“Bobby, why don’t you sit and eat with us?” I smiled at him.
Bobby’s face drained of color, and he backed up, making himself small. The hairs on my body stood to attention because all eyes were on me once again.
You do so love to rock the boat.
“Bobby will eat later,” Grayson said.
My gaze flicked to Bobby, who was staring at the floor, shoulders hunched. I had a soft spot for the Loup with the big, brown, intelligent eyes and the sharp-as-a-tack mind.
It wasn’t my place to question how Grayson ran his pack, but this made no sense to me. This felt wrong. “Why? Why can’t he eat with us?”
“Because he’s the weakest,” Bastian said. “The runt of the pack. He hasn’t earned a place at the table.” He pushed back his seat and walked over to Bobby.
Bastian was stocky, muscle-bound, and intimidating, but Bobby held his ground, eyes downcast, body tense and ready…Ready for what?
I found out a moment later when Bastian grabbed Bobby by the nape and shook him. “Bobby is the housekeep, the cook, and whatever else we say he is.”
I looked to Dean, who was watching Bastian with a clenched jaw.
Grayson sighed. “Bobby is a lower-level omega,” he said as if that explained everything.
But my attention was on Bobby, on his trembling chin and his frail body as Bastian shook him and chuckled, like it was fun, which it probably was to the big bully.
Anger unfurled and whiplashed inside me.
“Let him go.” My voice was a deep command.
Bastian froze, and then his lip curled. “Or what?”
There was impotent rage and lust swirling in his eyes. It didn’t take a fucking genius to figure out what was going on here. He wanted me, and he hated that fact, so he was venting his frustration on Bobby. He was hurting him while Dean and Grayson sat there doing nothing.
We do not cower. We protect.
“Leave him be, Bastian,” Grayson said. But there was no command in his tone. No real intention.
“Aw,” Bastian said. “But he’s so much fun to play with.” He slapped Bobby’s cheek, once, twice.
We protect the weak.
I caught the flash of tears in Bobby’s eyes, and my control snapped, allowing the beast to the surface. Her power coursed through my veins, and a growl ripped through the air as she took over my limbs, leaping on the table and slamming into Bastian. My hand was around his throat, teeth bared in a feral snarl, my beast hovering behind my eyes as I glared at him.
“Touch him again, and I’ll tear your arms off.” This wasn’t my voice. It was deeper, feral. It was her.
Bastian’s eyes grew round, and then he went limp in my grip.
“Fee. Let go. Let him go.”
An arm snaked around my waist, heat pressed to my back, and the beast inside exhaled and stood down. I released Bastian and allowed Grayson to draw me away from the bully.
There was deathly silence in the dining room, and then someone spoke softly.
“She’s a fucking alpha.”
Dean stood by the door with his arms crossed as Grayson paced and ran his hands through his golden hair in agitation.
I perched on the edge of the sofa, watching them fall apart. My body still hummed from my Loup’s presence. Her power still tainted my blood.
It had felt good. Too good.
But I’d pushed her down now. Heck, who was I kidding? She’d retreated, knowing that I needed space. It bugged me that she knew me so well…or did it? Did it really bother me?
God, I was so confused.
“Is Bobby okay?” My voice sounded too loud against the silence.
“He’s fine,” Grayson said.
“You should have done something.” I looked from Grayson to Dean. “You should have stopped Bastian.”
“You did that pretty well on your own,” Grayson said.
“Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have had to. You’re the alpha.”
Silence fell again as they exchanged glances, but neither said what they were both thinking.
That I was an alpha, too.
Yeah, that was the current consensus, but I wasn’t sure I believed it. “Look, I get angry sometimes, okay, like red-haze-can’t-control-it angry, and it makes me stronger than normal…It doesn’t mean anything.”
It felt like a lie.
“That anger could have been your alpha side trying to emerge after all these years,” Dean said. “Bastian is a beta, one level under me. He wouldn’t have submitted to you so quickly if you weren’t an alpha. Getting him to submit to me is a struggle.”
“You let her out for a moment,” Grayson said. “We all felt her influence.”
“The more you let her out, the stronger her influence will be,” Dean explained.
Okay, so evidence was stacked in their favor. So what? “Fine, so what if I am an alpha?”
