Remy never expected to become Alpha of his clan, he never expected to find his mate, and he sure didn’t expect his mate to be a spicy bit of goods that wasn’t afraid of him and was more than willing to stand up to him and let him have it.
Marie wasn’t looking for her mate either. But when they met, she was determined to make the best of it all. Even if that meant that he was going to have to work for it.
Twenty years in the Navy and Montgomery “Remy” Sinclair was out, thank you very much. No more bad food, crappy beds, and nonexistent sleep cycle. The chances of getting shot would go down, along with random explosions and the all-around fun of possibly drowning.
On the other hand, there would be no more days on the open ocean, stepping out on deck after dark to stare at the stars. No more being rocked to sleep by a ship as it traversed the seas. No more free trips to the most interesting places on Earth. And if some of those trips were really missions—ones that never existed outside of masses of black lines in his file—he was fine with that.
He’d found a Were-friendly apartment close to the university where he planned to finish his master’s degree, got himself a dog and cat to keep him company, and was feeling good about life.
And then a young lawyer named Andrew Mason showed up on his doorstep and changed his world.
* * * * *
Marie O’Faoláin was not a happy camper.
As the head lawyer for Clan O’Faoláin, she had to stay up to date on everything that affected her world, and the latest developments were sure to do that. After pausing to settle her shoulders and adjust her grip on her briefcase, she knocked briskly on the door to the conference room of her great-uncles office.
Through an extreme effort of will, Marie kept her face expressionless when she saw that the clan leader had been joined by his heir and the whole of the Elder Council. Her valued professionalism was the only thing that kept her from kicking the heir, who happened to be her younger brother Marcus, in the shin as she walked past him. She was going to give him a major piece of her mind for letting her walk into this meeting blind.
There was a chair for her, and she placed her briefcase on the table. A quick maneuver of the locks, and she had the three copies of the incident report she had printed, and a memory stick with the report in electronic format. Once her props were at hand, she set the briefcase on the floor.
She carefully handed the clan leader his copy, set her brother’s in front of him, and the third, annotated copy, was hers. The council could suck it up and deal with the electronic copy. If someone had let her know, she might have been better prepared.
“Good morning, Uncle Courtney, Marcus, and council members. This is a reporting on our ally clan, Clan Sinclair. Seven days ago, the clan manor burned to the ground. There were no survivors of the conflagration.” Marie sat down and crossed her hands over the report she had flipped open to the first page.
“So, old man Feichín is dead. His heir?” her uncle asked as he flipped open the report.
“A list of the victims was released twelve hours ago, and Malachi Sinclair was determined to be among the deceased. There may be a surviving child of the heir, but if so, that child is far too young to lead the clan. As you can see, Feichín Sinclair had a younger son who died fifteen years ago. The younger son had one child, a son as well, who went into the US Navy. He’s just recently been discharged and has taken up the mantle of clan leader.” Marie made certain to look at only her brother and her own clan leader as she explained.
Dropping her gaze to the picture of the new Sinclair Laird, she pushed the flash of a foggy moor crossed by a wolf with black tipped fur out of her mind. Her dreams had no place here. Even if something about the Were stirred things in her that she didn’t have time to think about.
“Montgomery Sinclair is the new clan leader?” her brother asked as he flipped open his packet.
Marie dropped her attention to the head shot under her hands and studied the image. Sinclair was tall and blond, with blue eyes that reminded her of the heart of an iceberg, all cold and clear. Something in that picture called to her, and she had to put it aside. She really did.
“He is,” she acknowledged. Turning to her uncle, she saw he was reading ahead. Marie took the time to plug the data stick into the conference room’s computer systems.
Using the remote, she flipped forward to what looked like an organizational chart crossed with a family tree. A quick flick of her thumb pulled out the laser pointer, and she circled Montgomery’s name. “As you can see, the Sinclair Clan throws far fewer alphas than our own, and Montgomery is the only surviving alpha of his generation.”
Her uncle looked up at that. “I didn’t realize Sinclair was so light on alphas.”
Marie flipped to the first tab she had placed and glanced down the list to refresh her memory. Most clans had averaged an alpha for every fifty beta wolves or humans. O’Faoláin was unusual in that they averaged one in twenty-five and hadn’t suffered or fractured due to the strain. Sinclair had far fewer than average, but then, their clan was also far smaller than her own.
Marc was muttering as he ran his finger down the same list she had up. “We don’t know how many of the surviving children inherited their alpha mantels from their parents, but it still means that the only adult one is now the clan leader.”
“What about Malcolm Sinclair?” her uncle asked. “He seems to be the only other adult from the main line. The rest of the surviving adults are from a cadet branch of the family.”
“Malcolm has been a beta all his life, Uncle,” Marc told him as he looked up from his reading. “And I’ve never gotten the impression that he would be anything else.”
“As for the cadet branch,” Councilor Morgan, a contemporary of her father, spoke up unexpectedly. “They haven’t produced an alpha in about three generations.”
“Right. Moving along from that, what can we offer the clan to help them recover?” her clan leader asked as he took back the reins of power.
Marie nodded and let herself get lost in the planning. She wasn’t going to think about Montgomery Sinclair.
* * * * *
Marie tucked herself into place behind her uncle and tried to relax. She’d almost completed her part in this meeting. Sinclair had contacted O’Faoláin about the possibility of sheltering them, and she had gone to work to find the precedents to allow a decision to be reached.
