THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 5 - KNOX

Janus entered the study attached to my room without knocking, a common occurrence for my Beta. I rolled my eyes and looked up from my computer, crossing my arms over my chest and leaning back in my chair. “Is she comfortable?” I played nonchalant, but I knew he could see right through me.

“You weren’t spying then? Didn’t take a peek at your runaway?” He dropped his oversized form in the leather chair across my desk, kicking his filthy boots up on the corner and spraying flecks of mud everywhere. I waved it away with a flick of my power and wrinkled my nose at him.

“I don’t want to…scare her. She’s been through a lot.” My power thickened around us, my temper shortening, but my arrogant Beta merely picked at his nails.

“She’s a naughty little thing with that sexy red hair.” He laughed at my snarled response, rolling his eyes at my bared fangs. “Look how quick she’s gotten under your skin! You dirty dog!” Too quick for his size, he reached across the desk and shoved my shoulder roughly, goading me further.

“Don’t talk about her like that,” my voice was low, calm, so at odds with my Wolf raging inside me at his nerve. “She is a guest in my house. Have some respect for your Alpha.” Janus shrugged at me but removed his feet from my desk, leaning back in the chair in a mirror of my stance.

He studied my face, laughter still filling his all-black eyes. Crossing his arms over his chest, I noticed that his tattoo sleeves of intricate black ink were missing. “You hid your tattoos?” All shrugs, he held his arms out in front of him and flexed, the black designs once again visible.

“I didn’t want to seem threatening to your hot new lady friend.”

I snorted. “As if that’s what seems threatening about you.” He grinned at me, fangs in their usual Wolf form, and silently shouted in victory of pulling me from my mood.

“Tell me about her. What has you this involved? Come on man, she’s staying in your house!” I sighed, suddenly weary, and closed the laptop before shoving out of my chair. I moved to the bar and poured myself a bourbon, sipping at it while moving to the wall of windows that lined the back of the room.

“She’s…intriguing to me. And her situation is shit. She’s certainly not the first runner we’ve welcomed to the Pack. Surely you of all people should know that.” Janus had come to us, years before I became Alpha, from a distant Pack he never spoke of.

“But she’s in your house, man. You never bring bi-“

“Before you finish that statement, consider how swiftly I will kick your ass out of this room.” My power flared again and I turned around to face him, still seated. “She’ll need our protection soon, so I’m keeping her close to me. The new Alpha of her old pack was her lover, and he just claimed his power from his father in a brutal slaughter. I expect his plan will be to come after her.”

Janus chortled and cracked his knuckles, chest flexing. “I’d like to see him try.”

“Which is why she will join me tomorrow on my Perimeter run.” He gaped at me, then shook his head.

“That doesn’t seem necessary. We can take her to the Pack house, put a protection de-“

“She’s coming with me. She’ll have valuable information about this new Alpha and what to expect from him.” My tone was commanding, edged with my dominance. “The Pack house is hardly the place for her anyway. The last thing she needs is assholes like you sniffing after her tail.”

Tossing back the rest of my drink, I headed to the door adjoining my room without looking at my Beta. “It’s not up for discussion,” I continued,, “I’ve been collecting reports from our network all over the country. Someone scented her at every stop she made in the last week, leaving an easy trail for him to follow. And he will follow her.”

I stopped at the doorway and looked over my shoulder at Janus, whose face was pulled in a frown. “I have this feeling…” my power flexed, and my Wolf paced. “The feeling before battle, when you’re waiting for the fighting to start. As if many people will be willing to fight over this girl…myself included.”

Before I pulled the door closed behind me, I heard Janus mutter, “You’ve got it bad for her,” and I didn't deny it.

I crossed my dark room and quickly stripped, anxious to get some sleep before tomorrow’s run. As I crawled into bed, I had to stop myself from reaching out to Luna in my mind. The scent of her still lingered around me, a hint of honey on my tongue.

How I hated watching her crumple so immediately when I introduced myself as the Alpha, especially after putting up such a glorious struggle outside the diner. To see the light fade from her eyes as she bowed in submission…it had hollowed out my chest. I gnashed my teeth at the thought of her face when she told me the new Alpha she’d loved had tossed her aside, a story I’m sure I’ll hate even more as more details are revealed.

And suddenly I couldn't help myself, knowing I would never sleep until I checked on her, allowing my mind to find hers on the other side of the house. I brushed against her, barely a whisper of a touch, and recoiled at the image I saw.

She was dreaming of him, that new Alpha, his hands on her body. A growl slipped through my teeth as I saw how he touched her, how intensely he possessed her. But that glimpse into her mind was tinged with a sadness, one deep and endless, one that pulled at that hollow part of me.

Next time, I chide myself, don’t go looking for things you don’t want to see.

—-

Janus was gone when I awoke, granting me a bit of peace before heading to the Pack house to prepare for the Perimeter run. As I slid out of bed and made my way to the wall of windows before me, I felt for Luna with my mind. I didn't attempt to brush against her as I had last night, instead halting my search when I felt the essence of her.

She was still asleep, seeming more at ease than before, her sweet honey scent no longer tinged with as much sorrow and pain. This pleased me greatly, my Wolf’s instinct to protect satisfied that we had granted her some peace. I stared absently out the glass at the desert before me, the deep valley falling away from my home’s perch on the mountain.

