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The day of my debut begins very early when I'm roused from sleep just before dawn. The sky is still mostly black; just a hint of the sun on the horizon. 

Chilled and nearly nodding, I'm sat before the fire in my dressing gown and served a much lighter breakfast than usual: tea, cream of wheat, and a fruit salad; nothing too heavy. 

"You don't want to feel bloated while wearing your gown," Bebe explains. "You'll have enough to focus on without that getting in your way, too. Hurry and eat, we need to begin."

For the sake of the occasion, and because I already feel faint, I allow myself more than usual, relishing the sweet strawberries and the honey mixed into my tea. Soon, Bebe has tended the fire and built it up, the orange flames bringing much needed light and warmth to my shadowed room. 

"Hurry," she says again, more urgently now. 

I'm made to soak in what I'm told is a milk bath; oils and honey added to further soften my skin and accentuate my paleness. The surface is littered with small daisies. 

I'm scrubbed vigorously until my skin is pink, my hair washed thoroughly. It's grown quite a bit since I've come to this place and when it's wet it almost reaches my shoulders. 

I'm then subjected to the most grueling beauty routine I've ever endured; my nails trimmed, filed, and then covered in a clear polish -

"I thought I was wearing gloves, though," I say, studying my shining nails in the weak morning sunlight. "No one will even see them."

"What if you soil a glove and have to take it off?" She counters, working on my other hand now. "You'd risk showing off unkempt nails? It'd be a disgrace."

I sigh. "Why should anyone even care about the state of my nails?"

"People often care about things that don't directly affect them," she replies grimly. "It's human nature."

I'm rubbed down with lotion before I'm put into my undergarments; an ivory set that is exceptionally delicate; silky underwear, stockings, even a garter. They're so light i can barely feel them on my skin. 

"At least I don't have to lace you into a corset, you skinny thing," Bebe comments. 

She works on my hair next, meticulously drying it again with a towel before using a wide-toothed comb to gently work out the tangles; using the hair dryer sparingly. She then reforms the curls as carefully as possible after rubbing a sweet-smelling substance into the strands; winding them around her fingers until they're bouncy again. 

She then braids the sides and ties the two with a band, joining them at my crown, letting the rest of my hair fall freely; long winding curls. She completes the look by pinning fresh white flowers where the braids join; dotting additional flowers along the curve of the braids, making it look like I have a crown of flowers. 

"Lilies," she says, holding one up for me to smell. "To match your bouquet. They represent purity and fertility."

I turn to look at myself in the mirror, still in my undergarments but with flowers in my hair. It's hard to believe that what I'm seeing is real, and my eyes are dull, reflecting my dissociation from myself. 

Who is that person? It can't really be me. 

I have tea and a very light early lunch (barely-buttered toast and consumme) before she works on my face. She starts by plucking my eyebrows, quickly becoming annoyed with me when I squirm; tears coming to my eyes. She tells me to stay still or she'll tie me to the chair. I want to believe she's kidding but in this place you never can tell. 

When my eyebrows are deemed appropriately shaped, she rubs serum into my skin, and a special cream is applied around my eyes. Then there's moisturizer, toner -

"How much stuff do you need to slather on my face before you're finally done?" I snap, almost reaching my limit with being poked and touched. "Isn't it enough that you practically scraped my skin off while I was bathing?"

"I was exfoliating it," she retorts. "And all of this is necessary if you don't want to make a fool of yourself tonight."

"I hate this," I mutter, staring darkly at my reflection. 

"Nobody said you had to like it," she says. 

After that, I sink into a sort of stupor as she applies more goop to my face: foundation, powder, bronzer, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara. By the end I feel dizzy and my face is terribly stiff, like I'm wearing a mask. 

Yet when I look at myself, I'm amazed that for everything she's done, I don't look like some sort of grotesque clown. Yes, my eyes have been shaped with liner and look larger because of the mascara, but I actually look somewhat natural. Prettier, I suppose, but I still recognize glimpses of myself. 

I'm dressed next, putting on my layers of petticoats and then finally my gown, the pure white garment snug and hugging my waist; shining with intricate tiny pearls and silver gems. It's as itchy and uncomfortable as it's always been, the skirt swaying when i walk, my shoulders cold from being bared. I look even more ridiculously thin than usual in comparison to the fullness of the skirt. 

"Step in," she says, placing my white high heels on the floor, also decorated with pearly encrusted bows on the backs. 

Obliging, I sway for a moment before getting my balance, and I'm reminded of the hours I've spent learning to walk in these things; a stack of (omega-friendly) books on my head. I've improved, but I still feel as ungainly as a newborn foal. 

She then rolls my long white gloves over my hands and up my arms, and finally, I'm being presented with a bouquet of white lilies and orchids; the stems secured with an ivory ribbon of satin.

"There," Bebe sighs, drawing an arm across her forehead. "I think you're just about ready, thank goodness."

"Not quite," a dark voice speaks behind us, and we both turn to see Damien in the doorway. He's dressed in a sleek three piece black suit, his tie and vest scarlet; a single bright red rose in his lapel. His hair is impeccably styled, swept back, and I can barely breathe because he's so beautiful. 

As much as I despise him, I have to admit he's one of the most handsome men I've ever seen. 

Though he can't hold a candle to Mr. Tucker, of course. 

"Oh." I look at my reflection in the full-length mirror and I remember that Mr. Tucker will be in attendance this evening, and he'll see me in this ostentatious gown, my hair ornamented with flowers. He's never seen me in anything but my cloak.

What will he think? Should I even care?

"You're perfect," Damien says, coming up behind me so I'm gazing into his dark red eyes through the mirror's reflection. He places a hand on my waist and presses, drawing me against him. "Completely perfect, but you still need one more thing."

"Do I?" I ask, feeling feverish; nerves and his presence making me weak. He smells divine. 

"Here," he says close to my ear, placing something unfamiliar and cold around my throat; a necklace of sparkling diamond and blue gems. "Sapphires," he adds. "I've been told they symbolize loyalty."

I blanch at his words, and suddenly the ornament feels like it weighs a million pounds; hugging too tight, like it's going to cut off my air. He kisses the nape of my neck and I gasp, terrified that he'll choose this moment to bite me there, where I'm most vulnerable. 

He laughs instead, nuzzling my throat. "Oh, my love, you're a vision. You're ravishing, but I'm not surprised...I saw your beauty the moment I laid eyes on you, and now everyone will see that you're mine. I couldn't be happier."

"I don't understand why you're exposing me to other Alphas, though," I murmur, reaching to touch the necklace. "If I belong to you, why put me in a situation that can only breed aggression. I know how you alphas are."

