Nature could be cruel, and while the wolves had not been responsible for the injury that slowed the deer, its disability made it the most reasonable target. It had reached the summit now, and three wolves were waiting, driving the frightened doe toward a dead end stand of boulders, and toward death.
But even when death came, it did not come quickly. Even though it was injured and tired from running, the deer lashed out with its sharp front and back hooves as the wolves surrounded it. The doe’s mouth was open, its breath steamy in the cool air of the Alaskan morning. The wolves moved in, nipping, and retreated as the deer spun to face them. The doe floundered, went to its knees, came up again and tried to break through the circle of predators. When it couldn’t, the wolves tightened ranks. The deer was frantic with fear now as it made a desperate, impossible attempt to leap onto the vertical wall of rock behind it. This last ditch effort gave the wolves their final advantage. When the doe fell, they attacked—a solid wall of muscle and fur. The deer raised its head, giving one of the leaders the opportunity to latch onto the white throat.
Moments later, the deer’s legs stopped kicking
Usually, Lakota fed first. But today he broke away and walked into a stand of trees by the boulders. A moment later, he was climbing them in his human form. He sat down beside Carly, who’d observed the whole thing from the vantage point where he’d left her. By now his nakedness seemed as natural to her as their shifting.
Carly was silent as she observed the scene below.
“Why not just hunt them as humans?” she asked. “Wouldn’t it be more humane?”
“If we were solely human, we could afford to be humane,” he said. “But this is our heritage, Carly.” He paused. “And yours.”
Lakota had wanted her to know, so—just as he promised—he’d immersed her in their world. Since leaving Doc’s wrecked home to come to theirs two weeks earlier, Lakota had taken her into the meadows at twilight, so she could observe the pack in their wolf form. He warned her that transitioning was an art—one that young members learned how to control. For those genetically gifted with the ability, it could emerge at any time between the ages of twelve and twenty-one. Those new to transformation found their humanity subverted to what Lakota called Wolf Will. The older pack members were especially watchful of these younger members, who eventually learned to perceive the world with both minds no matter what the form.
Lakota warned her to be still around the younger members of the pack, who would react to her as a human. And she realized this was the case. When two young males approached Carly curiously, elder members of the pack flanked her in a protective stance, sending the signal that she was not prey. She could see the differences in their eyes; the gazes of the older wolves shone with human recognition, while those of the younger ones were wilder.
There were other things he wanted her to see, too. He’d told her that rebellion and disobedience were dealt with immediately within the pack—something Carly saw firsthand when two young wolves sparred over the deer only to be forced onto their backs by more dominant pack members. Within moments, order was restored.
It was behavior that Lakota knew Carly never dreamed she’d observe. But he was committing to teaching her about their lives, in both forms.
In an odd way, it was her scientific mind and training that enabled Carly to accept this supernatural reality as natural. Lakota knew that if he’d just told Carly about his people—and about her heritage—that she’d never have believed it. But she couldn’t deny that which she’d observed with her own eyes.
“I can see why Doc loved studying the pack,” she was saying now. She was sitting on the rock beside him, her knees drawn up under her chin. Her dark blond hair hung in two long plaits and her skin was healthy and pink from being outside, the tip of her pert nose slightly upturned. She turned to him then, her expression puzzled. “How did he learn your secret?”
Lakota had smiled. “He’d put a trail camera on our paths. It caught one of our younger members shifting. Who knows what anyone else would have done. But your father put two and two together. He knew our community lived apart from most of civilization, so he came one day with the pictures and identified the young member who had changed.” He chuckled. “That member was Caine, and that was years ago. Caine was defensive at first, but your father told him he was a scientist, and wanted to learn more. He earned Caine’s trust by promising to keep the Sourwood pack’s secret. Then his study broadened to researching birth and death records, trying to trace our origins. Somewhere along the way, he found record of a rogue wolf who’d left the pack.”
“My biological father…” she guessed.
“Yes,” he said. “He wanted to find out what happened, and that’s how he found you.”
They observed the wolves in silence as they fed. Later, some of the bones of the deer would be gathered, with a few being left behind for the scavengers who relied on the wolves. Already the ravens were gathering, croaking their impatience from the trees.
“Wait here,” Lakota said. “I’ll be back to get you and we’ll go home.”
He stood, walked back through the trees, and this time when he reemerged, he was in his wolf form, joining his family to feed on the carcass. If it had been killed closer to home, the pack would have dressed it in human form for the meals they cooked in their houses. They stored lots of meat for winter in this manner, assuring sustenance when weather did not allow for hunting.
Lakota was the last to leave the kill. After he’d eaten his fill, he transformed back to his human form and dressed in some clothes that made up one of the many stashes he and the others kept throughout the woods. Carly was still sitting on the rock waiting for him.
