“I know you’re awake,” Tinves whispered against her ear, running his large hand down her side, but Karissa simply burrowed her face deeper into the blankets. They reeked of sex. Of sweat, her slick, and the males… the Alphas. In the haze of them worshipping her body the night before she had felt it. The connection, the need to be near them, to feel their purrs, to taste their skin, their cum. It felt insane. It was insane. She should be running for the door of this giant concrete room and calling the cops, not reaching for them in the night, or burying her teeth in the shoulder of the male who seemed to rule them all.
The male who she could sense somewhere inside the massive space they lived in, like a low thrum of pleasure in her chest that felt like him. Told her he was close. As if he’d left a piece of himself inside her when he’d fucked her for hours, locked deep thanks to the thick knot of flesh that had formed at the base of his cock. That? That wasn’t normal. The way her body responded to them wasn’t normal. The all-consuming, desperate hunger she felt whenever they purred and stroked and touched — that was so abnormal she felt insane.
Abnormal, insane, completely and utterly fucked up. Yes, all of those things.
But the worst part was how right it all felt. Mordek had confirmed what her instincts had already told her was true. All seven of them were Alphas, some sort of side-step in evolution that had clearly tainted a variety of races regardless of their home planet — and she was an Omega, the matching set of distorted DNA that turned her into a mindless set of hungry holes desperate for even a taste of them. All thanks to the Clarity she’d taken. A drug that was supposed to have made her best friend’s birthday even more fun, but instead it had brought her to her knees with pain and brought no clarity to speak of.
Grumbling, she hid her face under the edge of a blanket and unconsciously took a long inhale. Heady spice, warm earth, and a masculine undercurrent that had her mouth watering and her thighs pressing together. It was frustrating how comforting the scents were, irritating that Tinves’ arm wrapped around her waist made her feel safe.
The last thing she should feel in this moment was safe.
Shifting in the strange pile of bedding and clothing that existed in the very center of what she could only describe as a warehouse, she fought the urge to push Tinves away and hide from them all. She didn’t want him touching her, she didn’t want to be touched at all. She just wanted to be alone.
“You have to be hungry, Karissa.” Tinves nuzzled into her hair, breathing deeply before his lips brushed her shoulder, tongue gently tracing the bite mark that had scabbed over. It still hurt, like everything did, but when one of them was with her things hurt… less.
Another reason to be angry, another reason she wanted to shove him back, but… she was hungry.
“I want a shower first,” she mumbled into the blankets, and Tinves left her side so fast she peeked out from under the blanket just to verify that he had actually leapt up. A broad smile stretched his blue lips, and he offered his hand like some gentleman that had not recently fucked her until she’d screamed on the ground in a filthy alley with six other Alphas. Sneering at his hand, she turned away from the offer to help her up.
“Come now, little one. We have warm water for you.” There was an excited edge to his voice that made her bristle.
“I must smell terrible for you to be this thrilled about me taking a shower.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Tinves crouched down, scooping her off the bedding as she yelped in surprise. She snapped her teeth at him as he settled her against his chest, but he wasn’t afraid. He grinned down at her as he started to walk across the room. Bending his head down, nose buried in her mangled hair, he breathed deeply. “You’re the best thing I’ve ever smelled.”
Huffing, she tried to get out of his arms, but he just held tighter as she struggled. “I can walk,” she hissed, trying to summon a growl in her chest.
“I’d rather carry you, Omega. Especially since I get to bathe you.”
Bathe me? Irritation bloomed, and she was about to snap at him again when he stopped suddenly. A low growl hummed in his chest, eyes focused past her, and she turned to see Jeden leaning against the doorframe of what she could only guess was the bathroom in the strange, massive room they had brought her to.
The big male didn’t move, he just stared at Tinves over her head, their gazes locked. For a moment she wondered what was going on, but then she heard it. Jeden may not be moving, but he was growling. Her body reacted, the wetness summoned by their presence and the feral rumble in their chests. She caught her own scent a moment before Tinves did, his whole body stiffening as he inhaled deeply. Fuck.
