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Jan 1, 2018

Alphas And Aggression–Chapters One and Two


READ ON TO ENTER THE WORLD OF THE WESLEY WEREWOLVES!



CHAPTER ONE
Xavier

The kill.

It was all he was about in that moment.

Xavier could smell the blood of his prey, even though he couldn’t see it. His nose swept the ground as he obeyed his instinct and let it guide him over the leaves and grass, past tree after decaying tree, and under patches of sunlight, toward the one thing that would sate his bloodlust and craving for the hunt all at the same time. His claws dug into the red Georgia clay as he used them to keep his steps as silent as possible, until he was upon his prey and there was nothing it could do to save itself.

It’s close.

Xavier didn’t respond to the voice in his head. It was only Lox, the first sergeant of his wolf pack’s enforcers, guiding him in the art of tracking, which Lox was an expert at. Wolfspeak was how their kind communicated in silence. In human form, it was how they hid their secrets. As wolves, it was how they hunted without their prey ever knowing what bit them.

The lone deer came into view and Xavier’s body tensed with anticipation. It had stopped to graze on some white wildflowers, a mistake it would soon regret. He studied the angles, trying to decide how best to attack and not lose his dinner, but the deer, sensing danger, took off before he could make his move.

Xavier sprinted after it with Lox close behind. This was not ideal, chasing a deer through the woods. But this was Xavier’s territory and he knew its twists and turns better than any animal.

Suddenly darting to the left, the deer slid on a pile of leaves but managed to keep the momentum just enough to remain out of Xavier’s grasp. The wolf snarled and dug in, unwilling to let his prey live past sunset. The forest was like a beautiful maze, a gift from the Alusi that fed and sheltered his pack. Trees blew past him in a dizzying fashion that made the thrill of the hunt that much more exhilarating.

It’s getting away, Lox said.

No, it wasn’t. He refused to let it.

Having anticipated its next move, he circled to the right, cutting his prey off as it made the fatal decision to flee toward the part of the forest where it would find the thickest cover. Using his powerful hind legs, he leapt out and tackled the large doe, pinning it to the ground with his massive paws. Snarling, his fangs clamped down on the deer’s trachea and with all the savagery he could muster, he tore away and ripped its entire throat out.

The deer went instantly still, and the scent of death immediately assaulted Xavier’s keen sense of smell just as the sound of his kill’s heartbeat faded away. He took a moment to catch his breath and then with blood and sinew unceremoniously coating his face, he shifted back into his human form. Lox arrived a moment later, a shaggy gray wolf with sharp orange eyes. He started barking, but it turned to laughter as Lox shifted and stood over Xavier’s kill.

“You’re not supposed to be better at this than me,” he said. Lox reached down and untethered his gym shorts from his ankle. That was the only way for them to carry their clothing in wolf form. Xavier found the practice to be a hinderance when hunting and rarely bothered with it, opting for his natural state whenever possible.

“Whatever,” Xavier said. “We both know you let me have this kill. You had its scent as soon as we shifted.”

Lox grinned. “Maybe.”

A warm gust of wind blew through the trees and Lox’s head jerked around, as though he’d seen something move out of the corner of his eye. Xavier heard him inhale and then slowly let it out.

“What is it?” he asked, glancing around.

Lox didn’t answer right away, and Xavier didn’t make him. This was what Lox did. He tracked scents and punished trespassers. If Xavier trusted anyone’s instincts more than his own, it was Lox’s.

“I caught a strange scent for a moment,” Lox said. “But it’s gone now.” He shrugged.

Xavier frowned, but he didn’t think too much of it. He reached down and grabbed one of the deer’s hind legs. “Let’s get the kill back to my den before the odor of death starts to travel and we end up having to kick some lone wolf’s ass.”

“A lone wolf hasn’t passed through our territory in years. I think our meal is safe.”

Our meal? I’m the one who caught it.” He smiled and started dragging the carcass toward his den.

“X, I know you’re the alpha and all, but you’re sharing that kill. And will you put your damn shorts on? I don’t wanna walk all the way back to your den behind you and your naked ass.”

Xavier ignored his first sergeant. Nudity was a wolf’s natural state and he knew Lox didn’t really mind as much as he put on, not that Xavier cared if he did. He enjoyed the freedom his wolf offered his human side. Clothes were constricting and he only wore them because society required them. But if it was up to him, if there weren’t any humans in Mirage or people judging his every decision, his pack would have the freedom to live like they wanted to. Like real wolves, wild and vicious.

Xavier heard the click of a lighter and chuckled as he looked back over his shoulder. “Are you really about to light up right now?”

“Hell yeah,” Lox mumbled, his speech obscured by the blunt between his lips. His index finger and thumb clamped down and pulled it free. Smoke curled from his nostrils as he shoved the lighter into his pocket. “Gotta get rid of this hunter’s haze. My heart is racing faster than a gazelle with a lion on its ass.”

