Chapter two. Lion shifter Valerie meets two alphas.
The mountains were cold, and the pass was the coldest part of it. The wind tunnel it created was brutal. Valerie was glad she was in her lion form, paws held tight to her body to conserve warmth. Her thick pelt was made for this weather, but that didn’t make it any easier on her vulnerable nose and eyes. She half considered hiding her face in the small bundle of clothes she’d brought to wear later but wouldn’t make herself look weak in front of new visitors.
Luckily, due to her dalliance with Andrea, she wasn’t there for long before the two shifters showed up. Valerie didn’t look them straight in the eye, alphas liked to say hello first before making eye contact. Especially new, strange alphas. One of whom was a witch.
The tiger’s orange was bright against the snow. Valerie had met tigers before but they weren’t very common. Even less common were wolves of his companion’s size. She felt her ears flick back as they came near. Valerie’s lioness was cautious, didn’t trust the wolf’s size or the tiger’s magic.
Shifters with magic. Valerie felt that unwelcome chill again. She tamped down on her fear. Now wasn’t the time to be afraid. She had been told to welcome these strangers into the pack, and that’s what she’d do.
The tiger got to her first, Valerie watching him out of the corner of her eye as he came up to her. She could read other big cat shifters fairly easily, could see from the position of his ears and his swishing tail that he wasn’t sending any aggressive signals. He came up to smell her nose and she let him, meeting his eyes then. They were deep and gold. So, this was the witch. Valerie tried to force her distaste and fear to the back of her mind.
The tiger shifter moved past her and the wolf came closer, but didn’t touch noses. Valerie let her eyes flick up, enough time to see he had ice blue eyes, but she saw the beginnings of aggression. His fur started to stand up and his lip went to curl. Valerie’s lioness side took over and forced her eyes away. Standing there, still and pliant as he smelled her didn’t feel good. It felt like she was allowing her designation as beta to communicate her worth. But it was necessary. This was either an angry wolf or an over-dominant one. Something that felt like an apology radiated from the corner of Valerie’s mind that her lioness lived in, and she sent back acceptance. No need for her shifter side to apologize. They both knew the deal.
From the corner of her eye, Valerie could see the tiger shifter waiting for them on the other side of her. She didn’t like being between two strange alphas. Although, the idea did have some merit.
Eventually, the wolf backed off, blinking at her once. She made eye contact, not for long, but long enough for them to communicate in their shifted, animal forms. Not enemy. Not an ally or friend yet, but at least not enemy. It would do for now.
Valerie picked up her clothes in her mouth and turned, keeping an eye on both alphas, and led them through to snow to the center of their pack. The mountains were stunning, it was one of the reasons Valerie and Andrea had chosen to settle down here. That, and they both liked the quiet, chilled days, the silence where you could hear snow landing on the ground, the warm nights curled up in each other’s arms or paws.
Valerie led the strange alphas into their town. There were only around fifty in the pack, and there were less built structures than outsiders would consider necessary as half the pack preferred to live in caves. The structures they did have were made from wood, milled by the pack. They were simple, basic shacks with a few rooms, a place to cook food and a simple bathroom. They passed a half dozen before Valerie stopped at one.
A tall, old man waited in front of a small shack. It was, essentially, visitor’s housing or changing rooms depending on how long they were going to stay. He gestured at it and the wolf and tiger entered. They would be shifting back to human forms and dressing in there, so they could talk. Shifters could only communicate mind to mind once pack bonds formed, which could take a while. Hence the need to change into human form if you wanted to have any sort of conversations with strangers. The man looked at Valerie and his voice appeared in her mind. “Any trouble?”
“No, Alpha Bryant,” Valerie said back, using the mind link. Any shifter could be born alpha, beta or omega. But Alpha was a role that could only be won. Alpha Bryant was old now, every now and then Valerie caught whispers of someone or the other wanting to challenge him for the run of the pack. But Bryant was a good alpha, so the whispers stayed just that. Valerie spat her bundle of clothes on the ground and cleaned her forepaw as they spoke. “No signs of witchery but that wolf is tense. Not sure if aggressive or very dominant yet.”
