THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 34 - KNOX

The walk between our spot by the pool to Jessamy’s house passed in a blur, my eyes barely focused on our direction as I held Luna in my arms. She tucked so easily against my chest, nestling closer into my warmth as she slept. I was mesmerized by the feeling of her against me, the idea that having her here in my arms was just right flaring to life once again despite my desire to think nothing of the sort.

Jessamy was out when we arrived, her wards allowing me in and notifying her of our presence. Crossing the distance towards the bedroom, I held Luna carefully as I maneuvered around the various objects cluttering the hall. Placing her gently on the bed, I slipped off her boots and tried not to let myself touch too much of her skin. Jessamy arrived, lingering just outside the door, as I was pulling the covers over Luna’s shoulders.

I straightened, standing tall and raking a hand through my hair as I stared down at her sleeping face. My eyes roved over her lashes, her cheeks, her lips…I clenched my fists at my sides to keep myself from snagging a strand of her flaming hair, tumbling loose over the pillow. Voice hoarse, I whispered, “What the hell am I going to do?”

My question was met with silence, the sound of the floorboards creaking gently as Jess shifted the only noise until she let out a long sigh. “I don’t think there’s much you can do,” came Jessamy’s soft reply from the doorway. I could feel her approaching at my back, her eyes trained on Luna’s sleeping form as she came to stand next to me. “You both absolutely reek of weed, by the way.” My mouth pulled into a tight line, and I shot her a dirty look.

“Yes, well, it seems Luna spent most of the Haze party alone, and then with Rafe.” Jess coughed quietly to hide what I assumed was a laugh. Ignoring her, my gaze returned to Luna, drinking her in as much as I could before I once again had to rip myself away. Her lips parted in her sleep, and I felt Jessamy shift uncomfortably at my side.

“It was only a matter of time before they met, anyway,” she said. I groaned heavily in response, peeling myself away from Luna and heading out into the living room before I could change my mind about not crawling in bed beside her. Jess was following, closing the door to her room quietly and muttering a powerful spell to silence the space, ensuring our impending conversation was private. The deafening quiet that remained after her spell had my nerves flaring, my chest tight. A completely silenced space allowed for our impending discussion to happen at any volume…which did not necessarily bode well for me.

Settling on her couch, I dropped my head into my hands, scrubbing them over my face and wiping at the exhaustion straining my eyes. My night with Luna had dissolved all sense of time, truly, and I faintly wondered how long I had before the sky began to alight with the dawn. Jessamy tucked into her favorite armchair to my right, offering me a cup of tea - which I declined with a shake of my head - before helping herself to the brew.

We sat quietly for a while, my insides tightening with every passing moment in preparation for the words she was clearly turning over in her mind. I kept the walls around my own mind strong and impenetrable, unwilling to allow her potential tirade to invade all of my consciousness. She didn’t attempt to reach out, sipping on her tea in the silence that felt thick enough to slice open. Finally, “What were you thinking about…when you Claimed her?” came her soft question, laced with far less judgment than I would have expected.

I raised my head to look at her in surprise, uneasy of her calm tone. Her eyes were neutral, kept passive to guarantee an honest response. My shoulders slumped, and shame clouded my mind. “To be honest…I’m not completely sure.” Jessamy shook her head, setting her tea to the side and folding her hands in her lap.

“Knox, you know as well as I do that the intentions matter with this kind of magic.” Of course they did. The intentions always mattered. I felt off-balance, despite being seated, the reminder of my outburst of magic so at odds with the level of control I usually maintained.

“I know, I know. I just…” Tearing my eyes away, I stared blankly around her house, eyes falling on nothing as I tried to find the right words. No explanation sounded good enough, that much I had already discovered. “I lost my focus and…I wanted to protect her. I wanted to ensure she would stay within my Territory.” Her head tilted, and she was studying me with careful calculation when our eyes met once again.

“Is that all?” she asked, her question quiet against the pounding of my blood in my ears. My jaw clenched tight, and I averted my eyes.

