Fantasy Group Sex Non Human

South Mountain Pack

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“I remember my lessons Dad. I just don’t like it when people look at me like an experiment on a Petri dish,” Anthony interrupted him as he looked around the room and shrugged. “Damn, everyone in here is way older than me. I figured there’d be at least a couple of young guys.”

Carlo was silent for several minutes before he ran his hands over his face, “I forget you’re only seventeen. I forget all of you boys are so young and I’m asking so much of you… so much of everybody. I wonder if it’d be better if we left and started over somewhere else.”

“You’d never let the threat to our Pack go unanswered and hang over our head… especially since it involves Sophia,” Ant said as he stared at his father.

“You’re right, no matter where we went they’d find us because of the girls.” Carlo closed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair, “As far as Sophia… I wasn’t able to protect your sister, but my wolf and I sure as hell will protect your mate until we take our last breath.”

“The fucking Security Division?… I…I can’t believe that… they’ve taken oaths to uphold the laws of the Alpha Council,” Tristan said as he slowly exhaled as the others stood in stunned silence.

“Gabe did say he felt betrayal around him. We have to wonder though, why didn’t they warn the three Packs of the upcoming raids? Is it a play for power and money or something else?” Carlo asked quietly before turning to Paulo. “Can you find who accessed the account?”

“Unfortunately no, all I got was the IP address but it doesn’t tell me who was using the computer only the area it originated. The ACSD changes IP addresses randomly so I can’t target a specific computer. I can access the video and narrow it down by seeing who was using computers at the time,” Paulo said with a sigh. Ten minutes later he said, “The video’ll start five minutes before the alert.”

“Look at their body language,” Savannah said as she sat next to Paulo and stared at the laptop monitor. “You’re looking for someone who’s trying to hide what they’re doing, looking over their shoulder, is tense and displays agitated movements, like running his hands through his hair, deep breathing and rolling his neck.” The men turned to stare at her and she shrugged, “I’m a criminal attorney, I see this type of behavior on a daily basis.”

“Alpha Carlo, while you’re doing this I’d like to take Rain to the roof so he can do his recon,” Ed said as he looked at his watch.

“Take Frank, George, Brad, Aldo and Jeff with you,” Carlo said as he continued to stare at the screen.

“I’ve got everything I need,” Rain said as he nodded to the x-large duffle bag he had kept at his side the entire day. The men headed to the third floor and went down the hall stopping in front of the door to the center column. “Frank, this is the first time I’ve been anywhere but the cafeteria and gym. It’s freakin amazing.”

“Aldo and his men have done a wonderful job maintaining the building and all the updates have been historically accurate while upholding current codes. That’s why it’s considered one of the more important historical buildings in Maryland,” Frank said with pride as Aldo smiled. Jeff walked ten feet down the hallway and removed a piece of baseboard molding revealing a keypad, after he typed in the code the door opened revealing a staircase leading to the tower room.

Aldo removed the third tread on the staircase revealing a keypad, after typing in the code he replaced the tread and proceeded up the stairs opening the trap door and the men followed him into the tower room. The only furnishings in the room were a small table with two chairs and a two door metal cabinet. “We keep tools here, so we don’t have to run down to the maintenance shop,” Aldo explained with a shrug as he moved to the front wall and removed the window molding. He typed the code in and part of the rear wall swung open on hinges.

“Follow me,” Jeff said as he stepped through the door onto the flat roof.

Rain set his bag down and got out a notebook and pen before turning to Aldo, “You have the exact dimensions and plans of the roof?”

Aldo turned to Frank who said, “Get him a copy of the external specs.” Jeff nodded and headed to the maintenance department in the basement.

Aldo opened his notebook and followed Rain to the roof’s edge where he crouched down to check the decorative iron railing that ran along it. “Doesn’t provide much cover does it?” Rain asked to no one in particular. “We’re going to need solid planks, like an inch thick of lead.”

Aldo asked, “How high and is it to cover the whole roof line?”

“We don’t want them to cover the entire surface, we’ll need sections open so we can shoot and use them for cover. At the corners, leave a 1′ section open on both sides. We don’t want them to be visible, so lay them out and when we need them we’ll insert them in ‘U’ brackets,” Rain looked at Frank, “We’re the two broadest guys, lay next to me and they can measure us to see how wide the planks need to be.” After they lay down, Aldo pulled a tape measure out of his pocket and Ed measured them and Aldo wrote it down. Rain got up and looked at the measurements, “They’ll need to be 6′ long and 2′ high. I’ll go over the plans with Tristan and we’ll send the schematics of where we want them set up.”

Rain continued walking around the roof line until he arrived back to where his bag lay. Crouching down he pulled out Steiner binoculars and went to the right side of the tower room. “What are you looking for?” Frank asked as the men moved to stand next to him.

“Several things. I’m trying to figure out which way they’re going to come, the front gate is obvious but if they’re trying to sneak up on you, they’ll come through the woods. You’ve got cameras and made funnels to direct them, that’s good but once they get to the wall, they’re going to look for the least resistance while still looking for cover,” Rain said as he turned to glance at Frank. “That jump from the top of the wall will be difficult, but it can be done.”

“We’re installing an iron railing with ornamental spikes in front of the shrubbery and we’re also putting spikes inside. Well, I guess it won’t be so ornamental if they get speared with them,” Frank said with a smile.

“Right before the battle paint them with liquid silver and shake wolfsbane on it when the paint is tacky,” Rain said as he moved along the roof, staring and then looking through the binoculars before writing in his notebook.

“Where can we get wolfsbane? I don’t know of anybody that has it,” Aldo said as he turned to stare at Rain before writing in his notebook.

“There’s a store in Leesburg, VA, called Esoterica. It’s a new age store and they sell healing crystals, herbs, candles and other similar items. I doubt they carry it but they may know of somebody who grows it. They also carry Moonstone, you may want to buy some of the larger rocks, have Luna bless them on the full moon and place them around the grounds for added protection.”

Frank looked at Rain in amazement, “I never would’ve thought you believed in the power of crystals and rocks.”

Rain said in a quiet voice, “When you’ve been to some of the places I’ve been and seen some of the things I have… well, you learn to accept and believe in things you don’t understand.” He turned to Aldo, “When you go, talk to the staff because there are crystals that will help center you when you’re meditating and help you focus.” Frank passed the information to Carlo knowing Maeve wanted to find somebody to help her understand her gift better.

After he finished his visual inspection of the roof and grounds, he went to his bag and pulled out an olive green plastic carrying case. The men leaned forward anxious to see the weapon inside and Rain flipped the locks revealing an M24 sniper rifle and scope nestled inside foam interior compartments. He assembled it and handed it to Ed, “Joe verified its empty, but before I do anything more I want you to verify it also. I need to lie down at the edge of the roof to get a good feel for things. I’ll do it on the back of the building, away from the football field.” Ed took the rifle and verified the chamber and magazine were empty. Rain lay down and put a small sandbag under the muzzle and moved until he found the position he wanted, “We won’t use the bi-pod stand because we’ll have to move around too much, the sandbag will allow us the flexibility to do that. Aldo, here is where we’ll be shooting from, so you’ll want the planks here.” He pointed to an area 8″ behind the muzzle.

Jeff went into the tower room and came back with spray paint and sprayed a small line. “I’m not sure how many men Alpha Carlo and Tristan are going to put up here, but we should plan on 40 — 50, depending on how many are attacking and where they are. To put it simply, the bullets we’re going to manufacture are lead-tipped silver with a wolfsbane core. We need to find people to mine the silver from Swift’s and then manufacture the bullets according to our specs; obviously we can’t do it. Tristan will talk to Alpha Carlo about that when we get more information.”

Rain got up, dismantled his rifle and carefully put it into the case and said, “Now I need some pictures.” He got out a digital camera and walked around taking pictures of the areas he had noted down. They repeated the process in relocking the tower room and center column before rejoining the others.

“Any luck?” Frank asked as they walked in the cafeteria which had just been finished being cleaned.

Carlo shook his head in disgust, “Every fucking computer was being used and Savvie says they all look guilty of something. Paulo’s going to enhance it to see if he can get any more details. We do have something interesting; ten minutes after the account was accessed Charles was served his tray.” Paulo cued the video on the large screen and the men watched Charles howl before shifting.

“We’re assuming that was his reaction to finding out the money was gone,” Tristan said with a smile. “Losing $600 mil will do that to a man.”

“The question is… how did he find out? Nobody spoke to him, the metal in the bars prevents the use of the bond, and his cell is away from the others … so again, how did he find out?” Savannah asked before taking a sip of sweet tea.

“Had to be a note. Look at the guard; when they open the cart doors he pulls out a specific tray and instead of watching the prisoner while he hands it to him, he glances down like he’s telling him something. I’m getting a feeling of subservience; but there’s something off about it, like he’s doing this because he has to, not because he wants to,” Aldo said as he stood to the side of the screen.

After watching the video three more times, Carlo said, “You’re right Aldo. It’s very subtle but it’s there. When he sits on his cot that must be when he read it because he howled and shifted almost immediately.”

“How’d you spot it?” Savannah asked as she turned to Aldo.

“Twenty years of working here. Even though the families use the bond, they still need to find ways to talk to their friends when they’re supposed to be studying,” Aldo said with a grin as the others nodded.

Carlo glanced at his watch, “Let’s finish.” After everyone was seated, Vinnie and Carmelo passed out copies for the next item to be discussed. The first page contained the Key to the Prophecies and was numbered 1 – 8 with Italian, French, and Greek filling the first three spots with the rest empty. Each page contained a Prophecy, the original along with the translation and how they pertained to Anthony and Sophia. He waited until they finished reading and looked around the room, “As you can see, we’ve located three, and possibly know of a fourth, more on that later.” He explained how Dante had revealed the Italian Prophecy and the discovery of the other two. “Do you know of any others?”

They shook their heads and Savannah said, “I’ll ask The Elders, they may know something and I’ll go through the Alpha journals and the Archives.”

Tristan shook his head, “I’ve already asked everyone and Rain and I went though the rest of the books in the Archives and haven’t found anything else.”

Carlo nodded, “As for the Prophecies, we’ve discovered increased powers my son has using the mental bond. Anthony is able to communicate to those he isn’t related to by blood or Pack ties; this morning he was able to talk to Alpha Tristan and Rain. He also has a farther than normal range when using it. We haven’t tested the range yet, but he was able to talk to a Pack member who was 25 miles away.” There were gasps from PR and Tristan and Rain sat back with smirks on their faces.

Tristan looked at Carlo, “We should do more tests; does he have to know them? Be physically near the person? What are the limits?”

Savannah, who had been reading over the Prophecies again, quietly said, “He doesn’t know all the members I have with me today since this is the first time some of the younger boys are here. He probably saw them when you visited our Pack, but I don’t think he really knows them. Let’s see how many he can contact.” She stopped and put her pen down, “What other powers does he have?”

“I don’t know. I honestly have no idea what he can do or how he does it,” Carlo answered with a sigh as his voice trailed off. “What I do know is his strength is off the charts, he’s been hiding it from us so I don’t think even he knows how strong he is.” He was quiet for several minutes before saying, “The first half is almost done. We’re ahead 30 — 6 so Coach is pulling the seniors and Anthony for the second half. He would like to join us.”

“Are you going to talk to me? You’ve been mad at me all week,” Bob asked as he moved to run alongside Lorenzo on the way to the locker room. Getting no response other than a growl he continued, “You know you’re gonna have to talk to me during the game since you’re the QB and I’m a receiver.”

Lorenzo stopped running and glared at him, “You went on a fucking date with MY MATE. You were whispering to MY MATE. You put your hands on MY MATE. You scented MY MATE.”

Bob grinned and said, “But she wasn’t your mate… THEN.”

“I’m gonna fucking kill you,” Lorenzo growled as Vin, Dom and Damian held him back and Bob began to laugh loudly as his brothers Patrick, Jim, and Ethan moved quickly to his side. Ant grinned and motioned for them to head in the gym and they nodded as grins spread across their faces before they left.

Vin pushed Lorenzo before grabbing him by the facemask and staring into his eyes, “You know he’s right; Erin was free to do what she wanted with who she wanted. The person you’re really upset with is yourself; you’re mad because it wasn’t you on that date with her.”

“Bob’s been your friend since you were in diapers so get over it. If it wasn’t him on the date with Erin, then it would’ve been somebody else,” Dom said as he grabbed the other side of the facemask and they lead a growling Lorenzo towards the gym as everyone else followed.

“He’s right bro. The past couple of weeks you’ve been acting like a bear with a sore ass… or is it a sore head? I can never remember that expression and what exactly does it mean anyway? How the hell do they tell if a bear has a sore ass? Or a sore head? And who in the hell would want that job? And what kind of college degree do they have to have? They’d better be getting paid a shitload of money if they have to check some bears ass,” Damian rambled while The Clan stopped and stared at him as he continued to walk. He began laughing so hard he stopped walking and put his hands on his knees, “You see what I did there? Shitload and ass. Damn, that was funny; I crack myself up.” He stopped to look at the rest of the boys and noticed they were ten feet behind him staring at him, “What?”

“You’re seriously disturbed Carlucci,” Angelo said as he began to laugh. “I mean seriously. What the hell goes on in your brain to think like that?”

Damian smirked. “Aldo gets feelings and premonitions, Maeve sees auras and I… I have the gift of disambiguation and dissimulation.”

“You don’t have any special gifts you fucking nitwit,” muttered Marcus as he rolled his eyes. “And the only ‘dis’ you are… is DISturbed.”

“Those were this week’s vocabulary words in Mrs. G’s English class you fucking idiot,” Gianni said as he frowned.

“And part of our homework was to use them in a sentence. Which I just did … so mission accomplished,” Damian continued to smirk before he ran towards the gym when Marcus and Gianni began to chase him.

“You need to get ready for the second half. You going to behave?” Vin asked Lorenzo and when he nodded the two oldest Carlucci’s let go of his face mask and he quickly caught up to Marcus and Gianni.

“I can’t believe they’re going to be my brother in laws,” Alberto said as he ran his hands over his face. “What the hell did I do to deserve them?”

“I heard that. You should be thanking Luna that my beautiful sister is your mate,” Damian said as he turned at the door of the gym. “Having us for brothers in law is the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the sundae, the extra prize in the Cracker Jack box, a double scoop of vanilla ice cream with apple…” He stopped as he was tackled by Lorenzo, Marcus and Gianni.

The older boys started to laugh as Coach JR shouted, “Get in the locker room now or I’m gonna bench all of you.” The boys scrambled to their feet as JR shook his head before he started to grin.

Anthony stood in the hallway and listened as they discussed the Prophecies and his father told everyone about Dante’s upcoming meeting with Alpha Lykaion. “Hey Vin, you’re with Sophia and Abby, right?”

“They’re on the bleachers, sitting with the young’uns,” Vin responded as he scanned the bleacher area before he began to smile. “Though I don’t know how much attention Sal’s paying since he’s staring at Gabs and drooling.”

“Bite me Vin,” Sal retorted as he glared at his oldest brother before he returned his attention to Gabby. She waved and Sal brought his hand up to wave back spilling his tub of popcorn all over Victor.

“I’m not even going to say anything cause I can see you’re in enough misery,” Victor said quietly as Sal buried his face in his hands and muffled laughter was heard from the boys as the girls smiled.

“I’m ready to go into this meeting but I’ll keep the bond open if you need me,” Ant replied as he took a deep breath and rolled his neck.

“We believe Dante located the fourth one in England and his cousin Jarrod Coleman, Alpha of Thetford Pack and the Earl of Thetford will be here next week to discuss it,” Carlo said and turned to stare down the hallway. “Are you going to come in or stand in the hallway all day?” Seeing Anthony nod, Carlo continued, “After my son comes in, I’d like Dr. Sullivan to discuss a theory of his.”

Paulo flushed bright red and began to fidget in his seat, “Dad, can I leave? I don’t want to hear about heat cycles and stuff. I’ll come back if you need me.” Joe nodded and watched Paulo nod to the Alpha’s before leaving and smiled when he saw Paulo bump fists with Ant as they passed each other in the doorway.

Anthony entered the room instantly feeling uncomfortable as everyone stared at him. He walked to his father with his head down, shoulders slumped and he was dragging his feet. Seeing this Carlo narrowed his eyes, “You are Anthony Eduardo Rossi, Alpha-heir of South Mountain Pack, a blood born direct descent of over two thousand years of Rossi Alpha’s… ACT LIKE IT.”

Anthony’s head snapped up as he stared at his father. His demeanor changed and a crooked grin came over his face as he strode confidently towards his father with his shoulders back. He nodded to the visiting Alpha’s and turned to face the others saying in a firm clear tone, “Let me introduce myself to those that don’t know me; I’m Anthony Rossi, Alpha-heir of South Mountain Pack.”

Carlo nodded for Doc to start and motioned for his son to join him at the Alpha’s table, “Don’t ever let me see you behave like that again. Always remember you are a Rossi and belong to one of the oldest lines of Were’s. During the time of the Royal Court we were Princes and Dukes…”

Mr. P scanned the stadium and grounds as he stealthily made his way to the bleachers where the Clan and the Crew were sitting. Feeling his phone vibrate he looked at the text, ‘Road clear. Continuing patrols’, and typed a reply, ‘Continue. Fourth quarter 30 — 13’. He thought back to the time before cell phones and smiled; while they could use the bond in wolf form, when they were in human form they had to rely on family bonds and sometimes a message had to go through ten people to get passed on if the Alpha didn’t leave the bond open for them. He scented Enzo moving to stand next to him and without looking he said, “Good game young Enzo.”

“Thanks, but I get the feeling you came over here to talk about more than the game,” Enzo said as he watched the young ones on the bleachers, particularly Hope and Brooke who were jumping from row to row.

Mr. P nodded and said quietly, “Gather your team, we need to talk. The Elders have voted who is going into the safe room.”

Enzo nodded and saw Hope begin to fall as her feet got tangled. Before he could holler, Victor snaked his arm around her and pulled her onto his lap. “You okay munchkin?” Victor whispered before he blew raspberries on her cheek.

Even though her eyes were bright with unshed tears, she grinned, “I’s is fine. I knews you’d catches me so I weren’t skeered at all. I’s a big gihrl.”

“I told you to stop doing that. You need to listen to your elders,” her nine year old cousin Alec said with a loud sigh.

She scrunched her little face up, “You’s not an elder. Gweat Gwampa Howie says they’s old an gwrumpy, like Gweat Gwampa Marvie. You’s not old, you’s jus gwrumpy an bossay.”

Mr. P grinned as he said, “You’d think after 50 plus years those two would finally be able to get along, especially since their families are joined.”

“I’ve heard the story,” Enzo said as he turned to look at Mr. P. “Are they really still upset over a poker game?”

“Yep. Thing is, it wasn’t even a big pot, like we play for nowadays, we were playing Penny-ante. Howard said Marvin didn’t put in the full bet, Marvin said he did and it escalated from there. Ironic thing is neither of them won the pot. They were good friends too and after that they refused to be around each other, except when they had to,” Mr. P said with a shrug. “When Marvin’s son made his declaration for Howard’s daughter, everyone thought the feud would go away, but it hasn’t. They still don’t talk, and it’s been over 50 years.”

Enzo smiled and said, “And I thought Italians held grudges.”

“We do young Enzo, we do,” Mr. P replied with a smile. “It looks like the little ones are getting restless, why don’t we go near the fence so they can release some of that pent up energy.” Enzo nodded and since Ant left the bond open, he contacted the members of the team and moments later, they gathered their charges and made their way to the fence.

“Where are you going with the little ones?” Dom asked from the sidelines as Vin turned around and watched Victor carry Hope and Hyatt.

“Don’t get your panties in a wad,” Enzo replied with a scowl. “We’re going to the fence. Mr. P wants a meeting and the little ones are restless.”

“Okay, but make sure they stay safe,” Vin said with a glare.

“What the fuck? We’re gonna be there, we’re in the middle of The School House grounds, the entire fucking Pack is here, so what exactly do you think is gonna fuckin happen?” Enzo asked with a snarl.

“You think I missed you letting Hope almost fall? Don’t forget I’m your oldest brother, I know all and see all,” Vin retorted as he moved to the left so he could see the fence line where the little ones were.

“I’m ten feet away, so tell me how I almost let her fall?” When Vin didn’t answer, Enzo replied, “See Mr. Know It All, you don’t know a fucking thing.” Enzo smirked at the glare Vin gave him before he and Mr. P walked to the fence.

After making sure the little ones were settled, the team turned to Mr. P. “The Elders had their meeting and discussed the skills the Pack would need to start over, each pair of mated Elders, their strengths, weaknesses and how they matched up to what was needed. The selections were narrowed to five pairs. This morning we informed Alpha Carlo, Madame Gina, Frank and Joe so they could give their approval. If they hadn’t agreed or wanted changes we would have abided by their wishes but they approved our choices,” he said as he looked around the stadium then turned to look at the little ones before focusing his attention on the team.

The youngsters nodded and waited patiently for him to continue, “The first is Dwight and Gladys Sullivan; he’s a Doctor and she’s a scientist. The second is Randall and Donna Knight; he’s a former Chief of Police and she’s an architect. The third is Robert and Alessia Benedetto, he’s a lawyer and she’s an accountant. The fourth is Howard and Annette Martin; he’s a former Senator, they are excellent hunters both as wolves and with guns and she is skilled at gardening, canning vegetables and preserving meat. The last pair is my mate and I, even though I’m not technically an Elder for another two months, they think my particular set of skills being a former CIA agent would come in handy, as well as my mates skills at gardening, sewing, and helping Madame Gina with the little ones.”

Enzo said, “Do they know they’ve been chosen?”

“Yes, they were informed after my talk with the Alpha’s and Level 5’s this morning,” Mr. P responded as he looked around the stadium. “Alpha Carlo and Madame Gina wanted me to make one thing clear to them… they will be there to help, but all decisions will be up to Sophia, you, and the team.”

The team nodded and Sophia said, “Paulo’ll send out an email with details of our next meeting.” She turned to the team, “At the next meeting, I want a list of your team members, what supplies you need as well as a budget.”

“One last thing,” Mr. P said as he looked at Sophia then Enzo. “When I let the others know we had a talk and none of us has a clue where we should go. Except for an occasional trip to Italy, none of us have been out of the country.” He nodded to the Team and walked away pulling his phone out of his pocket.

Michael sighed, “Anybody have any ideas?”

“None,” Sophia said with a shrug. “I do know two people that would have that information; do you think we should involve them?”

Enzo sighed before nodding reluctantly, “I’ll call them now.” He pulled his phone out of pocket and they heard it ringing before it went to voicemail. There was no flowery greeting, only ‘Leave a message’ and Enzo took a deep breath before he said, “We need you. We need both of you, it’s bad, real bad.” He called a second number and left the same message.

As Doc finished speaking, the reactions of those in the room were excited mingled with disbelief. Savannah leaned back in her chair and said, “Dr. Sullivan, I want to clarify something. You think even the women who have stopped going into heat will begin again? What makes you think that?”

“Let me start with this example and then I’ll answer your questions. Two weeks ago Anna Moretti had some unusual bleeding lasting only a few hours; it was unusual because she had her period and heat cycle only four months prior. Last week she went into heat and after trying through three cycles she is expecting her first little one with her mate Marco.” Marco was sitting off to the side taking notes and grinned as everyone cheered and Carmelo had a broad smile on his face. “As far as the women going into heat after their cycles stopped… I think there is a possibility, let me stress that… a possibility of it happening. With the threat of the line perishing our wolves will want to make sure their bloodline continues.” The majority of the men began to talk excitedly since they and their wolves were the most content when their mates were expecting. It was also the time they were the most protective of their family.

“What are your recommendations?” Savannah asked as the men quieted down.

“We need to pay closer attention to the heat cycles than we normally do. Are they closer than the usual six to seven months? Is the duration longer than the usual seven days? Are they stronger than normal? If they do conceive, how soon after the cycle began did it happen? As far as the women that had stopped their cycles – we need to monitor their behavior as well as their wolves to see if they’re experiencing increased stress or anxiety about the upcoming battle. Anything that would trigger their wolf to go into heat again,” Doc said as PR and Tristan took notes.

Savannah smiled at Frank and Joe, “While we have a marked birth differential, it isn’t as pronounced as your Pack. None of the families have as many boys as you two, most have two to three boys before they have a girl.”

“Trust the Carlucci’s to be overachievers and outdo everyone else,” Tristan said with a smirk. “I’m not sure if Luna blessed or cursed you.”

“I’m not sure either,” Frank said with a grin. “Be grateful you don’t have to feed and clothe them.”

“Or put up with everything they get into,” Joe added with a laugh.

“I’ve heard about Damian and his antics, and believe me I’m grateful neither of my boys are like him,” Tristan responded as everyone began to laugh.

“He is a handful and I hate to admit it, but he is pretty funny,” Carlo said with a smile before he looked around the room. “But don’t let that fool you. Like all Carlucci’s, he’s an exceptionally gifted fighter, extremely protective of those he cares about, has been trained from birth to observe and react to what’s going on around him and won’t hesitate to take on any threat he sees.” All eyes in the room shifted to the Carlucci’s standing behind their Alpha. Both men had their arms crossed over their chest and had a steely look in their emerald eyes as they nodded.

Tristan glanced at his cousin and said in a flat tone, “I’d like to propose a trade Carlo. Rain for one of the Carlucci youngsters…” Rain snapped his head toward his cousin and began to scowl. “To make it fair based on skill level, it’ll have to be one of the younger ones…” The room was silent as Rain glared at his cousin before looking away and fisting his hands. “Probably one of the fifteen year olds.”

Rain remained quiet, knowing he couldn’t say anything out loud. If they were on their territory and Tristan said this in front of their Pack, he would tell him off like he normally would, but not here. Not in front of a neighboring Pack, make that two Packs, so he kept quiet. At least out loud. “What the fuck Tris?”

“You don’t think that’s a fair trade? Do you think SP is getting way more out of the trade since you don’t measure up to one of the baby Carlucci’s?” Tristan asked as he began to smirk. Everyone was glancing between the cousins knowing they were talking through the bond.

“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re comparing me to a fifteen year old? Are you fucking nuts?” Rain continued to rant before totally losing his cool and waving his arms in the air resembling a windmill as everyone began to laugh quietly. “When we get home, I’ll show you my fighting skills you miserable bastard.”

“Ah, ah, ah, you’re letting your temper show, and if anybody is a miserable bastard, it’s you,” Tristan said with a smile. He turned to face the others, “You’ll have to excuse me teasing my cousin, but we needed a laugh.” Seeing the nods and hearing the laughter, he continued, “All of you know the bond between an Alpha and his Level 5 is unique. There are many variables as to how strong the bond is; if they are related by blood like Rain and I, have family ties like Savannah and Marlin, or bonds of friendship that go back thousands of years like Carlo, Frank and Joe.” He turned to Rain with a sincere expression, “They are our sounding boards, our moral compass, our protectors and the true backbone of the Pack. There is no one, beside our mates who we trust more. When an Alpha stands in front of his Pack to protect them, it’s the Level 5 who stands by his side or in front to protect the Alpha. Without them, our job would be a thousand times harder. So, while I like to tease my cousin, I would be lost without him and he knows it.” Rain nodded in acknowledgement of the heartfelt words his cousin said.

“Are you going to tell your cousin you love him so we can finish our meeting?” Savannah asked with a smile.

Tristan laughed loudly followed by everyone else before he turned to Rain and said, “I know I haven’t said this in years, but you know I love you.”

Rain nodded and said in a gruff voice, “I love you too, you ugly bastard.”

“Now that we got the proclamations of love out of the way, let’s finish,” Carlo said with a smile as he motioned for Doc to continue.

“We’ve ordered extra supplies and youngsters over fifteen, boys as well as girls, will be trained in labor and delivery, learning to care for newborns and advanced First Aid,” Doc said looking over his notes. “We’re making sure every medical record is current and Paulo is writing a program for us to digitalize them.”

Carlo stood as Doc sat down, “If things happen as Doc thinks, we’ve decided not to inform the Alpha Council what’s going on. They’d want to know why and the specifics and we don’t want to tip our hand.”

Savannah looked at Carlo then Tristan, “I feel it is my ethical duty to remind you that you are under a contractual obligation as Alpha to not submit falsified information to the Council. If it is discovered before this comes to a head, they could place you and your Pack under sanctions, up to and including suspension of your voting rights, your seat on the Council and disbanding your Pack.”

Carlo nodded, “We are NOT going to falsify documents; we need to find a way to fulfill our obligations without disclosing things we don’t want them to know. John and Antonia Benedetto, the Packs lawyers, are working on that.”

“I do it all the time,” Tristan said with a grin as Rain nodded. “We’ve always felt the AC was too intrusive on Pack matters. What business is it of theirs when the females go into heat? What declarations were made? What the finances are?” He turned to Carlo, “Do you tell them how much money your Pack has? I bet you don’t.” Next he looked at Savannah, “Did you tell them when you mated with Garner, or did you push back the date? He is almost six years younger than you.”

Savannah slowly put her pen down, her Pack members sat up straight all traces of humor gone from their faces and Marlin, her brother in law and Level 5, growled low in his throat. The tension ratcheted up as Rain narrowed his eyes and scanned the room looking for any sudden movements. “Tristan, I advise you to keep any and all thoughts about when my mating took place out of your head and mouth. What I do in my personal life has nothing to do with our discussion here.”

“That is exactly the point I’m trying to make Savannah,” Tristan replied with a shrug. “It is none of their business what happens in our Packs. We fill in the required reports with the bare minimum of information. Always have and always will and they’ve never said or done anything to us.”

“How exactly do you do that?” Carlo asked with a frown.

Tristan folded his arms over his chest, “Where it asks, ‘Have any declarations been made?’, I answer yes or no. The line, ‘Any births?’, same answer. I don’t provide them any additional details. It’s none of their fucking business.”

Carlo looked to John who nodded then turned to Savannah, “I suggest you get a PA and have them fill in the paperwork, and I’ll have Marco do ours. If we get called before the Disciplinary Board we can honestly say we had nothing to do with it, they won’t be able to pick out deceit or dishonesty in our scent.”

“Good idea, I’ll have somebody within a day or two,” Savannah said with a nod. She read over her notes quickly before saying, “If there’s nothing else, why don’t we have Anthony test the bond on those here and then expand it to the Pack.”

All eyes shifted to Anthony, and even though he didn’t like everyone staring at him he didn’t let it show. “Whoever can hear me, raise your hand.” There were startled gasps as everyone in the room raised their hand.

“Hold on,” Savannah said and asked if anyone at the game had gotten a message over the bond, and didn’t receive any replies, except for Garner and her father in law. “How did you do that?”

“I knew only those above a Level 2 were here, so that’s what I concentrated on; just like Dad taught me,” Anthony said with a shrug. “I didn’t take into account Alpha Garner or his Dad though.”

“There for a second, I swear I felt something… like pressure in my head,” Savannah said as she rubbed her temple. “It didn’t hurt and it wasn’t uncomfortable, but more like pressure in my ear like it wanted to pop.”

Tristan slowly nodded, “Now that you mention it, I felt the same thing earlier. I didn’t put the two together because as soon as he talked to us, you were arriving and we said we’d talk about it later.”

“He must be using the Alpha bond,” Carlo said as he squeezed Ant’s hand.

“Try it again, but contact my whole Pack,” Savannah said with a reassuring smile. “I’ll try and concentrate to see if I can feel what you’re doing.”

Anthony nodded and sent out the same message, seconds later Savannah heard Garner say, “Everyone from our Pack just raised their hand.”

“It worked, I could feel him using my bond but it was so subtle I had to concentrate to feel it,” Savannah said. “Now that you’ve established a link with them try talking to them without using it.”

He sent the same message to those in the room, and they raised their hand. Marlin said, “It worked, but it wasn’t as clear or as loud, almost as if he was talking with his hand over his mouth.” The other members of PR nodded.

“Marlin lets make sure it works both way, you say something to him,” Savannah said as the Level 5 nodded.

“Congratulations on your declaration,” Marlin said as he narrowed his eyes.

Anthony raised one eyebrow, “Thank you… I know you hoped either Sophia and or Maria were mates to your sons. To maintain harmony and friendship between our Packs, I’ll forget that and we’ll move on.”

“I was hoping for strong mates for my sons and having Carlucci’s for in laws would have been a bonus,” Marlin admitted with a shrug. “Thank you for understanding and I’ll make sure they don’t bother your intended.”

