THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 6 - LUNA

I woke with a start, my surroundings unfamiliar, and blinked against the bright sunshine flooding in through the wall of windows opposite the bed beneath me. The events of the night before came rushing back, and I pressed a hand to my aching head. The bed was soft where I laid, on top of the comforter, and my feet hung off the edge slightly. I remembered flopping down on it, too tired to clean myself up or to climb under the sheets.

But I felt surprisingly well-rested, despite my week of travel and sleeping in fitful increments on different buses. The memory of my dream resurfaced, but I pushed it down. Draven isn’t here, I said to myself, he can’t hurt me anymore.

When I finally found the energy to rise, I stretched out my sore limbs before the windows. Below the edge of the house, the mountain fell away in a cascade of red-tinted rock, rock I now noticed made up the carved walls of the room around me. The sun was high in the sky, possibly already midday, shining brightly down into the valley and bouncing off the rock and sand below.

Turning my back to the glass, I glanced around the room for the first time. There wasn’t much in the room beside the bed, a bed I now noticed as the largest one I’d ever seen. I couldn’t help but chuckle at myself for occupying so little of it last night - I could have laid in either direction and not even come close to spanning the massive mattress. The bed could easily sleep four people, the untouched pillows piled gently against the headboard.

Making my way around it, I noted a door to my left, another of the same on the opposite side of the room. From here, I could see that the long headboard doubled as a dresser of a sort, lined with drawers that opened towards the set of double doors leading to the hall. I took a step towards those doors but froze when I caught my scent. I smelled like I haven’t showered in a week…

The huge man from last night - Knox’s Beta - had said there is a bathroom connected to the suite. I tried the handle on the door to my left, and it swung open to reveal more of the same carved reddish stone. I poked my head around the frame and had to stifle a gasp - my eyes going straight to the wall of windows identical to the ones before the bed, then out to the desert beyond.

A stone wall divided the room almost in half, stopping at the edge of the oversized double vanity mounted to the wall and leaving a wide opening to what must be the shower. I stepped into the bathroom, noting the flooring as tiny mosaic tiles almost the same color as the carved walls, and worked my way through that opening towards the glass.

Just like I thought, the entire space along the windows made up the shower, and a huge tub was pressed against the partial wall. Above me, an oversized rainfall showerhead was mounted directly to the ceiling and automatically turned on as I stepped beneath it, soaking my filthy clothes. I jumped back with a yelp, and the water turned off immediately.

With a sigh, I peeled off my now-drenched layers and tossed them behind me on the tile floor. I found a basket with an assortment of soaps and oils piled on top of fresh towels by the tub and quickly snatched them up to lather myself under the rainfall. I could hear the moans of pleasure slipping through my lips under the feel of the water, but couldn’t bring myself to worry that someone might overhear. The soaps smelled of vanilla and fruit, maybe raspberry. The oils had a touch of something woodsy, an almost smoky fragrance that mixed in with the steam clinging against the glass.

Once clean and wrapped in a fluffy white towel, I padded around to the vanity and wiped a small area of steam from the mirror. Green eyes squinted at me, more dull and sunken in than I remembered them being. I looked away, heading back into the bedroom to avoid spending any more time attempting to recognize my reflection.

A pair of clothes had appeared on the foot of the bed, and I stopped in my tracks when I noticed them. I hadn’t heard any doors opening, or sensed any presence during my shower - was it possible someone had entered while I was unaware? Was my hearing really that bad? Were my instincts really that numb? A simple gray t-shirt and a faded pair of denim wouldn’t usually call for a breakdown, but the idea of being caught naked and moaning in the shower sent a roll of nausea through me.

I dressed with hurried fingers, thankful for the soft cotton undergarments and tennis shoes I found at the foot of the bed. The idea of putting on any of the filthy clothes crammed in my backpack after finally getting clean… If someone did come in, at least they left decent clothes.

