Scars by Hannah McBride

1

ADDIE - AGE 10

I tried notto yawn as the meeting droned on, but it was a losing battle. My jaw almost popped with the effort that I barely hid behind my hand as my legs swung under the chair I was sitting on in the formal dining room Mother insisted we use for today.

I stretched my legs out and strained to touch the tip of my shoe silently to the floor just to see if I could. I’d already tried counting the cream-colored stripes of the wallpaper, but when I tried counting the flowers in the border around the top, my eyes blurred. I counted all twenty-four glass squares in the double doors that had been closed for our private meeting.

The chair under my butt was hard, and I was all too aware of the hell Mother would rain down on me if I scratched the wood I was sitting on. She’d reminded me several times before we’d come into the room. The formal dining room set had been in the Markham family for generations, and she expected it to remain in perfect condition.

She also told me that I wasn’t supposed to speak. Good girls were seen and not heard.

“A full physical prior to the ceremony will be required,” the older man’s voice boomed.

I shrank against my chair, pressing my back to the spindles, as he turned those shrewd blue eyes my way.

“Obviously,” my father agreed, the warm timbre of his voice soothing the messy tangle of anxiety knotting my tummy.

I wished I was sitting next to him. Daddy always made me feel safe and protected.

Because that’s what Alphas do, sweetling,he’d told me.

At his side, Mother sniffed delicately. “We already agreed to all of your terms, Alpha James.”

The older Alpha’s gaze yet again sliced to me. “And I know how impetuous young shifters can be. I expect my son to receive an untainted bride.”

I resisted the urge to scowl. I wasn’t sure what half of those words meant, but I knew what bride did.

I dropped my gaze to the boy sitting to Alpha James’s immediate right. His son, Brett, was easily ten years older than me and looked annoyed at the idea that I was going to be his wife in ten years.

Same here, jerkface. I moved my gaze before he could catch me staring.

The last thing I wanted was to be engaged to some old Alpha heir who looked like he’d forgotten how to smile. Maybe smiling was outlawed in Stone Valley. At least when I had to marry Brett we would be living in Long Mesa.

I glanced around the room again, wondering what Brett’s house looked like. If their Alpha house was as big as ours. Daddy and Mother said that as the Alpha family, we had the right to have the biggest house. Even if it made me sad when I saw some of my friends from school who didn’t have as much as we had.

But Mother got really mad if I tried to share our stuff with them. When I’d given Jane Hooper a couple of candles because she said they didn’t have lights, Mother had grabbed a lit candle from the table beside her chair and dripped the hot wax on my arm. She said if I wanted to share our stuff, I could pick it off my arm and give it away.

Sometimes I really hated Mother, and I think she hated me, too.

“We’re happy to arrange the union of our packs,” Alpha James’s mate said, leaning forward and smiling softly, proving me wrong. She turned to me. “Your daughter is quite beautiful.”

Something about the Alpha’s mate was calming and reassuring. There was a glimmer in her eyes that made me want to be her friend.

I grinned back, forgetting I wasn’t supposed to. I’d lost a tooth a few days ago, and Mother said the gaping hole in my mouth was grotesque.

“She is,” Mother agreed, wrapping a seemingly innocent arm around me. Her nails dug into my arm until my smile closed and I—again—looked away.

“I must say I’m still a bit surprised,” Alpha James added, leaning back in his chair. “I would have assumed your son would be your heir, Warren.”

The smile on Daddy’s face waned, and I felt Mother’s sharp hiss as she breathed. They had been arguing about that all week. Last night had been the worst fight yet. Mother had thrown things, screaming, until Daddy finally Commanded her to be silent.

Alpha Commands were scary. I watched Daddy make a man in our pack stop eating for a week as a punishment for stealing an apple. Only Alphas could give the Command, and only to their own pack. Usually Daddy only used his Command on Mother, because she constantly argued with him. She was the only one in the pack who was brave—or stupid—enough to do that.

Eyeing Brett, I wondered if he would give Alpha Commands to me, too. I knew if my brother had been our Alpha after Daddy, he definitely would have used it on me.

