Dark crouched at the far end of the canyon, ready to spring. Long-accustomed to the totality of night in the vast network of sculpted sandstone passages, Hok’ee watched the death of another day. If he’d been fully human, night would have meant the end to his hunt, but he wasn’t. As a result, even if he couldn’t see the woman he’d been stalking, his nostrils would have kept him near her.
His bare feet moved soundlessly over the summer-dry land, sensing the life-giving moisture beneath the surface. A cooling breeze washed his naked body and sent fresh energy to joints that had been on the move since morning. Muscles carved from a physical existence easily kept pace with the need pulsing at his temples and deep in his groin.
He was thirsty and hungry with the need to hunt demanding to be filled as it always did, but the primal need that had claimed him from the moment he’d first caught her scent kept those concerns at the back of his thoughts. He was alive, senses charged, mind processing. One moment he focused on the danger she and her companion represented to his world and the question of whether he should kill them. The next, her heat came close to consuming him.
He wanted her, would have her.
And when she had nothing more to give him, what then?
Lifting his head, he pulled in fresh oxygen. There she was, her erotic smell mingling with that of hot rock, the distant stream, cottonwoods, pinyon, juniper, and sagebrush. The other human who’d come to land he and his pride had claimed was male, stinking of sweat and determination. Growling low, he imagined tearing at the man with fang and claw, but to do that he’d have to change form and that would terrify the woman. He didn’t want to do that to her, yet, maybe ever.
Stalk. Exist in the moment.
Another growl, this one born of long solitude rolled through him. As if fighting his command to remain in the present, an image bloomed in his mind. In puma form, he had run her down, slammed his weight into her back and knocked her off her feet and onto her belly. Even as she fell, he brushed aside her long, pale hair and touched his fangs to her soft, vulnerable neck.
Effortlessly holding her against the ground, he ripped at the worthless fabric she’d covered herself with. Careful not to injure her, he laid bare her shoulders, spine, and buttocks. Then, ignoring her screams and futile struggle, he flipped her onto her back.
The horror in her blue-gray eyes penetrated the mental haze that was part of being Puma, and he commanded himself to become human. He did so quickly because he didn’t want to give her time to try to escape.
Even before he’d completed the transformation, shock warred with her horror. Her stare said she didn’t, couldn’t comprehend what had happened, but she had no choice because the truth loomed over her. Arms and legs limp, she stared as the man he’d become tore away what remained of her clothing.
The moment he exposed them, her breasts called out to him, compelling him to lave the sweet, swollen flesh. Again and again, he teased her nipples until they became rock-like. Her moans and restless movements spoke to him, turned him even more savage. Grabbing her slim wrists, he forced her long arms over her head.
Although she struggled against his greater strength, he knew she didn’t want freedom after all because the scent of arousal emanated from her now-parted legs. Containing her wrists with a single hand left him free to touch and tease and caress. She was silk against his rough; lean muscle in contrast to his bulk; heat to his heat.
Whether she twisted from side to side or bucked beneath him made no difference. He claimed her neck and breasts, slim waist and flat belly. Although he needed to be the one in command, the curves of hips and legs, of buttocks and sex flesh forced inhuman snarls from him, and he knew he was gone, done. He would fuck her, yes, bury himself in her richness, maybe die and in the wondrous death find a reason to go on living.
Because of her.
Looking down, Hok’ee acknowledged the rod jutting out from him—a rod with nothing to house itself in. Gripping his cock, he held it through the worst of the lonely pain and then spilled himself on the ground. Back under a measure of control, he started walking again, his pace dictated by the speed of the two he was tracking. Their slowness sanded his nerves and tested his patience. At the same time, he savored the possibility of a protracted hunt. As long as it ended with the male vanquished and the female under his control, what did time matter?
His cock knotted again, making a lie of the question. Always before, when the fuck-drive threatened to overwhelm him, he forced himself into human clothing and made his way to the nearest town where he knew he could find a woman willing to accommodate him.
