Friday, July 29, 2016


Green is an Erien setting story by Terri Pray
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz 3d, Photoshop and Filter Forge

“Mother, please…”

“Slow down, mother!”

Two voices, one male, one female, clawed for her attention, but Davina didn’t stop, didn’t look back as she walked away from the castle and the village below. She was aware of the voices, of the noises in the night, but didn’t turn to look at them. Imaged flashed across her mind, the vision that had consumed her, threatening to steal her sanity but there was nothing that she could do about it beyond letting it wash over her. The vision and what it had showed her, were in the past, they’d happened and there was no denying it. But it didn’t prevent the pain, the searing pain that consumed her heart and soul as she walked toward the trees. The Three-Faced would welcome her, shutting the pain away, that was the only thing she could believe right now. Her slippered feet made little sound against the hardened path, the footwear not designed or made for the walk, but she hadn’t stopped to change. She blinked away tears, not the first she had spilled since the knowledge, the vision, had hit her, nor would they be the last.

Imaged flashed through her mind. Her love, her man, coated in blood. A weapon in his hand, a curse on his lips as he fought. Fought and died.

Gone, he’s gone. The bitch did this to him. Took him from me. Idiot woman, should have left him behind. He belonged here, with me, not out there with that woman and their brat.

The Queen, damn the woman, she had everything, the power, position, wealth and the man she loved. The man who loved her… Caden.

Had the daughter been a brat? She frowned at the thought, recalling the smiling face of the teenage girl. Flame red hair loose about her shoulders, silver eyes merry as she danced across the sunlight grass. Too young to enter the fire circle, but old enough to catch the eyes of many a man. Something she had ignored or not even been aware of.

A child that should have been hers, or should never have been born at all.

His daughter. Did she die with her parents?

The thought sat uneasily, settling into a tension across her chest. The girl, the daughter, she was the greatest loss for the Isle. Yet it was Caden she wanted to see again. The man who had been hers in all but name, the man she would have married if such had been allowed.

The man the Queen had stolen.

Not that others saw it that way. The Queen had married Caden before Davina had even had a chance with him. A few meetings, a handful of exchanged words and then it was too late. The bond between man and Queen had been formed, the service completed and he had become the royal consort. Never able to claim a place as King, only ever as consort and not even Prince Consort at that.

Oh, how he’d railed against that. Even after the princess had been born there had been no change in his status. Never would he be in a position where he could claim the throne should his wife die. He’d argued and raged with Davina about that, despite the fact that she had pointed out there was a way, of sorts. That he could stand in his daughter’s place until she was of age, but that hadn’t helped.

Always bound to a woman, reliant upon her for his status or lack there of and she had understood. Or had tried to. Yet for all that he had remained with the Queen, refusing to ask for the bonds to be severed, which would have left him free to take his place at Davina’s side. His excuse? The daughter he had sired. How she needed him and that a parting of the ways might have prevented him from ever having contact with his daughter again.

Would the Queen have been that cruel. Davina had, at first, doubted it, but as the years continued she could see no other reason why Caden would continue on in a marriage that brought him no joy.

All those lost years. Years they could have shared instead of stolen moments together when he wasn’t at the Queen’s side.

“Mother!” Her daughter’s voice, clearer now, nearer. “Stop, please! You’re frightening me.”

Had the girl run to catch up with her? “If you would speak with me, then run.” She didn’t slow down, there was too much to do, things she had to take care of before she succumbed to grief. That would happen, she wasn’t a fool, sooner or later her strength and determination would crumble.

“Mother, what’s happening?” The girl, seventeen like her twin brother, caught up with her, but didn’t make the mistake of reaching out to grab her mother’s arm. “I don’t know what’s going on, Richard doesn’t either. We’re… we’re worried about you.”

Davina glanced at her daughter, all too well aware of Richard’s heavier footsteps. “He’s gone.”

Rebecca frowned, her voice softening, touched with fear as she kept pace with her mother. “I don’t - who’s gone, mother? What did you see?”

At least she didn’t have to explain to her children about the sight, the visions she had been left with even after she had left the grove. Years of watching their mother hit with visions, images that may or may not come true. Some things she had been able to avoid, others she had embraced, but there had been no warning this time. Nothing to tell her that her beloved would never return from the trip beyond a sense of uneasiness that had knotted her stomach any time Caden had left with the Queen.

Name, the woman had a name, but to Davina she would always be that woman, the Queen, the bitch. Never a name. To give her that courtesy would turn her from the enemy to a woman she might sympathize with. That could never, would never happen.

“Mother?” Richard this time, the boy had finally caught up with them. That was something she would have to change, her son would need to be strong if he was to protect the crown along with his sister.

“Your father.”

Rebecca gasped, half stumbling before she righted herself and continued to keep pace with Davina. “No, it can’t be. He can’t be dead.”

Denial. She’d not wasted any time in denying what had happened, not when she’d felt his last breath, the knowledge that he was dying, and the fight leading up to it. The feel of blood and salt water beneath his feet, the wet wood, the struggle as he had sliced and cut, fighting along side of that woman all so the child he’d fathered on the Queen might have a chance to escape.

