Chapter One of BEING ALPHA
The sun burned hot on my back, spreading warmth through my body as I lay on the sand. Waves crashed into the beach and water licked at my toes. The tide was coming in, and even though Dastien and I should move, I couldn’t make myself get up. Maybe I would’ve if the ocean weren’t so warm, but the water was perfect, cooling me off just enough to temper the heat of the sun.
We can move if you want, Dastien said through our bond.
Shhh, I sent back to my mate. The weather was so amazing, but I’d been trying to force a vision of what was going on at St. Ailbe’s for the last hour. I hadn’t seen anything in weeks—not since we left Ireland—and it was starting to freak me out. Don’t distract me.
You’re stressing about it, but maybe you’re not getting a vision because everything is okay, Dastien said.
I let out a long sigh. Maybe, but my gut told me that wasn’t right.
Do you want to check your phone?
Dastien had wanted a zero distractions rule for the beach portion of our honeymoon. We’d already travelled to Dastien’s house in France, which was more castle than house. Been clubbing in Paris. Gone to Meredith’s Full Moon Ceremony in Ireland. But when we got here, it was just us, and we liked it that way. So, we’d decided to ban our phones. That meant no texting. No checking email or social media. No internet use of any kind—well, except streaming Netflix at night, but that was it.
St. Ailbe’s—a now not-so-secret boarding school for werewolves—was closed and the public’s interest in werewolves had slowed down enough that we could fully check out for a bit. With that evil witch Luciana dead, Mr. Dawson (the Alpha of the St. Ailbe’s pack), the Council of the Seven (the Alphas that governed the werewolves), and the Cazadores (the werewolves’ version of soldiers) were all way more than capable of dealing with supernatural mayhem than we were. Which meant that Dastien and I were more than able to take time for ourselves. Our honeymoon had started out as a couple weeks, but we’d been having so much fun, we ended up extending it.
I shouldn’t check my phone, but I wanted to. “If I can’t see anything by this afternoon, then yes. We should probably check-in.” Forcing a vision was a little like cheating the no distractions rule anyway, but it felt different. Honestly, it’d been really nice not having my phone the last couple of weeks. Mr. Dawson had the number to the landline—we were borrowing his beach house—so if he needed us, he’d call. I trusted him. Which meant I should assume everything was fine.
A niggle of anxiety started to build and it took me a second to realize that it wasn’t my own, but Dastien’s. That stank. I didn’t want him to worry about my worrying, but ever since we completed our mate bond, our emotions and thoughts had gotten a little tangled. We could read each other completely, and sometimes, I felt like I was in two places at once. It wasn’t a bad thing exactly, but it was an adjustment.
Over the past six weeks, I’d learned to filter out most of it. Only Dastien’s strongest thoughts and feelings came through now, which was totally manageable. He chose not to filter out as many of my thoughts, but I didn’t mind him listening in. I didn’t have anything to hide.
“I like knowing what you’re thinking,” Dastien said.
I sat up so I could see him. Werewolves healed too fast to tan, but Dastien’s skin naturally had a hint of gold in it, unlike my own pasty white. He was wearing a blue swimsuit and no shirt, which I appreciated. His abs and chest and shoulder and arms… I was biased, but he was perfect. He grinned as the last thought crossed my mind.
I pushed a curl of still-drying dark brown hair from his forehead. “Doesn’t knowing what I’m thinking all the time take away some of the mystery?”
His eyebrows rose above the frame of his golden aviator sunglasses. “No. Do you think it takes away the mystery from me?”
“No. I don’t think so?” I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Dastien was pretty much my first everything. Before he bit me, I had zero control over my visions. Every time I touched anyone or anything, I’d see things—emotions, thoughts, most recent events tied to the person or object. All things I had no business seeing. My visions made it next to impossible to have friends, let alone date. So, I’d never really known what a relationship was before we became true mates, and I liked us. Knowing what Dastien was thinking and feeling made things easier. There were no misunderstandings, and I’d found that we were usually on the same page, or as close to it as two people could get.
