LMRTV Roleplay - February Writing Raffle!

Happiest of February to you all! It’s that time again for the monthly writing raffle! Congratulations to Sabina for their winning entry last month! Sabina’s story is an intense account of a Draenei in the Army of the Light struggling between faith and shadow. It really had me on the edge of my seat as she wove a story about unrequited love, difficult decisions and the weight of responsibility. I definitely recommend heading over to last month’s post to give it a read!

To enter the writing raffle for this month, please read the prompt and comment on this post with your story! Eligible stories will be entered into the raffle, with the winner getting 5k gold! Gold will be sent to the character you post your comment on (so please make sure the character you are posting on is on LMRTV server cluster or you cannot get the gold!). Eligible stories must be relevant to the prompt, not an obvious troll, at least five sentences long, and obviously not break any rules of the forums.

The prompt for this month is: Love is in the Air is fast approaching, a time of flowers, candy, and most importantly–crushes and romance. This month, tell us a story about your character being pined after, or pursued or even taken on a date–but from the perspective of their admirer! That’s right, get on out of your character’s head, and show us what they look like from the perspective of someone who is falling for them.

If you’re interested in the RP community on our server cluster, feel free to join the discord! Discord invite code: UuuHguc


Abigail Stolt had never been on a date. Perhaps it was because all the boys in her neighborhood had never taken an interest in her. Perhaps it was because she had never taken an interest in them. Either way, the look on her face when little – well perhaps not so little anymore, puberty had done some kind of magic – Bricky Howe had asked her if she wanted to join him the next day for a walk around the square was truly priceless. Large, blue eyes wide as saucers that took up most of her lightly freckled face. She was speechless. Surprised. So unsure of what was even happening that she couldn’t form words. Though, when she finally managed it, she may have come off a bit too eager, looking back on it now. She must have led the poor lad on terribly.

The next day came soon enough; nothing more than a walk in the park around the square, maybe a pastry at the local bakery if he could afford it, he’d said. Abby had saved up pocket change she’d found on the streets for the last few days, stuffing them in her pockets securely just to make him feel better. Perhaps she would sneak it into his pocket when he wasn’t looking.

She’d put on her best dress, a ratty little thing her mother had tried to patch and maintain, adding length to it as she’d grown taller. “Your growth spurt shouldn’t last much longer,” her mother had said, sewing another long strip to the bottom skirt of the dress. Abby hated the thing, but her mother insisted this was the only way she could still have a nice dress. It barely fit around her growing chest, squeezing it tight against her body and making her look much too girlish for her age. She wasn’t a kid anymore! She wanted to look like an adult!

Her only pair of “nice” shoes had holes near the toes but were somehow still a little too small for her feet. They pinched and squished at her toes, making every step a little worse for wear.

Abby’s normally brown hair was brushed, painfully, by her mother the morning of. Her mother’s rough, calloused hands so used to cleaning and scrubbing floors had raked through Abby’s thin, tangled hair and pulled it back with a fine toothed headband.

The sun shone bright above Abby’s head as she waited in the square, with a breeze that would have been pleasant had she been wearing her usual clothing. Today, however, with her ratty, patched up dress whose skirts was easily tossed and blown aside by the wind, she found herself struggling with the chill. Her combed hair was thrown back, leaving it in tangles again. A fact she hated, considering how long her mother had spent wrestling with it that morning.

Abby moved awkwardly, in the hopes that perhaps taking a few steps might help her stay warm while she waited. It wasn’t that much longer before her “date” arrived, though it wasn’t until Abby had begun walking in circles and jumping, hoping to get her blood pumping in whatever way possible. Arms wrapped around herself when she wasn’t desperately trying to keep her skirt from blowing away.

“I can explain,” she remembered saying, met with nothing but warm laughter.

Bricky Howe was tall and lanky, with long limbs that looked like they didn’t belong on his body. He had comically broad shoulders, that suggested he might grow into them but hadn’t. He wore a button up shirt, that he wasn’t quite able to button up that he tried to cover up with an overtaxed undershirt covered in patches. For once in her life, Abby saw the young man wearing a belt to hold up a pair of pants that were clearly too large for him – a pair his mother had saved up to buy the year prior in the hopes he would grow into them. He hadn’t. Perhaps the legs were now the correct length, but his thin and willowy frame failed to keep them up and had to be held in place. His normally messy, loosely curled hair had been wrangled back with a comb, but the wind had easily undone the work done and his hair floofed right into his face, just like Abby was so familiar with. A jacket was draped over his arm, held out towards her. Abby looked at the jacket, tempting as it was, but took a step away out of pride.

