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🖤 Feeding and Breeding Season
Was he brave enough to play?
"So, you know what we are?"
Michael stood next to the hulking rancher by a barbed wire fence overlooking a large herd of cattle. They were grazing peacefully under the summer sun, blissfully unaware of their fate, as prey usually are. He didn’t answer the man’s question right away.
He could see for miles across a green valley from their hilltop vantage point in the foothills of the northern mountains. He usually passed through this part of the country on his way into those peaks for camping trips. They would often load the truck up, leave the metro area, and backpack just below the snow line whenever they could get away from work. But, he hadn’t been camping in years now—ever since his life had been turned upside down and inside out forever.
Farming and ranching would never be his calling, but he could see the appeal. Life seemed simpler here and he felt surprisingly safe and calm. That was something he rarely felt in the city.
He took a deep breath and focused on the glittering river in the distance, twisting and weaving between scattered oaks and cottonwoods. "Yes, Valeria explained a few things. She told me where I could find you."
The man tensed and squeezed the wire in front of him with his immense callused hands. "That one meddles too often. So, are you her errand boy now? What does she want from us?"
Michael laughed. "I'm no one's boy. Let's just say we have a unique arrangement. A partnership of sorts. But I don't pick sides other than my own. I'm here to talk with you about something that would benefit all of us."
Drake turned and leaned closer to him, taking a deep sniff. "Oh, I smell your arrangement, human. Or, do you even see yourself that way anymore?"
Michael bristled, "With all due respect, that's not your concern. There's even more to who and what I am now, but I'd prefer we keep this civilized and you don't find out."
Drake turned to face him, rose to his full and considerable height, and took a step closer. He was massive and broad-shouldered in a flannel work shirt, with clenched fists the size of mallets. He stared down into Michael's eyes and was surprised when he didn't step back—or piss his pants.
He suddenly threw his head back and roared with laughter. "Well, aren't you a bold little fucker! I'll give you that."
Michael's heart hammered in his chest and he was feeling anything but bold. But he had learned long ago to never let that show. "Bold. Brave. Stupid. Take your pick. But I still want to discuss a matter of mutual interest with you."
"Alright, we’ll hear what you have to say,” said Drake. “I'll give you safe passage to speak with Freja. She's the one who will decide if you live or die tonight, not me. I'm just the gatekeeper to keep the wrong ones out. But I'm also the one you'll face later if this is a mistake.”
Michael wrinkled his brow. “I have to admit, I’m a little confused. Aren’t you the alpha, Drake? Why would she decide?”
The man’s weathered face turned even darker as a scowl passed over it. “I’ll let that go since you don’t really know us yet. But, if you fuck up and say something like that again later, know this: you won’t be going home and no one will ever find your body. You ain't exactly normal—I can smell that. But you don't want to find out what's inside me, either. I ain't exactly normal myself. Understood?"
A bead of sweat trickled down the back of Michael's neck and it wasn't just due to the hot sun beating down on them. He looked into Drake's luminous golden eyes and nodded his agreement.
The big man turned and started walking toward his black Jeep. "Ok, hop in with me. Leave your pretty little truck here. Don’t worry, no one would dare mess with it on our land."
They climbed into his muddy vehicle and turned around to head back into the dark pine and oak forest of the foothills behind them. Massive mountains loomed in the distance with glints of snow still visible on the peaks.
The Jeep bucked and bounced over the muddy ruts in the dirt road—if you could call it a road. He reached forward to steady himself using the grab handle on the dash. Drake's musky scent filled the interior of the vehicle. It wasn't a familiar smell, but it was oddly intriguing. Michael wasn't sure if that made him feel better or worse about this decision.
Right now, he just wished he was going camping instead. But, tonight he would meet their pack leader for the first time. He was pretty sure they wouldn't be making s'mores over a fun little campfire.
He only hoped he wouldn't end up on the menu.
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