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Alpha Hunted: Keelyn & Bane

by J. M. Klaire



Fate’s dark design brings them together ... in a mating neither is ready for.

Five years after witnessing her father's death, Keelyn has become what she never wanted to be: a were-hunter. Surprisingly good at the career she'd had thrust upon her that fateful day, she heads to the yearly gathering to pay her farm's rent with money earned from hunting werewolf hearts and pelts.

Bane and his wolf pack are also headed to the yearly gathering when Bane, the pack's Alpha, finally scents the female his wolf says is to be their forever mate. There's only one problem- she also scents of death and wet wolf hide.

When Bane follows Keelyn into the woods, neither are prepared for the passion, or the truths, they're each about to face.

Can they survive the revelations that lie ahead? Or has fate doomed them to an impossible love?



The Alpha Hunted Series Recommended Reading order:


Before The Hunt: Sandra & Naythan (Prequel)

Alpha Hunted: Keelyn & Bane

Alpha Hunted 2: Bella & Mac

Alpha Hunted 3: Ivy, David & Ryker

Alpha Hunted 4: Enid & The King

An Impawsible Christmas (Sequel)



Each paranormal shifter romance can be read as a stand-alone, though the Alpha Hunted saga does have an over-arcing, bigger story that carries through the entire series. Get them all on J. M. Klaire’s website JKlaireRomance.com


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are

either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2017 by JM Klaire

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical

means, including any information storage, transmission and/or retrieval systems, without

written permission from the author or publisher, except for the use of brief quotations in a

book review.

Published by JKlaire Romance

http://www.jklaireromance.com

ISBN-10: 1523603704

ISBN-13: 978-1523603701














Author's Note:

I've been asked when/where this series takes place.

It takes place in a world of my making. If shifters really did exist, cars were never invented, people still paid rents to kings, but the future rolled on to the current date, that's where/when this series takes place. So basically now, only with kings, castles, shifters and no cars, lol. Why? Because I made it up, that's why.

Enjoy!



Chapter 1


Keelyn slowed her breathing automatically. Years of training kicked in as she eyed the large buck off in the distance, the tip of her arrow a blur in front of her as she sighted in on tonight's dinner.

She could feel her father, Anson, off to her right side and a foot or so behind her, his quiet voice becoming silent the second he noticed her spy the large deer and raise her bow in one fluid, almost unconscious movement.

They'd had two goals when they set off on today's hunt- a buck and a werewolf.

The buck would provide fresh venison for the table tonight, and also make quite a bit of dried, smoked meat for her father to take with him on his journey to the castle, plus still leave plenty to feed Keelyn, her mother, and her little sisters for a few days before Keelyn would need to hunt again, in her father's absence.

The werewolf's body, which they had yet to get, was to provide the last bit of money the family still needed to pay the farm's yearly rent at the gathering next month. If they didn't come across a werewolf today, her father still had plenty of time to kill one more on the way to the castle, since his journey by foot would take him a couple of weeks.

His yearly route took him straight through werewolf country, so the buck was actually the more important of the two kills they were hoping to make today.

Keelyn eyed the buck and held her breath, getting her timing just right before sliding her fingers from the bow's string and launching the sharpened, homemade arrow for a quick, humane kill.

The arrow hit home, flying fast and sure. If she had used a bullet, she knew in her bones that the buck would have dropped where it stood, but they couldn't afford either a gun or the metal they would need to make their own bullets, so the pair carried bows they had forged from the forest instead.

The buck took off, traveling a few hundred panicked feet before dropping to the forest floor.

As they quickly headed toward the fallen meat to make sure the kill was complete, and that the animal suffered as little as possible, her father's words continued on as if he hadn't been interrupted in his speech a few seconds before.

Keelyn listened to the same speech he gave her every year, right before gathering time, and she mentally said most of it right along with him from memory as he spoke.

"Take care of your mother and sisters, Keelyn. I know she doesn't like to admit it, but we are getting older every year. She needs you to stay close and help her until I get back. No wandering in the woods all day unless you're hunting food for the family.

It will take me a good month or so to get to the castle and back. I won't linger. I will pay my respects and our yearly rent to the King and get back here as quickly as possible. It's getting late, and dark, so I'll probably have to pick up the last bit of coin we still need on the way to the castle next week. Nighttime is great for hunting were-kind, but we'll just take this deer home instead of carrying on. I'm sure one more werewolf should be easy enough to come by on the trail. I'm not worried about that.

One of these years I will take you with me to the castle, so you can take over that duty once I get too old."

Her father had been saying that for years as well, but he always left her here when he went to pay the rent. She guessed that staying with her mother was more important than learning how to take over the yearly trek, since she was only fifteen.

Her mother was getting older, that was true. Hell, both of her parents were firmly in their sixties, but in Keelyn's eyes, her mother was perfectly capable of running the farm with the help of her little sisters for a month.

She didn't argue the point though, as she knew her father would just say that if she had been born sooner, and was therefore older, or better yet, had been born a boy, not only would she be able to go, but that many, many things around the farm would have turned out quite differently. She didn't want to resurrect that whole story on top of the yearly pre-leaving speech.

Yes, she knew that her parents had given up on having children long before Keelyn finally came along, out of the blue. Her sister, Bella, also a girl much to her parent's dismay, waited two years after Keelyn's birth to join the family, with her youngest sister Ivy following just a year after Bella.

Yes, she realized that having half a dozen boys instead of three girls would have made the couple's life a lot easier over the years, but she couldn't help that, now could she?

