As it turned out, the wolf was exactly what they needed. His senses felt much sharper than usual. Wolf didn't know if it was because he was looking through rose-colored glasses or if he was just tense because the Queen was so near. She had somehow made her way from the old ruined castle into the Fourth Kingdom, just in time for Prince Wendell's coronation. Wolf had a bad feeling about this. He suddenly realized that he had grown fond of the Prince during their journey together. The Queen intended to put the dog imposter on the throne. It just wasn't fair!
Wolf made sure that his steps were quick and deliberate. He wanted out of this wretched swamp as fast as possible. Virginia's hand was still in his, and he very much just wanted to stop and hold her. That wasn't going to save Prince, though, and they didn't have a lot of time. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun's light was almost starting to fade. Luckily, the swamp was nowhere near as large as the Disenchanted Forest. That had been a nightmare to navigate. Wolf smiled to himself at the memory of rescuing Virginia from the Huntsman. His smile faded when he thought of what he had to do next. Would she forgive him? Of course she would. She had said she loved him! If her love was true, she would understand. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts and deliberate steps that he was almost surprised when they came upon clean air and hard ground.
"Come on," he exclaimed, letting go of Virginia's hand and bounding forward through the tall weeds. He stopped with a mild gasp at the sight before them.
"Journey's end," he told him in a hushed voice. "Wendell's castle!"
"That's where the mirror is," said Tony.
"That's how we're going to get home," replied Virginia with a pensive sigh.
"Let's take a little rest before we go on," suggested Tony as he took off his jacket. "I'm going to find some water. Do one of you guys want to go get some wood?"
"I'll go," volunteered Wolf.
"Yeah, I'll go with you," said Virginia in a faraway voice. They both turned back toward the forest and began to gather firewood.
Wolf was keenly aware that they were finally alone. He couldn't keep his eyes off of her. Every time he would pick up a new stick he would glance her way, only to see that she was staring back at him. Hope sprung up in his chest at the sight of her. Wolf knew what he wanted to do. Would she accept him as her mate now? He didn't know if he could take it if she refused. Maybe he could ease her into it with a game. He felt listless and a little nervous when he finally spoke.
"Virginia?" Her eyes darted up to him as she bent to pick up another stick.
"Um. . . there's something I'd really like you to do for me – I mean, with me. And I think I deserve it, given my multiple savings of your life."
During his speech she had stood up straight, her rosy lips parted and her eyes round with wonder. Her cheeks were flushed in the most becoming way.
"I know what you want to do and the answer is yes," she said, all in one breath. Wolf dropped his pile of sticks in surprise and anticipation. He hadn't expected her answer to be so forthcoming.
"Oh! Oh, cripes!" He stepped toward her, barely holding himself together. He touched her soft, creamy hands softly, which were still clutching her bundle of sticks as if it were the only thing rooting her to the spot.
"I want you so much," Wolf exclaimed to her.
"I know. I want you, too," she replied. Her voice sent shivers down his spine.
"Alright, alright, alright," he growled softly. "You run into the woods, and I'll cover my eyes."
Virginia's eyebrows shot up, her eyes full of questions.
"Sorry?" Did he not make it clear?
"Into the trees! I'll cover my eyes and I'll count to one hundred!" Virginia gave a confused laugh.
"Are you serious?"
"Oh, yes! I won't cheat! I promise, I won't cheat." He scratched his temple the way he did when he was feeling particularly wolf-y. Virginia's laugh rung in his ears like the sweetest little bell.
"That's not the point," she told him.
"Alright, alright! Maybe I'll count a little quicker after fifty, but I promise you'll get a proper count from me."
"I am not playing hide and seek with you," she said with obvious humor.
Wolf was done trying to convince her. He covered his eyes and began to count loudly and deliberately.
"One, two, three –"
"– four, five, six," he peeked through his hands and Virginia ran away with a squeal, "seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen," the count was going to slow for him, "seventy-two, seventy-three, eighty-four, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one-hundred! Comiiiiiiiing!"
Wolf growled and sniffed the air. He liked this game already, mostly because of the prize at the end. He set off in one direction before realizing he made a mistake. He turned around and headed the opposite way, following Virginia's lovely scent. Her hormones were making him crazy. This was it.
