rm_nii88 52M
6 posts
6/27/2006 8:40 am

Sam stepped out of the forest into the clearing and stopped. She'd spent the early morning in the various gardens weeding and making sure that the local rodents stayed out of the pack's vegetables. Coming home she'd heard the distinct sounds of a group gathered at the clearing. The tone was one of violence brewing just beneath the surface.

Pushing her way forward, Sam caught bits and pieces of conversations taking place between various members.

"...doesn't belong here."

"...only one way to deal with him."

"...Nafarius will see to it."

Finally reaching the center of the clearing, Sam's attention went immediately to her mate. Conversation died around her as all eyes turned to see what her appearance would mean. Sam ignored the people around her; her focus was for one man and one man only.

Nafarius stood with his arms crossed in front of his chest; his lips were pressed firmly together in disapproval; and his stance was that of a man ready to do battle. His eyes stared dark and cold at the ground in front of him and not once did he spare his mate a glance.

Following his line of sight, Sam was surprised to see a man, his clothes torn and ragged, and down on all fours with his head hung between his forearms. Stepping closer, she caught his scent. Fear and rage rolled off the man in waves but beneath that was the distinct scent of the city. Human.

That one word rang through her head. In the year that Sam had been with the pack there had been rumors of humans in the forest but none where ever found. It was a good thing because the pack had only one policy when it came to humans in the forest...death.

Sam, unlike the rest of the members of the pack, had been born human. Her change into a werewolf had come only because Nafarius was in need of a mate and didn't want to start a war between packs by choosing from only one of them. Therefore, he'd sought a mate elsewhere and Sam happened to be in the right place at the right time...that was, of course depending on how you looked at it.

She didn't regret her decision to stay or to become Nafarius' mate. Sam had quickly come to love her mate and her pack and she was loyal to both. While she wouldn't risk her pack's existence on a human she would do whatever she could to ensure that no harm came to the man. At least not until they were able to ascertain his intentions.

Not many people traveled this far into the mountains. Locals were superstitious and more than a few of them (rightly) believed that werewolves inhabited Wolf Lake. While Sam's pack kept well enough alone there was still the occasional sighting. There was also little danger from city dwellers; the few that came out to the mountains to do some hiking stuck to the established paths, none of which led to Wolf Lake. Wolf Lake wasn't even on the map; you had to know where it was in order to find it.

Sam had come up the year before specifically following the stories of werewolves. She'd never really believed in such things but she found a certain fascination in studying urban legends. She'd obviously been mistaken. Werewolves were really and she was willing to bet that the things that went bump in the night from her childhood were real as well.

That said, it was curious to find a human and one smelling of the city this far into the mountain woods. If he was here for a reason they needed to know what it was. Only then could they figure out what to do. Unfortunately, the pack's motto was to eat first and forget the questions. Humans didn't come here often and there was a reason.

Sam did a quick evaluation of the crowd surrounding her. She could already sense the blood thirst building on the air. This group wanted blood and they were eager to hunt for it. Nafarius, despite his care for his mate, was inclined to let the human go...and send his pack after him. A good chase through the forest would do them all some good. They may look like humans but they were more animal than not and that animal was hungry.

She knew she had to hurry; already two pack members had changed. Excited at the idea of hunting a human (something not often done) had made the younger pack members unable to control their animal. Two almost fully grown male wolves were circling the downed man. Every once in awhile one of them would pull back his lips, bare his teeth and growl.

Much to her own surprise, Sam felt her animal stir and she knew that despite her desire to help this human her animal would rather run him to ground and rip into his throat. Mentally pushing down the thought, Sam stepped forward. "Nafarius."

Nafarius didn't bother to look up at his mate. Instead he answered, his eyes never leaving the man on the ground before him. "I know what you're going to say and the answer is no."

Sam wasn't surprised. Nafarius might care for her but he'd been born a werewolf; he had no love for humans. His anscestors had been hunted down until they were nearly extinct; she couldn't very well expect him to give a rat's ass about one less human when there were a billion more where this one had come from. She was surprised by the unleashed fury she saw vibrating through his massive body. Slowly, she stepped closer, intentionally putting herself between Nafarius and the human.

Unable to see the man, Nafarius finally lifted his head and watched as his mate approached. At first he wanted to throw her aside and strike out at her for coming between him and his prey but he knew that was his animal talking. That part of him others would consider human whispered that his mate was different and didn't understand. "There is nothing here for you. I don't expect you to approve or even understand. Maybe it is best if you and Maddie take yourselves inside and wait until this is over."

"No, I'm not leaving and I do understand. You want to protect the pack, so do I. But I don't think the best way to go about doing that is to kill any human that comes here. If you do you run the risk that others will come looking for him. There has to be a different way."

"No one came looking for you." Nafarius was reluctant to point that out. He often wondered what it had been like for his mate. Sam seemed so eager to join the pack, how had she ever lived alone in the city?

"I did."

Sam whirled around at the sound of the man speaking from behind her. "Alex?"

Alex slowly rose to his feet; brushing long blonde hair back from his face he wearily kept an eye on the two wolves circling him. If he hadn't seen it for himself he would never have believed that ten minutes ago those were two fully-grown, young men. He'd guess their age at somewhere between 19 and 21 but he couldn't be sure. Even in human form they'd seem bigger then other young men he'd come across. The rest of the males surrounding him seemed the same; no matter where he looked Alex was confronted by large men of unhuman size. The women were smaller but by no means petite.

Nafarius stepped forward this time putting himself between the man and his mate. "You know this human?"

The word human was said with such disgust that Sam flinched. "Yes, I knew him when I lived in the city. Alex, what are you doing up here?"

Reassured that (for the moment) he was relatively safe, Alex stood to his full height. Unfortunately, despite being almost six foot tall he stood several inches shorter then the shortest man around. He decided to ignore the others and focus his attention on Sam. "I came looking for you. Well, actually, I came looking for any information regarding your disappearance."

Sam was stunned. Her and Alex had been close once but by the time she'd embarked on her hiking trip they had been separated for several months. "How did you find this place?"

