The wolf who scared Anna so badly hadn't wanted to leave, but he wasn't dominant enough to do anything about it as long as Charles was watching. Which was why Charles waited a few seconds and then quietly followed him down the stairs.

The next flight down, he found Justin standing in front of a door prepared to knock on it. He was pretty sure it was Kara's door. Somehow it didn't surprise him that Justin would look for another way to punish Anna for his forced retreat. Charles scuffed his boot on the stairs and watched the other wolf stiffen and drop his arm.

"Kara's not home," Charles told him. "And hurting her would not be advisable."

Charles wondered if he should just kill him now... but he had a reputation that his father couldn't afford for him to lose. He only killed those who broke the Marrok's rules, and he only did it after their guilt was established.

Anna had told his father that Justin was the wolf who changed Alan MacKenzie Frazier against his will, but since there were so many things wrong in this pack there might have been mitigating circumstances. Anna had been a werewolf for three years and no one had told her that she could not have children. If Anna knew so little, then it was more than possible that this wolf didn't know the rules either.

Whether the wolf was ignorant of his crimes or not, Charles still wanted to kill him. When Justin turned around to face him, Charles let his beast peer out of his eyes and watched the other wolf blanch and start back down the stairs.

"You should find Leo and give him the message," Charles said. This time he let Justin know that he was following him, let him feel, a little, the way it was to be prey for a larger predator.

He was tough, this Justin. He kept turning around to confront Charles  -  only to meet his eyes and be forced away again. The chase aroused his wolf; and Charles, still angry at the way Justin had manhandled Anna, let the wolf out just a little more than he should have. It was a fight to stop at the outside door and let Justin go free. The wolf had been given a hunt and it was much, much too short.

Brother wolf hadn't liked seeing Anna frightened either. He'd staked his claim and it had taken all of Charles's control not to just kill Justin in Anna's apartment. Only the strong suspicion that she'd go back to being afraid of him had allowed him to stay seated until he was sure he could control himself.

Climbing four flights of stairs should have given him enough time to silence the wolf. It might have, except that Anna was waiting for him, rolling pin in hand, on the landing below her apartment.

He paused halfway up the stairs, and she turned around without a word. He stalked her back to her apartment and into the kitchen area, where she set the rolling pin on its stand  -  right next to a small pot that held a handful of knives.

"Why the rolling pin and not a knife?" he asked, his voice raspy with the need for action.

She looked at him for the first time since she'd seen his face oh the stairs. "A knife wouldn't even slow him down, but bones take time to heal."

He liked that. Who'd have thought he'd get turned on by a woman with a rolling pin? "All right," he said. "All right."

He turned abruptly and left her standing in front of the counter because if he'd stayed there he would have taken her, seduced her. The apartment wasn't large enough either to pace or to get much distance between them. Her scent, blended with fear and arousal, was dangerous. He needed a distraction.

He pulled one of the chairs around and sat on it, leaning back until it was propped on two legs. He folded his arms behind his head and assumed a deliberately relaxed posture, half-closed his eyes, and said, "I want you to tell me about your Change." He hadn't missed the clues, he thought, watching her flinch a little. There was something wrong with how she'd been Changed. He focused on that.

"Why?" she asked, challenging him  -  still caught up in the adrenaline rush of Justin's visit, he imagined. She caught herself and turned away, cringing as if she expected him to explode.

He closed his eyes entirely. Another moment and he was going to put all the gentlemanly behavior his father had taught him aside and take her, willing or not. Oh, that would teach her not to be afraid of him, he thought.

"I need to know how Leo's pack is run," he told her patiently, though at the moment he could have cared less. "I'd rather do that through your impressions first, and then I'll ask you questions. It'll give me a better insight into what he's doing and why."

Anna gave him a wary look, but he hadn't moved. She could still smell the anger in the air, but it might just have been a remnant from when Justin had been there. Charles was aroused, too  -  and she found herself responding to it though she knew it was a common result of victorious confrontations among males. He was ignoring it, so she could, too.

She took a deep breath, and his scent filled her lungs.

Clearing her throat, she tried to find the beginning of her story. "I was working in a music store in the Loop when I first met Justin. He told me he was a guitarist like me, and he started coming in a couple of times a week, buying strings, music... small-ticket stuff. He'd flirt and tease." She gave an exasperated huff for her foolishness. "I thought he was a nice guy. So when he asked me out for lunch, I said sure."