Xavier could hear Lox’s heart, but barely, since his own was practically throbbing in his chest. Being predators like they were, nothing was more exciting than the hunt. But the downside, at least for most wolves, was the ‘haze.’ Once the hunt was over, their bodies always struggled to return to normal, especially if they shifted back into human form before they came down from the high.

“Want a hit?” Lox asked, catching up and holding the blunt out toward Xavier. The alpha shook his head. He didn’t mind the haze as much as other wolves did. He sort of liked the euphoric feeling and wasn’t ashamed to admit that he often hunted alone just so he could revel in the intensity of the haze for as long as he wanted to.

It wasn’t long before they were stomping up the back-porch steps of the Alpha’s Den, a cabin that had been built as the live-in headquarters for all of the Wesley alphas since his great-grandfather had led their pack. His Uncle Bart, the alpha before him, had added a meat locker to the structure as a place for him to store his kills until he was ready to consume them. As a wolf, Xavier usually liked his meat raw, but his human side had decided that seared deer chops with roasted butter potatoes sounded so much better in that moment. 

After stashing his half-smoked blunt on the closest window sill, Lox held the heavy meat locker door open while Xavier hoisted the deer onto his shoulder and carried it inside. He tossed the carcass over a pair of metal hooks then turned the dial that controlled the locker’s temperature down to below freezing. It was early August in Mirage, Georgia, which meant it was blazing hot, and he didn’t want to take any chances with his kill going bad before he had the chance to enjoy it.

Xavier stepped out of the locker and his hackles rose when he heard the voices and laughter coming from inside his cabin.

“What the hell?” he growled as he flung open the back-screen door and stomped inside, cursing the haze for dulling his senses. Lox was right on his heels, chuckling under his breath.

After stopping to throw on the sweatpants he kept by the back door, Xavier marched into his living room to find two unwanted wolves occupying it. Darien, his cousin and beta, was seated in an armchair with his feet propped up on Xavier’s coffee table. Their cousin and general of the enforcers, Remy, had his big-ass body laid out on the couch, tossing dry cereal in the air and catching it in his mouth, while laughing at something Xavier was sure wasn’t even that damn funny.

“What the hell are you two doing here?” Xavier snapped, his tongue whipping out to get a taste of the blood that was still on his lips.

Remy made a face as he crunched on his cereal. “Did the haze shrivel your brain or something? You put a huddle on the books for today. And you’re late.

Xavier pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dammit. I forgot all about that.”

“No shit,” Darien said with a smile that Xavier wanted to smack off his face.

“Okay,” Xavier grunted. “First, I’m going to go upstairs and shower off the hunt, then we can huddle. Stay the hell out of my fridge and for damn sure, keep your hands off my beer.”

“Remy’s already hiding a bottle behind his wide-ass back,” Darien said with a shameless smirk. Lox laughed.

“You little snitchin’ bitch,” Remy growled. “I thought you had my back. I swear you’re worse than the omegas sometimes.” He pulled the beer out from its hiding place, popped the top, and took a swig.

“And then y’all wonder why I hesitate to let your asses inside my den,” Xavier said with a frown. “I swear to the first mother, Remy, if you drink any more of my beer while I’m upstairs, I’m taking your head off.”

Remy held up his stolen bottle. “Gotcha, boss man.”

“I’m going to run to my den and do the same, then come back and join in,” Lox said. “That cool, X?”

“Yeah, just don’t take too long. I want to get this over with so everyone can get the hell out.”

“Bet.” Lox headed for the back door, most likely to reclaim his stashed blunt before returning to his den. Ignoring Darien’s calculating expression, Xavier sprinted upstairs to his bedroom, where he was finally able to rinse away the deer blood and the last of his lingering haze. Though he enjoyed how the haze made him feel, every time he returned to normal, he was always happy to be so.

Lox strolled in through the front door a minute or two after Xavier reappeared with a towel draped over his neck. The first sergeant had a case of beer in hand and passed them out to his alpha and general before shoving Remy’s feet to the floor and dropping down on the couch beside him. Darien didn’t drink so he remained emptyhanded.

“So what’s going on, X?” Darien asked.

Choosing to remain standing, as he often did when addressing his pack, Xavier took a long swig of his beer before answering.

“The king has offered me Chizoba’s hand.”

That announcement made everyone sit up a little straighter, but no one seemed to know what to say about it. Wolves had the best poker faces around and there was no way of telling what they actually thought about his statement based on their expressions. The silence went on for several minutes before Xavier couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Come on, y’all. Say something.”

Remy immediately responded with, “Shit, I’m with it.”

Xavier frowned. “Really?”

“Hell yeah. You’d be mating into the Diallo dynasty, immortalizing the Wesley name. Damn right I’m with it.”

“Yeah, being sealed to a Diallo is definitely a plus,” Xavier said. “But there’s a lot more to consider in this situation. Having a princess as the alpha female would mean a whole lot of changes to the way we do things around here.”

