It’s official! You can pre-order The Country Omega on Amazon Kindle starting TODAY. It’s also entered on Goodreads.com so you can shelve it into your WANT TO READ list.
The Country Omega sells for $2.99 (available free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers), and will be released on January 26, 2016. To pre-order your copy, click on the cover or just about any of the links in this post!
I was so excited to see that the book was up – I did a dance of joy in my kitchen, and then called my mom. (Well, it’s not like the 6-year-old or 10-month-old care, and my husband’s out of town!)
Omega Ethan Downing doesn’t want a mate. He wants to play his piano and travel the world. But with his acceptance to a prestigious musical conservatory hanging in the balance – and an ex who won’t take “no” for a hint – Ethan’s father arranges a bonding with an alpha neither of them have ever met.
Alpha Antonio Valdez’s life is perfect. He has the career, the money, the looks. In fact, he’d be perfectly happy never to bond at all. When his overbearing father arranges a bonding for him, he’s ready to find every excuse in the world not to go through with it.
One meeting changes both Ethan’s and Antonio’s minds.
Too bad their fathers have also changed theirs.
Now Ethan and Antonio have to fight for something they never even dreamed they wanted: each other.
Can’t wait a week? To be honest… neither can I! I’ve included a little sneak peek under the cut. (If you subscribed to my newsletter, you got a slightly longer excerpt yesterday. Hey, membership has its benefits!)
Part One: Ethan
The train sped through the outskirts of the city, where the tree branches hung high over the tracks and the houses were spread far enough apart that Ethan Downing could catch glimpses of the gardens and lawns surrounding them. His book lay forgotten on his lap as he looked out the window; beside him, his father read the newspaper and huffed quietly to himself, unconcerned with the passing landscape. Ethan couldn’t even fake nonchalance long enough to manage a pretense of reading, nor quell the churning, nervous feeling in his stomach.
You wanted to live in the city, he reminded himself when every jerk of the train made his breath catch. Well, now you’re going to, no sense in being homesick before you’re even there yet.
Home, thought Ethan longingly, and thought of his mother kissing him goodbye for what they both knew could be the last time for a long while. His brother and sister, watching solemnly from the stairwell, uncertain in their own skins what they were meant to do. The trunks already packed in his bedroom, waiting for word that it was all right to send them after him.
The false, jaunty walk to the station with his father, through the town that had no idea they might be seeing him for the last time, to the station where he’d board the train that would finally, finally, whisk him away from their heavy expectations.
Ethan took a deep breath, and was pleased that it didn’t catch or stutter. He’d told himself he could be small and frightened in the safety of the train compartment, where only his father would witness it – and Robert Downing was unlikely to tell anyone if Ethan chose to have a nervous breakdown. But it was still good to know that he wasn’t a complete mess.
Even if he was leaving everything he knew and loved behind, to bond with a strange man in a strange city. It was still better than the alternative.
The train slowed as the houses became smaller, closer together, with the gardens gradually disappearing from view behind tall brick walls. The trees thinned out, with spots of green leaves only visible in the distance; the walls that lined the train tracks now were ugly, painted over with graffiti. Litter lined the gravel passageway, rustling in the breeze of the passing train.
“We’re there,” said Ethan, and his voice sounded almost normal, even to him.
Robert Downing shook his newspaper as he glanced out the window over Ethan’s shoulder. “Not quite,” he said, and went back to the sports page, unconcerned. At least he didn’t start spouting platitudes, thought Ethan grimly, well aware that Robert could spout with the best of them. The look on his father’s face as Ethan had shuffled through the alpha profiles the bonding pool matchmakers had sent to them was similar to the expression he wore now. As if he wanted to reassure Ethan of… something. Safety, maybe. That everything would work out fine.
As if Robert had any control over that at all.
