Grey Fiero set her books onto the table she’d designated for her studies, ruffling her thick dark hair as she prepared for the long day ahead. She enjoyed reading and she did well in most of her classes, but actively studying was a relatively new concept for her. All through high school, she’d sailed through most of her classes and even had time for extracurricular activities, including volleyball, a brief stint as a cheerleader, choir, anime club, and of course musical theatre. Now in her second year of college, the work had become much harder. She found she had to actually work to maintain her GPA and still have time for just the one or two extracurricular activities she needed to participate in to “get the full college experience,” as her parents put it.
The thought of her parents immediately sent her into a negative headspace, though. Just that morning, she’d had a fight with her mother.
“Grey,” her mother had said when Grey stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast, still dressed in her pajamas with her hair pulled into a messy half-bun because she had yet to brush it; Grey had frozen, knowing that the voice was the one her mother used when she meant business. She hated that voice.
Lupe Fiero was a beautiful woman, if somewhat stern. She was seated at the breakfast nook, clutching her mug of steaming coffee in one of her perfectly manicured hands. Her dark hair was perfectly styled despite the ungodly hour and her dark eyes were cool and calculating as she took in the form of her daughter. Though Grey had heard her whole life how much she resembled her mother, she always had a difficult time believing it. Her mother was always composed and elegant and Grey struggled finding common ground with her.
Her father was much easier to get along with, but her parents had been divorced since she was twelve years old and so he wasn’t around to protect her from the Voice. “What’s up?” Grey asked, trying to sound casual but sounding more uncertain than anything.
Her mother sighed. “Stand up straight, dear, and use proper English. It’s hard enough for Latina women to be respected as it is,” she said. “Sit down.”
Grey wanted to point out that her mother had just told her to stand straight, not sit down, but figured that arguing this early in the morning couldn’t possibly be a good idea and so she’d sat down across from her mother. “What is it, mother?”
“You are nineteen years old now. That is already older than most women in this family are when they are betrothed to a suitable alpha,” her mother began.
Grey couldn’t help it; she groaned. She had been dreading this talk more than anything.
As a Lycan female, her primary purpose was to marry into power so that she could improve upon her family’s place in the pack hierarchy and continue her family’s bloodline, a bloodline that could be traced all the way back to the Native American tribes of both North and South America. It was admittedly an impressive bloodline, but Grey had no interest in any of that—not yet at any rate. “I’ve told you a hundred times, I’m not ready to get married. It’s not like we don’t have time.”
“Your father and I were married when I was just sixteen years old,” Lupe pointed out.
“Yeah, and look how that turned out—you got a divorce, or did you forget that part?” Grey said, folding her arms across her chest. All thoughts of avoiding a fight were gone by that point and so she saw no reason to hold back.
Lupe stiffened. “That may be so, but not before we managed to do our duty: we had you.”
“And I want more than a marriage of convenience where you pop out a baby and then decide to call it quits,” Grey said. “I want love. I know it’s a foreign concept for someone as cold and heartless as you, but…”
“Is that what you think?” Lupe said, her voice sounding more remote than ever and all the scarier because it was so quiet. “That I’m cold and heartless? That I don’t love?”
Grey had floundered for a suitable response, but couldn’t find one. Truth was, some part of her truly did believe that. It hurt her to think it, but her mother had never been a very warm person. She was very selective with the affection she did give and even then it felt more like an obligation or a duty rather than a spontaneous display of love for one’s child.
“It is because I love you that I am pushing this conversation,” Lupe said. “The alpha I have selected for you is a powerful man, a strong one. Marrying him would ensure that you are comfortable for life, that our pack remains safe. I have tried my best to protect you from everything, but Savannah is a city on the brink. Our old truces are falling apart, revolution is coming, and if you don’t agree to marry him…”
Lupe looked almost desperate as she reached across the table and grabbed Grey’s hand; it was frightening for her, as she had never so much as seen her mother bat an eye. Not even when Grey’s father had asked for a divorce, which she knew had to have been difficult for such an old-fashioned woman.