“So what? We have a new alpha, a new beta. Maybe it’s time for some major changes to the way we operate.” Xavier lifted a brow in surprise at hearing something intelligent come out of Remy’s usually dumb mouth.

"And we all like Zoba, you know that," Darien spoke up. "She's a sweet female. I think she'd make a great mate for you, but only if you want her to be."

“I do want her to be,” Xavier replied. “It’s just—”

“She’s not your bloodmate.” The alpha nodded. “I get it,” Darien continued. “I’d be apprehensive, too.”

“But you’re the alpha,” Remy said. “Lycan law says that you can mate as many females as you want. So when your mate comes along, you can have her too.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want that lifestyle,” Xavier said. “One female is enough for me.”

"Can you turn the king down then?" Lox asked him. "Is that even an option?"

"Not normally. But the king never said it was an order. He only said it was what he wanted and asked me to consider it."

“That sounds like an order to me.” Xavier grinned.

"So is that a yes then?" Darien asked. "You're going to tell the king you're willing to be sealed to Zoba?"

“If all of you are cool with it, then yes,” Xavier replied.

“We’re cool with it. Right, fellas?”

“Hell yeah,” Remy said.

“Sho’nuff.” That was Lox.

Xavier was relieved. It was true he hadn’t been ordered to seal himself to the king’s sister, but saying no hadn’t really been an option, best friend or not. His cousins didn’t need to know that he had already said yes or why he had hadn’t hesitated to do so. He had to think about his pack first and what would be best for them, and saying no to the king was not what was best for his pack. Besides, Princess Chizoba Diallo was the most sought-after match in the kingdom and though he hardly felt worthy of the honor of being sealed to her, being connected to the Diallos would change everything for his pack. Being the king’s best friend had its perks for sure, but only the king acknowledged Xavier’s status. A royal mating would elevate his ranking among the other sixteen alphas in the kingdom and offer his pack protection that they wouldn’t have otherwise. He just couldn’t say no to that.

“Your mama is gonna lose her mind,” Remy said with a grin.

Xavier chuckled. “Yeah, she always thought Chizoba and I would look good together. But back then, I wasn’t even being considered for alpha and being mated was the furthest thing from my mind. Now look.” He exchanged a glance with Darien, whose poker face was as solid as ever.

“Don’t tell Jayda you’re being sealed to the princess until you’re ready for the entire world to know,” Remy added.

“Oh, that’s a given. That girl couldn’t hold water in a jug.” Jayda Thomas was the most big-mouthed female in their pack. Secrets were a joke to her and she gossiped like it was nobody’s business. But despite all of that, everyone loved her to death.

“Speaking of Jay,” Lox said. “She told me that her cousin found out that there’s a benefactor’s daughter enrolling at Wesley this semester.”

“Really?” It was a rare occurrence for this sort of information to slip past Xavier, but then again, he’d been preoccupied lately. The Wesley College—their family’s university—benefactors’ cabins had sat empty for years, so long that the young wolves had turned the clearing behind them into a makeshift wrestling ring they called the dell. All kinds of crazy nonsense went down there, and Xavier figured he’d probably have a riot on his hands when he eventually told them they couldn’t hang out there anymore.

“What’s her name?” he asked Lox.

“Don’t know. But I’ll find out before classes start next week.”

“Do that. In the meantime, everybody get the hell out. There’s a deer carcass in the meat locker with my name on it and I’m not sharing.”

“Fine with me,” Remy said, draining the last of his beer and standing up. “Football is on and I’m missing my team play.”

“It’s just the preseason,” Darien said as he and Lox got to their feet. “Who the hell watches the preseason?”

“I do, bitch. And also, mind your damn business.” The screen door slammed behind Remy as he rushed out, clearly eager to get back to his flat screen as fast as possible. Lox shot them a peace sign and followed Remy out, leaving Xavier and Darien alone and surrounded by an uncomfortable silence. Xavier had an inkling as to why things suddenly seemed so tense between them and decided not to beat around the bush.

“Are you really cool with my engagement, D?” he asked. “I know how you used to feel about Chizoba.”

His cousin shrugged. “That was a long time ago, and I’ve never been worthy of her. But you are. This is a good match.”

“All right then.” Xavier half-smiled. “Thanks, cuz.”

Darien nodded once, then left without another word, leaving Xavier with a suspicious feeling that his cousin had just lied to his face. He didn’t have time to contemplate it for long as his cell phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. When he looked at the screen and saw who was calling, he smiled and answered right away.

“Eze,” he greeted the king. “I literally just finished telling—”

“The Morris pack was attacked last night,” Nwabueze Diallo’s deep voice boomed through the speaker.

Xavier’s heart clenched in his chest. “Shit. Is Wayne okay? Is his pack safe?”

“No, Xavier, they’re not,” the king said. “Everyone is dead.

********

CHAPTER TWO
Xavier

“How the hell did this happen?”

