Never a master.
Could she know this one?
The Wolf. Her Wolf…
If the stories were true…if he would have her. If she offered herself, and agreed to whatever he asked. And, of course, if Wolf didn’t kill her and chuck her body into the Bayou, an offense most novitiates believed him capable of committing.
Damn. It’s getting hotter in here.
As afternoon found the cypress swamp surrounding Stonefall, the sun blistered through the arched windows. Keli’s cotton blouse clung to her trembling arms.
Through the damp fabric, she could see her own freckled skin. Her red hair spilled down, hiding her visible and aching nipples.
Am I enough for a man like him? Could I ever be enough?
She swallowed hard, wishing she had a glass of water.
But, surely Wolf had been approached by students before, especially students like her, who weren’t really students any longer. He was young as professors went, perhaps thirty-five, perhaps forty. So difficult to tell anymore, now that Earthwork science had advanced. He had given her signals, too. A hard-won approving glance here and there, a few lingering stares. He’d made eye contact twice during her advanced project hours.
At Solstice, he had stood beside her on the ramparts, and she held her ground during the entire ceremony even as all the other students fled in terror of his presence. Keli had to admit that under starlight, Wolf seemed more like a warlock in children’s scary stories than a wytch. He seemed one with darkness, too comfortable in night’s cloaking embrace.
Keli felt an undeniable throb between her legs, just has she had on Solstice, when his arm brushed hers. In those few electric seconds, his glittering eyes had snared her, acknowledged the contact with the slightest widening, then hardened before he stepped away.
“Ms. Dunkirk,” said a voice too low to be a growl and too solid to be a murmur.
Keli startled from her remembering, then flushed, trembling all the harder. She felt his voice at the base of her spine, spreading up and out, tingling across her nerves. Her mouth opened to answer, but no sound issued forth.
For a moment, Wolf stared at a point somewhere over her left shoulder, as was his habit. Then, with what might have been a sigh, he met her gaze directly. His powerful hands stilled above the examination slates and his jaw set with bored annoyance. “Have you finished?”
Not wanting to, Keli nodded, then felt a fist grip her heart. Tears threatened, but she battled them back. Surely this man would have no woman who broke into tears over small things. Over anything. And yet, this felt like no small thing. She would shortly be forced to surrender her slate, and perhaps her last moment alone with this powerful, magnetic wytch.
Wolf said nothing for another few seconds—endless seconds—as his all-consuming eyes wandered from her forehead to her shoulders, to the damp tips of her hair, to her arms, wrists, fingers…then back to her face, lips to nose to eyes. “Do you plan to stay here all afternoon? I suppose your friends have long since departed for New Orleans.”
His accent, more French than anything, brought a new round of chills, as did the harsh, exacting tone. Was he challenging her somehow? Keli lifted her chin, accepting his dare, if indeed he was daring her anything at all. Perhaps she had simply lost her sanity.
“My friends may do as they please,” she said as evenly as she could manage. “I have no use for parties and celebrations today.”
This seemed to give Wolf a brief pause. His thick brows drew together. “And why do you refuse the day’s celebrations?”
A personal question? Keli’s heartbeat seemed to double again, nearly blocking her voice. By sheer force of will, she spoke, resisting the urge to grab her chalk and fidget with it.
“As you know, my family died in the Uprising. Stonefall is my home, and I feel loath to leave it.”
“Loath to leave Stonefall,” he echoed, as if approving her choice of words. The force of his gaze intensified, as did the sarcasm—real or feigned—in his voice. “And are you loath to leave anything else, Miss Dunkirk?”
At this, Keli’s cheeks burned hot enough to blister. Somehow, she didn’t flinch from the withering scorch of his stare, or from the sting of his needling insinuation. After some contemplation, she said, simply, “Yes.”
Wolf didn’t speak. Once more, Keli felt measured by his gaze. She was briefly gratified by a minute softening of his harsh expression, and then he said, “One day, you will be a Crone, if you begin now, choosing your own path. That includes men you would take to bed, and men you would leave behind because they are unworthy—or too powerful—for you.”
