Lilies have not bloomed yet this year.
The alpha, Llyr thought to himself, when he stopped in his tracks. His nose picked up the scent on his way to the village for his monthly gathering of supplies from the merchant men. It grew colder by day in the early October month, his favorite time of year. Perfect for a large fire for his pack to roast a nice, fat boar. He would make a mental note to gather more wood over the next few days.
But where is that scent coming from?
It was feminine, with other floral scents intermingling with it. A female was nearby.
Llyr dropped his belongings on the ground and got on all fours, closing his eyes as he tried to determine where the scent was coming from. If it was a female from the village, she was close.
Llyr did not mingle with the females of the village. In fact, he avoided them if he could. They looked upon him like he was a monster, but with a slight twinkle of curiosity. The men would pull them close, staking an invisible claim as if Llyr were ready to claim the first one who gave him so much as a second glance. He would roll his eyes and keep on his way. His true mate could not be here, among the humans.
Try as his father had to convince him that his true mate could be anywhere in the world, be her wolf or human, Llyr had never truly been able to come around to the thought.
When his father, the alpha Alistair, had forged the alliance with the human village hundreds of years ago when Llyr was just a pup, he’d invited them to freely wander the forest without fear or hesitation. He’d offered the protection of the wolves in exchange for goods, and opportunities for mating. A vast wealth of knowledge of both worlds came with the pact. The first generation of humans had accepted happily, but as time went on, they’d grown more suspicious of the wolves. Llyr could see the familiar whispering and hear the talk of how “dirty” and “unholy” the creatures were.
The lily scent drew him closer and closer to the source as he mused about the memories. They had been happy times indeed. For the first time ever, there had seemed to be peace. His mother Riona had graciously taken human females mated within the pack under her wing, mentoring and counseling them in times of need. Many happy memories of his mother round with child herself and comforting the newly mated women came back to him as the lily female began to come into view.
His heart began to beat faster as a flash of golden hair whipped around. His feet stopped running when he caught a glimpse of her face—round and freckled, slightly tanned from a long and brutal summer. Llyr realized he had happened upon a field of crops behind a modest cottage. He had made it to the village, but this house was unfamiliar to him. They likely lived just outside of the market, where Llyr did not venture. A group of three women and one small girl made their way across the field doing their work picking crops and herbs, filling their baskets. But it did not take long to find out who his lily was.
The golden-haired female that laughed among the women was who the scent belonged to. Immediately, she stirred a feeling inside Llyr that he could not explain, but for whatever reason, he was slowly inching his way past the bushes that separated her field from the forest.
She was the most perfect little creature he had ever laid eyes on.
The gold curls framed a heart-shaped face with red tinted lips. Lips he was aching to bite as he chewed on his own.
When she smiled, a little pink colored her cheeks. She had eyes the color of rich chocolate. The other women laughed with her as they shared gossip and stories, while the little girl danced around with handfuls of flowers, seeming to be in her own world.
“Aneira, will you at least help us carry these inside?” The woman spoke for the first time, with a voice that matched her delicate features. She stood upright, unknowingly allowing Llyr a sight he was now unable to tear his eyes from.
Her green bodice showcased a full figure, with an ample bosom and hips that she hid with her many layers of petticoats. Why women in the village wore so many garments, Llyr could never understand. The females of his pack were rarely seen wearing such things. A champagne-colored skirt trailed on the ground with a pretty white kerchief covering her chest and cleavage, likely to keep from the slight chill in the air. The slight nip of the cold air colored the tip of her nose pink. Llyr fought the urge to wrap his own cloak around her.
She should be warm.
Her lily scent overwhelmed him, and he began to understand what it meant to him. His father was right. The true mates were real, and he was looking at her.
“But Ivy, it’s too nice outside to work! I want to play in the leaves!” The girl pouted.
“We can play later, little one. Papa is still unwell.” A small frown passed over her face. His lily’s name was Ivy.
Ivy… so beautiful.
The girl called Aneira finally trudged over, picking up a full basket and carrying it to the house. Llyr never took his eyes off the female, unable and unwilling to miss a single move she made.
Every cell in his body screamed for him to take action, to do something, anything. A wave of anxiety crashed over him at the thought that he was infringing upon another man’s wife. He scanned his bright green eyes over her hand, no ring. And no sign of another male anywhere. Truthfully, Llyr was unsure if he would be willing to stop himself from claiming her even if she had a husband.
He picked up no other scent but hers and that of the other two women, who, judging by their familiarity with each other, Llyr took to be her sisters.
He could stand there forever watching the female as she made her way through the field with her sisters. She sat down after pulling her last few herbs, wiping her brow with her sleeve.
“Cassandra, did you see a certain…someone looking at Ivy at the market the other day?” One of the women bumped the hip of the other, wiggling her eyebrows.
“I am not sure; is this certain someone tall and handsome, but egregiously full of himself?” The other female rolled her eyes and continued her work.
Llyr bristled. Another man? Looking at his woman?
“It means nothing. I have rejected his proposals time and time again. Eventually, Evander will find some other woman to pine for.” Ivy shook her head.
Llyr could not help but smirk.
She will want me.
“I would not be so sure, Ivy. He has asked for your hand countless times since we were all children,” the woman called Ursa piped.
“Then he can hear the word ‘no’ one more time. I am sure it would not kill him. Besides, Papa will hear no more of it. And not just for me…but any of us. You know how he feels.” She gestured toward the house with a knowing look.
“That is why we are the only maidens in this whole village without proper suitors!” Ursa complained.
“That is not true, Ursa. There are plenty of other unmarried girls who are unspoken for. Papa is just…protective of us.” Cassandra gave the woman a knowing look.
