Where Flowers Don't Belong

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Beautiful As You

Mate?

Out of all the things he had said tonight, this had to be the strangest. Mate? As in a werewolf's destined one and only lover?

I looked behind me. Had someone else entered the room? His mate would not be happy if they walked into the king's bedroom and saw another woman sitting on his lap, wearing his clothes.

I looked back to the king after scanning the room and finding no one. "Who's your mate? Is she here?" I asked quietly, trying to mask my fear.

His brows came together and he pulled me closer to his chest. "Of course she's here. She's sitting on my lap."

I looked down at the legs I was sitting on and then back at him. "But I'm sitting on your lap."

His mouth opened slightly in shock and then he leaned his head back against the headboard and let out a humorless laugh. "Of course. It all makes sense now. You didn't know." He shook his head and then looked back at me with soft eyes that made my breath catch in my throat. "Baby," he spoke gently, touching my face lightly and running his thumb over the cheekbone that wasn't bruised. "You're my mate."

I paused. Me? Had I heard him right? No, surely I didn't because what he said made absolutely no sense. He thought I was his mate? I almost laughed out loud at the thought.

I said nothing at first, waiting for him to laugh and say it was a joke. But he never did. After a few seconds of silence and his soft expression never changing as he seemed to patiently wait for me to process the news, I realized he truly believed his words. He was serious. He really thought I was his mate. Me, a pathetic human.

Suddenly, it all made sense. The king thought I was his mate. This was why he hadn't killed me yet. This was why he was being so nice to me. This was why he was giving me the first sort of affection I'd ever receive in my life. He had made a mistake and was now disillusioned into thinking that a slave was worthy of his time due to some sort of "connection" between our souls that wasn't actually there.

Without thinking, my next word spilled from my mouth. "No."

The king was obviously taken aback. He scowled darkly and his grip on my hips tightened. "What do you mean 'no'?"

I swallowed, suddenly aware that I had upset him yet again. That had not been my intention.

Stupid, stupid girl. The voice in my head said.

I looked down. "Well...I-I..." I took in a shaky breath. "I'm sorry, I-I didn't mean it like that. I d-didn't mean it as if I was disagreeing with you." I could feel his body begin to shake, his wolf becoming more and more present with each word I said. Was I really about to correct the king again? "I just meant that—that I think you've maybe made a mistake?"

Yep, I guess I was.

He growled under his breath, the noise low and threatening. "Oh?" he asked, deadly calm. "How so?"

I fidgeted nervously. Did I really want to tell him that I wasn't his mate and give up this affection and safety that he was offering me? There was something deep down in me desperately wanting it to be true. Mates were kind to each other. They took care of each other. They loved each other unconditionally. That's all I had ever longed for in my life.

If I didn't tell him I wasn't his mate, he might bring me to the palace and let me work there. Based on the way he had treated me tonight, slaves at the palace were treated much better than the ones here. He could use me as he wished, interacting with me whenever he wanted to or needed release and I could, in return, be the best slave he had ever had. That life would be much better than the one I had here, waiting until the day I would be given to some mean old wolf who would surely treat me much worse than the king would.

I looked up slowly to meet the king's kind, deep blue eyes. He was still watching me closely, waiting patiently for my response. His patience with me only reminded me of how kind he had been to me tonight. He had cared for me even when I didn't deserve it. He said kind things and made me feel as if I mattered for the first time in my entire life, even if they were said under false pretenses. If this was how life with him would be, I wouldn't mind having him as my mate. In fact, I would love it.

I shoved those thoughts out of my head, horrified with myself. What was wrong with me? How could I possibly even consider staying with the king? I couldn't lie to him. He deserved better. I knew that. He deserved so much better than a human slave girl starved for attention, posing to be his mate for her own selfish benefit. Yes, he was kind and loving and I would miss that even if I only experienced it for one night, but his kind heart only meant he was more deserving of a better mate. His real mate. Not me.

I swallowed. "I'm not your mate, your majesty," I said, surprised by how hard it was to get those words out. They tasted like vinegar on my tongue. The king growled once again, louder this time, but I continued before he could talk. "There has been some sort of mistake. Perhaps you are smelling the scent of one of the werewolves of this pack on me."

The king scowled. "You think the alpha king—the most powerful man in the world—would make a mistake when finding his mate? You think my wolf would make that mistake?"

I immediately shook my head. He was right—that sounded stupid. "No! No, of course not," I said frantically. "I just mean...I just..."

What did I mean?

I took in a deep breath. "I just mean I'm not your mate. I just can't be."

Still scowling, the king reached for a piece of my blond hair and began to play with it between his fingers. His other hand moved from my hip to my leg, squeezing my thigh gently. This seemed to calm him a bit, although I wasn't sure why. "Tell me why you think that, baby."

