“If something happens, I won’t hesitate to call you”, I promised for what felt like the hundredth time, demonstratively patting my backpack where I had stored the smartphone that he had handed me this morning.
“Stop worrying already! What would the Council gain from hurting an insignificant she-wolf like me?”, I argued.
When Caleb had asked the vampire about the reason for this peculiar demand of his, he’d gotten the same answer as before: curiosity. Since vampires were known for their eccentricity, he had probably spoken the truth. For all we knew, the guy was just a bored, old bloodsucker. Alpha that he was, Caleb was used to powerplays and simply too paranoid to accept such an anticlimactic solution.
“And besides, you have way bigger things on your plate right now!”, I added.
We had no cause to doubt the Council’s warning, which meant the Alpha king was out to get us. Even though I had complete confidence in the abilities of my Alpha, standing his ground against the king wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
“So … can I get in now?”
I turned towards the black car that was parked behind me. The Council had arranged for his servant to pick me up at our hotel after breakfast, but Caleb being the overprotective Alpha male that he was struggled to let me go. He ruffled his fingers through his black hair and let out a frustrated sigh.
“Go”, Caleb growled. “But don’t you dare let that shady bloodsucker harm even a single hair on your body, is that understood?”
“Loud and clear, Alpha!”
Each of the guys hugged me goodbye, and I finally got into the car.
When we arrived at the pompous residence of the Council, I was shown the room I would be staying in for the next couple of days.
“Please don’t hesitate to ask should you need anything, my Lady”, the old human servant declared, his gloved hands gracefully folded in front of his body and his posture flawless. “Unfortunately, the Master has some urgent business to attend to and will not be home before dinner. He asked me to convey his deepest regret. Until his return, the young Lady may roam the apartment as she pleases.”
After gracing me with a deep bow, he left.
The room I was assigned was huge, the furniture as lush as everything in the vampire’s home. I turned to my wolf to take a good sniff at the place – and immediately regretted it: Citric cleaning agent, the stifling smell of old wood, tapestry, and curtains, remnants of the overpowering flowery scent of vampires, and the faint stench of exhaust fumes from the city surrounding us. The unpleasant mixture brought tears to my eyes.
After I stored away my suitcase and my backpack, I decided to take the human up on his offer and explore. I was no more interested in this fancy vampire lair than I was the day before, but I was bored and wanted to stretch my legs. I was not used to idly sit around and stare holes in the wall. At the farm, there was always something to do: Tending to the fields or our garden, taking care of the cows, horses, chickens, and pigs – not to forget the everyday household chores. Yet, I would not want it any other way. It was a peaceful, humble life that provided me with everything I needed. But then John ...
Just thinking about my mate felt like a dozen knives slowly pierced my heart until all that was left were a view barely functional shreds. I bit my lips, trying to hold back the tears that threatened to get the better of me once again. As if I could prevent my heart from falling apart, I pressed my hand against my chest, even though I knew all too well how futile it was. I only managed to hold on for a few seconds before I slumped to the ground with a cry of despair and allowed the tears to fall freely.
Why? Why did he force such a cruel promise on me? John was my whole world, had been since the day we discovered we were mates. On that fateful day ten years ago, I had just turned thirteen, John fifteen. It was Beltane, and the whole pack had gathered to celebrate. Our eyes had met over the bonfire, and suddenly we had known. It was a moment I would never forget. Ever since then, we were inseparable. We were one of the lucky ones, finding our mate at such a young age, within the same pack even. All our friends envied us.
John was all I could have asked for. He had a kind, gentle soul, and despite being a male wolf he never made me feel weak or inferior to him. The other young males often made fun of him, called him a love-drunken fool for showering me with romantic gestures and fulfilling my every wish, but John didn't care. He just smiled and then kissed the hell out of me for all of them to see. Every morning I woke up by his side, I started the day knowing I was cherished and loved. Even in my worst nightmare, I couldn’t have imagined that our happiness would find such a cruel, abrupt ending.
It was not until an hour later that the last tears had dried. Somehow, I could muster up the strength to pull myself together and finally start exploring. I halfheartedly dragged my feet from one room to the other, dully noting all the grandeur surrounding me. I couldn’t live in a place like this, stuffed with so much splendor but so little heart. How could anybody possibly feel at ease in such a cold place? There was no trace of the owner’s personality to be found, nothing personal that hinted at the Council’s interests or the things he held dear. The apartment resembled a museum rather than a home. It definitely had the size of one. There were three floors in total and more rooms than I cared to count. What was even more shocking, though, was that the human servant and I were currently the only persons here. I could neither hear nor smell someone else – be it vampire, wolf, or human. What a colossal waste of space ...
