Authors: Cara Adams
The castle was open from eight in the morning until six at night, a long day, but she had a full hour off at one for lunch and two fifteen minute breaks, one midmorning and the other midafternoon. The first few days she’d spent all her breaks sitting, resting her aching feet, but now she was used to the standing and was more likely to wander around and see some new feature of the castle.
All the women holiday workers had rooms in the chapel house, and a shared bathroom and kitchen there. It was originally the monks’ quarters and the rooms were tiny cells with just enough room for a twin bed with a single chair in the corner of the room. Her clothing remained in her suitcase, which was pushed under the bed, and her spare uniform hung on a hook on the wall where the monk had presumably hung his robe at night. The bathroom, however, was twenty-first century with three shower stalls, three toilet stalls, and four sinks. But the communal kitchen was where the women tended to spend their off-duty time, seated around the big table, cooking snacks on the stove and taking advantage of the only place in the chapel precinct with Internet and television.
The chapel bell began to ring, signaling it was time for all the visitors to leave the castle. The last tour group had already finished their purchases in the candy store, and Damask’s thoughts were already turning to what the chef would have provided for the women’s evening meal. It was left ready, precooked and plated up in the refrigerator, with a note on the refrigerator door telling them how long it would take to warm in the microwave oven.
Breakfast was do-it-yourself with breads, cereal, and fruit juice available, and there was always fresh fruit, tea, and coffee available. Lunch they could either make themselves or buy. One day Damask intended to talk some of the other women into walking up the mountain a little way to the castle orchards. She’d heard they grew so many different kinds of fruit trees it was worth the walk to see the trees all in fruit.
But right now she was looking forward to an evening free to do as she pleased. She might even go exploring and look for the dungeons before it got dark.
As always Damask spent the last five minutes of the working day straightening the few shelves of their small shop. Most of the candy was displayed on shelves behind the counter in huge glass jars to look more tempting, even though glass was much too expensive to have been used this way back in medieval times. But they did have two shelves of packaged candy people could buy. Each evening Damask neatened them up, noting what needing replacement so first thing in the morning her boss could go and collect more stock from the storeroom, before the day got too busy.
Piotr Tomic, the manager of the store, said, “You nearly done, Damask?”
“Yes. We’re going to need more Turkish delight and bags of rock candy. That’s all from here. But there aren’t many red or green lollipops left in the jar on the counter.”
“The Turkish delight is selling well, though. I replaced that only a couple of days ago. I’m glad to have your help. We’re getting a lot more customers this year. I couldn’t manage by myself.”
Damask smiled at him as she left the store and he pulled down the shutter and locked it. Since the village traders were all in the inner courtyard, the shutter was more to keep the weather out of the store than thieves, who wouldn’t be able to get past the barbican. Unless the people who lived in the castle wanted a free midnight sugar hit, she supposed. It’d keep them out, too.
“Hi, Damask,” said a voice she didn’t recognize. She turned around and there was the muscular tanned man she’d noticed an hour ago. With him was a taller, leaner man with brown hair, and wearing a button-down shirt and navy jeans. Another very yummy looking man, and the perfect foil for the first man’s dark muscularity.
Piotr gave them what she thought was a stern glance, before nodding and saying, “Grigori, Jairus,” and leaving her there. Well, evidently he knew and trusted these men or he would have walked with her to the chapel as he had on one other occasion when someone had tried to speak with her.
The dark man was smiling at her. “Grigori Tasev at your service.”
“Jairus Petrov. Pleased to meet you.”
Damask just nodded. The first man had called her by name so she didn’t need to introduce herself. But they were very nice to look at it indeed.
“We would like to take you out to dinner,” said Jairus.