Was the heir dead?

Not that it mattered, she was far away from home with no one to guide her, if the gods were kind. Both guardians would be dead, and the girl a stranger with little to hand, hunted by the same people who had cut down her parents. No, the odds that the girl would ever find a way to make it safely home to the Isle were slim at best. Foolish girl wouldn’t have the funds to book passage, even if she could could find someone willing to sell her a berth.

“What will we do?” Richard moved in front of her, spreading his arms out to try and stop her. “We have to talk, to plan and…”

She stepped around him, continuing without missing a beat. “I already know what I need to do.”

“Damn it, mother. I’m almost a man. I could be wed with a child of my own by now if you’d have let me.”

The girl he’d fallen for was beneath him, beneath both of them. “Not with that woman. You will marry, but it will be a woman of worth. One fitting for your status.”

“Are you insane? Our status is that of your line, a woman of the grove who turned her back on her service for the love of a man.” Her son growled, turned and followed her.

“Richard, how can you… you know better. Mother is the daughter of a noble line, we are given our rank and respect based upon our house.”

“She’s the consort’s mistress!” He snapped.

Davina snarled, turning on her heels to glare at her son. “The Isle welcomes children and acknowledges love. He loved me, his wife knew of our relationship and did nothing to prevent it. She wed him for the bloodline and the treaty, not for love.” She took a step forward, advancing on her now cowering son. “Marriage is for politics, bedding is for love. That is the way of it among out people as well you know.” No, there was more to it than that. Some combined love with bloodlines when it came to noble lines, and times in the grove, around the Beltane fires it didn’t matter who you bedded. Any and all children were welcome during that time, and some liaisons continued beyond the time at the fire.

Man or woman, it didn’t matter. They all had the right to chose who they would take to their bed. One of the many reasons why the Isle was seen as barbaric by those beyond the protective circle of reefs, cliffs and magic.

“Mother, I don’t know what you’ve got planned, but you still need to talk this through with us.”

“No, I don’t. You are my children, my blood, you will obey me in this and know that what I do is for the protection of the Isle. This is the will of the Three-Faced, and you will accept it.” Was it her will? That part she couldn’t be sure of… not yet at least. She shrugged off her doubts and turned, gesturing to the grove. “There is an oath I must take and you will witness it.” More than witness, they had their own parts to play, ones they would refuse at first and then bend to her will. It was the only thing she could do, the Queen had put them all at risk by her actions. It was her duty to watch over the Isle, to do what the Queen had failed to do, and put her children on the throne - or the Isle would fall.

Darkness awaited them, beyond the magical boundary, it watched, looking for a weakness it could exploit and that was something she couldn’t permit.

“Dead… how did it happen?” Rebecca’s voice softened, grief rippling through her words. “Did you see it?”

“The Three-Faced granted me a vision,” Davina admitted.

“A vision you could do nothing about,” Richard growled. “Why would she do such a cruel thing?”

She didn’t answer, not immediately. The path changed beneath her feet, going from the heavily used one that split off in many directions, to a path with grass pushing Things she had done several times over through the years, hadn’t all servants of the grove at some point?

“Mother, why the grove then? Shouldn’t we be going to the temple to pray for his spirit? To help to ease him into the next life and prepare him for rebirth?”

“No.” Rebirth. The Goddess would take care of that, other - more important tasks - had been set aside for her to complete. A path that her children would be committed to before the end of the night. “She has another task for us, one we will dedicate ourselves to before sunrise.” The path waited for her, leading into the darkness of the trees, welcoming them all. Here they would be safe, but her son would only be able to make it to the outer boundary, the grove would not permit his entry at this time. Only during the fires of Beltane were men permitted any further in and even then they could never enter the inner circle of the grove itself. That was the nature of the magic that protected the area. Men could not serve the Three-Faced in the same way. Not even the blessed Guardians who fought and died at the side of the royal house.

Guardians, she would need to oversee the choosing of such for her daughter.

My son?

There had never been a time when a male had been granted a guardian, but this time would be different. She would see to that. Both of her children would require such protection.


The voice, she knew that voice, but it faded, the touch weak. The loss of the royal line would cause such a thing. Another reason why she had to do this. The grove, the magic, the Isle, it all needed protection. That was but one of the duties of those who tended to the grove.

“Mother, you need to stop. I can’t go in any further, you know that. The magic…”

“I know. You will wait and you will listen.” Perhaps once the oath was taken Richard would be able to enter this place? He would be of the new royal line and that would… perhaps there was more to this than she understood? “Rebecca, you will attend me.”

“Yes, mother.”

“If you think I’m going to wait around here when…”

“You will do as you’re told, boy.”

“I’m no boy!” He growled.

“Yes, you are.” She turned and glared at him, “in this you will wait for me, you will obey me and listen. I do this for you as well as myself. The Isle needs us, we are the only ones who can do this, who can stand before the darkness and hold it a bay. There’s no Queen, no heir, and your father is dead. The Three-Faced called me and I will not turn away from her. Nor will you.”

