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Alpha (Shifters #6)(5)

By:Rachel Vincent

She nodded hesitantly.
“I know it’s kind of overwhelming, but everyone really wanted to meet you.” Though in retrospect, introducing her to the entire household at once seemed like an extraordinarily bad plan.
She nodded again, mute.
I led her to the right and we worked our way around the room. She shook hands, and I made brief introductions and explanations. My fellow enforcers were first. “Angela, this is Brian, Vic, and Marc. They work for my father.”
“On the ranch? Like Jace?” Her eyes lit up; she was pleased to have found some logic to cling to in the sea of confusion we’d tossed her into.
“Um, yeah.” They each shook her hand and welcomed her, but Marc eyed Jace as he followed us around the room.
Next came Kaci. “This is my cousin Karli.” The identity under which she would attend school, once everything had calmed down. Assuming that ever happened.
“Hi, Karli,” Angela said, obviously more at ease with a young girl than with a room full of strange men.“Hey. So, you’re gonna have Ethan’s baby?” Kaci said, after a frank, curious glance at Angela’s flat belly. “Well, I guess it’s your baby, too. But I hope it looks like him, at least a little bit.”
Angela smiled. “Me, too.” And just like that, she’d won Kaci over.
While we crossed the rug toward Owen, he bent to help Manx up, with Des in her arms. Her hands were carefully arranged beneath the folds of the baby’s blankets, so that her fingers—the nails ruined from her recent declawing—wouldn’t show. “And this is my brother Owen.”
Owen shot her a friendly, lopsided grin, and stuck out one calloused hand for hers, his other arm around Manx. “Pleased to meet you. I’m just sorry Ethan isn’t here to make the introductions.”
“So am I.” Angela shook his hand warmly, then her gaze was drawn to Des’s face as he yawned and stretched one chubby arm from beneath his blanket. “And who’s this? Ethan didn’t mention a nephew.”
Owen flushed, but stroked the baby’s face with one long finger. “Mercedes is a friend of the family, and this is her son, Desiderio.”
“How beautiful!” Angela said, when Manx tilted her bundle forward so her child could be admired.
“Please forgive me for not shaking,” she said, and Angela smiled at her exotic accent.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve got your hands full.”
Manx smiled in relief and glanced at Owen, who beamed back at her. She’d been nervous about hiding her hands, no matter how many times he’d assured her that it wouldn’t be an issue.
“Dad?” I said, and my father stepped forward in his usual suit, minus the jacket. “This is my father, Greg Sanders.” It felt weird not to add his title after the basic introduction, but Angela wouldn’t even know what an Alpha was, and telling her—exposing our existence to a human—would only get me brought up on more charges.
She held out her hand and my father shook it formally, studying her face like he’d be tested on it later. “It’s so good to finally meet you. I see now why Ethan tried to keep you all to himself.”
Angela blushed, and I stared at my father in surprise. Who’d have known he could be charming, when he wasn’t barking out orders?
“And this is my mother,” I said, as my mom clasped her hands in front of her own perfectly pressed slacks. “Karen Sanders.”
Angela took a deep breath, and I almost laughed out loud at the sudden realization that in a room full of large, strange men, she was more nervous to meet my mom than anyone else. What the hell had Ethan told her about our mother? Or was there some sort of ritualistic meet-the-mom nerves I’d been spared by virtue of the fact that Marc—an orphan—was my only long-term relationship? 
Angela held out one shaking hand, and Mom took it in both of hers. “I’m so very happy to meet you,” my mother said, looking directly into her eyes. “And I want you to know that you—and your child—are always welcome here. We hope you’ll bring him to see us often.”
I frowned. Mom was a little over the top, but she couldn’t help it. She’d been dreaming of grandchildren for years, and this one in particular was such an unexpected blessing.
Angela burst into tears. Her hands flew up to wipe her cheeks, and she sucked in a great, hiccupping breath, trying to stop the flow.
“Oh, come sit,” my mother insisted, already guiding Angela toward the couch.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, blotting beneath her eyes with the tissue my mother plucked from a box on the end table. “This has just all happened so fast, and I was afraid you guys would be mad, or think I was a…But you’re so nice….” The tears started again. “Thank you.”
