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Fated Dates: Chapter 1

Willow

“We’re getting married in four months,” Quilliam says, squeezing Lulu’s hand as he gives his mate, and my future sister-in-law, a look of pure adoration.


The sunbeams burst through the large windows, illuminating the grand dining room with a warm glow, making the crystal glasses sparkle and the silverware shine. Because of course, my mum had the staff bring out the fine china for our weekly family brunch.


The smell of freshly brewed tea, baked croissants, and sizzling bacon fills the room. Again, this is all thanks to our wonderful staff, because my mum wouldn’t have dared do it. What if she broke a nail?


Okay, that’s a valid concern. I love getting my nails done professionally, and I’d hate to break one of my own nails. That doesn’t mean I won’t silently judge my mum for the same thing.


“What? Why so soon?” my mum whines, giving him a look of pure sadness. I’m sure it’s one she practices in the mirror, determined to get right so she can get her way more often. Her brows furrow in concern, her pitch rising. “That’s barely any time to find a good location!”


“Because we want to get married on our anniversary,” Lulu says, giving my mum a warm smile. “We were wondering if you’d let us have the wedding here.”


“Here? Really?” my mum asks, before eagerly nodding as a wide smile fills her face. I roll my eyes, although nobody pays me any mind as they go into the details of the upcoming nuptials.


She’s been banging on about that all morning, planning where she’d set things up, who she’d hire, and of course my perfect brother is giving her exactly what she wants.


I should be surprised Lulu’s going along with it, but I’m not.


She’s the daughter my mother could ever want, and she plays the role so fucking perfectly.


“What’s that sour look for?” Quill asks, nudging me under the table. I didn’t realise I had zoned out, but my mum and Lulu are pouring over some wedding magazines, and my brother’s plate is empty.


It’ll not stay that way for long. My brother’s head is the only thing bigger than his appetite.


“I don’t have a sour look.”


“You do,” he says. “It’s hard to tell, because you’re always this ugly, but you’re just a little—”


“Fuck off,” I snap.


“Willow, stop fighting with your brother,” my mum says, causing me to groan. Of course, she sided with the golden boy.


Quill immediately straightens up. “Mum it was—”


And that’s the only reason I still come to these things. My mum might be vapid, and Lulu might be a little too eager to fit in with her, but Quill’s still the same down to Earth brother he’s always been.


He might start shit, and might not be the best-looking creature to be by my side, but he’s always on it. He just doesn’t put his foot down enough.


“Are you ready to start taking your future seriously, Willow?” my mum asks, raising an eyebrow at me.


A mix of frustration and annoyance bubbles up inside me. Why does she always have to do this? Why can’t she just accept that I don’t want the future she envisions for me? I’ve got plans that don’t involve a dick.


I take a deep breath, trying to calm myself down before I explode. Quill’s nudge under the table helps.


“Are you going to try and find your perfect match?” my mum adds.


Never mind. Stupid can’t be saved.


My blood boils, as I give her a dirty look. “I’m 24, and perfectly content with how my life is working out. I’ve got a few more months until I get access to my trust, and then I can invest in my business properly.”


“But Willow,” Lulu interjects, her voice soft and gentle. “Don’t you want someone to share your life with? Someone who could help you meet your dreams? Support you and celebrate with you?”


She's being genuine here, and I do love that she and my brother have this kind of relationship. But I don't want it.


“I don’t want nor need a mate,” I say. I try to be nice to her, I really do. She’s so happy with her own life, and it’s the curse of being around a blissfully in-love couple. They’re determined to make everyone feel the same way. “I have friends who can do the exact same thing, Lulu.”


Quill’s mate sighs, looking down at her lap. But my brother just grins. “That’s our Willow, always so independent. She doesn’t need no man.”


My mum’s eyes narrow, and I can tell that this conversation isn’t over yet. “You can’t stay single forever, Willow. One day you’re going to want a family of your own, and you don’t want to want it when it’s too late.”


“Well for now I’m enjoying not being tied down,” I say, giving her a brittle smile. I wish Quilliam and I could do this without our mum. It would be a whole lot more enjoyable for me. “Can we please just enjoy breakfast and talk about something else?”


My mother opens her mouth, probably to make things worse, but Lulu beats her to it.


“Actually, speaking of family, Quill and I have some news to share.” Quilliam looks at Lulu with a small smile, and she takes a deep breath. “We’re having a baby.”


My mum jumps up from her seat, clapping her hands together.


“Oh, congratulations, my dear!” she says, hugging Lulu tightly. “I can’t wait to be a grandma!”

Quilliam looks just as happy, beaming at his soon-to-be wife.


“We’re thrilled,” he says. “And we wanted to share the news with all of you before we made it public.” He gives me a pointed look, and I return the smile.


I’m not surprised, not really, but it must be early because I can’t hear the heartbeat. I’m so happy to be an aunt, but right now I’m also selfishly happy that Lulu saved me from my mum’s wrath.


“This explains our rush to get married,” Quill adds, and Lulu smacks his chest.


