Rain pounds my back as I follow Alpha Ernest up the wide marble steps to a home I never expect to see in real life. I look around quickly, but he is walking fast, and I don’t have much time to see the outside of the mansion. I only know it resembles a castle. The dreary sky seems fitting, considering my bleak outlook.
Likewise, this castle is fitting for an Alpha King.
Under the wide porch, there is a bit of shelter from the wind. I pull my thin cloak around my shoulders. When Alpha Ernest’s fist pounds on the door, I jumped. Everything about this day is unexpected and has me on edge.
The door opens a bit and a man with a thin, long nose gapes out at us. He is wearing a butler’s suit, and I relax only slightly.
Not that I expected the cruel king to open his own door, but I am thankful not to be faced with him right away.
“Greetings! Greetings!” Alpha Ernest says in his jovial, exceedingly loud voice. He laughs in the back of his throat, his gruff tone as raspy as the thunder in the distance. “It is I, Alpha Ernest of Willow pack! His Majesty is expecting me.”
The butler looks him over and then his eyes fall on me for a moment as if he isn’t sure whether or not the rotund, sweaty man in the white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows could possibly be an actual Alpha. The detail of Omegas that are hanging out in the car that brought us the two hours make it more convincing.
“Come in,” the butler says, pulling the heavy wooden door open.
“Thank you, thank you,” my Alpha says, and I follow him inside, absently wondering why he must say everything twice.
My happiness at being let in from the rain only lasts a moment as I follow along behind the two men who walk quickly down a long corridor. The inside of the house doesn’t resemble the castle in the sense that the floors are not made of stone—they are wood—and the walls are covered in drywall. But it is a huge building, and it is lavishly decorated with fine furnishings, all kinds of pieces of art from paintings to sculptures to ancient vases, and I try to keep up with our guide while my eyes roam over objects that are worth a hundred times more than what my parents make in a year—a thousand times more.
The sale of just one of these objects would have been plenty to pay off my parents’ debts. If I’d had just one painting to sell, I wouldn’t be here now.
I can’t think of that at the moment. My fate is sealed. I grasp my small bag in my hands and struggle to keep up. It doesn’t help that I haven’t eaten much of anything in the past week. I feel lightheaded.
We turn down a few corridors, and it’s clear to me that we are now in the part of the building that is for work instead of show. Artwork still hangs on the walls, but it’s not as elaborate. The doors we are passing seem to be offices, not libraries or parlors.
“Wait here,” the butler says, pausing outside of a closed door. He knocks, and I hear a low gravelly voice call him in.
I feel my heart begin to thump in my chest. I’m still not quite clear what Alpha Ernest has in mind for me. When I came to him for help earlier in the day, he asked me a few personal questions, a smile split his face, and then he told me to go home and pack all of my most prized possessions. He said to tell my family goodbye, if I was serious about paying off my family’s debts, and to be back in his office in one hour.
Then, we’d gotten in the car and driven here. I hadn’t asked any questions other than for him to put it in writing.
“John and Mary Moon are no longer in debt to Alpha Ernest Rock if their daughter, Isla Moon, follows through with the agreement made with said Alpha on this day….” Dated, signed by both parties, and here I am.
Still not sure what that agreement is.
Alpha Ernest goes inside of the office, and I am tempted to strain to see inside, too, but I don’t. I’ve never seen him before, the Alpha King, the head of all of the Alphas and all of the territories in our region, for thousands and thousands of miles. I’ve heard lots of stories about him, though.
Presently, I am hoping that most of them are not true.
I would like to see his face, to know if the rumors of his attractiveness are accurate.
But I’d rather not see him at all, if I had a choice. Word of his cruelty proceeds him, and it is said that he is just as brutal as he is handsome.
“You may sit,” the butler says, gesturing to a chair near the door that has closed behind Alpha Ernest.
I nod, but I am not capable of thanking him verbally right now, not when my teeth are near chattering with fear.
I sit down, still grasping my bag in my hands. I wish I had put on more than the thin cloak my mother had given me last winter. Cloaks were cheaper than coats, so that’s what I had.
I wouldn’t hide the trembling that was beginning to ravage my body, though.
Doing my best to ignore the shaking, I tried to focus in on the faint voices I could hear coming from behind the thick wooden door. I didn’t expect to be able to hear because the door looked sturdy, but Alpha Ernest is loud.
And Alpha Maddox…. Well, he just sounded agitated.
“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” Alpha Ernest was saying.
When Alpha Maddox replied, it was harder to hear. He wasn’t as loud. “I don’t know why you’re here unless it’s to pay me the money you owe me.” At least, that’s what I think he is saying.
“Unfortunately, sir, I don’t have the money—not exactly,” the other man replies. I hear Alpha Maddox grumble in response. “But I have something else to offer you instead. Something better.”
“Something better than the one and a half million dollars you owe me?”
My heart catches in my throat and I nearly choke. One and a half million dollars? Did I hear that correctly? What in the world could Alpha Ernest have that is worth that kind of money?
“Oh, yes!” Alpha Ernest says. “Please, sir, hear me out. I have a bargain for you. One that will allow me to settle our debt and help you with a certain… problem you have.”
Problem? What problem could Alpha Maddox possibly have—other than the fact that he might have killed all of the people that he wanted to yell at.
I sit with my feet flat on the floor, my eyes focusing on the eggshell wall across from me, listening, not believing what I am hearing.
“Ernest,” Alpha Maddox says, “you are the last person on earth I would turn to to help me solve a problem, not that I even know what you’re referring to.”
“Let me enlighten you, sir, if you don’t mind?”
Alpha Maddox growls again. If he says anything else, I don’t hear it.
Alpha Ernest continues. “You have just turned twenty-nine last month, yes?” I assume Alpha Maddox confirms this because my pack Alpha continues. “Everyone knows that the Alpha King is expected to have an heir by the age of thirty.”
“Alpha Ernest—” the king says.
“Give me only a few moments of your time, Alpha,” Ernest says, and I can imagine his hands up in front of him. “You need someone who can bear you a child, someone with no complicated relationship involved, someone who is beautiful, with good, healthy genes. A strapping mother who has born many children and proven herself to be from good stock.”
With every word he speaks, my heart leaps higher into my throat, even though my brain still doesn’t want to compute what he is saying.
“What are you proposing, Ernest?” Alpha Maddox says. “I don’t have any problem picking up women. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, yes, of course!” Alpha Ernest says. “But women at court are complicated. They have expectations. I know you don’t intend to marry again. So… what you need is a willing, compliant, beautiful girl who is eager to spread her legs to earn money, bear you a child—or two or three—and then fade away. And I have just the girl for you.”
I take a deep breath and hold it. Surely, Alpha Maddox will not agree to this. Why would he agree to this?
Why have I agreed to this?
Did I agree to this?
“Let me see if I understand you correctly, Alpha Ernest,” I hear Alpha Maddox say, and I can’t tell if he’s angry, offended… or intrigued. “Are you proposing I take some girl you’ve brought with you into my home for the sole purpose of having a child?”
“That’s right, Your Majesty,” Ernest says. “I’m proposing you take on… a breeder.”