“I like us, too.” He sat up. “And our life has plenty of mystery. There’s a lot we can’t control. All the supernaturals have been outed, and all but a few of the fey have gone into hiding. I’m not sure what the backlash is going to be from all this change. Knowing where you are and how you’re feeling…that you’re alive and well and safe? It makes me feel secure.”
“Secure?” I laughed. That wasn’t what I’d expected him to say. I guessed I shouldn’t worry about the whole mystery thing anymore.
“Exactly. So, don’t worry about filtering if you don’t want to. Go ahead and poke around in my head at your leisure.” He gave me a big grin, dimples pressing deep into his cheeks.
“At my leisure?” I said, unable to stop grinning back at him. I couldn’t see his eyes through his sunglasses, but I knew their amber color would be glowing just the tiniest bit—which meant he was happy. His dark hair was still a little too long, the curls falling into his face. He was planning on having it cut as soon as we got back, but I liked him no matter what.
The man was beautiful, and just looking at him made my heart sing. And the fact that he knew me—every weird part of me—and he still wanted to be with me? That was always a bit of a shock.
So even with how crazy things were within the supernatural world, I was happy. I really was.
But there was just one thing wrong, and I couldn’t stop poking at it.
You have to let yourself relax, Dastien said as he settled back onto our beach towel. Everything is fine. If it wasn’t, Michael would call.
I hoped he was right.
I am right. Come down here. Dastien pulled me until I was resting against him.
I had the beach and Dastien and plenty of quiet. We were so far away from everyone and everything on a private island off of Costa Rica—a long boat ride away from anything—and it was perfect. It was paradise. The only thing that would’ve made it better was if his stomach had a bit more padding.
Should I apologize?
Your stomach is about as comfortable as a hunk of granite. I rolled over enough so that I could bite Dastien’s side.
“Ouch! Watch it.”
I laughed softly. “It was barely a nip, you baby.”
“Barely a nip? You nearly drew blood. Is this payback for biting you? Or are you going vamp on me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Like that’s even possible.”
“Well, you were bitten…” His contained laughter was so overwhelming it became my own for a second before I stifled it.
“You’re such a dork.”
Dastien rolled, and I was pinned under two-hundred and twenty pounds of handsome. All joking was gone, instantly replaced with hunger.
He ran the tip of his nose along my neck, sending goose bumps across my skin, before pressing a feather-light kiss just below my ear. I melted into the sand.
Are you more comfortable now?
“Mmmm,” was all I could manage. I wrapped my arms around him, pulling his body flush against mine. He moaned against my neck, and suddenly I was on fire. Every place his body touched me was too much and not enough. This is the best.
You. This beach. No people.
He rose and lifted off his glasses so that I could focus on his amber eyes. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
“I wish we could stay here forever…” But I knew we’d have to go home. Maybe soon. There was something coming—
Stop, Dastien’s voice interrupted my thoughts. Everything is fine. There’s nothing—
You don’t know that.
And you don’t know everything isn’t okay. Dastien had said that about a million times today, and I knew it was true. I just couldn’t let this go. Nothing is going to happen.
I wanted to believe Dastien, but the what-if’s were driving me bonkers, and the lack of visions was adding to my nerves.
It might not be as bad as you think. It could be something as simple as your subconscious cutting off your visions so you can deal with how powerful our bond has gotten.
I definitely liked his theory better than my own. I guess that’s possible. There had been a lot of changes in my life in the last few months, but my gut was telling me it was more than that. I couldn’t ignore my instincts anymore.
Before I grabbed my cell from my beach bag, I was going to give my visions one more go. I tightened my grip around Dastien and closed my eyes.
I pictured St. Ailbe’s in my mind. The quad and five buildings surrounding it. I want to see St. Ailbe’s, I thought as I relaxed my mental barrier, willing myself to see what was going on back in Texas.
I felt the familiar tingling along my skin as the vision started, but the mental image of St. Ailbe’s disappeared.
Everything went dark.
