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Luna By Design

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Chapter 1: Nice To Mate You

My steps slowed to a drag when I parted the thick foliage that blocked my path. The leaves parted without resistance to reveal a strangely familiar sight. Strange because I had never been here before. At least, not in person. But there was familiar peace.

It was the same beckoning peace that had embraced me the minute I had set foot into the forested area surrounding Marston, the town that housed the Linus Pack.

The peace that said home.

I was finally home.

Since I had stepped into Linus Pack territory, I hadn't been walking for more than ten minutes before I stumbled on the lake.

No, I had never been here before, but the sight before me was one that I had seen many times before in my dreams. It had been a place of escape for Valen when he’d been much younger.

Valen.

The thought of my mate’s name sent a shudder of anticipation skating through my limbs.

After twenty long years of not-so-patient waiting, I would finally meet my mate.

My bare feet glided over soft, wet grass until they landed on the pebbled banks of the lake. In the darkness of the night with only the smattering of stars and a reserved crescent moon to provide light, the inky waters looked mysterious and otherworldly.

I plunked down at the edge of the bank and slid my feet into its depths, not overly concerned about the cold that skated up my legs even though the water only came to my calves.

I lazily laid back on the mixture of pebbles and damp grass and stared up at the sky.

I tried to affect a serene expression, one that would befit proper star gazing, and wondered in amusement if the two wolves that had begun following me since I’d entered the forest thought they were being discreet.

I knew they thought I was unaware of their presence, and I suppose they had been quiet enough in their tailing but, asides from the infrequent explorations in the Human Realm, I had spent all of my life in one forest or another.

It had been a matter of survival to figure out very quickly if you were a predator or prey.

When I had sensed their presence earlier, I decided immediately to retreat to the lake and wait.

Valen could get here much quicker than it would take for me to find him.

At the moment, it was only a matter for the wolves to decide if they would approach me now or wait for their Alpha to come.

And he would come.

Even if I didn’t know his character trait of needing to be in control of every situation, I still knew.

It was a part of this strange sense I had woken up with this morning. I had opened my eyes and had simply…known. Known that today would be the day I would meet my mate. Known the paths to take that would bring me to Marston. Even though I had not known when I had gone to sleep the night before, I’d known as surely as I knew the sky was blue and my hair was black.

Just as Mother Goddess had said I would.

The sigh of contemplation I let out just then was genuine and had nothing to do with the picture I was trying to paint for my hidden observers.

It reflected how I felt whenever I thought about my mother.

My mother who I hadn’t heard from since that last time two years ago.

Two years ago…when I’d stopped dreaming.

A passing wind rustled the leaves from somewhere behind me, and I sat up abruptly, my heart thumping wildly in my chest.

It was him.

Valen.

I whipped my head around from one side to the other, trying to decipher which direction he was in.

Even with my superior eyesight, I couldn't tell.

If it hadn't been for the passing wind, the leaves wouldn't have made a sound. Wouldn’t have betrayed his appearance.

I was illogically proud of the fact that he had managed to sneak up on me.

I slid my feet from the water and carefully rose to my feet, my eyes still scanning the darkness, willing him to show himself.

My galloping heart was making it hard to focus. I felt a cold wash of sweat break out unto my skin and my throat felt considerably dry. I wasn’t certain that I was responding physically to excitement… or fear.

It had never occurred to me to be afraid of my mate. But my body had reacted naturally to the feeling of being…hunted.

That was it.

He was watching me, but I couldn't tell from where.

Seconds ticked by but they felt much longer.

I rubbed at my chest in an effort to calm my heart but the act was useless.

I swallowed against the dryness in my throat. Never one for being patient.

“Are you going to come out?” I whispered the question under my breath, knowing that he could hear me either way.

Silence greeted my question. Seconds ticked by. And then a rustling to my right captured my attention.

A wolf stepped out of the darkened trees a few yards away. Its silver-gray fur stood on end and its teeth were bared in a threatening manner. It—he, I noted when he stepped closer—stood about three feet in height on all fours. Much larger than a natural wolf but quite average size as far as shifters went.

I watched his approach carefully until he stopped about a yard away, then returned my attention to scanning the darkness.

“Are we playing a game?” I asked, a bit louder this time. “I quite like games, Valen, but I prefer knowing the rules first.”

I wondered if he would take my bait and couldn't trap the smile that stretched across my face when a voice answered me.

“You know my name.” His voice was deep, dark, and calm. There wasn’t any warmth to it. No surprise, nor concern that I knew his name.

He hadn't even asked me a question. Just stated an obvious fact as if he was talking aloud to himself rather than responding to me. He was much closer than I had expected him to be. Just a few feet beyond the trees to the grey wolf’s left.

I took two steps in his direction, ignoring the warning growl from the silver wolf.

