Authors: Robin Roseau
I would like to thank the people who helped me get this book to you.
To The Lady, for her continued support and tolerance of my writing hours.
Thank you, my beta readers, who help me fix my mistakes and provide comments: Henriette, Donna, Jodie and Stacy. And a second thank you to Henriette for all her other support. Any remaining errors are my own.
And to my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. B. Thank you for appreciating my creativity, for whatever it was worth when I was in the ninth grade.
Lastly, thank you, readers. Without your support, I wouldn't continue to write. The stories may be written, but without readers, they are never complete.
The limericks that appear are courtesy of Charlotte Makowski.
This is obvious when we think about it, but not necessarily obvious while we're actually doing it. Our decisions in life are dominated by our attitude. We make different decisions in the same situations based on our attitu
de at the time. That is so self-evident, but if we don't stop and think about it, we take paths through life that would be quite different if we just sat back and asked ourselves, "Why is this decision so obvious to me? What is the basis of my decision, and is this basis a dangerous attitude?"
I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
I am, by any measurement, extremely self-reliant to a fault. Some of the most important points in my life have come about because I received help from others, but my outlook on the world is based upon my self-reliance. After all, I lived with virtually no help from anyone, through very trying times, from when I was fourteen. It has only been recently that I have had people I could count on, and it has been difficult for me to admit that sometimes I should rely on them.
In other words, while I wouldn't have let anyone else call me this, I have been cocky.
To some extent, my attitude is justified. I survived when few would have. And I've come out of things on the other side with even more achievements to my credit. I was instrumental in saving the pack from two significant threats, accomplishing things no one else could have both times. Since then, I have carved out my own place in the life of the pack. I have made new friends, exceedingly good friends, and I am treated with a mix of respect and amusement. While I have very little power on my own, I command a great deal of influence.
It is easy for me to be cocky about all of this. It is easy for me to think, "I beat David. I killed the Chicago enforcer. I killed the Chicago heir apparent. I saved Virginia. I made everyone in the pack love and respect me. I am a force to be reckoned with." It is so very easy for me to be cocky.
But the reality is this: I didn't do any of these things. I helped to achieve all of them. I helped beat David, and he very likely would have won without me. But I wouldn't have beaten him without Elisabeth and Lara. David's behavior towards me was why I distrusted him, giving me perspective no one else had. And then I had a great deal of luck. But it was Lara that beat him, and it was Lara who trusted me to do the things I did in the first place. And it was Elisabeth's information that helped me find the rest of what I needed, and Elisabeth's trust in my very unexpected decisions.
I did kill Garth, and I did it without any direct help from anyone. The entire fight was over in less time than anyone else could have reacted; my fox reflexes saved my pert little ass. But
before Greg thought to train me, with help from Karen and Wendy, I never would have been ready to fight like that. And events may have gone very differently if Lara and Elisabeth hadn't been there. Plus, plain and simple, I got lucky.
I killed Avery, the Chicago alpha's son, a very large, dominant wolf. No one would ever have guessed I could have done what I did, especially not the way I did it. No one except Greg, who taught me to fight like that, and all the wolves who threw daggers where I needed them during the fight. And, of course, I was able to choose the setting of the battle, secure in knowing that Avery was the only wolf I would be fighting, because Elisabeth, Greg and the enforcers had all the other wolves contained.
As for rescuing Virginia: that was far more Greg, Lara and Elisabeth than it was me. I was the scout. I discovered key information. But I would have gotten nowhere without Greg's intelligence gathering. I would have gotten nowhere without Lara and Elisabeth and the other wolves.
As for the love and res
pect of the pack? Those are gifts, and not anything I necessarily earned. There are times I forget.
On my bad days, my self-deprecating days, I remember how self-sufficient I used to be, and how I'm not that person anymore. My job was a gift from my wife. I live in my wife's house. My personal security is arranged by my wife. The respect of the pack is because of my wife. On the days I think like that, I rebel. I go from one extreme to another.
The end result is the same: I make the same decisions, sometimes out of a belief in my own invincibility, sometimes out of a need to prove I am invincible.
To make it worse, I hate being proved wrong.
I woke, lying on my side, and listened for a moment. All was right with the world. Lara lay on the bed behind me, snoring lightly. The snoring was new, an effect of being seven months pregnant. I smiled and rolled over, cuddling against my wife's back.
Downstairs, I heard faint movements. As soon as we had informed first our closest friends, then th
e pack at large, I had insisted, vehemently insisted, Lara be properly protected. She had a permanent contingent of guards with a minimum of two enforcers in the house at all times. She suffered the invasion stoically, far better than I had. I thought perhaps she accepted the guards because if she was guarded, that meant I was guarded.
Lara stirred then settled back to full sleep. I inhaled her scent. As her pregnancy had progressed, her natural scent had grown richer; Elisabeth told me a wolf could tell
Lara was pregnant from a single whiff. My sister-in-law expressed chagrin she hadn't figured it out sooner, as the change in scent had begun much earlier than we had told anyone.
