2 | Never Forget
“How many times do you need reminding? Excuses will never save you.”
She should’ve known better than to talk and try to explain herself. As the silver-threaded whip came down on her flesh, once more tearing into her already bleeding back, she reminded herself to keep her tongue behind her teeth and remain silent. It was the deepest sign of disrespect to talk back to her Alpha, especially while receiving discipline.
“Don’t you comprehend how many lives you put at risk by failing to inform me of the situation?” he continued, his words punctuated not by a question but by another snap of the whip.
Mara already felt enough guilt for forgetting to file the report about contamination at the water plant, so to have her Alpha made aware of her mistake was doubly painful. It wasn’t the slashes on her back that stung, but the disappointment in his voice. The instrument of rebuke in his hands was deadly when needed, but he had a way of remaining gentle with her even in the midst of punishment. Many had suffered harsher fates under his rule, so she considered herself fortunate to be so cared for by her Alpha.
She knew the punishment was over when he laid his hand on the back of her neck. Subtle sparks from his touch cascaded over her skin, increasing the healing of her wounds. Bleeding flesh knit back together, and as his grip on her neck tightened, she stood to face him.
Guilt still berated her, making it impossible to meet his eyes. She knew he was studying her, felt the way his gaze tracked over her face, down her neck, and across her chest where rivulets of blood had run over her shoulders. The movement of his gaze was like a tangible touch, and goosebumps scurried in its wake. The chilly air in the room wasn’t the only cause of her shivers.
“Mara, look at me,” Alpha Lucas commanded.
His dark eyes were made even darker by the dim lighting in the discipline chamber three sub-levels below his personal estate. Thick locks of black hair hung low over his eyebrows, further mystifying his stern expression. When his eyes narrowed on her face, her breath hitched and her heart thumped faster.
Every cell in her body demanded she submit to his intense domination. His tall stature and powerful physique were enough to command every member of his pack, Black Halo. But it wasn’t just physical traits that made him worthy to be their leader.
Alpha Lucas was the most revered and respected Alpha amongst the neighbouring territories. Rumours spoke of the packs’ fear of him, but Mara knew it wasn’t just that. He had earned his title and accumulated so much land through more than hard work, strategic planning, fierce protection of his people, and endless grit against their enemies.
For decades, he’d led them into prosperity and freedom, built cities that housed thousands, and developed technologies that surpassed the Council’s own. His wisdom had guided the pack while his strength defended them. There was no other Alpha she’d bow her knee to. Alpha Lucas, having saved her life on countless occasions, was her everything.
A flicker of silver light illuminated the depths of his sapphire blue irises, and she stared into his eyes like a drowning woman clinging to a lifeline. As he leaned towards her, closing the distance between them, her body tingled in anticipation.
The warmth of his lips on her forehead seeped through her skin and ran down her body in a wave of forgiveness. This was the custom for wolves after they were disciplined. After the Alpha dealt them the harshness of punishment, and their loyalty prodded them to kneel in repentance to him, he would forgive them with a symbolic kiss to the forehead. It sealed their allegiance, and reminded them of their bond to the Alpha. His kiss pulsed on her skin for hours to come, ensuring she didn’t stray from his will.
He scooped her up in his strong arms, careful not to place pressure on her aching back as it healed, and began the long climb up the winding staircase outside the discipline chamber.
She nestled her face in his neck, inhaling his scent that was a mixture of rainforest and burning embers. The complexity of his scent, of the layers that were so uniquely him, always soothed and excited her at the same time. He had a way of putting her at ease while making her nervous. “I’m sorry for making that mistake. I feel terrible--”
“Shh,” Alpha Lucas hushed her, brushing her hair with his lips. “Apologies don’t fix anything, Mara. You know that.”
Her heart constricted, and she felt chastised all over again even though his rebuke was gentle.
“Words are pointless. I need you to show me you’re sorry,” he continued, finally reaching the level where her apartment was situated.
This was one of his many exclusive residential buildings for the high ranking and elite members of the pack. At forty-nine storeys tall, Kéntro rose above every other business, corporate and residential skyscraper in the city of Obsidian. It was also the place he stayed when living in this city, when not splitting his time across the other metropolitan and regional shires of his expanding territory.
Mara’s apartment was one floor below the Alpha’s penthouse, and occasionally she’d be invited up to his place. It was a great honour to be so esteemed by the Alpha, but now she was too ashamed to even dream he’d take her there.
