Fresh corpses littered the ground down below. The sun beamed down on them, glinting off the blood-stained grass. I knew I was being watched, so I kept my face as stoic as I could manage.
I had to appear impassive. Make them intrigued. Interested enough to talk to me.
GrassTail wolves lingered about, gloating over their victory. Some eyes flashed up occasionally to where I sat on the hill. I could practically taste the curiosity, but the smell of death was stronger.
“Lennet,” a male voice called, using my fake name. I knew immediately who it was, a strong sinking feeling appearing in my stomach. Mante.
Squinting my eyes against the sun, I angled my body to peer at Mante. The zeta in training was easy on the eyes, chiseled muscle on display.
His brown hair was ruffled, patches of facial hair beginning to grow. I wanted to turn my lip up in disgust, but instead, I gave him a smile.
There wasn’t a single scratch on him, which told me more than I needed to know.
Mante returned my smile in a full-blown grin, subtly trying to puff his chest out.
“Mante,” I said, greeting him, his last name rolling off my tongue.
Mante came closer, bringing the smell of battle with him.
“I see that you’ve won.” A smirk formed on my lips as I knew I was only patting his ego on the back.
He only laughed, not needing to confirm or deny what I’d said. Without my offering, he seated himself next to me, close enough for our arms to brush against each other.
I could feel his eyes on the side of my face before they lowered, taking in my full appearance.
I didn’t need to look at him to know the pride he was feeling. He believed he’d won over the mysterious visitor. Unfortunately for him, my wolf was very far from interested.
My eyes snagged on some females down below, huddled off to the side, whispering among each other. Apparently, I was not the only female to come and watch this show of dominance.
I couldn’t help but pity the BlueRock wolves. No doubt they’d deserved their death for attacking a stronger pack.
I pitied their fallen. Their bodies wouldn’t be retrieved nor sent to the moon.
At least GrassTail’s new alpha would be feeling more welcome, a fresh victory under his belt. As it was, he was barely holding the ropes for this pack with the tips of his claws.
At last, my attention came back to Mante. He might as well be drooling with how he looked at me.
The sudden urge to snarl at him came to mind, but I suppressed it. “Shouldn’t you be down there with them, Mante”—I lifted a brow at him—“gloating in your great victory?”
I leaned myself back onto a propped elbow, exposing my upper half to sunlight. A strand of my hair caught in the wind, touching Mante’s cheek.
I watched as the muscle in his jaw tightened, pupils dilating before returning to normal.
“You’re right,” he agreed. “You should come with me. It’s time you got more comfortable with GrassTail.” His eyes were on the wisp of hair, still floating in the breeze.
My mind froze for a moment, fighting to keep my mask on. I didn’t like the implication of what he’d said.
“All right.” I gave in to him, knowing that I shouldn’t. Mante was too attached to me, more than what I was used to. He’d be crushed when I inevitably left.
The grin returned to his face, making him appear almost boyish. If I wasn’t here to spy on GrassTail, I could imagine myself coming to like him.
He was on his feet right away, extending a hand down to me. After a moment, I took his hand, accepting his help.
Mante led me to the gathered wolves below, their heads turning at our appearance. It didn’t escape my eyes the way their attention flickered between us, noting the closeness of our bodies.
Be a good sport, I reminded myself, forcing a smile on my face.
I could see that Mante would eventually make a decent zeta, congratulating his warriors and patting their backs. Their faces held newly forming respect for him.
From the corner of my eye, I watched as one of GrassTail’s lower packs, GrassHeart, slowly slinked away without acknowledgment or appreciation.
I couldn’t help the sudden anger in my chest, furious with GrassTail. Their leadership over their lesser packs was appalling.
No one else seemed to see or mind what I’d seen. Mante’s eyes only flashed in their direction once, but he was too preoccupied to truly care.
I had to bite my tongue from saying something out of line to him. I held no rank or authority here; my opinion was not welcome.
Mante’s fingers found my hand again as if he’d won the ability to touch it a second time.
I clenched my hand into a fist, hoping to send him a clear message. I wouldn’t embarrass him, but his touch was unwanted.
His brow furrowed at me, but he took the hint, keeping his hand to himself.
