Haven's Wood Ch. 04bynotmy_realname©
Natasha sat in the car watching the town flick past the window and giving way to the denser woods.
After James had gotten dressed he'd taken Natasha to his Landrover, thrown her bag in the back then bundled her into the passenger seat. He'd gotten in, started driving and not offered a word of explanation.
When they had been in the dining room and he'd been running his hands over her body, she'd been consumed by desire for him. Now sat in the car as he brooded next to her she felt her head clear a little, she began to think about the situation she'd gotten herself into.
She didn't really know what it meant that he was a werewolf. Obviously she couldn't rely on her knowledge of fairy tales to help her through as it didn't seem to matter if the moon was out for him to change. If that wasn't true why should anything else she'd read be true?
What did he expect of her? He'd said that they were soul mates. That he wouldn't let her leave. She didn't like the idea of being trapped, having her fate tied to someone else. But the idea of a soul mate did appeal someone that would love her and care for her, someone that would support her. Natasha really wanted those things, but she wasn't sure whether the cost would be too high.
As she watched the world fly by she began to question her decision to come with him. While he hadn't really given her much choice she hadn't really put up much of a fight. The problem was that as soon as he got close to her, she couldn't think of anything other than him; how strong he was, how she felt safe with him, how she wanted nothing more than to fall into his arms and let him hold her.
She decided that the only way she could trust her decisions was if she made them away from his intoxicating presence. She needed to keep some space between them, so that she knew her thoughts were her own, not influenced by whatever it was between them.
James had been driving them out of town in the direction of the nature reserve she'd been told to avoid. After about 15 minutes he turned off the road onto a dirt track, which Natasha hadn't even noticed until they were driving down it.
They were soon out of sight of the main road and truly surrounded by wilderness. Natasha realised just how isolated this place James was taking her to really was. The trees were becoming so dense that little light was reaching the car. Natasha felt the darkness closing in on her and began to feel a sense of panic rising.
James heard Natasha's breathing getting faster and shallow. He glanced over and saw that she had tensed up. He realised how this must seem to her. He'd dragged her into a car, and driven her off, without a word. He'd been too busy trying to calm his wolf and himself to explain to her where they were going. Now they were driving down a dirt track completely hidden from view. She probably though he'd taken her somewhere to kill her!
"Don't worry it opens out again in a moment." James said softly. "We cultivated this stretch of woods to be as uninviting as possible to dissuade people from wandering onto our pack lands."
True to his word the woods began to thin out again, the sunlight pouring back through the canopy, bringing the warmth of the day with it.
Natasha let out a breath she didn't realise she'd been holding, and allowed herself to relax back into the leather seat.
"So, is that where we're going? To where your pack lives?" Natasha asked.
"We're going to the main compound, most but not all of the pack lives there. The pack has grown a lot in the last couple of centuries so we gave some of the younger ones a chance to build new homes outside the compound. That's how Haven's wood came about."
Natasha's mind caught on the phrasing 'last couple of centuries' and 'we gave'. She was about to ask about it when the thought went clean out her mind. The reason was that she had spotted a wall. A very high wall that stretched out in both directions as far as she could see and in front of them was a rather imposing gate.
Natasha began to panic as she realised that James wasn't slowing down as they approached the very solid wrought iron gate. Just as she was about to say something the gate swung open. She looked back as they passed through and saw that on the inside of the wall there was a guard post, where the gate must be controlled. She saw a couple of men watching them as they went by. Natasha however watched the gate swing shut behind them.
"James," Natasha began, her voice wavering. "I really don't like being locked in places."
James looked over at her, his brow creased with worry. She really did seem more afraid of that gate then she had been of anything else so far. There was obviously something in her past he needed to know about.
"The gate isn't to lock you in. It's to keep the rest of the world out. It's so that the pack can be a pack in here, it gives us the freedom to be ourselves without worry." James told her gently, hoping to calm her fears.
Natasha nodded her head in response but said nothing.
