“I refuse to marry him.” Pacing in front of her father’s desk with her hands on her hips, Kylarra suppressed the growl working its way up. Her aggravation was as clear as day. The dark interior of Viktor’s office grew darker with her mood. Normally it was a place of comfort. Today, anything but.
“Kylarra—” Viktor Knox began.
“No, dad. I won’t marry Verrick Conrad. How—”
Her father held up his hand. “Do not interrupt me.” The command from the alpha Lycaen silenced her at once, meeting no resistance from his baby girl. The only man capable of telling her what to do, she quieted as she met him with impressive obedience.
Age had softened his features, but he remained a formidable presence. His size claimed the chair and office. The disease had taken its toll on him as of late and he had lost much of the muscle mass he once held, but the clothes he wore hid that fact. There was a reason he worked hard to show he was still capable and ready to defend his place.
That he was Pack Leader of the Northern States wasn’t the only reason Kylarra obeyed either. When it came to her father, she listened. Will she listen to Verrick as easily. “I said nothing about loving him, Ky. This has nothing to do with that. I am dying—”
“Don’t—” Kylarra cut him off in a tortured whisper. She ducked her head, her shoulders slumped. Tears welled up in her eyes. She hated people seeing her cry, even her father. The one thing that cut her to the core was speaking of her father’s cancer.
“There is no avoiding it. I am dying. Verrick will take over when I do. As much as I disdain the idea of him running this town, the packs I have watched over for so long, there is no other male, nor alpha, who is ready for that position. Let alone one who can claim it.” A low rumble built through Viktor’s broad chest at the idea of Verrick running his town, marrying his child, and holding so much power. The arrogant beast.
“You cannot lead on your own, nor can you lead because you’re a woman,” Viktor said. “You’d find yourself challenged constantly, or they’d kill you if I left you in charge. Most likely those challenges would come straight from Verrick.”
Viktor caught his daughter fixing to object to what he said and cut her off before she ranted. So much like your mother. “Don’t take it so personally, baby girl. We stick to the old ways. We keep them because they work. They have served us well and kept us safe for centuries. It has nothing to do with who you are as a person, or a Lycaen.
“If I tried to leave you in charge it would be disastrous. Verrick would gather his men and overtake you, you know how vicious that crew can be. He would make you his prisoner. You alone have an advantage. He has always held a lot of interest in you. That is your advantage.” Viktor gave her a knowing smile. Everybody knew of that attraction. Verrick had been nothing but blunt about it.
“Dad!” Kylarra bit back her smile and her delicate porcelain cheeks brightened. She waved the thought away. The smiled fading to a frown.
“All you have to do is look in the mirror and you’ll see why my dear girl. You can’t hide that kind of beauty and intelligence. Least of all from any werewolf with half a brain.”
She shook her head. “You’re a hopeless romantic.”
Viktor smiled. “You have that in your corner when you deal with Verrick. Remember that.” Kylarra pursed her lips, but her eyes twinkled.
“I would rather place you in Verrick’s life as his wife than his captive. His attraction wouldn’t mean a thing once he let that hunger for power consume him. I have hope for Lycaen Ridge. With you as Verrick’s wife, we have a chance. Otherwise? All may be lost. With you at Verrick’s side, you will have influence over his thoughts. Most of the bad can be made good—I am hoping. You will make a difference by his side.”
Kylarra resumed pacing in front of her father and pursed her lips. “You think too highly of me.”
“It’s time you grew up and took responsibility.” Viktor’s anger snapped at her disrespectful attitude toward the situation. She shouldn’t take this so lightly, she wasn’t a child anymore. People depended on her. He leaned over his desk, his beast showing. “You have to unite the packs. Something is brewing and it isn’t good.”
Her control broke and the fury surfaced. “Responsibility is now in Verrick’s bed? That’s responsibility to you?” The wolf surfaced and her cheeks flared. A dangerous heat if she lost control. Moments like these frightened him. Was this the day? The day he no longer held sway over his willful child? The day when the blood that flowed through her took control.
