As the foxlike creature was making its way back to its burrow, the wind changed. Raif stopped and raised its snout to the sky. There was a new smell. An aroma that it recognized instinctively, despite never having encountered before. The smell of a girl dog.
Raif arched its neck and howled.
At first, there was nothing. The creature galloped a short ways in the direction of the Girl-Dog-Smell, paused, and howled again. This time, though, there was a reply: a distant sound, strong and lonesome, perhaps a bit angry.
And Raif was suddenly lonely too.
Baying, it lunged through the forest towards the sound and the smell, its broad paws kicking up leaves and dirt as it ran. It needed—desperately—the Girl-Dog’s company. The desire was stronger than hunger or the urge to sleep, and nearly as powerful as thirst. It would have run forever for a chance to be by her side.
But then, abruptly, it was impeded. Panting heavily, it skittered to a halt at the base of a large stone wall. The Girl-Dog was on the other side of it, Raif knew. It sniffed at the obstacle, pacing anxiously in front of it, then howled again. She howled back, so close now, it could feel the vibrations of her voice through the pads of its paws.
Lupe’s distant howls resonated in the dining room windows.
“That damned dog,” Henry muttered into his hands.
“Well, what did you expect when you purchased a half-breed wolf for a pet?”
“She isn’t a pet, Jacobs.” He glared up at the priest from his slouched position in his dining chair. “She’s my bodyguard.”
“Some bodyguard she is if she’s out there, howling at the moon with you in here, defenseless.”
The young lord curled his lip. “Perhaps I wouldn’t need so much protecting if you didn’t go running your mouth about my personal business to everyone you meet.”
Sighing, Jacobs sat down in the seat adjacent to Henry’s and folded his hands on the table. “I told you, your lordship—there was nothing else I could have done. His grace was very insistent upon foisting his daughter onto you. The fact that you were already betrothed was the only answer that would satisfy him.”
“Couldn’t you have just told him that I wasn’t interested?”
“I tried that. He didn’t believe me. Not that I blame him. Lady Alina is of royal blood. Her father is fourth in line for the throne of the Southlands. With all due respect, your lordship, a fief lord like you should be honored that his grace would choose you for his daughter.”
“Furthermore, such a marriage would bring a fair sum of money into your estate. Your children would be well provided for.”
“Well provided for but inbred.” Henry crossed his arms over his chest. “Her mother is my second cousin, Jacobs. No amount of financial security could compensate for having my firstborn die of a nosebleed, or something. No.” He stood up abruptly. “I will marry Fiona. She is strong. She is healthy. I will marry a commoner, and that’s the end of it.”
“Where are you going, your lordship?”
“Out.” He paused, looking back over his shoulder. “I have to shut up that damned dog.”