Wolves of Willow Bend #14

Change swept through the packs of North America, leaving in its wake seven packs where once only five stood. Old enemies still lurk, past hatreds fester, and the shadow of invaders linger. The challenge of diplomacy, evaluating the old laws, and instituting the new ones falls squarely on the shoulders of the pack Seconds. It’s a whole new world, and what took so long to construct…remains vulnerable.  

Luc Danes is Second, and best friend, to Brett Dalton, the Alpha of Hudson River. He has his hands full training healer and Alpha’s mate Colby in how to defend herself as well as hone her wolf senses. It’s not a bad life for a bachelor wolf, not really—except lately, all the eligible females have turned him down. No dates. No playing. Nothing. He’s untouchable. Turns out no one wants to lay a finger on what rumors have labeled the Alpha’s property as the third to the Alpha’s pairing, leaving Luc one shocked and frustrated wolf …

Just the position he wants to be in when paired with the stunning Charlie who doesn’t know him at all, so why can’t he even earn a second look?

Charlotte “Charlie” Miller works in the city, an urban wolf, she rarely sheds her skin for fur. As an executive handling day-to-day meetings for her Alpha in New York and around the world, she knows how to handle even the most difficult of individuals. But changes in pack structures across the country require a different kind of handling, and Brett calls in his chief negotiator to back up his Second, and to give him a crash course in diplomacy.

Unfortunately, Charlie has dealt with wolves and humans just like Luc before, and it doesn’t matter how sexy he is, she refuses to be impressed.

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EXCERPT 

 

Chapter One

 

 

He didn’t slam out of the restaurant, he didn’t growl at the lady he’d just had dinner with, nor did he act in any way save walking her to her car and opening her door for her. Amanda gave him an apologetic look as she touched the door near his hand without actually touching him. “I’m very sorry, Luc. I just…I hope you understand.”

Not even a little, but he gave her a smile and brushed his hand against her shoulder. Wolf to wolf, they were fine. “Thanks for a lovely dinner, Amanda. I appreciate that you could meet me.” Even if dinner had been a stilted, almost embarrassing affair where she’d avoided his gaze, and his flirtation.

Relief had her sagging, and Luc wanted to kick himself for being an asshole. He was pack Second, if nothing else, his regard mattered to the wolves in the pack, and it must have taken her a lot of courage to admit she wasn’t interested, much less why.

“You good to get home on your own?” As he studied her, he grew more aware of the faint upset in her scent. She’d been masking it, and that made him want to hit himself harder. No female should ever feel pressured to put up with him. “I can call someone,” he offered to make it clear it wasn’t him trying to work his way around her very clear dismissal of his attention.

“Lord no, I’m fine,” she said with an exasperated huff. “This is all my fault, I wound myself up, and I appreciate how graciously you accepted everything…and I really did enjoy dinner. You’re just as fun and funny as Simone said you would be.”

Luc made a mental note to strangle his middle sister and gave Amanda another smile as she slipped into the car, then he closed the door and backed off with a wave to head over to his own truck. He’d invited Amanda to meet him for dinner at a steakhouse about forty minutes away. Just a nice evening out where he hoped to learn a little more about her and maybe charm his way into her bed.

She was a gorgeous, leggy brunette, with fantastic boobs, a killer smile, and wit for days. The fact she’d waited until they were in the middle of their steaks to confess, “Luc, all of this is really quite wonderful, but I feel like I should be up front. There will under no circumstances be sex for you at the end of this evening.”

The fact she’d been blunt about it was fine, in fact, Luc had never been one for beating around the bush. If a female found him attractive, and he reciprocated, there was absolutely nothing wrong with either party propositioning the other. He wasn’t fussy, nor did he stand on ceremony. If a woman wanted him, hell, he was down for that.

While Amanda wasn’t the first—she was actually the sixth in as many weeks—female to turn him down, she was the first to do so in between discussing his travels as a Lone Wolf and her time in college before they even got to anything remotely risqué. Some of his surprise must have shown, because she tried to walk the words back, but there really was no softening the blow.

