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I paced around the room while I waited to be summoned, stomach in knots despite my resolve of confidence. Now that I was alone, I had no idea what was expected of me, who would be coming for me, when they would be coming at all. The day wore on through the glass, the shadows in the otherwise unlit room stretching against the floor as the sun shifted across the sky. Straightening my back, I took a deep breath, then decided I wouldn’t spend another minute waiting for answers.

Crossing the room on booted feet, I fiddled with the chain at my waist when I reached the door. I would step outside my room, just to the living room, and hopefully find someone along the way. Someone like… With a shake of my head I wrenched the door open and stepped forward blindly.

…only to run directly into a warm, firm chest.

I squealed and jerked back, but strong hands wrapped around my arms and held me still. Heart pounding, I lifted my face towards the man I’d collided with, blush creeping up my neck as my eyes found his dark gaze. Knox. His lips twitched in a smirk, and I was rooted in his grip. There were so many things I had learned since we last saw each other, so many things that had happened since I woke up comfortable and warm in his arms. How different would this day have been if Janus hadn’t barged in with news of Draven? Draven, who was now an Alpha, on his way to drag me back home.

Knox looked handsome, his scruff trimmed and dark hair combed back. A black collared shirt was open a button at the top, the sleeves long and the cuffs pressed against my arms. “Are you alright?” he asked, a hint of a laugh in his voice. Straightening and removing myself from his hold with a step back, I nodded.

“I’m fine. I just wasn’t…I was just going to find out if it was time to leave.” I tilted my chin up and straightened my shoulders, standing tall as he roved his eyes over me. We stood there for a moment, and I took the time to study him back, letting my eyes fall past where his button-down shirt was tucked into his waist, past the solid silver belt buckle and down his black slacks. My gaze settled at his feet, adorned in shiny black cowboy boots.

“Mira and her dryads did well. You look…” I brought my face to his, watching as he searched for words. Instead, he cleared his throat, standing tall and clasping his hands behind his back. Annoyance flared through me as I watched the twinkle die from his eye, the smile fade from his lips. The part of me that wanted to be angry with him bubbled to the surface, and the desire to demand that he explain himself lingered at my lips. I furrowed my brow, leveling him with a glare, and I watched as he realized where my mind had turned.

I wanted to ask him so many things, wanted to understand why he had cloaked me in his magic without saying anything and suppressed my scent with his blood. I wanted to know more about his Pack, Jessamy, and Mira who apparently knew him incredibly well. He had left out so many details when he answered my questions, though technically he had answered them in his own way. My stomach fluttered as I warred within myself, attempting to decide if now was the right time to start an argument with an Alpha. I held my tongue through gritted teeth, limiting myself to communicating my frustration only with my eyes and the set of my mouth.

Knox sighed, shoulders slumping a bit and wrinkling his snug shirt. He peered at me sheepishly, as if maybe he was hearing everything going on inside my mind…another example of something he had conveniently forgotten to mention. “It seems my secrets are out in the open,” he said, running a hand through his hair and mussing the style completely. “I apologize for not being forthcoming with you from the start.” He reached out with a hand and took one of mine from where I had crossed them on my chest. With warm fingers, he brought my hand towards him and lowered his head to press a slow kiss against my knuckles. “Please understand that my motivations towards omission came only from my desire to keep you safe.”

His eyes were full of sincerity, much lower and closer to mine with his lips against my fingers, and I hated how quickly my anger receded. Letting out a breath, I let my spine relax, and pulled my hand back as he straightened. Knox assumed his posture with hands clasped behind his back, and a hopeful tilt lifted his lips. “As a gesture of my regret, I would like for you to accompany me to the gathering.”

My throat felt dry, but I managed a soft “yes” before he stepped in closer to me, head tilted to the side as he studied my response. His mouth parted, and he offered me a hand slowly.

“To sweeten the deal a bit, I want to show you some of my magic,” he paused, seeming uncertain. “You’ll have to take my hand, and stay close to me, if that’s alright.” I nodded, heart pounding too hard in excitement at the idea of his magic to form a response in words. Taking his hand, I followed as he led me out into the hall and towards the living room, past the elevator and down the hallway towards his private quarters. I didn’t trust myself to speak, not as we stepped closer to what was surely his bedroom door and not as he tucked me under his arm to pull me through the threshold.

Knox didn’t stop moving, directing us to another door, giving me only a second to glimpse a room arranged similarly to mine before we stepped into his bathroom. It too, was similar to mine, though a bit larger and grander in scale with dark towels and a strong, woodsy scent mixed with berries and cinnamon. I wanted to look around longer, to find the differences between his personal space and mine, but he directed us through another set of doors and pulled me into the darkness of his closet.

All around us in the shadow I could see clothes of all types in all black, only broken up with a handful of white dress shirts. Knox was in front of me, blocking my view, before I could examine much else, and I met his eyes to avoid snooping further into his belongings. In the darkened room, Knox was glowing with his aura, the shimmer of his magic flexing around our joined hands between us.

“To do this, I have to be completely in darkness or shadow,” he explained, pushing the doors closed with a booted foot and guiding us further back into the room. My back pressed slightly against shelves, and I realized I was once again sandwiched between Knox’s front and something else. “You can understand,” he murmured, pressing closer to me and wrapping his arms around me, tucking me in close to his chest, “with the amount of light in most other rooms of my home, this is one of the few places I can come and go from easily.”

