Jean-Michel Gautier, alpha of New Orleans, stood at the back of the room and listened as the fate of the all-female pack located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina was debated. He shook his head. Someone needed to drag these relics of another time into something even close to the twenty-first century.
The all-female pack known as Bae Diogel or Safe Harbor had successfully fought off a raid by a rogue band of Serbian wolves looking to capture the women and return to their homeland with them as mates. Things hadn’t worked out so well for the Serbs. Not only had they been entirely unsuccessful, rumor had it that the women had killed several of them and had sent the rest home with their tails between their legs.
What an extraordinary group of women. How were they living, and it sounded like thriving, under the very noses of the Ruling Council without being detected? Jean-Michel thought to himself as the smile on his face grew wider. What glorious mates they would be.
Jean-Michel was a shifter-born as opposed to a human-turned. He could trace his wolf ancestry back hundreds of years. They say the last Gautier who had not been born a shifter was Jean Lafitte, the famous pirate from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century. Much controversy and speculation still surrounded Lafitte’s origins and death. Being a direct descendant, Jean-Michel knew that both had been obscured to cover up Lafitte’s amazing ability to recover from what should have been mortal wounds and his longer than average life.
Gautier was the last surname that Lafitte had used before dying in his bed an old man surrounded by his mate and their offspring in the Crescent City… New Orleans. There had been a Gautier as the alpha of the New Orleans pack ever since that time. Jean-Michel had not only earned his place as alpha by means of heredity and alpha status but by being unanimously chosen by his pack to lead them.
Like most alpha males, Jean-Michel possessed an intimidating physical presence. He was a bit over six feet tall and had the muscular physique common to alphas. His hair was long and golden brown with dark streaks running through it. He had a well-developed core with chiseled abs and well-defined arms and legs. He had a sensual mouth and laughing eyes.
The New Orleans pack was one of the oldest, wealthiest, and most stable in the world and had been for centuries. Treasure inherited from Lafitte himself and invested wisely had ensured the pack would never be without a home or the funds it needed to sustain itself.
Jean-Michel was known to be generous to a fault and quick to laugh, but those who had done so, knew it was dangerous to cross him. His pack had wanted to see him mated for some time. He preferred to enjoy the company of many females—both wolf and human—until he heard the call of his true mate. The story passed down from generation to generation in his family was that the male members of his family would always know their fated mate by the faint fragrance of crepe jasmine that was an integral part of her distinctive scent.
Jean-Michel barely paid attention to the debate on the floor of the Council’s meeting place. There were some pack leaders, a small minority, who felt, as he did, the way to resolve the problem of Bae Diogel was to invite them into the Council and then work toward integrating them into one or more of the established packs. At the same time, they could be offered the protection of the Council—although they may not see a need for it. Unfortunately, the majority of his brethren seemed to believe they could dictate to the rogue band of females that they disband and agree to be mated to an alpha of the Council’s choosing.
Jean-Michel agreed that they should be integrated into established packs but not forcibly. He also believed that trying to dictate anything to these women who had carved out a life and a place for themselves would not be accomplished easily or peacefully. Could the Council not see that the women of Bae Diogel would fight and kill to protect themselves and their home? He began to consider options for ensuring one or more of them came to find New Orleans as home. His pack, at this point, was overrun with unmated males, himself among them. Could the one he’d been waiting for be in North Carolina? Was that where she’d been hiding?
He turned from his musing back to the matter at hand. It had come to a vote. As he had thought it would, the majority voted to issue Bae Diogel an invitation, basically a demand, to disband and surrender themselves to the Council for their futures to be decided. Jean-Michel’s fears about how badly this might go were mitigated somewhat when he heard Dylan Grainger, one of those who voted against the proposal, was to head up the retrieval and reintegration of the women.
Jean-Michel walked out of the Council’s chambers shaking his head and laughing at the foolishness of those who believed they could honor the past by refusing to look to and embrace the future.
Darby Callan sat and listened as Skylar Owen, alpha of Bae Diogel, outlined their choices… none of which was good. They had successfully defended themselves and their home when a pack of wolves from Serbia had crossed the Atlantic and attacked. Even though they were surprised by the actual attack, they had always anticipated someone trying to curtail their freedom.
