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The crunch of tires against gravel signaled the arrival of the young Alpha and his crew. I listened as they stepped out of their vehicle and met with the group of guards I had stationed out front to receive them, waiting patiently as they approached the veranda from the side of the Pack house. My inner circle sat quietly as the sea of footsteps grew louder, and I forced myself to keep my eyes from falling to Luna. She looked so beautiful, so strong in the way she held herself, and my Wolf roared at me to snatch her up and take her away from here completely.

She had handled her first shadow walk perfectly, clutching her small arms around me when I asked her to trust me. When we arrived, she had collected herself so quickly, a true natural to have regained her composure without puking at my feet as I had when I’d first attempted to travel through shadows. It was clear she possessed some magic, my initial suspicions confirmed by Jessamy’s assessment of her, and I was eager to find out what she might be capable of. That is, if she decides to stay…

I waved a hand and called the food and drinks for our meeting to the table, barely glancing at the spread as the first of my guards rounded the corner and came into view. There were eight of them in attendance, and they took up their posts around the veranda as they filed in. Behind them came the young Alpha, Draven, with his younger brother right at his heels. Bennett was sporting a fresh black eye, recently purpled and unhealed. I thought back to the reports from my scouts, how Draven was quick to fight, and fought against my Wolf snarling at his presence in my Territory.

Two older men followed behind them, one radiating with the power of an Alpha and the other reminding me a bit of Luna from the frown set on his face. Two goons brought up the rear, sneering and taking in the guards with cold eyes. I stood, and my inner circle rose with me. “Welcome,” I said, inclining my head in greeting and gesturing towards the table. “I am Alpha Knox, accompanied today by my Inner Circle. Please, sit and join us.” Retaking my seat, I watched as the young Alpha assumed the chair opposite me at the other head of the table, leaving his brother to take the seat at his right and the older Alpha to begrudgingly accept the spot to his left. There was tension between the two Alpha’s - deeper than the residual and inherent tension all Alphas had when interacting. The older of the two was irritated, clearly not pleased to be so far from his home Territory.

Leaving the boundaries of one’s Territory was an unnatural enough sensation on its own for an Alpha, and coupled with a short-tempered travel companion like Draven, there were countless opportunities for disaster before ever factoring in the reason for their departure. That reason had claimed the full attention of the young Alpha, rendering him obvious to the cold glare coming from his left.

I fought a smile at the obvious discord of this group, instead watching as the man who had to be Luna’s father finally decided to assume the seat next to his Alpha. He would have to crane his neck around my seated guards to properly see Luna, and my Wolf was pleased that the bastard would have to go out of his way to address his daughter. The image of his hand striking against her perfect face flashed in my mind, and I clenched my fists against the arms on my chair to keep my emerging claws contained. For this to go right, I would need to control myself completely,

The other two Wolves remained standing, taking up positions behind Draven with their arms at their sides. They kept their eyes on me, only occasionally breaking their stares to glance down at their Alpha. His hands too were clenched in fists against his chair, and I noted his pounding heartbeat from where I sat. Draven was not in control, and it was likely he hadn’t been since he assumed his Alpha power. He was driven by rage, reeking of possession and jealousy. His eyes never left Luna, and my Wolf begged to snap his neck.

“Gentlemen, help yourself to anything you’d like.” I waved a hand towards the spread and grabbed the nearest bottle to pour myself a glass of wine. No one else moved, though the young Alpha finally brought his gaze to mine. They would not eat or drink anything I provided, that much I knew, but I was ever the gracious host to have offered. In declining my gesture of goodwill, they told me even more about how this meeting would proceed, whether they knew it yet or not. I wanted to sigh, to rub my face in my hands in frustration, but I maintained my composure. This was not the first time I had sat opposite Wolves who would like nothing more than to kill me, and I wouldn’t let my personal feelings regarding Luna cloud my judgment.

I held Draven’s stare and waited him out, relishing in the anger I could feel rolling off him. Bennett looked between us warily, then at the older Alpha who let out a sigh and grabbed his own bottle, filling his glass almost all the way to the brim. “I’m Alpha Jett,” he grumbled, sipping from his wine and smacking his lips. “That’s Alpha Draven. Now that we all know each other let’s get on with this thing so we can all go home.” Jett raised an eyebrow at the young Alpha and gulped again from his wine, swallowing noisily. “If you two haven’t killed each other by the time this is done, I’d gladly accept a case of this wine as thanks for my involvement in the matter.” He lifted his glass to me and chuckled, breaking some of the tension cloaking the table.

“Of course, Alpha Jett,” I raised my own glass to him in response, pleased that there seemed to be at least one reasonable male among their group. “I would be happy to provide you with a case, that is, once we reach an arrangement we can all agree upon.” I sipped on my wine and Jett poured himself another glass before helping himself heartily, only pausing to glance at Draven, whose eyes were back on Luna.

Despite my better judgment, I let myself steal a glance at her. She sat straight in her chair, eyes trained forward on Jessamy, who was looking at her with pity. I wanted to reach out to her in mind, wanted to know what she was thinking and feeling, but I regained my focus by taking another drink from my glass. “Well go on then, boy,” Jett prompted the younger Alpha, “tell us all why we’re here so we can get this over with.”

Draven’s jaw clenched as his eyes slowly fell to the Alpha, clearly displeased at being ordered around by the male he saw as his equal. Though I kept my power suppressed and my mind locked down, I couldn’t help but hear his internal growling and snapping. He was a loose cannon, held together only by his drive to reclaim Luna, and that made him dangerous. My guards around the veranda shifted in their stances, the violent look in Draven’s eyes noticed by all present.

