Wolf's Bounty Page 10

The beast frantically pawed at the cover again, and through the cover he could hear the low, rumbling growl comingfrom the creature’s chest. Larsson knew without a doubt that no matter how powerful his own beast was, it didn’t have half the strength of this massive animal. Tarr was right to have been worried, and Larsson was very glad of the barrier between them. The tiger threw back his head and roared, then jumped down off the cockpit. Larsson gave it a good thirty minutes, but eventually, the heat inside the cockpit and his own raging thirst and need to stoke the fire forced him to open the hatch and crawl out, looking around him for any sign of Tarr’s beast. He saw no sign of him, though, so he jumped down off the craft and went over to pull the water off the fire to cool.

While he was waiting, he found a longish branch in the load of wood he’d brought in earlier and skinned all the needles off it to make a fishing pole.He’d seen some small fish swimming in the eddies of the river by a big boulder, and he thought he might be able to catch a few of them to see if they were edible. He spent some time fashioning a hook out of a pin from the first aid kit and tore a strip of gauze as his fishing line. It was pretty sad-looking when he finished, but he hoped it might work if he could find any bait.

By this time the water had cooled enough for him to drink and he tipped the can back, drinking almost half of it before he lowered the can. He’d save the rest for Tarr. Hehadn’t seen any sign of him since he first shifted, and he wondered if he could shift back at will or if he had to stay in his tiger form for a certain period of time. Maybe he should have asked that question instead of allowing Tarr to taunt him into being angry again. What was there about the man that made him fly so easily into a rage?

Tarr was at once the most disreputable, irritating man he’d ever met and the most fascinating—not to mention so damn sexy it took everything he had not to jump him every time he looked at him. Thenight before had been an aberration, and couldn’t be repeated. He just didn’t trust himself not to get carried away and give Tarr the mating bite. The only thing that prevented him from doing it then was the knowledge of how fragile he was with his injuries, but Larsson couldn’t trust himself not to forget about that next time.

There could be no next time. If he were truly and completely mated with Tarr, it would eventually mean his death. Larsson felt certain of that. Either Tarr would leave him and that would be the same as killing him, or he would only want him for his damned love slave and that would just as surely destroy him. No, he was better off keeping whatever distance he could from the man.

Having made his fishing pole, he went over to the base of the cliff and began turning over rocks, hoping to find some kind of insect he could use for bait. He was hopeful, since finding the fish that there might be a good deal of wildlife on the moon. If larger game was available, he and Tarr would need to hunt. His wolf was perfect for the job, and was strong enough and fast enough to easily pull down most small game.

And while water and food were the first priorities, they would need some kind of shelter a little more substantial than the lean to. His mind was busy with ideas as he crouched beside the small eddy at the edge of the shore, so he never heard the tiger coming up behind him until he was only a few feet away.

Hearing the soft pad of his feet behind him, Larsson knew what was coming for him. Freezing in place, Larsson slowly turned and saw the huge, beautiful creature not ten feet away from him, its eyes seeming to burn a hole through him with their intensity. It was crouching down, stalking him like prey.He thought briefly of running for the ship, but realized he’d never make it.

Desperately, he tried to remember anything he’d learned in the Academy about these Tygerian tigers. He knew, for example, that tigers would attack most any animal that placed itself in a vulnerable position, like he was in right now. They depended on concealment and a stalk and ambush approach to capture their prey. Something told him that if he tried to run, it would be over quickly.

Larsson’s distraction had given it the chance it needed to approach. Larsson knew instinctively that as soon as it got close enough it would rush him, probably seizing his shoulder or neck to force him to theground. That’s where the lethal bite would come—to the back of his neck. Ironic that Larsson had been thinking about biting Tarr in the exact same spot just a short time ago, except his would have been a mating bite, and given in love and passion.

The tiger had stopped its approach when he turned to look at it and though it was still growling softly, it hadn’t rushed him yet. Larsson knew that if he suddenly stood up, it would be on him in seconds, so he did the only thing he could think of—he dropped down to his knees and covered his head with his arms, bending down as low to the ground as he could get.

The tiger was on him in an instant, and Larsson heard the loud snarl in his ear and felt the hot, moist breath on the backs of his hands. It stood over him, covering him completely with its body, its weight partially resting on his back, holding him down. His wolf was close, ready to spring out and fight, though Larsson knew it was useless. He forced it back down, and tried to make himself as small and limp as possible, playing dead. He could smell the overpowering scent of the wild beast and feel the soft fur that covered him. A steady, low rumble was coming from the beast’s chest, as a huge paw landed on his back and pushed him down flat.

