonight to honor the life of our son, brother, uncle, and alpha.” He wiped a tear from his cheek. “No man should die this young. Certainly not before his parents. For a man like Dorian, old age or an honorable fight in the ring should have been his fate. To be felled by a small defect in his heart is not how a man like him should have gone.” He glanced to his stepson’s best friend. “Dorian was not a perfect alpha. He knew that would be the case from the start.
“I still remember his first few days on the job when he threatened to exile me while signing a mountain of legal document to assume control of the pack.” There was general laughter from the guests. “He thought he’d been set up. In reality, he had. I knew his love for the pack, and all he’d learned from his predecessor could make him a good leader. He may not have been of my blood, but he was every bit my son.” The man rested his hand on the polished wood before returning to his seat.
“Alpha Jackman was once a captain in our hunters ranks.” The commander of the Corps stood proudly at the podium. “Even after becoming alpha, he went on patrols with everyone from the highest ranking member to the newest. Always instilling pride in the organization he viewed as our first line of defense.” He placed his hand atop the Corps’ flag. “You were my friend, and I will deeply miss you. I wish you a good and plentiful hunt.”
Several more pack members spoke about their leader, before Levi was allowed his turn. He extolled the virtues of his friend and how everything he did was for the betterment of its members. How Dorian had overseen unprecedented growth in their territory and made them one of the largest packs in the council. The McKinney family clapped vigorously as he returned to his seat. Many others were much more subdued.
When Karissa took her turn, Sarah and Dorian’s sisters stood by her side. “I never expected to fall in love with that asshole we saw every year at the Congress of Alphas.” The laughter eased her comment about the fallen leader. “I know that’s rude to say while standing beside his coffin, but I think I’ve earned the right from dealing with him for years. When he showed a different side of himself, I finally got to see the real man behind the title. The one who loved his pack and believed change sometimes needed to be made. Being an alpha myself, it placed some minor complications on us. Working out alliances between our packs, prenuptial agreements, and other things that seem trivial now.” As her tears flowed, she was embraced by the women flanking her. “I wish I would have had more time with him. We knew we weren’t true mates, but it’s still devastating to imprint on someone just to have them taken away. I wish I could have given him a pup and seen the joy in his eyes of holding his son or daughter. I wasn’t looking for a mate, but I found one in your alpha. A part of my heart is now missing and my wolf howls her sadness. A wonderful man has been lost.”
There were remarks from Chief Alpha Drake and several other dignitaries talking about the changes they had seen in Dorian before a small form stood. He reached for his mate’s hand, as they approached the podium. Stopping briefly, Ethan did as many others had, and reverently rested his hand on the casket. Aiden squeezed his other one in support. The young alpha took a deep breath as he faced his friend’s pack.
Aiden kissed the hand and held it tightly. “Are you ready for what’s coming? I know it’s a lot, even for someone like you. We’ve talked about it, but you’ve never been asked to do something like this.”