Leader of the Pack Ch. 08bysecretme©
The elevator doors opened onto the 13th floor and Lord General Cullen Arnauk stepped out into a room full of people. As he looked around he figured that the whole of the pack, including those who weren't residing in the Madadh-Allaidh Saobhaidh were gathered. Most everyone was staring at him expectantly. Those who weren't staring at him were staring directly behind him at Aislinn.
Aislinn had watched Cullen's face turn from passionate heat to emotionless stone as the elevator descended from the penthouse. He had been completely silent from the moment they stepped into the elevator and now as they walked into the room she could see the reason why. I've never heard of a pack of wolves this large, she thought as she looked around at the room full of people.
Cullen didn't say a word to her. He simply passed through the crowd and she followed along behind. She hoped that he would give her some direction when it was needed. The people in his way stepped aside to let him pass. Aislinn noted that every person Cullen looked directly at lowered his eyes and slightly bowed his head. Some more obviously than others. The differences were subtle but it didn't take much to notice that the larger the person the smaller the head nod. Aislinn quickly started making mental notes of who seemed to be higher in rank than others. And who seemed to dislike the show of submission and who appeared to do it with due respect. She felt like she had just joined an intricate chess game in the middle and no one had told her who was playing which pieces.
Everyone in the room with few exceptions had a similar look to them. A person who had never met them before may have thought that any two of them were related. They all had the same dark hair and eyes that Cullen did. There were a few women and men who were lighter in shade or darker. But for the most part they all matched. Aislinn felt as though she stood out like a sore thumb. And not just because she was following along behind Cullen like a stray pup.
As Cullen walked into the great room there were slightly fewer people in there and they were all arguing. One graying man was talking exceptionally loud. "How the hell could the woman vanish in full view of the entire pack and no one would say a word about it? No search party? No-" The man cut himself off in mid sentence when Cullen entered the room. At that point everyone turned and looked at him, Keith with a grateful, relieved look. The man who had been yelling gave the smallest nod of everyone that Aislinn had seen so far. He was as tall as Cullen but slighter built and his eyes were an angry, resentful brown. He looked considerably older than Cullen but he was certainly still in good enough shape to be trouble. "So our Lord finally makes his appearance," the man said in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "And this little one behind him must be the curious cause of his late arrival."
Aislinn met the man's stare straight on, without blinking or flinching as he stared at her measuringly. He grinned back at her with a seemingly impressed and amused gaze when she didn't lower her eyes or cow to his stare. Cullen didn't falter a single step. "Terrick, this is Aislinn," he replied. And that was all he said about it. "Now do you mind if we move this conversation into private quarters?" At that Cullen called out a list of names and each of those people moved out of the room and down a hall. Then he turned to Aislinn and looked at her with concern. "The mood in here is harder than I thought it might be." He pulled his keys out of his pocket and fished the key to the elevator off the ring. "Don't lose this," he said as if he was talking to a child and that earned him a glare from Aislinn that more than one person watching started whispering about. "If you need out of here go up to my room. I don't have any idea how long this is going to take. But don't leave the building."
Aislinn nodded to him. "Don't worry. I'll be fine," she smiled at him. "I'm not so sure about you though from the looks on the faces of those people you sent wherever."
He let a smile toy with the corner of his mouth in return to her quiet comment. "I've seen worse." Then the fleeting bit of emotion was gone and he headed down the hall that the others had gone down, leaving Aislinn to figure out what to do with herself in the mean time.
She let out a heavy breath. This was going to be interesting. Everyone was here for an explanation and they were all going to wait around until they got one. That much was certain. And right now Aislinn was a tempting target. They didn't know how much she knew or didn't know about the mating ceremony. But in and of herself she was certainly a curiosity that they wanted to know about. It was just a matter of time before the questions started. She briefly considered going up to the penthouse to hide, but decided that if she was going to figure out what she was in for the only way to do it would be to stick around and see what happened.
