Read Wolf and Punishment (The Alaska Princesses Trilogy, Book 1) Online
Authors: Theodora Taylor
However, Janelle, the most consummate of princesses, didn’t let her annoyance show. She expertly kept the pleasant expression on her face, even as she ignored her mother and poured herself a cup of crowberry tea from the service tray in the middle of the table.
“Did you sleep well, Mama?” she asked, looking over the breakfast selection laid out by their housekeeper as it was every morning. She skipped over the ham, bacon, and sausage, and spooned two servings worth of scrambled eggs onto her plate along with a side of fruit salad.
“Well enough for this time of year,” her mother answered. “Those Arctic Wolf Games took it out of me.”
Janelle graced her mother with one of her practiced sunny smiles as she sat down. “I know, it’s always so much work, but I think it went well, don’t you? We had a record turnout.”
“Would have been even better if your prince had made it up here instead of going to his beta’s first challenge fight. You two need to spend more time together. Engaged four years and you still haven’t gone into heat—it’s like you’re trying to beat Chloe Adams’s record!”
There was a game Janelle liked to play whenever she felt deliberately goaded by her mother. Say the opposite of how she really felt as sincerely as possible.
“Oh, Mama, I’m incredibly sorry I haven’t gone into heat yet. I could not feel more terrible that I’m still not the Queen of Wyoming, especially after our last visit there. When Jeffrey officially inherited the crown, all I could think was how unfortunate it was I hadn’t gone into heat before the ceremony so I could have stood beside him as his queen.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” her mom grumbled, shoulders sagging under the weight of Janelle’s Meryl Streep-level apology. “I’m just worried, that’s all. Jeffrey not coming up for the Arctic Wolf Games is a bad sign. Hopefully he isn’t losing interest in you.”
Janelle didn’t think so. Jeffrey had seemed to enjoy her discomfort at his increasingly intimate touches far too much when she was there for the ceremony.
“So virginal,” he’d whispered in her ear when she flinched after he ran a hand over her breast behind her parents’ backs. “What will you do after you go into heat and are finally installed in my bed and you have to let me touch you whenever I please?”
She’d averted her eyes then, which had been a mistake. Across the room, she could see his beta, Kenny, watching them and from the expression on his face, he was thoroughly enjoying the “Look at the Alaska Princess Squirm” show.
“I’m sure I’ll enjoy our time together very much,” she answered, turning her eyes back to Jeffrey.
“We’ll see about that,” he answered. And the edge in his voice had made her wonder if he was hoping she would continue to flinch whenever he touched her in an intimate way, even after they were married.
And the part of King Joffrey in the
Game of Wolves
will be played by…
” she heard Alisha say in the back of her head.
But as always, Janelle kept her expression pleasant. Pleasant and sunny.
“Yes we will see,” she’d answered. “Until then…” She moved away with demurely downcast eyes, but could hear Jeffrey chuckling darkly behind her as she began the search for her sisters in the crush of ceremony guests.
Her relationship with Jeffrey was nothing like the relationship between Rafe and Chloe. Chloe actually seemed distressed that her engagement had dragged on for as long as it did without her going into heat. Janelle, however, couldn’t have been more grateful her train had stalled on the way to its final destination.
Back at the breakfast table, Janelle buried her worries in that deep, dark place and calmly assured her mother, “I’m sure it won’t be much longer. I know most she-wolves go into heat shortly after turning twenty-one, but Alisha says current research actually puts the number closer to twenty-five.”
“Well, if Alisha says it, it must be true.” her mother said, sarcasm heavy in her voice. “I hope you’re not taking any advice from your sister when it comes to going into heat.”
Janelle didn’t touch that topic with a ten-foot pole. It was early and dark. Too early and too dark to play peacemaker between her mother and middle sister. Their relationship had been nothing but acrimonious ever since Alisha defied her parents and tradition and went off to college with the end goal of getting her doctorate in history.
“Where’s Daddy?” Janelle asked, as if she’d just noticed his absence and wasn’t actually trying to change the subject.
“On a business call,” her mother answered. “The real question is, where is my youngest daughter? It’s almost nine, and she doesn’t even exercise like you do.”
