HEAT

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Chapter 13: I Was Raised Better

Hycinth

He’d said yes.

He’d agreed to my deal.

I couldn’t believe it. I was going to have my freedom in a little more than a month from now! I was going to get to walk away and never look back. I wouldn’t have to run from him anymore. I’d made him promise last night, swear on his life to stick to the arrangement once I was gone. He’d agreed. He’d sworn he wouldn’t try to look for me. He would let me go. His only other condition of our arrangement was complete secrecy. The pack could not know about our agreement until it was over. He didn’t want them to worry. I was fine with that.

I was getting everything I wanted, so why did it feel like a large part of my heart had been ripped out of my chest?

I pushed the feeling away. I couldn’t dwell on it. I didn’t have time. Most of the wolves were already gathered outside. Shockingly, they had pulled together all of the arrangements for our Announcement Ceremony in less than eighteen hours. I looked out the window, down at the wide open expanse they used for Pack gatherings. The sun had gone down, and several fire pits were burning, and more than one hundred cut logs, spaced out in smaller groupings, for the wolves to sit on. Everything arranged so that there wasn’t a central focal point, but instead all of the wolves milled around together equally.

However, for this celebration, a little area had been set up under the edge of the surrounding trees, with twinkling lights in the branches above and a large bench where Leander and I would sit. It was a relatively informal affair. Leander would say some words of encouragement, he’d announce the Claiming Ceremony, and then he’d place his Mark on me. After that, we would sit down to receive any gifts and words of appreciation from the wolves, while everyone ate, drank and talked.

I moved away from the window to check my appearance one last time. I stared in awe at the dress Leander had given me—it reminded me very much of my mixed-media artwork, and I loved it!

Made from gauzy fabric in the palest possible olive green, just barely a hint of color, with several layers of frilly lace that ended just above my knees. But it was the decoration on the front of the dress which made it compelling to me, so many textures, an eclectic mix of gemstones, beads, baubles, bits of fabric and crocheted lace, in variations of plum and shape of sage green. All so artfully arranged, it was perfect. Perfect for me.

I had no idea how Leander knew I would love the dress because, until this point, he’d only see me in cargo pants, jeans, and T-shirts, nothing to indicate my affinity for this beautifully romantic style.

But he had, and I was tremendously excited to wear it. I decided bare feet would be the perfect complement. Leander’s outfit had none of the flash mine did, but his pants matched the darkest olive green in the dress, and he wore a simple white button-down shirt, casual, but he still looked amazing as always.

I hurried out of the room and down the hallway and one flight of stairs, only to run into the very last person I wanted to see—Sydney! She looked me up and down with a sneer curling her lip, not even trying to conceal her distaste. I decided to make my way past her, but she stopped me with a hand on my arm. I looked down at her hand, a low warning growl coming from my Wolf.

Sydney released my arm, stepped back and hissed, “This is such a joke!”

I rolled my eyes. “I understand you had Leander in the past, but you need to let it go now.”

She snorted with a malicious grin and purred, “The past? Does last night include the past?”

Last night?!

My heart began to beat faster.

No. There was no way he’d done that! No way he’d left me and gone straight to her bed. I knew he was angry, but he couldn’t have slept with her! I snarled, “Your full of shit!”

“Am I?” Her lips curled up into a victorious smile. Fuck. She looked way too confident to be bluffing. And then her words crushed me, “Would you like proof?"

I stood frozen, unable to move.

“Come with me,” she murmured.

I followed her woodenly down the hall. We walked down another flight of steps and another hallway, before coming to a door I knew had to be her room. My stomach was in knots, but I was silent as she opened the door and led me to her bedroom. In that instant, I knew she hadn’t been bluffing, his scent was on her sheets—and it was fresh! He had gone to her last night!

Sydney murmured gleefully, “If it weren’t for the Claiming Ceremony, he never would have tracked you down. This ceremony is the only reason you are here.”

Her words hit me like a bucket of ice over my head. All of those things he’d said about wanting more with me. The bastard couldn’t have meant them. There was no way he could’ve meant them, and then went straight between her thighs! No wonder he’d agreed to my deal so readily. And no surprise, he’d come home with his hair wet and a different set of clothes!

