THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 18 - LUNA

The women with Mira were Amadrya and Amalthea, she introduced, though I didn’t catch which was which as I stood frozen in the doorway. Their visible skin was pale, with an almost translucent quality, and their limbs were long and graceful. Two sets of ice-blue eyes peered at me, in line with Mira’s smug brown. They were easily as tall as her, one maybe a bit more so at closer to six feet. I was reminded of how comfortable Jessamy had seemed to me, much closer to my own meager height than everyone else towering around me.

But they seemed nice enough as the three of them got to work, whispering with Mira as she gave them instructions and collected items from the attached closet, brushing past me to set up on the large counter in the bathroom. Someone summoned a tall chair for me to sit on, and I perched on the cushioned seat in my robe while the women circled around me discussing strategies.

I was still reeling from the reappearance of Mira, working through my confusion at her apparent comfort in Knox’s personal home. She seemed to know where everything was, knew what was already in the closet and what would be added to the list for our next trip into town. Even the way she was dressed was in sharp contrast to how I last saw her, long legs hidden in baggy ripped jeans and previously-exposed chest swimming in an oversized Thrasher t-shirt half-tucked into her waist. Black combat boots were on her feet, and her dark curls were untamed around her head. Her chocolate eyes were lined with smudged black, and she wore gold jewelry.

Mira caught me staring as she flitted around, and rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. “Go on,” she teased, putting her hands on her hips and looking at me expectantly. “Say whatever it is you’re stewing over so we can be done with it.” Eyeing her warily, I tucked the edge of my towel tighter around myself.

“We’ve met before,” I stated, tone level and calm despite my inner turmoil. She laughed and bounced her head in my direction, a silent “so what” if I’d ever seen one. “You were at the diner. You gave Knox your phone number.” Mira tutted and waved a hand, her gestures large and exaggerated.

“You’re perceptive, Runaway. But don’t worry, I’m not after your man.” My jaw clenched, and Mira turned away to whatever she was organizing on the counter. Amadrya and Amalthea were nowhere to be found, though I doubted they were far. I took a deep breath in through my nose and prepared to speak, softening my tone to one of pleasant civility.

“My name is Luna, not ‘Runaway,’ and Knox is not ‘my man.’ I am simply here as a guest.” She snorted and whirled around, arms crossed against her chest. The pale women seemingly appeared out of nowhere, standing off to the side and watching as we faced off.

Mira smirked and lifted a brow, and I tensed in anticipation of her retort. “Listen, Luna, you can pretend around everyone else if you want, but you can't pretend around me. I am the eyes and ears of this place, and nothing goes unnoticed when it comes to my Alpha.” She leaned forward, bending at the waist to bring her eyes level with mine. “I have known my Alpha since the moment I was born, and as such I know everything about him. How he takes his coffee, the brand of underwear he prefers, where he goes when he can't sleep at night and how he likes his cock sucked.” I gasped, but she continued, stepping in closer until her face was inches from mine.

“I know the sound he makes when he climaxes, but most importantly I know what it looks like when he’s decided something belongs to him.” She grinned and straightened, leaning against the counter in a casual manner, with her palms flat against the stone. “But like I said, I’m not after your man, even if you aren’t ready to accept him. The diner was just a bit of fun.” Mira shrugged, flipping her curls back over her shoulders with a shake of her head. “I won't apologize for trying to figure out what kind of girl you are.” She pursed her lips and looked upward towards the ceiling, then back at me with a dangerous look in her eyes. “It’s not in my nature.”

Mira swirled away, chattering about my hair and coordinating my makeup with my outfit and other details I tuned out as Amadrya and Amalthea started working on me. Her voice followed her out the door, where she paused and turned back towards me. “It seems my Alpha has arrived home,” she poked her tongue between her teeth and winked. “I’ve been summoned for the briefing. You’re in good hands with my ladies!” she called, disappearing into the hall with a click of the door.

I pouted in my chair while they worked in silence, moving around with deft footsteps and practiced motions. Mira’s words lingered in my mind, her bold comments about Knox leaving a perpetual stain to my cheeks. She knew the sound he made when he… Swallowing thickly, I glanced at the pale women working on my hair, my face, wondering if they might tell me more about the relationship Mira clearly had with Knox. I felt like I had whiplash from our interaction, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to know any more details than she had already provided.

It doesn’t matter, I told myself, pushing thoughts of the handsome Alpha from my mind. He is kind and he is powerful, but he is nothing to you. Your future depends on that.

