THE SUBTLE lighting in the office in his house cast long shadows that danced across the room. Burning wood popped and hissed in the fireplace, the scent bringing back memories from yesteryear. Restless, Warwick shoved back from his monstrosity of a desk.
The warmth of the fire beckoned, and seeing no reason to deny himself, he strode across the floor. As he drew nearer, the heat wrapped around his body, and he sighed. Bending, he held his hands out toward the crackling fire. Once his fingers warmed, he straightened and turned.
With his back to the fire, he carelessly brushed a long strand of hair behind his ear. He’d opened the blinds when he’d entered his office in a hopeless bid for daylight, not that it did much good. Good thing his eyesight was better than a human’s.
The day was dreary, rainy, and overcast. He hated this time of the year. No matter how many layers of clothes he wore, the endless chill seeped in. He much preferred heat and humidity, sunny skies and warmth. His kind detested the cold.
Still staring out of the ground floor window, he took notice of the foot traffic on the street, darting here and there like worker bees. Paranormals mixed with humans—there was no hiding now. As with anything else, there were those who thought the species should be separated and those who didn’t. Werewolves had made their presence known sometime in the 1700s. Other paranormal beings had come out not long after.
Once the panic had died down, humans responded fairly well. For the most part, anyhow. There were still squabbles, of course. Humans didn’t seem to know how to do anything else. Fortunately they tended to leave paranormals alone. More often than not, they were too busy fighting among themselves.
What the humans were calling the Great War was in full swing. Warwick brushed a microscopic piece of fuzz from his shirt, shaking his head. Humans and their wars. Would they never learn? But there was no denying it afforded him the opportunity to invest in their conflicts, and dragons never passed up an opportunity to add to their hoard.
A soft knock at his office door drew his attention. He inhaled, and the scent of hair cream, freshly pressed clothes, and human teased his senses.
“Enter,” Warwick called.
Clarence Wiltshire, his clerk, opened the office door. He started toward the desk but paused when he saw no one sat behind it. Confident of where he would find his boss, he glanced at the fireplace. “Sir, there’s an Alpha Theodore Montgomery of the Sunset Creek Pack here to see you.”
Warwick pursed his lips. “Interesting.”
“I’ll say, sir.” Clarence bobbed his head. “It must be catastrophic to send an Alpha werewolf to your doorstep.”
“Only one way to find out.” As much as he hated leaving the roaring fire, Warwick crossed the floor, his footsteps muffled by the oriental rugs, and returned to his desk. “Give it twenty minutes, then escort him back. Also make sure to offer him a beverage while he waits.”
“He’s not going to like having to wait, sir.”
“I’m well aware.” Warwick picked up his absurdly expensive tailored suit coat and slipped it on. “That’s the point.”
“Yes, sir.” Clarence smirked, then wiped any emotions off his face, going back to the usual pleasant blankness he showed prospective clients. “Twenty minutes.”
“Thank you.” Warwick settled into his comfortable desk chair. This was no casual meeting. He intended to throw the Alpha off-balance by having him wait, but the ploy would also show exactly who held the power in the room.
Twenty minutes later to the second, his efficient assistant escorted Alpha Montgomery inside. Warwick stood and acknowledged the Alpha with a slight bob of his head. There was no need for him to bare his throat since he wasn’t another werewolf, not that he would anyhow. Dragons were at the top of the shifter food chain. Nor did he offer his hand. Werewolves tended to be snarly about who touched them without permission, the silly creatures.
Alpha Montgomery acknowledged the greeting and returned it, although his head bob was much more grandiose.
“Alpha Theodore Montgomery of the Sunset Creek Pack, I bid you welcome. Please, join me.”
“Thank you.” Alpha Montgomery crossed the room, his gait hurried. “I appreciate you seeing me without the courtesy of having an appointment.”
“Yes, well, circumstances are usually dire when people come to me, and often they don’t have time to make one. Have a seat.” Warwick gestured at the plush wine-colored leather chairs in front of his desk. He made a point of standing. Warwick would not sit first. Having another paranormal look up to him was another way to reinforce who was more commanding.
Alpha Montgomery gritted his teeth. Ah yes, there was nothing better than power games first thing in the morning.
As the struggle for control continued, Warwick took note of his visitor. Like most werewolves, the Alpha was a large male with muscles. Unless the wolf was an Omega, they were also hairy, above average in height, and had dark hair and eyes.