Some rational part of my brain tried to tell me it shouldn’t matter. I had no claim on him. Hell, I’d said I didn’t want him and could never love him. But none of those arguments took away the shocking hurt and fury that rattled through my bones.

Without a word, I turned around and walked out, making my way out of the pack house. I had to weave through several wolves to get to where I knew Leander was waiting. I finally saw him, chatting casually with Ever and another Wolf. He saw me when I was about ten feet away, a brilliant smile lighting up his face.

And then his expression turned to concern when he noted my angry countenance. When I reached him, the other wolves gave us some space. It was probably fairly obvious to all of them how furious I was.

He asked quietly, “What’s wrong?”

“You!” I hissed.

His eyebrows went up in confusion. He pulled me close and urged soothingly, “Just stop. Talk to me. Tell me what the problem is.”

My chest heaved. I pushed away and slapped him across the face. “You bastard!”

There was a loud collective gasp from the crowd, and then they went silent.

As soon as my hand made contact with Leander’s cheek, I knew I’d made a terrible, awful mistake. I quaked in fear as I watched his expression instantly alter into something fearsome and feral, the eyes of his Wolf glowing angrily back at me. He was no longer Leander—he was an Alpha male that I’d just openly challenged in front of his Pack!

“I’m sorry!” I blurted out quickly. But it was too late, I could see it.

Before I could even comprehend what was happening, he was sitting on the large bench, and I found myself draped over his lap, face down and ass up. My legs were tucked in between his, making it possible for him to keep my dress discreetly in place, covering my bum, but making it impossible for me to get free with his right leg locked around mine, pinning me in place. He snarled, “If you’re going to act like a child, then I’m going to treat you like one!”

I barely got a breath in before his hand came down, spanking my butt three times in quick succession. It took my brain a second to figure out what is happening, but my ass was acutely aware of what was going on—he wasn’t holding back.

I shrieked and writhed against him to get free.

“Be still!” he barked out the order. I continued to fight, bucking hard. But with his hand wrapped around the back of my neck and his legs locking me in place, it was useless. Three more hard swats rained down on my butt. He threatened with a low growl, “If you keep fighting me, we’ll continue past ten.”

Past ten?! My butt was already burning. Undoubtedly it was on fire, and by my count, we’d only gotten to six so far! I was gasping and panting, unable to get enough air.

I gave in.

I stopped fighting and let my body falling limply across his lap. My head hung down in shame and embarrassment.

“Do you submit?” he growled.

I nodded my head. Anything to stop this torture.

His hand came down hard and fast again, barking, “I asked a question. I expect a verbal answer!”

My head snapped up, and I cried out, “Yes...yes, I submit!”

He rubbed my ass. I panted harshly, my throat parched and dry as the Sahara desert. My tongue was thick in my mouth.

“Good girl. You’ve only got three left.”

Three more?!

The wolves were utterly silent.

His hand came down three more times. The sting was excruciating, sharp. I squeezed my eyes shut tight to keep the tears from falling. I would not cry. I refused to let any of them see me cry. When it was over, he set me back on my feet and stood in front of me. I looked at the ground, shaking, and mumbled, “I don’t want to be here.” The last thing I wanted was to face any of these wolves tonight.

“Then go!” he said gruffly, letting me leave.

As soon as I turned away from him, my head came up. I would not cower in front of the other wolves, nor would I run as I left. I was mortified but knew it could have been so much worse. I’d seen my father punish much more severely for lesser grievances. And I’d made the ultimate mistake—I’d struck an Alpha in front of his Pack, forcing his hand. He’d had to act. I didn’t know what Leander’s usual punishments were for wolves who challenged him, but I suspected I hadn’t seen the worst of what he could deal out.

Still, I was mortified and ashamed of what I’d done. I’d lost control. Leander wanted to talk. I should have talked. I knew better than to issue a challenge like that. I was raised better than that.

When I returned to the room, I changed into a T-shirt and soft yoga pants. I tried sitting on the bed, and then quickly realized that wasn’t going to work—my bum still really hurt. So I rolled over onto my belly and cradled my head in my crossed arms.

About an hour later, I heard the door open and close.

I looked up to find Leander, and he was definitely still angry.
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