I love this cover so much I asked my cover artist to make me posters AND different sized screensavers :)
Ghian is the leader of his pack and as such must mate and produce an heir to take over his role when he’s gone. But females hold no appeal to him and he cannot bring himself to take a life partner just to do his duty.
Aalyan belongs to a pack on the edge of starvation and when he presents omega, his fate is sealed; he must go away. It’s a sacrifice he’s ready to make if it means his people will thrive.
The man waiting for him across the river is nothing like the tyrant he’s been led to expect, but no matter how kind his captor, the role of omega is still a cage Aalyan cannot help but pace within.
When a kiss is demanded, it cannot be true, can it? Can the tenderness of skin to waken that of the heart?
An arranged marriage mpreg romance.
Aalyan kept his eyes on the ground as the elders talked around him, his hand absently rubbing the beautiful clothes he’d been given and letting their words wash over him.
He was the topic of discussion, but he wasn’t supposed to speak. It didn’t really matter, he didn’t have anything to say. He still wasn’t sure any of it was real.
Not that he doubted them, it was just… He didn’t feel any different. It was his packmates—the alphas—who’d changed as far as he was concerned. Their scent commanding his attention in a way that had nothing to do with the healthy respect he’d had for their temperaments before that morning.
That morning. The sun still hadn’t set and they were already— He shook himself, wishing he could cover his ears. It wasn’t like it mattered what he heard, was it?
And he’d heard more than enough already.
The Moon was blessing them at last. With a male omega, bringer of prosperity and bountifulness.
There hadn’t been a known male omega in their pack in at least a hundred years. His presentation had been a shock to everyone, but now that they’d got him safely ensconced into the grotto where their most sacred ceremonies took place, they’d all relaxed.
His mother squeezed his hand once again where she sat by his side, her body tense with excitement. And pride. That’s what she’d told him once his Dad had confirmed what had happened, that she was proud of him.
He hadn’t known what to say then either. Proud? Because of something he hadn’t even known had happened, let alone intended? She hadn’t been half as delighted when he and his friends had brought down a huge wild boar on their own last spring.
Proud. Blessed. Sacred.
The words echoed in his head, sounds that could have as well been the raging of a storm for all the sense they made to him.
There had also been some hushed conversations about the fact that he’d thankfully presented at home on a normal day and not outside, or worse yet, during the Full Moon.
No one needed to tell Aalyan would have happened if he’d been around some young alphas without adult supervision; he’d felt their heavy gazes following him around as he was led to the grotto to meet with their elders.
He wondered if that’s how their prey felt before they fell upon it to tear it to pieces.
“Aalyan?” the Alpha’s voice startled him into looking up. A frown marred his wrinkled features, their leader was already great grandfather to many pups, but he was still clear-minded and strong.
“Yes, Alpha?” he said quickly, but the older leopard’s expression only soured further.
“Keep your eyes to yourself,” he was told rather testily, and the words stung like tree branches against bare skin—the shock as painful as the anger that had his inner leopard cowering.
He shuddered and looked down at once. His mother squeezed his back, a silent comfort all she could offer.
The Alpha sighed. “You will learn your new role, Aalyan, the Moon speaks in your heart, you only need to listen to be a good omega to your alpha.”
His heart jumped at the words, starting to race. It was just… Of course he’d known, he was an omega and that meant he had to be mated to an alpha.
Male omegas were a gift from the Moon, their supreme Alpha, and the goddess hadn’t seen fit to let any other females walk with her power. Male omegas were taken by male alphas, just like female omegas. Like female omegas, they were also meant to be submissive towards alphas, but Aalyan had always thought it was something that came naturally, not a rule.
Of course, as a young beta boy, he’d hardly talked to any of the female omegas in his own pack.
Did the young alphas follow them around like they’d done to him? If his father and older brother hadn’t been there to growl at them… He swallowed.
“You are special,” the Alpha was telling him. “The Moon has chosen you, chosen us to use your gifts for the good of the pack.”
Aalyan risked a glance upwards, confused. His gifts? Were male omegas actually magical?
His curiosity was a serious mistake because the alpha’s next words hit him right in his open soul. “You cannot remain with us, of course.”
It was his mother’s shushing him softly as she gathered him close that alerted him to the pained noise that’d escaped his own mouth. They wanted him to leave his pack?
“You needn’t worry, Mareé,” one of the older Elders was saying to his mum when Aalyan’s ears began working again. “He will be honoured wherever he goes, every shifter knows what a blessing a male omega is.”
“Indeed,” the Alpha agreed. “And he will be a blessing to us as well. You are a true miracle in this hard times, young man.”
Aalyan knew he should respond, but it was all he could do to keep his face buried against his mother’s shoulder as he trembled, biting his tongue not to cry openly.
Maybe they expected an omega to behave like that because no one called him out on it.
Among the leopards, there were alphas who could have taken him as a mate, so distantly related only the elders could have told them how far back their lines met... But prey had been getting more and more sparse every season, and even though the Moon had blessed their pack with his presentation, it apparently wasn’t out of the question to pass that blessing on to someone else in exchange for something of more value.
Like food. Enough food no one would be struggling.
It wasn’t like Aalyan didn’t know how bad it was to go to bed with a growling stomach on days when they couldn’t bring back enough meat or even fruit. Or like he hadn’t given his younger siblings part of his own food to keep from seeing the suffering as they squirmed and sucked on dried bones.
Who could argue that he was worth less than food? Of course he was, he couldn’t keep them alive no matter how many hours he hunted (and no he could no longer even do that much).