My heartbeat thumped in my ears and I tried to picture anything, but all I saw was black. All I got were feelings. Despair so strong I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. Pain. It was like my heart was being ripped from my chest. Fear. So much fear. Enough fear to cool my sun-heated skin. My breath whooshed out of me.
Dastien’s weight was suddenly gone as he jerked me up to sit, pulling me from the vision. I blinked at him. The sudden brightness was blinding, but it wasn’t enough to shake me free of the vision. A trickle of dread tiptoed up my spine and I wanted it gone. “What was that?” I asked when I had enough air to talk.
“Your heart. It skipped a beat.” His voice was barely more than a whisper.
“What?” How was that possible? I’d never had anything like that happen before.
My eyes burned and I blinked to keep my tears from falling. I tried to tell myself that the feelings from the vision didn’t mean anything—that it wasn’t some future fate of my friends at St. Ailbe’s—but that was too close to a lie. I’d felt that fear and despair for a reason.
Dastien wiped a hand down his face, not really hiding his fear. “You have your phone here?”
I nodded. I’d been using it for music while reading.
“Are you calling Chris or Claudia?”
I’d been planning on calling Chris, but now that he said Claudia’s name, I wanted to call her, too. She’d have a little more insight on my visions. “Both. But Chris first.” If there wasn’t anything immediately wrong in Texas, then Claudia would be my next call.
“I’m going to get us some food. If Chris says they need our help, just grab the stuff and come back to the house. It’ll take some doing, but we’ll get travel booked and head back.”
“Thank you.” I’d been hoping it wouldn’t come to this. “I wish our honeymoon didn’t have to end so soon.”
“You don’t know that it will yet. And if it has to, then we’ll have plenty of time to come back.
This is just the beginning for us. Okay?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
He pulled me against him, squeezing tight. His fear was lingering, making him anxious. He was thinking about how scared he was to leave me alone on the beach.
I’m okay, I said.
No more weird heart things while I’m gone, okay?
I laughed. I’ll do my best. But it wasn’t like I had any control over it.
When he pulled away, I laid back down, focusing on him as he walked back to the beach house. I could feel the sand under his feet. The brush of leaves against his arm as he pushed a shrub out of the way. Hunger was growing in him. My thoughts filled with images of sandwiches, piled high with turkey and avocado.
The water splashed on my toes—drawing me back to my own body—so I got up and scooted our stuff out of reach from the rising tide.
I sat back down on our bright red and blue striped beach towel and dug my phone out of my bag. It took me a few minutes to turn on the data and accept the ten-dollars-per-day fee for international usage, which was basically highway robbery. Even with the fee, data on the beach was slower than anything. Before I called Chris, I figured I should check my email and see if anyone had been trying to reach us.
When my email finally loaded, I groaned. I must’ve gotten over a hundred messages for every day we’d been gone, all of them useless junk—coupons and sales and newsletters from places I didn’t care about. Except for the Above and Beyond newsletter. That one was legit.
I started deleting emails, but then gave up and switched to skimming through to see if there were any from actual people I knew. Eighty-ish emails down, there was an email that caught my eye. The subject was Demon Attacks from cmatthewsntxwwp… C Matthews. Chris.
The chain had five emails in it already. The most recent one dated yesterday.
My thumb shook as I pressed the screen and read his first email.
Tessa! Mr. D said that you were gonna be MIA for a bit. Just in case you’re checking this or see anything, we had a small demon attack last night. No big. Didn’t want you to worry. Talk soon.
That didn’t sound so bad, and there was nothing for a couple days. But then Chris emailed again.
Hey, Tessa. Adrian and I decided to stay at St. Ailbe’s. There’ve been a few more attacks. Figured Mr. D could use a hand. The reporters have mostly gone, but the Cazadores have more work than they thought now with all the patrolling and whatnot. We’ll let you know if anything changes. No worries!
I was glad they were able to stay, but I wasn’t liking where this was heading. A couple days after that, there was another email.
