Home > Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)

Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)
Author: T.S. Joyce

Chapter One

Ronin Alder couldn’t stop staring at the creature his best friend had turned into.

Grim was dominant, good at fighting, and being groomed to take over the Tarian Pride someday, but this…this…monster didn’t belong inside of Ronin’s friend.

The lion pacing the incineration room had a pitch-black mane and bore the red angry scars of the fight. His eyes were gold instead of green, and when the lion saw Ronin looking through the small window, he roared and charged. There was no recognition in the animal’s face as he slammed into the metal door over and over. Ronin knew that if there was no barrier between them, the lion would kill him.

The council called him the Reaper.

Ronin had watched his best friend die in a dominance fight with Justin Moore. He’d died. Everyone had seen it. The entire Pride had watched him bleed out, and none of the council would let Ronin or Grim’s grandmother, Rose, try to save him. All Ronin had been able to do was watch Grim’s final breaths and drag Rose against him so she could fall apart.

The sound of breaking bones echoed through the incineration room. Two days ago, Grim’s body had been put in here and covered with a sheet to burn. But then the council had found him Changed into this—the Reaper.

A groan of agony sounded. “Ronin,” Grim rasped out. He had to be delirious with pain. He’d been Changing every few minutes for days. “Ronin, please.”

“Please what?” Ronin asked.

“Kill me.”

Ronin turned suddenly and slammed his back against the door, then slid down to the floor and buried his face in his hands. Sixteen years old, and he knew what he had to do. He owed it to Grim to save him from this hell.

“Who will I have if you leave?” Ronin asked thickly.

“Rose.” Grim almost choked on the word. The Reaper was growling again already. “Take care of my grandma.”

“But…” Ronin swallowed hard and tried to imagine his life without Grim. He didn’t have parents. He didn’t make friends, didn’t attach to people. He’d known Grim was his to protect from the time he was a cub. How many nights had he spent with Rose and Grim, his make-shift family, and now he would be called upon to murder half of it? He would just as soon cut out his own heart.

It wasn’t fair.

“Ronin,” Grim snarled out in a voice he didn’t even recognize. “Please.”

A tear slid down Ronin’s cheek as he pulled the long blade from the sheath at his belt. When he Changed back to his human form, Ronin would have to make it quick. Blade to the neck. He would hold him close so Grim would know he wasn’t alone at the end. Not like in that killing field where this creature was born.

The door behind him rattled with the force of the Reaper slamming against it.

“I know what you’re planning,” Leon said as he stepped from the shadows down the hall.

Ronin startled hard, nicking his thumb on the blade where he’d been checking the sharpness. He hadn’t realized anyone was here.

“The council has plans for him,” Leon said above the roaring that rattled the walls.

“You always had plans for him, and look what happened. Look what you did.”

“It’s a miracle,” Leon said, his eyes in the deep shadows cast by the single hanging lightbulb in the short, narrow hallway that separated them. The harsh lighting made him look like a corpse. Leon approached slowly as he spoke. “The Tarian Pride has been getting too soft lately. There are too many submissives. We need to cull some, and the people here are forgetting how important the culls are. They keep us strong. We needed a sign, a weapon, and…the Reaper landed in our laps.”

“Fuck you, Leon. He’s only eighteen. He’s a kid, and you ruined his entire life by forcing that monster out of him. One lion inside of him wasn’t enough? You think it’s some sort of blessing that he has two? I wish it was you lying in that field bleeding out. Someday it will be, and I’ll be holding the knife in your gut. I swear it.”

The roaring of the Reaper was deafening as Leon approached him. From the other side of the hallway, two more council members stalked toward Ronin.

Ronin huffed a laugh and stood. Weak, weak, weak. The council had this stupid notion that only dominants were important, but look at these three dominants. Three mature males on one sixteen-year-old kid. He gripped the handle of the knife and glared at the council members with all the hatred that had consumed him since the Reaper had been born. They didn’t understand that their “weapon” couldn’t be tamed or controlled. The animal roaring to be released was a murder machine, plain and simple. It had killed the good parts of his friend. The Reaper had killed Grim. The council, with their need for war had killed Grim.

So fuck it.

Realization filled Leon’s glowing gold eyes in the second Ronin reached for the door handle to release the Reaper. It was the first time Ronin had ever seen fear there.

Ronin offered the three lion shifters sprinting toward him an empty smile. “It’s the council that needs to be culled.”

And then he yanked open the door.

“Ronin!”

With a gasp, Ronin shot up in bed.