“Hmm,” I answered his non-question, “would you like to know mine?”

“It only seems fair.”

“Ahh,” I mused in a teasing voice, “I’ll tell you…if you come out. I don’t like the idea of introducing myself to someone I can’t see.”

Anticipation twisted my gut in the silence that followed.

Would he reveal himself now? Would he finally—?

“You don’t know what I look like, but you know my name.”

Again. Not a question but I answered nonetheless.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” I responded honestly. Two years in fact. I wondered how much he’s changed.

“When did you last see me?”

He’d finally asked me a direct question but still didn't sound very interested in my response. As if whatever answer I gave or no answer at all wouldn't bother him either way.

I bit my lips to suppress my amusement. While I couldn’t tell just yet if he had changed physically in the past two years, he didn't seem to have changed much character-wise. Despite his indifferent tone, I knew he was collecting information. Gathering as much know-how on the enemy before he struck.

I wasn’t offended he thought I was the enemy.

I would just have to prove to him how wrong he was.

“I’ll tell you when you come out,” I repeated, not willing to give an inch.

“You’re trespassing.”

“I–” I forgot what I was about to say. I was certain it had been a sufficiently witty comeback, but my brain faltered abruptly when a booted foot came into sight. Two booted feet.

Booted feet attached to long jean-clad legs and…

“A lot.” The whispered thought took form and slid past my lips, unbidden.

“A lot?” Valen repeated.

“I wondered how much you’ve changed in the past two years.” I was certain my brain was working on autopilot in order to respond coherently. “The answer is a lot.”

He was tall. Much taller than I remembered. But perhaps it was just the difference between dream Valen and Valen in the flesh.

My mate had always been handsome. Even as a little boy of eight he had garnered many looks for his brilliantly glowing silver eyes and white blond hair. But Valen at twenty-eight was quite a different being altogether.

His eyes were still glorious to behold, like gleaming jewels cradled behind dark-blonde lashes. But the dazzling glow of childhood innocence had long since disappeared, replaced by something much darker, more mysterious, and all the more compelling.

His face was clean-shaven and sharp, and his angular jawline was more pronounced than I remembered.

He’d grown his hair out. His hair had always been short. Cut close enough to the scalp that he needn't pay it any attention until it was time for another cut. But now it hung in shiny blond tresses down to his chin.

And… was that…?

I stepped closer and squinted at the neckline of his gray t-shirt where swirling black lines peeked out.

“When did you get a tattoo?” I asked curiously, wondering just what that tattoo was, and what else was hidden from my gaze.

My stomach fluttered at the thought of discovering all the changes time had brought to my mate.

I tore my gaze from his corded throat and glanced up at his face. He didn't seem bothered by my scrutiny but his gaze was assessing me as well.

Was he pleased with my appearance?

I couldn't tell.

Though I had kept my interactions with humans and other supernatural creatures to a minimum—I much preferred the company of my friends in the forest—I had spent a lot of my time simply observing them.

‘People watching’, a Faerie had called it when I had caught her doing the same thing a few years back. Beauty was a completely subjective concept. It depended on so many factors, not all of them physical either.

My jet-black hair, currently tucked in a single braid, fell just past my waist. It was neither straight nor curly, but somewhere in between. One person might find it beautiful, but then someone else might not like it at all.

What if Valen thought short, red hair was more to his liking?

What if he was more pleased with tall curvy women?

At 5’4”, no one would get away with calling me anything but short. No curves worth mentioning either.

If Valen didn’t find me beautiful now? He would simply need to learn.

That was another thing I had discovered. Someone might find something beautiful today and then see something else entirely different as beautiful years down the line.

I smiled up at his contemplating gaze when his brows lowered in displeasure at my silent scrutiny.

“Who are you?” Valen finally grated out, his lips turning down at the sides. It was the first sign that he was at all bothered by my presence.

I would take bothered over unaffected any day.

He was only a few feet away so I took slow deliberate steps to bring me into touching distance. He did not react to my approach. His seemingly relaxed stance did not change in any way, but I knew he was as alert as the growling wolf to his right and—though I hadn't noticed when it had stepped from its hiding place—the second growling wolf behind me.

Standing this close to him, I could see the difference in our heights more readily. If I stared straight ahead, my eyes would be level with the center of his chest, but I was looking up at his eyes which glared at me warily.

That’s the thing that had darkened the silver glow of his eyes.

Wariness. Distrust.

I planned on changing that.

“My name is Zira,” I told him. “But you, Valen…”

I lifted my hand slowly–giving him every chance to stop me if he pleased—and pressed my open hand to the center of his chest. He stiffened beneath my palm but did not step away. Not that I expected him to. He was Alpha after all.

Submission was against his very nature.

I felt the sure, steady beat of his heart and the word home fluttered through my mind.

“You may call me…mate.”


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