September, Whistler, British Columbia
The Whistler pack house was crowded after dinner, with small groups gathered around the room talking amongst themselves. Conversations quieted for a moment as laughter burst out from where the Alpha and his cronies sat in the prime seats before the huge stone fireplace. An icy warning trickled up Missy's spine, and she gave up on the discussion in front of her. She rose from her chair and headed quietly toward the exit, weaving between the couches and recliners that filled the meeting and relaxation area for the pack.
Missy had no illusions about the precariousness of her position. As the widow of a high-ranking wolf, even one whose position had come from his family relationship instead of his power, she was an obvious target for any of the wolves looking to improve their standing in the pack.
Which would be, oh, pretty much everyone. Only she wasn't worried about all of them, just one very dangerous individual.
It could have been worse. It would have been worse if she hadn't managed to keep her secret. Hidden her developing skills away not only from her late husband but the rest of them.
Even now her Alpha's gaze burned as she walked with her head down, attempting to remain small and unnoticeable as she slipped through the common area toward her apartment at the back of the complex.
"Missy," Doug called. "Come here."
She turned toward him, the hair on the back of her neck standing upright as a shiver of disgust raced over her skin. She had hoped to avoid this summons for far longer. Stopping a polite distance away to stand before the massive fireplace, Missy clutched her fingers together and averted her eyes at the last second.
"Jeff has been gone for a month now," he noted, his long well-groomed fingers tapping on the arm of the overstuffed leather chair. His stylish business suit, clean-shaven chin and immaculately groomed hair sharply contrasted with what she knew of his personality. She'd seen his wolf kill more often than necessary, even for an Alpha trying to maintain order in a large pack.
Missy rocked on her feet uneasily. Doug rose from his seat to tower over her petite frame, the heat from his body close enough to overwhelm the fire's warmth. She stared away from him, looking over the heads of the wolves sprawled on the couch immediately in front of them. Don't let him know how much you loathe him. Don't show any sign of disrespect. Others in the room looked on with curiosity for a minute before turning back to their own conversations. Only the wolf enforcers she spotted scattered inconspicuously throughout the room tensed, ready to spring into action if needed.
The level of paranoia her Alpha encouraged among his warriors shocked her. Did they really think she would challenge Doug? It seemed few pack members were aware he was less than the honourable businessman he pretended to be. Missy wondered how much the Alpha shared with his closest allies, how many of his wrongdoings the other leaders of the pack approved. Or were the Beta and the rest ignorant victims as well?
"Does it bother you to hear me talk about my brother? Do you miss him that much?" Doug's refined voice prickled in her ears. "I didn't think you pined for his conversation or longed for his arms to hold you at night."
He laughed softly and the sound grated on her nerves like nails on a blackboard. Over the past couple years Missy had become aware of slow changes in her abilities, including an increased sense of others' motivations. The evil Doug delved into permeated every fiber of his being, and Missy turned her head away to avoid showing her disgust. She swallowed hard and forced down the emotions that threatened to engulf her. Her anger, her fear. The almost overwhelming desire to turn and flee from his presence.
She couldn't run, not yet. She needed more time. Time to find an escape from the trap she knew closed around her as each day passed.
Doug ran a finger down her cheek, plucking at a blonde curl, and her gorge rose. Missy concentrated on presenting a calm facade, forcing her eyes to blink naturally as she slowed her pulse, her breathing. Calming all the telltale signs that could alert this powerful werewolf of her intentions.
He was her brother-in-law, her Alpha, but she refused to let him control her. The finger continued a slow path down her body as she stood stock-still.
"Jeff never did know what a treasure he had, did he?" Doug asked, his dark voice dirty like an oily slick over her skin. He leaned close to whisper in her ear. "My sweet Omega."
Her eyes flickered for a split second before she tamped down the surprise. How could he have discovered what she had worked so hard to hide? She was still learning to control her untrained skills, including the ability to read and manipulate others' emotions, to calm and ease them. Omegas were rare and highly desired among the shifter community. With appropriate guidance, she would be a blessing to a pack. Under the wrong influence, her skills could be deadly.
There were no doubts in Missy's mind what kind of leadership headed her pack at the present time.
Doug chuckled, a light sound that nevertheless made her skin crawl. "Oh, yes, I know. I've always known. You can't hide potential ability from an Alpha who's looking for it." He flicked a finger over his head and the wolves seated around them dispersed, conversations fading away to leave them intimately alone. Missy's fear tripled and icy fingers crawled up her spine in spite of the fire blazing at her back.
Doug lifted her chin with a thick finger, tilting her face as if he were examining a side of beef at the butcher's. He snorted and spoke softly, his words for her alone. "When I blackmailed your family into your marriage to my brother, I hoped you would end up permanently linked with him. With a mate connection between you, I would have mastered you both. But like everything else Jeff touched, he ruined my plans. He wasn't even strong enough to trap you with a false FirstMate."
Missy shuddered inside at the thought. Like every wolf she longed to find her mate, the one who matched her not only physically but emotionally. Forced into a loveless marriage to save her family had been bad enough, but it would have been far worse to imagine herself belonging body, mind and soul to Jeff simply because of overactive pheromones.