Being the oldest, she'd done her best to help out as any boy-child would, learning to hunt and fish as well as garden, sew and cook, but she knew her dad had always hoped to have a son or six to follow in his footsteps as a were-hunter and to take on the yearly pilgrimage to the castle.

Keelyn could hunt as well, if not better, than any local boy she'd ever gone up against, but she wasn't sure she wanted her occupation to be that of a were-hunter like her father, and his father, and his father before that. Female were-hunters were unheard of, and besides, she was leaning toward becoming some kind of a doctor, specializing in babies and pregnancies. That was also unheard of, for a woman to be a doctor, but that didn't seem to bother her nearly as much as the thought of becoming the only known female were-hunter did.

She had yet to actually come across a werewolf, which seemed to annoy her father greatly. He just knew that once she took one down, she'd be as addicted to the were-hunt as he was, but every time he'd taken her on a hunt they'd come up empty handed.

"Were-hunting gets in your blood, Keelyn." He'd said many times over the years. "It becomes who you are. The money is pretty good, but it's the high, the pure joy of taking out one of those foul creatures that sticks with you. If I'd had a whole mess of boys, we'd be swimming in coin. But with it just being me hunting them, and with you being a girl and still just a bit young to go off were-hunting on your own for months at a time, well, at least it still pays our yearly rent."

Her mind was running all of his well-known speeches together in her head as they closed in on the downed deer.

The shot had been true, no need to put the buck out of his misery as he was already dead.

They took a moment to quietly thank the buck for giving its life so that her whole family could eat for days, and also use the hide for clothing and such, and settled in to prepare the deer for easier carrying back home.

Keelyn was clearing her mind for the task at hand when something made every hair she had stand on end. She knew to listen to her instincts, and paused in her efforts long enough to take a hard look at the wooded forest surrounding them. Something had set off her internal alarms, and she wasn't about to get lost in the routine of preparing the animal until she knew what had caused her discomfort.

Her eyes darted quickly, from shadow to tree, letting her instincts aim her gaze. She heard her own sudden intake of breath and felt her entire body freeze as she spotted it. Her brain took an extra second to catch up, to process what her eyes were seeing.

It was almost invisible in the shadows of the forest. The leaves swayed softly overhead, making light and dark dance against tree trunks, splattering the pine needle-covered forest floor with splotches of darkness that helped to hide things that stood this eerily still in the darkening woods.

It was the shine of the eyes that gave it away.

Keelyn eyed the animal as her brain tried to take in enough details to decide if it was a normal wolf or a were, although why she bothered, she didn't know. The method of dealing with either was the same.

She sorted her thoughts in an instant, self-protection kicking in. She knew field dressing a deer was supposed to be quick work as the scent of blood from a fresh kill could draw anything from a bear to a bobcat, or their were-versions, in like a magnet to investigate the scent.

Everything seemed to run in slow motion as she took the animal in. She knew somehow that only a heartbeat or two had passed, but she'd had time to notice that this wolf was larger than any normal wolf she'd ever seen.

True, any wolves she had seen were from a distance, hugging the tree line, looking like a close cousin to a domestic dog or coyote, but not this creature. This wolf was huge.

She was drawn in by the creature's eyes. There was intelligence there, a calculated wariness, which made her hackles rise even higher. It helped confirm for her that this was no normal wolf.

Just as she was about to stand up, to raise her bow and load an arrow, the wolf suddenly confused her. It blinked and nodded its head, almost in acknowledgement that this was her kill, and it seemed to start to back away.

The odd feeling of knowing the wolf's intent hit her brain in the exact instant that her father stood up from the buck's carcass, like she'd been about to, his bow already drawn and aimed.

He muttered the words, "And there's our last bit of rent money now," as he released his pull on the bow's string, sending his arrow flying toward the werewolf.

The wolf raised its head, seeming to brace itself with a grimace, and the arrow skimmed along from snout to ear, cutting a slice out of the wolf's face but doing no further damage.

The wolf stood its ground for an instant, seeming to Keelyn to say "Really, that's the thanks I get for bowing out?" before slowly turning and walking away.

Why her dad fired at the wolf's head as it was facing them dead on, she had no idea. True, this was the first werewolf she had seen in person, and her father had not only seen but killed many others, but even she knew that a kill shot was aimed at an animal's tender bits, not its hard, protective skull. Their homemade, sharpened arrows were capable of great damage, but not generally skull piercing damage.

She'd heard rumors of her father shooting an arrow into one unlucky wolf's eye before, piercing its brain. Maybe he thought he could repeat that feat now, to impress her?

"Oh no, you evil beast. You aren't getting away from us that easily." Her father aimed the words at the wolf's slowly retreating tail.

"Keelyn, here's your shot at your first wolf. Take point, I'll cover your back."

Keelyn was torn. She always assumed that when she was confronted with her first wolf she'd take it down as emotionlessly as she'd shoot a deer, or a rabbit. But the wolf's seeming acknowledgement of her kill went against everything she'd ever heard about wolves.

She had no issues killing for meat, or even for rent since everything she'd ever seen or heard about wolves in general were how evil, barbaric and destructive they were. But in this wolf, despite her hackles rising in awareness, she had seen no indication of ruthless evil. She'd seen the respected acknowledgement of one intelligent hunter to another.

Her father had already taken off in chase though, despite his telling her to take point, so she followed in his footsteps as he ran after the wolf.

Damn, he was quick for being the old man he kept claiming to be.

