THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 17 - LUNA

I gasped, hand flying to my neck. Knox could read minds, and likely had during our time together. Humiliation rushed over me, and I frantically thought back over our conversations, the things I thought to myself privately when he was near, all the times he had granted a wish or met a need before I could voice it.

“Oh god- oh no.” I stammered, abandoning my tea cup and covering my face with my hands. “I think he’s done that, I think…I felt…how would I know if he was in my head?” Jessamy gave me a sheepish look, biting her pouty lower lip. My reaction made her reluctant to tell me more, so I clenched my hands into fists in my lap and took a steadying breath. “I’m okay. I’m fine. Just tell me.” It was a command that came out harsher than I intended, but she tapped her lip and continued.

“You honestly wouldn’t be able to tell, really. If you had the same gift, it might feel like a presence, or a ghost of a touch.” My face paled, thinking of the sense of familiarity that would overcome me when he was near, but Jessamy didn’t notice. “Knox doesn’t like to spy, truly,” she insisted, her hands raised in surrender. “He’s very skilled at Visiting, and has control over his power enough to choose the minds he wishes to enter. It’s not like mind reading - he’s not hearing every word or thought you’re having.” My shoulders slumped in a sliver of relief, and the witch gestured to my tea to encourage me to keep drinking.

“Visiting is more like seeing than hearing, though you can hear while occupying the mind of someone else. In many ways, it is like stepping into the shoes of the person chosen, and experiencing life as they experience it. What they see, what things feel like when touched, everything they taste and smell and the emotions that accompany them. It’s an amazing and useful skill to have, one that was once common amongst Wolf shifters.” My interest was fully piqued, half listening and half trying to sort out when Knox had Visited my mind. What had he seen through my eyes, felt in my emotions? What had I given away when I was unaware of his power?

“As Pack focused creatures, you can see how this ability would come in handy.” She shrugged. “At one time, it was even the primary mode of communication between Packs, back when the world was wilder and Wolves lived primarily in that form. Now, I’m not sure there is another Alpha left alive that has the ability…” she paused, worrying her lip with her teeth and fidgeting her position curled up in the armchair. “Most of the remaining Alphas or Wolves that were known to have the skill died off within the last few generations, however that doesn’t mean no one else has the power.” Jessamy glanced at me, a curious look, and I thought back to the circle of twisting color, the bright white light and smoking tendrils that wrapped around us on her command.

“You are familiar with the nature of Wolves, right? Particularly that of the males?” I nodded, suppressing a snort. “So then you can imagine how closely guarded information of such a skill would be, should it exist in someone else.” She laughed, a soft chuckle to accompany her shaking head. Having lived with and advised the Pack for so long, it was clear she was equally familiar with the paranoid and protective natures our males leaned towards. Janus came to mind suddenly, his begrudged expression and intense focus on Jessamy giving me pause in hindsight. The Beta usually gave nothing away, but he had been particularly jumpy around the witch in a manner I hadn’t seen from him. I wondered at that male, at the protective instinct he may have for her, and what that might mean about their relationship.

“Within this Pack, there are a handful of persons with the ability - myself included - though I don’t believe any have the level of mastery Knox has managed since becoming Alpha.” The witch smiled softly at me, a sort of apology, I supposed. I had managed to collect myself, but my discomfort at the idea of others having access to my mind was written clearly on my expression. “Knox is selective with the minds he enters, that much I can assure you. If he was in your mind before, I assure you it was with the best intentions.”

I shrugged at that, unsure that the intentions mattered in the grand scheme of things. There were too many moments, too many coincidences to be disregarded. “What about Janus,” I asked. “Can he Visit too?” Jessamy froze in her chair, hand hovering with her cup on the way to her mouth. She cleared her surprise at my question quickly, relaxing her shoulders and letting out a tentative laugh.

“Janus? No, he cannot Visit. Though he is quite familiar with the techniques used by myself and Knox, and often communicates with us through Visiting.” She leveled me with a stare, tilting her head in that way of hers that let me know she was confused by my interest in the Beta. On the other hand, I was interested both in her reaction to the mention of him, as well as the possibility of communicating mentally somehow through this Visiting power.