My mom sank onto the couch next to Angela and wrapped an arm around her shoulders while the rest of us stared, speechless. “We’re just so glad you want to involve us in the baby’s life.”
After a couple of minutes, Angela had herself under control, and my mom fixed her a plate of tiny sandwiches and sliced fruit.
“So, how far along are you?” my mother asked. “And have you seen a doctor yet?”
“Yes, just for the initial visit. He says I’m thirteen weeks along.”
My mom’s eyes widened. “Three months. Wow. There’s so much to do!” I could practically see the gears spinning behind her eyes. But my father was more practical.
“We’d like to help with the cost either way, of course,” he began, and Angela’s forehead furrowed. “But if you’re interested, we have a family physician who would be glad to see you.”
Dr. Carver, of course.
“Um, sure,” she said. “I’ll meet him.”
While she and my mother chatted softly, the guys all filled plates, then stood around the room snacking, and almost reverently observing the miracle that Angela and her child represented for us. It was the single most peaceful, optimistic moment we’d experienced since Ethan’s death, and I never wanted it to end.
Unfortunately, Angela’s introduction into our family felt very much to me like the calm before the inevitable storm. And I could already feel the clouds gathering…
Montana. Again. Because the last visit worked out so well…
I hauled my duffel from the rear floorboard of the rental car and glanced up at the cabin as phantom pain in my side heralded an avalanche of memories. I’d shed blood and spilled blood here. I’d loved Marc and let him go. I’d found Kaci, killed bad guys, and narrowly avoided execution.
That cabin and I had a love-hate relationship, almost as complicated as my history with Marc. But Montana was an appropriate setting for this particular council meeting. Calvin Malone should be ousted where he’d first begun his quest for werecat world domination.
Malone would try to prevent the council—the majority of which harbored no fondness for my Pride—from hearing our evidence, I had no doubt. But I was prepared to shout the list of his crimes from the nearest mountain top, if need be. And to shove the bloody evidence of his guilt down the other Alphas’ throats, if it would help.
“You okay?” Jace lifted the duffel strap from my shoulder. If he could relieve my emotional burden so simply, he would. Jace was no longer as easy to understand as he’d been a month earlier.“Yeah. I’m good.” That was an outright lie, but it was one I clung to. Survival had become a game of bluffing. Of putting on my game face and pretending I wasn’t worried. That I didn’t have everything in the world riding on this meeting.
But I did.
If Calvin Malone were voted into power, we would have to remove him by force. Otherwise, he would make life hell for the south-central Pride and our allies, because we were everything he hated. Everything that threatened his tunnel vision of werecat society as his own personal autocracy. In Malone’s paradise, membership would be by invitation only. Not open to those lacking purebred pedigrees. Inaccessible to those without a Y chromosome, unless they bent to his will.
My temper spiked just thinking about it, and some dark voice deep inside me insisted that if our evidence against him failed, we should simply screw the vote and bring on the pain. We’d been ready—even eager—to fight for weeks,
But Paul Blackwell, the elderly interim head of the Territorial Council, had convinced my father to give peace a chance, as cheesy as it sounded. If we could possibly avert full-out civil war and the inevitable casualties on either side, we owed it to the entire werecat population to try. Even I couldn’t argue with that. In theory.
However, in my experience, the concept of peace had a lot in common with the Loch Ness monster—I found both elusive and difficult to believe in. So, I would hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Marc popped the trunk, then slammed the driver’s-side door and I jumped, startled from my own thoughts. “Jace, run up to the lodge and get the key.”
Jace went stiff, and I spoke up before he could growl. “I’ll get it.” As tired as I was of standing between them, it was safer to play peacekeeper than to break up the fight that would result if I didn’t. Safer physically and politically. The whole world would know about me and Jace soon enough—two of Malone’s men had figured it out and would surely disseminate the information whenever it would most damage our cause—and I wasn’t eager to clue anyone in early via a Marc-Jace death match.