HEAT

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Chapter 2: Let's Play

Leander

“Why?!!!” I roared out my frustration and prowled across the room like a caged animal, then back again, stopping only to hurl a bottle of hundred-year-old Scotch across the room at a bookcase. I watched the glass break, amber liquid saturating the books and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Why her?! Why couldn’t it be anybody but her?!” Clearly, the Moon had it out for me, the sly bitch. Because there was no more hilarious mistake than making that female my mate!

My father sat reclined in a comfortable chair, utterly unaffected by my foul mood. When he could get a word in edgewise, he asked evenly, “Are you ready to tell me why you’re having a temper tantrum like a two-year-old and destroying the study?”

I growled and flashed fang.

Instantly, he was on his feet and in my face, a sustained growl reverberating in his chest. Even in his fifties, the man was cut with rugged bulk and muscle, hewn and cultivated over thirty years as Alpha of Adamant Moon. He was respected, and he was feared.

And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to duke out my frustrations at the present moment. I could beat him, but it would be painful. And bloody. I sighed heavily, a signal that I was currently not interested in a fist fight, but I might take him up on it later, should my frustration push me over the edge.

He gave a short nod as if understanding all of that nonsense in my head without me speaking, and returned to his chair. He sipped his whiskey and used the back of his hand to wipe away any remaining droplets of alcohol from his salt-and-pepper beard.

I stared at him in contemplation.

Dark eyes glazed over, not seeing the glass in his hand as he absentmindedly brought it to his mouth. He was a contradiction—brute strength, yet irreparably damaged. Because no matter his continued powerful physique, the loss of his mate, my mother, haunted his eyes and vexed his soul, leaving him a shell of his former self.

At least, he’d had a mate he loved, I thought bitterly. The joke was on me. I had no love for my mate. Just a festering disgust and distaste in my mouth that I wanted to spew out, but couldn’t quite get rid of. What the hell was I going to do with her when I finally had her? I was so fucked.

And then I stopped, my mind rolling over potential scenarios.

A wicked smirk curled on my face.

I might hate her, but I also might get delicious satisfaction in using up her hot little body to satisfy my deepest carnal desires. Maybe I’d keep her on a pretty little collar. Leashed to my bed. She didn’t have to be my mate. She could be my little whore instead.

And when I was done using her until she gave me the only thing she was truly good for, an heir, I would toss her aside or kill her, or whatever was convenient for me at the time.

Yes, that was a much better idea.

Of course, I could do none of that until I captured her. And then, I would also have to wait until she became of age for anything physical, because no matter how big of a prick I was, I had zero interest in touching juvenile shewolves.

Fuck. At this point, I didn’t even know her name, let alone her age. She had to still be in her teens. Her innocence had been too evident, too pronounced to be otherwise. I wondered if she’d even shifted yet. My Wolf rumbled his appreciation. He liked her untouched innocence. He licked his lips at the thought of running his tongue over that sweet flesh when we made her ours. I rolled my eyes and told him to get a grip. We still had years to wait.

However…that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy torturing her in the meantime. Nothing too painful for now. More humiliation than anything else. Maybe the collar idea wasn’t so bad. Not chained to my bed, but I could find some suitable place to put her on display as my little pet. Hmm…so many possibilities.

My father pulled me out of my dark fantasies. “Do you want some company for the conversation you’re having in your head or not?”

I turned to face him, voice razor-edged with sarcasm, “Okay. Here it is. My mate. Wanna guess who she might be?”

Intelligent eyes narrowed as he studied me.

He may have willingly stepped down from his Alpha position, but his intense gaze was still a bit unnerving, particularly when he knew and understood everything about me. I shifted my stance.

After a moment, he said slowly, “So, you’ve finally found your mate. Why so distressed?”

I grunted a humorless laugh. “Distressed is a teensy bit of an understatement. Livid might be a more accurate portrayal of the chaos in my head right now. Because the young lady in question is none other than the daughter of the late, great Alpha of the Diamonte Pack!

That caught his attention.

He sat forward, dark brown eyes boring into mine. His anger and fury glimmered on the surface, a result of our longtime feud with the Diamonte Pack. He’d fought against them many years before I had.

A slow, tense moment when by, as if he was waiting for me to admit it was all a sick joke. I wish. When that didn’t happen, he sat back and he exhaled heavily, “Shit.”

“Indeed,” I snapped.

He was too angry to be concerned with my sarcasm now.

He ground his teeth together. “Leander, you have to reject her. Send her away, or imprisoned her if you can’t kill her. But she cannot be your mate.”

