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Shine a light through an open door
Love and life I will divide
Turn away 'cause I need you more
Feel the heartbeat in my mind

It's the way I'm feeling I just can't deny
But I've gotta let it go

We found love in a hopeless place

- We Found Love, Rihanna

The rest of the afternoon turned into a muddled blur after I gave into Damien; a strange dream filled with more commands and conversation; the bittersweet taste of the lemonade resting on my tongue the whole time. 

When I come back to myself I'm lying in my own bed and my head is consumed with a vicious ache; throbbing at the temples. My mouth is dry and there's a terrible taste there and I'm desperate for water. I manage to sit up though the world spins, and the room is full of shadows; warm from the fire crackling in the fireplace. 

"I was starting to think you'd simply sleep through the night," Bebe's soft voice comes to me through the gloom. I turn to see her sitting in a chair not too far from my beside. She turns on a lamp, making me blink rapidly at the sudden illumination. Like a gift from heaven, she offers me a glass of water that had been waiting on the nightstand. "I'm sure you'll want this."

"Yes, please," I croak, taking it and drinking greedily; drips of water sloshing my chin. When I'm done I sigh, handing the glass back before falling against my pillow. I'm so terribly exhausted and oh, my head...

"Here." Taking my hand, she slides two white tablets into it before refilling my glass. "It'll help your head."

I take them and look at her, eyes narrowing. "How did you know my head would hurt?"

She's passive when she replies, even more so than normal when I ask questions like this. "This isn't my first day on the job, Kyle."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I've learned to anticipate certain events. You're not the only omega I've attended to, you know." Standing, she goes to build up the fire again. 

I watch, a terrible sense of apprehension building in my gut. What makes it worse is that I can remember very little of my afternoon with Damien, although I can recall posturing for him, allowing him to fondle and caress me, and I hadn't fought...I hadn't fought at all after a while...

"What did he do to me?" I ask faintly. I begin to rise from the bed but my legs are too weak to hold me up; I fall, feeling more and more helpless as the seconds tick by. A hateful whine passes my lips and I cover my mouth. 

I sound so weak. I hate it. I hate it so much!

Keeping her back to me, Bebe continues tending the fire. I'm simultaneously grateful that she can't see me this way and angry as well - I feel like she doesn't want to look at me. 

Clenching my hands on the coverlet I conjure all the strength I still possess. "Damien did something to me, I know it! And I know you do too, so tell me the truth! I never would've acted that way on my own! He made me -"

I break off, more memories materializing; being in front of the window and turning for him, and then he'd come over, had taken me into his arms -

I'm horrified and I touch my mouth, and it's like I can still feel his lips resting there. I'd never been kissed before, not there, and while i hadn't had grand dreams for the first time it happened, I hadn't wanted it to be like that; against my will and unwanted. With someone I despise. 

"It isn't enough that he bought me," I say, voice trembling because I'm almost blind with rage and an unspeakable sorrow. "It isn't enough that he thinks he owns me, but now he's finding ways to control me? My own body?"

"Your body doesn't belong to you," she says, still not looking at me. "It's devoted to your instincts, the ones you can't fight or bargain with... they're starting to wake up. You can't stop it. It's inevitable."

"Damien just helped them along," she adds in a much softer voice. "He's good at that... molding omegas into what he feels he needs."

Frantically, I look around, feeling cornered, sick. My eyes fall on the glass on the beside table, the way it sparkles under the lamplight, and I'm hit with a realization that almost makes me vomit. I retch but manage to control myself. 

"The drink," I say. "I knew it didn't taste right, I knew...I knew and I still drank it like an idiot." I look up at her, momentarily dazed by the way the firelight becomes trapped in her light hair, the back of her uniform plunged into shadow. "And he watched the whole time, knowing, and Rebecca, too. How could she do that? Damien I understand, but her...she knows how he treats us...her own brother; like we're animals, like we're nothing!"

"She has a job to do!" she yells, finally turning to look at me with a fierce, almost pained expression. "We all have jobs to do! Our loyalty is to the master, not his omegas, and you'd do well to understand that!"

I draw back when she approaches, raising an arm. I've never seen her this way, so full of her own fury, but there's something to it that doesn't just seem like anger. It almost feels desperate in its own right, and while I'm still ready to fight, I know it won't be satisfying to do it with her. 

She's not the one I'm truly angry with. Yes, she plays a part in this whole ugly place, an integral part, but we're both captives of it; this broken society and its cruel rules. 

"Rebecca and Mark were half-dead when they were discovered stealing from the master's garden," she continues, looking right in my eyes; her own a blazing blue. "They only had each other and were determined to stay together after the sickness killed their mother and their father changed. The sickness got into his brain and made him crazy, made him try to kill his own children. That's after he tried to -"

Her eyes flick away for a moment, then back, more intense now. "Mark's father tried to mate with him, take him as an omega; his own son."

