The Romanovs have a secret.
They amassed riches through multiple company pursuits. Their legacy was the royal crown of Russia in the late seventeenth century.
Isabela Petrovic of Romania married Tzar Adriano Romanov of Russia, and for a time, they were happy. Having an arranged marriage did not faze them; they learned how to love each other.
One day, his hand flew across her face in an uncontrolled rage.
He became increasingly abusive, but Isabela’s allegiance to the marriage never wavered. Her job was to accept and maintain the alliance between her country and his.
She fulfilled her duty bravely and with grace. At night, she would get lashings; during the day, she would be his loving and doting wife.
She birthed a son and named him Adlaric, who later became king of lycanthropes.
She loved herself, and she knew that her treatment was not acceptable, but she also knew that her stature in society hinged on her affiliation with a tzar. No one would believe a queen over a king.
The Romanovs have a secret.
His family knew of their curse. Aleczandar, Adriano’s father, knew that at every full moon, his children would shift into ferocious beasts.
Their backs would break, their toes would turn into claws, their faces would contort with pain, and then, finally, their true wolf forms would appear.
Aleczandar lived a fulfilling and sane life because he had found his mate. She fulfilled his political duty and his carnal need. She calmed him when he would lash out. She embraced him when he was falling.
She was exactly what his wolf longed for.
Adriano had met his soulmate, but he never mated her. Instead, he married Isabela, and slowly his sanity dwindled, and his wolf became hyperactive.
Every lycanthrope is born with a mate. A mate forms the connection between both consciousnesses: wolf and human. The longer a lycan lives without its mate, the more feral its wolf becomes.
After many years, the Romanovs finally understood how to tame the beast that dwelled inside them, but it was too late. Adriano, in a fit of rage, tore into his doting wife and was executed.
Royalty in Russia was usurped, and it became the Russian Federation. Adriano and Isabela left their only son to claim the throne of lycanthropes.
King Alpha Adlaric Romanov has a secret; he’s over three centuries old, and his control is failing.
He couldn’t breathe.
He hadn’t been able to since the age of one hundred and twenty. Every day was a constant battle to reel in the beast within.
He could feel the strings of his resolve loosening, snapping like fragile twigs.
He could feel himself losing the humanity he prided himself on having.
When he turned three hundred, he had given up. He stopped traveling the world to seek the one special person that could calm the raging storm that dwelled inside.
Adlaric believed with every fiber of his soul that they never truly existed. He’d searched for hundreds of years.
He knew that, eventually, any control he had would become nonexistent, and the beast within would take over. Adlaric refused to become a complete animal.
“My king,” an elder greeted, walking into the boardroom. He was followed by many other wolves in human form, all of whom sat in front of their king.
The intent for the meeting, while not explicitly confirmed, coated the room in a thick blanket of apprehension. The discussion was far overdue, and it was time for Adlaric to address the issue that plagued his realm.
It seemed ironic to him—the part of himself that gave him strength was now weakening him.
“Good afternoon, elders,” the king greeted.
Adlaric was an astute leader. He didn’t punish without remorse. He didn’t kill without trial. He didn’t favor those who could help him most. He ruled with an iron but justified fist.
Everyone respected him not only because of his brutal strength but also because of his uplifting sympathy and benevolence.
Truly, the king loved his kingdom. He loved it more than he loved himself.
“I believe you are all aware of the proceedings for today, yes?”
Each elder nodded sadly. They loved their king, but they all knew because he had not found his mate, King Adlaric would have to be executed.
Their alpha did not deserve to live in agony, and their kingdom did not deserve to be ruled by it.
Adlaric’s jaw clicked as his hand balled on the arm of the chair. His dark and unruly hair was held back by a bronze crown that sat upon his head.
“When will it be done?”
His dark eyes snapped to the woman who had spoken, and with a strong voice, he replied, “The next full moon.”
“That’s January twentieth, my liege—in three days,” the same woman replied, shock lacing her words.
Adlaric nodded. Unlike the council, he was certain of his prophecy and his duty as alpha.
The elders began to speak over each other, begging for more time and praying for Selene to bestow a mate upon their king.
Each was worried about the events that would follow their king’s death. Who would rule? Where would he be buried?—mates were buried together. Why had he not been given a mate?
Adlaric allowed the uproar over the news he’d just released.
His hand tightly gripped the glass in front of him. He brought the cup to his lips and savored the crisp taste of the water.
Would he miss something so simple?
Would he be in a place where he would have access to such a simple pleasure?
Where exactly would he go?
Mates went to the afterworld, but him? He was alone. He would go on this journey by himself.
He showed no emotion on the outside. It was his job to be strong—to constantly work, to care, to be diligent, to live as a king and alpha should.
Internally, he wondered what he had done to deserve such a curse. He’d tried to live his life as morally as he could, but he must have failed somewhere during his long life.
He had dreams too.
He dreamed of waking up next to the person of his dreams. He dreamed about protecting his mate with every fiber of his being. He dreamed of being loved as he would love them.
He dreamed of having children and singing them to sleep at night. He dreamed of their eyes.
