A WOLF ON A MISSION Part 4
If either Logan and Vivian were surprised by Declan's stark pronouncement that her Alpha needed to die, they gave no sign of it. In part, he wrote that off to Logan's own desire for retribution also running hot. As for Vivian, she appeared genuinely shocked that both men actually believed her story. Clearly the members of her pack had sided with Rolf. It was hard to know if that was because they actually believed his line of bullshit that an Alpha should get whatever he wanted or if they were too afraid to risk crossing him.
Either possibility only served to make Declan more furious. An Alpha's number one duty was to protect the members of his pack, especially the females, who were usually outnumbered by the males. That made it all the more important to keep them safe. If a wolf in Declan's pack had ever deliberately hurt a female, his father would have come down hard on the culprit either by driving him from the pack or executing him on the spot if the nature of the abuse warranted it.
And if the Alpha himself was guilty of such a crime, the pack would band together to end his life.
Realizing his own dominant nature was likely not helping the current situation, he forced his wolf's predatory urges to take a back seat to their mutual desire to soothe the female standing on the other side of the bars. Drawing on the power of an Alpha to soothe a troubled subordinate wolf, he spoke with calm reassurance. "Vivian, I know this is difficult for you, but both Logan and I need to hear exactly what happened in your pack. Start from before Rolf became the Alpha and go from there. Tell us about your family, how big your pack is, stuff like that. No detail is too small if it will help us understand the situation. Take your time and work your way up to talking about what happened after Rolf took over."
The narrow-eyed look the vampire gave him made it clear he suspected that Declan was using some kind of dominant wolf mojo on Vivian, but he didn't protest. At that point the two men were temporary allies in trying to ease her pain. Declan offered her a small smile. "I suggest we all sit down and get more comfortable. Maybe you could get me another bottle of water first."
Vivian blinked and shook her head a little as if to clear it. Finally, she headed for the fridge and got three bottles. While she did that, both Logan and Declan sat down on the floor, getting themselves situated to listen to Vivian's story no matter how long it took for her to tell it. Once they'd heard everything, the three of them could make plans.
While she didn't want to feel grateful to Declan for anything, Vivian did appreciate him giving her even a few seconds to rein in her emotions. It was unlikely the temporary calm would last, but at least she could breathe again. Logan had never once been anything but careful with her, and even Declan no longer seemed ready to drag her back to New Eire kicking and screaming. That was no guarantee the truce would last when—or if—Logan trusted the wolf enough to unlock the cell door. Still, even a small chance was better than no chance at all.
She handed Logan a bottle and then stuck her hand through the bars to offer Declan his. It was a small gesture of trust on her part, knowing his reflexes were fast enough for him to grab her wrist before she could withdraw it. He gave her a small nod to acknowledge the gesture. After taking a small sip of her drink, she set it aside. It was time to get with the program. The only problem was where to start.
"My mother was human. So was my grandmother."
Declan frowned but didn't say anything while Logan demanded an explanation. "And that's somehow significant?"
Her cheeks burned hot with embarrassment. She'd thought she'd come to terms with the emotional scars left by the small-minded whispers that had followed her all her life. However, having to admit that she was but one quarter wolf in front of Logan, much less Declan, brought it all roaring back. "It matters to some in the pack. Many males are hesitant to take a mate who is even first generation partly human, much less a second generation female like me."
Logan obviously knew less about wolves than he thought because he still wasn't understanding. She kept her focus on him because she couldn't stand to see either sympathy or disgust reflected in Declan's hard gaze. "I can't shift, which means there's a better than average chance any child I bear will have the same problem. Family and pack are everything to wolves. Those who can't run as a wolf are relegated to the fringes of pack life."
At this point, she was staring down at the floor, but a low growl had her lifting her gaze to meet Declan's. The pure blue of his eyes had given way to the burnished gold of his wolf. She should have known he'd take the side of the purebloods. But his next words put an end to that line of thought. "What kind of dumb shit pack would treat their members that way? No one should make any child feel less valuable than the others."
She could hardly believe what he was saying. "Are you saying it's different in yours?"