No sex was neon sign flashing clear.

At least they’d actually gotten to have dinner. The others hadn’t even made it that far, one to drinks but that was about it. It was like he was cursed. Banging his head back against the seat, he started the engine, and checked his phone for any missed messages. Maybe someone had lost a kid down a well, and he could go be heroic and studly or something.

Not that he wanted anyone falling down a well, and cubs were a lot tougher than they looked. Maybe one could misplace themselves, and he could go track them down. But alas, not a damn thing had happened other than one of the Hunters wanted to let him know the camp grounds on the other side of the national park area were closing early this year. Low funding meant fewer hours for the rangers, and the decision had been made unilaterally to free up this whole area, since the pack could look after it and enjoy the extra time without having to worry about campers or hikers.

Translation, the Hunters and probably more than a few of the younger wolves wanted to have a big party next weekend. Fuck, the last thing he wanted to do was ride herd on a bunch of wolves drinking, carousing, and likely stinking up the woods with all the sex they got to have while he sat out like the designated driver at a kegger.

Just…no.

He sent back a I’ll think about it. Then left it at that.

Not the kindest thing he’d ever said, but it wasn’t especially mean. Still, Patrick sent back a You okay man?

Fine. He answered. Bad date. Probably fine for party.

There was a beat with three little dots appearing on the message, like Patrick was typing something, then finally…

I don’t get why you date. Just getting temp of pack?

He stared at the message. Looking for some hidden meaning.

What?

Another long pause and Luc checked the time on the dash. It was going to be a far earlier night than he planned.

His phone buzzed, and he glanced at the message, then stared. He read it three times, then he hit the call button and put the phone to his ear.

Patrick answered on the first ring, “Yeah?”

“What the fuck do you mean ‘I’m off limits’?”

There was a hollow laugh, like he wasn’t sure he should even be making the sound, and Luc could almost hear the unease through the phone.

A growl rumbled in his chest at the lack of a forthcoming answer. “Patrick.”

“Man, don’t make me say it…” Then, he said, “Okay, fine. Gimme a sec to go outside.”

The background noise said he was out at the roadhouse, a lot of the Hunters liked to head there in the evenings. They could catch up, trade info, have a drink, and play billiards before going their separate ways to homes, or conversely heading out for a run.

Abrupt quiet echoed over the line along with the crunch of gravel. “Okay, I’ll tell you…but man, promise not to kill the messenger.”

“My patience for that long since expired, Patrick. Just explain already.” Off limits. Who the hell marked him off-limits?

Five minutes later, he’d disconnected the call and backed out of the parking space before putting the vehicle in gear and heading out for home with his hands locked in position on the steering wheel. He stewed on the information for the next forty-five minutes, bypassing his place and continuing up toward Brett’s house and the Alpha compound. He’d stayed either at Brett’s or the healer’s house for several months, and only recently moved into his own place, though he still spent more time at Brett’s than he did his place.

The pack’s “on loan from Willow Bend” healer Gillian and her mate Owen occupied the healer’s house, which had formerly belonged to Hatcher, Brett’s grandfather. Hudson River had been without a full time healer since Hatcher died, the victim of a mad wolf, one of many. Brett and Gillian had also been almost victims, in fact, Brett had worn his scars for a long time after the incident when the mad wolf burned him.

It wasn’t until after Luc, who had literally been hit by a car, and ended up in a hospital in the boondocks of Maine, persuaded Colby to bring him back to Hudson River that Brett began to wake up from his self-imposed exile. Now, Brett and Colby were happily mated and very secure. Colby was getting a handle on her wolf and learning self-defense, while also training her very powerful and natural healing ability. Since she’d finished her journeyman sabbatical in Three Rivers a few weeks earlier, she was almost ready to take up the mantle of full time healer in Hudson River.

It was all going well. The Russians were gone. The packs were settling down after far too much upheaval. The Enforcers made up their own pack, and even Three Rivers, upstarts that they were, had settled nicely. It was a good time to be alive, and Luc was a bachelor with plenty of time on his hands, even if he spent most of it acting as Brett’s Second and dealing with issues to free up his Alpha.

