Heat surged in my belly. Bright lights wavered in and out of focus as I blinked through the haze of mist. I saw bare flesh, carnal muscles, and handsome faces. A trio of beasts tangled around me.
Their fingers trailed down my naked body, sending coarse chills down my spine.
“How do you feel, Valerie?” One held my hand to his mouth, pressing a kiss against my knuckles. I wanted to speak. But the only sound I could make was a moan.
The one behind me chuckled. “She’s in heat.” His laughter was soft, and his body felt warm. “Let me help you,” he purred in my ear. He tilted my head up and brushed a feather-light kiss against the corner of my mouth. “You want to play rough, or gentle?” he grinned, asking against my lips.
“Don’t be so selfish with her, Lucas.” said another. He towered over me. His fingers dented into my skin. He pulled my leg up as he bent down, his lips brushing kisses against my thigh.
I recoiled. But he gripped my ankle and nipped at my skin as a warn.
“There’s no way you can run, Valerie.” He bloodshot eyes met mine, blazing with hunger and lust.
“You belong to us.”
We were released from our cages the moment the sun crested the mountains.
I followed the other girls, heads bobbing and feet shuffling in the darkness. Our hands were cuffed, and our legs chained, making it difficult to keep in step with one another.
But we had grown used to this.
The corridor we traveled through was damp and cold. I could remember the sounds and smells of this place better than my own name.
It was our home.
I had only reached the fourth step when Aunt Louis gave me a shove.
I scowled to the shadows and quickened my pace, avoiding eye-contact with the sour aunt.
Clearly, Aunt Louis wasn’t in a good mood today. No one was surprised by this; all of the aunts had been terribly moody over the past dew days.
It was a dry season and slave business had been lacking. This was not unusual during the werewolf’s mating season, but it cast a dark cloud over the shop.
The aunts hadn’t sold a single slave in two weeks.
No wonder they were so riled up.
They weren’t really our aunts. We called them by the name because they were the closest things we had to guardians. A handful of old she-wolves who made their living by ensuring we were properly trained and sold for slave-hood.
By all rights, they owned us until we were sold to masters. Then those masters could do whatever they saw fit to us.
We quickly gathered in the lobby, expanding our line into a half-circle around Aunt Rita. She held up a sheet of paper and a pen and began her usual roll call.
For each number called, a small voice responded present.
We did not have names in this place. Numbers were all they gave us. Names were too difficult for the wolves to remember. And what was the point in remembering the name of someone who would soon be sold off and never heard from again?
“120,” Aunt Rita went on.
Our eyes stayed low; our heads bowed. We watched the cracks on the floor as we listened to each of our sisters call out in their tiny voices, “Present.”
This was a daily measure to insure we were all accounted for—but I had a theory that it was more than that.
It was a reminder of who we were and what our place in this world was.
We were Slaves. We were among the lowest class in this hell world. The beasts took our world and grabbed our lives in their hands.
When roll call came to an end, the aunts gathered to discuss the arrangements for the day. Who would be placed in the display cases, and who would be “shelved” in the back. To spotlight certain slaves on just the right day was the key to reeling in a desperate buyer.
It was all business—something wolves were terrible at. If they really wanted a sale during the slow seasons, they should’ve put the more appealing slaves on display. But rather, the aunts did the opposite, saving the highest quality slaves for the busy season.
Humans used to say that werewolves were all brawns and no brains. And the more I learned about werewolves, the more I found myself agreeing.
Somehow, despite that…they were still victorious when the war ended.
I supposed brawns were just as valuable.
“127,” called Aunt Rita. My head snapped up. “You’ll be on display today.”
I cleared my throat uncomfortably and nodded.
I despised the display cases. They always made me so claustrophobic, and it didn’t help to feel the hungry eyes of dozens of potential masters passing by in a day.
Of course, none of them were very interested. Not in someone like me.
I was always unwanted for my strangeness.
Another girl was called up to the display case, where we were painted in subtle makeup—a soft powder and a tint rubbed on our lips to turn them the shade of cherry juice.
They dressed us as well—though sparsely. We were stripped down to our drawers, and a long white cloth was wrapped once around our chests and twice around our hips. It was important that potential buyers could see our forms.
Then we were placed on chairs in front of large glass panes. We smiled at every soul that passed by, but no one seemed particularly interested in dropping in.
In fact, the streets were barren today. The entire market looked a little drab.
Then I felt a slight nudge and looked to the girl beside me. “Want to talk?” she asked. “I’m feeling very dull.”