She looked at Charles, but he looked as though he might have fallen asleep. The muscles in his shoulders were relaxed and his breathing was slow and easy.

"We dated a couple of times. He took me to this little restaurant near, a park, one of the forest preserves. When we were finished he took me for a walk in the woods. 'To look at the moon,' he told me." Even now, with the night long over, she could hear the tension in her voice. "He asked me to wait a minute, said he'd be right back."

He'd been excited, she remembered, almost frantic with suppressed emotion. He'd patted his pockets, then said he'd left something in his car. She'd been worried that he had gone to get a wedding ring. She'd practiced gentle ways of saying no while she waited. They had very little in common and no chemistry at all. Though he seemed nice enough, she'd been getting the feeling that there was something a little off about him, too, and her instincts told her that she needed to break it off.

"It took longer than a minute, and I was just about to go back to the car myself when I heard something in the bushes." The skin on her face tingled with fear, just as it had that night.

"You didn't know he was a werewolf?" Charles's voice reminded her that she was safe in her apartment.

"No. I thought that werewolves were just stories."

"Tell me about after the attack."

She didn't need to tell him about how Justin had stalked her for an hour, herding her back from the edge of the preserve every time she came close to getting out. He only wanted to know about Leo's pack. Anna hid her sigh of relief.

"I woke up in Leo's house. He was excited at first. His pack only has one other woman. Then they discovered what I am."

"And what are you, Anna?" His voice was like smoke, she thought, soft and weightless.

"Submissive," she said. "The lowest of the low." And then because his eyes were still closed she added, "Useless."

"Is that what they told you?" he asked thoughtfully.

"It's the truth." She ought to be more upset about it  -  the wolves who didn't despise her treated her with pity. But she didn't want to be dominant and have to fight and hurt people.

He didn't say anything so she continued her story, trying to give him all the details she could remember. He asked some questions:

"Who helped you gain control of the wolf?" (No one, she'd done that on her own  -  another black mark against her that proved she wasn't dominant, they'd told her.)

"Who gave you the Marrok's phone number?" (Leo's third, Boyd Hamilton.)

"When and why?" (Just before Leo's mate stepped in and stopped him from passing Anna around to whatever male he wanted to reward. Anna tried to avoid the higher-ranking wolves  -  she had no idea why he'd given her that number and no desire to ask.)

"How many new members have come into the pack since you?" (Three, all male  -  but two of them couldn't control themselves and had had to be killed.)

"How many members of the pack?" (Twenty-six.)

When she finally wound down to a stop she was almost surprised to find herself sitting on the floor across the room from Charles with her back against the wall. Slowly Charles let his chair drop back to the floor and pinched the bridge of his nose. He sighed heavily and then looked at her directly for the first time since she'd begun speaking.

She sucked in her breath at the bright gold of his eyes. He was very near a change forced by some strong emotion  -  and despite seeing his eyes, she couldn't read it in his body or his scent  -  he'd managed to mask it from her.

"There are rules. First is that no person may be Changed against their will. Second is that no person may be Changed until they have been counseled and passed a simple test to demonstrate that they understand what that Change means."

She didn't know what to say, but she finally remembered to drop her eyes away from his intense stare.

"From what you've said, Leo is adding new wolves and missing others  -  he didn't report that to the Marrok. Last year he came to our annual meeting with his mate and his fourth  -  that Boyd Hamilton  -  and told us that his second and third were tied up."

Anna frowned at him. "Boyd's been his third for as long as I have been in the pack and Justin is his second."

"You said that there is only one female in the pack besides you?"


"There should have been four."

"No one has mentioned any others," she told him.

He looked over at the check on her fridge.

"They take your paycheck. How much do they give you back?" His voice was bass-deep with the heat of the change behind it.

"Sixty percent."

"Ah." He closed his eyes again and breathed deeply. She could smell the musk of his anger now, though his shoulders still looked relaxed.

When he didn't say anything more, she said quietly, "Is there anything I can do to help? Do you want me to leave or talk or turn on music?" She didn't have a TV, but she still had her old stereo.

His eyes stayed closed but he smiled, just a twitch of his lips. "My control is usually better than this."

She waited, but it seemed to get worse rather than better.

His eyes snapped open and his cold yellow gaze pinned her against the wall where she sat as he uncoiled and prowled across the room.

