“What, why?” I demanded.
“They are here! You cannot be late or our family will be cast to the Vampire Territory!” she cried.
I sucked in a breath. I had never seen that happen before.
She pulled a shawl over her shoulders, then grabbed my hand, abandoning our hut and hauling me through the matching homes.
It was bloody freezing, the warmth of the fire and wooden floorboards at home changing to damp grass and soft mud. I hadn’t even put on my twine shoes. Apparently, that was less of an infraction than being late.
Mother and I raced through the huts toward the bonfire as the music leveled and the villagers fell quiet.
The night air was cold and ominous as my mother pushed me into the lineup with the other offerings, all wearing the same provided silk lace dress that I was. They had their twine feet decor on though.
Breathing hard, I eyed the dark carriages on the gravel behind the bonfire. There were two of them, both black with a wolf head on the side.
Mother patted my hair down and readjusted my dress as the others were fluffed by their own guardians.
“Mom.” I smacked her hand away as she tried to stand me straighter. I was already taller than the other girls, I didn’t need to stand out more.
I hadn’t been nervous before, but now I was; something about standing there on display, waiting for them to climb from the carriages, had my heart racing.
“Please them, Lorelai. Make them happy,” my mom whispered.
“They have everything they could ever want or need in their fancy mansion; they have access to any girl in the entire Werewolf Territory. How the hell am I meant to please them with a vagina I’ve never used before?” I demanded in a hushed tone, and my mom tried to hide her smirk, failing as she held my face and kissed my forehead.
“I know the books you read, my dear, you know exactly what to do.” She winked back, and I snickered, drawing frowns my way.
I ignored them and hugged my mom.
“I love you,” I whispered against her.
“I love you too.” She breathed, then stepped back. She looked over me, her eyes filled with pride, just as the moon began to cast red shadows over everything.
I sucked in a breath and looked up. The blood moon.
“Holy shit,” I bit, my legs feeling like jelly as the severity of the situation hit me.
It wasn’t just sex. It was three alpha douchebags claiming my body in exchange for my family’s protection. A family I didn’t even get to see because of their stupid laws.
My eyes scanned the crowd, locking on navy eyes and a face almost identical to mine.
He was taller than me, with clean stubble covering his jawline. His hair was dark like mine, his body slender like mine, his lips full like mine.
My eyes watered as I felt the twin connection burn through me, still as strong as ever, and I hadn’t realized how scared I had been of not feeling that.
I clutched my arms tightly, the cold air giving me goosebumps as I smiled at him.
“Lucas,” I breathed, and as soon as the name left my lips, a shadow fell over me.
I gasped, shrinking back from the wall of a man that towered over me. He was huge, muscles uncovered, body heat radiating from his form. His green eyes caught mine, and his lips curled back as he shoved his dark hair back from his face.
Nikolai Ferus. The Grassland alpha was staring me down, but it was his tattoos that caught my attention: grasslands turning to forest, then to an ocean on his arm before bursting into inky flames across his chest.
He snarled at me, and my eyes shot back to his. I refused to cower though, refused to step back. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Are we interrupting something?”
His husky voice did something to my stomach. I looked behind him to my mother, who was standing with my father. He narrowed his eyes at me, then nodded once, and I knew I had to make him proud.
I couldn’t let him down after not seeing him for years.
“Are your knees broken?”
That voice pulled at something inside me again, and I shook my head, seeing the other offerings bowing before the alphas.
The other two were watching, their eyes full of hunger, their bodies just as intense and rippled in abs and muscle as the one in front of me.
“Shit, sorry,” I cursed, bending like the others before grimacing at my use of language.
The leanest of the alphas, Braxton Trux, the Water alpha, barked out a laugh before coming over and putting his hand on the shoulder of Nikolai.
He had a similar arm tattoo, but his started with the water. The other one started with the forest.
“Put that one in the front,” he said, his long blond hair pulled into a bun, a blue braid falling down his back with a bead holding it in.
I gasped, looking up, my eyes clashing with Nikolai’s again. He was my alpha. The Grassland alpha. I could feel it in every part of me, but the look that seared me reached even further than that bond.
His jaw was strong, his cheekbones high, and his black hair kept falling over his face, just for him to push it back again. He nodded once, and I pursed my lips.
I didn’t want to go in the front.
His eyes let mine go before he roamed over me slowly. I shivered underneath his gaze, my skin prickling as he inspected every part of my body. I felt naked, like he could see through the stupid dress they had chosen.
“Stand,” he growled, and everyone got to their feet. He stepped closer, my breasts brushing his torso as he looked down.
“Why were you late?” he asked, his voice a dangerous tone that said he was threatening me even though his words weren’t direct.
I scrambled my brain for an answer, opting for the truth-ish.
“I almost wore the wrong underwear. Sir,” I said, my eyes meeting his as his lips moved so close to mine, I could taste the whiskey on his breath.
A smirk tugged at his mouth before he leaned back, leaving my body drowning in sensation that I didn’t understand. His fingers brushed up my thigh, and my breath hitched.
He lifted my hem, revealing the white lace panties that I was required to wear, his finger tracing the lace trimming as my eyes fluttered closed, my skin on fire where he touched.
My heart raced. I had no idea why I was reacting so strongly, but it made the idea of getting naked with the guy that much more exciting.
“Hmmm. Carriage one,” he called before stepping back.
My eyes flung open, and he moved to the next girl. My eyes went back to my family. My father was grinning proudly, his arm wrapped around my mom. She had tears in her eyes as my brother clenched his jaw.
I could feel his anger, and I wanted to go to him. I wanted to hug him. But I had to wait until tomorrow.
I swallowed back the emotion as the second alpha came over. The Forest alpha.
He was the oldest, but his face was the friendliest. His brown hair was shorter than the others and smoothed back. He wore jeans, his muscles and strong body on display as much as the other two.
The V on his hips went down below his waistline, and I bit my lip. The alphas were sexy as hell. I couldn’t even deny that.
My body hummed at the idea of being beneath that much power. Derik Achlis leaned in, sniffing my neck as I shivered, his body heat warming my icy skin. He smirked.
“Give Nikolai hell, beautiful,” he said in a low voice, brushing my ear with his lips before moving to the next girl.
I glanced over at Nikolai and swallowed as he announced that Portia Caldwell would be joining me in carriage one.
Perfect. Tonight officially made it to worst night ever.
Miss Perfect Portia… Just her name had me tensing. She was the leggy blonde who said all the right things, kissed ass like a pro, and never rubbed people the wrong way—except for me.
She was as bitchy as they came, and I had been on the rear end of the scorn from the villagers most of my life because of her. She proved my point with her next words.
“Oh, thank you. I am so grateful Your Majesty, my alpha, but I must decline. It would be improper to willingly choose to be in the same carriage as a winter born. I wouldn’t wish bad luck on the night,” she said, as sweetly as molasses.
I rolled my eyes, and all three alphas turned to me. I had to work to keep my spine straight under their gaze.
Most humans avoided procreating in the months that led to a winter born, so there hadn’t been many. Not any in my lifetime. I clenched my jaw and steeled myself for the condescension.
“You’re winter born?” Nikolai asked.
I nodded once. We had already established that.
Nikolai and Derik looked toward Braxton. His eyes rolled back before swirling with blue and white. He nodded once, and his eyes flicked back to the ice blue they were before.
They looked at me again before looking up at the moon. The blood moon had crested, and Nikolai nodded toward the carriage.
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