I caught a smell. My head jerked up, nozzle against the wind, an instinctive response way faster than thought. I inhaled again, slowly. Each molecule in the air carried priceless information. The forest’s tang and sweetness took up most of the olfactory space. Head notes of the subtler of perfumes. Then, faint in green’s dominion floated the ammoniac bite of small animals and the earthy smell of humus tampered with by critters. Underneath it all, lay a musky caress that sent tingles down my spine. It was his smell.
Thank God! That gust of wind had just levelled the playfield.
He runs faster, can pin me to the ground with one paw and thinks everything is due to him. Birth right and all. However, the chlorophyll and sappy twinge of freshly cracked pine branches laced through the male scent to tell me he was still in the meadow a few miles back. I had a 15 minutes head start. And a finer nose. Not to mention the brains. He would have to work for this prize. I bared my teeth, an animal version of a wide grin.
I took 10 minutes to set up ploys. I picked a direction and ran forward a few paces then carefully walked back up my tracks. I repeated the process in a few other angles. In some, I left as many prints as possible. In others, I did the exact opposite stepping on rocks, fresh wood or moss-covered floors that would bounce right back if I didn’t graze it with my claws. I took a whiff of the ambient air every other minute to keep track of my pursuer’s progress and made sure he wouldn’t catch up with me.
Not yet, anyway…
Once satisfied, I chose a new direction and ran full throttle, robbing my sides against the ferns as I passed them by so this track’s smell would be as intense as the ones I walked twice. That would probably push my advantage up to half an hour. He could track just fine with visual hints but his nose would not make much sense of the puzzle I left. He would go through trial and errors so I had plenty of time to turn myself from prey to predator.
I told him we’d waltz whether he wanted it or not. He should have taken me up on the dance floor offer.
Men… there’s nothing quite like beating them at their own game.
I headed for the stream at a brisk pace. Not so fast as to leave a sweaty neon sign on every leaves but still, lagging wasn’t an option. Since I decided to leave the meadow where I was supposed to wait, hind in the air, I had trimmed my choices down: go on the run, submit and be scolded, or force my would-be mate to keep me out of trouble.
A playful howl came from behind me. It was a lie; I could hear the frustration slipping through. Not that he would admit it. He had just found the confusing spot I left for him and was eager to catch up with me. In response, all my muscles shivered with expectation.
Damned be the mating season.
My run altered itself as I shifted. My spine realigned, my muscles moved around, every part of my being grew and before you could say “werewolf”, I strode in my hybrid form. Middle ground between human and animal, this is the sexiest me, if you believe the words of my suitors. My hips, waist, breasts and overall athletic body shone in black fur. A patch of white drew a deep v-neck on my chest, a flattering no-clothes required cleavage. The moonlight sung against my curves.
I angled my wolf-shaped head toward the earlier howl’s origin and breathed deep. Moss, dead wood and crushed acorns wrapped the moist calling of the alpha male scent. My knees buckled and, for a moment, all my instincts told me to run back and surrender my will to traditions.
Hell, no! I wasn’t going to wait for him to take me just because he smelled so damn good while he rummaged through the forest.
I shook my head to dispel temptation. I realized I was panting and it wasn’t all from the run. I edged forward, fighting the pull in my middle. I was not going to offer myself up just because he had designated me as his mate of choice. I would have my word on it, must I force it into the whole pack’s ears.
If he wanted to be a pig, he could sniff out truffles.
I inched through centuries of reflexes dictated by survival until I was running again. I sprinted the last meters toward the stream and firmly pushed myself off the ground. In the seconds I spent midair, I completed my shifting. By the time I hit the water, I was skinny dipping in the moonlight. The icy stream bit hard on my naked skin but a cold shower was what I asked for. It smacked my senses back in place and blurred my scent. I would have been more comfortable coated in fur but even humans could smell wet dogs from a good distance. There was no way I was giving my chaser half as good a hint.
I swam forcibly, following the current to put as much distance as I could between him and me. When my muscles froze into reluctance, I stepped out of the water onto the opposite shore. The ambient air warmed me slowly. He’d suffer for driving me to put myself through this. There was a lot of grovelling ahead. And gifts.
Truth be told, on the course of his courtship, he hadn’t been shy with gifts. I received roses, jewellery and poems written in my honour until I could stomach it no more. Don’t get me wrong, a girl loves the attention. The problem was that it is his duty as the leader’s heir to target the prettiest girl and cover her with mushiness. And he did it as you have the right to expect: dutifully. Do get me right, a girl hates being a plaything.
