Startled at getting a straight answer, she scrambled to gather her thoughts. “I’ve heard changelings say it can be dangerous to spend too long with the animal in control.”
“It couldn’t be helped. I was fifteen when I became alpha.”
“Our alpha was dead, and so were most of the lieutenants and senior soldiers.”
“That’s why SnowDancer has such a young population.” Nowhere near the level of older people you’d expect. She went to ask another question when she realized they’d stopped in the shadow of a slender tree, its branches hung with elegant leaves that shimmered in the wind.
“I’ll give you,” he said, “a twenty-minute head start.” A pale-eyed wolf watched her out of a human face.
THE FINE HAIRS on her arms rose. “To do what?”
“You have to get to the lake before I catch you.” A slow, provoking smile that kicked her straight in the gut. “Let’s see if you’re smart enough to fool the wolf.”
“Why would I want to do that?” Sienna had paid her dues, earned her status. “Is this a test?”
Folding her arms, she spread her feet in a defensive stance. “Then I don’t have to do it.”
“I’m asking you to.” He angled his head to the side, the motion nothing human. “Afraid you’ll lose?”
She set her jaw. “I can beat you with my eyes closed.”
“I’m scared.” The wolf was laughing at her.
If she’d been able to growl, she’d have done it right then. “Are you allowed to circle to the lake and wait for me?” He was faster, would win even with the head start.
But he shook his head, strands of that gorgeous hair sliding over his forehead. “What would be the fun in that?”
She knew he’d manipulated her into accepting the challenge, but her competitive streak had kicked in, wouldn’t allow her to back down. “Fine. Start the clock.”
“Done.” He closed his eyes. “Before you go, I should tell you what you get if you win.”
Oh, she very much wanted the ability to growl. “What if I lose?”
“I might throw you in the lake. Maybe.”
Not trusting him an inch when he had that smile flirting with his lips, she took off. He was far, far faster—she’d seen him run, and the sight had brought her heart into her throat. Built like the most beautiful living machine, all fluid sinew and tendon, muscle and strength, he so outclassed her when it came to speed that she didn’t stand a chance.
But there were other ways to tangle with a wolf.
MAN and wolf were both a little disappointed in Sienna. She’d gone in a straight line to the lake, hadn’t even tried to use the nearby waterways to mask her scent. The shining thread of wild spice and autumn leaves spilled out ahead of him, an unmistakable lure to his wolf. He’d have to have a—“Fuck!”
He was upside down, watching the pine-needle strewn earth pass this way and that several feet below him, his right ankle caught securely in a rope. Twisting to stare up at his ankle, he shook his head. Stared again. Started to laugh. Smart, smart girl. It wasn’t a rope at all, but a thick vine that grew everywhere around here. Sienna had to have spent most of her twenty-minute head start laying this trap. A trap he would’ve normally avoided—except that he’d written off her skills on this playing field. That’d teach him to be an arrogant ass.
Contorting his body, he went to slice the vine with a claw.
Only to fall short just shy of his goal.
Swearing, he tried again, and again. By the time he got the damn thing off, he’d painted the air blue, and it didn’t exactly help when he landed hard on his tailbone. The wolf was not amused . . . except that it was because this was a game. Getting rid of the remnants of the vine around his ankle, he stretched to reset his muscles, then restarted following her scent—being far more careful this time.
He saw the vine she’d strung across the path and lifted his feet over it without tripping the snare. Only to find his damn ankle—the same one—stuck in a hole. Growling, he brushed away the leaves to discover the brat had dug three holes on the other side. He’d managed to find the center one.
Clever, his wolf thought, delighted with her, very clever.
Digging out his abused ankle, he spent several minutes undoing the trap so others wouldn’t be caught unawares—as he had a feeling she’d known he would—then changed tack. Instead of moving directly toward her scent, he took a longer route, coming in at an angle. He saw where she’d rested, glimpsed another smart, sneaky trap. It cost him precious minutes to undo it but far fewer than if he’d been caught up in it.
Five minutes later, a long strand of ruby red hair glinted at him from a bush, the area thick with her scent. Certain he’d run her to ground, he went to part the bush . . . and only just snapped his hand back in time. His curvy little brand of trouble had almost led him into a thicket of poison ivy. Oh, now he was mad.
Grinning, he looked down and saw her sweatshirt hidden under the bush, likely pushed there by a stick. “Crafty Psy.” Aware now of the caliber of opponent he had on his hands, he began to track her in earnest, flying over the earth at inhuman speed, every one of his senses on alert.
She was a mere kilometer from the lake, hair tied back, her arms bared by her T-shirt as she knelt on the ground laying another trap for him. Instead of pouncing on her, he moved silently around to watch. Such a quick mind she had, he thought, seeing how she used the springy branch of a tree and another one of the vines to create her latest snare.