Keelyn picked up her pace, trotting after him as he chased the wolf through the trees.

She saw her dad take another shot, this one piercing the wolf's hindquarters. He reloaded immediately and aimed again, shooting the wolf through the shoulder this time.

Keelyn knew that you had to shoot a werewolf through its heart to kill it. That was one of the reasons werewolves were so valuable. The killing of a werewolf was so dangerous that few people ever killed a single one, let alone made a living from it.

With this third wounding, the wolf seemed to decide that it was done retreating. As her dad loaded another arrow and took a deep breath, taking more care in his aim this time, the wolf suddenly swiveled, facing her father instead of continuing to run away. With a sudden, speed-blurred, running jump, the wolf launched itself at her father. Its strong paws hit him squarely mid-chest, knocking him to the forest floor and sending his bow flying.

The wolf bent its head with a fearsome, low, rumbling growl, and took a bite out of the left side of her father's throat, ripping skin and muscle.

Her father's initial scream of pain and terror quickly died off, as he soon no longer had a throat to scream with.

She stared at her father's bloody body in shock as the wolf then turned to face her. Its eyes no longer held intelligent respect, but instead glowed with an animal blood lust. It may have initially been willing to walk away, but being attacked and shot at must have pissed it off.

The tang of blood from her father's body filled her nostrils, and she saw the wolf drink in the scent as well. The iron-rich smell reminded her that her father lay dead at this wolf's paws, but the wolf seemed to revel in it. The scent seemed to feed its blood lust, driving all intelligence from the wolf's eyes and filling it with the need to kill again.

The wolf bared its teeth, growling as it took a few steps toward her, its intent clear. It was her turn to die. In that heartbeat of staring her own death in the face, her brain fed her the oddly calm thought this is why my father hunted them. I won't be taken in again by their intelligent eyes. I will remember this day, and I will make him proud of me as a were-hunter, from this moment on.

She fought down a suddenly rising bubble of rage at this beast killing her father, and managed to squash the fear, pain and sudden need for revenge deep down inside her somewhere so that she could function long enough to take this wolves' life in exchange for her father's.

It was the sudden silence of the forest that finally got Keelyn's attention, flipping her from shock and grief-filled observation, to action instead.

Her dad's screams had stopped, obviously, but that just seemed to leave a void in the noises of the forest. Not a single bird or tree frog stirred. Only the werewolf's threatening growl reached her ears as she raised her bow, aiming it for where she knew the wolf's heart would be, just as it pounced at her.

Her aim was true, unlike her father's.

Her arrow pierced the wolf's fur, driving through its chest wall, sliding smoothly between its ribs as the beast's paws hit her chest and shoulders, driving her to the forest floor just like it had taken down her father.

Only this time, instead of ripping out her throat, the beast made a growly, gurgling noise above her as its heart was torn apart. Falling on her only drove the arrow in deeper. The wolf twitched, a warm, bloody, dead weight above her, pinning her to the ground as its life drained from its body, like her father's had moments before.

She shut her eyes and screamed.

She screamed again and again, filling the forest with the sound of her panic finally taking hold of her young body.

She struggled to get out from under the heavy weight, suddenly finding that the wolf's body got lighter, slick skin against her pushing hands instead of matted, bloody fur. She rolled out from underneath it and stood beside its body in a low crouch, ready to fight for her life if need required it.

But there, where the wolf had fallen, was a human's body instead.

There was a tattoo on its right shoulder blade, a dark, intricate, complicated knot. She poked and prodded the body with the toe of her doe skin boot, darkening the leather with blood as she rolled the human body over onto its back.

It was female, and old.

Long grey hair flowed from the now human shifter's head. She had to be ancient, Keelyn thought. No wonder she'd initially had no interest in attacking. She'd probably come to check out the scent of deer blood and it must have been her father's attack that drove the elder female wolf shifter to finally defend itself.

Instead of understanding though, Keelyn's resolve hardened.

If this was what an ancient female werewolf was like, she was grateful that a young, prime, male werewolf had not come to investigate instead.

After seeing the bloodlust in the ancient one's eyes as it set upon her father, and then herself, she hardened her heart against any intelligence she'd thought she'd seen in its eyes, and right there, beside both bloody bodies, deep in the woods, she dedicated her life to taking out as many werewolves as she could, to rid the earth of the dangerous creatures, and to honor her father's memory.



Chapter 2

(Five Years Later)


Keelyn took a moment to prepare herself before she opened the door to the bounty office. This was the part she dreaded most about being a were-hunter- dealing with people. People, she'd found in her travels, were generally either idiots or assholes, and she was never sure in the seconds before opening the bounty office door in different villages and towns which one she was about to meet.

The bell over the door announced her arrival loudly, and a male voice yelled out from somewhere in the back.

"I'll be right with you!"

Keelyn didn't answer him. She knew a female voice would probably get him out here quicker, but she had no wish to announce her sex any earlier than she had to.

She was dressed in men's breeches, her tattered hat pulled down as far as she could get it and still see, with her hair twisted into some semblance of order and shoved up under her hat, more for containment than anything else.

She kept her father's old, too large coat wrapped tightly around her, in the hopes of concealing her shape, with the lifeless form of a werewolf's skinned fur draped around her neck, its legs hanging down over each of her shoulders and its head lolling around with each movement she made.

Sometimes people saw what they expected to see when dealing with were-hunters like her. They paid more attention to the heart they were being asked to confirm, and fork large amounts of money over for, than to the person presenting it, never even looking her in her eyes during the entire transaction.