That calm observation stunned Keli into a motionless silence not unlike stasis. Her breath shortened in her throat, choking down, down, until an air-starved lightness gripped her thoughts, especially as Wolf stood and approached her, walking with such silence and grace Keli wondered if he might be floating. What gripped her body was anything but light, and starved for only one thing—Dram Wolfel. From the hollows of her neck to the depths of her damp folds, she wanted his breath, his lips, his fingers, his tongue…Goddess. She could almost imagine the rigid heat of his cock as he claimed her.
She stood up from her desk, leaving behind the test, the last outward symbol of her time as a student. A few steps brought her close to Wolf, almost as close as they had been during Solstice, on the ramparts.
Had the words been spoken at last? Had the strange dance come so shortly to resolution? Keli closed her eyes, opened them, then drew in a thick, hot breath. When she released it, her head spun, but she refused to sway. No retreats or surrenders now.
“If the choice is mine, then I choose not to leave you behind,” she said with more power than she imagined she possessed.
Oh, Goddess. Did I say that? Did I really?
She noted as if from a distance that Wolf had taken his own deep breath at her words. His face shifted again, for a moment open, then so closed and dark she wanted to slap him. Was he considering interpretations? Could there be any interpretations beyond her intended meaning?
Was he letting her stew?
Wolf ran his hand over his eyes, an utterly vulnerable gesture that took Keli off guard. Then, he simply nodded, once and not again.
Keli stared at him, trying to confirm her leap of hope. Silence unraveled between them like a hag’s endless threads.
“Well done,” Wolf murmured at last. The silk of his tone coated Keli as completely as the sultry air. “I wondered if you would have the courage to speak your desires.”
“What about you?” Keli fired back, surprised at her temerity.
At this, Wolf allowed a small smile. “Miss Dunkirk, I have well learned to let the lady make the first move, especially if the lady wields as much power as you. This Goddess’s world of wytches and Crones can be a treacherous place for a male without the grace to wait for an invitation.”
Keli felt her face redden again. Her heart rumbled against her ribs, and her breath grew more shallow. “Well, you waited, and I’ve invited. I’d say the next move is up to you.”
Wolf’s eyes narrowed, and for a moment, he recast that dangerous aura. Keli gasped at his sudden move as he reached forward, grasped her arms, and pulled her against his chest. Her head tucked neatly beneath his chin, and his powerful arms encircled her as surely as any well-spoken charm.
He does smell like storms. Like everything basic and raw and natural
. Keli’s mind tried to reject the reality of her situation, standing in Wolf’s arms in the center of his classroom, but the hard muscle of his chest, the rasp of his breath—such things could not be denied.
And then he was bending forward, tilting her head back, finding her mouth.
Demanding with even the beginnings of his kiss that she hold nothing back, that she give him everything within her, and then some. The world ceased to exist save for the salty, heady taste of his lips, the rough insistence of his tongue. Her lips moved against his, and her hands stroked the ridges of muscle defining his waist.
Keli wanted nothing more than to feel his naked, heat-drenched flesh against hers, to rock against the hard proof of his desire, already swelling into her belly as they touched.
“If you have any sense, you’ll flee now, before I mark you forever.” Wolf’s words came in a growl as he pulled back from their kiss, slipped his hands into her robes and pressed his palms against the small of Keli’s back. “Happily ever after isn’t in our stars, wytch.”
Keli leaned into him again, wrapping her hands behind his head. “What if I mark you, you arrogant bastard? What if I demand happily ever after?”
Wolf’s surprised laugh fueled their next kiss. She felt his approval ripple through her, reassuring and maddening—and yet he pulled back, once again dark-faced and grim.
“There are things you need to know—”
“I know them,” Keli interrupted before she could check herself. The tremble in her voice annoyed her.
Narrowing his eyes, Wolf seemed to regard her in a new light. His demeanor shifted in subtle ways, and once more Keli felt surges of pain—the wounds to his body, mind, and heart. She wanted to give herself to this Warrior like a balm, spread herself over every inch of his skin until she eased that deep, black ache in his soul.