Instead I studied the willowy women as they made me presentable for what was sure to be a room full of arrogant males. I noted their narrow faces, the sharp angles of their cheekbones as I stewed over the fact that my fate was once again being bartered outside of my control. The two of them were beautiful, in an ethereal way, and as I watched them I began to see the differences between them. The taller of the two had hair a shade darker than the pale blonde of the other, though they both wore it long and straight down to their waists. The shorter one had a softer look to her eyes, almost gentle as she leaned in to apply powder to my cheeks.

Their fingers were invisible against me, so light and nimble I could scarcely feel their touch. I had been attended to by staff in this manner before, preparing for the few public events I was permitted to attend with my father, but none had ever worked with the skill these two seemed to possess. “Forgive me,” I managed, and their hands halted. “I don’t believe I caught which of you is Amadrya and which is Amalthea.” The shorter one before me smiled, glancing over my head to the woman behind me.

“I am Amalthea,” she said softly.

“I am Amadrya,” the one behind me echoed.

Smiling back at Amalthea, I thanked them. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Her ice-blue eyes twinkled, and I felt a hum in the air that I recognized as magic. “Do you have magic?” I asked before considering whether the question might be impolite. Nerves fluttered in my stomach, but Amalthea giggled and dabbed at my face with a brush.

From behind me, Amadrya spoke. “We are dryads, or tree nymphs if you prefer. We possess many means of magic.” My heart stuttered in surprise, but I could see it now. They looked too perfect to be human, and their magic was unfamiliar to me, quieter and barely noticeable if not for my time around Knox. They didn’t smell of Wolf, but of the forest, sunshine through tree leaves and moss sprawling across rocks. Even the way they were dressed, in soft green tunics and leggings, made them look like fixtures of the woods, out of place against the reddish stone all around us.

Amalthea must have seen the confusion on my face, and she turned from working on my makeup to the counter. “We have lived here since the Culling, under the protection of the Alpha.” Fingers froze in my hair, and Amadrya moved to stand next to her with a stony look. Amalthea ignored her, keeping her face downcast as she tidied up the products on the counter. “We are bonded to Mira, now that Knox is the Alpha. She is our protector.” Amadrya put a hand on her shoulder, and gave me a blank stare.

“That’s enough for now, Thea. She’s ready.” They stepped aside and left the bathroom, not glancing back as they exited my room. I was reeling from their abrupt departure, but I could see my reflection in the mirror from my place on the chair, and stood to move closer for a better look at their work. The face peering back at me from the glass looked like me, but also not. The dark circles that permanently hollowed out my green eyes had been concealed, lighter and more awake looking than I ever remembered myself appearing. My cheeks had a soft blush, not the bright red they always were when embarrassment betrayed me on my face. My lips were a light berry shade, full and pouty in a way that was both natural and enticing, and my chest fluttered when I realized I liked what I was seeing.

Amadrya had shaped my unruly waves into curls that cascaded gently down my shoulders, half pulled up in twists that formed a crown around my head. I touched where they met in the back, feeling something smooth and metal against my fingertips. Turning and craning my neck to see what adorned my hair, I spied a comb, the teeth buried into my tresses. The top had a slight curve to it, and each phase of the moon in a complete cycle glinted in the arc shaped of silver. The center full moon was inlaid with a shining moonstone, its rainbowed surface casting color against the red hair around it.

I felt silly, standing there gaping at my reflection, so I hurried from the bathroom to the outfit Mira had prepared for me at the end of the bed. Simple black undergarments, a black, long sleeved shift dress and a silver chain belt forming a circle of crescent moons. I dressed quickly, securing the chain around the narrowest part of my waist and pulling the loose dress a bit tighter. The fabric was soft and comfortable, I noted as I slipped my feet into black combat boots. Not too thin to reveal the exact shape of my curves, not too thick to be clunky on my petite form.

My chest felt tight at the attention to detail these women had regarding my care, all strangers to me yet thoughtful in their enhancements to my appearance. I felt like myself, if not a better, more polished version, and I felt my confidence flare up with a straightening of my shoulders. The meeting to come was sure to be a mess, as the conversation around me and my fate always seemed to end in more chaos, but I could weather it. Mira and her dryads had prepared me physically, yes, but she had also sparked to life something in my mind as she spoke so boldly about her intimate knowledge of Knox. She had challenged me, questioned what I was made of, put me on the spot to watch me squirm.

She had intended to get a rise out of me, I realized, and getting through her test of sorts was just an example of what was to come. Whether that had been Mira’s intention or not at the moment, I couldn’t be sure, but it didn’t matter. The three of them had prepared me in all the ways I would need, and I knew I could have better control of my reactions no matter what was said later. I would survive this meeting, would weather the onslaught of humiliation I was already prepared to feel, would come out of the confrontation without succumbing to Draven’s persuasion.

Mira had made sure of that.
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