For what it was worth, she thought he was rather handsome. In a dopey teenager way.

“Cold?” He asked, his voice cracking slightly – no, who was she kidding, his voice cracked like an untuned recorder.

“No,” she lies.

He struggles, trying to find words to say in response, but they hang silently in the air. Awkward. He closes his mouth, keeping his jacket to himself. Idiot.

“Yes,” she corrects, with a huff, snatching the jacket out of hands and draping it over her shoulders. It was comically large on her small frame, swallowing her like the ocean might, but damn if it wasn’t warm. When he wasn’t looking, she took handfuls of jingling, jangling coins from her bag and placed them in his pockets. She knew he’d fallen on hard times recently, but he still had that same stubborn pride from before.

The walk itself was fine. Mundane. Normal. Nothing special. They walked around the park, they walked around town, they picked up pastries at the bakery next to the park – the one with the perky old woman who always gave Bricky a little extra cookie because she liked him. They talked, and talked a bit more – about his mom, about her brother, about school and work or whatever occupied teenagers nowadays.

The sun had begun to set by the time they’d returned to the tree they met beneath, sunlight getting shorter by the day as they approached the dead of winter. Snow coated the ground, lightly dusting the cobbled roads and steps. The leaves of the trees had long fallen, raked away into large piles that sat decomposing in a far-off corner of the park. We don’t think about that corner.

They stood underneath the shade of a large oak tree to avoid a falling flurry of fluffy, powdery snowflakes. Abby placed her hands in the pockets of his jacket, shuffling her feet awkwardly as their conversation died down into silence. Pleasant silence, unlike the awkward one that was between them at the beginning of this “date”, at the very least. She looked up at the tree, so old and tall, robust. When she turned back, she couldn’t help but see Bricky looking at her, flashing him the gentlest of smiles at their shared awkwardness to try and break the tension hanging in the air.

She took a step in Bricky’s direction, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulder. She swivels her head, leaning up to look at him. In the dull light beneath the tree, shadows danced across the features of his face – his deep-set eyes and bushy eyebrows; the nose he claimed was too large for his face though to Abby he wouldn’t be the same without it; his little ears, turned red in the cold of the slowly receding winter’s day.

He leaned in, his face impossibly close to hers. Abby could feel his eyes on her, failing to look away as she felt a pull to look at him. There was something on his nose. Disaster. Idiot. Look at this fool. She reaches up, wiping it away with her finger and rolling her eyes. Whatever that moment was supposed to be, it was completely lost on her now. But apparently it wasn’t so lost on him. Damn. Closing the gap between the two of them, he moves to press his lips to hers in the sweetest, yet strangest experience Abby had ever felt in her entire young life. It was soft and delicate but somehow also sloppy from inexperience. The two of them had no idea what they were doing, but it was over in an instant. The pair pull away. Abby blinks her eyes, trying to process everything that had just happened to her.

“Uh, fanks,” she says, wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand and trying to hide the growing laugh that threatened to escape. What a terrible, awkward moment.

There was something about it that didn’t feel right, though. She’d always heard that it should have sparked something, that it should have felt like magic. But it didn’t. No magic, no sparks, no special bubbly sparkles or whatever it was she was meant to expect. It was just some boy mashing his face against hers.

She shoves her hands in his jacket’s pockets again, forgetting entirely that it wasn’t even hers to begin with. “I fink I was s’possed to pick up somefin’ for Matty,” she lies, beginning to walk away from the tree.

Bricky had been weird after their kiss, unusually quiet, but at the mention of her brother he seemed to perk right back up again. “Tell ‘im I says ‘i!”

Abby nods. “Why don’ you tell ‘im yasen,” she says before she even has the time to catch herself. “Come over for supper. Mam’s go’ stew goin’ on the stove.”

He pauses for a long moment and Abby can see the way he considers her words. He always got this crease between his bushy eyebrows when he was thinking. “Yeah, I fink I’d like tha’,” he says finally.

It was fine, Matty had gone through several girlfriends. Not every single date would be with the one. She knew this. They could still be friends and she was determined to make that happen. But tomorrow. Together, they begin the walk back to Abby’s house.

