Home > Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(3)

Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(3)
Author: T.S. Joyce

Fury flashed across Cassius’s face, and he stood. And stood. And stood. Good God, the man was tall as a mountain and built like a brick house.

Derek laughed and muttered, “Oh, she has a death wish.”

The females were all frozen with their heads down, even Sora, who had skidded to a stop and was staring at the bowl of steaming stew, chest heaving.

Emerald tried to hold Cassius’s gaze. Truly, she did. She tried harder than she’d ever tried at anything in her life, but inside, her lioness was panicking, and she had to lower her eyes. Emerald’s entire body started shaking as he approached her slowly. She focused on his thick-soled boots, clomping closer and closer. The floorboards didn’t even dare to creak under his weight.

“Did you just come into my den and demand something of me?” he asked.

“Y-yes.”

“Without the stutter, bitch.”

Emerald inhaled deeply and nodded as she said, “Yes.” Her stupid voice cracked on the word, though.

Cassius grabbed her lower jaw and yanked her face up toward his. “If I didn’t want you lookin’ pretty for tomorrow, I would beat that demand right out of your fuckin’ face.” His voice held such terrifying conviction, she had no doubt he wanted to hurt her. His grip tightened on her jaw. It hurt, and she flinched. At her reaction, he grabbed her harder and then slammed his lips against hers. All she could feel was searing pain for the one second he kissed her. When she pushed off him and threw the contract at his face, the back of his hand hit her so hard and so fast, she was slammed down onto her knees.

Stars orbited her peripheral vision, and there was a loud roaring sound in her ears along with a high-pitched ringing. Someone was yelling. Yelling? She couldn’t make out any words. Her head was ripped back, the hand in the back of her hair too rough, and Cassius glared down at her, turning her face from side to side. “Tell them to only photograph her from the left side tomorrow,” he snarled. And then he released her and strode toward Sora. He yanked the bowl of food from her hands and yelled, “Everyone get the fuck out!”

The women all jogged out the front door, heads lowered, but they all blurred together because Emerald still couldn’t see straight. Her face hurt so bad. She’d never been struck before, and perhaps she was in shock.

Gentle hands were pulling her, tugging her toward the door. Annamora? Emerald wanted to help, but she reached for her suitcase.

“We’ll get it later,” Annamora whispered as quiet as a breath.

Derek was outside already by the time Emerald and Annamora hit the front porch. He was talking to a group of men, a dozen at least, all huge and muscled with glowing eyes and snarls on their faces. They all looked different and the same at once.

“Is that her?” one of them asked. “The new mate? Is that her?”

“The new mate?” Emerald murmured.

“There are four of you,” Annamora whispered from behind her. Was she hiding behind Emerald?

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. She wasn’t the only mate? What the fucking fuck?

“She has the look of the Lawsons,” one of them said, scratching the dark beard on his jaw. “But she feels submissive as fuck. Why does Cassius keep pairing up with submissives?”

Uh, because breaking submissive women fuels his gigantic ego? Idiots! She wasn’t even a psych major, but that much was plain and obvious after spending two minutes with their Alpha. That man was seriously messed up.

“Her face is already bleeding,” another said low to Derek. “Is she one of them willful ones?” Why did he look hungry when he asked that?

“If…” Emerald clenched her hands at her sides to calm her nerves. And then she wiped her bleeding lip, smearing red across the back of her knuckles. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve had a long day of travel and would like to clean up before I properly introduce myself to everyone.” And then like she was in a dream, she floated down the stairs and through the grumbling crowd toward the woods. She didn’t have one freaking clue where she was going, only that she had to get away from everyone so she could properly fall apart.

Cassius had hit her.

He’d really hit her.

She’d never felt more degraded and disgusted in all her life. Her cheek had a pulse, and her split lip hurt so bad. The tears were falling out of her eyes and she couldn’t even stop them if she tried.

“This way,” Annamora said, grabbing her hand.

Emerald just held it like a kid going to her first day of kindergarten because, truth-be-told, she was hurt and scared and her lioness liked affection and comfort. Always had.

“It’ll be better when you learn the rules,” Annamora whispered in a heartbroken voice. “If you can learn to anticipate his needs…or I don’t know…” The woman’s shoulders sagged. “I didn’t want Derek to find you. I wanted you to stay far away.”

“What?”

“Well…don’t you remember me?”