"When you didn't return to defend your thesis I started to worry. Eventually I contacted the police and filed a missing person report. Since you didn't have any family the cops were willing to let me have your things after they were through with them. They didn't find anything useful and after a while your case was shuffled away in a drawer some where." Alex took a deep breath; it was hard to explain how he'd come to be there. He had cared for Sam but when she disappeared it was as if he was being punished. He'd never been able to give her what she needed in their relationship and her disappearance seemed like the ultimate failure. "When they finally released your belongings I started going through all your old paper work. I knew that most of it related to your thesis but I also knew that you liked to visit the places where the stories originated. At first, Wolf Lake seemed like all the rest, until I read your thesis. I noticed it wasn't mentioned at all so I started thinking that perhaps the information was there for a different reason. After a while I decided to come up and have a look."

"You shouldn't have come Alex." Sam whispered softly; she was a little bit shaken at finding her old lover here in her new home. It wasn't just the fact that he was human and she no longer was. It struck her that someone had cared enough to come and look for her. She was an only child and her parents had since passed away. Alone in the world, Sam tended to keep to herself. The fact that Alex would come all this way meant more to her then he would ever know.

"What I would like to know is how did you find our home?" Nafarius could see the emotions warring on Sam's face but he couldn't let that stop him from his duty to the pack.

Alex shrugged. "I got lost." He ignored the snickers of the other members that had overheard his comment. "I found the lake but after a year there was no sigh that Sam had ever been here. I decided to search the surrounding area and lost my direction in the forest. I've never seen trees grow so close together. I wondered around the woods for three days before he finally found me."

Alex had gestured to Roland with his chin. It was obvious that he was embarrassed about the fact that he'd gotten lost but at the same time his sense of honor required him to acknowledge Roland's help.

Roland acknowledged Alex's appreciation with a simple nod. "No need to thank me, you're not out of the woods yet."

Nafarius glared at his second-in-command. He hadn't relaxed his stance in the slightest; if anything the tension in the clearing had risen several notches in the last five minutes. Finally, he looked at his mate. "What am I to do?" Shaking his head in mock exasperation, "Nothing is ever easy with you, is it?"

Sam smiled, she knew when she had won. Nafarius wouldn't order Alex's death, for now. He would grant her a reprieve, time enough to come up with some other solution. But one thing was for sure, Alex wouldn't be leaving.

Sam's smiled faded; she'd forgotten about Rei and Craig, the two young men that had changed into animal form.

Rei's voice was slurred as he spoke through an elongated snout but his intention was clear. "He'ssss human; he musssst dieeeee."

Sam stepped forward before Nafarius had a chance to say anything. "He's mine Rei; if you want him then you have to go through me."

"Sam, no." Nafarius stepped forward and grabbed her arm. Sam shook it off.

Rei was looking at her with a new-found sense of respect. He'd thought her weak for wanting to save the human, despite the fact that he was someone from her past. In his mind all humans were a threat but if Sam was willing to fight for the human then Rei's thirst for violence (which had been raised by the human's presence) would be satisfied.

Sam saw Rei consider and she knew when he'd made his decision. "First blood?"


Sam shifted, shedding her clothes, and leapt across the clearing before Rei had time to prepare. Her black coat rippled in the sunlight filling the clearing as her muscles bunched and sprung. She was on Rei, her front paws braced on his chest and her teeth sunk into his next before he had time to move.

Quickly, sensing her easy victory, Rei rolled and used the momentum to force Sam off of him. This time it was he who pinned her down and with a fierce growl sent snapping jaws towards her neck.

Rei outweighed her by at least seventy-five pounds, all of it muscle but her smaller size allowed for greater agility. Sam let her body go loose catching Rei off guard and throwing him off balance. She had a small window of opportunity and she took it. Not bothering to try and pin him down again, Sam turned, reached out and struck.

Rei yelped and swung his massive head around. It was clear for every one to see. A set of four claw marks slashed through his fir and had opened the skin on his right flank. As far as wounds go it was minor to a werewolf and would be healed by morning. However, it did mean that Sam had drawn first blood. The human was her's to protect. "You mayyyy have ssssaved him from meeeee but you will havvvve to protectttt himmmm from the resssst of the pack assss well."

Sam shook him off; turning to Craig she asked, "Who'sss nexttt?"

Craig shook his head and stalked off into the forest. He had no desire to fight his mistress for the right to hunt some human. He'd just as soon forage in the forest. A quick run and he'd feel better.

Sam sighed and sat back on her haunches. A few words from Nafarius and some help from Roland had the rest of the pack moving off until it was just the three of them. Nafarius was watching Alex, Alex was watching Sam and Sam was watching both of them. Silence stretched thin between them until finally she decided she'd had enough. Confident that Nafarius would see Alex settled, Sam (still in animal form) stalked off toward the mountain. Slipping inside she went to find Maddie, the young woman undoubtedly would be able to help sooth Sam until she'd calm down enough to change back into human form.

Nafarius turned to Alex who stood stark still staring at the place where Sam was just sitting. He couldn't keep the venom from his voice when he asked, "What? Didn't you stop to think that she had become one of us and that's why she stayed?"

Alex avoided the question and asked one of his own. "Why do you hate me so much? What did I ever do to you?"

Nafarius shook his head. "It isn't what you've done but what you could do. You have the power to destroy us all, including Sam." Deciding against saying anymore, Nafarius turned and head toward the mountain. "Come, I will see you settled. You'll be safe as long as you're under Sam's protection; as my mate no one would dare to cross her."

"You're mate?" Alex wasn't sure how he'd missed that part.

"Yes, and wolves mate for life."

Nafarius' voice held enough of a threat that Alex got the message loud and clear. "If I'm under Sam's protection why can't I leave?"

"Because her protection doesn't extend that far, nor does it extend to the other packs. You'll be safe as long as you remain here and as long as you do as you are told." Nafarius turned to Alex who had been following a few steps behind. "A word of warning, we may look like humans but we were born animals and those instincts run deep."

Alex nodded but didn't say any more. He followed Nafarius silently into the side of the mountain where a large cave opened up. Inside he could see several different alcoves that were blocked off for privacy. Careful to keep his gaze from touching on any one face for too long, Alex was still able to ascertain the sense of home, hearth and family that resided within the mountain. Despite the warning from Nafarius it was warm and inviting, if not to him specifically.