Or it had been.

He pulled right up to the garage and parked off to the side. Lights were on at the healer’s house, but so were they at Brett’s. It was mid-week, and still early, and while Brett rose before dawn most days, he rarely went to bed before midnight. Letting himself in, Luc followed his nose right to the kitchen where Brett was pouring coffee.

“I can’t get laid,” he announced, probably louder than he intended, but he couldn’t help it. It was so fucking ridiculous. “And it’s all your fault.”

Brett paused in mid-reach for a third mug, and studied him as if he’d grown a second head. His best friend pursed his lips before sliding the carafe back into the coffee maker and opening a cupboard where a bottle of whiskey hid. Unscrewing the cap, he filled a tumbler with a couple of fingers and slid it over toward Luc.

“Okay,” Brett said slowly. “I’ll bite. How is it my fault?”

Grateful for the whiskey, Luc tossed the whole glass back and let it burn its way through his system before saying. “Because some damn fool has decided that dating me would be tantamount to stepping on your property, and no one will cross the line with you.”

A frown gathered between Brett’s brows, and he squinted at Luc. “Come again?”

“Yeah, sounded fucking ridiculous to me, too, but apparently—I’m off-limits, the secret third of the Alpha pairing, and no one will step on your toes.” He shook his head. Patrick had repeated it to him twice, and Patrick wasn’t a wolf prone to practical jokes. He was too sober by half. The fact he’d been practically squirming verbally over sharing what was probably the juiciest gossip in Hudson River—Luc was going to kill his mother—lent the whole idea that wolves believed that crap more weight.

Brett hadn’t said a word, but had instead, unscrewed the bottle of whiskey and poured another two fingers into Luc’s now empty glass.

“For weeks, I’ve been asking out a few of the ladies, you know—dinner date or drinks, and most of them find excuses or just turn me down. Can’t get them to look at me twice. Got Sabra to have drinks with me, but she pretty much finished her drink, patted me on the head, and told me to tell you hi before she took off.” Luc shook his head, at the time it hadn’t seemed anything more than a genuine comment—but now… “Not an hour ago, Amanda and I are out to dinner for steak…Amanda, the gorgeous brunette who works over in Reeves End…”

“Crazy crystal shop,” Brett said with a nod. “Colby loves her stuff.”

“Exactly. I’ve wanted her to go out with me for months, and we’re sitting there, having a good time—or at least I thought we were—and in the middle of our steak, she just says, to be clear at the end of the evening, there will be absolutely no sex for you, Luc Danes.” He tossed back the whiskey, then pinched the bridge of his nose. The burn was helping with the knots in his shoulders, but he’d need to drink the whole bottle, and maybe most of a second for it to do any good. “Fucking ridiculous, I mean sex would have been great, but that wasn’t why I took her out to dinner.”

“Clearly, that’s why it’s my fault you can’t get laid.” The dry delivery pulled Luc up short, and he glared at his best friend. Brett picked up his mug and took a sip of coffee. “But why don’t we get to the part where it’s my fault…”

“I told you—the word through the pack is I’m off-limits, no one will touch your property.” Even saying the words made him want to spit.

Another slow blink. “Because you’re the secret third to my mating with Colby?”

“Right?” It was fucking stupid.

Then Brett did the very last thing he thought he would do.

He laughed.

“Man,” Luc exhaled, hands braced on the countertop. “Not funny.”

“Depends on your point of view,” Brett said, amusement filling his eyes. “From over here in the expensive seats, it’s pretty hilarious.”

Luc groaned. “I hate you.”

“Eh, I’m used to it. Besides, you’re you—you going to let a rumor kill your reputation?” As if his reputation hadn’t been hard-won, and built over years of skillful dating technique. He liked women. He liked them all, and he liked them in every size and shape. If he ever settled down, he wanted a demure and sweet wolf—like Gillian, maybe. A docile, little submissive. Until then, he planned to have as much fun as possible.