She spoke beneath her breath and didn’t look my way. We had all learned to speak without making much sound. The aunts would be angry if they heard chatter coming from us.
I chanced another glance at her before turning my attention back on the streets.
I didn’t reply.
I’d spoken to this girl once before. Her name was Ashley—she was new, just sent in a week ago. That explained why she was so perky and positive all the time.
I wondered what Ashley meant by dull. Was she bored of this place?
It wouldn’t stay that way for long. The mating festival would arrive soon, and after that, unmated wolves would be piling into every slave shop on the strip to seek out some poor girl to sate their excessive sexual hunger. Then, not long after that, the vampires would wake up from their annual sleep and look for fresh blood.
But Ashley was new here, which meant she was still oblivious to how hopeless our world was.
She nudged me again. “Hey, did you hear about what happened yesterday? Some of the girls overheard the Aunts talking—they said a wolf went crazy in the market and murdered a bunch of slaves. Injured a ton of masters, too. They said the Alpha’s pissed about it—that he’s coming to canvas the damage.”
I was curious and none of the aunts seemed to be catching on to Ashley’s whispers, so I dared to ask, “Why did he do it?”
“No one knows,” Ashley said. “Aunt Louis said he was drunk at the festival celebration, but Aunt Rita doubted it and said he must’ve been possessed by evil spirits.”
My stomach turned at the thought of all those poor slaves, ripped to ribbons by the claws of a frenzied wolf. But in the end, it had nothing to do with us. The incident in question happened on an entirely different street—somewhere on the other side of the market, surely.
“How scary…” I muttered, mostly to myself.
“You two at the front!” one of the Aunts shouted. “Stop your squawking and pay attention to our guests!”
I wanted to argue that we hadn’t any guests yet, but arguing with the Aunts never ended well for anyone.
Ashley and I went silent after that, forcing smiles at the empty streets.
Suddenly, a disturbance swept over the shop. The aunts went stiff.
I could see them in the reflection of the glass—their entire posture perked up as if they could hear a distant sound. One by one, they dropped everything they were doing and approached the front of the shop.
When a knock came at the door, they pried it open hastily and stepped aside, their heads bowed in some strange submissive form.
I wanted to look, but I would be disciplined if I took my eyes from the window. So I listened instead.
A noise hit my ears. Something I’d never heard before—something that made my hair stand on end. A growl. Someone chanting. Whispers and murmurs. Then, among the culmination of noises, one word reached my ears.
A word that made my blood run cold.
VALERIE None of us had seen the Alpha. His name was one that was tossed around constantly, almost like a fictional character from a fairytale, or a celebrity always causing waves. The Aunts spoke about him often—but their stories and gossip about the Alpha were flung around for the sake of entertainment and nothing more. No one ever seriously expected to meet him. They said he was young. They said he was smart and handsome. They said that he would be mated this year. Last I’d heard them speak of the Alpha, the aunts mentioned that he was betrothed to the princess of the northern Eclipse pack. Thinking about it, their engagement should have been just on the horizon. The Alpha wasn’t only a celebrity to the Aunts, but also a tool they used to keep us in line. “You should be happy to live such comfortable lives,” they would remind us. “Be grateful to the Alpha for his generosity.” It was a silly thing, to be grateful for the lives we had been fated with. But the aunts had a point; t
VALERIE Certified virgin slaves were a rare commodity, because it was difficult to ensure a girl was intact. Werewolves didn’t know much about human anatomy, and they didn’t care to invest the time into checking each and every one of us. But the girls at this particular shop were extracted from The Cell—a place where underage humans were imprisoned until they reached the ripe age of sixteen. For most of us, there was no chance to ruin ourselves. In fact, for most of us, it had been a decade since we saw a human boy in person. I was brought to The Cell at thirteen-years-old. They stuck me in that place for three years, before I was transported here, to Lockheart Botique—a small slave emporium in the market district. Sixteen was not the age of purchase for a slave, but rather, the age where we first began our lessons. We were taught how to provide for our masters, how to please them, and how to act as good service for the rest of our lives. The aunts wanted us well-prepared before we
VALERIE I couldn’t breathe. I hadn’t expected the Alpha to address me directly. No one addressed slaves directly. We were property and doing so was about the equivalent of speaking to vase or a painting on the wall. We were expensive, but not valuable. We were disposable. We weren’t people, but things. What had your parents done? I wished I knew. I wished I could formulate any kind of proper response, but my blood was in my face and my heart was in my throat, and words were not something I could choke out when the Alpha’s eyes bore into me like this. I wish I knew what my parents had done. I wish I could absolve myself of the anger and suspicion. I almost wished they were guilty of some heinous crime, so my heart would stop beating with vengeance at the mention of them. I didn’t know how to answer. I felt a slap on the back of my chair, and a whoosh of air—like it had been whipped with a twisted rag. “The Alpha asked you a question!” Aunt Rita snipped. The aunts loved to threat