Nafarius led Alex to the back of the cave where a small alcove sat separate from the others. This area was usually used to punish pack members or house unfriendly "guests" from rival packs. Due to the nature of those staying there the alcove was sparsely furnished. There was a pile of sleeping furs and a place for personal waste but nothing personal.

Alex dropped his backpack on the floor and looked around. Noticing the two guards posted outside the alcove, he asked, "Am I to be a prisoner?"

Nafarius gave a negligible shrug. "No, the guards are for your protection, not ours. You are to remain here until either I or Sam come and get you. If you leave without one of us attending you neither she nor I can guarantee your safety."

Alex nodded, it galled him to do it but he stopped Nafarius before he could leave. "Thank you for allowing me to stay."

Nafarius was surprised by the gratitude. "Thank Sam, she's the one that put herself on the line for you." With that Nafarius left and went to find his mate, he had an idea of where she might be hiding.

Slipping into their alcove, Nafarius found Sam, still in animal form, stretched out on their sleeping furs. She wasn't alone. Maddie, still in human form, was stretched out beside her. The two women were a contrast in everything. Maddie was small, petite and blonde with pert apple sized breasts and a beautiful cherub face. Sam, on the other hand, was everything dark with black fur, green eyes, large breasts and legs that went on for miles. In human form her hair was the same color and her face was made up of sharp angles. Together, lying next to each other they accented each other's beauty and Nafarius took a moment to appreciate the sight.

Maddie smiled up at him but continued stroking her mistress. Sam had taken her in and protected Maddie from the more dominant members of the pack. In exchange, Maddie took care of Sam and Nafarius' home. She slept with them and over the past year had become a part of their family often times sharing their sleeping furs.

At the moment Maddie was helping to alieviate Sam of some of her unspent energy. Usually, Sam could change from human to animal form without any effort but today's events had left her feeling torn and uncertain. She loved her life with the pack and had thought to leave everything from her form life in the past. But Alex's arrival had stirred up conflicting emotions. He had been a big part of her life for a long time and was still a friend. It meant a lot to her that he had come here seeking to see her but his presence was going to cause quite a disruption. In fact, it already had.

Frustrated, Sam rolled over and onto her feet. Slowly she stretched and moved to position herself between Maddie's spread thighs. As Nafarius looked on Sam pressed her muzzle into the young woman's pussy and began to lap and her lips. Maddie, already intoned to her mistress' mood sighed and let her legs fall farther apart. Encouraged, Sam reached out with her tongue and starting at the base of her pussy licked the length of her lips ending at her clit. Careful so as not to injure Maddie with her teeth Sam licked and suckled her clit into her mouth quickly bringing the young woman to an orgasm.

The scent of sex and satisfaction lingered heavy in the air and Sam found herself even more restless then before. Nafarius having witnessed his mate's most recent actions sought to appease her. Without changing into animal form, Nafarius positioned himself behind her and with one quick thrust buried himself deep inside of her. Sam whimpered in pleasure and pushed back against him. Easily they found their rhythm and together reached their release. Sam collapsed onto the furs and slowly slid back into human form. Smiling up at both of them she said, "Thank you."

Nafarius offered both of them a hand up and watched as the quickly dressed. "Maddie, will you see that our guest receives some supper?"

"Of course." Maddie turned and went out to join the others in the common area where most meals were prepared.

Sam turned to her mate. "Is everything okay?"

"You tell me; you know him and felt confident enough to speak up for him." Nafarius couldn't keep the bitter tone from his voice.

Sam was surprised, her head tilted as she tried to understand what had him so upset. "You aren't jealous, are you?"

"No." Nafarius' denial was quick, too quick and even he knew that.

Sam smiled but quickly tried to wipe the look from her face. "I'm sorry, I just never thought you'd be jealous."

"You are my mate..."

"Yes, and wolves mate for life." Sam stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Nafarius' waist. "I love you and no matter who shows up from my past that isn't going to change."

Nafarius looked down at her. "Are you expecting any more company that I should be aware of?"

Sam laughed. "No, I'm surprised that Alex was able to find me. It's only a hoax that he figured out that the research on Wolf Lake was personal and not part of my thesis."

"I want you to get whatever information he has back from him."

"I will; I'll talk to him later tonight or tomorrow and find out everything he knows." Sam turned and urged Nafarius out towards the common area. "I'll make sure that there isn't any threat from outside."

"I won't let anything threaten my pack." Nafarius growled and fought the urge to simply kill the human. He understood Sam's feelings towards the man but she was no longer human. Her first loyalty was to the pack and if that meant killing the human then that was what he would do, despite how she felt about it.

Sam seemed to echo his thoughts. "They're my pack too and I won't let anything happen to them. Even if it means destroying Alex." The last was added in a whisper.

Just then Maddie walked up and offered Sam and Nafarius a bowl of rich stew. It was thick with meat, vegetables and broth. Steam rose from the bowl and reminded Sam just how hungry she was. Taking the bowl, Sam motioned to Maddie. "Take a bowl of stew and some bread to Alex." Feeling Nafarius stiffen beside her, she added, "Make sure one of the guards accompanies you inside."

"Yes, ma'am." Maddie turned and went to fill another bowl. After break off a chunk of bread and filling a bottle with water she left. Sam and Nafarius weren't the only ones that noticed her departure and noted her destination.

Riley watched through narrow eyes as the young woman made her way to the back of the cave. Obviously upset, he turned and made his way over to where Sam and Nafarius were taking their meal. "I can't believe you would send her to deal with the human." The emphasis he put on the last word made it clear how he felt about that particular breed of animal.

Nafarius and looked up and glared. "It is not for you to question either myself or my mate."

Riley saw the warning in his leader's eyes but he cared too much to back down. Turning to Sam he said, "You of all people should know how innocent and nieve Maddie is, how could you send her in there?"

Sam wasn't offended. Riley was new to the pack having come with Natasha and the others. He was young and handsome and he had no trouble blending in with the rest of the pack. He was smart and a good hunter and Sam predicted that he would go far within the pack. But she also noted that Riley had been watching Maddie ever since his arrival. It was a match she was more then willing to support and encourage therefore she was willing to overlook his disrespectful a point. "Riley, I sent one of the guards along with Maddie but if it would make you feel better you can accompany her in the future."