But as the conversation turns towards baby names, genders and nurseries, my mind wanders and I can feel myself starting to wilt away.


I might not want a boyfriend now when I’m just starting out my career… but what if I never find someone to start a family with? What if I do leave things too late, like my mum said?


Is it really so wrong to be content with my life as it is?


My mum’s voice brings me back to reality, and I have no idea how long I’ve been spaced out for but my brother and Lulu are no longer in the room.

“Willow, did you hear what I said?”

I shake my head, hoping she’ll repeat it.

“I said, are you ready to start taking your future seriously? You know, find a mate and have babies like your brother? He’s such a good boy, and you could learn to be a little more like him.”

I let out a deep sigh, knowing what’s coming next.

“You take after your dad,” she says. “A hopeless dreamer, but that’s not how the real world works, Willow. You need to stop being so silly thinking about that business of yours, and instead focus on creating a family.”

“Mum, I already told you that I don’t need a mate to be happy. I’m perfectly content with my life the way it is.”

“Well, I’m sorry to say this and ruin all this happiness you have, but if you don’t find a mate by the next mating ceremony, I’ll be arranging a marriage for you,” my mum says, her voice stern and unshakable.

I stare at her, unable to believe what I just heard. “What? That’s ridiculous! You can’t force me to marry someone I don’t even love!”

My mum leans forward, her blue eyes narrowing. “I’m not forcing you to do anything, Willow. But you have to understand that as your mother, it’s my duty to ensure that you have a secure future.”

“But, that’s what—”

“And if you don’t comply with my wishes,” she says, talking over the top of me like I’m not even here, “you’ll lose your inheritance. You won’t be able to invest the money into your business, and it’ll surely fail.”

I feel my stomach drop. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am today, and I can’t lose everything just because I don’t want to get married. But at the same time, the thought of being forced into a loveless marriage makes me sick to my stomach.

“I... I need some time to think,” I say, my voice barely above a whisper.

My mum nods, satisfied that she’s made her point. “Take all the time you need, Willow. But just remember, time is running out. You’ve got four months. Use them wisely.”

***

“Hey,” a voice interrupts my thoughts, and I look up to see Ellie, my best friend, standing beside me. Ellie is a cat shifter—a munchkin to be precise—and we get along both as humans and in our shifted forms. She’s short, but agile, and her personality is a sharp contrast to her cat’s tiny form.

She’s petite with fiery red hair, and bright green eyes that always sparkle with mischief. She’s paler than a sheet of paper, but has gorgeous freckles. Well, I love them. She’s not the biggest fan.

“You okay, Willa-Bear?”

I give her a small smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just lost in thought.”

Ellie nods, taking a seat next to me on the bed, grabbing one of the protein bars out of my side table.

“Why?” she asks around a mouthful of oats and chocolate.

With a sigh, I recount the breakfast I attended three days ago, including the stipulation my mum gave before I left. She expects me to bring a mate to Quill’s mating ceremony, and if I don’t have one, she’ll be arranging a marriage for me.

Ellie’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise, her eyes widen in disbelief. My small shrug, causes her mouth to open slightly, forming a small “o” shape. Her pale cheeks flush with a redness, the only hint to her anger.

“What the actual fuck?” she hisses.

“She’s got me exactly where she wants me. If I want my inheritance, I’ve got to play along,” I say, miserably.

“And without your inheritance…”

“I’ll never be able to launch my business.”

“Fuck,” Ellie whispers. “Your mum is a fucking devil.”

“Accurate.” I’ve said nothing nicer in my head over the last three days. She even had the audacity to text me a photo this morning of a notebook with the words “Willow’s Potential Husbands” on it.

I know for a fact they’re all going to be the sons of the socialites that she calls her friends.

Ellie sighs, but there’s a hesitant look on her face. “Well… I’ve got an idea.”

“I’m not faking a relationship,” I immediately interject. I thought it over, I thought about how I’d do it, but ultimately… the romantic in me won’t allow for it.

I might not be ready for a mate now but that doesn’t mean I don’t ever want one.

I won’t tarnish that future relationship by faking one now.

“Fine. I’ve got a second idea then. What if you find someone who wants a mutually beneficial relationship? I’ve been trying out this new app called MatchMe. It was created by this succubus called Nicolette, and she’s apparently super amazing at finding matches. I’ve heard some people have actually found their mates through it.”

“A succubus created it? How?”

“So, the rumours are that Nicolette is asexual and so can’t generate power on her own. But she has worked with a wizard to set this whole thing up, and she can generate power from the first sexual encounter each match creates.”

“That seems sketchy as fuck.”

“It’s all in terms and conditions,” Ellie says, waving off my concerns. Typical. “You’ll be able to find yourself a good match.”

I raise an eyebrow at her, but it’s better than anything I’ve come up with.

“What are we looking at here? I’d rather lose everything I’ve worked towards than mate with another shifter.”

Ellie rolls her eyes. “It’s for all paranormals, silly.”

“So, what… like… like vampires and soul destroyers?”