The nausea I'd felt before comes back with a vengeance now, and it's a wonder i don't vomit right at her feet. "That's awful," I whisper from behind my hand. "I can't even imagine something so terrible."

"This world is cruel to us," she says, moving to sit beside me; hands folded in her lap. "Many of us are only doing what we can to survive, no matter what it involves. No, we're not proud, most of us, but we can't let the shame stop us either. There's nothing noble about starving to death or wandering in the cold."

The tears are falling before I can speak next, and they're hot on my face. "What did he put in my drink?"

"Something to make you more docile, bring out your natural instincts to please and obey," she says dully. "The same hormones that were being suppressed by the medications you took before you came here. He's speeding up your puberty, and while it's a questionable practice it's hardly uncommon."

"And it worked, didn't it? You responded to him... to his scent. You were," she sighs, "attracted to him."

"I couldn't even think straight," I say, crying. "It changed everything, the way i felt, the way things smelled...I wasn't myself. That wasn't me."

"It is you, though. The omega part of you, and isn't that everything when you get down to it? You can't escape your biology, Kyle, and Damien knows that."

"He's disgusting," I reply, having never felt this level of hate for anyone before. Even my father, whose selfishness put me in this position in the first place. I pause then, something she'd said clicking into place. "Speeding up my puberty? That means he's trying to make me go into Heat sooner, right? So he can..."

Almost wild with terror, I rise from the bed and this time i can actually keep my feet. Thankfully I've been taken out of that ridiculous dress i wore for Damien and I'm wearing a simpler gown of white; still longer than I'd like, the train drags the floor as i walk without direction. 

"I have to leave, I can't stay here," I say, nearly incomprehensible as I try to formulate a plan. I grab a cloak from the chifforobe and try to find some suitable shoes, but all I can see are those ridiculous Mary Janes that Damien seems to favor for me. I pick up a pair and hurl them at the wall. "Don't I have any clothes that aren't just frivolous bullshit?!" I grope among the finery, an idea coming to me. "My clothes from the facility, where are they? I had boots-"

"All of the clothes you arrived in were burned," Bebe says, still sitting on the bed and watching with a grave expression. "What you see here is what you have, until Damien adds to your wardrobe as he sees fit. You won't find any boots or heavier items, no jackets... nothing to protect you from the snow other than your cloaks, and even those wouldn't keep you warm enough. Your garments are designed to flatter you, not protect you from the elements."

"Isn't that convenient?" I snap. "Why should I have anything useful as long as I'm pretty? Fine, I don't care, I'll just wear every cloak I have... I'll put on extra stockings so my feet at least stay a little bit dry."

Bebe had gone to the window while I was speaking, and she delicately moves to pull back the curtain, bringing into focus the world outside; darker now with nightfall, but I can still see the snow falling thickly. 

"They're saying that it's going to snow for days," she tells me. "It's the worst storm we've seen in a century, at least that's what I've heard."

"I don't care," I say fiercely, trying to find a bag now. If I can make it to the kitchens somehow, maybe I can find some food to take along. "I'd walk through fire to get away from this place."

She drops the curtain. "Kyle, you aren't thinking straight. You'd be frozen to death before you were even a mile away."

"I'll hold on as long as I have to. I grew up in the woods, not like a pampered lapdog. I can take care of myself." Frustrated, I accidentally tear a gown - a turquoise affair with an annoying train of rows upon rows of lace - unable to find a bag that isn't the size of a coin purse. "I'll just keep going until I find another place to stay."

Coming over, she watches my fruitless search for a moment before kneeling beside me. Gently, she puts a hand on my arm and I become still, looking at her with aching, tired eyes; my head feeling like it's going to explode from the pain inside of it. 

"There isn't another place for miles," she says. "The Master owns all the land around here, so much that even i don't know how far it goes. There are outposts here and there that belong to other Alphas, but everyone in this area is loyal to him. They also know he's recently purchased a redheaded omega. You'll get no help or shelter from them."

Before I can stop myself I blurt out, "I'll cover my hair. They can't tell I'm an omega just by looking at me, especially if I wear a lot of layers."

"They'll smell you and when they become suspicious, which they will, they'll look for your Mark."

Tremulously, I reach to touch the Mark on my thigh, hidden by my skirt. I also bring a hand to my neck, where the sensitive glands are; the source of the majority of an omega's distinctive scent. I want to tear off everything that labels me as my dynamic, rip them from my skin. 

"More importantly," she says quietly, "where would you go? To be with your family?"

A sob slips out before I can stop it, the pressure of the snare I'm trapped in becoming that much tighter. The whole hateful afternoon with Damien is waking up in my head now, and I can remember what he'd said about my family; the awful threats he'd made. 

