This is set during Broken Loyalty.
Heath sat on the front porch of the farm house, staring off into the sun as it beat down on the fields around him. It was winter, but the sun was bright. There was a chill to the air, but not one that bothered him. The real chill was fear and despair as he knew what he needed to do.
Jacky had never called. The full moon had come and gone, and he’d known he wouldn’t hear from her during it. But then he never heard from her afterward. He could still remember staring at his phone, waiting and hoping. He knew better than to reach out to her. If something had happened, who knew if her phone was compromised or not.
At midday, he was sitting on his porch, knowing his children inside were worried. He told Carey the truth. She was a smart kid and he knew he owed her that much. The truth was a hard thing, but he would never do her the disservice of lying to her. His son, Landon, was taking this differently than he expected. Landon, a wall to everyone, sometimes including him. He’d only just started to open up to Jacky and it was nice to see. Landon trusted very few and he barely spoke to even many he did trust. His son lived in the walled off world of his own mind as a defensive strategy and he gave his secrets to no one. Heath only knew them because Landon was his son and there were few things that could be hidden from a father. Landon opening up to Jacky, even just by talking to her about her problems with finding a hobby, was like him giving a blood oath of family and pack to her. He accepted her in the family.
So even his son was worried about the werecat that defied convention and accepted a small family of werewolves as her friends, even Landon, who took it very seriously. Jacky would probably never know it and he knew she was always worried by his son’s silence, but Heath knew his son well.
And then there were the two humans left in his care. Oliver and Dirk. Oliver was scared witless, the poor young man. He was too young for this sort of situation. Too young for the dangers of their world, but then, so was Carey. Dirk was different. He knew and understood what was happening. He took it all with a brave, stoic face, trying to reign in the young Londoner that was Oliver. Both humans avoided Heath and his family. He’d been lucky to see them to eat breakfast.
Once Heath made this call, he would sit all of them down to talk, though. His children, Jacky’s humans. He needed to be truthful to all of them about what would come next.
Heath played with cell phone for a moment, looking at the number and the name. Once he made the call he was dreading, he would have to admit that Jacky was in trouble and that back up was needed. He was an Alpha werewolf without a pack. There was no way he could help her on his own. He wanted to. He wanted to be the one to find her, help her. He hated leaving her to danger without any back up but he’d done it. Like a fucking fool, he had left her alone in her territory and it was eating him alive that he couldn’t call the Dallas Pack and go wage war on these fucking werecats that might have…
Can’t think of that. She can’t be dead. I never even got to…I never got to tell her how I feel.
No, instead he needed to make one phone call. The best bet for him, a werewolf Alpha without a pack and with little political power remaining, was to make one phone call.
He had to call the most powerful werecat alive.
Heath hit the number and made the call. It only rang once.
“If you’re calling, she hasn’t reached out to you either,” the deep voice of the cultured man said softly. It wasn’t fretful or scared, but Heath knew the deep seated worry of a father when he heard it, even if the father was trying to hide it.
“No, she hasn’t,” Heath agreed, trying to sound professional. “Do you want my address? It would be a good home base for you to work in the area. I’m still close to her territory and it’ll give you good access to work in the region.”
“Yes, please. Thank you for assisting us, Alpha Everson. I and my family won’t forget this.”
Heath quickly told the old werecat his current location. It was a farmhouse that Heath had been avoiding dealing with since his son Richard had betrayed him and died for it. Since it had been over a year since Richard died, it was the first place Heath thought to hide his family and Jacky’s humans. Most would assume he sold it off or not know about it at all.
All Heath had to do was keep his children and himself from drowning in the memories of the place while dealing with the current problem. Especially Carey. Richard’s betrayal had cut her the deepest.
“I’ll be there as quickly as possible. The rest of my children will be on their way as well, but I’ll be there first.”
Heath was almost grateful for that, and he figured Hasan had made it clear for a reason. Hasan’s children, including Jacky, all had reputations. Heath kept his eyes open for any scrap of news and any story about them since he had learned Jacky’s connection to the family.
Every single one of Hasan’s family, including the old werecat himself, should have scared the hell out of Heath. Only a fool wouldn’t be scared of them, and Heath was no fool. Or, rather, he tried not to be one. He was only scared of most of them.
