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“Absolutely not.” Bogdan Laird loomed over Lucas King. His bright blue eyes gleamed and his pale face was contorted in annoyance. It did little to intimidate the older man he was facing. Lucas King was a good six feet tall himself. The two cut an interesting picture of opposites.
Bog, as he was affectionately referred to by the citizens of Blackwood, was a tall man. He was in his usual work dress, a nice black dress shirt and black slacks. His short spiked hair was black and he was clean-shaven with a neat well-groomed appearance.

Lucas King was a middle-aged, smartly dressed businessman with salt and pepper hair and a matching beard. He was a bit overweight but held himself like a much younger fitter man. Bog didn’t scare him in the least.

Every month, for the last four months, Lucas King had sauntered into the Blackwood Tavern to speak with Bog. The request had been the same each time. His eldest daughter was getting married in the fall. They wanted to secure a small section of Blackwood Forest for a wedding and reception.

“There will be no weddings in my forest.” Bog kept his eyes on Lucas King, careful not to let his eyes stray to the young woman at his side, the future bride. She had caught his attention the moment she had entered with her father and younger sister.

This was the first time Lucas King had brought his daughters with him. Bog knew why. Lucas King was trying to manipulate him.

The older girl was well into her twenties with the same fair colored complexion as her father. She had short thick brown hair that was layered with amber highlights. Her eyes, which Bog only saw briefly, matched her hair. She was wearing a nice hip-length dark purple blouse with a subtle shiny flowery design in it. White dress pants and shiny-not-for-the-outdoors white shoes finished off her outfit.

The younger sister had a full and luxurious mop of curly blonde hair. It stuck up here and there like she had a permanent case of static electricity. She had a cherubic face and bright blue eyes. Unlike her sister, she was dressed for comfort. The tie-dyed peach and orange sundress she had on matched her hyperactive movements. It naturally flowed with her.

The younger had already strayed off and was flirting with Bog’s much younger brother. The bronze-skinned innocent was completely taken off guard by the beautiful flirt. Sunny had been adopted when he was a much younger child and he was dark complected with dark brown hair. It was spiked up like Bog's and he was wearing the same black dress shirt with black pants.

The older sister stood by her father. Her expression said this entire meeting was awkward and she wished she was anywhere but here. She kept her soulful amber lit eyes off of Bog. He assumed it was his appearance that made her look away. When he was angry, he didn’t look exactly welcoming.

“Ye can leave now.” Bog took a step back. He was uncomfortable with the girl’s manners. She could at least look him in the eye. Instead, she seemed to be fixated on his legs. Bog was painfully aware of how people saw him. He was too tall and too thin with broad shoulders.

However, he was fit and in full control of his body. Bog came across as a person who was always aware of his surroundings and on guard. At times he looked like stalking predator. Bog didn’t enjoy that perception, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

The girl, Cari, Cori, Mari? Bog had been so angry when he had seen Lucas King that he hadn’t paid attention to her name. She was biting her lower lip and she glanced up at Bog, meeting his brilliant blue eyes for the briefest of seconds. Her eyes glinted with the most amazing fiery light. Bog couldn’t remember seeing in any girl from Rock Castle with that kind of repressed intensity. This girl was more trouble than she first appeared.

“I will pay you twice as much to use this one area.” Lucas King persisted. He gestured with his hands to show he was ready to throw around a massive amount of money. The amount he had offered had doubled with every visit. Why shouldn’t it? He was rich and his spoiled daughters got everything they wanted.

“Dad.” Jenni, Nancy, Tammy? The girl spoke her first word and it came out with a strain of embarrassment that Bog was all too familiar with. He glanced to the side where his mother was standing behind the bar with a cloth in one hand. She was pretending, very badly, that she was cleaning. Zelda ran the cloth up and down the bar while she listened in on the conversation. She was giving Bog a dirty look.

“Marianne, let me handle this.” Lucas King patted his daughter on the shoulder before turning a more serious look at Bog. “Why won’t you let us hold a wedding in the forest? You let complete strangers wander through the woods. They go camping, eat here and hold gatherings. A public road goes through your town.” The road did go through town, splitting the forest around it into two separate pieces. The smaller side on the south was open to the public. The north was off-limits to everyone but townspeople and it was heavily guarded.

“No weddings.” Bog doubled down, dragging the s into a hiss. “It doesn’t matter if it’s ye or any random other couples. No weddings. I’m not singling ye out.”

“You don’t allow anyone from Rock Castle into the North forest for anything.” Lucas King pointed out sharply. Bog leveled a dark gaze on the elder man. He had his reasons. Lucas King had his theories. Neither wanted to prove them one way or another.

“I only allow people to hunt fer food an cull problem beasties." Bog spoke low and seriously his eyes fixated on Lucas King’s. “I determine what comes an goes in there. Ye are not allowed because ye have no respect.”

