A Centaur's Love Ch. 02byAMY_Monaco©
Callum didn't work as long as he would have that day and returned in the evening to find his home warm with a blazing fire and food cooking in pots. It was as if he traveled back into time or receded into a vivid memory. One of many he'd conjured often after the death of his son. Yet there were differences.
The items on his shelf were neatly stacked and organized. Dust no longer covered the books and jars. Items weren't scattered all over the sides of the longhouse. The cushions and pillows of the bed were plumped, the blankets folded, the furs stacked neatly. Towels were hanging to dry near the fire.
It was the atmosphere of the home. There was a presence, a warm one. He half expected to see Katerina come out of the pantry to greet him with a searing kiss before she knelt down to take his aroused cock into her mouth, as she often liked to do.
The sight of Lila emerging from the pantry broke him out of his trance. She held in her arms a basket of fruit, which she set down on a cupboard.
She smiled shyly. "Just in time. The stew is ready."
It was hearty, filled with potatoes, carrots and meat. Bread she had baked in a pan was golden and soft. It was more than what he could have cooked and though he was grateful, it made him uneasy.
In the camp, an unmated woman cooking a meal for an unmated centaur was an intimate act. Callum didn't bother to mention it, yet he couldn't ignore the fact. Lila served him before she served herself.
Flavors burst in his mouth, the meat was tender and the broth thick, just the way he liked it.
"This is good."
She beamed from his compliment. "Save room for dessert. I baked some apples."
He imagined having her for dessert. He would love to be the one to teach her the art of lovemaking. He wondered how responsive she would be to him. Would she part her legs for him in abandon when he touched her wet slit? Or would he have to tease and taunt her to reveal such a prize?
"By the gods," He muttered to himself. He shouldn't be thinking such things about her.
"Nothing." They ate in silence for a moment, then he asked, "Did Scorpius return?"
"Yes. But I sent him away as you said."
When he tried reaching for another piece of bread, his hand brushed hers. She blushed immediately and looked down at her plate.
That night, she settled under the furs and watched Callum do the same. He kept himself a good distance away from her and she found herself wanting to snuggle up against him. She'd never wanted to be physically close to Henry. When she got to know Henry, it turned out he was controlling, manipulative, and cruel. And worst of all, he enjoyed inflicting pain on others.
Once she had caught Henry slapping his maid mercilessly and Lila interfered. He then turned his wrath on her. It was the reason why she ran away the first time, only he'd found her and punished her more.
Lila shuddered at the memory. She told herself she was safe here. Henry wouldn't ever in a million years think to find her among the centaurs. Callum would protect her.
In all his gruffness and quietness, she knew Callum was kind. She had no doubt that he would protect her from anything or anyone. Her heart fluttered at the mere thought of him. He was so darkly handsome. Being around him seemed to make her nervous and shy. Of course, he would have his pick of women. Was that the reason why she hadn't been ravished by him – because he preferred others more curvy or sophisticated?
Scorpius had explained that centaurs brought only maidens to their camps, and only if they intended them as mates. The fact that Callum had brought her here without intentions of mating caused a stir in the camp. But then, he'd brought her here for her safety. Lila felt disappointed that she couldn't be his.
Picturing his hands, she wanted him touching her. She wanted to feel the passion of a woman and she wanted Callum to be the one who took her. Quietly, she shifted closer to him, stopping until their bodies were inches away. It was as close as she dared to move.
Callum was gone when Lila woke the next morning. As she sat up, she found herself missing his presence. The fire continued to burn, warming the longhouse. She quickly dressed, donning her only gown she had before combing out the tangles in her hair with the silver backed brush she'd brought along. With the few pins she had left, she twisted her hair up off her neck. The food leftover she warmed up to eat and sought out ingredients to put together for lunch.