“You took long enough,” she joked. “I was thinking maybe I should just walk back without you.”
She was testing him. He could tell, even with the joking tone.
He stood and took her hand, helping her up. “That, my little one, would be a bad idea unless you want to find myself across my lap again.” He led her down from the rock. “You’ll be going nowhere alone until I’m satisfied that Bruce Holder is no longer a threat to your safety.”
Carly stopped. “And exactly how long am I supposed to wait?” He could hear the impatience in her voice. “I’m not used to having one person tell me what to do every waking moment, let alone a dozen.” She paused. “I could really use a break. If I could just go back home for a while. I’d be careful, Lakota. I could hire a bodyguard.”
“No,” he said. “Your leaving now is out of the question. No full human is equipped to take care of you.”
She turned to him in exasperation. “If I don’t learn how to protect myself, how would I make it if we’re separated? Being so dependent is…”
He turned to Carly and took hold of her shoulders, turning her toward him. “Is it really so awful? I’m not keeping you under lock and key. You’re out in the wilderness, gaining information about the pack that you can use in the research you were planning to do.”
“Yes,” she said. “But I have to obey you every waking moment. I realized the other day when you were showing me how to follow trails and read deer rubs that I’m actually starting to think of you as a father figure. It… It makes me feel…”
Her voice trailed off, and now Lakota relied on all his senses to discern what she was trying to say. His noted the dilation of her pupils, the quickening of her breath and—most telling—the presence of hormones indicating an undercurrent of sexual excitement.
“Confused? Embarrassed?” he asked, and her response was to flush. Lakota put a finger under her chin and tipped her face up until she was forced to look at him.
“Why should I be embarrassed?” she asked curtly.
“Because the human world has taught you that a strong female should not sexually crave the domination of an alpha male. Especially not one who acts as her father figure.”
She backed away. “I don’t,” she said quietly. Turning, she crossed her arms and stomped ahead of him. “If you think that, you’re wrong.”
“Am I?” he asked. She didn’t answer, but only turned away, keeping her arms crossed angrily as she marched up the path ahead of him. They rounded a curve on the trail when he heard it.
“Carly, stop,” he ordered, but she marched on.
“I told you,” she shouted back. “I’m not used to having someone tell me what to do every…”
But he was on her now, pushing her aside as he stared into the trees. Now she heard it, too—the soft chuff-chuffing of a bear. This time it was not a large grizzly, but a smaller black bear. It had been eating berries on the side of the path when it caught the human scent. And while it did not charge, it held its ground in a defensive stance.
Carly did not note the difference. The sight of the bear triggered a barely repressed fear and she screamed, the sound sending the frightened animal running back into the forest.
Lakota turned, taking hold of Carly. There was not amusement in his eyes now.
“That’s why I expect instant obedience,” he said. “That bear wasn’t dangerous, but if it had been, you’d have almost walked into it.”
He pulled Carly over to the side of the trail and reached up to snap a limber, low-hanging twig off of a tree.
“What are you doing?” she asked nervously, but Lakota didn’t answer as he pulled out a pocket knife and began peeling the switch. When Carly realized what he was doing, she tried to dart away.
“Another bad move,” Lakota said. He was on her in three strides and ignored her alternating curses and pleas as he worked her blue jeans and panties down to the middle of her thighs and guided her to a bending position over a rounded boulder. Laying the switch aside, he worked her jeans down and off, leaving her clad only in her long-sleeved t-shirt and hiking boots.
The sight of her toned legs and round bottom had an instant effect on Lakota’s cock, but he wasn’t about to allow his intentions to be deterred by the delectable sight of Carly’s shapely buttocks. He intended to teach her two lessons this time.
“Whether you like it or not, you answer to me now, little one,” he said as he picked up the switch. “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe, even if it leaves you in tears.”
He raised his arm and brought the switch down hard, and Carly howled as the blow left a burning line of pain in its wake. Lakota kept a hand on the small of her back, holding her easily in place. Carly’s position on the rock had her leaning slightly forward, and as the switch painted welt after welt on her nates, Carly began to kick wildly in an effort to get free. The sight of her plump sex between her legs was almost more than Lakota could stand, and even though she was sobbing for mercy, his heightened senses picked up the heady pheromones that told him that part of her was responding sexually to his correction.
There were nearly a dozen thin welts crisscrossing her bottom now, and he added one more for good measure before tossing the switch away and pulling her to standing. Lakota sat on the rock as he forced her to face him, waiting for Carly’s wails to subside before addressing her.