Damask felt her mouth fall open and shut it quickly. She certainly wasn’t expecting them to say that. But she really wanted to say yes. Of course, her parents would have completely forbidden such a thing, but Piotr knew these men and was happy to let them talk to her so she supposed…
“Where?” she asked, then thought she sounded like a gold digging witch, which wasn’t what she’d meant at all. She merely wanted to know what sort of clothing she should wear, and how long it would take to get there. She was going to explain why she’d asked the question, then thought she’d just leave them to answer it. The question had been asked now.
“The town isn’t big but there’s plenty of choice among the restaurants. We could go to whichever one you wish,” said Jairus.
“I merely wanted to know whether I should change from my costume into jeans or a dress,” said Damask.
“Ah, I understand. For us men the choice is much simpler. Pants are pants as long as they aren’t stained or torn. What would you prefer?” said Grigori.
Damask stopped to think. She really didn’t want to have to get all dressed up now after a long day at work. Something more relaxed would suit her much better. “Let’s go to somewhere more casual,” she said.
“It’s a deal. Change into your jeans and we’ll wait for you here. But you’ll need to bring your castle ID card to get in again when we return,” said Jairus.
“I won’t be long. Thank you.” Damask smiled and nodded, turning away and hurrying down the courtyard to the chapel
. Oh wow a date! A genuine date! And not with just one stupendously delicious man, but with two of them.
It wasn’t until she was in her tiny room getting changed that she had another thought. One that killed her excitement stone dead.
What if someone sees me and tells Mom. She’ll come running here and drag me back home and never let me out of the house again.
Damask dropped onto her bed, her heart sinking and a wave of disappointment rolling through her body. Then she straightened her shoulders, lifted her head, and said, “Dammit, I’m twenty-one years old. She can’t stop me anymore. I want to go and I’m going.”
Because they’d met in the inner courtyard where anyone could overhear them, Jairus hadn’t been able to tell Grigori much about his most recent trip. While they were waiting for Damask to change out of her medieval costume though, he turned his back to Grigori looking all around very carefully before he bent his head to his friend’s ear and spoke softly. “I met the Alpha of Vienna’s successor and he’s a very good choice. Strong and capable. I estimate Vienna will return to its place as a well run pack within twelve months.”
Grigori smiled at him. “That’s good news indeed. If only the regional situation is resolved as easily the world will be a better place.”
Jairus nodded. “It won’t be, though.” The Alpha of Vienna was also currently the Supreme Alpha of Europe. He was dying of cancer and had very little time left. Jairus thought it was amazing he’d even managed to find the right man to be his own pack successor and get him installed before he died. Everyone wanted to be Alpha. There was a lot of prestige involved. There was also a hell of a lot of hard work, but very few men who wanted the job understood that, and even fewer were capable of ruling well. These days the Alpha of a pack had to be as astute as any other CEO of a medium-sized business, plus charismatic enough to have his people follow his lead in their private lives as well as in the pack business.
Multiply that by an entire continent of disparate self-ruled packs speaking different languages and with different aims and goals, and the chance of finding a really good leader was microscopically small. In his mind, and the mind of his own Alpha, only the Alpha of Denmark would be powerful and capable enough to become the Supreme Alpha of Europe. But it would be a difficult year first, as various other leaders made their bid for power, likely disrupting trade agreements and systems that actually worked all along the way. His pack would be wise to remain alone and non-aligned until the dust settled and a tough new ruler had taken firm control again.
Jairus switched his mind from work to Damask. She was beautiful indeed. As Grigori had said, her skin was pale and there was a sprinkling of freckles on her nose. He thought that was really cute. Her eyes were hazel, big and round, and she had a lovely smile. Her red hair had been tied back in a neat braid for work, and he hoped she’d leave it out for this evening. He’d like to touch it. Her figure was everything Grigori had hinted at and more. Lush curves, a true woman’s body, and one that had made his cock instantly hard in a way the skinny human women in magazines never did.