He paled, lowering his gaze, hands clenched into fists at his sides. “As you will, mother.”

At least one of her children knew enough to obey her. Richard had always be the problem child. Strong willed, arrogant, in many ways he was a copy of his father, but in this he needed to wait and accept that this wasn’t the place for him to flex his muscles. “Good.” She didn’t waste anymore words on him, but turned, hurrying toward the grove with her daughter close on her heels. Trees reached out, twigs snagging at her dress, leaves crunching under her feet as the path narrowed. Odd, she couldn’t recall it being this overgrown the last time she had felt herself drawn to the grove.

“Mother, something is wrong here. There’s…”

“Sickness?” She could smell it now, a rotting odor beyond the natural decay of vegetation. “Some thing’s rotting down here.”

“Maybe, I don’t know.” Rebecca paused and then hurried to keep up with her. “I don’t smell that, just something odd.”

Why couldn’t Rebecca smell the decay? “It will be better when we…” The trees closed ahead of them, shutting off the path.

“Mother?” Rebecca moved to her side. “I’ve never seen the path do this before now. It’s always been open. I- I was here only three days ago.”

Three days? Why hadn’t she known that? “I see.” Her daughter was keeping secrets, not something she could permit. “The grove must be recovering from the deaths.”

“What do we do?” Rebecca moved to the trees, touching the closest of them. The tree groaned beneath her touch, leaves rustling and for a moment it swayed, opening a path only to close when Davina tried to enter it. “I don’t understand, it was going to let me through.”

Young, untouched, her daughter was still a virgin. Perhaps that was why the trees moved? In the grief that now moved through the grove perhaps only the innocent would be welcomed. “It doesn’t matter, we’re close enough to make this work. We’ll perform the oath here and then return to the castle and begin the work that will protect our home.” Protecting the Isle, the castle and the village were the only things that mattered in this moment. “Do you accept that I do this not just for ourselves, our family, but for all of those who call the Isle their home?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Good girl.” She turned side on to the path, gesturing to her feet. “Kneel, my daughter. Kneel and accept the blessing of the Three-Faced and those sworn unto her.” A deep rustling moved through the trees, a whispered word she couldn’t quite hear, couldn’t understand despite the fact that she had been raised to serve the Goddess in all that she wanted, all that she needed. Rebecca frowned as she moved to her knees, her head bowed, hands folded in her lap.

Power waited for them, for both of them, rippling through the very earth beneath their feet. This was the time and the place, there would be no turning back now, not as she spoke the first words of the oath, the spell that would bind her line to the Isle for all time.

 “Lady of the trees, spirits of the grove, daughters of earth and water, we who serve you come here to offer our pledge in this time of grief.” Grief, is that what she was feeling? Anger was a part of it, she knew that, could feel it, but she would need the power that anger would give her. Only when this was done, when the magic was set in place, could she give herself the chance to grieve for the loss of her love. The man she had given her heart to from the very first time she had laid her eyes on him.

Time, power, energy, she would need them all.

“The line of the Isle is dead. The Queen and her child are gone and those sworn through blood and spirit are gone. In their place I offer you my own line, my children, the power that is within my spirit and the magic that is within my blood.” She reached for the words, knowing that there was but one chance go to this. One time when she might be able to cast this spell.

An angry groan rolled through the surrounding trees. They grieved, wanted revenge, like she did.

“I have two children, beautiful, strong and willing. I offer them to you, new blood for the Isle, a new line born of the consort’s line. They carry magic from beyond the Isle combined with the blood of a servant of the grove. My daughter will provide a new vessel for the line, she will give you children, daughters to replace the Queen who failed, and the Isle will remain protected.”

Rebecca shook her head, but the magic was already in place, her daughter couldn’t move, couldn’t break away from the power that held them both in place.

Fear was understandable. Her children were young, they didn’t understand what was going on, the importance of the Isle itself. They had never known a time when the Three-Faced was weak, or a time when the Isle was under direct attack.

“I swear, this night and for all nights to come, that my line, my children, my very being will be sworn to the protection of the Isle and the line that will now serve you. We will not fail you, my children will remain safe on the Isle. I will find guardians to stand at their sides, to fight and protect them, train them as is the way of those sworn to the crown.” Yes, the crown. She would wear one for a time, but only in the name of her children. They were too young, unprepared for the responsibilities of being King or Queen, it was only right that a mother would protect her young from such things, to prepare them for the work ahead. Years, it would take years before they were ready but she would guide them until the right moment appeared.

“Mother!” Richard called out. “You’re making a mistake. This isn’t going to work!”