He was worth a lot, though, he reminded himself silently. They were asking for a lot of food in exchange for him, enough to feed his whole pack for two months or complement their diets for even longer.
Aalyan wouldn’t be with them, but he’d know they were okay, that his Mum wasn’t trying to crush bones to extract some flavour into their stew, that his Dad wouldn’t go hunting in the middle of the night because the guilt didn’t let him rest. They would be okay and as long as he knew that, he could… He squeezed his eyes shut, inhaling deeply as his heart started racing again. A gentle hand on his elbow startled him into opening them again.
His mother didn’t speak when their eyes met, but she raised her own chin in silent encouragement and, after a moment, Aalyan followed suit, breathing in and out more slowly.
He could do this. For them.
“Ghian?” his brother said.
He swallowed. A male omega. He’d given up on the idea of a mate years ago, when he’d finally told his family that he could not mate a woman. And now… Male omegas were blessings from the Moon, of course, but it seemed like this was a blessing for Ghian in particular. He could finally fulfil his duty to his pack and have children that one day would take over when he was gone. And he could be with someone, really be with them and not just sneak around like… He shook his head. “And the leopards don’t want him?”
Telez’s mouth turned down. “The leopards are probably thanking the gods for what they can get for him. You know they lost a lot in that fire the humans started, I don’t think… Well, they need other things a lot more than an omega.”
“What do they want?”
“Food,” his brother said, and Ghian fest the bitter twist of his mouth in his own stomach. Food. To think a pack could be doing so badly they’d need to bargain to survive.
And here he was, with crops that gave them more than they needed in the north and fruit trees on the mountainside that not only fed them but attracted prey. Food was the one thing no Jaguar had had to think about in a long time.
It was no accident. Nine years ago, when he’d become their Alpha, Ghian had insisted they start planting the sturdy and highly nutritional root vegetable not long after taking over from his late father. He couldn’t take all the credit, it had been his sister Erea who’d suggested it, but he was proud of having listened. So the Jaguars were thriving even while other packs were struggling to keep up with the rapidly diminishing animal and fish populations. When the humans didn’t eat them, they took them away for who knew what, sometimes they simply destroyed their habitats to the point where the animals didn’t have enough food to sustain large litters.
All he had to do was say yes. It was perhaps all Ghian could do, but he was still Alpha, and he asked, “How many?”
“There are about fifty of the Ysiatl,” his brother informed him neutrally.
“We can send them twenty sacks of cassava,” he decided, rapidly calculating. “Every new moon for the next three months.”
Telez inhaled sharply. It was a lot of food, Ghian knew, but he wasn’t stupid, the Moon was giving him one chance to get what he needed. What his pack needed. He couldn’t risk anyone else making the Leopards a better offer.
Once upon a time, Ghian had been a child. The alpha’s third child, at that. Everyone had looked after him, of course, just like of any pup.
And then, at the tender age of eleven, he’d presented alpha himself.
He hadn’t even known who he was, but suddenly everyone else had known. Every kid he’d grown up playing with, every adult he’d tricked into giving him sweets or startled by jumping out from behind a bush while they were busy. Every single person he knew.
They had known and he hadn’t, so why shouldn’t he believe them? Being an alpha meant being like his father, the person he admired most in the world. It meant his father would train him and him alone and he wouldn’t have to wait for his turn to be heard until his older siblings got their say.
It had meant he was special.
He’d felt it too. His dad and he had trekked to the top of Mount Lajika to talk to the god of the mountain, just sat there in silence and listened to the rock talk to them. The rock hadn’t been very communicative to Ghian at first, but he’d sat gladly after the hard climb and afterwards his father would smile at him—just with his eyes—and say, “You are doing a good job, son.”
He'd been so proud back then, right until he’d had a bad day—some sort of plant had brushed against his leg, irritating it and making it itch so he hadn’t been able to sit still—and received the same kind words.
“A good job? I was shit today!” He’d been twelve, full of energy and spite and very low on sympathy, even for himself.
His dad had looked at him for a long moment, not reprimanding him for his tone. “What do you think the job is, son?”
Ghian had frowned at him. “To— To listen to Apu.”
“Yes, and were you listening?”
“I tried.” He was sulking and he knew it, but even then he was struggling not to scratch his leg. He knew his dad was disappointed and that only made his own disappointment sting all the more.
His father was nodding. “But you couldn’t do it?”
He shook his head, biting his tongue, too close to tears for words.
“Because your body was distracting you,” his father suggested.
Ghian managed a nod, eyes still on the ground, shame hot in his stomach.
“Apu has a body, too, you know?”
“What?” He’d glanced up, too thrown to be upset.
His father’s hand had patted the rocky side of the mountain. “This is his body, the part of him we can touch. That’s how he can talk to us, with the wind going through his cracks and crevices, the little pieces of rock eroding away under our feet, and the water dripping from where it gets trapped inside.” He’d reached out to take Ghian’s small hand in his then and turned the palm up, tapping it with his fingers. “This is you too, son, and you need to listen to your own body before you listen to anyone else’s, even a god’s.”
Ghian had frowned up at him. “So…”
“So if your body tells you that you are in pain and it cannot wait, you attend to it first.”
“But I’m an alpha, I’m—”
“You are a boy,” his father had cut in. “And even alphas need time to heal, Ghian. We are strong, the Moon blessed us so, but we are not gods.” He had waited for Ghian to nod before turning. “Come now, there’s a grotto this way where we can wash that off.”