When Quinn, the Supreme Alpha of all the Nine Territories first sees a young man in the arena, he is struck by his beauty and by the fact that despite his chains, he’s barely contained. Quinn recognizes him almost at once as the human who led an assassination attempt on him just weeks before, yet when he tries to take him into custody, he’s shocked to find the human is his fated mate. He has only one option to keep the council from executing the young man for his crimes—to make an example of Aaron, and to debase and degrade him as his love slave so that none of Aaron's followers will celebrate him as a martyr or a hero.
Aaron is on a quest to find his brother, separated from him during the plague that devastated the population, killing seventy percent of all the humans on the planet. When he gets word that his brother is among the rebels, he joins them too, hoping to find him. Instead he gets caught up in a failed assassination attempt on the Supreme Alpha, a strong, powerful wolf shifter who now has Aaron right where he wants him--at his mercy. Despite his growing attraction to Aaron, Quinn has to try to keep his heart from getting too involved, and when another assassination plot is uncovered, Quinn has to make a difficult decision. He must put Aaron aside despite his feelings for him and imprison him, even though the mating bond between them means Aaron will suffer and die without Quinn. And when Aaron disappears and word gets back to Quinn that he’s dying, he has to take a leap of faith to bring him home and back to Quinn's bed where he belongs.
“Should be a good night for the games, Alpha.”
Quinn, the new Alpha of all the Nine Territories, nodded as he gazed down at the prisoners who were slated to fight that evening. The crowd in the arena was restless, jeering and catcalling to the ragtag group of humans circling the ring. Those humans who had elected to participate that day yelled obscenities at the crowd in the stands and shook their fists. Quinn surveyed the prisoners with a grim sense of resignation. They represented failure to him. The crowd had become restless and unruly, anxious for the games to begin, but Quinn hated these games. They would be one of the first things he ended when he called his first council meeting.
The old alpha, an inflexible and intolerant wolf, his heart as cold and ice-bound as the northern territories he came from, had used these games as a way to execute human prisoners for capital crimes. Even though the humans had chosen this punishment for themselves as an alternative to retraining, Quinn still considered it barbaric and savage. The wolves should be caring for the humans in their custody, not slaughtering them in the ring.
Sean, Quinn’s second in command and an alpha on his council, glanced up at the silvery moon rising overhead. “Most of them are gang members from the Southwest Territory, along with a few of the rebels taken last week when they tried to attack a Territory lock-up to free one of their friends. All of them murderers, thieves, rapists. They were offered retraining but all refused.”
“Humans are like children, Sean. Cruel yes, but also unthinking, proud, reckless. They don’t always know what’s in their best interests. They need guidance, and this spectacle is nothing to gloat over. It’s nothing for us to take pleasure in either.” A horn announcing the beginning of the fights blared across the arena, saving Sean from the necessity of answering, and their attention was drawn back down to the ring.
The arena was located in the Second Territory, on a two acre plot of land on the banks of the Potomac River, once known as the National Mall back when the humans ruled the world. The old U.S. Capitol building, burned to the ground in the early days of the plague, once lay to the east and the Washington Monument to the west. The area in between had been fenced and was used as a national arena.
These humans below had stated time and again their outright refusal to be retrained and follow Pack rules or submit to the domination of the territorial alphas. Yet, even now Quinn was more than willing to offer clemency and retraining if any of the men had requested it. Unfortunately, these men had vowed to die before they would submit themselves to the supremacy of wolves.
Though he didn’t like to force retraining on anyone, Quinn had already commuted the sentence of several of the men, because brave men deserved a chance, whether they wanted it or not. Frankly, most humans simply didn’t know what was in their own best interests.
The humans no longer had a grip on the world and its resources they had treated with such contempt. It may have been an unknown virus that caused the Pestilence that wiped out almost seventy-five percent of the human population, but Quinn thought it was really natural selection. The world had been dying under human rule, so Nature itself had attacked those responsible for killing it, an elegantly simple solution. The wolves, immune to human diseases, had been spared.
The Pestilence had been linked to the septicemic plague, once known as the Black Death, a pandemic which had come close to wiping out the entire human population of Europe in the thirteenth century, but this mutant form of the bacteria had proven to be highly resistant to all existing human antibiotics and swept through the population like a tsunami, destroying almost everyone in its path. No one knew exactly how the plague got started. There were stories from the Middle East about a terrorist group unleashing the bacteria deliberately and then promptly dying themselves from exposure to it. Other stories out of France told of an accident in a lab. Whatever happened, the Pestilence spread quickly and was almost always fatal.