Aislinn looked around the room at all the people staring at her. It wasn't tough to pick out the ones who were merely curious about her and the ones who were pissed off. She counted three women who looked angry and six who looked amused. Those were probably the friends of the angry ones, who had to be some of the women that Cullen had mentioned. Aislinn was in the process of trying to come up with something to say to anyone when Rissa seemed to appear out of nowhere. Her eyes were sparkling with interest and she was being followed by several other women who had the same amused inquisitive look as well.
Aislinn knew that she was about to be bombarded with questions, but she figured that anything Rissa wanted to ask had to be better than standing in the middle of the room like some kind of freak show act at the circus. "Come on," Rissa said, "Let's go sit down. They'll probably be forever back there. When Lord Arnauk gets that tone we all know we're in for it." Then her smile got impossibly wide as she added, "Although he certainly seemed to change his demeanor when he was talking to you." The lilt in her voice said with no uncertainty that she was fishing for some kind of confirmation to the statement. But much to her disappointment Aislinn merely smiled back at the woman. Aislinn was just relieved that she had found someone she knew and was relatively certain was friendly.
Aislinn gratefully followed Rissa out of the great room and down a different hall into another room. The room they ended up in looked like a library. There were tons of bookshelves and tables and chairs. There were a number of sitting areas with couches and armchairs arranged together in confidential little nooks. Several people were already in the room. They looked up and watched as the small group of women entered and headed for chairs. Aislinn wondered if there was a single room on this floor that wasn't full of people.
"How many are in this pack anyway," Aislinn asked with a bit more emphasis than she intended.
Rissa ushered Aislinn to one of the big couches and they all sat down. "I don't know exact numbers. It started out a lot smaller. Most packs are a lot smaller. But Lord Arnauk is, well, good at leading. There aren't many other packs this large mostly because there aren't many alphas that can control this many people. Lord Arnauk seems to come by it naturally. Not to mention most of us just want somewhere safe to live. And he's got one of the best set ups." With that she introduced Aislinn to the other women who were with her. Then the questions started coming.
By the time Aislinn had finished avoiding directly answering any and all questions pertaining to what went on upstairs all afternoon she was exhausted. Rissa was scowling. "And here I thought we were friends," she said with a pout.
"Oh don't you dare do that," Aislinn scolded. "We are friends. But you're getting awfully personal."
"Personal is all relative. Humans have way too strict a sense of what's personal. Besides, if any woman from this pack had ever managed to get up to Lord Arnauk's rooms the first thing she'd do when she came back down is tell everyone. Then she'd rub his scent in their faces. You're acting like it's something to be ashamed of, for goodness sake. You have in your lap access to the best bragging rights in the whole of the pack and you're keeping it to yourself."
Rissa's exasperation was baffling to Aislinn. Just one more thing I'll have to figure out, she thought. Then something occurred to her, wolves, rub scent in faces? "Uh, you don't mean that literally do you?" she asked.
Rissa's amused smile grew impossibly wide. "What literally?"
Aislinn cleared her throat. "The scent rubbing in faces part."
The other women present smiled and chuckled a bit. But for the most part the question was taken far too seriously for Aislinn's comfort. "Why? Where did he put his scent?" Rissa responded with a sparkle in her eyes that told Aislinn she had just said something far more interesting than she should have.
"Okay, Rissa, speaking as friends," Aislinn said and Rissa nodded confidentially then moved in closer. "I don't have any idea what's normal around here. Think in human standards, which you seem to be familiar with, and then put me in your context. I don't really understand most of this. The mating ceremony okay I kinda caught it in the middle, all the innuendo about what I should and shouldn't have managed to do around here. Why don't you give me a couple hints about what you really are looking for me to tell you and maybe we can get on the same page."
Rissa took that as an invitation to get the dirt she was looking for one way or another. At least if she gave enough details that humans shouldn't know and might shock Aislinn, then she might find something out. "Well if you missed the beginning of the mating ceremony then you missed the part where everyone would have presented themselves to Lord Arnauk. If you caught the middle then you know how that goes. The end would involve," she grinned as though this was the important part, "well, it's kinda like dogs. They'd shift to either their hybrid forms or their wolf forms. You ever watch the discovery channel?"