I shrugged. The way he was touching me was distracting me. It made me nervous, my insecurities racing forward. Why did he like touching me so much? My body was broken, covered in bruises and scars. Absolutely disgusting.

Disgusting.

However, at the same time, I liked the way his skin felt against mine. I liked the sparks that came from his fire powers. They felt nice. Shivers ran down my spine.

I licked my dry lips, trying to ignore his hand that was moving up and down my thigh. "I'm a human," I said, hoping he would accept this obvious reason as a valid explanation. Perhaps he didn't know I was human.

"You think a werewolf and a human haven't been paired together before?" the king asked. He seemed to be calming down now, his blue eyes turning lighter. "Species don't matter when it comes to soulmates. Mates are put together when they are perfect for each other, when they are meant to be in each other's lives."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. None of this made any sense. He was right—he wouldn't make a mistake when finding his mate, of that, I was certain. But I was also one hundred percent certain that I wasn't his mate, that I couldn't be his mate. Could you imagine me on his arm during royal ceremonies? Ugly, short, fat me standing next to this gorgeous, kind man, acting as if I had any sort of right being there? Never.

My mouth opened and closed multiple times as I fished for something else to say, some way to convince him he was wrong without offending him. "I'm a slave," I said.

He scowled, watching his hand that was still playing with my hair. "Yes, don't remind me. That fact upsets me to no end," he growled out.

My heart dropped a bit. So it did bother him that I was a slave. My shoulders sagged a bit.

"But none of that matters now," he continued. "I couldn't care less about your past which you had no control over. I'm here now and I am going to take care of you. The people who have hurt you will pay for their actions. And you, you shall never know pain again. Of that, I can promise."

I was, to say the least, completely dumbfounded. I didn't deserve to be taken care of, didn't he know that?

"But..." I started, trying to come up with something else to say. He seemed so sure of himself, so sure I was his mate. There had to be a way to convince him that he was wrong. "But-but I..."

The king sighed. He leaned forward and kissed my forehead, running a hand down my hair in a soothing manner. "Forgive me, my love. I have handled my first interactions with you completely wrong. I forgot that humans don't feel the mate bond as strongly as werewolves do. I've mistreated you tonight. You are scared and confused. And rightly so. I have done a terrible job at explaining to you what is going on. It's not an excuse, but I'm processing the night's events just as much as you are. It's not every day that you find your mate. Especially under these circumstances." He sighed, his eyes darkening.

What circumstances? Was he talking about me being human? A slave?

He suddenly shook his head, as if trying to clear his thoughts and looked back at me. A soft smile formed on his lips as he studied me. "Especially when my mate is as beautiful as you."

There he goes again, with the kind words that I didn't deserve. Would he be mad when he figured out that I wasn't his mate and that he had wasted all of his nice words on some pathetic slave girl? Would he finally decide to kill me?

"None of this needs to be dealt with right now." He tucked the piece of hair he had been playing with behind my ear. "You are obviously tired and need time to process all that I am telling you. You need sleep in order to recover from the emotional trauma I have put you through tonight." He laid back on the bed, hugging me to his chest so that I was looking up at him with my head on his chest. "Do you think you can do that, my beautiful mate? Go to sleep? Or would you rather stay up and talk some more? I am happy to answer any and all of your questions."

I didn't know what I wanted. No, that was wrong. I wanted a lot of things. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and never leave. Or maybe I wanted to cry. Or maybe I really did want to sleep.

The king said nothing else when I didn't respond, taking my silence as an answer. He laid me down next to him and pulled me close to his body so that our noses were almost touching. One of his legs settled between mine and the arm that wasn't wrapped around my waist moved underneath my head, acting as a pillow. Even though the intimate position made me nervous, I couldn't deny how comfortable I was.

The king had only been asleep for about forty-five minutes when the clock on the bedside table told me that it was time to go start my chores. I practically glared at the clock as I willed it to go back in time just a few more minutes so that I could stay in this cloud-like bed, with the king's amazing, sparky arms wrapped around me. I didn't think I could be any more comfortable than I was at that moment. It felt like a dream. Maybe it was.

I knew that the king had told me to sleep but my nerves were too high for that. So, instead, I just watched as he fell asleep, his face relaxing, his breathing evening.

Even while he was asleep, his arms didn't loosen their hold on me. His grip on me was so tight that I was worried he was upset with me somehow. But even if that were the case, I didn't want him to let go of me. The sparks coming from his body due to his powers of fire felt absolutely amazing. Everywhere my body touched him felt warm and content. I almost snuggled in deeper but decided against it, not wanting to risk waking him.

I spent hours like that, watching him sleep. Content to just lie there in his arms but not able to find any peace for myself.
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