When Wolf spoke, his voice was controlled but husky. “If you are still willing in the dark, in the night when there can be only truth between two people, meet me in the clearing where we celebrate Beltaine.”
Keli opened her mouth to protest the wait, but Wolf gave her a sharp, commanding look that stilled her words and heart in the same moment. In a smooth, decisive movement, Wolf reached out and gripped the end of her breast, pinching her aching nipple—hard.
Gasping from the exquisite blend of pain and pleasure, Keli fought to keep her knees locked. The pressure increased and released, increased and released, slowly but sharply. Her quim flooded at the first sample of just how quickly and completely Wolf could control her—if she consented.
The power was hers…but if she surrendered it…her body, all sensation, everything would be his. Hers to give, his to take.
Her eyes watered, and she felt dizzy from his intense kneading. Her breast burned for his mouth. Her ignored nipple throbbed for his rough touch. Her clit ached in time with his rhythm, and she found herself rocking forward, daring him to pinch her harder.
I am insane, teasing him…
“Submission is no child’s game,” Wolf warned, letting her nipple go as quickly as he captured it. Just as fast, he moved his hand to grip her by the back of her neck, immobilizing her head.
The helpless sensation made her twice as wet.
“Consider your actions carefully, Keli.” Wolf’s deep male rumble made her want to lie down and spread her legs. “Be certain you’re ready for me before you come to the clearing. If you can’t take me as I am, however I would take you…stay away.”
Dram Wolfel paced the ceremonial clearing like a wild animal, half-snarling, keeping alert for flickers of movement or the snapping of twigs. The large patch of grass, round and carefully trimmed, seemed to shine in the moonlight. Dark, thick-trunked trees ringed him like silent observers, watching. Always watching.
What will you do with her?
they seemed to ask.
She belongs to the trees and the water, the
air and the Earth…
“I know,” Wolfel muttered aloud, unable to shake the sensation. “If you let me share in her bounty, I’ll honor the gift.”
Whether or not this appeased the forces gathering on Keli’s behalf, Wolfel had no idea. But it wasn’t his imagination. The forces
gathering, and for her. If she could understand her true strength, reach the different levels of consciousness required, Wolfel had no doubt that Keli could command power he could barely imagine.
“And how will she use it?”
Wolfel folded his arms and glared into the black spaces separating the trees. He wasn’t on guard for treachery because he’d used his mastery of the natural arts to seal the area. That took a considerable amount of energy, but he’d recovered quickly, true to his Warrior’s training.
Focus the inner resources and manage them efficiently. Use what’s available.
The barrier would last a few hours, at least. Only he and Keli Dunkirk could cross it during that time.
If she comes. And she likely won’t.
He steadied himself with a breath. Surely sanity will prevail.
But sanity had been scarce since Keli Dunkirk came to Stonefall. Kik and the Council kept extraordinarily close tabs on the novitiate, well aware of the strength of her gifts. Why had her talents emerged so late? And would they continue to grow? The Council thought not. They had proclaimed the young woman an anomaly, but Kik and Wolfel weren’t so sure. They suspected Keli Dunkirk was something else.
Something…other. Perhaps a new variant of human, or a throwback to an older one, unpolluted by Technocrat beliefs or the residual poisons so rampant in the spared lands.
Her gifts came late, yes—but if they kept growing through her lifespan—by the Goddess. She would be a fearsome wytch, indeed. Kik was right, damn her eternally to the great abyss. She was right about many things, including how much he wanted Keli.
That thought brought new force to his already potent erection. Wolfel had fought side by side with many powerful women, but this woman…
His lips curled as his cock strained painfully against his breeches.
What would it feel like to join with her, physically and mentally? Could she possibly trust him enough to let him guide her through the explosion of energy they would face?
A mental image came to him of Keli in the traditional garb of the female Warriors of Áis—leather tunic, form-fitting leather breeches, thick-soled knee boots, leather gloves with the palms bare. Some carried bows. Others carried slings and bolos, while still others bore a complement of natural oils.