As Ber, Beast Master of the Puma clan, prowls Puma Mountain, he tracks down an unexpected intruder and finds not a foe, but the last thing he ever expected to find--the woman who can answer to the sexual beast inside him. But more than his needs are at stake. Luann's Deer clan is dying, and she is their only hope.
The Beast, a massive and ancient puma and Ber's companion, watches their every movement. Even as Ber comes to see his captive as a human being, as the woman who could be the answer to years of loneliness, the Beast reminds Ber of his savage roots.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Beast Master by Vonna Harper
The whisper of a smile touched Ber's lips. His muscles were loose and ready as befitted the Beast Master of the Puma clan. He wore leather sandals and a loincloth of soft, black-dyed leather. A sheath attached to his waistband held the knife he was never without. Otherwise, he was naked and unarmed.
As he'd done almost daily since their birth, he'd spent the morning watching twin puma cubs as they played around their dozing mother. Although he wanted to protect the cubs from predators such as wolves and eagles, his role was simply to observe. Fortunately, the twins were now large enough that they could defend themselves against most of their enemies. He'd been looking forward to announcing to the rest of the clan that two of this year's puma offspring would most likely survive, at least until winter.
Only moments ago he'd been engulfed in musing about what winter might be like in Puma Mountain, but he no longer pondered how much snow might fall. A stranger had entered Puma land.
He hadn't yet spotted the intruder, but his well-honed senses assured him there was only one newcomer. Moving like the cat his clan was named for, he slipped quickly and silently through the forest. If it had still been spring, countless lush ferns would be growing at the base of the massive trees, but except for a few close to ancient evergreens with countless branches, summer's heat had dried the rain-fed vegetation. He had to keep looking down to ensure he wouldn't step on anything noise-making. The rest of the time he moved to the rhythm of his senses.
Becoming one with his surroundings fed his sense of belonging. Because his role within the clan required him to spend his days staying as close as possible to pumas, he often felt set apart from the others, but at moments like this he didn't care. The forest had become his father, the wind his mother. And right now Father and Mother were taking him to the intruder.
Most of the time he walked in shadow, but when he occasionally stepped into sunlight, the afternoon's heat caressed his broad, dark shoulders, prompting him to lift his long ebony hair away from his neck. A fine sheen of sweat clung to his skin. His heart beat in anticipation of whatever battle might be ahead for he had no doubt the stranger didn't belong on Puma Mountain. His clan had no treaty with the other clans because, as predators, they were feared instead of fearful and given a wide berth.
A growl rolled up in Ber's throat, and he was tempted to allow it freedom. Once he'd tracked down his prey, he might scream as a puma does. The cry, he had no doubt, would terrify whoever was out there. Maybe he wouldn't have to kill--the sound alone would stop the intruder's heart.
Sensing he was nearly upon his prey, he stopped and inhaled the rich mountain scents that were as much a part of him as the act of breathing. As he did, he caught a hint of something that didn't fit. It wasn't unpleasant, prompting him to turn his head and breathe even deeper. The unfamiliar scent was light and warm. Unexpectedly, his cock took notice, and the back of his neck tingled. His awareness of himself as a man grew, and he acknowledged a hunger spawned in his groin.
Stopping, he slid his hand under the leather flap all Puma men over the age of puberty wore. Practiced as he was in the way and art of self-pleasure, he lightly stroked himself. His cock grew hard and long, but although he was tempted to increase the pressure and work it until he climaxed, he forced himself to release his manhood. To deny freedom to the animal part of his nature. A warrior who put sexual need ahead of his clan's safety wasn't worthy of the name, and the prestige and responsibility of being Beast Master meant as much as life itself to him.
Reminded of his role, he grasped his knife and started forward. Even as his erection forced him to alter his stride, another cool smile lifted the corners of his mouth. He'd been named Beast Master in part because his thoughts and emotions were as much predator as human, and today he was hunting.
Hunting something or someone who smelled of light and warmth. Stalking because it gave him pleasure to do so.
The vulnerable human was crouched at the edge of a stream, looking remote and vulnerable at the same time. From this distance he couldn't tell what, if any weapons the human was carrying. He also wasn't sure of his enemy's size, although judging by the surrounding bushes, the newcomer was smaller than him, but then not many men matched his height. The object of his search had hair longer than his. Silver in color, it was caught with something at the nape of the neck so the strands slid contained down the tanned and slender back. He couldn't stop studying it. Both the stranger's physique and his heightened awareness of his own form made him suspect he was looking at a woman, but none of the other clans who lived near Puma Mountain would send a female alone up here.
She might have been sent as a distraction, but for what purpose? The great mountain fed and housed the Puma clan but was considered worthless to the other clans that preferred the valleys with their rich soils and abundant vegetation, to say nothing of abundant deer and other game. Others feared the Pumas because they attacked and stole whatever they desired but the mountain didn't provide. No other clan was as skilled in fighting, and did whatever they could to not incur the Pumas wrath.