He was impressed. She had tried to wind her way through the trees, going downwind. It was harder to catch her scent that way. He came across a small clump a bushes where she may have lingered for a bit before moving on, but she hadn't gone far. Virginia's scent was getting stronger and stronger. He felt like a giddy predator. He wanted to laugh and howl at the same time, but he mustn't give away his position. Virginia would run away even more! Wolf ran until the scent became fainter. That wasn't right. He turned around and barely caught a glimpse of her through another clump of bushes. She hadn't seen him yet so he decided to sneak up on her. His tail was beginning to feel rather cramped in the seat of his pants, as it was beginning to wag uncontrollably. Virginia was looking around her, but she was unaware of his presence. He popped out of the bushes with a playful growl. She squealed in surprise and laughed.
Wolf could take it no longer. He pounced, growling into her ear and nuzzling her neck. Virginia gave a growl of her own. The sound sent another shiver down his spine. He rolled her over on her back. He wasn't sure what kind of look he gave her, but she was looking at him with a carnal fire in her eyes.
Virginia was having just as much fun with this game as him. She accepted him as his mate. Finally, he thought. They stopped for a moment to stare into each others eyes, panting hard and growling. Virginia was grasping the lapel of his jacket roughly, as if she were forcing him to stay close to her. He liked that she had found some strength when he was gone.
She went over the edge with him and back, cradled in his arms. He hoped he hadn't hurt her in his passion. It took a moment for them both to calm down, but Wolf knew that he and Virginia had connected in an almost spiritual way.
"Cripes," Virginia gasped, running her hand through her hair. Wolf smiled and gave her a tender kiss. After the roughness, it felt even more intimate. His tail had somehow come free during their interlude and was now wagging tiredly.
"We should probably get back to Dad," she suggested.
"Yeah, okay," replied Wolf absentmindedly.
He didn't even notice that her jacket was hanging crooked off her shoulders, or that her steps were wobbly and meandering. Tony was waiting by a large tree with the water that he had found now in a pot, ready to boil.
"It's about time," Tony said. "Where's the wood for the fire?"
"Huh," mumbled Virginia. "Oh, we couldn't find any." It was a flimsy excuse, but Wolf didn't care.
"You couldn't find any wood in a forest?"
"Hello, Tony," mumbled Wolf, a little out-of-breath.
"You don't have any wood either," Tony accused.
"Yes, thank you," he replied, scratching his temple. His face and hair were sweaty, and he was sure his face was flushed from the exercise. His own steps were wobbly and unsure. It had finally happened. He could only think to himself, Follow Virginia.
The guests for the coronation began to arrive on the road by carriage, which were laden with presents. A boisterous man was laughing in a lovely blue and gold carriage. Wolf gasped.
"That's Old King Cole," he told them. "He looks good. They're all going to the castle for Wendell's coronation! Come on!" This time Virginia followed him without question, but Tony seemed confused about something. He wouldn't worried about that for now.
"Let's just walk in there," said Tony as Wolf began to search for a spot to rest at the roots of a large tree.
"No, this is no longer Prince Wendell's castle. It's controlled by the Queen. The guards may now be her eyes. We can trust no one."
"Wolf," said Virginia. She sat beside him, looking concerned.
"I have to tell you something."
"The Queen. . . "
". . . is my mother." The look in her eyes told him that she had been afraid of what he would think about this news. He decided to set her mind at ease.
"Oh. I knew that. From the first moment I smelled you." Virginia let out a small puff of air. Wolf would always love that look of wonder in her eyes. He lifted his hand to her temple and scratched it for her. He smiled at her, encouraging a small smile from her in return.
"Alright, what now," asked Tony. He'd had the sense to give Virginia some privacy for this news, but now he came closer.
"We'll wait here until dark until we try and enter the castle," replied Wolf.
"What do we do all day," asked Tony.
"Sleep," he replied with a private smile to Virginia. "We're exhausted, are we not?"
"Definitely," said a sleepy Virginia. Wolf lay back against the tree with one arm behind his head and the other arm wrapped securely around Virginia as she rested on his chest. He felt like he couldn't be happier in this moment.
"Did I miss something," asked Tony. Neither of them replied so he gave up and settled into a spot of his own.
Wolf sighed, content. Virginia was his now, only his. He wouldn't let anything take her away from him again. He was sure of that. He pushed the concerns about what might happen in the castle out of his mind. For now, he only wanted to be with her. He wanted to keep her safe as they both slept in the looming shadow of the Queen.