Papers scattered across the sleek surface of my dad’s desk, a few dropping to the hardwood floor as I slammed them down. I hadn’t meant to be so rough, but my anger was near its limit. My wolf begged to be released.
“Did you see this yet?” I asked, trying to calm my voice. I didn’t have a valid reason to be so exasperated by the information, but something was nagging at me, and I wouldn’t let it go until I figured it out.
“Yes, I did,” he answered with a nod.
“Well, what are we doing about it?”
The alpha of the territory next to ours was never popular. Declan was cross, and his area was the least favorable among the wolves. Somehow, though, he had managed to nearly double the population of his main pack over the last year.
“I know this is frustrating, but I have been in a position of authority for decades. I know how this works. There are certain protocols–”
“I don’t give a damn about protocols!” I interjected with a growl. “Declan is up to something, and it’s not good.” I grasped my chest. “I feel it in here.”
Dad stood, leveling his heated gaze on me. “Cord, if you weren’t my son, I’d beat the shit out of you for interrupting me. Keep your temper in check or you’ll be off this investigation. Do I make myself clear?” His alpha power seeped through his words, letting me know I had crossed a line.
Without saying another word, I nodded stiffly. I knew when to push my dad and when to keep my mouth shut.
Now, if my twin sister Taya had been with us, a war may have started. Which was the exact reason we had kept her out of our research. Well, and because my dad was extremely overprotective of her, rarely letting her leave the pack.
“As I was saying,” Dad carried on, sitting back down, “we have certain protocols we have to follow when an alpha is being accused of a crime, especially when we don’t know exactly what he’s doing.”
Taking a seat, I nodded for him to continue.
“As you know, Declan is not just a pack alpha but an alpha to the entire Rocky Mountain territory, meaning the council will be brought in to determine whether or not he is actually doing anything wrong. It goes to a vote after the evidence is presented and majority decides. Since Declan wouldn’t be able to cast a vote, a beta is randomly picked from the other four territories to fill his spot, so we don’t end up with a tie.”
He pulled out a book from his desk—one I’d seen many times during my alpha-in-training sessions—and opened it up. His hand moved toward a map.
“I can count on the East Coast territory, but the Southeast and Southwest are a toss-up without hard evidence. Declan has frightened a lot of shifters into submission. He has always been forceful in everything he’s done, but his people have never filed official complaints against him. Most of them just find a way to move away to other territories.”
An infuriated breath blew through my lips. “So, are you saying we will never have a chance, even if we figure out exactly what he’s up to?”
He grinned. “No, I’m saying you need to have patience. We need more evidence than the increased population numbers in Declan’s territory that seem to be coming from nowhere. It’s circumstantial at this point, and we can’t risk it. I’ve known Declan longer than I’ve been alpha, and he’s ruthless. He hasn’t always been that way, but then again, life hasn’t always been kind to him. Regardless, we need to get this right the first time. We won’t get a second chance. Do you understand, Son?”
“I do. I’ll work with Augie and figure out a way to dig deeper, and soon. We will handle this. I’m going to make sure of it.” Pushing the chair back, I stood. “The three of us can meet again when we have a plan.”
Dad stood and walked around his desk. “That will be just fine.” His hands reached for me, pulling me into a rough hug. “I love you, Cord.”
“I love you, too,” I answered gruffly. Emotions weren’t my strength, but my dad had a way of breaking through my walls and, most importantly, my stubbornness. I knew he was right, even if I didn’t like it.
In any other situation, I’d talk it out with Taya, but Augie and I were bound to secrecy by Dad’s alpha power. He hadn’t taken any chances with us bringing her in on things without his permission.
Dad never admitted it, but I had always assumed the reason he was so protective of her was because the older she got, the more she reminded him of his late wife. We lost our mom at birth, so Taya and I had never known her, but Dad had always shown us pictures and told us stories to keep her spirit alive when we were kids.
Taya was the spitting image of our mother with her deep brown hair, red highlights, and bright wide lilac eyes. According to Davis, our pack beta, Dad had never been the same. I was built just like my dad, with his golden-brown eyes and darker hair, except his was turning more silver with every passing year.
When I opened the door to leave my dad’s office, he kindly reminded me to keep our meeting to myself, which really meant ‘don’t attempt to tell Taya.’ I grimaced as I closed the door behind me. I was tired of tiptoeing around for the sake of politics, but Dad was not only alpha; he was Chief of the entire wolf council that governed the wolves in America.
I had no choice but to obey his orders.
When I rounded the corner of the hallway, Taya collided with me.
