THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 2 - LUNA

I silently cursed myself. My human senses aren’t as strong as my Wolf’s, clearly, but now I noticed the unmistakable smell of Wolf on him. Heart pounding, I bared my teeth at him, letting my canines grow. He did not relinquish his grip, or acknowledge my threat. He knew he had me pinned, and that I would have to fully shift to free myself of him. If I shifted in his territory, he would be free to kill me. Old Wolf laws were simple and absolute - any uninvited Wolf in a foreign pack’s territory could be killed without question.

“I am going to let go of you, and I implore you not to attack me again. I only wish to talk, but I will not hesitate to rip your throat from your neck.” His hands released my arms, and he stepped back to give me space. The sudden absence of his body against mine gave me a shiver, my exposed skin suddenly aware of the rapidly-cooling air for the first time. “Good. Now, a walk. This way, please.” He turned from me, giving me his back, but in a way that suggested I had no choice but to follow. My Wolf was cowering in a way that had started feeling too familiar recently.

Humiliation rushed through me, raising my temper at this annoyingly smug Wolf before me, so confident in my submission he didn’t even bother to look back to verify I was behind him. We eventually fell into step, heading further and further away from the bus station.

Despite the darkness, I was starting to notice more about my surroundings. The now-cold air was dry and tasted like dust. The ground crunched beneath our feet as we walked along the side of a dirt road. Above us, millions of stars twinkled to life, bigger and more beautiful than I had ever seen. Knox’s hand found its place in the small of my back, both guiding me forward while keeping me from running off into the darkness. Even if I had the strength to run, I knew he would catch me with ease. Even if I fully shifted, I felt too tired and weak to put up a chase for long.

Away from the small bus-stop town, it grew even quieter, and I silently cursed myself for ever deciding to leave home. I had thought I could slip through pack territories unnoticed, find a small, unclaimed corner of the map to live my life quietly. Maybe, after a while, I could try to find a pack accepting of strangers, try again at a normal life. I should have known better. Ever since I was a girl I was a tool controlled by men, valued for my breeding stock as a bargaining chip to power, so it should come as no surprise that I found myself in another stupid situation.

I knew Knox could likely smell my fear as it radiated off me, betraying any hope of maintaining my confidence from before. He did not acknowledge it, only leading me further into the night. Eventually, I began to see the silhouette of a black car in the darkness. When we reached it, Knox opened the passenger door expectantly. I hesitated, staring up at him and worrying my lip. He sighed, raking a hand through his dark hair before shifting towards me and cornering me against the open door. “Just get in the car. I promise I’m not going to kill you.”

“Ah yes, that makes me feel much better,” I bit back but leaned down to climb in the car anyway. He closed the door, quickly joining me at the driver’s side and bringing the car to life. The light from the dash cast a dim glow over the leather seats, but it was enough light to see that it was a very nice, well-kept car. Probably expensive, guessing from the vaguely familiar logo on the wheel, though I had never listened when my father tried to teach me using his fancy car collection. Knox put it in drive and turned us towards the road in a smooth motion, continuing in the direction we were heading without any further explanation.

We drove in continued silence, a silence that felt more and more oppressive as the minutes dragged on. My palms were sweaty, pressed against my thighs. “Where are you taking me?” I finally asked.

“Somewhere we can talk privately. Somewhere with fewer prying eyes.”

“I promise I’m just passing through,” I blurted, “I was supposed to be on the next bus out of town.”

He chuckled, a deep sound low in his throat. “A lone Wolf, a beautiful woman, just passing through? No, I don’t think so. Maybe through this part, but not my territory entirely.”

I shook my head. “Truly, I was passing through. I don’t even know where we are, I’m just headed west. That’s all I asked for, a ticket heading west.”

Knox tapped his thumb against the steering wheel distractedly. “Even if that is true, there is no land between here and the Pacific that isn’t Pack territory. Here, we are in the middle of it.”

I felt my heart sink. I must be further South than I realized. “Where is here, exactly?” He turns his face to meet mine, his dark eyes truly voids in the dim light.
“Death Valley.” Swallowing hard, I dropped my eyes to my lap. Cursing myself again, I dug my nails against my jeans. I knew there was a Pack down here, and a large one at that. I should have been more careful, paid closer attention to the route, not wandered this close to an active Pack.

