Stormfront Powderkeg

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When Rey had asked Mira if she might be interested in going out, she’d received an enthusiastic response. But when Rey had said “tonight”, she was thinking along the lines of maybe getting dinner and hitting a club around eight or so. Mira was here at five, waiting in the living room while Rey finished applying a bit of makeup and choosing what to wear tonight.

The dryad wasn’t sure what she wanted to wear, but in the end, decided on a black, skin tight lycra one-shoulder tank top with a built in bra and a matching micro skirt, with her favorite 4” stiletto heeled ankle boots. The outfit bared her midriff, showing off her piercing and her tattoos, and made her well toned legs look a mile long. She grabbed a long coat to wear overtop while out for dinner, and then she’d leave it in the car if they parked close to the club, or with the coat check if they weren’t.

She knew that Chase would have loved the outfit, and that it would draw a lot of attention, even if she were overshadowed by her friend’s looks for most of the night. Oh, men would certainly look, and she wanted that, but she doubted many would have the courage to approach her.

“So,” Rey said when she stepped into the living room to join Mira. “What do you think?” She turned in place so her friend could see her from all angles.

“Perfect,” Mira said. “I could not have stolen anything that looked better on you.”

“Well, with the price I paid for the outfit at the time, it felt like highway robbery,” Rey replied with a chuckle. “Any ideas for where you’d like to go for dinner, or should we just pick someplace close to a club we’d like to go to?”

“Um,” Mira thought a moment. “Someplace close to the club. That way we spend more time having fun than traveling around town. Where did you say we were going again?” She idly played with the hem of her dark blue dress. It was short enough she could reach it even if she were standing up. It had one sleeve and covered one shoulder but the left shoulder and arm were bare. It clung to her body tight enough a man might guess the temperature with a single look, if he weren’t already distracted enough.

“I was thinking of Brats downtown,” Rey said. “It’s ladies’ night, with karaoke until around ten. There’s lots of restaurants around there we can get dinner at, and there’s a lot close to the club we should be able to park in.”

Mira laughed suddenly and uproariously. “I can’t think of something more fun than that!” She could hardly wait to see what electrical amplification might do for her Voice. “I’m totally up for that.”

For a moment Rey wondered if she would come to regret choosing a bar that did karoake, then pushed it from her mind. She was not going to let her annoyance at constantly being in Mira’s shadow whenever they went out somewhere together ruin her evening out. She grabbed up her keys, made sure her id, cards and money were in the specially designed little purse around her ankle and hidden by her boot, and said “Let’s go then.”

When they arrived at the Outback Steakhouse, they still had hours of daylight left. Since it was early even for the dinner rush, few people were there yet. When they walked in, they had the full attention of the waitress who passed them menus and invited them to order whenever they were ready.

It didn’t take Rey long to make her choice. A thick cut steak, baked potato with all the fixings, and a token attempt at vegetables with a caesar salad, to be chased down by a diet cola. In contrast, Mira went with fish and a side salad and a glass of iced tea.

By the time they’d finished their meals, they’d talked about a dozen different things, though they’d made sure to avoid most things to do with the fae. Leaving a generous tip, Rey and Mira walked to the club.

Mira stopped her just outside and took her hand to draw her off the sidewalk and into an alley a little out of sight. The she grabbed Rey in a tight hug.

“What was that for?” Rey asked, surprised at the gesture.

“A thank you,” Mira said. “And I don’t get many hugs so I need to stock up.” She didn’t know how to tell her how awful she felt all those months obsessing about the Jaguar Lord. Crushing worries had plagued her every action and stress due to the Duke and… things she could not discuss with Rey had her on edge for longer than anyone should have to deal with. Now it was over whatever the outcomes for the various stressors, the relief made her feel almost like she was flying. And very appreciative of the friends she had. The hug was the closest thing she could find to telling Rey she loved her friends and that she wanted them to know it.

“You’re welcome,” Rey said as she returned the hug. “We need to make a point of spending more time together, even if it’s just a girls’ night in.”

They returned to the sidewalk and completed their journey to the club. Inside things were just starting to pick up. The evening was early still but they had already set up the karaoke machine and prompter. On a pretense of “loosening up” their vocal chords, Mira suggested they get some drinks first, while the initial few people tried their luck singing in front of people.