Distracted as she was with what happened that day, her clouded mind was brought back to reality when she saw the most stunning, beautiful, perfect young woman she’d ever seen across the way. Long, curly hair the color of night and striking green eyes that she could even see from all the way over here. The dim lights of the evening shine off her olive skin. But, most of all, she was shapely. Curvy. Abigail was enamored.

“-any bread?”

Abby wrenches her eyes away, shaking her head clear of the cloudy, girl filled thoughts. “Wot was tha’? Oh, uh, yeah. Defini’ely.” She answers, though she doesn’t know the question asked. She doesn’t look back at the young woman across the street, but that day something was awakened in her heart.


The best coffee in town was clearly at Oribucks and it had quickly become a favorite of ours. It was always hot and slightly bitter, but I liked it like that. I glanced around and finally saw her sitting at a table waiting for me and she waved when she caught my eye. Approaching the shop owner, I paid for two cups for us, adding cream and sugar just the way we liked it, and I sat down next to her.

She was organizing some papers, which gave me a moment to appreciate the quiet and study her face. I always thought she had a pleasant face. It was deceptively young-looking. Well, she was young in comparison to me, but it was never obvious. She has a maturity about her and it ages her. Far too much responsibility in such a short amount of time will do that. Though, I find myself always so surprised at the positive outlook she has on everything.

I refocus to catch her smiling again at me and it pulls me from my thoughts. I can’t help but chuckle when she raises her eyebrow in a “Whatcha thinkin’?” kind of way. So, I smile back haphazardly, but I don’t say anything. I nod my head, indicating she should finish up, and she shakes her head in response but goes back to her paperwork. I like that we have an unspoken language. Another minute passes before she’s wrapping up her thoughts and finally, she restacks her papers. Grabbing her coffee and taking a big swig, she finally speaks. “Sorry about that, work is work is work. You know how it goes.” She gave me a look like she was going crazy and then started laughing.

I like when she smiles at me. It makes me feel seen in a way I haven’t in a while. Her eyes twinkle when she smiles, I like that too… and DAMMIT. I mentally reprimanded myself for feeling like this about her. She was spoken for. I adjust myself slightly, sitting up a little taller, and glancing at our surroundings to try and distract myself. Okay, there are some people ordering coffee, some vendors hawking supplies, and… there’s her pretty face again.

“Sooo… what’s on your mind?” she asked. “Clearly something, you haven’t said a word yet.”

“It’s nothing.” Trying to cover a bit, I then replied, “I was just giving you time to finish up.” I shifted again, trying to stay calm and collected. Professional. “How have you been? It feels like forever since we last spoke.”

It hadn’t been. It was yesterday. I internally grimace at my blunder as she looked at me curiously, but I maintained my cool.

“Things are… good. Well, as good as they can be, considering everything.” She patted her notes as if to make it clear that’s what she was talking about. “We’ve had a busy few… days? Weeks? I can’t keep track anymore…. But it feels like we’re close to a breakthrough. And you?”

“Oh you know, the usual. Helping with the Kyrian reformation, and the reintegration of the Forsworn. Even in the realms of death, my experience has come in handy. ” I paused, then I inquired “Any upcoming plans for the big day?”

Her face flushed and she stammered her words out slightly. “Oh …. Uh. No, not really. Nothing yet, anyways…”

I only sort of regretted bringing it up. I knew she was avoiding talking about it. I knew that she had seen him and I knew he was still moving along with plans, even if she was stalling. But, it was my way of reminding myself that she was unavailable. But, I could hear the strain in her voice. I empathize with her, I really do. I know all too well about needing to jump into the nearest portal to get away from something I didn’t want to deal with. That is, after all, how we had ended up here. It’s just the first time in a while it hadn’t been me jumping in first.

I took another sip of my coffee. I wish it was a little sweeter, but I didn’t want to get up. The conversation had stalled, so I switched gears to something I knew she would run with. “So, that new assignment with the other covenants…” I began

As if on cue, she took over the conversation, talking about plans and people she had met. It was amazing just how many people she knew and it was about that time when my mind started wandering. It drifted to our adventures together. I rubbed my brow as certain memories invaded my brain. I tried to forget them. Like our first kiss. She had surprised me with it, but I liked it. But then he came back and I was supposed to just act as if nothing had happened? It was so frustrating! I unintentionally sighed out loud.

Her eyes locked onto mine. “What is it? Does that not sound like a good plan?” Now it was my turn to flush and I coughed out and stood up, desperate to flee the scene, to sort myself out. I quickly made up an excuse to get out of there. “I just remembered, I forgot I was supposed to meet up with my… friend. I mean, uhh… you know what I mean.”