"We all thought it was just a reaction to all the sex the two of you were having," Elisabeth had told me with a grin.
I didn't tease her back. To the best of my knowledge, Elisabeth wasn't getting any sex of her own. I kept nudging her at available wolves, male and female, but she never took the bait.
It was the second Monday in September, the first day of a new school year. I cuddled Lara for a while longer before slipping out of bed. She woke, reaching for me, her eyes open.
"Please," she said. "Don't go."
I returned to her, letting her pull me into her arms. At seven months pregnant, her bump was quite noticeable, but we hadn't let it get in the way of anything yet.
"I can't stay long," I said. "I have new students today!"
Half my students had graduated in the spring, although all of them had stayed for m
y summer courses. We had done extensive field work, and I even taught them how to sight track. It had been difficult to get them to stop using their noses, but I am fox; I am more clever than they are.
t made me sad to know Angel and Scarlett would no longer be in my classes. The only consolation was that they were going to attend school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and they didn't even need to move out of the compound to do so. But Ava and Sophia had already moved home, and they would soon go off to school. I missed them.
All the girls had graduated except Chloe Lassiter. I still had Derek and Jeremy, now seniors, and I had six new students. I had met all of them over the summer; admission into my program was by invitation, and it was a grueling program. Competition to enter the program was fierce; competition once in the program was non-existent. I didn't allow it.
Lara and I kissed. I loved being held by her, and I loved spending time in bed cuddling her. But I was anxious as well. Lara smiled.
"You want to go," she said.
"I have a few minutes, but not enough time for what you have on your mind."
She laughed. "You would if you weren't such a prude."
"I am not a prude!"
"Then why aren't you willing to let me do what you want me to do?"
"Because then I won't have time to shower, and with one sniff, every one of my students will know what we've been doing this morning," I retorted.
"I rest my case. Prude."
Lara's libido hadn't diminished with her pregnancy. I thought she looked terribly sexy, growing baby bump and all. I rested my hand on her stomach. "How are they doing?"
"They're doing great," she said. "Their mom is ready to pop them out though."
"Oh no she is not!" I said. "Our babies are going to stay right where they are for another two months. Your buns are not yet finished cooking!"
Lara smiled at me, and she looked deeply happy. "You're going to be an amazing mother."
My face clouded for just a moment as I remembered my fox babies. Lara caressed my cheek soothingly.
"We need new enforcers," I said. "Ones we can trust. Ones who are smart enough to outwit any attempts these
two make to escape their guards."
"We have time," she said.
"We'll keep our babies safe, Little Fox."
I kissed Lara on the
lips, briefly, then bent down and kissed her stomach, less briefly. I hummed to the babies for a minute or two, then slipped from the bed and into the shower.
* * * *
My first morning with the new students went well. Half of them had attended my summer program; the other three were incoming freshmen. I spent the first part of the morning on introductions. I introduced myself; I introduced the program. I had Chloe, Derek and Jeremy introduce the school and the school facilities to the kids. We played a few games designed to help everyone learn more about each other, starting us on the path of becoming friends.
The afternoon was devoted to something more closely resembling real teaching.
It was a scheduling challenge to teach kids of such a variety of ages, but I'd had a year of experience learning to deal with it. Francesca had helped immensely. We had a variety of tricks up our sleeves to make it work.
Midway through the afternoon, Angel and Scarlett surprised me. I was offering a math lesson to the younger kids; the older kids were with Francesca, working on an English assignment. My classroom door opened, admitting Angel and Scarlett.
"Are we early?" Angel asked, grinning.
"I'd say three months late. Didn't you two graduate? I could have sworn I signed graduation papers for both of you."
They stepped in, and I introduced them to the class. Some of the kids already knew them; some didn't.
"Don't let us interrupt," Scarlett said. "We're here for the run."
"What run?" I asked.
"Yeah," Angel said. "Like you weren't going to take the kids on a half hour run at the end of class."
I had planned that, but the only person I'd told was Elisabeth, as she would need to organize my security detail. I hated the need but had given up fighting it. For now.
I drafted my friends to help teach the last bit of the lecture. Angel and Scarlett tag-teamed, going over the introductory problems I handed them. They were very good, and I didn't need to offer any correction. They helped me hand out a problem set for the kids to do during class, then the three of us helped the kids who asked for help.
The last child completed the assignment and we graded them immediately. There were a few problems they had gotten wrong, so we went over them. By then, the older kids were ready to rejoin us and I asked, "Who wants to go for a run?"
Lara, Elisabeth, Rory and Eric arrived just as the last few kids were completing their shifts.
Rory and Eric were already in fur. Elisabeth began to shift, and Lara crossed the room, pulling me into her arms. I let her hold me while everyone finished donning her fur.
"All right," I said, once they were ready. "We stay together." I glared at Scarlett and Angel. "Today we're showing you pack lands." I turned to Lara. "Will you lead us, Alpha?"
"Oh no," she said. "Today I am a student."
I laughed. "Angel and Scarlett, do you think you can keep us at a fox's pace?"
