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Hunter, Hunted: Claimed by the Enemy

By:Madelene Martin

Hunter, Hunted: Claimed by the Enemy
Madelene Martin

       A taste of what is to come...


Lucas kissed her hungrily, as though he wanted to devour her. When she opened her lips in a gasp he pushed his tongue into her mouth.

Adrianna found herself responding despite her resolve to resist. Her own tongue pushed back at his, as though fighting him. He grabbed her by the back of her neck and held her still, his fingers tangling in her long hair.

Somehow the violence of it added to the pleasure, the intoxicating sensations. Their breath mingled, their lips teased and nibbled.

She bit him, perhaps in a small act of rebellion. He only pulled her head back by the hair, stilling her for a moment, and kissed her harder.

Addy wrapped her arms around him, clutching his broad shoulders. And he grabbed at her skirt, bunching it up high on her thigh.

In sudden panic, she broke away from the kiss. "What are you-" she started, afraid he was about to take her right here and now.

But he only sank to his knees, and pushed her skirts higher. He pressed his face against her, seeking her sex. He inhaled deeply, as though taking in her scent, and she felt his breath cool on her moist thighs. He made a low growl.

g





1.


It wasn't fair.

Adrianna bent her bow and squinted down the arrow shaft, a scowl distorting her pretty features.

She knew how to find her way in the forest. She knew how to avoid leaving an obvious trail, how to spot the tracks of others, and which plants and herbs were safe to eat if you got stuck out in the woods.

She had studied and knew the beasts that lived there, animals like savage wild boars and bears. The mythical tiger. And the unnatural monsters, which were the ones you really had to worry about.

There were murderous spirits who would trap you in their trees, and mischievous wisps who could lead you astray. Nymphs who led men to their pools to drown them. And the real enemy, the werewolves.

Here on the edge of civilization, humans eked out a mean existence. Their lives were grim and desperate, on the scraps of land they managed to hold. Their settlements were few and far between, trade between them dangerous.

The men who lived there were hardened and stony. It was impossible to be any other way.

They constantly struggled with the wolf-kin. Those unwise enough to venture into their territory were lost. The forest was forbidden out of necessity, and it was well known that if you were foolish enough to go there, you shouldn't expect a rescue.

The hunters patrolled nightly in the forests in an attempt to keep the towns safe. No matter how many wolves they brought down, there were always more. The beasts were constantly hunting - venturing to the very outskirts of villages. People were afraid to go outside. It was a constant squeezing, a fearful watchfulness.

The werewolves killed livestock and people. From time to time when they grew bold, a woman might be snatched from the village or the fields. Whether the werewolves turned them, swelling their own numbers, or devoured them as food, no one knew. No one had ever survived to return.

Women never entered the forest.

But Adrianna wasn't a regular girl. From a family of hunters, she had grown up learning everything there was to know about them. She knew how to kill a werewolf. At least in theory.

She let fly her arrow with a frustrated huff, knowing it would go wide the instant her fingers released the string.

Sighing, she trudged toward the tree, and yanked the shaft from the man-shaped straw target. She'd hit it in the arm, not the heart. Each successive shot had been further and further from the vital point. It wasn't like her at all.

She retrieved all of her arrows and stood for a moment, inspecting the shafts and the fletching. It wouldn't do to let your gear fall into disrepair. She always made sure everything was well oiled, well strung and neatly kept.

Adrianna made the best arrows - everyone said so. And she brought in a modest living from their sale. Her arrows, with heads of iron dipped in silver, had brought down many a werewolf out in the woods.

Her father had been a bow-maker, and she'd tried her hand at making a few since he'd died. Over the years she'd become quite skilled in their use. She'd practiced and practiced, in every spare moment. And now she could find a mark as well as her brother. Maybe better.

So why wouldn't they let her hunt?

.

"I'm of age," she protested, back in the safety of her family cottage. She was sitting at the kitchen table peeling potatoes, and had brought up the subject again. Her brother was in a good mood today. Maybe he'd at least consider it.

Eli cursed under his breath, a shadow of irritation passing over his face. "Not this again. Look - it's a bad idea. We've been through this."

