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Leap of Faith: Book Two
He can run, but he can’t hide…
Centuries ago, Hawk made a terrible mistake which has haunted him since. Fear of responsibility and feelings of unworthiness leads him to denying the mate Wha-tay showed him in a vision. So now Hawk runs his bar, has casual sex, and never, ever dates men with blond hair and brown eyes. But then Simon walks into his bar, and the future he’s feared is about to end up in a brawl if Hawk doesn’t do something—fast.
Simon Carter has a smart mouth and a bulldog temperament. So when Hawk runs, Simon pursues the sexy man, only to be rejected. Just as Simon decides to give up, someone—or something—visits him to change his mind… and scares him to death. Now Simon is backpedaling, and Hawk is in pursuit.
Desperate to reassure Simon and keep him safe, Hawk is forced to reveal his secrets before he’s ready. Can Simon learn to accept things aren’t always as they seem? Is the connection between them strong enough to help Hawk overcome centuries of pain? The only way the two men will move beyond Hawk’s past is for both of them to take a leap of faith.
ON A star-filled night, the full moon shone brightly over the untamed land. Predators—nothing but shadows in the dark—moved silently through the forest, hunting for unsuspecting prey. A symphony echoed all around: tree frogs sang, crickets chirped, and a raccoon prowled in search of something to fill his empty belly. A barred owl hooted, and his call reverberated into the night. Bats silently dipped and spun as they hunted for food on the air currents as danger lurked.
A mysterious shadow moved through the forest as it tracked the docile prey not far beyond the safety of the trees. Out on the moon-draped landscape, the plains reached for miles. The buffalo stood silently as the night held the land tight in its grip.
In this wild land, there was only one creature that walked upright, stalking the flat plains and rolling hills on two legs. The Great Spirit, called Wha-tay, had created Mother Earth. Then her children, The People, inhabited the land and settled at The Tree of Life—the soul of Mother Earth.
Wha-tay bound each child born to The People with a spirit. Once bound, they had the ability to use the gifts the spirit had and take the shape of that spirit’s earthly form. Children of Wha-tay lived in harmony with the creatures around them. The land provided what they needed to survive, and they gave thanks for the sacrifices made to support them.
“It’s too bright, Mapiya. Do something.”
“I am, Chetan. But if you rush me, I may accidentally hit you with lightning.”
“You haven’t had an accident with your powers since you were a young child.”
Mapiya just looked at Chetan.
Chetan rolled his eyes. “As usual your humor is as sharp as a dull blade.”
Mapiya cleared her thoughts, letting the words that would bring her powers fill her mind. Closing her eyes, she gave her body over to her totem spirit and called to the Spirits that ruled the air. Taking a deep breath, she began to chant. A cool, gentle breeze wrapped around her body.
The clear nighttime sky slowly filled with rolling clouds that blocked the moonbeams. The silvery light faded as the night darkened. Mapiya’s long hair whipped above her head as the breeze strengthened. Opening milky white eyes, glowing with power, she cast the land into shadows.
“Impressive,” Chetan whispered. “That’s good, Mapiya. The moon’s behind the clouds, and the land is cloaked in darkness.”
Mapiya turned to Chetan, a smirk on her face. “Try not to stumble over your own feet now, warrior.”
“I’m more worried about you hitting me with a bolt of light from the sky.”
“It’s crossed my mind.”
A low growl drew Chetan’s attention to a shadow that parted from the darkness. A sleek black cougar paced forward, nudging its head against Chetan’s deerskin-clad leg. He scratched the cougar behind the ear. “Ready to hunt, are you? The others ready?”
The black cougar, known as Hania in his human form, glanced back to the forest. There in the darkness, Chetan could see the glowing eyes of predators staring at him. Squinting, he saw several of The Children in shifted form. Chetan sniffed the air. Unless he was mistaken, there were golden cougars, wolves, coyotes, and several bobcats.
Along with those were animals that did not roam their land. More than a few big cats they had no name for waited silently too. Their coats were a reddish-orange with dark stripes. This was the largest of the big cats and weighed a vast amount. Other shifters had horselike bodies but were covered in black and white stripes.
Then there were shifters who resembled deer, but they had light brown coats with white underparts with distinctive black stripes on the sides. Their horns were long and pointed, with slight curvature. A few owls perched on branches, waiting for the signal. They would be their warning system. Behind them were more of their tribe in human form, carrying bows and other weapons.
“Mapiya, make sure the breeze doesn’t carry our scent to the buffalo. Keep our smell downwind.”
“This is not my first hunt.”
“Still.” Chetan shrugged as he turned to the group of predators that waited. “Everyone in shifted form, split up and come at the herd from the west and east. Those of us not shifted will get ahead of the herd. As they pass by, we’ll try to take as many as we can once the buffalo have stampeded toward us.”
