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An Elloras Cave Romantica Publication

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Primal Quest ISBN # 1-4199-0549-X ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Primal Quest Copyright 2006 Rebecca Airies Edited by Nicholas Conrad Cover art by Syneca. Electronic book Publication: March 2006

This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Elloras Cave Publishing, Inc. 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 443103502. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors imagination and used fictitiously.

Warning:
The following material contains graphic sexual content meant for mature readers. This book has been rated Erotic by a minimum of three independent reviewers. Elloras Cave Publishing offers three levels of Romantica reading entertainment: S (S-ensuous), E (Erotic), and X (X-treme). S-ensuous love scenes are explicit and leave nothing to the imagination. E-rotic love scenes are explicit, leave nothing to the imagination, and are high in volume per the overall word count. In addition, some E-rated titles might contain fantasy material that some readers find objectionable, such as bondage, submission, same sex encounters, forced seductions, and so forth. E-rated titles are the most graphic titles we carry; it is common, for instance, for an author to use words such as fucking, cock, pussy, and such within their work of literature. X-treme titles differ from E-rated titles only in plot premise and storyline execution. Unlike E-rated titles, stories designated with the letter X tend to contain controversial subject matter not for the faint of heart.

PRIMAL QUEST
Rebecca Airies

Rebecca Airies

Planet Mijohin, 862 Neshan Calendar The risk is necessary, Caidi Satoan thought as she stared out of the inns window watching the orange sun sink below the horizon. Beyond the squat city dwellings, she could see the dark green blur of the forest and beyond that the purple shadow of a large mountain. The trouble with the trade goods is finally settled. It is time to see to the future. Caidi had always known that finding that one man with whom she could bond for life was improbable. There were just too many worlds. Most of the populated worlds were inhabited by humans and those humans far outnumbered shifter populations. There wasnt much of a chance that shed find the one Zarain meant for her. Her personal precautions also caused some difficulty. She avoided contact with her own kind and when she did meet them, getting close enough to scent them meant something had gone wrong. Over the course of her years as Acine, the alpha female of her pack, she had learned to avoid taking foolish risks. The protection of her pack was her sacred duty and a constant worry when she had to deal with it on her own. Success of tonights quest was as inevitable as their return home to Carait. The single difference between this and a normal hunt was the choice of prey. Tonights quarry waited in a tavern, not too far away. Their target, the males of their own kindthe Zarainwouldnt suspect anything. Caidi had ensured that. She had used the combined resources of her pack and the Feiral pack which also lived on Carait to make this hunt feasible and safe. Both entirely female packs would benefit from this hunt. The drive, the pull to mate, to be impregnated, grew with each passing day, a throbbing need that couldnt be ignored. They needed to see to the future, to have children. Just as in any other hunt, they would use the habits of their prey against them. Shifter males often had sex with human females, but the hunters knew that they would have to be cautious. Although she wanted a baby, Caidi didnt want to lose her freedom. A male Zarain or Feiral with his senses unsuppressed by a powerful drug would know at the first whiff of their scent that they werent human and were very fertile. The drugs had been administered to the men to counter that ability. As well, the shifter men wouldnt knowingly impregnate a female of their kind who wasnt their mate. Male shifters searched for their mates for most of their lives and they all knew how hard it was to find that one true mate. They wouldnt have sex with a female shifter who wasnt their mate. Also, shifter males were born with a fierce drive to protect and defend. That drive only increased when females of any species were involved. Those

Chapter One

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men wouldnt hesitate to take any female shifter they found captive and would hold her until that womans mate found her. Their plans had been made ronas, months, ago. Bribes had been paid and instructions had been given to those who would be able to carry out the details of the plan. Now, all that remained was the wait before the hunt. Caidi turned away from the window and began preparing for the hunt. She combed her golden hair to a glowing shine and allowed it to hang loose, falling to the middle of her back in soft waves. Her silver eyes danced as a tingle of nervousness coursed through her. At her neck, her pulse pounded a furious rhythm. She took a deep, calming breath. This hunt will be a success. In her mind, she chanted the words. As they made their way down the street to the weathered, wooden building which housed Oshiahs Tavern, Caidi was very nervous. So much of this had been out of her hands, out of her personal control. Most of the plan tonight had relied on the ability of others to fulfill their side of the bargain. It made Caidi uneasy to have to rely on others, non-pack members, for such necessary details, but there hadnt been any other way to do this. The Zarain and Feiral women were strangers to this planet and couldnt stay here long. Their purpose on Mijohin was simplefind suitable male shifters, have sex and leave. This wasnt like the other times that she had had to hide her identity from a shifter or group of shifters. This time she would be in bodily contact with the shifter. She couldnt rely on her usual means of fooling them. They had used those methods until they had left the inn, but couldnt risk using them now. The contact was going to be much too close tonight. Caidi received a nod from one of the serving women when she and the other Zarain females entered the large, open main room of the first-floor tavern. Caidi breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed. It was safe. The drug had been served to everyone in the tavern. Caidi and the seven other members of her pack who accompanied her mingled among those in Oshiahs Tavern. It was more of a gentlemans club than a true tavern, with rooms upstairs available for the members use for a fee. Caidi saw Chey across the room and nodded at her in response to her smile and the slight lift of Cheys mug. Caidi smiled. Chey looked as if she was plotting. The cunning nature of the Feiral was very much evidenced by that smile. She knew just how cunning Chey could be and the woman was formidable. Caidi was just glad that they were allies and friends. Both groups were isolated from their own kind, trying to make the most of what they had and had found that their differences were insignificant when compared to the reality they faced. The Feiral animal forma narrow sharp-angled face with a long muzzle and pointed ears, a body built for speed rather than power, sleek furry body and a long

Rebecca Airies

tailwas much different than the Zarain form which was built for strength and endurance. The hulking Zarain form made the Feiral seem small. Cheys pack lived on the plains near one of the great rivers on Carait, preferring to have the vast expanse of rolling hills around them rather than the verdant forest. Their holding was almost two weeks travel away from Caidis home. Even with that distance, the two groups managed to keep in close contact, conducting joint trade ventures and offering help when it was needed. Caidi began to hunt in earnest for a man to father her child. As he was part of this world, he wouldnt want a safe home or family or the responsibilities that came with those things. Caidi knew that no man she met here would try to follow or find her after she left. She wrinkled her nose in disgust at the heavy odor of perfume and body odor that assailed her sharp senses as she moved through the room scattered with wooden tables and chairs. Someone had tried to disguise the lack of a bath with a heavy splashing of perfume. Goddess, this was awful. How could any Zarain, male or female, stand this for long? The smells, the restrictions and the lack of space were already beginning to choke Caidi. Even if it were possible, she couldnt endure the confinement of this city for more than a night. As she moved through the crowd, she kept her gaze centered on a group of black-haired shifter males at the back of the room. With any luck, those large men were Zarain. Caidi noticed one of the women from Cheys pack, a woman named Asia, smile and turn away from the men. She walked over to Caidi and leaned close for a moment. They are all yours. The one at the back would be the one for you, very alpha. Although, dont count on him remaining here. I get the feeling that he has had more than enough of this life. Good luck, Caidi whispered as she walked toward the men sitting around the large, round, wooden table. Asias words rang in her head. It was for that isolated possibility that they had gone to such lengths. There was always the chance that the man wouldnt want to let the woman leave if he knew she was shifter, as well as a chance that the man would just grow tired of city life. The men around the table were large and very muscular, as was normal and expected in a Zarain man. Caidi ran her eyes over the men in a cursory inspection. They all had dark hair ranging from deep brown to shining blue-black and all had dark, golden-brown skin. Every single one of them had silver eyes. Caidi studied them for a moment, noticing their posture and attitude. She decided that Asia had been right. The man at the back was the alpha of this group and, from the way his eyes roved over her body, was interested in her. He had long, straight, black hair that was secured at the back of his neck and he looked harder, more experienced than she had thought that a man who lived on

Primal Quest

Mijohin would look. For a city dweller, he looked every inch the warrior. High cheekbones and a hard jawline heightened the impression that his hadnt been an easy life. Over shoulders which were impossibly wide, he wore a white shirt which was open to the navel, revealing a chest covered in black markings that seemed to emphasize the corded muscles under the flesh. As her eyes lowered, they traced the hard rippling muscles of his flat abdomen and lean hips. He was sitting back from the scarred, wooden table, leaning against the light tan wood of the wall. Tight black leather pants encased strong, muscular legs. She frowned as she caught sight of his black boots. They were clean but scuffed. Well-worn, they werent the polished articles that she had expected to see on a man who lived his life in a city. Her gaze swung to his waist. That sword was no mere ornamentation. A tiny warning began to sound within her. Sit. The man at the back of the table gestured to a seat next to him. That deep, rumbling growl tugged at her insides, tightening her abdomen as desire stirred. Caidi pushed down the doubts that plagued her. There was no reason to delay this with idle chatter. She wasnt here to talk. She had a mission to complete and stirring the Zarain within him would ensure that she completed it. No. She shot him a taunting smile. You are not the man I am looking for. She turned and walked into the crowd, looking for a safe challenger, a human. Someone he wouldnt consider a real threat. She didnt have a doubt that he would follow her. Raven Talinian felt unexpected anger rise within him as the woman walked away from him. Determination, hard and urgent, rose within him. She was his. No one else would have her. He rose to his feet and strode after the woman who had pulled him from his sorrows and the restlessness that had been plaguing him. The curves of her body drew his eyes. Full, proud breasts promised a handful of luscious flesh even for his large hands. The sweet curve of her hips and high, round ass called to the beast within that longed to feel those lush curves moving beneath him. He would wager that she had long, toned legs beneath that long-sleeved green dress that begged to be removed. One thing was certain, he was going to know every inch of her. He knew that she was young, maybe in her twenty-fifth year, but certainly not over twenty-six years old. His height and width dwarfed her, though she was of average size for a woman. The light, sun-burnished gold of her skin glimmered in the lamp light. Shining, honey-blonde hair framed her face and fell in glorious waves down her back. His hands tingled in anticipation of touching the soft, rounded contours of her face, to see if the skin was as soft as it looked. Wide-set, tilted silver eyes had stared at him with a curious calmness. High cheekbones, a pert nose and a sweetly lush mouth, the lower lip full and pouty, completed an enticing visage. He stalked after her, catching her as she was smiling at a young, dark-haired human. A low growl rumbled in his throat as he turned her to him with a hand on her
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shoulder. Irrational jealousy swirled within him. She should be smiling at him. He pulled her away from the other man and crowded her into a corner, letting the Zarain scent take over since she wouldnt even sit and talk with him. Caidi hid her smile as he pressed her into a corner, forcing her to inhale his scent. The Zarain male musk hit her at almost the same instant that a deep, primal part of her recognized him as her mate. With each breath that she took, a fire of physical desire burned higher within her. She drew his scent into her, pressing her body closer to his. Yes, my little golden one, take me into you. Come with me. We will go somewhere private and be together, he encouraged as her arms stole around his waist. I am Raven. Caidi nodded in agreement with his plans. My name is Cate. She barely restrained an appreciative rumble as he turned, still holding her close to his side and urged her toward the staircase near the side of the room. She loved the way he smelled. Rich, masculine, a little earthy. They climbed the stairs together and he led her to a door at the end of the hall. He unlocked the door and opened it, ushering her into a spacious room. The bed was large, spread with blankets and gray and white furs and was exactly what Caidi wanted at this moment. A large fireplace with an ornate mantel graced the center of one wall. Two large, comfortable-looking chairs had been placed in front of the hearth. A table surrounded by chairs had been placed in front of two large slatted doors which probably led out onto a balcony. Caidi tried not to act too eager as she walked with Raven to the bed. All too conscious of the role she should be playing, she held back as he pulled her toward the bed. He threw back the coverings, revealing clean, crisp white sheets. He turned to her and Caidi stared up at his strong features. She wrapped her arms around him, instinctively rubbing herself against the hard ridge of his sex. Raven grasped her with both hands about the waist and lifted her. His lips and teeth nipped at hers until she opened her lips to his. His tongue thrust into her mouth and her tongue followed his as he withdrew back into the dark cavern of his own mouth. He tasted so gooddelicious and addictive. He sucked at her tongue drawing her taste deep into his mouth. She couldnt get enough of the enticing essence. He lowered her to her feet and ran his hands up her sides to cup the fullness of her breasts through the silky material of her dress. Bending, he brushed his lips across hers and across the soft skin of her cheeks to her ear. His teeth nipped at her earlobe and then his warm breath flowed across her ear. Undress for me. His deep, gravelly, very sexy purr rolled through Caidi as his hands left her. Caidi stepped back and unhooked the clasp at her neck and the subsequent ones down her back. She shrugged her shoulders and the dress fell forward, sliding down
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her arms and chest. She let the dress fall around her feet and toed the soft new slippers from her feet. For a moment, she stood nude before him. She stepped forward and laced her arms around his neck, removing the leather tie from his hair, freeing it to flow around his face. She threaded her fingers through his hair. The long, silky strands fell almost to the middle of his back. Reluctantly releasing his hair, she slid her hands down to his shirt. She unbuttoned the two buttons keeping it closed and skimmed her hands up the warm, hard muscles to his chest. He was so much larger than she was. Much larger than she had thought that he would be when he was sitting in the chair. As much as Caidi wanted him, she knew that there was something different about him. He was Zarain as she was, but she had never seen a Zarain as large as he was in all of her travels. He brushed her hands away from his chest. Lie down for me, he urged. Dont rush this. It will be good. Caidi smiled and climbed onto the bed, playing the part of enthralled human when she longed to rip that shirt from his body and drive him to a fierce mating. She wanted his fire, his domination, but pushing him now wouldnt be in character with what she was supposed to be. She sighed and decided that trying to incite his dominance would have to wait until later if there was time. Raven unbuckled his belt, took his sword, still in its scabbard, off the belt and placed it on the small table near the bed. He sat beside her on the bed and looked over at the golden-haired woman. There was something about her that urged him to be careful, that all wasnt as it seemed. Conscious of the need for caution, he stood and unlaced his pants, but didnt remove them. He didnt want to frighten her. Cates luscious body beckoned. The mounds of her breasts drew his eyes with just as much force as the honey-blonde triangle between her legs. He wanted everything, immediately. He wanted her taste flowing in his mouth, those pink lips on his body in any way she chose, the sheath of her cunt wrapped around his cock and her nipples pebbling in his mouth. Caidi shifted her position on the bed. With the absence of constant contact or stimulation, a human would be coming down from the Zarain scent-induced lust. She edged across the bed, keeping her eyes on him, with what she hoped appeared to be wary distrust rather than hunger. Taking one of the furs with her, she scooted backward, pressing the covering to her breasts. UhumI have to Caidi began in what she tried to make a nervous stammer.

Rebecca Airies

Chapter Two
Even with her extraordinary eyesight, Caidi didnt see him move. She blinked and then his weight hit the bed. In that rush of movement, she was pushed back on the mattress. His knees straddled her thighs, his hands landed beside her shoulders, securely caging her. He leaned over her, his breath fanning over her face as he gently nipped her full lower lip. There was something about this woman that pulled at the beast within him. He stilled, thinking, but she wriggled and his mind focused completely on the soft woman under him. You have to kiss me, little Cate, Raven instructed. Caidi readily followed his order. She raised her head, slanted her lips across his and tentatively entered his mouth with her tongue. Wanting to put her arms around his back, she lifted her arms, sliding her fingers under his shirt and over his rib cage in a light caress. He stopped her and urged her hands up to his neck. Caidi was a little curious about why he would do that, but everything felt too good to question it very long. His lips left hers after a last nip of her full lower lip and traveled down her neck to the valley between her breasts. He placed a slow lick in the very center before he kissed his way to her right breast. His tongue lapped at her nipple and his teeth nibbled at the hardened peak, alternately stimulating and soothing the sensitive flesh, sending fire straight through her to the pulsing core of her desire. His hand eased her thighs apart and began stroking the warm flesh hidden there. His fingers stroked over her clit with knowing expertise. Caidi looked up into his eyes as he watched her reaction. She had never seen such intensity, such heat in anyones eyes. Within a few strokes, she was arching her hips into his hand as carnal hunger flared higher with each caress, each nibble. His fingers brushed down her sex to the small, slick opening of her vagina. He slipped one of his large fingers into the heated sheath, smiling when he found her tight. The inner muscles of her slick cunt clenched around his finger as he slowly withdrew his finger from her moist passage only to slide it back into the warmth once again. I am your first. Raven smiled as he stroked his thumb over the hard nub of her clitoris. Caidi frowned in confusion at the possessiveness in his tone. He shouldnt be feeling possessive with that drug coursing through him. His finger slid easily in and out of her with the lubrication from her desire. He then inserted a second finger, letting her adjust and come to enjoy the increased fullness, before inserting yet another. His fingers moved within her stretching her tight, untried channel for his cock.
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He took her nipple into his mouth and sucked, first gently and then with more intensity. With a slurp, his mouth left her breast, but he promised himself that before the night was over he would feast again on those lush mounds. He raised his head and thrust his fingers farther into her. Raven watched her face, saw the building desire, the heat of lust. Her neck arched back and her hips rolled sensuously in counterpoint to the rhythm of his stroking fingers and the brush of his thumb. Her juices coated his fingers, proving that she wanted him very badly. Ah Caidis hands clutched his hair, pulling him up to her mouth. She needed his kiss, something. More. Caidi was startled when Raven drew back and flipped her onto her stomach. She followed his guiding hands readily as soon as she realized that he wasnt leaving her. He drew her onto her knees, holding her as she braced herself on her hands. His hands stroked over her sides and back in a sensuous pattern. He widened her legs, kneeling between them. If you want me, say my name. His hands held her hips and he pressed his leather-covered cock against her buttocks. Raven. Caidi arched into his touch. Raven freed himself from the almost painful confinement of his pants. He drew her back against him, letting her feel the length of his shaft against her, as he ran his hand around her, briefly cupping her breast and flicking one hard nipple before he cupped her sex. Long, slow strokes of his fingers over her clit incited her to roll her hips and moan with longing. Oh, I need Caidi pushed back against his hold, begging for more. She was burning with the sensations coursing through her. His fingers between her thighs had brought forth a tight knot of fire and an ache in her groin that was pulsing and relentless. She had never felt like this before. His other hand was stroking over her in a repetitive pattern that was both soothing and arousing. You need me. Raven positioned his shaft, feeling the hot liquid of her arousal coat the tip of his erection as it slid between her thighs. He kept his arm around her waist. His palm cupped her mound, stimulating her, keeping her poised on the edge of climax, but never allowing her to go over the edge and soar. His cock parted the tight flesh in a slow, smooth glide, letting her untried sheath adjust to his girth. Caidi felt stretched. The slight tingle of pain in the skin that surrounded his shaft dulled some of the delicious sensations pulsing through her. His hips surged forward, urging the entire length of his thick sex into her and Caidi gasped as a surge of pain killed all of the pleasure within her. She tried to crawl away from him in a blind attempt to escape the pain, but his arm around her waist locked her to him. She stilled, startled, as she felt him move out of her a little when she leaned away from him. His fingers stroked over that sensitive hood of flesh above the tingling, stretched flesh which surrounded his cock. He ran his other
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hand over her shoulders and back to soothe her as his fingers began to provoke the heat inside her once again. She rolled her hips at each teasing, provoking touch over her clit. Caidi pushed her buttocks back against him, taking more of his length as the fire blossomed within her once more. Her breaths came in sharp, quick pants. She couldnt stop her body from tensing, expecting a return of the pain, as he withdrew from her to firmly reenter her with a slow, sure surge. She now felt only desire and a delicious fullness as he rocked into her. Her hips rolled as she accepted his driving shaft, riding the fingers rubbing and plucking at her clit. Yes, move with me. Raven threw his head back, his clenched teeth baring the lengthened canines. Caidi gasped and dragged in a ragged breath as her hips pumped down into the stroking of his talented fingers. Her body was on fire. His scent swirled around her, masculine, arousing. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on what she should be doing to seem human. She couldnt think of anything but the feel of his hard cock, how tight and full it made her feel, the sharp passion as he drove into her and the strong jolts of sensation shooting through her with every movement of his fingers over her clit. Need ruled her mind and her body. Harder, Caidi whispered. Raven thrust into her, his balls slapping against her with the force of his movements. She moved with him, arching back against him, encouraging him with pleas for more as the strength of his thrusts grew and the pace quickened. Husky cries tore from her with almost every breath and her need only increased with each pounding stroke. The tight clasp of her hot, slick cunt around his cock nearly took his control. His balls were drawn tight, the seed ready to surge into her hot pussy. Caidi moaned, arching her back and lowering her shoulders and head to the cool white sheet on the bed, pushing back into his surging thrusts as the tension within her exploded. Hot ecstasy cascaded over her leaving nothing untouched by the euphoria. Her body trembled and shook and she screamed her release as a wave of fiery bliss poured through her. Raven thrust harder, deeper. Her body seemed to be made for his, her pussy sheathing his cock so tightly it was nearly painful. He rushed toward climax, but he was determined to give her a gift for the exquisite ecstasy she brought him. As the spasms shook him and he exploded within her, he placed his hand on the small of her back. A harsh groan rumbled from his throat as wave after wave of heated bliss hit him and his seed pumped into her hot, clutching pussy. Caidi stiffened, shocked as sensation flowed from him, from his mind, into her. Another orgasm washed over her, causing her muscles to clench and convulse and her eyes to close as a flood of satisfaction rushed through her shuddering body. Caidi lowered her face to the sheets, moaning in ecstasy and would have collapsed onto the

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bed had he not still held her. She felt boneless, content. Never had she felt such pleasure, such satisfaction. She wanted more. Caidi felt both of his arms come around her just as she felt him pull his length out of her. He lifted her, turning her in his strong arms. Placing her head on the pillows, he pulled a sheet over her body as he rolled to his feet. Caidi basked in these new sensations, in the almost intoxicating bliss still surrounding her and wished that she had more than just this one night with this man. Even as she wished it, she knew that it was impossible. The drugs in his system would only last until the dawn. She would have to be gone before their effect started to fade. When she heard the rustle of clothing, she opened her eyes and turned them to the man, whom she would know only for this one night. He was not the type of man she could take back to the Taivainthe main dwelling of a Zarain holding. The thought brought reality back into her mind and saddened her. Caidi caught a glimpse of his chest as he took off his shirt. The markings on his chest fascinated her and she couldnt help admiring the way they seemed to emphasize the breadth of his shoulders. His chest was massively muscled. She enjoyed the sight of those thick cords moving under his skin. Groaning as he realized he still wore his boots, he turned and sat down on the bed to pull them off. She stifled a gasp and then bit her lip. Damn! She struggled for a few moments to keep her swearing silent as the sight before her brought home just what she had done. His back was to her. Now, she knew the reason that he had kept his shirt on while they had made love. She saw the markings inked into his skin as well as two sets of stripes high on each side of his back. The first stripe started on each shoulder blade and curved around under his arms. The second set started just a little below his shoulder blades and curved around onto his rib cage. The only Zarain who bore such markings, the malkit, were the Shadatai Zarain. Fierce, untamed and rough, the Shadatais reputation had spread beyond the packs and clans of the shifters. Considered barbarians by some, they abided by a code of honor known only to them. They werent men who took deception lightly. Even among the Zarain, a people feared for their shape-shifting abilities, ferocity and skill as warriors, the Shadatai held a place of awe, fear and respect. Caidi wished that she had known that he was Shadatai before she had approached him. She wasnt an idiot. If she had known that he was one of the Shadatai, regardless of her desire to have a baby, she would never have tried anything with this man. Drug or no drug, she would have walked right out of the building before she had done anything with him. It was too late to walk away now. Regardless of her intentions, she had tricked him. He would be furious when he discovered that he had been drugged tonight. He would discover that she was far more than a human when she drugged him again to prevent any interference when she left.

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It was the second drugging which would enlighten him to the fact that he was dealing with a woman who was more than human. Just that she did it would tell him that she was hiding something. The speed of her movements would also be a tip-off. Also, she wouldnt leave without trying to explain some of it. She hadnt intended to find someone like him, but she had. Now, she had to face the consequences. Other things about tonight would make him just as angry. He would discover most of them in the morning when he woke. His senses would be functioning perfectly by that time. There would be no way of preventing the most damning revelation. He would learn that she was his mate. There was only one true mate for each Zarain and hed know her merely from her scent. She wanted to leave now, to flee, but that too was impossible. She couldnt very well get up and walk out of the room. He wouldnt let her and if she did try it, he would know something was wrong. A human, enthralled by the desire-inducing scent and sensual skills of a Zarain, would still be reveling in the rapture she had known from his lovemaking. No one walked away right after sex with a Zarain. They stayed for more and then more. Some disastrous quirk of fate had unraveled all of the meticulous work done to make this a safe, uncomplicated night. He wasnt one of the men she had thought that she would find among the group who normally frequented this tavern. A Shadatai male would never make his home here among the humans. They were too intense, too predatory to live the life of a human for long. The Shadatai wandered along the gate paths selling their skills as warriors until the alpha, the leader, found his mate, if he wasnt ready before that time to find and make a home for himself. If the pack his true mate came from was weak or in need of a leader, the alpha and the other males of his pack moved in and took over the pack, protecting and caring for them. Sometimes, the male found his home before he found his mate. In that case, the woman had no choice but to go with him. He would take her from her home, if it came to that. When a Shadatai wanted his mate, very few families tried to stop him from taking her. It wasnt worth the cost in lives to resist the inevitable. Goddess, what was she supposed to do now? She couldnt just take a Shadatai to the Taivain. The change would be too sudden, too drastic. The Goddess only knew that he probably wasnt alone. The men with him tonight were almost certainly some of his mercenary troop. The women at the Taivain wouldnt be expecting one man much less a group of them. Raven finished undressing, climbed into bed and pulled her against his warm body. Caidi fought to keep from stiffening and pulling away from him. Just the fact that he was Shadatai made her nervous. She tried to keep herself calm and try to think. It would be some time before she found an opportunity to get the small, thin box that was concealed in her dress. He wasnt anywhere near content. His cock already pressed against her again, hard, demanding. With a sigh, Caidi decided that she might

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as well enjoy the one or two more chances she had to mate with him and use the time to find out just how much trouble she had gotten herself into this time. What were you doing here? Raven looked down at her, trailing his fingers across the slope of her breast. Caidi shrugged and kept her eyes on the markings on his chest, trying to ignore the zing of arousal and immediate hardening of her nipples in response to that light touch. I told you that I was looking for someone, but I had just decided that he wasnt here when you came up to me and stalked me into a corner. She looked up at him as if realizing now how strange that was. Do you live here? No, Raven laughed. He would never live in one of these crowded cities. This city isnt my type of place. At least, it isnt my type of place for long. What is your type of place? Where are you happy? Caidi stalled, trying to keep her wits about her, but it was a losing battle. Just the touch of his hand could drive her crazy. I like open spaces, not crowded cities. Raven leaned down, running his tongue over the skin of her shoulder. Why are you here, if you dont like this place? This little jaunt had gone wrong from the first. She just wondered why. Everything had been carefully planned. I came here because I had received news that a friend of mine was killed in this city. I needed to know if it was true and if justice had been served to the man or men who had killed him. Raven nibbled on the column of her neck enjoying the taste of her skin. Was the news true? Caidi could barely form a coherent thought. Tingling darts of wanton need shot through her with every scrape of his teeth, every nibble. Her eyes skimmed over his body. He had ink tattoos on his shoulders as well as his upper chest and arms. The markings on his chest and shoulders were symbols of some kind. The dark ink tattoos circled his massive forearm in a band. She ran her hand over his chest. His skin was hot, smooth. She inhaled. She loved his scent, the one beneath the arousal. Musky, male, it reminded her of the forest, of freedom. Yes. Raven moved up to give her a lingering kiss, nibbling at her lips hungrily. Before I saw you tonight, I couldnt wait for the morning to arrive. All I wanted to do was leave this pit. Your friend lived here? Caidis hand brushed across the bronzed skin of his chest to his corded stomach. Yes. Raven drew in a harsh breath as her hand wandered close to his cock. Sadness left his eyes as desire warmed them. He took her wandering hand and urged her to take his hardening length in her hand and grip him. He urged her hand up and down its length from base to the tip until she took over the movement on her own.

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While her hand was busy, his hands skimmed over her shoulders, throwing away the covering sheet with obvious impatience. She was beautiful. His eyes slid over her swollen lips down to her full, round breasts and farther to the golden triangle between her thighs. One of his hands slipped into the thatch of hair at her thighs, finding the sensitive hood of her clitoris and rubbing his fingers over that flesh in arousing circular movements. Her pussy was wet with her need. She rolled her hips as his stroking fingers fired her need. The other hand lifted, caressed and stroked her breasts lazily. He plucked at the hardening nipples with just the right amount of force to send zinging darts of hunger through her. He watched her red nipple poke up demandingly. Gods, he loved that quick hardening. She responded so readily to his touch. Caidi was startled when he took her hand away from his large, hard manhood. She could tell that he was enjoying her touch. His cock had hardened and lengthened as she stroked. He had thrust his hips up into her hand as she had stroked him, had groaned his pleasure when she had circled the tip with her thumb. His response had made her feel powerful, magical. He had seemed lost in the feelings. The hard staff had darkened, tiny drops of pre-cum beaded on the rounded tip. Idly, she wondered what he tasted like. I want to be inside of you, taneen, Raven growled, nipping at her earlobe. The endearment was only the truth. Cate was beautiful. Raven lifted her, settling her astride him but on his stomach, with that hard shaft nestled against her buttocks. His hand insinuated itself between his flat, hard-muscled abdomen and two of his fingers slid into the warm heat of her tight cunt while his thumb settled on her clit. His thumb stroked over that sensitive flesh as his fingers thrust into her and retreated. Caidi closed her eyes, her hips rocking against him in counterpoint to his thrusting fingers as she savored the pulsing heat each movement produced. It felt good, but she needed more. Lean down, Cate, Raven ordered, seeing that she followed his instructions with a tug on her arm. Caidi leaned forward, gasping as a burst of fiery longing rushed over her when the fingers within her touched something wonderful as she shifted position. He guided one of her breasts to his mouth, nibbling and flicking at the dangling nipple with his tongue before he enclosed the reddened flesh with his lips and sucked on it. Raven smiled as he felt her warm honey begin to cover his hand. She rocked against his hand, moaning and sighing as her excitement built. Her hands fisted in his hair. She was so sensual, so ready to try anything. He released the distended nipple on which he had lavished his attention and guided her slightly to the side so that he could pay equal attention to the other full, waiting globe. Caidis body trembled with the ecstasy pulsing through her. Ravens growling encouragement against her breast resonated through her, enhancing every sensation. She ground her pelvis against his hand as the pulling tug of his lips at her nipple

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threatened to rip her into pieces. The pressure of his thumb against her and the scissoring movement of the two fingers within her sent a white-hot bolt of pleasure to her core and threw her into a shuddering, moaning, arching climax. She soon discovered that was far from the end. His fingers kept stroking her, reigniting the fire within her, even as his lips continued to draw on her breast. The stroking of his fingers tightened the pulsing ball of desire within her once more. Soon, she was rocking her hips against his hand again, straining to reach yet another peak, to release the almost painful tension gripping her body. She panted, desperate. She clenched her hands into his hair, willing him not to stop. She wanted, ached. The feel of his fingers thrusting into her pussy drove her wild, right to the edge. He withdrew his hand from her, giving her clit a lingering stroke even as she moaned in protest of the movement. Raven released her breast and silenced the disappointed sound of protest with his talented lips as he lifted her and lowered her onto his hard shaft. He moaned as he felt her take his length, sheathe his cock in her slick cunt. He felt her skin stretching around him, gripping him in her tight, wet heat. Ride me, he urged in a rough, deep voice, his hands gripping her hips urging her into motion even as he tried to gain some control over his own needs. He was blade hard and more than ready to come, but he wanted her to find her pleasure once more. She gave so much and still there was more. Caidi lifted her hips, awkward at first, following the guiding pressure of his hands. As she lowered herself with slow deliberation, she closed her eyes at the ferocious delight she felt with each little movement. She could feel all of him and being in control of the pace seemed to enhance every sensation. Soon, she took over the motion on her own, rolling her hips, placing her hands on his wide, hard chest for leverage as she rode him. His fingers plucked and flicked at her nipples. He groaned at the fiery urgency caused by the clenching of her vaginal muscles as she raised and lowered herself on his hard cock. He wanted to thrust hard and fast into her, to ease his aching tension. He tried to concentrate on her pleasure. Satisfying her was more important than rushing to his climax. He reached between their bodies and stroked the hard bud between her thighs. She moaned and trembled, her hips moving faster, and the pace became frenzied as she reached for the bliss that she knew waited for her. He saw the startled look in her eyes as she reached her peak. He felt the grip of her inner muscles and arched his hips upward even as his hands clamped on her hips and pulled her to him, grinding her against him. He let out a loud roar as he came, filling her with his seed. Caidi was stunned, arching her back and squeezing her eyes closed, keening softly as a third climax washed over her before the second had truly faded. Waves of bliss radiated through her, seeming to grow, to intensify as they spread outward.

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Caidi collapsed on top of him, unable to hold herself up any longer. Still shaking, her skin slick with sweat, all she could think about was him, how hard his muscles were, how strong he was, how much she wanted him. She had no doubt now. Tonight had provided proof of the tales she had heard as a young girl. Male Zarain scent was an aphrodisiac. She thought about everything she had felt tonight as she lay against him. She knew that this extra orgasm was somehow triggered by his release, shared with her through a psychic link. This was one time where she wished she had more contact with those of her kind. She didnt know enough about Zarain males in general to know for certain, but she wondered if all male Zarain could cause their sexual partners to have an orgasm by having one of their own or if it was strictly a Shadatai ability. She had never heard of it before, but she and the rest of her pack stayed away from other shifters. It was safer that way.

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Chapter Three
The man beneath her groaned in satisfaction and cupped her buttocks in his big, calloused palms, hauling her close to him. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. She had to get out of here. If she had managed to find a Shadatai, then some of her pack-mates had probably found one as well. They had to leave this place. Zarain, even Shadatai Zarain, seldom traveled alone. This man had definitely not been alone. This night was already going to cause trouble. She could only hope that they would all be able to leave here. If even one of those large Shadatai escaped the second drugging, it would spell disaster. It would be almost impossible to take him down. Go to sleep. Raven closed his eyes, content for the moment, but he knew that he would want her again before dawn. Caidi kept her eyes closed, but sleep was far from her. She waited until his breathing had become even and deep. She waited for an opportunity to escape. Within moments, he was asleep and seemed unaware of her not insignificant weight upon him. When she was certain that he was asleep, she carefully removed his hands from her buttocks. Slowly, she lifted herself, raising her body, feeling his cock slide from her. What do you think that you are doing? Ravens eyes snapped open and his hands clamped on to her hips hauling her back down onto his body. Surely the woman didnt think that he was finished with her. Ive got to goumyou know, Caidi invented and dodged her eyes to the side, trying to hide the lie and appear shy of the big man under her when she really wanted to scream and hit him for being what he was, a very large complication in what had been an excellent plan. He was the kind of complication which would create a big, unavoidable problem in the near future. She hadnt realized how simple life had been until she had met him and realized just what he was. Raven chuckled. That door over there. He motioned to a door in the corner of the room. Caidi took the escape without comment and went to the lavatory. Oshiahs was one of the better inns, complete with good plumbing and hot and cold water. A real palace compared to some of the other inns in the city. She prayed that he would go back to sleep, but knew that that wouldnt happen. This man was an inveterate predator. He would never chance his prey slipping so easily from his grasp. He wouldnt make this easy for her. How long can I stay in here before he comes to get me? she wondered, trying to calm the nervousness that assailed her.

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She couldnt take the chance of him getting his hands on her again. He was too big, too strong to fight physically. She wouldnt have a chance against him. Once she was back in that bed, he would ensure she stayed there and if he caught her trying to drug him, he would want explanations. It wouldnt be a comfortable interview. She knew he was her mate. Caidi washed herself while she was in the bathroom and, when she suspected that she was running out of time, she opened the door and left the safety of the small room. She hesitated as she left the bathroom and walked over to her dress, picking it up from the floor as if she were going to fold it. Hanging her dress over the back of a highbacked chair, she palmed the small, flat box that she needed. While her back was to him, as she pretended to drape the fabric just so, she slipped a small metal pin from the box. Concealing it between two fingers and with a deep breath to gather courage, she turned to face him. He was awake and waiting for her. He had piled some of the pillows behind his back and reclined against the mound. He watched her, hunger burning in his eyes as she strolled toward him. This wasnt going to be easy. Come back to bed. Raven extended his hand to her. Knowing exactly what he was, the next part of her plan required untold bravery. Angering a Shadatai wasnt a healthy or wise pastime. She paced over to the side of the bed where he lounged. She stood there for a moment and then ran her hand across his chest, scratching it with the pin. She knew that the effects were almost instantaneous, but she still jumped back. He moved much too fast to underestimate. Conscious but paralyzed by the drug, he still looked formidable. The drug was temporary and lasted only a few hours, but it would let her escape him, at least for a time. By morning, he would be able to walk, talk and even the drug in the taverns liquor that had dulled his senses would have faded, with no lingering effects. He would be furious and looking for his mate. Im sorry, Caidi whispered, knowing that he would hear her. I cant stay. Im not who or what you think I am, any more than you were what I thought that I would find here. If I had known that you were Shadatai, that there were even Shadatai in the city, I wouldnt have ever gone near you or come here. You are Zarain. The thought seemed to pop into her head and she could hear his voice, but it was in her mind. She looked at him to make sure that the drug worked, that he didnt merely play with her. She would have no chance if he wasnt under the effect of that drug. That thought had been from him and, while normal Zarain had psychic abilities, telepathy wasnt one of those they had been blessed with. It must be a Shadatai ability. It made them even more impressive than she had thought. Caidi watched him warily, but nodded. You would figure it out on your own before too long, so I will tell you. I came here to find someone to father my child. Im not about to risk the safety of my people on an unknown.

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There will be no child. In his mind, Raven growled. I realize that I was probably unsuccessful in getting pregnant, even though I am in my fertile time. I remember hearing something in one of the stories about how a Shadatai can control if a woman becomes pregnant from his seed. She hoped to gain some time, maybe some sympathy. This man would follow her and she had to prepare her people for him, for the Shadatai. She didnt try to fool herself with the thought that he would be unable to find her. Somehow, he would find her. Things will be much better for you if you stay and face my wrath now. Dont make me hunt you. There was anger and determination in that mental suggestion. He would be even angrier when he found out that she was his mate. She was certain that wouldnt happen until the drug faded from his body. Right now, he just knew that she was a Zarain female whod drugged him. The drug which suppressed most of his sense of smell hid full knowledge from him. I never intended to make anyone angry. This was carefully planned. The kind of men, Zarain, who are supposed to be here are those that like city life and plan to remain living here. Your plan failedface the consequences now. Those men wouldnt want anything to do with my kind of life, with my people. Your kind wasnt supposed to be here. Caidi glared at him. All of their careful planning had been ruined by the presence of the Shadatai. We are here. Raven returned the glare, angered by the temerity of this woman. Why couldnt I sense you if you are truly Zarain? You were given a small dose of a drug to dull your senses. I told you we planned this. You will be fine. The drug will have worn off and your senses returned to their full strength before you are free from the drug that keeps you from coming after me now. Caidi sighed and shot him an unknowingly pleading look. There is more to this than your desire to leave and not be followed, isnt there? Clear suspicion was prevalent in the angry question. Dont bother to hunt me. You wont find me. Try fooling yourself. You played a game with someone who you should have stayed away from. Raven would have laughed at her anger if he could. Tell me why you do this. Find out for yourself when you are free from the drug. Caidi threw her hands up in frustration before she turned and stalked over to the chair. She pulled on her dress and began fastening it. You will be safe until morning. Everything in her rebelled against leaving him. Caidi wanted to stay beside him even when she knew he was angry. She put on her slippers and walked back to the door. Resolutely, she opened it a little, peering out the small gap to make sure that the hall was clear. With light steps, she slipped into the hallway, shut the door and slipped down the stairs to the tavern section of the inn. Caidi found Chey in the empty common room, sitting at a table.

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Run as far as you want. I am still with you. Ravens voice floated into her mind in a taunting, triumphant tone. Caidi stumbled to a halt and put a hand to her head. She had hoped that he wouldnt be able to do that after she had left the room. It was unnerving. She decided to ignore him as she thought about why she could still hear his thoughts. Maybe it was because she was still close to him. With luck, he wouldnt be able to do this after she had left the building. She didnt know what she would do if she traveled beyond this world and could still hear him. You will never guess what happened to me. Chey took a gulp of cider as Caidi sat in the chair opposite hers. It cant be as bad as what I discovered tonight. Caidi shook her head. She was certain that nothing could be as bad as what she discovered. You know that you enjoyed every moment with me, Ravens voice chided her with a deep, amused chuckle. Caidi propped her elbows on the table and dropped her head into her hands for a moment, wondering if she would survive this with her sanity intact. She could do without that male voice in her mind, laughing at something that had wrecked all of her plans. It was bad enough that she now had to think of a way to make the coming changes easier for her pack. Halfway through my first sexual experience, and it was hot until then, I discover that the man I am with isnt the mere alpha Feiral that I thought I had chosen to father my babe, but a Daclind Feiral. I swear to both the God and the Goddess that I was appalled, shaken, traumatized and more. Chey got to her feet and began pacing. I know just what you mean. Caidi shook her head in commiseration. Mine was a surprise I could have lived without, too. The man thought that he had hurt me, because I was so shocked at learning that horrid truth that I lost all desire to mate with him immediately. I tried to scramble off of the bed and flee, but he grabbed me. Chey paced back to the table and took a big gulp of the cider. After all of the planningthis. Never have I had a plan go this wrong, Caidi stormed. This fiasco was going to be life-changing for all of them. To top all of the indignities and bad news, I know that he is my true mate. Chey shot a fierce glare up at the ceiling. A Daclind, everyone knows that they are barbarians, throwbacks to a more violent, primitive time. Caidis lips twisted in a wry grimace. Shadatai Zarain and you know what else he is. Dont say my name, because the Shadatai have at least one unique ability that normal Zarain dont have. That damned man is still running around in my mind and I dont know if he can actually read my thoughts. Your mate, Ravens thought held a little awe at the discovery he had made, but anger outweighed the awe. Get your little ass up to this room and sit beside me on the bed while I wait for this drug to fade. I just may spank you for this.
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He could read her mind. Caidi tried to ignore his ranting as she poured herself a mug of ale. She looked over at Chey who was casting glances toward the stairs. Do you know how rare it is to just find your mate as you did? Men look for years and some never find the one woman meant to be theirs, yet you dont hesitate to leave when you know that you are mine. Ravens voice pounded into her head, angry, demanding. It was just supposed to be city men in this tavern. This is where they are supposed to gather and play. Everything that we know of the men in this city told us this. How is it that the fiercest of our kind are gathered here? Shocked incredulity laced Cheys question. I have been wondering that myself. I dont know anything except that the man I was with was here to see if one of his friends had died. Caidi shrugged, but the questions gnawed at her. We both know that these two groups would never make their home in a city full of humans, yet they are here at this inn. Your city pups are afraid of us. They didnt even offer a fight when we told them to leave, Raven explained in a gloating manner. Caidi felt like pacing, but refused to give in to the nervousness caused by that annoying man and this out of control situation. She needed to get out of here. There was so much work to be done now. They ran them off. That means that the others are with Cheys eyes again went to the ceiling and a horrified frown curved her lips. Them. Caidis appalled frown mirrored Cheys. She didnt like thinking about the women from her pack with the Shadatai and the risks involved. Hopefully, this situation wouldnt end in disaster. Chey growled low in her throat. Do you think that we should go check on them? Maybe the Shadatai can communicate with each other like he is talking to you. If he can, your women could be in some trouble. If he can talk to his men, we are all already in deep trouble. If more than two of his men get free, there is no way that even all of us could take them down. They are incredibly fast, even for shifters. Caidi sent a worried look toward the stairs and then the tavern doors. There were probably more than the five or six men that she had seen and others scattered around the city. Goddess, she hoped she could get out of here before other Shadatai arrived. Caidi heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs in a hurry. She sprang to her feet, looked up at the stairwell and tensed in readiness as she waited for the person or persons to come into sight. She sighed as she saw all seven of her Zarain pack-mates come down the stairs, unescorted by men, safe. I dont know what happened tonight, Acine, but something definitely went wrong, Dari Reshal reported as they crowded around the table, all of them looking a little shaken.

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What went wrong? Caidi frowned at her pack-mates, wanting the full story. Tami, Viki and Sera had no trouble subduing their men, but Marissa, Lani, Kaela and I had more than a little trouble. The man almost drugged me. The men seemed to be expecting it when we tried to scratch them. Daris lips twisted and her expression conveyed stunned perplexity. Dont worry about it. It wasnt your fault. Caidi strongly suspected that Raven had been in contact with his men. We know they are all Shadatai, but that doesnt explain why some of them seemed prepared when we tried to drug them. It was also very strange that three of usTami, Marissa and Iactually found and paired with a man who is our mate. When we went to the other rooms to help, Lani and Sera recognized their mates during the struggle to drug the men and get away. So many of us finding a mate here is very strange. Viki took a seat at the table. The Shadatai seem to be able to communicate telepathically. Their alpha probably warned them. He has been curiously, blessedly silent for a while. He was with me in my thoughts until recently. It is a relief not to have to watch my every word, Caidi explained. Go on. Give them the bad news, Acine. Tell them that we will find you. Even you dont doubt that. Tell them that you found your mate, but that not one of you will find herself pregnant from this night, Ravens voice taunted as it rang in her head. Caidi actually felt the moment he reentered her mind. It felt almost like a wave of dizziness. She didnt like the sensation. The lack of privacy was irritating, unacceptable. Get out of my head! Caidi clamped her hands to her head as his laughter seemed to pour over her. Acine, are you all right? Marissa strode forward and placed her hand on Caidis arm, concerned over her Acines unexplained behavior. No, Im not all right. Caidi sighed and took some calming breaths. That Shadatai is still in my head. This whole thing has been a waste, a disaster. Not one of us will become pregnant and those men will come after us. I, too, found my mate, a most annoying alpha male. Go, Chey urged. My women wont have as much trouble as you did. The Daclind arent psychically connected like that. Are you sure that you will be all right, that you can escape easily? Caidi asked. We can stay until your women come down. Go on. I didnt need a Zarain escort to get here. I can get home without it just as easily. Chey laughed, waving them away. You have bigger problems than I do. Those Shadatai are going to hunt you and I dont doubt that they will find you. And you think that the Daclind male you found will be inclined to simply let you disappear? With an arched brow, Caidi shrugged, more concerned than she would

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admit about that last part of Cheys prediction. Well go. Ill see you when you get time to come visit me at the Taivain. I will see you soon. I imagine we will have plenty to discuss. Chey gave a farewell wave as they turned to leave. Caidi and her pack-mates left the tavern almost at a run. They hurried back to their inn, changed clothing, put on the mina stones and shouldered their bags. Not wanting to take any chances, she had all of the others do all of the talking with the gatekeepers while they were in the large, dimly lit travel-gatehouses. She kept herself away from them so that she wouldnt hear the gatekeeper confirm their destination even though she knew every step that would be required on the journey. If the Shadatai was still with her, she didnt want to give him any information that could lead to him finding her. She would need all of the time that she could get to prepare her pack. Lying up in the bedroom, unable to follow and feeling the connection growing weaker with every step she took away from him, Raven wasnt amused by her behavior. Anger and annoyance boiled through him that she had so easily escaped. The men that he had called from their pleasures at another of this citys inns hadnt been able to catch her. They had briefly sensed a group of Zarain women, but then lost them. The woman was good. He admired her boldness even as he longed to temper it. She was a true alpha female, a worthy match, determined and far too used to getting her way. Although anger still pulsed through him, he knew that any woman who could do that would soon steal his heart. The risks she had taken astounded him. She had taken many chances by setting this up when she believed that she was dealing with city shifters. It wasnt only shifters that she should have feared. There were other men who would love to get their hands on a beautiful female shifter. Slavers were the most notorious of those who hunted shifters. Males were generally used for hard labor while females were sought as sex slaves. When she discovered that she had found her mate, everything should have changed, yet she continued with her plan. A growl rolled through him. The woman would walk away from him when she was his mate? He wouldnt let that happen. He would find her. Her friend was still down in the tavern. If he caught her He wanted to take Cate over his knee and teach her some manners. Zarain women didnt go from world to world looking for likely fathers for their babies and when a woman found her mate, she stayed with him. It was obvious that there was no Achan in her life, no older male relative or widowed alpha male, to help with the running of the pack. As pack leader, the Achan would have put a stop to this little jaunt. A male influence might have taught her some consideration of just how lucky she had been to find her mate.