She skewered some meat and vegetables and roasted them over the fire, sitting down to watch the flames. She brought her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. Her grandfather had been a blacksmith and she remembered spending afternoons with him, watching him create things from metal that was so hot, it burned orange and red. She had thought her grandfather to be the cleverest person. Thinking of him now made her miss him.
It had been a long time since she'd had anyone to call family. Her grandfather had passed on several years ago and then about a year ago, Henry came along. He'd been sweet and kind to her, bringing her little gifts and taking her on outings in his little carriage. He wasn't the wealthiest, but his position as a shopkeeper provided him a good living. He'd proposed marriage. It was only after their betrothal was formally announced did he start to show his true character.
Lila shook her head. No, Henry can't find her here, she told herself. This would be the last place he would think of.
From the cupboard, she found a small basket and some tea towels. She put the meat and vegetables into a bowl and gathered utensils, putting it all into the basket, along with leftover bread from last night and some fruit. Wrapping herself into her coat, she headed out.
Several centaurs were out in front of their homes working and a group of colts were having target practice near an opening by some trees, their voices lively and laughing. Several women, wrapped in warm capes and scarves shuffled between longhouses and tents. The sight of such a harmonious camp made Lila smile.
But after walking several yards, she realized the camp was much larger than she thought. She stopped where she was, shivering, wondering where the forge was.
"You look lost."
Lila turned. A large centaur stood before her, this one possessing golden blond hair that reached past his shoulders. His gray-eyed gaze met hers.
"Yes, I can't seem to find the forge. Could you point me in that direction?"
"You are Callum's mate?"
She shook her head and the centaur smiled.
"News of your presence in the camp has spread like wildfire. Many wonder whether you are mated to him."
"No, I needed a place to stay and he brought me here."
"Unusual circumstance." He murmured. "My name is Phineas."
"Nice to meet you, Phineas. I'm Lila."
"The forge is past the well and when you come to the center of the camp, you cannot miss it."
"All right. Thank you."
She found it easily and entered. The forge was huge and spacious. Sounds of hammering and the clashing of iron on metal grew louder as she slowly made her way in. It was hot in there, for several large fires were built up.
A centaur pounding on a thin piece of metal stopped abruptly as he saw Lila pass by. Several others did the same, reluctantly going back to work, but curiously glancing her way. What was she doing here, they wondered.
Callum laid the iron on the anvil and pounded with all his might. Occasionally, the image of Lila would seep into his thoughts, causing his grip on the hammer to tighten until his muscles strained. By the gods, even now he could smell her in the forge above all the smoke and heated iron. The muscles in his stomach clenched and momentarily, he closed his eyes, urging his mind to clear. He was imagining it.
He sunk the metal into a bucket of water and happened to look up. He stopped. Lila stood there in all her innocent beauty, smiling up at him. He blinked. No, she was real, he realized after several moments. She was not something conjured up from his fantasies. He set his tools down, glancing at several of the centaurs that were watching them. He gave them all a hard look before turning his attention to her.
"What are you doing here?"
"I didn't know if you returned home to eat or not, so I brought you lunch."
Home. He stared down at the basket she held out. Her thoughtfulness made him stop. The others who were watching them kept eyeing her up and down.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your work." She said, breaking his long silence. "If you want me to go, I'll just leave this – "
"I am filthy. Just give me a moment to clean up." He led her into what resemble a small barn.
By the time he was cleaned up, Lila had set up a place to eat. He was halfway through his meal when he finally spoke. "You did not have to do this."
"But I want to, Callum."
He liked the sound of his name on her lips, but he kept silent.
"I wanted to do something nice. After all, you brought me to safety."
"You owe me nothing." He answered gruffly.
"I owe you my life." She looked him in the eye. "He would have hurt me badly if he'd found me."
"Well, he won't find you here. I will see to your protection myself." He chewed on the bread, washing it down with water. He caught one of the centaurs peaking in on them.
Abruptly, Callum shook his head. "You shouldn't be here, Lila."
