In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2) (5 page)

BOOK: In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2)
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Outpack drifter no more, the werewolf who stood straight and tall in front of me had clearly resolved to do the same. In fact, I could almost see the bands of packhood forming between Wade and the other shifters arrayed around us. And when I sniffed the air, I smelled only apple cider and cinnamon coming from the boy's direction, the trauma of the previous hours entirely washed away by his introduction to our found family.

The final hint of tension that had ached across my shoulders eased then as I realized that it was finally time to relax my guard. Because no one now stood in my temporary territory except members of my own pack.

 

 

Chapter 5

Justin and his lackeys showed up at our camp boundaries at dawn, waking me out of a blissful sleep. It had simply felt right to drowse off in a jumble of fur and paws after our fealty ceremony, a third wolf sharing the tent that had previously housed only my milk brother and myself. In the wee hours of the morning, I'd listened as first Chase and then Wade allowed their consciousness to slip away, and the sound of my pack mates' calm breathing was enough to make what was bound to be a stressful day ahead seem worthwhile. Then, eventually, I'd joined the others in catching a few z's.

Of course, I'd chosen to nap in lupine form to ensure that—unlike my blood brother—I wouldn't sleep through any important occurrences. Sure enough, I came awake in time to catch the first hint of the inevitable drama unfolding a dozen yards away.

"Fuck, no, I won't go back to my own territory and wait!" Justin shouted as I yawned and slowly rose onto two feet. Much as I hated to leave my wolf behind, I'd require the cleverness of my human tongue to prevent bloodshed today. "He has something that belongs to me," my blood brother continued, "and I plan to walk in there and take back what's mine."

"
You will do as I say
." I was surprised to hear the second voice, although I really shouldn't have been. As All-Pack host, Chief Wilder had every right to mediate altercations between other alphas. On the other hand, I'd never known the old man to show any particular aversion to knuckles hitting skin, so I would have expected the powerful alpha to simply gather up some popcorn and a lounge chair to better enjoy the upcoming performance. Because why halt a potential fight when you could instead choose to watch and gloat over the aftermath?

Still, Crazy Wilder always
did
have a bone to pick with my father. So it wasn't such a surprise to find that his antipathy had carried past the grave and fallen upon my brother's head. The question was—would Crazy Wilder's dislike extend to encompass me as well?

Not that it really mattered. I fought my own battles and was quite prepared to take Justin down. And, if I had to, I'd find a way to vanquish Crazy Wilder as well, assuming the older alpha so much as looked at my pack funny.

"What do you want us to do?" Wade asked quietly, and I turned to catch the teenager and my milk brother both peering at me with equally questioning gazes. The duo clearly expected me to have all the answers, although both were ready to dive in and support me if necessary. Looked like I was going to be required to act as more than a figurehead this morning.

Despite myself, I shivered, unable to hold onto the same easy arrogance when two-legged that I had felt while in lupine form. Meanwhile, my human brain was kicking rustily into gear, reminding me that seven pack mates now looked to me for protection and that the day's stakes were much higher than my wish to see my brother humiliated in front of the other packs. If I played my cards wrong this morning, then Wade would end up back in the hands of the sadistic bastard who I so unwillingly called my brother, and Justin wouldn't hesitate to make the ex-drifter suffer before killing him very publicly this time around.

As if Wade's continuing existence wasn't pressure enough, there was also the issue of my pack's territorial claim. Without the public recognition that I was hoping to garner at this year's gathering, any outpack werewolf would be within his rights to sneak onto our property and wreak havoc. Coming openly to All-Pack had been a gamble in that regard. I was still hoping to be formally recognized as alpha before the week was out, but as part of applying for that privilege, I'd dropped the anonymity that had protected my pack mates for the last seven years. In the past, no one had cared whether or not my pack existed. But if we failed to win pack status now, it would be open season on Pack Young.