“Doesn’t really seem to be up to me,” Luc muttered. “No one wants to piss you off or make you jealous.”

The derisive snort carried just enough hilarity to rake over Luc’s nerves. “You are very much not my type, brother.”

“Apparently they think Colby is.” There was an inherent risk in even bringing that suggestion up. During Colby’s early days in Hudson River, before she and Brett settled their mating bond, Brett’s possessiveness included not liking Colby’s interest in healing Luc—at least not after her first shift and absolute refusal to listen to Brett.

But that was another story.

Brett eyed him before he took another long swallow of his coffee. “You might want to explain that comment, just a little more.” No threat, but the promise of potential violence was very real. He and Brett had known each other far too long to stand on ceremony. Especially not since Luc had returned to the pack full time, and taken the place as Second at Brett’s request.

Groaning, Luc scrubbed a hand over his face and reached for the bottle of whiskey to refill his tumbler. “Someone has it in their head that I’m with Colby and you. Or at least, enough with Colby that I’m part of your pairing.”

The absolute silence would probably shut up other, smarter wolves. Or at least wolves with enough savvy to protect their own skins. Three way bonds weren’t unheard of, but they were also not common either.

“I’m guessing the fact I’ve been training Colby doesn’t help.” While Luc was more than happy to cover her skills training and keep it private for her defense, it meant they did meet secretly, and they did keep it quiet, and they absolutely spent a lot of time together.

“Maybe, but you and I know where everything stands, and so does she.” Brett eyed him. “Do you need me to make some public announcement and save your sex life?”

“Ass,” Luc said with a roll of his eyes before he tossed the whiskey back.

“Sometimes,” Brett told him cheerfully. “But you know, not being busy chasing tail can be good for the soul. Give you time to figure out what you really want out of life.”

“I spent several years running alone to do that, I’m good.” Setting the tumbler down, he blew out a breath. Brett had gotten out a second coffee mug, but he’d seen no sign of Colby. And as much as he loved the little wolf, she rarely stayed out of their conversations. Not that he or Brett had ever asked her to leave them alone to talk. In fact, they’d had more than a few conversations since returning from Three Rivers.

Colby’s little healing trick of an entire pack and their bonds was a closely guarded secret. Luc was only the fifth to know, and Brett wanted him aware, particularly when they had to linger in Three Rivers for so long. Colby’s gift was exactly that, a blessing and a gift, but a wolf who could repair pack bonds and heal them, could also tear them apart.

That made Colby a very dangerous wolf in some circles.

As her primary instructor and defender when Brett wasn’t there, Luc definitely fell into the need to know category.

“Speaking of Colby…where is she?”

“Out for the evening with my mother, your mother, and your sisters—and probably Gillian, and I think the Barrister twins. They just turned twenty-one, so they were invited to ladies’ night.”

Luc grimaced, and Brett’s grin seemed to grow at his discomfort.

“Probably doesn’t help your case much, does it?” The smirk coupled with the laughter lacing his words just rubbed Luc’s fur the wrong way.

“You don’t have to sound so damn cheerful about it,” he grumbled, then motioned to the second mug. “If she isn’t home, who’s that for?”

Brett’s home smelled undeniably of him and Colby, but so many wolves came and went that the common areas—including the kitchen—held any number of wolf scents. Just standing there, he could pick out his and Brett’s parents, Gillian, and her mate Owen, Trent, the teenage healer who trained with Gillian and Colby, and Pierce Donovan, their senior Hunter, and a couple of other wolves he recognized as familiar but couldn’t put a name on them.

And that was just right there in the kitchen.

“Come on back,” Brett said, as he refilled his mug then added fresh coffee to the second one. “Probably a good thing you dropped by tonight anyway.”

He led the way, leaving Luc to follow him. Luc took a couple of steps, and then on second thought, retrieved the whiskey and his empty glass before following. If the rest of his evening went as well as the beginning of it, he definitely needed more liquor.

