“As for the packs of Western Eurasia,
I must establish their stability:
In battle, they are solid
In hardship, they are sturdy
And in Tradition, they are firm—dangerously so.
It is my fear that if the State of things were challenged,
these Alpha-men would not bend, but break.
And what then?”
—Lukas Bondevik, writing to his brother
The birch grove absolutely gleamed in the pale morning light. It was all the colors of royalty: the silver trunks rising like narrow pillars to hold up the world, the leaves gold and flowing like coins, the ground a vibrant carpet of purple pansies. There was no sound, save for the soft coo of a mourning dove.
The dove was perched on the shoulder of a man who walked with the slow, stately assurance of a king. And, indeed, he was a king: Francis Bonnefoy, High Alpha of Western Eurasia. His blond, wavy hair sparkled in the sunlight, his blue gaze as bright as the sky above. He regarded the trees with a thoughtful pride, as if he had planted them rather than simply claimed the land on which they grew.
“A good place, oui, mon fils?” He stroked the dove’s little head with a fond fingertip; the little brown bird cooed, closing his eyes in contentment. Francis chuckled. “Ah, wake up, Mathieu. It is time to fly, cheri.”
Gently, Francis cupped his hands beneath Matthew. He lifted the little dove up above his head, where Matthew hopped onto the branch. Matthew peered down at his father, his feathers ruffled in fright.
“It is alright, mon fils,” he assured his Omega son. “You jump, and flap your wings, and viola! You are flying.”
The little dove lingered on the branch, his tiny feet shuffling uncertainly.
Francis smiled sympathetically. “You know, if your mama was here, she would fly with you. But I am all you have, Mathieu. So you must trust me.” His gaze hardened slightly. “And I am an Alpha. I am your papa. So you must obey me. Fly.”
Matthew hesitated a moment longer, then spread his wings and took flight. He was unsteady at first, and dropped through the air more than once, but the breeze lifted him, and with a flurry of flapping wings, he flew through the grove.
Francis tipped his head back to laugh as the dove swooped around him, both of them joyful. “Well done, Mathieu! I am so proud of you, cheri.”
The moment of glee was broken by a sharp, snappish bark. The aggressive sound came from behind the king, who stiffened alertly, his heightened sense of hearing strained. He heard the leaves mingling, the blades of grass caressing each other, a mouse rooting about for seeds. And, beneath all these subtle noises, there was the near-silent rustle of air against the thick fur of a wolf just as it lunged.
The blond Alpha dove forward, arms outstretched, away from the attacker behind him—and when his hands hit the ground, they were no longer fingers and palms, but toes and paw pads, their blunt claws digging up and hurling back tufts of grass as he dashed through the birch grove.
He made it four bounding strides before a snarling beast clobbered him from behind, bowling him over. They crashed through a fern thicket, snarling and snapping, strands of saliva flying as a bright white teeth flashed savagely. Blue eyes wild with bloodlust, the king sank his fangs into his attacker’s ear. He would tear and kill to protect himself, and to protect his Omega son.
The brown wolf’s yelp rang out loudly enough that the golden Alpha backed off immediately. His opponent’s hazel eyes were bright with silent apology as he stepped slowly over to nuzzle the underside of the king’s jaw. The French Alpha gave a gentle lick to the Spaniard’s forehead, and the pair of them shifted to human form.
“I should know better than to attack you while you’re out with Matthew,” said Antonio, brushing bits of grass from his hands. “How are the flying lessons going?”
“They are going well. Mathieu is a brave little bird.” He held out a hand, and the dove flapped over to perch on it obediently. “How is your ear, mon ami?”
“Oh, I’ll live.” Antonio smiled at his friend, a hint of reproach creeping into his voice. “You’re going to spoil that Omega, Francis.”
Francis pursed his lips. “Non, I don’t think I will. Everyone gets a little coddled when they’re babies, Alpha or Omega. I’ll stop this soon, when his training begins. Don’t worry.”
“You pay me to worry.” Antonio crouched down, holding his arms out. “Come here, sobrino. Walk to Uncle Toni.”
Francis stooped down to let his son hop off his hand. On the ground, the dove gave a little shudder, and with a smooth ripple he shifted into his human form. He was a chubby toddler, and he nearly fell flat on his face as he made his unsteady way over to Antonio. Once he reached his uncle, the Spaniard’s fingers set to tickling him through his rose-colored gown, and Matthew giggled in delight.
Francis watched fondly. It was a shame his son’s mother had died giving birth; they would have made such a beautiful family, all of them golden-haired and blessed with eyes like pieces of fallen sky. Ah well, he thought. There’s no reason to grieve too deeply. She was just an Omega, and a female at that. Gilbert warned me that females cause more problems than they’re worth. What was that deformed female he knew once? Hungarian . . . Liza? Something like that . . .
“A gold piece for your thoughts.”
Francis glanced down. Antonio was studying him with amused curiosity. Francis shook his head. “Nothing important. Did you want something, mon ami?”
Antonio nodded. “Si, I did want something.” His expression had grown serious, which was rare and rarely a good sign. He stood up, holding Matthew on his hip. “It’s time for you to find a new mate.”
Francis waved this away without hesitation. “There is plenty of time for that.” He reached to take his son back. “Come, Mathieu, let’s go get you a sweetmeat for your excellent flying skills.”
Matthew smiled sweeter than any candy, his violet eyes going squinty in the corners just like his father’s did. Francis smiled and started back toward the city.
Antonio was fast on his heels. “I don’t think there’s plenty of time, and neither does Gilbert. You’re already thirty, Francis. You need to have an Alpha son who can take your place. If you’re High Alpha when you’re past your prime—”
He stopped, because he knew Francis didn’t want to hear it. No old man could stay leader for long without being overthrown. It would just make the kingdom weak, both to outsides and to darkly ambitious Alphas within the borders. The last thing they needed was a civil war.
Francis scowled. It was unfair to shame a person for how they had been born, but he admitted in silence that it would have been much easier if Matthew was an Alpha. Not that he loved him any less for being an Omega, of course. He was his family. Alpha and Omega differences couldn’t come between the blood-ties of kin. That was one of Francis’s most firm beliefs. Unfortunately, not all those in his kingdom agreed.
“Francis.” Antonio stood in front of his king, arms crossed over his chest, a pleading light in his hazel eyes. “Please. Let me spread the message that you seek a mate.”
Francis regarded his friend, brow furrowed, for a long moment. He really didn’t want to initiate the fuss of searching for a suitable Omega, but he knew that, besides the hassle, it was a good idea. He needed someone to give him an Alpha son. He could use the assurance of status that came with claiming a mate. And he wouldn’t mind having a servant to fuck. How long had it been, four years? Yes, it had, because he hadn’t joined Gilbert and Antonio on their trips to the brothel out east since his deceased mate had gotten pregnant. God, time had flown. It would be nice to have someone to take his tensions out on again.
Francis nodded to the Spanish Alpha. “Alright. Spread the word. I want a line of our finest unclaimed Omegas in the grand hall tomorrow morning.”
Antonio’s face lit up with a wide grin. “Yes, sir.” He spun around, fell into his wolf form, and dashed off across the countryside, letting loose an excited howl. Answering calls went up, some far and some near, yowls and bays like one would hear at a hunting rally, their eagerness spreading like wildfire.
Surrounded by the song of his Alpha packmates, Francis couldn’t help but smile. Above, the pink light of dawn had given way to a cheerful blue. The breeze carried with it the scent of pollen, of youth, of new beginnings. Things were going to change soon, Francis was sure of it. He only hoped it would be for the better.