Her pulse jumped unsteadily and she bowed her head, curling up to be smaller. She felt rather than saw him crouch in front of her. His hands when they cupped her face were so hot she flinched  -  and regretted it when he growled.

He dropped to his knees, nuzzling against her neck, then rested his body, now taut as iron, against hers, trapping her between him and the wall. He put his hands on the wall, one to each side of her, and then quit moving. His breath was hot on her neck.

She sat as still as she could, terrified of doing anything that might break his control. But there was something about him that kept her from being truly scared, something that insisted he wouldn't hurt her. That he never would hurt her.

Which was stupid. All the dominants hurt those beneath them. She'd had that beaten into her more than once. Just because she could heal quickly didn't make getting hurt pleasant. But no matter how much she told herself she ought to be frightened of him, a dominant among dominants, a strange man she'd never seen before last night (or, more accurately, very early this morning), she couldn't.

Though he smelled of anger, he also smelled like spring rain, wolf, and man. She closed her eyes and quit fighting, letting the sweet-sharpness of his scent wash away the fear and anger aroused by telling this man about the worst thing that ever happened to her.

As soon as she relaxed he did as well. His rigid muscles loosened and his imprisoning arms slid down the wall to rest lightly on her shoulders.

After a while, he pulled away slowly, but stayed crouched so his head was only slightly higher than hers. He put a gentle thumb under her chin and raised her head until she gazed into his dark eyes. She had the sudden feeling that if she could look into those eyes for the rest of her life, she would be happy. It scared her a lot more than his anger had.

"Are you doing something to me to make me feel like this?" She asked the question before she had time to censor herself.

He didn't ask her how he made her feel. Instead, he tilted his head, a wolflike gesture, but kept eye contact, though there was no challenge in his scent. Instead, she had the impression he was almost as bewildered as she was. "I don't think so. Certainly not on purpose."

He cupped her face in both of his hands. They were large hands, and calloused, and they trembled just a little. He bent down until his chin rested on the top of her head. "I've never felt this way before either."

He could have stayed there forever, despite the discomfort of kneeling on the hardwood floor. He'd never felt anything like this  -  certainly not with a woman he'd known less than twenty-four hours. He didn't know how to deal with it, didn't want to deal with it, and  -  most unlike himself  -  was willing to put off dealing with it indefinitely as long as he could spend the time with her body against his.

Of course there was something he'd rather do, but if he wasn't mistaken there was someone else coming up the stairs. Four flights of stairs were, evidently, not enough to keep intruders away. He closed his eyes and let his wolf-brother sort through the scents and identify their newest visitor.

There was a knock at the door.

Anna jerked back out of his hold, sucking in her breath. Part of him was pleased that he'd managed to distract her so much that she hadn't noticed anything until then. Part of him worried at her vulnerability.

Reluctantly, he stood up and put a little distance between them. "Come in, Isabelle."

The door opened and Leo's mate stuck her head in. She took a good look at Anna and grinned mischievously. "Interrupting something interesting?"

He'd always liked Isabelle, though he'd tried hard not to show it. As his father's executioner, he'd long ago learned not to get close to anyone he might someday have to kill  -  which made his circle of friends very small: his father and his brother for the most part.

Anna stood up and returned Isabelle's smile with a shy one of her own, though he could tell she was still shaken. To his surprise, though, she said, "Yes. There was something very interesting going on. Come in anyway."

Once the invitation had been issued, Isabelle blew in like the March wind, as she usually did, simultaneously shutting the door and holding out a hand to Charles. "Charles, it is so good to see you."

He took her hand and bowed over it, kissing it lightly. It smelled of cinnamon and cloves. He'd forgotten that about her, that she used perfume with an eye toward the sharpness of werewolf senses. Just strong enough to mask herself and so give her some protection from the sharp noses of her fellow wolves. Unless she was extremely agitated, no one could tell how she felt from her scent.

"You look beautiful," he said, as he knew she expected. It was true enough.

"I should be looking a nervous wreck," she said, running the hand Charles had kissed through her airy, feathery cut hair that, combined with her fine features, made her look like a fairy princess. She was shorter than Anna and finer-boned, but Charles had never made the mistake of thinking of her as fragile. "Justin came boiling in with some nonsense about a meeting tonight. He was all but incoherent  -  why did you enrage the boy like that?  -  and I told Leo I'd drop by to see what you were doing."

