My heart thundered violently in my chest. The massive outdoor feast before us was attended by so many of their kind, and I knew I could not hide the scent of adrenaline and fear that flooded through me at that moment. Their kind always had a way of knowing exactly what you were feeling, and knowing that only made it more difficult to tamp those feelings down.
There were several of us standing before them, in garbs that they dictated that we wear. Our hair was styled in long tresses down our backs, adorned with silver metal throughout. A silver rope caught at our waists as the white, flowing material dipped low in the front and cascaded down the back. The cut of the dress made me uncomfortable, but I knew this was not about my comfort. It was meant to reveal our assets without exactly parading us around in the nude.
At our neck, another piece of silver snaked around, and then plummeted between our breasts. Silver painted tribal symbols that I did not understand were delicately dancing across our arms, legs and feet. Though I have lived through the war, there were still so many things about these creatures I did not understand.
At the head of the table, a man sat upon his throne. Though it was not an actual throne, it was definitely something that was superior to the other chairs that the others sat in. The high back stood taller than me, but then so did the man that sat within it. The width of the chair could fit two of me side by side, and the man that sat there seemed to occupy it comfortably as he dominated it rather than it dominating him.
But it was the man himself that seemed to fill that entire outdoor space where we stood awaiting his approval. His whole being seemed to command the attention of everyone, and everything. The very air seemed to move at his will, while the stars glowed at his insistence.
He was beautiful, like they all were. His pale blonde hair would have me guessing he was Aryan or Scandinavian. It was shaved on both sides of his head, while the remaining was pulled sharply back from his features and captured in silver as it wove itself down the entire length of his long hair. However, his skin was far from that of either Scandinavians or Aryans. Instead of the pale complexion one might expect, his had a deep golden glow that contrasted sharply against the color of his hair.
Though everything about this man was worth ogling, it was his eyes that were by far the most captivating. The vivid blue nearly radiated from his face, as though they were glowing blue orbs.
The man was dressed all in black, a stark contrast to our white and silver garb. In fact, the man was a stark contrast compared to everyone here. His shirt reminded me of something a pirate might wear, flowing and allowing easy movement as it tied loosely at the top. This man seemed disinterested that his shirt was splayed open, allowing all to peer within to those well defined muscles beneath. It shouldn’t surprise me though, modesty was not programmed into their morale code. I should be more surprised that they were all even dressed at all for this occasion.
My hand was gripped tight, nearly cutting off the circulation in my fingers. “Sedona, I’m so scared,” she whispered beside me.
The beautiful young woman next to me shook like a leaf. Her blonde tresses shone brightly in the torches lit around us, and her hazel eyes sparked. From the moment I laid eyes on her, she became my light during a time that felt so dark, so I nicknamed her my little moon. She was the only family I had left, though she was not actually born of my blood.
We have been together since I found her beneath the debris of a bombed building, no more than two or three years old at the time. From then, I have never left her side, nor she mine. I was little more than a teenager myself, but she was all the purpose I needed to survive. That was the beginning of our war, and that was nearly fifteen years ago.
I squeezed her hand a bit to relieve the tension with which she was holding it and to provide some comfort that I did not feel. She is what forced me to seem calmer than I was. I turned my head slightly and tried to speak from the side of my mouth, but I was never any good at subtlety or whispering. “I know, little moon. Be brave. I’m right here. I won’t let anything happen to you, I swear.”
I meant the words, meant what I said. I would fight to the death to protect her from them...from anyone. When I turned to face forward once more, the two men that had been in deep conversation at the front had stopped and were now looking at me. My chin lifted a fraction as I met the man’s eyes sitting in the overly large chair.
We all knew they could hear, smell, and see well. No, better than well. They could practically see in the dark, and much further than any human could hope to see. They could scent the very change in your mood, and subtle changes surrounding you, making them each a personal lie detector. And their ability to hear? Let’s just say that, even if I was a master of discretion and whispering, I would still be no match for them. They could hear for miles away. They were the apex predator, and they scared the shit out of me.
The man’s eyes scanned over me, his eyes bright against the darkened backdrop of evening. He wore an esoteric expression, one that was unfathomable to me. When he brought them back up to meet mine, I forced a bravado that just was not there. I let my eyes narrow on him, and pressed my lips thin. I wanted him to see the hostility I felt towards him and any that dared do this sort of thing to what remained of the human population.
Though I did not understand a word of what they were saying, it did not take a genius to figure it out. At the last count, there were twenty of us women that had been brought here, and only women. We were cleaned and adorned to be presented before this man...this alpha. It was no secret that they were lustful creatures. Putting two and two together, it made my stomach sick.
Tala choked back a sob beside me, and I gave her hand another gentle squeeze as I glared at the man before us. “He’s not worth your tears, little moon. Be brave.” I did not try to hide my words, or let my eyes drop from his.
