I kept my head lowered as I tried my best to tune out of the conversation my father was having with our Alpha. It was considered highly disrespectful to eavesdrop on confidential conversations, an offense punishable by ten silver-laced whip lashes.
My father was a highly respected man amongst our pack as he was the head warrior in charge of all training and combat - a position necessary in our war-happy society.
He wouldn’t be if they all knew the real him.
Swallowing deeply, I forced the thoughts to the back of my mind. I could still feel the phantom burn of the flesh covering my back from the last time I got too lippy with my father. Those five lashes were the slowest-healing wounds I’d ever received in my life. I’ve had six months to mull over the memory, and though my marred skin had finally morphed into thick, pink scars, the memory was still fresh as ever in my mind.
“Poppy, go wake Tansy from her nap.” My father said, pausing his conversation to give me the order after taking a quick glance at his watch.
“Just a minute, please. I have to get this chicken out and ready to go or it won’t be done in time for dinner.” I murmured politely as I wound my hands behind my back and stared at my feet, assuming a respectful position.
“I said, go wake your sister up from her nap.” He growled, the noise sent a small rumble through the floor of the kitchen. I gulped before nodding quickly and making a mad dash for my room.
I’d protested profusely when my father had moved my baby sister’s sizeable crib into my living quarters. He claimed he wasn’t getting enough sleep with her constantly waking up in her own room screaming for someone in the middle of the night and didn’t want to be jostled awake by my mother being that person to soothe her. That was just one of the many arguments that had led up to me mouthing off to him. Two years later and we still share a room.
Pushing the door to my room open, I quietly nudged Tansy’s small frame before brushing her crazy curls out of her face. A fond smile pulled at the edges of my lips as she sleepily stirred awake.
“Poppy?” She whispered out in a daze.
“Yes, sweetheart. It’s time to get up, we don’t want you sleeping through dinner.” I teased while lightly poking her tummy where I knew she was ticklish. She giggled loudly before squealing as she tried to angle her small body away from my hands. I just laughed along with her before scooping her up in my arms and resting her on my hip. She was still only four-years-old, but the pack doctor had said that she was quite small for her age - something that was obvious when you looked at her.
She popped her thumb into her mouth, something she’d always done as a comfort mechanism. I pushed her hand away from her mouth with a sad smile.
“You know daddy doesn’t like it when you suck your thumb,” I said. She pushed out her bottom lip in a sad pout before nodding and resting her head in the crook of my neck. I rubbed her back gently as I took a deep breath and prepared myself to enter the main level once again.
I could feel Alpha Rhymes and my father’s gaze penetrating the back of my head as I avoided their eyes. Setting Tansy down on the couch in the living room, I gave her a book mom bought to help her learn to read before retreating back to the kitchen counter where I’d been preparing dinner.
“I’m not sure why that’s what he chose for the trade, but we’re definitely going to benefit from it.” My dad’s gruff, condescending voice echoed throughout the room. I glanced at the clock once again, praying my mom would be back early from the pack clinic where she volunteered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
I set a pan with oil on the stove top to heat up before grabbing out my seasoned flour and chicken that had been marinating overnight. While I waited for the oil to get hot enough, I pulled the noodles that had been boiling off of the burner and drained them before pouring them back into their pan. I added a dollop of butter, salt and pepper, few different kinds of cheeses, some milk, and two eggs before stirring it all it. I placed the concoction into a pan and loaded the top with extra cheese before putting it in the oven next to my biscuits and setting a timer.
By the time I was done, the oil was popping and ready to go. I dipped my chicken in the flower a couple times before dropping them into the pan. I flipped them and waited until they had the perfect golden color before taking them out and placing them on a paper towel covered plate. By the time I was done, the oven timer was beeping. Pulling everything out, I was amazed at how quickly time flew by when I was cooking. My father and the Alpha had finished up whatever they needed to discuss and were just sitting and talking about various pack-related things. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask why our Alpha was still here, or why my father had specifically requested this exact dinner tonight.
“May I set the table, please?” I asked, catching both of their attention immediately. My father just nodded tersely before going back to his conversation. I yelped when the pan of mac n’ cheese slipped from my grasp onto the table and burned the tips of my middle and pointer finger. My father sent me a scathing glare, a warning almost. I cleared my throat and returned to the fridge to pull out the salad I’d made earlier before finally running my fingers under some cold sink water. I released a sigh of relief as the intense burning sensation began to dull.
