CALL ME Clueless. It’s not my name or my nickname—at least it wouldn’t have been until recently. But now I was the clueless brother of a pack traitor. Even worse, a clueless beta. You might think there are worse things to be than clueless. You’d be wrong. It was worse than being the actual traitor, in my mind: my sister, Tricia Cooper, had a plan, a sense of direction, an awareness of her goals and surroundings while she betrayed us. I’d just been clueless. Forever branded as a schmuck. The sky, the earth, the wind, the gazes of everyone in the Paranormal Bureau of Investigations—including nonpack—the universe screamed at me every time I took a breath: “Schmuck!” It was always there, throbbing in the back of my mind, running in the background of my every thought. It flavored the taste of everything I ate or drank. My pack had no use for schmucks. The PBI had no use for them either. I couldn’t stand to be one anymore. Couldn’t afford to. Our pack was no home for the weak, particularly not as a beta.
I looked at the ring sitting on the desk of Herman Weiss—PBI director, also my alpha. The piece of jewelry had one stone: an onyx set in silver. Not tacky or anything, but I wasn’t that much of a jewelry guy.
“Are we sure it works?” Weiss’s mate, Timothy Sands, asked as he stared at the ring.
Weiss nodded. “And it can’t be detected as a shield, I’m told. Came right out of a special vault of artifacts. It’s this or nothing, anyway. So let’s hope like fuck it works,” he added in a grave tone.
I swallowed hard. I volunteered for this, I reminded myself. Since my sister had been discovered as a traitor, my status as Weiss’s beta was a flimsy thing. Everyone in our pack stole glances at me when they thought I wasn’t paying attention. I knew what they were all thinking: Either he’s an idiot and he didn’t know, or he’s a traitor but he’s better at hiding it. Truth be told, I needed a short break from my pack. That thought scared me. Offering to be the first Council ambassador at the Fey Court was the right thing to do. And the only thing I could do.
It would prove my loyalty to my pack and alpha. And clean out some of the stain of shame from my family name. My poor dad would turn in his grave if he knew what my sister, Tricia, had done. As Weiss’s other beta, I should have been the first to figure out Tricia was a traitor. I should have defended my pack when it mattered, when the worms of betrayal were trying to chew us from the inside out. I had failed them. I had failed Weiss. I knew that.
This was my chance to prove I wasn’t entirely useless. My alpha wanted to figure out what the Fey King was trying to do to our Council and territories—what kind of bone the fey had to pick with him, too. I was going to find out from the inside or die trying.
I picked up the ring and slipped it on my finger. “It’s going to work just fine, I’m sure.”
Tim frowned. “I can’t sense it being a shield. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing,” he muttered.
As a newly turned werewolf who used to be half-fey, half-elf, Tim had the emotional grid-reading skill all fey had. Officially fey weren’t allowed to use it within Council territories, let alone in the PBI HQ, but Tim had the Council wrapped around his little finger ever since the Amanda execution debacle. He was their golden boy, weighing in on all decisions regarding or involving fey. And a lot of them did, recently. We were in a state of cold war with the Fey King and his Court, pretty much. Minor details about Timothy Sands: he was the Fey King’s outcast son, and the King had tried to assassinate him and openly plotted against him. When he became a werewolf, the fey officially nonfeyed him. Nothing personal, it was fey policy: once bitten by any shift-inducing creature, you were no longer fey. The fey were stuck-up assholes—that was my take on it.
“Can you read my emotional grid?” I asked, playing with the ring on my finger.
Tim cocked his head to the side. “In a way. I can get some general sense of your feelings, some anxiousness, some excitement, some fear… vague, but there. It’s not throwing up a complete wall, which is smart. Nobody being able to read anything would alert fey something was wrong. We don’t want that.”
I looked down at the shiny black stone. “So it works more like a scrambler than a shield?”
“Well, that depends,” Tim said, blinking slowly. “Are you turned on right now?”