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Even if she hadnt been his mate, Raven would have detained her and her packmates. Zarain females were few and precious. Every female Zarain was mate to some male Zarain and while she was on her own, it would be difficult for him to find her.

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Chapter Four
When they arrived on Carait, Caidi longed for nothing more than her own bed, but it was nine days travel to the Taivain, her home, from the primary travel-gate. She hadnt heard any laughter or taunts from her Shadatai mate since they had left the inn. With a fervent prayer to the Goddess that he had lost contact with her when she left the planet, she basked in the silence and hoped he couldnt contact her now. With the silence, she could focus on what had to be done. She took the silence as a blessed respite from the disturbing sensation of knowing that someone was in her mind. Caidi wasnt fooled by the silence or grasping any false hopes. She would see the man again and he would probably be standing at the gates, demanding entrance. She gazed at the thick forest as they traveled. She tried to let the beauty around her and the familiar smells soothe the tension that had driven her since shed left that tavern. She loved this areathe thick forest, the rich soil, the abundant wildlife, the lakes and streams. It was part of her. When she arrived home, Caidi informed her pack of the disaster that had occurred on Mijohin. They needed to know and be prepared for the coming change. All of the women knew about the reputation held by the Shadatai, but the reality was something different. There were some hopes that the remote location of Carait and their Taivain might shield them and keep the Shadatai from finding them. Caidi didnt hold any hopes about that. Raven would come. Somehow, he would find her. It was only a matter of time. There was a change coming to this pack whether they wanted it or not.

*****
Caidi once again headed for Mijohin some four weeks after she had left Raven and had returned to Carait and the Taivain. She had received word that Chey and the women who had accompanied her had never returned home. Caidi had known when she had left the inn that night that there was a possibility that there might be more Shadatai, that Raven could call for aid. It had been one of her greatest fears, but she hadnt wanted to offend Chey or her position by being overprotective. Along with eight Feiral women and eight of her best Zarain hunters and fighters, she would try to free Chey. She was all too aware that she would likely be facing the combined resources of the Shadatai Zarain and the Daclind Feiral. There would be a trap waiting for the unwary or anxious to step into it. She could only hope that she

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would find a way to get Chey without stumbling into their clutches, although it would only be a short reprieve from the inevitable. At the gatehouse on Carait, Caidi chose one of the lesser used worlds that the gate would reach. It would take them along a path that would give them access to a forgotten gate on Mijohin. The journey would take some time as they couldnt use known routes. Just to get to Mijohin required seven days of travel. On Mijohin, they traveled overland to Inar, the primary gate city. The trek took almost eight full days. They found a safe place deep in the forest that thrived on three sides of the city to wait for night to fall. Caidi left most of the group there and took two of her pack-matesBrinna and Dariwith her into the city. On the outskirts of the city, Caidi located the little brown brick house of one of her contacts. It belonged to one of the women who worked at Oshiahs Tavern. Her loyalty and knowledge could be bought. It was early in the morning, long before most people would be stirring from their beds when Caidi knocked on the door of the womans house. After some time, the door swung open and the woman stared and then rushed the group of women inside her house, looking around to see that they hadnt been followed. What are you doing back here so soon? Things have been in an uproar since you left. The owner of the inn has been raging around, trying to figure out how his liquor was drugged. Some of those men from the inn that night are still around. They seem to be waiting for something. Devorah shut the door. You are safe, Devorah? Your position at the tavern is secure? Caidi asked. Yes, I am safe. I have no access to the liquors, so Im not even looked at suspiciously, Devorah assured her with ease. Caidi nodded and paced a couple steps. These men who are still around, do they watch anything specifically or do they merely watch the patrons? Devorah frowned. You know, it is strange. All day, those men will watch a piece of recha parchment that one of the men hung on the wall with a blade. One of them is always watching it. Caidis eyes locked on to Devorah. Have you heard anything as you have worked in the tavern? Have they talked? They are planning to do something, maybe steal something. I have heard them talking about how secure something is. I heard something about how it would be almost impossible to slip unseen into it, Devorah related with a shrug. This thing, did you hear them call it a name? Caidi asked, curious. Yeah, they said all those things and called the place Avalin. Do you think that you could get that parchment without them knowing of it? Caidi watched the woman to ensure that she was certain. She didnt want her to be caught doing this.

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Of course. Devorah smiled with complete assurance. I have to help clean up and I clean the tavern part after all of the patrons have gone. I am always alone. It wont be a problem. One of these two women will return in two days for the parchment, Caidi informed her. I will give it to her, Devorah promised. Caidi nodded. She and her two pack-mates left and slipped out of the city unnoticed. The camp was in a cave deep in the forest, far enough to the back of the cave to ensure that the fire wouldnt be seen by someone who happened to come near the cave. The two women who had gone with Caidi took a seat against the wall of the cave. Caidi gathered her things in silence as those around her watched and waited for instructions. Stay here until you get that parchment from Devorah. When you have it, begin the journey to Askara. The men spoke the truth about Avalin. The nearest city to the gate on Askara, it is reputed to be impossible for a shifter to enter without the rulers knowledge. How are we going to rescue them? Where do you want to meet us? Brinna asked. Dont step one foot near the gate to Askara until I reach you. I will meet you at the secondary gatehouse on Falash, the world before Askara. Caidi adjusted the strap of her bag. How will we find the hidden gates that lead to Askara? Carisa asked. She was Feiral and not as well-versed in some of the gates as the Zarain women were. There is only one travel-gate to Askara. The others have been sealed, buried. We will have to go through the primary gate. It makes getting there without detection a little difficult. Caidi said with a shrug. I will have something to help us accomplish that when I meet you. Should you go alone, Acine? Mari, one of Caidis best hunters, asked. You are one of the ones that they will be looking for. I will be fine. They wont be looking for me where Im going. In fact, I would be surprised if I encountered another shifter on the journey there, Caidi assured them. Get that parchment and leave for Falash as soon as possible. Caidi had no qualms about leaving them. They would work together. The Feiral were accustomed to cooperative missions just as her Zarain were. No one would do anything foolish in her absence.

*****
On her journey through several rarely visited worlds, Caidi acquired the crystals she would need to shield the Feiral traveling with her from detection by another shifter or other being capable of detecting them. She and her Zarain pack-mates had their own crystals, but hadnt had any extra stones. At a stall in the market on the lush but hot and

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humid planet of Vieli, she also bought the ingredients for a special lotion. The lotion was another of the valuable secrets passed to her by her mother that might enable her to fool her shifter adversaries. With that lotion, they would be able to be near other shifters without their scent revealing their deception. It was near midday ten days later when she arrived on Falash, the world before Askara. The gatehouse was well kept, but not guarded. She noticed that there was a line of people waiting to use the gate. Her eyes swept along the wall and found Mari waiting for her. Mari nodded and led the way out of the gatehouse and into the gate city, a bustling hub of activity. On their way through the market, Caidi bought a few more herbs, plants and roots. Mari took Caidi to their camp located in the craggy rocks outside the city which was perched halfway up a mountain. The air was chill and damp. Few trees grew here. The ground was too rocky, the soil too poor. They were sheltering in another cave while they waited for Caidi to arrive and to begin the journey toward the main gate on Falash which connected to Askara. That gate was located in the city of Herrool. They wouldnt go closer to Askara until she had more information on just what type of trap they were setting. Caidi put her bags next to the wall and walked over to join the others. Did you see anything strange on your way here? Caidi asked as she sat and accepted a mug of aiska tea. Nothing. If they know about these less-used routes, they arent guarding them, Viki said with an easy smile. Caidi stretched her feet out before her. If they arent watching these gates, they are probably only watching the gate on Askara. You have the missive they left in the tavern? Brinna snorted derisively as she dug in her bag. Missiveits a demand for your surrender, nothing less, Acine. She handed the folded sheet to Caidi. Caidi silently read the aggressive script. It was addressed to Cate. It demanded that she accompany the two men left to watch the note and face her future with dignity. The following morning, they began the walk to the main gate on Falash. They had descended from the mountain area and onto the broad plains. The temperature didnt improve much as they crossed the grasslands. Herrool was a sprawling group of lowslung buildings and boasted a thriving market square. They made camp outside the city in a small cave theyd dug themselves as they couldnt risk going into Herrool. There were things to be done before they could even attempt to go to Askara. She gave a crystal to each of the Feiral and instructed them on the use. Up to this point, they hadnt gotten close enough to be sensed by any of the Feiral or Zarain men. Here, the risk of coming into contact with a shifter was too large to chance going without them. Some of us will temporarily be altering our appearance. They know what we look like, Caidi said, pouring some water into a pan. Then we need to find some legitimate reason to be on Askara. We cant risk being too obvious and just go there. Women dont regularly go to that planet alone.

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Ill go scout some of the taverns. See if I can find someone going to Askara and a way for us to go as well, Brinna volunteered. Go, but be careful, Caidi said. Make sure your stone is against your skin and stay away from any Zarain or Feiral. You know the stones limits. Dont take any chances. Brinna nodded and smiled as she patted the stone that hung on a cord around her neck. Ill keep alert. Caidi began to prepare the herbs, roots and plants to make the hair colorants. She wanted to be as certain as she could be that she and the other two whom the Zarain had seen were unrecognizable just in case any of the men who knew them chanced to be on Askara. She knew that she did have some limitations. All of the women in her Zarain pack had light-colored hair and skin. Even if she could manage to mix a believable black dye, none of them could wear it convincingly with their colorings. Brinna came back to the cave just as Dari was finishing applying the red coloring to Caidis hair. Brinna look shocked, dazed, and Caidi knew that it wasnt from the change effected by the hair colorant. With the way things had been going so far, there was yet another complication in this mission. Brinna stopped a few feet away from the group of women who were sitting around the fire, admiring the effects of the colorant on Dari and Viki. There is no need to mount a rescue, Brinna said in a flat tone. What do you mean? Caidi asked, confused by the statement. She didnt move as Dari applied a light coat of colorant to her eyebrows. The Feiral women arent on Askara. They are hereat least five of them are here in Herrool. Chey and the others are in the taverns scattered around the city. They arent exactly surrounded by guards. Brinnas dry condemning voice rolled over those in the cave. What do you mean? Caidi shot Brinna a hard look. She wasnt in the mood for puzzles. I saw and sensed only them and the one man with them. They arent carefully watched. I saw the man walk away from each of them several times and not one of them tried to run. Brinna narrowed her eyes. Never had she expected a twist such as this. Are you certain? Caidi held very still with difficulty. Why were a few of the women here? Where were the others? I walked the streets for a while and couldnt sense any other Feiral or Zarain in the city, Brinna said. If they know how to hide themselves like we do, I might have missed a Feiral if I saw him, but I know that I wouldnt miss one of those Shadatai Zarain. They are just too big to miss. Its the mate thing, Caidi said with a sigh, but I cant believe that she would be a part of a plan made to trap me.

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How can you be so calm about it, Acine? Carisa asked. I am Feiral and I dont understand how she could give in so easily to a male Feiral. She probably told him where the Haven is located, giving us in to the rule of the Daclind without a qualm. She has found her mate, her Anail, in your language. The pull is fierce. It was hard for me to leave Raventhat Shadataieven though I knew that if I stayed with him, the lives of my entire pack would be changed much too abruptly to make it an easy transition. The Shadatai control everything. Caidi drew in a shaky breath. The possibilities running through her mind stirred primitive needs to defend, to protect what was hers. We know that, but Carisa frowned. Your Natine has been with her man for weeks. It is impossible to keep a part of yourself from your mate for very long in normal circumstances. Instinctively, she will trust him with her life. Trusting him with the fate of her pack wouldnt be far behind, Caidi explained with a frown. How can she trust him? She doesnt know him. Carisa looked at Caidi. It isnt a conscious decision. This is one thing that you have no chance of preventing from happening. Your mind may tell you that you dont know him, but your instincts tell you that he is part of you. The feelings, the connection, even after a short meeting, were hard to describe. If she told him of the Haven, she probably told him that you live on the same planet, not far from the Haven, Carisa said. Thats why I am going to talk with her tonight. I want to know exactly how talkative she has been with her new mate and how much of it reached Ravens ears, Caidi clarified as she waited for Dari to finish with her hair. I need to know what to expect when we return home. Caidi stood when Dari had finished and settled against the wall. She had gathered her weapons, but she tried to calm herself. The thought of Cheyor even her Daclind mategiving Raven, that Shadatai, the location of the Taivain infuriated her. If that had happened, Chey would have put both the Shadatai and the women of Caidis pack at risk. Caidi didnt fear that the Daclind and Shadatai would become enemies. They were probably already allies or at least knew each other. Her concerns were far more immediate. A strange group of Zarain would arrive at the Taivain and the possibility of a battle was high. The women of the Taivain were accustomed to defending what was theirs. She chose Brinna and Dari to accompany her on this fact-finding mission. With the intention of getting her answers, she waited until deep into the night to enter the city. They made their way through the silent, deserted streets, blending into the shadows of the sprawling buildings, to the inn where Brinna had seen Chey. Brinna was right. Unless the others were shielding their presence, there were very few shifters in this city. They entered the quiet, darkened inn unnoticed. The locked door that stood in their way hadnt slowed them long. Everyone was sleeping. Using their higher senses, they

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located the one room in the inn that housed two Feiral. They were both asleep, but all three of the Zarain females knew that they wouldnt sleep past the doors opening. The three women had their weapons drawn, ready. They held hand darts coated with a powerful sedative which could be thrown with accuracy before either of the rooms sleepy occupants could grab a weapon. The three women swooped into the room in a silent rush. Their sensitive night eyes were able to see the two people on the bed clearly. The larger figure turned to grab his weapon from the bedside table even as they moved forward. Dont bother, Caidi said in a hard, warning growl. I would just have to dart you and if you behave, you can remain quite lucid throughout this little interview. Why dont you light the lamp? Just dont be stupid enough to try to pick up your weapon. I am not in a tolerant mood. Is that you, Caidi? Cheys voice came from the darkness, filled with disbelief. But you are supposed to be The light flared. The large red-haired Feiral straightened away from the small table and leaned back against the dark wood of the headboard while Chey clutched the sheet to her chest. She looked a little guilty and a lot embarrassed. I am supposed to be walking into a trap that you helped set, Caidi supplied with narrowed eyes. By the way, eight of your women would have walked into it with me, had I fallen for it. Your people were concerned enough to send some Feiral with me. While the betrayal doesnt seem like the Chey I knew, I have to wonder what else you told him. The Feiral male laced his hands behind his head. She has no secrets from me. Why cant I sense you as a Zarain? Its a secret passed to the Acine of her clan. Chey brushed her hand in a soft caress over his chest and gazed up at him with trusting eyes. Only she knows what to do to achieve it. I dont care if she told you her secrets, every detail of her life. That is her business. Caidis curt tone cut through the intimacy of the moment. She didnt have time for their cuddling. Did you tell him where my pack lives? Is there a group of Shadatai going toward my home, my people? Did you tell the man exactly how to get to the Taivain? Chey swallowed in sudden nervousness at the quiet, lethal tone of her friends voice. She had heard it before, but never directed toward her. I told him. He told the Shadatai. Did the Shadatai Raven send or lead a group of his men to my home? This time Caidi directed her question to the male. Yes. The Feirals reply was simple. Rioche! Caidi swung away from the two people in the bed, her hands fisted at her sides. What would Raven do if he was attacked by the women of her pack? She stared hard at a wooden chair, taking deep breaths to calm herself, to regain control of the anger that surged through her.
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You couldnt have thought to escape him. Chey looked at Caidi and shrugged as if the futility of the situation mitigated her actions. The chair slammed into the wall, crushed into splinters and kindling by the force of the psychic shove. Caidi was on the verge of losing complete control and attacking someone she had thought of as friend and ally until very recently. Have you lost every bit of the intelligence I once credited you with having? Caidi spun to face them. She glared at the two people who didnt grasp the severity of the situation. It is isnt about escaping him or even delaying him. I knew that he would find me sooner or later. We travel too much to prevent that. You have endangered my pack and sent the Shadatai men into peril as well. I thought you knew my pack better than that, Chey. What do you mean? The males eyes widened in alarm and he sat up straight. Do you think that it will be the first time that someone has come to our Taivain, trying to rob us or take over the pack? Outlaws, rogues and humans have all tried and failed. Tell him what we did to them, Chey. Tell him why it has been a long time since even the stray male has wandered near us. Caidis eyes were narrowed as she gave the order to her friend. Chey paled as she remembered those other instances. They fought, killed all of the men who were trying to hurt them. No one ever left to tell of their location or report the loss. But the Shadatai dont want to hurt you, Caidi. Raven is your mate, the rightful Achan. How are my people supposed to know that they are safe when a group of Shadatai Zarain suddenly appear at the gates? They wont even know that the men are Shadatai. They will know them merely as Zarain. Caidi slashed her hand through the air. The sheer helplessness burning through her infuriated her. She couldnt do a thing to help them. Caidi, I didnt Cheys lips trembled and her mate hugged her closer to him. My people will do as we have done to protect our home time after time. They will attack and the Shadatai will respond. If one of my people is hurt because of your stupidity, I will kill you. Caidis eyes narrowed as she made the promise. Caidi led her two pack-mates out of the room. They left the inn and the city with all haste. They had to get back to the cave and catch a little sleep. The next morning, they began the journey back home. They took the unknown gates to make it difficult for someone to follow them should they try.

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Chapter Five
Caidi was still fuming days later when they stepped from the gate onto Carait. Her anger was fueled by anxiety, the fear of what could happen if the Shadatai took the Taivain by force. She wanted to get home, to find out what had happened. The Feiral women split from the group, returning to their home to inform their pack of Cheys decision and Caidis coming return, and the arrival of the Daclind. Caidi had dumped the lotion days ago, hurling it into a river. The Feiral women had returned the crystals and she had hidden the stones, even the ones she and her pack-mates had worn, under a false lining in her bag. She and the eight hunters that she had taken with her began the journey to the Taivain after the Feiral had left. She had to make sure that her pack was safe, that they had hadnt been hurt by the Shadatai when the Shadatai had tried to take over the Taivain. There was wasnt a doubt in her mind that they had done it by one means or another. The urge to take care of her people went so deep that she wasnt sure if it was habit or instinct. It was the only thing that mattered right now. The group of nine women completed half of the journey in less than three days, pushing themselves from sunup until after darkness had fallen. Every night, they wearily made camp amid the trees and slept. It was a routine that they would sustain as long as necessary. The full trek to the Taivain took them five and a half days. They were all anxious to find out what had happened when the Shadatai had arrived. The Taivain was a large complex of gray stone buildings surrounded by a thick, high wall. It had been considered a gift from the Goddess when Caidis mother had found it, because of its size, location and defensibility. There were two living area buildings, one much larger than the other. Also enclosed within the walls were buildings for weaving and making ale and wine, stables and assorted storage buildings. Boasting over two hundred bedrooms, the smaller living area was the one which the pack used. The larger building dwarfed the small complex. All of the buildings had running water and the two living complexes had hot as well as cold running water, courtesy of reservoirs behind the fireplaces in the main rooms and kitchen. The residence buildings also housed two communal bathing areas, a luxury the women appreciated. Near midday when they cleared the tree line and stepped onto the grassy field in front of the Taivain, they caught their first sight of the gates and the pale gray walls which surrounded the large complex. At that first glimpse, Caidi knew that something had changed since she had left. The large metal gates were wide open. She had given an order long ago that they were never to be left open. If she had hadnt noticed that, the dark shapes walking along the wall walk would have made her aware of the change.

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Those werent female guards. The broad shoulders, dark clothing and dark hair were definitely male. The womens steps faltered for a single moment and then they continued toward the gate. Caidi had wondered if she would find her home still under siege. She had her answer. The Shadatai were already inside. Nothing could change that. The question remained as to exactly how they had gotten inside her home and if anyone had been hurt in the attempt to stop them. She had been serious when she had told Chey she would kill her. Her pack was everything to her and she valued every woman who was part of it. Men appeared at the gates as the women neared it. They all had swords hanging from their belts, but the blades remained in their sheaths, the men unthreatening. The large men didnt block their path or try to detain them. Caidi allowed her hunters to enter the walls first and then followed as was custom. Caidi scanned the large open area near the gates. There were a lot of men here, probably over a hundred men within the walls or out hunting. Caidi could see at least fifty. It wasnt unusual for a male pack that had no home to have a hundred or more members. There was strength in numbers. She walked toward the imposing mass of the gray stone main buildings. She could already see some changes in the way things were done. There were more women within the walls today than there would normally be. Usually most of the women would be out hunting or exploring. Go bathe. Get some rest, Caidi ordered her travel mates. They nodded and left without a word. Caidi continued forward toward a group of women clustered near one of the storage buildings, uncomfortably aware that two of the large men were trailing a few steps behind her. She saw Kaela there and knew that Kaela would be able to tell her what had happened when the Shadatai had taken the Taivain. Kaela was one of the women that Caidi trusted to watch over the Taivain in her absence. What happened? Caidi stared at Kaela, watching her face, reading her body language. Kaela wouldnt need any prompting about the subject of her question. From some of their expressions, the women hadnt quite gotten accustomed to having males among them. We woke up one morning and they were already inside, the gates thrown wide. There has been a steady flow of men, animals and equipment arriving since then. Kaela gave an I-dont-know-how-it-happened shrug and blushed. The night guards? Caidi looked toward the watch towers. The women left on watch wouldnt have simply let the men walk into the Taivain. She wondered why an alarm had hadnt been sounded. Drugged, but unhurt, Acine, Kaela reported.

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Was anyone hurt the next day, any fights with the men? Caidi was aware that several of her people wouldnt have accepted such an easy defeat. No, there was nothing that we could do. It was all over before any of us woke. They outnumbered us even then. Kaela dropped her head as heat rushed up her cheeks. How did they outnumber you? Caidi was unsure of their numbers, but there should have been well over a hundred women here. Vena had taken some women with her to guard the trade goods, you know. I dont know how we didnt spot or feel them before they came that close to us. We were secure when we went to bed and the next morning, they were there and wondering when we broke the nights fast. Kaela rolled her eyes as she said the last part. Acine, you have to do something, tell them that they are wrong. They say that we cant trade with the Bavaok anymore. Senna rushed over to Caidi. Caidi frowned in confusion as she turned her head to the petite blonde woman who had stopped just short of running into her. What? She was truly incredulous. The Bavaok were some of their best customers. They bought much of the cloth that the women made. It made no sense to stop trading with them. I am sure that the Achan will tell her everything. A male voice smoothly inserted the comment from behind Caidi. They have moved everything around and didnt ask if we wanted to be moved, Senna grumbled, her hands flinging wide to encompass all of the visible changes. Its impossible to find anything and the men are always getting in the way. Stop whining. He laughed and sent an arrogant smile toward Senna. You will get used to the way things are done. Caidi had the feeling that she was in the middle of a private battle between the black-haired warrior and the petite Senna. I am going to bathe and change. After I finish, I will find theman and get some answers. She turned and began walking toward the smaller living building. His title is Achan. Youll get used to saying it. The warriors voice was gratingly cheerful as he stepped in front of her, blocking her path. Get out of my way, Caidi snarled. She had had about as much of this as she could take right now. She needed to relax, away from anyone male. Your old room was in that building. It is no longer yours. Your things were moved to the larger building. I will take you to your new room, Acine. The warrior seemed to know that her temper was uncertain at this point and spoke in a calm voice. A low growl rumbled in her throat. Where are my things? If you will come with me, you can settle into your new room, bathe and change. Everything is waiting for you there. The warrior took a step, but turned back when she didnt follow.

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Caidi took a deep breath, a necessary one to calm her temper which was chancy because of the days of worry about her pack. She reminded herself that the man before her wasnt the one who was the cause of all of these problems. That man, the man already claiming the title of Achan, was around somewhere and as soon as she was clean and properly clothed, she would find the damned Shadatai man and get some answers. The warrior led her into the large living complex. That caused her to raise her eyebrows. There hadnt been enough people here to use this building before. It would have taken too much wood to heat it in the winter and they wouldnt have filled even a quarter of the building. Apparently, the new Achan knew something she didnt. She knew that they had used only ninety-five of the rooms in the smaller living complex and that included those used for communal gathering and the library, but then even the smaller complex was large by most standards. As Caidi followed the warrior through the large building, she knew for certain that the Shadatai had been here for a while. The white and gray marble floors of this complex gleamed. The walls had been cleaned of the dirt that collected during the years of neglect. Furniture had been moved into the proper rooms. Tapestries hung on the wall. The lumi-roc on the walls was uncovered and providing ample light as they passed through the hallways. Caidi wasnt too surprised when the warrior led her to the stairway leading below ground level. The Shadatai Achan would want his quarters to be in the most secure part of the building. She didnt fool herself that they had moved her things to another room and she would be allowed to be alone there. Her belongings had been put with Ravens in his room. She knew that he was her mate. He knew that she was his mate. A sniff of the bedding the following morning would have assured him that it was true. Her scent would have still clung to the mattress and to his body. The warrior stopped before a door and gestured to it. Caidi opened the polished, heavy, solid wood door and entered the room. It was very large. Caidi had only been in this building once or twice, but she knew that there hadnt been a bedroom this large anywhere else in this building. The bedchambers in both of the living complexes tended to be small, utilitarian. Space and grandeur in this complex had been reserved for common areas where everyone could see and appreciate it. Lamps and candles gave some of the light in the large room, but most of it came from the lumi-roc panels on the wall. The rock gave off a steady light without producing heat or a glare to irritate sensitive shifter eyes. The marble floor gleamed in the light, but was covered in spots by richly colored woven rugs and fur throws. The bed hadnt been here before. It was large and occupied the center of one wall. It had a large, ornately carved, wooden headboard. The sheer size of it was astounding. She had never seen a bed that big. It was covered in an intriguing mixture of rich fabrics, most in shades of green, and furs. Looking away from the bed, Caidi saw a

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round table near the large fireplace. The chairs were cushioned and large, made for comfortable, intimate dining. Caidi moved farther into the room, curious about the changes they had made to the room. A partition wall provided a shield to one section of the room. She walked behind it and found a large, round, sunken cream-colored tub that would hold at least four people as long as they werent large Shadatai warriors. Farther back, she noticed toilet facilities. Also, behind the partition, a large, open closet with rows of shelves and pegs had been fashioned. From all of this, she gathered that the new Achan liked open space and private luxury. Caidi smiled. She never would have guessed that the big, rough Shadatai male would want such opulence. There were toilet chambers on each floor, at least two per floor. All that was required was to walk to them. As well, the large bathing pools were filled with warm water just waiting to be used. This private tub wasnt necessary. Caidi intended to bathe in one of the pools. She had to hurry before the Achan arrived while she was still covered with trail dust. She needed to bathe in those communal pools, to savor the company of her friends and calm herself after days of worry and a hectic arrival. If she stayed in this room, surrounded by reminders of just how much Raven had already changed things, she would only become angrier than she already was. She found her things on the shelves, just opposite of large masculine clothing, much of it black, brown or white. Caidi unloaded her bag, leaving the crystals hidden in the bag. She would have to find someplace more secure to hide them later. She placed the bag under the lowest shelf. She chose a dress that she liked and knew would improve her mood if the bath didnt. When she wore it, she always felt better, more in control. It was black with gauzy, long flowing sleeves, a high collar, a tight bodice, fitted waist and a full, silky skirt which fell in folds to her ankles. It fastened at the neck and at the small of her back, leaving an oval of skin from the base of her neck to the curving dip of her back on display. She grabbed a pair of black cloth slippers. Gathering her soaps, a sponge and a large toweling sheet into her arms, she turned and walked to the door. Grabbing the handle, she gave an impatient tug and was surprised when it wouldnt open. With an impatient huff, Caidi banged on the door with her foot. They had locked her in the room. This was really too much. She wasnt going to leave the Taivain. She had just pushed herself, nearly to exhaustion, to get here. Let me out! The Achan has ordered that you are to bathe in your room, Acine, and await his arrival. He will be here soon, the warrior guarding the door stated loudly when she stopped kicking the door. I dont want to bathe in here. Let me out. Caidi knew that she didnt yet have any authority over the man.

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I cant disobey the Achans orders, Acine. You must wait until he arrives to talk to him about your wishes. The warriors tone was utterly patient. Caidi growled low in her throat and kicked the door, wishing that the Achan was in front of her right now. She knew what she would kick next. She had options. As thick as the door was, she could probably get through it. However, even if she managed to get through the solid door, she would then face the problem of getting through the Shadatai man who would stand in her path. That would be a real challenge. All in all, it would cause too much trouble, be too much trouble to leave the room right now. Angrier now than when she arrived, she knew that it wasnt going to get any better, especially with the threat of her chalons, her mates, imminent arrival. She had wanted to be calm, to have all of her thoughts in order before the inquisition began. She had lived with fear for her people for over seventeen days and it had now transformed into a fury unlike any she had ever felt. She had wanted to use the time among her friends to soothe those raw emotions with the very real proof that everyone was safe. Now, she just wanted to get her hands on that man.

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Chapter Six
Caidi turned and stalked over to the sunken tub behind that partition. She might as well take a bath. That might take away some of the tension from her body. She would rather be out of the bath and clean when he came, than pacing around the room waiting for him, still covered in dirt and sweat from her journey. She flipped the levers until she discovered which one closed the drain on the tub and the one that allowed the warm water to tumble into the tub from a carved marble head. She walked into the closet and found a stool. She carried it to a wall near the pool and placed her clothing on it, the toweling sheet on top of them and her slippers on the floor. She put the soap and sponge down near the edge of the tub and undressed. She stepped into the water, sat and leaned back against the smooth, rounded edge of the tub. It was built to accommodate a giant. Caidi felt a little lost in the tub that had been designed for a couples intimate bathing pleasure. There was so much room in it that she felt like a child, sitting alone in the big thing. She turned and picked up her sponge and the cake of soap off the floor. She turned her attention to getting clean and getting out of this room as soon as possible. She didnt fool herself that Raven would be a happy man when he arrived. She wanted to be in a position where she at least had the hope of being able to walk out of the room if the argument became too heated since she didnt have the option of delaying it until after she had calmed down a little herself. They were both alphas and Caidi wasnt accustomed to having to answer to anyone. Now, she had a matea Shadatai mateand life had changed. This having a mate, a very large mate, was going to take some adjustment. I knew that you would look interesting in there. The deep, rumbling voice sounding directly behind her sparked instant recognition and a flare of heat within Caidi. Although your hair was blonde in my imaginings, I am relieved that you are finally home. How long will your hair be like that? Caidi spun in the water and found Raven leaning against the wall, one booted foot propped against the wall, his arms folded loosely across his chest as he stared down at her. He was just as gorgeous as she remembered. His hair was unbound and flowing around his shoulders. A frown etched his face as he gazed at her. His silver eyes watched her carefully as if he expected her to suddenly disappear from the tub. He was dressed all in black today. He wore a black vest that gaped open revealing the tattoos on his chest, deep golden skin and his flat, defined abdomen. Black leather breeches molded to his powerful thighs and hips like a second skin. She could clearly

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see the ridge of his hardened cock pressing against the leather. Her eyes caught sight of his boots. She should have listened to that internal warning about those scuffed boots. The coloring will fade away in a few weeks. Caidi answered the relatively safe question about her hair. Keeping her eyes on him, she moved to the opposite side of the tub. He wouldnt physically hurt her, but the look in his eyes made her wary. She didnt know him, but she could tell that he was in a dark mood. She didnt feel any safer after she had made that move. The small amount of space she had gained wouldnt offer any safety from him should he decide to pounce and drag her from the tub. You found the note in the tavern, yet you disobeyed the instructions I left for you. You knew that those instructions came directly from me and you knew that I am the rightful Achan of this pack. He raised a brow that demanded answers to her disobedience. I had no intention of calmly placing myself and my pack in your hands. We are too different. It is blatantly obvious, even to one with as little contact with our kind as I have had. You have already begun changing things and you cant have been here for long. Caidi glared at him. It was my job to prepare my people for you and I needed more time. You insisted on forcing the issue. It wasnt the mating or me you feared. Ravens smile held feral intent. You always feared the change and its effect on your people. You knew that with me there would be no easy transition. You knew that I would control the Taivain. I wouldnt simply stand by and calmly let you do as you saw fit, while I fought and hunted. Relief warred with anger and desire within him. Everything within him called for her protection above all else and she had been out wandering the worlds without any guards. He hadnt even known where she was. That fact had given him nightmares. So much could happen to her. He was also still angry that she had walked away from him when she knew that she was his mate. That she had had the courage to attempt such a stunt to get pregnant infuriated him. She should have still been under her fathers care, not prowling back-worlds. His hunger for her, the unquenched lust, hadnt cooled. His fangs, the Zarain canines, usually only present when he was in his second form, had lengthened when he had first caught her scent today. Goddess, he needed her. The instinctive urge to change his mate was riding him almost as hard as the sexual fever. The duties of the Achan and the Acine in a Zarain pack were long ago determined. The Achan sees to the hunting and the warfare, the protection of the pack from danger while the Acine runs the Taivain, sees to trade, tends to the packs needs, and helps with the crops. All Zarain follow this tradition, this custom, except for the Shadatai. Caidi slapped the cake of soap onto the floor at the side of the tub. She didnt need a male interfering with the way things were done around here. The male Shadatai

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control everything in the Taivain, even most of the small details. They arent content with the traditional male role. Raven refused to be lured into a shouting match. She was finally back within reach and he wouldnt spend all day arguing with her. That is the way things are. You will come to like my way. It is true that things have changed for this pack. You have protection now and dont have to live in fear of discovery. You dont have to always be on guard. There will be more changes occurring. You will adjust to them as well. Im not Shadatai. I wasnt raised to ask a mans permission to complete the minor details of pack life, Caidi snarled at him. How could she want him so much and still be so angry with him? It isnt the minor details of life which concern me, Raven corrected with a shrug. The running of the Taivain is yours for the most part. As to your remark about you not being Shadatai, that is one of the things which will be changing. What do you mean? Caidi bit out from between clenched teeth. The Shadatai are harder for a reason, Caidi. We have enemies that the normal Zarain never encounter. While we will probably never be attacked by the Tsitike or the Chanori on Carait, I will always be prepared to defend you. That is why a Shadatai pack has a few rules that a normal pack never has to verbalize. Enemies, Caidi breathed on a disgusted sigh. And just what are these rules that you are talking about? Raven chuckled. They are simple enough. The first, you will always obey your Achans commands swiftly and without question. The second, as the Acine, my chalie, and a very important part of this pack, you will never put your life at risk. If you obey me that should never come into question. Wait Caidi held up a hand. Obey you without question? Three, you will never endanger the pack or any of its members through your actions or orders. If you do as I say, then we wont have any need to discuss these rules again. Ravens eyes hardened. Yes, I did say without question. And what if I have doubts about whether something fits into your rules, Achan? Caidi grated as she glared at him. If you dont know, ask me about it. Ravens voice was calm and even. Those rules infuriated Caidi to such an extent that she was tempted to jump out of the tub and attack him. She took a deep breath and decided to change the subject. Are there any other enemies that I need to know about? Yes, Raven confirmed with a smile that Caidi knew better than to take at face value. He was still angry, but there was enough anticipation in his eyes and his voice to give her warning. The Zarain, the Feiral, the Makar, and all of the other shifters have enemies. There are a few groups that hold us all in contempt and who take any opportunity to kill whichever shifter is so unwary as to come within their territory. Do you know about any of these enemies that I speak of?

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Caidi frowned in confusion at his question. That smile was too open and friendly. His tone was amazingly even, but she knew that he was baiting a trap. He was about to show her exactly how ignorant she had been. Her need to know of anything that would affect her pack kept her from trying to avoid it. What are you talking about and who told you my real name? You didnt think that they would keep it secret from their new Achan when he asked, did you? Raven chuckled, but there was more satisfaction than humor in it. You should have told me your name that first night. You should have stayed with me, but our separation did allow me to learn some interesting things about you. I couldnt stay with you. Caidi splashed water as her hands swept wide. He came away from the wall in an easy, intimidating, swift movement. As to what I mean, you and your pack have been trading with one of the enemies all shifters have in common, the Bavaok. We wont be trading with them anymore, regardless of exactly how much you traded with them in the past. With our arrival, we have brought many trade opportunities, not the least is among other shifters, which you couldnt risk without protection. It didnt take her long to work out how one group of humans could be an enemy to all shifters. There were some people who hated any being who wasnt human. Such groups had been known to kill any shifter they encountered. Caidi watched as he prowled with a fluid grace that should have been impossible in a man as large and muscular as he was. He went to the bench and picked up the towel, looking underneath it. He picked up the dress and the slippers sitting beneath the bench. He took them into the closet and put them on the shelf without any hesitation or a word of question to her. Caidi frowned at his broad back. I was wondering why we are using the larger housing building. From what I have seen, even with your men there would be room in the smaller building. Caidis eyes never left him as he turned back toward her. She was unsure of that determined look in his eyes. There are more men coming. There will be over three hundred men when they all get here. There is no way that the small complex would comfortably hold us, Raven said as he walked back toward her. I need my clothing. Caidi gave him a level look. While she couldnt deny that she wanted him, she wanted to get all of her questions out of the way before they came together. The questions, the anger would undoubtedly be pushed to the side by the fever of desire when they got close to each other. A low, predatory laugh rumbled from his throat at her declaration. I dont plan to sit and talk to you when I get you out of there. That dress is undoubtedly beautiful on you, but you are already naked and we have been apart for too long. We will be making love, bonding as mates should, not talking. We need to talk, Caidi said with a glare at him. I need to know what is happening, what you are doing and how my people are dealing with the change.
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We could have talked that first night about how Shadatai life is different if you had stayed with me as I waited for those drugs to clear from my system. You would know what I am doing if you had obeyed my note, and I am sure that you have a fairly good idea from the few women you have talked to since your arrival as to exactly how your women have handled the change. Raven strode over to stand at the edge of the tub. So I have to wait because I didnt obey you? It is a punishment? Caidi growled. He needed to hold her, to feel her body pressed against his again. Now, Im not inclined to talk first. I have wanted you in my arms, over my knee and in various other positions since you left my room that night. By the Goddess tears, even if I had been unaware of the fact that a Shadatai mate would bring a host of problems that I had never had to worry about before meeting him, I would still have left the tavern that night. Caidi couldnt believe he was so angry about her leaving. It had had to be done. Why couldnt you stay, reha? Raven raised his brows, silently demanding an answer. Caidi blinked, sidetracked for a moment. Hed called her flower. As you know, I didnt go there looking for a man to bring home with me. I didnt think that there would be such a man on the whole planet and knew that even if I found my mate, he would probably already have a home, a pack. I knew that he wouldnt want mine or the care of a large, primarily female pack. Even he should see that it wasnt as simple as wanting to stay. She had had other things to consider. But you didnt meet one of those men. You met me. Even if you had been merely a Zarain man, the situation was out of control, so different from what I had expected. I needed time to think, to prepare both myself and my people and it didnt help that you pulled that trick of putting your thoughts into my head. Caidi glared, fighting her own desire to be near him. You left, but I made sure that you would return. I knew that you were friends with that Feiral woman and would come to help her if she didnt return. We are going to have to talk about some of your wildly wrong conclusions later. Raven shook the toweling sheet out as he spread his arms. Out. You have delayed long enough. Raven held the towel in front of him. There was hard determination in those silver eyes which burned with hot, sexual intent. Caidi gulped, knew that there was no real choice. He could and would come in after her. She slowly moved across the tub and stood. That man could make her more nervous with a mere hot, determined look than a hundred armed rogues trying to take the Taivain had ever managed. In fact, she would rather face those avaricious rogues than him. He represented a far greater threat than any of the numerous bandits or rogues ever had. He was a permanent part of her life. Caidi stepped out of the tub and was enfolded within the towel as his arms came around her. He held her tightly against him, his hands splayed on her back and

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buttocks. Caidi allowed her head to rest against his chest and surrendered to the inevitable. She inhaled deeply of his musky, masculine scent. Sheer tension and worry had kept her from going to him. Now, all that mattered was that he was here, she was here, and she wanted him. The last had never been in question. Even when her mind had tried to reject him, to find a way out of being tied to him, she had always wanted him, needed him. The connection would always be there. Raven rubbed the towel over her skin in sensual, caressing strokes. Each slow glide of the soft towel caused her skin to tingle. When she was dry, he threw the cloth toward the closet. Without a moments pause, he swung her into his arms and carried her toward the bed.