My pulse was thumping as I sorted through the meaning of his words, our bizarre position standing in his closet in the dark, the hesitant way he held me in his embrace. “Trust me,” he whispered into my hair, “and hold tight.” I barely had a second to wind my arms around his waist before we were dissolving, or bodies fading away into blackness and weightlessness and nothingness.

We emerged in a dim corridor, and before I had a second to catch my bearings, Knox pulled us through a door to the outside. He had me backed against a wall in a second, his strong arms holding me upright. My limbs were tingling, my bones heavier than I remembered. I couldn’t seem to control my neck, head falling forward to rest against his chest. Ears ringing, I could hear Knox mumbling something faintly. My lungs were seizing, and I struggled to pull in air through gasping breaths.

I couldn’t form coherent thoughts, could barely remember my own name as I leaned against him. Something tugged against the back of my mind, and my heart rate began to slow. Relax, it whispered, and I recognized his magic. Finding enough strength to lift my face to his, I met his gaze, the black of his eyes filled with concern. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, and I felt the blood in my body begin to move again. “The first time is always…intense.” He was teasing, but he scanned my face carefully, ensuring I was returning to myself.

“Wha-“ I managed, my voice a croak. Knox kept himself pressed against me, and his warm body was slowly encouraging feelings back into my limbs.

“It’s called shadow traveling, or shadow walking. It’s not always this uncomfortable.” His tone was faintly apologetic, but his lips finally turned up in a smile. He’s excited, I realized, staring back at him in wonder. He wants to share his magic with me. The flush I felt in my cheeks told me I was back to normal, in control of my body once again even if my mind felt lost in his presence.

A throat clearing behind him broke me from my trance, and Knox straightened, only granting a tiny bit of distance between us. He waited until my feet were firmly beneath me before stepping away, turning over his shoulder with a smirk and exposing the surroundings I was yet to see. To my embarrassment, I finally noticed the large table that he moved towards and assumed the nearest head of, easily twenty feet long with chairs clustered at each end, chairs occupied by both familiar and unfamiliar faces.

The table was situated on a spacious covered veranda, overlooking a pristine swimming pool lined with chairs and private cabanas. I didn’t have enough time to allow my eyes to explore the landscaping and mountains rising rapidly in the distance, not the way I would like to if not for the gathering of individuals staring at me in silence. Janus was leaned back in his seat at Knox’s right, arms pulled tightly across his chest with his biceps bulging, and empty chair at his side. To my great displeasure, I realized all other seats at this end of the table were occupied, so I squared my shoulders and made my way to sit next to him, keeping my hands balled in fists at my sides to prevent myself from touching Knox’s dark hair as I passed behind his back.

As I settled in my chair, I kept my eyes on the table, aware that every gaze in the room was still on me. They all sat in silence, only broken by Janus shifting his large form to angle towards me, and I finally allowed my eyes to lift from the light wooden surface. Jessamy sat across from me, her blue hair curled and worn loose. A black circlet adorned her brow, and smudged black liner circled her turquoise eyes. She smiled at me encouragingly, and flashed a stern glance over to Janus.

He huffed, shoulders moving in a shrug. I wondered if she had said something to him in mind, but now didn’t feel like the appropriate time to ask. A toss of brown curls drew my attention to Mira, seated next to Jessamy at Knox’s left. Our eyes locked when she caught me staring, and she grinned while she pulled her hair up on top of her head, tying her curls back into a bun. Her place next to Knox did not escape my notice, and I thought back to what she had said when verbally accosting me with intimate details of her Alpha. I am the eyes and ears of this place…

A set of twins finished out their side of the table, so identical in their pale skin, white hair and expressionless gray eyes that I almost thought I was seeing double. They didn’t speak, and had averted their eyes from me, so I did the same, content to save further scrutiny of them for our eventual introduction. Two males dressed in black sat to my side, both Wolves based on their scent, and they sat staunchly in their seats staring straight ahead.

I realized then that we were all dressed in black, even Jessamy, who seemed different somehow without any color or floral near her. Mira had changed into her own ensemble of black, and a knife was sheathed on each of her biceps with black leather straps. Surveying the group again, I took in the presence that our arrangement held. Each person at this table was powerful in their own way, the energy of them all combined generating a tangible feeling in the air.

Knox cleared his throat, and my attention snapped to him. He sat with his hands clasped on the table in front of him, a mask of indifference and calm on his face. “Our guests from the north will be arriving shortly.” His voice was level and authoritative, ringing with the command of an Alpha. The collar of his black shirt remained unbuttoned, his appearance casual and at ease, as if he was simply about to share dinner with friends instead of preparing for a political negotiation.

“You all know your duties,” Knox continued, his eyes falling to everyone except me, “and you’ve been prepared for whatever is to come.” His knuckles popped in his grip, the only indication that he was anything but perfectly relaxed. Finally, his eyes fell to mine, and we sat locked in each other’s stare until he spoke again.

“As for you, my moon, your only role is to decide whether you would like to remain here or return to your home. Either way, we will see to it that your wish is granted.” Janus let out a breath next to me, but I kept my focus on Knox. His voice carried a tone of finality when he finished, “All of us.”

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