Home > Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(2)

Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(2)
Author: T.S. Joyce

Remember…people can be nice. Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them make you bitter. Don’t let them make you forget that people can be good.

When Derek slammed Annamora’s head against the headrest, Emerald jumped, jolted from the memory. Tears of anger streamed down Emerald’s cheeks as she sat frozen.

Derek sat back next to her and began going through the contract again, as if he hadn’t just hurt a woman.

She wanted to puke. The worst part? Annamora wasn’t even crying, didn’t even rub her neck, didn’t show pain. Emerald witnessed the exact moment Annamora shut down. In the rearview mirror, Emerald could see the fear fade from her eyes, and then Annamora’s expression went blank. Her breathing steadied out. She didn’t show any emotion at all. She just put the SUV back into gear and began driving again.

That’s what Tarian dominants did to submissive females. They broke them.

Annamora was Emerald’s future.

But what choice did she have other than to sign her life away and marry Cassius, the new Alpha of the Old Tarian Pride?

He had taken her father.

Emerald recognized the road when Annamora edged the SUV around the curve of a cliff. It tugged at some long-buried memory of this place. She hadn’t been back to Telluride, Colorado since Mom and Dad had run away with her in the night. She’d only been fourteen years old. Fifteen years, and she’d tried to think about this place as little as possible. And now here she was again, about to tether herself to these mountains for always.

On either side of the two-lane road, massive mountains jutted up toward the sky, covered in snow and pine trees. A green sign on the side of the road read Telluride city limit, ELEV 8750 FT. She was going to have to get used to the dryer climate and thinner air. It was the end of January and freezing outside. A thin layer of ice covered the road as Annamora drove them straight through the quaint town. Population 2,300 or so from the Wikipedia page she’d looked up about it as she waited for Derek and Annamora to collect her and the one sad suitcase from in front of the house she’d rented in Sterling, Colorado for the last year.

She didn’t even want to think about the life she’d left behind. It would only make this harder.

She checked the cell phone that had been sitting facedown next to her. Her dad’s smiling face lit up the lock screen, her reminder not to jump out of this damn car and make a run for it. If she paired up with Cassius tomorrow, the Old Tarian Pride would set him free. It was in the contract. If she didn’t, they would kill him. Simple as that. And they wouldn’t lose a single ounce of sleep because that was what the Tarian Pride did. They killed and bullied and took. No wonder all the other shifter Crews hated them. It was a Pride full of monsters that had bred monsters who bred monsters for generations until evil was ingrained in their DNA.

“Control your emotions, or I’ll have to put you in your place, Queen,” Derek said in a soft, low, dangerous voice.

She hadn’t realized she was growling. She swallowed the sound down and turned the phone off so the picture of her smiling dad wouldn’t see her expose her neck and lower her gaze for a man like Derek.

And there was Annamora’s dead eyes in the rearview mirror, checking on her again. Annamora didn’t know it, but she was probably Emerald’s best friend in the world right now.

They drifted straight through town and another twenty minutes into the mountains, right along the edge of the Rio Grand National Forest. 1.8 million acres of wilderness and the perfect place for a Pride of monstrous lions to get away with murder. Which they probably had infinite times.

Everything would be fine. Dad wouldn’t be one of their numbers. She’d signed the contract and so had Cassius.

It wasn’t fair. Stop! She couldn’t think like that. She couldn’t get angry. She’d already torn her rental house to shreds in her fury when she’d found out they’d taken him. She’d dealt with the anger. Mostly. Now she just needed to make sure he was released safely. Tarians were no shifters to mess around with. Everyone knew they didn’t bluff.

These mountains were stunning—this place would be soooo beautiful if she hadn’t attached it to every bad memory from her childhood.

Except for her parents. And Ronin, the nice boy.

There were still nice people.

Annamora parked the SUV in a white gravel parking lot with woods surrounding it. On the other side was a bridge, not one of those sturdy ones, but a hanging bridge. Well, this part she didn’t remember.

“What happened to the Tarian Pride Territory?” she asked Annamora as they all got out.

Annamora blinked slowly and looked at her with a vacant expression. There were red marks on her neck in the shape of Derek’s fingers. “You want help with your suitcase?” Annamora asked.

Emerald swallowed hard and shook her head. “I can get it.”

“Let’s go,” Derek barked out. “Cassius will be eager to meet you.” He strode toward the bridge, contract flapping in the frigid breeze in his hand.