It was fine, I was fine. It would all be just fine.

“Oh… okay. Well… I certainly wouldn’t want to keep you!” A look of disappointment seemed to cross her face and it made me want to stay, but I pushed my chair in anyway. She stood in return, leaning in to hug me. It didn’t quite hit the mark and lasted a beat too long.

“It was nice seeing you, Rae. We’ll have to do this again soon.” I turned and walked away, leaving her standing there.

Truth be told, I was already looking forward to seeing her again tomorrow.


The best coffee in town was clearly at Oribucks and it had quickly become a favorite of ours. It was always hot and slightly bitter, but he liked it like that, and the longer we shared our time between operations like this the more it grew to my taste as well. I looked up and saw him wrapping up with the cafe owner and fixing our coffees to taste. When it was clear that I had caught his gaze, I waved him down and he smiled and came to sit next to me.

I began to quickly organize the various files and reports spread across the table, operational documents for the campaign we had both spent nearly every waking hour dedicated to. As I looked up I caught him giving me a strange look, a glowing golden eye staring right past my returning gaze until I watched him refocus and realize I’m staring back. The scars that were once hard not to notice have now just become another thing that is uniquely him, and instead I see the bags that he’s let accumulate under his eyes again. It worried me, but good thing coffee was part of our daily routine.

I smirk and cocked an eyebrow but he nods silently at the paperwork and I can’t help but roll my eyes as I finish skimming the details of the page I’m holding and add it to the pile before restacking the papers with a firm tap-tap. Placing them down and picking up the offered beverage, I take a big sip and savor it a moment before speaking. He’d made it perfectly again, as always.

“Sorry about that, work is work is work. You know how it goes.” I pursed my lips; of course he did, we’d been shoulder to shoulder on the lion’s share of our recent missions. I let out a gentle laugh at the statement and caught him staring again. This time he broke his gaze rapidly, resituating himself in his seat and making a point to look at everything but me until it came back around to find a coy smile reflected at him.

“Sooo… what’s on your mind? Clearly something, you haven’t said a word.” Teasing him came naturally, it was all but a core tenet of our friendship. Cutting wit had always been a well-used tool within my arsenal, but I’m always pleasantly surprised that he was quick enough to roll easily with it and sling a clever remark back every now and then.

“It’s nothing. I was just giving you time to finish up.” He cleared his throat nervously, fidgeting before letting out a breath. “How have you been? It feels like forever since we last spoke.”

It hadn’t been. It was yesterday. His mindlessness could be endearing sometimes but this was pushing it.

“Things are… good. Well, as good as they can be, considering everything” I tapped the thick stack of papers between us that represented no end to hard work in their future. “We’ve had a busy few… days? Weeks? I can’t keep track anymore… but it feels like we’re close to a breakthrough.” I batted the conversation back to him. “And you?”

“Oh you know, the usual. Helping with the Kyrian reformation, and the re-integration of the Forsworn. Even in the realms of death, my experience has come in handy.” The idle chit chat was nice, it felt normal. Until… “Any upcoming plans for the big day?”

I could feel my face flush and cursed myself for it. I knew exactly what he was talking about and I had been avoiding the topic on purpose, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he started bringing it up.

“Oh, uh… No, not really. Nothing yet, anyways…” Nothing at all since the first conversation about it, I had seen to that by taking a page from my poor working partner and escaping my problems through the nearest portal to some long-spanning disaster. The solution wasn’t long-lived, but in the short term it let me get away from the stress, the planning, the expectations. Let me focus on my work, alongside… Well, it mattered little at this point. Reality found its way across space and time to plant itself back in front of her face; the break was over.

The silence had gone on long enough, and he had the good grace to break it with a shift in topic. “So, that new assignment with the other covenants…”

Thank the Light, this I could run with. I rapidly filled the silence with details of the work I’d been doing alongside the other covenants while he had stayed behind as a liaison for the Kyrian. I’d been spending more and more time with the other factions, and I talked at length about contacts and operations that he could simply read about in the stack of papers, if he were so inclined. He wasn’t and I knew it, but this took us further and further from the previous topic.

