Pride Mountain...for as long as any of them could remember, Pride Mountain had been theirs. Not all of them stayed there, but even those who left, they knew Pride Mountain was home.
It wasn't a true mountain, more of a big hill, but for Michigan, it seemed plenty mountainous enough. And it was theirs...the mountain itself and the land that stretched around for it for miles.
It had been for years, going back nearly two centuries, almost since the first time people settled in the region.
They didn't like change.
Change could be dangerous--that was one thing none of them ever forgot. Change could bring predators into their midst, for the sake of fame and notoriety, for the sake of fortune...or for the sake of mayhem.
But it hadn't been them that had brought this latest change.
He scented it first, the powerful sour scent of fear. The moonlight filtered down through the canopy of leaves as he wove silently through the trees. Fear, sweat, blood...somebody was hurt. Scared.
She was running--he could hear branches snapping, her harsh ragged breathing. A soft cry when she fell. Leaves crunched as she pushed herself back up to her feet.
Soft, desperate little sobs. Those cries barely even sounded human. More like an animal weak and terrified, soft little whimpers and mewls that sounded disturbingly like the plaintive cries of a cougar's young. He knew when the others became aware of her.
Suddenly, he wasn't alone as he moved closer to the source of the disturbance.
He glanced over his shoulder at his dad. Although he was nearly as tall as his father, he had yet to fill out much. At nineteen, he stood nearly six three and was as lanky as a scarecrow. But he was strong. He knew how to hunt, how to fight.
How to protect.
That was his job. It was their job and they took it seriously.
There was somebody else. Somebody chasing her. He stank--reeked of blood and violence.
"She's hurt," he said, his voice barely a whisper. "I smell blood. He's chasing her."
Nausea roiled through him as he scented something else. Lust. It was like a fever boiling in the man's blood.
His father breathed deeply, his eyes darkening as he murmured, "Yes, I know. Go back to the others. We'll handle this."
We...his father, Ryan Pride, and the three men that served under him. Not a king, exactly, but definitely the leader. And Duncan would one day take his place.
"No." Shaking his head, Duncan turned his eyes back in the direction of the disturbing scents of blood, fear, and violence. Blood, he was used to. After all, they had come up Pride Mountain on this moonlit night to hunt. But he couldn't ever recall smelling such fear.
"No, Dad." He shook his head a second time. "I found her. I have to help her."
It was long standing custom--the one who caught the scent of the prey led the kill. But it wasn't so much the kill he wanted, not yet. It was the need to protect.
Behind him, he heard his father's quiet sigh, sensed his frustration. He had to do this, though...she needed him.