“Tinves?” she prompted, and his hands tightened on her, digging into arm and thigh as he bared his teeth. Ruining the normally gentle expression on his sky blue face. Jeden’s growl grew louder, more menacing, and Karissa felt a frisson of fear as the two stared each other down.
“Brother, I don’t want to hurt you, but I will.” The words rumbled out as Jeden shifted off the door frame, rolling his shoulders as if he were really planning to fight Tinves. Over her.
“Our Omega wants to shower,” Tinves replied, still not releasing her even when Jeden moved forward.
“I heard. Give her to me,” Jeden commanded, and Karissa could feel the indecision in Tinves as his muscles trembled, the growl still a living thing in his chest. Jeden stopped an arm’s length away, dark and threatening. “Now, brother.”
Nose against her hair again, Tinves breathed deep and then placed a soft kiss to her temple. Without another word he stepped forward and transferred her into Jeden’s arms. The big male pulled her close, not moving until Tinves finally tore his eyes from her and walked away.
Jeden’s growl softened, blending seamlessly into a purr that erased the fear and nervous energy inside. Brushing his cheek against her hair, he turned to walk into the bathroom with her.
“Why did you do that?” she asked, almost a mumble thanks to the lulling effect of the purr.
“Because I wanted to be the one to bathe you,” he answered, lifting her higher on his chest to breathe in her hair just like Tinves had. “Although I do love our scents covering you, Omega.”
Swallowing, she fought the urge to breathe in against his shoulder, knowing it would all go downhill if she did, and so she held her breath until he finally set her down in front of the shower stall. The size of it answered part of the question on the tip of her tongue — there was no way two males would fit in there, much less with her inside as well. But that didn’t explain the rest of why Tinves, and the others, obeyed him and Mordek without question.
“Jeden?” she said his name softly, nervous to push the male that had just threatened to hurt another.
“Wait,” he commanded, brushing his fingers down her stomach before he turned away.
Chewing on her bottom lip, Karissa stayed where he put her. Watching in silence as he grabbed two towels from a basket and returned to hang them over the top of the grime-covered shower glass. His shirt came off next, and she swallowed as dark, carved muscles were revealed. Black ink weaving over his skin in elegant patterns. Flowers and vines and other things. Skulls, the gaping maw of some beast. When he unbuttoned his jeans, tucking his thumbs in the waist to shift them off his hips, she felt the tingling urge to drop to her knees so she could taste him. Irrational, ridiculous, but saliva was already pooling under her tongue. As soon as the jeans dropped, he kicked them away and stepped closer.
Naked, so fucking naked.
Her own nudity had faded into the background, but she’d never seen any of them completely undressed. His cock rested against his thigh, growing hard as she stared, and she dug her nails into her palms to fight the urge to touch. “I-I have a question.”
“Okay, ask.” His tongue slipped out to brush his bottom lip, and she had to swallow the saliva pooling in her mouth so she could focus.
“Why did Tinves let you take me? He wanted to bathe me, and—”
“Because I told him to.” Jeden’s pupils were dilated, and she knew it was the slick affecting him, just as his scent tormented her. Still, the last thing she needed to do right now was end up in another hours-long sex fest where her mind turned to mush.
No, she needed to fucking think. She needed answers.
“But why did he actually do it?”
“Because I outrank him.” There was hunger in his voice, power, and she felt her self-control slipping as the deep purr in his chest summoned another surge of liquid heat between her thighs.
“And Mordek?” she asked, struggling to stay on task.
“He leads us. I am his second.” Pupils obliterating his iris, Jeden shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and she knew she didn’t have long before he grabbed her and she let him have her.
“But you’re all… Alphas… right?”
“Yes,” he purred. “They are my brothers, and while I would have hurt Tinves to remind him of his place, I would not have injured him badly. It can be… difficult to remember our place sometimes. Pain serves as a reminder.”
Wrinkling her nose at the casual violence, she shook her head. “That’s not right.”
“It is better than being alone, little one.” The raw honesty of his words struck her, and she searched his face, trying to understand what they were, what this all was, but she didn’t even know how to ask that question. His eyes were tracing her curves, lingering on her thighs for a moment before he met her gaze again. “What else do you want to know?”
