Way of the Wolf: Liberty (The Wulvers Series Bk4)

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Chapter 5 ~ Hunter

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Morning fog swirled like smoke along the undergrowth, twisting and winding around the trees. My mother told me when I was young that mist showed when Sidhe were near. Fairies. I'd long since stopped believing that but standing here, in this new land, with drops of dew glistening in the low sun, it could have been true.

The forest was silent this morning, as if watching me as I crept low to the ground. I'd woken a while ago to hear Lucas explain to Paula how I'd never have been able to take down the doe last night alone. Despite knowing he was trying to gain her approval, I was eager to prove him wrong. I'd bring my prey with me to the pack and offer it to them. That would be my thanks for allowing me to stay with them.

Lucas explained how to find the pack. I'd told him that I wanted to explore a little before making my way to the pack but I knew he'd seen the glint of challenge in my eyes. He knew I'd heard what he said to Paula.

As long as I kept the river to my left, I'd eventually find myself on the packs inner territory. From there it would be easy to find the Alpha's home if I wasn't found my scouts. I'd make sure they remembered my entrance. I had a good day to hunt and as I trailed along a worn mud path, my excitement grew.

The musty scent of my prey hung heavy in the air and it was easy to follow it to a heavily grassy area of the forest. I'd found the wounded deer not long after I'd left our makeshift camp but was waiting for my moment, even losing sight of it a few times in my confidence I would catch it.

There was something else lingering amongst the mist though, another scent I couldn't place. It was so strong that it clung to the back of my throat with every inhale. Yet I saw no danger, could sense no threat.

The deer stepped out of the shadows then, completely focussed on eating what it could. Taking another creeping step forward, my eyes focussed on the angry, bleeding tears in the deers hind. I faltered. What could leave wounds like that? Had another wolf tried and failed to make this it's prey? My shoulders rolled. I felt confident that I'd succeed and thanked whatever had hobbled it for me.

Scenting the air again, that thick scent filled my nose again and an unease filled my belly. I couldn't see anything out of place and there were no other wolves nearby that I could smell. I wish I knew what belonged to that scent. I shook off the unease as nerves and steadied myself. Lifting my paw, winding myself back to spring into action, I let instincts take over. Darting forward, the deer bleated in terror, long legs flailing about. I should have paused when the deer didn't pick a direction to flee. I should have realised that meant there truly was danger lurking.

I learned then what the mystery scent was. Fear flickered violently as the huge brown bear barrelled from the trees, roaring it's sound that shook the ground. I panicked, unsure of what to do as the deer lashed out and scrambled to get away. But the bear wasn't interested in the injured deer that wouldn't get far. It's wild black eyes were on me. Fur stood up on end, my tail raised high as if one wolf could scare it away. I backed away slowly, growling and snapping sharp fangs in its direction, hoping to intimidate it. It wasn't deterred and there was a wildness to its eyes that shook me to my core. I slipped in the damp grass as it swung out with a heavy paw. It caught me off guard, flinging my body to one side and the sting of torn flesh grew as something in my shoulder popped.

The pain was dulled by the adrenaline rushing through my veins and I managed to force myself back onto my paws. Keeping my front right paw off the ground, I wondered if this was how I'd die as the bear came at me again.

Injured or not, I'd put up a fight.

I stumbled back further, my fear growing when I could see something else moving in the darkness of the trees. The bear paused, small ears twitching and it was suddenly unconcerned with me as a huge, shaggy black mass flew from the forest to land on its back. As the adrenaline faded, I could feel my shoulder again. It was hard to make sense of what I was seeing through the blinding pain. The two creatures growls were like thunder to my ears and I couldn't look away as this new creature attacked with ferocity.

When the black mass landed on its feet, low rumbles leaving its chest, the bear seemed to reconsider. Nashing it's teeth in our direction, it began to lumber off in the direction the deer disappeared. My body slumped into the damp grass and I panted heavily, trembling as red hot pain took over my thoughts. The metallic tang of copper filled the air as blood coated my dark fur.

All I could think of before darkness took over was that I hoped the huge demon that saved me wouldn't make a meal out of me now.

My uncle was going to kill me.