This was why he didn't make friends.

"Leo received my message?" Charles asked.

She nodded. "And looked quite frightened, which is not a good look for him, as I told him." She leaned forward and put a too-familiar hand on his arm. "What has brought you to our territory, Charles?"

He stepped back. He didn't much like to touch or be touched  -  though he seemed to have largely forgotten that while he was around Anna.

His Anna.

Forcefully he brought his attention back to business. "I have come to meet with Leo tonight."

Isabelle's usually cheerful face hardened, and he waited for her to blow up at him. Isabelle was as famous for her temper as she was for her charisma. She was one of the few people to blow up in the Marrok's face and get away with it  -  Charles's father liked Isabelle, too.

But she didn't say anything more to him. Instead she turned her head to glance at Anna, whom, he suddenly realized, she'd been pointedly ignoring up to that point. When she returned her gaze to Charles, she began speaking, but not to him.

"What tales have you been carrying, Anna, my dear? Complaining about your place in the pack? Choose a mate, if you don't like it. I've told you that before. Justin would take you, I'm sure." There was no venom in her voice. Maybe if Charles hadn't already met Justin, he'd have missed the way Anna's face paled. Maybe he wouldn't have heard the threat.

Anna didn't say anything.

Isabelle continued to stare at Charles, though she was careful to keep from meeting his eyes. He thought she was studying his reactions, but he knew that his face gave nothing away  -  he'd been prepared for the way his brother wolf surged up in anger to defend Anna this time.

"Are you sleeping with him?" Isabelle asked. "He's a good lover, isn't he?"

Though Isabelle was mated, she had a wandering eye and Leo let her indulge herself as she pleased, a situation almost unique among werewolves. That didn't mean she wasn't jealous; Leo couldn't so much as look at another woman. Charles always felt it was an odd relationship, but it had worked for them for a long time. When she'd made a play for him a few years ago, he'd allowed himself to be caught, knowing that there was nothing serious about her offer. He hadn't been surprised when she'd tried to get him to talk his father into letting Leo expand his territory. She had taken his refusal in good humor, though.

The sex had meant nothing to either of them  -  but it meant something to Anna. He'd have had to be human to miss the hurt and mistrust in her eyes at Isabelle's thrust.

"Play nicely, Isabelle," he told her, abruptly impatient. He put a little force in his voice as he said, "Go home and tell Leo I'll talk to him tonight."

Her eyes lit with rage and she drew herself up.

"I am not my father," he said softly. "You don't want to try the shrew act with me."

Fear cooled her temper  -  and his, too, for that matter. Her perfume might have hid her scent, but it didn't hide her eyes or her clenched hands. He didn't enjoy frightening people  -  not usually.

"Go home, Isabelle. You'll have to swallow your curiosity until then."

He shut the door gently behind her and stared at it for a moment, reluctant to face Anna  -  though he had no idea why he should feel so guilty for doing something long before he'd ever met her.

"Are you going to kill her?"

He looked at Anna then, unable to tell what she thought about it. "I don't know."

Anna bit her lip. "She has been kind to me."

Kind? As far as he could tell kindness had been pretty far from anything that had happened to Anna since her Change. But the worry in her face had him swallowing his sharp reply.

"There is something odd going on in Leo's pack," was all he said. "I'll find out exactly what it is tonight."


"I'll ask them," he told her. "They know better than to think they can lie to me  -  and refusal to answer my questions, or refusal to meet with me is admitting guilt."

She looked puzzled. "Why couldn't they lie to you?"

He tapped a finger on her nose. "Smelling a lie is pretty easy, unless you are dealing with someone who cannot tell truth from lie, but there are other ways to detect them."

Her stomach growled.

"Enough of this," he said, deciding it was time to feed her up a little. A bagel was not enough. "Get your coat."

He didn't want to take the car into the Loop, where it would be difficult to find parking, because his temper was too uncertain around her. He couldn't talk her into a taxi, which was a new experience for him  -  not many people refused to listen when he told them what to do. But then, she was an Omega, and not constrained by an instinctive need to obey a more dominant wolf. With an inward sigh, he followed her down a few blocks to the nearest L station.

He'd never been on Chicago's elevated train before, and, if it weren't for a certain stubborn woman, he wouldn't have ridden one this time. Though he admitted, if only to himself, that he rather enjoyed it when a rowdy group of thugs disguised as teenagers decided to give him a bad time.

