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“Would you like to do it, Your Highness, or should I?” She looked at the lycan king indifferently, whose lilac eyes of affection were suddenly intruded on by confusion.
“Wh-what do you mean?” he asked as he tried to concentrate on the beautiful voice of the woman in front of him—his mate. He was here for a meet-and-greet session that he dreaded. The worst thing was that this session among alphas, lunas, and their gammas from every pack in existence was to last for the entire night!
“Why couldn’t they just skip this night and officially start the one-month collaboration tomorrow?” the king thought to himself every year.
She raised her eyebrows as she studied his expression. “Huh. You do look genuinely confused.”
His eyebrows furrowed, confused and irritated now. “Again, what do you mean? And what is your name?”
The alphas, lunas, and the best warrior of each pack, called gammas, had just arrived, and he, as their benevolent king, was here to greet them. Although, if he were given a choice, this king would have rather been going through the reports of rogue attacks that were steadily piling up on his desk. He couldn’t wait to get the night over with. If he made his rounds quickly enough, he would still reach home in time to get through three or four files before bed. But when he walked through the doors of the gathering hall, his impatience, reluctance, and pure hate for the meet-and-greet vaporized in an instant.
“My name is Lucianne Freesia Paw, Your Highness. I take it that you’re going to do it then?” she said simply. To the king, her name felt like the first spring breeze after many long months of harsh winter, the soft light penetrating through the gray clouds, the breath of life in a cold, dark world.
“Do what?” His confusion couldn’t be masked even if he tried. He felt like his mate was already ten feet away when he had only taken the first step.
When he entered the hall, every wolf and lycan present looked in his direction, and they either nodded or bowed, but he merely glanced over them. The animal in him was following a scent that had never graced his nostrils: butterfly pea and jasmine. “What a unique combination,” he thought to himself. His footsteps gained speed as the scent got stronger.
Then, he stopped right behind a five-foot-one brunette in a navy-blue dress. Her back was small, half of it covered with dark, luscious curls falling effortlessly from her head. There was only one word in his mind—mate. The figure started turning around to face him, and his heart stopped. She was surprised by his sudden presence and took a step back. The animal in his head growled, “Mine.”
Lucianne turned around because she noticed the stunned faces of her alpha and luna, who both bowed in her direction. Upon turning, she came face-to-face with a white shirt covered by a black coat, and a strong scent of acacia wood and forest trees graced her nostrils. Shocked at the proximity, she took a step back to see who it was. Realizing that the dark-haired man with slightly tanned skin and lilac eyes was the king himself, she understood her pack leaders’ action. She, too, bent her knees and lowered her head as a form of respect to the highest ruler of all werewolves and lycans.
A warm feeling crept up her shoulders before she felt the sparks where his hands made contact with her skin. To her dread, she realized that the man in front of her was her mate, who spoke in his clear, deep voice, “You don’t have to do that. Please stand. Don’t bow to me,” he said with visible pain and disapproval in his eyes.
Although surprised by the king’s response, Lucianne couldn’t escape her reality of how the bond was going to end. “Here we go again,” she thought before proceeding to ask whether he wanted her to do it or he wanted to do it himself—reject her.
“Do what, Lucianne? Talk to me.” His voice was soft but demanding. His eyes were desperate and lost.
She explained calmly, “Reject me, Your Highness. Do you prefer it if I do it, or would you like to do it yourself?” The hope and life she had given him earlier seemed like it was about to be snatched away from him almost as soon as he’d found them.
The king’s lilac eyes turned onyx as he growled thunderously, scaring everyone who was there. The room fell into dead silence. After he exploded in anger at what he had just heard, he asked in a low, frightening tone, “Why the f*ck would either one of us reject the other?”
Lucianne was surprised again, but she remained calm. She shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m not your type, not good enough for you, not pretty enough, you may already have a chosen mate to be engaged to . . .”
Before she could finish, her luna hissed, “Stop it, Lucy!”
The king’s eyes met the luna’s as he growled, “I didn’t ask you to speak.”