He wasn’t scared of one of Hasan’s children. He was falling for her.
“Thanks for the heads up,” Heath said softly, trying not to think of that last part. “We have Oliver and Dirk here as well, unharmed. Oliver is shaken, but Dirk is handling this well.”
“Thank you for taking them under your protection. I need to get moving and get ahold of the others.” Hasan hung up on him then.
Heath would have felt offended by that, being an Alpha, but he swallowed that initial instinct and only focused on the other duties he had.
He stood up, stretching out. His body wasn’t old, but some days he felt the two hundred and fifty some-odd years he had been a werewolf. Today, he felt it.
He shook off the feeling the best he could and walked inside.
“Everyone come down!” he called out. “We need to talk!”
Carey was the first to run down the stairs into the cozy living room. Landon was right behind her, not running, but walking quickly. Oliver and Dirk were last, one tentative, the other war. Oliver slide into the room and kept his eyes down.
“Get comfortable, all of you. Oliver, it’s going to be okay. You don’t need to worry.” He needed to put this human at ease before the anxiety drove Heath up the wall.
“Chill out,” Dirk whispered, nudging the smaller, younger man, almost as if he took the cue from Heath that Oliver needed to relax just a little. “Here’s the rule, kid. Jacky trusts the werewolves, therefore, we trust the werewolves. She’s going to be fine and if she isn’t, the family to going to make heads roll. Either way, we’re safe.”
“Okay…” Oliver found a seat and looked very uncomfortable, but it was an improvement. Dirk sat near him, keeping an eye on him, his gazer flicking back and forth between Heath and the young man.
Heath was practically glad that his own children were somewhat composed. Composure was important during these types of situations. Carey and Landon sat together on the couch, Landon with an arm casually thrown over the back, a silent display of comfort and protection for his little sister. She was scared and worried but she held a brave face. Heath, while hating himself for another situation where his daughter was in danger, was also immensely proud of her.
“Hasan and the rest of Jacky’s family are on their way,” he announced. “We’re going to do our best to stay out of their way. Landon, I’m going to ask if you can brave a trip to the store for more supplies. You know the rules—”“I’ll go with him,” Dirk cut in. “I know what Niko likes to eat and I can reach out to find out what the rest of them may like.
”Heath didn’t know what to say to that, looking at his son for approval. He wasn’t going to send anyone with Landon if his son didn’t want them around.
But from the look in his son’s eyes, he was going to be sending Dirk.
Sure enough, after a drawn out moment, Landon slowly nodded.
“That’s the plan then. Dirk, if you don’t mind, it would be best if you two took your truck. They might not know it as well as mine or Landon’s.”
“Okay.” Dirk crossed his arms and nodded. “This isn’t my first… how do you Texans say it? My first rodeo?”
“That’s it,” Heath said, trying not to be somewhat amused that this German was picking up ridiculous American slang. “And I’m not a Texan. I just live here.”
Dirk shrugged as if he didn’t care.
With that said, Heath couldn’t think of anything else.
“You can all go back to what you were doing. Landon, Dirk, make sure to get that trip done before nightfall.”
“And Jacky?” his daughter asked softly.
Heath wouldn’t—couldn’t— lie to her. He went to his knees in front of her and took her hands in his.
“She’s strong and she’s probably doing everything in her power to come back. Even with that said, Hasan and the rest of her family are going to do everything they can to get her back…” He trailed off, finding it too hard to say even to her.
“Or they’ll avenge her death without mercy,” Dirk said, walking around him, heading for the door. Heath bit back a growl. Dirk looked down, and sighed, obviously seeing the rage on Heath’s face.
“Sorry. I was raised by the family, by Niko. I’m not used to checking myself around younger human children because Niko never did it for me.”
Heath nodded. He could understand that and somewhat forgive the young man. Dirk took that as a dismissal and walked out the front door. Landon jumped up and followed him.
Interesting. His son never took to people quickly, but there was a chance his son saw something in Dirk that Heath didn’t.
With all of that said and done, Carey jumped up and ran for the stairs. He heard her door slam shut. Oliver snuck out during the exchange. Heath found himself alone in the living room.
Now it was time to wait for back up.
