In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2) (2 page)

BOOK: In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2)
4.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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"So we're
not
going to All-Pack?" Chase asked, his eyebrows raised in warning. My friend thought that I'd decided to thumb my nose at my brother's taunt the same way I'd ignored the outpack shifter drifting through our woods. And, as usual, my milk brother was concerned about the repercussions of my decision, worried about the shit that was likely to fly back on both me and on our pack if I ignored Justin's letter.

Well, Chase was wise to worry...but not because I was ignoring Justin. Instead, I'd decided to meet my blood brother's threat head on at last.

Sure, there would be power struggles and army-like entourages at the annual shifter gathering. And most of the attendees would likely be allied against us.

But, unlike my milk brother, that kind of challenge just got my blood moving and set my eyes gleaming. "Hell, yeah, we're going to All-Pack!" I answered loudly, and my bravado was rewarded when Chase's mouth quirked up into a reluctant smile despite himself. "It's high time we found out whether Justin the Shrimp ever grew into those dinner-plate paws."

 

 

Chapter 2

All-Pack was a swirling cacophony of scents and sounds. Which is why, despite my best intentions to look the part of a jaded alpha, I couldn't help padding in a tight circle, taking in the shifters around me while supposedly scouting out a spot for our pack to set up camp.

Luckily, everyone else was too busy with their own lives to notice my lapse, although Chase did clear his throat meaningfully by my side. I started to glance up at my friend, but then my attention was drawn away again, this time to a gaggle of giggling pack princesses drifting past. Without conscious volition, my tongue lolled out in an effort to capture more of the girls' enticing aroma.
Maybe that outpack shifter wasn't so crazy after all....

One girl-pup shot me a glance out of the corner of her eye and giggled louder, but the others seemed oblivious to my attention. Their guard was less forbearing, though. The brawny brute trailing along in the girls' wake growled as he passed me by, and my own hackles rose in response.

Sure would be fun to duke it out with another alpha-leaning werewolf
, I thought wistfully. Not that
I particularly
wanted
to get to know any of those girls better. But I was used to every shifter in my vicinity backing down from the slightest sign of my displeasure. So the guard's piercing eyes made my blood pump and my muscles tense in preparation for a spring to his throat.

Still, my eye—as much as my lupine nature would allow—was on the ball. Objective one: ensure that my pack mates could hold their own amid the other nine clans assembled for All-Pack. Objective two: find some really smelly shit to rub my brother's nose into.

I meant the second objective figuratively. Well, mostly....

That
thought made me laugh, and my returning good humor gave me the reminder I needed to let the passing guard win his staring contest. Shrugging, I glanced up at Chase at last, whose human fingers were holding my lupine ruff in a death grip.
Calm down, buddy. I'm not going to do anything stupid
, I told him, the unspoken words carried loud and clear by the jaunty tilt of my head and the sparkle in my eyes.

At home, my milk brother would have swatted my nose in retaliation for giving him such a scare. But here, Chase was even more aware of my missing dignity than usual, his eyes scanning the crowd in front of us in search of danger or imagined slights, and I knew he wouldn't remonstrate with me in public. Earlier, my friend had begged me to don two legs for our introduction to polite society, but that had seemed like a terrible idea since I was even more erratic and unlikeable on two legs than on four. So we'd instead settled on allowing Chase to be in charge of dealing with the furless, while I padded along at his side as silent but menacing muscle.

Sounded like a good deal at the time since I was always willing to let my milk brother take the lead if it floated his boat. But now I was starting to wonder whether the two of us had gotten in over our heads, walking unprepared into this melee of laughing, growling, posturing, and flirting shifters.

"Welcome." The word came from behind our backs, and we both whirled, Chase nearly toppling over in his haste to find out whether the greeting emanated from friend or foe. Despite our plan to let Chase speak for the two of us, I surged forward to give my milk brother time to recover his composure, then looked up into the deepest eyes I'd ever seen.

Usually, shifters kept their lupine natures under wraps when walking two-footed, but I could tell that the middle-aged man standing in front of me was more of my own school of thought on the issue. Why put the wolf to sleep when canine senses were so powerful, even if pointy teeth had to be hidden beneath human gums? This man's wolf was alert and rampant behind his human eyes, and despite my seven-year absence from All-Pack, I recognized him instantly.