"Mm, it amuses me, dangling something before them that they can touch for a moment but they can't keep," he says, still nuzzling me; arms wrapped around my waist. "They can admire you, and want you, but they'll never have you. Not the way I do. There's power in that, you know; having something that others can only dream of and covet."

I watch his reflection as he tells me this, and I want to tell him how unspeakably cruel he is, but I stay silent. I don't see the point of reminding him of something I'm sure he already knows -

Besides, he'd probably take it as a compliment. 

-----

To say that I was overcome with fear before entering the grand ballroom that night would be a severe understatement. 

I was petrified to the point of near immobilization, every part of me shaking like a tree subjected to a stiff wind. My stomach jumped and turned, I began to sweat, and my mouth was so dry it felt like I'd swallowed a desert. 

You see, I'm not the best under stressful circumstances. I know that some people rise to these sorts of occasions like they were born to walk through fire, but when greeted with duress, I typically fold like an origami crane.

I was trembling even before I was drawn into the fray, my hand on Damien's arm as he led me into the cavernous ballroom; lit up and shining with golden light, a monumental chandelier hanging over our heads and burning with hundreds of tiny lights. 

There were marble columns strung with mother of pearl bunting along the walls, and the far wall was nothing but floor to ceiling windows, showcasing the dark night sky to perfection; the stars sparkling like the gems lying heavily around my tight throat. 

Oh, it was so beautiful; the twinkling lights and the ceiling painted with rose-cheeked cherubs, but I was so terribly, unspeakably afraid, for i could feel the weight of so many eyes on me; assessing and deciding my value. 

It was like being back at the Auction.

I try to keep my head held high, though, wanting to give off an aura of confidence i don't necessarily possess. They don't need to know the truth, though; these strangers, these Alphas, don't need to know what's inside of me. 

My spirit, my thoughts, who I actually am, belongs to me. 

At least I keep telling myself that, even as I'm assaulted with a plethora of Alpha pheromones, the faint sweetness of their omegas, laced with anxiety and excitement; mixing with the scents of foods and flowers. It's all so much, and I'm exhausted by the time we reach the stage that's been set up; the shining, black piano waiting in quiet, innocuous repose, but it isn't time for that just yet -

No, it's time for me to perform in a different way, to be led out onto the stage and left alone under a hundred lights, the eyes of the crowd on me; where I'm meant to sink into a very specific posture that's unique to my dynamic -

The Omega Curtsy.

I was told during my grueling lessons that if I were to get this wrong that I might as well run from society and never show my face again, no matter how pretty it is. It's an elaborate maneuver that involves holding my arms out just so, fingers delicately curved -

(like I'm playing the piano)

- i sweep my leg behind me, gracefully fall to one knee, and then allow myself to sink completely to the floor, where I bow my head and touch my face to the skirt of my gown; breathing in short little gasps as I wait; my dress pooled around me in a dreamy circle of white material. 

It's the ultimate posture of subservience, exposing my neck and back; subliminally announcing that I'm a slave to my dynamic, my alpha, and the opinions of his esteemed colleagues. 

I wait, my heart pounding in my chest, sure that I've failed, but then there's a soft murmur of what seems like admiration, and then the applause begins slowly, building on itself until it's a roar, and I'm blinking back tears because I'm so relieved and grateful that I've pleased them, but I'm disgusted with myself for even caring at all. 

A soft touch is laid on my nape and I can hear Damien praising me; quiet words filled with compliments and encouragement. 

"You were beautiful," he says when I lift my head, eyes dazzled by the lights and so much happening at once. He helps me to my feet and steadies me when I sway, had swimming, and the crowd eats this up too; laughing like they're utterly charmed to see a fragile omega being propped up by their stronger, virile Alpha. 

"They adore you," he whispers in my ear before kissing my cheek, a chaste, acceptable show of affection in polite society. He growls lowly, though, squeezing my hand until I wince. "They want you. I can feel it. Can't you?"

I'm speechless, ready to be out of the limelight until I'm forced to play. I scan the crowd for Tricia and Mr. Tucker but I can't find them. 

Suddenly my side is being viciously pinched and I almost cry out, only silencing myself because Damien's in my ear again. 

"Smile, my love. Why aren't you smiling? Don't you want them to see how happy you are?"

Tears pluck my eyes at his words, his fingers still twisting my skin, until I comply; a wide, fake smile crossing my face. The crowd responds immediately, almost sighing in unison. 

"Very good," he murmurs, finally letting me go, my side burning under my gown. "That's my brave boy. Always so well behaved."

I want to run from him more than ever in that moment, regardless of his beauty, his aroma, his unfailing charisma and assurance that he'll always get his way, but I stay, shackled to his side. 

Think of Ike and father, i tell myself over and over. Think of them, not yourself. You can handle this. You'll survive. 

Finally, I'm led from the stage, my dress like a cloud around me, floating, and I'm still smiling that helpless smile as Damien draws me into the crowd. It's a sea of gowns and tailored suits, none of them really standing out until I'm being introduced to a rotund, outspoken Alpha.

He's stuffed into his suit; a jarring difference from Damien who looks like he was poured into his attire. He stares at me and I'm automatically put off by his piggy eyes and disagreeable mouth. 

"So, this is the newest pony in your stable, eh, Thorne?" he asks, lifting a glass and gulping from it. I'm mesmerized by the way his double chin undulates. He smacks his lips. "He's not bad looking, is he?"

"Many seem to find Kyle quite pretty," Damien replies, holding me closer. "Don't they, love?"

I suppose I'm expected to answer but I really don't want to talk to this person. He's extremely off-putting to me. Still, I obey, looking at the man and nodding. 

"Yes. I guess."

"Modest little thing," the man says, rolling his eyes. 

"Darling, this is Mr. Eric Cartman," Damien tells me, as if I could possibly care at all about any of this. "He owns a great deal of land to the North of here. Deals mostly in corn and cattle."

"Now why are you telling him that?" Mr. Cartman asks. "Omegas don't care about business. They only care about what you're gonna buy them next."

I bristle and a memory stirs in my head, of my father telling me a long time ago about an Alpha who'd bitten off more than he could chew; overextending himself until he was unable to pay the mortgage on his estate. He'd had liens placed on his salary and holdings until finally the bank threatened foreclosure. 

"Nobody cares for him much," he'd told me. "He's always shooting his mouth off, but that's a Cartman for you. They're all trash."

Smiling sweetly, I gaze up at him, feigning innocence before asking, "tell me, are you still very much in debt, or did you manage to avoid losing your estate all together?"

He stares at me, eyes narrowing slightly. "Excuse me?"

"My father's a lawyer," I reply, all wide eyes and seeming innocence, "and he once told me about a Mr. Cartman who couldn't pay his bills. That was you, wasn't it? Oh, unless I've mistaken you for someone else, in which case I apologize emphatically."

