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The shape-shifting women of clan Wolf make the best lovers on earth – if they don’t kill you.
The Way Of The Wolf… In a world befraught with racial prejudices and dangerous lovers, Humans, Barbarians, Dwarfs, Elves, Fey, Orcs, Ogres, and Trolls vie for the same territories. Lady Evalayna buried her past and sacrificed her personal desires to raise House Lochinvar to High House over all the Wolf Clan. Will her own children find love? Or will Evalayna rule their lives as her mother sought to control hers?
Politics… Cassadara, youngest daughter of House Lochinvar, is to travel across the wastelands to the northernmost outpost of the Humans. Her mission: negotiate a truce with the House of Yarishet. Just the sort of assignment the young Shaman expects — pointless and boring. Until her party is attacked by marauding Orcs — Orcs? In the wastelands? — and she’s left without an escort. To make matters worse, now she must negotiate with the Dwarven Slave Trader Argolyn for a Warrior guide.
Legend… The shape-shifting women of Clan Wolf make the best lovers on Earth — if they don’t kill you. Mâkakao has dreamed of a Wolf woman for his own since he came of age. Yet as he’s soon to discover, every fantasy has its price!
The noise of the marketplace rose like the shrill whine of wildfire. The press of bodies around her became oppressive, sucking the air out of her lungs. Cassadara shifted her armor, automatically standing taller, straighter, as if her imperious stance could somehow remove her from the filth and squalor. Her nose wrinkled in distaste, but she refused to acknowledge the underling who groveled before her. The Dwarf was not worthy of her attention.
The trader’s voice droned on, extolling the virtues of yet another chunk of Human waste. The slaves all looked the same. The Dwarf dragged them out of their pen in a string, chained together like so many goats on a tether. Warriors, indeed. None of them would even raise their eyes to look at her. She terrified them. To a man, they would rather die here than travel with her.
Something inside her turned cold as the arctic spring. These Humans were nothing. Spineless bundles of flesh huddled together, trying to hang on to their miserable existence. They meant nothing to her. Let them stay here and earn their freedom in the pit if they could.
Cassadara crushed the courier’s message and tossed the paper into the fire. Unfortunately, she couldn’t rest until she had fulfilled Lady Evalayna’s directive. Irritated, perhaps unreasonably so, she thumped the small bag of gold coins against her leg. Even with the words burned to a crisp, Cassadara could hear Mother’s voice as if the Lady had just spoken aloud.
“Although I am pleased to ken ye survived the Orcs’ assault on thy escort, I fear for thy safety. I wouldna’ have ye travel alone. Go ye to the Dwarf called Argolyn in the City of Stone. This vile creature claims to have one of our own amongst his slaves. Such a thing canna’ be allowed. In freeing this Warrior, ye shall also secure a second sword arm to stand at thy back. May the gods be with ye.”
A second sword arm. A slave. Cassadara felt her frustration mount as she surveyed the expanse of Human degradation. She would find no Warriors here. She had sent to Mother asking for a company of Northland Soldiers — her own men, who would gladly follow her into battle if need be rather than cower in fear of her while the enemy hacked them to pieces. Instead Mother sent the Mage Shammall and a small bag of gold. Cassadara would rather have traveled alone than take on the added burden of another responsibility. But there was no defying Mother.
At least the errand boy had spirited himself away after delivering Mother’s instructions. She’d rather deal with the Dwarf than that damnable Mage.
“This one is a true Warrior, Lady. He is strong and well-endowed.”
Cassadara looked down, trying to focus on the matter at hand. Argolyn was attempting to call her attention to yet another of the objects huddled in the mud. His sales pitch, delivered in Dwarven, sounded like he was trying to clear phlegm from his throat.
“Stand up!” the flesh-monger hissed. The slave made no move to obey. The trader kicked the battered body at his feet. The Dwarf received as his reward a glare of defiance from deep green eyes glinting like ivy-etched steel. Her attention secured, Cassadara watched the scene unfold like a play. The trader yanked ferociously on the chain by which his property was bound, cutting off the slave’s air supply. Cassadara wondered why blood didn’t spurt from the Human’s neck.
The Dwarf kicked the slave yet again, ignoring the choking wheeze of the Human’s strangled breath. The lack of oxygen had the desired effect. Almost insolently, the man at Argolyn’s feet rose. Grabbing hold of the chain threaded through the torc around his neck, he hauled himself up hand over hand, using the sturdy Dwarf as anchorage. Up and up and up the Human rose, until he towered over the Dwarf, who reached barely to his crotch.
