Authors: Viola Rivard
Tags: #Fantasy Romance, #Love Story, #Paranormal Romance, #Romance, #Shifters, #Werewolves
“The pack used to use this during the war,” Glenn explained as they neared the tower.
Taylor cast him a dubious look. “Which one, the Civil War?”
“Not human wars,” Glenn said, grinning. “We call it the Whiteriver War, though I’d bet Whiteriver calls it the Halc
yon War. The mountains and the entire valley used to belong to Whiteriver until one night, Hale infiltrated their den and killed their alpha, Maruk.”
“A lot of us helped,” Lark chimed in. “We lured most of the pack into the woods. We had all sorts of traps set up to catch them.”
Glenn went on, “After we took over the den, they retreated to Mount Ezra. We were at war with them for a long time. They were always trying to sneak into the valley, so lookout towers like these helped us to spot them.”
He started to climb the tower, but Taylor put a hand on his arm. “Don’t climb that, it’s dangerous.”
The young wolf puffed out his chest. “I’ll be fine. I have to get the wood off the top first.”
“Don’t worry, Taylor,” Lark said, climbing up after him. “This tower was built out of one of the sturdiest trees in the valley.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s structurally sound,” Taylor called out.
Taylor paced below as Lark and Glenn reached the uppermost platform. They were too high up for her to discern what they were saying, but she could see them laughing and pointing at things in the distance.
Recognizing that they wouldn’t be coming down any time soon, she began to look around for a way to occupy
herself. Spying the river only a short distance away, she decided to wash herself up. She was still dirty from working in the garden, not to mention sweaty from the long trek through the forest.
“I’m going over to the river,” she yelled up to them. “I’ll stay where you can see me.”
She felt like a little kid adding the last part, but she didn’t want to get either of them in hot water with Hale again. Lark waved her acknowledgement before turning back to say something to Glenn.
Taylor carefully climbed down the outcropping. Her ankle felt better today and her blisters had hardened into callouses. Her feet were now a far cry from dainty, but it made hiking through the mountain forest a lot more bearable.
When she reached the river, she glanced back to make sure the tower was still in view. Slipping out of her moccasins, she took a few steps into the water, stopping right before it dropped off into an obscure depth.
So far only Alder knew that she couldn’t swim and she was hoping it would stay that way. Whenever she and Lark bathed, she went out farther each time and she thought maybe she was getting the hang of it, but she still wasn’t going to try it on her own.
Not bothering to remove her filmy dress, Taylor sat down in the water, relaxing as the cool current washed over her body. She ran her hands along her feet, brushing away the dirt, and then splashed water on her neck and face.
As she was rubbing her eyes, Taylor felt a prickle of awareness on the back of her neck. She looked up to see a doe
standing on the other side of the river. Its pelt was light brown with white speckles and it observed her through wary brown eyes.
Taylor stayed still, not wanting to frighten it. They watched one another for a few moments until the doe blinked and continued walking towards the water. It stopped at the shoreline and then gave a hard shake of its body.
She stared in rapt fascination as its body seemed to shrink beneath its loose pelt. Within the span of a breath, the doe was gone, leaving in its place a petite young woman, peeping at Taylor from beneath the empty pelt.
Taylor couldn’t tell if she was the skinwalker from yesterday, but she looked similar. Up close, she could see that unlike the shifters, the skinwalker didn’t look quite human. Her face was a little too long and her eyes were a bit too big. All in all
, though, she was quite beautiful.
“Hello,” Taylor said softly.
The skinwalker cocked her head slightly but didn’t respond. Taylor remembered Hale saying that they didn’t speak or understand language, but she didn’t believe the skinwalker was dumb. There was a sparkle of curiosity in her eyes, and curiosity was a precursor of intelligence.
Opting to use body language over speech, Taylor offered her a smile. The skinwalker immediately mimicked the expression
, though it looked more like she was baring her teeth than smiling. Holding back her laughter, Taylor waved at her. She waved back.
“Okay, you’re adorable,” Taylor said.
It was hard to believe creatures like this existed and Taylor had never known about it. It was probably for the best, though. She could only imagine how humans might seek to exploit them.
The skinwalker lowered her head to the surface of the river, slurping the water into her mouth. Just for fun, Taylor bent her head and followed suit. Her companion seemed delighted.
Distant shouting caught her attention. She could hear Lark and Glenn calling for her and so could the skinwalker. She lifted her head in alarm, her eyes darting over the area.
“That’s just my friends,” Taylor said, pointing towards the tower for emphasis.
Not understanding, the skinwalker grabbed her pelt and threw it over her body. Taylor squinted, trying to make sense of how the shift worked. It was incredibly fluid. The pelt seemed to fuse to her skin while her body conformed to the shape of the pelt until they were one and the same.
The doe turned her head to the side, just in time for a large grey wolf to slam into her.
Taylor shot up, shock making her stagger back a few paces. Then, outrage tore through her. She bent down, grabbing a river rock the size of her fist and hurling it at the wolf’s head.
“Get the hell away from her,” she screamed. “She’s not a deer, you moron.”
The rock didn’t quite reach the wolf’s head, but it did crash int
o his shoulder bone. His head shot up from the doe’s neck and Taylor was relieved to see that the wolf hadn’t managed to puncture its skin.
The wolf turned to her, snarling. With his attention diverted, the doe managed to scramble out from under the hulking canine, skittering off into the forest.
Taylor folded her arms across her chest, glaring at the wolf. “I’m sorry I hit you,” she lied. “But Hale says you’re not supposed to hunt skinwalkers.”
Okay, so that wasn’t exactly what Hale had said, but he had made it clear that skinwalkers weren’t part of their usual diet and as long as she was around, things were going to stay that way.
