The dark woods beckoned her towards them, hiding her as she neared. Madeline hugged her cloak tighter to her body. She moved slowly as if her feet could not carry her towards the darkness of the forest ahead. The moon shining on her back the only companion that would soon disappear. Her reflexes on edge, every sound became magnified, causing her to jump uncontrollably. She never thought herself a coward, but this became the ultimate test.
The memories of him enticed her forward step by step. Thoughts of all that he promised raced one by one in her mind. Madeline had never met another man such as that and had a bad feeling she never would. Chances had to be taken to succeed, she thought to herself. This chance, however, could possibly ruin everything.
After a while, when she thought she was lost in the dense trees, a light shone in the corner of her eye. The warmth of it led her to it, and the person sitting there. She knew him. He was the reason she was there. Instead of revealing herself, she watched him from behind one of the ancient trees.
As if he sensed her presence, the muscles behind his shirt tensed revealing themselves in all their glory. There was no one out there more attractive. The chiseled face accented by green eyes and sexy lips made her swoon.
She watched him as he went about the task of setting up a fire to warm the night air. He’d laid logs around the fire that he was starting to make it more comfortable. As he added wood, the fire shone brighter and warmer. The heat allowed him to coax the beautiful black horse he had rode in on towards the fire.
Zane removed the bag that the horse carried on its back and took out a wool blanket to cover the animal. Next, furs came out of the bag and he laid them next to the fire. The warmth of the furs and the covers they came with only added to the ambiance of their dalliance. Admiring the handiwork, he stuck his hands closer to the fire that leaper at him. She was finally drawn to the warmth.
She emerged from behind the trees letting the warmth run over her. Knowing she was there, he turned towards her and his breath caught in his lungs. Her hands let go of her cloak that revealed a beautiful laced up dress. Her golden-brown hair cascaded down her back, caressing her shoulders.
He stood completely transfixed as if something was holding him firmly in its grasp. Love shone in his eyes as he watched her approach him. He felt her warmth and love. His hands that were beyond any of his control, grabbed her around the waist until she was against him.
Madeline melted in to his warm embrace. The smell of his skin intoxicated her. It made her hold on to him for all that she was worth.
His hands moved deeper under her cloak as hers went around him. Zane’s muscles made it impossible to envelop him fully. Being so close to him allowed her to feel every inch of his toned body, making her heart race even faster.
Worried that she may change her mind, he kissed her fiercely. She returned his kiss with just as much passion as he showed, losing herself in his strong arms.
Gently, she placed her palms against his hard chest and broke their connection. Slowly, he pulled back from her slightly, searching in her eyes for a clue.
“We can’t just skulk around like this,” he couldn’t help but become entranced with her voice, no matter what she said.
“You know we have no other choice,” Zane answered her urgently. He didn’t want the perfect moments with her to stop. Madeline was like the very air that he breathed and he would give up everything if it meant being with her.
“This is no way to lead a life. We’ll be hunted forever, with nowhere to settle, no way to start a family,” a hint of a tear glistened in her eye.
Hoping that the words she spoke would fly away with the bitter cold wind, Zane held her close, touching his forehead to hers. Though his brain slowly processed what she said, his heart rebelled in his chest with everything that he had. His lungs wouldn’t draw any air, making every breath painful.
“Though I know you’re right, of course, I don’t want to hear those words. I am nothing without you, my life is nothing,” Zane spoke to her passionately.
“We will ask my father. He has to approve, you’ll see,” a small hint of hope shone through her. It almost made the air around her bounce with joy.
“It’s a fact that he hates me. He would rather be crucified than to see me anywhere in your vicinity,” and the feeling was almost mutual. Zane, however, could not hold that much hatred in his heart, even if the man was in the way of being with his love.
The words that he spoke bounced around in her brain, but she refused to believe any other way.
“My father loves me dearly, I’m sure that he’ll see reason,” the hope in her voice was infectious. Not wanting to hurt her, he chose to keep further comments to himself.
Despite their decisions, or maybe because of it, they decided to linger a while longer. The fire kept burning bright giving the air around it a balmy warmth. Using the furs that he had brought with him as protection from the cold, the two of them were able to sit together, embracing each other as if that would be the last time they were together.
Zane was prepared for anything. Her father’s reputation preceded him. The Beast they called him. Rumor had it that he was so on the battlefield, but also in his castle. The lord over of his dominion. The Beast came out to protect the people and protect his good name most of all. This also meant Madeline is the first person that the Beast would come out for.
And its eyes will be set firmly on him.
The ride back was slow and painful. Even the horse seemed to walk slower on purpose, as if he were walking to his own death. That is how Zane felt though, his heart being squeezed with anticipation more with every step that the horse took.
Soon enough, the castle loomed not too far from the forest they emerged from. A cloudy dawn hung over the land making everything feel gloomy. A slight mist rolled through the air, the cold and damp feeling penetrating to the very bones. Reluctantly, he roused her from the restless sleep she’d fallen in to on their way.
