The Wolf’s Arranged Mate by Layla Silver
Chapter 1 – Milton
“The queen is dead.”
No greater words could have been spoken in that moment. I stared at the papers scattered all over the desk, evidence of the last of Allegra’s great attempts at recovering her empire. The car accident had been sudden, quick, and granted us a liberating release from the tyranny of a woman who was committed to driving her pride into the ground.
Not anymore. Not from here on out. And it was my job to make sure things rolled over smoothly into a new alpha reign.
The trouble was sorting out who exactly the new alpha was going to be.
Allegra’s office hosted all the usual fixings: modern wood furniture lined the walls between bookshelves, wide windows allowed natural light to float over every surface, and the vaulted ceilings provided a wealthy appearance, one that spoke volumes of the luxurious life she had left behind.
“When did it happen?” I asked.
The timid man standing in front of the desk squinted with confusion for a second until he realized what I was asking. Jarvis wasn’t flawless, but he was reliable. That’s why I asked him to join me and two others today. I glanced at the other two men in attendance, both of them wearing matching blank expressions that told me precisely how lost they felt. They were twins and reflected each other in every way. With skin like the reddened dessert sands winking gold specks of sun and eyes as green as salty oceans, they could hardly be told apart. Even their haircuts, brown hair styled with product in punky mullet fashion, were perfect matches.
I looked at the man in front of me. Though Jarvis was short, he was built like a tank, a requirement Allegra had forced on him last year that didn’t make sense considering his post as resident doctor. His rich umber skin reflected undertones of bronze in the morning light spilling over him. The rays of sun acted as a spotlight. He probably felt nervous.
I relaxed my expression. “Jarvis,” I said softly. “You’re not in trouble.”
“There was nothing I could do.” He held out his palms, revealing them as though to prove there was no blood on his fingers. “I did everything I could, Milton.”
“She lost a lot of blood. It happens.”
He bowed his head. “I was her personal doctor. She was my responsibility.”
I snorted. Realizing I had caused the poor man to tense, I resumed my peaceful expression, adding a hint of concern to my gaze as I said, “I’m sorry, Jarvis. Please, tell me when it happened.”
“Late last night. Everything sort of happened so fast.”
He nodded slowly. “Already handled. The pride is... Well, it’s complicated.”
“They’re happy,” I stated in a low voice. The twins standing to the right of the desk shuffled from one foot to the other. Twins often mirrored each other, but they were so much like mirrors that it became my own personal fun house experience to watch them. I tore my gaze away from them to focus on Jarvis again. “I understand. I’m not thrilled she died, but I am…” I sighed as I trailed off.
“Ecstatic,” one of the twins replied.
“Relieved,” added the other twin.
I gave a short nod and leaned my palms against the desk, the wood sturdy beneath my hands, holding me up. Considering the circumstances, something needed to keep me steady. I had no idea what to do.
“We need a new alpha,” I announced, “which means we’re taking votes.”
“Brian says you should be alpha,” one of the twins retorted.
“Michael says you should be alpha, too,” Brian added.
The twins blinked at me, expressionless. Goddamn those oceanic eyes. If they weren’t so pretty, I would have bashed their heads together. Making me alpha was a terrible idea. I had absolutely no experience leading people, especially when I had been squarely under the thumb of a tyrant with silver hair for so many years. I didn’t know leadership. I knew forced submission.
At least I never had to sleep with her.
Jarvis stepped forward, offering a small smile. “I agree with them, Milton. I think you’re the most fit out of everyone.”
“Hardly,” I spat.
“You were her accountant…” Brian began.
“...which puts you in a unique position to pull us forward,” Michael finished.
I closed my eyes. “That doesn’t mean I can lead an entire pride.”
“You know our finances better than anyone,” Jarvis stated calmly. It seemed his tension had faded now that the spotlight was no longer on him. “You keep your cool under pressure and you’re resourceful.”
I drew a long breath, only letting it out once I had sunk into the office chair. The hinges didn’t even squeak under my weight. It was the quietest chair I had ever occupied, reminding me that the person who used to sit here probably needed it to be quiet so she could focus on corrupting everyone around her.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I have a lot to do already. I got custody of my daughter again—permanently—and this would just be another layer of stress.”