It would work. It had to work. “Lady, Goddess, mother of us all, we will not leave the Isle unprotected.” She drew the small dagger she wore on her belt, lifting it before pressing the edge of the blade against her palm, drawing it down in a sudden, deep slice. Blood welled along the length of the cut and she spread the droplets out around her and the still kneeling Rebecca before touching her forehead and then Rebecca’s with a bloody finger, drawing a crescent moon on both her daughter’s brow and her own. “I give you my life, my blood and my children in the name of the Isle. We will stand as one, working together to build a new line. I bind us to the Isle, to the magic, to the crown. None will stand in our way, no danger shall be allowed here, no enemy permitted to draw breath while one of our line draws breath.”

Daughter, stop.

It was too late, far too late for that. She’d committed to the spell, binding blood and spirit both to the casting.

“By my breath, my spirit, my heart, I do pledge this and make this binding.” The oath was done, spoken with the magic that soared through her soul, turning it from a simple oath to a magically bound promise.

“Mother!” Richard screamed.

Pain? She turned away from Rebecca, her gaze narrowed on the form of her son. What was wrong with him? There was no

Her thoughts faltered. Her son, her beautiful son, lay on the ground, on his back, tremors working their way through his body as he lay there, twitching and whimpering.

You gave life to a blood oath, one that binds both you and your children, without asking their permission.

Yes, but it had been for a good reason.

Your son wants nothing to do with your oath, you forced this upon him.

She had reason, couldn’t Richard see that?

It hurts him, but there is nothing I can do.

A lie, a bitter, nasty lie. The Three-Faced could help him, she was a goddess. Couldn’t she ease the pain.

It will ease soon enough but he will not forgive you for what you’ve done to him. Think on that when you seek means to follow through on your oath.

The presence faded, dying away with the words of the goddess. Freed from the magic, Davina moved, hurrying to her fallen son. “Richard?”

“How could you do this to us, mother?” He groaned, the last of the shudders working their way through his body.

“It had to be done, you know if did. We must step forward before it is too late. The Isle must be protected.”

“Yes, I know… this wasn’t the way to do it. You should have talked with us, asked of we were willing to be bound in such a manner. But you didn’t, your desires, your needs, that was all that mattered.” Bitterness washed through his words.

“Trust me.” She gathered him close, dismissing the words and the hardened look from her daughter as Rebecca moved to join her at Richard’s side. “This is what we were meant to do, why we were born. Why you were born.” No matter what the goddess had said, her son would accept, would adapt to it all, then they would work together as a family. Nothing would be able to stop them from protecting the Isle. It was her duty, their duty and she would see it through - no matter the cost…

Friday, July 22, 2016


Claimed if a historical Shadow Sprawl setting story, following on from the story, Tracks. Claimed contains sexual situations and is not suitable for anyone under the age of 18, or those who might find such things offensive. 

Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Photoshop and legally purchased stock art .

“You expect me to fight you? On my own?” The male from the settlement sputtered.

“I expect you to accept my challenge or submit,” Aetias grinned. The man was a fool. No, more than that, a coward, fool and blusterer. Did he really think that he could get out of this? He bit back a chuckle, and looked at the man. He didn’t need to check on the she-wolf. That one hadn’t moved since she had sat down to observe the situation. More proof that male belonged to Lotu’s pack was a fool who didn’t understand a damned thing about females.

Were they all the same? He shook off the question, he didn’t have time to pursue such a thought. He had to deal with this idiot and then persuade the female to come with him to safety.


The growl from his wolf drowned out any other thought. Her scent had called to him from the moment he’d first caught it on the air two days prior. This was a female he couldn’t ignore, didn’t want to turn his back on and yet couldn’t give her the attention she deserved. At least, not in this moment.

“Fabia, come to me now. I am your husband and you will obey me.”

Aetias laughed and didn’t look back at the she-wolf. “She’s not going to do that and I can tell that you haven’t claimed her, so calling yourself her husband is laughable at best. A claim does not a mating make, especially with a weak male.”

The attack came without warning. One moment the male stood there, angry and frustrated, the next a middle sized wolf with grey and white fur, had taken his place. With teeth bared the wolf launched himself at his enemy. Aetias dropped the wall that kept his own wolf from reacting, giving himself over to the shift without thought or hesitation, twisting on his hind legs to avoid the clumsy strike. Teeth snapped at Aetias’ flank, grazing but unable to do more than that as Aetias’ half jumped, half darted to the left, barely waiting until all four feet touched the ground again before he launched his own strike.

With the full force of his body weight behind the attack, Aetias shoved his paws against the ground, not in a jump but a push for speed. He didn’t hold back as he body slammed into the other male, slamming into the male’s shoulder and flank with enough force to knock the Lotu pack male onto his side. He bounded back, hackles raised as he snarled at the panting male. Something cracked in the attack. Not in his body but in that of his enemy and Aetias smiled. The other male had no understanding or experience in battle. Had he never even jostled with his pack mates?

Not that it mattered now.

The male whimpered as he rolled to his feet, his head lolling, tongue out as he gasped.

Aetias didn’t give him time to recover. He slammed again, attacking the same side, though he knew something had cracked on the other side of the male’s ribs. This time he didn’t just slam. His attack took him in at an angle, giving him the chance not to just body slam but find a grip on his target’s throat with his teeth. He growled, grabbing the male just below the jaw as the slam of his attack forced the male to the ground.

