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Fated Dates: Chapter 2

Willow

Over the last two days, I’ve had numerous matches requested on the MatchMe app, and annoyingly the vast majority of them have come from shifters. The one-liners on their profile range from cringe things like I may howl at the moon, but I’ll howl harder at you to I may be a cat, but I'll make you submit like a lion tamer.

None of these men are people I’d want to be with emotionally, physically, or even just connected to on some random app. I don’t know what the database was thinking, but maybe it says a lot about the kind of person I am.

Ellie’s been nagging me to pick my own matches, to try and look through them… but I’ve been refusing. I hoped that I could put very little effort in and that a decent person would arise. Unfortunately, that has yet to happen, so tonight, I’m going to do it.

Fuck being a passenger in my own destiny.

Tonight is the night. I’ve bought myself some snacks, and some wine, and I’m ready to dine myself whilst I pick out my future mate. You know, for the next few months or so, so I can claim my inheritance and hopefully he’s got his own goals to meet.

He doesn’t need to be my true mate.

He just needs to pass my mum’s expectations and not be truly terrible whilst this plays out.

I reach into my bag and retrieve my keys, inserting one into the lock of my front door. Even though I have yet to gain access to my inheritance, I'm grateful to have the house my grandparents bought for me on my eighteenth birthday. It's not as grand as Quill and Lulu's nine-bedroom mansion with its countless bathrooms, but it suits me just fine. My four-bedroom, two-story home is cosy and doesn't feel like a sterile, lifeless place where I'd have to ask for permission to change the colour of the carpets. Plus, it’s all mine, free from any meddling from my mother.

As I step inside, a warm glow from the chandelier greets me, casting a golden light across the living room to my left. After removing my shoes and placing them neatly on the rack, I hang up my coat and toss my keys into the ceramic dish on the table. I inhale deeply, taking in the crisp air and feeling my body relax.

I lay out an array of snacks on the coffee table and grab a bottle of my family’s finest wine, pouring myself a glass and savouring the rich taste. As I settle onto the sofa, I open the dating app on my phone and cast it on the TV for a better viewing experience.

But, as I scroll through the profiles, I can feel my excitement waning. These men are not the matches that I’m looking for. Elf, wolf shifter, toad shifter, goblin… why does the app hate me? My heart races as I read through each profile, assessing the potential of each man.

As the night wears on, I adjust the lighting to make the room cosier, but also my selection becomes narrower, and I begin to feel a twinge of anxiety. What if I can't find someone who meets my standards? But then, I come across a feature that catches my eye, almost hidden away in the top right of the screen.

I gasp, sitting forward and eyeing the TV with interest.

“How the fuck did I miss this section?” I ask myself, curiosity burning as I tap on it. Maybe it’s only just appeared. It is a magic app after all. I wouldn’t put it past it to be this intuitive. It’s sort of like a filter option, but I think it might go deeper than that.

There’s a section where I can disapprove certain species—there’s a list of about eighty, but I doubt that’s inclusive of them all—ages—and even locations.

The questionnaire we filled out was intense, but that was based more on personality, your kinks, your wants and desires for the future. Ellie says hers was filled with the desire for a one-night stand, and based on her matches, the app provides pretty accurate guys for her.

But mine? I’m getting too many men that have animal forms which is an immediate red flag. I refuse to put myself in another position where I’m going to get hurt.

But now, I can cut those fuckers out. And damn does it feel so much better.

The button disappears after I used it, only confirming what I already guessed—it was a magic tool to aid me. I’m truly impressed.

I scan the new profiles with vigour, looking more intently at the matches that come up. I try to picture them in my life, seeing if I’m even a little bit attracted, if their species makes my hackles rise or if their tag lines are too cringe.

The third guy that pops up, actually makes my eyebrows raise because my panties seem to become immediately damp. He’s hot. Like very fucking hot.

His image is only of the top half of his body, showcasing his tight-fitting shirt under an off-blue suit jacket. It means his image zooms in more on his face, letting me see those beautiful dark blue eyes that are penetrating right into my soul. He has long-ish blonde hair atop his head, and he’s pretty tanned.

The background gives absolutely nothing away since he’s just standing in front of a dark wall—a bedroom maybe? I’m not sure. It gives me some fun thoughts—and maybe some fanny flutters—just thinking about it.

His name is Silas Penrose, and I’m curious as to if he’s one of those Penroses. My mum might have a coronary if that’s the case, which is another bonus point in his favour. He’s twenty-eight so a couple of years older than me, but honestly, he’s the first I’ve seen that has my hedgehog perking up. She’s feeling things for this man too, or maybe… maybe she’s just hungry.