“Don’t be crass!” Viktor pounded his fist to the desk, producing a tiny crack in the surface as he leapt up from his chair. The sound echoed through the office like an explosion, causing his daughter to jump and keep control.
“That isn’t what this is about and you know it. You can keep Verrick from destroying this land. You can stop him from hurting the Lycaen lineage. That is what this is about!” His deep growl shook the rafters, and the one window on the side wall threatened to explode.
Kylarra ducked her head, ashamed. Her anger dispersed, being replaced with obedience. “I’m sorry.”
Viktor lowered back down into his chair, placing his hands on the desk. Thank the old order. He sighed. It took too much out of him these days to force her to control herself. How much longer. “If there was another way I’d be the first to jump on it, believe me. You’re telling me there isn’t any part of you attracted to Verrick? No attraction or feelings at all?” Studying her, he cocked his head, listening to her heart skip a beat. His eyebrows rose, knowing the truth with far too much accuracy.
“Sure. If he stood there, didn’t open his mouth, and I didn’t know any of the thoughts rummaging his mind. Maybe a flash, nanosecond bit of attraction.”
Viktor leaned back and let loose a hearty laugh. How his daughter was such a handful. The sound brought a smile to her face.
She smiled. “That looks good on you.”
“My daughter. Such trouble. Verrick can handle this town, but you? He has his work cut out for him. Can anyone control you?”
Lowering her voice and batting her eyes, she said, “Only you, Daddy.”
“Sometimes. . . . So is that a yes?” he asked, with a touch of hope.
Kylarra looked him square in the eye, narrowing her own. “Absolutely not. I—” A knock at the door caused her to jump. Why didn’t I hear anyone come up?
“Come in,” Viktor growled in irritation.
By that tone, Kylarra knew who was there. She stepped to the side, rolling her eyes.
The door opened and in strolled the man they spoke of and who she held no interest in seeing. His guard and right-hand man, Devin, remained by the door. Her father was supposed to keep her in the room until Verrick arrived. There was a severe lack of surprise in Verrick’s eyes. She didn’t appreciate the trap.
Kylarra took in his arrogant demeanor in aggravation. Dark brown hair long enough for a curl at the end. Soulful brown eyes like chocolate. Luscious full mouth, set with a dangerous grin. Taller than her, he possessed broad shoulders and chest, strong and toned. He caused her pulse to quicken. He was attractive all right. Plenty of women tried to catch that man’s eye.
An eye she would gladly claw from his head. Her fingers flexed by her side.
The look in Verrick’s eyes unnerved her. Seemed like he was pleased she’d soon be his and was eager to get started. Kylarra’s body warmed under that powerful gaze.
As always, at the sight of him the wolf stretched and reached. The beast wanted to come out. Her fingers curled into fists. He did that to her. Her hackles rose and she braced herself for a fight. The beast squirmed at the edges and all she wanted was to give in. She clenched her fists tighter when Verrick’s scent washed over her on his way past.
“You’re incredibly beautiful when you’re angry, Kylarra. I bet you’ll look just as stunning to wake up to.” He paused and couldn’t resist. “Or . . . do you think the anger isn’t from your attraction to me?”
His remark struck her right where he wanted. A blush crept into her cheeks. She ducked her head when it began, but Verrick caught it.
“You’re an ass, Verrick Conrad,” she snarled. “Why would I be attracted to a man like you? And it’s Ky-lahrr-a not Ky-lair-a. You know how much I hate when you pronounce my name that way. I hate you. I will never marry you in a million years.” She stuck out her chin and stormed past him. More furious at his dig on the pronunciation of her name just to get under her skin.
Well, it worked.
Verrick seized her arm when she passed him and tugged her close. He placed his mouth against her ear and whispered, “Remember that passion on our wedding night. . .”
Ky’s body burned in need. She couldn’t deny being attracted to him, but hell if she’d tell him or anyone else. As his comment swept through her body, the animal hunger slipped into every inch of her and she flinched.
