King Terfel had given her very strict orders: her pack was not to become a female dominated pack. The order had riled her, made her growl, but Regent Gauwyn—the king's chosen mate—had calmed her, as he usually did.
"It isn't out of a desire to continue the oppression of the women," Gauwyn had said with a smile. The Ice Elf, so different from his Wood Elf mate, had a smile that could calm a rabid wolverine. "It's about equality, Sasha. It would make you no better than the men who forced alpha females to behave as kicked puppies for millennia."
And, damn him, he was right.
The House of Wood was beginning to see how the interloper to their ways was almost always right when it came to such matters. Maybe the Wise Woman had been right: change came with an icy hand.
Sasha was an anomaly. She was one of a handful of alpha females in the House of Wood that hadn't had the alpha beaten out of her over centuries of abuse. Out of women capable of being the alpha of a new pack, she had been chosen due to seniority. Age, it seemed, still had its benefits.
Pale hands slid over her shoulders, looped around her neck, and Sasha leaned back into the warm scent of fur and heather.
Aneira had been running in the woods.
Sasha tilted her head back and smiled up at her lover. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too," Aneira whispered, dipping down to brush her lips over Sasha's. "But, I understood. A summons from the king could not be ignored. What did he want?"
Sasha rubbed her hands along Aneira's sun-kissed arms. "He has asked me to form a new pack. I am to turn in initial numbers within the week."
Aneira stilled against her. "You will be pack alpha?"
"Yes." Sasha smiled. "You will be the pack alpha's mate."
A hesitant smile curved Aneira's lips. "That's a lot of responsibility."
Sasha smelled the uncertainty like a cloying bramble of dying berry bushes. She sat up and pulled away, frowning at her list. The one person she'd wanted to share her fear and joy with wasn't happy about Terfel's decision. "Yes, it is. I think I've earned the responsibility. I've been clawing my way up for as long as I can remember, and I think it's high time someone noticed." She ground her teeth together for a moment before her mind reached out to Aneira's, whispering thought-to-thought, I thought you would be proud he chose me.
Aneira knelt beside her, looked up at her with brown eyes as rich as bear's fur. "I am proud," she breathed. "I'm proud that he has given you this place of honor, but... I worry about my place now. I am no alpha, Sasha, and I have never wanted to be."
"You don't have to be," Sasha said, combing her fingers through Aneira's golden hair. Scalp to shoulders, over and over. "Not every alpha's mate is an alpha themselves. Regent Gauwyn—"
"Is not one of us," Aneria finished. "The queen, before she died, she was as strong an Elf as the king. They were as close to equals as I have ever seen. I am not your equal now, and I never can be," she said, eyes downcast.
"Please, don't." Sasha cupped Aneira's face, brought their lips together. As her tongue slipped between Aneira's sweet, willing lips, their minds touched once more, thoughts passing effortlessly between them. I love you. Your place is with me, and mine with you. Don't give up before we've even tried to take this step together. Please, Aneira, I need you now as much as before.
Aneira moaned, soft and pliant against her. When Aneira's voice sounded in her mind, it was as tender and heated as a summer breeze. I need you, too. I don't want to be left behind.
Sasha stood up, pulling Aneira with her. "I will never leave you behind," she promised, leading Aneira back toward their bed. "Never."
It took little effort or time to strip, to bare their bodies, and Sasha was grateful for that. Words could be so useless sometimes, but with her hands, her mouth, she could show Aneira how necessary she was. Aneira was her heart, her soul, and Sasha couldn't imagine her life without the willowy, quiet Elf. Aneira had been everything Sasha herself couldn't be, and that had drawn Sasha like a moth to a candle's flame.
With tenderness that belied her true strength, Sasha pressed Aneira down to the bed, her lips tracing along the elegant curve of Aneira's throat. The moan that rumbled under her kisses thrilled Sasha, sent a shiver of need through her. There was nothing like this, the soft sighs from pale pink lips and the eager arch of sun-kissed skin. Aneira gave herself utterly, and Sasha took without a second thought. Her lips trailed down Aneira's throat, teeth nipping at the fluttering pulse. After a moment, she moved lower, letting her tongue lick broadly over the fine curves of Aneira's collarbones. Heat settled thickly between her thighs, and she moaned, her hands moving over the beautiful curves of Aneira's body.