I shovel a few crisps into my mouth and swipe right with no hesitation and only a little anxiety.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Not even three minutes later, whilst I’m scouring the fifth profile, a notification pops up.

Silas Penrose has accepted your match.

I scream, dropping my phone onto the sofa, my heart racing as I look at the TV in shock. It still reads the same.

Okay, slightly dramatic, but he matched me so quickly that I wasn’t sure it was real.

My phone dings, and whilst I can’t see it, I see the notification appear on the screen: Silas Penrose has sent you a message.

I take a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves as I grab my fallen phone and tap on the notification which opens up a live chat.

Silas: Hello Willow, I couldn’t help but notice the coffee cup in your profile picture. That’s my favourite place! It seems like we’ve got a lot in common.

My eyes narrow, but I’m determined to give this a chance.

Even if that’s a weirdly creepy thing to point out.

Willow: Hi Silas. What’s your favourite drink?

Silas: The Blood of My Enemies. What about you?

I gasp, not sure if he’s being serious or not, but those flutters of mine don’t seem to care.

Silas: Joking. Sorry. My humour is a little dark and dry. I drink coffee, black.

Willow: Like your soul?

Silas: Seems you’ve got me pegged.

Willow: Seems I do. My favourite drink is the Tears of My Ex-Boyfriends. They’re just so salty and satisfying.

Silas: Is that the only salty and satisfying thing about them?

I snort and quickly key out my response.

Willow: The only satisfying thing, sure. Salty? Well, that would be telling.

Silas: I like your energy, little hedgehog. Are you interested in meeting up, or is this something you’re just wanting to keep casual?

Willow: I’d like to meet up.

My phone buzzes and the background of our chat changes from white to green, but I don’t understand the significance.

“What the fuck?” I ask when three options pop up for me to choose from. I glance over them, not truly sure what’s happening. Is the app trying to help us here? Are we not allowed to choose our own options? I’ll have to call Ellie and ask about this.

Option 1: Fancy restaurant

Option 2: Bowling and burgers

Option 3: Ice skating and hot chocolate

I tap my preferred option, not sure what he’s going to choose—if he even has the same options!—but the phone then buzzes again. I can’t decide whether I like this feature or not.

Silas: Huh, bowling and burgers happen to be two of my favourite things. Would you be interested in going on a date with me this Saturday?

My hedgehog is practically jumping with excitement at the prospect of a date with this hot necromancer, but I feel a little unsettled with all of this. I can’t let myself get too carried away with him, not when I don’t know his plans.

I’m only using this app to find a temporary mate for my brother’s mating ceremony.

Today is Thursday, so I’ve got two days to prepare. Well, one really. I’ll have to find something to wear tomorrow. Maybe Ellie can help.

Willow: That sounds amazing! What time are you thinking?

Silas: How about 7 pm? We can head to the one in town—The Ghostly Gutter? Then we’ve got plenty of options for food.

Willow: Sounds good. See you there!

The chat window closes, and I’m not sure whether that’s because Silas left the chat or if the app has decided we’re done. I’ve got so many questions about the designs, and I sort of wish I paid closer attention to the terms and conditions.

But, I’m elated knowing I’ve not only taken control of my own future—sort of—but he’s actually pretty hot. This is really happening. I’m actually going on a date with Silas Penrose.

It doesn’t take long for the doubts to fill in. What if he's not what he seems? What if he's just using me for a one-night sort of deal?

I look at the screen, seeing a gorgeous black man called Colby standing there, and sigh, closing it down. I can’t hunt out another when I’ve not even had the chance to give Silas a trial.

I stand up, stretch my arms, and make my way to the bathroom. I fill the tub with hot water and add some lavender oil to help me relax. All this stress is not good for me. As I sink into the tub, I close my eyes and let out a deep sigh. The warm water soothes my aching muscles and I let myself indulge in a few moments of peace.

After a while, I get out of the tub and wrap myself in a purple fluffy towel. As I walk back to my room, my phone dings again. This time, it’s a message from Ellie.

Ellie: Hey, Willa-Bear. How’s the MatchMe search going? Anyone of interest popped up?

I can’t help but laugh at her timing, and rather than texting, I call her. She answers on the first ring, and I prop my phone up as I start rubbing oil into my legs.

“Why does the app suggest meeting locations?” I ask, and she gasps.

“I need all of the deets!” she demands.

“Well answer my questions first,” I say, and she groans dramatically.

“So, they’ve got access to both yours and your matches’ questionnaire, and they choose things that you both indicated you liked! It helps boost their ratings of successful matches.”

“It went from white to green.”

“Ah, yeah that happens. It can also go red, black and I think purple although I’ve never seen that.”

“What does it mean?” I ask, switching to the other leg as I rub oil into it. “I feel like it should come with a manual.”