"Everyone else starts training at sixteen -"

"Boys start their training at sixteen." That little crease between his eyebrows had appeared again, and he was rubbing his forehead, a sure sign he was about to lose his temper.                       
       
           



       

"Yes," she agreed, putting the little knife down and abandoning the potatoes. She wiped her hands on her apron, and smoothed it in her lap. "And I'm eighteen. I've spent the last two years proving I have what it takes."

He shook his head. "I can't risk you. The hunters need you to provide their arrows. And I need you to take care of the house."

"And to get married and do my duty and have lots of children. To replenish our population," she intoned with a roll of her eyes. "Yes, I know."

"And what is so wrong with that?" Her brother scowled. He abruptly pushed back from the table, his chair scraping loudly across the floorboards. "What exactly do you expect?"

His previously mild mood had suddenly dissipated. He stood looming over her, pointing his index finger to punctuate his words. His scarred face was in shadow, his voice low and menacing.

Adrianna steeled herself, clasping her hands together and gritting her teeth, refusing to cringe away from him.

"You will do the duty appointed to you." He said, stabbing his finger toward her face. "Everyone does their part, Addy. That's how our clan stays alive. This is the last I will hear about it, you understand?"

Adrianna glared up at him. This was the point where she usually gave up, stormed off and locked herself in her room. They wouldn't talk for a day or so, and when necessity finally forced them, neither of them would mention her "outburst".

But this time, the old familiar frustration was mutating. It had become something hotter. Something consuming, that would burn her up unless she let it out.

Moving her hands from her lap, she tightly gripped the armrests of her chair. She narrowed her eyes at Eli, set her jaw and hissed. "If you think I'm going to marry that... that lout Jeremiah, you -"

The words were cut short as he drew back his meaty hand and hit her. Adrianna let out a sharp gasp. Her head snapped to the side, her body slamming against the back of the chair so sharply its front legs left the ground for a moment.

She brought her hand up to her mouth. Licked her lip and tasted blood.

She looked up at her brother.

If she thought he would be remorseful after this - the first time he'd raised a hand to her - she was mistaken. He still loomed, standing still with his hands by his side, clenched into shaking fists as though in readiness to hit her again at the slightest provocation.

Pushing down the fear inside, she rose shakily to her feet. She looked him right in the face for a moment, his dark eyes close to hers. She forced herself to turn slowly, refusing to give up the last of her dignity. Then she slowly walked away.

Out of the kitchen and out of his sight, she walked faster. Fled to her tiny bedroom. Locked the door, and pushed a heavy chest in front of it for a barricade.

Only then did she let the tears come.

.

After sunrise, Adrianna fed the chickens and collected their eggs. She milked their two cows, and mucked out the horse's stall.

She stopped for a minute as she always did, to bury her face in the Ranger's mane and inhale his horsey scent. He nudged her shoulder, hoping for an apple.

"Sorry boy, no fresh apples until next month," Adrianna apologized. She had a wrinkled carrot though, and she fished it out of her apron pocket and gave it over.

She went inside and sat at the spinning wheel, letting the soothing rhythm of its treadle lull her as she spun from her basket of wool, and daydreamed. But she gave it up quickly, feeling restless. The day was too pretty to stay inside doing women's work.

Picking up her bow and quiver, she went back out.

She walked to her little makeshift range, intending to practice hitting the straw targets again. She was dressed in her homespun woolen dress, and wearing soft slippers - she hadn't intended to do anything but stand on the soft grass. But this time something made her keep going.

Nocking an arrow as she walked and keeping her bow at the ready, she took a few tentative steps into the trees at the edge of the meadow. Then she just kept walking, right into the forest.

It was a bright sunny day, so the danger wasn't as great, but everyone knew it was never completely safe, and women were strictly forbidden. Adrianna constantly scanned around her, dark eyes darting, as she stepped carefully over fallen branches and through the floor of dry leaves.

With birds chirping overhead and insects buzzing by, nothing in the forest indicated danger or any sense of wrongness. The sun shined through the leaves overhead and made dappled patterns on her skin, warming her. It was peaceful, and quiet in that noisy way of the woods.

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