Authors: Monica La Porta
Monica La Porta
The Lonely Wolf
Book Seven of The Immortals
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Monica La Porta
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
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Rome, March 2015
The Reds’ party was in full swing. Lupo, tired from a day of delivering vampire blood all over Rome, sat at the bar, sipping his third or fourth cold beer.
Tancredi, the Reds’ alpha, had summoned the whole gang—big brothers, little brothers, and even the recruits—to celebrate the victorious result of a fight in their ongoing war against their rivals, the Moon Howlers. Following a series of failed attempts to defeat the gang, and recent problems with their vampire vendors, a victory was what the Reds needed.
“Would you believe that?” Rock, one of the big brothers and chief of security, slapped Lupo’s back as he sat on the stool near him. “Doesn’t he look exactly like you?” He pointed at the flat screen on the wall over the liquor counter.
Lupo raised his eyes and immediately recognized the big man with the silver and black wild mane talking to a journalist in the nightly news. “Who, him?” Surprised, he turned slightly toward Rock and pointed at the TV.
“Lucius Seneca Quintilius?” Lupo shrugged, but butterflies sloshed in his stomach half full of beer already. The man had been his idol since he was a green cub. As he always did when he was nervous, his hand went to the pin he kept hidden inside his jacket. The rigid shape of the small disk immediately provided the reassurance he needed.
Lucius Seneca Quintilius was one of the oldest werewolves in Rome—probably in all of Europe—and head of the most powerful clan in existence. Not even the Reds were as powerful, and they dealt V and anything else that would turn a good profit, whereas Quintilius’s clan was completely legit. The man was a legend. Tancredi himself had bowed to the other alpha a few weeks prior when two of the gang members had disappeared. One of them, the youngest, had been found in some posh residence, while the other, his big brother, had ended at Regina Coeli, the infamous paranormal jail. Soon after, Quintilius had paid a personal visit to Tancredi and explained to him that it had been all his doing, and that the young werewolf was under his wing, and therefore off-limits.
“Well, besides the fact that you have blue eyes and his are dark, he looks like you but older.” Rock grabbed the glass of beer the bartender sent sliding over the smooth surface of the bar, and swiveled the stool until he faced the rest of the room, leaving Lupo pondering his words.
It might have been the alcohol, but the vague idea that had been simmering for a while in his mind took a definite shape, and propelled him into action. Two hours later, Lupo left the Red compound and drove to Cradle and Bites, the orphanage where he had lived until he was seventeen.
What had started almost as a joke, had evolved into a quest of vital importance for Lupo.
Now, hiding in the shadow of the archive room, he felt a sliver of remorse at having broken the basement window to enter the orphanage. Cradles and Bites, one of the few places in Rome that took in infant shifters, counted heavily on the paranormal society’s charity. The center used every donated euro to buy food and clothes for the kids. Any damage on the property meant money would be reallocated at the orphans’ expense. Lupo had been too inebriated when he tried to force the lock of the basement door and lost his patience. As a result, he went for the window instead, and now broken shards of glass littered the floor.
Trying his best to be inconspicuous, Lupo flattened his body to the wall and hoped that Raul, the old janitor, would leave the room soon. Thankfully, the man was almost deaf and was listening to a soccer game with his big, goofy headphones the orphans had bought for him a few years back—when Lupo was still living there.
Lupo hadn’t counted on that—he hadn’t thought things through at all—but it sure had helped when he made a fracas upon entering the orphanage. Still, if the man saw him, it would be inconvenient to say the least. Big and tall, it wasn’t easy for Lupo to blend in with the surroundings. Especially when he wore the black leather jacket of the Reds against a wall that was stark white. To his good luck, the orphanage was bathed in darkness, and if he remained still he would look like a shadow. That was what he kept repeating to himself, while his head buzzed with the aftermath of the party where food had been scarce but alcohol aplenty.
