14. Village Life

14. Village Life

A Chapter by Lynaelee

POV change

A log crashing to the floor as the embers die causes Buck to wake up with a start. He rolls to his back, looks over at the almost dead fire, rolls back over to his side, and pulls Clara closer to him. Mabel -in her animal form- snuggles into Clara again. Buck rubs her fur and chuckles softly, "did you get cold, little one?"
"No. She just kept kicking Clara who would then shift away from her, causing Mabel to lose her pillow. Your future wife moves around a lot when she's not actually unconscious. I'm surprised they didn't wake you. My daughter doesn't want to be away from her and looked hurt when Clara pulled away again. So she shifted and Clara held onto her like she would a teddy bear. Mabel was delighted with this new development and went back to sleep with a smile; neither have moved since. Morning," Talon remarks mentally. Buck looks up and smirks. 
"Morning. How is her mental status?" He replies silently. 
"Good. Stable. She's dreaming about how to make puffed pastries. The arguement she's having with herself is how the recipe goes," she replies in their silent way with a large grin. "It shifted. She's saying 'those eyes' again. Aside from when she first remembered everything, there have been no dark or scary thoughts coming from her mind. I'm glad to see she is not having nightmares based on everything we just reminded her of. I also understand why she accepted us so willingly. She may not shift like we can, but she is definitely one of us." Buck grins and looks back at the girl sleeping in his arms and strokes her cheek tenderly. 
"That is good news. I'm going to head out," he replies mentally. "Want me to help Mabel down the mountain?"
"Please," Talon insists. "I'll take care of Clara's basket, but I can't help them down safely." Buck nods and starts to pull away from Clara. She stirs slightly so he kisses her temple. 
"Wake up, kitten," he whispers. Talon smiles and closes her eyes again to give them some privacy.
"Five more minutes. I don't work today," Clara mumbles. Buck chuckles and kisses her cheek.
"You don't, but I have to leave right now." That makes her open her eyes and scowl at him. Buck gives her a broad smile as he rubs her cheek tenderly. "Morning, kitten. I have to be back in town before you make it down the mountain. I don't need to have the town gossiping about you or making you out to be some sort of harlot. I will marry you, Clara Hatten. I'll jump through all the hoops and everything. Until then, I can't continue to wake up next to you. I wanted to give you warning that I'm leaving but it doesn't mean I don't care about you. Now, I can take you and Mabel down to that bush we slept under if you'd like; it's the midway point between this point and the lake. I would take you all the way down, but I have to collect my wood pile as well. I just know that our bush, kitten, is a good place for you to start your day. After I leave you there, I'll have to respectfully keep my distance."
"This is not a good way to wake up. I liked the idea of waking up to you beside me, not you leaving me," she grumbles as she hides her nose in his chest.
"Clara, I'll come back to you. Just not today," Buck replies as he places his hand on her neck and pushes her back. Then he lowers himself onto her lips. 
"Better," she whispers around a sigh. "Mabel is still sleeping. Do you have to go now?"
"You know I do, Clara. You can wake up next to me soon enough for the rest of your life; this is not the last time it'll happen. The sun will be up in a few hours. Talon can fly out of the cave, but you and Mabel might hurt yourself if you try to leave," he whispers. She nods and yawns into his chest. "Come on, kitten. I need you to stay awake just for a bit more. Mabel in that form is like 35, maybe 40 pounds. Hold onto her, wrap your shawl tighter around your shoulders, and sit squarely on my back. I won't drop you. Once I get you to a safe and flat area, I'll bid you a proper farewell with the promise of seeing you again. You won't get rid of me so easily. You'll be stuck with me for a long time, kitten."
"Okay," she whispers. Buck grins and kisses her again. Then he helps her sit up, reposition Mabel, and stands up with her in his arms.
"Clara, you're ravishing," he praises as he kisses the back of her head. She blushes and lowers her head and he kisses her shoulder. "I mean it. And I love your food. It'll be a good breakfast." He bends over and selects a blueberry scone. "Mabel sure likes you. And she would love to know you named a treat after her; I'm actually surprised you didn't tell her when you noticed what she grabbed. Your eyes widened and you grinned some. You had to have been thinking it. You made her night and if possible, made that little girl love you more. As for me, well I adore everything about you," he praises as he strokes her arm holding the beaver as he stuffs the food in his mouth. She giggles and looks at him over her shoulder. He swallows his bite and smirks while stroking the beaver's head. "Even if you kidnap a child," Buck teases before kissing Clara's forehead. Her mouth drops open and her eyes widen.
"No! I am not stealing your kid, Talon," Clara remarks softly as she turns away from Buck, turning bright red.
"You're not stealing my kid. You're just helping her down the mountain safely," Talon confirms in the same hushed tone as Buck undresses. "She would be delighted to wake up with only you around. I'll meet you two about half an hour after sunrise; give or take twenty minutes. We'll follow the stream back to your lake then you can lead us to your home. Help us come up with a plausible story as to why you went up alone but are coming down with two strangers. We're due for a change in scenery too and like Buck said, it's best to settle near you: our friend. Thank you for accepting us so willingly; you're part of the family now. Unless you're hungry, there's no need for you to take the basket. You clearly know what's edible around here and what's not. Mabel will like showing off with her animal friends with all the seeds, berries, and whatever else they can bring you. I'll take the clothes with me and carry the basket down for you."
"Thank you. Sorry for waking you," Clara murmurs, causing Talon to chuckle.
"I wasn't asleep, but thank you. I'll get some rest, clean up around here, and see you in a few hours," she promises. Clara nods. Buck nudges her back with his head and she slowly turns around. She rubs between his ears and he lowers himself down. As he collects his folded up clothing in his mouth, Clara freezes. 
"I've never ridden you sitting up. You won't drop me?" Buck makes eye contact with Talon. She nods and opens up their minds.
"Don't jump, Clara," Buck thinks and Clara gasps and looks down at him. "Sorry, kitten. I won't drop you. Get on please." Clara nods, takes a deep breath, and climbs on. He stands up slowly and nuzzles her leg. "Ready, kitten?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," she confirms in a soft whisper as she squeezes her legs together. 
"Careful, Clara. You will hurt yourself if you squeeze much harder. Or you'll break my ribs, but you'll probably yourself more. You're very fragile," Buck thinks.
"I am not!" She snaps and tries to get off. Buck rolls his shoulders and centers her again. "No!" She shouts and squeezes her legs again. Buck growls softly and feels her stiffen on his back, but she stops applying pressure to his ribs. "I change my mind. I'll walk," she states so softly, Buck questions if he heard it at all.
"Not happening. Stay put. One of these days you'll have to tell me why you're so afraid of horseback riding, kitten. It'll be easier for you to ride me sitting up than laying down constantly," Buck thinks irritably. 
"Relax, Clara. Buck won't hurt you and is less bouncy than a horse. He's got exceptional reflexes and he cares deeply about you. Just breathe," Talon orders mentally. Clara pulls Mabel closer, nods, and takes another deep breath as she relaxes a little.
"Okay, Buck. Trust you. Right? That's all you ever asked of me. I do trust you; I'm just not completely sure about this," Clara remarks in a shaky tone. He crouches down and makes her slide forward a bit. She lets out another startled cry but otherwise doesn't say anything. 
"Give her a mint leaf," Buck orders mentally as he looks at Talon and feels Clara tremble excessively. He looks over his shoulder and rubs his head down Clara's leg again as Talon nods, stands up, digs in the basket, and pulls out a mint leaf. She walks over to Clara and puts it in her mouth as she embraces her shoulders. "Breathe, kitten," Buck thinks as he looks forward again. 
"You'll be just fine. You're in good hands. Or well paws. I'll see you soon," Talon promises. She nods and Buck takes off slowly. "I'll keep you mentally linked. It'll help you communicate. One hour then I will eavesdrop again," Talon warns into both their minds.
"Thanks, Talon," Buck thinks as he picks up his pace. "Breathe, kitten. I got you. You're awfully tense."
"I'm fine," she whispers as pulls Mabel closer. "It's not so bad, I guess. It's just not natural. I'm sure I would be much worse if I could actually see right now." Buck laughs inside her head. 