They reached Brett’s office when the fresh scent hit him. Sweet, with a tang, like smoked ribs, slow cooked to perfection and leaving the mouth watering for more. There was a distinct hint of woodiness beneath the sweet, but the brown sugar and honey were just damned inviting. While the nuances of her—definitely feminine—scent also held an element of pack, he didn’t know this wolf. Brett had been holding out on him.

“Charlie,” Brett was saying as he carried the mugs in. “Sorry for the delay, got waylaid in the kitchen.”

“I heard.” The rasp of her husky voice scraped over him, and Luc’s blood traveled south with sudden raging force and need. Clamping down on the reaction, he pushed open the dark oak door, and sought out the source of that provocative scent and sexy as hell voice. “Sounds like your man has problems.”

The droll humor let the air out of him, and Brett turned after setting the coffee in front of her to motion to Luc. “While you shouldn’t believe everything you hear,” Brett teased. “Luc’s definitely my guy.”

Ass. Hole.

If looks could actually cause damage, he’d have pounded Brett flat. As it was, his Alpha—and asshole best friend—smirked at him. “Luc Danes, meet Charlie Miller. Charlie’s our senior attorney and chief executive, and she’s been handling most of our asset negotiations for the last twenty-two months, in addition to running day to day at Hudson River International for the last few years.”

“Ms. Miller,” he said, crossing the room to extend his hand to her. The wolf behind Brett’s desk had killer green eyes, nearly the color of pure emeralds, and her red hair added to the effect, the length of it falling in straight lines to the shoulders of her royal blue jacket. Her business attire probably fit right in at the office, but they tended to be more casual at home. “Where have you been all my life?”

“Working, Mr. Danes,” she said, shaking his hand once, then dropping the grip so fast, he was almost left with his hand hanging in the air. “A concept I hear is relatively new to you.”

Ouch.

“Luc, Charlie is my Second in the business, she’s a brilliant negotiator and exactly what we need for some of our upcoming projects.” Brett continued to be far too amused for Luc’s taste.

Well, as for the rest of it, yay for her. The less Luc had to do with the business offices side of things in the city, the better. Too many people in too close a quarters, and having to work with people who lied like they breathed wouldn’t leave him in a particularly pleasant mood, as evidenced by Ms. Miller’s cool, expressionless demeanor.

“Charlie, Luc’s the reason you’re here…”

Wait.

What?

Surprise flickered in those emerald eyes, and Brett’s grin just grew. Yeah, if he wasn’t Alpha, Luc might have already punched him. What was he talking about? “Come again, boss?”

Brett motioned to the chairs. “Have a seat, both of you.” It wasn’t a request, and Luc avoided any appearance of disregard for the command, even if he wanted to roll his eyes. Giving Brett shit in private was acceptable, but he didn’t know Ms. Miller, so for the time being, Luc would behave like a Second and keep everything as professional as possible.

But he did pour himself another drink. Once Ms. Miller circled the desk and took the seat next to him, she crossed one leg over the other and cradled the coffee mug in her hand. Like her jacket, the skirt was royal blue, and gave him a great view of her spectacular calves and the pair of blue heels she wore.

If not for the hint of fur in her scent, he might not pick her out for a wolf at all. There was no sense of dominance play, no aggressive stares, and no attempt to determine her place opposite his. Then again, Brett just said she held a position equivalent to his, but ranking in the pack didn’t work that way—no matter what position she’d been appointed to or held.

Seated, Brett tapped a couple of keys on his laptop, then turned the larger monitor. The map on the screen detailed pack territories, current lines, and who held what—up to and including Willow Bend’s ownership of Tennessee, Three Rivers’ rather significantly smaller holdings in Nebraska, Sutter Butte’s cleaner lines cutting into California and north to Nevada from Arizona and New Mexico, and finally the largest of the territories with Delta Crescent sweeping most of the Gulf States to Florida and up to South Carolina with some incursions into North Carolina.

The Yukon Territory existed above the lower forty-eight, primarily in Alaska and parts of Canada. There were some disputes over Washington State, but currently it was considered open territory because Diesel didn’t bother with it.

