Kalana sighed as she approached the outer city limits of Alston, Maine. Alston was a great little laid-back country town up in the Northern Quadrants. Tourists only came during the summer and fall which was great for the town because they'd come spend their money and leave. The only way to get there in the winter was either by helicopter, snowmobile or dogsled...for the humans anyway. Alston had a little over one thousand permanent residents comprising of any Other Kin who wanted to settle down there. Well, make that one thousand and two. A soft smile etched her lips as she glanced over at her sleeping eight-year-old. Her stomach churned with what she had to do, what she should have done years ago. She knew the repercussions might be harsh, but she had to take that chance.
Her family, the Fairlawns, had been with the group of first settlers who numbered about one hundred and forty today. The Lyken Roven Clan had grown to be the largest clan in Alston with over eight hundred members who stayed throughout the year. The Beven Clan of Vampires, which was relatively small, only forty or so, stayed year-round. The rest were Other Kin who just wanted to settle down away from the violence of wars between the clans for dominance. It was widely known throughout the Other Kin nations that the clans of Alston would not put up with any of the rivalries and if a war was brought to their perimeters, the entire town had shown more than once they would fight to keep what they had...peace and quiet. The town had rules besides what each individual clan had. If the rules were broken then the violator would go before the Council of Elders, which was comprised of two elders from each clan who lived within Alston. They were allowed to voice their opinion to the council before a judgment was handed down.
Kalana's stomach cramped at the thought. Not only did she have to sit before the council, she'd called for the meeting. Her grandfather, one of the elders of the council, had made the plans the day she'd phoned to tell him she was coming back. Kalana wished this could have been done differently, but with the information she'd learned, she could not sit back and let her town down. One of the rules of Alston was if you leave the town, you change your name, and you never tell anyone where you come from. That way if there was something, or someone with their sights set on Alston, the town had feelers and informers out there to report. The only problem was you had to give the report in person.
"It had to be me," she mumbled as she pulled up behind her grandfather's house. She'd been out in the human world for more than eight years and had never heard of anything dangerous toward Alston until several months ago.
A huge smile lit her face as her grandfather stepped out onto his porch. "Pappy!" Jumping out, she left the door open as she ran into his arms for a big bear hug.
"Do you know how much I've missed you, girl?"
"I know. I've missed you too!"
"Well where's that little sprite of mine? That skyping stuff just isn't like seeing her in person."
"Livi's in the car sleeping." After hugging him quickly she backed up a bit. "I'm sorry I've been gone so long; I just didn't know what to do."
After wiping the tear away that rolled down her cheek, he kissed her forehead softly. "You were young and scared; I'm sure he'll understand. If it's who I think it is, he asks about you every time he comes into the store."
"But will the council understand?" she whispered as she met his gaze.
"That we'll have to wait and see. Now go get the sprite, I've got the covers turned down for her in her room."
"Thanks, Pappy." After kissing his cheek, she strode back to her small SUV and lifted her sleeping bundle.
"She's getting a little big for you to do that." Pappy smiled.
"Yeah, but she's really just a mite. She definitely takes after our side on being small and limber." She grinned as she stepped in to the house.
Kalana had stayed hidden most of the day, but Olivia wanted to get out and Pappy wanted to take her through the trails of the forest as he'd done with her when she was Olivia's age. That left Kalana in charge of the family store for the last hour or so.
Ten more minutes and it's closing time. Kalana groaned when she heard the chimes of the front door signaling a customer.
"I'll be right there," she called out as she leaned the broom against the wall. Heading to the front she stopped in her tracks when he turned, tingles of fear and excitement traveling through her veins. "Drake." Her voice was a whisper to her ears, but his twitched as she met his gaze.
"Kala-- What the hell are you doing here?" A little more rough than intended. "Is this why you tried calling me two days ago? To let me know you were coming back?"