She snorts. “Not everything needs to be logical, Willa-Bear.”

“I like logical, Ellie-Bug.” I sigh, wiping my hands with a wipe, and get into bed. “His name is Silas, and he’s 28. He’s a necromancer, with a love for the blood of his enemies.”

“Willow—” I can hear the anxiety in her voice and can’t help but smirk.

“Joking. Sort of. He drinks his coffee black, and we’re going bowling on Saturday!”

Ellie shrieks, clapping her hands far too loudly. “Girl, that sounds like your dream date. Not too romantic, and means you don’t need to be subjected to a questionnaire. Plus, it gives you an outlet for healthy competition.”

“Right? I’m excited.” And nervous. “I have no idea what to wear.”

“We’ll go tomorrow and pick something out,” she says. “Where are you going bowling?”

“The Ghostly Gutter. Why?”

“Oh god. Let’s hope that the pixies who run it are not up to their usual tricks.”

Tricks?

Oh boy, what am I getting myself into?

***

“I’m nervous,” I whisper, but Ellie just rolls her eyes, and hands me my clutch bag.

“It’ll be fine. You go out, wow him with your bowling skills, and then come back for a night of pounding, before you kick him to the curb.” I groan, but there’s a small part of me that’s nervous that he expects the same thing Ellie’s suggesting. “Well, that’s what I’d do.”

I laugh. “I’m not going to have sex with him, Ellie. It’s just one date.”

“Suit yourself,” she shrugs, “But don’t come crying to me when you’re all hot and bothered and have no release.”

I shake my head and grab my bag, “I’m leaving before you can give me any more questionable advice.”

“Good luck, Willow.” She grins. “I hope he’s hot enough to make your prickles stand on end.”

I roll my eyes at the terrible pun. I’ve been sending her all the bad ones from the last few days, and it’s become her new favourite game. I head out the door, feeling a mix of excitement and nerves churning in my stomach.

I arrive at the bowling alley and spot Silas standing outside, looking even better than he did in his photos. He’s wearing a pair of skinny jeans, and I think it’s the same off-blue jacket he was wearing in his profile photo. His hair is fluffy and clean, and his trainers are a pair of Alexander McQueen’s. I recognise the brand from buying my brother a pair for his birthday.

Combined with the expensive watch on his arm, I’m a little put out that he chose a place that looks this run-down. It’s strange and doesn’t seem to match up with what he’s showing.

He grins when he sees me approaching, and some of my unease fades. I feel my cheeks flush when he takes my hand, giving it a soft kiss.

“Hey, Willow,” he greets me warmly, and his voice is so fucking sensual. His Northern accent is identical to mine, but his voice is like pure honey dripped in sin. “You look ravishing.”

I smile, hoping he can’t see how nervous I am. “Thanks, you look great too.”

He opens the door for me, his hand briefly brushing against the small of my back, and we make our way inside. Immediately my concerns about the raggedy look of the outside, fade away. Because the inside is actually pretty cool.

I can immediately feel the supernatural energy buzzing around us, different scents and sounds filling the air, as we make our way inside. The interior of The Ghostly Gutters is dimly lit with purple and green neon lights, casting an eerie glow on everything. The walls are adorned with creepy paintings of ghosts and other paranormal creatures, and there are fake cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.

The sound of laughter and the clatter of bowling pins fills the air, and it’s humming with a cheerful, upbeat kind of energy. Suddenly, a gust of cold air rushes past me, making me shiver as weird black things appear in front of me, charging my way. The sensation is so strange that I'm not sure if it's real or just my imagination.

I go to duck, but they immediately disappear, confirming my suspicions. My heart is racing, but when I catch sight of the grin from the pixie in front of us, I realise that he's just playing a prank on us.

Silas comes to a stop and the pixie beams at us, waving his hands in front of him. “Welcome to The Ghostly Gutters. Do you have a booking?”

“We do,” Silas says, tugging me into his side protectively. “Three games under the name Penrose.”

The pixie nods. “Your lane will be ready in just a few. Would you like a drink?”

Silas glances at me in question, which makes me happy, and I nod. The pixie leads us over to the bar area and disappears in a cloud of smoke. My eyes widen, but it’s just another prank. I can hear his high-pitched giggles coming from somewhere in the darkness.

Silas notices my unease and puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, they like to mess with people, but it won’t go too far. Just harmless tricks”

I nod, and after asking what I want, Silas heads to the bar to grab our drinks.

It’s weird, but I can’t help but feel like we’re being watched. Every time I look around, I catch a glimpse of a shadow darting behind a pillar or a figure disappearing around a corner. I know that this is a place for mischievous pranks and good fun…

But could there be more going on underneath the surface?

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