Anthony turned to his father, “It works fine, I heard him loud and clear…” he turned to Marlin and narrowed his eyes, “And he heard me loud and clear.”

Carlo nodded, “That must have been an interesting conversation. Anything I need to know about?”

“Not really, just letting Marlin know I knew of his desire to have Sophia and or Maria for a daughter in law and that we’d move forward from it,” Anthony replied as he began to doodle in the corner of his notes.

Savannah glanced at her watch, “I’d like to experiment more, but we don’t have time. If there’s nothing else, we should adjourn the men, while we set up a date and time for calls and plans for another meeting.”

Carlo nodded, “The rest of you go and enjoy the last few minutes of the game; we’re ahead 37-20.” The PR men looked to their Alpha who nodded before they gathered their notes and followed Carmelo, Vinnie and half of the SMP Beta’s out of the room while Todd, Mr. G and the rest of SMP Beta’s followed.

Tristan turned to Rain, “Do you have everything we need?”

He nodded, “Yes, but I’d like to come back with some Level 4’s to familiarize ourselves with the woods, schoolhouse, and grounds.”

“Savannah, your Pack would need to do the same, so we’ll meet here September 28th. Frank and Joe will make plans with your Level 5’s. As we talked about earlier, we’ll have a conference call after my meeting with Jarrod,” Carlo said as the other Alpha’s nodded. He nodded to Joe to retrieve a box from the cafeteria.

“Dad, can I be part of the recon?” Anthony asked quietly.

Carlo looked at Frank before saying, “Your father in law will be in charge of that, so you need to talk that over with him.”

Frank narrowed his eyes as he looked at Anthony, “Yes, you can be a part of it as well as several youngsters. I expect you to pay close attention and not be distracted by my daughter or your friends.”

“Yes, Sir,” Anthony replied as he made note of the date on his phone.

When Joe returned he handed the box to Carlo. After opening it he handed each Alpha a phone and read off a paper in his hands, “Here are Satellite phones, they’re encrypted, untraceable and only to be used in communications between us and Gabe. SMP can be reached by hitting #*701, PR #*601, SP #*501 and Gabe #*401. They’re set up so if another number is dialed, a trace will start since we’ll assume you’re under duress. The redial button’s been disabled and there’s no incoming or outgoing call log. Finally, if they’re destroyed or the battery is removed, it’ll send an alert of your last position.”

“If they’re untraceable, how is that possible?” Tristan asked as he looked over his phone before handing it to Rain.

“Something Paulo whipped up?” Savannah asked with a smile.

Joe smiled, “I have no clue how it works. All I know is he took the phone apart and threw some things away before adding other things he built.”

As they were gathering papers to leave, Savannah looked at Carlo and asked, “Did you ever get that helicopter you were talking about?”

“Dante ordered me a Sikorsky S-76C-something; it should be here in a couple of weeks. The problem is, none of us know how to fly the damn thing,” Carlo said with a laugh. “I asked the Pack who wanted to learn and none of them want to. They all want to keep their feet on the ground.”

“I can help with that,” Tristan said with a grin. “We know several former military pilots who are looking for jobs. They’re not Were, but they’re damn good pilots and are familiar with the different models of Sikorsky helicopters.”

“Can you send me their information so we can do background checks on them?” Joe asked as Tristan nodded.

“Most of their information will be inaccessible since they’re military, but I’ll pass on what I know,” Tristan replied. “Oh, and they’re female.”

“As long as they get me from Point A to Point B safely, I could care less. Actually, I’m going to need four pilots. After seeing Dante’s plane I decided I want one. I figured I could get it if I said I was buying it for Gina… just don’t tell her,” Carlo smiled sheepishly as the others began to laugh. “I ugh already ordered it. It’ll be ready in three months since they have to change the specs due to my height and they’re waiting to hear from Rose so she can design the interior.”

“She’ll be thrilled to do it, since it’s for Gina,” Frank said in a sarcastic tone before he broke out in laughter again.

“Mom’s gonna flip out,” Anthony said with a smile. “Especially since you gave her such a hard time with her new SUV and that was what $50,000 with the upgrades? This is what twenty or thirty million?”

“A little more with upgrades… but your mom’s worth it,” Carlo said with a grin.

“Especially if it’s something YOU want,” Anthony retorted with a matching grin.

“Exactly, now let’s get out to the game, there’s only a minute left,” Carlo replied as he threw his arm over his sons shoulders as they walked out of the room.

As they were walking across the grounds Savannah quietly said to Joe, “I meant to ask earlier, how is Maria?”

“She says she’s fine,” Joe began before he hesitated and sighed loudly. “But I think… no, let me change that… I feel like there’s something wrong.”

Savannah turned to stare at him, “Do you think it’s from being overprotective because of the threat or something else?”

Joe looked at his daughter who was laughing loudly along the fence surrounded by her friends and family. At the mention of the danger she was in he felt his wolf rise to the surface, “I don’t know Savvie, but something isn’t right.”

“I’ll tell Eric’s staff to make an appointment so he can see her,” she said and smiled as her twelve year old daughter waved to her from the stands. “Let me know when you and the others are going to join the training, but give us a couple of weeks so we can brush up on our rusty skills.”

Joe nodded and looked at his mate in the stands and the rest of his youngsters hoping to calm his wolf down by assuring him that his family was fine. He sensed his brother moving to his side and asked, “Everything okay?”

“So far so good. Mr. P has everything under control and they’ll continue to patrol until everyone is gone. He said The Elders are having a blast feeling useful again,” Frank replied as he watched the two teams running off the field and glanced at the scoreboard to see SMP had won 37 – 27. “You going to tell me what’s going on baby brother? I can feel your agitation.”

“Nothing specific… it’s just everything together. Trying to figure out this threat to our Pack and family, our sons and daughters declarations, the revelations about the Prophecies, the Miller family history and Maria being hurt,” he stopped and turned to his brother. “It’s so much to try and take in and make sense out of all of it, seeing how it links together and what we’re going to do about it.”

“I know what you mean and I’m stressed too,” Frank sighed and turned to watch the Packs walk towards the gym. “I feel this is Luna’s destiny for us to be in this place at this time Joe. We were taught by two of the toughest Level 5’s that ever held the position. We took everything they taught us, learned even more and have done everything we could to prepare our Pack for a day we hoped would never come. I know in my heart we can do this.” Joe nodded as Frank continued, “Now baby brother it’s time for us to finish our duties. You have to escort Tristan and I have to do the same to Savvie. Then it’s lake time.”

“That’s what we need… to relax and spend some quality time with our family and friends. Come on, let’s head into the gym,” Joe said with a smile. As they walked in they saw their daughters, the Millers and Gabby gathered around Emory, Anna and Cynthia talking quietly while they took turns rubbing Emory’s stomach. Ant, Vin, Dom, Enzo and Gino were holding the little girls who were struggling to stay awake and the rest of the boys were trying not to look bored.

“Where’s Sal?” Frank asked in a worried tone as he quickly scanned the room looking for his youngest son.

“Over there,” Joe said as he motioned with his head to a corner of the gym.

“Why in the hell is he talking with Garner? And what are they talking about?” Frank asked as he began to scowl.

“No one in our Pack has dated an older woman, so I asked Garner to talk with him and give him some advice,” Rose replied quietly as she moved to his side.

Frank smiled and leaned down giving her a gentle kiss, “You constantly amaze me. I wouldn’t have thought about that.”

“I know, and that’s why everyone says I’m the smart one in our family.” Smiling broadly she walked away.

As Frank watched the gentle sway of her hips, he began to growl before saying in a gruff tone, “Oh, my sweet mate, you’re going to pay for that later.”

“Promises, promises…” she replied in a sing song voice as she looked at her mate over her shoulder raking her eyes down his body.

“Don’t tease me my love, my wolf is on edge as it is,” he warned as his eyes flickered between emerald and amber. “We didn’t have time to make love this morning and if you keep looking at me like that… I’m gonna throw you over my shoulder, take you into the woods, strip you naked and bend you over a…”

“Do you realize I can hear you?” Joe interrupted with a laugh. “You never closed the bond, you horny bastard.”

Rose laughed seeing the glare on Frank’s face as he angrily said, “And it took you that long to let me know?”

Joe grinned broadly as he slapped his brother’s back, “Yeah, your clumsy attempt at seducing your mate really cheered me up.”

“Hold on a sec, you bastard,” Frank motioned for Aldo and Jeff Mendez to join him and Joe. “With the holiday, the youngsters won’t be back until Tuesday. I want every inch of The School House and grounds swept before then.”

Aldo nodded, “I told the security detail to meet tomorrow at 7. I know we’re allies, but I knew you and Joe would want to make sure everything’s secure for the youngsters. I told them we’ll be doing this after every home game.”

“I should’ve known you’d have thought about it,” Frank said with a smile.

Aldo shrugged, “You’ve taught us well.”

The noise level increased in the gym as the Varsity teams emerged from the locker rooms. “Wenzo,” Brooke sleepily said as she held out her arms for him to hold her. He gently pulled her from Gino’s arms and settled her in his arms as she murmured, “I’s cheereded real woud for yous, didya hears me?”

“I did, you were louder than anyone,” he answered quietly as he gently rubbed her back.

“Come here munchkin,” Damian said as Enzo handed Toni over and she smiled sleepily. “I heard you hollering too, even when I wasn’t in the game.”

“I didn’t want you to be lonely,” she said laying her head on his shoulder.

“Wenzo, is you’s gonna kiss Erwin? She saids she couldn waits for you to kisses her again,” Brooke said with a smile as Erin blushed bright red.

“Is that right?” Lorenzo said as he stared at his intended with a huge smirk on his face. “What else did she say?”

Brooke rubbed her eyes and Erin had a look of horror on her face as she shook her head to stop her. “She saids when you kisseded her she saw da stahrs, I wanna see dem too.” She yawned and snuggled into his shoulder, “And her toes curleded up. Could ya tell hers ta take her shoes off so I can sees?” Erin put her head down and covered her face with her hands as everyone began laughing.

“What did Caitlin say?” Damian asked as he stared at Caitlin who was starting to blush.

Toni scrunched up her face as she tried to remember and a minute went by before she said proudly, “She said she got warm and chilly at the same time, and you gave her goose bumps…and made her dizzy…” She stopped and thought for a couple of seconds before smiling, “And she can’t wait to do it again… and she likes your hair, says its soft… and you smells good.”

“No stars or toe curling?” he asked as Caitlin’s blush got even deeper.

Toni was lost in thought before she sighed, “I can’t remember.”

“Well, we’ll just have to make sure she sees them this time, right?” Damian asked as his eyes raked over his intended before he pulled her into his side and growled. “I’ve been thinking about this the whole game,” he whispered before kissing her gently. When he felt her respond, he growled again and deepened the kiss.

Lorenzo stared at his intended and his eyes began to flicker between emerald and amber as she stared back at him. Taking a deep breath, she moved in front of him and gathering her courage, she whispered, “I’m waiting.” He growled and pulled her against his side before kissing her possessively.

The sound of a throat being cleared several times drew the couples apart. Lorenzo and Damian turned to glare at whoever interrupted them before realizing it was their father in law. “I already gave this speech to Vincent and Dominic… Don’t slobber all over my daughters in front of me.”

“Ye… yes Sir,” Lorenzo mumbled as Erin buried her head on his chest and Brooke began to play with her hair.

“Technically Sir, I wasn’t slobbering,” Damian said with a smirk before he glanced at his intended. “I think Caitlin was, but I know I wasn’t.”

“Technically speaking, I don’t care,” Todd retorted before glaring at the four oldest Carlucci’s and walking away.

Caitlin’s mouth fell open in astonishment, “What??? I can’t believe… I mean… the nerve… I’ve never…” She stopped talking and glared at her intended.

“We need to work on your communication skills,” Damian whispered in her ear as he leaned down to scent her neck.

Before Caitlin could respond, Brooke tugged on Erin’s braid and asked loudly, “Did ya toes curl? Or see da stahrs? I’s looked for dem but didn see any.”

Not to be outdone by his twin and wanting to help his idol, Eddie crawled to Erin and felt her shoes, startling her. “I’s can’t feels her toes Orenzo.”

Lorenzo picked him up, “Thanks for trying little man, you’re good backup.”

Eddie puffed up with pride and said, “Daddy says when we’s gets olda our jobs gonna be to helps you at Twiple C and da Pack.”

“We’ll be proud to have you as part of the team, all of you,” Vin said as he looked at the young boys who began to grin. He looked around the gym and said, “We’re going to be leaving soon, make sure you have everything.”

Alec pointed to the wall, “Our bags are ready and we put them over there.”

“Good job,” Anthony murmured as Alec beamed up at him.

Carlo strode to the front of the gym and everyone quieted down, “Everyone, please gather your belongings and make your way to the vehicles as soon as we get the all-clear.” The Level 4 and 5 Delta’s and Level 1 Beta’s exited the gym and surrounded the parking lot, while the rest of the Beta’s fanned out across the grounds. Frank and Joe strode to the door and within moments began to hear ‘Clear’ come over the bond Carlo had opened.

“I’ve always wondered why you all are so tense when it’s time to leave,” Rain asked quietly as he moved to stand next to Frank.

“One would expect our guard to be down in the confusion of leaving, the youngsters being tired, parents frazzled, etc… it would be the perfect time to launch an attack to catch us unaware,” Joe answered quietly as he scanned the woods.

“Make no mistake Rain; we never let our guard down. What others think is paranoia and a distrust of everything, is everyday life for us,” Frank said as he watched Jeff, and five others jog to the gate. They took up positions on both sides and Frank heard ‘Clear’ from Jeff. “Everything is clear Carlo.”

Rain nodded, “Perfectly understandable considering your history.”

“Everyone to the parking lot,” Carlo said as he walked to the door with Tristan and Savannah. Since the men were performing their duties, the training groups helped the women with the young ones and little ones. Within minutes everyone was in their vehicles except the Alpha’s, Level 5’s, and those remaining at the school.

“If you hear anything or discover anything new, contact us immediately,” Carlo said quietly as the two Alpha’s nodded. “Thank you again my friends.”

Savannah gave him a hug and smiled when she heard her mate growl, “You would do the same for us my friend. A hundred forty years we’ve been allies and by the will of Luna that will never change.”

As Carlo and Tristan shook hands, Tristan said, “Savannah is right, if we were in trouble you would be the first to come to our aid.”

Carlo nodded and said quietly, “Have a safe journey.” He watched the Alpha’s get in their vehicles and Joe lead Tristan’s detail out the gates. Moments later Frank led PR through the gates and then SMP began to leave.

Aldo walked up to Carlo and said, “We already have our orders from Frank and Joe. Go get ready for the lake; everything will be taken care of.”

“Yes Sir,” Carlo said with a laugh and slapped Aldo on the back before walking to Gina’s SUV. Carlo thanked the Pack for all the extra work that had been done. When they arrived at the Millers he told everyone to meet in an hour and be ready to leave as soon as the others returned from their escort duties.

“Hurry up,” Rose yelled to her youngsters as they came downstairs toting their duffle bags. “I hope you remembered to pack your swimsuits, sweatshirts, sweatpants, a nice shirt and pants if we go out to eat and…”

“Mom, you tell us the same thing every time we go to the lake. We know what to pack,” Vin said with a sigh as he walked down the hall.

“Don’t talk back to me Vincent,” Rose said with a scowl. “Get the coolers out of the garage and load them in Gianni’s truck along with the bags.” She sent the youngsters onto the porch as she walked through the house one last time, making sure everything was turned off and secure. “Come on, they’re waiting.”

“They’re on the way, let’s wait on the porch,” Annie hollered. As Lorenzo was locking the door, she said, “Crap. The coolers are in the garage.”

“Will you calm down, they’re right there,” Lorenzo pointed in front of the garage. “You act like we’ve never gone away before.”

Annie sighed, “I know, I’m on edge. Your father left the bond open so I could hear, but I want to hear their opinions on what was discussed.”

“Nothing you can do about it now, so just relax,” Damian said with a grin before lowering his voice, “You want to hear a secret?”

She began to smile, “If it’s coming from you, I’m afraid to hear it.”

“I’m not that bad, am I?” he replied as he began to pout.

Annie’s laughter rang out over the yard, “Yes you are, and you know it.” He grinned and she began to relax, “Okay, tell me. I can’t wait to hear this.”

“I was thinking of writing a romance novel,” he replied in a quiet tone as he looked at his family to see who was listening. “Along the lines of one of the historical bodice rippers Aunt Rose reads. I really like those, but I’d want mine to be a little different, with some supernatural elements to it.”

“I think with your imagination and sense of adventure that if you wanted to do that, it would be a best seller. You know no matter what you want to do, I’ll support you,” she whispered before giving him a hug.

He pushed his mom with his shoulder and grinned as he watched his cousins and Aunt pull into the driveway. “Woohoo, lake time boys and girls.”

A little over ten minutes later everyone was gathered in front of the Millers garage, as Joe, Frank and Carlo went over the seating arrangements. “I want to change it a little,” Carlo said. “Put Angelo and Victor in Frank’s vehicle. From now on, when we’re traveling together even in our own territory, I want extra protection for Sophia and Anthony.” Frank and Joe nodded and made the changes. Carlo looked the list over again and nodded before handing it to Joe.

“From now on when we travel, this is the seating arrangement we’re going to use, unless specified otherwise,” Joe said as everyone turned to look at him. “Alpha Carlo — Fiona, Maeve, Gino, Enzo. Todd — Fallon, Shannon, Paulo, Michael. Phil and Matt — Erin, Caitlin, Lorenzo, Damian. Papa Mike — Brianna, Morgan, Vincent, Dominic. Carmelo — Gabby, Aislin, Gianni, Salvatore. Frank – Sophia, Anthony, Angelo, Victor. Me — Maria, Kelly, Alberto, Marcus.”

The youngsters talked excitedly as the men were complaining about the amount of items their families were taking. “What the hell is in here? Concrete?” Frank grunted as he moved a cooler into the back of Rose’s SUV.

“Stop complaining you big baby,” she replied with a smile. “It’s breakfast casserole, lasagna, gravy and cinnamon buns.”

Joe turned to Annie and she shrugged, “Chili and slippery pot pie.”

Gina smiled, “Venison stew and baked ziti.”

“Cakes, cookies, pies, scones and biscuits,” Nana Ellen said.

Carlo began to laugh, “I told everyone we’d go shopping up there, why in hell are we bringing all this food?”

“So we can relax too. It’s not much of a vacation if we’re busy cooking for forty-two people,” Gina said with a frown.

“I know you two didn’t cook anything, so what do you have?” Carlo asked as he pointed to the back of Matt’s SUV.

“Beer in the coolers… and two cartons of Pop- Tarts; chocolate fudge for Phil and frosted brown sugar cinnamon for me,” Matt replied.

“You and your damn Pop-Tarts,” Joe said with a laugh.

“And you?” Carlo asked as he turned to Rita.

“Beer, rum, tequila, whiskey, vodka, kahlua, mixers and snacks.”

“Well damn, I think we should leave the youngsters here and have our own party, just like when we were younger,” Carlo said as the adults began to laugh.

“If you bunch of degenerates want to go to the lake and leave us unsupervised, go right ahead… we won’t mind,” Damian said with an evil grin.

The adults stopped laughing and Todd snarled, “Millers, load up now.” They quickly got in the assigned vehicles and Todd glared at the boys, “We’re going to be keeping a close eye on all of you.” He turned to Damian, “Especially you.”

Damian’s mouth fell open and his eyes were wide, but the twinkle in them was full of mischief, “What did I do?”

“Well… nothing yet,” Todd admitted with a sigh. “But I’m still going to keep a close eye on you.”

“You don’t have to worry about me. I know the dating rules by heart even though I haven’t had time to get them tattooed on my ass yet,” Damian said with a crooked grin as everyone laughed.

“Alright everyone, load up,” Carlo said and minutes later they were pulling out of the driveway for the 2.5 hour trip. Carlo began telling Maeve and Fiona the history of Western Maryland, its importance for settlers heading west and how those settlers were the beginnings of the Pack and the Rossi fortunes.

“So, that’s how Rossi’s grocery started, as Rossi’s Outpost? Like the Oleson’s on ‘Little House on the Prairie’?” Maeve asked with a grin.

“Yes, we sold, bought and traded everything; horses, wagons, guns, food supplies, clothing, knives, hardware, candles, cookware… you name it, we dealt in it,” Carlo said as he looked in the rear view mirror. “Route 40, also called the Cumberland Road, National Road or National Pike, was a major route to St. Louis and we had outposts along the trail, then we started outposts on other trails and finally in the settlements. As the settlements grew into towns and more specialized stores moved in, we began to focus on food and that’s how Rossi’s grocery started. People were familiar with the name and quality of the products we sold. After the Civil War, we sold the stores west of the Mississippi and concentrated on the eastern stores; we now have almost 1,100 stores in 24 states.”

“How do you manage all of them?” Fiona asked with a smile.

“We hire good store managers, district managers and regional managers, but the most important employees are the ones who work the floor, like cashiers and stock people. They’re the ones who deal directly with the public and are the ‘face’ of Rossi’s,” Gina replied as she turned in her seat to look at the girls. “Remember that when you start the bakery. You can have an average product but if you have exceptional staff serving it, people will come back. The opposite is also true, you can have exceptional product with bad, rude staff and the public will never come back.”

“Do you have Were’s working in your other stores, in the other states?” Maeve asked.

Carlo shook his head, “Years ago, even before the Were War, my family decided not to have other Packs working in the stores. If they manufacture food products, we’ll buy it and carry it, but it wouldn’t be in our best interests for them to be involved in the actual stores, especially in a managerial position.”

“We buy wine, produce, cheese, meat and many assorted products from other Packs but we don’t treat them any different from the thousands of vendors we have. You have to remember that first and most foremost, Rossi’s is a business and must be treated as such,” Gina said in a firm tone.

“You also have to remember who and what we are. We have to walk a fine line between our position in society as business leaders and maintaining the secrecy of our Packs. No matter what, our Pack will always comes first and we will do what needs to be done to protect them,” Carlo said as the boys nodded.

The girls were quiet as they merged onto Interstate 68 heading towards Cumberland. “I’m glad we moved here,” Maeve said quietly as she caught Carlo’s eye in the mirror. “Even with everything going on, and I don’t understand a lot of it, but I feel safe. I’ve never really felt safe before. Even before Charles took over, there were too many people with darkness around them, then after he took over everything got darker and darker.”

Fiona reached over to hold her twin’s hand, “Daddy and Papa Mike say as long as we listen and pay attention that we’ll be safe. That you and the Carlucci’s won’t let anything happen to us and I believe them.”

Enzo turned around to look at the girls, “I don’t want to lie to you, we’ll always be there to protect you, but things do happen; that’s why we’re teaching you as much as we can so you aren’t defenseless.”

“Like we may be fighting with the bad guys and if there are enough of them, you may be taken. But you’ll know how to defend yourself; we taught you how to get out of restraints, but there’s a lot more for you to learn,” Gino added as Enzo nodded. “What we’re teaching you is how to survive until we come for you.”

Enzo stared into the eyes of the two young girls and they were mesmerized as his eyes flickered from green to amber to black and his snarl was almost feral, “And make no mistake… we will come for you… we will find you… and we will tear apart every person who dared to take you.”

Carlo glanced at his mate, “They’re getting more and more like their parent’s everyday. I’m not sure if that reassures me or scares me.”

The girls nodded and Maeve said, “I know you will. I can see it swirling all around you, such beautiful colors, and they’re mixed with gold for protection.”

Fiona looked at Gino and asked quietly, “Is he always that intense?”

Gino began to laugh, “We’re Carlucci’s. We’re always intense… well, except for Damian. I have no idea what’s going on with him most of the time.” The girls began to laugh and the tension inside the car went down as they began to talk about what they would do at the lake.

Matt looked in the rearview mirror at his nieces and smiled as he saw their intendeds nuzzling their necks. “I’ve never seen Lorenzo when he’s not scowling or Damian when he’s not talking,” he said as he reached over to hold his mates hand.

“Our family keeps getting bigger,” Phil replied with a smile before he turned to look out the passenger window. “Do you ever have regrets that we’re mates? That you lost everything?”

“Only one,” Matt said as he glanced at his mate. “That I wasn’t able to protect you better. Without you by my side, I had nothing. Nothing but emptiness inside… and now I feel complete. So, I lost nothing and gained everything. I wonder if you have regrets because you’re the one who lost the most.”

Phil was quiet before shaking his head, “When I look back at our previous life, I see the slights and insulted they directed my way and how I never truly fit into what they wanted me to be. Here, they’ve never made us feel that way and we have a family that loves us, unconditionally.” He turned to the window again and sighed, “So no, I have no regrets, only for what could or should have been.”

“Uncle Phil, how much longer is it going to be? I’m getting hungry,” Caitlin asked as Damian continued to nuzzle her neck.

“About another hour Cait, if you’re hungry we have Pop-Tarts in the back and a bag with snacks,” he answered and turned around to see her smiling at him.

“Thanks Uncle Phil, love you,” she responded before moving out of Damian’s arms as he began to growl. “Hold on, I’m getting some snacks.”

“Love you too sweetheart,” he responded with a smile.

“If we had any doubts, there’s our proof… a family bond. Everyone has said they’ve never heard of one spontaneously happening. Only Luna could have given us something we desperately needed, a family that loves us no matter what,” Matt said as he rubbed his thumb over the back of his mates hand.

Rita looked at her mate and said, “I’m surprised you haven’t said anything about Angelo not watching Gabriella.”

Carmelo shrugged, “Salvatore at fifteen is as good a fighter as Angelo and I’ve seen the way he’s protected her. If he is her mate, he will stop at nothing to protect her, so I have no worries.”

“They look cute together,” Rita said as she looked at them as they sat in the middle seat, while Aislin and Gianni were in the back. Gabby had his Science book on her lap and was quizzing him and Aislin on cell structure and function.

Paulo’s fingers were flying over the laptop’s keyboard as he listened to Michael talk about the activities they could do at the lake. He pulled up his email and sighed when he saw ten more had come in during the last five minutes. The end and the beginning of the month was always the worst; clients wanting to highlight their monthly specials, adjusting prices on sale or clearance items or adding new pictures, and they all seemed to wait until the last minute. He quickly scanned them and put them in a folder according to how much work would be involved.

“You’re awful quiet, even quieter than normal,” Shannon whispered into his ear from where she was sitting in the back seat.

Paulo could feel his face flushing, “Just busy doing stuff. I was hoping to get most of it done on the way to the lake, but I’m gonna need a few more hours.”

“Michael was telling us they have putt-putt golf, jet skis, and those little racing cars. We’ve never done any of that. To be truthful, none of us have ever driven anything before, so it should be interesting,” she said with a smile.

Paulo began to laugh quietly, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.”

She said softly, “I’m not worried. I know you won’t let me get hurt.”

“I can’t wait to get on the lake and do some fishing. Alpha Carlo said the lake has big mouth bass,” Papa Mike said with a smile. “My boys and I went to Robertson’s and got fishing rods and tackle the other day.”

“Alpha Carlo got a really nice boat from Madame Gina for his fortieth birthday. You can fish from that, the dock or the lake shore. The land next to them is finally for sale, not much lake frontage, but it’s about twelve acres of land. Dad and Uncle Joe said they were going to look at it and possibly put in an offer; that it was about time we built our own cabin,” Dom said with a grin.

“That was last month, I’m not sure what they’re going to do now,” Vin said quietly as silence descended inside the SUV as everyone thought about all the things that had happened in the last month.

Joe looked in the rearview mirror at his daughter and her intended. Alberto was leaning against the side of the vehicle while Maria was stretched out on the seat. Her head was tucked on his chest and he had his arm around her shoulders while he scented her hair. Her even breathing indicated she was asleep and Joe quietly asked, “Does she have her arm on her pillow?”

Alberto nodded, “Yeah, it looks good, not swollen or anything. She took her pain meds before we left so she could rest on the drive.”

“I know she’s going to want to do all the activities they normally do at the lake, but I want you to keep an eye on her so she doesn’t overdo it. She’s stubborn…” Joe said with a grin. “Like her mother.”

Quiet laughter filled the car as Annie whacked him on the arm. “I’m not stubborn you jackass, I’m just always right.”

Rose looked at her mate, “We’re almost there, a little over half an hour.”

“I’m glad, because I’m hungry and I know if I’m hungry then the ravenous beasts must be starved,” Frank answered with a smile.

“I could eat a whole deer… maybe two,” Victor answered as he looked up from his English homework.

“Squirt, you couldn’t even eat the flanks off of one, let alone two deer,” Angelo said with a snort.

Victor glared at him, “I bet I can eat as much as you.”

“Doubt that. I’m a foot taller and outweigh you by a buck fifty. My arms are bigger than your little twig legs,” Angelo retorted as he began to grin.

“I do not have twig legs. You’re jealous become I’m normal sized. Everything about you is jumbo-sized, including your head with that ginormous ego of yours,” Victor said with a smile.

“My head’s not big; it’s proportionate to the rest of me. Face it Squirt, I’m a big man with a big personality,” Angelo said with a grin as he bumped Victor with his shoulder almost knocking him off the seat.

“You tired?” Carlo asked Gina as he reached for her hand.

She nodded and sighed, “Yeah, it’s been a long day.”

“Instead of fixing the stuff you brought, how about if we stop at that Chinese buffet?” Carlo asked with a smile. “This way nobody has to prepare dinner or do dishes afterwards, we can relax the rest of the evening.”

“That sounds wonderful,” She replied with a smile before turning to the girls. “Chinese food okay with you two? If not we can stop somewhere else.”

“Yes ma’am,” both girls said, happy the Alpha’s had asked their opinion.

“You’ll like the buffet; you can try everything and see what you like. We like them because we can eat as much as we want,” Enzo said with a grin.

“Maeve and Fiona are perishing from hunger and demanding we stop and feed them Chinese food. I tried reasoning with them, but they’re relentless in their demands,” Carlo said to everyone in a teasing tone as Maeve and Fiona gasped and Gina, Enzo and Gino laughed at their expressions.

“Alpha Carlo,” Maeve replied in a horrified tone.

They’re tenacious like their mother and grandmother, like wolves after prey. It’s better to give in than be nagged to death,” Todd said with a laugh.

“Daddddyyy,” Fiona squealed as everyone started to laugh.

“Joe, you’re the lead car, we’ll follow you,” Carlo said with a grin as he closed the bond. He looked in the mirror at the girls and felt his heart clench, the ache was a familiar one and he felt his wolf hang his head before he started to whine. He took a deep breath and hid his emotions so no one else could feel them.

Gina squeezed his hand, “You don’t have to hide it from me, I feel it too.”

“You okay Carlo? Anything wrong?” Frank asked his voice laced with concern. As Frank was speaking, Joe broke in and asked the same thing.

“I’m fine; I should’ve known I couldn’t hide anything from the two of you. Our bond is too strong. Seeing the two young ones brings up memories of my Angelica,” Carlo said as he sighed again.

“We can always shift their seat assignments if that would help you and your wolf,” Joe said as he took the next exit.

Carlo felt his wolf begin pacing back and forth, “No. In an odd way, it makes us feel better to protect them.”

“Okay, but let us know whenever you want to change it, or need a break,” Frank said as he pulled into the parking lot. Thirty minutes later the boys were demolishing the buffet, the girls had finished eating, the men were talking about fishing and the women discussed the new declarations.

“I don’t know why you bother to sit. You should get one of those rolling chairs and just scoot along the counters,” Kelly said to Marcus as he brought his sixth plate of food back to the table.

“Don’t give them any ideas Kelly,” Sophia said with a laugh.

“You know what ‘Buffet’ stands for, right?” Damian asked to no one in particular. Seeing the confused looks, he said, “Big Ugly Fat Friends Eating Together… that would work for the rest of you guys but since I’m here, it’ll have to change to Brawny Utterly Fabulous Friends Eating Together.”

“Carlucci, you’re so full of shi…” Angelo began and stopped speaking as he looked around the restaurant.

“What was that you were saying Angelo?” Victor said with a smirk.

“Shove it Squirt, you know darn well what I was going to say,” Angelo retorted as he threw a fortune cookie at Victor.

Frank looked around the restaurant and said, “The food’s really good here, I’m surprised it’s not busier, or are we eating early?”

Carlo looked at his watch, “It’s almost 6, so we’re not early. It’s been a while since we’ve been to this part of our territory and I wonder what’s been going on; the store manager says sales are down too.” Carlo motioned for the waitress and he quietly asked to speak to the owner. Several minutes later an older gentleman in his sixties came out and slowly walked to their table.

