XXX. THE ALPHA
The east wing of the hotel had the remnants of a remodel scattered throughout—tarps and paints, toolboxes, hammers and screws. It was entirely abandoned, and Isla noticed that there were fewer doors in this hallway than the one in which she resided.
She’d contemplated not even going to the room, unsure what she’d be faced with when she came upon it. But she trusted a voice in her head that had her moving across the lobby to the furthest hallway opening and finding the lift there. She didn’t need the numbers beside the doors to know she was getting close to her desired destination, because she felt it. Felt him.
Her cheek between her teeth and heart thrumming, Isla shoved the key into the lock of 324 and opened the entryway. She found Kai sitting directly in her eye-line, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, in what seemed to be the living area of the grand suite. He sat upright as she stepped inside and closed the door behind her, but he didn’t speak.
Isla’s stomach flipped, and she clutched her bag strap tightly in her fist. She wouldn’t drop it to the floor. “Hi.”
Kai gave her a weak smile. “Hi.”
“Why have the desk worker be so secretive?”
“You seem to be a prime target for being followed. I didn’t want anyone to overhear and know that I was here. I technically should be back at the Hall.”
Isla nodded, accepting the answer. She glanced around the room. Nearly three times the size of hers with pockets of living space throughout. The den, kitchenette, office space, and a bed that seemed all too inviting to her tired muscles in the corner. Clean and elegant, but with a rustic feel, thanks to some of the furniture. It was just the right balance of luxurious and homey.
“This is really nice,” she remarked, still not moving from her spot.
Kai looked around, considering the space. “They’re trying to make it a bit more like Starlight. It’s in Ifera, more conducive to those who’re having lengthy stays here. I would’ve had you meet me there, but didn’t want to make you take the train.” He looked her over, seeing that she’d cleaned up and showered. “How was the hike?”
“Long,” Isla said. “A lot of time to think.”
If she wanted him to have no secrets, she couldn’t either.
“You.” The word made Kai stiffen, and so did the next. “Us.”
“What about us?”
Isla dropped her bag on the ground and folded her arms. She took in a deep breath, steeling herself.
It was time to leave everything on the table. No holding back.
“By accepting this bond, I leave things that I love. The people I love. My family, my friends, my home. All I’ve ever known and found comfort in. I lose everything that I wanted and worked so hard to become.” She quieted, trying to gauge Kai’s expression, but he was unreadable. “But I’ve been so wrapped in believing that I was doing exactly what I needed to and being who I was meant to be, so scared of what it meant to have a mate, to lose control and give myself to someone, opening myself up to losing them, that I was blind to what was actually happening.”
Another pause, long enough that Kai felt the need to ask, “What?”
Isla tightened the grip on her forearms. “I was falling in love with you too.”
Now, Kai couldn’t stop the small uptick of the corner of his mouth, and she could sense his heartbeat pick up, feel his elation through the bond. But he read her demeanor, how serious she still was, and seemed to force himself to relax.
“And that maybe I was where I was,” Isla continued. “doing what I was, for this. To be with you. To be here—and maybe you saw me in a way no one else did. That no one else ever would. . . I’m not sure I can do it—be a queen—but I’m willing to try, if you want me to. I’m terrified, but if that’s what I need to do, to be with you, I will. . . but only if you’re honest with me. Because it’s the only way I can help you, and I refuse to spend forever in the dark when you’re the one who’s supposed to keep me out of it. I’ve been in a place like that, and I’m never going back. And I don’t want you to end up there either. I told you that you have me, and I meant it, to and through eternity.”
She took another steadying inhale while Kai was quiet, absorbing everything she’d laid out before him. He gestured to the chair at his side, where she could sit, but Isla refused, remaining where she stood.
All of it, their future, wasn’t in the clear until he told her what he’d been hiding.
“Where do you want me to start?” he asked.
“Why do you think it was someone of Io?”
“It’s a long story.”
“We have time,” she said, even if she wasn’t so sure that they did. “Start from the beginning.”
Kai’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. “The night my father and brother died, I was supposed to die too.”
Isla’s eyes widened, but she tried her best to keep her surprise contained.
“I wasn’t in Mavec. I’d been in Abalys with Amalie. I'd convinced her to go to an inn for the night. . .” Kai trailed off, knowing he didn’t need to continue for Isla to understand. Knowing she likely wouldn’t want him to. “While we were sleeping, there was this. . . scent, a feeling, that woke me up, but Amalie didn’t seem to notice. And then something hit me—not literally, but. . . I remember feeling stuck, and like I was disconnected from my body. From my wolf. And then there was this pain in my side. . . everywhere. . . and I swore I was dying. I blacked out, and when I woke up, someone was knocking at the room door. It was Ezekiel and Sol, which should’ve tipped me off enough that something was wrong because they can’t stand each other.”
