Leader of the Pack Ch. 04bysecretme©
Cullen sat in his office staring out the window. He was still trying to wrap his brain around the latest information he had received. Originally he had believed that the raids his southern border was suffering were perpetrated by the La Rayne. Stephen La Rayne, alpha asshole, of that pack had always been trouble. When he wanted to torment the human population he had a tendency to do it on other people's land so that the branch of the American government that periodically monitored and helped to hide the lycan population would blame someone else.
Cullen had been in the process of explaining to the feds that he knew about the raids, they weren't originating from his pack, and he was in the process of getting the situation under control. "Muin," he swore as he looked over the reports that showed the raids moving closer and closer to the city. That wasn't like La Rayne. He didn't go any farther than he had to and he didn't chance his men getting caught, which was a distinct possibility of going too deep into someone else's territory.
At the moment the reports were scattered. The raids involved "animal-like men breaking into and searching buildings" in various locations. But he didn't know what they were looking for or why. He also was confused by the "animal-like" description. When it was lycans the description involved terms like wolf or large dog. The implication was that the raiders were lycan.
The knock on the door had Cullen turning to see who was wanting to talk to him. Most everyone had been avoiding him like the plague considering his mood lately. "Come," he called angrily.
Keith stepped into the room. He walked over to a chair in front of Cullen's desk and sat down without being asked. He was one of a very few lycans who didn't care about Cullen's mood. Keith had been friends with the man too long to fear the mighty General Cullen Arnauk. "I've got word," he said as he propped his feet up on Cullen's desk.
In an odd way Keith's disrespect and nonchalance made Cullen feel better. "So?"
Liam and Serra just got back from their little espionage mission. "From what they heard the raids are originating from a group that has pretty strong affiliation with the Circle." Cullen was speechless. Keith smiled. He knew that would come as a shock. "I knew you'd like that," he chuckled. "When was the last time the druids came out of hiding?"
"I don't even remember. The real druids disappeared after Rome. Coach," he swore under his breath. "I can only assume you mean the real druids and the real Circle."
Keith nodded. "Yup, the real Circle. So the real question is what do they want?"
Cullen's gaze drifted off into space as he considered the improbability of the situation. "Whatever they're after must be pretty significant for them to come out of hiding after all these centuries. Hell, even if they want something, raiding isn't the way they used to deal with things. Live and let live and all. The Circle I knew allowed themselves to be killed off and assimilated because they believed that was the way of things."
"Yhea, well look at it this way," Keith said, "if all the druids believed that was the way of things then there wouldn't be any left. Whoever is calling themselves the Circle at this point survived somehow and chances are that means that some of them didn't necessarily believe in the way of things."
Cullen agreed with is friend. "Okay so the Circle is behind the raids. But who or what is doing the raiding?"
"That we haven't really found out yet. No one has really seen anything other than the aftermath and 'animal-like' shadows. But from the sounds of it and from some research that Granad did we think it might be big cats of some kind. The Circle originally made lycans as guardians. If they're looking for something they're probably using hunters who are less likely to care about rules or trade loyalty for each other over loyalty for their creators the way we did. The raiders have been strong, have claws like you wouldn't believe, are quick, quiet, and managing to blend in and disappear. I'm guessing panthers, leopards, tigers, lions or some such. Hell maybe a combo. That would eliminate the possibility of a unified pride. You know how much the were-cats hate interbreeding. Wouldn't want to chance a mutt."
"Sounds like you've thought this out pretty thoroughly," Cullen said, feeling like he hadn't contributed at all.
"Well, Serra, Granad, Liam and the rest of us have noticed your distracted and we kinda get it. We're doing our best to get this monkey taken care of so that maybe the mating business won't be so overwhelming." Keith shifted uncomfortably and cleared his throat. "Actually we've been talking about that too."
"What," Cullen asked, his eyes narrowing dangerously on his friend.
"The mating. We just wanted you to know that the pack at large, at least those of us high enough in rank to have a countable opinion," Keith looked at Cullen sympathetically, "don't think it's necessary."