“I’m Charles Wu, is there something I can help you with?” he asked with a smile.

Carlo stood to shake hands, “I’m Carlo Rossi and this is my wife Gina, we own Rossi’s grocery stores. We have a cabin at the lake and are here for the weekend with our friends; Frank, Rose, Joe and Annie Carlucci of Carlucci Construction Corporation, Carmelo and Rita Moretti of Carmelo’s Pizza Parlor’s, Matt Washburn -Miller and Phillip Moeller-Miller of South Mountain Florists and Mike, Ellen, Todd and Holly Miller who are in the process of opening a bakery.”

Mr. Wu nodded at each couple as they were introduced. “It’s a pleasure to meet everyone. I’ve seen your families around town, but I don’t remember seeing all those girls.” He turned to Carlo with a questioning look, “Is something the matter? Was the food unsatisfactory?”

Carlo turned to the buffet where the boys were still getting plates of food and he smiled, “Obviously the food was wonderful and our children are eating everything in sight.” Mr. Wu smiled and let out a deep breath. “We haven’t been to the lake in several months and were wondering with the holiday weekend, why it isn’t more crowded here.”

Mr. Wu shrugged, “We had a large distribution center close three months ago.” He turned to the Carlucci’s, “I know you’re bidding on the new shopping center they’re building, and with your reputation I’m sure you’ll get it. I have a feeling you’re going to have hundreds of people applying for jobs, there’s just no other companies hiring in the area. I don’t know how much longer some of us can hold on, there are a lot of people who are selling their homes and businesses are starting to close. We’ve done everything we can to stay open. We used to have the buffet every night, now we only have it on weekends and I’ve laid off all my staff, the only ones working here are family now. Your group is the first business we’ve had today and I greatly appreciate you coming in.”

“It was our pleasure, the food is excellent,” Rose said with a smile.

“Do you know who to contact about the building? We’ve been in the same building for close to thirty years and not only is it outdated, but we’ve outgrown it. We’ve been looking to expand for a while now,” Gina asked with a smile.

“I could make some calls,” Mr. Wu said with a smile.

“We’ll be here for the weekend so there’s no hurry. Let me give you our contact information,” Carlo said as he pulled his wallet out. “The main corporate number is on the front, but let me put Gina’s number on the back. She handles new property acquisitions and knows the specifications of what we’re looking for.”

Mr. Wu nodded, “I’ll make sure they contact you.”

“You should have breakfast at The Settlers Diner, it’s the best place to talk to the locals to find out what’s going on,” Gina said as Mr. Wu nodded.

“That diner’s kinda small, so why don’t you men go. We’ll stay at the cabin with the youngsters,” Rose said as Carlo nodded.

“I’ll settle the bill and get your business card,” Carlo said and walked to the register with Mr. Wu. Five minutes later, he returned and asked the youngsters. “Everyone done?” At their nods, he turned to the adults, “I paid for dinner, you all leave the tip.” Frank, Joe, Carmelo and Todd each threw a hundred dollar bill on the table as the youngsters got up and walked to the door. The girls stood in the lobby and talked quietly while the older boys walked outside scanning and scenting the area before giving the all clear for the girls to join them.

“That was really good, we didn’t have to tell you to wait and you acted natural while we checked the area,” Anthony said to the girls.

“We’re learning little by little,” Aislin said with a grin.

Marcus smiled, “It’s all about baby steps, little girl.”

“I’m not a little girl, I can feed and dress myself and do the potty on my own,” Aislin said in a huff as she walked towards Rita’s SUV with Gianni.

“Okay, I deserved that, but you’re not exactly grown either. You’re the same age as my sister and I still picture her in pigtails with grape jelly smeared across her face at snack time,” Marcus said with a grin.

She rolled her eyes, “You’re seventeen, which means you’re two years older, so stop talking like you’re my grandfather. Talk to me like a friend.”

“I’m your protector so I have to…” Marcus began with a scowl.

Aislin stopped walking and turned to stare at him, “No… you are my SISTER’S protector; I have Gigantor over here as MY protector.”

“I’m 6’1″, I don’t think that qualifies me to be called Gigantor and don’t drag me into this,” Gianni said as he threw up his hands in surrender.

Aislin smiled at him, “I’m 5’6″, so you look gigantic.”

“What do you think of when you see me?” Marcus asked with a scowl.

Aislin stared at him and shrugged before getting into the SUV, “Actually, I don’t think about you at all.” Gianni threw his head back and laughed at the disgruntled look on Marcus’s face before he followed her into the SUV.

Twenty-five minutes later they were pulling in front of the Rossi Cabin. “This is a cabin?” Maeve asked in astonishment as she looked at the Rossi vacation home. The main section was two stories high with a wing on the right and a three car garage on the left. It was constructed of multi-hued tan bricks with cream mortar; the dark brown shutters were the exact shade of the roof shingles and the trim work was painted in a complimentary darker cream color. “It’s beautiful.”

“Part of the main house dates back over a hundred years and was the caretaker’s cottage when they operated the outpost here. Over the years each Rossi Alpha has expanded and updated it. We finished the last update three years ago and finally have everything the way we want it,” Gina said as she turned to smile at the girls. “Come on; let’s get our things inside so we can enjoy the weekend.” The girls nodded, and Enzo and Gino grabbed their bags.

“You’ll be in the bonus room over the garage. The first thing we’ll show you is how to get to the safe room,” Enzo said as Carlo opened the door, Gina turned the lights on and the girls followed the boys upstairs and down the hallway. There were eight sets of bunk beds; four on the back wall and two each on the right and left side wall, under the bottom bunks were two drawers. On the front wall was a large screen TV with bookcases on both sides filled with games, books and DVD’s. In front of the TV were two leather sofas, bean bags and behind them was a large table.

“Not sure what bunk you’re going to be in. The door in the corner is the bathroom, and the other is a linen closet with towels, blankets and sheets,” Gino said as they put their bags on the floor.

“I still think we should pick your bunks, I want to know where you’re at,” Lorenzo said as he carried in Erin’s bags.

She sighed, “I think we can pick our own sleeping arrangements and you don’t have to know exactly where I’m sleeping.”

“Let her be,” Vin said as Lorenzo was opening his mouth. “The room is safe. The floor, walls and ceiling are a foot thick of reinforced concrete. The door is solid steel and Dad and Uncle Joe are going to install the braces on it today.”

“Fine, but I want you to keep your phone by your side,” Lorenzo said with a scowl as Erin smiled and walked away.

“Okay, listen up. If the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, there’s direct access to the basement from here. Think ‘Hogan’s Heroes’,” Anthony said in a firm tone. The Millers looked around trying to find the door and Ant smiled.

“Huh?” Caitlin asked with a confused look on her face.

“I told you we have to work on your communication skills Zucca,” Damian leaned in and whispered as he began to scent her neck.

“You still haven’t told me what Zucca means,” Caitlin said with a smile.

“Pumpkin. That’s what you smell like, pumpkin pie. A combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves all mixed in with pumpkin. It’s intoxicating and I can’t get enough of it,” he said with a low growl as he pulled her closer.

“If you could leave your intended alone while we give them instructions for their safety, I’d appreciate it,” Ant said as he stared at his best friend.

Damian snorted, “As if I’d let anything happen to her.”

Caitlin pushed him away, “You’re not going to be with me every moment of every day. I need to know this Damian, so leave me alone.”

“Our first argument, you know what that means…” Damian said with a wicked smile. “We have to kiss and make up.”

“That wasn’t an argument you idiot,” Caitlin said with a laugh before moving to his side and whispering, “But I wouldn’t mind the kissing part.” Damian began to growl again and moved to bring her into his side but she quickly moved out of his reach to stand between Fiona and Maeve.

“As I was saying before being interrupted… there is an escape route and we modeled it after ‘Hogan’s Heroes’,” Ant said with a smile. He opened the closet door and the Millers watched as he pressed on the upper hinge then the lower one before closing the door. He turned back to the bunk, “Watch.” The bottom bunk along with the drawers began to rise quickly along with the carpet underneath. The Millers moved forward and watched as a ladder came into view.

“Now, that is cool,” Shannon said with a grin.

“We’ll meet you there. I don’t want Maria going down the ladder with the brace on her arm,” Alberto said as he reached for Maria’s hand. She smiled and they walked out of the room followed by Gabby, Sal, Victor and Angelo.

“This goes between the walls of the garage and the house and leads to a small room along the footers. It’s tight for us, but you shouldn’t have any problems. Be careful, it’s a long drop if you fall,” Ant said as he descended the ladder. “As soon as the last person is on the ladder, make sure you push the button to close it and throw the latch so it can’t be opened from the bonus room.” Ant waited until everyone was in the room before he showed them how to power up the monitor and they saw the others waiting in the basement. “If the basements not clear wait here, it’s a little cramped but it’ll protect you until help arrives.”

“There’s a cell phone, food and water, and one last thing… it’s primitive, but there’s a bucket for…” Vin said with a grin.

“You don’t have to say it, we get the picture,” Brianna interrupted as she turned bright red as the girls began to laugh.

“Okay then. Let me show you how to access the basement,” Ant said as he opened a control panel and punched in the code. The door slid open and Anthony crawled out into the basement. Everyone followed and the girls turned to see the opening in the wainscoting. “There is no access back into that room from here, so make sure the safe room door is open before you close that door.”

Carlo looked at the youngsters and smiled, “Now for the safe room, with all of us here it’ll be cramped; we don’t have enough bunks for everyone.”

“That’s okay; we don’t mind sharing with the girls, do we?” Damian asked with an innocent smile and Ant, Vin, Dom, Lorenzo, Sal and Alberto grinned.

“I’m going to end up killing all of you before my daughters turn eighteen,” Todd replied as the men began to frown. The four oldest Carlucci’s pulled their intendeds close to their sides and smiled widely at their father in law.

“Don’t even think about it,” Joe replied as he glared at Alberto who grinned as Maria covered her face with her hands.

“In two seconds I’ll wipe that smile off your face,” Frank said as he stared at Ant who stopped smiling as Sophia hid her smile in his shoulder.

Carmelo narrowed his eyes and stared at Sal, “Don’t even go there.” Sal’s eyes got wide and he turned bright red as Gabby grinned.

“The girls will double up except Maria who’ll have her own due to her arm; the younger boys get the bunks, older ones the floor. This is obviously the theater room; as you can see the door to the safe room is hidden behind one of the book cases. Madame Gina gave me orders that she wants all of you to relax this weekend, so after we show you the layout of the safe room, the weekend is yours,” Carlo said in a firm tone and walked into the safe room followed by the others.

The Millers looked around and Todd said, “It’s double the size of the one in our house and I’m assuming the mechanicals work the same. Oh, we brought clothes to put in here as well as our safe house.”

Maeve moved next to Carlo and held his hand as she smiled, “Your colors have changed, there’s more pale colors around you than before, that means you’re more relaxed. Daddy printed out a better color chart for me so I can understand them better.” She pulled it out of her pocket and handed it to Carlo.

“You can see all these colors?” Carlo asked, his voice containing awe, reverence and excitement. “What does it look like when you see them?”

“Let me try to show you. I’ve tried with Daddy, but he only gets bits of color, maybe since you’re an Alpha it’ll work better.” They moved to the theater room and sat facing each other on the sofa. “I need someone to look at.”

“You can try me,” Enzo said quietly as Maeve jumped, not aware the others had heard and followed. She nodded before projecting his image to Carlo.

“I’m not getting anything but splashes, hold my hand,” Maeve reached out and Carlo grabbed her hand and gasped. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

Maeve smiled, excited to finally have somebody see what she sees. “What do you see when you look at Mr. Frank and Mr. Joe?”

“The colors are identical and they swirl them the same way, but Frank’s swirl clockwise and Joe’s swirl counter-clockwise. Can I see what I look like?” Carlo asked with a smile. Maeve swung her gaze to her Alpha and he saw the bursts of colors swirling around him and he let out another gasp.

Frank asked quietly, “Can you show us?” Carlo tried projecting and looked at Frank who shook his head. “All I’m getting is flashes of color.”

“Let me try,” Anthony said and Carlo stood so he could take his place. He reached for her hand and she looked at Sophia who nodded her consent. Maeve placed her hand on top of Ant’s and she looked at Enzo. Ant drew in a loud shaky breath, “This is amazing. Let me try and project it to everyone.” Moments later gasps were heard along with the sound of footsteps running down the steps.

“What’s going on?” Gina asked as the women ran into the room.

“Maeve’s projecting the aura’s she sees to Anthony; she sent them to me, but I couldn’t project them to the others. Even the ones I saw weren’t this clear or bright,” Carlo said quietly.

“Do all of us. I’ve always wanted to see what you see,” Fiona said as she sat behind her twin and laid her head on her shoulder.

“Before she begins, let me tell everyone what the colors mean,” Carlo said and began to read off the paper he was holding. They were quiet as Maeve went around the room; the last was Fiona who moved so her sister could see her.

“Mr. Joe, do you think you could get mad? I want to show everyone what it looks like when the colors change,” she asked with a smile. Without saying anything he turned and stared at Alberto who was nuzzling Maria’s neck.

“Now I know what ‘seeing red’ means,” Alberto said with a grin as the others began to laugh.

Seeing his father’s expression Damian said, “After seeing everyone’s colors, I have to remind everyone what I said the other night.” As they turned to him, he grinned, “I told Maeve I had the prettiest colors, and I was right.”

There were groans, sighs, eye rolling and laughter at his remark and Carlo said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think he’s right.”

“Maeve, can we try something? Can you project them to me without us touching?” Ant asked as Maeve turned to Enzo. “I’m getting it bright and clear. Let me move around the room.” Ant got up and walked around before leaving the room and they heard him go upstairs. “Still getting a clear image. Hold on, let me go out in the yard.” Almost two minutes passed and everyone in the basement began getting clear images of Enzo. “I’m about a mile from the house in the woods. Is everyone getting the images? Are they as clear?”

“As if you were standing here,” Carlo replied with a grin.

Ant stopped and looked around the woods breathing in the crisp air. “Dad, I think we should hunt this weekend, I smell tons of deer and a couple bears.”

“Been a while since we’ve eaten fresh bear, it’ll be a good training exercise for the younger ones on hunting as a Pack,” Carlo replied as the youngsters grinned. “Come on back, we’ll go out later and see if we can find some tracks.”

“On my way,” Ant replied as he retraced his steps.

Carlo turned to Maeve and smiled, “Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Now I have a better understanding of what you see and your abilities.”

Maeve smiled and took a deep breath, “We talked before about how I can help and you said you’d talk it over with Madame Gina and my family. Well… the way I look at it, the Carlucci’s are my family because they’re my sister’s mates and the Moretti’s are part of the Carlucci’s family and the same goes for you. So basically, we’re all family here, through blood, matings or love.”

When Maeve stopped talking Gina smiled, “What are you trying to say?”

“That if we’re going to talk about it, ALL of us should discuss it; Mr. Frank and Mr. Joe especially since they’re in charge of security,” she said with a blush, but everyone heard the determination in her voice.

“I agree with Maeve,” Fiona said as she moved to sit next to her twin and reached out to hold her hand. The other girls nodded and moved to sit on the sofa or stand behind it, presenting a united front.

“I could do more than tell you if I see somebody around here with bad colors. Daddy told us about what happens at the Council meetings and he said Mr. Aldo is going to the next one… I want to go too,” Maeve said in a firm voice.

“Absolutely not. There’s no way in hell I’m letting you near those people,” Enzo said before anybody else could reply. Everyone stared at him as he crossed his arms over his chest and had a belligerent look on his face.

“Please Enzo? I’ve been thinking really hard about this and I think it could really help if Mr. Aldo and I went. Between the two of us we could see things nobody else can and figure out who wants to hurt us,” she pleaded.

“That’s my point. They want to hurt you, so why would you think I’d let them anywhere near you?” he asked as his tone and posture got more agitated.

“But if we can figure it out, then they wouldn’t be able to hurt us. It may stop us from going to battle and save lives,” she said in a calming tone.

“I’m not willing to risk it, so the answer is NO. End of discussion,” he said in a firm tone as he threw his hands up in the air.

Maeve took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, “I hate pointing this out, but it’s not up to you. You may be my protector… but you’re not in charge of security … you’re not my father… and you’re not my Alpha.”

“You think I care about that? I said NO, and I mean NO,” he said as his eyes began to flicker between emerald and amber.

“Can you try and be reasonable? If you’d think about what I’m saying instead of just reacting you’d realize the benefits outweigh what little risk there is.”

Enzo began flailing his arms in the air, “Do I look like I’m reasonable?”

Maeve put her head down as she tried to hide her smile as muffled laughter was heard throughout the room. “Is that a trick question?”

“He’s a Carlucci, none of them are reasonable,” Carlo said as everyone but the Carlucci’s began to laugh. “I’ve known all of them since birth and I can’t think of one instance where they were reasonable.”

“I’m not sure what’s going on, but I agree with Dad,” Ant said as he walked in the room with a smile that turned into a frown when he saw the girls grouped together. “Wanna fill me in?” Sophia quickly told him what was going on and he shook his head. “I agree with Enzo. She’s too young to be put in a dangerous position like that. She’s not even able to shift into her wolf if needed.”

“She would be with Daddy, Alpha Carlo, Mr. Frank or Mr. Joe, and the other Beta’s who would attend the meeting,” Brianna said with a firm tone.

Kelly nodded, “Don’t forget Alpha Savannah, Alpha Tristan and their people would be there, plus Uncle Nick too.”

“No one else could supply you with the information she can, even Mr. Aldo can’t do what she does. If you don’t let her do it, you’d be wasting a valuable resource,” Caitlin added as the other girls nodded.

Fiona looked at her Alpha and said quietly, “Please think about it. Everybody else has things they’re good at and jobs they’re responsible for. We don’t have anything we’re good at yet, but we can offer our Pack this to help.”

“We don’t want you to answer right now, we want you to think about it and weigh the pros and cons then we can get together as a family and discuss it,” Fallon said as the girls nodded.

Todd sighed, “Is this what you’ve been talking about the last couple of days? I knew something was up with all the whispering, calls and texts.”

“Yes Sir, Maeve wanted to talk to us so we could help her convince everyone,” Gabby said with a shrug.

“We even came up with a plan to get her to the meeting. It’s genius if I have to say so myself,” Maria said as the girls began to smile.

“I can’t wait to hear this,” Annie said with a grin.

Enzo stared at her, “I can’t believe you’re encouraging them, Aunt Annie.”

“Why not? We want our daughters to be independent, think for themselves, voice their opinions and be able to back those opinions up, and most important not to let the men tell them what to do,” Annie said as she put her hands on her hips.

“She can be as independent as she wants, as long as she does what I tell her…and she’s still not going,” Enzo retorted with a frown.

“What’s your plan?” Gina asked as the men turned back to the girls.

“It’s simple, have President Roberts call a special meeting to discuss what’s going on at Davis, Carlsbad and Grant Packs and Madame Alpha Helen will invite the Alpha’s to bring several youngsters with them,” Sophia said as the girls nodded.

“She could say it’s to show us how the Alpha Council works and how we self govern, it could be part of our education,” Erin added.

“You all have put a lot of thought and effort into this,” Carlo said as he looked at Gina who nodded. “You’re right, Maeve has a very special gift but I’m not certain the rewards outweigh the danger, but we will think about it and discuss it as a family to make our decision.”

“Well, I’m not changing my mind,” Enzo said in a stubborn tone.

Carlo looked at his watch with a smile, “It’s almost eight, let’s get everything brought into the house and then begin our relaxing weekend.”

An hour later, Frank and Joe finished installing the braces on the doors on the bonus room, safe room and theater room and joined the rest of the adults who were watching the youngsters play volleyball and horseshoes. Carlo took a long pull of his beer and said, “Damn, it’s good to be here.”

“I know, I’ve been looking forward to this all week,” Frank said as he leaned back in the chaise and pulled Rose tighter to his chest. “I wanted to ask with everything going on; do you think it’s the right time to expand?”

Carlo was silent for several moments, “It’s a great business opportunity that Rossi’s can’t afford to pass up and we have decided to proceed as if everything is normal. We also have a responsibility to the people who live in our territory, even if they’re human. When we see a need we must be willing to step in to help, and by helping them we help ourselves.” He looked at the youngsters and said, “Let’s get a bonfire started, we can sit around and talk some more and then after the girls go to sleep we can have our talk with the boys.”

Twenty minutes later they were around the bonfire eating bowls of chili Annie had heated knowing they would be hungry. “The first thing we need to discuss is the dating rules,” Carlo said with a smile as the youngsters began to groan. “I know you’re tired of hearing them by now, but it’s AC rules. Since Erin and Caitlin are sixteen, they’re allowed to be kissed by their intendeds, but you’re not allowed to be fully against their front or back.”

The youngsters waited and Carlo took a sip of beer and the silence resumed. “Is that all? There’s nothing else you’re gonna say?” Lorenzo asked.

“Nope. You’ve heard the same thing four times now in the last month, what more do you want me to say?” Carlo asked with a grin.

Damian threw his hands in the air, “Thank Luna for that. I’m sick and tired of hearing about these damn, I mean darn rules. You need to bring it up at the next AC meeting that they should be printed and have the intendeds sign instead of putting us through this misery… and it is misery.”

Carlo threw back his head and laughed, “How do you think I feel? Every time the Pack has a declaration, I have to give this speech.”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Damian admitted with a sheepish smile. “You must be miserable doing that all the time, I feel bad for you.”

“I get dinner and beer, so it’s not so bad,” Carlo replied with a grin.

“If you’re going to feel bad for anyone, feel bad for me. I have to go with him and if he can’t go, then I have to do it,” Gina said with a shudder.

Carlo kissed her gently, “We make a great team.” Gina smiled and laid her head on his shoulder. “Now that we’ve gotten the dating rules out of the way…” He looked at the Millers, “Have you ever heard of the Snarly Yow?” They shook their heads while everyone else smiled.

“It’s an urban legend centered around South Mountain which started in the early 1800’s when a large black dog, as big as a small horse was sighted by the early settlers of the area. He would appear as if by magic startling them and spooking their horses if they were traveling by horseback or wagon. His eyes were described as glowing red and he would growl at people as if warning them away from the area.” Carlo stopped and took a sip of beer.

“One night, when the moon was full, a known marksman encountered this beast and even though he was terrified, he took aim and shot the beast several times with no effect. Frightened, the marksman ran back the way he had come and refused to ever go out on the mountain after dark again. According to legend, within a year he moved away from the area and was never heard from again. Over the years the Snarly Yow has been seen by dozens of credible witnesses and has been known to chase cars, hikers, bikers and has even been run over several times. When they get out of their vehicles to investigate, the dog has either disappeared or been standing behind the vehicle growling. At the top of South Mountain there is a roadside marker telling the story of the historic inn and the Snarly Yow.”

He stopped and smiled before taking a long sip of his beer before leaning forward. “I’m letting you in on a secret, it’s no legend… the Snarly Yow is real.” The Millers eyes were wide and full of excitement. “The first documented sighting was actually the first Alpha of SMP, one of my great-grandfathers. He was patrolling the territory and came across a lost group of travelers. Needless to say they were scared shitless; they thought they’d seen a ghost or some giant beast. After that, random sightings have been us running around the woods. Though the story about one of them getting hit by a car is real, that was my Grandfather, he wanted to add something to the tale and after he got hit, he got up growled and ran away.”

The Millers began to laugh and Todd said, “That’s fantastic. So instead of having people chase beasts, they put up a plaque honoring it.”

“It’s perfect cover if somebody sees one of us,” Frank said with a laugh. “Check the internet, there’s all kinds of stories about it.” His phone beeped and he pulled it out of his pocket, “It’s from Joel. The permits for the bakery came through so we’re going to start the build-out this week and it should be done in three weeks, maybe less. How’s the ordering for supplies and equipment going?”

“Good, we placed our initial food order, and they’ll deliver within 24 hours after we call. The cooling racks, baking sheets, cookie trays, muffin tins, pie pans, mixing bowls, utensils and the thousand other things we need have been ordered. They’re gathering the order and they’ll ship when we call and we’ll have it within two days. The Hobart floor mixer, ovens, proofers, coffee machines, refrigerator units and dishwasher have been ordered and like you suggested, we’ll have them installed once everything is ready,” said Holly with a smile.

“I’ll set up the computers with a touch screen Point of Sale system so you can keep accurate inventory and be able to see what your best selling items are. The website’s started and I’ll make templates of the different types of baked goods which you can upload daily so you can feature them,” Paulo said with a blush.

Todd looked at him with a smile, “We never discussed price for all this.”

Paulo squirmed and said quietly, “Well, we’re family. I wouldn’t feel right taking money from you, how about if you just pay for the equipment?”

Todd looked at Joe who shrugged. “Pretend I’m not a family member. How much would your expertise and all the equipment cost?”

“$8,000 to $10,000 to start, and it would go up depending on what was involved. By that I mean how many pages and items are on the website, how many items need to be put on the POS, how many computers you need, wiring, scanners, if you want to buy or rent the credit card machine, and photos too but Mom does all the photos for me,” Paulo said as he played with his shoelaces. “That includes the Pack discount; I charge more for regular customers. It includes a year contract for monthly website updates, cyber-security, maintenance and if anything happens I’m on call. After that we renew the contract at $1,200 per year.”

Todd looked shocked, “How many customers do you have? How do you find the time plus play sports, train, go to school and college and be a teenager?”

“To be blunt Sir…I’m damn good at what I do. Right now, I have 100 accounts and a waiting list,” Paulo replied as he blushed. “That’s why I always have my laptop with me. I’m constantly doing things for my accounts plus all the stuff I do for the Pack.” He looked at Todd and gave him a crooked smile, “How about this, you pay for the equipment and for my time I get three cakes a week?”

“You want cake? Are you kidding?” asked Holly with a smile.

“Ma’am, I’m a teenage boy with a never ending appetite…I never kid about food,” Paulo said with a smile. “You can throw in some cookies, brownies, muffins, bread, pies, whatever you need to get rid of, I’ll take.”

Holly looked at Nana Ellen who nodded and she said, “It’s a deal.”

Nana Ellen sighed, “We still need to come up with a good name for the bakery and until we do that we can’t order the signs, napkins, cups, bags and boxes.”

Everyone was quiet as they thought of names then started to say them. “Decadent Desserts” “Millers Munchies” “The Blarney Scone” “Sweet Temptations” “Millers Sweet Shoppe” “The Sweet Indulgence” “Your Just Desserts” “Sweet Scents Bakery” “Sinfully Sweet” “Sweet & Kneady” “Sweet Endings” “Millers Confections” “South Mountain Sweets” “Rollin in the Dough” “Rising to the Occasion” “The Sweet Life” “Decadent Delights” “Sugar & Spice” “Sweet but Sassy”

“What was that you said Lorenzo?” asked Holly with a thoughtful look.

“The Sweet Life, because your life is so much better here than at your old Pack,” he replied with a grin before looking at his intended and his expression changed to one of possession. He whispered in her ear, “And you are pretty fucking sweet, la mia piccola fragola.” Erin blushed and buried her face in his chest as he pulled her tighter to his side. (My little strawberry)

“I like that,” said Holly with a grin. “Millers, what do you think?” They nodded before everyone started talking excitedly. “Now we have to pick out a color scheme. Rose, you’re good at decorating, what do you think?”

“Well, you want something comforting and warm, light in color but not too feminine because you want men to come in and feel comfortable…,” she trailed off as the fire crackled loudly. “I’m thinking rust slate flooring, green and brown braided rugs, celery wainscoting, white upper walls and trim, pictures of baked goods in cocoa frames with celery matting. For seating; round oak tables and chairs with celery and cocoa patterned seats, darker cocoa leather love seats and oversized chairs with celery and sage throw pillows, oak coffee tables and end tables with different accent lamps. For the windows, white plantation shutters with paisley curtains in shades of celery, sage and brown.” She turned to Holly who looked stunned.

“That sounds beautiful,” said Nana Ellen with a wide smile. “You have any thoughts about the logo?”

“I’m not a graphic or logo designer, but something like… ‘The Sweet Life’ on top with a cake on a stand, a loaf of bread, cup of coffee and cupcakes and cookies around the base with a whisk or something,” she said.

Frank pulled his mate closer to his chest as he said proudly, “I keep telling Rose she should open a design firm to use her Art degree, she has an eye for color and details. She designed our offices, our house, Joe and Annie’s, updated The Manor House and helps in our construction projects and so does Annie.”

Joe tightened his hold on his mates waist as she sat between his legs, “Annie takes a photo after we complete each build and we frame it for our clients. It’s gotten to the point that when we’re bidding on a project, they ask if the picture will be included. Her photos and Rose’s design ideas have set us apart from other companies and helped in our success…well that and mine and Frank’s charm.”

Everyone groaned or rolled their eyes as Carlo drawled, “Better pick your feet up youngsters, anytime Joe starts talking about how charming he and Frank are, you know the shits getting deep.”

Their laughter echoed around the fire until a comfortable silence enveloped them. Phil said quietly, “You wanted to know how we established the bond. Let me start at the beginning…” He described the shopping trip with the Millers and how Papa Mike asked what led Todd to adopt them as brothers and after Matt told their story everyone had started to cry. How the girls started hugging them and calling them Uncle Phil and Uncle Matt like it was the most natural thing and Nana Ellen and Papa Mike agreeing they were now part of their family and they had felt the family bond form and Papa Mike tried the bond it worked. After he finished his story, the Millers smiled at each other and reached out to hold hands.

Phil looked at his family and feeling the encouragement from Matt through the bond, he said quietly, “I have something to add to what I told you about our previous Pack. It’s something I’ve never told anybody, but I think Alpha Carlo knows.” He took a deep breath as he held hands with his Mom and Holly and he stared at Todd and his Dad. “The Alpha in our old Pack was my Grandfather; he was the one who abused and banished us.” Tears started falling down his face and he closed his eyes so he couldn’t see the pity on the others faces. “My own Grandfather did that to me and my mate…. and my family stood there and did nothing to help. Why couldn’t they love me and accept me? Am I that horrible of a person?”

Papa Mike recoiled in shock, but seeing the defeated look on Phil’s face he hurriedly said in a gentle voice, “Come here son.” Phil opened his eyes and looked up expecting to see pity but instead saw nothing but love and took the two steps to his Dad who engulfed him in a hug. He patted his back as Phil cried on his shoulder and said quietly, “Its okay Son, let it out. Those people can never hurt you again; you have a family who loves you now.”

The Miller girls started crying quietly, unable to understand how their Uncle Phil’s grandfather could hurt him. One by one they got up and went to their Grandfather and Uncle and put their arms around them. Gentle whispers could be heard “I love you, Uncle Phil” “Its okay, you have us now” “We need you, Uncle Phil” “You’re our family now”, they were echoed over and over and then Maeve said, “We won’t ever let them hurt you again, Uncle Phil. I won’t let them …Enzo, Mr. Frank and Mr. Joe are teaching me to fight and I’ll protect you.” Matt, Holly, Todd and Nana Ellen joined their family as they whispered words of love and support.

“Did you know that was his Grandfather?” Frank asked Carlo with shock in his voice as he held Rose’s hand and heard sniffling from Sophia and Maria as their intendeds held them and comforted them.

“Yes, as soon as Matt called and told me their names. I debated on whether or not to tell you, but it wasn’t my secret to tell,” Carlo said and hesitated before continuing. “Years ago, I was playing poker with several Alphas’ in the games room after meetings were done for the day. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but Moeller said he hated gays and if he found out there were any in his Pack they were disciplined until they weren’t gay anymore. I saw Matt’s reaction and I said any gay members would be welcomed in my Pack. He never responded or sought me out to talk and to be honest I forgot about it, until he called me.”

The four Carlucci boys joined their intendeds providing even more support to the Miller family. A couple minutes later, Matt looked at his mate and after kissing him gently, said to nobody in particular, “Unconditional love and a deep need for each other, that’s how we established a family bond.”

“A family isn’t about being bound by blood, it’s about being bound by love and loyalty,” Carlo agreed quietly as the fire continued to crackle.

Phil nodded and looked at Carlo, “We have a new family and we owe it all to you. You saved us…”

“You saved yourself; it was your strength and determination that got you through what you suffered,” Carlo interrupted in a firm voice. “All I did was provide some assistance but I know you would’ve gotten here on your own.”