Isla braced herself, knowing what came next.
“They told me what had happened, and I couldn’t recite the exact words to you even if I tried—but I remember finding a message carved into the nightstand. Those letters and symbols that I didn’t understand and still don’t. I found them again in my brother’s townhouse near the bed where he’d died and couldn’t find any in the House of the Hall, where my parents slept. But I had the same feeling in both places, the same one I had in those woods in Callisto. They’d been killed, and I had no idea by who. No idea why I lived, and they didn’t.” Shame crept into his tone. “Everything that happened after that is a blur. I remember having no time before the Blood Moon and going through the Alpha Rite to question me being brought to power. And I remember everyone crying while I had to keep it together and pretend that someone hadn’t just murdered my family and was getting away with it. Then came the Feast and the Hunt—and you.
“I didn’t think the Imperial Alpha would approve me to enter at such short notice, especially with the risk I could die and our hierarchy end up a mess, but he did. Everyone kept saying I didn’t have to do it, but I knew there were people who doubted me and wanted me to, especially in the Council I’d adopted. . . My father and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, some choices he’d made for the Pack among them. And I know despite the fact he liked to put on a facade that our family was the perfect, united front—even down to me, who wasn’t his Heir—knowledge of my aversions made it to his closest confidants, who saw me—see me—as a threat to a system that they’d established to keep them as high on the top of our hierarchy as possible. I miss when I thought they’d end up being my biggest problem during my rule.” He breathed a humorless laugh, before his features fell. “When I left Deimos for the Hunt, part of me was ready to go to war when I got back, but another part, one I hated and couldn’t get rid of—hoped I wouldn’t make it.”
Isla felt her heart clench and blinked away a sting of tears. As much as Kai had tried to sound steady, a brokenness slipped into his voice.
“The night of that Feast, when I realized you were there—my mate—I was furious. I didn’t know what or who I was going to end up with. It felt like the Goddess had already fucked me over in so many ways—my father and brother were dead, my mother was dying, and here I was, bestowed a Pack full of lost, confused, and scared people looking to me to guide them out of a darkness I could barely crawl through myself. . . and then, there you were. I had no clue who you were, what Pack you were from, why you were there, but you were with the Imperial Heir, that Trainee, and the Warrior.
“I knew you couldn’t feel anything, which makes sense—being an Alpha, things happen a bit faster—and then you went off with the Heir. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as feral as I did then. I was ready to tear him apart for touching you, but then I got a hold of myself and left before I did anything stupid.”
He had her latched on every word, and Isla replayed that night. Her conversations with Lukas, the one with Callan, when Adrien had walked over. Kai had been in that room, had seen her from afar. Known what she was, before she knew him.
“So I went outside to the terrace,” he continued. “Then I don’t know why, but I felt the bond between us—stronger than I had, but still barely there. I tried pulling at it anyway, calling to you to see if you’d answer, but nothing really happened. I was about to head back inside when the doors opened, and there you were again.”
Isla felt her insides melt with the way he looked at her now, in a way no one ever had. Not entirely with a lust, but a pure adoration.
“Beautiful,” he said, almost the same way he had that night. “Absolutely beautiful. More cruel than anything I’d been dealt. Because you were a light—a beautiful, bright, fiery light—that I learned I couldn’t hold on to. Not if I wanted you to stay that way.”
Isla had to force herself to breathe, to remain upright, to resist the urge to just cross the room, forget the explanations, and just let him have her.
Kai’s jaw clenched, and she caught the way his hands moved, like he too was fighting a pull to have her close.
“I’m not going to say that I knew I loved you before I met you, or that I was in love the moment I laid eyes on you—because I didn’t, and I wasn’t—but I knew sure as hell that I would. One talk with you, and I knew it wouldn’t take much, and it wouldn’t be long, before I was entirely at your mercy. Before I would do anything in my power to make you happy and keep you safe. . . even if it meant having you away from me.”
“So we made our plan, and I let you go. But when I got back home, things were—”
Kai cut himself off, narrowing his eyes. Isla followed his gaze to the door, to the obscure shadow beneath it.
She ground her teeth, having a feeling of exactly who it was, trying to listen in before dawn struck. The concierge must’ve had loose lips, told Callan the room number he’d directed her to. She wouldn’t be surprised if the whole hotel soon knew the Alpha was lurking about.
How long had he been listening?
When she looked back at Kai—unsure what they’d do about the intrusion—she found he’d since risen from the chair and was taking steps towards the door. Steps that felt all-too-slow as everything crashed into her. Everything he’d said, how she felt. How completely enamored with him she was.
His hand reached out for the door handle, prepared to rip the structure off its hinges and likely kill Callan—but Isla stopped him, taking it in hers instead.
Then when he turned to face her, confusion written on his face, she grabbed his shirt and hauled her mouth to his.