"They will disappear and you'll never know what happened to them."

"He'll hurt them, won't he? My father and brother?" I slump, staring listlessly off into space. It isn't like I don't already know the answer. "If i try to run?"

"He would have them killed," Bebe replies. "Without a second thought. To make a point, he'd do almost anything... he's probably the most ruthless Alpha I've ever met, and I've met a lot of them, Kyle. That's why I'm trying to help you see reason, repeatedly...I don't know how to make you understand."

"Damien always gets what he wants, regardless of who's in his way. He'll crush anyone." Lapsing into quiet, she stands and begins to clean up the mess I'd made. 

For several long moments i can only sit there in the ornate disarray I'd created, a sea of gowns and frippery, and I'm beyond crying now, so deep is my grief and hopelessness. Until that moment, I suppose I had harbored some small hope, a light, that I'd be delivered from my circumstances before Damien could claim me completely, but now I see the writing on the wall. 

In order to keep my family safe, I'll have to give in, and that doesn't mean just a little... it means entirely, until I'm no longer the Kyle I've always been. I would become a stranger to myself, and lie beneath a monster and bear his children; crushed in his grip until there was nothing left to take. 

"Let me do it, it's my mess," I say without emotion after some time. Picking up a dress and going to hang it up, my voice is meek now; beaten down. I can't look into Bebe's face, deeply ashamed at my outburst, how futile it'd all been. "I don't want to make your job any harder than it already is."


I rise late the next morning because my sleep was troubled, punctuated by nightmares that have me shaking when I open my eyes. My head still aches and so does my body, particularly my neck and my chest, my hips and between my legs. I feel feverish and lethargic, struggling even to sit up so I can look out the window. 

The world is lost in the snow when I pull back the curtain, so much that I can't see the lawn or the garden; everything as far as I can see is white and frozen, and still the snow continues to fall. 

"Come and have your breakfast," Bebe calls, her voice different from before; less authoritative and more maternal. I feel a shift between us, as if we've reached an understanding that will shape our relationship going forward. 

I sit at the small table before the fire without argument, watching as she uncovers the myriad of dishes: fruit, oatmeal, waffles, eggs; fragrant tea and a glass of orange juice. I stare at it and become aware of my thirst, but something in its vivid color makes me stop when I reach for it. 

Knowing what I do about this situation, I look at Bebe with suspicion. "I'm not eating or drinking anything until you tell me whether or not its been drugged."

We regard one another and I can see the battle going on in her head, but finally she seems to give in; speaking as she begins laying out my clothes. "Medications to encourage your development. Aid in fertility."

"Have you been slipping this stuff to me the whole time?"

She turns so I can't see her face, straightening my dress, smoothing the wrinkles much more than is really necessary, I think. "Yes. In much smaller amounts than what you were given yesterday."

"No wonder I didn't notice," I mutter, disgusted with the deception and myself for being so gullible. Revolted, I push the tray away. "I can't do it, not when I know what I'm consuming. That's asking too much and you know it."

She looks at me over her shoulder. "So, your plan is to starve yourself, then?"

"If that's the end result, so be it. I promised not to run away...I never agreed to stuffing this poison down my throat."

She nods and goes back to readying my attire. "It takes a long time to die from starvation."

"I can be very patient when I need to be."

"The Master will notice what you're doing before it comes to that," she adds. "He'll retaliate."

Fear grips me from this small statement alone. "Surely you could bring me something that doesn't have -"

She cuts me off with a curt shake of her head. "Don't put me in this position, Kyle. In many ways my hands are just as tied as yours."

Swallowing hard, I look back at the tray, my stomach sinking and already beginning to churn with hunger. My meal with Damien already seems like it was lifetimes ago, and I didn't have any dinner last night because I was too upset to eat. 

It's with extreme reluctance that I lift my fork and poke at my eggs; they're sunny side up, the yolks golden orange and bloated. I pierce one and it leaks across the plate, oozing slowly. 

"Much smaller amounts?" I ask, not lifting my eyes. "The drugs, I mean."

"Yes, much smaller," she replies. "Damien only gave you as much as he did yesterday in order to make you easier to handle. As a general rule, you'll only take a fraction of that amount so it won't shock your system. It could make you sick and damage your ability to conceive."

"I see," I say softly, an idea swiftly forming in my head. 

I know I can't go without eating completely, but what if I only ate as little as I could get away with? That would slow everything down, and maybe, just maybe, I could figure a way out of this nightmare. 

Looking up, I see that Bebe is still preoccupied and not watching me. Quickly, I take a napkin and stuff it with fruit and a waffle; concealing the bundle in one of the many folds of my nightgown; squashed as small as I can manage. If I'm successful at hiding it, I can throw it into the fire as soon as Bebe departs.