Tu had seemed especially dedicated to the social aspects of this year’s Arctic Wolf Games, and the last Janelle had seen of her, Tu and Vince had been headed towards Vince’s house with a bunch of younger wolves. Probably in full knowledge that Vince’s father, Wilford, wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon. Her Uncle Wilford had been too busy monitoring all the other party-goers at the Wolf Games in his role as Tikaani’s beta. Tu hadn’t got in until late last night, long after her parents retired to bed. So late, Janelle wouldn’t have heard her if she hadn’t been awake for some unknown reason, staring up at the ceiling and trying to will herself back to sleep.
“She’s probably still recovering from all the excitement of the closing party,” Janelle said to her mother, praying her sister wasn’t passed out and reeking of alcohol. She’d found Tu that way on a few occasions and had been forced to cover for her with their parents, claiming Tu had a headache. A cold would have been better, but unfortunately, headaches and cancers were pretty much the only ailments that afflicted werewolves the same as they afflicted humans.
“I hope she doesn’t have another one of her headaches,” her mother said, already laying the groundwork for Janelle’s cover story. Tu was definitely the queen’s “baby,” and Wilma seemed especially adept at ignoring what she didn’t want to see when it came to her youngest daughter.
“If she does, I’ll take care of her,” Janelle said, ever the gracious older sister.
Suddenly, her mother’s eyes widened in horror, and she covered her mouth, as if she’d just seen something awful. Or heard.
“Mama? What’s wrong?” Janelle asked, knowing on instinct her mother must have received a telepathic communication from King Tikaani. “Is Daddy all right?”
“Janelle,” her father said behind her.
Janelle turned around. Her normally jovial father was standing in the doorway of the breakfast nook, as grim as an Uncle Sam recruitment poster.
“Honey, are you sure?” her mother asked him.
Sure about what?
Janelle wondered. But of course, her father didn’t answer his queen out loud. One of the benefits of being mated was you and your partner could communicate telepathically after your first joining. And judging by the way her mother shook her head, like something truly terrible had just come to pass, her father was re-verifying whatever news he had imparted to her before he told Janelle.
Then her father said out loud, “Janelle, we need to talk.”
“Not here,” her mother said with a sidelong glance towards the kitchen where their housekeeper could be heard bustling around. “We’ll go up to your study.”
Her mother got up from the table, still looking quite stricken, but Janelle made sure to keep her expression pleasant. Pleasant and sunny, pleasant and sunny, she repeated to herself as she got up and followed her parents to her father’s second floor study.
“JEFFREY IS DEAD.”
Whatever Janelle had been expecting to hear after she positioned herself, legs bent and crossed at the ankles, in one of his leather guest chairs, that hadn’t been it.
How could Jeffrey be dead? He hadn’t even been King of Wyoming for a full year—but then she remembered his last text to her:
Can’t make the Arctic Wolf Games this year, darling. Kenny has another challenge fight scheduled for that weekend, some crazy wolf from L.A.
She hadn’t thought much of it. Jeffrey’s beta had easily won his first five fights against challengers to the Wyoming crown. He’d even scheduled three of the battles for the same night, taking the challengers down in a triumvirate of no-holds barred fights, which—from what Jeffrey reported back to her on their monthly phone call—had made the UFC’s mixed martial arts matches look like pillow fights. After the triple back-to-backer, which proved Kenny wasn’t an obstacle easily surmounted, all challenge issues had come to a halt.
Quite frankly, if this latest challenger was really crazy—which Janelle assumed he must be if he were willing to go up against a wolf who’d already landslided a three-challenge match—Jeffrey had no reason to go to the fight, since the outcome was pretty much guaranteed. However, she hadn’t been surprised he’d chosen to stay and watch the fight rather than come to the Arctic Wolf Games.
He’d been coming to the event since they were first pledged, and had never expressed anything but disdain for the games which showcased displays of hunting and survival prowess, along with dance and storytelling competitions. The sporting portion mostly consisted of traditional but somewhat goofy Eskimo games. For example, ear pull matches, which involved two competitors facing each other and looping a string between their heads, right ear to right ear, and then pulling until one wolf either pulled the cord from the other’s ear or forfeited due to pain. Jeffrey had been less than impressed by the absence of traditional Anglo winter sports like skiing and hockey.