The luna and her alpha mate lowered their heads in unison as a sign of apology. No right-minded wolf would challenge a lycan, let alone the king of lycans.
The king faced his mate again. His eyes softened by how dainty and beautiful she looked. Why did she want to take herself away from him? He asked in a murderous tone, “Who told you those things?”
Lucianne’s eyes turned wide abruptly as she said, “Oh no, Your Highness. That’s not what I meant. It’s just . . . that’s what my previous mates told me before or after they rejected me, so I was just giving you an idea of what I’m talking about.”
His angered eyes bored into her unperturbed ones as he asked in a low rumble, “Do you want to reject me?”
She took a moment to think. No one had ever asked her that question. “That’s a very difficult question to answer, Your Highness. I don’t even know you. I admit that there is the mate bond for now, and I do acknowledge that I feel the sparks, but whether I want the rejection . . . I honestly don’t know. Then again, what I wanted never really mattered. My previous mates pretty much decided it for me. That, or they made my decision easy. I do prefer an earlier rejection when there are no memories made as of yet because it will hurt much less. Does that make sense, Your Highness?”
He responded firmly, “No. And stop calling me ‘Your Highness.’ You are my mate and I am yours. The mate bond is there now and forever. The sparks will get stronger. And neither of us are rejecting the other.” There was fury in his voice but also desperation. Desperation to not lose his mate when he had just found her. Desperation for her to accept him and stay with him forever.
She nodded grudgingly once and bit her bottom lip as she dove into her own thoughts.
He sighed. His eyes were gaining back their lilac shade as his fingers reached for her chin and lifted it up gently for their eyes to lock. “What are you thinking about, Lucianne?” His voice no longer held anger, only gentleness and guilt.
She opened her mouth to say something but closed it after a second thought. She smiled meekly and shook her head slightly before she said, “I was just thinking about the ceremony tomorrow. That’s all.”
“Lucianne.” He cupped her cheek this time as he said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. But don’t lie to me, please. Tell me. What were you thinking about?”
Her eyes dimmed as she looked at the ground, and he felt his heart clenching from her saddened look. She composed herself and muttered, “I can’t understand why you won’t reject me.”
“Because you’re my mate!” he whisper-yelled, not that it helped. In a room filled with lycans and werewolves known for their sharp hearing, without a doubt, everyone heard their king.
“Okay,” she said meekly and forced a smile. No one had to tell him that she was unconvinced by how he felt about her. But why would she doubt him? The mate bond was supposed to automatically signify love and commitment. Why didn’t she believe him? His hand suddenly had a mind of its own as it began tracing her right arm in hopes of soothing her and chasing away her doubts. When he felt the unevenness of her skin, he wasted no time taking a step to her side to examine the cause.
There was a five-inch scar. Injuries and wounds could heal, but for some brutal attacks and accidents, a scar would remain. The king’s eyes darkened again, and he growled so loudly that the werewolves around them took a step back as they held their heads low.
“What? What is it?” Lucianne frantically asked, equally alarmed. She felt the scar on her arm with her left hand but wasn’t sure what the fuss was about, so she looked at the king in confusion, whose onyx eyes were still glued there.
He pushed her left hand away gently and started tracing the scar with his fingers. Lucianne fought through the pleasurable sparks erupting from that area. With his eyes still fixed there, he asked in a low, homicidal tone, “Who did this?”
Lucianne shrugged. “It was just the rogues. Five, maybe six years ago. It’s just a dried-up part of the skin, isn’t it?”
His dark eyes never left the part of her flesh that was once torn so badly that its appearance never healed, when he asked in dismay, “How are you okay with this?”
“Your Highness, I’m . . .”
“Don’t call me by my title or my full name. It’s just Xandar to you, Lucianne,” he insisted.
She hesitated. “Xandar,” she began, “a scar is normal among warriors, more so among gammas. If you check the bodies of the other gammas here today, you’ll find that many of them have scars as well. Some may be worse than mine. I know a few alphas and a handful of lunas who have such scars from fighting alongside their pack. This really isn’t a big deal.”