After a while I could tell that I’d lost him, he was looking at the same time right at me and right through me and let out a sudden sigh. “What is it? Does that not sound like a good plan?” Another tease just to catch him off-guard, I hadn’t even mentioned a plan, but the way he took it this time was wildly different. Suddenly he was making excuses for himself and making to excuse himself, blurting something about suddenly needing to go meet up with…

Right. Her. I’m happy for him, of course, it’s fine. She’s perfectly pleasant and it’s fine. It’s not like I’m jealous or anything, I have my own… I just think it’s funny that he found time to start dating all the way out here…

“Oh… okay. Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to keep you!” It wasn’t entirely honest, but what else was I going to say? He stood quickly to leave, and before I knew it I was standing as well and leaning in to give him a hug. I was a hugger, and he had gotten used to it over the years, but it was different this time. Awkward. And very suddenly I realized that I had continued holding him for the duration of my inner monologue. He broke away, giving me a pat on the shoulder before bidding me farewell.

“Of course. Bye Cerr, see you soon…”

And then he was gone, and soon couldn’t come soon enough.


Smoldering wood and crying ended up filling the night. The night elves that once lived in the beautiful teldrassil, were now dead or severely injured. Those who had tried to help ended up dead themselves or injured in some capacity. their worgen allies were misplaced once more, some just as injured as the elves. He walked along the shore, listening to the panic, muffled cries and the arguing for more search parties. There was one person on his mind, her white hair being darkened by ash. He quickly shook the thought away, calling for his saber. Watching at it’s fel eyes cut through the dark.
“Come Bir’ja. We have to find her” he urged the beast as he mounted up.
With a simple tug from the reins the beast took off. Leaving behind small scorch marks in the sand. The man hissed as he looked around.
“Come on… Come on, where is she” he growled, small black spikes tearing through his skin.
He kept his gaze on the area around him, he had been searching since the sun had gone down. Now the moon was at its peak
“Slow Bir’ja” he uttered, his voice soft as silk
As the Felsaber slowed her pace, her rider hopping off and walking to the waters edge. He watched the waves creep up to his boots before slipping away. He didn’t take his gaze off the waves illuminated by the fire and the faint moon light. His mind wandering far off these shores. Back to a moment on Argus.
Back when the fel fires roared around them, demons fought for their lives to carry on their crusade. Soldiers laid dying at their feet, many fleeing for their lives while others held their ground. When he ran alongside a white cat with eyes that shimmered like the moon. When they had barely escaped with their lives to get to the Vindicaar. To a day he held the druid close to his body, to protect her from the flames. Carrying her out of the battle despite his own pain. Urging her to safety, to keep fighting. To the countless days of torture at the hands of the demons, simply for a sacrifice he had been far to willing too make for the white haired night elf. He had wanted to protect her innocence, her life. In the end, his promise seemed long broken.
He pulled himself from the waves, forcing his memories away. He had to find her. He needed to find her. To see her hair that was as white as freshly fallen snow. To see her eyes light up with childish glee. To hear her voice that was sweet as honey that when she sang had calmed his mind. The touch that was soft yet hesitant, and the laugh that made his heart soar. As the illidari walked along the water, his felsaber followed close behind. Noticing her master’s distraction, gently nudging his arm until it was resting on her head.
“Oh Bir’ja…I’m sorry. We’ll find her… I promise. I told her I’d keep her safe, even if it meant I died. I intend… on keeping that promise.” He sighed, adjusting the glaives on his back.
“There’s not much more land to search… and Hi’va is back with the others at the fell hammer” He stopped dead in his tracks, slowly taking the glaives off his back.
“Still looking for that little night elf, kind of pathetic Talrune,” a voice laughed from behind him.
Quickly he turned and charged at his stalker.
“What have you done to her?!” he growled, his glaives being pushed against by the other illidari.
“Come now Talrune, she wasn’t in that overgrown weed, she may still be alive” She responded, tossing her head back as she shoved her glaives forward.
“I don’t see why you’d care for some… Mortal, let alone one who’s brother could kill you if he knew” she added as she jumped back.
The two illidari stood with their weapons at the ready. Neither having an issue in injuring the other.
“Your warchief had no right to burn the tree, my people have been-” Talrune was cut off by the other illidari.
“They aren’t your people. They fear you and your power, that girl will fear you too. It’s only a matter of time before she’s cowering from your touch”
Talrune stood there, growling before turning his attention to the cry of a struggling hawk. He threw his glaives into the sand and ran out into the water. Barely managing to catch the hawk before it fell into the sea.
“Seems I was wrong. She was in the tree afterall. Do be mindful of your actions Talrune… she will not stand you for much longer.”
“Trasong…I don’t want to hear you speak ill of her. Return to your camp, and get out of my sight,” He held the hawk close as he listened to the other illidari bid him farewell in her native tongue and leave.
A long moment passed as he made his way out of the water, lying the hawk on the sand. Watching it slowly move before it turned back to it’s elven form. Her white hair smeared with ash and dead leaves.
“Let’s get you to the others… your brother must be worried sick” He said, as he slowly helped her to her feet.
One of her eyes was no longer glowing like it once had and it made his heart break. He pushed the emotions aside as he helped her onto Bir’ja’s back and slowly led the saber back to the alliance camp. He had noticed that she had grabbed his hand at some point during their return. Without any thought he came to a stop. Not too far from the camp. He slowly cupped her cheek and planted a soft kiss on her lips. It didn’t last long as when he pulled away. He commanded the saber return without him.
As he watched them disappear into the forest, he wondered when he could see her again. His snow feather.


