Reth felt terrible leaving Elia alone all day after the shock she’d had. But the wolves were working to undermine him, and not just Lerrin. Behryn and the others had heard more than rumors—they’d broken up a meeting of several of the younger males, and there were hints that the men had expected the wolf elders to show up also.
The wolves were always plotting, but Reth had never faced outright insurrection. Every time that day he’d thought he had made a plan and determined what needed to be done, new information came, or someone raised a new problem.
He’d gotten angrier and angrier as they day passed, until Behryn pulled him aside as he was eating a hasty dinner.
“I know this has been a tough day, but everyone can smell your tension and they’re all getting more tense themselves in response. You need to breathe.”
“I’m facing a possible attempt to overthrow my throne and your advice is to chill?” Reth muttered.
“No, my advice is to do what you’re good at and cover up your stress. You aren’t usually so transparent. Is the mating bond the problem?”
Trust Behryn to just throw it out there. All the other men had ignored the issues since he’d chewed Lerrin out about it. Reth ground his teeth.
But Behryn wasn’t going to let it go. “I could have one of the women talk to her—”
“Leave it alone,” he snarled and Behryn’s eyebrows shot up.
“I know this hasn’t been an easy couple of days, Reth, but you’re—”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” he forced himself to say, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He had a pounding headache, and a spiral in his stomach that wouldn’t uncoil. And his best friend, War Chief, and Defender was frowning at him like his mother did the first time she caught him strutting for a female. “I just… I can’t relax.”
Behryn snorted. “Because you’ve got pent up—”
“Do not finish that sentence.”
Behryn rolled his eyes. “I was going to say frustration. You need to speak with her Reth. Not just for your own sanity, but for the Kingdom’s. It creates great uncertainty for everyone that she has not accepted you.”
“She has accepted me. Her customs are different. She has been taught not to trust easily, and her appearance here has given her no reason to change that,” he snarled. “The people will see. It will only take time.”
But Behryn forced Reth to look him in the eye. “Speak with her,” he said, his voice very low so no others would catch it in the room. “Give your supporters a reason to continue to defend you to their friends and family.
“Defend me? Their King? I defend them!”
“And they know that,” Behryn said gently, “Which is why they keep telling the others to trust you. But the pressure is building, Reth. No one expected you to walk into the Market this morning without her scent on you.”
“It is none of their concern—”
“Liar!” Behryn hissed. The other men across the room went very still, scenting the tension between the two men. But his friend didn’t waver. His eyes remained locked with his King as he spoke the hard truth Reth knew, but needed to hear. “A great many things happened last night that no one foresaw—and it has left your people feeling that perhaps they do not know their King as well as they thought they did. Show them that you are who they know you to be.”
Reth held his gaze a moment, then nodded and stood. Behryn stepped back to give him room and they clasped forearms. “Thank you, brother.”
“You know I have your back, Reth.”
“I do. And I need you to have it even more. Because I will speak with her. But I will stay true to my word. I will not force her. So this may take some time.”
Behryn sighed, but nodded. Then, as if the conversation hadn’t even happened, they both rejoined the other men to begin discussing potential discipline for the wolves if Lucine wasn’t kept in check.