Bloodbound (an ALPHA-series Novella)

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Chapter 3

A silver-colored, ankle-length, sleeveless dress embroidered with delicate golden roses and a pair of flat, golden shoes was what I ended up with. It was still much too flashy for my taste, but all in all, it didn’t look too bad. The soft fabric tightly hugged my waist, but Adele assured me it wouldn’t rip should I move or sit down. I hoped she was right.
Little did I know choosing a dress was merely the beginning of what Adele intended to put me through. The real torture began when she sat me down to work on my hair and make-up. In my opinion, every hairstyle that took longer than fifteen minutes wasn’t worth the effort. Adele invested more than twice this time until she had my hair pinned up to her full satisfaction. My face was next. She put so many cremes and powders on my skin that I felt like wearing a mask. I couldn't wait to wash all that disgusting stuff off once that pointless dinner was over.
The restaurant we headed to was only a ten-minute car ride from the apartment, which the Council spent glued to a portable electronic device he called an "IPad". To my disappointment, he left it in the car once we arrived.
We were seated beside a window that offered an undisturbed view of the famous Norte Dame Cathedral the guys and I had visited yesterday. There were several five-course dinners to choose from, and when I spotted the price, I wanted to cry. Why in the name of the goddess would anyone pay that much for a single meal? John and I had spent less on the food of a whole month!
"Did anything pique your interest?"
I instinctively pointed at the cheapest set.
"Menu One it is then."
The Council ordered in what I assumed to be flawless French. If one lived several lifetimes, learning different languages was probably a given.
"When did you and your mate get together?"
Under the table, I clawed my fingers into my dress. From everything he could have talked about, that’s the topic he chose?
"We had our ten-year anniversary this May."
"An unusual early mating", he commented. "It is understandable you feel so distressed over your mate’s death, considering you spent so much time together starting at such a young age. Have you been courted by an unmated wolf yet?"
I choked on the water I had just taken a sip from.
"E-excuse me, could you repeat that?", I asked, sure I must have misheard.
"Has another male wolf already registered interest in you?", he followed my request without blinking an eye, features as cold and unmoving as always. I just stared at him in disbelief, lost for words.
"Do you consider this question to be too intrusive?", he wondered when I stayed quiet.
"More like inappropriate."
"Inappropriate?", the vampire repeated. "I don't see what would be inappropriate about this question."
"It’s not even been a year since I’ve lost my mate, and you think I could already bring myself to search for another male?"
This guy couldn’t be for real!
"Everybody grieves differently. It's not unusual to look for a new partner half a year after the death of the former."
Among his coldblooded lot, maybe. Should any wolf dare such a thing, any Alpha with a shred of integrity would personally teach him a lesson he would never forget.
"Well, that doesn’t apply to me. I don’t want a new partner. Not now, not ever. And I would appreciate it if we could change the topic."
"You are still young. You might change your mind one day."
"I won’t."
He didn’t argue, but it was obvious he wasn’t convinced.
"Caleb told me you own a farm. Are you specialized in anything?"
Though I had asked for another topic, I hadn’t expected him to comply so readily with my request.
"No. We grow different kinds of vegetables and corn, and we also keep some animals."
"Do you like being a farmer?", he continued.
"I do."
Why do you care?, I wanted to snap at him, but in the end, my good upbringing gained the upper hand.
"It's peaceful, rewarding and I like working outside."
"What task do you enjoy the most?"
Seriously, what did he hope to achieve by forcing me through this small-talk nightmare? It's not like he cared, anyway.
"Gardening and taking care of the animals, especially the horses."
"Do you employ workers?"
I wondered why I answered him so honestly. It's not like I owed him the truth, and I doubted he would go through the trouble to verify the information.
"Which occupation do you think you would have chosen if it had been up to you?"
"I have no idea."
"Take a guess, then."
Goddess, make it stop!
I shrugged.
"Something with animals or a gardener, maybe."
The interrogation continued until the first course was served. Two times, the Council asked if I was satisfied with the food. Other than that, I was allowed to enjoy the meal in utter silence which felt almost too good to be true. The food looked weird but was delicious without exception. What tempered my delight though were the many different sized forks, knives, spoons, and glasses we were expected to use for each course. I did not want to make a fool of myself using the wrong cutlery, so I had to constantly observe what the Council used so I could copy him. Sure, I could have just asked him, but then I would have risked starting a new conversation – something I wanted to avoid at any cost.
"Tomorrow, you may sleep as long as you wish. Just let Adele know once you are ready to have breakfast. We will be heading out the whole day, so you should be well-rested", the Council informed me back at his apartment.
"Where will we go?"
"To a place that you will enjoy."