The city beyond the ugly train tracks was at least something of a better sight – tall buildings, stately brick or gleaming metal, silver-blue and white marble, looking clean and crisp against the blue sky. Ethan imagined, just for a moment, all the people who populated them. Hundreds – thousands, he thought, each one sitting at a desk or on the phone or at the stove, going about their day, completely oblivious to the lives around them.
Somewhere in the imagined, controlled chaos, his alpha was waiting for him. They had spoken on the phone, briefly; Ethan had seen a photograph of him once, a week before, but now the figure he imagined was faceless, an unknown entity, and Ethan could barely even remember what his voice sounded like. Was he reading a book, or getting a last bit of work done, or puttering around the house, glancing at the clock, impatient for Ethan to arrive? Was he in the room that would become theirs, pulling their bedsheets taut, ensuring they had all the supplies they needed for the coming days, as he claimed Ethan over and over again, marking him as his?
The train plunged into a dark tunnel on its final descent into the station. Ethan sat back, heart pounding, the blush just rising on his cheeks, though whether it was the idea of that bedroom, or the completely ridiculous symbolism of the train going into the tunnel just then, he had no idea.
Beside him, his father folded his newspaper. “Almost there now,” said Robert, his tone anticipatory in a way that Ethan supposed he ought to have felt himself. “Get any sleep?”
Robert shook his head. “Your mother said you didn’t sleep a wink last night.”
“Nerves,” admitted Ethan, and turned away from the window. There wasn’t anything to see in the tunnel, not really; every so often a flash would illuminate the bricked walls, but apart from the odd stripe of paint, they were bare. The train rocked back and forth even harder, despite its slower pace. Ethan tried to smile bravely at his father. “It’s all right. I feel fine.”
“You’ll be needing your strength,” said Robert with a ridiculous and lascivious waggle in his eyebrows, and Ethan groaned and closed his eyes. “When an alpha claims his omega – it can be a very… long, protracted, arduous process.”
“Fa… I do not want to have this conversation with you.”
“All I’m saying, you should have slept.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me,” said Ethan. He opened his eyes and leaned into his father’s shoulder. “I will. I will.”
Robert patted his son’s knee, solemn and comforting, and didn’t say anything.
The pair sat quietly as the train pulled up to the platform, and then came to a stop. The car continued to shake gently back and forth – the other passengers, no doubt, as they rose and gathered their belongings in the other compartments, and after a moment, Ethan could see the stream of them through the window, heading in a massive exodus into the station itself.
“We should go,” said Ethan watching them, and Robert let out a sigh, before giving his son’s knee a last pat.
“Yes,” he said, regretfully, and pushed against Ethan’s leg in order to stand.
There wasn’t much for them to collect. Robert’s dog-eared newspaper, the book Ethan had ignored, Ethan’s knapsack which carried only a change of clothes and a few toiletries. The CD he’d made especially for his alpha fell out as Ethan slung the bag over his shoulder; he quickly picked it up, heart hammering, and slipped it into his jacket pocket instead, where his fingers curled around it protectively.
It had been too dangerous to bring the rest of his things with them; carrying the trunks to the train station would have alerted the entire town of his departure, and the last thing Ethan had wanted was for Alan Clark to catch wind of what he planned to do. Even now, as he and Robert alighted from the train, he glanced up and down the platform, as if expecting to see Alan glowering at him, tall and bearded and wearing the darkest possible frown from the Alan Clark Scale of Frowns.
“Ethan,” chided Robert gently, watching him, knowing exactly what Ethan was doing.
“I know, but….” Ethan shifted the knapsack on his shoulder. “Habit.”
“Mmm,” said Robert, too dark to be thoughtful, and they joined the crowd of people walking through the dimly-lit tunnel of the platform, a bit like salmon heading downriver to spawn.
Ethan had been to the city once before, for the audition to the music conservatory – but his mind had been so befuddled on that trip, and so taken up with his own private affairs that he hadn’t paid much attention to his surroundings. He barely remembered any of it at all. Now, though, he focused so much on what and who jostled around them that he was barely aware of himself – everything was loud and fascinating, lit in shining chrome and Technicolor, and Ethan couldn’t tear himself away if he’d tried.