She fervently hoped this guy would be like that. She was way too tired, filthy and hungry to deal with anything else today.

She parked herself at the counter, face tilted downward, and waited.

"Sorry about that. I had my hands full when I heard you come in. What can I do for you, sir?"

Keelyn shot a look up at him through her lashes and the shadow of her hat, to be polite. It was rude to expect anyone to do business with the top of her head, so she made motions of facing him. She didn't go so far as to answer him, though, letting the carved wooden box she set on the counter do the talking for her.

She undid the latch, opening the one foot by one foot square lid and aiming its contents in his direction.

"Ah, now that looks like a fine specimen," he said, as he took the first of the two hearts out of the box to examine. "Black as night, and a big one to boot. Hope the bastard didn't give you too much trouble taking him down."

The man continued to mutter aloud as he looked over the wolf shifter's once beating heart before he thumped it unceremoniously down on the counter, rolling it this way and that to get a better look at it.

He poked his finger through both her arrow's entry and exit points, looking to Keelyn like a kid with one of those Chinese finger cuffs her dad liked to give the girls during the winter festivals before he died.

"Your aim was true, I see. And I'm guessing this heart didn't come out of the wolfskin on your shoulders. The heart's too big, which means this other one probably belonged to your wolfskin."

He pulled the second heart from her box, leaving it empty.

She closed and latched it as he inspected the smaller heart, still talking largely to himself.

"A fine set you brought me, a fine set indeed. Just let me duck into the back and put these away, I'll be right back with your bounty."

He took the pair of black shifter hearts away and came back, still talking, with a heavy bag of coins.

"The prices on these bastards keep going up, you're in luck. Here you go, sir. Feel free to bring more specimens like that back here anytime. Are you off to the furrier now? I bet you get a fair amount for the fur as well. Especially that color. For some reason the white ones seem to be worth more. Don't let Caleb give you the shaft, that's a beautiful shade of shifter you've got there. Well, good day to ya!"

Without having to speak a word for herself, Keelyn nodded at the man, and let herself out under the same loud bell she'd come in under, and headed for the furrier.

One of the things Keelyn liked most about being a were-hunter was the double dip in payment. Back in her dad's day, a were-hunter had to take the entire corpse to whatever passed for the local town's law enforcement office to collect on the bounty.

If the dead werewolf had shifted into its human form when it died, the body was lighter and easier to carry, which was nice. The sheriff, or his deputy, would cut open the creature's chest with a large hunting knife, determine that yes, the human-looking body did harbor a black heart inside its chest cavity, unlike a normal human's deep red colored heart, and then payment would be presented.

If the werewolf did not shift, but stayed in its wolf form upon death, well sometimes they would check the heart, to make it official, but mostly they just paid on sight without the added step. The damned things were huge, and heavy, and there was no way of mistaking a dead werewolf still in its wolf form for any other animal. But either way, back then all a were-hunter made was the price of the bounty itself, no more.

But now, all that was needed for payment of the bounty was the heart itself. So if a wolf shifted human upon death, Keelyn could just open the body herself, remove the heart, and travel much lighter, still assured of payment, like she had with the larger of her two kills.

When the shifter stayed wolf upon death, her job was much harder, but actually paid a large bonus. She'd still remove its heart for the normal bounty, but if she could get the rest of the wolf into town, she could also cash in on its fur.

No one she knew would eat the meat of a werewolf, so she was usually able to leave most of the wolf's body where she killed it, but the fur was quite the status symbol in the larger cities. The richer members of society loved to wear the shifter's fur as clothing.

Coats, hats, muffs and boots were often made from wolf fur now, as the wolf population had diminished and the furs were rare with so many hunters, such as herself, taking them down over the years. Plus the fact that only about half of the hunted animals still had their fur upon death made the fur even rarer, and therefore more expensive.

Keelyn had no issues with the premise, but she'd never been able to bring herself to wear werewolf. She wasn't sure why. One would assume she'd like to wear the fur of the kind of animal that had killed her father, as some sort of trophy or talisman if nothing else, and she'd heard it kept one nice and warm even in the snow, but she just couldn't do it.

She was glad that she couldn't bring herself to wear it, though. Some days she still wondered at the tough, callous woman she'd become that day five years ago in the forest, and sometimes knowing that at least she didn't parade around in the fur was all the comfort she allowed herself.

Everyone already thought she was crazy for being a were-hunter to begin with, she didn't feel the need to add to the sentiment by adorning herself in were-fur and proving them right.

As she aimed herself toward the furrier, she thought back on the event that made her who she is today.

That first year, after her father had died, Keelyn was the one who had to make the trek to the castle, since her sisters were even younger than she was, and her mother couldn't bring herself to leave the farm once her husband had been killed.

The wolf that had killed her father provided the last bit of coin they'd needed to pay the rent that year, so she didn't have to hunt anything but food for herself the whole journey there and back. She was glad for that too, as it was all she could do to get herself through the ordeal of the pilgrimage her father was supposed to have taken.

She barely even remembered anything of that first year, actually.

She could still remember her mother's words though, praising her for at least having the wherewithal to take what she could carry of the downed buck back home, so the family could eat, instead of leaving the perfectly good meat for predators and scavengers.

Once she'd gotten home with what meat she could carry, and told her mother what happened, they'd asked a neighbor and his sons to retrieve her father's body and the body of the shifter, cash it in for the bounty, and bring the coin to the farm.

