"I'm not surprised. I'll check in with him tomorrow. There are growing lists of things we need to purchase. I have to know what funds we have that are safe to use. We are doing everything that Were lawyer recommended to separate ourselves from the past but I'm on pins and needles waiting for demands to appear from the human legal system or previous illegal partners. I wanted to destroy all the contraband but we've had to make some deals to be able to walk away without consequences."

Beth sighed, "Don't tell me any more about that. The sooner everything here is on the right side of human and wolf law the better."

"Do you want to go home to the Jenkins Pack Beth? You don't have to stay here, you have done more than enough for me."

Beth shook her head, "No, I want to stay. I'm useful here and my family understands."

"Ok. Remember what I told you - if anything happens to me, if our pack can't hold this place, you go. You get to the emergency cache, take a bag and you run. The others have a chance to remain part of a pack here, even with a Richard-backed leader, but you don't."

"I know ... I won't like it, not one bit, but I will run."

"Good. Now you need to rest too, so stop hovering and go to bed. I promise I'll call it a day very soon."

******************************

Liam's POV

Richard Trust Land

Jacob had made the suggestion, maybe as a bit of a joke, but Helen had taken him up on it and now the three of them were sitting on the overgrown remains of a stone foundation passing around a very expensive bottle of champagne. One of the things that hadn't been damaged was the Richard's wine collection and they'd assumed a little pilfering wouldn't be an issue for Jessie (and if not ... better to ask for forgiveness than permission!)

The old manor site was mostly lost to time, overgrown with trees and shrubs. Only someone who knew where to look would find it. Before the sun had gone down they'd driven an ATV around the area, making note of what little remained, before Liam had identified the cellar where he and Jacob had been imprisoned so very long ago. Laughing, he'd practically danced around the pile of stones, before picking Helen up out of the vehicle and plunking her down on a somewhat comfortable spot.

"Here's to surviving from then to now, despite all the odds!"

Liam passed the bottle to Helen, who took another very small sip before passing it to Jacob.

"I'm really not supposed to drink. It's very tasty but don't tempt me with any more, please."

Liam nodded, and gave her a hug.

"It is so damn good to see you again, and despite all the lousy memories of this spot, good to be here together."

Jacob grunted, "One more Richard to go, and then I will try very hard never to think of this place again."

Helen sighed, "Are you still sleepwalking?"

Jacob shook his head, "No, I haven't done that for months. I hadn't thought about it until just now, but I haven't dreamt of Silvie at all. Even saying her name ... I don't have the twinge in my guts that I used to have. How odd ..."

Liam smiled, feeling the fresh scars tug on his face, "Say Jessie's name and tell me what twinges. I know what she does to me and I'll bet you feel the same."

Helen looked him, then Jacob, then back at him. "Tell me the truth, both of you ... are you really managing to share her? No secret thoughts of fratricide and keeping her for yourself?"

Liam looked at his brother, shaking his head. "Jessie has never favoured one of us over the other, it is obvious that her gryphon feels possessive of both of us, and I've managed to keep my wolf in line. It has gotten easier over time, I know she truly cares for us". He grinned, "When the three of us are in bed together it's a bit awkward though, we two are constantly trying not to touch each other, only her."

Jacob made a choking sound, "Too much sharing there brother!"

"Well it's true. The only time we've ever cuddled up naked next to each other is when I fell through the ice and almost died, and even then it was weird and you know it. As wolves we are perfectly happy wrapped around each other any time but as men ... can't do that. Don't even mention a caress or kiss that misses Jessie and lands elsewhere. Maybe if we were not brothers ..."

Jacob sighed, "I think it's because we are brothers, and we've been best friends for so very long, that we have managed to share her without killing each other. What we have with her is not a mate bond. As far as I know, a mate bond is one-to-one only. If Jessie finds her mate we'll lose her. I don't know how I would cope with that."

Liam stared out into the night, suddenly silent. The thought of losing Jessie, in any way, scared him too.