Riley, somewhat chargin by the understanding tone of Sam's voice, bowed slightly at the waist. "I would appreciate that."

Nafarius watched him walk away. "I'm surprised. I didn't think he would want anything to do with the human."

Sam smiled. "He doesn't, it's Maddie he's interested in."

Nafarius couldn't hide his surprise. "Our Maddie?"

"Yes, you didn't think she'd stay with us forever?" Seeing Nafarius' face go dark she added, "It is a good match. Riley is dominant enough to protect her and its obvious that he cares about her. I would see Maddie well and truly settled."

"I've grown rather fond of her." Nafarius had come to enjoy the young woman's company. At first he had been uncomfortable around some one so submissive and eager to please. He was use to dealing with men and women constantly vying for a new position within the pack. Maddie had none of those desires. She was happy to serves her leader and her mistress. After a while he'd become accustom to seeing her in their alcove, in their sleeping furs and at their hearth. Despite her shy nature, Maddie was extremely intelligent and they had spent many nights conversing on a variety of topics. And he had to admit that he enjoyed the added pleasure she brought to him and Sam. It would be hard to let her go but like Sam he'd come to care for her enough that he would see her well matched. That brought him to Riley.

Nafarius was only mildly acquainted with the young man. Natasha had brought with her several new pack members and he had yet to get to know them all. Riley was well established with the other pack members and Nafarius hadn't encountered any trouble from him. He was a good hunter and always took his turn patrolling the surrounding area. He was of a similar age to Maddie and obviously cared about her safety. However, he wasn't yet ready to give his blessing. He would take the next few days and watch Riley to see what else he could discern.

Meanwhile Maddie slipped into the small alcove situated at the back of the cave. Despite Sam's words of warning she entered alone. With a shy smile at the human she held out her hand.

Alex looked at the young woman but he didn't move to take the bowl from her hand. Even from his position on the floor he could tell she was small. Petite with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes, her small cherub face nearly stole his breath away. So caught up in her beauty, Alex missed what she was saying. "I'm sorry?"

"Sam asked that I bring you something to eat. It's rabbit stew with garden vegetables. I made it myself along with the fresh bread." Maddie shifted slightly under his intense gaze. Her own curiosity with humans was what drove her to enter unaccompanied. She'd been just as curious about Sam but this was the first male human she'd ever seen and there was something about him that reached out to her.

Alex took the offered food and without his usual manners dug in hungrily. He ate in silence, the woman watching him the entire time. Finally, when he was finished he handed her back the bowl and cup. "Thank you, that was delicious."

"I can bring you some more if you're still hungry?"

Embarrassed, Alex blushed but shook his head. "No, thank you. I normally don't eat like such pig but I've been lost in the woods for two days without anything to eat."

Maddie gave him a small smile. "There is lot to eat in the forest, if you know where to look." At Alex's frown she realized the implications of what she'd said. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean anything by that."

"It's okay and in fact you're right I shouldn't have come out here without knowing what I was doing. I didn't think...well, I guess I just didn't think at all." Alex shrugged at his own foolishness.

Maddie approached slowly and when Alex didn't voice any objection sat down across from him. "Can I ask you something?"

Alex looked at her for a moment. "Sure."

"Why did you come?"

He thought about it for a moment. "Well, I never thought I'd find..."

"A pack of werewolves?"

Alex gave a small laugh. "That and I never really thought I'd find Sam. I'm not a detective, I didn't even know where to begin to look for her or what to look for. I guess I came more as a way of saying goodbye."

"You two were close?" Maddie didn't understand what it was about him that made her want to know him better.

"Yes, we dated for a while but that had ended long before she disappeared. We were still friends and when the police couldn't tell me what happened to her I sort of snapped. I spent most of my time trying to find the answers. When I came across her notes on Wolf Lake it seemed like the logical place to look. I didn't expect to find her but maybe I could find some peace about what happened to her."

Maddie was quiet for a moment. "What will you do now?"

Alex shrugged. "I guess that depends on Sam and Nafarius. To them I'm a threat and I can understand why they would be reluctant to let me leave."

"Sam will speak up for you and she'll make sure that no harm comes to you."

"You have a lot of faith in her."

Maddie looked away but Alex didn't miss the note of sadness on her face. "I don't do well with the other pack members. At least I didn't until Sam came. One of the first things she did as Nafarius' mate was to claim me as her own."

Alex looked appalled. "How can she do that, you are your own person!"

Maddie shook her head. "It's not like that. Sam made it clear to the others that I was under her protection and that anyone who harmed me would have to answer to her. She and Nafarius took me in and made me part of their family. They do that; they watch out for everyone of us and make sure that we're all safe."

"But I'm not a pack member."

"No," Maddie said almost wistfully. "But that won't stop either of them from watching over you and seeing you safe."

Alex shook his head but didn't bother to argue. Sam might be willing to stand up for him but Nafarius obviously didn't want him here but was unwilling to let him leave. That left only one alternative.

"What in the hell is going on here?!"

Maddie jumped at the sound of an angry voice behind her. Turning she found Riley standing at the entrance to the alcove. "Riley, we were just talking."

"I thought Sam order you to bring a guard with you?" Riley's voice came out as a growl.

The animal sound coming from someone looking so human reminded Alex that he was not in Kansas anymore. He was in the middle of a pack of werewolves, wolves that saw him as a threat and would see him dead. "Maddie was kind enough to keep me company while I had my meal."

Riley turned on the human and snapped. "I wasn't talking to you." Turning back to Maddie he reached out and grabbed her by the arm. "Come."

Maddie didn't struggle but Alex could see that Riley's grip was hurting her. But when he opened his mouth Maddie shook her head. It was clear that she didn't want him interfering. Instead he sat back and watched as the young woman was escorted out of the alcove.

Riley dragged Maddie back to the common area and with an angry shove forced her to sit down. "I want you to stay away from him."