James let her sit in quiet not knowing how to help. He wanted her to feel safe here, not trapped. There was, however, a nagging thought in the back of his mind that maybe she was right to be afraid. He'd told her that he wouldn't let her leave and now had her in a secure compound with no intention of letting her leave his side. He just knew that he wasn't strong enough to let her go.
James pulled the car up in front of a huge building. It looked like a country manor built by nobility in the 1600s. It looked big enough to house the whole population of the village they had just left twice over and still have room to spare.
Natasha didn't have long to gawk at the magnificent building because James whipped her out the car. Then took her by the hand and all but pulled her towards the entrance of the building.
James wanted to get Natasha into his suite as quickly as he could he didn't like the fact that there would be so many unmated males around, and he doubted that Natasha would want him to cover her in his scent right now.
One of the lads who worked in the garage stood near the steps up to the door. The poor boy looked torn with indecision. It was his job to collect the keys and park the car in the garage. The problem was that the pack had been warned that James might be a little possessive of his new mate and they should give him plenty of space when he was with her.
James was so intent on getting Natasha inside that he didn't notice there was a problem until, Natasha tugged on his arm. He turned to look at her confused. She simply pointed at the poor boy, who looked like he'd just been sentenced to death.
James gently looked into the boy's mind and saw the turmoil there.
"Will" he called to the boy. The moment the lad looked over James tossed the car keys to him. The boy's face almost split he was smiling so hard.
"Thank you, Alpha. Is there anything else you need?" The relief in the boy's voice was evident.
"My mate's bag is in the back. Tell Sophia. She'll know what to do with it."
The boy nodded in acknowledgement and raced off to do as his alpha had bidden.
James turned to Natasha.
"Thank you. You really are wonderful you know." James resisted the urge to kiss Natasha's confused face, and instead resumed his march towards his suite.
Natasha was utterly confused by the whole exchange, and once again had no time to think on it as James was hauling her off into the house again.
The inside of the house was as magnificent as the outside but lacked the ostentatiousness that Natasha was expecting. It was very grand but somehow felt like a home. It wasn't some noble's posh country home as she had expected, it was far too full of life.
Natasha didn't have much time to appreciate her surroundings as James swept her up the grand curved staircase and through a large pair of double doors at the top of the landing.
As soon as they were through the doors James relaxed. He let go of Natasha's hand so she could look around while he shut the doors behind them.
The rooms they had entered looked like a whole different world to the mansion they had just driven up to. They had entered into a large room that looked like a sitting room and bedroom in one. At the front of the room there were a couple of large, black, L shaped sofas facing a stunning wood burning fireplace, above which hung a large flat screen TV. There were a couple of stairs at the back of the room that led up to the bed. It was a beautiful wooden framed bed with deep blue linen covers.
There were a couple of other rooms leading off from the main room. Natasha glimpsed what looked like a study through one doorway and a bathroom through another.
Natasha felt a little more relaxed in the suite, it didn't feel quite so overwhelming. With the door shut she could pretend that she was just in a flat somewhere, not a mansion in the middle of a huge estate!
James happily watched Natasha as she looked around his rooms. He felt more at one with his wolf than he had since he'd first caught her scent in the bar. He had his mate where she belonged, safe and with him.
James was pleased to see that the tension that had gripped her since they passed through the gates had all but left her. When he saw her straighten her back and turn to face him he knew the moment of peace was probably over.
"I think it's time we talked." Natasha told him.
James sighed, walked over to one of the sofas and dropped into it.
"Of course, I'm sure you have a lot of questions." James replied before adding, with a devilish twinkle in his eye. "I had hoped that that we'd be doing something a little more fun once I got you all alone in my room, but I guess that can wait, a little while."
Natasha, remembering her vow to keep some space between them positioned herself behind the second sofa, so that it was between the two of them.
A silence descended on the room. James sat watching Natasha, waiting patiently. Natasha looked around the room as she tried to wrestle her thoughts into order.