She wished she could burn the damned thing, and the man holding it while she was at it.

Tired of glaring at his wide shoulders, she made her way to the back of the SUV and pulled out her heavy suitcase. She dragged the thing behind her like a dead body. Why? Because she wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough, and she’d had the damn thing since she was sixteen. Both wheels had broken off long ago. So she looked real graceful as she lugged the suitcase behind her across the stupid swinging bridge. Good thing she wasn’t afraid of heights because midway through the journey to BFE, the bridge got to swaying in the wind, and she was tossed from side-to-side with nothing but air underneath her and a river with jagged rocks for a bank far, far below.

“Hurry up!” Derek yelled from the other side, his voice echoing through the valley. He was still only carrying the contract, so of course it was real easy for him to scamper across the bridge of death.

“Asshole,” she muttered under her breath as she used her lioness strength to hoist the suitcase to her hip and stumble across the rest of the bridge like a drunken pinball.

She hoped her contract gave him a papercut.

Behind her, Annamora’s chestnut-colored hair whipped in the wind, but the woman didn’t even try to move it out of her face. She just walked like the bridge didn’t affect her at all. But when the breeze blew her hair away, Emerald saw the single tear that dampened her cheek. It glistened in the light from the sunset. The woman wiped it away quick as a flash before glancing at Derek and then back down at her feet as she walked.

Sometimes Emerald thought the submissives were the toughest kind of people.

She knew that the title Queen of the Tarian Pride meant nothing because she was female, but in this moment, she swore to herself she would figure out a way to repay Annamora for her kind words in the car and make her life better, if even just a little bit.

Emerald’s black hair probably looked like a bird’s nest by the time they made their way up to the porch of a large cabin. Her cheeks were definitely red on account of all the fury she still had coursing through her veins, and she was beginning to sweat. She hadn’t been nervous to meet Cassius until now. In fact, she hadn’t thought about him much at all. Sure, she’d looked up his picture on the shifter registration site online, but he just looked like a man. A big muscle-man with a shaved head and a big scar running down one side, right through his eye. She hadn’t even been able to tell his eye color in the picture on the government site. He was a dominant enforcer the Old Tarians had brought in to try to revive the council with all Tarian members. Ha. If they succeeded, the council would have all lion prides ruined in a year, tops.

Wise shifters didn’t put monsters on thrones. The Tarian Pride had never figured that little gem out, though.

Okay, she could do this.

Derek reached for the door handle.

Maybe Cassius would be a fair mate. Not a love-match, but perhaps he wouldn’t be as bad as she’d feared. Maybe he would like her and protect her, listen to her and—

“Where the fuck is my stew?” came a bellowing demand from inside.

Derek gave her an empty smile. “Your mate.” And then he shoved open the door.

There was a sprawling dining table right in the middle of the great room, and at the head of it sat Cassius. He slammed his fist on the table. “Sora, I swear to God, if I don’t have that bowl in front of me in five seconds, I’m going to beat your ass.”

The Sora in question was a platinum blond-haired, mouse of a woman who was standing in the kitchen on the other side, ladling stew into a bowl as fast as her shaking hands could work.

“Fuck!” Cassius yelled, startling the two brunettes sitting on either side of him. Twins? “I hate training new ones.”

“By training, he means beating,” Derek murmured. He was definitely trying to scare Emerald, and it was definitely working.

“Come here!” Cassius yelled.

“Coming,” Sora whispered, speed-walking toward him, her neck exposed.

“I wasn’t talking to you, bitch.” Cassius dragged his attention to Emerald. “I was talking to you.” He clasped his hands in front of his chiseled jaw and arched one dark eyebrow. His eyes blazed a brighter gold as he looked her up and down, pausing on her curves.

Emerald wanted to retch. She’d never had a man look straight through her before, like she was nothing. Like she was a ghost.

“Little thicker than I like.” He twitched his head. “Perky tits, though. Hair needs to be dyed. I don’t like black hair.” He leaned back in the creaking chair and stretched one leg out as he narrowed his gaze at her. “Those eyes, though. I heard about your eyes. That’s where you got your name, right? Because they’re so green.”

“Actually—”

“I don’t care,” he cut her off. He snapped his finger and held out his hand, and like a little sewer rat, Derek started to scramble toward his Alpha.

Before she could change her mind, Emerald lurched forward, reached out, and yanked the contract from Derek’s hand. She held it up, threatening to rip it down the middle. “I want to see my father first.”

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