Home > Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(13)

Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(13)
Author: T.S. Joyce

“He’s…he’s just taking me back to Cassius. Nothing more,” Emerald said in a mouse-quiet voice.

“Oh, she speaks!”

“Careful,” Ronin rumbled, tipping his chin back and looking down his straight nose at Kannon.

It was Rose who stepped in between the dominant lion shifters. “What Kannon is saying has merit. At some point, you’re going to have to trust us. You can’t fight a war all on your own. Cassius will win if we’re weak, and what you’re doing? Acting like you’re still a rogue lion? It will make us all weak.”

The others began to walk away, and Emerald could see it so clearly. There was a crack in this Pride the size of a canyon. On one side was the Alpha, and on the other were the rest of them.

“Can I make an observation?” she said as loud as she could. Only it came out a whisper.

When Ronin looked down at her, she wanted to hang her head, but there was no time for that. Standing, she clenched her fists and found her bravery. Louder, she asked, “Can I say something?”

The others slowed and turned. “Are you here to make judgements?” Kannon asked.

“N-no.” She swallowed hard. “I have no right to judge anyone. I just wanted to point out that Ronin is trying to protect you.” She shrugged. “I can see that clear as day, but you don’t.”

“Was he trying to protect us when he killed the Second of the Old Tarian Pride last night?” a tall man with a limp asked. “By himself?”

“Yeah, Gray,” Ronin answered for her. “Do you want to know why?”

Gray frowned and shifted his weight to his sturdier leg. “Yeah, actually.”

“Because,” Ronin said, “my life is less important than yours.”

Rose frowned. “What?”

“You are the good that came from the Tarian Pride. You’re the misfits. You could’ve joined in with every other fuckin’ lion in existence and rebuilt a council immediately. But you…what, a dozen of you? Stood up to everyone. There is no council right now because you have been rallying against it. You were the ones who wanted change, and you didn’t just sit by and let the same shit that’s been happening for generations happen again. You stood up and said, ‘That’s enough.’” Ronin’s smile was half wicked, half proud. “I just want to make sure you’re ready before I ask you to fight the people who used to be in your Pride.”

“They were in your Pride, too,” Kannon pointed out.

Ronin growled softly.

“I think you should do team-building projects,” Emerald suggested, hunkering down into her jacket as she made her way toward the others.

“Lady, we just Changed together. You can’t get much more team-building than that.” He held out his hand as she meandered closer. “I’m Terrence.”

“Hi,” she murmured, giving his hand a shake. “Emerald.”

“We know,” the man said with a chuckle. “We all remember you.”

“You do?”

“Uh, yeah,” Kannon murmured. “Why do you think we aren’t over here screaming ‘spy’? You hated this place as a cub.”

“That, and you came in with a pretty gnarly shiner,” Terrence said darkly. “Pretty sure you were dragged back to Old Tarian, and pretty sure you have every right to hate that Pride just as much as we do.”

“What kind of team-building projects?” Ronin asked thoughtfully.

“Like, drinking together,” Emerald said with a giggle.

“I’m in,” Kannon said.

Ronin snorted. “You all are annoying enough without alcohol.”

“But think about it,” Emerald said. “The fastest way to bond with people is to make memories of doing stupid shit together.”

“Thank you!” Kannon said, turning and holding his hands out. “I’ve been asking to get some fun up here for weeks. A cornhole game, Ouija board, something! I’m going stir-crazy. And none of us can leave because ‘safety in numbers’ and the Old Tarian Pride runs the town. It’s go to work in town, be wary, come right back. Day after day, it’s the same monotonous existence.”

“So safety-in-numbers it and go to a bar in town together,” Emerald suggested. “What’s the Old Tarian Pride gonna do? Attack you in public?”

“Uh, yeah,” Terrence murmured. “They don’t give a fuck, and it’s bad publicity on us if we go all murder-kitty on Main Street.”

Ronin pushed a branch aside and let her pass. And when she did, he squeezed her ass gently and gave her a wink. She gasped a little, but the rest of the Pride didn’t seem to notice as they walked in front, chattering about something called cornhole.

Emerald bumped his shoulder. “Can I ask you something?”

“Ask anything.”

“I saw you last night. Hitting that shifter who hurt Rose. You didn’t give a fuck either, and you don’t strike me as the type of man who would prolong anything.”

