Forgotten Wolf

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2 Sunflowers

The week was quiet and winding down fast, which was fine with me. Trish is stopping by today to stock up for tomorrow's market; I'll just have to cut the flowers tomorrow morning before I head out. No matter what I tried, Trish wouldn't cave about me skipping the meeting... What's one day, right?

"So, you'll be there first thing?" Trish asks as we load up her truck. She narrows her gaze, reading me like a book. "Don't give me that look," she groans. "It's just one little meeting, you'll be free in no time."

"I said I would," I grumble, hefting the final crate into the truck bed. "Please don't make this a habit though," I beg, locking my honey-brown eyes on hers.

"I won't," she relents. "This is just a special case, it could be really good for us." She gives my shoulders a squeeze and flashes a final smile before she jumps into her truck and heads home.

I sigh in relief as she pulls out. All week she's been on me about 'how important this is for us'... I mean I get it, really I do, but meetings with strangers freak me out. I wish it was easier for me to deal with people and crowds, but it stresses me out and is just flat out exhausting.

Even though I’m done with today’s work, the night's still young. I can't seem to settle down; I'm sure it's just my frazzled nerves about tomorrow. So I grab my bow and head out back to the archery target to let off some steam.

I learned to shoot a bow at the local sportsmen club when I was ten. Even back then archery was a great way to focus and block out the distractions of the world. Throughout the years I've kept up with it, honing my skills further; I even help coach at the same club I learned at. I'm not usually kid friendly, I swear too much and have a short fuse, but they are so eager to learn it's easy.

I set up twenty yards from the target, setting the quiver down on the grass. Bow in hand, I square up my stance and nock an arrow. Archery is a perfect way to come back to center and release stress. I may not be the most confident person, but put a bow in my hand and that changes.

My motion is fluid - draw, aim, breath, release. My arrow hits with a resounding crack that echoes in the silent evening air.

*Thwack*

I can't help a smirk that creeps onto my face. Next arrow...

*Thwack*

Just like usual, my second shot buries in deeply next to the first. Another four shots leaves the bull's-eye looking like a porcupine.

The last rays of the setting sun remind me that it's time to call it a night. Shooting has worked wonders on my frazzled nerves. The tension has left my neck and shoulders and I'm feeling far more relaxed than I was when I started. All I need now is a decent night's sleep and I may just get through tomorrow's meeting.

---------

Market day again... Great...

After a quick trip to the back garden to pick the sunflowers, I head out. Breakfast isn't required as my stomach is already twisting and knotted. Trish says I only need to stay for the meeting then I'm good to go, not that I'm counting down the minutes.

I pull up to the market and grab the two buckets of sunflowers from the back of my truck. They are just beginning to open and are already stunning. Vibrant colours cover the full spectrum from classic sunflower yellow against the chestnut brown centers to exotic reds and flashy bi colours.

"Hey Trish, how goes?" I ask, setting the flowers down.

"Wow Jess, those are beautiful!" Trish says, fussing over the flowers, picking a bouquet out for herself. "Grandmother said she'd be here early to not hold you up." Thank God for small favours!

"Hey there ladies, everything looks great," Jude says as he walks over. "Last week's veggies were great. I wanted to make sure I got some this week before you sold out." He proceeds to pick out a nice selection, pays for them, and hesitates.

His expression reads like he wants to say something but doesn't know where to start. Jude flashes a small, sad smile before he heads back to his stand. For being such a nice guy he just seems kind of lonely.

Movement catches my eye as I notice a young boy walking in and out of the crowd. It's odd, he looks alone but he couldn't be much more than ten years old.

'Great...'

He stops at Rita's table, licking his lips as his golden eyes roam the rows of cookies. Carefully he reaches out, eyes shifting nervously as he goes to swipe a bag.

"Hey kid, where are your parents?" I call out, freezing him in place as his eyes go wide.

'Well fuck.'

"Do you want a cookie or something?" I ask walking over. At his eager nod I grab a couple big chocolate chip cookies and pay Rita for them. His eyes are locked on the cookies as I hold them out for him. He just stares at me for a minute, looking for the trap before snatching them and running off.

"There's gratitude for ya," I mumble, frowning.

And people wonder why I don't like kids.

About ten minutes later, he shows back up at our booth, with big golden eyes looking sad. His brown hair is messy and hangs across his forehead, giving him a wild look.

'Welp the pup sure knows how to work the sympathy vote.' 'Not helpful!'

I look down at him and frown, remembering some rough times when I was younger. I grab a bag and toss in cherry tomatoes, baby cuckes, and a couple apples I bought and hand it to him. He just stares at me with these golden eyes for a minute before grabbing the bag, running off, and disappearing into the crowd.