"You're doing fine, my love. Rock with the movements. Don't try to stop your body from moving naturally. Breathe. And loosen up. Good. Just like that," he praises mentally. Clara looks up at the sky and shivers.
"Any chance you can find us another cave? I don't want to lay on the wet ground. It looks like those clouds may storm again. Being wet means getting cold. That doesn't work for me."
"You'll be okay, kitten. Under the blackberry bush should be fairly dry, if I don't have to dig it out again. There's a nice little nook under the tree too. Based on what I feel under my feet, very little moisture hit this area and I don't smell rain coming. You should remain dry enough. In about 10-15 minutes, we'll be there," he thinks.  
"Okay." The rest of the trip is silent, since all she could think was not falling off and all he was thinking was how to elongate the time and hold her in his arms again, but how little time he truly had. He didn't want to scare her away because his feelings were so strong. He smirks when he hears her mental soft echoes, repeating the steps he told her to take to make sure she stays on his back. When Buck approaches the tree, he slows down and lets Clara slide off. She tucks Mabel in between some roots before turning around, throwing the wet mint leaves out of her mouth, and looking for Buck again. "This is new for me. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to say good-bye," she admits. He mentally laughs and drops his clothes from his mouth. Then he saunters over to her and nuzzles her shoulder. She wraps her arms around him and leans into his chest. Buck rests his head on her's and puts one paw behind her back, pulling her closer. She is still trembling but doesn't seem to be afraid any more. He licks her temple before he starts to purr.
"I care for you, Clara. Love you even. Come down the mountain slowly. Follow the stream," he orders mentally. 
"This is not a proper farewell," she whispers into his neck.
"I'll be in the buff, kitten," he thinks. Clara pulls back and looks at him. One hand reaches out and Buck nuzzles it.
"I won't look; you're not my husband yet. Besides, the only thing I can make out is your shape, kinda. But your eyes, I can see those clearly. You promised me a proper farewell and you weren't singing that tune yesterday. What happened  to 'not ashamed of being naked' or 'nudity comes with the shapeshifting territory'? I don't mind, Buck. It's who you are. I want to hear you say it, not think it. This is still new to me. So maybe I'm asking too much?" Buck grins and shifts back, holding onto her tightly. Then he plants several kisses down her jaw and neck. She sighs and seems to melt in his arms. 
"You are not asking too much at all, kitten. This is a reasonable request and I did say those things. You keep me in line and I adore you for it. Plus, I really like holding you," he murmurs as she wraps her arms around his neck.
"Thank you. I like it too," she mumbles as she plants a kiss on his cheek. He turns his head and finds her lips. She kisses him back, leaving him hungry for more.
"That is better than I ever could have imagined. I love the taste of you and how soft your lips are. I look forward to doing that for the rest of our lives. You were worth waiting for. I missed you every single day for the past year, but last night and right now makes every minute of waiting well worth it. You mean everything to me, kitten. You are the best thing in my life. Your kisses are absolutely incredible," he praises. She giggles and looks down. Her fingers trace along his collarbone and her eyes seem to watch her fingers. Buck pulls her closer and she rests her head on his shoulder. "I'm not going to say good-bye because that's so final, nor do I want you to say it. I will see you soon. Now while you make your way down, I'll be in town. I'm going to finish the house for Mabel and Talon. I mean it, come down slowly. Take your time. Follow the stream and don't hurt yourself." He lifts her chin and kisses her again.
"Okay," she breathes. He unbraids her hair and runs his fingers through it.
"I like your hair down. You look more carefree and youthful," he praises before kissing her forehead. 
"I think the low light is messing with your vision then. I'm unsightly. Limp hair. Blotchy face. Tired, droopy eyes. Probably with some wrinkles forming. Is your vision failing? Because carefree and youthful is not me," she whispers.
"Not at all, Clara. I can see perfectly in the dark. With or without the light to assist me, I think you are beautiful. I wouldn't ever lie to you. I'm completely mesmerized by you. You accept my wild side, you trust me, and like the naïve little kitten you are, you follow me. I'm happy to have you in my life and will never hurt you. Mabel may be right, because I believe my heart belongs to you now," he murmurs as she shivers in his arms. In one swift movement, he picks her up and carries her to the tree, makes her lay down, and covers her body with his. Her green eyes stare up at him and he feels his heart leap into his throat. She pants and her lips part, so Buck lowers his lips onto them.
"She's definitely right," Clara breathes when they finally separate. "You have my heart and I only feel whole when I'm with you. Until yesterday, I had no idea why I felt so incomplete. I will always protect your secret and I love that you aren't afraid to show me your magic. I will never betray your heart. That promise is true for your shapeshifting family too." Buck grins and kisses her one more time.
"In that case, I love you more than anyone else could ever hope to love and I will make you my wife because I want you by my side always. Only you. No other woman can compare to my infuriating kitten and no other woman will ever make me feel as wild and free as you do. I desperately need you," he says softly. She smiles and wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him down again. He stops kissing her when he notices his hands are starting to wander down her body. His heart he can hear pounding in his ears, but that's nothing compared to how much louder and faster Clara's seems to be beating. "I promise you, Clara, you'll never be alone again and I will protect your heart. I truly love you and will show you everyday how much that is; all I ask in return is that you continue to trust me. I'll see you later. I'll be anxiously looking up the mountain and waiting for you to return. I've gotta go," he pants in a whisper. She nods, closes her eyes, and rests her hands on her chest.  
"Love you, Buck. I do trust you. I'll try to be home before sundown, but I don't know this area very well. I got lost looking for the water last time. That's how we were separated. I was so dumb," she whispers, opening her eyes again. Buck smirks, kisses her cheek, and plays with her hair.
"Of course it is the way I lost you. Yes, you were dumb, but you're completely forgiven. It was a blessing in disguise though, kitten. The stream is straight down the hill towards the south. You'll have Talon to help too. Don't go anywhere without her. You have the blackberry bush to eat from. Be patient and wait here for Talon. Don't let me lose you again because you're reckless," he orders.
"At least there's no demon army around the bend this time. I'm sorry," she cries as tears spill out. Buck kisses down her nose, finally capturing her mouth with his. She shivers as he pulls back but at least she isn't crying any more. He wraps her shawl around her more firmly and traces her jaw with his fingers. He grins and scoots Clara closer to the beaver who is still sleeping. He guides her hand to find Mabel's pelt. Clara nods in understanding as she wraps her arm around Mabel and curls up.
"That's my girl. Stay warm. Mabel is exceptionally warm in her animal form. If you're not back by tea time, I'm coming up to find you," he warns softly. She pouts as she looks in his direction again and he chuckles. "There's my kitten. Stubborn and demanding to do things her own way. You're going to have to get used to me moving you where I think is best for you," he chides playfully. Her mouth opens in protest and he cuts her off with another kiss. When she arches her back and moans softly, Buck sighs, pulls back, and shifts back into a cat. He nuzzles her cheek and licks her forehead. She giggles and scratches his ears.
"I'll see you soon," she promises. "You sure you can't stick around? You can help me fall back to sleep or something." Buck pulls back and studies her carefully, contemplating her offer. He growls softly and rubs her cheek again. Then he grabs his clothes again and takes off, leaving her before she could say anything else. 
"Sorry, kitten. Any longer and I would be doing things to you that would be considered immoral. You are too much of a temptation, but I really don't mind," he thinks as he runs to where he was gathering logs the day before. Once again, he shifts into his human form, ties the logs together, puts his axe in the middle under his clothes, balances his boots on the logs, and shifts back into his animal form to drag the wood down the hill. When he reaches the halfway point between the village and the lake, he shifts back one last time and gets dressed. He heaves and pulls the logs the rest of the way downhill. The sun is just beginning to rise as he pulls into the yard that he's building the house on.
"Early day?" A voice chirps. Buck sighs and turns around.
"Yes, ma'am. I like getting an early start," he replies. "Hey what time is the bakery open?"
"As soon as I get some bread going," Catherine replies irritably. 
"You?" Buck pants as he wipes his sweaty brow. "I thought that Miss Hatten was the town baker?"
"She is, but you scared her!"
"Me?! How?"
"She could barely move or talk then just bolted up the hill!"
"I was up there! I didn't see her. Does she need assistance?" Buck asks, playing ignorant as he looks back towards the mountain.