Those unions never lasted beyond one or two days because by then his soul insisted he return to the canyons. The women, although they begged him to remain in their beds, had never comprehended that the only way he would stay in their lives was by their going back with him. And even if one had been willing, he’d never asked.
But now a female, a woman, had stepped onto his land—his and the rest of his pride’s.
Shaking off thoughts of those he shared the world that had been forced on him with, he pulled the newcomer’s essence even deeper into himself. Her scent spread throughout him, touching veins and muscles, his mind even. Most of all he felt her in his groin.
The puma in him said yes, he’d separate her from her companion, killing the tall, ungainly man if necessary. If the female was incapable of seeing beneath the human surface to the beast deep inside him, she might willingly remain by his side, at least at first. But as night flowed into night, she’d undoubtedly learn the truth. And then?
How would he keep her with him once she’d seen the monster, and did he want that?
Unable to face the answer to the first question and not knowing how to respond to the other, he picked up his pace. A horned toad scrambled out of his way, its small claws and tail leaving tracks in the sandy soil. From where it stood on a ledge above him and to his right, a coyote watched him pass. Lifting his hand in salute, he acknowledged the lean, shy predator. According to what he’d researched during one of his forays into town, the Navajo who’d once made this land their home had considered the coyote both a trickster and a powerful being. They’d been right, at least about Coyote’s spirit-strength.
I acknowledge you, brother. If you wish to walk with me, I welcome the company. Perhaps you will tell me why I find this female so intriguing.
Walk alone, Abandoned One, the coyote replied, calling him by the Navajo name his fellow Tocho had given him because, like them, he couldn’t remember which one he’d been born with. You need to travel with your thoughts if you’re ever going to comprehend them. She intrigues because she is mystery. And because she has the capacity to touch you where you have never been touched.
How can that be when she doesn’t know I exist?
It doesn’t matter, yet. What does is whether you will survive once she does. Whether either of you will.
The fading sky was placid and clean with not so much as a cloud or bird to distract Kai Tallon from the seemingly endless horizon. Even with Dr. Garrin Gentry within shouting distance, she felt alone as she always did this time of day. The urge to haul out her digital and capture the approaching sunset was almost more than she could ignore, but she’d felt the same way yesterday and the day before when they’d arrived at Sani, and if she didn’t delete some of the images, the memory card would soon be full. The strange thing was, she had the sense that if she kept taking pictures, eventually one would reveal something what, unexpected? Otherworldly.
Giving herself a mental shake, she again focused on the ancient bone fragment she’d been holding since she’d uncovered it some fifteen minutes ago. It had finally started speaking to her, and although the voice wasn’t yet strong enough for her to understand everything of what she believed had been a coyote had to tell her, it shouldn’t take much longer.
If she could keep her mind clean enough to hear the message.
Propelled by a sharp pain in her left knee, she shifted so she was no longer kneeling. With most of her weight now on her right flank, the rocks no longer dug into her. Unfortunately, as soon as her focus was off the less than comfortable working conditions, her thoughts returned to unwanted territory. She should be catching up with Dr. Gentry as he returned to the tent camp the two of them had set up, not doing—what?
It was this remote canyon, its fault that her imagination had been doing whatever it was doing since she and Dr. Gentry had ridden their loaded quads in here the other day. With no worldly sounds, not even her favorite country and western music to keep her company, she shouldn’t be surprised, but her unexpected inability to concentrate on her gift wasn’t helping her earn her salary. Damn it, she needed to put every bit of mental and emotional energy she possessed into getting the bone fragment to spill its secrets, not…
I wish you were here, Dad. You’d love being with me. We could have a ball exploring this place. You’d love being away from rules and regulations. To be out here with me, away from the red tape—why’d you get yourself killed, Dad, why?
Giving up, she carefully set down the bone and stared at the dying line between earth and sky. Shut down thoughts of the father she’d loved with all her heart and faced what she could no longer deny.
Something was out there. Something she’d never encountered in her twenty-eight years of life. Something with energy beyond anything she’d ever expected. Something that turned her restless, half-scared, and achingly alive.
