Alina watched him carefully while he spoke, noticing the faint lines that ran along his skin. Even after two centuries her mate was still unbelievably handsome, but it seemed the stress of life was catching up with him.

"Sometimes dominant wolves have to be pushed over the edge when they won't jump on their own. Why do you think that is?" Alina's tone was teasing.

Vasile's lips lifted slightly. "Even us dominants have to have one flaw, Luna, otherwise it wouldn't be fair."

Alina laughed and shook her head at her mate's forever cockiness.

"I spy something green," Sally announced.

"Trees," Crina hollered, while Mariana called out, "Grass,"

"Nope," Sally answered.

"What's the point of this game again?" Crina asked.

"Mindless entertainment," Jen announced. “It's what Americans are known for."

Fane and Decebel laughed at Jen's words.

Vasile had devised the riding assignments, and so Jen, Jacque, and Sally had been paired with Crina and Mariana as well as Decebel and Fane. One big, happy family, Jen thought as she looked around the cab of the Hummer. She was really glad that Crina and Mariana had turned out to be cool. It would have sucked big time had they turned out to be ninnies.

"Anymore guesses?" Sally asked.

"I think we've had enough of I Spy, Sal," Jacque told her.

Sally's face fell briefly, but perked up when she said, "Okay, how about -"

Before she could finish, Jen cut her off. "How about we discuss the plans for when we arrive at this little 'meet your baby daddy' festival."

The entire vehicle erupted in laughter at Jen's slang. Jen blushed ferociously when Dec gave her a heart-stopping grin.

"How do you all keep from peeing on yourselves when she's around?" Crina asked, wiping the tears that had welled up in her eyes.

"No doubt, it's tough," Jacque told her. "And sometimes it's wise to bring a change of clothes if you're going to be around her for any extended period of time."

After the laughing and bantering finally died down, Fane addressed Jen's earlier question.

"I think tonight there is a large gathering with all the packs to lay out the ground rules and purpose behind The Gathering," Fane explained. "There will be lots of mated pairs all around and Alphas to keep the males in check."

"I feel like I should wear a raincoat or something," Jen only halfway joked.

Crina laughed. "I take it you're afraid someone's going to hike a leg?"

Jen grinned. "I knew from the moment I heard you take on Vasile I would like you."

Decebel rolled his eyes. "Great, now we're really outnumbered."

"Don't you forget it, bucko." Jen tossed a crumpled piece of paper but he caught it before it hit him.

"You do like to push your luck don't you, Jennifer?" he asked her.

"Push it, or just give it a great big shove. Whatever gets the job done." She winked at him and then slid down into her seat. "I'm going to try and catch some Zs before we get there. I have a feeling I'm going to need my wits about me."

"That could be a problem, Jen. You have to have -" Sally started.

"Not another word, Sally." Jen's words were followed by snickers from the other girls, and then the vehicle fell silent.

Thad watched as his wolves set up the meeting room with chairs and tables for the packs. The American pack had already arrived and was getting settled into their rooms. The others were due to arrive any moment.

Thad's eyes followed the movement around the room but his mind was elsewhere. He couldn't help but wonder if he would finally find his true mate among those who were coming to The Gathering. Two centuries was too long to be without a mate. Especially when the other Alphas were all mated. He wasn't a weak Alpha by any means, but it was a fact that a mated Alpha was a stronger Alpha. So regardless of his own strength, until he was mated he would not stand a chance against another.

Thad was pulled from his thoughts when the double doors to the large room opened. He watched as Vasile and his mate entered. Behind them he saw his Beta and Fane, the Grey Wolf Prince. The sheer size of them blocked any view of those who might be behind them. Thad was sure that was a tactical move on Vasile's part. His females would be well protected. That could be a problem, but not insurmountable, he thought.

"Daaaaang," Jacque whispered as the double doors opened and they walked into a large room. "Would you look at this place!"

"I feel like Beauty in Beauty and the Beast," Sally whispered to Jen. "You know, when she walks into the grand ballroom for the first time?"

"Well, you got one thing right, Sal," Jen murmured as she too took in her surroundings, "we are not short on beasts."

Jen tilted her head back at Jacque's prompting and her own mouth dropped open at seeing the height of the ceiling. That wasn't the only thing that had their mouths hitting the freshly waxed floor. Painted on the ceiling was a forest covered in shimmering snow. Somehow the artist had achieved a nearly three dimensional effect, and by looking at it you felt as if you were falling into the painting. Among the hills and trees there were wolves. Some were running, others lying quietly.

The theme was quite obvious once you picked up on it, Jen realized. There wasn't a single wolf alone. Each one was paired with another. And as she looked harder she could see that every pair was touching. The wolves running side by side were painted so that their tails intertwined as they ran, the ones sitting together had one tucked in close to the other, and those lying down had one wolf literally curled around the other, protecting, sheltering. It was beautiful, and the meaning was clear: wolves weren't meant to be alone. They were created for a mate.

Jen pulled her eyes from the compelling painting when she felt a tug on her sleeve. She turned just as Mariana was waving them all to follow.

“This handsome gentleman offered to show us to our rooms,” Mariana told them. Jen looked back and saw that Vasile was talking to some other guy who looked to be in charge of something. They probably weren’t needed. She looked at Jacque and nodded in the direction Mariana was headed.

“I’m in. You?”

“Lead the way,” Jacque answered.

Jen didn’t know if she should say something to Decebel, but she figured, He’s got wolf hearing, surely he'll hear us leaving. Not only that, but there was no way Fane would not keep tabs on his little she-wolf. So she shrugged her shoulders and followed the rest out of the large room. With her back turned she didn’t notice Decebel nod to Costin, a silent order to keep an eye on the girls until he could leave without appearing disrespectful.