1. Happy Birthday, Princess

Lounging in my throne beside my parents, I peer down at the revelry below, itching to get into the frenzy with my people, but my mother’s stern look holds me in place.

As the sole heir to the Alpha King’s throne, I must behave with dignity and whatever nonsense it is that is expected of royalty. I weary of having these discussions with my parents and getting grounded when I snarl back at them for trying to keep tabs on me.

I clocked twenty-freaking-one today. It’s my birthday party, as well as the celebration of Solstice. I should be dancing with my friends. I should be getting drunk on smuggled human alcohol and plants. I should be having fun, because come tomorrow, I will be going through the portal that leads to the Werewolf Academy.

My life begins the moment I go through that portal. My responsibilities as heir will begin to weigh down on me, as I will be expected to excel in every single aspect of my training. Werewolf High had been hard enough. The Academy was simply arduous and too demanding for a woman who just wants to enjoy her life.

Come tomorrow, it is also expected that I begin the search for my mate. I know what you must be thinking. Why do I not have a mate at this age?

I must tell you before proceeding further into my story and my life; do discard whatever lore you have heard and learned. My world is more different than anything you have come to know.

Werewolves age slowly, and for that, our growth is slow as well. The age considered as mature in my lands is twenty-one for females, and twenty-five for males. The Goddess has made it so that our mates will always be older than us, and we do not mate until we have reached the required age.

So, anytime now, I will sniffing the air for my soul bound mate. I can’t say I am excited.

I spy Orion Frostclaw make his way over to the gathering and my heart flutters. His blonde hair is slicked back into a bun and his blue eyes glitter like sapphire jewels. He has a white tux on, and he makes white look sinfully hot. He has an easy smile, and you know what the best part is? He’s looking at me.

Not the “I’ve found my mate” sort of look. Nope. Far from it. It’s the “I can’t wait to take off your clothes” type of look.

He jerks his head towards the storeroom in a silent message, and I nod imperceptibly. Hell yeah.

But as I begin to rise from my throne, the herald howls, indicating the arrival of the Lycan King and his entourage.

I always hate this part. Rolling my eyes, I join my father and mother, walking down the dais to welcome our most important guests. Private time with Orion will have to wait then.

The crowd parts, creating a path for us to walk through. In the crowd, I spy my best friends, Aria Moonclaw and Trinity Silverfang. They are grinning and winking at me. I smile back, making faces at them, but my expression turns sour the moment my gaze falls upon the biggest bastard that exists.

Rune Wilder, Lycan Prince and sole heir to the Lycan throne.

I hate him. He hates me. I wish he would just die. He wishes me the same fate. Every time I hold a sword, I think of beheading him. He. . .he once tried to cut off my head when we were kids—with a fucking dagger—but he’d ended up cutting my beautiful hair.

I had cried for days, and my father had tried to pacify me, buying me every single thing he thought I wanted, except the one thing I did ask for. Punish the Prince for what he did. Shave all of his hair off and make him kneel before me to apologize.

But even as Alpha King, my father had lines he couldn’t cross with the Lycans. We are all the Moon Goddess’s children, but I guess even she has her favourite. There will always be an unseen tension between our kinds. The Lycans will always think themselves superior—because they are darker, stronger, faster, colder, more calculating, and painstakingly beautiful. I guess that does make them. . .ugh. I will never admit to that—and we will always consider ourselves superior, even if we are basically a watered down and milder version of them. Maybe more feral and more inclined to tear off heads rather than think first before tearing off heads.

That too, and the fact that we look like pups beside the Lycans when we shift. They become grotesque and nightmarish. Maybe it is why they rarely shift to their truest forms. To keep giving us the illusion that we can be safe around them.

Even if we all know it’s a lie.

Essentially, Rune Wilder got away with cutting my hair, and in the next Solstice celebration, I had slipped wolfsbane into his food. Now, wolfsbane isn’t as lethal to Lycans as it is to us, but it makes them sick. Very sick. Sick enough to piss themselves and vomit all over the floors. Rune had fainted in his own vomit.

No one found out it was me, but Rune knew it had to be me. Oh, and he had retaliated.