The rest of the meal is eaten with trembling fingers and a growing sense of anxiety, but I manage to choke down enough food to satisfy Bebe, who looks everything over with grave approval. 

"Let's get you dressed," she says, gesturing to yet another gown, this one more in line with what I'm used to; fluffy and full-skirted. 

I seize up, the bundle heavy against my leg, and I'm slow to stand, making sure to keep distance between us. 

"Um, if you wouldn't mind," I say, trying to think quickly, "are you sure I have to wear that dress? There's just something about it that I don't much care for."

Obviously surprised, she looks between me and the garment in question. "What's wrong with it?"

"Well, it's blue," I say, trying to be casual as I move closer to the bed. "I thought Damien preferred me in green?"

She frowns, clearly becoming annoyed. "Since when do you care about that?"

I shrug, trying to appear indifferent even though I'm shaking on the inside. "If I'm going to give in and put up with all this, shouldn't I try to please him as much as possible? Wouldn't that make both our lives easier?"

"Well," she says, and I can tell she's actually giving serious thought to my words. She scowls at me suddenly. "You know, you could've said something while I was laying everything out; saved me some trouble."

"You're right," i say quickly, "I can put it away if that'd make -"

"Oh, never mind," she interjects, an edge to her words. "Go and sit while I attend to this. It'll take longer if I have to babysit you the whole way."

Feigning a demure nature, I sink onto the bed, waiting long enough for her to turn her back and then swift as a rabbit I stuff the napkin of food deep beneath my bed, making sure the skirt is just so right before she faces me again. She holds up a green dress and sarcastically asks if it meets with my approval. 

I simply nod my head and smile, determined to be the most compliant omega she's ever had to look after; for as long as it takes. 

I'll throw the mess in the fire as soon as I have the chance. 


"I'm starting to think the snow is never gonna stop, fellas," Butters says as he clumsily attends to his needlepoint. From what I can figure, he's trying to stitch a picture of a kitten in a basket but it looks terribly lopsided, like the kitten is drunk on something. 

He sits across from me in the day room, an area set aside for Damien's omegas to occupy themselves when going out isn't an option. It's bright and filled with comfortable furniture; all very feminine in shades of mint and rose, complete with a fainting couch. Pip is lounging there now, crocheting and similar to a pretty layer cake in his icy blue and white frock with the impossibly large skirt. 

"It'll stop when it stops," he says without interest. He lifts his eyes and meets mine. "Shame we couldn't go out to the garden, don't you think?"

I'm flipping through a book of pictures that are very inoffensive: flowers, mountains, trees. It's so boring I can barely keep my eyes open, but I was told the book was designed for omegas; wordless and soothing. Glancing at the others, I almost wish I could knit or sew, anything to keep my idle hands busy; anything to stave off the seeming endlessness of this afternoon. 

"I'd give anything to be outside," I say truthfully, looking toward the window and the snow falling, falling, falling. "Just to get some fresh air... anything."

"Yes," Pip says, but now he seems amused. "There are very interesting things to be found outside. People, too. Isn't that right, Kyle?"

I look up quickly and I see him watching me with a sly expression. Butters continues to jab at his needlepoint but he glances at me too; innocently curious. 

"I suppose," I say carefully, raising an eyebrow in Pip's direction, subliminally telling him to clam up because it's obvious what he's doing; baiting me about speaking with Craig Tucker, when he was the cause of everything. I'm starting to see that he likes to tease so I try to shift the conversation in another direction. 

"I hope Mark is alright," I say, looking at my book again; a picture of pink foxgloves looking back at me. I wish it were roses instead. "I've been worried about him since that night at dinner."

"Oh, that was terrible," Butters says in a hushed voice, and I can tell he truly feels worried about Mark's fate. "I felt so bad for him, but I'm sure the master took care of him... he usually knows what's best."

"Mark was going into Heat," Pip says, sounding very bored. "That's why he was acting that way, it's nothing remarkable."

"I heard him screaming, though," I say. "Late into the night. It was horrible."

"No surprise there," he replies. "Heats are supposed to be intolerable until, well..." he trails off and goes back to his crocheting, the blanket he's making already a large yellow square. 

Anxiously, I sit forward, not sure if I want to hear this but morbidly curious either way. "Until what?"

He doesn't look at me now but smiles slowly. "You don't know?"

I bristle. "I have a good idea, but I can't say i know for sure. This is all new to me."

"Me, too," Butters adds, appearing very nervous suddenly. 

"I swear, you two act like you know nothing about your own dynamic," he scoffs. "You never would've survived in the orphanage... they'd have eaten you alive. But, I suppose I can tell you -"

"Oh, please, please," Butters says, dropping his needlepoint. I frown, not really caring for how Pip is drawing out his own importance. 