His flabby face is beet red now, and I'm supremely gratified until I'm being pulled roughly away, Damien yanking me into a shadowed alcove where no one can hear us. He backs me up against the wall, the cool marble pressed against my skin. Placing a hand on the wall next to my head, he leans in; eyes seemingly on fire. 

He stares at me, his face consumed with anger, until I'm trembling. 

"What did I just hear?" he asks softly. "Did I really just witness my omega disrespecting an Alpha right in front of me? In my own home?"

Throat constricting, I'm finding it hard to catch my breath, but I try to speak, to defend myself. 

"You heard the way -" 

He silences me immediately with a finger pressed to my lips. "Yes, I heard what he said, and I know that his company is beyond foul," he says, "if I had it my way I'd crush his skull like a blood orange, but that's not the point."

"The point is that he's your superior and a guest in my home," he adds, biting off each word. "My father and I both do a great deal of business with that walking cesspool, and I expect you to bear that in mind. Every Alpha in this room is above you in the hierarchy. You're only slightly elevated because I found you worthy enough to purchase. You will treat them with respect. If you don't, it's the same thing as spitting in my face and I assure you, you will be punished -"

With that he grabs my chin, hard. I gasp, his fingers sinking into my skin. 

"- if I ever get the impression that you're forgetting your place in all this. Is that clear?"

Eyes watering, I hear myself whining before I fully realize I'm the one making the high-pitched sound. He shakes my face. 

"Answer me properly."

"Y-yes, it's v-very clear," I stammer. 

In a moment, he's back to his usual self, smiling and looking at me with adoration and deep affection. He kisses my mouth, his tongue slipping between my lips for just a moment before he's pulling away. 

"I like that you have a smart mouth," he murmurs, "but use it with discretion, please. Omegas have lost their tongues for less than what you've done."

He winks, and my blood chills.

After that, I keep my thoughts to myself, which seems to please Damien and everyone I'm introduced to. The majority of the Alphas i meet aren't completely awful, even if they talk to me like I'm nothing more than a child. 

"What a pretty necklace," a huge Alpha comments, leaning closer to get a better look at my throat. He's scruffy and speaks with a thick accent i don't recognize. "Wherever did you get it, mon cher?"

Damien nudges me softly when I hesitate. "You may answer, darling. Don't be shy."

Clearing my throat, I lightly touch my necklace, the cool row of sapphires. "It was a present, sir."

"How nice! From whom, may I ask?"

I want to say "Damien" so badly I can taste it, but I refrain. After his reaction to my prior disobedience I have absolutely no interest in incurring his anger further. Still, when I do speak, it leaves a bitter flavor on my tongue. 

"My master," I say softly, acting demure but really I just don't want the whole room to hear me uttering those humiliating words. 

The Alpha clucks his tongue and nods. "Your master must be very kind to give you such lovely trinkets."

Swallowing down some bile, I merely nod, smiling as I do. 

"Oh, he's just as charming up close as he was on the stage," the man says to Damien, almost like I'm not there. "And you acquired him at the Auction? What a rare find; usually the pickings are so slim."

I wince, his words bringing back vivid memories about being drugged and beaten when I'd resisted; leaving marks only where they wouldn't matter. At least as far as my handlers were concerned. Now I can recall the sobs and screams of others like me, being held captive and terrorized before facing the auction block. 

I stumble, remembering, the memories so ugly that it's making it very hard to stand here and listen to someone speak of the Auctions in such a cavalier way. 

"Do you need to sit for a moment, my love?" Damien asks, steadying me. "Maybe have something to drink?"

"Yes," I reply faintly. "Please. Just for a moment."

"Excuse us, Christophe," Damien tells the Alpha. "You know how omegas are at events like this... the excitement is sometimes too much for them."

"Oh, yes, yes, of course." Christophe smiles, a sharp canine glittering in the candlelight. "You must save me a dance, little one. It would be an honor."

Moving away, I feel dizzy until Damien helps me to a chair against the wall; one of many. Other couples are there, drinking and talking, but they don't pay us any mind. 

"I'll have a drink brought to you," he says. "You do look a little pale."

"It's just a little warm in here." Fanning myself, I try not to convey just how terribly miserable I am. 

Damien touches my cheek before turning to scan the room. "There's Bebe. I'll have her bring you something." Looking at me, he seems to consider something before saying, "will you be alright on your own for a while? I'd love to stay with you but I need to make my announcement about Mark before the dancing begins."

This is the best news I've heard all night, getting to be alone for a moment, so I nod enthusiastically. 

"No one will bother you," he says, straightening his tie. "They know if they do they'll have to answer to me. I'll come fetch you for our dance in just a little while."

"Yes, sir," I say, elated to see him walking away. 

I sag in my chair while breathing a sigh of relief, casting off my good posture in favor of total relaxation - which is hard to do in that tight, itchy dress. Covertly, I scratch my side, wincing when my fingers brush the area Damien had pinched so hard. 

I watch the crowd for a while, the posturing, swaggering Alphas and the soft-spoken, retiring omegas, all in their finery, and I'm suddenly deluged in loneliness. I've never felt so terribly disconnected in my life, and I almost wish I could enjoy all of this, but the truth of it is so sinister that I can't be seduced by the glamor and candlelight.

I've worked myself into a deep state of melancholy by the time Bebe shows up with my drink, a bubbly concoction in a delicate fluted glass. 

"You're a regular wallflower right now," she says, pretty in her own right; dressed in a different uniform than usual; a crisp black dress with a ruffled white apron over top. 

I drink greedily, mostly grateful to be back in the company of someone I know at least a little. "Oh, I've been social, trust me. Damien paraded me around like a poodle on a leash."

"You did very well up there," she replies, nodding toward the stage. "Your curtsy was perfect."

I sigh. "Thank you. I suppose I can be grateful for that."

"You should be. Butters almost fell off the stage during his debut." She hides a smile behind her hand. 

"Poor thing," I murmur. "Where are the others?"

"Making the rounds. They're used to these sorts of things... they know what the master expects."

"Yes, he expects us to perform with smiles on our faces. We're nothing more than a pack of dancing monkeys."

"Oh, Kyle."

"It's true and you know it. We all know it," I say, looking into my glass; the bubbles rising. 

"Please, just try to enjoy yourself a little tonight," she says, already turning to go back to work. "Nothing is ever all bad. You'll see."

Soon she's swallowed up by the crowd, leaving me alone again. I polish off my drink and hiccup softly, patting my chest. I glance to my side to see a dark-haired omega sitting with his Alpha, the pair quietly talking. I'm amazed to see that they seem civil with each other, though I know appearances can be deceiving. 

