Chapter 1 ~ Soul's Craving
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Chapter one: Soul's Craving
He was watching, he was always watching, with eyes that burned into my skin and left their mark on my soul. To me, he seemed far more feral wolf than man. Everything from the way he tipped his head to listen to someone speak, to the way his eyes were constantly alert. He was intimidating, but I found that I was also always watching, entranced.
Yet, it didn't matter that his eyes often fell on me, because when she was in the room, I became invisible.
I wasn't sure if I minded or not; instincts that had been built from years of living in a hostile home had me sure I was better off without male attention, but the moon had sung her song the last time she was full and had me craving the feel of his eyes only on me.
A smashing of glass being knocked off the kitchen counter had me flinching, eyes tearing away from the window. My wolf rose defensively, ready to protect me. My heart hammered, even after I noticed what had caused the noise. My body took a moment before realising there was no danger. When I looked back out the kitchen window, he was gone.
"I'm sorry, Oria. My hand slipped, I hope I didn't frighten you too badly." Cathwulf apologized profusely, her face contorted into a look of concern.
I gave her a smile and shook my head, even as my shoulders hunched again and I dropped my head, unable to hold her eyes.
"I'm fine, I was lost in a daydream and didn't notice you come in." I assured her.
She didn't believe me. She knew me too well. Part of me wished I'd never confided in her, I hated the look of pity she got when she looked at me, but if I hadn't, I'd still be stuck at home with a father who had used his fists far more than he'd ever used his words. I wondered if even she regretted listening to my cries for help. For weeks after she took me under her wing, she'd been jolted awake by the sounds of my screams from nightmares so dark, I locked them away before I could remember them.
I wished I hadn't lost sight of him out the window, he kept my thoughts on far less grim topics.
"Are you going to train with the pack today, Oria? I've kept Roarke off your back for as long as I can, he's really pushing for you to join in." She said, changing the subject for me.
"I think Roarke would rather have you on your back." I laughed, hiding my unease with teasing like I always did.
She saw right through and gave me a look, one I was quick to look away from. I could feel her irritation with me, her wolf pushing for me to obey.
I didn't want to train with the other members of the pack. I couldn't bear to watch and hear the sounds of fighting that put me so on edge that I worried my wolf would take over. Not that I'd ever be able to do much damage, even in my fur, I was no fighter.
"The basics of self defense is all he wants you to learn, I think it'll be good for you. You might feel more confident in yourself once you know even just a little about how to protect yourself." She insisted, a little more firmly than she had the day before.
I fidgeted, leaning against the counter.
"Please don't make me, Cathwulf." I pleaded quietly, staring down at the floor.
She sighed, I could feel her eyes on me, but I could tell she would push no more for today.
"What if we started off with me teaching you in private, until you got more confident? That would give you a few more months of getting out of it, till I'm no longer the size of an elephant.." She suggested, leaning next to me.
I looked up, catching her eyes for the barest of moments before smiling, "I would be okay with that."
Cathwulf grinned, pulling me into a quick hug, "Good! I'm sure Roarke will settle for our arrangement."
I couldn't muster the same amount of enthusiasm as my friend did, but I felt much more relaxed at the idea of training alone with her.
"Are you alright? You're not yourself today." Cathwulf said, taking my hand and pulling me into the empty livingroom, "Talk to me."
But oh what to say? How could I tell her even a little of the trouble I'd found myself in, that my wolf wanted a male far above our station, a male that both terrified me and kept me in a constant state of awe. A male that had eyes only for her.
"I've been thinking about my father a lot today."
Not a complete lie, not really. He had been on my mind more than usual, but only as a reminder that I shouldn't go after him, because I was nothing, I was an omega too scared of her own shadow, I was the lowest of the lowest in the pack.
Cathwulf studied me a small moment before nodding and tugging me into an awkward hug, her bump stopping her from being able to hold me properly. I was grateful for her comforting touch and fell into her hold, inhaling her scent that had always brought me ease.
"He was your father only in blood, Oria, he has no right to you." She promised and I realised that she thought I was worried he would find me and take me away, not that I was beginning to believe every cruel thing he had ever said to me was true.
"I know." I murmured, "You won't let him near me."
Cathwulf laughed and pulled back and I frowned in confusion.
"Not one member of this entire pack will let him anywhere near you. Not I, not Roarke and not Quillan. Do you not see how important you are to us all?"
I blushed, using my hair to hide myself away. No. I didn't see how important I was, because that was nothing but sweet words meant to put me at ease. I knew Cathwulf loved me, I loved her too, but sometimes I worried she spent too much time trying to look out for me, that I was holding her back. My eyes filled with tears and I did my best to keep them out of her view.