They’d evidently surprised her with their invitation to dinner, and Piotr had given them a warning look. Jairus knew damn well if they frightened or upset Damask they’d be getting a visit from Piotr and he wouldn’t be pleased with them. But he had no intention of upsetting her. He wanted to make her happy. He wanted her to know she was special to him and Grigori and he wanted her to stay with them, until they knew for sure if she was truly their mate. Her looks and her smile were perfect, but mating was for life so they needed a bit more than that. But right now, he was really glad Grigori had noticed her before she’d formed a relationship with any other wolves.
And there she was. Her red hair still in its neat braid unfortunately, but her legs were encased in tight jeans that made them look a mile long. Her hips were hidden under a long-length deep green shirt, and she had one of those scoop necked lingerie things underneath it in the same color as the shirt. Cami. That’s what they were called. A cami. It displayed the round globes of her breasts perfectly even though they were completely covered. But the fabric clung to her skin outlining it for his approval. And oh yeah, he approved all right.
They pushed their way out through the exit turnstiles. Jairus waved at Alexandre who was on duty at the customer service window in the gatehouse. Jairus had been born and bred in this pack so knew all the wolves, like Alexandre, but he also made a point of meeting the people who came to work for the summer as well. He never knew in his job when it might be useful to have a friend anywhere in Europe. Besides, he liked talking to people, hearing their stories, and learning about their hometowns.
Grigori led them through the barbican and across the outer courtyard to the staff parking lot. They had to pass Jairus’s car to get to his.
“Oh, man, when you said your car was dirty you weren’t exaggerating,” Grigori said looking at Jairus’s vehicle.
Damask stared at the mud-covered mess that had once been pretty white paintwork. “What did you do? Plough the fields in it?”
“Dirt roads. Muddy dirt roads,” he replied, not wanting to say where he’d been.
“Uh-huh. No kidding. Have you considered washing it? Poor thing.” She patted its dirty trunk as she walked past.
They walked on to Grigori’s shiny clean car, and Grigori held the door for her to get in. Sighing, Jairus slid into the backseat.
To change the topic a little, Jairus asked, “Which car is yours, Damask?”
“I haven’t got a car. I wouldn’t even have my driver’s license if my mom hadn’t gotten sick a few winters ago and been unable to take me around. My entire life I’ve been swaddled in Bubble Wrap. This is the first time I’ve even been away from home for more than the occasional night.”
“Were you sickly as a kid? One of my friends caught pneumonia one winter and his mom was always running after him with coats and scarves after that,” said Grigori.
They swung over the bridge crossing the moat and headed toward town. It was only seven miles away, but back in the days when everyone had to walk everywhere it was just far enough away to discourage people from casual visits, which had suited the pack perfectly. For hundreds of years they’d hidden their species from the human world as much as they could. Inevitably there had been talk, and the castle had been known among the locals as “Werewolf Castle” for as long as anyone could trace back into history. Now, of course, the pack had used that as a sales point in their tourist promotions, speaking of one castle owner who’d been a werewolf and showing his grave in the tiny cemetery beside the chapel.
The grave really was a former Alpha’s and he was undoubtedly a werewolf, unlike the stories told in the dungeons of humans being chained up to feed the werewolves’ appetites. Those stories owed their existence to the wild imaginings of uneducated local peasants in previous generations. As far as Jairus could tell, the only people who’d ever really been chained up were those who’d questioned the Alpha’s instructions, and were most likely young male werewolves.
Jairus focused his gaze on the side of Damask’s face. It was truly lovely, and he could see the slight upward tilt of her mouth so knew she was happy, but he couldn’t wait until he was seated opposite her at the restaurant so he could view her properly.
“No, I wasn’t ill. I’ve always been perfectly healthy. My father was a werewolf who didn’t bother to explain that to the human woman he married. She came home one day and found him playing with me in his wolf form and the marriage almost ended then and there. They stayed together but after that it was like a competition between them to see who could keep me safest. I was never allowed to go anywhere or do anything fun. I half expect someone to come up to me tonight in the restaurant and say, ‘Does your mother know you’re here?’”