Raul mopped his way through the hall with methodical slowness, then came back inside the archives room. The man, who had been working at Cradle and Bites for as long as Lupo could remember, was nothing but thorough. Raul’s hand went to the switch on the wall, and for a moment Lupo feared he would have to incapacitate the janitor. Lupo occasionally maimed people, but they usually weren’t upstanding citizens.
The wrinkly hand hovered near the switch, then a cell phone rang, its sound obnoxious and loud. At first, Raul seemed oblivious to the infernal noise. Then he slowly moved the headset away from his ears and reached for one of the many pockets on his overalls, retrieving his cell phone. Meanwhile, Lupo had almost jumped out of his skin.
“Hello?” Raul shouted. “Who is this?” A few heartbeats passed as he listened to someone shouting back, then he said, “Okay. I’ll buy a loaf of bread on my way home. I’m done here anyway,” he said as he walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Lupo tuned his ears to the man’s steps and waited. When the outer door at the end of the hallway opened and closed with a soft thud, he detached himself from the wall and went to the cabinet he had eyed upon entering.
“Let’s make it count at least.” Lupo opened the drawer marked with the letter S. Then he looked for the folder with his initials. LS.
Lupo Solis, the name the birth register administrator had given him. He wasn’t sure why the man had chosen that combination, but he liked it. Loosely translated from Latin, his name meant the lonely wolf, and he thought it was badass. So much so that to live up to his appellation, Lupo had constantly caused trouble at the orphanage, up until the day he escaped from it to join the Reds.
The psychologist who had worked with him to keep his anger under control had told him it was okay to feel upset, but that he should find less destructive ways to express his feelings. She explained to him it wasn’t his fault his mom had died, but Lupo had always wondered why his father had never come to claim him.
For years, he had waited for someone to show up and take him away from Cradles and Bites. Not that the place wasn’t okay or that he wasn’t treated well. But kids, younger kids, were adopted all the time, and no one ever asked for him.
One night, a couple arrived at the orphanage. An immortal and a vampire who were paired with a were-bat infant. From a distance, Lupo followed the couple and watched as the nocturnal staff carted them around, showing them the premises, asking questions. The vampire was a small woman, while her husband was a mountain of a man. He liked them. Hoping against hope, Lupo wished they would turn and see him and decide they wanted an older kid. But fairy-tales were just such.
Eventually, Lupo grew tired of waiting for his imaginary perfect family to whisk him away, and he started plotting his escape from the orphanage. Seven months ago, he walked out of the main door and never looked back. Had he known it would be that simple, he would have left a year earlier.
But the dilemma of his origins had stayed with him. And here he was, staring down at a folder containing the key to his past. With a certain amount of trepidation, he opened his file, and leafed through yellowed documents until he reached his birth certificate.
Lupo Solis, newborn. Mother, Maya Rachele, age twenty-seven. Residence: Appian Way, one hundred and thirteen, Rome.
With shaking hands, Lupo shot a picture of the document with his cell phone, then placed the thin paper inside its folder, and closed the drawer. Head pounding with a growing headache, he retraced his steps and exited Cradles and Bites. Once on the street, he searched for the address, and when he read the name of the residence it belonged to he couldn’t help but start laughing. His mother had lived at
Casale del Lupo
, the wolf’s house, one of the most famous households in all of Rome. Lucius Seneca Quintilius’s estate.
When he finished laughing, Lupo hunched over and vomited for several minutes.
Rome, April 2015
Raising his chin, Quintilius looked outside the window from his overstuffed loveseat. His party was well on its way, and he had retired to his studio for a moment of peace.
Every year, he celebrated Rome’s birthday by opening his house to the paranormal society, forging new alliances and renovating old ones. With a flick of his wrist, he rotated the heavy watch with the lunar phases. It would be a full moon in two weeks, but he longed for a run. Maybe, on the morrow, he could free his schedule for a visit to Reserve. One of the perks of being an alpha was the freedom to shift whenever he wanted, not only once a month.