The wolves chanted and talked among themselves, their pride heavy in the air. A feast would be held that night in honor of their victory. A weaker pack, but I could appreciate their victory with them.
My attention returned to the present as Mante introduced me to his friends. Sons of high rankings. Soon-to-be a beta and gamma.
Uneasiness settled in my stomach, uncomfortable with what Mante was doing. The last thing I wanted was attention from the high ranks.
Fighting to keep control of my nerves, I gave the wolves a shy smile, tucking my hair behind an ear. Their eyes tracked the movement of my hand.
“Hello,” I greeted them, satisfying Mante. “I’m Lennet.”
The beta’s son, Peveril, dipped his head, a greeting I wasn’t worthy of. “Lennet,” he repeated, eyes narrowing in a flirty way. “It’s nice to meet you.”
If his introduction was any indication, Peveril would make a terrible beta. Flaunting and trying to impress strange females, while Eastridge, son of the gamma, could barely stand his ground beside him.
“As it is you,” I returned his sentiment, dipping my head and biting my tongue to prevent revealing my thoughts. If this was GrassTail’s future high rankings, they were doomed.
Mante resumed their earlier conversation, clearly trying to get their attention off of me. He’d made a mistake, and now they were interested in what he coveted.
I was barely listening to their conversation as I scanned the area around us, watching GrassTail.
Eastridge was excitedly murmuring about his coming gamma ceremony. His father had already stepped down.
Something caught my eye. While the GrassTail males were celebrating, one face stuck out.
The group around him were talking, boastful grins plastered across their faces, while his was somber, hateful eyes glaring at the back of the soon-to-be gamma’s head.
I caught his attention, giving him an encouraging smile. If anything, he’d be doing GrassTail a favor by removing this male as their gamma.
A grin spread across the male’s face, easily enticed by my encouragement.
Without another moment’s hesitation, he pushed his way through the crowd, his eyes on mine the entire time, before stopping at our group.
Eastridge turned, a snarl on his lips at this male’s offensive closeness.
“Lennet”—Mante leaned down to whisper into my ear—“let’s give them space.”
I realized then that Mante and I were the only ones who hadn’t stepped away.
Nodding at him, I dipped my head to both wolves before allowing Mante to lead me into the safety of the rest.
They’d formed a small circle around Eastridge and the stranger, eager to see what was happening.
The stranger’s eyes found mine once more, nodding to me as if he were saying this is for you.
Mante’s attention was on me. He didn’t miss the interaction I’d shared with this male, but he’d hold his tongue for now.
Peveril placed a comforting hand on Eastridge’s shoulder, who was shaking despite himself. I must have missed the first exchanged words because the stranger then snarled at Eastridge. “Do you accept?”
“I accept,” Eastridge says, signing his life away.
Peveril stepped away, and the clash began. It was clear before it even began who the winner would be. Eastridge may have his blood, but he would be the last of it for his weakness.
The stranger was the first to draw blood, his stance offensive, while Eastridge took defense. Weak.
I had no interest in continuing watching when I already knew the outcome. I took a step away from Mante, pausing to see if he objected. He hardly noticed, which meant I was dismissed.
No one noticed my departure anyways. My job wasn’t to watch petty fights but to learn.
Stepping away, I noticed a group of females standing slightly far off from the group, watching the fight.
To any other eyes, it would be assumed they weren’t speaking of anything important. But in my experience, the females always got the juicy bits.
I quickly changed how I looked, tucking my hair behind my ears and tightly holding my arms to my chest. Alone, weaker than them.
They eyed me as I approached, but I was welcomed. Mostly I wanted them to think I just needed to look like I fit somewhere, and the hint was taken.
Their conversation quickly resumed, leaving me out of it. Wary eyes jumped between the other females and me, clearly worried I’d overhear.
Wanting to seem disinterested, I turned my head, looking anywhere but at them.
“My mate has been telling me that his dad and Alpha Herek are planning on taking a chunk out of MistFang’s territory soon,” one of the females whispered hurriedly as if she were worried someone would hear.
“Don’t be an idiot,” another harshly whispered back.
“And tell your mate that as well. While you’re at it, tell Herek that too. That fool just got the position, and he plans on attacking MistFang?”
She scoffed. “Might as well just burn down GrassTail as a whole. It’d be the same result.”