Once ready, I ran a hand through my drying curls, trying to straighten the waves into some semblance of a hairstyle instead of the mane it usually formed. I had nothing to tie it back with, and after a few struggles through tangles, I finally gave up and headed to my doors. Palm wrapped around the handle, I hesitated, unsure what was expected of me now. Would Knox be home, maybe reading in the living room? What if his Beta was still around, with his blacked-out eyes that sent shivers through me? Where could I find something to eat?

Taking a breath, I pushed the doors open and headed down the hall, unwilling to cower in my room until summoned by the Alpha. I kept my ears strained, picking up the faint sound of a heartbeat out of time with the steps of my feet. I froze for a moment before continuing, heart pounding at the idea that Knox might be just around the corner.

Instead, it was his Beta, stretched out over one of the white couches and munching contently on something from the spread of food before him. Pastries, fruit, waffles and sausage were piled on plates littering the coffee table, and my stomach growled at the sight of it all.

The sound of my hunger snapped his attention to me, those blacked-out eyes roving over me as a smirk firmly planted itself on his lips. I felt flayed under his gaze, not in the way that I felt with Knox, but in a way that had me itching to turn around and sprint back to my room. He sensed my discomfort, and his smirk broke into a toothy grin. His fangs flashed, and I clenched my hands into fists at my sides.

“You slept for a long time, Runaway.” I grimaced at the nickname, but held my ground. He studied me, then waved a long arm in gesture towards the food. “Please, join me for breakfast in the middle of the afternoon. I’ve been waiting for ages.” Hot anger rushed through my limbs, electrifying my body and forcing me to bite back my Wolf. I wanted to snarl at him, stomp my foot and tell him off for not waking me if his time was so precious, but I didn’t need to create another reason for Knox to question my presence here. This was his Beta, and he could just as easily hand me over to Draven as Knox could.

“Well don't just stand there, Runaway. You don’t have much time before your run with the Alpha.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me, the black piercing dancing with the movement. The reminder of the upcoming run had me moving towards him tentatively, sitting myself on the couch opposite from him to maintain my distance. After a moment, I allowed myself to take a couple pieces of juicy melon to my lip. It was delicious, tasting fresh despite being out of season, and I suppressed a groan. I wasn’t used to censoring myself as much as I probably should, so often alone at my father’s estate with no one around to hear.

I could feel the Beta’s eyes on me, but kept my gaze down as I continued to pick at the fruit. He shifted a few times, finally settling with his forearms against his knees and face peering at mine. “You know,” he said, tone dry and slow and teasing, “you’re awfully quiet for a redhead. Though you’d be more spirited.”
“I’m not quiet,” I bit back, momentarily forgetting myself. “I’m just…hungry.” I amended, glancing up at him through lowered lashes. He laughed, and the sound boomed off the stone walls to echo down the halls.

“You sure are a pretty little thing,” he drawled, leaning back and resting his hands behind his neck. My spine stiffened, fingers frozen in the air around a grape. I remained perfectly still, holding my breath to see what he would do next. If he came at me, there was nowhere for me to run, and no way I could fight him off. My pulse pounded, and I could see him grin even with my face lowered. He helped himself to a sticky cinnamon roll from the spread, stuffing it into his mouth and licking the icing off his fingers noisily.

The movement drew my shuttered attention to his arms, which were absolutely covered in brutal blank ink of all different symbols and lines and patterns. Had I not noticed last night? In my haze, had I really missed tattoos this extensive on such big arms?

“Relax, I don’t mean anything by that. I just see why Knox is so taken with you.” The mention of Knox has blood rising to my cheeks, and I turned my face towards the glass wall to hide my embarrassment. When I finally turned back to the Beta, he was watching me with amusement.

“Anything to drink?” he asked, an olive branch for his teasing. I glanced around the table, but didn’t spy any of the waters or wine that had been there the night before. He was staring at me expectantly, but I didn’t know what to say.