“We’re here,” Madeline couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed. She only hoped no one had discovered her missing or this would become very unpleasant.
“Sure you want to do this?” Zane looked down at her in front of him. His legs squeezed her tighter against their own volition.
At first she shrugged in response. “There’s no other way,” though her voice was quiet and sad, he believed it to still be the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard.
Without uttering a single word between them, the two made their way closer and closer to the main entrance. The closer they drew the more they could hear the bustle of life within and the grazing animals left outside the walls. Men and women hurried in all directions. The children that were too young to work running after them in an attempt to play chase.
There were a few who spared them a glance. Those that recognized her without the entourage of people she’s usually with, tipped their heads to her and continued on their tasks. It was good to feel some sense of normalcy in the situation, even if it came from the unlikeliest of sources.
When they finally started crossing the cramped gateway, the sentries that stood there noticed her immediately. Commotion sprung up in the area around them. Guards ran this way and that, attempting to find her father. Some were stunned beyond belief as they never saw her leave that morning and yet here she is before them. With a man at her side on top of it all.
“Get the horse watered and fed,” Madeline stated as they dismounted. She handed the reins to a nearby guard whose jaw was practically hanging open. Though she usually did not take pleasure in ordering people about, it seemed that this would be the only way anything would get done at the moment. It also gave her a nice distraction.
Not wanting to wait for a scene to unfold itself amongst all the onlookers, she motioned for Zane to follow her. The two of them walked briskly together, his feet just a step behind hers as he attempted to hide the nervousness he felt.
Madeline found her mind reeling as she made her way towards the main hall. She hoped that no one could see her trembling hands. She attempted to hold on to them as if she were strangling a snake. The skirts of her dress left muddy tracks in her wake, though she hadn’t a care in the world about that.
The guards that stood outside the hall opened the double doors the moment they saw them round the corner. No doubt, it looked as if they may run the door over if it wouldn’t open for them. Once inside, the door shut with an ominous thump. Now, all they had to do was wait.
But the reprieve didn’t last long.
“WHAT IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” the booming voice of Lord Hosp threatened to burst the ear drums of anyone standing too close. The door could be heard closing behind the guards that decided they had no part in this particular disagreement.
“Daddy…” Madeline started her sentence, but the look on her father’s face silenced her instantly.
“How dare you bamboozle my daughter? Even get near her. This is unspeakable!” the rage made his face start turning red, his tall muscular build seemingly ready to pounce. Though Zane’s entire body shook, he dared not show that he was intimidated.
“My Lord, I have no inclination to bamboozle your daughter,” unable to help himself, Zane stressed the word as much as he could.
Wanting to yell, Lord Hosp clenched and unclenched his fists, having lost all words. How had this happened and how had he not seen it? He should have paid more attention to what his only daughter was doing, he berated himself internally. Then berated himself more thinking that she should have known better. This had to be kept quiet or he would lose all marriage prospects for her.
“Father, what can we do to receive your blessing?” Madeline broached the subject as delicately as possible. There was no missing the amount of fury rolling off him. He looked like a bull who saw red.
All of the sudden, an idea popped in to this head. There is definitely a way he can get rid of this trash for good!
“Very well then. If you are so insistent on this arrangement, I will make you a deal,” a small smile creeped on to his face. It should have warned Madeline
“Anything I can do, anything at all,” Zane grabbed for Madeline’s hand and held it firm. There was hope.
“In one week exactly, I want you to bring me the head of a dragon,” the statement came out calmly as Madeline gasped audibly, her small voice echoing in the large hall. She wondered how she didn’t pick up on this devious scheme as this is the calmest she’s ever seen her father. Especially when it came to her.
Even Zane went pale at the thought. A dragon?
Sure, he was strong and up for any task, but even the strongest and most courageous warrior would have balked at such a mission. It was impossible. Though apparently it was possible for someone to hate him just that much. Enough to hurt his own daughter by surely killing him off with this task.
“Very well,” Madeline started a small protest which he stopped with a wave of his hand. “I’ll do what you ask. If I bring back the head of a dragon, I’ll marry your daughter,” Lord Hosp smiled widely as he shook Zane’s hand. Their handshakes were firm as if they were attempting to prove their strength to one another.
“And if you don’t, Madeline will marry any man that I choose.” The statement was enough to make anyone want to run away.
Madeline knew exactly who her father had in mind. Lord Cet of Corse had a son, Xaviar, a spoiled and entitled brat even at almost the age of thirty. He was a pudgy short man with bushy hair on top of his head who sweat so profusely it may as well be summer all year long. She would rather die than attempt to produce heirs with that man, particularly if it meant her father didn’t get to unify the lands as he wanted.
Her father called in his squire, who entered with the guards in tow. A small agreement was fashioned and sealed in blood in front of those witnesses. There would be no way that either of them would be able to get out of this.
Zane held his head high, not daring to show his true emotions. He would do this. He had to.
To be Continued….