“How does that work? How can you talk to each other in your mind?” The idea intrigued me, and opened up countless possibilities for ways Knox might use this skill of his within his Pack. Jessamy’s look turned into a frown, but she did not return to the topic of Janus and whatever powers he may possess.

“There are many techniques that accompany Visitor training, which can be learned by anyone even if they do not have the ability.” Small, black-tipped fingers plucked a cookie from the plate, and she munched on it while she sorted her thoughts. “Janus does not possess the ability to Visit, however he is familiar with the signature of our magic and allows us to speak in his mind when we desire. He has also learned to call for us with his mind, a sort of invitation for us to Visit and hear whatever he has to say.”

Questions shot off rapid-fire in my mind, but I held my tongue. I wasn’t certain how much time I would have to question Jessamy, knowing the sun would rise before too long and the day of Draven’s arrival would be upon me. Attempting to sort through and prioritize the most important pieces, I helped myself to another cookie and sat in comfortable silence with the spunky witch as we both pieced together what was to come next.

Just as I was beginning to come up with my next line of questioning, Jessamy spoke. “There is something you should know more about,” she murmured, looking a bit uncomfortable and shifting her legs beneath her. “Knox has you heavily warded, and based on our conversation it doesn’t seem like he told you about that.” My legs were glued to the couch, and I felt my head shake to confirm her suspicions. “The black smoke all around us when I scanned your magic…that’s his magical signature. I’d recognize it anywhere - saw it the moment you stepped through my door. The wards are for your protection, of course, but it seems they’re strong enough to completely hide you from anyone’s view unless Knox has granted permission for you to be seen.” Head spinning, I brought my tea to my lips with trembling fingers, which Jessamy watched with casual interest.

“There’s something else,” she continued, looking away from me to the cluttered table at the back of the room. Her eyes were unfocused as she spoke, her pale skin a bit flushed. “He has…well, it’s a blood ward of sorts that he has on you. It…suppresses your…it hides the scent of your Haze.” She peeked over at me through dark lashes, waiting for my reaction.

My face, usually hot and flushed with near-constant embarrassment, felt cold. Jessamy watched clinically, tracking any changes to my position on her couch with diagnostic eyes. I didn’t know what to say, how to respond to knowledge of power like that, not even bothering to ask how and when he could have applied such magic to me. Hadn’t I noticed though, during the run? Hadn’t I seen the shadows around him flow and mix with the wind as we traveled over his lands? Hadn’t I felt the presence of his magic under the night sky? A laugh bubbled up in my chest, hysterical sounding as it came out of my mouth. I laughed and laughed at the absurdity of it all, the whole situation I had found myself in - so foreign yet similar to the life I had left behind.

Knox had all the power he could wish for, could waltz in and out of my mind at his discretion, and had wrapped me in magic to keep me hidden from the rest of his Pack. As I laughed, I wondered if I felt protected by his choices, or if I felt caged just like I had in my previous life. His intentions may have been pure, fine, but there had been so many opportunities for him to tell me about his magic. Hadn’t I asked about his power, only to be left with non-answers and vague explanations? Did he not trust me enough to share this knowledge with me himself, or did he simply want to save me the embarrassment of knowing he was aware of the Haze blazing through me?

I pulled myself from my memories and peeled my tired limbs from my place on the bed. There was no telling how much time had passed while I lay reminiscing over my time with the witch, who I had decided I liked very much as I left her home with Janus just before dawn. Shuffling to the bathroom for a shower, I tried to slow my churning mind and focus only on the feel of the water against my skin, not the upcoming meeting that would decide the fate of my future.

A knock and the sound of the bedroom doors opening pulled me from the stream, and I wrapped a towel around me as I peeked past the door frame into the room. Mira, the waitress from the diner, stood between two tall, willowy women. I stared at them in surprise, confused both at Mira’s appearance at Knox’s home and the pale women who accompanied her.

She chuckled when she spotted me, and gestured around to her companions. “Good to see you again, Runaway,” she smiled, beckoning me to come closer to where they stood in the doorway. “We’re your entourage today, here to prepare you for what is turning out to be the showdown of the Season.”

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