Black as the Forest (All the Hounds of Hell #1)
Black as the Forest (All the Hounds of Hell #1)
Author: Lyv Aiken
Chapter 1 - Organized Mayhem

— Eveline — 

I was lounging on an extremely comfortable chair, near by a pool, in my bikini, and taking in the sun. And the most marvellous thing about it all was that I’m paid for this.

I was quietly enjoying a scrumptious margarita, doing my best impression of bacon, sizzling under the heat of the sun.

I heard the steps before I saw him.

I tilted my head slightly in his general direction when he came into view, but I didn’t rise, neither did I lowered my sunglasses.

“Enjoying this beautiful day, miss Devon?” he asked me.

“Obviously,” I answered jovially.

He was a well-looking man, in his fifties, yet with still the signs of youth not completely erased from his eyes. He was one of those men who aged well—like wine—with salt and pepper on his temples, making him appear more sophisticated than old.

He sat on a lounge chair next to mine. Not lying down but sitting on its side, looking at me, elbows resting on his knees. Not many men can pull out a white suit, but he could. The last few buttons of his shirt undone, no tie. He looked quite at ease.

He’d been a bachelor all his life and it showed. Not the type of bachelor keeping himself mostly away from relationships, but more the type who walks into a club with a gorgeous woman on each arm—a bit of a player. He had a few kids—most Alpha’s tends to make sure they have an heir or two—but he’s never settled down.

He’s been flirting with me ever since I arrived—more out of habit or amiability than with any ulterior motive—though, I’m sure if I’d shown true interest, he wouldn’t have hesitated.

I’m not vain or anything, but I know I look nice—all the money I give to my beautician is not for nothing.

Then again, I know he’s not pursuing me seriously. No one ever does, or at least those who do either back off when they learn of my family, or are interested only because of my family. I’m generally approached or shunned because of my brother.

There are times when this sucks.

On the other hand, people have to be ridiculously stupid or ill-informed to attempt anything nefarious toward me, which has insulated me from a lot of crap.

But I can’t really be mad at my brother for how others behave. Besides, he’s the one who gave me this ridiculously nice job.

“Are you still leaving us tomorrow?” Alpha Garcia asked me.

“Unless there’s a last-minute surprise, then yes.”

He smiled at me. “How about a little last-minute surprise then?” 

“What do you have in mind?” I answered with the same mischievous tone he aimed at me.

“There is a summit on the other coast. I’ve been asked to come, but it would be nice to have one as pretty as yourself to accompany me.”

“Are you trying to gain bragging points by having a Devon as your plus one in a political shindig?” The corner of my mouth tugged upward a bit.

“Pretty much,” he shamelessly admitted.

“Give me the details, and I’ll call home. See how it goes,” I said. “I do love a good party.”

My brother was up North actually, so I didn’t technically called home.

He was taking care of a conflict or another up there. Quite frankly, it’s pretty hard to keep up with him. He’s always going somewhere—to help an ally, or offer backup, stop a dispute, make deals, conquer some territory, or fight something or other.

This time it was shutting down a troublesome coven, I think. Or maybe that was last week?

He hasn’t been home in a few weeks, going from one place to another, keeping check ups with me and home via calls.

Turns out, after he asked me a few questions—like who are some of the people going to this shindig—he told me he had to meet with one or two in person, and it would probably be easier there, than doing a bigger detour to their respective homes.

So I could go and have fun, and work on some business relations at the same time, while meeting up with him to leave together with him once done. And of course, being paid for it.

There are days when I really love my life.

— Darren —

The household was in chaos.

I tried to stay out of the way, but it was quite impossible. So I did what I do best and cleaned up the messes behind everyone. 

I walked from place to place, picking up the slack, or just sorting things that were falling apart.

Organizing events, it’s pretty much like that—a sort of organized mayhem. One that seems to be going nowhere until you reach the finishing line and somehow, everything strangely worked out. You ask yourself along the way, ‘why the hell did you get yourself involved in all this?’, but when all is said and done, you begin to wonder what could have been done better, what was great and should be kept as such, and all in all, planning for the next time.

My family is not indulging in massive events like these very often, and generally keeps things down a notch or three, and indulge in smaller meet ups. But hosting the Northwest Summit, or any such summit for that matter, is generally a strong mark of prestige, and most packs fights for the privilege each year.

