Start writing here…Chapter 1
I hated the inquisitive eyes — the feel of curious looks and whispers. I left my exhibit the second I could, immersing myself in the crowd. When I felt like I’d been swallowed up in it, I headed towards the bathroom at the other end of the building. Grateful to find no one standing by the sinks. I entering a stall, removed my tunic, and turned it inside out. Releasing the hidden buttons that held the extra material. Reversible clothing was my best friend when I wanted to disappear in public. I always felt like Jason Bourne when I played cloak and dagger with the world. It was rewarding to be able to rebel against the powers that ruled our government. Redressed, I pulled the hidden hood up, covering my head. I’d entered wearing a black shirt with bulky sleeves and cowl neck. The extra material helped to hide how small I was. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror. A deep rich purple covered my most notable feature — Auburn red hair. Purple wasn’t every red-heads go-to color. Surprisingly, I could pull off. It was my favorite color; it complemented the fiery tones I momentarily hid. Tugging on the material, I made sure that I was well hidden. Content that I was safe, I took one last look in the mirror. The hood did more than cloak me. It made me feel safe, secure. I left the bathroom, heading to the exhibits as far away from mine as possible. I enjoyed hearing the conversations between the guest, listening as they talked about the art exhibits. What they liked and disliked, their thoughts and opinions on why the artist did this, or that. It amused me to hear their theories. What they believed moved our hands. Hell, I was one of them, but there were days I couldn’t tell you what inspired my work. I had a restless mind. It was always thinking, dreaming, and wondering. Finding art had been my escape from depression, fear, and rejection. The fact that I was good at it kept me comfortable and genetically safe. A big portrait of dark, macabre images caught my attention. Too dark for my liking, yet visually stunning. The artist was skilled and disturbed. A little shiver of uneasiness raced over me with cold prickles that bloomed through my nerves. It was a simple portrait that invoked thought and feeling without saying a word. Some visitors gasped at the darkness and quickly retreated, not taking the time to look past the harshness to reflect on how it made them feel. Fear moved them back to the comforting images that pleased the eye but didn’t fully engage their minds, what a shame. They were missing the point. I stood doing just that and reflecting on the artist’s view of life. It was the opposite of mine. But I could appreciate a different opinion. I noticed fewer and fewer people standing by me. Dark art tended to do that. I would be spending the rest of my time here. I continued, turning the corner. Gasping as I lost my breath. “Whoa!” I whispered. If the picture before had been dark, this was hellish. Images of naked Omega’s being assaulted or killed by multiple Alphas. The icy cold prickles now had nothing to do with uneasiness; this was pure fear. Graphic, vibrant colors had been used to account for the horror that had befallen our sacred Omega’s. A crime that a hundred years later, still caused our society to tremble. My eyes raced across the canvas, moving from one victim to the next. The visual anguish the artist had given the Omega victims was so lifelike. I felt my breathing turn hurried, pain, humiliation, submission, and death. That is what had happened to these women. Taken, raped, forced in to pair bond or killed. That had been their hell. This artist had definitely made me feel. Disgust morphed into anger, clouding my sight, filling me with rage and fear. Alphas had been the cause of their end. If I were ever discovered, it would also be mine. I could not let my emotional state take over. Especially here in public, I was surrounded by Alphas of the diverse cast. I may be an artist that made decent money. But I was an Omega living as a Beta. Another reason I preferred reclusive living to the dangers that came with socialization. Breathe Henley. I told myself to restart my heart, this was a large building, but my scent had already changed, altered by my disgust at this portrait.
“It’s barbaric.” A deep voice startled me from behind. I shook but did not bother to turn around. “How does it make you feel?” A person who was obviously the creator of this hell asked me.
“It’s unwise to criticize an artist’s vision,” I commented dryly.
“Why is that?” The man asked.
“The intent it was created with, is not the same as the emotion that it inspires in a person’s heart.” I tried to sound calm about it. “My feelings are not relevant,” I said as disinterested as possible. Truthfully, I wanted to rip the picture off the wall and hit him with it. His chuckle told me he didn’t believe me. “Can I assume you will not be purchasing this portrait?” The man asked.