I had long given up on finding a room I felt comfortable in when I stumbled over a terrace adjoined to the library (yes, this apartment had a library that had the same size as our entire house!). A big part of the terrace was used as a garden with an oak tree in the center and an assortment of bushes and round flower patches framing this small green paradise. Three sets of stairs, one on each side of the square-shaped garden, led to a balcony that offered a boring view of the neighboring houses. One could see the plants were being looked after, but the last visit of the gardener had obviously been some time ago. The bushes needed pruning, and weed had started to grow everywhere.
My hands itched to get to work, but I didn’t have any tools. Without thinking much, I decided to call the human servant for help, and twenty minutes later, I had all I needed to knock this garden into shape.
“Do you wish me to assist you, my Lady?”, the human offered.
“No, I’ll manage. Thank you."
I put on gloves and a sun hat and got down to work. When I had almost finished clearing the second flower patch of weeds, I unexpectedly got company. A grim-looking white cat with fluffy fur threw me a questioning look as she descended the stairs closest to me. The name Queen was written on a golden nametag she wore around her neck, hanging from a pink leather necklace. I didn’t take the Council for an animal person, but I was happy to be proven wrong. The cat kept looking at me with her big beautiful grey eyes as if she was evaluating me. Not wanting to fail the test, I took off my hat and curtseyed before her.
“Sorry for invading your garden, my Queen", I said, sending her a reconciling smile.
The cat came closer, pleased with my behavior, apparently. I got on my knees and offered her my hand. She took a careful sniff, then circled me once in the slow, graceful manner that was so typical for cats. Afterwards, Queen rubbed her head and body against my legs while letting out a satisfied purr. I patted her back, honored that the animal allowed me such closeness. I loved animals. Whenever John and I had visited a breeder, we ended up with at least one more family member than we originally intended to.
“Stop looking at me like that!” John tried to act stern. “We are not getting a second horse because you ,don’t want to separate true friends'”, he quoted my very solid reason for adopting. "We have plenty of horses at home. The stallion will have new friends in no time."
“But not this friend”, I insisted. “Only a coldhearted monster would have the heart to split those two up – I mean look at them! Can't you see how happy they are with each other?”
Hands stemmed into his hips, John let out a tired sigh.
“You know a horse costs money, time, and space, right? And we already have seven of them living with us!”, he tried to reason with me. “We decided to get another one because Merlin will retire soon – and under your care, I have no doubt he will enjoy his pension for many years to come.”
“I will train both of them to become work animals, so we could rent them to Stephan, Carl, and their men on a regular basis”, I suggested. The lumberjacks often asked for some of our horses, and they paid well for this service. They also treated the animals well, so it was a win-win for everyone.
“We are not leaving this place until I agree, aren’t we?”, John eventually caved in.
Victory! I slung my arms around my mates’ neck and gave him a thank-you kiss.
“You are the best!”, I declared with a wide grin.
John hugged me closer to him.
“Tell me something I don’t know”, he replied with a smile that turned my knees into jelly. Goddess, how could a male be so perfect?
“How about we take a stroll in the woods tonight?”, I proposed, the words rough with lust. “My wolf hungers for its mate ...”
The animal inside me was delighted with the idea, and judging by the way John’s eyes turned a few shades darker, it wasn't the only one.
“Now that's a wish I’ll happily grant.”
A few loud Meows brought me back to the present. Queen gently nudged my hand and looked up at me with worry in her gaze. I quickly wiped away my tears and continued patting her.
“I miss him so much”, I quietly confessed, my voice thin and shaky. Animals might not understand the precise meaning of what we told them, but they could sense our emotions behind it, could offer us comfort if they wanted to.
Queen let out another loud Meow and rubbed her head against me as if to say: "Don't be sad. I am here for you."
With a last Meow, the cat broke away from my hand and strutted to the big oak tree where she quickly found a nice shadowy spot to rest.
“You may resume your work, gardener. I’ll keep an eye on you”, she would have probably said if she could.
“I won’t disappoint you, my Queen!”, I vowed, earning me a big yawn from her. Of course, she was expecting nothing less from me.
Around twelve, the human servant appeared, asking me what I would like for lunch.
“You don't need to trouble yourself! If it's okay, I'll use the kitchen and quickly prepare some sandwiches to eat out here. The weather is so nice today, it practically begs for a picnic!”
“It is no trouble at all, my Lady. It is my honorable duty in which I take the utmost pride in", the human insisted. “I'll order the kitchen to put together a selection of sandwiches and something to quench the thirst. Anything else?”