“Sorry I’m late!” My mother called when she finally entered the house. Thanks for throwing me to the wolves with preparing dinner tonight - literally and figuratively I thought to myself. I watched her bow to our Alpha from my peripheral before the doorbell rang. What I didn’t see was the brief look my father and Alpha shared.
“Poppy, get the door.” My dad said. I nodded my head that I heard him before shutting the water off and drying my hands. I tried my best to avoid touching the handle with the tips of my burned fingers before pulling the door open.
“Alpha Williams?” I questioned, confusion lacing my tone. I quickly realized my mistake before sucking in a breath and lowering my head. “H-hello. Please, come in. It’s a pleasure.” I insisted before stepping out of the way to allow him entrance. He chuckled slyly, the noise grating against my skin and causing goosebumps of discomfort to rise all over my body.
“The pleasure is all mine, Poppy.” He purred before trailing a single finger down the side of my upper arm. I swallowed before nonchalantly stepping backwards so he wouldn’t be touching me any longer.
“Were you needing to speak with my father about pack matters?” I asked, my tone short but polite.
“No, actually. I was invited over for dinner.” He said with a slimy smirk before leaving me behind as he made his way to our dinner table, leaving me alone in the foyer. I gulped as the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Something’s not right I thought to myself as my wolf stirred unhappily in my mind. Squaring my shoulders, I followed the way Alpha Williams had just gone. All eyes in the room snapped to me as I entered, making me squirm and fold in on myself in discomfort.
I silently took the only available seat at the table, which just so happened to be right next to Alpha Williams. Yes, something is very wrong. Scooting my chair in, I unfolded my napkin and spread it out on my lap while I waited. It was customary for your Alpha to serve himself and take the first bite out of respect.
“Everything looks absolutely delicious, it’s not every day you get a nice southern home-cooked meal when you’re unmated.” Alpha Williams joked.
“Poppy prepared everything by herself from scratch, didn’t you?” My father replied, eyeing me expectantly.
“Yes, I did.” I murmured quietly, unsure what game he was playing at. He never gives me credit for anything...
“Well, I guess that’s just one more thing that makes you perfect, isn’t it?” Alpha Williams grinned towards me while leaning in close, completely disturbing my personal space. I tried to be as obvious as possible while straining my neck backward to avoid our noses from touching.
“That’s very kind of you to say,” I responded cryptically before looking away, praying he would take the hint to leave me alone. He did, but seconds later I received a harsh kick to my shin from under the table. I whimpered as the action caught me off guard and caused pain to radiate up my entire leg. My head snapped up to my father who was sitting directly across from me. He looked absolutely murderous - though I was unsure as to why. I had been nothing but polite the entire time.
Food was passed around the table as the Alpha asked my mother about the clinic and how she liked volunteering there. The pan of mac n’ cheese had finally gotten to me, but before I could grab it Alpha Williams snatched it up and started serving me himself.
“Alpha Williams, while I do appreciate the gesture, I can serve myself,” I stated pointedly while trying to maintain my composure.
“It’s only right for a male to take care of his female.” He spoke, his tone chastising as if I were the one who’d said something wrong. I choked on my own saliva, throwing myself into a coughing fit. I steadied a hand on my chest while taking a large gulp of water to try and get myself back under control.
“I’m sorry, I think I heard you wrong. I must be a little tired.” I said, my tone apologetic as I prayed what I said was the truth and that I did hear him wrong.
“Have you not told her?” Alpha Williams asked, looked between my Alpha and father.
“Tell me what?” I asked, glancing at my mother to see her looking just as confused as I was.
“We were going to break the news to her after we’d finished our meal, but I guess now is as good a time as any.” My Alpha rattled on before wiping his mouth with his napkin and clasping his hands together on the tabletop.
“Poppy, we’ve been working with Alpha Williams for a while now to come up with a treaty. It’s dire that we come to an agreement between our packs as Alpha Carmichael has become more ruthless than he was before, something that every pack recognizes as a major concern and threat to our way of life as we know it. With that being said, it’s been agreed upon by your father and I for you and Alpha Williams to be mated in two weeks time. This will forge a great alliance between our packs and bring incredible strength to both. It will ensure our people’s safety, and theirs as well as we share a common border.” I couldn’t help my body’s knee-jerk reaction as I shot up in my seat, my chair knocking back against the ground with the force it had been shoved with.
