Awe and Isnay
Orange and pink light haloed the mountain peaks as the sun rose in the sky. Awe followed the river winding through the lush green Apisi valley, toward the bend where it created the border between his pack’s and Ohneka land. Claws digging into the dirt, he ran with a loping wolf’s gait that ate distance but not energy.
In feral form, he ran faster than if he stayed in his civil man shape. Unlike his wolf cousin, Awe still walked on two legs. Shifters appeared like a blend of animal and man in feral form. The only thing that didn’t change was his eyes. They stayed amber like his animal cousin in either form.
Awe carried a backpack with clothes and sweet honey cake taken from the kitchen. He hoped Isnay had a sweet tooth since he wished to lure her close enough for a possible kiss. If he hurried, he would be in position before the omegas from the other pack arrived to do their laundry. Every six days. This was their schedule and it had taken over his life. He’d even taken two of Vendu’s guard duty spots so the other wolf shifter would work for him today.
All for a pretty face who flirted with him over the river currents. His alpha, Sorin, refused to negotiate for a cross-pack mating when there were eligible females to mate within the Apisi, but Sorin wouldn’t stop Awe from seeing Isnay on his own time.
Whatever the consequences, he just needed to stay on the Apisi side of the river. The Ohneka hunters couldn’t challenge him for watching.
He trotted along a narrow path, leading away from the edge of the river’s bank into the dense vegetation of the forest. The pack slipped easily off his back and onto the ground. Shifting shape to civil form was painless. He used his trigger memory and watched as his silver fur retreated into his skin. Joints popped and muscles realigned until his civil shape was completely restored. It was dangerous to travel in the forest as a man. He wasn’t as fast or as strong, but he wanted Isnay to see this form. All the other times she’d flirted, he’d stayed in feral since he’d been so close to the border.
Smoothing his long black hair from his face, he braided it with experienced ease and tied it with a thong. He pulled his worn leather kilt from the bag and adjusted it around his waist. The late spring air was warm enough for no shirt.
The river widened here and the currents slowed to a crawl. Smooth stones lined each side and made it a good place for washing in general. Traditionally, the packs didn’t use the site at the same time. Too many fights.
The young branches of the birch trees that lined the other bank bent to the side as Isnay stepped out of the forest in civil form. Her chestnut hair was parted in the middle with two braids that fell to her waist. For an omega, she was very shy. It had taken him many moons to finally get her to acknowledge his existence. She raised her face to the wind with a smile and set her basket of laundry by the river.
His heart raced. She could smell he was close. He stepped out from his hiding spot with the backpack. “You’re early.” He searched the area around her with both eyes and nose. The other omegas and their hunter guards were near but still out of sight.
She narrowed her eyes and slowed her steps. “Awe?” With shaky hands, she smoothed away the wrinkles from her dress.
“It’s me.” He preened as her gaze wandered from his head to his toes then back again. At least she didn’t scream in horror. One never knew what a shifter’s civil form would look like when you met them as feral. Even from this distance he could see the blush blooming on her cheeks.
“You’re earlier.” She lowered her gaze. Isnay didn’t act as promiscuous as the Apisi omegas. Her bashfulness only made Awe want to mark her as his even more. Omegas were the packs’ easy lovers, artists, and caregivers. They eased tension, especially in the more high strung hunters. A pack would fall to in fighting without omegas around to distract from dominance games and pack politics. She glanced over her shoulder. “The others will be here soon.”
He opened his bag. “I have a present for you.” Pulling out the wrapped honey cake, he stepped into the river and crossed until the water reached his mid-thigh. He couldn’t go further or he’d be trespassing on Ohneka land, and their hunters were close. Getting his ass beaten wasn’t part of his plan.
His alphas had new pups to care for and their tempers were on short leashes. They would use his pelt as a pack room rug if he was caught by the Ohneka. Bad enough Peder, one their omegas, was taken hostage by the Payami last summer. The Apisi couldn’t afford to pay a ransom for members who were stupid enough to get caught by another pack. Awe had to play by the rules. For now.