To my surprise, the vampire stayed true to his promise. He managed to pick one of the very view places that stood a chance to conjure a smile on my face: a horse farm.
"A friend of mine owns this place", the Council explained when we entered the unbelievably large premise of the farm through a huge wooden gate.
A human male in his best years, dressed in elegant equestrian clothing, approached us as soon as we got out of the car.
"Henry!", he cheerfully greeted the Council with a heavy French accent and open arms. He engulfed the vampire in a friendly hug and touched his cheek to the Councils while making a kissing sound, then repeated the action three times, always changing cheeks. Dumbfounded, I stood frozen in place and watched the strange greeting ritual.
"Ça fait trop longtemps!"
"Albert, mon vieil ami! Ça va?", the Council replied in his usual reserved tone.
The two exchanged a couple more sentences in French until they suddenly switched to English.
"A friend of Henry is my friend", the human declared. Before I knew it, I got a warm hug as well, including the fake kissing. "My name is Albert. Lovely to make your acquaintance, ma jolie."
Albert insisted on personally showing us around his vast property, which included several stables, riding grounds, riding halls, barns, and pastures as well as a stately residence Albert and his family lived in. The horse farm even had its own farriery and an animal hospital. It was obvious Albert loved this place with all his heart, and he truly cared about all the horses that had found a home here. Before I knew it, I found myself in a spirited conversation with our host about horse training, tacks, and the peculiarities of different breeds. The human invited us to have dinner with him and his wife – an opportunity I gladly jumped at because it meant one less meal alone with Mr. tactless, and afterwards we changed into equestrian clothes he lent us.
"I prepared two of my best horses for you.”
As if they had just waited for this cue from their employer, two men came out of the stables. Both were followed by a breathtaking, huge, grey, saddled-up horse.
"It's a French breed called Percheron. Those two were born and trained here at our farm. Aren’t they gorgeous?"
I approached the horse closest to me, calmly introducing myself.
"Hi there, beautiful. I am Maya."
The animal was well trained and seemed to feel very comfortable around humans. It eyed me curiously, both of its ears pointing in my direction. I let him smell my hand, giving him a chance to get familiar with me. The horse still showed no sign of discomfort or stress. I gently scratched his withers while letting my gaze wander over his massive form.
"What’s his name?"
"Napoleon", the man holding his lead rope said.
"Hello, Napoleon. Thanks for lending me your strength today."
Aided by the workers, we mounted the horses. The saddle was soft, and Napoleon patiently waited until I was seated comfortably.
"Feel free to explore the adjoining lands as long as you want. There is a beautiful forest about two kilometers southwest from here. That’s a good place to start."
Albert pointed in the direction he was talking about.
"Amuse-toi bien!"
"We will", the Council replied, grabbing his reins tighter. It was obvious he, too, knew his way around horses. "Let’s go!"
With that, he put his horse in motion. I quickly followed suit, and together we trotted off.
As much as I hated to admit it, riding out like this was pretty fun. The whole time we didn’t speak a single word, only enjoyed the nature surrounding us and the feeling of slowly becoming one with the strong animal carrying us on its back. Napoleon was amazing. Because of his size, his way of walking took some getting used to – it was my first time riding such a big horse, but Napoleon was patient with me and easy to lead. We explored the forest Albert had recommended to us and met some other riders and pedestrians from time to time. For the most part, it was only the two of us, though.
When we reached a stream, the Council suggested we take a break. It was our first conversation since we had left the farm. We dismounted and encouraged the horses to take a refreshing sip which they happily did.
"You should smile more often. It suits you."
Baffled, I realized the vampire was right. Watching Napoleon quenching his thirst, my lips had stretched into a small smile just now.
"Why do you care?", I snapped. For some reason, I was angry that of all people the Council had managed to raise a smile from me.