"She left before supper time last night," she retorts.
"And I made my way up there after stopping in her bakery. I worked until it got too dark to see but I never saw any sign of her," Buck snaps. 
"Well at least that means she didn't slip and fall. Do you need bread? I'll make a special delivery." Buck shakes his head.
"No, ma'am. Have a good day. Leave me to my work, I'll leave you to your own. Pretty sure your husband won't like you being left alone in my presence. Go," he orders as he turns back to his logs.
"Henry won't wake up for several more hours. The rest of the town will be quiet a bit longer. You and I are awake now. Nobody would know if we were to meet up," Catherine purrs. Buck glares at her.
"Have a good day, madam. I'm not interested. Even if your husband kept on sleeping. You should have some respect for your family."
"But no one would know. I swear it. I just want to have some fun," she whines. Buck hardens his gaze.
"Have you no shame, woman?! If I were to choose somebody to have fun with, she wouldn't be two-faced like you. Sweet and flirty alone, but cynical and judgemental in the presence of others. Even if you weren't married and pregnant, I wouldn't want somebody like you. Get out of my sight," Buck snaps.
"Care to show me the inside of your house?" She asks as she tries to touch him. Buck grinds his teeth and moves to the other side of his log pile, away from the crazed woman. "Can't talk civilly with me? My husband sleeps and I stand here-"
"Making a fool of yourself. I'm awake now, Mom. I know and I am definitely going to let Dad know when he wakes up. Get. You have work to be doing. Talking with the neighbors is not what you are being paid for and if you are trying to do something to this man her while my father sleeps then you're not my mother either," her son chides. Catherine huffs and stomp off towards Clara's place. He walks over to Buck and extends his hand, which Buck happily shakes. The young man drops his hand and looks towards the mountain. "Sorry to disturb you, sir. I've been watching the pathway looking for Miss Hatten, hoping she comes down sooner rather than later. Mom said she was rattled; I would hate to see her hurt again. I would also hate to have to run up there to find her. Miss Hatten took a group of us up there to harvest berries for the pie contest at our fair. Surprisingly, she helped everyone but didn't put her own entry in. The berries at the lake are remarkably better than anything here in town. It was pretty and all, but there's too much land to cover and Miss Hatten knows it the best; we wouldn't be able to really find her if she didn't want us too. If she was as rattled as Mom said she was, then she won't be at the lake. Dad refuses to touch Mom while she's pregnant and she's been searching in other ways. I'm sorry you are her latest victim of opportunity. She really means no harm by it, but thank you for not putting her in a compromising position. I think she just feels alone because Dad is always so busy. It means a lot to me that you reminded her of her position in our family. Forgive me rattling on about trifle things. I'm James." 
"Buck. Nice to meet you, son. If a search party is needed to find Miss Hatten, sign me up. I seem to have a good idea of the area up there. Do you mind me asking, who is she to you? You seem to know a lot about her."
"I don't mind. Miss Hatten is probably one of the nicest people in this town, but people won't give her much of a chance. She's just the town baker to me. Don't tell my mom this, but Miss Hatten makes much better bread," James remarks and Buck chuckles. "You have a good view of the path from here. Can I help you finish your house?"
"Sure, son. You got a thing for Miss Hatten? You sure seem intent on knowing her whereabouts." The boy snickers. 
"No. I have a thing for Miss Evensin, the youngest one. Her sister is getting married again; no one knows why she can't stay married. But my girl, Odessa, has got to be the pretty one in town. Miss Hatten is nice and all, but her bright green eyes scare me."
"They're just eyes. Just because they aren't brown or blue, doesn't make them dangerous," Buck retorts as they work together to cut the logs in half then take them up to the roof.
"I know. I read about that in one of my father's journals. I don't have a problem with green eyes; I like them in fact. It's just when they are so intense and bright like Miss Hatten's it's hard to keep eye contact. I really do think she's a good person and all. I just hate that her eyes are so different; it makes her stand out a lot and intensifies any conversation. I despise not being able to hold a conversation without maintaining eye contact. It's different if we are working together; like you and me now. Three babies have been born with green eyes in this town that I know of. However, their parents are ashamed so we never see them around. I figured Miss Hatten must feel ashamed somewhat too. Then again, she keeps pretty busy with her bakery, so I don't know for sure. I've never just talked to her. I've ordered food and taken lessons on the mountain about what is edible and what isn't. But she's shy, soft spoken, and straightforward. She won't talk more than necessary and I'm usually in between errands and hanging out with a bunch of people. So that may have something to do with it too," James replies. He stops and looks up as the market owner swings by as well. Inwardly, Buck groans. Why won't people just leave him alone? "Hello, Mr. Ponselli," James greets politely. "Have you met Buck? Forgive me, sir. I don't believe I ever caught your last name."
"Danvenshire. Mr. Ponselli, how can I help you today?"
"Mr. Danvenshire, I was coming by to see if you are operational today. I need a metal shelving unit built. My wooden shelves keep breaking and throwing all my produce on the ground," Mr. Ponselli explains as James looks up the mountain again. Buck nods and opens his mouth to reply when Mr. Ponselli holds up his scarred hand and snarls, "is she up there again? If she won't shop at my store for my berries, I hope that demon in the rocks finds her and slices her open like the green-eyed witch that she is. That demon sliced me up for trying to earn another dollar. It needs to find her and take away use of one of her arms at least. Then she'll go out of business and everyone will come back to me for the berries." Buck drops all of his tools on the ground and grabs the man by the shirt and bunches his hand into a fist. James runs over and tries to separate them. "What's with you?" Mr. Ponselli demands, pushing James away, but unable to budge the other man.
"Leave!" Buck orders as he shoves the man, making him tumble to the ground. Buck stands over him in a menacing way and crosses his arms. Mr. Ponselli cowers as Buck speaks low enough that it could be considered growling. "I don't mind working for a living and I'll build you a shelf. What I cannot stand is others who disrespect others and the choices they make; especially women. Miss Hatten uses those hills to make her living too! She appears to be cautious and knows how to avoid the demons up there. And a rock demon? If all she collects is berries and seeds, there should be no reason she approaches any rocks. The berries I tried in her treats need open soil; rocks would hinder the growth. One thing is for certain, she knows what she is doing and her food Is remarkable and delicious. Are you just upset that her food is better than anything you sell in your shop? Is there the demon of jealousy on your shoulder?"
"I ain't jealous of no witch!" He exclaims as he stands up again and brushes off his clothes while glaring at Buck. James picks up the tools and starts working casually again.
"Then why would you insult her so?" Buck demands.
"Before you answer that, if Clara is a truly witch, then so is Daniel. Would you condemn him to the same fate? Would you truly wish anyone to get sliced up like you did? I think you should consider yourself fortunate that the demon didn't kill you. In fact, I think that it could have been much worse for you. You still have use of your hand and the cuts were shallow. Yes they scarred but they aren't bad. Perhaps you inflicted them yourself to try and ruin her reputation. It's a good thing that Clara Hatten is one of the most honest people either of us know and you are one of the most dishonest. People will listen to her over you. She is the furthest thing from a witch and you know it. You've been trying to hurt her since you met her. Just know anything you wish upon her, you wish upon your son," James speaks up. Mr. Ponselli looks down, scuffles his feet, and finally takes off without another word. "His son is six years old. His eyes are green too, although not at bright as Miss Hatten's eyes. I was hoping with my mom working beside her, she would have more time to see the townspeople. Instead, she bakes more and we have some seriously good treats. It's more than just pies at home now. Actually, I think that may be the one thing she hasn't made. I wonder how her pies would taste?" Buck chuckles and continues to work at a steady pace. 
"How old are you, James? You have a lot of authority with the people in this town and they all seem to respect you."
"Hahaha! Thanks for noticing. I only want to do the right thing by all. Defending women is a top priority for me. I'm 17. Which means I'm finally old enough to get married now. I was going to go talk to Mr. Evensin about courting his daughter. What about you, Mr. Davenshire? What's your story?"
"I'm 26. Never married. Maybe I can find a girl here. I am just looking for a fresh start and fell in love with the view of the mountain. So the first town I came across that was close to it is where I wanted to settle down and build a life. Turns out, your town just so happened to be the lucky village I came across first. I know I'll like it here especially if it is full of people like you," he replies with a smile. 