A strong hand wrapped around her neck, pulling her closer as Doug stared, his nostrils flaring as he examined her face minutely. "He was woefully delinquent in training you to be obedient. But he's gone now, that unfortunate incident, you know."
Missy's heart thumped harder as the truth of the accident flowed involuntarily from Doug's mind to hers. Images flashed--ropes cut by knives, a falling body, triggered rock falls--she blinked slowly, carefully. The information transferred between them as clearly as if he had spoken, the knowledge a gift and curse of being an Omega wolf.
His own brother had killed her husband. Closing her eyes to shut out the pain, she forced her tears to remain hidden. She may not have loved Jeff, but he hadn't deserved to die in that manner. The crackle of the fire sounded loud and eerie as she searched for something to concentrate on to clear her mind of Doug's filthy touch.
Doug grunted. "Hmmm, you are good. So much potential, so much I'll be able to do with you once you're properly trained." Doug loosened his grip for a second and slipped his fingers into her hair, tugging it hard enough to bring tears to her eyes.
Her blood pounded, her mouth suddenly gone dry, and she focused on making Doug forget her. She was nothing, she was nondescript. Reaching deep into the part of herself she had hidden away for years, she attempted to calm her Alpha. The ripping pull in her hair faded as he dropped his hands to his side and released her.
She kept her gaze on his face and continued to pour out calming emotions from her core, being sure to make them nonthreatening, noninteresting. Above all nonsexual because if Doug decided to claim her physically she'd be lost. She would shatter in a million pieces and never be free from him.
He turned away from her and her panic lightened, fear relaxing as he reacted to her stimulus. She drew in an uneven breath, preparing to step back and retreat from his presence. Suddenly, his hand shot out and wrapped around her throat, squeezing tight enough to hurt and she froze, physically and mentally. He snarled quietly. "Don't attempt your tricks, little girl. You're strong, much stronger than my brother was, so you were able to control him. Don't make the mistake of assuming you can use your skills on me. I will kill you if you try that again." He squeezed a final time before releasing her, his hand moving to cup her face as she frantically dragged in air.
His voice was a mere whisper, menacing in its softness, the polite trappings of civilization hiding the monster. "I'm a patient man, Missy. I waited until the opportune moment to take over the pack. I have maneuvered tirelessly to arrange deals that will soon bring in the financial resources I desire. I can wait for you until the timing is right. Since appearances are so important to wolves, I wouldn't dream of taking you yet. I don't want to draw any attention from the council. Even though you obviously are hurting, missing your mate." His fingers trailed along her cheek and she shivered involuntarily. "Poor thing, everyone knows how devastating it is to lose a mate. It is fortunate I'm without a partner. As both Alpha and your brother-in-law, I'm the only one who can replace him for you."
He dropped his hand away, sliding it intimately down her body.
If she had truly been mated, Doug's words would have been true. The loss of a mate ripped something from within, and many never recovered. With the genetic similarities between brothers, and Doug's strength as an Alpha, the pack would expect him to take Missy under his protection.
And into his bed.
Only she and Jeff hadn't been mates. There had been no true connection between them other than a shared zeal to stay alive under the tyranny of an Alpha who controlled and conquered as he pleased. Jeff hadn't survived.
She stiffened her spine, glancing into the common room to see if there was anyone nearby even watching the discussion that she might turn to for assistance. No one paid them any attention. A log popped and shifted at her back, a rush of heat flaring out and she took a deep breath. It was up to her alone.
Missy was desperate to escape, but Doug still held power over her. Still held her in check with the one thing that guaranteed her cooperation. She needed time to find a way to get out of this mess. "I'm scheduled to leave the pack for an extended period of time. My position with the research team has been--"
Doug waved a hand in front of her face. "I know. You'll be traveling with the Lauren Group setting up weather stations. I believe the timeframe is four to five months for the work to be completed, correct?"
Missy swore inside. How could the bastard know the details of a personal contract she'd signed only days ago? She'd attempted to be extremely careful in keeping her information secretive, but his fingers were in everything.
"I will expect you by the end of February." His dark eyes flashed at her. "Don't make the mistake of delaying your return, Missy, or there will be consequences your sister will not enjoy."
She stood rigid under his glare. "Leave Margaret out of this. She's attending university in Vancouver, she's not a part of this pack anymore."
Doug shook his head. "No one is truly ever out from the protective watch of the pack, you should know that. I'm sure Maggie will be just fine as long as you remember your place in the overall scheme of things." He leaned close and brushed his lips against her cheek, whispering in her ear, "Six months, my little Omega. I'll give you six months as the code states. Then I'm taking you as mine and our combined skills will be the making of this pack." He dismissed her abruptly, turning away to reclaim his chair, glittering eyes staring into the fire.
The enforcers gathered around Doug again as Missy backed away, eager to leave the sweltering heat that had nothing to do with the blaze in the fireplace. She forced herself to walk, not run, head held high. No indication that the devil himself had just announced she was to be his queen.
There was no way she would willingly join him in hell.