FATHERS AND SONS
GORDON AND ILONA ANDREWS
I floated for eternity in a sea of agony. Sometimes if I concentrated and blocked out the pain I could hear her voice, from far away. I focused on the sound, willing myself slowly toward it. Finally, after how long I didn't know, I came around and could even make out a bit of what she was saying.
"...seems like a decent guy. Now they are stuck..."
He had someone, she had someone, nobody was talking, and Kate did not know what to do.
I opened my eyes. She looked tired and battered. Still, I had never in my life seen someone more beautiful. Nor had I ever been happier to be near her. For some reason the answer to her dilemma came to me far easier than all the things I really wanted to say.
"Have you tried the Second Chance Law?" I asked quietly. Her eyes did not open. Maybe we were sharing a dream. I explained as best I could and hugged her as hard as I was able.
Finally she looked at me.
"You stayed with me," I whispered. She said something I could not quite catch, but it didn't matter as much as her being there to say it. I smiled and fell back to sleep. Real sleep this time- no red haze, just darkness. I knew she would be there when I came back to the world. No matter what. Eventually I woke again. Something was in my arm and I wanted it out. As I located the source of my irritation, Kate came into the room carrying what smelled like soup.
"What is this shit?" I demanded as I pulled the IV needle out of my arm.
"It kept you alive for eleven days," she informed me.
Almost two weeks! I had laid like that for nearly two God damned weeks, and she had stayed with me. It was not the IV that had kept me alive. The truth of it stunned me.
She handed me the soup. I set it aside and pulled her close. We held each other for a time. Soon however, Derek's familiar knock broke our reverie and short-lived reunion.
"Kate," he inquired quietly, clearly asking permission to cross the threshold. With an authority in her voice that I had never heard, she instructed him to enter.
The kid did so. "I have a wolf out here who wants to see you. He says it's an emergency. Probably another challenge..."
Challenge? For me? Every muscle in my body tensed. Really, were they fucking crazy? I almost died and they are queuing up to get a piece of what is left of me. I glanced at Kate and her face said it all. She wore a look of weary resignation and the fractured pieces fell into place.
Not me. They were challenging her.
Hell no. This shit was going to stop right now.
Derek saw me and abruptly fell silent.
"Bring him in. Don't tell him that I'm awake."
The young wolf closed his mouth, turned and departed quickly to carry out my command. He had always been a smart kid.
"Help me up?"
Kate grabbed my hand and pulled me upright. I would be damned if they would see me laying in bed like a weakling. My body screamed for food. I picked up the bowl she'd brought earlier. The sooner I got some nutrients in, the faster I'd bounce back.
As I sipped the soup, Jaime Alicia strode into the room as if he owned it. So eager to harm my mate and take what was mine. One of Clan Wolf's best fighters and a boxer in his youth, he was tall and well built. I had seen him fight; he was strong and fast. I was also sure that Kate could cut him into little pieces before the soup got cold. I would never admit it, but she was damn good with that sword of hers. Not that she would have to- he would be dead before he touched her.
None of them would ever harm her again. I would see them all dead first.
Jaime stared at me, his jaws slack.
I finished my soup and spoke. "Yes?"
The wolf dropped into a crouch and stared at the floor. Had he hesitated for a second I would have pulled his lungs out through his chest. Claw, reach in, yank out. It would be easy and I would enjoy it immensely. I could smell his fear. I wanted to roar at him.
"Do you have anything to say?"
With his gaze still firmly affixed to the floor, he shook his head no. Now we knew again who was who and what was what. Order needed to be restored and the rest of them needed to be reminded why I was the Beast Lord.
"The Council is due for a meeting in three minutes. Go down there and tell them to wait for me, and I might forget you were ever here." For his sake I hoped he never forget how close he was to a savage and painful death, because I would not give him a second chance.
He walked out. The floor went one way, I went the other. Kate grabbed at my arm to steady me, but her leg gave way and we crashed together onto the couch. We were a long way from top form, but it would have to do. Together, even in our current state, were more than a match for any of my subjects. Well, as far as they knew.
Almost as if she realized what I was thinking, Kate asked, "Are you sure you're ready for a Council meeting?"
I turned to her, willing my face into a mask of determination and menace. "They better be ready for me."
We had to make a show of strength. We could not continue to be seen as anything less than the Beast Lord and his Mate, undisputed masters of the Pack.
