The slate cottage, in a secluded area of The Black Mountains in Wales, was the perfect retreat for the werewolves. It was custom built in a remote spot by the Alpha’s great- grandfather. It was an ideal spot, which allowed the pack to change and run in the vast and predominately isolated surroundings at night.
Beyond the entrance hallway, and the first door on the left, an open log fire was burning brightly in the living room. Brown leather sofas, oak shelves and cabinets, bulging with books of all genres, filled the living room. A thick brown carpet lay across the floor, immaculate and well-kept due to a strict no-shoes-indoors-policy upheld by all. But even the warm and comforting radiance of the cottage could do little to dispel the tension between the four men as they entered its haven.
Roman was the first to break the silence “You know what, Harold, you’re a fucking dick! What the fuck were you doing attacking me! I think you broke one of my ribs!”
“Ah, poor baby, got spooked by the big bad wolf did you?” Harold drawled sarcastically. “Quit whining. You’re a fucking werewolf. You’re supposed to be hard. Besides, its healed hasn’t it?”
Roman growled low in his throat, taking a step toward him.
“Come on you two, cool it down.” Kris stepped between them placing a hand on Roman’s chest, his eyes pleading for peace. Roman exhaled shaking off his anger.
Kris turned to Harold, his pack mate and his housemate, his blue eyes shadowed with concern, “I think what Roman was trying to say is that you went against the rules. You’re supposed to evade the Beta, not attack your fellow pack mates.”
Harold leaned against the doorframe. To a casual observer his posture was that of someone at ease, but to the trained eye, he was a snake coiled to strike, lulling his prey into a false sense of security before delivering the fatal blow. His arms were crossed across his chest, the material on the sleeves pulled taunt by the bulky biceps underneath. The man was built like a tank and he knew it. His skin was dusky, the result of frequent trips to the tanning salon, and his eyes were dark coals of derision as he looked over Kris’s head at Roman.
“It’s a stupid fucking game– forgive me if I tried to spice things up a bit. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you had no idea I was stalking you did you?” He directed the question to Roman. “If this was the real world I would have had you, little boy, but lucky for you the Beta saved your hide.” He ran his tongue over his teeth. “I don’t know about you lot but I don’t like the idea of hiding while our Beta plays hunt the minions. I mean, how the hell does that benefit us?” He’d pushed himself away from the doorframe, all attempts at feigning relaxed-casual out the window. His hands were fisted at his sides.
“It’s just a bloody game!” Damon said. His brown eyes flashed with annoyance. “For goodness sake can we just take a reality check?” He glared at Harold. “You need to rein it in. You do not go up against the Beta unless you have the nerve to back it up. You do not antagonise the system; it’s there for a reason. And you do not attack your pack mates for no reason apart from the fact that you’re bored.”
Harold’s eyes narrowed, a vein pulsing in his jaw as he struggled to control his temper.
“Come on, man, what is wrong with you?” Kris asked softly. “You know we’re right. Roman could have been really hurt. We’re supposed to be here to learn, not kill each other.”
Harold could be an arsehole. Kris knew that better than anyone did. He lived with him. But he also knew that the pack meant everything to Harold. He embraced his nature and maybe that was what made him so wild and uncontrollable. Whereas the others balanced beast and man, listening more to their human side, Harold mostly did the opposite. In Kris’s eyes that didn’t make him bad, just misunderstood.
As for Harold’s issues with Raven, their Beta, well, he couldn’t quite get his head around that.
Roman shook his head as if fed up with the whole mess. “You need to learn some respect. Going up against me? Well, that’s fine, but not the Beta. You need to get it through your thick skull that the Alpha has made his decision and frankly the only one that has a problem with it is you.”
Harold took a menacing step toward him. “That’s because I have the best interests of the pack at heart, not some overrated notion of political correctness. His kind isn’t fit to be a Beta. Heck, not even pack. I know it and the Alpha knows it despite his attempt to exercise equality. But a pack doesn’t work on those principles and one day soon he will slip up and you’ll all know it.”
“And what if he does? You gonna stand there and crow I told you so?” Roman had taken a step toward Harold, his fuse re-lit, leaving only a couple of feet between them. And a couple of feet weren’t nearly enough distance between two angry beasts. The air rippled with the promise of violence.
“Er…guys…” Kris tried to slip between them but was sent flying into the wall as Harold’s hand shot out lightning-quick, hitting him squarely in the chest. Kris let out a shocked cry before he sagged to the floor clutching his aching diaphragm.
“Stay out of this midge; this is between me and the lamb.” Harold’s eyes narrowed to dangerous slits as he turned his attention back to Roman. “You wanna play, little boy?” He taunted in a voice low and menacing.
“Fuck, yeah!” Roman lunged, and then crumpled to the floor as a wave of emotion assaulted his senses, regret and disappointment, sharp, poignant, and bittersweet. He felt the answering ache in his heart and struggled to breathe through the pain. Around him, the others were similarly engaged in their own personal battles for emotional equilibrium.
The wave passed as suddenly as it had hit and there was a collective inhalation as the four men sucked in deep breaths of sweet air.
They came to their feet one by one, turning to face their Beta.
Raven stood in the doorway of the living room. His arms were crossed across his wide chest, his eyes like pieces of silver flint as he regarded his pack. Nothing of the pain he felt could be detected in his demeanour but the wolves inside them knew different. They had felt it, the full force of his turmoil, the unique bond they all shared. It was a testament to his ingrained sense of fair play and his sense of responsibility that it had been regret, and disappointment they had experienced rather than wrath.
In Raven’s inner world the buck always stopped with him and so if the pack was in discord it was a reflection of his leadership. The blast of emotion had been his way of communicating this to his pack, better than words could ever do.
“Shit, Raven. I’m so sorry.” Roman shook his head as if to clear it. “I just…I don’t know what got into me.”
“It’s not you, Roman.” Damon jerked his head in Harold’s direction. “It’s him.” One of the youngest in the pack, and the same age as Raven, Damon had proven to be the most insightful and the most honest, sometimes brutally so. “He needs to get a grip and step into the 21st century. We are no longer living in the Dark Ages,” he finished, shooting daggers in Harold’s direction.
Allowing his hands to drop to his sides, Raven walked toward Harold until they were almost nose to nose, his gaze glacial. “I don’t care what your opinions are but they are yours to have. However, I will remind you for the last time that this is not a democracy. I am the Beta, what I say goes.” He paused, his eyes pinning Harold where he stood. He waited. After a moment, Harold nodded his head once, a jerky stiff movement as if his brain was struggling to issue the required command to his neck muscles.
Raven took a step back, releasing him from eye contact. He made to turn away but then paused as if another thought had occurred to him. He turned to face Harold again, his voice casual as he delivered him next line. “If you try a stunt like that again, I promise you I will rip your throat out.”
Harold’s eyes widened just a fraction but he held his ground.
His expression dead pan, Raven turned away from the group heading toward the lounge. “What you all standing around for? Dinner isn’t going to cook itself.”