Bitter Change

Mara Lee

 

Prologue:

Ethenia felt the cool press of earth against her cheek. She could smell the rich aroma of mud and pine and she knew that if she were to die, then she would die with the forest that she so loved as her burial ground.

She had run so far and for so long that she could no longer recall when and where it had all begun. She only knew that her very survival depended on her using the instincts that were inherent in her kind. She was not the strongest or the most powerful of her kind but she had sharp intellect and a fierce will to live. She would not pass from this world without a fight. She had given too much already.

With dogged determination, Ethenia pulled herself to her feet. She swayed only slightly before finding her balance once more. All around her the night was alive with sounds and smells. The pitch black darkness housed secrets—many of which Ethenia was privy to and reveled in.

Suddenly, Ethenia saw it, a light in the dark. Far off, on the horizon there was a wavering light. Ethenia knew that approaching such a light could be dangerous, but she had nowhere else to go and no one to turn to. She forced her weary body in the direction of the flickering flame.

Chapter One

Alone. He was always alone—a solitary wolf in search of his mate. He felt hunger burning a hole through his body. He yearned and ached for his other half, the half that would complete him. Without her, without his mate, he was dangerous and therefore a liability to the Pack.

Lothos tossed his mane of jet black hair over his shoulder and howled his pain to the beckoning moon. There was nothing for him here.

Lothos had joined Airek's Pack over a year ago and since then had watched as male after male claimed his mate. Even though he had celebrated the finding of his beloved brothers' mates, in the end the result was the same, he was alone. The final straw was the acceptance of Airek's Lupe into their inner circle, into their family. Sheila McKay was more beautiful, more powerful than any Lupe he had ever encountered, and her complete devotion to her mate, Airek, humbled him. Lothos watched with envy as Sheila and Airek brought Pack members Sira and Thane to their bed. In the morn, all four had the look of those who had engaged in fierce sex play. Lothos loved and respected Airek and Sheila, and he felt like a brother to Sira and Thane. But he longed for territory of his own and more than that, he longed for a woman of his own. He could not remain with Airek's Pack as he now was. He hungered too greatly and his control was nearly at an end.

Suddenly he stiffened.

Lothos smelled the woman before he saw her. She smelled of death. He grit his teeth and lumbered low to the ground. The closer he was to the earth, the better he could hear and smell the intruder. Lothos partially shifted, his hands became wicked claws and his teeth elongated and pulled until they resembled the fangs of a vampire. But he was no vampire—there was only wolf here tonight. Lothos moved back on his haunches and was ready to pounce when the intruder half stumbled, half fell into his camp.

* * * *

Ethenia could go no further. Her body ached and her heart was bruised and broken from years of pain and abuse. Her feet would take her no further. She would fall here and give herself over to the light willingly. Ethenia's pain-dulled eyes saw only the surprised face of a man before she hit the ground and passed out.

* * * *

Lothos stared at the bundle in front of him in astonishment. It was a woman, a naked woman. She had fallen, literally, at his feet. When he saw no movement he gingerly moved to her side and began his inspection.

He wrinkled his nose. Not much of a woman at first inspection. She was caked with dirt, blood and grime and her hair was a tangled nest of twigs and leaves. He could smell nothing but filth. Her body, covered with old scars and some new, was way too thin and gaunt for his liking. No, this was hardly a prize worth claiming. "Now, what to do with you," Lothos murmured under his breath. He could bring her back to the Pack but he had exiled himself. Lothos knew that he needed time to find what he was looking for before he committed himself any further to Airek's Pack. He couldn't bring this wild, half-dead creature back to Airek when he had left so suddenly. Lothos sighed, there was nothing left to do but bring her to the caves. He couldn't leave her here. He might be a beast, but he didn't have to act like one.

* * * *

Ethenia blinked. Mellow light surrounded and blanketed her. She felt heat and smelled the delicious aroma of roasting meat. She fully opened her eyes and her mouth formed a surprised O. She was in a cave, a beautiful one. The walls of the cave were flickering and dancing with the shadows produced from the soft candlelight. She was resting on a soft, cushioned fur and some of her wounds were freshly cleaned and wrapped with expertly donned bandages.

"I am glad to see you awake, little Loopin."