VALERIE I gulped. One of the Alpha’s men came forward and offered a hand to help me from my chair. I wobbled as I stood, my legs numb and weak beneath me. The moment they had the coin in their hands, the mood in the shop shifted dramatically. Smiles blossomed over their faces and they looked to one another giddily. “How generous of you, my Alpha. You are correct—she is quite a unique girl. Won’t find another like her. Please do enjoy!” Aunt Rita, who just a moment ago looked like she was going to faint, was suddenly revitalized. She fluttered in front of him and gestured back toward a large display of “tools” used to keep slaves in line. Things like collars, cuffs, whips and a variety of toys—some I knew the purpose of and others that were simply question-marks on the wall. I shivered at the thought of any of those items being used on me. The Alpha’s gaze flickered back to me. There was a slight tilt to his lips—the slightest twitch of a smirk as he said, “No need, thank you.” M
VALERIE The Alpha said nothing as we continued our walk out of the market square, where a vehicle awaited us. Wolves themselves didn’t require cars. They were much stronger and much larger than humans—and in their shifted form, they had enough endurance to travel at quick speeds all day long. But then again, Alphas probably preferred to be driven around on business. The car that awaited us was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was sleek and low—the kind of car that probably used to air on television ads decades ago. Vehicles were hard to come by since the factories all closed—but of course, the Alpha had his connections. It was more than likely that he had the thing personally designed and built just for him. It was a wonder what the wealthy did with their money while others starved. I found my reflection in the dark windows. I was such a ragged, unkempt thing. Why would he want me? Chad took the driver’s seat and the engine roared to life like a wild beast, woken from its
VALERIE I didn’t know what to say. What was allowed when speaking to an Alpha? Was I to wait until he addressed me? Could I speak first? Surely, I couldn’t just say something like, “Can I call you Alpha instead?” Could I? After a moment of my silent deliberations, the Alpha seemed to give up on any chance of a reply. “Nevermind,” he said. Then he turned to the glaring man in the passenger seat. “That’s enough, Ralph. You can rest easily now. This journey has been tiresome enough.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but Ralph nodded his head and his unfriendly gaze finally lifted off of me. Truly, he couldn’t have thought I would try to hurt the Alpha. What was he, a damned guard dog? Outside, the landmarks had finally begun to change. A greenness began to take over the earth—a color I hadn’t seen since my parents were still alive. I gaped at the vast forest of trees awaiting us, a slight excitement beating in my chest. Calm down, I told myself. You’re still a slave. Your life is still
VALERIE It was a well-known fact that werewolves were among the most attractive species on earth, but this man was something else. He looked like a prince, plucked straight from a fairytale. His hair was blond, just long enough to curl beneath his ear. His eyes the color of lightning—blue and pooling with light. He was lean, but strong. Not quite like the burly guards that accompanied the Alpha. He wore a shirt, half-buttoned that showed his pale flesh beneath, white as the marble stone we walked upon. Tangled in his arms was a human girl. She reminded me a bit of Ashley, with her pretty face and her long golden hair. She wore nothing but a thin night dress that saved little to the imagination. But despite that she was human, she was donned in fine jewelry and makeup, which made me think that she was either from a prestigious family, or she had been gifted those things by someone much more fortunate. Her face was glazed in ecstasy, and I could tell from the lost look in her eyes th
VALERIE How had I not realized? He had all the traits of a vampire: a sharp-boned, handsome face, skin the color of fresh fallen-snow—and the glinting I’d noticed must’ve been his fangs peaking out over his devious smile. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what vampires looked like, or that I wouldn’t have been able to identify one in person—but this man called Lucas was different than the vampires I’d come to know. He was larger, stronger, almost the size of a werewolf. This was unusual for vampires, who were often just as small in stature as humans. Then again, I had only met a vampire once before. It had happened at a wedding reception I’d attended with my parents and Mathilda. The bride and groom had been close family friends, and they’d celebrated their marriage at their newly acquired home in a small, quaint little village. Things were different then. There was still good in the world, and the war had not destroyed most of what we held dear. The couple were deeply in love, and th