“Rape, torture, and murder would not fit in with the decor of my home.” I snapped, turning to look at the degenerate artist. I was not surprised to find a large Alpha towering over me — a well-dressed, physically perfect one at that. If his art had been an indication of what I thought he’d look like, I would have been wrong. I’d imagined a grungy, dreadlocked, weed-loving minimalist. Not the, yes, my casual clothes were tailor-made, foreign god. Vibrant green eyes briefly caught by surprise took in my poorly covered anger.
“I can see why an Omega such as yourself, would not be a fan.” He said.
“I’m not an Omega. I am a woman. A Beta woman.” I said, snapping at the stranger. “That is why I am not interested in your portrait.”
“You’re a Beta?” The corner of his mouth lifted as he gave me a lopsided grin. “Are you sure?” The bastard dared to question me. “May I see your lumen?” He asked as he reached a hand towards me. Defensively, stepping back from him was instinct.
“Are you high?” I whispered in disbelief. Avoiding the curious looks from the few patrons that were around. “You think I want you knowing my name?” I demanded, clearly losing the battle to reclaim my emotions. The flash of anger at my refusal flared brightly in the Alpha’s eyes.
“It’s public knowledge and the law.” He informed me, narrowing his eyes at me.
“Are you in law enforcement?” I asked as I grew more hostile. “Are you a government security agent?”
“I’m an Alpha with just as much authority.” This Alpha was aggressive. He was already getting irritated with me.
“Are you an officer?” I repeated the question, saying it slower and heavily tinted with my distemper.
“Refusing to answer a simple question raises suspicion. Not to mention your highly volatile state.” He pressed me. “It’s only a question.” As if that justified his rudeness.
“Let me see if I’m following the stupidity of your thinking. You are a stranger to me, an Alpha with obvious proclivities to rape, torture, and murder. Topics that repulse and scare any woman, Beta or otherwise. You demand to know things about me that are none of your damn business. Threatened me with laws that I’m fully aware of, and question my profile.” I ranted.
“The stupidity of my thinking?” He puffed up some more, all hulk-like. “That is the first time a woman has said that to me. I’m not a fan of your tone.” The Alpha warned me.
“I am not a fan of you, period.” I looked at him with disgust as a stepped around him, leaving the bastard there. That fucking Alpha had some nerve. I texted Kita and paced by the main lobby. When he found me, I was shaking, way beyond livid and out of control.
“Henley, what’s wrong?” He asked, pulling me to his chest, instantly comforting me with his presence.
“I just had a conversation with the artist formally known as Joseph Mengele,” I said as he pulled away to look at me. “Some Alpha asshole fucking painted a portrait of the Omega’s attack; it’s graphic Kita. It… I….” Mumbling and too shaken to make any sense.
“We need to leave. You’re upset, and your scent is changing.” Kita warned, pulling me closer, nuzzling my neck to scent me, masking mine with his. I instantly felt better. The brief contact from him always made me feel safe. I relaxed into Kita’s body, pulling his being around me like a shield.
“No, just get me a cab. You stay.” I told him. Kita shook his head as he held me. “Really, I’m better now. I just needed a minute.” I told him truthfully. Kita was my beacon, my safe harbor. One that I used frequently. He was my first love and best friend. I relaxed into his embrace.
“Henley.” He said in his frustrated voice that I heard a million times.
“Don’t waste a night out in the city for me, Kita.” I mused.
“Are you sure?” I smiled at my friend. Knowing he’d much rather be here than at home with me. Where I preferred and thrived in seclusion, Kita wallowed.
“No.” I teased him.
“You’re such a little shit, Henny,” Kita said as he tugged on the sides of my hood, careful to keep my face hidden.
“And you’re stuck with me.” He smiled brightly back down at me. Kita released my hood to take me by the hand, leading me outside.
“Lucky me.” He said as he rolled his eyes. Kita was a handsome Alpha. He was always attracting the attention of every female within a 200-mile radius. Even hidden beneath my hood, I saw the women take notice of him. We left the gallery waiting at the entrance for a cab. He opened the door for me.