Quillan's scent filled the room, strong and intoxicating and it only put more strain on me. I couldn't stay here, I wanted to run, having him this close and watching him mourn over Cathwulf was too much for me to bear. His footsteps echoed behind the couch and my body fluttered to awareness as he passed behind me. I heard him take a deep inhale and froze, my heart squeezing. I dared to look up and my hope crumbled away. Cathwulf was giving Quillan a warning look, followed by a soft growl. Quillan walked away. It hadn't been my scent he was getting lost in, it had been her's.
I shifted uncomfortably, my head dropping and shoulders hunching over.
"I'm sorry, Oria." Cathwulf whispered, rubbing her bump, "I need to go find Roarke, will you be-"
"I'll be fine, I can look after myself." I snapped and then almost choked as I realised what I'd done.
I waited for her to berate me, for her wolf to push forth and have me submit for talking to her so, but she never did. Looking up, I saw hurt in her expression that soon turned to sympathy. Hormones had made her a little more emotional than normal and I instantly felt bad.
"Okay, I'll find you later."
I didn't relax until she'd left. I was still shocked over my reaction and wasn't sure Cathwulf would forgive me for it. My fingers wound through my hair and I squeezed my eyes shut, letting out a heavy breath.
"Idiot." I muttered, pushing myself to my feet and brushing my long skirt.
I made my way outside, easily avoiding the males that were finishing work on the house after the fire. I was nothing but a shadow to everyone here.
The air was icy as it hit my skin but the sun still shone her light brightly down, hitting the few brown and orange leaves that had clung to skeletal branches. Winter was creeping in slowly, it had already snowed heavily in the last month, and I'd have to say goodbye to my beloved skirts and dresses in favour of warmer clothing. Soon, the snow would stick to the ground for more than the few days it had. The ground was muddy and slippy with puddles of melted snow and the hem of my skirt was now spotted with brown dirt.
The road to Sam's was easy to follow now that I'd trod it so often. I enjoyed her company, she never pressed for me to talk but she was a good teacher and I took pride in my work with her. To become a healer was hard work, and a high rank in the pack, and though I doubted my abilities, Sam assured me I had the makings to be a great healer. If only I could get over my fear of males.
I pushed into her home that doubled as her clinic, a small bell above the door signaling my arrival. Sam never came through to greet me so, assuming she was with a patient, I went into the back room. Freshly picked and drying herbs littered the room, hanging from string by the window, petals and stalks covering the wooden floor. I smiled, breathing in the array of scents.
My fingers trailed over the spine of leather books that held centuries of secrets written by the healers that came before me. Every healer had a journal of information that they passed down to the next, but this pack hadn't had a healer since Roarke's grandfather had been Alpha.
"Oria, is that you?" Sam yelled through, her footsteps echoing until she appeared at the door.
Her brown hair was tied up in a messy bun and she had dark circles under her eyes. I'd never seen her look so... unkempt before. Normally she was clean and confident, I wondered if the female I'd seen here a few days ago had her cub last night and needed help.
"Can you get me some Aloe Vera, scrape it into a little tub for me? I've got a cub in the other room with a burnt hand." She sighed wearily, looking around the messy room that I'd promised to keep in order.
My cheeks flushed at her appraisal and I was quick to get to work with what she asked.
"Did Arianna have her cub last night?" I asked quietly, scraping what I could from one leaf into a reusable tub.
"Kicking and screaming." She laughed, "It was her first, I understand her fear and of course the pain of childbirth is worse than I can imagine, but by the gods Arianna has a set of lungs on her."
I tried not to laugh, but I couldn't help my lips quirking up into a small smile. Finishing my work, I passed the tub to Sam who smiled in thanks.
"How is Cathwulf doing, she missed her appointment with me today." Sam said, eyeing the room.
"She's good, a little frustrated with how protective Roarke is. I'm sure she didn't mean to miss her appointment, I'll mention it to her next time I see her." I replied.
Cathwulf had been so caught up in worry about me that it must have slipped her mind. Guilt ate at me for once again taking up my Alpha Female's time.
Sam nodded, "I wish I could say he'll calm down when the cub is born but he might get worse."
I nodded in agreement, feeling sorry for her. She was feeling smothered and Roarke was practically attached to her, keeping her close to his side at all times. He'd been a little more aggressive towards the males of the pack too, they kept their distance from their Alpha Female but the females of the pack, especially the mothers, had crowded around her. I wasn't used to being around so many people at once, it meant I had been keeping my distance from her too. I didn't like the looks and whispers the females gave me when I was with them, perhaps they thought me unworthy of being so close to Cathwulf, I was just a lowly omega after all.
A sigh from Sam had my head lifting.
