All Kidding Aside - Macy Blake



Victor pulled his sleek black Mercedes to a stop in front of a newly installed wrought iron gate. It protected the entrance to the home of what they’d begun referring to as the Smith pack. He rolled down his window as a voice sounded from the small intercom at the edge of the drive.

“May I help you?”

“Victor Eastaughffe to see the alpha.”

“One moment please.”

The alpha and his entire pack were unconventional, to say the least. In a world where shifter children were rare, Nick’s pack had at least four times more kids than adults. The circumstances that got Nick an entire pack of children were what warranted the upgrades to security and Victor’s presence. Nick Smith had a very powerful mate, very powerful friends, and an extremely powerful brother.

While he waited, Victor inspected other areas of the recently upgraded security system, including the large masonry sign that stood just to the left of the driveway. It was only slightly imposing with the words Smith Academy carved into the central white stone. No other details were listed. Victor had argued, and the alpha had agreed, that anyone curious about the sudden increase in visible security wouldn’t ask questions if a sign out front indicated children were present.

Of course, anyone close enough to notice the sign would also be noticed by security. Two dragons circled overhead, waiting for the guards to give Victor the all-clear. Their magic was cloaked, obviously, but Victor could see through it. Most of their kind could. Humans, on the other hand, were kept in the dark about their existence for a reason. The Goddesses’ rules were very strict on the subject, and no one wanted to draw the attention of the hellhounds. Then again, considering the alpha was mated to a hellhound—the threat didn’t have quite the same weight to it as it did for others of their kind.

“The alpha is expecting you.”

The gate began to open as the intercom switched off again. Victor pulled his SUV through and waited until it closed behind him. Two more barriers sat between him and his scheduled meeting with Nick Smith, the first one a powerful ward. Two vampires surrounded the SUV and began an inspection as a familiar pop of magic sounded beside him.

“Good morning, Puteri.”

“Griffin,” she scowled.

The second barrier, a brownie, stood only a couple of feet tall. Most of her charges were at least her size, if not bigger. But when it came to power, Puteri was one of the strongest of their kind on the property. She might be tiny and cranky, but the kids really liked her, which was the most important thing to their alpha. Nick couldn’t care less if none of the adults understood exactly why the kids were drawn to the temperamental creature.

“How are you?” Victor asked.

He didn’t want to open the floodgates, but he’d been assured she would be disappointed if he didn’t. He also knew from experience that no matter how much she complained—and she would complain, long and loud—he was never to suggest she needed help. He’d made that mistake once. He wouldn’t make it again.

“There is so much work for Puteri,” she whined. “So many children. Puteri works and works and works.”

“You make your queen proud with your service,” Victor said. “I will be sure to pass along our praise to her.”

Puteri beamed, even as she performed her part of the security test. “You are free from dark magic. You may proceed.”

Victor started the SUV, then moved and passed easily through the ward as Puteri settled into the seat and continued listing the many tasks she was responsible for within the compound. To hear her tell it, she was single-handedly managing all forty orphans under their charge, plus handling the care and feeding of the entire staff. Victor knew better. He paid the bills, after all, on behalf of Nick’s brother, the Chosen One, and his mates. That included the many, many salaries it took to keep the children safe and happy.

“You are a boon to your people, Puteri, and a gift to us. We could not manage without you.”

His statement soothed her sensitive fae ego. She beamed again for a brief moment, and then her face settled into its usual scowl once more. “I must return to work. The alpha is in the rec building with the children. They’re doing yoga.”

Before Victor could ask her to repeat what she’d said—he could have sworn he’d heard her say yoga—she disappeared with another pop of magic. He drove the rest