Undaunted, the trader fisted his hand in the fabric of the man’s tunic, yanking the thin covering from the battered body with one swift jerk. A grubby paw poked at the slave’s testicles, as if to make sure Cassadara had an unobstructed view. “You see, Mistress, there is enough here to satisfy even a member of the Wolf Clan!”
To his credit, the Human barely flinched as the Dwarf displayed him.
Cassadara’s focus lingered for a moment on a cock that hinted, even flaccid, at enough size and girth to be worth a second look, before she let her gaze wander back to the slave’s face. His attention still centered on the Dwarf, his eyes blazed with cold, bare defiance. This one could not have been a slave for long. Although his body had been damaged, his spirit had yet to be broken. Still, he had obviously learned better than to actually attempt to attack the Dwarf. One move of the slave’s hands, chained though they were, and the guards would beat the man to a bloody pulp.
What did his spirit matter? She wasn’t here to secure a personal slave for the night’s usage. She didn’t want a man who would fight her, and the Human would never travel willingly at her side. Besides, without the guards around, the Human might be hard to control. He was not the Clansman Mother had sent her to free. Cassadara didn’t bother to look back at Argolyn. She answered in the common tongue of merchants, refusing to expend the energy necessary to spit out the words in the Dwarf’s own language. “Thy merchandise is unacceptable.” She turned away, as if to move on.
“You need not fear me, Mistress. You would be safe with me.” The words were spoken in High Elven, a language that managed to capture the essence of poetry in its most common vocabulary. The voice caressed her, sliding over her skin like silk in the darkness, little more than a low rumble that might have come from Earth herself.
Cassadara raised an eyebrow in surprise as she turned back, surveying the man again. The Human had dared to address her — and in a language almost unknown in these parts. He had taken great risk to speak to her privately. Why? ‘Twas a foolish risk that might well earn him yet another beating.
Cassadara’s curiosity trapped her. Did he not know who she was? Did he not know what she was?
Deep green eyes clashed with hers, anything but subservient. Surprisingly, she saw no trace of fear. Instead she saw wariness mixed with desperation. The Human knew his fate. Unless she purchased his contract, the man would undoubtedly die here.
So. This slave was willing to cross the lines of race and class to save his own life. Yet somewhere within his battered body the man retained enough pride to keep him from begging.
She stepped closer — close enough to smell the foul odor coming from the pen where the men were kept. By the gods, this one was tall. He was almost as tall as her brother Tyrell — the slave was certainly the tallest Human she had ever seen. Taller by far than her own six-foot-four. At this distance she would actually have to tilt her head to meet the man’s eyes, so she didn’t. Instead she trailed her gaze over his body, surveying every inch of him, looking beneath the filth to see the long, lean muscles on a powerful frame, capable of grueling days of marching and hard hours of fighting.
The Human was too large and well built to have escaped the arena. The spectators would love to see this one fight. She let her gaze wander the length of him again, frankly curious about those other attributes the Dwarf had mentioned. This time his cock responded, jumping to life as if she had stroked him with her fingers instead of her eyes.
He was indeed well endowed — far better equipped than she would have expected for a Human. As she watched, his cock grew harder, bobbing its deep crimson head as if straining to reach her.
She hadn’t even touched him yet and he was already hard for her?
Despite the chill of the arctic spring, a fine sheen of sweat stood out on the Human’s body now, trickling down his smooth, naked chest. She found herself imagining licking the sweat from his bronzed skin. Her nipples hardened at the thought of what he might be able to do with that equipment.
Did he want her? Or merely the freedom her money could purchase for him?
She’d heard tales of Human lovers. The Humans might not be good for aught else, but they were said to make incredible mates. She followed the line of sweat back up, gradually returning her attention to the man’s face. He let her look her fill without comment, though his cock jumped again as if she’d caressed him rather than merely admired from a few feet away. A single drop of moisture leaked from its tip. She wondered briefly what he might taste like. Just how different were Humans?
Cassadara hid her smile. She was fairly certain he was not what Mother had had in mind.
She answered in the common tongue, wanting to be sure the Dwarf understood every word she said. “Why should I trust ye, Human? I know what thy people think of my kind. Ye call my race Barbarians. Yet ye condone this.”