Maddie looked up at Riley and glared. This wasn't the first time he'd acted in such a high handed manner. On more then one occasion he'd insisted on accompanying her out to the gardens or into the forest when she wanted to take a walk. She wasn't use to so much attention from one man and she didn't particularly care for it. While Sam and Nafarius watched out for her they allowed her a certain amount of freedom and treated her with the same respect as any other pack member. Riley treated her like a child and she didn't appreciate it one bit. Standing with her fists clenched at her side, she glared up at him and said, "It is none of your business who I chose to spend my time with."

Fro a moment Riley was speechless. Maddie never spoke like that to anyone yet here she was yelling at him. Fortunately, his surprise didn't last long and quickly gave way to outrage. "He's an outsider and he's human! Why would you want to spend any time with him at all?"

"That," Maddie poked her finger into Riley's chest, "is none of your business. Despite what you and the others may think I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself!" With that she turned and walked away unaware that the brief exchange had been witnessed by most of the pack members.

Nafarius had also witnessed the exchange and turned to find Sam smiling beside him. "I don't see the humor in this."

"She's finally standing up for herself. Not only that, if she does decide to take Riley as her mate it is best that he not like he can dictate to her. You have to admit, he was acting pretty high handed with her; if you had tried that with me you would have seen sparks. I don't want Riley thinking that he can railroad over her." Sam knew that things were different in the pack; a person's place was determined by how dominant or submissive he or she was. Maddie had always been the most submissive member of the pack but it would seem that she had had enough. Maybe having Sam and Nafarius to back her up had given her the courage she needed to stand up for herself.

"Be that as it may;" Nafarius interrupted his mate's wanderings, "she shouldn't have been with Alex alone."

"He would never hurt her; Alex is too kind for that sort of thing."

"No, but I doubts he's above using an innocent woman to help him escape." Nafarius had thought of all the possibilities and none of them frighten him as much as the idea that Alex could escape and alert other humans to the wolves' presence here at the lake.

Sam shook her head. "I know you don't trust him but I do and I know that if for no other reason he would keep his silence to protect me."

"I'm not willing to bet the lives of my pack on that."

"I know but where does that leave us? And Alex?" Sam watched as Nafarius walked away without answering. It was clear that he was having as hard of a time as she was.

The next morning Alex was surprised when the curtain to his alcove was pulled back and Maddie entered, once again alone.

"I thought you might like to clean up." She offered him a large kettle of warm water, a rag, some soap and some clean clothes.

Alex took the offering and immediately stripped his shirt over his head. Maddie gasped quietly at the sight of his sun kissed skin. Alex was tall and broad across the shoulders. His chest and stomach showed the signs of a man willing to work. As he moved his muscles rippled beneath the surface of his skin and sent waves of heat pooling into the pit of her stomach.

Too busy cleaning himself up to notice, Alex missed the sight of wonder that past over Maddie's face. Quickly, he sponged himself off before dunking his head in the water. His hair was fifthly and he wouldn't be surprised to find lice. There wasn't any shampoo so he made due with the soap. It was enough to wash the first few layers of grime from his body and he was relieved to pull on a fresh change of clothes. "Now I feel human again."

Maddie gave a small laugh and then blushed in embarrassment. She didn't want Alex thinking she was making fun of him.

Alex caught the joke and chuckled. Those few second were enough to break the tension and he found himself asking her to sit with him.

Maddie looked indecisive. She wanted to sit with Alex and learn more about him and where he was from but she was worried what would happen if she did.

Alex picked up on h hesitation. "Is Riley your mate?"

Surprised, Maddie sat down. "No, but I think he is hoping that Nafarius will give him permission."

"Permission to what?"

"To mate with me."

Alex was surprised. "Don't you have any say in the matter?"

Maddie considered. "If my father was still alive it would be for him to say and I would have obeyed his wishes. My father died a few years ago and my mother several years before that therefore the responsibility falls to Nafarius. Because he is my leader I would do whatever he deemed right however I think that both he and Sam would permit me the chance to voice my opinion."

"Which is?" Alex was curious and for some reason found himself holding his breath. For whatever reason he didn't want to see her with Riley.

"Riley is a good man, he would provide well for me and his position within the pack would assure my safety."


Maddie chewed on her bottom lip. "I don't love him."

"Does your kind mate for love?" Alex quickly apologized. "That was a rude question and I apologize for my comment."

Maddie smiled and brushed it off with a wave of her hand. "My kind is very different from yours; I took no offense. Yes, some of us mate for love but others mate to secure a higher position within the pack."

"Why did Sam mate with Nafarius?"

Maddie hesitated wondering how much she should say. The circumstances surrounding their mating was common knowledge among the pack but that didn't extend to an outsider.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked." But Alex was curious what had made Sam decide to stay.

"I think it was both. Nafarius was looking for a mate but needed to find a way to do so without offending the other packs. We are the largest and most powerful pack in the area. If he had chosen a mate from one of the other packs then the rest would have taken offense."

"Why didn't he pick someone from within your own pack?" Alex was finding that there was a lot more to wolf dynamics then he originally thought. To him wolves were just animals living on instinct but the same obviously wasn't true for werewolves.

"There wasn't anyone within the pack strong enough to take the place of his mate. In addition, there was more than one woman that wanted the position and they would have had to battle for it. A battle for the leader's mate is to the death and Nafarius didn't want to see his pack destroyed. It would have weakened us as a whole and he cares too much about the individuals involved to see any of them killed."

Alex considered all she had said before asking his next question. "How did he find Sam?"

Maddie smiled remembering the day Sam had entered their lives. "She was brought to us kicking and screaming. Roland had found her down by the lake, like you she was human and not welcome but Roland thought it best to bring her before Nafarius. Nafarius was impressed by her spirit. Despite the situation she refused to back down and held her own with both men. I don't know if you've noticed but Nafarius can be pretty intimidating."

"I've noticed."

Maddie smiled at Alex's sarcasm. She had been watching him as he listed to her and was pleased to see true interest in what she had to say. "Nafarius gave her a choice she could stay as his mate or she could return to the city."

"He was going to let her leave?"

"That's what he said but looking back I don't know if he would have let her go. From the first moment she walked into the clearing he was intrigued by her. She didn't fear him and that was a first for him. So, they mated and wolves mate for life."

"How did she become one of you?"

"Most of us are born werewolves but Sam became infected during the mating process."

