MAN TROUBLES (part 13)
a short story by Alexis Morgan
Lydia gasped as Silas and his brother Bjorn crashed into each other with brutal force. As the two wolves snarled and snapped, she latched onto Haakon's hand for support. Maybe she should have asked first, but the alpha wolf simply gave her hand a soft squeeze without ever taking his eyes off the fight.
"Steady, girl. You'll note that she-wolf who did her best to come between the two of them isn't anywhere to be seen. Silas might not admit it, but knowing you're here for him only strengthens him."
She winced as Bjorn snapped at Silas's shoulder and drew blood. "I hope so."
It was hard to even breathe as the two brothers tumbled across the dirt circle in the middle of the clearing, sending up a cloud of dust that made it difficult to pick up many details on what was actually happening. She didn't know how the other witnesses felt about that, but she was mostly relieved.
For a brief second, she got a clear view of Silas. His white fur was splashed with blood, but she couldn't tell if most of it was his or Bjorn's. It was so tempting to look away, to close her eyes, or even bolt back to hide in one of the vehicles, but that would be the coward's way out. Since she'd insisted on being there, the least she could do was stand her ground and watch.
In contrast, the other spectators were cheering on their champion of choice. Haakon and his men were openly rooting for Silas to win. It sent shivers through her to hear wolf howls coming from human throats. The men who'd come with Bjorn had started off yelling encouragement but were strangely quiet now. Did they think their man was losing? Had they finally realized the pack had backed the wrong brother? She hoped so. How could they have cast out Silas and kept an idiot like Bjorn?
Maybe she was wrong, but it appeared to her that the fight was slowing down. For sure, both wolves were breathing hard, and it was taking longer for them to regain their feet after another vicious tussle on the ground. Bjorn was limping badly, and Silas's shoulder oozed blood at an alarming rate. Her instincts were to throw herself into the fray, to force the two men apart. However, Silas wouldn't welcome her interference, and Haakon wouldn't allow it in the first place.
As if sensing her thoughts, he alpha standing next to her briefly tightened his grip on her hand. "It won't be long now."
She had no real sense of how much time had actually passed. Probably far less than it seemed. The two combatants came to a sudden stop standing several feet apart. Lydia wasn't sure how to interpret their body language, but all the wolves ranged around the clearing abruptly went silent, their tension palpable in the hot sun.
Bjorn took three slow steps forward, his head down as if showing submission to Silas. There was no way to tell if Silas would accept his brother's surrender, not that it would have mattered. With no warning, Bjorn charged the rest of the distance between them. He snapped his teeth, barely missing Silas's neck.
Twisting his body in a way that looked almost impossible, Silas turned the tide. A heartbeat later, Silas had the younger wolf immobilized on the ground with his massive teeth deep in Bjorn's throat. He'd drawn blood but otherwise remained motionless, still withholding the final death blow.
Slowly, Bjorn closed his eyes, his body going slack. Lydia was too new to Silas's world to even hazard a guess as to what was going on between the two brothers. She glanced at the other wolves, hoping to glean some information from their body language. To a man, they stood ramrod straight, their expressions grim.
He squeezed her hand again as he whispered close to her ear. "Silas has won. The only question now is if Bjorn will be smart enough to accept his brother's offer of mercy."
While she didn't think having Bjorn remain part of the pack after the trouble he'd caused, she also didn't want Silas to have to live with the pain of having executed his own brother. Haakon released his hold on Lydia to talk to his beta. Without taking his eyes off the combatants, he said, "Get the medical kit."
Meanwhile, Bjorn growled, and Silas released his hold and stepped back, still keeping a wary eye on the younger wolf. As it turned out, his caution was warranted. As soon as Bjorn regained his feet, he launched another attack, but this time straight at Lydia.
She stumbled back, terrified by the crazed wolf leaping toward her. But as fast as Bjorn was, Silas was even faster. This time, when he took his brother to the ground, there was no hesitation, no mercy.
Her lungs finally remembered how to work as she watched the broken wolf shimmer and regain its human shape. Silas's shift followed seconds later. When he lifted his face to the sky, he howled in both victory and in grief. Other voices joined in as Lydia found her courage and walked out to where Silas stood vigil over his brother's body. She wrapped her arms around the man she loved and held on with every bit of strength she had.
After a few minutes, he led her toward the members of his pack. They all stood in silence as one by one the men bowed their heads and accepted Silas as their alpha.