Robert had secured them a compartment near the front of the train, so it wasn’t until they entered the station itself that Ethan realized his first assumption of hundreds of people had been sorely off the mark. Even thousands didn’t feel quite accurate, not when there were surely a thousand people crowding the main room of the train station around them, and still most of their train struggling to enter from behind. The noise was deafening, with voices and footsteps and the squeak of rubber shoes echoing off the marbled walls and high ceiling, everyone busy with their own personal tasks, buying tickets or checking the clacking signboards for their platform, or purchasing food and drink and magazines.
Robert took no notice of it; Ethan stopped in his tracks and was nearly bowled over by the crowd of passengers behind them, eager to get off the platform and go on with whatever they had come into the city to do.
“All right, stand over here if you want to gawp a bit,” said Robert, amused at his son, and pulled Ethan to the side, where they stood against a wall, more or less out of the way. Robert busied himself with checking his phone – undoubtedly reassuring himself of directions to their destination – while Ethan stared, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, a veritable country bumpkin in the city for the first time in his life.
Ethan almost felt like a country bumpkin. He suspected he looked like one, too, staring at the station around them.
Or rather, at the people. And oh, God, there were so many people. Men in suits and ties, women in dresses and skirts, alphas in their bright colors and determined steps, betas with amused glances and distracted airs, and once in a while, omegas in their greys and tans. All crowded together and paying no attention to each other in the slightest. Paying no attention to him, either, just going about their day as they presumably did every day, as if their days didn’t include momentous, life-changing events.
Ethan watched as they streamed this way and that. He wondered why they stood in the long lines for one coffee stand when another coffee stand had no customers at all. He watched two alphas argue, laughing, gesticulating wildly, while their omegas stood behind, shyly looking at each other but saying nothing. He watched a beta nanny walk briskly through the benches, her charges following her like ducks, all of their heads held high with chins in the air.
And the smell. Ethan’s nose, like all omegas, was good at picking out a scent, but after twenty years of the same familiar smells, he’d forgotten what it was like to scent something new. The station’s scent was almost overwhelming: rich and thick like pudding, thin and sharp like motor oil, all the familiar and unfamiliar scents that Ethan both did and did not recognize. Coffee and sugar and cleaning fluids, the round undertones of people crammed into a small place, with faint whiffs of the individuals who walked briskly by, sending brief waves of their individual scent as they went.
Ethan couldn’t decide if the combination was delicious or horrific. He wanted to keep breathing it in until he’d made up his mind. School had been bad, once they’d all started presenting, but there’d been perhaps two hundred students, all told. This was something else altogether.
And then he caught sight of them – just to the side. The bright happy smile of an omega woman, her face flooded with joy as her alpha mate stepped through the doorway from the train Ethan and Robert had ridden. The indulgent smile on her beta companion, who took a step back as the couple embraced, their noses pressing into each other’s necks in a public display of affection and bond affirmation that made Ethan blush. When the couple pulled apart, the omega was pink-cheeked and shy, her eyes lowered as if she was a bit embarrassed by their brazen behavior, and her companion laughed along with the alpha, as the alpha nuzzled her hair, and then pulled her along, chatting amicably with the beta, obviously eager to continue their homecoming in private, but content for the moment to catch up on the news.
Ethan watched them go, the odd twist of uncertainty rising again in his stomach. It wasn’t the affectionate greeting between long-lost lovers – his first meeting with Antonio wouldn’t be like that, of course not. Not today. Maybe not even in a week or two. That was affection borne from years of being together, of a life lived and shared together. If Ethan were lucky, he’d have that someday.
It was the beta, really, that gave Ethan pause. The way she was the one who spoke with the alpha, as the omega held herself back, half a step behind, without joining their conversation.