“Why?” she squeaked, desperate to keep him at bay a little longer. “Why do you and Mordek outrank the others?”
“Because Mordek is the strongest of us, and I am the next.” There was no bravado in his tone, just a statement of fact, but it left her with a million other questions. Halyrion seemed to be larger than Jeden, but the male had obeyed Jeden without question.
And all of them obeyed Mordek.
Her chest hummed as she thought of the male, and she rubbed at her sternum, confused by the odd feelings there. The weird sense that if she looked over her right shoulder, she would find him. Mordek. That way.
“Karissa.” Her name rumbled on Jeden’s lips, pulling her attention back. He was beautiful. Dark and densely muscled, carved and powerful. She tried to fight the impact that his body, his scent, his fucking purr had on her, but slick still leaked down to taint the inside of her thighs. Breathing deep, Jeden tilted his head to the side and let his eyes wander. Focusing on the place where her muscles clenched, ached, craved. Fuck.
“I want to shower,” she reminded him, and Jeden seemed to waver before he eventually nodded in acknowledgement, his movements stiff and mechanical as he pulled himself back a half-step.
“Of course. I’ll bathe you.” Leaning past her, he opened the shower door and she stepped to the side to give him room, but his arm shot out to catch her. Gripping painfully tight, he bared his teeth and a single word made it out. “Don’t.”
“Wha—” Karissa started to ask a question, tugging at his grip on her, but the growl was suddenly loud, dangerous, and she couldn’t help the urge to cower, to make herself smaller. The male was huge, his chest expanding and contracting as he closed his eyes for a long moment. Fear sat like a rock in her stomach as Karissa pressed her thighs together, watching carefully as he took a slow breath and then pinned her with his gaze. Unnecessary with his massive hand circling her forearm.
“Don’t… do that. Don’t run from one of us. Ever.” Looking down at where he held on, she saw the effort it took him to let go as he pried his fingers away. The imprint of his hand was still there, like a ghost image on her skin, and she was tempted to explain that she hadn’t been trying to run. But the pained expression on his face as he pulled back made her keep her mouth shut. His movements remained stiff as he leaned into the shower to crank the water on, and then he pressed his back to the edge of the glass, swallowing as he looked her over. “You have to understand. It’s instinct to keep you close. It’s the same reason Tinves struggled to hand you to me despite my order, and it is why you cannot run. Ever. There is no controlling our response, do you understand?”
“Yes,” she whispered, and she did, even though the idea of being trapped here like a prisoner made her stomach churn. Watching him, she could sense the effort it was taking him to stay back, but she knew that there was no way in hell he’d let her shower alone. It was pointless to even ask. He would be in there with her, touching her, bathing her. Half of her wanted it, craved it, but there was still a part of her that was tempted to run at her first opportunity despite his warnings.
Karissa couldn’t deny the lingering fear even as his growl quieted. He was huge, like the rest of them, but she’d watched them, felt the way they responded to her, and the memory of Mordek’s words flashed in her mind — we are yours.
Mine, her mind echoed. Lips parting, she took a deep breath of his scent, the controlled power coming off him in waves, and she inched forward. It was more than a little intoxicating to watch as he pressed himself harder against the shower, trying to keep his hands from her. A crease forming between his brows as she took a full step closer to him.
“Stop,” he growled, eyes black as he breathed in the slick coating the tops of her thighs. “I don’t want to frighten you, Omega.”
Karissa froze, not even a full arm’s length away as the steam of the shower rolled out against their legs. “Then stop growling,” she replied, keeping her eyes on his as he studied her face.
It was a moment longer before Jeden’s growl trailed off, but he didn’t move from his tense position against the edge of the shower. Instead, he jerked his head to the inside. “Get under the water. Now.”
The command made her bristle, her temper spiking through the haze of lust. “I’m not one of your brothers, you don’t get to command me.”
His growl returned, voice low and dangerous. “No, you are ours, Omega, which means you will serve.”
“I’m not yours!” she shouted, taking a step back, and Jeden lunged for her. Fingers digging into her upper arms to shove her into the shower, holding her under the stream as she sputtered and cursed. Karissa felt the growl spark in her chest, teeth bared as she reached up to grab onto his wrists. “Let go of me.”