I spoke softly, the burden of the situation wearing hard on my shoulders, “You know I can’t do that. It isn’t just my future at stake here. You know the potential for the pups that could be conceived through the power of our Claiming Ceremony. Not just mine, but mated pairs who might otherwise never have an opportunity.”

He shook his head, lip twisted in a snarl. He hated the idea as much as I did, but he remained silent. He knew I spoke the truth. This opportunity was rare. It came around once every generation. And only when the Alpha successfully claimed his rightful Luna—no other Wolf would do.

It was the one, and only, time the mated pairs of the pack could conceive without their females being in heat—pure magic for those wolves who were unable to achieve heat or had tried multiple times without success.

And the pups conceived during the Claiming Ceremony were different. They were more powerful, had more strength. Some even had unique gifts. All pups were cherished, but these pups were coveted. Even just a handful of them could change the future of the pack.

The process was physical and raw and messy but a responsibility I took seriously.

As soon as I marked my female, the clock started ticking. She would go into heat exactly four weeks later. When her heat began, we would be sequestered and alone in a small cottage. There was no need to reinforce it to keep out any unmated males because the entire pack of mated pairs would gather around the exterior, protecting and waiting. Listening. And when they heard their Luna’s first cries of orgasm, their celebration would begin.

Inside the cabin, my Luna and I would engage in a three-day fuck-fest. Not only would I come inside of her to create our pup, but we would work to ensure that our combined essences, hers and mine together, were spread over our skin. Arms, legs, torso, everywhere we could.

From my father’s description, the texture and scent would be different during these three days—sweet, not salty, and silky smooth, not sticky. We’d rub it in like some supernatural magical lotion and let it dry.

Outside the cabin, the mated pairs would feast and dance, day and night, excitement building, looking forward to the final night when we would emerge. And when we came out, we’d literally be swarmed, the females to her and the males to me, eager to transfer our combined essence of love-making from our skin to theirs. And the more they gathered, the better chance they had of conceiving, so it usually became quite physical.

When we had transferred all we could from our skin to theirs, the mated pairs would break away and copulate. Hell, most of them probably wouldn’t even make it home before they coupled together. Sometimes in fur. Sometimes in skin. Or a combination of both.

The scent of our sex would be so thick in the air by that point, it would drive their primal natures wild. Inhibitions stripped away. Privacy no longer a concern. There would be no shyness or awkwardness. Just a single-minded drive to procreate. Wherever and however they could.

I sighed heavily and sat down in the chair next to him, pouring myself a glass of whiskey.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my males rubbing themselves against me to collect the tangible essence of our love-making off my skin, but there was no other way. In the past, Alphas and their mates had tried containing the liquid on small towels, to be given out to the mated pairs, but it didn’t work. The magic could only be maintained on our living flesh. And I would never deprive them of this opportunity for pups. Nor would I allow my Luna to deprive them either.

However, none of that mattered until I could get my hands on the elusive little mouse.

She couldn’t have gotten far. I returned to my feet, glass in hand, with a renewed sense of purpose. There was no time to waste. I needed to get to work. And I knew just where I would start.

My father glanced up and raised an eyebrow knowingly. “Going to the dungeon?”

I threw back the rest of the drink, letting it burn and warm my stomach. “Yes, do you want to join me?”

He shook his head and took another slow sip. “Not tonight, son.”

I walked out without another word, leaving him alone to his thoughts. I was eager to begin the work I enjoyed.

Let’s see which wolves would break first.

Making my way down two flights of stairs, I unlocked the heavy silver-reinforced door and pushed it aside. Our dungeon wasn’t really a dungeon, per se, just a cement, steel-clad underground bunker with several, fun and unique torture devices.

I stopped and tilted my head, eyeing the violent machines that could twist and break either a Wolf or human in so many inventive ways. My lips curled into a sly grin. Maybe it was a dungeon, by definition, after all.

Turning toward our guests, I found two males and one female, all naked and chained to the wall with their arms over their heads, wrists burning from the attached silver clamps.

The spoils of war.

Already, my enforcers had shown them a good time. Bloody and bruised, deep claw marks, oozing thick crimson liquid, trailed down their bodies. Chunks of flesh were missing, courtesy of my wolves fangs, and spat out on the ground around us. It was quite a gory picture.

I doubted I’d have to do very much to get what I wanted.

I approached the female first. Head bent forward, matted and dirty hair hanging in her face, her chest heaved as she tried to breathe through the pain of her wounds.

With a finger under her jaw, I lifted her chin. “Look at me.”

Her head came up, her surprisingly blue eyes snapping to meet mine. Even in her agony, it was clear—she was not broken. She glared at me defiantly, chin raised, hands clenched into fists, trying to prepare her body for whatever I inflicted next.