Suddenly, the vampire towered over me. Without a warning, he raised his hand to my head and plugged a leaf out of my hair. Surprised, I stumbled backwards and almost tripped over my feet, had the Council not gripped my upper arms to prevent the fall. Once I had found my footing again, he didn’t release me from his grip though. Eyebrows angrily drawn together, I tried to free myself from his cold hands. To my frustration, he kept me locked in place with ease, however.
"What ...?", I snarled, angrily looking up at him, but his gaze silenced me on the spot. Besides his usual coldness, a glimmer of something much darker had started lurking in those black orbs of his, something that made my skin crawl. All of a sudden, I wasn’t so sure anymore if I could put it past him to harm me.
"I am in search of a mate, and I am entertaining the idea of bestowing this honor to you."
Okay, either I had officially started to go insane, or this was the sickest joke ever!
"You probably don’t see what merit such a union would hold for me, so your disbelief is understandable. But do you truly think I, the Council, would spend my precious time entertaining some lowly she-wolf without having an agenda?"
I furrowed my brows.
"Then why ...", I started when a scary suspicion sprouted in my head and I answered my own question. "It was a sort of test, wasn’t it? Me being left all alone to explore the apartment ... You were testing me!"
I had found it quite strange that the mightiest vampire on the planet allowed such a thing. Then again, what was there to fear from a small, insignificant she-wolf like me, I had reasoned.
"Don't worry, you passed with flying colors", he confirmed my suspicion, not the faintest hint of guilt in his voice.
"So, this trip is just another test?"
"Of sorts", was his vague reply.
"Let’s say I pass all your little tests. What makes you think I would ever agree to such a mating?"
The vampire dipped his head until his mouth touched my ear.
"What makes you think your opinion in the matter is of any importance?", he whispered.
Fear clawed at my heart, made my pulse race and my wolf push to the surface. But I wasn’t the biggest predator here, the Council was, and I knew without a doubt I stood no chance against him. I was at his mercy, and there was nothing I could do about it.
With all the strength I could muster up, I tried to push him away from me. If I had to stay close to this psychopath for another second I would scream. This time, he allowed it and loosened his grip around my arms.
"Caleb will protect me", I said. I had full confidence in my Alpha.
"Could he protect John?"
I fisted my hand. That was below the belt.
"Why me? You are the Council, don’t you have enough vampire females to choose from?"
"Only you can give me what I am searching for in a mate."
"And what would that be?"
"Unrestrained control."
With that, he turned away from me and approached his horse.
"Shall we head back?"

I tried to convince myself that the Council was just messing with me, but unfortunately, I didn’t succeed.
Do you truly think I, the Council, would spend my precious time entertaining some lowly she-wolf without having an agenda?
No matter how you looked at it, that was a knockout argument.
"You don’t care at all that we don’t love each other?", I finally blurted out, not able to hold back any longer. My head was spinning like crazy, replaying the Council’s words over and over again, trying to make sense of it all. The vampire on the other seemed as relaxed as before, as if he had not just dropped a bombshell that held the promise to change both our lives forever.
"Love comes in many forms and sizes, little wolf. We might never have romantic feelings for one another, but I am confident we will develop a friendship over time", he stated with a calmness that drove me mad. How could this mean so little to him?
"And that's enough for you?"
"It is."
"Why do you even want to get mated in the first place?"
Clearly not because of love!
"What do you mean you would gain unrestrained control?"
"I said all I am willing to disclose on this matter."
His voice was as unfaced as before, but there was something in his gaze that warned me to push any further.
"Should we get mated, it goes without saying I will answer all the questions still lingering in your mind. For now, this is all you need to know."
When I opened my mouth again to disagree, he broke into a gallop.
"This conversation is far from over, do you hear me?", I screamed.
Of course, I never got an answer.

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