“Even if you would’ve been walking from North Carolina bare assed nekkid,” added Joe as he began to laugh.

“I’d rather be naked then wearing SpongeBob or Tweety bird boxers,” retorted Matt with a grin as everyone began to laugh and after giving each other one last hug the Millers went back to their seats, the four older Carlucci boys holding their intendeds closely to their sides.

Todd looked at Frank and Joe and asked, “I got a question for you two. Were you seriously considering the Alpha positions?”

“Let me explain a bit of our history,” Frank said as he looked at his twin. “Except for being away from each other for a day when we mated with Annie and Rose, we’ve never been apart more then a couple hours, and that’s only when we sleep. Even without using the bond, I know what he’s thinking and what he’ll do before he does. Except for my mate, he’s closer to me than anyone and it sounds weird, but even when we dream we often dream of the same things. I can’t imagine not being with him everyday, it’d be like a part of me is missing.”

“I feel the same, hell, it’s been that way since our conception,” Joe smiled at his older brother and took a sip of beer. “Mom was in labor for eighteen hours and Doc was getting ready to give her a C-Section but she wanted to deliver naturally and pushed even harder. Frank came out feet first and I followed immediately so we were born within seconds of each other. That’s when they noticed what the problem was, our hands were fused together and Doc had to cut us apart.” Joe held up his left hand and Frank held up his right showing matching scars.

Frank smiled, “We’d been holding hands our entire development. When they put us in separate bassinets we cried until we were together and only slept if we could touch the first two years. The only time we wouldn’t cry if we were separated was when Carlo was there.” He looked at Carlo and smiled, “When we were a couple of minutes old, you were put in the bassinet with us, me on your right and Joe on your left. I believe that’s why the three of us are so close.”

“We did the same thing when Gianni, Marcus, Lorenzo and Damian were born; we placed Anthony in the center, with Vin and Dom watching over them. That’s the way it should be and always will be,” said Joe as Frank and Carlo nodded. The five boys smiled, thinking of the secret pact they made when they were seven.

“Earlier, I said except for Rose that Joe was the closest to me but that’s not entirely correct,” Frank stopped talking and looked at Carlo. “Carlo, you’re as much a part of my soul as Joe and I can’t imagine not being around you. The three of us were always meant to be together. Rose said we do it without thought; when we stand we always stand the same way, you in the middle, me on your right and Joe on your left. It’s not something we were taught, its instinctive with us.”

Carlo nodded, “Even though I knew it would be an excellent opportunity for both of you, I prayed to Luna you wouldn’t take the positions. I don’t know what I would do without you both.” The three men were quiet thinking of everything they had been through and what was yet to come.

“So yes, we were thinking of taking the Alpha positions. Not for the prestige of the position but the advantages it could bring our youngsters. It would’ve been difficult for us but if it was something they wanted, we would’ve done it,” Frank said with a sigh. “But personally it would’ve killed me.”

“Why didn’t you tell us this Dad? We could’ve made a decision you wouldn’t have been happy with,” asked Vin with a frown.

“Because as a parent you do everything in your power to make sure your youngsters have every advantage available to them, even if it means doing things you don’t want to. When you’re blessed with little ones you’ll understand what I’m talking about,” Frank said as he looked at his family.

“And we won’t find out for at least five years, right boys?” asked Todd in a menacing tone as he glared at his daughters intendeds who started to squirm and look anywhere but at him. He then turned towards his daughters, “Now that you’re allowed to go to college, I expect you to fulfill your dreams and…”

Holly rolled her eyes, “Before you go all nutso Dad, it’s time for the girls to go to bed. You can lecture them tomorrow.” The girls smiled at the incredulous look on his face and said goodnight as their intendeds followed them into the house to say goodnight without the watchful eyes of their fathers on them.

“We’re going to head in too; it’s been a long day,” Rose said with a smile as the women joined her. As they walked away, she turned and looked at her mate, “Don’t be too hard on the boys. I remember what you were like at that age, and they’re angels compared to you bunch of degenerates.”

Seeing the boys grins, Frank scowled, “You’d better wipe those grins off your faces; we’re going to have a serious discussion as soon as the others return.” He went to the cooler and tossed each man a beer before taking a long pull of his. He stared at the boys who lowered their heads as they sat in an uncomfortable silence and not even the warmth from the fire could ward off the chill they felt.

The younger Millers went into the bonus room as the coupled pairs said goodnight under the supervision of their mothers and Nana Ellen. Sal and Gabby were talking quietly while they glanced shyly at each other; Anthony was holding Sophia tightly to his side as he scented her and ran his hands through her hair; Alberto was whispering in Maria’s ear as she scented him and her giggles and his responding laughter echoed in the quiet hallway; Dom was leaning against the wall, his hands fisted at his sides as Morgan scented him and ran her hands up and down his arms; Vin was nuzzling Brianna’s neck as she ran her hands through his hair; Damian was holding Caitlin’s face as he softly kissed her and Lorenzo was taking Erin’s hair out of her ponytail as he alternated between nuzzling her neck and kissing her.

Gina looked at the other women and said, “They are so cute, especially Salvatore and Gabriella. I remember what it feels like to have that first hint of love.”

“If Todd could see his daughters, he’d go ballistic. He forgets how he acted after his declaration,” Holly said with a big smile on her face.

“It’s not just the boys who act that way,” Nana Ellen said with a hint of reproach as she turned towards her daughter in law and raised her eyebrow. “Who gave my son that giant hickey the evening he made his declaration?”

Holly’s eyes were wide and her face flushed as she said, “You saw that?”

“How could I miss it? It was right on the front of his neck. He was so proud of it and was so disappointed it disappeared by the next morning; he wanted to show it to all of his friends,” Nana Ellen replied as she rolled her eyes.

The women began to laugh and moments later Gina cleared her throat, “Its time for the girls to get some sleep and I believe you have a meeting to get to.” They quickly said goodnight and moments later they heard the back door close. Chattering noisily the girls went into the room and the sounds of laughter rang out as the women quietly shut the door before going downstairs and settling in the family room.

“How much do you want to bet they don’t get much sleep tonight?” asked Holly with a smile as Rose poured them a glass of wine.

Gina grinned, “I don’t think any of us would take those odds. While we have the house to ourselves, we’ll go over our plans.” The women nodded and went to their rooms to get their notebooks.

The men watched with narrowed eyes as the boys returned; their laughter and smiles disappearing as they took in the tense atmosphere and the subdued expressions of the other boys. As agreed upon, Carlo let the silence drag out and the men leaned back and stared at them. After fifteen minutes of total silence with even the normal sounds of the woods absent, the boys were completely unnerved and when a loud popping noise with ensuing sparks came from the fire, they jumped.

Another two minutes went by and Lorenzo couldn’t take anymore. He squirmed and took a deep breath before he blurted out, “Alpha Carlo, it’s my fault. I was in a bad mood and let it get out of hand and started a fight during the movie.” He looked at his Dad and Uncle Frank before lowering his eyes once more.

Gianni rubbed the back of his neck and said quietly, “It’s as much our fault as it is his. We knew he was in a bad mood, and kept needling him to get a reaction out of him.” He looked at Lorenzo and a hint of a smile crossed his face before he quickly removed it, “But we didn’t expect that explosive of a reaction.”

“It developed into a free for all and we made a huge mess and had to go home and change,” said Marcus as he stared at his shoes. The men crossed their arms over their chests as they stared at the boys.

“The girls were never in any danger. Even though we were fighting, we were aware of our surroundings,” added Anthony as the other boys nodded.

Carlo held his hand up to stop them, “Show me, I want to see how the girls were protected.” Anthony nodded and Carlo said, “You were with Sophia most of the evening, I want somebody who was in the back.” He focused on Gianni, “You show us.” Gianni nodded and projected things from his point of view.

As the evening replayed in their heads, Lorenzo could feel himself getting aggravated again as he watched Erin and Bob. He began to growl and said angrily, “I’m going to fucking kill him when I get a chance.” The men glanced at each other and shook their heads at his response.

After Gianni finished, Carlo asked quietly, “Who was watching the entrance to make sure no one entered?” Getting no response he continued, “The girls were halfway across the theater, so who was watching them while you were busy beating the shit out of each other?” The silence continued before he said in a voice that was full of anger, “Try and answer this…if someone had come in and taken the girls, how long would it have been before you noticed?” The silence was deafening before Carlo shouted, “DO YOU REALIZE WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED? NONE OF YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN AWARE OF IT UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE.” He was towering over the boys by the time he finished and they bowed their heads and showed their necks knowing he was right.

Carlo took several calming breaths as he paced in front of the fire, “As disappointed as I am in all of you, I’m most disappointed in Anthony and Alberto… you were with your mates.” Anthony started to say something but Carlo stopped him, “I don’t want to hear excuses. All of you know you were wrong and we took into consideration the fact Lorenzo was acting out because of feeling the mating pull so that’s why your punishment isn’t more severe. We expect more out of you from now on.”

“We’ve discussed the punishment and for the next two months, you’re going to help train the young ones, the boys and girls,” Frank said in a firm voice.

“Obviously, you aren’t getting enough of your aggression out since you’re fighting,” Joe added as he narrowed his eyes. “You’ll join us on our morning run, go on an evening run in wolf form and your overall training will be increased.”

“From the time you wake up til you go to sleep, every minute of every day you’ll be busy. There won’t be time for anything other than school, football, training and work,” Carmelo said with a scowl before turning to Sal. “I know you want to ask Gabby on a date and you will be allowed to go with Angelo and one of The Clan.” Seeing the smile on Sal’s face his scowl got deeper, “The only reason I’m allowing it is you pulled her out of the way when these idiots started to fight and I’ve seen the way you protect her. But if I hear one bad thing, you’ll be a senior in high school before you go out with her again…am I clear on this?”

“Ye…yes Sir,” said Sal as he lowered his head and Carmelo nodded.

Frank took a deep breath, “Anthony, you may see Sophia at the house, but there’ll be no dates for a month.” Anthony nodded before lowering his head.

“Alberto, the same goes for Maria,” Joe said with a scowl on his face as Alberto closed his eyes before nodding.

“Lorenzo and Damian, the same goes for Erin and Caitlin,” Todd said with a frown. Damian gave a big sigh before nodding.

“All of this was my fault,” Lorenzo said in a voice full of remorse. He brought his head up and looked at his Dad, Uncle, and Todd before looking at his Alpha, “Don’t punish them by restricting their time with their mates.”

“We took that into consideration. You started it, but it was their decision to join in and neglect their duty,” Carlo replied as he stared at Lorenzo.

The boys nodded and Anthony said, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know better and can’t believe I left my mate and the other girls unprotected.” Carlo nodded in acceptance and Anthony swallowed loudly before looking at Frank, “I’m sorry Poppa Frank, I let the trust you had in me go to shit. It won’t happen again.”

“Make sure it doesn’t, next time the punishment will be worse,” Frank said as he leaned back against the log.

“I’m sorry too, Poppa Joe,” Alberto said as he glanced at Joe before lowering his gaze. “Maria means everything to me and I…”

“I know and take this as a learning lesson; you know what you’ve done wrong, now make sure it never happens again. You bunch aren’t the first to do something this stupid. Frank and I used to get in so much trouble with our father in law it was unreal,” Joe said as he began to smile.

“Rose and Annie got mad at us on a date and said they were going to the bathroom,” Frank said with a smile. “Thirty minutes went by before we realized they snuck out the window and we went into full blown panic mode. We drove around town for hours looking for them and finally went home to find Pops sitting in the living room furious beyond words. I don’t think I’ve ever been that terrified in my life. He sat there drinking a beer while he calmly told us how bad we had fucked up and how we were going to make things right.”

“They’d been with him the whole time; after they snuck out they ran down the street and called him and he had them within ten minutes,” Joe said with a frown before he looked at Frank and smiled. “I still have the blisters on my hands from chopping wood, mowing the yard, fixing the roof on the house, digging flower beds and building a deck.”

“Did Mom get in trouble?” asked Enzo with a smile.

“Fuck no. You know how Pops is… his precious daughters do no wrong,” Frank responded with a disgusted look as Joe rolled his eyes. “If something happens that he doesn’t agree with, even if they caused it, it turns out to be our fault.”

Vin looked at his dad, “That’s something I’ve always wondered about. I heard Pops talking to Mom and he said something about the first time you ever did something right. What was he talking about?”

Joe, Carlo and Carmelo burst out laughing as Frank flushed before taking a deep breath. “He’s talking about your birth.”

Vin and Dom looked at each other in confusion before Dom said, “That’s something else we’ve always wondered about. You and Uncle Joe do everything together, why don’t we have cousins the same age?”

“Well…that was your mothers doing, but I was definitely a willing participant. Even if things got a little out of hand,” Frank said as he began to smile.

“Anytime the police are involved it’s more than a little out of hand. Remember, I had to talk them out of giving you a ticket and towing your truck for parking on the lawn. You’re lucky I was there visiting Gina,” Carlo said with a laugh.

Joe added with a laugh. “I had to help replace the doors and fix the drywall. Not to mention buy a new kitchen table and bed frame when you broke them.”

“If we’re going to talk about you and Aunt Rose doing the nasty then excuse me while I throw up,” Damian said with a shudder as he pretended to gag.

Frank smiled at his nephew and said, “Wait until your mate goes into heat and you’re not there, you’ll do whatever it takes to get to her.”

“Why weren’t you there?” asked Vin.

“And what does this have to do with us?” asked Dom.

“Stop interrupting,” Frank said with a laugh. “We’d graduated but Rose and Annie were in their final year and arranged their schedules so they were done by noon on Thursday, then they’d come home. We were getting Triple C up and running so we were working from sunup to sundown six days a week.”

“Going without our mates for three nights was driving us insane, so Monday and Tuesday nights we’d make the ninety minute drive at 8 PM. We’d be so exhausted all we’d do is come into the apartment, eat, fall asleep, wake at 4 make the drive back and work all day. It was brutal,” Joe added with a frown.

“We knew her heat was coming soon, because she’d had her period the week before. Your Mom knew how tired I was, so when her heat started Wednesday around noon she thought she could deal with it until she saw me Thursday. A couple hours later she called frantic telling me how bad it was and I left work and drove like a madman to see her,” Frank said as he ran his hands through his hair. “Like Carlo said, I left the truck parked on the lawn because there was an accident and traffic was backed up so I ran across campus. As soon as I got to the apartment complex, I scented her increased pheromones and my wolf went nuts.”

“Now that’s an understatement,” Carlo muttered as he began to laugh.

“I ripped the apartment door off the hinges scaring the fuck out of Annie and in my enthusiasm to get to Rose I kicked her bedroom door down too,” Frank leaned back with a smile on his face, clearly enjoying his memory of that evening. “She was in such a frantic state she basically attacked me as soon as I ran into her room and I had to hold her down and suppress my wolf while I put a condom on.” He stopped talking and sighed loudly, “During our uhmm activities it broke because I was in such a hurry I didn’t put it on right.”

Vin and Dom looked shocked and Vin said in a surprised tone, “You’re telling me we’re here because the condom broke?”

“I believe it was Luna’s fate and your destiny to be the oldest and look after your family. Something you’ve always excelled at,” Frank said as he looked at his oldest sons with pride. “Never think for a moment we didn’t want you. The next morning when I noticed the change in her scent we were thrilled and couldn’t wait for you to be born. But we were scared too, she was still in school and we were struggling to get Triple C established… not to mention the fact I had to tell Pops.” He stopped and shuddered, “He was furious beyond words, he thought I got her pregnant on purpose. That was the most embarrassing conversation in my life when I told him the condom broke. He still ranted and raved for months.” He began to smile and said, “All of that changed the moment he saw the sonogram of the two of you and he couldn’t wait for you to be born. That’s when he told me I had finally done something right and when he’s proud of something all of you do, he says that.”

Anthony looked at his father and said, “I’m afraid to ask.”

“No, we had been trying through two of your Mom’s heat cycles to conceive. As soon as I noticed the change in her scent, I informed the entire Pack,” Carlo said with a smile. “All births of blood-born Alpha-heirs are celebrated as a blessing from Luna. You know from your lessons it is harder for Alpha pairs to conceive and they usually do not have more than three children.”

Anthony looked at his Dad and asked quietly, “Dad, do you think Mom is gonna go into heat again? Like Doc talked about?”

Carlo shrugged, “If it happens I would be thrilled.” He took a deep breath before exhaling loudly, “I’m more worried about if it doesn’t happen because I know how badly she wants a little one.” He felt her pain when they were at Pack functions and she held the little ones; she covered it well but he could feel her heartache, an ache he shared with her.

“I never got to say goodbye,” Anthony whispered as he met his father’s eyes. “I may have been young, but I knew… I knew what having a baby sister meant… I’d watched the older boys with their baby sisters. One night when Mommy fell asleep I whispered to her belly so my baby sister could hear… I told her I was going to be the best big brother ever, no one would ever hurt her, and I’d… I’d always be there for her. But I never…I never got the chance to be her big brother.” He put his head down so no one could see his tears and when he was once again in control of his emotions he continued, “No one would let me kiss her goodbye and tell her how much I loved her.” The tears were streaming down his face now and he made no effort to hide them.

Carlo pulled his son to his feet in a bone crushing hug, “I never realized that’s how you felt. You were so little and I thought not seeing her would be easier for you. I was trying to protect you, and I failed, I let you down.”

“You could never let me down or fail at anything, you’re the greatest man I know,” Anthony said as he stared into his fathers eyes. “Everything you do and say shows how great you are and I can only hope one day to be like you.”

Carlo wiped the tears off his sons face and then wiped his own, “You’ve been the greatest joy in my life and I’m so proud you’re my son.” Carlo kissed him on the forehead and instead of Anthony sitting with the boys, he moved to sit with his father needing the closeness since they were both emotionally drained.

There was a comfortable silence for several minutes before Damian said with a smirk, “Well Dad, have I been the greatest joy in your life?”

“You’ve been the greatest pain in my ass,” Joe retorted with a straight face as everyone laughed at the satisfied smirk on Damian’s face. Joe waited for the laughter to die down before he continued, “When trouble rears its ugly head, I know you’re behind it peeking around to see what else you can get into, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ve got a unique outlook on life and sometimes it’s what we need… other times I wonder what the fuck is going on inside your head.”

Damian smirked at his Dad and said, “Pops says I’m just like you.”

“Of course he’d say that, his daughters can do no wrong,” Joe rolled his eyes as Frank nodded. He turned to Alberto, “You’re lucky we’re understanding father in laws. We know our daughters have faults and aren’t perfect. They’re like their mothers; stubborn, pig-headed, opinionated, never wrong, bossy and temperamental.”

Matt began to laugh, “You described the two of you.”

“Fuck you Matt,” Joe and Frank said in unison as they scowled at him.

“Oh come on, you left yourself wide open for that. If anybody is bossy and stubborn, it’s the two of you,” Matt said as everyone began to laugh.

“He’s got you there,” said Carlo with a grin. “I think the two of you are even bossier than your father. Now he’s scary… and so is Ray.”

“Yeah, they’re both intimidating. I can’t believe they worked for the State Department, there’s nothing remotely diplomatic about either of them. With us, it’s always been their way or no way.” Frank said with a frown.

“Again, that sounds like the two of you,” Phil said with a grin.

“Fuck you Phil,” Joe and Frank said with matching scowls.

The sound of the crackling wood surrounded them and Todd leaned forward and looked at Joe, “I want to hear this story about your declaration.” Carlo, Frank and Carmelo began to laugh as Joe turned towards them and frowned.

“I need a beer,” Joe said as he got up to get one out of the cooler only to realize they had finished all four cases. “Big brother, before I start let’s get some refreshments; beer for us and Enfamil for the youngsters.”

“Funny Dad” “Fricking hilarious” “Good one Mr. JC” “Come on Poppa Joe” were heard from the boys as the men grinned before Joe and Frank walked to the house to get more beer.

Carlo said, “While they’re gone, let me give you some background on Tuckahoe Pack. They’re on the Eastern Shore and one of the smaller Packs, roughly half the size of ours. Seventeen years ago Alpha Atticus Payne assumed command after his father’s death and began to change things. For years they depended on farming; strawberries, dairy, corn, and tomatoes. They asked to borrow money from SMI to build a hotel in Ocean City and we lent it with one caveat; that Triple C do the builds. Frank and Joe were still getting their company up and running and doing a build of that magnitude would help them immensely. It was a win — win for both Packs and the rest is history. Triple C is one of the largest construction companies in MD and a major force on the East coast. TP has hotels throughout their territory plus other businesses. When their schedule allows, they do electric work for Triple C but none are Master Electricians so Triple C has to hire someone to oversee their work. That’s why they want to start their own electrical division and where you come in.” He stopped talking and looked at Papa Mike who nodded.

He got up and threw another log on the fire, “Back to TP. We go there for games leaving early Friday morning and returning Monday evening. We charter a boat on Friday and the adults relax and fish while the youngsters learn about the Chesapeake Bay. We have scientists and preservationists talk about its history, starting with its formation to its settlement first by Native Americans and later Europeans, its flora and fauna, and the impact it has on the economy; local, state and national levels. Saturday’s the games; Sunday we go to the beach and Monday we relax before coming home. It’s a great weekend.”

“There’s miniature golf, arcades, the boardwalk, amusement parks and tons of other stuff to do in the evenings,” Carmelo added as Carlo nodded.

“We’re definitely going to have to get that bakery up and running soon,” Todd said with a grin. “We’re gonna run out of money with all these trips.”

Carlo smiled, “The Pack pays for the rooms and you’ll get an allowance for meals. Next quarter you’ll get your Level 4 stipend which will help out a little.” He turned as he heard Frank and Joe return, “Everything okay inside?”

“The girls are still awake, we heard them laughing and it sounded like they were having a good time,” Joe said with a smile.

Frank shrugged, “The women are up to something; as soon as we walked in they hid their notebooks and stopped talking. I could smell their anxiety and asked what was up and they quickly said ‘Nothing’ but they looked guilty as hell.”

“You know as well as I do they’ll tell us when they’re ready and not a moment before,” Carlo said with a sigh. Seeing the grin on Ant’s face he said, “You get your stubbornness from your mother and her family.”

Ant snorted before rolling his eyes and saying sarcastically, “Naturally, because the Rossi’s are known for their patience and understanding.”

“Exactly,” Carlo said with a smile and out of the corner of his eye he saw Frank throw him a beer and he caught it. He waited until Frank and Joe sat down before he said, “Time for your story Joe.”

He sighed, “When Frank made his declaration for Rose our parents and Grammy were ecstatic, but Pops was less than thrilled.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Frank said with a grin. “He knew some of the shit we’d done and the trouble we’d gotten into when we were teenagers. To be honest though, nobody would’ve been good enough for his little girls.”

“Now that I’m a father of a teenage girl I can understand why he felt that way,” Joe said as he glared at Alberto who grinned back. “After Frank made his declaration, I couldn’t take a step without Annie being glued to my side and I can’t tell you how many times I knocked her down because she was in my way. I hated it. It set me and my wolf on edge; I’d never felt that way before. I was getting into arguments and fights with everyone and it didn’t matter what they said or did it pissed me off and my wolf was worse. He was all over the place growling, pacing and trying to break out. Basically, I was in the mother of all bad moods.”

Lorenzo nodded, “That’s how I’ve been the last week.”

Damian rolled his eyes, “You’re like that all the time.”

“Fuck off Damian,” Lorenzo muttered angrily as his twin laughed.

“Are you two done so I can continue?” Joe asked with a frown and they nodded. “Anyway… we were at TP for a football game, and we didn’t do the Meet ‘n Mingles like we do now, between games the guys would stand on one side of the room and the girls on the other and we basically ignored each other or pretended to. It was beyond awkward and painful, definitely worse than what you guys do now. Anyway, I was standing there listening to the TP guys talk about Annie and I was getting more and more agitated and couldn’t understand why. Finally, the Alpha’s called for the game to start and put us out of our misery.” He got up and got each man another beer and took a long pull of his, “TPs training center only had one locker room back then, so they put up a sheet to keep the teams apart. We were getting changed after the game and we heard the TP guys talking and this one guy said he was going to ask Annie out. The rest of the story is simple…my wolf and I realized Annie was our mate so I put my cleats back on and went to make my declaration.”

Carlo, Frank and Carmelo burst out laughing and Carmelo said, “What a crock of bullshit. You did way more than that.”

Joe hung his head down and sighed, “Can’t we just leave it at that?”

“NO,” everyone shouted before they broke out in laughter.

“Ahh, fuck,” Joe said as he ran his hands over his face before staring at the sky. “When he was talking, I was getting more and more agitated and for some strange reason put my cleats back on. I couldn’t think straight, all I kept thinking about was her and how dare they talk about her. Once I realized she was mine, my wolf broke out and I partially shifted so I had a wolf’s head and claws. I snarled and howled a bit then left to find my mate.”

“You snarled and howled a bit? That’s an understatement. You scared the fuck out of TP when you ripped the sheet apart with your claws, let out a blood-curdling howl, shifted back and screamed, ‘SHE’S MINE’… all while you were bare assed naked,” Frank said and began to laugh. “Tell the whole story baby brother.”

“Fine,” Joe glared at his older brother before he crossed his arms over his chest. “I was still so disoriented that I grabbed my helmet and put it on…”

“THE HELMET,” Carlo shouted as he dissolved in laughter followed by Frank and Carmelo. “How the fuck could I have forgotten about the helmet?”

Joe glared at Carlo and took a deep angry sigh, “Then I ran out of the locker room and stood at the door of the training center. As if me standing there naked except for my cleats and a helmet wasn’t drawing enough attention, I started howling and screaming for Annie…” Hearing laughter from everyone Joe stopped and glared at them. “I finally scented her and took off running after her with…” his voice trailed off and was barely above a whisper, “A hard on.”

Shouts of laughter were heard and Papa Mike laughed so hard he fell off his chair which made them laugh even harder. “It’s not funny,” Joe said with a scowl before he began to grin and joined in the laughter. “Annie started to scream and ran which made me and my wolf even more excited. I took off after her, still screaming her name and I was so focused on her I didn’t notice I had Dad, Pops, both football teams and the men from both Packs chasing after me. All I saw was my mate and she was running… and I had to get her. ”

Joe stopped and had a big smile on his face, so Frank picked up the story, “When Joe ran out of the locker room, we put on shorts and followed. We were too late to grab him and all we saw was ass and elbows as he took off. She was weaving all over the place, screaming her head off but laughing at the same time. I honestly don’t think he would’ve caught her if she hadn’t of fallen.”

“Bullshit, I could’ve caught her easily, my wolf and I were enjoying the chase,” Joe said as he scowled at his brother before he started to smile. “She was in her uniform and I was enjoying it… a lot. Seeing her tan legs with that skirt bouncing around and when I caught her it took ten men to get me off of her and…” Seeing the looks of disgust on his sons and nephews faces he stopped, “What?”

“That’s sick Dad. Hearing your declaration is one thing, hearing you describe mom physically is just wrong and ewww,” Lorenzo said with a scowl.

“You got to remember, to us Mom isn’t a woman, she’s Mom. Big difference,” Paulo said with a grimace as Michael nodded.

Seeing Damian pull his phone out of his pocket, Joe asked, “Who the hell are you calling at this time of the night?”

“I’m seeing if there are any therapists available for an emergency session. I’m gonna need one. Who am I kidding? I’m gonna need a hundred,” Damian said as he looked at his Dad who was grinning. “I’m serious; you’re emotionally damaging me for the rest of my life.”

“Payback for the crap you’ve done. You have no idea the amount of people I meet that say, ‘Oh… you’re Damian’s father’,” Joe said as he laughed.

“Really? That is so cool so many know me, it’s all part of my master plan,” Damian responded as a crooked smile appeared on his face.

There was silence as everyone looked at him and Matt said, “I know I’m going to regret this, but what is your master plan?”

“I want to be President,” Damian said with a grin.

“Of the Alpha Council? You have to be an Alpha to do that,” Ant said with a confused look.

“No… of the United States,” Damian said as he leaned back against the log, imitating his father perfectly without realizing it.

There was stunned silence as everyone stared at him. Carlo cleared his throat and took another long pull of his beer, “Are you serious?”

“Yep. I’ll go to college, get my degree in communications and work for Triple C handling the PR. This’ll get my face out in front of everybody in Maryland, then when it’s time I’ll take over Senator Martin’s seat with help from Alpha Carlo, stay there a couple of terms, then move onto the national level.”

Everyone continued to stare at him and a slow grin spread over Carlo’s face, “You know I think we could make that happen.”

“I know we could,” Damian stated with a smile. “Think of the support we’d have from other Packs, after we deal with these fuckers. There’s 200 Packs across the country, each with between 300 to 1,500 members. Each Alpha is generally acknowledged as business leaders in the town near their base, but none of them have the political pull and nationally known name as Alpha Carlo. The Carlucci name is associated with him and is known up and down the east coast because of our reputation for the quality of our work and our business practices.”

Joe continued to stare at him, “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“Since I was a little one. Mom and Aunt Rose had us sit and watch President Bush’s inauguration, I wasn’t sure what was happening or who he was but I remember sitting there thinking, whoever he was I wanted to do what he did.”

“The Martin’s have held that Senate seat for close to sixty years,” Joe said as he glanced at his brother and saw him roll his eyes.

“I for one won’t be sad to see him go,” Frank muttered with a grin.

Damian shrugged, “None of the boys want to run when he retires, and Victoria… well, who knows what the hell she’s gonna do.”

“You really want to do this?” Joe asked as he searched Damian’s face. Damian didn’t hesitate but nodded immediately. “Well, if that’s what you want, you know I’ll support you and do whatever I can to help.”

“I’ll be right there too,” Frank said as Joe looked at him and smiled.

“Us too,” Vin said as his brothers and cousins nodded.

“You can count on the Millers, all sixteen of us,” Papa Mike said as Matt, Phil and Todd nodded.

“The Moretti’s too,” Carmelo added as Alberto and Angelo smiled.

Carlo tilted his head and said, “You can count on me too. I think when you go to MD you need to take some Political Science courses. We’ll talk to the advisors and see what they recommend. We need to start planning now.”

“I’ve already started a little. I’m fluent in Italian, working on Spanish and French, that’s why I’m taking both of them this year. I know it doesn’t seem important but I’ve seen the films where President Kennedy went to France and the reception the First Lady got when she spoke fluent French. I want to be able to do that,” he said in a determined tone before he broke out in a smirk. “With my devastating good looks and charm I know I’ll get the female vote, but to help out I’m working on a plan to make sure I get it. I’ll tell you about that later.”

Todd grinned, “I can’t believe one of my daughters may become First Lady.”

“If my son wants to be President then you can bet he will and your daughter will be First Lady,” Joe said as he looked Damian, the pride evident in his eyes.

“Well then, we’re going to have to start preparing Caitlin too,” Todd said as he smiled at Damian.

“Thanks Dad and Pappy. Thanks everyone for the support,” Damian said with a smile as he looked around the bonfire.

“Pappy?” Todd asked with a scowl. “You couldn’t think of a better name than Pappy? It makes me sound old.”

“If the name fits…” Damian said with a smirk.

Papa Mike grinned, “If you keep harassing my son, you can definitely count on me.” Todd glared at his Dad while his brothers laughed.

“Well, I’m putting my request in first,” Gianni said with a smile.

“What request?” Carlo asked as he got up to get more beer for the men.

“First dibs on the Lincoln bedroom,” Gianni answered as everyone began to laugh. The next hour was spent talking and relaxing as the men finished four more cases of beer and the boys finished off the chili.

“Anything else you want to discuss before we wrap this up?” Carlo asked as the boys began to yawn and nod off.

Vin shook his head and said, “We’re going to head inside.” He looked at the two youngest Carlucci’s who had fallen asleep. “I’ll get Sal.”

“I’ll get Victor,” Dom said as Vin nodded. The men were quiet as they watched the boys walk through the yard into the house.

Frank looked at his watch and saw it was almost 2, “I’ve got an idea, why don’t we go for our run now and sleep in until 8?”

“Sounds good, let’s run in wolf form,” Joe said as the others nodded. “I’d ask the women, but they’re asleep.” Carlo threw dirt on the remnants of the fire and as the darkness surrounded them, the men stood, stripped and shifted before running into the woods; Carlo in the lead, Frank on his right flank, Joe on his left with the others in a loose formation behind them.

“I love running here, makes me wonder what it was like when they first arrived and the land was open to them,” Carlo said as he jumped over a log.