A shiver licks my spine as I recall what it had felt like to wake up in the middle of the night the next day with hundreds of spiders crawling all over me. I still have a phobia for spiders till now. A Rune-Induced Phobia.

As if sensing my line of thoughts, his lips curl into a sneer, and I bare my teeth at him while our parents exchange pleasantries. His eyes are so dark, there isn’t a shade of green allotted to it yet. I hate them. I hate green. He turns away from me, and his moon-white hair slaps the side of my cheek as he stalks off, no doubt to find whatever female is horny enough to have his sock in her by the end of the night. I would know that. I have walked in on him pounding into women in my father’s armoire more than once.

You have to be either bat-shit crazy or extremely daft to get entangled with someone like him.

What’s worse? Every female is completely enamored by the Lycan Prince. They look at him like he’s a fucking god. Even Trinity and Aria are ogling him, undressing him with their eyes.

I seem to be the only one who feels nothing but disgust when I see him.

“How long has it been? You have matured beautifully, Astrid,” Rune’s mother, the Lycan Queen says, pulling my gaze away from the idiot prince and pinching my chin with a fond smile on her face.

I smile in return, blushing slightly. Queen Zephyr has to be the only lycan I have met who seems to be remotely nice. She is fond of me, though I have no idea why. “You flatter me, Queen Zephyr,” I make a dramatic pause as I sight the necklace of diamonds hanging from her elegant neck.” My, is that a new piece? By the Goddess, it is lovely!”

She smiles and flips her pale hair off her shoulder so I can see more of it. Inclining her head towards her husband who is engaged in a deep conversation with my father and mother, she beams, “He spent a fortune getting it from the human lands. Those mortals have become stingy lately.”

“It is beautiful,” I say, eyes wide with pure fascination.

“Astrid dear?” My mother suddenly calls out, causing me to tear my gaze away from the glittering jewelry to meet her ever stark gaze. “Go fetch Rune. We must start the ceremony.”

I hold my comment on why it is necessary that we welcome our people into the new year with the lycans, but I force a smile to my face before turning to search for the idiot prince.

“Princess,” a deep male voice says and I turn to find Thorne’s eyes taking in my form with a delicious spark of lust in his eyes. He takes my hand and presses a wet kiss to my knuckles. “Happy birthday.”

You see, Thorne is the wolf of my dreams. I’ve had a crush on him since I became aware of what it meant to be a woman. I have dreamt of finding him to be my mate and making babies with him. I have dreamt of ruling as Alpha Queen beside him as my King.

We went to werewolf high together, and though we haven’t dated yet—or had sex for that matter— and have had numerous flings with other people, everyone knows there’s something we share. Something that runs deeper than surface level.

But I am staring at him right now, on my twenty first birthday, and my wolf doesn’t seem to stir like they say. I do not smell anything awfully sweet either. I do not feel a tug, or a pull towards him other than the basic attraction that has existed between us for years.

His grey eyes shutter upon the realization too that nothing is sliding into place, and I squeeze his hand softly. “It is not the same for everyone. Perhaps, ours is late. My parents’ was.”

He smiles, but I can see it in his eyes. The possibility that we are not mates.

Thing is, Thorne Nightshade is the son of my father’s Beta, the next most powerful werewolf after my father, Beta Ryder Nightshade. Thorne is the only one fit to be my mate in the Realm of Wolvendom.

So, if Thorne isn’t my mate, who the fuck is my mate then?

After fetching Rune from the weapons cellar—and of course, his pants were half way down and he was only a few seconds away from spilling his seeds into a mated werewolf, Goddess save her soul—we performed the prayer to the Goddess, seeking her blessings and her light into the New Moon Year.

Soon, I am carted away by Trinity and Aria. We dance the entire night away, drunk and extremely high on happiness and lunar root.

I slip away from the crowd the moment I get the chance and I find Orion already awaiting my arrival in the storeroom. Our joining is hard, fast and nothing emotional.

You must think me reckless, and unusual. A spoiled princess who doesn’t understand the weight of her duties. That I am, and more. I have so much weighing down on me that I try my best to ignore it and live for me.

Perhaps, it is for this exact same reason that the Moon Goddess chose to punish me.

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