"Do try to keep the place clean, Oria." Sam teased, nudging a sprig of lavender on the floor, "though I do know you healers don't keep to the standards of doctors."
"I'm not a healer." I protested, grabbing broom to start sweeping up the mess on the floor.
I wished everyone would stop saying it. I wasn't worthy or capable of being the pack healer. Their teasing was like a punch to the gut each time, reminding me of my status.
"Not a healer yet." She clucked, winking and spinning around, her white coat flapping behind her.
I shook my head in amusement and finished cleaning before going back to mashing up herbs with the new pestle and mortar Sam had gotten me.
I felt his eyes on me before I sensed his presence. Turning, I frowned when realising he wasn't in the room, but I was never wrong when it came to him. Peering out the small window, a shadow of black moved against the vibrant colour of the leaves before disappearing. I stood frozen for a few moments, trying to figure out if I had actually seen him or if I was now so obsessed, I had started imagining him near.
"You were upset earlier, why?"
The pestle flew from my hand, cracking against the hard wooden floor. My eyes flew up, crystal blue meeting black and my lightened mood from working with herbs faded back into me, taken over by the roughness of his presence.
I dropped to my knees to pick up the pestle but stilled at the sound of his growl. Keeping my head low, I stood again, forcing all my focus onto grinding herbs again.
"I was just remembering something." I said, struggling not to give into the part of me that wished to be closer to him, my wolf drinking in the feel of his power while I trembled.
"Something that saddened you." He stated.
I wanted to roll my eyes, of course Mr Obvious. You.
He watched me and I knew he was waiting for me to explain but I didn't think I could lie to him, he would see through any story I wove about my father. Yet perhaps there was enough truth to that story to fool him, I had thought about my father today, and it had made me sad, but was that a part of my life I wanted to share with the man who was able to break me so easily?
"You do not want to talk and that's okay, but our pack takes care of their own. You are an important part of Cathwulf's life and therefore you are important part of mine." He vowed, stepping into my space.
Automatically, I stepped back. I'd never been this close to him, I could smell his scent of smoldering fire so intoxicatingly close, I could feel the heat of his body beating against mine. Could he feel how I cowered before him?
"Because Cathwulf is important to you? Even though she is mated to your brother, your Alpha." I rebuked, my eyes meeting his for the barest of seconds, long enough to see the pain in his eyes.
I could almost hear the whine of his wolf's agony. Quillan stepped back, taking the heat of him away too. My reaction was to curl in on myself and prepare for the blow that would have come had I spoken to my father so. He lifted his hand and I flinched, my eyes squeezing shut. When the blow never came, I opened my eyes in time to see he had simply been brushing hair from his eyes. He frowned as he watched me.
"Did you think I was going to hurt you, Oria?" He asked, aghast, "Is that what you think of me?"
I shook my head quickly, taking another instinctual step away, "Some behaviours are so deeply ingrained in a person that it does not matter what kindness someone has shown, their instincts will always react to what their past has taught them."
We stood in awkward silence, my hands moving to grind herbs again. Quillan's anger filled the room, but this time I tried not to react. I was sure it wasn't me he was angry at. Perhaps he was angry that I thought him capable of hitting me, or that someone had obviously done so in my past, but I'd said all I could offer in relation to my past.
"I seem to have offended you, I'm sorry. I'll leave you to your work." He apologised.
He hovered for a moment and I heard the unmistakable sound of him inhaling deeply before he left. I swore I could still feel the burn of his gaze on my skin and moved to the old wooden styled sink to get myself a glass of cool water.
A black wolf darted past the window, it's dark eyes meeting mine before it disappeared into the trees. My wolf urged me to follow him, to play a game of chase in an attempt to draw his eye but I pushed the feeling away. It was pointless.
Fur brushed against my leg and I almost jumped out of my skin. Sam's black and ginger cat, Mirren, purred loudly as she rubbed against me. I laughed, crouching down to scratch behind her fluffy ears and over the ginger lightening bolt on her forehead.
"What are you after, hmm?" I coo'd, giggling as she cuddled in under my chin, "Is it food or catnip? Or do you just want cuddles?"
Her paws kneeding my top answered that question and I kept her warm body against me as I rinsed out my glass and put it away. Gracefully, she jumped from my arms and onto the counter, sitting and curling her tail around her legs. Grabbing a little catnip, I sprinkled it next to her and watched in amusement as she rolled around in it.
Hands on hips, I decided to clean up the rest of the room. I picked up the broom again and brushed the rest of the stems and leaves into a pile before crouching down to sort what I could keep and what could go in the bin. The work kept me occupied and I had to admit that I loved it.
"A healer." I mused quietly to myself before laughing the idea off.