"Oh...well, I'll just take these things back. I ought to say hello to your brothers and sister, I haven't done so yet."
Callum rubbed the back of his neck, fisting his other hand. He had never been good with poetry and finesse, the things women wanted. "I have a lot of work to do." Was all he could offer.
Lila smiled at him as she stood up. "I know. My grandfather was a blacksmith, so I understand. Will you be back for supper?"
She was already walking away when he prompted himself. "Thank you...for the meal."
She nodded. "I will see you this evening."
Callum made himself walk back into the forge, ignoring everyone's stares.
"You are not taking her to the mating tonight?" Asked one named Corwin.
Callum swore. He'd forgotten. One of the younger centaurs had taken a mate and the ceremony was to be at midnight in the center of the camp.
"Word has spread that you are her guardian, since you have not mated with her. Is this true?"
"I don't see how this is your concern." Callum answered. Corwin chuckled.
"I would like to court her if she isn't yours." Callum glared at the centaur. "Leave her be. She's too young."
"She's my concern, so if I catch you bothering her, you will answer to me."
Corwin lifted a slashing eyebrow. "You may be her guardian, but she is allowed to choose to mate or not, Callum. If she consents, I will take her as mine."
"You're letting your cock rule your mind."
Corwin smirked. "We are centaurs. It is in our blood."
Lila visited Callum's sister, Rose after leaving the forge. Rose was with Laura, her cousin-in-law, both women sitting comfortable and both glowing with their pregnancies.
"I must admit your circumstance is very strange." Laura said, being the one out of the three to have been here the longest. "It's time he moved on. He should take you as his."
"Move on?" Lila asked, accepting a cup of herbal tea from Rose. "You mean he was mated?" She couldn't help but feel envy for the woman. "Did she die?"
"No, but she's as good as." Laura said meanly. "That woman betrayed him and committed a crime that, would she have been caught by the centaurs, would have been put to death."
"What did she do?" Perhaps this explained why Callum acted the way he did, seeming to distance himself from kindness and others.
"Perhaps Callum should be the one to tell her, Laura." Rose said.
Laura shook her head. "No, I think she would be the last person he would tell." She examined Lila's face. "But I see the curiosity is proving too much for you. You must really care for him, Lila."
Lila blushed. "Well, I'm grateful he's helped me...and he's very handsome."
"He's curt, to the point of being rude." Laura added.
"And he's always glaring at people." Rose chimed in, though there was no heat in her words. But Lila, as naïve as she was took the bait and shook her head insistently.
"No, he may seem like that, but I think it's because he doesn't see the need to communicate in so many words as we do. He possesses a kind heart and an honorable one, though I think he doesn't want anyone to know..."
Rose and Laura smiled to each other. "It sounds like you're falling in love with him."
Lila thought for a moment. "No...well, maybe I am."
"She deserves to know, then." Rose said.
Laura was the one who spoke. "Callum was mated years ago, to a woman named Katerina. Like all women first brought here, she was reluctant to accept this life. She was more so, I guess, because she'd come from a wealthy family. She was a little spoiled. Callum loved her nonetheless and eventually, she gave in. To everyone, it looked like she was happy. They had a son, Antony."
"Callum had a child?"
"Callum doted on him, loved him so much and wanted more children. Katerina refused and because he loved her, he accepted this. For a while, all was well. Then one day Katerina became disgusted with her life. While Callum was at the forge, she slit Antony's throat and disappeared. Callum came home to find his son dead, bled to death."
"Oh, Callum." Lila whispered, tears welling up in her eyes and she covered her mouth, unable to imagine the pain he must have experienced. "What happened to her?"
"Callum never saw her again. At least as far as everyone knows."
"How sad. How terribly tragic."
"It's been many years and he's had time to heal." Rose said, then adding lightly, "You ought to go to the mating tonight."
"The ceremony. You'll be able to witness a couple united for life. Callum can take you."
Lila didn't miss the look exchanged between the two women.