"Hey, Injun Joe," said a baggy-clothed boy. "You a stranger in town? That's a foxy lady you have there. If she likes her meat brown, there's plenty here to go 'round." He tapped himself on his chest.

There were real gangs in Chicago, raised in the eat-or-be-eaten world of the inner city. But these boys were imitators, probably out of school for the holidays and bored. So they decided to entertain themselves by scaring the adults who couldn't differentiate between amateurs and the real deal. Not that a pack of boys couldn't be dangerous under the wrong circumstances...

An old woman sitting next to them shrank back, and the smell of her fear washed away his tolerance.

Charles got to his feet, smiled, and watched their smugness evaporate at his confidence. "She's foxy, all right," he said. "But she belongs to me."

"Hey, man," said the boy just behind the one who had spoken. "No hard feelings, man."

He let his smile widen and watched them shuffle backward. "It's a nice day. I think that you should go sit in those empty seats up there where you see your way more clearly."

They scuttled to the front of the car and, after they had all taken a seat, Charles sat back down next to Anna.

There was such satisfaction in his face when he sat down that Anna had to suppress a grin for fear that one of the boys would look back and think she was laughing at one of them.

"That was a prime example of testosterone poisoning," she observed dryly. "Are you going to go after Girl Scouts next?"

Charles's eyes glinted with amusement. "Now they know that they need to pick their prey more cautiously."

Anna seldom traveled to the Loop anymore  -  everything she needed she could find closer to home. He evidently knew it better than she did, despite being a visitor. He chose the stop they got off on and took her directly to a little Greek place tucked in the shadow of the L train tracks, where they greeted him by name and took him to a private room with only one table.

He let her give her order and then doubled it, adding a few dishes on the side.

While they were waiting for their food, he took a small, worn-looking, leather-bound three-ring notebook from his jacket pocket. He popped the rings and took out a couple of sheets of lined paper and handed them to her with a pen.

"I'd like you to write down the names of the members of your pack. It would help if you list them from the most dominant and go to the least."

She tried. She didn't know everyone's last name and, since everyone outranked her, she hadn't paid strict attention to rank.

She handed the paper and pen back to him with a frown. "I'm forgetting people, and other than the top four or five wolves, I could be mistaken on rank."

He set her pages down on the table and then took out a couple of sheets with writing already on them and compared the two lists, marking them up. Anna took her chair and scooted it around the table until she sat next to him and could see what he was doing.

He took his list and set it before her. "These are the people who should be in your pack. I've checked the names of the ones who don't appear on your list."

She scanned down it, then grabbed the pen back and marked out one of his checks. "He's still here. I just forgot about him. And this one, too."

He took the list back. "All the women are gone. Most of the rest who are missing are older wolves. Not old. But there's not a wolf left who is older than Leo. There are a few younger wolves missing as well." He tapped a finger on a couple of names. "These were young. Paul Lebshak, here, would have been only four years a werewolf. George not much older."

"Do you know all the werewolves?"

He smiled. "I know the Alphas. We have yearly meetings with all of them. I know most of the seconds and thirds. One of the things we do at the meetings is update the pack memberships. The Alphas are supposed to keep the Marrok informed when people die, or when new wolves are Changed. If my father had known so many wolves were gone, he would have investigated. Though Leo's lost a third of the pack membership, he's done a fair job of replacing them."

He gave back the list she'd written  -  a number of names, including hers, were also checked. "These are all new. From what you've told me, I'd guess that they are all forced Changes. The survival rate of random attack victims is very poor. Your Leo has killed a lot of people over the past few years in order to keep the number of his pack where it is. Enough that it should have attracted the attention of the authorities. How many of these people were made wolves after you?"

"None of them. The only new wolf I've seen was that poor boy." She tapped the paper with her pen. "If they didn't leave bodies and spread out the hunt, they could have easily hidden the disappearance of a hundred people in the greater Chicago area over a few years."

He leaned back and closed his eyes, then he shook his head. "I don't remember dates too well anymore. I haven't met most of the missing wolves, and I don't remember the last time I saw Leo's old second except that it was within the last ten years. So whatever happened was after that."

"Whatever happened to what?"

"To Leo, I'd guess. Something happened that made him kill all the women in his pack except Isabelle and most of his older wolves  -  the wolves who would have objected when he started attacking innocent people, or quit teaching new wolves the rules and rights that belong to them. I can see why he'd have to kill them  -  but why the women? And why didn't the other Chicago Alpha say anything to my father when it happened?"

