Authors: Sadie Hart
Tags: #paranormal romance, #shapeshifter, #fantasy romance, #hounds, #wild hunt, #love and longing, #hellhounds, #romance and fantasy, #immortals romance, #weredog, #haunted hearts
Khost sucked in a hard, ragged breath, his
head falling back to rest against the tree. He was fighting,
shaking and she did the only thing she could think to do. She
slipped her hand up his stomach and pressed her lips back against
his mouth and whispered, “Catch me.”
Fire flashed in his eyes, a wild blaze that
nearly consumed him, then Nalla was gone, sprinting over the
ground. She pelted through the woods, the thud-thud of her shoes
against the forest floor, the crash of her breaking through heather
and thicket. Behind her, she heard Khost give chase.
Nalla sank into the effort of moving, pumping
her arms, her breathing suddenly steady. Khost growled behind her,
impatient. He was gaining on her. His strides longer, stronger.
Unlike her, he hadn’t been grounded for the last four hundred
years. His Hound would be filling every vein in his body. It
wouldn’t be long before he careened off into the sky, running wild
in a way she couldn’t anymore.
And she should let him.
Nalla squeezed her eyes shut, trying to
ignore the rip in her heart at the thought of watching him bound
into the sky, as the hound-body over took his so he could run for
the stars without her. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t watch him
Change and leave her standing here on two legs, while he ran
through the sky on four. She wasn’t that strong.
, Nalla thought as she turned, staggering backwards and
opening her arms to catch him around the waist.
Khost slammed into her and she took him down,
leaves dusting up from the impact of their bodies slamming into the
dirt. He grunted and flipped her, his body suddenly sprawled out
over every inch of her. Nalla surged forward and kissed him again,
dragging his bottom lip between her teeth. Khost gasped, his hands
fisting in the leaves around her head, his kiss almost frenzied.
Control snapping dangerously close to the end of its leash and then
suddenly he was gone. One minute Khost was draped over her and the
next, he was standing against a tree, staring down at her,
He swallowed. “I, uh, I can’t do this.”
He shook his head and shoved a hand back
through his hair, pausing as his fingers curled into his hair.
“Shit. I’m sorry.”
No, no, no,
. Nalla rolled to her
feet, trying to keep herself from screaming. She couldn’t stand
this anymore. She stepped towards him and Khost jogged away from
the tree, away from her. “Wow. Not going to bite you.”
A wince flashed over his face. “I’m
She let a smile touch her lips, but it was
fake. She wasn’t going to let him go. The only good thing she had
left in her, was that she wasn’t going to force him. Herne, even if
she’d wanted to, she wouldn’t have been able to. One look at all
those muscles under his shirt, the taut energy radiating off of
him, and she didn’t even begin to have the physical strength needed
to pin Khost.
Still, Nalla stepped closer to him, letting
her smile turn sad as she stretched up to touch her lips against
his. Her hand slid under his shirt, reveling at the smooth touch of
his skin. It twitched under her hand, his whole body a bundle of
“It’s okay.” A shudder jerked through him and
she ghosted another kiss over his mouth. Tasted his lips with her
tongue. “You don’t have to do anything.”
She stepped back from him and let her jacket
fall from her shoulders. It hit the ground in a soft whoosh of air.
Crossing her arms in front of her, she caught the hem of her shirt
in her hands and tugged it up over her head in one fluid motion and
tossed it aside. Khost’s face turned pained, desperate.
Pain snagged at her heart. Oh, this she
understood. Whatever he might have been when he was human, no
matter how many woman he might have had then....since Herne had
taken his life and Changed him into another Hound of the Hunt,
Khost would have known nothing but the wild night air against his
No kisses, no touches, outside of maybe a
crack of their master’s whip. She wet her lips with the tip of her
tongue and his eyes tracked the movement. She wanted to ask him how
long he’d been running with the pack. Couldn’t be over two hundred
years, he’d have recognized her in an instant for what she was. But
a hundred years? That sounded about right and her instincts were
And a hundred years of celibacy? Nalla leaned
forward a little on the balls of her feet. “You can go at any time,
Khost.” The corners of her lips hitched up in a half grin. Impish.