***

A groan left me as my eyes fluttered open, pain radiating over my shoulder and down my arm. My fingers twitched. Staying still, I waited for my vision to stop swirling and focussed on breathing in and out. The canopy of leaves above me filtered the light, casting my surroundings in a soft shadow and I could hear the crackle of a fire close by.

I'd obviously been unconscious for a few hours if the sun was beginning to get lower in the sky.

My stomach twisted as the memories from earlier flooded back. The deer, the bear, the black shape that had saved me. I slowly turned over, leaves crunching beneath my body and my shoulder screamed in protest. Blood scented the air again as my wound reopened, so much so that I could taste metal on my tongue.

I froze when a shape moved to my left, hidden my thick smoke that plumed up. Inhaling, the feral scent of wolf met my nose, almost masked by a sweet smell from the fire. I was distracted by the tickle of blood slowly trailing down my arm and the smell of it must have caught the attention of the male crouching by the fire.

He turned to face me and I gasped. Most of his features were hidden by a scruffy, dark brown beared and tangled hair fell to broad shoulders. A pale scar cut down the left side of his face, slicing his eyebrow in half and travelling down to his jaw. But it was the colour of his eyes that caught me off guard. The right was the brightest sapphire blue I'd ever seen, while the other was a dark, forest moss green. I couldn't look away. Even when his lips peeled back to bear his teeth and low, warning growl filled the air, I stared at those odd coloured eyes.

His power beat out towards me, taking me refusal to look away as a challenge and it was only when his skin shifted over bones that I looked down. This male was untamed, holding a similar aura to my uncle but far more wild and terrifying. My wolf wanted to roll onto her back and show her belly, half from fear and half intrigue. Instead I forced myself to sit up, gritting my teeth against the pain.

He was eerily still as he watched me, muscles tensed as if ready to move at any second. It was clear he was a Wanderer. Everything about him screamed that he was as much a wild part of nature as the bear I'd come face to face with.

"You saved me. Thank you," I said quietly, my throat dry and sore.

He nodded once, relaxing slightly. As I tried to gauge him, his gaze flicked over me, settling on where my breasts heaved with the pounding of my heart. His head tilted up as he scented the air and I could feel my skin flush. I was scared of him, he could smell that.

"I was travelling with two wolves from the pack a little south of here. They'll be worried about me if I don't arrive soon," I continued after the silence dragged on.

His eyes met mine again and I began to wonder if he even understood what I was saying. He turned back to the fire, picking something up before standing slowly. I couldn't help but let my eyes rake over his naked form, taking in the scars that covered his body, my wolf appreciating the muscles that strained under tanned skin. He was a big male and the proof of the fights he'd been in only added to my wariness.

I flinched when he stepped towards me, making him pause and tilt his head as if he was asking if it was okay for him to come closer. He motioned to his shoulder then to me, holding up whatever was on the thick leaf he held in his hands. Swallowing, I nodded and watched him approach more slowly.

When he crouched again, I could see that there was some sort of paste on the leaf he held and the smell made me gag. I didn't miss the way his lips twitched in amusement. He lay the leaf next to me, dipping his fingers into the paste then gave me a heavy look. Without words, I knew what he meant. This was going to hurt. I took a deep breath, sinking my fingers into the ground and he nodded before smearing the paste over the open wound.

I cried out, tears stinging my eyes as a shooting pain seemed to burn through my veins. The male grunted and it was only then I realised I'd gripped his arm and my nails were digging into his skin. He didn't seem too bothered by it as he made sure the paste covered my shoulder, barely flinching when my grip on him tightened. The pain stole the breath from my chest and I choked when I tried to inhale.

"Fuck me," I grunted, squeezing my eyes shut only for them to fly open when the male snorted.

So he did understand.

He sat back, wiping what was left from his fingers onto his lap. His face was serious a moment then he gripped my chin. His touch burnt my skin and I held my breath as he turned my face away from him before he nodded to himself, satisfied with his work.

"You should know more about the land you're on before you hunt alone, pup. Bears don't normally travel this far north but they do make appearances. You should have spotted the signs that he was here. He'd marked trees and that deer you were hunting, he injured that this morning," he admonished in a thick accent I couldn't place before muttering to himself, "Damn pack wolves."

I bristled. "I'm not a pack wolf."

I wasn't sure if he was laughing, the sound was deep and husky and with most of his face hidden, it was hard to get a read on his expression. He moved back to the fire, giving me his back and my jaw clenched more.