I looked to Mother’s other side, where Linden sat. He was only two years younger than me, but I often thought he hated me as much as Mother did.

Not that it mattered.

Daddy loved me. I was his princess.

Linden’s cheeks turned pink, and he scowled at me, the bright green in his eyes identical to my own and Daddy’s. Markham eyes. Mother’s were a muddy brown, and I was happy that I didn’t have her eyes.

“My son, unfortunately, doesn’t show the inclination to be an Alpha,” Daddy finally said, his tone heavy.

“But he is still young,” Mother commented airily, wrapping a secure arm around Linden’s shoulders. He leaned into her touch where I’d flinched away. Mother’s hand stroked his ashy blonde hair as she smiled at him.

She never smiled at me.

“Pity,” Alpha James remarked, ignoring Mother’s comment. I felt her tense beside me.

Daddy rested his forearms on the table. “James, we both know our packs are at a turning point. Uniting them will secure us the southern part of the continent.”

Alpha James hummed thoughtfully. “Indeed. But you’re comfortable releasing your pack to my son?”

It took a moment, but Daddy nodded. “Yes. Provided that Adalynne is his mate and Linden will be his beta.”

Brett wrinkled his nose. “I have my own beta. I won’t simply wait for your son to grow out of his diapers to help me.”

“Brett!” His mother stared at him with wide, horrified eyes. Her mouth hung open slightly, and I wondered if she would slap him for embarrassing her the way Mother hit me when I said something I wasn’t supposed to.

“It’s true,” Brett insisted, his blue eyes flashing coldly as he looked at me. “It’s bad enough I have to wait another decade for a mate. I agreed to that, but I won’t be told who is or isn’t on my council.”

“My son has a valid point,” Alpha James mused. “Alphas are afforded the right to select their own council. Packs aren’t a democracy.”

Daddy’s eyes narrowed. “It’s part of the contract you agreed to. The Markhams have held Long Mesa for over a century. I won’t have my lineage erased.”

“Linden will make a wonderful beta,” Mother assured him, leaning forward as well.

I frowned as I watched Brett’s eyes dip toward the exposed lines of her cleavage and linger. Mother did that frequently with men, I noticed. Usually they’d agree with her after she did.

Which was stupid. Boobs were nothing but annoying, and I hoped I never got them. My best friend, Zara, had started wearing a training bra a few weeks earlier, and all the boys in our class were constantly staring at her chest.

“Whatever,” Brett muttered. “He can be one of my betas.”

“I’m sure once he grows into his own power and his wolf emerges, you’ll see that my son is a worthy addition to your inner circle,” Mother replied stiffly.

“Linden has much growing up to do,” Daddy agreed. He settled a warm hand on my shoulder. “Both of my children do.”

“They do grow up fast,” Alpha James said, smiling at his mate. She returned the smile effortlessly and leaned her shoulder against his. The Alpha’s gaze on her softened even more.

My brow furrowed as I watched their easy affection toward one another. Daddy and Mother didn’t even sleep in the same room anymore. They were... what was it that Daddy said?

Partners. They were mates, obviously, but their marriage was a partnership. Which was what mine would be. A partnership to help our packs. Like making a new friend.

I couldn’t help but smile when I watched the Stone Valley Alpha and his mate. Even Brett’s annoyed face relaxed as he watched them.

They seemed like they were more than just friends. Like they even liked each other.

The side door of the room opened, and Emmett stepped inside carrying a tray, his hunched shoulders and bowed head showing where he was starting to bald. He quickly shut the door that had direct access to the kitchen area.

“We arranged for some light refreshments,” Mother announced, waving Emmett into the room.

Emmett set the heavy tray on the sideboard near the door. The china tinkled softly as his lurching step made the dishes slide. He flinched, tucking his head closer to his chest.

I bit my lip to keep from calling out to the omega, who regularly served us at the Alpha house. Mother had been beyond furious when she’d caught us talking months ago, but instead of yelling at me, she’d screamed at Emmett until the omega was in tears.

But I liked Emmett. He was kind and taught me how to hide cards when I was playing.