Rey ordered a Tie Me to the Bedpost, and made sure to give an large tip because the drink was a real pain to make. It was a drink she had before, though she hadn’t yet ordered it when Chase was around. Maybe they could use it as her signal that she was feeling that kind of frisky, she thought with a little smile as she waited for her cocktail.

Mira ordered a Bloody Mary. When the waitress returned with their drinks, they took some time to enjoy them and laugh good-naturedly at some of the botched attempts at the karaoke stand, but applauding everyone who tried.

“So, you going to go first?” Mira asked. Having spent a lot of her time when in clubs trying to get men to stop staring at her, it was a mental gear-change to actually go up there get attention she couldn’t avoid.

“Sure, why not,” Rey said with a little shrug. She walked over to the signup table and gave them her name and looked over the list of songs available. When she saw “Rockstar” by Nickleback, she knew she’d found the song she wanted. If there was time and opportunity later, then perhaps Witchy Woman. She knew both songs pretty well, as they were her favorites to sing when working around the house. Gray had found her singing Witchy Woman to be hilarious, given the title and what Rey was at the time, and not her singing ability.

She knew she could sing reasonably well. She wouldn’t be the best singer there, and certainly wouldn’t be the worst, but the point was to have fun. And after the karaoke was over, the dj would start up and she could spend some time dancing.

When it was her turn to go on stage, Rey walked into it as if she belonged on that stage. As she took the microphone from the stand, she looked out over the audience. Near the back, she saw a young man with a bunch of what were obviously his friends, but he looked uncomfortable and like he wasn’t having much fun. Impulsively, she gave him a sexy little smile and winked at him just before the music started.

Rey didn’t just stand on the stage and sing. She moved around as any performer would, including the audience by actually looking at them, though she didn’t keep her eyes on anyone for more than a second or two. When she sang “dress my ass with the latest fashion”, Rey had her back to the audience and she caressed her rear with one hand while looking back at the crowd over her shoulder with an “I know you want this” smile on her face.

As the song came to an end, she returned the mike to the stand and waited for a moment to see what the crowd’s reaction was going to be.

There were encouraging hoots and applause. Many times in a karaoke bar the crowd doesn’t take too much notice, but in her case, they did very much. Rey saw Mira clapping and cheering from their table, as well.

Rey’s smile was a seductive combination of thanks and appreciation to the crowd. She gracefully nodded her head in acknowledgement of their applause, and rejoined Mira at their table, her every movement reflecting her satisfaction at a successful performance.

“Wow, very well done,” Mira said with a smile. “I don’t think people expected so much entertainment.”

Rey laughed softly. “It’s good to cut loose once in a while. Something Chase has been… encouraging.”

“He has, has he?” Mira said. “I bet he’s a wild animal in bed.”

“I guess you could say that,” Rey replied with a slight nod. “But if he truly let loose, things would go very badly for me. That part of his personality is very dominant and very dangerous.” As much as seeing his wolf thrilled her, she knew the danger she was in if she couldn’t react appropriately, quickly enough if it was provoked too far and it slipped free of Chase’s control..

Rey’s response made Mira quiet and serious. “Is it safe for you to be with him? What if he accidentally hurts you. Will you turn into one of them, too?”

Rey shook her head. “Before I was Taken, I was like Kiera. I couldn’t be turned, and that made me… safe from it, and highly desirable as a mate. After that night at the Midnight Club, when we’d figured out what had happened, I discovered I hadn’t lost it, but it had changed. The protection is there still, but it’s different, Stronger. I don’t know how else to describe it. But Chase has very good control, and I know what can shatter or strengthen that control, so I know what to do, and what the warning signs are.”

“You’re immune? Wow that’s a really important advantage in your relationship.” Mira smiled again. “Thanks for telling me that. I’d been worrying about you all this time, thinking every time you were with him, you were taking a chance of getting infected. I like Chase and all, but I didn’t want him Typhoid Mary-ing you.”

Rey couldn’t help but chuckle. “An understandable concern,” she replied. “But I am not so head over heels with Chase that I’d risk myself like that to be with him.”

