THE DESERT ALPHA

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CHAPTER 9 - LUNA

Just as he had said, all I had to do was wish for clothes before they appeared in one of the armchairs. Irritation had shot through me at the sight of them, at the house for not providing them for me while I was still safely behind the bathroom door. But I had dressed, combed my fingers through my drying hair, and began digging into the feast on the table before Knox emerged.

Pants slung just as low across his waist, I averted my eyes from him as he approached the table and assumed the chair next to me. I tried to focus on the fruit heaped before me, but I couldn’t help but steal a few glances at his bare muscled shoulders as he helped himself to the eggs. Couldn't help but note the droplets still clinging to his black hair, his long eyelashes.

We ate in silence, watching the sun continue to rise steadily in the sky from the windows, a sense of beauty and comfort accompanying the growing brightness. The desert stretched out before the house from every angle, the sun highlighting the rise and fall of the rocks and sparse vegetation. I spied creatures scuttling in the sand, fleeing the rising sun to hide wherever they slumbered during the day until night fell. I tried not to think much of those creatures, ones that surely roamed the land the same as we would tonight when our run resumed.

“As a boy, I always loved the sunrise over the desert.” My head snapped towards Knox, but his face was turned to the windows. “It wasn’t until I was much older that I decided I preferred the sunset - though both are equally beautiful out here.” I didn’t know what to say - if I should say anything at all - but before I could make a sound he turned back to me.

“Now I’m not so sure which I prefer, seeing how beautiful the morning light is against your hair.” Heat raked over me, and the something curled within me as my Wolf preened at the compliment. No longer able to look at him, I picked at my food absently. His flattery had me so confused, so ashamed at my reactions, and so unbelievably aroused. My betraying blush never seemed to fade when he was around me this intimately, only receding for moments before his shameless flirting brought it back to the surface of my pale skin.

I clenched my thighs together against the heat I felt building, a heat way too similar to the one I had felt a year before, one that launched my life into the mess it was currently. A heat that felt too much like the first spark between me and Draven. A heat that terrified me.

Knox seemed to sense the shift in my mood and leaned back in his chair. “Tell me what you’re thinking.” It was almost a plea, his voice soft, no longer teasing and light. A small laugh escaped me.

My voice shook a little when I finally answered. “I’m thinking that I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. And that I have no idea what to do now.”

“What do you want to do?”

So many things. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I wanted to sleep until no one remembered my name. But I also wanted to jump across the table and tackle him to the ground. “Why don’t you tell me what happened - the reason you left?” I inhaled sharply but nodded. I knew this would come up sooner or later, as information regarding my situation was one of the three conditions allowing my presence here. That didn’t mean I felt ready to divulge the messy history I wanted nothing more than to leave in the past. It had only been a day since I had last danced around the topic, really, and my departure was still so fresh in my mind

“Okay…” I murmured, but that was all I could manage. We stayed like that for a moment, until Knox sighed and waved his hand at the food, making it disappear. He took my clenched fist from my lap, fingers warm against my palm, and led me over to the couch. I sunk into the plush cushions and felt myself shiver, my chest suddenly empty and cold.

Knox left me for a moment, returning with two bottles of wine and a blanket draped over his arm. He passed one of the bottles and the blanket to me then took a seat in the armchair to my right, settling himself with an ease that suggested he had sat in that same place many times before.

I spread the aged but soft blanket over my lap, tucking it around my legs and pretending that I couldn’t feel him studying me intently. The wine bottle was already open, the scent of it floating up to greet me. It smelled like the same wine we had shared upon my arrival, the same smell that had been chasing me all day, and my eyes widened in recognition. I pressed the bottle to my lips and gulped it greedily, needing the liquid courage to tell him everything. A few more breaths passed, and I gulped some more, running through the events that led me here in my mind until I could no longer stand our silence.

I finally gritted my teeth and started from the beginning, telling him almost everything. I told him how I grew up mostly alone, guarded in my father’s estate as his most precious possession after my mother passed. I told him how my father offered me up to our Alpha to marry off in exchange for an alliance when I came of age, just before my first haze Season. I told him what happened in that meeting with Bennet, how I was given over to become his mate, how we were on our way to my new room when I met Draven, how he…claimed me immediately.

