"You are marrying me tomorrow!"
I bit back a cry as Carl jerked me back and around to face him. He was just as ugly now as he had been months ago. I pulled away from him, but he held me firmly.
"Let go of me."
His lips curling in a disgusting sneer, “Don't you fucking run away from me! Tonight you will leave your stupid cabin and move in with me. Am I clear?”
Again with this. My stomach turned in disgust and anger. Carl, my supposed fiancé, was the son of the chief of the village near the cabin I used to live in with my grandmother. A feral gleam of possession had been in his eyes since the day we met.
I pulled away from him sharply, slipping from his grip and glaring at him though I could feel a tremor of fear go through me. I could almost hear my grandmother’s prayers that I wouldn’t still be living alone after she passed. Maybe she thought being married to him was better than being alone, but my heart knew better.
This man would never care for me beyond what pleasure he could get from seemingly own me. Maybe once I had considered making my peace with finding some measure of peace in the village, but that was before he tried to force himself on me.
The arrogant pig.
“Why would I take orders from you?"
He flushed, "How dare you speak to me like that, you witch!”
A murmur went around the crowd around us. I refused to flinch at the word. I’d heard it all my life. I should be immune to it by now. There was fear and disgust in that word, but he was only using it to try and get his way.
To keep me silent and get control over me.
“I’m not a witch.”
His shoulder trembled with rage, the way it always did when I was too calm for his liking. He raised his hand as if to strike me, but it was an empty threat. I stared him down, almost daring him to do it in front of his future subjects.
I may be a witch in their eyes, but he had been proclaiming me his intended for years, saying that he would cure me of my evil ways. In some ways, his possessiveness was a protection, but it wasn’t enough of a protection to make me want to join the village as his wife.
The people of the village threatened to burn me on a pyre to protect their lives, but no one had the stomach to follow me into the woods to find my cabin or attack me, whispering about traps and telling themselves that so long as I didn’t do anything to them and left quickly, then it was all fine.
I turned my heel as Carl began to shout, “You have nothing but that pretty face! If it weren’t for me and my family—if your grandmother hadn’t begged me to marry you--"
I felt the twinge of pain and the rush of the wind around me as I turned and struck him across the face. His face bloomed with a slow-forming bruise.
“Don’t you ever speak of my grandmother!”
Carl was frozen, seemingly shaken by my fury. I took his stunned silence to escape. No one stood in my way.
He shouted after me, “I’ll make you pay for that, you bitch!”
I took the familiar path from the village to my cabin, through unmarked roads and muddy underbrush, sliding over steep slopes and rushing through streams. I hadn’t passed the outer bounds of the village when the tears of grief welled in my eyes, burning and falling down my cheeks, rushing away in the wind. I had no memories of my parents; both of them had died when I was too young to know them. My grandmother was the only family I had ever known. It hadn’t been a full year yet since her death, yet it still felt like yesterday.
We lived in our lovely cabin tucked in the forest for years, only going into town for rare necessities and what we couldn’t grow or forage in the forest. I met Carl several times over the years. From the first time he saw me, he had been interested, proposing marriage when I turned 18 by sanction of his father though we knew nothing of one another.
My grandmother urged me to agree, but she never listened or didn’t care to listen to the way he grew ruder and meaner as we got older. She may have thought she was doing me a favor, but I would rather live in the forest alone for the rest of my life than marry him.
Still, his words worried me. The maddened urgency in his eyes made my heart clench with fear. Maybe they did know where my cabin was. Maybe he would just come early in the morning and drag me away the next day.
The fear the villagers had for me and my grandmother was nothing compared to the fear they felt at the thought of being expelled from the village.
What should I do?
What could I do?
I’m not a witch. I didn’t know magic or much of how to defend myself…
I can to the edge of my favorite spot in the forest. The small meadow filled with fragrant flowers always calmed me. I used to come here when my grandmother and I argued.
It was usually about leaving our cabin and going somewhere we could live in peace inside of a human village.
I worried my lip. She was gone now… Other than my memories, what was keeping me here? I turned back to look at the path that would take me to my cabin.
Were those memories worth whatever life Carl had planned for me?
I shuddered. No. Running was my best option. I had a head start as he was sure that I wouldn’t think about running. But where would I go? Deeper into the forest?
What about all the dangers my grandmother spoke about out there?
I started to panic when the crunching and rustling of grass and bushes drew my attention. I froze as the metallic scent hit my nose, horrifying and familiar.
My heart was about to jump out of my chest.
I held my breath and turned slowly.
Glowing red eyes stared at me out of the face of a wolf much larger than any beast I had ever seen before.
Our gazes met. He growled and lunged at me before I could even think to run.
I shrieked as the wolf landed on me, forcing me to the ground. It loomed over me, jaw open and snarling. One of its paws was on my throat, cutting into my skin. My heart raced in my chest as I braced for death. It could kill me as easily as I could kill an ant. My eyes darted over the beast, but the sight only made me more afraid. Dirt and blood matted every inch of its fur. Some of the blood seemed fresh, still wet and oozing out of it.
An injured animal was the most dangerous, I knew that.
I jerked my gaze to look up into its glowing blood red eyes. For a moment, I was dazed. They weren’t like blood at all, but glittering like rubies resting in a sunlit pile of gold. I’d never seen such beautiful eyes. For a moment, I forgot the pain in my neck and the fear rushing through my veins.
Then, the wolf spoke. Its voice tinged with anger and disbelief.
Its voice was deep and masculine. I would have said attractive if I wasn’t terrified. Wolves couldn’t speak. The realization struck me like a bolt of terror through my chest and I barely sucked in a breath.
Not a wolf. A male werewolf.
“P-Please don’t k-kill me…” My eyes burned with tears, “P-Please, I…”
The wolf flinched, pulled his paw off me as if I had burned him with my words.
“No. No. I wouldn’t-- Never-- I’m sorry…”
My heart was hammering, but it slowed realizing that he wasn’t going to kill me. My fear turned to confusion slowly before I winced at the sting in my throat from where his claws had dug into me.
He growled, low and almost tender, “Mate.”
What did that mean? His eyes turned dreamy, then hazy before they rolled back and the full weight of him dropped on top of me knocking the wind out of me with a loud huff.
I twisted and struggled to get from under the wolf, shoving his weight off me and dragging my body from beneath him. As I struggled free, twigs and leaves fell from my hair and onto him. Light rippled over his skin as the blood and dirt-matted fur vanished leaving behind bloodied skin. With a final shove, I shoved him onto his back and got from under him. He landed with a little wheeze of pain.
Cautiously, I leaned closer to see his face. Mud was streaked over his cheeks, but it did nothing to detract from how handsome he was. He couldn’t have been much older than me. His jaw was sharp and masculine and all the ferocity of his wolf form seemed eased as he lay there unconscious.
What was I supposed to do? Why was he covered in blood? Where had he come from?
Who was he？