Still, this only compounds my feeling of alienation. I look down at my lap, wishing I were back in my room with my books, listening to Mr. Tucker's piano music on my little tape player. 

"How can the guest of honor be alone at his own party? I don't think I've ever seen anything sadder in my life," a deep voice says from in front of me. For a split second my heart soars because I think it's Mr Tucker, but when I look up I meet an unfamiliar pair of blue eyes. 

"I'm resting," I reply uneasily. "That's all."

He has a boyish look to him, as if he's as uncomfortable in his fancy clothes as I am; tugging at his collar like it's too tight. His hair is dark and smooth, and he has a pleasant face for an Alpha; firm chin and a nicely shaped nose. 

"Mind if I rest with you for a few minutes?" he asks. "These shoes are killing my feet, and if I have to listen to one more stuffshirt prattle on about their projections for next quarter I'm convinced I'll lose my mind."

I blink, having not expected this exchange just out of nowhere, and from an Alpha besides. Straightening up, I shift so that there's space for him to sit, moving my skirt out of the way. 

"You may sit if you like," I say, clasping my hands in my lap. 

He does, sighing as he settles in beside me. I sneak a glance at him, a pang registering in my middle at the sight of his Alpha Sun. I squeeze my hands tighter. 

"I'm Stan, by the way," he says after a moment. "Stanley Marsh, but just Stan is fine."

"Pleasure to meet you," I say. "I'd tell you my name but it's already been announced to God and everyone so what's the point?"

"Fair enough. Kyle," he says, looking out at the other party goers. "Mr. Thorne knows how to throw a party, huh?"

"I suppose. This is my first party, so I really don't have anything to compare it to."

He glances at me, clearly amazed. "Really? How is that possible?"

I raise an eyebrow. Another Alpha with Rich Man's Syndrome, I suppose; so accustomed to wealth and privilege that it's unfathomable to consider that others aren't always so blessed. 

"My family," I start before pausing, "my real family, I mean, is very poor."

"What does your father do?"

"He used to be a lawyer, but he stopped practicing after he became sick." I avert my eyes after telling this little white lie. After all, he doesn't need to know my father's a drunken gambler that sells his children. 

That doesn't exactly seem like proper party conversation. 

He seems impressed, though. "That's more respectable than my old man. He globbed onto my mother's money before she passed, and managed to find someone a lot smarter than him to invest it. He made out pretty nicely."

"I'm sorry to hear you've lost your mother," I say. "I know what that's like."

"I miss her," he says, surprising me. I've never heard an Alpha admit something like that. "She was a smart woman, too good for my dad, really, but the sickness got to her. I still have my sister, though, even if she lives to terrorize me."

I have to laugh, a soft giggle that I hope doesn't offend him. "Really? An Alpha intimidated by a woman? I never thought I'd see the day."

"Oh, it happens, much more often than you'd think. Take him for instance," he says, pointing into the crowd. I look, trying to follow until I realize he's gesturing to -

"Mr. Tucker," I whisper, becoming breathless. 

Stan pauses, glancing at me with a puzzled expression. "You know him?"

"I, yes, yes, I do," I say, following Mr Tucker as he navigates the fray. I've never seen him look so handsome; dashing in his suit with the white tie and vest. "I mean, not well, of course. His sister is my piano teacher."

"Now there's an Alpha that holds his sister in very high regard, probably because she won't have it any other way," Stan says. "They're a very strange pair."

"That's what I've heard. Oh," I say, touching his sleeve gently, "there she is, Tricia."

Through the sea of people, I can see Tricia walking at Craig's side, stunning with her hair up and dressed in a flowing gown of clover green silk. She turns her head slightly and I'm stunned to see a vibrant red rose in her hair; the exact shade as the bouquet I'd given her the day before. 

She's holding her brother's arm as they stop and speak with people now and again, and I'm just so glad to see them that I can feel some of my sadness lifting from my shoulders. 

"It's odd to see Tucker here," Stan comments. "He usually avoids these sorts of events like the plague." 

Managing to tear my eyes away from them, I look at Stan. "Do you know why that is? Tricia said something similar before."

He shrugs. "I can only figure that it has something to do with his falling out with his father. Now there was a scandal."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, from the way I understand it, and I could be completely wrong, of course, Craig was set to take over his father's business, but he refused. You just don't do that, you know? Especially when your father's as prominent an Alpha as Thomas Tucker."

I nod slowly, trying to imagine what would possess Mr Tucker to make such a decision. Not only he, because Tricia had told me they'd both rejected their father - and his money. 

"What sort of business is his father in?" I ask. 

"That's the part that no one can agree on," Stan replies, pulling on his collar again. "Some say he's an arms dealer, that he dabbles on the black market... he might even be a drug kingpin; no one can say for sure. We just know that whatever he's doing is something no one's willing to talk about in mixed company. In fact, we probably shouldn't be discussing this at all." He laughs. "I just enjoy conspiracy theories, I guess, and you're surprisingly easy to talk to... for an omega, anyway."

I tilt my chin defiantly. "And here i was starting to think I'd actually met a decent Alpha. Shows what I know."

There's silence before he laughs again, and I breathe a sigh of relief. 

It was then that I notice Damien walking onto the stage with Mark in tow, resplendent in a dress of delicate blue; daisies in his hair. He's beaming from ear to ear. A hush falls over the room as Damien begins to speak. 

"I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. You've honored my home with your presence, and you've also honored my newest omega by being so kind to him. But there's another reason I'm celebrating tonight, one that's been my most fervent desire for as long as I can remember."

He lapses into quiet as the audience murmurs, only going on once all is silent again. During all of this, Mark is watching us all with a very satisfied smile, and I'm sure that wherever Pip is in the crowd, he's positively fuming. 

"I've recently been gifted with the news that one of my omegas is with child,

the lovely creature you see before you." Reaching, he pulls Mark close. "Won't you join me in celebrating our wonderful fortune?"

Applause breaks out, the loudest coming from the Alphas, which hardly surprises me. Some of the omegas I'm able to see look jealous, and others merely appear afraid.

Stan whistles lowly. "He's trying again, huh? That omega of his better be careful."

The way he says this makes a shiver run up my backbone. "Of course he'll be careful... anyone in his condition would be. It's just common sense."

He shifts. "That's not really what I mean."

"Then what do you mean?"

"Just how much do you know about Mr. Thorne, anyway?" he asks. 

"Next to nothing, honestly. I only know what he wants me to know, which isn't a lot."

"Makes sense," he mutters. "In a lot of ways, he's even more infamous than Craig's father. I believe he comes from old money; really old money, but how he keeps adding to his fortune is anybody's guess."

