#Chapter 26 The Weak Link
I glance around the council chambers anxiously, wondering if anyone will step forward to challenge Bastien for control of the pack. The council can’t force him to step down as Alpha, but if he loses a fight to a stronger wolf he won’t have a choice.
I doubt there is anyone in Elysium strong enough to take on my husband, but this isn’t only about winning. Perception is everything. Whether or not someone can actually succeed, pack members challenging Bastien means they’ve lost confidence in his leadership, that they believe he is weak enough to unseat.
Seconds drag on like hours, mutters swarming like angry bees as Bastien turns on the spot, staring down the complainers until the chamber finally falls silent. I breathe a sigh of relief. Whatever they might say behind closed doors, when push comes to shove no one is brave enough to actually take on the Alpha.
Once he’s certain no one is going to speak up, Bastien turns back to the council. “There you have it gentlemen. You may not agree with my decisions, and questioning them is your right as advisors to this government, but until another Novan is strong enough to take my place – I am your Alpha.” His deep voice echoes around the room, “You can work with me, or you can continue working against me, but I guarantee you will not like the results if you do.”
A collective shiver works its way around the room, and I feel my own spine tremble. I’ve never seen Bastien release so much unchecked power, except perhaps when he faced down the Geminis. However it hadn’t been directed at the pack then, and it certainly is now.
“Is that a threat?” One of the councilors interjects, tacking on a nervous “Sir?” at the end.
“Take it however you like.” The Alpha replies cryptically, “I’m merely presenting the reality of your situation.”
The head elder straightens up determinedly, his gray hair practically standing on end despite his facade of confidence. “And what about your reality, Alpha?” He inquires, “Do you intend to lead the women of this pack as well as the men?”
Color flushes my cheeks as heads turn in my direction. The man was smart enough not to say it outright, but everyone knows he’s talking about my defect. Though Alphas have equal authority over all pack members, their mates are traditionally de facto leaders of the she-wolves.
I am not, and I never will be.
You cannot lead wolves if you don’t have a wolf of your own.
Bastien growls, and the elder shrinks in his seat. “I suggest you retract that question, Counselor.”
Unfortunately another counselor speaks up in his colleague’s stead, “Forgive me, Alpha, but Grigore’s question concerns us all. The fact is that we need strength in all our leaders – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
Bastien’s eyes glow silver, and I see his hands twitching as if he’s fighting to keep his claws retracted. His brawny arm jerks up, one livid finger pointing in my direction. “My wife has survived things no one else in this room ever could – myself included.” He snarls, tearing off his shirt.
His breath is coming in heavy pants, his body pushed to the brink by the effort of holding his wolf back. He throws out both arms now, drawing attention to his bare abdomen: a swath of rippling muscles covered in battlescars. “Why is it you look at my scars and see strength, but find only weakness in hers?”
At first I don’t think anyone will have the courage to respond, but after a few tense beats, the oldest counselor rises to his feet. “The difference is that your scars healed, and forgive me, but Selene’s never will.” His words drive into my chest like the sharpest knife. “It’s not her fault – no one is saying that – but the bottom line is that a shifter without their animal cannot protect themselves, let alone a pack. She is not a suitable mate for an Alpha.”
“I can’t believe you would stay after what they did to you.” Drake’s increasingly familiar voice filters through my cell phone.
We haven’t spoken since Gabriel’s funeral, and at the time we hadn’t the opportunity to discuss anything personal. Catching him up has been difficult in a house full of shifters with wolf hearing. I’ve finally secluded myself on the terrace, leaning against the railing and constantly scanning my surroundings for eavesdroppers.
“Bastien needs me.” I sigh. “The council was.. well they were awful.” I admit, my stomach roiling at the memory alone. “But he stood up for me – despite everything that’s happened between us. He stood up for me even though he doesn’t want me. I owe him the same loyalty.”
“That’s your heart talking, Selene.” Drake cautions. “Not your head.” When I don’t answer he presses on, “This man wanted nothing to do with you last week, but when something goes wrong for him he expects you to drop everything to help. That isn’t loyalty, it’s self-serving manipulation.”
“Drake, I know you’re concerned but please trust that I know my husband slightly better than you do.” I say, “Bastien is the least selfish person I’ve ever met.”
“Fine.” He concedes. “But how long is it going to last this time? How long before he throws you over again? He’s going to stop needing you eventually, especially with the pack pressuring him to do something he already wanted.” The truth of his words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I slide down onto the ground as he continues. “You told me Bastien finding out about the baby is the last thing you want to happen, right?”
“Yes.” I confirm.
“Well by my estimate you’ve only got one more week before he scents it on you.” Drake asserts, “So you need to decide what’s more important: supporting a man who doesn’t love you, or claiming freedom for yourself and your child?”
Tears burn in my eyes, “Maybe there’s a way to mask the scent.” I’m grasping at straws and I know it. “I’ll go see the doctor tomorrow, maybe he can help.”
I can practically hear Drake shaking his head. “That’s a bandaid at best. What happens when you start showing?”
“That won’t be for another month or so.” I reply, “Because my morning sickness is so bad the doctor actually said I was more likely to lose weight than gain it.”
Frustration is evident in his voice now. “It’s your decision, Selene. And I will help you whatever you choose, but please think about what I’ve said. This is too important to risk.”
“Thank you, Drake.” I exhale, feeling considerably sadder than when I made the call, but slightly less stressed. “I promise I’ll think about it.”
“Good.” He answers warmly. “I only want what’s best for you.”
A knock on the door pulls my attention from the crime reports in my hands, and I call out for Aiden to enter. I don’t need to look up to know it’s him. I smelled him when he arrived twenty minutes ago and have been listening to his distinct footsteps of him pacing outside my door ever since.
“You going to tell me why you’ve been hovering outside my office for almost half an hour?” I wonder aloud.
Aiden clears his throat. “We have a problem.”
Now I do look up. “What kind of problem?”
His lips tighten to a straight line. “There are rumors going around the city about the Alpha’s death. It seems word got out about the secret tunnel.”
“How?” I demand. “The only people who knew about that were us and the enforcement investigators.”
“Well,” Aiden reasons, “The killer knows too.”
“So,” I speak the words slowly forming in my thoughts. “You think they might’ve put the information out there so that the enforcers would be able to use it as an indication of guilt in interrogations?”
“Or to undermine you.” Aiden theorizes with obvious agitation, “The rumors… it… people are saying it had to be an inside job – because only the Alpha’s family knew about the escape passage.”
“An inside job.” I repeat. “Meaning me – because I stand to gain the most from his death.”
My Beta tips his head in confirmation.
#Chapter 26 The Weak Link
“Why would I need to use an escape tunnel to break into my own house?” I ask through clenched fangs.
“Maybe it wasn’t about getting in, maybe it was about not being seen.” He suggests. There are security cameras all over the place.”
“Which I could disable if I wanted to commit murder.” I growi, “It makes no sense.”
“Yes, well we both know truth and logic don’t mean a d**n when it comes to gossip.” He remarks solemnly.
“First I’m unfit because a forged memorial invitation was sent to the Geminis.” I recount, bracing my hands on my desk and fantasizing about sweeping everything on its surface to the ground. “Then I’m unfit because my mate doesn’t have a wolf. And now I’m a murderer?”
“I’m afraid we’re in the middle of a game no one told us we were playing.” Aiden says, agreeing with my unspoken suspicions. “Clearly, your father wasn’t the killer’s only target.
“Alright.” I try to shake the bloodthirsty thoughts from my mind and summon some rationality. “So who are we playing against, and what the hell is their next move going to be?”