Heath got the text and made his way to the front porch. At the end of the long dirt drive, there was a black SUV and it was moving quickly. It braked a little to hard for Heath’s liking near his truck then the engine cut.
Heath had seen the great old werecat before and had been smart to stay somewhat clear of the man. Hasan was a dangerous man, even if he wrapped that dangerous in the guise of a benevolent older man. There was nothing old about Hasan’s appearance, only his attitude. He looked like he couldn’t be a day over thirty-five, even if he acted like a doting older father in his fifties from the way Jacky talked about him. Heath had seen that mask before, the day in the Tribunal when he saved Jacky from Execution.
Today, Hasan wasn’t wearing that mask. His face stony and ready for war. His posture showed years of leading people into battle. He had come out victoriously for not hundreds but thousands of years. This was the man who raised Jabari of all people, and had other children running around with nicknames like the Assassin.
“Good morning, Alpha Everson,” Hasan greeted, walking closer, but not too close. There was a good twenty feet between them. It was morning, very early morning, in fact. The sun was just beginning to lighten the sky.
“Good morning, Hasan of the Tribunal,” Heath greeted, forcing himself to lower his head just a fraction, in respect for Hasan’s position in the world. He sat on the Tribunal, the ruling power of the supernatural world. Heath was several steps below that on the pecking order. He was answerable to the North American Werewolf Council, which was answerable to the Tribunal werewolves, that rules all of them. And he had no pack, therefore he had no power.
Hasan outranked him politically and in sheer power.
It actually pissed Heath off a little. He falling for Jacky and this was the sort of example she had in her life. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, per say. He wasn’t sure what he felt.
“So it’s true. Wolves do grow more powerful based on dominance and they don’t need a pack to do it. Your head should have gone much lower, wolf,” Hasan said softly.
“You know it’s true,” Heath said just as softly. He felt the need to add something, but he wasn’t sure why. “She hasn’t noticed.”
“No, she wouldn’t, my Jacky. She likes to live in her bubble and pretend that everything is normal until it’s not. She has a very limited view of the world and keeps herself ignorant because it makes her feel safe.” Heath knew all of that. He found it terribly refreshing about her. “But I notice. Don’t think I’ll let you get too powerful and stay in her territory, Heath Everson. The moment I think you’re a threat to her, I’ll kill you myself.”
“I’m not a threat to her,” Heath growled softly. He kept his scent locked down, refusing to let the wind take it to Hasan as the old werecat stepped closer.
“Not yet, you aren’t. But you’re a werewolf with a Talent and you’re growing in strength because no one has been keeping you accountable. When was the last time you tested your will against one of your own kind?”
Heath didn’t have a truthful answer to that, not one he wanted to give to this werecat. He tested his will against the North American Werewolf Council too much. They told him repeatedly to move out of Jacky’s territory and that left him in constant defiance of them. Even with the token position they had given him to be a liaison, he knew their will and openly defied it. He claimed it was to keep Carey safe, but he also just didn’t feel the pull or push to bend to them.
He had once been on that Council. They should have known better than to think they could force him to bend as their subordinate now.
“Fine, wolf, keep your secrets,” Hasan said, yawning. “Not like you’re a danger to me and mine. There are more important things to deal with than this conversation.”
“Yes, there are,” Heath agreed. He didn’t move as Hasan walked up to him and extended a hand.
“A truce for the moment,” the old werecat said softly. “You’re probably one of the most respectable werewolves I’ve ever met and I don’t go around killing my children’s friends.
”Heath shook with him, glad that neither of them felt the need to crush hands. Heath would lose.
“You said I have a Talent.” Heath tilted his head slightly. “I’ve never heard of such things.”
“Only the oldest of our kinds would. We’re moon cursed. Magically made. Sometimes, that magic does other things to us, making Talents. Your ability to cover your scent must be one. I’ve never experienced anyone who had ever done it before and there’s no physical way to achieve this. Bodies produce scents based on uncontrollable forces. You definitely feel something, I can see it in your eyes. The emotion is there, but it’s not in your scent, which I couldn’t smell until I got into your space.” Hasan smiled, and Heath could see the mask of the gentle, older father fall into place. “But you knew all of that, didn’t you, young man?”