Knowing how much Jeffrey disliked traveling to her remote kingdom town for visits, she’d guessed he was using the fight as an excuse not to show up at the Alaska crown’s biggest event. And perhaps he had been. But obviously, his crazy challenger had been more of a threat to his crown than predicted. A fatal one.
The pleasant expression finally fell from Janelle’s face and was replaced with one of confusion. “Someone challenged Jeffrey for his crown? And whoever it was won both fights? Against Kenny
Jeffrey? They’re both dead?”
Her father nodded, the gravity of Jeffrey’s unexpected demise written clearly across his plump face. “Yes.”
“This can’t be happening,” her mother said in the other guest chair. Her voice shook with fear and anguish. “Janelle is twenty-five now.
! Her best breeding years are behind her. What prince or king is going to want her, even knowing I’m her mother?”
Janelle took no offense at her mother’s words. It was true. Even though she was considered a great beauty, most she-wolves didn’t go into heat past the age of thirty, and she’d already been engaged to Jeffrey for a rather long time. She might still be pretty enough to draw clicks on her picture, but her match profile wasn’t what it used to be. Consequentially, the fact that her mother, who had been mated at eighteen, had gone on to successfully have three babies wasn’t as much of selling point now as it had been when Janelle was first debuted for pledging at twenty-one.
“Wilma…” her father started.
“No, don’t ‘Wilma’ me, Husband!” her mother said with a furious shake of her head. “Tu’s not eligible to be pledged yet. Alisha’s at that god-awful college playing professor. And Janelle’s
Her father made a calm down motion with his hand. “It will be all right, Wilma.”
“Tell me how it’s going to be all right,” the queen demanded, her voice shrill and her face harsh with disbelief. “You’re divestment year is coming up, and there are no heirs in sight! Plus, no one to fight in your stead if somebody decides to challenge you like whoever took out poor Jeffrey.”
The queen’s words made Janelle ill at ease. Lupine Council law held that a state king could only be challenged during the first and last five years of his reign. A reign lasted until the king retired, abdicated his crown, got killed in a crown challenge fight, or turned fifty. Whichever came first. Next year, her father would be turning forty-five without a male heir. That meant he needed to marry at least one of his daughters off to someone who could fight in his stead if a challenger made it past his beta—keeping in mind he wouldn’t be allowed to opt for a younger beta as that was against Lupine Council rules. By law, this “second,” as they were called, had to be a fellow king and willing to fight in his place should a challenge be leveled. If a king had a second in place, then any challenger would have to fight not only her father’s beta, but also his second’s beta, and then the second himself. Three separate fights to obtain a crown, a challenge very few wolves would be willing to take on.
As much as Janelle hadn’t been looking forward to marrying Jeffrey, she’d taken solace in the fact that doing so would mean her father would remain safe until he was forced into retirement in five years, at which time he could hypothetically put the crown in his overseen trust until any male wolves she or any of his daughters birthed were old enough to inherit it.
“Calm down, Wilma,” her father said now, his expression grave but not nearly as worried as her mother’s. “If you would just let me talk, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. There might be a way out of this.”
Her mother’s eyes widened with tentative hope. “There might be a way out of this?”
“Yes, I wasn’t just on the phone with Jeffrey’s father. I also got a call from Dale.”
Dale was the current King of Colorado, Rafe’s father and Tikaani’s best friend ever since they’d both played football for Denver U., just like Dale’s own son Rafe had with…
Janelle’s heart stopped with a new realization.
Some crazy wolf from L.A.
No, it couldn’t be. There was no way…
Wilma shook her head in confusion. “What does Dale have to do with any of this?”
“He says Rafe knows the guy who challenged Jeffrey—he’s actually really good friends with this new king. Dale tells me they used to play college ball together. Get this, new king’s a pro football player! The one who went top three draft pick a few years back. Remember him? Linebacker for the Los Angeles Suns?”
That was when the bottom fell out of Janelle’s world. It
him. The barriers she’d put in place to keep herself from thinking about him all these years came crashing down as her mind filled with memories of their time together: riding on the back of his motorcycle, lying in his arms, kissing him at the airport...