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Authors: Ember Case

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Hunting the Huntress

BOOK: Hunting the Huntress
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Nilana has one night to make the choice of a lifetime: Accept the love of two men, or keep hunting-alone. No man has ever tempted Nilana to give up her freedom. Life as a huntress has given this shapeshifter everything she thought s

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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

Macon GA 31201

Copyright © 2008 by

ISBN: 1-59998-859-3

Edited by Heidi Moore

Cover by Dawn Seewer

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

First
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: January 2008

Hunting the Huntress

Ember Case

Nilana has one night to make the choice of a lifetime: Accept the love of two men, or keep hunting-alone. No man has ever tempted Nilana to give up her freedom. Life as a huntress has given this shapeshifter everything she thought s

Dedication

Nilana has one night to make the choice of a lifetime: Accept the love of two men, or keep hunting-alone. No man has ever tempted Nilana to give up her freedom. Life as a huntress has given this shapeshifter everything she thought s

For S. I love you, more than the moon, the stars, the everything that surrounds us.

You taught me that dreams can come true.

Nilana has one night to make the choice of a lifetime: Accept the love of two men, or keep hunting-alone. No man has ever tempted Nilana to give up her freedom. Life as a huntress has given this shapeshifter everything she thought s

Chapter One

Nilana has one night to make the choice of a lifetime: Accept the love of two men, or keep hunting-alone. No man has ever tempted Nilana to give up her freedom. Life as a huntress has given this shapeshifter everything she thought s

I need to find a way out─now!
The desperate thought chased Nilana through the night.

Behind her, she sensed the pair of cougars drawing closer. The warrior and the shaman hunted her tirelessly, their paws passing without sound over the rock-strewn canyon bottom. If she couldn’t find a path out soon they would have her trapped. The hunt had been underway for too long. She was tiring quickly.

She ran on under the full moon. Tall canyon walls cast shifting shadows in her path and rose above her on each side. Too steep to climb. Too high to jump.

Dust flew in the air behind her, tossed up by her paws as she raced down the dry riverbed. Crouching lower, she sped on.

Tonight was the harvest moon. Under a moonlit sky, the unmated warriors hunted the maidens. Generations of
Chimaga
had found their mates during the harvest moon hunt. The moon blessed those who chose under her light.

For six years now, Nilana had run the harvest hunt. Six hunts she had been happy to remain unmated with the rising sun. The only female hunter of her tribe, she’d enjoyed the power which the honor carried. No male had been able or daring enough to run her down the year of her first hunt. After the first hunt, none of them seriously tried.

Unfettered by the bonds of a mate and the duties of family, she had been happy to run without pursuit under the harvest moons since.

Until now. Tonight she was chased by not one, but two men blessed by the powerful totem of the cougar. Men intent on claiming her for their life mate. Men who could take away the freedom she treasured so much.

She sped on.

They ran soundlessly behind her. Pebbles lay undisturbed beneath their flying feet as they followed her into the moonlit night. Their breath was steady, not like the short gasps for air coming from her chest. They gave no sign of letting up before cornering their quarry.

5

A year of good hunting and the late fullness of the autumn moon meant this year the tribal gathering was bigger than any Nilana remembered. For the last two weeks, tribes from as far north as the Rock Yellow River had traveled to be here for the mating harvest.

There had not been this many warriors gathered in one place since the Great Plains Wars of her grandfather’s age. Warriors came hunting for a wife, a mate to skin their furs under the sun and warm them under the moon. She had no interest in a life as any man’s fur warmer.

Curse the traditions. And curse the men who make them!

The weeks of gathering were meant as a time of celebration. She had enjoyed the large, daily hunts required to keep the many tribes fed. Just as entertaining were the nightly fireside dances, where the many families would meet and mingle. Size alone had made this a harvest celebration the tribes would talk about for generations.

Its place in lore was guaranteed when members of the seldom-seen
Meskwaku
, the northernmost tribe of the
Chimaga,
had ridden in late yesterday to join the harvest hunt.

The mighty warrior chief known as Tate led the small group. He had led the
Meskwaku
for nearly a decade now, since the hated, nomadic
Jurunga
tribes had killed his father.

Tate had been only fifteen, but he had led his people into a bitterly-fought battle against the murderous invaders. It ended with the few surviving coyote shifters of the
Jurunga
fleeing the north lands for good.