"He did mention that he does business with that Cartman guy," I say.

"Well, that should tell you something right there. Cartman is as crooked as they come." Letting out a breath, he adds, "look, if you want to know more, just check out the forest behind his mansion. That'll explain everything better than I ever could."

"Forest behind the mansion," I repeat slowly. I'd never been there before; mainly focusing on the front garden because the roses are there - 

Not to mention Mr. Tucker. 

"How do you know all this?" I ask. 

"Most of this is common knowledge, among the Alphas, anyway. We're typically as enamored with intrigue as any omega."

"You do realize omegas don't just lie around gossiping, right? I don't even know where that idea started."

He fidgets again before he glances at me. The smell he's giving off changes a little, but isn't making me uneasy - yet. 

"I'll bear that in mind," he says, giving me a carefree smile. 

I smile back. "And I'll bear in mind what you've told me. Thank you."

It's then that the atmosphere in the room seems to shift, becoming anticipatory, and everyone begins to clear the floor; moving off to the side. I watch for the Tuckers but they're hard to see in the crush. I catch a glimpse of Pip, though, and he doesn't look very happy. 

"The dancing is set to begin," Stan says softly. 

"I'm not looking forward to it," I mutter. "I've practiced for hours but I still don't have any rhythm."

Damien breaks away from the crowd and walks towards me, catching my eye and I can feel the tension building back up in my muscles. I go rigid and sit up very straight, and when he's before me he offers a hand. 

"Shall we?" he asks, and because I'm not allowed to refuse, I accept his offer wordlessly; placing my hand in his. 

I'm swept onto the dance floor where everyone stares, and it's a wonder that I don't trip over my feet, but when the music begins, a slow, dreamy waltz, Damien pulls me close against him; his strong hand on my waist. We begin to move, and he's such a capable dancer that it makes up for my obvious flaws. 

With the candlelight in my eyes and my mind full of the wonderful music, I can almost convince myself that I'm dancing with someone I could come to love, but when I look into Damien's eyes, the dream collapses because I can see the hunger in them. His scent is even stronger than usual, and with all the other mingling pheromones of the Alphas, I feel like my senses are being overloaded.

Becoming hazy, it's all I can do to keep up with him, but I notice that he shifts to fit my rhythm, as chaotic as it is. The other people in the room become a blur in my peripheral as I'm whirled around the floor, my gown whispering across the smooth wood.

"You've improved," he comments softly. "I saw you practicing with Bebe and you weren't nearly this light on your feet."

"I'm only as good as the person I'm dancing with," I reply, my heart and voice much too loud in my ears. I close my eyes when I start to feel dizzy. "I don't feel well all of a sudden."

"Only a little longer, and then you can rest," he assures me, holding me closer; tighter. 

It's becoming very hard to breathe now, and I can feel myself lapsing into a warm state of confusion. By the end of the dance, I open my eyes to see that other couples had joined us at one point, but I could've sworn it was just Damien and I for the entirety of the waltz. 

"Bring him another drink," Damien calls to someone after he's led me from the floor. All at once, a glass is being pushed into my hand; I drink, and it's the same bubbly liquid from before. Damien laughs. "Go easy, little one. I'm sure you're not used to champagne."

I nod, but I'm still much too hot, and I'm beginning to ache in that strange way from before, but it's so much more intense this time. I whimper and move to sit down. 

"I don't feel like myself," I say, rubbing my arms. My skin is so sensitive that the brush of my soft gloves is enough to make me shiver. 

Leaning, he brushes his lips on my forehead. When he pulls back, he's smiling more widely than I've ever seen; an expression of true delight. His aroma becomes even stronger and his eyes are red, bright red; he blinks and the fire in them dies down. 

"All this excitement is going to your head," he says. "Don't you think?"

"I don't know," I reply, pressing a hand to my forehead. 

"Rest yourself," he soothes me. "Bebe, water please. No more champagne for him."

"Yes, sir."

"Master, you promised you'd dance with me," Pip says, breaking through the haze in my head. "I've been waiting all night." He looks at me and gives me a tight smile. "Brilliant curtsy, Kyle; really, I've never seen you look so pretty."

I nod, taking the water that Bebe hands me. I'm dizzy with everything happening so quickly. 

"Of course, darling, I was just about to fetch you," Damien says, gently pulling a lock of Pip's hair; blonde hair that's also decorated with flowers like mine. Pip purrs loudly. 

I drink my water quickly, some of my faculties slowly returning. The scene before me is surreal, with couples gliding across the floor. 

"Attend to him," Damien murmurs to Bebe. "We'll have him play soon...I don't think he'll last for much longer at this rate."

She nods, giving me a worried look. Damien takes Pip's hand and they take the floor, Pip smiling so widely i think his face might shatter. 

"What did he mean?" I ask, drinking more water. It feels like there's a fire growing inside of me that no amount of water can put out. 

"Hush, you'll be fine," she says, adjusting the flowers in my hair. "The Master just knows that these sorts of affairs are hard on omegas that are unaccustomed to our ways."

I start to reply but like a dream, Tricia comes into my line of sight, lovely as ever, and she grabs my hands. 

"You look beautiful tonight," she says, and unlike the other compliments I've received, this one doesn't seem nearly as superficial. There's warmth in it, and I'm so grateful i nearly start to cry. "We saw you on stage and couldn't take our eyes off you... you should be proud."

"Thank you," I say, rising to hug her, ignoring Bebe who's telling me to stay still. "And thank you for being here."

She hugs me back, her arms slipping around me very easily, before she pulls away. She's glowing, eyes bright, before she turns away. 

"Craig, come over here, please."

This is the first time I've seen Mr. Tucker without a gate between us, and for a moment I can hardly believe that he's really here, close enough to touch, but he is, and it's almost more than i can handle. 

He approaches, even more handsome up close, and my heart stutters to see a rose in his lapel; a bright red rose to match the one in his sister's hair. 

"Are those my roses?" I ask Tricia, suddenly much too shy to speak to Mr. Tucker. "The one in your hair and..." I glance at her brother, but I can't look in his eyes. Not yet. 

"Yes," she says. "We decided they were too pretty to be kept in a vase, and you were so kind to give them to me."

"I wish I could give you more," I reply. I turn to look at Mr. Tucker's shiny black shoes. "Thank you for being here, sir. I know these sorts of events aren't really in line with your interests."

The rush of the music and din around us fills my ears until I hear him say, "Tricia is very fond of you, Kyle; you don't have to thank us for anything."

Oh, the way he says my name is delicious and I realize he's never said it before, but then again I've never spoken his first name either. It just feels so intimate. I blush and I suddenly feel even warmer, that fire in my middle burning brighter. 

