THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 31 - LUNA

My chest was heaving and my face sore from smiling by the time Rafe spun us off to the side and claimed us drinks from a nearby table. I drank gratefully, my throat parched, eyes still laughing as Rafe chuckled and pushed his sweaty hair to the side. Our vigorous dancing had freed his dark hair from its gelled-back style, the ends starting to curl up around his chin and fall forward, sticking to his face. He looked a lot like Mira, now that I had spent so much time watching him as we danced. They had the same nose, the same shade of skin and hair, though his eyes were lighter than hers. Rafe was tall like her, though it seemed most people in this Pack were on the side of vertically blessed.

“You’re an amazing dancer,” Rafe said once he regained his breath. “Usually I have to put up with bruised shins and crushed toes when I try to dance like that.” He laughed, and it boomed despite the music, a joyful sound that had me smiling and shaking my head.

“It’s not like you make it easy!” I said indignantly, though my grin was teasing. “If not for a lifetime of ballet studies and ballroom instruction I wouldn’t have had a chance!” My complaints registered as victory across his face, and he rolled his eyes as his shoulders shrugged. Our chuckling died slowly, as he replaced our drinks with something bubbly, sticking close to my side as we watched the crowd still dancing before the fire.

“I can see why the Alpha is so taken with you,” he smirked and tore his eyes from the fire, meeting my gaze in enough time for my cheeks to blush. I had almost forgotten about Knox, too caught up in Rafe’s infectious presence to keep looking for him as we danced. The immediate impulse to do just that had me biting my lip, looking down at my dusty boots instead. “Don’t,” Rafe said, turning my face to him with gentle fingers that immediately dropped back to his side. “You don’t have to be embarrassed. Not about anything.” The way his eyes glanced at my neck made his meaning clear. “Knox is a complicated male, but he knows quality when he sees it. I’ve spent my life at his side, so believe me when I tell you that he is like a homing beacon for rare and priceless things.”

My skin flushed anyways, though I kept our eyes connected. Rare? Priceless? Quality? Surely he was flattering me, possibly to make me feel better about being rejected by his Alpha. I couldn’t understand a possible motive for him to be making fun of me, and his expression was sincere enough…unless Mira had told him something less than factual about me? That didn’t seem likely, but I barely understood anything about the wild female. Rafe had been flirting with Jess all night, so maybe it was her that had taken pity on me, putting him up to asking me to dance? There was no other logical explanation for why this male would be complimenting me so, not when I knew the truth about his Alpha’s opinion of me.

Yes, there had been moments on the Run where I had pondered over Knox’s flirting and kind accommodation of me, but his regret for his Claim loomed larger than the memory of soft eyes and warm hands. So maybe Rafe was having a laugh at me? His expression didn’t seem cruel in any way, and his eyes were patient as I worked through how to respond. With a swallow, I looked away, back towards the crowd of dancers that had thinned considerably. “Knox…he doesn’t. It’s not-”

He appeared through the crowd just then, as if summoned by my thoughts. Janus was at his side, striding towards the fire as the music quieted and everyone turned to stand before them. Knox was in all-black, of course, with a large silver belt buckle and a black cowboy hat. His shirt was unbuttoned down his chest, revealing a hint of the large bird tattoo across his pecs. An empty bottle was clutched in his hand, and as he turned to face his Pack, I thought I saw him sway a little on his feet. Janus was saying something in his ear that had Knox smirking, then he was turning his eyes to stare out over his Pack, fire glowing at his back.

Knox commanded the courtyard, welcoming everyone and making a couple remarks about training during the Haze that had the crowd cheering. I couldn’t look away from him, drinking in the sight of his casual demeanor and relaxed presence in front of his Pack. He was himself like this, not in the terrifying way I had seen during the fight with Draven, but in that familiar way I craved. Like this, he was the Alpha that had smiled at me and compared my hair to the sunrise, the Alpha who held me in his arms as he slept. And I wanted him.

