Gabriel, a rogue omega, can’t stop running from his past—until he finds the one alpha he can’t outrun.
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I knew two things immediately, by the look of the sentry on the other side of the underbrush I was currently hiding in. One, I’d veered too far north into Orion pack territory. Two, I was screwed.
Any other day, I’d shift and be past their border before they even realized they had a rogue wolf in their territory. No one could outrun me in wolf form. But I was in full heat. Not only couldn’t I shift, the sight of another wolf, even a beta, put me dangerously close to leaving my hiding place, dropping to my knees, and promising him anything to help me with this burning, agonizing need.
It wasn’t just sex. I hadn’t seen another wolf in weeks. Instinct and pack hunger got me from both flanks; it was like being sucker punched.
I eyed the thick line of trees. If I could make it there without alerting the sentry, they’d be cover on my way out of the pack’s territory. I might not be able to shift, but I’d had to learn stealth as well as speed these last two months.
I backed slowly away from the brush. No sign the sentry had heard me. I crouched, preparing to ease my way over to the trees.
Then paused at the sharp pressure of claws on the back of my neck. “Leaving so soon?”
Another sentry. Fuck. The pressure increased. She could paralyze me with one well-placed swipe.
“I’m not a spy,” I said quickly.
“Then you’re a rogue omega.” Worse than a spy, she might as well have said. “Kane,” she called, and the other sentry skirted the underbrush toward us. His eyes widened when he saw me crouching at her feet.
“He’s not one of ours, Ro.”
“I know.” The sharp points on my skin let up a little. I eased back onto my heels. I didn’t try to rise. The less I did to piss them off, the better.
“What’s your pack? Who’s with you?”
I told the truth. “Antlia pack. No one’s with me.”
Disbelief met me. “Antlia was wiped out months ago. No one survived.”
No one but me.
“Aries is going to want to talk to him.”
“Get up,” Ro said, and I scrambled to my feet, wondering if I could make a break for it—but trapped in human skin, they’d have no problem running me down.
She used her knife belt to tie my hands behind my back. Her claws still pressed against my skin. I didn’t bother fighting them. An omega against two betas? I didn’t stand a chance.
“He’s in heat,” she said, with the easy contempt of a beta for an omega. My face burned. But they weren’t immune to the effect. Her hands lingered on my wrists. I could feel how badly her claws wanted to dig in. The eyes of the other beta, Kane, were heavy on me.
I pitched my voice low. “Maybe we don’t have to see your alpha.”
They contemplated me.
“Did he just proposition us?” Ro said, drawing out the words.
“Don’t tell Jax.” Kane reached behind me to tug on the belt, testing it. He pushed me forward, not hard, but with clear intent. “Let’s go.”
My feeble attempt at seduction failed, I obeyed.
It was less than a mile’s walk to their camp. I’d blundered even farther north than I’d thought. When it came into view I realized it was a temporary camp, not their main hold: a few tents, a spit over the central fire, and roughly twenty sets of eyes zeroing in on me as the two betas pushed me forward into a clearing.
The combined scent of so many wolves triggered another wave of heat lust. My cock was hard, tenting my pants; heat slick trickled down the backs of my thighs. Even without the hands of the betas I would have gone forward, drawn in by a scent even more beguiling than the rest.
The smell of alpha.
“Get Aries,” Kane murmured to an omega, who scrambled off.
It was humiliating enough to be in heat with the eyes of a strange pack on me. I wasn’t going to fall to my knees just because he was alpha.
Except maybe I would, because he was tall and broad and breathtaking, with dark brown hair and silver eyes, and I almost bared my neck right there. I knew it was just wolf instinct, but my heart ached almost as much as my cock. I had no defenses against an alpha. He could take what he wanted and I’d give it to him out of stupid biology.
“What’s your name?” Even his voice triggered another surge of heat slick.
I wet my lips and looked down. “Gabriel.”
“He says he’s from Antlia,” Ro said. I sensed the crowd’s shock.
“Is he marked?”
“We didn’t search him.”
In the silence that followed, I dared to raise my eyes. Aries’ were the dark grey of an impending storm, filled with cool calculation. Not hostile, but not friendly, either.
“Do it,” he said.
I knew he was acting out of the best interest of his pack, but I hated him a little as they stripped the layers of fur and leather and cloth from me. They even took my shoes, which were in tatters; they’d have been worse if I didn’t travel as wolf most of the time, my clothes and shoes carried in a leather pack. They took that from me, too. At least they’d had to untie my hands in order to strip me down to skin.
They searched me everywhere while I stood naked in front of a strange pack with an erect cock and butt and thighs glistening with heat slick. The two betas went about it methodically, not trying to prolong my humiliation, but I still had to endure the burn of arousal from their hands on me and the awful anticipation of knowing they wouldn’t find anything.
