I was about to mess up her test. “I can’t stay, Vi. I have a home, a life. I’m a Dominus, and I have people I want to get back to.”
She sat up straighter. “Are you sure? You’ll have to fight.”
“Then I’ll fight.”
She looked torn. “Dammit, I didn’t want to like you. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.”
“You want to fight in my place?”
She chuckled. “Heck, no! But I can help you prepare for the Meet, so you don’t accidentally snub someone. You’ll need a dress. It’s a formal affair.”
Cora clapped her hands together. “I feel a shopping trip coming on.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s almost six in the evening. Too late for shopping.”
Cora’s eyes twinkled. “Not when you have a teleporting friend. Give me two minutes.”
She winked out.
“So…” Vi said. “Is your friend a demon?”
She nodded. “You’re lucky.”
“To have a friend?”
She laughed softly. “Not everyone has friends, Fee. Some of us have followers and minions.”
She looked sad.
Cora reappeared with an armful of fabric. Dresses. She dumped them on the bed. “I raided the nearest fancy department store. Fashion show time.”
Great, my best friend was a thief. But there was no denying the flutter in my stomach at the thought of dress-up, and then I remembered that Azazel, Conah, and Mal were out there in danger.
I shook my head. “Just pick something.”
Cora gave me a stern look. “There is nothing you can do about the guys, Fee. But this will kill time and take your mind off it. I promise, if we haven’t heard from them by midnight, I’ll personally go hunting for them.”
If we hadn’t heard from them by midnight, I’d go hunting for them myself and damn the bail rules.
The dress we settled on was a deep-navy, ankle-length number with a sweetheart neckline. The material hugged my waist and my hips before the skirt flowed down to the ground. It perfectly accentuated my curves, and I couldn’t believe how good I looked.
The fabric shimmered when I moved. Cora had nabbed me a pair of pumps to match. I’d wanted to put my hair up, but Cora had vetoed that idea.
“It looks fucking sexy open,” she said.
And she was right, the silver-blonde against the navy was a stunning combination. Vi stared at me with a pained look on her face.
“You look…Wow,” she said.
Was she kidding? She looked stunning in the emerald number she was wearing. It set off her green eyes and crimson hair and sat well against her creamy skin, and damn if I were into women…
“Tongue in your mouth, Fee,” Cora said with a snort.
Vi blushed, and I cleared my throat. “Yeah, you look hot.”
There was a sharp rap on the door, and then it opened to reveal a suited and booted Grayson. My heart flipped and then shot up into my throat because motherfucker, he looked practically edible in a dark navy suit that hugged his frame as if it had been tailor-made, which it probably had been. His hair was brushed back off his face, beard neatly trimmed, giving him that chic but kinda rugged look at the same time, and I needed to stop staring at him. I raised my gaze to find him fixated on me. His throat bobbed, his eyes narrowed, and his chest rose and fell in a hungry inhalation before he tore his gaze away and fixed it on Vi.
“You look stunning,” he said to her.
Vi glided over to him and took his arm. “Shall we?”
“Dean will escort you, Fee,” Grayson said over his shoulder. “We leave in ten minutes.”
The door closed behind them, and I plopped down on the edge of the bed. “I am so fucked up, Cor.”
“Because you wanted him to notice you?”
“Yeah. How fucked up is that?”
“Babe, he totally eye fucked you.”
“I don’t care. I mean, I really don’t.”
“Uh-huh. Yes, you tell yourself that. Meanwhile, you best get down there. Dean will be waiting.” She gnawed on her bottom lip. “And if I happen to come up in conversation, you can find out what he thinks of me, yeah?”
I arched a brow. “You should ask him yourself. When have you ever been shy?”
“I’m not. I mean, I can. I mean…Just fucking do it.” She smiled sweetly. “Please.”
“Fine. Message me if the guys get in touch.” My stomach quivered. “I’ll feel better once I hear from them. I mean, how long does it take to scour this Eye?”
We both exchanged glances, thinking the same thing. What if the guys were trapped?
“Midnight,” we said in unison.
They had till midnight.