“I can do this by myself.”
She undid the button on her jeans and pulled
the zipper down. He trembled, his gaze tracking every movement.
Nalla remembered standing on the edge, just like him, watching as
Malek had dragged off his pants and tilted back his head, offering.
A tempter in a world with a god who wouldn’t forgive them. But
Khost was down here, Herne couldn’t kill him for this.
Guilt nibbled at the edge of her mind and she
paused, hands on her hips, ready to pull her jeans down and toss
them aside. She’d never regretted her choice. She’d loved Malek;
her loyalty to Herne and the Hunt had already been compromised in
Herne’s eyes. The sex had just been the final straw and as much as
she missed running...she missed Malek more.
She’d had other men since him, but only one
of them had ever begun to fill the hole he’d left behind. But
loving Mal had been worth this. Khost was the closest male she’d
come to finding who could fill that ache in her. A mate again. One
who wouldn’t die in fifty years. Nalla closed her eyes.
That still didn’t make this right.
Her hands fell away from her hips and she
shook her head, stepping over to pick up her shirt. She’d leaned
down to shake it loose from a bush when strong hands clasped her
hips, Khost’s breathing unsteady, like a shudder in the wind.
Nervous, Nalla left her shirt hanging there and stood up, the bare
skin of her back brushing the hot fabric of his shirt, warmed by
the heat pouring off of him.
Oh damn. She wasn’t a good enough of a person
to walk away more than once. Nalla fisted her hands, her nails
biting into her palms in little moon-shaped crescents. She tilted
her head back to ghost a kiss over his cheek. “You’re right. We
She turned in his arms, his hands sliding
over her skin with the movement. She wanted nothing more than for
him to cup a breast in one of those hands, to draw a nipple to his
lips. To feel his bare chest pressed against hers. But if they did
that, Khost would never go back and damn it all, as much as
watching him run back to the sky would surely kill her, she
couldn’t be the one that made him fall.
She couldn’t be the one who destroyed him,
all for something he didn’t even realize he was missing. Nalla
reached behind her, grabbed her shirt and yanked it free of the
bush even, as she laid one last kiss against his lips. “I’m sorry.
I can’t do this either.”
Then she stepped out of his arms and was
running again, but unlike last time, she wouldn’t stop when the
magic threatened to take him. And she damn well wouldn’t let him
catch her. Whispering one of the few words of magic she still had
left, she vanished from the forest all together and reappeared.
Home. The semi rocking slightly under the sudden appearance of her
weight in the cab. She sank down into the driver’s seat, pulled on
her shirt and reached for the keys. He would still be running,
chasing her maybe, more likely running for the sky.
The engine cranked over as she turned the
key. Exhaust puffed out in a white cloud in the cold air. But on
the off chance that he was running for her, she wouldn’t be here
when he broke through the woods.
Khost paused in the parking lot, his chest
tight. Her leather jacket dangled from one hand as he scanned the
black top for the semi she’d gotten her coat out of in the first
place. Nothing. Where the fuck had she gone? He blew out a
frustrated breath, his nerves cranked over on high and he wanted
nothing more than to toss his head back and bay until his lungs
Frustration made him want to pace, scream. He
swatted her jacket against a tree and growled. What the hell? He
slapped the leather against the tree harder this time. What kind of
game was that? A test? Herne save him, but if his god had sent him
down here for a test he was fucked, because damn it all, he wanted
His nostrils flared wide as he blew out a
sharp blast of air. At first, all he’d wanted to do was run, he
hadn’t even really wanted to catch her, just pelt through the
woods, flat out. Then the stars had started to call to him and like
a siren’s song, he’d wanted so damn bad to leap up there and answer
the call. To let these two legs fade into four, trade skin for fur,
man for dog, and run to catch the pack tonight.
Khost closed his eyes. Nah, that hadn’t been
the siren’s call. So what, he’d have left the necklace. It wasn’t
his tail on the line for that. It was Cissy’s and she was old
enough she could handle a few whips and the more he thought about
it, the more he knew he needed to give up and head home.