“I don’t know,” Xavier replied. He paced his porch, unable to keep still for more than a few seconds. 
Darien stood by and watched him, just as shocked but with a more subdued panic. Though Darien was the beta, it was Xavier’s responsibility to figure out what to do next. But therein was the problem. Xavier didn’t know what to do next.

“What else did the king say?” Darien asked.

“He doesn’t know anything concrete yet. Just that everyone is...gone.” It was unfathomable, learning that an entire pack had been wiped out in only one night. There had been no warning. There had been no survivors. Males, females, pups. They were all dead.

Xavier dug his claws into the already clawed-up post on his porch and started shredding the wood.
The Morris pack had been one of the larger African-American packs. Their territory was all of Guile, Virginia, a vast stretch of land that had provided the pack privacy and cover for longer than the Wesleys had been in Mirage. Xavier couldn’t even begin to understand what had happened. Wayne Morris had been a senior alpha mated to a smart alpha female with a seasoned lycan army standing behind them. What had gone wrong? Who, or what, was powerful enough to take them all out? Lone wolves? A rival pack? What?

Xavier wasn’t ready to ponder the non-lycan side of the equation, the side that pointed to a supernatural force other than werewolves. But who would be so bold with the fire guardian chieftess, DaDa, watching them? She was the only being on Earth who could talk directly to the deities and there wasn’t a damn thing a supernatural could hide from them. If they knew what was happening, so would DaDa. Xavier just hoped she would be willing to tell the king.

Remy burst out of the woods, running at full speed, answering Xavier’s call to hustle back over to discuss tactics and defense. Someone or something was out there on a supernatural murder spree. The safety of his pack was the most important thing now.

“What’s the word?” Remy asked as he stomped up the porch steps. “What happened?”

“We don’t know yet,” Darien replied. “X is waiting to hear back from the king.”

“What do you want me to do until then, X?”

“I want the pack on lockdown,” Xavier replied, jerking his claws from the post. “I want everyone in their houses, except for the enforcers. Get them out in the streets. Tell them to kill anything with a scent they don’t like.”

“What about the humans?”

“Get in contact with Sheriff Pace. Tell him to issue a mandatory curfew to the residents. I don’t care what the reason is. I just want everyone safe.” Sheriff Pace was vital to keeping the humans out of pack business and he would be needed now more than ever.

Remy nodded. “Got it.”

“Hey, did you call Eli over here?” Darien asked, pointing at their younger cousin sprinting across the clearing toward them.

“No, I didn’t.” Xavier didn’t like the look of extreme horror on Eli’s face and knew that whatever had him panic-running toward Xavier’s cabin had nothing to do with the Morrises.

“What’s wrong?” he asked the second Eli hit the porch steps.

“Kane went lone wolf,” his cousin replied, that look of dread deepening as he ratted out his big brother.

What do you mean Kane went lone wolf?

Eli held out a piece of paper to the alpha. Xavier snatched it out of his cousin’s hand and skimmed over Kane’s scribble. He hadn’t written much, but it was just enough to remind Xavier what an idiot Kane was.

“That stupid son of a bitch,” he snarled, shoving the paper into Eli’s chest. “He’s going after that female.”

“I knew this was going to happen,” Darien said, his brows furrowed in anger. “Ever since Kane got passed over for alpha, I could feel this bullshit brewing.”

“What are we going to do?” Eli asked. “We have to find him!”

“First, we have to make sure the pack is safe,” Xavier said. “Then we’ll go kill Kane.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The entire Morris pack was slaughtered last night,” Darien informed him. “Wayne included.”

Eli’s horror intensified as he sunk down onto the top step. “Who’s even capable of doing something like that? Who could take out a senior alpha and his entire pack?”

“We’ll know more as soon as I hear back from the king,” Xavier said. “Remy, I’m going to need Lox on Kane’s trail. I can track but not like him.”

“Got it. Me and a couple of senior enforcers will take the perimeter then. I’ll send a few more with Eli to track the campus. The rookie enforcers can split up and patrol Agwu and the residents.” Like most wolf territories, there was only one road, Agwu, that led into Mirage from the outside world. It made it easier to track who was coming and going, which was imperative to packs with humans living on their territory. 

“I’ll stay on campus with the enforcers,” Darien said. “Eli, you go with Xavier and Lox to convince Kane to bring his dumb ass back to Mirage. He’ll listen to you.”

“Only if it’s cool with X,” Eli responded, looking at the alpha.

“I had kind of hoped you would handle Aunt Pam for me,” Xavier said to him. “When she finds out about this, if she doesn’t already know, she’s gonna go off. Then she’s going to want to come with us and I’m not going to let her.”

“I’ll take care of Aunt Pam,” Darien said. “Just go and bring that fool back here before he does something stupid.”

“Too late for that shit,” Xavier mumbled. “Remy, call Lox and tell him to meet us at Kane’s cabin. We’ll track his scent from there.”