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Chapter Seven
You should never have left me. Raven kissed her with an unrestrained ferocity as he lowered her onto the mattress. With a muffled exclamation of frustration, he broke the kiss. He wanted to feel her body against all of him and his clothing was in the way. He stepped back and stripped out of his clothing in quick, efficient movements. Had to. Caidi reached for him. The bed was soft, the covers silky and cool against her skin. The small distance between them was too far. She wanted to feel his heat, the hard muscles of his body and his weight against her. I had to think of some way to prepare my pack for you. I knew that you wouldnt just go away. I knew that you would find me. A sudden change, with no warning, would have been too much for anyone to deal with. They have done fairly well. Raven climbed into bed beside her. He ran his hand over her breasts and stomach in a blatantly possessive move. It had been too long since he had tasted her, touched her. He pressed his hard cock against her hip, letting her feel how much he wanted her. I told them as soon as I came home about everything that had happened, how all of the plans had somehow gone so horribly wrong. They know as much about the Shadatai as I do which isnt much, a few legends and stories. We all knew that it was probably inevitable that you would find me, find the Taivain regardless of what I did to prevent it. Caidi slid her hand over his arm. She had been so busy, so worried that she hadnt realized just how much she had missed his touch. It was the warmth of his skin that focused her attention fully on him. She turned to him and leaned close to run her lips over his in a tantalizingly light caress. Inhaling his unique male scent, she stiffened as realization sizzled through her. She wanted him so much. After one night with himand only part of a night at thatshe had missed the feelings of satisfaction, the contentment, the safety and security she found in his arms. She had found her mate. His lips closed over hers, deepening the light kiss as his arms came around her to pull her to him. Raven pulled her over on top of him, settling her astride his stomach and enjoying the stunned look she gave him. Mine, Raven growled as his hands cupped the full globes of her buttocks, squeezing and kneading. His hands glided up her back as Caidi moved her legs to more comfortably straddle his hips. He rolled with her, suddenly looming over her. His hands ran over her breasts, brushing lingeringly over the dark crests with his large, calloused fingers. Her nipples were hard reddened points jutting up as if begging for his attention. The memory of her
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taste, the weight of her breasts had haunted him during their separation. He was eager to lick and touch every inch of her. She could feel his hard shaft pressing eagerly against her. She wanted him, had wanted him since he had entered the room, but she had been too nervous, too angry to admit it even to herself. That was fading now as his scent surrounded her and her desire rose. She rocked and felt his cock part the swollen lips of her pussy. Her hands ran over his golden skin, sliding into his dark hair and pulling him close to her. He was so hard, so warm. She wanted him so much. Raven pulled away from her. His lips left hers and traveled down her neck, nipping lightly at the slender column before they continued lower. He savored the taste, the tempting sweet scent of her. Those nibbling, nipping lips moved over her chest to one of the mounds of her breasts. He took one of the pebbled, dark crests into his mouth, sucking at the distended nipple before releasing it and moving on to the neglected, lush globe of eager, sensitive flesh. Caidi moaned and sank her nails into his shoulders as his hands roamed over her body with sure knowledge. One hand raised her leg higher on his hip, stroking over her outer thigh while his other hand dipped between her thighs and found her clit, stroking over her sensitive flesh. She arched her hips, rolling them, wanting more from him than that light, teasing touch. Do you want me? Raven pulled his lips away from her breasts, his lips making a moist, sucking sound as they left the rounded mound, as if he were reluctant to release the lush flesh. He loved her taste, the way she went up in flames whenever he touched her. Never had he imagined a woman who would respond so wildly to his touch. Yes, I want you. Caidi pulled at his shoulders to bring his lips back to her. She needed him inside her, his cock filling her, driving her to the heights of ecstasy. Umm, I want to see for myself. Raven inhaled the intoxicating scent of her arousal and nuzzled the flat plane of her stomach before placing a kiss over her navel, his tongue slipping into the slight depression and causing her to shiver. Her skin was soft, silky. Uh, I Caidi tensed. She grabbed his hair when she deciphered what he intended as he slid lower down her body. His wide shoulders stretched her legs wide, his breath ruffling the blonde hair there as he parted her with his fingers and his lips settled onto the pink flesh between her thighs. A bolt of searing fire streaked through her as his tongue touched her clitoris. Caidis eyes slammed closed and her body arched at the pure pleasure. That was too good. She lifted her hips up to meet that stroking tongue. He lapped at her with lingering strokes. She tasted delicious, sweet with a hint of salt and musk. He wasnt going to rush this. His tongue stroked over her swollen, hard clit again and again. He took the hard nubbin in his mouth and sucked on it. Her hips writhed and bucked against him. She was tense and near climax, but he had no

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intention of bringing her to ecstasy just yet. When his fingers slid into the waiting channel below, he found her pussy flooded. You do want me. Raven lifted his head and looked into her smoldering silver eyes. You taste so good, better than I imagined as I waited. It took you so long to come home to me. It was the longest wait of my life. I knew that you would come here if you didnt get caught by my men. Raven, I want you now. Please, come to me, be with me. Ive missed you. Caidi pulled at his hair, trying to urge him to stop playing, to fill her. Promise to obey the Shadatai rules, Caidi, Raven demanded. His lips and tongue teased her, lifting her to a peak, but never letting her go over the edge. She arched into him, needing more, wanting him to fill her, wanting the release she knew would come with just a little more pressure. Please, Raven. Caidi writhed against him, her body aching with the need for more. Promise to obey them. It was too much. She couldnt stand any more. I promise. Anything, just, please, come to me now He lifted his head and smiled at her, a predatory, hungry smile as he moved up over her body, his hips settling into the cradle of her thighs. With a decisive surge, his hard shaft entered her. Caidi wrapped her legs around his waist. Her back arched and her legs tightened. She arched, trying to take more of his long, thick cock within her aching pussy. Raven closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her warm, tight channel eagerly clutching him. He fought for control over both his desire and the primitive beast within him. He wanted to thrust into her hard and fast. He had to be assured that she found her peak first. Each breath he took was labored. He could smell her heat, her passion, knew her for his mate and that only increased his need. He withdrew and drove into her as she surged up to meet his thrust. She was as caught in the grip of the mating heat as he was. She moaned, nipping at his chest with her sharp teeth in urgent demand, running her hands along his body, raking her nails down his back as he drove into her. Her eyes locked with his. In them, he saw the same wild, hot need that burned him. Her fingers laced into his hair and pulled his head down to hers for a feverish kiss as she sought release from the tension within her. Caidi couldnt think. She arched against him, holding him to her as he ground his pelvis into hers, sending her into release. Driving her hips into his, she twisted beneath him, crying out with her orgasm. His head went to her shoulder as he continued to drive within her. He bit, his teeth sinking deep as he thrust into her, spilling his seed deep within her womb. Even as his cock jerked within her, Caidi was thrown into another blinding climax. Overwhelmed with the flood of sensations and intense satisfaction washing over her at

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first psychically and then physically, her heels dug into the bed and her hips lifted against his as her body shook with the force of the release ricocheting through her. Moments later, Raven lapped at her shoulder, his tongue stroking over the two marks tenderly. He gazed at the two marks and masculine, territorial triumph screamed through him. She bore his mark. He slowly withdrew from her and lay beside her. He held her against his body in a possessive embrace that allowed her to draw only a small distance away from him. He didnt want to let her go just yet. He watched and waited. Caidi was still a little dazed by that last climax and it took her a moment to realize what that tiny drop of blood on his lip meant. You bit me! Caidis eyes widened in alarm. Her hand went reflexively to her shoulder, covering the small wound. How did you think that I was going to change you to a Shadatai Zarain, love? Raven nuzzled her ear, nibbling on the lobe in a lazy, contented manner. You were only a Zarain. Aside from my desire for you to be as I am, it is instinct to preserve the bloodline, to change my mate. I didnt think that you meant change me. I thought that you meant that since I was mated to you that I would just be considered Shadatai now. I never thought that you would change me. I am already Zarain. Caidi glared at him, but the expression was wasted because he was nibbling at her neck, tasting her as if she were a delicacy that he would soon be sampling again. She doubted that it would have had much effect anyway. The man was far too accustomed to having everything his way. Raven chuckled, amazed at her conclusions. I told you that you would soon be Shadatai. Just as if you were a human woman, I had to draw your blood with the teeth of my second form to start the change. Admittedly, there are advantages to having a mate who is already Zarain. I wont have to teach you to change forms, to hunt, or have lengthy discussions about pack rule. Will it take a week as the change from human to Zarain does? Caidi grimaced and leaned away from him. She wanted to see his face when he answered. Less than a week, taneen, Raven whispered as he leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers. You could have warned me that you were going to do that. Caidi frowned. The feelings swirling within her, the possessiveness and the need to be near him, scared her and magnified her irritation over his behavior. You would have been distracted and I wanted your complete attention. Raven rolled over onto his back, taking her with him as he did so. She was half sprawled across his body as he lay on his back, an arrogant smile on his face as he watched the emotions fly across her face. You would have led me on a long chase had I not had those Feiral women to bargain with. Bargain, hah! Caidi sputtered as she adjusted to both the new position and the sudden change in topic. If that was your idea of a bargain, then I would absolutely

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hate to find out what you call an ultimatum. In my experience, what you wrote in that note was a flat demand for surrender, not an offer to talk terms. There were no terms to offer. You knew when you left the inn that night that there was only one option. You have admitted more than once that you knew I would find you, that it was merely a matter of time before I assumed my rightful place. Raven scraped his teeth over her shoulder. Did you expect to catch me? Caidi sighed, feeling her unease begin to fade into contentment. You did surprise me. I hadnt planned on you finding the trap on Falash if you had heard the stories that I planted on Mijohin and actually tried to go to Askara. He ran his tongue over the long column of her throat, causing a shiver to course down her spine. You expected me to be easily caught by your little traps. I was more than a little insulted by that. Caidi frowned at him. She drew slightly away from his distracting touch and propped her chin on her arm. She looked at him with slightly troubled eyes. I didnt expect to be underestimated when you knew what we had done at the inn. You impressed several of my friends as well as me. You made a real impression on Jarlek. That is the Feiral who is bonded to your friend Chey. He was both angered and impressed by your tactics and your ability to carry them out successfully. Raven ran his hands over the globes of her buttocks. I wasnt going for impressing them as much as making them aware of the danger they faced. Anger from the memory of that night ignited within her. He said that he understood why you were so angry with Chey and he knew that if he had been in your position, he would have felt the same way. Raven brushed his hand down the line of her spine. He was informed immediately after we secured the fortress that there was no need for him to guard his mate from you. You have talked with him? Caidi swallowed, one of her fingers tracing a pattern on his chest. Not personally. Raven shrugged. He informed a friend of mine who lives on Askara of your threats. My friend warned me of your fears and your promise of retribution should any of your people be harmed. I contacted my friend when everything had calmed. He informed Jarlek. It wasnt a threat. Caidis voice hardened. I was merely informing them of what would happen if any member of my pack was harmed due to that stupid trap. He said that you were a suitable mate for me, that you were obviously accustomed to defending and protecting what is yours. Raven gave her a small, tilted smile. One hand gently brushed the curtain of her hair away from her face. That is what you meant when you said that you had learned some interesting things about me? Caidi gave him a hopeful smile. Deep inside she knew that that wasnt what he meant, but she hoped that it was something like that. Simple, uncomplicated.
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Only partly. Raven patted her buttocks. You have knowledge of some interesting secrets that others of our kind have long searched for and havent been able to find. Caidi immediately understood his cryptic statement about secrets. He would soon be asking how to hide a Zarains presence from any other being with the ability to sense a shifter. You will tell me your secrets when you come to trust me. Raven had decided before she arrived that he wouldnt press her. The strength of the bond was on his side. Each day would bring her closer to him. It is only a matter of time. I dont even like you right now. Caidi narrowed her eyes and tried to push up off his chest, but he slid an arm around her waist and kept her pinned. It will take me a long time to come to trust you. You will like and trust me when you give yourself time to know me, to trust your instincts. You are fighting yourself right now, Raven assured her. Your friend was on Askara and you could talk with him. Could you have contacted me after I left you? Caidi frowned and then shook her head. No, you would have used the link if you could have touched my mind as you did while I was close to you. You are right. After you left the planet, I couldnt find you. The path to you was still too new and, because you werent yet Shadatai, I couldnt use the common path to find you. When you were close to me, I could easily touch your mind, even read the occasional thought if you felt strongly about it or you were upset, but after you left the tavern it became increasingly difficult and when you left the planet, it was impossible. Raven smiled. That wouldnt be happening again. After we left the tavern, what happened? How did you manage to catch Chey and the others with her? The Zarain that you saw at the tavern that night werent the only members of my pack on the planet that night. We were scattered widely across the city. They were close enough to feel you as they came to my call, but werent close enough for an exact location. I thought you would have more men. We rushed. Caidi gave him a satisfied grin. Before they did get close enough, I assume that you and your women were once again protected by whatever enables you to move among us without detection. It was merely a coincidence that I was at that inn, a lucky one. If you would have stayed at the inn arguing with your friend a little longer, I would have had you as well. Raven gave a toothy, predatory smile. He had cursed her speedy departure that night. I am sure that that would have made you very happy. Caidi heaved a huge sigh and frowned. That might have simplified things for you, made it so much easier, but it would have made things much harder on my people. They wouldnt have expected me to return accompanied by a Shadatai pack. It would have put them in a bad position.

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They would have had to decide if they should fight against you or accept what might be an invading force into the Taivain. Your dedication to your pack is admirable. You protect and worry about them as a mother tiarl does her cubs. I trust that that protectiveness and devotion will encompass the new pack with the same ferocity. Raven raised an expectant eyebrow. Nothing has really changed in that respect. Although my pack is larger, I am now mated to you, and though there is a lot that I dont know about how life with you will be, it is still my pack. My loyalty to them isnt in question. I know that I will have to make some adjustments. I expected to do so when you came here. You and your men can be assured of my loyalty, Caidi said with grave sincerity. Well, you arent quite mated formally. Ravens lips lifted in a crooked smile and laughter lurked in his silver eyes. Caidi frowned down at him, confused by his statement and the amusement. What do you mean? Raven held her chin in one hand, looking into her eyes as he said the formal, ritual, binding words. I mean this, Caidi. Ahaina col tolestal. Enalac, etal meal toralis retal. Caidi gulped audibly when she heard the ritual words from him. She took a deep breath as it became clear that only now was he her bound mate. She had been free until this moment. I assumed that you had already done that. From some of your comments earlier, I guessed that you believed that you were already mated, but the bond isnt binding unless you are with me when the words are said. Raven encircled her waist with his arms and hugged her, pressing his chin to the top of her head. Caidi sighed, a sad expression crossing her face. I wish things could have been simpler, that I could have accepted you that night. Two years ago, I would have been a little aghast when I found out that you were Shadatai, but I would have welcomed finding my mate. Of course, we wouldnt have met in anything close to the complicated way that we did if I had found you when I was searching two years ago. You searched for a mate? Raven ran his hands up to her ribs, causing her to squirm as his fingers tickled her. I concealed my identity as a shifter, but I actively searched for my mate on any planet that Zarain men were known to frequent. I had pretty much given up on finding a mate by the end of that year, but I kept searching until we came up with our plan to have babies without the encumbrance of men. She lay her head down on her arm, exhausted from the emotional upheaval and the long journey here. Her heavy eyelids slowly lowered, her breathing slowed and deepened into the even rhythm of sleep. Raven held her, content but a little worried about her. He knew that she needed the sleep. She had to be exhausted. She would have had to push herself and the women with her to their limits to get here as quickly as they did. He knew that he had caused the worry that had motivated her need to travel at such a pace. She had been troubled over the safety of her pack when they had confronted him and his men.
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He hadnt intended to cause her to worry about whether her pack would be safe from him. In truth, he had considered her pack his from the moment he had learned of it and wouldnt have seen even one woman harmed in the taking of this fortress. He hadnt known that she had had troubles with renegade groups trying to take control of the Taivain and that they had been forced to defend themselves against them. Raven eased her to his side and simply enjoyed the contentment and the peace that came from merely having her with him again. It was near midday and a meal would be brought for them soon. He would have to wake her for it. He knew that she needed her rest, but she needed to eat, too. She needed meat, the energy it could provide. At the pace that they had had to set to get here, they wouldnt have had time to hunt for fresh game. They would have eaten only the dried food that they had carried in their supplies.

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Chapter Eight
Caidi woke a few hours after Raven had left her. He had stayed with her until after they had both finished eating and then he had left her with orders to rest, to sleep. Caidi had gone back to sleep in spite of her irritation over his commands. Her bodys demand for rest was much more dominant than her desire to defy his autocratic orders. She had slept undisturbed and felt much better, more prepared than she had when she had faced him earlier. She rolled out of bed and headed straight for the tub. After a short bath, she dressed in the clothing that she had chosen to wear earlier. She brushed her hair and secured it at the back of her neck with a black ribbon. Now, she needed to see how the women of her pack had fared and exactly what changes had been made. Caidi suspected that things within the Taivain were far from settled. The pack had been strictly female for too long for the change to have been completed with such ease. She left the room and went to find out just how much of the change still occurring within the Taivain had been explained to her pack-mates. From what she had seen earlier, she knew that there had been some confusion among them and a little irritation. The confusion and irritation were to be expected, especially if the other Shadatai were as autocratic as Raven. Things were changing at a frantic pace and she wanted to make sure that it was going as smoothly as possible. Caidi found that all of the women were busy when she went to the main hall. There were also a number of men around the hall and Caidi knew that most of the women would be a little hesitant to talk freely in front of the large warriors. She went to the kitchen. The kitchen in a Taivain was a female haven. Caidi knew that she should be able to have an uninterrupted, unmonitored conversation here. She would be able to find out how everyone was adjusting to the sudden arrival of the men and just what had been changed while she had been gone. Raven had just given her the basics. He wouldnt know how the women felt about all of these changes. He probably wouldnt think to ask. Caidi took a place at the deep brown worktable without saying a word after she entered the warm kitchen. Shelves and cupboards lined one full wall. There were two giant ovens and an open fire with a large hook hanging over it. Women bustled around the gray stone room as others gathered around the large, scarred work table to help with the almost unending duty of supplying food for a large company of men and women. She accepted the knife and the pile of vegetables that were shoved her way. Silence reigned for a while as everyone worked and thought.

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Are you sure hes your mate? Tamira Salains glance was pensive, hopeful when she looked at Caidi. Caidi could understand the question and smiled in commiseration. Raven was arrogant and he was changing the entire way of life at this Taivain without pause or question. None of the women in the room would have ever sought a Shadatai warrior when they were searching for a mate. The stories had been bad enough to discourage even the most nave. There was no hope of controlling a Shadatai Zarain warrior. Im sure. Caidi gave an uneasy laugh. I know how you feel. It will take me a while to get used to him and much longer to get used to his way of doing things, if I ever do. Im not sure that I can get used to doing things the way that they do, Senna volunteered from the end of the table. Her knife came down on the vegetables with more force than necessary. Those men wouldnt even tell us why we wont be trading with the Bavaok anymore. They just gave us these looks as if they couldnt understand why we were even asking. The Bavaok are enemies. Caidi closed her eyes. She had always been open with her pack-mates. They too might as well learn that their lack of contact with other shifters had almost led them to disaster. They are the Shadatais enemies? Tamira shot a curious frown at Caidi. No, they arent the Shadatais enemies. Not specifically. Caidi pushed the chopped vegetables aside to make room for those she hadnt yet cut. The Bavaok are enemies to all shifters. The only reason that we have been safe from them is that they didnt know that we are shifters. They would have attacked us if they had known. You believe that this is the real reason? Chella leaned forward to look at Caidis face. Yes, I believe him. He wouldnt lie to me about something like that. Caidi had no doubts about that. So tell me exactly what all of these men have done since they arrived at the Taivain. They are determined and pushy. They had us halfway moved out of the old building that first day. We cleaned this place those first few days while they worked, tearing down, rearranging, especially in some of the lower-level bedchambers. The Achan asked some of us about what we did, where we traded, who we traded with, what we traded, what crops we had planted, how far the fields were, where we hunted, the type of game that was here, if it was abundant or scarce, where the other gates were, where the Feiral holding was and much more. Chella grimaced and shrugged. It was the grimace that caught and held Caidis attention. She knew that they had withheld something from Raven. You told him everything he wanted to know? You told him everything about the Taivain? Caidi slanted a knowing glance at the studiously lowered, red-gold head of her friend. Well, we didnt lie to him, Tamira stressed. We just didnt tell him everything that we could have told him. We knew that some of his men were the same men from
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the inn and he knew your chosen name, but we didnt know him or have any reason to trust him. He and his men have been too busy up until recently to really look around their new home. Has he found out about this? Caidi worried about Ravens reaction when he discovered that he hadnt been told everything. Not yet, Chella answered Caidi without blinking. If you choose not to tell him, it could be years before they find any of them. He would be rightfully furious when he discovered the truth. Keeping it a secret isnt an option. He is my chalon and the Achan. Caidi shook her head at the tangle she would be forced to carefully unknot. Would one of the omissions be about a certain place where we store some of the tirsa and wine? Tamira and Chella merely nodded. Caidi sighed. She knew that she could have managed to make the transition smoother than this if the man would have just given her time to think of a way. His insistence and rush to claim his position had caused this. He will not think that that was merely an innocent oversight. He will know it for what it was, a way to protect our way of life. In spite of all of those big muscles, hes not stupid. I know that it is a problem, but at first, we didnt know him. We didnt even know for sure if he was truly the one who was your mate. Those women who went to Mijohin and who were left here couldnt say for sure that he was the one you had chosen. We wanted to keep a few things secret just in case. Caidi grimaced. I understand, but I dont think he will. He isnt used to having his word questioned. A man with the title of Achan is accustomed to having his every order followed. I will correct the matter after the evening meal. You and anyone else who kept things from him, eat and then disappear for the night. Illsee what I can do about the situation, but before any of you scatter, Ill need to know exactly what you neglected to tell him when you gave him your tour of the Taivain. Those were apparently the words that the women had been waiting and wanting to hear. Caidi had to call for silence and order as all of the omitted secrets were revealed in an indecipherable rush and mixture of voices. It was a long list. Caidi listened in surprise as they told her what they had forgotten to tell Raven. They had hardly told him anything. He had basically seen only the buildings and there was much more to the Taivain than what could be seen at first glance. Caidi stared at them with wide, disbelieving eyes. You didnt tell him about the armory, about all of the weapons? Or the treasury? He didnt ask any questions about how we defended ourselves, about where all our profits were? She had expected them to tell him about the armory. Defense of the Taivain fell squarely on the Achans shoulders when there was one in residence. As he was here, it was his duty. No, he didnt ask us anything more after the first round of questions. Senna shrugged.

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And you didnt tell him about the gems? Caidi asked, closing her eyes in dread of the answer, because she was fairly certain of the answer. Didnt he wonder about why the rogues and such came here? If he did, he didnt ask us about it. Tamira gave a smug smile that Caidi knew to be because of the success of their scheme. I am sure that he will appreciate your creative abilities when he gets to know you, but he probably wont be happy about this. I will try to make him understand the position you were in. Caidi exhaled slowly. Caidi dreaded the evening meal and what would come after it. She expected that his reaction to the things that they had forgotten to tell him would be explosive. Her reaction to such omissions would be. She would tear into anyone who played with her in such a way. She knew that Raven had a temper. She had heard it that first night in the tones of his mental communication with her. She was fairly certain that he wouldnt do anything rash. He was a warrior. His patience, cunning and strength had been honed in battle. He had enough control to think about what he was going to do, take all of the factors into account before he actually did anything. She would have to make him understand that there had been no real intent to lie to him, to deny him his position. It had merely been caution and a desire to protect the pack while they had been unsure of his true identity. After they were certain, they had been in a precarious position, because of what they had hidden. Their reaction was understandable. Caidi helped out in the kitchen for a while before she went to check on some of the other women in the Taivain. She walked into the weaving room and saw that the work here was going smoothly. There was no outward sign that anyone was having trouble adjusting to the change. She greeted everyone there, exchanged a few words, and generally just gave the women a chance to call to her if they felt the need. She left the room with a smile. She looked in on a few other places, but didnt say much. She was becoming more and more focused on her own problems. She just wanted to make certain that there werent any obvious issues that needed attention. By the time that the sun was setting and the evening meal was drawing close, Caidi had come to no real plan of broaching the subject delicately. She didnt know how she was going to tell him about the things that they had forgotten to tell him in such a way that he would come to understand the position the women had been in and the fears that they had, but she had to tell him without any further delay. They had known nothing about him, except that he was probably her mate. The evening meal in a Zarain pack was a communal meal held in one of the large halls built onto any Zarain holding for just that purpose. Caidi walked into the hall while the women were still readying it. She sat down in one of the high-backed chairs at

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the head table of polished dark brown wood, leaned her head against the back and closed her eyes as she tried to think. Although she had expected to be in a position like this, it didnt help her to find an answer that was both honest and would work. Her knowledge that her pack-mates would keep secrets hadnt prepared her for the reality of finding an answer. This marriage thing wasnt easy. The adjustment to thinking about how another would feel was hard. So far, she hadnt found any advantages, other than the sex, to recommend the state.

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Chapter Nine
Hello, sweet, Ravens voice sounded in her head. The greeting wasnt cheerful, but she could feel his satisfaction in being able to use this form of communication. I have respected your privacy thus far by not invading your thoughts, but your worry, your distress beats at me. I want to know what has caused such turmoil within you. I want to help you. You arent alone anymore. Caidis eyes snapped open and looked around the hall. She saw her mate standing in the doorway to the room, leaning one shoulder against the frame. In spite of her anxiety, Caidi felt an immediate rush of desire. He looked so sexy. He was so large, his body muscled and his movement fluid. He pushed away from the frame and came forward with long, easy strides and a smile on his face. He took the seat beside her. I will tell you all about what is bothering me after we finish the meal. Caidi reached over and laid her hand over his. There was little choice but to give him the information and try to minimize the explosion. Their first evening meal together seemed to Caidi to be completed in the blink of an eye. She wasnt eager to begin this explanation. She had picked at her food and drunk several cups of wine, but not enough to make her drunk. Caidi took a final sip of her wine and then stood when Raven did. It was now time to try to explain things. Shall we go below to our room where we can talk in private? Raven held out his hand to her and raised his brow. He could feel the tension boiling within her, the unease. He wanted to tell her that there was nothing that she should worry about, but it might be better to let her worry about the matter and his reaction to whatever she had to tell him. Caidi grimaced, placed her hand in his, but didnt take the escape from what she knew would be a difficult discussion. I have some things that I have to show you. I got the tour of the Taivain from your own people. I am sure that they showed me everything that I need to know. Raven gave her an assured smile. Caidi frowned at that smile. Maybe he did know that something had been hidden from him and was just waiting for it to be revealed. They showed you everything that you needed to know at that time. They couldnt be sure that you were who you said you were until I returned. They lied to me? Ravens smile turned into a very intimidating, threatening frown. He watched with hidden amusement as her expression became nearly panicked. They didnt lie to you, Caidi stressed. They left a few things out because, until I got here, they didnt know if you actually had a right to know them. They were protecting the pack, because I wasnt here to do so. She rushed to defend the women

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who had given him the short tour of the Taivain. She would have done the same if she had been in their position. You can stop the defense of your pack. They are safe from my wrath this time because we werent mated when they gave me the tour and apparently left out some things. I wasnt yet their true Achan. If they do it again, you wont protect them from me so easily. Ravens stern frown let her know that he meant what he said. He expected complete loyalty from those within his pack. Let us begin this tour of exactly what they forgot to show me. Where shall we begin? Caidi sighed, a little relieved and puzzled that he had accepted everything with such ease, such calm. She wasnt going to question such a gift just yet. We start our tour at the guardhouse at the corner of the east wall. Raven nodded, tugging on her hand as they left the Taivain and began the walk toward the east wall. With a shortened stride, he paced at her side as they walked to the guardhouse. He told her about his plans to add another thick wall around the Taivain and about his warriors who were finishing an assignment that had been taken before he had found her. They would arrive as soon as the job was completed. Raven opened the door and allowed her to enter the guardhouse first, stepping inside and closing the door after himself. Men were sitting at a table playing the tile game Atical before their duty on the wall began. Well, where is this thing that I dont know about? Raven asked, surveying the building, trying to figure out where this secret was hidden in the stark, utilitarian building that was the guardhouse. Back this way. Caidi lit a lamp and led him to the back room of the guardhouse. It was beyond the small sleeping quarters and in a closet-like room that was used to hold weapons and had always been used for that purpose. Shelves held swords, arrows and knives. Hold this. She placed the lamp in Ravens hands without further warning. She began clearing the shelves along one of the walls with quick efficiency. We didnt discover this particular secret until I was a young girl. Most of the other secret places in the Taivain were discovered by my mother and those of her pack when they first found the Taivain. We discovered that the walls of this guardhouse are thicker than they appear, particularly along this inner wall. We measured everything. There is a closet on the opposite side of the wall, but that still left an area of space unaccounted for. It took us ronas to find the entrance. Caidi took off the slats of wood that made up the shelves and leaned them against the light gray wall. She stepped into the space between the metal braces that supported the shelves. She had done this many times and could open it with her eyes closed. She ran her hand along the slightly grainy surface of the wall, back and forth until she found the seam of the hidden door. She moved her hand up along the seam, pressed and then, sliding lower, pressed again and again. The thin door swung open, revealing a steeply descending, narrow staircase.

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Caidi turned back to get the lamp, but Raven lifted her with one arm wrapped around her waist and deposited her behind him without a word of explanation. Raven went down the staircase first and Caidi followed, slightly exasperated by his behavior. He was being protective when there was absolutely no need. She wouldnt take him anywhere dangerous without giving him a warning. Raven stepped out of the way when Caidi poked him in the back as she reached the bottom of the stairway followed by one of his warriors. He had stopped when he got to the bottom of the steps. He stared at the shelves of weaponsdaggers, swords, metaltipped arrows and more. There were tools there to make the shafts, as well as an apparatus to straighten a bent shaft. It was an armory. Is there one of these in each of the guardhouses? Raven asked. We thought that there might be. It made sense that there would be, but we searched long and hard and couldnt find anything in any of the other three. You are welcome to search yourself. Caidi shrugged. It makes no sense for only this guardhouse to have an armory. Its not even near the gate. If there is one in the other guardhouses, it is very well hidden. I wondered how you fought off the rogues and humans that you had spoken of, Raven said as he examined a sword. He held it, tested its balance in his hand, the fit of the grip. Caidi walked over to a set of shelves near the wall and stood on tiptoe. She reached up to the highest shelf to get something. Raven came up behind her and plucked the leather-wrapped bundle from its hiding place at the back of the top shelf. What is this? Raven asked as he untied the leather ties and removed the covering from the rectangular package. There was a thick tome within the leather. He opened it, delicately turning the pages of the old book. That is one of our few remaining mysteries. It was on the table when we found this room. From the way the thing is written, I know that it has recipes, instructions. From the drawings, I know that they have something to do with weapons, but I dont read the language. I have never found any writing even similar to that in any of the libraries I have visited in my travels and I made it a point to visit and look whenever there was a city big enough to protect a library since I took my place as Acine, Caidi said in explanation. There are libraries that you wouldnt have been able to visit. Libraries in shiftercontrolled worlds where you wouldnt have lingered. Raven closed the book and placed it back on the shelf. I will see what I can do about finding a way to translate this. Is there anything else I need to see in the guardhouse? Not in the guardhouse. Caidi sighed. The man was in for more than a few enlightening moments tonight. There is a place that you should see outside of the walls, but it is too late tonight. I will have to show you tomorrow. The next thing that I need to show you is in the weaving house. We will work our way back toward the living complexes.

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Raven raised his eyebrows in surprise, but followed her up the steps and out of the guardhouse. Once they had left the guardhouse, he signaled to two of his men who fell into step behind him. When they entered the dimly lit, empty weaving house, Caidi led the way past the large looms to a closet filled with mops, brooms and a pail. She moved the cleaning tools out of the way and opened the concealed door at the back of the closet. When Raven led the way down the circular stairs holding a lamp, Caidi wasnt surprised but was unable to suppress her frustrated frown. A cavernous, underground storeroom was revealed when Raven reached the bottom of the steps. Casks of wine and tirsa were stacked in neat rows four barrels high in separate areas. Only a small portion of the available space was used by the barrels of liquor. There were a few crates in the far corner, but the room was largely unused. And I thought you were running low on wine and tirsa, Raven mused as he studied the rows of barrels. We also make cider from various fruits, but that is kept in another place so that it doesnt get mixed up with the liquors since we only trade the liquor. The wine is marked with one red mark on the lid, the tirsa with two black marks. What is in the brewing house is what is left from last years trading stock that we didnt sell. There is a passage from here to the brewing house and a mechanism to help get the barrels down here safely and easily. Caidi showed him, opening a well-concealed wide door along one of the gray walls. She led him down a wide passage to a narrow set of stairs and past a machine that lowered the barrels onto rails. The stairs led up to a secret door in the brewing house along a wall where the top of the machine could be seen but looked like part of the machine next to it. Next? Raven raised his brows. It appeared that this place was in far better condition than he had thought. Caidi showed him several innocuous passages in the smaller living complex and the underground storeroom that connected to that kitchen. She explained that some of the tunnels and passages in this complex were mirrored in the larger complex as she led him up the stairs back into the kitchen. Anything else? Raven asked after they had left the kitchen. He was surprised at just how much he hadnt known. Oh, yes, there is more, Caidi said, but her voice wasnt cheerful. We did our best to make this place secure, but it wasnt easy. Whoever built this place was fanatical about secret passages and tunnels. There are secret rooms, little secret storage places for small treasures throughout both complexes. Even after living here for my entire life, I cant be certain that I have managed to find everything. As you probably guessed, some of the passages were threats to our security. Caidi led him to the lower level of the small complex. She opened a secret door at the end of the hall. This particular passage used to lead to a concealed exit outside of the walls. We built a brick wall near the end, filled the outside entrance with dirt and

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planted a tree over it. I wasnt giving an enemy an easy way into the heart of my home should they by chance know about it. Raven waved one of his men into the tunnel to check the work that had been done on the wall. Caidi turned and led him to her old bedchamber. She went straight to the large painted mural that occupied most of one wall. A touch of her fingers on a button under the painting opened a door farther down the wall. Raven entered the short hallway a few steps ahead of Caidi. In all truth, she couldnt go before him, he still had the lamp. Raven descended the stairs at the end of the hallway with quick, sure steps. He stopped abruptly at the bottom of the stairway, blocking Caidi and the warrior who followed her. On the light golden wood of the table almost directly in front of him was a pile of gold coins. There were also some in stacks, as if the coins were in the process of being counted. There were many gray pouches on the shelves as well as some cream-colored cinched bags. There were many rows of shelves and almost all of them had bags and pouches on them. Raven knew that there werent shells or some keepsakes in those bags. Those were coins and she had a very large fortune in this room. It seemed that his little chalie was shrewd at the trade she conducted. There is an identical room connected to the master chambers in the large complex, although it is unused. We kept the coins here because we were here to protect them, Caidi explained. This will all have to be moved over there, including the shelves and the table. Caidi walked over to a shelf. She opened one of the cream-colored pouches, frowned and muttered to herself when she looked into it and moved on to another of the pouches. She untied the first bag, withdrew something from it and without a word tossed it to Raven. He instinctively reached up and caught the object before it could hit him in the chest. That is what we think is the source of most of our troubles. Caidi watched Raven. Raven looked down at the blue gem in his hand. This explained the repeated attempts to take this isolated holding. That is why the rogues, the outlaws and the others kept coming here, in spite of the disappearance of the ones before them, not your success in trading? I dont think anyone has ever put together exactly how much and what we trade. We use different agents for each product and some of our trade is done for something we need, not coin, but it is possible that someone put together that we must have a considerable amount coming to us from our trade ventures. The rogues and such didnt really start coming until we began trading those. Caidi looked around the room and pursed her lips as she considered the question. You were going to show me where you get these tomorrow. That is the secret outside of the Taivain. Raven nodded.

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Yes, Caidi affirmed with a sigh and a nod. It was a little hard giving up the control she had held on her own since she had taken control of the Taivain. As you are now in charge of seeing to the protection of the Taivain, I thought that you should know why you might be called regularly to protect it. I think that we can find a way to trade these without drawing rogues here and, in fact, discourage any of them from coming here. Raven smiled, placing the gem on the table. He relished the challenge. Is this the last of what they didnt tell me when they gave me the short tour? Caidi nodded. If you dont want to view the rooms mimicked inside the larger Taivain, that is it. Except for showing you the site where we mine those gems, you know everything. She looked around the room, mentally going over the Taivain in her mind. I dont think that I have forgotten anything. Then we can go to our room. This has been an eventful day. You finally return home, we formally bond, and I discover that there was much that I didnt know about my new home that I should have known. There was a hint of humor in his voice as he slipped his hand around her waist. Caidi simply nodded, relieved that her prediction of a flare of his temper had been wrong. He hadnt yelled or even gotten angry when she knew that he had genuine cause to do so. He was the true Achan, even if the women hadnt known it for certain. He was her chalon and as such deserved to know everything about the Taivain, its dealings and the people within it. Even as she acknowledged that fact, she knew that she wasnt yet ready to tell him her secrets. They had always been held by the Acine, by a female, but she admitted that that probably had more to do with the fact that the pack had always been completely female, than any tradition or good reason. The secrets she held had been learned over the years as they had had to hide from other shifters regardless of if they were Zarain or some other shifter race. In her mind, she knew that this was something that he had a right to know, but she simply couldnt tell him yet. Dont worry about it, my chalie. Work it out in your own time. Raven knew that she was confused over revealing the secrets she held. She wanted to tell him, but habit and tradition told her to keep them secret. I know that it isnt as simple and uncomplicated to reveal the secrets you hold as it was to show me all of those rooms. It didnt surprise her that he knew what she was thinking. He had shown himself more than capable of reading her more troubled thoughts when she had been at that inn. What surprised her was that she hadnt known he was there just now. At the inn, she had been able to feel his presence with her.

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Chapter Ten
They returned to the large living complex, now the heart of the Taivain. Caidi preceded Raven through the halls to their room on the lower level. Eager to get her into the privacy of their room, Raven shut and locked the door behind him. They wouldnt be disturbed until morning unless there was an emergency. Caidi stretched, yawning. She was tired. The stress, the worry over what his reaction would be seemed to have drained her energy. She wearily sat down on the bed, slipping out of her shoes with easy economical movements. It is time for bed, little one. Raven watched her languid movements. With a smile, he thought about the coming night. There were a few things that he had planned that he knew would grab her interest. Caidi picked up her slippers before she stood and walked over to the partition without a word. She walked past Raven, her eyes lingering involuntarily for a moment on his taut, bronzed midriff before she began to undress. Barefoot, bare-chested and with the laces on his breeches partially undone, he was leaning against the partition wall, waiting for her to join him in preparing for bed. Interest, excitement stirred within her. She wanted to run her hands over that smooth, golden skin, to feel the muscles rippling beneath it. Naked, Caidi walked back around the partition and saw that Raven was now sprawled on the right side of the bed, gloriously nude. His golden body, hard and toned, gleamed in the light from the lumi-roc. He had thrown the covers carelessly to the bottom of the bed. His fingers were laced together behind his head and he was avidly watching her as she walked slowly to the bed. Caidi walked to the side opposite of the one he occupied, but with a small gesture from one of his hands, he beckoned her to him. Caidi walked over to him, a frown of confusion on her face as she approached. Raven tugged her down on top of him without a word, arranging her legs so that she was straddling his hips. Caidi pushed herself into a sitting position and, with a great deal of curiosity, looked down at him. The warm, hard length of his sex nudged her buttocks. Why were you so afraid all afternoon, Caidi? Raven asked the question that had been flitting through his mind since she had begun the tour. She had to have known that she had no fault in what the other women had done. You worried almost from the time you woke up until well into the tour of the Taivain. I didnt know how you would react to what they had done. I expected that you would be angry with them, very angry. I know that you had some reason to be. I didnt know what you would do if you did get angry. I worried about how best to tell you
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about it and not draw your anger to my pack-mates. They had reason to behave as they did when you arrived. I was just not sure that you would understand those reasons. Caidi shrugged. Raven watched her breasts sway with the movement of her shoulders. He reached out and cupped one of the full, enticing globes, enticed by how the light gold of her skin was gilded by the soft light. He ran his thumb over the dark crest of her breast and watched the nipple harden in delicious response to his touch. He wanted to taste those lush mounds again, but kept his attention on the subject at hand. What did you expect me to do? Raven asked, curious. I thought that you might yell, rant, want to see them immediately, to take a strip off of them, Caidi said. The way you handled it surprised me. If they had hidden something of importance from me, I would have wanted a piece of their hide, at least. Raven chuckled. Ah, but you are actually their Acine. You have always had a right to expect only the truth from them. I suspected that they were withholding truths from me. I knew that it was likely that they were waiting for you to return home to confirm that I was actually the man who was your chalon. I knew they didnt know for sure that I was that man. There was little need for all of that worry. Im not an untried youth who lets his anger rule his actions. Until you returned and we were mated, I was merely an invader, and I had no right to expect truth and total disclosure from them. Well, I didnt know that you thought they might be hiding things from you. When I was telling you about it, I did suspect, but if I had known that you really expected it, I wouldnt have worried, Caidi said with a glare at the man who was her mate. The man could drive her insane. She tried to ignore her bodys reaction to his touch on her breasts, his scent, and his very nearness, to focus on their conversation. Even when anger flowed through her, she wanted him. She was going soft, her body readying for his. Warmth was pooling within her, thick moisture gathering in her pussy. It was impossible to ignore everything. Raven laughed, his hands rubbing over her ribs and stomach. You will learn, little one. Caidi rolled her eyes at his arrogant statement even as she drew in a shaky breath as he cupped both of her breasts, lifting, squeezing. By the Goddess, he knew just how to touch her. His fingers plucked at her nipples, sending fire streaking down into the core of her. Of course, I will learn how you think, what you will do in certain situations. How else am I to know how to get my way when you might be inclined to stop me? she taunted. Raven laughed at her threat, totally unimpressed. It isnt easy for a Shadatai to deceive his or her mate. One will always know that there is something wrong even if they cant tell just what that is. You may learn to coax and cajole like any other woman, but you can be assured that I will be aware of when you are trying to scheme. How long will the change take? Caidi asked as she thought about what he said.

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Shadatai mates were able to touch each others minds, to know what their mate was feeling and some thoughts. In time she would be able to touch Ravens mind as he was able to touch hers. While she still wasnt accustomed to feeling his presence within her mind, it was an intimacy that she longed to experience again. It will only take a week or so. The only notable change to your body will be two stripes high on each side of your rib cage, running onto your back. They will taper to a point right about here. Raven ran his finger across her breast to the side and pointed to the underside of her breast. Her obvious enjoyment delighted him. I love the way you taste, the way you feel. You are so responsive that it sets me on fire. Caidi shivered at the tingle of electric desire zipping through her. She leaned down to kiss him, nibbling at his lips for a moment before running her tongue over his lips and entering his mouth with a slow, lazy glide. When Raven tried to reverse their positions, Caidi resisted the movement just enough to prevent him from completing it. She grabbed his hands when they began to pluck and fondle her breasts in that teasing tormenting way of his. With a gentle grip, she held them down by his side and flattened her body on his. She smiled into his curious eyes as she rubbed her body sensuously against his. Caidi There was clear warning in Ravens voice as he frowned up at her. She knew what he was warning. Either she stopped teasing or he would take matters into his own hands. Caidi knew her strength was no match for his, but there was a purpose to her teasing tonight. She had no intention of stopping until she had what she wanted. She wanted her Zarain male tonight. The craving to be dominated couldnt be resisted. Earlier had been good, but it had been far too civilized for the primal animal within her. She wanted to provoke him, taunt him and break his control over the animal, dominant side of his character. Deep within her there was a part of her which needed to know that he believed she belonged to him as much as she knew that he belonged to her. The only way to get what she wanted was to push him until he couldnt resist taking control. Caidi growled low in her throat when he tried to raise his hands to her shoulders. I want you like this tonight. Caidi leaned down and nipped at his shoulder in a quick move. I want to know that you are my male, all mine to do with as I want tonight. Caidi licked his lips again, pressing her tight, full breasts against his chest and rubbing them against the hard, muscled plane. She moaned at the electric tingles that coursed through her from even that simple contact. His scent was playing havoc with her needs. She could feel his desire in the press of his hard cock against her and smell it rolling off him almost in waves. Everything that was female within her responded and softened to welcome him. Caidi wasnt surprised when Raven gave a low, rumbling growl of his own. I want to play, Raven. I want to touch you and know that you respond to me, not merely because you are in need of a woman. I want to arouse you. You have so much

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control. Surely, you can let me play, just this little bit, Caidi whispered as she nibbled leisurely on the lobe of his ear. The position served to keep him from seeing the devilish smile on her face. She didnt want him guessing what she was doing just yet. Raven stopped pushing against her hands. He even left his hands by his sides when she slowly, cautiously released her grip on his wrists and sat up, watching him closely. She felt a light touch in her mind, could feel his need to know exactly what she was trying to do now. She kept her mind totally focused on his body. He felt her anticipation, her desire for him, but for the moment the thoughts and images in her head all focused on what she wanted to do to him. He suspected that she was playing a game, testing him. She felt his determination. He would bide his time until he knew for certain. Then, if she was playing, he would finish the game. You taste so good, mmm-hmm. Caidi leaned over to lap at his nipple before playfully nipping at it. Smell so good. Youre so strong, my chalon, but I know that you will never hurt me. That strength is my defense. Caidi laved at the flat brown disc before her, sucking at his hard, muscled chest. She pictured him before her, his hands tied behind him with colorful scarves. One of her hands slipped between their bodies and circled his thick cock. A low growl of urgency rumbled through Raven. He arched his hips into her hand, pumping into that stroking hand. By the Goddess, she pushed him. Didnt she know that he ached to be deep in her tight pussy? He wasnt with her in her mind, she knew. She was certain that that particular thought would have landed her on her back if he had chanced to catch it. She would have to keep going until he did pause to wonder what she thought she was doing. What next? Caidi drew back, kneeling between his legs and holding his long, hard staff in her hands. She ran a finger down the throbbing vein on the side of it. His muscles tensed and he groaned, his hands tightening into fists. All of this in the palm of my hands, Caidi murmured as she nibbled at the tight flesh over his ribs. She deliberately pictured him in a pair of manacles, silver ones attached to the wall. He was lying on a vibrantly draped bed. The coverings were contrasting blue and yellow and red, the fabric bright against his dark skin. His body was hard, aroused and she was fully dressed, stroking her hands across him, teasing him. All the strength, all the power within you is mine to command tonight, because you are so strong, so in control, my chalon. I know that whatever I want you will give it to me. You will ensure my happiness above all else. Caidi placed a kiss in the center of his flat, muscular abdomen. Caidi had become so absorbed in her imaginings and exploration of his body that she missed the tensing of his muscles. She also missed his touch within her mind. She had moved to nip at his hip, her hand cupping the sac as she ran her thumb over his balls in a slow, caressing movement.

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The bed seemed to come alive beneath Caidi. Her hand was pulled away from his sac and he flipped her onto her back in less than the blink of an eye. He was kneeling beside her even before she stopped bouncing on the soft mattress. The grin on her chalons face as he leaned over her was decidedly feral. Raven knelt between her thighs, captured both of her hands efficiently despite her effort to evade him and roll away. He raised her hands above her head and held them there with one of his. Ill give you what you need, my chalie, and right now, you need to be fucked, long and hard, and maybe youll need to be fucked again after that. You have been asking for it since we got to the room. You want me in you, now. Your scent calls to me. You want me filling you, riding you. I know without touching you that you are wet for me, your cream glistening on your cunt. Raven nibbled on one of her nipples, before sucking it into his mouth, alternately suckling, scraping it with his teeth and flicking it with his tongue. His free hand moved into the blonde curls at the apex of her thighs. One of his fingers dipped into the warm folds and found her wet and slick as he had predicted. His finger rubbed over her clitoris. He stroked the swollen nub until her hips arched and twisted beneath his hand, her eyes glazed with desire and she was panting as she strained, arching, seeking fulfillment. What do you want, Caidi? Raven asked, leaning forward to kiss her, his tongue thrusting aggressively into her mouth as his fingers plucked at one of her nipples. Her tongue eagerly tangled with his and she writhed against him. I want you. Caidi arched into him. She wanted him, hot, hard and deep within her. All games had been tossed to the side now. Whose chalie are you? Raven raised an eyebrow and waited for an answer. Two of his fingers slid easily into the snug channel of her slit, his fingers already coated with the evidence of her urgent yearning for him. She was more than ready for him. Caidi turned her head to the side and bit her lip as the sharp sensation of desire tightened within her. She hadnt even really heard his question. Her focus was centered on the pulsing need slamming through her. Her pussy clenched around his thrusting fingers. She was so close, just a little more, another touch, another kiss. Her hips undulated against his hand. Ravens fingers left her when her silence continued and Caidi groaned her disappointment. Please. Caidi twisted beneath him, her legs moving restlessly. Her arousal was a sharp blade cutting through her. Every touch sent fire raging right to the ache within her pussy. Raven nipped her shoulder. He knew the sharp, stinging sensation would heighten her arousal. With a wicked grin, intent upon making her want him as much as he wanted her, he sent her an image complete with feelings. In that image, he was bent over her, licking her body, especially enjoying the delightful scent and taste of the flesh between her thighs. He bent and took her dark nipple into his mouth, sucking lightly.

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The image sent a rush of hot need pouring through her. She could feel how much he wanted her, how much he truly liked her taste, the feel of her in his mouth. She arched and twisted beneath him, desperate to reach climax. She felt the warm honey flow from her needy cunt, felt it flowing down onto her buttocks. Desperate, she arched, her head pushing back into the soft mattress. She needed to be filled, to feel the thick, hard length of his shaft driving into her, his hard body over hers. Whose chalie are you? Whose sons will you bear? Who do you hunger for? Raven tugged on her lips with his teeth. The Zarain male within him demanded that she acknowledge him. With her teasing game, she had brought the dominant animal to the surface. She wouldnt reach climax until she gave him what she needed. I can keep you like this, hovering near peak for as long as it takes. Tell me. Oh Caidi moaned, turning her head agitatedly as his fingers plucked at her nipples. She arched, pulling at her captive hands, writhing, straining against him, aching for him. Yours, only yours, I only want you. She moaned breathlessly. What do you want? Raven smiled, enjoying the hunger, the need displayed on her face. I want you in me. Caidis body rolled against his as his mouth moved to her neck. She couldnt stay still, the need burned within her, desperate for fulfillment. Again, tell me whose chalie you are. Raven nipped the delicate skin just below her ear. His hands cupped her breasts, his thumbs flicking at her nipples. Yours! Caidi cried desperately. Yes, mine, always mine, only mine, Raven growled as he slid over her and drove fiercely within her. He maintained his grip on her hands as he thrust within her, keeping her helpless beneath him, subject to his whims. Caidi found release almost immediately. Her body was racked with the fierce shudders from the intense climax that gripped her. She lost her breath and arched her body against his, shaking. Caidi had felt Raven stop moving within her as soon as she reached peak. She blinked up at him, confused. He was staring down at her with a burning intensity in his eyes. His cock was still hard and remained deep within her. Caidi felt a hand on her breast, but she knew that it couldnt be one of Ravens hands, because one of his hands was holding her wrists and the other was balancing his weight as he stared down at her with that gleaming silver gaze that was more unnerving now than it had ever been before. She saw the strain on his face, the concentration that it required, but he was still and hard inside her. Caidi looked down at her breasts. She saw and felt her breasts being lifted, lightly squeezed, the nipples tweaked by large hands, but she couldnt see any hands. She quickly raised amazed eyes to Ravens face. He was grinning ferally at her. If she had had any doubts about just who was doing it, they would have been cleared in that moment. She closed her eyes, because the sight of her breasts being fondled by nothing was a little unsettling. The feel, though, that was incredible. Sharp

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stinging pleasure spread through her as her nipples were plucked by unseen fingers. Images, feelings flooded into her from the man poised above her. Caidi felt the tightening urgency within her. She saw herself as he saw her, stretched out below him, at his mercy and flushed with desire. Her hair was wild, flowing around her head and shoulders in a shining golden curtain. Her lips were swollen from his kisses. Her breasts were large and flushed, the tips a dark brown-red. The images were arousing, but it was his intense reaction to the image of her as his that caused a rush of liquid heat to flow through her. Caidi stiffened, eyes snapping open in surprise, pulling at her pinned arms as she felt something brush against her clit. She closed her eyes as everything within her centered on the sharp, tightening ache within her core. She rocked her hips against that unseen hand and couldnt restrain a whimper of need and disappointment as the tormenting touch faded and disappeared. Wrap your legs around my hips. Raven was near the end of his control. He needed to feel her more tightly wrapped around his cock. She had burned him with her teasing. Caidi did as he said without pause. She was too close to climax to deny him anything now. He thrust within her, taking her lips in a possessive, claiming kiss as his body claimed hers in the primitive mating act, dominating and possessing her even as he was claimed by her. Caidi found her release at the first thrust that took him deep within her, moaning softly as bliss exploded within her. Raven continued to thrust within her, his need to climax too strong to ignore now. The hot, wet suction of her pussy tugging at him shredded the last of his control. He pounded into her, needing more. His lips clamped on to her shoulder as his hips pumped against hers. That primitive possession thrilled the wild animal need driving him. He thrust deep and hard within her as he came. Heated ecstasy slammed through him in a hot, searing wave. His seed spurted deep into her even as he felt Caidis pussy begin to tighten around his cock as climax took her again. Caidi expected the sensations, the strong masculine energy and the intense pleasure, but was still unprepared for them when they hit her. They washed over her, triggering an echoing response in her. She cried out softly as she arched, her eyes closing as her body shook with the release caused by his link with her mind. Caidi felt Raven release her hands as his weight came down on her, blanketing her in a protective, very possessive manner. She was breathless, but it wasnt from the weight of his body on hers. With a contented sigh, she pulled him closer. She was still recovering from everything that he had done to her, but she had loved every moment of it. She was sated, content and a little sleepy. Yawning, she nuzzled her nose against the side of his neck and stroked her hands over his shoulders in lazy appreciation. Raven withdrew from her and shifted to the side, lying next to her. Caidi snuggled

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against him even as he pulled her close to him, securing her with a leg across hers and his hand resting low on her stomach. The body language was plain. She wasnt going anywhere even if she had wanted to try. Caidis eyes closed slowly. The heat of Ravens body was as good as any blanket and she fell into a contented, deep sleep without any trouble.