“We’ll figure it out. Thank you.”
Valerie dipped her head as the door to the shack opened and two men stepped out. One was tall and bulky as Valerie had ever seen, and had longish brown, curling hair. This one paused and gave Bryant a frank, assessing look. He had blue eyes. Valerie would have bet anything that was the huge wolf shifter. Once he was done assessing Bryant, he stepped away, further than manners would dictate. Valerie was deciding whether or not to take insult at this when the remaining shifter stepped out of the shack and spoke.
“Sorry, Cole doesn’t do well around strange Alphas,” he apologized. Valerie, if she had them in her lioness form, would have raised her eyebrows. Now here was a pretty man. The other, Cole, was handsome in a brutish kind of way, with a strong jawline, straight nose, a messy beard and the kind of bulk a woman would want over her. Or over her omega lover. But this man was gorgeous. He had warm, brown skin and short-cropped hair, a clean-shaven jaw, and an athletic, lean build. His cheekbones and wide, amber eyes made him almost too pretty. Almost.
Valerie hadn’t taken as much of the edge off with Andrea as she’d thought. Her lioness purred, ever interested in adding another to her and Andrea’s bed.
“I’m Ryland,” the man said.
“The witch?” asked Bryant, looking the man frankly up and down.
Ryland smiled and, although Valerie was sure it was a practiced smile designed to put them at ease, it was charming, warm. “Only sometimes.”
“Those aren’t the clothes I left for you.”
They both wore simple shirts and pants, not like the thick furs they had on hand for visitors or shifters who had left home in a hurry.
Ryland gave them another smile and shrugged. “We witches do have tricks up our sleeves.”
Valerie couldn’t stop her ears flicking back at that. Ryland’s strange amber-gold eyes caught it but he didn’t comment. Whatever, Valerie wasn’t going to apologize for being freaked out by witchery. It was freaky.
“Valerie will lead you to your quarters while you are here. Please, make yourself comfortable. We eat together in the evenings,” Alpha Bryant said simply, not reacting to Ryland’s admission of using magic.
Ryland nodded. Valerie nipped into the shack and changed into the clothes she’d been carting around. Warm furs that covered her head in a hood, a coat that went all the way down to her ankles and simple slippers to stop frostbite getting at her toes. While she was there, she heard Bryant’s voice in her head. “I’m heading off, but take them to the shack on the ridge.”
Now Valerie’s eyebrows did shoot up. Their nicest shack? “Alright,” she sent back.
Valerie exited the shack and gestured for the two alphas to follow her. They stayed a few steps behind her and walked in silence as she pointed out a few key locations. The only large building in the pack’s territory was the main hall they ate in together every night. The key paths to the best hunting areas. Where on the horizon their territory ended.
It was a pity they were staying their distance. Her lioness wanted to know their scent.
“Your territory is large,” Cole said, and it was the first time Valerie had heard him speak. He had a nice voice, gruff and low.
She shrugged. “No other packs tend to like the cold so we get a lot of space. It’s good for running. Here we are, this will be yours for the time you’re with us.” The shack they had reached overlooked a valley, was one of their best. Bryant was probably trying to suck up to them, and she could see why with a wolf Cole’s size. He would be an excellent defender of their territory. Valerie paused but she had been told to make them feel welcome. And she wanted to see how quick that huge wolf could move. “I can take you for a run, tomorrow, if you like?”
Cole nodded, his eyes flicking over her, catching on her bust. “Tomorrow it is.”
He entered the shack. Ryland lingered outside, giving her a long look before he smiled and went in after Cole. What that look meant, Valerie had no idea, but she knew she had some news to tell Andrea after this. They might have a new bed partner after all.
Or, Valerie thought to herself as she walked back to her own shack, thinking of Ryland. Wetness had gathered between her legs, was starting to seep to the entrance of her thighs. She hoped Andrea was ready for round two. Witch blood or no, that tiger shifter was gorgeous. Maybe two.
Thanks for reading! If you want more of Cole and Ryland, you can see them in my debut novel SILVER MOON RISING; AN OMEGA WOLF NOVEL! xxx Rosalie