I spoke softly and calmly, “Where is she? The Alpha’s daughter…” I stopped. And glanced over at Dagger, my general in charge of the enforcers and our army. “Please tell me you’ve at least determined her name.”

He gave me a wicked grin that would have his own mother cringing in fear. The motherfucker wasn’t quite right in the head. He liked their pain. Got off on it. But I didn’t care. It made him ruthless and effective.

He was covered in blood, none of it his own. He ran a callused hand through his barely-there brown hair, kept so short, it looked more like fuzz on his scalp than actual hair. Beady black eyes gleamed. “Name's Hycinth. Fifteen. Unshifted.”

Fifteen? Shit. She was young.

I turned back to the female who was still glaring at me with a death stare, and politely continued my earlier sentence, “Yes, the Alpha’s daughter, Hycinth. Where can I find her?”

“I’ll never tell you anything that helps you find that little girl!”

I nodded slowly and then stepped closer. Letting out a claw, I ran it along the side of her breast down to her abdomen, a gleaming red streak of blood following my path. She flinched but didn’t back down.

“I’m sure you’ve heard what happens to pretty little shewolves who end up in my dungeon. They become a treat for every unmated male who would like to practice his skills...or enjoy his fetishes. And when the males are done taking turns with you, their wolves will begin. Unfortunately, they are not quite so delicate with soft skin and flesh. It can get quite messy. But, no matter. You’ll heal quickly and be ready to do it all over again.”

There was actually no legitimate threat to my words. I would never allow any of my wolves to force a female. But she didn’t know that. And I knew we had a reputation for violence. It wouldn’t be a big leap for people who liked to gossip to embellish the details.

Her stricken expression revealed she believed every word I said. But her response shocked the fuck out of me. Blue eyes bore into mine as she snarled fiercely, “I’ll fuck you, you men, their wolves…and even the dogs before I tell you a damn thing!” She spoke with a passion that burned, hidden, but close enough to the surface to feel the heat.

My eyebrows rose in surprise. I studied her expression. I was good at determining which ones would break and which ones wouldn’t. She was serious. She would rather degrade herself to the basest level, give her body to be used in unimaginable ways, than ever be disloyal.

“You’re an honorable Wolf,” I murmured softly. “I wish circumstances were different, and I could trust you to join my pack. You'd be an incredible asset, value beyond any definable monetary worth.”

Her expression shifted to confusion. Now she just looked lost. The fiery shewolf could handle my anger, but she didn’t know what to do with my praise.

I continued sadly, “But we both know I can’t trust you because your loyalties could never be swayed. You have my respect and will be buried with honor.” Before she could say anything further, I released a knife from my sleeve and drove it into her heart.

Her eyes widened in shock for just an instant, before she slumped forward, dead.

I motioned toward one of my enforcers. “Get her down and do as I promised. Prepare her body. Find out if she has any family who wants her remains. If not, we’ll include her in our mourning ceremony.” Not a ceremony I was looking forward to. Many of our wolves also perished in the battle. I hated losing any Wolf, but the events of today needed to happen.

I waited until they removed her body from the room. And then focused on the remaining two men. The taller one had dirty blonde hair and glared at me in the same fashion as the female had. But he didn’t have that rare special spark of loyalty she had. Still, he would be the more difficult one between the two to break.

Getting right in his face, I made sure he paid attention and fully understood my words. “I’ll give you one chance—and one chance only—to tell me what I want to know. How can I find her? Where would she go? She couldn’t have just disappeared. I have wolves combing through the woods, and there’s no trace of her. Surely, a juvenile shewolf couldn’t evade seasoned enforcers without a plan and assistance. So what was it?”

His eyes glanced over at the newly empty chains where the dead female had hung. His body shuddered hard, and then he returned his gaze to me, glaring hatefully. He spat on my face. “Go to hell!”

I nodded. So that’s how it was going to be. Okay. He couldn’t say I didn’t warn him. I slowly wiped the spittle from my cheek with my sleeve and extracted a lovely eight-inch blade from the holster on my hip. The razor-sharp steel could cut through flesh like it was butter. His body tensed as he readied himself for whatever I threw at him next.

I chuckled darkly. No amount of preparation would ready him for what I was going to do.

It had already been a long day. I was tired and wanted to wrap this up sooner rather than later. And there was one part of the anatomy that spoke much more significantly to males than any other.

Without any word of warning, I grabbed his cock and sliced it off at the root.

His howl was deafening.

Blood gushed from the wound. I nodded over my shoulder to the healer I knew was waiting. The healer stepped forward and applied a patch that would keep the male from bleeding out until I finished.

I glanced at the third man. His mouth hung open in horror.