Darby had come to Bae Diogel after having left an abusive mate. The very thought of having to be in his presence again made her shudder. The man who had turned her mother and then sired Darby had given her to the alpha of a rival pack in settlement of a debt. He had marked her as his mate and then abused her. Finally, one night when he had passed out drunk while still inside her, Darby had managed to push him off and escape. The rumors of an all-female pack off the coast of North Carolina had been whispered among the females of the wolf-shifter society for years. They were said to offer a safe harbor to female wolves in need. Taking only the clothes on her back, she had fled into the night.
Darby had been with the women of Bae Diogel for almost two years. It was the first place she’d ever felt was her home. When they were attacked by the Serbian wolf pack, they had all fought viciously to send them packing and to stay together. Both Skylar and Roz, the alpha and beta respectively of their pack, had cautioned them not to celebrate too quickly. They both feared that the attack and their success in fighting it off would probably bring unwanted attention to their existence. There was grave concern that the Ruling Council would take the notion of an all-female pack as an affront and move against them. That concern had come home to roost this morning when a messenger had delivered an ultimatum from the Ruling Council.
“But, Sky, we sent those Serbs packing… at least the ones we sent home…”
“I know. But that was one small pack. And they weren’t anticipating much, if any, of a defense on our part. If the Ruling Council moves against us, it’ll be all of the packs in the US and Canada. We don’t stand a chance against them.”
“Then what are you suggesting we do?”
“Anyone who wants to stay is welcome to do so with my blessing. But I won’t stay and I can’t win if I fight, so I’m going to run. If we move quickly we may be able to outmaneuver them.”
“What do you mean by quickly?”
“This afternoon. Anyone wanting to come, gather your things and meet me on the dock. Does anyone want to stay?” Skylar searched each of the seven faces she had come to call pack and family. She smiled sadly. “I didn’t think so. Then once we’re outside, I’m going to torch our home.”
There was a collective gasp and murmurs not to do it.
Sky held up her hand. “No, there’s too much of us here. Too many things they might be able to use against us. And if I’m going to be forced from my home, I’ll be damned if I leave them anything but ashes. Now, let’s get moving. Their noose may be already closing around us.”
The women dispersed and grabbed those possessions they held most dear. They were assembled outside within the hour. Skylar had started a fire in the fire pit on the patio. There were eight torches. Each woman took a torch and went to a designated spot next to the house. Together and as one they set fire to their past and all their hopes for the future. Skylar watched as each of them fought back her tears and headed for the Zodiac on the dock.
Anna joined Skylar and Roz and handed Skylar a small electronic device. “That ought to do the trick,” she said. “You should be able to control the sailboat and sail it right into the bastards if they’re out there. Oh, Sky, I’m so…”
“Don’t, Anna. We can’t afford to indulge our worries and sorrows. We need to forge ahead. If we’re to pull this off, we’re going to need all of us operating at maximum strength and capacity.”
They joined the other women. Skylar turned the device on and found that Anna had outdone herself. The sailboat handled almost as if she were aboard. Anna had installed a failsafe switch, and once thrown, there was no going back. The sailboat’s engines would come to life at full throttle and a small incendiary device would send it up in flames.
Skylar maneuvered the sailboat out in front of the Zodiac. Roz sat at the bow opposite her, and Darby had the tiller of the Zodiac and piloted it behind the sailboat at a safe distance.
One of the cabin cruisers they’d seen patrolling the water off their island was closing fast. The big cabin cruiser stopped squarely in the middle of the channel between two sand spits ostensibly blocking their way. As the Zodiac could easily pass him on either side, the man in charge of the cabin cruiser was proving himself a fool. A powerful male voice came over a PA system: “Women of Bae Diogel. Stop and prepare to be boarded.”
“Who the hell does he think he is, the British Navy?” asked Roz.
Skylar smiled at her. “I don’t much care. If he doesn’t move his ass fast enough, he’ll be abandoning his own boat and hopefully his buddies in the other boat will go save them.”
The disembodied voice repeated its command as the sailboat came closer and the Zodiac powered down. Skylar motioned to Darby to ease back on the throttle of the Zodiac. They needed to put distance between it and the sailboat. When the latter was about twenty-five yards from its target, Skylar hit the failsafe switch. As Anna had intended, the sailboat’s engines engaged at full throttle making a beeline for the heavy cabin cruiser. A few seconds later, the whole thing went up in flames. A moment after that, it crashed broadside into the cabin cruiser, forcing her crew to jump into the ocean.
