My first stand alone novella was The Wolves of Argonne. I loved the concept I came up with this one and it was my first dip into a m/f/m relationship. I tried to show Rosabel’s journey into not only discovering she loved two men but want she truly was. The wolves paw tattoo on the cover is one of my original artworks too. I was very happy to see it used when I asked pretty please.
I present to you the first chapter. Enjoy!
The needle poked through the red woolen fabric, and Rosabel drew out the satin thread. Her thumb smoothed over the half-complete trailing vines along the hem before plunging the needle back in for another stitch. The design noted her life on the edge of the bustling village of Bois de’Lune. Named for the lush full moon that cradled between the two mountainous peaks, the town celebrated the end of summer with the courting of all young women of age under the fiery orange glow of the harvest moon.
Compared to the drab clothing she wore on a regular basis, her cloak shined like the setting sun.
To show her purity and status, Rosabel worked diligently for weeks on her crimson cloak and beaded mask. Each detail showed each trial and journey she took to be prepared for womanhood.
Rosabel smiled, looking up from her work. “Thank you, Nana.”
Her grandmother’s pale blue eyes lit up as she inspected the work. “Better than my own work at your age. I’m so proud of you.”
Snipping of the last hanging thread, Rosabel grinned wider. She couldn’t wait to wear her creation but tradition dictated she donned it only for the festival, and the evening seemed so far away. The chiming of the small clock on the wall brought her from her reverie, and she gasped.
“Goodness. I’ll be late for work.” She laid the cloak across the back of her chair, pausing as she saw the trail of tears on her nana’s cheeks. “Oh, Nana.” Cloak forgotten, she threw her arms around the older woman. “No matter what, you’ll always be a part of my life.”
“I can’t believe how fast you’ve grown. I still remember you as a babe in a basket left on my front stoop.” Nana drew in a deep breath while squeezing Rosabel tight.
“Don’t worry, Nana. I haven’t forgotten your teachings.” She pulled back and winked. “I shall not fall for the first silver-tongued man to woo me. Nor the second.”
Nana chuckled, drying her eyes against her sleeve. “I think, my dear, that you will have them all stuttering fools. Best be getting to the bakery before Mrs. Bonnet thinks you’ve got your head in the clouds again.”
“Well, it will be worth it when she sees the amount of berries I’ve picked.” Rosabel affixed her head covering, a piece of cloth to keep her hair back and the bodice covered. Since she blossomed, a modest appearance was required until the festival at harvest moon. She gave Nana a kiss on the cheek before heading out the door.
With her basket in the crook of her arm, Rosabel strutted with pride through the small village near her home. The anticipation of tonight lightened her step and shopkeepers smiled as she passed. Living outside the town in the thick of ArgonneForest made the pool of potential suitors to consider slim. The woods were no place to get caught in after dark and thus far, she knew of no man who had braved it to steal a glimpse of some porcelain-skinned beauty living outside the village. While the festival introduced those of age to marry, Rosabel observed many her age fraternizing with a glance or brush of the hand in the open market. She only hoped to find someone whose heart beat as fierce as hers.
Opening the door to the bakery, she inhaled the fresh aroma of sweet treats and hearty breads. “Good morning, Mrs. Bonnet. I’ve found the juiciest patch of blackberries the forest has to offer.”
“Rosabel, I thought I told you not to bother to come into work today. You’ve a big night ahead.” The robust woman came out of the back carrying a tray full of small, caramelized rolls and set them down. Rosabel’s mouth watered, the heavenly scent of the sugary snack awakening her appetite.
Mrs. Bonnet covered her mouth in delight, a smile spreading. “My Rosabel! You have grown into a woman. Not even your clothes can hide that glow.” She squeezed between the counters and gave Rosabel a hug. “Now remember, do not be swayed by the first man who kneels at your feet. Make them court you properly.”
Rosabel laughed. “You sound like Nana. I’m to bat my eyelashes and smile demurely.” She fluttered her lids and lowered her head before giggling. “The strawberries are almost ripe. I can bring a half a bushel to you in a couple of days.” She set the basket on the counter.
“When you have the time. You have other things to worry about. I have some of yesterday’s bread for you to take home.” Mrs. Bonnet handed her another sweet roll. “On the house, dear.”
“Thank you.” She bit into it, savoring the flavor. The caramel lingered on her tongue, and she blissfully sighed. “One of these days, I’ll crack your recipe.”
The bell to the door jingled as Rosabel shoved the rest of the treat into her mouth and licked her fingers. Her mouth quirked into a half-smile as her fingers danced devilishly close to another roll. Mrs. Bonnet waved at her to take another.
“This is so good, Mrs. Bonnet.” Half of the roll disappeared in one bite.
“Yes.” A deep reverberating male voice agreed, sounding just a hairsbreadth from her back. “Mrs. Bonnet has a fine bakery.”
The hackles on Rosabel’s neck rose as the man stood behind her. Just the closeness of his body caused her skin to prickle and warm. She took her basket, clutching it against her body. Rosabel turned to leave but he blocked her way, a smirk on his face. A golden hue accented his large hazel eyes and his wispy chocolate locks hung loose around his cheeks. Mesmerized, she stood frozen from his penetrating stare. It was as if he peeled away the layers of clothing she wore, leaving her bare for his assessment.