Except, he didn’t want to go back and that
there was the deadly lure, every bit as powerful as a call to death
in the middle of the fucking ocean. His teeth ground together as
his breath whistled out between his teeth. Only foolish men would
let themselves be lured, would let themselves fall.
Khost knew the rules. To run with the Hunt,
every Hound had to be loyal to their master. They could live and
run forever that way, wild and free. Such freedom and immortality,
running through the skies, it was a drug he couldn’t imagine living
without. So why was he standing here, swaying on the pavement
her to come back?
“Shit,” Khost breathed out and slumped back
against a tree. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t follow her. If he
found her, Khost knew he’d never go home again. He’d never know the
wild press of his pack running with him, never feel the magic
again. He couldn’t lose that.
He lifted her jacket to his face and inhaled
the rich scent of her. Fresh, like citrus and lemons, and then he
let it fall. Cissy could get the damned horn back by herself. It
was time for him to go. Before he did something he’d regret...like
follow that damned truck.
Khost spun on his heels and bolted back into
the forest, waiting for the magic to pick him up and carry him
home. Far, far away from Nalla.
Nalla groaned into her pillow, stretched out
over the bunk in the back of the semi cab. She’d left him. Her
first taste of the Wild Hunt again and she’d just left him standing
in the woods, when damn it, she could have broken him. But then
what? This was the real world—there weren’t any
happily-ever-afters. That had been crystal clear the day Herne had
killed the man she thought she’d loved.
Her heart gave a reminiscent painful twinge
at the memory.
And Khost... Nalla grunted and rolled to her
side, stuffing one hand under her pillow. Her flannel pajama pants
rode up one knee as she curled into a ball. She couldn’t decide
what she’d felt for him. Fascination? Sure. Want, lust,
. But if she wanted sex, she could have gone to a
bar rather than a rest stop and spent the night with someone there,
rather than out here.
But she didn’t, so she hadn’t. So why
couldn’t she sleep?
She knew the air outside would be cool
against her skin, forever a lure and a reminder of everything she’d
lost. Nalla squeezed her eyes shut, one hand going for the golden
chain looped her neck, and the hunter’s horn that dangled from it.
She’d seen it in Herne’s hands so many times, when he’d blown over
it and the instrument had grown to something of beauty. Of size.
Something he could press against his great lips and thunder over
the sky, a calling to all his Hounds. A calling to the earth under
the sky. The Hounds were coming.
He only needed it on the Great Hunts so he’d
be needing it soon, but he’d yet to come for it. She’d hoped when
she’d stolen it that she could spite him for killing Malek. Then
later, she’d hoped to bargain her return to the sky. Now, she
didn’t even know why she bothered to keep it. She missed running,
but she’d given up hope on ever going home.
Herne knew no forgiveness. That much was
Which meant it was a damn good thing for
Khost that she’d walked away. Though her good deed of the century
still bugged her. His memory still haunted her, niggled at her
brain every time she tried to drift off. She licked her teeth,
tasting the memory of toothpaste against her tongue and wished it
was the taste of Khost, his kiss against her lips again.
She shivered at the memory of Khost’s body
against hers. He’d looked so scared, confused when he’d jumped back
from her. He knew Herne’s laws, nothing outside of the Hunt. No
friendships, no confidants, no love. But Nalla knew how little that
meant when Herne explained it after that first run, with no
knowledge of anything else. She’d seen the souls they’d plucked
from the earth, those Herne had chosen to become Hounds.
She’d seen them take their first baby steps,
life breathed back into them by Herne as he set them in the sky on
four paws. She’d seen the blank confusion. No memory of the people
they’d once been. No memory of anything at all, except the towering
huntsman before them and his Hounds milling at his heels. Then they
would run and she would watch as elation and bliss stole through
their veins. Sheer perfection. It could make a person whole.
Or so she’d thought.
But with time came interludes between runs,
times where Herne’s back had been turned so the god could deal with
other problems. Times where Malek had laughed with her. A smile
touched her lips at the memory. His Hound-form slipping away to
give the image of man, something they’d only been allowed very
rarely, and the way he’d told stories of their Hunts and made them
seem real all over again. He’d brought the magic of the Hunt and
woven it into a friendship.