Cambry grasped the curtain, pulling it away from the polished glass of his bedroom window. The fabric was soft and heavy in his hand—something from the latest designer his mother had fallen in love with. Instead of the previous indigo, it was now a deep blue that blended in with the softer tones of his room.
A fountain spurted beyond the window, its waters guarded by a black gate that matched the fence that surrounded the property. There were grass and trees, too, beyond those gates, not that he ever got the chance to enjoy them.
An alpha retreated along the concrete walkway, his back rippling under his thin T-shirt. Each movement was like a feral dance of instinct and desire. There was a streak of red across his shirt that hadn’t been there when he’d arrived. The alpha had been big, strong, attractive and sweet—everything a proper mate should be.
But Cambry’s plan had been disastrous, like a spectacular firework that had failed to launch and exploded in his face instead. The second the alpha had shown any intent that wasn’t exactly platonic, Cambry’s instinctive side had reared up and taken him out.
Sighing, Cambry let the curtain fall shut, the filtered light dimming to a sparse glow. Luckily, the alpha was only leaving with a scratch and a black eye instead of a broken arm like the last one—or the broken collar bone from the one before him. Maybe it was because Cambry had warned him?
Most alphas sneered at the warning—hence the broken arm and collar bone—but this one had seemed different.
“When you try to touch me, I’m going to react…badly.” Cambry couldn’t remember how many times he had said those same words. He guessed that the first few alphas had assumed that Cambry would react like any other omega was supposed to—with slick and a burst of pheromones.
They hadn’t been expecting violence.
Walking to his dresser, Cambry pulled the top drawer wide, fumbling with a pair of boxers and tugging them up his thick legs. The fabric was smooth and silken and clutched his soft package like a fitted glove. They were worth spending his tiny allowance on, that was for sure. Thank goodness for the little things in life.
The little things being both his package and the expensive underwear.
His old friend Aubrie had asked him why he always splurged on the things if he had no one to show them off to. He had his own mirror, thank you very much, which added ten pounds, even on the best of days. But it was always honest about the boxers, which looked a hell of a lot better than they did on most omegas.
“Why don’t you give up, Cambry? It kills me to see you like this. If an alpha hasn’t induced a heat in you by now, it’s not going to happen.”
Aubrie had probably had the best intentions when she’d said that, but it had pierced Cambry’s soul like a dull pencil crayon. Or maybe that was why Cambry’s father had chosen her as his friend…to wear him down a bit more.
There was only so much loneliness he could take before he tried to be with someone again, hoping that everything would finally work the way it was supposed to. It wasn’t the sex as much as it was everything else. He couldn’t hug someone or even hold their hand without his feral side acting out.
His skin prickled as his door slid back, light footsteps moving across the floor behind him. And there was that.
“Your father is upset,” said his mother, her meek voice slapping him harder than any blow. He couldn’t look at her and see the same disappointment that was in his soul.
He could hear her shaking, her teeth chattering softly as she stayed as far away from him as she could. He was surprised that she had even managed to step into the same room as he was in.
“I tried, Mom,” he said, pulling a second drawer wide and tugging a shirt over his frame. He had to get alpha sizes, seeing as nothing for omegas fit his frame. His father was upset about that, too.
The alpha sizes were shaped differently than he was, though—the shoulders a touch too wide and the waist not quite narrow enough. Nothing had fit him well since he’d hit puberty.
The steady thumps of his father’s steps approached, and he hurriedly pulled a pair of jeans over his legs. They at least fit a bit better, his thighs stretching the fabric to its brink as it cupped his ass. The only place with too much room was the crotch, but he was almost glad that nothing ever touched him there.
He looked at the mirror above his dresser, scowling at his reflection. Fellow omegas were terrified of him, and alphas treated him like he was a strange cousin to the human race who needed to be broken or beaten until he fit into a different shape than what he had been born into.
He sniffed, slamming the drawer shut before his father could step into his room. There was no use crying, no matter how frustrated he was.
“We’ve tried it your way, Cambry. These alphas can’t stand to get close to you, let alone allow you to bond with them,” said his father as he hovered at the edge of the door frame. He was a few inches shy of Cambry’s height and had lost his alpha muscling to his age long before Cambry had been born. Like most alphas, he never got too close to Cambry—just close enough to hurt with words.
Cambry wondered if he would ever forget his father’s way. The restraints had dug into his wrists as a strange alpha had approached him from behind. Guided by an overdressed and undereducated doctor, Cambry’s father had hoped to kick-start Cambry’s omega nature with some good ole fashioned alpha cock. They hadn’t counted on Cambry breaking his own arm as he shifted, turning on the alpha and ripping a chunk of flesh from his throat.
The alpha hadn’t died—thank goodness—but they had never tried to restrain Cambry after that. And they had finally listened to him and had let him try on his own terms by picking up an alpha from a bar. It was about as romantic as a one-night stand could have been.
But it had resulted the same way—minus the shifting and massive blood loss, at least.
“It almost happened, Dad. I was so close,” said Cambry, touching his belly. He’d been naked, which had been a first. And the alpha had managed to touch him once before Cambry’s beast had risen to the surface and socked him in the face. Biting the alpha’s gland to bond with them had been the last thing on his mind.
“Close isn’t enough,” said his father, the snarl in his voice enough to prickle the hair on the back of Cambry’s neck. He’d never attacked a family member, but he had come close enough times that his father rarely approached him without backup. It was probably why his mother was strategically between them, shivering with her eyes downcast.
“Your heat could kill you. You’re already so much older than you should be for your first one, and there’s no way you can manage it alone,” said his mother, the edge of a sob in her voice. Cambry turned, his heart falling as he watched the tears stream down his mother’s face. She, at least, cared for him. His father was more interested in seeing him out of the door in a different alpha’s house—with some financial benefits for himself, of course.