“Um…”

“Coffee? Tea? Water?” He chuckled. “Maybe a couple fingers of scotch to help you loosen up?” I coughed, shifting on the cushion.

“Water is fine.” He snorted but waved his hand, a movement I followed with my eyes. I waited, and he smirked, then pointed to a glass in front of me. I gasped, certain it hadn’t been there a moment ago.
“What -” The Beta burst out laughing, and I winced against the booming echo. He clapped a hand to his chest, and my anger flared to life. How dare he laugh at me, treat me as if I was the stupid one? Cheeks flushed, I sorted through my memories of last night, this morning, of the many things I seemed not to notice or that appeared out of nowhere. What had he said to me as he dropped me at my doors? There was something I had to wish for?

“You have magic?” I asked, voice a bit unsteady for my liking. He grinned and threw a booted foot over his knee, reclining back on the couch with his arms spread wide.

“I told you, anything you need, you only have to wish for.” It wasn’t an answer, but it sent my mind reeling. What could he mean, I only had to wish? I knew from my private studies with tutors that the world had once been rich with magic, and it wasn’t unusual back then for some to have access to that magic. But that was a long time ago, back when the world was more wild and unsettled and rife with all manner of magical creatures. So if this Beta did have magic, how did he get it? If he had magic, how many others out there did too?

He pushed to his feet and brushed crumbs from his pants before crossing his arms to glower at me. “Tuck in whatever you can eat in the next thirty seconds. Then we need to meet up with the Alpha.” His back was straight, posture stiff and unyielding, a sharp contrast from the relaxed position he had taken only moments ago.

I shoved a muffin in my mouth and chugged the water, coughing a bit in my haste to join the Beta. He raised his pierced brow but said nothing, leading me to the elevator and the garage beyond with his hands curled tightly at his sides.


We arrived at our destination a short while after passing what I had assumed was the Pack house, instead stopping on the side of a dirt road with the large structure visible in the distance. I couldn’t tell what was special about this place, as it looked no different than the other expanses of desert road we’d passed on our way here, but the Beta seemed to know where we were. He hopped out of his battered blue truck with a curt “stay put” and headed out into the sand, the sun starting to rapidly set behind us. He approached a figure I now saw standing a short distance from the truck, his back to me with hands clasped.

I knew without seeing him that it was Knox, standing tall and surveying the land around him as if everything the sun touched belonged to him. In a way, I supposed it did. His Beta greeted him with a clap on the shoulder, and they clasped forearms with a quick glance back in my direction. Turning my gaze away from them to the other windows, I tried to ignore them as they spoke and the sun slowly dipped behind a large hill. Night was creeping in quickly, but no one had returned to collect me, instead leaving me to wait in silence until I was summoned.

My Wolf grumbled as the minutes ticked by, my irritation growing. Were they discussing me, if I should be allowed on the run? Was Knox trying to get out of his request, no longer interested in the foreign Wolf on his land? Maybe I offended him too greatly last night, maybe my transgressions at the diner were not as easily forgotten by the Alpha? Maybe-

The sound of the rusty passenger door being opened interrupted me from my worries, and I turned quickly to the blacked-out eyes staring down at me. “Knox is ready for you now,” the Beta grumbled, his tone still stern and professional as he led me around the truck and towards Knox’s back. “Better hurry up, or you’ll miss his shift.” He was teasing again, and I glanced at him quickly to find him already retreating.

I shuffled at a light jog towards Knox, cautious in my approach behind him and making enough noise to indicate my presence. I stopped several paces from him, shifting in my shoes, unsure whether to announce myself or wait for him to address me. The night was in full force now, stars twinkling to life overhead and lighting up the ground around him.

Knox was the perfect picture of darkness in his black clothes, and as I waited for his directions to begin our run I couldn’t help but fall into the magnetic presence that seemed to surround him. A wave of a familiar feeling washed over me, a warm breeze that made that something in me hum in recognition.
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