Alex frowned. "Like a sexually transmitted disease?"

"No, a person can become infected either through a bite or a scratch but only when a werewolf is in animal form."

"So, Sam mated while Nafarius was in animal form and he either bit her or scratched her?" It was too easy for Alex to conjure up a mental image. He expected to be repulsed or at the very least offended by the idea but he found the image strangely erotic. "So, what will you do?"

Maddie didn't have to ask to know that Alex was asking her about Riley. "I don't know. I can't stay with Sam and Nafarius forever. I've already intruded on their hospitality enough but I can't see mating with someone just so that I can get out from under foot."

"If you're that worried about staying with Sam and Nafarius why don't you stay with someone else or move out on your own?"

Maddie shook her head. "I can't."

"Because of the other pack members?"

"Yes, and Riley. If I was alone there would be nothing stopping him from taking me even without Nafarius' permission."

Alex was appalled. "Is that allowed?"

"It is an old custom and one usually reserved for talking a mate from an enemy pack. Pack law states that if one member is strong enough to take another then he, or she, is within his right to do so."

"Any you're not strong enough to defend yourself against Riley." It wasn't a question, Alex had seen the change in Maddie the minute Riley had stepped into the alcove the night before. "Isn't there anyone else you can stay with? Someone who will protect you?"

"Only as my mate and even then I don't know that any of them would want me. I don't offer much in the way of pack politics."

"What about your connection with Sam and Nafarius? That has to be worth something? The fact that you've lived with them for almost a year and they both obviously care for you should strength your position." Alex's heart went out to the young woman.

"I don't know." Maddie stood and gathered her things.

It was obvious that she was upset by what she saw as a hopeless situation and Alex felt bad for having brought it up. "I know it is a pretty worthless offer but if there is anything I can do to help please let me know. It's the least I can do for the kindness you've shown me."

Maddie smiled but said nothing as she left. Alex spent the rest of the day thinking about their visit and waiting for her to return. To his disappointment another young women brought him his supper that night. Dark hair that reminded him of Sam she introduced herself as Natasha. She was heavy with pregnancy, but her movements were still sure and graceful despite her bulging belly. Natasha set down his food and left.

The next day Nafarius and Sam stood outside in the clearing. Nafarius had stripped down to the waist while Sam wore a pair of tight shorts and a tank top. Both of them were covered with a fine sheen of sweat. For all her natural ability Sam had not been born a fighter and Nafarius was working with her to see that her training went well. Despite her smaller size she insisted that Nafarius treat her as he would any other member and all she had to show for it was a back covered in bruises. Time and time again Nafarius attacked. Quick and lethal he knew her strengths and weakness and exploited them both. Finally, after an hour Sam learned how to compensate for the weakness on her left side. She was naturally inclinded to attack and defend from the right, which was her stronger side. Therefore, Nafarius came at her left side, which was often open and vulnerable. He was pleased when she finally caught him coming at her from the left and defended accordingly.

Proud of herself, Sam watched as Nafarius was caught off balance and landed on his side. Taking advantage of the situation she came back and moved in for the attack. Nafarius saw her coming but instead of defending let her momentum carry them both over. Laughing, they ended up in a pile of sweat covered limbs. Those pack members that had been watching shook their head and moved off knowing that the serious training had ended for the day.

Riley waited until the two had once again regained their feet before approaching. "Nafarius, may I have a moment of your time?"

Nafarius gave Sam a silent look. They had discusses Riley's interest in Maddie and the events of a few nights before and both had come to an agreement. "Of course."

Riley looked from Nafarius to Sam and realized that he would have to make his request before his mistress as well as his leader. "I would like to formally ask your permission to take Madeline as my mate."

Nafarius thought for a moment choosing his words carefully. "While it is true that Maddie has been under the protection of my mate for nearly a year she is a grown woman on her own. She no longer lives at her father's hearth but has chosen to share ours therefore it is up to her to decide who she will take as a mate."

Riley was speechless. Usually, a woman could choose her mate and in fact he had to be strong enough to take her. If he could not conquer her during the mating processes then she was free to choose a stronger mate. However, Maddie was the weakest member of their pack, she couldn't defend herself against Riley or anyone else. If she was left to decide for herself then it was likely that she would end up with someone other then himself. Unbeknownst to either of them, Alex had been correct. Maddie's position with Nafarius and Sam made her an ideal mate beside which she was beautiful and there were many males within the pack that would be more than happy to have her in their furs.

Sam could see that Riley understood the implications and was struggling to come to grips with them. "You'll need to speak with Maddie yourself. Neither Nafarius nor I will interfere on any members' behalf when it comes to who she chooses."

"I see." Riley turned and went to find Maddie. He didn't like the idea of approaching her and requesting that she chose him as her mate. It felt too much like begging which was something he didn't do. However, if he didn't approach her soon there was every chance that someone else would.

He found her in the gardens. She was bent over weeding wearing a simple sundress. A large straw hat covered her head from the afternoon sun. "Maddie."

She looked up at her name, a slight frown forming between her blonde brows before she pasted a small smile on her face. "Hello, Riley, what are you doing here?"

"I came to speak with you. I just spoke with Nafarius and Sam. They informed me that you will be allowed to choose your mate despite residing at their hearth." The last was added to show his disapproval of the situation.

"Yes, I know. We talked about it last night." Maddie knew what was coming and sought to cut him off. "I haven't yet decided who I want as a mate."

"I would like you to consider me." Riley stood still and waited.

Maddie sighed and sat back on her heels. It would have been so much easier if Riley had just left well enough alone. Although she didn't know who she wanted as a mate one thing she was sure of was that she didn't want Riley. While he was a good match in many regards he wasn't someone she could see spending the rest of her life with. He wasn't blonde, broad across the chest with blue eyes like...oh Lord. She couldn't be seriously considering...if anyone knew what she was thinking...

"Maddie? Did you hear what I said?"

"As I said, I'm not ready to make a decision." She was trying to be diplomatic but he wasn't taking the hint.

"I'm not asking you to make a decision, all I'm asking is that you at least consider me." Riley bit his tongue and swore he wouldn't say another word. Otherwise he would start to beg.

