The Alpha Kings

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Read Season One Episode One

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The Alpha Kings Serial

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Read Season One Episode One Now!

Tomorrow the Werewolves Will Come

"I'm so excited," said Cacie Lynn. "Just think, Belle! I will be engaged tomorrow!" She twirled around, her pink waitress skirt flaring and showing off her tanned legs. She wore her blonde hair in a single, long ponytail. She shone like the sun, that one, a pretty girl with a pretty smile.

And an empty head.

Cacie was sweet, she really was, but she wasn't much of a thinker. Two years ago, I'd graduated high school with her and twenty-four other students. She'd always been flighty. And not real keen on dealing with life's complexities. Bless her heart. She hadn't known much outside of our little desert community of Bleed, Nevada. At least I'd gotten in a year of college at UNLV before I'd had to come back. I'd almost escaped from this desolate patch of lonely earth. But then Carolyn had died and as my bloodline's next oldest female, I was obligated to return.

Cacie and I worked in the only diner in town, and the town wasn't much. The Sundown Grill joined the Gas 'N Go, Goody's General Store, Aunt Lila's Antiques, Blood & Sweat Tattoo Parlor, and the Bleed Public Library as the sum total of occupied buildings. We had one school, the Brindworth Academy, devoted to educating both human and werewolf children. The academy shared the same lot as the library.

Other than the school, the shifters didn't much interact with the humans. Our population hovered around a thousand folks, give or take, and nearly all of us from families who'd lived in the area for generations. Bleed was once a gold mining town—until the gold ran out and the miners moved on. Like so many of the ghost towns that populated the deserts of Nevada, Bleed should've been left to rot and ruin.

Then the werewolves came.

The pact was made.

The agreement that saved the town—the one that still held more than 150 years later—was simple enough. The werewolves protected its people, provided for every man, woman, and child so that no person would ever be without a roof over their heads or food in their bellies. All we had to do was give them our firstborn females for werewolf mating and breeding.

And that brings me right back to Cacie's misplaced excitement about her so-called upcoming engagement. Near as I could tell, the werewolves didn't view courtship the same way humans did. They were ferocious and impatient. When it was time for the Choosing—every twenty years—a pack of young, full-of-themselves werewolves showed up, and Bleed handed over their firstborn daughters who were eighteen years or older for a good old-fashioned bridal auction.

Cacie clucked her tongue, interrupting my thoughts. "I swear! You are such a Negative Nelly. Belle, the alpha is looking for a mate. You know how often that happens?"

I shook my head.

"It's been sixty years since a werewolf king picked out a bride." She loosed a dreamy sigh. "Marrying the alpha sure would be something, wouldn't it?"

I think it would be worse than marrying a regular pack member. Alphas weren't known for their kind dispositions. Argh. All Cacie's rosy talk of werewolf marriage pierced my already frazzled emotions. Why wasn't she upset? Or scared? Or worried? That's all I'd been feeling as the day of the Choosing approached. Several of us would be at tomorrow's ceremony, and my nerves were raw from thinking about it. "Lord-a-mercy! Werewolf this. Alpha that," I snapped. "Don't you have anything better to talk about it?"

Cacie's face fell, and guilt washed over me. Even though we were both nineteen, I felt like I was a million years older. I softened my tone. "I'm sorry, Cacie. Let's just finish up closing, so we can go home, okay? Why don't you go scrub down the coffee maker?"

She nodded, and headed to the other side of the diner, where the brew machine was located.

I grabbed the cleaner and paper towels and started wiping down counters and tables. No one was in the diner tonight, not even old Mr. Sanders, who usually showed up for a late-night treat of pie and sweet tea. I had to admit I was worried he hadn't come in tonight, but every so often he dealt with the gout and stayed home. I decided to check on him after we closed up. I didn't have a car, not many of us did, but there was no crime in Bleed City, no lurching, sex-starved killers jumping out of bushes. So, we tended to walk--at least in the wintertime. Everything in Bleed was within five miles of everything else. It took a little time to get from here to there, but it was no real burden.