His grip tightened, likely bruising her, but he stayed back even when she clawed her nails over his forearms hard enough to draw blood. The coppery scent faded quickly under the rushing water, her harsh breaths only tasting it on the air for a moment.
“You said you didn’t want to frighten me,” she hissed, still growling, and she wanted to hurt him again. To rage at him, to scream, but instinct told her that would bring the others and she wasn’t even handling one of the males well.
Jeden’s jaw twitched, his grip on her arms easing a little. Her words had affected him, although he wasn’t letting her move away. He was still the one with all the power, the one that was definitely not using all of his strength against her, which was even more infuriating. She hated feeling weak, hated him, hated all of them for doing this to her. “Breathe, Karissa.”
“Fuck off,” she snapped. Ignoring him, she closed her eyes, balled her hands into fists, and tried to pretend he wasn’t there. Tried to pretend she couldn’t feel his hands on her. They had all chosen to be together, but she’d never had a choice. They’d never given her a choice, they had simply taken. Clenching her jaw, she tried to keep her rage burning, but the water washed away more than just his blood. It drained the scent of him from the air, dulled the lingering scents of the rest of them after a time, gave her mental space to think, and that was what made her finally take a deep breath. Testing the air on her tongue, she was relieved to taste nothing except the slightly metallic hint in the water. Probably the result of old pipes.
Karissa was completely drenched by the time Jeden’s purr burrowed into her ears, forcing a calmness inside her as the heat finally sank into sore muscles. Shoulders relaxing, she tilted her face up to the water and swallowed a mouthful, and then another. Her thirst took over, and she drank deeply, wondering why she hadn’t realized the need before.
Relaxing his hold further, Jeden began to knead the skin he’d gripped so tight, inching his fingers up to continue the light massage at her shoulders as his purr grew louder. “I’m sorry, little one.”
The whispered words made her eyes pop open in surprise. He was inside the shower, much closer now, and the purr was drowning her as his hand skimmed the bite mark before reaching behind her neck to rub, squeeze.
“This is all new to you, and I have to remember that.” It was almost like he was saying the words to himself, a self-chastisement as he melted the tension from her neck and shoulders. “I want to help you understand.”
“Understand what?” she asked softly, slightly disoriented from the combination of his hands on her skin, his purr, and the hot water filling the shower with steam.
“Everything. All of this.” Turning her gently, his fingers worked into her hair. The sharp smell of soap filled her nose, and then Jeden was massaging shampoo into her scalp. It felt good. Even better because it wasn’t him trying to fuck her — at least, not yet.
“None of this makes sense,” she confessed. Lulled into comfort for the moment.
“You can ask me questions, little Omega. I will answer if I can.” Jeden worked the lather to the tips of her hair, his knuckles brushing her shoulder blades, that purr an ever-present sedative to the rage she’d felt so clearly before.
“Why do you make that noise? The purring noise.”
“Because it helps you.” Pulling her back into the stream of water with a gentle tug, he began to rinse her hair.
“I don’t like it.” Karissa felt her brows knit together, the tension forming just behind her eyes as she tried to push away the sedating effect. “It makes me feel weird.”
“Would you rather be angry?” he asked, not a hint of judgment in his voice, as if saying yes would be perfectly acceptable.
And maybe it was.
“I should be angry. You hurt me, all of you hurt me.” The accusation stilled his hands for a moment, but then she heard the click of a bottle and he was weaving his fingers through her hair again. Gently tugging the tangles free.
“There are some things we can control, and others we cannot. Scenting an Omega for the first time in years…” His purr stuttered for a second, and then she felt him close in, hard cock brushing the small of her back. “We couldn’t have stopped. We needed you, just as much as you needed us. You were in pain—”
“Because I was drugged!” Cutting him off she tried to move away, but his fingers were still wound in her hair and he pulled her back.
“Yes. You took the Clarity, and it did what it was meant to do. It revealed who you were always meant to be. An Omega.” His arm wrapped around her ribs, pulling her flush to his front. “But if we had not found you first, someone would have. The first Awakening is meant to draw us in.”