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Chapter Eleven
Caidi knew she was dreaming when she found herself standing in a large, almost cavernous room. The walls were a gray, slightly reflective stone. Lamps and candles had been placed along the walls on golden stands and sconces. A large, wooden chair was centered along the far wall and there was a silver fur rug in front of the chair. The room was empty except for that lone chair and the lights. Caidi had never seen a room like it. Raven lounged in the large, high-backed chair, one leg thrown over one of the arms in a dominant pose of possession. He wore tight black leather pants and knee-high, polished black boots. His bare, broad golden chest gleamed in the flickering candle and lamp light highlighting the tattoos on his chest and arms. With an arrogant motion of his hand, he beckoned her closer. Caidi paced forward with a small smile on her face. She had wondered if Shadatai Zarain mates shared their dreams as normal Zarain mates did. She now knew they did. The Shadatai had other, more powerful talents and abilities, so it wasnt inconceivable that they might have been unable to share dreams. Did we have fun playing our games tonight, my chalie? Raven asked with a stern frown on his face. Caidi wasnt intimidated. She tilted her head as she studied her chalon. Is this going to be an inquisition? She deliberately didnt answer his question. Her eyes ran over him with lustful enjoyment. He really was a finely made man with that long, gleaming black hair and those broad shoulders and powerful thighs, a body made for fighting and sex. Yes, this is going to be an inquisition. Raven frowned at her, trying to control the urge to smile. She was such a wild thing and he loved that about her, but she would admit to her maneuvering. Did you have fun tonight? Caidi pursed her lips as if she really needed to think about that question. It was delicious. It took me a little while to figure out just what kind of game you were playing, what you really wanted. You were doing an excellent job of hiding your true desires from me for most of the time that you pushed and provoked me. You did start slipping there toward the end, before I took over everything, incited by you. You did take over, Caidi purred, a wide smile curving her lips as she remembered that wild lovemaking. You went a little far when you pictured me chained to the bed. I would have taken over then even if I hadnt managed to work out what the whole situation was about.

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You knew that I would never let you go that far. Raven sat back in the chair, almost as if they were having a normal conversation. You got a little caught up in devising your little scenarios, didnt you? You wondered if I was with you and how far you would have to push, what you would have to do to get me to react. If you say so, I was enjoying myself. Thinking about you at my mercy was a little exciting. I dont remember every little thought that passed through my head. Caidi turned her head to hide the lie even as a blush warmed her cheeks. She had surprised herself with some of those thoughts. Admit it. Raven straightened in the chair and his eyes narrowed on her. You wanted me exactly as I was tonight. You pushed and pushed until you got the reaction you wanted. Caidi swallowed and looked at him, took a deep breath and told the truth. Yes, I pushed you tonight, on purpose, but I didnt know exactly what I would get. You wanted me to assume the dominant role in our love. I want to know why, Raven challenged as he watched her face carefully. Caidi took a deep breath and searched for the words to explain the way she felt, why she had done it. I wanted it from our first time together at the inn, but there wasnt time before I discovered that you were Shadatai and I had to leave. I couldnt think of a way to provoke you into doing it then without revealing everything and landing myself in real trouble. Tonight, I finally got my chance. In my head, I knew that we belonged together, but a deeper part of me needed to know that you considered me as much yours as you are mine. And you needed it to be proven to you in the most fundamental, primitive way. Ravens head bobbed in an understanding nod. Do you know it now and for all of our lives that you can never deny it? Do you know that you are my woman, bound and never again free to roam taverns hunting mates or fathers for your children? Caidi chuckled. She had a feeling he was never going to let her forget that. I know that you are mine and I am yours and there is no running from that fact. Next time, just ask me. Tell me that you need to know that you are mine, that you need proof. That is much simpler and easier than sorting through all of your feminine plots and schemes to discover what you really want. Raven heaved an abused male sigh. It is also less likely to send me into the super-primitive mode that you witnessed tonight. Caidis smile was full of remembered sensual gratification. I kind of like that man, but if I just want reassurance I will think of something. Maybe I will just picture you in chains. I am sure that you will remember what it means. The smile turned a little sassy. Of course, I do know of someone who could make me some chains that might hold you. As I said before, the idea of you at my mercy does have its merits. Chains are out of the question if you are thinking of me being the one held by them. They wouldnt hold me, not nearly long enough for the torture that you have in mind. You would also find yourself beneath me much as you were tonight, but for a

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longer time. You can use rope or fabric and I will play games with you, but I will also play my own when I decide that I have had enough of your torture, Raven threatened with a heated smile. Who would have guessed that you would be so autocratic about this? Caidi sighed and shot him a reproving look. I must always be prepared to protect you from attack. Raven sent her a frown that showed that he meant business. Chains and manacles are out. All right, Caidi conceded and her sigh gave her acceptance of his dictate. There is something that Ive wanted to ask you, but I needed privacy to ask it. We havent really been alone much in the time that I have been here and when we have been alone, we have been more involved with each other. I keep forgetting to ask you. Come here. Raven held out his hand in an imperious demand. What do you need to know? Caidi settled onto his lap with a contented sigh and his arms came around her, pulling her against him, tilting her chin up so that she had to look into his eyes. Every time that we make love, at the end I come again when you do. Is that normal? Is that something that happens with all Zarain or only with Shadatai? Raven chuckled. Ah, the rekai, it is very normal for you to experience that. I would be a poor excuse for a man if you didnt feel it. It is stronger with the Shadatai, but the sensory exchange between a man and his woman is experienced by all Zarain. No one talked to you about these things? Raven laced his hand with hers and brushed his thumb back and forth over her soft skin. My mother and I didnt talk much about sex. It wasnt something that was just learned as it is in normal packs. She died when I was fourteen and I had to take the position of Acine, leading women who were years older than me. At first, it was simply not something I could ask them or would have thought to ask and later they were gone, either because they couldnt accept me or they disappeared while they were on a mission. Tell me what happened with the older women of your mothers pack. It is fairly obvious that most of you have been alone since you came into womanhood, Raven urged. As I said, some of them disappeared while they were traveling. When they were overdue for so long that it was obvious that something had happened, we looked for them. We went to where they were supposed to be, but we couldnt find any trace of them. At the time, we thought that they might have been found and claimed by another Zarain. We all knew of the risk, that if a Zarain man found his mate he would take her to his home. Caidi sighed. So many had gone. And the others? Ravens breath feathered over her ear. Others simply couldnt adjust after my mothers death to taking orders from an Acine who was little more than a pup, and they left. There were some who wanted to leave whose children refused to leave with them, but they left anyway. There were still
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others who died naturally in defense of the Taivain during our battles against the occasional rogue. Caidi felt a wave of sadness wash over her at the memory of all of those who had been lost over the years. She pressed closer to Raven, needing his reassuring warmth. Those who didnt want to take orders from you, they didnt just leave peacefully, did they? Raven was well aware of what had probably happened. They had a right to challenge for the position. Leadership of the pack wasnt that stable at that time. I was grieving my mother and had a lot to learn. Caidi shrugged her shoulders. She didnt blame those who had challenged her in the least. The first one, maybe she had a right to challenge you. After you had defeated her, the rest of them should have acknowledged you as the rightful leader and offered you the benefit of their years of experience, helping to guide you through those first days. Your status as leader was firmly established after that first battle. By challenging you after that, they broke pack law and knew it. They were all members of this pack and owed loyalty to it. Not one of them was an outsider challenging for leadership, Raven stated authoritatively with a frown on his face. Caidi smiled at his offended attitude. This pack was very lucky in a lot of ways. We had been trading cloth and wine at that point, but we hadnt found the gems yet. It was scary enough knowing that there were women out there who knew not only where the Taivain was, but that we were trading successfully. Raven made an agreeing sound as his arms tightened around her. We could have had a lot more trouble over the years with more than just rogues and bandits if those women had found a mate and a pack and had been able to tell them of gems just waiting for any who would want them or could protect them. It was bad enough having to fight off the small groups of rogues. It gives me the shudders to think of what some would do to gain the wealth of those gems. You were very lucky. Raven felt a chill run down his spine at the images which readily came to mind of what he knew some would do for even a few of those gems. He knew that the women had defended themselves against outlaws and small groups of rogue Zarain as well as groups of humans, but a concerted attack by a welltrained, well-equipped pack would have been difficult to repel, if not impossible. He held her tightly in his arms, physically reassuring himself that she had survived all of those years and that now, he was here to protect her.

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Chapter Twelve
Caidi walked down the hall near the kitchen in the Taivain. Her destination was a room a little farther down the hallway. She entered the room and smiled at the four women sitting around the table, talking quietly. Raven had been gone for three weeks, but they talked of what they were doing every day through their mind-link. It was still new to Caidi and she still found it very strange to be able to talk to him, to feel his emotions when he wasnt close to her. Raven still had to help her a little with the connection, because it was difficult to link to his thoughts with the distance between them. The strange thing was that talking with him in her mind didnt seem quite as alien as the marks, the malkit, which had appeared on her back. He, some of his men and the women who were most familiar with the trading procedures had gone to deliver the trade goods. She was still in charge, but he wanted to know what the process entailed. He was also going to inform the Bavaok that there wouldnt be any further trade with them. Caidi was almost certain that she knew why he didnt want control of the trade. The details and logistics were sometimes difficult, but working with traders could strain even the most even-tempered. They were already on their way back to the Taivain. Raven was enjoying selling something other than his sword. Through messengers, he had already arranged to take some of their wares to Askara. Caidi was glad that Raven was returning. In spite of the frequency of their contact, she had missed him. She missed talking with him during the day, touching him as she passed him in the hall. She missed eating with him for the first meal. She hadnt realized what those quiet, intimate moments she spent with him meant to her until he left. In the middle of the night, she missed cuddling up to his warm body in that big bed. At the first meal, she had taken to eating with some of her friends to alleviate the lonely feeling. There was nothing she could do about the nights. With him gone, the bed that had seemed perfect was big and cold and she found it hard to get to sleep. Now, why would I expect my chalie to be waiting for me in our room with this hot meal when I return after weeks away from her? Do I take it as a hint that she didnt miss me as I missed her or do I put it down to sheer feminine stubbornness? Ravens voice inside her head was full of humor and heated desire. Caidi turned her head toward the door before she realized that Ravens voice was in her mind and not in the room with her. Youre here, really here? Caidi was almost afraid to believe that he had returned. Goddess, she had missed him. Her mood had swung from almost despondent to joyous in the blink of an eye.

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Im here and I had the presence of mind to stop by the kitchens and divert your meal to where it should be, Raven crowed with the smug arrogance that made her want to hit him at times. Come to me. Caidi stood, gave the surprised women a bright smile. I have to go. Raven is back and my meal is waiting for me. The other women merely chuckled and waved her out of the room. Caidi tried to keep her pace to a walk and not break into a run as she hurried toward her bedroom. She was anxious to see her mate after his absence and wanted to touch him, hold him. Impatiently, she threw open the door to their room. Raven sat in a chair at the table, but he had turned the chair to face the door as he waited for her to arrive. Their food had already been delivered and sat still steaming hot on the platters. She closed the door and took a step toward him. Lock it, Caidi. I have told them not to disturb us until they see us, but someone might not get the message. Ravens voice held a wealth of sensual promise as he sprawled in the chair watching her as if she might bolt for safety. Caidi locked the door and walked over to the laden table in a slow, hip-swaying stride that had his eyes focused hungrily on her waist. She tried to go around the table to her seat, but stopped when she noticed that there was only one plate, one cup and one set of utensils on the table. Raven turned his chair and held out his hand to her in more of a demand than an offer. Caidi eagerly went into his arms, her own arms going smoothly around his shoulders as she slid onto his right leg. He pulled her fully onto his lap, turned her sideways, and kissed her fiercely. I have missed having you in my arms, sweet one. Ravens growl turned husky as he inhaled her scent. She knew he wanted her. Caidi felt his cock pressing against her hip and could smell the musk of his desire rising around her, fanning her passion into flame in response. No more than I have missed you, your strength, your presence. Caidi slid her fingers into his hair as she nipped at his lips in a hunger for something other than food. Have you no sense, my chalie? I have been on the trail for a solid week, woman. I am hungry for food and you. Since I know that you wont go cold during the wait, we are going to eat first and then you can show me just how much you missed me. Raven unwound her arms from his neck and turned her so that she faced the table. Caidi arched an eyebrow at his arrogant statement, but lifted the spoon, dipped it into some mashed, steamed aruka, and fed him the morsel of food. His hand gathered her skirt as she surveyed the food on the plate. It slid under the loose material, stroking over her silky thigh as she picked up a bite-size chunk of meat and slipped it between his lips. As he chewed, his hand cupped her mons, one finger dipping between the plump lips to find her wet and wanting before it retreated. His eyes dropped to her breasts, the hardened peaks visible even through the material of the shirt she wore.

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Caidis hand shook when she felt large hands cup and lift her breasts. The thumbs began to flick at her nipples, plucking at the engorged nubs until she moaned. She knew that the hands caressing and tormenting her breasts had no physical form, but the sensations were too real. Daggers of need shot through her with each pluck or twisting tug. She knew where both of his hands were. One of his hands was alternately playing with her hair and stroking the skin below her earlobe and his other hand was still between her thighs. She scooped up a bit of morasa grain and chopped callots onto the spoon. She slipped it into his mouth just before two of his fingers slipped deep into her honeyed, aching channel. She bit back a moan and shivered as his thumb stroked over her clit. Now you. Ravens fingers halted their movement. It took a moment for Caidi to realize that he meant that she should eat something now. With undisguised masculine enjoyment, he watched as she ate some meat and some morasa. He loved the way she responded, giving everything within her, holding nothing back. Caidi alternately fed him and then herself, having to concentrate on the task more and more as time passed. Raven continued to fondle and stroke her as they ate, but he deliberately kept her wanting, her desire high, and didnt let her find release. He often took drinks of wine and would kiss her, flooding her mouth with wine and his taste. The man was a vicious tease. Caidis hand shook as she held the spoon to his lips. She needed, burned, yet he denied her release. Ravens thumb stroked over her clit and Caidi almost dropped the spoon as the sharp jolt of pleasure shot through her. She closed her eyes and wondered what her chances were of getting that wineglass and drinking enough to take the edge off the ache. She had been aching for him for almost the whole meal and she was almost ready to beg for completion. Her appetite was nonexistent. She wasnt hungry for food, but took small bites of the food when Raven noticed that she had been feeding only him. The meal would go on much longer if he thought that she hadnt eaten enough. The man was determined to see to all of her needs. She just wished he would do it one at a time. Finally, Raven decided that he had had enough just as Caidi was opening her mouth to ask him if he was finished. Her fingers were stroking the hair at the nape of his neck when he sat forward and took a final drink of wine. He stood in a powerful, fluid motion, cradling her in his arms, and carried her to the bed. He allowed her lower body to swing free and then slowly lowered her until her feet touched the floor allowing her to feel the long, thick bulge of him pressed against her for a long moment before he released her. Caidi struggled out of her clothing, eager to feel him inside her, filling the empty ache within her. She climbed onto the bed and impatiently watched as he removed his clothing. He hastily unbuttoned his black shirt, sending more than one button flying before he shrugged the material off his shoulders. In the flickering light of the candles on the table, the pronounced muscles in his broad chest, shoulders and arms rippled and gleamed with every movement. Those black-inked tattoos only reinforced the width
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and the musculature of his chest and arms. She wanted to get her hands on that gleaming golden skin. Caidi smiled when he tossed the last of his clothing away with a negligent movement and crawled into bed. She wanted him so much. With his fingers on her and the touch of those unseen hands, their meal had been a protracted session of sensual agony for her that had left her so hungry that if he didnt move soon she was going to attack him. Raven moved between her thighs, hooking her legs onto his arms. He leaned down and took one plump red nipple into his mouth. He loved the slightly salty tang, the silky feel of her skin. Drawing on it hungrily, he feasted on her breast, the tight, aching sensation causing her to arch her back and lace her fingers into his hair, holding him where he was as the pleasure-pain shot through her, heightening her need for release. Raven, please. Caidi tried to move her legs, tried to wrap them around his hips and pull him to her, but he grabbed the leg that she had moved and once more hooked it onto his arm. This time his hand firmly held her calf. I ache for you. I need you now. Please, come to me. How do you need me? Ravens teeth scraped over her nipple as he moved to suckle her other breast. Caidis hands fisted in his hair, daggers of urgency surging through her in pulses as he sucked her nipple deep into his mouth. The pulses zinged from her breast straight to the tightening ache deep within her. Her whole body blazed, became unbearably sensitive. She could feel her racing pulse pounding in the hard swollen hood of her clitoris. The hot liquid of her desire, her lust, slid over the cheeks of her buttocks and she shivered as it felt searing hot against the cooler flesh. I need you in me, Raven. Caidis hips arched in silent demand for what she needed. Raven kissed her, his tongue thrusting into her mouth, rubbing against the roof of her mouth and tangling with her tongue. Caidi fell into his kiss and ran her hands over his back. She pulled at him, her nails sinking into his back as she urged him on. Burning need danced through her. Release remained tantalizingly out of reach. Caidi arched her back, moaned in satisfaction as Raven thrust fully into her with a forceful surge that was all that her body needed. Her nails scored his back as every nerve in her body caught fire and exploded. Her legs tightened pushing against his arms as she shuddered, everything within her convulsing with the climax sweeping through her body. Raven stilled within her as she keened her pleasure in a moan that sounded as if her soul were being torn from her. He savored the feel of those inner muscles clenching and unclenching around his cock, drawing on him. When he saw and felt her relax, he slipped his hands between their still-joined bodies to bring her to peak again. He loved the almost stunned look that came over her
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face when her orgasm took her. His fingers stroked over her clit and he enjoyed her quick response to his touch. Soon, her hips writhed demandingly against him and her eyes became glazed with passion. Her nails sunk into the taut muscular globes of his butt in a sharp demand. His hips drove against hers in a forceful thrust which caused his balls to smack noisily against her buttocks. Caidi pulled his head down for a kiss and arched, rubbing her breasts against his chest. She encouraged him with breathy pants and moans as he surged into her. She called his name as she found release, surprised at the intensity. Only moments later, Raven came with a loud, harsh groan. Daggers of ecstasy raced up his spine and spread outward as his seed sprayed deep into her pussy. Every time they came together it got better, hotter. Caidi was swept high in another orgasm. A high, breathless sound escaped her lips as every muscle in her body tightened and shook with the intense rush of passion. Feeling as if she had been swept away in a flood of intense feelings, she held on to him tightly, her fingers clutching his hair, because at that moment he was the only real thing in her world. Caidi slowly unclenched her fists from Ravens hair and looked up at the ceiling. Her heart raced, pounded. Her chest heaved in rapid shallow pants of breath. If she hadnt known that countless generations of Zarain women before her had survived and flourished experiencing this second climax, the rekai, she would have been seriously worried that she would die from the sheer excitement, the pleasure that she found in Ravens arms. She had never dreamed that feelings like that existed. Raven recovered from the aftermath of their lovemaking before Caidi did. He watched with an arrogant smile on his face as she struggled to slow her breathing. The flush on her face, the rise of her breasts against him made him harden again. She was so beautiful. He withdrew from her and eased to the side, cupping her breast, liking the weight and fullness in his hand. Suddenly, Caidi knew exactly what he was thinking, feeling. Images flooded her mind. The sight of that lush mound made him think of their future together. He wanted to see her body change with pregnancy. The rounding of her belly with his cub delighted him. He wanted to see his babe suckling at her breast. I want your babe, but what I want to see is you holding it. I imagine you lying back against the headboard, the babe asleep on your chest. I can see it. You are such a big, strong, fierce warrior, but with the baby you would be infinitely tender and patient, Caidi told him with their mind link, letting him know that she had been sharing his thoughts and that she wanted his baby, every bit as much as he did.

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Chapter Thirteen
Raven smiled at her, lifting her easily as he rolled from the bed. He carried her to the tub, flicking the lever to close the drain and the one to turn on the water. Caidi raised her eyebrows at his presumption that she wanted to take a bath with him. He set her on her feet and went to get the sponge, soap and drying sheets from one of the shelves. While he was gone, Caidi decided that there might be interesting possibilities in sharing a bath with him. As he came back, she was stretching lithely, her arms high above her head, her back arched and her legs tensed. She stepped into the water with a very eager, curious glance which swept over his muscled form as he dropped the toweling sheets a safe distance away from the tub. Raven stepped into the water a moment later and smiled at her as he set the soap and the sponge to the side. This will only be a bath, my insatiable chalie. We both have work to do this day, we must return to it. We have already stolen some precious time for ourselves, Raven warned with a stern frown on his face as he caught the direction of her thoughts. Caidi smiled at him, unimpressed by the frown he wore or his warning. She knew that he would be more than capable of seeing to her needs and getting his work done. This man was just as insatiable as she was. His cock was hard, darkened. With just a little temptation, they could enjoy another romp before returning to their duties. She grabbed the sponge and soap without commenting on his restriction or whether she would abide by it. She soaped the sponge and moved forward. She knelt beside him and ran the sponge across his chest in slow, sweeping motions. Although she had never been a seductress before, she was determined to try. Already, she wanted him intensely and he hadnt touched her or made any seductive moves. Just her own lustful thoughts, the sight of his naked body and his tantalizing smell had begun a flood of sensations rolling through her. You know, you did make me wonder about some things when you first told me what those marks on your back, chest and arms meant. Caidi decided to try a ruse. She wanted him distracted so that she could make him want her as much as she wanted him. Do the females in your packs wear symbols such as that? And since you now have a pack of your own, will you be getting a new marking, a new clan symbol? Yes, I will be getting a new pack marking, taneen. This pack is now Shadatai and everything will be done accordingly. Raven leaned back against the cool wall of the tub and studied her. His little mate was scheming. Caidi ran the sponge over his arms leaving a trail of soapy bubbles. You and your men will get marked? When? She remembered his surprise that the pack hadnt had a
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name until he came. Within moments of hearing this, hed begun thinking about a proper name. Hed decided on Oroyai. You will be getting a pack marking as well. Just as soon as we finish designing the symbol, we will begin with the marking. Caidi thought about that, diverted for a moment. She wondered if the marking would hurt badly. She didnt even know how it was done. What about those women who arent mated? Why will they not be getting a marking? As a pack with quite a few unmated females, we will be getting requests from the free males of all of the established packs to come here to see if they can find their mate among our women. Raven watched through hooded eyes as she ran her fingers over his arm, following that trail of soap. Do you know what you do to me with the scrape of your nails? Have mercy, woman. This is a simple bath. We do not have time for more. A wicked smile curved her lips as that admission tore from his lips, but she focused on his first comment. They would come here? That was the first she had heard of it. She slid the sponge down to his abdomen and under the water. As if it were an accident, she brushed the soft sponge across his hard cock before gliding the sponge over the strong columns of his legs. That is the traditional way that Zarain males find mates among other Zarain. It is unusual for Zarain women to wander around free, unescorted. Our males will also be able to go to these other packs to see if they have a mate just waiting to be found there. It opens many doors that were once closed to my men. No father wants to mate his daughter to a man without a stable, secure home. Raven had to clear his throat before he could speak. The woman seemed determined to drive him insane. Caidi now understood the reason behind some of his recent actions. He was planning ahead to the day when some of the women would leave this pack. His men had found another entrance to the gem cave and he had had the other entrance sealed. As it was only men now who gathered the gems, no female knew where the entrance was. Quite a few of his men had found mates among her pack, but there were still unmated men and women. He was seeing to the protection of the pack when some of the other women found their mates. Even if the woman wanted to please her new mate and tell him how to find the gems, she couldnt. Caidi leaned forward and nipped his earlobe, soothing the small sting with a swipe of her tongue, before drawing away from his body. She rinsed out the sponge and then rained clean water over him, rinsing him over and over until the last trace of soap was gone from his body. She wiped the sponge over his chest as if to make sure there was no soap there. As her hand neared his abdomen, she released the sponge and encircled his thick cock. She felt him jerk as she teasingly squeezed him. Goddess, she prayed this worked. She leaned forward and settled her mouth over his, kissing him thoroughly. Thrusting

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her tongue into his mouth, flicking and stroking her tongue against his, she took her time, enjoying the kiss. Her hand stroked over his rapidly hardening length, even as her teeth tugged on his lip. You are such a little tease, Raven growled as her lips left his with a last flick of her tongue around the outline of his lips. Caidi laughed huskily, shaking her head in denial, her expression innocent. She felt the pulse of his blood underneath her fingers as she stroked his cock. Im not a tease. I fully intend to finish what I start with you. This tub gives me some very interesting ideas. Do you think that you are up to the task? Raven challenged in a husky growl, momentarily forgetting his edict as he saw the speculative gleam in her eyes. He liked this boldness. Its not hard to satisfy you at all. Caidi laughed and drew her finger over the outline of his lips. I know what you want. You have told me often enough. You want my breasts in your hands and mouth, you want the taste of me on your lips, and you want your hard Raven stopped the flow of words by placing his hand over her mouth. I seem to remember that I said something about us having work to do and that we must return to the others and that this would simply be a shared bath. Raven frowned at her as she removed his hand from her mouth and promptly leaned forward to nip his earlobe. She showed no fear at all. Good in one way, but he was going to have to get a handle on her before she became impossible. Although even if she was impossible, she would undoubtedly still delight him. It must be your imagination. Surely if you actually said something like that, I, being the dutiful chalie that I am, would abide by your dictates, Caidi whispered as she moved to straddle his thighs. She rubbed her wet, creamy pussy over his hard cock. Are you going to tell me that you are going to refuse to see to my needs, my chalon, that you will leave me wanting, aching, hot, all day long? Ravens eyes almost rolled back in his head as the hair of her pussy caressed him and water swirled around his cock and thighs. You do need something, that is true, but I think that my hand across a certain rounded portion of your body will satisfy that. Raven sat stiff and straight as she nibbled and sucked on his earlobe. As she very well knew, it was a sensitive part of his body and he found what she was doing very arousing. Oh. Caidi rubbed her breasts against his hard chest, fast losing all desire to tease. The tight, swollen globes of her bosom tingled with contact. Little pulses of sensation zinged to the tight, hot core of her need, causing her to shake and move even more against him, seeking the flood of euphoria that she knew she would find in release. Goddess, she wanted him in her, filling her. I know that you didnt plan to do this, but the thought of you and me, here in the water has me so excited. All I had to do was start

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thinking about everything that you might do to me, with me, that I could do to you and I could feel myself getting wet with the want. Caidi grabbed one of his hands and drew it between their bodies and into the water. She guided his hand to the aching flesh between her legs. Feel how hot I am for you. You havent even touched me, have told me that this is only to be a bath, yet I am on fire for the feel of you. I keep getting these strange exciting thoughts about things that are probably impossible to actually do, but I want to try them anyway. I want you any way I can get you. Yes, you are hot for me. Youre such a sensual creature. Raven thrust his fingers into her warm, wet core. He could tell the difference between the water and her cum. Tell me about these thoughts that you would like to try, he encouraged as her hips began to rock against his hand. In my thoughts, you were sitting on the edge of the tub and I was in the tub, kneeling between your legs. Your fingers were tangled in my hair. I was kissing and taking yourum, you into my mouth. You looked as if you were enjoying it so much. Caidi blushed, red staining her cheeks, but she kept looking at him in spite of her burning embarrassment. She wanted him too much to deny it. Raven chuckled as he realized just what had happened. That is my thought that you found so exciting, little one. You are getting better at picking up my thoughts. As to your belief that it wasnt possible, it is and yes, I would enjoy it very much. I would kill for the feel of your mouth on my shaft. Caidi smiled arching against his hands, aching for more than his fingers. She drew in a gasping breath and a shiver tore through her body as his thumb pressed against her clit. Oh and the other ones? In one of your other thoughts, were you sitting on the edge of the tub? I was kneeling between your thighs, holding you, licking at your sweet clit, thrusting my fingers into your vagina the way that I did when you finally came home to me. I know that you find joy in that and we will do that again soon. Raven drew his thumb back and forth over her clit and watched her eyes go cloudy. Caidi squirmed and wiggled against him both at the sensual image he had recreated with his words and the fiery need shooting through her body, bringing her a little closer to climax, from the slow stroke of his thumb across her clit. She tilted her head back, biting her lip momentarily at a particularly sharp jolt when he scissored his fingers inside her. How did he know just what to do to her to make her body ignite? Yes, Raven, that was it, Caidi panted, her hips pressing down against his hand as she sought to quench the tight, hot ache deep within her. Lean back, Caidi, Raven ordered. Caidi didnt hesitate to lean back. She gasped as the fingers moving within her found a spot that sent a shivering spike through her entire body. Her hips rocked instinctively against his hand. His other arm was behind her back, holding her, and she leaned against it, her back slightly arched, her breasts thrusting toward the ceiling.

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Raven leaned down and took the upwardly thrust nipple into his mouth, scraping his teeth over it in teasing torment. He nibbled on the peak, tugging at it, flicking at it with his tongue, before curling his tongue around the reddened nipple and sucking fiercely. Settling in to feast, he inhaled taking in her scent as well as her luscious taste. Caidi moaned, lacing her fingers into his hair and holding him tightly to her breast, feeling every tug, every pull deep within the core of her. Biting her lip, she quivered as sensation after sensation tore through her. A part of her didnt want him to stop, ever. It felt so good. Soon, the need roared through her. Her hips moved against his hand as everything within her tightened, her only thought to reach that peak and find the completion that waited. You are so perfect for me, Raven breathed against the skin of her breast, sending shivers spiraling through her. You are so hot and ready. Mine, only mine. Caidi moaned as his hand withdrew from between her legs, leaving her poised on the edge of a violent climax, aching for just that little bit more, aching for the emptiness within her to be filled by him. She reared up reaching for him. He couldnt leave her like this. I want to be in you, deep and hard. Ravens breath fluttered against her ear as he lifted her and came to his feet in a swift motion. He stepped from the tub but didnt take her to the bed. He laid her on the marble floor next to the tub. Caidi drew in a shocked breath as the cold marble pressed against her heated body. She arched up and away from the floor, confused, still wanting him. Raven lowered his body onto hers and his weight pressed her fully against cold stone. The contrast was almost too much for her sensitized body. Raven lifted her knees higher around his waist and her legs locked around his back. He kissed her deeply as he thrust within her, his hard length plunging in aggressively. He needed to feel those slick walls stretching around his cock, hear her moans as she came. His tongue stroked in her mouth in a sensual imitation of his driving hips. Caidis tongue followed his as he withdrew it into his mouth and he sucked on it. She was too aroused to take much more. He moved against her hard, grinding his hips into hers. At one particularly deep thrust, she felt her mind splinter and light exploded before her eyes as a dazzling climax washed over her. The swirling, frantic torrent left her shaking beneath him with pleasure. Raven continued to plunge his hard shaft deep into her as he sought his own satisfaction. He heard the gasps and moans of her completion and felt the muscles in her pussy squeezing and pulling at him. His release rushed over him. His head arched back as his hips drove against hers. Caidi knew it would happen, but she couldnt prepare for it. When he found his release with a harsh groan, holding her tightly to him as his hips jerked against her, Caidi was stunned by the thrill that washed through her mind and translated itself into a shuddering climax that had her clutching at him and moaning his name hoarsely.

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Ahh My chalie, you are such a trial. Raven nuzzled her neck, inhaling her scent, savoring the closeness, the mingling of their scents and the musky aroma of their love. I am the novice at this particular thing, remember? Caidi protested innocently, rubbing her face against his in a caress. I am sure now that there were other thoughts that I found very exciting that werent the product of either my limited experience at sex or my fertile imagination. I may have had those thoughts, my sweet flower, but I wasnt the one who acted on them, seducing my unsuspecting spouse in a bath when we both knew that we had work to do. Raven affected a pious air and raised an arrogant eyebrow. He drew his tongue over her skin, tempted to linger here. Never had he been tempted to ignore duty for a womans bed, but a minimum of persuasion would have him do so today. His chalie was everything to him. Um, and it was good, wasnt it? Caidis satisfied unrepentant smile flashed as she rubbed her cheek against his. The only problem with the whole situation is the place you chose. The floor is cold. Raven chuckled and lifted himself from her. He deftly scooped her up and stepped back into the large bathtub. He set her away from him, settled himself onto the bench, and watched as she went under before she got her feet to the bottom of the tub. Surfacing, Caidi glared at him and took a position opposite him. He picked up the sponge and soap. Realizing his weakness, he didnt waste any time. He washed and rinsed himself and handed the sponge to her before she got any more ideas. I would stay with you, but your idea of a bath is tiring and I still have many things to do this day. Raven smiled at her, stepped from tub and ran the toweling sheet over his body in short, efficient swipes. And I thought that you were a tough warrior, capable of handling anything that a woman could do, certainly an inexperienced one such as I. Here I am ready for more. You do have a way of ruining all of my illusions about the Shadatai, Caidi teased with a smile as she lazily ran the sponge over her arm. I can handle anything that you care to dish out, my chalie, but we both have duties and we have to set an example for everyone else. Ravens eyes glowed with sensual promise. I would tear a strip off of my men for spending a day with their chalie when they were supposed to be working, regardless of how long they had been gone. Much as Id love to spend the rest of the day held close by those magnificent legs, I have to deny us both the pleasure and go do my work. However the winter ronas will be another matter, taneen. Then, I will have plenty of time to attend to your insatiable needs. Caidi laughed as he left in an inordinately good mood. He was outrageous. She finished her bath and let the water out of the tub as she stepped from it. She dried and dressed in the clothing she had worn earlier, because to wear anything else would definitely draw some ribald comment from her friends.

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Chapter Fourteen
It had been a mere three weeks since Ravens return from his introduction to their trade as well as all of their customers. Now, he was going to Askara to see if he could broaden their trade. This time, Caidi was going with him. She knew that this would be a very educational trip for her. Raven wanted her to meet other Zarain and Shadatai Zarain and she had learned that most of what she knew about both of them was supposition and wrong. First, they had to stop on Esden to deliver a shipment of fabric to one of their buyers. Caidi knew that it was sure to be a short visit, taking only as long as the transfer of goods and payment required. Although Caidi had thought that she would stay with Raven during the short transaction, he sent her, along with Arron, one of his Terchal assistantsto the market while he conducted business. She didnt argue or point out that she had been handling the trade of her pack very successfully long before he had arrived, although the temptation to do so was very strong. She knew that there was no way she would win that argument. They had had it more than once already. Not once had she been able to make him see her point. She heaved a sigh, raised her eyes to the heavens and accompanied Arron to the market. Caidi wandered around the market, looking at the array of wares on display, pausing to touch a fabric to feel its texture or look at its color. She didnt notice when Arron failed to follow her to the next booth. With blatant disregard of her surroundings, she paused to admire some jewelry sold by a set of red-haired twins. She touched a necklace made of pink stones and metal that had a purple sheen. She never knew what hit her.

*****
Caidi woke with a throbbing headache, her mouth as dry as the desert. One of the few things she knew without doubt was that she had been hit on the head and drugged, although she couldnt be sure of the order. The last thing she remembered was walking around the market on Esden. She struggled to move and winced as blinding light shot in front of her eyes while pain ripped through her. Not a good idea. Her hands were bound with leather and because she could feel the coarse fabric of the rough blankets along her entire body, she knew she was naked. Looking around, she saw a small, cream-colored stone room with a single wooden door. She lay on a pallet on the floor and the only other thing in the stark room was an uncovered pail that she assumed was to be her toilet.

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Caidi was trying to focus past the pain and the pounding of her head to call Raven when the door was thrown open hard enough to make it crash into the pale wall and almost slam back in the face of the short, fat man who stood in the doorway. The man angrily shoved the door back open. Caidi recognized him as one of the Bavaok men. Raven would destroy this man. A young woman with limp red hair, blue eyes, and an ugly bruise across her face hurried into the room after the man, stopping at the doorway. She carried a bowl with a spoon in it. Caidi was astounded that the Bavaok would try something this stupid. Raven had said that he had discovered that this group was small, made up of only a few families. They were in no way a match for Raven and the Shadatai warriors that now defended the pack. They should have just walked away with their lives. You are awake at last. The fat man ran his small, brown eyes over her and his mouth curled into a leer. Your new man will cooperate with us as long as we have you to guarantee his good behavior. He looked at her and seemed to expect some reply, but Caidi remained silent. She might have been stupid and inattentive earlier. She wouldnt repeat her mistake. We need that cloth he has decided to deny us. He will give it to us or you will die. Does he think enough of you to give us the cloth? The man didnt wait for her to answer him. He motioned the other woman into the room. His eyes ran over the woman with clear lust. I know that you wont be going anywhere. Your current state will ensure that, although I am sure that there are men around who would love to offer you warmth. Your clothing has been burned. Dont think that your new man will find you and rescue you. You arent even close to where we took you. We kept you drugged for a long time. The man walked to the door, shutting it, leaving Caidi alone with the young woman. The redheaded woman slowly walked over to Caidi and sat the bowl between them as she lowered herself to sit on the ground. Did he do that to you? Caidi asked quietly. The womans eyes skittered away uneasily, but she nodded. I have some stew here for you to eat. It is hot and it tastes good, even if it isnt what you were probably used to eating before they took you. Ive eaten a lot of stew before, Caidi replied in a hushed voice with a shrug of her shoulders, indicating that any food was better than none. My life isnt that different from yours. You dont know what youre saying. You need to eat this. The woman swung her gaze back to Caidi. I usually eat relatively simple food. You arent like him, or any of his people. You dont hate. How is it that you are here with him?

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When I was younger, my mother married him, because he seemed nice and able to give us a good home. She is dead now. She died trying to birth his second child, killed by their stupid healers. A tear ran down the womans cheek as she dipped the spoon into the stew and lifted it to Caidis lips. Youre afraid of him. Caidi could smell the fear, but it was just as easy to read in her eyes, on her face. This woman had gone through trials in her short life. The young woman took a deep breath and shuddered as if recalling something troubling. I have been since my mother died. The way he looks at me sometimes as I do the work in his home makes me shiver and my stomach heave with revulsion. I lock my door at night and my dreams are of running away, finding freedom and safety, but I have to stay and care for my little sister. I cant leave her with him and she is too small to take on such an uncertain journey. I am Caidi. She watched the woman who was stirring the soup and looking into the bowl as if it might provide her with a solution. Is your little sister here with you? No, she is at our village in the care of one of the women there. She will be safe until I get back. The woman gave a forlorn sigh. My name is Mandi. Are we really not on Esden anymore or does the man lie? Caidi pressed cautiously. She wasnt going to ask for any help from the woman, but would take all the information she could get. Were not on Esden, that I know for a fact. The men who took you met with us on a world called Mislan. After that, I was drugged and didnt hear or see where we traveled. I would guess that we are far from both Esden and Mislan. Mandi shrugged. I think that he didnt want me to be able to tell you where you were. He knows that I dont agree with what he does. What world is your village on? Caidi asked with what she hoped sounded like mere curiosity. Mislan she knew was on the line toward Askara. Maybe the man had simply gone to a different area on his own planet. Acama. Mandi rushed to caution Caidi, My next-father is very drunk tonight. Please, dont do anything to incite his anger. He doesnt need a real reason, a word spoken against him, a look. He will hit you, hurt you and you must protect yourself and the baby you carry. I cant protect you from him. He would only hurt both of us. Caidi gasped in surprise at the womans words that she was carrying a baby. She inhaled, trying to push past the fog of the drug that lingered in her body. Her senses were sluggish, but when she focused, she could tell, could sense the slight difference in her body that heralded a new life. There was only one group of people who would be able to diagnose a pregnancy with such ease at such an early time. You are Indiri? Caidi wanted to see if the woman would admit to the truth. Shh Mandi scooped up some stew and shoved it into Caidis mouth even as she tossed a frightened, almost panicked look over her shoulder toward the door. He hates anyone, anything that is different. You know that that means you should be very

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careful. If he catches a glimpse of those marks on your back, he will kill you without question or thought. If I were to escape during the night, while he has me locked securely in here, would he blame you? Caidi slanted the woman a glance as she finished chewing. The sight of the malkit would be more than enough to infuriate someone who hated shifters. No, he will check your wrists, the ties, before I leave the room, but he will follow and kill you when he catches you, because he will know that you arent merely a human. Mandi gave Caidi a startled glance. Maybe, maybe not. Caidi grimaced. I cant stay here. You are on the second floor and there is only a small window high on the wall and a securely barred door. If you disappear, he might think you are a demon, witch or worse, but he will kill you. Regardless of what he thinks you are, he will know that you arent human and thus deserve to die, Mandi warned fervently. Caidi nodded and was satisfied and relieved that the woman wouldnt be hurt because of her escape. That was one thing she wouldnt chance. The young woman had been kind to her and given her some wonderful news. In her mind, she felt indebted to Mandi. She ate heartily of the stew. Staying here wasnt an option. The man would eventually notice that she was different. It would be impossible to hide it from him for long. The look in his eye warned her. Sooner or later he would try to touch her, to rape her. She would leave tonight as soon as it was possible. Risking the life of her child by taking chances waiting for a rescue that might take ronas went against every instinct within her. In order to survive, she would need all of the energy that she could get for her journey. Mandis prediction was true. Her next-father did check the leather ties at Caidis wrists before he pushed the young woman out of the room and into a dimly lit hallway. Caidi worried about leaving the woman here, but she knew that Mandi wouldnt go with her even if Caidi were to assure her that her sister would be freed and kept safe. Caidi rested while she waited for the people in the house to settle and fall into a deep sleep. She then threw off the blankets, stood and began walking silently around the room to get the blood flowing in her legs. She would try to contact Raven before she began her escape. Her chalon was undoubtedly worried.