His final well-wishes for a fun and successful Season had his eyes finding mine, a flicker of surprise registering before he regained himself and bid the Pack goodnight, tossing them a randy smile before striding off through the crowd. People began breaking off immediately and disappearing in every direction, some laughing partners heading to the Pack house while others dispersed elsewhere. I was left standing breathless, aroused, and dreadfully embarrassed, with Rafe at my side. He quirked a brow at me when I turned to look at him, the idea of leaving to find Jessamy forming on the tip of my tongue.

“You know,” he said, crossing his arms casually and scuffing a boot on the ground, “if you found yourself out by the pool, your night might just get a bit more…interesting.” I looked at him in confusion, and he pointed to the dining hall. “There’s a door through there that connects to the poolhouse, if you feel so inspired.” Rafe was telling me something, though I wasn’t sure what, but I nodded anyway.

“Thank you, Rafe. I had a wonderful time.” He grinned and snatched up my hand, kissing the back of my knuckles.

“It was my pleasure, Luna.” His shoulders turned to depart, but he stopped, turning back to me and stepping closer into my space. “You know,” he started, whispering conspiratorially, “since you were such an amazing dance partner this evening…” his hand disappeared into his back pocket, pulling out a small tin case that he flipped open with his thumb. Between two fingers, he presented a rolled joint, extending it to me with a raised brow. “It would be rude of me not to offer you an after-party spliff.” Smirk in place, he waited for me to decide, his lips breaking into a grin when I pushed away my hesitation and took the joint from his outstretched fingers. Then he was leaning forward, kissing my cheek and turning away before I could blink. “Goodnight, Luna!” he called, raising an arm and waving to me over his head.

“Goodnight, Rafe,” I managed to respond, still reeling from his kiss and absolutely erratic nature. My eyes stayed on his back until he disappeared into the Pack house, leaving me to find myself completely alone in the once-crowded courtyard. Rafe had mentioned the pool, how my night might be more interesting there…whatever that meant. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for anything more interesting than the events of the Haze party, but my fading adrenaline from the success of the evening had me curious enough to turn my eyes to the dining hall. My feet made the decision before my mind did, responding to whatever draw had convinced me to brave the pool alone.

A door, another, then another, and I found myself standing under the veranda where that explosive meeting had taken place. The table Draven had destroyed was standing in its original place, chairs set around the wooden surface as if nothing had ever happened. I studied the furniture for a moment longer, looking for any evidence of disfiguration…and found none.

Something caught my eye at the far corner of the pool, drawing me out from under the covering and onto the pool deck. There were no lights on out here, not even to illuminate the water that looked black in the night. My eyes adjusted as I found myself walking past a row of lounge chairs, drawn to a glowing ember as it crackled and glowed against the sky. I was too close to turn around by the time I saw him fully, stretched out on one of the lounges with his hands behind his head, cigarette puffing between his lips. Knox’s eyes were closed, allowing me to pause for a moment to consider running away, but I waited too long to avoid him.

It might have been my heart racing that gave me away, or the way I could feel the magic between us shift as I approached, but Knox’s eyes snapped open. He was sitting up and turning to stare at me in the span of a second, pulling the smoke between his lips away with a hurried hand. “Luna…” he breathed, just as he had when he saw me in the training rings, and the fluttering in my core intensified. His dark eyes bored into me, roving over my body and flashing with something that looked a lot like desire. The chair next to him was empty, so I took a deep breath and moved to settle in at his side.

The position of my back against the lounge left my short dress pulling up high on my thighs, exposing the sensitive skin on my hips to the cooling night air before I could tug the hem back into place. Knox tried to pretend like he didn’t notice, though his eyes never left me as his fingers moved his cigarette up to his mouth. His expression was hungry, but restrained, sending shivers through me that had me thinking about the joint tucked into my dress, anything to keep at bay the images of his hands on my skin.

Rafe had been correct in his assumptions. Sitting here with Knox in the darkness was sure to be interesting indeed.


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