Home > Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(7)

Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(7)
Author: T.S. Joyce

R: First off, fuck your letter, you don’t own Emerald. If I’m to bring her back, I want proof that her dad is alive. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I don’t fucking trust you. Now, asshole.

C: I would just let you have the tired-looking whore if I wasn’t so possessive. And look at you being protective of her. Makes her more interesting to me. She signed the contract. I want her untouched.

R: Too late. You already hit her. I can’t wait to have my hands around your fuckin’ throat.

C: She’s my mate, I’ll do what I want to her face. I’ll be giving her a cum facial tonight, Ronin. It’s our pairing day. And you’ll be sitting up in your little camp thinking about what I’m doing to her. I promise, I won’t be gentle.

R: Proof, Cassiass.

C: It’s Cassius.

R: (middle finger emoji)

Emerald scrolled to a dim video of her dad. He seemed okay, sitting in a small one-room cabin. A voice off-camera demanded, “Talk.”

Emerald clutched the phone with shaking hands as she watched Dad sigh. He was sitting in a chair, elbows on his knees, hands clenched in front of him, eyes glowing gold. Dad wasn’t submissive. His lion was a killer, too. He just kept tight control. There was a cut on the side of his head, and streams of dried blood ran down to his unshaven jawline. He looked tired but strong as he leaned back in his chair. He smiled at whoever was behind the camera. “What do you want to talk about pussycat? The claw marks on your face? Looks painful.”

A long, low hiss sounded, and Dad gave a feral chuckle.

Beside her, Ronin snorted. “Respect.”

Suddenly Dad looked at the camera and growled, “Cubby, I’m fine.” His Adam’s apple dipped into his thickly whiskered throat, and he repeated, “I’m fine.”

Chills rippled up her arms as the camera went dark.

“See?” Ronin murmured. “He’s fine.”

“No, you don’t get it. That’s not what he said.”

Ronin squeezed his hand on her thigh again. “What do you mean?”

“That’s our code. Cubby is what my mom always called me. ‘I’m fine’ is our code for ‘run and hide.’” Emerald’s heart physically hurt. Dad didn’t want her to come for him. How could he want her to just leave him there? She wouldn’t. Couldn’t.

Vision blurring, she read Cassius’s message after the video.

C: I want my bitch back right now.

R: She’s resting. Noon works better for me.

C: I want you to be the one to bring her to me. I want to see your face when I take her.

“He’s playing too nice,” she whispered. “He’s going to try and kill you.”

Emerald looked up at him, but Ronin didn’t look surprised. “I know.”

“You can’t be the one to take me back. I know his type. You took his toy, and he’ll never forgive you. He’ll punish you and everyone you care about.”

“I took his toy and his prisoner, and I killed his Second last night.”

“That was his Second?” she asked, voice wrenching up an octave.

Ronin nodded once. “You fell right in the middle of chaos, Em.”

Okay, this was all bad news, but he’d called her Em. An accidental smile took her lips. She couldn’t help it. She liked the name Em. A nickname from a nice man. A nice, murdery man.

“I remember the night the council told the Pride they’d killed you,” she said. “It was a few nights after the Reaper had been born. Leon called a meeting, and his hands were covered in blood. He said the culling had begun with you. They would get rid of the lions who didn’t match their plans for the future of the Pride. He talked for a long time, but I didn’t hear his words after that. I sat on this old splintered bench between my mom and dad, staring at Leon’s bloody hands. They were still wet. He talked with his hands a lot, and I couldn’t take my eyes off them. It was the first time I’d ever felt empty. I watched you when I was a cub after you protected me. To me, you were my friend, and when I saw your blood on Leon’s hands…it felt like someone took a piece of my heart and I never got it back.”

“I watched you, too, you know. Way before I beat that kid up. I remember you always looked down at your shoes. You had these little pink converses. I used to wait for you to look up because your eyes were pretty. That was the game. Seeing if I could get you to look up but not get busted. I would toss pebbles near you or make noises. Try to get your attention without you knowing I was trying to get your attention. Because I liked when you looked up. When you looked around at the world.” Ronin angled his head back and pulled the edge of his beard out of the way. There was a long red scar there. “Leon tried to slit my throat. I fought like hell, and he didn’t get the job done before Damon showed up. Beaston was stitching me up on our way to the Furers. I thought I would surely die before we got where we were going, but he told me he was a Gray Back, and Gray Backs could stitch up anything.” She reached up and drew her finger down the scar, but Ronin grabbed her hand and his eyes flashed with anger. “Don’t you ever let a man hit you again, Em. You hear me? You’re a fuckin’ lioness. A Tarian lioness. I don’t care if you’re submissive. If a man hurts you?” His face twisted with fury. “You hurt them back.”