The soft hiss of Camelia’s wheelchair warned him of her arrival, and Quintilius turned to face his longtime friend and confident.
With a smile, she looked at him from the arched entry of the studio. “Why so pensive, my alpha?” Camelia’s sweet voice always reminded him of summer nights. Beautiful and frail, she looked and moved like a ballerina, but lately she had been sick and had lost some weight, and he worried about her.
“I wish I knew.” He smiled back, because she deserved a smile even though he felt worn-out and defeated.
With those elegant movements that were pure Camelia, she wheeled her chair closer. Mentioning the need to exercise more and to get her strength back, she had refused the motorized version her physical therapist suggested, and kept the same old manual she had been using for the last ten years. “Your party is a success. As usual.”
“Only thanks to you.” This time, Quintilius’s chuckle was genuine. “As usual.”
All the nocturnal guests had arrived a few hours earlier, and he had welcomed each one of them singularly, with Camelia by his side. People thought he had kept her close all those years because he pitied her. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Without Camelia, his household and part of his business would have gone to ruin decades ago, and he wouldn’t have cared one way or the other.
“My pleasure. Although, Paolo did all the heavy lifting, and Lara surpassed herself with the banquet.”
“Which reminds me that our majordomo is due his vacation soon, and that our cook should receive a bonus for tonight’s feast.” He added the item on his house related mental list.
“Already scheduled Paolo’s vacation, at the end of May. And Lara will receive her bonus with her next paycheck.” She tilted her head to the side, her big blue eyes that saw everything studying him. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
With a small shrug, he answered, “No, but thank you, my dear.” He took her hand in his and gently brushed it with his lips.
“Ophelia just called to announce she’s running late.”
At that piece of information, Quintilius couldn’t help but laugh and shook his head. “She actually called, ah?”
“You know how she is.” Camelia patted his knee.
Quintilius rejoiced at the soothing caress and brought her hand to his cheek.
They were like an old couple. They should have been an old couple.
“Since she’s met Peter, her brain is even more scattered than usual.” Camelia leaned into his touch.
“Love does that, I’ve been told.”
“Yes, I remember those days.” There was no bitterness in her words, but her eyes went to her lap for the briefest of moments. “Anyway, the fireworks will start in a few minutes and I don’t want to miss them.”
“Go. I’ll join you later.”
He watched as she left the studio, her lean, muscular arms propelling the wheelchair forward in a smooth glide.
Memories from the past assailed Quintilius, and he saw Camelia walking toward him on her long legs, laughing. He didn’t allow melancholy to take him hostage anymore, but couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever see her happy again. Following that train of thought, he also wondered about his own happiness.
The fireworks started, and his studio was bathed in light. From his perch, he could see his guests gathering outside in the Italian garden, couples huddling closer to enjoy the show.
All of Rome was celebrating, the majority of the who’s who of the paranormal society was partying in his house, and Quintilius longed for the one person who hadn’t answered his invitation.
Ludwig raised his chin to gaze at the fireworks illuminating the dark night. April, the twenty-first, Rome’s birthday. Two thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight years old, and the Eternal City looked as beautiful as the first time he had first flown upon it. Colorful flowers exploded and rained down into the Tiber River one after the other. He sighed and brought his hand over his head for a swift caress of his cropped hair. Tomorrow morning, he would have to shave again.
Home was just across Sant’ Angelo Bridge, but Ludwig didn’t want to spend the few hours left until dawn in his apartment. For the third day in a row, he had lost track of time working on a case and remained in his office long past the afternoon hours. In fact, the evening had morphed into night, then into the next day without him being the wiser.
As the new archangel and the former supervisor of the liaisons operating in Rome, he was working two jobs at once. That was the excuse he told everyone who cared to ask why he spent so many hours working on cases he could easily delegate to one of his many employees. The truth was, he had no one to come home to, and millennia of solitude had finally started to wear him down.