******************************

Jacob's POV

RIchard Trust Land

He looked at his watch, hoping he wasn't about to wake Jessie up, before making the phone call. He winced as a rough, sleepy voice answered after four rings.

"Jacob, how's it going?"

"I woke you didn't I? Sorry. I probably won't get another chance to check in before we get on the road and I know you have a Council meeting at 11am."

She sighed, "Beth will likely tattle on me later, I didn't get to bed until late last night, but it's ok. My alarm was about to go off anyway. How are things there?"

"We've just got to make sure the shipments we agreed to release get picked up this morning, then we're on our way back. Helen will do the work of destroying whatever bits remain after. This place will safely pass inspection soon, should that ever be required."

"Great. How many of Helen's associates are willing to help us secure Algonquin land for a while? Have we got any answers to our request yet?"

Jacob sighed, "Many are still considering it, we've got fourteen willing to come live on the property with us so far and yes, a couple are not wolves. Do you really want to try this? I think the two WereCougars who are interested are doing it just to see if you are serious. Your conditions, especially that any who come must accept you as their Alpha and link with you, have triggered a lot of discussion. You may not get more until the first group of volunteers tells others if they are happy or not."

"Not surprised. We can't keep the rogues who are here helping now for much longer, none want to stay. We've got to replace them soon. I've talked to a few more Alphas from the group Jenkins trusts and no worthy pack wolves are eager to switch to the Algonquin Pack at the moment ... Jenkins told me there's some kind of betting game going on as to how long I last."

Jacob laughed, "I'll tell Liam, he'll find a way to get in on that action."

Jessie groaned, "As long as he picks a very long time I won't give him hell for it ... And how did it go with Anabelle's father?"

"Oh he's still unhappy, very much so. It's not just that his daughter is now in a Pack, linked to an Alpha, but she's in the Algonquin Pack and in danger. Helen says he's always been distant, won't talk about his past, doesn't trust too many people other than Helen and that took many years to develop. He's willing to stay close by to help us, because of his daughter, but he won't join the pack so he'll be living outside the fence. We are going to have to find a job for him, keep him busy."

"Will he meet with me? If I can touch him, maybe I can help him."

He sighed, "No ... Jessie, it seems people are talking about you ... all who saw your partial shift when you defeated Stephen Richard saw your eyes and your arms, and the way you defeated him ... there's talk that you sucked Stephen Richard's soul from his body ..."

"Good lord, are you telling me they think I'm some kind of dementor?!"

"Sort of, I guess ... if that kind of talk keeps up, it's going to make things complicated for you ..."

******************************

Jessie's POV

Algonquin Pack Land

"You have to take them!"

Jessie's headache ramped up another notch. "No, I don't. As Alpha I get to choose, and I did. I know I have room for more than I have. Once the situation here is stable I will consider new requests to join my pack, and I have too many single wolves so I want to set up opportunities for them to find mates, but any wolf I've rejected is NOT coming back here."

"There are at least 40 more rogues wandering about because of you damn it. This is a disaster."

She shook her head, "That many didn't ask another Alpha to accept them? Or they asked, but none of you want them either? I didn't create those messed up wolves, a lot of looking the other way by this Council did that. If they are a problem then it's a problem for ALL of us now. They know the rules, if they don't keep our secrets their lives are forfeit. Rogues can get jobs in the human world and survive. Let them figure it out, maybe some will redeem themselves, who knows."

The Council meeting was going pretty much as Jessie had expected it would, one topic after another where she got raked over the coals. First it was complaining (again) about her decision to give Helen use of the Richard Trust, then it was complaining (again) about her acceptance of rogues and non-wolves on pack land, now it was all the rejected wolves (again) ... they'd move on to other topics (again) in horribly predictable order. Her talons were out, ripping holes in her chair. She couldn't afford to replace her office furniture every week, she was going to have to get a grip.

"Can we just get through the things you are all upset about so we can maybe do something productive in today's meeting? Let's see, what's left to whine about ... yes, I really do have two votes in the Council, one for the Richard Trust and one for the Algonquin Pack; yes, Algonquin Enterprises in out of business and I am handling the issues with that, no thanks to any of you; yes, the De Vries brothers are still and will remain my Beta seconds; yes, my victory over Stephen Richard was righteous no matter how unconventional it was; and yes, I'm a lot stronger than I look. Did I miss anything?"