"Oh yes you'll love it here! The town itself has it's own charm. And the ladies are beautiful. So finding wife should be fairly easy to build a new life with! There's lots of options. Just stay away from my Odessa. Let's see the butcher's daughter just turned 16 which means she is officially the youngest eligible woman around. She's a looker, but you know young. Oh there's Miss Rathbone. And Miss Clark works at the hotel. There's lots of men in town hoping to start a family with Ethel Toolige, but she's a stuck up, prissy, and vulgar woman. Miss Hatten is available too, but like I said, she's too busy it seems like for anyone; not to mention she's older! However, my mom is 35 and bearing another child. So then maybe Miss Hatten isn't that old. She's just past her prime marrying age. Yet that would mean so many more women are eligible to be married like the milk maiden. She makes some wonderful cheese." Buck chuckles softly and hammers his roof in place, tuning the boy out. Clara wasn't too old and she was all he would ever need. He let the boy continue to ramble off eligible women in the town, paying little attention to it. He began picturing the life he would have with Clara and smiles.
"Daydream much?" A voice chuckles in his head. 
"Sorry, Talon. How are you ladies doing?" Buck thinks as he looks up and wipes his brow; Talon is flying overhead.
"Whoa! I've never seen a hawk that big! It's gotta be two or three times bigger than the birds around here. Betcha it'll make some good food," James blurts out. Buck looks at him in shock.
"Really? I saw them bigger at my old home. This one seems to be like half their size. They weren't the best food wise though. Gamey and tough," he replies, trying to mislead the boy. The last thing any of them needed was for suspicions to arise or for one of his friends to die.
"No way. We wouldn't eat something that magnificent. Hawk eggs are good, the birds not so much. I wonder if that one has a nest. I gotta go show my friend Axel! He's the best egg collector. He never gets scratched by the birds! He's your age and has the worst luck unless it comes to egg collecting. Forgive me. May I be dismissed, Mr. Danvenshire?"
"By all means. And call me Buck," he orders with a grin. James nods, goes down the ladder as quickly as possible, and runs down the road. "Talon?" Buck thinks as he looks back up.
"Good. Clara and Mabel are going down the stream. They are close to the opening of the lake, but won't be swimming. Clara has the basket with our clothes and the food and is actually staying fairly dry. Mabel is having chipmunks bring them seeds and nuts while telling Clara all about last year. They're going to be inseparable for sure. Don't worry about me. I'm out of reach from weapons if they choose to use them on me. I wanted to check on you. Your house looks good," she praises. 
"Glad you like it; it'll be yours. So they've still got at least seven miles before they make it home. I'm glad to hear they're making progress. I can't hear her. Are we still connected?"
"You are. She can't hear you either. There seems to be a barrier around the town. We haven't broken all of Laurence's spells yet it seems. However, from up here I can hear all three of you."
"Good. Keep me posted. I'll be up that hillside in a jiffy if needed," Buck thinks as he gets off the ladder himself. "I'm gonna get some grub. See you soon, sis."
"See you soon," she confirms as she flies back towards the mountain. Buck cleans up his area, washes up inside his house, collects a few items to put in his pockets, and heads towards the saloon for a bite to eat. A young woman greets him at counter. Buck smiles politely at her and orders some baked beans and a pint of beer.
"Abigal, kitchen," a man demands as he hobbles behind the counter. "She's 14. Don't you be getting any ideas about my daughter," he warns. Buck holds his hands up and shakes his head. 
"I just came for something to eat. The bakery was a good place to eat yesterday, but Miss Hatten has taken off up the mountain and left her apprentice in charge today. She's been trying to get me into a compromising position all week. I would rather not have that over my head so I came here to avoid that conflict. I swear, I wasn't thinking of your daughter in that manner," he states. The bartender nods and Buck lowers his hands. "Buck Davenshire. Blacksmith. I just completed my house."
"Folks around here call Rich or Mr. Matthis. Welcome to the area. My apologies. In the past decade, I have lost two wives and three children. Abigail is all I have left." Buck nods in understanding. "Let me get you your food. Although, it's nothing compared to Miss Hatten's creations. I'm glad we were rated high enough to be listed as a backup to the bakery. Beer bread pairs with the meal well. Again, it's no Clara Hatten bread, but it's filling."
"Thank you. It'll be just fine," Buck replies sincerely. Rich nods and gathers up the requested food. After eating half of it, Buck looks up again and meets Rich's eye as he cleans a glass. "Aside from making good food, what more can you tell me about Miss Hatten and her assistant?"
"Catherine Rogers is pushy and demanding. She forced her way into my wife's bedroom as she was delivering our son, four and a half years ago; I lost both of them that year. Catherine has been pushing herself on me too. Overall, she seems helpful, but she's too, oh I don't know, un-lady-like. Watch yourself with that one. She's friendly and nice too. Even though she's married she seems to like men that aren't. As far as I know, she's just talk and no action though. Miss Clara Hatten on the other hand is strong willed, quiet but direct, kind, and patient. She keeps to herself, tries to be friendly, but avoids eye contact most of the time. She's crazy for going up that mountain at all, but the food really is better with the berries and stuff she gathers from up there. I think she would win a scuffle if one presented itself, but she avoids people and therefore conflict. She never forces her way or into any place. I don't know her very well though; she sticks to the bakery and the hillside. She figured out how I make my beverages and does give me some of her yeast though. I get some good beverages from it, like the one you're drinking. She even helps me ferment the yeast. She's very helpful and has been providing me with more than I need. I know that she tries to help everyone. I think a few people refuse, but I'm grateful to have Miss Hatten in this town," Rich remarks. Buck grins.
"She is pretty thoughtful," he confirms as he tells him the goodies Clara gave him yesterday. 
"Wow! That's quite the collection she offered up, but it doesn't surprise me. She's got a giving heart," Rich praises. "I'm honored after that selection she gave you that you still came here to eat my food. If she opened up a place where she made meals instead of just bread and desserts, she would put me out of business for sure. Good luck with the blacksmithing. I'm sure I'll see you around." Buck nods, pays for his meal, and departs. The next stop he makes is the church.
"Minister, I wanted to talk to you about the grounds for marriage in this town," Buck states as he talks to the minister in his office.
"Son, there is a minimum three week training session required for you and your betrothed. Before I counsel you both, the two of you must go door to door announcing your engagement until the whole town knows about it. Then if anyone disputes it, it can be taken care of. If there are no disputes, you and your betrothed may hold hands, link arms, and be seen in public as a couple. You both must attend this church regularly. Since you just moved here, I'll let it slide if I see you in here every Sunday. I'm assuming you're a church man?"
"Yes, sir. A healthy dose of the Lord to keep those demons at bay is always a good thing in my book," Buck replies. The minister nods and makes a note.
"Living so close to those mountains where demons roam freely means you're absolutely correct. This town needs a heavy dose and I try to give it to them. I've done an excellent job; no serpents or demons come here. Mr. Danvenshire, am I right?"
"Yes, sir."
"Who has caught your eye that you want to take up roots immediately?"
"Miss Hatten." The minister gasps and scoots back in his chair.
"She comes and always sits in the back. She never looks up. But those green eyes and the fact that she keeps going up that mountain and ending up unscathed shows me that either she's in cahoots with the devil or she is a demon. She cannot get married in this church," the minister spits.
"Am I a demon too, Papa?" A young lady about 16 years old asks from outside of her father's office. "Is that why you keep me hidden."
"No!" Buck says at the same time as he meets the girl's gaze. "Your eyes are not a curse. Green is a fetching color and is a blessing. It doesn't mean you are a disappointment. Nor does that make you a demon. Green eyes are rare, yes. But not impossible to have. You can thank your mother and your father for your eyes and I know that someone isn't bothered by the fact you are special; it's not just me," he tells the girl. She smiles shyly and looks down. Buck returns his icy gaze back to the minister. He squirms uncomfortably and Buck mentally smirks. "I better never hear you preaching about tolerance from the pulpit if you have the audacity to accuse your own flesh and blood of being a demon. The Good Book states the Lord came to save us all; it doesn't specify skin, hair, or eye color. Maybe you should open that book again, minister, because you seem to have some demons holding onto your mind and heart right now. I don't need to marry Clara Hatten in this church. I'm just asking what the stipulations are out of respect. I know that she's up in the mountains right now. She is different than all the other women I've met. She's smart, honest, creative, a dedicated worker, and the only one I want by my side. Yes. I have picked up on that in the short amount of time I have been here. I will ask her to be my wife -with or without the church's permission- when she gets back. However, I want to do this right and have our union blessed in the presence of the Almighty. Your job is to ensure that, no?"