He jerked his head in a quick nod, but then he sighed. "Yes, it is. I will also admit that it isn't always easy for people to find their right space within the pack. That's true whatever abilities someone has or lacks."
Something in his voice made her suspect he was talking from experience. What kind of problems could a strong alpha like him have had? Now wasn't the time for that discussion, but the knowledge that he'd also struggled at some point in his life made it that much easier to continue the discussion.
Meanwhile, he glanced at Logan and then back to her. "It's true not everyone can run with the pack when the moon calls us, but the pack holds other events where everyone can participate as equals. My father also sees to it everybody has an assigned role within the pack to ensure they know they are valued for their specific talents. The bottom line is that the ability to go furry is not required to served the greater good of the pack. My closest friend since birth can't change. It never stopped us from playing together and getting into all kinds of trouble just like any other two rascally kids. Sure, there are things I can do that Todd can't, but he was always a lot better student than I was. Because of that, the pack paid his tuition to go to university while my brothers and I had to put ourselves through. He has advanced degrees in both business and accounting, and he's now in charge of managing the pack's finances. Even the vampire clan that owns the estate where our pack lives has him doing work for them. That's just one example."
He smiled just a little. "The brother who owns the security business I work for is married to a chancellor. My youngest brother's new mate is only one-fourth vampire, but she sports an impressive set of fangs. My father didn't have any problems with those pairings either as a parent or as their Alpha. They are both strong women who bring added strength to our pack."
Declan's voice gentled just a little. "But enough about my pack. We need to hear more about yours."
Vivian couldn't imagine what it would have been like to grow up in a pack like Declan's. It made explaining the dynamics of her own that much harder. "My grandfather served as our Alpha since before I was born. His oldest son was in line to take over when the time came. Sadly, they were both killed in a freak accident, which left my father next in line. He was a good man, a kind one, but he wasn't cut out for leadership. Since he wasn't ever expected to take on the role of Alpha, no one protested when he married my mother even though it was likely they'd never produce a cub who could shift."
She used the excuse of taking another drink to fight back the burn of tears. She'd loved her parents, and their deaths had ripped a huge hole in her heart, one that had never healed. "Dad did the best he could to hold things together while he and his advisors looked around for a solution to the problem. They decided to look for a new Alpha, one from outside of the pack. Eventually, they sent out a few discreet inquiries to other packs."
Logan took her shaking hand in his, offering an anchor in the storm of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. Declan stared at their hands, his eyes flashing gold once again, clearly not liking her taking comfort from the vampire. Too bad. Logan was her friend, and she barely knew Declan.
Time to move on. "The Alpha from a pack on the other side of the country was the first to respond to the query. He was an old friend of my grandfather, so my dad trusted him to deal fairly with us. According to what the Alpha told us, Rolf was almost but not quite as dominate as two of his older grandsons. It was no surprise that there was growing tension within the pack as the three of them constantly vied for the lead position in the line of succession. The Alpha was only too happy to send his grandson our way to see how well he would fit in with our pack. Rolf appeared on my parents' doorstep about a year ago. At first, everything seemed fine."
"That was just the calm before the storm. He'd only been there a short time when the dominance fights began." She shuddered at the memory. "He started at the bottom of the pack and steadily worked his way up the ladder."
Once again Logan asked for clarification. "Isn't that how these things are usually done? There are dominance fights within the vampire clans, too. It can be damn uncomfortable—not to mention pretty damn bloody—for all concerned until things finally get settled. That leaves the losers two choices. They can accept the outcome and bow down to the winner or they can leave."
If only it had been that easy. A fresh stab of grief washed over her. "There's a third option, Logan. The new Alpha can kill his chief competitors. I bet you can guess which one Rolf chose."
Declan could no longer remain still. Lurching to his feet, he paced the width of the cell several times before he could put together a coherent string of words. Stopping right in front of Vivian, he didn't bother asking a question, but stated the obvious truth. "He murdered your father."
"Yes, he did even if Rolf claimed it was a legitimate dominance fight and that my father refused to surrender when it was obvious he was losing the battle. He bled out in my mother's arms. It shattered something inside of her, and she followed him into death two days later."
