Al wasted little time on the formalities of greeting the pack; he was changed within minutes of arriving, pulling on his clothes as he called for a pack meeting.
Silver held on to the girl’s arm a moment longer. “Don’t talk during the meeting,” he said, tightening his grip when her eyes flashed angrily in response. There were flecks of gold in her eyes, he noticed, hidden amidst the brown.
She glanced over his shoulder, her lips thinning. “Whatever you say.”
“I mean it, girl.” His eyes burned into hers, willing her to understand. If she spoke up, she would be challenging his role as her guardian—his status wouldn’t protect her.
“My name’s Lilith, Silver,” she snapped.
His name sounded different coming from her lips, disconcerting in a way he couldn’t quite explain. “Don’t talk, Lilith,” he replied, pleased when she, too, looked uncomfortable hearing her own name.
It was hardly surprising that she acquiesced; she had no choice. Out of the twelve-strong pack, only he was on her side—it was up to him to convince the others.
He let go of her arm, nodded for her to follow. His hand felt hollow without the curve of her forearm. It was a stupid thought to have, yet Silver couldn’t help but rub his palm against his trousers to erase the memory of her warmth.
Howl was still standing, waiting to sit behind Silver in his customary position. He rocked impatiently on his heels as they approached, blissfully unaware of the strands of grass tangled in his hair, green streaks amidst the darkness.
Silver frowned; he wasn’t in the mood. “Behind Fang,” he ordered, ignoring Howl’s crestfallen expression. The day when Howl could join the circle as a mature wolf couldn’t come soon enough.
Howl ducked his head, scowling as he walked over to Fang. He dropped onto the grass with a sulking lack of grace.
“Behind me,” Silver said to the Lilith. For once, she complied without arguing.
Silver took his place beside Al, nodding to the alpha. His gaze drifted across the rest of the pack—Fang and Jake on his left; then Claw, Elle, and Scar, the lowest ranking members; then Amber, Rae and Dev. There was a small, conspicuous gap where Vera usually sat.
There was a moment of silence, the evening wind rustling through the trees. The last rays of sun pushed weakly through the branches, tinged red and gold.
“Vera is safe in Rivtown,” Al said. He paused, then added: “For now.”
Al let the ripple of unease linger, studying each wolf in turn. He looked drained, the bags under his eyes heavy, but there was a renewed strength to his gaze that gave Silver cause to hope.
“We need nitum powder to stop her from changing,” he finally said, “and the ewtes aren’t budging on their price.” He spread his hands, palms upward. “I am open to your suggestions.”
“Let’s raid the island,” Dev said immediately, white teeth glinting. “Steal enough flowers and make the powder ourselves.”
“And risk alienating the ewtes?” Al shook his head. “Not an option. Besides, Fang tells me the drying process is difficult—it’s too risky.”
“What about the girl?” Rae jumped in, leaning forward to smirk at Silver. “We can sell her to the slavers. Gets her off our hands, and gives us money for the nitum.”
Silver tensed as every wolf glanced at him. He shook his head. “No. She can renegotiate for us, get a cheaper price. The ewte’s won’t overcharge a non-wolf.”
“My way will work,” Rae said, shrugging one shoulder, her expression cold and unsympathetic. She placed a hand on Dev’s knee, leaning into him. “Besides, all the worms will be on panic mode after what happened in the theatre. It’s not like you’re ever going to get her back underground.”
The pack was turning against him: Rae’s suggestion had elicited nods of agreement. Silver snarled, letting his wolf rise to the surface, ready to challenge anyone in his path— then Fang’s placid cough broke the tension.
“Silver is tied to Lilith in ways we do not yet understand—possibly magical ways. Selling her to the slavers before we dissolve this bond would put Silver’s life at risk.” Now Fang had everyone’s attention. He cleared his throat and smiled. “I recommend we take her to the Guild to be examined.”
“More money,” Rae snapped. “We don’t need another burden. We’ve enough to deal with as it is.”
“They won’t charge us,” Silver said. “They think she is one of their own.”
And that—as he had known it would—brought the entire conversation to a standstill.
“We contact them tomorrow,” Silver said. “Speak to the Guild representative, say we have one of theirs. Promise safe delivery in exchange for cash. In the meantime, the girl approaches the ewtes and tries to negotiate a better price for the nitum.”
This time there were no objections. Al nodded in approval. “Should both plans fail, then we can consider selling her to the slavers,” he said.
Silver bit back a reply—he’d bought himself some time, and that was what mattered most.
Al stood, hands on his hips. “The girl isn’t to be harmed,” he said, stern. “I will stay in Rivton tonight with Vera, you will all join me there tomorrow. Any questions?”
Everyone shook their heads, dispersing to different parts of the clearing once Al stepped away. Silver pushed himself to his feet, feeling Lilith’s presence behind him like a weight impossible to ignore.