"You don't." Cullen leaned back in his chair. It was obvious that no amount of glaring was going to have any effect on Keith.
"No. The way we figure it, if Gregorius gets his hands on the alpha spot in the Tairneach then we get into a fight. So what? We've been at peace so long some of our guys are forgetting to watch their own backs. Maybe it's time again."
Cullen sighed. Keith thought he looked a lot older all of a sudden. "Thanks, but I put a lot of effort into what little peace we have. Besides, the last thing we need is another clan war. The feds would be all over us. I for one don't want to go through that again."
"But Jenna Tairneach?" Keith said with some disgust.
"Yhea, Jenna Tairneach. It's not like there are any other women higher up on my list," Cullen lied.
When Cullen's eyes dropped to his desk at that last comment Keith growled his frustration at his friend's behavior. "Whatever," he said in annoyance. "I would have thought even Celia a better match for you than that galla Jenna, but what do I know."
"Enough, the mating ceremony is tomorrow. Everything is set. I expect you and all the others to be at the manor on the reservation same as the Tairneachs will be. I just want to get it overwith."
Keith nodded and stood up from the chair. "Any other orders General?" He asked with a salute.
Cullen turned back to the window in dismissal. Another move that was totally unlike him when interacting with his friend. Keith stormed out angry that Cullen was being such an ass and not even willing to look into other options.
Aislinn stood in the courtroom. Derrick was looking at her luridly from behind the prosecution's desk with his attorney. In the end Aislinn hadn't been able to afford much. She had at one point considered asking Lord Arnauk for help, but decided that no matter how good his lawyers probably were there was no way he would help her out after what she'd said to him that night.
Aislinn had asked Luke and Renee to testify on her behalf but no one had been willing to lose their job. So with her cut price lawyer and no witnesses the only thing she had to go on was the fact that she was half Derrick's size and didn't have enough money to hire a hitman. Her defense had been based on that and Derrick's previous history of sexual harassment.
Aislinn stood in there waiting for the verdict and hoping that if she lost she'd have a fine and wouldn't have to go to jail and possibly lose her job. At the same time her premonitions were telling her that she wasn't safe in her apartment and there wouldn't be a place much safer than behind bars and being watched in jail. It's always good when jail becomes a good alternative to life, she thought with tears in her eyes.
Finally the judge came back into the courtroom. Everyone stood and then was told to be seated and then the defendant was asked to stand. Derrick was grinning as judge found Aislinn guilty of battery as a misdemeanor. She was fined $500.00, which to her sounded like a fortune, but at least it wasn't jail time.
On her way out of the courtroom Derrick caught her and cornered her in the hall. She felt completely defenseless. What could she do? Hit him again? "Get out of my Derrick," she said with a tired but angry voice.
He grinned. "You should have just played along with me. If you want your job back I'll pay off your fine and we can find a way for you to work it off somehow." He chuckled at that.
Aislinn looked around the hall and happened to catch the eyes of a courtroom guard who was standing near the doors. The man in uniform came over to her. "Do you need some help miss?"
"Yes," she said in such a grateful relieved voice that the guard almost arrested Derrick on the spot. "I just want to leave and he's... Well, he's..."
The guard got the point and gave Derrick a look that caused the man to back off and allow Aislinn to move hurriedly down the hall. Derrick smiled at the guard, knowing there really wasn't anything he had done that the guard could do anything about at this point. He hobbled out of the courtroom on his crutches thinking that he wasn't done with Aislinn yet.
Rafe watched from the back of the courtroom. This is better than I thought it'd be. I don't think she could be pushed much lower, he thought.
The last time Rafe had seen Aislinn she was full of fire. She had fought him like a hell cat to get away. But he knew he'd track her down again. For now he was content to let her stew. It was obvious that the atmosphere of her life here was wearing on her. He wanted her to the point that when he offered her help she would come to him out of lack of any other alternative. This court case had totally blown her cover. If there was one type of record you couldn't keep undercover it was a police record. Rafe's contacts regularly kept track of police records. The minute Aislinn's name came across his desk and in the same area he was already headed he knew he'd get his chance with her again. But he was patient and had more important things to attend to for now. If she had ended up in jail he would have done something about that. But she could handle a fine. Besides, from what he had been told she was working for the Arnauk and that might come in handy in the end.