After a few moments of blessed silence, somebody spoke up, "Are we going to continue to extend the suspension of the Council's order regarding the De Vries rogues?"

She jumped on that right away, "They are no longer rogues!"

"Whatever ... turn them over, or finish them yourself, but let's be done with it."

"Not going to happen. If you are tired of renewing the suspension then just rescind the order. I am the Richard Alpha, I want that order overturned now, fuck anything Mark Richard wants ... he's the rogue now and has no rights here any longer."

Another silence, then Alpha Jenkins spoke, "I move that we suspend the De Vries order for six months, I don't want to discuss this at every meeting."

She still had enough Alphas on her side to get that done, barely. More fence sitting. She didn't want to live this way, being pecked at and hunkered down waiting for Mark Richard to make the next move. The next move was going to be hers, if she could ever find time and energy in the day to make a damn plan!

Almost two hours later the meeting was over. All pack members who were free to join a pack run were gathering outside the main house. She could sense that Jacob and Liam were on their way back but were not going to make it in time. As she walked out onto the porch she couldn't help a quick laugh - it looked like she was in charge of a nudist colony. Of course nobody showed up wearing clothes, no sense in that. Beth walked out of the house and grinned at her, knowing Jessie was going to have to strip in front of everyone ... and that she wasn't completely at ease in this world yet.

Glad to see you all for our first pack run together! I did a quick poll and it seems everyone enjoys the route north up to and around the lake, then back through the trees along the fence line. If I get off-track I'm relying on somebody to correct me, please and thank you.

She finished removing her clothes, trying not to blush, tossing everything over a nearby chair and stood at the top of the stairs.

I know you are aware that I'm not a typical wolf ... I'm a gryphon, a mix of wolf and bird.

Her other half was quivering with happiness, desperate to go. As she pushed forward and out, Jessie heard Beth gasp, "Whoa Jessie, what the hell?!"

What?

You are bigger, quite a lot bigger, your eyes are huge, your feathers are not fluffy any more, you've got black ones mixed in with the white ... and you've got horns, sharp nasty ones ... I'm sorry but you look a bit ... well ... creepy.

Really?

She looked down at the members of her pack. They were staring at her. She bent her head to look at her feet and drummed her talons on the porch deck. They did look bigger but it was hard to tell from her perspective. Her head felt a bit odd, she tilted it back and forth and shook from her shoulders to her tail ... everything seemed to be working ok. She looked up and let out a long, loud howl. That felt good.

Let's go!

She leapt off the deck in one bound (hum ... nice), weaving between people who were shifting to join her, and headed away at full speed. It was a warm late fall afternoon, everything smelled wonderful, she felt sooooooo alive. It took a few minutes before she realized she was all alone. She stopped. This was supposed to be a group-bonding activity ... it wouldn't work without the pack. While she waited for the others to catch up, she used a front foot to carefully find her horns. They were at least six inches long. She hoped they were not going to grow like antlers.

She could sense wolves approaching and heard happy chatter in her head. They were in two groups, many of the adults first, the slower and younger ones together behind. It had been a long time since they had run together. She stood still as they all cautiously surrounded her, rubbing against her and each other, touching noses. She could tell she was bigger, no wolf with her today was larger. Maybe she should be worried about how and why she'd mutated (if that was the right way to think of it? ... and looking more like a demon wasn't going to be good for her soul-sucking reputation) but for some reason it wasn't bothering her. Once everyone had gathered, she led them at a comfortable pace to the lake. They left the young ones to play while all those fit and strong picked up speed to run around the lake. Jessie felt great, nothing hurt, she wasn't tired.

The pack rested and played together for a while as the sun sank lower. Jessie got plenty of attention, her odd look didn't seem to be bothering anyone much once the shock wore off. Her horns now got in the way sometimes when she rolled, she was going to have to get used to that, figure out what she could do with them. She missed Jacob and Liam terribly, and wondered if they would be put off by the way she looked now. She hoped not.

