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Something changed in Knox’s eyes when Draven said he would kill me if he wanted. Up to that point he had maintained his calm, baiting Draven and navigating the conversation exactly how he wanted. Not even when he called me a bitch or threatened to fuck me did his composure slip, but the moment the word “kill” left Draven’s lips, patient and polite Knox disappeared.

“Your intentions with Luna give me pause, Alpha Draven.” He growled back, his voice full of ice, and a shudder rolled through me. I hated sitting here while they spoke about me as if I was not present, while they argued and battled for dominance over me and my fate. It made me feel small, insignificant, nothing but a good to be bartered. I felt Knox in my mind, his touch hesitant, though stronger than before. For a moment, I could swear my vision changed to that of what he was seeing, his perspective tinted in red, but it passed before I could have more than a glimpse.

Draven was panting and growling, his fangs elongated and his claws crushing the ruined wood beneath his hands. My heart raced, the tension between the two Alphas thick enough to choke me. “She belongs to me,” he managed, his jaw snapping closed as he spoke. His form was trembling, proof he was barely holding back his Wolf.

“She does not bear the mark of your Claim,” Knox responded, “neither of yours, for that matter.” He gave Bennett a pointed look, but his eyes were downcast to his hands in his lap. Draven’s growls grew, and Alpha Jett scooted his chair back noticeably. The others seated around the table sat quietly, even Janus, though the tension in his muscles as he flexed and shifted next to me was palpable. A fist slammed to the table, and Draven stood.

“I’m tired of this pointless discussion. Surrender the female and we will depart at once.” My fingers trembled. The guards at his back adjusted to stand at either side of him, his broken chair pushed back forcefully as he had jumped to his feet. “You cannot keep what belongs to me, not without facing the consequences.” His hands balled and flexed at his sides, and his guards stepped closer. The older Alpha winced, and my father cleared his throat uncomfortably.

Knox sighed and drank from his wine glass, only standing to mirror Draven after the glass was empty. He spaced his palms flat on the table, leaning forward and staring straight at the fuming Alpha. “Unfortunately, Alpha Draven, it seems you are yet to learn that issuing a threat like that in another Alpha’s territory is…not advisable.” His voice dropped further, his words quiet but full of darkness. “I will forgive your insolence this time, though I can promise I will not extend the same courtesy again.”

They eyed each other, neither willing to be the first to look away. “She. Belongs. To. Me.” Draven gritted out, the muscle in his jaw trembling. I was standing before I realized, and both Alphas snapped their eyes to me. Both pairs reflected anger, challenge, and desire. Magic was swirling around us, and something about the furrow of Jessamy’s brows as she followed the confrontation from her seat told me she was the reason the veranda wasn’t cloaked in Knox’s shadows.

I cleared my throat, turning towards Draven and meeting his gaze with as much confidence as I could muster. “I won’t be returning with you, not to mate with Bennett or to be your mistress.” As I watched him, his fair skin lost the flush of anger and paled, the color bleeding from his face. His eyes were flashing, from rage to fear to desperation. His fangs retracted, and the set of his jaw softened.

“Luna, let’s talk about this,” he murmured, his voice soft and gentle like I remembered. “I didn’t explain myself right last time, baby, let’s just talk.” I shook my head, trying to find my voice, but his face hardened. “Come on, you know you belong to me. Just come home and we can work this out.” Swallowing thickly, I shook my head again, my face stern.

“I’m not leaving, Draven. You can’t make me come with you. I don’t want you anymore.” Irritation flashed across his expression, the mask he reserved just for me slipping and revealing the Wolf underneath. The growl returned to his voice as he tried again, less patient this time.

“Get your things and let’s go.” There was a command there, one that usually would have me bowing my head in submission, but I thought back to Knox’s words. If you don’t wish to return with him, you need only say.

“I’m not changing my mind, Draven. I wish to stay here.” Turning to Knox, I let myself smile, and his face softened a bit under my gaze. He was barely holding himself back, if the sweat on Jessamy’s temple told me anything, but to me, he offered a twitch of his lips in response to my words. I looked back to Draven, who had not missed the exchange between us. “I’m not leaving with you.”

