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Chuck watched with only a mild sense of disquiet as Summer spun into a fury.
“Liar!” Summer shrieked and launched herself at the bound woman, hands shifting to claws.
In a blur of movement he intercepted her, slamming into her and throwing her against the potting shed’s rough hewn walls.
“No, Summer!” Chuck growled as he pressed her into the wall.
Summer thrashed and screamed in rage. Her angry screams bordered on a yowl as she thrashed futilely against him.
Chuck decided she wasn’t going to come back to her senses quickly and hauled her up over his shoulder. He strode out the potting shed’s rolling door, one arm clamped firmly on her bottom to keep her from squirming off his shoulder. Once outside, he unceremoniously dumped her onto the soft grass.
“God damn it!” she raged.
“Summer, cool it.”
“That bitch is a fucking liar!” She rolled to her belly and pushed herself to her feet in a single move.
Chuck’s eyebrows raised as he realized that hauling her over his shoulder had been because she had allowed it, not because of his superior strength.
“She’s not,” he told her. His voice was as calm and smooth as the breeze over a spring fed pond.
“My father’s dead,” Summer spat and dusted herself off with human hands.
“Summer, I told you when we first met, your father is alive.”
Summer shook her head. “You know, I told myself that lie a thousand times as a kid. ‘My father is alive.’ Or ‘He survived the crash.’ Maybe even ‘He’ll come back one day to get me. I can get away from the pack and live a normal human life.’” She shook her head again.
“Summer. Summer,” he said louder when she wouldn’t look at him. “He is alive.”
Her eyes closed and she shook her head.
“He’s alive and he’s the Alpha of the feral pack.”
Summer opened her mouth to refute him.
Nothing came out.
She inhaled again and still nothing came out. Her eyes flicked up to his.
Hazel eyes met blue and Chuck felt like he was watching her entire world shatter. Tears welled up on her eyes as she silently shook her head.
Chuck had seen a few, very few, women who could cry and still look lovely. Summer was not one of them. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she made ragged choked sounds. She sniffled loudly and wiped at her nose with the back of her hand as she sobbed. Not caring that it was probably snot she was wiping, he pulled her into an embrace. He held her close, rubbing her back, and making soothing sounds as she sobbed.
A few moments later she had calmed back down and dried her tears. A wet patch on the breast of his shirt and the pink of her nose where the only evidence of Summer’s breakdown.
“Ready to face this?” Chuck asked quietly.
“Ready? No. Will I? Yes.” She straightened her now rumpled and stained white blouse. “I’ll release them both. Two messengers will ensure the message gets through.”
“Planning to tell the pack the man isn’t dead?”
Summer shrugged. “They’ll figure it out.” She stepped back out of his embrace and scrubbed her face.
Chuck watched her transform in that moment. As her hands came away from her face, her shoulders dropped and her chest lifted. Whatever traces of fear, anguish, or confusion that may have been there a moment before was wiped away, replaced by a visage that radiated a quiet power. That same subtle power was etched in her posture. He could see the wolf within poised to strike.
He followed her, watching her stride lithely to the potting shed door and Chuck was struck by what she had told him about being a born werewolf.
“I’m a werewolf,” she had told him firmly. “When I’m shaped like a wolf, I’m a werewolf. When I’m shaped like a woman, I’m still a werewolf. There’s no choosing a side. I am what I am, regardless of what shape I’m in or how I live my life.”
He could finally see it now, in her stride. She may be dressed like a common office worker, her business clothes torn and bloodied, but clad undeniably as an office worker. But her firm, lissome, but small body radiated subtle power from every inch of her, screaming her predator side.
“Summer?” he asked quietly.
She paused, a hand on the frame of the shed’s door, and looked back at him.
“I’m behind you,” he said simply and bowed his head.
She gave him the barest smile before wiping her face blank and lifting her chin.
Summer grabbed the now empty chair where the male feral had sat, twirled it around, and sat down backward, legs straddling the seat in a way that hiked her loose skirt to her knees, and arms resting across the back. Every eye in the shed followed her, noting her rigid posture, and raised chin.
“Tomorrow, at sundown,” Summer said to the woman, still bound and on the ground. “Tell him I will meet him at Blackwater River. The boat launch in the state park.”
The feral woman nodded, eyes too bright as they took her in.
“No,” came a voice from beside her.
Summer exploded from the chair and whirled to face Dittany. An inhuman growl rumbled low in her throat and Chuck wasn’t the only one to take a step back.
