Home > Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(15)

Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(15)
Author: T.S. Joyce

Her eyes burned as time slowed. The New Tarian Pride was almost here, but Derek was putting pressure on that trigger with his finger.

“Don’t, don’t!” she cried. “I’ll go. I’ll go!”

“Now!” he screamed, his face going red, his veins popping.

Thank God, she’d already untied her father. She scrambled on, Derek’s hand rough on the back of her neck, and then they were fishtailing out of there. She couldn’t take her eyes off Dad’s body as they did a U-turn and passed him by. Ronin was coming. He was coming. Hold on, Dad. He could help. Please, let there be time for Ronin to help. The metal of the gun was cold against her temple. She wanted to turn and see how close the lions were. They had to be so close. She could feel them. Hear them snarling. But she couldn’t move. Derek would pull the trigger and not care.

Please let him live.

The deafening roars that grew quieter behind them, drowned out by the engine of the speeding snowmobile, told her that she was really on her own now.

Cheeks stained with weakness, she gritted her teeth and stared ahead at the road blurring under the blades of the snowmobile. They were going so fast, the old her would’ve been scared, but inside of her, the lioness didn’t feel fear. For once, she wasn’t shrinking, and she sure as fuck wasn’t hiding.

She was planning.

Emerald didn’t know how she was going to do it, but she was going to annihilate the Old Tarian Pride for what they’d done.

The lioness wasn’t Invisible anymore.

Now, she was Fury.

Chapter Twelve

He’s alive.

Those were the two most important words she’d ever read in a text. It was the most meaningful word combination of her entire existence.

She wanted to write back to Jenny, aka Ronin, to please take care of him, but a man with platinum blond hair and striking blue eyes yanked the phone out of her hand and tossed it in the tote with her necklace and Emerald’s ring that her mother had given her on her twenty-first birthday. He’d already patted her down in front of all of the Old Tarian Pride females, including Annamora, who hadn’t looked up from the ground the entire time they’d been in the cabin. There were seven women here, sitting on the couch, on the arms of the couch, on a couple of chairs. Brunettes, blonds, redheads, they all wore the same somber expressions, and each face looked like the next. No one spoke except for the platinum blond man, who’d introduced himself as Orion. His introduction alone had surprised her. And he didn’t particularly look like he was enjoying taking her possessions.

“It’s not so bad here,” he murmured. “So long as you mind the rules.” He was speaking toward the floor, tucking her jacket into the bag.

Emerald glanced up at the video camera in the top corner of the den. This place was like a freaking cult. “What rules?” she asked, just as softly.

“No phones. No back-talk. Say yes to the males here and don’t piss ’em off.”

Annamora glanced up at him, and Emerald saw it there. A raw openness she didn’t understand. She swallowed hard and looked down at the ground again. And as soft as a breeze, she whispered, “Orion can’t keep you safe if you don’t mind the rules.”

Huh. Not that she trusted anyone here as far as she could throw them, but she asked Orion, “Do you know Ronin?”

The giant shrugged. “I’m not from here. I know of him. He’s a traitor lion, switched alliances and grew up a tiger.”

“He didn’t have a choice—”

“Repeat the rules back,” Orion growled, his eyes blazing such a light blue, they were the color of snow.

Emerald held his gaze a couple of seconds and then averted her own. “No phones. No talking back. Say yes.”

“Good.” Orion inhaled deeply and tossed Annamora a worried look. “Cassius isn’t here right now.”

Relief washed over Emerald like a tidal wave. If he wasn’t here, there would be no ceremony today. She released a long breath and then asked, “Where is he?”

“Rule number four, stop asking all these damn questions.” He jerked his chin toward the door. “Everyone out, go get dinner on and settle the boys down. And for fuck’s sake, I don’t want a repeat of the last two nights, just…be good. Annamora, you stay here with Emerald. Get her cleaned up. You have half an hour.”

The two of them exchanged a look Emerald didn’t understand, and then he disappeared out the door saying, “I’ll be right outside so don’t try nothin’.”

Annamora stood immediately and guided Emerald to a small love seat. She grabbed a brush from the table and started combing out the snarls, her back to the camera. “You look tired and like you’ve been crying,” Annamora breathed out. “What happened?”

Unable to trust anyone here, Emerald said simply, “Ronin took me after I passed out.”

“What’s it like over there?”

