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I sat heavily in the chair at my desk, leaning back and running my hands through my hair. The Haze was crippling, consuming my every thought and rendering me completely useless any time Luna so much as crossed my mind. Images of her soft skin yielding under my bite flashed behind my eyelids, the sound of her breathy moan as I pulled on her throat ringing in my ears. The way she had ground her hips against me had my hands frequently reaching towards my aching cock, kept at bay only by the guilt roiling in my gut.

Some part of me had known I was crossing a line as I took Luna in my arms, though the decision to Claim her was still not fully formed as I found my mouth against her sweet flesh. My rage had been uncontrollable, my actions driven exclusively by the baser instincts I usually kept on a short leash. The things the young Alpha had said about her, the way he degraded her and disregarded her wishes completely…it had unleashed something dark inside of me no containment spell could control.

My Wolf had been roaring to kill him then and there, to rip his useless tongue from his head and present it to Luna as a trophy. Perhaps I would have done so, had she not been standing so confident and strong between me and her abuser. Her firm rejection of him had been the tipping point of rational thought, the quiet idea that she could be mine overshadowing all else.

You have to keep your distance, I reminded myself for what seemed like the hundredth time today. You have to keep your distance, have to give her the chance to approach on her own… My knee bounced with built-up tension, and I thrummed my fingers against the desk. As much as I desired her, I hated that my Claim had come through force. I’d spent enough time in her mind to know how she felt about having her own options, how she craved the freedom to make her own decisions. I’d taken that from her, and no explanation or justification for my behavior could change that fact.

Rash decisions weren’t something I was familiar with, every step I’d taken since becoming Alpha planned and coordinated ahead of time. I’d known the path before me long before I bound myself in blood to the Pack, both through occasional insights from my mother and careful strategizing during my youth to prepare me for my role. But everything about Luna…she had me out of my depth, in unfamiliar territory surrounded by mountains of ‘what ifs.’

My mind wandered to the last time I saw her, hair deliciously wild and mussed from sleep, her flushed body wrapped in my sheets. Panic and shame had risen in me as she caught me watching, her wide eyes sending shivers down my spine the second she blinked awake. I couldn’t recall the details of our brief conversation, my thoughts too occupied with fighting every urge to launch myself at her and cement my Claim. Cursing myself inwardly at my lack of control, I shuddered in horror at the recollection of almost asking her to move into my house, to choose me when she decided what came next for her. What had possessed me in that moment, to even consider that she could want to share the same space as me?

I hadn’t been able to tear my eyes from her as she had slept, banishing my own exhaustion to focus on studying her. In sleep she was soft, the angles of her face released from the tension they held during the day. Her lips had parted slightly as she shifted on the bed, a quiet moan escaping her that had sent fire racing through my veins. In that moment I could feel her, under my skin, the blood I’d greedily taken as I Claimed her pulsing in time with her steady heartbeats.

I sighed, shaking my head vigorously to chase away the fantasy of her sprawled against those same sheets, naked and eager for my touch. Feeling this out of control was wearing on me quickly, distracting me from my duties and clouding my judgements. I needed to focus, to get my mind off the female I could smell on me even now. I tried clearing my mind, focusing only on the sound of my own breath, but every exhale was accompanied with the memory of the soft sounds Luna would make as she sighed in her sleep.

My Wolf was clearly desperate for her, that much I already knew and had managed to somewhat suppress during our days on the Run. But now that my magic called to her, completely out of my control? She had been the one on the receiving end of my Claim, yet I never could have imagined how strongly that magic would cement her claim on me. I craved her in every way, my resolve to not storm to Jessamy’s home to whisk her away somewhere private wavering with every passing moment.

Wrenching open the drawer at the side of my desk, I rummaged around in the back until I found what I was looking for. I had stopped smoking years ago, the habit one I had picked up from Matteo and that my mother had always hated, but I kept a fresh pack of cigarettes on hand for times like these. When I couldn’t fight or fuck my way out of my troubles… when all I could do was wait for things to turn out as they were intended.

Janus entered my office just as I placed one between my lips, lighting the tip with a snap of my fingers. He raised his pierced brow at me, taking in my haggard expression with dark eyes. “That bad, huh?” I took a long drag and held my breath, letting the smoke burn against my throat before exhaling. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale.

“You have no fucking idea.” He sat silently in an armchair before my desk, studying me with curious eyes as I burned through what was sure to be the first of many smokes. Ashing it into my nearly empty coffee mug, I lit the tip of another before dropping the butt in the remnants of the morning’s first attempt to get my head on straight. New cigarette between my lips, I raked a hand through my hair, tugging at the roots and puffing heavily. “She’s fucking killing me.” I didn’t need to specify, not when my Beta had borne witness to my Claim. He slipped on a mask of stoic calm but kept quiet, allowing me to burn through two more smokes without interjecting his opinions.