Thirty or so minutes later, we'd finished our chores and prepped everything for the morning shift. Cacie had kept her mouth shut the whole time, and I was grateful. Truth was, I was a big ol' anxious mess about the Choosing. It wasn't just the marriage part--or life-mating as the shifters called it--but what came after that. Like I mentioned before, werewolves wanted their females as pure as the driven snow. I'd never had sex before. And honestly, I wasn't looking forward to it.

I was raised chaste and virginal, same as my sisters. Sex was not something we discussed—ever. My parents were good people with kind hearts. They also had firm rules about behavior. At UNLV, attending an art class with nude models had educated me about human bodies, but I was still uncomfortable with the idea of physical intimacy. I'd been raised in such a staid and proper household, it was difficult to think about S.E.X. without wanting to throw myself at a Bible.

"Ready?" Cacie had changed into jeans, a T-shirt, and Nikes. She put on her hoodie and heaved her purse over her shoulder. She studied my hair, some of which had escaped its ponytail, and then dropped her gaze over my stained waitress dress. She even took three seconds to judge my shoes, which were comfortable, but ugly. "Are you crabby about the Choosing because you're afraid you won't get picked? It's not like you'll have to take a scruffer."

I considered the innocent look on Cacie's face. For a moment, I felt like she was being mean on purpose, but I couldn't detect any guile in her gaze. I'd never seen a scruffer, much less met one. We learned about werewolf history and pack hierarchy in high school, so I knew scruffers were the weakest members of the werewolf pack. They had some uses, so they weren't outright killed, but it was rare that they merited mates. They had to settle for whatever scraps were handed to them by the stronger members—whether it was clothes or food or women.

I put on my jacket and stuffed my wallet into a pocket. Cacie walked out first. I switched off the lights and then followed her, turning briefly to lock the door.

"Are you?" she persisted as we stood outside.

"Am I what?"

She sighed as if she'd been talking about Calculus to a toddler. "Are you afraid you won't get chosen?"

"I hope I don't."

Her eyes widened. "Don't say things like that, Arabelle Winton! I know you never expected to be part of the Choosing, but you're doing right by the town. By all of us."

"Oh, I don't mean anything by it." I was exhausted, and all I wanted was a hot bath and a good night's sleep. "Go on home, Cacie. I'll see you tomorrow."

"I bet you fall in love with the werewolf who picks you," said Cacie, offering me a sunshine smile. She waved. "G'night, Belle."

"Good night." I watched her disappear down Main Street. I sighed. Despite the sturdiness of my shoes, my feet ached something fierce. The whole of me was bone-tired. Still, it would only take a few minutes to make sure Mr. Sanders was okay.

I headed toward the Bleed City Library. Mr. Sanders had been the town librarian until arthritis and old age made the job too difficult. He still lived in the tiny cottage on the property, though. No one had the heart to make him move—not even the new librarian, Mr. Richards. He'd taken the room above Aunt Lila's Antiques rather than oust Mr. Sanders from his home.

The little house was eerily dark and still. I swear the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up as I approached. I stopped, studying the square structure to see what had raised my hackles, but after a moment of listening and watching, I had no proof to sustain my worry.

I stepped onto the porch and knocked on the front door.

If it were possible, the strange quiet deepened, and I felt my stomach squeeze with trepidation.

Then I heard a long, harsh moan.

"Mr. Sanders? It's Belle." I pounded on the door. "You all right? You need some help?"

Was that glass breaking?

My heart turned over in my chest. Had Mr. Sanders dropped dishes or knocked over a table full of knickknacks? Well, that was that. I figured politeness would have to be sacrificed to make sure the sweet old man wasn't hurt.

No one in Bleed locked their doors, so I wasn't surprised when the knob turned easily in my hand.

The door swung open, revealing nothing but darkness.

My heart pounded as cold fear washed over me.

I stepped inside.

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