Keelyn had been grateful that they did, she didn't think she could handle seeing either body again

They'd offered the men the rest of the buck for payment, but they wouldn't accept it. They managed to get to the buck before any other creatures found it, but they brought all of the meat back for her mother. They helped to bury her father's body and turned over every cent of the wolf's bounty as well, saying only "You would have done the same, had it been us."

Once they had the coin in hand, Keelyn set off for the castle. She wanted to get the journey over with while she was still numb, and to get back home as soon as she could.

She hadn't been entirely sure how to get to the castle, but she knew the general direction, and she knew that most anyone she came upon during her journey would keep her pointed the right way.

She got there and back in just over three weeks, way faster than her father ever had. She figured it was partially because she was younger, faster, and partially because she rarely stopped for rest or sleep.

When she rested, her thoughts had time to catch up, and when she slept, her dreams haunted her.

She dreamed of intelligent wolves, wolves who spoke words to her through animal snouts, words she could hear plain as day but couldn't quite understand, and could never remember when she woke up. And those were the good dreams.

The other dreams were full of screams and blood. The wolf's face morphing into her father's, and then into her own face. She was yelling at herself about being too slow, too young, too female to save her father. If she hadn't taken so long, if she had taken the wolf down while it was still close, facing them, then maybe her father would still be alive.

Maybe he'd be making this journey instead of her.

Maybe everything would still be ok.

Keelyn suddenly shook her head, trying to rid it of five-year-old thoughts and memories that were making her maudlin.

She wasn't that young, innocent girl any more. She had stepped up, as had been required. Her sisters had stayed home to help their mother, and Keelyn had stepped straight into her father's footsteps, learning on the fly how to hunt the creatures she held responsible for taking her father from her way too soon.

She found out that she was good at were-hunting, much to her own surprise. Actually, she pretty quickly realized that she was better than good at it, she was a natural. The rumors she occasionally heard about herself included the words 'fearless' and 'death wish.'

She never quite thought it out, that maybe she was fearless about jumping into situations and taking shots that no one else would dare take because she had already faced death once, and came out on top. Or, more likely, that somehow she just assumed her death would mirror her father's, and since she knew that no one lived forever, and everyone died alone, really, that the when of it didn't matter all that much.

She knew, deep in her heart, that the fates had already measured and cut her string, so to speak, so why not take life, and those vicious werewolves, by the balls? If her longevity was already written in the stars, she figured the wolves' lives were too. And if she was destined to be the bringer of their demise, who was she to not step up and take it, fearlessly, until the day she woke up dead herself?



Chapter 3


She spotted the furrier a bit further down the block. It was right next to the town's saloon, and it looked like most of the saloon's clientele were standing outside, drinking, groping women, and harassing each other.

Great, she thought. Maybe I can slip in and out of the furrier without attracting any attention.

She walked a wide circle around the group, concentrating on squaring her shoulders, adjusting the wolfskin draped over them, and giving off the best 'leave me the fuck alone' vibe she could muster for being as tired as she was.

She sighed a breath of relief once she turned the knob on the furrier's office and slid inside. It was darker in here than it had been in the bounty office, and it smelled vaguely of incense, heavy and cloying.

A man stood behind the counter, bent over, doing some kind of paperwork. He finished what he was writing and stood tall, giving her his full attention.

"Good evening."

She nodded, approaching his counter.

When she didn't respond in kind, his one eyebrow raised some, and his mouth tightened into a pinch. She knew it was considered rude not to answer a greeting with a greeting, but she was now too tired to care. She figured that the less he enjoyed dealing with her, the quicker she could be on her way.

As she got closer to him and it became clear that she wasn't going to answer him, she watched resignation settle on his face. He turned his attention to the fur draped around her neck instead, which was just fine with Keelyn, since that was where she wanted his attention to be focused anyway.

He appraised the fur as she approached, closing in on the counter he stood behind. She saw a slight smile tug at the corners of his mouth as he took in the color and condition of the fur.

The werewolf that had worn this skin hadn't been terribly large, but the fur was in beautiful shape. Keelyn knew it, and she could tell by the furrier's quick, greedy smile, in the second before he hid it again, that he knew it as well. She expected to receive a nice sum for this wolf's winter white fur.

He closed his ledger, moving it aside so that she could lay her skin upon the beat up counter.

As she unwrapped the wolfskin from around her neck, hoisting it over her head and laying it out on his counter, she was dismayed to see his eyes follow her movements instead of continuing to greedily assess the fur.

Her coat opened some as she moved, and once the wolf's legs were no longer draped over her shoulders and resting against her breasts, she knew that her shape was more easily seen.

She shot him a dark look, daring any comments, and was relieved when he dropped his eyes to the fur before him.

He ran his hands over and through the thick, lush fur, feeling for imperfections and holes, anything that would mar the value of the skin, but as usual, her shot had been true.

One arrow, right in the chest, had been all that was needed to take this wolf down, unlike the larger of her most recent kills. The owner of the large heart that the bounty officer had been so impressed by was one of the reasons she was so exhausted coming into this new town today. Now that beast had put up a hell of a fight.

As the furrier continued to inspect the fur, his glances kept darting up and over Keelyn's body as well, inspecting her almost as thoroughly as he was inspecting her wolf.

She clenched her jaw in resignation. Idiot or asshole? She wondered, assessing him as he came to the conclusion that she most definitely wasn't the man she presented herself to be.

She watched as his eyes bored into the opening of her coat, focusing on the swell of her breasts before raising his gaze a few inches to the soft line of her chin and the complete lack of any shadow of a beard, unless one counted dirt smudges.