As if realizing for the first time that she was getting too involved, Lupe quickly took her hand back and folded it gingerly beneath the other one, staring into the swirling dark liquid in her cup. “I’m not asking you to marry him right away,” she continued. “I only ask that you meet him. Please.”
Grey hadn’t seen any other way to respond to that except to agree, because her mother literally never said please, but she wasn’t happy about it. In fact, sitting in the student center now, she couldn’t help but feel the pool of dread in her stomach widen.
Her reverie was destroyed when someone suddenly spilled something in her lap. She shrieked and stood in a hurry due to the shock of the icy sensation, but that caused some of it to splash onto her books and papers. She made another noise of displeasure, trying to brush everything off. “What the hell!?”
“Sorry, sorry!” said the mysterious figure, rushing to help her wipe everything up. “I’m so sorry!”
At first glance, he was around her age, tall and lanky, with curly brown hair. She had been prepared to curse him out for his carelessness, but just then their eyes met. For a second, Grey even forgot to breathe. He was inhumanly attractive, with eyes the color of slate and pinpricks of golden brown around the pupil. At first, she thought he must be fey—they tended to be beautiful and had odd colored eyes, it was how you could usually tell them from regular mortals—but he didn’t smell like fey to her keen Lycan senses. They smelled like fruits or flowers generally, but this guy smelled more like frankincense with a hint of licorice.
“I—it’s fine,” Grey stuttered, cursing her uncooperative mind. “Accidents happen, right?”
He gave her a bashful look, rubbing the back of his neck. “Right, but see, I hate making bad first impressions with beautiful young ladies like yourself and spilling soda in one’s lap tends to make a pretty solidly negative one.”
“I don’t hold a grudge,” Grey said, unable to keep from smiling back at him. “I’m fine, really. Just a little sticky.”
“Still, I insist: let me make it up to you.” He held out a hand. “Name’s Alexian Banewright, but you can call me Alex.”
“Grey Fiero,” Grey said, taking the offered hand and giving it a solid shake. “And how do you propose making it up to me?”
Alex glanced at the ruined papers briefly. “Well, since it looks like you were trying to study math, I could offer my expertise as a tutor for one.”
“And for two?” Grey asked, arching an eyebrow and folding her arms across her chest.
“For two…I could take you on a date.”
Grey was stunned. She hadn’t known what she expected, but it certainly wasn’t that. “Mr. Banewright, did you devise this whole ploy in order to solicit a date from me?”
“That depends entirely on if it works,” he said, winking.
Grey wanted to be angry. She hated people who did annoying things just to ask a girl out. Were men really so entitled that they thought they could do whatever they wanted to a girl and still somehow get laid for it? On the other hand, Alexian was really attractive and with her mother plotting her marriage to some unknown alpha even as she spoke, this could be her last chance at a normal dating experience.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that you just spilled this drink on me so you could ask me out. What happened to just asking a girl and seeing what she says?” Grey began.
Alex’s expression faltered. “No, that’s not…I didn’t really do it on purpose. Just, when we locked eyes right there I thought…well, maybe it wasn’t so bad that I’d dropped the soda on your lap. Maybe it was fate, so I thought…I thought you wanted me to ask you out. I’m so sorry, this isn’t what I wanted to happen at all…”
Grey tried to hold her stern look, but seeing the stricken look on his face, she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “Fine,” she began. “I don’t necessarily know that I believe you, but I’m willing to give you a chance here. It had better be one hell of a date though, to make up for this mess.”
Immediately, some of the tension left his shoulders. “Yes, of course. And I’ll make sure you ace your next math test, too. I promise, you won’t regret it.”
“Hm. We’ll see about that,” Grey said, though she felt her lips twitch upward in a half-smile. “But first…did you really just call it fate that you dropped a soda in my lap?”
He shrugged, returning her smile. “What can I say, I’m a big believer in destiny. Maybe by the end of our date, you will be too?”
Grey scoffed. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. Friday, around 7 p.m.? We can meet here and head to wherever you have planned for the night.”
“Sounds perfect. I’ll see you then.” And with a wave, Alexian left the student center.
Grey turned back to her mess with a sigh. “So much for studying tonight…” she said, then shoved all her papers into a nearby trashcan.