Flesh and fur tore beneath his teeth. Blood filled his mouth and he ignored the feel of claws as they dug and scraped at his side. He growled again, the sound deeper, hungry as his wolf demanded the right to kill his rival.

Enemy, kill him. Kill to protect our mate.

Mate - he hadn’t spoken to the female yet. Hadn’t explained things to her. How could he claim she was his when nothing had been said?

Show her we are strong, that we will kill to protect her. To protect our pups.

The male beneath him, whimpered. His kicks and clawing now weakening beneath the claim of Aetias’ teeth. The whine took on a pleading tone as the male went limp in the universal sign for enough. He couldn’t bare his throat as that remained in Aetias’ grip, but he tried to shift enough to bare his belly. The male was willing to submit and yet Aetias didn’t release his grip.

The whines increased and the male twisted a little more, despite the pain that such a move would have caused, and exposed more of his belly.

Still Aetias refused to release his grip. The male had verbally assaulted the she-wolf. Offered her nothing but disrespect and threats. If Aetias let him go, he would return to the settlement, rousing the rest of Lotu’s pack, perhaps even Lotu himself.

Bring them on. We will kill them all. His wolf announced.

The male had to die.

He twisted, his teeth digging deeper into the male’s throat. Blood spurted, coating his fur as he tore, ripping into flesh and fur. Any chance that the male had to cry out, to warn the settlement, died in that moment, lost in a spill of crimson that soaked into the hungry ground. Aetias backed off, spitting out the mouthful of torn flesh. Eating the male, despite the fact he was an enemy, didn’t appeal to either man or wolf. Food wasn’t that scarce, there were better tasting options in the area, ranging from rabbit to deer and goat.

He is a man.

No, the male was sometimes a man, but not always.

The dying wolf gurgled a final whimper, kicking at the ground as he died, blood bubbling around his mouth and nose before the wolf stilled. Even then Aetias didn’t look away. Only when he was certain that the blood no longer pumped but oozed onto the dirt, did he turn to look at the silent female.
He blinked. A silent and nearly naked human female.

Fabia stood there, clutching the tattered remains of her robes to her body, her gaze shifting from the dead wolf, to the living one, and back again. He tipped his head to one side, inhaling deeply.

No fear.

Our mate is brave.

She wasn’t theirs, not yet at least, but the wolf wasn’t listening.

Show her who we are, she needs to speak with us. We can’t do that like this without the pack bond in place.

They could, but it was difficult and they needed to travel, to put distance between them and the settlement before the alert was raised.

“You killed him,” she lifted her chin, her voice strong and calm.

“Yes,” there was no debating the point. The other male was dead, she’d watched him kill the male from her village but had also heard the warnings Aetias had given.

“He was a fool.”

A smile twitched at his lips. “I won’t argue with you.”

“Fabia, line of Remus, daughter of Sabinus.”

He inclined his head, well aware of his nude, blood splattered form. “Aetias, line of Romulus, son of Aquila.”

Fabia inhaled, her nostrils flaring as she took in his scent. “Alpha but not the alpha.

“Indeed,” he glanced down at the torn form of the now dead wolf. “We should move, before his death draws attention.” Away from here toward Rome, but not in human form. They would be able to move more quickly in wolf form, but did the woman understand that?

“Yes, as wolves.” She looked at the handful of torn robes in her hands. “I didn’t mean to… shift so rapidly.” Heat colored her cheeks.

Did the females of the settlement not shift in front of males? He knew so little about Lotu’s pack that he couldn’t be certain of the source of her embarrassment, but now wasn’t the time to ask. “Follow me, please.”

“W-wait,” the hitch in her voice was the first hint she’d given him of any uncertainty she now faced. “You meant what you said to Egnatius?” She nodded toward the dead wolf. “That you don’t steal women anymore? That you’re not here to claim me?”

Gods, how he wanted to claim her, but even in the wild a female wolf had the right to choose. She could lift her tail to welcome the embrace of a male, or turn and attack, ripping out the belly or throat of a male would pressed where he wasn’t wanted. “I meant it. If you come with me, it’s for safety. Rome will welcome you.” Or his pack would. “You’re a female shifter, with the ability to pass that on to your children, but you will not be forced to mate someone you don’t want.” There was more to it than that, she would have to appear to be under the protection of a family, adopted in a sense, and then the paterfamilias would act as if he were choosing any husband, but the pack of Romulus had long since learned the dangers of trying to force a female of the pack.

Never again.

“Good,” she lowered her head, tension easing from her shoulders - tension he hadn’t been aware of until that moment. “Then I’ll go with you.” A soft tremble worked its way through her body until she straightened her shoulders, lifted her head and met his gaze. “My life with Lotu’s pack is over, was over, before you found us. I had planned on trying to find Rome, but this will be safer.”