Mira seemed relieved. She’d finished her Blood Mary and seemed ready to get up. “Okay. Well here goes. I kind of like to make up my own words to stuff, so I hope people like it.”

She stood and went to the karaoke stage. After consulting with a dj, he loaded up a song. It “American Pie,” something pretty common and that everyone knew. She looked out at the audience and realized that practically every man in the place was staring at her. She smiled.

However once the vocals started, the audience was surprised to hear she’d come up with entirely different lyrics. Instead of the story about the death of music, she wove a story about ill-fated love, a young man who lost his soul chasing a woman from another world and the torment it caused him because he’d tried to take what was not his.

The crowd was riveted. All eyes were on her through the whole song. She didn’t move on stage like Rey did. She didn’t put on a show. Something about it all was very, very real. A few people, dabbing tears from their eyes, got up from their tables and left, unable to withstand the sorrow in the song. When she finished, people were blinking as if stunned. No one applauded; they weren’t sure they were supposed to. It was as if she’d broken the hearts of everyone in the room.

When she returned to her seat next to Rey, she could still feel eyes on her. The crowd was still quiet, subdued. Mira clammed up, closing in on herself in reaction to attention she didn’t want. Even Rey was at a loss of what to say.

Finally, Mira said quietly, “I thought it would go over better than that.”

Then a rowdy bunch of four people came into the bar laughing and talking loudly amongst each other. That seemed to break the spell over the bar. The DJ announced it was time to queue the dance music and the volume and noise in the bar soon returned to its former levels.

“It wasn’t the right crowd for it,” Rey said simply, and looked around the club. People were mingling, and she could see a few men looking at Mira and herself as if trying to decide to do something. She smiled, and turned her attention back to her friend. “Are you okay?” she asked when she say Mira hadn’t returned to her earlier, enthusiastic self.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she said automatically. Rey was right; had it been a recording of her song, people might have thought it well done and moving, but her presence here had turned it into something overpowering. It was a song that had supernatural power and the people here had not the stamina, nor the ears to understand or appreciate it.

Unfortunately, Mira did not understand that fact, nor did she understand why it was too much.

Two young men approached their table. They kept looking at Mira, and the nymph brightened at the prospect of being asked to dance. But they didn’t address her. “Would you like to dance? Your version of Rockstar was awesome!” Both men avoided Mira’s gaze; it was obvious they each hoped Rey picked him.

“I’d love to,” Rey replied and slid off the high stool she sat on to the floor. She glanced at Mira to see what her friend was going to do, if she’d come and join them. Her friend had turned her face to look across the bar where the large front window showed the sun had set.

Mira looked back after a moment. The two men avoided her gaze and a cold mask settled over her features. “You go on ahead. I’m just going to have another drink.”

Rey watched her friend for a second, then simply nodded. The mood Mira was in would be next to impossible to deal with without causing embarrassment, so Rey walked out onto the dance floor, bracketed by the two men. Someone, she was confident, would ask Mira soon enough.

Rey danced for four songs, truly enjoying herself. While she didn’t throw caution to the wind, she didn’t hold back much, and some of her moves were as evocative as they were provocative, though none were focussed on any specific individual. Her most recent partner escorted her back the the table, trying to convince her to keep dancing, but Rey wanted a drink and a bit of a time out.

She arrived at the table in time to see Mira slap a man who was laughing uncontrollably and shove him away.

“What’s going on here,” Rey said, the sharp edge of her anger obvious in her voice.

“He’s an asshole,” Mira said. “And he’s not the first tonight.”

Luckily for the man, only Mira could see Rey’s brambles shift and slide down her arms to coil around her fists, thorns growing dangerously long. “What did he say?” Rey asked, keeping careful control of her temper.

“He said, I would call Heaven and tell them an angel was missing, but I’m kinda hoping you’re a slut.”

“He did, did he.”

“And the one before said, My name’s Dick. Can I put it in you? I think they are daring each other to come up to me and tell me the worst pickup lines they know to see what I’ll do.”

Rey gave a single, derisive laugh. “It’s probably the only pickup lines they know.” She deliberately turned her back to the man.