The sun had risen, already climbing high in the sky, and I flexed my power to dress myself quickly in my usual all black. My Wolf was itching to be released, to start the run now, but I ignored the pricking sensation and headed toward the garage to make the quick drive to the Pack house.

The day was pleasant, the usual heat that clings to the Valley not yet in full force as it would be when summer arrived. Summer, and the Sand Wraiths. I pushed that thought from my mind as I pulled up to the Pack house, already teeming with activity. Stepping out of the car, I could hear the clanging of weapons and grunts of effort from the training rings behind the house.

Janus appeared beside me, his almost-silent approach at odds with his towering form. “Someone looks well rested” he teased, and I tossed a scowl at him. He trailed just behind me as I made my way into the house and to my private office facing the training circles. I surveyed the fighters in the rings, practicing in their human forms with various swords and knives. The ferocity on their faces placated me enough to turn to my desk and open the laptop identical to the at home, taking my seat to start briefing my Beta on his instructions while I am gone.

“The troops look good,” I mused, clicking open my email and frowning as the messages come flooding in.

“They’re not prepared enough yet.” He growled. “Especially the new ones. None of them stand a chance against a Wraith.”

“There’s still time.” I assured him, running my hand through my hair as I scanned my inbox for any urgent messages. “You’ll have them whipped into shape before the summer comes.” My Beta growled some more, stalking around the room with his eyes on the soldiers outside. Janus oversaw all of the training, both in human form and Wolf, getting the Pack’s army ready for any and all threats that may approach our Perimeter.

He didn’t respond to my claim, instead leaving me in silence as I typed out replies to the scouts I had watching the new Alpha from Luna’s old pack. Finally I sighed, and he moved back to stand before me with his hands clasped behind his back, awaiting my orders. “I’ll be leaving for the run with Luna this evening, and there are some things I need you to deal with while I'm away.” He nodded, not shifting his stance, ever the disciplined soldier I needed him to be when dealing with the Pack.

“Should Mira be present for this?” he asked, just as a knock sounded at the closed door. I waved it open with my power, and the tall brunette slipped into the room with a smile.

“I’ve already summoned her.” She bowed her head to me and took her place beside Janus, clasping her hands at her back to mirror him. She was dressed in all black, no sign of the diner uniform she wore when working in the town Luna arrived in. My Third, my eyes and ears, and the perfect spy to manage the Pack’s Perimeter.

“There are some changes that need to be made to the divisions while I’m away.” Mira raised an eyebrow, but didn’t interrupt. “We’ll be facing more threats than usual in preparation for the summer, especially with the gathering of the Alphas approaching.” The invitation to the event where Alphas across the country converge together had been received months ago, the meeting set for the end of April after the Haze is over.

“We have enough time after the gathering to finalize preparations for the summer, but I expect we’ll be facing enemies before all the Alpha’s meet.” I paused for a moment, but neither interjected with questions, knowing to give me a chance to work through my thoughts before giving any opinions. Folding my arms across my chest, I leaned back in my chair and sighed.

My guts felt twisted, a nervousness I hadn’t felt in a long time arising in me. “These changes are required to protect Luna, and the Pack, from whatever trouble follows her arrival here.” I laid out my plans for them, instructing Mira to pull her best scouts to guard the Perimeter and Janus to move his best soldiers to guard the Valley. I gave them the details I had on the new Alpha I’m expecting to chase after Luna, and the movements of the Packs in the north reported to me by my scouts in the region. I instructed them to record any changes made to the ranks, and offered up a few names of individuals they might consider while carrying out my orders.

“Training must continue despite any changes made to the divisions. I won't have the temper of this new Alpha leave us unprepared for the Sand Wraiths when they emerge.” Mira snorted, tossing her curly hair and leveling me with a cold stare, but her brown eyes were anything but serious when she speaks, her voice teasing and light.

“All this effort to protect the runaway from the diner? She must be something special.” Janus laughed, loud and booming, and broke his stance to clap her on the shoulder. She almost buckled under his huge hand.
“You should have seen how worked up he was at the house last night after I took his new plaything to bed.” Mira joined him in laughing at my expense, but I ignored them.

“Luna is young, and has no training of any kind. Her feeble attempts to fight me off last night are proof of that. She will remain under my protection until I am confident she can protect herself, and that any threats against her have been exterminated.” My voice was full of dominance, my instructions a command. Their laughter stopped, and Mira’s eyes softened. “When we return from the run, I expect the two of you to oversee her training when I am unavailable. Protect her, but challenge her. She’ll be up to the task.”

They both studied me, then nodded. “With the Haze upon us, that protection of her will also apply to the males of this Pack. While I hope they would never harm her or claim her against her will,” my jaw clenched at the thought, “I’m not trusting enough to believe some won’t try. Especially with her scent.” Janus whistled low, nodding in agreement, but it’s Mira who spoke next.

“Does that protection against males also apply to you, Alpha?” Her voice was soft, not edged with challenge but instead a hint of concern. I pushed out of my seat, turning my back to them and pacing to stand before the windows overlooking the training troops. They shifted on their feet, sensing my dismissal but waiting for my response.

“It especially applies to me.”


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