Stolen by Lark Quinn

1

Ruby

Every morning, I rose at dawn, and missed the moon. For as long as I could remember, missing the moon had made me sad somehow.

The penthouse apartment that I lived in, was caged in, was silent as a grave, and I went about my day, before even the staff were up. They were staff, but they were also my watchers. My father was paranoid about security, and being the powerful man he was, it made sense. Devil’s Run was owned by powerful men. If the famed Alpha of the Volkov pack Bratva ruled the night, then my father, Cassius Eton, ruled the day.

“Good morning, Miss Eton, here is your breakfast,” Magda, my housekeeper and best friend, gave me a warm smile. She was a good thirty years older than me, worked for me, and probably didn’t care for me much, but she was the closest thing I had to a friend. My mother had passed away in a wolf attack when I was too young to remember her. Wolves. Bratva wolves, which meant men. Mean, and vicious mobsters who controlled the city with their terrible, shifting ways. Since that day, I’d barely left the penthouse, except to meet my father and his friends in various places for events.

“Medicine first,” Magda reminded me, handing me the greens tonic my father insisted I drink every morning, to strengthen my weak immune system. To my annoyance, my ill health had continued into adulthood, and I was like one of those sickly heroines in a Jane Austen book that had a poor constitution. My father’s tonic was just one thing I had to be sure to do every day to stay healthy.

I drank my tonic and ate my breakfast as Magda sang along to the radio.

“Miss Eton, don’t forget that today your father will meet you at Preston gallery for a show,” Magda reminded me. I hadn’t forgotten. I was beyond excited to go, truth be told. I didn’t get out much. It wasn’t safe.

“I’ll get ready now,” I said, and got up, leaving most of my meal untouched. Try as I did, I just never had much of an appetite. I had many allergies, and my father had decided a strict vegan diet would be best for me. Food just wasn’t very exciting, and I’d learned to live with that.

I changed into a demur dress. Father liked women to look like women, whatever that meant. The light floral material clinched around my narrow waist. I stared at my thin face in the mirror. I had to try and eat more. I was getting gaunt again.

I strapped high sandals to my feet, took a long thick wrap from the wardrobe, and I was nearly ready. Next, I painted my face just like I’d been taught by my finishing coaches, and tried out a smile for my reflection.

There I was.

Nice, normal. Sane, and well.

Healthy enough, if you didn’t look too closely.

* * *

I gotto the gallery in my father’s chauffeured car, with Alain, my bodyguard at my side. Alain was new. The last one, Peter, had been with me for years, and we’d gotten close. Father hadn’t liked it. Cassius Eton liked to keep the line between employer and employee clear. Without warning, one morning, Peter had been replaced. Alain was silent beside me as we made our way into the building.

The Preston Gallery was smack in the middle of downtown Devil’s Run. It was a steel and glass marvel, a building shaped like a flower, with floors of varying heights rising to simulate petals. It was well-known that a famous fae designer had helped to give it its ethereal shape. I loved to look at it.

Inside was a press of bodies and smells. Usually my tonic dulled my hyper sense of smell, but today, it didn’t seem to be working well. Maybe it was time for a new batch. Without it, my senses were unmanageable. I was cursed with hypersensitivity to light, smells, sounds, even some people’s touch made me ill. My father called me his delicate flower, a nickname I hated. I didn’t want to be delicate, with a weak constitution. Highly strung, he called me when he thought I couldn’t hear. I could always hear.

I wanted to be hard and tough, like my name. Made from stone and unbreakable. Alas, that was only in my dreams.

I wove through the crush of people, all high up officials and important people in the city, and made for my father. He wouldn’t like it if I arrived, and didn’t seek him out immediately. The sounds of hundreds of conversations were making me dizzy. I felt thirsty and hot, my skin scorching. I hoped I wasn’t getting ill.

“Ah, here she is, the jewel of the Eton crown. Ruby, darling, let me introduce you,” my father boomed. His voice was the loudest of all. The group of men that surrounded me looked at me with interest, like one might goods in a store. My father went around the circle, saying names I’d soon forget. I didn’t shake anyone’s hand. Father didn’t require it and he didn’t like strangers touching me, either. On that, we agreed wholeheartedly.

“And someone I would especially like to introduce you to, Hunter Voss. He’s been very keen to meet you,” Cassius said. I turned toward the man he was introducing and felt like his stare pinned me in place by the neck. I swallowed down a lump in my throat and forced myself to smile pleasantly.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Eton.”

“It’s Ruby, please,” I said immediately. I might not know much about the world outside the confines of my apartment, but I knew my manners.

“Ruby,” Hunter said, his eyes crinkling in a smile, but his mouth was wrong. It didn’t look like a smile, not really. It didn’t look like a smile at all. He smelled strange too, like burning herbs and scorched earth. His scent reminded me of my father. His eyes narrowed slightly, as if he could tell what I was thinking.

He wasn’t bad looking, but there was something completely off-putting about him. He slid closer to me and reminded me of a snake with his boneless movement.

“Your father has spoken so highly of you, I couldn’t wait to meet you in person,” Hunter said. I nodded. Father had never mentioned this man before to me at all. I wondered if he worked in government like father did? No doubt he did. Most of the men my father introduced me to were highly ranking officials and fellow senators.

Hunter was saying something banal, and I was pretending to listen when it happened. A line of awareness prickling down my neck like a single fingertip being drawn down my bare spine.

No, not a fingertip. Something sharp, like a nail or a claw.

“Eton, a surprise to see you here,” a deep voice called from behind us, and I felt my body freeze up. It was completely involuntary, but my muscles seemed to have locked, and I felt dizzy for a moment, as an unfamiliar scent flooded my senses. Pine and wood smoke, leather, and the spice of a man. The scent of the wild. “I didn’t know you cared for shifter art,” the voice continued. My father tensed. I could see the lines of tension appear on his face, and his smell changed too. It became harsh with fear.

Fear? Cassius Eton afraid?

Such a thing had never even occurred to me as possible.

“Is this your daughter?” the man continued, the unspoken demand for an introduction clear. It was impossible to resist that command.

Cassius jerked his head in a nod.

“Ruby, this is Mikhail Volkov. Volkov, this is Ruby, my daughter,” he said, and took my arm, and tugged me forward, so I was out of reach of Mikhail.

Mikhail Volkov. Alpha of the Volkov pack.

I turned finally, and met the eyes of the half-man, half-wolf that I had been told my entire life was responsible for the death of my mother.

He was everything and nothing like I’d thought he’d be.

I’d known he’d have a powerful presence, but nothing could have prepared me for the effect of him. Broad and tall, power radiated from every line of his body. He seemed somehow immovably strong, but also lithe and nimble at the same time. He was black-haired, and dark stubble swathed his sun-kissed golden skin. His waving dark hair softened his brutally handsome facade only just enough to make him bearable.

He lifted his hand toward me, his deep brown, almost gold eyes fixed on me like a predator watched prey.

I don’t know why, but anger, not fear, rose in me at that look. The audacity of the man, to calmly shake the hand of a woman whose mother someone in his pack had killed, made me furious to see.

“Ruby, we have to move along. We have many introductions to make,” Cassius was saying, his set-up with Hunter Voss forgotten in his haste to leave Mikhail Volkov’s presence.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Ruby,” Mikhail said to me, his eyes never leaving mine. I turned away at my father’s bullying fingers. I could feel the wolf’s eyes on me all the way through the crowd.