Authors: Viola Rivard
Tags: #Fantasy Romance, #Love Story, #Paranormal Romance, #Romance, #Shifters, #Werewolves
“Oh, yeah, sure,” she said. She’d forgotten all about the deer lady. “Are they different from regular shifters?”
“Yes and no,” he said. “My uncle once told me that we used to be like them a long time ago, before we started breeding with humans.”
“What makes them different?”
“They’re bound to their skin,” he explained. “They can shed it to take human form, but if it’s damaged, they’re usually stuck that way. Most of them die within a few weeks.”
“That’s awful. Do they live in the den?”
Hale caught up with her, just in time to push a branch from her path. “No. They may be able to look like humans, but they’re all animal underneath. They can’t speak and they don’t understand language. They’re also not very bright, at least, the deer aren’t.”
“There are others, besides the deer?”
“There are a few elk ones in the valley. I saw a swan once, when I was younger. There aren’t any predator skinwalkers left. We’re all shifters now.”
There was a lull in the conversation, but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable. She hadn’t expected Hale to be so easy to talk to and was practically bracing herself for him to make some off-color remark.
Something grim occurred to her. “You don’t eat them, do you?”
“No. They smell different than their animal counterparts, so it’s hard to get them mixed up
, even when we’re hunting.”
Taylor stepped over a fallen log. Hale made no move to help her, but he did wait until she was over it to resume walking.
“Hey, what’s it like to be a wolf?”
It was something she’d meant to ask Alder, but
she’d had surprisingly little time with him since coming to the valley.
Hale gave her a strange look. “Can you describe what it feels like to be human?”
She chewed her lip thoughtfully. “Being human is like…being constantly aware of your own limitations.”
He seemed to consider her answer. “In that case, being a wolf is being constantly reminded that you’re not human.” As an afterthought, he added, “Not that that’s always a bad thing.”
It was a strange answer and she couldn’t resist asking, “Do you ever want to be human?”
Hale sighed and when he spoke again, his tone was sharp. “Of course not.”
Taylor felt herself tense.
You’re hot and then you’re cold
“I wish I could be a wolf,” she said, hoping to ease the tension. “It’d be so cool to be able to shift into a giant wolf. No one would ever be able to mess with me.”
She was happy to see humor return to his expression.
“You would be a very small wolf,” he said matter-of-factly.
Taylor’s laughter was cut short by an awful screeching sound in the distance.
“What was that?” she asked, her eyes whipping around the area before settling on Hale.
Rubbing his chin, Hale said, “Sounds like that run
t may have made a kill.” His lips curved. “Want to ride me?”
Taylor blanched, heat spreading over her cheeks before she realized what he was referring to. Smirking, Hale took a few steps back, shifting into his wolf form. The shift may
have taken a bit more effort than when the skinwalker had done it, but Hale sure made it look easy.
She climbed onto his back, gripping the fur at the base of his neck. Without waiting to see if she was secure, Hale took off, sprinting in the direction of the others.
Taylor held on tightly, keeping her eyes on the path ahead, but for some reason, all she could see was Hale’s barely clothed body.
Hale took a roundabout path, enjoying the feel
of Taylor’s warm body straddling his back. Earlier, he’d made a point of walking behind her, curious to see what her ass looked like. Seeing it had been a temptation, but having it bouncing against him was sheer pleasure. He tried not to think of the fact that she didn’t belong to him and that in a few moments he would have to put her down.
He wanted to believe that she was no different than the other females his brother seemed to go for:
lying, selfish, and manipulative.
Lies had spilled easily enough from her lips the night they’d met. Then, yesterday by the river, she’d not only disrespected him, but considered herself to be above participating in chores. As if
not eating meat—which he still did not understand—somehow exempted her from pack duties.
Last night, as she was burning
his breakfast, Hale had pried information from her, shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding the murder she’d supposedly committed. Taylor had said she’d acted in self-defense, which he hadn’t doubted. But something about the way she’d told him, for a brief moment, had made her seem vulnerable. He’d had to suppress the urge to comfort her, to tell her that she was safe in his territory and he wouldn’t let anything happen to her.
He wanted to believe that she was manipulating him, but the more he was around her, the more he talked to her, the
more Hale was beginning to wonder if he’d been wrong about Taylor.
a stop on a rocky hill, Hale surveyed the scene below. The runt was fighting over a turkey with Holly and Fenix. Though fox shifters were much smaller than wolves, Holly and the runt were nearly the same size. They jerked the mangled bird back and forth with such ferocity that Hale was surprised it didn’t tear in two. Above them both, Fenix beat his wings in their faces and grasped at the turkey with his talons.
“Whoa…” he heard Taylor say.
He imagined the sight of a fox, a wolf, and a hawk fighting over a turkey would likely seem odd to her. To Hale, it was just another evening in the valley.
Hale sat, letting Taylor slide off his back. Several of the hunters hung back to watch the fight, which became even more interesting as the raccoon joined in. In her human form, as she always was, she began throwing rocks at Fenix.
“Go away, bird brains! That’s our turkey!” she screamed.
“You didn’t do shit,” one of the hunters called out from the sidelines. “That’s Fenix’s kill.”
A fox in the crowd was quick to correct him. “That’s Holly’s bird. She’s been fattening him up since springtime!”
attention was drawn back to Taylor, who was making her way down the hill and heading towards the fight. He realized that in their world, the small human was not unlike a pup. There was a great deal she still had to learn and he had half a mind to let her take a few bumps and bruises so that she would learn her lesson. Not willing to let her go in entirely on her own, Hale followed her.