Getting a little crazy here. We’re trying to keep up, but there’s got to be a reason why all these fuckers keep coming through. Do you think there’s like a portal or something that Luciana left open? The Cazadores burned the witch’s compound to the ground almost two months ago, so I’m guessing not, but we’re all scratching our heads over here and this has got to stop. If you check this and have any ideas, could you call me or Adrian or Mr. D?
Tried getting through to Claudia, but apparently her and Lucas are hiking the Inca trail in Peru and MIA, too. Won’t be back for a few more days. If you can even point us in the right direction, we’ll get it done.
Just call me. Okay?
I licked my lips as I kept reading on to the next email, dated a few days later.
Do you think Luciana could come back from the dead? Because we’re ass deep in demons and if she’s back, I’m going to lose my mind. We killed her, right? She’s dead. And no witch can come back from that. Right?
Just call me. We’re handling it—Mr. D has some backup on the way—but serious stuff is going on here. Hoping Keeney’s coming and bringing more of his Cazadores with him. But no one’s getting that we have to figure out WHY this is happening. We can slay ‘em all night, but until we figure out why, we’re SOL.
If you get this, call me. Doesn’t matter what time. Thanks.
Then there was nothing, until last night. My heart started to race.
Keep reading, Dastien said. I’m back at the house, but I can come back if you need me.
Let’s just see what the next one says.
I clicked on the next email.
I’m throwing in the towel here. I hate it. But I’m doing it. I tried to be chill and go with what Mr. D said, but that’s bullshit. We need you home.
I know I said in my last email that we were handling it, but we’re not. Keeney’s guys got here and that helped take the load off for a bit, but everyone’s exhausted now and it’s making us sloppy. Adrian was slow enough to let a freaking demon bite him!
“Shit. I knew something was wrong,” I said to myself.
I’m sorry, Dastien said through the bond. I should’ve listened to you, I—
It’s not your fault, but we need to go home. I went back to reading the email.
Doc says he’ll be fine in a day or two, but we haven’t had a night off since we got back from Meredith’s wedding. This is insane. It’s been two weeks since the first demon attack, and they’re getting worse. Last night’s group was no less than ten. It took everyone we had to get them taken care of, and I don’t know what’s coming tomorrow. If they keep increasing in numbers, we’re going to be in the shitter soon.
I’ve been begging Michael to give me your number, but he keeps saying that if we reach the point where we need more help, he’ll make that call. But he never ordered me not to contact you, so I am. I know he’s my Alpha and I should trust him, but why am I the only one that sees that HE’S FUCKING WRONG! WE CAN’T TAKE ANOTHER NIGHT OF THIS SHIT. If we could handle the demons, then the attacks would be OVER and I wouldn’t be emailing again. There’s something bigger going on here and whatever it is, Mr. D seems to be ignoring it. And no one here is alpha enough to get through to him. You are.
Get your fucking asses back here. TONIGHT.
Check your goddamned email already!
Call me as soon as you get this. Thanks.
I wanted to scream and cry and punch myself. Why hadn’t I trusted my gut sooner?
And holy shit. Could Luciana be back? That seemed impossible, but what the hell did I know? In the world of the supernatural, anything was possible.
She’s not back. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s another explanation.
I hoped Dastien was right. And if there’s not another explanation?
Then we’ll deal with her. I’m calling Michael, and then I’ll start getting our travel figured out.
He tried to send me calm energy, but I didn’t want it. I wanted to get home. Now.
Okay. Thanks. Find out why he didn’t call us when all of this started. It was total bullshit that I was only now hearing about the demon attacks. I’m calling Chris now. It took me three tries to get the call to connect and then it went straight to voicemail. If he’d been up fighting demons all night, he was probably asleep. I shot off a text apologizing and told him we were on our way as soon as possible.
Shit. What had happened?
For a while after the fight with Luciana, a bunch of baddies had come out of their hiding holes.
