The wind of my speed blew my hair and my torn dress out behind me, and, though I knew it shouldn't, it felt warm against my skin. Just as the rough forest floor shouldn't feel like velvet beneath my bare soles, and the limbs that whipped against my skin shouldn't feel like caressing feathers.
The forest was much more alive than I'd ever known - small creatures whose existence I'd never guessed at teemed in the leaves around me. They all grew silent after we passed, their breath quickening in fear. The animals had a much wiser reaction to our scent than humans seemed to. Certainly, it'd had the opposite effect on me.
I kept waiting to feel winded, but my breath came effortlessly. I waited for the burn to begin in my muscles, but my strength only seemed to increase as I grew accustomed to my stride. My leaping bounds stretched longer, and soon he was trying to keep up with me. I laughed again, exultant, when I heard him falling behind. My naked feet touched the ground so infrequently now it felt more like flying than running.
"Belial he called dryly, his voice even, lazy. I could hear nothing else; he had stopped.
I briefly considered mutiny.
But, with a sigh, I whirled and skipped lightly to his side, some hundred yards back. I looked at him expectantly. He was smiling, with one eyebrow raised. He was so beautiful that I could only stare.
"Did you want to stay in the country?" he asked, amused. "Or were you planning to continue on to Canada this afternoon?"
"This is fine," I agreed, concentrating less on what he was saying and more on the mesmerizing way his lips moved when he spoke. It was hard not to become sidetracked with everything fresh in my strong new eyes. "What are we hunting?"
"Elk. I thought something easy for your first time ..." He trailed off when my eyes narrowed at the word easy.
But I wasn't going to argue; I was too thirsty. As soon as I'd started to think about the dry burn in my throat, it was all I could think about. Definitely getting worse. My mouth felt like four o'clock on a June afternoon in Death Valley.
"Where?" I asked, scanning the trees impatiently. Now that I had given the thirst my attention, it seemed to taint every other thought in my head, leaking into the more pleasant thoughts of running and Edward's lips and kissing and... scorching thirst. I couldn't get away from it.
"Hold still for a minute," he said, putting his hands lightly on my shoulders. The urgency of my thirst receded momentarily at his touch.
"Now close your eyes," he murmured. When I obeyed, he raised his hands to my face, stroking my cheekbones. I felt my breathing speed and waited briefly again for the blush that wouldn't come.
"Listen," Edward instructed. "What do you hear?"
Everything,I could have said; his perfect voice, his breath, his lips brushing together as he spoke, the whisper of birds preening their feathers in the treetops, their fluttering heartbeats, the maple leaves scraping together, the faint clicking of ants following each other in a long line up the bark of the nearest tree. But I knew he meant something specific, so I let my ears range outward, seeking something different than the small hum of life that surrounded me. There was an open space near us - the wind had a different sound across the exposed grass - and a small creek, with a rocky bed. And there, near the noise of the water, was the splash of lapping tongues, the loud thudding of heavy hearts, pumping thick streams of blood___
It felt like the sides of my throat had sucked closed.
"By the creek, to the northeast?" I asked, my eyes still shut.
"Yes." His tone was approving. "Now... wait for the breeze again and... what do you smell?"
Mostly him - his strange honey-lilac-and-sun perfume. But also the rich, earthy smell of rot and moss, the resin in the evergreens, the warm, almost nutty aroma of the small rodents cowering beneath the tree roots. And then, reaching out again, the clean smell of the water, which was surprisingly unappealing despite my thirst. I focused toward the water and found the scent that must have gone with the lapping noise and the pounding heart. Another warm smell, rich and tangy, stronger than the others. And yet nearly as unappealing as the brook. I wrinkled my nose.
He chuckled. "I know - it takes some getting used to."
"Three?" I guessed.
"Five. There are two more in the trees behind them."
"What do I do now?"
His voice sounded like he was smiling. "What do you feel like doing?"
I thought about that, my eyes still shut as I listened and breathed in the scent. Another bout of baking thirst intruded on my awareness, and suddenly the warm, tangy odor wasn't quite so objectionable. At least it would be something hot and wet in my desiccated mouth. My eyes snapped open.
"Don't think about it," he suggested as he lifted his hands off my face and took a step back. "Just follow your
I let myself drift with the scent, barely aware of my movement as I ghosted down the incline to the narrow meadow where the stream flowed. My body shifted forward automatically into a low crouch as I hesitated at the fern-fringed edge of the trees. I could see a big buck, two dozen antler points crowning his head, at the stream's edge, and the shadow-spotted shapes of the four others heading eastward into forest at a leisurely pace.
I centered myself around the scent of the male, the hot spot in his shaggy neck where the warmth pulsed strongest. Only thirty yards - two or three bounds - between us. i tensed myself for the first leap.
But as my muscles bunched in preparation, the wind shifted, blowing stronger now, and from the south. I didn't stop to think, hurtling out of the trees in a path perpendicular to my original plan, scaring the elk into the forest, racing after a new fragrance so attractive that there wasn't a choice. It was compulsory.
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