Darby gunned the engine on the Zodiac and sped around the flaming boats and crew. She made for open water as fast as the Zodiac would go.
Darby heard Roz shout to Skylar over the cheers of their pack, the curses of the men in the water, and the roar of the fire. “The other cabin cruiser looks like it’s headed to save their buddies. I think we’ve made it.”
“Not bloody likely,” called Skylar. “The man they put in charge is ex-Special Forces; if he’s sent that cabin cruiser to help those men, he’s not far from here and means to catch us himself.” Skylar took over the Zodiac’s engine and tiller from Darby.
Darby moved up to the bow opposite Roz. They both watched as Lacey, the pack’s omega, tried to encourage everyone to not lose heart. Skylar maneuvered the Zodiac close to the shore into more shallow water, hoping that whatever Dylan Grainger had coming after them would draw too much water to get close.
Darby was the first to see the power boat closing on them. “Sky, look, they’ve spotted us.” Skylar increased the power to the Zodiac’s engine trying to put as much distance between them as possible. “Shit!” called Darby. “The boat’s a smuggler’s boat. They’re going to be able to follow us into shallow water.”
Once again, they were hailed with a PA system. “Enough, Skylar. You can’t get away. I’ve got more power and speed than you. Heave to and let’s conclude this peacefully.”
The women of Bae Diogel responded as one with a one-fingered salute from every member of her pack on the Zodiac with her.
Again, the PA crackled. “Naughty. Naughty. That’s a very disrespectful way to respond to a courteous request. Let’s try again. Heave to or we’ll run you aground. I’ve got men trained to engage the enemy with me and you won’t get far. Any woman who has to be chased down will get her bottom spanked hard enough that she’ll need to stand for the ride back to Calon Gwyllt. But heave to and we’ll forget this bit of nonsense ever happened.”
Skylar, recognizable even at a distance by her wild mane of red hair, handed the rudder over to one of her pack, stood up in the Zodiac, turned, leveled a flare gun at him and fired. He only had a minute to push more power to his engines and steer away, barely avoiding being hit with the flare.
Skylar took control of the Zodiac and called to the women she had vowed to protect, “This is it. I’m going onto the beach at full speed. Leave your things, shift, and run for your lives. I’ll try to hold them back if I can.”
“We won’t leave you, Sky.”
“You have to. Don’t you see? If even one of us gets away, she can live her life for the rest of us. Promise me. All of you.”
They nodded as Skylar gunned the engines once again and headed straight for the beach.
The Zodiac hit the beach at full speed, creating a furrow of one hundred yards before its engine gave out. The women jumped out, shifted into their wolf forms, and ran scattering along the beach. The speedboat came in right behind them but stopped just short of running aground.
Dylan’s men hit the beach, shifting as they did so and each headed after the woman he had been assigned to capture. They gave Skylar a wide berth.
Darby heard Dylan shout to one of his men, “Get after her, Matthew. She’s taken off to the hard right!”
Darby shifted into her wolf form and ran for all she was worth. The blood pumped through her veins as she tried to outrun the wolf she could hear behind her. One by one, the men who served the man the Council had sent to destroy them ran down her pack mates. Only she and Roz remained free. But then Roz was taken down by a large gray wolf with a white-tipped tail. He grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and shook her until she relented and reverted to human form.
Darby could hear the breathing of the large wolf closing the distance between them. She’d almost made the dunes when he pounced, knocking the wind out of her. He too grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and shook. Darby growled, snarled, and tried to reach back to bite him. It did no good. He was bigger, stronger, and had her pinned. Reluctantly she too shifted back.
“It’s all right. No one wants to hurt you,” said the man Grainger had called Matthew, who now had hold of her arms to keep her from bolting.
“No, of course not. I heard your leader, he means to see all of us beaten for not doing as we’re told.”
Matthew chuckled. “Why is it that whenever one of you girls gets caught doing something naughty and is held accountable, we get accused of beating you?”
“What would you call it?”
