Stretching the muscles of his back to ease the tension building in his shoulders, Brand climbed the stairs to his bedroom. He needed to unwind before the moon peaked, or he’d probably start tearing at the walls.
If he had his way, Dagny would never know how much he had risked in taking her from his brother’s brood. Ansvarr might not be as powerful as Brand, but he was well respected. As far as the members of their breed were concerned, Brand was at best an eccentric to be tolerated and, at worst, a rebel that should be routed.
Sliding into bed, he listened to Dagny and Alice talking downstairs. The sounds of their voices floating over the loft railing soothed him. He sighed and began a relaxation exercise. Picturing a rocky stream through a dense pine forest, he conjured the smells that belonged there: mud, moss, sap, grass. Next, he imagined the sounds—water burbling over rocks, wind rustling the branches, birds calling.
Instead of the mattress below him, he felt dirt under his paws and wind ruffling his fur. His conscious mind floated free, and the wolf passed into a dream state.
He ran over the loose rocks at the foot of a steep climb further into the mountains. His four feet were steady over the uneven terrain, though he jogged at a quick pace. An elk had used the path not long before.
Inhaling, he filled his nose with the scent of his prey. Flesh, musk, and fur combined to form an image—a big bull, not far ahead. Prey as experienced as the one he followed wouldn’t give in easily; it would fight. Most wolves would use pack tactics to bring down such a large foe, but he didn’t have a brood to help him. The battle would be life-threatening and exhilarating.
Stalking the elk over miles of rugged ground, he closed the distance between them. Finally, he heard the sound of its passage and the snuffle of its breath. He turned a corner around an outcrop of rock and saw the prey in front of him, pawing through the snow to reach the roughage below. The elk’s winter coat grew in thick, dark patches around its head. The rack of dangerous antlers stretched four feet from tip to tip.
Crouching close to the ground, he took cover in a patch of scrub. His dark coloring made him easy to see on bare, late fall hillsides. With the infinite patience of one who had hunted for centuries, he would wait until an opportunity presented itself.
The low call of another wolf came from beyond the elk, and its head came up with a snort. The elk’s tufted ears flickered back and forth, then the huge animal bolted back in his direction.
The confusion lasted only an instant before he recognized the other wolf. She had joined him in the hunt. Her presence felt so right that he had no question she belonged with him. He heard her quick steps driving the elk toward him.
He dashed from cover and took two bounding leaps before launching himself at the elk’s neck. His sharp teeth punctured the thick hide over the large blood vessel that fed the brain. He clamped his teeth together in a firm bite. Rich blood splashed over his tongue with a burst of intense flavor. The power of the elk surged through him. The wound was mortal.
The elk stumbled, and then tossed its head before continuing forward at a run. The elk’s muscles lurched, dragging him along with the huge strides over the rocky ground. Blood poured from the wound and into his mouth, propelled by the animal’s tremendous heart. His she-wolf nipped at the elk’s heels, driving it ever onward toward death.
The bellowing breath came faster as the chase wore on. Spittle dripped from the nose of the large mammal. The prey slowed, and his she-wolf grabbed the left rear leg in her teeth. Determination radiated from her.
The heavy animal lurched forward, but recovered, dragging both wolves. By its stuttering inhale, the elk knew it was done, but continued to fight. After another few bounds, the elk began to fall. At the last instant, Brand leapt clear of the heavy weight that would crush him. The ground shook when the elk came to its final rest on the cold earth.
Jumping forward, not willing to let such a magnificent animal suffer a second longer than necessary, he fastened his jaws around the windpipe of the elk and applied pressure. He used his power to soothe the elk as the last bit of life drained from the hulking body.
His she-wolf came to stand beside him, her dusky gray fur brushing his. He released his hold on the elk and turned his muzzle toward her. Her silver eyes glowed in the darkening twilight. He licked at the rich blood of the elk painting her snout. She pressed closer to his side, her body warm against his. He needed no other.
Brand came out of his wolf’s dream confused by the conflicting sensory input. Dagny nestled against his side in the bed, as she had in the dream. Her hand rested on his chest. The scent of her filled his room. Her breath tickled his skin.
She shifted sluggishly, her hand gliding over his stomach. His skin heated where she touched him. Her face nuzzled against his shoulder until he moved his arm around her and tucked her against him. She made a sleepy murmur into his chest, and he smiled.
His wolf had never invited another into his dream. Beasts as strong as his seldom did. It had developed an attachment to her, and such a connection wasn’t trivial. As long as Dagny lived, the wolf would not accept another.
The moon crept closer to full. He rubbed his hand over her back as they lay together, almost but not quite sleeping. The rumble of her stomach startled him out of his near-doze.
“I have to go out for a while.” He kissed the top of her head. “Stay here.”
He got up and began to dress. Despite his best efforts, his eyes kept drifting back to the appealing shape curled up in his bed. Twice, he almost abandoned his plans to hunt down something for her to eat, but he managed to escape the room.
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