Rey first learns about the place over a bowl of cereal, skimming the newspaper for work.
The reporter lauds the concept as remarkably progressive—empowering Omegas to improve their futures on their own terms, transforming their relations with a whole new generation of Alphas.
She snorts and rips out the page to save for later. Her hamster's cage will soon be in need of some fresh newspaper.
Several weeks later, when her last paycheck from Plutt bounces for the third time, she finds the article still tucked behind the cereal box in her otherwise empty pantry.
New Alpha Academy.
- - - - - -
The young woman at the counter hardly looks up at her, typing loudly on her keyboard.
Rey frowns. “You don't even know what I'm looking for."
The woman's eyes snap up. "Sure I do. You're looking for a job. Just like the four other Omegas who've been in here this morning." She looks back at her computer. "We don't have any more available."
"But you've only just opened." Rey holds up the newspaper balled tight in her fist. "This article says—"
"Seeking Omegas for immediate employment," the receptionist finishes. Not that Rey doesn't remember - those words have been stuck firmly in her mind since she first read them at her kitchen table. "We were. Three weeks ago." She studies Rey’s face, and her eyes soften a bit. The typing stops. “Look. There's a temp bureau a block over. They might have a few positions for an Omega, but we've already got everyone we need here."
"I don't need to find a job for an Omega," Rey says, irritation rising. “I only need a job. Don’t you have any other positions available?”
“Not the kind you’re looking for.”
“And how would you know what I’m looking for?”
“Even if we had any positions available—which we don’t—" She gives Rey a stern look. “You just wouldn’t be a good fit for this, if you know what I mean.”
“Actually, I don’t know what you mean,” Rey says hotly. “And if there were any positions available—"
“Which they’re not.”
“—well, if there were, then you should know I could do them just as well as any other person, regardless of designation!"
“Jannah, what’s going on here?”
A new woman has emerged from the hallway. Older than the receptionist, with short gray hair and a commanding presence. Clearly an Alpha, Rey immediately decides—and one in a position of authority, judging from the way the woman named Jannah immediately straightens behind the desk.
“I’m trying to explain we don’t have any more assistant positions to fill,” Jannah finishes, not looking at Rey.
“That might have just changed.”
Jannah’s eyes widen in disbelief, and they glance over the older woman’s shoulder down the hall. “Again?”
But the Alpha is now studying Rey with a curious expression on her face. With some effort, and a little self-disgust, Rey tries her best to soften her posture and expression into something she imagines a good, helpful Omega would assume.
“Can you start immediately?” the woman asks.
“Immediately. Today. Right now.”
“Leia,” Jannah says quietly, “if we’re talking about who I think we are, I don’t think she’s the sort of person that—"
“Oh, I think she’s exactly the sort,” says the Alpha named Leia, her eyes glittering. “I think she’s the sort we’ve been looking for all along.”
“Pardon me.” Rey is growing uncomfortable with the way they’re talking about her, as though she were a particularly interesting racehorse instead of a human being with perfectly functioning ears. “I’ve got several other interviews to get to this morning, and if there’s nothing available here—"
“Cancel them,” Leia cuts her off. “We need you to begin immediately.”
Before Rey can reply, the other woman has turned on her heel and begun striding purposefully down the hall.
Behind the desk, Jannah sighs. “I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“I already told you," Rey says with a flash of irritation, "I’m prepared to do whatever job you have for me here.”
“I wasn’t talking about the job.”
“Let’s go!” Leia calls from down the hall.
As eager as she is to press for clarification, Rey decides to follow her new boss down the hallway instead.
Whatever she’s talking about, it can’t be worth losing a job—any job—on her very first day.
- - - - - -
”We'll be throwing you right into things today," Leia is saying as they round a corner. “One of our assistants—former assistants—left us in a bit of a pickle this morning, and you arrived at just the right time.”
“Our assistants typically attend a week-long orientation,” Leia continues. “But we’ve already started a round of students with your predecessor, and we’ll have to get you started right away. No worries—the instructor you’ll be partnering with is quite capable.”
“Wait.” Rey’s got about a million questions, and she’s struggling to keep up with the woman’s quick pace. How could they possibly think Rey is the perfect person for the job before they've even conducted an interview? Why have several people already quit when the center has only been open for three weeks? How can she be expected to teach anything when she has no idea what the program is even about? But when she opens her mouth, what comes out is: “How much does it pay?”
Leia throws her a sly smile over her shoulder. “It’s rewarding work in its own right, of course, but…” She winks. “We make it very worth your while.”
That’s all she needs to hear. Or at least, Leia must think so, because she stops abruptly in front of a door and throws it open.
Rey takes a steadying breath—and immediately stops in her tracks.
Any thoughts of negotiations or employee satisfaction or even the testy receptionist evaporate from her mind in an instant.
Pine. Smoke. Rich, fragrant earth. Rey inhales deeply, which is an immediate mistake. Her lungs aren’t working the way they usually do. A battle is waging between the fierce desire to trap that delicious scent within them for as long as she can manage—and the impulse to greedily draw in huge gulps of air, until there’s nothing but rich smoky Alpha-scent coursing through every part of her, crowding out anything else that might take up precious neurons that exist only to soak up that incredible—
“…a solution to our problem,” the woman is saying, sounding much too cheerful and very far away. “May I introduce our newest Assistant.”
A beat passes. Too long. Rey becomes vaguely aware she is expected to do something. Blessedly, her feet decide to carry her into the small conference room, without any input from her scent-drunk brain necessary.
In the same way, her eyes find him immediately.