“You don’t speak for the Asteraceae Pack; you cannot set a parlay.” Dittany’s voice was steady but there was a tightness in her eyes as she spoke.
“I don’t?” Summer’s eyebrows shot up. “Am I not here to end this? Am I not the speaker for this Pack right now?” Her voice was equally steady but held as much threat as her rigid stance.
“You are not. You–”
“Ladies,” Chuck broke in, “outside, perhaps?” He jerked his head towards the feral woman listening avidly from the floor.
“Everyone, out!” Summer snapped.
The shed cleared out, people flooding out to the darkened lawn, and Summer rolled the door closed with a thud. She walked to the middle of the small crowd and faced Dittany. Chuck took up a position to her right.
“You do not speak for this Pack, Summer Dawn Jones. The Elders will confer and decide how to proceed,” Dittany told her.
“The Elders? Oh, you mean the remaining Elders? The ones not currently injured or kidnapped, right Auntie Dittany?” Summer’s voice was cold. The dew now forming on the grassy square could have frozen at her words.
“Summer,” Dittany said warningly.
“No,” Summer spat. “No, Dittany. You called me here for a reason and I’m starting to suspect it isn’t just because you know I’m willing to do the violence you will not.”
A flutter of fear crossed Dittany’s weathered face. “No, Summer. Not here.”
“No? Not here? Not were people can hear?” Summer gestured to the growing crowd, drawn by their harsh words. “What’s wrong, Auntie? Are you afraid they’ll find out?”
“Summer,” Dittany shook her head. “Don’t.”
Summer exploded. “No! You knew! You’ve always known, haven’t you?” She took a step towards Dittany.
“You did as I asked, but now this is an issue for the Pack.”
“Oh? And what am I, Dittany?”
Silence filled the open space.
Summer pressed a step closer. “What am I, Dittany? A friend? An inconvenience?” Her voice rose a notch. “Am I not Pack?”
A long silence stretched between them as more people, drawn by Summer’s shout, crowded in.
“Am I not Pack, Dittany? Or is that what this is about? What it’s really about?” Summer took yet another step toward Dittany who backed up. “I’m just violent enough to be useful, but you know what I’ve done and you won’t claim me. Just a tool, huh, Auntie?” She sneered the term. “It’s all about what I am to you.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, child.” Dittany shook her head warningly again. “You don’t speak for us. We won’t condone your violence.”
“You called me for a reason. You begged me. Begged. You allowed my violence because you needed it. You asked for this,” she said, punctuating each word with a stabbing finger towards Dittany. “And my work isn’t done. Until it is, you don’t get a say.”
Summer crossed her arms and regarded Dittany.
The assembled crowd, larger than had been in the Pack House shifted restlessly. Chuck saw younger faces than those in the Pack House. This was almost every adult in the pack.
A younger man, blood smeared across his sleeve, stepped out of the crowd, and stood behind Summer, mirroring Chuck, on her left.
“You know what you asked for, Dittany,” Summer said, her voice ringing across the darkened green.
Dittany shook her head as another man moved to stand behind Summer. “You don’t know the whole story, girl.”
“Tell me. Tell me why you would lie to me about my father being alive.” Summer tilted her head and eyed the shifting crowd.
“Not here,” Dittany shook her head, eyes full of sorrow. “Not now. It’s for your own good.”
“My father, who is now a feral? You didn’t think that was important to tell me before asking me to come stop an attack on my family? My home?”
“Summer,” Dittany whispered, “don’t do this.”
More werewolves moved behind Summer, facing Dittany. A few stood behind Dittany, mostly the remaining Elders.
Summer uncrossed her arms and addressed the crowd. “She brought me here to protect you. She won’t lift a paw or bloody a tooth to save her own family, but she is willing to call someone who will.” She turned back to Dittany but spoke to the whole crown. “And now you keep secrets ‘for my own good’?”
Summer stood straight and tall, far taller than her diminutive 5’3”, radiating an unseen power. She looked at the crowd and Chuck could see realization dawning in her eyes.
“Do you want Elders who won’t act or someone who will end a threat?”
Uncle Mullein walked slowly away from Dittany to stand by Summer’s left. “We stand with you,” he told her, voice creaking with age, but hard as cured oak.
A cheer rose from the assembled werewolves.
“Send the messengers. We parlay tomorrow at sundown.”
Another cheer rose and echoed across the lawn, bouncing off the ring of cabins that was the pack’s homestead.
The decision made, the group broke, people heading for their own beds.
Chuck stepped in close, leaning in so those dispersing couldn’t hear. “Pack Mistress,” Chuck whispered.
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