Dragging in a breath to her deprived lungs, Kalana started forward. "Well, maybe if you'd call back you'd know, wouldn't you?" she spat out as she stepped behind the counter. Turning, she met his gaze. Now, she was angry.
"You're going to get pissy with me? I'm not the one who disappeared nine years ago. No word, no note, no kiss my ass, you just up and left."
Her eyes lowered, bottom lip between her teeth. He was right. She was the one who'd done him wrong, she had no business being angry. "I'm sorry."
"Did your grandfather even know where you were?"
"Sometimes. I spoke with him weekly but never told him everything." Lifting her gaze to his, she noted the anger he'd held was gone. "Drake, I have to tell you something, something important."
"After nine years?"
"Why are you back, Kalana?" he asked as he folded his arms over his strong chest.
"I-I have to talk to the council."
Arms down, brows furrowed, he leaned forward. "Why?"
"You know I can't say, well not all of it anyway. We really need to talk."
"Right now, I'm worried about dinner. What's left for the beef?"
The change of subject rattled her for a moment. "Ah, um, well there was one piece left, it's a rib eye cut, about a pound."
"It was close to closing so I thought to have it for dinner, it has pepper and garlic on it, so if that doesn't bother you I can wrap it up and grab something else," she said breathlessly as she met his unwavering gaze again.
"If you wouldn't mind. I need red meat and don't feel like hunting it down or waking Manuse tonight because I'm out late."
"Manuse is still in charge of the kitchens?" Kalana twisted her hands at his unwavering gaze. "Ah, sure, be right back." Moving quickly to the back area, she grabbed up the steak and started wrapping it. "Damn, this isn't going good." Shaking her hands out at her sides when they started trembling she stopped, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Okay, I can do this. Just tell him and get it over with. He can probably hear every word you're saying but that's alright." Stepping into the store area again she lifted her eyes to his. He was so damn hot and masculine and so damn alpha, the only way he'd changed was for the better through maturity. He watched her as a predator would, except she wouldn't become his next meal, either that or he was just really hungry for this steak. "I, um, really need to talk to you before I go to council."
"Fine, I'm here so spill," he stated as he tossed a twenty on the counter.
"It's not a two-minute conversation, Drake, it's..." Her eyes flew to the phone on his hip.
"Drake...yeah, I'm on my way, five minutes."
"I have to go."
"It's imperative that we talk before council," she said as he headed for the door.
"Is it for the safety of this town or my pack?"
"Then it can wait. I have to go."
"You need to come back before I go to the council!"
Drake stopped and turned. "Why?"
"Because I need to tell you something before I tell them."
"I'll try, but we have an issue at the northern border."
Oh damn! She just let him get away as he walked out the door.
Dressed in ceremonial gowns, Kalana made her way into the council's chamber. She'd had Olivia sit on a bench outside to wait for her under the watchful eye of Yulin, one of the Council of Elders' guards, and although he hadn't said a word about the little sprite, his gaze showed his curiosity. Breathing deeply, Kalana's lips parted slightly as she let the breath out slowly, stopping in the middle of the chamber, standing before the seven elders of Alston.
"It's good to see you again, Kalana," Councilman Gwil of the Roven Clan stated. "You've been gone a long time. Care to tell us why you've called for a meeting before the council?"
"Thank you," she stated softly. Her grandfather's small smile her encouragement to proceed. "It's good to be back in Alston. I've called for this meeting for two purposes. The first is that several months ago I was in hearing range of a plot to attack Alston." When silence prevailed, she continued, "I was bartending in an Other Kin establishment that is supposed to be neutral for all. I'm not sure if they knew I overheard what they were speaking of, but with all the ears in the room, I think most of the patrons will be involved somehow. The two men speaking were of the Vampire nation and the Lyken nation. I could not gather full names, but the Lyken was named Gilfore." Kalana stopped when Elder Gwil turned to look at the current Alpha and Drake's brother, Evan. "The vampire's name was Theodoris and they are amassing an army to attack and either take over or destroy Alston, depending on how many of us fight and survive."