Nodding her head to his admonition, she meekly agreed while stepping towards her bathroom. Her apartment was spacious without being lavishly grand. The barest furnishings suited her taste, while the simple decor hinted at her minimal lifestyle. She never bought anything she didn’t really need; wasting materials and resources went against her nature of conservation and preservation. The marble benchtops in her small kitchen had been sustainably recycled from preloved materials, while the rugged oak dining table and chairs were from forestry that was grown to rehabilitate badly eroded land. The bathroom was sparkling clean, her vanity stacked with organisers that kept her makeup and hair products tidy.
The hot water from the shower stung the raw skin on her back, but she scrubbed until all the blood no longer stained her tanned body. Her knees trembled from the ordeal but she gritted her teeth until her strength returned. As she toweled her hair, she wandered into her room to choose some clothes, and found the Alpha sitting patiently in the middle of her bed. He was shirtless, the inky tattoos on his broad chest stark against the backdrop of her white quilt.
It always caught her off guard to find him in her room. Seeing his large and masculine presence in her small space was a contrast she’d never get used to. On occasion, he’d surprise her here with an exquisite dress he wished her to wear to dinner, or a bouquet of flowers he’d sourced from a distant pack. Now, he held a jar of soothing balm in his hands, and motioned to the bed with just his eyes.
She didn’t need an Alpha command in order to obey. Her wolf submitted to every glance or vague nod of his head, wave of his hand or tilt of his chin. She’d become adept at reading her Alpha, but there was still plenty about him that remained enigmatic. For instance, why was he so gentle towards her in moments like these, while his eyes could be cold like a block of uncut granite at others? She’d learned from a young age to never question, argue, push back or second guess his orders, suggestions or commands. Remaining in Alpha Lucas’ good graces was her entire purpose in life.
His fingers were like an angel’s as they first combed her long black hair and pulled it up in a bun atop her head, then worked the healing balm into her sensitive back. His finger’s warmth accompanied with the soft coconut oil and manuka honey worked its way into every layer of skin and soothed the pain in her soul. She’d disappointed him, but he was still ready to treat her so tenderly. It brought tears to her eyes.
When he was done, he tugged a silk camisole over her head and then leaned close to her ear. His breath tickled the fine hairs on her neck as his strong scent overwhelmed her. “Now, are you going to be clever like I know you can be?”
He could have said so many different words besides clever, such as obedient, good, smart or sensible. But he knew she’d always doubted her own genius despite her receiving the best grades in all her classes at school. And so, he chose to reassure her at a time when she berated herself the most.
A dozen different responses to him flew into her mind -- apologies, excuses, promises--but they were just as quickly dismissed knowing how they would be received. She knew what he really wanted her to say, so she settled with what she knew could work. It had before.
She turned to face him, her hand resting on his thigh to support her weight. A teasing smile made its way to her lips. “Depends. Are you going to kiss me like you did last night, Alpha?” She placed her other hand on his chest, relishing the feel of his heart speeding up.
A sly grin lifted the corner of his mouth. “You know I will.”
His lips then crashed on hers, his arms reaching around to pull her securely to himself. The heat of his body against hers sent avalanches of sparks through her, dispelling the shadows and doubts like it always did.
His hands found the back of her thighs, hoisting her onto his lap so her legs wrapped around his waist. With her hands braced on his broad shoulders, she watched his face as he climbed off the bed then turned around. A smirk grew on his ruggedly soft lips before he threw her down onto the black satin sheets.
She winced at the pain on her back from the punishment, but smothered her expression. The sting diminished a second later, and from one look at her Alpha’s heavy gaze and finely toned physique, a small giggle escaped her throat. She sank further into the pillows and beckoned him closer with a slender finger. She knew he loved the feeling of her long nails raking down his back, just as much as she loved the way his muscles rippled under her touch.
“I like hearing you laugh,” he remarked, crawling onto the bed until his face was again inches from hers.
His gaze, heavy with desire, nearly made her forget all the pain he’d caused. Nearly. His words were meant to make her smile, but they caused the moment of delight to slip from her face. An unsettled feeling prickled the edges of her heart as it always did when the full intensity of his dominant gaze rested on her. He was powerful enough to stop her heart beating with a single wave of his fingers. No one really knew the origin of such a trait, but no one questioned it. The dread of walking the fine line between the Alpha’s approval and anger was enough to keep most wolves allegiant, and Mara had lived in fear of him until he’d shown her the kind of lover he could be.
Still, there were times his stern discipline caused her emotions to run unchecked. “You seem to make me cry a lot.”
His expression also changed, a shadow of disdain creeping over his face and swirling in his eyes. He sighed impatiently as if she were a petulant child, then looked down at her and tenderly brushed a thumb across her cheek. “Tears are a sign of your weaknesses. Everything I’ve done is to make you stronger, Mara. Never forget that,” he told her, a sharpness to his tone that had shivers stabbing towards her inner being.