Vampires. A few goblins. Some lower-level demons here and there, but nothing as bad as what we’d seen when Luciana opened her hell portal. A handful of pissed-off fey who’d stuck around when the courts disappeared. The worst of which Meredith dealt with in Ireland. A will-o’-the-wisp had even popped up at the Grand Canyon and started guiding unsuspecting people off a cliff. It’d been a little more than the Cazadores were used to, but definitely manageable. At least that was what everyone told us. Which was why we’d felt okay disconnecting.
I threw my phone down on the towel and walked to the edge of the water. Everything had been fine, but two weeks ago, clearly something had changed. Chris was right. There had to be a reason for the sudden spike in demon attacks in Texas.
What had changed? And why after Meredith’s wedding? Was that just a coincidence?
There were no other messages about demons attacking the rest of the world. Why were the demons only in Texas? And maybe scariest of all—why were they only in our specific area of Texas?
My imagination came up with a number of scenarios, but maybe Chris wasn’t so crazy.
Maybe what Luciana had done wasn’t over. Maybe we were in for another fight.
That thought sent a zing through my body, urging me to run and hide.
But I wasn’t about to hide.
Maybe some of the outbreaks could be well-timed flukes, but this was too much. I didn’t believe in coincidences. Everything happened for a reason. I didn’t know what was going on yet, but I’d find out.
Left a message for Michael and I’m going to start working on travel now. Want to come back to the house and eat?
I’m not hungry anymore. The swirling pit of anxiety in my stomach made it impossible to think of eating right now.
Then why don’t you go for a swim? Clear your head. When you get back, I’ll have our travel figured out.
Are you sure? Shouldn’t I be helping?
We only have one reliable phone line, and I need the WiFi to book the airfare once I have the boat and ferry lined up. Go for a swim. If nothing else, it’ll kick your appetite back into gear.
I took a breath. The water did look nice. I took a few steps back to the beach towel to grab my fins, mask, and snorkel. Tell me if you need my help. I’ll come back.
Of course. Go. You’ll feel better after a swim.
I walked into the clear water, watching tiny electric blue and green fish swimming around my ankles. The water was waist-deep but clear as crystal. My toes disappeared under the sand as I tried to balance while pulling on my fins. Part of me still felt guilty. Like I should’ve been helping Dastien and Chris and everyone else right now, but there was nothing I could do yet except worry. That wasn’t going to help anyone.
The mask tugged on my hair, but I got the straps in place and dove in.
The warm water was like a balm on my soul. Until we got to the island, I hadn’t been swimming since becoming a werewolf. The change had made me a stronger swimmer, but too much muscle wasn’t a good thing when it came to floating. I couldn’t lay in the water without sinking at least a little bit anymore.
I used my legs, flicking the fins just enough to keep my head above the surface as I watched the colorful fish dart around the coral.
After a few minutes of tuning out, I felt better. Anxiety wasn’t making it quite so hard to breathe anymore and I started to swim farther out. A mile or so away was a tiny island that we hadn’t explored yet. We’d talked about kayaking over, but if we were leaving tomorrow, then this was probably my last chance.
We can come back, Dastien said.
That’s a given. Now that I knew this place existed, I was addicted.
I froze as a nurse shark swam under my feet. They were harmless, but they still made me nervous. I pulled my legs up, and it ignored me. As I floated there, waiting for the shark to pass, I wondered if I should go ahead and call Claudia. I didn’t want to bother her before I had to, especially since she was in Peru on her own version of a honeymoon, but I was pretty sure that my messed-up visions had something to do with the demons in Texas. Even if she didn’t have any answers for me, I was sure she’d appreciate knowing that there was some stuff brewing. As soon as I was done with my swim, I was going to try texting her.
The water grew rougher the farther from shore I swam. I’d passed the drop off and couldn’t tell how far down the bottom was anymore, even with my enhanced werewolf sight. Maybe if I’d brought a light with me, but I was only snorkeling. I couldn’t swim down that far unless I had SCUBA gear, even as a werewolf.
I looked around to make sure the current hadn’t knocked me off course. The island looked a little too far to the right. I spotted the strip of white sand beach that I’d come from behind me.
The tree line nearly gobbled up the beach, forming a horseshoe. I’d made it all the way out of the inlet but had definitely drifted too far to the right.