Rey’s phone began vibrating and ringing loudly. She pulled it out and looked at the number and, though surprised to see it, recognized the number. “Mira, I’ve got to take this,” she said with an apologetic smile.

“It’s okay. I think I’m going to head out for the night,” Mira said. She left some money to pay for the drinks she’d had, then headed toward the door.

“Hope the rest of your evening ends on a better note than this,” Rey said, and interrupted Mira’s exit to take her hand and give it a friendly and supportive squeeze.

“I’m sure it will,” she replied, thinking that even falling on her face on the sidewalk would be more fun than spending another minute being the butt of jokes by jerks who didn’t know how to be decent to someone. Besides, she had someplace to be. With a final wave, she turned and quickly left the bar.

With a deft flick of her thumb, she connected the call. “Hi Zeke,” she said as she quickly walked toward a quieter corner of the club so she could more easily hear him. That ended up being the ladies room.

“Hi Ms. Lafitte. Sorry to barge in on your evening. It sounds like you are out somewhere?”

“I am,” Rey confirmed. “But my friends and I are parting ways to continue the rest of our evenings. What’s up?”

“I was hoping you might have some time to get together and chat a bit.”

“Sure,” Rey said, wondering what was up but not wanting to mention it over the phone. “I could meet you at the Sprocket, if you’d like.”

“Actually, I was hoping for somewhere less open to prying ears. There is a little cafe at a truck stop off I-25 called Mountain Cafe. Are you familiar with that one?”

“I think so,” Rey replied. If it was the place she was thinking about, arriving there the way she was dressed really wouldn’t be too much out of place. It was a popular stop for people coming into the city to grab a bite to eat before hitting the various clubs. “I can be there in about half an hour, I think, if you’d like to talk sooner, rather than later.”

“Perfect.”

Rey stepped into the cafe a little less than forty minutes after she’d spoken to Zeke. She’d have been there sooner if not for the problem she’d had getting out of the lot - the problem being a detour she had to take because of an accident near the closest on-ramp to the freeway.

Her high heels clicked on the linoleum and it took only two steps before she realized that this was not the typical night at the cafe. Nobody here was dressed up for going to the clubs; most were obviously truck drivers and other anonymous travellers. Okay, she thought. This should be interesting. She didn’t break her stride as she continued to walk further into the restaurant, and veered off to the right when she saw Zeke in a booth near the back.

He waved to her and got up when she arrived. After she was seated, a waitress came by for orders. He asked for a pitcher of coffee to be left for them, and Rey ordered a plate of fries, then changed the order to chicken fingers. “I’m really glad you were able to come out,” he said. “And apologies again for interrupting your evening. I hope my call didn’t cut anything too short.”

Rey shook her head. “We just finished saying our goodbyes, so it’s all good.” She casually watched him as she spoke, trying to get some kind of read on him. This was the most he’d ever really said to her before. It was usually just a hello in passing, but the situation with the pack, the leadership, had changed, and that meant there was a good chance her relationship with them might be changing too. Was Zeke the kind of person to invite someone for coffee, away from the pack’s usual haunts, in order to tell them to never come around again?

The waitress arrived with the coffee and a pair of cups. She poured for them, then left. Zeke picked up the cup, obviously thinking about what he was going say, then took a drink and set it back down.

“Well, Lyla’s back. You’ll probably hear from her soon,” he said.

“So she decided not to stay with Chaska, then,” Rey replied softly. She was disappointed that had happened, but there was nothing she could - or would - do about it. Chaska had never been the friendliest person to her. She’d never wished him ill, either now or in the past, but she hoped his departure had been quiet and calm.

He nodded. “Yeah. She’s tough though. She’ll handle herself.” He meant that she was no longer Chaska’s mate and that meant others were free to court her, if she was open to it. It was the others he was more worried about. He sighed.

"What's wrong?" Rey asked.