Oh yes, he would be ripe for the picking by the time I finished.

Kneeling down to get better positioning for my next task, I glanced to an enforcer on my right. “Grab his knee and lift,” I instructed calmly as if I was telling him something so mundane as to ‘open the door’ and not emasculating a man.

Even my men squirmed and blanched. A few cleared their throats, working to keep their dinners in their stomachs and not spewed out onto the cold cement floor. They were always queasy when the torture moved to a man’s groin—which was exactly why I did it. To keep them all in line. I wanted them to never forget what I was capable of. To never even entertain the mere thought of trying to fuck me over.

The man was now writhing in pain and shrieked, “Safehouse!” Tears streamed down his cheeks. He gulped air, but not enough to steady the erratic pace of his heart. “She…she would have gone there!”

I sliced into the top of his scrotum. “Where is the safe house located?”

“I don’t know!” He screamed shrilly. His body convulsed. Blood poured from between his legs.

I sighed. He was telling me the truth. It was time to move on to the next one.

With a snap of my wrist, I completed the task. His severed ballsac fell to the ground. The healer wouldn’t intervene this time. The male would bleed out in minutes. His body jerked as he lost consciousness, chin falling to his chest. A few more twitches and he slumped against the stocks holding him. Nothing, no movement at all, just deadweight.

I stood to my feet and wiped the blade on my dark cargo pants. Oh well, I was going to discard the garment anyway. Stepping in front of the last male, I drawled “Do I need to repeat the question?”

I had no doubt he was more than willing to talk. Hopefully, he knew something. It would be unfortunate for him if he didn’t.

“N-no…” he stuttered, shaking almost as if violently as the other one. “The s-safehouse is a m-mile north.” He panted, trying to catch his breath.

I waited patiently.

“There is a t-tunnel…that leads from the Alpha’s kitchen.”

Oh! Now it all made sense. That was why I couldn’t follow her scent, and why my wolves hadn’t been able to track her in the forest. I smiled. Clever little mouse. She had dropped underground.

But not clever enough. She belonged to me.

And no matter what it took, I would find her.

Hopefully, the fire had died out. I didn't relish the idea of digging through piles of rubble to locate the entrance to the tunnel.

After a few more questions and answers, I had everything I needed. Perfect. I grunted to Dagger, “Finish him, quickly, and get ready to go.”

..........

A few hours later, we found the safehouse.

I’d hoped to catch her unaware.

I was disappointed. She wasn’t there.

My nostrils flared, taking in the scents in the air. Sweet but also a little exotic, orchid, jasmine, and cinnamon. I inhaled deeply, shuddering, as I let out the breath. My Wolf was anxious, pacing in my head.

As I looked around at the underground bunker, I had to admit, the Alpha’s plan was well thought out. Perfectly hidden in a part of the mountain I never would have suspected.

Abruptly, my Beta, Everard, swore, “Shit!”

Damn it! What now?

He called over his shoulder, “You’re not going to like this.”

I made my way through the mass of wolves, digging for clues in every corner. When I reached Ever, I looked over his shoulder. He was kneeling next to an open-latched door, revealing a large compartment under the floor.

He’d already dumped out one of the large black bags, hidden inside, and scattered the contents on the rough-hewn wooden floorboards. There were the usual items, food, clothing. And cash. A hell of a lot of cash.

Enough to keep someone hidden and flush for an extended period of time.

My irritation flared higher. No, this wasn’t looking good.

But that wasn’t what he was holding in his hand, examining so intently.

He was holding identification, driver’s license, social security card, and even a birth certificate. I peered at the photo on the driver’s license. Ironically enough, it was the woman I had just killed.

Before he died, the third Wolf confirmed the deceased shewolf’s name so we could try to find her family. She’d been the Beta’s mate. The problem was, her name didn’t match the name on the documents in front of me.

That could only mean one thing.

The bug-out bags weren’t random or interchangeable. Each had been prepared for a specific Wolf and held a fake identity, a fresh start.

I was no longer looking for Hycinth Diamonte. And fuck me sideways, I didn’t know who I was looking for now. I had no idea what identity she was using.

“These are really good,” Ever muttered, turning the driver’s license over and examining the quality of the fake. He held it up to the light. “It even has the hologram.”

Fucking fantastic.

He dropped the document onto the pile of items and looked back down into the hole. “She’s not alone. There’s enough room to indicate two bags are missing.”

“I know,” I growled through my teeth. “A male.”

I’d caught his scent—their combined scent—when I’d come in the room. My Wolf tremored hard inside, raging against my skin confines. He wanted out. I pushed him back.

I straightened my spine. Okay. If it was a game the little mouse wanted to play, I was all for it.

Let’s play.

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