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I could hear Knox moving around in the kitchen when I woke, my muscles aching and protesting movement. The first day was over, but did Knox say how many days we would need to complete the run? I remembered something he had said, on the first night at his house - his territory was about a thousand miles in Perimeter. This run was the southern portion, so we were doing only half…that meant at least 500 miles. How far had we traveled on the first night?

With a groan, I shifted under the blankets twisted around my legs. My cheeks flushed when I realized I had stripped myself naked at some point while I slept, bunched the sheets in a knot against my…

I groaned again, louder this time, and covered my face with my hands. This is so embarrassing, I whined inwardly. How the hell am I going to face him like this? The haze was here, for me at least, and I would be spending the next several days in very intimate quarters with the hottest, probably most powerful Alpha I had ever met. Even if I had any control over my scent - which I didn’t - my traitorous blush was a dead giveaway. My skin felt hot all over, and my core fluttered with pent-up desire.

I’d never tried to deny the haze before. Draven had just…appeared before I could even think. Was that my fate? To be easily seduced by a handsome face and a bit of charm? No, I thought to myself. I won’t let that happen ever again.

Untangling myself and retrieving my discarded clothes, I dressed with hurried fingers and descended the ladder to the loft with as much grace as I could muster despite my quaking legs. Once on both feet, I leaned heavily against the back of the couch and summoned as much strength as possible before facing the Alpha who was surely waiting for me. A chuckle came from the kitchen, low and masculine, and I jerked my head up at the sound.

Knox was propped against the counter, legs crossed casually and a steaming mug in his hands. Still shirtless, his sweats were slung low across his waist. I tried not to let my gaze linger over anywhere in particular, settling for meeting his eyes with mine and hardening my resolve against swooning for him. He smiled at me, soft and knowing, and my stomach fluttered. “Bit sore from last night?” He asked, his tone teasing as he smirked around his mug while he took a sip. Did he mean last night as in the run? Or last night as in when I was grinding against my bedding and fantasizing about kissing him? I cleared my throat uncomfortably.

“Just a bit. I’m not used to this much…physical exertion. I rarely attended runs back ho- with my old Pack.” Knox quirked a brow at me but didn’t speak, instead gesturing to two plates on the table. They were piled with omelets and link sausages, and one plate had an assortment of fruit. I glanced back at Knox but he was already moving towards his seat at the head of the table, so I followed his lead and took the seat beside him. He waved his hand and a fresh mug full of coffee appeared before me, next to a tall glass of water and a small plate with three red pills.

I stared at him, eyes wide at the casual use of magic. All the questions I first had when observing Janus use magic came rushing back, but I held my tongue and eyed the food and pills before me warily. I wasn’t sure how much Knox would tell me if I asked him how the food was made, where the pills came from, how the coffee was brewed, how the house had magic at all. He chuckled, digging into his food and summoning himself another coffee. “They’re just painkillers, which you’ll need if you’re going to make it to the next stop.” My eyes flicked over to him and back, but I took the pills and ate my food in silence. Made with magic or not, everything tasted delicious.

When his plate was empty, Knox cleared his throat and leaned back in his chair. I could feel him studying me as I picked at my food. “It will be dark soon, so we’ll head out as soon as you’re ready.” He paused, so I turned my face to meet his gaze, trying not to blush as his eyes raked over me. “The next stop isn’t as far, so our pace won’t be as… intense.” He smirked, and I felt myself nod. That was a relief, even if I wouldn’t admit it out loud. I didn’t know how many nights of this I could do if we kept running as hard as we had yesterday.

He stood and left me at the table, and I kept my eyes downward so I wouldn’t watch him as he paced around the house. “Take as long as you need, and meet me outside to shift when you’re ready.” The door opened and closed, and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. Not wanting to leave him waiting, I finished off the last of my coffee and used the restroom before hesitantly stepping out onto the porch. The door swung shut behind me, hitting my heels and making me stumble. A low huff sounded, and I snapped my head up at the black Wolf before me.

Knox had shifted already, saving me the torture of watching him undress in the sunset. He turned from me and tossed his head, beckoning me to follow. I undressed quickly, setting my clothes in a pile at my feet only for them to disappear. Shaking my head at the magic, I surrendered to the shift and let my body change, much easier this time despite my fatigue. The black Wolf glanced back before taking off, and I rushed to follow, grateful for the easier pace.

We ran as the sun faded and the darkness grew, stars twinkling to life just as big and beautiful as I remembered. The scent of wine and roses and cinnamon flowed all around us, and I felt my sore limbs relax into the rhythmic pounding of our feet, our huffing breath. Time seemed to bend as we ran, the landscape changing and flowing with the galaxies blending in the sky.

Despite the exertion, I felt relaxed. The wind on my face, the ground crunching beneath me, my blood pumping through my veins - it was the closest to euphoria I had ever been. Following behind Knox on this run felt right. Maybe that was wrong, or at least premature, but I couldn't shake the feeling of peace I was starting to associate with being around him. I felt calm, yet excited when he was near, and even the insistent screaming of the haze had faded into the background of my mind. Maybe it would have felt like this to run with my old Pack, but I doubted it. Magic aside, Knox was unlike an Alpha I had ever met, and I knew life in his Pack would be very different than anything I could have experienced back home.