I corrected my direction and started kicking my feet. I’d gone another fifty feet when pain sliced through my knuckles, one by one in rapid succession.
I screamed out bubbles as I sank under the water. Kicking hard, my head broke the surface. Air filled my lungs in one big gasp.
For a split second, I thought the shark had come back, but my hands looked fine even though I couldn’t feel my fingers.
What’s happening? Dastien asked. His worry beat against my mind. Are you okay?
I don’t know. I shook my hands, trying to get rid of the pain, but it lingered. I kept kicking, keeping my head out of the water. I didn’t know what was happening, but I suddenly didn’t feel much like swimming anymore. Whatever had happened to my hands was freaking me out.
Coming back, I said to him. I don’t know what the hell—
My arms locked in place as pain slashed through my wrists. Through my elbows. My shoulders.
I couldn’t move through the searing pain. I started to sink into the ocean.
I kicked harder, my legs burning as I struggled to keep my head above water. Dastien! What’s happening?
I’m coming! Swim back toward the beach.
I tried to look around, but the pain left me gasping for air. I couldn’t focus enough to even see the beach. It was like someone had chopped off my arms, bit by bit. But they were there. Totally intact. I could see them under the water, but all I could feel was searing pain in my shoulders.
Whatever I was feeling, it wasn’t real. It had to be witchcraft. A curse. Something.
Think, Tessa. Think. I had to stop whatever this was. I needed a protection spell. Something to break—
I screamed as the pain multiplied. This time it started with my toes.
Then my knees.
And then I couldn’t move my legs.
No. No. No.
I wiggled my body around, but it was no use. I sank like dead weight.
Screams ripped from my throat until my lungs were burning.
Which way was the surface? The light was getting farther away.
Pressure started to build in my head and my ears felt like they were going to explode.
I held my breath, trying not to suck in water. I didn’t have any air left in my lungs.
I needed to reach the surface or I was going to die before Dastien got here.
My heartbeat thumped in my ears as I tried to swim with just my torso. With my arms and legs locked in place, I couldn’t work up any momentum.
I was still sinking.
I flailed around, tossing and turning as I fell. Dastien! I can’t see the surface! The water had gotten almost as dark as the night sky, rolling me until I’d lost all sense of direction. What do I do?
Why couldn’t I find the surface? What magic was doing this to me?
Just hold on! I’m coming! He hit the beach at a sprint. Diving into the water. Cutting through the waves with all the power he could.
Magic. I needed to break the magic.
Stop. Stop. Stop. I pushed all my will into the words, picturing whatever spell had me shattering.
Suddenly I could move my arms. My legs still weren’t working, but I could use my arms.
Hope blossomed. Thank God.
I waved my arms through the water like I was digging to the surface. I wasn’t sure if I was heading the right way, but I had to keep moving. I had to keep fighting.
The more I moved, the more confused I got. My head was getting fuzzy, making it hard to think. Which way is up?
Had to keep swimming. Grasping for the surface.
I swam wildly as my panic grew.
I needed to breathe.
I needed air.
I slapped a hand over my mouth. I was going to breathe in.
My body was burning for me to breathe. I was fighting it, but I couldn’t. Not for long. No! I had to find the surface.
Dastien! I can’t! I reached along our bond, grabbing for his strength to give me a boost. I felt it flow into me, but without direction, it wasn’t a help. He could feed me power, but not oxygen.
Dastien was coming. He’d reach me soon, but not soon enough.
He was going to be too late. He was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him. My mind was getting fuzzy.
The last few months flashed through my mind. The cave of vampires.
When I killed Mr. Hoel.
Luciana stealing my powers.
When I killed her.
Closing the portal.
I hadn’t fought this hard to give up now, but I couldn’t hold my breath any longer.
I’m sorry. My body took in a lung-full of water and I choked. Unable to swim, I sank farther and farther into the darkness.
Dastien yelled something I couldn’t understand.
My heartbeat seemed to slow.
***Click here to read Chapter Two***