Weekends at the Lion’s Pride never failed to deliver on surprising encounters and experiences. Though small compared to the bustling capital city down the road, Goldshire’s location provided ample opportunities to temporarily host travelers either too poor to afford the higher prices of the city or too weary from their travels to reach their ultimate destination. People from all races and walks of life could be found on any given day in the Elwynn town, and the weekends only amplified that trait. Locals either avoided the inn on the noisier days or poked their heads in to amuse themselves through observation of or interaction with the variety of tourists wiling away their hours with food, drink, and music.

As the only single member of the Baur family still living full-time in the area, Arlebrand recently found himself visiting the inn more often than he typically cared to do. His mother Emma worried about him constantly. The eldest Baur son not yet having a spouse made no sense to his doting mother; he had, after all, always been the least gruff of the three siblings. His sister was too independent and self-centered to find a suitor, and Tonric cared more about work than people most days. Despite that career focus, even the gruff soldier had managed to find a lovely wife and give Emma a grandchild to adore. Her easygoing carpenter son, on the other hand, remained bafflingly unattached. Visiting the inn regularly was his way of convincing his mother he was actively on the hunt for a wife.

At least the lack of family to worry about had given him chance to get his shop up and running. He had clients all over the region—even some out in Lakeshire and Westfall. Business from Westfall had tapered off significantly, of course, thanks to the rebellions and famine plaguing the once-productive agricultural region. As Arlebrand lifted a mug of ale to savor a sip, he kept an eye on two potential clients who might still be able to afford new—or at least updated—furnishings for their farmhouse. They had not been hit as hard by the droughts and dust storms as their neighbors, thanks to growing heartier crops; they had kept their okra output steady, and they were learning to handle eggplants to add that to their homestead’s yield.

They were not due to speak until tomorrow morning about the possibility of work, but Arlebrand saw little harm in finding out more about his potential clients before their scheduled consultation. Learning what they liked, what they could afford, helped him present tailored options right away. It saved on wasted time and made the client feel like they could really trust in his judgment. Getting to drink and enjoy the bawdy tunes belted out by the resident bard and his drunk audience were not bad incentives either.

An unexpected bonus of his plan was learning the client—Tyrone Pickering—had brought along a young woman as his traveling partner; judging by the way they sat close to one another but not too close, Arlebrand figured the farmer wanted to keep a protective eye on her. That made him think she was a daughter or some other family member for whom he felt responsible. It was definitely not his wife; Maggie Pickering was well-known even in Goldshire for her steely hair and even steelier demeanor. This woman looked soft: waves of russet hair framing a round, freckled face home to big blue eyes surrounded by thick lashes he swore cast faint shadows on her cheeks when she looked down. She could not have been older than early twenties—making him about a decade her senior, but that did not stop him from admiring her gentle beauty. She looked like the type of woman his mother would be happy to welcome into the family—not that such things should matter to him, but the thought intruded anyway.

He should introduce himself. That would be the smart move, the less creepy move. Sneaking glances at the Pickering end of the one of the inn’s long tables all night would not earn him points with either the farmer or his traveling companion if they happened to spot him before the evening was up. The bearded man drew in a breath for a heavy sigh. He had never been good at approaching women—and especially not at flirting. Bards would never sing of his sexual escapades or look to him for inspiration on how to charm busty beauties. He might enjoy a bawdy song now and then, but his own approach to conversation favored direct and honest exchanges. No dancing around subjects or hidden meanings to his words; that had not earned him many admirers, despite the trope that women appreciated honesty in a potential partner.