"Chief Wilder," Chase greeted our host, holding out one hand in greeting and proving that he also had guessed the man's identity. But even though Chase had called our host by the right name, my milk brother clearly hadn't understood the implications of the wolf lurking behind the man's eyes.

Crazy Wilder, as shifters liked to call this man behind his back, was the host of All-Pack for good reason. He was the biggest, baddest shifter around. And, unfortunately, he and I both knew that shaking hands with a submissive werewolf barely old enough to drink was miles beneath the other alpha's dignity. The only question was how hard our host would slap my friend down.

Sure enough, the older man stared pointedly at the offending appendage until Chase flushed and let the hand fall back against his side. Despite knowing exactly what was coming, my lip curled upwards at my friend's embarrassment and I placed the first mark in my mental tally book against Chief Wilder. Some day, I'd pay him back in spades.

I didn't growl, though. First, there were my prime directives to consider. And, second, Chief Wilder's wolf was stronger than that of any shifter I'd ever met, and for once in my life I wasn't entirely sure I could take another werewolf down if a verbal altercation descended into a pitched battle.

It was a strange sensation to feel cowed by another alpha, and a more human shifter would have puffed up his chest and tried to hide his weakness beneath brave words. But I was more intrigued than threatened at the concept of such a powerful shifter. And, apparently, Chief Wilder was equally intrigued by me, because he immediately proceeded to tweak my tail.

"You're the spitting image of your brother," the older man said, and I could tell from the glint in his eyes that our host knew Justin was the last shifter I'd ever want to be compared to.

Now I
did
emit the tiniest growl before I was able to stifle my annoyance. Last time I'd seen Justin, he was a gawky teenager, half my bulk due to spending his childhood on two legs instead of four. I sure hoped I didn't look anything like my brother...although perhaps Justin had grown into his wolf over the intervening years.

"So I assume you're here to stand with Clan Young?" Chief Wilder continued, and despite myself I shifted upwards at last so I could speak my mind. No way was I going to let Chase tangle with the All-Pack host while I stood by and looked on like an empty-headed four-legger.

"Well, in as much as I'm a Young and I lead a pack," I replied coldly, my speedy shift requiring only the slightest pause in the conversation. Sure, it probably looked a little bad for me to be standing around naked conversing with the All-Pack host, but who the hell cared? "Yes, in that respect I'm here to stand with Clan Young," I continued. "But perhaps not with the Clan Young you're thinking of."

For a moment, the two of us stood there, chin to chin, eyes locked and fists clenched. I could feel Chase behind my back, struggling to think of a way to defuse the situation before I got both of us killed, but still willing to leap into the fray to protect my back if necessary. Further away, a car door slammed and I smelled Oscar emerging from the vehicle where I'd left him in charge of our pack's weaker members.

Yes, in complete disregard for tradition, I'd come to All-Pack with my entire unruly clan of halfies, women, children, and disgraced shifters in tow. The deal was that I didn't trust my blood brother not to lead an ambush against my pack mates while I wasn't around to protect them, and Tia didn't trust
me
not to get my ass handed to me if I attended All-Pack alone. So we'd all piled into cars and caravanned down the interstate together to answer my brother's call.

Which just went to show that Chase's mom knew me better than I knew myself. Because hadn't I taken the first opportunity to do something stupid? Like trying to stare down Crazy Wilder on his home turf while the powerful alpha's minions inched closer as every loaded second passed....

A smarter werewolf would have apologized for being a smart-ass and then moved on. It was no big deal to grovel in front of Chief Wilder, especially for a barely-adult shifter like me. Just standing up to him for as long as I had would make our pack look good—appearances being the whole point of All-Pack, after all...if you didn't count the girls and the feasting.

Meanwhile, I knew that if I didn't make my move soon, my peace-loving uncle would apologize on my behalf in order to prevent outright bloodshed. So I did the only thing I could think of. I reached out and landed a brotherly punch on Chief Wilder's broad shoulder and said, "Dude, I thought you were expecting us. Didn't you say you were going to stand up and offer surety for our pack when we lobby for territorial rights?"