Asshole, definitely, she concluded, as his gaze took in the plump curve of her lower lip. She could almost read his mind as his eyes darkened just by staring at her mouth.

Men, she thought, her own eyes darkening as well, only in irritation and simmering anger in contrast to his eyes darkening in lust. I'm covered in dirt and mud, I smell like the inside of a damn wolf shifter, and this asshole is getting turned on. Fucking animals, the lot of 'em. Literally.

All pretense of hiding her face left her, since there obviously was no point to it here. Instead, she pulled herself up to her full height, raised her chin, and stared him in his wandering eyes until he finally stopped roaming them over her and met her gaze over the white wolf's corpse.

I hunt and kill beasts far more impressive than you, asshole, on a daily basis. C'mon, try it. Just fucking try it. Test me tonight, I dare you.

She could tell the mental message was not received. His eyes narrowed as he came to a decision, and the slightest smirk started to dance on his lips in the seconds before he opened his mouth to speak.

"Five shillings."

"Five shillings? For what, its head? I wanted to sell the whole fur."

Her voice only confirmed what he already knew, but there was no way she was taking five shillings.

"Five shillings is a good deal. The fur is dirty, and small."

"So clean it. You think wolves are dainty little things that can't get their fur wet? It's a winter white fur. Five shillings is an insult. How about we speak in pounds? Wolves are becoming more and more rare around these parts, and the demand for fur is only going up. Ten pounds."

"Oh please, I could buy a human child for ten pounds. One pound. The only way I'll go any higher is if you come back behind this counter and get down on your knees. But even then, I'll only go to two pounds."

"Excuse me? What did you just say?"

"Don't act offended. You're a female were-hunter, I'd guess the red light district wouldn't have you so you turned to chasing devil beasts instead, am I right? You should be honored I'd even offer. I've never had a were-hunter suck my cock before. You'd be a novelty, or I wouldn't even offer that much."

"This is how you do business? When the bounty officer said not to let you give me the shaft, this isn't what I thought he meant."

"Take it or leave it, honey. Looking at that full mouth of yours, it would be worth another pound to watch it slide over my cock. Three pounds, for the fur and the cock sucking. What do you say?"

"What do I say? I say you're damn lucky I don't shoot you where you stand. You saw with your own eyes what I did to this wolf, did you not? And it didn't try to proposition me."

"Ah, but the danger is partly what will get me off, my sweet. Knowing you could kill me, but instead that you're opening your mouth to me and letting me shoot my spunk against the back of your throat instead...Oh fuck, I'm getting even harder just thinking about it. Or, you could take the five shillings. Or carry that foul beast on to the next town and try your luck there. Your call."

Keelyn seethed with rage, but she hid it well, pulling her emotions in tightly around her. She'd learned to control her emotions when hunting back when she was little, and this slimy little fucktard wasn't going to make her do anything she didn't want to do.

She was no virgin, so it wasn't that which made her shy away. She travelled most of the year, by herself, and had been known to quench her own thirsts on occasion, but assholes like this just rubbed her the wrong way.

But, she also realized that men like this one here could have their own needs used against them as well, quite easily in her experience. So, she changed her tactics.

"Why settle for just a cock sucking? How much for a fuck?"

"Now we're talking. But I'm not sure I want to put my cock inside a lowly were-hunter. Who knows how many of those beasts you've let take you in the middle of the forest before killing them afterwards, as they sleep. I'm not sure I want to have were-leftovers."

"I thought it was the novelty you were after? And the danger? Or are you just afraid your tiny little human cock can't measure up to a wolf's? Ten pounds and you can go where only shifters have gone before."

"Fuck ten pounds!"

She could tell he was thinking about it, though. So she just stood still, staring at him, until he spoke again.

"Six."

"Fine. Six pounds. Up front."

"I don't think so, sweetheart. Three pounds up front, three after."

"Deal."

He turned to go into the back and get the money, and she rolled her eyes at how simple some men were. Offer to play with their dangly bits and they lost the ability to think. Fine by her. The extra cash would put that much more money toward her family's coffers, although she was grateful that her mother never knew some of the scum she had to deal with during her hunts. She'd much rather spend her time alone, crawling the forests, ranging further and further each year just to make rent, than to deal with townspeople on a daily basis. She was suddenly glad she never became a doctor after all. People were bad enough when they felt well.

When the man came back he counted out six pounds, splitting the stack in half and handing her three. She pulled out the heavy bag the bounty agent had given her, and added this dirty money to her growing stash. Soon she'd have the full rent amount and she could head more directly toward the gathering instead of wandering the forest and its tiny little towns.

She watched as he tucked the remaining three pounds into a cubby hole on the wall behind the counter, and then he turned to her, motioning her to follow him around the counter and back through the doorway he'd just come through.

She followed.

She paused in the doorway and looked into an area that seemed to be half office and half living quarters. There was a bed against the far wall, but he was standing dead center in the middle of the room, his pants already down around his ankles and his sad little cock standing at attention, facing her.

She'd just been fucking with him before, saying he had a tiny little human cock, but she'd been right. She fought off the urge to giggle.

"First your mouth, then the rest of you," he said, seeming awfully cocky for a man with such a small... Oh, never mind. The joke was too easy.

Keelyn could see why he felt the need to pay for someone to suck him, as it didn't look like a cock anyone would volunteer to handle. Although, due to its rather small size, she figured it would be an easy one, for sure.