As night fell, with a clear sky full of stars, it was finally time to go back. They spread out, trotting through the forest along the eastern boundary. Jessie hung back, keeping track of a few tired stragglers.

Alpha, there's an odd sound, it comes and goes. Can you hear it?

She stopped and listened carefully but heard nothing unusual.

No. What did it sound like?

A soft whirring. It got louder for a second then faded away.

Everyone stop and drop. Listen please. Look around carefully, look up. Pack, full alert!

One of the younger wolves out front of the group saw it first and knew what it was.

It's a drone. It's black so it's hard to see but against the stars you can find it. Its moving along the east boundary, going south inside the fence.

Got another one! It's moving south along the west boundary.

Maybe someone was simply scouting the property but it didn't matter ... Jessie wasn't going to take any chances and she was pissed.

Keep eyes on them, don't lose them. Children and any adult wolf who cannot fight move to the emergency shelter now ... go! Everyone else, spread out through the trees along the boundary, stay low. Anyone know how far away the operator can be from those things?

If they're military, who knows. If they're commercial, then I think it's six or seven miles max, and they can't stick around long ... maybe 30 minutes air time at most. They could be programmed, just doing a pattern and then return, nobody driving them.

Jacob, Liam and their escorts were almost home. She called out to them, told them what was happening and had the two cars split up to check every road in the area. Maybe there was a vehicle somewhere with the operator(s?). Her Betas were furious, she felt it necessary to ask them not to kill anyone they found.

The drones have crossed the fence, leaving the property, still going south, above the trees.

On edge, she reviewed where every member of her pack was. She could picture their locations on a mental map in her head. Only one was out of place ... again.

Edward! You had better be focused on your duty right now and not your mate. Anabelle, leave the west gate and go to the emergency shelter right now!

Neither of them answered her, Anabelle didn't move away from the gate. She called to the other guard at the gate with them. He didn't answer either. She began to run.

West gate compromised! Tim, Micah, Lara with me. Everyone else spread out, check the fence, every building. Don't take chances, stay behind cover as much as possible. Call out if anything is out of place.

The gate was wide open. There were three bodies on the ground as Jessie and the others carefully checked the area from the trees. Someone who knew what they were doing had entered, had silenced three pack members before they could give any warning, had known if they'd been killed she would have felt that.

What were they after? Were they still on the property? Did the drones have a purpose or were they just a distraction? Fuck! Tim looked at her.

Alpha, let me go out in the open by myself. I'll scent the area.

She nodded and he slowly moved out of the trees, checking each downed wolf and the gate.

Two wolves, males, did this ... I don't recognize them ...

Tim circled the area several times. Jessie and the other two with her scented and searched the treeline all around. They all finally agreed that the two intruders had not gone any further onto the property, had left the same way they'd come. WTF?!

Jessie left the three wolves with her to watch the gate and take care of the first three who were slowly waking up. For the rest of the night the pack and the remaining Lavalle visitors looked everywhere but nothing else was found, nothing was missing, no one was seriously hurt ... and nothing came of the search for a vehicle outside the fence either. No one could determine where the drones had ended up.

Everyone was worried and tired. As the sun rose, Jessie gave the all clear for those in shelter to come out and told everyone not on guard to go to their homes, eat and rest. She doubled the boundary patrols. No one was to go anywhere alone for a while.

Jacob stood on the porch of the main house with his arms wrapped around Jessie, staring south, "Someone is sending us a message, that's got to be what this is. Telling us the pack is vulnerable, that we can be attacked."

Jessie groaned, "We know that damn it! Our numbers are too small to properly protect a property this large and we don't have enough warriors. But why show us that we are weak? Is Mark Richard doing this, to make us afraid or something?"

Jacob and Liam shook their heads, "No, it can't be him. He wants us, all three of us. If he gets a chance he'll use it, take us or kill us. He's not one to play with us."

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