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Chapter Fifteen
Raven, my chalon, can you hear me? Caidi, still very new to communicating over great distances, found it very hard to find him, especially when she was the one making the contact. I need to talk You have taken years off of my life, woman. I have been calling to you for days. Where are you? Ravens thoughts came very quickly, full of concern and a hot anger which was directed toward those responsible for taking her. The Bavaok are the people who have taken me. I dont know where I am. They drugged me before I even woke after they hit me in the head, Caidi rushed to inform him. She expected to be interrupted. I knew that the Bavaok had you. That wasnt hard to figure out even before their demand came. The surge of relief just from the ethereal contact rushed back to her along with a host of other feelingsdesperation, determination and raw anger. I am pretty sure that Im not on Acama, the world where they have their village, and Im probably not on Esden. Im going to escape tonight, but I will have to find a village or something before I leave the planet even if I do find the travel gate close to here. Caidi felt reassured somehow just from being able to talk with him. Suddenly, she was sure that she would succeed, that she would find a way to get back to him. You be careful when you escape. I will take care of our enemies and then I will come for you. Some of my men are out there trying to find you. Watch for them. Raven wanted to hold her and the fact that he didnt know even where she was angered him. She also felt his guilt and knew that he blamed himself for her disappearance. I dont have any clothing, Caidi informed him with a sigh and a mental shrug. To try to lighten the mood, she sent him a picture of herself clutching a blanket. I will find out where I am as soon as I have some clothing. When I know, Ill contact you. Raven chuckled. Wicked woman, there are also a few of my allies searching the gate paths, asking questions, trying to trace you. Dont be surprised if you come across a group of shifters in your travels. Oh, good, then I might have help. Caidi felt enormously pleased. She hadnt been looking forward to trying to do this on her own. I have a debt to repay. Help? Debt? Suspicion and masculine disapproval rang in the mental tone of those questions. Raven knew Caidi and the woman lived with trouble. Any time she actually tried to do something, it usually went wrong. What are you talking about? There is a woman here, Raven. She was kind to me, warned me about her next-father, and told me some things that she didnt have to. She kept me safe from his hatred with those warnings. Caidi smiled and hugged her secret close. She wanted to tell him when they were together. Also, the man tended to be obsessive and overprotective.
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Caidi, no risks. A rumbling growl accompanied the order. This wasnt something he would negotiate. Damn, the man could project powerfully. That growl seemed to bounce off her skull, ricocheting through her brain. Her name is Mandi and she is nothing like her nextfather. Her mother married him late in Mandis childhood, I think. Her life is hell, Raven. The only reason that she doesnt run, leave on her own is because she has a younger sister that she must protect. Leave it to warriors, Caidi. Raven could feel her determination and was just as determined that she wouldnt risk her life. Before you go getting all offended, protective male, she is Indiri and in as much danger as we are if he ever discovers her secret. I am going to rescue her. I want you to save her sister, Caidi informed him flatly, daring him to deny her. Caidi Ravens growl carried over onto the psychic plane in full force. We can talk about it later, Raven. I need to get myself safe first. I have to find clothing and a weapon and that could take some time. I have to concentrate on escaping right now. Later, I will think about everything that I need to have to rescue her. Caidi deliberately interrupted him before he could begin a very long lecture that she had already heard. We will talk later until you see sense, Raven warned. Protective instincts roared through him. She would listen. You arent going to do this. Caidi walked over to the wall and looked up at the small window. She would have no trouble getting up to the small window or fitting through it. Even a normal woman could do it, although most would at least pause before dropping to the ground from the second floor and running into the night without clothing or a firm direction to civilization. Even if she wasnt a shifter, she would have done this. There was too much to lose if she stayed. She looked around the room. Although she was certain that she could escape, she wanted to at least make it look as if she was nothing more than a motivated woman. Caidi grabbed the blanket the man had left, went back to the window and jumped. She grabbed the sill with her bound hands, but the grip was too awkward to pull herself completely up and out of the window. Sighing, she dropped lightly to her feet. She tugged at the leather ties, wincing as they dug into her wrists. Determined, she kept pulling until they broke, but she left the loops dangling from her wrists. She would remove them later, once she was away from this place. She again jumped and grabbed the windowsill. This time, she pulled herself up and hooked her leg through it, straddling the opening. She hooked the blanket onto one of the metal hooks attached to the wall. They were used to fasten the shutters in wind, but the shutters werent even there. Caidi pulled on the blanket, ripping it slightly. She hung the blanket out of the window, pushed it out of her way and hung down the wall. With a quick glance down, she let go. Caidi dropped to the ground and looked up at the window with a smile. She was certain that the man would feel more than a little doubt when he began his hunt, but

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when he couldnt find her, that doubt would disappear. Knowing she had to move, she turned and ran away from the house, at first without a firm direction in mind. Once she was away from the house, well out of sight, she stopped and scented the wind. Her keen Zarain senses picked up the smell and the sound of water. There was a river nearby, to the east. She began to head toward that. She kept moving in spite of the way her body ached. The air was frigid and every instinct within her told her that she must shift before she became too cold. With control gained from years of experience and the knowledge that she must do everything she could to protect herself and her babe, she fought and denied those instincts. She wanted to get to the river before she took her second form. Then there wouldnt even be the possibility of her enemies discovering her tracks changing from human prints to the tracks of a beast. As she neared the river, stubby bushes and spindly trees dotted the grassland. As sparse as they were, she was relieved to have even the miniscule cover. Caidi finally came to the edge of the river. She had known that it was fast-flowing. A rush of relief flowed through her when she saw that it was wide and deep and that, on the opposite side, the trees eventually turned into a full forest. Shivering, Caidi waded into the river and swam downstream until she found a nice, rocky bend in the river that would conceal her tracks. She swam to the forest side and waded out until the water reached only mid-calf. Taking a deep breath, she allowed the change to roll through her. Muscles and bones rippled beneath her skin. Golden-streaked brown fur grew on her body, covering it, even as her form grew larger. As her form reshaped, Caidi dropped to her large front paws. The fur-covered feet held sharp claws concealed by shaggy, slightly coarse hair. Sharp, prominent canines peeked from her long muzzle. Her face was round and wide with almond-shaped, silver eyes providing her with a wide field of vision. Pointed ears topped her head. They could swivel and pinpoint a sounds location with accuracy. Her body was large and built for endurance and power rather than speed, but even at a walk she was faster than a human. She began walking away from the river, to the east, away from the house where she had been held. Although she knew that she might find a village near it, maybe even a travel gate, she couldnt take the risk that Bavaok man or any of his minions would find her. Doing the unexpected, something that might not be considered the smart thing to do, would ensure she stayed alive. She would have to travel away from this main river and use her senses to help her to find a settlement. Are you out yet? Ravens voice rumbled into her mind, simmering with impatience. Yes, I am out of the house and away from the Bavaok. Caidi sent him a mental frown, exasperated at both his impatient tone and his insistence on resuming this argument. Good. Satisfaction rang through the single word. His voice when he next spoke was filled with an authoritative command that set her teeth on edge. You are not going to

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rescue this woman. You wont even go with those who do rescue her. We will find a way to free her. You wont risk yourself. As I am here on my own, I will have to use my own judgment about the situation. Im not leaving this planet without that woman. Caidi regally ignored what she knew was practically an order. Gods, woman, do you want to drive me insane? The fact that you are out of my protection maddens me. Raven issued an annoyed growl at her stubborn insistence on doing things without assistance and in her own way with a total disregard of his experience. Who is the Achan of this pack? That would be you, but I am the Acine and I dont have to follow your every little dictate when Im not with you. My experience entitles me to some leeway in those little rules that you made me promise to obey. When I promised, I didnt even know what I was promising you. Caidi felt her anger rise at the thought of that promise and those rules. You do have to obey my every little dictate and there is no leeway in those rules. You will abide by them. Each word came to her in a hard, uncompromising tone. You will obey them especially when it comes to matters of your safety. Rule number two is very clear about you not endangering your life in any way and dont forget rule number one, obey the Achans commands. You will find a village, find some clothing and find out where you are. That is all that you will do. Do you understand me? You never told me what the penalties of breaking those rules would be, Caidi hedged, wondering just how bad the punishment would be. For you, the penalty would be never leaving the Taivain without a sizable escort of warriors surrounding you. His anger rose as she gave thought to his threat, weighing the issue. Only Raven could convey such arrogance, such confidence at the same time that he showed such irritation with her over the mental pathway. I understand your order. We will talk more, later, Caidi conceded, not completely accepting defeat about rescuing Mandi. Have you already defeated the Bavaok? No, I havent gotten to Acama yet, but we did receive a second ransom demand. They want the cloth that they usually got from you or they say that they will kill you. You will obey me in this, Caidi. Ravens tone gave clear warning that he wasnt teasing and that she pushed him at her own peril. Caidi didnt know if she was quite that brave. I am very good at getting things without anyone even knowing I was there. I could slip in and be gone with Mandi before that Bavaok even suspected. Caidi raised her eyes to the heavens and tried to tell him about her skills. She didnt know why the man seemed determined to see her as fragile and vulnerable when he had plenty of evidence to the contrary. I led my pack for years. We eluded other shifters years before we found and avoided your trap. You have a responsibility to me and to the pack to keep yourself safe while you are out of my protection. That means that you dont actively go seeking dangerous situations. Raven knew that he couldnt give in to her, regardless of her feelings on the matter. As the Acine, you are the heart of the pack. Without you, the pack will die.

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Caidi closed her eyes but she couldnt shut out his words or how much they touched her. How did he do that? She had been so angry and now she wanted to cry and hug him. I will think about it. Caidi could feel Ravens satisfaction with her answer just as she knew that he could feel how close she was to giving in to his demands. He was a smart, seasoned warrior, he didnt press her. Surrender was imminent and, in this case, it would be so much better than a defeat. Contact me if anything happens, if you find anything. Yes, Achan. Caidi heaved a long, suffering sigh. Caidi heard the rich, deep sound of Ravens laughter even as he cut the connection between them, allowing her to concentrate on her surroundings. Caidi talked with Raven many times over the next three days. She spent most of her time reassuring him that she was fine and that she was staying out of trouble. At the same time, she had to assure him that no one was following her and that she would contact him when she did find a village or settlement of some kind. At night, when she was trying to rest, she did wonder exactly what kind of trouble the man expected her to find out here. There was no sign of civilization, she was all alone and she was always traveling.

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Chapter Sixteen
As she was walking early on the morning of the fourth day of her travels, a strange scent teased Caidis nostrils. She stopped dead in her tracks. Shifters. Their scent was unfamiliar. They werent Feiral or Zarain. Caidi slowly turned toward the wind, toward the scent. She hadnt heard of any shifters being mortal enemies with other shifters, but then again There was only one person to ask. Raven! Caidi waited impatiently, tapping her foot, not taking a step closer. The man tells me to contact him and then takes his time answering. She shook her head in irritation. You can pick your moments, love, to scream at me like that. I just got into bed. I am very sleepy, but that sent chills down my spine. The battle with the Bavaok was finished not long ago, if you are impatient for a report. Raven sensed her agitation and a little fear. All humor dropped away from him. Fear for his mate rolled through him. Woman, you should have been born with an armed escort. Are you in trouble? I have scented some shifters, near where I am, but I dont know who or what they are. Caidi frowned at his question. She had heard it so much that even the words irritated her. Why did he always think she was in trouble? Do we have any shifter enemies that I dont know about? I know some groups occasionally fight among themselves, but I havent been current about shifter relations in a long time because of our isolation. We dont have any shifter enemies. Most shifters will help another shifter in need, especially a female. Just approach them cautiously, dont startle them. Relief flowed through Raven. Although he left it unsaid, she knew the reason for that relief. She had found some help, a way to find out where she was. Even in Zarain form, Caidis eyes rounded at his order. I cant approach them like this. I still havent found any clothing. All they will see is a huge animal. Most do find the Zarain second form frightening, Caidi scoffed. She had personally sent Feiral running when they had encountered her in the forest. Trust me. If you dont appear aggressive, they wont fear you or try to harm you. Raven chuckled. He had caught the image she had sent to him. How am I supposed to communicate with them, to make them understand? I cant invade their minds and talk as Shadatai do. Even I know that that is considered rude by most people. Caidi waited for Raven to supply an answer to that one. You probably wont find it as hard as you think, but I trust that you will find a way. Raven could feel the irritation boiling within her. I will be with you to advise you. Dont appear to sneak up on them. Go slowly, but make sure that even the most unaware know of your approach. Caidi took a deep, fortifying breath and moved slowly toward the area of the camp. She still couldnt see it, but she made no effort to hide her approach. She made as much noise as she could without growling and roaring. Snapping twigs and crunching leaves
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with every step, she stomped through the forest. A man pacing her flanked her. He seemed to stay out of reach and had dropped slightly behind her. She fought the urge to spin to confront him. Walking slowly, she continued to toward the camp. I want you to stop outside of the camp. Dont enter it. Wait to be invited into the camp. You may or may not be the more powerful shifter, but show them respect, Raven rapped out the instructions. Fear for her safety pounded through him. I will follow your orders, Raven. Caidi didnt argue. He was far more experienced in dealing with other shifters than she was. He also had more experience with matters of life and death and this might very well be one of them. Caidi stopped on the edge of the forest and sat back on her haunches. The camp lay in the clearing in front of her, beckoning, but she was prepared to wait as long as it took to get an invitation. This was a large group, a real city of brown tents spread out before her. Most of the men who lived in those tents were warriors. She saw enough swords, lances and bows to give evidence to that. Although most of the people here were male shifters, she could smell and sense a few females in the camp. If she ever got invited into the camp, maybe they would loan her some clothing. Hopefully, the females werent all petite dolls. A warrior strode toward her, coming from a narrow space between two tents. He had long, golden hair that was clubbed back at the nape of his neck. He was tall and muscles corded his arms and legs. He wore a sword at his hip, but it remained in the sheath. Maybe he didnt consider her a threat. She tried her best to look nonthreatening. She already knew that she couldnt pull off cute. Startlingly clear green eyes stared at her in an assessing way for a few moments. You may enter our camp, Lady. Caidi slowly rose to her feet and entered the camp. The man walked beside her. He looked down at her. You travel alone? Caidi bobbed her head in an affirming motion, not knowing of any other way to answer the question. I dont see a bag or any sign of a pouch on you. Do you need something to wear? Caidi again nodded in the affirmative. She might find this funny if it werent so damned frustrating. If you will just follow me, I will take you to a tent and you can change. Then we can see about finding you something to wear, the man said easily. After you have some clothing and can actually talk, someone will answer the questions you doubtless have and you can answer ours. Be careful! Caidi followed the warrior and acknowledged Ravens advice even though she thought that it was redundant. She had been nothing except careful and cautious since

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she had first smelled these shifters. Nervous energy boiled through her, the entire situation was chancy. She knew nothing about these shifters, even the name of their people, and she was alone here. She would be careful. The warrior stopped in front of a tent and waved her inside it. He held the flap open for her. The woman inside the tent apparently hadnt been warned about her impending visitor. She screamed and jumped onto a chest, clutching a cloth to her chest. Caidi felt humor rise. The warrior poked his head inside the tent to reassure the woman, albeit a little late. This is a female shifter. She is traveling alone and needs some clothing. Loan her some after she changes. That was all he said to the woman who was shifter, but had probably never seen any other shifter except those her own kind. The woman didnt appear reassured. Caidi wondered what the woman thought she would do. The man lowered the flap of the tent and strode away, whistling. The black-haired woman cautiously climbed down from the trunk, casting suspicious glances at Caidi. She was slim and sleek of form, a little shorter than Caidi, but her clothing would probably fit. I dont think that I will have anything that would fit a woman as big as you must be. Your shifter form is huge. The woman hovered nervously near the trunk. Caidis laugh both at the womans obvious nervousness and the remark about her shifter form came out as rolling chuff as she changed form. The shaggy hair receded even as her body reformed. Bones and muscle contorted and reshaped until she stood before the woman in her human form. The size of my second form isnt an indication of my actual size. Caidi pushed her hair, which was rather wild, back from her face. It always was after the change. Oh, youre normal, the woman said without censoring her thoughts. She blushed a fiery red when she realized that she had actually spoken those words. Um, I have some clothing that should fit you. The Charal should be back in camp soon. I am certain that he will help you if you are in any kind of trouble. The woman dug into the trunk and handed Caidi a shirt and a skirt. Thank you, Caidi said as she accepted the clothing with a smile. She doubted that shed have to explain what she wasat least to the men. The Zarain second form was very distinctive and theyd probably seen it before. You can wash up before you dress if you like, the woman offered, pouring water into a bowl and placing a cloth beside it. Thank you again. A good wash sounds like heaven. I have been traveling for a while in my second form. Caidi took the clothing over to where the bowl sat on the floor. She knelt, but turned to the woman. This is going to sound very strange, but what planet is this?

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Astien. The woman gave her a questioning look, but refrained from asking anything. She turned and left the tent, pulling the flap closed quickly to protect Caidis privacy. While Caidi washed and dressed, she took the time to contact Raven. He would want to know even the small amount of information that she had gathered. He would want more, but Caidi knew that she wouldnt get much more until the Charal arrived and that might be very soon or much later. Raven, the woman I talked to said that I am on Astien. Caidi didnt wait to hear a greeting from her mate. Astien? Are you sure? His astonishment flashed back to her. Caidi understood his doubt about the truth of her location. If this truly was Astien, then the Bavaok had taken her a very long way from home regardless of which gate they used. Astien was a distant location even from Askara and Caidi had only heard of the planet because there had been some atrocious things done to some shifters on this planet a long time ago. I asked the female shifter who was elected to loan me some clothing and that is the answer she gave me. I dont think she would have a reason to lie. I will ask again and get more details about my location when I finish dressing, Caidi assured Raven. She could feel his worry for her. Do you know which shifter group has a Charal for a leader? The woman said that the Charal would help me if I needed it. You have found a group of Kaden. You will be safe with them. They are likely a mercenary troop, much as my band was. His impatience grew with every new piece of information. Damn, he wanted her close enough to hold again. Now, hurry up and get dressed. Go talk to some of those people and get more information. My allies are waiting to come to you. All they need is to know where you are. Caidi smiled at his arrogant tone, but then gasped as he sent her a mental picture of chains. She didnt need him to interpret the warning. He didnt want her going after Mandi. If she was caught, she could lose her life and even if she managed to get Mandi free, her troubles would just be beginning. Shed probably have an escort at her side for the rest of her life. She finished buttoning the light purple shirt and adjusted the gray skirt. She didnt have any shoes, but just having clothes on felt better, safer. She took a step, shifted her shoulders and glanced down in irritation at the shirt. She pulled at the shirt and then sighed. No amount of pulling and tugging was going to make it bigger across the chest. The clothing fit and that was really all that mattered, but the way the shirt pulled across her back and chest made her feel a little self-conscious. Caidi left the tent with a smile on her face. It was time to formally meet and thank her gracious hosts. A gust of wind blew a strand of hair over her shoulder. She had finger-combed the wild mass of her hair into a semblance of order and felt presentable. After so many days in her second form, it felt wonderful to be clean and somewhat groomed.

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From the moment that she had stepped out of the tent she found herself the focus of every eye in the camp. She couldnt help feeling a little amused at the surprised stares. With a twinkle in her eyes, she silently acknowledged that she was probably not what they expected to see coming from the tent when a large beast had walked into it. I assure you that I am a perfectly normal shifter. I am relatively harmless, Caidi said with a smile to the group of warriors gathered near a tent. They seemed to have been waiting for her. Caidi saw the green-eyed warrior she had talked to earlier, but it was yet another green-eyed warrior who stepped out of the mass of soldiers to greet her. Caidi hadnt seen him among the warriors who were here when she had arrived. He was goldenhaired and golden-skinned like the other warriors in the camp, but he seemed to have a harder edge, a more commanding attitude than the others around him. This was the Charal. You are harmless relative to a Zarain male. To almost everyone and everything else, I am sure that you can be positively lethal. I am Charal Aran Akel Nevin. I offer you sanctuary in my camp. I am Acine Caidi Talinian of the Oroyai Pack. I thank you for helping me when you know nothing of my situation. I am in your debt, Caidi said. The woman who kindly loaned me some clothing told me that this planet is Astien. I was wondering if your camp is near any of the gates. How is it that you are here and dont know what planet you are on? A frown creased the Charals tan face. It is a long story, but I was taken by an enemy. I was knocked out and drugged and woke in a building on this planet. I escaped from the people who held me, the Bavaok, however, they had taken my clothing from me and werent kind enough to inform me of where they had brought me. Needless to say, I need to know where I am, before anything else. Caidi kept her answer light, unworried. You are on Astien. There is a gate about a day away from here. It is the secondary gate, but you shouldnt be traveling anywhere on your own, the Charal explained. I wont be traveling anywhere on my own. My mate would object to that. Caidi smiled at the mental image which rose in her head, although his overprotective attitude generally irritated her. If you will tell me the name of your Achan and where to find him or one of his allies, I will send one of my men to find him and bring him to you. You shouldnt be wandering around while your enemies might be searching for you. The Charal gave every indication of a man instructing a young foolish woman. Caidi wondered if the overprotective nature was part of every alpha males character. Your offer is very kind, but you wont need to send any men to find my chalon. I can contact him and he will contact his allies who are waiting to come to me. It will be faster and easier on us all.

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What do you mean? The Charal frowned, but then his brow cleared. You are more than Zarain? Caidi nodded. Im going to contact Raven now. So dont think Im ignoring you if you say something and I dont respond. Raven? Caidi concentrated on her mate, waiting only a moment for him to respond. I am here, Caidi. The impression that he had been waiting for the information he had demanded was very strong. I am on Astien as the woman said. The Charal told me that their camp is only a day away from the second gate on Astien. He has offered me sanctuary. Caidi worried about Mandi. She hadnt expected it to take so long to find safety, help. How soon can your allies get here? Where are they? Tell the Charal that my allies will be waiting at the gate at dawn the day after tomorrow and that I would be in his debt if he were to have someone there to lead my allies to you. Raven reveled in the relief for only a moment. He then changed the subject to one that he considered more important. The woman had yet to agree to follow his orders. I hope that you have finally begun to see some sense. Do you know now that you cant go to rescue that Indiri woman, with or without an escort? After a lot of thought and consideration of all of the factors of the situation, I have decided that I will allow your allies to free the Indiri who aided me, although I do have my doubts that she or her slime of a next-father will be there when the men find the house, Caidi assured him with a sigh. It wasnt such a big thing to surrender. We will find the Indiri who helped you, my chalie. I found her sister. She is a sweet girl, an Indiri with Bavaok blood, but untouched by their blind hatred. Raven had been surprised to find someone like her among all of the hatred festering in her people. Tell me what made you change your mind about going to get the woman. Caidi smiled, relishing the news that she was about to impart to her arrogant chalon. There were a few things that made the decision an easy one. I never knew that I was the heart of the pack and I also decided that I should let someone else do this since I am pregnant. Caidi could actually feel his stunned surprise washing over her in the moment of silence that followed her announcement. Pregnant? Happiness, joy rushed through him. His only regret was that she was so far away from him. He couldnt hold her, touch her, and make love to her as he wanted to do. Caidi sent him a flood of all of the happiness, the joy that she felt about carrying his child. Mandi, the Indiri, told me. Now, we both have things to do right now. You had better contact your allies and I need to tell the Kaden Charal of your request. We will talk more about this later, my chalie, Raven said and sent her a mental picture of him holding her and a return of his happiness.

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Chapter Seventeen
Caidi blinked away the unexpected tears flooding her eyes. My chalon, the Achan, has informed me that his allies will be waiting at the second gate at dawn on the day after tomorrow. He asks that you send some of your men to escort them here so that they will be able to easily find me. If you dont wish to stay here, my men could escort you to the gate so that your chalons allies could take you to him, the Charal offered. It isnt that I dont want to stay here. I am sad, because I want Raven here with me right now. He knew that I wouldnt accept going any further than I already have. That is why he didnt ask it. Caidi gathered her emotions, taking deep breaths. By the Gods, she needed to be near Raven again. It was as if something within her was missing when she was away from him. Ah, so he will be coming to get you. The Charal nodded, although it was clear he didnt understand what she meant. There is still much to do here and Raven has promised me that it will be done, that another debt I owe will be paid before we leave the planet. Caidi crossed her arms, wishing they were Ravens arms around her. My Achan has assured me that he feels exactly as I do. We owe you a debt. You too will be repaid. The Charal tried to dismiss it as a common courtesy. It is a small thing to offer shelter to another shifter in need when you are more than capable of doing so. I dont consider it a small thing that you have offered me clothing, food, shelter, your protection to me and my unborn babe until my chalons allies arrive. You freely offered it, before I had to ask for it. Caidi looked into his eyes, letting him see just how much that had meant to her. Most of us have needed help at one time or another. It was obvious that something was wrong. Females dont travel without escort. Aran gave a nod, but his eyes were watchful. I knew that the slimy ortha-slug and his minions didnt follow me from that house, but you gave me protection without hesitation or question of what or who I was running from. For the kindness you have shown to me, you have only to ask it and if it is possible, I will see that you get what you want. Just the thought of what could have happened ensured that this man had her gratitude. Aran didnt reply to her impassioned speech. He smiled and informed her that the meal would be ready in only a few moments. Caidi accompanied him and eagerly took the plate of food that they gave her. She ate the first full meal that she had had in days. While she had been traveling, she had

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eaten nuts and berries for the most part. That readily available food had satisfied most of her hunger. She hadnt wanted to waste too much time or energy hunting, just in case someone had decided to track the large beast walking away from the river. She had known that she had to keep moving. Finding a way off the planet and clothing for herself had been her first priority. Caidi didnt hear a word about who was moved into which tent with whom, but the Kaden Charal gave her a tent of her own. She didnt know why the Kaden were on Astien. She didnt even know if her being here was interfering with any plans they had to move the camp. It seemed to be well-established. They had been here at least two or three days, probably longer. A small party of warriors left the next morning and Caidi began to get acquainted with the people who had offered her shelter without a qualm. It was the women of the group of Kaden who sought her company the next morning. She was sitting on a mat in front of the remains of the fire, enjoying the morning breeze and the kiss of the sun on her face. When they came to her as a group, she knew that they were curious about her, about the strange shifter in their midst. They introduced themselves as Sera, Briana, Lori, and Kala. They sat down across from her, changed positions nervously for a few moments, trying to get their courage before Sera finally spoke. Um, we heard the men talking around the fire last night. Sera nervously squirmed on the mat. They were saying that the way that you communicated with your mateyou know, when you talked with your mindthat it wasnt a normal ability for a Zarain, Acine Caidi. They said that you had to be part of Shaa Shatanai pack to be able to do that. They said that you werent simply a Zarain. That is Shadatai pack and yes, I am Shadatai Zarain. Every shifter group has a branch that has more abilities, that is more than merely shifter. I know that the Kaden has its Apral Kaden. Have you found a world that will accept your pack? Everyone knows that the Zarain are fierce, a Shadatai must be more so. Have you found a place with other shifters that dont fear being ruled or perhaps killed by your pack? Kala, a blonde, had a hopeful look on her face. It was only then that Caidi realized that this pack was looking for a home. Caidi smiled, but managed not to laugh at the lack of knowledge of the number of uninhabited worlds there were on the gate path. I know a secret about finding a home and I will share it with you. The secret to finding a place to settle is to go where you dont need to ask permission. What do you mean dont need to ask permission? What about the other shifters on the planet? Kala frowned. There is always someone else on the planet and most of the time they fear us. I traveled extensively before I found my mate. There are many planets out there that are unpopulated or very nearly so. What you have to know is where they are and

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how to get to them, because some of them would be impossible to reach for most. Caidi gave the women a bright smile. There are places where others wouldnt give you a problem. Sera sat up straight and her eyes brightened with interest and hope. How would you find these planets? We have looked. So many people look just along the primary, the main gate path. It is so well known that most of those planets are taken. There are second and third gates on all of the planets. They are able to take you places too. One, of course, is the world you came from, but the others, you might only be able to access from that gate. Caidi smiled and tilted her face back to enjoy a soft breeze. You arent just talking. You really know where such places are, dont you? Sera asked. Caidi chuckled. From their Charals attitude, she knew that they hadnt had a chance to live as she had. I wasnt always a closely guarded Shadatai. I was a Zarain Acine with a pack to care for before I met my chalon, and there were no males. How do you know all of this? Kala gave her a suspicious frown. It was obvious that she was wondering if she was being tricked. Like my mother did before me, I held exploration of the worlds on the gate paths to be a very high priority. I always knew where all of the gates were on a world, if I thought that there would be any chance of my meeting a shifter on it. I was always prepared just in case we were discovered. Pride in what her mother had accomplished and what she herself had carried on rang in her voice. Since she had met Raven, she had discovered just how strange her life had been compared to most female shifters. You memorized them so that you could have an escape route if needed, Sera guessed. To a certain point on the gate paths around my home world, I know them better than anyone outside of my pack. She shrugged. It had always seemed to be a very intelligent decision to know of the worlds around her. Where is your home world? Lori asked curiously. You wouldnt recognize its name. It is off the known routes. Have you heard of the trade world of Esden? Caidi waited until her audience nodded. Carait is near Esden. Your home is that far away from here? Lari questioned with surprise clear on her face. They really didnt want anyone to be able to come to your aid. Caidi merely nodded agreeing with her. Yes, they wanted to be very certain that I wouldnt be easily found and would be lost should I try to escape. They didnt know that I was anything more than a human. It is lucky for you that they didnt know that you were more. The Bavaok hate anything that is even slightly different. They have even been known to kill psychic humans, Briana related with a shudder.

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They were more concerned with what they had lost when we ceased trade with them than who they had taken and who they had offended in doing it. I had traded with them for many years, unaware of their hatred and their violent reactions to shifters, Caidi admitted easily. Sometimes, it is hard to know just who is an enemy and who is friend, especially when you dont have very much contact with other groups of shifters, be it some of your own kind or other shifters. There is really no easy way to get information about what has happened without actively searching for others, Kala acknowledged. Caidi nodded in agreement with what the woman had said, but noticed another presence in her mindRaven. Merely by the touch, she recognized his presence. She wondered how long he had been there with her, unnoticed, just quietly listening to her thoughts and the conversation. The women smiled, thanked her for talking with them and took their leave. She noticed that a few of them went to talk with some of the Kaden men, but Caidi thought nothing of it. She was familiar now with the male-oriented way of doing things. They were merely reporting what she had told them, confirming the mens beliefs about her being Shadatai. You know that you are a trial even to a warrior such as me, Raven offered in a tone that carried a great deal of masculine suffering even on the mental path. You have more talent at stirring up trouble and creating havoc without even trying than any other person I have ever met. Caidi had to laugh at that dramatic statement. What do you think that I have done now? Im not doing anything. How can I have caused any trouble merely sitting here waiting for you? You have neatly destroyed a few long-held beliefs taught to me and every other shifter who was raised in an established pack. Raven could hardly credit just how blind he had been and he had traveled the gate paths probably more than she had. If you will tell me what beliefs that you think I have shattered and if they are really that important to you, I will try to pretend ignorance on the subject and let you keep them. I wouldnt want you to be put through any trouble, Caidi teased good-naturedly. You can hold on to your beliefs until some male finds the same answer that I have if it will make you feel any better. Unfortunately that wont work, my chalie, Raven whispered through her mind with a mental sigh. The truth has been revealed to me and it must be faced even if it should have always been obvious even to a blind man. I am sure that a man would have found it, probably has found it, but he didnt feel inclined to go telling it to everyone. Caidi smiled at his teasing and asked curiously, And this truth? You have shown me that the second and third travel gates on a world offer travel opportunities. You have revealed that they can open new worlds for exploration. As I said, you have shattered my beliefs, Raven growled. Maybe if I hadnt believed that the gates were but a straight line I would have found you before you had concocted that scheme of yours.

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Your beliefs were wrong. I dont see the loss. Caidi pictured his face, drawing comfort from the contact. Like most people, the Shadatai in the pack where I grew up forgot that the different gates on a world offer many different paths to choose. Too often, the gates are simply seen as a way for an enemy to gain easy entry onto your world, not as a door that gives access to other planets, Raven advised. That seems a bit paranoid, Caidi observed. You big warriors certainly have the skill to defend yourselves. Second and third gates are often seen as an evil when they are merely gates, a part of the path to a different place. Raven heaved a huge sigh. He decided he might as well get used to Caidi. She always had an effect. With luck, he would be able to curb most of her troublemaking tendencies, but he knew that she would never be the typical Zarain female. You have made me decide against closing the other gates on Carait. I didnt think that anything could change your mind once you had made a decision, Caidi told him with utter seriousness and was shocked that he showed such willingness to give her opinion so great a value. The only person with much of a chance to change my mind is you. Raven knew she often found him arrogant, but he did respect her abilities. You will have a chance to change the beliefs of many other people as well, because I will be talking of this with others and we will still be going to Askara. Do you have all of the linked worlds near Carait memorized or do you have it written somewhere? We put everything that we learned about the worlds we explored in a book we call the Worlds book. Any of the women would know which book I am talking about, but if you want to look at it, I will warn you before you do that it can get very confusing even to someone who knows how it is organized. Caidi could only smile when she thought of that book. It was a mess, but they couldnt think of any other way to do it. I am sure that it isnt that bad. Raven was more interested in what it held. What did you put in the book, just the names or is there more? We diagrammed the worlds linked to a certain worlds gates and then logged which gates they link to. We described the terrain outside of the gatehouse, the weather and if we knew where the other gates were in relation to that one. Caidi could only shrug and then laughed softly as she realized what she must look like. The Kaden must think that she was insane, gesturing and shrugging when there was no one near her. That is all? Ravens question brought Caidis focus back to him. We also noted if the person visiting might want to use caution because of dangers from the inhabitants or simply dangerous terrain. We have been trying to think of a better way to organize it, to map it out clearly, but we havent yet found a simpler way. Caidi heaved a sigh as she thought of all of the hours she had spent studying that book. There are sages on Askara who live to solve difficult problems. Maybe they can help you with your book, Raven offered.

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Why would they want to do that? Our little book isnt really unique or of interest to them. If they had wanted to map the links of the travel gate paths, I am sure that they would have done it many years ago. Caidi raised her brows with genuine curiosity. As I told you, my little troublemaker, you have opened a whole new way of looking at things for me. They will at least want to see why you think what you do, why you believe that the gate paths are so complex, Raven chuckled. If you say so, but I havent seen any interest in the gate paths from the sages. Caidi had tentatively approached the sages a few times, but hadnt gone into any details. Teril is coming with my ally Achan Zaden Felinian. He was taking a message to Askara for me when you were taken. He has waited there and traveled to join Zadens men in the search for you on my orders. Raven felt that she should know that there would be someone there who knew her. I will contact you when they get here, Caidi assured him. It will be good to see a familiar face. You stay out of trouble. Raven couldnt hold back the admonition. He knew she was restraining herself, but worry swamped him. He would only feel that she was truly safe when he was finally with her. Stay in the camp and dont go wandering around. What trouble could I possibly get into here, Raven? Caidi asked with a long sigh. If she didnt know any better, she would be convinced that the man was paranoid. Im not going anywhere or likely to be allowed to do anything remotely exciting. I know you, Caidi. Somehow, trouble will find you or you will stumble over it. Most people would have been absolutely safe in a market with a guard, but with you, two guards wouldnt have been enough. Arron ended up with thirteen stitches in the back of his head and you got taken all the way to Astien. Raven couldnt resist pricking her temper by pointing that out to her. That isnt my fault! Righteous anger swept over Caidi. I dont control the actions of others. I didnt make or ask for the Bavaok to take me. I would hardly have asked to have to take that hike in Zarain form. Just be careful and stay with the Kaden until Teril and Zaden get there. I am sure that they can handle any trouble that you manage to find once they are there, Raven ordered, ignoring her protests of innocence. Caidi rolled her eyes in exasperation as she felt Raven break the connection. The only time that she had ever sought out anything even remotely resembling trouble was when she had gone to Mijohin. She had found him and a load of trouble that she hadnt thought of when she had started her journey.

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Chapter Eighteen
The large group of Shadatai warriors arrived after midday two days later. She had known of their approach for some time. They had been seen by some of the hunters earlier. Three wagons were pulled by large michkal, shaggy, strong beasts that could pull heavy loads, but the animals were slow. The large men immediately began to set up a second camp next to the Kaden camp with practiced moves. Teril, one of Zadens Terchal, accompanied by a big, black-haired, golden-skinned warrior, came toward her after speaking briefly with the Kaden Charal. Teril wore a smile, but the man beside him showed no emotion. Acine, this is the Achan Zaden Felinian, an ally of your chalon. Achan, this is Acine Caidi Talinian of the Oroyai pack of Carait. Teril introduced them formally as was customary. It is good to meet you, and I thank you for coming here, Achan Felinian, although, I would have hoped that our meeting could have come under better circumstances than my being taken by a Bavaok fool. Caidi smiled as she stepped forward and bowed her head respectfully to him. The Bavaok have forever been nuisances and usually when we have to deal with them, it is for a far different reason than this. At least, you can be assured that this particular band wont cause you any problems in the future. Achan Zaden Felinian returned her smile. His voice was cheerful and held genuine warmth. I was very happy to hear that Raven had finally found a mate and a place to call home. He has been looking for some time. Ah, but the Acine found us when we were between assignments and not actively looking, Teril relayed with a smile. How were we supposed to know that we were looking in the wrong direction? If she hadnt found us, it isnt likely that we would have ever found her. We brought clothing for you, Acine, and you will have the privacy and comfort of your own tent while we wait. Raven said that there was an Indiri woman who helped you while you were held by the Bavaok and that you wanted her rescued before her next-father chanced to find her secret, Achan Felinian stated. You will find her before her father harms her? Caidi raised her brows. She had expected to have to wait until Raven arrived for anything to be done about that. I will send my men to rescue her. She will be brought here safely and you wont have to worry about her any more. Can you tell us where to find her? Do you have any idea of where you were held? Zaden tilted his head, his eyes watchful.

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Well, I couldnt point it out on a map to you, Achan Felinian. I traveled northeastI got that from the wind and just general sense of directionaway from the house where I was held by the Bavaok, but I stopped running that way when I was certain that I was out of sight of the house. Caidi laughed lightly, able to see a little humor in the situation now that she was out of it. Can you describe the land, Acine? Teril probed, trying to get more detail. Which direction you took? The land was all flat plain there, Terchal. Then I traveled east to the river where I could shift form without much worry and kept moving east until I found this Kaden encampment where I found shelter. I wasnt too worried about being followed in Zarain form, so there might even be a trail for them to follow in places. Caidi smiled brightly. Call me Zaden. The big warrior tossed her a cheerful smile. We will find her. I will call you Zaden if you will call me Caidi. She returned the smile, although she had her doubt that anyone could do as he had said. I doubt that they will still be there in that house. After I escaped and they couldnt find me, it would have been stupid to wait around that place wasting this much time after the first two days of searches found nothing. The Bavaok have always been overconfident about their abilities and the results of their plans. They will still be in that house, confident that they will find you wandering around the forest without a stitch on. My men will find them, Zaden promised with an air of certainty. I wouldnt think that anyone would believe that for very long, but you do have experience with them. Staying there would be stupid and while the man had been a little dense, she wouldnt have credited him with that much audacity. Do you know where Raven is? Your chalon is on his way here as we speak, although with the distance he has to travel, it will be a few days before he gets to Astiens second gate, Lady. In the meantime, I believe that we will find much to talk about during the days. I can tell you much about your chalon that he probably hasnt told you yet and you can tell me about the worlds in the area around Carait. I will tell you anything you need to know since I owe you a debt and I know that you are a good friend to my chalon. You merely have to ask if you are looking for a world to call your own and I will try to help you find one to suit your people, Caidi replied easily. I didnt realize that so many people would be interested in what my pack has learned over the years. You owe me no debt for coming to your aid, Lady, Zaden said with seriousness and utter formality. In fact, I owe your chalon my life for his aid on several occasions in the past. He did it without question or possibility of gain to him. Your mate is one of the few I would call both ally and friend.

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Caidi found Zaden to be a friendly man, quick with a smile and a laugh, but he was definitely overprotective where she was concerned. From a few comments he had made during their discussions, she knew that Raven had informed him that she was pregnant and she thought that that was likely part of it. She had an escort at all times, even when going for a simple walk to the river which barely qualified as out of sight with the expanded size of the mixed camp of Kaden and Zarain. She was served heaping portions of food at every meal and urged to eat. It would have taken a person at least twice her size to finish what they gave her. Caidi barely managed half of the portions. Raven arrived near sunset five days after his Shadatai comrade Zaden had walked into the camp. Caidi was walking around the camp, trying to ignore the watchful eyes of every Zarain warrior present and the occasional urging from them to go rest. She had to move. She had so much energy coursing through her body and there was no way to expend it with the limited area of space she was allowed to roam. Caidi was irritable and inclined to frown at anyone who stopped her or urged her to sit which happened all too often. That didnt help. Her frowns didnt intimidate the warriors. She was also anxious for news about the search for Mandi, the Indiri who had helped her. She had asked Zaden, but he had said that his men hadnt found her yet. Most of her days were spent wondering where Raven was. She talked with him at least once a day, but whenever she asked where he was or when he would get here, all he said was that he was coming and soon. His cryptic replies had begun to grate her. He treated this as a game and she wasnt in the mood to play. The man could be more irritating than any other male she had ever dealt with. Are you keeping out of trouble as I told you to, Caidi? Raven stared at his chalie and savored the welcome sight of her in front of him at last. Caidi spun at the sound of his voice once she realized that it wasnt in her head. She could hardly believe that he was actually there. For a moment, she had thought that he was speaking to her through their connection again. Her eyes rounded at the sight of him standing there, so big, so real. She ran across the distance which separated them and luckily, it was free of obstacles and people. Her arms twined around him, holding him to her with all of her strength. Gods, she had missed him. Reveling in the strength of his arms about her, she nestled her head against his chest. She inhaled his scent, sweet to her even with the sweat and the dirt of the trail mingling with his unique musky male essence. Home. In that breath, she knew that he meant much more to her than she had ever suspected. Raven held her tightly against him and lowered his chin to the top of her head, closing his eyes as a wave of relief swept over him. She was safe with him now. Even with a full complement of Shadatai warriors and Teril, who knew her ways, to keep her safe, he had always been concerned that she would manage to slip past them and find some kind of trouble before he could get here.

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She had a talent for finding trouble, for walking fearlessly right into it. He had heard tales of her exploits while she had been exploring the gate path, before she had been persuaded that she should be staying closer to home as she was the Acine. He was simply glad that her traveling days in that capacity were done. She would only be traveling with him now. This woman was his life. He would strive to ensure that she was safe from harm. You never answered my question, my chalie, Raven prompted when she seemed inclined to simply stand there holding him. His hand tipped her face up to his where he could see her eyes. He inhaled her scent and immediately felt calmer. About keeping out of trouble? I didnt think that there was really a need. I thought that it was just one of your provoking questions. I was never allowed to go anywhere unescorted, certainly not outside of the camp. The only time that I was ever truly alone was when I was in my tent. Caidi frowned at him. What did he expect to happen? He should know that she could take care of herself. The Kaden Charal, Teril and Zaden wouldnt even let me walk to the edge of the river alone. It is just over there and clearly in sight, but I had to have at least one escort. She pointed to the strip of river near the camp. In Ravens opinion, the Kaden Charal had shown a great deal of insight in that decision. That is bad? What could have happened to me when I was plainly in their sight? Caidi asked with a frown of remembered annoyance. The Charal I understand, but Teril knows what I can do. There was no reason for such caution. Your friend is overprotective. Teril does know what you can do which is why he watches you so avidly. Zaden was merely doing as I asked him. Raven flashed her an unrepentant smile. Why dont you tell me what you think could have happened to you? You are the one with experience with strange happenings. The only thing really strange that has happened to me lately is being taken from a market by the Bavaok. I doubt even the most strict judge would say that that was my fault. Caidi placed her hands on his chest and pushed her upper body away from his. Lets go to my tent. I want to properly welcome you. She narrowed her eyes at him. This discussion could lead to trouble and when she returned to Carait, she was going to have a serious discussion with certain mouthy members of her pack, because someone had to have told him. She had to distract him from this path. This wasnt something she wanted to discuss. The man had been protective before. With what he knew now, she would probably be lucky to cross the courtyard within the walls of the Taivain without escort. Raven smiled, but shook his head in denial. That isnt your tent. That is Zadens tent. We will go to our tent after the evening meal. First, I want to talk with you about strange things. I am sure that you can tell me about them. Her attempt to distract him was very obvious, but, as tempted as he was to be alone with her, to strip her naked and

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to look at her until he was satisfied that she was whole and healthy, he needed to talk with her now. Can we at least go for a walk in the forest while we talk? Caidi gave into the inevitable with a sigh of acceptance. I havent been farther than the edge of the river since I got here. I need to walk, to move. Yes, we can walk, Raven allowed with a smile as he took her hand and they began walking toward the edge of the forest. Caidi glared at him when she saw him gesture to two of his men, who fell into step behind them as they entered the darkened woods. She couldnt believe that he actually felt he would need two men to escort them. It was going a bit far in her opinion. Nothing was going to attack them, although her own thoughts toward him right now were violent.

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Chapter Nineteen
What could happen? She wasnt going to attack him, even if he was making her feel as if she were trapped in a room without windows or doors. They didnt have any enemies nearby other than the small group of Bavaok who were days away from this camp. Wild animals werent much of a threat to a Zarain. If needed, he had his sword. They were hardly defenseless. So, why dont you begin to tell me about strange happenings, my chalie? His lips curved into a predatory smile. Caidi knew that he was toying with her. If you want to know something, you should be specific. I refuse to answer any question that general, because our view of strange happenings might be a little different. You have shown yourself to be an overly cautious sort in some areas. I think that we should start with the moacha lizard that you found in your bed when you were fourteen. You do remember that and agree that it is a strange thing to happen, dont you? Raven pronounced levelly. The look in his eyes easily relayed the message that he knew the facts and that he wouldnt allow her to duck or dodge this subject any longer. I remember it. No ones likely to forget finding a poisonous creature among her bedding. That was shortly before the first challenge. Caidi shuddered at the memory of that scaly creature. It had been the first time she had thought about her own death as imminent, not years away. At the time, I knew that finding the moacha in my bed wasnt likely to have happened simply by chance. Tell me why you thought that. Raven had heard it all, but he wanted her views, her thoughts. We had never before found a moacha in the area near the Taivain, much less in it. There was no proof that anyone had even been anywhere close to my room for long enough to put it there. I came to suspect that it was one of those who werent happy following me, one of those who later challenged me. That incident had been the cause of so much tension during that time, not only for her, but also to any who might be suspected. Caidi was certain that it had been the catalyst behind the first challenges. You arent certain? Raven raised his brows. It doesnt seem like them, the way they would try to gain the power. They did challenge me and when they lost, they left the Taivain instead of staying under my rule. She wished things could have been different. The need for answers to all of those questions still plagued her. Then again nothing like that happened again after they all left. So, it could have been one of them.

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Nothing happened, but after that incident, you were on your guard, alert and the other members of your pack were watchful for anything strange as well. Ravens dark frown and raised brows demanded that she give the matter further thought. The culprit could have still been among you then. They knew that if anything happened to you, they would likely get caught. I think that I am safe now. There arent any of the older females anywhere near the Taivain now, not in years. Nothing strange has happened within it since the last of those women who were unable to adjust to the change in leadership left. Caidi smiled, relieved. Grateful that he appeared to be more concerned with the strange things that had occurred in the ancient past, she tucked her hand in his. This wasnt what she had feared he had been told when he had started talking of strange happenings. He would now be reassured that she was safe and they could move on to other subjects. Raven looked at her hard when the silence stretched. She seemed to be concentrating on the leaf-strewn forest floor. Nothing has happened at the Taivain, but there is much that you dont wish to tell me. I know of four instances when you were off of Carait. You know that I will not tolerate you being in danger. Caidi suppressed a growl and tried to think of an appropriate response. You do? There were the slavers who tried to take you, just you, out of a crowded market on a world called Evical, then there was the mob that attacked the inn where you and three others from your pack were sleeping on Reyad. On Jocan, an arrow narrowly missed your shoulder, and of course, there was the entire batch of poisoned stew that was fed to the customers on Vendal. Explain all of these strange happenings. Raven frowned down at her. She needed to take these things more seriously. Someone was after her. They happened well after the last older woman was gone. All of those incidents which you are taking as a serious threat were separated by long stretches of peace. There was so much time between them that it isnt likely that they are related. If you talked to who I think you talked to, you should also know that none of those things could ever be definitively proven as an attempt on my life. Caidi shrugged. He should know by now that she hadnt been the protected pampered woman of most Zarain packs. Explain them to me, then. How is it that you dont see any malice toward yourself from all of these events occurring? With lowered brows, he waited for her answer. Have you become so accustomed to danger that you dont see when you are the focus of a killer? It was very strange that there were slavers even on Evical, but hardly unheard of in that area. You know as well as I do that slavers have been known to look for a particular type of woman if they are paid enough. I just happened to be what they were looking for. Caidi pursed her lips and tilted her head. He was making too much of this. Nothing had happened. So it was just a coincidence? Ravens silver eyes pinned her.