The man’s eyes flashed, and my eyes widened. It was brief, but it was there. A pulse of electricity bolted through me that felt both amazing and oppressive at the same time. When I got my bearings back, his lip lifted slightly to the side. I shot him a withering look that merely made him laugh as I looked away. The man oozed dominance, and he had won that exchange. He made sure I knew he won.
The males and females sitting at the table were all dressed to impress. Of course they were! This meal was meant to honor their alpha. To honor whatever occasion this was supposed to be. I didn’t want to think about it, my stomach was all too ready to revolt at the idea.
The tall, slender man that had been speaking with the alpha approached us as we remained on display, not allowed to sit until he had a proper chance to inspect each one of us . “Each one of you will present yourselves to Alpha Kallan.” A few of the women whispered their excitement at the prospect, and I flashed a repulsed look over the lot of them as I shook my head. The man before us held up his hand, quieting the chatter that had erupted. Did they not realize that beast of a man could hear them? “Once he has had an opportunity to speak with each one of you, he will then choose one of you to remain.”
Gasps filled the air, and I think mine was included as my brows lifted. “And what of the others?” I had to know.
The man shrugged. “I suppose they go back to the life they once led.” He waved it off as if it meant nothing to him.
My gaze went from him to the young woman beside me. There were twenty of us. One of the others would certainly be able to grab his fancy. For the first time in weeks, I felt a weight lifted from my chest. “Tala,” I whispered almost excitedly. “We could be going...home.” I choked on the word. The fear and dread had consumed me, and trying to keep all that below the surface for Tala’s sake had taken its toll.
Though home was wherever our feet took us, it had to be better than this. I spun to her, and wrapped my arms around her, squeezing her to me. The young woman beside me sniffled, and a sound between a laugh and a sob croaked out.
The man that had been speaking with us cleared his throat. “If you are quite done, there are some rules you need to be aware of.” My brows lifted once more. In my head, I was already plotting. That’s right, give me all the rules so I can break every blasted one of them! The smile on my mouth spread, the devious thoughts making it near impossible to keep it from making an appearance. My eyes flicked briefly to the man that remained seated as he watched us pensively. His eyes slid to meet mine and he lifted a brow, almost like he knew what I was thinking.
The smile I plastered on my face was beyond fake, and as sickeningly sweet as I could make it. His smirk was instant, but his eyes remained trained on me. Twisting my body to the side, I put him as much to my back as I could. My full attention was now on the man before us as he prepared to run through his checklist of rules that we must all attend to.
“You must bow before him, on your knees, and wait for him to grant you permission to approach. That is a must.” Okay, so walk my scrawny ass up to him and sit right in his lap...got it! “Do not, for any reason, touch him. It is his prerogative as to whether or not he will touch you.” Well, sitting in his lap takes care of that rule, too. “You are not to ask any questions. He will ask what he wants to know, and only then do you respond. You will be obedient.” Oh, now that is an easy one. I can simply ask, When do we get to go home? Too easy! We will be on the way home before their dinner is cold!
Some of the women were discussing the rules with one another, determining how best to kneel, or what they would do if he touched them. They were not my concern. If they wanted him, they could have him.
“You!” The man continued, and I jerked my head to look at him. His eyes were locked on me. I frowned. “You will be first,” he said smoothly. It sent a shudder down my spine, as if he were setting me up. Could they actually read minds?
Casting my eyes down the line of women to each side of us, I finally turned them back to the man. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to start at the end and work our way to the other side?” In my head, I was hoping he would find what he was looking for long before he got to Tala and me. That would make things even better as Tala would not have to subject herself to that man and his ogling.
He moved closer to me, cutting the space between us by half. “Are you questioning our Alpha?”
“I’m sorry?” The others were looking at me strangely.
The man sneered at me. “Seems you are not aware of who it is you are trying to goad. Now, move.”
Blood thundered through my head. It all of a sudden felt too hot to think, too hot to move, and too hot to respond. My eyes slid to where Kallan sat upon his throne, and did not miss the smirk that smeared his face. Before I could think on it, my eyes narrowed in on him and the words popped out of my mouth. “You think this is funny?” Well, that’s one of the rules down.
With a quick pace, I closed the gap between us, the whole time fuming at him. The low, threatening growls only barely registered on the fringe of my consciousness.
“Ms. Killian, you forget yourself!” The slender man was beside me before I could reach the man ahead. The man grabbed my lower arm and tugged down hard towards the ground. I fell to my knees beside the man, my arm still clutched in his as he narrowly prevented me from falling forward. “The rules are not just for those that choose to follow them, Ms. Killian. Looks like you will be the example, and I will be your teacher.”
Snatching at my arm, I practically snarled at him. “Your rules, meant for your kind. What about us? What about treating us with dignity and respect?”
The man’s face caved in on itself as he frowned deeply, sneering at my outburst. “And do you think you are carrying yourself with any dignity and respect?”
“Where is the dignity and respect of being a part of his harem?” My head jerked sharply in Kallan’s direction as I spoke.