“They’re not being foolish, kook,” the first spoke again. Subtle changes in body language told me she had everyone’s attention now. “You can’t tell anyone I told you this…”
“Spit it out,” another said.
“Alpha Herek will have the help of Alpha Javenson.” SteelPaw.
This piece of information was everything I’d been waiting for. Months of integrating myself into this pack had finally paid off. I could go home.
Herek had unknowingly been betrayed by his own pack, likely by someone who sat at his table and shared his meals.
My heart raced in my chest, nails digging into my biceps to keep myself in check. Couldn’t go running right away.
A ferocious howl of victory startled me from my thoughts. Turning my head to see where it came from, my eyes locked with the stranger.
From his lips hung the throat of Eastridge, who lay at his feet, blood seeping into the grass. He’d won his place as gamma.
“Gamma Dann.” His name and title were called out. Everyone’s head, including mine, dipped in acknowledgment to him.
His eyes never left me, but I turned away from him. The females eyed me and the interaction. I soured my welcome by making them uncomfortable. They had probably been close to Eastridge.
I supposed it was a good thing that Mante dragged me out to the field. I’d taken the bite out of this pack, and it was time to return to mine. I dipped my head once again, departing from the females.
Mante found me once more, his arm snaking underneath mine to grab my forearm. “Come,” he murmured in my ear, hot breath fanning over my hair.
He knew I had something to do with the challenge. “Alpha Herek has invited you to his table tonight.”
My breath caught in my throat. It was an honor that scared me; I’d done nothing to deserve being at his table.
I looked behind me, but everyone had begun to trickle back toward the pack house for the feast. Gamma Dann was gone, and no one else would come to my rescue.
Giving Mante a simple nod, I murmured, “All right.”
This time he didn’t reach for my hand, but we walked back toward the pack house together.
The territory of GrassTail was beautiful. Large open fields sloped into the mountainside, neighboring MistFang.
The sun was beginning to set, illuminating the territory in one last show of bright amber light. I paused for a moment, wanting to take in the sight.
Winter was weeks away, and today would likely be our last warm day for a while.
A glare from Mante had me moving again.
The pack house was full of wolves, their noise bordering on overwhelming. They were all engaged in conversation, laughing as they mingled. There was nothing quite like winning a battle.
More than a few pairs of eyes lingered on my skin as Mante led me through the crowd. I was nothing more than a stranger to them, and the interest the zeta-in-training had for me was concerning.
If anything, Mante’s interest made me more unwelcome.
Mante finally stopped after leading me through more doors than I could count.
One last door was before us, otherwise unassuming. But I knew what was on the other side of it. My stomach twisted in on itself, anxiety building.
Sharing one final look, Mante stepped forward, opening the door for me. Steadying myself, I stepped inside. Heads turned as I entered, and the conversation came to a halt.
A large table sat in the middle of the room, filled with food. My mouth almost watered at the wonderful sight of it.
Someone’s throat cleared, and the conversation resumed, although much quieter than before.
Mante closed the door behind me, his hand coming to my lower back. I wanted to protest his touch but held myself back. Now was not the time to make a scene.
He led me to my seat, almost near the end of the table, opposite where Herek sat.
I’d been avoiding looking at him since I entered, but it was hard. I could feel his attention on me, goosebumps raising my skin.
“Welcome, Lennet.” The alpha’s voice met my ears. It was gentle, not at all what I’d been expecting. The table fell silent as he spoke. “I’ve heard much about you from Mante here.”
“Alpha Herek.” I lowered my head and stared at my hands in my lap. “It is an honor for me to be here. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he responded, and I could hear the sarcasm in his voice. I raised my head but didn’t dare meet his eyes. The table was drenched in the silence he left.
Even Herek seemed unhappy with the silence. He gave an exaggerated sigh before picking up his knife, taking his time to cut the first piece of meat.
He brought the meat to his mouth, slowly chewing. It was customary for the alpha to have the first bite of the meal.
Next, he reached for his glass, lifting it but not putting it to his lips. Instead, he toasted, “To the future. May LunaTail find us soon.”
The sarcasm in his voice hadn’t left, and a smirk appeared on his lips, his attention still on me.
