THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 32 - KNOX

Luna… She was on my mind constantly. Janus had kept me plied with booze to keep me from seeking her out during the short time I was present for the party, sequestered to my office with my back to the revelry behind the glass. Keeping control over my mind had been a losing battle, chased away only momentarily by the burn on my throat when I pulled from the bottle. Luna

I had known she would be at the party, tipped off by Jess before they left her house. What I hadn't known was that I would see her before then, breaking me from my focus on training by barging into my head. The one thing that had slowly managed to work through the constant tension within me, and now that was gone too. How could I enter the ring to spar with Lysand without thinking about her standing before me, so soft and sensual and close enough to touch? How could I continue to keep my distance when it felt like I was fighting my very bones to keep my hands off her?

Catching a glimpse of her after I had placated the Pack by suspending training for the week had been a lightning bolt to my nervous system, taking all of my physical strength to end the Haze party on a high note and move my limbs away from her. She was a vision in soft blue, her pale skin glowing and flawless. Except…the still-noticeable bite I had left on her neck. I could feel myself wince at the memory of it, moving my smoke to my lips and inhaling deeply. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale.

You have to keep your distance, I reminded myself. She is a guest, under your protection, not some tail to chase after. I had to think of the Pack, keep my focus and complete my duties. There were already so many things that had fallen behind upon her arrival, so many things I was willing to lower in priority for the chance to make her blush that pretty pink. It wasn’t a good look, me panting after her like some young Wolf, and I would be naive to think that my friends hadn’t noticed.

Janus could see right through me, obviously, and Jess was hosting her in her own home. Mira was ready to tear out another kitchen in the Pack house to make a closet just for Luna, and I figured after tonight everyone else who was yet to meet her would leave under her spell. But they didn’t understand how deep this ran, why my interest had been piqued the moment I was informed of her approach on my Territory. There were things they couldn’t know, wouldn’t be able to see the way I do… Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, hold, exhale.

Honey and sex, the scent so real I could swear she was standing right next to me. The sound of a heartbeat I recognized, pulsing in time with the thrumming of my blood. The details of it were so precise, growing stronger than the smoke burning my nose. A faint rustling, and my eyes snapped open.

Luna… There she was, hair escaping from her bun, green eyes bright and wild and drinking me in. Her skin was flushed, visible even in the darkness, and she seemed to glow as she approached. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her as she settled on the lounge at my side, watching as that damn blue dress pulled up her legs before she had the chance to straighten the fabric. She caught me staring, her cheeks darkening a bit under my gaze. A soft sigh later, and she was tilting her face up to the sky, taking in the stars with wide eyes and a look of appreciation. Fuck… I feel…

She sat quietly, and I eventually settled back into the chair. Her eyes stayed on the sky, and I wanted her to look at me. I lit a fresh smoke, hoping my hands would steady, until I gave up and clenched them into fists at my sides. I had to start with something neutral, get her talking about something relatively harmless…but how could I address her with pleasantries when every fiber of my being was alight in her presence? “You initiated a Visit earlier today.” I hoped wildly that her interest in magic would convince her to talk to me, to turn her gaze back to me from the heavens.

It worked, which left my Wolf humming in satisfaction. Luna turned her face to me, adjusting her shoulders so she could comfortably look at me. “Is that what I did?” she purred, voice soft. Shifting in my seat under the guise of facing her better, I silently hoped that my rapidly-stiffening cock wasn’t visible from where she sat. Hoping the motion was discreet, I flicked a finger to increase the shadows in the fabric around my groin, trying to disguise my blatant erection to avoid scaring her away. The last thing I wanted was for her to notice my arousal and flee, disgusted by my desire for her and the flaring Haze between us.

“That’s what I would call it,” I said, trying for bored and a bit sarcastic. “You sure knocked me on my ass when you barged into my mind without invitation.” Smirking, I watched as her eyes flared, my comment drawing her towards that fire I craved from her.

“My apologies, Alpha, as I had no intentions of ending up in your head.” she sniffed, raising her nose at me. “I was attempting to allow Jessamy into my mind to tell me something…privately.”

“Oh?” I said, hoping I could goad her into telling me more. “And what was Jessamy going to say that couldn’t be said out loud?” She pursed her lips, lips I desperately wanted between my teeth.