"He might not have known. Leo and Jaimie stay away from each other, and our pack is not allowed to go into Jaimie's territory at all. The Loop is neutral territory, but we can't go north of here unless we get special permission."

"Oh? Interesting. Have you heard anything about why they aren't getting along?"

She shrugged. There had been a lot of talk. "Someone told me that Jaimie wouldn't sleep with Isabelle. Someone else said that they had an affair and he broke it off, and she was insulted. Or that he wouldn't break it off and Leo had to step in. Another story is that Jaimie and Leo never got along. I don't know."

She looked at the checks that marked the newer wolves in her pack and suddenly laughed.


"It's just stupid." She shook her head.

"Tell me."

Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Fine. You were looking for something that all the newer wolves had in common. I was just thinking that if someone wanted to list the most handsome men in the pack, they would all make the cut."

Both of them were surprised by the flash of territorial jealousy that he didn't bother to hide from her.

It was probably a good time for the waiter to come in with the first course of food.

Anna started to move her chair back to where it had been, but the waiter sat his tray down and took it from her, seating her properly before he got back to setting out the dishes.

"And how have you been, sir?" he said to Charles. "Still haven't given up and moved to civilization?"

"Civilization is vastly overrated," Charles returned as he put the sheets of paper into his notebook and shut the cover. "As long as I can come up once or twice a year and eat here, I am content."

The waiter shook his head with mock sadness. "Mountains are beautiful, but not as beautiful as our skyline. One of these days I'll take you out for a night on the town and you'll never leave again."

"Phillip!" A bird-thin woman stepped into the room. "While you are here chatting with Mr. Cornick, our other guests are going hungry."

The waiter grinned and winked at Anna. He dropped a kiss on the woman's cheek and slipped through the door.

The woman suppressed a smile and shook her head. "That one. Always talking. He needs a good wife to keep him in line. I am too old." She threw up her hands and then followed the waiter.

The next twenty minutes brought a series of waiters and waitresses who all looked as though they were related. They carried food on trays and never said anything about it being odd that two people should eat so much food.

Charles filled his plate, looked at hers, and said, "You should have told me you didn't like lamb."

She looked at her plate. "I do."

He frowned at her, took the serving spoon, and added to the amount on her plate. "You should be eating more. A lot more. The change requires a lot of energy. You have to eat more as a werewolf to maintain your weight."

After that, by mutual consent Anna and Charles confined their conversations to generalities. They talked about Chicago and city living. She took a little of a rice dish and he looked at her until she took a second spoonful. He told her a little about Montana. She found he was very well spoken and the easiest way to stop a conversation cold was to ask him about anything personal. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk about himself, she thought, it was that he didn't find himself very interesting.

The door swung open one last time, and a girl of about fourteen came in with dessert.

"Aren't you supposed to be in school?" Charles asked her.

She signed. "Vacation. Everyone else gets time off. But me? I get to work in the restaurant. It sucks."

"I see," he said. "Perhaps you should call child welfare and tell them you're being abused?"

She grinned at him. "Wouldn't that get Papa riled up. I'm tempted to do it just to see his face. If I told him it was your suggestion do ya suppose he'd get mad at you instead of me?" She wrinkled her nose. "Probably not."

"Tell your mother that the food was perfect."

She braced the empty tray on her hip and backed out the door. "I'll tell her, but she already told me to tell you that it wasn't. The lamb was a little stringy, but that's all she could get."

"I gather you come here often," Anna said, unenthusiastically picking at a huge piece of baklava. Not that she had anything against baklava  -  as long as she hadn't eaten a week's worth of food first.

"Too often," he said. He was having no trouble eating more, she noticed. "We have some business interests here, so I have to come three or four times a year. The owner of the restaurant is a wolf, one of Jaimie's. I sometimes find it convenient to discuss business here."

"I thought you were your father's hit man," she said with interest. "You have to hunt down people in Chicago three or four times a year?"

He laughed out loud. The sound was rusty, as if he didn't do it very often  -  though he ought to, it looked good on him. Good enough that she ate the forkful of baklava she'd been playing with and then had to figure out how to swallow it when her stomach was telling her that it didn't need any more food sent its way.

