Three years ago
Marco DeMedici slid behind cover as Taliban forces fired on his unit as well as their Afghan allies. He knew there were those who believed that once the Taliban’s stranglehold on the country was broken in 2003 that they no longer held any power in the war-torn area. Marco and the other soldiers that were still in the country knew better. The Afghan government put on a good display of being in control, but that’s all it was—a show for the rest of the world at large.
Marco was in a good position to lob a grenade into the small hut where the remainder of the Taliban unit they had been fighting for the past two days had taken refuge and was making a last stand. He rolled up onto his knees, throwing the grenade with deadly accuracy. He watched as it went through the open doorway and then ducked down. He not only felt but heard the explosion and could smell death as the men on the inside of the building perished and the men with him cheered.
When did it come to this, he thought. When did men start to cheer the death of others? Yes, the men he’d just killed were the enemy. He shared none of their beliefs. He believed they had to be stopped. But he did not wish them dead.
Several members of the Afghan force went through the building to ensure that there were no survivors from the blast. They too were cheering.
“What’s the matter, Marco? You don’t look happy. We routed them today. We won.”
Marco smiled wryly. “But what have we won if we have lost a piece of our souls?”
Marco rose from the ground wearily. He couldn’t remember a time he had ever been this exhausted. Normally his wolfen physiology allowed him to have more strength and endurance and to recover more quickly than his human comrades. But today he knew it would take more than his wolf-human hybrid composition to restore him to a state of well-being. As others before him had done, Marco knew it was time to go home.
Several hours later he was packing his duffel in preparation for his departure from this land still riddled with war. The general he’d served under for a number of years walked in. He spied the duffel on Marco’s cot.
“Something tells me that you didn’t just forget to sign the papers to extend your tour.”
Marco turned and smiled. “No. I’m going home.”
“Look, Marco, I understand needing to take a break. How about you agree to extend for just a year and I’ll give you a month’s R and R?”
“No, Sam. It’s time I went home. My father died last year and the man he left to cover for him has done a good job, but he was always to have been a placeholder. I need to go home to take care of my family, our business, and those who derive their livelihoods from the DeMedici.”
The general sighed with resignation. “I can’t change your mind?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Marco. He closed up his duffel and extended his hand to the human he most respected in the world. “It’s been an honor to serve under you.”
The general took his hand and shook it. “The honor, Colonel, has been all mine.”
There was nothing left for either to say. Marco shouldered his duffel and headed out to catch a ride with one of the Jeeps headed to the airstrip and the plane that would take him home.
A few hours later they had entered Italian air space. Marco breathed a sigh of relief. He glanced at his watch and smiled. In less than an hour he would land at the air base. His plan was to go into the closest city, purchase a good motorcycle, and then head for home.
The thought of home made him smile. The DeMedici pack had held their land for more than a thousand years. It had been a fortress long before that time and had become a vineyard only in the past eight hundred years. The Nebbiolo grape was the predominant grape grown by the DeMedici. Their land and their way of life was well suited to its longer growth season and necessity to be harvested by hand.
Marco closed his eyes and drifted in a light slumber. There she was, the beautiful blonde who haunted his dreams and seemed to comfort him during his darkest nights. That she was his fated mate seemed only logical. He couldn’t tell for sure, but he felt she was not Italian by birth. No matter, he thought to himself, once she was mated to him she would be Italian and become mistress to the great DeMedici pack.
She was beautiful—tall, blonde-haired, with piercing blue eyes. Marco longed to get his hands on her naked body. She had beautiful large breasts and a well-defined waist that curved outward to form hips made for bearing his children. And her ass was a thing of perfection. He knew for her to be his fated mate, she would be spirited. His cock began to harden at the thought of bringing her to heel.
Marco’s reverie was broken as the plane touched down. He watched as men began to gather their things to deplane. After everyone else was gone, Marco picked up his things and trotted down the ramp. One thing he wouldn’t miss was the air travel provided for the Italian Special Forces unit.
As he disembarked, he noticed a large man standing off to the side. It was Giovanni. He smiled, but of course Giovanni would be here. The man he’d grown up with strode toward him opening his arms. Marco put down his duffel and embraced him.
“It’s good to have you finally home, Alpha,” said Giovanni.
“That designation is still yours, my old friend.”
Giovanni shook his head. “No, I was always to be a placeholder. Your father will rest easier and I will be much happier to take my place as your beta until you choose another.”
Marco looked askance. “And why would I choose another? Will you refuse your alpha if he requests you to remain at his side?”
Giovanni smiled. “No, Alpha. I would never refuse you.”
“Then it is settled and you will remain as beta. But what are you doing here? Is there trouble? I would have been home this evening.”
“Obviously you will do as you like, but I brought one of the helicopters to take you to the vineyard. Your pack is waiting and most anxious to have their alpha home.”
Marco smiled. “Geared up for a homecoming celebration, are they?”
Giovanni returned the smile. “Yes, Alpha. I thought it might be easier on you if you hadn’t been driving all day.”
Marco laughed. “Already looking out for me. That is not necessarily part of your responsibilities as beta.”
“Perhaps not, but you have no mate to see to it so it falls to me.”
Marco laughed out loud. “So, I’m not even home yet and already the pestering to take a mate begins.”
“I’m afraid so. There are several girls amongst our number who would be more than happy to assume the mantle of mistress.”
“Your mate will have to continue as hostess when needed. I have seen my fated mate and she is not amongst us.”
“Then where is she?”
Marco laughed again. “I fear my naughty mate has yet to reveal that to me. But trust me, when she does I will waste no time in making her mine.”
“As you will, Alpha. We are truly glad to have you home.”
“As am I. I feel the weighted veil of war and death already beginning to be lifted.”
The two men crossed the airfield and boarded the luxury helicopter that would take them back to the DeMedici stronghold.