"If you know then tell us," i say sharply. "Otherwise, don't bother."

"Ugh, you're no fun," Pip sighs. "Fine, have it your way. Mark stopped screaming because Damien gave him what he needed, what any omega in Heat wants from their Alpha."

"Cake? It's cake, right?" Butters asks, wide eyed. "Or a new dress?"

Even i have to roll my eyes now, closing my book slowly. "Butters, no. He means -"

"Sex, you moron," Pip says, giving him a hard look. "The Master had sex with him." Looking around, Pip lowers his voice, cupping a hand around his mouth. "They fucked."

My skin crawls to hear him say that, both from the imagery it creates in my mind but also hearing something so filthy from his lips. It just seems wrong; like a puppy with venomous fangs.

Butters blushes a deep scarlet and presses his hands to his mouth. "Why would they do that?"

We both stare at him now and I'm left to wonder whether he's a little slow, terribly naive, or a combination of both. I clear my throat. "Butters, you know why Alphas and Omegas mate, right?"

Worrying his hands, he looks down like he's ashamed. "To have babies, I guess."

Picking up the conversation, Pip asks, "then why are you asking why they had sex? The Master wants children more than anything and Mark was in heat, so..."

"I know, it just seems so serious, I guess; having babies and all," Butters replies. "I don't think I'm ready."

I glance between them. "Have either of you had a Heat since Damien brought you here?"

Pip frowns. "I have, but it was right after I came here. They didn't feed us enough at the orphanage and I was underweight, plus I had the flu. The Master was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle mating, so we didn't do anything."

"My Heats are irregular," Butters pipes up. "They don't seem to happen when they're supposed to so it's been a while since I had one. Besides, I've only been here for two months."

"Two months?" I ask. God, that sounds like a lifetime. I look at Pip. "What about you?"

"Almost a year," he mutters."I do everything I can to bring on another Heat, eat what I'm told to, take my medicine, exercise. Nothing seems to work."

"I found out I'm being given medicine to help mine along," I mutter, my rage surfacing all over again. "I was taking suppressants before I came here, but Damien drugged my drink during lunch yesterday -"

"What?" Pip asks, sitting up and setting his crocheting aside. There's a strange look on his face; a mixture of dismay and anger. "What are you talking about? You ate lunch with the master?"

Unnerved, I nod. "Yes, he invited me... we ate in the sunroom together. He asked about my piano lesson and he," I look out the window, "he made me perform for him. After drugging me. It was awful."

"Perform for him? What do you mean, Kyle?" Butters asks, sounding very lost. "I didn't know you could dance."

"He didn't dance for him, you imbecile!" Pip yells, catching both of us off-guard. Sitting up, he peers at me. "Did you?"

"No, he... had a dress made for me and had me model it for him. I couldn't refuse," I say, pressing a hand to my forehead. "He kissed me, though. On the mouth."

"Oh," Butters gushes. "A new gown and a kiss? That sounds so romantic."

"Yes, very romantic," Pip agrees, though he doesn't sound nearly as starstruck. "What are you complaining about? It sounds like he was just trying to be kind to you."

"He doesn't know anything about kindness," I snap. "He basically told me he'll go after my family if I don't do what he says. Does that sound kind to you?"

"Why wouldn't you want to do what he says?" Butters asks. "Isn't that what omegas are supposed to do? Find an alpha and do what they're told? That's what my father always said... and he was never wrong. At least that's what he told me, anyway."

"I'm not just going to blindly obey someone like Damien," I say. "If I ever find an Alpha i can respect, one that respects me too, sees me as more than just an omega, then maybe I'll change my mind. It's almost like love doesn't matter to him, like he can't even feel it -"

"You're a fool," Pip says in a tone I've never heard from him; icy and biting. Standing, he throws his tiny blanket on the floor. "Love is a myth, at least the sort you're talking about."

Completely taken aback, I can't find my voice, but he goes on; every word like a knife being flung at me. 

"The Master took us in when he didn't have to," Pip practically spits, "he's fed us and clothed us; we have a roof over our heads and security. We don't have to worry about being hurt or abused by Alphas who don't give a damn about us -"

He stops, and for a moment I think he's going to cry, but he takes a deep breath instead. "We're safe in here, and the master doesn't let anything touch us that shouldn't. How is that not love?"

I'm startled into silence, and in his words I can almost feel an almost tangible sadness there. I speak softly. "I guess you could call that love if that's how you see it, but I don't. If Damien truly wanted to love me I'd be here because I wanted to be, not because I was bought... not against my will. I wouldn't be drugged against my will and without my knowledge. He'd ask me what I want and he'd listen to my answer but he hasn't." I shrug, and now I really wish I were alone somewhere; perhaps out in the garden with the silent roses. "And he won't."