Before she could change her mind, Emerald slid her arms around his waist and squeezed. Ronin froze, and every muscle went tense under her embrace. She could’ve been hugging a boulder. She didn’t care, though. What did she have to lose? She had three hours before she returned to Hell. “Thank you for that day on the playground. I always remembered you. Even when I thought you were dead, you were remembered. I used memories of you to remind myself there were good people in the world.”

Ronin softened and slipped his hands gently around her, pulling her against him like she was fragile. “Oh, Em. You’ve been mistaken. I’m not good. But I will make sure you’re okay.”

“It won’t be okay if you’re the one to take me back to Cassius. I want to go alone.”

“Not a chance in he—”

“This is my choice. I choose to go back.”

“You choose him?”

Heart banging against her sternum, she croaked out, “Yes.”

“Lie. There was no truth in that answer at all. I’m going to ask you that again before today is done, and next time I want the truth.”

“I thought you died once,” she whispered. “It was awful, and I mourned a boy I barely knew. And now I care more. You’ve showed me kindness twice now. On the playground and last night. And for some reason, it means a lot. I really feel it. I want you to live.”

“Sweet Kitty,” Ronin said low. “I’m not the boy I once was.” And that wasn’t a lie. His voice was scary-steady when he uttered that promise. “You want to go back, I’ll take you back.” His face changed suddenly, and a snarl ripped out of him, his entire body clenching as he tore his gaze away from hers and stared at the wall across the room. He was hugging her so tight, her back popped a few times. Felt kinda good, but he murmured “sorry” in a low and gritty voice. “We have three hours until we need to head that way. Let’s take a break.”

“A break from what?”

He dragged fiery green-gold eyes with small pupils back to her. Hello, lion. “A break from both of our lives.” When his gaze dipped to her lips, she thought he would kiss her.

Do it.

He smelled so good, and his power had enveloped them in a little bubble of safety. All of her chaotic emotions overwhelmed her and made her desperate to get lost in his strength for a second. To not feel like crying, worrying, or mourning for a moment. To not think at all. And Ronin could give that to her with a kiss, consequences be damned.

Be bold.

Three hours, and she would disappear again. She would be a ghost, living from one second to the next with no purpose. But here and now, she could be alive. She counted to three as she searched his face and then brushed her fingertips down his beard. He rolled his eyes closed and huffed a breath, then opened his eyes to watch her again.

Take a chance.

Because when else would she have this opportunity? Emerald stretched her neck up slightly, but just when she was inches from his lips, he touched the injured side of her face gently and shook his head.

His eyes swam with some dark emotion she didn’t understand. “You don’t belong to me. Not like this.” And then he dropped his head and clamped his teeth gently on her neck. She froze there under the intimate touch, shocked, turned on…devoted to this moment with him. It was the only bite she would ever really want, and for the rest of her life, she would hold this memory. The one where she wished for a life that wasn’t in her stars.

Ronin released her skin, released her from his arms, released her completely. Just…let her go. He stood and left the room. “I’ll meet you outside.”

And for the second time today, the closing of the door felt symbolic, not just physical.

Emerald had never been more confused by a man in her entire life.

He was a study of opposites.

Moral compass but a killer.

Kidnapper but counting down the hours until he took her back.

Affectionate but left as soon as she got close.

I’m not the boy I once was.

No, he was not. And what was she? The exact same. Submissive, helpless to a bully on the playground and in need of a hero. But now it was on a bigger scale. Helpless to Cassius’s bullying, she needed Ronin to save her.

What would she learn about herself, good and bad, if she was put in a position where she had to stand alone?

The grit in her wanted to know. She didn’t know how she was going to do it, but she was going to escape Ronin to keep him safe, and she was going to face Cassius on her own.

And fuck that contract.

She didn’t have a plan, but she was going to figure out a way to get her dad out of there. To get them both out of there.

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