His wolf wanted to sing the song of sorrow for Vivian, but there would be time for helping her to mourn later. For now, he needed to know more. "Your father had to know he didn't stand a chance against a wolf like Rolf. Why didn't he simply stand down as the Alpha? From what you said, finding a strong wolf to head up your pack was the whole reason he'd reached out to your grandfather's friend for help."
"That's true. I can't imagine why my father would have consented to fight the bastard. By the time I realized what was happening it was too late to stop the fight. I know my mother tried, but some of Rolf's followers stopped her, and it was all over by the time I got there. I couldn't even get a straight answer from anyone about what had provoked the fight. Some said Rolf started it. Others said my father wouldn't back down over something Rolf wanted. At that point, I was too heartbroken over my father's death to make much sense of anything."
"And when did he try to claim you as his mate?"
"Right before the funeral for my parents. He said that the announcement would go a long way toward calming the pack down and assuring the members there would be a smooth transition of power. I refused him, of course. I'd just lost both of my parents because of him. How could he possibly think I'd betray them that way?"
Logan frowned. "Vivian, I'm going to ask a tough question. Please know I don't feel this way about you, but at least some members of your pack apparently do. Why would he insist on taking your as his mate when you can't shift? You'd think he would want a pureblood for his mate."
She winced at Logan's blunt assessment of the situation, but he hadn't asked anything that Declan wasn't wondering about himself.
"While the pack knew my father wasn't really suitable to be their Alpha, they were used to having someone from my family in charge of things. It's been that way for three generations. My grandfather and his before him weren't perfect, and they clung to some outdated ideas. But having said that, the pack as a whole prospered under their leadership. I'd guess Rolf thought that if he could convince me to marry him, that would help cement his role as the new Alpha."
Declan had to guess that some of the pack would have also expected Vivian to sacrifice herself to keep Rolf happy. Bastards. "What happened next?"
"He didn't even let me attend my parents' funeral. When I rejected his plan, he tossed me in the cell. On the second day, he broke my arm." She massaged her left forearm, probably remembering both the pain and the terror of that moment. "One of his seconds brought me a meal later that afternoon. He told me to make things easier on myself—and everyone else—I should step up and become the Alpha's mate. I grew up with this wolf and thought him a friend. Instead, he was willing to let me suffer because it made things simpler for him."
Her mouth curled up in a bitter sneer. "I made things simpler for him all right. I broke a chair over his thick skull and ran like hell. He survived, but I guess it was iffy for a while. That's why the Coalition wants me for attempted murder. I've been on the run since."
She offered Logan a more genuine smile. "Working for you here at the bar is the longest I've stayed anywhere. I even dreamed of building a life here, but that's all it was—a dream."
After letting that sink in for a few seconds, Logan directed his next question to Declan. "So what happens if someone shows up and challenges Rolf to a fight?"
Considering his fangs were on full display and his hands were clenched in tight fists, it was clear the vampire was already anticipating the sweet taste of wolf blood as he ripped out Rolf's throat. Sadly, the game wasn't played that way.
Regardless, Declan found himself liking the vampire more and more. "Sorry, Logan, but that won't work. Even if the pack isn't happy with their new Alpha, they would band together against an outsider who wasn't a wolf. They might even turn on a wolf who wasn't connected to their pack."
Logan let loose with a string of obscenities. "So you can't challenge him either."
This was where it got tricky. Keeping his attention focused on the vampire, he weighed their options but knew they really had no choice, not if they wanted to eliminate the threat to Vivian once and for all. There was no use in dancing around the obvious. Crossing his arms over his chest, he stared through the bars at the vampire while almost painfully aware of the beautiful woman seated next to him.
Time to toss the dice. "I would be more than willing challenge Rolf for the position of Alpha. Having said that, the only way to ensure I would only have to face him alone would be if I were a member of the pack. There are two ways to do that. I could petition to join on my own, which he'd deny. There's no way a man like Rolf would want a stronger wolf in the pack. The second way would be if I married into the pack. For example, if the previous Alpha's daughter would consent to accept me as her mate."
Then he smiled down at Vivian. "So, Ms. Channing, what do you say? Feel like getting married?"