“That’s why you do as you’re told,” he said, pointing in the direction the bear had run. “You know better, Carly. So why don’t you tell me why you ran? Do you like putting yourself in danger?” He paused, gently pushing his fingers between her thighs. “Or was part of you hoping I’d stop you?”
“That’s ridiculous!” She spat the words through her tears, angrily wiping them away with the back with one hand as she rubbed her welted bottom with the other.
“Is it?” he asked. He took hold of her shoulders and locked his gaze onto hers. “I don’t have to touch a woman to tell when she’s sexually excited.”
His words seemed to shock her into momentary silence. “That’s a hell of a thing to say from a man who considers himself a father figure.”
“Well, maybe that’s because we comprehend two different things in the term,” he said. “As leader, I consider myself a father figure to the whole pack. And a pack leader can mate with a female he protects.”
The presence of pheromones in the air was heavier now.
“If you think I want you in that way…” she said, but her voice was quavering, her skin was flushed, and then her eyes widened as his fingers moved between her legs to reveal what she’d been trying to hide even from herself.
“You’re wet, Carly,” he said. “You want me. Admit it. You want me as much as I want you.” He paused. “I wanted you from the moment I saved you from Bear. I’ll fight any beast that tries to claim you. But I fear I cannot fight the one that longs to claim your body.”
It surprised him to find she kept herself shaved, and now as he slipped first one finger, then two, past the slick folds of her inner flower, her body seemed to draw him in, and she moaned as he probed her tight, hot pussy. Carly was whimpering as her hips followed the motion of his hand, even as she buried her face in his chest and fisted his shirt.
“No. No. No,” she said. “This is wrong.”
“It’s not wrong,” he said. “I am your kind. Even if you do not have the gift, we are drawn to one another. I am made for you, Carly. You are made for me. It was meant for us to get together, my little one. I was meant to guide you, to protect you, both as a father figure and as your lover.”
They fell onto a bed of pine needles by the trail. Lakota’s hands were everywhere, skimming her narrow hips, cupping her buttocks as she moaned and pushed against him. He could tell she was still conflicted even as her body seemed to act of its own accord. Her head was thrown back, her eyes closed.
He wanted to show her pleasure, to show her how good it could be with him, how right. The sweet musky scent of her body was driving him wild. He wanted to taste her. He pulled her t-shirt and boots off, leaving her naked. Her breasts were firm and full for such a small female. He bent his head now, capturing a nipple in his mouth, biting down on it gently. She arched her back into him, fisting his shiny black hair, and sought to hold him, to keep him from going lower. But he growled a warning and she released him, and his head moved down as he cupped her buttocks with large, possessive hands. Carly whimpered, but spread her legs nonetheless, and Lakota lapped at her labia almost hungrily, intoxicated by her passion. His cock was straining against his jeans almost painfully, and he was torn between the need to bury himself inside her and the heady thrill of tasting her. He latched onto her clit, suckling slightly as he plumbed her with his fingers. And she was lost to him now, crying out as she pushed against him, her denial drifting away on the wind along with her cries of passion.
He could wait no longer. He rose to his knees, looming over her as he unleashed his cock. It sprang forth, and she stared at it, wide-eyed. In its aroused state, it was larger than that of normal men. When she rolled away, at first Lakota thought Carly was trying to elude him. But then she lifted her hips and looked back with a gaze as hungry and feral as his own.
He gripped her hips, reveling in her acceptance, her invitation. The ass that bore the marks of his correction was tilted toward him, her bottom hole and glistening pussy clearly visible and offering the sweet promise of countless hours of pleasure.
But the first time, he knew, would be special. And as he slid into the narrow passage of her pussy, felt the walls grip and rhythmically caress his cock, he moaned his pleasure, his muscles rippling as he folded her into his embrace and began to thrust slowly in and out.
She was so sweet, so sweet. And her little cries of passion only heightened his excitement. Lakota had an arm around her chest and could feel her nipples hard against his muscular tricep. From what she’d told him about her life up to this point, she’d been a dedicated student not given to dating. And while he could tell she was no virgin, he sensed that her skill in this most intimate dance was one born of primal instinct more than practice. They seemed to fit perfectly together, despite their size difference. She was tuned to his rhythm, meeting him thrust for thrust. And when those thrusts became faster, almost savage, she not only took them, but maintained the rhythm, as she mewled softly, urging him on until with a cry he spent his hot seed into her.
Next to running wild through the wood in wolf form, Lakota had never felt so complete or true to himself.
When he slipped out of her body, he lay down, turning her to face him. He hoped he would not see hesitation, and relief flooded through him when he saw wonder in her eyes.
“I’ve found you,” he said. “My little one. My little mate. Do you understand now, that you can be both my ward and my one love?”
She nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I don’t understand it completely yet. But, yes…”
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