“So what you see here is the standing of our territories post the meeting of the Alphas a few years ago in Willow Bend. With Three Rivers having achieved full status, we’ve locked the territory to what they hold currently, but there’s room for them to grow…” He marked out a zone of plus a hundred miles or more along the boundaries of Willow Bend’s territory, the closest to Three Rivers. “Barring crossing these lines to their north and east, and…” He added another set of demarcation to Sutter Butte. “These to their south and west. It’s plenty of room, several thousand square miles for growth they likely won’t need for a hundred years or so, but it’s better to be prepared.”

Luc kept his focus on the conversation, but really—land mass? Who cared? Three Rivers had less than two hundred wolves, and they’d nearly self-destructed once. If they made it another fifty years, they could worry about it then. Not that Rayne and Luciana were horrible people, despite their history, he found himself liking them and almost rooting for their success. The fact they’d won over the Reagans didn’t hurt.

But…that wasn’t the point of this discussion, or was it?

He stole a peek at Ms. Miller, but her calm, unreadable face remained turned in Brett’s direction, and her gaze on the map.

“The seventh pack—the Enforcers—don’t have a specific territory, however, Julian has suggested and several of us agree, they need one. Even if it’s a smaller one where they can raise families when that begins to happen for them.”

Which was an alien concept for all of them, Luc included. He’d run into his fair share of Enforcers while running as Lone Wolf. The idea of their forming a pack of their own seemed anathema, and yet at the same time, felt like the most natural thing ever. The irony of that contrast wasn’t lost on him.

“For now, southern Washington state, all of Oregon, a section of Northern California, and quite possibly pieces of Montana and Wyoming are to be included in their tacit territory,” Brett continued. “Unlike our territories, though, Lone Wolves will still be able to move freely in Enforcer controlled territory, Enforcers will continue to supervise Lone Wolves, and proceed with their other duties up to and including protecting the packs from external incursions, and maintaining a semblance of order.”

Not yawning took effort, particularly when Ms. Miller nodded her head as if she expected the information and her focus was so absolute. “So that’s what we know, at the moment?” Clarifying what Brett had already said, fine. Not that Luc needed to make him repeat himself.

“Precisely,” Brett told her, but his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes as he leaned back in the chair. “Now for the hard part.”

Now, Luc focused. Brett’s demeanor had gone from playful and indulgent, to sober and absolutely serious.

“Treaties are what keep our territorial boundaries where they are, treaties negotiated some hundred to hundred and fifty years ago. The last major changes were installed after Sutter Butte won their independence. The only significant changes since then have been some withdrawing inside the marked areas and more recently, Serafina ceded Tennessee to Willow Bend. They’re more or less holding it jointly at the moment, and some of her wolves requested permission to stay because of businesses and ties, and Mason’s been cooperative—it’s a big ol’ lovefest.”

Despite the description, a hint of sarcasm marred the last few syllables.

“But you don’t think it’s going to last,” Ms. Miller stated, probably unnecessarily, yet this time, Luc couldn’t fault her for it, because Brett wasn’t the easiest wolf to read when he wanted to keep his thoughts to himself.

“For the next twenty or thirty years? I’m sure it will be fine. As long as Mason and Serafina have such close ties—her mate is a triplet to his second, and they were friends long before Mason was Alpha. They have every reason to maintain good relations.”

“But they won’t always be the Alphas,” Luc summed it up. The reality for all of them. Eventually they grew old, and sometimes, the old were supplanted by the new, whether through direct challenge or through the need to cede their power to someone stronger. It was what Brett’s grandfather had done, while rumor had it that the Hounds held the power Serafina’s father, then the Alpha, until the day he died, and only then did the Alpha challenge happen.

“Exactly,” Brett said with a nod. “We’re in a rare place at the moment, our packs are closer than they’ve ever been historically. We’re territorial by nature, and our natures are kept in check by our laws, and our laws are negotiated along with our treaties.”