I'm tripping over what I should say next when I feel my hand being roughly grabbed. Before I can respond, I'm being yanked so viciously that I nearly fall, catching myself at the last moment. I look to see that Mr. Cartman is holding onto me with his meaty hand, and his mean little eyes are boring into my own. 

Revulsion floods me, and I try to shake him off, but he's surprisingly strong, making me think that there may actually be some muscle under all that fat. He yanks me again and I cry out; it almost feels like he's going to dislocate my arm. 

"Dance with me," he says. "I want to give you a try."

Every fiber of my being wants to say no, but I hold my tongue because I've already crossed this man once tonight; if Damien gets wind of me defying him again, I don't even want to think of what he'll do. Instead, I plead, pathetic; my pride crumbling to dust. 

"Please, I don't feel well," I say. "If I could just sit -"

"Omegas don't choose when they obey, they just do it," he cuts me off. "After the way you spoke to me earlier I can see that you don't understand that, so let me teach you."

Fury erupts in me, and I find the wherewithal to pull my hand away. I rub it and somehow manage to stay silent, but I'd dearly love to give this pig a piece of my mind. 

He frowns, face reddening like it had when I'd taunted him. "Someone needs to beat you until you learn to obey," he growls. "Clearly, Thorne's been too soft with you. If you belonged to me -"

"I'd throw myself off a balcony before I let that happen," I snap before I can stop myself. I freeze, horrified. 

Mr. Cartman looms larger now, nearly eclipsing me, and I cringe when I see him lifting a hand -

"That's enough," Mr. Tucker says quietly, moving around to shield me. "You don't need to go that far."

"I suggest you mind your own affairs, Tucker. The omega needs to be corrected; how else will he learn?"

"It isn't your job to teach him," Mr Tucker replies calmly. "Especially as a guest in another Alpha's home; you forget yourself."

"No, you seem to forget that not everyone shares your views about sparing the rod," Cartman snaps. "No wonder you can't keep an omega to save your life. You're soft, you're gutless-"

"I would stop right there if you know what's good for you," Mr Tucker interrupts, the softness of his tone much more effective than if he were to shout. "Trust me, I'm being merciful by warning you now."

Mr. Cartman just laughs, and he sounds like a donkey braying. I notice people are turning to look at us now, and I hug myself, wanting to disappear. 

"Like anyone's afraid of you. Whatever, fine, defend this scrawny piece of trash, though I don't know why you would. He was bought at the Auctions, after all, and we know what kind of omegas end up there...leftovers... the throwaways that no one wants. Sure, they fetch a decent price, but it's because they're taboo. They're no more than two-bit whores...purchased to breed until they keel over."

The words are like knives being plunged into my back, and I can't stop the sob traveling up my throat, because this horrible man has spoken my meanest, cruelest thoughts of myself out loud, and for everyone to hear. In front of people I admire, and it hurts, it hurts so much. I hate that it does, but I can't deny it. 

"Kyle, shh, it's okay. Don't listen to him," Tricia says, putting an arm around me. "None of what he said is true."

Through my tears I can see the tension in her brother's stance, the way his hands have clenched into fists, but he doesn't move to strike. 

His smell has changed, though; become much stronger, and it surrounds me until I can't even see straight; feeling weak and faint and much, much too warm; like I'm burning away. The aches in my body that were unbearable before hit me all at once, and I have to choke back a scream as I double over. The glands in my neck feel so sensitive that I'm afraid they'll burst. 

I whine, high-pitched and terrified, feeling like I'm coming apart, vision hazy; sounds are too loud, the room is too bright, and then I feel a wetness between my thighs, and I shake with shame, sinking onto my knees. 

"Craig!" Tricia cries, pushing my skirt out of the way to get closer. Bebe kneels next to me, too; her hand pressed to my forehead. 

"He's burning up," she says. "With all of the Alphas in here his condition could cause a riot. I'll go get the master."

I whimper, disoriented and terrified because I pray that what I think is happening isn't starting now. It can't!

I'm hit with another wave of what feels like cramps and I moan. Tricia's trying to sooth me. 

"Pick him up," she says, speaking over my head and her voice sounds like it's coming to me from very faraway. "We need to get him out of here."

Vision blurred, I feel strong arms scooping me up and I'm being held against a warm, broad chest, and that smell, that wonderful, intoxicating aroma is so much stronger now, and I give in to my instincts to nuzzle and rub myself against this comforting presence. I begin to purr loudly but I don't care. Being wrapped in this scent is the only thing that relieves the terrible ache and fire so deep inside of me. 

"You'll be okay," a voice rumbles, and it's strong like thunder and so noble. I purr louder to show my appreciation, burying my face in a soft, silken shirt. Pressure is applied to the back of my neck and I still for a moment, calmed. 

My head is heavy but I manage to look up and I'm face to face with Mr. Tucker; he's grim, and I can see that his usually clear grey irises are scarlet around the pupils. He doesn't look back at me even though I'm making no point to hide the way I'm gazing at him. He almost seems like he's holding his breath as he carries me from the ballroom. 

"We should wait," Tricia says nervously. "Until Mr. Thorne comes."

Mr. Tucker nods, not moving to stop me when I nuzzle him again. The wetness between my legs becomes more noticeable, but at least some of my discomfort has abated. 

Too soon, much too soon, Bebe's back with Damien, and he walks over, sniffing the air as he approaches. I'm sure I feel Mr. Tucker's arms tighten around me and I gratefully press closer. 

Damien matches Mr Tucker in height but he's much leaner in stature; still, his presence seems large, stifling. I begin to tremble as soon as he reaches for me, but his touch is soft on my cheek, stroking gently. 

"Still not feeling like yourself, I take it," he says, smiling. 

This time his eyes are bright red and they don't change; they blaze, almost like they want to burn me. I try to turn my head so I can nuzzle Mr Tucker but Damien grabs my chin like he had in the alcove. 

"Bebe, come over here," he says. She obeys, face expressionless. "Look in his eyes, do you see the gold?"

She nods. "Yes, sir. There around his pupils."

"How close would you say he is?"

"Right on the edge, sir."

"Perfect," he murmurs. "I can smell it on him, too. It's beautiful." Without acknowledging Mr Tucker, Damien lifts me from his arms even though I try to hold on, whining loudly. He clucks his tongue. 

"Petulant thing, let's have none of that." He takes that moment to finally address the other Alpha. "Pity you won't get to hear him play, but there will be other opportunities, I imagine."

Mr Tucker doesn't reply, but the look on his face tells me he likes Damien about as much as I do. Tricia goes to her brother and takes his arm, her face filled with worry. 

"Will he be alright?" She asks anxiously. 