He reached up and caressed a strand of her darks curls peeking out of her modesty hood. The smell of pine and fresh flowers clung to his skin. She could not help but inhale the heavenly scent.
“Will you be attending the festival, Miss…?”
“Rosabel.” Her name slipped out before she could stop herself. Not telling a stranger her name was a rule her grandmother engrained into her growing up but the man captivated her senses. Exotic and mysterious, he intrigued her. “What big eyes you have.”
“To better see your beauty, my dear Rosabel.” He flashed his canines as he lifted her hand to his lips. She nearly jumped, her heart thumping against her chest at his delicate kiss. His teeth accented the wide grin and were stark white against his tanned complexion. As he leaned toward her, he spoke just above a whisper. “I hope your find your mate soon.”
She stepped back at his words, her brows knitted together. Mate?
“Enjoy the rest of your day.” He moved out of her path but held her attention with a captivating gaze. Butterflies blossomed in her stomach.
“Thank you, sir.” She left with a grin at capturing the eye of a handsome man. So lost in his presence, she’d forgotten to get his name. She glanced back to catch another glimpse and bumped into someone. Her basket fell from her grasp. Dropping to the ground, she retrieved her spilt goods. “I’m so sorry, please forgive me.” Her wanton daydreams had stripped her awareness.
Looking up, she met the concerned gaze of Mr. Bonnet. His eyes shifted before he leaned in and whispered to her. “Stay away from that man, lass.”
The inflection in his tone sent a chill down her spine. “Why?”
“He’s one with the forest. A shifter.” Without further explanation, he walked past her.
She watched him go, her brows furrowed together. The man in the shop had been a werewolf? She knew of their existence from the stories her grandmother shared and the many wooden carvings around the village depicting them. Some statues were fierce and intimating, others showed respect for the forest. That they walked among the villagers had her searching the crowds for her mysterious man.
She’d never met a wolf-shifter before but expected them to be scruffier and uncouth. At least, from the vivid stories her grandmother spun. According to village lore, they tolerated the humans so long as they followed the rules. ArgonneForest housed a pack of werewolves who claimed the land as their own. The night belonged to those who howled not to the ones condemned to walk on two legs. Once the sun set, humans traveled the wooded area at their own peril.
As she entered the forest path to find her way home, she enjoyed the tender melody of the birds flitting from tree to tree. The ArgonneForest gave her a sense of peace and tranquility and she loved living far enough in that the bustle of the town never touched her ears. Lovely bright yellow flowers dotted the path, and she took a few moments to pick a couple to freshen up the cottage. Halfway into her task, she noticed the silence coming over the canopy above and the uneasy feeling she was being watched settled into the pit of her stomach. Rosabel quickened her pace to a near run to reach the edge of her nana’s property.
On the other side of the gate, she stopped to catch her breath. A pair of golden eyes glared at her from the bushes. Fear crept in. She ran inside the house, dropping her basket along the way, and slammed the door shut. The familiar scents of the hearth and cawing of the cuckoo clock settled her nerves.
Nana rushed from the kitchen and hugged her. “What’s the matter?”
“There’s a wolf outside. He was staring at me.” She trembled. “His eyes….” The wolves had never bothered her before. That they expressed interest in her caused concern. What had changed?
“Mr. Bonnet warned me in town to stay away from a man I met in the shop.” Tears leaked from her eyes. “Why did you not tell me they walked in the village?”
Nana sighed. “Because, my dear, I didn’t want to frighten you. I promised to keep you safe from harm, remember?”
A loud knock shook the front door.
“Stay here.” Her grandmother bade her to sit. She slumped down, her hands wringing in the faded brown of her layered skirt.
When Nana opened the door, Rosabel’s breath caught in her throat. The man from the bakery stood on the stoop, holding her forgotten basket.
“I found this in the yard, Miss Dubois.” Though he was talking to her grandmother, his fixed stare locked onto hers. She couldn’t look away from his mesmerizing hazel spheres. The rush of wind in her hair and the cool ground at her feet exploded in her mind.
“Please don’t.” Her grandmother’s voice barely above a whisper, Rosabel noted the hint of fear in her pitch. “She’s all I have.”
“I’m just returning the basket. For now.” His gaze took a dangerous tone before he bowed and handed over the basket. Nana closed the door, her skin a white pallor.
“Rosabel. Please promise me when you go into the forest that you make sure you’re home before the sun sets.”
“Please promise me.”
She’d never seen stark fear from Nana. The woman gave her strength to persevere through anything. “I promise.” Those two simple words washed all the tension from Nana’s face.
“Gather your things for the festival this evening. I’m sure Mrs. Bonnet will have a spare room for us to use.” Nana cupped Rosabel’s chin. “You’ve worked so hard on your cloak and dress. It wouldn’t be right to miss it.”
“Thank you.” Rosabel moved to the bench by the window and stared out at the sun settling between the tops of the trees. On the edge of the property, wolves gathered and sat on the ridgeline but didn’t advance into the yard. A few paced, anxious and waiting. On what, she did not know. One of them lifted their snout and howled. The eerie sight had her closing the curtains.
She rubbed the ache out of her hands. The image of her admirer vivid tormented her mind. His lips drew near to her skin in her memory and a fire blazed deep within. She had to deny her feeling, close her dreaming off as it wandering into unfamiliar territory.
Humans and werewolves did not mix.