Kalana hesitated when the council members started speaking to each other. "I'm sorry," she said over their voices. "I'm not done." Taking a deep breath, she returned her gaze to Gwil and Evan Roven. "Apparently they already have a spy in your house. Did you take in a man by the name of Phillip?"
"Yes, he came to us about four months ago. One of our patrols found him bleeding badly in the ravine to the south," Gwil replied.
"It was a setup. He's been reporting back to them from the day you stopped checking into his background."
"Not all," Evan stated as he sat forward. "Drake's had a bad feeling about him since we took him in. He's had constant surveillance on Phillip."
"I don't know how he's communicating with them, Evan, but the last report they had, and I don't mean to pry or voice your pack business, please understand that, but I need to make sure you believe what I'm saying is true." Silently she waited until he nodded his head to give her permission to speak. "The last thing I heard them talking about was that you were looking for a mate and thinking of claiming Sophia Cutler. She's in danger. They were talking of having a female by the name of Isla take her out and make it look like an accident."
"I don't know who she is..."
"She came in about two years ago. She's Sophie's best friend and she's had her eye on Drake."
"Yes, I know," she whispered. "She's supposed to take out Sophia, have you claim her and she's supposed to..."
"Supposed to what?"
"Kill you after she's carrying your heir so Drake would have to claim her as next in line to Alpha."
"By the Gods!"
"I know this upsets you, Evan, but you see...their plan is for nothing...because, because..."
"Tell them the rest, Kalana," Amias (Pappy) encouraged.
She placed her hands over her stomach as it churned with nervousness. "The other reason I'm here--I-I'm not sure how to start. I know my punishment can be severe if the man so chooses. I have no excuse now at my age." Her soft speaking had the room quiet again. Lifting her gaze to her grandfather, she then moved it toward the Rovens. "I left when I was eighteen because, because I was scared and I didn't know what else to do or how to ask for help. I thought that because of the way I was treated by the others because I'm half-human, that I'd be ousted from Alston and, and..." Her breathing hitched, showing her fright. "I was making plans to come back when I heard of the plot so I stayed a bit longer to make sure I was hearing correctly. Evan, Elder Gwil, I ask of you to please not tell him until I have a chance, I tried yesterday but he was called out on pack business. I...Drake...I, um...I left because I-I found out I was pregnant." She'd whispered the last, but knew they'd heard her when Evan's brows arched. "I-we...Drake and I have a daughter. I know he'll understand why I was scared, things didn't--well they weren't..."
"You don't need to say anything further," Gwil said. "I'll give you twenty-four hours to speak with Drake concerning this matter. If you do not speak with him, then the council will have no choice but to bring you both here and we will disclose this information. If we are forced to do so, you will not only receive Drake's punishment, but ours as well. Do you understand this, Kalana Fairlawn?"
"I will personally make it known to Drake that he needs to see you and we will make sure he has no duties to interfere with your time."
"Did Elderman Amias know of this?"
"No, sir. Pappy never knew why I left until after I had Olivia, but I still wouldn't tell him where we were or name her sire."
"Yes." She smiled. "I named her after the only woman outside my clan who didn't treat me as a vile pestilence. I named her after Olivia Roven, the greatest woman I knew who took me under her wing and helped me believe in myself. Drake's great-great-grandmother, rest her soul."
"So that's where you'd scoot off to every Saturday?" Pappy asked.
"Is Olivia here? Can we meet her?" Gwil asked.
"Certainly, but I have to warn you, she's a bit spirited for an eight-year-old." Kalana smiled as they called for Livi to be brought in and turned, taking her hand when Olivia came to her side. "Olivia, these are the Elder Council, you remember me speaking of them."
"Yes, ma'am," Olivia said then smiled. "Hi, Pappy!" She waved her hand.
