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Just as the night was beginning to fade, the first house of our trip came into view. I had to blink at its sudden appearance, as I could have sworn that just a second ago there had not been a house before us, much less barely a mile away.

That familiar feeling settled over me as we approached, this time carrying a scent that reminded me of the wine we’d shared upon my arrival at Knox’s home. Grapes baking under the sun, a breeze through endless rows of sagging, overripe vines, and perhaps the heat of a lover’s breath against your neck. A shiver rushed through me as I watched Knox intently, his pace slowing the closer we approached the simple building before us.

The exterior was all smoothed adobe, the shape similar to the homes I faintly remembered being native to the region. No more than a block extrusion rising out of the landscape, its color so similar to the sand and dirt beneath our feet that it was no wonder how I hadn’t spotted it before. Or maybe, you were simply too blinded by the Alpha’s spectacular backside to notice our approach.

Knox didn’t halt until he was directly in front of the wooden front door, weathered and desaturated as if it had baked beneath the desert sun for a long, long time. I hesitated, hanging back, that shameful shyness creeping over me as I realized my shift to my human form would leave me naked before him. It felt more real and more vulnerable than it did last night, without the rapidly-fading darkness to shelter my nudity from his view.

The Packs weren’t usually bothered by nudity, as the shift we all experienced to release our inner Wolves left any attempt at modesty in shreds at our feet. How many times had I seen naked males and females wandering about after pack events, unashamed of their nakedness? The few times I had been allowed to run I had completed my shift and been unbothered at my exposed form, so why would this be any different?

But that was before...before everything. Before my womanly figure had taken shape, and before I learned to expect the roving eyes of males over my body. In the fallout and humiliation after my first Season, I had not had to endure those wandering eyes as I was locked away at my father’s estate, cowering hidden from the knowing in those lingering gazes. He had dismissed much of the staff upon my return home, as their continued whispering was too much for me to bear and cast too much attention to the stain on my father’s good name.

Knox seemed to sense my hesitation, turning back to face me and the distance now between us. He rolled his head, as if in a laugh, his tail swishing gently behind him. Tossing his head towards the door, ushering me inside, he waited for a beat before trotting off past the side of the house.

Only when he had rounded the corner out of my view did I close the distance to the entrance, shifting on the porch and palming the handle with my now-human hand. The worn knob turned without much effort, the door swinging inward to reveal a dimly lit space. My eyes adjusted as I stepped inside the threshold and took in the small, tidy room before me, a room that smelled faintly of the desert.

I examined my surroundings quickly, not knowing how long I had before Knox decided to join me. To my left was a grouping of mismatched furniture, an oversized couch, and a couple of armchairs facing the shuttered windows now at my back. To the right, a wooden table with enough seats for six, evidence of once frequent use along the marred surface. Behind the table, a small kitchen, and to the left of that, a block of a room I could only hope was a bathroom. But it was the loft above it that caught my eye, then the narrow ladder propped against the wall leading to a break in the railing separating the space from below.

Should I climb the ladder and fall into the bed I hoped lived up there? Or should I search the house for clothes that might hide my body from his too-intense eyes? Or should I-

I cut off my pondering as I heard faint footsteps at the side of the house, human footsteps. In my cowardice, I hurried to the door separating that small room from the rest of the space. Praying it too was unlocked, I threw my shoulder against it and turned.

Stumbling into the small bathroom, I slammed the door behind me before feeling for a light, finally illuminating the fully tiled room. Every inch of it, floors, walls, ceiling, was covered with them, square and hand-painted with different images. Some cacti, some desert animals, some flecks that reminded me of the huge stars that had emerged at night.

It was a simple bathroom, with a small basin sink and cabinet, a toilet, and a drain in the floor. My heart sank at the lack of a shower until I realized that the drain lined up with a large rainfall showerhead mounted to the ceiling, almost identical to the one in my bathroom at Knox’s home. I didn’t dare look at my reflection in the slightly clouded mirror, instead moving to search for the lever that controlled the water.

It took a couple of moments of looking for my stomach to sink, wary at sticking my head back out of the room to ask Knox how to turn the damn thing on. Just as I started to gather my courage to address him, who I could now hear moving around just outside the door, the rainfall showerhead sputtered to life. The water heated immediately, faint tendrils of steam billowing towards me, inviting me in.

I didn’t think twice, plunging myself under the hot water and allowing it to wash the night’s run from my skin. A small moan left my lips, a traitorous moan that immediately colored my now-flushed face, and I swore I heard the faint rumbling of male laughter over the sound of the falling water.

Allowing my eyes to close, I roamed my hands over my arms, legs, my breasts, any and all parts of me that might have clinging dirt and sand. Selfishly, I wished I had some soap to scrub every inch of my skin and my tangled hair until no hint of our long night was left. When I opened my eyes again, I suddenly spotted a woven basket with rolled towels and several soaps and oils within, perched just out of reach on top of the closed toilet seat. I snatched two of those bottles up greedily, trying not to spray water all over the towels that smelled freshly laundered.