"I don't even know where to begin!" Natasha finally declared in frustration.
James smiled gently at her. "I'd give you some advice but this is a first for me too."
After another moment of silence Natasha suddenly remembered the odd exchange with the boy when they arrived.
"Why did that boy look so scared of you when we arrived? And why did you thank me?"
James looked a little embarrassed.
"He was scared because he didn't want to approach me when I was with you. Male wolves are a little possessive of our mates, especially before we've claimed them. He was afraid that if he came near I might lose my temper. He also knew that he was expected to get the keys from me so he could do his chores." James paused to look at Natasha hoping not to see fear, or disgust on her face, she just looked thoughtful, so he continued.
"I thanked you because you noticed something that I should have. I should have noticed his fear and I shouldn't have let it happen. It's my job to look after my pack not to scare them, but I was so wrapped up in my need to have you safe that I couldn't see anything else. You did what I should have done. You put aside your own feelings in order to help the pack." James's voice was filled with admiration as he said this.
Natasha shook her head a little at this last comment.
"I just saw a scared boy and reacted, it wasn't anything special." Natasha carried on to her next question before James could disagree with her. "He called you Alpha, is that because you run the pack?"
James didn't miss the fact that she had brushed away what she had done, much as she had brushed away any compliment he'd tried to give her.
"I run the pack because I am an alpha." James replied. Seeing that this confused her even more he tried to explain. "Wolves need structure and we respect strength. Only the strongest is allowed to lead the pack, because only the strongest can protect the pack. Only Alpha wolves, the strongest most dominant wolves can lead a pack. The role we each perform in the pack is based on our abilities and our preferences. We all know where we stand and we all work in different ways to support the pack."
"I guess there's a logic to that. How long have you been in charge of this pack?" Natasha asked remembering his comment from the car.
"I'm not sure exactly." James hedged, not sure how she'd react when she found out. "A long time."
"How long, is a long time?" Natasha asked her suspicion raised.
"More than three and half centuries." James replied quietly.
"Centuries?" Natasha asked, a little stunned to have her suspicion confirmed.
"Do I want to know how old you are?" Natasha asked.
"Probably not." James chuckled.
Natasha decided he was right she was having a hard enough time dealing with the fact that he was able to turn into a wolf. Adding an age difference counted in centuries probably wouldn't help matters.
"OK, how old do you tell humans you are?" Natasha asked instead.
"I don't, it's not a common question across the business table." James grinned at her.
Natasha smiled and shook her head at him.
"May I ask you a question?" James asked softly.
"Sure, seems only fair." Natasha replied.
James paused for a moment thinking about how to phrase what he wanted to know.
"You said you don't like to be locked in." He waited, knowing that she might not like this line of thought.
Natasha took a deep breath, before focusing on him.
"That's not a question." She smiled a little sadly as she said this, and then began to pace a little behind the sofa.
The silence stretched out between them as Natasha paced.
James continued to wait.
"You're as bad as Katie!" She suddenly exclaimed. "Is this a werewolf thing? Ask a person a question you know they don't want to answer, ignore their attempts to deflect your question, and then just sit in silence until the weight of the question fills the room and they have no choice but to answer!"
James smiled, thinking that Katie would be mortified to learn that Natasha thought they were alike.
Natasha let out a sigh.
"Fine. But before I explain I want some ground rules."
"Go on." James replied, intrigued now.
"I haven't talked about this before, not really. I need you to not interrupt me, not to ask any questions, and to not look at me with pity in your eyes, because I think that would crush me." She looked into James's eyes as if searching for something. Satisfied with what she saw, she took one more deep breath to steel herself before she began.
"I'm only telling you this because, you already told me your secret, so I guess I owe it to you. I also think you deserve to know the truth about me, so you can change your mind about wanting me."
Natasha looked at James as if daring him to interrupt her. James in response crossed his arms and sat back in his seat, nodding at her to continue.