The silence that followed boggled my mind. My head spun around taking in the women that still remained behind me as they watched on with curious glances, some huddled together. Those at the table watched on with an incredulous expression, some with smirks while others wore frowns, but each waiting for their Alpha to act. And the man whose body sat rigid before me looked angry.
Standing from his chair, he moved to stand directly in front of me, towering over me in every way. Even when he stooped to bring himself to my level, he still kept me in his shadow. “Do you think I would have an unwilling mate in my bed?” His voice was rich, rumbling deep in his chest as his accent lacquered every word, but the tone was every bit as dangerous as the man in front of me. The threat imposed there did not take away from how pleasing it was to the ears, and more than one of the women behind me revelled in its dulcet tones as they giggled and whispered. If I could hear it, then he was certainly aware of those that desired him.
Snickering, I spat, “Seems like you have more than one willing victim from those that wait for your approval.”
The glare he held seared through me before he finally stood. He stepped away from me, walking towards the line of women. Once at the front of the line, he started taking slow, calculating steps as he strolled by each one. The man still clutched my arm in his hand, and it pinched my shoulder as I twisted around to keep Kallan in my sights.
I nearly barked with laughter as a couple of the women curtsied like he was royalty, while others trembled as he neared. Then, there were some who merely tried to play coy with the man that drew their attention.
The women that stood in wait were familiar, most from the group we travelled with, but a few from the village we had left recently. How quickly most of them were willing to abandon what they once knew for a life they knew nothing about.
My shoulder ached, and I turned away from the spectacle. The women were too easy, and made my goal so much easier to achieve. Certainly one of them would be able to take his fancy. The women that I travelled with were pleasant enough to look at with well toned bodies that would appeal to his lustful nature. And the women from the village were only slightly more soft, and quite beautiful themselves.
“And, what of you...Tala, was it?”
When I jerked my head back, it sent a stabbing pain shooting through my shoulder. I yelped, but I refused to take my eyes from where Kallan stood as he watched me. My heart thundered heavy in my chest. Tala’s eyes were wide, her face pale. She was scared, and this man practically cooed at her as he let the back of his finger gently caress her cheek.
My body tried to bolt from the ground, but the man held me firm. I yelped again as I panted hard against the pain in my shoulder, and fought against the fury building inside me at the man that dare lay his hands on Tala. “Don’t touch her!” I screamed at the man, letting the pain from my shoulder coat the sheer volume that echoed around us.
My arm ached, and it throbbed as the pain in my shoulder constantly ebbed and flowed through me. Though others were present, they were no longer actors on the stage. Now, they were simply the audience watching the battle of wills on display.
“I offer you respect, listen to your advice, and now you have changed your mind? Do you not want me to find someone willing from these women?”
The air I sucked between my teeth did little to stifle the pain. Sweat beaded across my forehead, and my skin felt clammy. “Anyone but her!” I rasped.
Kallan smiled at me, the very nature of it sending a shiver through my spine. “Then that would not be respectful to beautiful Tala. She has the right to choose her own outcome as much as you do.” The words pricked my skin, and my ego.
There was no way I would win this fighting him head on. I had to change tactics. “Please,” I whispered, practically begging him.
Kallan wasn’t giving up. “Tala, would you like to stay here, with us? Here, we can protect you. We can keep you safe so you’ll never be afraid again. You will never go without. All your needs...all your wants...will be met here with us.” There was a sincerity that poured through his words, a promise given.
“Please!” I pleaded once more, screaming the word at him as desperation seeped into the sound of it.
Tala’s face pinched as tears eked their way down her face before she finally spoke. “Will you let Sedona go?”
A victorious smile spread over Kallan’s face. “Once I have chosen, those that wish to leave will be returned safely back to their families. Those that wish to stay will have a place among my people, so long as they follow our rules.” No doubt he meant that last part for me, his eyes boring into my own.
“No!” I screamed, trying desperately to jerk my arm free as pain wreaked havoc through my entire body. Sharp stabs of it became more pronounced as my body and stomach revolted. With each stab, my stomach twisted. “No, Tala! Don’t you dare say yes!” I fought with everything I had before my vision blurred, the pain from struggling suffocating me.
My body fell heavily to the ground as I took in huge gulps of air into my lungs to clear my head and vision, my head resting against the cool grassy ground beneath me. Footsteps halted at the top of my head, and I rolled my forehead across the grass. Large, polished black boots filled my field of vision. He stooped down before me once more, but the pain in my arm still gripped me and I could do little more than breathe.
Nodding at the man next to me, I felt my arm drop to the ground next to me. “So, mina para, do you have a better offer for me?”
Agony consumed me, the fight leaving my body as I faced the reality of my situation. “What is it you want?” I blew the words out against the ground below me.
“I thought that was clear. A willing mate.” I frowned and my whole body tensed. This couldn’t be happening. “Your willingness for hers.”
I closed my eyes shut, squeezing them in an effort to shut everything out. Finally, I nodded. It was the most I could do. My head buzzed, and my stomach lurched. I had just made a deal with the devil…no, worse. A lycan!