THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 3 - LUNA

My heart felt like ice in my chest. This man, who I had been blatantly disrespecting and even took a swing at, was the Alpha. Of course, just my luck. The fact that my head was still connected to my body seemed like a miracle. Up north, no Alpha I had ever known would have had the patience for my behavior. Me - a stranger to his Pack - uninvited and trespassing on his territory.

I ducked my head down in submission, no longer meeting his eyes. “Alpha, you must forgive me. I didn’t realize...” I trailed off, not sure what to say. I didn’t realize what? He could kill me? I already knew that. “You didn’t say...I...I would’ve...” Done what? I wasn't even sure.

“Look at me.” I lifted my face to his immediately, no longer willing to show defiance. He seemed to study my complexion, which made me color again. His eyes lingered for too long, especially on my lips. I tried not to fidget too much, warring with myself to try to seem like I had a sliver of confidence left. His careful analysis of me made my heart pound, both in fear and excitement.

To have been so close to an Alpha, to have held his attention for so long, it feels like both an honor and a curse. Alphas rarely interacted with others below their station, rarely dealing with investigating threats to their borders or other menial tasks. There are others for that, ranks of Wolves that worked under the Alphas and did their bidding.

Where I came from, despite being from a good family of wealth and influence, I’d only seen the Alpha a handful of times, and spoken to him once. That meeting was something I pushed out of my mind now, reminding myself not to think of it.

“I’ve been expecting you.” Before carrying on, he grabbed the bottle of wine off the table I hadn’t noticed him bring. He methodically uncorked it, pouring a bit into each of the glasses that also must have appeared with him. The wine was a deep red, so strong I could smell it immediately. He lifted a glass and handed it across to me, which I didn't dare refuse. I waited until he took a sip from his own glass before raising mine to my lips.

The flavor was strong, like the way baking under the hot sun feels. It was dry, but still pleasant. I took another sip, then set the glass back on the table.
“I was informed that a runaway Wolf was wandering closer and closer to our borders. A Wolf of a very interesting position with the Packs in the northeast.” My heart was pounding, so hard I’m sure he could hear it rattling around in my chest.

“I can explain.”

“I’m sure you will.” He clapped his hands twice, and the lights all around us automatically dimmed.

Almost in darkness now, I could see out the glass wall for the first time. From where I was sitting, it felt like the night sky before us was without end, the huge stars even closer than before. I was immediately taken by the beauty of it, the beauty of him sitting before me, somehow even more handsome in the low light.

I didn't know what to say. My mind was still reeling, processing my causal proximity to him in the dark, my throat dry. “Alpha, please, forgive my offenses. I had not intended to enter your territory, much less bring-“

“Tell me your name.” He interrupted me, but said it softly. He was commanding, yet quiet.

“Luna,” I whispered. He nodded like he must have known.

“Well then, Luna. Please call me Knox.” His gaze was intent on me, and a small smile tugged at his mouth. My breathing caught in my throat. “I would prefer for us to speak on a first name basis.” His eyes dropped to my lips. “As friends do.”

Grabbing his wine from the table, he stood and moved over towards the windows, his back to me. I felt on fire in my seat, stomach fluttering, and I quickly snatched my glass and gulped it down. It did nothing to quell the rising heat in me, or calm my frayed nerves. I could barely remember the danger of my position, the inevitable fallout this conversation would likely bring.

“My Pack lands stretch across a vast section of this country. Almost a thousand miles in Perimeter.” He paused, turning back to face me. The glass in his hand was gripped so loosely, small in his large hands. “So I am no stranger to unique circumstances.” I fidgeted uncomfortably against the couch that was comfortable only moments before.

The manner in which he spoke made me wonder how familiar he might be with me, or what he might have heard, or why it was being shared this far from home in the first place. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re running from?”

Swallowing hard, I averted my eyes from his gaze and looked down at my hands. “I’m not running. I just... needed a change of pace.” My face felt flushed, and I inwardly cursed my frantic choice to drink the wine. It settled in my chest, the heady flavor still lingering on my tongue.

He said nothing, his dark eyes endless voids against the night sky at his back. I took a breath to settle myself and gave in to the questions in his stare, knowing the truth is the only thing I had to offer.

“I was supposed to be Mated to the youngest son of the Alpha from a neighboring Pack. It’s not that unusual where I’m from - it’s - a peace treaty of sorts I guess. He didn’t want me, I was embarrassed, so I left. That’s all there is to say.” My eyes pricked at the corners in shame.

In reality, it was more than that. Did I need to mention that I had fallen for his brother, the Alpha in succession, and that he had publicly claimed me during my first Haze? Did I need to mention that the scandal of our affair was what led to my rejection as his brother’s bride? Did I need to mention that being tossed aside by the Pack’s future leader brought shame to my father and created tension between our Packs? My voice was quiet, as small as the memory of my past made me feel. “Now I’m just looking to make a new life.”

He moved back towards me, resuming his previous spot on the couch and gingerly placing his glass on the table. His eyes didn't meet mine, only adding to my feelings of shame. What must he think of me? I couldn't help but wonder. Knox leaned back, fully resting his shoulders against the couch. Slowly, he pulled his tie at the knot until it unravels, tossing it to the side with a sigh.

