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“Why did you ask for a meeting?”

“Not real friendly, are you, Trey? Can I call you Trey?”

“No.”

Morelli chuckled, seeming delighted. “Damn, I like you. As for why I wanted this meeting . . . It’s quite simple, really. I’d like to propose an alliance.”

“Would you,” said Trey, his tone even.

“I feel it would benefit us both.”

“Here’s the thing. I don’t like your methods of expanding your pack. I don’t like the rumors I’ve heard about how your Beta here”—Trey tipped his chin at Drake—“deals with people. Your enforcers are constantly causing disruptions at bars and clubs and pool halls. That means either you don’t have control of your pack, or you don’t care what they do. Either way, that’s not the kind of Alpha I want to ally myself with.”

Morelli heaved a sigh. “That’s disappointing, Trey. Really. I’d hoped we could be friends. It’s good to have friends.” He stubbed out his cigar on the table. “It’s true that I don’t police my pack much. But if I wanted a flock of sheep, I’d have bought a farm. We’re shifters, Trey. We have a wildness inside us that humans will never understand. Why should we tone it down and pretend to be what we’re not? Don’t you see that it makes us seem weak to the humans? It’s the same principle as when you’re dealing with a spoiled kid. If you don’t ignore their little outbursts and just carry on as normal, they’ll keep on having them. You can’t show them mercy or give in; if you do, they’ll see you as weak, and they won’t respect you.”

“You’re saying you don’t police your pack because you think letting them do what they like will earn you people’s respect?” asked Trey. “Let’s go back to the spoiled kid analogy. You got this spoiled kid—let’s call him Drake—who has some serious issues. If his parents don’t guide or temper or insist on his respect, he’ll do whatever the fuck he wants and they won’t have his respect.”

Morelli looked at his Beta. “You respect me, don’t you, Drake?”

Still grinning, Drake said, “Of course I do, Alpha.”

Morelli nodded at Trey, satisfied. “There you go.” He rubbed at his jaw. “This PR work . . . there’s no point to it. Humans will never fully accept us. Never. There will be a war between us and them sooner or later. No matter what we do or how cuddly we try to look, it will come. Maybe the extremists will lead it, maybe the government will lead it. Shit, maybe our own kind will start it—I don’t know. But it will come. And you know what, Trey? We’ll be easy pickings, and I’ll tell you why that is. It’s because we won’t unite. We won’t go out and fight as one. We’ll hang back and defend our territories and our vulnerable members—it’s instinct. That’s why we’ll lose.”

Trey lifted a brow. “You’re saying we should all band together?”

“Yes. I don’t just mean wolf packs allying with each other. I’m talking all the local packs, prides, flocks, clans, herds, and whatever else there might be. We need to be ready. In order to be ready, we need to have a plan in place.”

“And I’m guessing you have a plan.”

“Like I said, hanging back to defend our territories will be our downfall. But we can’t leave our vulnerable members. No, they’d die. What we need is somewhere for them to go. A sanctuary, if you will. Your territory would be the perfect place for the young and those unable to fight. They’d be inside a freaking mountain. I don’t know how spacious it is, but I have the funds and resources to make that dwelling bigger and better if it’s necessary. They could all hole up there, and you can do what you do best, Trey. Protect. Defend.”

Trey’s eyes narrowed slightly. “That’s what I do best?”

“You’re not an Alpha who looks for trouble or goes around challenging people. You protect your pack, defend your territory, aid your allies, and retaliate where necessary. You’re a hell of a fighter, but you don’t fight for fighting’s sake. Not many would take lone shifters into their pack, but you do. Just like you helped defend a shelter for lone shifters. Recently your pack even helped a human who was being targeted by her own kind purely for speaking up for one of ours. These are the actions of someone I can respect. The actions of someone who is a protector at his core.”

“And where will you be when me and my pack are protecting the vulnerable?”

Morelli shrugged. “Someone has to lead the fight.”

For a long moment Trey said nothing. “I underestimated you, Morelli. You’re smarter than I gave you credit for. You know just what to say. Just how to twist something to appeal to someone. But here’s the thing: you underestimated me too. You thought you could meet with me, appeal to my protective streak, and get what you want—which isn’t an alliance. Not really. You’re not collecting alliances. You’re building an army.” Trey pushed to his feet and stepped over the bench seat. “My pack won’t be a squad within your army.”

Eyes hardening, Morelli said, “The war will come. Your territory is the ideal place for the vulnerable to hide.”

“And if other shifters knew I’d provide sanctuary for their members, they’d be much more inclined to listen to you, wouldn’t they?” Trey snorted. “If you want people to join you, you need to get your shit together and act like an Alpha. No one will trust you to lead them in an army when you can’t even lead your own damn pack. The fact that you’ve elected that twisted fucker to be your Beta speaks volumes about what kind of person you are.”

Flushing, Drake tried launching himself at Trey. Before anyone had the chance to move, Trick struck, slamming his fist into Drake’s jaw and delivering a body shot to the ribs that made the dumb asshole keel over and drop to his knees, winded.

Morelli laughed, clapping his hands as if he were watching a show. “Good reflexes, hero. It’s not often people take Drake off guard.” He sighed at his Beta, like the guy was an unruly kid in a classroom. “I’m trying to have a conversation here, Drake. Simmer down, will you?” Shaking his head, he turned back to Trey. “Take some time to think about my proposal. Talk it over with your mate. You’ll see that I’m right. When you do, give me a call.”

As the Mortelle wolves walked away, Trey called out, “One last thing. If you try planting any more GPS trackers on my property, I’ll rip your fucking throat out.”

Morelli’s face split into a grin. “I love how you say that with no emotion whatsoever. Me? I’m an emotional guy. Which is why I’m quite hurt that you’d suspect me of planting trackers.” Face lined with mock pain, he turned and strode away.

Heading back to the SUV with his pack mates, Trick said with utter certainty, “It was definitely Morelli who planted the trackers.”

“Yep,” agreed Dante.

“You know what worries me more than anything he said?” asked Dominic. “He wants this war. You can see it in his eyes. I think if he gets enough people behind him, he might actually start it himself.”

Trey nodded. “And he could just as easily turn that army on his own kind as he could on humans.”

“He wants our territory,” said Trick. “It’s not just about using it as a sanctuary, though I think he’d like to do that. No, he wants it.” Trick looked at Trey. “He just doesn’t want to fight you for it.”

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