“What?” I snapped.
Weiss squinted. “Turned on? While talking to my mate? Are you?” he growled.
“No, man!” I squeaked. “Wanna cop a feel and see I’m not the least bit hard?”
Tim went to Weiss and caressed his shoulder, much like you would pet a restless puppy. “It’s the ring. I think it projects an array of feelings and moods in natural, random combinations. It’s a lot smarter than a shield or a scrambler. I’d like to know where that ring comes from,” he purred, looking up into Weiss’s eyes.
My alpha ignored that last part. He turned toward Tim and said instead, “Any last-minute advice for Bert?”
Tim walked over. He sat in the chair in front of me, then crossed his legs and leaned forward. “You’ll be confused about them. Figure them out as you go. You need to remember some basic things. One: Kingdom fey think of werewolves as inferior beings. Don’t rebel against that idea, because it’s useless. Use it to your advantage instead. Two: they expect you to be simpler, more on the brutish side, perhaps even less intelligent, and therefore less dangerous. Cultivate that. Present yourself as a simpler being than they are, but without making it obvious. Be carnal, superficial, fickle. Keep up those appearances. Three: whatever any of them might do or say, never forget there are two things fey will always do much better than you—lie, and know when someone is lying. I’m not kidding with this. They will always lie better and easier, and you will never see through it. We don’t know how the ring will work. So don’t go out of your way to test it. Stick to truths or relative truths as much as you can. It’s the easiest way to deceive them. Build contexts in which whatever you say is as true as it might get.”
I gulped. “How the fuck will I find the information I need, then? If I can never trust a single fucking word coming out of their mouths?”
Tim smiled. “Because they lie so much and easily, there’s an almost compulsive need to keep records about anything important. There are official fey records in the Fey Archives about anything even remotely relevant. It’s a place where you will surely find all the information ever deemed strategically important. You need to get inside there, then get oriented around the record-keeping systems and pull your info from there. You can trust whatever is written down there to be true, even if you find two accounts regarding the same thing that seem to clash. Don’t worry about making sense of it right then. Just get to it, obtain a copy of it, and deliver it to us. Always carry a flash drive on you and never part with it. Not even in your sleep. Never, Bert, do you understand me?”
I nodded. “Any suggestions?”
Tim grinned. “Oh, I have one. You’ll find it in your luggage. Leave with it… equipped. It’s the one thing they’d never dare to search, and passing you through a scan would break protocol. They wouldn’t do that so blatantly. But they might try to sneakily search any and all of your files, computers, phones. So never leave a trace of anything compromising.”
A sheen of sweat covered my forehead.
Weiss turned around, picked up a tennis ball, and started throwing it against the wall. There was a dent in the spot he was aiming at.
I leaned in closer to Tim. “New thing?”
He smiled. “Stress relief. It’s better than growling at everyone, right?”
I snorted. “Right. Not very Weiss-like, though,” I whispered as gingerly as I could.
There was a knock on the door, and then it opened. Travis Chandler and Rick Barton walked in. They were mated lycans, the PBI agents in charge of Abuse, our most recently top-busy team since the Anti-Abuse Act had come into play, imposing all kinds of rules on leaders—alphas, sires—in order to prevent abuse. If and when they did abuse someone, the victims had the Abuse team to complain to. So Rick and Travis were the peacekeepers of our community lately, righting wrongs left and right.