Sensing there was no use arguing with that stubborn human, I gave up and added: “Maybe something to eat and drink for the cat, if it's not too much to ask.”
Half an hour later, the old man came back with a blanket and a huge basket full of sandwiches, fruits, and drinks that could easily feed a whole family.
“Thank you, it looks delicious! Would you like to join me?”, I offered, not wanting so much food to go to waste.
“My Lady is too kind, but that would be highly inappropriate”, he politely declined. “If there is nothing else, I shall continue with my duties. I hope you enjoy your meal, my Lady.”
Queen and I peacefully ate our lunch side by side in the shadow of the oak tree. The sandwiches were as delicious as they looked, at least the ones I managed to try. There were just too many of them. I finished off my meal with a few slices of watermelon, let the food sink for a couple of minutes, and then continued to trim the bushes.
It took me until the late afternoon to finish everything up to my utmost satisfaction. Tired from my work, I joined Queen in the shadow. She climbed on my lap, expecting a good pat, and I was all too happy to oblige her.
I must have dozed off at one point because the next thing I remembered was hearing Queen angrily hiss at someone before getting up and going on the run. My eyes popped open in shock, and my wolf senses switched to full alert. The flowery scent of a vampire made my nose itch, and I knew who had upset Queen without looking up.
“I am glad to see you found something to occupy yourself with while I was gone”, the Council said. Dressed in formal human clothing he towered over me, offering me his hand to help me up. I reluctantly took it, not comfortable with having to touch a vampire, a male at that. His skin felt awfully cold compared to my naturally warm one.
“I apologize for being such an inattentive host. I vow to do better from now on.”
“I am sure you had your reasons, Council.”
“Henry”, he corrected. “Please call me Henry. After all, we’ll be spending the next few days together.”
I blinked, wondering if I had heard him correctly. Why in the world would the Council offer someone like me to address him informally? Then again, I had no idea why he had forced Caleb to let me, a low she-wolf, keep him company in the first place. Just what was going on in that vampire’s head?
“Henry then”, I complied, not having much of a choice.
“Since you have been cooped up in my apartment the whole day, I thought it would be nice to dine out. I guess you will
A female servant I had not seen before entered the garden. She was human as well.
“This is Adele. She will tend to you for the duration of your stay.”
“I appreciate the gesture, but I can take care of myself – no offense”, I hurried to spoiled princess.
“I am sure you can”, the Council agreed, his tone so pleasant it was creepy. I would have preferred it cold and emotionless like yesterday, which seemed to be his usual manner of speaking. “But this isn't Amber Grove. We all need help when finding ourselves at an unfamiliar place, and I Alpha Caleb accusing me of treating one of his wolves with anything less than perfect hospitality
Only that I didn’t want his “perfect hospitality”. I just wanted to be left alone!
“Show my guest to her room, Adele.”
“Of course, Master.”
To this vampire, you are nothing more than a political pawn, I reminded myself. None of this is about you, it’s about power games you will never be able to understand. Just bear with it and take it as doing your pack a good deed.
My goodwill was put to the test sooner than I had feared. When I stepped out of the bathroom twenty minutes later, Adele already awaited me with two mobile clothes hangers at her side stacked with dozens of elegant dresses in human fashion.
“W-what is the meaning of this?”
“I am not familiar with Madame’s preferred style of clothes yet, so I prepared a variety of different dresses to choose from”, she said, as if that would explain anything.
“What’s wrong with the clothes I brought?”
“Oh … The Master said Madame didn’t bring any evening attire with her. Was I misinformed?”, Adele asked.
In other words, my clothes weren’t good enough for Mr. pomp and glamour. Maybe I should have seen something like this coming, considering vampires took their appearance ridiculously serious and I was about to go on an outing with the head of them. We werewolves didn’t care much for what we wore, unlike the human and vampire society which used clothes to showcase their ranks. The only requirement we wolves had for our clothes was that they had to be practical to not disturb us while we were working, and easy to strip down in case we changed into our animal form.
“In that case just chose something you think will suit me.”
To me, each dress looked as good as the other one.
“Are you sure, Madame?”, Adele asked with a flabbergasted expression, as if she could not comprehend how someone could possibly let another person chose their clothes.
“Does the Madame have any preferences?”, she asked.
Maybe setting some ground rules was not a bad idea.
“It shouldn’t be too flashy and revealing. And I should be able to wear it with flat shoes.”
Adele thought about my requirements for a moment until her features suddenly lit up.
“I think I know just the dress!”