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Caidi ignored that derisive question and went on to the second episode. The mob attacking the inn was definitely strange. To this day, no one knows what caused them to do that, but they were broken up by some Dain. We left there rather quickly, but not because of the mob, and we are careful when we go back. It is another coincidence that you were in the very inn a mob stormed. You dont believe that. I heard from the other women who were at that inn what the crowd had been yelling. They were shouting for the death of the shifters within the inn. She was trying to make these events seem innocent when they were far from it. The arrow, I was in a forest. It could very well have been an accident. We were never able to prove that it wasnt a hunter, letting his arrow fly before he was certain of the prey. That one was a hard one get out with a straight face. No hunter was that careless. That was the one occurrence that worried her most. Someone had taken a shot at her. Admitting that to her overprotective mate That was another matter. Caidi, no lies, Raven warned. The woman needed to face the truth. As to the poison at the inn being meant solely for me, that is a reach. An entire inn nearly got poisoned. There were many people there. I wasnt the only one who could have been the real target. It has been quite a while since anything like that has happened. Caidi rushed to put a bright note to the ending. She walked beside him, thinking. Never had she thought about them all together like that. Even she could see that it was unlikely that all of those things would have happened to her by chance. There have probably been many strange things that have happened and gone unnoticed as an attempt on your life. You dont see even those I have mentioned as an attempt to remove you as Acine. Ravens hand swept through the air in a decisive statement. Someone wants you dead. I dont think Caidi frowned. She could feel the anger racing through his thoughts. The man was seeing a conspiracy where there was probably nothing more than an angered customer. The Bavaok leader, when I confronted him with the truth that he wasnt dealing with mere human traders, tried very hard to convince me that he was directed to this area, to your trade. He said that a woman came to him and told him that he would find something interesting if he looked into those who produced the goods sold from Esden. Raven was satisfied to see her stunned expression. Maybe now she would take the threat seriously. But if he was told to look for us, why didnt he attack us? Caidi knew that if he had had any hint that they were shifter he would have attacked. Greed. Raven squeezed her hand which had gone limp in his. When he started trading and making a steady profit with your goods, he didnt look any further into what the woman could have meant. He said that now he knew what the woman wanted him to find. You arent implying that any of those now in my pack have turned roguethat they have been trying to kill me. They would have had nothing to gain in the beginning.

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They were young as well. They are all loyal. They have all fought at my back and not one tried to plant a knife there. Caidi defended her pack-mates without qualm. She knew that they were all true to her and each other. And theyre shifters and just as likely to get killed by the Bavaok. I dont mean the women who are with you now. Lower your hackles, Raven clarified. I am talking about the women you defeated and the ones who simply left. They know where the Taivain is. They knew you didnt have any males to protect you. They also knew that you would be continuing your explorations. Why do you suspect the women who simply chose to leave of doing this? They could have stayed at the Taivain, helped us make it what it is now. Caidi threw up her hands in exasperation as she remembered how unsure she had been in those first days. I would have welcomed their help and guidance. I wasnt trained to lead. I wasnt even trained to direct the trade. One or more of those women wanted control of the Taivain and they still do. Either they lost in the dominance fight or didnt care to try their luck and left. The problem will be finding them. The two groups were the only ones who knew where the Taivain was, who would know what she looked like. How can you be sure that any of them still want that? Maybe they gave up after sending the Bavaok to look into the trade and discovering that hed decided to trade instead of looking deeper at who was doing the trading. Caidi searched his eyes. The Bavaok man added that hed had another visit from the woman recently. Raven reached up and brushed her hair back behind her ear. Why would he tell you anything that you didnt specifically ask? she scoffed. He was trying very hard to bargain for his life. Raven arched a brow. What did she want? Caidi took a deep breath and then met his eyes. He said that she came to him with a sketch this timeof you. She said that she wanted him to take you from the market when you arrived. She gave him a list of dates that you might be there, Raven revealed. How She closed her eyes as she realized that someone had been stalking her for a long time. Yes, she has, Raven agreed with her silent conclusion. She paid him to take you and told him that he could do what he wanted with you as long as you never came back. As she left, she told him that she was certain he would do what was right. If he intended to kill me, then why even keep me alive and captive? Caidi looked up at him confused by the Bavaok mans behavior. He intended to sell you to slavers. The woman counted on him discovering you were a shifter and killing you, but the man who had you never knew. Raven shook his head in astonishment. He saw a way to get paid twice or even three times for his work.

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I can only be thankful for his greed. She returned her attention to the terrain in front of her. As am I, Raven agreed. Tell me about the women who arent here now. Most of the women who simply left the Taivain were younger than the women who challenged me to battle. They didnt want to stay in a Taivain when they questioned my ability to lead them through very troubled times. Also, they didnt want to stay in a pack without men. They were unmated and hadnt had children yet. Caidi kept her voice even, low as she remembered those women from so long ago. She had asked them to stay, to help her. They had all left. Did any try to come back? Raven saw and felt the hurt, the pain as she remembered that time. No, I havent seen or heard from any of them. A few of them told me to my face that they would rather wander the worlds on their own than follow an untried cub who would probably get them killed. They were looking for mates, a new pack. There is no way to find them. Caidi had often wondered about them, but they had chosen their path. If the other shifter man brought the woman to his Taivain and she didnt choose to give the name of her pack or even if it was unknown, it would be remembered by someone. Raven reached over and squeezed her hand. People have long memories when it comes to strange things. A female who gives no pack name or makes one up, that would have been a very strange thing. The elders would remember it. They had gradually circled back to the large encampment. They arrived just in time for the meal. Caidi sat next to Raven and accepted the heaping plate that was given to her. She accepted the cup, but knew from the almost clear coloring that it wasnt the wine that she was accustomed to drinking. Suspicious, she sniffed at it and frowned, aiska cider. Raven laughed at her look of distaste as she stared at the cup. I talked with a few of the healers while I was waiting for word. They all recommended that a pregnant woman should drink plenty of juices, broths, and hovasa milk, instead of wine all the time. Cider was the only thing that was easy to get to you. Caidi shook her head at him, at the lengths he was willing to go to ensure her health and happiness. She was slightly amused at the forbearance he had shown. She wouldnt have been surprised if he had found a hovasa giving milk on one of the worlds as he passed through and dragged it along with him. Hovasas are too slow, he said with a smile, letting her know that he had been with her in her mind and had caught her amusement. Caidi resigned herself to being cosseted. She faced the fact that he was a dominating, caring man. He would see that she had her every need fulfilled and was always well cared for, protected, even though she could protect herself. She ate as much of the food on her plate as she could and drank the cider without raising an argument, although aiska cider wasnt what she wanted. Only to make him happy did she suffer it.

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When they were both finished with their food, Raven left her to go to the river and bathe. The men who were still sitting around the fire occupied her by telling her of their battles and questioning her about her journey.

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Chapter Twenty
Raven came back to the fire carrying his black shirt. The defined muscles of his chest glistened with a few stray droplets of water in the flickering firelight. His wet black hair was slicked back and hung down his back. Caidi thought he looked very sexy like that in just his pants and boots, just waiting for someone to finish the job of undressing him. Raven took her hand, drew her to her feet and led her to his tent. It was brown like all of the others, but a little larger than the one she had been using. Caidi looked around the tent. Lamps hung on poles around the tent giving plenty of light. A large pallet had been placed near the center of the tent, along with a collapsible stand and the bags of clothing. The clothing Teril had brought for her had been moved to this tent and Raven had brought her bag. She would have more than enough clothing for the stay here. Raven secured the flap and then walked over to her, taking her into his arms. He held her tightly, savoring her closeness for a moment. Caidi stepped away from him and slowly began to undress. Eager and hungry for his touch, her silver eyes burned with desire. She dropped the last of her clothing to the floor just as he doused the flame in one of the lamps. Raven was thankful for the thick material of the tent walls. It was impossible to tell where the occupants were inside it even with the lamps blazing. He had always appreciated that fact when it came to battles and an enemy could never be sure if the tents occupant was awake and planning or sleeping, but now, he found that he also liked the privacy it gave him when he was alone with his chalie. Intertwined shadows wouldnt be visible on the dark walls of the tent. He needed to sink into her depths soon. Raven undressed and with a few long strides joined her where she lay on the large, padded pallet. She reached for him as he came down beside her, slightly leaning over her. On a groan, he threaded his fingers into her hair and kissed her with all of the passion within him, his lips moving over hers heavily for a few moments, his tongue thrusting deep within her mouth. He wanted her beneath him, over him, in whatever position he could have her again and again. The Zarain within demanded a mating. He knew that he wouldnt be completely satisfied that she was safe, that she was back where she belonged until he was deep within her heat. Caidi returned his heated kiss with an eagerness and wanton desire only strengthened by the length of their separation. When he shifted over her, his knee nudging hers, she readily opened her thighs to him. The nights had been long, especially since she had known she was safe. When his weight settled in the cradle of her thighs, she sighed in satisfaction. This was what she needed. She felt his hard length

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press against her and tightened her legs around his hips to hold him in place if he tried to move away from her. His hands moved to her hips, his fingers sliding under her to grasp her buttocks as if he too wanted to be sure that she didnt go anywhere. When he lifted his head away from her, she nipped at his lip with her sharp, white teeth before running her tongue over his lips in a deliberately provocative move to encourage him to resume the kiss. Raven merely chuckled at her and kissed her briefly, thoroughly, thrusting his tongue into her mouth and stroking it along the roof of her mouth, tangling with her tongue. He broke the kiss and came to his knees between her thighs. He wondered if she knew how he loved it when she became aggressive. An inarticulate sound of protest escaped from Caidis lips, a cry of frustration and anger, as she tried to pull his large, muscled body back down to her. His lips brushed over her neck in a teasing flutter of a caress. The insistent tug of her hands on his muscular arms didnt work to pull his lips back to where she wanted them. Those marauding lips touched briefly on both crests of her breasts, his teeth grazing the already hardened tips. In a move of frustrated desperation, she sank her nails into his back and tried to pull him back to her. The scrape of her nails across his back only earned her the deep rumble of a warning growl from her mate. By the time that his lips reached her navel, Caidi had guessed what he was going to do. He knelt between her thighs, his breath fanning over the triangle of golden hair. He was going to do what he had wanted to do that day in the bathing tub. He was going to put his mouth on her, the way he had done before. The sensations had almost made her insane. He could take her to heights and keep her there with the touch of his lips upon her should he desire or bring her to glorious pleasure. Raven inhaled her scent. He smelled her growing arousal, her anticipation of all that he would give her. He knew that her eyes would just be clouding with the haze of need and her skin from breast to forehead would be flushed a delightful red. He spread her labia with the fingers of one hand and lowered his lips to her swollen, aching clit. He sucked it between his lips, flicking at it with his tongue. The sweet, tangy flavor of her nectar filled his mouth. He loved that taste. He lapped at her, tracing a path to her slit and the honeyed nectar seeping from her. He chuckled against her as her hips bucked against him in involuntary response to the stabbing drive of his tongue. Caidi whimpered, her hips undulating. Her hands fisted in his hair as fire lanced through her, curling into a tight, hot, pulsing need deep within her. Raven eased a finger into her hot, tight cunt. She moaned as his finger thrust fully within her, lubricated by the slick fluid, and again in disappointment as he withdrew it. Her frustration was short-lived. He teased her for a moment, running the tip of his finger over the sensitive tissue around the entrance to that snug channel before thrusting two fingers within her. You like that, dont you? Raven lifted his head to ask softly.

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Caidis only verbal response to his question was an irritated groan as he slowly withdrew his fingers from her. She ached for his touch, any touch. With a less than gentle tug on his hair she tried to bring him back to the needy ache he had caused. With a growl at that stinging pain, he lowered his head to her. Her legs tightened about his shoulders, trying to hold him there. His tongue swept out, lapping at the hardness under the hood of her clit. So beautiful. Raven slurped at the honeyed warmth spilling from her. You taste so good, baby. By the Goddess, woman, I missed you. Caidi could feel his every breath and the hot fan of moist air only further excited her. She trembled with the mounting desire. She knew that the liquid warmth of her cum was flowing from her, she could feel it against her butt cheeks and knew by his smell that he was incredibly excited by how much she wanted him. His mouth moved over her, lower, and his tongue thrust into the needy heat of her sheath. That was all it took to send her over the edge. Caidi shuddered, trembled with the power of her release. She moaned, her back arching, her hands tugging at his hair, biting back a cry as the waves of her orgasm shook her. Raven savored her taste and the glorious smell of her passion as he continued to stroke his tongue over her heated pink flesh, not nearly finished with her for the evening. He nibbled at her clit, rubbing it with his lips and tongue and was delighted by her immediate, eager response to his touch. Her hips moved slightly against him, urging him to touch her again. Her hands held him to her as her hunger once more grew from his sucking and nibbling upon her clit. His fingers stroked inside her slick slit. Her inner muscles clenched around his fingers, trying to draw him farther into her. I can see you missed me. You are starving for my touch, taneen, Raven said. After a last long stroke of his tongue over the swollen nub of her clit that caused her to arch up into him with the shock of the sensation, he drew away from her. Caidi wasnt ready for him to stop. Her body was unbearably sensitized, tuned to his touch, straining for more. The desperate sound of need that came from her lips was more cry than groan. A pleased, very wicked smile flashed across his lips. He needed her like this, desperate, aching for his touch. His body slid up over hers, deliberately brushing over the hardened, aching crests of her breasts. Raven slowly entered her. His cock slid gently into her clinging warmth. He knew how close she was to coming. Gritting his teeth, he waged an inner war against his own desire to forge deep and hard into her. He wanted her to burn for him even when he was fully within her. Raven slowly withdrew from the tight channel of her pussy, he felt her inner muscles clench around him as if she would try to hold him within her. Pleasure-pain shot through him, nearly rending his last desperate bid for control from his grasp. Caidi groaned as he slowly pulled himself almost completely from her. Conflicting desires fought for supremacy within her. She needed the tight, full feeling that she only

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felt when he was deep inside her, but she also needed him moving within her, against her. Raven thrust deep within her, hard against her. He loved the tiny moan of yearning which escaped from her, the rapid, shallow pace of her breath as she became more and more aroused. The way her hips tilted to take more of him and the clutch of her inner muscles around him as she tried to draw him deeper while he withdrew drove him wild. Reveling in the slick heat surrounding him, in the clasp of her tight sheath, he pumped into her. He loved teasing her. He would retreat a little to feel those muscles tighten around him like a fist and then forge back into her as deep as he could go, grinding his hips against hers. He brushed his chest across the pebbled hardness of her nipples, drawing a low moan and a shudder of raw need from her as he withdrew from her until only the rounded head of his shaft remained within her. Please, Raven. Caidi gazed up at the teasing man above her. Caidi arched her hips upward, just as he thrust back into her, taking him within her, accepting, needing the forceful surge of his hips against hers. She moaned, biting her lip to hold back a scream. Everything within her was tightening and exploding, her eyes closed tightly as streaks of light and color washed over her vision as she found release from the raging fire of arousal. Raven thrust within her again, feeling her inner muscles tighten and release around him as she trembled at the power of her orgasm. He moved against her, faster now, seeking his own pleasure as the last of his control fled. His hips ground against hers, his thrusts deep and hard. He lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her fiercely as his hips surged against her. Caidi could feel the contentment within her beginning to return to the familiar hunger of passion. The press of his hips, the brush of his chest over hers, all kindled her just sated needs back into full life. His hard, thick cock moved within her sending jolts of ferocious longing through her. Caidi moved with him, her legs moving to circle his hips as he thrust hard into her, seeming to find and hit a spot deep within her that caused her to shiver with pleasure at his every stroke. Raven stifled a shout, pressing his lips against hers as his body burned with release. Fire washed over his body, racing up his spine. He still thrust within her as his seed poured into her body in hot jets. Caidi tensed against him. Wave after wave of ecstasy washed over her bringing her immeasurable bliss as the slightly alien sensations washed through her mind and body. Caidi lay beneath him for a long time waiting for her heartbeat to slow and her rapid breathing to calm. Raven stared down at Caidi as she lay beneath him. He wasnt surprised when she went to sleep. Without disturbing her slumber, he withdrew from her and moved to the side as he lay beside her, his body half covering her. He wrapped her in his arms certain that he would wake if she should move or try to leave him. Raven soon fell into sleep as

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he lay there beside her. A deep contentment burned within him. At last, she was back in his arms.

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Chapter Twenty-One
Caidi woke to the darkness provided by the thick tent walls, but she knew that it was still deep in the night. It was probably not even close to dawn. She could hear nothing outside the tent. If it was close to dawn, from her experience over the past days, she knew that there would be noise of the warriors moving around the camp as they began the chores of the day. She thought about those feelings that always hit her when that psychic orgasm, the rekai, rolled through her. It was so strange. Even now, she couldnt define all of them. The emotions were easyjoy at release from that pleasurable tension, possession, need. It was the physical impressions that were too fleeting to identify. She saw that Raven had extinguished all of the lamps before he had fallen asleep and pulled a light blanket over them against the slight chill of the night. Carefully, she flipped it off her. There were things she wanted to do now that he was here, but it wasnt quite that simple. She was wrapped in his arms. He held her as if he were afraid she would escape. With infinite patience and a light touch, she grabbed his hand lifting it away from her and placing it between their bodies. She eased onto her knees. Caidi moved the blanket completely off Raven. She gently pushed him onto his back, careful to ease him down. Once again, she looked at him to make sure that he hadnt awakened. Zarain night vision was partially heat-based so she needed no light to find her way around the body of her chalon. She wanted a little time. She saw no movement from his body or even the tiny flicker of an eyelid. His breathing was still deep and even in the rhythm of sleep. She considered it fortuitous that it was as dark as it was within the tent. If there was light and Raven woke now, he would plainly see her heated cheeks and know exactly what she was thinking about doing. The thought excited her, but she didnt quite know how to do it. She knelt beside him, gathering her courage to carry through on the deed which curiosity and desire were urging her to attempt. Her eyes tracked over his large body, mapping the muscular frame sprawled so temptingly before her. He took every opportunity to shed his clothing when he was around her. The man hadnt a drop of shyness in his body. His straight, black hair would be wild around his head and shoulders. His handsome face, even relaxed in slumber, would be predatory and sensual. His wide golden chest was covered only by the black-inked tattoos. His muscular arms, the upper part banded in black designs, would ripple with muscle. The large, calloused hands, capable of immense strength and amazing gentleness, would be relaxed. His flat stomach flexed displaying the muscle at each breath.

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His penis was long and thick when aroused and Caidi seldom saw it when it wasnt erect. The tip, rounded, slightly bulbous, darkened to a reddish purple at those times. The vein along the length would throb beneath her fingers as she caressed him. The two globes at the base of the shaft had always interested her, the skin so silky. He responded to her touch there almost as readily as he did to the stroke of her hand around his shaft. Caidi lowered her head toward his hips as her hand searched for the thick length of his cock. A hard, strong hand fastened onto her shoulder, pulling her up, and another grabbed her wrist just as her fingers touched the smooth skin of his shaft. Raven sat up abruptly, a chuckle escaping his lips even as he restrained her. Half the pleasure in the act is in the seeing, my sweet reha. Dont you remember how you watched me as I lapped at your sweet juices? If you truly want to do this, we will need some light, so I too can find the enjoyment of seeing you take me in your mouth. Do you really want me this way, my chalie? Ravens tone was faintly challenging as if he expected her to quickly change her mind when she learned that he wanted to watch. The doubt in his tone made up her mind. Light a lamp. Raven said nothing in response to her emphatic demand. Caidi didnt know if he was surprised, shocked by her boldness or pleased with her. He cautiously let go of her hand as he stood and went to light a lamp. Caidi saw a faint spark and then the lamp flamed to life as Raven lowered the crystal flame guard. He turned back to her and Caidi saw that he was already aroused. He didnt immediately lie down after he had placed the lamp on a hook on a nearby tent pole. He walked a short distance away and returned with a few of the sitting pillows. He pushed the thinner sleeping pillows out of the way with his foot as he placed the sitting pillows at the end of the pallet in a pile. The sleeping pillows were put on top of this pile. He sat in front of them and leaned back against the stack of pillows, reclining with his hands at his sides. Now, he was apparently ready and waiting for her to make her move. The look on his face indicated that he thought she would change her mind before she went through with it. Caidi took his doubting attitude as a challenge. He either knew her very well or he didnt know her at all, she decided. There was no more certain way to make sure she did something than to make a challenge of it. She moved onto her knees beside him and bent over him, one hand braced between his legs as she lowered her head toward his waiting length. Her golden hair fell forward, shielding her face and his sex from his view. With an irritated grunt, Raven put his hand on her shoulder stopping her before her lips touched him. Move between my legs, Caidi. I want to see you take me into your mouth. I want to see those lips stretched around my cock. Ravens growl rippled through her body causing her pussy to clench.

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Caidi did as he asked, simply because she wanted to please him. She also knew that his pleasure excited her immeasurably. She moved to kneel between his legs, looking into his challenging silver eyes for a moment. With a wink at him, she lowered her head and took the head of his cock into her mouth. For a moment, she did nothing more than savor the slightly salty, musky taste of him, running her tongue over that rounded head to gather every bit of the essence. One of his hands tangled in her hair, pressing down just slightly, a silent urging. She drew back and her tongue swirled around the head of his sex, teasing him. After licking her way down his length and back up, she again took him into her mouth. Her lips tightened around him. She sucked delicately, unsure of exactly what would please him, but she was determined to find out. Raven felt fire sear through him at that light suction. Just the sight of those red lips around his shaft, the feel of her hot tongue lashing at him, had been bliss, but he needed to feel that wet heat on all of him, for her to suck harder, faster. More, Raven rumbled. Take me into your mouth. Caidi released him to look up at him in response to that growl. His face was starkly highlighted by the glow from the lamp, the angles and planes sharp. His eyes were dark, the pupils enlarged by surging desire. The slight, insistent pressure at the back of her head reminded her of exactly what he wanted. She slowly lowered her mouth over him, taking more of his thick length into her mouth, but had to draw back when she felt like choking. Following her instincts, she cupped his balls in her hand, rubbing her thumb over the silky sac. Wanting to give him all he craved, she tried again to take him deep, but had to draw back at almost the same point. Frustration built within her. Relax, swallow. Raven saw the frustration rising within her. Didnt she know that everything she did was perfect, so hot that he wanted to come now? Determined, Caidi did as he instructed. She relaxed her mouth and throat and succeeded in taking more of his large cock into her mouth each time she slid her mouth down his shaft. Rumbling groans tore from his lips. Lost in her enjoyment of his taste, the feel of his skin beneath her tongue, she sucked at him as she took him into her mouth and delighted in his growls and groans, and the hot need that she could sense whenever she linked her mind with his. His hips thrust upward. Fingers tangled in her hair, he controlled the movement, but he couldnt control what she did to him. Her tongue swirled over him, stroking along his length. Her teeth gently scraped, a tease of pain that she knew from his reaction only heightened his pleasure. She took his length once more into her hot, wet mouth and down her throat. He was thrusting into her mouth now every time she withdrew. Like this, he was hers. As much at her mercy as she would ever get him. I want you to swallow when I come. I want to be inside of you just as I am when you take me deep into your hot pussy, Raven ordered in a harsh voice, roughened by arousal. A flood of moisture formed between her thighs. She loved it when he talked like that during sex.

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Her hot mouth slid over him, taking him. His balls were pulled tight. Her touch there burned, increasing the ache. They were nearly pulsing with the need to flood her with his seed. He now had both hands on the back of her head. The hand tangled in her hair tightened, ensuring she didnt try to release him, although she delighted in his taste. At the urging pressure of his hands, she took more of his length as he arched up into her. He came, a growling primal sound of pure satisfaction escaping him as the pleasure flooded his body. His hot cum sprayed down her throat and she swallowed convulsively, even as an unexpected orgasm rolled through her body. She moaned around his cock as shudders of ecstasy racked her body. Spirals of heat and sensation curled through her belly and spread outward. Caidi slowly released his temporarily flaccid organ. On weak arms and legs, she crawled over his body and stretched out beside him on the pallet. That rekai was going to kill her. Idly, she wondered if it was possible to die from too much pleasure. She had been so intent on giving him satisfaction that she hadnt even thought about that. It had been the farthest thing from her mind when she had taken him into her mouth.

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Chapter Twenty-Two
That was very good, my Caidi. We will work on variations and other interesting techniques later, Raven stated with a lusty grin. He shoved the pillows behind him out of the way and lay next to her to nuzzle her ear and neck. Raven kissed her, his lips moving slowly over hers, encouraging a response from her. He wanted to watch her burn. His tongue lapped at her lips and then slipped between them boldly. Caidi responded as she did every time he touched her. She held nothing back in her response and welcomed his every touch. Without hesitation, her tongue tangled with his, thrusting into his mouth in response to the teasing forays of his tongue. Her hands tangled in the long, soft mass of his hair, holding him to her. How did he do it? Just his scent or the simplest of touches was enough to make her want him intensely. When he tried to arouse her, her desire soared to the stars. Caidi felt Ravens hand slide down her body, pausing to flick at her nipples and tormenting them into hard nubs that ached for more attention, then continuing down to the soft fur at her thighs. His fingers slipped between the plump folds of her labia and swirled in the creamy liquid spilling from her. Those skillful digits danced over her. Stroking over her clit, he drew a moan of raw need from her lips and her hips undulated against his hand. Oh, Goddess Raven Caidi panted, tossing her head against the silken sheets. He thrust two of his large fingers into her. With an expert touch, he alternated between long strokes of the fingers within her warm channel and firm strokes of his thumb over the hard nub of her clitoris. Her wet sheath pulled at his fingers. Caidi arched into his touch, her hips rising into his touch. Soft sighs and delicious moans escaped her lips as she tried to maintain control. Your cunt is so wet, Raven whispered into her ear. You want me, dont you? Caidi could only moan an incoherent response as everything within her flared to a new peak. Her mind was engulfed by need. Raven leaned over and took her nipple into his mouth, nibbling at it gently, scraping it with his teeth, and then sucking the sensitive flesh deeply into his mouth. Her sweet taste filled his mouth and her hot scent swirled around him. Raven groaned. He wanted to feast on her all night, but his body craved more. His tongue flicked at the stiff tip in his mouth, tormenting her. Caidi arched her back and moaned. Her fingers threaded into his hair as she pulled him closer to her, even as she writhed against the hand between her thighs, seeking a release from the hot demand building within her.

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Raven needed no further urging from her. He was more than ready to bury himself deep within her body. He ached to feel the walls of her pussy close around him so hot, tight, and wet, pulsing and clinging around him as he moved within her. He moved between her thighs, urging her legs high around his waist. She twined those sleek limbs around him, locking them at the ankle as he surged into her hot core with a smooth thrust of his hips. Raven gritted his teeth against the urge to ride her hard until they both found their satisfaction. It was always there in his mind whenever he felt her heat surround his cock. He heard Caidis soft moan at his entrance and felt the tightening grip of her inner muscles as she accepted him. Closing his eyes he sought control. He would be gentle. Her hands slid from his hair and trailed over his chest, scraping lightly, teasingly over his flat nipples. They smoothed down to his waist and up around to cup his taut muscular buttocks in both hands. She pulled him tightly to her in a demand for more. No, Caidi. Raven pressed into her and stared into her eyes, reinforcing his denial. He withdrew from her and slowly reentered her. The movement was smooth and, to Caidi, extremely frustrating. More, she needed more. The need burned, flared and his gentle moves only worsened it. Raven repeated the movement, slowly moving into and out of her in carefully controlled thrusts. There was barely any pressure or force to his movements within her. She barely had time to feel him against her, before he moved away from her. She ached for his cock driving hard into her, his chest brushing against her breasts. More, Raven. She arched her hips and slid her hands down to his buttocks. Caidi growled in frustration when he once again moved gently within her. Desperation built, she didnt need slow and gentle. When he withdrew from her and sank into her with controlled gentleness, Caidi had had enough. She sank her nails into his buttocks, tugging at him as she tightened her legs around him and pulled him down onto her. His hips drove into hers. Caidi relished the weight of him, the feel of him deep within her and arched, rubbing her breasts across his chest, almost purring in contentment. Raven was so surprised by her actions that he almost lost control. Her cunt grasped at him, pulling at his shaft. The feeling, sharp, sweet bliss, nearly overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes and focused on his goal. His full weight rested on her for the space of a few breaths before he once again regained control of himself and lifted most of it off her. No, reha, do it my way. Raven undulated his hips in a soft, gentle rocking motion. When his hips once again slowly descended, their flesh barely touched before he withdrew. She was going to have to take control. Caidis growl was slightly louder this time as she expressed her objection. She unlocked her ankles and lowered her legs until she gripped his thighs with her legs. Determination pulsed through her. She slid her arms up to his back and used all of her strength and the element of surprise to roll him

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beneath her. Pushing herself to a sitting position, she sighed in contentment at the feel of his full length within her. Pleased, she looked down at her stunned chalon. I want it my way. Caidi grinned down at him. She leaned down and braced her arms on his chest, lowering her head to kiss him hungrily. Nipping his lips, she raised her head to stare into his eyes. She began moving on him, her movements grinding and urgent. Her blood pounded with uncontrolled desire, her clit throbbed with each beat of her heart. She raised herself only to slam her hips back into his. She needed the contact, grinding against him. She rolled her hips as she raised herself over him, enjoying the sensations caused by the different angles and his harsh, indrawn breath. Ravens hands gripped her hips, seeking to control the force and the speed of her descent over him. Caidi leaned down until her face was close to his and bared her teeth, growling at him in her frustration. Raven chuckled. Ride me gently, my taneen. Our cub rests within you. We dont want anything to happen to him. Then Raven cursed, clenching his teeth as her inner muscles contracted around him as she wriggled her hips in protest of his controlling grip. We wont hurt him by making love, Caidi growled at him, her own teeth clenched in frustration as she realized he wouldnt be releasing her hips. I want more. I want to feel you thrusting into me, your body driving against me. You are driving me insane. I want you to ache as I ache. I want you, Caidi, Raven assured her feelingly. If you wanted me, you would be hard within me, part of me. She bared her teeth in a frustrated hiss. He lowered her onto him, closing his eyes as the feeling of her around him, taking him within her, threatened the control she was complaining about. Didnt the woman feel how hard he was? Gods, he craved exactly what she did. He had to fight with every bit of control he had to resist the urge to bring her down onto him as he thrust against her. Caidi twisted her hips in his grasp, again trying to free herself. She noticed that his eyes closed, his jaw clenched and the fingers at her hips tightened and shook slightly as she moved her hips. So he wasnt so calm, so unaffected. She smiled in feminine wisdom and with evil intent as she tightened the muscles in her thighs and wiggled some more as she rose above him at the insistent pressure of his hands. Raven swore hoarsely as the last of his control vanished into oblivion when the walls of her pussy tightened around his cock and her hips moved in teasing little circles when she rose above him. She was smiling down at him even as he pulled her roughly down onto him. He grasped her hair and shoulder, pulling her upper body down onto his, wrapping her in his arms as he rolled her under him. He withdrew from her and thrust into her. His hips slammed down on hers.

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Caidi had little time to gloat over her success. She moaned against his lips as he mimicked the joining of their lower bodies with his tongue in her mouth. Her legs wrapped around him and she writhed beneath him, eager to take his hard length. Scoring his back with her nails, she arched up to meet his thrusts enthusiastically, encouraging him with breathy moans. Caidi shuddered, finding her release as he thrust deep into her. Sensation burned through herhot, pounding. Clinging to him, she pressed her mouth to his chest to smother the scream. Raven thrust into her, need pulling his balls tight. His cock burned, ached with sweet, dragging pleasure-pain caused by the pulling, milking contractions of her pussy. The rippling sheath pulled at him. His balls pulled tight to his body, his pulse pounding. His groan was a near shout as he came, his body shaking as he drove his hips hard against hers. His seed poured into her in hot spurts. Vicious pleasure flooded through him, tearing up his spine and spreading out to his limbs. Male sensation rushed into her, alien but so familiar, triggering another powerful release within her. Caidi cried out in ecstasy as a tidal wave of bliss washed over her. Her eyes were closed as she savored the last delicious tingles zinging through her body from the rekai. By the Gods, she loved that connection. She felt deliciously weak and shaky, thoroughly satiated as she held on to him. She wanted only to cuddle against his warm body and go to sleep in his arms. Raven carefully withdrew from her and flopped over onto his back beside her. Sleep called, but the grittiness beneath his back irritated him. Caidi turned over onto her side, automatically moving into his side, before she stopped and frowned as she realized that she was naked on the dirt. A smile kicked up a corner of her lips. They had rolled onto the ground in their tussles. She glanced over at the pallet and sighed. Raven gave a sigh of his own as he got to his feet and drew her to hers. The look he sent her was slightly censorious, but Caidi ignored it, instead concentrating on getting to bed. He was just upset because he hadnt gotten his way. He would get over it. They dusted each other off. In companionable silence, they returned to bed. Raven pulled her close to his body and wrapped his arms around her, holding her against him. You arent always going to get your way. Ravens hand settled onto the flat of her stomach. Did I get my way this time? Caidi asked and then yawned hugely. She reached down, snagged a blanket and pulled it over both of them to their waists. I distinctly remember telling you that we would go slowly, gently in our love tonight. You seemed determined to push for something other than gentle and eventually you got what you were pushing for. Raven frowned down at her, clearly annoyed with her success. I didnt want you in control and you were determined to have everything your way. Caidis tone was unconcerned as she rubbed her face against his chest. I wanted

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you to want me as badly as I wanted you. The only way I could be sure of that was if you were on fire as I was. Raven didnt try to carry on the lecture. He knew that it was a lost cause. She wasnt sorry and didnt understand his worry. He merely held her until they both fell asleep.

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Chapter Twenty-Three
Caidi woke in the middle of the pallet, alone and covered with the blanket from shoulder to toes. She sighed in frustration as she saw her hopes for a morning tussle with her chalon slip away from her. The man never lingered past sunrise. She got to her feet and walked across the tent to a bowl and pitcher which sat on a collapsible stand. Caidi washed with the water there, although she longed for a real bath. The water was slightly cold, but at least it helped her wake up completely. She went to her bag and dug out a long, dark blue dress that had long sleeves and a high neckline. The weather was mildly cool and the dress was perfectly suited for it. After pulling on the blue dress, Caidi stuck her hand back into the bag to get a silver belt which she knew was there and should have been on top. Her hands searched through the bag trying to find it. Her fingers brushed the bottom of the bag and she frowned when her hand encountered a lump under the cloth bottom of the bag. Memory took only a moment to prove the answer. The stones. She had never gotten a chance to dispose of them or taken the time to tell Raven of them. It was time, past time, but she would do it in her own way, maybe get a chance to get out of camp for a short time. Raven was much too overprotective. Caidi continued searching the bag, finally finding the elusive belt at the bottom in a corner. She slung the silver link belt around her hips and found a black pouch in the bag. She would need the pouch. Putting the pouch down for the moment, she removed all of the clothing from the bag. She found the small knife that she had hidden in one of the outer pockets. Carefully, she cut along the corner of the false bottom of the bag. Moving slowly to ensure that she didnt touch any of the crystals nestled there, she peeled back the cloth. Taking a moment to put the pouch over her hand, she reached into the bag to pick up one of the crystals, clasping it as securely as possible through the lined pouch. She turned the pouch right-side out, enclosing the crystal safely within it. Cinching the pouch, she attached it to her belt. She slipped her feet into her black slippers and left the tent with a smile on her face. Hope bubbled through her. Now, she only had to find Raven and coerce him into giving her a little freedom. She found him talking with Teril on one side of the tent, not that far away from the entrance. Wearing a white shirt, black leather pants and sturdy boots, he looked delicious. Walking up to him, she slipped an arm around his waist. Taking the opportunity to lean into him, she rested her head against his chest. A slow steady beat sounded against her ear. Almost immediately, his arm came around her and held her to him as he continued to talk to Teril for a few moments.

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After he had finished his discussion with Teril, he turned her in his arms and drew her fully against his body. He inhaled her luscious scent, his cock hardening, pressing against his tight leathers. Caidi slid both of her arms around him and contentedly snuggled against him. You are finally awake, my sweet Caidi. Raven thrust his hips against the soft swell of her stomach, letting her feel his hard length. Are you feeling all right? You didnt stir when I rose and dressed. I am fine, Raven. I was simply tired. Caidi rushed to reassure him before he could recommend that she see the healer. The man was fanatical when it came to her health. Um, I forgot to ask last night if Zadens men had had any success in finding the place where I was held. The directions I gave would have gotten them in the general area, but werent very precise. Of course they found the house where you were held. They are Shadatai Zarain, Raven informed her with a broad smile. Stop boasting about the attributes of the Shadatai and tell me if they found Mandi and if she was still alive when they got there, Caidi demanded, smacking her palm against his chest. Raven chuckled at her reprimand. The Indiri was still there. She had a black eye and a few other bruises that had been given to her by her next-father, but other than that, she was in good health. Did she leave with them? Did she believe them? Caidi shot the questions at him. She went along with them willingly enough when they told her that her sister was safely away from any surviving Bavaok and would be waiting for her on Askara. They are coming back here, because they still dont know if they were anywhere near a gate. Amused by her impatience, he leaned back to study her expressive face. When are we leaving Astien? Caidi fingered the pouch at her waist. Are we still going to Askara? As soon as Zadens men return with the Indiri, we will all leave for Askara. It will be quite a traveling party. Raven cast his gaze around the three camps. Caidi looked up at Raven with a mischievous grin on her face. So, you are certain that Shadatai senses are far superior to all others? Definitely. So, do you think that you are up to a real challenge? One that you have never encountered before or at least that you are unaware you have faced? Caidi winked and the wicked grin curved her lips. I am up to a challenge, but I always like to know what the stakes and risks are before I gamble. Raven wondered what she was planning. Tell me about what you propose.

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I suggest a little game of hide and seek. There are no risks that I can think of. If I get into trouble, have difficulty of any kind, I can always call to you. You will come to my aid. Caidi shrugged. And the stakes? Raven raised his brows. The stakes, hmm Caidi gave it no real thought and chose the first thing that came to mind. She wanted the freedom to run in the forest more than any prize. If I succeed in eluding you in your hunt and you cant track me with anything but my presence as a shifter, you will take me someplace tonight where I can have a real bath, instead of the wash with a rag that I have had. If you find me, I wont complain about having to continue to bathe with a bowl of water and a washcloth. As I see it, you dont have much to lose. Are the stakes acceptable to you? No, they are unacceptable. If I win, you wont try to tempt me, to take control of the pace and the force of our love while you are pregnant. Raven gave her a calculating smile. For a Shadatai, you can be frustratingly priggish. No matter, you wont win. Caidi laughed. I will want a head start, a lead before you come after me. There would be no contest for your search if you could see me when the game begins. If I give up the search, I will contact you through our connection, but before you race off, I want your word that you will call me if you need help in any way. I dont care if it is a turned ankle or some strange feeling that worries you. Raven tilted her chin up in order to force her to look into his eyes so that he could be assured of the truth in her answer. Caidi had to sigh over his question, but looked him straight in the eyes. If I am hurt or in any way threatened, you have my oath that I will call to you. Do you promise that your men wont interfere in our little game in any way? They know that you are going to show me something very important and they will allow you to go wherever you want. They will also keep others from interfering with you as you try to elude me, Raven assured her gravely. You will have until the count of fifty to get out of sight and to gain a lead. One Caidi didnt wait to hear his deep voice intone the number two. She took off at a fast trot toward the Kaden side of the encampment. She lifted the skirt of her dress to allow her to go faster. When she neared a group of the Kaden females, she stuck her hand into the pouch and grasped the crystal tightly in her fist. She was taking no chances that it would fall through her fingers as she moved. She saw several men do double takes as their sight and their higher senses gave them contradictory information. She could understand the reaction. It was strange the first time that your senses fooled you when you knew for certain that someone was a shifter, but couldnt feel their presence. Zarain men intercepted any man who came toward her. Caidi didnt bother to worry about interference after she saw the first man intercepted. She ran into the forest. Her steps were quick, uneven. She moved away from the camp with no destination in

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mind. Her only purpose was to put distance between Raven and herself. She was determined to win this bet. After a little while, she slowed and then turned, planning to make a wide circle around the camp. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw movement and spun to confront the danger. She found Teril trailing her. Caidi stopped, narrowed her eyes at the man, raised an eyebrow, and waited for his explanation. This was more of Ravens interference. Insufferable, overprotective The Achan doesnt want you to be in the forest alone, Acine. He has sworn that he wont use me, my presence to find you or be looking for the presence of two people. He will only be looking for a female shifter presence. Teril saw the anger simmering in her eyes, could smell it on the wind. And what about you? Caidi eyed him suspiciously. If Teril fed him information, Raven could easily find her. I have promised not to give him any hints or clues about your location. I wont contact him in any way unless you are in some kind of trouble or get hurt. Teril gave her a shrug and an I-have-to-follow-orders look. All right, I dont like it, but you can follow me. There isnt much choice. Caidi turned and began walking. It is very unsettling to be standing in front of you and not sense anything when I know for certain that you are Shadatai. You might not want to go in that direction. He nodded in the direction Caidi had been going to take. There are hunters that way. We wouldnt want to take any chances. Caidi rolled her eyes to the heavens at the lengths her chalon would go to ensure her safety and sighed. If I remember right, there is a bend in the river near here that has some nice flat rocks along the bank to sit on while I wait for Raven to tire of trying to sense me. That man is a trial to me. Muttering under her breath, she led the way. I wonder what I ever did to deserve it. Teril heard her, but just smiled. He fell into step beside Caidi as she walked toward the river. I dont think that it will take him long to give up the search. The Achan likes to know where you are at all times. Since he had brought up the subject in an oblique way, Caidi decided to ask him about Shadatai females and how they were treated within the pack and by their mates. She knew absolutely nothing about the Shadatai that was more than a rumor. Are Shadatai women always watched as avidly as Raven watches me? Teril looked a little bit startled by the question. No, Shadatai men know that their women are strong and capable. Yes, they are protective of them, but the male knows that the woman can take care of herself. Teril explained. The Achan does respect your capabilities as a shifter, but he has expressed some concern over your safety when you are alone. Caidi sighed. It was no more than she had expected. She wasnt insulted by Ravens concern. She was merely a little upset with certain female members of her pack who,
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she once again promised herself, would hear a few words about the value of silence. It was fine for them to go and tell every little detail in her life. They didnt have to deal with the overprotective man who seemed convinced that she was an accident waiting to happen. They could have kept a few of the stories to themselves, spaced the telling over a few weeks. Hearing about it all at once, probably a little exaggerated in some cases, was bound to cause trouble, to give him a false impression about her life. Acine. Teril frowned, clearly thinking, as they arrived at the river. By the look on his face, she could tell that he was curious about how she did it and the effects on the one who was masked. Can you sense other people while you are like that, while others are unable to sense you? Yes, I have the full range of Zarain senseswell, Shadatai senses. I can sense you and, in the distance, the camp and the shifters there. I know that there are some shifters in the forest. Caidi smiled, more than willing to answer his questions. There is a group of shifters close to us. Caidi sat down on one of the rocks near the waters edge with her feet tucked underneath the skirt of the dress. She waited calm and serene, unconcerned that Raven had been able to sense her shifter presence. The stones ability to mask a shifters presence was unquestionable. All right, Caidi, you have had your fun, your time running around the forest, even if it wasnt without an escort. I acknowledge freely that I wouldnt have been able to find you simply by tracking you with the use of my higher senses. You can have your prize. You will have your real bath tonight in the river. However there is one thing that I should point out to you. Raven paused in his mental concession. I am a very good tracker, my chalie. You didnt even bother to hide your trail as you moved through the forest, he said aloud as he strode from the concealing trees at the edge of the river. He was followed by the Kaden Charal as well as Zaden and a few other Shadatai Zarain. Of course I didnt bother to hide my trail. You had promised not to use it to track me. You werent supposed to be using it to find me. Caidi frowned at him. I kept my promise to you. Did you think that I would simply wait for you to make your way back to camp after I had given up the search for you? Raven enjoyed the flags of red on her cheeks. Im not that patient. Caidi leapt to her feet and planted her hands on her hips. You admit you lost? I knew almost immediately after I began that if I had to rely solely on searching for a female shifter presence that I would never find you. Im not one to ignore the obvious. Raven walked over and ran his fingers over her cheek. You could have let me do this on my own. Caidi poked her finger into his chest, still very irritated with him. I felt you as you neared the group of Kaden women and then suddenly you were gone. In spite of knowing that you would try to disappear, I almost turned around

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when I suddenly couldnt feel you. Raven raised his brows, ignoring her complaints for the time. Now, you will tell me how you did it. Caidi pulled her still-fisted hand from the pouch at her waist. Shaking her head, she gave up the battle for the moment. Hold out your hand, Raven. Raven did as she instructed. She held her fisted hand over his for a moment. Unclenching her fingers, she dropped the gray crystal into his palm as she stared into his eyes. Close your hand. Caidi tilted her head back to watch his face. Raven looked at Zaden even as he followed her instruction. Does it work on males? Zaden nodded. I cant sense you at all. It works on you just as it did on her. Amazing, that all it takes is a little crystal. Caidi chuckled. All that is required is direct, constant contact with the skin. I usually wear it on a necklace or something like that so that its presence on me is easily explained, accepted. As long as it remains in contact with the wearers skin, the person is protected, Caidi explained with a shrug. There is still the small matter of your smell, my chalie. I would know you for a shifter if I happened to get even a hint of your scent and in the cities that is more than a likely occurrence, Raven corrected as he dropped the crystal into a pouch hanging at his belt. Caidi rolled her eyes at his presumption that she had forgotten that little point. The shifter smell can be hidden just as easily. Do you seriously think that we would have remained free and unknown by other groups for so long if we could hide the fact that we were female shifters from only the higher senses of those we wished to avoid? We werent nave about how hard it would be to fool another shifter. We learned how to disguise the shifter scent. Do you have any more of these crystals with you? Where do you get them? Raven asked. I have more of those crystals with me, but Im not carrying any more than the one that I gave you. I didnt need more than that one. As to where I get them, I will think about telling that part of the secret, Caidi informed him with a raised brow and a teasing smile. She waited expectantly for his reaction. She could actually see him struggle for control of himself. Raven drew in a deep breath to calm the urge to demand an answer to both of his questions. The woman seemed to revel in pushing him. Where are the other crystals, Caidi? It was a struggle, but his voice was as calm as a day without wind. Caidi sighed, a little disappointed by his calm reaction. She waited for his response to the next revelation. She held out a hand to placate him when he began to frown as the silence stretched. They are under a false lining in my bag.

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This would be the bag I brought to you? You are saying that the bag that has been with me since our departure from Carait has concealed them the entire journey? Raven asked. His voice sounded strained, nearly strangled from the effort not to yell. That would be the bag I speak of. That is the very bag I carried into the Taivain when I returned from Falash. I meant to conceal them elsewhere, but forgot about them. When I remembered, I decided that it was time to tell you about my secret. Caidi gave him a sweet smile. She could feel that he was both impressed and shocked that she still had them with her. He was chagrined at not having searched her bag himself. Lets walk back to camp, Raven said as he put his arm around her shoulders and urged her back toward the group of tents. What would happen if you went wild and took me for a walk in the forest, Raven? Caidi teased, sensing his desire to get her back among the others. He was again worried about her safety. Raven leveled a very serious gaze on her face. I will feel better when you are back in camp.

