The answer came a moment later when he flipped me over his head. The world tilted, the stars taunted me, and then my back slammed into the ground. The breath whooshed out of my lungs. He was on top of me in an instant, straddling me. Fuck, there was no way to bring my knee up to block him and push him away. He grabbed my hands and pinned them above my head. Horror flooded me. Shit, shit, shit.
“Submit,” he ordered.
I struggled and bucked, trying to alter the position to give myself an advantage, any advantage. Every lesson Azazel had taught me filtered through my mind, but Hunter had me locked down.
And then he forced himself between my thighs and pressed me into the ground, pinning me groin to groin. My heart sank. It was over. He was hard, thick, and long and pressed against me. A low growl tore from my throat.
He leaned in, his lips inches from mine. “You chose me, little wolf. You wanted me.”
“I didn’t fucking know. I wasn’t connected to the wolf then.”
“But she’s a part of you, and she wants me, which means you want me. Submit.” He rolled his hips against me, and despite my determination not to, I moaned. My body warred with my mind, and tears of impotent rage leaked from my eyes. I hated him. I hated him with every fucking fiber of my being.
I glared at his unforgiving face through a film of tears. “Please…”
“Please, get the fuck off me!”
He moved fast, flipping me onto my front and pinning me to the ground by his hand on my nape and his knee in the small of my back.
“Submit.” He dug his knee in.
I cried out as a needle of fire pierced my back. “Fuck you, wanker.”
I looked up and caught sight of Loup jeering and howling. Bastards, the lot of them. And then my gaze locked on a man with silver-blond hair and kind eyes. Eyes that were fixed on me. Eyes that widened in shock as he scanned my face.
“Stop!” he called. “The Rising Pack rescinds their challenge.”
I peered up at the man through my tears as he approached. Had he just said what I thought he said? Did that mean—
Hunter’s grip on me tightened. “Eldrick? What the hell?”
Eldrick? The alpha of the Rising Pack?
“Let her go, Hunter,” Eldrick said.
“She’s mine,” Hunter growled.
Eldrick bared his teeth, and a sound unlike anything I’d ever heard vibrated his chest and spilled from his mouth. It had me pressing my cheek to the ground and trying to make myself as small as possible, and it had the desired effect of making Hunter loosen his grip.
“She’s mine,” Hunter said again.
“No,” Eldrick said. He crouched and stroked my cheek before leaning in and sniffing my hair.
Hunter’s chest rattled a sound of displeasure, a warning. “Mine…”
Eldrick’s head snapped up. “No, she’s mine. My daughter.”
The Rising Pack tent was empty save for me, Eldrick, and Hunter. Grayson had wanted to come with us, but I’d dissuaded him. I needed to do this alone. I needed to stand before my biological father and take in what he’d just told me.
I could have done without Hunter being in the room though, lurking like a dark shadow in the periphery of my vision, shooting daggers and laser eye vibes at me. At least my body was under control now that he wasn’t touching me.
“Are you all right?” Eldrick asked. “Were you hurt?”
“Only my pride.”
He smiled, and it was like the sun had come out. I stared at him, taking in his features one by one and then collectively. His mouth was full like mine, and his eyebrows arched and flicked up slightly at the ends just like mine, and his hair was the exact same shade of silver-blond as mine.
He was my father.
He was the alpha of the Rising Pack, and he’d just announced that I was not to be touched.
I had my protected alpha status. I was free, but standing here, in front of a biological parent, a ton of emotions I hadn’t expected to feel assaulted me. I wanted him to hold me. I wanted to smell him. I wanted him to love me.
What the fuck was this?
Eldrick cleared his throat. “Seraphina is a beautiful name.” He took a step toward me and reached out as if to touch my cheek but then dropped his hand. “You look so much like your mother.”
“I do?” I took a step closer to him. “Do you have any photos of her?”
He reached into his back pocket for his wallet and flipped it open. I peered at the photo-booth picture of him and a woman smiling into the camera. Her hair was golden, and her eyes a gorgeous cornflower blue. She looked like a combination of me and Cora. She was obviously sitting on his lap. He looked happy. She looked happy. They looked like they were in love.
My throat tightened. “I do look like her.”
He smiled. “Clem was beautiful.”
Clem… My mother’s name had been Clem. “You loved her…”
“Yes. Very much.”
“I don’t understand. Why didn’t you stay with her? Why didn’t you bring her into the pack?”