The sweep of her hand indicated not just the squalid pens huddled at the base of the cliffs, but the amphitheatre-like arena at the far edge of the camp, and indeed the whole system by which men were bought and sold like sled dogs.
“Why would I pay this Dwarf for thy services? As soon as we are away from this place, ye shall try to kill me. Then ye shall die, and I shall be out a great deal of gold. I have no time to worry over the likes of ye.”
“Then do not hold me as a slave,” he answered, once again in Elven. “Let the price of my freedom be my indenture. I will pledge myself to your service. Allow me to earn my freedom and I will prove my loyalty beyond the boundaries of race and class.”
The Dwarf looked perturbed by the banter, but if he did not understand, Cassadara surely would not translate. This time she answered the Human in Elven as well. “Ye would never live to see thy freedom, Human. No’ where I go.”
The man didn’t deny the truth of her words. Instead he stared back at her, holding her attention with the intensity of his gaze, his eyes asking for her faith. “I know where you are bound, M’Lady. I will gladly die beside you if that is the will of the gods.” He swayed unsteadily on his feet, righting himself before he toppled back into the mud. “Better to die in battle at your side than here in the pits for the entertainment of the Lords and Ladies. Death in the arena robs a Warrior of his honor.”
Cassadara examined the Human again, using her gift this time. A long half-healed gash ran the length of his shield arm from shoulder to elbow. Heat radiated from the wound, a sure sign the cut was infected. She looked deeper. Beneath the bruises his ribs were cracked, and his knuckles were swollen and bloody. He had undoubtedly survived several rounds in the arena already. His face, half-hidden under untrimmed fur, looked hollow and gaunt.
He’d take a great deal of healing to be of any use. If she bought this one she would be spending days in this hellhole of a town before the man was ready to travel. Worse yet, healing him would leave her exhausted and vulnerable — and at his mercy.
Cassadara let her gaze drift down to that thick, weeping cock again. “If I buy thy indenture, what will ye do for me?”
“Whatever you wish, M’Lady.” Deep green eyes warmed slightly, lending character to the face where she’d seen only anger and despair. “In my homeland, I am known as a man of my word. I pledge to serve you loyally.”
Cassadara touched the tip of her tongue to suddenly dry lips. At her frank perusal, the Human’s cock bobbed stiffly against his belly, looking painfully hard. Dampness stained the inside of her thighs. Yes. If he knew how to properly entertain a woman, he might be worth the time and trouble he would undoubtedly cause.
When her gaze traveled back up the length of him, his eyes met hers with a trace of something that might have been a grin. “I can cook.”
The man knew he had her attention. Cassadara fought to keep her expression distant as she turned back to the Dwarf, addressing him once more in the common tongue. “How much?”
Argolyn answered in his own tongue, disdaining the common vernacular. “For you, fifty gold pieces, Mistress.”
“He paid but fifteen,” the Human offered in that same guttural language.
The powerful Dwarf snapped the chain in a move that dumped the man back on his knees in the mud. “Silence! Your upkeep alone has near bankrupted me!”
“I have earned you ten times my purchase price,” the Human argued. “If your word meant anything, I would own my freedom by now!”
If she left the man here, the Dwarf would surely beat him for such audacity. Cassadara stepped between them, distracting the Dwarf. She moved her shoulders in a studied show of disinterest. “This Human is indeed well-endowed, but he is insolent. He is no’ worth the fifteen ye paid for him. Where is the Northland Warrior ye promised?”
The Dwarf allowed himself to be distracted. “This is the Warrior we spoke of, M’Lady. Truly he has done well in the pit, though he has not yet won the Grande Mêlée. That event does not come here until after the thaw.”
Cassadara tapped her foot impatiently. “Warrior or no’, he is no’ one of my people. Ye have lied to Mother. Lady Lochinvar will be much angered with ye.”
Argolyn spread his hands wide, his face a mask of innocence. “He is big. He is strong. He is well equipped. I sent word to Lady Lochinvar only that I had an acceptable candidate. Come back tomorrow. I will have broken him for you.”
Broken. Aye. That he would be. Cassadara felt a surge of pity well up. She suppressed her weaker emotions with the harshness of reality. “I have no time to waste with ye. If he is the best ye have, he will have to suffice. I will give ye thirty and leave with him now.”
“M’Lady, surely you jest. A big strong fighter like this will bring near to one hundred after the Mêlée.”
“Then wait for the Mêlée. Away with ye.” From down below in the mud, eyes flavored with desolation searched for hers. Did he understand nothing of trading? Cassadara intentionally looked away. She spun on her heel and headed toward the gates.