Twenty minutes later, the three of them stood outside Kane’s cabin, which had been erected in the east quadrant of the Wesley campus. It was about a ten-minute walk from the Alpha’s Den, an arrangement which had been made on purpose so that Kane, the alpha heir, could be close to his father, the former alpha Bartholomew Wesley. Xavier had allowed Kane to stay there after Xavier had ascended because, technically, Kane was still the heir. Until Xavier had a mate and a son, Kane would remain next in line to ascend.

Unless Xavier killed him first.

“His scent is weak,” Lox said, rising from his kneeling position at the bottom of the cabin’s steps. He sniffed the air and followed the scent to Kane’s bedroom window. Xavier and Eli followed expectantly, knowing Lox was on to something. Sure enough, Lox sniffed around the window’s ledge and laughed.

“That fool climbed out of the window to throw us off,” he said. “From his scent, I can tell he was in human form, which is going to make him a lot harder to track.”

Xavier already knew this, and it pissed him off even more. “Okay, let’s shift and track him that way. We can cover more ground, faster, and I don’t want to lose his scent. Something tells me that once that fool is in the wind, we’re never going to see him again.”

“How about I track him as a wolf and you two follow me in your truck?” Lox suggested.

“Will wolfspeak even work at that distance?” Xavier asked.

“I’ve honestly never tried it. But even so, I can still carry my phone on me and call you when I find Kane. You can take my clothes in the truck and I’ll shift back when you catch up.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“What are we going to do when we find him?” Eli asked. “I’ll try talking to him first, but what if that doesn’t work?”

“Then his ass is getting tranq’d and dragged back to Mirage,” Xavier said. “He’s coming back whether he wants to or not.”

That was when Eli’s cell phone rang. “It’s my mom,” he said, staring at the screen. “Want me to ignore her?”

“You out of your mind?” Xavier replied. “If we try to play Aunt Pam, she’ll kill us all. Answer if you wanna live.”

Eli nodded and did as he was told. “Hey, Ma.”

“Have you found Kane yet?” his mother’s voice cut in. Eli didn’t bother putting her on speakerphone because he knew Xavier and Lox could hear her just fine. He also didn’t bother to pretend he didn’t know what his mother was talking about, which Xavier appreciated.

“We’re at Kane’s cabin now,” Eli replied. “Lox has his scent and we’re about to go after him.”

“Don’t bother,” Aunt Pam replied. “As soon as he left Mirage, I got the alert. I already know where
he is.”

“What?” Eli exchanged a shocked look with Xavier.

“I put a tracking device on Kane’s ikenga statue,” she said. “I knew that if or when he ran, he would take it with him. A male would be crazy to go on the lam without it.” All Xavier could do was smile. His aunt had been the alpha female for over twenty years, and it was times like this that proved why his Uncle Bart had mated her and valued her opinions and leadership over everything else.

“So where is he?” Eli asked his mother.

“Headed north toward Vagary. I doubt he would be stupid enough to actually venture onto Gray territory again, but this is Kane we’re talking about and your brother has proven himself to be less than intelligent. I bet he and that girl plan to meet in the middle of the two territories, somewhere neutral. He’s on the move right now, but once he stops, I’ll call you to let you know his exact location. But in the meantime, Xavier, you should consider something.”

Xavier held out his hand for the phone and Eli gave it to him. He put it up to his ear. “And just what is that, Auntie?”

“Kane has disobeyed you and the chiefs and stayed in communication with the girl. You can’t just 
ignore that.”

“Who said I was ignoring it? I literally found out five minutes ago that he was on the lam, an hour, mind you, after I found out the entire Morris pack was slaughtered last night.”

What!?

“I don’t know the details yet. I’m waiting on a call from Nez.”

“I’ll call him myself.”

No, you won’t.” Xavier hadn’t meant to growl at his aunt, but lately, his alpha wolf had been making appearances against his will, which wasn’t a good thing. His wolf didn’t have much respect for the elders. Shit, his wolf didn’t have much respect for anything.

“Just let me handle it, Auntie,” he said in a much calmer tone. “I’ll tell you everything I know as soon as I know it, okay?”

“Sure,” she snapped. “I’ll do the same.” She hung up without another word, but Xavier didn’t take it personally. Aunt Pam had been the alpha female for most of her adult life and was still finding it hard to relinquish her authority to Xavier. There had been a power struggle between them ever since he had ascended, but he tried to be patient with her. She was his elder and his aunt, and her wisdom was priceless. He couldn’t afford to alienate her. 

They returned to Xavier’s cabin, loaded up into his truck, and headed north toward Vagary, which was just south of Augusta and to the east of Macon. They rode in complete silence until Lox got tired of it and made Eli turn on some music. Without argument, Eli turned on the satellite radio and let Lox direct him to a station he liked. Once the cab filled with music, Eli sat back and continued to stare out of the window. 