The first time he tasted my stubbornness he shifted instantaneously. He was so pissed I refused the “glory” of sitting by his side that he completely lost his temper. May be I should have said “No” instead of bending over in laughter. To my defence, his asking me to sit with him had just won me a thousand dollars dress and saved me from some nasty humiliation my friends cooked up to even the bet. Laughing seemed the right thing to do. He was so full of it and confident he could not be turned down, I had to take him down a peg. Now, I was barely sticking to my conviction and cutting him down to size. It’s not my fault his arrogance couldn’t take a hint.
I shrugged to myself while I jogged through the maples. Good thing no one would be in this neck of the wood tonight. That’s probably the only thing I could thank traditions for.
My skin finally dried and I dropped on all four, shifting with an ease that ranked me as blue blood. I was not supposed to be royalty. My family was simple, middle-class lads. I had barely finished high school; my single Mom could not afford university and neither could I with the litter of 7 little brothers and sisters I helped to raise.
I should have been invisible but apparently, some genetic trait made me an intensely quick shifter. Rare, prized, desirable. It helped my family a lot. It also shackled me. I wasn’t the “leash me please” type. I wanted a partner, not a master. No matter how rich and powerful he was.
I ground to a stop and looked around. I had found it. The perfect spot. I searched the canopy for a branch strong enough to support my weight and aligned myself with it. I peed on the ground. “X” marks the spot.
As I finished emptying my bladder, a howling sounded in the distance followed by the splash of a body hitting water. He was bound to pick up on my smell now. And he would smell of wet dog.
I shifted back to human and quickly climbed up my tree. I left a scent trail but with the strong presence of my urine, he wouldn’t smell this faint sweetness. Moreover, I wouldn’t leave claw marks on the tree. He wouldn’t think I’d be up there. He always underestimated how fast and painlessly I morphed.
When I reached my perch, I squared myself and shifted back to wolf. I felt dizzy. This was a lot of shifts in a short time, even for me. I had reached my limit. I had reached higher ground as well. Against the leaves, my black coat camouflaged me better than my ivory skin. It wasn’t easy to move around branches in wolf form but I’d managed.
I hunched over my branch, hugged it with my paws and slid myself forward. My fur stuck in the bark and some decided to stay there. I dealt with the pain. Fate was almost sealed and I wasn’t giving up now.
I waited for twenty minutes before he broke into my line of sight. He emerged from behind the cover of the trees, tense and beautiful. He was on the prowl and looking damn sexy while at it. His light caramel tone reflected the full moon. He shone. Luckily, I don’t have feline DNA, any other way and I would have purred my hiding place away.
He gracefully stepped forward, sniffing the ground. He wanted me – I could smell it. He had courted me for half a year and though his charm had successfully melted my heart, I was not giving in. I didn’t care how much he huffed and puffed; there was no way he and his arrogance were getting past my walls. Something had to change and tonight decided what would.
He sedately sniffed his way to the wet patch on the ground. “X” marks the spot; right under my branch. That was it. Where he had theories given by higher education, I had practice. Where he had strength and weight, I had brains and speed. Where he wouldn’t want to hurt me, I was willing to do anything to keep myself free.
My arguments wound up my resolve and my every muscle. I jumped.
When I drove the air out of his lungs, I was a hybrid again and as dizzy as him. I caught up quicker though. With the increased dexterity my hands and the reach of a full human body, I immobilized him on the ground. He didn’t even clack his teeth at me. Good dog. He growled and resisted for a minute or two. My muscles almost released him but my menacing grip on his throat finally calmed him.
He began to shift. It didn’t bother me in the least. He would need a moment to cope after the change so no menace there. Slowly and painfully, he rippled with the wave of the change. The fur gave way to tanned skin draped over elegant muscularity. His green eyes fixed mine.
If he made a smart ass remark about me straddling him or complained because I bested him, I would smack him out of his senses and disappear forever.
“Would you marry me?” He humbly breathed out.
I froze, shifted and smacked him a whole other way. Or not… he still ended up senseless.
He grunted. I shivered in the night air. Our clothes were in the manor at the edge of the forest. Luckily, we wouldn’t wish for them long.
Hunting was a hell of a foreplay.