"She looks just like him," Evan stated.
"Like who?" Olivia asked.
"Your father," Kalana answered with eyes on her daughter, meeting her gaze when she lifted those beautiful amber eyes that were so much like Drake's.
"You mean they know him; they know my father?"
"Yes, they are his family."
"Then where is he?"
"He's not in chambers."
"Why? He's a great Lyken warrior, isn't he? Why isn't he here?" Olivia asked as she glared at the council. "I want to see my father. Please."
Evan chuckled. "Yep, just like him."
"Your great Lyken warrior of a father is taking care of pack business at the moment, but no worries, little one, you'll be meeting him shortly," Gwil stated.
The corner of Kalana's mouth tipped up, at least they were smiling. But she knew that if she didn't have a heart-to-heart with Drake, they would make good on their promise of punishment.
"Now back to the first issue," Elderman Gavril of the Vampire Beven Clan said.
Kalana glanced up. "Yes, sir. Livi, please go back outside and sit on the bench. I'll be right out, okay?"
"Okay, Mamma. Bye, Pappy." She waved happily as she followed Yulin.
Kalana's gaze didn't waiver from her daughter until the chamber door closed. Turning, she faced the council again and knew this was not going to be a short meeting as they questioned her about every possible thing she heard. Kalana was glad she'd had the foresight to write everything down when she arrived back home so she could give them an accurate account of information she'd taken in over the last three months.
"Did anyone ever insinuate that they knew where you were from?" Elderwoman Noela of the Elfin Clan asked.
"No, ma'am. I had moved around so much they just assumed I was an ousted Fairy because of my human father, and I used his mother's maiden name as an alias for both Olivia and myself. But there is one thing I do need the Rovens to do." Her hands came together as she met their curious looks. "Phillip and Isla cannot know it's me. I'm sure Phillip was in the bar before they sent him in. If he sees me, he may recognize me."
"Understandable. Don't worry, Kalana, those two will be dealt with silently in case we have others in town," Evan stated.
Kalana stood there as they ended the meeting four hours after it had started. Her shoulders sagged with relief a bit until Gwil spoke her name, walking toward her with Evan at his side. Kalana took a step back before stopping herself.
"Are you that afraid of us?" Gwil asked.
Her face heated. "I, well I suppose I could lie and say it's habit." She chuckled nervously. "But I can't. I know I wronged Drake and your clan by keeping the truth from you, but I..."
"Speak with Drake and whatever he decides the clan will abide by."
Kalana turned when she felt a hand on her shoulder. "I'll take Livi home and get her something to eat and into bed," Pappy said with a smile. "You stay here and take care of business."
"Okay, Pappy." Kalana turned and met Gwil's gaze and the gentle smile he wore. "I-I don't know what else to say, except I really have no excuse for what I did. I guess after the fright of truth wore off, I pushed it to the back of my mind with the intention of dealing with it later and before I knew it eight years had gone by."
"Did Drake treat you that badly?" Evan asked. "Although I'm a few years older than Drake and he of you, I heard of the way others treated--and if I dare say--tormented you. But I didn't think Drake was in that crowd."
"He-he wasn't, at least not until the night we, um, well, you know," she whispered as heat ran down her neck. "I never thought of it until after, when Livi was about four. The whole 'after' incident kept playing over and over in my mind. I think it was a setup on both of us, but I'll have to speak with him to clarify that."
"You have to know, Drake would never do anything to intentionally hurt you, Kalana. This I know for fact."
Her head tilted as she met Evan's gaze. He knew something, and like the loyal brother and Alpha he was, he wouldn't speak of it without his brother's permission. Nodding her head, she listened to their promises to have Drake at her door tomorrow as she left the council chambers. It felt as if a great burden lifted off her shoulders. It's as Pappy always said, 'The truth will lighten your feet, while to lie will make your steps heavy.' Now all she had to do was tell Drake.