“Let’s look at the property next door,” Joe said and Carlo veered in that direction.

“You still thinking of buying it?” Carlo asked as they came to the edge of his property line. “If you don’t then I will.”

“It’s been on the market for almost six months and they haven’t had anybody out to look at it,” Frank answered as they jumped a small stream. “The house is basically a teardown; it’s the land we’re interested in. If we could get that and the property next to it which is sixteen acres, we could build two houses.”

“We’d own the whole end of the lake then,” Carlo said and stopped at the edge of the woods when the cabin came into sight. Scenting the air they could tell no one had been there in recently so they shifted and strolled through the yard naked. “You’re right; the house would definitely need to be torn down.”

“But look at the view,” Joe said as he walked around the side of the house.

“Not to intrude on your little Carlucci Compound in the making here, but can we get in on this?” Papa Mike asked as he looked at the lake. “If we get both properties, we could split it three ways so we could have a place here too.”

“What am I? The red-headed stepchild? I want in on this too,” Carmelo asked and everyone laughed as they looked at his auburn colored hair.

Phil coughed and said, “What about us?”

“You’d be with us… with your family,” Papa Mike said as Phil smiled.

“That would work too,” Matt said with a grin.

“Okay, we’ll have Paulo do a check of property records to see what’s up. Let’s finish our run,” Carlo said as they walked back to the tree line before shifting.

At 7 AM, the boys and the adults woke to the smell of coffee, biscuits, cinnamon rolls and breakfast casserole. As they came into the kitchen, Sophia said, “We were going to make breakfast, but didn’t want to wake everyone up, so we put the frozen stuff in the oven. It should be ready in ten minutes or so.”

“The men are going to that local diner for breakfast so it’ll just be us,” Rose said as she kissed Sophia’s forehead. “What are you all planning?”

“We’re going jet-skiing. The Millers have never been and we thought it’d be fun,” Vin walked to Brianna and scented her. He looked at the clock and said, “If we’re there by 8:30, we can get two hours in, then we’ll walk around town.”

“We’ll come back for lunch, go swimming, relax for a bit, eat dinner then go to that amusement center and race go-karts and play putt-putt,” Marcus added as he looked at the lake through the French doors.

“Sounds like a full day. Make sure you keep an eye on the girls,” Carlo said as he walked into the room and got a cup of coffee before kissing his mate.

“How much money will they need?” Todd asked as he reached for his wallet.

“You have to be sixteen and have a driver’s license to rent them, so we got it,” Dom said with a smile.

Brianna smiled as she pointed to her pocketbook, “We’ve got our allowance if we wanna buy something.”

“You all ready?” Carlo asked as he looked at the men who nodded and followed him out the door. As they drove into town, they noticed the ‘For Rent’ and ‘For Sale’ signs that dotted the landscape.

“I wonder how much they want. I’ve always wanted to have a Carmelo’s here. What do you all think?” Carmelo asked as they passed a restaurant with a ‘CLOSED’ sign on the door and a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window.

“You know what I think?” Joe asked with a frown. “I think we should’ve taken two vehicles. I can’t fucking move back here with Matt and Phil.”

“At least you’re in the middle seat, I’m back here with Todd and Papa Mike,” Carmelo complained from the third seat.

Carlo grinned from the passenger seat, “Consider it bonding and stop your whining, you sound like a bunch of little ones.” Frank pulled into the diner parking lot and went around the side, pulling through until he was parked hood out. The men didn’t say anything just smiled as they walked across the parking lot. When they walked into the building Frank, Joe and the men scanned and scented the restaurant for any signs of danger. All talking stopped as everyone stared at them and several men nodded at Carlo. There was a long empty table in the middle of the restaurant, the rest of the tables and booths filled to capacity.

The waitress walked up to them and without saying anything grabbed menus and led them to the empty table. Carlo sat at the head, Frank, Matt and Phil on his right; Joe, Todd, Papa Mike on his left and Carmelo at the end. “Coffee?” At their nods, she brought cups and left two carafes, “I’ll give you a couple minutes.”

“Everyone is staring at us and you can hear a pin drop. Mr. Wu obviously spread the word we’d be here,” Carlo said as he casually looked at the menu. “Did you notice nobody is eating? They only have coffee.”

“The kitchen staff is standing around too, it’s not like they’re busy filling orders,” Carmelo said as he got a cup of coffee. “I can hear their stomachs growling; maybe they don’t want or have the money to spend on breakfast.”

“Good morning Mr. Rossi,” an older gentleman around seventy said. “Not sure if you remember me, but I’m Bob Perkins I own The Settlers Diner, been in my family for over a hundred years.”

Carlo stood and shook his hand, towering over him, “Of course I remember you Mr. Perkins, my family has been coming here for years. You remember Frank and Joe Carlucci, and Carmelo Moretti? We have new guests with us this weekend at the cabin; Mike, Todd, Matt and Phil Miller.”

Mr. Perkins nodded and said, “We heard you were in town and some of the men would like to talk with you all, at your convenience of course.”

“That’s fine, but I can’t think on an empty stomach. Why don’t you bring the Settlers breakfast for everyone and we can talk after we’ve eaten,” Carlo saw the hesitation on some of the men’s faces. “Naturally, I’ll pay since I’m sure most of these gentlemen weren’t planning on being here this morning to see us.”

Mr. Perkins smiled, “I’d better get that grill fired up.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to see your kitchen and help,” Carmelo said and Mr. Perkins nodded.

A low hum of talking began and ten minutes later one of the younger men called out, “Is it true you’re going to expand your distribution center?”

Carlo got up and walked to the front of the diner near the counter so everyone could see and hear him, “Yes, we are. I know some of you work for me already…” He nodded at several men, “And you know the building we currently own is outdated and cramped. If we can work out the details on acquiring the building, we plan to make it our focal point for distribution out west. To that end, it will be operating as a 24-hour facility. We’d need to promote or hire new shift managers, foremen, office staff, maintenance workers, truck drivers, plus line workers.”

Someone hollered, “Who is going to do the build-out?”

Joe stood up, “Triple C will handle the construction work. We’d bring our own site supervisor, foremen and specialized workers but we’d be hiring local laborers. Most of you know we’ve put in a bid to build the new shopping center in Cumberland, those we hire for this project would get moved to that one.”

There were excited murmurs and someone else asked, “What if you can’t get the building? What are you going to do then?”

“We’ll take it day by day, but Rossi’s is going to expand,” He saw the waitresses bring out plates of food to his table and grinned, “Now let’s eat and we’ll talk more after we’re finished.”

Four carloads of youngsters pulled into a parking lot at the opposite end of the lake. As they walked into the building the clerk was flipping through a catalog and didn’t look up, “Welcome to McHenry’s, I’m Wayne, what can I help you with?”

“We’d like to rent fourteen jet-skis,” Ant said as he narrowed his eyes.

Seeing Anthony’s color change, Maeve said, “Anthony, calm down. He’s a nice boy but he’s worried about his family, something to do with money.”

“There’s a ban on personal watercraft on the lake from 11 to 4, so you can have them for two hours. The rate is $70/hr plus a $250 deposit per watercraft, credit card only no debit card.” He finally looked up at the boys who had on board shorts and t-shirts and the girls who had on shorts, t-shirts and bathing suit straps visible around their necks. “No exceptions. Before I start on the paperwork, I’m assuming you have a credit card, at least one between all of you and it’s not stolen and it’ll go through?” The clerk sighed, “If you don’t, you’re wasting my time.”

Ant, Vin and Angelo placed Black Am-Ex credit cards on the counter.

“I’ll pay for one,” Ant said.

“I’ll pay for ten,” Vin said.

“I’ll pay for three,” Angelo said.

The clerk looked at the names and swallowed loudly before he whispered, “Fuck me sideways. I’m so getting fired for this.”

A girl in her twenties walked out from the back, “Is there a problem?”

Ant stared at Wayne as he said, “No, not at all. Wayne was explaining the rules to us. We were starting the paperwork to rent some jet skis for a couple hours.”

The girl looked at Wayne who nodded before lowering his gaze to the floor. “I’ll need your ID’s so I can make a copy, and here’s the forms, read them and sign on the bottom.” When she walked out of the room Wayne looked up and quietly said, “Thanks. My Dad worked at the distribution center that closed. Right now this is the only income my family has and I can’t afford to get fired.”

“No problem, but next time dial down the attitude a little,” Ant said before he began to grin. “What did your dad do?”

“Head of human resources, we moved from Ohio last year when he got hired. He’s been applying everywhere but hasn’t even had a call back. He’s at the diner right now with the others talking with your Dad,” Wayne said with a sigh.

Anthony nodded, “Hopefully everything will work out. Tell your dad to fax his resume to our corporate office. We’re always looking for good people.” He pulled a card out of his wallet and handed it to Wayne

“Thanks,” he said putting it into his pocket before pointing to the life jackets hanging on the wall, “They’re x-small to x-large, make sure it’s snug but not too tight.” He filed the paperwork while the boys helped the Millers. “Ready?” He led them outside and gave final instructions, “Any questions?” Everyone shook their heads and he said, “Have fun and see you in two hours.”

Victor looked at Damian, who he normally rode with and realized he would have Caitlin with him, “Who am I going with?”

“You’re with me Squirt,” Angelo said with a shrug.

“And you’re with me,” Gabby said as she smiled at Sal who eagerly nodded.

“We won’t go fast, we’ll let you get used to it,” Vin said as Brianna got on behind him. “Put your arms around my waist and hold on.” Within minutes the girls were urging the boys to go faster as they were laughing and shouting at each other as they raced along the edge of the lake.

“You okay Gattina?” Alberto asked as he felt Maria snuggle into his back.

“I’m fine. I like this, I like holding you,” she whispered and giggled as Alberto growled. “You’re so big and strong and your muscles are so hard. I wish we didn’t have these jackets on so I could feel them.”

Alberto growled louder, “Stop Gattina, you’re driving me crazy and if you keep it up I’m gonna crash.”

“What’s the matter?” Gabby asked as she glanced over her shoulder.

“Nothing,” Sal said as he blushed. “I’m just not sure where to put my hands. I don’t wanna you know, like put them somewhere they shouldn’t be.” Gabby didn’t say anything, but reached with her left hand and placed his hand on her waist and he followed with the other. He glanced around; no one was paying attention so he leaned in and began scenting her neck. Gabby could feel the rumbling from his chest and leaned back into him and smiled when she heard him growl.

“When can I drive?” Shannon asked Paulo as she peeked around his side.

“When we get to the inlet in front of the cabin. I’ll show you how the controls work and we’ll stay there until you feel comfortable, then we’ll go back on the lake,” he answered and felt her nod. As they pulled into the inlet, they looked at the cabin and saw the women sitting on the balcony.

“Gattina, I don’t want to argue about this, but I don’t want you to drive. I’m afraid your arm may be jarred or have pressure put on it,” Alberto said as he watched everyone else switch places.

“I guess I’ll have to stay back here and hold you then… that’s if you don’t mind,” she said as she squeezed him again.

“You’re gonna fucking kill me Gattina,” he growled out in a raspy voice as he glanced at her over his shoulder.

“Anthony, I know how to do this,” Sophia said rolling her eyes as he continued to give instructions. “I figured you’d be more preoccupied with holding me.”

“I’m trying not to think about it. Damn, you smell so good. I love your scent of warm sugar cookies drizzled with honey. You have no idea what it does to me,” he tilted her head so he could scent her even deeper.

“Hey Ant, anytime you’re done perving on my baby sister, we’re ready to go,” Vin said with a glare and Ant jumped back and almost fell off the Jet Ski.

“Okay, let’s head out to the lake,” Dom leaned forward and put his hands over Morgan’s giving it a little more throttle.

Gina was smiling as they left the inlet, “It looks like they’re having a good time. While they’re out, let’s get some practice in.” The women nodded and went to the basement where the workout room was.

“We’ve been practicing,” Holly said as they warmed up.

Rose nodded, “Your movements are more fluid. We’re going to work on offense today. Annie and Rita will demonstrate while Gina and I make corrections.” They practiced for the next hour and then went upstairs to take showers so the others wouldn’t realize what they had been up to.

“Mommy, did you see us?” Fiona asked as she ran into the kitchen.

“I did, it looked like a lot of fun,” Holly answered as she hugged her.

“It was the best thing ever,” Maeve said as she hugged Nana Ellen. “We hit a wave and I flew up in the air like forty feet, it was amazing.”

“She was there then she was gone,” Enzo began to laugh. “I forgot how little she is and I told her to go through the boat wake and she went flying but it was only like four feet, so yeah she got some air time.” Everyone began to laugh at the delighted look on Maeve’s face.

“Everybody hungry?” Gina asked as the youngsters nodded. “The venison stew is ready and Miss Holly made biscuits, so go wash up.”

The youngsters were almost finished eating when Anthony asked, “Hey mom, where’s Dad? I figured he’d be home by now.”

“Still talking, I’m going to meet him in thirty minutes,” she replied as she reached for another biscuit.

Maeve looked up and asked, “Are you going to the store?” Gina nodded and began to smile. “Can I go with you? Is it like your other one or does it have a different layout? Do you carry the same products? How many checkouts does it have? Do all your employees wear the same uniform?”

“If it’s okay with your mom, same layout but slightly smaller, yes but smaller quantities, twelve, yes and we supply them,” Gina answered with a smile.

Holly nodded and Maeve jumped up and ran out of the room yelling, “I’m going to take a shower and get ready, and I’ve got to get my notebook, and get my…” The others looked at each other as her words trailed off.

“I guess I better get showered too,” Enzo said as he finished his stew.

“Mommy, I don’t have to go, do I?” Fiona asked with a sigh.

“No, you can stay here and relax,” Holly answered with a smile.

Twenty minutes later, Gina was driving to the store and Maeve was in the passenger seat, she had her notebook and was asking questions. Angelo and Enzo were in the back listening as Gina answered and Maeve carefully wrote everything down. As they pulled into the parking lot, Maeve carefully put her notebook in her pocketbook and said, “Can I walk around the store while you’re busy with Alpha Carlo? I want to see the differences since it’s a little smaller.” Gina looked in the rearview mirror and Enzo nodded.

“Alpha Carlo will be here while the rest of the men go to the cabin, so if you aren’t with us, I want you with Enzo and Angelo,” Gina said in a firm voice and Maeve nodded. After Gina put the car in park Enzo and Angelo got out, scanning and scenting the area and Maeve got out when she got the clear signal.

She grabbed Gina’s hand as they walked across the parking lot, “In case I forget, thank you for letting me come.” Gina smiled and squeezed her hand.

As they walked in the door, Enzo asked, “Are you going to need a cart?”

“Yes, I think I will,” she replied as she began looking around and waved at the men who were talking in front of the customer service area. “Is it okay if I write my observations down and tell you what I think?”

Carlo smiled as he walked up to her, “I’m looking forward to hearing them. We’ll compare them to my notes. We have an appointment to see the distribution center in an hour and a half and it’ll take twenty minutes to get there. Mr. Frank is staying, so he can give an assessment of the building. I’d also like yours.”

Maeve smiled, “If I only have an hour, I better get started. Follow me boys.” Enzo and Angelo nodded and followed in her wake.

“They look ridiculous following her around like little pups,” Matt said with a laugh as everyone grinned. “She’s barely 5′ and 80 lbs; Angelo is 6’5″ and 330 and Enzo’s around 6′ and at least 200.”

“She didn’t even say hello or goodbye,” Todd said with a frown.

“She sees you all the time, it’s only her third time in a grocery store,” Papa Mike said as he smiled. “We ready to go? I got what Ellen wanted; she wants to make apple pie for dessert with vanilla ice cream.”

“See you later,” Carlo said as he, Gina and Frank went into the office.

Angelo and Enzo watched as Maeve opened her pocketbook and got her notebook out and she glanced around and began making notes. This continued for the next twenty minutes until they stopped in the cereal aisle. She flipped the pages until she came to a list and then walked down the aisle until she reached the Captain Crunch. Grabbing three boxes off the shelf she put them in her cart and then they were off again. They went down each aisle, then the deli and bakery, finally ending up in the back of the store where she went into the bathroom then the walk-in refrigerator and freezer, all the while making notes. “Okay, let’s checkout.”

As they waited Enzo asked, “Can I ask what your obsession with cereal is?”

Maeve smiled, “When I was little, we were only allowed Cheerio’s and Corn Flakes. Now that I’m allowed to have what I want, I want to try them all and Captain Crunch is next on my list. We open a box each morning and have a small bowl, then everyone tells me what they liked or didn’t like and I write it down. I got three boxes because there’s a lot of us here this weekend.”

“We don’t eat a lot of cereal. It would take about ten boxes each to fill us up. That’s why we eat heavier stuff, like pancakes, French toast, oatmeal and that kind of stuff,” Enzo said with a smile.

Maeve put her boxes on the conveyor belt and watched carefully as the clerk scanned her purchases and put them in a bag. “That’ll be $8.43.” Maeve smiled and handed her a $10 bill. After getting her change she said, “Thank you.” The clerk glanced at her and began to ring up the next customer. Enzo grabbed her bags and when they were at the entrance she began to write hurriedly in her notebook.

“Ready?” Carlo asked as they walked towards them.

“Yes Sir,” Maeve said as she grabbed his hand as they walked out of the store. “I made lots of notes.”

Carlo smiled down at her, “Frank’ll drive while we go over them.”

As soon as they were seated in the middle seat, Maeve opened her notebook, “The first thing I want to say is this isn’t criticism, just observations from somebody who is a first time visitor to this store.” Carlo nodded and she continued, “Some of the overhead lights weren’t working properly, the paint looked kind of faded, some of the floor tiles were chipped, the glass on the deli counter needed to be cleaned, there was old spilled milk that hadn’t been cleaned in the dairy section, in the women’s room the paper towel dispenser was empty and a roll of Bounty was on the counter and some of the carts looked like they needed to be cleaned.” Carlo pulled his notebook out and read off the exact things she had noted plus one more, that some of the employee uniforms looked faded. Maeve sat silent for a moment before she nodded and wrote it down.

She looked at her notes, “But the worst was when I was checking out. Madame Gina said the clerks were the ‘face’ of Rossi’s. The clerk…” she consulted her notes, “Wanda, didn’t greet me or say anything except to tell me my total and when I said ‘Thank you’, she didn’t respond just began to ring up the next person. Maybe she was having a bad day, but it wasn’t courteous and not what you want your customers to remember.” Carlo nodded and wrote it down.

“You saw all that?” Enzo exclaimed from the backseat.

Maeve shrugged, “I’m like Nana Ellen, I’m an observer. I like things having a place and fitting together right.”

“You like doing puzzles?” he asked as she turned around to look at him.

“Papa Mike bought me some when he went to town. I’ve never done them before and the one I’m working on is a picture of different cakes and cupcakes. It’s a big one, like 1,000 pieces. Mommy said she’ll frame it when I’m done and hang it in the bakery,” she said with a smile. She turned back to Carlo and they discussed the changes the store needed and she wrote everything down.

“I want you to wear my shirt,” Lorenzo said with a frown.

“Why? Nobody else has a shirt over their bathing suit,” Erin said with an even fiercer frown.

“Because I don’t want anybody looking at you,” he responded as his eyes began to flick to amber.

“You’re crazy. There’s no one here but family and I’m not gonna do it,” Erin said in a determined voice as she ran into the water joining the other girls.

Lorenzo stood there with his mouth hanging open in astonishment that she didn’t listen to him and do what he told her to. “You have to choose your battles carefully. Remember, she’s getting her first taste of freedom and if you keep pushing her, then all you’ll end up doing is arguing,” Matt said quietly.

Lorenzo reluctantly nodded and sighed, “I know. You have no idea what it’s taking me to stand here and watch her. I want to put her in a room and lock the door so no one can see her, touch her or hurt her.”

Matt began to laugh quietly, “I’d like to see you try.”

“Don’t tell her, but I like that she stands up to me and doesn’t take any of my shit,” Lorenzo said with a grin as he stared at his intended. “I know I’m a controlling ass and she doesn’t let me get away with it. She’s perfect for me.”

“Luna in her infinite wisdom always brings us the perfect mate,” Phil said quietly as he moved to stand by his. “We compliment each other’s strengths and together we are better than we were apart.”

“Wise words from a wise old man,” Damian said as he joined them.

“Old man? Who are you calling old?” Phil asked with a scowl.

“You’re what, a hundred fricking years old? And your mate is even older, he’s what a hundred fifty?”

Matt and Phil slowly turned their heads to stare at him and he grinned before he took off running as they took off after him. Hearing their shouts of retribution against Damian, the girls stopped splashing each other as they watched the rest of the males join in until it resulted in a free for all as they wrestled on the grass.

“How come the women don’t fight and argue like that?” Aislin asked.

“Because we have more sense,” Sophia responded with a laugh.

Almost three hours later, the others returned from their visit to the distribution center. Maeve was smiling broadly as she ran to her father and said, “Oh Daddy, I had the best time. We walked all around the store and I bought Captain Crunch with my own money for all of us to share at breakfast then I gave Alpha Carlo a critique of the store then we went to the new building and we looked at everything and I helped Mr. Frank take measurements and Alpha Carlo asked me what I thought and Madame Gina had them stop at a store and bought me graph paper, rulers, colored pencils and another notebook so I can sketch and write more thoughts down and Enzo and Angelo were so nice and followed me all around the store then the warehouse and they let me do what I wanted and didn’t tell me I was too little to do something…” She stopped and caught her breath. “It was fricking amazing!”

Todd raised his eyebrow and turned to the boys who quickly hid their grins, he zeroed in on Damian and said, “This is your fault, she sounds like you.”

Damian grinned, “I know, it’s so cool.” Seeing the murderous look on his father in laws face Damian’s grin grew wider and he took off running with Todd chasing him and the men followed until they were wrestling again.

“They’re fighting again,” Aislin said with a confused look.

“Yep,” Maria said with a sigh. “They’re like little boys sometimes.”

“Momma says it’s because they never really mature, once they hit puberty their brains stop developing,” Gabby said in an authoritative tone and the girls looked at her and nodded in agreement.

“I heard that,” Angelo said as he tore himself from the pile and chased his sister through the yard. Her shrieks of laughter were followed closely by the other girls as the men turned their attention to them and began to chase them. Not to be left out, the women joined in and their laughter echoed over the lake.

Alberto moved to Maria and pulled her tightly to his side, “It’ll only be a couple more weeks until you’re back to doing your normal stuff.”

“I know but I like having you to myself with nobody paying attention to us,” she said as she snuggled into his side.

“Oh, we’re paying attention and you’d better move baby sister,” Paulo shouted and Maria quickly moved out of Alberto’s arms. Paulo hit him high while Michael came low knocking Alberto off his feet and he hit the ground with a thud. Maria began laughing as they pinned him to the ground by sitting on him.

Thirty minutes later they were sitting down to a dinner of lasagna and baked ziti with meatballs, hot and sweet Italian sausage, salad and Italian bread. As Carlo was telling everyone what happened at the diner lightning lit up the lake and the sound of thunder filled the room. “Looks bad; let’s secure the house,” Carlo said as the lights flickered. The men got up while Gina lit the candles on the tables.

Moments later, the youngsters watched as the guards slid over the windows. “Why do we need the guards down?” Kelly asked as her sisters stopped eating.

“It’s just a precaution little ones,” Gina said with a smile. “If anybody were planning something, the storm would make good cover especially if the power goes out.” The girls nodded and resumed eating as they discussed what they were going to do since they weren’t going out.

Ten minutes later the men returned and Carlo finished his story. “We sign the papers tomorrow. Since we’ll be paying cash, we can take immediate possession. The architect will be here Tuesday to start drawing up plans and within two weeks Frank and Joe will have a crew remove everything we don’t need.”

“Mr. Frank, when you come back, can I come with you? I really want to watch,” Maeve asked with a shy smile.

“That’ll be up to your mom and dad,” Frank answered. “I wouldn’t mind but you’d have to listen carefully, wear a hard hat, work boots and jeans.”

“I could come with her. We really can’t do anything with the bakery yet, and I could work on my project here,” Todd said with a shrug.

Enzo began to scowl again, “Why can’t you stay home? As if I don’t have enough to worry about, now I have to worry where the hell you are.”

“I’ll be with my Dad, your Dad, plus other Pack members… I think I’ll be okay,” Maeve replied calmly before she looked at Fiona and rolled her eyes.

“I saw that eye roll,” Enzo muttered.

“Good,” Maeve muttered before she got up to get more lasagna.

“We’ll talk about this later,” he replied as he stabbed a meatball before shoving it in his mouth.

“No we won’t, I believe that conversation is over and we’ve moved on,” she replied with a smile as the girls hid their grins. She turned to Carlo and asked, “Did you get a chance to call the painters?” Carlo nodded and they continued to talk about the store while Enzo muttered under his breath.

“What is up with you tonight?” Ant asked as he got up to get more ziti.

“Nothing, except she’s not listening to me,” Enzo replied as he rolled his neck.

“She’s asserting her independence, leave her be. You have to give her room to grow and mature,” Lorenzo said as the boys stopped eating and stared at him.

“Excuse the fuck out of me, but when have you ever not gotten upset when you didn’t get your way, or somebody did something you didn’t want them to?” Enzo asked as he stared at his cousin.

“I’ve matured since I’ve gotten a mate. I realize I have to be more flexible and not so domineering,” Lorenzo replied as he looked at Erin and smiled. Marcus spit his soda out over the table, Vin, Dom, Ant and Alberto started to choke, Damian was laughing so hard he fell off the bench, and the rest of the boys began to laugh so hard everyone else stopped talking and stared at them.

“What’s the matter with them?” Morgan asked as she stared at Dom who was coughing and laughing at the same time.

Sophia sighed, “They were talking through the bond and one of them said something funny. Get used to it; they do it all the time and they never tell us what they’re talking about. They say we’re not old enough.”

“What’s so fucking funny?” Lorenzo asked as he threw his fork on the table.

“You. You’ve had a mate for two fucking days, not even two days and all of a sudden you’re the voice of reason? You’re the most unreasonable, stubborn and obstinate one out of all of us,” Vin said as he began laughing even harder.

“FUCK YOU, FUCK ALL OF YOU,” Lorenzo shouted as he glared at them.

“Now THAT is the Lorenzo we all know and argue with,” Damian said from where he was laying on the floor.

“Are you done yet?” Frank asked quietly as the boys stopped laughing and looked to Damian who popped his head over the table.

“Sorry about that. We were talking about how since we have mates things are changing,” he said with his best crooked half smile as he got up. “Speaking of which, we need to set up a schedule to work on the bakery and don’t forget we still need to cut wood for the Millers. We never did get around to that. How about we do that the next day we have off from school?”

Joe nodded, “Joel, Jerry, Larry, Barry and Harold said they’d help with the bakery, I’m sure they’ll offer to help with cutting wood too.”

“We’ll have more time this coming weekend since the youngsters have games on Thursday and Friday evening,” Frank added.

“I can’t wait to meet them on the field,” Vin said with a growl as the boys nodded. “Frickin Weaver and his buddies disrespected our intendeds and I’m not going to let them get away with it.”

Carlo looked at all the boys and said, “Remember the rules. Don’t do anything to draw attention to your strength and speed.”

Dom nodded, “We’ll play by the rules, but we’ll skirt at the edge of them. I want Weaver and his cronies to remember who they messed with.”

“He’s an arrogant bastard that needs to learn a lesson,” Alberto snarled.

“You come from the right, I’ll come from the left… we’ll make a Weaver sandwich and flatten his scrawny ass,” Angelo said with an evil smirk.

Fiona waved her fork at Angelo, “Just make sure you don’t get called for a penalty for roughing the passer. Also we can’t afford for you to get thrown out of the game for something stupid like unsportsmanlike conduct which they can escalate to a personal foul if there’s contact.”

“Yes ma’am,” Angelo said with a grin.

“I’m serious. Their offense is rated high in the league, they have several players who could go All-County,” she added as she waved her fork again.

“When it comes to football, you can’t get anything by my girls,” Todd said proudly as he smiled at his daughters. They continued to talk about the upcoming game while they finished dinner and the youngsters cleaned up.

“So what are you plans this evening?” Rose asked as Frank pulled her into his side.

“Watch a movie,” Sophia answered as she helped pass out dessert.

“I think we’re gonna join you,” Carlo said with a grin. “But I get to pick.”

The boys groaned and Ant said, “It better not be ‘Patton’. We can recite that word for word.”

“I was thinking ‘My Cousin Vinny’,” Carlo replied with a smile and everyone agreed. Twenty minutes later they were in the basement, Ant put the movie in the DVD player and the younger girls snuggled up on the x-large sofa in front, the boys on the floor while the mates took recliners.

Thirty minutes later all of the men were asleep and Gina said, “Girls, we want to talk to you upstairs.” Moving quietly, they exited the room and went to her study where she shut the door. She went to a panel in the wall and released the catch to display a bank of monitors and turned on one displaying the theater room. “So we can keep an eye on them in case they wake up.” She motioned for the girls to sit on the sofa and the younger girls sat while the older girls sat on the floor. Gina sat behind her desk, with Rose and Holly standing on her right, Annie, Rita and Nana Ellen on her left. “What we are going to talk about goes no further than this room, is that understood?” The girls nodded and Gina proceeded to fill them in on the women’s plans to join the battle. “We know you were counting on us to be with you in the safe room and help lead you if the Proteggere command was given… but we can’t do that… not with our mates and families in danger.”

“But momma, you don’t know how to fight,” Morgan said with concern.

“They’re teaching me and Nana Ellen,” Holly replied as she stood tall with a look of pride on her face. “I can’t stand by and let you be in danger again. I failed to protect you once; I will not fail you again.”

“You did everything you could. I was the one who didn’t listen momma,” Morgan whispered as she began to tear up.

Holly moved to her side and looked in her sparkling grey eyes. “You were a curious girl who wanted to know what was going on, it’s not your fault. We were in a situation that was out of our control and all we could think of was protecting all of you. Every thought we had was of you even when we weren’t with you.” She stopped and took a deep breath and her eyes glistened with tears as she put her hand on her heart, “I could always feel all of you here and I held onto that as hard as I could. That night I felt your fear and it broke my heart. I never want you to feel that way again.” She pulled Morgan tight to her and they began to rock back and forth, both fighting tears as the other Millers joined them.

Gina wiped her eyes and said, “Unless we want our mates running up the stairs and banging on the door, we need to get control of our emotions.” She pointed to the monitor and they saw the men moving restlessly.

“Knowing my son, he won’t be banging on the door. He’s like his father; he’ll knock it down without thinking twice,” Rose said as Annie nodded.

Morgan smiled, “He is kinda overbearing and protective.”

“Sweetheart, they’re all like that. Wait until you’re pregnant with your first little one. Frank wanted to carry me everywhere, he was afraid I was going to fall and hurt myself and the little ones,” Rose said with a smile.

“Joe wanted me on bed rest from the moment my scent changed,” Annie stated as she rolled her eyes. “The worst part was he tried to cook for me. Between morning sickness and his cooking I almost starved to death.”

“Every time I moved Carmelo asked if I was okay and if I didn’t answer immediately he was on the phone to Doc. He would even wake me up if I looked uncomfortable,” Rita said as she shook her head.

“Carlo and his grandparents watched me like a hawk. I wasn’t allowed to pick up anything heavier than a glass of juice and he had them write down what I ate and drank while he was gone,” Gina said with a smile.

“After my miscarriage, Todd refused to let me leave the house when I became pregnant with Brianna and Morgan,” Holly said with a sad smile.

Gina said quietly, “I didn’t know you had a miscarriage.”

“I was at the end of my second month and woke in the middle of the night with cramping and moments later… he was gone,” Holly said as she began to tear up and Nana Ellen held her hand. “The doctor isn’t sure what happened or what caused it.” She smiled at Brianna and Morgan, “We waited two years to try again and that’s when we were blessed with you two. Your dad was a nervous wreck the entire time and didn’t relax until he held you in his arms.”

“Momma, was daddy ever disappointed we weren’t boys?” Fiona asked as Maeve reached for her hand.

“I think men want a son to carry on the family name, but as soon as your father saw you he fell in love with you. When he looks at you there’s nothing but love and pride,” Holly said with a smile.

Gina looked at the clock, “We need to finish before they come looking for us.” She waited for everyone to calm down, “The reason we wanted you to know is we need your help. We have our own training classes but we’re going to be practicing when we get a chance and we’ll need you to cover for us.”

“Are you going to let us fight in the battle?” Sophia asked quietly.