I had so many questions for him, I didn’t know where to start. He was an Alpha, even if he wanted to be friends, so I expected him to hold the secrets of his Pack close to his chest. Knox always seemed so open and engaged when we spoke, but for all the flattery and niceties he never gave any information away about himself. It felt as if everything I once knew had changed overnight, yet I knew nothing about this Alpha or the Pack he protected. His Beta hadn’t given anything away either when I observed him using magic, neither confirming or denying if the source of it was himself.

But the house we just left had magic, that much Knox had confirmed. Even if I didn’t understand the how, it stood to reason that the personal home of the Alpha would have some kind of magic if a simple outpost on the Perimeter did. I wondered if the next stop would be the same, if I could answer some of my own questions by observing magic in use again. So far, I’d seen it used domestically, for things like food and clothes and basic necessities. Was that the extent of the magic this Pack had access to? Would the Pack house be the same when I finally visited?

The existence of magic in this Pack alone changed everything. How did Knox and his Wolves have magic, when no other Pack did? Or was that false as well, a lie told to my old Pack to justify the minimal magic we generated during a Pack run - just enough to maintain the magical boundary of the territory? Each question led to a new theory, each more unlikely and fantastical than the last. Just work up the nerve to ask him directly, I told myself. The worst thing he could do is lie…or get angry…or send you back to Draven… The idea made my stomach turn.

I would ask him directly, I decided as we ran. Knox had said he wanted to get to know me…called me a “brazen girl” in his conditions for allowing me to stay in his land. If he wanted me to be brazen…then I would be, no matter how uncomfortable it might make me. He would grant me answers to at least some of my questions, or I would make the rest of this run as miserable as I could muster. I would whine and argue and stomp my feet, I decided, if he refused to tell me anything about the magic I felt all around him. He would tell me what that familiar feeling was, where the persistent summer breeze of wine and grapes came from, and anything else I could possibly get out of him.

I could use the haze to my advantage, I pondered, but pushed the thought away. As unfortunately attractive as I found Knox, my reactions to him were physical, on a biological level I wouldn’t let cloud my judgment. As nice as all this had seemed so far, I needed to remember that Knox was an Alpha, capable of removing my head from my shoulders without consequence. I was in his territory through his personal will, nothing more, and I would benefit to remember that before playing any games I wasn’t willing to lose.

The ground beneath my feet changed suddenly to rock and gravel. Our steps kicked up dust that rose in clouds around us, creating a dirty fog in the rapidly-fading darkness. Brilliant pink light grew in my periphery as the sun rose behind us, casting rays against the black Wolf before me and creating a kaleidoscope of color glinting against his shiny fur.

Breathtaking, I whispered to myself, indulging in the heady scent of him as warmth flooded my body. I wanted to sink my fingers into that fur, to disrupt the patterns and waves on his back with my hands. What would it feel like to touch him as a Wolf? Would his fur feel the same as his hair? Would his tongue feel…

Knox abruptly slowed his pace from a run to a steady jog, and a small adobe house came into view, almost identical to the last one if a bit shorter. Knox wasted no time on our approach, only pausing at the threshold before rounding the side of the house. I shifted and pushed open the door, revealing the interior that was laid out in the same manner as the previous house….but no loft. To my horror, I noticed that in place of the living room grouping there was instead a bed, large enough for only two people. My heart pounded, and my fingers shook against the doorframe. Where was Knox going to sleep?

I could hear him outside and hurried to the bathroom. Heart pumping, I showered and dressed quickly, grateful the house presented me a change of clothes in the bathroom this time before I had to face Knox again. We’d spoken so little since I told him about Draven last night, and he’d offered nothing to give away his true thoughts on the situation. He was confusing to me, so serious and controlled and closed off in one moment, then teasing and flirting and making my heart flutter in the next.

Opening the bathroom door and stepping out into the kitchen, I surveyed the room. He had thrown open all the shutters, filling the house with the morning light, and sat sipping from a mug at the head of the table. If not for the soreness creeping into my bones from our run and the one bed instead of a living room, I would have thought no time had passed since our meal at the first house.

Knox looked as he had then, relaxed with his dark hair a bit tousled and a faint smirk on his lips. His attention was on something outside, the movement of his arm as he sipped on his coffee a practiced motion, as if one from a familiar routine. I padded over to him on bare feet and took a seat, waiting until he drew his gaze from whatever he saw past the glass to me.

I cleared my throat and smoothed my hair self-consciously, building up my nerve with a short exhale and a grip against the seams on my thighs. “I have questions,” I started, meeting his eyes. They were lighter in the sunshine pouring through the windows around the house, almost light enough to be considered brown. Focus, I thought, and cleared my throat again. “And I would appreciate it very much if you would answer them honestly.”

As I watched, his irises darkened so his pupil was no longer distinguishable, a dangerous but playful quality lingering there. He grinned, his fangs elongated slightly, sending a shiver down my spine. Setting his mug down, he placed his palms flat against the tabletop and leaned toward me.

Low and sensual, he growled, “Finally.”
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