“We’ll pitch in,” Brian offered.
“...with everything,” Michael finished.
I shook my head as I dropped my hand. “It’s too much, guys.”
“It’s not too much for you,” Jarvis argued. His amber eyes held my gaze, his expression fixed and immutable. “You’re the man for the job. You can help us move forward from the chaos that Allegra caused.”
“You mean the war with the wolves?”
Just saying the phrase left a bitter taste on my tongue, like sucking on a copper coin. I licked my bottom lip. A thought surfaced that frightened me, causing my muscles to twitch as I fought to keep it from coming to the front of my mind.
Yes, the wolves, said the ancient voice in my head. Like the ones you abandoned.
I blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay. I cleared my throat, stood up, and adjusted my t-shirt. “Look at me,” I exclaimed as I slapped the sides of my jeans. “I don’t even look like alpha material.”
“You don’t need opulence to be rich in spirit,” Jarvis retorted with a grin. “We trust you, Milton. You can do this.”
The hopeful grin on his face broke my heart. I couldn’t say no to Jarvis. I couldn’t rob him of security. I glanced at the twins who shared Jarvis’s wishful expression.
I sighed. “Alright, I’ll do it.”
The twins collectively sighed relief as Jarvis nodded with approval. Jarvis bowed his head. “Thank you...Alpha.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Michael said as he edged closer.
Brian joined his side, slipping his hands into his pockets. “And we should talk pack versus pride business.”
I pursed my lips thoughtfully while turning back to Jarvis. He nodded. “I agree with the twins. The conflict with the wolves has done nothing but harm our pride since the very start of it. Allegra only continued the war as part of her efforts to gain notoriety and money.”
“War is expensive,” I noted.
“And lucrative,” he responded. “We must deliberate on how to bring peace between our species.” He paused, his eyes widening as he bowed his head much more deeply than he had the first time. “My apologies, Alpha. I didn’t mean to challenge your position.”
“No, it’s okay.” I rushed from my seat to his side and wrapped a gentle arm around him. The strangest thing happened then—our hearts synchronized. Jarvis felt it too, the sensation prompting him to lift his head and smile as though he had encountered bliss. Or drugs. Or really good alcohol. I mirrored his smile and gently pulled him into a hug. “I want you and the twins to be my council. I’m in charge, yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take suggestions.”
“Stop calling me that.”
Jarvis laughed as he stepped back from the hug. He was visibly calmer, so much more relaxed than when he initially walked in to deliver the news. The queen is dead. That would ring in his mind forever, wouldn’t it? I knew it would in mine.
I patted his shoulder. “Please, tell me your thoughts.” I glanced at the twins. “You, too.”
“Us two,” Brian repeated.
Michael elbowed his brother. “Snarky watch is over. Shut up.”
I chuckled. “This will be entertaining.”
The four of us settled around the table near the desk, the round design offering us the opportunity to speak to each other without turning. There was no real structure to the meeting. At one point, our voices became a cacophonous roar that revealed no end in sight. A few minutes passed before the excitement died down.
Jarvis drummed his fingers on the cherry oak surface of the table. He lifted his eyebrows. “You won’t like this.”
“What?” I asked. “I don’t care. Just tell me.”
“You could marry a wolf to join the pack and the pride together.”
The twins sniffed curiously in our direction. Their green eyes rolled toward each other and then back to me, so round and wide that I thought they would take flight of their own accord. Though the suggestion was shocking, I knew why Jarvis vocalized it. Marriage between prides had always been a way to join families together. But a marriage between a pride and a pack?
“That’s already been done,” I replied calmly. “As you can imagine, that didn’t exactly go very well.”
“That was because Allegra forced her son to do it,” Jarvis explained, his voice tinged with a hint of disgust. “This time, it’s going to be by choice. I’m sure you can speak to Alpha Kaia and get her approval, easily.”
“I just don’t want to fight anymore.”
He nodded, eyes softening. “I understand, Milton. I’m tired of it, too.”
“I’ll have to think about it.”