“Fine. I wanted her to be mine.” It came out in a growl, and Jess was careful not to react visibly, though she reached to the side and picked up a palm stone to roll between her fingers.

“So then I think you know what the options are here.” I huffed, snatching a pillow and stuffing it behind my head. I stared up at the ceiling, charmed to expose the night sky, forcing myself to not think of Luna…to not consider that she was simply walls away, still close enough to sense as she slept. It was a fruitless exercise, our proximity still too close to interrupt the magic of the Haze. The magic couldn’t be resisted, not without extreme effort, but I had to remain solid in my resolve.

“My wards are still suppressing the Haze some…not as strong as they should be, though. I don’t…” Words failed me, my throat tight with the frustration and shame that came with my admission. “I don’t know how much longer I can resist her.” Jessamy shifted in her chair, and I brought my face back down to look at her. Her lips were pulled into a tight line, and the stone moved fluidly between her fingers.

“Maybe you should stop trying.” A harsh scoff escaped me at the suggestion, offered without a hint of sarcasm. She couldn’t be serious…the Jessamy I thought I knew would have never suggested such a thing. Her entire approach confused me, so at odds with the enraged ranting I had expected. Jess always spoke her mind with me, the same way all of my Inner Circle did, and her apparent ambivalence regarding the situation had my over-tired mind churning.

Luna had been staying with her for several days, so perhaps there had been a discussion between them I wasn’t privy to. Some indication that would convince Jessamy that the best option was to just give in to the magic. The questions that bubbled up choked in my throat, coming out in a mumbled whisper. “How can I ever know though? Even if she desired me, how could I be sure that it came from her, and not as a byproduct of the Haze? Not just to appease the Alpha who keeps her protected?” Jessamy shrugged, and the motion ignited my anger.

“Have you asked?” I raked a hand through my hair, pulling at the roots, fighting to keep my voice from slipping into a growl.

“It’s not that simple.” I spit through gritted teeth. “It’s not just about…my Claim. There are things…things you don’t know about. Other reasons I need to stay away outside of this bullshit situation.” She eyed me, but didn’t press for answers…not at this time, anyway. Instead, she placed the stone in her lap, crossing her arms and leveling me with a glare. Her posture was closer now to what I had expected, closer to the witch who had a clear sense of right and wrong despite living in a world with endless possibilities and power.

“Really, Knox, I don’t understand where the disconnect is here. Weren’t you the one demanding that a room full of Alphas stop to consider her opinions? How can it be so hard to expect the same of yourself?” Her voice was scathing, black-tipped fingers raking through my mind to deliver the punishment I deserved. My head dropped in guilt, fists clenching in my lap.

“Of course I consider her opinions. I just…” I just what? My brain couldn’t seem to form the words into a coherent thought, to express the lengths of my frustration and regret over my actions. There was no rebuttal, not that I could voice out loud, at least, and it left me with nothing to say but the thought that had been circling my mind since I realized what I had done. “I didn’t want it to happen this way.”

I could hear Jessamy take a breath, physically feel as she softened slightly. Her voice was less brutal when she spoke, though clear and stern. “But it did.” Raising my eyes to peer at her, I braced myself, feeling the words to come as they formed in her mouth. “You can keep hiding away all you want, but she isn’t going anywhere. You Claimed her, made the decision to mark her with some of the most ancient and primal magic.” I couldn’t stop myself from wincing, from glancing away to stare at anything but her discerning turquoise eyes. “So, when you’re done wallowing in self-pity…come home and deal with the consequences of your actions.” There was a hole in my chest, one that ached just the way I deserved to at her words. I had no right to be, but I was angry…at myself, at everyone. It burned inside me, in tandem to the throbbing pain of keeping myself away from Luna.

“Thanks for the encouraging pep talk, Jess,” I grumbled. Needing to move lest the energy building within me explode, I stood abruptly from the couch to pace towards the kitchen. Jessamy followed me with her eyes, lips pursed in that way they got when she was about to tell me off. I tried to ignore her as my feet fell in a path I didn’t choose, sending me back and forth between the front door and the door that would lead me to Luna. I felt slightly unhinged, my skin crawling and my mind half-torn to obsess over the way I could still scent her from where I stood.