Hell, with a cock that size in her mouth, she's still have room to eat the supper her stomach was starting to growl for, not that she actually planned on having that thing anywhere near her.

"What if a customer comes in?" She asked him, buying time and quickly running scenarios through her head.

"It's getting late, I doubt anyone will come in. I was about to lock up anyway. Besides, I like to live a bit dangerously."

"Dangerously, huh? Do you like the thrill of possibly getting caught? Knowing that someone could walk in any minute, and instead of being behind the counter, ready to greet them, you're back here, your cock down my throat or deep in my pussy?"

"Oh fuck. See how hard you make me when you talk like that?"

She looked down, but she wasn't impressed.

"Now come on, were-hunter bitch, drop to your knees and earn your coin."

"I have a better idea. How about you stand here, where I am? You can hold onto the doorway for support, and with me on my knees behind the counter, you'd really be tempting fate if anyone came in."

She backed up, clearing the doorway, until her back hit the counter behind her. She was just clear of the wolfskin, still spread out on top of it, so she placed her hands on the counter behind her and boosted herself up so she could sit beside the wolfskin, facing the door to the back office and waiting for him to appear.

"Hurry up, I'm undoing my top and I want to see you spread eagle in the doorway as I continue stripping," she said, determined to take over and place him exactly where she wanted him, despite what he wanted.

She started unlacing her tunic, spreading the edges wide as he waddled to the doorway, breeches still around his ankles.

"There. Now, raise your hands and hold on to the doorway, yes, just like that. Are you sure you're ready for me? Can you handle being exposed to anyone who chooses right now to step inside here and see you like this, master of your domain, as a lowly were-hunter bows before you, sucking you off?"

The moan that came from the man was almost pained at the thought. She smiled at him as he stood there, preparing for what he thought was about to happen. Only, instead of pulling the last bit of her tunic edges apart, and completely baring her breasts to him before falling to her knees, she reached behind her and grabbed her bow and two arrows from her back, loading the first one as her arms came around to her front again.

She leaned back on the counter, gaining a few more inches to aim, and then released the first arrow. She had the second arrow notched and ready almost before the first one cleared her bow, and she released that one too.

The first arrow sliced straight through his right hand, embedding itself deeply into the wood doorway, pinning his hand. The second arrow did the same, only to his left hand.

At this close of a range she knew he would never be able to get the arrows out of the wood without first ripping his hands free, sliding them down the shaft of the arrow, and over the feathers tied to the arrow's end. The cock feather was specially tied so that it stuck out at a right angle from the shaft, so as not to contact the bow when it was shot. She thought it was especially funny that to free himself, he'd technically have to pull his hand free from her 'cock,' twice, to escape.

And from the sounds of the agonized screams that were starting to come from his mouth, she figured he didn't have the stones to free himself anyway. He'd be standing in his own office doorway, pinned spread eagle with her arrows, breeches down, now flaccid cock hanging free for the next person who entered the office to see.

"I'd love to tell you that it was nice doing business with you, but it wasn't."

Keelyn quickly tied her tunic back up, hopped off the counter, and grabbed the other three pounds from the cubby he'd stuffed the money into just a few minutes before. She added them to her pouch, hefted the wolfskin back onto her shoulders and headed toward the door.

She'd be damned if she'd leave this quality of fur here for the asshole to profit from. She'd just take his suggestion and sell it in the next town over.

She usually tried to collect her spent arrows if she could, but tonight she felt it was quite worth losing them to this predator.

She paused in the doorway as she exited the furrier's shop, almost tempted to prop the door open to draw the saloon crowd's curiosity, but she closed the door behind her instead, hoping he wouldn't be found until morning, if not later.



Chapter 4


Bane stood just outside of the saloon, relaxing, drinking and being harassed by his pack mates. The group had come to town a few days before, on their way to the castle, but they weren't in a big hurry to get there. They'd stuck around for a bit, sleeping in beds, bathing in warm, soapy water, and eating food they hadn't had to hunt and kill first.

Usually they stayed within the borders of the wolfpack's territory, but the yearly migration to the castle was somewhat of a vacation for the pack members who got to go. Not everyone could, or that would leave the territory completely unprotected for way too long, but Bane, the pack's Alpha, usually took a different group of his mates with him every year, so that everyone got to come every few years.

The difference between Bane's group and most of the others headed to the castle was that instead of paying rent, Bane's pack actually got to collect money. The king relied on Bane's pack, and a few others, to help keep the kingdom's lands safe. A shifter security force, if you would.

"Hey, Bane."

Naythan, his beta wolf and second in command, shouted above the dull roar of the rest of the group to get his attention.

"When are you going to pick a mate and settle down? We've never had an Alpha go so long unmated. The rest of the pack is starting to talk, man."

Bane had become Alpha about five years before, after his father had died of old age, and his mother had been killed by a hunter.

At first, a decent amount of grieving time had been allowed, but as the years had passed, Bane was asked about choosing a mate more and more often. He knew that the pack preferred a mated Alpha, and above that, preferred a few royal cubs to be running around and causing trouble by now as well, but Bane had yet to choose a female, and the pack was starting to pressure him to do so.

"You already know the answer to that. I will choose a mate when my wolf scents one. Same as you. Same as all of you. Our wolf decides these things."

"Bane's mate will probably scent of whiskey." Mac, his best friend and the only bear shifter in the group of wolf mates teased him.

Another wolf added, "And bacon."

The pack's teasing started up again, with the group mentioning two of Bane's known weaknesses while in town. They always bought the general stores out of whiskey when they were beyond the pack's territory, to take back and enjoy in the wolf den. And bacon...

