MAN TROUBLES (part 12)
a short story by Alexis Morgan
Lydia shut the door and leaned against a nearby counter. She might have put on a good show out there in the parking lot, but now her knees had suddenly turned to jelly. Her head said that she'd done the smart thing by staying behind, but her heart insisted she charge right back out there and demand to go with Silas.
Hardly aware that she'd made the decision, she was through the door at a full out-run toward the vans just starting to drive away. The first vehicles kept moving, but the brake lights on the last one flashed as the van coasted to a stop. Silas piled out of the passenger door and came running.
His big hands clamped down on her shoulders as he held her at arm's length. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing now. I'm coming with you."
He immediately released his hold on her and stepped back. "I meant what I said, Lydia. I don't want you to see this."
She followed him step for step. "And if I'm going to live in your world, I have to see firsthand what that entails. If you want me to stand at your side, then that needs to start now."
Lydia glanced back toward the van where Haakon sat watching her with a small smile on his rugged face. Then he made eye contact with Silas. "For what it's worth, my mate would have kicked my ass for trying to leave her behind in the first place."
"Fine, you can come. For the record, I'm not happy about this."
She moved back into his arms long enough to give him a quick kiss. "And I'm not happy you have to go through this at all. They don't deserve you."
He slipped his arm around her shoulders as they started toward the van. "The pack does deserve a good leader, one who puts their needs first. My brother is not that man, and after everything that has happened, maybe I'm not either. If that's the case, then I will help them find someone who is strong enough to guide the pack through the transition."
Her heart hurt to hear the sacrifices Silas was willing to make on behalf of people who hadn't appreciated what they'd tossed aside when they'd driven him off. "And that sentiment is exactly the reason they do need you, Silas."
He helped her into the backseat and climbed in beside her. Rather than scoot all the way across to the other side, she used the center seatbelt to stay as close to Silas as possible. He might not need the close contact, but she sure did.
The last time she'd felt as if she stood at the edge of a precipice and about to tumble over was when Joseph had offered to sell her the restaurant for the price of five gold coin favors. Accepting that deal had been scary enough, but this was so much worse. If by some chance Bjorn won the fight, she stood to lose the one man who had ever laid claim to her heart. If Silas was the victor-and he would be-then her whole life would change. There was no way he would abandon his pack a second time, which meant he would be returning to Alaska. There was no way she would let him go alone.
Silas's breath danced across her skin as he whispered near her ear. "What are you thinking about so hard?"
She leaned into his warmth. "What kind of clothes I'm going to need to live in Alaska. I don't even know if your pack lives near civilization or out in the middle of nowhere."
He chuffed a small laugh. "I like a woman who plans ahead. To answer your question, we're scattered across an area between Denali and Fairbanks. The pack's headquarters is located on some wooded acreage a short distance from Fairbanks, and I have a house there. A few lone wolves roam farther afield, but even they return to our land to check in periodically."
"How does everyone make a living?"
"Most hold down regular jobs, the same kind other people do. A lot are tied to the tourist trade and guiding hunters and people that come to Alaska to fish."
Haakon joined the conversation. "We've gotten good at blending in, which is important if we want to continue flying under the radar."
He signaled and exited off the interstate onto a two-lane highway. Then he met Silas's gaze in the rear view mirror. "We'll be there soon."
After a few minutes of silence, Silas asked, "What about the restaurant? I don't want to ask you to give up something you've worked so hard for."
She leaned in closer to him, letting his warmth soothe her nerves. "I'm thinking it's time someone else gets the chance to buy it from me for the same price I paid. My head chef is a great guy, and he'll take good care of the place."
"Only if you're sure."
Before she could respond, Haakon turned off the two-lane highway onto a narrow dirt road flanked on both sides by a fence. One of his men stepped out of the trees to open the gate for them. After they drove through, he closed and locked it again. Haakon slowed and waited for him to climb in the front passenger door before continuing on.
He asked the newcomer, "Any problems?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle." He glanced back over his shoulder at Silas. "Your brother has quite the mouth on him. It was tempting to shut it for him, but I didn't. Figured you'd prefer to take care of that job yourself."
Silas smiled just a little. "Thanks."
The road made one last slow bend through the trees before ending at the edge of a large meadow. Haakon parked the van next to the others, which were now empty. Lydia spotted the men from Haakon's pack standing near the trees on the other side of the clearing along with those from Silas's pack. On the other hand, Bjorn stood off by himself in a large circle of bare dirt wearing just his jeans.
Haakon and his man got out of the van and walked away, giving them a moment's privacy. Silas didn't hesitate to take advantage of it. He tugged her up onto his lap before giving her a take-no-prisoners kiss. She gave as good as she got in case this was the last time…No, she wouldn't even let that thought cross her mind.
They were both breathing hard by the time Silas broke off the kiss. "You can wait here in the van if you want or you can stand with Haakon. He'll keep you safe."
She captured his handsome face with her hands. "Come back to me, Silas. I have plans for us."
He looked out toward where his brother stood waiting, his expression grim. "I hate this. It's as if I never knew him at all."
Then he turned back to her, his beautiful blue eyes full of heat and hunger. "I love you, Lydia. Never doubt that for a second. Let's get this done and get on with our life together."
Lydia forced a smile. "Sounds like a plan."
Silas escorted his stubborn woman over to stand with Haakon and his beta. He would have preferred for her to wait in the van or, better yet, back at the restaurant. That didn't keep him from loving her strength and her willingness to stand beside him.
He gave her one last quick kiss and then stripped off his shirt and handed it to her. Then he removed his shoes and socks.
Haakon walked with Silas out to face Bjorn, who sneered. "I was beginning to think you'd decided to run again."
If he thought his snide comment would throw Silas off his game, he was sadly mistaken. He ignored his brother and focused on Haakon. "You want to go over the rules?"
Once again Bjorn just had to shoot off his mouth. "What do you mean rules? There's only one rule-we fight to the death."
Haakon's hand shot out and caught Bjorn by the throat. "This is my territory, asshole. What I say goes. You fight as men or you fight as wolves, your choice. Once the decision is made, there's no changing it. If anyone cheats, I will end him permanently. If either of you tap out, the other one will respect that decision and walk away. Fail to do so, and I will kill you myself."
Then he released his hold on Bjorn, shoving his back a few steps in the process. Although it was clear the rules applied to both Bjorn and Silas, Haakon kept all of his attention focused on Bjorn. "Silas, since you were the one who was challenged to this fight, it's your choice. Will you fight as men or as wolves?"
That was easy. Even though there wasn't much difference in their size as men, his wolf was both bigger and stronger than his brother's. "Wolves."
Haakon nodded. "Wolves it is. Stand on opposite sides of the circle until the change is complete. The fight will start when I say so and not a second before."
Silas moved to his side of the ring and stripped off the rest of his clothing. After tossing his jeans aside, he knelt and raised his face to the warmth of the sun as he called on the other half of his soul. The magic burned through his veins as the transition washed over him. Seconds later, he saw the world through the eyes of an alpha wolf.
He stared at his enemy and waited patiently for Haakon's signal. There was no hatred in his soul for his enemy, only a cold determination to walk away as the victor. Then he would claim his mate and his pack.
Bjorn took longer to transition into his other form. When he was finally finished, Silas lifted his head and howled in challenge. Haakon didn't give Bjorn a chance to respond. He simply shouted, "Now!"
Both wolves charged forward and came together in a clash of teeth and claws and with death in their eyes.