All the women shook their heads as Gina answered, “No. Our survival as a Pack depends on you and the young ones and we aren’t taking any chances with your safety. You must be protected at all costs, even if it costs us our lives. As mothers there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for our youngsters…” She looked at Sophia and her eyes filled with tears, “Or those we consider our own.”

In a blur of movement Sophia raced across the room engulfing Gina in a hug and brought Rose into the embrace. The other girls followed enfolding their mothers in their arms as they began to cry. Less than a minute went by before loud banging noises were heard as the solid steel door and the wall began to vibrate as they were repeatedly hit. A minute later the sound of wood splintering sounded throughout the room as the door frame and part of the wall caved in. Carlo, Frank, Joe, Carmelo, Anthony, Alberto and Todd fell through with the others running over them in their urgency to get in the room. All had their claws extended with amber eyes as they hurriedly scanned and scented the room.

“WHAT’S THE MATTER?” they shouted in unison.

“Nothing. We were having a chat; talking about declarations, matings, little ones and family. You men aren’t the only ones allowed to talk,” Gina stated as the women nodded. “I think the question should be… why’d you break my wall?”

The men turned and saw the large hole and Carlo shrugged, “We were in a hurry to get to you.”

Gina sighed before raising her eyebrow, “And you didn’t try the knob? It wasn’t locked.” The men looked at each other and put their heads down. “Next time use your brain instead of your brawn.” The women began to laugh and she asked, “How the hell did you break it down? Those logs are 14″ in diameter.”

Carlo looked at Anthony, “Blame him.” He turned to Rose, “And Rose. She wanted to keep the original log walls for her design element.”

Rose crossed her arms over her chest, “It’s not my fault; it beautifully blended the original cabin with the new design.” She looked at the hand hewn centuries old logs that were splintered into kindling, “Or it used to.”

Gina looked at the hole, “All I know is somebody owes me a wall.”

“And a door,” Maeve said cheerfully as everyone began to laugh.

“Just like we train in human form, your wolf needs to train. Trust his instincts and follow his lead,” Frank said as he looked at Victor and Sal as they came to a stream bed that was eight foot wide and nine feet deep. “Watch how we plant our feet and land.” Victor and Sal watched them then the men shifted and jumped down. “Go ahead and try, we’ll catch you if you fall.”

Victor came at a loping run and planted his feet leaping into the air, his feet kicking wildly like he was still running. His front left paw managed to touch the rock on the other side before he fell where he was caught by his father, Todd and Matt. They set him down and he looked up to see Sal slide off the rock, twisting in mid-air before he was caught by his Dad, Carlo and Phil. After they set him on the ground both boys looked up to see the older boys looking down at them.

“Well, that could have gone better. You looked like two baby kittens trying to leap off the couch,” Damian said as he threw his head back.

“Fuck off Damian,” Victor said in a surly tone.

“Leave them be. I remember teaching all of you how to do this and if I remember right you weren’t any better,” Frank said in a no nonsense tone.

“Maybe not… but at least when we fell, we did it in style,” Damian responded as the rest of the boys nodded.

“Go downstream about fifty feet, you can get out there the bank is low,” Joe said as Victor and Sal nodded.

“Don’t hesitate, let your wolf take control,” Carlo instructed as he scented the boys coming and heard them move back to get a running start.

Sal went first and jumped across but his front legs collapsed under him when he landed causing him to skid across the rock on his chest and chin with his ass in the air before coming to a stop. Victor followed moments later, continuing to kick his feet through the air before he landed with a thud, all four legs splayed out to the sides and he bounced several times before sliding across the rock on his stomach.

“You okay baby brother?” Vin asked as Sal got to his feet. Seeing the cut under Sal’s chin, Vin licked it to quicken the healing process.

“Well, that was graceful,” Damian said as he walked over and nudged Victor with his nose. “You alright Squirt?”

“Don’t call me Squirt and I’m fine… just scraped my … my ugh… you know,” Victor answered as he stood up.

“Well I’m not licking that… it can heal on its own,” Damian said as he began to laugh followed by the other boys.

Victor growled out, “Why don’t you kiss my ass instead?” The boys began to howl with laughter until their fathers once more in wolf form joined them.

“You have to trust your wolf, if you don’t trust him and his abilities you’ll never be in harmony with each other. You’ll fight for control and neither will win,” Frank said as Victor and Sal listened intently. “You ready to try it again before we finish the run?” They nodded and Carlo led them over the jump several times until the boys cleared it with ease. They lay in the cool grass and rested several minutes before he led them deep into the woods.

An hour later, they approached the edge of the woods near the house and shifted before changing into the shorts and t-shirts they had left. They were laughing as they talked about their run and Sal asked, “Are you going to teach the girls to jump like you showed us today?”

“Everything you learn, they learn. They train at the center with padded equipment to avoid injury before we go outdoors,” Joe said as they walked into the house. “Time for weight training.” Papa Mike and Todd groaned loudly.

Almost two hours later, they had finished their training, showered and changed into shorts and t-shirts. As they sat down to breakfast of French toast, sausage patties, scrambled eggs and Captain Crunch their talk centered over what they would do and Frank said, “I want to go to that big flea market. You know the one they put in the old drive-in movie theater.”

“Can I go Mr. Frank? I’ve never been to a flea market. I’ve seen them on TV and they look fascinating,” Aislin asked as her sisters nodded.

“Why don’t we all go, have lunch then show the Millers their safe house,” Carlo said as the boys sighed and the girls began to talk excitedly. An hour later they piled into the SUV’s and began the thirty minute drive.

“Wow, I didn’t think it would be this big,” Maeve said as she looked through the windshield. She was bouncing in her seat as she waited for Enzo’s signal and when she got out she grabbed Carlo’s hand.

“Stay close little one, there’s a lot of people here,” Carlo said as he squeezed her hand and she smiled. As a group they began to wander booth to booth.

“Holly, look at these. They’re perfect for the bakery,” Rose excitedly said as she held up several antique picture frames.

“Are you sure? They’re all different styles, colors and sizes,” Holly said as she looked through the box.

“I’m not worried about color, and it’ll be a good contrast to have different sizes and shapes. We don’t want everything too matchy matchy,” Rose said before she looked at the vendor, “How much are they?”

She began to count and a minute later said, “There’s fifty of them. How about $4 each or all of them for one fifty?”

Holly said, “We’ll take them.” As they wandered the aisles Frank and Joe bought antique woodworking tools; Annie – depression glass; Rose — Longaberger baskets; Matt and Phil – vases to use in their store; Rita and Carmelo – pictures of Italy for their restaurants; Gina — Victorian era perfume bottles, explaining to Maeve she was adding to the collection her great-grandmother had started.

“When are we eating?” Michael asked as his stomach began to growl.

“We only have this last row,” Annie said as she ruffled his hair.

“It can’t be soon enough. I’m starving and tired of carrying all this crap,” he complained as he continued to scan the crowd.

“Holly, look at these. They’d be great either sitting in a crock on the corner of the fireplace hearth or Joe could make a custom holder to put on the wall,” Rose exclaimed as she held up antique rolling pins.

“I like that. What do you think of these in a shadow box behind the counter?” Holly asked as she held up old fashioned cookie cutters with handles.

The vendor asked what kind of store she had and when Holly told her, she pulled a box from under the table unwrapping an antique crystal cake stand. “I have twelve, all different styles, my grandmother collected them. How about ten each for the cake stands and three each for the rolling pins? I’ll throw in the cookie cutters,” she asked with a hesitant smile.

“Sounds good, we’ll take all of them,” Nana Ellen said with a smile.

“If you finish shopping that’ll give me time to wrap them to make sure they don’t break,” she said as her husband joined them and he nodded to Carlo.

“You were at the diner yesterday… Ralph Kershaw, right?” Carlo asked with a smile as he held out his hand.

“Yes Sir and this is my wife Miriam,” he replied before turning to his wife. “Miriam, this is Mr. and Mrs. Rossi.”

“I know everyone will hear about it soon, but if you could spread the word we’re signing the papers for the building this afternoon, I’d appreciate it,” Carlo said as he looked around to see several people stealing glances at him.

Ralph smiled in relief, “I’ll tell them.”

“My assistant sent me your resume and I was going to call you later. I didn’t expect to run into you,” Carlo replied with a grin. “I know your previous employer in Ohio; he gave you a glowing recommendation and said to tell you if things don’t work out here to call him. I’d like to meet at noon at The Pub on Wednesday to discuss your employment with Rossi Foods.”

“Thank you Sir,” Ralph said as his wife grabbed his hand. “When Wayne gave me your card, I never expected anything to happen this quickly.”

Carlo felt Maeve let go of his hand to join the rest of the girls in the next booth. A smile crossed his face as he watched them trying on sunglasses. He turned back to Ralph, “I’d like to get things started with training and hiring new staff so when the building is ready we can move forward quickly. We’ll discuss it more Wednesday… now if you don’t mind, we have a lot of things to do before our meeting this afternoon.” The men shook hands and Carlo said he would have his assistant send directions to The Pub.

As Carlo moved to the next booth Maeve turned and said, “What do you think Mr. Carlo?” He burst out laughing at the bright pink rabbit face sunglasses.

She smiled widely as she took them off and said, “I want to get a pair of sunglasses. Enzo has Oakley’s, like all the boys. Maria, Sophia and Gabby have Ray-bans, but I don’t know what to get. And I only have $10 left of my allowance.”

Carlo picked up a pair of imitation pink Ray bans, “Try these.”

Maeve put them and turned to the mirror. “Yep. I like them.” She looked at the tag and sighed, “But they’re $20, that’s more than I have.”

“You worked for me yesterday, so let me buy them,” Carlo said.

“Daddy and Mommy gave us a lecture about how to spend our allowance and not ask for extras. I’ll keep looking until I find something I like and can afford,” Maeve said as she put the glasses back on the table and grabbed his hand to move to the next booth. “Besides, I like doing stuff in the store, when I get old enough I want to work with you. Until then, I’m doing research and putzing around.”

Carlo smiled, “With your eye for detail you’d be a fine addition to Rossi’s.” Maeve smiled and talked about what she had seen so far. “Gina, can you go to that booth and buy the pink sunglasses Maeve was trying and whichever ones Fiona was looking at? The vendor should know which ones.”

As they came to the end of the aisle, the boys pointed to the concession area and shouted, “FOOD.” Grabbing a hold of the girls, they pulled them towards the building jostling against each other to get in the front of the line. “You sure you want to eat here?” Frank asked as he looked at the menu of French fries, chicken tenders, steamers and hot dogs.

“YES,” the boys hollered back and Frank began to smile.

“Families group up, the Millers’ll go first,” Joe said as the boys groaned, each one complaining about how long it had been since they’d eaten and how they were starving to death.

As Alberto finished his order the cashier looked at him then Angelo, raking them both head to toe. Tilting her head, she smiled and said, “My shift ends at 4; if you’re not busy maybe we could meet somewhere.”

Before he could answer, low male laughter caught his attention and he turned to look at Maria who had her arms folded over her chest with a murderous expression on her face. Sunglasses covered her eyes, but he knew what they would look like; sparkling emerald with flecks of amber glaring death daggers at him. He quickly went to her side. “I have a girlfriend,” he all but screamed at the cashier.

She looked at Angelo who grinned, “Sorry, I already have plans.”

“That’s a shame, maybe another time,” she said quietly with a grin.

Gabby rolled her eyes, “Angelo, place your order and move out of the way. You’re not the only one who’s hungry.” The cashier stopped smiling when she noticed the scowls from the girls and quickly finished taking everyone’s order.

As they ate Alberto kept stealing glances at his intended. She was laughing and talking with the others but hadn’t said anything to him yet. Leaning towards her he quietly said, “You know you’re the only one I want Gattina.”

“I know you’re used to having sex Alberto, I’m not stupid and three years is a long time to wait,” she whispered as she stared at her food.

He gently put his hand under her chin and turned her towards him, “You are the only woman I want to be with for the rest of my life. Yes, three years is a long time to wait… you have no idea how long of a wait it is, but I will wait.” She tilted her head so he could scent her and he whispered, “Don’t get me wrong… I’m still going to bitch and gripe about it, especially if you keep wearing outfits like that.” He pulled back and looked at her, the light pink silk t-shirt with matching pink, tan and brown shorts flattered her petite figure and highlighted her tan while her lace edge socks and light pink Converse drew attention to her slender legs. His breathing became slow and labored, “Every time I look at you, you take my breath away.”

Maria sighed and leaned into his chest, burying her face in his neck, “I thank Luna every night that you’re mine.”

“Me too,” he whispered back as he kissed her gently on the forehead.

“I thought we were going to the safe house,” Maeve said as Carlo pulled into the cabin’s driveway.

“We are, but we bought a lot of breakable stuff and I want to unload it because the road is pretty rough and not all of us are going,” he replied.

As the boys carried the packages inside Joe and Frank looked at a piece of paper before handing it to Carlo. “Remember, Gina, Anthony, Sophia and I are going straight to our meeting,” Carlo said as he looked at the list.

“I’ll drive you,” Frank said as Carlo nodded.

“How bout me?” Maeve said as she jumped up and down.

“Yes, you can go,” Gina said with a smile.

“That means I’m going too,” Enzo said. Carlo told them their car assignments and as they pulled out of the driveway Maria and Gabby waved to everyone.

“What do you want to do?” Rose asked with a smile.

“Get out the inner tubes and go on the lake,” Angelo said with a grin.

“We’ll join you,” Rita said as she put her hair in a ponytail. “It’s been a while since we’ve really relaxed.”

“Could you have picked a more remote property for our safe house? We’re in the middle of nowhere, hours from civilization,” Todd said with a grimace as the SUV bounced along the barely cleared old logging road.

“Relax Pappy, you don’t need to worry until you hear banjos,” Damian said with a grunt as Caitlin’s elbow slammed into his side after a particularly deep rut.

“What banjos?” Erin asked as Lorenzo quickly pulled her into his side so her head didn’t hit the window.

“It’s a reference to the movie ‘Deliverance’, you know with Burt Reynolds. Though you probably haven’t seen it,” Damian said with a wide grin.

“And you’re not going to,” Todd said as they pulled off the road onto a path that had been cleared through the woods.

“I’m not sure why I have to know this. If something happened, how would I get here? It’s not like I drive, plus I’m never alone,” Fallon said with a sigh as the dilapidated cabin came into view.

“It’s important to learn this. Even the little ones know where their safe house is and how to get in. Suppose you’re almost here and your detail has to hold off attackers. What are you going to do? Escape to the safe house or stand and watch?” Michael replied as he got out and scented the area.

“I guess Daddy’s right… there’s a method to Mr. Frank and Mr. Joe’s madness,” she replied as she got out of the car. Frank and Joe threw their heads back and laughed, the others joining in as Todd hung his head.

“It looks like its going to fall down but don’t worry about it,” Carlo said as he looked at the old trappers cabin which was leaning to the left. “Get the bags.” Instead of going inside he led them to the water pump; picking up the handle the rusty metal made a grinding noise. “Pump it once and then twist the spout to the right until you hear the click.” He turned to a grouping of boulders along the tree line and one of the larger ones in the middle began to rise slowly from the ground.

Carlo began to descend. “The rock lifts with hydraulics, as soon as you’re inside disable it so it can’t be opened. There’s a small area so you can gather while you open the door. You see it?” The Millers looked around the chamber which was 4′ x 8′, and made of 4′ wide concrete panels, the only thing in the room was a bare light bulb in the corner. Carlo walked to the light bulb and pushed until they heard a click and one of the concrete panels began to swivel open.

“Once inside disable the door so it can’t be opened,” Frank said as he stepped inside making sure the rooms were empty and no one had been there. “It’s not that big just three rooms, but it’ll keep your family safe. There’s a six month food supply, ten x-large cots, plus the sofas pull out into sleepers. It’s got the bare necessities as far as entertainment, some movies, games and stuff.”

“Girls, let’s empty the bags and get things sorted,” Nana Ellen said and the girls followed her into the sleeping area.

Paulo turned on the computer and monitors located in the corner of the living area, “Once you’re here, turn this on as soon as you can. Go to Word, pull up the file list and open the ‘Evac’ one; it contains a list of instructions. There’ll be a special email address that’s been set up for you to send an email to an address that’s to be used only in emergency. In the email let us know you’ve arrived, how many are here and if you were followed.” The Millers nodded and Paulo continued, “There’s cameras located on the property; they’re motion sensitive so an alarm will sound if they’re activated. Click on the camera icon to display them on the monitor.”

“If you notice activity send an email immediately to that same address,” Joe said as Paulo clicked the cameras icon and showed the Millers how to split the monitor to show all ten cameras at once then individual locations.

Carlo checked his watch, “We need to go.” Paulo checked all the cameras before shutting the computer down and Carlo led them out of the safe room. “We rarely come to our safe houses to eliminate attracting attention, if there’s things you want to bring, stockpile it and bring them in a couple of months.” They repeated the process to exit and within minutes were on the way back outside.

Frank threw his keys to Vin, “You’ll be the second car going back, Dom you’ll be in the passenger seat.” Both boys nodded and they began the drive back to town. Frank glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Maeve between Carlo and Gina and listened as she asked questions and tried to write the answers down but the rocking and jerking motion of the SUV wouldn’t let her. Frustrated she put her notebook in her pocketbook and turned to Gina, asking about the perfume bottles.

Twenty minutes later, the others turned onto the road leading to the cabin while Frank continued onto the realtor’s office which was in the middle of town. Frank and Enzo got out nodding to the others and they followed Frank into the office. Maeve looked through the glass window at the three men waiting in the conference room and reached for Carlo’s hand, “I don’t like the looks of that man in the grey jacket. His colors are dark… he’s hiding something Alpha Carlo.”

“That’s Mr. Wells, he owns the building. And your right, he is hiding something but we’ve got it taken care of,” Carlo said with a reassuring smile.

“We’ll wait in the lobby,” Frank said as Carlo walked into the conference room with the others. Introductions were exchanged and Carlo motioned for Ant, Sophia and Maeve to sit in chairs along the wall. Gina picked the contract up and scanned through it while Carlo made small talk with the three men.

Mr. Wells looked at his watch, “If you don’t mind could we hurry this up? I have another meeting to go to. It’s a standard document requiring your signature.”

Gina stared at Mr. Wells. “The majority of the document looks fine, but I want to know why it says…” she turned to the required page, “The new owner shall be responsible for any and all liens or judgments placed on the building.”

Mr. Wells shrugged, “Standard legalese.”

“It has nothing to do with the $450,000 personal loan?” Gina asked as he paled. “Let me refresh your memory… you borrowed money to invest in two buildings, using the distribution center and your contract with the tenant as collateral. Not only did you fail to purchase the buildings, but when the bank called in the loan you ignored them, this past Friday in Garrett County Circuit Court they gave you five business days to repay the loan or a default judgment will be placed on the building.”

Sweat beaded on his upper lip as he stammered, “The… the papers haven’t been… filed yet… how do you know about this?”

Gina leaned forward, resting her forearms on the table, “Who do you think you’re dealing with? Do you think you’re the first person who has tried to do something dishonest? I’m tempted to leave you hanging.”

Mr. Wells turned to Carlo who said, “My wife handles our real estate transactions, any decisions are up to her… and only her.”

Gina picked up the contract again, “We do want the building, but that provision will be removed and instead it will state you will be responsible for any judgments or liens placed on the building for ninety days in case anything else comes up. Also instead of $1.2 million, we’re offering $800,000.”

“That’s way below market,” he said as he pounded the table.

“And more than you would get when the bank forecloses because you’re three months behind the mortgage payments… not to mention the delinquent property taxes,” Gina replied calmly. She let the silence stretch out for several minutes, “By the time you pay the mortgage, the personal loan, the property taxes, the delinquent light, water and sewer bills… you’ll come out with about $150,000.”

Mr. Wells stared at Gina and asked, “How about $1 million?”

“$800,000 is our final offer… our only offer,” she replied as she stared back. The silence stretched out endlessly; Sophia, Ant and Maeve looking back and forth between Gina and Mr. Wells wondering who was going to crack first. Carlo sat back and pulled his phone out of his pocket, showing his complete disregard for the proceedings since Gina was in charge.

“Fine,” Mr. Wells replied with an angry sigh. “I’ll have my lawyer draw up the documents with the new stipulations.”

“No need… I already have them,” Gina replied as she retrieved a document from her pocketbook. “Our lawyers have already looked it over and you’re welcome to go through it with your lawyer.”

Mr. Wells grabbed the papers out of her hand and Carlo scowled. “I realize you’re upset with this outcome, but I’m warning you… be respectful to my wife or no matter how badly we want that building we’ll walk right out of here and leave you to the mercy of the courts and bankruptcy.”

“I’m sorry, please accept my apologies,” he murmured before lowering his eyes and passing the document to his lawyer who looked it over. Thirty minutes later, they were signing the documents.

“The money will be deposited into your account at 9AM Tuesday. I won’t say it’s been a pleasure because I don’t like people lying to me,” Gina said with a frown. The men lowered their eyes and walked out the door without saying anything. “Maeve, did the real estate agent know about this? What do his colors say?”

“He has good colors, but he knew. I think he tried talking them out of it because he’s showing conflict,” she replied as she stared at the real estate agent projecting the images to Anthony who sent them to his parents.

“That’s all I needed to know,” Gina said as she gathered the papers. When the agent went to shake hands, she stared at him, “I don’t like the way you do business Mr. Cantor. You knew they were trying to take advantage of us and did nothing to stop them. I’ll be making a call Tuesday to the Real Estate licensing board to report your unethical behavior.” He opened his mouth to protest and Gina held up her hand stopping him, “Save it. It’s a shame really; when word gets around about this I doubt anyone will use your services… I know we never will.” Without saying another word, she spun on her heel and left the room, followed by the others.

Maeve came bounding into the kitchen and everyone stopped talking to stare at her as she began jumping up and down, “You should have seen it…Madame Gina kicked ass… it was fri…well… it was awesome.” Gina walked into the kitchen smiling broadly and listened as Maeve told everyone what happened.

“I have to give thanks to Paulo for finding all of that information,” Gina said as she smiled at him. He blushed as everyone turned to him and he smiled shyly before lowering his gaze to his laptop.

“Let’s have dinner, the slippery pot pie is ready then we can talk more,” Rose said as the youngsters began jostling each other to be first in line.

The talk was loud, full of laughter and teasing as they ate dinner when Maeve asked Gina, “What are you going to do with the old building?”

“Try and sell it, though it’ll probably sit on the market for a while,” she replied as she looked at Maeve. “Why? Do you have an idea?”

“I heard Miss Christy and Miss Veronica talk about how much daycare would cost if their parents didn’t help with the little ones while they work. So, why don’t you turn part of it into a daycare center for families that work for you? The remaining part could be turned into a community center. I didn’t see anything like that when we were walking around.”

Gina smiled, “I hadn’t thought about that, but we’ll definitely look into it.” Maeve smiled and turned back to finish dinner. “She has some really good ideas Carlo; I think it might be a good idea to bring her into work once a week. As long as it’s okay with Todd and Holly and she keeps her studies up.”

“I agree my love. By the way, you were magnificent today… as always,” he said before leaning over and kissing her gently. “Luna knew what she was doing when she blessed me with you.”

“Do you think she sent us the Millers so we could help them… or they could help us?” she asked as she smiled at Maeve and Fiona.

“So do you like putt-putt? I know it’s one of the things you wanted to do,” Gino asked Fiona as they waited for their turn at the last hole.

“It’s fun, but I don’t like the obstacles on the course, like when my ball hit the windmill blade and bounced back,” she said with a frown.

He grinned, “That’s the whole point of putt-putt. When we go to Tuckahoe Pack we’ll play at some of the courses in Ocean City; they have waterfalls, bridges, hidden holes and a lot more obstacles.”

“Maybe I’ll like it better if you let me win,” she said with a sly grin as he broke out in laughter.

“I’m glad all of us are here,” Kelly said as she watched Sophia poke Anthony in the side mid-swing and he hit the ball too hard causing it to sail over the hole. Carlo laughed at the look on his sons face and encouraged Sophia to do it again.

“We would’ve finished quicker if the parents would’ve stayed home,” Marcus said as he sighed. “I hope the concession stand’ll still be open. I’m hungry.”

Aislin rolled her eyes, “Is that all you ever think about? Food?”

“Not really, but it’s high on my list,” he replied with a smirk.

“You look like you could skip a meal or two bro,” Gianni said as he patted Marcus’ stomach. “You’re getting kinda soft.”

“What?” Marcus spun his head towards his twin and pulled his shirt up to look at his abs. “There’s not an ounce of fat on me, my stomach is hard as a rock.”

“And so is your head,” Aislin murmured as Gianni howled with laughter.

“No, it’s the lowest score that wins,” Dom said as Morgan placed her putter on the counter after their grouping finished.

“How? I got the highest score, therefore I won,” she stated as she crossed her arms over her chest.

Dom turned to the man behind the counter and grinned, “Will you tell her low score wins? She doesn’t believe me.”

The elderly man shook his head, “If I was you, I wouldn’t argue with her. I’ve been married 45 years and I’ve never won an argument with my wife.”

Morgan gave him a bright smile which he returned, “Thank you.” She turned to Dom and put her hands on her hips, “See… I won, now where’s my prize?”

Dom’s eyes raked his mate and his voice got husky, “I’ll give you a prize.” Seeing his look, she took off running screaming for her uncles to help.

“You’re on your own little one,” Matt yelled as he watched Dom jog after her, not trying to catch her, but content to chase her.

After a trip to the snack bar to get hot dogs and fries for the boys and funnel cakes for the girls, they walked to the go-kart area. Since the Miller’s had never driven before, the instructor explained how to operate the karts and that each race was four laps. The first two races they were hesitant and driving slowly and carefully as the adults shouted encouragement. After the third race they began to speed up and were soon keeping up with the boys.

Watching them Todd groaned, “I don’t even want to see them behind the wheel of a car; I swear they’re going around the turns on two wheels.”

“Looks like Brianna is gonna be a helluva driver,” Carlo said as he watched her go through the ‘S’ loop without slowing down during the fifth and final race.

Her face was a mask of concentration as she pulled next to Lorenzo before passing him and they saw a small smile cross her face. The yellow light came on, signaling the last lap and they saw her lean forward as if trying to make her kart go faster as she tried to catch Vin, Dom and Paulo, the only ones in front of her. Paulo crossed first, then Dom then Vin and Brianna at the same time. They pulled into the pit area and she got out of her cart jumping up and down, “I won… I won.”

“How did you win? You finished the same time as me, and behind Paulo and Dom,” Vin stated with a laugh.

“I get a handicap because I’ve never driven before, so I won,” she stated as her sisters nodded in agreement.

“I agree,” Maria hollered from where she was standing along the fence.

Vin snorted, “Of course you agree with her since you and Sophia usually knock us into the wall or spin us out so the other can win.”

“You’re a sore loser,” Sophia muttered with a grin as she walked past him.

“First, I didn’t lose. Second, Ant was clearing the path for you so you could finish in the top ten. Third, you’re annoying,” Vin said as he grabbed a hold of her ponytail and pulled her against his chest wrapping his arms around her.

“You have no idea how annoying you are,” Dom added as he hid his grin.

“Like a bee around my head,” Lorenzo swatting at imaginary bees.

“Buzzing in my ear,” Marcus began making buzzing sounds.

“And when you talk all I hear is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” Damian brought his hands up and made mouth motions.

“And you never stop whining,” Gianni stamping his feet.

“Daaaadddddyyyy, they’re picking on me,” Enzo said in a high pitch squeal.

“Uncle Joe, do you hear them? They’re being mean to me,” Gino said in a falsetto as he let out a deep dramatic sigh.

“Make them stop,” Michael pretended he was crying as he rubbed his eyes.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Paulo crossed his arms over his chest.

“I didn’t want to do it, they made me,” Victor stuck his bottom lip way out, in an exaggerated pout.

“But… but why am I getting in trouble Daddy? I’m the baby, shouldn’t that count?” Sal started giving puppy dog eyes as he tilted his head.

Frank, Rose, Joe and Annie were laughing and nodding their heads as Frank said, “They got you pegged Sweetie.”

Sophia sighed dramatically before elbowing Vin in the stomach and moving out of his arms, “I’m so glad everyone is finding amusement in all of the pain and suffering I’ve had to deal with growing up with this group of idiots.”

Maria linked arms with her, “They have no idea what we had to put up with. Those morons beheaded, drowned, buried, stabbed and mutilated our baby dolls, knocked us down, ran us over, said we were playing hide ‘n seek and never looked for us, ate all the mixes for our EZ bake ovens and picked on us endlessly.”

“And you tattled on us every time we did something wrong and stood there with a smile on your face when we got punished,” Vin said with a grin.

“But it was worth it to torture you two,” Dom added as the Carlucci boys began to give each other fist bumps as they broke out in laughter.

“Yeah well, we’re big enough to take care of ourselves now. Plus we have intendeds to even things out,” Maria said with an evil smile as the Carlucci boys stopped laughing and looked at Alberto and Anthony.

Ant pulled Sophia into his side, “I remember you pouting and thinking how cute you were with that bottom lip sticking out and you stomping your feet. I always wanted to make you feel better, that’s why I never did any of that stuff.”

“So… you weren’t in on the plot to ruin Barbie’s wedding to G.I. Joe?” Sophia asked as she narrowed her eyes as they walked to the vehicles.

Anthony grinned, “You remember that?”

“Of course, it traumatized me. I got his chopped off hand in an envelope with a ransom demand of five boxes of Twinkies, three boxes of Suzy-Q’s, four boxes of Hostess Cupcakes and a box of Sno-Balls. I remember it as if it were yesterday, you don’t forget about things like that,” Sophia said with a shudder.

Frank started to laugh, “Is that why I had to take you to Rossi’s and buy them? You said it was a matter of life and death, I always wondered about that.”

Gabby hit Sal in the arm, “You did that?”

“Ouch. And no, it wasn’t my idea… but I got a box of Twinkies out of it,” he replied with a smile as he reached for her hand.

“Barbie was emasculating him and was a jerk; making him take her to tea parties and for rides in her stupid pink car. Besides, he wasn’t ready to get married yet, he was having too much fun with her friends,” Damian said with a wicked grin.

As they neared the vehicles, Sophia stared at Anthony, “Wait a minute… you WERE in on it. You’re the only one I know who likes Sno-Balls.”

“I was eight years old,” he exclaimed with a sheepish expression. “They promised me a box of Sno-balls if I distracted you by… and that’s why I ugh…” He blushed bright red and put his hands over his face.

“You kissed me and gave me the cooties… I can’t believe I forgot that,” Sophia leaned against the SUV she was laughing so hard.

“You kissed my daughter?” Frank said as he stood in front of Ant. He narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

Anthony paled and quickly said, “On the cheek… I swear Poppa Frank… that’s all it was… I didn’t do anything else.”

Frank began to laugh, “I’m just picking on you. I can understand why you did it; I would have done the same thing for a box of Ho-Ho’s.”

Carlo looked at the darkened sky, “Come on everyone let’s load up. My wolf and I want to go on a run and see if we can track down that bear.”

The women entered the woods on the left of the clearing and the men on the right to shift. They returned to the clearing and the mated pairs immediately went to each other; the males standing still scanning the woods while their mates/intendeds rubbed against them mingling their scents. Gino, Enzo, Paulo, Michael lay down so the four youngest girls could climb on their backs and they walked slowly around the clearing so the girls could get comfortable. Alberto rubbed against Maria’s legs as she leaned against him, “Soon Gattina, you’ll be able to join us on our runs. For now, my wolf is pleased knowing you will be holding us.”

“Good puppy,” Fallon murmured as she patted Michael on the head.

“You do know I’m not a dog, right?” he asked as he tried not to laugh.

“Don’t ruin this for me, I never had a pet before,” she answered as she scratched him behind the ear as they moved into the woods. “Can I steer?”

“Not only am I not a dog, I’m not a car either,” Michael stated with a laugh. “If you want to guide, we can do that later, right now just relax and have fun.”

“I’m a little scared, this’ll be our first time running in the woods,” Shannon said as she gripped the fur on Paulo’s forechest harder.

“Don’t worry, I’ll never let anything happen to you,” Paulo said quietly but with authority and felt her relax.

They ran for almost an hour, Carlo in the lead, Gina on his left and Anthony on his right with Sophia at his side. Carlo slowed as the scent they were looking for crossed their path. “Smell that? It’s pretty fresh. Be on guard, he can’t be far away. Time for the girls to go up in a tree.”