“That doesn’t really seem like any of your business.” I couldn’t help the grin that spread on my face, recalling the times she had said something similar to me in the past. That hint of fire glinted in her eyes, as bright and vibrant as her hair, and I felt her defense in the air in tandem with her response. I wanted to tease her, wanted to stoke that fire higher, wanted to rile her up until she told me every detail of what was going on in her mind before she entered mine. Visiting magic required intent, direction, and could be fickle without a clear head. Was that something she knew, having spent so much time with Jess? And what was Jess about to say?

“What were you doing to allow her in?” I asked, trying a different approach to see what she might have learned during her days with Jessamy. She huffed, tearing her eyes away and looking at the ground. Her hands came together, clasped tightly, and her neck flushed.

“I was picturing a door,” she said hesitantly, glancing at me to see my reaction. I kept my face as passive as I could, raising a brow in a gesture for her to continue. “There was a passage I read, it talked about this technique of changing your thinking about your own mind…how you can see the mind as a space to enter or allow others entry.” Her fingers fidgeted against each other, and she released them to smooth her dress. “So I was building a door into my mind, trying to invite Jessamy in…and it just…burst open and…” She looked directly into my eyes. “Then I was seeing what you saw…Lysand attacking.” Her bottom lip tucked between her teeth. “And suddenly I was back with myself, and you were…” her lips quirked, “falling out of the ring.”

I decided I liked her teasing me, though the knockdown and following heckling had been a slight knock on my pride. A rush of energy between us left my fingers tingling, that tight feeling in my chest returning as my Wolf paced. Lysand had never been able to kick me out of the ring, not since I was a very young boy fresh in my training, though the fighter did have better technique…and they were quicker than me. Had I been myself, been focused on the action instead of sitting at a table with Mira’s gossiping posse, there was no way I would have ended up on my ass. But I was anything but insecure in my fighting abilities - I didn’t need to explain myself to any of them, not even Luna, who was regarding me with light in her eyes. The laugh she was fighting as we both recalled the events of her Visit brought me back to the present, my gaze zeroing in on the twitch of her lips.

“Not bad…Doorways are a good technique to start with.” I flashed her a smile, hearing her heart flutter under my praise. “It’s a bit rudimentary, but effective…especially considering you weren’t intending to Visit.” The way she worried that damn lip convinced me that she had a thousand questions forming in her mind, unsure where to start, what to ask, but ready to know more. I wondered what information Jess had provided her with, what they had discussed and the books she had recommended to teach Luna everything she wanted to know. “Do you know what that means?” I offered, guiding her as directly as I was willing without making any suggestions.

“I think so,” she sighed, fighting a smile and picking at the tie around her waist. “Jess had this…look when I came back to myself, like she knew what had happened. I didn’t get to ask her anything…it didn’t seem like the right time I guess, with Mira and all of her friends.” She shrugged, and my head tilted, studying the way her heart stuttered over the word ‘friends’. A sharp breath through her nose, and she was gathering her confidence, glancing at me with hesitant eyes but speaking evenly. “But I created a door in my mind, and through it I ended up in yours.” I smirked as she held my gaze, waiting for her to say the words. “That means… I have the ability to Visit.” It wasn’t a question, and something pulled tight in my chest.

“I would have to agree,” her smile grew, and relief flooded the air. “You’ll have to speak with Jess to confirm, of course, but based on what she’s seen in your magic, I can’t say that I’m surprised.” Her brows shot up, expression slipping into confusion before she gathered her reaction, repeating the motion of smoothing her dress and fiddling with the fabric between her ribs. I couldn’t help that my eyes followed her movement, drifting up to her exposed cleavage and delicate neck. And then there was my mark, something I should see and feel nothing but pride - certainly not the pang of guilt that threatened to ruin the delicate atmosphere.

I needed to recover the mood before she noticed my melancholy, give her something to show that I believed in her. “We’ll have to arrange a time for me to accompany you to Jessamy’s house, so we can analyze your magic together.” Flushed skin, racing heart, that damn lip between her teeth…her response ran straight to my dick.

“That would…that would be lovely,” she whispered, and I felt my chest restrict. I would set it up with Jess right away, anything to get her to look at me the same way she was now. I wanted to feel her magic firsthand, watch her eyes grow in wonder in person, not just through a memory. What would it feel like, to be so close when Jess finally released the containment she’d been working to identify? With my wards and my Claim, Luna and I were already connected, the truth of that blatant in the way the night had started to cling in wisps against her skin. What would it be like when she could finally control her magic…and would she share it with me?