Ronin frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“I watched a man go in there guns a-blazin’ with no one to back him up.” She shrugged. “I don’t understand why you’re hesitating on this war.”

He huffed a dark chuckle. “We already had the first battle.”

“What?”

Ronin nodded. “How do you think I got the Old Tarians to leave this territory and set up the new one near town? They lost.” His eyes darkened. “But so did we. One thing I didn’t expect as a new Alpha was hurting when I lost some of the Pride. I barely knew them, but their loss weighs on me. It was my first time bonding to shifters, binding a Pride to me, and it was intense. And then a few days later, half of those bonds were broken.”

“You lost half the Pride,” she whispered.

Kannon turned and cast a sad look at her. “Feels like we lost more sometimes. We lost on their side, too.”

“And the fact that you said ‘we’ right there is why I’ve been waiting until I know you are ready,” Ronin said in a gritty voice as he stepped around a brush pile.

Terrence had been watching them. He’d been casting her and Ronin Sideways glances. “Speaking of needing allies—”

“We didn’t speak of needing allies,” Ronin said.

“We’ve all voted on two candidates for your mate,” Terrence said, ignoring him.

Beside her, a wave of anger pulsed from Ronin and made Emerald’s lioness shrink to almost nothing.

“We can discuss this later.”

“Now’s a good time,” Terrence said softly, his narrowed eyes on Emerald. Whatever he was looking for on her face, she had no idea.

“Perhaps when we aren’t in mixed company,” Rose said firmly from up ahead.

Terrence ignored them. “Our first choice is Aria Dunn and second is Blakely Winters of the Deadlies Pride.”

The woods grew silent except for the crunching of their steps in the snow and the soft snarl rattling Ronin’s throat.

“Blakely is a blond,” Terrence continued. “Tall. Nice rack—”

Ronin slammed him against a tree so hard it shook snow in the upper branches. “I said not now.”

“Why?” Terrence snarled. “Because Cassius’s mate has your attention? She’s off-limits and gives no benefit to us. You say we’re more important than you? Act like it.”

Suddenly, Emerald was homesick. Not for a place, but for her old life where everything made sense.

She didn’t belong anywhere.

It felt as if she was some star way up in the sky, orbiting a great story she was watching unfold on Earth, but she wasn’t a part of it. Not really. She was just a witness.

“I’ll help however I can,” she said to no one in particular.

Ronin cast her a look over his shoulder and pushed off Terrence. “What do you mean?”

“Terrence was right. I have just as much right as anyone to hate the Old Tarian Pride.” She forced a smile. “I can’t imagine females last too long under Cassius. But while I’m there, I’ll be your little grenade on the inside of his Pride. After my dad is safe, I’ll do what I can for you.”

“Why would you do that?” Kannon asked in the silence of the still woods.

Ronin’s words had stuck with her. Sometimes a life was just a life with no big destiny, no big meaning. It was just birth, the middle stuff, and then death. She’d never felt like she was meant for anything. Her whole life’s focus had been hiding from the Tarian Pride, and look where she was now? Headed right back into the heart of it. She’d utterly failed at escaping. But these people, these outcasts, they were trying to change the fate of an entire Pride that had been poisoned with evil for generations. They were trying to save this Pride, to rehabilitate it, and to save who-knows-how-many lives from them in the future. They’d been raised in hate, every one of them, but here they were trying to do good.

Ronin was right.

They were important.

So she lifted her chin in the air because she was determined to be stronger, and uttered his same words. “Because my life is less important than yours.”

Chapter Ten

Hearing those words fall from her lips hurt Ronin’s chest in ways he couldn’t understand. How could she think her life was less valuable? He was an Alpha. A good Alpha knew the power of his Pride was in the comfort of its members. If they were okay, he was doing all right as their leader. But Emerald? Thinking she was less valuable? Now nothing in him wanted to return her to Cassius. She would take unnecessary risks if she thought it would help Ronin’s Pride.

And that spoke volumes of the woman she was.

But it also scared him because, after today, she mattered very, very much to him. His inner lion couldn’t take his attention away from her for even a second.

Beautiful Emerald. She was tough. Tougher than she gave herself credit for. And selfless.

Her dad had told her to run, and here she was, climbing into the cab of Ronin’s truck, somber and quiet, but with a determined set to her mouth. How many people would’ve saved themselves instead of trading themselves for someone they cared for?

   
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