At least that was their official role. I liked to think of them as two lycan nutjobs. Being on twos instead of fours, like us werewolves were, seemed to make it easier for them to stick their heads up their asses. Rick, the nonalpha of the mated pair and our Bureau’s only tracker, was especially skilled at keeping his head up his ass. Despite Travis being an all-around ass and stepping on everyone’s toes, Rick was the one with a real grudge against Weiss and leaders in general; the lycan tracker didn’t seem to have forgiven Weiss for his involvement in Amanda’s fate. Amanda Weiss had been my alpha’s mate for years, had given him a lovely son—Alf, who I had been tasked with keeping safe for years until recently volunteering for this new spy gig—and had led a very good life among us as part of the PBI. She had decided it wasn’t good enough for her, though, betraying Weiss and the Council, plotting to unleash anarchy in our midst by trafficking marking hormones that would counter the natural hormonal effect leaders have on their pack or clan. My sister, Tricia, had gotten involved in Amanda’s plans too, turning against us, to my shock and horror. For some reason, Rick, who had been instrumental in actually catching Amanda, felt sorry for the bitch, no doubt due to some bullshit sob-story she had poured in his ear. I’m sure Rick had his reasons, sound ones in his own mind, to feel sorry for her. I, for one, thought Amanda was an ungrateful, manipulative, self-centered, traitorous bitch who had gotten what she deserved, but to each their own.
“Didn’t know you were into throwing balls around, boss,” Travis quipped.
Rick rolled his eyes, the general reaction he had toward Weiss.
Tim cleared his throat. “I’m sure there was something you came here to do aside from regaling us with your delightful presence,” he said, batting his eyelashes.
There was always some sort of teasing going on between Tim and Travis. They had been together for a while there, a couple years ago. But Tim was totally head over heels for Weiss, I could tell. Hell, the whole Bureau could tell. My best guess was Tim liked to yank Rick’s chain. I very much approved.
Travis smiled, unruffled. “Boss, if you could stop fondling that ball, we’d like to chat.”
The tennis ball flew the fuck through Weiss’s office door. We all stared at the round hole. Someone screamed somewhere down the hall, possibly where the end of the ball’s route lay. I hoped the screamer had managed to get out of the projectile’s way in time. Or at least managed to catch it with something other than their face.
Weiss cracked his neck and grinned. “Now that relieved some fucking stress.”
“That’s not how it was intended to be used,” Tim muttered, massaging the bridge of his nose.
Rick cleared his throat. “We need more agents for the Abuse team. Complaints about abusive alphas and sires are pouring in. We’re flooded.”
Weiss closed his eyes slowly. “How many agents would you need?”
“How many could you give us?” Travis asked, looking serious for the first time.
Weiss turned to face the window, looking away from the room. “I’ll have to take this up with the Council. Give me some fucking clue as to proportions.”
“Biblical,” Rick said.
“Biblical,” Weiss repeated, shaking his head.
Tim’s expression changed. Something dark slithered through his gaze, then disappeared. “Change is a Brownian movement,” he said. “It has a pace of its own. The process needs to be helped along. I’m sure the Council will feel the same.”
“It’s been tough on everyone since the Anti-Abuse Act became official law,” Travis said to cover the silence that followed. “There’s a matings-breaking spree going on, but hierarchy doesn’t seem to have suffered much so far. If anything, ex-mates work better as teams when there’s a leader involved. It’s a bit confusing, but things are better already, and it’s only been a couple months.”
Rick cleared his throat. “I’m more worried about Bert here.”
I smiled. “Oh, yeah? I’m touched all over.”
“I fucking hope not,” Travis said.
“Don’t worry, Chandler. I wouldn’t dream of going for your guy. I like ’em more spirited,” I said sweetly.
Travis snorted. “More spirited? Now that I’d like to see.”
“In a voyeuristic way, you mean?” I quipped.
“I take it you’re just about ready to leave?” he muttered.
“Going there this afternoon, in fact. Thought I’d settle in over the weekend. Be ready to face the music first thing Monday morning.”
“So just to make it all clear,” Rick said, sticking his hands in his pockets, “you’re going to be our Council’s first ambassador at the Fey Court?”
“And you’re going there to do… what, exactly?”
“I’m going to support the interests of the Council, of my pack and alpha.”
“That’s not at all vague,” he replied, frowning.
“Ambassador work, what can I say? Diplomacy is kind of a vague art.”