“The younger wolves are understandably upset by the changes. I was next in line so I stepped into the alpha role, but not everyone likes the idea that my position might go unchallenged. My problem, not any else’s, but it’s a symptom of an underlying problem. There just aren’t enough females to go ‘round.” He sighed and scratched his head. “Under Chaska, there was a pretty clear rule against ever expanding the pack on purpose. He regarded our situation as a disease and I suppose he’s right. But it’s also our lives and our futures we’re talking about. I’ve gone ‘round and round in my mind over this.”

“When I was at the ranch, recovering from my run-in with the vamps,” Rey said, “Derek said it would be better for me, safer, if I was with the pack. I figured it was less about safety and more about wanting more available females.” She paused for a moment, and then said “You’re not asking me on the likelihood of my breaking things off with Chase, are you?” She was far more curious than anything else.

He waved the question away. “No, no. Just looking for a sounding board, really. I know you’ve been around a couple different packs now and I thought maybe you might have seen this kind of problem before. I’m tempted to find some women that might be a good fit. Fill out the pack some.”

“The other packs I know did have the same problem,” Rey said. “More males than females, and the pack leaders didn’t allow the creation of new wolves to fill the need. The location of the pack did help though, as there was a higher population of other supernaturals than would normally be in a small town. There were also several wolfbloods in the area, including myself, but I moved there rather than growing up in the town. And there was one she-wolf who didn’t have a mate, but she would take other members of the pack as lovers once in a while.” She gave a rueful smile. “But the pack back east’s situation is a bit different. They’d been around for quite a while, and the existence of supernaturals was an open secret. Don’t ask me why. It was a very unusual place.”

“Hm. So they had plenty of known wolfbloods. I wish that were the case here. Kiera joined up with us, and I’ve sort of intercepted things before she wound up being passed around. She’s under my protection, though I’m really not…” He shook his head. “She’s not my type. So it’s temporary. I’ll have to figure something about that, too.”

Rey nodded. She knew Chase had been worried about Kiera’s treatment, and she was sure he’d be happy to know Zeke had prevented it from happening. “There may be more wolfbloods than you think. From what I remember about this area before Lyla, Chaska and the others arrived, the wolves here weren’t exactly best kind of wolves. When Chase first saw my pawprint tatt, he told me to keep it hidden, to protect myself. Given how I heard wolfbloods were treated around here, I wouldn’t be surprised if those families are making a conscious effort not to be found.

“But that still doesn’t solve your problem. Just because a person might be a wolfblood doesn’t mean they’d be willing to become someone’s mate. And still, they might not be suitable.” Rey shook her head. “Sorry, all I seem to be doing is throwing roadblocks in your way. I think you’re on the right path, looking for women who would fit. What characteristics are you looking for?”

“I’m not sure we’ll find wolfbloods,” he said. “As you pointed out the wolves here previously had their own plans for wolfbloods. They were taken with them or destroyed, and they took twisted pleasure in killing off any of ours they could find. What I’m considering is what Chaska had outlawed; the purposeful creation of more ferals for the good of the pack.”

“I see,” Rey said. While she wasn’t thrilled with the idea, the alternative was far worse, and she wasn’t about to condemn him his decision to try and help his pack. “How many are you considering?”

He shook his head. His conscience told him this was wrong. He knew that what he was talking about was likely to spill a lot of mortal blood. For the infection to carry, the victim had to be weakened, physically vulnerable or it couldn’t take. Since he wanted his pack to be strong and healthy, that meant taking only healthy candidates -- and often they didn’t survive it. Sometimes, they were too strong and would die before becoming Feral.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “As many as it takes. I’m worried it might draw attention.”

“You’re right,” Rey said just as softly. “It probably would, and with Hunters having been in the area, it’s definitely not a good idea. But there could be other ways. If you’ll accept my help.”

He looked hopeful. “Other ways?”

“Help them survive the transition,” Rey said. “Find women who are most likely to survive anyway. Possibly even find ones who can’t get infected. Find female wolves elsewhere who might want to relocate here. It might take a while, but fewer people would end up hurt.”

“Chaska was pretty good at finding the occasional shifter about to change, but we don’t have anyone else left in the pack that can do what you describe,” Zeke said. “Are you saying you can do this?”

