**As always, TCO is excited to have Victoria Sue stopping by with her monthly column. This time she dropped off an exclusive LONG excerpt to her newest release, The Alpha Prince, as she was running out to catch a plane to GRL. (I get to hug her lots on Wednesday!!!!) So, check it out, and see what’s happening in the world of Askara.**
The Askaran desert can no longer sustain the secret hybrid population of wolves bred from those sent there to die for their crimes. Justice knows the time has come to lead his wolves to a new life, but soon realizes his pack could never be governed by nor swear fealty to the cruel and despotic Alpha of Solonara—Darius—so he hatches a plan to fight and ultimately kill the Alpha, his heir, and take over the territory.
Cashel should not exist. It was unheard of for an Alpha-heir to be born an omega, and Darius has made every day a torment for his son. After spending years failing to breed another heir, and desperate not to have to give his territory away to another pack, he finally turns his attention back to Cashel and a whole new nightmare begins.
Justice’s whole life has been about righting a wrong and delivering the very thing he was named for. Meeting Cashel, and finding out he is his true mate, sends his carefully constructed plans and promises up in flames. When he discovers Darius’s cruelty runs deeper than any of them imagined, he is faced with a last desperate choice between his love for Cashel or his loyalty to his people.
Justice stood by the window as soon as Sorin’s first rays bathed the sky. He had barely slept, and not just because of the noise from the powerful storm that had swept the skies last night. Not that he wasn’t used to rising immediately as the suns shone over the desert, but there was a bigger problem that had prevented him getting any rest.
Cashel. The prince he had come to kill was his mate. They had all agreed the heir was to die—as well as his father, on the assumption they were both just as bad—but now what did he do? His wolf had told him they were mates as soon as they had touched; and the animal’s distress at leaving him in his own bed—and not immediately claiming him—had nearly driven him mad. His wolf was an Alpha as much as he himself was, and they usually worked in harmony until Justice had made himself leave Cashel last night. The thought of Cashel being anywhere he wasn’t had nearly brought on a shift last night. Even now, Justice’s skin was tight as it stretched to contain and leash his animal’s power.
He hated the cluttered room and suddenly longed for the wide open plains from home where a wolf and a man could breathe in harmony. He also disliked sleeping anywhere his stallion Kashir wasn’t. He supposed he could understand horses not being allowed in the bedrooms—a bare smile graced his lips—and even though Zane had promised to stay with his horse, it still seemed wrong. In the desert horses were only second in importance to water, and Kashir had saved his life more times than he could count.
He gazed at the courtyard below, already busy. There seemed to be some sort of market being set up and Justice watched in interest as a cart containing what looked like beer was pulled into place. He stiffened suddenly, his sharp ears picking up the footsteps and the door latch lift but before whoever was attempting to walk in could even open it, he whirled and lifted his Kataya. The blade was never out of his sight, and only not on him because he was currently naked. The serving girl that entered his room looked up, promptly shrieked and dropped the full jug of water she was carrying which smashed noisily onto the stone floor. Two gammas came running in, swords drawn. “Might I suggest,” Justice said evenly, lowering his blade, “you warn all house servants to knock before entering my chamber.”
The gammas nodded nervously and practically carried the shaking woman out of the room. In another few seconds two more servants were back with a mop to clean the water and more hot water so Justice could bathe. He actually longed for a bath. He had had two since they had crossed the sea, and still marveled that water was so plentiful it could be wasted on such an extravagance.
What was Cashel doing right now? Was he also bathing? Was he taking soap and gliding it over—
A snarl echoed in his head as the animal inside him attempted to get free. Justice closed his eyes and took some deep breaths. He couldn’t claim his prince before the games were ended and he sent a signal to the nine ships moored out of sight waiting for it. And then it would still take three days to travel from Salem.
He was just pulling his breeches on when Zane and Armand knocked and entered the room. They promptly collapsed onto the chairs by a small desk, and helped themselves to the bowl of fruit.
Armand looked around at the small but opulent room and whistled slowly.
Zane snorted. “He hates it,” he pronounced and took a huge bite out of an apple.
Armand’s eyebrows rose up. “You hate it?” The disbelief was apparent in his voice.
Justice shrugged. “It’s a little cloying.” There was just so much in the room that was completely unnecessary, and even in the middle of the night when the temperatures in the desert dropped dangerously below freezing, he had never slept with so many covers on a bed in his life. Decorative pottery and books seemed to litter every surface. In fact, when he had been shown the room he had questioned the gamma, thinking he had been directed somewhere already occupied.
Zane’s voice dropped. “What is it?” Zane was regarding him steadily. He knew Justice wasn’t as calm and unruffled as he usually seemed, even if no one else could tell. “Did you meet the omega?”
Armand scoffed but he kept his voice low. “From what I heard in the kitchen last night, I wasn’t expecting our Alpha to be in his own bed this morning.”
“Damn, Justice.” Zane’s eyes widened. “That’s fast even for you.”
Justice ignored the teasing. “He was sick.”
Armand shrugged. “It matters not, seeing as he’s going to be dead soon anyway.”
Before Justice realized what he was doing, his claws were around Armand’s throat. Armand immediately went limp in his grasp and, rasping for breath, tilted his head to expose it a little more. It was a tremendous show of true loyalty and absolute submission.
They could all smell the blood as it ran down Armand’s neck. Justice’s nostrils flared and he took a breath, his anger barely receding enough for him to relax his grip. Another breath and he took a step back and dropped his arm, the claws retracting. “You will not touch him. Ever.”
Armand immediately sank to his knees. “Gravest apologies, my Alpha. Please know I would never insult your mate, and I pledge my life to protecting his as well as your own.”
“He is your mate,” Zane said. It wasn’t a question. Justice’s response could be taken for nothing else.
Justice blew out a long breath as his wolf was back under his control. He nodded, accepting the apology and the declaration. He might regret this reaction against one of his closest friends, but he would not apologize for it. It would demean them both.
Justice walked to the window and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He could smell the fragrant Juno bushes and their small white flowers that reminded him of his mother when he had been young. She had managed to grow one in a small pot and his father had allowed her to keep it even though the only things usually granted water were what kept them alive. The flowers were prolific here, of course, and he would make sure any of his people that wanted would have a garden redolent with them.
He had things to do first, of course.
“How do you wish to proceed?” Zane asked carefully.
Justice understood the question and how this changed their plans. He was disgusted by the show of his mate last night and didn’t understand how his father could have done what he did. Children were a gift on Arrides, and there was not one that wasn’t fiercely loved and protected. “The plan still stands with obviously the caveat of claiming my mate as soon as the games are completed and our warriors are ready to attack.”
He understood the look of disbelief Zane and Armand both had. It was unheard of for an Alpha to wait to claim his mate. The ritual courting between his people was superseded by the need for an Alpha to find his mate. Simply because any that tried to prevent it risked being mauled and killed by a very angry Alpha wolf. Justice didn’t know if he had the strength to wait for the games to finish before he claimed Cashel. “I may have to take one day at a time. I may have to move things up, even.”
“Alpha,” Zane started, which made Justice pause. Zane had called him Justice since they were old enough to talk. Calling him Alpha meant he was including the pack in whatever he was going to say. It was Zane’s none too subtle way of reminding him of his responsibilities. “I understand you wish to give your wolves time to get here, but we have to think of the safety of your mate and the health of the pack. Another six days is too long.”
Justice knew what he meant. The phrase “the health of the pack” really meant the health of the Alpha. The two were intertwined at such a basic level, one couldn’t be happy and prosper without the other. The pack needed Justice to claim Cashel.