I hadn’t seen her for days. I knew she was avoiding me, and I knew she was right to, but that didn’t ease the pain that the distance brought me. I couldn’t get Asenna out of my head. The way her voice always had a tinge of a growl in it. The way she picked at her nails whenever she was nervous. The way her eyes flashed like ice in the sun. Goddess, even they the way she touched me right before pressing her silver dagger against my skin. Even her torturing me would be better than not seeing her at all.
While my mind was stuck on my estranged mate, my father decided it was time for me to help with the peace summit. I couldn’t forgive him for what he had done, but I had to play it cool. He couldn’t know about my connection with Asenna, or that she was refusing to train me. It was safer for her if I kept my mouth shut for now.
“Son! Over here.” My father called from the other end of the ballroom. His voice echoed against the marble floors and it made my wolf want to lash out.
“Coming.” I said, keeping my voice devoid of interest as I set down the guest list I was going through.
He was standing with another man, both of them equally formal and stiff looking. I understood that every Alpha was noble and formidable, but did they have to always look like they had a stick up their asses? They were talking to each other, pleasantries no doubt from the diplomatic look on my father’s face. The man may be a sociopath, but he knew how to keep his allies- which would make it difficult for Asenna to be heard.
“Caleb, this is my son, Ryker.” My father said, gesturing to me.
The man regarded me with a slight smile and a nod. His black hair was shaved short and his brown eyes were dull and uninspired against his rich, dark skin. “Ryker, your father says you’re starting to learn what it means to be an Alpha.” He said, offering his hand to me.
“Yes, sir.” I choked out, taking his outstretched hand and shaking it. What it meant to be an Alpha. It was laughable. If senseless murder and genocide is what made an Alpha, I wanted no part of it.
“Caleb is the Alpha of the Ridgeland Pack. I was just telling him about all the hard work you’ve been putting into your training lately.” My father boasted with sickening smugness. “He’s going to be the best of us yet.”
My gut clenched at his words.
“He’s told me all about this Spartan that has been training you.” Caleb said with interest. “Remarkable how she has made it all this time, isn’t it?” He looked between us. “She must have a great deal of knowledge. You will share it with the rest of us in time, I’m sure.” His white teeth stood out so starkly in his dark complexion.
“Yes, but we must not press her too far should we?” My dad interjected. “She’s in such a delicate state given all she’s gone through. Miss Asenna is first and foremost a guest here.” I could see the cunning malice behind the veil of concern and sympathy, but Caleb was blind to it.
“Of course, my King.” Caleb replied before turning to me. “Just remember, Alpha Prince, don’t ever trust a survivor. You never know what they’ve done in order to survive.”
I could hear the sincerity in his voice, but his words only fueled the already burning anger inside me. I didn’t like what he was insinuating about Asenna.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” My voice was tense, the smile on my face tight.
As I was about to make my escape, I heard a shrill squeaky voice come from the grand entry way.
“Alpha Marcus!” Skylar squealed, twitching her hips as she made her way toward us. This type of forced sex appeal had lost its effect on me. Asenna never tried to look attractive or sexy. She was just herself. And that made her irresistible.
“Miss Skylar!” My father beamed, oblivious to me chagrin. “Alpha Caleb, this is our dear future Luna.”
My blood boiled at the thought. There was no way I was going through with this set up anymore. Before I had found my true mate, I was open to settling with someone else. It was a necessity that the future Alpha have a Luna at his side. My mother had long abandoned us, so the role had been vacant for years. Needless to say, my dad wanted his say in the selection process.
Skyler was gushing over the attention. “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Alpha Caleb. I am so excited for the upcoming summit. I just love meeting the other packs! Don’t you, Ryker?” She looped her arm through mine and I fought the urge to peel her off me.
“Um, yeah. It’s really great.” My voice was clearly unenthused, and my father eyed me carefully.
“Well, we have a few more preparations to make for this weekend.” My father said, clapping a hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Coming son?”
“No.” I said, sliding my arm out of Skyler’s vice grip. “I, uh, think I’m going to go for a run. Check the perimeter, make sure nothing is out of the ordinary.” My excuse must have worked, because my dad nodded with a slight smile. As he left with Caleb, I saw his face filled with pride- something I had wished to see on his face for years. It made me sick.
“What’s your deal, Ry?” Skylar asked, her voice losing its former sugary sweetness.
“I don’t know what your talking about.” My voice was cold, my posture tensed. I started to make my way to the doors that led out to the manor courtyard, but she cut me off.
Her golden hair swayed and bobbed as she spoke. “Oh, yes you do. Why are you so caught up in that rogue anyway? She’s completely feral! You honestly think she’s the right fit for you?”
I tried to step around her, my temper rising. I didn’t want to argue, but Skylar seemed hell bent on it.
“What happened to you and me, huh?” She pressed, attempting the sad doe eyes that used to make me give in to her. Her hands ran up my arms, trying to tempt me. “We used to have all sorts of fun together. We could go back to the way things were.” Her manicured nails were running over my chest. “You know I’m what’s best for you and this Pack. Just forget about the rogue bitch.”
I grabbed her wrists and held them tightly in my hands. Her eyes widened in alarm and she cowered slightly. I towered over her, my voice now a thick growl emanating from my chest. “If you say another word about her, I promise you it will be your last.” Skylar looked away from me, my Alpha nature compelling her to submit. A slight whimper escaped her. “Is that understood?” I barked, my harsh voice echoing off the walls around us.
“Yes!” She squeaked.
I let her go and she scrambled away from me, rubbing her wrists. Skylar didn’t dare look back. I usually kept my control, but I was tired of pretending, tired of burying everything I was feeling.
I stalked out of the manor, my emotions a storm inside my head. I wasted no time in stripping down and shifting as soon as I reached the city limits. I felt a sudden sense of freedom rush through me as my dark wolf wandered through the forest. My nose took in the air, scenting the different aromas. I could smell the wolves from the Ridgeland Pack, the faint honey and lavender aroma of Asenna, but there was someone else. Something almost familiar.
I could smell Bryce, but his scent was different. His usual smell was tinged with something foul and acrid. I followed the trail of the scent, my nose wrinkling as it got stronger.
The trail brought me to a small lakeside. The same lake that I had found out Asenna was my mate. I looked around the scenery, remembering that day as if it had happened years ago. I was about to turn back and continue my aimless wandering, but a rustling came from the brush across the shoreline. My ears swiveled forward and I crouched low and ready. From the bushes stepped a ragged looking sandy wolf. His fur had patches missing and his eyes were wild. His breath came out in clouds against the chilled air as he held my gaze.
Bryce. I spoke to him through the mental link. You look like hell, man. Why haven’t you come home?
There was no answer from the wolf. He just continued to stare at me with those vacant amber eyes.
Talk to me, Bryce. I tried again and was met with the same result- silence.
He flashed his teeth and growled at me before turning and slinking back into the cover of the woods. This wolf wasn’t the strong and cheery friend that I had grown up with. His smell was rank with decay and he was clearly unwell. Seeing him now, it was clear that Bryce wasn’t coming back. He had turned his back on his people and forgotten his loyalty to his Pack.
Bryce was a rogue.