Kit was warm and before he marveled at the unusual occurrence, he snuggled further into heat…and arms that tightened automatically when he moved. He instantly knew. Luca. My mate. The Alpha King destined to heal a fractured Askara, and me, Kit, a guttersnipe bastard orphan destined to help him.
Human children were illegal in Askara without a license, and that would only be given to valued guards or those who had a trade. The Alphas remained terrified that because humans bred so easily, humans would become unmanageable in number and therefore a threat to the smaller wolf population, she-wolves only went into heat once every three years, and even then, pups were no guarantee to any except a breeder.
Kit’s mother had always told him he should never have been born. Pleasure-slaves were barred from procreating because their very profession meant that there was no guarantee the father’s identity would be known, and, what was even worse, the father might be a wolf. Any attempt to breed hybrids was a sentence of death for the mother and child.
Pleasure slaves were so careful not to become pregnant. Herbs were mixed and potions were regularly drunk, and then if those methods ever failed, the birth would be induced quickly so the baby would never survive. Kit never knew how his mother had managed to hide her pregnancy. If any of the gammas had seen her, she would have been forced into labor, and if the child survived then its throat would have been slit.
His earliest memories were of being told to be quiet. Silent. Never to cry. Never to complain of being cold or being hungry, and never ever to make a noise when he was locked away in the cupboard. He could even beg silently, fix his mother with pleading eyes as she locked him away night after night so when the men came no one would ever know she kept an illegal child.
Kit shivered and Luca’s arms tightened again. Light was just creeping into the room and he knew he had slept a long time, been helped when his own hands shook too much to hold a cup of water, been carried to the bathroom when he needed to empty his bladder; been soothed when the night terrors had woken him. Kit never slept deeply. He didn’t dare. He would stay awake as much as he could until exhaustion claimed him and he was too tired to stop the dreams and the memories.
Memories of the last night with his mother crept into him. He’d been sick. He’d begged that day as usual, and gleefully found some kitchen scraps. He was used to eating food that others threw away, but something he had eaten that day had made him sick, a belly ache that tore at his insides until he had to stuff a rag in his mouth to quiet the whimpers. He must have slept until in his fevered imagination he could feel unseen arms pulling at him, making it seem he was no longer alone in the small cupboard when he woke. Heat drenched him, and chills stripped him of his control. Of his silence. He cried. He thought his whispered entreaties wouldn’t be heard but suddenly the cupboard door was ripped open and the half-naked gamma that was bedding his mother bellowed in anger and summoned the guards. He had been yanked from the cupboard just as the gamma’s knife had flashed into his hand.
Then his dreams always turned red. Deep crimson rivers seemed to drown his mother’s cries as they covered her body. She had stepped in front of him as the gamma had gone to slit his throat and the knife had slashed her chest. Covered in his mother’s blood, he had run far, far away, and in the confusion, no one had stopped him. He had many hungry days after that. Unscrupulous wolves who were willing to overlook an unlicensed human child meant they simply hid that human away when any visitors arrived. Unlicensed humans, grateful for anything they could get, simply had to endure. Kit whimpered and blinked to force the images away. He felt the arms move around him as he took a shuddering breath to calm down. The hot puff of air brushed his cheek as Luca moved even closer.
“What is it?” Luca’s deep voice seeped into Kit’s skin and soothed his frantically pounding heart. Luca moved his palm across Kit’s chest and rested it there. It was so warm. “It beats as if it wants to escape, but I can’t have that,” Luca said quietly. “It belongs to me.”
Kit let the gentle finger tilt his chin until he was looking into Luca’s deep gray eyes. Kit took a deep breath. “Bad dreams, Sire,” he whispered unwilling to give them voice.
Kit closed his eyes as Luca bent and kissed his forehead. “I’m here. I won’t let you have any more bad dreams.”
“Because you said so?” Kit teased.
Luca shuffled onto his back and drew Kit down so he was resting on Luca’s chest. The heavy thump of Luca’s heart was the best thing he had ever heard. Solid, real. “Well apparently, I’m the King so I hereby decree no more nightmares.”
Kit smiled at the amusement in Luca’s tone. He took another deep breath and snaked a hand across Luca’s chest. He heard the approving rumble.
“I decided you were a dream, you know.”
“A nightmare?” Kit offered.
Luca brushed a tender kiss on Kit’s head as if to dismiss the suggestion. “I have heard the legends, obviously, but I didn’t know an omega could be human.”
“You have questions,” Kit said quietly.
“Did you know? All those years ago? And if so, why didn’t you stay with me? I could have protected you.”
Kit closed his eyes briefly. The pain and frustration was as raw in Luca’s voice as his back had been yesterday. “I dreamed other things. I knew you were going to be Alpha King, but not until I touched you, and I also knew that it wasn’t the time for us to be together. If you had shown signs of your gifts because of me, it would have put your life at risk, and you needed to be safe until you were twenty-five. There are many who do not want to return to the days of the Alpha Kings.”
“But you suffered.”
Kit swallowed. The horror in Luca’s voice was real. Suddenly, he realized every day had been worth it. Every nightmare, every day he had slaved too cold and too hungry. Every night he had longed for Luca’s voice, his touch, but he had remained without it. It simply wasn’t worth the risk it would bring to Luca.
“I would have been careful,” Luca promised.
Kit raised his head and gazed into the gray eyes that were fixed on him. “You would have been unable to let any injustice slide—the same as yesterday—and I had to get you to this point. Yes, I needed you, but Askara needs you more, my King.”
“Luca, please,” Luca said as he clasped Kit’s hand, pressing the words into his palm.
“In private, then,” Kit conceded carefully.
He knew appearances were important and he was already battling what many wolves would see as wrong. He had loved Luca for so long, so terrified that what he imagined his strong, fearless, but gentle wolf would be like might not match up to the reality. He had always been convinced of Luca’s integrity. He had dreamed of what Askara could become, what their lives would be like. He was just never sure of what his life would be like. Would he be kept close? Would he be treasured, protected? Or would Luca bow to the traditions of his people, no matter how Kit may wish for more?
Luca laid back down and tucked Kit close. Kit took a sharp breath.
Luca peered at him. “Are you still hurting?”
Kit loved the concern that layered his words, but he shook his head shyly. He was terrified to truly believe that things would be this simple. Kit smiled softly. Simple? It would be anything but. A human omega was going to be bad enough for Luca’s people to accept. He simply couldn’t think about how much worse it could actually get.
To one lucky reader, your choice of an ebook from Victoria Sue’s backlist. Must be 18 years of age or older to enter. Please leave your name and email address where you can be reached if chosen along with a comment for Victoria Sue. Contest ends midnight February 4th.