Ethenia gasped and immediately turned toward the voice. It was the man she had seen before she had passed out. He was here and he was studying her intently. Ethenia swallowed. He was beautiful. Thick black hair fell unhindered to his waist and his muscles flexed and gleamed in the rich light. He had eyes the color of pine, dark, lush green, and a mouth—well his mouth was sinfully full and plump. Ethenia shook her head to clear it and felt a blush warm her cheeks. She couldn't believe her impudence, staring so at a naked man.

"I cannot believe I missed your scent," Lothos frowned, "Of course the dirt, blood and filth hid it well."

Ethenia bit back a tart response. It was obvious what and who he was. This was no ordinary man standing in front of her. He was of her kind, he was Loopin, and he had the smell of alpha about him. However much he taunted her, however much he hurt her, she could never think to win against him. Ethenia felt hot, wet, tears scald her cheek. To escape and survive from one tormentor only to find herself trapped by another, it was too much for her to take in. No, better to be dead than to find herself caged once again.

Lothos couldn't understand the fear, the pain he felt emanating off of the little Loopin in front of him. She was practically shaking in her agony. Had he harmed her? Had he done something to hurt her? Why was she behaving thus? He had thought that her inherent abilities would help her to forage out the truth, help her to know what he was, who he was. But instead she was quivering in front of him. It was not like a Loopin to quiver. This was most odd. Loopin woman were often feisty, fierce and as arrogant as their men. Some, of course, were more dominant and moved quickly up the ranks of the Pack, but all Loopin women knew their worth.

Lothos narrowed his eyes as the truth began to cipher through his brain. Someone had abused this poor woman, had broken her spirit. He felt red-hot rage pour through him. To break the spirit, to hurt a cherished female wolf was unthinkable. It was a death sentence in most Packs. Who would dare to harm their mate?

"Please." It was all that Ethenia could manage to get out past her fear. She hated how pitiful she sounded, but she was afraid. She was afraid that she could no longer take the pain of her life. Perhaps this alpha would take mercy on her and end her pain right now.

Lothos looked down at the little Loopin grimly. She was filthy. The wounds he had been able to get at he had cleaned, but there were too many unknown wounds probably lying beneath the caked-on dirt and grit. "I am going to lift you now, little one." He saw the fear in her eyes and sighed. "I promise that I am not going to hurt you." Lothos gently wrapped his arms around her skinny frame and pulled her against his body. He began to walk toward the back of the cave.

"Never make promises that you cannot keep," Ethenia murmured.

Lothos's face tightened. He might not know this woman, but when he found the person or persons who had hurt her; he would rip out their hearts. Lothos looked down at her dirty, tear stained face and shook his head. Poor little thing.

* * * *

Ethenia let the soothing, bubbling water work its magic. She had been yet again surprised when the man had set her down gently in a hot spring. The hot water was rejuvenating her aching bones and she was already feeling a little bit better. Ethenia dipped her hand into the jar that the man had left for her and sniffed. It smelled like honey. She brought her hand to her lips to taste—it was honey, honey and perhaps chamomile. She was delighted. She poured a generous amount of the mixture into her hand and began to work it into her knotted, filthy hair. She smiled as she washed her dirty strands. Humans were often such strange creatures. They put chemicals into their hair to wash it, calling the foul concoction 'shampoo', when the best way to clean your body and hair was with what nature offered openly.

When her hair and body were fully clean, Ethenia sank deeper into the welcoming water, letting her eyes drift closed and her mind wander.

Lothos felt the hot energy of lust fill his body. His cock was unbelievably hard and his mind was clouded with need and desperate want. He couldn't believe that the angel that lay sleeping in his hot spring was the same filthy urchin he had brought to his caves. The young woman in the water was beautiful. Her hair, now free of dirt and grime, was the color of molten gold, her skin was honey-hued and her features soft and delicate. She was still, of course, much too skinny, but her breasts were quite splendid. They were high and full and tipped with lush nipples two shades darker than her skin. Lothos felt his cock jump and he calmed his racing heart. It wouldn't do scaring the girl off. He needed answers; he needed answers fast.

Lothos knelt down beside the pool and shook the girl gently by her shoulder. He sighed when she merely moaned and tossed her head. He shook her a little bit harder and her breasts bounced lightly, and when she turned her head to the side he couldn't help himself—he brought his head down, and gently bit her neck. She arched, and reached out her arms to him. Lothos growled and slipped into the water beside her. The beast in him could not resist such a sweetly offered temptation.