Cullen's stomach started to growl. He had been staring at the latest reports and avoiding leaving for the reservation. It was a three hour drive and he still had an hour or two before he had to leave to still manage to be there before sunset. He had been managing to find excuses to not leave all day. Everyone was waiting patiently. As far as most of the others were concerned this was Cullen's day. If he wanted to be late and piss off Jenna that was his call.
The report he was looking at seemed to be calling his name. It was as though he knew there was something in it that he was just missing. His stomach growled again. Finally he decided to just take the damn reports with him and he pulled them together and headed down to the restaurant.
Cullen sat down in his normal seat more than a little nervous about possibly seeing Aislinn and that pissed him off right from the start. He began spreading the records out to look at them while he waited. Just then a small commotion got his attention. He looked up to see Aislinn rushing through the restaurant and Meghan following her. He didn't even think about it. He just knew that something was wrong.
Cullen came up to the employee's break room. He could smell Aislinn and Meghan and he knew that they had gone in there. The door was open a crack and he could hear crying. He almost stormed in to find out why Meghan was making Aislinn cry when he heard someone start talking.
"Meghan I'm sorry," I didn't mean to be late Aislinn sobbed. Cullen stopped and listened, hoping he'd hear what was going on. He figured that Aislinn wouldn't tell him.
Meghan tried to be mad but it was really hard to be the boss and yell at someone when they were already upset. "Alright, just tell me why you're so upset. I can't very well send you out to wait on customers like this." Meghan tried to be comforting but Aislinn pulled away in a manner that reminded Meghan of someone who had been abused.
Aislinn shook her head. "I can't. Please I just need to go to the restroom. I'll be fine." She sounded so defeated. Cullen knew how she felt.
"Aislinn," Meghan said in a sympathetic tone, "I need to tell Liam something. I know you told Rissa that you had to go to court today. Is this about that? What happened?"
"Rissa told you?" Aislinn was scared to death she was going to lose her job. God she had just been to court and found guilty of battery. Never mind that it wasn't her. She would have done it herself if she had been capable. But as it was it didn't matter who had done it. She was the one who was found guilty and the Taigh-oèsda wasn't the kind of place that employed people with a record.
"Hey, don't be like that," Meghan said softly. She reached out to Aislinn again. "She was just trying to help. We're on your side here."
She shook her head. Well what was she going to say? It was public record. If she lied they could look it up. "Fine," she said with that defeated tone and more tears. "Remember when I first got here and I said that Cul- Lord Arnauk had helped me out with something?" Cullen felt his stomach turn.
"Yhea," Meghan smiled. "You're entrance here was kinda hard to forget." She was trying to be lighthearted about it but it obviously wasn't helping.
"Well my last boss had attacked me and Lord Arnauk stopped him. He ended up in the hospital and decided to sue me for battery and he just won. I got fined and he came after me again on my way out of the damn court." Aislinn's voice broke at that point. "I can't lose this job Meghan. If I do I'll never pay off the bills I had before and now there's this fine. I don't have anywhere else to go."
Cullen almost went into the room. He stood there growling under his breath. That piece of coach. He had one hell of a nerve. Cullen thought. Wait 'til he sees what I do to him when I get my claws on him again. Cullen was nearly of a mind to go back to the Blood Pit and burn to the ground when Aislinn and Meghan came out of the break room and saw him standing there.
Aislinn's eyes went as wide as saucers and the tears started again. Meghan saw the standard Cullen Arnauk dismissal stare and gave Aislinn a reassuring glance before she hurried off down the hall. Aislinn looked like a scared animal about to bolt. Cullen took hold of her before she could run and led her down to the office further down the hall. When they walked in Liam looked up from his desk and upon seeking Cullen stood up.
"Lord Arnuak?" Liam looked between the two. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Cullen said shortly. "Can I use your office a moment?"