The boys lay down and the girls got off, following Frank and Joe they used their backs as steps to climb up into the tree. The last was Maria and the girls helped pull her up. “Climb higher, at least fifteen feet from the ground,” Frank instructed and the young girls helped Maria making sure she wasn’t going to fall.

“The scent is coming from the west, but I’m scenting more than one,” Ant said as he tilted his head back.

“If it is a mother with her cub, we will not hunt them. If we were desperate for food, they would be fair game, but we are not desperate,” Carlo said and everybody nodded. “There is plenty of other game for us to hunt.”

“I’ll stay,” Joe said and Nana Ellen, Papa Mike, Matt and Alberto quickly said they would stay too. Seeing the four boys look at their protectee’s Joe said, “Go on the hunt. The girls will be safe.”

The wolves spread out moving stealthily through the forest; ears raised to hear any sound, eyes alert for any movement and noses scenting the air. “The scent is getting heavier and you were right Anthony, there are at least two of them,” Carlo said as he crouched down, the others mimicking his actions. “Frank, take a team and flank right; Carmelo flank left, Gina and I’ll keep going forward. Make sure the girls aren’t in harms way.” Frank split everyone into two teams with the boys in a loose circle around the girls.

Loud growls were heard followed by a high pitched squeal. “I’m scenting three bears and blood,” Anthony said. They moved forward until the trees began to thin at the edge of the stream bed. On the other bank a large male black bear reared up on his hind legs facing off against a female bear. Upstream about twenty feet away was a cub and they could see a long gash in his front leg and part of his ear missing as he cowered in the small stream and whimpered. With a roar, the male lunged at the female raking her with his claws along her side and with enough power that she was flung several feet away where she lay unmoving on her side. Growling loudly he eyed the cub and began to move slowly towards him.

“I don’t want the girls involved in the fight, the male is obviously in a blood lust,” Carlo stepped forward growling loudly followed by the rest of the men. Seeing the other predators, the bear reared on his hind legs letting out a roar before dropping to all fours shaking his head back and forth, he charged halfway across the stream and roared again. Carlo and the others growled again before Carlo tilted his head and let out a feral howl showing his dominance. The bear threw his head back and roared and began pacing back and forth, agitation apparent in every step as he began to move faster and faster. With one final roar at the wolves he turned to the cub and began to run towards him. The cub cowered in fear and whimpered, calling to his momma who raised her head and struggled to get up.

“NOW,” Carlo shouted and they attacked. The men went after the male, the women raced across the stream and stood guard in front of the female; Gina in the lead, Rose on her right, Annie on the left, Holly to the side watching the female. They watched as the boys attacked the bear’s rear legs, while the men attacked his back and sides making sure to stay away from his lethal claws and his mouth.

“GET THE CUB,” shouted Gina. Sal and Victor raced to the cub who whimpered loudly as he hobbled away. Sal moved to the cub’s right and rubbed his head against the top of the cubs to calm him down. When he stopped whimpering they lifted him by the scruff and half dragged half carried him to where his mother was struggling to get up. Seeing her cub being carried by wolves she growled until Sal and Victor put him down and nudged him to go to his mother.

Weakened by blood loss from the numerous bites the bear was quickly killed as Carlo ripped out his throat. Blood was running down his muzzle as he let out a triumphant howl with the men following. Hearing them the female began to get agitated and the cub whimpered as he nestled against her. Carlo rinsed his muzzle in the stream before moving to the female where he stared at her before sitting down and shifting, remaining in a crouched position. He slowly extended his hand while he spoke softly, “I know you can’t understand me, but I want to check your little one and see how badly you’re hurt.”

Staring at the wolves around her and her cub and seeing no sign of aggression, she put her head down and began to breathe heavily. “Gina, this is going to take both of us. Move slowly.” Carlo let the cub scent him before he began to rub his fur. After several minutes he scooted forward and looked at his ear, “Sorry little one, nothing I can do about the missing part of your ear, but I can stop the bleeding and fix your leg.” He lifted the cubs injured front leg, after examining it carefully he shifted his head and licked the cubs ear before Gina joined him to tend to his injured leg; within minutes it stopped bleeding and was starting to heal. Carlo shifted back and looked at the female and saw she was watching him but made no move to stop him. Nudging the cub towards his momma’s head, Carlo began to examine the wound on her side and saw four deep claw marks from just below her shoulder all the way to the middle of her hind leg. “Anthony, we’ll need you.” Anthony moved forward slowly and the female watched his every step as he joined his parents. Shifting into his full wolf, Carlo stayed where he was while Gina and Anthony moved to the other side to begin licking her wounds.

“Todd, since you are a latent Alpha you should be able to help,” Carlo said as he moved closer to the females head since she was familiar with him and Todd moved forward slowly as he joined Carlo. Almost five minutes later he moved back, “I think we’re done. She’ll be sore for a day or two while it completely heals but she and her cub will survive.”

Gina, Ant and Todd moved slowly back to the others and Carlo sat once more in front of the female, he bowed his head to her before turning around and leading his Pack mates across the stream and he stopped at the edge of the tree line while Gina led them into the woods. After the last wolf ran by, he threw his head back howling loudly and with one final glance at the female, he followed his Pack back to where the others were waiting.

“I don’t understand Alpha Carlo, why didn’t you hunt the bears?” Fallon asked as they walked into the house.

“If we would have killed the mother, then the cub would have died. As Were’s we have two distinct personalities; our wolves who like to hunt and our human half who know we don’t have to hunt to survive. As far as the male, yes we killed him because he was on a blood lust or rampage and was going after the cub and would have killed him then killed the mother. The male needed to be put down, suppose he wandered into town… who knows what he would be capable of doing,” he replied with a frown. “After he was dead we chose not to feast on him because we didn’t want the female to get agitated and think she and her cub were next.”

“I think I understand now. We can choose what we do and we have to think of the consequences of our actions,” she replied with a smile as Carlo nodded.

“Right now I choose to have some ice cream,” Fiona said with a giggle.

“I’ll second that choice,” Carlo agreed with a smile.

“I’m not really tired, I’m too wound up,” Sophia said as the girls nodded. “How about if we get some popcorn and snacks and watch some movies.”

“Sounds good. What are we going to watch?” Ant asked with a smile.

“No boys. We’ll make a girls night of it in the theater room and sleep there and you all can sleep in the bonus room,” Maria said as the girls clapped. “We can watch ‘Steel Magnolias’, ‘Titanic’, and ‘The Princess Diaries’.

The boys rolled their eyes and Marcus griped, “You couldn’t pay me enough to sit through all those stupid movies.”

“I don’t remember anybody inviting you,” Aislin replied with a sweetly sick smile as the youngsters began to whoop and holler at the scowl on his face.

“Are the girls settled?” Carlo asked as they left the house and began walking to the fire pit.

“Yes, they have blankets, pillows, popcorn, snacks and a bunch of movies to watch,” Gina replied reaching for his hand. “The house is secure, alarmed, the safe room is opened and Nana Ellen and Papa Mike are staying to watch TV.”

Before he could say anything else his satellite phone rang. He quickly glanced at Frank and Joe before saying, “Rossi here.”

“Good evening Carlo,” a crisp British voice came over the speakerphone.

“What the hell are you doing up Jarrod? Isn’t it a little early for you? It’s got to be 5 am there… or is your nanny gonna make you take a long nap this afternoon?” Carlo replied as Frank and Joe began to grin.

A deep sigh was heard, “For that remark, you are buying me dinner Tuesday and not at The Diner, I want to go to Roberto’s.”

Carlo began to laugh, “How the hell are you Jarrod? It’s been too long.”

“I am doing fine and yes, it has been too long. Dante told me to call you regarding the Prophecy and I waited until I had confirmation about several other things as well. He wants you to start deciphering the meaning because neither of us understood it completely,” Jarrod stated as they heard him shuffling papers.

“Hold on a second, Gina wants to write it down,” he waited until she returned from the house with her notebook. “Go ahead.”

“It is entitled, ‘The Warrior and his Knights’

When great evil pervades the hearts and souls of men

Others shall cry out ‘Never shall it happen again’

On the field of battle they shall meet

Neither knowing full victory nor defeat

Until the Warrior with four Knights at his side

Enters the fray with Luna as their guide

Strong though the five be alone

Together is when their full strength be known

True blood sworn companions til their last breath tis drawn

They will fulfill the oath of ancient ancestors long since gone.”

“That’s beautiful, but what the hell does it mean?” Rose asked with a frown.

“Is that you Rose, or your equally lovely sister?” Jarrod asked with a laugh as he heard Frank and then Joe growl.

“Hi Jarrod, how are you and Caroline doing?” Rose asked as Frank pulled her into his side and scented her neck.

They heard a loud sigh, “Since she is accompanying me, I will let you know we were recently in Switzerland getting some tests done… and the news is not encouraging. She has an appointment with a specialist Monday in New York, so we will spend the night there then travel to DC Tuesday. I already informed your Alpha Council of our arrival and requested they keep that visit quiet.”

There was silence for several moments, nobody quite knowing what to say until Gina quietly said, “Tell her if she needs to talk, I’m here.”

“Thank you Gina, I will let her know,” Jarrod answered quietly and they heard a knock on the door. “That is my assistant with the information I wanted to give you. Hold on please.” They heard him quietly talking before he said, “Carlo, he is going to email you the information we have gathered. Dante gave me the secure address you want to use and obviously the satellite phone Joe sent me.” They heard him shuffling papers and he quietly said, “That will be all Huntley, please check the arrangements for our upcoming trip.” They heard the door close and moments later he said, “As far as the Prophecies, I know of no others. I didn’t even know of the Italian one until Dante told me, so I’m of no help there.”

“Did you and Dante discuss the ones we discovered?” Carlo asked.

“We did and I agree with his interpretations. While I’m staying with you, I would like to talk with Anthony and meet the Millers. I do have information concerning them. After Andrew Moray’s death in 1300, his pregnant mate was spirited out of Scotland for their safety. No one knows the details of their departure or where they were going but it was assumed they were aboard a longship that went down in the Channel. Ten years later in France there was a sighting of his mate with a child around nine years old, by a Were English officer who personally knew Moray and his mate. When he went back to the castle the next day with soldiers she was gone but he could tell by the scent she had been there.”

“The search was renewed and the next sighting was in Bavaria around 1315 by an enemy of Moray’s who launched an attack ultimately massacring everyone within the castle. No one was spared. Because of the damage done they were unable to identify a majority of the bodies and it was thought the Moray’s had been killed. The castle was razed to the grounds to show nobody would be spared if they gave refuge to his enemies. That was when they found a tunnel and unsure if the Moray’s had escaped once again the search began anew. That is all the information I have so far on their whereabouts.” Jarrod got quiet and it was obvious he was drinking because they heard the clink of his cup as it hit the saucer.

“As Dante told you, Scotland is still divided into two factions, those who want the descendants found and those that don’t. Alpha Lennox Keir, of Clan Keir is the leader of those who want them found. His family fought alongside Moray and Wallace during the War for Scottish Independence and were the ones who reportedly got Moray’s mate out of Scotland. According to him, only the Moray descendants can unlock the secret of The Treasure of Scotland.”

There was a minute of silence before Carlo said, “What the hell is that?”

“We have no idea; after 700 years the meaning of it has been lost to time. I didn’t tell him the reason I was inquiring, only that I had run across the Lost line of Moray when I was reading some books in the Archives. I’m not quite sure he believed me but he said if he could be of any further use to contact him,” Jarrod said with a sigh. “One last thing, the British Embassy is having a formal dinner party Wednesday evening in my honour and President Roberts, Gina, Rose and Annie will be sent invitations. Ladies, if you need suitable escorts let me know.”

“Fuck you Jarrod,” Carlo, Frank and Joe said in unison while their mates laughed.

“Dante told me to say that,” Jarrod said as he began to laugh. “I really must go Carlo; we need to leave soon for New York.”

“Thank you for everything Jarrod and we’ll see you on Tuesday. Let me know your travel arrangements,” Carlo replied.

“Carlo, I didn’t say anything because I assumed you would know, but I want to make my position clear … my Pack and I will stand by your side. We may not be related by blood, but we are still family,” Jarrod stated in a clear firm voice.

Carlo grabbed Gina’s hand and in a quavering voice said, “Thank you Jarrod.”

“No thanks are needed Carlo, you have done the same for me. See you Tuesday.” They heard the click as the line was disconnected.

Carlo motioned for everyone to follow him to the fire pit. “What took you guys so long? We were getting ready to send out a search party,” Matt said with smile before frowning when he saw the look on their faces. “What happened?”

“Jarrod called,” Carlo replied and repeated the conversation, Todd relaying the conversation to his parents. There was silence as they thought over the information Jarrod had relayed. “Any ideas?”

“Can you repeat the Prophecy?” Ant said as he leaned back.

Gina recited it and said, “The first four lines are pretty easy to figure out. Who are the four Knights?”

“It has to be Gianni, Marcus, Lorenzo and Damian. They’ve been by my side since the day they were born,” Ant stated as the four Carlucci’s nodded.

“The line, ‘Enters the fray with Luna as their guide’, does that mean it will happen at night or near the full moon?” Rose asked as Frank shrugged.

“The next lines, ‘Strong though the five be alone, Together is when their full strength be known’… I’ve seen you fight together against older boys during scrimmages,” Frank looked at the five boys sitting together. “You move as one, almost as if it’s ingrained in you. We didn’t teach you to fight that way.”

“I know we’re going to amp up your training, but we’ll work more with the five of you fighting together,” Joe said and the boys nodded.

“The next line is baffling to me, ‘True blood sworn companions til their last breath tis drawn’. I know generations ago, Pack members would make a small cut and place a drop of blood in a chalice and the Alpha would drink it when he took command of a Pack to strengthen the bond. But I’ve never heard of anyone drinking an Alpha’s blood,” Carlo said as the other adults shrugged.

“As far as I know, nobody has done the Blood Swearing Ceremony in years,” Frank added as he looked at Carlo. “I know you didn’t.”

The five boys looked at each other and Ant cleared his throat, “Do they have to drink the blood for it to work?”

The adults looked at the boys who were squirming around and looking everywhere but their parents. Carlo narrowed his eyes and asked, “Why?”

“We were seven when we heard Pops and Papaw talking about blood sworn companions,” Gianni said with a sigh.

“Since Damian and I are brothers and Gianni and Marcus are brothers and the four of us are cousins, we wanted Anthony to be blood brothers with us,” Lorenzo added as he looked at his father before lowering his gaze.

“So, we went out in the woods one day and had our own ceremony,” Marcus said as he tilted his head back and looked at the darkened sky.

Seeing the astounded looks on the adults faces, Damian said, “If it’s any consolation we sterilized the knife beforehand and put Neosporin on afterwards.”

Joe stared at his son, “Thanks for that valuable piece of information Damian. You don’t know how worried I was that you used unsterile procedures.”

Anthony put his head down to hide his smile at Joe’s sarcastic tone and a few moments later he looked at his father, “We swore that like our ancestors before us we would always love and protect each other until we died. Rossi’s and Carlucci’s together til the end.” There was stunned silence from everyone as the five boys held up their thumbs where a thin line was visible.

“Did you feel any different afterwards?” Gina asked as she leaned forward.

“I felt a shock go through me, but I didn’t think anything about it because Marcus, Lorenzo and Damian felt the same thing,” Gianni said with a shrug.

“Can you project what you did?” Carlo asked as he pulled Gina back to his side.

“I’ll do it, so you can see what Ant said and did,” Lorenzo said and closed his eyes as he searched his memory as Carlo opened the link.

The boys were outside playing on Frank’s patio, while Ray and Steve watched over them. They were sitting in a circle with their legs crossed while in the middle were small plastic wolf figurines that the boys were using in mock fights. Hearing the older men start to talk, the boys stopped playing and listened.

Steve leaned forward and asked, ‘Did you notice any unusual behavior at Council Headquarters? Anything we should be concerned about?’

Ray was quiet for several moments, ‘Nothing more than the usual plays for power since the Advisory Board elections are coming up in six months. I still think Carlo should be on it.’

‘I agree. He needs to become more active in Council matters. SMP has always been one of the strongest Packs, not just for our physical abilities but for our alliances. He needs to be more open and cultivate those alliances and bring in new ones,’ Steve said before lighting a cigar.

‘One thing I noticed was Alfred Williamson seemed to be even tighter with Brantley Sutherland from Chesapeake Pack, VA,’ Ray said as he frowned. ‘It makes me wonder if they took an oath to become blood sworn companions.’

Steve let the smoke out slowly through his mouth and smoke rings floated through the air, ‘That used to be popular because it was felt the sharing of blood made them closer… true blood brothers as it were. The last time it was done here was when Carlo’s grandfather did it with the Beta’s during the Were War.’

Their talk shifted to work and the boys went back to playing. Another image popped up as the boys were sitting at a table on the patio eating lunch and Lorenzo said, ‘I never heard Daddy talkin bout the blood thing before.’

Ant sighed, ‘I wish I had brothers. I don’ even have a sissy anymore.’

‘We’s could be your brothers, like Papaw said,’ Marcus said with a grin.

‘I’d like that,’ Ant replied with a matching grin showing his missing front teeth.

Gianni reached into his pocket pulling out a Swiss Army knife, ‘We could use my new knifes.’

‘No, we need somthin sharpah,’ Damian said, his lisp evident from his missing top and bottom teeth. ‘Awnt Wose told us to stay away from the knifes on the counter cause they is sharp and we’d cut ourselfs. We need one of dose.” The boys nodded in agreement and finished their lunch.

The next image was of Damian distracting the adults while Lorenzo got the first aid kit and Ant picked up Marcus so he could grab a knife out of the knife block. ‘Get the one Mommy uses to cut meat, that’ll be the best one,’ Gianni said as he peered down the hall as lookout. Marcus nodded and got the 10″ carving knife. After wrapping it in a tea towel he ran out the back door and the others followed.

‘Where are you all going?’ Steve asked as he was playing cards with Ray, not looking at the boys but scenting them run past him.

‘To the woods to play, it’s a secret,’ Gianni replied.

‘Okay, but don’t wander too far,’ Steve said as Ray dealt out the new hand.

‘I think this is far enough,’ Lorenzo said as he looked around. They were twenty feet inside the tree line and could still see the house but far enough away that they wouldn’t easily be spotted. They sat in a circle grinning at each other. ‘What do we do first? I think we gotta make an oath like Pops said.’

‘Ant has to say the oath cause he’s gonna be Alpha,’ Marcus said as the four boys turned to look at Ant.

Ant sat quietly, obviously lost in thought before nodding, ‘Daddy tells me stories bout our families. We’ve always been togetha for like a kajillion years.’

‘Our daddy tells us the same stories,’ Gianni said with a grin.

Ant picked up the towel and Lorenzo said, ‘Hold on.’ He opened the first aid kit and got an alcohol wipe and wiped the end of the blade before handing it to Anthony. ‘Doc does this when we get cuts and need stitches.’

‘From now on we will be brothas, we will love and protect each other until we die, like our families have always did. Rossi’s and Carlucci’s together til the end,’ Ant picked up the knife and grimaced as he sliced his left thumb. He passed the knife to Lorenzo who made the same vow then it went to Damian, Marcus and Gianni. The boys held their thumbs out and Ant pressed his against each boys.

‘Did you feel that?’ Gianni asked as he felt a shock go through him.

‘That must mean it worked,’ Lorenzo said with a grin. ‘We’re brothers.’

‘Rossi’s and Carlucci’s together til the end,’ the boys said in unison, grins breaking out over their faces.

There was silence across the clearing and the five boys looked at each other and smiled. As one they held out their thumbs and said, “Rossi’s and Carlucci’s together til the end.”

“If I had any doubts the Prophecies weren’t about you, they’ve been dispelled,” Carlo quietly said as he looked at the five boys; Anthony in the middle with Gianni and Marcus on his right, Lorenzo and Damian on his left.

“Well, I for one think it’s cool. I can’t believe I’m mentioned in a secret Prophecy,” Damian said with a smile.

“Well, I for one think we need to talk to your grandfathers about their babysitting abilities… or lack of them,” Frank said with a frown.

“Before we start talking about the other information Jarrod gave us… is there anything else you want to tell us? Any other confessions you need to make?” Carlo asked in an Alpha tone as he looked at all of the boys.

“I broke the vase in the living room,” from Sal.

“I put the dent in Dad’s truck with my baseball bat,” from Victor.

“I ate the lasagna mom had in the freezer,” from Enzo.

“I broke the living room window,” from Gino.

“I add water to cake mix and eat it like pudding,” from Michael.

“I broke the dining room window,” from Paulo.

“I broke the tractor belt so I wouldn’t have to mow the yard,” from Marcus.

“I ate the pot roast mom took out for dinner,” from Lorenzo.

“I broke dad’s power drill trying to drill through concrete,” from Gianni.

“I got caught speeding and used your name to get out of a ticket,” from Ant.

“I broke the lamp in the family room,” from Dom.

“I ate twenty pounds of meatballs mom made,” from Vin.

“I ate the cannoli filling and had to make another batch,” from Angelo.

“I broke the door on the restaurant refrigerator,” from Alberto.

The adults looked at Damian who was smirking. “What? I’ve never done anything wrong and even if I did… I’m sure there was a good reason for it.”

“Spoken like a true politician,” Carlo said as everyone laughed. “As interesting as this episode of true confession has been… I meant anything major, like blood oaths and secret ceremonies.” The boys shook their heads.

Holly said, “Before we start on the revelations about my family I was wondering about something else. This probably isn’t the time with so much going on, but what’s the matter with Alpha Jarrod’s mate?”

Carlo and Gina looked at each other and she closed her eyes before sighing. “Jarrod and Caroline aren’t true mates. The Thetford Pack Second in Command, Alistair Morgan had two children, Clifford and Gwendolyn; they were the intendeds of Caroline and Jarrod.” She stopped and put her head down as she began to tear up and Carlo pulled her into his side kissing her gently.

Carlo continued the story, “Alpha Bradford, Jarrod’s father, took his family on an annual cruise to Italy to visit his sister and her family. Since they were unable to go, he told Alistair to take his family instead. When they were within sight of the dock, with everyone waiting to welcome them, the boat blew up killing all on board. It was an assassination attempt aimed at Bradford and his family; they didn’t realize they weren’t even on board and another family was.” He stopped and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Jarrod blamed himself because the reason his family wasn’t on the yacht was he was speeding in his new sports car and wrecked it the day before they were due to leave. He was in the Packs clinic healing from two broken legs, a broken pelvis, several broken ribs and a punctured lung.”

Carlo reached for Gina’s hand, “Even with Were healing, they knew it’d be a week before he was healed with all those injuries, so Bradford made arrangements for them to fly out to greet the Morgan’s when they arrived at Rossi Pack.”

Holly gasped, “You mean he saw the boat blow up?”

Carlo nodded. “It almost killed him. The only reason it didn’t was he wasn’t fully mated; he’d only made his declaration. Dante was with him the whole time; didn’t leave his side for months and I flew over to be with him too since I had experienced the pain of losing my parents. It’s not the same as losing your mate, but… loss of a loved one is a shared pain.” He stopped speaking and pulled Gina closer. “Jarrod really changed after the loss of his mate. He’s very quiet and reserved now, whereas before he was the life of the party, always getting into trouble and having a good time.” He stared into the fire. “It’s been almost twenty-four years and he still hasn’t gotten behind the wheel of a car. He can’t bring himself to do it.”

“I remember seeing him a couple of years after it happened and it was like he was a shell, he was empty,” Frank said as Rose nodded.

“About five years later, his father stepped down as President of Coleman Industries and Jarrod took over. He realized since he was an only child he needed to find a mate and have an heir,” Carlo said as he looked at Anthony before turning to look at Gina. “He and Caroline talked and came to a mutual understanding that since neither of them had intendeds they would mate.”

“They’ve been trying to have a little one since then, it’s been over seventeen years now and she hasn’t been able to get pregnant,” Gina added quietly. “They’ve been to Were doctors and human ones too. No one can figure out why.”

“Jarrod is the last of his line. He and Caroline are under enormous pressure from his parents and Pack… no one wants to see an Alpha line that dates back thousands of years die out,” Carlo said as he finished his beer.

“I’ve always wondered why Alpha’s have a hard time conceiving and don’t have many little ones,” Vin said as he glanced at Anthony.

“No one really knows. My grandfather told me it could be because if an Alpha had many heirs there would be fighting for the Alpha position. Which doesn’t explain why Todd and Holly have so many youngsters. Even if a female is born first, she would be Alpha-heir. Just adds to the mysteries surrounding your family,” he replied as he looked at Todd and Holly.

“As far as I know, there has only ever been one little one born in each generation before my girls arrived,” Todd said as he looked at Holly. “And all of them have been male. My girls were the first females born in our line.”

Paulo cleared his throat and they turned to him causing him to blush as he opened his laptop, “I did a little digging and found some stuff out about the Millers, or the Morays. The Morays were quite wealthy, one of the wealthiest families at the time. Their extended family, which included uncles and cousins, owned large tracts of land in Scotland and England and were well thought of in both countries until the Scottish Moray’s joined the fight for Independence; after that, the majority of their lands in Scotland were confiscated by the Crown. Now here is where things don’t match up. Andrew Moray was known to have died in 1300 after the Battle of Stirling Bridge; he did leave a pregnant wife who gave birth to a son also named Andrew. This younger Andrew had a first wife who was unknown and had two sons with her. His second wife was related to Robert the Bruce, also known as King Robert I of Scotland. His descendants are the Clan Murray line.”

He looked up, “I checked the European Were registry and there are several listed, but not many considering the size of the Clan. I did find a reference to the first Andrew in the European Archives that he was married when he found his true mate. If you recall our history lessons, most marriages at the time for nobility were done for political reasons or the gaining of wealth, status and land. My thought is Andrew married because of this but when he found his true mate he mated with her, thus starting the line the Millers are descended from.”

Carlo nodded, “That would make sense. In Were culture, only the offspring from mates would have the ability to shift and be considered true heirs. That would explain why his mate was spotted in France with her little one while his lawful wife and son continued the line of Clan Murray.”

“I think we’re on the right track but I’d like to see what Alpha Dante and Alpha Jarrod have to say about it. I’ll keep looking and add The Treasure of Scotland references to my search,” Paulo said before closing his laptop. He looked at the five boys relaxing against a log and added, “I’ll also see if I can find any information about an Alpha sharing his blood and what happened.”

Carlo opened his mouth to respond when he heard. “Dad, can you show us how to work the karaoke machine? We can’t figure it out.”

He leapt to his feet and ran out of the clearing shouting, “I’m being summoned.” Hearing everyone follow him he said, “Relax, it was Sophia, she needs me to show her how the karaoke machine works.”

They stopped running and Frank smiled “My daughter’s going to sing? She sounds like claws on a chalkboard. We should say a prayer of thanks to Luna that the theater room is sound proof so we don’t have to hear her.”

“Maria sounds like two tomcats fighting,” Joe added with a smirk and moved out of the way as Annie went to slap him on the chest.

“Gabriella sounds like brakes squealing,” Carmelo said with a grin as Rita hit him in the arm. “Ouch. You know it’s true and you sound worse.”

Todd nodded, “I heard a coyote being killed by a bobcat, his death call sounded better than my girls. I have ten of them and each one sounds worse than the other.”

The women crossed their arms over their chests as the men began laughing. “And you think any of you are blessed with the ability to carry a tune? There’s a reason why when you sing I tell you to shut up and kiss me… it’s to get you to stop,” Annie said as she glared at Joe who smiled back.

“I know and that’s why I do it,” he said as he pulled her against his chest.

“That’s something I’ve always wondered about,” Gina said as she led them back to the clearing. “We’re wolves… when we get together we howl and sound beautiful but I don’t know of one Were that can sing.”

“It has to be genetics… cause you know there’s nothing wrong with me… I’m a perfect Were specimen with my dazzling good looks, chiseled physique and charming personality,” Damian replied with a grin as everyone rolled their eyes.

“Not to mention a massive fucking ego,” Vin retorted with a smile.

“When you’re as perfect as I am, it’s not ego… its fact,” Damian said with his best crooked half grin as the others groaned.

“I think it’s time you headed to bed… you’re obviously becoming delirious,” Joe said with a smile. “We’ll wake you for the morning run.” The boys nodded and said goodnight before they headed into the house.

Ten minutes later Carlo walked into the clearing, “They’ve given up on movies and are going to entertain themselves. They have on their jammies, fuzzy slippers, avocado face masks and are doing each others nails.”

“Now that we got rid of the boys, how about if we have some adult beverages?” Rita asked with a smile.

“I’ll second that motion. How bout we start off with Pina Coladas?” Gina asked as the women got up and started to walk to the house.

“What time is it?” Paulo asked as he rolled out of the bunk and stretched.

“Almost 4:50. I thought Dad was supposed to wake us up?” Michael asked as he walked out of the bathroom.

“They may be testing us to make sure we’re mature enough for our duties after the talk we had,” Lorenzo replied as he went into the bathroom.

“We’re in enough trouble, let’s get ready,” Ant sighed and the boys got dressed and went down stairs. “I don’t scent them and the guards are down.”

“Well… this looks familiar,” Damian said with a grin as they walked into the kitchen; empty food containers, liquor bottles, cups and plates littered the counter.

Ant turned off the alarm and as soon as he opened the door they could hear music and the boys grinned. “Hold on a sec.” He ran to his moms study returning with her video recorder. Making sure to stay downwind they circled around to the back of the clearing and stood in the shadows with their hands over their mouths to muffle their laughter. Anthony hit ‘record’ and from their position they could see the men on one side leaning against logs drinking straight out of tequila bottles watching the women who were dancing and singing to ‘Pour some sugar on me’.

“Shake it like you mean it Sweetcakes,” Carlo shouted before taking a drink.

Joe got his wallet out, “Come here baby, let me tuck a buck.”

“Shake that gorgeous ass,” Frank hollered as his eyes raked his mate.

“If I give you a dolla, will it make you holla?” Todd shouted as Matt and Phil began laughing hysterically.

“That’s it, shake that moneymaker,” Carmelo raised his bottle of tequila to his mate before taking a drink.

“I’m going to need serious therapy after this,” Damian said as he struggled to control his laughter.

“We’re all going to need therapy,” Ant said as he struggled to keep the recorder steady as he was shaking with laughter.

“If they’re acting like this when they’re middle-aged, what the hell did they get up to when they were our age?” Alberto asked as they looked at each other. Just then someone stepped on a twig and it snapped and they watched as the men bolted to their feet and leapt in front of the women who instantly stopped dancing. Anthony quickly turned the recorder off and placed it behind a tree.

“It’s the boys,” Carlo said as they stepped out of the tree line and looked at the adults with frowns on their faces.

“Nice show. Maybe you could go on tour to pay for all the therapy we’re gonna need after seeing it,” Damian said with a smirk.

“Not to mention hearing your catcalls,” Lorenzo said with a shudder. “Seriously Dad? Tuck a buck? And you said it to MOM? That is just wrong on so many levels that I can’t… I just can’t.”

“Sweetcakes?? Really?? There isn’t enough bleach in the world to get that nickname out of my head,” Ant said with a grimace.

Vin looked at his dad, “I have no words for what you said to MOM. It’s… it’s… just…” He threw his hands in the air in disgust.

“And you…” Angelo said as he looked at his father. “Moneymaker? What. The. Hell. She’s a mom. Our MOM.”

Dom looked at Todd and shook his head in a disapproving manner, “I don’t know what to say.”

Instead of feeling chastised the men began to laugh loudly. “You ready to go on our run?” Joe said as he took a drink.

“We are… I don’t know if you are,” Lorenzo said as he nodded towards the bottle in his fathers hands.

“Try and keep up,” Joe said as the men headed into the woods before stripping and shifting into their wolves and the boys hurriedly followed. Two hours later, Carlo, Frank, Joe, Carmelo, and Anthony waited at the tree line as the others finished the run. “Put on your shorts; we’re going for a swim.”

After swimming for an hour Carlo, Frank, Joe and Carmelo stood on the small sandy beach as the others finished. “I swear you’re… trying to kill us,” Todd grunted as he flopped on his stomach and groaned before rolling onto his back. “Call the girls… I think the ten of them… are strong enough… to carry me… into the house.” He looked at Matt and Phil who were crawling out of the water and began to laugh. “After they carry me … they can come back… for their uncles.”