"No, I have other duties as well. I take care of my father's pack's business interests. I am very good at both of my jobs," he said without any hint of modesty.

"I bet you are." He was a person who would be very good at whatever he decided to do. "I'd let you invest my savings. I think I have twenty-two dollars and ninety-seven cents right now."

He frowned at her, all amusement gone.

"It was a joke," she explained.

But he ignored her. "Most Alphas have their members give ten percent of their earnings for the good of the pack, especially when the pack is new. This money is used to ensure there is a safe house, for instance. Once a pack is firmly established, though, the need for money lessens. My father's pack has been established for a long time  -  there is no need for a tithe because we own the land we live on and there are investments enough for the future. Leo has been here for thirty years: time enough to be well established. I've never heard of a pack demanding forty percent from its members  -  which leads me to believe that Leo's pack is in financial trouble. He sold that young man you called my father about, and several others like him, to someone who was using them to develop a way to make drugs work on us as well as they work on humans. He had to kill a number of humans in order to get a single survivor werewolf."

She thought about the implications. "Who wanted the drugs?"

"I'll know that when Leo tells me who he sold the boy to."

"So why didn't he sell me?" She wasn't worth much to the pack.

He leaned back in his chair. "If an Alpha sold one of his pack, he'd have a rebellion on his hands. Besides, Leo went to a lot of trouble to get you. There haven't been any pack members killed or gone missing since you became a member."

It wasn't a question, but she answered him anyway. "No."

"I think maybe you are the key to Leo's mystery."

She couldn't help a snort of derision. "Me? Leo needed a new doormat?"

He leaned suddenly forward, knocking his chair over as he swept her off of her own and stood her on her feet. She'd thought she was used to the speed and strength of the wolves, but he stole her breath.

As she stood still and shocked, he prowled around her until he came back around the front and kissed her, a long, dark, deep kiss that left her breathless for another reason entirely.

"Leo found you and decided that he needed you," he told her. "He sent Justin after you, because any of his other wolves would know what you were. Even before your Change, they'd have known. So he sent a half-crazy wolf because any other would have been unable to attack you."

Hurt, she flinched away from him. He made her sound special, but she knew he was lying. He sounded like he was telling the truth, but she was no prize. She was nothing. For three years she had been nothing. He had made her feel special today, but she knew better.

His hands, when they came down on her shoulders, were hard and impossible to resist. "Let me tell you something about Omega wolves, Anna. Look at me."

She blinked back tears, and, unable to resist his command, raised her eyes to glare at him.

"Almost unique," he said and gave her a little shake. "I work with numbers and percentages all the time, Anna. I might not be able to figure the odds exactly, but I'll tell you that the chances that Justin picked you out to Change by sheer chance are almost infinitesimal. No werewolf, acting on instincts alone, would attack an Omega. And Justin strikes me as a wolf who acts on very little else."

"Why not? Why wouldn't he have attacked me? And what is an Omega?"

It was evidently the right question because Charles stilled, his former agitation gone. "You are an Omega, Anna. I bet that when you walk into a room, people come to you. I bet complete strangers tell you things they wouldn't tell their own mothers."

Incredulous, she stared at him. "You saw Justin this morning. Did he look calm to you?"

"I saw Justin," he agreed slowly. "And I think that in any other pack he would have been killed shortly after he was made because his control is not good enough. I don't know why he was not. But I think you allow him to control his wolf  -  and he hates you for it.

"You should not be ranked last in your pack." His hands slid down her shoulders until he held her hands. Oddly that felt more intimate than his kiss had. "An Omega wolf is like the Indian medicine men, outside of the normal pack rankings. They had to teach you to lower your eyes, didn't they? To submissive wolves, such things are instinctive. You, they had to beat down.

"You bring peace to all those around you, Anna," he said intently, his eyes on hers. "A werewolf, especially a dominant wolf, is always on the edge of violence. After being shut in an aircraft with too many people for hours, I came into the airport craving bloodshed like a junkie craves his next fix. But when you came up to me, the anger, the hunger left."

He squeezed her hands. "You are a gift, Anna. An Omega wolf in the pack means that more wolves survive the Change from human to wolf because they can find control easier with you there. It means that we lose fewer males to stupid dominance fights because an Omega brings a calmness to all those around him. Or her."

There was a hole in his argument. "But what about earlier, when you almost changed because you were so angry?"