Amazingly, its claws had been sheathed, and he could feel the hot, wet nose of the beast sniffing at his neck. He felt the beast’s saliva dripping down on his neck and imagined him opening his mouth to take a big bite out of the back of his head. Instead, the tiger chuffed out its breath and fell down beside him, keeping a paw on his back and pressing him facedown. He waited for the teeth to rip into his neck, but nothing happened. Larsson peered up from between his fingers and saw the tiger staring down at him with his beautiful golden eyes. The pupils were oval and though he had a flat expression, he didn’t look particularly savage at the moment. He simply gazed down at him and Larsson could have sworn he saw a kind of awareness in his eyes.

Did he recognize him then? If Tarr was coming out of it, he might be more aware. Still, Larsson lay there, afraid to move and test the theory. The big tiger lay beside him, not really threatening, but making no move to leave either. After what seemed like an interminable time, lying there waiting for his own imminent death, the adrenaline that had been coursing through his body drained off and incredibly he began to feel sleepy. His family had always teased him that he could fall asleep anywhere and apparently they’d been right. Hedecided he’d close his eyes, just for a minute or two.

When he awoke, it could have been minutes or hours later. He was alone on the shore with no sign of either Tarr or the tiger. Hemight have thought he’d dreamed the whole thing, except for the saliva still pooled on the back of his neck and dripping down his shoulders. He sat up quickly and looked around the little clearing before getting warily to his feet. He made his way unsteadily back to the lean-to and fell down beside the still smoldering fire. A part of his mind registered that it was still burning, and he poked at it and added some wood from the pile. If the fire had gone out, that would have been all he needed at this point.

He finished off the water, thinking the tiger had probably made the decision to find its own water by now, and went wearily back to the river’s edge to fill the tin again and set it to boil. He was so damn hungry, he decided to go hunt on his own and not wait any longer for Tarr. He had no idea how long he’d stay in his beast, and Larsson needed food before he became too weak to find any. He was on his way to the edge of the forest when he heard a shout behind him. Coming around the bend in the river was Tarr, gloriously naked, and dragging an animal behind him that looked a little like a large gafin.

When he’d hunted in the field with the Alliance army, they’d called animals like these elk, saying they had similar animalsback on their home planet, but the gafin weren’t nearly as large, and didn’t have such heavy bodies, though they had the long horns or antlers like the elk. Larssonhad no idea how they’d come to be here on this moon, but the gafin ranged in forest and forest-edge habitats in Lycanus, and had been brought over to Lycanus 3 by early settlers. They fed on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark, and were generally harmless creatures, but as Tarr got closer with this one, Larsson could see long, curved teeth coming out of its mouth. Its snout was long and curved downward as well. Maybe some cousin of the gafins then.

“I got us something to eat,” Tarr said with a huge grin, and Larsson ran to meet him, trying to convince his wolf not to jump his gorgeous naked body. Even dirty and bloodstained, Tarr’s body was magnificent, the exotic stripes on his body outlandish, yet undeniably alluring.

Together they pulled the animal into their small camp. While Larsson stoked up the fire, Tarrpulled on the pants he’d apparently discarded before shifting and cheerfully set in skinning the animal with his knife. He cut off a huge chunk of meat and handed it over to Larsson, who put it down in the coals right away to cook a little. He was almost hungry enough to eat it raw, but he restrained himself and put it in the hot fire.

Tarr continued to cut the animal up and Larsson went back to the trees and broke off some long branches to stick in the sand. He strung up more of the gauze strips as a drying line and hung the meat over it in strips, as Tarr stuck more chunks of meat in the coals to cook. By the time they finished, some of the meat was ready and Larsson squatted down beside Tarr to eat. The meat was greasy and had a slightly gamey taste, but considering how hungry he was, it tasted delicious and they both ate until the grease was running down their chins.

“It’s good to see you feeling better,” Larsson said between mouthfuls.“Are you completely healed?”

Tarr stood up, looking up and down his body.“Yes, and needing a bath, I think.” He looked down at himself, even bloodier now that he’d butchered the gafin-like creature.“I think I’ll take a dip in the river.”

Larsson shook his head.“We don’t know what kind of wildlife might be in there.”

Tarr looked at the blue water and the slow current and shrugged.“I’ll take my chances. I found a place downriver that’s not too deep. Come on. The sun will be setting soon, and this heat is awful. Wecan cool off and clean up at the same time.”

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