Ellie laughs, shaking her head. “Well, those are options, sure, but there’s also witches, and wizards. Hell, I even stumbled across a fae. He had a very nice tongue.” I burst out laughing, but she’s deadly serious. “You know what they say—sometimes the best matches are the ones you least expect.”

I’m not sure if I’m sold on the idea, but Ellie’s enthusiasm is infectious. “I don’t know, El. It seems kind of… weird.”

Ellie gives me a playful shove. “Weird can be good, Willow, and it’s not like you’ve got much of a choice.” I groan and she nudges me harder this time. Rude. “Who knows, my little secret romantic, maybe you’ll find your perfect match on there. It’s worth a shot, at least.”

I chew on my lip, considering her words. It’s not like I have anything to lose—you know, other than my inheritance, my career and my whole life.

“Okay,” I say finally. “I’ll give it a try.”

Ellie grins, and reaches over me to grab my phone off the side table. “Great! Let’s sign you up right now.”

As she starts inputting my information into the app, I can’t help but feel a little apprehensive, but that immediately turns to embarrassment when she shows me my profile.

Prickly girl, looking for a prickly something else to go—

“No!” I snap, snatching my phone from her. She roars with laughter, and I erase what she’s written, but then don’t really know what else to write in place.

“Here,” she says, a lot more gently this time. “We can put something in temporarily, and fix it later.”

I nod.

And that’s how I became Willow Gordon, the twenty-four year old sharp and sassy hedgehog shifter who is seeking somebody to hibernate with this winter.

I roll my eyes at Ellie’s description of me, but can’t help but giggle at the hibernation pun. We spend the next hour or so filling out my profile properly, selecting my preferences and likes and dislikes, and as soon as I see the “profile complete” label, my eyes widen.

It was an intensive programme, but Ellie reassured me how that should only benefit me when it comes to finding my mate.

“Okay, I did it. Now what? How do we do this?”

“It’s like supernatural tinder,” Ellie says, as if that explains anything. “You swipe right if you want to be boned by the werewolf, and you swipe left if you see your brother. It’s easy.”

“Ugh, the only bone a werewolf will get from me, is his own after I cut it off.” And if I find my brother on there, he’ll be dead before his baby is born.

Ellie groans. “I wish I knew why you hated shifters so badly.”

“I don’t hate them. I just won’t ever mate with one,” I say, blocking out the feelings and thoughts of him. I just won’t do it.

“So, do I wait for them to find me… or?”

“Let’s have a little look through potential matches,” she says. “We can use my account, so you can see how it all works. Plus, I’ve got nobody to go out with on Friday.”

As we scroll through the options, I feel a mix of excitement and nerves. It’s strange to think that I might actually meet someone through an app like this, but at the same time, it’s a relief to have a way out of the mess my mum has created.

I’ll find some random guy to escort me to my brother’s mating ceremony, and I’ll secure my inheritance. It’s a simple plan, and one that will work out perfectly.

I have faith.

We scroll through hers for a bit and my eyes widen at how many she says yes to. Half of them look like they’re only on this app for the one night stand they’ll get out of it, and the other half she rejects.

“You’re a little hussy,” I say with shock.

“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about me, Lo,” she says, beaming at me. “Just wait. Matches usually come in pretty quickly, so you’ll probably have a few options by the end of the day. Just don’t feel any pressure to say yes. There’s plenty of men on here.”

I nod, feeling a little bit like I’ve just jumped off a cliff without a safety net. But at the same time, there’s a sense of freedom in taking this leap.

As Ellie and I get up to leave to go to the gym, my phone buzzes in my pocket and my heart races. I pull it out to see a notification from MatchMe: “You have a new match!”

Fucking hell. This quickly?

My heart races as I tap the notification to see who my potential match might be. I hold my breath as the app loads, revealing a profile picture and a name: Dominic Geraldo.

I click on his profile to learn more, feeling a little bit like a creep. They don’t show much on the profile page. They just give his name, his age, his supernatural type and a single line.

It makes the whole thing seem a bit… I don’t know. Pretty privilege is the word I’d like to use, but I’m not sure it’s accurate. We’re basically judging the men on their looks, and I don’t really like it knowing that the same thing is happening to me.

Dominic is a wolf shifter, a year older than me, with piercing green eyes and a crooked smile. His tagline is: I may be a wolf, but I promise not to bite… unless you ask nicely.

Disgusting.

Although, if he weren’t a shifter, he’d be hot and I might be tempted.

“What’s up?”

“I got a match,” I tell her.

Ellie squeals, hugging me tightly. “Oh my god, this is so exciting! Who? What? Where? When?”

“He’s called Dominic. He’s got beautiful green eyes. He’s 25, and seems both flirty and dirty.”

She beams at me, as she finished tying her shoelaces.

“But he’s a wolf shifter,” I say, and immediately swipe left.

Fuck that dude.

I can’t help but laugh at her sadness, feeling a little bit more optimistic about this whole thing. Maybe, just maybe, this app can be the key to getting my mum off my back forever and finding me a happily ever after.

Not that I’ll ever admit to wanting the latter.

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