Damien laughs like she's told a joke. "Of course," he says lightly before kissing my sweat-drenched curls. "I'll take very good care of him."

------

Things become a blur after I'm taken back to my room. Damien lay me on my bed and kissed my forehead, looking into my eyes again and seeming very, very pleased at what he saw. After that, he left me in Bebe's care, and I was undressed down to my bare skin; the flowers taken from my hair. 

I was bathed in cool water to make me more comfortable, but even after that I felt terribly feverish; the windows opened to let in the winter air bringing me minimal respite. She dressed me in a thin, white nightgown of slippery material that still felt far too heavy. 

I fell asleep that night after tossing and turning for hours, crying out from the aches in my bones and that heat always burning in my skin. My dreams were hectic and when I woke up my sheets were wet from sweat and something else; the moisture coming from between my legs. 

"Slick," Bebe says mildly as she changes the bedclothes. "It's perfectly natural and you'll just produce more the closer you get, so don't worry."

I flush anyway, embarrassed at this new turn of events. I'm also petrified, because I simply can't accept what's happening. 

"Maybe it's something else," I say, looking at her with tenuous hope. She shakes her head. 

"You'll be starting your first Heat soon," she says. "It's always the most difficult, but I'll try to help as best I can."

After she leaves, I'm met with hysteria that makes it impossible to keep still, and I go to the mirror to study myself. I'm speechless when I see gold circling my pupils, bright against the green I'm used to. 

Omega gold. I've heard of this too, from Pip. It starts to build the closer you are to your Heat, and once your irises have completely changed, it signals to your Alpha that you're ready. 

But I'm not ready. Not at all. I don't want this, at least not with Damien. 

I wrap my arms around myself when I think of Mr. Tucker, and I sigh, remembering his strength, his scent -

I'm possessed with the unbearable desire to have his aroma close, and I go about looking for my opera gloves from my debut. I find them and breathe them in, immediately calmed when I capture the Alpha's scent. 

"Craig," I whisper, and I feel so giddy. I go to the closet and pull out that ridiculous dress I was forced to wear, and press it to my face as well. 

A thought comes to me then, that I'd very much like to be surrounded by these items, this aroma in particular, and almost without really knowing what I'm doing, I throw the items on the floor and then go to grab my pillows and blankets from the bed. I drag them over, going so far as to strip the sheets as well. I then spend the majority of my morning constructing a bed on the floor, circular and soft and full of things that make me feel more comfortable. 

When Bebe comes in with my lunch, she stops and stares at my creation before nodding. 

"So you're nesting, I see," she comments. 

"Hmm?" I'm preoccupied by the smells coming from the tray she's set down, suddenly so ravenous It's all I can do not to lunge at it. "Nesting?"

"Not all omegas do it," she replies, lifting the lid off my lunch, revealing a much bigger helping than I'm used to. My mouth waters. "But others adore it. You're just creating a safe place to mate."

I freeze, glancing at my "nest" and feeling a shudder move through me. "I kind of did it before I really realized what was happening."

"I can bring you more blankets and pillows if you'd like," she says, tending the fire; building it up so it roars. 

I slink to the table, embarrassed, and sit. My lunch is roast today, with potatoes and vegetables; lemon pie for dessert and rolls with butter and honey. I want to stuff it all in my mouth as quickly as possible. My stomach feels so empty even though I ate a huge breakfast mere hours before. 

"Please," I say, picking up my fork. "If you would." I jab at my roast and in a flash, I've torn off a huge chunk and wolfed it down. Bebe watches as I devour half my plate in a matter of minutes. 

"It's like I can't eat enough," I say. 

"Also natural," she says, patting my shoulder. "You won't be interested in food at all when the time finally comes."

The day wears on as I alternate between working on my nest, satiating my almost uncontrollable hunger, and falling into deep sleeps out of nowhere. My dreams are frightening, full of red eyes and claws, and always when I wake I'm burning up, and my nightgown is damp. I'm having a harder time keeping my thoughts straight as I seem to fall further into a warm and overpowering delirium; the rational parts of my brain giving into my baser, more primal nature. 

I'm nearly incoherent when I'm bathed again that night, and I sleep like the dead until morning. 

The next day is almost identical, except my thoughts are even less clear, and my eyes are almost completely deluged in gold. 

By the third day, I can barely remember who I am, and I'm so hot that I'm panting; driven to lie in my nest in the fetal position; my belly cramping. I don't touch my dinner when Bebe brings it, and she tries to sooth me with a moist washcloth on my face. 

"Soon," she murmurs. "Soon."

I dream of Mr. Tucker that night. He comes to me in the garden but there are more thorns than roses on the bushes, and I end up cutting open my hands when I try to gather some for him. He takes my hands into both of his and laps at the blood with his tongue; eyes blazing scarlet. I blink and when I look again, he's become Damien and I scream and scream -

I scream myself awake, and the dark night is pressing against the cold windowpanes; the stars glittering sharp, and the moon is a giant eye gazing in at me. I sit up and wrap my arms around my legs, rocking, but the nightmare stays with me; it refuses to leave. 

"It's time, little one," a voice glides like a knife through the quiet, that sinister voice that's both musical and full of sharp fangs. I wince, shutting my eyes, but another reaction takes hold of me, something down deep where the fire is out of control now, and I can't seem to remember why I was fighting all of this so much. 

Wake up! an inner voice screams at me. You don't want this! Not with him!

Oh, I'm so terribly confused and hazy, and when I catch Damien's aroma i feel myself falling into an abyss of heat and such a deep, agonizing need that I don't fight at all when he places a hand on the back of my neck. In fact, I lean into the touch, turning my head to nuzzle the hand of my master. 

Please! that inner voice yells again, but it's eaten up by an unseen force. It just isn't strong enough when I feel this way; not when Damien is so close and my body's calling for him. 

"Good boy, my sweet Kyle," he murmurs, his voice velvet. He slides his hand along the slope of my neck and down to my shoulder, where he slips off one of the thin straps of my nightgown. He does the same to the other side, the garment silky like water against my hot skin. 

"Stand," he tells me and I obey without thought, standing slowly. Reaching, he gently pulls on my nightgown until it falls like a breath down my body to pool at my feet. 

For the first time since I was brought here, I'm standing naked before him, and I can feel his eyes on me before he touches me; his nails dragging softly down my abdomen. He grips my hips to pull me close, and he kisses my belly; below my navel and down to my pubis; airy little touches of his lips and tongue. 

"Does that feel good?" he asks, gently helping me to spread my thighs, where the slick is already sliding down the backs of them. He kisses the insides of my legs, lips grazing my Mark.

I can't speak, but I manage to whine, hands threading in his hair instinctively. I can barely remember who I am; almost like I've been hollowed out and I'm only left with this feeling -

I need to feel him. 