Isnay took a step forward then glanced over her shoulder again. A visible shiver ran through her body.
He’d never been able to tempt her into the water. If an omega crossed territories it wasn’t considered much of an offense. Pack wars weren’t fought over their gentler brethren. The rules would be different for Awe. As a pack hunter, he was considered a weapon. He understood Isnay’s hesitation. There were stories of omegas being stolen throughout history. Look at what happened to Peder. How could he convince her of his honest intentions?
She sniffed. “Do I smell honey?”
He nodded and unwrapped the cake.
She removed her moccasins and gathered her skirts above her knees before stepping into the slow-moving river. This time of the year honey was a scarce commodity. The Apisi had saved some to celebrate the birth of Sorin’s and Susan’s pups.
He couldn’t keep from grinning. “It is. The bakers were up late last night making honey cake.”
She didn’t meet his gaze like a hunter might. There was no domination in the way she held her shoulders. Her presence eased him, let him relax like he couldn’t among the pack. Not many hunters would have had the courage to step into the river with a stranger from another pack though. Maybe her trust in him should be considered foolish, but who was the fool standing on the border of pack land holding honey cake? lol
“You stole from your pack?” The glance she tossed him held a sharper edge of intelligence than most hunters’ teeth.
He blinked. Dog shit, he was messing this up. What sort of shifter stole from his pack? His role was to provide, and he was proving otherwise. “Um…I won’t have any when it’s served.” He took a step closer, offering her the sweet again. “This is my piece.”
Lifting her chin, she finally met his stare with the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. Clearer than the sky above them and brighter than the sun. She took a piece and savored the bite, pressing her lips together and closing her eyes. “I haven’t had a sweet all winter.” She plucked another large piece, but didn’t eat it. Instead, she held it to his lips.
His heart swelled as he took the bite, purposely licking the sticky honey from her fingers.
“Isnay!” A male voice shouted from the forest.
Both of them startled, and Awe almost dropped the cake. In his obsession with Isnay, he’d forgotten the approaching Ohneka hunters. He grabbed her wrist as she darted back to shore.
Her eyes went wide with fear.
He placed the cake in her hand and released her so she could retreat to her side of the river safely.
Two hunters stormed out of the forest in feral form and raced into the river. A crowd of omegas, both female and male, followed. Isnay stood apart from them, cake forgotten in her hand and concern painted on her face.
Before the hunters reached him, Awe leaped back to his side of the river. They most likely wished to only chase him away from the border since they couldn’t know if he was alone or not.
Awe returned to the thick brush where he’d first hid and sat to wait.
The Ohneka hunters settled on the other bank, guarding the omegas as they did their chores. To his relief, no one chastised Isnay. They’d probably leave that for their alpha when the hunters reported the incident.
She sat by her basket, eating her cake and didn’t appear worried. She shared a few bites with friends. When she finally looked in the direction of his hiding place, he rose to his feet. Smiling, she blew him a kiss.
Fading back into the wilderness before he caused her anymore trouble, he sat out of view and watched Isnay. His alpha might not want to negotiate a mating with the Ohneka, but Awe wouldn’t give up on Isnay yet.
This story is based in the series Chronicles of Eorthe, book one is Scent of Salvation. The continuation of Awe and Isnay's romance can be found in the Alphas on the Prowl boxset, releasing April 28th.
Alpha shifters are on the prowl, and they're used to getting what they want. But there's more to claiming a destined mate than raw power, and they'll have to prove themselves worthy – in more ways than one.
Alphas on the Prowl is page after page of passion and pleasure in this box set featuring eleven tantalizing shapeshifter tales from NY Times and USA Today best selling authors.
Annie Nicholas writes paranormal romance with a twist. She has courted vampires, hunted with shifters, and slain a dragon’s ego all with the might of her pen. Riding the wind of her imagination, she travels beyond the restraints of reality and shares them with anyone wanting to read her stories. Mother, daughter, and wife are some of the other hats she wears while hiking through the hills and dales of her adopted state of Vermont.
Annie writes for Samhain Publishing, Carina Press, and Kensington Publishing.