Llyr could feel himself breathe a sigh of relief. She was protected and cared for, for now. Her father would not simply give her away to the first useless man to come knocking. No matter.
He would prove himself.
His female sat down and unrolled a cloth filled with rusty gardening equipment. She took out a sharpening stone and began to perfect the blades on some tools.
A woman not afraid to get her hands dirty. Llyr’s chest hummed.
“There is no man at all you wish to marry, Ivy?” The little girl Aneira came running, seeming to overhear the conversation. She bit into a small cookie she had in her hand.
“Not never. I will one day, perhaps. I just think one should wait for just the right person. He is out there…somewhere.” She looked off into the distance, a dreamy look in her eyes.
“Yes, well, meanwhile we get to toil away here all alone. I will grow old, a lonely old maid.” Ursa exaggerated her tone, going back to her chore.
“Yes, the four old spinsters just down the road.” Cassandra pulled her shawl over her head with a mock elderly voice, causing a roar of laughter among the sisters.
His woman was happy and well cared for here, he could see. She had a family to rely on and did not seem to be in distress. For if she were, Llyr knew he would be unable to help swooping in and carrying her off in the forest and claiming her there, never returning to the village and never allowing her out of his sight.
But for now, he had time. He had time to plan and prepare for what he hoped would be her new home. But she was the true mate. She may resist, but she would be helpless against her own desires. Tossing her over his shoulder and carrying her off while she kicked and scratched sounded like a none-too-bad idea either.
She would see.
Ivy yelped as one of the tools she was working on slipped from her fingers, cutting one of them with the sharp edge.
“Oh! Are you alright?” Ursa picked her head up at the sound of her sister crying out.
“I’m alright. Just a little scrape.” Ivy hissed through her teeth.
His mate stood up, holding her hand away from her body as she watched the blood drip. It was a deep cut. Had the female no dressings for the wound?
Too late, the scent of her essence roused Llyr’s wolf, who rattled his internal cage.
Llyr calmed the wolf. He would have his time with her soon enough. For now, the man would do his work.
The bushes rustled, alerting the women as they turned around to find Llyr boldly entering their property. The women called Cassandra and Ursa huddled closer together. One reached for the little girl. But his woman remained unmoving.
“Begging your pardon, ladies, on my intrusion. I am only passing through to the village.” He held up his hands in an apology.
“It’s just that way, over the bridge.” The woman, Ursa pointed, clearly very aware of his commanding presence.
“Thank you. I hope I am not interrupting your work here?” He made strong eye contact with Ivy. His eyes demanded obedience and respect; she looked as if she was almost afraid to speak.
“N-no sir. I trust you have had a pleasant journey from…out there? Given that you are…?” She looked to the forest. It was obvious she knew what Llyr was and was trying to skirt around the term.
“You can say it, I will not be offended, little bird.” He smiled kindly.
“You want to ask me if I am one of the wolves, yes?”
“Well…no. I mean, yes, but…I am not one to pry.” She shyly looked away, not realizing her finger was still bleeding. But Llyr fought every urge to take her hand and taste the rich, sweet essence. It would taste like heaven. She would taste like his.
“You need to cover that up.” He gestured to the cut.
“What, this? It’s only a little scratch.” She cleaned it off with her apron.
“Here, let me help.” He ignored the tiny squeal he could hear from her sister next to her as he stepped closer, pulling a white cloth from his pocket along with a tiny metal tin that smelled of calendula. He took her hand gently, inspecting her finger and cleaning the cut with his water canteen.
He could see rather than feel the pulse in her wrist pick up, with accompanying thoughts like, “What sort of a man approaches a woman so intimately?” Llyr was sure.
A man of the forest, my dear.
Llyr opened the container and obtained the brightly colored salve, spreading it across the cleaned wound. She winced at the slight sting and tried to pull away, but his hold on her hand forbade it.
“Only a slight sting, dear. Just a little bit of this; now we wrap it up.” He gently dressed her finger with the cloth, tucking in the ends to make it secure.
“There we are, good as new.” He smiled again, this time looking deeply in her eyes. He could feel her older sisters hold their breaths, but the littlest sister broke the silence.
“You are a nice man! He fixed it, Ivy!” The child tugged on her skirts.
“Thank you, little one. I do try.” He patted her on the head.
“Yes, um…thank you, sir.” His woman shook her head, pulling herself from the trance she seemed to be in.
“No need for such formalities. Call me Llyr. I am the pack alpha.”
Ivy’s jaw fell open, but she snapped it shut. She quickly curtsied, along with her sisters, as they were likely taught to greet an alpha whenever their paths crossed. Her face flushed in embarrassment. As if she could have known who he was. He never walked among the world of men for long.
Llyr guided her up as he chuckled.
“Please, ladies, that is not necessary. Truthfully, I do not know why the first villagers thought that was how we were to be addressed.” He made a silly face at the little girl, who smiled back.
“Apologies, old habits I suppose.” Cassandra held her hands in front of her.
“Apologies are all mine, I intruded. Please, carry on. It is a beautiful day.” His thumb slightly brushed Ivy’s arm as he let go, instantly feeling empty inside.
“Thank you…Llyr, for this.” Ivy awkwardly held up her finger.
“No problem at all. Here, why don’t you keep this? I fear you may hurt yourself many more times on that equipment. Promise me you will be careful.” He winked, making her blush and look away as she cautiously took the tin from him.
“Yes, I will.” Ivy shyly smiled.
“Very good then. Good day to you, milady.” He bent down and kissed her hand, letting his lips linger against her smooth skin for a little too long.
Llyr’s wolf whined, screaming to be let loose upon the woman, but his human kept him contained.
In an instant he was off, walking towards the village and leaving his mate speechless.