Mother sucked in another breath, and I could feel her anger as I shifted closer to Daddy in my seat.

It wasn’t Emmett’s fault that his leg had been broken years earlier and had never healed right. His limping gait wasn’t something he could control, but Mother was all too happy to hold it against him.

Emmett started passing out saucers and cups, being sure to set them gently in front of the person he gave them to.

“Thank you,” Alpha James’s wife murmured, flashing him an appreciative smile. “Coffee sounds divine.”

“If we ever get served,” Mother muttered under her breath.

I wanted to get up and help Emmett, but I knew that would only cause more issues. I twisted my hands in my lap, lightly picking at the lace edge of my white dress.

“Thank you,” I said when a cup was placed in front of me. I couldn’t resist smiling when Emmett gave me a private wink.

Mother’s gaze slid to me, her lip barely curling. I was the daughter of an Alpha; I wasn’t supposed to thank the help for doing their job.

I sighed inwardly. I would pay for that gratitude later.

Emmett slowly circled the room, filling cups with coffee for the adults. Linden and I would get juice in ours when he was done.

After serving our guests, Emmett ambled over to Mother’s cup. At the last second, Linden pushed his chair back an inch. It was an inch that Emmett’s limp couldn’t compensate for. The toe of his worn boot caught on the chair leg, and he lurched forward. The carafe pitched in front of him, and what was left of the coffee splashed out.

Hot droplets seared the side of my arm and stained my white dress, but the majority of the mess landed on Emmett as his knees cracked against the unforgiving hardwood floors.

I heard his hiss of pain, but it was buried beneath my mother’s shrill shriek. She shoved her chair back, face blotchy and red as she whirled on him. The back of her chair slammed into Emmett, knocking him down.

“Are you all right, princess?” Daddy demanded, reaching for my arm and inspecting the damage.

“You idiot!” Mother screamed.

“I’m okay, Daddy,” I whispered, flinching when his fingertip touched a red spot on my arm. I craned my neck to see Emmett.

“Oh, dear,” the Alpha’s wife murmured, one hand clapping over her mouth. She pushed back from her seat. “Can I help?”

“No,” Mother snarled, turning on our guest for a second before she realized her mistake.

I felt my eyes get big, because you didn’t yell at another Alpha or his mate. Daddy had broken a man’s jaw for saying something mean to Mother, and he didn’t even like Mother the way Alpha James seemed to like his wife.

Alpha James slowly stood to his full height beside his smaller wife, staring hard until my mother flinched and looked away.

“We should probably be going,” Alpha James said slowly, his gaze sliding to Daddy.

“Of course.” Daddy stood up, letting me go. “I’ll walk you out.”

He ushered Alpha James and his family out of the room and into the hallway before closing the door.

I jumped when I heard the crack of Mother’s palm on skin. I braced myself for the wave of pain but realized after a moment that she’d hit Emmett and not me.

“Stupid, fucking, useless omega,” she seethed as Emmett cowered. His fear seemed to make her more savage. “I should have gotten rid of you years ago.” She spat on him and crushed the back of his hand with her heel as she walked over him.

I gaped helplessly, my gaze going from Emmett to the only other person in the room.

Linden was watching Emmett, his lips twisted in an amused smile.

“Lindy,” Mother snapped.

“Coming,” he told her with a smirk as he got off his chair. His gleeful eyes turned toward me. “Are you coming, Addie?”

I looked down at Emmett, wanting to help.

“Don’t even think about it,” Mother hissed.

My eyes snapped toward hers. I shrank back at the violence simmering in her gaze.

“Go clean yourself up, Adalynne.” She sneered at me even as she smoothed a gentle hand over Linden’s hair. “Stupid girl. You’re more trouble than you’re worth. But at least I can pass you off in a few years to your new mate. You’ll be his bitch to deal with then.”

My tummy flipped and churned as worry ate me alive from the inside out. When Mother got angry like this, she usually stayed that way for days. I was already bracing myself for the brewing storm.

Mother arched a skinny eyebrow. “What the hell are you waiting for? Go!”

I jumped off the chair and slipped out of the room, then ran up the stairs as fast as my legs could carry me.