"Have you even given him a chance?" he asks, eyes bright. "Or are you too distracted with trying to prove him wrong? Huh?" Closing his eyes, he places his hands on his chest. "He didn't send someone to get me from the orphanage, did you know that? He came by himself, and before he brought me home he showed me everything I'd never seen before, beautiful shops, the city; the nice part, anyway... and he did it to make me happy. Just me. No one else. Even though he knew my past...he knew what had happened to me. He didn't care."

"Pip," I say, feeling immense amounts of pity and shame. "I'm sure Damien cares about you."

"He does, I can see it in his face when he looks at me," he replies, wistful, and then his eyes snap open. He looks around like he's woken from a dream that he dearly wished to finish. "God, what am I even talking about right now? I feel out of control. See? My face is flushed; it's nerves."

"Maybe you're starting a heat," Butters says hopefully, and I want to hug him for his optimism. 

"Maybe," Pip says, going to sit, his skirt fluffing around him like mounds of rich whipped cream. He looks lost in a sea of ruffles, like a child playing dress-up. I lean forward, hands on my knees. 

"Damien isn't happy with me, I promise," I say, wanting to put him at ease. "I'm not obedient, I say whatever's in my head... he doesn't like me. I'm not what he wants. I wouldn't be surprised if he returned me. Asked for a refund."

He glances at me and finally smiles, but it's small; tenuous. "I'm sure he won't do that."

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see," I reply, the nervous bunched-up feeling relaxing in my chest. My muscles loosen and I nearly fall back against my chair in relief. It's not like I need to be at odds with anyone in this place, and I like Pip. He's been kind so me so far, and I don't want to hurt him even if I don't necessarily understand him. 

"Are you guys fightin'?" Butters asks, looking nervously between us. His cheeks are very pink now, and he's actually quite pretty when the lights hits him in just such a way; calling to attention his pale, vulnerable softness.

"Are we?" I look at Pip and wait. 

"No, I don't think so," Pip replies, but there's a decided melancholy in his bearing when he looks away. "You know how it is when omegas get together... there's always a misunderstanding."

The afternoon finally winds down as the storm continues, and by the time lunch and then dinner arrive, I'm thoroughly done with the day. I never realized just how exhausting being idle can be; it's taxing in a different way than what I'm used to, leaving me melancholy and listless. 

"I suppose you've had enough," Bebe remarks as she cleans up my dinner tray. 

I've actually had very little but I pat my stomach anyway; the napkin of food tucked safely away in the layered ruffles of my dress. For once I'm actually glad that Damien insists on these ridiculous clothes.

"I couldn't eat another thing," I say, already eyeing the roaring fire. I was gratified to see that the remnants from my breakfast and lunch had burned nicely away; crumbling into gray ash. 

"You eat like a parakeet," she replies but she doesn't seem to be in a bad humor. "How was your afternoon with the others?"

"Better than having lunch with Damien," I say. "And no one can tell me how Mark's doing."

"He's resting," she says simply, tidying my room and turning back the covers for when I retire. "Master's orders."

Her response perplexes me. We don't do any work in this house; essentially we seem to serve as much purpose as a vase on a mantel - why would any of us need to rest?

"Why?" I ask. "That hardly seems necessary."

"Heats are exhausting, and the master wants him to take it easy until we know whether or not Mark has conceived."

This forces a shudder from me. "I should've figured." Glancing at the fire, I touch the bundle under my dress. "What if he isn't pregnant? What then?"

She sighs. "Then the master will keep trying until he gets what he wants."

The next few days are much the same; an endless and boring swirl of snow and lying around the mansion; us omegas wiling away the long afternoons in the day room. We keep the conversation light, I suppose to avoid another potential row, but Pip is kind enough to start teaching me how to crochet. 

"You can make little things for your future children," he smiles, seemingly ignoring my look of unmitigated horror. 

I continue to eat very little and pocket the rest, taking great care to make sure the fireplace doesn't give away my secret. Still, I can feel subtle, disturbing changes in my body; random aches and a growing sensitivity to certain smells; particularly Damien's. If he's anywhere near, I can pick up on his scent and it makes my body react with a pulsing need; heart racing. 

Thankfully he's been preoccupied with his business (whatever that is; something illegal and unsavory, i imagine) and attending to Mark, so I've seen very little of him. I'm still very bothered by the change in my body, of course, and the lack of food and drink is making me lethargic. All of this plus the storm is making me feel like I'm swiftly losing my mind. 

Finally, after 4 days of unending snow, I wake up one morning to the sun shining brightly and the sky beginning to clear itself of clouds. I'm so relieved that i nearly start crying, but I contain myself and put on a chipper face at breakfast. 