I need him to feel me. 

That's all I desire. Everything else drifts from my head; forgotten and unneeded.

He stands and begins to undress, and I watch in a daze as his body is revealed; virile, strong. His smooth skin is pale and firm, and his limbs are strong with lean muscle. My eyes drift to look at his lower half, and I whimper when I see his cock, because I've never really seen one before, not like this, and I'm not sure how to respond. 

"Dear one," he says, and that's when he kisses my mouth, his body pressed to mine, warm, and it's as if I can hear and feel the blood rushing quick through his veins. He tastes me, lapping at my mouth; licking into me when I part my lips. 

It's all I can do to stay on my feet, but I begin to sway, and he's easing me into my nest, lying back with my arms above my head, and I open my eyes long enough to see the moon, that cold ancient eye watching us, before he's touching me all over; tongue grazing my throat, my nipples, even between my legs, where I'm so hard and hot; arching against him and rubbing desperately. 

He holds me tightly when I shiver, when the sensations he's waking up in me become too much, murmuring encouragement in the moon-glazed darkness. He calms me, and I don't fight when he turns me onto my stomach, lifting my hips -

He grabs me harder now, making me gasp with surprise, and when his nails sink into my skin, I cry out in shock. 

"Present," he growls, leaning over me and taking a hold of my hair. "Now."

On instinct alone, I raise myself into the air, my back arched, whimpering as he threads his fingers through mine, tensed and braced against the floor. He kisses my nape and nips softly but doesn't bite, rubbing himself against my slicked entrance. 

I whine, but he nips me again, just a little harder. I can feel him pushing into me, how hard and large he is, and I mouth wordlessly against the sensation, thinking suddenly of my dream; Craig and I in the garden, my hands ruined by thorns, and I shriek when Damien thrusts himself all the way -

Time seems to collapse, and I can't see anything but blue shadows in front of my eyes, and I wonder if I'm still connected to my body. 

But then he begins to move, and the heat inside of me, that inferno, is dying down until I can finally bear it. He presses in until his hips are flush against my backside, his knot rubbing my opening, and he waits for a moment; leaning down to bite at my ear, laughing softly. 

"You're mine," he murmurs, and his voice is discordant music, filling up my mind. 

------

When I come to, I blink a few times to clear my eyes, but I'm still deluged in fog. I feel drugged and half-asleep, my head heavy. My body still aches but in a different way now, and I become aware of a throb; where Damien had been; in a place no one had ever touched me before. 

I moan softly because I'm somewhat more coherent than I'd been before, but I still don't truly feel like myself. 

The room is still dark but now there's a fire on the hearth, and when I look over i see Damien sitting before it; dressed in a robe. He turns his head to look at me, eyes still hellish red, and he smiles slowly; invitingly.

"Come to me," he says, beckoning. "You must be thirsty. I had Bebe bring us some water and food."

I slowly crawl out of the nest, aware of my nakedness, the way Damien watches me; the firelight spreading over my skin. Flushing, I grab a sheet and try to wrap it around myself. 

"No," he says. "Do not cover yourself. I enjoy looking at you."

I obey, even though I'm not as inclined to now that my mind's a little clearer. I join him, feeling even more naked because he's clothed. 

He instructs me to sit close, offering me a glass of water that I consume quickly. He pours more from a cut glass pitcher. 

"Eat, you'll need your strength," he says, pushing over a plate of fruit and cheese. 

I pick up a grape but don't eat it. "My strength? Why? Aren't we done?"

He's amused by this, reaching to tug one of my curls. "Silly thing, we've only just begun. Heats typically last for days. They come in waves."

"Oh," I say, putting the grape back. I look down at my hands resting on my bare thighs, and I can see bruises on my skin from where he'd gripped me. 

"Tell me what's on your mind," he says softly. 

I don't want to. Hasn't he already asked for enough? I recall what Stan had said, that strangely friendly Alpha I'd conversed with, about looking in the woods behind the mansion.

I couldn't possibly ask about that, not at a time like this. 

"I suppose I'm almost disappointed that I didn't get to perform," I say instead. "I practiced so much."

"That was a shame," he agrees. "I had a feeling you'd succumb, just not that quickly. I thought for sure you'd get to play first, but we'll find another time."

"Succumb?" I ask, something in his tone making my stomach tighten. "What are you talking about?"

"Stress can be a wonderful motivator for an omega," he replies, picking up the grape I'd discarded. "Especially one that's so close to a Heat, even with all their attempts to stop it from coming. Open."

He holds up the grape and waits. Dignity cracking apart, I open my mouth and let him place the grape on my tongue. My heart is pounding, and that feeling from before is building in my middle again, but I can't give in yet. 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

He picks up a strawberry now and offers it to me, leaving his finger for me to suck before drawing it away. My face flames, thighs pressing together, the need rising again. 

"You weren't fooling anyone, Kyle, trying to starve yourself. Stubborn, foolish boy. You can't stop what's inevitable."

I bow my head, knowing I'd been irrational, but it was the one thing I could control, and I feel icy fear in my chest. If he figured that out, what else does he know? I think of the books stuffed under my mattress and I can't help but start to tremble. 

He misinterprets my response, though, and stands to come and sooth me, taking my hands and coaxing me to rise. He kisses my lips, licking the leftover fruit juice from them. 

"I planned your debut for when I knew you'd be at your most vulnerable," he murmurs against my mouth, kissing along my jaw and down to my throat. He bites gently, setting his teeth there for a moment. 

The fire's rekindling inside of me again, even though I'm appalled by what he's telling me. 

"I could smell it on you, nearly so ready, but you love to fight, don't you?" He asks, laughing softly as he reaches to grip my backside, pulling me close. "But you couldn't fight everything happening at once... all that fear in you, that excitement, everyone looking at you. You could smell their lust as much as I could. Why, it was all over that Alpha that defended you."

I gasp, my eyes widening and some of the haze breaking. "Mr. Tucker," I say faintly. 

"Yes," Damien says before biting my shoulder - hard. I scream, and he soothes the area with his tongue, hot and wet. I try to pull away but he holds me fast, threading his fingers through my hair so he can yank my head back, exposing my throat. 

"Stop," I manage to say, wanting to hold onto myself for a little longer. "I need time to think -"

"How am I supposed to stop now?" he smiles. "When you've already made me wait for so long?"

I whimper when he pulls me over to the nest, throwing me down and holding me in place so I can't get up; ignoring the way I'm pleading; screaming until my voice gives out. 

This time, it takes me a lot longer to bend to his whims but I do; grateful when my instincts and mind take over. I'm eclipsed by his strength and need, closing my eyes until I fall back into the flames.