"I'm only visiting while I travel. I've no ties to any pack. A pack I need to get to before they tell my family I didn't arrive and they come to hunt me down and drag me back," I stated, hating the way he made me feel inferior.

"You're not going anywhere yet. Movement will aggravate your wound. I won't have you bleed out after you made me miss my hunt to save you from that bear," he replied firmly, turning his head slightly so I was under a stern blue eye. "I will take you to the pack tomorrow."

There was a power behind his words and I decided it was best not to argue. I had the feeling I'd thoroughly irritated him with my apparent incompetence and I didn't want to make that worse. I looked down, inhaling sharply when even that small movement hurt. I suddenly had the urge to cry. The adrenaline from confronting a bear wearing off mixed with agony from where it's claws had caught me had a swirl of emotions raging through me.

I thought I could see concern in his gaze but he said nothing, turning away again and I wiped angrily at my eyes. We fell into silence once more as he worked by the fire and I lay carefully back down, exhaustion making my eyelids heavy. I felt vulnerable out in the open with this stranger but he seemed completely unconcerned with my presence. Now and again, I'd feel his eyes on me but I found it easier to pretend I was asleep than to try and talk to him. I had the feeling he preferred the quiet, he struck me as a male of few words.

I dozed off a few times, waking when the fire crackled or I could sense the male moving about. I didn't feel safe enough to really sleep.

My stomach growled when the scent of cooking meat filtered towards me and I opened my eyes to look over at the fire. Venison was really the last thing I wanted, especially the few scraps I could see cooking. It'd do little to sate my gnawing hunger but I needed to build up my strength.

Night had begun to seep in more quickly, darkening the blue sky so that the fire was the only main source of light for us now. With the dark, came the cold. At first I moved carefully so as not to disrupt the male whose name I still didn't know. When he merely tipped his head slightly in my direction, I moved closer still until I was by his side with the flames heating my skin.

He stiffened but I couldn't make out his face in the shadows. I didn't want to make him uncomfortable or risk an altercation so I shifted so there was more space between us. He handed me some of the cooked meat after taking the bigger piece for himself but I was grateful for it anyway. He'd said himself he hadn't managed to hunt, so I knew we were eating his reserve of food.

As this was his territory and his kill, I waited for him to eat first before digging into my own. I almost moaned at the flavours that burst onto my tongue, not quite sure he'd managed that considering there wasn't exactly salt or pepper on offer. I watched him while he ate, in awe every time the flicker of flames let me catch a glimpse of those beautiful, odd coloured eyes.

His eyes met mine but he didn't look angry like I thought he would when he caught me blatantly staring. Unable to deal with the silence any longer, I waited until he was done eating before asking, "What's your name?"

"You can call me Hunter," he grunted shortly, looking back at the fire.

I frowned, wondering how that question could have possibly made him uncomfortable. "Is that your name?"

"No."

Holding my hands out towards the fire, I almost rolled my eyes but I didn't think he'd like that very much.

"I'm Fenna," I told him, only for him to just nod once.

I clucked my tongue in annoyance, deciding better of asking him anything else. Instead I prayed that Lucas and Paula simply assumed I was still exploring and that were waiting on my return. I had a fear they went on to the pack and when I didn't return when I said, told the alpha I was missing and he then told my uncle who would now be beyond furious and terrified. I ran my fingers roughly through my hair, muttering curse words as I fretted over that.

"Sleep."

I jumped, having not expected Hunter to say another word to me. That one word held behind it so much dominance that I felt myself obeying. I was annoyed that it was so easy for him to gain the upper hand, to take the role of leader. But he had looked after me well and I was in no state to challenge him. As I lay down by the fire facing him, I told myself I only obeyed because I really was tired. The sooner I slept, the sooner I'd manage to get to the pack. Before I closed my eyes, I found myself stealing one last glance at him. He was leaning towards the fire, his eyes closed and his lips mouthing words I couldn't make out.

When he his head began to turn in my direction, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to even my breathing. I could practically feel his gaze burning into me but I didn't let up in pretending to be asleep and he never accused me of otherwise. After a while, I heard him shifting to lie down as well.

It was only when I heard gentle snores coming from him that I felt able to relax enough to sleep.

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