We fell into a comfortable silence, Luna’s gaze eventually breaking from mine as she turned back to the stars, basking in the beauty of the night. I wanted to reach out to her in mind, to see what she was seeing and feel as she felt…but I held myself back. I didn’t trust my prowling Wolf enough to allow myself that connection, not when my head was full of growling desires to claim her.

Her hand dipping between her breasts certainly didn’t help, drawing my eyes to the thin material and forcing me to swallow a groan at the sight of her nipples, peaked into tight buds in the cool night air. It wasn’t until I noticed her holding something that my gaze finally lifted to her fingers, between which she held a spliff that was rolled in a manner far too familiar for my liking. I quirked a brow at her, but she was looking at me with a challenging stare.

“Do you have a light?” she asked, gesturing to my cigarette, long forgotten and burning low in my grip. My face conveyed my surprise, and I watched her smirk. Her eyes were appraising me with something strong, daring me to say something, daring me to tell her to find her own damn light. But my desire to protect her was stronger than my desire to tease her back, my Wolf grumbling unhappily at the idea of her smoking the spliff wedged between her fingers. Maybe she didn’t know, hadn’t been exposed to enough to know the difference. Her life had been sheltered, that much I knew very well, and I couldn’t let her alter her mind without having all the information first. But she wouldn’t be backing down, I could tell, no matter what I attempted to dissuade her.

“That’s, uh… That’s not a cigarette.” I said, wracking my brain with all the possible scenarios in which she could have come across it. Before Janus summoned me to my office to make my speech, I had spent most of the Haze party at my own home, taking pulls from my whiskey and staring out the glass over the desert as the sky grew darker. If my suspicions were correct, that would confirm Luna’s proximity to a male I had intentionally avoided mentioning thus far, his charm and easy nature potentially threatening to our tumultuous relationship. I would have preferred to have been present during their introduction, if only to appease my possessive Wolf who hackled at the idea of not knowing what happened between them. Stop getting ahead of yourself.

“I know.” Her tone was steady, confident, and had the corners of my mouth lifting into a smile. My reservations fell away to interest, my head tilting to the side as I studied her. She was unwavering, hovering the spliff closer to her mouth, flushed lips slightly parted. Game on.

“Lean forward,” I commanded, voice husky as I moved to sit on the edge of my lounger, facing her. She did as I asked, positioning her knees to align with mine, small booted feet just an inch or so away. Pressing the spliff between her lips in a way that had me swallowing thickly, she leaned closer and looked up at me with huge eyes, waiting. Everything in me wanted to glance down, to see if her angle revealed any more of her breasts, but I held her gaze. I had to fight to hold my hand steady as I raised a finger, a small flame igniting on the tip as she inhaled.

Watching her draw in the smoke had my jaw clenching, her eyes closing as she exhaled with a sigh. I wanted to press my lips to hers, to breathe her in, to press my body over her and consume every bit of her I could. Instead I held my ground, waiting for her eyes to open, staring at her intently as I slowly reached out to take the spliff from her fingers.

She eyed me warily as I inhaled, not taking her eyes from my lips until I passed it back to her. “Where did you get that?” I asked, deciding not to directly voice my suspicions. Her gaze turned defensive, and she leaned back, clearly reluctant to reveal her source. Suspicions confirmed. “So, Rafe. I thought so.” I tossed her a grin, resuming my reclined position with my hands behind my head. Rafe is harmless, I thought, trying to mask my unease lest Luna was battling a barrage of emotions the same way I was with her. There was nothing I needed to worry about with Rafe, not anything I had any right to worry about, at least, though I would have to speak with him about who he chose to supply his herb to. That’s all I would do, simply talk…not attack him with my fists for daring to breathe in Luna’s direction.

I could feel her watching me, so I turned my face to meet hers. She was studying me, working out how I knew, probably wondering if I had Visited to get the information, if my guess was correct. The chuckle that left me at that thought was unintentional, causing her brows to furrow as she turned to mirror my position. She sipped on the spliff slowly, and I wondered privately which version of Luna I was about to see. Rafe always had the good stuff, though he refused to reveal his source, but Luna didn’t strike me as someone who might enjoy a smoke. Maybe that’s the point, I thought quietly to myself.