I told him about the Pack in-fighting our relationship created, sides forming in support of both brothers to back each argument to possess me. I told him how Bennet petitioned his father to force Draven to surrender me, how their Alpha refused to interfere with the magic claim Draven’s bite left over me until the Season passed. I told him about the fight to the death Bennet levied against Draven in an attempt to win me from him, how Draven had dismissed him without a thought and ravaged me for the rest of the Season. Through quiet tears, I told him how naive I was, how I fell for the Alpha in succession so easily, and how he had tossed me aside when the Season ended and his Pack duties required him elsewhere.

I told him how my father ranted and raved at me when I slunk home in shame, how he struck me in the face for the first time when our Alpha delivered the news that Bennet would not consider me for a mate any longer. I told him how I hid in my room for months, licking my wounds and trying to ignore the whispers from my father’s staff about my new reputation before he had them dismissed indefinitely.

And finally, I told him how I left, under cover of darkness, to flee my life as a rejected plaything of the Alpha brothers.

But I didn’t tell him that silent, unspoken thing I thought he might have already guessed. I didn't tell him how I refused Draven’s offer to remain his mistress, to continue giving him my body even after he mated with whoever his father was to select for him. I didn’t tell him how Draven destroyed my small room at the Pack house in a blind rage when I told him I would not be kept for his convenience, how he shredded everything in sight until he finally turned that anger to me. I didn’t tell him how he fisted my hair, how he fucked me roughly one last time before spitting out that I should just crawl back to Bennet. I didn't tell him how I fled the Pack house, laughter at my back, clothes torn and exposed skin covered in powerful bites...bites that no longer held the magic of the Season’s claim.

I didn’t tell him any of those things, but from the hard set of his shoulders and the slight tremor in his breath, it seemed like he already knew.

His eyes were on me when I looked at him again, and I gulped at my wine. Fingers clenched tight against both armrests, he waited for me to set my bottle down before saying anything.

“Well…that all sounds like bullshit.” I shook my head sadly, tears spilling down my face.

“Please…don’t make fun of me. I didn’t…I didn’t know any better.” The sheltered life I led after my mother died did nothing to prepare me for the immediate intensity I felt for Draven. My father had kept me at arm’s length for years, likely out of grief, my face far too similar to my mother’s for him to look at me very long or speak with me about anything that mattered. No one had prepared me for the all-consuming haze or warned me against the nature of powerful men.

But I loved my father so fiercely, would have done anything to make him proud, would have mated with Bennet even after everything just to feel his approval. Approval I knew I could never reclaim after he left the imprint of his hand on my face.

“Of course you didn’t.” Knox’s voice was soft, and he leaned forward to take my hands in his. I immediately felt that warm calm that felt so familiar as it settled over me, smelling of grapes and sunshine, as he devoured me with his eyes. A small smile flashed at me, a bit crooked and full of mischief. “Though looking at you now, I understand why that young wannabe Alpha could not resist you. Even though the thought of another male’s hands on you fills me with rage…” He didn’t finish the thought. His jaw was clenched despite his smile, and for just a second I could swear his fingers shifted into claws against my skin.

He regained his composure quickly, and stroked my palms absently, waking up any nerves that had been dulled by the wine. The air between us shifted, no longer full of the light teasing he’d employed to stop the tears from falling. His grip on my hands tightened for a moment, and I peeked at him through my lashes.

“I want you to know that should you choose to stay with my Pack, no one will ever make you feel that way again. I’ll personally rip apart anyone that dares to raise a hand to you in anger, I swear it.” The tight set of his mouth and the sharp glint in his eyes were almost enough to make me believe him. Almost.

“Maybe…maybe I should sleep now.” My week of travel and our first night of the run had my limbs aching, a tremor in my arms I couldn’t seem to control. Knox simply nodded and flicked a hand towards the windows, which shuttered on his command and plunged us into near darkness. The air between us was electrified, and an energy I didn’t know I had left in me ignited. If Knox sensed it, he didn't show it, instead gently pulling me from my spot on the couch and leading me to the narrow ladder against the wall.

“There’s a bed up there for you - I’ll take the couch. We’ll head out again just after sunset - try to rest until then.” But as he helped me up the ladder and stared at me from below, a hint of something too subtle to read in his dark eyes, the last thing on my mind was sleep.

Once settled between the sheets, I tossed and turned and sweated through my clothes. The heat around me had nothing to do with the temperature of the house - kept pleasant by whatever magic it seemed to possess - instead originating in that burning something in me I could no longer pretend to hold back. Just as it had a year prior, the impending haze flooded through my limbs and settled in my core, leaving me squirming and panting and frantically trying to figure out how to mask my scent from him.

When fitful sleep finally claimed me, my dreams were held at bay by the sweet scent of red wine and the summer breeze.
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