Tate’s reputation as a fierce warrior had spread southward in the years since. The tales of his bravery and strength grew with each retelling, until a listener who had never heard the stories could easily believe he was more godlike than man.

When he rode his stallion into camp at the head of his group, riding in his shadow had been his shaman, Cheveyo. The tribal tongues had begun to wag. For the northern mountain tribes to travel this far to the great plain for a harvest could only mean they were hunting a mate. And if both powerful leaders had traveled together with no more than a small hunting party and left their tribe camped for the winter, it could only mean they searched for one single mate to bind to them both.

6

The ancient custom was seldom followed anymore, but it had once been common for renowned tribes of the
Chimaga
to see their chief and shaman bind their lives together with a mate. When the Great Spirit blessed such a mating, the totems involved often led their tribe to such glory as to inspire a generation. Nilana had no desire to become the leader of anything bigger than her hunting party.

On she ran.

She felt Tate’s gaze hot on her backside as she raced away through the night. Why had he singled her out?

From his seat last night by the dance fires, he had watched her, his midnight-black gaze never leaving hers. For over an hour, she had danced with the unmated maidens.

The ritualistic steps came easily to her graceful feet, her body comfortable in the ancient dance of seduction. Never in her life had she been as aware of the motions of her body as she was under his gaze. She had tried to focus on the rhythmic drums beating in the background, the chanting of the gathered shaman as they called for a successful harvest hunt. More than once, she’d met his gaze across the fire and seen the desire that heated his look.

Her ceremonial dance tunic was brief, worn by generations of
Chimaga
women. Its design was simple, meant to present the nubile body of a maiden to the interested gaze of a warrior. There was no doubt he’d been watching with interest. His gaze had followed her long, bare legs, often lingering on the shadows where her short tunic ended high on her thighs.

Approval filled his gaze when she circled near enough for the scent of her sweat and musk to mingle with the smoke from the fire. Intricate beadwork caught the flickering firelight as it wrapped across her chest, hugging the full curves of her breasts as they swayed with her movements. When her dancing brought her close to his seat, he had watched her with the stillness of a stallion standing guard over his mare.

Awareness of everything around them had flickered over his strong features, but his brilliant gaze never left hers. His warm scent filled her nose, and when the beating drums
7

called her back across the fire, his smell went with her; crisp evergreens overwhelmed with the heady musk of a male cougar ready to mate.

His companion, the shaman Cheveyo, had eventually joined him and the two men had spoken briefly. And when the music ended, the warrior had given her one last searching glance before retiring to his skins alone.

Why couldn’t I get him out of my thoughts?
Instead she had gone to her solitary skins and spent a restless night dreaming of dark eyes, ebony hair, and the warrior who had watched her under the almost full moon. She dreamt of him following her to her bed, stripping her of her tunic, and spending the long night hours worshiping her with hands and mouth. Her dream warrior had loved her from head to toe. His tongue had blazed across her skin, his lips laving her breasts and nipples for long moments until she ached with need.

But he had given her no relief, instead bringing sobs of pleasure and moans of ecstasy to her dreams as he licked a wet trail to her core. His mouth offered her only a glimpse of heaven, and her dreaming body twisted beneath him in the frenzy to find its release. She woke before dawn to find her body a throbbing mass of need, as her dream lover had brought her again and again to the peak of ecstasy, then pulled away without allowing satisfaction. Nilana was restless with unfulfilled passion when the morning sun spread its light over the valley.

Her mind was still foggy from her night of dreams, and the day passed slowly with the other maidens. It was the one day of the year when she was not free to run with the other hunters, and instead spent her time first in the purification rituals, then gossiping with the other women. She had let their chatter slip past her as always, uninterested in their girlish dreams of mating and raising a family.

More than one maiden this harvest was openly dreaming of being chased by the fierce pair from the north. Nilana had held her opinions to herself. She had been born to hunt. No man could compete with the thrilling freedom she found running the trails, the rush of the kill, knowing her skills provided precious food and furs to her tribe.

8

The moon had barely begun its path through the night sky when she’d slipped away from the maidens. Hoping she’d gotten away from camp before the warriors had time to begin their hunt, she’d headed for a quiet spot by the river. After covering the slight trail her footsteps had made she let her totem answer the lunar call, enjoying the feel of the autumn wind ruffling through her fur as she breathed deeply the smells of the coming night.