Done with his arguments for why he couldn't be looking at a female when that was exactly what he wanted, he snuck closer. Perhaps, he told himself, he'd come across a young male intent on his man-search. If that was the case, he might leave the youth alone because he understood the need for solitude. He fully expected his prey to abandon the creek and return to the shelter of the trees. Instead, the figure remained crouched and still, his or her attention fixed on the slowly moving water. Where was his, or her, fishing equipment, he forced himself to ponder while continuing his study of the captivating stranger. And why come to Puma Mountain for that?
Confused and intrigued, he put all his attention into slipping ever closer. With each step, the predator side of his nature gained strength. Whoever the newcomer was, he or she would belong to him, become his prize. The trees provided the shelter he needed now, but there was a good thirty feet of open land along the creek's edge which meant he'd soon be charging, if he decided to attack.
Attack. Kill. Feed.
Ber was accustomed to hearing the Beast's voice inside him, and being commanded this way was nothing new. In truth he loved the way strength poured through him with the silent order. When that happened, he hunted, not as a man but as a puma would. His leg muscles became powerful, capable of reaching a speed the man Ber couldn't match. He'd race after his prey, usually a deer, overtake it and leap onto its back. His greater weight would bring the deer to its knees and his arms, burning with power, would snap a slender neck. At times like that he had no need for the weapons his fellow hunters carried. Although he usually hunted alone, his clansmen knew what he was capable of, which was, in part, why they granted him space.
A slender neck?
Sweet but dangerous softness beneath the slender form.
Now that less than a hundred feet separated them, he had no doubt he was looking at a female. Her neck, although partly hidden by her sleek hair, was long and slim and vulnerable, which allowed him to shake off the ridiculous thought that she could endanger him in any way. He was kin to the Beast! Invincible.
She stood. Something about the way she held herself made him think she was weary, but concentrating on that was difficult when her bare limbs and rounded hips called to him. Clawed at him.
She wore a single garment held in place via a piece of whisper-thin leather over her left shoulder. The soft dress covered her breasts and went under her right arm, leaving her right shoulder naked and hugging her generous breasts. The garment ended halfway down her thighs. Like him, she carried a knife at her waist. In addition, a pouch was attached to the band around her small waist.
At the moment she was positioned so her right side was closest to him, her head turned so he could study her. Her eyes were large and bright, luminescent even, reminding him of deer eyes as did her slim arms and legs. Although the muscles in her thighs were nothing compared to his, they looked hard, again putting him in mind of a deer.
Could she be a member of the Deer clan?
It doesn't matter.
Instead of telling the Beast that the newcomer's roots were important to him, he struggled to stop thinking of her as a female. Whatever clan she belonged to, she didn't belong here. But she'd unwisely ventured onto his turf and now she was his, or she would be as soon as he'd captured her.
Capture? No, kill!
I will not, he silently told the Beast. Human doesn't eat human.
Then what use do you have for her?
He only had to acknowledge the restlessness storming through him to find the answer. Sex. Fucking. Lowering her to the ground and parting her legs so he could dive into that soft, warm, mysterious place. Leaving thought behind while becoming all male, growling in fierce, frightening hunger only to find mindless freedom in the act of emptying himself in her.
Because explaining himself would leave him stripped naked and vulnerable and might mean nothing to the Beast, Ber shook off the insistent question. Just the same, the Beast's essence remained with him.
Once more he smiled. Although his hand lingered near his knife, he had no need to feel its weight. When he sent a message to his thighs and calves, they immediately responded. Within two steps he was running at full speed. His blood sang in his veins, and his lungs drew in summer-hot air. Running like this was like flying must be, effortless and spirit-given. Sometimes he wished he could run forever, but right now his attention remained fixed on his prey.
Perhaps she'd sensed him even before he began his charge because she was now racing away from him. She moved in a graceless, zigzag pattern that reminded him of a frightened deer's flight. Keeping pace with her required him to concentrate on what he was doing and not totally on her. Still, his cock tightened at the sight of naked legs and pumping arms. They hadn't traveled far before he concluded he was indeed faster than her, but he felt no need to bring her down, yet. She was already his, and yet she wasn't, a prize just out of reach, victory deliberately delayed.
He thought she might scream, but she remained silent, something else she had in common with deer. He'd heard a fawn's sad bleating when it was separated from its mother and the faint whistling a dying deer made, and didn't want to hear either of those sounds from her.
Did she enjoy the competition? With her runner's legs and slender body, she was built for movement. Even if she likened him to a predator, perhaps she relished these moments when the outcome remained in doubt. She could delude herself into believing she had a chance, tell herself that if she put out a little more effort she'd escape. Or perhaps she'd taken in his form and wanted it. Was even now imagining the press of his cock against her magical channel.
Then she glanced over her shoulder and he saw that her eyes were a rich brown and understood she didn't want any of this to be happening.
But he did! With every cell of his being, he embraced this moment and the potential of those to come.
And when he sent the challenge to his legs and they responded, he embraced that as well.
He was ten feet behind her, five, four. His bare feet slapped against the ground, and her harsh breathing meshed with his. She no longer smelled as she had before but carried the intoxicating scents of determination and fear.
And sex. She was a sexual being, as was he.