"I thought I wouldn't feel this way for a long time?" My uncertainty made the words a question. "But I stillwant you."
He blinked in shock. "How can you even concentrate on that? Aren't you unbearably thirsty?"
Of course I was now, now that he'd brought it up again!
I tried to swallow and then sighed, closing my eyes like I had before to help me concentrate. I let my senses range out around me, tensed this time in case of another onslaught of the delicious taboo scent.
Edward dropped his hands, not even breathing while I listened farther and farther out into the web of green life, sifting through the scents and sounds for something not totally repellant to my thirst. There was a hint of something different, a faint trail to the east___
My eyes flashed open, but my focus was still on sharper senses as I turned and darted silently eastward. The ground sloped steeply upward almost at once, and I ran in a hunting crouch, close to the ground, taking to the trees when that was easier. I sensed rather than heard Edward with me, flowing quietly through the woods, letting me lead.
The vegetation thinned as we climbed higher; the scent of pitch and resin grew more powerful, as did the trail I followed - it was a warm scent, sharper than the smell of the elk and more appealing. A few seconds more and I could hear the muted padding of immense feet, so much subtler than the crunch of hooves. The sound was up - in the branches rather than on the ground. Automatically I darted into the boughs as well, gaining the strategic higher position, halfway up a towering silver fir.
The soft thud of paws continued stealthily beneath me now; the rich scent was very close. My eyes pinpointed the movement linked with the sound, and I saw the tawny hide of the great cat slinking along the wide branch of a spruce just down and to the left of my perch. He was big - easily four times my mass. His eyes were intent on the ground beneath; the cat hunted, too. I caught the smell of something smaller, bland next to the aroma of my prey, cowering in brush below the tree. The lion's tail twitched spasmodically as he prepared to spring.
With a light bound, I sailed through the air and landed on the lion's branch. He felt the shiver of the wood and whirled, shrieking surprise and defiance. He clawed the space between us, his eyes bright with fury. Half-crazed with
thirst, I ignored the exposed fangs and the hooked claws and launched myself at him, knocking us both to the forest floor.
It wasn't much of a fight.
His raking claws could have been caressing fingers for all the impact they had on my skin. His teeth could find no purchase against my shoulder or my throat. His weight was nothing. My teeth unerringly sought his throat, and his instinctive resistance was pitifully feeble against my strength. My jaws locked easily over the precise point where the heat flow concentrated.
It was effortless as biting into butter. My teeth were steel razors; they cut through the fur and fat and sinews like they weren't there.
The flavor was wrong, but the blood was hot and wet and it soothed the ragged, itching thirst as I drank in an eager rush. The cat's struggles grew more and more feeble, and his screams choked off with a gurgle. The warmth of the blood radiated throughout my whole body, heating even my fingertips and toes.
The lion was finished before I was. The thirst flared again when he ran dry, and I shoved his carcass off my body in disgust. How could I still be thirsty after all that?
I wrenched myself erect in one quick move. Standing, I realized I was a bit of a mess. I wiped my face off on the back of my arm and tried to fix the dress. The claws that had been so ineffectual against my skin had had more success with the thin satin.
"Hmm," Edward said. I looked up to see him leaning casually against a tree trunk, watching me with a thoughtful look on his face.
"I guess I could have done that better." I was covered in dirt, my hair knotted, my dress bloodstained and hanging in tatters. Edward didn't come home from hunting trips looking like this.
"You did perfectly fine," he assured me. "It's just that... it was much more difficult for me to watch than it should have been."
I raised my eyebrows, confused.
"It goes against the grain," he explained, "letting you wrestle with lions. I was having an anxiety attack the whole time."
"I know. Old habits die hard. I like the improvements to your dress, though."
If I could have blushed, I would have. I changed the subject. "Why am I still thirsty?"
"Because you're young."
I sighed. "And I don't suppose there are any other mountain lions nearby."
"Plenty of deer, though."
I made a face. "They don't smell as good."
"Herbivores. The meat-eaters smell more like humans," he explained.
"Not that much like humans," I disagreed, trying not to remember.
"We could go back," he said solemnly, but there was a teasing light in his eye. "Whoever it was out there, if they were men, they probably wouldn't even mind death if you were the one delivering it." His gaze ran over my ravaged dress again. "In fact, they would think they were already dead and gone to heaven the moment they saw you."
I rolled my eyes and snorted. "Let's go hunt some stinking herbivores."
We found a large herd of mule deer as we ran back toward home. He hunted with me this time, now that I'd gotten the hang of it. I brought down a large buck, making nearly as much of a mess as I had with the lion. He'd finished with two before I was done with the first, not a hair ruffled, not a spot on his white shirt. We chased the scattered and terrified herd, but instead of feeding again, this time I watched carefully to see how he was able to hunt so neatly.
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