Lucas King snorted in annoyance. “We aren’t planning on hunting.”
“Fer now.” Bog rolled his eyes and found Marianne looking at him. He fe

lt embarrassed and turned away, running a hand through his hair. She was looking at him. He had her complete attention.
He didn’t want it.

He heard his mother clucking her tongue by the bar.

“I have my reasons.” Bog growled turning back to Lucas King. He jabbed a finger in the direction of the door. “We are done. Please leave.” He was terse but far more polite than he had been during their last conversation. As much as he did not like Lucas King, his daughters were here. In Bog’s eyes, they were ladies and deserved to be respected based on that fact alone. He would treat them as such unless they gave him a reason not to.

“Very well.” Lucas King nodded. “Dawn, we are leaving.” He draped one arm around Marianne’s shoulders. She worried her lower lip like she was uncertain and wanted to say something. It was a little cute and Bog was waiting to see what she was holding back. She chose not to speak, much to Bog's disappointment.

“Oh, dad!” Dawn giggled as she continued to fluster the object of her attentions. She had a phone in one hand and had finished entering his number into it. “This is Sunny!” She grabbed the boy by the arm and hauled him after her to meet her father. Lucas King gave the boy one critical look and then he closed his eyes and sighed. Sunny wilted at the unspoken criticism.

“Dawn. It’s time to go.”

“Dawn!” Marianne launched into action, chiding her younger sister. She had to pry her hand off of Sunny’s arm, but did so in a sisterly fashion, grabbing her sister’s wrist in her slender hands. She had very pretty hands. She gave Sunny a brilliant smile of apology. “I’m sorry about this, Sunny. She’s a little handsy.”

“Oh, it’s okay!” Sunny said with more apology than thanks. He smiled at Dawn. Sunny was clearly stricken by the pretty blond girl. She had an infectious aura of happiness and joy that flowed off of her. She giggled and blew him a kiss. Her father sighed again, a deeper resigned sigh. Bog scowled, the lines across his face deepening in disgust.

The Kings made their way out the front door without any further incidents. Before the door closed behind them, Marianne turned and held it open. She smiled at Bog and her eyes twinkled. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Bogdan Laird.” Then she closed the door and missed Bog making a completely baffled face. Half of his upper lip lifted and his jaw dropped. She had actually meant it. He could hear it in her voice. He had expected something more sarcastic when she opened her mouth.

“Bog, close your mouth. It’s rude to leer at young women.” While his mother’s voice was cheerful and teasing, Bog was immediately self-conscious. He snapped his mouth shut so hard he almost bit his tongue.

“I am not leering, Mother.” He groaned in her direction.

“They are sooo pretty!” She clasped her hands together and beamed up at her tall son. Then Zelda spoke her mind. “I would love one of them as a daughter-in-law.”

“Not happenin’.” Bog turned away from her. She attempted to fix him up with every single available woman that walked through the door. “Unless ye want a dead son an I prefer being alive.” He turned back to his mother, gesturing wildly, “Mom! They are KINGS! They are HUNTERS!” He glanced around the tavern. Only regulars. “You know what they will do if they figure out what lives in the woods. Everyone in Blackwood would be in danger an I can not risk their lives.”

“I know, Dear.” Zelda patted Bog’s arm as he frowned and looked at the door.

“It is my responsibility to keep everyone nice and safe and inside Blackwood.” Bog stressed more to himself than his mother.

“She was pretty though.” Sunny whistled appreciatively, his eyes still fixed on the door.

“Did you give her your number?” Bog snapped at the younger man.

“Oh uhm,” Sunny squirmed, his whole face an admission that yes, he had. “Maybeee.” Bog glared at Sunny.

“Ye are not to talk to that girl. She’s trouble.” It was an outright command and Bog expected to be obeyed. Nobody talked back to him or questioned his judgment. No one except his mother and while it may have been annoying, it didn’t bother him. “I mean it, Sunny.”

Sunny’s phone made a tinkling sound and his face turned crimson. Bog didn’t say another word. He glared.

Bog looked back up at the front of the tavern. Through the windows he saw the expensive SUV leave the parking lot and make its way onto the busy main road. Bog didn’t know a lot about weddings, but he did know that they took months to secure locations ahead of the time.

They wanted a fall wedding when the leaves would be changing colors. They only had a few months to secure a location and were dead set on getting into the forest. Bog could say no all he wanted. If the Kings wanted into the forest they would find a way with or without his permission. Bog decided that as soon as fall arrived he would step up the patrols. The border between Rock Castle and Blackwood needed to be protected. It was the only way to keep everyone safe.

A dull pain seized Bog’s heart and he lifted his hand to rub over his chest. No. Marianne’s beautiful eyes were fixed in his thoughts for a moment. Absolutely not. That was not possible. Not her. A sense of loss filled his soul and brought with it a heavy sadness. Bog wanted to see her again. He pushed the feeling down and away. He replaced it with plotting on how he was going to handle the King Wedding Situation.