Dead Heat Page 15

Then he reached with the extra senses that were his because he was the Marrok’s son, and therefore witchborn as his father was witchborn, and found the connection created by his blood and hers. He asked the dying woman, What do you live for?

Kage was fighting his grandfather now, fighting to stop what he’d begun without really understanding what it meant to be Changed. Had he thought it would be without pain or cost?

Mine, the dying woman said.

His ears flattened in pleasure because he heard more than words. She meant those she considered hers. Her children, her mate—hers. Here was a woman who would be dominant. Maybe more dominant than Hosteen. And wouldn’t that get in the old wolf’s craw?

Will you fight for them? he asked her, inviting her to hear her husband’s angry voice.

Yes. Not a simple answer but a warrior’s battle cry.

While her response was still vibrating through him, he bit the calf of the leg he had not already bitten, letting his teeth slice through flesh and scrape bone.

Then fight! he roared at her with so much more power than sound could have conveyed—sending energy down the temporary bond he’d made between them, energy that grabbed her and held her to her dying flesh and made her live.

Only once had he seen his father force the Change on someone this way. Charles had been, perhaps, the only one who could fully appreciate what the Marrok had done. He’d waited until later, until they were alone in his father’s library, to ask why that one and not others.

“He is needed,” his father said. “He was willing and he will make a fine wolf. But mostly he is needed—we have so few submissive wolves. He will stabilize his brother’s pack, stabilize his brother, too, and that will save dozens of wolves.” He’d frowned at the book he had been reading, then set it aside. “It is not such a gift to be a werewolf. I had it forced upon me, and I was angry about that for a long time. I would not do that to another person. If they don’t want life badly enough to fight for it, who am I to argue? Life is hard; dying is easier and kinder. But Neal is willing, and he was very near to making it on his own. I just gave him a boost.” He sighed. “It was probably still the wrong thing to do.”

So every October, when people who wanted to be wolves died under the Marrok’s fangs when they failed to survive the Change, only Charles and Brother Wolf knew how deeply and why his father grieved.

When they had to carry out the more horrible task of killing those who Changed but could not control their wolf, Charles understood that his father was wise. If a person could not fight through the Change on their own, what chance did they have to control their wolf nature? Neal had managed, but it had not been easy for him.

This woman was hampered, not by her nature but by the blood she had shed to protect her children. Brother Wolf knew that she would be a fine werewolf, so Charles used what his father had showed him and pushed her through the Change.

He bit her again—an arm this time, while her mate clung to his grandfather and wept. Hosteen watched Brother Wolf over Kage’s shoulder with rage hidden in his eyes. He dropped his gaze after a moment because Brother Wolf was the dominant wolf in this room.

“What happened?” asked Max, still angry that he’d been ordered away.

Anna had hauled the kids all the way out of the house and up the street toward where Max told her there was a park. Changing someone wasn’t painless and generally involved screaming and other scary noises that no kid needed to hear their mother make. Max had been especially angry when she’d made him leave the house.

“Fae magic,” Anna said; she’d gleaned a little from Brother Wolf.

“What does that mean?” muttered Max, kicking a rock off the sidewalk. He caught his wandering brother by the hand and tugged him out of the road. “No, Michael, you walk next to us. Stay on the sidewalk, no matter how cool some rock might be.”

“Wasn’t a rock,” said Michael with dignity. “It was a penny.”

“Sorry, buddy, you need to stay with us.” Max let out his breath. “So. Let’s assume ‘fae magic’ doesn’t mean anything to me; what does it mean to you?”

“Charles says that someone, some fae someone, put a magical compulsion on your mother.”

“When did he tell you?” Max asked sharply. “Mackie, put that down, you don’t know where it’s been. Tell me, Anna, did you know that when you came in through the window? Because it takes a werewolf fifteen minutes to half an hour to change to a wolf. And he was a wolf when we went downstairs.”

“He is my mate,” Anna told him, patient with his sharpness. His blistering anger was caused by worry and frustration that he couldn’t protect his mom. “We can communicate without talking.”

“Telepathy?” Max’s voice was scathing.

“Look,” she huffed in exasperation. “Werewolf. Me. Magic darn near strong enough to make your mother try to kill you—and you are balking at telepathy. Charles is my mate, and that means we share a spiritual bond. Far as I’ve been able to find out, that bond works a little differently for everyone. Charles and I can find each other in the middle of an Atlantic hurricane—and we can communicate some things.”

“Men,” said Mackie smugly, reacting to Anna’s tone rather than the content of their conversation. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”

“Shut your piehole, punk kid,” Max said, thumping her on the head with the palm of his hand.

“I’m telling Mama you said ‘Shut your piehole,’” Michael said. “‘Shut your piehole’ is a bad word.”

“‘Shut your piehole’ is three words, Michael,” said Mackie.

Undaunted, Michael said, “I’m telling Mama you used three bad words.”

“You do that, kid,” Max told him, sounding subdued. “I hope you do that.” He glanced at Anna and said, “So tell me about this fae magic that made my mother try to kill us. I thought the fae were all locked up.”

Anna snorted. “They locked themselves up. I don’t know who got your mom or why; maybe she can help with that when she—”

“Don’t you mean if she—” He didn’t complete the sentence.

“It could go wrong,” she admitted. “Lots of people don’t make it. But your mother has courage and willpower. She fought to keep you safe. Apparently she could stave off the compulsion by hurting herself; that’s why she was so cut up, why she stabbed herself before telling you to take the kids away.”

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