“I would call it well-deserved punishment for your misbehavior this afternoon. Nice stunt with the sailboat by the way. Dylan was impressed.”
“I don’t give a damn about impressing whoever this Dylan bastard is.”
“You’d best learn to give a damn. He’s your new alpha. I’m sure he’ll make certain allowances given your circumstances, but he won’t tolerate disrespect. Best you keep a civil tongue in your head.” Matthew stood and brought her up with him. “What’s your name?”
Darby stared at him and said nothing. Matthew shook his head and led her back to the beach to join the other members of Bae Diogel. As they were approaching, Darby heard Skylar call to Roz.
“How many, Roz?”
“All of us, Sky. They have us all.” Roz sounded as defeated as she’d ever heard her; her voice indicated she was on the verge of tears. Roz never cried. Darby searched those on the beach. None of them had escaped. Seeing that Roz was correct was like a physical blow.
Dylan offered Skylar a deal. His voice was firm, but not unkind.
“It’ll be all right, Sky,” he started. “I won’t let that little maneuver with the flare gun or you threatening me with a knife go without punishment. And I hate to tell you, but I think that punishment needs to be now for your pack’s sake, for my men’s sake, and frankly for your sake. The sooner you recognize and accept my authority over you, the easier this will be on everyone. But I’ll make you a deal.”
“You have nothing to offer me that I want,” answered Skylar.
“I think I do. I had planned to have your pack disciplined before we head for home. My thought was if the lot of you were nursing sore bottoms, you’d be a lot easier to deal with on a small boat. But, if you put down the knife and submit to my authority, you’ll be the only one spanked. I’ll give the others a pass as having acted on your orders. But mark my words, I intend to make your first spanking from me memorable.”
“That’s not much of a deal.”
“Oh, but it is,” he said with the barest hint of a smile on his face. “Either way, I intend to go sit down on that log, put you over my knee, bare your pretty little backside, and paddle it until it’s bright red and swollen. Get nasty while I’m doing it, and you’ll get your first taste of my belt. Take my deal and you’re the only one who gets spanked. Refuse my deal, I’ll disarm you, spank you until you’re crying, and take my belt to your backside and leave welts behind. And your pack members will each get a good taste of the discipline they obviously need before we head for home. So, what is it to be, mate? Just you or your women too?”
Darby watched Skylar search Dylan’s face for the veracity and severity of his words. There wasn’t a woman among them who didn’t realize he was willing to spare them, but only if Skylar submitted.
“I have your word they won’t be disciplined for our bid for freedom?” Skylar asked softly.
Skylar took the knife and threw it, landing it precisely between Dylan’s spread feet.
The men all seemed surprised when Skylar surrendered, but the women who called her alpha were not surprised in the least. To the bitter end, Skylar would defend them as best she could.
The women were loaded on board the powerboat, unable to help their leader as the man who called himself her mate sat down on a log, bared her bottom, and then put her across his knee and began to spank her. All Darby could hear was the lapping of the water against the side of the boat and Dylan’s hand connecting with Skylar’s ass. She and the others struggled to no avail.
“It’ll be all right,” whispered Matthew. “The sooner she learns to yield to him, the easier it will be for her. He won’t hurt her.”
“Really? Ever had your ass beaten by someone big and brawny? Hot news flash, it’s painful.”
Matthew smiled and stroked her hair. “I know. But she’s been naughty for some time and particularly so this afternoon. There’s no way Dylan could let that slide. Some members of the Council already want his head on a platter for being so lenient with you ladies. Now settle down. She’s his fated mate. He’s been waiting for her. Hopefully, Dylan will be able to find yours as well.”
“I won’t mate again. You’ll have to kill me.”
Matthew chuckled. “Don’t be so melodramatic. No one is going to kill you. In fact, there are some that will like that defiant, sassy attitude. I’m not one of them so if you keep poking at me, I’ll ask Dylan to make an exception for you not getting spanked and see to it myself. Now sit down while you can still do so comfortably.”
Finally, the sound of Skylar being punished ceased and she was allowed to get on the boat with the tall man the pack at Calon Gwyllt called alpha. He kept Skylar from joining her women and kept her at his side. The trip back to Calon Gwyllt was long and would have been cold save for the blanket Matthew insisted on wrapping around her.