“Awakening?” she repeated, confused and distracted as he rubbed his cock against her back in small shifts of his hips.
“The Omega genes waking up inside you.” A hand stroked down her side, over her hip, dipping between her thighs to stroke a single finger up her slit. “The first slick, the ache that only an Alpha can satisfy…”
“No. This is impossible,” she argued, wanting to deny it. Still wishing she’d wake up hungover and confused as fuck in her apartment, or Tawny’s, or anywhere just so that she could write it all off as some really weird fantasy gone wrong.
“It’s not impossible, just very, very rare. But you were meant to be Omega, the Clarity can’t create what isn’t already there.”
“But I don’t want to be Omega!” she shouted, tears coming to her eyes as the last of her rage washed away with the soap down the drain, and all that was left behind was grief. For herself, for her life, for the world where she’d believed all those words to be nothing but urban legends. With her next breath, she felt her chest hitch with a sob. “I want to go home. I want to be normal again. I don’t want to be this!”
“By the gods, I wish you could understand how long we’ve waited for you. How precious you are to us.” There was a hint of emotion in his voice, his hand cupping her between the legs as he wrapped his other arm around her to pull her even closer. “Omegas are so rare. Even on the planets where the genes are more active, where most of the population is like us… an Omega is still precious.”
“I don’t care.” Not even his purr could break through the sadness gripping like a vice around her heart. The words were pretty, the kind of thing that any female would want to hear. To be called precious, to be told she was rare and wanted. But this wasn’t a gift—it was a prison sentence.
“Don’t say that, Karissa.” Jeden nuzzled against her hair, the water turning lukewarm as the rumble in his chest vibrated through her ribs. “This is just new. It’s all new to you. It’s new for us as well, but we would do anything for you. You have to understand—”
“I DON’T WANT TO UNDERSTAND!” she screamed, her voice rebounding off the tiles, and Jeden’s body tensed as he tried to shush her.
The sound of heavy footsteps outside the shower preceded the arrival of one male, and a moment later another. Their growls building a feral wall of male aggression outside the shower. Someone barked his name, and she felt Jeden stand up straighter, his fingers digging into her ribs in a possessive grip. Another growl joined the mix as something was knocked over. Other males storming into the bathroom barely a second later, filling the small space, but she refused to turn and see which ones had come.
Jeden purred directly into her ear, “Little one, you need to calm.”
The words only made her cry harder, and he sighed against the top of her head, turning until he was forced to release her. But she could feel him at her back, blocking her from view as she sobbed.
“What did you do?” Tinves’ voice, rough with anger and accusation.
“Nothing, she’s just upset.”
“Then let us see her.” Another male, likely Parel based on the bite in his tone.
Jeden growled, and the loss of his purr broke the final dam inside her. A wail escaped as she bent forward, trying to hold her ribs together as she sobbed, hiccuping on the next intake of breath. There were more shouts, another pissing match of growls, but all it did was remind her of everything that was wrong. The fact that she craved the soothe of a purr confirming exactly how fucked she was. Clarity, Awakening, Omega — just a set of words that formed the bars to her new prison, because how do you escape yourself? How could she get rid of the changes she felt in herself?
It was like her heart was breaking, mourning the person she’d thought she was, the world she thought she lived in. On the floor of the shower, she pulled her knees to her chest, barely aware of Jeden attempting to purr, his knuckles brushing up and down her arm when someone opened the shower door and the world exploded.
Glass shattered in a loud crash, the impact of a fist against flesh followed by male growls, grunts, shouting, and then a roar that shook the remaining glass in the shower.
Hiccuping, Karissa peeked up through her soaked hair to see Jeden with his hand around Zeke’s throat, the blond halfway on the sink. Tinves crouched on the floor beside them, wiping blue blood from under his nose — but no one was looking at her.
All eyes were on Mordek in the doorway, and she felt his anger. Like a hot brand in the center of her chest, the fire spread, singeing the blood in her veins as her sobs slowed.
He looked around the chaos of the bathroom, full of males that took up too much room, and then his eyes found her, roaming for a moment before he turned back to the others and growled lower. “What the fuck is going on?”