Kylarra jerked her arm free and turned the hunger into anger. She didn’t want to give Verrick the satisfaction. She punched her palms against his chest, forcing him backward. “You disgust me. You’d have to chain me to the bed—”
Noticing the way his eyes grew darker, she snapped her mouth shut. A deep rumble rolled in her chest. Her point wasn’t coming across properly. “I hate you.” She raged toward the door, but Devin didn’t move. He blocked her path by widening his stance and took his time crossing his arms. He grinned. Ky tried to kill him with a look.
“You know,” Verrick began as he headed toward her dad, watching Viktor, not her. “Hate is that same emotion as love. If you can hate me, you care. Otherwise you would be indifferent. Then it wouldn’t matter to you either way, which would mean all was lost. But if you can hate me, you can love me.”
The arrogance in his eyes made her bristle further, and a low snarl erupted. The grin was too much. She wanted to strangle him.
She bashed her palms into Devin’s chest and shoved him to the side, causing him to stumble with the strength of her anger. Devin reached out to stop her. Verrick said, “Let her go.” She glared at him through brightened eyes as she slammed the door shut. The paintings in the office vibrated against the walls, threatening to fall off their hooks.
“You don’t make this any easier when you rile her like that,” Victor said. What little energy he’d had waned under the argument with Ky. But now that he faced Verrick, that was dangerous to show. He straightened his back and held Verrick’s eye.
“What can I say? She puzzles me.” Verrick gave him a half-shrug, relaxed. More relaxed than he had any right to be in Viktor’s office. He wasn’t Pack Leader yet.
“Kylarra? Puzzle you? You know exactly what you want from my daughter. You’ve wanted it since you were both teenagers. You’re so used to women falling all over you. It drives you crazy that she doesn’t. It’s driven you crazy since she came of age and all the men have craved her attention. She challenges you.” Hoping to offer some sort of advice to Verrick that Verrick had never received from his own father, Viktor said, “That’s something for you to learn. You can’t always get what you want that easy. You won’t with her. Respect her and she will give you the respect you don’t deserve. Otherwise? She will only fight.”
Verrick stared at him for a long time. “There are ways around that.”
Viktor flew to his feet with a snarl, causing the chair to slam back into the wall. He pounded the desk with his fist. “Verrick, you arrogant Lycaen. You will treat her with the respect she deserves, or else.” Lowering his head, his beast flashed in warning.
Verrick remained calm the entire time, quietly challenging the superior alpha he stood facing without a move. “Or what? You’ll die soon. There won’t be anyone to protect her. She needs to learn manners. That’s all I’m saying. Sir.”
Why did he bother? Verrick wasn’t the young man Viktor tried to take under his wing. He stopped being that boy long ago when his father sent him off to a military academy. If Viktor wasn’t careful, he’d show Verrick how far along to death’s door he really was. He had to play this political battle with diplomacy. Even now, Verrick seemed to absorb some of what Viktor said. As long as he handled things appropriately.
“Do you know how much I wish she’d marry for love?” Viktor sighed, the beast subsiding. Fighting would destroy his daughter’s future. He used the sigh to cover just how painful it was for the wolf to express the alpha authority. No, it wasn’t painful. It was excruciating. “How much I wish my daughter could marry anyone else?”
The alpha leader fixed his chair and lowered back down in it. He attempted to cover the exhaustion each deliberate move took by pretending it was work for him to suppress the beast. When in reality he wished more than anything to have the strength to leap across the desk and force Verrick to the ground. Viktor had the right to do so.
“Isn’t it lucky for the both of us there isn’t anyone else? She’ll make me a great little wife.”
The dark thoughts in Verrick’s eyes made Viktor clench his jaw. The muscle pulsed in irritation. His beast pressed against the seams, wishing to protect his female. Viktor swallowed back his growl. He took a long, slow, deep breath. You will kill yourself if you challenge him. Focus on Kylarra and her future.
“Relax before you give yourself a heart attack. I take it by the show you were discussing the arrangements?” Verrick claimed the chair opposite Viktor, looking too much at ease for the current pack leader’s comfort.