Ethenia pushed away the cobwebs of her dream. Her limbs felt deliciously sluggish and pleasure was seeping its way through her sleep-drugged body. She felt the soft nip of teeth against her neck and large, gentle hands cupping her breasts. She moaned. It felt wonderful—the water, the hands caressing her slick flesh. Now all she wanted was more, more of the sensations that were bombarding her body. Ethenia moved closer toward the beckoning hands and wondrous lips. She let out a sigh of pleasure when lips closed over her straining breasts and began to suckle at her tautened nipples. "So good," Ethenia muttered. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt such pleasure—indeed, she had never felt desire such as this. The dream man was suckling at her tits and moving his fingers nimbly down her stomach. She widened her legs and groaned when he slid his thick fingers into her pussy. "Oh my God." A ragged moan tore through her. "Please don't stop." Ethenia was panting as her dream man began to pluck at her clit. He was rolling the hard bud between his fingers and it was driving her mad. "More, I need more," Ethenia realized she was begging, but what the hell, it was her dream. She could beg if she wanted to.

"Then you will have more," Her mystery man said. His voice was low and melodic and just a little bit familiar. Ethenia pushed away such thoughts the moment she felt the press of a hard cock against her aching pussy. She was on fire. Her pussy was dripping and the hot water of the springs did nothing but fuel the fire burning within her body. She reached out to grab her dream lover and moaned when he dropped his head down to nip and suck at her tender breasts.

"So beautiful," he said.

Ethenia gasped and brought her hips forward. She wanted him. She wanted him so badly that she thought she would burst. It was her damn dream. Why wasn't he fucking her? "Come on," Ethenia ground out. She was frustrated when her dream lover only chuckled and teased her pussy mercilessly by rubbing his cock against her. "Not fair, please, please I need you," She moaned.

Lothos was sweating from the exertion of keeping his body still and calm. All he wanted to do was plow his beautiful golden angel until she cried out his name, but he knew that the anticipation, the pain of waiting, would make the pleasure even more intense. When she wrapped her legs around his waist and ground her pussy against him he moaned and then swore. What the hell was he waiting for? He had a hot Loopin begging for him. Lothos grabbed her legs and pulled them a little higher up his body. He dug his hands into the tender flesh of her thighs and drove his cock deep into her welcoming warmth.

They moaned simultaneously. Lothos set a shallow pace, loving the feel of her honeyed warmth on his flesh. She was tight as a vise and wet as the water that bathed them. Lothos bent his head and began to lick his angel's skin. She tasted sweet, sweeter than the honey and chamomile she had used on her hair and body. He could feel the pulse jumping in her neck and it took all his strength not to bite, break through the tender skin, and taste the bitter copper of her blood. He knew that her blood would be beyond wonderful, as her body was robbing him of his senses. Lothos felt her pussy clench around his cock and he could remain still no longer. His body was thrumming with need and he became desperate for release.

Ethenia's heart was pounding and every nerve ending in her pussy was on fire. Her dream lover was in her body so deeply that she could feel his cock hit her cervix with each pound of his hips against hers. The mixture of pain and pleasure was so intense that her Loopin energy began to crawl up her skin. She could not hold back the howl that broke past her lips or the fact that her claws raked down the taut skin of her dream lover's back. She locked her hips around his waist and felt the shimmy of energy move from her skin into her body. Her pussy began to contract and Ethenia screamed out, "Now, I'm coming now," just before she crested.

At the feel of her pussy muscles pulling on his cock, Lothos could no longer hold back his climax. He pierced the delicate skin at her neck and drank deep of her blood. She began to quiver and her pussy clenched temptingly, Lothos joined his angel and began to howl and let his body empty its seed within the warm, wet recesses of her delicious body. Lothos sank against his wet angel and nuzzled her neck. She was panting and her pussy was still pulsing with the after-tremors of her orgasm. Lothos caressed her hot face and kissed her forehead. He gently wrapped his arms around her and lifted her out of the water effortlessly. He walked over to the sleeping pallet and placed her upon it, still awed by the beauty of her face and form. He smiled. His angel was out cold. Well, he supposed that his questions could wait for tomorrow.