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Only, of course, it wasn’t. For several seconds, every ounce of concentration I could muster focused upon forcing my lungs to billow and oxygenate my blood. But, at last, I was able to glance at the Tribunal member out of the corner of one eye and consider telling him that his grasp on reality was severely cockeyed.
“With all due respect, sir,” I answered, keeping my eyes carefully lowered so as not to provoke Chamberlain’s ire further, “if you were able to keep Dakota in line, you wouldn’t need me to help you.”
I didn’t expect the Tribunal member to like my answer—no dominant shifter likes to have his weaknesses thrown in his face. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of his reaction either.
Because before the final word had even left my mouth, Chamberlain’s inner wolf was growling so violently that it drowned out my assertion. Then the stubble on his chin stretched into proto-fur even as his manicured fingernails began lengthening into vicious claws.
Backing away as subtly as I could manage while still maintaining my seat, I decided that I hadn’t broached the subject in the best way after all. We all knew that the balance of power in the region was shaky, that we couldn’t afford risking civil war when one Tribunal member unilaterally squashed the actions of a regional enforcer. Thousands of lives rested in the balance, and Chamberlain was taking a risk even coming to speak with us today.
So, yes, Scary Guy had reason for his hair trigger. Maybe I should have let him maintain a foothold on his fantasy world for just a little while longer….
Luckily, Wolfie was no pissant and our father-daughter bond was fierce. “Back off,” he hissed, rising slightly to tower over the other male. And even though shifter protocol gave Scary Guy the higher rank, Dad’s boldness paid off.
Or maybe Chamberlain just remembered that he was the one asking for a favor this time around. It wasn’t as though there were other innocuous werewolf bakers waiting in the wings ready and willing to take my place.
Either way, the other male subsided gracefully, his aura of danger receding so dramatically that I was finally able to pry my eyeballs off the table and risk another fleeting glance in his general direction. “My mistake,” Chamberlain murmured, the words only moderately laden with a promise to rip my skin from the underlying bones in the near future.
“No offense taken,” I murmured, doing my best to defuse the aggression that inevitably arose when two strong males from different packs were cooped up within the same small room.
Dad was less politic. “So we’re all in agreement,” he summed up. “Ember is willing to infiltrate the pack and find out where the drugs are coming from. Her human partner will be brought in to analyze the chemical composition and determine what can be done to counteract them. But the whole strategy falls apart if Dakota won’t even let my daughter through the door in the first place.”
“So we sweeten the pot,” Scary Guy answered, his tone raising hairs all up and down my arms even though his words were perfectly cordial. “You’re a worried papa who needs Dakota to keep his wayward pup out of trouble with an easy job. And in exchange…”
I sighed, realizing at last what would make the other female willing to deal. “…and in exchange, you give Dakota the acknowledgement she craves. She becomes my alpha, my boss, my handler. Tell her you need the shifter equivalent of boot camp to shape me up. In other words, we let her win.”
And after that, it would all be up to me.
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