He slammed his palms against the table, and the wood caved from the blow. A large crack split up the middle from the impact, and Knox’s guards seated next to me stood. They flanked me on each side, but I did not flinch at Draven’s dramatics. My father and Alpha Jett moved from their chairs to sit on the pool deck, blatantly removing themselves from whatever was to come next. There would be no more discussion of contracts, not when Bennett was clearly only vying for my return to deliver me to Draven. There would be no point, when Draven had played his hand so openly,

Knox had already called them out on their willingness to ignore the terms that did not suit their agenda, specifically the part that promised me to Bennett, and neither had provided any defense despite traveling all this way. The resignation on my father’s face and his inability to meet my eyes told me he had likely accepted I would not return before they ever left home. Alpha Jett was in my father’s confidence, so his conclusions considering this confrontation were probably the same. They knew they had no grounds to recall me, not based on the contract, and certainly not based on the way my new Alpha regarded me. This was now a battle between me, Draven and Knox, and despite my resolve to withstand this meeting, I was glad I had Knox on my team.

“Listen here, you ungrateful little bitch,” Draven snarled, digging his claws deeper in the crushed wood under his hands, “you belong to me, and you’re coming back with me. I own you.” Mira and Janus stood from the table, assuming their places on either side of Knox. Jessamy remained in her seat, but the pale twins rose and moved to stand against the wall, filling the remaining space between guards.

Straightening my spine and gritting my teeth, I glared at Draven. There was no hint left of that gentle mask just for me, his expression back to that of unhinged rage. “I’m not going back, and I never will. I don’t belong to you anymore, Draven, and I haven’t since you threw me out of my room at your house.” The table caved as he roared, bottles of wine and the untouched spread crashing to the floor. The commotion broke Jessamy’s concentration, her chair now before a pile of splinters and ruin. Her eyes were glowing, the turquoise shining more white than anything. At the edges of the room, I could see shadows forming, and feel the hum of energy I knew belonged to Knox.

The guards at each side of Draven grabbed onto his shoulders, but he shrugged them off with a snarl. My confidence dipped, replaced with fear at their obvious reluctance to restrain him. Janus saw it too, and cracked his knuckles loudly, the only sound to break up the heaving of Draven’s breath. “I think you should leave now,” I said, a hint of waver in my voice that wasn’t there before. He snarled, and I flinched. Bennett cautiously rose from his seat and backed away.

“You think you can be done with me like that?!” he raved, fangs flashing and spittle forming on his lips. “You think you can run off and shack up with the first male who wants to fuck you?! Huh?!” His fists balled, and he raised a pointed finger at Knox. “You think just because this Alpha won’t hand you over that I won’t drag you back home myself?!” He stepped forward, booted feet crunching on the rubble of the table. Claws formed at his hands as he approached, and violence radiated off him. Moving backward, my calves bumped against Janus’s abandoned chair.

“Draven, you should go. I’m not changing my m-“

“Shut your fucking mouth you little whore. You should be grateful I even want you back after all the trouble you’ve caused me!” Draven took a few steps closer, but Jessamy abruptly stood and halted his approach.

“Come no further, Alpha Draven.” Her voice was solemn and serious, and she stood him down with her hands raised in surrender in front of her. “I cannot contain him any longer, and your challenge would only end in death.” My eyes flashed to Knox, who stood with his fists tight at his sides, shoulders back and chest puffed. He looked just as dangerous as Draven, in a different, quieter way, and the shiver that ran through me at the sight of him felt nothing like fear.

Draven sneered at Jessamy, taking in her blue hair and blackened fingers, the ink-like stain appearing to have spread up her hands, wrists, bleeding out over her forearms. “You dare speak to me, witch? You dare raise your filthy hands at me?” His back hunched, his Wolf barely fought back at the sight of her before him. A small voice in my mind wondered at his reaction, wondered if he knew something about the Great Culling or if he was just an asshole. That thought was quickly interrupted as his growls rose goosebumps against my skin.