Eventually, his head tilted to the side the smallest bit, and I knew my reprieve was over. “What the hell were you thinking?” Janus’ tone was soft, but the accusation rushed over me. Averting my eyes to the ceiling, I tried to push away the images flashing through my mind, all depictions of Luna I didn’t need to be thinking about in response to his question. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale.

Clenching my jaw, I ground out, “I wasn’t.” He scoffed, drawing my attention back to him in time to track the roll of his all-black eyes.

“You, not thinking? Right.” I felt my shoulders shrug, frowning down at my desk and lighting another smoke. What was there to say? That I allowed my power to grow beyond my control and Claimed her the moment the thought crossed my mind? The excuse was flimsy at best, and my Beta could see through any bullshit I tried to feed him. There was no way I could voice the truth out loud to him, that I craved her the first moment I saw her and could barely hold myself back any time she was around. You don’t have to justify yourself to Janus, I thought bitterly, clenching a fist in my lap, yet I still found myself struggling for words to placate him. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale.

“I couldn’t help myself,” I finally spit, leveling him with a glare. He chuckled, revealing those pointed fangs in a dangerous smile. My magic flared in time with my anger, a scowl cemented on my face. Janus considered me, propping an arm to rest his tilted head in his hand and kicking one booted foot over his knee. Shadows lingered at the base of the bookshelves lining the room, and I couldn’t find the strength enough to reel them in. “She’s everywhere I look, and now she’s in my magic, my blood. I just…” Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale. Squaring my shoulders, I met his gaze and set my teeth. “I did it to protect her. I know it was an overstep, but I’d do it all over again if it keeps her from that menace of an Alpha.” And I would, truly. I would take the splitting headache, the trembling hands, the mindless desperation and rampant desire if it meant she could be free. Free of everyone…except you.

Janus snorted, rolling his eyes again at my stern tone. He shook his head, as if in disbelief, before meeting my stare. “You are absolutely fucked my guy. Never thought I’d see the day.” A growl was all I could manage in response, the scent of his disbelief and amusement grating on my nerves. Leaning forward and helping himself to one of my cigarettes, he lit the end with a snap and ignored my glare. We sat in silence for a while, both looking about the room aimlessly as tension bubbled up inside me. The taste of a fresh smoke couldn’t chase away the roiling energy, if the constant bouncing of my knee was evidence enough. Finally, I snapped.

“If you’re not going to be helpful you can see yourself out.” My harsh words barely registered in Janus’ ears, rolling off his back with half of a shrug.

“Now what kind of friend would I be if I left you to your brooding and chain-smoking all alone?” He grinned, earning himself the finger and a low snarl. Cigarette between his lips, he raised his hands in mock surrender. “Hey man, I’m not the one that insisted you bring her here, or have her accompany you on the Run, or required her to be present when her boyfriend sh-”

“That’s enough!” I thundered, pushing from my chair and stomping over to the glass to survey the training troops. Chest heaving, I closed my eyes and tried to reign in my anger. Janus hadn’t said anything I didn’t already know, but the convoluted emotions boiling under my skin had me primed for a fight. I brought my cigarette to my lips and inhaled deeply, willing myself to relax as the smoke burned against the back of my throat. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale.

As my breathing slowed, I couldn’t help but drift to a place that existed only in my mind, a place where Luna was writhing and panting beneath me. No sound could draw me from the whispered moans ringing in my ears, no smell could clear the scent of honey clinging in my nostrils. A hundred years could have passed while I stood before the glass, smoke burning my fingertips before I let the remaining butt drop to the ground. All I could see was her, so real in my head that nothing else existed. There was only her, no matter how hard I tried to push the memory of her soft lips under my thumb into the darkest corner of my mind. There was only her, and surely keeping my distance was going to kill me.

With a groan, I turned back towards Janus and resumed my seat at my desk. He watched me with an impassive expression, raising a brow as I lit another smoke. “You need a distraction,” he said, standing suddenly and clasping his hands behind his back. “Lysand recommended getting back in the ring. Burn off some of that…energy you’ve got.” I growled and rolled my eyes, turning my head to stare at nothing while my Beta waited patiently for me to cave. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale.

Finally I vanished the mug of cigarette butts and stood to follow, ignoring the smirk Janus threw my way as I passed. Not that I would admit it, but I was willing to do anything to get the thought of Luna out of my mind. Even if that meant getting my ass kicked repeatedly by Lysand.

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