Friendship, trust, loyalty. Sophie learns the values of those words when Erik, Greg and she take off for travel among the islands on Wolf Lake. Their first stop is Market Island, a place of commerce for the inhabitants. What they find is a city damaged and a populace in fear. Fear leads to harsh words and rash decisions, and Sophie finds herself Erik’s only hope against a rising tide of hatred.
Someone roughly shook my shoulder. I growled and rolled away from them.
"I don't want to go to work. Tell my boss I'm on vacation. . ." I mumbled.
"In werewolf society I am your boss, and I refuse to accept your excuse," the voice replied.
My eyes snapped open. I lay in the large four-poster bed in the drafty room of the Old Den. The fireplace was devoid of its warm, comforting flames and all was quiet. I whipped my head up and found Erik beside the bed. His hands were on the edge of the bed and he leaned over me.
"What's that b.s. about you being my boss?" I questioned him.
"I don't believe you've failed to notice that this werewolf society is very patriarchal," he commented.
I sat up and glared at him. "No, but you'd better not try any of that stuff on me."
He leaned away from the bed and dropped his arms to his sides. His lips pursed and he shook his head. "It can't be avoided.
We're going to be traveling through the islands, and many of the inhabitants are very conservative in their definition of gender roles. If you act differently from what they expect they may not speak to us."
I sighed and ran a hand through my messy hair. "You guys really need to learn that this is the twenty-first century."
"We know the year, we just don't care," he countered.
I hopped out of bed and began to dress myself. "Yeah, about that. Are all the islands as backwards as the Old Den or can I hope to get a grande mocha sometime soon?"
He shook his head. "Some are more modern than others, but none reach the level of technology as the outside world."
I paused in my dressing and turned to him with a frown. "So that means a ‘no?'"
I shook my head and finished my dressing. "Damn. You guys need to learn how to live."
"We survive. That's enough for us," he replied.
I turned to him and folded my arms across my chest. "Really? Because I remember hearing about some peasants or someone who were a little ticked off about not having enough land."
"We'll validate those rumors along with learning more about Gethin's involvement in the stolen dynamite and the earthquakes," he told me.
I sat back down on the bed and furrowed my brow. "That's a lot of stuff to do in one visit. We sure we can do it?"
"We have to. Now be ready to leave in fifteen minutes," he ordered me.
I gestured to the room around me. "I don't exactly have anything to pack, so why not leave right now?"
He turned away from me and his gaze fell on the door. "We're waiting for Gregory to return."
I wrinkled my nose. "‘Return?' Where'd he go?"
Erik shook his head. "I don't know. All he would tell me was that he had few items to retrieve for us and he would return quickly. That was an hour ago."
I snorted. "Are you sure he's the servant and not you?"
"Some days I do wonder," he admitted.
As though on cue there was a soft rap on the door and it opened to reveal Greg. On his back was a large backpack that towered a foot above his head and a foot on either side of him. He came up to us and bowed at the waist. I don't know how he kept from falling over.
"My apologies for taking so long, my Master."
"Did you find what you are looking for?" Erik asked him.
Greg smiled and nodded. "I did, and we are now well prepared for the journey."
I jumped to my feet and moved to stand beside Erik in a show of solidarity. "Come on, ‘fess up. What did you get?"
"I wouldn't think about wearing you with such traveling trifles," Greg commented.
"Enough with the pretty talk and more with the showing," I demanded.
"Very well, if you insist." Greg reached into his right pocket and pulled out some brown-colored beans. "I fetched these from the garden."
I tilted my head to the side and wrinkled my nose. "That's it? That took you an hour to get?"
Greg pocketed them once more and smiled. "The culture on each island is very unique. What is deemed worthless on one isn't necessarily worthless on the other."
"But beans? Are they at least magic beans?" I asked him.
He chuckled and shook his head. "No, just simple brown beans."
"If you're done fetching produce then we should leave," Erik spoke up.
Greg bowed his head. "A good idea, my Master. I am ready whenever you are willing."
Erik moved over to the dresser where I noticed a cloak hung from the wall. The cloak was a light blue that changed color in different lights And around the caller was thick, white string to tie the floppy hood. He pulled the coat off its hook and turned to me.
"Since you insist on wearing those clothes you must at least wear this over them. It will attract less attention," he advised.
He held out the sleeves and I slipped into the cloak was a perfect fit in all the right places. The right sleeve length, the right height, and even a nice, cozy collar. "It's almost like it was made for me," I commented.
"Because it was. I had Gregory sew it over the last few days," Erik admitted.
I blushed. Damn cheeks. I looked at the ground and pulled the collar closer to hide the red. "Thanks. Really."
Erik smiled and bowed his head. "You are my lady, for as long as this arrangement will last. Now we should go." He walked past me and out into the hall.
"Yeah, while it lasts. . ." I murmured. I raised my head and caught Greg staring at me. He had a small, soft smile on his lips. I glared at him. "What?"
He shook his head and stepped aside. "Nothing at all."
"Good, now shoo." I waved my hands at him and herded him out the door. "We've got some trouble to make on other islands."
We rejoined with Erik in the hall and he led us through the maze of halls and down a mess of stairways. In a few minutes we arrived at an interior balcony which hung over a large entrance hall. We stood opposite another balcony, and a sweeping staircase with two wings joined the balconies and joined together at a wide landing. The staircase finished its journey downward at the start of the glistening, tiled marble floor far below us. Marble columns held up the high ceiling and hallways on either side of the bottom floor led to the depths of the Old Den. The front of the hall had a pair of large wooden doors that were twice my height. The walls of the hall were made of polished stone and hung with layers and layers of tapestries.
"Modest, but I like some of the tapestries," I quipped. My voice echoed through the cavernous area and bounced back at me a half dozen times over.
"This is the oldest part of the Old Den," Erik explained to me as he led us down the stairs. "My forefathers thought to impress visitors with their wealth."
"Did the island get a lot of visitors then?" I wondered.
"The place was bustling only a hundred and twenty years ago," Greg spoke up. "The hall would be filled with visitors to see the king and there would be stalls outside to welcome them with handcrafted trinkets and bobbles."
I swept my eyes over the empty hall and passages. "So what happened to make this a ghost den?"
"Over the centuries the islands developed their own cultures and the feeling of commonality disappeared. Now we are less of a pack and more a group of small countries, each vying for a little piece of a dwindling land," Erik explained.
"So how come you just don't find a new witch to make the fog bigger?" I suggested.
By this time we reached the double doors. Erik turned to me and shook his head. "The risk of discovery has been deemed too great."
"By who?" I challenged him.
"By the Council."
I snorted. "Great people to decide that. I've seen calmer chickens."
"They are the elected officials of each island. The people chose them to make their decisions for them," Erik pointed out.
"And what a good lot they chose. . ." Greg muttered.
Erik gave his servant a warning glance. "Whatever our feelings towards them, we have to remember that once we step foot on foreign soil we must follow their customs."
Greg closed his eyes and bowed his head. "Of course, my Master."
Erik placed a hand on the door and gave a push. "Now let us go. Teagan waits for us outside."
I frowned. "Why?"
Erik half turned to me. "Have you forgotten the attempt on your life."
I sheepishly grinned and shrugged. "Maybe?"
"Teagan will personally lead us to the docks, and from there we will go to the other islands," Erik explained.