“He’s not marked,” Kane finally pronounced.
Aries’ storm eyes hardened. “Do you want to change your answer?”
“No,” I said stubbornly.
We stared each other down. Not surprisingly, I lost. He could think what he wanted. Imagine me the worst kind of rogue omega—from the Null territories, even, a scavenger or worse.
“Take him to my tent and hobble him.”
I stumbled blindly when Ro nudged me forward. They didn’t return my clothes. It didn’t matter. I knew the fate of rogue omegas—at best, I’d be given to the pack to fight over or share; at worst he’d rid himself of a potential troublemaker the swift and preemptive way.
Ro pushed me to my knees on the furs that lined the tent. Kane fastened a cuff around my ankle that locked with a snick. Shot through with silver, it would keep me from shifting even when I came out of heat. I could feel the heavy weight of it, my skin shrinking from the touch of silver.
“Where are you really from?” Kane asked.
I shook my head, not trusting my voice.
“Just tell him the truth,” Ro said. “It will go easier on you.”
I told you the truth. But they didn’t want to hear it.
They left me alone in the tent. I’d grown used to being alone, but being surrounded by a pack of wolves again, even one I didn’t belong to, made the longing I’d tried hard to bury that much more acute.
I’d survived so far by avoiding other packs. There was enough unclaimed terrain that I’d been able to make my way slowly east, keeping an eye out for the markers other wolves left to warn for Null territory and giving them a wide berth. I didn’t know what I thought I’d find in the east. It was just somewhere else. Somewhere I could be left alone in.
The hairs on my skin stood upright when the alpha ducked through the tent flap. I straightened on my heels. Every inch of me was painfully aware of him. My cock throbbed. It hadn’t shrunk at all, even exposed to the cool air. The wet heat of my slick blossomed in my hole.
He poured water from a copper pitcher and handed the mug to me. I managed not to let my fingers brush his when I took it. One touch and I’d start begging, and I couldn’t bear any more humiliation.
“Why aren’t you marked?
I gulped the water from the mug, taking my time with it. It wasn’t an answer I could deliver quickly. “I wasn’t born to Antlia. They found me as a pup. Not everyone in the pack wanted me to have the mark.” It was hard to say out loud. They’d been the only family I’d known, and it still hurt that they hadn’t seen me the same way. “But when I came of age, Mason, my pack alpha, decided to give me the mark. The ceremony was planned. Then—”
I stopped. He already knew what had happened to Antlia.
“Who was it?” Aries asked quietly.
I had to see the images every night; I didn’t want to relive them now. “It was dark. They’d set fire to the hold.”
The smoke had obscured everything, except for the screams and the smell of blood, and the ghosts of wolves and men moving in and out of it.
“There was—there was a body. I tripped over it when I was trying to get away. He had the mark of Lacerta.”
Aries didn’t seem surprised. Perhaps he’d had his own brushes with Lacerta. “How did you get away?”
I didn’t help, didn’t try to fight them—I could have killed a few of them, at least, for revenge if nothing else. I saw the slaughter, heard the screams, then found an empty patch of clear sky free of smoke, changed into the wolf and ran.
I braced myself for his contempt. But when I glanced up, he just looked regretful. “I’m sorry for what happened to you. But my pack is full. I can’t take you in.”
I nodded numbly. A pack’s territory was a carefully balanced ecosystem, and it could only support so many. But it was an unexpected blow. I hadn’t realized a part of me had hoped he would ask me to stay.
“We heard what happened to Antlia. We’re on our way to meet with Vela, to discuss joining forces. It’s not the first time Lacerta’s done this. I’ll talk with Vela’s alpha, see if he has room in his pack for you.”
I nodded again.
It was getting harder to ignore the effect he was having on me. The fact that he was alpha. Even across the tent, his presence overwhelmed me. I needed him to go. Or let me leave.
I took a ragged breath, trying to get my reaction to him under control. “I’m sorry. I can’t—I can’t think like this.” I can’t function. I hated the neediness in my voice. Just a stupid omega laid bare.
His scent shifted. The air of the tent thickened. It was as if he’d been holding back his awareness of my heat, and only now let himself feel it. Arousal lit all my nerves on fire. I bit my lip until I tasted blood.
His voice dropped. “It should be your alpha.”
You could be my alpha. But I wouldn’t say it, not even to myself.
He could give me to one of the betas, or simply deny me in my heat. I was nothing to him, just a rogue; he had no obligation to me. But I shuddered with profound relief when he crouched next to me and put his hand between my shoulders. Even that slight touch burned through me, infinitely hotter than the handling of the betas.
“If I fuck you, I’m going to knot you.”
My nails bit into the flesh of my palms. “Please,” I whispered.