Maddie knew it would be easier to let him believe she was seriously considering him but it wouldn't be fair. "I'm sorry Riley. I don't see myself spending the rest of my life with you."

"Why not?" Now he was angry; how dare she dismiss him out of hand!

"Because I don't love you."

"Love! What the hell does love have to do with anything?" Riley took a threating step forward.

Maddie stood and dropped the gardening tool she had been using. Fear started to break out along her skin and she could feel the animal within her responding. "I refuse to marry for politics. If you had hoped to get closer to Sam and Nafarius through me then you were mistaken. I will not allow someone to use me that way nor would I do that to Sam and Nafarius."

"Why you stupid..."

"I think you had better leave."

Maddie turned in surprise to find Alex walking out from between two trees. She had no idea how long he had been standing there but it was obvious that he had heard at least part of her conversation with Riley.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Riley growled and baring his teeth he slowly lowered himself to the ground.

Maddie saw the signs of an impending attack and moved so as to put herself between Alex and Riley. "Alex, you shouldn't be out here."

"Sam suggested I get out and get some sun. Considering that I have no idea where I am Nafarius figured it would be safe enough and that I was unlikely to try and escape." Alex didn't like the looks of things. He had no doubt that Riley was willing to take by force what he couldn't have.

"I suggest you keep walking. This is none of your business; you don't belong here." Riley didn't even bother to try and fight it. His animal surged through to the surface forcing him to change.

Alex watched with absolute fascination as Riley shifted before him. Where once there stood a man now stood a large, dark brown wolf. Even on all fours, Riley's head came to chest level on Alex. Alex wasn't a short man.

He saw it coming but was powerless to do anything about it. One moment Riley was standing across the clearing and the next he was air born. His lips were curled back, his teeth bared and a low threatening growl coming from his throat. Just when Alex though enough to move a large, light colored blur shot out from his right.

Maddie caught Riley in mid air. Sinking her teeth into his shoulder she knocked him out of the air and onto his side. Riley recovered quickly and was on his feet shaking the small woman off. Maddie was barely half Riley's size and she wasn't use to fighting but her fear for Alex drove her on.

With both of them in animal form Riley saw his opportunity and moved in. But instead of attacking he moved to cover Maddie's body with his own. If he could join his body with hers then she would be powerless to do anything about it.

Maddie sensed Riley's intent and turned so that they were face to face. They circled each other and still she waited. Finally, Riley made his move only before Maddie could do anything about it another large shape moved out from the forest and went after Riley.

Growls and the distinct sounds of a fight had drawn her attention. Before reaching the clearing Sam had been able to discern the situation and knew that both Alex and Maddie were in danger. With decisive action she knocked Riley out of the clearing and followed him to the ground where she wrapped her jaws around his neck. When he tried to move she issued a loud growl in warning that had him holding still.

Nafarius, still in human form, arrived a second later. He left Sam to take care of Riley and went to see that Maddie was all right. Already back in human form she was breathing heavy but other than a few scrapes and bruises she looked to be in good shape. "What happened?"

Nafarius wrapped her naked form in his arms and held her. Maddie couldn't stop shaking. She'd never been involved in a fight before and certainly never with a male member of the pack. "He wouldn't take no for an answer. When Alex tried to intervene Riley went crazy and attacked him. I couldn't let him hurt Alex."

Nafarius looked up to where Alex still stood at the edge of the clearing. "It seems I owe you a thank you."

Alex seemed to sense that Nafarius wouldn't be put off. "You're welcome. Is she okay?"

"She will be just as soon as we get her back home." Nafarius stood and helped Maddie to her feet. "Can you walk?"

"I'm fine."

Nafarius looked from Maddie to where Sam still stood with Riley firmly planted beneath her paws. Torn, he wasn't sure whether he should escort Maddie home or take care of Riley. He was afraid of what Sam would do if left alone with the young man.

Alex stepped in. "I'd be happy to help her home if you'd like."

"Thank you." Nafarius transferred Maddie to Alex's open arms and went to deal with Riley. Neither Alex nor Maddie spoke on the way back to the cave. Once there he helped get her settled before returning to his own alcove. Only one guard remained and Sam assured him it was more for his safety then to prevent his escape.

The next morning Sam wasn't surprised to see Alex approaching. "Sam? Can I talk with you?"

"Sure, what's up?"

"Well, first I was wondering what happened with Riley?" When Sam just stared at him, saying nothing, Alex realized that he wasn't going to get that information so he moved on to his next question. Taking a deep breath he jumped in with both feet. "What would I have to do in order to approaching Maddie?"

"To what end?" Sam crossed her arms over her breasts and waited. She already suspected but wanted Alex to voice his intent.

"As her mate." The words came out on a rush of air. Having said them he felt ten times better. He'd spent the night thinking things through and had come up with what seemed like a perfect solution.


Alex knew better then to try to bullshit Sam. She'd never appreciated it before and he doubted that as a werewolf her opinions of it had improved. "It would solve everyone's problems. Nafarius wouldn't have to worry about me leaving and Maddie would have a mate."

"There are other ways we could take care of both those issues without you joining the pack."

Alex gulped audiably. "I hadn't thought about that."

"I didn't think so. In order to mate with Maddie you would have to become a werewolf. No human is allowed in the pack and even if you were allowed to remain human you wouldn't be able to protect her and she isn't strong enough to protect you."

"You think another female might be?"

"Yes, but that isn't an issue here. None of them would have you." Sam sighed. "Alex, why do you want to mate with Maddie? Some new curiosity?"

"No!" Alex was offended. "I care about her and she needs someone..."

"Maddie doesn't need anyone to protect her. Nafarius and I are here for that. She needs someone who will love her for her and not for what she can give them." Sam wasn't sure how she felt about this but in the end it wouldn't really matter. What mattered was how Alex and Maddie felt about it. "Have you spoke with Maddie about this?"

"No, I figured it would be best to talk to you first and maybe then speak with Nafarius." Alex shrugged. "Who knows, she might not even want me as a mate even if I am willing to join the pack."

"On, I think she'll want you." Sam smiled. "Talk to her and ask her what you'll have to do to prove yourself to her and the pack. Then come and see me. I'll speak with Nafarius in the mean time."