Hours later, Silas sank down on the couch in Lydia's apartment and rubbed his shoulder. Damn, he hurt. The shift had jumpstarted the healing process, but nothing was going to fix the big hole torn in his heart where his little brother used to be. He could only be glad that his parents weren't around to learn of Bjorn's treachery. It was one thing to challenge for control of the pack. That's the way things were done among their kind. But to have accepted Silas's offer of mercy only to try to kill Lydia was the mark of insanity. Not even Bjorn's strongest supporters would have condoned such an action.
He'd half expected her to demand Haakon get her the hell out of there, but she'd remained right at Silas's side as he dealt with the immediate aftermath of the battle. He'd accepted the offers of fealty from the wolves from his pack who had stood witness to the fight. Once they returned to the restaurant parking lot, he'd sent them off to a local motel until he was ready to send them back to their quarters in Alaska.
Haakon had offered to put them up at his place, but he'd done enough for them already. While the older wolf understood Silas's need to take care of his own people, he'd insisted on at least making the arrangements to hold a simple funeral for Bjorn. Silas would take his brother's ashes back home to scatter in the wilderness that had been their home for generations. Bjorn may have betrayed Silas and his own honor, but he'd still been family and packmate.
Lydia set two plates of linguini and side salads down on the coffee table. "Are you doing okay?"
It was tempting to lie and say yes, but this was the mate of his heart. She deserved the truth. "No, I'm not. I keep asking myself how I missed seeing what he'd become, what I could have done differently."
She sat down beside him and leaned into his uninjured shoulder. Her touch soothed his heart, her scent his spirit. "Your pack members seem as shocked by his actions as you were, and they've spent more time in his company lately than you have. If they didn't see it, you can hardly blame yourself."
She pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. "I know you'll take it to heart, though, but that's what makes you the right man to lead your pack out of the darkness. You share their pain and their guilt."
"It will take a long time for the damage to heal."
"Probably, but you…no, we will get through it. But that's a worry for another day. Right now, you need to eat and then get some sleep. Tomorrow is a workday, and I still haven't had a chance to hire a new dishwasher. You'll be up to your elbows in soapsuds and dirty dishes for hours."
Okay, that had him grinning just a little. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. Caleb didn't much like me helping out to begin with. Don't think I didn't notice him staring at me as he sharpened his chef knife. What's he going to do when he finds out that I'm taking you away from here permanently?"
"He'll get over it. Besides, he'll be too busy running his new restaurant to have any time left over to hassle you."
"Does he even know about the hidden apartment or about Joseph being a vampire?"
"Not that I know of."
Her simple statement was accompanied by a lot of worry in her dark eyes. By his very nature, Silas had grown up knowing that mundane humans were not alone in the world. For her part, Lydia had figured it out for herself when she'd accepted a job from Joseph, a vampire with a soft spot in his heart for those who needed a helping hand. In her life, it had been a human male who'd been the real monster.
In theory, Lydia could simply hand off the restaurant to her friend Caleb in return for the promise of a favor for each of the five gold coins and then take off for Alaska with Silas. No doubt that alone would come as a big enough shock to the man.
However, they both knew that there was no telling who or what would need that favor, and it wouldn't be fair to let Caleb get blindsided at some point in the future.
"I've already called and asked him to come in early tomorrow before the rest of the crew shows up. He'll need time to think about the offer and to come to terms with his new world view."
Silas wrapped his arm around her shoulders and tugged her in closer. "He's a strong man, Lydia. If he wasn't, you wouldn't even be considering offering him the deal."
They made quick work of their dinner. Since she'd cooked, he did the cleanup. It didn't take long, which meant it was time to make some plans. After drying his hands on the towel, he turned around and leaned against the counter.
"The funeral is Wednesday morning. I'll want to head back to Alaska by the weekend. The men who came with Bjorn will need to ride their bikes back, but I have to fly. Word will have already reached the pack about what happened, and I should be there to help patch things back together."
"I'm coming with you."
A man with any sense of honor would tell her one last time that he was a bad bet. "It won't be easy, Lydia, for either of us. Some of my people won't be happy that I've chosen a human for a mate. Others will always wonder if Bjorn really did betray our code of honor."
She walked right into his arms. "They can think and say whatever they want, Silas. None of that will come between us unless we let it. I don't see that happening."
He answered her the only way he could. He kissed her.
The next morning, she tried to get Caleb to sit down for their discussion, but the stubborn man refused. Instead, he leaned against the counter and kept glaring at Silas who calmly sipped his coffee as she explained how she'd come to own the restaurant and why it was now going to become Caleb's. When she ran out of breath, he folded his arms over his chest and gave each of them a hard look.
"So, let me get this straight. Joseph is a vampire. Silas here is a werewolf, and you're selling me the restaurant for the price of five favors. Those favors can be anything from hosting a party to mailing a package to letting a werewolf stay in an apartment I didn't even know existed. Does that about sum it up?"
