MAN TROUBLES (part 7)
a short story by Alexis Morgan
Silas chose a table at random. Out here in the open, no one place was more defensible than another. After setting down his tray, he sent a terse warning to Lydia to make herself scarce.
His phone chimed, telling him she'd wasted time by sending him a text. OK. WHERE WILL YOU MEET ME?
Leave it to the woman to drag out the conversation. He risked a glance in her direction, slowly scanning the entire food court to avoid anyone being able to pick out the one person in the place that mattered to him. Already on her feet, she faced away from him with their shopping bags piled on the table where she could grab them in a hurry. At least she'd taken him seriously.
AT THE BOOKCASE. DON'T WORRY.
Not that there wasn't any reason for concern, but because there was nothing she could do about the situation. Right now, he had no idea how big the threat was, only that he wasn't the only twin-souled wandering this shopping center. The question was whether they'd tracked him there or if their presence was an unfortunate coincidence.
Still trying to blend into his surroundings, he unwrapped the first sandwich and took a big bite. Anyone other than his kind would assume the pile of food on the tray had been intended for more than one person. Although that was true, another wolf wouldn't question that a man of Silas's size and power could easily consume that amount in one sitting.
He'd finished one sandwich and was unwrapping a second when the same hint of wolf he'd picked up just after walking out of the restaurant drifted past him again, this time much stronger than before. After another quick scan of the court to make sure that Lydia was gone, he concentrated all of his attention on trying to trace the scent back to its source.
It didn't take long for him to pick out a familiar face in the crowd. Right now, he didn't know friend from enemy. However, he was willing to give this particular individual the benefit of the doubt, especially out here in the open. Their kind hadn't kept their existence secret among humankind for so long by being careless.
He used the toe of his show to shove the chair across from him away from the table in an unspoken invitation. With the ball firmly in the other wolf's court, he set the remaining sandwich and one of the cold drinks on the other side of the table. If Haakon accepted the offering, it meant a promise of truce for the time they shared the meal.
A few seconds later, Haakon parked his ass in the chair but made no move to touch the sandwich. He took off his sunglasses and stared at Silas with eyes that were a pale caramel brown. Those, along with his hair that was mostly black but with a scattering of dark brown and silver in the mix, were typical of a timber wolf. His size and ability to meet Silas's gaze head-on marked him as an alpha in his own right. The half-smile marked him as a friend-or at least he used to be.
"Didn't know you were in my territory, Wolf. I don't remember you asking permission to be here."
Silas shrugged. "I just got into town night before last. Unless the rules have changed, your rules of hospitality allow a visitor three days in your territory before having to notify you of their presence."
The tension eased when Haakon finally reached for the sandwich. "The rules haven't changed, but I'm thinking I should make an exception for wolves being hunted by their own pack. I don't need that kind of trouble in my territory. Your friends have made their presence known but also haven't shown me the courtesy of contacting me directly."
The other wolf had good reason to be angry. Normally, an alpha of Silas's strength would balk at offering his throat to another wolf, especially one strong enough to rip it out. Haakon, though, was more than just another alpha. He'd been an ally, one Silas would trust at his back.
"I apologize for any problems my presence has caused you." He set his own sandwich down. "I can be gone by nightfall if that's what you want."
Haakon's eyes darkened with irritation. "What I want is an explanation about what the hell is going on. Your pack has always been one of the most stable. Now, you're on the run and your own wolves are the ones out for blood."
Silas fought to keep his expression stoic, but it was hard to hide the shame of having lost control of his pack. "As I said, I'll leave tonight. All I ask is that you don't point them in my direction until tomorrow."
This time it was anger burning hot in his friend's gaze as he glared across the table at Silas. "Have a care that you don't insult my honor, Wolf. I'm not in the habit of betraying my friends. I don't plan to start with you."
For the second time, Silas tilted his head in apology. "I meant no insult, old friend. But I also don't want my problems to become yours. If the other packs think you've sided with me, it could go badly for those under your protection."
The other wolf didn't argue. They both knew an alpha's first duty was to protect his own pack. That didn't mean Haakon looked happy about the situation. "Just tell me what happened. I can't help when I don't know the facts."