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Chapter Twenty-Four
Caidi frowned and stared at him. She was very serious, too. I did much better than simply survive lifes little trials before I chanced to encounter you. Im not a helpless little cub. Raven raised his brows. I never thought you were. I traveled to worlds that you probably havent even heard of and I left without a scratch on me most of the time. All I had were my abilities as a Zarain female to call on then. I didnt have the ability to call for help telepathically when I found myself in trouble on those worlds yet I am still here, still alive. Caidi resisted the urge to stamp her foot. Someone has tried to kill you. Raven caught her eyes and saw them narrow. Caidi demanded, turning her head enough to glare at him. What grave disaster could happen to me on a simple walk through the forest with so many others nearby and ready to offer help if need be? Why would you think that I would need someone with me at all times to protect me and what are they protecting me from? You have these restrictions because I have heard about your life before you found me, my chalie, Raven stated baldly and without a hint of apology. The very ground broke beneath you right outside of a travel gatehouse when you were visiting one of those distant planets. Luckily, you werent injured in your fall. You fell into a cavern that was half-filled with water. You had to be pulled out of that cavern. You seem to have an ability to attract trouble and you are drawn to strange situations. Your whole life has been like that. You are exaggerating everything and the falling into a cave thing only happened once. Anyway, if you had been to the planet then you would know that the whole area near that particular gate is riddled with water-carved tunnels and caverns. In that place, it isnt a strange occurrence to fall into one. Caidi tried to step away from Raven, wriggling her shoulders. Its strange for anyone to fall through the ground. Raven almost laughed at her justification, but this was far from funny. The details of your story are also wrong. It didnt happen right outside of the gatehouse. The land there is stable. The place where I fell into the cave was a days walk away from the gatehouse. Caidi heaved an exasperated sigh. I can see that we should go back to camp. There are apparently some misconceptions that I have to straighten out. You can try to convince me of your side of things, but I know that they didnt lie to me. Raven had no doubts about his conclusions. I didnt think that they would have lied to you about things, but you got all of the bad incidents in one telling apparently. I promise you that I wasnt in that much trouble over my lifetime. For the most part, it was very normal, calm, and safe. Caidi frowned at him as she sent him those thoughts. If I heard about every battle you fought, every incident, every raid you commanded in one long telling, I am sure that I would think that you were nothing but a conscienceless, war-mongering brute that lived for the thrill of the kill.
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Perhaps you would, but maybe you wouldnt. Ravens noncommittal reply infuriated her. Caidi glared at him. The man was totally immovable when it came to this subject. He seemed to have focused only on those incidents that were dangerous and concluded that her life had always been like that. How could he seriously think that she had lived her whole life surrounded by trouble and managed to come out virtually untouched? Even if what he said was true, what could happen to her here? Did he think that a tree would fall on her as she walked through the forest, that there were rogue animals waiting to attack her when no one else had encountered them? He worried about her as if she were a mere human woman, not capable of taking care of herself against the most minor show of force. He didnt seem to be able to see her for what she really was. She was a strong, capable Zarain who had seen to not only her own needs, but those of her pack for years without his exalted protection. How was she supposed to prove that to him? They returned to the camp in silence. Caidi was fuming over his presumptions and his attitude. Raven took her straight to their tent. She entered the tent, but stopped dead only a few steps into the tent. Her clothing was neatly stacked on a cloth next to Ravens bag, but her bag was gone. She merely turned to Raven and raised her eyebrow in demand of an explanation. They will return your bag, once they have removed all of the stones from it, Raven told her easily. When the silence stretched between them, he walked over to her. Talk to me, yell at me. I know that you want to do something. I can feel your frustration, your anger. Tell me about it. Dont thin your lips and simply glare at me. Caidi swung away from him. She knew that her emotions were too out of control now for her to be really coherent. She walked toward the tent flap, but Ravens fingers curled around her forearm, stopping her before she took more than two steps. She looked down at his hand wrapped around her arm, not tight, but the grip firm. There was no way she would be able to wrench her arm out of his grip. She raised her eyes to his face which had hardened and formed lines of determination. We are going to talk about this now, Caidi. Dont fight with me about this. Raven waited patiently for her to accept that fact. Caidi wanted to scream at his arrogance and his blindness. Look at me, Raven. Tell me what you see. My chalie, I see you. Raven couldnt understand what she was asking. She was his mate. To him, she was everything. What do you see when you look at me? What am I? Caidi asked insistently. I see my mate, a Zarain woman with blonde hair Raven began only to be interrupted by Caidi.

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Exactly! Caidi said exultantly when he had named her Zarain. I am a shifter. I was born Zarain. I was hunting alone in the fur before I reached womanhood. I am more than a woman, but more importantly, I am now Shadatai Zarain. I wont break and I am more than capable of defending myself against most things that I would encounter in a forest. Caidi Raven tried to interrupt the words flowing from her, but Caidi refused to allow him to stop her before she finished saying what she what she needed him to see. I can stand having to have a guard when I leave the camp, although it rankles me. I dont understand why I have to have one of your warriors trailing after me while I am within the safety of the camp. That is more than insulting to me. Caidi glared at him and yanked at her arm. Its not about your abilities. Raven shrugged. He knew that she could hunt and take care of herself in most situations, but this was a far from normal situation. What can happen to me when I am surrounded by not only your men, but the Kaden and your ally Zadens warriors? Being constantly followed and watched makes me feel like a prisoner, that Im not trusted. I dont think that any of the men here would allow me to leave camp alone. Caidi tried to make him understand how being constantly under guard made her feel. She had to make him see it. Raven grimaced. He knew that she was telling the truth. He could feel her anger, her distress. I can see your point about the guards following you when you are within the safety of the camp, he conceded. I will inform them that it is no longer necessary to follow you here, but you have to allow that you have experienced more trouble in your years than some people do in an entire lifetime. Caidi pursed her lips as she seriously thought about the amount of trouble that had come her way. It may be true that I was in risky situations a few times during my younger years, but it was far from an everyday occurrence. Some of it couldnt have been avoided. I will concede that there might be some people who are able to live their lives in splendid bliss and safety, but that doesnt mean that I attract trouble to me. You think that other women would do what you have done? Raven waited for her answer. My life was destined to be different. I was Acine to a pack without an Achan and composed entirely of females. But aside from my position as Acine and the fact that I ruled alone for a time, I am an ordinary Zarain woman. He acted as if she was unusual, when she was just like other women. Raven had to chuckle at the slight defensiveness of her tone. She truly thought she was a normal person when she was so very extraordinary. There is nothing wrong with you, he confirmed, seeking to comfort her. Have you ever thought about how strange it was that on the very night that you had decided to put your plan to find a Zarain man to father your child, you find that there is a group of Shadatai Zarain residing in the inn that you had chosen as the best place for your hunting ground? Most women would have thought they had found more than their

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share of trouble. There are women who would have sat on the bed crying after discovering what I was instead of calmly incapacitating me. I didnt exactly see it as a stroke of good fortune and if you will recall, I got out of your room as fast as I could when I was able to do so. Caidi remembered the frustration, the anger and the confusion of that night. That night had been meticulously planned. It had been executed perfectly, yet everything had still gone wrong. Raven smiled. There was a wealth of remembered satisfaction in that toothy expression. I did and still do see it as an act of good fortune. The God and Goddess smiled on both of us. I believe that I was meant to see that you always have someone to watch over you, to take care of you, even when you are in a prickly mood. Caidis frown was menacing and foreboding, but clearly ineffective on the large, hulking man standing in front of her with a smile pasted on his face. I can take care of myself. Im not helpless. Mm I know that you can take care of yourself and that you could see to all of your needs if you had to. I need to take care of you, to keep you safe always. This isnt about you. This is for me, for my peace of mind. Raven reached out and brushed his hand across her face, down to her shoulder. The thought of some of the things that you have been through in your life is enough to give me nightmares. I need to be sure that you wont be alone in another dangerous situation. I survived them, Caidi said with a sigh, but emotion, a strange mixture of happiness and frustration, boiled within her. What was she supposed to do when he said that he needed to watch over her, not because she was unable to do it, but for his sake? Your mere survival isnt good enough, especially when you are carrying my baby. You will be safe and protected and really live. Caidi groaned. What have I been doing other than living? The Taivain has been attacked by rogues, there have been mysterious accidents with some of your trade goods after they have left your custody, and there have been attempts on your life. It all adds up to someone having a grudge against you or the Zarain. Raven hoped that she would see that there was a reason for his protectiveness. I object to your exaggeration of the facts! I havent been in a really serious situation in a long time. Caidis free hand went to her hip as she glared at him. If you dont count getting taken by the Bavaok, a long time for you would be about two ronas before you met me, right? Raven dared her to contradict him. Caidis mouth dropped open in surprise. When did you have the time to talk to them for that long? Did they tell you every detail of my life or did they only tell you the bad parts? They mostly only told me the exciting parts of your life, most of which would be called bad by some. I asked them to tell me of your life. Raven wouldnt let her sidetrack him with such details.

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Caidi had noticed that he hadnt answered the when of the inquisition in question, but it was apparent that he had questioned them extensively about every little incident that had been mentioned. There was a fight at the bar where we met with those who would execute the plan and set up some of the details. I wasnt really involved in it. We were leaving the tavern and I got cut by a knife that was swung by some fool at another fool. They were fighting each other. I was in no way the target, merely injured accidentally in the fray. It was merely a minor cut on my arm, didnt even need stitching. We left without further incident. Raven looked at her. A knife fight starts near you and you dont think its serious? It wasnt that much of a story. The incident was hardly as dangerous as he had made it sound. It was hardly worth a fuss at all. You are being unreasonable about this. If you had heard about these things happening to anyone else, you wouldnt be surprised or concerned about them. It would just make for an interesting life story. That other person wouldnt be my concern, my mate, if I had simply heard of the exploits, but keeping you safe and alive is my concern. Raven didnt know how to make her see the seriousness of this threat. It is my duty to see to your health, your safety and your happiness. Caidi sighed, temporarily admitting defeat on this issue. For the moment, she had to accept that he was overprotective and prone to keep a hyper-vigilant watch over her, especially since she was pregnant. He had always been protective. Being told all of those stories about some of the worst incidents in her life had strengthened his determination to keep her safe. Tell me more about how you would fool a shifter of any kind, if you knew that you would have to get very close to him, maybe for extended periods. Raven decided to return to the original topic. You are changing the subject, Caidi growled. We are talking about your lack of belief in my ability to see to my safety. Im not changing the subject. We are finished discussing why you have guards with you. We are now returning to the subject we were talking about before you became upset about my seeing to your safety. Raven laughed. Now, tell me how you would fool them. How I would do it would depend on exactly how close I needed to get to the shifters. If I was simply going to be in their general area, maybe in the same marketplace, but I knew that I wouldnt get really close to them, I would just use the stone to conceal my identity. Caidi tugged and this time he released the arm he still held. And if you expected closer contact? Raven watched her. Her hands fluttered. He understood that she was feeling trapped. If I thought that there was even a small chance that I could come into close contact with any shifter, if I thought that there was a risk that they would be able to identify a

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Zarain smell as mine, I wouldnt take any chances that there would be a way to identify me. I would use the lotion to disguise my scent. Caidi paced to the other side of the tent and back. The combination of the stone and the lotion has never failed to mask our presence while we were among other shifters. The lotion that you speak of, how does it work? Where do you get it? I know that you didnt carry in any of that when you came home from Falash. I would have noticed a lotion bottle on the shelf. It simply masks the scent of the person wearing it. Unlike most lotions, this one has a light enough fragrance for a shifter to tolerate wearing it for extended periods without undue irritation, Caidi explained with a shrug. As to where I get it, I make it. My mother couldnt find one that was already on the market that would work. She worked hard on it and after trying many combinations, she found the recipe to be simple. You hold some valuable secrets in your head, my chalie. It is yet another reason that I must have been sent to watch over you, Raven declared. I will tell you everything that I know, Raven. Im not being deliberately obstructive, Caidi assured him. I will teach you how to make the lotion. It is now your choice who you share the secret with. I will also take you to the place where I get the stones. Just give me a little time to adjust my thinking. Raven nodded. I know that you are trying. It is undoubtedly strange confiding in someone after holding the secret for so long. For years, I thought that the only person whom I would ever share my knowledge with was my child, be it boy or girl. I have become so accustomed to secrecy in my life. I am so used to protecting others. I had to learn to rule. I havent had much experience with sharing my burdens, secrets or joys since childhood. Restlessly, Caidi paced. The time in the forest had not alleviated the feeling of confinement. Im not worried about when you will tell me your secrets, Caidi. Raven strode over and grasped her hands. I will take care of you and keep you safe while you adjust to having another to lean on, to trust. You know, for a Shadatai male, you can be surprisingly tolerant, my chalon, Caidi teased with a smile. Raven smiled back at her, deciding to tease her back. A tolerant, capable warrior with nearly unlimited patience was needed for a woman such as you, to protect you and to protect your pack. It is very lucky the God and Goddess decided to smile on you and send you to me that night. You are indeed blessed. Caidi glared at him. Insulting him was apparently a waste of time. I dont have that many enemies, Raven, and I was doing just fine without your overconfident, overprotective male presence. Raven laughed. When did you want to take a bath? I was thinking that it would be best to go when it is dark. Caidi frowned at him. That way there will be less chance of me being seen while Im bathing.
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When it is dark. Raven shook his head in disbelief. Did the woman not hear what he had just said? No one will come near the spot where you are bathing. You have my word. Well go while it is still light. Caidi sighed, knowing defeat when it was standing before her, glaring down at her as if she were a dim-witted child. When before dark do we go? We will go in the early afternoon so that we can come back to camp just before the evening meal is ready. Raven knew from the pained look on her face that she wasnt happy. Before the evening meal isnt tonight, Raven. I wanted you to join me in bathing in the river. I thought that it would be a nice opportunity for us to be close, Caidi argued. I had always planned to join you in the water. Raven gave her a broad, toothy smile. But if it is light when I bathe, you will have to watch, to guard. There will be no opportunity for you to join me. Caidi wanted to enjoy the water with him. No one Kaden or Zarain will go anywhere near the spot that I choose for us. They know that we are a newly reunited couple and respect that. We will be able to sense anyone in the area. They know that I would have their hides for a rug if I find any of them near us tonight. Raven brushed his thumb over her lip. He too looked forward to bathing with her. We will have complete privacy for our bath in the river. And we wont get interrupted with some emergency that only you can handle? Caidi pressed wanting to be sure that she wasnt misinterpreting that look in his eyes. No, we wont be interrupted for any reason. Raven wanted her alone. If there is an emergency that requires a decision from someone in authority, my men know that I would trust Zaden with my life. Caidi raised no more objections to his plans to bathe before the evening meal. They ate the midday meal among the men and most of the talk during the meal was about the crystals. After she finished eating, Caidi smiled at Raven and left. He had been true to his word, as she wandered around the large camp, she had no escort. It was a small victory, but one she hoped to expand into other areas.

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Chapter Twenty-Five
Caidi and Raven left the camp for the spot he had picked along the tree-lined river. She was looking forward to this. She held the towels and a cake of soap as Raven led the way to the chosen spot. He carried nothing. Caidi knew that that was because he was still in protector mode, expecting trouble to come looking for her. He wanted to be prepared should he have to fight. The place which he chose for their bath was similar to the one where she had chosen to wait for him this afternoon. There were rocks along the rivers edge, however, the flat stones here were more than a shelf at the waters edge. They continued into the water and promised a nice place to wash without coming out with muddy feet. She smiled. She eyed those rocks as ideas flowed through her head. A bath was far from the only thing on her mind. Caidi put down the toweling sheet and soap and then undressed, folding her clothing and leaving it beside the cloth sheet. She took the soap with her as she waded out into the water until it lapped around her waist. She turned to watch Raven undress, enjoying the play of the dappled light on the expanse of muscled, bronze skin. He folded his clothing, placing his sword on top and leaving them a little closer to the water that she had left hers. His eyes had already darkened with desire, his cock was proudly erect. He walked into the water and straight to her. When he got close to her, his hands went to her waist, lifted her high in the air and then he dunked her under the water, letting her go when she disappeared beneath it. Caidis yelp of surprise was cut off by the water rushing over her and enclosing her in its warm grip. Caidi surfaced an arms length away from her grinning chalon. She was sputtering and coughing, even as she focused on his smiling face. She glared at Raven who was laughing with unrepentant glee as he moved into deeper water, away from her. That was uncalled for. Thoughts of righteous vengeance swirled in her mind. You wanted a bath. You even bargained for it, Raven said with a laugh and then continued in a patient, instructional tone. To take a bath requires that you get your entire body wet. I was just helping you to get wet like the good chalon that I am. I am certain that you would do the same for me. Caidi wasnt fooled by his innocent look. You wanted to play and you think that you will win any game between us just because you are bigger than me, Caidi declared with a pointed look as he moved toward her. Youre wrong. She spun in the water and dove beneath the surface swimming away from him, but changed directions after a few strokes. The water was far from clear. Although she was close to him, she didnt see him until she was almost to him. She swam deeper, near the
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bottom of the river as she swam back toward him and around him. She went for his knees, trying to knock him off his feet and then swim away from him. She ran into his knee, but he didnt lose his footing. He simply reached beneath the water, grasped her by the back of her neck and hauled her to the surface, pulling her in front of him. His eyes were dancing with good humor as he held her by the waist once again. If I wont win because I am bigger than you, then why will I win this game, sweet, golden reha? Ravens smile was gentle just before he dunked her once again. Caidi heard his laughter even as she went under the water. Caidi came to the surface a good distance away from him and looked determinedly at her mate. She would never get him off his feet where he was and he knew it. His footing was too sure there. She needed to get him into deeper water where she would have a chance. She knew that there was only one way of getting him there. She backed away from shore and simply floated on the surface, feeling the slight current tug at her. She waited for Raven to become concerned over the widening gap between them. She knew he would. The slow current of the river carried her a little farther away from him and then she saw his eyes narrow. Come back to me, Caidi. You are too far away from me. Ravens body tensed. Caidi raised her head, her feet sinking beneath the surface as she looked at him as if gauging the distance between them. Im not that far away. I am still safe. Raven moved purposefully forward, glided through the water toward her. It was clearly his intention to come get her. Caidi smiled, using her hands to push herself backward a little even as he advanced and then she dove beneath the surface. She swam underwater toward Raven, but when she got to where he should have been, he wasnt there. He must have moved while she was still too far away to see him. She surfaced and looked around frantically, but not because she was worried about his safety. If she didnt know where he was, then she was in danger. Where had he gone? Caidi felt his hands close firmly around her waist before he surfaced in front of her. The unrepentant beast was grinning even as his eyes promised sensual delight. She writhed within his grasp and his hands tightened as she slipped a bit in his grasp. Now, why did I win, my Caidi? Raven held her in front of him. I really want to know why I won if it isnt because I am bigger than you. Caidi grimaced, trying once again to wriggle free of his hold, but had to admit that he had her too securely for any chance of easy escape. She knew that there were ways that she could get away from him, but this was only a game and not a fight for her life or honor. She wouldnt do anything to hurt him simply to escape his hold and the dunking that she knew would probably follow. You won because I am too little and because Im not strong enough. Caidis lips pouted, but she freely admitted it. No, my chalie, you arent too small. You are just the right size for me, Raven said as he pulled her close to him and swam back to the rock shelf. She was adorable when she didnt get her way.
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When he reached the rock shelf, he stood. Here, the water reached only to the middle of his chest. Caidi put her arms around his neck and pulled herself up to plant a kiss on his lips. His hands gripped her waist, easily holding her aloft as his lips opened under hers and her tongue slipped eagerly into the warm cavern of his mouth, tangling with his for a moment and then retreating. Raven quickly asserted his dominance in the intimate duel that followed, his tongue thrusting into her mouth aggressively. Raven broke the kiss reluctantly, valiantly resisting her eager attempts to kiss him again. He took a few steps forward, taking them into shallower water. At the insistent prodding of one of Ravens hands, Caidi turned away from him, leaning her back against his warm chest. An arm around her waist made sure that she stayed where he wanted her. She could feel the hard length of his arousal pressing insistently at her buttocks. When she touched his mind, she could feel his desire burning hotly through him. His hand brushed across the crest of her breast. It was a tantalizingly short, teasing caress before his hand disappeared beneath the water, flattening for a moment on her stomach before moving downward. His hand found the nest of springy curls at the juncture of her thighs and his fingers slipped between the plump folds of skin hidden there. His talented fingers sought and found her clitoris, stroking over it with sure knowledge. The breeze brought her his scent as his body heated. It doubled the drugging effects of his touch, his kiss. Caidi couldnt stop herself from seeking more of his touch, arching into the hand that was coaxing forth the fire of a hunger that was never far from the surface when he was anywhere near her. Caidi bit her lip to stifle a moan as the ache low in her belly began to throb and tighten into a ball of fierce need. Yes, Caidi, tell me about it, Raven urged roughly, his lips pressing against the top of her head. Tell me what you want. At that moment, two of his large fingers slipped into the slick, heated channel of her vagina and she couldnt have uttered a coherent word even if she had the breath for it. Caidis hips bucked against his hand as her head fell back against his chest and her eyes closed as she savored the riotous need coursing through her. His fingers moved in and out of her. Occasionally, they would completely leave her needy channel and stroke teasingly over the throbbing hood of her clit in a tantalizingly slow rhythm. Tell me what you want from me, my chalie. Ravens voice rumbled a heated, low, rough growl against the shell of her ear. Caidis mind was in chaos from the myriad needs and wants that came screaming to the fore at his words. She wanted him, her breasts ached to be touched and more importantly enclosed within the heated cavern of his mouth. She wanted his cock inside her, so deeply that she would feel as if they were one being, inseparable. She wanted him to ache, to burn with passion as she did. She wanted him to want her as fiercely as she wanted him right now. But what first? I want you to kiss my breasts, Caidi whispered.

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With a smile, he turned her to face him, lifted her easily with just his hands at her hips, and gruffly ordered her to wrap her legs around his hips. Caidi complied as his hands moved to cup the round cheeks of her buttocks and lift her higher so that he could grant her wish. His head dipped, his tongue slipping out to lap lovingly over the taut crest to his right and then the one to the left. With relish, he took the aching flesh between his lips, plucking at it, before he scraped his teeth over the reddened berry. He nibbled on the hardened, sensitive tip of her breast, taking it fully into his mouth and sucking lightly at the flesh. Caidi growled low in her throat. That light, teasing suction wasnt enough. Not nearly. She wanted his mouth drawing at her breast as if it was the one thing that he needed to live. She wanted his hands plucking at her nipple, stroking over her aching clit. She wanted him inside her. She wanted everything and she wanted it now. Caidis hands slid from his shoulders and laced into his long hair. Using her grip, she pulled herself up, pressing her breast firmly against his lips, demanding more, but he merely grunted against her and kept the suction light. Delicate, tingling prickles flickered within her but frustration grew. It wasnt enough. Harder, Raven. Caidis head fell back. Her legs wrapped tightly around his waist, lifting her body against him as she made her wishes very clear. Raven chuckled, but complied readily. His lips tightened around her breast as he drew more forcefully on her full breast. Caidi arched her back, pressing against his lips. With each drawing tug of his lips, she quivered and moaned. She could feel the pulling sensation of his hot mouth on her breast deep in the core of her sex. The fiery ache within her was out of control and soon she would burn up. She wanted him with her when she burned. She needed him within her now. Now, Raven, Caidi pleaded. I need you now. What do you need, my Caidi? Ravens unrepentant teasing tone vibrated against the rounded swell of her breast. He gave her nipple one last lick and nibble, before he allowed her to slide down his body. Her heady scent surrounded him, a little lingering anger mixing with the desire. It incited him and he ached to drive into her, but he held on to his control. I need you in me, filling me, Raven. Caidi kissed his chin and nibbled on his lips, trying to urge him to join her. What do you want in you, my sweet reha, my fingers or my cock? Tell me, sweet Caidi. Ravens grin surpassed wicked as his hands ran over her back and sides, stimulating but not inflaming. He knew exactly how close she was to coming. Caidi gulped, a little embarrassed in spite of her desire. She had never said the word that he demanded, but she wanted him too much to deny herself because of her embarrassment. I want yourcock in me. Raven lifted her slightly away from his body and slowly lowered her onto his engorged shaft. A long hiss of air escaped him as he fought for control. The heated, wet, silken sheath clasped him tightly. He caught her moan of satisfaction and anticipation

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as his lips closed over hers. He was so sexy, his every touch sensual, arousing. Caidis back arched and she tried to thrust her hips against his, wanting a quick, hard ride to bliss. Raven held her hips in his strong hands, preventing her movement. He lowered his mouth to hers and slowly lifted her until just the dark round head remained inside her. He then lowered her just as slowly until she was flush against him and had taken his length inside her. He didnt know how long he could hold on to his control. It felt so good, so hot. Caidi was shaking, suspended on the edge of a high peak, near completion, aching for it but unable to fling herself from the heights. She could feel everything in her highly sensitized body and it only added fuel to the fire that burned within her. The brush of his chest against hers, every bit of his long, thick cock as he came into her and then his withdrawal to just the tip of the rounded head of that impressive shaft, sent dazzling bursts of sensation through her. It was all almost too much, yet not enough as she remained poised on the edge of climax. She wanted to scream her frustration. Fuck me. Caidis nails sank into his shoulders. Raven thrust his head back, fighting to keep control, until he had satisfied her, gently. He was so focused on her that she heard his thoughts, felt his determination not to hurt her with his passion. Raising his head, he focused on her breasts, just the sight of them made him want to drive into her. Bad move. He loved her breasts, so full and round, the large nipples perfect in his mouth and the shape seemingly designed for his hand, so sensitive that he could sometimes bring her to orgasm simply by suckling. Prickles of pleasure-pain ran the length of his cock as her hot channel rippled around it. He couldnt take much more of this torture. The feel of her hot, slick cunt surrounding him was sheer bliss. The way those inner muscles clenched around his cock, gripping him, drawing him deep into her sent a fiery, addictive ecstasy racing through him. Caidi felt her breasts being firmly caressed, her nipples were gently being rolled between skilled, warm fingers. She had a moment to register that his hands were still gripping her hips, before a wave of molten sensation washed over her. Shudders flowed through her body as the white-hot torrent of release engulfed her, blinding her to everything except the man moving within her in long, smooth strokes and the rising bliss washing through her body. With the first tremors shaking her body, Ravens control over those psychic hands broke. In spite of his fierce need, he kept his movements smooth and controlled for as long as possible. Soon, his raging desire for release took control and he thrust into her, against her, his restraint gone. He surged against her, driving deep with each thrust, release his only goal. His hands at her hips pulled her tightly to him as he came with a ragged groan muffled against the silky skin of her neck.

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Caidi felt his semen flow hotly into her and only a moment later she was caught up in the mind-robbing sensations rolling from him into her as the rekai caught her firmly within its grip.

*****
Caidi slowly opened her eyes and raised her head from his chest where it had fallen after she had gone limp from that last orgasm. She looked up at Raven and smiled dreamily at him, she was a well-satisfied woman. Their breath came in ragged harsh pants and sweat glistened on their upper bodies. She was glad that they were in the water. At least, it kept them upright. She didnt know if her legs would have supported her on land. Raven released her, reluctantly withdrawing from her, and slowly lowered her until her feet touched the underwater rock on which he stood. He wanted nothing more than to carry her out of the water and lie down with her and hold her, but they didnt have that time. Caidi stroked her hands over his chest. Her movements were slow, lazy and infinitely satiated. They finished their baths with relaxed and happy contentment. Caidi glanced over her shoulder at the river as they left and a wicked smile curved her lips. She would have to ensure that they did this again. Next time, she would have to be more careful with the soap. She had lost the cake she had brought with her.

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Chapter Twenty-Six
Askara was naturally one of the last places that she had thought that she would ever willingly go, even up to a few ronas ago. Caidi had been willing to explore unknown worlds and take many risks, but an entire planet of mostly Shadatai Zarain and controlled by the same was a little too much risk. She might not have known much about the Zarain in general, but she knew about Askara. She had always known that if she ever had to go there, she would probably not leave the planet a free woman. When Raven had told her that they would all be going to Askara, he had really meant everyone. Caidi had always assumed that he had merely meant the Shadatai Zarain. She was surprised when she saw that even the Kaden were making the long journey to the shifter-controlled planet. At the gate on Askara, from old habit, Caidi took the time to count the warriors guarding the gatehouse. She saw ten within the gatehouse and there were at least ten more outside. Raven led Caidi out of the door to the gatehouse. There was a crowd in the gatehouse and he ensured that she didnt get a chance to wander off even if she was inclined to do so. He kept his hand at the small of her back. Caidi knew that the gesture was more to protect and possess than to guide her. Unlike gates on many worlds, the gate wasnt within a city, but she did notice that there was a city only a short walk away from the gate. She absently brushed dust off her skirt. Askara was different than she had imagined it. She had always pictured it in a vast forested area, much like the forests around the Taivain on Carait. Although there were plenty of trees in the area, lush green grasses abounded across the flat, open plain. This particular city was small by most standards and was held by the Shadatai Zarain, although their Taivain was situated well outside the city. The buildings were constructed with space in between them. It gave the impression of open area, instead of the confined feeling of a traditional city with buildings built wall-to-wall. The Taivain was their destination, but Raven, Caidi and some of his men detoured into the city while they were close to it as the carts and the rest of the men went on to the Taivain. Raven made a point of going through the citys marketplace. It was their main reason for being in the city, but he also wanted to show her how some Zarain had taken the benefits of a city, yet kept away from the stifling closeness and stench that was present in most cities. He bought her a new travel bag. Her old one had gotten badly damaged in his mens less than delicate search for the crystals. All three camps were raised outside the high dark brown walls of the Shadatai Taivain. Camp was just being set up as Raven, Caidi and the men who had escorted them arrived at the large camp. After tossing her new bag amid their things, Raven led Caidi through the open gates and into the Taivain. They drew many eyes as they

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walked toward the main dwelling area, but Caidi put that blatant curiosity to the fact that they were part of such a large, strangely diverse group camped outside the walls. Caidi knew that they were expected. Raven had told her that they were going to meet a man called Achan Cavor Retinial. The Achan was an ally as well as a very good friend of his. Once they entered the dwelling, they were directed to a meeting room where the Achan and a few others were waiting for their arrival. She could tell that Raven was very familiar with this Taivain by the way that he easily led the way to the meeting room. Raven stopped in front of a large, thick wooden door and opened it. He ushered her inside the room with a slight nudge from his hand at the small of her back. Caidi looked around the room with interest. It reminded her a little of the meeting room in the smaller of the dwellings at the Taivain on Carait, but this room was much larger as was the table. The furnishings in the room were all made of gleaming golden wood. There were four people in the rooman older, black-haired, large Zarain man who Caidi assumed was the Achan of this fortress, a pretty, older black-haired woman in the chair beside him who she thought was the Acine, another black-haired man in sages robes and Arron, Ravens man, who was sitting there with a smile on his face and his palms firmly planted on a large, familiar-looking book. The large Zarain man who Caidi thought was the Achan smiled, stood and strode around the table. He clasped Ravens forearm and clapped him on the shoulder with great familiarity. His voice was deep and full of jovial affection when he spoke. Welcome, my friend, introduce me to your Acine. I have been waiting to meet her since I learned of your bonding. Achan Cavor, this is my mate, Acine Caidi Talinian. Caidi, this is my friend and ally, Achan Cavor Retinial and his lady, the Acine Edena Retinial. Raven introduced them proudly and watched as his friend Cavor surprised Caidi by engulfing her in a quick hug. Caidi recovered quickly and also accepted a hug from Cavors wife. She was still surprised by the warmth of her reception here and was interested in this part of Ravens past. The two of them looked upon Raven as a sort of adopted son because of something that he had done for them at one time, although none of them were forthcoming about the details. They had readily accepted Caidi as an adopted daughter even before meeting or talking to her simply because she was a part of Raven. Raven had been busy. In short order, Caidi learned that the sage would help with organizing the Worlds book, which had been brought to Askara. He would also be returning to the Taivain to do the translation of the book in the armory. Raven turned to Caidi, who was still staring at the sage, somewhat surprised that he had found a way to translate the book. Caidi, go with Edena, now. She will show

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you around her home and you can get to know her. You will be safe within the Taivain. Caidi heaved a long-suffering sigh when he added that part about her being safe. She glared at him. He was more concerned about her safety than she was. She knew she was safe. She wondered how long he would continue to see her as a delicate, fragile creature who couldnt take care of herself in any way. It was beginning to grate on her nerves. She was afraid that he would never believe that she was safe away from him or guards. He would never stop worrying about her. She accepted that as a sign of how much he cared about her. The problem was that he didnt merely worry about her. He thought that she attracted trouble and worried that she might not be able to handle it. She admitted that compared to him and the warriors of the pack, she might appear weak and inexperienced, but that didnt mean the appearance was true. She wanted him to see her as strong, but at the same time, she liked the protection. It made her feelwanted, desired. On the other hand, she didnt like feeling caged or trapped. Caidi left the room with Edena without giving in to the urge to kick her chalon. Edena wore a smile on her face as they walked down the hall. Edena led her through the Taivain to a more active part. Caidi could hear talking and the occasional screech of wood on stone, a bang and then thumps, so she assumed that they were either going toward a dining hall or kitchen, both of which would be active at this time of day. Have some faith. It takes some getting used to for all women. Edena gave Caidi a friendly smile, her voice cheerful. What do you mean? Caidi looked blankly at the woman beside her, not understanding. I am talking about the amount of protectiveness a Shadatai male exhibits toward his mate. It is always overwhelming at first. It is also always a little bit more prevalent in those who had to hunt for their homes, too. Edena shared a commiserating smile with Caidi. Achan Cavor was overprotective? Caidi cocked her head to the side. At least now she knew that it wasnt just Raven. I believe that all Zarain males feel protective toward their women, but, with the Shadatai, like many of the other instincts and abilities they possess, it is far more dominant. Edena strolled slowly and glanced at Caidi. Does the watchfulness ever relax, even a little? Caidi had to ask that question. It had been uppermost in her mind for a long time, or at least what seemed like a long time. I would like to go for a walk to view the crops in the fields outside of the Taivain without the presence of an armed escort. Well, it does and it doesnt. He will always watch over you, but he should relax on some things. At least you know that he knows that you can take care of yourself, Edena offered with a laugh. I was a human before I met Cavor and came here. He watched me for years, before he believed that I had enough experience to handle basic
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Zarain abilities, like a hunt, on my own. Even when he knew that I could do it, I was never alone in the forest. I was never unprotected. Caidi acknowledged the womans words with a wry grimace. Raven knows that I can take care of myself, that I did so for years. That isnt the problem. He actually believes that, when I am alone, I attract trouble and bad situations as silita honey attracts insects. Why would he believe that? Surprise colored Acine Edenas tone. He questioned some of the women in my pack and heard all the bad stories at once. I havent been able to convince him that some of those were mere coincidences and others unavoidable. He is determined to protect me. Caidi resisted the urge to roll her eyes. You will learn how to handle him as all of the chalies bonded to Shadatai males before you have learned how to placate and get around their chalons. It will take some time and likely many failed attempts, but you will find a way to get what is important to you. Edena chuckled. Just glancing at the young woman, anyone could see that she could take care of herself. They walked into the large dining hall which was currently being prepared for the meal. Caidi smiled at the familiar site of tables being moved into place, platters and goblets being set on tables and pitchers of wine and tirsa in abundance on every table. There were some things that were the same everywhere. Caidi was just turning to tell Edena of her thought when a woman moving away from one of the tables caught her eyes. Strangely, the woman looked very familiar. Caidi frowned in confusion as she racked her brain. It hadnt been often in her travels through the connected worlds before she had met Raven that she had come into contact with any female Zarain outside of her own pack. She was certain that she had met the woman, but she couldnt recall where. Her face was very familiar, but it didnt make sense. Even among normal Zarain, it wasnt normal for a woman to travel unescorted. Caidi was certain that the strangeness of the event would have been enough to cause her to remember the woman and she was also certain that she hadnt seen her in any group of Zarain she had encountered. She had stayed away from her own kind on her travels as much as possible. Caidi looked at the woman critically, trying to decide if it was the woman or someone she resembled. The woman was blonde and rather petite. She was delicately feminine, her curves were subtle. There was nothing strange about her appearance or remarkable. There were other blonde females here and none of them seemed familiar to her. There was something familiar about those tilted, almond-shaped hazel eyes, prominent cheekbones, thin lips and a chin that seemed almost pointy. Who was that woman? When Edena moved on to show Caidi the kitchen, Caidi followed with a last look at the woman busily setting the tables. She would leave the matter of who that woman

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was and where she had seen her for the moment. Memory of where and when she had seen the woman would come in time. Pressing herself for the answers would do no good. It would only frustrate her. From past experience, she knew that answers such as this came when she was relaxed and unworried. Caidi spent most of the afternoon with Edena. Raven and Cavor joined them shortly before the evening meal which in honor of all of the guests would be held in the large hall. The revelation occurred during the meal. When Caidi saw the woman sitting at one of the lower tables watching her with a look of mixed fear and hope, recognition occurred in a rush. It came with a flash from her childhood. She saw the woman sitting at one of the tables in the smaller living area at the Taivain on Carait. The woman had been one of her pack. She smiled at the woman, a genuine smile filled with all of the respect that she had always had for her. When the meal was over and everyone was milling around and talking, Caidi grabbed Ravens hand and tugged him after her as she threaded her way through the crowd. She felt his hand tighten on hers, but he didnt stop her. From her light touch of his mind, she could sense his determination to stay with her. He didnt know where she was going, but it was a certainty that he would be there with her. In his mind, the word unpredictable rang over and over. She pulled him over to the woman she had recognized earlier. The womans chalon was apparently ready to go. He had an arm around her shoulders to urge her through the crowd, but she was resisting. She clearly wanted to linger. Caidi tapped the man on the shoulder which had the desired effect of making him stop trying to leave the hall. Without saying a word to the man, she stepped forward and hugged her old pack-mate and felt the womans arms tighten around her in an enthusiastic embrace. Its been too long, my friend. Caidi smiled as she felt Raven drawing her back, away from her old pack-mate. His protective streak was running high. She only resisted when he tried to shield her with his body. When you didnt return, we worried about you. I ran into Camen on my way back from my mission. He caught my scent and was relentless in his pursuit. I didnt want to lead him to the Taivain so I just kept traveling away from it. He caught up with me. She gestured to the man beside her. He didnt understand why I kept trying to leave him. Caidi looked up at her chalon. Raven, you wanted to know what happened to all of the older women from my pack, why they werent with us. I would like you to meet one of them. This is Alise. She disappeared shortly after I took over the rule of the Taivain when she was doing some scouting for us along the gate paths. Raven raised his brows and she could almost see the battle-ready tension coiling within him.

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We all knew that she wouldnt simply have just disappeared. It wasnt in her character and she had someone to come back to. She left a six-year-old child when she disappeared. If she could have returned, we all knew that she would have come back. Some of the tension left Ravens body. Ah, I had wondered about the younger females in your pack and where their mothers had gone, Raven said, smiling now at the woman, but he was still watchful. Alise smiled tremulously at Caidi, tears running down her face. How is Nerissa? I have wondered all of these years what she would look like as each year passed, trying to picture her. I thought about what she would be like, what she would do, but always I wanted to see. She is fourteen now. Tell me about her. Caidi smiled at the woman who had been one of her supporters and advisors. She missed you when you didnt come back, but she always knew that you loved her. She chose her second name just before my Shadatai mate showed up and put a stop to our practice of choosing a name to give to those you didnt want to know your real name. She chose Arisa in honor of you. Alises lips trembled and tears began to flow. Truly? Caidi nodded. She has grown up to be an exceptional Zarain. She can run like the wind, scale a tree with ease and pick a lock faster than I could at her age. She is an excellent hunter in both forms. She looks a little like you. Her eyes tilt like yours, but her face is more rounded and her hair is curlier than yours. She is very pretty. She is intelligent, loyal and has always been a joy to be around. Alise muffled a sob against her chalons tunic. He pulled her more fully into his embrace. She has always been honest with me that part of her loyalties extended to her old home. She told me that she had a daughter, but wouldnt tell me where her daughter was. I couldnt give her a promise to keep the location a secret from Achan Cavor, Camen said, his hand stroking over her hair. I will need to make arrangements with you, Achan. I will want to finally meet my next-daughter. We will arrange that, Raven said with a nod. Raven and Camen talked for a while, letting Alise calm a bit. It wasnt long before Raven urged Caidi away from the two people who also turned to go to their home. Caidi knew that Raven wasnt happy about what she had done. She knew that it was more likely the way she had done it than what she had done. He liked to be in full control of a situation and she had led him blind into that meeting. He didnt like surprises.

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Chapter Twenty-Seven
They said their goodnights to their host and hostess before they made their way back out of the walls and to their tent. Caidi walked farther into the tent as Raven secured the tent flap, ensuring their privacy. She kicked off her slippers with a heartfelt sigh. They had been among people all day. It was a relief to be relatively alone, to have some peace and quiet and to not have to mind her manners at all times. She had been tense the whole day. She wasnt used to other Zarain and had half expected that they would have different customs. The uncertainty that had held her today was strange and uncharacteristic of her. She had wanted to make Raven proud of her, she acknowledged as she began to get ready for bed. She unbuttoned her shirt and slipped out of the silky material and then went to work on the skirt. She picked up both of them and put them into a pile near her bag. She didnt hear Raven cross the tent. The first hint she had that he was near was the heat from his body as his strong arms came around her and pulled her against his stillclothed form. Caidi relaxed against him, closing her eyes in contentment. Her head rested on his chest and her back was pressed against him, savoring the moment. Dont do that again, Raven stated in a calm, firm voice, promising himself that he wouldnt get angry with her. He knew that she hadnt thought that she could be placing herself in danger. He took comfort in the fact that the situation hadnt turned violent. There hadnt been anything to worry over, the woman had been one of Caidis pack and was still loyal to her after all of these years. He knew that, but he also knew that Caidi couldnt have been certain of that. Dont do what again? Caidi rubbed her buttocks against the cloth-covered ridge of his cock. Dont walk blindly into an unknown situation which could very well turn dangerous. Raven gave her a tight hug, and then released her. She turned to face him. This time the woman you approached appears to have always been loyal to you. Next time, that might not be the situation. I dont want you in any kind of danger. If you see someone who you think you know or have met, you tell me and I will arrange a meeting and learn all there is to know about the woman before we talk to her. Raven, there is no way that Alise could be one of the women who wanted to hurt or kill me. Alise was at the Taivain for two years after my mothers death. She was one of my supporters and advised me sometimes. If she had wanted me dead, there were plenty of times when she was alone with me that she could have accomplished that easily. Caidi leveled angry silver eyes on him.
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Perhaps, Raven conceded. Alise has always been loyal to me and to the pack. She took on the thankless job of trying to stop some of the older women, talk with them, before they challenged me for leadership of the pack. Caidi wouldnt accept that halfway gesture. Raising her finger she waved it in his face as she listed her reasons. She even saved my life a few times when I had gotten into trouble and couldnt get myself out of it before my mother died. Raven raised his hands in surrender. I believe you. She has never tried to kill you and she couldnt be behind any of the attacks on the Taivain. You believe me? Caidi watched his face, saw the sincerity there. It wasnt Alise. She has had ample opportunity to cause trouble for you, yet she has kept your secret for years. The woman whom we are looking for wants to rule the Taivain and wouldnt settle into a life within another womans Taivain. Raven paced. The thought of someone trying to hurt her enraged him. Caidi didnt argue with him. In some ways, she could see his point. If she had decided that it wouldnt happen, that she could never rule, she would want to make sure you lose everything, to destroy the Taivain. I know the type. If she couldnt have it, she would want to make certain that her rivals were deprived of it as well. Since there havent been any seriously destructive attacks on the Taivain, we must assume that she still has hopes of ruling. Raven waited for her to tell him again that she wasnt threatened. Caidi was stubborn like that. Caidi sighed. How do you hope to find her? She wouldnt be living in a Taivain if she doesnt want to be under anothers rule. His brows rose. Maybe she was beginning to see the danger. There are ways, my chalie. I have talked to Cavor and Zaden and some others about all that has happened to you and the attacks on the Taivain. They agree that there are too many incidents for this to all be a coincidence. You talked to them about it. Caidis mouth dropped open. That, more than anything else, showed her how worried he was. The Taivain on Carait has been isolated for far too long. You are safe now and there is a sizable force to defend the Taivain. You will discover that being connected to others has advantages, namely the many allies who will come to help if we need it, Raven opined. His hands moved over her still-flat stomach to her full breasts. He cupped both of her breasts in his large palms, before sliding his hands up, his fingers moving over her sensitive nipples slowly. Do you truly think that they will be able to find her? Caidi struggled to concentrate, arching her back and pressing her aching breasts more fully into his palms. Are you certain that there is really someone out there who wants to hurt me? There is really someone out there. There wasnt a doubt in his mind. I think that they will be able to find the one who is connected to the rogues who were sent to Carait

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and that person will lead to her. One of his hands left her breast, sliding down her stomach to the golden hair guarding her sex. A small nudge with the palm of his hand was all of the guidance she needed. She widened her stance and his hand cupped her pubis. She thrust her hips against his hand in a demand for more as the hand at her breast went around her waist and tightened, lifting her off her feet as he carried her over to the bedroll. Caidi gasped at the stark jolt of fiery sensation that tore through her from the pressure of his hand against her clit as he lifted her. Each step he took sent another bolt arcing through her. He gently lowered them into a sitting position on the bedroll with her facing away from him, between his powerful thighs. Lean back against me, he ordered. Caidi did as he said without hesitation. In deliberate invitation, she widened the space between her legs and felt two of the fingers cupping her slip between the folds of flesh and stroke over her clit in a sure, firm caress. She closed her eyes as a white-hot bolt of pleasure shot through her. So good Caidi bit her lip and whimpered as the sensations built within her. Her hips tilted, rocking against his hand as his fingers continued to stroke over that sensitive hood. Her legs shifted restlessly and she moaned as her back arched in a feminine invitation to the male. She craved more than the delightful touch of his fingers against her. She wanted him over her, the hard press of his body against hers as they came together. The hand at her breast continued the slow, sensual torment, heightening the arousal coursing through her body. His fingers plucked at her nipples, lightly twisting them and then soothing the sensual sting with soft caresses. He lifted her breast in his hand, pressing the hardened nipple into his palm and then lowering the lush weight to slide his calloused fingers across her sensitive skin flicking at the tight buds every time he neared them. Gods, he knew how to torment her. Youre wet for me. Ravens hand moved lower. Two of his large fingers found the creamy evidence of her desire for him when they slid into the tight channel of her pussy. You want me. I can smell your desire just as surely as I can feel it. It isnt something that you could ever hide from me. Caidis body undulated in response to the hot, flaring sensations running through her body. Ravens fingers were inside her and his hand was at her breast and she wantedmore. His fingers withdrew only to thrust back into her and each time he would press the heel of his hand against her mound, stimulating her clit, doubling the hunger coursing through her. Caidi moaned, her entire body was burning with the ache for release. Her hips rocked forward just as his hand thrust into her and the fever within her grew. Ravens fingers plucked at her nipples and sent needle-sharp sensation rocketing deep within her.