Warwick ensured his features remained blank, even as he smirked inside. Compared with a werewolf, he was not only shorter, but less muscled. While the werewolf was bulky, Warwick was lean and mean. The only thing he and the Alpha had in common was the dark hair Warwick also wore long.
“Thank you.” Alpha Montgomery lowered himself into one of the seats.
“Now, please, tell me how I may be of service.” Satisfied his point had been made, Warwick sat behind his desk. Just because the atmosphere was tense didn’t mean manners had to be left outside the door.
“I need a loan.”
“Most people do when they come to me.” Precise and to the point. He liked that. Warwick opened a desk drawer and withdrew several forms. “How much?”
Alpha Montgomery quoted a sum, and Warwick lifted a shapely eyebrow. Surprising a dragon wasn’t easy.
“I see.” He pushed the sheets of paper across the desk. “The forms are standard. Fill them out so I have an idea of what you plan to put up as collateral for such a massive loan.”
“Collateral.” Alpha Montgomery tugged at his collar in what Warwick assumed was an effort to loosen the suffocating restriction from his tie. “I, ah, was hoping not to put anything up.”
Warwick swallowed the laugh bubbling up. “And I was hoping to spend this winter on a warm, sunny beach—neither of which is going to happen, unfortunately. If you want the loan, you put up collateral. That’s the only way I do business.”
Alpha Montgomery scowled. “Do you know who I am? The connections I have? The fact that my pack is one of the largest around, that should be sufficient.”
“It isn’t.” Warwick coolly gazed across the desk. “Alpha, you need the money. I have it to give. Paranormals only come to me as a last resort, so I’m sure you’ve tried to obtain the currency elsewhere. Am I right?”
Alpha Montgomery didn’t speak, but his scowl said enough. So did the sudden spike in tension. The acidic scent of bone-deep worry filled Warwick’s nostrils. He struggled to suppress the sneeze that threatened.
“I thought so. If I loan you the money, you will put up collateral,” Warwick continued. Arrogant werewolf. Did the Alpha really think Warwick would loan him the sum he quoted with nothing more than his signature? “And from the amount you requested, I’m going to demand every property you own.”
“You can’t do that!” Alpha Montgomery’s claws peeked out as he gripped the chair arms. “If I default—”
“I’ll take everything you own, kick your pack off your land, and sell it to recoup my losses.” Warwick shrugged. “That’s the price of doing business, my dear Alpha. Take the money or not. It matters not to me.”
Alpha Montgomery growled softly. “You really are a cold-blooded bastard, aren’t you?”
Warwick faced the Alpha. His eyes shifted into a brilliant purple, the color of his dragon, with a slitted black pupil. Scrollwork, only slightly lighter than the purple of his eyes, appeared upon his eyelids and right below his eyes. His fangs, which appeared normal in human form, lengthened. His fingernails grew to deadly sharp claws as he partially shifted. “Indeed I am.” Menace, deep and thick, vibrated in his voice. “Something you may wish to keep in mind, considering I can snap your neck with little to no thought.” Warwick unleashed his power, which seeped through the room, blanketing everything. A smothered gasp came from the outer office where Clarence’s desk was located. It wasn’t the first time his assistant experienced such, and no doubt would not be the last.
Alpha Montgomery straightened in his chair and snarled as his own power rose to meet Warwick’s. Sweat beaded and rolled down the Alpha’s face. The flames in the lanterns flickered, and the air shimmered. But as quickly as Alpha Montgomery’s power rose, it dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. The Alpha collapsed back in the chair, pale and shivering.
“By all the wolf gods,” Alpha Montgomery whispered, horror finely etched upon his features.
Warwick, still composed as ever, finally allowed the smirk that had been lurking to cross his face. “That was unwise, Alpha. You may be powerful, but you’re nothing compared to me. I was centuries old before you were ever born. Test me again and the next time, you won’t walk out of here on your own two feet.”
Alpha Montgomery gulped.
“Now, are you filling out those papers or are you leaving my office empty-handed?”
“F-filling out the papers.” Fear rolled off the Alpha werewolf.
“Excellent.” Warwick leaned back in his chair and returned to his wholly human form, pleased he’d made his point. “Now, make sure to fill out the paperwork fully, please.”
Oh yes, today was going to be a good day.