“I think I have it now,” said Robert briskly, as he slid his phone back in his coat pocket. “Ten minutes walk. Or we could take a cab?”
The idea of being bundled into a cab, with only a quick glimpse of the city itself, smacked so much of overprotective, that Ethan stiffened almost involuntarily. It shouldn’t have done; Robert was hardly the stereotypical overprotective alpha father, and Ethan knew that the suggestion hadn’t been meant because he wanted to keep Ethan from the world, but because he wanted to spare tired feet from the concrete sidewalks.
“I can walk,” said Ethan, and Robert chuckled indulgently.
They began to wind their way through the crowd to the entrance. Robert seemed somewhat distracted as he glanced continuously at the signs pointing the way, each suggesting a different exit for a different destination. “Don’t want to miss a minute of the city, do you?”
“Don’t know when I’ll get another chance,” said Ethan quietly, catching sight of a group of omegas, all huddled together around a ticket kiosk, nervously pressing each button, as if they weren’t entirely sure what they were about. There wasn’t a beta or alpha in sight near them, though plenty of people were giving them wide berth and indulgent, almost pitying looks.
Robert stopped, right in the center of the room, to look at Ethan with a frown. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ethan couldn’t meet Robert’s eye. “It’s not like we’ve signed the contract yet. He could take one look and decide I’m not what he wants after all. Or….”
“Or…?” prodded Robert.
“How many omegas do you see by themselves here?” Ethan demanded. “Maybe it’s true, maybe city omegas are only allowed out with an escort. Sure looks like it anyway.”
Robert snorted and rolled his eyes. “Five minutes in the city and he’s an expert. Give me a little credit, Ethan. Do you really think so little of me that I’d bond you to an alpha who will lock you up and never let you go? This family isn’t like that. They’ve agreed to let you finish school, they’ve agreed that you can perform after graduation. It didn’t even take an argument – do you really think if they were the type to guard your every move, they’d agree to rules like that?”
“No,” said Ethan slowly. “But….”
“But nothing,” said Robert firmly. “I didn’t raise you to be a wilting flower, and I don’t give a shit how city alphas treat their omegas, if they wrap them in cotton wool or let them swing naked from the flagpoles. If this boy doesn’t want you, then more fool him.” Robert took a step closer, and rested his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. It was warm, heavy, thick – a comforting weight that Ethan could remember from childhood, resting on his back after the dark of a nightmare, settling him back to sleep. “Ethan. You don’t have to do this, if you don’t want. We’ll find another way.”
“There isn’t another way, Fa,” said Ethan softly, still scanning the station for omegas walking alone, and finding none. “If there was, we’d have figured it out months ago.”
Robert made a frustrated noise. “Antonio Valdez would be a fool to reject you – but if you want to reject him, then I promise we’ll find another alpha, another city. Ethan, I’m your father. It’s my job to keep you safe. You have to trust me to do it.”
Ethan looked up at the high, vaulted ceiling of the train station waiting room. The crowds flowed around them, a current of people and smells and destinations and desires. The kinetic and constant energy of the place ebbed and flowed around them, and he wondered, if the anchor of Robert’s hand let go of his shoulder, would he be caught up in the current and pushed downstream to the ocean.
Salmon on their way to spawn, thought Ethan bitterly.
Ethan thought about the sleepy little town he’d left behind that morning, two hours away by train, and his sleepy little life, where everyone knew him, and everyone held the same expectations of him.
He’d never have the sleepy little life he’d grown up with again, no matter what happened. But Ethan had realized that weeks before, and no matter what Robert swore, there really were no other options for him.
“I know, Fa,” said Ethan, because sometimes, his mother had always said, it was the omega’s job to let the alpha go on thinking they really could make everything well again, even when well was unreachable. “I really do.”
He didn’t think Robert would buy it – but Robert nodded briskly, and turned to continue through the station. “Then let’s not keep him waiting.”