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It was almost too much. Her muscles were tight, quivering, and her mind was hazy with the primal demand for satisfaction. She needed more, wanted more than the feel of his hands at her breasts and the feel of those large, long fingers moving within her. Raven! Caidis groan was full of unfulfilled desire, a demand for release as his hand withdrew from the tight channel of her pussy. Undress me, Caidi, Raven ordered in a growl made husky with his own need for hera need which had grown as he had watched her body come alive under his hands and smelled her sweet passion. It took Caidi a moment to realize exactly what he wanted. Her mind was foggy with need. She half turned to look up at him through eyes glazed with passion. Her decision wasnt hard. If that was the only way to get him to cooperate and make love to her then she was more than happy to help him undress. Caidi started with his boots, lifting his foot and tugging the leather boot off only to toss it over her shoulder, careless of where it landed. She crawled up his body, bypassing his breeches for the moment. She knelt between his thighs as she worked on the buttons of his shirt. As she worked, he reached out and cupped her breasts in his palms and rubbed his thumb across the hardened crest, destroying her concentration and causing her to fumble as she tried to remove the black cloth of his shirt. The last button flew away as she tugged at the cloth and slid it off his muscled shoulders. Caidi drew in a shaky breath, trying to regain some of her shattered control. Moving her hands to the buckle of his belt, she noticed then that his sword was gone. He must have taken it off before he had taken her in his arms. The leather seemed stiff and unwieldy, didnt want to move. Her hands brushed repeatedly across the clothcovered hardened ridge of his cock as she pulled at the belt. So focused on her task, on getting his clothing off him, she was unaware that her touch sent daggers of fire through his cock. Raven drew in a harsh breath, praying for control. With a final tug, Caidi finally pulled the belt free and tossed it over her shoulder. She immediately began to work on the buttons at the fly of his pants. Raven groaned at the light brush of her fingers across him as she undid the buttons securing the tightly stretched cloth. She was practically holding him in her hands and the image and feel was maddening. He could feel each movement of her hands, each stroke of her fingers as if there wasnt any leather between them. Then with the liberation of a last button, he was in the heaven of her soft, warm hands. Her warm hands caught his cock, wrapped eagerly around it and stroked over him from base to tip, once and then again. She stopped to pull at his breeches, he lifted his hips and as she pulled she lowered her head to place a kiss on the tip as she freed his legs from the fabric. His hips thrust as the moist heat of her breath flared over the darkened tip. She moved back up his body and once again took his length in her hand. Caidi paid loving attention to his engorged shaft, circling the tip with her fingertips delicately, before curling around his width and pumping up and down until he was forced to grab

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her hand. He pulled her up over his body, holding her close as he rolled until her back was pressed to the pallet and he loomed over her. Her legs came up, cradling his hips eagerly, even as he thrust into her hot, tight depths unable to contemplate being separated from her for one more moment. A low, appreciative feminine growl rumbled in the back of Caidis throat as she ran her hands up his sides and around to his back. Her hips punched up to meet his thrust. Hunger rolled through her. More, harder. The brush of his chest across the hardened nubs of her nipples sent tingles of pleasure-pain spiraling through her. It felt so good. Her nails raked his back as the head of his shaft found that spot deep within her that sent bolts of pure rapture cascading within her body. The deep penetration immediately catapulted her into a gasping, trembling orgasm that drove all thought from her mind, except for the fiery sensation burning within her. She arched beneath him, holding on to him tightly. Youre so delicious, so sexy. Ravens tongue lapped over her collarbone and slid up her neck. Raven moved within her hot, slick channel, lost to all thought but the way her tight pussy clasped him so firmly and the soft cries that escaped her as she found her pleasure. The need for release was an ache that burned within him, demanding release. He thrust against her, grinding his hips into hers, enjoying her moans. Caidis hips lifted against his with each surge as desire began to burn hot and high once again. Her hips rolled sensuously against his, nearly shredding the last of his control. Her hands moved to grasp his buttocks, pulling him hard against her as she raised her head to nip at his neck as he moved over her. That savage little bite sent him spiraling over the edge. His hips pounded into hers. Caidi felt his seed rush into her in hot jets as his harsh groan rumbled against her neck. At that moment, waves of hot desire hit her throwing her into a sudden, intense orgasm that ripped through her body even as the waves of psychic pleasure continued to roll over her. Caidis breath came in harsh pants as she lay under Raven. Her body was coated with a fine film of sweat as was his. She savored their combined smells, his reassuring weight as he lay over her and the satisfaction that she could feel when she touched his mind. She ran her hands over his slick back in slow, caressing strokes, very sated, very tired. She would be content to stay like this, connected to him in body and mind, all night. She felt a little regret when Raven withdrew and moved his large, warm body to the side. He pulled her back against him, sitting up only to grab a cover and arrange it over them. Caidi snuggled back against him, surrounded by the massive heat his body generated and cocooned in the blanket and his arms. She went to sleep only moments later.

*****
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The next day, Caidi spent most of the day with Edena. In the afternoon, a blonde woman was sent to escort her to the meeting room. Caidi knew only that Raven had sent for her. She had no idea why she had been called there. Raven had left her with Edena that morning with only a stern word for her to stay with Edena and not to leave the Taivain. She knew that he had spent most of the day talking trade with the other Zarain who had come here especially for that purpose. He had said nothing about planning a meeting for later where her presence would be required. When they arrived at the council room, the woman who had escorted her opened the door and Caidi slowly entered the room, acutely conscious that every eye in the room had swung to her. The table was surrounded with people. There were more people here than there were chairs. There was one free chair next to Raven and Caidi walked forward looking around at the people who stood behind those sitting at the table. She recognized Zaden and the Kaden Charal Aran Akel Nevin, and each had several of his men behind them. The sage was there as was Achan Cavor. Caidi walked forward when Raven gestured for her to come. She took the seat beside him and looked at him curiously. He didnt explain verbally. He merely smiled and pushed the Worlds book in front of her. She looked up at him, surprised. I have decided how we will repay Zaden and Aran for their help in rescuing you, Raven declared. I have known for some time that Zaden was looking for a home. It also came to my attention that Aran and his pack are looking for a place to make a home. It is only just that we use the knowledge that you have to repay them for their help in our time of need. Caidi smiled. I will need to know a few things about what kind of home they want before I can suggest any worlds for them to visit, she stated. What do you need to know? Zadens voice was calm, but he couldnt hide the bright sparkle of anticipation in his eyes. I need to know if you want to be the only people on a planet or if you care if there might be another small population there. It would also be helpful to know if you want to be close to a world on a well-known main gate path or if you would prefer to be away from the main path. Also, there is the weather on the planet. There are some planets with very dramatic weather shifts, from hot summer conditions to full winter blizzards in a matter of days with no hint of a spring or fall and others where the climate is seasonal, the changes are gradual from spring to summer to fall to winter. On her fingers, Caidi ticked off some of the specifics which had been noted in the book. Caidi looked at the two men as they gave thought to what she wanted to know. She waited patiently for one of the men to answer her. It was Zaden who came to a decision first. I would like the area where I settle to be forested but with enough grassland and open area to grow things and allow easy building of the Taivain. I want a planet with

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an abundance of wildlife and plenty of fresh water. Zaden sat back in the chair, relaxed as he waited. Caidi laughed. There are many worlds that fit those two requirements. Anything more to help limit it? The planet has to be fairly uninhabited, but I dont care if there is a small population of other people on the world. I have no concerns about how far away or how near it is from the known gate paths. I want a place that has normal seasons that we can predict each year. Zaden placed his hands on the table. Caidi nodded as she listened to his requirements and then opened the book. There were actually quite a few planets that fit his requirements. The dramatic worlds which were made up of desert or ice were quite rare along this end of the gate paths. Caidi decided that she would suggest three worlds. If those didnt suit, she would suggest more. The worlds of Travern, Cordares, and Eirhan all fit the requirements you told me. Caidi gave a nod as she found them in the book. If you want, you can go look at all three of the planets and decide if you want to choose any of them or try other worlds. You and your people have been to them. Which one would you choose if you were looking for a home? Zaden asked. Thats easy. I would choose Cordares. I looked at it as a possible refuge when the attacks by the rogues became really bad. Caidi remembered that planet well. Where would you put your Taivain? Zaden leaned forward. There is a spot near the mountains about fourteen or fifteen days walk to the east of Cordares main gate that I looked at very seriously. There is a river there loaded with fish and a large lake nearby teems with them as well as wild birds. There is a forest near and all manner of game live in it and on the plain. There is enough flat land for a large Taivain and any crops that you might want to plant. Caidis eyes and voice were vivid, alive with her memories. And what about other people on this planet? The only other people on the planet are a few small nomadic bands whose travels take them near the second gate. You wont ever see them unless you go there. There is only one drawback to choosing Cordares as your home planet, though. You dont want to use the shortest route on the gate path to get there very often. Warning laced Caidis voice. Why wouldnt you use the shortest route to get there? Are there hostile groups along that path? It was Raven who asked that question. No. Caidi gave him a narrow-eyed look. The man should know her well enough to know that she would never risk the lives of any of her pack-mates to known danger, much less members of someone elses pack. The problem with using the main gate path is an obstacle of a world called Deral. The main gate there, the one you would have to use, has a dormancy period that starts about a rona before the end of Derals fall and it doesnt end until spring over six ronas later. I have yet to be able to find a map of
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Derals gates. If any of your people get trapped by that dormancy, you will be stuck there for the winter. It would be wisest to just detour around Deral. It is possible, but it adds about two or three days to your journey. I will look at this Cordares. It sounds like a good place and I dont think going around this Deral will be a problem. A satisfied smile curved his lips. Caidi looked at Charal Aran of the Kaden. He was sitting back in his chair, his eyes on a point on the opposite wall as he contemplated exactly what he wanted from the planet that would be their new home. I want almost exactly like what Achan Felinian asked for, but I would prefer that the world be farther off of the known paths, the Charal informed her. Caidi nodded. He wanted isolation. She flipped to the middle of the book and then to the back as she searched for worlds that would fit his requirements. There were many that could fill his request, but these worlds that were farther off were vastly unexplored by her people. She tried to give him the best and most explored of those. She found two that could be accessed from the second gate on Resil and one that the journey would begin from the third gate on Reshir, very isolated indeed. You said that you wanted a world which was off of the known paths and I have tried to find one for you. Two of the worlds, Samein and Bacamal, you would start at the second gate on Resil. To find the other, Apiran, you start at the third gate on Reshir. They are all suitable. The areas we visited were forested with rivers and lakes, but we havent explored these far reaches much. I understand that you havent explored it thoroughly. I will want instructions on how to get to the more distant planet, the Charal stated. Apiran sounds like a good home. I will write them down for you, Caidi agreed. Soon, the meeting ended with both men leaving with directions to a world where they hoped to make a permanent home. She could tell by the looks on their faces that they were both excited and satisfied. She stood in Ravens loose embrace. It was part of being a Zarain, that desire to find a home and mate of ones own. Caidi knew that Raven intended that they should leave for their own home in a few days. The search for the woman who wanted to hurt her would continue with the aid of Ravens allies.

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Chapter Twenty-Eight
They returned home to Carait and the Taivain. The journey was uneventful, which was a relief to Caidi who was still struggling to prove to Raven that she didnt attract trouble. The pack was fine. Ravens Terchal had taken care of everything competently in his absence. Caidi was relieved to be home. This was a busy time of the year for the Taivain. It was harvest time and there was always so much to be done with both the food crops and those crops used to make the cloth. With so many things being done at the same time, every hand available would be needed to help finish the process before winter hit. Caidi rose early the morning after they had arrived home, but as usual Raven had already left the room. He was probably out helping with the hunting. As well as preparing the food that they had grown, it was also important that they stock as much as meat as possible, although they had been preparing for the winter since spring. Caidi started her day in the kitchen. She knew that they could always use a hand there at this time of year. Indeed, she was welcome there. She knew that her efforts to help with the preparations would be confined to what could be done within the Taivain this year. That she was being confined still struck a nerve in her, but she tried to remind herself that he knew she could take care of herself. It didnt help much. As the day passed, she checked on the progress of work in the other areas which she knew would be busy to see if they would need help. Everything about the work was organized, but hectic as was usual. All of the women were accustomed to the work, but it was still tiring and the amount that still needed to be done was amazing. When Caidi went in for the midday meal, she had a better idea of just what still needed to be done. She went down to her room and found that the table was set for one, instead of two. Caidi ate her meal and then returned to work in the fields, going from one place when there were enough people to another where she could be of most help. Caidi decided that she really needed to talk with her mate about just going off and leaving without a word when just before the evening meal, she learned from his Terchal Gavin that he wouldnt be coming to the meal or returning to the Taivain. She waited until after the evening meal had been finished and she was alone. Mostly, she picked at her food, but she ate what she could, because she had to feed herself to feed her cub. After the meal, she walked back to their room and sat on the bed and reached for him. Her day wasnt done, but she wanted to talk with her absent chalon. She would return and help with the preparations for winter after their talk. Raven, where are you? Caidi asked without preamble as soon as she knew she had contact with his mind.

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I am on my way to Esden. Raven mentally cursed his forgetfulness. I meant to contact you before this, but I lost track of time as we were traveling and forgot. I didnt mean to worry you, my sweet. One of Achan Cavors men found someone who knows something of the attacks on the Taivain. I will be back in around nineteen days.

*****
Raven made the journey to Esden and found Achan Cavors man waiting in the common room at an inn as had been arranged. Raven walked to the table where he sat and took the seat across from him. The Zarain greeted him and then motioned to an unkempt older man in worn clothing who had been drinking at another table. The man stood and hobbled over to the table. You the man who wants to know about the rogues sent to Carait? The man dropped into a chair and slammed his mug onto the table. Raven merely nodded. There was a man and woman who would come here and hire em regular for a lot of years, but these past years, they have had trouble finding anyone willing to take their offer. Word spreads real quick when none of those men hired ever return to take another job. This time, no one wanted to work for em. The man leered at the woman who came to fill his tankard. And this time, did they get any takers? Ravens eyes narrowed and anger boiled within him at the thought of anyone attacking his home. I heard they were looking for a small group of warriors. The only takers were the roughest of the lot and that kind dont accept the kind of terms they were offering. The man grunted at the couples stupidity. What conditions were they offering? Raven watched the man for any signs of deception, but had seen nothing so far. They wanted someone to simply fight their battle and leave after it was won. Not even the most simple of warriors will readily take that. They were having real trouble finding any takers. The gray-haired unshaven man shook his head in disgust. Raven knew that that was true enough. Even with honest mercenaries, it was difficult to get them to leave if they had just taken a city or fortress. They had to be very well paid to do it. Did they find any warriors willing to take their offer? He doubted that these two had that kind of coin. No. The man shrugged. Word on the streets has it that there are some new occupants in that place that they wanted, a large force of armed warriors, and none of the warriors here would go up against that large force for the money they were offering. What did the man and woman do after they discovered that they wouldnt be finding any warriors here? Raven leaned back in the chair. This was getting interesting.

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They didnt believe that there were warriors in that place. That woman started screeching that they were all liars. Then, she called the men fools and said that the only people in that old fortress were a bunch of women. She flat called all of the men cowards for being afraid of a group of women. Her man dragged her out of there before she could get any more insulting, the man chuckled. What did the man and woman do? Do you know? Raven asked. The woman was still screeching at everyone as the man dragged her away and one of the last things she said was that she would go there and see if there were truly warriors there, but she was certain that they were all lying cowards. The scruffy man took a long drink from the mug he held and then belched. Do you know if they actually went to Carait? Raven sat forward, concerned. They didnt go immediately, but they did leave a day or so ago. Raven tossed the man some coins for the information and thanked him. He stood, thanked Cavors man, and then left. It was time to return home. He would find and catch the people who had threatened his chalie, long before they reached the Taivain. The two people would be traveling on the same path that he would. They would find themselves trapped between a very well-manned fortress and a very angry Shadatai Achan. The woman should have given up her quest long ago when those she had sent couldnt take the Taivain. This would be the last time she attacked this pack. He would ensure that she and her man didnt continue to plague this pack. There was no way that he would allow her to remain a threat to his chalie. Back on Carait, Raven wasnt surprised when he and his men found the two peoples trail heading straight for the Taivain. He had known that this had to be one of the older women from Caidis pack who knew exactly where it was. Raven and his men drew close enough to sight the two people but not close enough for them to sense that they were being followed. Although it was difficult to do with the trees of this forested area, he kept that distance until the two of them had an opportunity to see the wellmanned walls. Raven and the eight men with him moved closer. They took the woman and the brawny Zarain man with her captive without much of a struggle. Both people seemed a little stunned to find such a force at the holding. Ravens men disarmed and bound the man in short order. You seem to want to see this Taivain. I insist that you see the inside of it as well. Raven nudged the woman forward with a hand placed at her back. Raven had the prisoners taken to the large gathering hall. The hall was almost full with people who wanted to see the man and the woman who had been caught by the Achan. They knew that the woman was likely an old member of the pack, and some of them wanted to see if they recognized this woman who had caused so much trouble over the years. A low murmur spread among the women of the crowd. Raven left his men to stand guard over the man and woman in the space that had been cleared in front of the two large high-backed chairs near the end of the room.
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Raven walked to the larger chair and took a seat. With a glance around the room, Raven noticed that Caidi wasnt here yet and he wondered what could be keeping her. She knew that he had captured the woman. I have daughters, Achan. They are beautiful and unmated. Perhaps one of them is your chalie. The woman flashed a bright smile as she tried to move forward. A sword blocked her path. We were coming here to visit old friends. I was under the impression that this Taivain was ruled by someone else. It is ruled by someone else, Avera. Caidi paced slowly forward through the crowd. Things change and I dont think that you have any old friends here. All of the older women are gone. At a gesture from Sera, she detoured from the straight path to Raven ostensibly to take a tray holding a large goblet, but actually to hear what Sera wanted to tell her. They didnt search her, Caidi, and you can see that she isnt tied, Sera warned in a soft hiss. Her first mistake will be her last, Caidi returned in a whisper-soft threat. She wont cause any further damage. Caidi continued forward without any further comment. When she reached Ravens side, she handed him the goblet and let the empty tray hang at her side. She made no move to take her seat. Do you think that I would ever forget the face of the woman I strongly suspected of killing my mother, Avera? Caidis voice rang through the hall as she stared at the woman. I was loyal to your mother, Avera sputtered in what was probably meant to be outrage, but she couldnt quite manage it. I am still the Acine in this Taivain. The only change here is that there is an Achan and more than enough strong, skilled warriors to protect the Taivain from attack. You wont find any mercenaries to answer your call except the foolish or suicidal. Even then you would probably have to lie to them to get them to go against a well-manned Zarain holding. Caidis eyes ran from the womans graying blonde hair to the worn boots on Averas feet. I would never attack this holding. You are paranoid. Avera drew herself to her full height and glared at Caidi. Caidi watched the womans every move as she moved in the space allowed by the warriors guarding her. Avera was treacherous and Caidi knew it. You appeared to be loyal to her after she had pinned you when you challenged her all of those years ago, but you never really were. You forget that children were everywhere in the Taivain in those days. We heard you trying to stir discontent, making your plans while you tried to cause trouble for her. Caidi smiled with relish as Averas face turned red. I never did that, you little witch. You have everything. Why do you do this? Avera looked at Raven pleadingly.
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He stared at her, expressionless. My mother was almost to the point where she was going to banish you from the pack when she mysteriously died. We all knew that it wasnt an accident, Caidi informed the older woman with little emotion in her voice. Everything within her was focused on Averas body, her movements. She was watching for the move that she knew would come soon. You were nothing but a child, a brat, when she died. I should have ruled the Taivain after your mother died, not you. There should have been no question of me having to challenge you. It was an insult to me, to all that I had done over the years. Avera bared her teeth. I was alpha. You werent. Caidi saw no reason to debate fact. You were nothing, a pup. You had no experience or knowledge about how things should be, Avera stated bitterly with a toss of her head. Even at fourteen, a pup, the Acine had you pinned and crying for mercy in only moments, Senna called from the back of the room. You would have done better over the years to thank the Goddess that Caidi had no experience with challenges. You should have been thankful that you escaped it with only a minor scar and your life than to spend all of your years plotting to take what you could never hold. Feminine laughter rippled through the hall. Smiles were the only sign of amusement that crossed the mens faces. My daughters deserve the right to be Acine after me. Avera pressed her hands against the blade barring her path. I helped build this holding. It should be their home, their future. When you left the Taivain, your daughters chose to go with you, to give up their home. Other daughters chose to stay here when their mothers left. They chose to be loyal to the pack, in spite of the love they felt for their mothers. It hurt them to lose their mother as much as it hurt me to lose mine, maybe even more, because they knew that their mother was alive and they had hurt her by not leaving with her, Caidi stated softly. She had seen the grief, the sadness and the hurt on their faces after their mothers had left. You made me leave the Taivain. I had no choice, Avera accused. I have been without a real home since I left here, my daughters havent had a home. My mate is a mercenary in another warriors army. It is your fault that nothing is as it should be. I should rule here. You should be the outcast. Caidi laughed at the womans accusations and her delusions. Your mate isnt even the alpha of the mercenary troop and you think that you would be able to hold the Taivain. If you had succeeded in somehow killing or scaring away every woman here before I found a mate, you still wouldnt rule here. Your husbands alpha would have taken it and probably put you two out again. My plan would have worked. I would have ruled the Taivain, Avera insisted stubbornly, but she turned venomous eyes on Caidi. I should have killed you first,
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before your mother, but you were forever with others, always into things. You were always so damned impetuous, leaping into things. I was inquisitive, Caidi chuckled but there was no humor in her eyes. That moacha should have killed you. It would have killed any other person, but you found it sleeping. You were always so lucky. Avera blanched at what she had just revealed. We always suspected that you were behind that. Caidi merely nodded. It was nice to have the suspicions confirmed. Caidi watched fury wash over Avera and then she saw the womans eyes shift to Raven. Her eyes narrowed on the man sitting in the high-backed chair. This is your fault. If you and your men werent here, this Taivain would be mine and she would be dead. You think that that Bavaok would have killed me if it hadnt been for Raven? Caidi arched an eyebrow as Avera gasped. He was going to sell me to slavers. I wouldve gotten free and I would have been furious. I didnt Avera shook her head. Caidi growled. Dont bother lying. She flashed the woman a menacing smile. I would have hunted and found you, Avera. I would have been Acine! I deserve to be Acine, Avera yelled. Where are your daughters, Avera? If you feel that you have such a right to the Taivain, why arent your daughters with you to see your victory? Caidi put quiet emphasis on your daughters as she moved to the other side of Raven so that her left hand, the one holding the tray, was close to him, leaving her right hand free. The foolish females dont believe in me. They have never believed that I am the rightful Acine. They have even begged me to give up my quest. Only my Datar believes that I have a just cause. If he wasnt here Avera stared maliciously at Raven. Caidi saw the other woman shift. With an unseen movement of her fingers, Caidi unhooked the strap on the knife hidden under the flowing sleeve of her dress, allowing the blade to slide with easy familiarity into her hand. She had come prepared. She waited and watched carefully. Caidi saw Averas move beginning. Averas blade had been concealed by a fold of her tunic and she drew and threw in an almost fluid motion. Caidis blade left her hand a moment before Averas blade left hers. Caidi had gauged Averas aim, knew her target and lifted the tray in front of Ravens chest. The hate in her eyes when she had looked at Raven had told Caidi that Avera would go for him. She saw him as the one thing keeping her from her goal. Averas knife hit the metal tray with a loud clang and both the knife and the tray fell to the floor where they made even more noise. Shes dead, Achan. The knife went cleanly into her heart, Gavin called from where he knelt by Avera. He was looking at Caidi with new respect in his eyes.

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Do you care to tell me what you were doing carrying a knife in the Taivain, Caidi? Raven raised an eyebrow and waited for an explanation. Horror and fear still pulsed through him. When he had seen that knife hurtling through the air, his only thoughts had been of Caidi, her safety. He couldnt bear to lose her. Caidi wasnt intimidated by either his demanding tone or his raised eyebrow. I have had some experience with dealing with you big, tough Shadatai males. You are so sure of your own skill and superiority that you forget that females arent always the nice, sweet, innocent, defenseless creatures that you would like to think we are. You think that we couldnt possibly hurt you. She gave Raven a pointed look. I wasnt about to lose my chalon or my own life because of that misconception. That isnt an answer, Raven growled. I was aware that your treatment of her would have been kinder, gentler than what I would have done. You didnt even search her or secure her hands. I took measures to ensure our safety in the event that she did try something. It is my duty to care for you just as much as it is your duty to care for me. Caidi smiled and shook her head. Men could be so arrogant sometimes. Raven fought the tide of red he knew was rushing over his face at her pointed reminders of his mistakes. He had discounted the woman as a threat simply because she was female, only binding her mate. I will deal with her husband in private. Everyone may return to your duties. I will speak to you later, Caidi.

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Chapter Twenty-Nine
Caidi merely nodded, managing with effort to hold back the smile that threatened to spread widely across her face as she turned and left the hall. She went to the kitchens in the smaller of the living areas. They were using them to prepare some of the fruit for the winter, making jellies and syrups and storing the cooked fruit. She sat on a stool at the table being used to prepare the fruit brought in before it was cooked. She took up a knife and began to peel the aiska fruit in front of her. She saw women begin to filter into the kitchens and heard them begin recount what had happened in the hall to those who had had to stay and watch the simmering pots. You always were very quick with your knife. Mira stirred one of the bubbling pots of thick fruit. You also had an almost uncanny aim. Caidi merely raised an eyebrow at that observation. After all of the practice that she had put in with a knife when she was younger, it would be much stranger if she couldnt hit her target when she needed to do so. Do you think that the Achan is angry with you for killing Avera, for taking matters into your own hands? Viki asked. I think that he is angrier at being surprised by a woman than he is that I killed the woman responsible for the trouble. Caidi smiled easily, unworried about her chalons possible wrath. She couldnt feel sorry for anything she had done, even if it angered Raven. You have been taking the Achan by surprise since he met you. You would think that he would come to expect it. Mira pointed a spoon at Caidi. What do you think he will do to her mate? Viki asked. I dont particularly care what he does with him. Avera was the motivating force behind this bid for power. With her gone permanently, there shouldnt be any trouble from him. Caidi shrugged as she continued diligently peeling the aiska fruit. As Averas daughters had been unsupportive of their mother, there shouldnt be any more incidents. I think it is sweet how he treats you as if you are a piece of the most delicate pottery when we all know from long experience that you are as resilient as a dewy sprig of spring grass. Miras grin turned into a full smile. He obviously cares for you. You dont have to live with it. Caidi chuckled good-naturedly in spite of the way he frustrated her. Actually, that man more than cares for me. That man loves me. I have known it for some time. He hasnt told you? Viki raised silver eyebrows.

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I have merely been waiting for him to see that what he feels for me is love. It might take some time. He tends to think more in terms of possession and sex, so it might take him a little longer than it did for me to recognize his feelings. She was confident that he would tell her when he recognized it. Viki chuckled in commiseration. They are all like that, these big, tough Shadatai males. They think of us in terms of mine, my woman, no one else can have her and I want you and lets not forget I need you beneath me. They dont often look at what lies beneath all of those things. My Kalen is no different in that way. He still hasnt seen that he loves me when it is blatantly obvious. It might be interesting to know for certain just how different Shadatai males are from the normal Zarain males. We know that their instincts are more focused. Maybe we have been misled in some of our beliefs about life within a normal Zarain pack. Mira peeled the fruit in front of her with well-practiced movements. Viki laughed. That would be interesting. We would probably be in for some surprises. Normal Zarain are still Zarain, even though we were always told that the Zarain males let their women do almost anything and had freedom from the restrictions we now have. Our mothers didnt really know much about life as a bonded mate, only what they remembered from their life with their parents for the most part. Caidi laughed and nodded. I think that you could probably safely say that any Zarain whether Shadatai or not would be possessive and protective of his mate. Raven cleared his throat, announcing his presence as he leaned against the jam of the door. It is late, Caidi. Caidi smiled in spite of the momentary fear that he had overheard her boasts to the other women. She knew he loved her, but didnt want to put that kind of pressure on him. She looked at him and decided that he hadnt heard her. The flat, unemotional statement and the lack of expression on his face were usually indicators that he was angry with her, but she couldnt feel any anger from him when she touched his mind. All she felt was a deep satisfaction rolling through his mind. She wasnt worried about his reaction to what she had done. She had done what was necessary and she would do it again if she had to. Caidi nodded, put down her knife and the half-peeled fruit she held, wiped her hands on a nearby cloth and then walked calmly with him out of the kitchen and back to the larger living area. He led her down to their room without saying another word. After she had entered before him, he followed then shut and locked the door. Now, what do we have to talk about? Caidi asked easily as she took a seat on the bed and looked up at him expectantly as he came to a stop in front of her. If he hadnt still been so stunned by what he had heard her tell the other women while he had been standing outside the kitchen, he knew that he would be angry at her patent display of innocence and ignorance of exactly how she had broken pack rules.

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The knife, where did you hide it while you waited to find out if you needed to use it? Raven gave her a stern look as he took a firm grip on his temper. Caidi simply pushed up the sleeve of her dress, revealing the empty sheath concealed beneath the flowing material. Raven stepped closer to her and pushed up her other sleeve, revealing an identical sheath with a blade in it. Did you think that you would miss her with the first throw? No, I merely wanted to be prepared for anything that might happen. Caidi gazed up at him, not at all intimidated by that steady, hard stare. You admit that you knew you were walking into what you thought would be a dangerous situation, yet you still did it. Ravens voice remained calm, but his body tensed. I knew before you reached the hall just who you had captured. I also knew from past experience that you werent likely to consider Avera a threat based solely on her gender, Caidi admitted. I took precautions to limit the risk to both of our lives from a woman I knew was treacherous. The risk that you took was too great! Raven paced across the room, incensed by her easy admission. You should have made me come out of the hall for you and then yelled at me until I listened to what you had to say or you should have yelled at me on our mental path until I had the woman searched and bound just to get you to stop. There were many things that you could have done that would have involved far less risk than simply walking into that hall. I wasnt the one at risk. It wasnt me that she threw the knife at. You were her target. Caidi arched an eyebrow at him, daring him to deny it. You could just as easily have been her target. She only turned her focus on me at the last, Raven stated. You know the rules of life in a Shadatai pack. I spelled them out clearly to you. You swore to obey them. You knew that you were taking a chance with your life when you walked into that hall without even trying to make me listen. You endangered yourself when you knew how important you were to me and you knew equally well that you were pregnant. You knowingly broke the rule. That did it. The man refused to see reason. She leapt off the bed and looked up at him with a militant, angry frown on her face. When I walked into that hall, I knew that there was no damned danger to me. I knew from the beginning that she was a treacherous bitch and I expected her to do exactly as she did. I expected you to be the target. Raven raised an arrogant eyebrow. Why would you think that? You were the one she would see as the true impediment. She never feared me. When she focused her anger on you at the last, I knew for certain that you would be her target. That was why I crossed in front of you. I knew that she would try to take her revenge through you even if it meant her death. I did it so I could guard you. Caidi pointed at him. You were in danger. Raven paced back to her.
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I am very good at judging the aim of an opponents dagger almost as soon as it leaves their hand. Your life is hardly the first life that I have saved in that manner, but the others at least thanked me. Caidi gritted her teeth, angry and hurt by his doubt in her abilities. Yes, I will admit that you are very good at it, but you have a duty to keep yourself out of trouble and safe and you will learn to do so even if I have to put guards on you every time that we have visitors or leave the world to visit others. Raven had never been more serious. You need to accept that you arent alone, that I am here. It is my duty to guard you and the Taivain. Are you done with this lecture? Caidi looked toward the door, wanting only to leave before she lost her temper. I have work that needs to be done. Raven blinked at her tone. He had lost control of the situation and his own temper when she had been so uncaring, so oblivious of the danger she had placed herself in as she had boldly faced a woman whom she knew was armed. The fact that she hadnt even tried to tell him, to convince him of the womans treachery had heightened his anger at her actions. Now, he had to calm both of their tempers, before she tried to walk out of the door and blithely return to work as if nothing had happen. He knew that that would succeed in enraging and unleashing the beast he was barely managing to hold in check. Raven put his hands on her hips for the sole purpose of holding her where she was. He could see that she was getting ready to storm out of the room. He pulled her close to him as he lowered his lips to hers. His lips brushed over hers and his tongue slipped between her startled lips to stroke lingeringly over hers. Caidi was in no mood to be cajoled by his drugging kisses. She pushed against his hard chest and tore her mouth away from his. I am angry with you, Raven. I dont want to kiss you. She shoved against him again, succeeding in pushing her upper body away from him, but firmly plastering her hips to his at the same time. Immediately, she was left without a doubt that he wanted her fiercely. His cock pressed hard and insistent against her stomach. I know that you are angry with me, my chalie, yet that doesnt change what will be. Now, it is time for you to apologize for taking a risk with your life and kiss me. Raven held her still when she jerked against his restraining arms. His tone left no room for compromises. Caidis eyes rounded at that arrogant, assured statement. She knew that arguing would probably not get her anywhere, but she couldnt let that go unchallenged. I didnt take a risk with my life. I told you that. I knew what I was doing. Remember the first rule that you agreed to obey. You have already broken one today, Raven cautioned very quietly. The man was utterly serious, Caidi knew. The first rule, Follow your Achans commands swiftly and without question. Caidi growled, wriggling in his grasp. You are

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making apologizing to you an order, a command? An apology is worthless if it isnt freely given. I dont think that I have anything to apologize for. We both know that you arent sorry for so blatantly, and in front of so many witnesses, breaking one of the packs governing rules. You must, however, apologize for the transgression. Since I know that you arent sorry for what you did, it is an order. I will see that you dont again put yourself in such danger. As he spoke, his hands slid from her hips to her buttocks. He cupped the taut globes in his palms, lifting her more firmly against him. Caidi glared at him, but knew that there was no way of getting out of this apology. I am sorry that I endangered myself and the baby, she forced from between clenched teeth. Now, you can let me go. I have done what you wanted. I have work to do with the other women. She pushed against his chest in a demand for release.

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Chapter Thirty
You forgot to give me the kiss I wanted. Raven gave a slow smile as his eyes narrowed. Anger flared in her bright, silver eyes. He was certain that with very little encouragement on his part that anger could be transformed into a soaring desire that would burn them both with its flames. Caidi exhaled loudly at his pickiness. She knew of no way out of it. It wasnt that she didnt like kissing him. She was infuriated by his demands. Lifting her chin, she met his descending lips. She meant to keep the kiss light and quick, just enough of a contact to satisfy his command. She hadnt accounted for Ravens very active participation in the kiss, the way his hands were kneading her buttocks, lifting her against the hard ridge of his cock. His scent surrounded her, that warm, spicy, pure male essence that always made her want to wrap her legs around him and ride him until they were both exhausted. Anger faded before rising passion. Caidi gave up the fight and returned his kiss eagerly. His tongue drove into her mouth in bold aggression as he rocked her hips against him. Caidis nimble fingers untied the small strip of leather securing his hair at the nape of his neck. Her hands tangled in his silky hair as she pressed against him. Her breasts were crushed against his chest. She moved her shoulders from side to side, brushing her breasts over the hard planes of his chest. The pressure sent sharp tingles dancing through her. It wasnt enough. Her breasts were swollen and ached for his touch, the feel of his lips around the hard nipples. As much as she enjoyed the sweet ache caused by the friction as he rocked her against him, she hungered for him to touch her clit, for his hard cock to surge deep within her, to fill her. You want me, my chalie, Raven whispered as he ran his lips down her neck, nibbling on the slender column. I can smell the sweet scent of your arousal calling to me, even as you try to fight it. You want me now. You want me within you, my cock deep inside of your tight cunt. Without touching you, I know that you are wet and creamy for me, ready and hungry. Tell me that this isnt true. The last was delivered in a taunting hiss against her ear. Caidis eyes closed as she felt warm, slick moisture spill onto her thighs from the arousing imagery, the sound of his voice and the memory of how good it could be between them. His intoxicating scent wrapped around her, heightening her arousal with every breath. She felt Raven lower her to her feet in front of him. She stood in front of him, her hands running over his chest. His hands traveled to the buttons at the front of her dress, unbuttoning it enough to push the dress halfway down her arms, baring her breasts to his hungry gaze and skilled mouth.

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He once again lifted her in his strong arms and took one of the red nipples into his mouth. He shifted her a bit, but Caidi felt no fear, only desire. One of his hands held her up while the other began to play with the neglected breast, tugging at the nipple, cupping its weight in his palm, flicking at the nipple with his thumb. Caidi moved against him and made a frustrated sound. It wasnt enough. She wanted to wrap her legs around him. She wanted to feel his hard length nestled against her, but she couldnt manage it with the length and narrowness of the skirt of the dress. Goddess, he was pushing her toward madness. In a teasing manner, his teeth scraped over the tip of her nipple as he released it with a light, wet popping sound. Caidi groaned and her hands clutched at his hair. With her grip on his hair, she arched her upper body trying to keep those tormenting lips away from the sensitive crests of her breasts. She couldnt take much more of his teasing without her mind turning to mush. Drawing in a gasping breath, she shuddered as his tongue licked the slope of one breast, down into the valley between and then up the other. She needed him. She needed him deep and hard within her. His unrelenting attentions sent a spike of hunger straight to her pussy. Her clit throbbed, begged for his touch. She needed to feel his weight over her, the warmth of his body and him moving against her. More, Raven, Caidi ordered on a shaky whisper as she writhed against him. I need you in me. The feel of her body moving against him caused an ache so fierce that it almost destroyed the last of his control. He couldnt deny her or himself. You need me no more than I need to be in you, taneen, Raven growled, moving her away a little so that he could reach between them to rip at the laces of his breeches and free himself. He gathered the length of her skirt and bunched it around her hips. His cock was hard, aching with the need to sink into her sweet heat. The moment her skirt was pulled out of the way Caidi wrapped her legs around his hips. Raven spun and pressed her against the wall. He was desperate to feel the heat of her snug channel wrap around him, the liquid warmth of her desire surround him. Gods, he burned for it. He lifted her and with slow deliberation lowered her onto his cock, gritting his teeth as she sank onto him, taking his length within her cunt. He pressed her against the wall, rocking his hips against her. The dual sensations of the cool, hard wall against her back and the warm, solid flesh of her chalon pressing against her fanned the need burning within her. She moaned, arching against him, trying to get away from that cool wall and closer to him. The movement drove his cock deeper. The feel of the hard length of his shaft probing so fully within her was almost too much for her. Release lay just out of reach. Everything in her wanted, craved the hot bliss. In the highly charged state of her arousal, his next stroke sent her straight into orgasm. She screamed, arching as he withdrew only to drive hard and deep into her. Focus flared and came apart and dissolved as a scorching orgasm hit her and left her shaking.

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Raven thrust within her. At the first quivers of her pussy, he stopped to feel the tight clench of her clinging inner muscles as they drew at his cock, pulling at him. He loved the clench and pull of her muscles, drawing him deeper into her wet channel. He closed his eyes, withdrew from her until only the round head remained inside and surged forward needing to be as deep within her as he could possibly get when he came. His hands gripped her buttocks, pulling her hips to his as he thrust hard and deep within her. His balls slapped against her buttocks with each surge of his hips. He slammed into her, felt her peak again, her nails scoring his back just before he reached his own climax. A harsh groan tore from his throat and his seed spurted hot and deep within her. Caidi had just found the heights of another peak when he found his release and before she could even begin to descend from the height, another orgasm had her, lifting her to a new, higher peak where even the slight chill of the air, the brush of his hot breath across the shell of her ear sent tingles racing through her entire body. She couldnt think, couldnt form even one coherent word. Her entire body was shaking. Sensation swept over her lifting her higher than she had ever been. Everything within her blazed with tingling, sharp pleasure and she could do no more than moan against his shoulder and hold tight to him as the shudders racked her body. Raven gripped her buttocks, drawing her against him, ripping another shaking moan out of Caidi. He hugged her to him and carried her to the bed. Holding her with one hand, he used the other to tug her bunched dress over her head and toss it toward one of the corners. He lowered them both onto the bed without separating from her. He watched with undisguised masculine approval as her eyes closed and she shook as he slowly withdrew from her. Wanting to feel all of her against his skin, he undressed. He sprawled beside her and waited for the ecstasy flooding her to recede, for her to be able to focus on something other than the fierce rush of ecstasy.

*****
When Caidi could think beyond the pleasure that he had given her, when the raging fire of passion subsided, Caidi remembered that she had been angry with him. She turned to Raven and narrowed her eyes at him as she saw the smile curving his lips. Sneaky, arrogant male. I am still angry with you. This changes nothing about that. Caidi tried to roll away from him, to get off the bed. He kept her in place by the simple method of placing his hand on her chest. It may have been one hand, but she wouldnt win any struggle to remove it and sliding out from under it would only make him hold her more closely to him. Im not angry with you. Raven leaned over her and nibbled at her lips, contentment and satisfaction rolling off him. He drew back for a moment to look at her in a very serious manner. Thank you for guarding my life, my chalie.

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Caidi blinked, stunned and touched by his admission. Never had she expected him to thank her for what she had done, especially after he had made her apologize for it. I might be extremely stubborn and insist that you follow the rules of Shadatai life even when you dont like them, but Im not blind or ignorant. A small smile lifted the corners of his mouth at her obvious amazement. I knew that you were protecting me when you did it, but that didnt change the horror at the possible consequences or how angry the risk you took made me. Caidi didnt know what to say to that admission. He was very stubborn, but she doubted that he needed to hear it. She had thought that he couldnt see that she had been protecting him. Sometimes, he focused on one thing and she had thought that this was one of those times. She still objected to him saying that she had been at risk. There had been no real danger. How long have you known that I loved you? Raven kept his tone light but watched her closely. The question startled Caidi and she stared and gaped at him in astonishment. How did he know that she knew he loved her? Well, how long? Raven prompted with a stern look on his face and a demandingly arched brow. Umm, yes, well, Caidi began and swallowed, nervous flutters tearing through her stomach. She hadnt wanted it to be like this. I knew that you loved me before we started the journey to Askara, before I was taken by the Bavaok. I dont remember exactly when or what day I realized that you loved me, that was the highlight of that day and it took me a little while to get used to it, to be secure in it. Did you ever stop to think that there was something that you should be telling me since you knew of my love? Raven leaned over her and frowned as he looked into her eyes. I didnt want to pressure you into saying something and there was so much going on in both of our lives at that time. Caidi shifted beneath that intense gaze. The pressure for him to respond in kind was the very reason why she had remained silent about her feelings. What I felt for you was always plain in my thoughts. You couldnt miss it. I knew that you were aware of it. Did you not think that I might perhaps want to hear what you felt, to know that you accepted me, and loved me as I am, a stubborn, irritating warrior who sometimes has the ability to enrage you as no one else could? Caidi blushed at his description of himself. She had thought something like that about him only a few days ago. She had been angry with him and hadnt been aware that he was with her in that moment. I thought that when you were sure of your feelings for me that you would tell me of them. I wanted you to want to tell me of your love. Why do you think I should have told you first? Raven raised his brows. Damn, she was a stubborn woman.
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I didnt want you to say the words simply because you thought that that was what I needed or wanted to hear. I wanted you to say them because those words were the only way to describe your feelings for me. Caidi grimaced. Raven leaned back as he thought about her words, but a moment later, he took her chin in his hand and turned her face so that she was looking into his eyes. His hands stayed where they were, one on her shoulder and one on her chin, so that she couldnt turn away from him. I want you. I need you. You can cause me no end of aggravation and worry with some of your stunts. I havent pulled any stunts since I was very young. Caidi thumped her hands against his shoulder. Sometimes you make me angrier than I have ever before been, but the one thing that wont change is that I love you. How could I not love you? You have given me more than I ever thought that I wanted or needed. Raven brushed a kiss across her cheek. Caidis eyes suddenly became misty. I have? I have a home, a true pack to guard and soon I will have a cub to train, to watch over and to love because he or she will be part of both of us. I think we need a boy or two first, my chalie, because if we have a daughter and she is like you, I will need his help to watch over her. Ravens thumb grazed over her lips. Caidi laughed at his last words. She didnt even feel inclined to defend her ability to take care of herself. She smiled. Her love and joy shone bright on her face and she threw her arms around his neck in a fierce hug. You know that I love you. You have known for days. So why didnt you tell me that you love me? I didnt tell you of my love, because I wanted to hear the words from your own lips without prompting, but you are a stubborn and illogical woman, my beautiful reha. You actually believed that I wouldnt know that the feelings I have for you are love. You thought that I wouldnt think about what I felt. Raven drew his hand down to her breast. Caidi had no idea what he meant by that last statement. I wanted you to say it freely, without being pressured to respond to my declaration. It impressed me greatly that you had accomplished with relative ease what few others would have dared to contemplate. It didnt take long after you finally returned home that I realized that I loved you more than life. Raven changed the subject temporarily. He fully intended to get back to it. You just didnt like being tricked. Caidi emphasized her point by poking her forefinger into his chest. I know what lust and possessiveness feels like and I know what feels right, but if we are going to talk about people who are slow to realize that they love someone, we need to talk about you. I knew that I would love you while I was in that bedroom still fuming over the way you had slipped away from the tavern. I began to plot in earnest. I knew that if you were capable of organizing the drugging of a tavern, also of drugging
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me, and slipping away untouched, you would soon have a piece of my heart, Raven chuckled, remembering his fury and determination to catch her. Caidis eyes widened as she realized how he knew that she knew of his love. You were listening to us talk in the kitchen! Of course I listened. Ravens eyes shone and there wasnt a trace of apology or regret in his pleased expression. I know that sometimes women will tell other women things that they arent ready to tell their men. Even cubs know that eavesdropping is rude. When I arrived and no one noticed me at the door, I thought it might be a good opportunity to see if you would admit to anything interesting. Indeed, I was interested in hearing you tell them that you knew of my love for you. That boast was a surprise, because I didnt think that you knew that I loved you. His eyes laughed down at her. You are horrible. Caidi frowned at him with mock fierceness and slapped at his arm. I suppose you arent the only sneaky man who will stand out of sight and listen as we talk, hoping to hear something interesting. I will have to tell everyone to be more watchful. Ah, I think you should keep this knowledge to yourself, my chalie. Raven ran his fingers down her ribs, tickling her. Caidi laughed. No, there is no way you can convince me to keep this to myself. I must warn the other women. She teasingly rushed to her feet and scampered toward the door. No, no, no, you will keep this to yourself. I know a way to make you keep this within this room. He hauled her back onto the bed. Do you think that I am so intimidated by you, my chalon? Caidi knelt on the bed and gave him her best taunting smile. I do much as I want in this Taivain. Everyone knows you pamper me endlessly. Raven nodded in agreement. That is because you are my chalie, my one mate. You will keep silent about sneaky men. I am the Achan and I will have my way in this. Do you think so? Caidi pretended to inch toward the edge of the bed. He dove, caught her around the hips and tumbled her onto the soft mattress. Caidi laughed and threw her arms around him. Their laughter mingled as they wrestled and rolled across the bed. I know so. Raven rolled her beneath him.

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About the Author


Rebecca Airies has always loved to read. Futuristic, the classics, mystery or horror, the genre doesnt matter as long as the stories capture her interest and take her on an adventure. She soon discovered a love for writing and characters just waiting to tell their stories. Since that time, writing has become an obsession. Rebecca lives in the heart of Texas. She loves the outdoors, growing things, and working on crafts when shes not lost in the worlds of her characters. Please feel free to write and tell her what you think; shed love to hear from you. Rebecca welcomes mail from readers. You can write to her c/o Elloras Cave Publishing at 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

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