Thomas Ducharme cursed. He looked out of the helicopter windows at the snowy village below and his heart sank.
He should have taken the all-terrain vehicle.
Using the helicopter was the fastest way to get through the forested peaks from their clan’s compound in northern Québec. Still, he hadn’t anticipated what seeing the tiny town from the air would do to him.
Five hundred souls had called the little town home.
Five hundred bodies littered the streets and yards.
It made him sick to his stomach. It made his wolf thirsty for vengeance. Their neighbour and rival Roland Reynard—Alpha of the Trois-Rivières Clan—had struck back against Thomas’ family and the Laurentian Mountains Clan.
Six months ago, Roland and his son René had targeted Thomas’ pack. Thomas’ brother and Alpha of the clan, Charles, had stopped them with the help of his mate, Chantelle. When they had turned René over to the local authorities and he had gone to prison for kidnapping and assault, René’s father had vowed to make Charles and Chantelle—and their clan—pay.
Thomas closed his eyes. He was not going to let the Trois-Rivières Clan win. After seeing this violence, he would redouble his efforts to protect their clan and support Charles.
When the helicopter landed in a clearing, he disembarked and ran out of range while the pilot took off again. He put a grey blazer over his white button-up and jeans, then marched towards the perimeter team waiting on the edge of the town. Pushing back his shoulders, he smoothed down his short, dark hair and combed his fingers through his beard. He had to appear strong and confident for his people. He was their Lieutenant, after all.
He looked at the team, catching each person’s eye in turn. “Report,” he said, feeling another headache coming on.
Anne, the team leader, took a step forward, her long braid swinging down her back. “Last week there was news of rogue shifters in the area. This week we were checking on the smaller communities. We tried calling the village elders here to tell them we were stopping by, but there was no answer.”
Thomas nodded. “So you drove out.”
“There was nobody alive.”
“Nobody?” Thomas choked out.
“Nobody.” Anne exhaled a shaky breath. “We estimate it happened in the night, several hours before we arrived.”
“Let me see it. Everything.” If they all had to die, then he would honour their lives. And he would avenge every single one of them.
As they walked through the streets and houses, the team leader asked, “Is it true the son of the Trois-Rivières Alpha tried to assault our Alpha’s mate when she was a teenager?”
“He’s a sick man,” Thomas replied.
“It’s not right. We need to stop their clan from taking it out on the territory.”
Thomas should have protected his people better. Now that he was Lieutenant, and Charles was trying to find a work-life balance between clan business and his mate, Thomas felt every attack as if it were an assault on his own person.
Another member of the perimeter team approached. “We’ve taken a census. A few people are missing. Women and children.”
“Calisse!” Thomas swore again. His wolf growled inside. It was pack instinct to protect the young. His clan treated everyone equally, regardless of gender, sexuality and race—although he knew Roland’s clan was different.
He stepped away and called his brother. “Charles, you’d better come down here.”
While he waited for his Alpha to arrive, Thomas continued the walk-through. He tried to keep his calm while he surveyed the scene. He couldn’t believe the whole village had been wiped out. All those innocent souls. He pulled out his phone and keyed in the number for their Head of Security, Juana Aguirre, to discuss increasing the patrols on the border to Trois-Rivière territory.
“We need someone from the family to have a presence in the area as well. Is Henri ready?” Thomas asked. His younger brother Henri had been shaken by their father’s and older brother’s deaths three years ago, though he was getting back on track.
Juana paused. “It would be a test for him.”
“This could be a chance for him to step up,” Thomas said. They could use Henri’s help, but they couldn’t push him.
Juana agreed to think about it.
Thomas hung up just as Charles’ helicopter arrived. He rushed over in the swirl of wind and noise.
Charles looked like Thomas felt…angry, unsettled and ready for a fight.
“Lieutenant,” Charles said, his eyes sparking. “You’re right, it’s bad.”
Thomas spent the next half-hour retracing his steps with Charles. They ended up at the small parish hall, where the perimeter team had set up coffee and snacks for the security and clean-up crews.