I hated feeling this way, waiting for him to say something, anything. It reminded me of the life I left, a life of following orders and answering to expectations set without regard for my desires. But my desires...well…they seemed to get me into trouble at every turn. If I wasn't careful - if I didn't find a way to appease Knox and his questions - that trouble could follow me all the way out here in the desert and ruin any chance I might have of escaping the past.

“In my time as Alpha,” he began, staring at his hands now folded in his lap, “it has been my experience that many people find themselves out here looking for a fresh start. Part of what I pride myself on as a leader is my willingness to accommodate newcomers, and offer a safe haven in the vast expanse of my territory.”
He stopped and finally raised his eyes to meet mine.

To my embarrassment, my heart pounded even harder, the sound of its uptick one I’m sure he could hear. No longer able to meet his gaze, I ducked my head in submission, cheeks flushed. “This pack is made up of Legacy families and lone Wolves alike, all of which are welcome to make their home here and contribute to the future of the Pack as they see fit. I would be willing to offer you the same scenario, with a few conditions.”

My heart raced as I waited for him to continue, but he remained silent. “C-conditions?” I managed, but Knox didn’t speak until I lifted my face again.

“Yes. Conditions. They are as follows. One - I will be leaving for the southern half of my Perimeter run tomorrow evening. I would like for you to accompany me.” Shock registered across my face, but he didn't slow down. “Two - You will tell me more about this situation you have left so I may assess the potential threat your presence poses to my pack.” He paused and smiled at me, his expression soft and almost playful. “And three - I would like to get to know the brazen girl from the diner more, not this cowering creature before me.”

I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. His teasing felt like a relief after almost a year of rejection and isolation. For a moment, I forgot his status as Alpha, and let a glimmer of hope grow within me. “Yes, of course. Anything you wish, Alpha.”

“Please, Knox. Think of me not as my position, but as a friend.”

A friend. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to really have a friend. My life was one of frequent isolation, only interacting with others at Pack events with my father. This was especially true for the last year, after…I pushed that thought away, swallowing it down with the lump forming in my throat. “Friends?” I repeated, stomach fluttering. “Are we friends?”

Knox gave me a smouldering, knowing look that made my insides feel like molten lava. “I would very much like for us to be friends, if you are to stay.”

I could feel myself nodding, but every inch of me was ablaze. A slight panic arose in me, anxious at the prospect of forming any type of relationship with someone so acquainted with power. Powerful men…they tended to expect any and all of their desires to be addressed without hesitation. Oh god, what am I getting myself into?

Knox gave a small shake of his head, as if maybe he was aware of the thickening air around us. “You must be exhausted from your travels. We have a lot of ground to cover during the Perimeter run - you’ll need your rest.” He stood, taking his discarded tie as he headed back towards the hall he emerged from before. “My Beta - Janus - will be with you shortly to show you to the guest suite. I’ll send for you before we depart. Goodnight, Luna.” I watched him retreat and round the corner, surprised at his abrupt departure, before grabbing my bag at my feet. In contrast with the all-white surroundings, it looked filthy.

Standing awkwardly, I peered around the room for his Beta. I hadn’t heard anyone else in the space with us, but then again I hadn’t been listening. Straining my ears, I tried to detect any sound, any footsteps or breathing or heartbeats...but nothing. My senses are weak. Too weak, way quicker than I could have expected.

I had planned to live without shifting, denying my Wolf for the rest of my life if required, but the harsh reality of losing my senses had me uneasy. It felt like suddenly missing a limb, or as if part of my brain was just turned off unexpectedly. Maybe it’s not that bad, maybe I’m just tired.

Eventually, I heard shoes clacking against the stone floor and an impossibly tall, broad man with long green hair and dark roots pulled into a bun appeared from around the corner. He was dressed in a charcoal shirt, fitted against his bulging muscles, and had a black piercing through his left brow. Then I noticed his eyes, so black and large that there was no white visible, alight with an energy that roiled with chaos. His lips were pulled back in a huge grin, his canines lengthened into their Wolf form. I suppressed a shudder.

He stopped before me, but did not offer me a hand. Simply inclining his head in the direction he came, he purred, “This way, runaway.”

I flinched at the nickname but followed him down a hallway in the opposite direction Knox had disappeared. My eyes felt heavy, and my feet are dragging against the slick marble. Once we reached the room I would be staying in, the man stopped and unlocked the door with a small key. “There is a bathroom attached to your suite, where you’ll find towels and other stuff you might want. If there’s anything you decide you need-“ he leans toward me, those pointed teeth glinting, “just wish for it.”

I swallowed thickly, but before I could say anything he turned and headed briskly back the way we came. I pushed into the room, dimly lit by a lamp next to a large bed. Without any hesitation, I quickly closed the door and dropped my bag, crossing the floor and flopping on top of the comforter immediately. I attempted to convince myself to get up and shower, but sleep closed in like a heavy curtain.
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