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “As a wolfblood I was never able to, but I’ve… changed. And if I can’t now, I may be able to learn.” Imogen came to mind. Perhaps her talents and abilities with spirits could lend themselves to finding shifters about to change. If the witch wanted payment for the teaching, then Rey would pay it. The other things she would be able to do with the magic would easily make up for it.

“If I have your word you’ll try, I think I can risk delaying things. Throw them a bone to give you time,” he said. “I could tell them I’m lifting the ban but lay some conditions on it. Like candidates need to be people they are serious about and over 21. Maybe I’ll say both the lead female and pack alpha have to agree she -- or he I guess -- will be a good fit with the pack. Then, if the candidate really wants to go through with it we turn them over to you for a final once-over verify kind of thing. Maybe you can do something to help them survive it. They’ll end up with some mortal wound, of some kind I suspect. If they live and everything has gone right, we have a new pack member. Otherwise…”

“I’ll do my best,” Rey said. “You’re a good man, Zeke, and the pack is family to me. I won’t turn my back on you. I just hope the others don’t resent my involvement.” She’d always gotten the feeling that Chaska never wanted her there, and she was tolerated because of her close friendship with Lyla.

“I really appreciate that, Ms. Lafitte. I’m going to let him know, too, but I want to say that Chase is welcome in Stormfront. I realize he prefers to go it alone, but there’s a change in management in Stormfront. Things will be different and if he wants to sign up some day, he’ll be welcome.” Then he looked at Rey. “That goes for you, too. You’ll be safe with the pack, any time you want to be there.” The unspoken thing that was in his eyes was that if she could help in the way she wanted to, she would ‘’be’’ pack in his eyes.

Rey looked at him, surprised at the completely unexpected offers. All she could do was nod and say “Please, call me Rey.” At that moment she realized her hand was scant inches from his. She suddenly stilled, realizing her “wolf” had been seeking out the touch of this “new”, friendly wolf. Her eyes flew to meet Zeke’s, uncertainty warring with her own dominant nature, ready to casually pull her hand back as if nothing had happened if the gesture was rejected.

His eyes were calm, watching. There was no reproach or expectation or threat, only welcome. He was letting the “new wolf” investigate.

Rey's lips twisted into a wry smile, and she finished the gesture and touched his hand, gave it the friendly squeeze before returning her hand to her lap. "Can you sense her?" she asked, curiosity once again getting the better if her. She knew Chase's wolf could.

“There is only you,” he said. “You are the beast and you is you.”

"Sometimes I wonder about that," Rey replied with a soft laugh. "I find myself doing things like that without even realizing." She lifted the hand she'd touched him with as a reminder what she was talking about.

“Instinct, maybe?” he suggested.

"Most likely," she agreed. "It's going to take a while to get used to, but it will happen." At that moment, the waitress arrived with Rey's chicken fingers. Rey picked one up, and with what could only be described as a puppy-like chirp of pleasure, bit into one and sighed. Her eyes widened when she realized what she'd done, and her cheeks became tinged with pink. Her mouth still full, she nudged the plate toward Zeke in a silent offer to share with a friend.

He gave the no thanks shake of his head and stuck with his coffee. “I just come here for the coffee,” he said with a smile and chuckle.

He pulled out a wad of cash and plucked out some bills, more than enough to cover both of them and a healthy tip. He wasn’t in a particular rush right now, though, so he settled back in the seat content to finish his coffee.

Rey finished chewing what she had in her mouth. "I usually have better manners than that." She couldn't help but smile and shake her head. "I've guess I should have eaten more at dinner earlier." She knew, though, that she should be eating better in general, given the recent strain in her body, but what Mira and Chase didn't know wouldn't hurt them.

"Is the ranch still going to be the pack's place?". She didn't know what else to call it, and she didn't really have any idea who had lived there full time other than Chaska, Lyla and Kim.

“Yes,” he said. “Chaska doesn’t own any of it really, save for an old truck he took with him, a couple rifles and some personal effects. Lyla acquired everything, including that casino and the bar and set up a trust to make sure the pack was taken care of no matter what happened. Pretty forward-thinking if you ask me. That girl of hers, Jesse, takes care of money matters on behalf of the trust. The pack is pretty well set up if we don’t try to live the high life. Besides that, I have a feeling Lyla is still rich in her own right.”