“Oh. Hey, Cord.” She grinned from ear to ear. “What are you up to?”
The words I wanted to say refused to roll off my tongue. I really hated this part, more than knowing Declan was up to something devious. Instead of the truth, a lie easily came out. I had been dealing with this dilemma for too long now.
“Just more alpha-in-training stuff.” I shrugged, trying to remain casual. “You know how it is.”
She winked. “Actually, I have no idea, and that makes me oh so happy.”
I had drawn the short straw by being born first. As the only heirs to the alpha, that meant Taya and I had first shot of becoming our pack’s next leader when our dad was no longer able to do so.
For the most part, I didn’t mind it, until we had to deal with packs outside of our territory. Then, I wished my sister was the one training instead of me.
“One day, you’ll change your mind about that,” I teased as I ruffled her hair.
We might have been twins, but we obviously weren’t identical. I had a solid foot of height above her measly five-foot-two frame, and she hated that I towered over her. Her speed certainly made up for her lack of size, and I quickly caught a jab to my kidney.
“Ha! I doubt it. I’m just about to go find Augie and head down to the lake. You want to come with us?”
I glanced back at Dad’s office, torn between spending time with my sister and our best friend Augie, or planning what came next in my need to stop Declan. I knew that whatever he was doing didn’t directly affect our pack, but it didn’t stop my wolf and me from caring.
Throwing my arm around her shoulders, I peered down at her. “Alpha-in-training stuff can wait. Let’s go.”
The grin on Taya’s face widened. “Good choice. I wasn’t going to let you out of it anyway. Your compliance just saves us time.”
My head shook as I thought about what a bossy little sister she was.
The thought had crossed my mind that I could still handle some business while having fun, and Taya would be none the wiser. Augie had befriended her first when we were kids, but he had quickly become an extended part of our family, and he was also my best friend. He was very much involved in the investigation we had going against Declan.
Augie hated the secrets almost as much as I did, but he too understood that the less people who knew the better, until we were ready to act. As much as I wished to discuss what was happening with my sister, I didn’t actually want this life for her, and I knew she’d want in as soon as she found out what was going on.
As we took the short walk to Augie’s home from the pack house where we lived with our dad, Taya nudged me with her shoulder.
“Something you need to talk about?”
I raked my hand through my short chocolate-colored hair before tightening my other arm around her shoulders. Apparently, I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding my stress from her. “Nope. Just ready for some time on the water. It’s been too long since all three of us hung out together.”
An exasperated huff left her lips. “I need to find something to do around here. I’m tired of always being the one without something important to do. Dad needs to loosen the noose and let me out every once in a while.”
“One day, you’ll regret saying that,” I said. “Enjoy the freedom while you can, because once it’s gone, it’s a bitch trying to get it back.”
Before Taya could respond, Augie strode out his front door. “Did we manage to find a time when all three of us weren’t busy? I was beginning to think that wasn’t possible.”
A smirk appeared on Augie’s face as he fist-bumped me, then hugged Taya. For a long time, I assumed they’d end up together and screw up our dynamic, but Augie was another brother to Taya and, from what I knew, he never saw her as more than a sister, either. It made my life much easier that way.
Taya shushed him. “Don’t jinx it. We need to get the ATVs and get away from the pack house before someone decides they need one of you. I might cut them if they do.”
The grin creeped up her face as she seemed to ponder that last thought, and I knew it was time to leave before she got us in trouble with one of her shenanigans.
Pushing her forward, I decided she needed a little prodding. “You better hope there are three ATVs, or you’ll be riding bitch to one of us.”
She huffed. “No way. Not if I beat you there.”
Taya took off, running at full speed. I expected her competitive side would get the better of her, and I’d have a moment with Augie. Some days, I knew her better than I knew myself.
Laughter poured from Augie. “You did that on purpose. I’m assuming you talked to Gerald?”
“I did,” I confirmed, my jaw tightening. “We need to come up with a plan to figure out what Declan is up to, and quick. Something’s not right with those reports.”
Augie glanced ahead, the ATVs and Taya now in view. “I agree, and we will, but Taya misses you. Just relax for a little bit and enjoy some time with your family. Some space from the situation might do you some good.”
My hand slapped his shoulder. “You enjoy being the voice of reason between the three of us, don’t you?”
He smirked. “Someone has to do it or you two would have put your dad in an early grave years ago.”
“You might be right,” I agreed, nodding, “but if we don’t stop Declan, he could take those new shifters and come for one of the packs. We have to do something before he decides he’s more powerful than the rest of us.”