“We are here to collect what belongs to me,” he gritted through clenched teeth, and Bennett adjusted in his seat to create more space between him and his brother. My Wolf snarled at his insinuation that Luna was some object to be retrieved, not a living and breathing female who had given all of herself to him. Who had loved him, even when he didn’t deserve it. My fangs pushed against my lips, but I forced them back.

Setting my glass on the table, I leaned back in my seat and studied him. His upper lip curled at my assessment, and I could see that he was not having any success keeping his fangs concealed. “You’ll have to clarify, Alpha Draven,” I drawled, boredom and disinterest dripping from my voice, “as I don’t believe I’ve found myself in possession of anything that belongs to you.” He snarled, and the Wolves stationed at his back leaned forward carefully.

Fingers in claws, his hands dug into the wood of his armrests. “Do not try my patience, Alpha Knox,” he spit. “I am here for the female.” All eyes at the end of the table fell to her, and her father angled back to get a better look at where she sat. He was a tall but stout man, at one time handsome before his hair greyed and skin began to crease. He was uneasy, radiating guilt, a desperate look in his dull brown eyes. Coward, was all I could think, blood boiling.

Silence followed his declaration, and I weighed my options. I wanted Luna to decide, to be the one to refuse his demands, but I couldn’t expect her to stand up for herself knowing what I knew about the last time she had seen him. Draven had left deep bites all over her as he took her angrily, tearing her fiery locks and wrapping his hands around her throat. He could have killed her, I told myself, fighting to force the image of him bent over her naked body from my mind. She needs you to stand up for her, hopefully just this once.

“Luna has been a most welcome guest in my Territory. She is free to come and go as she pleases from my lands.” My eyes found hers, and the mask she had firmly in place on her face slipped for the briefest second. I reached out to her in mind, a finger trailing along her spine, and that mask slipped further as she recognized my presence.

Draven slammed his hand on the table, breaking our connection. “That bitch you’re making eyes at belongs to me, and I won’t leave without her.” I growled at him, low and measured, allowing a bit of my power out to seep my dominance into the air.

“You will remain in my Territory for as long as I permit your presence, young Alpha. Do remember your manners now.” I reclaimed my wine glass and took a drink, pretending to ignore the hate filling his eyes. “As I mentioned, Luna is free to come and go as she wishes.” I raised a brow and pointedly turned my face to her. “So perhaps we should skip to the part where someone asks her what she wants.”

Alpha Jett scoffed over the bottle in his grasp, long since skipping the formality of filling his glass. “It’s not a matter of wants, Alpha Knox. There is a contract in place regarding the female’s mating, agreed to by her father. She is bound to return to Alpha Draven’s Pack to fulfill the terms of the agreement.” Draven folded his arms across his chest, his white T-shirt pulling as he puffed in satisfaction.

I tapped my fingers against the table, pretending to consider his statement. “If I am correct,” I cut my eyes to Janus and Mira, “the contract you are referring to was established between yourself and Alpha Draven’s predecessor.” Mention of the late Alpha had Draven’s guards glancing between each other, waiting for an outburst from their Alpha. “Furthermore, it specified the mating of the female in question to the youngest son of the departed Alpha, Bennett, upon the instance of her first Haze.”

Luna shifted in her seat, a small movement I noticed but didn’t acknowledge. “Since she remains unmated, and half of the parties in agreement are now deceased, I don’t believe this contract has any standing in this discussion.”

Draven snarled and clawed at the chair, the wood splintering beneath his grip. I smirked, and he snarled again, prompting Bennett to put a hand on his shoulder. “The contract between myself and Luna stands under the new leadership of Alpha Draven.” I turned my attention to Bennett and he crossed his arms, peeking over at his brother from the corner of his eye.

“So it’s you who wants her back, is it?” I sneered, and Draven growled low in his chest. Bennett looked uncomfortable, and I flexed my power as I waited with apparent disinterest. He tugged at his collar, loosening the black tie he wore while glancing back and forth between me and Draven.

“Luna is bound to me by a legitimate contract between two Alphas, and thus she is to return with me to my Pack.” Tilting my head and rubbing my chain, I leveled him with a stare.

“How long after your arrival before you give her over to your Alpha to do as he pleases?” Bennett’s jaw clenched, and the wood beneath Draven’s claws gave way completely.

“The business between me and my brother is of no concern to you, Alpha. The female belongs to my Pack and will return, one way or another.” Draven’s eyes were threatening, but he didn’t issue a formal challenge to me.

“But that brings us back to the matter of the contract,” I taunted. “How can I assist in your retrieval of Luna if I’m aware that the contract will continue to go unfulfilled?” My voice dripped with feigned sincerity. Draven’s string of growls that followed did not deter me from my point, but my Wolf paced in agitation at his rising anger. “It seems that if the terms of the contract are up for negotiation, assuming Bennett surrenders his claim to Draven, then the validity of the contract as a whole should be up for negotiation.” The older Alpha sighed over his bottle and exchanged looks with Luna’s father. They knew just as well as I did that my questions and casual perusal through the clearly sore subject of Luna and Bennett had ignited the possessive nature of the already-angered Alpha.

“The contract is not open for negotiation,” he growled, causing Bennet to shift away in his seat. “What I choose to do with that bitch when she’s back in my Territory is up to me, her Alpha. I can fuck her if I want, kill her, let my brother have a turn if I’m feeling generous. She belongs to me.”
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