“I wanted to, believe me, but Clem didn’t want anything to do with the outlier life. She’d run from it once already, and she wasn’t willing to go back.”
“Wait, what do you mean, she’d run from it? I thought my mother was human.”
“She was. She was a witch. She never spoke much about her abilities or why she preferred to hide them, and I didn’t push her. We had six glorious months together, and then we parted. I kept tabs on her. I found out she was engaged to be married to a human male. I wanted to be happy for her, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. I went to see her and we…We were intimate. She fell pregnant, and I urged her to change her mind and come live with me. But she refused. She married the human and had you. He never knew the truth.”
“Would you have come for me?”
“Yes. We agreed that when you reached maturity, I would come for you and give you the choice of joining the pack. I was away when the fire happened. When I got back, it was to the news that Clem, her human mate, and my child were dead. The fire burned so hotly there weren’t even bones left.” This time he did touch my cheek. “I thought you were dead, and then I saw your face, I caught your scent, and I knew. I knew you were mine.”
It felt natural to fall into his arms, to allow him to hold me. It felt safe. This was home. My eyes filled with hot tears. I’d loved Aunt Lara with all my heart, but that love had grown over time, but this… This was an instantaneous rush of emotion. A connection that was almost preternatural.
It was bonding.
It was certainty.
“No one will harm you, Seraphina. I won’t allow it,” he said. “I promised your mother you’d be given a choice, and you shall. The pack is your home, whether you decide to join us or not. It is yours by birthright.”
I caught sight of Hunter’s face, the calculation and the barely restrained rage. Fuck, I’d half mated with him.
I pulled back to look up at my father’s face. “I don’t want to be mated to Hunter.”
“You would need to complete the mating for that to happen. You would need to submit.”
“I won’t submit. I don’t want him.”
Something dark crossed Hunter’s face. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was hurt. But this was Hunter. Psycho Hunter who cared about nothing but domination and power.
“Then you won’t be mated,” Eldrick said. “And if Hunter touches you without your permission, I’ll kill him myself.”
He didn’t look at Hunter. He didn’t pay him any attention. He just made the statement as if it was a fact.
Hunter’s jaw ticked. “With all due respect, Eldrick, you can’t deny me my mate. She accepted my mark willingly.”
“I can if she’s my daughter and if she’s unwilling,” Eldrick said. “She accepted your mark in wolf form before she was one with her wolf. And I’m sure you were aware of that. You took advantage, Hunter. Don’t expect to be rewarded for it.”
“It doesn’t change the fact that our wolves chose each other,” Hunter said, his dark eyes fixed on me.
A shiver ran up my spine, and I wasn’t sure whether it was terror or desire. Hunter elicited both, and then they got mixed together, fucking with my head. Wanker.
Eldrick turned his head to look at Hunter. “Question me again, and I’ll be forced to reconsider my decision to elevate you in my place. As it stands, I’ll be extending your ascension period for a couple more months.”
Hunter inclined his head, but his eyes promised retribution, and my heart beat faster with anxiety. Eldrick looked powerful and strong, but could he take Hunter if Hunter decided to challenge him for alphahood…for the right to mate with me.
“Will you dine with me tonight?” Eldrick asked. “I know you must have Dominus duties, but I would like to get to know my daughter.”
I opened my mouth to say, yes, of course, when a gust of wind blew the flaps of the tent inward. Gooseflesh broke out across my skin a moment before the sound of chanting hit me.
My blood turned to ice. It couldn’t be. Not here. Not now.
And then the screams and howls started.
Eldrick and I exchanged glances and then ran for the exit.
Hunter was hot on our heels as we burst into the night to a vision of carnage. Mouths swarmed the clearing, tearing and biting. The Loup fought back, both in human and animal form.
My body vibrated with a need my subconscious recognized as the urgency to shift, but instead, I opted for summoning my scythe. The weight settled reassuringly in my palm, the celestial glow bathed my face, and I made to leap into the fray just as everyone froze—Grayson by the Regency tent, Bastian by the bonfire. Cora fighting alongside Dean. All the Loup in the clearing froze, mid-flight, mid-swipe, mid-bite.
“What the fuck?”
My voice was too loud in the silence, and then slowly, eerily, as if controlled by an unseen puppeteer, every mouth in the clearing turned its head to look at me. A chittering sound filled the air. The horrific noise that the mouth in the alley had made magnified by twenty.