Heath felt a cold shiver run down his spine. He didn’t like Hasan calling him a young man. It felt practically threatening.
“I did,” Heath said, trying to maintain his composure. He knew what Hasan was doing now. He was trying to disarm Heath into losing control and giving something away. “Let’s go inside. I’ve made coffee.”
Hasan gestured for Heath to go first, so he did. He wasn’t going to foolishly try to out play this werecat. He just needed to weather the storm until they got Jacky back safely. That was all.
Once they both had coffee, they sat down together at the dining table.
“Where do we start?” Heath asked.
“We wait until at least a couple of my other children get here to make plans,” Hasan answered, the mask of gentle older father gone again.
Then silence descended on them.
It lasted for longer than Heath was comfortable with, but he wasn’t going to leave this werecat alone in the house.
“Daddy?” Carey called out. Heath tried to react slowly, turning to see her moving through the kitchen and walking over. She only called him Daddy when something distressed her. She had mostly grown out that too. He was normally just Dad.
“Hey, sweetheart. What are you doing out of bed?”
“I had a nightmare,” she whispered, moving to his side. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer, trying to ignore their guest for a minute.“About?”
“Richard and Jacky,” she told him, her voice much too quiet, too weak. It brought up every bit of his protective rage. If he could find his damn son in the after life, resurrect him, and kill him again, he would. Just for this. Just for hurting her. He could live with the pain of his son betraying him. He couldn’t live with the fact that Richard had betrayed Carey and Landon.
“I’m sorry,” he said gently, kissing the top of her head. “Do you want breakfast?” He knew she wouldn’t get back to sleep now.
She nodded, and he saw the moment she realized that someone else was in the room. It wasn’t dark, but Hasan was very quiet for how large he was. Heath glanced at the old werecat, who wore a look of worry.
“I’ll call you back down when food is ready. Go see Landon, will you?”
“Are you Jacky’s dad? And Jabari’s?” his daring daughter asked, ignoring Heath completely.
“I am,” Hasan answered, that mask of old, gentle father back on. This time, though, it didn’t feel like a mask to disarm anyone. It was genuine. Heath could smell the realness to the old man. He saw a little girl who had a nightmare and he was genuinely upset for her. Heath was touched by that. There was no reason Hasan for to care about his daughter. “You must be Carey.”
She nodded. Heath watched, feeling less worried for a moment. No, Hasan was no threat to his daughter. Not even under the worst of circumstance could this man harm a child.
“Listen to your father and go be with your brother,” Hasan said, leaning over. “We’re going to help Jacky and give her back to you. There’s no reason to have nightmares, little angel.”
She looked at Heath, her matching eyes big.
“He’s right,” Heath agreed softly, kissing her forehead again.
With that, she left the room and Heath eased into a more comfortable position to look at Hasan.
“Thank you,” he said honestly.
“She’s a treasure. Children always are and she obviously has a father who cares for her,” Hasan replied, sipping his coffee. Heath knew there was no biological relation, but he saw similarities between Hasan and Jacky now that he never thought he would notice. They had this way about them that could bold, but there was a genuine tenderness they shared. He loved it in Jacky. He respected it in Hasan, who was obviously showing a moment of vulnerability, a secret about himself to Heath. Children were apparently a weakness to this family, not that Heath would ever exploit it.
But when they descended back into silence, Heath wasn’t sure what to say or do anymore. He wasn’t used to being so off his game. He knew what he would do if Hasan had been a very old werewolf, but he wasn’t. Heath was in unfamiliar rough waters when it came to dealing with powerful old werecats.
And when they both heard a car coming down the dirt drive, Heath knew those waters were only going to get rougher.
“That would be Jabari and Zuri,” Hasan said, standing up slowly. “I’ll greet them. You can begin making breakfast for your daughter. You don’t need to play host to us. We won’t take offense, considering the circumstances.”
Heath sighed as Hasan walked out. The farmhouse was going to be full of werecats by the end of the day. Heath was going to be essentially powerless and that scared him.
This is temporary. Just until we get Jacky back or know she’s safe.
Heath didn’t want to think of the alternative.
She has to be safe. I can tolerate all of this as long as she’s safe at the end of it.