Had that basket been there before, or had Knox somehow entered without a sound to bring them to me? I blushed at the thought, the image of me naked beneath the waterfall, eyes closed in ecstasy filling my mind. Surely he would have announced himself if he had entered...right? The thought had my stomach fluttering as I rubbed the different soaps all over my body.

Was this more of the magic his Beta seemed to possess, controlled by Knox instead? I wondered, moving my hands in slow circles on my thighs and savoring the steam. The soap smelled like the ones at his house, the woodsy scent of the oils and fresh linen from the towels blending and filling my lungs. I’d never paid much attention to the scents around me before, at least not in my human form, as most of them were the same everywhere I was permitted. But ever since that first night on the bus, more and more the changing smells caught my attention before they too blended into the background.

I lingered under the water a bit longer, reveling in the feel of it on my skin, and as the thought occurred to me to turn it off the stream abruptly ended. Maybe the house is what had the magic, for it to respond to my thoughts and needs so immediately. In the recesses of my mind, I thought I remembered reading about how magic had been used domestically in Packs for years before it faded, but I couldn’t remember how it was applied in practice. Was the house responsible for meeting my needs in some capacity? Or was Knox somehow able to anticipate them from the other room?

I wondered at the magic, at the male just behind the door, at that familiar feeling I’d felt several times since our first encounter. It was so different from what I knew, and I had seen more apparent magic in my time here than ever before in my life. Was it all some kind of trick? Some sleight of hand to throw me off my guard? Knox had seemed sincere when we spoke the night before, but as an Alpha, especially one of such a large pack, he had no reason to tell me anything truthful. He had also teased me so blatantly, and asked to be friends, which was something I never could have expected from someone in his position. His distance before the run had confused me, and left me eager for our next interaction despite constant reminders to myself to maintain distance from him.

I didn’t know what he was truly capable of, that much was clear, but what kind of magic did he have, and how would it differ from the power held by the Alphas I had encountered? Would he even tell me if I asked? The faint trickle of the drain drug me out of these thoughts, towards the basket of towels and then the mirror I’d avoided upon arrival. It was completely fogged over now, the lingering steam from my shower further blurring the aged glass. I rubbed a small section with the corner of my towel, just enough to see my face peering back, but I quickly averted my eyes.

My curls were a tangled mess, my cheeks a bit pink from both the heat of the water and the wind as we ran through the night. Attempting to pick at my matted hair a bit with my fingers, I took the time to settle myself with a couple of deep breaths, strengthening my resolve to exit the room and face the Alpha beyond.

I had no clothes, and I made a silent wish to the house to have them appear in the basket holding the remaining towels. None appeared, not even after I waited a few minutes, so I wrapped the towel in my hands tightly against my body and pushed the door open before I could have the chance to lose my nerve.

Blinking against the sudden brightness, I froze in place until my eyes adjusted and took in the house before me. Knox had opened the shutters on all the windows lining the walls, the pink light of the rising sun casting spots of brightness and shadow all around the room. The once empty dining table was now loaded with food - eggs and sausage, fruit and juices of all kinds. The spread looked beautiful, too beautiful to have all been prepared during the short time I occupied the bathroom.

Peering around, I searched for him, only to find him stretched out on the couch with his hands tucked behind his head. Mercifully he was dressed, but only in sweats that hung low on his hips, highlighting the vee of his waist beneath a collection of impressive abs.

I didn’t let myself linger on his body, on his tight pecs or his huge biceps or his perfectly tanned skin. Instead, I focused on his face, lifted upwards with no discernible expression. He looked so casual this way, almost peaceful with his eyes focused on the ceiling high above. He didn’t move his gaze to me until I took a tentative step forward, towards the food making my mouth water. One step is all I managed before his stare was rooting me to the spot and sending shivers down my spine.

Sitting up, he did not take his eyes off mine, until they flickered quickly over my damp towel and otherwise exposed form. His usual smirk found its way back to his mouth, those lips full even when drawn tight to taunt me. Knox stood quickly, then closed the space between us until our chests were almost touching.

I had to tilt my face up to maintain our eye contact, forcing my back to stay straight despite the crushing urge to lower my head in submission. A few moments passed, and I felt my resolve crumble, eyes lowering to my bare feet and the small spot of water they had made on the worn but smooth wooden floor.

Fingers found my chin, large but gentle fingers that tilted my face up until our eyes locked. His eyes seemed lighter now, in the brightness of the dawn, yet still endless depths of black I swore might swallow me whole. There seemed to be questions lingering there, as many questions for me as I surely had for him - but he said nothing, instead studying my face with an intensity that had me trembling before him. All the air evaporated from my lungs under his scrutiny, and somewhere in the back of my mind, that traitorous part of me wondered if he'd close the mere inches between us to press his lips to mine.

Instead, he took a step back, hands dropping to his sides, and turned to head to the bathroom. “As a guest of my house,” he said, his back to me, “you will be provided with anything you require during our stay. Only wish for it, and it will appear.”

I peeked over my shoulder at him, slowly turning around to face his retreating form, and managed, “The house has magic.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement of observation that had him nodding his head. Hand on the frame, he threw a glance back at me before stepping inside the bathroom and closing the door behind him.
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