"May I go out to the garden today?" I ask, watching for the right moment to stuff a pancake into my napkin. Bebe's preoccupied with making up my bed so I have a chance to hide my bacon as well. My stomach grumbles and I ache with thirst, but I'm determined. "Since it's so sunny out?"

Fluffing my pillows, she seems to consider this. "I suppose that would be alright. You do have a piano lesson later this morning, though."

My heart soars at this bit of news. Tricia Tucker! I have to resist asking Bebe if my piano teacher is related to the strange Craig Tucker - her response to those sorts of questions seems to be annoyance more often than not. Besides, I have to figure the two are related, even if Tucker doesn't seem to be a very unusual surname. 

It's with great enthusiasm that I greet the outdoors again, rushing toward the garden despite the bitter cold and the blanket of snow covering the grass. It looks like someone's been out shoveling and salting so there are paths and most of the walkways are clear. 

The roses are hiding under the snow but I gently brush the white frost from their petals. Soon they're shining under the sun, the light catching the melting ice and dazzling my eyes. I breathe deeply of their sweet, wonderful scent, and for a moment I actually feel happy, so glad to be out of that mansion for a while. I feel like I can breathe. 

I set about pruning and weeding as best I can with the snow piled up, all the while looking over my shoulder to see if Pip will be joining me. I also find myself looking beyond the gates, churning on the inside at the prospect of seeing Mr. Tucker again. 

I know it's foolish and there's really no sense in having an interest in a perfect stranger - an Alpha at that - but he'd been so cordial when speaking to me. He hadn't acted like i was a nuisance or beneath him, and his eyes....

I feel my cheeks becoming warm at the thought so I press my hands to them. 

"Calm down," I mutter. "I'm sure he doesn't even remember speaking to you. Who are you to him? No one."

I keep telling myself this but that doesn't stop me from looking up now and again to see if Mr. Tucker is walking by, and when I finally spot a figure in the distance, my heart goes wild. I can't even say why it does, but it's beating so fast, and I'm moving toward the gate before I realize what I'm doing; feeling almost hypnotized.

I'm cautious, though. After all, someone could be watching from a window and it may not even be Mr Tucker approaching, but some of my unease dies down when I catch a very familiar scent on the breeze, and I clutch my cloak beneath my chin, almost swooning. 

He's almost here, nearly walking by, tall and dressed in simple dark clothing, hat on his head shielding his eyes, and I can hear his boots clicking on the pavement. I draw closer to the gate, even closer than I'd been when we'd first met, and wait; my basket of roses resting on my arm. 

I must appear so strange, a lone omega in a dark green cloak, waiting in a field of snow, but I can't help myself; fool or no. When he finally passes by, I find my voice at the last moment and call out:

"Hello again."

He startles like I've woken him from a reverie, stopping to look at me. Our eyes meet for a moment and it's like electricity coursing through me, but he quickly looks away, scanning the grounds with a frown. 

"You're alone out here? Where's your friend?"

I blink, having not expected these questions. Why would he care? Nodding, I reply, "yes, sir, it's only me. I'm not sure where Pip is... maybe it's still too cold for him to want to join me."

"But it isn't too cold for you, i take it."

I pause. Is that a note of teasing in his voice? It's hard to tell with all his gruffness. "Not at all," I finally say. "I'm used to this sort of weather, having grown up in the woods."

He takes off his hat then to reveal his shiny black hair, and with his face no longer in shadow I can see the clear beauty of his eyes. I suck in a breath. They're just so gentle and different from Damien's. He turns his head to rub his neck and a pang of fright appears in my stomach to see his Mark behind his ear: the Alpha sun. I associate that with the worst in their dynamic: power, narcissism, the ability to preserve life or destroy it. 

He frowns deeper now, almost like he can tell i was momentarily afraid. He gestures to my basket. "Gathering your roses again, I see."

Boldly, I dare to come closer, so close that I can make out the rough homespun he's wearing; certainly not the quality an Alpha of means would wear. His boots are scuffed and dirty. His angular jaws are dark with stubble.

"It is strange that Damien's roses bloom in winter, isn't it?" I ask, feeling strange and provocative speaking my owner's name to another. "I remember you making a comment about that when we spoke before."

"Did I?"

"Yes, sir."

His mouth twitches. "You call Mr. Thorne by his first name?"

I'm thrown for a moment but recover quickly. "Is that what Damien's last name is? I hadn't known."

"How long have you been here and you still don't know his last name?"

"I'm not interested in knowing anything about him, sir," I say flippantly before I can catch myself. I cover my mouth, wide-eyed. For a moment, I'm terrified; having spoken ill of an Alpha to another of his kind; it's simply not done. 

But I'm nearly speechless with surprise when Mr. Tucker's mouth not only twitches again, but he smiles - it's small, but it's there, and I feel like I'm lighting up inside at the sight of it. I become pleasantly warm, and I make a play at being demure. 