It is the nature of our kind that we value power and violence above all else, ruthlessly exploiting any weakness. Authority must be exercised at all times or lost. My people did not have to love or even like me, but by God they would obey me. If they had forgotten why I was feared, I would remind them. If I had to kill a few as an example, then so be it.
I made my way to the bathroom. I fell twice, but my strength was returning. The soup was kicking in. A couple of minutes later I was ready to make it down to the Council room on my own. On our way, Barabas, one of the Pack lawyers and one of B's favorite troublemakers, fell in behind us and kept pace.
I stopped. "Barabas, have you come to challenge me too?" I knew even as I said it that the challenge from him was unlikely. Barabas was slightly crazy and could be insubordinate at times, but he was not stupid.
His usual look of amusement evaporated, replaced by one of complete shock and disbelief. "No, my Lord, I am bound to the Consort."
Apparently the entire place had gone to hell while I was asleep. I turned to Kate and waited for some sort of explanation.
She shrugged. "I made a deal with B, and she gave him to me as a sort of adviser. I will tell you all about it later."
I wasn't sure I wanted to know; B never did anything out of altruism alone. She wanted something. I dimly recalled Kate telling me about it, but the details escaped me. Had she assisted Kate in some way? A thought struck me. "Barabas, how many members of the Pack have challenged my mate while I slept?"
He paused, clearly attempting to recall, finally he turned to Kate and asked, "Twenty-two?"
She nodded silently.
"How many alphas?"
"Only the Jackals, my Lord. The others were rank and file, not even betas."
"You killed the jackals?"
Barabas cleared his throat. "And she dared the rest of them to come and fight her. The dare wasn't accepted."
Of course. You didn't get to be an alpha by being dumb. After the Jackals had been killed, the others had been content to let their subordinates wear her down. Mahon could have stopped it, but did not. He had never made a secret of his disapproval of Kate, but to stand by and allow her to be injured in my absence... he and I would speak of this later. Perhaps it was time for my adoptive father to retire.
I would deal with the rest of the Council shortly. As we approached the door, I could hear them mumbling and whispering inside. Were they bored? Irritated? I could fix all of that. I took a deep breath, opened the door and roared at my subjects as if I had every intent of ending their lives in the next several seconds.
The sudden silence was deafening. Oh yes, Daddy is home and he ain't happy. Playtime was over.
*** *** ***
As my alphas sat in stunned silence, I pulled out a chair for my mate and then seated myself at the head of the table. No one spoke. I scanned the faces seeking a challenge. Not one of them had the courage to meet my stare. They all knew that an example would have to be made and none were eager to be the first.
I leaned forward and in as calm a tone as I could manage, demanded, "Explain yourselves."
"I am waiting for one of you to tell me why you stood by and did nothing while my mate was assaulted on a daily basis."
Finally Jim spoke. "I knew she would be okay. Curran, she had to prove that she belonged."
"Yes," Mahon rumbled. "Nobody expected that she would be allowed to sit at your side without spilling some blood, my liege."
Yeah, actually I kinda did. Last time I had checked I was in charge around here. It was time to gently remind them of that. My eyes were on fire and every one of them knew what that fire meant.
I leaned forward and repeated, "Allowed?"
I let it sink in.
The realization of it hit them. They just told me what I was allowed to do. I heard the new alpha male of the Jackals take a deep breath and hold it.
I stared at them. "I will say this only once. I am the one who allows. I allow all of you to live and I allow you to rule your own clans as you see fit. Whether or not I continue to do so depends solely upon what you say and do in the next few moments. Be very careful."
It was Aunt B who spoke next. "Clan Bouda provided the Consort with both counsel and protection from unlawful challenges. No one who answers to me harmed her." She glanced over at Daniel and his mate. "The same cannot be said of the dogs, however."
Of course. She wouldn't have lifted a finger to stop the wolves from digging their own grave. The hatred between the boudas and the wolves went a long way back. Wolves had greater numbers, but boudas played the game better.
"We broke no laws," Daniel protested. "Everyone knows the alpha of the Bouda Clan cut a deal with Beast Lord's mate."
Jennifer, his mate, nodded. "Yes, because she wanted special status for her degenerates."
A slow smile crept over B's lips. "We all know how much the alpha of the Wolf Clan loves his mate and defers to her. Out of curiosity, how many of his wolves was he willing to sacrifice to indulge her?"