The desert wind played softly with Shima's untamed curls. The huntress again pushed a particular stubborn strand from her eyes.
"Ow . . . Akan, stop!"
The baby in her shoulder pack had found a fist full of the tempting locks. Shima sighed and reached back to free herself. Warm hands brushed against hers. "Here, kitling, tug and pull on this."
Akan let out a squeal of joy. "You'll spoil him," Shima chided. She turned to face her lifemate, Kigen. "What did you give him to play with this time?"
"A hood spider."
This time the mother shrieked as she loosened the straps and swung the child to her chest. To her relief, her son clung onto a cloth doll and not a hairy eight leg.
Kigen's face was red with laughter as tears streamed down his face. "You should have seen yourself."
Shima returned the grin. "Laugh now, my love, however I would be careful to check your bed each night."
"How am I going to survive this hunt without you?" Kigen wiped a hand across his damp eyes.
Returning the baby to her back, Shima stepped into his open arms. She clung tightly.
*Tani, what's wrong?*
The use of her soul name brought her eyes to meet his. Within the liquid pools he saw fear.
*Yor . . . stay.* Then ashamed to think she had demanded such, Shima turned away.
Kigen caught her arm. *You know I can't. My tracking skills are needed.*
*Then let me hunt at your side. My mother can care for Akan.*
*You are his mother. We will have many hunts together.*
*I'll do as you ask.* Shima's assent was half hearted.
*I will be back in your arms before the sun sets in eight days. Four days to find the herd and four days to return.*
*Must you always track by yourself . . . take my brother with you.*
*You are the only one I allow at my side. It is faster this way. As soon as I pinpoint the herd, the hunters can make their kills.*
Smiling sadly, Shima bent down and patted the head of the large dune hound at their feet. "Take care of him, Tora." The big hound seemed to nod his head and she felt some comfort. Shima helped her mate prepare for the hunt.
When finished, again they embraced. Without letting go, Kigen touched the cheek of his now sleeping son. *It never ceases to amaze me.*
*What, my love?*
*That I could have created something so fragile and soft.*
Shima laughed. "You are not as harsh as you think." She tugged playfully at his tunic. "If we had the time . . . "
Kigen snared the frisky hand. "We will have plenty of time," he growled. "When I return."
"Are you to leave tonight, Kigen?"
The mates turned to face their chieftess. "Yes, Onsha," Kigen replied.
"Good, the hunting party will follow less than a day behind."
They waited until she left and then hugged one last time.
*Hunt well, Yor.*
*By sunset in eight days, Tani.*
*I shall be waiting.*
Three years later . . .
Dusk was upon the camp. Shima stepped out of the tent. Behind her Akan slept cuddling a small ragged toy. The huntress had helped bring back enough meat to keep bellies full for a week. It had been a good day, now there was something she had to do. Outside the encampment Shima stood facing the sun until only a faint scarlet trace remained.
Her mental cry went unanswered. She waited until the glow faded, then returned to her tent.
He had promised to come back at sunset.
She had promised to be waiting.