Maybe it would work this time. He could always try. Frowning, Arlebrand looked down into his half-empty mug of ale and considered making a move. Maybe it would be smarter to just stick to the plan of learning more about the family. Getting a smile from the young beauty sitting next to the wiry farmer would not be the goal—more of a ‘nice to have’ than something to directly pursue. That sort of conversation he should be able to handle. Right? Right.

After taking another breath and big gulp of ale to steady his nerves, he stood from his seat on the long bench and started to make his way toward Pickering and his companion. Despite his resolve to keep the talk mainly focused on business, his gaze had a mind of its own and kept sliding away from the farmer to take in more details of the woman as he drew closer to their table. The tops of her shoulders, strategically exposed by her peasant blouse, fascinated him; the faint spray of freckles present there was a lighter version of the shy dusting bringing additional youth to her face. An inexplicable urge rose to run his finger between those marks, to trace patterns between the freckles and watch what her reaction would be to the brush of his rough fingertips.

People continued to move around him in the sea of tavern-goers, so they had not noticed his approach yet. Hard to do that with the constant shouts of waitresses and patrons alike creating too much noise to have a proper, personal conversation. If all went well, maybe he could convince her to go somewhere quiet—with Pickering’s permission, of course. He would be a gentleman about this, even if his thoughts were drifting into less and less polite territory.

Did that deliberately exposed skin indicate she was not as innocent as her soft features indicated? Would she gladly accept his offer for a quiet dinner, then press for more if all went well? The thought warmed him in ways he had not experienced in quite a while. Something about her felt pristine—untouched—and roughening that smooth skin held an appeal he could not explain—even to himself.

Still, he held back. With this better perspective, he started to wonder if his initial guess on her age was incorrect; the closer he got, the younger she seemed to become, and he prayed it was only an effect of the dancing candlelight from the wooden chandeliers overhead.

Only one way to find out. To close the final distance to the table promising the potential for more than a simple job, he shouldered his way past two unruly drunks bickering over who would be picking up the tab for the fourth pitcher they had just emptied. Just as he was about to open his mouth to greet Pickering and his companion, the sea of people parted to his left, and one of the many loud patrons of the bar smashed against his arm. Room-temperature liquid splashed across his cheek, beading in his beard, and created dark splotches on the red-and-black pattern of his long-sleeved shirt. Instinctively, he reached out to steady the person who had run into him, and words to check if they were okay formed in his mind.

They never found voice. “Watch where ye’re goin’, ye big brute,” snapped the slender woman before he could speak. “Tha’ was me fav’rite beer ye jus’ ruined.” The accent was unexpected; it did not sound like anything native to the area. That oddity almost distracted him from his anger over being berated for her mistake.

He met her angry gaze with a steady, disapproving look of his own. “You would still have your beer if you weren’t charging through the tavern like a mad bull,” he shot back. “Be more careful next time.”

That did not please her. Eyes the color of tropical seas grew stormy and dark as his retort sunk in. Tan, callused hands jerked up to shove against his shoulders. “Ye lookin’ to star’ a fight, bastard?” she taunted. “Think ye can get away with this ‘cuz I’m a woman?”

His gaze dropped to take in her face and lithe form, clothed in a cheap pair of trousers and a sleeveless top that exposed toned arms indicative of an active life spent outdoors. She looked to be in her late twenties with a build home to few curves; she was not entirely boyish, however, thanks to her decidedly feminine facial features. Sun-cracked lips made him almost feel bad enough to buy her another drink; they looked painful. Instead, he scoffed at her words. “You look more like a boy than a woman. I wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t told me.”

That earned him another, harder shove, and he rocked back slightly from the force. Small but strong, apparently. “Wouldn’t know a real woman if ye tripped over one—which ye just did. ‘Least ye can do is say sorry.”

“I’m sorry you can’t walk through a room without hurting yourself,” he replied instead. Normally, he was more polite to women than this, but she had started the fight, and he was not going to back down from it when he was not at fault. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have business to get to. Have a good evening.” His firm tone left no room for argument, and he made a move to get by her and continue on his way.

Again, he was interrupted, but this time by the curvy woman who had captivated him from several tables away. Up close, she was even more alluring, and the need to explore that beauty with his carpenter’s hands returned in force. Arlebrand stopped in his tracks and gawked at her in speechless admiration.

Her attention, however, was on the other woman he had tried to escape. “Are you okay?” she asked, her quiet, musical voice carrying even in the din that should have crushed it. “Do you need me to come help carry more drinks back to the table for Daddy?”