The pack was divided. Several members agreed that the best thing was for Alex to join them. Maddie would be taken care of and the rest of them would be safe. If Alex joined the pack then he would have a vested interested in keeping their secret. He assured them that no one knew where he had gone. He also spoke with Nafarius at length and together they decided that he would have to return to the city for a time to take care of loose ends. They didn't want another missing person reported. If the authorities believed that he'd disappeared in search of Sam then it was sure to draw more attention.

Maddie had made her feelings known. While she was attracted to Alex and therefore unopposed to taking him as her mate she worried about his reasons. She spoke with Sam and voiced her concerns that Alex was coming to her out of a sense of guilt. Sam assured her that while Alex was kind and gentle he wasn't the type to sacrifice his life for something less then love.

The rest of the pack were opposed to taking on another human. Sam had been special and they were grateful for her guidance as Nafarius' mate but Alex had little to offer. While he was young and strong there was little need for more male members. Furthermore, there were several single male members that understood the implications of his mating with Maddie. As Sam and Nafarius' charge she would bring considerable power to her mate.

The two groups clashed in a debate that ended with a formal challenge. Riley stood glaring at Alex. "I hereby challenge you for the right to take Madeline as mate."

Standing next to Alex, Sam groaned quietly. Alex, still learning the complications of pack politics raised his brow in question.

Sam answered. "Remember survival of the fittest? If there is more the one male after the same female then a fight is waged to see who is the strongest."

"I can't possibly fight him. As a werewolf his has superior strength even in human form."

Nafarius nodded. "There are other ways to answer a challenge." Stepping forward he addressed the crowd. "A member of this pack is only as good as his ability to hunt, whatever the prey. We will see who is better suited to the task. As equals they will hunt only in human form; whoever is able to bring her back will be awarded the right to mate with Madeline."

All eyes turned to the small woman. Her eyes grew round in surprise. She understood the old ways. She would be expected to do her best to avoid both the hunters no matter her true feelings. If she was do anything to aid either man the victory would be worthless. She could take any form and use whatever means necessary but once the outcome was decide there would be no going back no matter who the winner. Although it wasn't expected she lifted her head and gave a brief nod in agreement.

Sam squeezed Maddie's hand and gave her a gentle nudge. "Go."

Without looking at either man, Maddie shed her clothes, drop onto all fours and shifted. Once again Alex appreciated the sight of her golden fur as she streaked from the clearing and disappeared into the forest.

"She will have an hour lead time. You will enter the forest together; neither of you are to do anything to inhibit the other. Once one of you successfully mates with Maddie it will be done. There are no rules as to what form the mating must take place however if Alex does succeed he must be infected during the mating process. Is that understood?"

Both men nodded. Sam led Alex away from the clearing. While she wouldn't be allowed to interfere once the hunt began she could offer his a few words of advice. Riley, a natural hunter and tracker would have little trouble even in animal form. Alex needed to be told what to look for and how to follow the signs. He was attentive, listening carefully to everything Sam said. When the time came to depart he gave her a small smile and slipped into the trees.

Riley entered the forest only a few feet from Alex. With a sneer, he turned and jogged off to the north. It was quickly apparent that he had picked up Maddie's scent but Alex resisted the urge to follow. Instead he searched the area surrounding the clearing until he came upon Maddie's tracks. Sam had pointed out her prints in the clearing and he'd committed them to memory. He knew what her tracks looked like in both human and animal form. Nafarius had ordered Maddie to do what ever was necessary to avoid both of them.

Alex suspected that the scent Riley was following was a ploy to lure him away. Maddie couldn't help Alex but she could make it harder for Riley. Between the two men, it was more important for her to avoid Riley which left Alex to find her.

Fifteen minutes later Alex came upon the place where Maddie had switched from animal to human form. Her feet were bare and left clear prints in the soft dirt. He also found several broke branched to indicate where she had left the main trail.

In the end it wasn't his newly learned tracking skills that helped Alex to find her. It was luck. Still shifting through the under bush, Alex heard the distinct sounds of a fight. It was the same unmistakable sound of two wolves fighting that he had heard once before. Breaking out into a run, Alex entered a clearing just in time to see Riley make a leap for Maddie.

Maddie twisted her body and moved out of the way just in time. Turning she struck out with her claws and sliced Riley's side open. Riley howled in pain; shaking it off he started circling his prey. For the first time in her life Maddie didn't wait to be the victim. Seeing Riley move in closer she hurled herself at him. Riley, caught off guard, landed on his back striking a rock with his head. Letting out a low whimper, he fell unconscious.

Maddie spotted Alex on the other side of the clearing and shook herself. He hadn't said anything during her fight with Riley and she wasn't sure what he was thinking. She was relieved to note that he didn't look as if he feared her or was repulsed by the sight of her in animal form. For several seconds she just stood there staring at him waiting to see what he would do.

Alex had no idea what was expected of him. Sam had explained that this was a test to see if he could dominate his intended mate but he found it hard to believe that any man could dominate a female werewolf. Maddie, for all her quiet nature was still an animal and while he knew she would never intentionally hurt him there was no telling what she would do if he approached her.

Maddie finally got tired of waiting. She wanted Alex and the fact that he had agreed to the hunt and was still standing there led her to believe that he wanted her. As his mate it was her responsibility to go to him. Slowly, she lowered herself until her belly brushed the ground. With her head and eyes lowered she crawled across the clearing until she was laying at his feet. There she waited until he was ready to acknowledge her.

Alex wasn't sure what he was supposed to do but it was obvious that Maddie expected something from him. Slowly, he knelt beside her and reaching out twisted his fingers in her thick fur. He smiled when a she let out a low growl of pleasure. It was obvious that she enjoyed his hands on her and he set about giving her more of what she desired. With both hands he stroked up and down her body. The blonde fur was thick, rich and textured.

Maddie, enjoying every minute of the attention, slowly moved her body around until Alex was positioned behind her. She used her body, rubbing up against him and letting him know in as many ways possible that she wanted him.

Alex understood what she was asking for and without hesitation released himself from his jeans. He was surprised to find himself hard and ready. In the back of his mind had been the doubt that when the time came he wouldn't be able to do what was necessary. But now that the moment was here he found that he was loo

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