Right on cue, Mrs. Glass pulls up in that same dark SUV from last week, this time with two guys in tow. Mr. McSmirk is driving again and a slightly shorter but thicker guy gets out from the back seat. He has a brawler's build, stocky and powerful, with short black hair and brown eyes so dark they looked nearly black. They take a moment to scan around before heading over. I can't help but notice how the two men stare at Jude, who quickly looks at the ground.

As they make their way over, guy number one, who I can only assume from Trish is Jace, dons another smirk. He's cocky I can tell, but better natured than the cocky guy who knocked me down. There's a playful lightness that dances in his grey eyes.

"Oh Mrs. Glass, how good to see you again!" Trish is for once looking a bit nervous; that's normally my job.

"Good to see you too dear, though we've been over this before, call me Grandmother like everyone else." I feel her attention shift to me, instantly causing my heart to race.

"Now you must be the one who grew all of this wonderful food." She smiles in a way that lights up her whole face. I can't help but flash my own small smile and nod, relaxing a hair.

She is an interesting woman. Short like me, long grey hair tied back in a braid, but it's her eyes that catch me. Bright and crystal blue, they are almost unnaturally bright. Her gaze is very sharp too; there's nothing she misses. She radiates a powerful calmness that can't help but make me like her.

The two guys grab the order while she pays for it. "This is Jace," she says as she gestures to Mr. McSmirk. "And this is Xavier," she says, indicating brawler. I nod hi but both men reach out a hand.

'Be nice..' 'Fine.'

So we shake as I flash them a small smile.

"Nice to meet you guys," I say as I catch movement behind them. Apparently a third guy was in the SUV. He’s distracted, animatedly talking on his cell, but my eyes widen at the sight of him. If brawler and playboy are big, then this guy is huge!

"Oh pay no mind to him, Chris is too busy to spend time with his dear, old, Grandmother," she says, loud enough for him to hear. He sends a pointed look over to us as he turns back to his cell call.

I can't help but study this guy Chris. He's exceedingly tall, over 6' I’d guess? When you're 5'3", everyone is taller than you, but this guy would dwarf me! The plain black t-shirt and jeans do nothing to hide his chiseled physique, powerful chest, broad shoulders, and more muscles than I've ever seen before. His powerful stubble-covered jaw is set in a frown. Sharp hazel eyes scan the area while he runs his hand through his short black hair. Where Jace has a leaner build and playboy lightness to him, Chris is considerably bigger, more serious, and has a rugged appeal. He gives Jace a look and a sharp nod before turning back to the SUV.

"That's our cue, time to go Grandmother. It was nice to meet you, oh and more of these next week please. They smell great, I don't think they'll make it home," Jace says, popping a strawberry in his mouth and flashing me one last grin before heading back to the SUV.

'He's going to be trouble...' 'Yup, sure is, but I won't have to deal with him.'

After they head out, I see Trish doing a visible happy dance. "Chill out girl, you're the one telling me to be professional after all," I dig.

"No, I tell you to be nice. You're always professional, but not very friendly at first," she says with a triumphant grin. I frown in response.

'She's got you there.' Isn't anyone on my side today?

"So you'll be all set for mid week?" Trish asks. I raise my brow, having no idea what she's talking about. "You must have zoned out when we were talking about delivering an order to them mid week. Maybe you were too busy checking out Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome?" She asks, waggling her brows.

"Trish! I was not! I just saw him get out of the car and wondered who he was, in case, you know, he came for an order or something," I trail off weakly. I don't know what to say really as a small blush creeps onto my cheeks. Why is she like this, I groan.

"Hey I don't judge, he's hot, in a broody, don't meet him in a dark alley kind of way... Actually, maybe you should," she says, laughing.

I frown, throwing a punch, not softly into her arm.

"Oww, what's that for?! Listen, all I'm saying is some time has passed, maybe you should consider some new options," she trails off with a hopeful look.

"I know you just want to see me happy, but I'm good right now, I promise. You're supposed to be the married one, not the pimp," I say with a small laugh. I never talked about my ex much with her. I spared her the details and just said we broke up because he cheated on me; which he did, but I almost didn't care about that.

"I'm married, not dead, and lately there has been a lot of eye candy around. Jude sure keeps looking down here a lot," she says as she nods in his direction.

"He's a nice guy but I'm good Trish. Can we just give it a break?" I sigh, this isn't the first time and most likely not the last time she'll bring this up.

"For now, but all you do is work and stay home, promise me you'll say yes to going out and being a smidge social again. Not even you can stay cooped up at home, alone all the time." Sadness laces her voice, the concern clear in her eyes.

That's not typical from her... Fine, I'll make a small effort to make her happy.

"Fine, but my duty here is done today so I'm out, have fun!" I dash off to make my market rounds and head out before Trish tries more match making. Jude’s stall is my last stop.