“I’d have to have a heat first.” Cambry turned away as his father’s dark eyes glared into him. Most omegas had their first heat when they were still in high school, the late bloomers sprouting by eighteen at the latest. Cambry had turned twenty-two three weeks before, and he still hadn’t experienced a heat. He was hardly an omega at all by some standards.
But his mom was right. Those that had monthly heats had the mildest cycle, still able to continue their day-to-day lives with only a mild fever and a bit of slickness. Some of Cambry’s classmates had been that way, and he’d scarcely been able to tell.
Those who had heats once a year had to isolate themselves for nearly a week, their scent and instincts so uncontrollable that they could kill any stranger who attempted to approach. They needed a mate to ease them through it, more with their presence than their knot, from what his mother had explained.
For Cambry not to have had a heat at his age meant that his first would reduce him to nothing more than a feral beast that would kill and fuck without conscious thought. The idea was terrifying, especially since he was already so close to feral that an alpha couldn’t touch him.
“I’ve tolerated this abnormality of yours for long enough,” said his father, his mother’s spine stiffening.
“Dear, you promised,” she said, her voice pleading.
“No, he’ll be going to them, and that’s final. That doctor wasn’t worth his degree, but a colleague of mine gave me the name of a facility that he swears by. If one alpha can’t handle him, then maybe two can snap him out of this phase.” He tossed a business card into the room and it fluttered end over end before settling upside down on the floor. Turning, he stormed from the entry.
Cambry finally took a breath as his father disappeared, skirting by his mother to grab the business card. It was deep forest green with the name Feral Woods inscribed along the middle with deep gold lettering.
He flipped it over, his eyes going wide as he read the services listed on the card. “Instinctive therapy? What is that?” It sounded terrifying and alluring at the same time.
His instincts were everything that was wrong with him, though. As much as he wanted to listen to the little whispers in the back of his mind, he knew if he did, he would be alone for the rest of his life. Therapy brought to mind cages and bindings, the hair on his arms and chest thickening at the thought.
If it had been his father’s idea, the latter was probably exactly what was involved. His colleagues weren’t much better in Cambry’s experience, either.
“I hear they are very good,” she said softly, her voice trembling as she took a step back. His heart broke under the weight of her fear.
His parents were terrified of him. Maybe he should be locked in a cage for the rest of his days until they found someone who could make him submit. Or two someones. He quivered.
“When do I leave?” He took a shuddering breath as he looked around his room. What would he be allowed to bring? His collection of rocks from his younger years? Probably not. His romance novels? He should probably give them a proper burial before he left, because his father would burn them and disown him if he found them hidden under the floorboard.
Just another layer of his abnormalities. His father would have a heart attack if he ever read one of them or even caught sight of the cover. They were the only things that Cambry had ever intentionally rebelled with, and they could cost him everything.
“Your father pulled some strings.” Because of course he did. She cleared her throat. “You’re leaving in an hour.”
So his father had expected his plan to fail.
“There are single omegas, Mom. Why can’t he just let me be?” Cambry sighed, drawing a hand down his arm as his fur retreated, prickling as it pulled back under his skin. Others described shifting as painful, and even his mother could hardly bear to do it. But to him, it was a release he only ever found when he was in that form—wild and without the presumptions of a society that hated him.
“You know why,” she said, not even looking at him. He hadn’t noticed the exact moment that she had given up on him, but it had been a long time ago—perhaps when he had matured into an omega, only he hadn’t stopped growing like he was supposed to or maybe when the first alpha had offered him a mating contract and Cambry had bitten clear through his hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said. The reasons were too long for her to list, and he knew them almost by heart. “Your father has so much pressure at work. People are wondering why you haven’t mated yet. People will talk, son, and your reputation will be ruined. We can’t let them know that you’re…unnatural. Your heat will kill you, and if it doesn’t, your father…”
They did have a slight point. He had no desire to die, especially since he hadn’t seen the world except for his tiny slice of neighborhood and the bit of lawn within the black gates. The unmated omegas he’d seen were considered strange anomalies in the circles his father traveled in and were best to be left alone and shunned.
As if they couldn’t function without a knot to drool over.
Cambry rolled his eyes. The idea of a knot made him a bit nauseous. He had no desire to bend over and take it like he was supposed to. His feral side agreed with toothy gusto.
“You should pack. I’ll give you space.” She set a duffel bag on the floor before she swept from the room, the loss of her presence barely palpable in the quiet house.
She was his polar opposite. His beast refused to be compliant and meek, even when he tried so hard to overcome that part of himself. He didn’t want to be his mother, who was a shadow of a human being ruled by society more than her education and emotions.
Sighing, he looked around the room before grabbing the bag. If he were lucky, he would have just enough room to pack his books under a thin layer of clothing. Then, at least, he could take everything that meant something to him.
He looked at the business card one last time. Alpha and omega instinctive therapy sessions. Two hundred acres of supervised development.
Well, on the bright side, he would probably get to see some hot alpha ass. A smile tugged at his lips. He could have a positive attitude. At least he was getting out of the house. And two hundred acres would give his beast a lot more places to run, even if he was supervised.
Checking to make sure the coast was clear, he lifted the floorboards just inside his closet. His collection of books that he’d spent years gathering barely fit in the space anymore. The pages were worn from being read so many times, the front covers smudged from his fingers. The covers gave away everything that his father didn’t need to know. Two men, bigger than even himself and twined in a primal embrace, painted a steamy picture that made his mouth water. Forbidden Alphas.
Heat flushed his cheeks as he packed them out of sight, zipping the bag shut with a hard pull. He balled up a pair of socks and underwear, jamming them into the side pouch to disguise the corners the books had created.
There. All packed. I hope I never come back.