A filthy little hand tugged at her sleeve. “Please, Mistress, let us not haggle over money. I can see you desire this slave. Enjoy him. My gift to you at only forty gold pieces.”
A slight metallic ping sounded as her short sword leaped into her hand. Her voice hissed out low and flat. “Remove thy hand from my person while ye still possess a hand to remove.”
The Dwarf drew back stiffly, but swallowed his pride in the face of the threat in her eyes. “You drive a hard bargain, M’Lady. Thirty it is.”
Her upper lip curled in a sneer. “Twenty-five.”
Argolyn stared up at her for the space of two long, deeply drawn breaths. “Twenty-five.”
The sword slipped soundlessly back into its sheath. Cassadara withdrew the coins from her leather pouch and dropped them. Argolyn picked the coins deftly out of the air as they fell. Short stubby fingers extended a large iron ring toward her. “Your keys, M’Lady.”
She stepped back, refusing to touch the tainted metal. “Ye may keep thy chains.”
“M’Lady! Think what you say! Surely you cannot mean to –”
Her hand still rested on the pommel of her sword. “The purchase is made. The Human belongs to me. I do no’ wish him to serve me in bondage. Remove thy chains.”
The protest died on the Dwarf’s lips. Wordlessly he unlocked the wrist cuffs, yanking the chain through the rings on the torc that shackled the man’s neck. Ignoring both the Dwarf and the pain of the twisted torc, the Human kept his gaze fastened on Cassadara. He still clutched his tattered tunic. Cassadara watched in fascination as he tied the remains about his waist, concealing that rigid cock. Despite his privation, he retained some degree of modesty.
“You were not told to dress!” Argolyn barked, snaking out a grubby paw to yank the shredded tunic away from the man.
Cassadara caught the Dwarf’s wrist in a grip as strong as his own. “Ye shall no’ touch what is mine. No’ now. No’ ever. Neither ye nor any of thy men.”
Rage colored the trader’s face. With his free hand he grasped a talisman hung about his neck on an ancient leather cord. “Take him and be gone.”
Something sharp brushed against her mind. Cassadara dropped the Slaver’s arm, suddenly finding him far too filthy to touch.
“You shall regret your treatment of me,” the Dwarf hissed as he turned and stalked away, rubbing his injured wrist.
“Harm what is mine, and ye shall no’ live to ponder my fate,” Cassadara promised his retreating backside.
Truth be told, she already regretted having dealt with the little Slaver at all. She had no wish to own another, nor be responsible for anyone other than herself. Yet here she was.
She turned back to the Human. Eyes fixed on her feet in a traditional show of subservience, the man knelt before her in the mud, his ripped tunic clutched around him. Ice crystals were already forming in the man’s beard. Pity swayed Cassadara yet again. She unbuckled her cloak and settled the heavy wool over his shoulders. Green eyes raised up to meet hers, still wary, but there was something in them she hadn’t seen there before.
The hope was tempered by uncertainty, but it was there.
The torc still marked the man as a slave. Cassadara saw no smith about whose forge she might use. She hated to touch iron. Still, she would have to touch the man if she was to heal him, probably more than once. Better to deal with the cursed iron now than endure its taint.
Sliding one hand under the twisted band to protect his neck, she closed her eyes and focused on the welded lock. She pictured the metal heating under her fingers until it was soft and malleable. Using all of the strength of her race and her magic, she twisted the welded hasp until the metal crumbled beneath her fingers. The lock sprung, allowing another few inches of space between the ends of the band. As gently as she could, she spread the worn collar apart and removed the hideous thing from about his bloodied neck. Venting her anger on the metal, she flung the filthy piece of iron out across the tundra.
The Human said nothing, only continued to stare up at her as he rubbed dirt stained fingers against the raw wound at his throat.
She extended her hand to him, but he made no move to accept her help. Her temper leapt to the surface again as she let her hand drop back to her side. This was a poor start to things.
No. She would not judge him on the basis of race alone. Perhaps he had simply misread her intent. She tried again, choosing her words with care as she addressed him in his own language. “Are ye fit enough to travel?”
Understanding flickered across his face. Still watching her intently, he rose cautiously to his feet. “Aye, M’Lady.” Even as he spoke, he swayed like a drunkard.
She sighed, knowing he was not fit to go anywhere but to bed. “Have ye a name?”