“Rafe has a bit of a reputation within the Pack.” I said carefully, lacing my tone with what I hoped came across as disinterest. Her eyes met mine, drawn back in. “He’s a good male, but he’s completely stoned. Always.” Luna’s laugh had my heart fluttering, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away as her laugh died into giggles, persisting in bursts and making my blood heat. She hadn’t ever allowed herself to laugh as long in my presence, and I wondered if it was the drugs or our new…situation…that had her letting her guard down.

“Rafe was kind enough to dance with me this evening, after I found myself alone at your party.” My heart stuttered, imagining him with his hands on her, dancing with her the way I knew was to be expected during the Haze party. My Wolf growled, desperate to rise from my skin to hunt the offending male down, but her comment about being alone had me biting my tongue, the excuse for my absence revolving entirely around avoiding her. “He’s Mira’s brother.” I nodded in confirmation, still not trusting my voice, and she tapped her chin lightly with a finger. “I didn’t know Mira was part of your Pack at all until recently…but I’m over it.”

I quirked a brow at her, wracking my brain for what she meant with her turn in conversation. Mira and I had known each other so long it felt like forever, and she had been the first person Luna had met upon her arrival...so how didn’t she know Mira was part of the Pack? I thought back over our conversation at the diner, the way Luna had taken in Mira with calculating eyes…I had assumed she knew from that moment, scented the Wolf from her…though maybe not. I hadn’t specifically said Mira was part of the Pack, but the look on Luna’s face during my exchange with Mira was analyzing, curious, and almost accusatory.

There was a part of me that wanted to ask, wanted to clarify her thoughts during every moment that had passed since we first met. But she had specifically said she was over it, so clearly Mira hadn’t rubbed her too raw. “Mira provides very necessary services to the Pack, and is from an old Legacy family that has always been with the Pack.” Luna nodded, remembering her spliff and taking a hit before passing it to me.

“She said…she told me she’s known you since the moment she was born.” Letting out an exhale, I nodded, passing the spliff back. Part of me worried just what had been exchanged between Mira and Luna, though it felt like an intrusion to ask.

“That’s true. My mother was one of the women assisting during Mira’s birth, and I happened to be with her that night.” I couldn’t help the smile that tilted at my lips, remembering the wild wonder I had felt as a boy as the tiny, screaming, and incredibly gross Mira had emerged into the world. Luna studied me with a glazed look, her brows furrowed slightly. The questions usually forming rapid-fire behind her eyes were appearing slower, and as we stared at one another I waited to see which she would choose. Something was bleeding into the air, something that tasted sharp and carried the scent of anger. My brows raised in surprise, but she chewed on her lip, the sensation receding.

“What about the dryads?” she asked suddenly, glancing over at me as I registered her question. That wasn’t what I had been expecting, forcing me to take a moment to recalibrate. My mind felt fuzzy, no thanks to Rafe, and I wasn’t sure where to start with the dryads. What had Mira told her? Luna had been around both of the dryads several times now…what was she asking me that she wouldn’t ask them?

“What about them?” She huffed, rolling her eyes and glancing at the hand on my leg. I wondered at that movement, one I had noticed her make several times during our conversation.

“Amalthea said that they were bonded to Mira, and I want to know what that means.” Looking out over the dark water, I considered what to say. There were many complex layers to the bond between Mira and the dryads, elements of their connection I didn’t fully understand myself. Bits of their relationship were extremely personal, much too intimate for Luna and I to discuss together, though it was probable that Luna’s fascination came more from the dryads themselves, rather than the bond they shared with Mira.

By the time I gathered my thoughts, Luna was shifting a bit impatiently, a motion she had rarely succumbed to during our previous encounters. Irritation was bubbling around us, thick and glacial, and I had to hide a smirk at the tight expression on her face. She glanced at my thigh again, to the thumb I was tapping against my slacks, and when I realized what she was doing I was hit with an immediate rush of intrigue. Luna had picked up on a tell, one of my few nervous tics that gave away when I was thinking carefully, and was blatantly irritated that I was deciding what to say in her presence.

Jessamy’s voice echoed suddenly in my mind. She sees and observes everything we do.
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