"I was hoping you'd stop by, here I made these special," he says, blue eyes locked on mine. Jude hands me a package already wrapped and ready to go.

"Thanks, what is it?" I ask, my curiosity piqued.

"I took some of the produce I got from you guys and made up some pork and veggie kebabs. It's a hit and I have you to thank," he flashes another big smile, I can't help but smile back.

"Well thanks again, feel free to grab some more, it was a productive week. So how's the market treating you so far?" Suddenly I'm not feeling in such a rush to get home now.

"Been good so far. Customers are nice, I sell a fair amount, even the other vendors are pretty nice," he says with a wink. "Northern market wasn't as hospitable, particularly for someone like me with no ties."

Odd statement but I had been up there before while visiting an aunt and it was indeed a strange place. There was a tension and it felt like unwritten rules. Some stalls just didn't sell to some people, or even acknowledge their presence.

"Glad you like it here better, you seem to be a good fit," I say, which is true enough. You'd think I gave him some giant complement the way he was beaming at me. "Got to run, lots to do yet, thanks again for the kebabs!" I wave and take off before he can say anything else.

Before I make it to my car a cold shiver runs down my spine as I feel that stare again from last week. Sure enough, Mr. Ass has just shown up again.

'I'd love to wipe that look right off his face!' 'Can it, that's not helping!'

"So you can watch where you're going, eh?" He sneers as his scowl deepens.

Not dignifying that with a response, I try to continue on to my truck when my arm is grabbed roughly and I'm dragged backwards. Panic blooms inside me at the unwelcomed contact as my temper flares.

"What's your problem?!" I'm not one to snap back usually, but this guy is irritating every fiber of my being. His grip tightens painfully on my arm as I grit my teeth to stifle a painful groan.

"You," he growls lowly, narrowing his gaze at me. I squirm in his grasp as my arm starts turning blue.

"Is there a problem over here?" We both snap our heads over to see Jude slowly but steadily walking over. He's exuding a confidence and power he normally doesn't as he locks eyes with the brute.

"Leave it alone, mutt," the brute sneers. "We're just having a conversation, which is none of your business."

Jude isn't phased and isn't backing down. As I look around, more and more people are starting to stare. I reach up with my free hand, trying to pry his fingers off of my arm but his grip is too strong. A familiar panic wells in me, threatening to spill over as my heart races.

"I said leave her alone!" Jude growls. He's so close now I can feel the hostility rolling off of both of them. I don't know how a fight between the two men would end up, but I think I severely underestimated Jude.

As if picking up my train of thought, Jude pushes the brute back. I take the element of surprise and wretch my arm away from him. In a fluid motion, Jude sweeps me behind him and takes a defensive stance.

"That's quite enough of that!" Dan, the market manager booms as he rushes over to us from his booth. "I think it's time you leave, and after last week's stunt I think it's best if you don't come back either!" In all the years I've known him at the market, I've never seen him so pissed.

The brute shifts his glare from Jude to Dan but doesn't move. Much to my surprise, Dan doesn't back down either. Brute just stands there with a scowl on his face; I swear I hear a low growl from him as he slowly turns around and heads back to the parking lot.

Once he's back in his car and pulls out, Jude turns to me. "Are you okay?" His demeanor has completely changed back to his regular, happy go lucky calmness, but worry is clear across his face. He tenderly slides up my sleeve to assess the damage. A hiss escapes my lips as his fingers lightly brush the newly forming bruise. "Doesn't look like he broke the skin but that'll be a hell of a bruise," he says with a sad smile.

"Thanks Jude," I say as I carefully slide my sleeve down. "I have no idea what his problem is with me, I've never met the guy before." I may have never met him before but it's clear he is not fond of me at all. "Think I better head home before any more excitement happens." With that, I wave and dash to my truck.

Why do I get the feeling things are just beginning to get messy?

-------

Dinner time has me relaxing on the deck waiting for the BBQ to heat up. It's finally ready so I toss the kebabs on the grill and close the lid. Movement catches my eye as a lone grey wolf comes up the edge of the field. Wolves are not common out here, they stick to the more densely wooded areas up north.

I grab my bow and nock an arrow just in case. As if the wolf understands my movements, he stops and just stares. He's beautiful, light silver grey with blue eyes, what a unique combination. I have no intention of doing anything to him as long as he keeps his distance.

After a short while I see him sniff the air and cocks his head to the side.

Shit! The kebabs!

I quickly set the bow down and checked the kebabs flipping them. I feel his eyes locked on me as I head back into the house.

I'll have to watch out for the wolf, they aren't usually a problem but are more than capable of hurting or even killing a person. Living on my own isn't without risks.

I'll still take my chance with the wolf over people any day.

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