“Aren’t you worried pack members will think you changed sides while there? You know there can’t be much contact or visiting,” Rick persisted.
“I’ll come in to report regularly. I trust my pack, and I think the pack trusts me. Why else would I be chosen to go there as the Council’s ambassador?”
“True,” Weiss replied.
It didn’t sound convincing at all. I knew why I had been chosen: Weiss’s faith in me and Tim’s support. After mating Weiss and becoming a werewolf himself, Tim was deemed our Council’s greatest asset aside from Weiss. A magic werewolf too, thanks to his fey and elf heritage. He was the man, vetting people as trustworthy for the Council, putting in suggestions whenever there was a trickier decision to be made. To be honest, it showed he was the son of the Fey King; he had a kind of innate diplomacy and capacity for decision-making the rest of us couldn’t master quite so elegantly. I admired Tim and was very fond of him too. He loved my alpha to bits. It showed in how he seamlessly cared for him and protected their family—meaning Weiss and his now eight-year-old son, Alf. They were such an inspiration. I needed to make them proud. I needed to prove I deserved to be Weiss’s beta. That I deserved the trust of living with them in their home and caring for their kid. I wanted Alf to look at me with the complete trust and admiration he used to have before the whole goddamn Tricia ordeal had happened.
The fact she’d turned against our alpha, our pack, against me, and everything we’d known and believed in still sent shockwaves through me. I ignored it most of the time, or I would go nuts trying to make some sense of it. However severe her betrayal of our pack and alpha was, she had betrayed someone worse: me, her damn brother. She looked into my eyes, smiled at me, lied to me, and fucking stabbed me in the back every minute of every day for months, maybe longer. She betrayed me with every glance, every word, every breath of fucking air. And I had had no goddamn clue.
We were still unsure about each traitor’s involvement with the Leader Murders case. So far we had eight dead bodies and little clue about the real motives behind their deaths. In some cases we could guess the immediate, personal reasons. People wanted other people dead for the same reasons: jealousy, revenge, material gain. Three of the eight deaths could be explained by one of them. There had been no confessions, though. And without proof of family members being involved, we hadn’t taken anyone into custody. But we wanted to. The Council wasn’t famous for letting its community members off the hook when they disrespected their laws. In fact, it was famous for doing exactly the opposite. We still had to make the connections to prove anyone’s involvement with any or all of the murders.
So far we knew for sure Amanda had been involved. She hadn’t flipped on anyone while in custody, though, and now she was dead. Tricia was involved too, and she was still in custody. But she wasn’t talking either. Morris James, the used-to-be Downtown chief, was also involved.
While we could sketch some reasons for Morris hating Weiss on account of Morris’s brother being one of Weiss’s exes, and then committing suicide presumably because of the pain of losing Weiss, Tricia was a complete mystery. Was it some marking hormones-induced pseudo-alpha stupor aimed at maybe Amanda, the suspected leader of the rebels in our midst? Was there something else going on between the two women? An affair? Some money thing, maybe? No one knew. There was no way to find out for sure.
We had taken some people into custody after Travis and Rick broke the hormones trafficking case. None of them had spoken. The only potential source of information at this point was the former fey ambassador, Leonard Hughes, but he had been traded to the Fey King in exchange for him stopping the pretty much hostile takeover plan aimed at our current Council. So a new leaf was turned. In an attempt to strengthen the bonds between the fey and Council territories, the Fey King had sent in a new ambassador, and we were sending one of our own out there, in his Court. This ambassador was me.
It wasn’t the suicide mission my pack thought it to be, or the half admission I was a traitor too and that I needed to be punished by being sent away, like some suspected. This was my chance to prove to myself I wasn’t a fucking waste of space and air. That I wasn’t a phony, a useless pack member.
And I’d find out what Weiss and the Council wanted to know, even if it killed me. But I was honestly hoping it wouldn’t.