Chase raised one eyebrow, picking up on my apprehensions, and I knew it would only be a matter of seconds before my milk brother passed his uneasiness along to Wade, who would in turn transfer the lack of confidence to the rest of the pack.
Time to suck it up and act like an alpha.

So I took a deep breath and then gazed into first Chase's and then Wade's eyes. "You don't need to do anything," I told them firmly. "I've got a breakfast date with my brother, so you two just get to watch."

 

***

 

Now that I could see him face-to-face in daylight, Justin looked less like my evil twin and more like our shared father. And since being glared at by those cold brown eyes reminded me far too much of similar setdowns by the old Chief Young, I came out swinging...metaphorically speaking, that is.

"I
would
say it's good to see you," I called as I strode closer. "But, gee, I was actually hoping you'd make like a sewer and get the shit out of here."

It was a childish jab, but when Justin's jaw clenched, I knew my words had hit home. Still, the other alpha had clearly matured during the years we'd spent apart, and Justin wasn't willing to be goaded into making a fool of himself in front of our ever-growing audience. Not a big surprise, but a disappointment nonetheless.

"I'll leave as soon as you return my property," my blood brother responded simply. Then, looking over my shoulder to where Wade wavered at the open entranceway of our tent, Justin pushed an alpha compulsion into his voice. "
You
. Stop hiding like a coward and get down here to take your medicine like a man."

I didn't need to turn around in order to see Wade begin to walk forward, his feet responding to the pack leader's command even though the boy wanted nothing more than to stay put. Hating the fact that the teenager was being treated like a puppet, but unwilling to let him get any closer to the danger zone, I countered Justin's command with a single word. "
Don't
."

In front of me, Justin's cheeks flushed red as he realized the depth of power behind my edict, but I was more concerned with the word's effect on Wade. Glancing back, I saw that the boy had sunken down into a crouch, a hand on his forehead as he struggled to counter the whiplash of compulsions that had wracked his body in such short order. Between Justin's manacles, the wound Chase had torn into Wade's wrist, and the current headache that was bound to be rising behind the boy's eyes, this wasn't a good twenty-four hours for my newest pack mate.

Frowning at my own thoughtlessness, I started to walk toward the boy, only to pause when Chase met my eye and gave the tiniest shake of his head. The ex-drifter would be okay, my milk brother was telling me; Chase would see to it. Then one lifted eyebrow from my friend reminded me that I needed to keep my attention trained on the real issue at hand—my blood brother's jealousy and wounded pride. Who knew what Justin would do once he realized that he wouldn't be able to force Wade to walk off my territory and turn himself over to his previous captor.

A captor who was currently doing his darnedest to intimidate me, between the glower on his face and the brawny guards at his back. But Justin had never scared me during our shared childhood and he wasn't about to send me scurrying for cover now.

On the other hand, the fact that I was technically in the wrong and had several pack mates looking to me for protection was sufficient incentive to keep me on my toes. Time to start twisting the truth.

"As you can see, the boy is
not
your property," I said, tossing out my opening gambit. "After receiving your thoughtful letter last week, I sent this member of my pack to respond. And even if Wade told you things you didn't want to hear, I don't appreciate you shooting the messenger."

"That's not..." Justin began, then swallowed his angry words, realizing how childish he must sound to the assembled onlookers. I watched as the realization dawned in my blood brother's eyes that ownership of Wade had deteriorated into a case of his word against mine, with the so-called facts pointing toward my version of the truth. After all, no one except our two packs knew that I'd only accepted Wade's fealty a few hours earlier. And if the boy had indeed been a member of my pack, then Justin's behavior would have been out of compliance with All-Pack regulations and would have put my brother clearly in the wrong.

"I apologize if my pack mate was rude," I continued, getting into the swing of things and enjoying this opportunity to bait a sibling who had spent all of our joint childhood dangling his superior privileges in front of my hungry eyes. Behind me, I could feel Chase's gaze boring into my skin and warning me to wrap things up, to quit while I was ahead. But I couldn't resist rubbing Justin's nose in the dirt—hadn't that been one of my prime objectives in attending All-Pack after all?

