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It’s not often that Alpha challenges take place. And this—where I fight a fellow pack mate for the right to be Alpha—is unusual. It’s never happened before in the history of our pack.
Then all thoughts go out of my head as Gabriel beats his chest. Head thrown back, he howls out a challenge. It echoes around the courtyard and then further out into the forest.
Then a howl from beyond the complex, then another. It’s the feral shifters.
Lowering his gaze back at me, Gabriel yells across the space, “Hear that, girl, even the wild shifters out there acknowledge me as their leader. You are nothing in comparison.”
I don’t react, don’t even move a muscle. Don’t breathe. Closing my eyes, I focus inwards, reaching out through the bond for Luke. Zoom in on that gleaming silver-gray and amber strand that connects us.
Energy throbs down the mating bond. Pours through me. Filling me with a rush of adrenaline. A churning. A violent influx of hope so intense and powerful that my eyes fly open. I want to run toward him, jump him and kick his legs out from underneath him. But--
Wait! Luke’s voice rings through my head. Clear as a bell.
I lock onto Gabriel’s gaze. And wait.
I don’t move.
Bide my time.
The buzz of disquiet from the pack members in the balconies above. The trees bowing their branches, rustling their leaves. The stray roar of a wild tiger in the forest. The faraway hum of vehicles on the road leading to the city…All of it fades. Leaving me in a bubble of silence.
I watch Gabriel tense. His muscles twitch with impatience. The sweat glistens on his face. Then, just as I begin to lose patience, reach the end of my vigil, he gives in.
With a roar of impatience, he rushes toward me.
I still wait, Luke’s strength grounding me, holding me when I would’ve leapt to meet him. In place until the last minute. Then, Go! A pulse rippling down the mating bond pushes me to step aside at the last second.
Gabriel’s body barrels past. So close the breeze in his wake ruffles my clothes. He crashes face down, and before he can recover, I’ve leaped on his back with enough force to hear the satisfying crunch of snapping bone.
A howl from him, and then I raise my hands, fingers clasped, aiming for his forehead. But I underestimate his speed. Gabriel’s a shifter, and his body blurs as he moves. He throws me off with such force that I fly through the air, landing halfway down the courtyard on my back. The breath knocked out of me, my head crashing against the hard ground. Before he can jump on me, I’m up. On my feet and moving aside as he rushes me. And misses.
This time, he turns fast, his movements almost too agile for his big body. And I don’t have a choice but to meet him face-to-face.
Head-on, I don’t stand a chance. He’s bigger, more powerful. He’ll kill me.