Oh, no. She wasn’t telling these Old Tarians shit. “Orion protects the girls?”

“As best he can. He ain’t like the others. He’s only here because his sister, Sora, is one of the queens. He’s gentle when he’s able, but when he’s in front of the males? Well…you’ll see. He has to do what he has to do to make sure he stays our guard. There isn’t volume on the camera, by the way. They got security here, but we aren’t rolling in the dough like the New Tarians. They’re sittin’ on a pile of investment money up there from our productive days. We used to pool our income and invest like crazy. Had a good finance team. Tarians weren’t just the big Pride because we were monsters. We had even more power than that. We had numbers and we had assets, but we lost most of the money when we got chased out of that territory. We don’t trust those human banks, so it was buried up in the old cemetery and guarded twenty-four-seven. Derek snuck out there to steal it when we first lost the territory, but the New Tarians are smart. They’d already moved it somewhere he couldn’t find it.” Suddenly she paused her brushing and asked, “Did the New Tarians hurt you?”

“No,” Emerald murmured, brushing her fingertips against her lips just to remind herself of the last time Ronin had kissed her in the front seat of his truck. “They did the opposite.”

Annamora sighed. “Well, they didn’t do you any favors. You probably got spoiled, and now you’ll have to adjust even more to life here. You smell like another male. You’ll set off the Pride if you go to a meeting smelling like Ronin.” She stood and then disappeared into a bathroom in the hallway, and a few seconds later, Emerald could hear the sound of shower water. Annamora returned and shooed her into the bath. And as she helped her undress—a very awkward situation for two strangers—Annamora’s lips barely moved as she whispered, “Orion’s makin’ sure Derek stays away from you. That’s why he’s posted up outside. Derek is making it real obvious he hates you, and that’s bad. Pretty Emerald, you made a dangerous enemy in that man. Ronin killed Dalt, and now Derek is Second. He’s almost as bad as Cassius. Be wary around him, okay? Don’t provoke him. You need to fit in here perfectly for a while, like a puzzle piece. Make people want to stick up for you. Trust me,” she said, raising her delicately arched eyebrows high. “You don’t want to be alone here.”

“Why did you come here?” she asked before she stepped into the shower.

“What do you mean?”

“Why did you stay with this half of the Pride?”

Annamora shrugged up one shoulder and had the saddest set to her mouth when she murmured, “None of the girls here had a choice. Same as you.”

And as the blonde left the room, Emerald was overwhelmed with sadness. Same as you.

That wasn’t right, though. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t okay to get bullied by chauvinistic males and pigeonholed into a shitty life just because they weren’t seen as important. Males here had won the lottery because they were born dominant, and with a dick. Well, fuck their dicks and fuck their dominance.

“Annamora?” she asked just as the girl hit the hallway.

Annamora peeked her head back in. “Yeah? Do you need something?”

“Yes, I need something. I need you to be ready.”

“For what?”

“I’m going to get us out of here.”

It was a test. Her reaction would tell Emerald whether she passed or failed, because for all of her lioness’s faults, she was a fantastic judge of character and honesty.

Annamora dropped her gaze, frowning at the tiles on the bathroom floor. But a second later she huffed a breath and lifted gold eyes to Emerald. “Is it better over there?” she whispered.

Emerald nodded.

Her throat moved as she swallowed, and her voice shook only a little when she said, “Then okay.”

Emerald let Annamora’s agreeance wash right through her instincts, and the lioness approved.

Brave Annamora, every bit as submissive as Emerald, and every bit as tired of the hand she’d been dealt.

It didn’t matter how broken a person became. If they got pushed hard enough, that relentless pressure would create a window of opportunity. A chance to grow. To change. To become stronger. To become unbreakable.

Emerald had made a promise to herself when Annamora had helped her before that she would repay her. And she would—with a better life. Somehow.

Her mind raced through her quick shower, and she dressed in a hurry. No make-up because she didn’t care what anyone thought of her here, and she towel-dried her hair as best she could before following a fidgeting Annamora out of the cabin and down the row of one-room cabins to the big house at the front of the territory.

“The other girls are already inside,” Orion enlightened them as they climbed the porch stairs. Derek was waiting on the porch, leaning on the railing, his gold eyes narrowed and tracking Emerald’s every moment. She’d never felt so hunted as she did under his gaze. It made her stomach churn. “Your nose is crooked,” she observed. “I gave your face some character. You’re welcome.”

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