"Perhaps you need to grow a thicker skin, big brother," I continued waving one hand to emphasize my words. It was only after murmurs began to spread through our audience that I realized my mistake. The partially healed wound on the underside of my wrist had flashed through the air as I spoke, and every werewolf would be able to smell the freshness of the drying blood on my skin.

"You asshole," Justin ground out, the words turning into a garble as he split his clothes down the seams and shifted uncontrollably into lupine form before leaping in my direction.

In the second it took me to decide whether to attack, Chief Wilder's command dropped everyone within earshot to the ground. "
Down
," he barked, and the lot of us fell onto our haunches in immediate surrender.

 

 

Chapter 6

"You and your brother are stupid pups who don't deserve to attend All-Pack, let alone to be recognized as pack leaders," Crazy Wilder told me, but his words lacked heat. Instead, he seemed to be amused by my audacity as the two of us stood alone under the noon-time sun, every nearby shifter having discretely melted into the distance at a single glare from Chief Wilder. Now
that
was a trick I was going to have to master.

But I didn't have time to be impressed since I knew that the alpha in front of me was the only thing standing between my clan and the harsh justice of All-Pack. Hours earlier, t
he same shifter had ended Justin's and my tussle with a single word, and then my brother and I had been hustled back to opposite corners of the campground by Wilder guards. After that, I'd spent the next two hours cooling my heels and waiting to find out how Chief Wilder planned to deal with alphas breaking the peace at the gathering over which he presided.

Despite my own concerns, I'd soothed my pack's worries by telling them that the worst Crazy Wilder could do was to kick us out of the current gathering. Still, my words hadn't helped much since we all knew that being forcibly removed from All-Pack would be like painting a target on each pack member's back. That knowledge hanging in the air had made Wade beg for permission to turn himself over to my brother in reparation, but I could tell by looking in the eyes of my other pack mates that no one was willing to lose the boy in order to save our own skins. Sure, Wade had been a trespassing drifter twenty-four hours prior, but now the boy was one of us. So I'd simply shaken my head and known that Wade would accede to my wishes without any need for an alpha compulsion.

And yet, now, as I enjoyed this tête-à-tête with Crazy Wilder, I started to doubt my own decisions. Should my pack mates and I have fled last night, disappearing into the night with Wade and hoping that the ruckus would blow over before Justin tracked our newest member down? Had I opted to stand and fight for the right reason—to protect my pack? Or had I merely been thumbing my nose at a brother who had always acted as a thorn in my side?

The past doesn't matter
, I reminded myself, channeling my inner wolf. I yearned for the simple familiarity of my lupine body, but I had a feeling that Chief Wilder wanted to strike a deal with me, or he wouldn't have been piercing through my skin with his cold, hard eyes, chin resting on one hand as he eyed me consideringly. The question was—could I live with the other alpha's deal or not?

Crazy Wilder liked to play with his prey, and I knew he would have gladly beaten around the bush for another half hour at least. But I was ready to shift and wanted to get this over with, so I cut right to the chase. "My brother and I are stupid pups. I get that. But useful ones, I'm guessing," I offered. "So what do you want from me and what are you planning to give me in exchange?"

For a moment, Chief Wilder simply glared, and I wondered if I'd finally managed to overstep my bounds and anger the wily old wolf. But then he erupted into gales of laughter that seemed to express honest amusement, and yet still didn't sound quite...right. I shivered, but didn't take my gaze away from the older shifter's watering eyes.

Minutes once again passed and I waited as patiently as possible. I'd laid my cards on the table, and now it was time to see whether Crazy Wilder would do the same.

"What's in it for you is simple," the All-Pack host said at last, speaking so quietly that the guards ten feet away were unlikely to make out his words, let alone any other shifter hovering in the nearby trees. "I'll side with you, back your play to make your little clan official, and then I'll let you walk out of here with your brother's prisoner as your own."