He dreamed of being lifted when he felt like he was crashing. He dreamed of having someone to share the workload with.
He dreamed of living…and then dying, with his mate in his arms, whispering sweet nothings in their ear.
His dreams were nothing now. He would be nothing. He would leave no heirs. He would leave no family. He would leave as he was born, in a chaotic, trauma-inducing rage.
“Silence,” Adlaric ordered. Immediately, the room went quiet, and all eyes were on him once again.
People followed the example he gave them: he respected you, you respected him.
“Beta Dimitri will become interim alpha until he finds his mate and has a pup. The child will be brought up as a child of alpha blood. I will get my affairs in order. I will leave no stress for you.”
“Even in death you still look after us,” an elder said, a sad, nostalgic smile gracing his lips.
Adlaric gave a closed-lipped grin in return. “My wolves are what I will leave.”
“Alpha, perhaps you could take another trip…”
“Elder, I have traveled as far as Antarctica to find my mate. I have visited and revisited each country more times than I can count.
“I assure you, no one has tried harder than I have. It seems likely now that they never existed or—”
The words felt tight in his throat. The mere thought was enough to make him let go of the tight leash on his wolf. “Or they have died.”
The council went silent again. The room was filled with a dense shade of solemnness.
Adlaric stood up, buttoned his dress coat, and cleared his throat. “Please make yourself at home. If you will excuse me.”
With haste, the lonely alpha made his way to the double oak doors and pulled them open before exiting. He was greeted by his dark-skinned beta.
“Dimitri,” Adlaric said, his pace never wavering.
Beta Dimitri, swiftly and easily, matched the pace of his alpha. His hands were locked behind him in a military fashion as he followed his king through the halls of the castle.
Silently, they marched to Adlaric’s office. When they came to the mahogany doors, Dimitri pulled them open for his king. Adlaric responded with a gruff “thank you.”
“The elders are insisting on throwing one final ball,” Dimitri said, sitting on the gray couch with his ankle resting on his other knee.
Adlaric usually wouldn’t mind throwing a soiree, but lately, all he wanted was to sleep and forget about his wretched reality.
For once, Adlaric wanted to care more for himself—he wanted to be happy. Happiness wasn’t in his fate, apparently.
Stiffly, the alpha male sat down behind his desk. “I don’t think that is best,” Adlaric said. His one finger quickly morphed into a claw that ripped open the envelope in his hand.
“Adlaric, everyone wishes to see their king alpha one final time. The wolves of the north wish to bring their unmated females—”
Adlaric sighed and shook his head. Dimitri continued and stood up, excitement edging into his tone. “The wolves of the south begged for one final salsa and to bring you colorful kaftans.”
The king ignored his friend and threw out the scraps from his mail. Dimitri surged forward to his desk with burning persuasion.
“The wolves of the east are so excited to have you taste their anmitsu.”
“Dimitri, a party is the last thing on my mind.”
“The wolves of the west desire to play their soul for you. Let’s party like we used to,” Dimitri said with a teasing smirk.
For a brief moment, the two reveled in a nostalgic memory of them brawling and drunkenly singing as they gallivanted around the castle.
Adlaric looked up at his longtime closest friend. He would miss Dimitri dearly, almost as much as Dimitri would miss Adlaric.
Dimitri knew that he did not have alpha blood. The title of alpha would weigh heavily upon him. He was not meant to be king; he and his children were destined to be betas. It felt wrong to fuck up fate.
Adlaric, for the first time in a long time, smiled with a subtle nod. “One last time then,” he said, standing up and walking to the counter at the edge of the room.
He grabbed two glasses and brought them back to his desk, setting them down on its edge. Dimitri stood up and made his way to the front of the desk as Adlaric poured brandy into each glass.
The two toasted one another before bringing their glasses to their lips and swallowing the burning liquid.
Dimitri sighed contentedly and pointed to his king in amusement.
“The ball will be in two days. Human families will also be joining, seeing as some have worked diligently for our empire, but it is important to know that not all humans will know about our world.”
Very few humans knew lycanthropes existed, but those humans that did were as valued as any other lycan in Adlaric’s mind.
These humans acted as liaisons to subvert news of lycanthropes. If a shifter accidentally showed their wolf, humans would step in with logical explanations or coverups.
“This ball was planned long before you came here tonight, was it not?”
Dimitri simply smiled at his king and winked before setting the glass back down and walking to the door. “My job is to always know your next move.”
“Your job is to know my first move and react accordingly. You did not know I would say yes.”
“Didn’t I?” Dimitri said, opening the door. All humor left his eyes as he peered back at his king.
Solemnness washed over his body as he watched Adlaric clean the glasses and set them back.
The king’s eyes were hollow with despair, and while Adlaric always put on a brave facade, Dimitri saw the way he envied mated couples. He noticed when Adlaric dismissed himself from mating ceremonies or pup-greetings.
“You didn’t deserve all the shit life gave you. You deserved a mate. I’m sure she was every bit as brilliant and beautiful as you had imagined. I’m sure she would have been very happy with you.”