Then his gentle kiss elicited sparks that raced over her lips, igniting a longing in her core that couldn’t be denied no matter what ephemeral words he whispered in her ear. He only did it to build her; to make her better. And he demanded gratitude. “Thank you, Alpha Lucas,” she breathed against his mouth.
He squeezed her thigh in approval. “That’s my girl.”
The simple declaration had her heart racing and blood rushing through her body with a high that rivaled any addictive drug. He was her Alpha, and she knew a physical relationship like this could turn sour. What if she found her mate? What if Alpha Lucas decided to replace her with someone permanent?
These doubts always tortured her when she was alone, but when she was in his arms, they scurried from her mind like gutter rats racing to hide. He took her higher than anyone else, infusing her body with ecstasy like nothing else could. When her personal fears and pain became too much, he’d swoop in and lift her from the darkness. She kept going back for more. She was addicted to the sunshine that twisted her day to night whenever he chose.
His touch was her drug, destroying her then bringing her back from the edge of death like an angel on wings. Only a devil could stop the hellfire from snatching her up. Only the Alpha could make her forget the darkness that resided in both their hearts.
After making sure they were both satisfied, he placed one last heavy kiss on her neck before rolling off the bed. His departure left her body cold, a sense of emptiness filling the space in her soul he’d just consumed. “On your way to your mother’s, drop by Balthazar and give him this,” Alpha Lucas said to her, turning to press something in her hand.
Opening her fingers, her heart skipped a beat at the sight of a rare flower. It grew only in the hidden valleys between the slopes of Aelegard Mountains. The terrain was treacherous and only few knew the way, making the blossom beyond value.
“Thank you, Alpha,” she whispered, unable to trust her voice as emotion welled from the centre of her heart and clutched her throat. “Do you … do you think we’ll be able to find a cure for my mum before…?” The words got stuck on her tongue.
“Oh, darling,” Lucas sighed, leaning over her and brushing the back of his fingers down her cheek. “We’ll find it. I promise. We’re so close, and I’m not giving up until we do, alright?” He pecked her nose affectionately.
She nodded, lifting her glistening eyes to his as she blinked back tears. She knew how much he hated when she cried.
Only after he’d left her apartment did she let the tears fall. Quickly tugging on underwear, jeans, and a knit, she knew she had no time to give in to her misery. Alpha Lucas was right-- tears accomplished nothing. She encased the blue rocket flower in a tiny jar, grabbed her leather jacket and satchel from the table by the door, and took the elevator down to ground level.
The bright sunshine of midday greeted her on her way out to her bike. Her Kawasaki Ninja sat parked in the residents’ carpark, and she relished the feel of the sleek seat and smooth engine as she accelerated and pulled out into the busy traffic. Vehicle exhaust filled her nostrils, so she pulled up the mask under her helmet and only breathed easier once she reached the technological district of the city. Large buildings had been built along each corner of the district, purposely designed as ventilation stacks to purify the air around the laboratories and innovation hubs.
She pulled through the gates of the pharmaceutical centre, a sprawling compound that housed the latest in medical technology and equipment. The technicians and scientists at these particular labs were working to find the safest and most effective treatments against extreme UV and low humidity in the increasingly deteriorating atmosphere. But their most important research was on the rare disease that had begun to plague this pack’s members--Black Bone.
“Hey Uncle Bel, what’s new?” she called out after swiping her access card and entering Balthazar’s lab in the centre of the compound. It was the largest, and well-lit with an atrium in the middle to allow natural light inside.
“What have I told you about calling me that, Kiddo?” Bel quirked a brow as he looked up from his microscope. His ebony hair was shaggy, indicating the number of times he’d run his long fingers through it, and his light brown eyes were narrowed in irritation.
The grin behind his frown told her it was safe to tease. “I’ll stop calling you uncle the day you stop calling me kiddo.”
“Fair enough,” he shrugged in response, removing his glasses and wiping the lenses with a corner of his white lab coat. “So what can I do for you, woman,” he emphasised the word with a once-over, looking her up and down before giving a decidedly satisfied nod of his head.
She pushed her shoulders back in response to his scrutiny, and reciprocated the smile with a confident one of her own. Despite his age, he looked as young as wolves in her generation. The interesting thing about the Alpha and his closest command was how little they physically aged and how attractive they were. Mara couldn’t even tell you how old the Alpha and Bel really were. Lucas had been the Alpha of Black Halo as long as she could remember, yet he still radiated more primal energy and dominance than every other male in his prime. Bel had been by his side for decades, closer even than a Beta.
“I have something from Alpha.” She handed Bel the jar with the Aconitum lycoctonum blossom inside.