“What’s your plan?” Charles asked, sipping his coffee.
“Increase security on the border between territories.” It would be a challenge, since the communities were spread out along the large boundary. There were hundreds of kilometres of forest and mountainous terrain. “We’ll send Henri out as your representative to meet with village leaders and discuss other options.”
“What else?” Charles asked, brow wrinkled.
Thomas inspected his brother. “You won’t sanction retaliation.”
“This attack might change my mind. Until now, we’ve been dealing with small forays, minor thefts and violence,” Charles said. “This is a new level.”
Thomas started a mental checklist. “I’ll get started then. We’ll want to beef up patrols, increase monitoring stations and begin planning our offensive strategy.”
“I’m sending you to Montréal. Juana and Henri will deal with this.”
Thomas huffed in frustration. “You’re not sidelining me, are you?”
Charles shook his head. “I want you to find out all you can about the Frères Gris Consortium.”
“I know they are connected to the Trois-Rivières Clan,” Thomas said, “even if we can’t prove it yet.”
“Chantelle thinks they are supernaturals. They may have been in Canada for centuries.”
“Your wife has been right about a lot of things. But what is their goal then?”
“That’s what I want you to discover. Are they using Roland’s clan for their own ends? Is there something else going on that we should know about?” Thomas asked.
His head throbbed. “I still think I should be here.”
“Roland is the knowable factor. We can give him to someone else.”
“I know I’ve been off my game.” Thomas wondered if his brother was losing confidence in him. He couldn’t stand it if it were true.
“Thomas, it isn’t about that. You’re going to Montréal because I need your brains and your ability to solve puzzles.” Charles sighed. “What’s bothering you, bro?”
Thomas took in a big breath. “I’ve been doubting myself since Aimée dumped me. I can’t stop it.”
“You need to find your confidence again. She did a number on you.” Charles patted his shoulder.
Thomas sighed. When she’d cheated on him and they broke up, he’d thought he’d lost his chance at happiness. “I worked so hard to figure out what she wanted. But then she changed the rules. I didn’t know which side was up.”
“You’re still strong. You have to learn to rely on yourself again. When you trust yourself, you can do anything.”
Thomas knew his brother was right. Still, it hurt that he was doubting his abilities. Maybe he needed to get angry and fight against this side of himself. Or maybe he just needed a little time away to think.
* * * *
Tatienne Laflamme checked her watch. Her boss at the Montréal Diocese Records Office was away on holiday and she was expecting a call from Archbishop Lacroix. The archbishop’s assistant had said he had a favour to ask.
While she waited, she gathered up the archival documents a patron had used in the Reading Room and returned them to the storage rooms at the back. She straightened her pencil skirt and returned to her desk. It was quiet in the basement archives, but it would likely pick up in the afternoon. The Montréal Diocese Records Office saw its share of researchers, students and family genealogists, but it was never noisy or overwhelming. She liked the peacefulness of the space.
She had worked as an archivist’s assistant since she had finished community college, what they called CEGEP in Québec. She’d always intended to go back to school and get her library and information science degree, but she had been too busy looking after her sister, Céline, and making sure they had food on the table. Now that Céline was older, it might be time to pursue that dream.
Making sure her sister was cared for had been her responsibility since their parents had died ten years ago. The foster system had wanted to separate them, but Tatienne had fought them and won. Céline had been a special-needs nine-year-old, and Tatienne didn’t think her sister would have made it without her. And vice versa—it had been a dark time, for many reasons, and Tatienne had relied on her sister for stability and comfort. They were a team.
The landline at the desk rang. It was the archbishop.
“Tatienne, so nice to talk with you,” he said in his kind, deep voice. “How is your sister?”
“Well, thank you. She’s loving the community programme you got her into.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. Your parish priest, Father Andre, was the one who did the heavy lifting.”