"Forgive me, sir. I shouldn't have spoken out of turn like that."

Putting his hat back on, he watches me for a long moment, and I have a chance to catch his scent again. It's glorious, rich and spicy like a forest. It calms me in a way I've never felt before. 

"I respect honesty," he says, and although he's not smiling now he doesn't seem upset either; merely serious. "I will never fault someone for speaking their mind."

I raise a brow. "Even an omega?"

"Especially an omega," he says. "They seem to be the ones with the most to lose for doing so. Wouldn't you agree?"

Sadness grips me then, but don't avert my eyes when I reply, "what if you don't have anything left to lose?"

We regard one another for a moment, a wind passing through and scattering some of the rose petals from my basket. I feel numb with cold and weary from not eating enough; thirsty to the point of distraction, but in that moment I also feel so light, like I'm floating and watching myself from above. 

"What's your name?" he asks. "If you don't mind my asking."

"I'm Kyle," I say without hesitation. "And you're Mr. Craig Tucker."

He raises his eyebrows. "How did you come to know that?"

I shrug. "Omegas talk, sir. We've ample time on our hands to gossip and speculate."

"You mean to tell me you spend all your time tending roses and talking about folks you barely know?"

I cover the smile on my mouth. Now I know he's teasing me, and I adore it. "I'm learning the piano too, actually. I have a lesson later this morning."

His eyes narrow and he nods, looking beyond my shoulder and back toward the mansion. "Mr. Thorne is known for having the most cultured omegas. Do you enjoy it?"

"I do, very much, but I'm only starting out. I scarcely know anything yet."

"And do you have a good teacher?" 

I look for a clue in his expression to see if he's talking about Tricia, but his face gives nothing away. I decide to play along, not feeling brave enough yet to ask him anything truly personal. 

"She's wonderful," I say with complete honesty. "She's kind to me and plays the most beautiful music... I'd give anything to be half as talented as her."

He seems pleased by this, but becomes somber in an instant. "It takes a lot of work to play the piano... even more if you want to play competently, but your heart needs to be in it, too. That's the only way to really bring out its inner beauty."

I gaze at him, admiring the conviction in his tone. "You speak as if you know this from a personal standpoint, sir. Do you play?"

He begins to speak when he stops short, looking again beyond me and quickly closing himself off; suddenly aloof. Like a stranger again. I want to reach for him, beg him to go on, but I hear footsteps behind me and my heart stutters; frantic with surprise. 

"Good morning," he says, nodding in that old-fashioned way he has, but not to me. 

I glance over my shoulder to see Pip there, and he looks so startled; like a deer that's not sure if it should stay or flee. His eyes slide to mine and I feel ashamed for some reason, like I've done something wrong. 

"Kyle, Bebe sent me to fetch you," he says and I can hear the fear in his voice. He doesn't acknowledge Mr. Tucker's greeting. "You're needed inside."

"Of course," I reply, some of my happiness and bravado already evaporating. I turn to look at Mr. Tucker and he seems so far away suddenly. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Don't apologize," he says politely, but there's nothing personable about him now. There might as well be a canyon between us. "It's too cold to be out for long, anyway. If you'll excuse me." He nods to Pip again. "Good day."

Pip still doesn't answer, watching with slowly narrowing eyes as Mr. Tucker walks away. As soon as he's out of earshot he looks at me, a suspicious pull to his mouth. "Have you lost your mind? What were you doing talking to him?"

I blink, amazed. "I've spoken to him before, remember? As I recall, you called out to him."

Pip flushes. "That was a joke, and we were together. Do you know what the master would do to you if he knew you were speaking to an Alpha by yourself? Flirting with him?"

"I wasn't flirting!" I yell, starting to become angry. "You don't know what you're talking about!"

"The Master has whipped omegas for much less than that," he replies. "I've seen it, and he doesn't hold back... why should he? The rules are very clear."

My composure crumbling, I brush past him, devastated that the nice moment I'd spent with Mr. Tucker was being ruined; angry that I was constantly being shoved back into a box i simply didn't fit in. I swipe at my eyes, already hot with frustrated tears. 

"Kyle, wait! Please!" Pip calls, running to catch up. He grabs my arm. "I'm not trying to upset you, I'm just worried. I don't want you to get in trouble."

I look down at my basket of roses, finding fleeting comfort in their delicate beauty. For a moment, I can imagine leaving a whole bouquet at the gate for Mr Tucker to find... so he could carry them home and hopefully realize they were a gift from me. 

So he'd know that I was thinking of him. I sigh, looking at Pip with wet eyes. 

"Please don't tell anyone," I murmur. "It was innocent, I promise."

"I know," he says, taking my hand and squeezing it. "Your secret's safe with me."