Find Rome? An easy enough task unless - did they keep their females close to the settlement? What little he’d been able to gather had suggested such, but it went against everything his wolf, his pack, believed in when it came to those who could shift. Wolves needed their freedom, needed time to run and hunt, to howl with the pack and as such every member of the pack was taught how to use their senses and wolf form.

“Stay close and if you need help, need to ask something, call to me. Think of my name, I should be able to hear it and we’ll shift.” She wasn’t pack, wasn’t his mate, but the ability to hear her voice if she called his name, should remain. It was one of the first things wolves learned, how to call to each other with their minds, but had that been taught to Fabia? Just how ignorant had her pack kept her? From the color in her cheeks and the way she struggled to keep her gaze above his waist, he’d say far too ignorant for her own good.

He shifted, never looking away from the woman in front of him. Itching pain prickled over his skin as fur pushed through, but everything else was lost in the shift, combined and then consumed by the pain of changing form. He offered a feral smile and sat down, ears up, tongue lolling out as he waited for her own shift.

Fabia dropped the clothing, half turning as she did so, presenting her flank instead of full frontal. He was used to seeing pack females naked before they shifted, most stripped down, knowing it made more sense and by the time they ran with the pack the second or, at most, the third time, they were used to being seen. He’d lost his instant erection and hunger at the sight of a naked female some years ago but this time, with this woman, he reacted.

Small, high breasts, taut stomach and lean, strong legs with a tuft of dark hair at the apex, all called to him. He swallowed down the need to howl out his claim, even as he flexed his toes, letting his claws dig into the dirt beneath him. What was wrong with him?

Mate. She is ours. Will be ours.

Maybe, but he would keep his word. He wouldn’t force, wouldn’t press her. She was free now, had to remain free to make her own choice.

Fabia shifted, slowly, fur claiming skin, arms shifting into legs as she moved down onto all fours, moving from human to wolf in front of him. And she was a beautiful wolf. A full tail, beautiful fur, bright eyes and very sharp teeth. She was smaller than he was, leaner, but sleek and beautiful. This was a female who, in both wolf and human form, would attract a lot of attention.

She is ours. His wolf warned.

Was it the wolf or the man?

It didn’t matter, the thought was the same. She called to him.

He nodded and turned, tail up and broke into a jog, leading her away from the dead male. How long they would have before someone else from the settlement became aware of what had happened? They wouldn’t let Fabia escape without giving chase. They were short of females, that much he had been able to gather. Two or three males for every female and yet she hadn’t been claimed before now? Too head strong? Something else? He was grateful for the fact that she had been without a mate, but even then he would have been tempted by her.

She kept close to his left hand side, keeping pace with him as they moved away from the trail. North, they would need to move north for a time before shifting eastward. The journey wouldn’t be easy but he had established camp sites or safe places along the way and the first would also offer some shelter. Each time he’d come out, on his way to exploring Lotu’s area, he’d found a safe place to rest for a time. Some had old blankets, others held tools, food or something else that might be of use. This hadn’t been an impulse he had jumped on, but a carefully planned out scouting expedition.

They needed information. Lotu’s people had increased in number and their attacks, attempts to steal women and raid caravans had grown after several years of near silence. Not since the loss of Romulus had the proved to be such a problem. Now he knew why.


No city, village, or pack, could survive long term without women. What he’d been able to see had confirmed that those capable of giving birth to female shifters were few and far between. Loss of women to childbirth and neglect had hit the settlement hard and if things continued the male to female ratio from grow to numbers that threatened to tear the pack apart. Only certain males, it had seemed, were allowed to claim a mate. Beta’s like the male he’d killed were seldom given the chance - but there had been something about Fabia that had kept the alpha’s or potential alpha’s at bay.

Our female is strong willed and those males lack the strength to match her.

Strong, that was one of the reasons, but there would be others.

They traveled long and hard, putting the settlement far behind them, stopping only for water and to relieve themselves. As wolves they kept their distance from other people, from the human settlements and farms. Once or twice he caught a hint of another wolf shifter, but none that he recognized. That didn’t mean that they belonged to Luca’s pack but it wasn’t a risk he was going to take.

By the time they reached the place he wanted to spend the night, it was already growing dark. His belly rumbled and he knew he’d caught the same sound from his companion. He paused, checking for signs that the location had been disturbed but the only things he found were the small tracks of mice and rabbits, small things that could offer no threat to either himself or his companion.

The female waited, her gaze shifting from one place to another, searching for - well - only she knew what. She was weary, she breathed hard, trembling softly from exhaustion. He wasn’t in much better condition but it would pass once they had some food in their bellies.

Food. He’d left some supplies in the cave, hidden from potential thieves, but he’d packed with one man in mind, not two. Still, it would be enough to keep them from going hungry through the night.

We could hunt.

Yes, but it would mean leaving Fabia alone and he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Not yet at least.

He gestured to the cave with his head before entering it and returning to human form. She would either follow or use this moment to slip away and then what?

We would track her.


She is ours.

Not yet she wasn’t.

“Thank you,” a soft voice drew his attention back to the cave entrance.