Quinn’s attention was caught by a figure at the back of line. Some of the men in the ring below were other prisoners, convicted of minor crimes, and not slated to die. These humans were tasked with cleaning up the arena once the gladiators had done their work. Quinn had never understood the old human penal system. Thieves, rapists, and murderers had been housed in conditions of near luxury in cells they often only had to share with one other person, and had daily luxuries like plentiful food, recreational activities and free access to comprehensive health care. It was hard to figure out what their punishment was.
Criminals had been kept in conditions better than most wolves used to live in. It was one of the first things Quinn had altered when he took office. Now prisoners were still fed properly, but were housed in long bunkhouses twenty to a shed, and they worked every day in every area of manual labor.
The guards were trying to break up a scuffle in the workman’s line, not something that the wolves and their superior strength ever had a problem doing for long, but as Quinn’s eyes fell on one of the prisoners near the back of the group, being prodded by the gun of one of the guards, he could see that this human was totally unlike anyone Quinn had ever seen before. He kept his head boldly raised for one thing, ignoring the instructions of the guards and the raucous shouts and insults that had begun to be hurled at him from the crowd. Suddenly, he turned, bared his teeth and charged toward the guard with his head down.
Lean and muscular, the young human was hobbled by a chain on his ankles that prevented him from taking a full step. Still, he looked barely contained. As Quinn watched, the guard drove the butt of his gun into the young human’s shoulder, and the man turned a face of startling beauty up to snarl at him. His blue eyes flashed with fury, and he lunged again at the heavily armed wolf, who responded by bringing the butt of his rifle down again, this time on the young human’s shoulder.
The human fell to his knees, but struggled back to his feet in seconds, spitting out a string of words that made the guard throw back his head and laugh.
“Who is that one?” Quinn asked, leaning forward. “The pretty, mule-headed one. He seems to be refusing to work.”
“Hmm?” Sean replied. “Oh, that one? His name is Cailan, I think. He’s from the Fourth Territory—captured with the rebels who blew up the courthouse there about a month ago. He’s been working well up to now.” He shrugged. “No idea why he’s refusing to work tonight, unless he knows some of the prisoners and is trying to make some kind of diversion.”
“There’s something about him that makes me think of…” Quinn broke off, frowning down at the young man who chose that very moment to look up into the stands and directly at Quinn. His blue eyes blazed hot and his full lips twisted into a snarl. He shouted something, an obscenity no doubt, but the crowd was making too much noise for Quinn to hear what he said. The sentiment, however, came through loud and clear.
As Quinn gazed down at him, it suddenly occurred to him where he’d seen that face before—on a wanted poster in the hallway outside his office. The photo on the poster was small and grainy, but showed a tall, muscular young man with long, dark hair that hung down to his shoulders. This man’s hair was shorter, but Quinn still recognized him, not as someone named Cailan, but as Aaron Tabor, one of the most wanted humans in all the Nine Territories.
Quinn was momentarily astonished and refocused his full attention on the man. So Tabor had apparently given the wolves a false name and kept up this charade for over a month since he’d been arrested. The man was a murderer, responsible for acts of terror against the government. In fact, Tabor had been implicated in the recent failed assassination attempt on Quinn himself. This human was far too important to be punished by the work details. His crimes were capital ones, and his punishment would require some special consideration. It had to be public, severe, and above all else, humiliating. He couldn’t be allowed to become some kind of martyr to the rebel cause. His image as a hero had to be tainted so that human rebels wouldn’t rally around it.
“Pull that man from the work detail,” Quinn said, nodding down at him. “And bring him to me. That human down there is hiding his true identity. Probably so that we won’t make an example of him. He’s Aaron Tabor, the one who tried to blow up my car two months ago and killed my driver. We need to show him some special hospitality.”
Sean jumped to his feet to obey him, not questioning his alpha’s command, in the way of a good second. He looked shocked to learn of Tabor’s identity and rushed out of the box seats to hurry down to the arena floor before the games began. Quinn watched him go and smiled to himself. Aaron Tabor needed some unique consideration and special handling indeed. His attempt to kill Quinn had failed, but three other wolves had been killed in the assassination attempt, good, brave wolves, two of his personal guards and his driver, a loyal gamma named Brannan, who had left behind a pregnant mate. Wolves didn’t take revenge, but justice needed to be served. Quinn would see to that.