“Still, I appreciate your help.” Father Andre had always been in her corner. He had known the archbishop in Rome before they had both moved here, and had asked him to pull some strings to help with Céline’s community support. It was one of many things Father Andre had done to assist Tatienne and her sister.
“I’m hoping you can return the favour, please?” the archbishop asked.
“Certainly, Monseigneur.” She waited on the phone.
“Do you know the Ducharme family?” he asked.
“No,” Tatienne said.
“They’re an old family. Live in the mountains, but they have a place in the city. They are big supporters of the diocese’s Soup Kitchen programme.”
So, they’re entitled rich people. They were often demanding and insensitive when they came to the records office. She wasn’t their servant—she was an employee of the records office.
“They sound important,” Tatienne said, keeping her voice neutral.
“Yes, we want to make a good impression. They’re sending someone to look through the diocese records. I’d like you to take good care of them.”
She could certainly handle a major donor. It might be irritating and disruptive, but she could manage it. “What do they need?”
“They are looking for references to a group of friars who settled in New France in the eighteenth century. Can you direct the family to any relevant records? Help them look through the resources?” he asked.
“I’ll do everything I can to help.” She enjoyed solving mysteries and putting together the pieces of the puzzles folks brought to the archives. This request was unusual compared to many others, but she would do her best to find the information they wanted.
“Thank you,” Archbishop Lacroix said. “Thing is, they can only come on the weekend. Could you take the next couple days off and work Saturday and Sunday instead?”
Tatienne thought. Father Andre could probably help with Céline on Saturday, then for Sunday she could ask their neighbour. “Yes, I think I can swing it.”
“Bless you, Tatienne,” said the Monseigneur. “I’m sorry it will cut into your family time. And—” He paused.
“Yes, I know. This family is important. I’ll take care of them.”
“I know you will.” He signed off.
Tatienne sighed. The Ducharmes were probably like the mean girls at high school, but she couldn’t let her feelings get in the way of her job. She would try to keep an open mind.
When she checked her messages, the archbishop’s assistant had already emailed her the details on the search. She decided to get a head-start while it was still quiet.
The Ducharme family was looking into a group called the Frères Gris—the Grey Brothers. She’d heard of the Grey Nuns. The small group of religious women had set up an abbey, a school and a hospital in eighteenth-century Montréal. Maybe the Brothers had been affiliated with that community?
She went through the Reading Room to access the storage rooms. She stared at their eighteenth-century collections. Notebooks, ledgers and documents from several local churches formed the bulk of the resources. There were family albums, posters and newspapers as well.
Where should I start? First things first, my sister.
She went back to the landline and called Father Andre.
“Hello, my dear. How are you?” he asked.
“Good, thanks. I won’t be at church on Sunday. I have work. And could you help me with Céline on Saturday?”
“Sure. We’ve got youth group that afternoon. She could come in the morning and help me set up. Then we could have lunch and join the youth group. Will that work?”
“That would be fantastic. Will Yousuf be there, or any of Céline’s other friends?” If Céline’s routine had to be disrupted, she hoped her sister would have some friendly faces around her.
“Yousuf is planning to be there,” he said.
“Thanks.” Tatienne breathed a sigh of relief.
“What do you have to do?” the priest asked.
“Help some rich guy with his family tree, I think. Have you heard of the Frères Gris? They were a group of friars during the New France era. I’m supposed to research them for the family.”
Andre paused on the end of the line. “I might have a book that mentions them in my library. Do you have time to come by?”
“Yes. I have some pepper sauce for you, too.”
“My grandmother’s recipe?” he asked. Father Andre still followed many of his Guyanese family’s traditions, even in the “cold and frozen city”—as he called Montréal.
“Of course. Extra hot.” Tatienne was still surprised he had entrusted her with the recipe. Céline could eat it by the jarful, and Father Andre did too.
“Oh, lovely! I’ll look through my library,” he said.
Tatienne hung up, a little more hopeful about her weekend. She should be able to find a few leads for the Ducharmes, send them on their way and get back to her life.