The case that had landed on his desk wasn’t even that exciting. Vampires were being murdered all over Rome, and the Immortal Council had declared an emergency state and promptly dumped the hot potato into Ludwig’s lap. Therefore, anything correlated to vampire business was Ludwig’s. Vampire Nation had reported yet another of its own killed, and he had answered the call first thing in the morning. Midnight had come and gone, and he wasn’t any closer to discover how or why Mr. Brandi had been permanently erased from existence.
As a cluster of red and orange fireworks filled the night, Ludwig’s cell phone chimed, announcing a text had just arrived.
Q: How are you?
As it usually happened, a few words from Quintilius and Ludwig’s heart jumped, and he couldn’t help but speed dial the werewolf’s number.
“Hi.” Quintilius’s voice was like good scotch, warm and smooth.
“Hi.” Back on his desk, hidden under a stack of papers in one of its drawers, was the cream envelope with the wolf’s invitation to his annual Rome’s Birth Day party. “How’s the celebration going?”
“I was just told my guests are having fun.” A faint sigh. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. Working on a new case.”
“When is your last day at Castel Sant’ Angelo?”
“My replacement, the stunning Azahel, should arrive any day now.” Funny how, after years of complaining about hating being the liaison supervisor, Ludwig missed the job already and he hadn’t even left.
“Is she worthy of taking your place?”
“She was one of Arariel’s lieutenants. He used her beauty to manipulate his adversaries and obtain favors from presidents and politicians. Even a pope or two seems to have fallen for her silver and dark-gray feathers.”
“You don’t like her, I gather.”
“I despise Azahel and everything she stands for, and I’ve successfully managed to avoid her so far, but it won’t be possible anymore when I take my seat at Parioli’s headquarters. The only good thing about my career advancement is that once I move there, no angel will dare contest my office any longer. Inside the Holy Nation’s walls, the archangel can’t be touched and his word is sacred.” He was sure the rule had been made by Arariel, who had banned, demoted, and mutilated angels just for disagreeing with him.
“Speaking of which, how are things with Holy Nation?” Quintilius asked.
“Not great, but not as bad as they were this time last year. Plus, as a political effort to pacify angelic temper, the Immortal Council has chosen my successor as Head Liaison from Arariel’s faction. That seems to have mildly pleased the ones who hate me.” Following the demise of the former archangel Arariel, Ludwig had been elected as the new one, but opinions were still divided about him and the new liberal regime he stood for. “Holy Nation isn’t known for being open-minded.”
Quintilius’s argentine laugh warmed Ludwig. “I would’ve said they are downright bigots and anchored to the past—”
“Wolf, they’re my people you’re talking about.” But he laughed too. “How are you?”
“I’m okay. Drowning in shipments of products we can’t move fast enough. We have acquired the majority of a Swedish company, and I’ve been traveling back and forth to Ystad to check how much cargo their container terminal can manage on a daily basis.” Another sigh. “I know this is boring.”
“I’ve been dealing with death and dismemberment the whole week. I love boring.” A storm of birds swept before the window, obscuring for a moment the bright light from the fireworks.
A long pause, then Quintilius said, “Why aren’t you here, angel?”
“You know why.”
A strangled sound came from the other end of the line. “I must go back outside and attend to my guests.”
“Will I see you next week?” Ludwig knew he was being selfish, but he couldn’t help it. They had seen each other last at Drako’s residence, the night of the Valentine’s Day party. More than once, he had been on the verge of responding to Quintilius’s invite with a yes. But going to the party would have been an exercise in restraint he couldn’t bear anymore. He told himself he had never been a masochist and didn’t intend on becoming one any time soon, and yet he was prolonging his agony by staying on the phone.
“I might be busy.”
“I’ll call you.”
Ludwig heard the call drop and part of him was relieved Quintilius had decided for the two of them. The part of him that wasn’t elated was louder in its reaction though, and his heart fell and broke like glass.
