“You should leave. Now.” My father’s growl of warning resonated in some dark, primal part of me, and suddenly I craved torn flesh and fresh blood glistening in moonlight. Wave after wave of bloodlust crashed over me and I swayed beneath the onslaught, struggling to control it. We would have justice for Ethan. But this was not the time. Not the place.
Though my father’s office practically sizzled with the rage that flowed through me and my fellow enforcers, Paul Blackwell, acting head of the Territorial Council, seemed completely unaffected. I watched him from my place near the closed office door, both arms—my right still in a cast—crossed over my chest.
Blackwell planted his old-fashioned wooden cane firmly on the Oriental rug and leaned on it with both hands. “Now, Greg, calm down…I’m only asking you to consider the greater good, which is exactly what you claim you’ll honor, if you’re reinstated as council chairman.”
Unfortunately, that seemed less likely with each passing day. In the week since we’d buried my brother, Nick Davidson had announced his support of Calvin Malone as council chair, which meant that my father now needed the last remaining vote—from Jerold Pierce, my fellow enforcer Parker’s dad—just to tie everything up.
And a tie wasn’t good enough. We needed a clear victory.
My father sat in his wing chair at the end of the rug, and his refusal to rise was—on the surface—an uncharacteristic show of disrespect toward a fellow Alpha. But I knew him well enough to understand the truth: if he stood, he might lose his temper. “You’re asking me to let my son’s murder go unavenged.” His voice was as low and dangerous as I’d ever heard it, and I swear I felt the rumble deep in my bones. It echoed the ache in my heart.
“I’m asking you not to start a war.” Blackwell stood calm and steady, which must have taken substantial self-control, considering my father’s comparative youth and bulk. And his obvious rage. Even in his late fifties, Greg Sanders, Alpha of the south-central Pride and my father, was a formidable force.
My dad growled again. “Calvin Malone started this, and you damn well know it.”
Blackwell sighed and glanced around the room, and as his tired gaze skirted the three other Alphas grouped near the bar and the scattering of enforcers along the walls, I got the distinct impression that he would much rather have been alone with my father.
The other Alphas and two enforcers apiece had arrived early that morning for one last strategy meeting before the south-central Pride and our allies launched the first full-scale werecat offensive the U.S. had seen in more than six decades. It was Saturday. We planned to attack in three days—just after sundown on Tuesday night. Anticipation hummed in the air around us, buzzing like electricity in my ears, pulsing like passion in my veins.
We could already feel the blows, every last one of us. We could taste the blood, and hear the screams that would soon pierce the still, cold February night. We were living on the promise of violence in answer to violence, and several of the toms around me teetered on the thin edge of bloodlust, riding adrenaline like the crest of a lethal wave.
Surely Blackwell had known his mission was a failure the moment he walked into the house.
Our allies were expected, but Paul Blackwell’s arrival had been a total surprise. Just after lunch, he’d pulled into the driveway in a rental car driven by his grandson, a cane in the old man’s hand, determination in his step. But that wouldn’t be enough, and neither would the authority of the Territorial Council, which he wore like a badge of honor. Or more like a badge of shame, considering that nearly half of the council’s members were present, and not one looked happy to see him.
Blackwell shuffled one foot on the carpet and closed his eyes, as if gathering his thoughts, then his heavy gaze landed on my father again. “Greg, no one is happy about what happened to Ethan, least of all me. Calvin has been formally reprimanded, and the enforcers involved—” the surviving ones, presumably “—have been suspended from duty indefinitely, pending an investigation.”
“Who’s leading this investigation?” My uncle Rick asked from across the room, a half-full glass of brandy held near his chest. “And who will be allowed as witnesses? Do you honestly think the council is capable of justice, or even impartiality, in its current state?”
Blackwell twisted awkwardly toward my uncle—my mother’s older brother. “Frankly, I think the current state of the council is nothing short of a disaster. But abandoning the very order that defines us is no way to repair the cracks that have developed in our foundation.” Then he turned to face my dad again. “Fortunately, I believe you dealt with the actual guilty party yourself.”
In fact, my father had torn out Ethan’s murderer’s throat before my brother had even breathed his last. The offending tom was disposed of in the industrial incinerator behind our barn, his ashes dumped unceremoniously on the ground several feet from the furnace, then stomped into the dirt by everyone who tread over them.
But that small act of revenge did little to ease the blazing wrath consuming all of us.
“Calvin Malone is ultimately responsible for Ethan’s death, and he will pay that price.” My father’s words came out cold, as if he didn’t feel a word he’d said. But on my right, Marc’s hands clenched into fists at his sides, and Jace went stiff on my left. From the couch, Michael was nodding grimly. We were ready. Vengeance was overdue.
“The council has taken official action on this matter,” Blackwell continued. “I know you’re not satisfied by that action, and that’s understandable, but if you strike at Malone after he’s accepted censure, you’ll be throwing the first punch.”
“Are we children, playing this blame game?” My father finally rose from his chair, and Blackwell had to look up to meet his fury. “Are you so focused on who’s at fault that you can’t see the larger picture? Calvin Malone is out of control, and if the council can’t rein him in, we will.”
On the other side of the room, Uncle Rick, Umberto Di Carlo, and Ed Taylor nodded in solidarity. They’d thrown their support behind my father and pledged their manpower to fight alongside us.