Lydia winced and slowly nodded. "Yeah, that's pretty much it."
"And you're giving up this place to run off to Alaska with him?"
"Yeah, I am."
Caleb pinned his gaze on Silas. "Are you going to treat her right?"
Silas's calm façade slipped just a bit. "I will. It's both my duty and my honor to care for my mate. Anyone who tries to hurt her has to come through me first."
"And if one of her friends-me, for instance-wants to come check on her sometime?"
Silas grinned. "You would be welcomed with open arms. I know how important you are to her, Caleb. I would never try to come between the two of you. I'd suggest a summer visit, though, unless you're fond of a lot of snow and freezing temperatures."
The chef drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Okay, well, I'm going to have to discuss this with my wife. She'd kick my backside up and down the street if I said yes or no without talking to her first."
Lydia gave him a quick hug. "If she thinks it's a bad deal because of all the weirdness involved, I'll understand."
The big man then left, promising to be back with his answer in time to start his shift.
Good to his word, Caleb returned half an hour before he was due to start work. Silas was glad he hadn't kept them waiting any longer because Lydia had about worn a trench in the floor during the short time he'd been gone. Caleb came into the kitchen, his expression impossible to read. Finally, he held out his hand and studied the five coins and then offered them back to Lydia.
"If you're sure about this, Lydia,"-he pause to glance at Silas-"And I don't mean just about selling the restaurant, then I guess we have a deal."
She took the five coins and immediately handed one back. "For the first favor, I would like you to fix a meal for about fifty people. We need to hold a wake for someone close to Silas. I'd like to do it Thursday night, and it will mean closing the restaurant that night. Fix whatever you think is appropriate for the occasion, but I suggest you go heavy on the meat."
Caleb pocketed the coin. "Don't you worry, I'll take care of everything."
Then once again he met Silas's gaze head on. "My condolences on your loss."
While Caleb might still have misgivings about Silas when it came to Lydia, the sympathy in his voice was real. Silas held out his hand, "Thanks, Caleb. That means a lot. And congratulations on being the owner of this fine establishment."
He gave Lydia a quick kiss. "I need to call and check on my people and then let Haakon know about the dinner, but I'll be back in time to wash dishes. I hear the head chef has some sharp knives and doesn't take kindly to employees who slack off."
Caleb grinned. "You're smarter than you look."
They all laughed when Lydia punched her friend on the arm. "Be nice."
As he headed up to Lydia's apartment, Silas realized he was still smiling. Taking that first step back toward normal felt damned good.
In the end, Lydia had to stay behind in Seattle for a week to finish signing paperwork transferring ownership of the restaurant to Caleb and his wife. She'd reached out to Joseph to let him know what was happening. He'd been happy for her and pleased that the restaurant would be in good hands.
After arranging to have her belongings packed up and shipped to Silas's home, she'd spent one last evening acting as hostess at the restaurant to say good-bye to some old friends and favorite customers.
Now her flight was on its final approach. She spent the last few minutes staring out the window to get her first view of her new home. She and Silas had talked every morning on the phone and kept in touch via text the rest of the day. Even so, it felt like forever since she'd felt his touch and held him close.
From what he'd told her, the pack had welcomed him back. As expected, a few members had concerns about their alpha's made being human. To her surprise, though, it was Bjorn's men who had stood up for her when they'd called ahead to let their families know when they'd make it back on their motorcycles. At the same time, they'd let it be known they'd been impressed by the fact that Lydia had stood by Silas during the challenge and her graciousness in dealing with the aftermath. The bottom line was that the pack was willing to give her a chance to prove herself, which was all she could ask.
The one person who wouldn't accept her was the she-wolf who had tried to pit Silas and his brother against each other. The pack elders had firmly told her that she needed to seek out a pack willing to take her in. Once again, Haakon had stepped up to help. He offered the woman a probationary membership in his pack, making it clear that her continued acceptance would depend on her following the rules. Any infractions would be dealt with harshly and without appeal.
Lydia hadn't heard if the woman had taken the deal and didn't really care. All that mattered was that she was no longer in Alaska to stir up trouble for the pack.
It seemed like forever before the plane reached the gate and people could disembark. When she and her fellow passengers finally reached the baggage area in the terminal, a shout went up. She turned to see what all the ruckus was about only to see a huge sign saying "WELCOME HOME, LYDIA!" The people holding it up were surrounded by kids with balloons, and one handsome blue-eyed alpha wolf holding a bouquet of roses.
Her heart stuttered a bit even as her feet took off running right into her lover's arms and their future.