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Leonidas burst through the double doors of his father's bedroom. He did not bother to knock first, and ran in already yelling about the self-righteous brat, Alexis; but his father, sick and in bed, barely moved.
"That Califan girl is an indignant prude." Leo flailed his arms as if attempting flight as he spoke. "I just reminded her of our arranged mating and she nearly choked me to death, and ran off."
His father slowly raised his hand in an attempt to stop the rant. "My guess is that you were doing more than just reminding her of the arrangement." His father stopped to catch his breath before continuing. "If you cannot grow up and learn some humility, you will never be the true alpha in this pack."
"I'm grown up plenty, father. And, have I not proven my strength to you?"
"A strong will does not make a good leader, Leonidas. You must have some amount of compassion for those you rule over." His father, exhausted, slumped back into his bed, but shook his head at Leo.
Leo couldn't believe that his father, on his deathbed, still spoke of humility. Leo feared a challenger to his rightful position more than he feared hatred by the peons in the pack.
"Compassion and humility are too easily mistaken for weakness," Leonidas spat his disagreement, as he turned to leave.
"Leonidas!" his father's voice, while weak and hoarse, still resounded off the walls of the room. "If you cannot learn that a leader's strength is shown through compassion, I cannot, in good conscience, have you succeed me."
Leo stopped dead in his tracks and turned around, ready to remind his father that he had only one son, but his father raised a finger and continued.
"All through your life I waited, hoping you would grow up and become the leader this pack needs." His father stopped to catch his breath. "But it simply did not happen. I'm afraid I will have to renounce the succession and let the pack choose a leader through challenge."
Leo cringed at the thought. His succession was all he had. He knew there were stronger men in the pack than him. Worst of all, many of them were ferals—bastardized versions of werewolves not born into the life, but made by others through careless contact, or failed kills. He couldn't let that happen, He would simply have to appease his father until he became the rightful pack Alpha. He turned to his father and put on the most humble face he could muster.
"What should you have me do, Father? How can I prove my growth to you? How can I show compassion and humility?" Leo looked at the floor as he spoke, afraid that if he looked him in the eye, his lack of true compassion would be revealed.
"What you should do is go find Alexis Califan, apologize profusely to her for your childish, self-centered actions, and beg her to come back."
"Will you bless our mating upon her return?"
"No! You've done enough damage in the Califan family." His father's short outburst caused him to go into a coughing and wheezing fit. It took a moment for him to get his breath back before he could continue. “Leonidas,” his father’s voice was suddenly very clear and somber. “Paul Califan is the only doctor I know of that is one of our kind.” Would you have us lose our community doctor over your desire for his daughter?” His father did not wait for a response before continuing. “You mustn’t let your selfish needs get in the way of your judgment as a leader. There are other natural females, if not in our own pack, then from the pack in Montana or even Alaska. You must learn to place the purity of our bloodline over your childish desires.”
Even as the words left his father's mouth in weak sputters and abbreviated stops, Leo's mind burned with the thought that even his own father did not approve of his position as alpha. Before he could think of a proper response to the harsh words, his father broke in again.
"You will not be mated to Alexis. I've arranged a mating with a female from the pack in Montana. She's a natural with a pure bloodline dating back generations. Her family has good standing among our kind, and she's obedient."
"But, I don't want to be mated to some stranger," Leo pleaded with his father. "I want Alexis as a mate—"
Well, you can't have her," his father interrupted. "She doesn't want you, and she will defy your dominance and your leadership and set the Califan family in opposition to ours." Leo's father sat up in the bed, his face turning red, sweat beading on his forehead. "You will leave immediately to find Alexis. You will beg her to return, and you will accept the mate I've chosen for you. If you cannot muster the intestinal fortitude to do this, I will denounce your succession as alpha."
"Yes, father." Leo turned and stomped out of the room before his heated face and watery eyes defied the strong demeanor he was trying to present. Truth was, he loved and respected his father, but found him oppressive and overbearing at the same time. He would do as his father told him, and find Alexis. But, if she just happened to find her demise before he could bring her back, the blame would not be on him. Finding her would be easy. Getting her back to Ellijay, willingly or not, was another matter entirely.