“As you saw, yes. And as you saw, she still refuses.” Verrick had no clue how much work he had ahead of him. That amused Viktor to no end.
“What are you going to do about her?” Verrick’s eyebrows rose.
Viktor shook his head. His gaze grew solemn. “She’ll marry you, Verrick. You can be sure of that. She will marry you because she knows it’s the right thing to do. She’ll marry you because she knows she needs you. She will marry you because she is responsible. She will also be a good wife to you because she will be your wife. She takes that seriously.
“Understand this much about my daughter and my choice. She can run this town on her own. I’ve controlled her all these years, but she is strong and she is a killer, make no mistake about that. Why do you think I’ve kept her hidden away as much as I could? She is special.
“This town is run by the ways of old. I would rather you marry her and uphold those ways rather than you force her down with your archaic rules. I want my daughter free—if that happened? I don’t doubt you’d imprison her and force her to be yours.” And if I possessed the strength to get these old bones to knock you to the ground to make that point I would do it in a heartbeat.
A coughing fit overtook Viktor and forced him to pause and take a drink of water. Taking a few sips, he placed the glass aside and continued.
“If by slim chance you got her to love you? You always remember that she needs to be cherished. She is unlike any other. She is one of the strongest females of our pack, and probably other packs. After Emmy passed, she took over that role. You are the strongest and she needs a strong alpha. You need each other to calm the other’s temper. She will be your guiding force. As much as that pains me to say. ” Viktor suppressed the urge to rub his weary eyes. Instead, he tightened his hands into fists.
“What can I say, you’ve come to the right man. You’ve made a smart decision. Besides the whole point of uniting the packs with this marriage. I have to admit how you seem hell-bent on believing I’d disrespect her and only cause pain? A little insulting. She will receive as much respect as she gives and deserves. I will not put up with her bad attitude. As a promise to you, I won’t allow anyone to harm her. I will protect her and keep her safe. You can be sure of that,” Verrick said with all the sincerity he could muster.
“Thank you.” I don’t trust that to be the entire truth. Your words sound sweet to the ear, but your actions make all the difference.
“Now, onto other matters,” Verrick moved on with the speed of light. “I have reports on someone hunting in our woods. Steven and Nancy’s son was out there with his girlfriend going on a run. I heard the two of them saw men with shotguns up there. I came to ask you about taking care of it.”
“I heard about that. Take care of it. Try to be discreet this time. If you ever expect the people in this town to take you seriously and to respect you, you need to learn to handle yourself better.”
“I disagree with you. You believe you always have to be everyone’s friend, fair, political. I don’t see it that way. You are the leader and they are the followers. It isn’t about being fair. You don’t have to earn their respect. You can demand it.” Verrick’s eyes lit up as he imagined the day coming soon when he would be in charge and didn’t have to bow to anyone. It grew harder every day to hold back.
“It is about being fair.” Viktor shook his head in patience. “If you expect to succeed in the long run, then you must not think of them as your ‘followers.’ They are also your friends and individuals. You want them in your corner. Should something go wrong, they will stand by your side. Otherwise, if something happens they will abandon you. You’ll be left alone to fend for yourself.”
Verrick studied him. “Or, they will see it is worth sticking around because they get I am the strongest and most capable man. I will always come out on top. They will stick by my side out of loyalty and fear. Fear, of what I would do to them if they cross me.” Verrick swallowed a deep rumble.
“You seem to have everything figured out, don’t you? Get to work on our hunter problem,” Viktor said. Verrick’s arrogant mind wouldn’t change, so why waste more time on it? The argument took its toll and he grew more and more exhausted every time. He couldn’t afford for Verrick to find out how bad off he was. Trying to have any diplomatic conversation with Verrick exhausted him to no end. His entire body ached and he needed a break.
“Tired of me already? I should get started on that problem for you.” Verrick rose from the chair.
“Kylarra will see you out.” Because if I move at this point, you’ll see how hard it is for me.