“I will see you no later than Wednesday.” He promised me. “Keep in contact.” He ordered as he helped me get in the back of the car.
“Yes, dear,” I said sweetly.
“No, sass Henny.” He said as he gave me a quick peck on the cheek before settling me into the back seat.
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” I was notorious for my sass. It was almost as notable as my hair. “Bye.” I smiled up at him before giving the driver to the address to the hotel. Thirty minutes later, I entered the hotel lobby to see a familiar face behind the desk.
“Back so soon?” The blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman asked me. Knowingly all too well, I hated crowds.
“I was afraid my carriage would turn back into a pumpkin if I missed my midnight curfew,” I said.
“It’s only 10:15.” She remarked, rolling her eyes at me.
“Sweet, if I hurry, I could be on the road by 10:45.”
“Right this way Cinderella,” Megan said, ushering me to the service elevator. It was times like these that my little bit of fame came in very handy. Over the past few years, I’d set up “stations.” Places I knew, with people I trusted. I had used my popularity to cultivate places where I could stash personal belongings. Entering as a public artist, and leaving as Henley.
“So, how was it?” She asked me.
“Good. There’s a lot of new artists featured.” I said as I stripped out of my evening clothes. “And a lot of media,” I grumbled, sliding into my favorite jeans, black tee, and checkered Vans.
“Did you meet anyone interesting?” Megan asked. I laughed.
“It’s an art gallery. Everyone there this interesting.” I said, stuffing my clothing into a designer bag I had splurged on a few years ago. “I did meet a real egomaniac,” I said, surprised by how the mere thought of the cretin fired me back up with anger and unease.
“Alpha?” Megan asked.
“Uber Alpha,” I confirmed.
“Some are just assholes.” She huffed.
“This one was the poster child for that statement,” I said as I released my hair from its tight bun. “Like I don’t already know how our caste system works,” I complained. “He had the balls to asked to see my lumen,” I said.
“You’re small for a Beta Henley,” Megan said, pushing off the counter in the women’s locker room. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were Omega too.” She said as she reapplied her lipstick in the mirror. “So, did you show him?”
“Hell no. I think he is crazy.”
“Was he hot?” She asked, watching me in the reflection of the mirror. My hesitation spoke for me. “The crazy ones always are.” Megan laughed. “When will I see you next?” She asked as she walked me out to the staff parking lot. I popped the hatch on my Mini and chucked my bag inside.
“Three weeks, I think. I need to check with wonder woman.” I said, closing the hatch.
“Come early. I so need a spa day,” Megan said.
“You’re on.” I smiled at her. “See you soon.”
The clock on the console said 10:50, five minutes behind schedule. But safely on my way out of the city. Late was better than never. Scrolling through my heaviest playlist, I left the underground garage and raced for the city limits, always breathing easier once I crossed the bridge. Weather permitting, I was one hour and 25 minutes away from home. Music blasting, singing out loud to some of my favorite heavy-metal. I pushed the negative encounter with the sadist Alpha out of my head.
I usually could decompress quickly after an exhibit, knowing no matter what critics might say about my work. I had loyal patrons who appreciated my art. The commission I’d made last year alone had paid for my home. Everything I owned was mine. I was financially free. But an uneasiness I hadn’t felt in years pulled me from a restless sleep early in the morning. I could get online and read the reviews. But that wasn’t what had me twisted up. It was the sadist, the Alpha that questioned my profile. He’d asked to see my lumen. It had been years since someone questioned me. Everyone already knew my past. I’d hidden behind the perfect cover for years. One that had been created by many different doctors from the moment of my birth. How many times had I read, and re-read the countless articles about my misfortunate childhood? Still to this day, the physicians who had been present at my birth commented on the unique circumstances, stating what a remarkable person I was. The identical twin to an Omega sister, that was a Beta. A fact that had been proven by endless blood and genetic testing: the conclusion, Twin to twin transfusion syndrome.