She’d headed for the river alone, eager to lose her scent in the quick running water.

A hunter could not follow where there was no trail. She had been almost giddy with her power as she headed out under the clear, bright sky of the early twilight.

She had hoped for a quick run through the night followed by a quiet evening of rest under the full moon while the hunt went on without her. Her hopes had been quickly dashed. It was there by the river they had found her, the warrior and the shaman. She’d stared at them for a moment, unable to believe they had tracked her down.

And there the chase had begun.

She should have taken them more seriously. Overconfident in her ability to hide her trail from any hunter in her tribe, she had taken them lightly when she first picked up their scent. Nilana admitted it had thrilled her just a bit to be pursued by the men so many of the maidens were dreaming of. That excitement had faded as they proved hard to shake from her trail. She should have remembered her role tonight was that of prey, not huntress. It was a truth driven home again and again as they ran her down the path they wanted her to take.

A glance over her shoulder now showed only one form behind her. Tate, the warrior.

His longer legs continued to eat the ground between them. Under other circumstances, she would have enjoyed watching him run. His glossy brown coat rippled with the powerful muscles beneath. There was awesome strength in his lean body, whether he took the form of man or cougar. As a man he stood head and shoulders above the warriors of her tribe, his long body impressively formed of muscles and sinew. But when he called his cougar totem to take its form, he became the
Chimaga
who was already the source of legends.

9

Pursuit by the legend had lost its charm for Nilana. She needed to get to higher ground.

The canyon curved ahead and she used the tight corners to her advantage. Her legs were shorter than his, but her agile body was better able to take the corners at high speed.

Shooting out of the last curve, she saw a fork ahead in the path.
Yes
! With any luck one of the branches would lead up and out to the forested foothills where she would have the advantage. To freedom.

Get out of the canyon. Get to the hills.
The two thoughts ran through her head with the rhythm of her paws as she sped across dry ground.

She poured her last reserves of energy into a final burst of speed. Higher ground was to the left, and that way should lie freedom. Great bounding leaps took her onward, hope adding strength to her feet as she reached the split.

Already springing for the left path, she roared her anger when she found she had been outmaneuvered. The shaman Cheveyo stood guard there quietly, a furry, gray shadow blocking her path.

With a snarl of frustration, Nilana headed right, further down the canyon. She had not scouted this far past the forking canyon during the days of hunting and had no idea what lay ahead. Desperately she prayed for a way out.
If this path dead ends…

It did indeed dead end.

Nilana skidded to a stop and began to pace the small space, her tail whipping behind her as she studied the steep walls on all three sides. She had been herded into the canyon like a buffalo in the hunt. She admitted the hunters had chosen their trap well, running their target into the ground and making sure there was no escape. She could have admired their skill, if she were not the prey.

Angry howls escaped her as she sprang from one side of the canyon to the other.

Desperation clawed at her. Capture during the harvest hunt was not only a blow to her pride. It could mean an end to her freedom. Her heart pounded with frenzied outrage.

A muted roar came from behind her. They had managed to corner her, but she was not down yet.

10

Nilana backed into the corner made by the rough, rocky walls. She would not give in without a fight. She put her backside to the wall and faced the opening, then dropped to a crouch. A warning rumble escaped her throat. Let them come to her.

She waited.

Tate moved into the gully. He paced forward with slow steps now he had her cornered, his tail twitching in arrogant anticipation. His ears pricked forward to catch the sounds of the night. The moon lit him well as he stalked her, moving ever closer with deliberate precise strides.

He passed for a brief moment into shadow, and then he stood before her. Large, rounded cougar gaze staring into hers with amused anticipation, he opened his mouth in an impressive show of red tongue and sharp teeth.

He leapt.

It was a humiliatingly short fight. Even with his claws sheathed, it took him only seconds to overpower her with his size and strength. Nilana had no qualms about using her claws, but she never had a chance to sink them into his luxuriant pelt. With his first leap he had knocked her down, and an instant later she felt his teeth at the nape of her neck. A helpless whimper escaped her as she slumped beneath him.

BOOK: Hunting the Huntress
13.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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