It had taken two long, grueling weeks for her and her team to find the historical precedents. The Council had pitched a fit at the thought, and some had come perilously close to murder when they had aired their prejudices. Finally, her uncle had let them all know that he had made his decision.
Even she didn’t know which way her clan leader would go. Marc wasn’t telling either. To cover her own ass, she had four versions of the possible outcomes drawn up.
One: O’Faoláin agreed to fully shelter Clan Sinclair for a term of fifty to one hundred years. Mutual benefit clauses straight out of the old history books were laid out with room to make any needed changes.
Two: O’Faoláin declined to shelter Sinclair and all that entailed. The document laid out how the other Clan was not to contact them, and they would ignore the request and do them the honor of not wiping their clan off the face of the planet.
Three: O’Faoláin agreed to shelter Sinclair, somewhat. The document was very much weighted in O’Faoláin’s favor, but that was about the norm for something like this.
Four: Both parties agreed that the shelter idea was a bad idea and everyone would forget it.
Marie had no idea which option she rooted for. The last one would be the least amount of work for her, but the first was the only one that made her comfortable. The council liked the second option, and her uncle seemed to be leaning toward the third. It was a mess. She could only hope that Marc had weighed in on what seemed to her to be the most honorable choice.
It took effort, but she kept her face blank as the Sinclair Clan representatives entered the conference room. In the lead was Montgomery Sinclair, the clan leader, a Were who looked like a wet dream. He was over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, and he moved with all the grace of his wolf.
Marie’s mouth went dry. As great as his body was, his face was better. His high cheekbones pulled her attention to blue eyes that glittered like glacier ice. Unlike most of the rest of the Sinclair family, this man was a blond with dark brown eyebrows that served as a vivid contrast to his hair. She followed the line of his nose to his lips and licked her own. They were full, even if they were pressed straight to keep his expression bland. When she raised her gaze back up to the other Were’s, she had to fight off a flush. He was amused at her staring. As he turned away to face her uncle, a small smile crossed the stern mouth.
Marie closed her eyes for a moment and drew a slow, controlled breath in. She wasn’t a kid with no self-control. There was too much riding on the day’s events to let her mind wander down paths that she wasn’t able to indulge in.
The exchange of greetings between the two clan leaders followed the script that she had seen years before. It was all formality, vowing promises of peace and non-violence. Marie listened carefully, but she couldn’t hear any lie in their visitor’s heartbeats.
Remy was determined to not be intimidated by anyone from Clan O’Faoláin. Yes, he was coming to them for assistance, but his clan still had a lot to offer. The day after the meeting where he had fired the law firm his uncle had used and asked Andrew Mason to stand as lead legal counsel for the clan, he had called up Carmine, his former second in command in the SEALs, and asked him if he wanted to be his Second in Command of Clan Sinclair. The issuing discussion had taken hours, but he’d gotten what he wanted. Convincing the Navy had actually taken less time. Carmine was now on terminal leave, had been folded into his clan, and got along well with Andrew and his cousin Malcolm. Malcolm, a beta, quickly became his go-to guy, as he’d been for Remy’s uncle before the fire.
Courtney O’Faoláin, his fellow clan leader, stared at him from his spot at the table, and Remy stared back, eyes level. The old man oozed power and authority in ways that some of his former commanding officers would have loved to been able to. Remy kept his eye on him as one of the O’Faoláins handed their clan leader a stack of folders.
He opened each of the folders, read through them, then dropped all but one onto the floor beside his chair.
Remy’s sensitive ear could hear the woman who had been introduced as Marie O’Faoláin, the clan lawyer, breathe out sharply. He didn’t break eye contact with the old man to look at her, but he really wanted to know if that was a sigh of relief or not.
O’Faoláin dropped his hands over the remaining folder. “If my council had their way, we would be ignoring your request.”
Ouch. The old man didn’t pull any punches. “I can understand why. The whole concept of sheltering is archaic, and full of things that people don’t want to contemplate in this day and age. It means that your clan will have responsibility for mine for decades.”
“You’ve got that right. It also means that the alliance we had with your grandfather is going to get a lot closer. You do realize that this could mean that your clan gets absorbed by mine and it disappears into history, don’t you?” O’Faoláin asked, eyes shrewd and probing.
“I am aware. And if we had the resources to survive without going to someone, I would have tried,” Remy admitted. What was some artificial pride against the needs of his clan? “But we don’t, so needs must. Our clans have been allied for over three hundred years. We share family and blood, and frankly, culture. I’m not going to cause my clan any more grief than I have to in my efforts to keep them safe.”
“Well said, young Sinclair,” O’Faoláin said without a hint of condescension. “Call me Courtney.”
“I’m Remy, sir,” he offered with a deep breath. Luna, he prayed that this was a good sign.
“Well, Remy, I think you’ll be happy with my decision.”
Remy nodded. “I hope so, sir.”
Courtney flipped open the folder in front of him and pulled one of the paper-clipped bundles out and handed it to him across the table. Remy was very happy that his hands didn’t shake as he took the documents and pulled them to him. At the O’Faoláin clan leader’s nod, he started reading. As he got to the end of it, he had to restrain himself from putting his head down and sighing in relief.
O’Faoláin was willing to shelter them. Full stop. All the way.