He gave a low whistle as he took it. “Looks like Lucas forgave you quickly. You must have been very….obedient.” He gave her a smarmy look.
She lifted her chin defiantly. “We all do our bit for the good of the economy.”
“I’m sure we do,” he replied knowingly before turning to the cabinets behind him and pulled out a vial of azure liquid. “So...one dose for dear old mum?”
“She’s not old,” Mara immediately retorted, snatching the vial before he changed his mind. If there was one thing worse than being teased for the birth mark on her arm, it was being laughed at for having an older than average mother. So what if her mum was old enough to be a grandma when she gave birth to Mara? It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t have a pup sooner. “She’s younger than you are.”
“Touché. But numbers don’t mean a thing to us wolves. You know I’m happy to show you just how fine a physical specimen I am,” Bel offered, spreading his arms in invitation as he gave her a wink.
“Four letters for you, Uncle. Y.U.C.K.” She rolled her eyes, familiar with his flirting and this kind of banter.
“Can’t blame me for not trying. What I don’t understand is, what does the Alpha have that I don’t?”
Mara crossed her arms over her chest. “My heart. That’s what he has.”
Bel pouted and clutched his chest. “You gave me your heart years ago, Honey bun.”
“And you know that’s different. You’re like the father I never had. Would you rather I call you dad?”
“You could call me daddy.” He grinned, displaying his perfect rows of teeth.
She nearly choked. “And you could stop being a paedophile.”
“Come on, Mara. You’ve been of age for two years now,” he turned serious, and she suddenly found herself taking him seriously.
She took a deep breath and faced him head on. She couldn’t deny Balthazar was a handsome and alluring man, and most women in the pack would give a kidney to be favoured with so much of his attention. His power and dominance was rivalled only by the Alpha, and his unmated status gave him eligibility that many vied for.
But to Mara he was like family, having taken in her and her mother shortly after they’d arrived in the territory alone, homeless, and fatherless. She’d grown up with him doting on her, but was slowly beginning to realise how his affections had morphed since she’d matured. “And the Alpha’s taken care of me since.”
“I won’t deny that. But all the same; I’m here when you need a shoulder to cry on,” Bel reminded her gently, a hint of hopefulness in his voice.
Mara wanted to roll her eyes again to break the heaviness of the atmosphere surrounding them. A part of her wished he’d go back to teasing, but his final words blazed in her mind as if he could read the doubts she had there all day.
A shoulder to cry on.
Bel never minded her tears. He used to make her a hot chocolate with three marshmallows when she’d come home from primary school, crying over the treatment from the other girls. Or he’d give her a witty piece of advice when she’d been ignored by her highschool crush.
Sometimes he’d even sit by her side as she silently stared at her father’s memorial stone in the Square of Remembrance. She’d never met her real dad, but with the stories told by her mum and his leather jacket she always wore, she felt close to him and her heart would physically ache on the anniversary of his brutal death. Bel had helped fill that hole, little by little, until she couldn’t imagine life without him.
She pondered his advancements with humour as she rode her motorbike out beyond the suburbs to her mother’s cottage in the northern rural district of Black Halo. Bel cared for her like a daughter, so it was clear he was just jealous of how much time she now spent with the Alpha, intimate and otherwise.
Thoughts of Alpha Lucas brought a shadow to the lightness that had lifted her mood. He had always fascinated her with his powerful aura and dominance, devastating looks and enigmatic eyes, and absolute confidence in himself as Alpha and leader of their pack. These traits had naturally drawn her to him, but it had been the day he saved her life that first prodded her to trust him with her heart.
And today, to have seen the disappointment towards her in his usually vibrant eyes, the desire to please him and regain his approval burned even stronger. She had been so careless, forgetting to file the report on water contamination at the purification plant. It wasn’t something she normally forgot, so the Alpha was justified in delivering stern punishment. She needed to learn never to make the same mistake again.
But what had caused her to be so forgetful? Wracking her brain, she recalled the events of yesterday, of finishing up at the plant with her colleague, riding home together after taking a detour to swim downstream, then checking the message on her phone that informed of her mother’s latest accident.
She’d raced back to the city and found her mum curled up at the medical clinic, the entire left side of her body purple from her bruising fall.
The results of her water test had completely fled her mind, leading to the residents of Coastside district drinking potentially toxic water for a further 18 hours before her mistake had been found out.
It was a wonder the Alpha still allowed her to stay in Kéntro when she couldn’t even do her job right. He had no tolerance for wolves who couldn’t pull their weight, especially with precious resources that were so critical to survival.
How many more times would she let him down before he decided she had to leave the pack?