Xavier was pretty sure he knew what was on Eli’s mind. Kane was Eli’s older brother and he looked up to him, even though Kane had the least amount of common sense between the two. Still, the younger brother had always made himself responsible for taking care of the older brother, which was something Xavier couldn’t condone. He’d always taken care of his younger brother and would never let him take responsibility for any of Xavier’s actions, good or bad. He owned his shit and that was something Kane just didn’t seem capable of doing.

They were half an hour outside of Mirage when Aunt Pam called with Kane’s location. “He stopped at a little gas station right outside of Eastman,” she said. “He’s probably gathering supplies for his trip and I can imagine that he’s pretty hungry, too. I’ve sent you the address.”

“Thanks, Ma,” Eli said. “We’re on our way.”

“I would prefer my son be returned to me alive, Xavier.”

“I’ll do my best, Auntie,” he replied.

“I’m sure you will,” she said, hanging up a moment later and leaving him with the impression that she didn’t actually trust him to do right by her son. But Xavier had every intention of trying to coax a peaceful surrender out of Kane. However, if he got rowdy, Xavier wasn’t going to hesitate to bust his ass.

By the time they made it into Eastman, darkness had descended. They pulled into the small, barely-paved lot of the gas station Aunt Pam had tracked Kane to. There was a single rusted red pickup parked in front of the rundown shop as well as two gas pumps, one which was out of order. Their doors opened and they all climbed out, looking around for any signs of trouble. Xavier picked up on Kane’s scent and wondered if any other shifters had tracked the idiot to Eastman, possibly in pursuit of Kane’s female, Aspen Gray. Or Kane’s head in a bag. If she had already left Vagary and her father had found out, he could already have someone tracking her scent. They just couldn’t be too careful.
Lox stood beside him holding Xavier’s tranquilizer gun, which he stored in the trunk. Every Wesley carried a loaded tranquilizer gun in their ride because it just wasn’t wise to travel without one. Claws and fangs were cool, but tranqs kept shifters alive for further questioning if it came down to that. 
They could always kill them later.

Stand over there, in the shadows. By something that can cover your scent if possible, Xavier told Lox in wolfspeak, not wanting Kane to hear them talking and ruin everything by trying to escape out of the back door of the station or something. Stay alert and be ready. Ain’t no telling what this fool might do.

Got it, boss man. Lox walked off and Xavier leaned up against the truck to wait Kane out.

Promise me, you’ll let me talk to him first, Eli said.

I’ll let you do your thing, Xavier replied. But if you don’t make progress fast, I’m taking over. 
Eli nodded.

It wasn’t long before the glass door of the store dinged and Kane exited with a backpack slung over his shoulder and a white grocery bag of provisions dangling from his fingers. Xavier had half-expected him to take off running when he saw them standing there in wait, but Kane surprised him and remained calm, though Xavier could imagine he was anything but calm on the inside. 

“How did you find me?” he asked in a steady voice, his eyes jumping back and forth between Xavier and his brother.

“Does it matter?” Xavier replied.

“Not really.”

The two wolves stared at each other. Kane stood about ten feet away, not daring to come any closer, even though ten feet was hardly a safe distance. Werewolf shifters had the ability to leap from a standing position of up to thirty feet away. Xavier could easily eat up ten feet with hardly an effort, though no one had better hops than Remy.

“Why’d you run?” Eli asked.

“You know why I ran,” Kane said. “I couldn’t stay. Didn’t you read the note?”

I have to be with her. Tell everyone I love them, is not an explanation.”

“I didn’t know I needed to explain. I’ve been threatening to do this for months. Today is just the day I decided to act on it.”

“You didn’t even say good-bye to Mama.”

“I couldn’t. You know how she is. She wouldn’t have let me leave.”

“You should have told our mother good-bye, Kane!” Eli shouted.

Kane nodded. “You’re right, okay? You’re right. I’ll call her when Aspen and I are settled down. I promise.”

Xavier laughed but not with humor. “Lone wolves don’t get to settle down. Lone wolves don’t get to set up house and live happily ever after. They’re nomads, belonging to no pack and planting no roots.”

“If we go out west, we could settle down. Someplace like Washington or Oregon. Since there are no packs in that part of the country, we won’t be in danger of trespassing on anyone’s territory.”

“Oh, so now you care about boundaries? You weren’t thinking about that when you trespassed into Vagary and marked Aspen Gray, breaking a century-old treaty between our packs!”

“I’m not going back to Mirage, X,” Kane said, his chin held up in defiance. “Don’t you get it yet? I’m choosing her. And before you say it, she is my family. Aspen is my bloodmate and you’ve kept her away from me long enough.”

“You’re such an idiot, Kane. Don’t you know what her father is going to do when he finds that girl missing? Clarence is going to kill everybody, including you.”

“Clarence ain’t gonna do shit. Besides, he’ll have to find me to kill me, and we’ll be long gone before he ever finds out.”

“If you think you can hide from Clarence Gray in Washington, you’re dumber than I thought.”

“I can protect what’s mine. I’m not worried.”

“What about the rest of us then?” Eli asked. “What about the other pack members you’re putting in danger?”