They both chuffed together. Lara and I, still human, led the way from the school. As soon as we were outside, we pulled our clothes off and shifted into fur, our shifts instant. I yipped at Angel, and she and Scarlett led the way from the courtyard, first heading south.
The enforcers were there for Lara and me; they were not there to babysit the students. Instead, that's what the older kids did.
With Scarlett and Angel leading, Derek and Jeremy gravitated towards rear flanking positions. Lily, Edward and Catherine were three of my six new students, a senior, junior and sophomore respectively. They knew pack lands, but not as well as the students who lived here. They stayed with the other kids, but seemed to be helping to babysit. Chloe stepped forward to run with Angel and Scarlett, who she knew better than the other kids. Clustered in the middle were the freshmen, Iris, Mason and Lindsey.
They were all good kids.
Angel and Scarlett gave a good tour.
* * * *
We hosted an informal dinner that evening. All my current students were in attendance along with Lara and Francesca. Although they weren't students anymore, I wasn't ready to let Angel and Scarlett go yet, so they were also invited. I wondered how much longer I'd be able to hang onto them.
Dinner was set up as a buffet. Lara and I waited in the living room, and it was so odd to have Lindsey and Chloe bring us our plates. Angel and Scarlett had always done it. Instead, they carried their own plates, and when Angel sat down next to me, she shoved me more firmly against Lara, making room for Scarlett. Three wolves and a
Little Fox on the sofa was a little crowded, but I didn't mind. Lara seemed to enjoy having me pressed against her.
Lindsey handed me my plate, giving me exactly what I had asked for and no more. She turned to walk away, but Scarlett called her over and whispered to her, "When you bring a plate for Michaela, always add something for Lara to take." I looked over and grinned at Scarlett. She knew I would have heard that. I reached across Angel and clasped
Scarlett's hand, then brushed tears from my eyes.
"Hey," Angel said quietly. "We aren't going anywhere."
"I know," I said. "But you'll be too busy for me once college starts."
"Are you kidding?" she said. "Haven't you seen us sucking up to the center of power in this pack? We really aren't going anywhere."
I kissed her cheek, reaching past her to brush a finger along Scarlett's cheek as well. Along with Lara and Elisabeth, these were my closest friends. On a good day, I would include Rory, Karen and Eric in the group, but I didn't have quite as close a relationship with them.
* * * *
"I am so proud of you," Lara said in our room later that night. I was in the closet, hanging our clothes up. Lara was already lying in bed, leaning against the headrest and watching me.
"Because I hang
up my pregnant wife's clothes?" I asked.
"The entire pack loves you," she said. "And you love them. I saw those tears tonight."
"I am going to miss Angel and Scarlett," I said quietly.
"No you aren't," she said. "They aren't going anywhere."
"They'll be busy and they'll make new friends at school. They'll want to hang out with kids their own age."
Lara laughed. She actually laughed at me. I glared at her.
"You don't really believe that, do you?" she asked.
"Do not laugh at me!" I told her. "I've never had friends before. You've had them all your life. You don't know what this is like for me."
"I'm not laughing because you are going to miss your friends," she said. "I'm laughing that you think those girls want to be with anyone else. They want to be with each other. And with us. They both worship you."
"Oh please," I said.
"Honey, they were both admitted to Yale."
"I don't know why they even applied," I said. "Another pack's territory. They couldn't have gone."
"Yes, Michaela, they could. The Connecticut and Boston packs allow out of state wolves to attend Yale and Harvard. There are rules to be followed, but it's never been a problem. Elisabeth and I both attended Harvard."
I guess I knew that, but I hadn't really thought about it. I walked towards the bed and stared at my wife. "Why did they stay here?"
"Angel wants to be an enforcer," Lara pointed out.
"I know," I said. "I remember
confronting her to convince her she had to go to college first." It had been a fight, and Angel had been mad at us for a week. It had been Lara, Elisabeth, Francesca, Scarlett and I on one side, Angel on the other. She had felt deeply outnumbered. When we were done, and she had acquiesced, I had told her quietly, "Now you know how I feel a lot of the time."
She admitted quietly she knew we were right, but she was still pissed off. I think she was most upset with Scarlett, who she thought should have supported her. But she finally realized that Scarlett was looking out for her best interests, which weren't necessarily the same thing as what Angel thought she had wanted.
"So?" I asked Lara.
"So," Lara said. "She can learn more about being an enforcer while staying here
"What about Scarlett?"
"There are better schools in architecture, but working part time for Kevin Cassidy will more than make up for what she might get from somewhere else." I hadn't met Kevin Cassidy, but I knew he was a pack member and had his own architectural firm. He'd been encouraging Scarlett.
"So those are reasons they didn't need to go elsewhere. Does that answer why they stayed?"
"No. That was another discussion," Lara said. "The two of them pulled together a meeting with me, Elisabeth, and their parents to talk about school."
I was immediately offended. I was their teacher. I should have been involved.
"Do not get your back up," Lara said. "They started out stating they would attend Madison. They pointed out they were adults and were free to make their own decisions. They were informing us of their decision as a courtesy, not seeking permission."