Even if she weren’t already reeling with the smell of him, Rey thinks her eyes would be drawn to him first regardless. His presence is the sort that demands the attention of anyone that encounters him. He takes up all the air in the room—not simply with his scent (god, his scent)—but physically, too. His body is too broad for the space it occupies, wide and tall and simmering with tension. There is a crackling, fiery energy about him, intensified by his surly mood, which Rey detects even before he turns his dark expression upon her.
A long, heavy beat passes. And then he looks away.
His voice is extraordinarily deep. Resonant. Rey would want him to continue, if she weren’t dreading whatever might come out of his mouth next.
“Perfect, isn’t she?” the woman says, beaming. “She's turned up at precisely the right moment.”
“Is that all we’re requiring from our job applicants these days? Feet to carry them into our building?”
“The advertisement also specified that I must be an Omega,” Rey interrupts, flush with irritation.
“An Omega with feet,” he says, with another dismissive glance. “Explains why we’ve been so successful in our search.”
“Or perhaps it’s the people doing the searching,” Rey says, unable to stop herself now that she’s started.
His dark eyes swivel back to her—and this time, they stay there.
"I'll let you handle the interview," Leia says, sounding far too cheerful. “Don’t be long. Next class starts in an hour.”
And then, with a click of the door, Rey is alone.
Alone, with him, and his terrible, suffocating, intoxicating scent.
He dips his chin toward a chair at the table. Rey tries not to think about how much closer they are as she moves to the table and sits down.
A scrape of a chair, louder than hers, and he is seated directly across from her. Even sitting down, he is enormous. Imposing. Delectable.
"You don't want this job."
Any shred of attraction is immediately drowned in the rush of indignation that comes over her.
"I don't even know what this job entails,” she says, feeling defensive.
"Exactly." He folds his arms, and Rey struggles not to stare at the way it makes his dress shirt strain. "This position is highly demanding."
"My schedule is completely clear."
"I'm not talking about your schedule," he says sharply. "This institution is transforming the future of an entire generation."
"Sounds very important," Rey says, in a tone that will likely jeopardize any chance she had at working at this place. She finds she no longer cares. "All I've heard so far is about how difficult and taxing this role is, but no one will tell me what it actually involves."
"Then let me have the pleasure."
There is, of course, nothing pleasurable about the way he's looking at her — except the dark, earthy scent still surging like a current through her body. But she's doing a pretty good job of ignoring that. She thinks.
"This job," he says slowly, "involves commitment. The performative aspect of this academy’s curriculum means you must maintain your role from the moment you walk through the door and every moment thereafter. Our teachers provide a living example of ideal behavior for our students. You must uphold this ideal in everything you do here. With no exception.”
“And who determines my ideal behavior?”
Her breath catches. “My teaching partner, you mean.”
“Your Alpha,” he continues, with a note of warning, “will be your guide in every aspect of your tenure here. Since you won’t have the benefit of an orientation, he will also guide you in your own training as an assistant. And, like this job, your Alpha will demand your absolute, unwavering commitment.”
“Will he?” Rey says, amused by his seriousness.
“Sounds very taxing.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“It’s just that I’ve had far more demanding jobs than whatever you’re describing.” Rey leans back in her chair. “You ever tend bar on the north end?”
His nostrils flare. “You shouldn’t be anywhere near the north end.”
“I grew up on the north end,” she says tightly. “And I’m not worried about whether I can fool some impressionable young Alphas into thinking I’m sweeter and softer than I am. I don’t need an orientation to teach me to pretend to be a good Omega.”
“You could have fooled me.”
Ignoring the sharp stab of hurt in her chest, Rey rises to her feet. “That’s because I learned what I needed to do so that I don’t have to pretend anymore.”
“Then why come here to keep pretending?”
“I need the money,” Rey says. “And I’m good at it.” Or, well, she usually is. Something about this particular Alpha makes it difficult to pretend to be anything but the raw, visceral feelings he inspires in her.
Not that it matters.
She has clearly screwed up this interview enough to ruin any chance at working here — not as an Omega, a dishwasher, or anything in between.
“I’d better get going," she says, pushing away her chair. "I’m sure you’ve got a pile of other interviews lined up this morning for this thrilling opportunity.”
“We don’t.” His expression is inscrutable as he studies her. “And even if we did, it wouldn’t matter. The job is yours.”
Her mouth drops open. “What?”
“You have the job,” he repeats. “We have no other options right now. So it’s yours. Contingent on your performance during a trial session today.”
A trial session. So they’ll judge her performance. Unexpected elation mixes with a sudden, burning desire to know if he’ll be the one doing the judging. A trial session. Will he be in the audience? Watching? Her stomach squirms at the image. She wouldn’t want him there, of course—she hopes she never has to be anywhere near this intolerable Alpha again—but she can’t help but wonder what he would think, if he were watching her. Nonsensical, urgent Omega thoughts begin to whirl in her mind: Would he be impressed by her performance? Would he think she is a good Omega, an ideal Omega, a perfect, sweet, desirable Omega for an Alpha just like—
She needs to get out of this room.
“Thank you,” Rey manages. She nearly knocks the chair over as she walks backward, knees like jelly.
He watches her intently as she leaves. "Looking forward to it."
The air in the corridor outside is as fresh as springtime. Leaning against the wall, Rey takes a deep, steadying breath, allowing it to clear her head of the Omega voice still spinning tales in her muddy brain. She can't remember ever being so unmoored by an Alpha—and such an insufferable one at that.
As she heads down the hall, away from him, Rey finds herself unexpectedly grateful. No matter how awful her new teaching partner may be—and this person must be pretty awful, if they've already frightened off multiple Omegas before her—
They can't possibly be as awful as him.
And if that arrogant, obnoxious, intolerably attractive Alpha in the conference room wasn't enough to send her running, Rey can take anything her partner might throw at her.
She's sure of it.