“For what?” He moved deeper into the cave, finding the large rock he’d rolled into place over his supplies.

“Helping me back there and for not leaving me behind.” Fabia followed him, her steps soft over the dirt covered floor. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I did. Any man with honor would have done the same.” Honor, was that a concept that Luca’s people understood?

“Honor seems to vary.” She murmured.

That he wasn’t going to argue. With a grunt he pulled out two leather sacks, one smaller than the other and set them down. A small rolled blanket was next, then a bundle of cloth - his clothing. Without looking at her, he tossed the blanket, bound by a strip of leather. “This isn’t a robe but it will work for now.”

“Thank you.”

Was that going to be a running thing between them? He didn’t look at her as he dressed, trying to give her a moment to relax. They hadn’t spoken, hadn’t even attempted to speak, during the day. It hadn’t been needed, not from his point of view, and kept him from being distracted at the wrong moment.

“Are we staying here this night?”

He straightened up, bringing the two sacks with him to an area he had used on his previous stay within the cave. A circle of stones marked where he had built the fire, and the small stack of wood, fire starter kit - iron pyrite and a stone a piece of flint, fuzz, dried grass and smaller pieces of wood, waited for him. Aetias crouched and built the beginning of the fire, picking up the pyrite and flint before he looked at her.

“That we are, this is safe and we both need the rest.”

“And food.”

“Agreed.” He grinned. The blanket covered her breasts and mound well enough, but still exposed long, toned lengths of leg. Her hair was now loose and had tumbled down over her shoulders in dark waves. His cock twitched, instantly needful as he let his gaze move over her partially clad form. “Sit, try and rest some. I’ll get some food put together for us both.”

“You’re going hunting?” She settled down on her knees and then shifted onto her hip.

“No need to.” He tapped the smaller sack before he turned his attention back to the fire ring. Sparks caught quickly in the fluff and dried grass, he leaned in, blowing on the spark, feeding it a little at a time until he had a small, but decent start. He added larger pieces as he continued and only when he was certain that the fire would hold, did he then open the sack. “It’s not much.”

“We’ll manage.” She turned her attention to the entrance of the cave, frowning slightly. “Won’t the fire bring attention to us?”

“Not here. Did you see the rocks and the pattern of the trees outside of the cave?”

She nibbled on her bottom lip. “Yes.”

“That set up will keep us from being seen until someone is nearly on top of us and by then we would be aware of their presence.” At least, he hoped they would be. Still, he wouldn’t keep the fire going overnight. The smoke alone would increase the risk of them being caught, but she was tired as was he, and warmth would be welcome. “Dried meat, a little dried fruit, some hard cheese.” He shrugged. “Nuts, but nothing else I fear.”

Food, safety, warmth, all things a mate should be able to provide for his female.

And she is ours.

He didn’t argue this time.

The fire died down after they had eaten and he watched her over the embers. Shivers returned from time to time and he itched for the need to pull her in, to hold her andwhy not? “Come here.”

She blinked and turned to look at him. “What?”

“You’re cold, come here, we can share warmth and you’ll sleep better.” We can touch her, claim her. No, there’d be none of that. Claiming would be mutual if it happened. He would respect her strength, accept that she was alpha or alpha potential and not diminish her.

Her jaw set.

“If you want to shiver, then be my guest.” It would be easy to move to her, wrap his arms around her and push the issue but that wasn’t what she needed.

Fabia sighed and shifted her weight before rising and moving toward him. “You won’t…”


“But what if… what if I want… “ she colored and settled in against him.

His body tightened. “It is not something I would force.”

Fabia made a soft sound and wriggled in, letting him slip his arms around her. “You made that clear but that wasn’t what I was asking.”

He scowled, giving himself a moment to think this through. Was she saying she wanted him? Jupiter’s cock, he hoped so. The female was tempting, her scent filled his nostrils, calling to his wolf, to his soul as she sank into his protection. “I’m mortal, but even the Gods would have problems turning you down, woman.”

A soft, warm chuckle rose from his companion.

“Oh, I amuse you now, do I?” Her scent was changing, sweat and weariness were joined by desire and heat. He skimmed one hand over a breast, catching the feel of a hard, ripe nipple. She moaned beneath his touch and his world changed. He eased her down to the ground, his gaze finding hers, his voice husky even to his own ears. “You ran from one male, would you have me believe that you would welcome another so soon? One you don’t know? One who has pulled you away from everything you’ve ever known in your life?”


“Why?” His cock pressed against his short robe, lifting at cloth as he leaned down over her.

“Because my wolf wants you.”

Of all the things he had thought to hear from her lips, that hadn’t been one of them. “She… wants me?”

“She chooses you, has tried to catch your attention since we began the run.”

He thought back, trying to remember what had happened during the run. She’d kept at his side, run with him and then - yes, there had been a handful of times she had moved ahead of him, flashing her tail at him, turning to dart in a moment’s play before they had continued the journey.

Flashing and lifting her tail.

Gods, had he been that blind?