Kannon was standing in the doorway, eyes wide and gold. It was just Kannon here, not the council. The council was long dead. It had been just a dream. A nightmare. Ronin was here in the big house in Tarian Pride Territory again after all these years. That’s why the damn dream had returned. That’s why the memories were haunting him again.

“What’s happened?” he snarled.

Kannon ran his hand though his black hair and swallowed hard. “Rose is gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yeah, she’s not in her house.”

Ronin forced his muscles to relax. God, he was drenched in sweat. “Well, she’s a grown woman, Kannon. She’s entitled to spend her nights wherever she wants.”

“Understood, but…”

“But what?” Ronin snapped.

Kannon swallowed hard. “It looks like there was a struggle. We found blood. It smells like it belongs to Rose. Do you want me to call the Reaper?”

She’d been taken, and he knew exactly who took her. Fury seared through Ronin’s words as he murmured, “No. I’ll handle it.”

Chapter Two

Today was the worst day of Emerald Lawson’s life.

It should’ve been the happiest. Engaged. Paired up. On the eve of the day most girls have dreamed of since childhood.

In the back seat of the SUV, she stared at the woods blurring by to avoid looking at the stranger who would walk her down the aisle.

Derek was her age, and he was Tarian through and through. She didn’t mean that in a good way. She hated the Tarian Pride. Her parents had run years ago, and Emerald had been lucky enough to be raised rogue. Just her, Mom, and Dad.

Mom had passed away a few years back, and the Tarian Pride council had been killed off in a stupid war they’d started. The Pride split, New Tarian and Old Tarian. It was the Old Tarian half that had come sniffing around last year. Bullying her and Dad. Scaring them. She’d moved cities twice in one year, and Derek and the others had still found her both times.

Why did they care?

Bloodlines.

Fuckin’ bloodlines. Her lineage traced back to one of the founding families of the Tarian Pride and in a time of rebuilding, that apparently counted for a whole lot.

“Everything looks good. Your handwriting is shit, though. I can barely read your signature on the contract,” Derek murmured amid the sound of paper rustling.

It had ripped her soul out to sign it. She wasn’t sorry that she’d scribbled. If he looked close enough, it said fuck you in the middle of all of her signatures.

She hated, hated, hated the Tarian Pride.

And now she would be Queen.

How had she found herself here, speeding toward her internal death? She glanced forward, checked the speed. Going sixty-five miles an hour up winding, mountain roads. Sixty-five miles an hour toward the end of the happy part of her life.

For the dozenth time, Annamora glanced at her in the rearview. There was always worry sitting in the too-bright gold hue of her lion shifter eyes. “It’ll be okay.”

“Annamora,” Derek snarled, “Cassius doesn’t pay you to have an opinion.”

“He doesn’t pay me at all,” Annamora whispered.

Oh, no.

Derek lurched forward and grabbed Annamora’s throat so fast, he blurred. “The fuck did you say to me?”

The SUV swerved, and Annamora hit the brakes hard, choking loudly.

“Let her go!” Emerald yelled as the rig rocked to a stop on the shoulder.

Derek ignored her and yanked Annamora back against the seat. He hissed into her ear, “You fuckin’ slut. You remember your place, you submissive piece of shit. Or do you need me to remind you?”

Why couldn’t she move? Why couldn’t Emerald hit him? Her fists were clenched but stayed helpless on the tops of her thighs. Heat boiled through her, but she couldn’t even lift her gaze from the floorboard.

All the memories of her time with the Tarian Pride as a cub flooded back. Submissive piece of shit.

Annamora and Emerald were the same. They had no value to the dominant-heavy Old Tarian Pride. No value but their lineage.

Submissives were worthless.

She wanted to hit him. Annamora was gasping for air as Derek murmured vile insults into her ear. For what? For telling Emerald everything would be okay? For offering her comfort? Hit him.

But as always around dominants, her inner lioness crouched, got smaller and more terrified until Emerald couldn’t feel the big cat inside of her at all.

Worthless.

She hadn’t felt this low in years.

Hit him!

Her nails dug into her palms, but still, she couldn’t throw the punch. Emerald slammed her head back, trying to shake her mind loose from the control this undeserving dominant had over her animal. Shitty Tarian males. They were all like Derek. When she was a cub, all the males were one big blur except for Dad. Dad and a boy. A boy she’d watched as a little girl. Blond hair, blue eyes that turned to a striking green-gold when his lion got riled up. He was dominant, but showed kindness. And that kindness had gotten him killed. Ronin. Emerald tried to hide in the good memory of the boy who had stopped another kid from hurting her on the playground. Nice cub. Orphan. Hard life, but he’d still been nice when he was alive. People could be nice.

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