He listened, and his eyes softened at how she shoved her own ordeal aside to put other warriors and pack leaders under the spotlight of bravery. No one knew that, at that time, whatever Lucianne said only made their king more certain that there was no one more qualified to lead alongside him as his queen.
His heart ached when his sights returned to the scar on his beautiful mate. When he bent down and was close to kissing it, Lucianne abruptly retracted her arm as she uttered, “Perhaps that is not the most appropriate thing to do, given this setting.”
He had completely forgotten about the people around them. He only saw her. With those words, he was pulled back into reality. He smiled, stunning the lycans in the room. The king never smiled. Never.
He then said, “You’re right. I would like to meet your pack leaders, Lucianne. Introduce us?”
“Of course.” She smiled and waved her alpha and luna over. They walked toward the king and bowed, their heads still facing the ground as Lucianne said, “These are Alpha Juan and Luna Hale of the Blue Crescent Pack, Your High—Xandar.” She abruptly decided against addressing Xandar by his title when she saw, from the corner of her eye, that he was about to make a fuss.
“Heads up, leaders of the Blue Crescent Pack,” Xandar said with a smile. When their heads were raised, Xandar thrust out his hand in Alpha Juan’s direction. “I want to personally thank you for leading the rogue attack up north last year. The rogues would’ve continued to wreak havoc if it weren’t for your pack’s leadership and contribution.”
The king remembered reading a report on the successful annihilation of one of the strongest rogue packs in the previous year and had long known the Blue Crescent Pack was at the forefront of the victory. It was said that this pack held the trust of the other packs and was respected for the leadership displayed. There were many testimonials from other pack warriors who thanked Blue Crescent, saying that they “had learned a lot” in terms of strategy and combat.
Alpha Juan and Luna Hale were both stunned by the king’s graciousness. It was no secret that one should just be grateful to not get killed. It was not customary for any lycan, let alone the king, to hand out praises.
Juan took Xandar’s hand and shook it once before he admitted sheepishly, “As your subjects, we are more than grateful to assist in your endeavors, Your Highness. But my luna and I cannot take credit for the success last year. We may be the largest in size in our pack, but our gamma, Lucy,” Juan motioned in Lucianne’s direction before continuing, “was the strategist, the best trainer and warrior, be it on the battlefield last year or within our own pack. I’m her subordinate when it comes to training. She was the one who led us to victory.”
Lucianne was biting her bottom lip. When she knew what Juan was going to say, she tried to stop him through their mind link, but he didn’t bother listening to her. Her eyes were fixed on the ground as she prayed for the moment to be over. She couldn’t see it, but Xandar’s eyes beamed with admiration for her. When he noticed that her eyes were pinned to the ground, he frowned and asked in concern, “Lucianne, what’s wrong?”
She shook her head slightly and responded meekly, “Nothing. Just tired.”
He nodded in understanding. Wolves had to travel a long way to lycan territory, so it was a given that they would be drained when they arrived. He turned to face everyone as he announced, “My fellow subjects, I thank you for making the trip here. Let this night be the beginning of a worthwhile collaboration between packs and species. Please have some food if you haven’t already. I would like to meet every one of you. Give me a few minutes. I will be right back to thank every pack that has assisted me these past few years. Enjoy the evening.”
The speech left everyone surprised. The king was never this welcoming. It was no secret that he hated this night every year. But now he was not only welcoming them with open arms, but he also promised to thank the helpful packs personally!
Disregarding the stares, he turned to Lucianne and said, “Lucianne, you should get some rest. Let me walk you back.”
She looked at her pack leaders in panic, but Juan said, “Go, Lucy. You hardly slept last night. Mind-link us if you need anything.”
Xandar’s heart clenched again with Juan mentioning her lack of sleep, but he chose to say nothing. When his hand fell on Lucianne’s small waist, she gasped and stiffened but made no move to push it away. So he left his hand there as he led her out of the hall.