"Papa, listen to him! Would you really stand in the way of happiness and love? It is possible!"
"To your room, Odessa! Eavesdropping is a sin."
"Mr. Evensin, I presume," Buck remarks before the girl disappears. "She should stay and hear this. Her father may have the title of the town minister, but you are no better than the rest of us. Are you, Mr. Evensin? I have heard that you will be marrying your elder daughter off for the third time soon. I thought the good Lord looked down upon divorce; it didn't sound like those previous marriages ended because of a death. If you revoke my right to marry the girl of my choosing then I will encourage the town to rename that daughter to Jezebel. It'll become a reputation she will never live down and you will lose your job title. It is not your job to judge; that belongs to the Almighty above. What would he think of your actions? How can you alienate one child but flaunt the other around? You are encouraging your elder daughter to sin by being unfaithful as a wife to her first husband, and therefore encouraging the rest of the town to live in sin. Your message with that also implies that we can pick and choose our sins. If that is the case, then the line for your wife to seduce another man or you to smooze another man's wife is non-existent. And if the minister and his family cheats then how long is it before murder is okay too? If this town is so godless that even the minister lives in sin, then I'll take Miss Hatten out of here before the Lord Almighty turns this town into the next Sodom and Gomorrah. I will find a minister to marry us. If it ain't you, then you definitely are not the Lord's mouthpiece," Buck says in a soft tone but with a fierce gaze. Minister Evensin clearly pales.
"You're right. You have the blessing of the Lord and this church. You and Miss Hatten will need to do the three week training session with me, then you may move in as husband and wife. It will be your duty to provide for her. I want no more crazy notions of her running her own business; it ain't right," he speaks softly and harshly.
"Again, you're wrong. If I try to define who she is by standards that you have in your mind, she loses who she is and that's what I adore about her. If I make her give up baking and help me run my blacksmith business, she'll lose the joy that makes her unique and spirited. I won't do that to her. As head of the household though, I will be making decisions to benefit us both. Her relationship with the Savior will be my responsibility to nurture and help grow too. Her duty is to submit but respect me. I don't need a slave. I want a life partner. Somebody who is by my side that loves me. Somebody who challenges me and will help me make decisions, yet will respect and trust me enough to ultimately male the final choice," Buck murmurs.
"What makes you think Clara Hatten will be the woman who will submit to you?" Minister Evensin snickers. "The woman you are describing almost sounds like Miss Toolige would be more up your alley. Every man would agree. If you want someone who will do what you want and agree to your ever decision, it's Miss Toolige you want. In return, she just wants you to cater to her left and right, possibly argue some too. She got the blonde locks-"
"I don't care what Ethel Toolige looks like or what she does. I don't want her. Have you not been listening?" Buck snaps. Minister Evensin slouches in his chair and looks at Buck in shock. "I don't want a lap dog or a slave or a doormat for wife. I don't want somebody who needs me to take care of them, although I will care for her. I need a woman with a good head on her shoulders, who is skilled in a profession, and takes care of herself. That tells me she knows left from right, is dedicated, and doesn't have to depend on somebody else to survive. My profession requires that I leave town sometimes and I don't want to worry if my wife will be able to survive without me. I want someone with some inner fire and who can make me a better man, sharpen my edges while rounding me out, and overall isn't afraid to speak up if necessary. I don't want someone who will throw herself at me then get distracted because another man came into veiw. I never want to fear that someone may try to take her away because he doesn't understand respect. I want Clara as my wife. She has already proven she is dedicated and loyal by building up her business. I understand she is new to this area still, but yet she seems happy here. So yes I think Clara Hatten is the perfect choice for a bride and I want to marry her as soon as possible because something that exquisite, you just don't let slip through your fingers. I will not order her to stop baking. I will not take away from her business if she wants to continue. If she just wants to be the blacksmith's homemaker, that would be okay with me too. Something tells me that baking is all she has left of her life and her family; I would never take that away from her. Just know, I will be up on that mountain with her though, from the moment she becomes my wife. It will be my duty to help her collect berries and grains because I want her to continue to be successful. That is how I can provide for her and support her. If she chooses to come with me on my jobs out of town, I'll allow that too. I will care for her, protect her, and love her inside and out. However, I want her as my wife for other reasons, not just because I find her captivating and think she meets my standards for a great wife. I don't like the fact that she's alone, but an unmarried woman should never be left alone with a man of any status. Like I said, with or without the marriage blessing of this church, I am crossing those lines and will treat her like my wife," Buck states. 
"Can you prove she's not a witch?"
"Excuse me?"
"You've been here a total of six days. I overlook the first month of church-going when we have a new settler. However, instead of building on this end of town where everything is expanding out, you set up by her home. You are demanding to marry her even though there is no possible way you have even asked her yet. I hear she ran up that mountain only after meeting you."
"Yeah. I apparently scared her. I heard that too. What does that have to do with me proving she's not a witch?"
"I'm just curious why she would steal your attention when you clearly could have any other woman you want," the minister states slyly. Buck scowls.
"So because a stranger falls for the baker, she cast a spell on me? Wow. Out of all of the ridiculous ideas I have ever heard, that has to be the most outlandish. If she was a witch and needed to feel loved, why not entrance one of the many eligible men in town to be at her beck and call? Clara Hatten is just a girl who can bake. I chose that area of town because it had the option for a larger forge, the smells my profession create would cause some riffs to form so I try to keep it away from the townsfolk, and the land was closest to my lumber supply. I hadn't met Clara before yesterday. If she put a spell on me, I wouldn't have been able to leave her shop and I would have met her earlier, never leaving her side. I want to capture her lips with mine. I want to feel her curves. I want to live with her. But I want to do it right. Wanting her in any way except for as my wife is immoral and I can't do that. I fear I'm sinning for even thinking about her in that capacity, but she turned my head. I want her. Something about her being an outcast makes her more desirable to me. I don't want the normal girl where ever man in town flocks towards. I want the unique. Clara is desirable to me because she is the first girl I know who has actually alienated herself and tries to go unnoticed. However, she is generous and kind when given the chance. I found her to be honest and friendly. She is everything that I want. I want to marry Clara because I want to be put in a compromising position with her, but doing it right means more to me. I came here to settle down and take up roots. Her generous heart when she gave me her own portions of her food is what convinced me that I needed her by my side. She didn't cast a spell on me. It took some coaxing for her to speak to me at all. She's not a witch. I'm just a man who knows what he wants. It's Miss Clara Hatten, your town baker," Buck insists.
"You are absolutely correct. I have already tested her for signs of witchcraft. She is not a witch. If she was, she would have gotten rid of those ghastly green eyes and would have made any man bow at her feet. I'm not talking about just with the tantalizing smells coming from her food. As you said, it seems wrong that a woman is alone. It's worse that she runs her own business with no man to show her what she needs to do. You can marry her. Your mind is made up to do so anyways, but you have the Lord's blessing to proceed in this church. Marriage counselling won't do you two any good if you're going to dispute everything I say. I'm happy to help you with your urges soon. One question first. Will Miss Hatten satisfy your urges for the rest of your life? After all, based on what you just said, death is the only reason a marriage should be broken apart. Chances are your manly urges will point you in the direction of another woman. I cannot let you marry her if your desire is just to lay with her a few times. You will be tied to her for an eternity," Minister Evensin remarks. Buck nods.
"That's exactly what I want. I think she'll be more than enough to settle my urges. No other woman will work for me. I plan to spend a lifetime to find out if Clara can make me feel this passionate all the time," he replies with a smirk. 