There wasn't anything anyone could do to fix the situation, but it was so damned tempting to share what had happened, how things had gone spiraling out of control with no warning.
"You know I've never mated."
Which was unusual for a wolf of his age and position. Even if he hadn't found a love match, there were suitable females who were willing to be his mate. He was the one who hadn't been interested in settling for a loveless marriage like the one his parents had been stuck in for decades. By the end, they'd hated each other. Regardless, packs were more stable when the leader had both a mate and cubs to ensure there was a future generation to continue the alpha's lineage.
Haakon had been one of the lucky ones. He'd found a female worthy of an alpha's heart at a young age. From what Silas knew of their relationship, the pair was every bit as much in love now as they had been when they'd first met. He wasn't the only one whose happiness for the mated couple was tinged with more than a hint of jealousy.
"You're younger than I am. There's time."
That's what Silas had thought, too. But somehow he'd missed the effect his delay in choosing a mate was having on those who looked to him for leadership. What he'd written off as mild concern on the part of his followers had turned out to be a carefully constructed attack campaign designed to undermine him on every level. By the time he'd realized the depth of the betrayal and who was behind it, it had been too late to salvage the situation.
"That's what I thought, but I guess we'd be wrong about that. I was given an ultimatum to choose between five females who deemed suitable by a self-appointed committee within the pack. If I failed to make a decision by the deadline, then my only choice was to walk away from the pack, turning it over to another alpha who would marry and produce an heir."
Haakon went from relaxed to furious in a heartbeat. "They dared—DARED—to order their alpha in such a manner?"
"They did." Silas allowed himself to bask in his friend's outrage for a few seconds. It had been so long since he'd had anyone on his side in this argument.
Then he drew a long breath and let it out slowly. "In their defense, if there is one, our pack has held to the old ways more than most because our territory keeps us isolated from other packs. They honestly believe that the alpha's happiness runs a poor second to an alpha's duty."
"That's bullshit, especially these days. I would have kicked their collective asses for them."
That brought back a little of Silas's pride as he grinned. "Who said I didn't?"
"So what happened?"
And just that quickly, the glow of his small victory over his enemies disappeared. "Let's just say there were lies told, and they were believed."
It was tempting to share the true depth of the betrayal, but that was the pack's business and not meant to be shared with outsiders.
That Haakon didn't press for further details made it clear the other alpha understood the situation. "So what did you do?"
"I agreed to leave. An alpha who can't trust his own people can't do the job."
In fact, he'd been devastated by everything that had happened, the wounds from the betrayal had cut him up so badly he wasn't sure he'd ever really heal.
"So why are you being hunted?"
He forced himself to look his friend straight in the eye one more time. "Because someone took over the pack who knows he's weaker than I am. He fears that I'll return and face him in a fight for dominance, a fight he knows he won't win."
"Why don't you do that?"
"Because I promised my mother on her deathbed that I would always look after my brother. I can't honor that vow if I kill the little bastard for betraying me and the family honor."
A sheen of red washed over Haakon's eyes, a sign that didn't bode well for Silas's brother if he should cross paths with the timber wolf.
"You're welcome in my territory for as long as you need to be here."
Then Haakon wadded up the wrapper from his sandwich and tossed it at Silas. "However, I will make sure your brother and his buddies get the message that they have twenty-four hours to get the hell out before I rain Hell down on their heads."
Silas stood up and held out his hand. "Thanks, old friend. I'll give you my cell number. If you change your mind and want me out, just call."
Haakon gripped Silas's hand and then pulled him in for a quick hug. "Do you need a safe place to crash?"
"Nope, I've got that covered."
He picked up his tray and dumped the trash. Haakon walked with him. "I've got to get going, but don't hesitate to call if you need backup. I haven't had the pleasure of a good old-fashioned brawl in a while."
Silas laughed as the other wolf waved and walked away. After a careful look around the area, he headed for the bus stop he'd spotted earlier. It was time to get back to the restaurant and let Lydia know he was on his way home.
But come tomorrow, it was time he hunted down his brother and ended this mess, once and for all.