"When I was nine my mum left me with her brother. She didn't want me anymore. I was too much trouble for her. My uncle was a powerful and wealthy man, and he didn't want me either, I was a burden he never asked for.
When my mother left me with him, I cried. My uncle just took me to a bedroom and locked me in. It was a very nice room. It had a big bed and there was a bay window with a window seat, and there was a bathroom. There were lots of books on the shelves, but nothing else. Nothing for a child.
He left me there, locked in that room, alone for 3 weeks.
It's not as bad as it sounds, he didn't let starve me or anything. There was a dumb waiter in the room. Meals appeared in it three times a day, really good high class food.
When I realised my mum wasn't coming back I started to read the books in the room, anything to not have to think about how alone I was stuck in that room.
When my uncle came back he found me reading one of the books. It was as though he'd forgotten that I was even there, he almost seemed surprised to see me in his house. I think he was just surprised that the worthless daughter of his brainless sister, could, read.
I asked him when I would be going to school. The thought hadn't even crossed his mind. He told me that he wouldn't suffer the disgrace of sending a child from his home to some dirty public school. And since my mother had left no money for my upkeep he certainly wasn't going to pay for my education. He told me that if I passed the scholarship exam at a boarding school of his choice I could go there. Otherwise he'd find a job for me so I would be out of his hair; he didn't have time to babysit a whiney little brat.
I passed the exams, to an exclusive school about 3 hours from my Uncle's home. I worked hard, afraid that if I lost my scholarship I'd be thrown out. At school the teachers hated me because of who my uncle was, and during the holiday's I went back to my Uncle's home to be locked in my room out of the way.
When I was eighteen I was accepted to university to study Physics. My uncle had become ill and decided that I could make up for all the money he spent feeding and clothing me by nursing him when I wasn't in my classes. I had to go to a university near his home not the one I'd wanted.
I'd hoped that university would be my chance to have some freedom but he took that dream from me. I owed him so much that I couldn't refuse to look after him. Besides if I hadn't he would have pulled strings so I couldn't go to any university.
I did manage to finish my degree and get my teaching certificate. I got a job at a local secondary school. I was there for one term. One day just before Christmas, I was called to a meeting with the headmaster. He told me how sad he was that I had to leave them to look after my uncle, and that they'd miss me but I was doing the right thing.
I knew nothing about it. My uncle had decided that I was the only one he could trust to look after him, and now that I was old enough to have a proper job I should spend my time looking after him, not some dirty children in a dirty school. So he 'fixed it'.
I looked after him every day for almost 2 years. Trapped in that empty house with him, just like when I was child.
When he died, I was relieved. How terrible is that. The only family I had, the only person who was willing to feed and clothe me and I was relieved when he died!
He left me nothing in his will, you know. He gave it all to a business partner. He said that I would just waste it anyway, after all even my brainless mother knew that I wasn't worth keeping.
I scrapped together my savings from the work I did and since then I've been travelling around, enjoying my freedom and looking for somewhere to start again.
I promised myself that I wouldn't let myself get locked in anywhere again."
Natasha had told the whole story in an almost monotone voice, her eyes fixed on something in the middle distance. It was as though she was telling a story about someone else.
"So that's my life story. I'm sure you understand that you don't want to be stuck with me now."
"Why do you think I wouldn't want you because of that?" James asked intentionally keeping his voice as devoid of emotion as Natasha's had been.
"Can't you see? My own family didn't want me! The people that are supposed to love you unconditionally saw something so awful in me that they couldn't stand to be around me. I'm worthless and..."
James leapt across the room, interrupting what she was saying. He wrapped his arms around Natasha pulling her tight to his chest and resting his chin on her head.
"You are precious. You are smart, determined and caring. Just because your family couldn't see that doesn't mean that it isn't true. I won't hear anyone talk about you like that not even you."
Natasha weakly tried to push him away.
"You're wrong, you'll realise it eventually and then you won't want me, my own mother didn't want me!" Gone was the emotionless voice of her story telling, as the pain of her past began to overwhelm her.