Jessamy waited until I was pacing back towards her to address me again, her eyes narrowed as she watched me wear a path into the layered rugs covering her floor. “You know I’m not going to coddle you.” Clearly. “Am I your Advisor or not?” Glaring at her, I rolled my eyes at her rhetorical question, earning me a sour look and pursed lips. “So then listen to your Advisor and just fuck her. You’ll have to eventually, so maybe instead of allowing it to be everyone else’s problem in the interim, this situation should be a sooner rather than later kinda thing.” A snarl left my lips, and my pacing resumed, the pace more intense and my turns less controlled. Jessamy didn’t so much as flinch, stony in her position in the chair as she let me circle aimlessly around her home.

“It’s not just about the sex, Jess,” I managed, pulling at my hair and stretching at the itch burning through my chest.

“Fine…” she conceded, “but it’s not not about the sex.” I felt sick to my stomach.

“I can’t force myself on her. I won’t.” My voice had long since devolved into a growl, the intensity of my anger burning through my tone. Jessamy studied me, tilting her head to the side, her hands picking up the stone to resume her fiddling without a glance.

“You know,” she started, her eyes cutting through me like daggers, “with all the pomp and strength and magical prowess, sometimes I forget that you are just a stupid male, as stupid as any of the rest.” I scoffed, rolling my eyes at her barb. It certainly wasn’t the first time she had called me a stupid male, and certainly wouldn’t be the last, but it did sting just a little coming from my closest confidant.

“Oh how you wound me, sorceress.” My response was dry, lacking any of the energy that our bantering usually carried. Jessamy rolled her eyes, taking a sip of her tea before gracing me with more of her terrible ideas.

“I’m saying, despite the circumstances of your Claim, you wouldn’t have to force anything with Luna.” My pacing stopped, and I turned to stare at her with furrowed brows. I pondered at what she had said, rolling her words over in my mind. Something akin to amusement tugged at Jessamy’s mouth, only adding to my confusion. I felt vulnerable, out of control, the feeling so unfamiliar after years of command.

My voice croaked a bit when I spoke. “I don’t understand how she can stand to look at me, much less want me.” The residual glare Jess maintained softened, and my rage flared. Her look was almost pitying, and I hated it.

“Luna isn’t as fragile as you think, Knox.” Jess shrugged. “She’s clearly been through things, things she should never have had to face…but her spirit is strong. She’s smart, she’s capable, and she wants to know you.” My chest pulled tight at her words. Brows raised, she glanced over at the door that would take me to Luna. “Don’t you want to know her too?”

More than anything. But I wouldn’t say that, wouldn’t allow Jessamy’s presence into my mind as I felt her push against my mental shield. I had already given too much away, too much I wasn’t ready to voice to myself. This feeling…I couldn’t take it. I had to get away from her, distract myself from the ridiculous wanting. The words were out of my mouth before I fully made the decision. “I’ll be leaving tomorrow to complete the northern half of the Run. Alone.” I turned and started walking towards the front door, ignoring the sound of frustration from Jessamy.

“She’ll still be here when you get back.” Her voice was quiet, despite her tense tone. I didn’t look back, determined to leave without giving myself the chance to change my mind.

“I know.” I opened the door to leave, but felt a shift in the atmosphere behind me. A powerful shift, one I was familiar with, one that hinted that my days of secrets kept only to myself might be coming to an end. Closing my eyes, I left my hand on the lever, waiting for Jess to voice whatever it was she thought she had just figured out.

“Knox…” she said softly, voice full of hesitation. “Did Lillith see her?” I stood frozen, back straight, willing myself not to turn. For a moment, I considered my options. Jessamy was my closest confidant…yet there were many things I kept even from her. The idea of unloading my burdens was appealing, but the timing didn’t seem right.

Instead, I pulled open the door, casting a glance over my shoulder to where Jess stood with her hands clasped. “Goodnight, Jess.” I murmured. She frowned, and I turned away.

“Goodnight, Knox.” And I left without another word.

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