Kane had the decency to look ashamed for a moment. “Look, bro. I love you guys, you know that. 
But Aspen is everything. I have to do this. I’m sorry.”

Eli nodded. “Yeah. Me too.”

Kane looked at him, confused.

“Do it,” Xavier said.

“Shit!” Kane turned his head just in time for the tranquilizer dart to whiz right past him. His plastic bag slipped from his fingers, hitting the ground and spilling its contents everywhere. Kane pivoted and took off for the woods, shedding his backpack along the way.

“Remember to tell Aunt Pam that he made me do this,” Xavier said to Eli, tearing off his clothes.

With a burst of adrenaline, Xavier shifted and took off after his cousin. It was a painless transformation, a gift that the supreme Chi had given the lycan kind when the deity had freed them from the curse of the moon and the painful torture of the change centuries before. He dug his paws in and used the powerful muscles in his legs to propel him forward. Kane was fast, even in human form. But Xavier was an alpha wolf, a servant of metamorphosis, and there was no way Kane was going to get away from him.

Xavier homed in on Kane’s scent and followed the crisscross pattern Kane was taking in an effort to keep Xavier off his true path. But Xavier knew all the tricks and that wasn’t going to work. His other supernatural senses kicked in, the superior hearing and keen eyesight, and even in the darkness, he could just make out Kane’s figure heading north. Toward Vagary.

Not today.

Xavier dodged a tree, then cut around another. He ran in a straight line, then bucked a sharp left onto the path he was taking to cut Kane off. He could hear Kane’s heartbeat accelerating as he pushed himself toward freedom. Xavier barked as a warning to not make this harder than it had to be. Kane cursed but he didn’t slow down. Xavier took that to mean that he wanted to go down the hard way.

Done.

With a vicious snarl, he launched himself into the air and tackled Kane to the ground, pinning him down with nowhere to go. They struggled for a minute as Kane made a desperate attempt to get out from under the weight of Xavier’s massive body. But it was no use. He finally gave up and went still, the only thing maintaining movement being his chest as it rose and fell beneath Xavier’s huge paws, whose claws drew blood as they dug into Kane’s skin.

“You’re making a mistake, X,” Kane gasped. “You don’t understand!”

I understand just fine, Xavier said. You only care about yourself and what you want!

“This isn’t about me! This is about—”

A tranquilizer dart pierced his neck, cutting off his pointless explanation.

“Why, X?” Kane blabbered, right before his eyes fluttered closed and his body went completely limp. As Xavier leapt off him, Lox emerged from the shadows, the tranquilizer gun resting on his shoulder and a blunt dangling from his lips.

“Sorry, homie,” he said to Kane’s unconscious form, smoke wafting from his mouth. “Alpha’s orders.”

Xavier shifted back into human form. He looked at his first sergeant. “Were you running and smoking at the same time?”

Lox just grinned. Xavier shook his head.

“Help me lift him. I think I can carry his big ass back myself.”

It was a struggle, even for him. Kane was the son of a Wesley alpha and a chief’s daughter, which meant he was one big son of a bitch. Any other wolf would have crumbled under his weight, but 
Xavier made it all the way back to his truck without having to rest even once.

Eli had already gathered up his brother’s things and put them in the truck. He leaned against the hood but jumped to attention the second they emerged from the woods.

“Is he dead?” he asked with an expression that told Xavier it was an honest question.

“What the hell?” Lox said. “No. I tranq’d him.”

“Go distract the clerk for a minute, Eli,” Xavier grunted. “I don’t need her getting the boys in blue involved in our business.”

Lox opened the trunk door and Xavier dumped Kane’s body inside, giving his arms and shoulders instant relief. Luckily for them, no one passed by while they were doing this, because even to Xavier it looked like two guys, one of them butt-ass naked, had just killed someone and were headed to dump the body. 

Okay. We’re good, Xavier said, throwing on his clothes. A few moments later, Eli emerged from the shop chomping on a bag of chips. He slid into the passenger seat, cool as a cucumber, and waited for Xavier and Lox to join him.

Once they had returned to the interstate headed back to Mirage, Xavier finally breathed a sigh of relief. Everything had gone to plan, nothing had gone wrong, which probably meant some bullshit was in the pipeline. But at least they had Kane, and for the moment, they had avoided starting a war with the Grays.

Beep. Beep. Xavier looked down at the screen of his cell phone and his throat clenched when he saw the king’s name at the header of the message that had just come through. Without alarming the others, he checked to see what it said.

It was the Lion Head.

Xavier stared at the message in confusion for a minute, then sent back, The Lion Head is just a myth.

It took the king several minutes to respond. Who the hell told you that?

Xavier’s heart leapt into his throat. He stared out of the window into the darkness of the night, shamefully fearful of what Nez might tell him next.

“What’s wrong?” Eli asked, noticing the change in his expression.