The black cougar made a huffing noise, and Chetan glanced down at him. “Give us time to get into position, Hania. Remember, only take the weak and the old ones.”
Another warrior in human form, Lootah, shifted his bow higher onto his shoulder. “I’ll leave a little before the women finish skinning to make sure the fires are ready for the celebration.”
“Thank you. That would be helpful.” Chetan nodded. Lootah’s totem was one of those big cats for which they had no name. They assumed the animal existed somewhere in the world.
Chetan stared at a very young brave shifting from foot to foot. “Isi, you’re to stay with me at all times.”
Isi rolled his eyes. “Is that really—”
Chetan held up his hand, halting Isi’s words. “Yes. I promised your mother I’d keep an eye on you.”
Isi’s bottom lip stuck out. “You’re not my father.”
“True, I’m not. But your father’s with the other shifters, so responsibility for your safety passed to me. You’ve never stalked a herd this large, and I don’t want you getting hurt. Give me any problems, and I swear I’ll tie you to the nearest tree. Understand?”
Chetan stared at the young warrior.
Isi rolled his eyes but changed his answer to show the respect due. “Yes, Chetan.”
By the Great Spirit, this kid was going to be the death of him. He’d been involved in Isi’s life since the young brave had been born. This was his sister’s only child since Wha-tay hadn’t blessed Isi’s parents with more children. Chetan let his eyes wander over Isi. Isi was a man according to their ways, but he was still so young minded.
Isi didn’t show the maturity seen from the other young warriors, which worried Chetan. Privately he felt the young one was spoiled. But that wasn’t the only thing preying on Chetan’s mind. He glanced at his sister, Alaqa, who waited silently with several other women. She and her mate, Niyol, were among several members thinking about leaving the tribe to explore the wilderness, as were quite a few of the older braves. It was insanity. They wanted to leave the very foundation of their lives. He didn’t understand it.
A breeze caressed his cheek, refocusing his attention, and he gave an unvoiced prayer of thanks for the upcoming bounty. The buffalo provided everything they needed. Without it chance of survival was nil. The buffalo’s hides covered the tepees and made their beds, blankets, and winter coats.
Their drums, which pounded long into the night, also came from the hides. No part was wasted. They dropped red-hot stones into the animals’ stomachs, and those became their soup kettles. Cups came from the buffalo’s horns; the knives were his bones. Bowstrings and thread were made from the sinews. The ribs were fashioned into sleds for the young ones and hoofs became rattles. The buffalo’s mighty skull was their sacred altar.
Chetan took one last glance over the noiseless landscape and nodded. It was time. Softly he spoke, “After the hunt, we’ll give thanks to the mighty buffalo for his sacrifices, and to Wha-tay for her gift of such beasts. May the wind carry your arrow, may your aim be true, and may we all return safely.”
Chetan and the other braves moved like ghosts across the land to the locations they’d picked out several days before. While in his hawk form, he would’ve been useful with his keen eyesight, but his ability with the bow was unmatched. Between the bows and the spears, the males of his tribe were deadly.
He glanced at the sky. Overhead an owl tracked him and the others. Time crawled as all the braves took their positions, and the owl returned to the trees. Long moments passed as he readied himself for what was to come. Suddenly the energy in the air changed, became more electric. The ground rumbled under his feet as panicked buffalo charged across the plains.
Dust filled the air. As he left his hiding place, the strong, musky scent of their prey assaulted his nose. The excited, high-pitched cries of many braves echoed endlessly, causing more confusion among the buffalo. Fear and anticipation heightened his sense of awareness. His blood pumped through his veins in a pounding rush. Oh, how he wished he flew on the air currents so he could watch. What a sight it must be.
He chased the stampeding animals. Everything was working well. The shifted tribe members moved the herd the way they wanted. Chaos ruled the buffalo. Clutching his bow, Chetan took aim at the magnificent beast that charged past him and let his arrow fly. Power raced through his body as his arrow landed true.
The thrill of the hunt washed over him; his heart pounded in his chest. Nothing made him feel more alive short of taking to the skies. Sounds assaulted his ears—the dying shrieks of the animals, the howls of the wolves, the screams of the cougars, and the steady fall of hooves coming close….
Much too close.
“Oh spirits,” Chetan whispered. He’d let his attention drift from his nephew, and now…. His own cries joined the madness as a monstrous bull darted from the stampede and charged Isi.
The maddened animal had several spears embedded in its body. The night was cool, and steam blew from its nose. The rank smell of the animal nearly gagged Chetan. As reality slowed to a crawl, he saw Isi standing still, his hands by his side, staring. Sound distorted and warped as Chetan yelled for Isi to move, draw his bow, do something. His voice was hopelessly lost in the pandemonium raging around him.
Isi stood frozen as the buffalo charged.