His invisible wings stirred behind him and he cloaked the rest of his body, then levitated over the cobblestones and reached for the bridge parapet from where he took flight. Skirting the fireworks, he rode the thermals over Rome and floated, numb and weightless, until he found himself staring down at Quintilius’s villa.
Unable to resist the call, he descended toward the gardens, spiraling down, his presence still concealed. Among the sea of people milling along the paths, hundreds craning their necks toward the sky, he saw Quintilius right away. Under the trellis of a white lattice gazebo, the werewolf was talking to his adopted daughter, Ophelia, and her companion. His mane of dark hair dusted with silver at the sides moved as he laughed at something Ophelia had said.
Then Quintilius stopped laughing, his whole body stiffened and he turned.
Ludwig was filled with a bitter-sweet emotion when Quintilius’s unseeing eyes met his. The werewolf shouldn’t have been able to sense Ludwig, but he had. Shivers ran along his spine, making the white feathers on his wings bristle. His legs moved of their own accord, and he marched toward the gazebo. Quintilius stood and stepped down from the wooden structure, walking toward Ludwig.
As if an invisible rope was pulling the two of them together, they advanced toward each other. Quintilius’s steps never faltered, and Ludwig wondered at the strength of their connection and how it had grown stronger through the centuries.
One more step, and they stood face to face.
Ludwig’s breath hitched and his heart skipped a beat, he raised one hand and let it hover ever so close to Quintilius’s jaw. Quintilius leaned into his touch, but Ludwig didn’t close the distance. Instead, he stepped back, then took off, leaving behind a gentle vortex that engulfed Quintilius.
Ludwig made the mistake of looking down and found Quintilius looking up, his deep brown eyes searching the sky for him. His shadow, the lovely Camelia, wheeled by his side and took his hand in hers. The thought his wolf wasn’t alone comforted Ludwig, and he flew away, hoping he would find solace himself one day.
Gliding over the clouds usually calmed him, but after three hours of circling the sky, Ludwig was still restless. The first sunrays of the day had tinted the terracotta roofs in pink, when he found himself in Castel Gandolfo. Amidst the hills bordering Rome, the medieval city overlooking the peaceful Lake Albano was one of the places he liked to visit when he was upset. He would perch on the dome of the small Renaissance church and let the sight of the lake pacify his thoughts.
But not this time. After half an hour of stretching and folding his large wings and scaring the birds nearby, Ludwig resigned himself to fly back to Rome and Castel Sant’ Angelo. Another endless day ahead of him, he dove from the dome, without correcting his trajectory until he was a few meters from the thin layer of asphalt covering the ancient Roman road. A stray cat passing by hissed at him, and a pigeon that had been scavenging for food between the cobblestones’ crevices fluttered out of the way with an annoyed coo.
Nothing excited Ludwig anymore. Older than Rome, older than any other living soul on Earth, he had lived for so long serving the angel cause, he didn’t remember what being alive meant anymore.
Veering at the last possible moment, he shot up, then, as if tipping an oar into the current, he angled his left wing and turned, changing trajectory once again. Morning breeze and bright sunrays created a contrasting mix of cold and warm on his skin, but he needed more. In a vertical loop, he ascended over the clouds where the wind was colder and the sunrays brighter and warmer.
Flying over and under the white blanket of ever-changing billows, he let his thoughts run wild until memories surfaced amidst the chaos, reminding him of stolen kisses and blissful intimacies. He had known happiness and fulfilment in Quintilius’s arms. Then he sacrificed everything for the greater good of his species. As the new archangel, he could never officially mate with a non-angel. The ancient canons were adamant on the subject. Angels were racists, and if he wanted to unite them under his rule, he must be beyond reproach. His immolation should have been worth the price, but his heart disagreed.
The sun was high in the sky and it was time for Ludwig to fly back to Rome. Not ready to face his new secretary and the pile of papers that needed his immediate attention, he floated down closer to the ground and followed the contour of Castel Gandolfo’s ridge toward the lake.