Beauty in the Beast

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Chapter 20

My dad was waiting for me downstairs to escort me to the ceremony like most unmated females would be doing.

“You look beautiful.” He smiled at me and pulled my body into a warm hug. “Here.” He wrapped a necklace around me and clipped it in place.

“This was Moms.” My hand fiddled the emeralds that now hung from my neck. I recognized it from her jewelry box. My mother was never one to wear fancy jewelry but she sure did have a stash of it kept locked away for a rainy day.

“You look just like her.” My dad brushed his finger across my cheek. “We should get going.” He whispered. I nodded in agreement and linked my arm in his as he lead me to the car.

The woods where we all met was set for the scene. Little rocks pressed together to form a giant circle where the males would fight for their mates in the middle of the grounds. Beside the edge of the stones was a simplified throne for the Alpha to watch the festivities. On the other side of the throne was a makeshift platform for the female to stand, stone steps for her to reach the victor of her heart. Everyone else just watched from outside the circle of stones.

The earth was cold enough that my heels didn’t sink into the ground, but my werewolf temperature kept me from being too cold in the thin fabric.

“Damn, Emma, you clean up nice.” Natalie complimented. I smiled at her because something inside me said she was being genuine.

“Thanks, you look great too.”

“I know.” There she was, the Natalie we all knew and kind of liked. I was skimming the crowd, but I knew it was stupid of me. The males weren’t permitted to speak the the unmated females until after the Mating Ritual was finished.

“Who are you looking for?” Natalie asked.

“No one.”

The Elders filed through and I knew that meant it was time to start. None of us knew the order in which we would be chosen but we had to be ready no matter what. Daniel stepped up dressed to perfection, Nick right behind him. He looked handsome in his tux, but so out of place. He took his seat on the throne and waved to Daniel.

“Welcome.” Everyone silenced themselves when he spoke. “Bow your head as we pray to the Moon Goddess.”

Daniel went along with his speech on the rules of the Mating Ritual but we knew them all. As much as I haven’t been looking forward to the Mating Ritual, I just wanted it to start so it could finish.

Josephine, the sly fox who tricked me, extended her hand toward the crowd.

“Krista Vanfleek.” The first name being called sent shivers down my exposed back. This was it, there was no running now, not that the thought crossed my mind. The shame it would bring to my dad would never be able to recover. I couldn’t do that to him.

Krista stepped out in a beautiful golden dress and took Josephine’s hand. The Elder led her to the platform, holding her hand the entire way up the stone stairs. Krista turned to the pack with a small smile on her face.

“The male who wishes to mate Krista Vanfleek, step to the stones.” I don’t think anyone was expecting a male to step forward, Krista herself said it. She had no expectations. Yet, there he was. Ryan, an Omega and friend of Emmett, stepped through the crowd. He dropped his coat and began to undress in front of the whole pack. As he stepped into the stones he fell to his paws and walked his wolf form over to Krista, all while staying within the circle of the stones. “Krista, step down and accept or reject your mate.” Ryan laid on his side and rolled to his back, exposing his belly in submission. Krista all but jumped from the platform, reaching down and petting Ryan’s belly. Our first mated pair of the night. The Elders cleared the circle and ushered Ryan and Krista to the Alpha’s side of the circle. “Chloe McFadden.” Josephine continued with the ceremony. She took Chloe’s hand and led her to the platform just as she’d done with Krista. Chloe’s ceremony was identical as Krista’s except no one was surprised by Kyle morphing into the ring. Once again, the Elders hurried them next to Krista and Ryan and moved on to another unmated female. Then another, and another. “Natalie Whey.” I held my breath. Natalie looked looked the part but she was there for the show. As Josephine’s voice bellowed through the pack I expected a crowd of wolves to enter the ring for a chance with her, yet not one stepped forward. “The males who wishes to mate Natalie Whey, step to the stones.” Josephine repeated herself as if we all didn’t hear her. She gave the pack a few more seconds to respond. “Very well then.” She took Natalie’s hand and assisted her back into the crowd. I can’t say I’m surprised no male wanted to mate Natalie. She jumped from male to male with the intent to have a good time, not settle down. But Natalie wasn’t the only wolf to have no suitors. A few more females I only knew from school stepped up to the platform only to step right back down. Some were simple like Krista and Chloe’s, but others had more than one male scuffle in the ring. There was bloodshed but no death. I haven’t seen a death during the Mating Ritual since I’d been born. My palms were sweaty as more females were called upon the platform and I waited my turn, praying to the Moon Goddess that I was somehow forgotten.

“Emma Clark.” The sound of Josephine calling my name caught my breath. I was the last single female to be called upon. Josephine’s wrinkled hand reached out to mine as we made eye contact. A part of me wanted to turn and run, but I knew that wasn’t an option. I steadied my hand as best as I could as I reached up and placed it in her cold grasp. With my free hand I held my dress so I wouldn’t step on it as I made my way to the platform. I let out a slow breath before I turned to my pack. The butterflies in my stomach were made of acid, oh Moon Goddess, I was gonna throw up on all of them. “The male who wishes to mate Emma Clark, step to the stones.” My heart was beating out of my chest, I could feel my necklace jump from the vibrations. I held my breath the second I saw Emmett. He looked great in his tuxedo, almost too good for him to take it off. He slid off the jacket and as he unbuttoned his shirt, Derek stepped up beside him. He wasn’t wearing his jacket and his sleeves were rolled to his elbows. Classic Derek, can’t even follow the dress code. The two stared each other down before they finished taking their clothes off and shifting into their wolf forms. This was the moment I’ve been dreading. Derek and Emmett were about to rip each other to pieces.

My eyes, as well as the entire pack’s eyes, fell to the Alpha as Nick stood to his feet. What was he doing? Was he stopping the Mating Ritual? Nick slid his jacket off his shoulders and handed it to Daniel. He stepped down from the throne and pulled his shirt apart until his muscular chest was exposed. He didn’t take the rest of his clothes off, he morphed into his wolf form, letting the fabric split and fall to the ground. He stepped over the stone circle and no one moved. No one spoke. I was picking my jaw up off the ground when reality slapped me square in the face. Nick Slater, the Alpha of our pack, was going to fight Derek and Emmett to be my mate.

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