"Good. I will also be having a chat with my sinful daughter. Happiness does not overrule the Lord's word and orders. If she wasn't happy, she needed to fix the problem, not find an out. I was wrong to encourage her to do such vile acts. You have opened my eyes to some major flaws and I won't allow it to go on any more. Change starts at home. So I have an opening next Tuesday. If you and your betrothed come in for one hour every day until then, I will marry you. Assuming you two pass all the requisites, Tuesday at sundown is when you two can be joined as one in holy matrimony. Now will that work for you to get married on, Mr. Danvenshire?"
"Works wonderfully. Sooner is better and we will meet your standards of a lawful engagement. Thank you. Now once the town knows we are engaged, I can hold her hand or be seen at her place for meal time?"
"That is correct."
"Perfect. She'll say yes-"
"She may say no," the minister counters. 
"No. I don't think she will. You know her better, but I think she can be full of surprises. So if she goes against who you think she is and agrees to be my wife, we'll see you at four tomorrow afternoon. Thank you," Buck replies with a grin. He stands up and shakes the minister's hand as he looks up at the wall where a bear rug hangs. "Clara was right; Laurence was killed. Hope you enjoyed the show, old man. We win," he thinks with a smile. "Nice rug," he says as he dismisses himself.
"Lord, help them. That's going to be a spirited union. I can't take three weeks of him. I don't know if I can manage five days of counselling," he overhears the minister mumble under his breath as the door slams. Buck grins and looks at Odessa. Her mouth is dropped and she is staring at her father's office. 
"Miss Evensin, keep in mind what I said," Buck orders. She nods and looks at him.
"Nobody ever counters him or uses parts from the Good Book to do so. Axle loves my sister still, but she didn't just want to be a farm wife. He was her first husband. He's not big on words but he works hard and speaks up when necessary. My sister needed him to talk more. Even though he cared deeply about her, he just couldn't. So when she left him, it absolutely crushed him. It will be interesting to see if Papa keeps his word and talks to her, because I think he cares for Emma like you do with Clara; you know, with the same intensity. I hope Clara says yes to you. I want to see her happy and with a great man. I can tell you are devoted to her in a way that is rare in this town; it's more intense like she means more to you. I've watched my father counsel many couples, none have the conviction you do. I'm not saying they love their betrothed any less. It's just. Uh. Forgive me. I'm gossiping and that's a disdainful sin. Excuse me. I have chores to finish up. Thank you for defending me. My eyes bring me more trouble than anything," she mutters before picking up her broom and walking down the hall.
"Miss Evensin," Buck calls out softly. She turns and looks at him. "I meant it. Your eyes are not a curse. The right guy will come along and show you that. Your father must come to terms with that. Don't let anyone tear you down for being unique. You have my word, I'll make sure Clara feels special too. Maybe we can raise the bar for love or open new doors; especially for you. Have a good day, Miss Evensin." She grins and disappears through a doorway as Buck leaves the chapel and makes his way home, looking up at the mountain to see if any progress had been made. After seeing nothing, he reaches out mentally, "Talon, any progress?"
"Much! We'll be down in fifteen minutes or less. We'll be coming around the final bend soon," she replies mentally.
"Don't be shocked at our appearance. Clara helped make us look ghastly," Mabel pipes up mentally. Buck chuckles softly as he heads towards the store with the intention of buying Clara a gift. He decides against it, turns back in the direction of home, and runs into James again. 
"Hey, Buck. Like the town?"
"I do. I think I may have even found my own little honey pot to settle down with too. I met Odessa. She's a gem. Her father, not so much," he replies. James chuckles.
"Yeah, I know. Odessa is mine. I won't let some other guy sweep her away. So back off my gem, pal," he remarks.
"You don't have to worry about me. I had to talk go the minister to get advice on engagements and marriages. I left with approval. Now I just gotta get the girl's approval. No. It is not Odessa. Somebody else has captured my attention," Buck states and gestures toward the mountain. "I do believe the lady that calls my heart is just coming down the mountain now. I think I saw some purple. I can only assume it's her dress."
"Miss Hatten?! No way! That's awesome," James praises as he turns toward the mountain. "Miss Hatten never wears a dress when she goes up there. I admire her independence, but it's weird to see a girl in pants. You're right! She's back. Dad will love not going up there tonight. Wait! She's not alone. Dad! Dad!" James yells taking off down the road. Buck reaches into his pocket and pulls out his mother's ring with a smile. James' ruckus has caused most of the town to come out as Buck causally walks through town, joining the crowd.
"What is wrong with you, boy?" Henry demands. James points to the mountain path and everyone looks.
"Clara is not alone. They look rough. We may need to help them," James explains quickly. 
"Let them come to us. They may be demons," Minister Evensin remarks, causing the townspeople to stop. Buck refrains from rolling his eyes.
"Let them think that," Clara thinks directly into his mind. Buck stops walking like the rest of the crowd and looks up. "They aren't demons, and the town will see that when we come closer. There is a plan for this. Try not to wrinkle your nose too much either; your friends have looked better." 
"Okay. I trust you have some plan, just like you did on the mountain last year. I'll let it play out and try not to question it too much. Clara, I'm going to get on a knee in front of everyone. Don't let me down, kitten," he replies mentally. Even from this distance, he can see her cheeks flush as a smile tugs on her lips.
"Wouldn't dream of it, Mr. Lion. You make me whole," comes her sincere mental echo.
"Let us help them. One of them is limping," Buck remarks as he takes in the scene. "Why?" He cries internally. He meets Clara's eyes as she shakes her head subtly and purses her lips. Buck sighs and looks around the townsfolk. "Who will help me escort them back? They need help."
"I'll go," James volunteers.
"Me too," Mr. Ponselli remarks slyly. Buck looks him over questionably, thinking he has alternative motives.
"Nobody is going anywhere. Mr. Danvenshire, you may be a go getter, but that is not the way this town works. We appreciate the gumption, but there is a such a thing as too friendly," Minister Evensin states harshly. Buck grinds his teeth and closes his fist around the ring in his hand.
"So you need lessons from him. You are all about prayer and reflection. It's about time we have someone who knows how to extend the hand of friendship, is willing to put in the hard work, and put forth the extra effort. We're absolutely delighted to have someone like him in our town," Dr. Rogers states. Buck nods in appreciation as he takes a calming breath and relaxes his hand anf posture some.
"Talon!" Rich yells and runs forward. Everyone freezes and somebody grabs onto Rich, stopping him from running towards the women.
"Sorry, mate. Demons. I trust Miss Hatten. The others will show signs and we can surround them better here. In the meadow, they can run away," the man offers apologetically.
"It's alright, Axle," James states kindly as he pats his friend's shoulder. "Your heart is in the right place again. It's unlikely Miss Hatten found demons and is bringing them back. However, just to be safe, we gotta hang back. You know this, Mr. Matthis. It's just a precaution."
"Miss Hatten isn't holding onto any demons! It's a normal woman and her child. I will vouch for them. If I'm wrong, you can kill me too. You know I wouldn't risk leaving Abigal like that. She's lost too much already. Please. I need to help them," Rich begs. Axle nods and releases him, but doesn't let him pass still. Dr. Henry Rogers steps up and holds onto him too.
"Just be patient," he whispers softly. Rich slouches forward in defeat.
"You know that woman?" Minister Evensin remarks, walking over with his arms crossed.
"That's my first wife. She lived. Let me go see her! Please!" Rich begs as the three women approach the end of town. Catherine comes over and helps Clara who is supporting Talon around the waist. Talon is crying and limping. Buck shoots both her and Clara a confused look. "Look! No red eyes. No fire hair. No decayed skin. They're not demons and Miss Hatten needs help. Surely even you can see the tears through grime. Those women need help," Rich argues softly. Henry releases him and turns to his son. Minister Evensin steps in Rich's way, arguing inaudibly with the man.
Buck sighs and looks down as he thinks, "what's wrong, Talon?"
"I'm fine. Acting. Is that really my Ricardo?" Talon thinks, looking over at the man who is being held back.
"Miss Hatten, please explain why you are bringing two strangers into this town when it looks like they haven't seen a bar of soap in long time," Minister Evensin demands. Buck stifles a chuckle as Clara's gaze hardens.