Dean spluttered. “Grayson, man…”
Grayson shook his head and chuckled softly. “Where the fuck is Petra?”
There was a knock on the chamber door, and a petite woman with silver-streaked hair and soft brown eyes walked in. She ignored the guys and came straight to me. Taking the seat beside me, she held out her hands.
“May I?” she asked.
O-kay. She looked harmless, sweet even. I took her hands, and she closed her eyes.
A soft smile played on her lips, and then she nodded. “Yes. It’s true. I can confirm it.” She opened her eyes and smiled wildly at me. “We have our first alpha female in four decades.”
Grayson cursed softly.
“Hush,” Petra said. “This is a cause for celebration.”
“No, Petra, it really isn’t,” Grayson said. “If the other packs wanted her before, they’ll come for her even harder now.”
I ignored the innuendo in that sentence. “Why? Why would they want me more now?”
“Because alpha females produce ten times more miasma than a regular Loup female,” Dean said.
Petra nodded. “And an alpha female mated to an alpha male could sustain a pack without the need for coven intervention. It would give that pack, and its alpha, an undeniable edge.”
Oh, shit. Mated as in have sex with? The beast inside me stirred and rose to the surface. My gaze flew to Grayson to find his stunning gaze pinned to me with an intensity that squeezed the breath from my lungs. He wanted me. That was clear, but this…This wasn’t what I wanted.
“I’m not staying. I don’t want to stay.”
His mouth turned down, and he tucked in his chin.
“This could be your home,” Dean said. “You’re one of us.”
Panic squeezed my chest. “I’m a demon. I’m a Dominus, and I already have a home.”
The beast was listening, awake and aware, but she didn’t speak. She didn’t push her influence on me, and for that, I was grateful. I’d found my feet, found a new family, no matter how dysfunctional. Conah, Azazel, and Mal were my home. They were mine.
“I don’t want this.” Of that, I was sure.
Grayson locked gazes with me. “I know.” His chest heaved in a sigh. “You won’t be forced into staying if that’s not what you want. I promised you sanctuary, and that’s what you’ll get.”
Dean sucked in a sharp breath. “Grayson?”
He shook his head. “We’re not the Rising Pack. We don’t force females to submit.”
Dean sighed. “Fuck.”
Did I feel guilty? Yes, of course I did, but not enough to change my mind.
“However,” Grayson said. “You’re an alpha, and that changes things.”
My spine tingled. “How?”
It was Petra who explained. “You’re under Grayson’s alpha protection, but if you too are an alpha, then he can’t claim to be protecting you, and you can’t claim protected rogue status later on.”
Dean continued for her. “You’d either have to claim protected lone alpha status, form your own pack, or…”
Urgh, why was he leaving me hanging? “Or what?”
“Mate with an existing alpha and co-run his pack,” he finished.
I needed to clarify. “Mate with as in have sex with?”
“It’s more than sex,” Petra explained. “It’s a binding—a marriage of sorts.”
Worse than just sex then.
“Protected alpha status will ensure your safety,” Dean said. “But you’ll have to fight for your freedom.”
Then we fight.
Oh, yes, she’d like that. To have full control.
You need to let me out once a month anyway. You need to trust me if we’re to be whole. Damn you, woman.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I need to think.”
“Have you run as a wolf yet?” Petra asked.
I shook my head.
“Then that’s the first thing you must do. Tomorrow night after the Meet.” She looked to Grayson. “Take her out and teach her to shift.”
He nodded tightly.
“How is that going to help me?”
She gave me an indulgent smile. “You’re trying to make a decision about your Loup heritage without fully experiencing what it means to be a Loup. You won’t know what you want until you’ve allowed your beast to run free and taken the first step to becoming one with it.”
I wanted to go back to the Underealm, and I’d fight for that right.
I need to run.
Yes, she did. For my sanity, for hers. I knew what I wanted. Running as a Loup wouldn’t change that.
This little woman with the silver hair and kind eyes was making sense. “Who are you?”
“The grandmother of the pack.” Her eyes twinkled. “I raised Grayson and his brother once their parents passed.”
Petra’s eyes were sad. “He’s no longer with us.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Grayson said.