I was never projected to survive in utero, let alone after birth. My Omega sister had taken everything she needed to survive to term from me. I wasn’t resentful or bitter about it. It was just facts. Statistically, twin-to-twin transfusion results in the smallest twin being stillborn. I was the smallest of us. It was believed I would die. When I didn’t, they tested. I’d live because I was Beta. That’s what everyone thought. Being premature, and the host twin, it only made sense that I was petite. Again, people who knew me believed my features stemmed from my history. I hadn’t had to defend myself in years. I didn’t like that I had to do it again. Now that I knew of the sadist artist, I would be sure not to do any exhibits with him, ever. I wouldn’t waste another minute on him. Instead, I spent my weekend finishing a commissioned piece. I loved finishing a project, this one especially. I’d been asked to create an entry piece for an outreach program that helped troubled youth. A cause that I was familiar with. For once, I was ahead of schedule. I was happy to get the week started on a positive note. Heavy-metal, green matcha frappe, and I was soaring high today. Hands full, I bumped the door to my studio opened — a tiny space I rented in a neighboring town. A smallish community of around 10,000, it was a tourist destination in the spring and summer.
“Please tell me you got the extra energy matcha?” My personal wonder woman asked as she reached out for the drink, I offered her. I spit my keys on her desk.
“How can you be low on energy Momo, it’s only 8:35.” I teased her. She ignored me, attacking her tea with gusto.
“It’s your fault I’m already whipped. What the hell happened at the art exhibit?” Momo asked me.
“What do you mean?” My question hit Mo with pure surprise.
“You’ve been home for two days and never checked social media?” She looked horrified. It was common for me to stress Mo out. It just wasn’t this early in our day normally.
“That’s your world, wonder woman.” I shrugged my shoulders. Mo shook her head, and rolled her eyes at me, again.
“Fans loved it. They loved it, Henley.” She smiled. “In fact, you have had three calls this morning and more online inquiries.” Momo was excited. She hummed with it.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really, granted the calls are all from the same company, but who cares.”
“The same, one called three times in less than 45 minutes?” I asked.
“Super eager to set up a meeting with you.” She said before she attacked her drink again. That was great news, I liked hearing my fan’s feedback.
“Well, I’ll be back in the city in three weeks for the grand opening of the outreach center. See if they want to meet then.” I said, thinking out loud.
“Will do.” Mo, mumbled as she got back to being the master of the universe.
“Thanks, Momo,” I said, heading up the stairs to the loft that sat above the office. The morning blurred past me as I cleaned and reorganized the workspace. In a hurry to pack and prepare for the exhibit, I had made a huge mess. Finding motivation in music, I turned it up and got to work. A rumbling stomach sent me back down the stairs at noon. Hearing an exasperated Mo was unusual.
“Mr. Castillo, I tried to explain several times that Ms. Allred is booked. She is just as busy as everyone else.” She said, rolling her eyes at me as I walked in. “Sir, Ms. Allred has had her appointments scheduled for months now. They cannot be changed….” I could hear the voice of an outraged person giving Mo hell through the phone.
“No, sir, of course not. Getting back to the city sooner is not the issue, Mr. Castillo. Send a helicopter?” Mo asked, completely stunned. Mo was literally speechless, and looking dumbfounded.
“What?” I mouthed to her.
“Mr. Castillo, Ms. Allred doesn’t need for you to fly a chopper out to get her. She has reliable transportation.” Customer service had never been my forte. Watching poor Mo’s struggle with this one because of me was brutal. And I’d heard enough. I marched to her desk, hand-stretched out to take the receiver. The look of shock on her face was priceless. Her mouth slacked open, stuttering and stumbling to give me the phone. I could hear some rude man ranting like a maniac as I took the phone.
“Hello, this is Henley,” I said flatly, cutting off his blathering.
“You’re a hard woman to reach.” The male voice said to me.
“Then, don’t try. In fact, don’t contact me again.” I told the man, sternly. Mo was just as rocked as the man on the phone. I could easily imagine he looked as stupefied as Mo did.
“It’s unwise to speak to me so boldly.” The unknown man threatened me — his voice sizzling with anger.
“It’s obvious you have the wrong number. I do not respond well to threats or people treating my staff like shit.” I ignored his verbal onslaught, slamming the receiver down. “Lunch?” I asked my very speechless wonder woman.