As they came to the foot of the hill,
Taylor had the good sense to stop at the raccoon’s side. Hale hung back, watching as she tried to wrest a rock from the raccoon’s hand.
“Stop throwing rocks, you’re going to hurt someone,” Taylor chided.
Hale felt strangely proud of her for not involving herself in the brawl.
“That’s the point,” Lark said, wrenching her hand free. “Those stupid animals are stealing our kill.”
The raccoon managed to throw another rock, this one landing squarely on Fenix’s head. It wasn’t thrown hard enough to do anything but momentarily stun him, but once he came back to his senses, he was pissed.
Fenix let out a lou
d shriek, lunging at the females. Hale knew that Fenix wouldn’t actually attack either of them. Razor-sharp talons made Fenix one of the deadliest shifters in Hale’s pack, and while he would often use them to intimidate the others, Fenix knew better than to actually use them against one of their own.
was drowned in centuries of instinct. Anger burned in Hale’s chest as he saw the hawk descend on Taylor. As she threw her hands over her head, bracing herself for the attack, Hale sprang up, jumping over her to knock Fenix to the ground. A massive wing pinned beneath each paw, Hale lowered his head to the startled hawk, his body emitting a low growl.
When Fenix shifted his arms came free, but he made no move to escape. Averting his eyes, Fenix turned his chin up to expose his neck. He remained silent, and after a few long seconds, Hale backed off of him, shifting into his human form.
The fighting had come to an abrupt halt. The runt sat in his wolf form, the battered turkey hanging in his mouth, while Holly, who had shifted, approached Hale.
“It was one of my birds,” she said, eyeing him with caution. “I told them to leave it alone—”
Hale tuned her out, rubbing his head. His body urged him to turn around and make sure Taylor was all right, which was extremely aggravating. He knew perfectly well that she was fine. Fenix hadn’t touched her and he didn’t smell her blood, only her usual scent mingled with fear.
“This is exactly what I’ve been telling Alder about, Hale,” Holly said. “I tie a string around the feet of all my birds. If these dumbasses are too stupid to look out for my strings
, then they should just stick to hunting deer, because if this—”
Unable to resist the urge any longer, Hale turned. Taylor was pale, paler than usual anyway, but otherwise fine. The raccoon was slumped over her shoulder, crying.
The others began to close in, each of them making their case for whichever party they felt had been wronged. A headache started to grow inside his skull and Hale pressed a hand to his temple.
Raising his voice, he said, “I highly doubt there’s enough of that bird to go around. Get back to hunting.”
The crowd quickly dispersed, the hunters shifting and heading off into the woods. Two of the foxes lingered, but quickly followed the others as Hale shot them a glare.
Only Fenix, Holly, and Taylor’s brood remained and they were all arguing.
“It was our kill,” Fenix asserted.
The runt had shifted and was wiping blood from his mouth. “I got it first.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Holly said. “She was
!” Hale yelled, causing them all to flinch. He pointed at Fenix. “You’re on cleanup duty for a week.”
Whatever Fenix wanted to say, he bit it back, wisely remaining silent as he snatched the turkey from the runt and headed for the river.
“Serves you right,” the raccoon called after him, no longer crying.
Hale turned to her. “You too
.” He nodded towards the runt. “And him. Now get out of here.”
Seeming satisfied with the resolution, Holly shifted into her orange fox form and sauntered off. The raccoon and the runt
followed, both with their heads down.
“You go ahead,” Taylor said to the raccoon, giving her a pat on the back.
The rain began to fall harder, making Taylor’s red hair stick to her face. Hale was glad they were alone again. He wanted to reach out and touch her hair but was stopped by the sight of her pinched expression.
“That wasn’t fair,” she told him. Her hands balled into fists, which he found confusing. Did she plan on
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
His voice sounded strange and Hale realized that he was still angry, though he wasn’t sure why. The situation had been resolved, yet it had done nothing to assuage the agitation that had taken root in his chest.
“You punished Lark and Glenn. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
He should have pointed out that the raccoon had attacked Fenix, or that Taylor couldn’t possibly know who had really been in the wrong, as she hadn’t been there to witness the entire scene. But those weren’t the first things that came to mind.
“They should have known better than to drag you through the woods and leave you on your own,” he said. “You could have been hurt.”
He realized as he said it, that on some level, it had angered him from the moment he’d found her in the woods, spying on the skinwalker. The forest near the den wasn’t dangerous, but it stretched for miles, all the way to Mount Ezra. His mind couldn’t help but conjure images of a Whiteriver wolf sneaking past their patrols and happening upon her, alone and defenseless.
Her face softened. “I’m the one
who told them to go ahead of me.”
“Just because you had a bad idea doesn’t mean they should have listened. They know better.”
Looking away from him, she folded her arms across her chest. “Why do you even care? It’s obvious you don’t want me here. You’d probably be happy if I got eaten by a bear or something.”
Hale felt his body reacting to the nearness of her.
He took her chin between his thumb and forefinger, tilting her head so that she had to look at him.
“You asked me what it was like to be a wolf,” he said. “Because of you, my brother is going to leave and many of my pack members will probably go with him.”
Her bottom lip quivered. “I told you, I don’t want that.”
“I should hate you, or at the very least I should want you gone.”
Hale took a step forward, leaving just enough space between them for his erection to press against her belly. He saw a muscle in her neck bob, but she didn’t back away.
“But I’m a wolf,” he told her, his voice becoming low. “
So instead of wishing you would get mauled by bears, all I want is for you to be safe.” He lowered his head to her ear. “And instead of wishing you were gone, all I can think about is getting you on your knees and fucking you until you can’t even remember my brother’s name.”