Grayson had hired limos for the drive. Not the stretch kind, just the regular, but still, I’d never been in a limo before. He was silent the whole way, sitting opposite me, his hot gaze on me whenever I looked over. Dean sat beside me, smelling divine and looking hot and sculpted in a midnight blue suit that complemented his dark hair. But he too was silent. Thank God for Vi. She kept the mood light, chatting away about the people we were about to meet. Her coven, the Masterton Coven, would be represented by her. The Khatri Coven, who supplied the Rising Pack, would be there, along with the Barton Coven, who supplied the Crimson Pack.
There were other tiny covens in the city and around the world, but they were all affiliated to one of the main thirteen covens. It was just the way things worked.
Necro was growing in my mind; the network in the outlier community was intricate.
“And don’t look the other pack members in the eye,” Grayson said.
I blinked at him. “Excuse me?”
“Only an alpha is allowed to do that,” Dean explained.
“I am an alpha.”
Vi gasped and stared at Grayson accusingly. Oops, it looked like he hadn’t filled her in on that fact.
Grayson ignored her indignation. “You don’t want them to know that.”
“They’ll find out anyway when I have to fight in the culling.”
“Yes, but do you want them to have time to prepare?” Dean said.
What were these two? A double act, but I got it. He wanted them to send in their weaker Loup who’d be blindsided when they realized I was an alpha.
“So, you want me to act subservient.”
His smile was a little too smug. “How are your acting skills?”
“If you can manage to act like an alphahole all the time, I can manage subservient for a few hours.” I widened my eyes. “Oh, wait, you’re not acting.”
Dean tensed beside me, and Vi sucked in a sharp breath, looking from Grayson to me.
Grayson’s jaw clenched. “Don’t test me, Fee. I can always refuse to set you free.”
Refuse. Was that even an option. Panic edged in. “You can’t stop me from applying for my freedom.”
“Yes, I can. You accepted my claw. I am your alpha, and if I say you can’t be free, then there is no culling. The culling is only for the other packs to raise objections.”
He was bluffing. “But I’m an alpha, too.”
He leaned forward so his forearms were braced on his thighs. “Yes, but I’m stronger than you.”
He is. Don’t test. Submit.
Fuck that. I raised my chin. “You’d do that? You’d force me to stay?” My eyes felt hot with disappointment and anger. “You said I could leave if I wanted.”
Do not cry, Fee. Do not cry. It was an auto fucking reflex when I was angry and frustrated, and the last thing I wanted was for him to think I was weak. I blinked back the moisture and glared at him.
The steel melted from his expression. “And I meant it.” He sat back. “Even though your bid for freedom could get you killed.”
“You’re safer with us,” Dean said. “Why risk your life?”
“For autonomy.” I looked to Dean. “The Loup isn’t all I am.” I held up my hand, feeling the power there, my scythe, the buzz of the celestial energy inside me. My hand began to glow. “This is a part of me too. I’m a Dominus, and that… That feels right to me.”
There was silence for a long beat.
“You could do both,” Dean said. “Split your time and—”
“No,” Grayson said. “She’s either part of the pack, or she isn’t.”
“Makes no sense,” Vi said softly. “Why would they want to kill her? She’s a female. Packs need more females.”
“They also don’t want competition. Better to kill her than risk another pack claiming her by force if she goes free.”
Yeah, I didn’t want any part of their fucked-up world.
“We’re here,” Vi said.
The limo came to a smooth halt, and I peered out the window at the imposing building with the sweeping stone steps and balustrades. Light spilled out onto the asphalt from all the tall windows, and figures were visible making their way in, dressed in ball gowns and wraps and suits. My stomach fluttered. It was like coming to a ball, except my prince charming was a beast.
The driver opened the door, and Grayson got out, then held out a hand to Vi to help her out.
Dean did the same for me, and then we were climbing the steps into the light and toward the music.
The ballroom was stunning—high domed ceilings, marble floors, two sweeping staircases coming down from a balcony above, and a string quartet, the works—but I wanted out.
Eyes down, eyes down. Fuck, this was hard. Pretending to be a mouse was fucking hard. I smiled, I nodded, and sipped champagne and chatted to Vi and a few of her coven friends. There was food and dancing and too many people. Part of me wanted to make a run for it. Why was that? I’d never had a problem with crowds before, but tonight there were too many smells and too many eyes on me. I wanted to look back, to challenge them until they backed down. I wanted to growl.