The doors on the other side of the grand office burst open, a little girl of twelve darting into the room, her pigtails whacking against her shoulders as she sprinted towards me with her backpack bouncing on her back. She launched herself toward me at the last few feet and landed in my arms, snuggling up in my chest like a tiny cat as she giggled maniacally.
“Daddy! I’m going on a field trip!”
I chuckled as I wrestled my daughter upright, trying to get her to sit still. She was a bundle of energy, this one, always ready to go somewhere or do something. Her experiments were myriad, filled with the same curiosity her eyes hosted when she read book after book. She was a machine. She absorbed everything.
She squinted, vibrant violet eyes wide as a cat, the pupils dilating as she glanced around the table to drink in the attendees of today’s meeting. “And who are you?”
“My goodness, you must be Eva,” Jarvis said as he stood up.
Eva hopped from my lap and stood tall in front of Jarvis—or as tall as she could at the age of twelf—one arm positioned behind her back as the other folded over her stomach. She practically closed her eyes as she beamed and bowed. “Delighted to meet you.”
“Ignore her,” I warned. “She’s aiming for theater this year.”
“It’s Macbeth, Daddy,” she retorted with an air of aristocracy that I was sure came from her mother. Paris, London, Milan—she had been just about everywhere in the world and so she had retained the charm of travelers, without all the ego. Okay, maybe there was ego there. “And when we’re in the theater, we should only refer to it as the Scottish play.”
“It’s bad luck,” Jarvis explained with a wink. Eva gasped. “And what would your role be, little lady?”
“Lady Macbeth,” she responded with a curt nod, “as any serious thespian would consider.”
Jarvis raised his eyebrows at me, amusement etched into his features. The twins were equally entertained and snickered lightly, adoring the little girl who was far beyond her years. That was her damn mother’s fault.
“How will I ever entertain you if we’re not in Spain?” I asked rhetorically.
Eva bounced on her toes. “Well, we could actually go there, Daddy.”
“Or we could stay here,” I sighed, “where Daddy has duties as the new alpha.”
“Alpha?” She hummed as she rolled her eyes up, consulting the deep recesses of her brain for information. “Yes, I remember. Mommy said that Allegra was the alpha. Is that not true anymore, Daddy?”
“So, you’re going to take care of us?”
Worry sank into my bones, making me suddenly tired. “Absolutely.”
“Most excellent,” she bowed dramatically and, with a fluid motion, procured a page from her bag with practiced skill. “I need your signature for the field trip, Daddy. It’s for the science museum. I want to learn more about dark matter.”
“You’re too young to even be aware of dark matter.”
She grinned as she plucked a pen from the bag, pointing to the page. “Here, please.”
I stared at her for a long time. She gave me a toothy grin, her front teeth as big as a beaver’s with a gap on the right side. Dimples marked her cheeks that brightened her violet eyes. Those were her mother’s fault, too. The only thing she inherited from me was her raven black hair, the thick strands falling on either side of her shoulders in tightly wound braids that gave me a headache just looking at them.
I scrubbed my fingers through my unwashed mop of black hair that hung to my chin. God, I needed a shower. Getting roused out of bed so early, when it had already been a late night, wasn’t exactly wonderful. And I still needed coffee.
“Of course, kitten,” I replied with a grin. “Do I get to go, too?”
“I grabbed a volunteer form just in case.”
I noticed the parent signature lines, two of them, one marked as mother which made me more upset than ever. Felicia was gone all the time. She traveled as a fashion designer and often left Eva with me, though we recently worked out a full-custody deal on my behalf so that Felicia could do as she pleased—which seemed to be to disappear entirely.
I sighed as I signed the appropriate line for myself. Maybe the arranged marriage would be a good idea. Eva needed a proper parental presence, two people who could help her grow and learn. With Felicia gone so much, it was a wonder Eva had turned out so damn polite and sweet. Even with her travel experience, even with the little time she did spend with her mother, she was lonely. I could see it in her eyes. And she needed more than just me.
I had to remedy that. It was my duty as her father—and her alpha—to make sure she was secure along with the rest of the pride. It was then I made my decision. I would be visiting Kaia to talk about a marriage deal.
And I would voluntarily marry whoever stepped up to the plate.