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Chapter 1: Runaway

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"Do you want the light pink blush or this warmer blush?" I ask, holding up both options.

Lily doesn't open her eyes. "I don't understand why I need to look pretty too."

"Hm." I answer my question for her: "Pink, probably; it will look better on your complexion—not too harsh."

My sister sighs. "Fine."

Lily and I sit on the floor in front of my wooden mirror, which leans against the wall, lacking proper feet. I dust the pink blush onto her prominent cheekbones with one of my bigger brushes. "How about a lip color?"

"Celeste, I know you're nervous about the Beta's son, but dolling me up isn't going to change whether or not he's your mate."

"I know, but this is distracting. Since I woke up this morning, I haven't felt as calm as I do right now, so don't make me lose it."

I pick a random lip color and pop off its tin lid, but when I bring the rosy color to Lily's lips with my finger, she opens her eyes and ducks. "Hold on," she says and lowers my hand. "I know Mom is making a big deal of it but—"

"She's not making a big deal of it; it is a big deal. I'm already twenty-one," I say, my shoulders sinking, "and with Dad's promotion and me being the eldest child, they need me to make a good match. After the beta's son turns eighteen, his father is going to step down, and he'll be the only unmated man in our pack who's holding a worthy enough title."

"I just don't like seeing you like this, no matter how Mom justifies it. I know in my heart that no one deserves to be mated to our next Beta more than you, and you will be mated to him, but—"

"There are no buts. This is my only option."

Lily peers to the ground, her caramel hair draping. "Our family's reputation shouldn't depend on something that's out of your control. This is why I don't want a mate—this is why I want to run away and never deal with Mom's impossible expectations. Not every girl can just find out she's mated to a beta the second she turns eighteen."

"Run away? What are you talking about? Never say that."

Her voice dwindles as she fiddles with my strewn-about makeup. "It's the truth."

"If you ran away, the family would be heartbroken—destroyed."

She mutters, "Destroyed? Come on. Mom doesn't love me as much as she loves you."

"I-I'm sorry you feel that way. It's not true, but..." I stand and uncrease my carefully chosen outfit, a dress I usually wouldn't wear for an evening in the house. "But if you leave, just know I'll have to come after you and drag you back home—kicking, screaming, whatever."

"You wouldn't last a night on unclaimed land," she refutes, also standing. "Not with the rogues, the wilderness, and Alphas that make Alpha Rowan look like a teddy bear."

"Probably not, so don't make me."

"Okay. I won't."

I place my hands on my hips. "Let's wait downstairs with Mom and Dad. The future Beta should be eighteen soon; the day's almost over."

"Imagine he was born a minute before midnight; they'll fall asleep and miss the show."

"Mom said he was born just after dinner."

Lily makes a skeptical face. "How does she know that?"

"She has her ways, now come on."

I grab Lily's hand and lead her out of my bedroom and into the hall. Together, we descend the staircase and join our parents in the living room. Dad is sitting on the couch paging through the pack's guard information—tired after being shifted all day—while Mom paces in front of him.

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