“Spell it out for me, Brett…” Luc was getting a headache. “What are you asking me to do?”

“I’m not asking,” Brett reminded him, and fine, Luc deserved the reprimand, but he still needed the rest of the answer. “I’m tasking you with this. As Alphas, we agreed to the formation of the Enforcer pack, in large part because we were also acknowledging and granting Three Rivers full status, and that would put us at an even pack number, the Enforcers puts us at seven.”

“Avoids deadlocks on anything major that needs to be decided,” Ms. Miller said with a firm nod. “Smart.”

“Thank you,” Brett said, then gave Luc a small smirk like why couldn’t he be a suck up, too? Luc sucked up. He didn’t flip Brett off. His Alpha seemed aware of the fact, because he almost chuckled. “That said, we need to revisit our treaties with all of the packs, and establish new ones. We’re talking territorial lines, trade, rules for passage, and those are just the top items I can think of—there will be more. Everyone needs something.”

Wait…

“You want me to negotiate with the packs on laws and territorial boundaries? Shouldn’t that be you?”

“I want you there representing me and our interests,” Brett told him laconically. “Charlie’s going to handle the negotiations. Good cop,” he motioned to Luc. “Bad cop,” he said with a nod to Charlie.

That was almost insulting, but Brett’s eyes flashed so Luc kept it to himself.

“You two are going to have to work together, and that means getting along…”

“We’ll be fine,” Ms. Miller assured Brett. “I’ve accomplished more with far less.”

That insult landed. Cocking his head, Luc let his gaze skate over Charlie from head to toe. “Just tell me we don’t have to travel to all these packs…” he said turning his attention back to Brett. The Dolce and Gabbana wolf seated at his side would require far more protection than even Colby, and she was supposed to be bad cop?

Had mating finally addled Brett’s brain?

Or was this revenge? It had to be revenge.

Luc wasn’t sure for what yet, but he couldn’t put it past Brett.

“You’ll travel as needed. Some meetings will need to take place in neutral territory; others will require you to go to them. We may even consider bringing one or two here. They will have to have meetings of their own. I am, however,” Brett said as he stood and rapped his knuckles on the desk, “leaving you both to figure it out. Charlie has a list of the attorneys for the various packs, and you have the names of all the seconds…”

That he did.

“Handle it.” Then he glanced at his watch. “I need to go pick up my mate, you two can let yourselves out, right?”

He didn’t wait for their answer before striding out and leaving Luc with the coolly impersonal Charlie, before he could open his mouth though, she stood and carried her mug toward the door. “I believe we’re best suited to our own tasks, so once I’ve made arrangements, I’ll contact you and brief you on what you need to know.”

That sounded all well and good, but that wasn’t how this worked. Rising, he faced her before she could open the door and escape. The wolf in him peeked out as he studied her, and she went still.

“I don’t think so,” he said, folding his arms.

“I’m the negotiator,” she told him, as if that answered everything. “Brett is trusting me to get this done.”

“I’m his Second,” he reminded her, and for a split second, her wolf peeked out at him then retreated.

Her chin lifted, and he’d give her this, she held his gaze a beat longer than he thought she’d be able to. Exhaling, she squared her shoulders and nodded, her gaze directed somewhere just past him. “Yes, you are.”

“So, let me buy you a drink?”

The flash of irritation across her face poked another hole in his already bruised ego.

“Just a drink, sunshine. Don’t get your fur in a knot. We need to make plans…and that includes being on the same side for all of this.” Maybe he wasn’t a negotiator, but he understood what the lines of alliance should look like and right now, they were definitely not on the same side.

“Understood,” she told him, her gaze flicking to his. “And I’d prefer if you called me by my name…just so we’re clear.”

“You got it, Charlie,” he reached past her and opened the door. “I’m Luc. Shall we?”

She took the invitation, but her sigh drifted back to taunt him. “Yes, but I have to work in the morning, so can we make it coffee?”

“Whatever you want,” he said with a forced grin.

Great, he couldn’t get laid, and now he had to work with Charlie. His night just kept getting better and better.