“I’ll head north, then. Away from Pack lands. I’m not looking to make trouble, just passing through.” My voice was filled with earnestness, hoping my sincerity would convince him to turn the car around and let me go. He didn’t acknowledge me, instead pressing harder on the gas so the car picks up speed.

“You will speak with the Alpha, then you’ll be free to go. Relax - we are almost to our destination.” The car began climbing uphill, curving and winding for the first time. Knox seemed at ease, eyes forward, a passive smile on his face. I took a moment to notice his hands, wrapped around the wheel loosely. His fingers were long, nails neat. Further up his arm I finally saw that he was dressed in a well-tailored white shirt, the collar just a little rumpled and unbuttoned carelessly at the top. Unconsciously, I felt myself color and turned my eyes away. Stop staring at him, I chided myself. He’s probably going to kill you.

After what felt like an eternity, we turned off the dirt road, and I felt the transition to pavement underneath us. We pulled up to a large, linear gate, lit from below with small, round lights buried into the ground. To the left stood a tower, where a man dressed in all black came striding out at our approach. Knox rolled down the window halfway, and the man nodded. The gate whirred to life, sliding along a track towards the guard’s tower to let us through.

The driveway was long, sloping down into a large covered area that I realized was a garage. Several luxury cars lined the wall in front of us, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the display as we pulled into a spot next to them. I gathered myself and climbed out before Knox could tell me what to do. My fear had subsided into annoyance again, and I clenched my jaw to keep my impatient Wolf in check.

Knox was quick to follow, directing me to a steel door behind us. With a push of the button in the wall, the door slid back to reveal an elevator. He extended an arm, and I pushed past him into the small, sleek room. As he joined me, the door closed and I felt us begin to sink into the earth.

Our proximity brought back the memory of his hands pinning me against the fence, his breath on my face. A bead of sweat rolled down my neck.

When the door slid open, I took a beat to scan the room before us. We had entered a large space, the ceilings high and the floors a polished cream marble. Directly ahead of me was a wall of glass, the blackness outside making it reflect like a huge mirror. I could see myself, slightly distorted from across the room. My red hair was matted in waves around my face, half pulled up in a sloppy bun. I looked dirty, the jeans and T-shirt I hadn’t changed out of in a couple of days hanging dimly off my frame.

It doesn’t matter. I turned my eyes to the rest of the room, settling on the low, off-white couches between us and the glass wall. Between them was a solid metal round table, with a tray of glass bottled waters.

Knox placed a hand on the small of my back, fingers warm against my skin, guiding me towards one of the couches. I sat gingerly, waiting for him to follow. He didn’t. Instead, he turned to face me, arms clasped behind his back. “You will speak with the Alpha shortly.” I nodded curtly, ready to be rid of him.
He turned and left, disappearing down a corridor to the left of where we came in. His absence gave me more time to survey my surroundings, looking for an escape. The walls around me looked to be cut from red stone, their rough texture a stark contrast to the almost-reflective floor.

Everything about the sparse room felt both opulent and minimal, somehow. The display of wealth here was different from what I was used to, with none of the dark woods and ornate carvings like my father’s estate and the Pack House from home.

It’s not your home anymore, I reminded myself. You can never go back.

Being alone brought forth a sudden weariness I’d been fighting for a while now. The couch, though pristine and seemingly unused, was surprisingly comfortable and the first soft thing I’d rested on in many days.

I wanted so badly to lay down and sleep, but I pinched myself hard on the arm to keep myself awake. The minutes stretched out as I fought to keep my eyes open, the adrenaline and fear from before no longer present to fuel me. I didn’t know how much time passed when suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I snapped forward, eyes flying open. Knox was before me, leaned over with the same amused smile from before. I pushed his hand off my shoulder and slid down the couch, creating some space between us.
He had changed into a dark grey fitted suit. He stood to his full height and unbuttoned the top button on his jacket. Before his shirt collar had been left open to show his chest, but now a stiff black tie rested in its place. He tugged it a bit looser, an almost unconscious fidgeting movement then took a seat on the couch across from mine.

Grateful the table provided a barrier between us, I crossed my arms over my chest. “Where is your Alpha? I must speak with him and be on my way.” The anger flared, fueled both by his domineering presence and my embarrassment at being caught dozing. Was my mouth hanging open? Did I drool? Was I snoring? Knox chuckled, a sound I found I both loved and hated. Before I could say anything else, he leaned forward towards me, hands clasped and arms resting on his knees.

“I am the Alpha.”
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