Aislinn was more than a little shocked by the frank way Rissa was putting it and from the look on Aislinn's face Rissa figured that whatever happened upstairs probably wasn't as good as she had originally thought if this info was new to Aislinn. Rissa figured that Lord Arnauk must have remained in his human form for whatever happened at least. "You can't be serious. You're just trying to mess with me now," Aislinn said angrily.
But the raised eyebrows on everyone's faces at her reaction had Aislinn feeling as though she had just said something relatively racist. "Nope, I'm not kidding," Rissa said with disappointment. She wasn't offended. She was just upset that she wasn't going to find out anything good. "A lycan in a form other than human will behave more animal than you're probably used to. And his," Rissa thought for a moment before coming up with an appropriate word, "genitalia will behave more like his wolf than human. They would have shifted, if all the assassination stuff hadn't intrupted things, he would have mounted her, swelled inside her while they had sex, they'd have gotten stuck together, he'd come inside her, bite her hard enough to scar her, and then when they were finished the rest of us would have acknowledged what had happened while they were joined together. They'd be stuck like that for most of the rest of the night. If things were planned right it would happen while she was in heat so that she'd end up pregnant as a result. Mating accomplished. Then usually the new couple disappears for a week or so to get it out of their system. The wolf does tend to get riled up when it claims a mate. And really that's the watered down version. Lord Arnauk never got passed the human form part though. Really they didn't come anywhere near finishing things. To some extent they never really even got started."
Aislinn was speechless. Her brain was trying to grasp what Rissa had just told her. Rissa continued in the silence. "But really the men around here, especially Lord Arnauk refrain from any number of things if they aren't serious about a woman. I mean take Lord Arnauk for example." Rissa thought she'd approach things a little differently. She figured that there really wasn't any way all of the mating stuff had happened. But everyone knew Lord Arnauk's normal habits. If he had taken her up to his room there had to be more to it than the two of them just having a nap in his bed. She reeked of him. "Lord Arnauk never takes women to his room. He almost never takes all his clothes off. He tends to like women who are strong, intelligent, and show as few signs of remaining interested in him as possible. He never sleeps with the same woman twice in a row. He tends to make it short and sweet with as little affection in it as he can manage. He's always on top, usually with the woman on her hands and knees regardless of the form he's in. And probably the most important thing is that he never marks women. He'll come on the floor before on a woman if he can help it. He never comes inside a woman. And if he does accidentally get some on someone he sends her to the showers immediately."
Aislinn couldn't believe how much she seemed to know about Cullen's bedroom habits. She held herself in check. Different cultures, she reassured herself. "So do you know details about the sex life of everyone around here? Or have you experienced him first hand?"
Rissa saw the hurt look on Aislinn's face and realized she might have gone too far. Not to mention her tactics didn't seem to be working. "No, Ais, I've never been with Lord Arnauk. He'd never lie with a theta," she said with a guilty tone. "But we do tend to be relatively open about this stuff. I could take you down the hall and show you a room where people who've gotten bored with waiting have started to entertain themselves in the mean time. We don't hide sex the way humans do. I mean we've all seen him with the women Lord Arnauk beds. Like I said, he doesn't tend to take it private. That's why we're all so curious about you. It makes it look a lot more serious than he tends to get."
Aislinn nodded and bit her lip. On the list of things that Cullen supposedly didn't do she'd managed to break the standard on more than half of them. Something about that brought a secretive smile to her face that had Rissa's curiosity back in full swing. Not to mention what he'd said to her in the shower. She really didn't think she had the right to hold his past against him. I guess maybe I shouldn't be too bothered by what she's saying. If this is the way they are at least I'm finding out before he wants to bend me over in the middle of the great room. God, he might want to bend me over in the middle of the great room. I guess we'll see if he wants me again. I mean it's not like I'm in love with him right? I mean right now we're just having a little fun. Right? No need to get panicky or jealous or bothered by the way things are around here. At the same time something about the idea of being 'mounted' made Aislinn a little heated.