She wanted to jump to her feet and run until her lungs screamed and her feet were shredded, until intellect and nerve spilled out of her. Left with nothing except exhaustion and clawing thirst, she wouldn’t care about anything except creature comforts. She’d sleep the sleep of the dead, dreamless and peaceful.
But was that what she wanted, she asked as heat speared her. From the first time she’d touched an animal and comprehended that she could sense its emotion and see its world, her life had been dictated by powerful forces. Whether she fought her sight or embraced it didn’t matter. The gift and curse was woven throughout her, part of her pulse and breathing. Was this newborn heat, this awareness of her body that different?
“I don’t know,” she moaned to the faint breeze and, hopefully, her father’s spirit. “I don’t know what’s happening.”
Now that she’d admitted how out of control she felt, facing the unknown seemed a little easier although maybe the swift-approaching night was responsible. Before long, darkness would assure there’d be no visual distractions which meant she’d be pulled into herself, knotted into a tight, pulsing ball.
Determined to give the sensations a name, she tried to draw comparisons with what else she’d experienced in life. Fortunately, this primal energy had nothing in common with the tearing grief and anger that had engulfed her the day six months ago at her father’s death.
A long-time seeker of thrills, she’d parasailed at the Oregon coast on a day when the winds fought each other, steered a battered race car into a second place finish at a county track, and spent knuckle-whitening hours in a canoe caught in Colorado River class five rapids. Those adventures had dried her throat and loosened her bowels and made her feel acutely alive which had been her goal when she’d taken them on. In contrast this—
Sex. Climaxing. Jumping a man’s bones and riding him until he collapsed, until her spent body shivered and her pussy screamed to be left alone.
Was it as simple as that? She hadn’t had sex in what, months? A little alone time with her fingers and batteries and this thing she’d been feeling would slip away? Somehow she knew that wouldn’t happen.
“Kai, where are you?” Dr. Gentry called out.
Wincing at the unexpected shout from the Arizona University archeology department professor, she tried to shake herself free of self-absorbed thoughts. “I’m coming,” she replied, then mentally apologized to the living creatures she and Dr. Gentry had undoubtedly disturbed.
Dr. Gentry, or rather, Garrin as she was starting to call him, was the opposite of the absent-minded professor. He could juggle an infinite number of balls at the same time, and if he ever dropped one, she’d seen no indication of it. At what, mid-forties, he was said to be the obvious choice to replace the department head when Dr. Carter retired, which from what she’d heard wasn’t going to be any time soon.
As a new and temporary university hire, she wasn’t privy to the political maneuvering, thank goodness, but she’d already sensed Dr. Gentry—Garrin’s frustration at having to bide his time. She also guessed he’d pulled whatever stings had needed to be pulled in order to be put in charge of this operation.
And, as he’d told her the day he’d called to all but demand she join the expedition, he considered her key to its success. The grant-financed salary he’d been able to dangle in front of her had caught and held her interest, but that wasn’t why she’d agreed.
This remote network of canyons in northern Arizona hadn’t interested anyone except the Navajo and an occasional wilderness hiker until a hiker had stumbled upon a crumbling kiva in a cave. That discovery had led to a number of pictographs in the cave, and ultimately proof that the ancient Anasazi had once lived in what the Navajo called Sani.
Translated as The Old One, the ultimate rights to Sani’s historic treasure was being fought in the courts. In the meantime, the University had convinced a powerful state senator—who just happened to be an alumnus—to allow a handful of their personnel to establish a dig site. The public explanation had been that University presence was necessary to protect the fragile artifacts.
Any fool, and she was no fool, got it that the University was determined to claim first and hopefully only bragging rights.
So where did that put her on the greedy scale?
Nowhere, she answered, acknowledging that financial remuneration had only a little to do with why she was sleeping on the ground in a pup tent and eating reconstituted dried food. From the moment she’d seen her first picture of the area, Sani had called to her in ways beyond her comprehension, powerful and heated.
Sani or something in it?