"Of course, minister. They needed a friend and I happened to be there. These ladies were up beyond the point I go. They finished off my basket and were hesitant to trust me, but I convinced them the town is safe and we could help them start fresh. They've been living off the land. I heard the rock slide and found my new friend here pinned. Given the state of her ankle, going back up the hill wouldn't have worked without causing more harm. I have clothes and soap they can help themselves too. Give them a chance and you'll see they have kind hearts and beautiful souls. They will fit in just fine; they just need help - like all of us do at some point. Mr. Matthis, can you please help me? You seem the most eager. Also, Dr. Rogers, I need you to look at my friend's ankle please," Clara remarks sweetly. Henry nods and moves forward with Rich.
"It's me, dumpling," he replies. Both fall into a warm embrace.
"No. No. No," Minister Evensin remarks pulling them apart again. He glares at Rich and rebukes, "you were married to my sister, the widowed Mary. The union that you might have had with this woman has been discarded for the past seven years. Null and void. It is ungodly for you to be embracing this woman. Don't be a deplorable sinner. Think of Mary."
"Your sister would want me to be happy. She told me if George somehow managed to live, she would want to go back to him. She would expect the same for me. I never believed it could happen, but here she stands. It would be my honor to court you again, my dumpling. I never forgot you," Rich murmurs with a bow of his head. Buck grins and makes his way over. James had run home and grabbed a stool for Talon. She sits down as Henry examines her ankle. "Where will you stay?" Rich demands over his shoulder as Minister Evensin leads him away.
"With me," Clara pipes up as Mabel wraps her arm around Clara's waist. "My home may be small, but I'm not making them find their own way right now. Catherine is due any day and I can use their help. I can pay them." 
"That is very kind of you," Buck praises as he gets down on one knee and holds up a simple ring with a single stone. "And just another reason to adore you. Which is why I can't stay away. I know I'm new to town, but would you please become my wife?"
The town gasps, Clara lets out a surprised but convincing and soft yelp, Mabel giggles and claps, and Talon hugs Clara. "You want to marry me?" Clara replies, sounding confused. Buck nods. "Yes! Oh wait. Gotta play the town up because this is not a common development. But did you have to do this in front of everyone, Buck? I don't want to play down my excitement," her mind reaches out to him.
"Yes, ma'am," he replies with a grin, answering both her questions. "You mean the world to me and I know I barely know you or that you barely know me, but I want to have you by my side and learn everything about you and then some. Your kindness and generosity speaks volumes and we need more of it in the world. I am one that needs some of the biggest lessons in that mannner. So do me the honor and become my wife, Clara Hatten." Slowly, her smile stretches across her face and Buck's heart grows.
"Yes. I am all for taking a chance. I would love marry you, Mr. Danvenshire." Buck grins as the crowd cheers and he puts the ring on her finger. He stands up and embraces her, running his hands through her still loose hair. He sees the minister scolwing at them but knows he won as she relaxes into his chest. "Thank you for asking so nicely," she murmurs as she pulls away. He grins and kisses her hand before pulling away from her completely.
"You're welcome. You are definitely a vision of carefree beauty. May I walk you ladies home?"
"We would love that," Clara confirms as she grabs Mabel's hand. Catherine meets her boss' eye and rubs her belly. She uneasily looks at Buck then back at Clara.
"Don't say anything to me. Save your words for your husband," Buck orders softly. Catherine nods gratefully.
"Stop gawking, sinners! Congratulations, Mr. Danvenshire. You proved that she is full of surprises. We all wish you well in your engagement," Minister Evensin remarks, breaking up the crowd. Clara looks at Buck and giggles.
"I see you appealed to his best nature," her mind teases. He chuckles and nods.
"He fears me," he replies mentally.
"As all men should," Talon interferes silently. "You two can giggle and blush behind closed doors. You already convinced the crowd and you're dying to be in each other's arms again. So let's move."
"You found your answers up in those hills?" Catherine remarks before they move, still looking at Clara.
"I did. My heart stopped when he left my bakery yesterday. I've never felt that before. I could have spent more time throwing rocks in the lake if it wasn't for the rock slide. I knew I had to get them down here first. Then I saw him again. I didn't feel like my heart was being constricted any more. I have to follow my heart and I know now, it's with Mr. Danvenshire. He proposed, confirming that I'm on the right path. I'm not letting this slip through my fingers. I'm finally desired by somebody. Me! Not something I made. I barely know him, but I feel like I have known him for a while and on a different level than everyone else. I didn't think would ever be fortunate enough to hear a proposal uttered to me. An offer like that can't be taken lightly. If some man had walked in and out of my bakery and didn't make me feel different in any way and he had proposed, I would have said no. Since it came from the man who made my heart stop and start again, saying yes was an easy choice. I've never felt more excited? No. Wrong word. Uh. Alive? Oh! To put it simply, in your presence, Mr. Danvenshire, I feel like I'm finally whole," Clara confirms as Buck helps Talon stand again. Clara reaches for his hand which he happily gives to her. He pulls her to his hip, looks down at her tenderly, squeezes her hand, and smiles at her.
"Truly, Clara?"
"Truly, Buck," she replies with a large grin.
"Good because that's how you make me feel too. I'm never going to let the feeling go. I'm never going to let you go," he replies softly. Mentally he adds, "and that declaration makes me want to hold you tighter, kiss you longer, and-"
"That's sweet! Clara, invite your fiancé over for supper. I would love to hear about some of his adventures," Talon interrupts vocally, nudging Buck's side inconspicuously. Clara blushes and pulls away from him with a nod. 
"You've already offered to walk us home, and I don't want to take up your time. Did you have plans for supper, Mr. Danvenshire? I understand if you-"
"Please," he interrupts. "Call me Buck, Clara my darling. You can take up every second I have to offer, for soon you'll be my wife and never get rid of me. I would be delighted to join you ladies for supper. Perhaps you can tell me more about the constriction on your heart and I'll tell you about the butterflies in my stomach and the constriction around my own heart. I can also tell you about the life I pictured us having and even what you might wear to bed," he murmurs softly, causing Clara to turn a deeper shade of red. The small crowd around them snickers softly.
"That sounds like exactly what I felt when I first starting courting Catherine. I can already sense the love growing between you two and reckon it just might put all others to shame. The nerves and butterflies you feel, they're there for a reason," Henry confirms as he holds onto his wife in a loving manner. "Hold onto the feeling. Nurture it and each other. I have been slacking in that area. I can focus on her needs now. Thank you for giving Catherine a break, Miss Hatten. Her feet have been swelling terribly and she really should be getting ready to deliver soon. I've been wanting her to sit and put her feet up for a while. Forgive me, ma'am, for not knowing what to call you besides Talon. You seemed shocked that Rich goes by Mr. Matthis. I know it's not his name, but our minister insisted on changing it when he first moved into town so that he could better fit in with us local yay-hoos. Forgive me for not recalling what that name was, Talon. Miss Hatten will take good care of you and your daughter; I have no doubt. Stay off your ankle if you can. It's bruised but not swelling. Just try not to aggravate it more if you can help it. Mr. Danvenshire and Miss Hatten, I congratulate you on your engagement. I wish you both many years of happiness and a blessed union. I think you two are off to a hood start. Have a good day, folks."
"Thank you, sir. You too," Mabel pipes up. Henry smiles and escorts his family home. Mabel looks around and giggles as Clara leads them to her home.
"What's so funny, little one?" Buck asks.
"This town thought we were bad, but nobody ran to get pitchforks or torches to ban us," the child replies.
"Told you they wouldn't think you two were demons if only they were given a chance to see. Having them run up to help right away would have taken away from the limping illusion we were going for as well," Clara remarks softly as she opens her home. She holds the door open and meets Buck's gaze as he passes her. "Welcome home, Buck," she whispers.
"Not quite yet, kitten, but thank you. Did you know the town makes you out to be a reclusive, stubborn, crazy, quiet, and patient girl with a generous heart. There are even some who think you could be great, but nobody knows for sure; you work too much," he whispers as he places one hand above her and he leans on the door, closing the distance between their bodies. She grins and shivers slightly in excitement.
"They're not wrong. Don't be trying anything too crazy just yet. If Minister Evensin is on a sinner's warpath and you kiss me before we're husband and wife, he'll accuse us of adultery and won't let us get married," she warns. Buck shakes his head but closes the distance between them.