He grinned, meeting her gaze. “I was focused on the run, on getting us both to safety.” There, he had an excuse for missing the signals she’d flashed during the day.

“Ah, and here I thought a man, a male, never missed such a thing. Isn’t that why females of the pack are kept away from males whenever possible, until the time that they are married off? Men can’t be trusted, male shifters even more so. And females are weak, easily tempted.” Fabia tipped her chin, exposing her throat a little. “I’ve never been tempted to be weak before, to surrender something that I’ve been told isn’t mine to give.”

“It’s not being weak. You’re an alpha female, a shifter of the oldest lines. You have the choice to pick the male or males you want in life. To mate for life if you find the right one, or enjoy a time to be yourself with a male without commitment.”

She tensed, pulling away. “No, if I give myself it will be to a mate.”

Mine. Ours. Mate.

“You don’t know if I’m the right one.”

“Our wolves do. I can hear yours, his approval.”

True mates. He pulled back, fear and joy mingling in equal amounts. He wasn’t ready for this, was he? His wolf accepted, rejoiced, but the human wanted to back away even as he yelled out to the world that this woman, this beautiful, bold woman, was his. “We could wait until we reach Rome and you’ve had time to recover from our trip.” No, say you don’t want to wait. In that moment he didn’t know if this came from the man or the wolf, but it didn’t matter. Both wanted her, both needed her with every breath in their shared body.

Mate. Lover. Wife. True mates.

But not until he claimed her lips, her body, and her heart.

“We can wait,” he repeated, wanting her answer. Praying she chose to wait even as his wolf demanded that it be now.

“No, we can’t.” She reached out, encircling his neck with her arms, pulling him down against her body.

His cock thickened, throbbing beneath the thin cloth. Words had no place now, only the claiming of a mate. His lips covered hers, tongue parting them before he pressed within. Dueling, tasting, claiming as tongues stroked, bodies pressed, heat building between man and woman. She moaned under him, hips lifting, thighs parting under him, welcoming what would come next.

He wanted to stop, to give her the soft, tender love that a woman such as this one deserved, but his wolf wanted to rush, push, take and mark her as his now and always. He growled against her lips, parting them again with a deft touch of his tongue. Nothing mattered in this moment but the feel of his mate, the way she moved beneath him, welcoming him as he pushed cloth aside. There would be no going back from this but he no longer cared. His mate, the one he had waited for, had known in his heart existed for him but he hadn’t thought to find her during this time away from Rome. Not among the men and women that were enemies.

A hand reached down between his thighs, cupping his sack before moving to stroke his cock. He arched and then pushed into her touch, closing his eyes as he relished the feel of his mate’s caress. Forward, eager, not things he would have expected from a woman who’d never known the touch of a man or at least the more intimate touches.

Has she done this with another?

He tensed, opening his eyes to look down at Fabia. Had she already been with a man? He inhaled, tasting her scent but nothing told him if she was still a virgin. Did it matter? Not among their people, at least with his pack.

Don’t think about it.

Her hand tightened around his cock, squeezing and releasing, encouraging his body to respond. His wolf howled in pleasure, eager to push further, to take the final step but that same grip held him in place.

“I want to feel this, feel you, within me.”

“You’re going to have to let go of me then.” He smiled down at her.

Her smile lit up the cave. “That I understand.” She tightened her grip for a moment, just enough to confirm she was strong, that he couldn’t break free from her not even if he wanted to do so, and then released her grip. “Make me yours.”

Slick, tight heat welcomed him as she wrapped her legs around his waist, her heels pressing against his buttocks. If he’d had any doubt that his mate was untouched, it faded with that first, full thrust and the mate bond slammed into place. Sensations and emotions merged. His with hers, hers with his. Innocent, pure and hungry for his touch. Just as he wanted her. Her welcoming walls closed around him, her hips lifted in time to his thrusts and he lost himself. Consumed by her desires and his, no longer knowing where he ended and she began.

Nails caught at his back. Pain bringing him back into focus as they moved together. Her breath ragged, sweat beading across her brow as she gasped and moaned, her back arched, breasts exposed, nipples hard and lips parted.

“Mine,” he growled.

“Mine,” she agreed, nails digging in once more.

Pressure built, his balls tight as they slapped against her desire coated sex. He was so close, or was it her? He didn’t know, couldn’t tell which one the feeling was coming from until it was almost too late.

“Let it go, my mate!” She tipped back her throat, baring it. “Mark me, claim me.”

He leaned down, his hips moving, thrusting harder, reason no longer his to claim even as he brought his lips to her throat. Smooth, unmarked, and his. With a growl he snarled and bit down at the junction of neck and shoulder, teeth sinking into skin as he took her. Pleasure washed through both of them, pushing them over the edge. He didn’t struggle against it, lost to the cries from both of them.

Sweat coated, breathing ragged, he rolled onto his back, bringing Fabia in to nestle against his chest, one hand buried in her hair as sleep crept in to claim them. That they were in a cave, far from his home didn’t matter. It was done. They were mated, he’d claimed her and they were bonded from now until their last breath…