Something happened to his face, an emotion she didn't know him well enough to read, except to know that it was strong.

When he spoke it was with visible effort, as if his throat had tightened. "Most werewolves find someone they love, get married, and spend a long time with their spouse before the wolf accepts her as his mate." He dropped her gaze and turned away, walking across the room and giving her his back.

Without the warmth of his body, she felt cold and alone. Scared.

"Sometimes it doesn't happen that way," he told the wall. "Let it rest there, for now, Anna. You have been through enough without this."

"I am so tired of being ignorant," she spat, suddenly hugely angry. "You've changed all the rules on me  -  so you can damned well tell me what the new rules are." As abruptly as the anger had come, it was gone, leaving her shaky and on the verge of tears.

He turned and his eyes had gone gold, reflecting the dim light of the room until they glowed. "Fine. You should have let it be, but you want truth." His voice rambled like thunder, though it wasn't very loud. "My brother wolf has taken you for his mate. If you were nothing to me, I would have never allowed such abuse as you have suffered since your Change. But you are mine, and the thought of you hurt, of being able to do nothing about it, is an anger that even an Omega wolf cannot easily soothe."

Well, she thought, stunned. She'd known he was interested in her, but she'd assumed it had been a casual thing. Leo was the only mated wolf she knew. She didn't know any of the rules. What did it mean that he said his wolf had decided she was his mate? Did she have a choice in the matter? Did the way he aroused her without trying, the way he made her feel  -  as if she'd known him forever and wanted to wake up next to him for the rest of her life, though she'd known him only hours, really  -  was that his fault?

"If you had let me," he said, "I'd have courted you gently and won your heart." He closed his eyes. "I didn't mean to frighten you."

She should have been frightened. Instead, suddenly, she felt very, very calm, like the eye in a hurricane of emotion.

"I don't like sex," she told him, because it seemed like something he ought to know under the circumstances.

He choked and opened his eyes, their bright color giving way to human dark as she watched.

"I wasn't enthusiastic before the Change," she told him plainly. "And after being passed around like a whore for a year, until Isabelle put a stop to it, I like it even less."

His mouth tightened, but he didn't say anything, so she continued. "And I won't be forced. Never again." She pulled up the sleeves of her shirt to show him the long scars on the underside of her arm, wrist to elbow. She'd made them with a silver knife, and if Isabelle hadn't found her, she'd have killed herself. "This is why Isabelle made Leo stop making me sleep with whatever male pleased him enough. She found me and kept me alive. After that I bought a gun and silver bullets."

He growled softly, but not at her, she was pretty sure.

"I'm not threatening to kill myself. But you need to know this about me because  -  if you want to be my mate  -  I won't be like Leo. I won't let you sleep around with anyone else. I won't be forced either. I've had enough. If that makes me a dog in the manger, so be it. But if I am yours, then you damned well are going to be mine."

"A dog in the manger?" He let out a gusty breath of air that might have been a half-laugh. He closed his eyes again and said in a reasonable tone, "If Leo survives tonight, I shall be very surprised. If I survive you, I'll be equally surprised." He looked at her. "And very little surprises me anymore."

He strode across the floor, picking up his chair and setting it where it belonged as he passed it. He stopped just in front of her and touched her raised chin gently, then laughed. Still smiling he tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. "I promise you will enjoy sex with me," he murmured.

Somehow she managed to keep her spine straight. She wasn't ready to fall into a puddle at his feet quite yet. "Isabelle said you were a good lover."

He laughed again. "You have no need for jealousy. Sex with Isabelle meant no more to me than a good belly scratch and rather less to her, I think. Nothing worth repeating for either of us." There was a whisper of sound outside the room and he took her hand. "Time for us to go."

He paid polite compliments to the meal as he handed over a credit card to a young-looking man who called him "sir" and smelled of werewolf. The owner of the restaurant, Anna supposed.

"So where would you like to go next?" she asked as she stepped out onto the busy sidewalk.

He pulled his jacket on the rest of the way and dodged a woman in high heels who carried a leather briefcase. "Somewhere with fewer people."

"We could go to the zoo," she suggested. "This time of year it's pretty deserted, even with the kids out of school for Thanksgiving."

He turned his head and started to speak when something in a window caught his attention. He grabbed her and threw her on the ground, falling on top of her. There was a loud bang, like a backfiring car, and he jerked once, then lay still on top of her. Copyright 2016 - 2024