At that point a woman who had been standing off against a wall and just listening stepped in. "Perhaps she has nothing to tell." The woman was one of the stand outs from before. She had three other women with her. She was the angry one while the others looked amused. She would have been easy to spot one way or another. She was blonde with green eyes as compared to all the dark hair and brown eyes.
Rissa shifted uncomfortably. "Aislinn, this is Meredith." Aislinn smiled at the woman but didn't respond.
"Perhaps," Meredith reiterated. "Lord Arnauk took her up to his room for some reason other than what everyone is assuming and the girl has nothing to tell."
"He gave her the key to the penthouse Meredith," Rissa defended.
"So he's protecting her for some reason. That doesn't mean he's fucking her." Meredith walked over to the seating area. She looked down her nose at one of the women in a chair across from Aislinn and the woman did the head nod thing, jumped up from the chair, and allowed Meredith to have it.
Aislinn couldn't help the amused scoff and eye roll that followed. She had no intention of falling into a who-fucked-Cullen-better argument with this woman. Besides from what Rissa had said, Aislinn was fairly confident that she'd win hands down. Just know that gave her a little more confidence in dealing with this bitch. Bitch, Aislinn smiled, oddly appropriate.
Meredith tilted her head in a superior fashion so that she could look down on everyone even from her sitting position. "I'll ignore that seeing as you're probably ignorant of the way things work around here, this time. But for future reference little one, I'm a beta. That means that everyone less than that gets out of my way when I want. And you don't have any rank at all."
Aislinn caught the implication. But was not about to bow to this woman. She didn't spend the last seven years giving up everything save her pride to lose that now. She met the woman's gaze dead on as she talked. "I don't think that I'll be giving up my seat to you. But thanks for the warning just the same." Rissa gave Aislinn a warning look. Her eyes were like saucers and a little scared.
Aislinn's comment dropped the smile from Meredith's face. "I don't think you realize what you're dealing with here, little one."
Aislinn ignored Meredith and looked over at Rissa questioningly. "Okay that's several times I've been called 'little one.' Is that supposed to be an insult?"
Rissa swallowed and looked over at Meredith who was now fuming. "Yeah, uh, you are a little petite to be much of a threat to anyone Ais. And Meredith is a beta."
Aislinn heard the warning in Rissa's voice. But she just didn't feel threatened here. For seven years she had been warned ahead of time if she was in danger. And she had yet to get any warnings about this place or these people. Not to mention they had no idea what she was capable of. "Big things come in small packages," she answered Rissa and then looked back over at Meredith. "Did you want something or are you just in the habit of interrupting conversations you're not invited to?"
Meredith sat forward in her chair. "You must be pretty confident in your abilities to think you can speak to me like this and not have to worry about retribution."
"I guess you could say that," Aislinn answered. "Or you could say that it's hard for me to not be amused by the fact that someone so grand and mighty as you seem to think you are could feel so threatened by little old me. If you were confident in your position you wouldn't be bothering to try and find out who or what I am. You'd have moved on with your life, believing that no one like me could get in the way of whatever you had going on with Cullen. And I'm guessing that you must not be that important around here or you'd be in that meeting that Cullen called. So, no I'm not all that worried about you. It doesn't add up in a way that would make me."
Rissa couldn't believe what she was listening to. She had to admit that she didn't really know much about Aislinn. She knew that Aislinn had been nice and had learned her job quickly at the Taigh-Oèsda. She knew that Lord Arnauk had shown some favoritism toward Aislinn from the beginning and there were rumors that he had gotten her the job in the first place. Rissa knew that Aislinn had a weird scent and she didn't think that Aislinn was human. But if she wasn't human Rissa didn't know what she might be. In any case she had never actually had a personal conversation with Aislinn beyond the random chat in the break room or while waiting tables. This was definitely not something she had expected. She just hoped that Aislinn could back up what she was saying. She certainly didn't think that Aislinn looked capable of it.