"She is," Rey said with a nod. She knew how Lyla had earned a large part of her wealth, but she wasn't going to share the details. "She's also been very good at taking care of her people. I tried to follow in her example when I became the alph...." She let her voice trail off when she realized she was about to say, and took a bite of her chicken and began to chew.

He watched her curiously, giving her time to expound or let the matter drop. She knew he wasn’t going to forget her mention of becoming an alpha somewhere. If he didn’t learn about it now, he seemed to have the patience to ask later. Right now Rey had the power to choose -- he could learn from her, or perhaps he might learn from someone else later.

Rey finished her piece of chicken and wiped her fingers before she began to talk. "Few people alive know what happened, and it is probably best if I am the one to finish story. Lyla may not appreciate it, but I think she has let that part of her past go.

"Lyla rose very quickly through the ranks, becoming the alpha female if the pack only a few months after joining it. She and the alpha male almost constantly grated against each other, and finally he was fed up and decided to send her a message. He gathered all the females of the pack together and said it was open season on Lyla, and whoever took her down would be the new alpha female. I tried to stay out if it, because I wasn't a wolf, but he handed me my gun and said I was part of the pack.

"She made pretty quick work of the first two, but not without taking some major injuries. I was scared for her, she was so angry. I think she left me for last because she didn't really want to hurt me, and I just stayed back out of the way. When she started to come after me, ignoring the others, I did what I never thought I'd ever do. I shot her. Three times, and she finally went down. I prayed she'd stay down, because if she kept fighting she could die. But she stayed down. And to my utter dismay, I was declared the new female alpha of the pack."

Rey shook her head, the emotions of that time years ago still washed through her. "She was so angry, and I thought she would never forgive me for it."

“She seems to have gotten over it,” Zeke said. “And it sounds like there were reasons why it happened the way it did, but that’s none of my business. You were stuck in a difficult spot, but I see you survived the stresses of the role.”

Rey shook her head. "No, back then, I was weak, I would have lost the very first challenge that was allowed. I wasn't alpha for long before fate decided to come for me. The strength you see in me now was forged in far different fires."

He nodded, seeming to understand but it was hard to tell how much he understood. “Shapeshifter, but one from another world and fashioned by an alien power, by an intelligence rather than a cruel twist of fate.”

"Something like that," Rey said. "Though my shifting ability was not His work, but mine.". She couldn't help but smile at the memory of the Lord of the Crossroads raging as she escaped, but the smile faded when she remembered what she returned home to.

"Anyway, this world is where I was born, and where I intend to live out the rest of my days.". She gave Zeke a cheeky little grin. "Surely you don't think I came by my charming accent any way other than honestly." As she spoke, she let more of her subtle Louisiana accent color her voice.

He chuckled. “So southern accent means you’re of this world, but a British accent probably means an evil otherworldly being like bad guys in the movies.” He was obviously joking but it was funnier in that all too often the stereotype fit.

Rey laughed and sat back in her seat more comfortably, unaware of how, with the outfit she wore, it emphasized her curves. “I like this,” Rey said. “It’s… comfortable. Except for Lyla, I felt like - I felt the weight of an alpha’s power, you know?.” Sometimes it made her feel like she was a bug they were about to stick a pin in and mount on a display board. Perhaps it was because she was the omega of the Young Father Bear pack, and Chaska was, well, Chaska.

“If it’s not too bold of me, I think Stormfront is going to be more successful than ever, with you in the lead.” Rey wasn’t trying to suck up or ingratiate herself. There was no point, and it simply wasn’t her style. But in the short time she’d been talking with Zeke, she came to believe he wouldn’t keep the pack under his thumb, or be unnecessarily heavy handed in how he ruled.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” he said. “I only hope they come to accept me as alpha. But to be honest, if one of them proves stronger and a better leader, I’ll take my lumps and move aside. I don’t want to be alpha, I just think there is no better choice right now.”

“Sometimes,” Rey said softly. “The best leaders are the ones who don’t want the job.” Zeke seemed to be more interested in the health, safety and happiness of his people than in the power and prestige that came from being alpha. There could be far worse foundations to work from.