“It’s nothing,” he replied, shifting in his seat. “Contact Aunt Pam. We’re taking Kane to her house and locking him up in her wolf brig until he forgets how dumb he is.”

“So forever then.”

“If that’s how long it takes.”

“You can’t do that to my boy, X,” Lox said from the back seat. He’d been watching over Kane to make sure he didn’t wake up. “Now that he’s marked his bloodmate, there’s no keeping them apart. It’s just a matter of when now. You know this.”

Xavier knew but that didn’t mean he was just going to toss up the white flag and welcome Aspen Gray into the family with open arms. He had to do what he had to do to protect his pack and if that meant he had to keep Kane locked up until his bones turned to dust, then so be it.

Aunt Pam was on the front porch waiting for them when they finally drove around the long, circular driveway of her estate and parked the truck in front of her house. The Wesley estate belonged to their entire bloodline, but only the alpha, his mate, and their pups could live there. One day, it would be Xavier’s home, but until then, he was happy to let his aunt carry the burden of managing such a massive property.

Aunt Pam was dressed very casually in a t-shirt and jeans, which was rare for her even when she wasn’t working. Her long, kinky hair hung freely down her back and with no makeup on, his aunt resonated a sort of vulnerability that only those closest to her knew was a front. She waited until their doors opened before she walked down to meet them.

“Did anyone see you tranq him?” she asked, peeking through the tinted side window overlooking the trunk. Xavier’s aunt was only slightly shorter than he was, so when she turned to look at him, he couldn’t help but notice the ever-present challenge in her dark eyes.

“No one saw anything,” Xavier replied. “We made sure of it.”

“So what you’re saying is, you got lucky.” She didn’t wait to hear his reply before she disappeared around the back of the truck where Lox and Eli were lifting the still-unconscious Kane out. As strong as the wolves were, it still took the two of them to move Kane’s massive body. Moving him awake would have been a struggle for them. Moving him unconscious was an Olympic event, as he well knew.

“I see he tried to run,” she commented on his bloody shirt.

“I said I would try not to kill him,” Xavier replied. “This is me not killing him.”

“Do you really think this is the right thing to do, locking him up?” she asked as they followed Eli and Lox into the arching foyer of the mansion.

“It’s the only thing to do,” he said. “If we leave him free, he’ll run again. Maybe a few weeks in the brig will get him to change his mind.”

“A few weeks!?”

“Or as long as it takes. It’s all up to him. Also, I’m canceling the Moon Feast. In mourning for the Morrises.”

Aunt Pam nodded but didn’t reply as she led them into her basement, flipping switches to light the way and reveal the lavish upgrades his aunt had made since his uncle’s death. The carpeted floors had been redone in marble, the walls were venetian plaster and covered in expensive art, and the suede furniture had been exchanged for leather. Only the titanium steel door to the family brig remained intact and as Aunt Pam slid the door’s giant bolt open, Xavier wondered if the drastic changes had helped his aunt with her grief. It had only been a year. His aunt still grieved for her mate and he knew that she always would. But did the changes to her home mean she was preparing to move on and open her life to a new mate? It sure had for his mother.

On the other side of the door sat two large caged cells with concrete floors, each with a single floor cot and bars made of pure granulated silver. Two things were true about werewolf lore. One, they loved to howl at the moon. Two, silver stung like a bitch, so it was the perfect thing to use for the bars of their brigs. Whether they had to lock up a friend, foe or themselves, no wolf was getting out of the brig without signing up for some serious pain.

“Yo, he’s waking up,” Lox said as a choked groan came from Kane.

Aunt Pam hurried over to a table in the corner to put on a pair of rubber gloves, which was the only way she could touch the brig door and not get burned. She quickly fitted the key into the hole of the first cell and unlocked the door, pulling it open so Lox and Eli could carefully carry Kane inside without getting stung themselves.

“Set him on the cot,” Aunt Pam said, even though they were already doing that. Kane grunted as they laid him out and Xavier imagined that he was in a lot of pain. The darts they used for shifters were twice as potent as regular animal tranquilizers. The takedown sucked, but the recovery was worse.

“Xavier,” Kane groaned.

“Give us a minute,” he said to the others. Lox and Eli nodded and left right away. After closing the brig and locking it back up, Aunt Pam reluctantly followed them.

“The effects of the tranq will wear off in a couple of days,” he said, staring at his cousin through the bars.

“What have you done, X?” Kane growled. “What did you do to me?”

“I did what I had to do. I did what you forced me to do.”

“You’ve ruined my life,” he muttered. “You’ve ruined everything.”

“You’re not thinking straight right now,” Xavier said. “We’ll talk when your head is clear and you can see reason.”

“No, you don’t understand.”

“I understand. I really do. But you have to let me work this out. This has to be done my way.”

“But… But Aspen is…” His last words were lost as his head tilted to the side and he slipped into unconsciousness once again, leaving Xavier wondering once again what Kane had been about to tell him…

…and if it would have made Xavier realize sooner that he was the one who had just started the war.

********



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