This year, my father won.

The fact that he’s been preparing to hand things down to my older brother Michael, as been a strong factor for his decision. I think part of him wanted to leave the scene at his peak. Most Alphas tend to give up their position before they get old enough (or worst, weak enough) to be challenged. That being said, giving the power to someone unprepared or too young is very risky too. In both cases, someone could just come in and challenge them. One fight could reverse everything, make them lose all status and power. Generations of work, lost in one fell swoop.

It used to be mostly the way to become Alpha in the first place. Back before human anthropologists even decided to call leaders of your run-of-the-mill wolf packs, Alphas. A lot before that.

But having the strongest couple mating together, kinda had the side effect of breeding stronger wolf. Back in nature, for wolves, other pups tend not to survive, so only the alpha pair tend to breed, but werewolves are different. Part of us is human, and weak or strong, as long as you have everything required for survival—like shelter and food—you can survive just fine. So werewolf packs don’t have just a single breeding pair.

And the pups of Alphas have a better chance at being stronger. And like in every society, political marriages have been a thing. So now, an Alpha bloodline nearly always creates stronger wolves, which as led with time to nepotism and primogeniture. 

Darwin and the laws of the jungle. For us, it gets a lot more literal than most.

Nowadays, nearly all Alphas are sons of Alphas. It was easier, you know who’s gonna be the next in line from the get go. The Alpha can train his heir and prepare him properly. So the son becomes far better equipped for the position than anyone else, which is why they get rarely challenged.

Unless an Alpha is abusive, or dangerous for the pack, or getting too old, it rarely even happens. Even then, generations of selective breeding has made some bloodline far too disproportionately strong compared to others.

Someone like my father, even as an 80 years old, could still be potentially more powerful than some minor wolf in our pack at their prime.

But again, like in my family, some Alphas have multiple pups and succession wars have occurred. Those are the best positioned to take power. Most find it simpler to name the oldest has heir, and not put any ideas in any other son’s head, but other families choose the most capable instead. Though, it often turns up that the oldest get more experience, so he gets there first anyway.

In my family, Michael, the oldest, is the one to be the proper heir.

He has spent his entire life preparing and training to become a perfect Alpha.

I think he’s gonna be fine.

Our relationship hasn’t always been great, but I respect him. He’s a good guy, and he has a lot on his shoulders.

I found Michael in his office, crouching numbers and tearing his hair out. 

He does that often, I fear he might go bald before he hits fifty.

“Need help with that?” I asked.

He raised his head to look at me. “Please, for all that is holy, save me please.”

I laughed and took a look at his laptop.

“You know, there’s not that much left to do,” I said as I took the seat he gave me.

“Speak for yourself,” he said while dropping on the small couch in pure exhaustion.

I went at it.

He had made a couple of mistakes which led to things not balancing properly, but it didn’t take me too long to find it. It would have been a little faster if he’d tell me it wasn’t balancing right to begin with, but by the time I got things moving, he was asleep on the couch, so I let him rest and dealt with it on my own.

After an hour marked only by the sound of my typing and occasional shifting of papers, Michael broke the silence.

“So, why are you helping me exactly?” He still had an arm over his face and stayed lying down, unmoving.

“Because you apparently need my help,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, because you’re just altruistic.”

I stopped.

“What do you accuse me of exactly?” Anger bubbling in my voice.

“Just that I think you have an ulterior motive,” he said still unmoving.

“Ulterior motive? Like what exactly? I spent all day helping whoever needed it most. You know, if you didn’t want any help you could have just said so. I just spent an hour doing your job to get accused of scheming whatever. That hurts man.” He got up halfway through my rant, sitting properly to look at me, his expression unreadable.

“Easy there. I’m not accusing you of anything.”

“Oh! Really? Because that’s not what this sounds like,” I spat.

“I just thought you were looking for a good excuse to hide from Mom and Dad, I wasn’t implying anything worst,” he said apologetically.

I inhaled deeply before letting it out in a sigh.

“Aren’t you hiding too?” I finally asked, then resumed my work. I saw Michael wince in my peripheral.

“Aren’t we all?” he finally conceded.

“Then why accused me of it then?”

He shrugged.

I continued my work for a full ten minutes while he said nothing.