“That cunt belongs to me, and I’ll be taking her now.” His voice was firm, but he didn’t move. The guards behind him shifted closer, bracing for their Alpha to erupt. Eyes back on mine, he snarled, “I’ve chased you this far, you little whore. I killed my father to come after you, and this is how you thank me? By denying my Claim?” A cruel smile formed at his lips, and he looked past me to Knox.

“I’ve fucked that whore in every way you can imagine,” he taunted, and my face flushed. “I’ve had that defiant mouth wrapped around my cock countless times, tasted the sweet Haze on her cunt and made her scream my name.” Knox growled, and the shadows in the room pulled closer, blending around the feet of the tense observers. Draven was oblivious, lost in his obsession and desire for dominance. His shoulders canted forward, his voice lost in his snarling. “I’ve spilled my seed in her greedy cunt and made her beg for my cock. Fuck the contract, fuck whatever connection you think you have with her. Whether she wears the mark of my Claim or not - She. Is. Mine.”

“That’s enough!” I shouted, turning and moving to stand closer to Knox. Shame and fear wracked through me, but I found strength in the trio of virtual strangers at my back. “I reject your Claim, Draven. Now get the fuck out of here.” Something that felt a lot like pride brushed against me, smelling and tasting of smoke. I could see myself through Knox’s eyes for the briefest moment, and I could feel him at my back as he left his position to stand behind me. A large hand rested on my shoulder, and the warmth of him and his uncontrollable magic blanketed every inch of me.

Draven was seething, watching the two of us and snapping his head back and forth to fight off his shift. Even in his wrathful state he knew better than to give Knox a reason to kill him on site, as phasing in Knox’s territory was a death wish despite his acceptance of this meeting. “You conniving little-“

“You heard the lady, Alpha Draven. It is time for you to leave my Territory.” Knox’s voice was tense, a slight strain on his control, and his grip on my shoulder tightened. Draven roared at him, loud enough to rattle the shards of wood at my feet. Jessamy backed up, taking the place I realized the pale twins had vacated, a look of resignation in her eyes.

“I swear to you,” Draven growled, venom dripping from his voice as he glared at me, “I will find you and drag by your fucking hair the whole way home. I’ll-“ Knox interrupted him with a roar, the sound of it vibrating through me, and the hand at my shoulder went to my neck as he snatched me around the waist. His panting breaths were warm against my exposed skin, and he whispered low next to my ear.

“You threaten her one more time, and you challenge me as an Alpha.” Knox craned my head to the side and brought his lips against the bend of my neck. “As she is mine now.”

His fangs sunk into my flesh, his mouth pulling hard at my blood. I gasped as his Claim washed over me, and sagged against his chest. My body was on fire, every nerve alight, and my vision went black. The world felt like it was spinning, and the Haze broke free of my grasp to rush straight to my core.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion through my blurred vision, chaos exploding all around where we stood. I could faintly hear roaring through the ringing in my ears, drowned out when Knox’s mouth tugged again against my neck, and he groaned as he ground himself against me. I could feel the hard length of him prodding at my lower back, and I rubbed against him as he swallowed my blood.

Draven was snapping and scratching, barely restrained by his guards that had sprung forward as he lunged at us. Bennett was hovering, eyes flipping rapidly between his brother, the Alpha attached to my neck, and the guards circling closer to contain the half-shifted Draven. My father and Alpha Jett were nowhere to be found, likely back at their car anticipating a quick departure.

As I stood frozen in Knox’s grasp, his teeth still attached to my throat, I moaned when I felt the pull of his mouth against my skin. His magic was consuming me, and time was slowing to a crawl. Draven ceased to look real as he broke free of his guards, slashing his claws across one’s throat and spraying blood everywhere. The splatter of it against my face as Draven whirled and charged broke Knox from his trance, and he pulled his teeth from me.

The world spun for real, descending into darkness as he wrenched us through a door and disappeared into the nearest shadow.

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