“What? No! You can’t be serious! Alpha Williams already had a mate, and while I’m sorry she’s passed, we aren’t fated!” I insisted, becoming hysterical as I saw the hard, unchanging look in my Alpha’s eyes.
“See, but Alpha Williams needs an heir to his pack and he’s been gracious enough to choose you, Poppy. He will make a good mate, and, if I may suggest, it would do you well to sit down.” My Alpha said maliciously, letting me know that I was going to be in for a world of hurt if I didn’t listen to what he said. Tears sprung to my eyes as a helpless feeling weighed down on my shoulders. I threw a desperate look at my mother who was already crying silently.
“Please excuse me.” I sobbed out before running from the room. I slammed the front door open, ignoring the calling of my name as I sprinted to a home that I’d been at more than my own since I turned fifteen.
“Kiara!” I screamed out when I was a few feet away from her front door. “Kiara!” I yelled again, but louder this time. She emerged onto the porch just in time for me to collide with her body. I let myself go, unable to breathe I was crying so hard.
“Poppy, oh my God, what’s happened? Are you hurt? Calm down, deep breaths.” She encouraged while half-helping half-dragging my body into her home. She gave her mate a pointed look before he made himself scarce.
“Okay, that’s it. Deep breaths. Here, sit on the couch while I make you a cup of tea, okay?” She soothed while stroking my cheek. I just nodded while trying to further calm my raging emotions. I could hear her bumping around in the kitchen while cursing to herself, something that made me smile despite the deep aching in my chest.
She rushed back to me with the cup I’d told her on numerous occasions was my favorite - a larger sized cow printed mug with pink udders for the feet of it and a tail for the handle. I grasped the steaming cup in my hands before blowing on the piping liquid. I gingerly took a slurp as to not burn my mouth while Kiara stared at me expectantly.
“You want to tell me what’s got you so worked up?” She asked in the most gentle way she could. It was an unusual thing to hear as she was the most aggressive and assertive person I knew. She always joked that we were a match made in heaven because she made up for my naivety and lack of backbone and I made up for her pushy sass and brash attitude.
“Alpha Rhymes and my father...t-they pretty much sold me off to the highest bidder,” I growled out, anger dripping from my voice.
“What?! What the hell do you mean?” She demanded, her eyes wide with shock.
“Apparently Alpha Williams showed interest in me, so my father signed my life away to him to form an alliance between our packs. They said that Alpha Carmichael has become an even bigger threat and that this is the only way to protect our people. T-they’re making me be his mate, Kiara. He’s so o-old.” I cried, my nose scrunching up in disgust as my stomach whirled and heaved. Looking up at her, I saw nothing but anguish for me.
“Oh my god. What did your mom say? There’s no way she would let your father force a mating between you and some 38-year-old dude you don’t even know!” She exclaimed, getting heated herself just by talking about it.
“She was just crying. She didn’t say anything. There’s nothing she really can do, Kiara. You know what my father would do to her.” I whispered out the last part harshly.
“So what’s a few silver whip lashes when it’s for your own daughter’s happiness and well-being!” She argued back loudly.
“It wouldn’t do anything but bring hurt and pain! You should’ve seen his face, Kiara.” I rasped out hoarsely, a shiver running up my spine as I saw said face when I closed my eyes. “It was terrifying. I don’t want to go back for fear of being whipped again. There’s no doubt I will be punished for running.” I wept, distress evident in my tone.
“They can’t do this to you. I won’t allow it!” She growled fiercely before swiping her hands over her coffee table in anger, violently knocking everything off.
“There’s nothing you or I can do about it, Kiara. I-I’m just going to have to figure out a way to bear being Alpha Williams’ mate.” I conceded with a defeated sigh as I looked away from her and down at my hands.
“You’re wrong. There is something I can do. I need to make a call, you just stay here for the night, okay? I’ll make up the bed in my guest room and then you and I can sleep together like all our past high school slumber parties. Garth can sleep outside the bedroom door in wolf form, no one will get to you tonight, I promise Poppy.” She insisted, a fierce look of determination in her eyes. I nodded before pulling her in for a tight hug.
“I’m going to make a call while I finish cooking dinner and then we can eat, okay?” She asked, clearly not wanting to leave me all alone unless I was in a good state of mind. I nodded before wiping at my cheeks to rid them of my tears, praying that whoever Kiara was calling would be able to help me figure out my situation.