"You're safe from me while you are still Miss Hatten. I won't kiss you yet. I took it too far last night, but soon enough I will show you what it means to truly drive a man wild. All I desire is to kiss you all over, cover your body with mine, and not hold back any of the passion and desire I have for you. I will once you become my wife. As just my lovely betrothed significant other, however, this is all that'll happen," he murmurs tenderly in her ear, feeling her breath upon his skin that shoots a current through his body that feels more exciting than when he shapeshifts. He stops himself from turning his head to capture her lips, even though he desperately wants to. He can hear her heart speed up and feel her breathing become more labored, but she is trying to hide it. He grins, knowing he has the same effect of her that she has on him. "Once you become Mrs. Danvenshire, you are never going to leave my arms, never going to escape my kisses, or ever feel undesirable again. I'll always make you feel whole. I will love and protect you even more so than I have. Until you are officially my wife, I'll behave. Only then will I kiss you whenever, wherever, and as often as I like. I'll do my best to withstand your temptations and my own desires. Your lips and body will just have to be patient for my touch, and I must be patient too. So for now, I will keep my distance," he whispers as he reluctantly pulls away. She gathers her hair over her shoulder, holds his gaze as she starts to fidget with it, and pouts. 
"Which is until?"
"How does Tuesday sound, kitten?"
"So soon?!" Clara gasps and ducks under his arm into her store. Buck chuckles, shuts, and locks her front door. Then he tenderly looks at the three women he considers to be the only people that matter to him. Clara braids her hair quickly and throws it over her shoulder so it rests in the middle of her back. "There's so much to do! I don't know if I can plan a wedding that quick! Or who I'm supposed to invite. Or-"
"Relax, kitten. The only people who I want there are in this room now. Nobody else matters. I told you I would marry you on the spot; you agreed in the mountains. Tuesday was the closest I could do. Hoops have been jumped through. Everything is in order. You can bake us something special if you want, but I just need you there. I'll give you more time if you want it, but I don't want to wait another minute - in all honesty. You are worth it though, Clara," Buck replies. He walks over to the pacing woman and places both hands on her shoulders. "On that mountain, you were carefree because you didn't have to worry about anything. So take a deep breath and picture yourself back on that mountain. Trust me and talk to me. Is there a better day you have in mind?" Clara meets his eye and grins as she shakes her head.
"Tuesday sounds perfect. Thank you. I look forward to it. I'm excited too. Until then, behave. Touching me is just going to make me want to kiss you again. I'm fine. I actually have put very little thought into my own wedding because if you aren't married before age 20, it won't happen. It's just a little overwhelming. But I faced worse and I like the idea of what may happen. Marrying you will be like a dream come true," she murmurs as she pulls his hands down.
"Excellent, I'm glad you are excited. I'll be good. And you were right, Talon; Ricardo lives," Buck remarks, giving Talon a big hug. Clara takes the basket filled with all kinds of seeds to the kitchen. Everyone follows her in and pulls up a chair.
"Mr. Matthis is not my Ricardo. He has a long way to go. It's why I didn't notice him last year; there was a funeral going on for his six year old son, Brian Matthis. The grief was too much in his and his stepdaughter's mind that they didn't even know the town had been attacked. I never gave his mind a second look because we were the Santiago family. He was proud of his heritage. He's changed and lost so much," she whispers as a tear falls down. "He married someone else. I waited for him."
"Mama, it's okay. Think of it this way, I'll gain a father and a sister," Mabel murmurs as she washes the dirt off her hands and face. Clara reaches over and squeezes Talon's hand sympathetically.
"And you'll finally get closure; you found him. You just found the greatest treasure," she whispers. Talon nods and hugs Mabel who had walked around the table.
"Mama, will washing the honey and berries out of our hair be hard to do?" Mabel asks innocently. Talon chuckles and shakes her head. After smoothing her daughter's hair down, she secures it with a ribbon.
"Not at all, my dear," Talon declares. 
"What exactly did you do to your hair?" Buck chuckles. 
"It was all Clara. I just sat there. Well, actually, I wiggled a lot. I guess I did alright."
"You did fine, little one. Clara my dear, you are brilliant," Buck praises.
"Thank you. It was easy and fun. The berries gave the illusion of dirt. However, Mabel, your brown hair and your mother's brown -almost black- hair made it a little harder to see dirt, so that was a challenge in and of itself. And the honey makes it look like you guys have been living without a comb. Your hair will take on a healthy glow and smell delicous. I'll boil some water and help you comb it out after supper. You two are welcome to raid my closet upstairs right now if you would like. We didn't age your clothes, so you won't be making a mess of my house. I know it's not much, but all I have you guys are welcome to," Clara insists. Talon smiles warmly.
"Thank you Clara. You are very kind."
"It's okay, Clara. I don't like changing clothes too much. Truth is, I would rather be without clothes or wear the same ones all the time. I'm just excited to be here with you! But you know what I'm most excited about? Uncle Buck marrying you! He's excited about it more than me, even if he denies it. So you'll wed him and I can call you Aunt Clara. I really can't wait to see the wedding. I bet it will be the most beautiful union ever," Mabel squeals. Clara smiles and nods.
"You can call me your aunt now if you want; I think it's a great honor that you see like family. I don't know if I'll be able to always be a great-"
"Clara, you might let me down from time to time, but I'll still like you. I love you," the little girl insists.
"We all do," Talon adds. Clara blushes. "You can admit it if you want."
"How about if I say it after the wedding? Afterall the wedding will be here soon enough. Five days is nothing in comparison to a lifetime with a great guy. I already think highly of all of you. Yes, I do even love you guys, but you've had more time to mull over your emotions," Clara murmurs. Buck walks up behind her and kisses her neck. She gasps and ducks away causing everyone to chuckle. "You can't keep sneaking up on me!"
"And you can't keep avoiding my touch, kitten. Why do you keep pulling away from me?" Buck inquires as he turns her round and holds onto her hips. 
"You're just so great. But me, I'm not," she confesses as she drops her head. Buck pulls her in for an embrace. She rests her head on his shoulder. 
"Your perfect for me, kitten," he insists as he kisses her temple. She grins, kisses his cheek, and pulls away. "Clara."

"Buck," she mocks. 
"Your are more than perfect for him. Buck is simply the best and will treat you right. Mabel and I will help with all of the preparations. We'll have lots to do to make their day special. They both have been looking forward to this day for over a year. Don't deny it, Clara. You needed time, but it would have come to you. Two weeks tops and it would have been all you could think about. Marry him; he'll always take care of you," Talon replies.
"I will. I know," Clara whispers turning bright red as she adds some ingredients to her pot on the stove.
"And I'll have my kitten in my arms forever," Buck whispers as he playfully tugs on Clara's braid. She smiles, moves to the stove, and begins to prep dinner. 
"No place I would rather be. And I'll have my best friends by my side to support me," she murmurs.
"We will definitely be there. I think it's possible that we all can find our happy endings in this town," Talon remarks as she stands up, pushes Clara into Buck's arms, and finishes preparing the meal. "Stop trying to do the busy work. Happiness starts here. You long to be in his arms. You don't have to follow society's rules around us and wait for the wedding. Don't worry about anything; Mabel and I can handle things. These next five days will pass quickly. We'll move out and you'll begin your life together. Then you can hold each other forever." Clara sighs contently and relaxes into his arms completely.
"This is where you belong, kitten. I look forward to holding you for the rest of our lives," Buck murmurs as he pulls her closer and rubs her neck.
"Five days is so far away. I don't want to wait that long. I enjoyed waking up next to you," she grumbles.
Buck kisses her nose and grins. "I promise to make it worth the wait, kitten. You belong with this family and in my arms. Five days, then I can call you Mrs. Lion."
"Ooh you think so? Be a good kitty and you can call me whatever you want," Clara teases.
"My wife is all I will ever need to call you. Mine, kitten. Mine," he whispers, causing her to grin as he pulls her in for a delicate peck.

© 2017 Lynaelee

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Added on August 11, 2017
Last Updated on November 25, 2017



Sometimes I feel like I need an outlet to express myself. I have never been good with verbal communication, but I have always found an out in writing. I hurt. I bleed. I make mistakes. I cry. Yes,.. more..

If only If only

A Book by Lynaelee

1. *Prologue* 1. *Prologue*

A Chapter by Lynaelee