Emerald stopped and turned to Annamora. “I know you?”

“We’re the same age. So…we did homeschool together for a couple years. There were a bunch of us, but I always remembered you. You were nice to everyone, even when the boys were mean to you. I think you’ll stay nice. All the females here are trying to stay nice, too. I’m sorry,” she blurted out, grabbing Emerald’s hands. “I thought you really got away, then I was the one who drove you back here.”

“Did you have a choice?” Emerald asked.

Annamora shook her head. They just told me to drive to pick someone up. I didn’t know it was you. I think you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I saw it was you sitting on that curb with your suitcase. I wish it was anyone else. No, it wasn’t my choice to bring you back here. Not at all.”

“Then don’t waste another second on guilt for something that isn’t your fault.”

“Oh, Talon Lawson! Your dad!” Annamora whispered, tugging her toward a long row of small, identical, one room, quick-build cabins. “He’s okay. He’s in one of the small cabins back in the woods, him and this other lady Cassius just brought in last night. I just don’t know which cabins they have them stashed in, so we’ll have to look around a little. Rose, the woman Cassius kidnapped used to be one of us, but she sided with the New Tarian Pride when we all split. She was the only female who escaped. But Cassius brought her back. If you want to see your dad, now is the time. The boys are still back at the big house and Cassius’s mates will be headed to shower while they can. He keeps them close most of the time. The other females are all down by the creek doing laundry. The pipes froze up here a few days ago so there isn’t water for the washing machines right now. Come on. It’s gettin’ dark, so we won’t be seen as easy. We have to be quick, though, and you have to keep it together. Promise me. No going to pieces and trying to escape with your dad. Cassius would catch you. He’s the best hunter I’ve ever known. He’s scary good, him and Derek.” Annamora tugged her off to the side, behind the row of cabins and straight into the brush.

“Why are you doing this?” Emerald whispered, remembering the punishment Annamora had taken the last time she’d offered comfort.

“Because you got hit. And the way you acted…you ain’t never been hit before. But maybe seeing your dad will take some of the sadness out of your eyes.”

“And if you get caught?” Emerald asked.

Annamora sighed and shrugged. “I get in trouble all the time. At least this one will be worth it.”

And that was the mark of a good woman. Someone who knew the consequences of doing a good deed, but did it anyway.

The woods seemed to get darker by the second. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains, and now Emerald could barely see where she was walking. She had good night vision, but the forest was thick and full of shadows. Annamora picked her way right through like a sure-footed billy goat, but Emerald tripped time and time again over the knotty roots and brush reaching for her ankles. It was like skeleton hands reaching up from a graveyard to pull her under, and here she went again with her imagination running wild. She didn’t much like the dark, and neither did her lioness.

A few minutes into their hike, and she couldn’t even see the lights from the rows of cabins behind them anymore. Her face hurt, so did her pride and, truth-be-told, her heart was breaking a little. Everything had been going wrong for a while. She just couldn’t believe she was here, in the Old Tarian Pride camp, bound by a contract to an awful man who would hurt her again the first chance he got.

The tears were warm on her cheeks, and they angered her. Weak. She always did this, had a chance to be strong and cried instead. All these stupid emotions that were always roiling around in her like little tornadoes. She didn’t really want to see Dad with tear stains on her cheeks and a swollen face and fat lip.

And just as she was about to ask how much farther, there was a commotion up ahead. Rustling. Loud rustling and a grunt. There was a light through the woods, appearing and disappearing as Emerald moved through the trees, but Annamora had started jogging toward the sound, high-kneeing it like she couldn’t wait to meet the scary sound.

No, no, no! A wise woman did not run toward danger!

“Annamora!” Emerald called but her new friend was gone.

Heart hammering out of her chest, Emerald tried to catch up to her, but tripped right on the edge of the clearing. There was a tiny cabin where a man was beating the everlovin’ shit out of another man on the ground. Just…pummeling him with a closed fist over and over. It was dark and the man was cast in deep shadows, but there was something familiar about him. Something about his face…

“We’re being attacked,” Annamora said under her breath, appearing suddenly behind Emerald. “That’s not one of ours. That’s the Alpha of the New Tarian Pride.”

“But…my dad…” Emerald said in a stunned voice, unable to take her eyes off the scuffle. That Alpha was going to kill the man with his bare hands. She’d never seen such raw violence before today.

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