She expected the wolf to shift and explain himself, or at the very least back down, but he did neither. With his head lowered and a low growl emanating from his powerful chest, the wolf advanced on her, stepping into the water.
Taylor didn’t bother trying to piece together what was happening. Instincts kicked into gear and she went running towards the tower at full speed, not daring to look back.
The wolf didn’t relent. It caught up as she was climbing the outcropping, diving for her exposed legs. She reared up, preparing to kick him, but another wolf sprang down from above, slamming its body into the attacker.
It took Taylor a few seconds to realize the blur of shaggy brown fur was Glenn and then she went from frightened to terrified. The
grey wolf was easily twice his size and had Glenn pinned in no time, its teeth snapping at Glenn’s neck. Frantic, Taylor looked around for something she could throw, but then Lark came, grabbing Taylor by the arm and hauling her up the side of the outcropping.
“He’s going to kill Glenn,” Taylor protested.
“Glenn’s tougher than he looks,” Lark said, though Taylor could tell she was concerned as well.
As Lark pulled her onto higher ground, Taylor heard a chilling screech from above. Shielding her eyes, she looked skyward to see a
shadow blotting out the sunlight. Seconds later, Fenix swooped down, his talons outstretched.
grey wolf looked up just in time to see the hawk gouge its eyes. Taylor wanted to look away but concern for Glenn as well as a morbid curiosity had her eyes glued to the fight below. All of the apprehension was gone from Lark, who stood on the edge of the outcropping, enthusiastically cheering for Glenn and Fenix.
In a blind panic, the wolf took off towards the river. Glenn, who appeared to be sporting several superficial wounds, hung back. Fenix relented as well, flying back to the outcropping and shifting as he landed.
“Are you alright?” Fenix asked, his breathing uneven.
“Never better,” Taylor said, attempting a smile.
“I’m fine, too,” Lark said from behind him. “In case you were wondering.”
Fenix turned to
muss up her hair. “Sorry, badger. No one’s going to pluck my feathers if you’re eaten.”
Before Lark could respond, they all turned in the direction of the river
as another loud sound was heard. It was a short, sharp cry of pain, followed by silence, and Taylor knew something had just been killed. In a split second of panic, her eyes searched for Glenn. She was relieved to see that he was still down below and had shifted back into his human form. He was sporting a few bites to his upper arm, but looked otherwise unharmed.
No one stopped Taylor as she climbed back down, though they all fell into step alongside her. As she made her way through the trees, Alder and Hale came into view. They were standing over the body
of the grey wolf, arguing. Both were naked and she wasn’t initially able to tell who was who.
“He could have just been hunting.”
“I don’t give a shit what he was doing. He was in my territory.” Nope,
was definitely Hale.
“We could have questioned him,” said Alder.
“Well, it doesn’t matter now.”
Alder just shook his head and turned to Taylor. Before he could ask, she said, “I’m okay.”
He gave her a lopsided smile before turning his attention to Fenix. “Mind telling me how he got past the border?”
While Fenix and Alder
spoke, Hale advanced on Glenn. Thrusting an angry finger towards Taylor, he said, “What the fuck did I tell you about dragging her through the woods?”
Glenn shrunk back and Taylor stepped in before he was able to formulate a reply. “You are bein
g so sexist right now. It’s not Glenn’s fault. I’m an adult and he’s just a kid.”
Taylor immediately regretted the words as Glenn’s face flushed red, but she couldn’t take
“You’re right,” Hale said, not taking his eyes off Glenn. “A
would have known better than to put you in danger.”
Taylor’s fist clenched and unclenched as she resisted the urge to punch him. While she was reining in her temper, Glenn mumbled an apology under his breath and walked away. Lark looked between them, worrying her lip. After a moment’s hesitation, she followed Glenn.
“I can’t believe you,” Taylor hissed at Hale.
Hale rounded on her. “Either you stay near that damn cabin or I’ll burn it to the ground and you’ll never set foot outside my den again.”
Her mouth fell open. “You can’t tell me what to do.”
Her words seemed to spark something feral in him and the air between them was charged with
an electric heat.
so frustrating,” he bit out.
abruptly began to dissipate as something occurred to her. Her brow furrowing, she slowly raised her hand, placing it on his arm. When he didn’t pull away from her, she gently brushed her thumb in a soothing motion. She felt some of the tension leave his muscles and his eyes softened.
Hale was worried about her…
“I’m okay,” she said, hoping to reassure him. Instead, the words seemed to break whatever enchantment her touch had placed on the alpha. He shook her hand off and took a step back, huffing loudly.
“Like I give a damn.”
Hale stormed off, heading down a narrow path alongside the river. Taylor moved to follow him, then remembered she wasn’t alone. She looked back towards the dead wolf, where Alder and Fenix were still standing. Fenix was talking and gesticulating with his hands, but Alder’s gaze was focused intently on her.
Taylor’s face heated and she suddenly felt ashamed, though she wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I’m just going to, um…” She pointed towards where Hale had gone, grasping for a good excuse. “I’ll be right back.”
d away before Alder could respond, padding after Hale.
They needed to talk, she reasoned. There was something weird going on between
her and Hale and they needed to straighten it out now, before it impacted their relationship with Alder.
Taylor had almost given up on catching Hale when she finally saw his golden hair
, glinting in the last vestiges of sunlight. He was standing motionless in the center of the river, the water up to his shoulders.
She didn’t bother trying to approach him quietly.
If his hearing was anywhere near as good as the other shifters’, Hale had probably known she was following him the entire time. She wasn’t sure how far they were from Alder and Fenix, but they’d walked long enough that her legs were officially out of commission.