Pickering’s daughter then. Good to know. But then who was this other, aggressive woman? How did they know one another? His gaze moved from face to face, unsure of the best thing to do at this point. He could feel his hopes for both a date with the young woman and a business deal with her father slipping out of his hands. All because of the loud-mouth klutz who wanted to make her problems someone else’s. Desperately, he grasped for a way to smooth over the whole situation.

“Just a small accident,” he tried to explain to Pickering’s daughter. “We were both coming through the crowd at the same time and didn’t see one another. I can help cover the new drinks, Miss, if you’ll let me.”

Those summer-sky eyes now turned upon him, and he felt something in his stomach tighten. The other woman almost entirely slipped from his mind. He would endure as much childish violence as he had to if it meant more chances to be this close to her. “Oh, thank you. That’s very ki—”

“It was his damn fault, Lilah!” the blonde broke into the moment, ruining its simple pleasure. “Don’t go makin’ nice with jerks like this. They’ll walk all over ye if ye let ‘em.”

Anger hardened his jaw, but he forced it down, focused his thoughts on a better future. Lilah. What a perfect name. He put on an embarrassed smile. “Like I said, Miss: a misunderstanding. I’m sorry to you both. Let me make this right.”

Uncertainty clouded the sky as her gaze moved between them. After a moment more of hesitation, she offered him a small nod of acceptance and held out a hand. “That would be wonderful of you, sir. I’m Lilah Pickering, by the way. Pleased to meet you.”

He tried not to seem too eager as he took her smaller hand into his own and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Arlebrand Baur. I was on my way over to meet you and your father, actually. I wish we could’ve gotten that done without this mess,” he finished with a wry chuckle.

Away went the cloud of doubt, and the smile curving her lips was like basking in the warmth of the morning sun after a chill night. “Oh! I’ve heard lots of good things about you and your work, Mr. Baur,” she exclaimed. “Daddy brought me along to talk about what you can make for us. Mama put me in charge of decorating the house they’re building for me.”

“For her and the man she’s going to marry,” the other woman interrupted again. She almost sounded smug.

Such a simple sentence, but with such a profound effect. He whipped his head toward the irritating blonde, searching for some sign of deceit in her expression. Nothing. The smirk on her lips was a satisfied one, as if she could read his mind and knew exactly how much this bit of news affected him. “Oh. That—A wedding present then?” he stammered out, trying desperately to turn this conversation back to the safety of business. Attention turned back to Lilah, wanting her to deny the words but knowing it was a pointless hope.

“Yeah. Mama and Daddy want us to have a nice place not too far from them. They’re worried about me being on my own,” she confessed with a soft giggle that sent his thoughts back to places they should not be going, given what he had just learned. “We’re going to be married by the end of the month. It’s the season for love, right? Seemed like the perfect time!”

“Well. Um.” Careful. Do not ruin a good possibility now. “I’ll do what I can to make sure you’re taken care of, Miss Pickering,” he replied awkwardly. “Let’s start with those drinks. Go ahead and get back to your father, and I’ll bring them over shortly.”

“Yeah, Lilah,” the other woman added in her expected, unwanted manner, “the idiot and I’ll get it taken care of. Ye should relax. Be back in just a tick.” No argument from the engaged woman. She thanked them both, then glided back to the bench to rejoin her father at their chosen end of the table.

Arlebrand, despite being in the middle of a busy tavern where their little dust-up had not gone unnoticed, felt alone and trapped by the sharp-tongued blonde still staring at him as if she found his discomfort the funniest thing in the world. He cleared his throat and tried to push beyond the anger and irrational sense of betrayal he felt while looking at her frustrating grin. Her cheeks almost looked sunken, as if she had not eaten or slept well in weeks. He wanted to feel sorry for her; clearly her life was not an easy one. All he could summon, though, was deeper and deeper irritation.

“Let’s get this over with,” he grumbled before shouldering by her to move toward the bar. The first step toward escape from the lost hope of drinking deep of Lilah’s beauty. The blonde fell into step at his side, still chattering away—which he decided to completely ignore. A silent sigh lifted his chest. Just his luck to be stuck with the most disagreeable person in the entire town. Maybe someday he would get lucky enough to meet the right woman. For now, though, he would drown his loneliness in beer and hope tomorrow brought brighter opportunities. At least he could keep Lilah’s smile in his memories as he went to bed tonight. It was better than nothing.