"Of course," Liam said in confusion and quickly let himself out.
Aislinn was still staring at him as though he was about to do something awful and that cut through him worse than anything else that had recently happened. He could handle any one being afraid of him. But not her. "It's alright," he said gently. "You're not losing your job or getting yelled at or anything else."
It was the look in his eyes that calmed her down more than anything else. This past week had been worse than any in her life. Perhaps worse than her time with the Circle. She couldn't understand her need for his approval or touch but being so close was more than she could handle right now. Aislinn stepped toward him, tears of frustration and embarrassment burning their way down her cheeks, and buried her face in his chest as she wrapped her arms around him. She didn't really know why she did it. She had refused any comfort from Meghan. She just need to be close to him.
Cullen wrapped his arms around her automatically and leaned into the hug so that his check rested on the top of her head. They stood there feeling the warmth pass between them and feeling the need for more growing relentlessly. When she had finally calmed down he managed to pull back a little. He placed his hand under her chin and brought her face up to his. Slowly he kissed away the tears. Then placed a small gentle kiss on her lips. At least it meant to be small and gentle, but as she kissed him back the intensity grew. They melted into the kiss and hands began to roam.
As Cullen felt his wolf beginning to stir he knew he needed to slow this and find out what he could do to actually help. Seducing her in this kind of state was just not a possibility. He gently pushed her down. Aislinn tried to lean in for another kiss but he managed to catch her and stop it before she caught him again and his wolf became unstoppable.
"Aislinn," he said softly. "We need to talk. I need you to tell me why you left me out of this court business."
She looked away from him. Her arms dropped and she stepped away. Suddenly he wished he hadn't asked. "I didn't think you should get involved."
"I was the one who beat the guy up. You shouldn't have taken the fall for that," he said with concern.
"I was certainly part of it, the cause of it, and I did hit him before that," Aislinn was sounding indignant and Cullen could see the argumentative side of her emerging. He knew if that happened there was no way that he'd be able to resurrect this conversation.
"You're right. You were part of it. But so was I. I could have helped you. I would have helped you." He thought about it a moment. "Maybe we can get it overturned."
"No, I just want to pay it and have it all go away," she said sadly and the tears started again.
He couldn't handle that. "What if I managed to make it go away without you having to be involved anymore?"
She looked at him uncertainly.
"Money could do a great deal," he said trying to sound as off-hand as he could. "Let me help you."
"I still don't understand why you want to," she said shaking her head. "I mean that night, this job, now you want to make this court case disappear."
"Can't you just let me? Do I have to explain it? Besides, I really didn't need to beat him up as badly as I did. I was pissed and drunk."
She nodded and walked over to him again. He pulled her the last couple steps to her and held her again. Nothing had ever felt so right to him. He nuzzled into her hair and took in her scent, still wondering at the amazing way she smelled to him. "What are you," he whispered into her hair, entranced.
"I could ask the same of you," she responded just as softly. "What does it matter? I learned some time ago that who and what are completely separate from intention. Whenever I look into your eyes I feel...safe."
Cullen held her tighter, stroking her hair and breathing in her scent. "I'll take care of it. Just don't do anything until I tell you. Okay?" He finally pushed her away far enough that he could look into her face and she nodded. He let the air in his chest out, not even realizing that he had been holding his breath. "Now, Liam needs his office back, I want dinner, and you're going to eat with me."
"I can't. I have to get to work. I was already late," she said, sounding upset again.
"You can't wait on tables in this kind of mood. You won't make any tips," he smiled. "You'll eat with me and then you can get to work. You'll feel better by then. Besides," I'm in charge around here. If I want my waitress to sit and eat with me," he shrugged and smiled again trying to get her to smile back, "then I get to have her sit and eat with me."
Aislinn was about to argue some more but she didn't have the energy to. He took her by the hand and led her out to his table. Only realizing that he'd left the records sitting there when he saw them spread about the table. This woman is going to be the death of me, he thought. He had never been so easily distracted by anything before. He pushed the records aside and motioned for her to sit.