“I’m starving… but I don’t think… I can lift the fork… to my mouth… my arms… feel like Jell-o… and I’ve lost… all feeling in my legs… I don’t think… I can walk,” Matt gasped as he lay down next to Todd.

“This was supposed… to be a vacation… what the fuck… supposed to relax… and have a good time… drinking and eating… not putting me… in a coma,” Phil gasped out as he lay on Todd’s other side.

Carlo looked at them and smiled, “You’re endurance is increasing. We ran twenty-five miles and did a two mile swim. We’ll cut you a break and not do any weight training.” With a laugh he moved to where the others were doing warm down exercises, talking quietly while they stretched.

After their breathing slowed, the Millers slowly sat up and stared out over the lake. “I’ll make inquiries about the property when Frank, Maeve and I come back. Dad and I were thinking that maybe we’d have something like the bonus room here… but make it two rooms, a bedroom and living room for the two of you. This way you’d have some privacy.” Todd looked at Matt and Phil before turning to the lake to hide his smile, “You all do get kind of loud sometimes.”

Matt and Phil had identical expressions on their faces; their mouths fell open, eyes wide with surprise and embarrassment. Todd threw his head back and began to laugh. “Have you really heard us?” Matt asked.

“Fiona asked what you were doing and Dad said you were expressing your love for each other,” Todd answered with a grin as he put his arms around them. “They’ve heard Holly and I too. I’m not worried because the more they see couples express their love in a positive way I’m hoping the bad things will start to fade. Madame Gina is still looking for a therapist, but I can see the changes in them. I think most of it’s because they’re surrounded by love.” Seeing the others had finished, he stood and held out a hand to help his brothers. Hearing the doors on the deck open he turned and saw his daughters come out and wave before running down the stairs towards them. “I know I don’t have to ask… but if something happens to me during the battle…” he stopped as he began to get choked up and pushed those feelings aside so his daughters wouldn’t notice, especially Maeve.

Phil exhaled slowly, “We’ll take care of them as if they were our own.”

“That’s all I needed to know,” Todd replied as the girls reached them, grabbing their hands as they dragged them toward the house talking about what they had done last night and how much fun they had over the weekend.

Papa Mike was walking onto the deck with a cup of coffee when he saw his sons and smiled, “Morning boys, have a good run?”

“How did you get out of training?” Todd asked with a scowl.

“I asked if I could go fishing instead,” he replied as he pointed to a chair, tackle box and fishing rods they hadn’t even noticed on the dock. “Had a couple of nibbles so far, but no bites. After you get cleaned up, you should join me.” He grinned and walked down the steps heading to the dock.

“Get away… you’re all sweaty and wet. You smell like a rabid wet dog,” Erin squealed as Lorenzo tried to hug her.

“But… I’m your rabid wet dog,” he said in a whiny tone as he pouted.

“Yes, you are mine… but you still stink,” she said with a grin as she ran down the stairs and across the yard towards her grandfather.

“Run all you want Fragola, I’ll catch you every time,” he replied as he ran halfway down the stairs before jumping over the railing and began chasing her.

“Don’t even think about it” “Get away” “You’d better not” “I’ve got clean clothes on” “Stay right where you are” “Don’t come a step closer” Seeing the determined grins on the boys faces, Sophia hollered, “Run girls run.” They ran down the steps as the boys laughed as they gave them a head start before following. “Line up,” Gabby hollered and they faced off against each other twenty feet apart, the girls behind Sophia while the boys lined up behind Ant.

Carlo looked out the window, “We’re going to have some entertainment while we have our coffee. The youngsters are lining up in formation.” The adults quickly got their drinks and leaned against the deck railing to watch. “REMEMBER THE RULES,” Carlo hollered and the boys scowled but nodded.

“Wait… what rules?” Erin asked with a confused look.

“We aren’t allowed to hurt you in any way. The only way we’re allowed to fight is if you’re wearing pads, a helmet and are on a cushioned mat, like at the training center. Out here the only thing we’re allowed to do is defensive moves to block. The only rule you all have is no groin shots,” Ant said as the boys nodded.

“That still leaves a lot of area, since you all are so fricking big,” Gabby said as she eyed Angelo.

“Sophia, choose your opponent,” Ant said as he smiled at her.

“Vincent… he’s been picking on me and Maria all weekend,” Sophia said with a frown.

“He’s been picking on us our whole life,” Maria added with a frown.

“Oooh, this is gonna be good. Let’s move closer,” Carlo said as the adults moved down the steps to watch.

Vincent stepped forward, “Fine munchkin, if that’s the way you want to play this. Now come at me, and come hard.”

“Are you sure? I don’t wanna hurt you… or more importantly hurt your pride,” she replied with a smirk.

“Kick his ass Sophia,” Maria hollered from the side as the girls cheered.

Vin raised his eyebrow and Sophia smiled as they circled each other. Vin feinted right but Sophia didn’t fall for it and anticipated his next move. As he was moving left, she kicked him in the hip with her right foot knocking him off balance. Vin staggered back a step, “Good move, now what are you going to do?”

“I’m gonna do what Maria said… I’m gonna kick your ass,” she replied as her eyes narrowed and she ran towards him.

Thinking she was coming high, he crouched down and was surprised when she brought her knee up smashing it into his chin, a second later her elbow connected with his nose snapping his head sideways and an arc of blood flew to the left. Moving quickly out of his reach she was smiling and flexing her arms when he turned to look at her. “WWE, you missed it last week.”

“I wish I could fight back. Dad, Uncle Joe and Alpha Carlo would have my ass if I hurt you or made you bleed,” he griped as he snapped his nose back into place.

An evil smile crossed her face, “I know.” She turned to Ant, “I’m done with him, I think I’ve dented his pride enough.”

“Gabs, you’re up,” Ant said with a smile. She stepped forward and motioned for Angelo who swore under his breath as the boys laughed quietly.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten what happened on the way to school… or that you dumped me in the pool last year with my favorite dress on.”

“Come on Gabs, you still can’t be holding a grudge,” Angelo grumbled as his sister continued to glare at him as they circled each other.

She narrowed her eyes and feinted left, when he followed she moved forward ramming her shoulder into his abdomen knocking the air out of him. As he stepped back she spun around and jumped on his back putting him in a choke hold bringing him to his knees and then onto his stomach. “Hell in a cell.” She moved back to the girls and said quietly, “See, even if they’re bigger there’s always a way to knock them to their knees.” The girls nodded as they looked at the boys.

“Brianna and Morgan, you have a choice, you can go separately or together,” Ant said as he turned to look at them.

“Together,” they answered in unison motioning Vin and Dom forward. They glanced at each other before weakly punching their intendeds in the arm.

“Hit me harder, I can barely feel it,” Dom said with a grin.

Morgan took two steps back and when Dom let his guard down, she spun around like she had seen the girls do at training and kicked hard him in the stomach. Hearing him grunt, she smiled sweetly as she asked, “You mean like that?”

Vin saw his twin’s disgruntled look and laughed. Seeing he was distracted Brianna twisted his arm flipping him on his back. He looked up to see her smiling, “Mr. Joe said when you’re fighting you shouldn’t be distracted by what’s going on around you.” She turned to her sister and they gave each other fist bumps before turning on their heels walking back to the others as the boys laughed.

“Erin and Caitlin,” Ant said with a smile.

“We’ll go together,” the girls stepped forward and without asking, Lorenzo and Damian stepped forward.

Erin kicked Lorenzo in the shin and followed with a punch to the ribs which he deflected. “You’ve been practicing.”

“That was for making me cry,” she said as she moved back a step.

“When did I make you cry?” he asked with a frown.

Her eyes got wide, “At Mr. Franks, at school, on my date…” at the mention of her date he began to growl. Seeing how upset he was getting she continued, “And I was having such a good time with Bob. He’s such a nice boy and we…” His eyes closed and he was fighting to control his breathing and Erin grinned as she kicked him in the stomach and followed with a left to the jaw.

“And that was for being an ass,” she said with a smile.

Damian looked at Caitlin and gave her his best crooked half smile. She narrowed her eyes and brought her leg back as if going to kick him, when he moved to counter it, she hit him in the eye with her right fist and followed with a left fist to the jaw. “Mr. Frank says to never underestimate your opponent.” The two girls gave each other fist bumps before moving back.

Ant turned to Kelly and Aislin but before he could say anything they stepped forward and said, “Together.” They looked at Gianni and Marcus who stepped forward warily. Giving the boys innocent looks they saw them relax and the girls launched their attack. Aislin threw a punch at Gianni which he blocked and she turned to see Kelly throw a punch at Marcus which he also blocked. Seeing Gianni was also looking, she quickly threw another punch clipping him in the jaw. Seeing his brother get hit Marcus began to laugh and Kelly hit him in the stomach knocking the air out of his lungs. “Mr. Carmelo says never take your eyes off your opponent.” The girls gave each other fist bumps and moved away.

Fallon and Shannon stepped forward and motioned for Michael and Paulo. They stared at each other and Paulo quietly said, “It’s okay to practice on us. We do this to make sure you know how to take care of yourself.”

Shannon hit him in the arm and Fallon did the same to Michael. “Here, let me show you,” he said and moved Shannon in front of Michael gripping her fist in his hand as he punched Michael in the arm. “That’s it, follow through using your strength and momentum,” Paulo said quietly. “Try again.” He watched then gave the same instructions to Fallon. He moved in front of Shannon, “Now hit us again but follow it up with a left to our stomachs.”

“It’s okay, you won’t hurt us,” Michael hit himself in the abs. “See, they’re rock hard.” The girls hit them as instructed and stepped back.

“Mr. Frank says to pay attention to our instructors then practice what they’ve showed us until we become proficient,” Shannon said with a smile before giving her sister a fist bump and moving back.

Fiona and Maeve moved forward with a bounce in their step and looked at Enzo and Gino. The size difference was more pronounced in them and the adults laughed quietly as they looked at them. “With how small you are, it’d be better if you teamed up. I’ll show you,” Enzo said quietly. He moved Maeve in front of Fiona and had her lean back with Fiona’s arms across her chest. “Lean back and kick him in the chest.” They practiced this several times and then switched positions.

“Mr. Joe says by working together to a common goal we all win,” Fiona said with a smile as she turned and gave her sister a fist bump and moved back.

“They really are learning how to take care of themselves,” Todd said as he looked at his daughters proudly.

“It’s our turn now,” Vin said in a nasty tone as the boys lined up behind him. “We’re giving you to the count of three before we…” The girls looked at each other and took off running towards the adults screaming and laughing. With a war cry the boys took off after them, grabbing their protectee and running towards the dock; they jumped in making sure they turned so they hit the water first and not the girls.

Papa Mike threw his hands up in disgust, “I think they just scared the fish away.”

“We’ll have to go somewhere for lunch, the boys have eaten every scrap of food in the house,” Gina said as she walked onto the deck. “There were a couple boxes of stale crackers in the cupboard, they even ate those.”

Carlo shrugged, “How bout that buffet place in town? We ate there last time we were here and it was pretty good.”

“Sounds good, we definitely need a place with a buffet. All I’ve heard from the boys is how hungry they are, especially Salvatore and Victor,” Frank said as Joe nodded. “Since they shifted, they should be going through their first growth spurt soon and with how they’re eating it looks like they’re fueling up for it.”

Joe’s phone began to buzz and he pulled it out of his pocket, “No idea who it is.” Joe put it on speaker, “Carlucci here… yes, we are interested in the property… fifteen minutes? Sure we can meet you there… see you then.”

“Go, I’ll look after the youngsters,” Carlo said as Frank, Rose, Joe and Annie got up and minutes later they were pulling out of Carlo’s driveway.

“Paulo did the search on the property and the owner, right?” Rose asked as she saw Frank nod.

Joe pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, “He’s two months behind on the mortgage, they’re living with his mom and dad, have two kids in elementary school, and they’re a month behind on their car payments.”

“How much are they asking? And how much do they owe?” Annie asked.

“$150k and $145k, basically they’re gonna break even,” Frank said. “They listed it for $200k and have been bringing it down a little every month. They haven’t had anybody out to see it or had any offers.” They pulled into the driveway and saw an old Jeep Cherokee in front of the garage.

“Curt Williams,” he said moving forward to shake hands. Frank made introductions and they followed Curt as he unlocked the door. “It’s not much. We bought the property ten years ago, intending to either knock the house down or add on to it. The property is a little under twelve acres with 500′ of lake frontage.”

While Rose and Annie explored the house, Joe turned to Curt, “How did you find out we were interested in the property?”

“I’ve seen you next door over the years with Mr. Rossi, and I heard you were here so I took a chance. I called your offices and left a message and some guy named Joel called and gave me your number,” Curt began to fidget and glanced at the brothers before lowering his eyes. “I hope I wasn’t out of line.”

Frank smiled, “Not at all. We were going to contact you, but we were busy all weekend.”

“I saw your kids in town. Those boys of yours are huge,” Curt answered with a smile. “I’m glad I don’t have your grocery bills.”

Frank laughed, “Two of them are going to MD next fall, I’m afraid after they see them eat I’m going to have to pay for four meal plans.”

“I heard what happened with Wells and Cantor. He had the listing but did nothing to sell the place, I think he wanted to wait until I was desperate and then buy it himself,” Curt said. “I cancelled the contract this morning. He said if I sell the house within sixty days I still have to pay his commission due to the cancellation clause. Thing is, I can’t afford to wait, I’m already behind the mortgage and if I wait, the bank’s gonna foreclose. We’re hoping to sell so we don’t have to deal with that.”

Rose asked, “Could you send the contract to our lawyers? I wouldn’t trust that man and I wouldn’t want to see him make another dime if we can help it.” He nodded and Rose gave him a business card with the fax number on it.

“How much are you asking?” Frank asked as Rose and Annie went upstairs.

“We were hoping $150k, that’ll pay off the mortgage and we can walk away,” he replied as he looked at Frank.

Frank asked, “What do you think?”

“I think we should take it, its way below market,” Annie replied. \

“Do you mind me asking why you listed it?” Joe asked.

“I worked at the center, got laid off six months ago and my wife did daycare. Things were tight until the center closed and then my wife’s business dried up; no job no reason to need daycare,” he said. “As soon as I got laid off, we put the house on the market hoping to capitalize on the summer traffic but Cantor delayed listing it and it went downhill. We moved in with my parents and were able to keep the mortgage up with my unemployment checks, but they stopped last month.”

“What did you do at the center?” Frank asked.

“Line worker, but I went to school and am a certified HVAC tech. I was living and working in Hagerstown when I came back to visit mom and dad, met my wife and moved back here,” he said with a smile. “Tried doing some HVAC stuff on the side, but couldn’t take care of my family so I got a job at the center.”

Joe’s phone rang and he looked at the screen, “Excuse me, it’s my son.” He moved to the side of the room, “What do you need Damian?… yes, we’re almost done… yes, I know how hungry you are… no, you’re not going to die if you don’t eat in the next twenty minutes… no, you can’t order a pizza, by the time it gets delivered we’ll be back… see you soon.” As he was walking across the room he asked, “Why the fuck did you call? Why didn’t you use the bond?”

“Because it’d be normal for a kid to call their parent, especially since there’s fourteen of…,” he began as Joe cut the bond off. He looked around the kitchen and grinned, “He mentally hung up on me.”

“The views are gorgeous from here,” Rose said as they looked out the window in the master bedroom. “Give him a deposit to hold the property.”

Frank looked at Joe before turning to Curt. “We’d like to give you a $15,000 deposit, 10% of the cost, to hold the property for sixty days. Depending on what the lawyers say is when the final sale will go through. We weren’t planning on doing this so we don’t have a contract, but we’ll write a receipt and have all of us sign it. Is that okay?” he asked as Joe went to the SUV to get a notebook.

“That’s fine with me, if it’s okay with you. I’ll get the mortgage current so there isn’t any problem with the bank,” Curtis said with a smile as they heard Rose and Annie walking down the stairs. Frank quickly explained what was going on even though it had been Rose’s idea and they had been able to hear what was going on. Ten minutes later they were shaking hands in the driveway, each party had a signed copy of the receipt and Curt had given Frank the spare key.

As Frank pulled into the driveway the front door burst open and the youngsters ran out, except for Damian who dragged himself down the steps before collapsing. Joe turned to Annie, “He takes after your side of the family.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how much those boys eat,” Todd said as he watched the boys go up for their sixth plate of food.

“You’d better get used to it,” Frank said with a smile and Carlo opened the bond. “I’m figuring Vin and Dom’ll move into your house when they mate with the girls, at least until they leave for college, then they’ll be home on weekends. It’ll give you extra protection for the other girls.”

“Where the hell am I going to put them?” Todd asked as he shook his head.

“The attic; we can make a small apartment, two bedrooms with a bath in each and a living room,” Frank answered. Seeing the look of horror cross Todd’s face as he realized what those bedrooms meant and the glare he directed at Vin and Dom, Frank began laugh, “Don’t worry, we’ll soundproof the rooms.”

“This meatloaf is good, but not as good as Carol’s,” Phil said as he ate his fifth piece. “I wonder if she would teach me how to make it.”

Gina set her fork down and stared at him, “That would involve using the oven and you’d probably burn down the house.” She turned to Nana Ellen, “Did they tell you they had another fire? And they were only using the toaster.”

“I think we bought the wrong voltage or something,” Matt said as Phil nodded. “All I did was put some Pop-Tarts in and the next thing I know the damn thing was smoking and flames were coming out of it.”

Joe started to laugh, “What setting did you put it on?”

“I programmed the setting on the last one and tore the dial off so they couldn’t adjust it,” Carlo said with a smile. “How’s the microwave holding up?”

“Well… when we had the issue with the toaster, we put our Pop-Tarts in there and I’m not sure what happened, but sparks were shooting around inside and it stopped working. But at least this one didn’t blow up. That was scary when the door blew off the old one,” Phil said with a smile.

“I’ll be over tomorrow to disconnect the stove so you can’t use it,” Papa Mike said in a ‘Dad’ tone and the men watched as Phil and Matt nodded meekly.

“Daddy set the law down on your ass,” Carmelo said.

“You’re lucky he didn’t put your ass in a time-out,” Frank added.

“Or take away your toys,” Carlo added.

“Or make you do extra chores,” Todd added.

“Or ground you,” Joe said and the men started laughing so loud they drew the attention of everyone in the restaurant and when Matt and Phil glared at them they laughed even louder.

“And they tell us not to draw attention to ourselves,” Damian said as he looked at the men who continued to laugh. “I never draw attention to myself; I’m very discreet in what I do and what I say.”

“You live in a special little world all your own, don’t you Damian?” Caitlin asked as she began to smile. “There’s nothing you do that is discreet, and you always draw people’s attention by the way you act and what you say.” Seeing his mouth open as he went to reply, she said, “And if you tell me it’s because you’re devastatingly handsome I’m going to dump this plate of mac ‘n cheese on you.”

“Did you get enough to eat?” Lorenzo asked as he leaned down and scented Erin. “Do you want me to get you anything?”

“I’m fine, though I may get some ice cream later,” she turned her head and rubbed it against his chest smiling when she heard his low deep growl.

Seeing their intendeds had finished their drinks, Ant and Alberto got them more tea, Alberto reminding Ant to put lemon in it. “Here you go Arachide, and I remembered the lemon,” he said with a smile as Alberto rolled his eyes.

“Thank you, Maria and I were going to get scalloped potatoes and fried chicken,” she said and Ant and Alberto raced to the buffet to get it for them.

Maria looked at her in confusion, “Why’d you say that? We could’ve gotten it.”

“Because it makes them feel good to do things for us, remember what our moms and Madame Gina told us,” she replied and nodded to the boys who were carrying plates back with huge smiles on their faces.

“I think we’re done Dad,” Vin said almost thirty minutes later.

“Are you sure? I think they may have some food left in the freezer,” Frank replied as the adults grinned.

“Funny Dad. We’ve been expending a lot of energy this weekend,” Vin replied as he smiled at his intended. The men paid for their families and they followed their usual routine before getting into the vehicles and returning to the cabin.

As they walked into the house Carlo said, “It’s almost 1; we’ll leave around 5 so we get home around 7:30. Don’t forget, you youngsters have school tomorrow.”

“Well, I’m going to go fishing, can’t think of a better way to finish our weekend,” Papa Mike said with a smile.

“We’ll join you Dad,” Matt said as they went to the garage to get the gear.

“Don’t forget that camera Ant,” Vin reminded him and at the first opportunity he ran to the clearing and gave it to Paulo so he could download the video before he replaced it in his mom’s study.

For the next several hours, everyone relaxed except for Sal. They’d been at the lake all weekend and he still hadn’t gotten the courage to ask Gabby out. Every time he tried, his throat would seize, his hands would shake and he would start to get sweaty and hyperventilate. Realizing he was running out of time, he took a deep breath and looked at where she was sitting with the girls. He couldn’t hear what they were talking about but every time she laughed it brought a smile to his face.

“Heads up,” Vin said as he threw him the football. Sal turned in time to catch it and threw it to Dom. “What’s the matter with you?”

“I’m on edge and nervous cause I still haven’t asked Gabby to go on a date,” he replied as he snuck another look at her and saw her smiling at him.

“For fuck’s sake, just ask her,” Marcus scowled as he threw the ball to Ant.

“Why did you wait so long?” Lorenzo asked as he glanced at Erin making sure she was okay.

“I was afraid if she said no that it’d ruin the weekend,” Sal said as he ran his hands over his face.

“She’s not gonna say no. I think she’s been waiting for you to ask her out and is as anxious as you,” Alberto replied as he threw the ball to Gianni. Sal turned to look at her as Gianni threw the ball hitting him in the head. He staggered back and heard the boys laughing and the girls quietly giggling.

“YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE,” Sal shouted as he looked at Gianni who was laughing so hard he bent over and put his hands on his knees. With a loud growl he ran towards his brother and barreled into him knocking him on his back.

“I don’t think they’re goofing off, I think they’re serious,” Kelly said as she watched them trade blows as they rolled back and forth.

Maria shrugged and Sophia said, “I’ve seen worse, much worse. Sal is embarrassed it happened in front of Gabby and Gianni isn’t going to back down. When Vin sees them going too far, he’ll stop it.”

Vin let them continue for several more minutes before he and Dom stepped forward and pulled them apart. Both boys had a black eye and split lips, Gianni also had a bloody nose while Sal’s t-shirt was torn. “Say you’re sorry,” Vin said as both boys glared at each other. “But he…” “I didn’t…” Vin began to growl and said in a firm tone, “I said to say you’re sorry, I didn’t ask whose fault it was.”

“I’m sorry,” both boys mumbled.

“Go clean up,” Vin ordered pushing them towards the house. Ten minutes later they returned laughing and their injuries were healing. They continued tossing the football back and forth while Sal stole glances at Gabby.

“Its 4:00, come inside and make sure you have everything,” Gina said as she stepped onto the deck. The girls picked up their blankets, while the boys made sure every thing was secure in the yard.

“Hang back while the rest of us go inside,” Vin said as he walked across the yard. Seeing how anxious Sal was he smiled, “Relax and take a deep breath.”

As Gabby walked by him, he took the blanket she was holding and carried it up the stairs to the deck. “Hey Sophia, could you carry this in the house, I want to uhmm… yeah… I want to talk… Gabby and I… and yeah…,” he closed his eyes and felt his sister take the blanket out of his hands while she tried not to laugh.

Gabby leaned against the railing looking over the lake while she shifted nervously from foot to foot. Sal moved next to her resting his forearms on the railing and he began to panic; sweat beaded on his forehead and he began to feel dizzy. He took several deep breaths and turned to Gabby and when their eyes met she shyly lowered her gaze. Several minutes went by as they continued to glance at each other before turning away when they saw the other looking. Sal was tapping his hand on the railing nervously while Gabby continued to shift foot to foot.

“For fucks sake, say something,” Lorenzo said as he tried not to laugh.

“Hi, how are you doing?” Sal asked nervously as his voice cracked.

“I’m fine,” she answered with a look of confusion.

“You’re not meeting her for the first time you idiot. Remember the things we talked about, tell her she looks nice, compliment her,” Marcus said as he jostled with Kelly, Aislin and Gianni for position to look out the second floor window.

“Your hair looks nice all messed up and frizzy like that,” he said as he glanced at her before lowering his head as he realized what he said. She looked horrified as her hands went to smooth her hair.

Muffled laughter was heard as Paulo said, “THAT was a compliment? Why didn’t you tell her that she stunk or looked like crap?”

“I… I meant you look nice when you’re not all neat and stuff. Like your outfit is kinda old and faded and you still look kinda nice,” he finished and narrowed his eyes as he thought of what he said.

Gabby smoothed down the front of her outfit before looking at him with a frown, “I got this outfit for my birthday in May; it’s supposed to look this way.”

“Sal… what the fuck?” Dom asked with a laugh as Morgan pushed him out of the way. “Take a deep breath and calm the fuck down.”

Sal took quick deep breaths which made him dizzy and he began to sway back and forth. He gripped the railing and put his head down muttering, “Fuck my life, I can’t believe I’m messing this up so bad.”

“Was there something you wanted to talk about or ask me?” she asked quietly as she turned towards him.

He sighed deeply and closed his eyes, everything they had told him running through his head and he shouted, “I WANNA TAKE YOU ON A DATE.”

Gabby took a step back shocked he was shouting at her until his words registered, “You’re asking me out?”

“I knew this was a bad idea and you’d say no,” he muttered as he shoved his hands in the pocket of his shorts and turned to go inside.

“I’d… I’d love to go on a date with you,” she said and hearing cheers from inside the house she turned and saw the curtains on all the windows moving.

“Really? You’re not just saying that because you feel sorry for me?” he asked without looking at her.

“No, I’ve been waiting for you to ask me out,” she said with a smile as she pulled on his forearm to get his hand out of his pocket and interlocked them. “I’ve never gone on a date before and I wanted my first date to be with you.” She put her head down and began to scuff her KEDS back and forth across the deck.

“I want my first date to be with you too,” he said as he looked at her before lowering his head, but she saw his smile. “Next weekend the Maryland Symphony is playing at the Maryland Theater and I thought we’d go to Roberto’s for dinner first. I remember you saying you wanted to go to one of their performances when all of us went to Antietam Battlefield for the July 4th Celebration.”

Hearing what Sal said, Gina pulled her phone out of her pocketbook and went into the next room. It rang four times and she heard Anna’s voice on the other end, “Yes, Madame Gina what can I help you with?”

“I need you to make a note to contact the Maryland Theater first thing tomorrow to tell them we’ll be using our box seats for the Symphony performance… no, Alpha Carlo didn’t change his mind… I’m sure Gabby will call you later, but Sal finally asked her out…” she held the phone away from her ear as Anna began to squeal. “He wants to take her to the Symphony and I know the performance is sold-out, so they’ll use our box… I’ll see you in the morning.” She disconnected the call and walked into the kitchen as she whispered, “What did I miss?”

“Nothing, they’re smiling at each other,” Rita whispered as her and Carmelo peeked through the kitchen curtains, Nana Ellen and Papa Mike peeking on one side, Holly and Todd on the other. Carlo was looking at them through the window above the sink, but standing off to the side.

“Thanks for getting them tickets,” Rose whispered from the other side of the room as her and Frank peered through the curtains with Annie and Joe on one side and Matt and Phil on the other. “They’re coming.” The women went behind the breakfast bar, the men ran to sit at the table staring at it like it was the most interesting thing in the world, and the youngsters ran down the steps into the living room and turned the TV on as if they had been there the whole time.

Sal and Gabby walked into the kitchen holding hands and she excitedly said, “Sal asked me out to dinner and the Symphony.” The girls ran in and began jumping up and down asking her questions about how he asked, acting like they hadn’t listened to the whole conversation. “Oh, it was so romantic. He told me how pretty my hair looked and complimented me on my outfit and then he asked me out.” She turned to Rita, “Oh Momma, we’re gonna have to go shopping. I don’t think I have a dress nice enough for the Symphony.”

Frank looked at his son and smiled, “I’ll take you to get fitted for a tux tomorrow after football practice.” Seeing the look of confusion on Sal’s face he continued, “Opening night is a black tie event.”

Victor began to laugh and looked at Angelo, “That means you have to wear a tux too. Do they make them in your size?”

Angelo glared at him, “Just for that, you can help me chaperone Squirt.”

“What???? Why me?” Victor said with a whine.

“Because it’s a Saturday night and everybody else will have something to do. Face it, you’re fifteen and have no social life, so don’t tell me that you’re doing something,” Angelo retorted before he began to smirk.

“Fine, I’ll go… but you’re buying me dinner,” Victor said as he grinned.

Before they could argue more, Carlo’s phone rang and he looked at the screen, “Its Marco… Rossi … when did she call and how’d she find out?… please call her and tell her Gina and I will give her an interview about our plans… see you tomorrow.” He disconnected the call and looked at Gina, “That was Marco obviously; he received a call from Jessica Anders. Apparently friends of hers live here and they heard about our purchase of the distribution center and told her. She’d like to speak to me about it, but I think it’d be best for both of us to do the interview.”

Maeve began to jump up and down, “Can I go with you? I’ve never met anybody on TV before.”

“Cupcake, we’ve got plans for tomorrow; Papa Mike, Uncle Phil and Uncle Matt have to work, I have to meet my boss in Frederick. There won’t be enough people for a protection detail for you. I’m sorry,” Todd said quietly, feeling bad when he saw the dejected look on her face.

“I can get Austin to do it. He’s off work tomorrow and he’s part of her detail,” Carlo said as Maeve began to nod.

“Austin Sabatini?” Enzo asked as he narrowed his eyes. “Isn’t he kind of young to be protecting her?”

“He’s a hell of a fighter… and may I remind you that he’s eight years older than you?” Frank said as he began to laugh.

Enzo snorted and rolled his eyes before he looked at Maeve, “You stay by Alpha Carlo’s and Madame Gina’s side AT ALL TIMES… and call me if you sense any danger. I mean it. Do not go wandering off.” Maeve nodded knowing it was the only way he was going to shut up and leave her alone.

Carlo looked at his watch, “We’d better get packed up. I want to be on the road in ten minutes.” As the Millers packed the vehicles, Frank, Joe, Carmelo and Carlo checked the house room by room making sure everything was secure.

The drive back was quiet. The only excitement had been in Gina’s SUV when Carlo gave the girls their sunglasses which they insisted on wearing even though it was overcast. In all of the vehicles the girls, who had been up most of the night were taking naps, the boys and the adults talked quietly about what was going on in the upcoming weeks.

“I’m fucking glad to be home,” muttered Frank as he pulled in front of the garage after they stopped at the Millers. “What’s that expression… we need a vacation after our vacation?” He turned to his mate and his voice got low and husky as he caressed her thigh, “I think you and I need to go away for a weekend somewhere, without our youngsters. Just the two of us so I can ravish…”

“You do remember we’re here, right?” Sophia asked as she interrupted her father before she began to giggle.

Frank turned around and flushed slightly, “Sorry sweetie, I was thinking about something else.”

“Obviously,” Anthony said as he began to smirk as Frank glared at him.

“Come on, while the boys unload the vehicles, you and Joe fire up the grill and we’ll start dinner,” Rose said with a laugh.

Frank unlocked the front door and shut the alarm off before turning to Joe with a questioning look on his face, “Do you scent…”

“Daddy” “Mamaw” “Grammy” “Pops” “Mommy” “Papaw” rang out as their families ran past them into the kitchen where Steven and Mara Carlucci and Ray and Bianca Vitti were drinking coffee. They were smiling broadly as they hugged and kissed the youngsters, the noise from them talking was overwhelming as Frank and Joe stood near the doorway with their arms folded over their chest.

“Carlo, you’d better hurry the fuck up. You won’t believe who is sitting in my kitchen,” Frank said as he tried to control his anger and failed miserably.

“I’m pulling into your driveway now,” he replied.

“How are my two beautiful girls?” Ray asked as he pulled Rose and Annie into a bear hug, one in each arm before planting kisses on their forehead as they squealed in delight like three year olds, “We missed you Daddy.”

Steve looked at his sons and raised his eyebrow, “Aren’t the two of you going to say hello?” Suitably chastised Frank and Joe greeted their parents and in-laws before sending the youngsters upstairs with the luggage while Anthony and Alberto went to the family room to get out of the tension filled room.

Ray sat down and folded his arms over his chest while he pierced his sons in law with a penetrating gaze, “What the fuck have you two hot heads gotten my baby girls involved in now? It’s got to be bad for the little ones to call us.”

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