“I’m nearly done,” I finally said.

He raised his head promptly. “Yeah?” he said, hopeful.

“Yeah.”

“This quick?”

“I think if you’ve been sleeping more these last few nights, you’d been able to clear this quicker.”

“Yeah, maybe,” he conceded.

“This is stressing you out?”

“Maybe.” He rubbed his face in his hands then glided his fingers through his hair all the way to the back, letting his head fall forward after, in a sign of weariness.

“Something else stressing you out?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Things are gonna work out fine. You’re gonna be fine. Mom and Dad’s level of stress is gonna go down which is gonna be easier for everyone. Fred is gonna be back in time to give a hand. Kevin and Kate are like champs in the garden sorting things out. I mean, everyone is helping, even Max got this head out of his ass, which is quite an achievement.” That got a smile on Michael’s face. “And in a few days, it’s all gonna be back to normal, we’ll all return to annoying each other and a relatively normal peace. Dad would have made one of the best moves of his career, and it will open things properly for when you take over. Whenever that is. And if you’re lucky, he’s not gonna be on your ass too much then.”

“You nearly make it sound nice.”

“Isn’t it? You having doubts?”

“No, just insecurities maybe. There are some preparations that are a little harder to get going.”

“Like what?” I began, then it dawned on me. “Like a wife?” I asked. “And kids?”

“No one likes to put in power someone who can’t have future generations.”

“That’s some medieval bullshit.”

“That’s exactly Dad’s bullshit.”

“True,” I conceded. “He gives you a hard time for not finding a mate?”

“Not exactly. He’s not really the type to say it out loud, just very passive-aggressive about it.”

“Dude, not everyone settles early. You still have plenty of time.”

“What if I don’t have a mate?”

“What if you don’t? No one is stopping you from finding someone you like. You can make that bond with anyone. You can even find a nice daughter of Alpha somewhere. Make it political and everything. That would give Dad a massive hard on.”

He grimaced. 

“What?” I asked.

“Made bonds are never as strong as a natural one. I mean, it’s fine and everything, but in my situation, it puts me in a weakened position. Which is not something Dad would handle well.”

“First, if you find someone politically acceptable, it would put you in an advantageous situation, so that would cancel out whatever weakness it could possibly cause. Second, you’re ideally gonna spend years with that woman. You better not get someone just to please your own father. You’re gonna be Alpha, so make sure your backbone is in place because he’s never gonna respect you otherwise, and if he doesn’t respect you, then it’s gonna be hard for the pack to respect you. And third, you don’t have to marry to become Alpha, for that matter, you don’t have to even have kids. For that matter, you could even choose a nephew as heir if you want to. You got five brothers, there’s a good chance you’re gonna get one or two of those eventually.”

“Some could see this as validation for a challenge.”

“Dude, everything can be validation for a challenge if you’re motivated enough.”

He laughed at that.

“How can you be so Zen about this? None of us are Zen about this.”

“You’re not because you have stakes in this, like our parents. Fred and Kev’ve been raised always on their toes to step in if anything goes to shit. So, they’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t have stakes in any of it,” I explained.

“So does Tim and Max, yet…” He left the words hang as if that was self-explanatory, which kinda was.

“Tim found Anabella less than a year ago and he’s barely coming to the full realization of the implications of this, and he constantly wonders where he’s at. And Ana is a tornado and he can barely hang on for dear life. Max, well Max is young and stupid. If we’re lucky, he’s gonna grow out of it, but I’m not holding my breath or anything.”

Michael snorted at that.

“I don’t have a mate,” I continued. “Or expectations from anyone in my life. Not for my career, or position in the pack, or a significant other, not even from my friends, or family. It’s hard to get stressed when there’s no stakes.”

“Maybe.” There was an undecipherable emotion behind his features. He had nice features, pleasant, kind of a Joe average type face. Though, he had airs of assurances around him, his own brand of charisma I guess, without it being overwhelming.  A bit like a guy next door type face. Though, one that could step it up if needed. 

“I’m sure you’re gonna find your place soon,” he told me.

“Sure,” I said sarcastically.

Comments (2)
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firsty.luvi
Your work is amazing, seriously. Do you have any social media for your books I could follow?
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Kayla Holt
the first 2 paragraphs are attention grabbers
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