For a split second, Chief Wilder froze, completely blindsided by my inappropriate request and gesture. Not only was the alpha before me the most powerful shifter present, he and my late father had also been at each others' throats constantly during the latter's lifetime. Helping Chief Young's son become formally recognized as pack leader would definitely stick in the old man's craw.

But then I could have sworn I saw a twinkle develop in Crazy Wilder's cold, dark eyes. Pulling me into a guy hug, the jovial blow he landed on my back was strong enough to rattle my teeth. "Well, you'd better get settled, then, hadn't you, son?" he answered. "You can set up your camp next to mine."

Then, before I was even able to suck in enough air to respond, All-Pack's unanimously declared leader had turned on his heel and left me alone. And although I was naked and breathless in the aftermath, I still felt like I might have actually held my own. Well, kinda-sorta.

 

***

 

The smart thing to do would have been to sit back and rest on my laurels. After all, with Crazy Wilder's support supposedly behind my little pack of misfits, Justin would be too afraid to spend much time undermining my position for fear of toppling his own precarious rank within the regional packs. So all I had to do was wait out the week of revelry, then lead my pack home, where the ground beneath our feet would soon be officially our own by werewolf as well as by human law.

But whoever said I was smart?

"Seriously, Wolfie?" Chase asked, his words full of the exasperation he was doing his best not to unleash while outpack shifters gathered within easy earshot. "Don't you think it would be a better idea to just hang out here tonight? Rest up for tomorrow's negotiations?"

I rolled my lupine eyes and ignored my milk brother's plea. Although a couple of years my senior, Chase had never attended All-Pack before, so he didn't realize that nothing important was going to happen either tonight or tomorrow. Everyone was all aflutter about the Princess Ball, but if you weren't on the market for a mate, All-Pack didn't really begin until the second full day after we all assembled.

Which meant that now was the perfect time to do some illicit snooping and to figure out where my brother stood among the other alphas. Unfortunately, given the state of Chase's nerves, it looked like I'd probably be better off drifting through the crowd on my own this time around. So the question was—how to make that happen without having Chase trail along behind to make sure I didn't step in any metaphorical cow pies?

A normal alpha would have simply ordered his beta to stand down, but I instead shifted to human form and clasped Chase's shoulder in a comforting grip. "I
promise
that I won't get into trouble tonight," I offered, my words imbued with alpha reassurance. "I won't say a single word to anybody. If Justin sees me, I'll turn tail and run in the other direction. But I
need
to do this, Chase."

As much as I hated to pin myself down with these reassurances, I knew it was worth it when I felt Chase's tense muscles ease beneath my hand. My milk brother and I both understood that I wouldn't go back on my word unless I absolutely had to, not after making a solid promise to my friend. So Chase didn't offer another complaint as I shifted to wolf form and slipped past him into the night.

It felt good to be back on the hunt, even if my current quarry was considerably different from the rabbits I usually trailed. My blood brother's scent had teased me all day long, and it had taken all of my self-control to prevent my feet from taking me in his direction earlier that evening, before my pack mates settled into their tents. Now, stepping out of the tent that I shared with my milk brother, I immediately smelled Justin's gun-metal signature, barely noticing the woodsy overtones that were too much like my own for my nose to fully register. Unrelated shifters probably parsed Justin's scent very differently, but to me, my blood brother smelled like cold, dangerous steel. An aroma that suited his personality to a tee.

Raising my nose to the air, I found it a simple matter to hunt that metallic odor to its source. Predictably, Justin had located his warriors on the opposite side of the large camping field from our hereditary enemies, the Wilders, and I could tell that
he
had brought no women and children along for the ride. Instead, my blood brother had surrounded his encampment with the most muscle-bound shifters he could find, half in lupine form and the remaining number settling two-legged around a campfire as they wound down for the evening.

Scared much, brother?
I couldn't resist laughing silently at Justin's attempt to protect himself from the other alphas. Like me, every pack leader present would know that only the weak felt the need to surround themselves with such a large retinue of hefty guards. Didn't Justin realize that the power plays between alphas were won more often by the perception of superior power than by overt physical strength? Bravado nearly always beat brawn.

BOOK: In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2)
4.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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