Barbarian's Mate(10)

By: Ruby Dixon


“Josie?” Tiffany whispers.

I guess it’s too late to fake indigestion again. I sit up and look over at Haeden. He doesn’t look a bit tired, all big, muscular arms and irritation. I scowl at him. “Really? You couldn’t wait like, ten minutes for us to keep on going? You had to come back and set me off?”

“Me? You are blaming me for this?” The look on his face is both irritated and incredulous.

“Josie?” Kira asks. “Don’t…wait. You guys resonated?”

“Not by choice,” I say, angry. Haeden came back on purpose to force my hand, didn’t he? “And we’re not doing a damn thing about it. I’m not his mate and he’s not mine.”

“Oh my God,” Tiffany breathes. “What are you going to do?”

Pray for a miracle? Hope a rock falls on him? Something? I look up and his gaze is burning into me. My nipples prick and I feel my thighs quiver, and I bite back a groan. I’d say I’m not going to do anything…but I don’t think my cootie is going to allow it.

“I don’t know,” I say honestly, and hold the baby closer.





HAEDEN


The group is somber as we trudge through the snow. No one seems to know what to say to me, and Jo-see is pretending I do not exist. The mood changes as we crest one of the last hills between the tribal cave and our location, and Rokan jogs forward. “Ho!”

I nod at him and give him a half-armed embrace of greeting. “My friend. It is good to see you.”

He nods and scans the line of people straggling distantly behind me. “I am glad you have returned. All of you. Especially the females.” He gives me a wicked grin. “It is lonely in a cave full of mates and babies, and you at the South cave keeping all the young females to yourselves.”

It takes all of my power not to shove him down into the snow. I am shocked at the surge of jealousy that powers through me. He does not know of what he speaks. “They are no longer unmated,” I growl at him, and then I storm past. I ignore the confused question he sends my way and head on to the caves. Let the others answer him. I am in no mood.


I continue on until I am in the caves. There are no family members to greet me. There are many friends, but my mother and my father and my brothers died in the khui-sickness of many years ago. I am alone.

Vektal approaches me, smile wide. “I am glad to have all of my tribe home,” he says, glancing behind me. “Are the others close behind?”

“Close,” I agree, terse. “Which cave is to be mine?”

“The hunters—“

“I will not be staying with the hunters,” I tell him, and I feel a surge of bittersweet pride at being able to say the words. “My khui has chosen a mate. I will need a cave for my family.”

The look of surprise on his face is gratifying. “Who—“

“Jo-see.”

His eyes narrow, but that is the only reaction he gives. He is my chief and he is wise and knows when to be silent. After a moment, he nods. “Come, then. I will show you. We have several caves that have opened up, thanks to Har-loh and her ma-sheen.”

I pick out one of the larger caves for my new home. It’s toward the very back of the cave system, tucked away in the new section that has been cut from the smooth walls. Here, the rock is rougher and small rock icicles hang from the ceiling, but the cave I select is roomy and private and will hold a large bed of furs as well as plenty of room for hunting equipment and supplies. It is a good cave. Jo-see cannot help but be pleased, even if she must share it with me.

Vektal leaves when it is clear I am not in a mood to talk, and I set down my pack and unroll my bed furs. My cock stirs at the thought of Jo-see lying in them, and I resist the urge to take myself in hand again. I did three times last night and it did not ease the ache. Only claiming my mate and planting my kit inside her will make the need go away.

Or the death of my khui.

I rub a hand over my chest, my mind full of bad memories from many, many seasons ago, back when I was newly made a hunter. Of Zalah and her pleasure-mate Derlen laughing by the fire, feeding each other. Of the look of dread on her face when she realized her breast was resonating to me and not to her pleasure-mate. She was many years my elder and much in love with Derlen, but my khui did not care. It wanted her. It hit me, hard and fast, and I was young and foolish enough to assume that she would comply with the demand of the khui.

But Zalah was always complicated. She pushed me away, said she needed time to think. And because I had been a foolish boy, I gave her time. I watched from afar as she went to her pleasure-mate’s furs every night. I watched with longing as she ignored me, trying to avoid the demands of her khui. I remember approaching her, determined to mate and slake the burning need in my body, only to find her in the arms of her lover. And because I had been young, I turned away. I waited for her to come to me.