He blinked in surprise. “To my friends I am known as Mâkakao.”
Cassadara twisted her tongue around the foreign name. “Makâ…”
“Mâkakao,” he repeated.
She laughed at her own clumsiness with the name. “Mâk?”
His lips turned up slightly at one corner. “Mâk.”
“As much as I admire thy body, I would no’ have ye travel with me naked, Mâk. Ye will attract the wrong sort of attention. Get ye to yon merchants and see to thy clothing. Something sturdy, but light enough to travel in. Get ye outfitted. A warm tunic and light armor and a traveling cape. Whatever else ye shall have need of. And get ye a good sword.”
He stared at the bag of coins she pressed into his hand. His voice sounded odd when he finally spoke. “You would trust me in this, M’Lady?”
Cassadara looked up and down the one mud path that ran between the stone huts of the merchants. “Would ye rather remain here?”
A smile, a real one at last, stole through his reserve. The smile touched his face with the promise of beauty. “No. No, M’Lady, I would not.”
“Mâk?” She spoke softly as he started to turn away.
“M’Lady?” On his lips the word sounded like a caress.
“Find ye a bath and a barber.”
Green eyes turned stormy gray. A flush stole over his cheeks. “As you wish, M’Lady.”
He thought she meant him to prepare himself for her bed? The idea was not unpleasant, but he was in no condition to enjoy such exercise at the moment, and she had no wish to kill him. Cassadara smothered her laughter. “Have the barber see to thy arm. I would no’ have thy wound heal badly.”
He flinched as if she had hit him. “‘Tis nothing, M’Lady. A scratch of no importance.”
“Have the wound seen to,” she insisted. “And get ye something to eat. A good dinner may cure what ails ye.”
The Human inclined his head in a show of respect. “M’Lady.”
She liked the way the title sounded when he spoke. Almost as if his words caressed her. Still…”Cassadara. If we are to share this journey, ye might as well know my name.”
One corner of his mouth lifted up. “I know your name, M’Lady. In the language of the Fey, your name means Daughter of the Wind. I think all in these parts know your name by now.”
“Then ye shall have no trouble finding me when ye are outfitted and ready to depart. I shall be at yon tavern at the edge of what passes here for a town. I have paid for a room there for the night, but I would rather leave this place behind us.” She let her attention flick briefly toward the Slaver’s hut. “Have caution. I do no’ trust the Dwarf.”
His eyes warmed slightly. “I will return to you, M’Lady.”
If he did not, she would be out nothing but a small bag of Mother’s coin. She watched the tall Human turn and walk away, admiring the hard angles of his shoulders beneath the cape. Somehow she trusted he would be good to his word. Cassadara thought briefly of the Human’s other attributes and smiled to herself. Perhaps she would not regret this bargain after all.
Even as the thought occurred to her, the Human stumbled up the steps to the nearest merchant’s hut, clutching at the doorframe as he tried to right himself. Cassadara sighed. With a movement as swift as her name implied, she reached his side. Although she was shorter by a hand’s breadth than any of her clansmen, she had at least inherited the strength of her race. She gathered the man into her arms as she would have an injured child. Even through the wool of the cape, she could tell he was burning up with a fever that had not been there a few minutes ago.
Eyes the color of wintergreen sought hers as thick ebony lashes parted. “The Dwarf…”
She too remembered the Dwarf laying his hand on the talisman.
His voice trailed off and his eyes slipped closed, only to jerk suddenly open again. “Please, do not let me die in this place, M’Lady,” he implored. “Not here. The tundra…”
“Ye shall no’ die. No’ here. No’ today. I give ye my word.”
His eyes slid closed again. “Clan of the Wolf is known for keeping its word,” he whispered. As if the effort of speaking had been too much, his head lolled loosely to one side.
The door before her gave way at a kick from her fine steel-clad boot. A tiny merchant woman looked up at them in terror, reaching for a pitiful excuse for a knife.
“I have need of thy assistance,” Cassadara explained calmly. “I shall pay thee well.”
Shelby Morgen loves writing offbeat tales that defy as many rules as possible. She likes chocolate with her peanut butter, suspense with her romance, and kink with her sex. She’s always had a hard time keeping science fiction, fantasy and paranormal from mixing with her kink. Shelby shares her belief in electronic publishing with her longtime friend and partner, Bill, her husband of 35 plus years. Find more of Shelby’s titles at Changeling Press — http://www.changelingpress.com/author.php?uid=21.