“So I have no say in this?”

Aunt B frowned. “Of course you do. You don’t have to mate with him. You can always reject him. But if you do mate with him, the burden of the alpha comes with it. Ask yourself, would you really settle for a fling? Or do you want him to yourself for always?”

I made a valiant effort not to ask myself that question. I was pretty sure I knew the answer. That way lay total surrender of all common sense. “I’m not a shapeshifter.”

“True. Can you become one?”

I shook my head. “It’s not physically possible. I’m immune to Lyc-V.”

“Excellent.”

She lost me.

“Were you to become a shapeshifter, you’d have to pick the species of your beast. You’d have to choose a clan and someone to donate Lyc-V, which means six clans would feel slighted and that one clan would expect preferential treatment. It’s a can of worms nobody wants to open. This is one of those rare cases when being impartial is actually advantageous.”

“You’ve given this a great deal of thought,” I murmured. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question was why.

“Look at it from our point of view. We want him to mate. As his mate, you have the right to question his decisions, something we can’t do. If Pack members have an issue with him, they could come to you and plead for assistance. If you issue an order, technically he can overrule you, but he would be reluctant to do so. The Pack has been denied this avenue of appeal for too long.”

She waved her pita around. “Curran is a fair alpha, one of the best. But he has his bad moments and right now nobody dares to contradict him during those. Sure, some people won’t accept you, but that’s normal. Anytime there is a power shift, people rumble. After you kill the first couple of challengers, you’ll be fine.”

She was definitely after something . . .

“Nobody questions your power, dear. The alphas have seen you fight and you’re a good asset. Anyone able to snap the legs off two hundred demons with one word isn’t to be taken lightly.”

She bit into her bread. “Besides, if Curran didn’t think you’re fit, he wouldn’t have made the offer. Yes, he’s obsessed with you, but he’s shrewd enough to take your ability into consideration. Alphas are typically attracted to other alphas. I wouldn’t mate with a weakling, and neither would he.”

“It’s not that simple,” I growled.

She laughed softly. “We know you have a history, dear. That much power doesn’t come without baggage and Curran isn’t an idiot. If he proposed to you, he must view your past as an acceptable risk.”

Had an answer for everything, did she? “Why do you care so much whether I become his mate? You didn’t come here out of the goodness of your heart.”

She paused. Her face turned mournful. “Raphael is my third child. The first two went loup at puberty. After him, I said I wouldn’t have any more. I couldn’t keep killing my babies. My boy is everything to me. I’d rip the world apart for him. You and I both know the name of his happiness.”

“Andrea.”

She nodded. The pain in her eyes melted into pride. “My Raphael could have any woman he wanted. If he wanted you, you wouldn’t be able to resist.”

“I don’t know about that . . .”

“Trust me. I’ve been courted by his father. Raphael had his pick, but he chose the girl who is beastkin. Because my life wasn’t complicated enough.”

“Andrea loves him. She’s smart, trained, and—”

She raised her hand. “You don’t have to sing her praises. I know more about her than you do. But the fact remains, she’s beastkin and she’s my son’s mate. She’s dominant, strong, and cunning. I have no doubt she can fight off any challengers, which means that when I step down, the reins of the bouda clan will pass to a child of an animal. The boudas will accept her. But the Pack may not.”

“Curran promised me she wouldn’t be persecuted.”

She pursed her lips. “It’s one thing to ignore the presence of a beastkin in the ranks. It’s another to have it rubbed in the alphas’ faces. Other clans don’t like us; they don’t like our unpredictability and they fear our rages. As the bouda alpha couple, Andrea and Raphael will sit on the Pack’s Council. That won’t go over well with some people. The wolves and Clan Heavy, in particular, will find her presence tough to swallow. There are four hundred wolves and only thirty-two of us. But the Bear is by far the biggest threat. He’s old-fashioned and he holds on to his prejudices. He practically raised Curran and he has a lot of influence with him. If I have any hope of safeguarding my son’s future, I have to counteract Mahon.”

Finally. It all became clear. “And you think that if I became Curran’s mate, I’d intercede on Andrea’s behalf?”

“Not only on her behalf, but on behalf of all boudas. There are six children in the clan now, four of whom are teenagers, all past puberty with no traces of loupism. If you think ordinary adolescents are wild, you’re in for a shock. The last time we had that many young ones, Curran was hammering the Pack together and he himself was rather young. He chose to be lenient when my kids stepped out of line. He’s secure in his power now and may not be as indulgent.”

Lenient Beast Lord. That would be the day.

Aunt B leaned in and fixed me with a stare. “Suppose you become the alpha. What is the minimum acceptable distance between a female shapeshifter and Curran?”

“I don’t know.”

“Three feet, unless it’s a battle. Any closer and she’s challenging you. You walk into a room at a formal gathering, do shapeshifters rise or stay down?”

“I don’t know.”

“The alphas rise to demonstrate that you acknowledge their power, the rest stay down, showing submission. If a shapeshifter shows you his teeth, is he smiling in greeting or is he trying to intimidate you?”

“I don’t know.” Broken record, that’s me.

“If his head is bowed, he’s smiling. If he’s holding himself erect, you need to be snarling.”

I’d had just about enough. “What is the point of all of this?”

“I have no doubt that you’ll become Curran’s mate. You love him, you nearly died for him, and you won’t be able to let him go. When that happens, you’ll be in over your head, dear. You must play by our rules and you don’t know them.” She smiled triumphantly. “Here is my offer to you: I’ll give you two of my kids. They’re very good, steady, and skilled. They won’t go crazy unless you give them permission. Their loyalty is to you alone and they’ll have your best interests at heart. They’ll keep you from making any big mistakes. You’ll still make small ones, but that can’t be helped. In return, you promise to hold the bouda clan in special regard. I won’t ask you to break the rules, but I may ask you to stretch them once in a while. It’s a very good offer, Kate.”


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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