Exactly what I'd hoped for in the best-case scenario. Which meant that I was in deep shit since Crazy Wilder never gave something for nothing. "And for you?"

"I don't want anything right now," Crazy Wilder answered immediately, and his lips spread into a wide grin that almost made my teeth chatter. "I want...a favor. To be named later. At a time of my choosing."

Boy, howdy. I'd barely been paying attention in English class that day, but I was pretty sure that what Crazy Wilder was suggesting could be construed as making a deal with the devil. Chase would have told me to walk away from this bargain, to find another way to get what I wanted.
Never promise an undesignated future favor
, my milk brother would have chided me.
There's always another solution.
Hadn't that been the whole deal with Rumpelstiltskin? Or perhaps it was the moral of another story entirely? Reading never had been my strong suit.

But I wasn't living in a fairy tale. I was sitting across from the biggest, baddest werewolf around, and he had me over a barrel.

Plus, I could tell from how relaxed Crazy Wilder's shoulders were that he was enjoying playing with me...and that he didn't plan to take no for an answer.

So I did the only thing I could—I agreed...with one caveat.

"Okay," I said simply, stepping forward and subtly invading the older shifter's space in the process. Only the sharp inhalation of air through his flaring nostrils proved that I'd managed to get the old man's goat. "I'll agree to your terms. But only if you understand that you're making a deal with me personally, not with my pack.
I'll
promise you a future favor, but you'll exact your pound of flesh from me alone, not from anyone I call a member of my pack."

The All-Pack host rocked back on his heels, and for a moment, I thought I'd gone too far. Would the stronger alpha set me down and remind me that I had nothing to bargain with? Or would he find my spunk amusing, the same way I'd been heartened by Wade's refusal to obey my brother's commands when the latter was tethered to a tree via three chains and a metal collar?

As I waited to see which way Chief Wilder's mood would tip, I found myself holding my breath, and I forced myself to breathe normally once again. No matter what the older alpha ended up deciding, I'd find a way to get my clan out of here safely. My pack mates and I could relocate across the country if necessary. We would make things work.

But perhaps we wouldn't need to go to all that trouble. "Deal," the older alpha said at last. Then, with a motion so swift I barely saw his hand move before I felt the pain, Chief Wilder ripped through the scab on my wrist and sucked down my blood before pinching his own skin with human teeth and offering his blood in exchange. "Now swear," he ground out.

I didn't hesitate. What was the point when I knew I couldn't go back on my word, oath or no oath? Crazy Wilder was simply too powerful to cross.

"I, Wolf Young, swear to obey you, Chief Wilder, once for a favor of your choosing," I said, feeling the words seep into my wolf nature and solidify there like coagulating blood. Then I stood with feet rooted to the earth and watched as the devil walked away, a smug smile spread across his lined face.

And even though I'd sworn an oath I knew I'd live to regret, the anguish eased from my heart little by little as the older shifter passed out of view. Someday, Chief Wilder and I would have to finish this dance we'd begun, but for now I had more important matters to attend to.

It was time to track down the rest of my clan and make sure Fen didn't have our newest pack mate in a head lock. It was time to build bonds with other tribes to ensure my found family would be safe within the territory we'd soon be returning to.

In short, it was high time to start acting like an alpha. And not as a figurehead this time around, but as a real, live leader who would put the needs of his pack first rather than taking crazy chances for the sake of his own ego.

I guess those dreams of shark-wrangling will have to wait
, I thought as I headed back into the crowd. But I felt a smirk rising up onto my face despite this surrender of my youthful flights of fancy.

After all, what could be more difficult than carving out a territory for my little band of downtrodden shifters between the properties already claimed by other bloodthirsty werewolves? Good thing my wolf and I thrived on a challenge.

 

 

BOOK: In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2)
7.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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