The table immediately lit up with excitement at his toast. I hadn’t realized that Mante had chosen a seat next to mine.
He began to fill his plate with various types of meat and bread, and I followed his lead, thankful the table was deep in conversation once more.
Alpha Herek’s laughter boomed around the table. He threw his head back at something the beta had said.
Throughout the dinner, I could feel his gaze on me. Eventually, Alpha Herek leaned over and whispered something to the wolf on his left.
Their eyes flickered to me before leaning in and whispering to Mante.
I couldn’t help but be curious. Mante looked flustered, a frown pulling at his lips before he turned to me. A vein ticked in his forehead. “Alpha Herek would like to speak with you after dinner.”
If I had been chewing, I certainly would’ve choked. My anxiety returned in full force, making the food in front of me look distasteful.
I forced myself to continue eating, however, not wanting my nerves to show. The food settled unhappily in my belly.
Time was flying by too quickly, plates emptying faster than I’d hoped. My demise was getting closer by the second.
Far sooner than I’d hoped, Herek dismissed his table. They slowly trickled out of the room, shooting looks at me as they left.
I remained in my seat, fingers interlaced in my lap. After a moment, a new group of wolves entered, quickly clearing away the table.
All the while, Herek and I sat at nearly opposite ends on the table, both silent. With a final click from the closing door, we were alone.
Herek cleared his throat, chair scraping across the floor as he stood. He turned to look out of the dining room windows before closing the blinds, blocking out any onlookers.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins. I wanted nothing more than to jump out of my skin and flee.
“You may look up,” he said softly, voice low. Following his command, I lifted my head, allowing my eyes to roam over him. He was a strongly built male, broad in the shoulders.
He didn’t puff himself up under my attention as Mante had. This male had no need to do that.
“I’m so very intrigued by you, Lennet.” The words rolled off his tongue, but it wasn’t seductive. I felt like I was being hunted.
“How so, Alpha Herek?” I questioned, voice shaking despite my best efforts.
My heart jumped in my chest as he took a few steps closer, seating himself on the edge of the table.
Mere inches separated us, only amplifying my anxiety. I watched as he lifted his hand, fingers coming to my chin, forcing my head to tilt back as if he were trying to see my face better.
“Exactly how long have you been here, Lennet?”
“Only a few months,” I responded, keeping my eyes away from his.
“And in that time, you’ve been witness to me becoming alpha and a few battles.”
My chin trembled in his harsh grasp.
“And helped overthrow poor, weak Gamma Eastridge,” he added.
I opened my mouth to dispute that, but he swiftly cut me off before I could speak.
“You’re not at all what I was expecting, but I’m not disappointed.”
“Surely you couldn’t blame something like that on a traveler, Alpha Herek?” This time, I raised my eyes to meet his, lifting my brows to appear innocent.
His mood changed quickly, and he mumbled something under his breath as his fingers released me.
“What a curiosity you are,” he practically purred at me. “Tempting enough to make someone challenge a gamma.”
The implications in his words were very clear, only adding to my unease. I’d felt unsafe many times in my life, but this man was truly dangerous.
“I’m sorry, Alpha Herek, but is there something you wanted from me?” I kept my voice soft, docile.
“Perhaps,” he mulled, his gaze traveling over my body. I held perfectly still, not wanting to reveal my emotions.
His eyes lingered on my hips and thighs. “I take it that you’re going to be moving on soon?”
“Yes.” I nodded, scooting my chair back.
Herek tsked, unhappy with my answer. “Maybe you’d like to stay a little longer?” The suggestion in his words was clear.
My eyes narrowed to a glare. “I’m saving myself, Alpha Herek. I am not one to sleep around.”
His eyes hardened, something dark rising behind them. Fear gripped me.
“Come now. You can’t truly be saying Mante has more to offer than I do?”
Rising from my seat, I didn’t respond, throat too thick to form words.
“I suppose you should be leaving then.” He gestured with his hand to the door, but I knew it meant more than that. Leave. Now.
Moving my eyes away, I dipped my head one last time before leaving, practically running to my room.
I wouldn’t put it past Herek to send wolves after me if I wasn’t gone by morning. Was he sparing me, or did he not know?
It didn’t matter. Either way, I had to leave.