“I said smile.”
Rose put on a fake smile as her mother, Moira, led her into the large hall. She had a firm grasp on Rose’s upper arm as if to prevent her from running away. The hall was slowly filling up with men and women.
“Mum! Ease up. You’re hurting me.”
Moira slackened her grip slightly but did not let go.
“What’s the plan of action?” Nigel, Rose’s father, ask as he joined them on the other side of Rosemary.
“Well, I was thinking of starting with the quiches, then the sandwiches, and finishing off with cheese and crackers,” Rose replied sarcastically causing her mother to tighten her grip on her arm again. Her father just shook his head at her and lead the two women to the front of the stage where everyone was gathering.
A man in his late 50s with greying hair was on the stage setting up the microphone with some struggle. After five minutes of watching him, everyone was getting restless and grumbling amongst themselves.
“Someone should go up and help him,” Rose whispered but no sooner had she said that two young men had joined the man on the stage and helped him with his microphone troubles. There was a slight cheer from the crowd as the two men jumped down and re-joined the crowd, earning pats on their backs. The man stood up to the microphone and cleared his throat. Everyone fell silent.
“Thank you, thank you. Welcome everybody to this year’s Mate Gathering. To old faces, I say welcome back. Now, I hope that everyone is here and ready. The Mate Gathering is a werewolf tradition that goes back centuries and while in some respects it may seem outdated,” Rose scoffed at that earning herself a glare from her mother, “it is just the way that things are done, and it ensures that our packs stay strong and pure. Now, most of you are aware of how the Mate Gathering operates but for those that don’t I will explain. Over the next five hours, our she-wolves must do their best to attract a man, to win him over, to make him choose her above all others by mingling and getting to know one another. Once the five hours is up the she-wolves will go into the other room and come in one by one where the men will bid on who gets to take her home as his mate. Now, ladies, you all have your parents or guardians with you to help you make the best decision and to assist you. I wish you all the best of luck. You may begin.”
With that everyone started moving around the hall and the volume inside steadily grew louder as men and women were introduced to one another. Women were blatantly flirting, battering their eyelashes as though they had something stuck in their eye, and flicking their hair so much that Rose was concerned that they were going to get whiplash.
Moira still had a firm grasp on Rose’s arm and pulled her over to a trio of men. A blonde and two brunettes. Rose quickly assessed them. They all seemed to be older than her by about 10 years with the youngest man looking at least thirty. They were all staring at her as though she was a piece of meat and she felt unsettled under their gaze. She squirmed as she tried to free her arm from her mother’s grip. At this point her father, Nigel had joined them and greeted the men by name and shaking their hands.
“Guys, this is my daughter Rosemary. I told you about her last year at Amy’s mating ceremony. Rosemary, this is Francis, Henry, and Simon. They are from the Cool Spring Pack,’ Nigel gestured to each of the men in turn as he introduced them all to Rose.
“Nice to meet you, Rosemary,” the blonde, Francis or was it, Simon, Rose wasn’t particularly paying attention, stuck out his hand to shake Rose’s. She simply stood there staring at it until she felt her mother nudge her in the ribs to indicate that she was being rude.
“I actually prefer to be called Rose.”
She still hadn’t taken his hand and the man, he possibly could have been Henry, awkwardly withdrew his handshake. Rose could feel her mother radiating with annoyance at Rose’s behaviour.
Nigel cleared his throat gaining the attention of all three men. “Yes, well, this is Rose’s first mating ceremony, and we are hoping to find her a mate. After all, all her brothers and sister found their mates at their first mating ceremonies.” Nigel continued on about how great it was that her older sister, Amy, had been mated to a wolf from the Cool Spring Pack and how he hoped that Rose could find a mate from the same pack so that the sister could be reunited. The hint wasn’t lost on anyone, and Rose felt the men’s gazes on her again as they were assessing her suitability to be their mate.
Suddenly, Moira was beckoning over another man. He was older than the three men, in his late fifties, Rose assumed. The man joined the small group eyeing Rose as though she was his prey. Rose balked. This man looked old enough to be her father. There was no way that she was going to even allow him the opportunity to size up her suitability as a mate. It was just wrong on so many levels.
“I’m, um, I’m just going to go grab a drink. Really thirsty and all.”
Rose backed away from the group before the older man could be introduced and scurried over to the drinks table that has been set up in the hall. There were men and women who stood around, all engaging in conversation with one another and none of them paid her any attention as she squeezed through a gap and grabbed a bottle of water.
Raising the bottle to her lips she spies her mother making a beeline in her direction. Presumably to drag her back to the men that were much too old for her. Rose panics and spots a gap in the crowd that she can squeeze through and avoid her mother for a bit longer. She skims through the crowd as quickly as possible, bumping into many different people.
She was apologising for bumping into a man with an impressive beard by all counts when she turned around and hit a hard wall. A hard wall that felt strangely of very well-defined abs and smelt like sandalwood.
“Shit. Fuck, I’m sor-,” Rose started apologising looking up at the very exasperated man that was the hard wall. As she looked up and into his eyes, she saw them change from a cool blue to a darkening red. He was an Alpha! A powerful Alpha at that as dominance radiated from him. And Rose, well Rose had just about sealed her fate to die. Not only had she walked straight into an Alpha, but she had looked directly into his eyes and to top it all off she had spilled water onto his sleeve from her still open water bottle. Quickly diverting her gaze and hanging her head down low she continued her apology.
“Alpha, - shit – I am so, so, so sorry – shit – I just wasn’t looking where I was going and – “
The Alpha held up his hand to stop her from talking. Gulping, Rose looked up but avoided looking directly at his face.
“Why are you in such a rush?” the man’s voice was low but slightly gruff.
“I’m hiding. From my mum. She’s trying to set me up with these gross old men. So, I keep hiding from her. I spotted her heading towards me, so I ran – again. And then I literally ran into you, Alpha, and got your arm wet and I swore at you. I am so sorry about that.”
Rose was gesturing wildly at this point and had splashed more water towards the Alpha who barely managed to avoid it.
The Alpha seemed very bemused by this.
“Crap! I – I gotta go. Sorry again!”
Rose thrust the water bottle at the Alpha who took it from her before disappearing back into the crowd. Merely moments later, Rose’s mother, Moira, walked past the Alpha, stalking after the young girl.
“What was that all about, Alpha Hawkins?”
The Alpha’s Beta, Clive McCoy, approached the Alpha after watching the interaction from a few feet away. He was used to girls throwing themselves at his Alpha, not running away.
Orson Hawkins, the playboy Alpha that was feared across the packs, regarded the water bottle in his hand with a smile. He took a sip from it.
“I’m not quite sure. But she sure was in a hurry.”