Zna suppressed the growl growing in her throat as the Handler locked the collar around her throat. Of all the humiliating and maddening parts of the Hunt, having a collar locked around her throat like she was some kind of house cat, was the worst. The Handlers always had masks on to protect them from any kind of retribution. But they couldn’t suppress their smell.
“Do you ever get tired of being a Handler, Tosca?” Zna asked the hooded Handler.
“As much as you are tired of the hunt. We each have to do what we must to survive,” Tosca answered.
The Handler was a friend of Zna. They had known each other since childhood. Tosca was from the species Grlica. Zna had heard off-world hunters call him a turtle. She was sure that was misspoken. Tosca did have a beak instead of whiskers like she did. He also had scaly skin and a hard shell on his back. But he also had wings. Tiny useless wings, but wings nevertheless.
Zna was knocked out of her revelry when Tosca pressed a tiny object into her hand. She opened her hands slowly, under cover of their two bodies. Shiny and hard, a metal key rested in her palm.
“What is this?” Zna asked.
“The key to the collar,” Tosca whispered as he pretended to adjust the collar. “You know I see visions sometimes.”
“Yeah, your mother was a Psy. So?”
“I don’t know anything precise. All I know you will need the key and,” Tosca leaned in. The mask touched Zna’s check. She felt Tosca’s beak touching her, kissing her cheek. “This is good bye. You will not see me again. I want to give you a present, that is why the key.”
Zna placed the little piece of metal in one of her pockets in the jumpsuit she wore.
Tosca backed away as the hunter approached.
Zna inhaled steadying herself for the first look at the man who would hunt her, and if she lost, mate with her. She always dreaded this instant.
The last hunt she ran the male was not only humanoid, but he was white and pasty as though he had not gone outside for several moon cycles. His belly hung over the belt that held his trousers up. His face was jowly and pock-marked. Zna had suspected that he was a hunter more due to money paid in the dark than hunting skills. It would have been an easy hunt if it had not been for the fancy tech traps he used. She had nearly lost her leg with one of the traps he set. However, she won and the Mister had his money.
Turning toward the harsh, solid thunk of boots walking along the wooden platform, Zna let her breath out with a whoosh. She had to consciously remember to start breathing again.
The hunter coming at her was breath-taking. His powerful well-muscled body moved with easy grace. The rich outlines of his shoulders strained against the fabric of his hunting jacket. His compelling blue eyes pierced raked over her taking in her body in one swift glance. The set of his chin suggested a stubborn streak. The hunter smiled at one of the people sitting beside the platform, not at her. His teeth, even and white, contrasted pleasingly with his olive skin. This hunter spent a lot of time active and outside. He had an air of authority and the appearance of one who demanded instant obedience.
The tantalizing smell of his spicy after-shave and the musk of his masculinity wafted to Zna. She felt her body respond to his pheromones. Zna bit into her tongue to put her body back where it belonged, ready to win a hunt. She raised her eyes to find him watching her. His captured her eyes with his, holding her mesmerized for an instant, studying her. The light of desire flashed in his eyes. He looked at her for a sign of objection or acceptance. Zna kept her face passive and her eyes hooded. She wanted to give nothing, not a shred of advantage to the hunter.
“Well, now, let’s get this thing on the road,” the hunter said breaking his gaze away from Zna.
The referee, a member of the Ministry, came forward. “Lovac, this is the lioness you will be hunting, Zna Menita. She has triumphed in seventeen hunts. She will give you a good run.”
Lovac laughed. The sound rumbled deep within his chest. Zna felt his laugh all the way down to her toes. The last time she felt this draw toward a male was when her husband was alive.
The remembrance of her husband, his mane matted with blood from a hunter’s machete, dying in her lap made her blood run cold. It was this type of human that destroyed her family. It was this type of human that held her daughter hostage.
Zna vowed that no matter how much she was drawn to this human male, she would not lose this hunt. She would not be mated to a despised human. And to make the thirty tick advantage she would kill this Lovac if necessary.