Sometimes when the pack was home, and hunting, they would bring down a wild hog, or some farmer's pig would get loose and wander off too far, and those were definitely the animals Bane enjoyed the most.

A lot of the time the pack ate what game they caught rare, the meat still warm from its exertions running away from the pack, but sometimes the human sides to the pack came out, and they would cook the meats over an open fire.

As an executive decree, Bane had made it known that any and all pigs and hogs were to at least have the parts that the humans used for bacon set aside to be smoked.

And the pack liked to make fun of him for it.

Oh well, Bane thought. Everyone has their thing. And one perk of being the Alpha wolf was that my things got tended to.

As the group continued to tease him, drink, and lightly fondle their own mates as they reveled in being away from the den and pack business, a scent floating in the air caught Bane's attention.

It was faint, at first. Teasing ribbons of warm cinnamon started to caress him. He wondered if the local baker had put cinnamon rolls in the oven, preparing for tomorrows breakfast crowd. But that didn't make sense. The whole point of that scent was to entice. That's why bakers got up so damned early in the morning, so that scents of fresh baked goods met hungry noses as they first woke up, not as most townspeople were preparing for bed.

Rich, sweet, buttery, sugar-laden cinnamon rolls bathed his senses from out of nowhere, getting stronger with each passing minute.

The scent made him hungry, but not in the way he expected.

His cock hardened. It stirred, at first, coming alive under the infernal breeches humans insisted on wearing, but in seconds he was hard as a rock.

Weird.

The scent of freshly baking cinnamon rolls had never caused that reaction before.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bane had the urge to shift into his wolf form, right here in the middle of town, throw his head back and howl. He wanted to run! He wanted to chase! He wanted to fuck! He wanted to do all of those things at the same time.

He paused, clarity hitting him as he stood with his pack mates, in front of a saloon, talking about scenting his mate.

She was here!

His mate!

He'd finally found her, scented her, after all these years.

He got excited, interrupting whatever Mac had been saying, with his own words.

"I know exactly what my mate will scent like, you bunch of teasing bastards. She'll scent of warm, freshly baked cinnamon rolls!"

"How in the hell would you know that? Is that what your dad told you that his mate scented like? Because you know that every wolf scents their mate differently, right? Just because your dad's mate scented like that..."

"No! He said my mom scented of rainbows."

"And exactly what the fuck do rainbows smell like?" The only non-shifter in the group spoke up then. Naythan's mate was human, and very pregnant with her first cub. She was the one to ask.

"Rainbows smell like grass, mixed with lightning, and rain." Mac was the one to answer her, and the others nodded their agreement, but Bane interrupted.

"I know it, because she is here! My mate, I can scent her, now. Do you guys smell that?"

Bane started to look around quickly, desperately. The scent was getting stronger by the minute. He expected his forever mate to appear any second now. The scent was coming closer, becoming overpowering, surely he should be able to see her any time now.

"Are you serious?" Naythan asked him, "She's here? Now? We get to watch as our Alpha finally finds his..."

"No! Something's wrong. The scent, it's covered by another. It's my mate, yes. I am sure of it, but she's in trouble! She also scents like death. And...wet fur. Wait, what is happening?"

Bane's eyes were still searching, trying to see who smelled like such an odd mix of...

"No!"

The anguish in their Alpha's voice was enough to make all but Sandra, Naythan's pregnant, human mate suddenly surround Bane, encircling their Alpha instinctively to protect him. Even Mac joined in. He may be a bear shifter, but as Bane's best friend he was practically a member of the pack.

When no danger presented itself, Mac turned back to face Bane. He noticed the direction Bane was staring, a look of pained disgust all over his face, and Mac turned to face the oncoming threat.

And then he started laughing.

Mac's laughter started slowly, a surprised, quiet sound becoming more and more amused by the second. Mac saw the approaching female that scented of death, and wet wolf fur, although he couldn't scent the warm cinnamon rolls underneath it that Bane said was the signature of his mate.

As the others caught on, the laughter rose, until only Bane and Sandra, were left confused instead of full of mirth.

"Bane's mate..." Mac tried to complete the sentence, but another round of laughter took hold. "Is..."

Naythan's amused voice chimed in, "A wolf hunter!"

The group's merriment continued on as the wolf hunter in question seemed to square her shoulders and adjust the wolf pelt she was obviously heading to the furrier next door with.

She was dressed as a man, but Bane knew she hid feminine curves under all those layers of clothing. How she could stand to wear so much of it, he wasn't sure. The breeches he was currently straining, and the light shirt, were almost more than he could stand.

No. No way was his destined mate a dirty wolf hunter, he thought.

He watched as she let herself into the furrier next to them, waves of resignation and dread rolling off of her in waves.

Bane was suddenly quite put out with the hand destiny had dealt him. Now technically, there was no rule that said you had to mate with the one you scented as your mate, but that was how it was usually done.

He could pick anyone in the world, human or shifter, as his mate. But choosing the one that your wolf chose as well usually made for far happier couplings. Wolves mated for life, and the human side selecting the same one that the wolf side chose routinely made for better, happier pairings.

But he'd be damned if he'd go along with his wolf's choice now, not knowing that she hunted and killed his kind for money. Or pleasure. Or cruelty. Oh hell no, he was overriding his wolf's choice right this minute. He'd often heard the saying about opposites attracting, but there were no redeeming qualities about a wolf hunter, at all.


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